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Nazareth Revisited


Departure from Jerusalem -- Interview with the Seventy.

When the chief priests and Pharisees heard the report of the raising of Lazarus, and of the deep impression it had made on the people, they were stirred to an unpleasant degree. They saw in it a grave political danger, calling for measures of counteraction. They hastily called a meeting of the council to consider the matter. They argued that if Christ were allowed to go on as he had been doing, the conviction of his Messiahship would take such hold on the populace that there would be an attempt to throw off the Roman yoke, which could only end in the destruction of the State. "If we let him thus alone, all men will believe on Him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and nation."

In this they showed themselves mere politicians -- a class of men sharp enough to discern the probable effects of events on the motives and actions of men, but too shallow and faithless to be influenced by the diviner bearing of matters. The measure they resolved on was the resolution of mere politicians -- dictated partly by regard for the public safety as affecting their own, but much more powerfully, though perhaps unconciously, inspired by the hatred excited by Christ's condemnation of their ways. They resolved on the death of Christ. "From that day forth" it was the object of their policy to bring this about. Of course, they put a virtuous complexion on the foul resolve. "It is expedient for us that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not."

So spoke the high priest Caiaphas, who afterwards sat on the Bench to give judicial sanction to the murder. There was a certain truth in the utterance, because there was a divine purpose in the event, as John notices. Nay, John goes further and attributes the saying itself to the Holy Spirit: "This spake he not of himself, but being high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus should die for that nation, and not for that nation only, but that also he should gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad" (Jno. xi. 51, 52).

It is impossible rightly to judge of the events in Christ's life without taking its divine purpose into account. Those who try to interpret it by the ordinary rules of human experience are sure to stumble and bungle. It was not within those ordinary rules that a man should die for others at the hands of his own enemies, and yet with power to escape their malice if he had so chosen. This was Christ's case. As he said, "No man taketh it (my life) from me; but I lay it down of myself" (x. 18). He suffered himself to be taken when he could have repelled all the efforts of his destroyers; and it was not within those ordinary rules that such submission should be a thing directly required of God: "This commandment I have received of my Father." To judge of the death of Christ apart from this is to ignore the principal ingredient -- the leading "factor" in the case. To judge it so, is not to judge but to violate it. It must be judged as a whole -- not in parts: and this judgment of it as a whole requires that we recognise what Peter and the other apostles afterwards testified by the Spirit: that the Jewish rulers destroying Christ carried out a divine pre-determination (Acts iv. 28). "Him being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain" (Acts ii. 23). "And now brethren, I wot that through ignorance ye did it, as did also your rulers: but those things which God before had showed by the mouth of all his prophets, that Christ should suffer, He hath so fulfilled" (iii. 18). "The people of Israel were gathered together for to do whatsoever thy hand and thy counsel determined before to be done" (iv. 27, 28).

A part of the case is that the Jewish rulers plotted against him, arrested him, condemned and delivered him over to Roman executioners; another part of it is that in all this God worked by them to bring about His own wise purpose. The two parts were interfused though distinct. The Jews were filled with malice and intended evil: yet God used their feelings and their actions to accomplish His own plan. The glory of the plan is not to them, though God accomplished it by them. For the wickedness of their actions they are responsible, though God used that wickedness to work out His own righteousness.

Men who merely look on nature cannot, or affect that they cannot, understand how this can be, and in their folly they blaspheme. Men who realise that nature exists in God, and is but the expression of His intelligence and power, and subject to His control, have no difficulty in recognising divine and human forces both working in the same action. They can understand how Caiphas thought he gave utterance to his own thought as a mere politician when he counselled the death of Christ to avert the destruction of the nation, while he was actually moved by the Holy Spirit to adumbrate the divine purpose in the tragedy the Jews were plotting to bring about. The fact that the Holy Spirit should use such a man at such a time loses its apparent difficulty when we remember that as high priest, he was the official head and mouth of the divine system of Moses, and the personal instrument by which the great sacrifice typified by all the sacrifices of that system was about to be brought about.

Jesus knowing the decision of the council to put him to death, again left Jerusalem, and departed with his disciples to the country, staying for a while near Baal-hazor at a small city called Ephraim (Jno. xi. 54). If we were to be guided by the appearance of things in John's narrative, we should conclude that his stay here was of brief duration, and that he returned from here to Jerusalem to keep the last passover. But we must not be misled by appearances. John's narrative was written when the others had been for a long time in the hands of believers throughout the world; and though strictly chronological in the order of its narration, it was not intended to give an account of all that Jesus said and did, as John expressly says at the close of his narrative (chap. xxi. 25). We must therefore make room at the indicated breaks for the further matters recorded by Matthew, Mark, and Luke. There appears to be such a break at this point. It is not expressly indicated, but there is room for it, and, therefore, the other narratives requiring it, we must avail ourselves of it.

John proceeds to speak generally of the passover being nigh at hand in such a way as to constitute what he says a prologue to what follows, and not as a connecting link with what goes before (xi. 55). "And the Jews' passover was nigh at hand; and many went up from the country to Jerusalem," &c. The commencing of a new narrative, or new passage in a narrative, by the word "and" is a common peculiarity throughout the scriptures, as if to say "In addition to what is written before," rather than to say "and next in order happened this." Illustrations of this will be found in the opening verse of Luke iv. v. vi. viii. xi. xvi., &c., &c., and many other places. It is, therefore, not taking an unwarrantable liberty to read into the space between verses 54 and 55 of John xi., whatever appears by the other evangelists to have occurred in the interval. Therefore, here we depart a while from the narrative of John, and return to the guidance of Luke and the other writers.

Here we must place the return of the seventy whom Jesus had appointed in addition to the twelve apostles to go "two and two before his face into every city and place whither he himself would come" (Luke x. 1). They returned to him "with joy," reporting the successful invocation of his name in all cases of disease, even to the dispossession of the demonised (Luke x. 17). Their report was a satisfaction to Christ. His response was brief and characteristic. "I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven" -- beheld in vision, as a matter of prospect, the complete dethronement of the power of the Adversary in every form -- for Satan merely signifies the Adversary. It was as if Jesus had said, "My name has prevailed at your hands on a small scale. The time is coming when all evil will disappear by the same power. The work has already begun." His allusion to this was an encouragement to the seventy who had returned from an arduous journey.

He further comforted the laborious seventy by saying, "Behold, I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall by any means hurt you." This was in allusion to the further gift with which they should be armed on his departure -- which came to pass fifty days after his resurrection, when the Holy Spirit came with power on the day of Pentecost, Its power in the direction indicated by Christ was illustrated in the case of Paul, on whom a venomous beast fastened, in the island of Malta, after his shipwreck, and which he shook off without harm (Acts xxviii. 5). The possession of such a power, and the power of controlling disease, would naturally be a source of satisfaction to any man. Jesus warned them against holding it in this spirit. "In this rejoice not ... but rather rejoice that your names are written in heaven."

This is another of the constantly recurring indications of the divine nature of the work of Christ. Who but such as he said he was, and showed himself to be, would have propounded such a cause of personal gladness? It is according to man to rejoice in present power: it is according to God only to forbid such joy, and to invite gladness for a reason that is in God's control only. Nevertheless, the triumphant operation of divine power upon earth was a satisfaction to Christ as well; for Luke adds: "In that hour Jesus rejoiced in spirit, and said 'I thank Thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes.' " He had said this on an earlier occasion, recorded by Matthew. Doubtless, many of the things he said were said more than once, and repeated on separate occasions in different connections, as happens often among men now This would account for some of the so-called "discrepancies" which so easily stumble certain kinds of minds.

Soon after the interview referred to, between Christ and the returned-seventy, "a certain lawyer stood up and tempted him." The lawyers were a class for whom Christ had no regard, and of whom he spoke not only slightingly, but in terms of severe condemnation more than once, on the ground that they were what the legal profession to this day is liable to make men -- indifferent to the interests of others: "binding on men's shoulders burdens grievous to be borne, which they would not move their little finger to ease." The "certain lawyer" in this case probably shared the soreness felt by the profession in general at Christ's unmeasured condemnations. The question he employed in "tempting him" was apparently of the most innocent description: "Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" How could such a question be a "tempting" of Christ? We may realise this when we remember that a lawyer's business was to stand up for the law and to bring punishment on those who should treasonably speak against it. The lawyer evidently expected that Christ would speak against the law, and his question was a trap to lead Christ to do so. In view of this, how masterly was Christ's answer: "What is written in the law? How readest thou?" The lawyer answered by a quotation from the law. Jesus said, "Thou hast answered right. This do and thou shalt live."

In what way was Christ able to make such an answer in view of the truth afterwards proclaimed, that "by the deeds of the law shall no flesh be justified" (Gal. ii. 16), and that any man "justified by the law is fallen from grace?" (Gal. v. 4). We may understand if we consider the part of the law quoted by the lawyer: "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy strength, and with all thy soul, and thy neighbour as thyself." Any man in true subjection to these precepts would be sure to submit to every further development of the will of God, and therefore to the reception of Christ as "the end of the law for righteousness to everyone that believeth" (Rom. x. 4). Submission to God would mean submission to Christ, who came from God. The greater includes the less. Christ's answer was therefore complete, while at the same time it was a masterly evasion of the trap laid for him by the lawyer. The lawyer did not like to be foiled. Willing to justify himself, he said unto Jesus, "And who is my neighbour?" Christ's answer was the parable of the good Samaritan, which we considered in ch. xxviii. It was the most telling rejoinder that could have been made to a lawyer, who is generally the last man to put himself out of the way in any attempt to go to the rescue of a stranger that has fallen among thieves.

On another occasion (Matt. xix. 16), Christ went further on the subject of eternal life, in answer to a similar question put to him by a "young man" who was rich, and of whom, it is said, that Jesus, "beholding him, loved him." This was not a tempting-lawyer, but a young man of some sincerity and earnestness of character. The question was nearly the same, but the answer, in its form, a little different. This young man came "running, and knelt." It was when "Jesus had gone forth into the way" -- evidently when he had gone out for a walk or started on a journey -- the kneeling.young man said, "Good master, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?" Jesus first found fault with his mode of address. "Why callest thou me good? There is none good but one, that is God." Was not Jesus good then? Yes, but not in the sense intended by the young man. The young man evidently regarded Jesus as a teacher in the sense in which the Rabbis were regarded as teachers, and in which the poets and philosophers of Greece were regarded as teachers, and the "great and good men" so-called of our own day -- men popularly supposed to have light and good in them as an inherent attribute. Jesus disowned the application in this sense.

He maintained that in the sense intended by the populace, no one was good but God. With him only is goodness an essential, an inherent attribute. Any good that man has, comes from without, as a matter of communication from God directly, as in the case of Adam's inspiration, or indirectly, as in the case of the modifying influence exerted by the Bible. Man left to his unaided resources develops no goodness, as in the case of a human being brought up in solitude, or a nation having no contact with the civilisation that has resulted from divine interposition in the earth's affairs. He is naturally destitute of knowledge, and his instinctive impulses, in the absence of knowledge, turn to evil. Thus the statement of Paul is experimentally and scientifically true, that "in the flesh dwelleth no good thing." The young man, in calling Jesus "good master," was giving expression to the common fallacy that goodness is a thing innate with man. Therefore Jesus refused the apparent compliment, and put the stern fact in the foreground that "there is none good but one, that is God." In this Jesus differed from all human teachers, past or present. In this the Bible differs from all books. Human teachers and human books all deify human nature as a good thing. Universal experience proves that goodness is only a potentiality with man depending upon outside supply for development. Universal experience, therefore, proves Christ and the Bible true on the very point where they are supposed by modern ideas to be behind.

Jesus then dealt with the young man's question on the subject of eternal life. "If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments." The young man said, "Which?" Jesus said: "Thou knowest the commandments: do not commit adultery; do not kill; do not steal; do not bear false witness; defraud not; honour thy father and thy mother; and thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself." The young man answered, "Master (he omitted the good this time), all these things have I observed from my youth." If this was a true testimony, then the young man, according to Christ's answer, was an heir of life eternal, upon which there would seem to arise a conflict between the teaching of Christ and the statement of Paul: that the law of Moses could not give life (Rom. vii. 10; Gal. iii. 21). The apparent conflict vanishes when we realise that other teaching of Paul (Rom. viii. 3); that the inefficiency of the law in this respect was due to the inability of human nature to render to it the perfect obedience required. It was "weak through the flesh." It was truly "ordained to life," as Paul says and as Jesus recognised; but all Israel found it, like Paul, "to be unto death," because it pronounced a curse upon every one continuing not in all things written therein. Its blessing was upon perfect obedience, and none were able to render this in the sense of embracing all particulars. Christ only exhibited this ability; and "by one man's obedience" many are made righteous, in being forgiven and received for his sake. He is "the end of the law for righteousness to everyone that believeth" (Rom. x. 4.

Jesus did not enter into these explanations with the young man. They would have been futile of any effect upon his unripe understanding. He adopted a course that convicted the young man of fatal shortcoming upon his own principles. No doubt he might have taken the ground that the young man had often failed in his obedience of the commandments, which in the main he had tried to keep "from his youth up," for the testimony of the scriptures is true, that "there liveth not a man upon the earth that sinneth not." But he might not so easily have brought this home to the young man's conviction; so he tried him on the spot, by using the authority the Father had given him, to deliver to him a commandment for his special obedience: "One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven, and come and follow me." The young man "had great possessions," and he shrank from this command. He went away sorrowful. He desired to be in the right and to inherit eternal life; but he could not possibly part with his possessions, though directly commanded. Thus he was shown to be incapable of the perfect obedience which he boasted, and went away condemned on his own grounds.

Christ has not required believers in general to part with their possessions. He required it of this young man because the case called for it, and because with Christ personally on the earth to be followed as a head and Master, it was reasonable. It is inapplicable to our time, though the Roman Catholic church, among its many enormities, has not scrupled to make use of this to fleece its wealthy votaries of their substance for the benefit of lazy and sensuous priests. What Christ requires of believers in general in his absence is to be "good stewards of the manifold grace of God" (1 Pet. iv. 10), and the rich among them particularly are enjoined "to be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to communicate, laying up in store for themselves a good foundation against the time to come" (1 Tim. vi. 17).

In most cases, this is as hard a test as the command to sell all was to the young man. The rich, as a rule, have gluey fingers. Jesus remarked as the young man retired, "How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God. A rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven." The disciples were astonished at these expressions. They seemed to think they shut off all hope for anyone that had anything. Jesus repeated his remark in a modified form, that his meaning might be quiet apparent: "Children, how hard is it for them that trust in riches to enter into the kingdom of God." Still he added, "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into the Kingdom." This seemed an extreme saying which, however, experience has shown to be true. As a general rule, rich people are so satisfied with themselves, and so full of their own schemes, as to be incapable of complying with the requirements of the gospel. Their minds are so pre-occupied with human things that the way is barred against the entrance of those that are divine.

But there are exceptions. There were exceptions in the clays of Jesus. Some of the most useful disciples were rich, to wit: Zaccheus, Nicodemus, Joseph of Arimathea, Chuza, wife of Herod's steward, and other examples. Jesus intimated that there would be a multitude of exceptions by the power of God: "To men it is impossible, but not with God; for with God all things are possible." That is, in ordinary circumstances, riches form an inconquerable impediment to salvation; but God would show them the destruction of that impediment in the submission of hundreds of rich men to the self-sacrificing claims of the service of Christ. And he did. When his power was shown in the effusion of the Spirit on the day of Pentecost, and in the miraculous manifestations that followed, we read that as a result, "as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold and laid them down at the apostles' feet" (Acts iv. 34, 35).

Then Peter, with his usual impulsive readiness, sought to draw a personal application to themselves from the things Jesus had been saying. The rich young man had gone away sorrowful when asked to leave all and follow Christ; so had it not been with the twelve: "Behold, we have forsaken all and have followed thee: what shall we have therefore?" The answer of Christ is of great importance as specifically defining the practical form of the recompense. Paul says that a "great recompense of reward" awaits the course of that faith which is the "confidence of things hoped for" (Heb. x. 35; xi. 1). Here Jesus indicates what it consists of in the case of the twelve disciples: "Verily, I say unto you, that ye who have followed me, in the regeneration, when the Son of Man shall sit an the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit on twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel." On a later occasion, Jesus plainly stated when this "sitting on the throne of his glory" should be an actual fact: "When the Son of Man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit on the throne of his glory" (Matt. xxv. 31). In view of this, there is no room for doubt as to the meaning of Christ's words. They amount to an assurance that at his return from heaven, to which he departed 40 days after his resurrection, he will associate the 12 apostles with himself in the kingly work that will be his to do at the regeneration -- "the restitution of all things" spoken of by the prophets (Acts iii. 20) -- the restoration of the kingdom again to Israel (Acts i. 6) -- when sitting on the throne of David, "he will rein over the house of Jacob for ever, and of his kingdom there shall be no end" (Luke i. 32).

Popular theology provides no place for this divinely promised element of the great salvation. Though in this particular form the promise is limited to the apostles, it indicates the nature of the kingdom to be possessed by all the saints; for the salvation to be given to them is styled a "common salvation" (Jude 3) -- a salvation common to them all, differing only in position and degree. All "reign with Christ" (Rev. xx 4); but some reign near him, as in the case of the apostles and the fathers; and some hold jurisdiction over ten cities, while some have authority over five. They all inherit one kingdom (Matt. xxv. 24; Luke xii. 32), but occupy positions differing in glory -- "every man according to his works" (Rev. ii. 23; xxii. 12). It is the kingdom of Israel reestablished with the Holy Land (Zech. ii. 12), as the centre of that new system of things (Jer. iii. 17; Isaiah lxv. 18), which will diffuse the promised universal blessedness among men -- all nations blessed in Abraham and his seed (Gen. xii. 2, 3); "the glory of God filling the earth as the waters cover the sea" (Num. xiv. 21; Hah. ii. 14) -- the God of heaven having set up his kingdom, which shall break in pieces and consume all other kingdoms, and itself shall stand for ever (Dan. ii. 44).

Jesus added something to the kingdom-promise. The question put by Peter related to what the twelve had done, who had "left all." The question was "What shall we have?" Jesus answered the question in its ultimate sense first, and then makes an addition of a proximate bearing, something about "now in this time;" and that was this: "Every one that hath forsaken houses or brethren or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands for my name's sake shall receive an hundredfold, now in this time houses and brethren and sisters and mothers and children and lands with persecutions, and in the world to come eternal life." Those who witnessed what came after the day of Pentecost saw the fulfilment of this. Houses and lands by the score were placed at the disposal of the apostles. Even "a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith" (Acts vi. 7). Multitudes of fathers, mothers, brothers, and sisters, &c., were "added to the Lord" (Acts v. 14); and bestowing their property on them, clustered round the apostles with an ardour of affection rarely exhibited among men (Acts iv. 32-35). But this tide of favour was "with persecutions." The authorities interposed and tried to stamp out the newborn faith. The effort was vain: "When they had further threatened them, they let them go, finding nothing how they they might punish them because of the people, for all men glorified God for that which was done" (Acts iv. 21). Though futile, the persecutions continued without intermission. With the advance of time there came a great change, but still in the first instance, Christ's words were fulfilled to the very letter.

What Jesus had said about the apostles sharing the kingdom with him at his coming, naturally impressed their minds. James and John, set on by an ambitious mother, appear to have been more exercised than the others, and exercised in a wrong way. Along with her, they privately applied to Christ in their own special interest. The mother, "worshipping him," "desired a certain thing of him." The obsequious, anxious, ambitious woman, waiting Christs invitation: "What wilt thou?" ventured on a large request: "Grant that these my two sons may sit, the one on thy right hand and the other on the left, in thy kingdom." The sons themselves joined in the proposal. It is beside the mark to condemn the request as a carnal misconception of the nature of the kingdom of Christ. Christ did not so treat it. It was a carnal request growing out of his own promise. It was wrong to desire preeminence; it was not wrong to desire to reign with him in his kingdom. This distinction is indicated in Christ's reply. He condemned the spirit of the request: "Ye know that the princes of the Gentile exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them. But, it shall not be so among you. But whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; and whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant, even as the Son of Man (who came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many).

While condemning the spirit of the request, he did not condemn the idea of the kingdom on which the request was based. On the contrary, he sanctioned the idea in saying: "To sit on my right hand and my left is not mine to give, but to them for whom it is prepared." He indicated the principle upon which this highest of all positions would be allotted in the very first words with which he received the request: "Ye know not what ye ask: can ye drink of the cup that I drink of; and be baptised with the baptism that I am baptised with?" As much as to say, "The place next me in glory can only be earned by filling the place next me in suffering." As Paul says, "Every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labour" (1 Cor. iii. 8); and Jesus himself: "I will give to everyone of you according as your work shall be" (Rev. xxii. 12).

However much men may scoff at the idea, it is the simple truth, and the central promise of the Gospel that "if we suffer him we shall reign with him: if we deny him, he will deny us" (2 Tim. ii. 12). James and John at this time were young untutored men, not yet in that subjection to the mind of the Spirit which brings self abasement, and that exaltation of God and our neighbour as the ruling mental habit. Their request was the carnal mis-appreciation of a divine promise and naturally excited the indignation of their fellow-apostles. But that misconception in no way interferes with the promise itself, which, like the mercy of God out of which it springs, "endureth for ever."

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