By S.D. Gordon
The Book's Story.
It wasn't always a rough road, of course. But as you look at it from end to end, the roughness of it is what takes your eye most, and takes great hold of your heart. The smooth places here and there make you feel that it was a rough road. And yet, rough though it really was, the roughness was eased by the love in the heart of the Man that trod it; though not eased for the soles of His feet, nor for hands and face. For there was thorny roughness at the sides as He pushed through, as well as steep roughness under foot.
And it may not seem so long at first. But the longer you look, the sharper your eyes get to see how great was the distance He had to come, from where He was, down to where we were.
Let me take a little sea room, and go back a bit so we can see the full length, and the real roughness, of the road He came. And lest some of you may think that the telling of the first part of it has the sound of a fairy tale, let me tell you that it is simply the story of what actually took place, as told in the pages of this old Book of God. It will be a help if you will keep your copy of the Bible at hand, and turn thoughtfully to its pages now and then as we talk.
There is a rare simplicity in the way in which the story of the Bible is told. And it helps to remember that the Bible is never concerned with chronology, nor with scientific process but only with giving pictures of moral or spiritual conditions among men as seen from above. And chiefly it is concerned with giving a picture of God, in His power and patience and gentleness, and in His great justice and right in dealing with everybody. Yet the picture and the language never clash with the facts of nature and of life as dug out by student or scientist.
It is a great help in talking about these things of God, and of human life, not to have any theories to fit and press things into, but simply to take the Book's story, and to tell it over again in the language of our generation. It simplifies things quite a bit not to try to fit God into your philosophy, but to accept His own story of life. It not only greatly simplifies one's outlook, it gives you such sure footing, such steadiness. Any other footing may go out from under your feet any time. But the old Book of God "standeth sure," never more sure than to-day when it was never more riddled at, and mined under. But neither bullets nor mining have affected the Book itself. The only harm has been in the kick-back of the firing, upon those standing close by.
I am frank to confess my own ignorance of the great truths we are talking over here, save for the Bible itself, and the response to it within my own spirit, and the further response to it in human life all over the earth to-day West and East. Human life is a faithful mirror, accurately reflecting to-day just the conditions found in this old Book. No book so faithfully and accurately describes the workings and feelings of the human mind and heart of to-day in our western world, and in all the world, as this Book, written so long ago in the language of the East. Its finger still gives accurately the pulse beat of the race. And it helps, too, to tell the story in the simple way in which this Book itself does, as a story.
God on a Wooing Errand.
God and man used to live together in a garden. It was a most wonderful garden, full of trees and flowers and fruit, of singing birds with rare feathers and songs, of beasts that had never yet learned fear, nor to make others feel it, and a beautiful river of living water. The name given it indicates that it was a most delightful spot. God and man used to live together in this garden. They talked and walked and worked together. Man helped God in putting the finishing touches on His work of creation. It was the first school, with God Himself as teacher. God and man used to have a trysting time under the trees in the twilight. But one evening when God came for the usual bit of fellowship the man was not there. God was there. He had not gone away, and He has never gone away. Man had gone away, and God was left lonely standing under the tree of life.
A friend, in whose home we were, told of her little daughter's remark one day. The mother had been teaching her that there is only one God. The child seemed surprised and on being told again, said in her childlike simplicity, "I think He must be very lonesome." Well, the child was right in the word used. God is lonesome, though for an utterly different reason than was in the child's mind. God was lonesome that day, left standing alone under the trees of the garden. He is lonesome for fellowship with every one who stays away from Himself. That homely human word may well express to us the longing of His heart.
Man went away from God that day, then he wandered farther away, then he lost his way back, then he didn't want to come back. And away from God his ideas about God got badly confused. His eyes grew blind to God's pleading face, his ears dull and then deaf to God's voice. His will got badly warped and bent out of shape morally, and his life sadly hurt by the sin he had let in.
And all this was very hard on God. It grieved Him at His heart. He sent many messengers, one after another, through long years, but they were treated as badly as they could be. And at last God said to Himself, "What more can I do? This is what I will do. I'll go down Myself and live among them, and woo them back Myself." And so it was done. One day He wrapped about Himself the garb of our humanity, and came in amongst us as one of ourselves. And He became known amongst us as Jesus. He had spoken the world into being; now, in John's simple homely language, He pitched His tent amongst our tents as our near neighbour and kinsman. Our Lord Jesus was the face of God looking into ours, the voice of God speaking into the ears of our hearts, the hand of God reached down to make a way back and then lead us along the way back again, the heart of God coming in touch to warm ours and make us willing to go back.
It was a long road He came, as long as the distance we had gone away from Him. And no measuring stick has yet been whittled out that can tell that distance. We want to look a bit at the last lap of the road, the earth-lap. It runs from the Bethlehem plain where He came in, to the Olivet hilltop where He slipped away again up and back, for a time, until things are ready for the next step in His plan.
The Rough Places.
The bit of earth-road began to get pretty rough before He had quite gotten here. The pure gentle virgin-mother was under cruelly hurting suspicion on the point about which a woman is properly most sensitive, and that too by the one who was nearest to her. I've wondered why Joseph, too, was not told of the plan of God when Mary was, and so she be spared this sore suspicion. I think it was because he simply could not have taken it in beforehand, though he rose so nobly when he was told. Her experience was unavoidable, humanly speaking.
That hastily improvised cradle was in rather a rough spot for both mother and babe. The hasty fleeing for several days and nights to Egypt, with those heart-rending cries of the grief-stricken mothers of Bethlehem haunting their ears, the cautious return, and then apparently the change of plans from a home in historic Bethlehem to the much less favoured village of Nazareth,--it was all a pretty rough beginning on a very rough road. It was a sort of prophetic beginning. There proved to be blood-shedding at both ends, and each time innocent blood, too.
The word Nazareth has become a high fence hiding from view thirty of the thirty-three years. Was this the dead-level, monotonous stretch of the road, from the time of the early teens on to the full maturity of thirty? Yet it proved later to have a dangerously rough place on the precipice side of the town. It seems rather clear that Joseph and Mary would have much preferred some other place, their own family town, cultured Bethlehem, for rearing this child committed to their care. But the serious danger involved decided the choice of the less desirable town for their home.
But the roughest part began when our Lord Jesus turned His feet from the shaded seclusion of Nazareth, and turned into the open road. At once came the Wilderness, the place of terrific temptation, and of intense spirit conflict. The fact of temptation was intensified by the length of it. Forty long days the lone struggle lasted. The time test is the hardest test. The greatest strength is the strength that wears, doesn't wear out. That Wilderness had stood for sin's worst scar on the earth's surface. Since then it has stood for the most terrific and lengthened-out siege-attack by the Evil One upon a human being. Satan himself came and rallied all the power of cunning and persistence at his command. He did his damnable worst and best.
In an art gallery at Moscow is a painting by a Russian artist of "Christ in the Wilderness," which reverently and with simple dramatic power brings to you the intense humanity of our Lord, and how tremendously real to Him the temptation was. This helps to intensify to us the meaning of the Wilderness. It stands for victory, by a man, in the power of the Spirit, over the worst temptation that can come.
Then follows a long stretch of rough road with certain places sharply marked out to our eyes. The rejection by the Jewish leaders began at once. It ran through three stages, the silent contemptuous rejection, the active aggressive rejection, then the hardened, murderous rejection running up to the terrible climax of the cross.
The contemptuous rejection of the Baptist's claim for his Master, by the official commission sent down to inquire, was followed by the more aggressive, as they began to realize the power of this man they had to deal with. John's imprisonment revealed an intensifying danger, and the need of withdrawing to some less dangerous place.
Our Lord's change to Galilee, and to preaching and working among the masses, was followed by a persistent campaign on the part of the Southerners of nagging, harrying warfare against Him throughout Galilee. It grew in bitterness and intensity, with John's death as a further turning point to yet intenser bitterness. The visits to Jerusalem were accompanied by fiercer attacks, venomous discussions, and frenzied attempts at personal violence. This grew into the third stage of rejection, the cool, hardened plotting of His death. The last weeks things head up at a tremendous rate; our Lord appears to be the one calm, steady man, even in His terrific denunciation of them, held even and steady in the grip of a clear, strong purpose, as He pushed His way unwaveringly onward. Then came the terrible climax,--the cross. The worst venomous spittle of the serpent's poison sac spat out there. It was the climax of hate, and the climax of His unspeakable love.
When Your Heart's Tuned to the Music.
Surely it was a long, rough road. Its length was not measured by miles, nor years, but by the experiences of this Lone Man. So measured it becomes the longest road ever trod, from purity's heights to sin's depths; from love's mountain top to hate's deepest gulf. It makes a new record for roughness. For no one has ever suffered what our Lord Jesus did; and no one's suffering ever had the value and meaning for another that His had and has for all men and for us. Not one of us to-day realizes how He suffered, nor the intensity of meaning that suffering actually has for all the race, and for those of us who accept it for ourselves.
It was a rough, long road, and He knew ahead that it would be. He saw dimly ahead, then more sharply outlined as He drew on, those crossed logs in the road, growing bigger and darker and more forbidding as He pushed on. But He could not be stopped by that, for He was thinking about us, and about His Father. He pushed steadily on, past crossed logs all overgrown and tangled with thorn bushes and poison ivy vines, bearing the marks of logs and thorns and poison ivy, but He went through to the end of the road, He reached His world; He reached our hearts. And now He is longing to reach through our hearts to the hearts of the others.
"But none of the ransomed ever knew
How deep were the waters crossed;
Nor how dark was the night that the Lord passed through,
'Ere He found His sheep that were lost.
'Lord, whence are those blood-drops all the way
That mark out the mountain's track?'
'They were shed for one who had gone astray
Ere the Shepherd could bring him back.'
But all through the mountains, thunder-riven,
And up from the rocky steep,
There arose a glad cry to the gate of heaven,
'Rejoice! I have found my sheep.'"
But there was something more on that road. Do you know how the wind blows through the trees on the steep mountain side, and will make music in your heart, if your heart is tuned to its music, even while you are pushing your way through thorny tanglewood and undergrowth? Do you know how, as you go down the deep mountain ravines, with the wild rushing torrent far below, where a single misstep would mean so much, how the breeze playing through the leaves makes sweetest melody, if your heart's tuned to it?
Well, this great Lone Man had a heart tuned for the music of this road. The strong wind of His Father's love blew down through the wild mountains into His face, and made sweetest music, and His ear was in tune and heard it. He had a tuning-fork that gave Him the true pitch for the rarest music, while His feet travelled cautiously the deep wilderness ravines, and boldly climbed through the thorny undergrowth of that steep hill just outside the city wall. Obedience is the rhythm of two wills, that blends their action into rarest harmony. Some of us need to use His tuning-fork, so as to enjoy the music of the road.