1. The Jordan: The Decisive Start
The Anvil Of Experience
Experience is going through a thing yourself, and having it go through you. And “through” here means not as a spear is thrust through a man’s body, piercing it, but as fire goes through that which it takes hold of, permeating; as an odour goes through a house, pervading it.
A man knows only what he experiences; what he goes through; what goes through him. He knows only what he is certain of. And he is certain of only that which he experiences.
It is one of the natural limitations of our humanity that it is so. Even the primary knowledge of space, and time, and so on, comes in this way. A man knows space only by seeing or thinking through space. He knows time only by living consciously through some moments of time. Such knowledge is primary only in point of time.
Experience is weaving fact into the fabric of your life. The swift drive of the double-pointed shuttle, the hard push of the loom back and forth goes through you.
Experience is sowing truth in actual personal occurrences. The cutting, upturning edge of the plough, the tearing teeth of the harrow, go on inside your very being, while perhaps the moments drag themselves by, slow as snails.
Experience is hammering truth into shape upon the anvil of your life, while the pounding of the lightning trip-hammer is upon your own quivering flesh. It is seeing that which is most precious to you, so dear as to be your very life, seeing that in a furnace, seven times heated, while you, standing helplessly by, hope and trust perhaps, and yet wonder, even while trusting, wonder if — (shall I say it the way your heart talks it out within?), or, at most, wonderingly watch with heart almost stopped, and eyes big, to see if the form of the Fourth will intervene in your case, or whether something else is the Father’s will.
Experience is the three young Hebrews stepping with quiet, full heel-to-toe tread into the hotly flaming furnace, not sure but it meant torture and death, only sure that it was the only right thing to do. It is the old Babylonian premier actually lowering nearer and nearer to those green eyes, and yawning jaws, and ivories polished on many a bone, clear of duty though not clear of anything else.
A man having a financial understanding with his church, or a contract with his employer, or a comfortable business, may be an earnest Christian, living a life of prayer and realising God’s power in his life, but he cannot know the meaning of the word trust as George Mueller knew it, when he might waken in the morning with not enough food in hand for the breakfast, only an hour off, of the two thousand orphans under his care, and in answer to his waiting prayer have them all satisfied at the usual breakfast hour. George Mueller himself did not know the meaning of “trust” before such experiences as he did afterwards. No one can. We know only what we experience.
Now Jesus became a perfect man by means of the experiences He went through. He is an older Brother to us, for He has gone through ahead where we are now going, and where we are yet to go. He was perfectly human in this, that He did not know our human experiences, save as He Himself went through those experiences. With full reverence be it said of the divine Jesus, it was necessarily so, because He was so truly human.
The whole diapason of human experience, with its joyous majors and its sobbing minors, He knew. Except, of course, the experiences growing out of sin. These He could not know. They belong to the abnormal side of life. And there was nothing abnormal about Him. It was fitting that Jesus, coming as a man to save brother men, should develop the full human character through experience. And so He did. And for ever He has a fellow-feeling with each of us, at every point, for He Himself has felt our feelings.
Jesus’ experiences brought Him suffering; keen, cutting pain; real suffering. Where there is possible danger or pain in an approaching experience, there is shrinking. It is a normal human trait to shrink from pain and danger. Jesus’ experiences in the suffering they brought to Him far outreach what any other human has known. He shrank in spirit over and over again as the expected experiences approached. He shrank back as none other ever has, for He was more keenly alive to the suffering involved. He suffered doubly: in the shrinking beforehand; in the actual experience.
But, be it keenly remembered, shrinking does not mean faltering. Neither suffering in anticipation nor actually ever held Him back for a moment, nor an inch’s length, nor in the spirit of full-tilted obedience to His Father’s plan. This makes Jesus’ experiences the greatest revealers of His character. He was sublime in His character, His teachings, His stupendous conceptions. He was most sublime in that wherein He touches us most closely — His experiences.
With a new, deep meaning it can be said, knowledge is power. We humans enter into knowledge and so into power only through experience. Experiences are sent, or when not directly sent are allowed to come, that through these may come knowledge, through knowledge power, through both the likeness of God, and so, true service in helping men back to God.
Let us, you and I, go through our experiences graciously, not grudgingly, not baulking, cheerily, aye, with a bit of joy in the voice and a gleam of light in the eye. And remember, and not forget, that alongside is One who knows the experience that just now is ours, and, knowing, sympathises.
There were with Jesus the commoner experiences and the great outstanding ones: the mountain range with the foot-hills below and the towering peaks above. From His earliest consciousness until the cross was reached, Jesus ran the whole gamut of human experiences common to us all, with some greater ones, which are the same as come to all men, but with Him intensified clear beyond our measurements.
These greater experiences were tragic until the great tragedy was past. Each has in it the shadow of the greatest. The Jordan waters meant turning from a kingdom down another path to a cross. The wilderness fight pointed clearly to successive struggles, and the greatest. The Transfiguration mount meant turning from the greatest glory of His divinity which any earthly eye had seen to the little hill of death, which was to loom above the mount. Gethsemane is Calvary in anticipation. Calvary was the tragedy when love yielded to hate, and, yielding, conquered. There love held hate’s climax, death, by the throat, extracted the sting, drew the fang tooth, and drained the poison sac underneath. Love’s surgery.
And the tinge of the tragedy remains in the Resurrection and Ascension in lingering scars. They are still in that face. It is a scale ascending from the first. In each is seen the one thing from a different angle. The cross in advance is in each experience, growing in intensity till itself is reached, and casting its shadow as it is left behind.
Through the crowds at the Jordan River there quietly walked one morning a Man who came up to where John stood. He took a place in the line of those waiting to be baptized, so indicating His own intention. John is absorbed in his work, but as he faces this Man, next in order, he is startled. This is no ordinary man. That face! Its wondrous purity! That intangible something revealing the man! That spirit looking through those eyes into his own! In that presence he feels his own impurity. It is the instant unpremeditated recognition by this fine-grained Spirit-taught John of his Master, his Chief. The remonstrance that instinctively springs to his lips is held in check by the obedience he at once feels is due this One. Whatever He commands is right, however unexpected it may be, or however strange it may seem.
Why did Jesus go to John for baptism? The rite was a purifying one. It meant confession of sin, need of cleansing, a desire for cleansing; a purpose to turn from wrong and sin, and lead a new life. How could Jesus accept such a rite for Himself ? Why did He ? Read in the light of the whole story of Jesus, the answer seems simple. Jesus was stepping down into the ranks of man as his Brother. The kingdom He was to establish among men was to be set up and ruled over by man’s Brother. The salvation was to be by One, close up, alongside. The King will brush elbows with His subjects, for they are brothers too. No long-range work for Jesus, but personal touch.
In accepting John’s baptism, Jesus was allying Himself with the race of men He had come to lead up, and out, as King. He was allying Himself with them where they were. It was not the path always trodden by man in climbing to a throne. But it was the true path of fellowship with them in their needs. He was getting hold of hands, that He might be their leader up to the highlands of a new life. He steps to their level. He would lift from below. He would get by the side of the man lowest down. It was clear evidence at the start that He was the true Messiah, the King. He was their Brother. He would get down alongside, and pull up with them side by side out of the ditch of sticky mud up to good footing.
And mark keenly — and the heart glows a bit at the thought — the point He chooses for getting into that contact with His brothers. It is the point where they are turning from sin. John’s baptism meant turning from sin. It is at that point that Jesus comes forward. A man can always be live sure of Jesus meeting him there, close up, with outstretched hand. He is waiting eagerly, and steps up quickly to a man’s side as in his heart he turns from sin.
But there’s more yet. Read in the after light cast upon it, there is much more This was the voluntary path away from the kingdom. It was the beginning of all that came after. The road up the hill of the cross not far away led out of those waters. This was the starting-point. Jesus calmly turned His face for the time being — a long time it has proved — away from the promised Kingdom of His Father and toward the planned cross of Satan.
It meant much, for it was the first step into the path marked out. What the Father had chosen for Him, He now chooses out for Himself. So every bit of service, every plan, must be twice chosen: by God for a man; by the man for himself as from God. He entered eagerly, for this was His Father’s plan. That itself was enough for Jesus. But, too, it was the path where His needy brothers were. That would quicken His pace. It was the road wherein He would meet the enemy. And with a fresh prayer in His heart and a quiet confidence in His eye He steps into the road with that calmness that strong purpose gives.
As it proved, there was danger here for Him. This was not the way approved by man’s established ideals for starting a kingdom. He was driving straight across the carefully marked out roads of man’s usage. He was disregarding the “No trespassing” signs, There was danger here.
A man cutting a new path right across old ones meets stubborn undergrowth, and ugly thorn hedges. Jesus struck the thorns early, and right along to the last getting sharper. And they tore His face badly, as He cut the way through for His brothers.
Yes, there were dangers as He pushed His way through the undergrowth down to the water, — poison ivy thick, and fanged snakes darting guiltily aside from fear even while wanting to strike in, tangled gnarly roots hugging the ground close, and bad odours and gases, and the light obscured, — dangers thick! And these Jordan waters prove chill and roily. His stepping in stirs the mud. The storm winds sweep down the valley. A bit of a hill up above to the west casts a long sinister shadow out over the water.
And He must have known the dangers. No need of supernatural knowledge here. His familiarity with David and Jeremiah and other Hebrew writers, His knowledge of human nature as it had grown to be, His knowledge of a foe subtler than human, the fine sensitiveness of His finely organised sensitive spirit — these would lead Him to scent the danger.
But He falters not. The calmness of His will gives steadiness to His step down the river’s bank. Aye, the dangers lured Him on. He had a keen scent for danger, for it was danger to His race of men, whose King He was in right, and would prove Himself in fact. He would draw the thorn points by His own flesh that men might be saved their stinging prod and slash. He would neutralise the burning acid poison of the undergrowth by the red alkaline from His own veins. He would use the thorns to draw the healing salve for the wounds they had caused. He would put His firm foot on the serpent’s head that His brothers might safely come along after. This was the meaning of His plunge into the swift waters by John’s side.
The intense significance of this decisive step by Jesus is brought out strikingly by what follows. What followed is God’s comment upon it. Quick as the act was done came the Father’s approval. John’s crowds were not the only intent lookers-on that day. Jesus stands praying. Since He is going this road it must be a-knee. Then the rift in the upper blue, the Holy Spirit straight from the Father’s presence comes upon the waiting Man and the voice of pleased approval. And the heart of Jesus thrilled with the sound of that approving voice. He could go any length, down any steep, if He might only ever hear that voice in approval. Then the Holy Spirit took possession of Him for the earth-mission. In the path way of obedience down that rough steep came the coveted power of God upon Him.
Three times in His life the Father’s voice came, and each time at a crisis. Now at the plunge into the Jordan waters, which meant brotherhood with the race, and meant, too, a frostier chill of other waters later on. At the opening of the Greek door through which led an easy path to a great following, and away from a cross, when Jesus, with an agony intensified by the intensified nearing of those crossed logs, turned His step yet more steadily in the path He had chosen that first Jordan day. And between these two, on the mountain top, when the whole fabric of the future beyond the cross hung upon three poor wobbling, spiritually stupid, mentally untrained Galilean fishermen.
This is the meaning of that step into the Jordan. It was the decisive start.
2. The Wilderness: Temptation
The University Of Arabia
The Jordan led to the Wilderness by a straight road. A first step without slipping leads to the second. Victory opens the way to fresh struggles for higher victories. The perfect naturalness of Jesus is revealed here, His human naturalness. He had taken the decisive step into the Jordan waters. And while absorbed in prayer had become conscious of a new experience. The Spirit of God came upon Him in unusual measure. The effect of that always is to awaken to new alertness and vigour every mental power, as well as to key up every moral resolve. Jesus is caught at once by the grasp, the grip of this new experience of the wondrous Spirit’s control. Keenly alive to its significance, awakened anew to the part He was to perform, and to a consciousness of His peculiar relation to God and to man, He becomes wholly absorbed in this newly intensified world of thought.
Under the Spirit’s impulse He goes off into the solitude of the wilderness to think. And in this mood of deep absorption, with every faculty fully awake and every high moral impulse and purpose in full throb, came the temptation with the recorded climax at the close.
There came an intensifying of all His former consciousness, and convictions, regarding His own personality and His mission to mankind, as absorbed from the Hebrew parchments, with the under-current, lying away down, of a tragedy to be met on the way up to the throne.
Jesus was a man of great intensity. He could become so absorbed as to be unconscious of other things. As a boy of twelve, when first He caught fire, He was so taken up with the flood of thoughts poured into His mind by the temple visit, that for three days and two nights He remained away from His parents, simply absorbed in the world of thought awakened by that visit. He could remain forty days in the wilderness without being conscious of hunger. The impress of that forty days mentally remain with Him during the remainder of His human life. Intensity is possible only to strong mentality. The child’s mind, the undisciplined mind, the mind weakened by sickness or fatigue, goes quickly from one thing to another. The finest mental discipline is revealed in the greatest intensity, while yet all the faculties remain at normal, not heated, nor disturbed by the discoloration of heat.
He withdrew into the wilderness to think and pray. He wanted to get away from man that He might realise God. With the near-flaming footlights shut out, He could see clearly the quiet upper lights, His sure guides. These forty days gave him the true perspective. Things worked into proportion. He never lost this wilderness perspective. The wilderness means to Him alone with God; the false perspective, the flaming of near lights, the noise of men’s shuffling feet all gone. And when He went out among men for work, that wilderness atmosphere went with Him. And when the crowds thickened, and work piled up, and dangers intensified, off He would go for a fresh bit of improvised wilderness.
The temptation follows the natural lines of man’s powers. Man was made with mastery of himself, kingship over nature and all its forces, and utter dependence, even for his very breath, upon God. While made perfect in these, he would know them fully only through growth. He had three relationships, — to God, his fellows, and himself. His relation to God would keep true the, relation to himself, and adjust the relation to his fellows. Keeping God in proper proportion in the perspective keeps one’s self in its true place always. Utter dependence by every man upon God would make perfect harmony with his fellows. The dominion of nature was through self-mastery, and this in turn would be only through the practice of utter dependence upon God.
Now all sin comes under this grouping, the relation to God, the relation to others, within one’s self. Temptation follows the line of exaggeration, misuse, misadjustment, wrong motive. It pushes trust over into unwarranted presumption. Dominion over nature crosses the line into the relation to other men. Fellow-feeling gives way to an ambition to get ahead of the other man and to boss him. Proper appetite and desire become lust and passion. The dominion that man was to have over nature, he seeks also to have over his brothers, so crossing the line of his own proper dominion and trespassing on God’s. Only God is to have dominion over all men. Where a man is lifted to eminence of rule among his fellows, he is simply acting for Somebody else. He is not a superior. He is a servant of God, in ruling over his fellows.
John’s famous grouping of all sin as “the lust of the flesh, lust of eye and pride of life,” refers to what is out “in the world.” It touches only two of these three: sin in one’s self and in relation to his fellows, with the dominion line out of adjustment. Out in the world God has been left clean out, so the phase of trust isn’t touched upon by John.
Jesus’ temptation follows these natural lines. Improper use of power for the sake of the bodily appetite; to presume on God’s care in doing something unwarranted; to cross the line of dominion over nature and seek to control men. For, be it remembered, Jesus was here as a man. The realm of the body, the realm of religion, the realm of wrong ambition, these were the temptation lines followed then, and before, and ever since.
The going into the wilderness was planned by the Holy Spirit. He was in charge of this campaign of Jesus to win back the allegiance of man and the dominion of the earth. Jesus yielded Himself to the control of the Holy Spirit for His earthly mission, even as later the Holy Spirit yielded Himself wholly to the control of the exalted Jesus for His earthly mission.
Here the Spirit proves Himself a keen strategist. He drives hard at the enemy. He forces the fighting. A decided victory over the chief at the start would demoralise all the forces. It would be decisive of the whole conflict, and prophetic of the final outcome. Every demon possessing a man on the earth heard of his chief’s rout that day, and recognised his Victor, and feared Him, and knew of his own utter defeat in that of his chief. Having got the chief devil on the run, every sub-devil fled at Jesus’ approach.
The Spirit would show to man the weakness of the devil. The devil can do nothing with the man who is calmly set in his loyalty to God. This new Leader of the race was led up to the dreaded devil, that men might know for all time his weak spot. The poison of those fangs is completely neutralised by simple, steady loyalty to God. But the rattles do make a big scary noise.
It is safe to go where the Spirit of God leads, and not safe to go anywhere else. The wilderness, any wilderness, becomes a place of victory if the Spirit of God be leading there. Any temptation is a chance for a victory when the Spirit leads the way. A man’s controlling motive determines the attractiveness or ugliness of any place. To Jesus this wilderness barren was one of the mountain peaks. Its forbidding chasms and ugly gullies and darting snakes ever afterwards speak to Him of sweet victory. The first great victory was here. He made the wilderness to blossom with the rose of His unswerving loyalty to His Father. And its fragrance has been felt by all who have followed Him there. To the tempter it was a wilderness indeed, barren of anything he wanted. He quit it the first chance he could make. He would remember the beasts and serpents and dreary waste. For here he received his first death-thrust.
Every man whom God has used has been in the wilderness. The two great leaders before Jesus, and the great leader after Him, had each a post-graduate course in the University of Arabia. A degree in that school is required for those who would do valiant service for God. Only so can the eyes and ears be trained away from the glare and blare of the crowd. They needed it, we need it, for discipline. He, the matchless Man, for that too, and that He might make it a place of sure victory for us.
Death’s Ugliest, Deepest Scar
Jesus is the only One of whom we are told that He was led up to be tempted. He was the leader of the race for the regaining of the blurred image, the lost mastery and dominion. He Himself bade us pray not to be so tempted. He outmatched the tempter. Any one of us, alone, is clearly out matched by that tempter. But we may always rest secure in the victory He achieved that day. Only so are we safe.
It is noteworthy that the place of the temptation was chosen by the Spirit, and what place it is He chooses? Mark keenly, the tempter did not choose it. He was obliged to start in there, but he seized the first chance to get away to scenes more congenial to himself.
The wilderness is one of the most marked spots on the earth’s crust. That remarkable stretch of land going by swift, steep descents almost from Jerusalem’s very door down to the Dead Sea. It was once described as “the garden of God,” that is, as Eden, for beauty and fertility, like the fertile Egyptian bottoms. For long centuries no ghastlier bit of land can be found, haggard, stripped bare, its strata twisted out of all shape, blistering peeling rocks, scorching furnace heat reflected from its rocks, swept by hot desert winds, it is the land of death, an awful death; no life save crawling scorpions and vipers, with an occasional hyena and jackal. Here sin had a free line and ran riot. It ran to its logical conclusion, till a surgical operation — a cauterisation — was necessary to save the rest. Earth’s fairest became earth’s ugliest. It is the one spot where sin’s free swing seamed its mark deepest in. The story of sin’s worst is burned into the crust of the earth with letters over a thousand feet deep. This is sin’s scar: earth’s hell-scar.
There is no talk of the glory of the kingdom here. Yet there had been once. This is the very spot where that proposition on smaller scale was made to a man in a crisis of his life, and where, lured by the attractive outlook, he had chosen selfishly. This is the wilderness, sin’s wilderness, whither the Holy Spirit led Jesus for the tempter’s assault. No man does great service for God till he gets sin into its proportion in his perspective.
Jesus was tempted. Temptation, the suggestion to wrong, must find some point of contact within. Therein consists the temptation to the man. Without doubt there was a response within to the temptations that came to Jesus. Satan always throws his line to catch on a hook inside. The physical sense of hunger responded to the suggestion of getting hold of a loaf. The unfailing breath of Jesus’ life was trusting His Father. For the way a thing should be done, as well as for getting the result, He trusted His Father. This trust, underlying and permeating His whole life, furnishes the point of contact for the second temptation.
The ruling of a world righteously — not for the glory of reigning ingrained in us, but for the world’s good and betterment — was ingrained in Jesus by His birth, and fostered by His study of the Hebrew Scriptures, and by the consciousness of His mission. Here is the point of contact with the third temptation. At once it is plain that there is nothing wrong here in the inward response. For instantly it was clear that a response of His will to these outer propositions would not be right, would be wrong, and so these points of contact were instantly held in check by His will.
“Every temptation” was brought, we are told: “tempted in all points.” This does not mean that every particular temptation came to Jesus, but the heart, the essential, of every temptation. Every temptation that comes to us is along the line of the three that came to Him. By rejecting the .first of each line, He shut out its successors. By accepting the first of a series of temptations, a man opens the way for the next, and so on. Temptations come on a scale descending. There are the first, the initial temptations, and then all that follow in their train. Rejecting the first stops the whole line. Not only that, but stops also the momentum, terrific downward momentum of the whole line.
The first temptation is the door through which must pass all other temptations of that sort. If that door be opened, these other temptations have a chance. If that door be kept shut, all these others are kept waiting. Temptation is always standing with its pointed toe at the crack of the door, waiting the slightest suggestion of an opening. This first temptation is always the likeliest of its class to get in. It is not always the same, of course. It is subtly chosen to suit the man. Jesus kept these doors rigidly shut, key turned, bolts pushed, bar up, chain hooked. So may we.
The tempting is to be done by ” the devil.” That is his strong point, tempting people. It is one way of recognising some of his kin. It is a mean, contemptible sort of thing. He had fallen into a hole of his own digging, and would pull in everybody else. He is never constructive in his work, always destructive. Best at tearing down. Never builds up. His allies can often be told by their resemblance to him here. Jesus is to be tempted by this master-tempter. He is going to prove to all His brothers that the tempter has no power without the consent of the tempted. The door into a man has only the one knob. And that’s on the inside.
Waiting The Father’s Word
Quite likely the form of the tempter’s words suggests the upper current of Jesus’ thought. “If Thou be the Son of God.” Jesus was likely absorbed with His peculiar relation to His Father, with all that that involved. The tempter cunningly seeks to sweep Him off His feet by working on His mood. It is ever a favourite method with the tempter to push a man. A flush of feeling, the mood of an intense emotion tipped over the balance with a quick motion of his, has swept many a man off his feet. But Jesus held steady. There was no unholy heat of ambition to disturb the calm working of His mind.
Why “if”? Did Satan doubt it? Is he asking proof? He gets it. Jesus did not need to prove His divinity except by continuing to be divine. He proved best that He was Son of God by being true to His Sonship. He naturally acted the part. We prove best that we are right by being right, not by accepting captious, critical propositions. The stars shine. We know they are stars by their shine. Satan would have Jesus use His divinity in an undivine way. He was cunning. But Jesus was keener than the tempter was cunning.
“Get a loaf out of this stone. Don’t go hungry. Be practical and sensible.” The cold cruelty of Satan! He makes no effort to relieve the hunger. The hunger asked for bread, and he gave it a stone. That is the best he has. He is a bit short on bread. He would use the physical need to break down the moral purpose. He has ever been doing just that. Sometimes he induces a man to break down his strength in religious activity. And then he takes advantage of his weakened condition. Even religious activity should be refused save at the leading of God’s Spirit. It will not do simply to do good. The only safe thing is to do God’s will, to be tied fast to the tether of the Spirit’s leading.
Jesus could have made a loaf out of the stone. He did that sort of thing afterwards. It was not wrong to do it, since, under other circumstances, He did it. But it is wrong to do anything, even a good thing, at the devil’s suggestion. He would shun the counsel of the ungodly. The tempter attacks first the neediest point, the hunger, and in so far the weakest, the likeliest to yield. Yet it was the strongest, tool for Jesus could make bread. The strongest point may become the weakest because of the very temptation the possession of strength gives to use it improperly Strength used properly remains strength; used improperly it becomes weakness. The strong points always need guarding, that the balance be not tipped over and lost. Strength is never greater than when used rightly; never greater than when refused to the improper use. The essence of sin is in the improper use of a proper thing.
The first step toward victory over temptation is to recognise it. Jesus’ quick, quiet reply here touches the human heart at once, and touches it at its neediest and most sensitive point, the need of sympathy, of a fellow feeling. He said, “Man shall not live.” The tempter said, “God.” Jesus promptly said, “Man.” He came to be man, the Son of man, and the Brother of man. He took His place as a man that day in the Jordan water. He will not be budged from man’s side. He will stay on the man level in full touch with His fellows at every step of the way.
He was giving to every man, everywhere in the world, under stress of every temptation; with every rope tugging at its fastenings, and threatening every moment to slip its hold, and the man be lost in the storm, to every man the right, the enormous staying power to say, “Jesus — a man — such a one as I — was here, and as a man resisted — and won. He is at my side. I’ll lean on Him and resist too, — and win too — in the strength of His winning.”
Jesus says here, “My life, My food, the supplying of My needs is in the hands of My Father. When He gives the word, I’ll do: not before. I’ll starve if He wishes it, but I’ll not mistrust Him; nor do anything save as He leads and suggests. I’ll not act at your suggestion, nor anybody’s else but His. Starving doesn’t begin to bother Me like failing to trust would do. But I haven’t the faintest idea of starving with such a Father.”
“Not by bread alone, but by every word… of God.” Not by a loaf, but by a word. When a man is where God would have him, he can afford to wait patiently till God gives the word. A man is never unsteadier on his feet than when he has gone where he was not led. “I go at My Father’s Word.” “I wait for My Father’s word.” Jesus’ study of the parchment rolls in Nazareth was standing Him in good stead now. Through many a prayerful hour over that Word had come the trained ear, the waiting spirit, the doing of things only at the Father’s initiative. He could make bread, but He wouldn’t, unless the Father gave the word. It was not simply that He would not act at the tempter’s suggestion, but He would not act at all except at the Father’s word. And to this Jesus remained true, whether the request for evidence came from the tempter direct, or from sneering Pharisee at the temple’s cleansing, or from unbelieving brothers.
Life comes not through what a man can make, but through the Father’s controlling presence: not through our effort, but through the Father’s power transmitted through the pipe line of our ready obedience.
“Just to let thy Father do
As He will.
Just to know that He is true,
And be still.
Just to follow hour by hour
As He leadeth.
Just to draw the moment’s power
As it needeth.
Just to trust Him. This is all.
Then the day will surely be
Peaceful, whatsoe’er befall,
Bright and blessed, calm and free.”
(Frances Ridley Havergal)
Jesus held every activity, every power subject to the Father’s bidding. Not only obedient, but nothing else. Waiting the Father’s send-off at every turn: this is the message from Jesus that first tug, the first victory Jesus had held true in the realm of the body, in His relationship to Himself.
Love Never Tests
Satan shifts the scene. These wilderness surroundings grate on his nerves. The setting of this place, once first class, is now rather worn. He’s famous at that. It’s a favourite device of his; quick scene-shifting. A man wins a victory over temptation, but a quick change of surroundings finds him unprepared if he isn’t ever alert for it, and down he goes before the new, unexpected rush, before he can get his wind. The tempter is not a fool, as regards man. That is as a rule he is not. In the light of all facts obtainable about his career, that word might be thought of. Yet no man of us may apply the word to him. Not one of us is a match for him. We’re not in the same class. In his keen subtlety and cunning he can outmatch the keenest of us; outwit and befool without doing any extra thinking. I am not using the word wisdom of him. We are safe only in the wisdom of our big Brother who drew his fangs in the wilderness that day.
He chooses shrewdly the spot for each following temptation. He’s a master stage-manager. He always works for an atmosphere that will help his purpose. He took Jesus up to one of the wings of the temple in the holy city. The holy city, and especially its temple, would awaken holiest emotions. Here it was that Jesus, as a boy, years before, had probably first caught fire. It is likely that He never forgot that first visit. Here everything spoke to Him of His Father. The tempter is skilfully following the leading of Jesus’ reply. Jesus had given a religious answer. So He is given a religious atmosphere, and taken to a religious place. He would trust the Father implicitly. Here is an opportunity to let men see that beautiful spirit of trust. Here is a chance for a master-stroke. A single simple act will preach to the crowds. “You’ll come down in the midst of an open-mouthed, admiring crowd.” The devil loves the spectacular, the theatrical. He is always working for striking, stagy effects.
How many a man has yielded to the religious temptation! He is taken up in the air, and seems to float among ethereal clouds. It is better for us to live in the strength of Somebody else’s victory, and keep good hard earth close to the soles of our feet, or we may come into contact with it suddenly with feet and head changing places.
The devil “taketh” Jesus. How could he ? He could do it only by Jesus’ consent. Jesus yields to his taking. He has a strong purpose in it. He was going for the sake of his brothers. The tempter cannot take anybody anywhere except with his full consent. He tries to, and often befools men into thinking he can. It’s a lie. He cannot. Every man is an absolute sovereign in his will, both as regards God and Satan. God will not do anything with us without our ready consent. And be it keenly remembered that the tempter cannot. Here Jesus gave consent for His brothers’ sake.
The tempter acts his part like an old hand. The proper thing here is some scripture, repeated earnestly in unctuous tones. Was it from this tempter that all of us religious folks and everybody else have got into the inveterate habit of quoting verse and sentence entirely out of connection ? Any devil’s lie can be proved from the Scriptures on that plan. If it was he who set the pace, certainly it has been followed at a lively rate. It was a cunning quotation, cunningly edited.
The angels are ministering spirits. On theirhands they do bear us up. It is all true, blessedly true. But it is only true for the man who is living in the verse of that ninety-first psalm, “in the secret place of the Most High.” The tempter threads his way with cautious skill among those unpleasant allusions to the serpent, and the dragon, and getting them under our feet, and then twisting and trampling with our hard heels. He knew his ground well, and avoids such rough, rude sort of talk. It was a cunning temptation, cunningly staged and worded and backed. He was doing his best. One wonders if he really thought Jesus could be tripped up that way. So many others have been, and are, even after Jesus has shown us the way. A dust cloth would help some of us, — for our Bibles, — and a little more exercise at the knee joint, and a bit of the hard common sense God has given every one of us.
Did Jesus’ wondrous, quiet calm nettle the tempter? Was He ever keener and quieter? He would step from the substantial boat-deck to the yielding water, He would cut Himself off from His Nazareth livelihood and step out without any resources, He would calmly walk into Jerusalem when there was a price upon His head; for so He was led by that Spirit to whose sovereignty He had committed Himself. But He would do nothing at the suggestion of this tempter. Jesus never used His power to show He had it, but to help somebody. He could not. It is against the nature of power to attempt to prove that you have it by using it. Power is never concerned about itself, but wrapped up in practical service. There were no theatricals about Jesus. He was too intensely concerned about the needs of men. There are none in God-touched men. Elisha did not smite the waters to prove that Elijah’s power rested upon him, but to get back across the Jordan to where his work was needing him and waiting his touch. Jesus would wear Himself out bodily in ministering to men’s needs, but He wouldn’t turn a hair nor budge a step to show that He could. This is the touchstone by which to know all Jesus-men.
He rebukes this quotation by a quotation that breathes the whole spirit of the passage where it is found. Thou shalt not test God to see if He will do as He promises. These Israelites had been testing, criticising, questioning, doubting God. That’s the setting of His quotation. Jesus says that love never tests. It trusts. Love does not doubt, for it knows. It needs no test. It could trust no more fully after a test, for it trusts fully now. Aye, it trusts more fully now, for it is trusting God, not a test. Every test of God starts with a question, a doubt, a misgiving of God. Jesus’ answer to the second temptation is: love never tests. It trusts. Jesus keeps true in His relation to His Father.
The Devil Acknowledges The King
Another swift shift of the scene. Swiftness is a feature now. In a moment of time, all the kingdoms, and all the glory of all the earth. Rapid work! This is an appeal to the eye. First the palate, then the emotions, now the eye. First the appetites, then the religious sense, now the ambition. The tempter comes now to the real thing he is after. He would be a god. It is well to sift his proposition pretty keenly, on general principles. His reputation for truthfulness is not very good, which means that it is very bad. Who wants to try a suspicious egg? He could have quite a number of capitals after his name on the score of mixing lies and the truth. He has a distinct preference for the flavour of mixed lies.
Here are the three statements in his proposal. All these things have been delivered unto me. I may give them to whom I will. I will give them to you. The first of these is true. He is “the prince of this world.” The second is not true, because through breach of trust he has forfeited his rule, though still holding to it against the Sovereign’s wish. The third is not true. Clearly he hadn’t any idea of relinquishing his hold, but only of swamping Jesus. Two parts lie: one part truth — a favourite formula of his. The lie gets the vote. A bit of truth sandwiched in between two lies.
He asks for worship. Did he really think that possibly Jesus would actually worship him? The first flush answer is, surely not. Yet he is putting the thing in a way that has secured actual worship from many a one who would be horrified at such a blunt putting of his conduct.
We must shake off the caricature of a devil with pointed horns, and split hoof, and forked tail, and see the real, to understand better. From all accounts he must be a being of splendour and beauty, of majestic bearing and dignity. His appeal in effect is this: — These things are all mine. You have in you the ingrained idea of a world-wide dominion over nature, and of ruling all men as God’s King. Now, can’t we fix this thing up between us? Let’s be friendly. Don’t let’s quarrel over this matter of world dominion.
You acknowledge me as your sovereign. You rule over all this under me. I’ll stand next to God, and you stand next to me. It’s a mere technical distinction, after all. It’ll make no real change in your being a world-wide ruler, and it will make none with me either. Each will have a fair share and place. Let’s pull together. — The thing sounds a bit familiar. It seems to me I have heard it since somewhere, if I can jog up my memory. It has raised a cloud of dust in many a man’s road, and blurred the clear outlines of the true plan — has raised? — is raising.
Jesus’ answer is imperative. It is the word of an imperator. He is the King already in His Father’s plan. He replies with the sharp, imperial brevity of an emperor, a King of kings. “Get thee hence!” Begone! The tempter obeys. He knows his master. He goes. Biting his teeth upon his hot spittle, utterly cowed, he slinks away. Only one sovereign, Jesus says. All dominion held properly only by direct dependence upon Him, direct touch with Him, full obedience to Him. No compromise here. No mixing of issues. Simple, direct relation to God, and every other relation through that. No short cuts for Jesus. They do but cut with deep gashes the man who cuts. The “short” describes the term of his power, a short shrift.
When the devil has used up all his ammunition — That’s a comfort. There is an end to the devil if we will but quietly hold on. Every arrow shot. Not a cartridge left. Yet he is not entirely through with Jesus. He has retired to reform the broken lines. He’ll melt up the old bullets into different shape. They have been badly battered out of all shape by striking on this hard rock. He’s a bit shaken himself. This Jesus is something new. When he can get his wind he will come back. He came back many times. Once through ignorant Peter with the loaf temptation in new shape, once through His mother’s loving fears with the emotional temptation, and through the earnest, hungry Greeks, and the bread-full thousands with the kingdom temptation. Yet the edge of his sword is badly nicked, and never regains its old edge.
But now he goes. He obeys Jesus. The tempter resisted goes, weakened. He is a coward now. He fights only with those weaker than himself. He doesn’t take a man of his own size. Temptation resisted strengthens the man. There is a new resisting power. There is the fine fettle that victory gives. Jesus is Victor. The Jordan experience has left its impress. Every act of obedience is to the tempter’s disadvantage. In Jesus we are victors too. But only in Him.
Through Jesus we meet a fangless serpent. The old glare is in the eye, the rattles are noisy, but the sting’s out. He is still there. He still can scare; but can do not even that to the man arm-in-arm with Jesus. Jesus keeps true the relationship to all men and to nature by keeping true the relationship to His Father.
Our Father, lead us not into temptation as Jesus was led. We’re no match for the tempter. Help us to keep arm-in-arm with Jesus, and live ever in the power of His victory.
3. The Transfiguration: An Emergency Measure
God In Sore Straits
The darkest hour save only one has now come in Jesus’ life. And that one which was actually darkest, in every way, from every view-point darkest, had in it some gleams of light that are not here. Jesus is now a fugitive from the province of Judea. The death plot has been settled upon. There’s a ban in Jerusalem on His followers. Already one man has been cut off from synagogue privileges, and become a religious and social outcast. The southerners are pushing the fight against Jesus up into Galilee.
Four distinct times that significant danger word “withdrew” has been used in describing Jesus’ departure from where the Judean leaders had come. First from Judea to Galilee, then from Galilee to distant foreign points He had gone, for a time, till the air would cool a bit. The bold return to Jerusalem at the fall Feast of Tabernacles had been attended, first by an official attempt to arrest, and then by a passionate attempt to stone Jesus to death.
And now the Galilean followers begin to question, and to leave. His enemies’ northern campaign, together with His own plain teaching, has affected the Galilean crowds. They come in as great numbers as ever to hear and to be healed. But many that had allied themselves as Jesus’ followers decide that He is not the leader they want. He is quite too unpractical. The kingdom that the Galileans are eager for, that the Roman yoke may be shaken off, seems very unlikely to come under such a leader. Many desert Him.
Jesus felt the situation keenly. The kingdom plan in Jerusalem had failed. And now the winning of individuals as a step in another plan is slipping its hold. These people are glad of bread and the easing of bodily distress, but the tests of discipleship they pull away from. He turns to the little band of His own choosing, with a question that reveals the keen disappointment of His heart. There’s a tender yearning in that question, “Will ye also go away? ” And Peter’s instant, loyal answer does not blind His keen eyes to the extremity. With sad voice He says, “One of you, My own chosen friends, one of you is a — devil.” Things are in bad shape, and getting worse.
It was a time of dire extremity. God was in sore straits. The kingdom plan was clearly gone for the present. The rub was to save enough out of the wreckage to get a sure starting-point for the new plan, through which, by and by, the other original plan would work out. There can be no stronger evidence of God’s need of men than this transfiguration scene. Just because He had made man a sovereign in his will, God must work out all of His plans through that sovereign will. He would not lower one whit His ambition for a man free in his own will. He Himself would do nothing to mar the divine image in man. For man’s sake, and through man’s will — that is ever God’s law of dealing.
Fire And Anvil For Leaders
The great need just now was not simply for men who would be loving and loyal, but men who would be leaders. It has ever been the sorest need. Men are not so scarce, true-hearted men, willing to endure sacrifice, but leaders have always been few, and are. Nothing seems to be less understood than leadership; and nothing so quickly recognised when the real thing appears. Peter was a leader among these men. He had dash and push. He was full of impulse. He was always proposing something. He acted as spokesman. He blurted out whatever came. The others followed his lead. There were the crude elements of leadership here. But not true leadership of the finer, higher kind.
The whole purpose of the transfiguration was to get and tie up leaders. It was an emergency measure, out of the regular run of things. Goodness makes character. It takes goodness plus ability to make true leadership. The heart can make a loving follower. It takes a heart, warm and true, plus brains, to make a leader. Character is the essential for life. For true leadership, there needs to be character plus ability: the ability to keep the broad sweep of things, and not be lost in details, nor yet to lose sight of details; to discern motive and drifts; to sift through the incidentals which may be spectacular, and get to the essential which may be in Quaker garb.
There are two sorts of leadership, of action, and of thought. By comparison with the other, leaders of action are many, leaders of thought few. Peter was the leader in action of the disciples, and in the earlier Church days. John became the leader in thought of the later years of the early Church. Paul was both, a very unusual combination. Leaders are born, it is true. But the finest and truest and highest leaders must be both born leaders, and then born again as leaders. There needs to be the original stuff, and then that stuff hammered into shape under hard blows on the anvil of experience. The fire must burn out the clay and dirt, and then the hammer shape up the metal. Leaders must have convictions driven in clear through flesh and bone, and riveted on the other side.
Simon loved Jesus, but there needed to be more before Peter would arrive. It took the transfiguration to put into the impulsive, unsteady, wobbling Simon the metal that would later become steel in Peter. Yet it took much more, and finally the fire of Pentecost, to get the needed temper into the steel. These same lips could give that splendid statement that has become the Church’s foundation; and, a bit later, utter boldly foolish, improper words to Jesus; and, later yet, utter vulgar profanity, and words far worse, aye, the worst that could be said about a friend, and in that friend’s need, too.
This was a fair sample of the clay and iron, the Simon and the Peter in this man. Yet it was with painful slowness that he had been brought up to where he is now. Two years of daily contact with Jesus. Slow work! No, rapid work. Nobody but Jesus could have done it in such a short time. Nobody but Jesus could have done it at all. And, mark you keenly, this man is the leader of the band of men that stand closest to Jesus. This is the setting of the- great transfiguration scene.
An Irresistible Plan
Jesus goes off, away from the crowds, to have a bit of quiet time with this inner band of His. Here is the strategic point, now. The key to the future plan is in this small group. If that key can be filed into shape, cleaned of rust, and got to fit and turn in the lock, all may yet be well. The nub of all future growth is here. With simple, keen tact he begins His questionings, leading on, until Peter responds with his splendid declaration for which the Church has ever been grateful to him: “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” It comes to Jesus’ ears as a grateful drink of cold water to a thirsty man on a hot day in a dusty road.
Then to this leader and to the inner circle, He reveals the changed plan. For the first time the word Church is used, that peculiar word which later becomes the name of the new organisation, “a company of persons called out.” He is going to build up a Church upon this statement of faith from Peter’s lips, and this Church will hold the relation to the kingdom of key-holder, administrator. The Church is to be a part of the administration of the coming kingdom.
And so Jesus begins His difficult, sad task of preparing this band for the event six months off in Jerusalem. There is to be a tragedy before the building of the Church which will hold the kingdom keys. So thoroughly does Peter fail to understand Jesus, that with stupid boldness he attempts to “rebuke” Him. Peter “took” Jesus. A great sight, surely! He slips his hand in Jesus’ arm and takes Him off to one side to — straighten — Him — out. This Jesus is being swept off His feet by undue emotional enthusiasm. Peter would fix it up and save the day. It would take Peter to do that.
And this is a sample of the best leadership in this inner group. Things were in bad shape. All the machinery hung upon a little pin holding two parts together. That pin threatens to bend and break for lack of temper. The Son of God leaves all else and turns aside to attend to a pin. The future of the kingdom hung upon three undisciplined country fishermen. The transfiguration spells out God’s dire extremity in getting a footing in human hearts and brains for His plans. Something must be done.
Mark what that something was to be: so simple in itself, so tremendous in its results. They were to be allowed to see Jesus. That would be enough. The Jesus within would look out through the body He was using. The real Jesus within looked out through the Jesus they knew. He let these men see Himself a few moments; simply that. All of that, yet simply that. They were His lovers. They were to be sorely tried by coming events. They were to be the leaders. To love, for a time of sore need, for service’s sake, for the sake of the multitudes whose leaders they were to be, for the saving of the Church plan, and beyond of the kingdom plan, the Jesus within looked out for a few moments into their faces.
It was the same plan used later in getting another leader. Jesus had to go outside these men for a man with qualifications needed by the situation that these men did not have. The human element again in evidence. Paul says, “When I could not see for the glory of that light.” That light bothered his eyes. The old ambitions were blurred. He couldn’t see them. The outlines dimmed, the old pedigree and plans faded out. They could no longer be seen for the glory of that light. It is the plan the Master has ever used, and still does. It is irresistible.
“The Glory Of That Light”
It was six days, or eight counting both ends, after the first telling of the coming tragedy that shook them so. Here is a bit of practical psychology, Jesus lets the brain impression made by that strange announcement deepen before making the next impression. Jesus went up into the mountain “to pray.” Prayer never failed Him. It was equal to every need with Jesus. It was while praying that the wondrous change came. Changed while praying When Moses came down from that long time alone with God, his face was full of the glory reflected from God’s presence. Stephen’s face caught the light of another Face into which he was intently looking.
Jesus was changed from within. It was His own glory that these men saw. He had wrapped Himself up in a bit of human tapestry so He could move among men without blinding their eyes. Now he looks out through the strands. They are astonished and awed to find that face they know so well now shining as the sun, and the garments made transparent as light, glistening like snow, by reason of the great brilliance of the light within. Yet Jesus let out only a part of the glory. When Paul saw, on the Damascus road, the light was above the shining of the sun.
When their eyes get over the first daze, the disciples come to see that besides Jesus there are two others, two of the old Hebrew leaders. There is Moses, the great maker of the nation, the greatest leader of all. And rugged Elijah, who had boldly stood in the breach and saved the day when the nation’s king was proposing to replace the worship of Jehovah with demon-worship. They are talking earnestly together, these three, about — what? The great sacrifices Jesus had been enduring? The disappointment in the kingdom plan, the suffering and shame to be endured? The bitter obstinacy of the opposition? The chief priests’ plotting? Listen! They are talking about the departure, the exodus, the going out and up, Jesus is about to accomplish. They are absorbed in Jesus. He was about to execute a master-stroke. He is going to accomplish a great move. They are wholly absorbed in Him, this Moses, and Elijah, and in this great move of His for men.
Meanwhile these men lying on the ground are waking up and rubbing their eyes. The only jarring note is a human note. John and James look with awe, reverent awe. It is an insight into their character that nothing is said about them. Their sense of reverence and power of control are to the front. It is dear, impulsive old Peter who can’t keep still, even amid such a scene. His impulsive heart is just back of his lips, with no check-valves between. He must offer a few remarks. This great vision must be duly recognised. What a sensation it would make in Jerusalem to get these two men to stay and come down and address a meeting! That would turn the tide, surely. Luke graciously explains that he did not know what he was saying. No, probably not. The tongue seemed to be going mechanically, rather than by the controlling touch of the will. Peter seems to have a large posterity, some of whom abide with us to this day.
Then the vision is shut out by the intervening cloud. This human interference disturbs the atmosphere. For Peter’s sake, the glory is hidden that the impression of it may not be rubbed out even slightly by his own speech. We blur and lose the impression God would make upon us, by our speech, sometimes. A bit of divine practical psychology, this movement of the cloud. Then the quiet voice that thrilled them with the message of the Jordan, “This is My Son; My Chosen One: hear ye Him.” Then it is all over.
It is most striking that this wondrous vision of glory is for these three obscure, untutored men, of lowly station. Not for the nation’s leaders. Yet the reason is plain. They had gladly accepted what light had come. To them came more. Their door was open. It is these men who had obeyed light that now received more. To him that hath received what light has come shall be given more. From him that hath no light, because he won’t let it in, shall be taken away even what light he has. Shut fists will stifle what is already held, and the life of it oozes out between the fingers.
In each of the three Gospels recording this scene it is introduced by the same quotation from Jesus’ lips. There were some persons in His presence who would not die until they had seen the kingdom of God. The writer’s reference is clearly to the vision that follows. It is said to be a vision of the coming kingdom. Jesus, with the divine glory within, no longer concealed, but shining out with an indescribable splendour, up above the earth, with two godly men, one of whom had died, and the other had been caught up from the earth without death, talking earnestly about men and affairs on the earth, and in direct communication with the Father — that is the vision here of the kingdom.
A Vision Of Jesus
And so the darkest hour save only one was filled with the brightest light. The after, darker hour of Calvary had gleams of light from this transfiguration scene. There was faithful John’s sympathetic presence all through the trial. John never flinched. And Peter had tears that caught the light from Jesus’ eyes, and reflected their glistening rays within. Those tears of Peter’s were a great comfort to Jesus that night and the next day. The two greatest leaders were sure.
The transfiguration served its purpose fully. The memory of it saved Peter out of the wreckage of Simon, else Judas’ hemp might have had double use that night. Under the leadership of these men, the little band hold together during that day, so awful to them in the killing of their leader and the dashing of all their fondest hopes on which they had staked everything. Two nights later finds them gathered in a room. Could it have been the same upper room where they had eaten with Him that never-to-be-forgotten night, and listened to His comforting words? Only Thomas did not come. Everybody swings in but one. That shows good work by these leaders. But another week’s work brings him too into the meeting and into the light.
These three men never forgot the sight of that night. John writes his Gospel under the spell of the transfiguration. “We beheld His glory,” he says at the start, and understands Isaiah’s wondrous writings, because he too “saw His glory.” The impression made upon Peter deepened steadily with the years. The first impression of garments glistening beyond any fuller’s skill has grown into an abiding sense of the “majesty” of Jesus and “the majestic glory.” I think it wholly likely, too, that this vision of glory was in James’ face, and steadied his steps as so early in the history he met Herod’s swordsman.
It was a vision of Jesus that turned the tide. There’s nothing to be compared with that. A man’s life and service depend wholly on the vision of Jesus that has come, that is coming. When that comes, instinctively he finds himself ever after saying, without planning to —
“Since mine eyes were fixed on Jesus,
I’ve lost sight of all beside
So enchained my spirit’s vision,
Looking at the Crucified.”
With the Damascus traveller he will be saying, “When I could not see for the glory of that light.” May we each with face open, uncovered, all prejudice and self-seeking torn away, behold the glory of Jesus, even though for the sake of our eyes it come as a reflected glory. Then we shall become, as were Moses and Stephen, unconscious reflectors of that glory. And the crowd on the road shall find Jesus in us and want Him. Then, too, we ourselves shall be changing from glory to glory, by the inner touch of Jesus’ Spirit, as we continue gazing.
4. Gethsemane: The Strange, Lone Struggle
The Pathway In
Great events always send messengers ahead. There is a movement in the spirit currents. A sort of tremor of expectancy affects the finer currents of air. The more sensitively organised one is, that is to say, the more the spirit part of a man dominates body and mind, the more conscious will he be of the something coming.
Jesus was keenly conscious ahead of the coming of Calvary. Apart from the actual knowledge, there was a painful thrill of expectancy, intensifying as the event came nearer. The cross cast long, dark shadows ahead. The darkest is Gethsemane. It would be, for it was nearest. But there were other shadows before that of the olive grove. Jesus plainly reveals in His behaviour, in His appearance, that He felt keenly, into the very fibre, so sensitively woven, of His being, that the experience of the cross would be a terrific one for Him. It was deliberately chosen by Him, and the time of its coming chosen in the full knowledge that it would be an awful ordeal. It would establish the earth’s record for suffering, never approached before or since.
As He turns His face for the last time away from Galilee, and to Judea, it is with the calmness of strong deliberation. Yet the intenseness of the inner spirit, in its look ahead, is shown in His face, His demeanour. As He comes to a certain Samaritan village on the road south, the usual invitation to stop for rest and a bit of refreshment is withheld out of respect to His evident purpose. It is clear to these villagers that His face is set to go to Jerusalem. In Luke’s striking language, “His face was going to Jerusalem.” What going to Jerusalem meant to Him had no meaning to them. They saw only that face, and were so caught by the strong, stern determination plainly written there, that they felt impelled not to offer the usual hospitality.
They were Samaritans, it is true, a half-breed race, hated by Jews, and hating them, but in variably they had been friendly to Jesus. That must have been a marked face that held back these homely country people from pressing their small attentions upon Jesus. They are keener to read the meaning of that face than are these disciples who are more familiar with the sight of it. The impress already made upon the inner spirit by the great event toward which Jesus had determinedly set Himself was even thus early marked in His face.
Later, on that journey south, as the time and place are nearing, He strides along the road, with such a look in His face as makes these men, who had lived in closest touch, “amazed,” that is, awed and frightened. And as they followed behind, they were “afraid.” It is the only time it is said that the sight of His face made them afraid. Then He explains to them what is in His thoughts, with full details of the indignities to be heaped upon His person. The sternness of His purpose, perhaps not only the terrible experience of knowing sin at such close range, but, not unlikely, an anger, a hot indignation against sin and its ravages, which He was going to stab to death, flashed blinding lightning out of those eyes
It was, not unlikely, something of the same feeling as made Him shake with indignation as He realised His dear friend Lazarus in the cold, clinging embrace of death, sin’s climax. The determination to conquer sin, give it a death thrust, mingled with His acute consciousness of that through which He must go in the doing of it, wrote deep marks on His face. It is the beginning already of Gethsemane, as that, in turn, is of Calvary.
Earlier in the last week occurs the incident which agitates Jesus so, of the Greeks’ request for an interview. These earnest seekers for truth, from outside the Jewish nation, seem to bring up to His mind the great outside world, so hungry for Him, and for which He was so hungry. But, quick as a flash, there falls over that the inky black shadow of a cross in His path, and the instant realisation that only through it could He get out to these great outside crowds.
As though unaware of the presence of the crowds, He begins talking with Himself, out of His heart, saying words which none understand. “Now is My innermost being agitated, all shaken up; and what decisive word shall I speak? Shall I say, ‘Father, save Me from this experience’? He can. No, I cannot say that, for for this purpose I have deliberately come to it. This is what I will say — and the agitation within His spirit issues in the victorious tightening of every rivet in His purpose — ‘Father, glorify Thy name.'” This is Gethsemane already, both in the struggle and in the victory through loyalty to the Father’s will.
The Climax Of Jesus Suffering
And now comes Gethsemane. Both hat and shoes quickly go off here, for this is holiest ground. One looks with head bowed and breath held in, and reverential awe ever deepening. The shadow of the cross so long darkening His path is now closing in and enveloping Jesus. The big trees cast black shadows against the brilliance of the full moon. Yet they are as bright lights beside this other shadow, this inky shadow cast by the tree up yonder, just outside the Jerusalem wall, with the huge limb sitting sharply astride the trunk.
The scene under these trees has been spoken of by almost all, if not by all, as a strange struggle. With a great variety of explanations men have wondered why He agonised so. It was a strange struggle, and ever will be, not understood, strange to angels and to men and to demons. It is strange to angels of the upper world, for they do not know, and cannot, the terrific meaning of sin as did Jesus. It is strange to all other men except Jesus, for we do not know the meaning of purity as Jesus did. And it was strange to demons, for in the event of the morrow sin was working out a new degree of itself, a new superlative, in its final attack on Jesus. Sin was trying to strangle God. Even demons stared.
Purity refined beyond what angels knew, and sin coarsened beyond what demons knew, were coming together. Purity’s finest and sin’s coarsest were coming together in the closest touch thus far, in this Man under those old brown-barked, grey-leaved, gnarly trees. The shock of such extremes meeting would be terrific. It was terrific here under the trees. It was yet more so on the morrow. Here was the cross in anticipation. Calvary was in Gethsemane.
Man never will understand the depth of Gethsemane. We are incapable of sympathising with Jesus here. Yet it is true that as the Holy Spirit within a man increases the purity, and the horror of sin, there comes an increasing sense of sympathy with Him, and an increasing appreciation that we cannot go into the depths of what He knew here. In the best of us sin is ingrained. Jesus was wholly free from taint or twist of sin. He knew it only in others. Now He, the pure One, purity personified, was coming into closest contact with sin, and sin at its worst. He had been in contact with sin in others. He had seen its cruel ravages and been indignant against it.
Now, on the morrow, He is to know sin by a horrid intimacy of contact, and sin at a new worst. He was yielding to its tightest hold. Sin at its ugliest would stretch out its long, bony arms and gaunt hands, and fold Him to itself in closest embrace and hold Him there. And He was allowing this, that so when sin’s worst was done, He might seize it by the throat and strangle it. He would put death to death. Yet so terrific is the struggle, that He must accept in Himself that which He thereby destroys. This is the agony of Gethsemane. It may be told, but not understood. Only one as pure as He could understand, and then only under circumstances that never will come again.
The horror of this contact with sin is intensified clear out of the reach of this: it meant separation from His Father. The Father was the life of Jesus. The Father’s presence and approving smile were His sunshine. From the earliest consciousness revealed to us was that consciousness of His Father. Only let that smile be seen, that voice heard, that presence felt by this One so sensitive to it, and all was well. No suffering counted. The Father’s presence tipped the scales clear down against every hurting thing.
But — now on the morrow that would be changed. The Father’s face be — hidden — His presence not felt. That was the climax of all to Jesus. Do you say it was for a short time only? In minutes y-e-s. As though experiences were ever told by the clock! What bulky measurements of time we have! Will we never get away from the clocks in telling time? No clock ever can tick out the length to Jesus of that time the Father’s face was hidden. This hiding of the Father’s face was the climax of suffering to Jesus.
It was a very full evening for Jesus. In the upper room of a friend’s house they meet for the eating of the Passover meal. There is the great act of washing His disciples’ feet, the eating of the o1d Hebrew prophetic meal, the going out of Judas into the night of his dark purpose, the new simple memorial meal. Then come those long quiet talks, in which Jesus speaks out the very heart of His heart, and that marvellous prayer so simple and so bottomless.
Very likely He is talking, as they move quietly along the Jerusalem streets, out of the gate leading toward the Kedron brook, and then over the brook toward the enclosed spot, full of the great old olive trees. The moon is at the full. This is one of His favourite praying places. He is going off for a bit of prayer. So He approaches this great crisis. There is a friendly word spoken to these men that they be keenly alert, and pray, lest they yield to temptation. It is significant, this word about temptation. Then into the woods He goes, the disciples being left among the trees, while He goes in farther with the inner three, then farther yet, quite alone. Intense longing for fellowship mingles with intense longing to be alone. He would have a warm hand-touch, yet they cannot help Him here, and may do something to jar.
Now He is on His knees, now prone, full length, on His face. The agony is upon Him. Snatches of His prayer are caught by the wondering three ere sleep dulls their senses. “My Father — if it be possible — let — this — cup — pass — from — Me — Yet — Thy — will be done.” The words used to tell of His mental distress are so intense that the translators are puzzled to find English words strong enough to put in their place. A frenzy of fright, a nightmare horror, a gripping chill seizes Him with a terrible clutch. It is as though some foul, poisonous gas is filling the air and filling His nostrils and steadily choking His gasping breath. The dust of death is getting into His throat. The strain of spirit is so great that the life tether almost slips its hold. And angels come, with awe-stricken faces, to minister. Even after that, some of the life, that on the morrow is to be freely spilled out, now reddens the ground. The earth is beginning to feel the fertilising that by and by is to bring it a new life.
By and by the mood quiets, the calm returns and deepens. The changed prayer reveals the victory: “My Father, if this cup cannot pass away except I drink it — if only through this experience can Thy great love-plan for the race be worked out — Thy — will” — slowly, distinctly, with the throbbing of His heart and the iron of His will in them, come the words — “Thy — will — be — done.” In between times He returns to the drowsy disciples with the earnest advice again about being awake, and alert, and praying because of temptation near by.
And gentle reproach mingles in the special word spoken to Peter. “Simon, are you sleeping ? Could you not be watching with Me one hour?” Yes, this was Simon now, the old Simon. Jesus’ new Peter was again slipping from view. Then the great love of His heart excuses their conduct. What masterly control in the midst of unutterable agitation! Back again for a last bit of prayer, and then He turns His face with a great calm breathing all through those deep lines of suffering and with steady step turns toward the cross.
Yielding To Arrest
It is probably close to midnight when Jesus steps out from among the trees to meet the crowds headed by the traitor. He knew they were coming, and quietly goes to meet them. There is a great rabble that the chief priests had drummed up, a city rabble with Roman soldiers, some of the chief priests’ circle, and in the lead of all, Judas. Judas keeps up the pretence of friendship, and, advancing ahead of his crowd, greets Jesus with the usual kiss. Jesus dispels the deception at once with His question of reproach, “Betrayest thou with a kiss?” Damnable enough to betray, but to use love’s token in hate’s work made it so much worse. Then He yields to Judas’ lips. It was the beginning of the indignities He was to suffer that night. Jesus quietly adds, “Friend, do what you have planned. Let there be no more shamming.” But Judas’ work is done. The silver secured under his belt is earned. He drops back into the crowd.
Jesus steps out into the clear moonlight, and faces the crowd pressing eagerly up. His is the one masterly, majestic presence. Quietly He asks, “Whom are you hunting for?” Back comes the reply, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus at once replies, “I am He.” Again, that strange power of Jesus’ presence is felt, but now more marked than ever before. The crowd falls backward and down to the ground. Soldiers, priests, crowds, Judas, lying prone before Jesus! Again the question and the answer, and then the word spoken on behalf of His followers. This manifestation of power is for others this time.
Recovering themselves, the crowds press forward. The bewildered Peter makes an awkward stroke with a sword he had secured, and cuts off the right ear of a man in the front of the crowd. Jesus gently stops the movement with a word. The Father would even then send twelve legions of angels if He were but to give the word. But He was not giving words of that sort, but doing what the Father wished. With a word of apology for His impetuous follower, the man’s ear is restored with a touch. Surely he never forgot Jesus.
The leaders, now satisfied that Jesus will not use His power on His own behalf, seize Him and begin to bind His hands. As He yields to their touch, Jesus, looking into the faces of the Jewish leaders, said, “You hunt me and treat me as though I were a common robber. I have never tried to get away from you. But now for a while things are in your control, the control of the powers of night.”
Meanwhile the disciples forsook Him and fled, except two, John and Peter. Peter followed at what he thought a safe distance. John kept along with the crowd, and went in with Jesus.” Mark tells about the attempted arrest of a young man who seemed friendly to Jesus, but in the struggle he escaped, leaving his garments behind. And so they make their way, a torchlight procession through the darkness of the night, back across the brook, up the steep slope to the city gate, and through the narrow streets to the palace of the high priest.
The Real Jewish Ruler
Here Jesus is expected. Late as it is, He is at once brought before Annas. Annas was an old man who had been high priest himself once, years before, and who had afterwards absolutely controlled that office through the successive terms of his sons and now of his son-in-law. He was the real leader of the inner clique that held the national reins in a clutching grip. Caiaphas was the nominal high priest. The old man Annas was the real leader. He controlled the inner finances and the temple revenues. To him first Jesus is taken. He begins a quizzical, critical examination of Jesus about disciples and teaching. Possibly he is trying to overawe this young Galilean. Jesus calmly answers. “I have taught openly, never secretly; everybody knows what My teaching has been. Why ask Me? These people all around have heard all My teaching.” He was ever in the open, in sharp contrast with these present proceedings. One of the underlings of the high priest — struck — Jesus — in the face, saying, “Answerest Thou the high priest so?” Jesus quietly replies, “If I have spoken something wrong, tell Me what it is, but if not, why do you strike Me?” Annas ignores the gross insult by one of his own men, and, probably with an exultant sneer that the disturber of the temple revenues is in his power at last, gives order that Jesus be bound and taken to his chief underling, Caiaphas.
This is the first phase of the condemnation determined upon beforehand, and the real settling of the Jewish disposition of Jesus. Still the forms had to be gone through. So Jesus is sent with the decision of Annas in the thongs on His hands to Caiaphas, high priest that year by the grace of the old intriguer Annas, and by Roman appointment. The thing must be done up in proper shape. These folks are great sticklers for proper forms.
Probably it is across a courtyard they go to another part of the same pile of buildings or palace. Caiaphas, too, is ready, unusual though the hour is. With him are several members of the senate, the official body in control of affairs. The plans have been carefully worked out. This night work will get things in shape before the dreaded crowds of the morrow can be aroused. Now begins the examination here. These plotters have been so absorbed in getting Jesus actually into their power, that they seem to have over looked the details of making out a strong case against Him. They really didn’t need a case to secure their end, yet they seem to want to keep up the forms, probably not because of any remnants of supposed conscience left unseared, but to swing the bothersome, fanatical crowds that must always be reckoned with. Now they deliberately try to find men who will lie about Jesus’ words, and swear to it. They find some willing enough — money would fix that — but not bright enough to make their stories hang together. At last someone brings up a remark made three years before by Jesus about destroying the temple and rebuilding it in three days. It is hard to see how they might expect to make anything out of that, for in the remark, as they understood it, He had proposed to undertake the rebuilding of the famous structure if they should destroy it. And then they can’t even agree here. Clearly they’re hard pushed. Something must be done. Precious time is slipping away. The thing must be in shape by dawn if they are to get it through before the crowds get hold of it.
All this time Jesus stands in silence, doubtless with those eyes of His turned now upon Caiaphas, now on the others. His presence disturbed them in more ways than one. That great calm, pure face must have been an irritant to their jaded consciences. Suddenly the presiding officer stands up and dramatically cries out, as though astonished, “Answerest Thou nothing? Canst Thou not hear these charges against Thee?” Still that silence of lip, and those great eyes looking into His enemies’ faces. Then comes the question lurking underneath all the time, put in the form of a solemn oath to the prisoner, “I adjure Thee by the living God, that Thou tell us whether Thou art the Christ, the Son of God.” Thus appealed to, Jesus at once replies, “I am.” And then, knowing full well the effect of the reply, He adds, “Nevertheless — notwithstanding your evident purpose regarding Me — the Son of Man will be sitting at the right hand of Power, and coming in the clouds of heaven, and ye shall see it.”
In supposed righteous horror Caiaphas tore his garments, and cried, “What further need is there of witnesses? Behold you have heard His blasphemy. What verdict do you give?” Back come the eager cries, “He deserves death — Guilty.” So the second session closes with the verdict of guilty agreed upon. Yet this was not official. The senate could meet only in daylight hours. The propriety of form they were so eager for requires them to wait until dawn should break, and then they could technically give the decisive verdict now agreed upon. While they are waiting, the intense hatred of Jesus in their hearts and their own cruel thirstings find outlet upon Jesus’ person. They — spat — in — His — face, and struck Him, with open hand and shut fist. He is blindfolded, and then struck by one and another, with derisive demands that He use His prophetic skill to tell who had been hitting Him. And this goes on for possibly a couple of hours before dawn permits the next step, soldiers vying with senators in doing Him greatest insult.
Held Steady By Great Love
Meanwhile a scene is being enacted within earshot of Jesus that hurts Him more than these vulgar insults. Peter is getting into bad shape. John was acquainted in the high priest’s household, and, going directly in without striking his colours, is not disturbed. Peter gets as far as the gateway, leading through a sort of alley into the open courtyard, around which on the four sides the palace was built. Here, as a stranger, he was refused admittance, until John comes to speak a word for him. In the centre of the open court a fire was burning to relieve the cold of the night, and about this was gathered a mixed crowd of soldiers and servants and attendants. Peter goes over to the fire, and, mingling with the others, sits warming himself, probably with a studied carelessness. The maid who let him in, coming over to the fire, looks intently into his face, and then says, “You belong to the Nazarene, too.” Peter stammers out an embarrassed, mixed up denial, “I don’t know what you mean — I don’t understand — what do you say?”
Taken unawares, poor Peter mingles a lie with the denial. As soon as possible he moves away from the fire toward the entrance. It’s a bit warm there — for him. He remembered afterwards that just then the crowing of a cock fell upon his ear. Again one of the serving-maids notices him, and says to those standing about, “This man was with Jesus.” This time the denial comes sharp and flat, “I don’t know the man.” And to give good colour to his words, and fit his surroundings, he adds a bit of profanity to it.
An hour later, as he moves uneasily about, he is standing again by the fire. Something about him seems to make him a marked man. Evidently he has been talking, too. For now a man, looking at him, said, “You belong to this Jesus. I can tell by the twist of your tongue.” Peter promptly says “No.” Lying comes quicker now. But at once another speaks up, who was kin to the man that temporarily lost his ear through Peter’s sword. “Why,” he said, “certainly I saw you with Him in the garden.” Again the denial that he knew Jesus mingled freely with curses and oath. And even as he spoke the air was caught again with the cock’s shrill cry. And then Jesus, in the midst of the vulgarity being vented upon Him, turned those wondrous eyes upon Peter. What a look must that have been of sorrow, of reproach, and of tenderest love. It must surely have broken Peter’s heart. The hot tears rushing up for vent were his answer. Those tears caught the light of love in that look, as he goes a way into the night and weeps bitterly. Those bitter tears were as small, warm rain to a new growth within.
An Obstinate Roman
And now the impatient leaders detect the first streaks of grey coming up in the east. The national council can now properly meet. Like their two chiefs, these men are prompt. The whips had been out over the city drumming up the members for this extraordinary session. There seems to have been a full attendance. Jesus, still bound, is led through the streets, followed by the mixed rabble, to the meeting hall, probably in the neighbourhood of the temple. He is brought in and faces these men. How some of those eyes must have gloated out their green leering! Here are the men He had not hesitated to denounce openly with the severest invective ever spoken.
Some time is spent in consultation. The difficulty here is to fix upon a charge upon which they can themselves agree, and which will also be sufficient for the desired action by the Roman governor. It was a tough task. They fail in it. These men, divided into groups that were ever at swords’ points. There were utter opposites in beliefs and policies. But their common hate of Jesus rises for the time above their hatred for each other. The charge must appeal to Pilate, for only he has power of capital punishment, and nothing but Jesus’ blood will quench their thirst.
Their consultation results in another attempt to question Jesus in the hope of getting some word that can be used. The president goes back to his former question, “If Thou art the Christ, tell us.” Jesus reminds them of the lack of sincerity in their questionings. They would not believe Him, nor answer His questions. Then He repeats the solemn words spoken in the night session, “From henceforth shall the Son of Man be seated at the right hand of the power of God.” Eagerly they all blurt out, “Art Thou then the Son of God?” Back comes the quiet, steady reply, “Ye say that I am,” equal to a strong yes. Instantly they decide fully and formally upon His condemnation. So closes the third phase of the Jewish examination. The death-sentence is fixed upon. The thing has been formally fixed up. The ground is now cleared for taking Him to Pilate for His death-sentence.
It is still early morning when Jesus is taken to Pilate. It was an imposing procession of the leading men of the nation, headed very likely by Caiaphas, that now led Jesus across the city, through its narrow streets, up to the palace of the Roman governor. Jesus is conducted into Pilate’s hall of judgment within, but, with their scrupulous regard for the letter of their law, these principals would not enter his palace on that day, but remained without. They seem to be expecting Pilate to send the prisoner back at once with their death-sentence endorsed.
To their surprise and disgust, Pilate comes out himself and wants to know the charge against the prisoner. They are not prepared for this. It is their weak point, and has been from the first. Their bold, sullen answer evades the question, while insisting on what they want, “If He were not a criminal we would not have brought Him to thee.” They didn’t want his opinion, but his power, his consent to their plot. But Pilate doesn’t propose to be used as such a convenience. With scorn he tells them that if they propose to judge the case they may. This wrings from them the humiliating reminder that the power of capital punishment is withheld from them by their Roman rulers, and nothing less will satisfy them here. Then they begin a series of verbal charges. They are all of a political nature, for only such would this Roman recognise. This man had been perverting the nation, forbidding tribute to Caesar, and calling Himself a King.
It takes no keenness for Pilate to see the hollowness of this sudden loyalty to Caesar. He returns to the beautiful marble judgment-hall, and has Jesus brought to him again. He looks into Jesus’ face. He is keen enough to see that here is no political schemer. At most probably a religious enthusiast, or reformer, or something as harmless from his standpoint. “Art Thou the King of the Jews?” he asks. Jesus’ answer suggests that there was a kindliness in that face. If there be a desire for truth here He will satisfy it. This political charge had been made outside while He was within. “Do you really want to know about Me, or are you merely repeating something you have heard?” He asks, with a gentle earnestness.
But Pilate at once repudiates any personal interest. “Am I a Jew?” he asks, with plain contempt on that word. “Thine own people are accusing Thee. What hast Thou done?” Then comes that great answer, “My kingdom is not of this world; if so, I would be resisting these leaders, and these present circumstances would all be different. But My kingdom is not of your sort or theirs.” Again there likely came a bit of softening and curious interest in Pilate’s face, as he asks, “Art Thou really a King, then?” Jesus replies, “To this end have I been born, and to this end am I come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth My voice.” Pilate wonders what this has to do with being a king. With a weary, impatient contempt, he says, ” Truth? What is that?” The accused seems to be an enthusiast, a dreamer, yet withal there certainly was a fine nobility about Him. Certainly He was quite harmless politically.
Leaving Him there, again he goes to the leaders waiting impatiently outside. To their utter astonishment and rage he says, “I find no fault in this man.” It is the judgment of a keen, critical, worldly Roman; an acquittal, the first acquittal. The waiting crowd bursts out at once in a hot, fanatical tumult of shouted protests. Is all their sleepless planning to be disturbed by this Roman heathen? The prisoner was constantly stirring up the people all through Judea and Galilee. He was a dangerous man. Looking and listening, with his contempt for them plainly in his face, and yet a dread of their wild fanaticism in his heart, Pilate’s ear catches that word Galilee. “Is the man a Galilean?” “Yes.” Well, here’s an easy way of getting rid of the troublesome matter. Herod, the ruler of Galilee, was in the city at his palace, come to attend the festival. It would be a bit of courtesy that he might appreciate to refer the case to him, and so it would be off his own hands. And so the order is given.
A Savage Duel
Once more Jesus is led through these narrow streets, with the jeering rabble ever increasing in size and the national heads in the lead. They are having a lot of wholly unexpected trouble, but they are determined not to be cheated of their prey. And now they are before Herod. This is the murderer of John. He is glad to see Jesus. There has been an eager curiosity to see the man of whom so much was said, and he hoped to have his morbid appetite for the sensational satisfied with a display of Jesus’ power. He plies Him with questions, while the chief priests with fierce vehemence stand accusing Him, and asking for His condemnation.But for this red-handed man Jesus has no word. To him rare light had come and been recognised and then had been deliberately put out beyond recall. He has gone steadily down into slimiest slush since that. Now, with studied insolence, he treats this silent man with utmost contempt. His soldiers and retainers mock and deride, dressing Him in gorgeous apparel in mockery of His kingly claims. When they weary of the sport He is again dismissed to Pilate, acquitted It is the second mocking and the second acquittal.
Again the weary tramping of the streets, with the chief priests’ rage burning to the danger point. Twice they have been foiled. Now the matter must be forced through, and quickly too, ere the crowd that are friendly have got the news. They hurry Jesus along and make all haste back to Pilate. Now begins the sixth and last phase of that awful night. Things now hasten to a climax. The character of Pilate comes out plainly here. He really feared these wildly fanatical Jews, whom he ruled with a contemptuous disgust undisguised. Three times since his rule began their extreme fanaticism had led to open riot and bloodshed, and once to an appeal to the Emperor, by whose favour he held his position. His hold of the office was shaky indeed if the Emperor must be bothered with these superstitious details about their religion. The policy he pursued here was but a piece of the whole Roman fabric. Yet had he but had the rugged strength to live up to his honest conviction.
But then that is the one question of life everywhere and always. He failed in the test, as do thousands. Unconsciously he was touching the quivering centre of a whole world’s life, and so his action stands out in boldest outline.
He comes out now and sums up the case. He had examined the prisoner and found no fault touching their charges of perverting the people. Herod, their own native ruler, who was supposed to know thoroughly their peculiar views, had also fully acquitted Him. Now, as a concession to them, he will disgrace this man by a public scourging and let Him go as harmless. Instantly the air is filled with their fierce shrill cries, “Away with Him! away with Him!”
But Pilate seems determined to do the best he can for Jesus, without risking an actual break with these fanatical Orientals such as might endanger his own position. It was usual at feast times to release to the people someone who had been imprisoned for a political offence. The crowds, prompted by the chief priests, doubtless, begin to ask for the usual favour. Pilate brings forward a man named Barabbas, who was a robber and murderer, and charged with leading an insurrection against Roman rule. Meanwhile, as he waits, a messenger comes up to him and repeats a message from his wife. She has been suffering much in dreams, and urges that he have nothing to do with “that righteous man.”
Apparently Pilate brings forward the two men, the one a robber and murderer, the other with purity and goodness stamped on every line of His face. It is a dramatic moment. “Which of the two will you choose?” he asks. It is the appeal of a heathen to the better nature of these Jews, called the people of God. Quick as a flash of lightning the word shot from their lips and into his face, ” Barrabas!” “What, then, shall I do with Jesus, who is called Christ?” He is weakening now. His question shows it. They are keen to see it and push their advantage. Again the words shoot out as bullets from their hot lips, “Crucify Him! crucify Him!” Still he withstands them. “Why? What evil has He done? I find no fault in Him. To please you I will chastise Him and release Him.” But they have him on the run now. At once the air is filled with a confused jangle of loud, shrill voices, “Away with Him! Give us Barabbas! Crucify! Crucify!”
Apparently he yields. Barabbas is released. Jesus is led away to be scourged by the soldiers. His clothing is removed, and He is bent over, with thongs on the wrists drawn down, leaving the bare back uppermost and tense. The scourging was with bunches of leather strips with jagged pieces of bone and lead fastened in the ends. The blows meant for the back, even if laid on by a reluctant hand, would strike elsewhere, including the face. But reluctance seems absent here. Then occurs another, a third of those scenes of coarse vulgarity, horrid mockings, based on His kingly claims. The whole band of soldiers is called. Some old garments of royal purple are put upon Jesus. One man plaits a crown of the thorns that grow so large in Palestine, and with no easy gesture places it upon His head. A reed is placed in His hand. Then they bow the knee in turn, with “Hail ! King of the Jews,” and spit in His face, and rain blows down upon the thorn-crown. All the while their coarse jests and shouts of derisive laughter fill the air. Surely one could never tell the story were he not held in the grip of a strong purpose.
But now Pilate springs a surprise. The scourging might be preliminary to crucifixion or a substitute. Again Jesus is brought forward as arrayed by the mocking soldiers. There must have been an unapproachable majesty in that great face, as so bedecked, with the indescribable suffering lines ever deepening, He stands before them with that wondrous calm still in those sleepless eyes. Pilate seems caught by the great spirit of Jesus dominant under such treatment. He points to Him and says, “Behold the Man!” Surely this utter humiliation will satisfy their strange hate?
Realising that their fight is not yet won as they had thought, they make the air hideous with their shouts, “Crucify — crucify — crucify!” Anger and disgust crowd for place in Pilate, as, with a contemptuous sneer, he says, “You crucify Him. I find no fault in Him.” It would be illegal, but it would not be the first illegal thing. But these men are bound to get all they want from their weakening governor. One of the leaders sharply spoke up, “We have a law, and by our law He ought to die because He pretends to be the Son of God.” The Roman custom was to respect the laws of their subject-peoples. All pretence of a political charge is now gone.
Pilate is startled. The sense of fear that has been strong with him intensifies. That face of Jesus has impressed him. His wife’s message disturbed him. Now that inward feeling that this man was being wronged grips him anew. At once he has Him led into his judgment-hall for another private interview. Looking into that face again with strangely mingling emotions, he puts the question, “Whence art Thou?” But those lips refuse an answer. The time for speech is past. Angered by the silence on the part of the man he had been moved to help, Pilate hotly says, “Speakest Thou not to me? Knowest Thou not I have the power to release or to crucify?” Then this strangely masterful Man speaks in very quiet tones, as though pitying His judge, “Thou wouldst have no power against Me, except it were given thee from above: therefore he that delivered Me unto thee hath greater sin.”
Again Pilate comes out to the waiting crowd more determined than ever to release Jesus. But the leaders of the mob take a new tack. They know the governor’s sensitive nerve. “If thou release this man thou art not Caesar’s friend. Every one that maketh himself a king speaketh against Caesar.” That word “Caesar” was a magic word. Its burr catches and sticks at once. It was their master-stroke. Yet it cost them dear. Pilate instantly brings Jesus out and sits down on the judgment-seat. The thing must be settled now once for all. As Jesus again faces them, he says, “Behold — your King.” Again the hot shouts, “Away — Away — Crucify — Crucify!” And again the question, “Shall I crucify your King?”
Now comes the answer, wrung out by the bitterness of their hate, that throws aside all the traditional hopes of their nation, “We have no king but Caesar.” Having forced that word from their lips, Pilate quits the prolonged duelling.
Yet to appease that inner voice that would not be stilled — maybe, too, for his wife’s sake — he indulges in more dramatics. He washes his hands in a basin of water, with the words, “I am innocent of the blood of this righteous man. See ye to it.” Back come the terrible words, “His blood be on us and on our children.” Surely it has been! Then Jesus is surrendered to their will. They have got what they asked, but at the sacrifice of their most fondly cherished national tradition, and with an awful heritage. Pilate has yielded, but held them by the throat in doing it to compel words that savagely wounded their pride to utter. The savage duel is over.
Jesus is turned over to the soldiers for the execution of the sentence. His own garments are replaced, and once more He is the central figure in a street procession, this time carrying the cross to which He has been condemned. His physical strength seems in danger of giving way under the load, after the terrible strain of that long night. The soldiers seize a man from the country passing by, and force him to carry the cross. As they move along, the crowd swells to a great multitude, including many women. These give expression to their pitying regard for Jesus.
Turning about, Jesus speaks to them in words that reveal the same clear mind and masterly control as ever. “Daughters of Jerusalem, be weeping for yourselves and your babes, rather than for Me. The days are coming when it shall be said, `Blessed are the barren, and the womb that never bare, and the breasts that never gave suck.’ If they have done these things while the sap of national life still flows, what will be done to them when the dried-up, withered stage of their national life is reached!”
Now the chosen place is reached, outside the city wall, probably a rise of ground, like a mound or small hill. And the soldiers settle down to their work. There are to be two others crucified at the same time. A drink of stuff meant to stupefy and so ease the pain of torture was offered Jesus, but refused. And now the cross is got ready. The upright beam is laid upon the ground handy to the hole in which the end of it will slip, and the cross-piece is nailed in place. Jesus is stripped and laid upon the cross with His arms outstretched on the cross-piece. A sharp-pointed spike is driven through the palm of each hand and through the feet. The hands are also tied with ropes as additional security. There is a small piece half-way up the upright where some of the body’s weight may be supported.
As the soldiers drive the nails, Jesus’ voice is heard in prayer, “Father, forgive them; they know not what they do.” Then strong arms seize the upper end, and, lifting, shift the end of the cross into the hole, and so steady it into an upright position. It is nine o’clock, and the deed has been done. The soldiers, having finished their task, now go after their pay. Jesus’ garments are divided up among them, but when the outer coat is reached, it is found to be an unusually good garment, woven in one piece. It was the love-gift of some friend likely. So they pitch dice, and in a few moments one of them is clutching it greedily as his own.
As quickly as the cross is in position the crowds are reading the inscription which has been nailed to the top to indicate the charge against the man. It was in three languages, Latin the official tongue, Greek the world tongue, and Aramaic the native tongue. Every man there read in one or other of these tongues, “The King of the Jews.” Instantly the Jewish leaders object, but Pilate contemptuously dismisses their objection. This inscription was his last fling at them. And so Jesus was crucified as a King. There He is up above them all, while the great multitude stands gazing.
Now begins the last, coarse, derisive jeering. Some of the crowd call out to Jesus, “Thou that destroyest the temple, and buildest it in three days, save Thyself; if Thou art the Son of God, come down from the cross.” The chief priests have dignified the occasion with their presence. Now they mockingly sneer out their taunts, “He saved others; but He can’t save Himself. He is the King of Israel. Let Him come down from the cross and we will believe on Him.” The two others hanging by His side, in their pain and distress, join in the taunting cries, and the soldiers add their jibes.But through it all Jesus is silent. There He hangs with those eyes watching the people to whom His great heart was going out, for whom His great life was going out, calm, majestic, masterful, tender. The sight affects at least one of those before unfriendly. The man hanging by His side is caught by this face and spirit. He rebukes the other criminal, reminding him that they were getting their just deserts, but “This Man hath done nothing amiss.” Then turning so far as he could to Jesus, he said, with a simplicity of faith that must have been so grateful to Jesus, “Jesus, remember me when Thou comest in Thy Kingdom.” Instantly comes the reply, “Verily, I say unto thee, To-day shalt thou be with Me in paradise.”In the crowds were many of Jesus’ personal acquaintances, including women from Galilee. Close by the cross stood His mother and aunt and faithful John, and a few others of those dear to Him. Most likely John is supporting Jesus’ mother with his arms. Turning His eyes toward the group, Jesus speaks to His mother in tones revealing His love, “Woman, behold thy son;” and then to John, “Behold thy mother.” So He gives His mother a son to take His own place in caring for her, and to His friend John this heritage of love. John understands, and from that hour the ties between these two were of the closest and tenderest sort.
So the hours drag along until noon. And now a strange thing occurs that must have had a startling effect. At the time of day when the sunlight is brightest, a strange darkness came over all the scene, the sun’s light being obscured or failing wholly. And for three hours this strange, weird spectacle continues. Then the hushed silence is broken by an agonising cry from the lips of Jesus, “My God — My God — why — didst — Thou — forsake — Me?” One of the bewildered bystanders thinks He is calling for Elijah, and another wonders if something startling will yet occur.
Jesus speaks again, “I — thirst,” and someone near by with sponge and stick reaches up to moisten His lips. Then a shout, a loud cry of victory bursts in one word from those lips, “It is finished.” Then softly breathing out the last words, “Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit,” and bowing His head, Jesus, masterful, kingly to the last, yielded up His spirit.
6. The Resurrection: Gravity Upward
A New Morning
It was near the dawning of a new morning, the morning of a new day destined to be a great day. While yet dark, there come a number of women out of the city gate toward the tomb where Jesus’ body had been laid. They carry spices and ointment. With woman’s ever tender thoughtfulness they are bent upon some kindly service for that precious body. They had followed up the burial and noted the arrangements with a view to this morning’s early service. Their whole thought is absorbed with a tomb and a body and a bit of loving attention. They wonder as they come along whom they can get to roll the heavy stone over into its groove at the side of the opening. Mary Magdalene is in the lead. With her in the darkness is her friend Mary, the mother of John and James. Others come along a little behind, in small groups.
As they get near to the place, the keen eyes of Mary Magdalene notice at once with a quick start that the stone is rolled away. Somebody has been tampering with the tomb in the night. Leaving her companion, she starts back on a run into the city and finds Peter, and tells him that the Lord has been taken away, and they don’t know where He has been laid. Peter, too, is startled. He gets John, and the two start back on a run.
Meanwhile the other women have gone on toward the tomb. As they approach they are startled and awed to find a man there, with the glorious appearance of an angel, sitting upon the stone. To these awe-stricken women this angel being quietly said, “Do not be afraid. I know you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here. He is risen, as He told you. Come and see the place where He lay.” And as they gaze with wide open eyes, he adds, “Go quickly and tell His disciples, and be sure you tell Peter, that He is risen from the dead, and lo, He goeth before you into Galilee. You will meet Him there. Lo, I have told you.” But the women were panic-stricken, and ran away down the road, and told no one except some of the apostles. And to them their story seemed ridiculous. They refused to believe such talk.
And now Peter and John come breathless to the tomb. John is in the lead. Either he is younger or swifter of foot. As he comes up he stops at the opening of the tomb, and, with a bit of reverential awe, gazes within. He can see the linen cloths lying; but the body they had encased is clearly not in them. Peter comes up, and steps at once inside for a closer inspection. There the linen cloths are, just as they had enswathed the body, but flattened down, showing the absence of anything inside their folds. The napkin that had been about the head was folded up neatly and laid over to one side. Then John enters, and as he continues looking conviction comes to him that Jesus has indeed risen. Wondering greatly at this thing, wholly unexpected by them, they go off to their homes in the city.
And now another little group of the women come up, and are perplexed in turn as the others, the stone away, the body of Jesus not there. As they stand with staring eyes and fearing hearts, two men unexpectedly appear in clothing that dazzles the women’s eyes. Frightened, they bow down before these men, who seem to be angels. But the men quickly reassure them with their words. Why were they seeking a living One in a tomb? Jesus was not there. He was risen. And they remind the women of Jesus’ own words about being killed and then rising again. As the men talk the women remember the Master’s words, and wonderingly see their meaning now, and hurry away to tell their friends the great news.
Jesus Seeking Out Peter
And now Mary Magdalene has got back to the tomb. In her zeal for the safety of that precious body, she had made quite a journey into the city and back. Her zeal took her quickly to Peter. Her sorrow makes the way back longer. She had been first to come, but had not heard the news that came to her companions. Now she stands at the open tomb weeping. She stoops and looks in to see if it can be really true that He is not there. To her surprise two angel beings are seated, one at each end of where Jesus’ body had been lying. They say to her, “Why are you weeping?” She replies, “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid Him.” Turning back in her grief as the words are spoken, she sees someone else standing. Again the same question by this One. Why was she weeping? Whom was she looking for? Her eyes are blinded with the rain of tears. This is likely the man in charge of the garden wherein this family tomb was.
With earnest tones she says, “Sir, if thou didst carry Him away, tell me where thou didst lay Him, and I will have Him taken away.” Then that one word came to her ears, her name, in that unmistakable voice, “Mary.” Quicker than a flash came the response, “Oh, my Master!” That same wondrous, quiet voice continues, “Do not continue to be clinging to Me. I am not yet ascended to My Father. Be going to My brethren and tell them I ascend to My Father and your Father, My God and your God.” And Mary quickly departs on her glad errand for Him. She was the first to see His face and hear His voice, and have her hand upon His person and do something at His bidding.
And now the other women who had been at the tomb in the garden and fled away are on the road approaching the city. As they hurry along, to their utter amazement — here is Jesus in the road approaching them. With a glad smile in His eyes, the old, sweet voice speaks out in rich tones the usual simple salutation of greeting, “Good-morning.” At once they are down on their knees and faces, holding His feet and worshipping. And Jesus softly says, “Do not be afraid. Go tell My brethren to meet Me in Galilee, up by the old blue waters of the sea.”
While these incidents were occurring, all in such short time, something else is going on of a different sort. The Roman soldiers guarding that tomb had had a great shock. They had been suddenly displaced by another guard. The sacred Roman seal had been ruthlessly broken, the stone rolled back from the opening, and some one sat upon it. Their bewildered, stupefied senses heard the movements and were aware of a strange, blinding light. Then they knew that the body they were to guard was no longer within. That was about as much as they could get together. They hurry to town and tell the chief priests. Quickly the chief priests gather their clique to confer about this new phase. Was there ever such mulish obstinacy ? No thought of candid investigation seems to enter their mind. The way of covering this new difficulty is after all easy. Money will buy the soldiers, and they will do as they are bid. It took a good bit of gold. The soldiers probably were keen to know how to work so good a mine. And the story was freely circulated that the body was stolen while the soldiers slept.
Peter has gone down the road from the garden toward the city after having satisfied himself that Jesus was not in the tomb. He was wondering what all this meant. John, lighter of foot, had hurried ahead to his home in the city, very likely to tell the news to Jesus’ mother, his own new mother. Peter plods slowly along. There is no need of haste now. He is thinking, wondering, thinking. It was still early morning, with the sweet dew on the ground, and the air so still. Down past some big trees maybe he was walking, deeply absorbed, when — Somebody is by his side. It is the Master! But we must leave them alone together. That was a sacred interview, meant only for Peter.
Made Known In The Breaking Of Bread
The news now quickly spread; the two stories, that of the soldiers, that of the disciples. Folks listened to the one they preferred. Everybody was discussing this new startling appendix to the crucifixion. A bit later in the day two others were walking along one of the country roads leading out of the city, toward a village a few miles away. They jog along slowly as men who are heavy footed with disappointment. They are intently absorbed in conversation, eagerly discussing and questioning about something that clearly puzzled them.
A Stranger, unrecognised, overtakes them and joins in their conversation. He asks, “What is this that you are so concerned about?” So absorbed are they with their thoughts, that at His question they stand still, looking sad and unable for a moment to answer. Where would they begin where there was so much? Then one of them says, “Do you lodge by yourself in the city, and even then do not know the things that have been going on there?” The Stranger draws them out. “What things?” He says. Thus encouraged, they find relief in unburdening their hearts. It was all about Jesus, a man of great power in word and deed, before God and all the people; the great cruelty with which the rulers had secured a sentence of death for Him — and — crucified — Him.
“We were, however, hoping,” they said, “that He was the One who was about to redeem the nation. And now it is the third day since these things occurred. And most surprising word was brought by certain women that has greatly stirred us. They went early to the tomb, and did not find His body, but saw a vision of angels who positively said that He was alive. And some of our party went there and found it true as the women said. But — they did not see Him.”
Then the Stranger began speaking in a quiet, earnest way that caught them at once. “O foolish men, so slow you are in heart to believe the messages of the old prophets! Was it not needful that the Christ should suffer these very things and to enter into His glory?” Then He began freely to quote passages from all through their sacred writings. As they walk along listening to this wonderful explanation, which now sounds so simple from this Man’s lips, they come up to their home in the village. The Stranger seemed inclined to go on. But they earnestly urge Him to come in and get some refreshment and stay over night. He may talk more. They have heard no such winsome talk since Jesus was with them.
He yields. And, as they gather over the simple evening meal, the Stranger picks up the loaf, and, looking up, repeats the simple grace, and breaking the loaf reaches the pieces over. But as their hands go out for the bread, their eyes turn toward the Stranger’s face. Instantly they are spellbound — that face — why — it is the Master! Then He is not there. And they said to each other, “Did you ever hear such talking?” “My heart was burning all the time He was talking.” “And mine too.” Then they hasten back to the city. Those miles are so much shorter now ! They go straight to the house where they have been meeting.
“Even So Send I You”
Here were gathered most of the apostles and several others. Eagerly they were discussing the exciting news of the day. Some know that Jesus has risen. Mary Magdalene, with eyes dancing, says, “It is Him.” But some are full of doubt and questionings. How could it be? The door is guarded, for if the frenzy of the national leaders should spread, they come next. There’s a knock at the door. Cautiously it is opened. Two dusty but radiant faces appear. “The Lord is risen indeed,” they exclaim. And then they tell the story of the afternoon and His wondrous explanation and of that meal.
As they are talking, all at once — who’s that? — right in their midst. — It looks like Jesus. There is that face with those unmistakable marks. And you can see their eyes quickly searching between the sandal straps. Yes, it looks like Him. But it can’t be. Their eyes befool them. It’s been a hard day for them. It must be a spirit. As they start back, there comes in that voice they can never forget, the old quiet “Good-evening.” — “Peace unto you.” Then He holds out His hands and feet, saying, “Do not be troubled — it is I Myself — handle Me, and make sure. A spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” Then He said, “Have you some thing to eat?” and He ate a bit of broiled fish.
Reassured by such simple practical evidence, a glad peace fills their hearts and faces. They talk together a bit. Then Jesus rising, said again, “Peace unto you — as the Father hath sent Me, even so send I you.” Then He breathed strongly upon them, saying in very quiet, solemn tones, “Receive ye the Holy Spirit — Whosesoever sins ye forgive, they are forgiven. Whosesoever ye retain, they are retained.” And again, as they look, He is not there.
But one man was absent that new Sabbath evening hour. Thomas simply could not believe, and would not, without the most sane, common-sense evidence. He missed much by not being at that meeting. The next Sabbath evening he is present with the others. Again the Master comes as before, unexpectedly standing in their midst, as they talk together about Him. And now Thomas is fully satisfied after his week of doubting. Some of us folks will always be grateful for Thomas.
Some time later, there occurs that second wondrous draught of fishes, at the command of the unrecognised Stranger, one morning at the breaking of the day, and the talk with Peter and the others as they walk along the old shore of the sea. And to James, who seems to have been a leader by dint of a strong personality, He appears.
And one day when there was an unusually large meeting of His followers, as many as five hundred, He came as before and was recognised. And then at the last, upon Olives’ top came the goodbye meeting and message.
It is surely worthy of remark that the Bethany home is not represented at either cross or tomb. Many of His dear friends are named in connection with both, but not these. Here are some of those dearest to Him, and to whom He is most dear. Here is one, a woman, who had discerned more keenly ahead than any other that He was to die, and why. She had understood the minor strains of the old Hebrew oratorio as none other. She had learned at His feet. And here, too, was one who knew death, and the life beyond, and then a return again to this life. It was not indifference that kept them away. They loved tenderly, and were tenderly loved. Their absence is surely most significant. Mary’s ointment had already been used. This morning in glad ecstasy of spirit she and her brother and sister wait. They know.
Two things stand out very clearly about Jesus’ resurrection. It was not expected by these followers, but received at first with incredulity and doubt and stubborn unwillingness to accept it without clear indisputable proof. And then that they were thoroughly satisfied that He was actually back again with them, with His personal identity thoroughly established; so satisfied that their lives were wholly controlled by the consciousness of a risen Jesus. Sacrifice, suffering, torture, and violent death were yielded to gladly for His sake.
A new morning broke that morning, the morning of a new day, a new sort of day. That resurrection day became a new day to them and to all Jesus’ followers. The old Sabbath day was a rest-day. God Sabbathed from His work of creation. This new day is more, it is a victory day. Every new coming of it spells out Jesus’ victory over sin and death and our victory in Him. The old Hebrew rest-day came at the week’s close. The new victory-day comes at the week’s beginning. With the fine tingle of victory in our spirits, we are ever at the beginning of a new life and new victory and great things to come.
Did Jesus rise? Or, was He raised? Both are said of Him. Both are true. He was raised by the power of the Father. Every bit of His human life was under the direction and control of His Father. Every act of His from first to last was in the strength of the Father. This last act was so. The Father’s vindication of His Son was seen in the power that raised Him up from out of the domain of death. He was raised.
Jesus rose from the dead. The action was in accord with the law of His life. He rose at will by the moral gravity of His character. He had gone down, now He lets Himself rebound up. The language used of His death is very striking. No one of the four descriptions of the death upon the cross says that He died. The words commonly used to describe the death of others are not used of Jesus. Very different language is used. Matthew says, “He dismissed His spirit.” Mark and Luke each say, “He breathed out” His life. John says, “He delivered up His spirit.”
His dying was voluntary. Not only the time of it and the manner of it, but the fact of it was of His own choosing. The record never suggests that death overcame Him. He yielded to it of His own strong accord. He was not overcome by death. He could not be, for sin having no hold within His being, death could have none. Physical death is one of the logical results of the sin within. Jesus yielded up His spirit. It was a free, voluntary act. He had explained months before that so it would be. “I lay down My life that I may take it again. No man taketh it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have the power to lay it down, and I have the power to take it again. This commandment I received from My Father.” This being so, the return to life followed the same voluntary course. Having accomplished the purpose in dying, He now recalled His spirit into the body and rises by His own choice.
Man’s true gravity is toward a centre upward. Sin’s gravity is toward a centre downward. When an ordinary man, a sinful man, dies, he is overcome by the logical result of the sin in himself. He is overcome by the moral gravity downward of His sin. He has no choice. His own moral gravity apart from sin is upward. But that is overbalanced by the downward pull of the sin ingrained in his very being. And this quite apart from his attitude toward the sin.
In Jesus there was no sin. Being free of it, He rose at will. “It was not possible that He should be held by death,” for it had no hold upon Him. His gravity was upward. For a purpose, a great strong purpose, He yielded to death’s embrace. Now that purpose being achieved, He quietly lets Himself up toward the natural centre of gravity of His life.
The Life Side Of Death
Clearly Jesus’ body had undergone changes through death and resurrection. It is the same to outer appearance, so far as personal identity is concerned. The doubting, questioning disciples handle His person, they know His face, they recognise His voice. He eats with them and talks with them and moves in their midst as before. Even the doubter, stubborn in his demand for tangible, physical evidence, is convinced by the feel of his hands that this is indeed Jesus back again. Further, He moves about among them unrecognised till He chooses to be known. Yet this may have been His power over them rather than any changed quality in His person.
But mark that the limitations of space and of material obstructions are gone after the resurrection. He no longer needs to get that body through space by physical strength or management, but seems to go where He will by choosing to be there. He is no longer affected in His movements by the walls of a building or other such material obstruction, but comes and goes at will. The arrangement of the linen cloths in the tomb, as marked so keenly by Peter and John, is significant. They are found lying as they were when enfolding that body, as though He had in rising risen up through them.
Clearly the body is the same so far as personal identity is concerned. But the limitations are gone. The control of spirit over body seems full, without any limitations. As one of us can, in spirit, be in a place far removed as quick as thought, so He seems to have been able to be actually, bodily, where He wanted to be as quickly. All the old powers remain. All the old limitations are gone, never to return. Jesus had moved over to the life side of death. He had gone down into death’s domain, given it a death blow, and then risen up into a new Eden life, where neither sin nor death had power to touch. Those forty days were sample days of the new Eden life on earth.
Jesus has become the leader of a new sort of life lived on the earth, mingling in its activities, but free of its power, controlled from above. He asks everyone who will to come along after Him. We can, for He has. It is possible, because of Him. We may, for He asks us to. It is our privilege. Let us go.
7. The Ascension: Back Home Again Until…
Tarry Ye — Go Ye
One day the disciples and followers of Jesus had met in Jerusalem, when Jesus Himself came again in their midst and talked with them quite a bit. He said particularly that they were not to leave Jerusalem, but wait there. In a few days the Holy Spirit would come upon them, and they were to wait until He came. Then He asked them to go with Him for a walk. And they walk together along those old Jerusalem streets, out the gate and off past Gethsemane toward the top of Olives over against Bethany. On the way they ask Him if it was His plan to set up the kingdom then. He turns their thought away from Palestine toward the world, away from times and seasons toward telling a race about Himself.
And now they are standing together on the Mount of Olives. There is Peter, the new man of rock, and John and James, the sons of thunder, and little Scotch Andrew, and the man in whom is no guile, and the others. But one’s eyes quickly go by these to the Man in the centre of the group. These men stand gazing on that face, listening for His words. There is a consciousness that the goodbye word is about to be spoken. Yonder they can see the bit of a depression and the tops of some old trees. That is Gethsemane. And over beyond that is the city wall and the little knoll near by outside. That is Calvary. With memories such as these suggest they listen with eyes as well as ears. “Ye shall receive power,” the Master is saying, “and ye shall be My witnesses here in Jerusalem and in all Judea, your brothers, and in Samaria, the nearby people you don’t like, and unto the uttermost part of the earth, everybody else.” They are held by the words and by that face. Then He lifts up His hands in blessing upon them. And as they gaze they notice He is rising, His feet are off the earth, then higher and higher Then a shining glory cloud sweeps down out of the blue, and now they see Him no more.
They continue gazing, held spellbound by the sight, thinking maybe they may get another look. Then two men in white apparel are in their midst and speak to them: “Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into the heavens? This Jesus who was received up into heaven shall so come in like manner as ye beheld Him going into heaven.” That word at once sends them back to the waiting place of which the Master had spoken. From that time they never lost the upward glance, but they were ever absorbed in obeying the Master’s command.
Jesus’ ascension was a continuation of the resurrection movement. The resurrection was the beginning of the ascension. Having finished the task involved in dying, Jesus responded to the natural upward movement of His life. On His way up from the tomb to His Father’s home and throne, He tarried awhile on the earth for the sake of these disciples and leaders, then yielded again to the upward movement. The two men in white apparel give the key to the ascension. Jesus will remain above until the next great step in the kingdom plan. Then He will return to carry out in full the Father’s great love-plan for man and for the earth.
His last act with these men was conducting them to the Mount of Olives. That is ever to be the point of outlook for His follower. Yonder in full view is Gethsemane and Calvary. Following the line of His eyes and pointing finger, as the last word is spoken, leads us ever to the man nearest by, to the uttermost parts of the earth, and to all between. Following His disappearing figure keeps us ever looking upward to Himself’ and forward to His return.
From the book Quiet Talks About Jesus
by S.D. Gordon, published in 1906. This page Copyright © 1999 Peter Wade. The Bible text in this publication, except where otherwise indicated, is from the King James Version. This article appears on the site: https://www.peterwade.com/. Would you like your own copy of books by Peter Wade and other authors? Go to our Catalog.