INSTEAD HE WITHDREW…“Therefore Jesus no longer moved about publicly among the people of Judea. Instead he withdrew to a region near the wilderness, to a village called Ephraim, where he stayed with his disciples.” John 11:54.
After raising Lazarus from the dead, last week's lesson: (https://www.facebook.com/fontanacommunitychurch/posts/2784833521596819) Jesus retreated to the village of Ephraim. That village is believed to be the same one known today as Ephraim-Taybeth. 1400 people still live in this picturesque mountain town. The video “Snow in Taybeth 2/3/2012” by former resident Wizam Khoury is absolutely the perfect setting as we follow in the footsteps of Jesus during the last winter of His life. Our thanks to Mr. Khoury for his permission to post it here. Follow this link to his photo: https://fontanacommunitychurch.org/wizam_khoury
The Arabic Christmas hymn in the audio background, “TALJ, TALJ” (SNOW, SNOW), is sung by the Lebanese singer Fairuz. The English translation of the lyrics is absolutely mesmerizing! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w037ftzOZRg&feature=emb_share&fbclid=IwAR2-LjzhF3Serhz8dACd3OP1RZMkBZ4VX-wWYFIyYUsjUc4h0XeWPNQ0SFw
"Snow, snow is falling on the world, snow
The stars are perplexed
And the flowers along the roads are shivering
Snow, snow is falling on the world, snow
The clouds are weary
And on the hills tents are illuminated
There is a baby awake in the cave
And his sweet eyes are full of love
Snow, snow is falling on the world, snow
Every heart, every meadow has flowered with love like snow
The shepherds are coming from abroad
Tonight is the night we have wished for
Snow, snow has brought prosperity and love
To every heart and every meadow
Friendship, prosperity and love
Are falling like the snow.
The history of the village of Ephraim-Taybeh (pronounced Tie-bay) goes back 5000 years. The site, first settled by the Canaanites, is mentioned in the Bible in Joshua 18:23 as a town of Benjamin, called Ophrah. Later, it was renamed Ephraim. Located just 25 miles driving distance from Jerusalem in the biblical land of Judea and Samaria known as the West Bank of Jordan, it is currently under Israeli occupation. It is believed to be the only all-Christian Palestinian community in the entire Holy Land.
Situated on the eastern side of the highest mountain range in biblical Judea and Samaria, the town has always been known for its panoramic views of the Holy Land. During daylight hours, there are magnificent views of the Dead Sea, the Jordan valley, Jericho, and the mountainous desert of Judea. At night, the lights of Jerusalem sparkle like diamonds in the vast expanse of the southwestern desert, while the lights of Amman, Jordan, can be seen to the north. On a moonlit night you can even see the contour of the edges of the Dead Sea in the southern distance. No small wonder that Ephraim-Taybeh has been known for millennia as the “village of retreat”.
The last phrase of John 11:54 “…where He stayed with His disciples" tells us this was not a quick unplanned visit by Jesus. He took His disciples there to prepare them for His coming death. He went there to sit with them on a mountain top on a crisp winter night and gaze down upon cities who claimed to know The Almighty and serve Him, but refused to even acknowledge the Son of God when He walked among them.
Jesus seemed to favor retreating to the mountainside to gain clarity and peace. These were always followed by extremely productive spiritual times. In fact, He chose the twelve disciples after He spent the night on a mountainside in prayer.
There are many other biblical accounts of Jesus’ withdrawal from crowds. After He was baptized by John in the river Jordan, “... the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness, and he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.” Mark 1:12-13. The Mount of Temptation is only 13 miles from Taybeth-Ephraim. The cave below is traditionally known as the place where Jesus spent 40 days and nights in the wilderness fasting.
In Mark 6:45-52, Jesus went to a mountainside to pray. That evening, He saw His disciples out on the Sea of Galilee, struggling against the wind. He went out to them by walking on the water. It was then that the disciples first began to understand that the One who had called them out of the world was the true Son of God.
Jesus also sought solace through retreat after healing a man covered with leprosy in Luke 5:12-14. The account ends with these words in verses 15-16. “Yet the news about him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses. But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.”
Finally, who can forget the poignant account in Mark 14:32-42 of Jesus and His disciples in Gethsemane the night of His betrayal, when Jesus said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” Then He took Peter, James and John further, and shared His sadness with them. “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death…Stay here and keep watch.” Then Jesus went alone to say to His Father “Abba, Father…everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”
Jesus would leave and return to His disciples 3 more times, and every single time He would find them sleeping. Returning the third time, He said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Enough! The hour has come. Look, the Son of Man is delivered into the hands of sinners. Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!”
Like the disciples, many of us are busily caught up in following Jesus’ leading as much as we can. But we really haven’t learned how to focus on why we’re doing it in the first place. It should be because we just love Him enough to follow Him and stay awake. But when our priority becomes “saving the world” or “standing for right”, we can get caught up in the politics and physical struggles of this world. Instead of simply following the Master into the Garden for a time of reflection and prayer we wear ourselves out trying to accomplish the impossible. And you know what happens when you’re physically or spiritually depleted. You go to sleep. Jesus is speaking to us, right now repeating His phrase, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Enough!”
Even if the Words of Jesus are getting through to us right now, the first thing we’re probably going to think about is how to forge ahead up the mountain of our glorious Christianity, against all obstacles, save the world and achieve power for our brand of Christianity. Without realizing it, we have entered the unholy realm of politics, defined as: “the activities associated with the governance of a country or other area, especially the debate or conflict among individuals or parties having or hoping to achieve power”.
We need today’s reminder that retreating from the way of the world is not a choice. Our “Ephraim” is an absolute necessity to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. Because when we choose to withdraw from the ways of the world with its ideals and focus, there is room to move closer to Him. We are able to see His Word with more depth and clarity than we ever thought possible. Then and only then, can we see that the only truth that really matters has been right under our nose the whole time! Everyone in this world has a common bond. We all desperately need Jesus!
Even though Jesus was born into the middle of a country full of prejudice and longstanding religious boundaries, His ministry far surpassed man-made national borders, governing politics and religious creeds. And it still does to this very day.
Retreat now and draw closer to Jesus, and YOU will receive His perfect gift, falling on us ALL. "Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow."
“Friendship, prosperity and love
Are falling like the snow.