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Nazareth Revisited


The Slaughtered Galileans -- the Fox, Herod -- Jerusalem -- a Sabbath-Day Dinner and its Incidents.

At the close of the discourse last considered, "some told him of the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices." The communication was evidently in the spirit of judicial commiseration -- as if the speakers had said: "Poor things! these slaughtered Galileans! They must have been great sinners for such things to have happened to them." Christ's answer suggests that the remark was made in this spirit.

It is a natural and a common view, that calamity now happens as "a judgment" on the sufferers as distinguished from those who do not suffer these calamities. It was this view that Job's friends aggravated his affliction with, by pressing it upon his distracted attention. God repudiated it in the case of Job's friends, and Jesus repudiates it now. "Suppose ye that these Galileans were sinners above all Galileans, because they suffered such things? I tell you, Nay; but except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish." And so with the case of 18 persons killed by the fall of a tower at Siloam, to whom he makes reference. "Except ye repent": this shows the drift. It tells the bystanders -- not that the slaughtered Galileans were undeserving of their fate, but that they, the bystanders, deserved it, too, and would share it in ultimate experience, if they did not cease to be what they were.

This is the real position of the world as estimated by him who could make no mistake in judgment. It is this state of facts that renders it absurd to argue special guilt from special trouble People talk about "seeing ourselves as others see us": this is a matter in which Christ enables us to see ourselves as God sees us: -- not to see the suffering as specially guilty but the unsuffering as specially favoured. For what reason, we can see when we apply the standard that governed Jesus. In brief, this standard was God's view. By this view, all men are wicked, because all men are estranged from Him. They may be on decent terms among themselves, but God they know not, nor take Him into account, nor do, think, or say the things that are pleasing to Him. They have been away from Him thus in the mass ever since Adam's expulsion from Eden. At any time since then the words of David have applied: "The Lord looked down from heaven upon the children of men to see if there were any that did understand and that did seek God." Such a state of things is wickedness, according to the only standard that decides what is wickedness and what is righteousness.

This standard is God's will. This will has been revealed and is accordant with reason. It is that men know and love Him first of all as a matter of hourly condition from day to day; that as a consequence, they worship, fear, and obey Him; and act the patient and beneficent part towards one another that He acts towards them. His right to maintain and enforce this will not be questioned by any one recognising that God has created all things, and in Him all things subsist. Consequently, it is easy to enter into Christ's view -- so different from that of any school of human thinkers, ancient or modern, theological or philosophical -- that the actual condition of all men is that of sinners who are permitted to live by divine tolerance merely -- a toleration exercised because of the purpose He has in the life of the race upon the earth; and that their ultimate continuance in the enjoyment of this tolerance depends upon their conformity in some considerable measure to what God requires at their bands. To convey this idea, he spoke the parable of the fig tree, which we considered in chapter xxx.

We next find Jesus in a synagogue on the Sabbath day (Luke xiii. 10), where, is not stated, and does not matter. Luke, not having personally seen or heard the things he describes, writes of them in the detached, and inconsecutive, and sometimes incomplete style of one who obtained his information from others, even those "who from the beginning were eye-witnesses and ministers of the word" (chap. i. 2) -- a circumstance, however, which does not exclude the fact that the Holy Spirit guided him in the narrative-use of the information so obtained -- as we have previously considered.

Among the worshippers in the synagogue was a lame woman whose body had for 18 years been drawn and held together by disease -- styled in the narrative "a spirit of infirmity" and "Satan" -- the personified adversary. Jesus noticed her, and called her to him, and said to her, "Woman, thou art loosed from thine infirmity," at the same time laying his hands on her, when "immediately she was made straight and glorified God." This interesting performance ought to have excited admiration. So it did among the congregation; but "the ruler of the synagogue" was put into a contrary mood by it. He was indignant. Why should he be? He professed to be shocked at the profanation of the Sabbath. He said, "There are six days in which men ought to work; in them, therefore, come and be healed, and not on the Sabbath day." But Jesus knew that this was not the real root of the matter. He reminded the ruler of the synagogue that he and his class were in the habit regularly of loosing their beasts and taking them to the watering on the Sabbath day, and why should they object to the loosing of a daughter of Abraham from her infirmity? The real objection was to the display of such power on the part of Christ which discredited the religious leaders in the eyes of the people. Offended pride is unreasonable, and always cloaks itself in another plea, which it possibly thinks sincere. There was no answer to Christ's interrogatory. The ruler of the synagogue was silenced (and mortified), and the people unmistakably showed their satisfaction. "All his adversaries (present) were ashamed, and the people rejoiced at all the glorious things done by him."

Again journeying towards Jerusalem, Jesus "went through the cities and villages, teaching." The thickly occupied state of the country admitted of an effective progress on foot of this sort. The land was covered, comparatively speaking, with towns and villages. They did not straggle far and wide, as in western lands. The clustering of towns and villages within a few miles of each other in some parts of Yorkshire is the nearest approach to the populated state of Palestine in the days of Jesus. Even in its desolation at the present day, Palestine bears evidence of its former state in ruins, ruins everywhere. Highly honoured was the teeming population, though they did not know. "The people that walked in darkness saw great light." "The light shined in the darkness, but the darkness comprehended it not." Here and there, some discerned "the day of their visitation."

One such, evidently noting with sadness the general inappreciation, enquired of him "Lord, are there few that be saved?" Jesus did not answer the question directly. He told his questioner to "strive to enter in at the strait gate; for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in and shall not be able." Some have been distressed by this saying, as if it reduced hope to a very narrow channel. They have said to themselves, "What is the use of effort if many actually seeking to enter in shall not be able?" Perhaps they read the words of Christ otherwise than he intended. Did he mean, "Many shall seek to enter in by complying with the will of the Lord in faith and obedience, and will fail?" His whole teaching forbids this. He says, "Him that cometh unto me, I will in no wise cast out." "Whosoever will, let him take of the water of life freely." What did he mean then by many seeking to enter and not being able? His own application, in the words immediately succeeding, seems to point to those who will unworthily apply to him in the day of his coming. The words are: "When once the master of the house is risen up, and hath shut to the door, and ye begin to stand without, and to knock at the door, saying, Lord, Lord, open unto us; and he shall answer and say unto you, I know you not whence ye are. Then shall ye begin to say, we have eaten and drunk in thy presence, and thou hast taught in our streets. But he shall say, I tell you, I know not whence ye are: depart from me all ye workers of iniquity." From this it would seem that many at Christ's return will claim friendship with him on the score of acquaintance with him in the days of his sojourn in Judea when Herod reigned. Many, many thousands at that time "ate and drank in his presence," as, for example, at the multiplication of the loaves and fishes, not to speak of the countless private occasions. Many more thousands could say "Thou hast taught in our streets" -- multitudes, who paid no heed to his teaching beyond the idle interest of the village gossip. In the day of his glory, many of these think to be acceptable to him on this flimsy ground, like people of the same town who meet in a distant country. They "seek to enter in" then, but shall not be able, because their seeking is not in accordance with the appointed principle.

The striving to enter in that Jesus enjoins, consists of that doing of the will of the Father, which Peter, in harmony with Christ, says will ensure "an entrance abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ" (2 Pet. i. 11). The unacceptable claimants who in the day of Christ's return "seek to enter in and shall not be able" are "workers of iniquity" who think to obtain favour by local partiality. The rejection of this class need be no discouragement to those who are sincerely and in the scriptural way "striving to enter in at the strait gate." Such are exhorted by Paul to "Lift up the hands that hang down and to strengthen the feeble knees" (Heb. xii. 12). God Himself authorises this message to them by Isaiah: "Say to them that are of a fearful heart, be strong: fear not. Behold your God will come with vengeance, even God with a recompense. He will come and save you" (chap. xxxv. 4).

Another reflection comes out of Christ's allusion to the presence and rejection, at his coming, of many of those among whom he patiently and magnanimously laboured in the days of his flesh. It shows how untenable is the thought of such as are inclined to indulge the idea that none but the accepted will be dealt with on that august occasion; and of such as draw the line of responsibility at those who try to obey the gospel in the initial obedience of baptism. It is evident that light, and not partial obedience, is the ground of responsibility, which is accordant with the most elementary considerations of reason.

Jesus proceeded to say, "There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when ye shall see Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrust out," that is, those then listening to him, who would claim entrance on the ground of having known him in the days of his flesh. And to give point to their exclusion, who regarded the inheritance of the kingdom as their birthright, he spoke of the admission of many from other lands on whom they looked as aliens: "And they shall come from the east, and from the west, and from the north, and from the south, and shall sit down in the kingdom of God" -- an allusion to the multitude taken from among the Gentiles, who, "out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation," will glorify Christ and reign with him for ever. There was point in the words he added: "There are last which shall be first, and there are first which shall be last." At the moment, his Jewish auditors were first: the Gentiles about to be called were last: so, too, the Scribes and Pharisees were first; and Jesus, and those who received him, were last. The reversal of these positions is easy to understand in view of what is coming. It was natural that the Pharisees should dislike such inuendoes, and that they should try to suppress Christ. Their efforts were unavailing till "his hour" had come. He foiled them by his skill of rejoinder. They now tried to frighten him away.

A deputation of them came to him and said, "Get thee out and depart hence, for Herod will kill thee." They made a mistake in supposing that such a consideration could make any impression on Christ. Herod could do nothing till the time was come. Even if he could, it was not in Christ to be afraid of what man could do to him. This would have been a sufficient answer for reasonable men, but the men who were badgering him were not such as would be influenced by a reasonable answer. He therefore answered them according to their folly: "Go ye and tell that fox, behold I cast out demons and I do cures to-day and tomorrow, and the third day I shall be perfected." "That fox!" -- There was an indignant emphasis in this. There is a time to be angry. They were trying to intimidate him with the name of one of the vilest of mankind (see Josephus's portrait of the human monster). It was natural that he should retort upon them with the definition of Herod's true character, yet only as a matter of description: "that fox!" -- not in the spirit of invective: for the message he asked them to take back to him had no acrimony in it, but was confined to a declaration of truth, viz., that his work on earth had still a to-day and a to-morrow, and that as for being killed, that could not happen in Herod's jurisdiction: "It cannot be that a prophet perish out of Jerusalem."

This may strike the ear as a strange saying. Jerusalem the chosen -- Jerusalem where God had placed His name -- Jerusalem where David reigned, and which God had honoured with His manifested presence. Why must Jerusalem be the scene of a prophet's martyrdom? It seems as if the fitness of things would have required a reverse conclusion. But the history of the case supports the words of Christ. God Himself says: "This city hath been to Me as a provocation of Mine anger and of My fury from the day that they built it, even to this day ... They have turned to Me the back and not the face, though I taught them, rising up early and teaching them, yet they have not hearkened to receive instruction" (Jer. xxxii. 31-33). And again by Ezekiel: "This Jerusalem, I have set it in the midst of the nations and countries that are round about her, and she hath changed my judgments into wickedness more than the nations, and my statutes more than the countries that are round about her ... Therefore, thus saith the Lord God, behold I, even I, am against thee, and will execute judgments in the midst of thee in the sight of the nations" (Ezek v. 5). It was to bring Jerusalem from her wickedness that the prophets were sent; and it was because of their message that they perished at her hands, as we read succinctly in 2 Chron. xxxvi. 15. "The Lord God of their fathers sent to them by his messengers, rising up betimes and sending: because he had compassion on His people and on His dwelling place. But they mocked the messengers of God, and despised His words, and misused His prophets, until the wrath of the Lord arose against His people till there was no remedy."

Jesus was therefore in strict harmony with the divinely-recorded history of Jerusalem when he sent word to Herod that that city, and not Galilee, must witness his sufferings -- a strange, sad, sorrowful history, which on this same occasion wrung from the lips of Christ the memorable apostrophe: "O, Jerusalem, Jerusalem, which killest the prophets, and stonest them that are sent unto thee: how often would I have gathered thy children together as a hen doth gather her brood under her wings, and ye would not! Behold, your house is left unto you desolate; and, verily I say unto you, ye shall not see me until the time come when ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord." There has been a history since the history that drew this lamentable exclamation from the mouth of Christ; and how signally has that second history borne out his words. What has been Israel's state since the destruction of Jerusalem? What has been Israel's history for 1800 years past? Could it be more graphically portrayed than in the words of Christ: "Your house is left unto you desolate." Reasonable men will behold in this fulfilment of prophecy the evidence of the divinity of his work and words.

This is not the place to write of the restoration of Israel. Yet it is not digressing to point in passing to the presence of that subject in the mind of Christ when he uttered the concluding words of his apostrophe to woe-struck Jerusalem: "Ye shall not see me henceforth until the time come when ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord." What is this but the recognition of the coming of a time when Israel, who rejected him, would accept him? It might be retorted by unbelievers in that revealed purpose of God, that the words amount to no more than the expression of an uncertain contingency -- namely, that if the time come when Israel shall accept Jesus, the time will come when they shall see him again. There might be room for such a suggestion if there were no other indication of Christ's anticipation on the subject. There is much other indication. His statement that "all things that are written (in the prophets) must be fulfilled" is one of a very broad character, for it covers all that we read in the prophets of the purpose of God who scattered Israel, to gather them. The Scripture, he said, cannot be broken -- a statement which he extended to the "Holy Scriptures" in their entirety when he elsewhere said, "I am not come to destroy the law and the prophets, but to fulfil." He specifically endorses the national hope of Israel in referring to "the re-generation, when the Son of Man shall sit on the throne of His glory" (Matt. xix. 27): and to the establishment of a kingdom in which his twelve apostles will share with him the occupancy of the thrones of "the twelve tribes of Israel" (Luke xxii. 30). The apostles added their confirmation when they asked him before his ascension: "Wilt thou at this time restore the Kingdom to Israel?" (Acts i. 6): and Peter, after his ascension, when he said, "The heavens must hold him until the times of the restitution of all things which God hath spoken by the mouth of all His holy prophets since the world began" (Acts iii. 20): and Paul, when he said, "Blindness in part hath happened unto Israel until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in; and so all Israel shall be saved ... If the casting away of them be the reconciling of the world, what shall the receiving of them be but life from the dead?" (Rom. xi. 15).

No understanding of the life and sayings of Christ can be complete or harmonious that leaves out of account his relation to the hope of Israel which he touched on this occasion. Jerusalem has been "left desolate" for 1850 years, in accordance with his words; but the time draws near when her restored children will hail his re-appearance among them with joyful enthusiasm unparalleled in the national history. "They shall look upon him whom they have pierced, and (at first) mourn" -- mourn at the infatuation that crucified him (Zech. xii. 10); but there will soon be "joy for mourning, and the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness" (Isaiah lxi. 3). "Many nations shall be joined unto the Lord in that day," and "the whole earth shall rejoice."

Not long after the words we have been considering, Jesus "went into the house of one of the chief Pharisees to eat bread on the Sabbath Day." He had been invited, and accepted the invitation. A number of guests had been invited as well. Jesus used the occasion for instruction, as was his wont. He noticed as the guests came in that they "chose out the chief rooms." When the process had gone on so long, he broke silence with a remark that would be considered rude in modern etiquette. He said to the company that they ought not to choose the best places at any table to which they were invited, lest the host might ask them to make way for more honourable guests, and they with shame would have to go down lower. "Go and sit down in the lowest room," he said, which would leave scope for promotion: "for whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased, and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted." If this lesson may seem in any degree superfluous in our day, we owe it to the influence of the teaching of Christ, which has slowly filtered through a certain class of the population in the course of centuries, modifying the original barbarism of self-obtrusiveness. But the modification is not very deep. A time of peril of any kind is sufficient to develop the reckless self-seeking that is natural to most men. Where the law of Christ prevails, it is greatly restrained, and human nature appears at its best. The law of Christ will yet be universal upon the earth. Happy those permitted to see the day.

Christ had a lesson for the host also as to the character of the invitations. He noticed that the invited guests were all well-to-do and friends of the host. There was nothing for criticism in this, according to the custom common to ancient and modern times. But Jesus had something to say on the subject which his friends in all ages have noted. He turned to the host and said, "When thou makest a dinner or a supper, call not thy friends nor thy brethren, neither thy kinsmen nor thy rich neighbours, lest they also bid thee again, and a recompense be made unto thee. But when thou makest a feast call the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind, and thou shalt be blessed, for they cannot recompense thee, for thou shalt be recompensed at the resurrection of the just." Most of the commandments of Christ go contrary to the natural grain -- none more than this. When a man is disposed and able to indulge in festivity, "the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind," are the very very last he would think of asking. Their company puts a task on magnanimity; it yields no pleasure, but the reverse; it brings a slur in the eyes of neighbours, and it has not even the germ of prospective advantage; but is apt, on the contrary, to sow the seeds of an embarrassing and damaging intimacy.

Why should Jesus command so unnatural a thing? There is probably a variety of reasons. He conditions friendship on obedience; and how is this to be put to the test without commandments that are disagreeable? He aims to keep his brethren in that humble frame of mind which alone is reasonable and acceptable to God. How could they be more effectually helped than by the obligation to "condescend to men of low estate?" Above all, he would develop in them the Father's character, who is long-suffering and kind, even to the undeserving, and who, "while we were yet sinners," made advances of love to us. What so likely to help this character in his brethren as to make it obligatory on them to consider and minister to the less-favoured of mankind with whom they may be thrown in contact, and to make it their rule to give pleasure rather than to seek for it? This commandment is on a par with some others that are practically ignored in professing Christendom. It is hard to contemplate in the abstract, but sweeter in the practice than would be expected. Not many act upon it. True disciples do. Those to whom Christ is a reality and a beau ideal, and the sum and substance of the coming glory, cannot be deaf to a saying which, though addressed to one man on a particular occasion, in the hill country of Judea, was intended for the ears of the millions in all the world who have since read the words. They are strengthened in their obedience by this consideration, that it is only for a time that these bitter herbs have to be eaten with the passover. When the kingdom of God is come, the day of hardship of every sort will have gone for ever.

One of the company somewhat effusively endorsed the allusion of Christ to "the resurrection of the just." He exclaimed, "Blessed is he that shall eat bread in the kingdom of God." The speaker must have been one of those who desire the advantages of the kingdom without acting on its principles: for Christ's rejoinder almost amounted to a snub. He spoke to him the parable of the invited guests who refused to come to a certain great supper. This parable has been considered in chapter xxxiii., and therefore need not be entered on here. How the man took it we are not told. He probably did not like it. It is not to the common taste to be pleased with eternal truth apart from personal compliment, and from this, as mere compliment, Jesus abstained, though he was not backward to recognise and proclaim personal worth when occasion called, as in the case of Nathanael, Zaccheus, the woman with the alabaster box of ointment, and others.

Jesus could not and did not speak to please, though no speaking ever conferred such pleasure as his words impart to his true lovers, who are lovers of the Father also. In this Paul imitated him. "If I yet please men I should not be the servant of Christ" (Gal. i. 10). To please men in general a man must flatter and deviate from truth, and, above all, abstain from divine allusions, which are intolerable to natural men. He must praise the world, and speak of the things that please the world. A servant of Christ can do none of these, and therefore he is hated, as Jesus was. Jesus encouraged all such in advance when he said, "If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you." This hatred is only for a time. "The world passeth away," and its hatred with it; it passes never to return: "He that doeth the will of God (ultimately) abideth for ever." It is, therefore, not strange that those who desire to do the will of God should be exhorted to "Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world." Jesus requires that we hold loosely by these. He gave very emphatic expression to his view on this point immediately after the Sabbath dinner, at which he uttered the things we have been considering.

The occasion being at an end, he went on his journey: "and there went great multitudes with him." In this, Jesus did not glory or feel the satisfaction that most human leaders find in the number of their adherents. He did not encourage the people to come after him. On the contrary, he poured cold water on their enthusiasm. He turned to them and delivered a brief address to them which must have perplexed the bulk of them. He said, "If any man come to me and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. And whosoever doth not bear his cross and come after me, cannot be my disciple.... Whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple." These seem hard sayings until the eyes are opened to the true relation of man to God, and to the actual nature of the state of things now prevalent upon the earth as estimated by Him. It is for the lack of this eye opening that the ordinary run of critics are at fault with words that square not with their philosophy of things. Christ seems to them cold and harsh in this matter, and his words of a narrow bigotry. His faithful people were called man-haters in the early centuries, and all through human history, an impression to the same effect has prevailed -- that disciples of Christ are "without natural feeling." It is a natural misconception on the part of those who know not God, nor Jesus Christ whom He hath sent. As a matter of fact, no men are so loving and kind as the true friends of Christ, but their love is governed by considerations which the world cannot appreciate. It cannot act apart from the rights and purposes and requirements of God. It cannot go off the ground of fealty to the Eternal God to commend itself to the goodwill of perishing man; and this fealty requires the friends of God to maintain His law as the rule of their own life and that of all men who are "commanded everywhere to repent." Consequently, they cannot join in aims of life that are based merely upon natural wants and that do not embrace the service of God as the highest object. With them, the natural is but the stepping stone to the spiritual. It is not ignored, but it is held in subordination. It has its place -- its valuable place -- in the scheme of things that has God as the objective of life; but away from this scheme of things, it loses that place, becomes inadequate as the basis. of friendship or even of co-operation. Hence, the friends of Christ naturally seem unnatural to those who only know the natural, but the cause lies with the latter, who are "the world" and not with the friends of Christ, whose sympathies embrace all, but cannot act on a disjoined part.

The case may be likened to that of an aristocratic household in a country side where the local peasantry are in revolt, say, against the rights of the earl or duke, as the case may be, who is the head of the house. The members of the house cannot be on intimate terms with the peasantry under those circumstances, though those members are really kind people, and prepared to act a sympathetic part when the rights of their father are recognised, and the rules of the estate established. They will be considered peasant-haters, but only by the ignorant and misguided. It is the attitude of the peasants that is to blame. The family it may be are waiting the arrival of troops to enforce law and order, on the achievement of which, they will appear in their true light as bene-factors of the whole population.

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