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Nazareth Revisited


From the Wilderness to Cana of Galilee.

We now go forth with Jesus to behold his wonderful works and hear his wonderful words for the next three years and a half. We are not of those who say they can do without his miracles. On the contrary, they are indispensable. It is his miracles that tell us he is from the Father. As he said: "The works that I do in my Father's name, the same bear witnesss of me that the Father hath sent me" (Jno. v. 36; x. 25). The absence of miracles would be the absence of proof that he is Christ, the Saviour of the world. Jesus admitted that, in the absence of miracle, the Jews would have been without sin in rejecting him: "If I had not done among them the works which none other man did, they had not had sin" (Jno. xv. 24).

But say some, "Christ is so beautiful in himself; his teaching is so exalted above all men's, before or since, -- that miracle cannot add to his excellence." What shall we say in answer? That his beauty can be improved? That his excellence can be added to? No. But is beauty enough? Is excellence all that we need in one who offers himself as our hope? Need we not a guarantee that with the beauty and the excellence, there is power? Need we not assurance that the beauty is not that of the transient rainbow or the golden sunset, or the blooming garden, or the flowery lea? The questions suggest the answer. Those who set light by the miracles -- especially those who would dispense with them (especially the greatest of them, Christ's own resurrection), would give us a Christ whom we might admire, but could not trust; a Christ whom we might copy as a beautiful model, but to whom we could not look as one having authority, and power to save all who come unto God by him.

Christ's reply to John's messengers remains full of the power there was in it when uttered in the presence of those who had seen his miracles: "Go tell John what things ye have seen and heard: how that the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, to the poor the gospel is preached. And blessed is he whosoever shall not be offended in me" (Luke vii. 22, 23). The men who saw such things could carry back but one answer to John's question, "Art thou he that should come?" And we who authentically hear of them can have no other. They bring with them the conviction uttered by Nicodemus, "No man can do these miracles that thou doest except God be with him;" and the wonder expressed by the cured blind man to the Jews who sceptically interrogated him concerning Jesus: "Why, herein is a marvellous thing that ye know not from whence he is, and yet he hath opened mine eyes." True, it is, that Jesus seemed to disparage the miracles sometimes, as when he said "Except ye see signs and wonders ye will not believe" (Jno. iv. 48). But this was in rebuke of the mere sight-seeing curiosity, whose appetite is for the marvellous rather than for the meaning of it. This is in no way inconsistent with the place he assigns to miracle, as the evidence that God had sent him.

Jesus having successfully come through the trial of the wilderness, returns "in the power of the Spirit" to Galilee. On the way, he revisits John, whose labours continued on the banks of the Jordan till his imprisonment. John sees him approach, and salutes him in the hearing of those standing by, "Behold the Lamb of God that taketh away the sins of the world. This is he of whom I said, &c." (and he proceeds to relate what occurred at his baptism, concluding with the words, "and I saw and bare record this was the Son of God"). How long Jesus stayed with John that day is not stated -- probably a short time -- perhaps half-an-hour. At the end of that time, he would retire either to the open country or to the house in which he would stay while in the neighbourhood. At all events, next day he was near John again: and "John, looking upon Jesus as he walked, he saith, Behold the Lamb of God." Here we seem to see Jesus in the act of walking, We naturally clutch at everything that helps us to realise him in the dark days of our widowhood: "whom having not seen, we love." But we shall see him yet, walking, and sitting, and talking and eating, and performing all the acts of life, with all the grace of noble innocence, love and power.

Two of John's disciples, who had evidently pondered what they heard John say on the previous day, hearing him now again call attention to Jesus as he passed, walked after Jesus. When they had done so for a little time, Jesus turned, and asked them what they wanted. They scarcely knew what to say, but they asked him where he was staying. Jesus did not tell them where, but asked them to "Come and see," probably because the house where he was staying would not be capable of description in the way of address. It would be one of the many temporary booths erected without much plan or order all round the place where John was baptising, and let to visitors from a distance. A dwelling place among such structures could only be got at by the help of a guide. This guide was Jesus himself, with whom "they came and saw where he dwelt," and not only saw, but "abode with him that day, for it was about the tenth hour," that is, four o'clock in the afternoon. What an honour for these two young men (Andrew and John): Christ's guests under Christ's own roof (even if only a hired one), for one night! What would we not give for such an opportunity now? He is away, and we are out in the dark -- loving, and longing, and seeking, but unable to find our beloved in all the city. We are like Solomon's sister-spouse: Yea, we are she (or constituents of her): "My beloved had withdrawn himself and was gone; my soul failed while he spake. I sought him, but I could not find him. I called him back, but he gave me no answer. The watchmen that went about the city found me. They smote me: they wounded me. The keepers of the walls took away my veil from me. I charge you, O daughters of Jerusalem, if ye find my beloved, that ye tell him I am sick of love. What is thy beloved more than another beloved?" (Song v. 6-9). Well, our opportunity is coming and is not very far off. If we are accepted, Christ will actually be the host of the great house into which we shall be invited, as he himself has promised: "Blessed are those servants whom the Lord when he cometh shall find watching. Verily. I say unto you that he shall gird himself and make them sit down to meat, and will come forth and serve them" (Luke xii. 37).

What passed between Jesus and these two during the evening, night, and morning they were together (the first of the disciples to be called to his side) would be interesting to know. But we are not informed. Whatever it was, the words and deportment of Christ, and everything connected with him, were sufficient to confirm the conviction created in their minds by John's testimony, that he was indeed "The Lamb of God." This is shown by what they did the very first thing next day. Andrew "first findeth his own brother Simon (Peter), and saith unto him, We have found the Messias." Peter lent a willing ear, and allowed himself to be taken by Andrew into Christ's presence. This is Peter's first appearance upon the scene, from which his name was never afterwards to disappear. We are informed that "Jesus beheld him" and addressed him. This suggests a fastening of Christ's eyes on Peter in a penetrative contemplative manner. Jesus had before him the disciple to whom he was to entrust the keys of the kingdom, and who was to be a foremost figure in the work of planting the name of Christ in the earth, and who was to glorify God in a specially agonising death -- like his master. Jesus knew all this: for, as John takes pains to tell us in his second chapter (verse 24), "he knew all men, and needed not that any should testify of man: for he knew what was in man." He knew that this ardent impetuous Simon, faithful but infirm, was first of the twelve foundations upon which the holy city was to be built. That he should fasten his eyes on him, when first introduced to him, was natural, and also that he should address him in words few, but full of meaning, with regard to Peter's future: "Thou art Simon, the son of Jona: thou shalt be called Cephas" (a stone or rock). Christ's words were always few, but pregnant. He could deliver a long discourse, but in colloquy, his words were brief and terse. Solomon says, "A fool is known by the multitude of his words." The reverse was illustrated in Christ. He did not apostrophise Peter in long-winded obscurities, after the manner of pretenders in all ages: but fixed his place in one word. This was the third day after his return from the temptation.

The next day (the fourth) Jesus desired to depart from Galilee, about 80 miles to the north of the scene of John's labours, where he had begun to gather the disciples prepared for him by John. Before making a start, he wished to call one or two others to his side who were still in that neighbourhood. He went forth, and without much search, found Philip, who was evidently in attendance upon John's teaching. To him he simply said, "Follow me." The words would be said in a way to mean much. By look and tone they would be made to say, "I am he to whom John bare testimony, as ye know: I am he whom ye seek: I am he whom God hath sent. I am the Messiah. The Messiah has need of you. Come." Philip had evidently been in such a prepared state of mind that it needed not another word. Philip was a fellow-townsman of Andrew and Peter, who both belonged to Bethsaida, a fishing town on the north-eastern shore of the Lake of Gennesaret. With them he would be acquainted. With them he had evidently kept company in submission to John's baptism. He would all the more readily respond to the command of Christ, that Peter and Andrew were before him with their allegiance. His obedience was prompt and his conviction ripe. The first thing he did was to communicate his discovery of Christ to Nathanael of Cana, who was also in the throng of attendants upon John the Baptist. Cana of Galilee was not far from Bethsaida; and the probability is that Philip and Nathanael were acquainted. That he should go straight to Nathanael would prove this. The communication he made was indicative of the acquaintance they all had with the Scriptures of Moses and the prophets, and of the expectation of the Messiah's appearance, which they entertained in common as the result of their readings of them. "We have found him of whom Moses in the law and the prophets did write," that is, the promised seed of Abraham, the prophet like unto Moses, the son covenanted to David, the Messiah foreshown by all the prophets. It was good news that Philip made known to Nathanael, but Philip made an addition that excited his incredulity: "Jesus of Nazareth the son of Joseph" (not that he was really the son of Joseph, but this was his social status in the town and neighbourhood where he lived -- the reputed eldest son of Joseph). It was the town that staggered Nathanael. He knew Nazareth (it was not many miles from Cana), and he knew it was a poor place every way -- secluded among the hills and having very little of that intercourse with the outer world which is necessary to sharpen village people. "Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth?" he said. Philip, as a young fisherman living at Bethsaida on the sea, probably did not know so much about it as Nathanael, and could not debate the affair with him in the abstract, but as regarded Jesus, he could give the best of all answers: "Come and see." Whatever might be the case with regard to Nazareth and Nazarenes in general, he was quite sure that, in Jesus, the best thing that had ever come out of anywhere for man had come out of Nazareth. He invited Nathanael to satisfy himself by personal inspection -- the very best advice that can be given on this subject ever since. Though Christ is not on the earth to be looked at as Nathanael could look at him, there are monuments and mementoes of him extant which make the examination of him possible -- notably the Scriptures. Any man who will to the extent of his opportunity, do what Philip told Nathanael to do, must, if he have an open eye and a loving heart, come to the conclusion that Philip announced.

Nathanael was a man of this stamp. He went with Philip to see Jesus. Jesus made the way very plain for Nathanael, because he was a childlike man, desiring only to know the truth (probably, Jesus does the same yet, though in a different way of working, as his different relation to things on earth requires). Jesus seeing Nathanael approach, and knowing all about him as he did about Peter, opens the way for him by saluting him -- not with a compliment, as some think, but with a simple declaration of truth: "Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no guile." Nathanael did not know Jesus, and supposed that Jesus could not know him. He therefore, in surprise at his salutation, asks him how he knew him. Christ's answer spoke volumes to Nathanael: "Before that Philip called thee, when thou wast under the fig tree, I saw thee." In view of all that had gone before -- the arrival of the time for the Messiah to appear -- of John the Baptist's declaration that the Messiah was in their midst, -- of the divine identification of Jesus in the act of baptism six weeks previously, of which Nathanael would hear if he did not witness it, -- and of Philip's information, this incident was irresistible. Nathanael could not avoid the conviction which he immediately expressed: "Rabbi, thou art the Son of God: thou art the King of Israel." Jesus then volunteered a gracious comment: "Because I said unto thee, I saw thee under the fig tree, believest thou? Thou shalt see greater things than these ... Hereafter ye shall see heaven open and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man."

Much that is sublimely interesting is suggested by this whole incident. Jesus saw Nathanael at a distance and through natural obstructions, which a man possessing merely natural power could not have done. This power of the Spirit of God to extend natural faculty is illustrated more than once in the history of God's work upon earth. The King of Syria, perplexed by the baffling of his plans against Israel through the oozing out of secret information, was informed by his servants to whom he at least appealed for the discovery of the traitors, "Elisha the prophet that is in Israel telleth the King of Israel the words that thou speakest in thy bedchamber" (2 Kings vi. 12). On Jesus, the Spirit of God, after his baptism, rested without measure. He was therefore able to see as God sees, who says "Can any hide himself in secret places that I should not see him?" (Jer. xxiii. 24.) Nathanael recognised in this an evidence of his Messiahship; but Jesus overwhelmed his faith, as we might say, by telling him of coming manifestations of a far higher order. Seeing Nathanael under the fig tree was a case of Jesus seeing, but Jesus told Nathanael of what Nathanael would see in the day of God's finished purpose in Christ -- heaven open and the angels ascending and descending upon the Son of Man. This is suggestive of very great things. We are. accustomed to conceive of the universe and its possibilities from the standpoint of our mortal faculties. Are these the highest faculties? What man of Ordinary intellectual prudence and information would be guilty of affirming such a thing? Are the powers and faculties of mortal man upon the earth the utmost development that is possible of the senses of seeing and hearing? The question suggests its own answer. There are higher things in heaven and earth than mortal man dreams of. Jesus touches some of these in his answer to Nathanael. We have occasional glimpses in other parts of the Scripture: "Lord I pray thee open his eyes that he may see," said Elisha, concerning his alarmed servitor, when a Syrian host besieged them at Dothan, "And the Lord opened the young man's eyes and he saw, and behold the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha" (2 Kings vi. 17). "They that be with us," said Elisha, "are more than they that be with them." When "heaven" is "open" in the sense of Christ's intimation to Nathanael -- that is, when our eyes are open to an enlarged vision of things, the universe will not seem the yawning empty abyss it looks to mortal eye and heart. "In the spirit" which fills all space, we shall feel one with all and at home everywhere, and in connection with the busy angelic multitude who are meanwhile hid from our eyes. The earth in open communion with heaven, through the visible commerce of angels, -- converging upon Christ as the "one head" under whom all things are to be confederate -- is the vision shewn to us in the words of Jesus to the guileless believing Nathanaels of every age.

Jesus now departs to Galilee -- whether accompanied or not by the five who had just become persuaded of his Messiahship, and who were afterwards appointed Apostles -- (Andrew, John, Simon, Philip, and Nathanael) -- does not appear. If they accompanied him, it would be as fellow travellers homeward; for we afterwards find them in their several places of stay, and Jesus at Nazareth. Jesus was not long home from his six or eight weeks' absence, when he received an invitation to attend a marriage at Cana, a village a few miles to the north of Nazareth. His mother and such disciples as had already attached themselves to him (probably during the few years' private tuition preceding his baptism by John) were included in the invitation. He went. It was probably the marriage of some near relation -- and being a semi-public occasion, he chose to take occasion of it to make a beginning of the miracles which were to "manifest forth his glory" to the nation at large. Being all assembled, the company, which was probably larger than anticipated, ran short of wine Mary, who had "pondered all things in her heart" concerning her first-born from the very beginning, appears, with a woman's quick intuition, to have formed the conclusion that Jesus was now possessed of power to do all things. She told him suggestively, "they have no wine." Jesus answers abruptly, "Woman, what have I to do with thee? Mine hour is not yet come." There must have been a reason for this apparent, impatience. We are probably not far wrong in attributing it to the difference between the view that Jesus would have in putting forth miraculous power, and that which would be entertained by those who wished and saw and admired it. Christ would realise that this exercise of miraculous power was a condescension on the part of God, for the purpose of manifesting and establishing His Anointed One, with a view to His own great purpose towards man -- a purpose of love and salvation truly, but first of exalting and hallowing His own great name, and condemning the universal insubordination of man. Miraculous power would therefore be in Christ's estimation an implement of holiness; but Mary's view for the moment appears to have been that it would be a human convenience, and likely enough there was mixed up with this view a little of a mother's pride in the greatness of her Son. Christ had proposed to supply the wine, but he would not do it at human call or to gratify human complaisance. He therefore answered his mother in a way that in modern times would be considered equivalent to a snub. Mr. Gladstone says he does not understand Christ's deportment in this instance. This shows that Mr. Gladstone is a mere Greek. To an Israelite indeed (with whom God is all in all and man an earthen vessel of divine fabrication), there can be none of the difficulties that beset the whole subject of Christ for minds imbued with the prevalent idea that man is of immortal status in the universe; and the fountain of intellectual and moral excellence.

Mary gathered from Christ's manner, notwithstanding, that he intended to supply the wine. So she said to the servants, "Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it." The servants, all alacrity, hear him tell them by-and-bye to fill with water the six stone water-pots that were set near the door, "after the manner of the purifying of the Jews." They do so at once, "to the brim," and doubtless wait with fixed attention for the next direction: "Draw out now and bear unto the governor of the feast." "And they bare." The ruler of the feast finds that what the servants have brought is the very best wine. He is ignorant of its origin, but it is so good that he feels impelled to remark that the custom was to bring out the good wine first: but here, the good had come last. It must have been prime liquor to have evoked such a tribute from a connoisseur who had partaken freely of other wine during the evening. His verdict is a confutation of the extreme teetotal suggestion that the wine Jesus made was the unfermented juice of the grape. An unfermented vegetable juice would have been the reverse of appreciated by men who had "well drunk" of ordinary wines. What Jesus made was wine, and that, the very best. Vegetable juice is not wine. It must undergo vinous fermentation before it can be so designated. This, however, is merely aside.

The marvel consisted of the instantaneous transformation of common water into rich wine. The nature of the marvel has been discussed in The Visible Hand of God. Jesus tells us how it was done. "I cast out demons by the Spirit of God" (Matt. xii. 28). It was not magic. It was the exercise of the power by which all things have been made, and in which they subsist. This power is in all the universe, for the Spirit fills immensity. But no man can use it except he to whom God gives the power, for the power is His and in Him. He gave this power to Jesus (Acts x. 38), and the works done by him were, therefore, the Father's works, as Jesus said. They were "miracles, wonders, and signs, which God did by him in the midst of Israel" (Acts ii. 22).

"This beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, and manifested forth his glory, and his disciples believed on him" (Jno. ii. 11). Before this, the few disciples that had begun to gather round Jesus had only the testimony of John the Baptist to rest on, strengthened by such arguments from Moses and the prophets as Jesus might bring to bear on them. But now they saw with their own eyes the manifestation of the power that was latent within him as the anointed of God: and which afterwards blazed forth as a great light in all the coasts of Israel, drawing multitudes after him and filling the land, and, at the last, the world, with his fame.

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