Below we have the latest installment of Bob Dunne’s book, 909 Days that Changed the World. We will post two chapters a week for the summer months. We suggest reading it quietly and putting yourself in the scenes. You might be amazed at how closer you can get to Jesus! Should you be interested in your own copy, the book ($14.95 plus sales tax) can be bought from his publisher Leonine Press, Barnes and Noble, or Amazon. It is also available in Nook and Kindle. You may also get an autographed copy directly from Bob by emailing him at email@example.com.
Chapter 6: Jesus in Judea; Cure of the Beggar at the Pool; John Arrested
As the Paschal feast ends, caravans organize themselves to begin the journey back home. As we know, John the Baptist and his disciples have abandoned baptizing at the ford of the Jordan River just east of Jericho and have moved up the river below the Sea of Galilee. As Jesus’ caravan moves east from Mt. Olivet and towards the Jordan River, Jesus tells his mother first, and then his followers later, that he is going to stay at the Jordan crossing, taking up the preaching and baptizing that John had been performing there. He invites many of those who have become his followers to stay with him. Many want to stay, and some do, but most, with heavy hearts, have to return to Galilee as work and other duties call them home. Jesus and those who remain with him stay there a long time: from late March into the summer month of July, as the gospel says he “spent some time with them baptizing” (John 3:22). However, what draws more attention to Jesus is a trip from the Jordon to Jerusalem during the Feast of Pentecost in May.
In the northeast part of the city outside of its walls is a pool called Bethsaida. This pool is known to have magical powers, and there are many ill people who congregate there. When the water of the pool is stirred up, the first one in the water is cured of his ailment. Jesus happens by the pool on a Sabbath during the Feast of Pentecost and engages in conversation with a man who has been there for thirty-eight years. Jesus looks at him and, moved by his condition, asks, “Do you want to be well?” (John 5:6). The man looks with sadness at Jesus and replies, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; while I am on my way, someone else gets there before me” (John 5:7). Jesus gives him a concerned look and says, “Rise, take up your mat, and walk” (John 5:8). Immediately the man feels a huge difference in his body, his muscles responding in a way he cannot remember. He stands up, lets out a cry of happiness, bows towards Jesus while thanking him, picks up his mat, and runs to show his family this miracle.
As the man is running home, some Pharisees nearby stop him and admonish him for carrying his mat on a Sabbath. The man looks at them with puzzlement—they are making a stupid point; what difference does it make? He has been cured—but decides not to challenge them. He responds, “The man who made me well told me ‘Take up your mat and walk’” (John 5:12). When they ask him who the man is who cured him, the cured man realizes he doesn’t even know the miracle worker’s name, so he turns back towards the pool, but Jesus is nowhere to be found. He has slipped away in all the excitement. Later that afternoon, however, Jesus finds the healed man in the temple courtyard. He approaches the man, who stands up and beams at Jesus. Jesus tells him his name and then continues, “Look, you are well; do not sin anymore, so that nothing worse will happen to you” (John 5:14). It is an interesting comment. Does Jesus really mean this man’s poor condition was because of a sin he committed? Perhaps the sin he committed was the cause of his malady, but either way Jesus’ comment is certainly meant to stir the man on to be more virtuous. From other things he will say later in his ministry, however, it is clear that illnesses and bad luck are not always the direct result of personal sin. As Jesus continues walking on, the healed man runs over to the temple steps and points out Jesus to the Pharisees standing there. They, of course, recognize Jesus instantly and call him over, criticizing him for telling the man to carry his mat on the Sabbath. Turning around and walking slowly back towards the temple steps, Jesus says to them in a loud voice, “My Father is at work until now, so I am at work” (John 5:17). Then waving his arms as if letting everyone know he wants them to hear these words, he faces the Pharisees and launches into a long challenge against these Jewish leaders.
“Amen, amen, I say to you, a son cannot do anything on his own, but only what he sees his father doing; for what he does, his son will also do. For the Father loves the Son and shows him greater works than these, so that you may be amazed. For just as the Father raises the dead and gives life, so also does the Son give life to whomever he wishes. Nor does the Father judge anyone, but he has given all judgment to his Son, so that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him. Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes in the one who sent me has eternal life and will not come to condemnation, but has passed from death to life. Amen, amen, I say to you, the hour is coming and is now here when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. For just as the Father has life in himself, so also he gave to his Son the possession of life in himself. And he gave him power to exercise judgment, because he is the Son of Man. Do not be amazed at this, because the hour is coming in which all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and will come out, those who have done good deeds to the resurrection of the life, but those who have done wicked deeds to the resurrection of condemnation.
“I cannot do anything on my own; I judge as I hear, and my judgment is just, because I do not seek my own will but the will of the one who sent me. “If I testify on my own behalf, my testimony cannot be verified. But there is another who testifies on my behalf, and I know that the testimony he gives on my behalf is true. You sent emissaries to John, and he testified to the truth. I do not accept testimony from a human being, but I say this so that you may be saved. He was like a burning and shining lamp, and for a while you were content to rejoice in his light. But I have testimony greater than John’s. The works that the Father gave me to accomplish, these works that I perform testify on my behalf that the Father has sent me. Moreover, the Father who sent me has testified on my behalf. But you have never heard his voice nor seen his form, and you do not have his word remaining in you, because you do not believe in the One whom he has sent. You search the scriptures, because you think you have eternal life through them; even they testify on my behalf. But you do not want to come to me to have life.
“I do not accept human praise; moreover, I know that you do not have the love of God in you. I came in the name of my Father, but you do not accept me; yet if another comes in his own name, you will accept him. How can you believe, when you accept praise from one another and do not seek the praise that comes from the only God? Do not think that I will accuse you before the Father; the one who will accuse you is Moses, in whom you have placed your hope. For if you believed Moses, you would have believed me, because he wrote about me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?” (John 5:19-47).
It is a blistering challenge, and the Pharisees shake with anger. How dare this man compare himself to God! How dare he attempt to pass judgment on them! They are the leaders, not he. But Jesus’ voice and command is so strong they are unable to respond, and so they say nothing, and turn their backs on him. Walking back into the temple, they talk among themselves about the need to get rid of, even kill this Jesus, not only because he has broken the Sabbath, but also because he is calling God his Father and therefore making himself equal to God (John 5:19), not to mention the way he challenges their authority. Jesus watches them walk away, turns around, and exits the city out the Golden Gate, returning to the Jordan River, where he and his disciples will continue to baptize. It has been a momentous day, and the Jewish leaders will be all the more intent now on finding a way to eliminate Jesus.
Meanwhile up the river, John and his disciples continue to baptize also, but as word of the number of people being baptized by Jesus and his disciples comes to John’s camp, his disciples “come to John and say, ‘Rabbi, the one who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you testified—here he is baptizing, and everyone is coming to him’” (John 3:26). The tone of their voices indicate a genuine concern for their leader, and a questioning as to what this means for them individually, and perhaps just a tinge of jealousy about Jesus’ success. John’s response, however, is one of total humility. “You yourselves can testify that I said I am not the Messiah, but that I was sent before him…. He must increase; I must decrease” (John 3:28-30). Yes, his listeners all agree to themselves, John has told us all along he is not the Messiah, and, yes, he has even pointed Jesus out as a special man, but these last words of his—“He must increase; I must decrease”— leave little doubt in their minds, with some sadness attached to the conclusion, that John’s ministry is on the wane. Nevertheless, John continues to preach boldly, unafraid of the consequences. For this, he will pay the ultimate price.
Where John is baptizing and preaching is a favorite spot for the tetrarch, Herod, to cross the Jordan from Machaerus, his mountain castle just east of the Dead Sea, to Magdala, a busy and worldly seaport, where he, his wife, and entourage like to spend a good part of the cooler times of the year. When the weather gets warm again, they cross the river at the same spot and return to Machaerus. Herod, although a Jew, is a political and moral abomination to all Jews, for not only is he a puppet of the Roman government, but he had married Herodias, the daughter of an older half-brother of his who had also been the wife of another one of his half-brothers. John the Baptist would leave the political issues to others, but seeing Herod and Herodias as they cross the Jordan in late June on their way back to Machaerus, John says to them that it is not lawful for them to be husband and wife. John has accosted Herod and Herodias about this more than once. He, who is not afraid to call the Pharisees a “brood of vipers,” is not shy in speaking the truth about Herod. Herodias is infuriated at John, but much to her chagrin, Herod will do nothing now while they are crossing the river because of John’s popularity. So, with his wife nagging at him to silence John’s tongue, Herod bides his time.
On returning to Machaerus, after some time has passed, Herod—feeling more secure from popular outcry and tiring of his wife’s constant bitterness about John—sends guards to bind and arrest him and bring him back to Machaerus. His plan is to put him in prison and hope that by the time he and Herodias come back to Magdela in four months or so, the people will have forgotten all about John. ‘Who knows?’ he thinks to himself, ‘Maybe I can even persuade John to change his opinion of me.’ For as much as John’s words sting him, and as much as his wife’s bitterness goads him to be vengeful, Herod feels a strange attraction to John—as do all men towards those who speak the truth, even if the truth is an inconvenient one.
Herod’s guards quietly march to the spot where John and his disciples are baptizing. They wait until early morning so that they will not be observed by many. The guards approach John and stiffly and formally tell him he is under arrest for treason and is ordered by Herod to go with them to Machaerus. John’s disciples are crestfallen, and some move forward to protect him. John holds up his hand to keep them back and offers his wrists to the guards to be bound. He has known this day would come. Seeing John offering no resistance, most of his disciples also offer to be arrested, but the guards refuse to do so. Before he is led away, John asks to be able to speak to his disciples. John tells them to persevere and to make sure that they go down the river to tell Jesus the news about his arrest. One by one he bids them farewell with a look of gratitude none of them will ever forget. When he finishes talking to the last of his disciples, he signals to the guards that he is ready to go. Just like that, he is marched off, leaving his disciples gazing after him in silence as John slowly disappears from sight.