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Quiet Talks on John's Gospel 5 - The Greatest Wooing

By S.D. Gordon

      A Night and a Day With Hardening Hearts: the Story of Tender Passion and of a Terrible Tragedy

      "Now of that long pursuit
      Comes on at hand the bruit;
      That Voice is round me like a bursting sea:
      'And is thy earth so marred,
      Shattered in shard on shard?
      Lo, all things fly thee, for thou fliest Me!
      Strange, piteous, futile, thing!

      Wherefore should any set thee love apart?
      Seeing none but I makes much of naught' (He said)
      'And human love needs human meriting:
      How hast thou merited--
      Of all man's clotted clay the dingiest clot?
      Alack, thou knowest not
      How little worthy of any love thou art!
      Whom wilt thou find to love ignoble thee,
      Save Me, save only Me?
      All which I took from thee I did but take,
      Not for thy harms,
      But just that thou might'st seek it in My arms.
      All which thy child's mistake
      Fancied as lost, I have stored for thee at home:
      Rise, clasp My hand, and Come.'"

      --"The Hound of Heaven

      "I will betroth thee unto me forever; yea, I will betroth thee unto me in righteousness, and in justice, and in loving kindness, and in mercies. I will even betroth thee unto me in faithfulness."--Hosea ii. 19, 20.

      "Jesus, Lover of my soul,
      Let me to Thy bosom fly,
      While the nearer waters roll.
      While the tempest still is high.
      Hide me, O my Saviour, hide,
      'Til the storm of life is past;
      Safe into the haven guide,
      O receive my soul at last."

      --Charles Wesley.

      The Greatest Wooing

      (John xviii.-xix.)

      Wider Wooing.

      At the top of the mountain is the peak. The peak is the range at its highest reach. The peak grows out of the range and rests upon it and upon the earth under all. The whole of the long mountain range and of the earth lies under the peak. The peak tells the story of the whole range. At the last the highest and utmost. All the rest is for this capstone.

      The great thing in Jesus' life is His death. The death crowns the life. The whole of the life lies under and comes to its full in the death. The highest point is touched when death is allowed to lay Him lowest. It was the life that died that gives the distinctive meaning to the death. Let us take off hat and shoes as we come to this peak event.

      There's a change in John's story here. The evening has gone, the quiet evening of communion. The night has set in, the dark night of hate. The intimacies of love give place to the intrigues of hate. The joy of communion is quickly followed by the jostling of the crowd. Out of the secret place of prayer into the hurly-burly of passion. And the Master's rarely sensitive spirit feels the change. Yet with quiet resolution He steps out to face it. This is part of the hour, part of His great task, the greatest part.

      For the holy task of wooing is not changed. It still is wooing, but there's a difference now. There's a shifting. The wooing goes from closer to wider, from the disciples to the outer crowd, from the direct wooing of the national leaders by personal plea to the indirect by action, tremendously personal action.

      It moves out into a yet wider sweep. It goes from the wooing of a nation to the wooing of a race, from Jew distinctively to Roman representatively, from Annas standing in God's flood light rejected to Pilate in nature's lesser light obscured, from God's truant messenger nation to the world's mighty ruling nation.

      In the epochal event just at hand Jesus begins His great wooing of a race. And that wooing has gone on ever since, wherever He has been able to get through the human channels to the crowd. He was lifted up and at once men began coming a-running broken in heart by the sight. He is being lifted up, and men of all the race are coming as fast as the slow news gets to them.

      But back now to John's story. They pick their way over the stones of the little Kidron into the garden of the olives. There, quite alone in the deep shadows of the inner trees, Jesus has His great spirit-conflict, and great victory. The touch with sin so close, so real, now upon Him within a few hours, the sin of others upon His sinless soul,--this shakes Him terrifically beyond our understanding, who don't know purity as He did. But the tremendous strength of yielding brings victory, as ever. And the battle of the morrow is fought in spirit, and won.

      Now the trailers of hate come seeking with torch and lantern, soldiers and officers, chief priests and rulers, the ever present rabble, and in the lead the shameless traitor. They are pushing their quest now, seeking Jesus in the hiding whence He had gone days before[122] led by the man who knew His accustomed haunts.

      But there's no need for seeking now. Jesus is full ready. He decides the action that follows. He is masterful even in His purposeful yielding. Quietly He walks out from the cover of the trees to meet them. And as their torches turn full upon His advancing figure again that marvellous power not only of restraint but decidedly more is felt by them. And the whole company, traitor, soldiers, rulers, rabble, overpowered in spirit, fall back and then drop to the ground utterly overawed and cowed by the lone man they are seeking.

      Does Judas expect this? Will this power they are unable to resist not open the eyes of these rulers! But there's no stupidity equal to that which goes with stubbornness. In a moment Jesus reveals His purpose in this, to shield His disciples. Now the power of restraint is withdrawn and He yields to their desires. They shall have fullest sway in using their freedom of action as they will. And Peter's foolish attempts are quietly overruled.

      They keep up the forms by taking Jesus to Annas the real Jewish ruler of the nation. But it is simply an opportunity for the coarseness of their hate to vent itself upon His person. They pretend an examination here in the night's darkness suited to their deeds. He quietly reminds them of the frank openness of all His teachings.

      Meanwhile John's friendly act has gotten Peter entrance. The attitude of the two men is in sharpest contrast. John is avowedly Jesus' friend, regardless of personal danger. Peter just the reverse. And the hate of the leaders has soaked into all their surroundings even down to the housemaids. And John notes how exactly Jesus foreknew all, even to a thrice-spoken denial before the second crowing of a cock.

      Now comes the great Pilate phase. It was the intense malignity of their hate that made them bother with Pilate. They could easily have killed Jesus and Pilate would never have concerned himself about it. But they couldn't have put Him to such exquisite suffering and such shameful indignity before the crowds as by the Roman form of death by crucifixion.

      Clearly there is a hate at work behind theirs. Their hate is distinctly inhuman. Is all hate? There's an unseen personal power in action here set on spilling out the utmost that malignant hate can upon the person of Jesus. But these men are cheerful tools. Hate is tying its hardest knot with ugliest black thread on the end of its opportunity.

      This is Pilate's opportunity and he seems to sense it. And a struggle begins between conscience and cowardice, between right action with an ugly fight for it, and yielding to wrong with an easy time of it. Clearly he feels the purity and the personal power of this unusual prisoner. The motive of envy and hate under their action is as plain to his trained eyes.

      Twice the two men, Pilate and Jesus, are alone together. Did ever man have such an opportunity, personally, and historically? With rare touch and winsomeness Jesus woos. And Pilate feels it to the marrow under all his rough speech. His repeated attempts with the leaders make that clear. But cowardice gripped him hard. It's a way cowardice has.

      The name of Caesar conjures up fears,--loss of position, of wealth, of reputation, maybe of life itself. He surrenders. Conscience is slain on the judgment seat. Cowardice laughs and wins. A sharp fling brings a cry of allegiance to Caesar from their reluctant throats, as their hatred wins the day. He strikes them back an ugly blow as He surrenders. That reluctant Caesar cry told out the intensity of their hate. They hated Caesar much, but they hated Jesus immeasurably more. They gulp down Caesar to be able to vent their spleen upon Jesus.

      And so they crucified Him. At last they succeed. They have gotten what they were bent on. The hate burning within, these months and years, finds its full vent. Its hateful worst is done, and horribly well done. And they stand about the cross with unconcealed gloating in pose and face and speech and eyes. Their part of the story is done.

      Masterful Dying.

      But Jesus' part--ah! that was just begun. John lays emphasis on the mastery of Jesus here. It is marked, and reveals to John's faithful love-opened eyes the dominating purpose of Jesus in yielding to death. Strong, thoughtful, self-controlled, anticipating every move, He was using all the strength of His great strong will in yielding. He was doing it masterfully, intelligently.

      This is marked throughout. At the arrest He walks frankly out to meet those seeking Him, and restrains them in that strangely powerful way till He was quite ready. He makes the personal plea to Pilate for Pilate's sake, impressing him so greatly, but interposing nothing to change the purpose of His accusers. When Pilate's final decision is given John notes that Jesus "went out bearing the cross for Himself," though provision had been made for this.[123] His influence upon Pilate is seen in the accuracy of the kingly inscription that hangs over the cross. In the midst of the excruciating bodily pain He thinks of His mother, and with marvellous self-control speaks the quiet word to her and to John that insures her future under his filial care.

      And then John significantly adds, "Jesus, knowing that all things are now finished."[124] With masterly forethought, and self-control and deliberation He had done the thing He had set Himself to do. Never was yielding so masterful. Never was a great plan carried out so fully through the set purpose of one's enemies. His every action bears out the word He had spoken, "No man taketh My life away from Me, I lay it down of Myself."[125]

      So now His great work is done, and thoroughly done. His lips speak the tremendous word, "It is finished." And He bowed His head and gave up His spirit. It was His own act. The self-restraint was strong upon Him till all was done that was needed for the great purpose in hand. Then His head is bowed, His great heart broke under the terrific strain on His spirit as He allowed His life to go out.

      From that moment no indignity touches His body. The Jews with their wearisome insistence on empty technicalities would have added further indignity to crucifixion. But that body is sacredly guarded from their profane hand by unseen restraint. John with solemn simplicity points to the unmistakable physical evidence, in the separation of blood and water, that Jesus had actually died; no swooning, but death. And reverently he finds the confirmation of Scripture.

      Only tender love touches that body now. Two gentlemen of highest official and social standing and of large wealth, brothers in their faith in Jesus, and also in their timidity, now take steps at once to have the precious body of their dear friend tenderly cared for without regard to expense. So He is laid away in a new tomb in a garden among the flowers of the spring time. The last touch is one of tender love. So His greatest wooing was done, and begun; the great act done, its tremendous wooing influence only just begun.

      Jesus died deliberately. This is quite clear. It was done of love aforethought. It was His own act fitted into the circumstances surrounding Him. This makes His death mean just what He meant it to mean. Run back through His teachings rather carefully and that meaning stands clearly out.

      He was the Father's messenger; simply this; but all of this. The ideals of right so insistently and incessantly held up and pressed were the Father's ideals. His mere presence told the Father's great love for men. They two were so knit that when the one suffered the other suffered, too.

      It was the love for men in His own heart that drew Him down here and drove Him along even to the Calvary Hill. He died for men, in their place, on their behalf. This was His one thought. Through this their bondage to sin and to Satan would be broken and they would be set free.[126] And they would be drawn, their hearts would be utterly melted and broken by His love for them.[127] The influence would reach out until all the race would feel its power and respond; and it would reach into each one's life who came till the life he lived was of the abundant, eternal sort.

      The devil was a real personality to Jesus. This whole terrific struggle ending at the cross was a direct spirit-battle with that great spirit prince. So Jesus understood it. All the bitter enmity to Himself traces straight back to that source. That enmity found its worst expression in Jesus' death. The pitched spirit-battle was there. But that prince was judged, condemned, utterly defeated and cast out in that battle, and his hold upon men broken.[128]

      And so this was the greatest wooing of all. It was greatest in its intensity of meaning to the Father looking eagerly down. It revealed His unbending, unflinching ideals of right, and the great strength and tenderness of His love for men. He would even give His Son. It was greatest in its intensity of meaning to the Son. It meant the utmost of suffering ever endured, the utmost of love underneath ever revealed; and it would mean the race-wide sweep of His gracious power.

      It was greatest in its intensity of meaning to Satan, the hater of God and man. It told his utter defeat, and loss of power over man. So it broke our bonds and made us free to yield to the wooing. And it was greatest in its intensity of meaning to us men. For it showed to our confused eyes the one ideal of right standing out clear and full. It set us free from the fetters of our bondage, gave us the tremendous incentive of love to reach up to the ideal of right, and more, immensely more, gave us power to reach it.

      It was the greatest wooing in the out-reach of its influence, for all men of all the earth would be touched.[129] And it was greatest in the in-reach to all the life of each one who came under its blessed influence. The whole ministry taught this. It would mean newness of life in body, in mind, in social nature, in spirit, and in the eternal quality of life lived here, and to be lived without any ending.

      And all the world has responded to this greatest wooing as they have come to know of it. That three-languaged inscription on the cross was a world appeal and a world prophecy. In Hebrew the religious language of the world whose literature told of the one true God, in Latin the language of the masters of the world, in Greek the language of the culture of the world, that message went out to all the world. This Jesus is our Kinsman-King, our Brother-Ruler, our Love-Autocrat. He revealed His love for us in His death for us.

      And men answer to Jesus' great plea. With flooded eyes and broken hearts, and bending wills, and changed lives, men of all the race bow gratefully at the feet of Jesus, our Saviour and Lord and coming King.

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See Also:
   Quiet Talks on John's Gospel - Preface
   Quiet Talks on John's Gospel 1 - John's Story
   Quiet Talks on John's Gospel 2 - The Wooing Lover - part 1
   Quiet Talks on John's Gospel 2 - The Wooing Lover - part 2
   Quiet Talks on John's Gospel 2 - The Wooing Lover - part 3
   Quiet Talks on John's Gospel 3 - The Lover Wooing - part 1
   Quiet Talks on John's Gospel 3 - The Lover Wooing - part 2
   Quiet Talks on John's Gospel 3 - The Lover Wooing - part 3
   Quiet Talks on John's Gospel 4 - Closer Wooing
   Quiet Talks on John's Gospel 5 - The Greatest Wooing
   Quiet Talks on John's Gospel 6 - An Appointed Tryst Unexpectedly Kept
   Quiet Talks on John's Gospel 7 - Another Tryst
   Quiet Talks on John's Gospel 8 - Footnotes


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