By S.D. Gordon
The Glory-Coloured Thread.
It is a relief to turn now to the chief figure in this tapestried picture of John's weaving. Here are glory-coloured threads of bright yellow. They easily stand out, thrown in relief both by the pleasing blues and the disturbing blacks. It is the figure of the Man on the errand, intent on His wooing, absorbed in His great task. Thia Man, His tremendous wooing, wins glad grateful ever-growing acceptance. And with rarest boldness and courage He persists in His wooing in spite of the terrific intensifying opposition.
The gentle softening dew persists in distilling even on the hardest stoniest soil. The gentle winsomeness of the wooing stands out appealingly as one goes through those fragments of teaching talks running throughout. The rare faithfulness of it to the nation and its leaders is thrown into bold relief by the very opposition that reveals their dire spiritual plight and their sore need.
The power of it is simply stupendous. As gentle in action as the falling dew it grows in intensity until neither the gates of death nor even the stubborn resistance of a human will can prevail against it. It is power sufficient to satisfy the most critical search, and to make acceptance not only possible with one's reasoning power in fullest exercise but the rational thing.
Look a bit at the power at work here. For in looking at the power we are getting a better look at the Man, and at the purpose that grips Him. Of the nineteen incidents in these twelve chapters fifteen give exhibitions of power. It is of two sorts, power over the human will, and miraculous power.
Eight incidents reveal power working upon the human will. In three of these--Nicodemus, the Samaritan woman, the accused sinful woman--the will becomes pliant and is radically changed, so morally affecting the whole life. In five--the temple cleansing, at the Tabernacles Feast, the first and second attempt at stoning, and the kingly entry into the city--the human will is stubbornly aggressively antagonistic to Jesus, but is absolutely restrained from what it is fully set upon doing.
In the other seven incidents the power is miraculous or supernatural. In three--turning the water into wine, multiplying food supplies, walking on the water--it is power in the realm of nature. In four--healing the Roman nobleman's son, the thirty-eight-year infirmity, giving sight to the man born blind, and the raising of Lazarus--it is power in the realm of the body, radically changing its conditions.
It will help to remember what those words miraculous and supernatural mean. Miraculous means something wonderful, that is, something filling us with wonder because it is so unusual. Supernatural means something above the usual natural order. The two words are commonly taken as having one meaning. Neither word means something contrary to nature, of course, but simply on a higher level than the ordinary workings of nature with which we are familiar. The action is in accord with some higher law in God's world which is brought into play and is seen to be superior to the familiar laws.
But the power, or the man that can call this higher law into action, is of a higher order. There is revealed an intimacy of acquaintance with these higher laws, and even more a power that can command and call them into action down in the sphere of our common ordinary life, until we stare in wonder. This is really the remarkable thing. Not supernatural action itself simply, tremendous as that is, but the man in such touch with higher power as to be able to call out the action, and to command it at will.
This is one of the things that marks Jesus off so strikingly from other holy men. There are miracles in the Old Testament and in the Book of Acts. But there's an abundance and a degree of power in Jesus' miracles outclassing all others. It is fascinating and awesome to watch the growth of power in these movements of Jesus. It is as though He woos more persistently in the very degree and variety of power that He uses so freely, and with such apparent ease.
Which calls out greater power, creating or healing? making water into wine or healing bodily ailment? Which is the greater, power in the realm of nature or the body? or in the realm of the human will? multiplying food or changing a human will? Which is greater, to induce a man voluntarily to change his course of action, or to restrain him (by moral power only, not by force) from doing something he is dead-set on doing?
This is the range through which Jesus' action runs in these fifteen incidents. Is there a growth in the power revealed? Is there an intenser plea to these men as the story goes on? Is there a steady piling up of evidence in the wooing of their hearts?
Well, creating is bringing into material being what didn't so exist before. Healing does something more. It creates new tissue, makes new or different adjustments and conditions, and it overcomes the opposite, the broken tissue, the diseased conditions, the weakness, the tendency towards decay and death. Clearly there's a greater task in healing, and a greater power at work, or more power, or power revealed more.
Then, too, of course, the human is above the physical. Man is higher than nature. He is the lord of creation. It is immensely more to affect a human will than to affect conditions in nature. The whole thing moves up to a measureless higher level. And clearly enough it is a less difficult task to enlighten and persuade one who seeks the light, and to woo up one who is simply carelessly indifferent, than it is to overcome and restrain a will that is dead-set against you and is bitterly set on an opposite course.
Of course, all of this is not commonly so recognized. It seems immensely more to heal the body than to change a man's course of action, or, at least, it appeals immensely more to the imagination. The man who can heal is magnified in our eyes above the other. The miraculous always seems the greater. It is more unusual. Stronger wills are influencing others daily. That's a commonplace. Bodily healing is rare. And all the world is ill. Things are ripe to have such power seize upon the imagination then and always.
And then, too, there are interlacings here of things we see and things we don't see. There is the element of the use of the human will in all miraculous action, whether in nature or among men. Behind both nature's forces and human forces are unseen spirit personalities, both evil and good. The real battle of our human life lies there in the spirit realm. Victory there means full victory in the realm of nature and of human lives. There is a devil with hosts of spirit attendants. The wilderness was a spirit-conflict of terrific intensity, ending in Jesus' unqualified victory.
Jesus' power was more than simply creative, or healing, or over human wills. It was the power of a pure, strong, surrendered will having the mastery over a giant, unsurrendered, God-defiant will. This underlies all else. But we've run off a bit. Come back to the simple story, and see how the power of Jesus is revealed more and more before their eyes. And in seeing the faithfulness and winsomeness of His power, see His wooing.
A look at the miraculous power first. The turning of the water into wine was simple creative power at work, creating in the liquid the added constituents that made it wine. The healing of the nobleman's son rises to a higher level. The power overcomes diseased weakened conditions and creates new life in the parts affected.
The healing of a thirty-eight year old infirmity rises yet higher in the scale of power seen at work. The Roman's child was an acute case; this an extreme chronic case of long standing. The acute case of illness may be most difficult and ticklish, demanding a quick masterful use of all the physician's knowledge and skill. The chronic case is yet more difficult eluding his best studied and prolonged and repeated effort. Clearly the power at work is accomplishing more; and so it is pleading more eloquently.
The feeding of the five thousand is creative power simply, like the water-wine case, but it moves up higher in the greater abundance of power shown, the increase of quantity created, and the far greater and intenser human need met and relieved.
The walking on the water was an overcoming one of nature's laws, a rising up superior to it. The universal law of gravitation would naturally have drawn His feet through the surface of the water and His whole body down. He overcomes this law, retaining His footing on the water as on land.
It was done in the night, but an Oriental community, like any country community, anywhere, is a bulletin-board for all that happens. No detail is omitted, and no one misses the news. And this like all these other incidents become the common property of the nation.
It is interesting to note in the language John uses that the motive underneath the action was not to reveal power but simply to keep an appointment. But then Jesus never used His power to show that He had power, but only to meet the need of the hour. Yet each exhibition of power revealed indirectly, incidentally who He was.
There is an instance similar to this in the borrowed axe-head that swam in obedience to Elisha's touch of power to meet the need of the distressed theological student. In each instance it is the same habit of nature that yields homage to a higher power at work.
But though there is here no increase of power shown yet the action itself was of the sort to appeal much more to the crowd. It has in it the dramatic. It would appear to the crowd a yet more wonderful thing than they had yet witnessed.
The giving of sight to the man born blind is distinctly a long step ahead of any healing power thus far related in John's story. There is here not only the chronic element, but the thing is distinctly in a class by itself, quite outclassing in the difficulty presented any case of mere chronic infirmity.
It was not a matter of restoring what disease had destroyed but of supplying what nature had failed to give in its usual course. It was a meeting of nature's lack through some slip in the adjustment of her action in connection with human action. There is not only the appealing dramatic element, as in the walking on the water, but the appealing sympathetic element in that this poor man's lifelong burden is removed.
And then the seventh and last of these, the actual raising of Lazarus up from the dead, is a climax of power in action nothing short of stupendous. Of the six recorded cases of the dead being raised this is easily the greatest in the power seen at work. In the other five, in the Elijah record, the Elisha, the Moabite's body at Elisha's grave, Jairus' daughter, and the widow's son at Nain, there was no lapse of time involved.
Here four days of death had intervened, until it was quite certain beyond question that in that climate decomposition would be well advanced. Utter human impotence and impossibility was in its last degree. Man stands utterly powerless, utterly helpless in the presence of death. It is not the last degree of improbability. There is no improbability. It's an impossibility. The thing is in a class by itself, the hopeless class. And the four days give death its fullest opportunity. And death never fails in grim faithfulness to opportunity.
It is no wonder that all Jerusalem was so stirred. The common crowds of home people and pilgrims, the aristocratic families, the inner official circles, among all classes, this tremendous event won recognition of Jesus' power and claim, and with recognition personal faith. Nothing like this had ever happened. This is the superlative degree of miraculous power revealed in this matchless wooing of a faithless nation.
Love Wooing Yet More.
Now a look at the power at work in the realm of the human will, really a higher power, or power at work in a higher realm, though not commonly so recognized by the crowd. There are eight incidents here. And again we shall find the steady rise of the power seen at work. Three of these tell of the human will changed, and four of its being restrained against its will from doing that which it was dead-set on doing.
The ruler who withdrew from the midst of the disturbed temple managers for a night-call upon Jesus was radically changed in his convictions and his life-purpose. He had an open mind. The work was begun at that first Jerusalem Passover. Under the holy spell of John's presence he is drawn away from his enraged brother-rulers to seek the night talk. The frankness and fullness of Jesus' talk shows plainly how open he was and how much more he opened and yielded that evening. And the after protest in the official meeting of the rulers, and the loving care for the body of Jesus reveal how radical was the transformation wrought upon his will and heart by Jesus.
The Samaritan woman is changed from utter indifference to a change of will and purpose that makes her an eager messenger to her people until they hail Jesus as the Saviour of the world. The change involved a radical face-about in habit and life amongst the very people who knew her past sinful life best. It meant more than change of conviction, that change actually put into practice across the grain of the habits of years, and of the lower passions, so hard to change. It is a distinct step up from the change in Nicodemus simply because there was so much more to change. The same power had more to do. And it did it.
The story of the woman accused of the gravest offense is a double one in the power seen at work. She would naturally be hardened, and stony hard, shameless to the point of hopeless indifference in moral sense, and all this increased by their coarse publicity of her. And so little is said, but so much suggested of a change in her.
The purity of Jesus' face and presence would be a tremendous power of conviction. The gentleness of His quiet question would couple softening of heart with conviction of her sin. The word of counsel as she is dismissed would seem a mirror reflecting the inner longing of her heart and the new purpose stirring within, as memory recalls early days of virgin purity, and a wild hope within struggles towards life that there may yet be a change even for her.
The change in her accusers is, at least, as remarkable though wholly different. Morally hardened, as shameless and coarse as the woman as regards a fine moral sensibility; by their own tacit confession no better in practice than she in the point of morals raised; in their malignant cunning only concerned with the woman's sin as a means of venting their spleen upon the man they hated and feared,--what a hideous spirit-photograph!
Under the strange compelling power of Jesus' word and will, utterly conscience-stricken at being as guilty as she in the particular item under discussion, they turn, one by one, and slink softly out, until the last one is gone. As an instance of one will controlling and changing another will wholly against its will to the point of forcing out confession of personal guilt, it is most remarkable. One wonders if, under that tremendous conviction of personal sin, some of these were later included in those of the Sanhedrin who openly accepted Jesus. It is quite possible. It is not improbable.
The fact is noted that the very language used here under the English indicates a different authorship of the incident than John's. Possibly a thoughtful delicacy of regard for the woman restrains John's pen if she were still living as he writes. And then later the Holy Spirit, who so tactfully restrains John's pen, guides another to fit the remarkable story in its place in the record.
The drastic turning of bargaining cattle-dealers and bickering money-brokers, out of the temple-area, and restoring it from a barn-yard to a place of holy worship, is a most remarkable illustration of restraint upon antagonistic wills at the point of their greatest concern. These leaders would gladly have turned Him out.
And who was He, this man with flashing eye and quiet stern word? A stranger, unknown, from the despised country district of Galilee. And they have authority, law-officers, everything of the sort on their side. Yet the restraint of His presence and will over them is as absolute as though they were in chains. They weakly ask for a sign and evidence of power. They themselves experienced the most tremendous exhibition of power the old temple-area had known for generations.
The power of restraint at the Feast of Tabernacles is yet greater. Or it might be more accurate to say that it is a greater antagonism that is restrained by the same power. They are fully prepared now. The cleansing incident took them unawares. It made them gasp to think that any one would dare oppose them like that.
Now they are on guard. Then, too, their antagonism has intensified and embittered to the point of plotting His death. And they have grown more openly aggressive. There are three attempts at His arrest. Yet that strange noiseless power of restraint is upon them. They do not do as they would. Clearly they cannot. They are restrained. The man whose presence so aroused, also held them in check, apparently without thinking about it. His presence is a restraint.
Then a second clash of wills comes a day or so later. Their opposition is yet intenser. There has been no cooling-off interval. His continued open teaching in face of their attempts at arrest puts fresh kindling on the fire. "No man took Him," but clearly they wanted to. Their open relations become more strained. He uses yet plainer speech in exposing their hypocrisies. This stirs them still more. Their hooked fingers reach passionately for the stones that would make a finish at once, and the green light flashes out of their enraged eyes. It's the sharpest clash yet. They are at a high fever point.
It seems to take a greater use of power to restrain. "He hid Himself" is the simple sentence used. This is one of four times that we are told of His overcoming the hostile attack of a crowd by simply passing through their midst and going on His way. Perhaps something in the glance of that eye of His, or in the set of His face, something in Him restrained them as He quietly passes through the uproarious crowd and goes on His way undisturbed. They are held back against their wills from doing the thing they are so intent on doing.
A few months later He is back in Jerusalem. But the interval seems not to have cooled their passion, only to have heated and hardened their enmity. They at once begin an aggressive wordy attack. Then losing self-control in their rage they again reach down for the stones to kill Him at once. And again they are restrained from their passionate purpose, as Jesus quietly goes on talking with them. Again they attempt to seize His person. And the simple striking sentence used, "He went forth out of their hand," points to the extent of their purpose and to a yet greater use of His power of restraint over their unwilling wills.
The last incident of this sort is the kingly entry into the city amid the enthusiasm of the pilgrim and city crowds. It says not a word about any attempt on their part nor of His restraint over them. But the very boldness of this wholly unexpected move on His part constituted a tremendous restraint. Their hate had gone through several stages of refined hardening during the few months preceding. The formal decision to kill, the edict of excommunication, the public notice that any information of His whereabouts must be made known, and the decision to kill Lazarus also,--all indicate the hotter burning of the flames of their rage.
Yet into just such a situation He quietly turns the head of His untamed unridden young colt of an ass and rides through the city surrounded by the crowds under the very eyes of these leaders and their hireling legal minions. The tenseness of the whole scene, the power of restraint so put forth, the volcano smouldering underfoot waiting the slightest extra jar to loose out its explosion, all are revealed in the little sentence so pregnant in its concealed dynamic meaning, Jesus "hid Himself from, them." There's an exquisite blending of restraint over them and boldness with cautious prudence. He was walking very close to the edge that time.
So His power, shown so quietly but irresistibly before the eyes of all during those brief years, rises to a double climax nothing short of stupendous. Miraculous power in the realm of nature and of the human body had reached its climax in the raising of Lazarus, attested beyond question. Power over the human will both in affecting a voluntary change, and in actually restraining its action against its own set purpose, had risen to its climax in the bold open entry in broadest daylight into the capital where His death was officially and publicly decreed. The two climaxes touch. And it is tremendously significant that whereas they sometimes question His miraculous power, they could not deny His restraining power over themselves. How gladly they would if only they could.
And all this, mark you keenly, is a bit of His wooing. The wooing is ever the dominant thought in His heart. So He was revealing to them who He was. He claims to be the Son of God, their kingly Messiah. And He lived His claim. Power is the one universally recognized touchstone by which we judge God and man. His power told who He was even more than His tremendous words did. He was acting naturally. His presence among them thus natural, true to the power native in Him,--this was the wooing.
But there was more than power. There was love. There was a perfect blend of the two. With the power went the love. Nay, rather, with the love went the power. Love was the dominating thing. Jesus was love in shoes, God in action. Always there was the tenderness, the gentleness, the patience, the purity, the unflinching ideals, yes, the courage, the utter fearlessness tempered with a wise prudence. All these are the fuller spelling of love.
Always these went in closest touch with the resisted but resistless power. These are the two traits of God, two traits that are one. Men always think most of the power. God Himself always emphasizes most the love. But true power is simply love in action. The power is the outcome of love, and under the control of love.
This is the second of John's great impelling pictures. The first shows us the Person, the Man Jesus, God with us, God making a world, and then, in homely human garb walking amongst its people, one of themselves.
This second shows us the wooing. This Man, so tender in touch, so gentle in speech, so thoughtful in action, so pure in life, so unbending in ideals, so fearless in the thick of opposition, so faithful to the chosen faithless nation,--this Man Himself is the wooing. His words, His actions, His power, His persistence, His patience, this also is the wooing of this great God-Man-Lover. This is God spelling Himself out into human speech, wooing men out and up and in to Himself.
Jesus Recognised by all the Race.
And it is most striking to sit still and think into how this Lover was recognized by men of all nations, and how His wooing was understood and yielded to by men of all sorts. The intense Jew, the half-breed Samaritan, the aggressive Roman, the cultured refined Greek,--that was all the world. And all these recognized Him as some one kin to themselves, bound by closest spirit-ties, to whom they were drawn by the strong cords of His common kinship with themselves. The waves of His personal influence were, geographically, like His last commandment to His disciples. The movement was from Jerusalem to Judea, through Samaria, and out into the uttermost part of the earth and the innermost heart of the race.
And all sorts of men understood. Jesus wiped out social differences and distinctions in the crowds that gently jostled each other in His presence. The aristocrat and the cultured, the student and the gentle folk, mingled freely with simple country folk, the unlettered, the humblest and lowliest, all drawn alike to Him, and all unconscious of differences when under the holy spell of His presence. The wealthy like Joseph of Arimathea, and the beggar like the man born blind, the pure in heart like Mary of Bethany and the openly bad in life like the accused woman of Jerusalem,--all felt alike that this Jesus belonged to them, and they to Him.
The underneath tie of real kinship of heart rubbed out all outer distinctions. The old families of Jerusalem were glad to unlock their jealously guarded doors to Him. And the simple Capernaum fisherfolk were grateful when He shared bread and roof with them. All men recognized Jesus as belonging to themselves.
And the calendar has not changed this, neither Gregorian nor Old Style. Time finds the race the same always. Centuries climb slowly by, but the human heart is the same, and--so is Jesus. I was greatly struck with this in my errand among the nations. The East balks at the ways of the West sometimes. Many books say there is no point of contact between the two. The East balks at our Western organization, our rule of the clock, and our rush and hurry. Our Westernized church systems and our closely mortised logical theologies are sometimes a bit bewildering, not exactly comprehensible to their Orientalized mode of thought.
But they never balk at Jesus. When they are told of Him, and get some glimpse of Him, their eyes light, their faces glow, their hearts leap in response. You book people say there is no point of contact between Orient and Occident? But there is. Jesus is the point of contact. One real touch of Jesus makes all the world akin. No; that can be put better. One touch of Jesus reveals the kinship that is there between Him and men, and between all men.
In Japan it was the Portuguese that first took the Gospel a few hundred years ago. And you still find Japanese churches founded by the Portuguese. Fifty odd years ago it was the English tongue that again brought that message of life to them. But as I mingled among Japanese Christians of different communions and heard them pray, they were not praying in Portuguese nor in English. They had no thought that He was a Portuguese Saviour they prayed to, nor yet an English. They prayed in Japanese. They felt that Jesus spoke their tongue. He belonged to them. He and they understood each other.
As I listened to Manchu and Chinese, to Korean and Hawaiian pour out their hearts in prayer, I could feel the close personal burning touch of their spirits with Jesus. They and He were kin to each other. Their very voices told the certainty in their hearts on this point.
I recall a little old bent-over woman of seventy-odd years up in northern Sweden, a Laplander. She had come a long three days' journey on her snow-shoes to the meetings. Night after night as I talked through interpretation her deep-set black eyes glowed and glowed. But when one night an hour or more was spent in voluntary prayer she needed no interpreter. And as I listened I needed none. I felt that she knew that Jesus spoke Lappish. The two were face to-face in closest touch of spirit.
And so it is everywhere. The flaxen-haired Holland maid kneeling by her single cot knows that Jesus talks Dutch, and her homely hearthfire Dutch, too, at that. And the earnest Polish peasant in his Carpathian cabin bowed before the symbol his eyes have known from infancy is talking into an ear that knows both Polish accent and Polish heart. So with the German of the Saxon highlands, and of the simpler speech of the Teutonic lowlands. So with the olive-skinned Latin and the darker-hued African kneeling on opposite sides, north and south, of the great Central-earth Sea. Wherever knowledge of Jesus has been carried, He is recognized and claimed as their own regardless of national or social lines.
I knew a minister of our Southland, but whose public service took him to all parts of our country. He had been reared in the South and knew the coloured people by heart, and loved them. And when he returned to his Southern home town he would frequently preach for the coloured people. He was preaching to them one Sabbath with the simplicity and fervour for which he was noted.
At the close among others, one big black man grasped his hand hard as he thanked him for the preaching. And then with his great child-eyes big and aglow, he said, "Youse got a white skin, but youse got a black heart." And you know what he meant,--you have a black man's heart, you have a heart like mine. Your heart makes my heart burn.
Now Jesus had a Hack heart. He had a white heart. He had a yellow, a brown heart. He had a Jew heart, a Roman, a Greek, a Samaritan heart. Aye, He had a world heart, He had a human heart. And He has. There's a Man on the throne yonder, bone of our bone, heart of our heart, pain of our pain.
There's more of God since Jesus went back. Human experience has been taken up into the heart of God. Jesus belonged to us. And now belongs to us more than ever, and we to Him. The human heart has felt His tremendous wooing. It has recognized its Kinsman wherever He has been able to get to them, and it has gladly yielded to the plea of His love.
Jerusalem might carpenter a cross for Him, but the world would weave its heartfelt devotion into a crown of love for Him, bestudded with the dewy tears of its gratitude, sparkling like diamonds in the light of His face.