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Nazareth Revisited


Visitors: the End of His Public Labour -- His Last Passover -- The Breaking of Bread.

Having concluded his discourse to the disciples as they sat on the Mount of Olives, Jesus went to Bethany for the night, returning early next day to the temple. It only lacked a few days to that passover of which he was to partake for the last time under the law of Moses (a feast to be resumed in another more glorious time -- Ezek. xlv. 21; Luke xxii. 16). Many were assembling to the feast, and the city was full of people. Jesus took advantage of the opportunity of teaching those who came to the temple courts. He did this in the day time, always retiring at night to Bethany (Luke xxi. 37).

He was now known more or less to all who were in the habit of attending the feast; but on the occasion of this feast, there was a special band of Greek (Jew) visitors who had heard of him and had probably never seen him, and were desirous of an introduction to him, with which view they applied to Philip of Bethsaida, who, they had ascertained, was one of his disciples. Philip reported their desire to Andrew, and Andrew and Philip go together to tell Jesus. From the way that Jesus received the intimation, we may infer that the proposed interviewers were more animated by curiosity than by any earnestness of purpose towards Christ. Perhaps, like a good many people in modern times, they had a little earnestness mixed Up with a good deal of personal consequence, and were desirous of approaching Christ with the idea that if he were the Messiah, their adhesion might be of some help to him, while of great advantage to themselves. Whatever may have been their. mood (and it is of course possible that in these suggestions we may wrong them), Jesus did not give them the cordial reception which Nathaniel received at his hand when he came to him enquiringly, over three years earlier. He does not appear to have received them at all. He made remarks of a stand-off character, "and departed and did hide himself from" the multitude (Jno. xii. 36).

The remarks he made appear quite irrelevant to the communication made to him, unless we look deep enough. First of all he said "The hour is come that the Son of Man should be glorified." This might seem to mean that he regarded the respectful enquiries of these Greek visitors as the beginning of a current of popular favour. The shallow school of opinion that would bring Christ down to the level of a human enthusiast, would put this interpretation upon it. It is impossible that such an interpretation can be correct in view of his refusal of the movement "to make him a King". (Jno. vi. 15). It is inconceivable that he who refused the homage of a multitude should be moved to compliance by the private attentions of a few. Neither is it conceivable that he who wept over Jerusalem in the midst of a public ovation, because he foresaw the troubles coming upon her for her refusal of Divine ways, should be so gratified with the complimentary enquiries of a few foreign visitors as to talk of his being "glorified" thereby.

His very next remark utterly excludes the thought. "Verily, verily, I say unto you, except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone, but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit." This shows it was death and not public acceptance that he was looking to for the glorification that was before his mind. His death only, followed by resurrection, would open the way for the fecundity that would fill the earth with life and glory. This death was only a few days ahead. What could it matter to him that a few influential Greek Jews were curious about him? His glory would not come from mortal attention, but from his own submission to the Father who had required him to lay down his life (Jno. x. 18).

He goes further and hints that the rule was a severe one by which men could become associated with his glory. It was evidently far from what the influential visitors were thinking: "He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal." The visitors had probably no idea of hating their life in this world, bnt much the reverse, in wishing a connection with one who might be the Messiah. The way was open for them nevertheless if they chose to submit to the terms. "If any man serve me let him follow me: that where I am there also shall roy servant be." "If any man serve me, him will my Father honour." This was on the whole a rebuff to the visitors. Following Christ in the keeping of his self-denying commandments, and looking to the Father for any honour that might come of such a course, was the reverse of an attractive programme to men who were looking to present advantage, and expecting in case of their adhesion to Christ some distinguished and grateful consideration at his hands. We read a few verses further on (42) that "many (among the chief rulers) believed on him; but because of the Pharisees they would not confess him. least they should be put out of the synagogue: for they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God."

Jesus was far from seeking to conciliate human favour. He went on to say: "Now is my soul troubled." Certainly, the prospect of his sufferings troubled him, as he told his disciples before (Luke xii. 50). "What shall I say? Father, save me from this hour?" That would have been a merely human prayer -- the prayer of mere human distress. It was not a prayer he could pray, seeing he had been manifested for the very purpose of the hour. "For this cause came I unto this hour." What was a legitimate prayer for such a time, then? "Father, glorify thy name." At this, the Father audibly spoke: "I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again." This is the universal rule of well-being -- past, present, and to come. The earth will not be blessed till the earth is filled with His glory. Man cannot be happy unless he lives to glorify God; all things else have their place, but this is the topstone of existence.

The people heard the sound of the voice of God, but to Jesus only the words appear to have been articulate and intelligible. The people said that it thundered. Jesus answered: "This voice came not because of me, but for your sakes." That is, Jesus required not such a response to determine him in the course he was to pursue. The people required it that they might believe on him. God gave them all the evidence that could be necessary. He left them without excuse. For himself, Jesus knew that rejection and death were at hand; and it was all he had to look for at their hands. But there was a purpose in it. Therefore he could face it. It was not in caprice, or without a most serious object, that the Father required the Son to submit to ignominy and a cruel death at the hands of the very people he had come to save: "Now is the judgment of this world: now shall the prince of this world be cast out. And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me." His death would compass both these things spoken in parable: it would condemn the world; it would cast out the prince of it; and it would give Christ as the dawning point of the world's hope and futurity.

How it would accomplish these things, the subsequent explanations of the Apostles shew. In the crucifixion of Christ, sin was condemned in the flesh (Romans viii. 3). This is the general declaration of the Spirit of God, whose significance becomes apparent on a full view of all the facts it comprehends. We first look at "the world," whether in its Mosaic or Gentile element, and we see that it consisted wholly of the flesh and blood of Adam, who sinned, and thereby became subject to death. The prince of this world we may take to mean the government of this world, which is a government of the world by itself, personified as "the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience" (Eph. ii. 1). God had in various ways, since Adam's expulsion from Eden, employed the world of Adam's descendants in the work of organising and conducting human life upon the earth. But nothing satisfactory had come of it. In the first phase of things, a flood was necessary to sweep away the corrupt population. In the succeeding era, the seven nations of Canaan required extermination at the hands of Joshua. In the Mosaic system, God's own nation required repeated captivity and spoil to keep them in the right way, and they at last went wholly astray. In the days of Jesus, the measure of Israel's iniquity was full, and there impended a visitation of judgment of unprecedented severity and duration.

In Jesus himself the foundation stone of a new order of things was being laid, as saith the prophet: "Behold I lay in Zion for a foundation, a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation" (Isaiah xxviii, 16). The first step in the process was the begettal of the Son of Mary by the Spirit. The second, his growth and development in the ways of the Father. The third, his manifestation to Israel in the word and works of God. And now was about to be accomplished the next and most difficult of all, so far as Christ's submission was concerned: the public and official condemnation of sin in his crucifixion, which His nature qualified him to be the subject of, but not without all the suffering of the most sensitive of Adam's race. His physical flesh and blood, as he was before his death, was identical with that which had prevailed upon earth from Adam downwards, characterised by the same weakness and mortality, arising from the same hereditary cause -- the sentence of death upon Adam. The nailing of his body to the cross was therefore a representative ritual, in which the rejection of the first Adam nature was signified, and the righteousness of God thereby declared. As Paul affirms in Romans it was a "declaration of the righteousness of God for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God" (Rom. iii. 25). We morally identify ourselves with the transaction when we receive it in faith as God's appointed mode of reconciliation. Paul expresses it thus: "Our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin" (Rom. vi. 6).

The next step in the process of laying the foundation stone was Christ's resurrection to immortal life. With this, the old-Adam nature had nothing to do. Death was the part appertaining to the old Adam. "In that he died, he died unto sin once, but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God" (Rom. vi. 10). His resurrection to immortal life was the result of obedience, and that obedience was the result of the new work which God did upon the earth in his love, when he begat a son for Himself who should live and die, and live again, that the world might be saved in harmony with all the requirements of eternal wisdom. Therefore the whole work was God's work. "Of God, he is made unto us wisdom and righteousness and sanctification and redemption" (1 Cor. i. 30). And by these he is our life: for because of these "He who raised Christ from the dead shall raise us up also by Jesus" (2 Cor. iv. 14).

Jesus understood all these things, though he reserved their full explanation till afterwards. "He gave himself a ransom for all to be testified in due time" (1 Tim. ii. 6). This due time arrived when the apostles were sent forth by the Spirit to proclaim that "Jesus died for our sins according to the Scriptures" (1 Cor. xv. 3), and that "through this man was preached the forgiveness of sins, and by him all that believed were justified" (Acts xiii. 38). But though the full explanation was reserved for the Apostles, we have seen that Jesus repeatedly referred, in the course of his public teaching, to the place which his death had in the scheme of God's love for the salvation of the world. His death was the germinal casting out of the old: his resurrection, the bringing in of the new. The full result will not be manifest till the work accomplished in himself will be extended and established in a race of sinless immortals, before whom the present population will have disappeared in relentless extermination. But it was begun within a few days of the utterance of the words we are considering: "Now is the judgment of this world: now shall the prince of this world be cast out. And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me."

John says, "This, he said. signifying what death he should die." The people seemed to understand that his words meant this: for they answered him, "We have heard out of the law that Christ abideth for ever! and how sayest thou, The Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?" The time was not suitable for a lengthened rejoinder. Their mood was unbelieving: "Though he had done so many miracles before them, yet they believed not on him." What could be done with men who were proof against such evidence? Jesus therefore briefly replied, "Yet a little while is the light with you. Walk while ye have the light, lest darkness come upon you." A few more days and the light ceased, and the nation stumbled on for 30 years or more in the darkness of Rabbinical tradition till, in the words of the prophet, "Hell opened her mouth, and their glory and honour and pomp descended into it." The Roman perdition swept the land, and nigh consumed the obstinate nation off the face of the earth.

A few finishing words concluded the testimony which Jesus had for three years and a half been engaged in delivering. In these farewell words, he accommodated himself for a moment to their point of view. He realised that they stumbled at his personal appearance, as Isaiah had foretold (chap. liii. 2); their conceptions of Messianic grandeur and power made them stagger at the unpretentious personality of a lowly carpenter of Nazareth. He therefore "cried and said (as if earnestly protesting the truth to them for the last time), he that believeth on me believeth not on me, but on Him that sent me. And he that seeth me seeth Him that sent me." As much as to say, "I am nothing in myself. Do not be repelled because you see no beauty to desire in me. It is the God of your fathers, who begat me and dwells in me, that presents Himself to you for your good. It is Him you see in seeing me. It is on Him you believe when you believe on me."

Understood in this way, he pressed himself earnestly upon their attention. "I am come a light into the world that whosoever believeth on me should not abide in darkness." At the same time he wished them to understand it was no part of his mission at that time to employ coercion. "If any man hear my words and believe not, I judge him not, for I came not to judge the world (not at that time) but to save the world," that is, to open the way of salvation and point it out to them, and earnestly plead with them to walk in it. If they refused submission, the loss would be all their own. At the same time, there would be judgment in due course: "He that rejecteth me and receiveth not my word hath one that judgeth him. The word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day." Why his words would be the rule of judgment he makes plain to the meanest capacity. "For I have not spoken of myself (that is, of my own impulse or authority); but the Father who sent me, He gave me a commandment what I should say and what I should speak: and I know that His commandment is life everlasting." If the words of Christ are the words of God, is it wonderful that they should be the rule of judgment hereafter? Men, strong in each other's countenance, treat them lightly now. How changed will their attitude be when he is present in the earth again to apply the teaching which they are privileged to have in their hand now in his absence.

And here a curtain drops upon his public labours. His next appearance was before the council as a prisoner. Between the one point and the other, there probably did not elapse more than three days; and it was during this interval that those wonderful communications passed between Jesus and the Apostles which find record in the 13th, 14th, 15th, 16th and 17th chapters of John -- private, fraternal, affectionate communications, in which Jesus, without abating the dignity of the Master, unbosomed himself as he did on no other recorded occasion as a Friend. There appears to have been two occasions on which these communications passed -- one being "before the feast of the passover" "in Bethany in the house of Simon, the leper" (Jno xiii. 1; Mark xiv. 1-3); and the other, "the first day of the feast of unleavened bread" (Matt. xxvi. 17). To the first of these belongs the washing of the disciples' feet; though at first sight, it appears as if it occurred on the second. The appearance is due to the word "supper" in Jno. xiii. 1, which is usually confounded with "the Lord's supper." It is evident it was a supper at Bethany.

At the end of it, Jesus rose from his place, put off his upper robe, and to the surprise of his disciples, took a towel and girded himself, poured water into a basin, and began to wash their feet one by one, drying them with the towel which he had tied round him. They submitted in quiet amazement till it came to Peter's turn. Peter could not endure such humiliation of his Lord. "Wash my feet? Never." "If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me." No part with Christ! This was more unendurable still Peter was ready for anything rather than this: at least he thought so. (We never know ourselves until we are in circumstances that throw us fully upon our own resources). He implored Christ to wash his head and hands as well if it was a question of association with him. But Christ gently gave him to understand it was not necessary, so Peter suffered the washing of his feet, and Christ, re-arraying himself in his garments, sat down again in his place. He then explained what he had done.

Could friend humble himself more completely to friend than in such an act? It was not a mystic ceremony he had gone through, though having a meaning special to his own recognition. It was an act of personal ministration, and in the most menial form. Peter appreciated it in this character and rebelled against it, as we have seen. It was the practical lowliness that Jesus intended. He had told his disciples early in his communications with them that a man must humble himself as a little child to be eligible for the kingdom. He was now about to leave them, and he wished to leave a deep impression on this point. Could he have possibly done it more effectually? "Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well: for so I am: if I, then, Your Lord and Master, have washed your feet, ye also ought to wash one another's feet. I have given you an example that ye should do as I have done to you. The servant is not greater than his Lord." There are those that make this feet-washing an institution to be ceremonially observed along with the breaking of bread: (and it is part of the ritual of the Roman Catholic church at a certain season to enact it as a performance). This view is unsupported by apostolic example as exhibited in the Acts of the Apostles and the Epistles. The only allusion to feet-washing is in the list of private excellencies on the part of a widow, requiring support in her old age (1 Tim. v. 10). It is evident that Christ contemplated nothing beyond the inculcation of humble, kindly, mutual, practical, personal ministration of which he chose feet-washing as the extremest form in a country where the wearing of sandals exposed the feet to dust and irritation, and rendered the washing of the feet a personal luxury. That Jesus should enforce personal humility and lowliness on the future kings of the world is one of the numberless beauties of the purpose of God which concentre in him. What a noble race of kings and priests the saints will be when chosen for their faith and obedience out of every kindred and tongue and people and nation, and invested with the glory of the spirit nature.

The passover feast furnished the other occasion. The time for this feast had come. It was part of the duty of Jesus, "obedient in all things," to keep the passover as part of the law under which he was born (Gal. iv. 4). On this occasion, he was impelled by special desire, as he told the disciples at the commencement of the proceedings: "With desire I have desired to eat this passover with you before I suffer." He gave them two days' notice beforehand (Matt. xxvi. 2). It was the killing of the other passover that was before the mind of Christ evidently. Thus he said: "Ye know that after two days is the feast of the passover, and the son of Max is betrayed to be crucified." John says "Jesus knew that his hour was come that he should depart out of this world unto the Father." No wonder he should dwell on a passover so momentous for him, and of such significance for the passover itself, which, in his own death, should have its full meaning and entire supersession for 18 centuries. The disciples had not yet reached the meanings of things in this respect. The Kingdom filled their eye, and their affection for Christ as its living, noble, miracle-working King. They were about to be enlightened by a very rude process.

The first day of the feast arrived (the 14th day of the month Abib) in the evening of which, the passover must be killed. Jesus had not indicated where he would observe the feast with them. There was no time to lose. They enquired of Jesus, "Where wilt thou that we prepare for thee to eat the passover?"

While Jesus and the disciples were making their arrangements, very different arrangements were being made at the palace of Caiaphas the high priest (a large and stately building in Jerusalem). A general meeting of the priesthood and heads of the people had been convened in this building under that official's auspices, to consult as to the best means of getting Christ into their power. They were burning with unappeasable anger under the wounds inflicted upon their pride and self-love in their collisions with him, and especially by his open denunciation of them before all the people. They were resolved upon his destruction, but they did not see exactly how to bring it about. They had power to impeach him to the Roman governor Pilate, if they could get hold of him; but there was a great difficulty as to this on account of the friendly feelings entertained for Jesus by the common people. If they made an attempt to arrest him in the presence of the people, there was danger of a resistance that might be formidable to the chief priests themselves. Yet they knew not how to get at him in the absence of the people, for he was only a visitor to Jerusalem, and his haunts were not known outside the circle of his friends, who were also unknown. It was only among the people that he was to be found, and among them he could not be taken because of the attention they gave him.

There was considerable discussion, but no decisive result beyond a general agreement that there must be no attempt on the feast day, when crowds of people would be thronging the temple courts, and that they must be on the outlook, and trust to tact and craft to get Jesus into their power. What measures they resolved on with this view, we are not informed, but it is probable they gave it to be understood that there was money to be made by those who might be willing to aid them in their schemes. How far they would have succeeded if there had not been a Judas among the disciples, is very problematical. But their success was appointed, and the instrument was to hand.

Judas heard of the plotting, and the idea occurred to him that he might turn it to his own advantage. Avarice, which was a normal weakness with him, took fire at the idea. In Bible language, "Satan entered into him." Instead of dismissing the thought with the determination with which he would have flung a deadly serpent from himself, he turned it over: he considered it: he entertained it. Perhaps there may be something in the suggestion that has been made, that he took comfort in the idea that Christ was able to deliver himself from their power, and that no harm could come from Judas making money by what could bring no hurt to Christ. At all events, he went straight to the chief priests, and plumply said, "What will ye give me, and I will deliver him unto you (in the absence of the multitude)?" The proposal filled the chief priests with supremest satisfaction. It was "the very thing." It released them from a great dilemma, and relieved them, with splendid promise of gratifying the feelings that burned in their bosoms, against Jesus, without exposing themselves to the violence of the crowd. "They were glad, and covenanted to give him money," and from that moment Judas "sought opportunity to betray him unto them in the absence of the multitude." That opportunity he found and embraced by and by.

Jesus, with a full knowledge of all that was going on, and of all that was coming upon him, gave directions to his disciples to make arrangements which were equivalent to getting ready a death trap for him. They were to engage an apartment in the city, and get ready the passover in preparation for their celebration of the same in the evening. The engagement of a place, which, being put off to the last moment, would have been a difficulty in ordinary circumstances in the crowded state of the city, proved a very simple matter in the hands of such a master of the ceremonies. Peter and John were to go into the city, and would meet a man carrying water. They were to follow this man till they saw him go into a house. They were then to go in after him, and deliver a message from Christ to the master of the house: "I will keep the passover at thy house with my disciples:" and he would show them a large upper room furnished, of which they would at once take possession, and proceed to make the necessary preparations. They went, and everything happened as Christ had said. What is impossible to such foreknowledge except the disobedience of the Father's commandments? The "master of the house" was probably acquainted with Christ and friendly to him; and he had probably been restrained from letting his place to other passover visitors. When God wants a man or a thing, there will be provision.

At the hour appointed, Jesus and his disciples assembled in "the guest chamber," and sat down to eat the passover. The nature of the repast (roast lamb, unleavened bread and wine), and the occasion of it -- (the celebration of the anniversary of Israel's departure from Egypt under Moses, on the night of the slaying of the Egyptian first-born) are well known. It is not these that challenge our attention, as we look upon this quiet company of 13 men. Doubtless the order of procedure would be observed that was customary with a company of Jews assembled for such a purpose: but there was more than one thing done on this occasion that was never done before, and such things said as had never before been uttered in any company, Jew or Gentile. The whole complexion of the meeting, in fact, differed from any previous assembly for the eating of the passover. Not gladness, but sadness prevailed, and this sadness was at first concentrated in the head of the company, whose first remark struck a heavy key-note: "With desire I have desired to eat this passover with you before I suffer: for I say unto you, I will not any more eat thereof until it be fulfilled in the Kingdom of God." These words were simple enough, yet were they not intelligible to the disciples till afterwards, and could only have a sort of scaring effect. That he was about to suffer they could not realise in the presence of his great power. That they would never celebrate the passover with him again, must have been inconceivable to men who "thought that the Kingdom of God should immediately appear."

Still his words "filled them with sorrow," as Jesus afterwards recognised. The effect was not abated when he introduced a feature that was never in the programme at the eating of the passover before: As they were eating, he took bread (the bread that was on the table for passover purposes), and gave thanks, and gave unto them saying, This is my body which is given for you: this do in remembrance of me. And he took the cup and gave thanks, and gave it to them saying, Drink ye all of it, for this is the new covenant in my blood, shed for the remission of the sins of many. But I say unto you, I will not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine until the day when I drink it new with you in my Father's Kingdom." The full meaning of these words the disciples apprehended afterwards through the illuminating power of the Holy Spirit sent upon them on the Day of Pentecost as an instructor; and they were able to discern the will of Christ that this simple ceremony of the breaking of bread was to be observed once a week by all his disciples during his absence "until he come" (Acts xx. 7; 1 Cor. xi. 2, 23-26; Heb. x. 25). But for the time, the words which were calculated to soothe, and which have in fact since ministered comfort to millions of disciples convened to break bread in remembrance of Christ, must have only added to the gloom caused by his opening words.

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