How can I respond to skeptics who deny that Jesus is God? Part 4

“And He went away again beyond the Jordan to the place where John was baptizing at first, and there He stayed.” John 10:40

When we encounter skeptics who deny that Jesus is God, we may find it necessary to CONSIDER OUR BEGINNINGS (John 10:40). This is the fourth way Jesus responded to His skeptical audience.

Jesus found it necessary to leave Jerusalem and Judea because of the growing hostility toward Him. All doors were closed to His ministry in Judea and for some time Galilee had rejected His ministry. Jesus did not stay long in resistant areas. He moved to more receptive areas and He advised His disciples to do the same (cf. Matthew 10:11-15, 23). Plus, it wasn’t time for Him to suffer and die on the Cross. So where does Jesus go?

“And He went away again beyond the Jordan to the place where John was baptizing at first, and there He stayed.” (John 10:40). Jesus crossed over to the other side of the Jordan River to Bethany, a small ford community on the east bank of the Jordan River where John the Baptist started his ministry and where Jesus was baptized which also was the start of His ministry. 1 This was not the Bethany near Jerusalem, but the Bethany of Perea which was east of the Jordan River. Christ would spend the next three and a half months here.

This was a place that had many fond memories for the Lord. This is where He met and won His first disciples (John 1:35-51). He had success here far away from the prejudiced atmosphere of Jerusalem and He would enjoy more success here again. John tells us that it was “there He stayed” – He made His home here.

It is important for us to consider our beginnings when we are going through difficult times. If you are discouraged right now because of having to deal with skeptics or those who reject your Christian faith, relive the time when you became a child of God through faith in Christ or when you began your Christian ministry. Remember God’s faithfulness during those early days of your Christian life. This will encourage you and renew your strength in the Lord.

When my parents moved our family away from their families in Illinois to Iowa when I was seven years old, we would periodically return to Illinois to visit where we were born and relive the many fond memories we had there. This served as a way of recharging us spiritually and emotionally for the challenges we faced in Iowa.

Even now when I may be disappointed in ministry or with life in general, I like to relive the many fond memories I have of my first couple of short-term mission trips to the Philippines when I saw an incredible response to the gospel. Occasionally, I schedule mission trips to go back to areas I have visited in the past where we saw amazing receptivity among the people of the Philippines. These trips serve as a time of refreshment and renewal for us and for those to whom we minister.

There are many stressors in our world today including COVID-19, social unrest, political divisions, and opposition to Christianity. When you face difficulties in your Christian life, do you have a place where you can go to relive fond memories you have with the Lord? If not, ask the Lord to guide you to such a place where you can remember some special times you had with Him to refresh your soul.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, You are such a wise Counselor. Thank You for reminding me how You can use opposition to my Christian faith to redirect me to people who are more receptive to Your gospel message. I also appreciate Your example of retreating to a place where You could relive many fond memories from the beginning of Your ministry. Please lead me to such a place where I can be refreshed by memories of Your amazing grace working in my life and the lives of others whom You brought into my life. You are such a Good Shepherd to lead Your sheep beside still waters to refresh their souls. In Your name I praise You! Amen.

ENDNOTE:

1. J. Carl Laney, Moody Gospel John Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992) pg. 50; cf. John 1:28 – the majority of Greek manuscripts read “Bethany,” not “Bethabara.”

When the Lord is my Shepherd I have no want for refreshment

“He leads me beside still waters.” Psalm 23:2b

When David says the Lord “leads me beside still waters,” he is probably thinking of an incident that takes place in the life of a shepherd in Palestine. Sheep are deeply afraid of running water. Instinctively they know that if water should get on their coats of wool, they would sink beneath the stream. As a result, they will only stand beside a stream of water without drinking even when they are extremely thirsty. Their fear of the running water keeps them from drinking.

When a wise shepherd sees this, he moves in with his rod and staff to pry loose some large rocks with which to dam up the raging stream so that his sheep can safely drink from the “stilled waters.” In the midst of a rushing stream, he provides refreshment for the flock with water he has stilled.

The wise shepherd leads his sheep “beside” the still waters, not “through” them or “into” them. He knows that his sheep are afraid of running water. So he first calms those raging waters and then leads his sheep “beside” them where they can safely drink and be refreshed.

Has your Good Shepherd ever done this for you? Have the raging streams of the coronavirus or other difficult circumstances of life seemed to be more than you could bear? Have you drawn back in fear recently when it seemed like life was like a rampaging stream about to suck you under and bury you beneath its flow? But then your Good Shepherd moves in with His rod and staff, and He works through those circumstances you fear most and makes them a source of spiritual refreshment?

God is a very gracious and understanding Shepherd. He knows His sheep better than we know ourselves. He knows our fears and our vulnerabilities. So He “leads us beside” a rushing stream to still its waters so we may be refreshed and soothed. It’s important to remember that God’s responsibility is to lead us and still the waters that overwhelm us. It is our responsibility to follow Him.

Martha Snell Nicholson had been bedridden for several years with a terminal illness. After a partial recovery came a series of difficult operations which seemed to do little good. In her last years she was in constant pain and increasing weakness. One day her physician told her that her condition was too far advanced to respond to treatment. In that hour she wrote this poem entitled, “When He Putteth Forth His Own Sheep.”

I could not walk this darkening path of pain alone;

The years have taken toll of me;

Sometimes my banners droop; my arms have grown too tired,

And laughter comes less easily.

And often these – my shrinking cowardly eyes refuse

To face the thing ahead of me,

The certainty of growing pain and helplessness…

But oh, my Lord is good, for He

Comes quickly to me as I lie there in the dust

Of my defeat and shame and fear;

He stoops and raises me and sets me on my feet,

And softly whispers in my ear

That He will never leave me – nay, that He will go

Before me all the way. And so,

My hand in His, along this brightening path of pain,

My Lord and I go together

The peace of God is not the absence of problems, but the presence of Christ in the midst of those problems. Jesus is aware of our difficulties. He is present with us in our problems. We fear not, because He is with us and He is in charge.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank You for leading me and not abandoning me. Only You can take what I fear the most and turn it into something that soothes and refreshes me. Please help me to follow You even when it does not make sense to me. In Your name. Amen.