By S.D. Gordon
"Still with unhurrying chase,
And unperturbed pace,
Deliberate speed, majestic instancy
Came the following Feet,
And a Voice above their beat--
Naught shelters thee, who will not shelter Me.'"
--"The Hound of Heaven."
"O thou hope of Israel, the Saviour thereof in the time of trouble, why shouldst thou be as a sojourner in the land, and as a wayfaring man that spreadeth his tent for a night?"--Jeremiah xiv. 8.
He came unto his own home, and they who were his own kinsfolk received him not into the house, but left him standing outside in the cold and dark of the winter's night. But as many as did receive him he received into his home, and gave each a seat in the inner circle at the hearthfire of God.--John i. II, 12. Free translation.
The Lover Wooing
(John i. 19-xii. 50)
The Mother of all Love-Words.
Brooding is love at its tenderest and best It is love giving its best, and so bringing out the best possible in the one brooded over.
Look into the nest where the word itself was brooded. It is a warm something, warm in itself, not a borrowed warmth. The warmth is its chief trait. It is a soft tender unfailing cuddling warmth. It cuddles and coos, it glows and floods a gentle comforting stimulating warmth. And the best there is lying asleep within the thing so brooded over awakes.
It answers to that creative mothering warmth. It pushes out, against all obstacles, and comes shyly and winsomely, but steadily and strongly, out to the brooding warmth, growing as it comes and growing most as it comes into closest touch with the warm brooder.
Brooding is the mother of all love-words,--friendship, wooing, pitying, helping, mothering, fathering, witnessing, believing. It is the mother-word, from out whose warm womb all these others come, warm, too, and full of gentle strong life. Its mother quality is so strong that we are apt to think of it only in connection with actual mothers, mothers among animals and birds and of our human kind.
But this is only one meaning, really a surface meaning, though such a fine deep meaning in itself. Its real heart meaning lies much deeper. Brooding is the mother of all love. It is its warmth that draws out that fine feeling that makes and marks friendship. It is its tender warmth that draws out that finest degree of friendship which knits with unbreakable bonds two lives into one.
It reaches out most subtly to knit up again the ends that have ravelled out under the sore stress of life. It bends compassionately over those hurt in body, and hurt yet more in their spirit by the greedy rivalry of life, and nurses into newness of life the shivering shredded hurt parts. In the more familiar use of the word it fathers and mothers the newly minted morsels of precious humanity, coming into life with big wondering eyes.
And it warms into highest life that highest love that, through the process of hearing, assenting, trusting, risking, giving the heart's devotion, comes to know God as a tender Father, and Christ as a precious personal Saviour. Whether in close friend, or ardent lover, gracious philanthropist, devoted parent, or earnest witness, it is the same warm thing underneath, at its fine task--brooding.
We think of it most in the mother. For it comes to its highest human perfection there. The true thoughtful mother is first and chiefest a brooder. She broods in spirit till her child looks into her eyes, bearing the image, in face and mental impress and spirit, which the brooding months have given. She broods over the inarticulate days when the babe cannot tell the felt needs except to a brooding mother's keen insight.
She broods over the baby-talk days; over the struggling days when the child would tell its awakening thoughts out in words, but doesn't know how yet; over the wilful days which come so early when the first battles come that decide the whole future.
With a warmth of tenderness and patience, and a strength of gentle wise insistence, more than human, she broods. It takes the very strength of her life, far far more than in prenatal days. So there comes, slowly, but as she keeps true to the brooding spirit, surely, the strong gentle self-controlled life out of the warm womb of her brooding life. So comes the child's higher birth, so preparing the way for the yet higher.
Now all this is at its native best in God. There only does it reach finest fruitage. Some day we shall recognize the meaning of that modest but tremendous little sentence,--God is love. This warm brooding something that comes, gentle as the dawning light in the grey east, fragrant as the dew of the new morning, irresistible in its pervasive persuasive presence as the rays of the growing sun, giving to us warmth, and life, and drawing out from within us warmth and life and beauty and strength, all in its own image, this is the thing called love. This is the thing that God is. As we know it we are getting acquainted with Him.
And if a break comes, instantly love in its grief sets itself with warmth and renewed strength to the new harder brooding task. It gives itself out yet more, regardless of cost, until in place of the broken fragments there comes a finer sort of life out of the warm womb of love, brooding, redeeming, bringing-back-again love. This is God. This is Jesus. John shows us Jesus as a picture of the brooding God.
Five Pictures of Jesus.
There are five wondrous pictures of Jesus in these newer leaves of the old Book. Three of them hang on the walls of Paul's tent-weaving study-room. There's the Colossian picture, the Creator-Jesus, infinite in power, making all things above and below and around, and holding all things together.
Close by it in wondrous contrast is seen the Philippian picture. It is the Man-Jesus, emptied of all the upper-glory native to Him, bowing down low and lower and lowest, till in the form of a slave He hangs on a cross.
And in contrast yet more striking and startling, close by its side hangs the Ephesian picture. It is the Enthroned-Jesus, back again in the soft, blazing, blinding glory of the Father's presence, seated at His right hand, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion and every name that is named. And as you stand awed before this picture your eye is caught by the artist's remarque sketch at the bottom. It is a broken Roman seal, and an open tomb, and a bird with swelling throat singing joyously.
Then there's John's later Patmos picture of the Present-Jesus, standing now down on the earth in the midst of His candle-holding Church, but seen only by opened eyes. There He is seen as a Man of Fire, ablaze with light, intently watching, with tender but omnipotent touch waiting, ever waiting; with a patience unknown except in Him, still waiting.
But John's earlier Gospel picture is of the Brooding-Jesus. The word "brooding" here takes in its fine deep significance. Jesus is seen here as a brooding Lover, by the warmth of His wooing love drawing out the warmth of an answering love. This is peculiarly and distinctively the picture of John's Gospel. There is a Man walking towards you in these pages. Turn where you will there He is, and always facing you, with a gentle eagerness in His face and in the bend-forward of His body.
There is always a warmth, a gentle radiating comforting drawing warmth in His presence. This is the thing you feel most, the warmth. But it isn't the only thing. There's the purity. There are ideals that seem out of reach in their great height. There's the insistence on these ideals, rigid stern absolutely unbending insistence. You see these. You can't help it. You feel them tremendously. They seem to leave you clear out of reckoning, they are so high up. But there's the warmth, drawing arousing wooing, irresistible.
You come to find that the warmth of that presence is as irresistible as the ideals and the insistence are unbending. And the warmth woos you. It warms you, till there come the intense admiration of the ideals, and then the eager reaching of the whole being up towards them.
This is John's picture of the brooding wooing Jesus. This is God, in human garb as He comes to us in John's pages. Jesus is God brooding over us to woo out of us the love and purity, the purity and love, that He woos into us by the touch of His own warm presence.
John's little book is put together as simply as his sentences. And as you take it up, it falls apart almost of itself, so simple and natural are its divisions. We had a look at the opening paragraphs of the Gospel, those eighteen brief verses that open the doorway into all the Gospel holds for us. There is given chiefly John's simple vivid tremendous picture of a Person, coming with swift long stride and outreached hands.
Now we turn to the second part of the book. It runs from the nineteenth verse of the opening chapter on through to the end of chapter twelve. It is devoted to the great winsome wooing of this great human Person. Here we see Him on His wooing errand. He woos individual men. He gives the personal touch. He devotes Himself to one person, now here, now there. His skill and tact in personal dealing are matchless. But this is not the chief wooing of these pages. It is the nation He is wooing. With rarest strategy and boldness and persistence He lays loving siege to the nation through its leaders. This is central and dominant in all His movements here. This is the second picture in the gallery of John's Gospel.
It is a good thing to run through these fourteen pages of John's Gospel several times; to run through rapidly, though not hurriedly; to run through them as a story until it stands out in your mind as one simple connected, story. And then it will help greatly, if you are so blest as to have some boy or girl near at hand to whom you can tell it as a story in simple child (not childish) talk.
Pack the whole into one story of ten minutes, or fifteen: the man of the story; how He tried to win the people's hearts; how towards the end He spent a long evening with those who loved Him; how awfully He was treated by those who hated Him; then how wondrously He surprised His friends; and then the little bit at the end where He prepares breakfast and has a walk and talk on the seashore with a little group of those who loved Him most.
Tell that to a boy or girl as a short story. Use sensible words, but not one that your little listener wouldn't at once understand. Pretty sharp discipline for the story-teller, especially if you stop to put in a simpler word when you've blundered into a big one. The child will be held by it But you will get the most yourself out of the telling.
Now as you read the second part over, it gradually sifts itself into several incidents about which the story is woven. These incidents form the warp-threads of the narrative. Into this warp are woven, sometimes little connecting links, sometimes quarrelsome discussion, sometimes exquisite bits of Jesus' teaching, and sometimes John's comments. And as the story grows it reaches one climax after another, each increasing in intensity, until the intensest is reached. And these incidents fall naturally into groups. There are three chief groups that seem to stand out as giving the bolder points of the outline, and then smaller groups or single incidents that lie in between.
It is very natural that the story begins with the accounts of the deputation that was sent from Jerusalem by the official leaders of the nation, down to the Jordan bottoms where John the witness was drawing such great crowds. John modestly answers their questions about himself, and then the next day with dramatic intensity points out the Man for whom the whole nation has been looking for so long.
The only response from deputation and officials is a most significant disappointing silence, a silence fully understood both by John and by Jesus. But five Galileans in the crowd listening to John's reply seek out, or are brought into personal questioning touch with, Jesus, and then yield Him unquestioning belief and personal devotion. And these five come, in after years, to be leaders known wherever Christ's name is known. So there begins the sharp contrast running throughout these pages, between the two sides into which Jesus' presence divides the crowds.
Then John traces the simple way in which the faith of these five men ran its tiny but tough tenacious tendril-roots down into their very vitals. A simple neighbourhood wedding occasion up near the old Nazareth home drew Jesus thither with His kinsfolk and His new-made friends. And then He meets the need of the homely occasion by helping out the shortened supply of wine in such an unusual way as reveals His character. And the conviction takes great fresh hold upon these five men that they have made no mistake. This Man is all they had taken Him for, and He is immensely more than they had thought into at first.
Then comes a little connecting link. After the Cana visit, Jesus runs into the near-by town of Capernaum with His kinsfolk and friends for a few days, a sort of continuation of the neighbourhood courtesies.
And then at once John goes to the intensest, and the most significant incident of this whole section of the book. It is the drastic turning out, by Jesus, of the traders in the temple-area at Jerusalem. This touched at once the national leaders' most sensitive nerve, and touched it roughly. It never ceased aching. This turning of the temple-area into a common market-place, which so jarred on the holy atmosphere of the place, and on Jesus' fine spirit, this was by arrangement with these leaders, and yielded them large profit. Here was the sore spot.
With one deft stroke John lays bare the secret of the intense hatred of Jesus by these national leaders, with which these pages teem, and which came to its bursting head at the cross. Long after, when Jesus had died and been raised, these five leading disciples find a new strengthening of their faith in recalling words spoken at this time by Jesus.
Growing naturally out of this Passover visit comes the Nicodemus incident. Many of the Passover crowds were caught by the power of Jesus shown in the miracles He did, but had not the seasoned thoughtful faith of these first disciples. But one man sifts himself out by his spirit of earnest inquiry. The sharp contrast that runs throughout these incidents stands out here. This man is of the inner upper cultured circle, that controlled national affairs, that sent that Jordan committee, and that had been so upset by the temple cleansing.
Yet not only Nicodemus' earnest search for truth, and the questions asked by him, but the fullness and fineness of spirit truth in Jesus' words to him reveal the true faith of this rare inquirer; and this is verified by his later actions. Clearly Jesus found here an opened door. Here is the first of those exquisite bits of Jesus' teaching that mark John's Gospel.
These four incidents make up the first group of, what I think of as, the three chief groups of incidents in this section of John. The group begins at the Jordan, and runs up into Galilee, but in its interest and its chief incident, centres in Jerusalem. The action begins with John the witness, and swings naturally to Jesus. The contrast in this group of incidents is intense. With the same evidence at hand, first contemptuous silence and loving allegiance, then the beginnings of bitterest hate and of tenderest personal love, grow up side by side.
Then there is a sort of swing-away-from-Jerusalem group that includes three incidents. After the rejection of John's witness to Jesus by the nation's leaders, Jesus withdraws from Jerusalem to the country districts of Judea. There He takes up the sort of work John has been doing, so bearing His witness to John. John had drawn great crowds down to the Jordan and in the neighbourhood of its tributary streams.
Now Jesus helps in arousing and instructing these crowds. There are two men preaching instead of one, and Jesus has the greater crowds. This is used to make trouble. It stirs up gossipy disputings. It is made to look like a jealous rivalry between the two men. And this supposed rivalry and disputing about the various claims of the two men become the uppermost thing. It reflects the characteristic spirit of the leaders. John greatly renews his witness to Jesus with fresh emphasis and earnestness.
But as Jesus sees that His presence is only being made a bone of contention He quietly slips away from Judea, turning north through Samaria towards Galilee. Then comes the great story of the visit to Sychar, with the exquisitely tactful winning of the sinful woman to a life of purity, and then using her as a messenger to her people. Imbedded in the story is another bit of Jesus' simple great teaching talk.
Then comes a brief connecting link. Finding no acceptance in Judea, His own country, Jesus goes to Galilee, where visitors at the Jerusalem Feast of Passover had been spreading the news of His words and deeds, and so a gracious welcome now awaits Him.
And here in Galilee He wins the believing love of a roman officer of noble birth, whose son is desperately ill. The father's faith passes through three stages, the belief that comes to ask for help, the deeper belief that rests upon Jesus' word to him and starts back home, and the yet deeper that gets confirmation of Jesus' word and power in the recovery of his son from the very time Jesus spoke the assuring word.
These are the three incidents in this group away from the Jerusalem district. It is striking that this group away from Jerusalem stands in sharp contrast with that first group centering in Jerusalem. There is rejection by the nation's leaders running from contemptuous silence to the beginning of open opposition. Here with less evidence there is acceptance by a Samaritan and a Roman; the one of no social standing; the other of the highest.
The rejection of Jesus by the leaders stands in contrast thus far with acceptance of Him by five Galileans, by a cultured scholarly aristocrat, a half-breed Samaritan, and a Roman of gentle birth. Acceptance seems to grow with the distance from Jerusalem. Yet everything hinged in Jerusalem. There had been the flood-light. Jerusalem was meant to be the gateway to the world. The irony of sin! The blinding of greed! The self-cheating of being self-centered!
Climbing towards the Climax.
And now, true to his controlling thought, John goes straight back to Jerusalem with his story, ignoring intervening events. There's another feast, not called a Passover, but commonly and probably correctly so reckoned, another crowd-gathering Passover. An extreme chronic case of bodily infirmity draws out the pity and power of Jesus, and the healed man takes his first walk after thirty-eight years.
But the thing is done on a Sabbath day, and gives rise to bitterest and murderous persecution, first on the score of Sabbath observance, and then because Jesus claimed God as "His own Father" in a distinctive sense. Friction fire may send out beautiful sparks. And the opposition brings out one of the choicest bits of Jesus' teaching to be found in John. This incident stands by itself.
And now John reaches over a whole year with only a sentence or two for connection, and comes again to a Passover. The Passover was the pivot of the Jewish year and of Jewish national life. This Passover is made notable by Jesus' absence from Jerusalem, the only Passover absence of His ministry. And the reason is the violence of the persecution by the national leaders.
There is the feeding of the hungry thousands with a handful of loaves and fish. Was this the real Passover celebration? The multitudes fed by Him who was the Lamb of God and the true Bread of life? while the technical observance was empty of life! It wouldn't be the only thing of the sort, in ancient times or modern.
Jesus withdraws from the crowds who would like a bread-maker for a king, gets a bit of quiet alone with His Father on the mountainside, and then walks on the water in the storm to keep His appointment with the disciples. Then follows a long disputation and another fine bit of Jesus' teaching. These two incidents make another distinct group, separated from the previous one by a year on the far side and six months on the hither side. And the contrast continues, between the acceptance by the Galilean crowds and the intensifying opposition by the chief group of Jerusalem leaders.
Then comes the second chief group of incidents. About six months later Jesus returns to Jerusalem for the autumn Feast of Tabernacles. He boldly teaches in the temple in the midst of much opposition, bitter discussion, and concerted official effort against Him. The dramatic incident of the accused woman and the conscience-stricken leaders is followed by a yet more bitter discussion and by the first passionate attempt at stoning.
Then the incident of the man born blind but now blessedly given his sight leads to the bitterest opposition thus far, and the casting of the man out from all religious privileges; and is followed by the rare bit of sheepfold and shepherd teaching. These four incidents make up the second great outstanding group of incidents, and mark the sharpest clash and crisis thus far.
A few months later at another Jerusalem feast called the Feast of the Dedication, comes a second hotly impulsive riotous attempt at stoning, and then an attempt to arrest, both foiled by the restraint of Jesus' mere presence and personal power. And another connecting link traces His going away beyond the Jordan River, where the crowds gather to Him, and are won to warm personal belief.
Another little gap of a few months passed over in silence, brings the narrative to the third and last chief group of incidents in this part of the book, and so leads immediately up to the great final events of the whole book.
The illness and death of Lazarus draws Jesus back to a suburb of Jerusalem, Bethany. Then the stupendous incident of the raising of Lazarus leads to the official decision to put Jesus to death. And a connecting link of verses tells of Jesus' cautious withdrawal, of the inquiring crowds coming to the approaching Passover, and of the public notice given that Jesus was under official condemnation.
It is at the home feast given in Bethany as a tribute of love to Jesus that Judas, coldly criticizing a warm act of tender love, and gently rebuked by Jesus, gets into that bad heat of temper out of which came the foul bargaining and betrayal. Another brief connecting link lets us see the crowds more eagerly inquiring for Jesus because of the raising of Lazarus, and the determined priests coolly plotting Lazarus' death, too.
Then comes Jesus' faithful open offer of Himself in kingly fashion to the nation, with the tremendous enthusiasm of the multitudes, and the hardening of the official purpose to do the one thing that will offset this wild-fire enthusiasm.
And then comes the apparently simple, but in meaning tremendous, incident of the inquiring Greeks. The Jew door is slamming shut, but the outside door is opening. Here the whole world opens its door, its front door, in these Greek representatives of the best culture the earth knew. But Jesus' vision never blurs. He understands; He alone. The only route to Greece and the whole outer world is the underground route, the way through Joseph's tomb.
And as the intense spirit-struggle passes, Jesus quietly goes on with His searching appealing talk to the crowd, and then slips away into hiding till His hour had full come. And with breaking heart John sadly recalls Isaiah's wondrous foresight of just these days and events. These are the four incidents in this third chief group.
And so the door shuts. The wooing ceases. This bit of John's story is done. The evidence is all in. The case is made up. The nation's door to its King shuts. The Lover's wooing of the nation ceases. John turns to a new chapter. No further evidence is brought forward. The case rests with the jury. The door had been shutting for a good while. The inside door-keepers had been pulling it hard. But the great Man outside had His hand on the knob delaying the shutting process, in the earnest hope that it yet might be quite stopped. Now His hand reluctantly loosens its hold. The knob is free. The inside pull does its work. The door goes to with a vigorous slam.
The wooing is not wholly done. There is still the indirect, the tacit wooing. There's still opportunity. All through that fateful night from Gethsemane's gate, to the last word at Pilate's seat the Lover is wooing. But it is wooing by action, by presence, by yielding. No pleading word is spoken. The direct wooing is done. Tender, earnest, insistent, patient, tremendous, irresistible in itself save to those who willed to resist anything and everything no matter what or whom,--wondrous wooing it has been. Now it's over. That chapter is done.