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Nazareth Revisited


From the "Sermon on the Mount" to the First Tempest on the Sea of Galilee.

The "Sermon on the Mount" being concluded, the people looked at each other and exchanged expressions of surprise and admiration. They had never heard such a teacher before -- bold, grave, emphatic, ardent, lucid, independent, authoritative. They would all agree with the verdict of the officers sent to apprehend him on another occasion, and returning without doing "their duty:" "Never man spoke like this man." None had presumed, as he had done, to place his authority above Moses. Several times he had said, "It was said unto them of old time ... thus and so; but I say unto you, thus and so." It was something new for a public teacher to say "Behold a greater than Solomon -- a greater than Jonas -- is here" -- "In this place is one greater than the temple" -- "Lord even of the Sabbath day" (Matt. xii. 6-8; Luke xi. 31, 32).

The pleasure his teaching gave them was not very deep. It charmed them by the novel sensation it imparted to them: it impressed them with its benevolent positiveness and its grave and righteous emphasis. Except as regards a few, its true nature was not discerned. Had they known that "the Spirit of the Lord God was upon him" (Is. lxi. 1), filling him with wisdom and understanding (Is. xi. 2), making his mouth a sharp sword and a polished shaft (Is. xlix. 2), and pouring grace upon his lips, and rendering him fairer than the children of men (Psa. xlv. 2) -- had they known that in very deed, the God of Abraham dwelt in this human form in the abiding fulness of His presence, and addressed them through the earnest eyes of this Galilean mechanic, they would have listened with the reverent and rapt attention that will be the universal habit in the day when every knee shall bow to him, and every tongue confess, to the glory of God the Father. Though they did not "behold his glory" as the disciples did (Jno. i. 14), they were attracted by the charm of his teaching and the wonderful nature of his works.

When he came down from the mountain, they followed him. A long straggling procession might have been seen as he moved away from the place. Jesus excused the people: he pitied them, realising, as he did, that "they were as sheep having no shepherd." They had no one to look after them with the needful wisdom, kindness, and power Men require looking after. They cannot manage themselves so as to live to any true purpose. They do not look after one another, but destroy one another. It has been the case in every age and country since Adam was sent out of Eden to shift for himself. When, therefore, a great leader like Christ presents himself with a clear and certain voice, and power to bestow the blessings to which he points, it is inevitable that the people should follow him. Jesus understood it, and allowed a measure of it, at the same time knowing that it could be to no practical purpose as yet. He knew the Father's plan he had come to execute. He knew that the work before him was a brief teaching work of three years and a half, to be closed in that laying down of his life for the world, which excluded all idea of present triumph, and to be followed by a long absence during an appointed interval of darkness and silence. This knowledge would intensify the compassion with which he would tolerate the attendance of the shepherdless crowd, while leading him also to that non-committal attitude of which John speaks (Jno. ii. 24).

Arrived by "the lake of Gennesaret" (or Sea of Galilee), he evidently rested a few days -- probably at Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. We may infer this from the incident that happened by the shore "The people pressed upon him to hear the Word of God." The thronging was inconvenient. A crowd can be managed when there are barricades and police; but here were no such helps, but only the moral influence of a defenceless man and his friends in the presence of a mass of people whose interest had been aroused to the point of obtrusiveness. To escape the embarrassment of the situation, Jesus got into one of the empty boats standing close to the shore, which turned out to be Peter's, in which in fact he had been fishing the previous night, while Jesus was resting. Peter's boat would not be likely to be moored after a night's fishing, at any other place than his own. Peter might have a house at Capernaum and carry on the fishing business at Bethsaida, which was not far distant. Jesus "prayed him that he would thrust out a little from the land." Peter complied with alacrity, and, the boat having been moored, Jesus "taught the people out of the ship," a striking situation certainly, -- the shore lined with spectators to the water's edge, and Jesus addressing them from the boat, perhaps fifty yards off. We may be sure the people would be very attentive. They would all hear, for a smooth water surface is a capital conductor of sound. What was said is not recorded. We must judge from his utterances on other occasions. In the state of mind generated by the truth, we naturally wish that every word had been preserved -- every speech reported. But we may be sure we have enough for the purpose for which any record at all was made. We are greatly privileged in having so much. It might easily have been that we had known nothing of "the gracious words that proceeded out of his mouth." Some may think that a fuller report wonld have been more influential with the common run of men. As to that, there are various reflections. If we say, "perhaps it would," we have also to say that the purpose of God does not require more than is secured by the actual means employed; for the means and the end are always in the divine work exactly adjusted. But it is permissible to say "Perhaps not." What Jesus says about Moses and the prophets applies here. He said that men who did not believe Moses and the prophets, would be unconvinced by the rising of a dead man from the grave. If men are faithless and uninterested in Christ while having the apostolic narrative, we may be almost sure their attitude would have been no wiser had we had a verbatim and newspaper account of all he said and did.

Having finished his discourse, Jesus suggested to Peter to set out on a fishing cruise. He probably thought that sailing away from the spot would be the best way of escaping the lingering crowd on shore. Peter had been out fishing all the previous night, and had caught nothing. (No wonder: the constant fishing of a small sea like the Sea of Galilee by the large fleet of boats which Josephus gives account of being on it, must have kept the stock of fish low and difficult to get.) Having fished a whole night without result, Peter was not much inclined to go out again. "Nevertheless," said he, "at thy word I will let down the net." And having set sail, he let down the net -- with a result that surprised him greatly. The net was instantly filled with a struggling mass of fish, so numerous that a single boat was unable to deal with them. They could not pull the haul aboard. Besides, the net was breaking with the weight of the catch. They beckoned to the other boat which had accompanied them. The boat drew near, and the fish were gradually got out of the net, into both the boats, which were then so heavily laden that the gunwales were dangerously level with the water. Peter was overpowered by the event, in view of his own futile efforts the night before. He attributed it all to Christ. He recognised it as his work, and an evidence of his divinity. Prostrating himself before Jesus as he sat in the boat, he said, "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord." These were the only words in which he could express his sense of the greatness of Christ as thus evidenced. They seemed fitting enough words, notwithstanding the difficulty of some to understand them. They express the profound sense that Peter had of his unworthiness to be the companion of one who could show such power. Such a sense is a qualification for such a companionship. Jesus gives us to understand that there will be many on excellent terms with themselves who will claim his friendship in the day of his glory, whom he will promptly reject and dismiss from his presence.

As to the miracle, we need not discuss whether Jesus made the fish, as he afterwards made bread to feed over 5,000 people; or whether he drew them by his power from other parts of the lake. He could do either. The great object was to show to the men of whom he was to make choice as Apostles, the evidence of his having come from the Father, in exercising power that belonged only to the Father. It had the intended effect, as evidenced by Peter's words, and Jesus instantly seized upon those words to apply the purpose of the miracle. "Fear not," said he (in the hearing of James and John, and others, in the two boats), "from henceforth thou shalt catch men."

As with the incident of Jesus clearing the temple of money changers, so with this of "the miraculous draught of fishes:" because a similar incident occurred afterwards, the enemy, who so easily snatch at the least unfavourable appearance, have jumped to the conclusion that one of the Gospel narrators has blundered, placing after the resurrection an occurrence that happened before it, or vice versa, and so discrediting both. The suggestion is absolutely gratuitous. It has nothing to rest upon but a superficial resemblance. It does not occur to them to allow the possibility of the same thing (substantially) happening twice. They do not reflect that if Christ rose from the dead, he fulfilled his promise that he would send them the Holy Spirit to abide with them to witness for him, and to guide them into all truth, and that, therefore, their testimony (oral and written) was the joint work of themselves and the Holy Spirit, and, therefore, not liable to the error that befals the mere work of man.

Having secured their extraordinary haul of fish, the two boats made for the land. arrived at which, the disciples, who had made up their minds to "forsakeall and follow Christ," handed over the craft with their contents and belongings to the charge of the servants. Thenceforward, till the day of his crucifixion, they were to be found only in his service.

While Jesus and the disciples were out in the same neighbourhood a few days afterwards (followed, as had now become usual, by a crowd while journeying along), a leper -- "a man full of leprosy" -- who, by the law of the country, ought to have been in rigid seclusion, managed to edge his way through the crowd, and to get close enough to Jesus to present himself at the next halt, right before him, kneeling to him and saying, "Lord, if thou wilt thou canst make me clean." As before remarked, Jesus had not come as a disease-healer in the philanthropic sense, else would he have sent his healing power throughout all the country without waiting for personal contact with the afflicted. He had come to show the great power of God in proof of his identity as the appointed way of approach to the Father. But blended with this there wrought that noble element of loving-kindness which gives grace and beauty to every gift. Jesus was "moved with compassion" at the suppliant form before him. The man took the acceptable attitude. He did not demand to be healed. He did not claim the exercise of Christ's power. He acknowledged the existence of the power, and Christ's right to refrain from putting it forth. Jesus "put forth his hand and touched him, and saith unto him, I will; be thou clean. And immediately the leprosy departed from him." How simple! how graceful! how beautiful! "Truly this man was the Son of God," is the exclamation which his every look and word and action compel.

The man cured of his leprosy was very likely so perfectly satisfied that he did not desire any further exercise. But Moses had commanded something in such a case. A leper cured of his distemper was to bring "two he-lambs without blemish, and one ewe lamb of the first year without blemish, and three-tenth deals of fine flour for a meat offering, mingled with oil, and one log of oil" (Lev. xiv. 10); and the priest was to present the man before the Lord, and make an atonement in the way which is elaborately prescribed. Was this to be ignored by him who had come to fulfil the law and the prophets? Some might have argued that as Jesus had come to "blot out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us ... nailing it to his cross" (Col. ii. 14), he might appropriately have embraced this opportunity of ignoring it. Such an argument would show an incomplete apprehension of the ways of God. Though it was part of the work of Jesus, concerning the Mosaic law, to "take it out of the way," the performance of this work required that he should be "made under the law," and be obedient to all its requirements (Gal. iv. 4). While laying down a new law, he was submissive to the old till the hour should arrive for the abolition of the old in his death under its curse (Gal. iii. 13). To everything there is a time and a season. The law of Moses was an absolutely divine institution, established for a purpose (Rom. v. 20). While it was in force, Jesus conformed to it. and under it, was aiming, by obedience, to develop the righteousness by which he was to abolish it in the sense of superseding it by realising the end of it. The leaders of Israel could not understand this, but supposed he set himself against the law as a thing he wished to overturn: and against Moses as one whom they were not to follow. He sought to correct their misapprehension: "Think not that I am come to destroy the law and the prophets; I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil." The case of the cured leper presented an opportunity of illustrating his true attitude. He embraces it. "Go thy way, show thyself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses commanded, for a testimony unto them."

Jesus told the man not to say anything about the miracle of his cure to anybody else. We may understand why he did this, when we recollect that Jesus knew that his time was short, and that his end was rejection and death. He spoke of this several times to his disciples, and in a way that showed that it lay burdensomely on his spirit. On one occasion, he said, "I have a baptism to be baptised with, and how am I straitened till it be accomplished." This state of mind explains why he was desirous of suppressing all useless public sensation and excitement about himself. It would only have been in his way. It is not, therefore, so surprising as it seems, that he should say to the cured leper, "See thou say nothing to any man." But the man could not enter into Christ's thought on the subject. He disobeyed him -- probably out of gratitude. "He went out and began to publish it much, and to blaze abroad the matter, insomuch that Jesus could no more openly enter into the city, but was without in desert places" (Mar. i. 45).

After a time, Jesus directed his steps to Capernaum again, when an unusually instructive incident occurred. A Roman centurion having heard of the Lord's wonderful power to heal, sent influential Jews to him to tell him of a servant at his house, who was "grievously tormented" with the palsy. Jesus said he would come and heal him, and started to go with them. The centurion, who seems to have been deeply impressed with the greatness of Christ, objected to Christ coming to his house. He sent messengers to stop him, saying, "I am not worthy that thou shouldst come under my roof; speak the word only, and my servant shall be healed." Jesus could not but be pleased with such implicit faith -- a faith greater, as he said, than any he had yet found in Israel; especially it was backed up by an illustration which showed the centurion's absolute and unbounded confidence in Christ's authority, and his understanding of the origin of Christ's power. "I also am a man set under authority, having under me soldiers, and I say unto one, Go, and he goeth, and to another, Come, and he cometh, and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it." This was as much as to say to Christ, "You have received authority from the Highest, to control the forces of heaven and earth. You have, therefore, but to speak the word, and they will obey you."

Whence had this pagan soldier derived so clear a conception of Christ's relation to the Father? We are not informed, but we may infer something from what we are told. He was stationed in Galilee, among the Jews, and was in daily contact with them, and had every opportunity of becoming acquainted with their institutions, their ways, and their scriptures. That he profited by this opportunity, is manifest from what the Jews said to Christ about him: "He loveth our nation and hath built us a synagogue." A military man would not have built a synagogue unless he had been more than ordinarily interested in Israelitish affairs. Consequently, we may conclude that he knew the scriptures, and recognised in Christ the Messiah promised in them. It was the case of a Gentile being more intelligent in, and more in love with, Israel's great matters than Israel themselves, as is often the case in the present day. Jesus yielded to the centurion's argument; and said to the centurion himself, who appears to have come on behind the friends he sent, "Go thy way, as thou hast believed, so be it done unto thee," upon which the servant was instantly cured without Jesus seeing him or entering the house. Jesus then said to those around, "I have not found so great faith, no not in Israel. And I say unto you that many shall come from the east and from the west, and shall sit down with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth."

Here was a looking forward to something of deep interest to us Gentiles: and what was more particularly expounded afterwards by the apostle whom he sent forth to declare "the mystery which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men ... that the Gentiles should be fellow-heirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel" (Eph. iii. 5). The time had not come for the promulgation of this purpose; but Jesus knew it was at hand, and it was most appropriate that he should seize this incident of the centurion's manifested faith to tell the on-lookers, that when the time should arrive for Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob's resurrection and appearance in the Holy Land as the heirs of the kingdom, "many" of the centurion's stamp -- obedient Gentiles full of faith -- would muster from the ends of the earth to share with them the glory of the kingdom of God. It was a very unwelcome doctrine to the Jews. It was a doctrine frequently reflected in his teaching, -- such as in the parable of the king's marriage, and his remark, "Other sheep I have which are not of this fold," and his statement to the apostles, "Ye shall be my witnesses to the uttermost parts of the earth,"&c., &c. It was the doctrine for which Paul was detested above all others by the Jews, because he was "the apostle of the Gentiles." It is a doctrine rooted in all the Scriptures. The very earliest promise ensures the ultimate extension of the blessing of Abraham to "all the families of the earth." (Gen. xii. 3). It is one of the fables of the learned world that the preaching of Christ to the Gentiles was an after-thought of Paul's.

But the doctrine has to be received with the qualifications which the Scriptures themselves impose. It is nowhere taught that the Gentiles as Gentiles are to be fellow-heirs. The conditions of heirship are strictly defined: "If children, then heirs" (Rom. viii. 17). How to become children? This also is plainly answered. "Ye (the believers who had been baptised on the reception of the Gospel) are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus: for as many of you as have been baptised into Christ have put on Christ" (Gal. iii. 26, 27) Jesus did not mean to say that the Gentiles who would come from the east and the west and sit down with Abraham in the Kingdom, would be unenlighted or disobedient or carnally-minded Gentiles; but that among those who should inherit the Kingdom, would be Gentiles, enlightened, reconciled and adopted, through submission to the requirements of the Gospel, when multitudes of the faithless Jews according to the flesh (the natural "children of the Kingdom") would be cast out, to their great dismay.

Next day, Jesus paid a visit to Nain. On the way, he was accompanied by much people. As they approached the place, a funeral, as we call it in western countries, emerged from the gate. There were unusual manifestations of grief amongst the people forming the procession, on account of the nature of the bereavement that had taken place. A young man had died who was the only son and support of a widow mother; and he was now being carried to his grave amid the lamentations of his mother and a large crowd who sympathised with her. The people who followed Jesus formed one procession; the funeral cortege another. The two processions, likely to come into collision, came to a mutual halt. Those with Jesus were disposed, sympathetically, to make way for the funeral. The widow's lamentations touched every one -- none more than Jesus. He was "moved with compassion." He addressed himself to the agonised woman: he was able to do so to some purpose. "Weep not," said he. There was sympathy in the words: there would be sympathy in the tone in which they were uttered; and the weeping woman would be comforted. But he did more than speak comforting words. He stepped forward to the bier on which the dead was being carried. The bearers, noticing the action, stopped: a hush of expectation fell on the company as all gathered round. "Young man, l say unto thee arise": few words, but words of power. "He that was dead sat up and began to speak." Jesus directing the widow's attention to him, handed him over to her. The overjoyed woman could scarcely believe her senses. The crowd were thunderstruck. Never had a funeral had such an ending. "Fear came on all." The extraordinary character of Jesus of Nazareth was recognised. In various exclamations, the crowd gave expression to their feelings: "A great prophet is risen among us." "God hath visited his people."

The same day Jesus appears to have returned to Capernaum. An incident like the cure of a public functionary's servant, and the restoration of a dead man to life, did not tend to decrease the public interest in the work of Christ. The people collected from every quarter. He did not refuse to receive them. "He healed all that were sick" (Matt. viii. 16). At the same time, desiring a little seclusion, "he gave commandment to depart to the other side (of the sea)." His disciples proceeded to get ready the boat. While preparation was being made, admirers in the crowd seized the opportunity of making private communications to him. A scribe (a man of position and influence with the people) said, "Master, I will follow thee whithersoever thou goest." Jesus gave him a discouraging answer: "The foxes have holes, the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man hath not where to lay his head." From this we may gather that the scribe's decision was due to a calculation of chances. If this were the Messiah (and the miracles made him think he must be), the Kingdom of God was immediately about to appear, and an espousal of his cause would secure a good place in a temporal sense. The answer of Jesus was calculated to extinguish false zeal, or sorely put to the test the true. How it acted in the scribe's case, we shall not learn till the day of the muster with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. -- To another looking earnestly on, Jesus said, "Follow me": he answered, "Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father." Was not this a reasonable request? It might have been reasonable under ordinary circumstances, but not when the Son of God commands. Divine obligations are imperative. This is the lesson.

The answer was apparently unfeeling: "Let the dead bury their dead." It will not seem unfeeling to those who have learnt to estimate things as Jesus estimated them -- and that is according to the standard of eternal truth. The whole race of man without God are "the dead," in a sense easy to understand when the supposition of human immortality is dismissed, and the Bible doctrine of the reign of death by sin accepted. The whole race is under sentence of death. Death is only a question of time. A hundred years will see something like two generations disappear from the land of the living into the grave. Now, where men have no connection with God, it is impossible that this death-state of theirs can be changed. Continuing in alienation from Him, they are "the dead" in contrast to that section of them who have "the promise of life which is in Christ Jesus" (2 Tim. i. 1). Their burial is, therefore, from Christ's point of view, a very insignificant affair, and not to be allowed to come at all into collision with affairs connected with the great and stirring hope and work of life which he, and he alone, has in hand.

Where men see human life as Christ saw it, they will think and act in it as he did -- and with a like appearance of harshness and a like certainty of being misunderstood by the children of the flesh -- with whom the affairs of the flesh are everything, and the affairs of Christ of secondary practical moment. Another said, "Lord, I will follow thee, but let me first go and bid them farewell which are at home at my house." This receives no more consideration at the hands of Christ than the plea about the funeral. It would, of course, be lauded by every class of natural writer as altogether a praiseworthy concern on the part of the young man; and, under ordinary circumstances, it is legitimate enough to consider the natural claims of those to whom we may be domestically related -- but not when Christ calls. Christ required the young man at once. Had the young man sufficiently understood the proffered honour, he would have given an immediate and obedient response. But he hesitated under the power of natural feelings. The answer, apparently rough, was just in the circumstances. "No man having put his hand to the plough and looking back is fit for the kingdom of God" (Luke ix. 62). This is "written for our instruction." We cannot receive a personal call in our day such as was addressed to the young man; but a call has come to all who have ears and eyes, and there are often times and situations when funerals and friends at home (who rank so highly as important affairs with the mere children of nature), will at the hands of children of God, receive that altogether secondary regard which Jesus sanctions in the few words uttered while the boat was getting ready.

Luke appears to place these incidents later on: but the fact is, he does not "place" them in a fixed sense at all. He says "it came to pass" that these men said these things -- a form of speech admitting of their occurring at any time. Luke was not an eye-witness, but a reporter of the testimony of eye-witnesses; and though, in this, he was used and guided by the Spirit of God as much as the eye-witnesses were, his narrative is that of a collector of information, and not that of a spectator. When the action of inspiration is understood, there is no difficulty in this. Inspiration uses and limits (or as we may say "revises") the natural when it employs it, but does not obliterate it. It keeps it in such form and in such channels as are suitable to its own purpose, but it does not interfere with the nature of the agent it employs. It does not change a reporter of what other men saw and heard into an eye-witness, though subscribing every jot and tittle of his report.

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