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Nazareth Revisited


Pays Taxes -- Forbids Vengeance -- Attends The Feast of Tabernacles.

At the close of the conversation between Christ and his disciples, one of the public officials challenged Peter on the subject of Christ's liability to pay taxes. He did not approach Christ. There was a natural shrinking from his grave and earnest presence. He applied through Peter -- a fisherman -- an ordinary man, who had not yet acquired the character and reputation that afterwards led Cornelius to fall down before him. It was probably done outside the house.

"Doth not your master pay tribute?" Peter could only answer, "Yes." Jesus took part in all the burdens and obligations common to the people, and thus laid a deep foundation for sympathy and fellowship, in not only wearing a nature identical with theirs, but in submitting "in all points" to their temptations and experiences, and among others, to that form of exaction which implies subjection -- the paying of taxes. This was especially humiliating on the part of anyone possessed of any title to authority. A king paying taxes! Such was the fact in Christ's case -- incongruous and humiliating fact.

He did not submit to it without a distinct assertion of its incongruous character. This he put forth in his own beautiful way. He did not wait for Peter to break the subject. Peter had come into the house for that purpose. Jesus anticipated him by a question: "What thinkest thou, Simon? Of whom do the kings of the earth take custom or tribute? Of their own children, or of strangers?" This was a reference to the well-known fact that the Romans, who were the masters of the world at that time, did not tax their own citizens, but only the inhabitants of the subject provinces. Peter was aware of this, and answered, "Of strangers." Christ rejoined, "Then are the children free?" as much as to say, "They ought not to apply to us for taxes, for we are the true children -- not strangers; the others are the strangers."

This is truth, and no sentiment. Most people regard it as a mere poetical suggestion. An understanding of the law and the testimony will show us that it is the assertion of an ultimate political fact. The Roman institution was on sand. They had got their power and standing in the earth "by their own sword." Their right was the right of might. It did not rest on a valid title. The only valid title is by bequest or transfer from the original possessor. God is the original proprietor of the earth. He made it for His own purpose, which is certain to be realised. In the working out of this purpose He has given the earth to Christ and his brethren, whose full inheritance of it is only a question of time. They are, therefore, "the children." The Romans, and all other merely human incumbents of the soil, are but successful adventurers and interlopers, tolerated for the time-being for a purpose. Their success is divinely permitted, and is being used to promote certain preliminary and subordinate parts of the purpose as a whole; but still it is only the success of the powerful stranger.

The right of the soil rests in Christ and his brethren, and their taxation is an outrage. Should they then resist and refuse? Far from it. Submission is enjoined on them till the time arrives for the enforcement of their rights with great power and effect. "For this cause, therefore," says Paul, "pay ye tribute also: they are God's ministers, attending continually on this very tiling" (Rom. xiii. 6). The tax-gatherers have a place in the scheme of his work, and it is our business to submit so long as they are divinely permitted to fill that place. Jesus exemplified this duty in what he proceeded to say to Peter: "Notwithstanding (i.e., though we are the children, and, in true right, untaxable), lest we should offend them (resistance would lead to strife, and the work of God at present has no connection with strife), go thou to the sea and cast an hook, and take up the fish that first cometh up, and when thou hast opened his mouth, thou shalt find a piece of money; that take, and give unto them for thee and me." Peter doubtless did as directed, and was able in this easy and honourable manner to discharge the claim of the tax collector.

How came the piece of money into the fish's mouth? Some are full of curious surmise on such topics. There is no difficulty when the power of God in Christ is recognised. The money might be dropped into the water by some one losing it; in that case the fish would be drawn to seize and hold the coin, and to wander into the neighbourhood of Peter's line. Peter's bait would be an attraction, notwithstanding its full mouth, and the seizing of the bait would complete the process by which Jesus and Peter were associated in the act of giving an example to the household afterwards, of submitting to the powers that be. It may, of course, have been done another way. The close association of Jesus and Peter is remarkable. It is seen in many instances, ending with Peter's crucifixion after the example of the Lord, as the Lord had predicted.

The affairs of Christ were now to turn a corner, as it were. "The time was come that he should be received up," so we read: not that the moment had actually arrived for his ascension, but that the time had come for him to frame his movements with reference to that stupendous occurrence. Before it could take place, he must go to Jerusalem and go through the appointed terrible ordeal waiting him there, concerning which he said, "I have a baptism to be baptised with: and how am I straitened till it be accomplished." He seems at this time to face the prospect with what might almost be considered painful determination. This seems to be the significance of the statement that "he steadfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem." He had hitherto lingered along in the neighbourhood of the Galilean lake, preaching the word to multitudes and healing their sick. He now realised that the time had come for the next move -- a move towards darkness, trouble, and death. He knew the issue of it all -- in life and light and joy: still it required an effort to take the path down into the valley of suffering that must be traversed before he could emerge on the heights beyond. "He steadfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem." He was to return from Jerusalem and make a second visit to Galilee, but the ultimate purpose and end of his journey was what was most before his mind. With this view, "he sent messengers before his face:" that is, he sent disciples ahead of him to make the needful practical arrangements for a journey to Jerusalem coincident with the feast of tabernacles.

The messengers "entered into a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him." What village it was we are not told: but it was one that was strongly infected with the jealous hatred that divided the Samaritans from the Jews; for when they ascertained that this small travelling band of Galileans were en route for Jerusalem, they refused them the temporary accommodation they desired. Had they been proposing a visit to Mount Gerizim, or any other locality that implied a recognition of the Samaritan claims, they would have been full of courteous civilities, no doubt: but they had no hospitality for men who proclaimed by their attitude that the claim of Samaria, inherited from the appointments of Jeroboam, was without divine foundation. This was natural. These villagers were acting according to their light, which was darkness.

The only alternative was to patiently endure the incivility, and pass on. But the disciples were not yet enlightened enough for that. They were aflame against the insult offered them, and knowing it was directed against the very Son of God, and that the power of God was on their side, their impulse was to use that power in avengement of the affront. They appealed in this spirit to Christ. "Lord, wilt thou that we command fire to come down from heaven and consume them, even as Elias did." But Christ "turned and rebuked them, and said "Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of."

Why should Christ reprove in the disciples what was commendable in Elijah? This problem resolves itself into a simple question of fitness of time. For everything there is a season and a time. Elijah, as the appointed avenger of a nation's apostacy, was in place in imprecating destruction on a band of troops sent to arrest his work. Jesus, as the appointed treader of "the winepress of Jehovah's anger" in "the day of vengeance and the year of recompenses," will be equally in place when "he shall smite the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips shall he slay the wicked;" but that will not be till the day when "he shall be revealed from heaven in flaming fire, taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ." That time had not come when he walked through Israel's coasts as a suffering teacher of righteousness, and a healer of diseases, in preparation for the final service of meekness and love in laying down his life for the sins of the world. The disciples, on the contrary, "thought the kingdom of God should immediately appear," and were busy sometimes speculating on who of them should fill the highest station in "the execution of the judgment written."

That Jesus should rebuke them is perfectly intelligible in the circumstances: "Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of." That is, they did not understand the spirit applicable to that phase of the work to which they had been called, which was one, not of executing judgment, but of offering salvation: -- "The Son of Man is not come to destroy men's lives but to save them." The "spirit" pertaining to such a work was that of "giving place to wrath," "enduring grief," "suffering wrongfully," threatening not when abused; reviling not again when reviled, rather turning the cheek to the smiter, than calling fire from heaven upon him -- as was afterwards abundantly indicated by the teaching of the Spirit of God in the apostolic writings. This does not preclude the divinely revealed determination, that when the time arrives, for which all this patient submission to evil is a preliminary discipline, the saints will take the sword in hand and inflict long-slumbering retribution, and break in pieces the institutions of the present evil world and rule the nations with a rod of iron.

All truth has its place. There is a time for everything. The disciples did not know that the time for executing judgment on men had not arrived, though Christ was in their midst; but that, on the contrary, it was a time for putting up with insults, and for doing good to the unthankful and the evil, and for overcoming evil with good. Jesus took the opportunity of instructing them in the matter, and instruction to them is instruction to all in later times who have the circumcised heart to hear and obey. So, leaving the irate villagers to themselves, "they went to another village." Here they apparently received the accommodation they required, and afterwards went on their way. On the way various incidents happened, including a visit to his domestic acquaintances who were also preparing to go to Jerusalem, for which they started before him.

Before his arrival at Jerusalem, multitudes had come from all parts of the country to be at the feast of tabernacles. Among these there was naturally much conversation about Christ, whose words and works had made a deep impression in all the land. The people expressed divergent opinions about him. "Some said, He is a good man; others said, Nay, but he deceiveth the people." No one felt at liberty to openly avow belief in him as the Messiah, because of the strong attitude against him on the part of the rulers of the people; but there was a strong under-current of interest and sympathy on his behalf which predisposed them for an instant, and hearty attention should he attend the feast. No one seemed to know whether he would or not. His family connections were there, but they could not tell. They had advised him before starting to attend; but he had not taken their advice in a way to enable them to know whether he would come or not. Their advice had in fact been in a spirit of unbelieving banter. "Depart hence," said they, "and go into Judea, that thy disciples also may see the works that thou doest; for there is no man that doeth anything in secret, and he himself seeketh to be known openly: for neither," adds John, "did his brethren believe in him." Christ said, "My time is not yet come: but your time is always ready." His words were true in a double sense. The time that he had determined upon for attending the feast had not arrived: he did not purpose being there at the opening. This was the superficial meaning. The deeper meaning was that the time had not come for him to make such a display of his power as would compel the universal acceptance which his brothers derided.

That time has not yet come, but will come. It is an appointed and a fixed time. There is a plan in the great matters to which it stands related. "Your time is always ready." Present and instant gratification is the rule of merely natural wisdom and natural men. There is no plan in the policy of their lives: no principle to guide the development of their affairs: no rational patience in their posture. How different it is with the ways of God, of which Jesus was the great and long-promised instrument. In these there is a plan, involving delay, labour, waiting, growth, ripening, harvest, and a climax of transcendent interest.

"Go ye up unto this feast," said Jesus to his brethren. "I go not up yet unto this feast; for my time is not yet full come." And so when they started for Jerusalem they did not know whether Jesus would follow or not. The first and second day of the feast had passed, and there was no appearance of him. At last, on the third or fourth day, "about the midst of the feast," he came openly into the temple in the midst of the crowd, and sat down in one of the open courts and began to speak to the people.

His teaching was of a kind that ordinarily required a special education to take part in. He had had no such special education, having been brought up at Nazareth in the house of his father and mother. The leading men of the community who opposed Christ would make themselves aware of this by inquiry at the Nazareth Synagogue when Christ's movements began to arrest public attention; and from them it would pass into currency as a fact that Jesus was unlearned. Consequently, when Jesus taught in the temple in a way common only with the learned, a mixed feeling of curiosity and contempt was occasioned among the unfriendly and respectable class of Jews. They said: "How knoweth this man letters, having never learnt?" The saying was reported to Christ. Perhaps it was uttered in his hearing. His answer was, "My doctrine is not mine, but His that sent me."

This was a complete answer. It was an admission of the two points involved. -- 1st. That he had not qualified as a teacher in the customary method; and 2nd, that he yet exercised the office of a teacher with all the ability usual only with trained experts. It went further. It disclaimed personal credit for the fact. He did not take the glory to himself, as is the egotistical habit of most self-taught men. "My doctrine is not mine:" whose then? "His that sent me." Who sent him? "My Father, of whom ye say that He is your God." "I am not come of myself, but He sent me." He attributed his teaching ability direct to power from God. This was high ground. How could he expect them to receive it? He indicates a rule of test. "If any man will do His will (the Father's will) he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of (or by the power of) myself." The truth and depth of this saying is necessarily hidden from all, save the class described. A man having the disposition and the determination to perform the will of God, so far as the knowledge thereof is within his reach, will, by the sheer effect of inevitable progress and development in that line of things, come to know, to discern, to be assured of the absolute divinity and authority of the teaching of Christ. He will know it by a line of reasoning that may be partly intuitive, but which, at the same time, has a logical method about it that will make it possible for him to formulate the process of knowledge in a way that will appeal to the recognition of all who are in a similar attitude towards God.

Jesus refers to a well-known peculiarity of men by which he was to be discriminated from all others. All public characters aimed to secure their own reputation or advantage. This was peculiarly the rule before the days of Christ; and any exceptions to it exhibited by human history since then are directly due to the power of the word of Christ. "He that speaketh of himself seeketh his own glory: but he that seeketh his glory that sent him, the same is true, and no unrighteousness is in him." In this Christ stands absolutely alone -- that though he was worthy as no man ever was, it was not his own elevation, his own credit, or his own advantage, that he aimed at in his whole work. He was the disinterested, zealous, faithful servant of Jehovah. It was his Father's will he sought to exalt; his Father's honour and glory he sought to achieve.

A judgment of him by this fact can yield but one verdict. Every effect must have efficient cause. If Christ was an exception among men in the fundamental motives that moved him, it could only have its explanation in the fact constantly asserted by him: that though a man among men, he was not of man, but of God, and sent by Him to manifest His name, declare His will, and execute His work.

The adversaries who personally antagonised him in the days of his sojourn upon the earth, professed a zeal for Moses as the excuse for their antagonism, and yet were not obedient to Moses in whom they boasted. "Did not Moses give you the law?" cries Christ, "and yet none of you keepeth the law." The law forbad murder; yet, in the name of the law, they haunted his steps to destroy him. "Why go ye about to kill me?" The people about him, of course, repudiated the imputation, -- "Who goeth about to kill thee?" asked they in fierce resentment. Sinners always repudiate the character for sin. The wickedest man likes a good reputation. No evil-doer owns to his intentions. There is a power of self-deception in men that enables them, with a sort of muddy sincerity, to disclaim the very things they have in contemplation. The Jews were laying traps for Christ. Yet when he alludes to the publicly avowed animosity, the reply is a scornful scepticism, and the suggestion that he must be mad.

Any extensive acquaintance with men today will reveal precisely the same characteristics and tactics; and lead a man at last to a mournful non-committal attitude like that which Christ observed. Christ did not argue the point with them, knowing that was futile. He rather appealed to their reason against the prejudice which his acts had excited. He had healed a man on the Sabbath. They thought that was dreadful wickedness; he entreated them to "judge not according to the appearance, but to judge righteous judgment." He had done a thing on the Sabbath day: but he had not necessarily desecrated the day. He had done well on the Sabbath day, and it was lawful to do that. Did not they themselves circumcise children on the Sabbath if the eighth day happened to fall on it? "If a man on the Sabbath day receive circumcision that the law of Moses should not be broken, are ye angry at me because I have made a man every whir whole on the Sabbath day?" Thus had the Son of God to humble himself in controversy with unreasonable and wicked men, enduring the contradiction of sinners against himself.

Some of the people were surprised at the boldness of Christ in view of the attitude of the authorities towards him, and indulged in a curious piece of reasoning often to be met with in the speculative illogical crowd. They inclined to conclude that, after all, the rulers might be of opinion that Jesus was really the Messiah, and were giving him scope to prove himself. And this set them to discussing the claims of Christ. Was he the Christ? He was a good man -- a wonderful man; but was he really the Messiah? They thought not. "We know this man whence he is," said they, "but when Christ cometh, no man knoweth whence he is." In this they committed the common fault of setting up one element of truth to exclude another, when in fact both are co-ordinate, each having its own place without jostling the other. It was true they knew the proximate origin of Christ very well, for he had been brought up from childhood at Nazareth in their midst; but in what way did this conflict with the fact that when the day for the manifestation of his power should arrive, he will appear upon the scene in a manner as absolutely inexplicable to the common run of men, as his birth as the son of a virgin? When Christ steals into the world "as a thief" from heaven, it will be absolutely true that "no man knoweth whence he is," although they all knew, in the day of his humiliation, he came from Nazareth.

Jesus did not enter into these particulars in reply to the remarks of the people. He contented himself with a simple assertion of the facts as they bore on that present moment: "Ye both know me, and ye know whence I am: and I am not come of myself. But He that sent me is true, whom ye know not. But I know Him, for I am from Him, and He hath sent me." This simple, gentle affirmation of truth offended the immediate speakers. There was a rush to apprehend him, but it came to nothing: "No man laid hands on him because his hour was not yet come." Then there came a reaction among the people standing by. One and another asked, "When Christ cometh, will he do more miracles than these which this man hath done?" The cry was taken up. It passed through the multitudes in the temple court with the quickness of an electrical movement. It threatened to become a serious demonstration in favour of Christ. Then authority openly interfered. "When the Pharisees heard that the people murmured such things concerning him, the Pharisees and the chief priests sent officers to take him." The officers came to where he stood, the people making way for them as they advanced. When they came to him, they did not take him. Their inclination was to stand respectfully and listen. He meekly said to them, "Yet a little while am I with you, and then I go unto Him that sent me. Ye shall seek me and shall not find me: and where I am, thither ye cannot come."

These words, uttered in a dignified, simple, and earnest manner, rivetted attention both of the officers and the crowd. The crowd wondered what he could mean about going away where he could not be found. Christ referred to his coming ascension, but the people knew nothing of this, and sought a solution according to their own knowledge. "Will he go to the dispersed among the Gentiles and teach the Gentiles?" Jesus could not expect to make himself understood in a crowd. He, therefore, as was his wont, fell back on the simple objects of his mission, uttered in parable; challenging their attention in an emphatic manner, he stood and cried (on the principal day of the feast, when the crowd was greatest and the interest highest), "If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink. He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, Out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water" (a reference -- it is immediately added -- to the coming impartation of the Holy Spirit to those who should believe on him).

This proclamation of Christ, made in the hearing of a Jewish crowd in the precincts of the temple, afterwards destroyed by Titus, 1,850 years ago, retains its unabated force to the present day as the declaration of an essential principle for the guidance of human life. Many thirst, and are dying of it -- they thirst after the infinite in love, wisdom, life, perfection -- "the good, the beautiful, and the true." They find them unattainable, and ardent aspirations and earnest effort die at last through sheer fatuity, and all men have to endorse Solomon's verdict -- "All is vanity and vexation of spirit." But perfection of life is, nevertheless, an attainable condition in the abstract, if men could but know the way. The way has been revealed. Christ is that revelation. "I am the way, the truth and the life." "If any man thirst, let him come to me." Application in any other quarter must be vain. Men wander in the arid desert to find water where there is none. They fall at last with parched mouths and empty vessels, to die and whiten their bones in the desolation. A fountain has been opened, and an invitation promulgated: "Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters." But most men in their pride will not humble themselves, and wander forth to die.

Many of the people were impressed with this final declaration of Christ's. They said, "Of a truth, this is the prophet." Others, "This is the Christ." But with others there came up the difficulty: "Shall Christ come out of Galilee?" We know that this man is from Nazareth, the prophets say that Christ should be born in Bethlehem. How can he be the Christ? Good people, if ye had but been patient and investigated, ye would have found there was no difficulty. Jesus, though brought up at Nazareth, was born at Bethlehem. Ye ought to have taken pains to ascertain. Surely the word and works of this man forbad any rash rejection of his claims. But there are smart people with whom reason does not prevail. Their self-conceit determines their attitude in the first case, and prevents any alteration of it afterwards. There was no lack of such among the Jews. "So there was division among the people because of Christ."

Some of them felt so strongly against him that they would have taken him, but no one could act with effect. The very officers felt powerless, and returned to their masters without their prisoner. The natural question of the masters was: "Why have ye not brought him?" The officers could scarcely excuse themselves. They could only say timidly, "Never man spoke like this man." This exasperated the Pharisees and chief priests. "Are ye also deceived? Have any of the rulers or of the Pharisees believed on him? But this people which knoweth not the law are accursed." There was an exception to this irrational acrimony. Nicodemus, who was one of them (both a Pharisee and a member of the ruling council), tried, by a simple question, to moderate the heat under which the officers visibly winced. "Doth our law judge any man before it hear him?" This only added fuel to the flame. The council turned upon Nicodemus: "Art thou also of Galilee? Search and see, for out of Galilee ariseth no prophet." And with this, the council broke up in a state of discomfiture. Each man went to his own house, and Jesus, threading his way through the crowd, departed to the house of Martha and Mary, on the Mount of Olives.

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