Perea, or simply beyond Jordan, was populated with Jewish towns under tetrarch Herod Antipas, and further north were the Greek cities of the Decapolis. It was only a days journey from Jerusalem for a vigorous man and Jesus could readily return there if necessary. The river was easy to cross until the melting snows from Mount Hermon flooded it later in the spring. In thick groves along river banks, the leopard still stalked his prey and thickets teemed with smaller animals and birds. Slopes of the mountains were covered with sycamore, beech, terebinth, ilex, and great fig trees. Altogether it was a hospitable place in the winter months and ideal for teaching.
Christ found large audiences with little opposition to his ministry in the many villages and towns. Bethany beyond Jordan had nostalgic associations. It was here he had been baptized by John, experienced the vision from heaven and heard the voice of his Father. Here, too, on his return from the temptation, his first disciples had followed him. Now he came to dwell in this pleasant place to teach in the villages and in the sycamore grove that had been Johns pulpit. He felt the spirit of the Baptist there with him, and thoughts of John even came to the minds of those who came out into the wilderness to see the Savior. John did no miracle, they said, but all the things that John spoke about this man were true.
Whenever Jesus went from town to town proclaiming the good news of the Kingdom of God, devout women followed to minister unto him and his apostles, some having been healed from evil spirits and infirmities. Among them were Mary Magdalene who had been set free from seven demons, Joanna the wife of Chuza whose son had been healed, and another woman named Susanna, together with several others. They provided financial support, food, clothing, and other daily needs from their own resources, so that the Lord could devote full attention to his ministry.
Teaching in Parables
Christ spoke about the Kingdom of God largely in parables and allegories, methods by which he could instruct without giving his enemies further grounds to attack him. His disciples wanted to know the reason.
He explained, You have been granted to understand the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but others have not. To those who are open to my teaching, more understanding will be given, and they will have an abundance of knowledge. But to those who are not listening, even what they have will be taken away from them. That is why I tell these stories, because people look at what I do, but do not really see. They listen to what I say, but do not really hear, and they do not understand.
But blessed are your eyes, because they see; and your ears, because they hear. I assure you, many prophets and godly people have longed to see and hear what you have seen and heard, but they could not.
Parable of the Lost Sheep
The Lord always received those who came to him, and he stayed in any house where he was sincerely invited to rest. Often this meant socializing with tax collectors and other notorious sinners who often came to listen to him teach.
Pharisees and teachers of religious law considered these lost sheep to be despicable peopleand Gentiles to be even worse. Jewish teaching concerning repentance and salvation was not a gospel to the lost because Jews considered themselves to be Gods chosen nation. To them, salvation came only through the Jews and keeping the Law of Moses. The leaders wanted nothing to do with sinners and called upon them to do penitence, and only then would divine mercy or justice have its reward.
But Jesus had come to do the work of the Father. That work was the restoration of all the lost to the Kingdom of Godeven the other sheep that are not in this sheepfoldand it was the longing of the Father to welcome them home again. No soul, however lost in sin, could be beyond the outreach of Christs shepherding love. For this purpose he left the fold of his Heavenly Father to reside with humankind and provide a surefooted path to the Kingdom of God.
One day the leaders came to the Teacher and murmured their disapproval in front of the crowd, This man welcomes sinners and eats with them! He refuted their complaint with three parables which were among the most beautiful and expressive in all his teachings.
He began with the Parable of the Lost Sheep: If you had one hundred sheep, and one of them strayed away and was lost in the wilderness, would you not leave the ninety-nine others to go and search for the lost one until you found it? And then you would joyfully carry it home on your shoulders. When you arrived, you would call your friends and neighbors together, and say, Rejoice with me! I have found my lost sheep! In the same way, there will be greater joy in heaven over one lost sinner who returns to God than over ninety-nine others who are righteous and have not strayed away!