By S.D. Gordon
The Jerusalem Climate.
Then Jesus came. His coming was greeted with great gladness above, and great silence below. Above, the stars sent a special messenger to bid Him welcome to the earth they lightened and brightened. Below, the rusty hinges of earth's inn refused to swing for Him. So man failing, the lower creation shared room with Him.
Above, was the sweetest music, the music of heaven. Three times the music of heaven is mentioned: at the creation, at this coming of Jesus, at the coming crowning of Jesus in John's Revelation. Below, the only music was that of the babe's holy young mother, God's chosen one to mother His Son, crooning to her babe; and the gentle lowing in minor key of the oxen whose stall He shared. Above, the great glory shining, the messenger of God speaking a message of peace and love. Below, only darkness and silence.
Among the cultured leaders of the city of David, and of Solomon, and of God's once glorified temple, there were no ears for the message, nor eyes for the glory. They had gone deaf and blind Godward long before. To them came no message, for no door was open. To simple men of nature who lived with the stars and the hills and the sheep, came the new shining of the glory, and the wondrous messenger and message. Their doors were open. They practised looking up. Of course neither city nor country mattered, nor matters. God always speaks into the upturned ear and looks into the upturned face.
And so Jesus came. With all of its contrasts it was a winsome coming. A pure young mother nursing her babe; the babe with its sweet wondrous face, a fresh act of God indeed; the simple unselfish cattle; the bright stars; the Glory shining; the sudden flood of music; the Lord's messenger; the message--a very winsome coming.
He came into the peculiar climate of Jerusalem. Jerusalem is Judea. Out of the Babylonian remnant of Israel had come great men, true leaders, with great zeal for the city, and the temple, and the temple service, and for the law. They made the mould in which this later Jerusalem was cast. But that mould retaining its old form, had now become filled with the baser metals. The high ideals of the new makers of the city had shrunk into mere ideas. The small, strongly entrenched ruling circle were tenacious sticklers for traditions as interpreted by themselves. That fine old word conservative (with an underneath meaning of "what we prefer") was one of their sweetest morsels. Underneath their great pride as Moses' successors, the favored custodians of the nation's most sacred treasures, was a passionate love for gold. The temple service was secretly organized on the profit-sharing plan, with the larger share, as usual, for the organizers.
That hardest thing in the whole range of human action to overcome, either by God or man or the devil--prejudice--they had, in the Simon-pure form, superlatively refined. The original treasure of God's Word was about as much overlaid and hidden away by writings about it as--it has been in some other times. Of course they were looking for a Messiah, the one hope of their sacredly guarded literature. But He must be the sort that they wanted, and--could use.
Herod the King was a man of great ability, great ambition, great passion, and great absence of anything akin to conscience. But the virtual ruler was the high priest. His office was bargained for, bought and sold for the money and power it controlled in the way all too familiar to corrupt political life in all times, and not wholly unknown in our own. The old spiritual ideals of Moses, and Samuel, preached amid degeneracy by Elijah and Isaiah, were buried away clear out of sight by mere formalism, though still burning warm and tender in the hearts of a few. This was the atmosphere of the old national capital into which Jesus came.
The Bethlehem Fog.
Then it was that Jesus came. Strange to say, there is a shadow over His coming from the beginning. A gray chilling shadow of the sort of gray that a stormy sky sometimes shows, gray tingeing into slaty black. Yet it was the coming that made the shadow. It takes light, and some thick thing like a block, and some distance for perspective, to make a shadow. The nearer the light to the block thing the blacker the shadow. Here the light came close to some thick blocks; of stupid thickness; human blocks grown more toughly thick by the persistent resisting of any such transparent thing as light.
This was a foggy shadow. A fog is always made by influences from below. A lowering temperature chills the air, and brings down its moisture in the shape of a gray subtle pervasive mist, that blurs the outlook, and often gathers and holds black smoke, and mean poisonous odors and gases from bog and swamp. Such a fog endangers both health and life. This was just such a shadowing fog. There was a decided drop in the temperature, a sudden chill, a fog formed that sucked up the poison of the marshes, and threatened to stifle the baby breath of the new-born King.
A subtle, intangible, but terribly sure something haunts and hunts the King from the first. His virgin mother is suspected by the one nearest her of the most serious offense that can be charged against a woman. The shadow that later grew to inky blackness came ahead of the man, and, under the stable eaves, waited grimly His arrival. The feverish green of Herod's eyes will be content with nothing but a new, bright, running red, and plenty of it. Satan's plan of killing was started early. He was not particular about the way it was done. The first attempt was at Bethlehem. The venomous spittle oozed out there first. But he must move along natural channels: just now, a murderous king's jealous dread of a possible rival.
The first hint of the actual coming of the long expected One is from the star-students of the east. Their long journey and eager questioning bring the birth of Jesus before the official circle of the nation. It is most significant that His birth causes at once a special meeting of the nation's ruling body. Herod was troubled, of course. But--all Jerusalem was troubled with him. Here is a surprising sympathy. It reflects at once vividly the situation. It was strangely suggestive that news of their King coning should trouble these national leaders. These devout star-watchers are wise in the source of information they came to. These leaders knew. They quickly pointed out the spot where the coming One should be born.
A pure virgin under cruel suspicion, a roomless inn, a village filled with heart-broken mothers, a quick flight on a dark night to a foreign land by a young mother and her babe, the stealthy retirement into a secluded spot away from his native province, a fellow feeling between a red-handed king and the nation's leaders--ugh! an ugly, deadly fog.
The Man Sent Ahead.
A high fence of silence shuts out from view the after years. Just one chink of a crack appears in the fence, peering through which, one gets a suggestion of beautiful simplicity, of the true, natural human growing going on beyond the fence.
When mature years are reached, the royal procession is formed. A man is sent ahead to tell of the King's coming. John was Jesus' diplomatic representative, His plenipotentiary extraordinary; that is, the one man specifically sent to represent Him to the nation whose King He was. Treatment of John was treatment of Jesus. A slight done him was slighting his sovereign Master. If Sir Henry Mortimer Durand were to be slighted or treated discourteously by the American authorities, it would be felt at London as a slight upon the King, the government, and the nation they represent. Any indignity permitted to be done on American soil to von Stuckenburg would be instantly resented by Kaiser William as personal to himself. John was Jesus' Durand, His von Stuckenburg, His Whitelaw Reid. And no diplomat ever used more tactful language than this John when questioned about his Master. In Jesus' own simile, John was His best man. Jesus was a bridegroom. John stood by His side as His most intimate friend.
Jesus and John are constantly interwoven in the events of Jesus' career. We moderns, who do everything by the calendar, have been puzzled in the attempt to piece together these events into an exact calendar arrangement. And the beautiful mosaic of the Gospels has been cut up to make a new, modern, calendar mosaic. But these writers see things by events, not by dates. They have in mind four great events, and about these their story clusters. And in these Jesus and John are inextricably interwoven. First is John's wilderness ministry, heading up in his presenting Jesus to the nation. Then John's violent seizure, and Jesus' withdrawal from the danger zone. Then John's death, and Jesus' increased caution in His movements. Then Jesus' death. John comes, points to Jesus, and goes. Jesus comes, walks a bit with John, reaches beyond him and then goes, too.
John baptized. That is, he used a purifying rite in connection with his preaching. It helps to remember the distinction between baptism as practised in the Christian Church, and as practised by John, and by Jesus in His early ministry. In the church, baptism has come to be regarded as a dedicatory rite by some, and by others an initial and confessional rite. But in the first use of it, by John and Jesus, it was a purifying rite. It was a confession too, but of sin, and the need of cleansing, not, as later, of faith in a person, or a creed, although it did imply acceptance of a man's leadership. To a Hebrew mind it was preaching by symbol as well as by word. The official deputation sent from Jerusalem to look John up asked why he should be using a purifying rite if he were neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the prophet. They could understand the appropriateness of either of these three persons using such a rite in connection with his preaching as indicating the national need of cleansing. And in the beginning Jesus for a time, through His disciples, joined in John's plan of baptizing those who confessed sorrow for sin.
Jesus acknowledged John as His own representative, and honored him as such, from first to last. He gives him the strongest approval and backing. The national treatment of John always affects Jesus' movements. When, toward the close, His authority is challenged, He at once calls attention to the evident authority of His forerunner and refuses to go farther.
A trace of that ominous, puzzling foreboding noticed in the Old Testament vision of the coming One creeps in here. Pointing to Jesus, John says, "Behold the lamb of God, who beareth (away) the sin of the world." Why did John say that? We read his words backward in the light of Calvary. But he could not do that, and did not. He knew only a King coming. Why? Even as Isaiah fifty-third, and Psalm twenty-second were written, the writers there, the speaker here, impelled to an utterance, the meaning of which, was not clear to themselves.
This relation and intimacy between these two, John and Jesus, must be steadily kept in mind.
The Contemptuous Rejection.
From the very first, though Jesus was accepted by individuals of every class, He was rejected by the nation. This is the twin-fact standing out in boldest outline through the Gospel stories. The nation's rejection began with the formal presentation of Him to it by John. First was the simple refusal to accept, then the decision to reject, then the determination that everybody else should reject too. First, that He should not be admitted to their circle, then that He should be kept out of their circle, and then that He should be kept out of every circle. There are these three distinct stages in the rejection from the Jordan waters to the Calvary Hill.
First came the contemptuous rejection. John was a great man. Made of the same rugged stuff as the old prophets, he was more than they in being the King's own messenger and herald. In his character he was great as the greatest, though not as great in privilege as those living in the kingdom. He preached and baptized. With glowing eyes of fire, deep-set under shaggy brows, and plain vigorous speech which, if pricked, would ooze out red life, he told of the sin that must be cleaned out as a preparation for the coming One. And to all who would, he applied the cleansing rite.
He had great drawing power. Away from cultured Jerusalem on the hilltops down to the river bottoms, and the stony barrens of the Jordan; from the Judean hill country, away from the stately temple service with its music and impressive ritual, to his simple open-air, plain, fervid preaching, he drew men. All sorts came, the proud Pharisee, the cynical Sadducee, the soldiers, the publicans, farmers, shepherds, tradespeople--all came. His daily gatherings represented the whole people. The nation came to his call. It was the unconscious testimony of the nation to his rugged greatness and to his divine mission. They were impelled to come, and listen, and do, and questioningly wonder if this can be the promised national leader.
One day a committee came from the Jewish Senate to make official inquiry as to who he claimed to be. With critical, captious questions they demand his authority. True to his mission and his Master, he said, "I am not the One, but sent to tell you that He's coming, and so near that it's time to get ready." Then the next day, as Jesus walks quietly through the crowd, probably just back from the wilderness, he finishes his reply to the deputation. With glowing eyes intently riveted upon Jesus, and finger pointing, before the alert eyes of his hundreds of hearers--Pharisees, Sadducees, official committee, Roman soldiers, and common folk--he said in clear, ringing tones, "That is He: the coming One!"
No more dramatic, impressive presentation could have been made of Jesus to the nation. To their Oriental minds it would be peculiarly significant, Mark keenly the result. On the part of the leaders utter silence There could be no more cutting expression of their contempt. With eyebrows uplifted, eyes coldly questioning, their lips slightly curling, or held close together and pursed out, and shoulders shrugging, their contempt, utter disgusted contempt, could not be more loudly expressed. If they had had the least disposition to believe John's words about Jesus, even so far as to investigate patiently and thoroughly, how different would their conduct have been! But--only silence. And silence long continued. Jesus gave them plenty of time before the next step was taken. No silence ever spoke in louder voice. That same day five thoughtful men of that same throng did investigate, and were satisfied, and gave at once loyal, loving allegiance.
A few months later, the Passover Feast drew crowds from everywhere to Jerusalem. Jesus coming into the temple areas, with the crowds, one day, is struck at once with the strange scene. Instead of reverent, holy quiet, as worshippers approached the dwelling-place of God, with their offerings of penitence and worship, the busy bustle of a market-place greets His ears. The noise of cattle and sheep being driven here and there, the pavement like an unkempt barnyard, loud, discordant voices of men handling the beasts and bargaining over exchange rates at the brokers' tables--strange scene. Is it surprising that His ear and eye and heart, perhaps fresh from a bit of quiet morning talk with His Father, were shocked? Here, where everything should have called to devotion, everything jarred.
Quietly and quickly putting some bits of knotted string together, He started the stock out, doubtless against the protests of the keepers. With flashing light out of those keen eyes, He tipped over the tables, spilling out their precious greedy coins, and ordered the crates of pigeons removed. But all with no suggestion of any violence used toward anybody. Reluctantly, perhaps angrily, wholly against their plans and wishes, the crowd, impelled by something in this unknown Man, with no outer evidence of authority, goes. It is a remarkable tribute, both to the power of His personal presence and to His executive faculty.
Of course the thing made trouble. It was the talk of the town, and of all the foreigners for days after. The leaders were aroused and angered, deeply angered. This stranger had kicked up a pretty muss with His inconvenient earnestness and inconsiderate quoting of Scripture. It was a practical assumption of superior authority over them. It was an assumption of the truth of John's ignored claim that He was the promised King.
Was not this arrangement in the temple area a great convenience for the many strangers, who were their brothers and guests; a real kindly act of hospitality? Yes--and was it not, too, a finely organized bit of business for profiting by these strangers, a using of their proper authority over the temple territory to transfer their brothers' foreign coins safely over to their own purses? Aye, it was a transmuting of their holy offices into gold by the alchemy of their coarse, greedy touch.
Jesus' conduct was the keenest sort of criticism of these rulers, before the eyes of the nation and of the thousands of pilgrims present. These leaders never forgave this humiliating rebuke of themselves. It made their nerves raw to His touch ever after. Here is the real reason of all their after bitter dislike. They had a sensitive pocket-nerve. It was a sort of pneumogastric nerve so close did it come to their lives. Jesus touched it roughly. It never quit aching. Scratch all their later charges against Him and under all is this sore spot. The tree of the cross began growing its wood that day. Their hot, captious demand for authority, meant as much for the ears of the crowd as for His, brought from Jesus, who read His future in their hearts, a reply which they could not understand. They asked their question for the crowd to hear, He replied for His disciples to remember in the after years. There could be no evidence of authority more significant than this temple incident.
His first public work was done at this time. The great throng of pilgrims from around the world, attracted to Him by this simple daring act of leadership, witnessed a group of mighty acts during these Passover days. The angry leaders had critically asked for "signs" of His authority. He gave them in abundance, not in response to their captious demand, but doubtless, as always, in response to pressing human needs. The result was that many persons accepted Him, but the nation in its rulers, maintained their attitude of angered, contemptuous silence. But underneath that surface the pot is beginning to boil.
Of all the members of the national Senate, one, just one, comes to make personal inquiry, and sift this man's claim sincerely and candidly. And he, be it marked, chooses a darkened hour for that visit. That night hour speaks volumes of the smouldering passion under their contempt. That Jesus recognized fully their attitude and just what it meant comes out in that quiet evening talk. To that sincere inquirer, He frankly Jays, "You people won't receive the witness that John and I have brought you." He was pleading before a court that stubbornly refuses testimony of fact. And to this honest seeker, whom we must all love for his sincerity, He reveals His inner consciousness of a tragic break coming, with a pleading word for personal trust, and a saddened "men love darkness."
With the going away of the Passover crowds, Jesus leaves the national capital, and assists in the sort of work John was doing. His power to draw men, and men's eagerness for Him, stand out sharply at once. John had drawn great crowds of all classes. Jesus drew greater crowds. Multitudes eagerly accepted John's teaching and accepted baptism from him. As it turned out, greater multitudes of people, under the very eyes of these ignoring, contemptuous leaders, accepted Jesus' leadership. John baptized. Jesus baptized through His disciples. These leaders in their questioning of John had tacitly acknowledged the propriety of "the Christ" using such a rite. Jesus follows the line of least resistance, and fitted into the one phase of His work which they had recognized as proper.
The pitiable fact stands out that the only result with them is a wordy strife about the relative success of these two, Jesus and John. The most that their minds, steeped in jealousies and rivalries, ever watching with badger eyes to undercut some one else, could see, was a rivalry between these two men. John's instant open-hearted disclaimer made no impression upon them. They seemed not impressionable to such disinterested loyalty.
A little later, probably not much, John's ruggedly honest preaching against sin came too close home to suit Herod. He promptly shuts up the preacher in prison, with no protest from the nation's leaders. These leaders had developed peculiar power in influencing their civil rulers by the strenuousness of their protests. That they permitted the imprisonment of John with no word of protest, was a tacit throwing overboard of John's own claims, of John's claims for Jesus, and of Jesus' own claim.
Here is the first sharp crisis. From the first, the circle of national leaders characterized by John, the writer of the Gospel, as "the Jews," including the inner clique of chief priests and the Pharisees, ignored Jesus; with silent contempt, coldly, severely ignored. This was before the temple-cleansing affair. That intensified their attitude toward the next stage. They had to proceed cautiously, because the crowd was with Jesus. And full well these keen leaders knew the ticklishness of handling a fanatical Oriental mob, as subsequent events showed. Now John is imprisoned, with the consent of these leaders, possibly through their connivance.
Jesus keenly and quickly grasps the situation. First ignored, then made the subject of evil gossip, the temple clash, and now His closest friend subjected to violence, His own rejection is painfully evident. He makes a number of radical changes. His place of activity is changed to a neighboring province under different civil rule; His method, to preaching from place to place; His purpose, to working with individuals. There's a peculiar word used here by Matthew to tell of Jesus' departure from Judea to a province under a different civil ruler; "He withdrew." The word used implies going away because of danger threatening. We will run across it again and each time at a crisis point.
The leaders refused Jesus because He was not duly labelled. It seems to be a prevailing characteristic to want men labelled, especially a characteristic of those who make the labels. There is always an eager desire regarding a stranger to learn whom he represents, who have put their stamp upon him and accepted him. And if the label is satisfactory, he is acccepted in the degree in which the label is accepted. Others are marked with a large interrogation point. Inherent worth has a slow time. But sure? Yes, but slow. Jesus bore no label whose words they could spell out or wanted to. They were a bit rusty in the language of worth. How knoweth this man letters, having never learned! He seems to know, to know surprisingly well. He seems keenly versed in the law, able quickly to turn the tables upon their catch questions. But then it can't be the real article of learning, because He hasn't been in our established schools. He has no sheepskin in a dead language with our learned doctors' names learnedly inscribed. How indeed! An upstart!!
Yet always to the earnest, sincere inquirer there was authority enough. In His acts, an open-minded doctor of the law could read the stamp of God's approval. The ear open to learn, not waxed up by self-seeking plans, or filled with gold dust, heard the voice of divine approval out of the clouds, or in His presence and acts.
The Aggressive Rejection.
Then came the second stage, the aggressive rejection. This is the plotting stage. Their hot passion is cooling now into a hardening purpose. This has been shaping itself under the surface for months. Now it is open. This was a crowded year for Jesus, and a year of crowds. The Galileans had been in His southern audiences many a time and seen His miracles. The news of His coming up north to their country swiftly spread everywhere. The throngs are so great that the towns and villages are blockaded, and Jesus has recourse to the fields, where the people gather in untold thousands.
An ominous incident occurs at the very beginning of this Galilean work. It is a fine touch of character that Jesus at once pays a visit to His home village. One always thinks more of Him for that. He never forgot the home folk. The synagogue service on the Sabbath day gathers the villagers together. Jesus takes the teacher's place, and reads, from Isaiah, a bit of the prophecy of the coming One. Then with a rare graciousness and winsomeness that wins all hearts, and fastens every eye upon Himself, He begins talking of the fulfilment of that word in Himself.
Then there comes a strange, quick revulsion of feeling. Had some Jerusalem spy gotten in and begun his poisoning work already? Eyes begin to harden and jaws become set. "Why, that is the man that made our cattle-yoke."--"Yes, and fixed our kitchen table."--"He--the Messiah!" Then words of rebuke gently spoken, but with truth's razor edge. Then a hot burst of passion, and He is hustled out to the jagged edge of the hill to be thrown over. Then that wondrous presence awing them back, as their hooked hands lose hold, and their eyes again fasten with wonder, and He passed quietly on His way undisturbed. Surely that was the best evidence of the truth of His despised word.
Seven outstanding incidents here reveal the ever-hardening purpose of the leaders against Jesus. First comes another clash in the temple. Their ideas of what was proper on the Sabbath day receive a shock because a man enslaved by disease for years was healed with a word from Jesus' lips. Could there be a finer use of a Sabbath day! We can either think them really shocked, or hunting for a religious chance to fight Him. Jesus' reply seems so to enrage that a passion to kill Him grips them. It is notable that they had no doubt of the extent of Jesus' claim; "He called God His own Father, making Himself equal with God." On these two things, His use of the Sabbath, and His claim of divinity, is based the aggressive campaign begun that day.
The incident draws from Him the marvellous words preserved by John in his fifth chapter. In support of His claim He quietly brings forward five witnesses, John His herald, His own miraculous acts, His Father, the Scriptures entrusted to their care, and Moses, the founder of the nation. That was a great line of testimony. This first thought of killing Him seems to have been a burst of hot, passionate rage, but gradually we shall find it cooled into a hardened, deliberate purpose.
At once Jesus returns to the northern province. And now they begin to follow Him up, and spy upon His movements and words. In Capernaum, His northern headquarters, a man apparently at unrest in soul about his sins, and palsied in body, is first assured of forgiveness, and then made bodily whole. Their criticism of His forgiving sins is silenced by the power evidenced in the bodily healing. But their plan of campaign is now begun in earnest, and is evident at once. Later criticism of His personal conduct and habits with the despised classes is mingled with an attempt to work upon His disciples and undermine their loyalty. The Sabbath question comes up again through the disciples satisfying their hunger in the grain fields, and brings from Jesus the keen comment that man wasn't made for the Sabbath, but to be helped through that day, and then the statement that must have angered them further that He was "Lord of the Sabbath."
Another Sabbath day in the synagogue they were on hand to see if He would heal a certain man with a whithered hand whom they had gotten track of, "that they might accuse Him." They were spying out evidence for the use of the Jerusalem leaders. To His grief they harden their hearts against His plea for saving a man, a life, as against a tradition. And as the man with full heart and full eyes finds his chance of earning a living restored, they rush out, and with the fire spitting from their eyes, and teeth gritting, they plan to get their political enemies, the Herodians, to help them kill Jesus. A number of these incidents give rise to these passionate outbursts to kill, which seem to cool off, but to leave the remnants that hardened into the cool purpose most to be dreaded.
A second time occurs that significant word, "withdrew." Jesus withdrew to the sea, followed by a remarkable multitude of Galileans, and others from such distant points as Tyre and Sidon on the north, Idumea on the extreme south, beyond the Jordan on the east, and from Jerusalem. He was safe with this sympathizing crowd.
The crowds were so great, and the days so crowded, that Jesus' very eating was interfered with. His friends remonstrate, and even think Him unduly swayed by holy enthusiasm. But it is a man come down from Jerusalem who spread freely among the crowds the ugly charge that He was in league with the devil, possessed by an unclean spirit, and that that explained His strange power. No uglier charge could be made. It reveals keenly the desperate purpose of the Jerusalem leaders. Clearly it was made to influence the crowds. They were panic-stricken over these crowds. What could He not do with such a backing, if He chose! Such a rumor would Spread like wildfire. Jesus shows His leadership. He at once calls the crowds about Him, speaks openly of the charge, and refutes it, showing the evident absurdity of it.
Then a strange occurrence takes place. While He is teaching a great crowd one day, there is an interruption in the midst of His speaking Oddly, it comes from His mother and her other sons. They send in a message asking to see Him at once. This seems very strange. It would seem probable from the narrative that they had access to Him constantly. Why this sudden desire by the one closest to Him by natural ties to break into His very speaking for a special interview? Had these Jerusalem men been working upon the fears of her mother heart for the safety of her Son? She would use her influence to save Him from possible danger threatening? There is much in the incident to give color to such a supposition. Perhaps a man of such fineness as He could be checked back by consideration for His mother's feelings. They were quite capable of pulling any wire to shut Him up, however ignorant they showed themselves of the simple sturdiness of true character. But the same man who so tenderly provides for His mother in the awful pain of hanging on a cross reminds her now that a divine errand is not to be hindered by nature's ties; that clear vision of duty must ever hold the reins of the heart.
Then comes the most terrible, and most significant event, up to this time, in the whole gospel narrative--the murder of John. This marks the sharpest crisis yet reached. For a year or so John had been kept shut up in a prison dungeon, evidence of his own faithfulness, and of the low moral tone, or absence of moral tone, of the time. Then one night there is a prolonged, debased debauchery in a magnificent palace; the cunning, cruel scheme of the woman whose wrong relation to Herod John had honestly condemned. The dancing young princess, the drunken oath, the terrible request, the glowing-coal eyes closed, the tongue that held crowds with its message of sin, and of the coming One stilled, the King's herald headless--the whole horrible, nightmare story comes with the swiftness of aroused passion, the suddenness of a lightning flash, the cold cruelty of indulged lust.
Instantly on getting the news Jesus "withdrew"--for the third time withdrew to a retired desert place. This had tremendous personal meaning for Him. Nothing has occurred thus far that spells out for Him the coming tragic close so large, so terribly large, as does this. He stays away from the Passover Feast occurring at this time, the only one of the four of His public career He failed to attend.
The Murderous Rejection.
This crisis leads at once into the final stage, the murderous rejection. Jesus is now a fugitive from the province of Judea, because the death plot has been deliberately settled upon. The southern leaders begin a more vigorous campaign of harrying Him up in Galilee. A fresh deputation of Pharisees come up from Jerusalem to press the fighting. They at once bring a charge against Jesus' disciples of being untrue to the time-honored traditions of the national religion. Yet it is found to be regarding such trivial things as washing their hands and arms clear up to the elbows each time before eating, and of washing of cups and pots and the like. Jesus sharply calls attention to their hypocrisy and cant, by speaking of their dishonoring teachings and practices in matters of serious moment. Then He calls the crowd together and talks on the importance of being clean inside, in the heart and thought. Before all the crowds He calls them hypocrites. It's a sharp clash and break. Jesus at once "withdrew." It is the fourth time that significant danger word is used. This time His withdrawal is clear out of the Jewish territory, far up north to the vicinity of Tyre and Sidon, on the seacoast, and there He attempts to remain unknown.
After a bit He returns again, this time by a round-about way, to the Sea of Galilee. Quickly the crowds find out His presence and come; and again many a life and many a home are utterly changed by His touch. With the crowd come the Pharisees, this time in partnership with another group, the Sadducees, whom they did not love especially. They hypocritically beg a sign from heaven, as though eager to follow a divinely sent messenger. But He quickly discerns their purpose to tempt Him into something that can be used against Him. The sign is refused. Jesus never used His power to show that He could, but only to help somebody.
The fall of that year found Him boldly returning to the danger zone of Jerusalem for attendance on the harvest-home festival called by them the Feast of Tabernacles. It was the most largely attended of the three annual gatherings, attracting thousands of faithful Jews from all parts of the world. The one topic of talk among the crowds was Jesus, with varying opinions expressed; but those favorable to Him were awed by the keen purpose of the leaders to kill Him. When the festival was in full swing, one morning, Jesus quietly appears among the temple crowds, and begins teaching. The leaders tried to arrest Him, but are held back by some hidden influence, nobody seeming willing to take the lead. Then the clique of chief priests send officers to arrest Him. But they are so impressed by His presence and His words, that they come back empty-handed, to the disgust of their superiors. Great numbers listening believe on Him, but some of the leaders, mingling in the crowd, stir up discussion so sharp that with hot passion, and eyes splashing green light, they stoop down and pick up stones to hurl at Him and end His life at once. It is the first attempt at personal violence in Jerusalem. But again that strange restraining power, and Jesus passes out untouched.
As he quietly passes through and out, He stops to give sight to a blind man. Interestingly enough it occurs on a Sabbath day. Instantly the leaders seize on this, and have a time of it with the man and his parents in turn, with this upshot, that the man for his bold confession of faith in Jesus is shut out from all synagogue privileges, in accordance with a decision already given out. He becomes an outcast, with all that that means. It's a fine touch that Jesus hunts up this outcast and gives him a free entrance into His own circle.
After this feast-visit to Jerusalem, Jesus probably returns to Galilee, as after previous visits there, and then one day leads His band of disciples up to the neighborhood of snow-capped Hermon. Here probably occurs the transfiguration, the purpose of which was to tie up these future leaders of His, against the events now hurrying on with such swift pace. From this time begins the preparation of this inner circle for the coming tragedy so plain to His eyes.
Then begins that memorable last journey from Galilee toward Jerusalem through the country on the east of the Jordan. With marvellous boldness and courage He steadfastly set His face toward Jerusalem. The ever-tightening grip of His purpose is in the set of His face. The fire burning so intensely within is in His eye as He tramps along the road alone, with the disciples following, awestruck and filled with wondering fear. Thirty-five deputations of two each are sent ahead into all the villages to be visited by Him. What an intense campaigner was Jesus! He was thoroughly, systematically stumping the whole country for God.
As He approaches nearer to the Jerusalem section the air gets tenser and hotter. The leaders are constantly harrying His steps, tempting with catch questions, seeking signs, poisoning the crowds--mosquito warfare! He moves steadily, calmly on. Some of the keenest things He said flashed out through the friction of contact with them. A tempting lawyer's question brings out the beautiful Samaritan parable. The old Sabbath question provokes a fresh tilt with a synagogue ruler. There is a cunning attempt by the Pharisees to get Him out of Herod's territory into their own. How intense the situation grew is graphically told in Luke's words, they "began to set themselves vehemently against Him, and to provoke Him to speak many things; laying wait for Him to catch something out of His mouth."
Though unmoved by the cunning effort of the Pharisees to get Him over from Herod's jurisdiction into Judea, despite their threatening attitude, the winter Feast of Dedication finds Him again in Jerusalem walking in one of the temple areas. Instantly He is surrounded by a group of these Jerusalem Jews who, with an air of apparent earnest inquiry, keep prodding Him with the request to be told plainly if He is really the Christ. His patient reply brings a storm of stones--almost. Held in check for a while by an invisible power, or by the power of His presence shown under such circumstances so often, again they attempt to seize His person, and again He seems invisibly to hold their hands back, as He quietly passes on His way out of their midst.
Then comes the stupendous raising of Lazarus, which brings faith in Him to great numbers, and results in the formal official decision of the national council to secure His death. He is declared a fugitive with a price set upon His head. Anybody knowing of His whereabouts must report the fact to the authorities. This decides Him not to show Himself openly among them. In a few weeks the pilgrims are crowding Jerusalem for the Passover. Jesus' name is on every tongue. The rumor that He was over the hills in Bethany takes a crowd over there, not simply to see Him, but to see the resurrected Lazarus. Then it was determined to kill Lazarus off, too.