Chapter 5 Disciples

After battling Satan's lies in the cave of Engedi, on my way home I decided to greet John, and tell him what had happened. I found some friends from Nazareth who were encamped by the Jordan waiting to hear more of his teaching, and decided to stay with them overnight. They told me where to find the Baptist. As I was walking by he called out "Look, here is the Lamb of God" (John 1:35. As in 1:29, 35, 43 and 2:1, The Greek word epaurion indicates another day, not the next 24 hour day,).

I was still puzzled by what John had said at my baptism. "Here is the Lamb of God who keeps taking away the sin of the world" (John 1:29 is a present continuous tense). And now he repeated this strange metaphor of me as the lamb. I intended to ask him what he meant, but he was busy teaching the crowd around him, so we greeted one another warmly, and I went back to my friends' tent for the night.

To my surprise two of John's disciples followed me (John 2:37), and stayed talking till that evening (John 2:39). One of them was Andrew, a fisherman from the Sea of Galilee, and he brought his brother Simon to meet me. I nicknamed him the Rock (John 1:40-42). They were joined by Philip and Nathanael, who also worked in the city of Bethsaida (John 1:43-45). At first Nathanael was suspicious of me. "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" (John 1:46). But after we had talked an hour or two, he called me Rabbi, and said I must be the Son of God, the Messiah that John was expecting (John 1:49). It had taken me forty days to grasp I was the eternal Son of God. How did this guileless man know who I was?

I told my five friends I must get back to Galilee, and they insisted on being baptized by me before I left. Why did they want this? They explained that John had baptized them when they became his disciples, and he had told them to expect the one who was coming. The prophet also said "I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal" (John 1:27). So they now wanted to become my disciples.

We went down to the river Jordan, one by one they knelt in front of me, and I cupped my hand and splashed water on them, and blessed them "in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" (Matthew 28:19). They wondered what that meant? I explained that I had been conceived by and guided all my life by the Holy Spirit. But very recently, during my forty days in the wilderness, my heavenly the Father had convinced me I was his own son.

I was concerned John might be upset, and I sent my first five disciples to him to explain the situation. Very graciously he told them "I am not the Messiah, but I have been sent ahead of him. He who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom's voice. For this reason my joy has been fulfilled. He must increase, but I must decrease" (John 3:28-30). What a humble man of God! He wasn't going to be part of my work but I couldn't think of anyone greater than him (Luke 7:28). He also told them to join me for the hundred mile walk back to Galilee. "You will learn a lot as you talk on the way."

That very day we heard everyone agitated about spies who had come from Herod Antipas to question John about his remarks concerning the King's adultery with his brother Philip's wife (Mark 6:17-18). So we decided to leave for Galilee immediately (Matthew 4:12, Mark 4:12), and found many others wading across the Jordan with us.

My five disciples had a fair knowledge of the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings, and on the way they asked many good questions. I did my best to draw them out, and I asked what they thought John had in mind when he called me the Lamb of God that keeps taking away the sin of the world? (John 1:29). Andrew said I might be "like a lamb that is led to the slaughter" who was "wounded for our transgressions" (Isaiah 53:5-7). That sounded ominous. Nathanael wondered if the Messiah is continually absorbing our human sin? Peter quoted the story of the passover lambs (Exodus 12:3-8). That would mean that every year at Passover time families continue to remember the Messiah's sufferings. It was the first time I began to see that my work on earth might turn out to be very costly. As we lay down under a tree for the night I talked to my heavenly Father about it. He said "the more you love the more you get hurt, but you will enter into the meaning of that as we go on together.

Often their comments as practical men of action helped me to see more clearly what I had to do. "Rabbi, Nazareth is too far off the beaten track. You should come and live near us. Many of our friends would become your disciples. But don't try to rent a place in Bethsaida. All five of us live and work there on the shore where the Jordan meets the Sea of Galilee. But the city has become too noisy since Philip the Tetrarch has made it his capital. The ideal place would be Capernaum, just across on the west side of the Jordan. We can get over there by boat in a few minutes." Peter said it was nice quiet Jewish town, and his mother in law lived near the synagogue (Mark 1:21, 29, Luke 4:31, 38). Their enthusiasm helped to convince me I had to move.

Before we got to the Sea of Galilee we cut up into the hills to avoid the coastal highway going through Herod's capital in Tiberias. We didn't want to be arrested and interrogated as disciples of John. On the Sabbath day we attended the synagogue in the village of Nain, which has a beautiful view of the valley of Megiddo. Then I told my companions to go on north and return to Bethsaida, which would be outside the jurisdiction of Herod Antipas. They must go and spend time with their families as they had been away a long time. I would go and see if my mother would be willing to come with me, as they suggested, and settle in Capernaum (Matthew 4:13).

Nathanael insisted on escorting me the last few miles into Nazareth, where he discovered my mother was a friend of their family. And she had agreed to do the catering for his brother's wedding immediately after the wheat harvest was gathered in. The next day he went on to the family farm in Cana, where he was born (John 21:2). And he said he would see me in Bethsaida where the others had already gone back to their fishing business.

My mother decided to stay with my sisters in Nazareth, and we could visit from time to time. James and one of my brothers said they would mind the family carpentry business (Matthew 13:55-56). Another brother said there would be plenty of work for a carpenter in Bethsaida.

I liked the look of Capernaum, and inquired after Peter's mother in law. She said she already found just the right place for me. It had an enclosed courtyard and a covered verandah where I could teach my disciples. The elders would want me to teach in the synagogue (Mark 1:21). Peter and his wife came over by boat to visit, and they took me back to where his brother Andrew was mending a net on the Bethsaida side of the river. Nathanael came back from construction work in the city, and we had a wonderful evening together. A crowd gathered and I preached the good news to them. "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near" (Mark 1:14).

The next day I was walking along the shore, and I invited Peter and Andrew to join me in the work of fishing for people (Mark 1:16-18). They said there were others eager to begin learning with me, and James and John the sons of Zebedee also joined us (Mark 1:19-20). I taught them right there on the beach, and soon I had others gathering under my verandah in Capernaum. As numbers increased I got my first disciples to do the baptisms (John 4:2), and they also did some of the basic teaching. All that we required was a willingness to turn (Matthew 4:17, Mark 1:1,15) and begin learning.

The first lesson was that God loved and accepted them just as they were, and there was no need to go to a priest to offer sacrifice (Leviticus 4:27-37), or to wait for the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 23:27-28) to be assured of forgiveness. I did recommend that lepers, who had been healed, go and and get a certificate from a priest before going back home (Luke 17:14), but that was a health precaution. As the last of the great prophets had taught, the priests had abandoned their teaching function and corrupted the practice of animal sacrifice (Malachi 2:4-5, see also Isaiah 1:11-13, Hosea 6:6). When that got to the ears of the temple priests in Jerusalem, you can imagine they were not pleased.

The next lesson was that it was impossible to improve oneself by making rules and good resolutions. Sin originated in the heart (Mark 7:21-23). They could pray to the Holy Spirit to work in their hearts to give them the love and joy and peace and patience that God had in mind for them (Galatians 5:22).

I had to go back to Nazareth for some family business, and two events disturbed me . First came the news that John the Baptist had been arrested and taken to Tiberias. That was just a day's journey down to the Sea of Galilee. The prophet was in the palace jail, and apparently Herod Antipas kept sending for him to hear what he had to say (Mark 6:17-20).

Then on the sabbath day I was looking forward to worship in our Nazareth synagogue. As usual they gave me one of the scrolls to read. It was the book of the Prophet Isaiah (Luke 4:16). I sensed the Spirit moving in me as I began to read: "The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because he has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the broken heart, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners" (Isaiah 61:1, Luke 4:18). They all looked at me, and wanted me to make a comment as the visiting rabbis used to do. As I began explaining the text they were astonished. They also expected me to heal some people, as they had heard I had done in Capernaum (Luke 4:23).

At first they listened well as I explained about the loving grace of God. Then I could see them turning hostile. "Is not this Joseph's son?" (Luke 4:22). I remembered one of John the Baptist's sermons when a group of Pharisee and Sadducee theologians came from Jerusalem to check out what he was teaching. He reminded them that Abraham's promise was for all nations (Genesis 12:3). "I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham" (Matthew 3:7-9). And if the tree of Israel did not bring forth fruit among all nations, it would be cut down (Luke 3:9).

So I explained that the work of the Spirit was not just for the children of Israel. God also cared about people who were not Jews. There was the widow of Zarephath that Elijah stayed with in the area of Sidon, and Naaman, the Syrian Commander in chief, came to Elishah to be healed from leprosy (Luke 4:25-27). But the idea that other nations were important got them enraged. They took me out to lynch me. I was about to be thrown down the cliff at the edge of the town, and I didn't have a hope. But the Spirit somehow led me out between them and I was able to get back to Capernaum (Luke 4:28-31).

That created even more interest in the very cosmopolitan city of Bethsaida. People shook their heads and said "You shouldn't have tried to teach among those ignorant people" and they repeated the saying, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" (John 1:46). Soon we were baptizing more disciples than John the Baptist had ever done (John 4:1) when thousands of people from Judea and Jerusalem had flocked to hear him (Mark 1:5).

Nathanael had invited me and those who were first baptized with him to the wedding of his brother (John 2:1-2, as in 1:29, 35, 43epaurion means on another occasion). Cana was only two hours' walk north from Nazareth, and I wondered if some of those who tried to lynch me would come over and get me. But I knew the Spirit would give me the wisdom I needed. My mother had arranged the catering, and as usual everything was just right. But there were more guests than expected, and she suddenly realized the wine was running out (John 2:3). She was going to be humiliated, and she asked to me to do something about it. I had no intention of going round the village to see if I could get some extra skins of wine. So I said "Don't panic" and she told the servants to obey my orders (John 2:3-5).

I went outside to pray to my Father, and I saw myself back at the second stage of creation. "Then God said, 'Let the earth put forth vegetation: plants yielding seed, and fruit trees of every kind on earth that bear fruit with the seed in it' and it was so" (Genesis 1:11, John 1:1-3, Colossians 1:15).

During my temptation I had refused to use the power of the Spirit to turn rocks to bread (Luke 4:3), but right now there could be a miracle without anybody but the servants knowing what had happened. I got them to draw water from the fountain and they poured it into the six stone jars used for ritual washing outside the synagogue across the street. Others filled the emptied wine skins and kept pouring as usual for the guests. The master of ceremonies complimented the bridegroom "Everyone serves the good wine first, but you have kept the good wine until now" (John 2:6-10). My disciples had not seen what happened, but Nathanael assured them a most astonishing miracle had taken place (John 2:11).

Chapter 6 .....