Beyond The Jordan
John 10:40-42 MKJV And He went away again beyond Jordan into the place where John baptized at the first, and He stayed there. (41) And many came to Him and said, John indeed did no miracle, but all things that John said concerning this One were true. (42) And many believed on Him there.
After what was possibly six months of unending contention in Jerusalem Jesus goes back to where it all began and recharges His soul. He went out to the wilderness, to Aenon by Jordan, where the air was clear, the water pure and the nit-picking theologians few and far between. Jesus moves away from Judea, the Temple and the religious authorities out into the trans-Jordan wilderness, out into the land of “crazy prophets” like John the Baptist. There, Jesus finds the true believers, folk who would walk right out into the countryside to hear a man of God.
“And many believed on Him there” – there on the fringes, in the wilderness, faith was found! Lots of faith! I have often found “faith on the fringes”, in small towns in outback Australia, in urban slums, in strange and wonderful tribal villages in Papua New Guinea, in all the places that “temple-bound theologians” rarely visit.
Such places are where some independent thinking, some real thinking, can be done. In Jerusalem there was instant irrational condemnation of unorthodox ideas. But in the wilderness a man can ponder and think and talk to the trees and a few friends and come up with a wild notion or two, or three.
Many of the greatest works of philosophy have been written “out on the fringe” or even in prison! Such works include Don Quixote, Pilgrim’s Progress, Bonhoeffer’s Letters from Prison, Boethius’ Consolation of Philosophy, and much of Ghandi’s philosophy. An amazing amount of Scripture was written in prison, in the wilderness or in exile - from the Exodus wanderings that produced the Pentateuch, to Elijah at the brook Cherith, and from Jeremiah’s prophecies in jail to Paul’s Epistles to the book of Revelation written on Patmos. In fact no book of the New Testament that we know of was written under what could be described as “conducive circumstances”
Yet it was comfortable out there, in the wilderness, where it all began and when the call came that Lazarus was ill the disciples did not want to go back to Jerusalem. John 11:7-8 MKJV Then after that He said to the disciples, Let us go into Judea again. (8) The disciples said to Him, Rabbi, the Jews lately have sought to stone You, and do You go there again?
Jesus lived in a dynamic rhythm dictated by God. Now in the crowds, then in solitary prayer, one day feasting, the next fasting, a few months in the midst of the city and of conflict, then some time apart in the desert. Stormy seas, pressing crowds, dusty roads, small villages, big cities, mountaintops and wildernesses were all part of the journey.
I am not really a “big city” person but the last five years have been mainly spent in two giant mega-cities – Manila and Los Angeles. This is the current phase of events; I also find my time split between times of intense travel and busyness, and quieter months of writing and reflection. Every year is meant to have at least four seasons! It is good to be aware of god’s rhythms as He works through you. Common cycles include: work/rest, solitude/community, action/reflection, prophetic/pastoral, mountaintop /valley. Each has its “time” in our life. (Ecclesiastes 3:1-11)
Jesus goes out to a place full of John the Baptist’s disciples: “And many came to Him and said, John indeed did no miracle, but all things that John said concerning this One were true.” John the Baptist was the forerunner, He was not the Light and did no miracle but pointed to Jesus and his testimony was true. When John’s followers met Jesus and got to know Him there was this “click” that yes - this is the One John spoke of! These perfectly prepared disciples believed in droves!
The wilderness seems to “select’ seekers and believers. The bored and apathetic cannot bother to go the few miles out of their way. The small-minded stay at home and gossip about why it cannot be so. And the “we are sure we are right” crowd stays in their self-confirming circles and think they have no need of the Galilean. But the seekers saddle their donkeys and head out beyond the Jordan, beyond where the respectable people dwell, to find the prophet in the wilderness.
You may be in a ‘wilderness” now. You may a soldier on a boring post in the New Mexico desert, or a pastor in a small town in the middle of nowhere. You may even be in jail! Use the wilderness to do your thinking and to sharpen your ideas about God, yourself and the ministry. Or use for the time study, but do NOT waste the wilderness! Life will turn a corner one day and you will be back in the swing of a thousand activities wishing for some time to think!
Look for the prophet! I find small towns and odd corners often have someone who is doing some real thinking and has some very useful notions, People in wild places often can see the world without all the accretions of spin and duplicity. Can any good thing come out of Nazareth? Yes indeed!
Heretics abound in the desert as well. Not all that is creative is good. The desert can drive men mad. Yet the desert allows us room to think and we need to go there now and then. If you are not yet mature enough to be alone with your own thoughts, then you need to grow up! Christians need to be able to reflect on life and to see through media manipulation and political spin.
The true desert is simple, free, and non-commercial. In the wilderness it is just us and the trees and the big blue sky. Gradually the call of God comes to us instead of the call of the advertisers. Gradually we come to see what we should have seen all along – rather than what we were told to see if we wanted to fit in. In the wilderness the social pressure is off, so we can be ourselves and find our true faith.