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Nazareth Revisited


At the Table.

Jesus began to indicate the cloud he was under from his knowledge of the impending treachery of Judas. He had spoken of their blessedness if they continued in his commandments. He now said, "I speak not of you all. I know whom I have chosen; but that the Scripture may be fulfilled, He that eateth bread with me hath lifted up his heel against me." Then a pause, and symptoms that he was "troubled in spirit." Then plainer language: "Verily, verily, I say unto you, that one of you shall betray me." We can imagine the consternation that this announcement would produce. "The disciples looked one upon another, doubting of whom he spake." One asked, "Lord, is it I?" and another, "Lord, is it I?" The Lord answered vaguely, "He that dippeth his hand with me in the dish, the same shall betray me." Several did this all more or less. Therefore it was no indication. Peter beckoned to John to ask in a particular manner, as he sat next to Christ, and was on terms of particular intimacy and affection. John then, "lying on Jesus' breast" (probably laying his head there for the purpose of this confidence), whispered, "Lord, who is it?" Jesus answered, "It is he to whom I shall give a sop when I have dipped it," upon which he dipped the sop and handed it to Judas.

Judas appears at this point to have asked like the rest, "Lord, is it I?" and to have received an affirmative answer, "Thou hast said," but probably the excited communications passing among the disciples prevented the question and answer from being observed, for when Jesus said to him on his rising to go, "What thou doest, do quickly," it is said (Jno. xiii. 28) that none of them knew what Jesus meant by this, but supposed it referred to some business arrangement connected with the feast. The departure of Judas happened immediately after the mark of identification granted at John's request. That Jesus should wish him to do his fell work quickly is an interesting side-light. It shows us the Lord's state of mind with regard to the terrible trouble before him. Jesus was under a great embarrassment till his sacrifice should be accomplished. He endured and went through it with heroic fortitude. This all can admire: but how it adds to his lovableness in the eyes of his people that he was not a stoic in the matter, but felt as human nature everywhere feels at the prospect of suffering -- going through it, not with callous indifference, but with the resolution inspired by a recognition of the Father's will, and an understanding of the "must be" there was in the case.

Jesus appears to nave felt relieved when Judas had withdrawn. "When he was gone out, Jesus said, Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him;" and he proceeded with those confidential communications which are recorded so fully in John's gospel. It seems strange at first sight that there should have been a traitor among the apostles who were all chosen by Christ himself at the beginning. Did he make a mistake in choosing Judas? Impossible. Did he not know him? He knew him well; "He needed not that any should testify of man; for he knew what was in man" (Jno. ii. 25). Why then did he choose a man who would play false at the last? There were doubtless reasons of which no indication has been given; but we may note the value to subsequent generations in the occurrence of such a breach in the circle closest to Christ, in that it shows us the impossibility of the apostolic narrative being a concoction (for who would make one of the apostles a traitor if the story had been an invention?); and arms believers against undue discouragement at any unfaithfulness that may spring up in their ranks (for if a personal attendant of Christ, and a witness of his miracles, could be false to a trust directly imposed by him, what is not possible in the weak days of mere testimony by report?)

The disciples do not appear to have taken greatly to heart the intimation that one of them would betray him. They understood it enough to join in an earnest repudiation of such an idea; but not enough to realize that it was an actual impending catastrophe. So little affected were they by it in this sense, that when the immediate sensation caused by it had subsided, they began to discuss among themselves the positions they were severally likely to have in the kingdom which they thought was about to be established -- a discussion not the most dignified as regards the spirit leading to it. It was a spirit of emulation -- an uncircumcised, short-sighted, petty spirit. There was actually "a strife among them which of them should be accounted the greatest." So little yet did they "know the manner of spirit" belonging to the mighty matter to which they had been called. How greatly must this deficiency of theirs have aggravated the Lord's trouble -- to think that his very own disciples, in the very crisis of his approaching agony, should be debating a question such as should never be raised among saints at any time. In his greatness, he was able to excuse them. They were not yet what they would be by-and-bye, and what they became when the Spirit gave them understanding.

And their strife was only the mis-appreciation of a real matter to which they stood related -- a position of authority with him in the kingdom that would surely come. So he gently chode and instructed them: "The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and they that exercise authority upon them are called benefactors. But ye shall not be so. But he that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger and he that is chief as he that doth serve. For whether is greater he that sitteth at meat or he that serveth? Is not he that sitteth at meat? But I am among you as he that serveth." On this basis, he confirmed their ideas on the kingdom, and their expected participation therein as the companions of his labours: "Ye are they that have continued with me in my temptations. And I appoint unto you a kingdom as my Father hath appointed unto me, that ye may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel."

Then he returns to the question of the betrayal: Addressing himself to Peter, who had probably been prominent in the discussion of the question of personal precedence, he exclaims, "Simon, Simon, Satan hath desired to have you (plural) and to sift you as wheat: but I have prayed for thee that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted strengthen thy brethren." Christ probably meant that the authorities who were plotting his destruction would try to corrupt the fidelity of the disciples one by one, should Judas fail them, and that Peter would be in special danger from such a process -- in more danger than the others it would seem, for he prayed specially for Peter that the temptation might not be too much for him. That Peter was weak was shewn in his denial of Christ at the last moment. Was Christ's prayer on his behalf of no avail then? We are in every way debarred from coming to such a conclusion. Peter did not prove the traitor which he might have done. And when he stumbled into a momentary denial, he stumbled out as quickly, and washed away his guilt in tears. His faith did not fail him as it might have done had the Lord not prayed for him.

It may seem strange that Peter the impulsive, the weak, and (by the Lord's denial) the dishonoured, should have been afterwards chosen as the Spirit's mouthpiece on the Day of Pentecost, and employed in the specially honourable office of holder and user of the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven, in opening the doors thereof officially and finally for Jew and Gentile, first for the Jews on the Day of Pentecost, and afterwards for the Gentiles at the house of Cornelius. Why not John, the loving and the loyal? Why not James, the faithful and stern? Why Peter, the weak and the disgraced? Because flesh and blood at its best is liable to appropriate the glory that belongs to God, like Moses at the waters of Meribah, for which he was excluded from the land of promise. Peter, the humbled -- humbled in his own eyes -- humbled by himself, was not in so much danger. He would always remember the shame of having publicly denied the Lord. He would always feel like Paul, after him, that he was not worthy to be called an apostle. He was therefore qualified to fill the highest station in the ministration of the Spirit without being lifted up, for which his undoubted affectionate loyalty fitted him on another side of his character.

When Judas had departed, Jesus appears to have drawn closer to the disciples. "Little children, yet a little while I am with you. Ye shall seek me, and as I said unto the Jews, Whither I go, ye cannot come, so now I say to you." Jesus was referring to his approaching departure by ascension after resurrection. The disciples did not understand. Peter, always forward as the spokesman of the rest, asked, "Lord, whither goest thou?" Jesus did not answer directly. The "going" in the case included shame, rejection, and death, as well as ascension. In these the apostles would follow him afterwards, as he now said to Peter: "Thou canst not follow me now, but thou shalt follow me afterwards." Peter protested he was willing to follow to the laying down of his life. So Peter felt at the moment, and such really was his disposition at the bottom of his heart, for he did at the last submit to death for Christ's sake. But he was not so strong at this time as he thought, and within 24 hours he was made to feel his insufficiency in the fulfilment of the words which Christ immediately added: "Wilt thou lay down thy life for my sake? Verily, verily, I say unto thee, The cock shall not crow, till thou hast denied me thrice." (These words Jesus repeated an hour or two afterwards on the hill side.) They had a sobering effect on the disciples -- an effect which Christ increased by telling them the hour had come for a temporary rupture in the relations that had subsisted between them for three years and a half: "When I sent you without purse and scrip and shoes, lacked ye anything?" They answered, "No." Their every want had been liberally supplied by those among whom they had laboured in his name, as he had told them.

"But now," says he, "he that hath a purse, let him take it, and likewise his scrip: and he that hath no sword, let him sell his garment, and buy one." Why? He supplies the answer in these words: "For I say unto you, this that is written must yet be accomplished in me; and he was reckoned among the transgessors: for the things concerning me have an end." The disciples took him literally. They had two swords among them. They produced them, "Lord, here are two swords." In his own mental agony, and in their obtuseness of understanding, he did not enter upon explanations. He simply waived the subject in the vague response: "It is enough." That he did not mean they were literally to buy and use swords, was shown at the moment of his arrest, when Peter, having drawn one of the two swords in question upon the servant of the high priest, Jesus said, "Put up now thy sword into his sheath, for all they that take the sword shall perish by the sword." What did he mean then? He meant that for a time, the divine protection that had guarded them all in their mutual labours was to be withdrawn, in consequence of which he (the shepherd) would be "smitten," and they (the sheep) would be scattered, as it was Written (Zech. xiii. 7). The violence of the enemy would prevail in his destruction; and for the moment, he would be in the category of captured felons -- than which there is no lower point of degradation and helplessness. His recommendation of self-help in the various particulars enumerated was his figurative way of describing the dark hour that was about to set in upon them.

The disciples began now to be seriously troubled. They had for some time resisted the doleful tendency of Christ's communications to them during this most sad passover. Their conviction that the kingdom was nigh enabled them to bear up against it, but now they began to see that something of a really terrible nature was looming, and their hearts sank within them -- sank more than the facts warranted -- sank farther than Christ intended -- sank as if there was to be no rallying from the trouble -- as if the approaching success of the enemies of Christ meant the complete failure of Christ's Messiahship -- the complete extinction of all their hopes. After a due pause, therefore, Jesus altered the tone of his remarks, forbidding them to be downcast, and reminding them of the brightness that lay beyond: "Let not your heart be troubled, ye believe in God: believe also in me." Believing in God was matter of course with a Jew: believing in Jesus was not so, because he was a recent object of faith, and as yet but very imperfectly understood, besides being opposed by the recognised authorities of the nation. To believe in Christ was therefore a needful subject of exhortation, and it was what we might call a natural source of consolation.

Belief in God did not necessarily bring consolation: it might bring the reverse; for the whole history of Israel had shown Him the adversary of the nation because of their disobedience. The Jews were still disobedient, and therefore belief in God was calculated to inspire fear. But belief in the Messiah was a source of hope and comfort, because the Messiah's mission was to "make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness." -- "In my Father's house are many mansions; if it were not so I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you, and if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you unto myself, that where I am, ye may be also." Before he closed his remarks, Jesus said, "These things I have spoken unto you in parables." A more beautiful and comforting parable of the kingdom of God he could not have spoken -- than by comparing it to the house of his Father. What more endearing than "my Father?" What more safe and bountiful than His "house?" What could bring a greater sense of loving security and peace? This was the view Jesus presented that their hearts might be cured of "trouble." And actually, the grievous things he had told them of, were part of the process by which he was going to prepare a place for them in that house.

There were many "mansions" therein -- many abiding places -- places of fixed and permanent and honourable abode; but as yet they were unoccupied, and could not become tenanted without preparation in harmony with the laws of the house. To accomplish that preparation, he must be separated from them: he must die: he must rise: he must depart to heaven as their high priest; but when the work was done, he would return and receive them, and they would never more be parted.

"Whither I go ye know, and the way ye know." He had informed them on the subject from time to time, but not as yet with much effect of enlightenment. Thomas confessed their ignorance: "Lord, we know not whither thou goest, and how can we know the way?" Jesus, disappointed but patient, renewed his previous instruction, but this time in a condensed and somewhat parabolic form: "I am the way, the truth and the life: no man cometh unto the Father but by me." The disciples' ideas were as yet too much on the outsides of things. They were thinking of mere geography when Christ talked of going and preparing a place, whereas Christ was speaking of the legal and spiritual relations between God and man, which had all been marred and deranged by sin, resulting in every form of evil upon the earth, and which were to be set right in him (by death and resurrection) as the nucleus for a new development of Adam's race -- the foundation for a new house, to be built up in the earth of new and living stones for the habitation of God and the joy of men. His discourse centred in himself, and what was to be accomplished by him and in him -- the opening of "the Way;" the manifestation of "the Truth;" the bestowal of "The Life."

There is no "WAY" apart from him. Grievously mistaken are those who think there is a way in Confucius, in Brahma, in Zoroaster, or in whatever sincere idea or endeavour men may formulate for themselves. As for "THE TRUTH," men of a certain stamp much ask, "What is the truth?" in relation to human destiny or man's duty, or man's relation to God; such questions, in whatever form, are all answered in the single word, "Christ." Away from him, it is not only all speculation, but falsehood. The plausible talk about what is truth to one being not truth to another, will be found at last to be mere aberration. Truth is absolute and inflexible, like the laws of nature. It has been revealed that truth for man as regards duty and futurity, is embodied in Christ. Men will seek in vain to draw water from other fountains. "LIFE" -- there is none without him, speaking of man and of the ultimate shape of things on the earth. Man is mortal. The life he has vanishes at last like the moisture of the plucked flower, and leaves him withered and dead. The idea that his life is he, is the fiction of an obsolete philosophy. He is an organism whose basis is in the materials of the globe. When the life has evaporated from the organism, the organism quickly decomposes and disappears, and man is gone. Where is there renewal of life for him? Nowhere in all creation but in Christ. He is "THE WAY, THE TRUTH AND THE LIFE." There is no access to the Father but by him. All attempts and expectations apart from him are the vain imaginations of men.

How came a son of Mary to attain such a vaulting pre-eminence? How came such superhuman things to be affirmable of a man? Of such a man as the disciples as yet imagined him to be, they never could have been affirmable. Such a man he was not, but the veiled manifestation of the Father Himself. This he proceeds to declare. "If ye had known me, ye would have known my Father also." They had known him in a superficial way, but not in his real relation to the God of their fathers -- the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. They knew that he was Christ in the traditional sense of the Jewish expectation, without knowing what this truly involved. Had they known him in his reality, they would have discerned the presence of God in their midst. This he proceeds to say: "From henceforth ye know Him and have seen Him (the Father)." Still the disciples did not apprehend him. Philip said, "Lord, show us the Father, and it sufficeth us." Jesus now spoke plainly: "Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me, Philip? He that hath seen me hath seen the Father. How sayest thou then, Shew us the Father?" This declaration probably staggered the disciples, as Christ's next words took the shape of interrogative appeal to previous convictions. It would not have staggered them had their enlightenment been complete.

For many generations, the Scriptures had revealed to them that the Creator not only dwelt in "heaven his dwelling place" at inconceivable distance from the earth, but filled all space by His Spirit, as a unit of diffused presence and power, so that He could say: "Do not I fill heaven and earth?" Their history had familiarised them with the idea of this, the One Omnipresent God of their fathers, manifesting Himself by concentration at a point or in a person, as when He spoke in the prophets or worked by an angel. It ought not, therefore, to have been difficult for them to receive the idea of the Father connecting Himself with the seed of David, and dwelling among men in the person of a Son. But the things of the Spirit are high, and subtle and great, and it is a while before the weak human mind rises to them.

Jesus knew the weakness and the willingness of the disciples, and he was patient: "Believest thou not that I am in the Father, and the Father in me? The words that I speak unto you, I speak not of myself, but the Father that dwelleth in me, He doeth the works. Believe me that I am in the Father -- ('in the shadow of His hand hath He hid me' -- Is. xlix. 2) -- and the Father in me, or else, (the disciples still showing non-receptivity), believe me for the very works' sake" (i.e., if the Father be not in me, how do you account for the works which you have seen me perform?) Strengthening the argument with a view to their conviction, he spoke of their own coming participation in the power he had manifested -- predicable, however, on their recognition of his relation to the Father: "Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also: and greater works than these shall he do, because I go to my Father." Christ's departure to the Father would give him greater power of imparting gift than he could possess while in the fixed groove of his work in the flesh. If he remained with them, it would not be in his power to do for them what he could do if he went to the Father. It was therefore "expedient for them" (as he afterwards told them), that he should go away. He should then be able to do for them "whatsoever they should ask in his name."

Why this should be so -- why he should have more power to bless them separated from them than with them, we need not ask, though we may discern a glimmer of the reason in the fact that while with them, he was in the feeble nature common to them all, with power limited to his mission in the flesh, while, after death, resurrection and ascension, he would be harmonised and assimilated and absorbed, as we might say, in the Father-power of the universe, and have "all power in heaven and earth," as he said. Referring to that time, he says, "If ye shall ask anything in my name, I will do it." To ask anything in his name, is not only to ask it for his sake, in that union with his name which the reception of the truth imparts, but with eye and heart fully open to him in the invocation. Hence love and obedience would be the conditions-precedent of his attention to such petitions which he indicates in the words immediately added -- otherwise apparently without connection: "If ye love me, keep my commandments. And I will pray the Father, and He shall give you another Comforter that he may abide with you for ever," that is, the Comforter would not depart as he (Jesus) was about to do -- "even the Spirit of truth " -- not the disposition of truthfulness, but the spirit itself, which is the root of all fact and truth -- the fountain of all power and reality -- as contra-distinguished from the impotencies and imaginations of human wisdom: "Whom the world cannot receive because it seeth him not, nor knoweth him."

The natural man is responsive only to that which he can experience in the ordinary range of his faculties. The Spirit of God is not within this range at all. Consequently it is to him a myth or a notion, though in reality the first and truest and most powerful of all truth. For, by the spirit of God, all things were made and subsist, and by it, greater things will yet be done in the evolution of God's purpose in the original constitution of things. "But ye (my disciples) know him, for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you." They had seen the Spirit's work in two forms: in the ministry of Moses and the prophets in all the generations of their forefathers, and in the works of John the Baptist and of Jesus before their own eyes. Seeing, they believed, and received the Spirit's testimony and command. Thus they knew the "Spirit of truth," and thus He dwelt with them. But a closer intimacy was coming, for which Jesus would prepare the way. He shall be in you. "I will not leave you comfortless." Hence, he calls the Spirit the Comforter: "The Comforter, which is the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name; He shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance whatsoever I have said unto you." They were in fact to become Spirit guided men when he should leave them. While he was with them, they were Christ-guided men, which was a great privilege; but Spirit-guidance was greater. Christ-guidance in the days of his flesh was guidance from without, while Spirit-guidance would be guidance from within -- a guidance unerring and permanent. "At that day, ye shall know that I am in my Father, and ye in me, and I in you."

He recurs again to his approaching departure, but in a vein more comforting than his first allusion. "Yet a little while, and the world seeth me no more: but ye see me. Because I live, ye shall live also." Christ had been a familiar figure in the world for 3 1/2 years, and as regards the Nazareth world, 33 1/2 years: but he would be seen among them no more, for within the next 24 hours, they would crucify him and bury him and think themselves done with him. But he would rise, and the disciples would see him again, though the world would not; and because he would live again to die no more, so ultimately would it be with the disciples. They also would rise from the dead and be glorified and immortalised in nature, and this because of the power and authority resident in the risen Christ. "At that day they shall know" what he could but testify while he was with them -- always presuming the continuance of their love, for what is life without love? And the love he would require at their hands must be of the robust and practical kind that found expression in action. What is love without kindness? "He that hath my commandments and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me." Such love will not go unrequited, though for a time it may seem spent in the air: "He that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him."

Why is this manifestation so guarded? -- why not open and indiscriminate so that all the world could see and believe? So the sceptic asks; so Judas (not Iscariot), asked, but not in the spirit of scepticism: "Lord, how is that thou wilt manifest Thyself unto us, and not to the world?" Jesus answers in a way requiring search for his meaning: "If a man love me, he will keep my words, and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him and make our abode with him. He that loveth me not keepeth not my sayings, and the word which ye hear is not mine but the Father's who sent me." These facts, thus stated abstractly, supply the reason why there was to be no manifestation to the world. In brief, they were not fit for it. As Jesus had before said, "They have both seen and hated both me and my Father." There can be no divine condescensions in a personal form in the absence of loving obedience. This was entirely absent from the world referred to. They neither received Christ nor kept his word; and how was it possible there could be any further manifestation towards them, seeing the words they had rejected were not those of Christ the man considered in himself, but of God who had made all things?

God is great, and will not be mocked. "I will be sanctified (honoured, had in reverence) in them that approach unto me," said He to Moses when Nadab and Abihu were struck dead for trifling with His appointments. Adam was driven out of Eden for the same reason; and could there be any divine confidences extended to a generation so inappreciative and rebellious as that which had rejected God himself in rejecting His Son? No, Judas (not Iscariot): the only thing remaining was the apostolic preaching of the gospel for a testimony against them, and then judgment and fiery indignation such as nearly destroyed Israel out of the earth.

But as regards believers, the purpose was peace. "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give unto you; not as the world giveth give I unto you." Well might he add, "Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid." Great peace have those who receive the peace that Christ gives. The world cannot give peace. It may bestow its favour, its commendations, its emoluments, but these cannot bring peace. They may afford gratification to "the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye and the pride of life," but they cannot minister to those higher capacities and higher cravings in elohistic man, which can only be filled and satisfied by God Himself. Man was made for God in the beginning, and can never realise the object of his being, away from His friendship and service. These secured in Christ, give peace -- a peace that makes a man independent of the world -- a peace too profound to be described -- fitly defined only in the words of Paul: "the peace of God that passeth all understanding, filling the heart and mind." It is a peace accessible in Christ only; "Being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ" (Rom. v. 1). It is a peace that can endure and approve of Christ's own absence for a time in view of the objects involved, as he proceeded to say: "Ye have heard how I said unto you, I go away and come again unto you. If ye loved me (that is, truly loved me in the enlightened way that they thought they did, but which they did not till their understandings were afterwards fully opened) ye would rejoice because I said, I go unto the Father: for my Father is greater than I."

He now explained that he had told them beforehand of his coming departure, "that when it is come to pass, ye might believe." This may sound strange, but we must remember that the faith of the disciples was not at this time finally established, because not yet standing upon the broad foundation of a full understanding. They knew not yet that the work of Christ required his submission to death as a sacrifice for sin, and the occurrence of that event, now impending was calculated to strain, and did in fact terribly strain the faith founded merely upon his miracles and the gospel of the kingdom. It would help them to survive the strain when they came to look back and remembered that he had spoken to them plainly of his separation from them as a necessity. "Then remembered they," as we read in one case, "that he had spoken these things unto them."

His remarks at the table were coming to a close. "Hereafter I will not talk much with you, for the prince of this world cometh," that is, to take me. "The prince of this world" was a periphrasis for the authority or government of the present world as represented by Pilate, the Roman governor, and Caiaphas, the Jewish high priest. Arrangements were about complete at that moment for his arrest; the band of soldiers and officers under Judas's leadership was being organised: "He hath nothing in me;" that is, there was no cause of arrest, "no fault in this man," as Pilate on investigation testified. Why, then, did it happen? There were reasons connected with divine law, though not with human law: "That the world may know (as it will ultimately know and recognise) that I love the Father, and as the Father gave me commandment (that I should lay down my life), even so I do."

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