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I was standing near the river remembering some good times we had had in this remote setting. We had been here many times before. We had just come from Jerusalem to this place where John first baptized. This week Jesus barely got away from the Chief Priests and the Pharisees. The crowd had picked up rocks to stone Jesus. I thought they had Him for sure. 

Peter broke into my reverie, “Thomas, people seem to have found out where we are. There are not many here today, but Jesus says more will come. We need to help spread them out so they will not trample each other. And we need to keep the area near the river clear so Jesus can teach the multitudes and we can baptise. I sent James to direct people in here from the road. I need you to meet them here and keep them from camping right on the river.” 

For months Jesus had seemed to be telling us that He would be arrested by the Chief Priests and handed over to the Romans. I wonder if we misunderstood Him when He said those things. At least He got away from them this time. If we had not been so afraid it would have been funny. One man was shouting that he had Him. Another one of them was screaming that the man had hold of him instead of Jesus. They were still scrambling around after Him as we left the city by back roads. He led us down across the Jordan to this place in the wilderness where John first baptized people. And it looked like He was going to be popular again.

“More and more people found their way to us. Directing the people became a big job. After a few days of Jesus teaching we began to baptise people. Most of them had seen miracles in Jerusalem. I was standing out in the water having just baptised a large family when I saw a man and wife with two daughters coming down to the river. He looked to me like a Pharisee. As he came nearer I was pretty sure I recognized him as one of the men who had argued with Jesus in Jerusalem. I suspected he was here to cause trouble. I would need to question him thoroughly before I could baptise this family. I looked around to see if Jesus or even some of the other disciples would help me. Then I realized that the man that I had just baptised with his two grown sons had confronted this Pharisee. They were speaking loudly and close enough to the river bank that I heard every word. 

The father whose name was Jonah demanded, “Aren’t you one of the people who tried to stone Jesus a few days ago in the city?” The man bowed his head in what looked to me like shame and said something I could not hear. Jude, Jonah’s eldest son, stepped up beside his father. Somehow the fact that Jonah and his sons were soaking wet seemed to accentuate their anger. 

“We think you need to explain yourself,” Jude said. “Why are you even here? Who told you where Jesus would be?” He looked around as if someone in the crowd had betrayed Jesus to the Pharisees. “You have to give an answer. And this whole crowd wants to hear, so you had better speak up.” 

The man remained silent for several uncomfortable minutes. Finally he said, “I am afraid I have some shameful things to confess. And I ask that my wife and daughters not be molested if you decide to punish me.”

The man’s humble tone struck them all. Miriam, the wife of Jonah stepped up and said, “We will not harm any of you. Please tell us your names.” I thought knowing their names might help keep this from being another confrontation like we had in Jerusalem. Miriam’s husband and sons seemed to agree.

“My name is Justice,” the man answered. “This is my wife, Deborah. And these are our daughters.” He did not mention the girls’ names. I climbed up onto the riverbank. I was the only one of the 12 disciples who had come near. I learned later that, although I had not seen, Jesus motioned for us to stay back and let the drama play out. Something occurred to me as I came even nearer. When the Pharisees had shown up to confront Jesus in the past they never had their families with them. 

Justice had begun to speak. He said, “I was indeed part of the group, I suppose I was even a leader of those who wanted to arrest the Master.” I was struck by the tone in which he said, ‘Master.’ He continued, “I was one of the men who asked the blind man’s parents how he could see, if he were really born blind. And while I didn’t pick up a stone, I was standing there with them. I have been with others who confronted Jesus, but for some reason I had never really listened to Him. I confess that I did not at all understand what He was saying that day about being the true shepherd. But His words were somehow comforting. One of us said that Jesus had a demon, and we should not listen to Jesus at all. Others said those were not the words of one who had a demon. As we were threatening Him, Jesus asked for which of the good works that His Father had done through Him were we going to stone Him. It seemed obvious to me that Jesus was either demonized or He was the Son of God. I didn't see how there could be any other options. The main way He told us His identity was by doing works only God could do. When Jesus said, ‘Even if you do not believe me, believe the works my Father gave me to do,’ I realized that He was giving us an invitation to believe and understand.

“In the turmoil that followed I was not sure if Jesus had got away. I went home and told my wife all of these things. One of our servants overheard me and said that Jesus might have come to this place on the river. He had already been baptized but he came here with us. My wife and daughters had come to believe before we arrived here. We understood from our servant that being baptized was the way we could say that we believe Jesus is the Messiah.”

I was aghast that the others had moved aside and the Pharisee’s family was now coming my way. I nearly fell as I backed into the water. Justice came to me first. I had hardly baptized him when I saw Phillip preparing to baptize his wife. Two others then baptized their daughters. All the crowd began to sing praise to God and to His Son. 

This story was taken from John 10.

Lord, you must be who you showed us you were rather than a demon from hell. We place our faith in you.



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Comment by Malva Birch on March 30, 2021 at 10:48am

Lord Jesus, You give us an invitation to believe and understand. We accept Your invitation with joy and relief. Yes, we place out faith in You. Thank You. We praise You.

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