Devotional Hours with the Bible
J. R. Miller, 1909
From the Gospel of John
The spiritual volume of the Gospel according to John is supreme. It would have been easy to extend these readings indefinitely, but it seems best to limit this volume to the size of the preceding ones. The aim has been to make the chapters simple, practical and devotional.
1. Christ the Life and Light of Men
2. The Witness of John to Jesus
3. The First Miracle in Cana
4. Jesus Cleansing the Temple
5. Jesus and Nicodemus
6. Jesus at Jacob's Well
7. The Second Miracle in Cana
8. Jesus at the Pool of Bethesda
9. Christ's Divine Authority
10. The Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes
11. Jesus, the Bread of Life
12. Jesus at the Feast of the Tabernacles
13. The Slavery of Sin
14. Healing the Man Born Blind
15. Jesus the Good Shepherd
16. The Abundant Life
17. The Raising of Lazarus
18. The Supper at Bethany
19. Jesus Entering into Jerusalem
20. Serving, Following, Sharing
21. Washing the Disciples' Feet
22. The New Commandment
23. How Christ Comforts
24. Why Does No One See God?
25. The Way, The Truth, and the Life
26. The Comforter Promised
27. The Vine and the Branches
28. The Spirit's Work
29. Alone, yet Not Alone
30. Jesus Prays for His Friends
31. Christ Betrayed
32. Jesus Before Pilate
33. Pilate Sentencing Jesus
34. The Crucifixion of Christ
35. It is Finished!
36. The Resurrection
37. "Peace Be Unto You!"
38. The Beloved Disciple
Christ the Life and Light of Men
The first three Gospels begin on the earth; the fourth Gospel begins back in eternity. There are no sublimer words in all language than the first words in John’s prologue. They give us a glimpse of the eternal past and show us the Word existing then. In the beginning, before anything else was—He was. Genesis is the book of earthly beginnings, but this first verse of John's gospel carries us back far beyond Genesis. We find precious comfort in human friends when we can rest in their love and know that they are indeed ours, true to us and faithful. Yet all the while, as we lean upon them, we know, too, that they are only creatures of a day. They have not lived long, and their wisdom is only inexperience, their strength only weakness. Their love is liable to change and decay; their very life is only a breath, a mere comma in the great sentence of eternity. But in the friendship of Christ we know that we are in the clasp of One who is eternal—the same yesterday and today, yes, and forever.
We are told also plainly who this divine Friend is. "The Word was God." A word reveals thoughts. We cannot know what is in our friend's heart—until he speaks. We never could have known what God's thoughts about us are—if He had not spoken to us. Jesus Christ is the Word, that is, the revealer to us of the mind and heart of God. The Incarnation of Christ brings Him very close to us. In His human life He is one of ourselves, our brother, with feelings, affections and sympathies like ours. But when we can add to our thought and experience of Christ's humanity the wonderful truth that He is divine, it puts a marvelous element of strength and security into our trust. The Incarnation is God coming to us with a great heart of love, offering Himself to us. A great preacher says, "In the last analysis Christianity is nothing more or less than a great dear Figure, standing with outstretched arms." God is love, and He is love yearning, that comes to us in the Word.
All divine revelation has been made to the world through the Word. "All things were made by him." One was showing an old watercolor picture which hung in his room. It was beautiful, but the good man said that nothing among his possessions was so precious to him as this faded bit of painting, because his mother had made it. Just so, everything in nature is made sacred and beautiful to one who loves Christ, when he remembers that his Savior made it. The sweet flowers by the wayside would be sweeter to us—if we remembered, as we looked upon them, that the hand of Christ painted them. This is Christ's world. His touch is on everything in it. Everything speaks of Him and of His love.
Christ is also the source of all life. "In Him was life." He is the one fountain of life. No one in the world, except God, can produce life. With all his skill, man cannot make the smallest living seed, or create the most infinitesimal particle of matter. Science, with all its wondrous achievements, has never been able to produce life in even the lowest form. No man can make a blade of grass, or the tiniest flower, or the lowest insect. All life comes from Christ.
Our lesson turns now to the revealing of the divine Word. First, preparation. "There was a man sent from God." He came as God's messenger, to prepare the way for the divine revealing. Each one of us is likewise "sent from God." We know what John's mission was. We may not know yet what our own mission is—but God will show it to us as we go on, if we are faithful. We may be sure, however, that we are here on no haphazard errand; we are really sent on some errand, some definite mission. There is some word that we were born to speak—and if we do not speak it, the world will be poorer, some life will not know God's message and will not know what God wants it to do.
John came to tell men of the Messiah. "He came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light that all men through him might believe."
Our highest duty in this world is to give honor to Christ, to show some phase of His glory. Some men in their self-conceit, think only of making a show of themselves, getting people to see them and praise them. The mission of every Christian is to bear witness of the Light, to point others to Christ, that men may believe. It was said of a great preacher, that wherever he went, people, when they saw his life, fell in love with Jesus Christ. They forgot the preacher—and thought only of the Master whom the preacher proclaimed, both in his words and in his life. John hid himself out of sight—and wanted people to see only Christ. We cannot save any soul—but we can point lost ones to Him who can save. We may bear witness of Christ in many ways. We may do it by our words, telling what He was and what He did for us; and by our life and character, showing what Christ can do for all who come to Him.
It is strange that when the Son of God came to his world, He was not received. We would say that such a glorious being would have been hailed with highest honor. But there was not welcome for Him. "He came unto his own—and his own received him not." This was one of the saddest things about Christ's mission to the world. For ages He had been waited for and watched for—but when He came He was not recognized; He was even rejected and crucified. We say, "If He came now—He would find a warm welcome." But would He? He does come now as really as He came then. He comes to save us, to be our Friend, to help us in our need, and many of us turn our backs upon Him. He stands yet knocking before many a door which does not open to Him.
There were some, however, who received Christ when He came, and to these He brought wondrous blessings. "As many as received him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God." Here we have the way of salvation made plain. We have only to accept Christ as He comes to us—and we are led into the household, among God's own children. We need not understand all about Christ, about His person or His work—there may be a great deal of unexplained mystery about Him. There cannot but be, for the Incarnation is the most profound mystery of all ages. But we do not need to understand everything—all we need to do is to accept Christ as our Savior, our Master, our Friend—and we are led by Him into the full light. Then some day we shall understand. In the experience of divine love—our joy will be so full that there shall be no question unanswered, no desire unsatisfied.
The beginning of our passage tells us of the Word existing in the eternity past, the Word with God, the Word as God Himself; now we come to the revealing of the Word: "The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us." It is not said that the Word was changed into flesh—He continued to be divine. He became flesh. It does not mean, either, that He took up His abode in a human body merely—He took upon Him the whole of human nature, body, soul and spirit. We cannot divide the activity of Christ into two sections and say, "This the divine nature did, and this His human nature did"; the human and the divine were inextricably blended into one. When we see Christ's compassion, His thoughtfulness, His mercy, His kindness, His gentleness, these are divine qualities, revealed in human ways, through human life. It was all divine, all glory.
Christ is the only revelation of God. "No man has seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father—he has revealed him." We never can know God, except through His Son. There is no other possible revelation of Him. Christ came in lowly form, and appeared to His friends as a man; but when they learned to know Him, when their hearts had fixed their tendrils about Him, they found that He was divine, the Son of God. If we ever see God and know Him, and enter His family as His own—we must accept Christ. There is no other way. To reject Him is to shut ourselves away from God—in darkness unillumined by a beam of love from His face.
The Witness of John to Jesus
John was a good witness. He had a strange training. He was brought up, not in any school with human teachers—but in God's school, in the wilderness, away from men. At last he came out ready to begin his work. His preaching had tremendous power. From near and far, the people came in throngs to hear him, and they were deeply impressed by his words.
The effect produced by the Baptist's work was so great, that the authorities at Jerusalem felt it necessary to send a delegation to inquire into it. They claimed to have direction of the religious affairs of the nation, and wished to know the meaning of John's work. These men asked John, "Who are you?" There was a general unrest at the time, with much feverish excitement concerning the coming of the Messiah. There was a widespread feeling that this even was near at hand. The impression that John made upon the people was so great, that many thought that he might be the Messiah. If John had been so disposed, he might have claimed to be the One who was to come, and would have had a great following. But his loyalty to truth and to his Master forbade this, and he eagerly and with grief at the suggestion replied, "No, no! I am not the Messiah." They thought then that he must be some other great personage—Elijah, who was expected by the Jews as the forerunner of the Messiah, or "the prophet"—that is, the prophet "like unto Moses," promised and vaguely looked for it. It was felt at least that this preacher by the Jordan was no ordinary man, He was a very great man, and his power as a preacher was startling.
The way John met these questions showed the kind of man he was. If he had been weak and ambitious, he would have been tempted to encourage the people's thoughts about him and to accept the homage they wanted to pay him, and to which he knew that he was not entitled. He shrank with pain from all such offers of honor not rightly his, and instead eagerly turned all the expectation and enthusiasm of the people—to Jesus. This showed nobleness in John worthy of his mission. He sought only to honor Christ. He hid himself way out of sight, that nothing in him might win any eye from his Master. This is a lesson we all need to learn.
When asked again to tell who he really was, if not the Messiah nor one of the great men prophesied of, he said that he was only a voice. He sought no honor for himself. He had been sent with a message which it was essential that the people should hear, while the personality of the messenger was unimportant. "I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness."
Thus he identified himself with a well-known Messianic prophecy—but in his lowliness he had no care to have his own name known. He was only a voice, speaking a word for God, delivering a divine message to men. It is honor enough for anyone to be a voice—a voice uttering heavenly words, words of divine comfort or cheer or hope to those who are weary, discouraged, and lonely or in disrepair. Titles and degrees and earthly honors, which some men strive so hard to win, are pitiably empty—in comparison with the distinction of being a clear, true voice speaking God's messages to men.
In this part of the story of John, we learn two beautiful lessons. One is the splendor of humility. Humility is the loveliest of the virtues, and yet it is the most divine. Nothing so shows the greatness of the Baptist, as his lowliness in declining human honor and praise. The other lesson is, that we should be sure we are really a voice, with a message from God, in this world, speaking out distinctly for God. Too many lives mean nothing, stand for nothing, declare nothing to others, and make no impression of beauty, of cheer, of holiness. The voice of John's life is heard yet throughout the world—and the world is better, truer, and holier, because of it. We should be a voice with unmistakable note, a voice that shall be heard wherever we go, whose sound will make men happier, stronger, braver, kinder, more like God—and that shall prepare the way for Christ into men's hearts.
John's message was important. It called men to prepare the way for the great Coming One. "Make straight the way of the Lord!" "Among you stands one you do not know. He is the one who comes after me, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie." So John turned all thoughts and all eyes away from himself as not worthy even to do this lowest service for Him whose way he had come to prepare. Thus he honored Christ and set Him high above all men—One worthy to receive the deepest worship and the highest praise. John's humility was not pretended. He was so conscious of the real glory of Christ, that he felt himself as truly unworthy to perform even the lowliest service for Him. No matter how lofty the place one occupies, Christ is infinitely higher—and it should be our joy to serve Him in the lowliest ways.
John's witness to Jesus continued next day. He was standing among the crowds when a young man was approaching him. Pointing to Him, John said to the people, "Behold the Lamb of God—who takes away the sin of the world!" This was a distinct declaration that Jesus was the Messiah who had been foretold as a lamb led to the slaughter, as the Paschal Lamb, as the sin-atoning sacrifice. This part of the witness of John concerning Jesus must not be overlooked. He saw Him as the Lamb of God. It is not enough to think of the name "lamb" as referring to His gentleness, His meekness, His steadfastness in enduring wrong. The chief thought in the name is that of sacrifice. The paschal lamb prefigured Christ, who was thus foretold as the world's sin-bearer. We must see Christ first as our Savior. In heaven the song of the redeemed is, "worthy is the Lamb who was slain." Until we see Him as Savior—He can be nothing else to us.
John witnesses also to the divine anointing of Jesus as the Messiah. "I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it abode upon him." This was infallible testimony. John had not the slightest doubt of the Messiahship of Jesus. "I have seen and I testify that this is the Son of God!" In these days, when so many people are doubting and trying to pout doubts into the minds of others—it is well that we have such a testimony as this which tells us positively that He in whom we trust as our Savior and Lord—is indeed the Son of God. It gives us an impregnable rock on which to build, in which to find our refuge.
Every Christian should, first, be a witness of Christ in his own life, and secondly, should bear witness to Christ in his confession of the blessed Name, wherever he goes.
The First Miracle in Cana
There were thirty years of silence before Jesus began to speak publicly. The only miracles in those days were miracles of love, of obedience, of duty, of sinless life. At length He began His public ministry, and the first miracle He wrought was at Cana.
It is pleasant to remember that Jesus attended a wedding feast at the very beginning of His public ministry. Indeed, this was His first appearance among the people, and the beginning of His signs, as John puts it, was produced at this marriage festivity, where the simple country folk met in all the freedom of their gladness. Christ is a friend not merely for our sorrow hours—but also for our times of joy. Then His presence and His miracle at this time, indicate His approval of marriage and give it a holy sanction. We should notice also that He was invited to this wedding. If He had not been invited He would not have gone, for He never goes where He is not desired. If we would have Him attend our weddings and give His blessing, we must be careful that He receives an invitation. No matter who performs the ceremony, Christ's hands should bestow the blessing.
The failing of the wine at this marriage feast, is an illustration of the way all earth's pleasures fall short. It comes in cups, not in fountains; and the supply is limited and is soon exhausted. Even amid the gladness at the marriage altar—there is the knell of the end in the words, "until death do us part." Human love is very sweet, and it seems to answer every craving of the heart. But if there is nothing but the human—it will not last long enough. One of every two friends must hold the other's hand in farewell at the edge of the valley, must stand by the other's grave, and then walk on alone the rest of the way. The best wine of life and of love, will fail. Very striking, however, is the picture here, and true also—the failing wine, and then the Master supplying the need. When human joy fails, if we have Christ with us, He gives us new joy, better than the worlds, and in unfailing abundance.
The mother of Jesus came and told Him of the failing of the wine. She had become accustomed to take all her perplexities to Him. That is what we also may do. His answer to His mother was, "My hour is not yet come." He seems to have referred to His time for supplying the need. We may notice here, however, our Lord's perfect devotion to His Father's will. We find the same all through His life. He did nothing of Himself; He took His work moment by moment from the Father's hand. He always waited for His "hour." He had no plans of His own—but followed the divine purpose in all His acts. Though appealed to now by His mother, whom He loved so deeply—He would not do anything a moment before His hour had come. We cannot learn this lesson to well. Sometimes we find it hard to wait for God—but in no way is our obedience more beautifully shown, than in our self-restraint under the direction of God's will. Too many of us run—before we are sent. It requires great patience at times not to put forth the power we have—but to wait for God's time.
The word of the mother to the servants is suggestive: "Whatever he says unto you—do it." She was not hurt by the reply Jesus had given to her, which to some seems harsh. It shows, too, that she did not understand His answer as a refusal to relieve the perplexity of the family in due time. She bade the servants to stand ready now for His bidding, not knowing what He would do—but sure it would be the right thing. "Whatever he says unto you—do it!" is always the word for the Master's servants—and we are to take our commands from Him alone. We are not to follow our own impulses in doing things for others, not even the impulses of kindness and affection; we are to wait for the Master's word.
His "hour" was not long in coming. Apparently but a little while after the mother's words to the servants Jesus said to them, "Fill the water pots with water"; then at once, "Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet." Thus the servants became co-workers with the Master in this miracle. So He calls His people always to be His helpers in blessing the world. We cannot do much ourselves. The best we can bring—is a little of the common water of earth. But if we bring that, He can change it into the rich wine of heaven, which will bless weary and fainting ones. The servants helped Jesus in this miracle. The divine gifts of mercy can only get to the lost—through the saved. Then, how striking is the other side of the truth—the servants carried only common water from the spring—but with Christ's blessing it became good wine. So it always is, when we do what Christ bids us to do; our most mundane work—leaves heavenly results. Our most common work amid life's trivialities, in business, in the household, among our friends, which seems like the carrying of water, only to be emptied out again—is transformed into radiant service, like angel ministry, and leaves glorious blessings behind. We do not know the real splendor of the things we are doing when we do the commonest things of our daily task-work. What seems only giving a cup of cold water to a lowly man is blessed service to one of God's children, and is noted and rewarded by the Father.
We have an impartial witness to this miracle in the master of the feast. He knew not whence the wine was. No one had told him that it was only water in the vessel whence it had been drawn. This suggests how quietly Jesus produced this divine sign. He did not announce it, nor advertise it. He said nothing to call attention to what He was going to do. The people about Him did not know of the wonderful work He had done. So He works always quietly. His kingdom comes into men's hearts, not with observation—but silently. An evil life is changed into moral purity—by His words. Miracles of grace are performed continually, and no one sees the hand that works the marvelous transformation. Silently help comes in the hours of need; silently answers to prayer glide down, silently the angels come and go.
It is significant also that "the servants who drew the water knew." They had put the water into the vessels, and knew it was only water. They had drawn out the water, and knew that it was now wine. Those who work with Christ are admitted into the inner chamber, where Omnipotence is unveiled, where the mysteries of His grace are performed. Christ takes into His confidence those who serve Him; calls them no longer servants—but friends. Those who do Christ's will, know of His doctrine and see His ways of working. If we would witness Christ's power and glory—we must enter heartily and obediently into His service. Often it is in the lowliest ways and in the paths of the most humble, self-denying service—that the most of Christ's glory appears.
We have the testimony of the ruler of the feast, as to the quality of the wine. "You have kept the best wine until now." That is what Christ always does—He keeps the best until the last. The world gives its best first—and the worst comes afterwards. It is so in sin—first exhilaration, then remorse. It is so in the chase for wealth, power and fame—first gratification, then disappointment. But in spiritual life it is the reverse of this. Christ Himself had His humiliation, darkness, the shame of the cross—and then came exaltation, power, and glory. In Christian life the same rule holds: first the cross—then the crown; first the self-denial, the loss, the suffering— afterwards the blessing the peace, the joy. We never get to the end of the good things of divine love—we never get to the best even in this world. There is always something better yet to come. Then Christ keeps the good wine, the best wine to the very last—in heaven. As sweet as is earth's peace to the Christian, he will never know the best of peace, until he gets home.
This was Christ's first miracle—but it was not the beginning of His grace and love. The record says that in "this beginning of miracles" Jesus "manifested forth his glory." The word "manifested" suggests that the glory was there before; it had been slumbering in His lowly human life all along the quiet years of toil and service at Nazareth. For those first thirty years, the glory manifested itself in ways which no one thought of as supernatural—in the beautiful Life that grew up in the Nazareth home, with its attention to daily tasks and duties.
The story of the eighteen years from twelve to thirty is told in one short verse, "Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man" (Luke 2:52). The glory was in Him those days—but no one saw it shining out. The neighbors did not think of His gentleness of spirit, His graciousness of disposition, His purity and simplicity of life—as revealings of the divine glory.
Now the glory was manifested for the first time. We say there are no miracles now—but there may be less difference than we think between what we all natural and supernatural. Luther said one day: "I saw a miracle this morning. The sky stretched overhead and arched itself like a vast dome above the earth. There were no columns supporting this dome—it hung there with nothing to hold it up. Yet the sky did not fall." You see the same every day—yet you do not think of calling it a miracle—you say it is only natural. In the life of Christ there were a thousand simple and beautiful deeds. During the days of the feast at Cana, if there was a shy and bashful person among the guests, He was especially kind to that one. If there was one that the others neglected, Jesus sought him out. If there was one in sorrow, Jesus tired to comfort him. But nobody thought of these common kindnesses as miracles. Next hour, He changed water into wine to relieve the embarrassment of the host, and that was manifesting His glory.
It is pleasant to notice, too, that it was in a simple act of thoughtful kindness to a perplexed household, that this divine glory was thus manifested. Really it was just a beautiful deed of common kindness. Someone calls this the housekeeper's miracle. It was a most embarrassing occasion. In the midst of a marriage feast the wine failed. There were more guests than were expected, and there was not enough wine to serve them all. The host would have been disgraced if there had been no way of adding to the meager supply. Jesus, by His timely manifesting of power, relieved the awkwardness of the occasion. He performed the miracle; we may be sure, primarily for the sake of the host, to save him from humiliation. When the writer, referred to, calls this the housekeeper's miracle, it is because it shows Christ's sympathy with those who attend to domestic affairs, His thought for them, and His readiness to serve them, relieving them of embarrassment of perplexity. There is no annoyance too small to take to our Savior.
He manifested His glory in just this—His great kindness. When we think of the matter carefully, we know that the most divine thing in the world is love. That in God which is greatest—is not power, glory, not the shining splendor of deity, as it was shown at Sinai—but love, which shows itself in plain, lowly ways. When the disciples besought the Master to show them the Father, they thought of some brilliant display, some revealing of God which would startle men. Jesus replied: "Have I been with you so long—and have you not yet known Me? He who has seen Me has seen the Father." He had been showing them the Father in all His days—not alone in His miracles of goodness and mercy—but in the thousand little kindnesses of the common days. It was to His daily life as the disciples had seen it, that He referred. He meant that the truest revealing of God to men—is not in great Theophanies and transfigurations—but in a ministry of gentleness, helpfulness and kindness, such as Jesus Himself had performed.
Jesus Cleansing the Temple
Over and over again in the Gospels, we read of Jesus going to the feasts of the Jews and to their synagogue services. In this He set an example for us. We are to follow Him, putting our feet into the prints of His shoes. One of the things we may learn from Him, is the habit of attending Christian worship. He was always faithful in attending religious meetings. He began at the age of twelve to go to the Passover, and went every year as long as He lived. We ought in youth to form habits of faithful attendance upon the ordinances of religion. If young people do not learn in childhood to attend church, it is not likely they will ever form the habit. Children learn readily, and childhood habits do not easily forsake one. There is a great protection for moral and spiritual life—in regular church attendance. It keeps one continually under the influences of holy things. It brings one into the presence of God, where all the impulses are toward the better things. It aids in brotherhood life and Christian fellowship, by which great good comes to every Christian. It helps us to be more useful, tying us up with other good people in work for Christ. Every Sunday-school pupil ought to attend the church services. The example of Jesus should be followed in this as in all other things.
When Jesus entered the temple precincts, He was grieved by what He saw, "In the temple courts he found men selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money." No doubt the evil practice had grown by degrees. Jews coming from foreign countries needed animals to offer as sacrifices. They would have to buy them at the market in the city and bring them to the temple. Men with an eye to business would establish themselves near the temple, so as to get business. By and by they would begin to herd their animals at the gate, and then soon within, in the court of the Gentiles. So gradual was the encroachment of the business, that no one felt shocked when at last the traffic was firmly established in the temple court. It was such a convenience, too, to have the animals and the money-brokers just at hand, that the people were slow to want things the old way.
It is thus that most wrong customs come in. First only the camel's nose is admitted, then he gets one great foot in, and then another, and by and by his whole immense body is in the tent—and the man has to get out. Thus the world creeps into the church and into the Christian's life. Thus perfectly legitimate business encroaches on the heart's sacred places until all that is tender and holy is driven out. We need to watch lest the world's traffic sets up its stands in the very temple of our lives, and desecrates the place where only God would be admitted. It is against the beginnings of the encroachments that we should guard. When the first approaches have been permitted, it is hard to check the advance.
Our Lord's act was not a mere outburst of temper, but an expression of His righteousness indignation. It was His Father's house in which He was standing, and He was also Lord of the temple and had a right to cleanse it. He was the Messiah and had authority.
The singular manifestation has an application also for us who are studying the story. Our hearts are now temples of the Holy Spirit. Christ comes to them to see if they are kept clean for the divine indwelling. What does He find when He comes? Does He hear the clatter of the world's noisy traffic, where only holy voices should be heard? Does He come upon herds of cattle driven up into the sacred precincts, where only God and God's messengers should tread? Does He see the broker's table—where the altar of incense should stand? If our heart is the temple of God—we should see to it that nothing undivine, nothing that is unworthy of God, shall ever invade its courts.
How is it, just now, in your heart? Is there any need for Christ to come with His whip of cords to drive out the traders, the sellers of cattle and doves, and the money-changers?
Very picturesque is the scene. "So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple area, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables!"
His next word set forth the character of the offense of the men He was reproving. "Get these out of here! How dare you turn my Father's house into a market!" Marketing is legitimate business in the proper place. It is not sinful. There was nothing wrong in selling animals and doves for sacrifice, or in changing people's money for them, from foreign to Jewish coin. If these sellers and money-changers had been somewhere else, on some of the city streets, Jesus would not have disturbed them. It was because they were where they ought not to be—that His anger was so kindled against them. This is an important distinction. "If I regard iniquity in my heart—the Lord will not hear me" (Psalm 66:18).
Two or three years later, Jesus repeated this act in substance. This was at the beginning of His ministry, and the other was at its close. Whatever impression was made in His first cleansing of the Temple, had been forgotten. Things seem to have grown worse. Jesus said they had made the temple court a "den of thieves." His charge implied that the dealers and brokers were dishonest, overcharging, cheating and defrauding. Too often the same may be said of hearts made for God. Into them has come all manner of wickedness. But here we learn that things which in themselves are right enough—may become very offensive to Christ, because they are where they ought not to be.
It is right to have business and worldly work—indeed, not many are doing their whole duty in the world, unless they are carrying some share of what are called secular duties. However, there is a proper place for these things. Meanwhile, no matter how full our hands are of the common tasks, there ought to be a sacred place in our heart into which nothing of this world ever shall come. We are to be in the world to do our share of the world's work—but we are not to be of the world. The world is not to be in us. The problem in sailing a ship is not to keep the ship out of the water—but the water out of the ship! We are commanded, "Love not the world." Christ is to have our love while we are busy doing the things in the world that come to our hands.
So we get our lesson—that Christ did not condemn merchandising as something sinful—but found fault with it because it was in the place which ought to have been kept altogether for God.
And His disciples saw their Master's intense earnestness and heard His words, they were impressed with His holiness and His zeal in behalf of God's house. "His disciples remembered that it was written: Zeal for your house will consume me." (see Psalm 69:9). These words well describe not this one experience alone—but the whole of the human life of Jesus. The zeal of His Father's house consumed Him, wore Him out. It burned in Him a flame, like the flame of a lamp—until it burned out His whole life. He lived intensely. Love for God and for man possessed Him and ever constrained Him. He did His Father's will—until that will led Him to the cross. He so loved men—that His life was utterly consumed, poured out, in service for men.
One of His words was: "Whoever will save his life—shall lose it; and whoever will lose his life for my sake—shall find it." He never saved His life. He kept back absolutely nothing He had, which anyone needed. He never withheld Himself from the sick, the leprous, the demon possessed. He went everywhere, at every call. He never took rest. Virtue went out of Him continually, as He healed and comforted and helped others. His own life was poured out—to become life to those who lacked. His own joy was given—to be joy to those who were in sorrow. His own love was given—to fill the hearts of those that were loveless. So He lived—giving, giving, giving; loving, doing, and serving—until at last He died on Calvary to save sinners! So this sentence really tells the story of all His years. It becomes also a fitting motto for every follower of Christ. Zeal for Christ should consume us. "I have only one passion," said Zinzendorf, "and that is Christ!"
The Jews demanded "What miraculous sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?" He answered in words which we are to hear again, as they were used with perverted meaning by the false witnesses on the trial of our Lord: "Destroy this temple—and in three days I will raise it up." The Jews quibbled over His words, and the Evangelist gives us the Lord's meaning: "He spoke of the temple of his body." Then he went on to tell us how in the light of the Resurrection, the mystery became clear. "When He was risen from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this unto them; and they believed the scripture and the word which Jesus had said." This is an illustration of the need of the "afterwards" to make many things plain. At the time, the disciples probably understood their Master's allusion to "this temple" no better than His enemies did. But by and by events occurred which threw light upon His saying, and then its meaning flashed out plainly and clearly. When the temple of His body had been destroyed by the Jews, and He had indeed raised it up in three days—then they understood.
Many other of Christ's words were in like manner enigmas to the disciples when they were spoken. All His references to the cross were such. They never realized that He must die, although many times during His last months He spoke of His coming death. However, when the cross had been set up and taken down, and when the grave had been sealed and then opened—the mystery vanished.
To all of us, even yet, there are many truths and teachings which cannot be made plain—until we have passed through certain experiences. We could never know that there were stars in the skies—if night never came. We cannot know the beauty of the divine promises—until we enter the needs the promises were given to meet. The same is true continually of events of our lives; their meaning is wrapped in mystery for us—until afterwards. The early story of Joseph of the Old Testament was dark and sad. It could not be understood. It seemed all strange and wrong. It was hard to see divine love and goodness in it. But when the story was finished—the wisdom, the love and the goodness are apparent. There are things in every life which, at the time, seem tangles and puzzles—but which afterwards reveal divine love and grace in every line. The lesson is: When you cannot see His hand—trust His heart, and wait.
"Now while he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many people saw the miraculous signs he was doing and believed in his name. But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all men." Evidently Jesus made a deep impression at this Passover. He performed many miracles or signs. What these were we are not told—but many believed on Him. Their faith, however, seems to have been impulsive, and not based on strong conviction. It was not such believing, as in the case of the disciples. Jesus saw into the hearts of the people who were ready to believe—and did not accept Him as true followers. "Jesus did not entrust himself unto them." Nothing came of His work at this time.
Our Lord's knowledge of men is very clearly stated here. "He did not need man's testimony about man, for he knew what was in a man." We should not forget this. There is immeasurable comfort in this truth—if we are living truly. He knows our love for Him, thought it is so feeble that the world can scarcely know that we love Him at all. This was Peter's refuge when, after his threefold denial, Jesus plied him with the threefold question: "Do you love Me?" "Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you." It is a comfort for us to know that Jesus understands all our struggles, all our temptations, how hard it is for us to be godly; and that He has infinite patience with us. It is a comfort, too, for us to know that He is acquainted with the innermost things of other lives as well. He knows the plots, the schemes to do us harm, and is able to shield and protect us from them. What folly is hypocrisy, when we remember that Jesus knows all that is in man! How silly it is to talk about "secret sins," when the deepest thoughts of all hearts are known to Him with whom we all have to do!
Jesus and Nicodemus
Nicodemus is well-known. His story has often been told. We study here, the beginning of his Christian life. It is the fashion to speak slightingly of his coming to Jesus by night. It is sometimes said that it was cowardly. But this may not be a fair criticism. Night may have been the best time for him to make his visit. It may have been the only time when he could hope to find Jesus free for an undisturbed hour's talk with him. We must read the story through to the close, and see if the subsequent mentions of Nicodemus, confirm the charge of timidity or cowardice in him. We shall find that just the reverse is true. It is said that he desired to be a secret disciple. If that was his thought, we know that he did not persist in this kind of discipleship—but that the time came when his secret friendship for his Master grew into majestic strength. We may be glad, therefore, that he came to Christ, even though he came first under cover of darkness. The end of the story, justifies its beginning.
"I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again." John 3:3. The heart of the lesson which our Lord taught Nicodemus, is the necessity of the new birth. The natural human birth is not sufficient. We must be born of the Spirit, or we cannot even see the kingdom of God, much less enter into it.
That is, we are not fitted for heaven or the heavenly life—while we have only our old sinful nature. We would not enjoy heaven even if we could be taken up and set down in the midst of it—unless our hearts have been changed. A wicked man would not enjoy a prayer meeting in one of our churches, where the exercises consist of prayer, hymns, singing, preaching and conversation on spiritual subjects. He finds no pleasure in reading the Bible. Think of this ungodly man, his heart full of worldliness, without love for God, without the spirit of prayer—finding joy in heaven!
To one who was speaking of heaven being so far away and asking how one could ever find the way there, the answer was given: "Heaven must come down to you. Heaven must begin in your heart." Nothing could be truer than this. Heaven must come into our heart before we can enter into the heavenly life. Our nature must be so changed that we shall love holiness, purity, and the things that God loves. This change can be made only by the Holy Spirit.
A second natural birth, even if it were possible, would not effect the change. We would be the same being still, with the same carnal desires, the same evil nature, and the same hatred of God and of holiness. "Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God." The new birth is more than education—the drawing out of the powers that are in the nature. There would be no improvement in this process. The new birth is more than the refinement produced by good society, by familiarity with beautiful things, by association with gentle and refined people. It is a new life which must come down from heaven into the heart of him who believes. Without this we cannot be made into the likeness of God.
This new life is like its Author. "That which is born of the Spirit—is spirit." John 3:6. Like produces like. Everyone who is born of God—will bear the features of God's likeness. He will begin to love the things that God loves—and hate the things that God hates. He will be like God in holiness, in forgiveness, and in love.
If we would know what God is like—we need only to look at Jesus Christ, for He is the image of God; and if we are born again, we will have the same features in us. At first they may be very dim—but they will come out clearer and clearer—as we grow in spiritual life. We can tell whether or not we are born again—by looking closely at our lives, to see if they bear the marks of the Holy Spirit. Do we put away sin and strive to live holy lives? Do we love the Bible and prayer? Do we love the pure worship of God? Do we love to be with Christ in Christian fellowship and in personal communion? Is it our deepest desire to have the divine features stamped on our lives?
It would put strong confidence into our hearts if we would learn to think of Christ's words as eternal verities. They are not like any other words. A dying woman cried to the minister who entered her room, to try to comfort her, "Oh, give me a word that I can lay hold of!" She felt herself drifting out upon the sea with nothing to which she could hold. We will all need words of this kind—as we come into life's crisis places. Nothing but the words of Christ will then meet our needs.
Jesus said to Nicodemus, "I tell you the truth, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen—but still you people do not accept our testimony." Very much of human science is only guessing and speculation; we cannot be sure of it. Every now and then some new discovery is made which overturns and sweeps away whole volumes of boasted theories. We have to be all the time buying new books—just to keep up with the times; and we are afraid to quote from any but the newest editions, lest there may have been some recent discovery which contradicts the older.
But Christ's teachings are eternal certainties. He came down from heaven, where from all eternity He had dwelt, and He knew what He taught. We may accept His words without the slightest doubt—and may build our soul's hopes upon them. We need never fear that there will be a revision of these teachings—or that anything yet to be made known to us will contradict or set aside what we have already been taught. What Jesus said about God, about God's love, about the way of salvation, about Christian duty, about the judgment day, about the future life—is all eternal certainty. We may infallibly believe and unfalteringly trust every word of Christ—and be sure of these eternal verities.
There is no other infallible teacher but Christ. "No man has ascended up to heaven." There are some people these days who take it upon themselves to question what Christ revealed about the heavenly life. They talk as if they knew more about these matters, than did He who lived from all eternity in heaven, and then coming to earth, told men of the invisible things of God. Christ's words to Nicodemus mean that there is no other one, that there never has been any other one so qualified to speak of heavenly things—as was God's own Son, who came to reveal Him. He was an infallible teacher and a true witness. There is no guesswork about the statements which He makes concerning God and God's love for men, God's will and the provision made in the heavenly kingdom for God's children. All manner of books have been written, telling us of "gates ajar" and "gates wide open," and we find whole volumes of guesses and theories about the eternal world. But these are of no value whatever when they go beyond what the Son of God has made known to us. We must turn to Christ's words for any real knowledge of the land beyond.
The shadow of the cross lay upon the heart of Christ from the beginning. He knew in what way He was to make salvation for men. He says here, "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness; even so must the Son of man be lifted up." The reference to the incident of the brazen serpent is instructive—so must Christ be lifted up. He referred to the cross—He knew He must die on it. It was at the beginning of His ministry, that Jesus spent the evening with Nicodemus. Even then He knew what was before Him. Why the "must"? Not merely because it had been foretold by the prophets. The prophets foretold it because of the necessity that He must suffer. Only by dying for sinners—could He save them.
The way in which bitten ones in the Hebrew camp could be saved by the uplifted serpent, illustrates the way lost men can be saved by Christ on His cross. Those who looked lived; those who behold the Lamb of God shall live. Anyone who looked, whatever his condition, was healed; "whoever" believes on Christ, no matter who he may be, of what nation or color or condition, shall have everlasting life!
Jesus at Jacob's Well
The record tells us that Jesus in His journey, "must need go through Samaria." There was no other way unless He had gone far around it. But we may believe that there was another "must need" for His passing that way—there was this woman at Samaria who needed Him. It was worthwhile to go a long distance out of His way—to carry the water of life to a thirsty soul. If He had not gone through Samaria, this wonderful chapter in John's gospel would never have been written, and the New Testament would have been less rich. It is worth our while to think of the way God is always directing our movements, so as to bring us to the places at which He wants us to be—and to the people He wants us to touch and to help. There are no 'chance' meetings in this world. Jesus met the woman at the well, at the right moment. When we are doing God's will—He guides our movements, orders our steps, and there is a sacred meaning in our crossing of other's paths.
A well of water in the East, was of great importance, and this well, no doubt, was especially valuable. People came from far and near to draw water from it, and weary passers-by were refreshed as they drank of the pure, wholesome spring. It is interesting to think of how many people along the centuries, were helped by the water they drew from its cold depths. It is not longer of value, however—it is now only a useless excavation, a mere relic of the past, choked by rubbish.
There are some people like this old well. Once they were full of life, with kindness flowing from them wherever they went, a blessing to all who came near to them. Now the well of love in them flows no more, or only intermittently; it has been choked up by the worldliness or by worldly care. We should keep our heart-wells ever open and the water flowing fresh and pure in them—as long as we live. Christian love never should cease to pour forth its streams of kindness.
The picture of Jesus being wearied with His journey, sitting down by the well-curb, is very suggestive. He had come a long distance and was tired after His hot journey. Such incidents as this help us to realize the humanness and the human-heartedness of Christ. He has not forgotten, now in heaven—His experiences of earth. He remembers in his glory—this day at the old well, how tired He was after His long journey, and how the rest and the water refreshed Him. We need not be ashamed to grow weary, since our Master Himself was weary. We are sure of His sympathy with us, for He understands, too, when we are exhausted by our toils or struggles; and He is glad to comfort and strengthen us.
When the woman of Samaria left her home that morning, to go to the well, she did not know what unusual thing would happen to her before she returned. She did not know that she would meet a Stranger who would bring her a new meaning of life and set her feet in new paths. We never know when we set out, on any day—what the hours may bring to us, whom we shall meet, and what new friend, whose influence that day shall change all our future course. We do not know what may happen any common day—which will make all our life different ever after. We should go forth every morning with our hand in Christ's—that He may guide us in the best way, so that we may not reject the good that is offered to us.
Jesus began His conversation with the woman by asking a little favor of her. He said, "Will you give me a drink?" This was better in the beginning of the conversation, than if He had offered to do something for her. This was the way to gain the woman's attention. Though so weary that He could not journey farther with His disciples, He was not too weary to be interested in this woman's life. This was a bit of Christ's wayside ministry. He was always ready to do a kindness, even in His resting ours.
Much of our life's best work—is produced in wayside ministries; things we did not plan to do when we set out in the morning: little helpfulnesses which we render as we pass on the way; words of cheer which we speak as we move along the common paths. Often these bits of wayside service mean more than the things in our lives which seem greater, which we plan for with care.
Jesus asked this woman for a little kindness—a drink of water. Who of us would not be glad any day to give our Master a cup of cold water? We say we cannot do anything like this for Him now, for He comes no more to our gate or along our way—a weary man needing our kindness. But He has told us how we may always have this privilege. In the least of His little ones who need our help—He Himself comes, appealing to love's ministry (see Matthew 25:40). We must be careful always, lest in our neglecting to show a kindness to some human being—we thrust Christ Himself away!
The woman was surprised to have this Stranger speak to her. It was not considered proper in those days, in that country, for a man to speak to a woman in public. Especially was it not customary for a Jew to speak to a Samaritan. The Jews and Samaritans were not in cordial relations. So she answered Him with a question, "You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?" The answer which Jesus gave to her flippant question hints at His own character and mission. "If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water."
She saw only a weary, dust-covered Jew sitting there by the well, asking for a drink of water. She saw nothing unusual in Him. She did not know that this footsore Man was the Messiah, the Son of God, who had all life and all good in Him, and all things to bestow! He had asked only for a drink of common water—but He would give to her the water of life. Really, she was the famishing one—not He! And if only she would ask, He would give her infinite blessing. It is always the same. We go about with our great needs, our hungering hearts, our unrest, our consciousness of guilt—not knowing that close beside us stands the Christ, with all we need in His hands, ready and eager to supply our every want. We go on, meanwhile, chattering about the trivialities of life, and the unsatisfactory vanities of earth, not knowing what infinitely great blessings are within our reach, to be had simply for the asking!
The woman was impressed by what the Stranger said—but she did not yet comprehend His meaning. So she talked to him about the difficulty of getting water out of that deep well, and asked Him if He were greater than Jacob. Jesus replied again, using the water of the well as a symbol of earthly blessing. "Whoever drinks of this water shall thirst again." These words tell the whole story of the thirsts of human life. Men turn everywhere to satisfy themselves—but at best they find only temporary satisfaction, followed by still deeper thirst.
There is said to be a strange plant in South America which finds a moist place and rests there for a while, sending its roots down and becoming green. When this bit of earth dries up, the plant draws itself together and is blown along by the wind until it finds another moist spot, where it repeats the same story. On and on it rolls, stopping wherever it finds a little water, and staying until the water is exhausted. But after all its journeyings, it is nothing but a bundle of dead roots and leaves. The life of this plant, tells the story of those who drink only at this world's springs. They go from spring to spring, and at the last, at the end of the longest life—they are nothing but bundles of unsatisfied desires and burning thirsts.
In contrast, Jesus here tells also of the heavenly water which He gives to those who believe on Him. "Whoever drinks of the water which I shall give him—shall never thirst." In Christ, all the soul's cravings are met. There is no lack or desire in our nature, which cannot in Him find perfect satisfaction. One of the Beatitudes reads, "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness; for they shall be filled." Noah's dove flew from the ark and went on weary wing everywhere—but found only a waste of desolate waters, with no place to alight. Then she flew back to the ark and was gently drawn within, where she found warmth, safety and rest. This story of the dove, illustrates the history of every soul that, having wandered everywhere in search of rest—at last returns to God and finds rest in Him!
The saying of Jesus about the well of water in the heart, is very suggestive. "The water that I shall give him… shall be in him a well of water." Thus every Christian becomes a fountain of blessing in this world. As from the great Fountain, Christ, all the streams of life flow—so from the little fountain in the heart of each believer, flows a stream of the water of life to give drink to those who are thirsty. Blessed ourselves, our thirst quenched, our life stratified—we become in turn centers or sources of blessing to others. Are we indeed wells of water at which others quench their thirst? Does our life make us a blessing to all who come near to us? Do we give forth kindness, patience thoughtfulness, gentleness and all helpful influences? Or do we pour out bitterness, impatience, angry words, ill temper, selfishness, and thoughtlessness?
The answer which Jesus made deeply impressed the woman, and she cried, "Sir, give me this water so that I won't get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water." She did not understand the meaning of Christ's words, and yet her pathetic appeal is full of meaning. The first desire of our hearts should be to receive the grace of Christ, that we many no longer be dependent upon the world's pleasures and comforts. It is a weary life which those live who have no source of good, save the little springs of earth which soon dry up.
The Second Miracle at Cana
"Once more he visited Cana in Galilee, where he had turned the water into wine. And there was a certain royal official whose son lay sick at Capernaum." After leaving Sychar, Jesus seems to have gone at once to Cana. He never rested. When His work was done in one place He hastened to another. He was never in a hurry, never flustered, never feverish in His haste—but He never loitered nor lost a moment's time. If we keep our heart at peace, and live according to God's laws, there is little danger of our injuring our health by too much work. Then, even if duty demands serious toil and self-denying labor—it is Christlike not to withhold ourselves from it. "For whoever will save his life—shall lose it." Taking too good care of oneself—is the way to make the least of one's life.
Jesus was no exception to the well-known rule that "A prophet has no honor in his own country." It is a common saying that no man is a hero to his own servant. Those who live in familiar relations with the great or the good, are the least likely to recognize the elements of greatness or goodness in them. Many of the men whose names shine in the galaxy of fame, and whose work lives in the world with undying influence—had little honor from those among whom they walked, and perhaps would have little honor today if they were to return and live in the old relationships. We often fail to recognize the true excellence of our best friends, while they stay with us. It is not until she is gone out of a home—that a mother's real value is appreciated. The same is true of each member of the household and of each friend upon whom we lean much, and whose life is a great deal to us. Jesus walked among the people in Judea, taught, produced His miracles, and lived out His sweet, beautiful life of love in their midst—but they failed to recognize the Messiah in Him. "He was in the world, and the world was made by Him—and the world knew Him not. He came unto His own—and His own received Him not" (1:10, 11). We are in danger in these very days of failing to appreciate the blessings of Christianity, because they are so familiar to us.
Sickness and suffering are everywhere. No one is exempt from them. Even the mansions of the noble are not sheltered from the invasions of disease. There is no charm in wealth or rank or power—to keep fever away. Into the home of this nobleman suffering came. It was only a child, too, who was sick. Even to the youngest, illness comes—as well as to the old.
Trouble often sends to Christ, those who would not have gone—if the trouble had not touched them. It was the sickness of the nobleman's child, that sent him to Jesus. He had heard of the great Healer—but probably had never sought Him, nor even thought of seeking Him. But when his child was stricken down and seemed about to die—he remembered what he had heard about Jesus that He was able to heal the sick and even bring back to life those who were near death. So this great man hastened away all the long distance to Cana—to find this Healer. We all owe far more than we know to our troubles. We do not recognize our need of divine help—until we are in some sore distress when human help can do nothing for us. Then we turn to God. If we never had a sense of sinfulness, we would never seek Christ as our Savior. If we never realized our powerlessness in the midst of temptation, we would never turn to Christ as our helper. Indeed, the Bible becomes a new book to us—in times of trouble. Many of the best things in it we never would have found—had it not been for some great need which made their meaning real to us. We do not turn with our heart's cravings to God—until we realize the insufficiency of this world's friendships and blessings.
The child seemed about to die. The record says "he was at the point of death." The point of death is a point to which all of us must come sometime in our life. We must pass through this world along many different ways—but every one of us comes at last to the point of death. All earthly roads pass that way. No matter how bright the path is on which our feet are now walking, somewhere on it, perhaps far away yet, perhaps closer than we think—awaits this point of death. We should learn to live so that if at any sudden hour we find ourselves facing death—we would not be troubled nor disturbed.
In this nobleman's earnest pleading we have a revelation of a father's heart. He pleaded, "Come down before my child dies!" We do not realize the value of father-love as an impulse in this world. The secret which sends thousands of men every day to their tasks, their struggles, their heroisms—is back in the homes from which they come, where children stay. We idealize mother-love, not overmuch—but perhaps sometimes to the exclusion or at least to the forgetting of father-love, which has scarcely a less powerful motive in the inspiring of the noble things of human life. The sickness of a child sent this nobleman miles away to plead with Christ.
There was a great faith also in the father's heart—he believed that Jesus could save his child's life. He seems not to have thought, however, that even the Master, with all His power, could do anything without journeying all the way to his home. He thought the Healer's presence necessary to the putting forth of His power. So he insisted on having Jesus go with him to his home, where his child lay dying.
Jesus recognized the father's faith and assured him at once that his child would recover. "You may go. Your son will live." More than twenty miles off the sick boy lay—but the power of Jesus healed him there just as easily as if He had been at the bedside. The word of power flew through the air all that long distance like an electric flash, and on his couch of pain, the suffering child suddenly felt a thrill of health. A moment later, and the fever was entirely gone and the child was altogether well. This miracle should have much comfort for us. We cannot now bring Christ in bodily presence to the room where our loved one is lying—but we can pray to Him, and He can heal our friend just as easily from His heavenly home—as if He were present where he lies. We can also ask God to bless our friend twenty miles away from us, or a thousand miles away—and He can do it just as easily as if the friend were close by our side when we pray.
The father hastened home, and on the way learned that his request had been granted. "While he was still on the way, his servants met him with the news that his boy was living." Ever after that day, when he looked upon this child, the father would remember that his boy's spared life, was an answer to a prayer. The child would always know, too, that he was living in the world—because his father had thought about him one day when he was very sick, and had gone all the way to Cana to speak to Jesus on his behalf. Children do not know how many blessings they are enjoying, because their parents, teachers, pastors, and other friends have gone on errands to Christ for them, in the days of their need.
The manner of the answer to this nobleman's prayer made a deep impression on the father. He compared the time and learned that the beginning of the child's recovery, was at the very moment when Jesus had said that the boy would live. He believed before—now his faith was confirmed. He found it just as the Master had said it would be. There were many other cases in which the words of Jesus were put to the test at once—and proved to be exactly true. He told the woman of Samaria all about her past life. He told Peter that the coin would be in the fish's mouth with which to pay the temple tax. He told the disciples they would find a colt tied, and rehearsed the conversation that would take place with the owner—and it all came out just as He said it would. He told the disciples, again, that they would meet a man bearing a pitcher of water, who would conduct them to the guest room; and the words came true.
From these illustrations in common life, we learn that every word of Christ will be found to be true. He promised salvation and eternal life to those who will believe on Him, and everyone who believes and commits his life to Him—will find this promise fulfilled. He said that in His Father's house are many mansions, and that He will come again, to receive to Himself each believer; we shall find this word true. When we pass into the valley of the shadows, we shall find ourselves in the personal care of Christ, and shall be led by Him home, to enter the mansion which He has been preparing for us.
Jesus at the Pool of Bethesda
"One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years." John 5:5. It is not easy to be sick year after year. Prolonged invalidism very seriously tests the quality of life. Some people fret and chafe in such experiences. Pain is hard to bear. Then their illness seems a sad interruption to their activities, breaking into their plans for lifework. It is much easier to go to one's tasks every day, toiling for long hours—than it is to lie quietly in bed, doing nothing, yet keeping sweet. Yet invalidism, when accepted in faith and trust, and endured with patience—often produces very beautiful life. There are shut-ins whose rooms are almost like heaven in their brightness and joy. Some of the most wonderful revelations of divine grace have been made in cases of long and painful illness, when the sufferers have accepted their condition as God's will for them and have found it a condition of blessing. Richard Baxter, who himself had been an invalid for long years, has a note on this passage which is worth repeating: "How great a mercy was it to live thirty-eight years under God's wholesome discipline! Oh, my God, I thank You for the like discipline of fifty-eight years; how safe a life is this, in comparison with full prosperity and pleasure!" The furnace fires of sickness burn off many a chain of sin and worldliness. Many now in heaven, no doubt, will thank God forever for the invalidism which kept them from sin when on the earth.
Jesus came down to the Bethesda spring that Sabbath and, as His eye looked over those who were waiting there, He noticed one man to whom His sympathy went out at once. He saw all the sufferers who were sitting in the porches that day, and He was moved with compassion as He looked upon them. He saw them, however, not merely as a company of sad people—but as individuals. He knew the story of each one—how long he had been suffering, how hard his life had been. Among all who were there that day, He singled out one for special thought and help. Probably he had been a sufferer longest. At least this man's case made its appeal to the heart of Jesus. He knows about each patient in a hospital, or each shut-in in a town. This personal interest of our master in those who are sick or broken in their lives, is wonderfully comforting. He knows all about us—our pain that is so hard to bear, our disappointments year after year, growing at last to hopelessness. It is very sweet to be able to say always, "He knows!"
Coming up to this man, Jesus asked him, "Do you want to get well?" He wished to rouse him from his lethargy. He asks the same question now of each one who is in any trouble. He comes especially to those who are spiritually sick, and asks them if they will be made whole. The question implies His willingness and readiness to heal. He can take these deformed, crippled, and helpless lives of ours—and restore them to strength and beauty. It seems strange that anyone should refuse to be made whole, when Christ comes and offers to do it. If we were sick in body, and He wished to make us well, we would not say, "No." If we were crippled and deformed, and He wanted to make us spry and straight, we would be glad to accept His offer. Why is it that when He comes to us and asks us if we would have Him make our maimed and crippled souls whole—so many of us say, "Oh, no! "Or, "Not yet!"
The man did not answer the question directly—but uttered a complaint. He had been so long used to hopelessness, that the song had altogether died out of his heart. He had always been pushed aside when there had seemed a possible chance for him. "I have no one, when the water is troubled, to put me into the pool." Other people always got ahead of him. He had no one to help him, and he could not go himself. There are some people who really seem to have no friend. Nobody ever gives a thought to them. There are many unsaved people who might almost say the same, "I have no one to help me to Christ." No one cares for their souls. True, there is none who could not come to Christ if he would. Yet Christian people must not forget that the unsaved need the help of those who are saved, that the forgiven must carry the news of mercy to the unforgiven. Part of our mission in the world—is to help others to Christ. This man waiting at the fountain's edge is a type of many people about us—close to the healing waters, with hungry, unsatisfied hearts, needing only the help of a human hand or the sympathy of a loving heart to lead them to Christ, yet never getting that help or that sympathy, and sitting close to the waters year after year, unhealed, unsaved.
It was an important moment for this man when Jesus spoke to him. There was a shorter way of help for him than by waiting for someone to put him into the water. "Get up! Pick up your mat and walk!" The man might have said: "Why, I cannot rise. That is the very thing I have not been able to do for thirty-eight years. Take up my mat! Why, I could not lift a feather; and as for walking, I could as soon fly. I cannot obey His command, until I get strength to do it." There are people who talk just in this way about beginning the Christian life. They plead their helplessness as a reason for their delay. There is a fine lesson for such people in this man's prompt obedience. The moment he heard the command—he made the effort to rise, and as he made the effort—strength was given to him.
New life came to this lame man, with the obeying. Christ never commands an impossibility. When He bids us rise out of our helplessness and begin the Christian walk—He means to give us the grace and strength to do it. The command to take up his mat was a sign that he would not have any more need for it. He had been lying upon it for many years. Now it should be rolled up as no longer required. Some people enter upon the Christian life as an experiment. They will try it and see if they can hold out, yet they still keep the way open for return to the old life if they should not have success in the new. But this is not the way Christian faith is meant to act. We should burn the bridges behind us—that we may not possibly retreat to the country out of which we have come. We should put away the implements of our wickedness, our crutches, our staves and our beds, with no thought of ever returning again to them.
"Take up your mat, and walk." The word "walk" suggests that the man was not simply to rise up and stand where he was—he was to move out in the paths of duty and service. The invalid is restored, that he may take his place in society, and let his hand become busied among the activities of life. We are saved to serve.
Before the man could get far with his mat, he was challenged for breaking the Sabbath. There are people who spoil everything. They find fault with every beautiful thing anyone does. These men knew what had happened to this poor man. We would think they would have rejoiced in him in His restoration. But the fact that he seemed to them to be violating one of their Sabbath rules, bulked more largely in their eyes than all the blessings that had come to him. When they told the happy man that it was not lawful for him to be carrying his mat on the Sabbath, he answered that He who had cured him told him to take up his mat and walk. When they asked him who the man was, he said he did not know. He had been made so glad by his healing—that he gave no thought to the Healer. Jesus had slipped away in the crowd. Too often, however, men receive benefits—without showing gratitude to the person through whom the benefits are received. Many of those who are helped by Christ, have but little interest in Christ, and never think of Him, though they owe so much to Him.
But, although the man had shown no regard for his Healer, Christ was deeply interested in him, and followed him up. Finding him in the temple, He said to him, "See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you." Evidently the man's thirty-eight years of illness had been brought about by some sin in his early life. There are many men who in a lifelong feebleness or infirmity, pay the penalty of sins of youth. Very pathetic is the cry of the Psalmist, "Remember not the sins of my youth" (Psalm 25:7). The man had been healed—but his continued health depended now upon his right living being continued. If he turned back again to the sins which had brought upon him his diseased condition through so many unhappy years, the evil would return in worse form than ever. There is something worse even than thirty-eight years of helplessness. These words have serious warning for everyone who has been forgiven. The condition of forgiveness is repentance, and repentance, if it would prove true—must be final, unconditional and unchanging.
Christ's Divine Authority
The people were angry at Jesus because He had healed the helpless invalid on the Sabbath. They claimed that He had done wrong by the working on the seventh day. The answer of Jesus was, "My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working." In the history of the creation, we read that God set the example of Sabbath-keeping. After six days of creating, He rested the seventh day. We are living now in God's Sabbath. But the words of Jesus here show us that there is a sense in which God keeps no Sabbath. He never ceases to be active. The worlds do not stop in their orbits to rest, when the Holy Day begins. The sun does not veil His face and cease His shining that day. The grass does not stop growing, the flowers do not cease to bloom, and the wheat does not pause in its ripening, when the day of rest comes. There is no Sabbath-keeping in God's providence. Nor does His care for His children pause, when the Sabbath dawns. It would be very sad for the world if it did.
The people had found fault with Jesus for healing a man on the Sabbath. They said He had been working, and working was forbidden by the law. This was His answer, "My Father is always at his work to this very day"—has never ceased to work, is evermore blessing and helping His creatures. Then He added, "And I, too, am working." This was in answer to the charge that He had broken the Sabbath in healing the man. For one thing, He put Himself alongside the Father in power and authority. It was an assertion that He was divine. We get here a suggestion of the kind of works that are right for us to do on the Lord's Day. There is not in these words a shadow of defense for ordinary secular work on the Lord's Day—but works of mercy, of religion, of obedience, we may do on the day of rest.
Jesus had claimed equality with His Father in the words, "My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working." For Him as well as for His Father, there was no need of a Sabbath of rest. Rest is necessary for man. His strength has its limitations. He cannot go on forever—but must stop to renew His strength. Human energy flags and is exhausted, its source is finite and it must be continually renewed. But Christ was not like other men in this. He fainted not, neither was weary. Then He had coupled Himself with the Father in the words, "My Father is always at his work to this very day," through all the ages, "And I, too, am working." He and His Father work together. All divine power was in Him and had always been in Him. He could not grow weary.
Then He added, "I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does." From beginning to the end of Christ's life—we find the same oneness with the Father asserted. He did the Father's will, never deviating from it in the smallest particular. We hear Him say continually such words as these: "I seek not my own will—but the will of him who sent Me." "I do always those things that please him." For one thing, these words show us the perfect oneness of the Father and Son. He took all His directions from His Father's lips. He waited at every step for His Father's bidding. The question with Him never was: "What would be pleasant for Me to do? What would further My own interests? How can I do the most good in the world? How can I win the greatest number of friends?" The one question always was, "What is My Father's will for Me today?"
Jesus asserts the Father's love for Him and His complete trust in Him. "For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does. Yes, to your amazement he will show him even greater things than these." Here we have a glimpse of true fatherhood. Love hides nothing. The Father's love for the Son is so perfect, that He withholds nothing from Him, has no secrets which He does not reveal to Him. The words tell of the most perfect oneness and unity, life flowing into life, heart opening into heart. It is a oneness of love. There are none of the "sons of God" who are so glorious in their privileges as the "only begotten Son." Yet there is a verse in one of the Psalms (25:14) which says, "The secret of the Lord is with those who fear him; and he will show them His covenant." This would seem to mean that in proportion to our love for God and our trust in Him—He reveals His inner thoughts, the secrets of His love and favor to us. Then Jesus said to His disciples, "I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master's business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you" (15:15). Thus Jesus reveals the secret things of His love—to those who trust Him.
The works which only the Father can do, Jesus says He also does. "For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life—even so the Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it." To Nicodemus, Jesus spoke of becoming a Christian as being born again—beginning life as if one had never lived before. Here Jesus represents the natural world as a great cemetery in which all men sleep in graves of death. The beginning of Christian life is spiritual resurrection—those who believe on Christ burst their graves and come into life. The picture is very striking. The natural man is really dead to God and to the things of God. He hears not the voice of the Spirit. He knows nothing of what is going on about him in the spiritual realm. It is just as when Jesus stood before the grave of Lazarus and called the young man's name. The dead heard His voice—and came out and began to live. So the spiritually dead who hear the voice of Christ and believe on Him are quickened into a new life.
There is another strong assertion of divinity here, showing that Christ was conscious of being equal with the Father. To God alone belongs the prerogative of judgment. "Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son." If this power of judgment is given to Christ—He must be divine. It is a precious comfort to us, as we think of the judgment day, to know that the Judge on the throne will be Jesus—the same Jesus who died for us, who wears still and shall then wear our nature, and who therefore will understand us. We need not fear Him—who once died for love of us. If we are His friends now and here, confessing Him before all men, He will be our friend then, and will confess us before His Father and the angels. But we must not forget the other side of this truth. If we are ashamed of Him and do not confess Him here by love and obedience, we are assured that He will be ashamed of us and will deny us before His Father and the angels.
We must remember, too, that He who is to be our Judge makes common cause with the lowliest of His people, and will say to them, "For I was hungry and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you took care of Me; I was in prison and you visited Me." OR "I was hungry and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty and you gave Me nothing to drink; I was a stranger and you did not take Me in; I was naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not take care of Me" (Matthew 25:35-40). We are continually on trial, and the Judge Himself is continually before us. We need to watch how we treat the lowliest of our fellow men.
Hush! What if this friend should happen to be—God?
Jesus tells us here how to be saved. "He who hears my word, and believes on him who sent me, has everlasting life." There are but two steps from the darkness of eternal death—into the brightness and blessedness of eternal life. The first thing is to hear Christ's word. The Bible says a great deal about hearing. "Hear, and your soul shall live" (Is. 55:3). But mere hearing is not enough. One may hear the gospel over and over—and yet be lost. Therefore Jesus said, "Take heed how you hear." We must hear with a willing spirit, a spirit of obedience. The second step is believing, "he who hears my word, and believes on him who sent me." Hearing must be followed by believing. What is it to believe? It is not merely the assent of the mind to the truth. It is believing with the heart, trusting, committing oneself to God. The Revised Version takes out the "on" between "believes" and "him"—there is not to be even a little preposition between the soul and God.
These are the two steps from death's darkness into life's brightness—hearing, and believing. Then comes the blessing, "has eternal life." Each word burns with light. "Life"—-not merely physical life—but life in its largest, fullest, richest, truest sense—the life of Christ in the soul. We are made partakers of the divine nature, and the new life which enters into us makes us children of God, changes us into the image of Christ. "Everlasting life"—not this world's life only—but life in heaven and forever. "Has everlasting life." I like the present tenses of the Bible. The good things of God's love and grace—are not pushed off into the future—but are present possessions. Eternal life begins the moment one hears and believes!
The Miracle of the Loaves and Fish
The importance of the miracle of the loaves and fish is shown in the fact that it is the only one of the miracles which all the four evangelists record. Jesus sought rest for His disciples, who were very weary, thus showing His thoughtfulness for them, and took them away. But the looked-for rest was not realized, for the people flocked after Him and a great multitude thronged about Him in a little while, interrupting His rest and calling Him to minister again to the people.
A picture in the Dore gallery represents a great throng of people, rich and poor, young and old, kings and peasants, all turning beseeching looks toward a far-away Figure. It is the Christ, clothed in robes of dazzling whiteness, bearing a cross, beckoning with uplifted hand to these broken-hearted ones and sorrow-laden ones—to come to Him for rest. This is always a true picture of Jesus. He invites all the weary and the needy to Him. Wherever He is, those who are hungry-hearted or in distress—are drawn to Him. It was so in the old Galilean days. He could scarcely get a moment's rest or quiet. The people would follow Him to His retreats—when He sought to be alone. They would break in upon Him—even when he was at His prayers. It still remains true that there is something in Christ which draws all men to Him. He had something to give to men which they needed and which no other could give to them.
Jesus cares for our physical needs as well as our spiritual needs. When He saw the multitude about Him in the wilderness, His heart was moved with compassion for them. We sometimes forget this part of Christ's thought for us. We know that He cares for our spiritual needs, and has grace ready for every need; but we too often fail to remember that our bodily needs are also in His thoughts. Many people do not even pray to God about their secular affairs; they do not ask Him for help in their business or in their household matters. But really nothing which concerns us, is a matter of indifference to Him. He who feeds the hungry birds—will care for His children.
Jesus spoke of the matter of the feeding of these people to Philip, asking him what they should do. The record says that He did this to test Philip. Jesus is continually proving His disciples, putting them to the test, to bring out their faith, and to train them in serving. He is constantly sending to us cases of need—to see if we will help them, and that we may learn how to help them. He wishes to draw out our interest, our love, our sympathy, our tenderness, our thoughtfulness, and to teach us to do the works of mercy, which He leaves us in this world to do. The disciples could not see any possible way of feeding the multitude in the wilderness, and yet the Master meant that they should feed them. Their little blessed and used, proved enough. We think we cannot meet the needs and the hungers which appeal to us—but we can, if we will. We do not seem able to do much—but even our few words spoken kindly, our tears of sympathy, our expression of love—He can use to do great good to the faint and weary before us.
In answer to our Lord's question, "How many loaves do you have? Go and see." Andrew found a boy in the company who had five barley loaves and two little fish. Happy boy—to be in that crowd that day with His basket of provisions. Just why he had the provisions with him, we are not told. His small supply was accepted and used by Christ in the working of a great work of kindness. This incident shows what good even a child with Christ can do. It was a young girl who carried to Syria the news of the prophet's power which led to the healing of the proud general's leprosy (see 2 Kings 5). Every child who studies the story, should be impressed by the fact that even with His small possessions, he can do great things when Christ works with him and uses him.
We should carefully study the method of this miracle. There were several steps. To begin with, the disciples brought the loaves to Jesus. If they had not done this, if they had begun feeding the people with what they had, without first bringing it to the Master for His blessing—it would not have gone far. We must bring our small resources to Christ and put them into His hands, that He may use them. When we have done this, no one can tell the measure of good that may be wrought, even by the smallest abilities. Whatever it is you have in your hand, you can use for God, and He will put His power into it. Then it will accomplish God's will. We need never say we can do nothing with our small ability or resources. God is not dependent on human power.
Notice what Jesus did in working this sign. First, He made the people sit down, that they might be quiet. They could not have been fed while moving about in a crowd. We must do our work in an orderly way. We must get quiet and still—if we would have Christ feed us. Then, when the multitude was still, Jesus gave thanks and blessed the loaves before He gave them to the disciples. The blessing of God makes rich. We ought to pray continually that Christ's touch may be upon us and upon the things we are doing. The letter you write to a discouraged friend—lay first before Christ for His blessing, and then it will carry comfort and cheer. The flowers you will carry to a sick room—make a little prayer first that Christ's blessing may be upon them, that they may go laden with the fragrance of His love. Then their power to do good will be increased.
We are told in the other gospel records, that Jesus broke the bread before giving food to the disciples. Bread must be broken before it can be eaten. The body of Jesus must be broken, before it could become bread for the world. Often Jesus must break us and our gifts, before He can make us food for others. We should think also of the responsibility of the disciples that day. Jesus passed the bread through their hands to the hungry multitude beyond them. If they had merely fed themselves with what Jesus gave them, not passing it on, there would have been no miracle and the hungry thousands sitting on the hillside would not have been fed.
We are now the disciples, standing between the Master and the hungry people. Into our hands come the blessings of the gospel, and we must pass them to those about us and beyond us. If we feed only ourselves, take the comfort and the grace for our own lives, and do not pass on the broken bread, we have disappointed our master and have failed in our duty as His helpers and co-workers, also leaving the waiting people unfed.
After the miracle, we have a lesson on frugality and carefulness. The disciples were bidden to gather up the broken pieces that were left over, that nothing might be wasted. "Waste not; want not," says the proverb. It seems remarkable that He would could so easily multiply the few loaves into a meal for thousands, should be so particular about saving the fragments that remained. But He would teach us economy by His own example. No matter how great our abundance may be—we never should waste anything. After we have fed at our tables, there always are hungry people who would be glad for the pieces that are left.
One day Thomas Carlyle stopped suddenly at a street crossing and stooping, picked up something out of the mud, even at the risk of being knocked down and run over by passing vehicles. With his bare hands he gently rubbed the mud from it. He then almost reverently carried it to the pavement and laid it down on a clean spot on the curbstone. "That," said the old man in a tone of tenderness he rarely used, "is only a crust of bread. Yet I was taught by my mother never to waste anything; above all, bread, more precious than gold. I am sure the little sparrows or a hungry dog will get nourishment from this bit of bread."
The lesson on the sin of wastefulness applies to other things besides bread—to fragments of time, of energy, of influence, of affection. Many people waste whole years in the course of their lives—in the little fragments which they lose every day—one minute here, five minutes there, and ten minutes later. If, at the end of a year, they could gather up all these fragments which they have wasted, they would have many basketfuls of golden time in which they might do much good. In the mint, where gold and silver coins are made, the sweeping of the floors are all carefully searched through for fine particles of precious metals; and it is said that during a year large sums are recovered in this way. If only we would learn to waste nothing which passes through our hands—we would be far richer at the end of our life, and the world would be richer for our living. We should gather up the fragments, the finest golden dust, that nothing may be lost!
Jesus, the Bread of Life
It was the day after the multitude had been fed so marvelously on the five loaves and the two fishes. So great was the impression made by the miracle, that the people were about to take Jesus by force and make Him king. He first sent the disciples away, constraining them to enter the boat and go before Him, unto the other side. Then He sent the multitudes away—and when they were gone He went quietly, unobserved, unto the mountain to pray.
The people had been foiled of their purpose to make Jesus king, and were disappointed. They sought Him—but could not find Him. It is a sad thing to lose Jesus. There is an incident in the days of our Lord's boyhood which tells of His mother losing Him. The family had been to Jerusalem, on the occasion of the boy's first Passover, and when they started homeward, Jesus was unawares left behind, and they had gone a whole day's journey before they missed Him. Great was the anxiety and the distress. Not until they had retraced their steps and sought painfully, did they find Him. Many people lose Jesus, some in play, some in pleasure, some in business, some in sorrow, and some in sin.
These men, who had lost Jesus in the desert, after vainly searching for Him far and near, crossed the sea and found Him on the other side. Then, when they found Him, they seemed almost to blame Him for disappearing, asking Him, "When did you get here?" Jesus answered, revealing to them their real motive in seeking Him, "I tell you the truth, you are looking for me, not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate the loaves and had your fill." That is, they sought Jesus, not to honor Him—but only for what they thought He would do for them. We are in danger of thinking of religion only or chiefly from the side of its earthly benefits, for it has the promise of the life that now is, as well as of that which is to come. But the higher blessings should be dearer to us than the lower. We should seek Christ for His own sake, and for the sake of the honor we may do to Him.
The lesson which Jesus taught the people that day, we should consider well for ourselves. He said, "Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you." We live in a materialistic age, when the quest of the world is for money, for power, for things of the earth, and not for the things that are spiritual and enduring. Men are toiling and wearing out their life in gathering rubbish out of the dust, not thinking of the heavenly treasures, the spiritual things that are in Christ, and which they might have with half the toil and care. We ought not to spend our life in picking up things which we cannot carry through the grave. If we are wise, we will seek rather to gather treasures which we can take with us into eternity. Really, all we can carry out of this world, is whatever we may have of character when we are through with living. The Beatitudes tell us what are the things that will abide. The fruits of the Spirit, of which Paul tells us, are the only qualities which will endure to eternal life.
The people seem to have caught at last from the words of Jesus a glimmering of the truth that there were better things to live for than they were yet striving after, and they asked Him, "What shall we do, that we might work the works of God?" Jesus had said He would "give" them eternal life—but they wanted to "work" for it. People are always making this mistake—instead of accepting eternal life as God's gift—they want to earn it. Jesus corrected their mistaken notion in His answer, "This is the work of God—that you believe on him whom he has sent." There is abundant opportunity for working for Christ—but working does not come first. Having received eternal life through Christ as a gift—we are then to work, presenting our body as a living sacrifice unto God. The first thing in the true life, is to believe on Christ, to receive Him as the revealing of God to us, to commit ourselves to Him, and to let Him live in us. Then Christ becomes the inspiration of our life. He lives in us, and our life is just the working out of His life in us.
The people had another question. Jesus had claimed to be the Messiah. What proof could He give? "What miraculous sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do?" They remembered that Moses had given their fathers manna, which proved that He was God's prophet, and they wanted Jesus to do something great, which would prove that He was one sent of God. They were thinking all the time—of common food, daily bread, for they were poor and life was hard for them. It is not uncommon in our own times to hear practically the same demand for a sign. People want prosperity as a mark of divine favor. They want to find some reward for following Christ. If their religion does not bring them bread and earthly comforts, they think it is not measuring up to its promises. Yet it is not in this way that Christ is to reward those who follow Him. He gives spiritual life, with inward joy and peace—and not ease and luxury and wealth.
Jesus answered their demand, by telling them that He was doing for them a far greater work than Moses had done. Moses gave only bread for the body. It was not the true, the real bread—bread which answered life's deepest needs. Now God was giving them through Him—true bread from heaven. It was not manna—but a person, a life, "For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world." Nothing that grows out of the soil of earth—will feed a human soul. We were made for God and for heaven, and must feed our immortal nature upon heavenly bread. Nothing but bread will satisfy hunger; nothing but Christ will meet the cravings of a life.
The people begin now to have a true thought of Christ's meaning, although it is still only a glimmering. Instead of asking further questions, however, they make a prayer, "Lord, evermore give us this bread." It was a good prayer—but when they made it—they did not know what they were asking. They wanted the bread that had in it the power to bless, and yet they did not know what that bread was. It is often so in our praying—we have a dim vision of something very beautiful, very good but it is only a shadowy vision to us. It is well that we have an Intercessor to take our poor, ignorant, mistaken prayers and interpret them aright for us, securing for us not what we thought we would get, nor what we would like to receive—but something better, richer, and more divine.
Jesus then told them what the bread is, which gives life—and how they could get it. "I am the bread of life! He who comes to me shall never hunger." Christ will satisfy all our desires. Some people imagine that the desires of the heart are sinful things, which must be torn out and destroyed. But that is not what Christ purposes to do. He says that our thirsts shall all be satisfied. He does not mean our sinful and selfish desires, the things of our lusts which we think would satisfy us—but our desires purified, such as Christ meant when He said, "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled."
Jesus reminded the people that they had not received Him as the one sent from God. "You also have seen Me, and believe not." That is, they had not eaten the bread of God of which He had been speaking to them. The assurance that follows is one of the most precious words of all the Bible, "All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away." No penitent who ever really comes to Christ, shall be turned away.
The closing words of the passage are rich in their revealing of the purpose of Christ's coming into the world. He came to do His Father's will. His will was that of all whom the Father had given the Son, the Son should lose none. Our part in His great purpose is also made very clear, "For my Father's will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him—shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day."
Jesus at the Feast of Tabernacles
In the chapter from which our passage is taken, we find much about how different people regarded Jesus. His brothers did not believe on Him, and yet they urged Him to put on a bold face and go up to the feast. Just what their motive was, we are not told. They seem to have wanted him to make a display of His power at Jerusalem, to show the people there what He was, and what He could do. Or perhaps they only taunted Him, professing to believe in His power. Jesus knew that the Jews at Jerusalem were plotting to kill Him, and as His "hour" was not yet come, He declined to go to the feast—but said to His brothers that they should go up. The world did not hate them—no one was plotting for their lives. They would not be molested if they went.
Later, however, Jesus did go up to the feast and taught in the temple. There was a great deal of discussion about Him then, and all sorts of opinions were expressed. The Jews wondered at the wisdom of His teaching, since He had not been trained in their schools, had not sat at the feet of their great rabbis, nor learned wisdom from them. Jesus gave the honor to His Father, saying, "My teaching is not my own. It comes from him who sent me." (v.16). The people wondered who He could be. They sought to take Him, to arrest Him—but no one laid His hand upon Him. There was a divine protection about Him, "because His hour was not yet come" (v.30). God watches over the lives of His servants who trust Him, who are doing His work in the world, and lets no evil touch them. "Every man is immortal, until His work is done."
On the last day of the feast, Jesus uttered one of His most wonderful statements. The temple was thronged, and He spoke, no doubt, in a loud voice that all might hear what He said. He made a great proclamation of His mission, as it were, offering life to all who would accept it. This is one of the great invitations of the gospel. Every word is full of meaning. "If anyone is thirsty—let him come to me and drink."
"If anyone is thirsty" marks the one and only condition to which the invitation is addressed. Of course, if we do not thirst—we will not care to come to the will to drink. Souls are dying all around us, not because there is no water near—but because they are not thirsty. The words "anyone" show us how universal the invitation is. It was not for "any Jew," nor "any intelligent man," nor "any man of good character," but for "anyone." No one is left out or overlooked. All the invitations of the gospel are universal in their offer and in their adaptation. "All who are weary" receive the invitation to rest which Christ gives. All that are thirsty are invited to come and drink. All who hunger are bidden to eat the bread of life. There is not a person in the world who can say he is not invited to receive the salvation of Christ.
The word "thirsty" describes the need which Christ is ready to supply. It is not bodily thirst—but thirst of the soul which He offers to quench. For the soul has its thirsts as well as the body, and there is no spring of water on earth at which these thirsts can be satisfied. The words "let him come" show us the gate to the fountain flung wide open. There is no barrier or hindrance in the way. No person is shut out. The words remind us, however, that if we would have our thirst quenched by Christ—we must come to Him. We must leave our dry, burning wilderness where no water is found, and come away to Christ. We cannot find Christ—in our sins. Our thirsts will never be satisfied unless we bring them to the fountain.
The fact that we are dying of thirst, is not alone sufficient to insure us of the quenching of the thirst. There must be a movement made by us, a movement toward Christ, a believing on Him, and acceptance of Him. The word "drink" tells us we must receive Christ Himself into our own hearts, if we would have our thirst satisfied in Him. Merely going to the spring and looking at its sparkling waters will never quench anyone's thirst; he who would be satisfied, must drink. This implies a voluntary act on the part of each individual. So, looking at Christ in all His beauty and power to help—is not enough to bless us—we must take Him into our life by an act of our own, as one takes water in drinking from the fountain, or from a cup, and let His Spirit fill our hearts.
Jesus next proceeded to tell of the result of coming to him. "Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him." Believing is coming to Christ. To come is to believe, and then to trust oneself to Him. Believing is putting oneself into such personal relations with Christ, that His life becomes ours. Every thirsty one who drinks of Christ has thenceforward in himself a fountain of life, a well of water—at which other thirsty ones may drink. This is a beautiful picture of a Christian life. We in turn become little wells of the water of life, filled by Christ Himself, from which the water flows that others may drink. Christ wants every one of us to repeat in our own little measure, His great life of love. A spring of water, especially in a hot, oriental country, is invaluable. It is a center of great blessing. Weary ones come to it, and go on their way refreshed.
Someone describes an old homestead, deserted now, with its empty dwelling and unused porches and grass-grown walks. But there is one path on which no grass grows, which is trodden daily by many feet. It is the path to the spring. Nearly every passer-by turns aside to drink of the clear, sweet water of the spring. If we can be like such a spring of water by life's wayside, we shall be an untold blessing in the world. People who are weary, those who have troubled hearts, and those who are in sorrow, those who are weak and faint in their journey—all may come and drink of the water of life in us, and go on their way stronger and happier. It is a great thing to be a well of water by the wayside—but if we cannot be a well, we can at least be a little spring, giving out its little stream to quench the thirst of some who are weary.
The writer of this Gospel explains further Jesus' words about the fountain within the heart. He says that Jesus referred to the Holy Spirit which those who believed on Him would receive. In talking with the woman at the well, Jesus told her that the water He would give those who would drink—would become a well of water in them, springing up into eternal life. The Spirit is God Himself. Hence those who receive the Spirit receive God Himself into their hearts. The new life in a believer is the divine life. It is Christ Himself.
We may notice here, too, the two words that are used in the two passages, showing the growth of life in those who receive Christ. Jesus said to the woman, that the water would become a well in the heart of the believer. Here He says that from within him who receive the divine Spirit—shall flow rivers of living water. The word "rivers" suggests the possibilities of Christian life and influence. When the apostles first came to Christ, the beginning of life in them was very small. But when they went forth, after the day of Pentecost, full of the Holy Spirit, rivers of influence and blessing flowed from them. Our lives should increase in power as we become filled with Christ, and our reach of blessing should grow wider and wider.
A question of origin hindered the faith of some of those to whom Christ spoke that day. They thought that nothing good could come out of the despised province of Galilee. We are familiar already with this argument against the Messiahship of Jesus. Nathanael could not believe that any good thing could come out of Nazareth (see 1:46). In His case, however, a personal knowledge of Christ instantly swept away his prejudices. A like prejudice applies in many other cases. Lowly circumstances bury much that is good, and hinder its recognition among men. Yet we know that the power of the Christ who slept His first sleep in a manger, was the Son of God, and His power and glory have filed all earth and heaven. The unconscious testimony of the officers to the power of Jesus is very remarkable. Sent by the rulers to arrest Him, they came under the influence of His words as He spoke to the people. The spell was so strong that the officers returned without arresting Jesus, awed and unable to do anything, and when asked why they had not brought Him as a prisoner they replied, "No one ever spoke the way this man does!"
Those who come under the influence of Jesus, are always impressed by the power of His presence. It is indeed true that "No one ever spoke the way this man does!" His words are the words of God. If we let them into our hearts, they search us and find us. They are convicting words, showing us our sins and faults. They are upbuilding words, kindling and stimulating in us holy desires and aspirations, holding before us divine ideals of life and inspiring us to all heavenly attainments. They are transforming words, imprinting upon our lives the beauty of Christ and sending us to ministry of love. They are words of hope, revealing the true honor and blessedness of those who faithfully follow Christ. The most wonderful things in all this world are the words of Christ. "No one ever spoke the way this man does!"
The Slavery of Sin
The title of this passage is suggestive. People who live in sin—do not think that they are slaves—they often think they are the only free men, and that Christians are the slaves. But in all this world, there is no bondage so terrible as the bondage of sin. The salvation of Christ is not merely the taking away of sin's penalty—if this were all, it would be very incomplete. This would leave us unchanged in heart and life, loving still the old things and the old ways, not disposed to live the beautiful life of holiness, not having the love of Christ in our hearts. The salvation of Christ not only changes our relation to sin's penalty, setting us free—but brings us into God's family, making us God's children. It includes also the breaking of the power of sin over the life and the exaltation of the believer into the full liberty of Christ.
The passage begins by telling how we may be Christ's disciples. "If you continue in My Word—then you are really my disciples." It is not enough to begin; abiding, persevering, is the test. A disciple is a learner, a pupil. It is not enough for one to enter a school. Mere enrollment will not make anyone a pupil. The pupil must continue in the school all through the long course, studying subject after subject, until he has mastered the whole curriculum. The same is true in business and in all callings. Life is a school. The course is a long one. It is not finished in a day—but fills all the days of one's life. The lessons, too, are long ones.
The man who is faithful, who persists and perseveres unto the end, is the only one who succeeds. Missing lessons anywhere in the course leaves a blank. Many begin well, with diligence and earnestness—but lose interest in a little while, let their courage falter, and fail in their course. They grow weary and give up. This is true of many in all lines of work. A writer, speaking of the failure of some ministers to succeed, says that they enter the ministry with great enthusiasm and promise—but after a little while settle down into apathy, lose their enthusiasm, and soon are heard of no more. It is true also in Christian life. There are thousands who begin to follow Christ—but who, when discouragement comes, give up and sink back again into the world. Jesus told His enthusiastic followers that an ardent beginning was not enough—they must continue unto the end.
Abiding in the Word of Christ is given as the essential thing in discipleship. To abide in Christ's Word—is to obey Him, to do His commandments, not for a day or two only—but faithfully, all through life. It is not enough to know the will of Christ—we must do it. He said that if we are His friends, we will do whatever He commands us. Obedience, therefore, is a test of discipleship, and obedience must be patient and continuous. It must be without break. It must look to the little things of duty. Dropped stitches in the web make breaks, and then the garment unravels.
There is another way in which we may abide in the Word of Christ. Many of His Words are promises. The forests in summer days are full of bird's nests. They are hidden in the trees, in among the leaves. The little birds know where they are, and when danger comes, when a storm arises, or when night draws on; they fly at once each to its own nest and hide away there in safety. So the promises of Christ are hidden in the Bible like nests in the trees, and there we may fly in any danger or alarm, hiding there until the storm is past. There are no castles in this world so strong, so impregnable, so safe—as the words of Christ. "Heaven and earth shall pass away," said the Master, "But My words shall never pass away" (Matthew 24:35; Mark 13:31; Luke 21:33).
Jesus then told His disciples how they could be made free from sin's bondage. "You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." Chris is a deliverer. He came to open prisons and lead captives out to liberty. There is a story of a stranger who entered an oriental city, and as he walked through the marketplace he saw many birds in cages. His face grew sad, and by and by he asked the price of one of the birds, and paying for it, opened the cage door. The bird flew out and, rising a little way in the air, caught a glimpse of its native mountains far away, and then flew swiftly toward them. The traveler then bought the other cages, one by one, and set the birds free, until all of them had been liberated. That is what Christ, our Liberator does for His people in their captivity. He sets them free, breaking their chains, opening their prison doors, that they may fly away toward home and safety.
It is the truth, Jesus says, that make men free. So long as they are ignorant of Christ and of His power to liberate them—they remain in bondage. But when His emancipating Word comes to them, they are free!
The Jews resented the suggestion that they were in any sense slaves. "They answered him, We are Abraham's seed, and were never in bondage to any man." How deceived they were—they imagined themselves free, when at that very hour Roman soldiers stood guard about their city! But it is the same with spiritual slaves. It is a great privilege to have good ancestry; it is good capital with which to start in life; but beyond a certain point it does not count for anything. Every man must bear His own burden. In the end, everyone must stand for himself. These people were depending upon their fine ancestry. Sin plays strange tricks with men. Insane people sometimes deck themselves out with tinsel, and imagine that they are some great personages. The devil puts similar notions into the heads of His deluded followers, making them think they are free—when in reality they are pitiful slaves.
Jesus very promptly assured the rulers of the people that they were not free men. He said to them, "Whoever commits sin, is the slave of sin." Sin makes slaves of those who follow it. Everyone is the servant of some master, the only question being who the master is. Christ asks His disciples to take His yoke and to come under bondage to Him. His is not the bondage of compulsion—but of love and joy. Christ is a blessed Master. His yoke is easy; serving Him lifts one up to eternal glory. What sort of master is sin? What does sin do for its slaves? What life did it ever ennoble, lift up, or bless?
There is a fable of man to whom the devil came, ordering a chain of a certain length. Coming for the chain at the appointed time, he ordered it made longer, and went away. When at last it was finished, he came again, and with it bound the poor man who had fashioned its links at his bidding. So sinners are everywhere building their own prison walls and with their own hands fashioning chains to bind them forever. There is only One in all the world who can set men free from the bondage of sin—Christ Himself. "If the Son therefore shall make you free—you shall be free indeed." There is not another one who can do this for us. He breaks the chains of personal enslavement on all who follow Him, putting His grace into their hearts and enabling them to overcome evil habits and conquer their evil nature. Sin begins with threads, and weaves ropes and cables around its slaves—until they are bound hand and foot in chains they have no power to break. But even those who are thus bound, Christ can set free. We all need Christ as liberator, emancipator, for we all have chains of some kind forming about us, chains of habit, of desire, of passion, of disposition, which will bind us and drag us down as slaves, unless we come to Christ and have Him free us from our bondage and make us free indeed!
Jesus told the people further that day that, while they were genealogically Abraham's seed, yet they were continually doing inappropriate things, things which the children of Abraham should not do. They were seeking to kill Him, because His Word was not allowed to have free course in them. This was not the work of free men. Love is the law of freedom, and love was not in their hearts while they were so bitter against Him. He told them that if they were really Abraham's children they would do the works of Abraham. Their doing the works of the devil—proved that they were the devil's children, and not God's.
It was not complimentary to these rulers, church dignitaries, to be called children of the devil—but Jesus read their hearts and saw murder and falsehood there under all their religious appearances and their boasted godly ancestry. Wherever these feeling and intentions are found—they indicate the devil's work. As the fruit of the Spirit in the heart is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, meekness, gentleness and kindness; so the fruit of the devil's indwelling are hatred, malice, envy, jealousy, and bitterness. If our lives have only the devil's characteristics, we cannot make claim to being God's children.
Healing the Man Born Blind
The narrative of the opening of this blind man's eyes is given only in John's gospel. It is recorded with much minuteness, not merely because of the greatness of the miracle—but also because it was a sign of the spiritual enlightening which Jesus came to give to men. The cure seems to have been performed without request, either from the blind man himself or from any of his friends. The thought of it arose in the compassionate heart of Jesus. The case was pitiable enough. No other physical calamity is sorer than blindness. It shuts a man away in the darkness so that he cannot see anything of the beauty of God's world about him. Besides, blindness made this man helpless. He had to depend on others for everything. Another's hand must lead him wherever he went, another's eyes must see for him, and he must get through another's mind—only dim ideas of form, color and beauty.
The case was still sadder, because this man was born blind—and never had seen. Those who have their eyes for a time and then lose them, may cherish the memories of the beautiful things they once looked upon. But this man never had seen. He could form no conception of colors, nor could he understand anything about the appearance of objects. The world was a great dark blank to him. The blindness of this man was incurable. He was absolutely hopeless in the darkness. His poverty was an added element of distress in his condition. He sat and begged for alms, receiving only such pittances as passers-by grudgingly gave him. No wonder that when Jesus saw him sitting there with his blank, sad face, knowing all that lay behind it, and beheld his hand outstretched, He pitied him.
There is another blindness, which is still worse than natural blindness. It is the blindness of the soul's eyes. There are those who see well the beautiful things of nature—but who see nothing of the still more beautiful things of God's love and grace. They have no eyes for the loveliness of righteousness and truth. They do not see the divine Hand that moves everywhere in providence. They never behold the face of Jesus Christ, in which shines all the glory of God. There is a whole world of spiritual beauty lying around them, of which they see nothing—the love of God, the divine promises, the hopes of heaven, and all the joys of salvation. Men of the world hear devout Christians speak with rapture of the joys of Christian faith and of Christian experience, and say, "I cannot see any such joys in Christ." It is because they are blind.
In those days the belief was almost universal, that every trouble was due to special sin in the person. The friends of Job insisted that the patriarch must have been a great sinner, to bring upon himself so much of the disfavor of God. There is much of the same feeling found yet in the world, even among Christian people. Misfortune is associated in many men's minds with sin. We often hear it said by those who have had some trouble, "I wonder what sins God is punishing me for now." The disciples, when they saw this poor man sitting in his blindness, imagined that sin either in him or in some ancestor, was the cause of his calamity.
It was a very instructive word that Jesus spoke in reply to the question, "Master, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" He said, "neither has this man sinned, nor his parents." He did not mean that the man was sinless—but that his trouble had not been produced by sin. Of course, suffering may sometimes be traced to sin. Sometimes the connection is so obvious, that no one can doubt it; but sometimes it is so obscure that no one may certainly seek to trace it. But in the case of this man's blindness, there was no such cause, and our Lord meant to warn the man's neighbors against the tendency in their minds to look into his life suspiciously and uncharitably seeking some sinful cause in himself of his ancestors, for his misfortune.
We never should ask, in any case of suffering, "Whose sin is the blame?" Rather, we should set about giving what help it may be in our power to give. Jesus said that the blindness came upon this man "that the work of God might be displayed in his life." His misfortune now became an occasion for the display of divine mercy. Whatever the cause of the man's blindness, it called now for human sympathy and every possible effort to relive the trouble and do good to the sufferer. It is interesting also to notice, that the man's blindness became a blessing to him in the end—in that it brought him to Christ and resulted in his spiritual awakening, as well as in giving of sight. A case of trouble of any kind should not set us to gossiping about who is to blame—but rather should call us to prompt efforts to give help or relief.
Before curing the man, Jesus spoke of the necessity of promptness in doing God's work. He said, "As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work." There is no time to lose. Even Jesus felt the pressure of the shortness of the opportunity and the need for doing promptly what had been given Him to do.
There are two suggestions in the words: The first is that every one of us has a task to do, and it must be done in our brief day—or it never can be done at all. The other thought is that there is a certain time during which our deeds must be done—or they never can be done at all. We must sow in the seedtime—for when this is past, there will be no use in our scattering the grain upon the fields. We must teach the child while he is young, for when he is grown up there will be no opportunity to put the lessons into its heart. It will then be too late. We must visit our sick friend while he is sick—there will be no use in coming with our kindness when he is well—or when he is dead. We must show sympathy to those who are in trouble, while the trouble is upon them—it will not be worthwhile to try to help when they lie defeated in the dust. The disciples slept in the Garden during the hour when they should have been watching, and then Jesus said to them, with infinite pathos, "Sleep on now, and take your rest." There was no use in waiting and watching now—for the traitor was already at the gate!
A strange thing in this miracle, was the use of the means to which Jesus resorted. "He spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man's eyes." Jesus did not need the help of any means in working His healings, as human physicians do—for He had all power. Evidently the means were used for the effect their use would produce upon the man's own mind. The blind man had not thought of the possibility of receiving his sight. He seems never to have heard of Jesus as one who could open his eyes. There was in him, therefore, no expectation that he might be cured. Hence the first thing to be done was to arouse his hope and start faith in him. This Jesus did by beginning the process of healing, spitting on the ground, making paste, and putting it on the sightless eyes. This must have started expectation of cure and faith. Then the man was bidden to go and wash in the Pool of Siloam.
This seems strange, too. Jesus by a word could have healed him, not requiring of him the long walk across the city. Why did He require him to go away and wash? The answer is that the act still further encouraged faith and obedience in the man. We have a similar instance in the case of Naaman. Elisha bade him go and wash seven times in the Jordan (see 2 Kings. 5:10). There was no specific virtue in Jordan water—it never had been known to be a cure for leprosy. But the man must obey, thus showing his faith and his submission to the will of God. If he had not washed in Jordan—he would not have been cleansed. A similar test of faith was required in the ten lepers whom Jesus sent to the priests (Luke 17:12-19). The journey itself would not cleanse them. Yet, if they had not gone—they would not have been cured. "As they went—they were cleansed." This blind man would not have been cured of his blindness that day—if he had not obeyed and taken the journey to the Pool of Siloam. He must cooperate with Christ in his healing. Some people wait for the evidences of salvation, before they will fully accept Christ. But the salvation will not come—until they take the step which proves their faith.
The blind man obeyed promptly and eagerly. It was not easy for him to take this long walk through the town. On his eyes were the unsightly patches of clay, and people would laugh at him as they saw him groping along the street. But he did not mind this—he would not be laughed out of the cure which was now so near at hand. Perhaps his friends told him it was all foolishness—that mud never yet had been known to cure anyone's blindness, and that Siloam water had no power to open sightless eyes. Still the man pressed on, amid the laughing people, until he came to the pool. There he washed, and behold—his eyes, which never had seen before, were instantly opened.
When the man's old neighbors saw him going about with his eyes opened, they asked him how the wonderful transformation had come to him. They could scarcely believe that it was the same man they used to know. When a man's life is changed from evil ways to good, people are amazed. In every life conversion works a change. If a man is not in some way better, sweeter in spirit, kindlier, truer, with a more radiant face, and new light in his eyes—his conversion has not made much impression.
The man's prompt and simple confession of Christ as his Healer, shows his sincerity and earnestness. When the people asked the man how his eyes were opened, he answered, "A man that is called Jesus made clay, and anointed my eyes." He was not afraid to tell how he had been cured. When Jesus has saved us—we should never hesitate to confess Him before the world.
Jesus the Good Shepherd
SHEPHERD is a very rustic name for Christ, and yet as used in the Scriptures, it is wonderfully rich in its suggestiveness. In the Old Testament there are many allusions to God under this figure of a shepherd. The twenty-third psalm is a Bible classic. Perhaps no other portion of the Scriptures is so widely known, or had had such a ministry of blessing in the world, as this rustic little psalm. The ancient Christians found in the name "shepherd" a beautiful interpretation of the character and word of Christ. In the catacombs at Rome no other picture is so common, as that of the Good Shepherd.
The tenth chapter of John's gospel is so full of great teachings, that only a few leading suggestions can be pointed out. At the beginning of the chapter attention is called to the sheepfold. Applied in a spiritual sense, the fold is the shelter which our Good Shepherd provides for His sheep. The sheepfold is an enclosure surrounded by a wall into which in the evening, the shepherds lead their flocks, committing them for the night to the care of the under shepherd, who guards the door. In the morning the several shepherds come and knock, and the porter opens the door, and each shepherd calls his own sheep, which know his voice and come out to him. He then leads them out to the pasture for the day.
The fold is enclosed by a wall. A wall means defense and shelter. The Bible says much about God's keeping of His people. We are not told, however, that the Lord builds a refuge for them—but that He Himself is the refuge—the divine love and power being a wall of protection between His people and all danger. The safest place in all the world for the sheep of Christ—is in the place of confidence and obedience. We have but to obey our Shepherd, staying within the fold, to have His protection. We have only to do God's will, to go where the Good Shepherd leads, to abide where He puts us, in order to be sure of divine defense.
The shepherd's love and care are individual and personal. "He calls His own sheep by name." It is easy enough for us to understand how an Eastern shepherd may know each of his sheep by name. His flock is small, and he can readily know each one. But when we think of the millions who are in Christ's flock, it seems strange to us that He should know and call each one of all His by name. Yet the truth is made very clear in the Scriptures. It is as easy for our Good Shepherd to know each of His millions personally, as for any human mother to know the name of each one of her little family of children. There is great comfort in this teaching. We are not lost in the crowd. Love always individualizes its object. We cannot love a crowd—we may pity a city in distress, as after the horrors of an earthquake, and yet not know one person in it. But if we have a brother, a child, or a friend among the sufferers—we know the one. Our Good Shepherd loves each one of His own.
A little child of poverty, who had been adopted by a kind man, said he was glad to belong to somebody. It is pleasant for us to know that we belong to Christ. He speaks of His sheep as "His own." They are His own, because the Father gave them to Him. "Yours they were, and you gave them to me" (17:6). They are his own because He gave Himself for them. "You are not your own, for you were bought with a price." (1 Corinthians 6:19, 20). They are His own, further, because they have voluntarily given themselves to Him. It is very sweet to think of ourselves in this way belonging to Christ. The words suggest love, closeness of relation, tenderness of affection.
The Good Shepherd presents Himself also as the Guide of His flock. He "leads them out." "He goes before them, and the sheep follow him." He does not drive them—He leads them, and they follow Him. They love Him and also trust His guidance. They know that they are safe wherever He takes them. Sheep need to be led; they have no such instinct for finding their own way, as most other animals have. Set certain kinds of dogs down anywhere, miles from where they have been staying before, and they will find the way home by instinct. You cannot lose a dog. But a sheep cannot find its way anywhere. The same is true of human souls. They get lost very easily, and are willful and wayward. They need to be led, and without the divine guidance never could get home. But if Christ leads, we who are His sheep must obediently and cheerfully follow Him. The reason we have so many troubles in life, and get so often into difficulty and danger—is because we do not follow Him as we should.
Not only are we to follow Christ—but we are to follow Him only. "A stranger will they not follow—but will flee from him: for they know not the voice of strangers." This is always true of sheep. A stranger's voice frightens them, and even when he calls them by their right names, in imitation of their shepherd's voice; and they will flee from him, rather than come to him. They know His voice to be strange, and will not answer His calls. It ought to be so with Christ's sheep, too. They should know when the voice they hear—is not really their Shepherd's, and should not give heed to it.
Voices of strangers continually fall upon the ears of young Christians, especially of inexperienced Christians. There are many temptations which would lure them away from the fold, into paths of wandering, ending in ruin. There are false teachings which seek to dishonor Christ and make His believing ones love Him less and trust Him less confidently. There are solicitations of pleasure which lack the note of purity and truth—voices of the stranger. There are invitations to things that appear to offer gain, to promise reward—but which, in reality, have only loss and hurt and ruin to give. Everywhere the voices of strangers are heard, and, unfortunately, too many are willing to listen to these voices. Those who do—are lured away, often into peril and destruction. We need to be sure that the voices we hear are of the Shepherd, calling us only and always to things that are beautiful and true and good.
Not only is Jesus the Good Shepherd—but He is also the DOOR. "I am the door of the sheep." A door is a way of entrance—those who come though Christ are admitted into the blessedness of God. As many as receive Him, become children of God (see 1:12). This is a Door that is always open. We need never fear coming to it and fining it shut. In the representation of heaven as a city, in Revelation, there are twelve gates, three on each of the four sides. No matter from which way we approach, we shall always find a door of entrance.
When we enter the fold through Christ as the Door, we find provision with Him. "By me if any man enters in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture." The shepherd looks well to the feeding of his flock. He leads the sheep into green pastures. He searches everywhere to find food for them. When one spot is burnt up with the summer heat and has no more provision for his flock—the shepherd takes them elsewhere.
So does Christ. Wherever He leads us, we may always be sure that He is taking us to some good, some provision, some blessing. The Bible is Christ's pastureland, and the pasture there is always good. Wherever we open it, we find something to feed our hunger. Other books may have poisonous teachings—but every word in the Bible is wholesome food for our lives. The fields of providence are also Christ's fields. In all the common ways of life—we find food waiting for us. We may trust Christ absolutely, because we know that wherever He leads us, He is always taking care of us in the right way. When the shepherd led his flock through the dark valley, it was not to terrify them—but to get them to a place where they would find pasture. Sometimes Christ leads His people through dark ways of struggle, trial, loss—but it is always because these are the ways to some good which He has in waiting for them.
The Good Shepherd loves His sheep, loves them so much that He stops at no sacrifice in protecting them and saving them. "The good shepherd gives his life for the sheep." The Eastern shepherd often has to fight battles for His flock. David tells of killing a lion and a bear in defense of his sheep. Sometimes the shepherd in defending his flock against wild animals—is himself wounded; sometimes he even loses his life in protecting them. Our Good Shepherd has wounds upon Him, and if we ask when He received them, His answer is, "In defending My sheep!"
At present Christ's sheep are widely dispersed. They are scattered over all the world. But at last there will be a great home-gathering, when all the flocks shall be brought together. "Other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring… and there shall be one fold and one Shepherd." One of the saddest things about the church as it is in the world today—is the separation of believers into different denominations. In heaven all shall be brought together, from the north, the south, the east and west—and all shall be found at last in the one flock with the one Shepherd.
The Abundant Life
Christ always wants abundant life. He is infinitely patient with the weak—but He wishes that we be strong. He accepts the feeblest service—but He desires us to serve Him with the whole heart. The smallest faith, even like a grain of mustard seed, has power with God and can remove mountains—but God is best pleased when we have a faith that quails at no difficulties, and accomplishes impossibilities. A believer may have but the smallest flame of life, and yet Christ will not despise it. "Smoking flax, shall He not quench."
There is a picture of one bending over a handful of cold embers on the hearth, as if he would get them to glow again. Underneath the picture are the words, "It may be there is a spark left yet." This is a picture of the infinite patience of Christ with those who are almost dead spiritually. So long as there is even a spark left—He will seek in every way to make it thrive. But with all His gentleness toward the barely living, He wants abundance of life in all His followers. "I am come that they might have life—and that they might have it more abundantly."
Every picture of Christian life which our Lord uses, suggests fullness and richness of life. Fruit is the test and measure of it. The fruitless branch is taken away, and the fruitful branch is pruned that it may bring forth more fruit. "This is to my Father's glory, that you bear much fruit—showing yourselves to be my disciples." (15:8). To the woman at the well Jesus spoke of spiritual life beginning in the heart as a well or spring of water. When we receive Christ, a fountain of divine life is opened in our hearts. At first, however it is only a little spring, a mere beginning of the life of God and heaven in us. Then, later, Jesus said, "He who believes on me… out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water" (7:38). The little spring, by and by becomes rivers. Christ came to give life and to give it abundantly.
There have been those in all ages, whose lives became like rivers in the fullness and richness of their flow. This was true of John and Peter and Paul. Streams of blessing and good poured out from them, which reached many lands and thousands of people, and which are still flowing today, wherever the gospel is known. There are those whose influence for good touches countless lives.
What is an abundant life? It does not need to be a conspicuous life, one which makes itself heard on the streets. There are some good people who seem to suppose that they are living for a purpose—only when they are making themselves seen and heard. Yet there are those who are rich in outward show—but poor in inward experience. One may have abundant life—and yet move among men so quietly as almost to be unheard and unknown. Of our Lord Himself it was written, "He shall not strive, nor cry; neither shall any man hear His voice in the streets" (Matthew 12:19). No other ever had such fullness and abundance of life as He had, and yet no other ever lived and worked so quietly as He did. Noise is not true spiritual power. The real power in life is in its influence, in its character and personality.
Our Lord puts first in the Beatitudes—humility. "Blessed are the poor in spirit" (Matthew 5:3). It is the lowly ones who live nearest to the heart of Christ, and have most of His life in them. Not those who fill the largest places in the eyes of men, even in the church; nor those whose works attract the most attention, have most of God in the—but those who live humbly, with no thought of human recognition or praise.
The abundant life need not be known by its large financial gifts. The tendency in these days is to measure every man's value to the world, by charities. Money has its value. Those who contribute to charity, to education, to religion, if their gifts are wisely bestowed, are blessings in the world. It is the bounden duty of all who possess wealth—to use it in doing good. But money is never the best gift we can bestow on others; and those who cannot give money—may yet be really generous givers.
A man's money is not the only thing a man has to give. He can give love, sympathy, encouragement, hope, or cheer—and these gifts will help where money would be only a mockery. There are great needs which money has no power to satisfy. There are sorrows which money cannot alleviate.
It was an ancient fable, that an angel was permitted once to visit this world, and from the mountaintop to look down upon the cities and palaces and works of men. As he went away he said: "Why, all these people are spending their time building birds' nests. They are building birds' nests to be swept away in the floods, when they might be building palaces of beauty to abide forever!" If all Christians would put the same earnestness into their Christian life which they put into their bird-nest building, what victories would they accomplish for the kingdom of Christ!
Jesus never gave money. Yet the world has never known such a lavish giver as He was. Imagine Jesus going about with His hands full of coins and dispensing them wherever He went among the poor, the lame, the blind, the beggars, the lepers, the sick—money, and nothing else. What a poor, paltry service His would have been, in comparison with the wonderful ministry of kindness and love He performed in His journeyings through the land! Suppose He had given a coin to the woman who lay at His feet crying for her poor daughter's deliverance. Would that have comforted her? Suppose He had put a handful of money in the hands of the blind beggar at Jericho, instead of opening His eyes—would the generous gift have meant as much to the poor man?
"Silver and gold have I none; but such as I have give I you" (Acts 3:6), said Peter at the Beautiful Gate to the lame man. Then the man was lame no more. Was not the healing a better gift to the poor man than if he had filled His hands with coins? Was it not better that the man should be made strong, so that he would not need to beg anymore, than that he should have been supported a day or two longer in poverty and mendicancy?
The abundant life may not have money to give—and yet it may fill a whole community with blessings through its gifts. It may go out with its sympathy, its words of comfort, its inspirations of cheer and hope, and may make countless hearts braver and stronger. Let the well of love in your heart spring up and pour out rivers. That is what it means to have life abundantly.
To others who turn to us with their needs, their heart-hungers, and their sorrows—we should be their comfort, strength and help. They should go away helped. We should always have bread in our hands to give to those who are hungry. We should always have cheer for those who come to us disheartened and discouraged. "How can I help you?" should be our heart's question, whoever it is that stands before us. The life Christ came to give is only love—God's love poured into veins and through us to those who lack. It is more love we need—when we cry out for more life and more power to do good. It is love that the world needs. Nothing else will make people happier or better. Ethics will not heal broken hearts, nor comfort those who are in sorrow, nor quiet a guilty conscience. The only abundant life is the life that is abundant in love.
How can we get this abundant life? Most of us are conscious of the poverty and thinness of our spiritual life. We faint easily under our burdens or in our struggles. We are not living victoriously. We are not filled with the spirit of Christ. We may have other things—we may have plenty of money; we may have pleasure, power, honor; our hands may be full of tasks. But there is only a little of God in us, only a little of heaven. Our brains may be teeming with plans, projects and dreams of success—but of spiritual life, our veins are scant.
Christ came to give us just what we need—life. We can get it only from Him, and we can take it only as His gift. We have no conception, we who are merely living, with no great, strong, victorious life, what it is possible for us to become as Christians in this world—if only Christ would possess us fully, wholly.
Henry van Dyke tells of two streams that emptied into the sea:
One was a sluggish rivulet, in a wide, fat, muddy bed; and every day the tide came in and drowned out the poor little stream, and filled it with bitter brine. The other was a vigorous, joyful, brimming mountain river, fed from the unfailing spring among the hills; and all the time it swept the salt water back before it, and kept itself pure and sweet; and when the tide came, it only made the fresh water rise higher and gather new strength by the delay; and ever the living stream poured forth into the ocean, its tribute of living water—the symbol of that influence which keeps the ocean of life from turning into a Dead Sea of wickedness.
But there is no way to save our lives from being swallowed up in the bitter floods of sin in this world—but by having them full of divine life. A feeble stream of spiritual life has no power to resist the evil of the world. Only the abundant life can keep itself pure and sweet.
A wild gypsy girl was sitting for her picture, in an artist's studio in Germany. Opposite to her as she sat, hung an unfinished picture of the crucifixion. One day the girl asked, "Master, who is that?"
"That is Jesus Christ," replied the painter.
"Was He a very bad man, that they treated Him so cruelly?"
"On, no! He was the best Man that ever lived," said the artist, carelessly.
"Tell me more about Him," pleaded the girl, who had never heard of Jesus before.
Day after day as the girl came to the studio—her eyes remained fixed upon the picture of the Christ on His cross. When her sittings were ended and she was going away, she whispered: "Master, how can you help loving Him who, you say, died for you? If anybody had loved me like that—oh, I'd like to die for him!"
Has not the love of Christ for you—power to win you to love Him?
The Raising of Lazarus
The eleventh chapter of John's gospel introduces us to an experience of our Lord's life which will ever be unspeakably precious to His friends. Here we enter a home which was in a very real way, our Lord's own home. Here He found love which was unspeakably rich and dear to His heart in its comforts and blessings. The house in which Martha and Mary and Lazarus lived—was one place in which Jesus was always sure of welcome when He came to their door weary—and always sure of refuge when He came from the strifes and enmities of the world.
Into this home, there came sore and fatal sickness. Jesus was absent. When Lazarus was stricken, a messenger was sent to Jesus bearing the simple message from the burdened hearts, "He whom you love is sick!" (11:3). We would think that such a message would have brought the Master at once. We think at least, that if we had been in His place, we would have made all haste, traveling by night and day, to get to our dying friend. But, strange to say, Jesus, after receiving the message, lingered two days longer where He was. Evidently He was not alarmed, although He knew all the circumstances. Explaining His delay in starting to the home of His friends, we have this remarkable statement: "Jesus loved Martha, her sister, and Lazarus. So when He heard that he was sick—He stayed two more days in the place where He was."
That is, it was just because He loved the sisters and Lazarus, that He abode two days longer before He sent out to minister to them. When He reached Bethany at length, Lazarus had been dead four days. In the narrative we have our Lord's conversation with the sisters. Then we have the exquisite picture of the wary and way worn Christ, standing beside His friends in their grief, weeping with them. But we have more than tears—the same One who weeps—calls the dead from the grave, and gives back to the darkened home, its light and joy.
Martha was the first to meet Jesus when He reached the village. It was outside the home, in some quiet place. Presently He sent her to call Mary. The message was, "The Master has come—and is calling for you." John 11:28. Mary was sitting in the house in deep grief. Evidently the sisters and brother were bound together in very warm ties of affection. Probably they were orphans, keeping up the old home after father and mother were gone. A good brother is a great comfort and blessing to His sister, especially when they have neither parent to lean on. Great, therefore, was the grief when Lazarus died. Jesus had been a friend to them all, and when Mary had learned that He had come and that He wished to see her, she rose up quickly and hastened to Him. Jesus sends the same message to everyone who is in sorrow, "The Master has come—and is calling for you." He wants to comfort His friends who are in sorrow. He bids them come to Him with their trouble. No matter how deep the grief is, we should always do as Mary did—hasten to Jesus. He is the only true Comforter.
When Mary came to Jesus—she fell down at His feet. A true picture of Mary should always show her there. Mary seems to be grieving, almost complaining, at the Master's long delay in coming to the sad home. She told Jesus that if He had been there, her brother would not have died. Perhaps that was true. So far as we are told—no one ever died ever in the presence of Jesus. But the saving of Lazarus from dying was not the best thing for even divine power and love to do that day. When the word came that Lazarus was sick, Jesus said to His disciples that the sickness was "for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified thereby." Curing His friend's fever would have glorified God and His Son—but raising him from the dead was a far greater glory! When a friend of ours is sick, it is right for us to pray for His restoration to health—but we do not know that this is the best thing. Perhaps the death of our loved one may be a better thing and more for God's glory than His living longer would be.
We do not know where God wants us to serve Him, nor how He would have us honor Him. It is better that we leave it all with our great Intercessor. The "if" was not a word of faith—but it is a word we are all too apt to use in like cases. "If we had sent for another physician," we say, or, "If we had tried some other remedies, our friend would not have died." But such words are not the language of the quietest trust in God. We are to do what seems to be wisest at the moment, with all the light we have, and then have no regrets or doubts afterwards.
The shortest verse in the Bible is that which contains only the two words, "Jesus wept." This was His first way of comforting Mary. He entered into full and deep sympathy with her. This little verse is a great window into Christ's heart, showing us the depths of His very heart. It tells us that our blessed Lord, though so glorious, has a tender love for us and is touched by all our griefs. This alone is a wonderful comfort to those who are in trouble.
A little child visited a neighbor who had lost her baby, and came home and told her mother that she had been comforting the sorrowing one. Her mother asked her how, and she said, "I cried with her." It does us good when we are in trouble to know that some other one cares, feels with us. It brings a sense of companionship into our loneliness. It puts another shoulder under our load. Sympathy halves our sorrows. But when it is Jesus who cares and is touched, weeps with us, and comes up close beside us in gentle companionship, it is wondrous comfort indeed.
When Jesus came to the grave, He gave a command that the stone should be taken away. Could He not have taken it away Himself by a word, without any human help? Certainly He could. The power that called the dead back to life—could easily have lifted back the piece of rock from the door of the tomb to let the risen man out of His prison. But there is always something left for human hands to do. Christ honors us by making us coworkers with Himself, both in providence and in grace. He makes His word dependent, too, upon our fidelity in doing our little part. He still wants us to take away the stones that shut our friends in their prison.
The manner of the raising of Lazarus is suggestive. We may place together all Christ's calls to the dead He raised. To the daughter of Jairus, His words were, "Maiden, arise!" To the young man of Nain, He said, "Young man, I say unto you, Arise!" He calls neither of these by name. Neither of them had been personally known to Him. But Lazarus was His own familiar friend; and therefore, He called him by his dear household name. Death does not destroy personality. Lazarus, in the region of the dead, knew His name, heard it called, and answered to it. In the coming of Lazarus from the grave at the call of Christ—we have a glimpse of what will take place at the final resurrection, when the same voice will be heard by all the dead.
When Lazarus came forth at Christ's call, his friends had something to do in assisting him. Jesus bade them, "Loose him, and let him go." His limbs were bound so that he could not walk freely. It was necessary that these wrappings should be removed in order that he might be free in his movements. Note Christ's economy in miracle. He did not by supernatural power take off these bandages, though He could have done so. Nor did He with His own hands unwrap the clothes and remove them. He bade His friends to do this, thus making them coworkers with Himself.
There is here a parable of spiritual things. When a soul hears Christ's voice and comes from its grave of death, there are still many old wrappings of sin, the grave clothes of an old life, chains of bad habits, the bonds of evil companionships and friendships. Lazarus walking forth from his grave with his limbs bound about and his freedom hindered, is a picture of every saved life at the first. The removing of these chains and hindrances, is work which Christ gives us to do for our friends who are beginning their new life. We are to set our friends free. We are to help them overcome their old habits and break off their sinful associations, and in all ways to seek to set them free for loving service.
The Supper at Bethany
"Here a dinner was given in Jesus' honor." The feast was in recognition of the great blessing Jesus had brought to the home in Bethany, in the calling back of Lazarus from death. He had turned their sorrow into joy, and the sisters' hearts were full of gratitude. No wonder they were grateful. There are many homes in which this story is read where there is even greater reason for gratitude than there was in this Bethany household. The dead have been brought back from the graves of spiritual death—and live in joy and beauty. Should not Christ be honored in all such households? There, too, should feasts be made for Him, feasts of love and thanksgiving. In every home, also, in which sorrow has been a guest and where Christ has come bringing comfort, there is reason for gratitude.
There are some people who are well-known in the Gospels by certain features which always appear in them. Wherever she is seen, Martha is known by her serving. Some people criticize her for this feature of life and speak as if she were to blame for the way she took of honoring her Master. It was too material. But Jesus did not say so. He did not reprove Martha for her careful housekeeping, nor for her hearty hospitality, nor for the pains she took to provide well for Him and His disciples. What He reproved in her, was not the serving—but her fretfulness, her worry, and her nervous impatience with her sister Mary, because she did not choose to honor the Master in the same way. While Martha was busy serving, eagerly preparing for a meal for her guests who had come in from their journey, Mary slipped away and sat down at her Guest's feet—to listen to His wonderful words. When Martha saw her there, she was vexed, and giving way to her feeling, chided her, almost petulantly, and spoke almost bitterly to Jesus, as if He ought to send Mary back to her tasks in the household.
It was this that Jesus did not like in Martha—not her serving—but her hurt feeling toward her sister, and her impatient complaint of her to the Master. There is great need for Marthas in the world. Beautiful as is the Mary-spirit, it would not do if all women were Marys, for whom then would do the work which needs so much to be done in countless households? For instance, a wife and mother who would spend all her time in Bible-reading, giving no thought to the domestic duties, would not make a very happy home for her family, and certainly would not bless the Master. There is need for service.
While we recognize Martha by her serving—we recognize Mary also by her place at the Master's feet. We see her always there, and she is always beautiful there. First, she sat there as a learner, drinking in the Teacher's words. Then she came to Him by and by in her great grief, and found comfort. We see her here again in this incident, in the same posture. Now, however, it is at the feast made in Christ's honor. "Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus' feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume." Another Gospel tells us that she first poured the ointment on His head. Her act was an expression of the tenderest, most humble, most reverent love. We should bring Christ—the best we have to bring. The fragrant ointment was a beautiful symbol of the love of a thankful and gentle heart. We should bring Christ our deepest gratitude and purest affection. No words could express the love Mary bore to her Master, so she put it into an act.
The record says "And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume." Indeed, the whole world has been filled ever since that day, with the fragrance of Mary's deed of love. We all should seek to fill our homes with the fragrance of love. While we have our own loved ones about us, we should seek every opportunity to give them the comfort and the joy of love. A home is not made beautiful by expensive pictures on the walls, by rich carpets on the floors, by costly furniture in the rooms, or by beautiful flowers in every corner—but by love which sheds itself abroad in all gentleness, kindness, patience, thoughtfulness, and tenderness.
There always are some to criticize even the beautiful and sacred things which love does. It is said here that even one of the Lord's disciples, found fault with Mary's pure deed. "Why wasn't this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year's wages!" We are not surprised to read in the record that it was Judas Iscariot who began the criticism of Mary's act. He spoke of the pouring out of the nard, as waste. It had been noted that the word "waste" here used by Judas means literally perdition, and we remember that Jesus called Judas the son of perdition; that is, a man who utterly wasted His life. There still are people who think everything wasted, that cannot be coined into dollars or that does not result in immediate or direct practical usefulness. But the truth is, that much of the sweetest blessing scattered in this world, is the fragrance from the breaking of love's alabaster boxes. It does not coin into money. It is well to give food and clothing to the poor—but sometimes love and sympathy are better.
In some places, groups of Christian young people, are in the habit of carrying flowers to sick rooms or to homes of pain and sorrow. These flowers are much like Mary's ointment. They do not feed anyone's hunger, nor put clothing on the backs of children, nor put coal into the stove. But the fragrance of love often carries more real comfort and cheer into homes—than would the largest gifts of charity. Besides, Christ looks into the heart, and He is pleased with love there, whether the expression of the emotion takes the form of garments for the poor—or flowers for the sick room. The life that is given to Christ and spent in the service of love—is not lost, not wasted. Love is never lost, even though nothing practical or utilitarian should seem to come of its outpouring. That life alone is wasted—which is emptied out in sin or spent in idleness, selfishness, or self-indulgence.
The keen criticism of the disciples must have pained the heart of Mary beyond measure. But the gracious commendation of her deed which Jesus promptly gave, proved a comfort and brought back the joy. "Leave her alone! Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me!" We cannot know how her loving thought of Him and her sweet honoring of Him, strengthened Jesus for His sorrowful way, how He was helped in His struggle in Gethsemane and in the darkness of His cross by the love that Mary lavished upon Him in her anointing. He said also, "She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial!" We do not know that Mary understood that Christ must die—and that she planned her anointing of Him with distinct reference to that event. But even if she did not, her anointing was most timely. It fit into the need of that hour. It brought great joy to the Master, and the joy came to Him at the time when He craved sympathy and love, and when His burdened heart could appreciate the experience.
In Mark's gospel we have the words, "She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial." Many people would have kept that vase sealed up until after Jesus was dead, and then have brought it out and emptied it on His body. After a man dies, there is never any lack of kind words about him, or of flowers for His coffin. But Mary's way was better. Let us bring our alabaster boxes and break them while our friends are alive to enjoy and be refreshed by the perfume. Let us fill the lives of those who are dear to us with sweetness; speaking approving, cheering, heartening words while their hearts can be warmed and blessed by them. The flowers you mean to send for your friends' coffins—send to brighten and sweeten their homes before they die. Do not keep the alabaster boxes of your love and tenderness sealed up—until they are gone. Speak approving, encouraging words—while their ears can hear them.
Jesus Entering into Jerusalem
The time of the triumphal entry was five days before the crucifixion. There was an immense contrast between the two events. Here we see Jesus riding as a King into the holy city, followed by a great multitude of wildly enthusiastic people. It is a glimpse in earthly expression of the Messianic glory of Jesus. His reign was to be spiritual—but here once, it took on a form which made its appeal to the senses of mankind.
The other evangelists tell us that disciples had a part in preparing for the great pageant. We learn also that it was Jesus Himself who gave the command for this display. Once before when the enthusiastic multitude would have taken Him by force to make Him a king—He resisted and rejected the honor, sent His disciples away, dispersed the crowd, and fled to the mountains, taking refuge in prayer. Now, however, it is at His own command that this procession is undertaken. He would proclaim His Messiahship in a way that would make appeal to the rejecters.
Or we may say that this really was the ride of the King to His coronation, for was not the cross the stairway to the Messiah's throne? The events of this day fulfilled an ancient prophecy. The song that was sung, "Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!" was a joyous outburst from the hearts of the people. Yet we know how soon that "Hosanna!" was changed to "Crucify him!"
A picture of the cross by Tintoretto represents the scene of the Crucifixion after it was over. It is late in the evening. The cross is empty. The multitude has scattered, and all is quiet. The crown of thorns is lying on a rock near by. Then, in the background, a donkey is seen feeding on withered palm leaves. This suggests how short-lived was the enthusiasm of which the palm branches were the emblem, and marks the contrast between the shouts on this Palm Sunday—and the angry cries on the following Friday!
The effect of this day's events on different people, is indicated in the passage. The disciples did not then understand what it all meant. Afterwards, however, they remembered that the things which happened that day had been foretold of Jesus in prophecy. We need the "afterwards" to explain many perplexities in our lives. In the light of future events—present mysteries become clear. The effect on the multitude was probably transient, and yet we are told that they remembered the raising of Lazarus when they beheld the scenes of triumphal entry. The effect of the strange events of that day on the Pharisees was still further to embitter them. They said, "See, this is getting us nowhere. Look how the whole world has gone after him!"
The incident of the coming of the Greeks occurred two days after the triumphal entry. These Greeks were Gentiles. They had learned the Jewish religion and were worshipers in the temple. They had come up from their own country to attend the feast of the Passover. They wished to see Jesus. Why they wished to see Him, we are not told. Whatever their definite desire may have been, their prayer is one which should be on the lips of every one of us, "We would like to see Jesus!" This should be the deepest wish and prayer of every heart. The great business of life—should be to know Jesus Christ, to get intimately acquainted with Him. It was not enough to know about Him—we should be content with nothing less than personal knowledge of Him as a friend. We cannot see Jesus now in the flesh—but we can see Him by faith as our Savior—and take Him into our lives in the most real sense—as our intimate companion.
These Greeks came to two of Christ's disciples and asked them to introduce them to their Master. A little child was dying, and she said she was not afraid to die, for she was going to be with Jesus. But she wished so much that her mother would come with her to introduce her. "For you know, mother," said the little one, "that I was always afraid of strangers." But no one will find Jesus a stranger. He loves to be sought and to have people want to see Him. Yet it is always a precious privilege, to be permitted to introduce another person to Him.
The reply of Jesus to the request of these Greek visitors was, "The hour has come, that the Son of man should be glorified." By the "hour" He referred to the time of His death, the hour toward which He had been moving through all the years of His life. Every one of us is moving toward our "hour." It is not marked on any earthy calendar; we do not know in what year, or in what month, or day, it lies—but it is fixed in the plan of God, and we shall come to it at the appointed time.
It seems strange to us to have Jesus speak of His death as His being glorified. He died on a cross of shame. It seemed to the world, as the extinction of all glory for Him. He Himself, however, explained the meaning in the words, "I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds." A grain of wheat laid away carefully in a dry place, remains simply a grain of wheat, with no increase. It cannot thus reach its best. It is only when it is cast away, as it seems, and falls into the ground and perishes as to it's form—that it is really glorified, springing up into a harvest of golden wheat.
Jesus might have saved Himself from the sacrifice and death—if He had sought to do so. He might have turned away from His enemies and have found an asylum among the Gentiles. He might have lived to old age, teaching, healing and blessing the world. Yet, He would not in His years of comfort and quiet usefulness, have done the work He had been sent into the world to do. Life is not measured by the number and length of its years—but by the completeness of its devotion to the will of God. Jesus never would have glorified God by fleeing from the sacrifice of the cross, to an asylum which would have given Him continued years of comfort and ease. By giving Himself up to death on the cross—He became the world's Redeemer! Christianity, with all its marvelous fruits and blessings, is the real glorifying of Christ. If He had not gone to His cross, this glorifying would never have been attained.
Jesus taught His disciples further, that not only must He Himself reach His glory by way of His cross—but that those who would follow Him must also walk in the same way. "The man who loves his life—will lose it; while the man who hates his life in this world—will keep it for eternal life." There are two ways of living. We may live for self, taking good care of our lives, not exposing them to danger, not making any sacrifices, caring only for our own interests. We may then prosper in this world, and people will commend our prudence. We may reach old age robust and well-preserved, and may greatly enjoy our accumulated honors and possessions. That is one way of living—loving our life and saving it from the costly service to which we were called—but in the end it is only that wheat kept from falling into the ground to die. There will be no harvest. That is the outcome of selfishness. Its end is death. "He who loves his life—loses it."
The other way of living is to forget SELF—not to care for one's own life or to try to preserve it—but to give it out at God's call, to throw it away in unselfish service. People will say you are foolish thus to waste your golden life, thus to sacrifice yourself for the sake of others, or in the cause of Christ. But was Christ foolish when He chose to go to His cross? The redeemed Church is the answer. Ignatius said, when facing the fierce lions in the arena: "I am grain of God. Let me be ground between the teeth of lions—if thus I may become bread to feed God's people." Was the martyr foolish? Did he really waste His witnessing for His Lord? The way to make nothing of one's life—is to take too good care of it. The way to make one's life an eternal success—is to do with it as Jesus did with His.
Serving, Following, Sharing
"Whoever serves me—must follow me." If he would be My servant; if he would belong to Me—let him follow me. Let him live as I live, come close after Me in spirit, in manner of life, walk in My steps. "Where I am—there shall also my servant be." To follow Christ here, in this world, in the way He marks out, is to follow Him also in His exaltation, to reward, to heavenly honor. To share His cross—is also to share His glory.
If Jesus had taken care of His life, if, for instance, He had gone with these Greeks to their country, He might have been welcomed and have received homage, honor, and love; and have lived many years to teach and heal and do good; but there would have been no Gethsemane, with its tears; no Calvary, with its cross of redemption; no grave of Arimathea, with its resurrection. "I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds."
We admit the truth of this in Christ's own life. We understand that He accomplished infinitely more by giving His life in service and sacrifice at an early age—than He would have done if He had saved it from suffering and death and devoted it for long years to good deeds. But the same is true of all lives. Christ by His example taught all of us the true way to live. "If any man serves me." That was what Christ's disciples wished to do. They had listened to His call and had joined His company. This meant to serve Him. They believed in Him. They were sure that no one like Him had ever come among men as teacher, helper and leader. They wanted to serve Him.
What is it to serve Christ? There is a common form of religious speech which is misleading. We call church worship "divine service." We say our morning service is at ten forty-five, our evening service at seven forty-five. Service in this use of the word means singing hymns, reading the Scriptures, praying, and meditating on some devotional theme. But this is not service at all, in the higher sense. "If a child finds itself in need of anything, it runs and asks the father for it. Does it call that doing its father a service? When a child loves its father very much, and is very happy, it may sing little songs about him; but it doesn't call that serving its father. Neither is singing hymns to God, serving God. Of course, in a sense we are serving Christ when we worship Him in a meeting. But this is not all that such service means.
What is it to serve Christ? How are we to serve Him? The answer is here. "Whoever serves me—must follow me." Follow me? What does that mean? It was sometimes literal following with the first disciples. Andrew and Simon and John and James were fishermen. Jesus bade them follow Him, and they left their boats and nets and fishing tackle, gave up their business—and went with Jesus. Matthew was sitting in a little booth, collecting taxes from people who went by, and Jesus said, "Follow me." Matthew left His business and went with the Master. Following Christ may mean the same in our day. If you are in a sinful business and hear the call of Christ—you are to leave the bad business. There are men and women whom Christ wants to follow Him away from home and country, to be missionaries in foreign lands. But the literal following is not always the meaning of the call.
We are to follow Christ—in the way of sacrifice. That was the way Jesus lived. He hated His life. This does not mean that He despised life, that He regarded His life as of no account. Sometimes you hear a discouraged man say: "My life is of no value. I cannot be of any use. I can never do anything worthwhile. I may as well die." Jesus did not mean that we are to hate our life in that way. God never made a life to be useless. Jesus said no one shall accept even the whole world—in exchange for His life. Think what Jesus must have thought, of the value of human lives when he laid down His own life to redeem men. It is a sin—to hate your life, to despise it, to regard it as of no value, to throw it away. Love your life, prize it, for it is worth more than worlds! Keep it, cherish it, and guard it. Never say that you can be of no use.
What, then, does Jesus mean when He says, "He who loves His life—shall lose it?" He means loving life more than duty, more than obedience. To hate one's life in this world—is to give it up gladly in service of others, to lose it in saving others.
Recently an English medical journal reported that Dr. Waddell was attending a poor man's child with diphtheria, when the operation of a tracheotomy became necessary. The instant clearing of the trachea became a matter of life and death, and at the risk of his life, the doctor sucked the tube free of the diphtheritic membrane. The child recovered—but the doctor contracted the disease. He hated his life; that is, he thought it not too valuable to sacrifice in the doing of his duty as a physician. The records of every day are full of instances when in hospitals, in private sick rooms, on railway trains, in mines, and in all kinds of service—men and women are illustrating the lesson. The highest example the world ever saw, was in Christ's own case, when He gave His life to save the world.
It is easy enough to think of this law of life—as a mere theory. Now and then there comes an opportunity also to illustrate it in some grand way, as some nurse does it, as some true doctor does it, as another does it. But how are we going to live this way in the common experience of everyday life? "If any man serves me—let him follow me." "He who hates His life—shall keep it unto life eternal." We may interpret this law of the cross so as to make it apply to the experiences of the home, the neighborhood, the school, the business office.
The keynote of the lesson we are trying to learn, is self-denial, which is not merely doing without meat during Lent, giving up some customary indulgences for a few weeks, sacrificing a few things you do not much care for. There are few farces enacted in the world, equal in emptiness to the farce of pious self-denial, as it is played by a good many people, for example, in the Lenten days, meanwhile living selfishly in all the relations of the common days. Self-denial as Christ practice it and teaches it—is denying yourself—hating your own life, laying it on the altar, that some other one may be helped.
Hating your life, means stooping down and considering the needs of little children, the loneliness and wariness of old people; it means thinking of people no one else is likely to think of or care for; being patient with disagreeable people, cranky people, and kind to them; going far out of your way to be obliging to one who would not go out of his way an inch to do a good turn to you; not noticing slights and inattentions, or even slurs and offensive things—except to be all the more Christlike to those who so ungraciously treat you; saying especially kind things of anyone who had been saying unusually unkind things of you. That is what Christ did.
The papers recently told the story of the way a young man gave himself. He was poor—but had a great desire to be a gentleman, then to become a lawyer. He saved enough money from his earnings and his economy—to carry him through college. His first year he made a friend, a young man, brilliant, and noble as well. The two were roommates and became devoted to each other, in spite of their differences. During the first summer vacation the father of the well-to-do boy died and he then had no money to continue his course. He wrote to his friend and told him he could not return to college, that he must abandon his dream of education and go to work.
The poor friend, after a short time wrote to him in this way:
You have a fine capacity and will make a useful man if you have education. I have found out that I would be only a fourth-rate lawyer at best. It will be far better for you to be educated, than for me. I have money enough saved to carry me through college. You must take my money and complete your course. I enclose a draft for the amount. I will drop out of sight altogether and lose myself. Do not try to find me—it will be of no use. Do not refuse the money—you never can return it to me."
This is what Christ spoke of when he advocated the "hating" of one's life. This is self-denial of the noblest kind.
You do not begin to know how many opportunities you have every day, of hating your life in this world, giving yourself to help some other one upward. In the home life, the opportunity comes continually, the opportunity of giving up your own way to make another happier; to put another upward; of keeping gentle and sweet, instead of becoming irritated and provoked; of speaking a soft answer instead of a cutting one; of taking the heavy end of some burden, that a more frail one may not be crushed; of giving cheer to one who is discouraged. There are a hundred opportunities every day—of dropping yourself out—and putting another in the way of receiving the favor; of laying selfishness on the cross and nailing it there—and showing love instead. How do the boys treat their sisters? How do people in comfortable homes, with plenty, regard and treat the neighbor who is having pinching times, or has a sick child? Do you hate your life, your comfort, your luxury, in the sense of doing without some of it—to show kindness and give help? There is an almost infinite field of opportunities for denying self, sacrificing one's own feelings, desires, preferences, to make life easier, happier, and more joyous to others.
There is another sphere of opportunities for living out the doctrine of the cross in every day life. "Do justice and judgment" (Genesis 18:19; Proverbs 21:3), runs the Bible teaching. Have you ever thought how grievously many of us fail in being just to others? We are unreasonable; we are exacting; we are unfair; we are partial. We criticize others unmercifully. We commend very few people; we condemn almost everybody for something. Oh, what ungodly judges of the acts of others we are!
Then, do you ever think how little of real forgiveness there is among us, even among Christian people? We talk a great deal about forgiveness, ad we pray it every time we say the Lord's Prayer; but how much Christian forgiveness do we practice? "How often must I forgive?" asked Peter. He thought seven times would be enough. "Seventy-seven times," said Jesus—that is, without counting. It is hard to forgive an enemy—it is not a natural disposition or act—it is divine—it is Christ in us. But do not forget it is Christian, and you cannot be a Christian yourself in anything; You need Christ living in you. You need Christ in you—to forgive as He forgives.
But this is part of our lesson—the cross in daily life. Not to forgive—is to love your own life, and that is to lose it in the end. To forgive—is to hate your own life, not to insist on having your own way, in demanding your rights—but to bear the wrong, the insult, the injustice, to return good for evil, kindness for unkindness, to turn the other cheek when one cheek is already smarting with the smiting.
Oh, what a new world we Christians would soon make—if this old earth would only get the law of the cross into our conduct and spirit for a time! What heart-burnings we would cure! What hurts of love we would heal! One of the fine sayings of Lincoln quoted before the recent centenary of His birth was this, "Die when I may, I want it said by those who know me best—that I always plucked a thistle and planted a flower—where I though a flower would grow." That is one of the ways of hating one's own life in this world—as Christ spoke about.
It is so easy to plant thistles—instead of plucking them up! It is so easy to pluck up roses—instead of planting them! It is so easy not to deny ourselves, just to let the old unregenerate self rule our spirit and go on with its bitter jealousies, envyings, resentments, injustices, believing evil of others, judging others. Do you know what such life will come to in the end? "He who loves his life"—that is, cherishes all these evil things, thinks only of his own wishes, demands always his own way, no matter who is crushed or hurt, "He who loves his life—shall lose it."
"If any man serves me—let him follow me." That is our lesson. It is not easy—it is very hard. Nature never can learn it. When we no longer love our own life, and instead instantly give it up to do a kindness to another, to give help, whatever the cost; when we forget our own interest and put another forward instead of ourselves—then we are following Christ. "He that hates his life in this world—shall keep it unto life eternal."
There is still another thing to learn—sharing. "If any man serves me—let him follow me; and where I am, there shall also my servant be." perhaps in this age of materialism we do not look on enough to think what will come after this life is over. "He who loves his life—shall lose it." Look ahead and think what that means—loving self, loving life, losing it, having nothing out of it but death. That is the end of selfishness, living for self, having one's own way. "He that hates his life in this world—shall keep it unto life eternal." That is what came out of Christ's life of self-denial here, His hating His own life. You will reach the same glory: "Where I am, there shall also my servant be." Where is Christ today? Think of being with Him when you have finished your life of serving and following Him here.
Did you ever sit down quietly and seriously consider where you will be, and what you will be—after you are dead?
Think what it will be to be where Christ is. "Where I am—there shall also my servant be." Think of reward. People sometimes call it sacrifice now, talking dolefully of how much they have given up in their life of self-denial. Call it not sacrifice to give up your own way to give others joy and do them good, even to give up your life that others may be saved. Sacrifice! "Where I am—there shall also my servant be!" Oh, no, not sacrifice—but glory.
"Where I am—there shall also my servant be."
Washing the Disciples' Feet
It is supposed that the strife among the disciples as to which was the greatest, led to the incident of the washing of the feet. None of the disciples was willing to perform the lowly duty of washing the feet of others. The service belonged to the youngest, or the one of lowest rank. Then Jesus quietly did it Himself. It was not in a moment of depression that He performed this deed of lowly humility. He was fully conscious of His divine character while He knelt before His disciples washing their feet. It was this consciousness of His glory that made the condescension so stupendous. It would have been no condescension for John or Peter to have washed the feet of the others.
The story of Christ's act of humility is told in very beautiful words. Jesus did not consider His holy hands, too fine for the washing of the feet of the twelve men who sat around the table. Some of us think we are too great or too high in rank among men—to stoop to any lowly service like this. Our thought of our greatness and our dignity prevents us from doing the beautiful things of love. That was the way the disciples thought of themselves. Christ's act of humility is an answer to all such pride and pretension. Never was there any other being of such glorious nobility as Jesus; yet He did not hesitate to perform this lowliest of all service. Some us like to do all our serving by proxy. We will pay a deaconess or a city missionary for relieving the poor or ministering to the sick—but will not do the work with our own hands. We do not know what blessing we miss, in declining to accept such blessed service, nor how much more the service means—when we do it with our own hands. "The gift without the giver—is bare."
Peter shrank from having his Master perform such menial service for him. It was natural for him to feel thus. It was his deep sense of personal unworthiness that led him to exclaim as he saw his master about to perform the lowly service, "Lord, are you going to wash my feet?" The answer Jesus gave bade him submit, though he could not understand what was being done. Someday it would all be clear to him.
"You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand." There are many things which Christ does which at the time we cannot understand. They seem mysterious to us. Yet afterwards we shall see the reason for them and find beauty in them. This is true of many of the providences of our lives. At one time Jacob said, "All these things are against me" (Genesis 42:36). But he lived to see that the very things which he thought were against him—were really working for His good. So it always is in the dealings of God with His people. We cannot understand now—but someday we shall know. "The tapestry weavers do their work on the reverse side, looking at the ends and threads, a mystery of tangle and confusion—but not seeing the beautiful picture they are making on the other side. So we are weaving our lives largely on the reverse side." Some day we shall look on the beauty we are unconsciously making in our life today.
There was something generous in Peter's outspoken feeling that he could not allow the holy hands of Christ to wash his feet. It showed his thought of the glory of Christ—and his sense of his own unworthiness. But the answer of Jesus was startling. "Unless I wash you, you have no part with me." It was not merely the washing of the feet to which Jesus referred. Cleanliness is a virtue, no doubt, and a duty as well; but Christian discipleship could not be made to turn on anything so incidental. This word of Christ implies among other things—that no one can be a disciple who insists upon having his own way. Utter self-surrender is the essential condition.
We must put ourselves wholly in Christ's hands, and must do just as He bids us—or we can have no part with Him. It is not ours to reason why, or to make any reply—it is ours only to obey.
Especially must this word of Christ be considered in its reference to spiritual cleansing. Unless Christ washes us—we can have no part with Him. No one can be a disciple, until he has been cleansed, and only Christ can cleanse us. Some people profess to take Christ as a teacher, who yet feel no need of being washed by Him. We must understand that this word is final—that Jesus will receive no disciples who do not submit to Him first to be cleansed by Him. The picture of Jesus with the basin is one of wonderful suggestiveness. He must come to all of us first in this way—that He may wash us.
Peter went then to the other extreme, as his impulsive nature always did. He was wiling to submit not only his feet—but his hands and his head. Then Jesus told him that "A person who has had a bath needs only to wash his feet; his whole body is clean." Bathing is the cleansing of the whole body; and washing is the rinsing off of the dust that gathers on the feet in walking from the bath to the table. There was no necessity for washing Peter's hands and head—he had just come from the bath, and was clean except that his feet had become soiled with the dust as he walked.
But there is a spiritual meaning too. Peter was a justified and regenerated man—he was "clean." All he needed, therefore, now was that the stains of his daily sinning and from his contacts with the world, should be removed. The lesson here is important. Bathing must come before washing. That is, the mere cleansing of daily sins amounts to nothing—unless we have first been received by Christ and justified and saved by Him. The acceptance of Christ as our Savior lifts the guilt from our souls and leaves us free from condemnation. Yet after that, even the holiest need daily forgiveness for daily sins.
Jesus taught the disciples the meaning of what He had done. "Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet—you also should wash one another's feet." We must do all lowly service for each other. We should have in our hearts that love which will lead us into the lowliest service for even the lowliest people.
Then Christ's act was more than one of service—it meant the cleansing of faults, the removing of blemishes of character, the washing of stains gathered in passing through the world. We should seek to rend this service also to each other. We are to help each other to become Christians. We are to seek sanctification, purification, and upbuilding in character of our fellow disciples. Of course, we cannot wash away sins—Christ alone can do that. But we can do something toward making others purer, better and holier. This part of Christian friendship requires great wisdom. It is not easy to reprove the faults of others. We must be careful, first of all, that our own hands are clean—before we attempt to cleanse the stains on the lives of others. We must cast out the beam from our own eye—before we can attempt to remove the mote from our brother's eye.
The New Commandment
"A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples—if you love one another."
Jesus was about to leave His disciples. "Yet a little while I am with you." He wanted them to stand together when he was gone. He knew, too, how great a danger there was, that they would fall apart. His church which He had come to establish depended on these men. If they were not true and loyal to each other, His work would fail. So, with all earnestness, He pleaded with them to love one another. This would be their safeguard and the secret of their power after He had left them. Nothing but love would hold them together.
Jesus spoke of this last exhortation to them as a new commandment. Why new? Really it was new. There was an old commandment which ran, "Love your neighbor—as yourself." The new commandment is, "Love one another—as I have loved you." Love is the distinct mark of discipleship. "By this shall all men know that you are My disciples—if you have love one to another." Christians are to be known in the world, not by the creed they profess, nor by their church membership—but by their love for each other. Love puts a brand on them. Sometimes we hear of a church with strifes and quarrels among its members. What kind of witness is such a church giving to the world for its Master? "By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love one to another." The church which has a right to call itself a church of Christ—is one in which the members love one another—as Christ loves them.
This puts upon us a serious responsibility as churches and as individual Christians. We dare not be contentious, quarrelsome, biting and devouring one another. The world would then laugh at our profession that we are a company of the friends of Christ. When a man joins a church he assumes the obligation of love. He says, "I will love my fellow Christians—as Christ loves me." What does he mean? Does he mean that he will love only the gentle, agreeable, congenial, refined members; those who show him a great deal of honor, those who are kind to him, sympathetic, eager to favor and help him? He must love these. But suppose there are among the members—some who are not congenial, not obliging, who do not show him deference, whose lives are not lovely—does he have to love these? "By this shall all men know that you are my disciples—if you have love one to another." There do not seem to be any exceptions. How was it with the first disciples? Were they all of the loveable kind? John was. He must have been sweet-spirited, good-tempered, and affectionate. But how about Peter, Matthew, Andrew, Thomas? Were they all loveable? One of them had treason in his heart. Another denied Jesus. All of them forsook Him in the hour of His great need and sorrow. Yet, how did Jesus love these? He loved on—He loved to the end. How are we to love our fellow Christians? As Christ loves us.
What would be the effect if all Christian people, all who belong to Christian churches, would begin to love one another—as Christ loved His first disciples, as He loves every one of His people now? Paul tells us how true Christian love acts, how it shows itself. It is in personal contacts and association. "Love is patient" (see 1 Corinthians 13:4). That is, it bears patiently with others faults, unkindnesses, ill-treatment, and ingratitude. "Love is kind." It keeps on being kind, in spite of all the unkindness it receives. It is kindness that we need always to show—just the art of being kind is all this old world needs—and it must always be kept in our lives. The trouble is, however, that with too many of us our kindness is spasmodic, is shown only when we feel like it—and is checked continually by things that happen. Nothing ever stopped Christ's kindness—nothing ever should stop a Christian's kindness. Love in the heart—should flow out in the life, as an unintermittent stream.
Take another line from the picture. "Love does not behave rudely." That is, it never forgets itself, is never ill-mannered, is not prideful. Bad temper is rude. Did you ever notice in the story of the life of Jesus—how He always respected people? He seemed to have reverence for almost every person who came before Him, even the worst? The reasons were—that He loved everyone, that He saw in each the glorious possibilities of heavenly sonship. If we had our Master's regard for and His deep interest in the lives of men—we would never act rudely toward even the unworthiest.
A newspaper gives an account of a new society which has been organized by a company of people. It is called "The Take Heed Society." It seems that a member of the company boarded once in a rather sleepy New England town with a prim spinster who was a wonderfully charitable woman. She was never heard to say an unkind word to anybody. Further acquaintance showed that charity and brotherly feeling were almost universally practiced by the people of the village. The good woman made inquiry and learned that they all belonged to this organization, never met in a body as other societies do. They had no officers, paid no dues, and assessed no fines except individually upon themselves. There was a fine mentioned in the pledge—but this was to be imposed by the offending person upon himself if he ever violated the fundamental rules of the organization. He was to fix his own fine, making it as large as he was able to pay, and it was to be paid, not to the treasurer—but to the first poor and needy person he met. It is said that every member of the company had eagerly joined this Take Heed Society when it was proposed to organize it. It may be worthwhile to start such societies in families, in boarding houses, in Sunday-school classes, in circles of friends. It might help much in getting this law of love—not to behave ourselves rudely—into every day of life.
"Love is not easily provoked" (see 1 Corinthians 13:5). That is, it does not become vexed or irritated at what another may say or do. It may be noticed, too, that some people even get provoked at inanimate things! A man awkwardly stumbled against a chair, flew into a violent passion, and kicked the chair with great energy. Bad temper is said to be one of the most common of the vices. No other infirmity is so often confessed. A great many people will tell you that they find no other fault so hard to overcome, as that of bad temper. They do not seem, either, ashamed to make the confession, and apparently do not consider the fault a serious one. Sometimes it is spoken of apologetically as an infirmity of nature, a family failing, a matter of temperament, certainly not a fault to be taken very seriously, or anything more than a matter of regret. It has been said that bad temper is the vice of the virtuous. Men and women whose characters are noble, whose lives are beautiful in every other way, have this one blot. They are sensitive, touchy, easily ruffled, easily hurt!
But we make a grave mistake when we let ourselves think that bad temper is a mere trifling weakness. It is almost disfiguring blemish. We know that Jesus set for us a perfect model of living. He came to show us in a simple human life—how we ought to live, and then how, through His grace and help, we may live; and He was never provoked. You cannot point to a single instance of His becoming even ruffled in temper. He never lost His calmness, His repose of mind, His peace. He was reviled—but reviled not in return. He was insulted—but showed no sign. In all His quiet, restrained, and loving life—He never once was provoked. When he bids us to love one another as He has loved us—this is certainly part of what He means.
Another part of our lesson concerns life with others in personal contact and association. Paul, in a letter, named several people who, he said, had been a comfort to him. It is a fine thing to have one say of us that we have been a comfort to him. There are people who have been a comfort to you. You are glad they live. Then there are other people who have not been a comfort to you, who have not made life happier and easier for you.
Sometimes you hear one say that a certain person has been a thorn in his side. In a conversation on a railway train, one reports catching this bit of a sentence: "Yes, I suppose she's good—I know she is. But she isn't pleasant to live with!" A goodness that isn't pleasant to live with—is not the kind that Jesus had in mind when He said we should love one another as He loves us. Indeed, being "pleasant to live with" is one of the final tests of Christlikness in life. Christ, Himself, was pleasant to live with. He never made anybody uncomfortable by His lack of lovingness, by selfishness, by censoriousness, by unsympathetic moods or words or looks. Whatever else you may fail to strive to be at home, among your friends, in your church life and fellowship, do not fail to seek and pray to be pleasant to live with.
You are careful never to fail to do the little things of duty. Your friends cannot say that you are inattentive to them, that you leave undone any of the kindly deeds of neighborliness or even of brotherliness which you ought to have done. But if, meanwhile, you are not pleasant to live with—is there not something greatly lacking? The ideal Christian life is one that gives comfort to others as well as help. It is gracious and winning in spirit—and also in manner. It is a blessing to everyone it touches.
Loving one another as Christ loves us—must make it easier for others to work with us. A minister was telling me of a couple people in his church who are excellent workers, full of zeal and energy, always doing things—but he said they had always to work alone—they could not work with others. There are horses that will not pull in a team—they are to be driven single. There are people who have the same weakness. They want to do good—but they must do it by themselves. They will not work with another person. Then, soon it is true the other way—nobody else will work with them!
There is a kind of buggy with only two wheels and a seat for one. It is called a sulky, because it obliges the rider to be alone. Some people are happiest when they ride alone, when they work alone. But the love of Christ teaches us a better way. We need to learn to think of others, those with whom we are associated in Christian life and work. It is so in all associated life.
It is so in marriage when two lives are brought together in close relations. It is evident that both cannot have their own way in everything. There is not room for any two people to have their own way in the marriage relation. They are one now, occupying one the place of one, and they must live as one. There must either be the giving up of all by the one to the other—or else there must be the blending of the two lives in one. The latter is the true marriage. Each dies the one for the other. Love unites them and they are no longer two—but now one—two souls with but a common thought, two hearts that beat as one.
The same process should prevail in Christian life and work. Headstrong individualism should be softened and modified by love. Jesus sent forth His disciples in pairs. Two working together—are better than two working separately. One is strong in one point—and weak in another. The second is strong where the first is weak, and thus the two supplement each other. Paul speaks of certain people as yoke-fellows (see Phil. 4:3). Yoke-fellows draw together patiently and steadily, two necks under the same yoke, two hearts pouring their love into one holy fellowship of service. It is very important that Christian people should love one another as Christ loves them—when they are called to work together for their Master. None of us should insist on always having his own way. In community of counsel there is wisdom. Jesus says distinctly, that when two agree in prayer there is more power in the pleading, and the prayer will be surer of answer.
In our Master's service we should work together in love. It never should have to be said of us—that other people cannot work with us. The secret of being agreeable work-fellows is love. The Christian who is always wanting to be an officer, to have positions of prominence, to be chairman or president, first in everything, has not caught the spirit of the love of Christ, who came not to be ministered unto—but to minister. Love never demands the first place. It works just as enthusiastically and faithfully at the foot of a committee, as at the head of it. It works humbly, seeking counsel of the other members, and not asserting its own opinion as the only wise one. It seeks in honor to prefer the other rather than self. It is content to be overlooked, set aside—if only Christ is held up. It is patient with the faults of fellow workers. It strives in all ways to have the Master the real leader in all work. "Love one another; as I have loved you," is the command of Christ. Hold together, stand together. Be as one in love for others which will sacrifice anything, everything, that the Master's name may never suffer any dishonor.
This counsel of Christ calls us to a love like His—in building up His kingdom. "As I have loved you." How as that? He loved and gave Himself. We must love and give ourselves. Some people are leaving out the cross these days—in their thought of Christ. They preach about His wonderful teaching, His marvelous character, His sublime works—but say nothing about His death. But we need the cross. We can be saved only by His sacrificial sin-atoning love. Then, the service of ours which will really bless others—must also be a sacrificial service. "As I have loved you" means loving unto the end. We must give our lives for the brethren—as He gave His life for us.
It is not easy—but it was not easy for Christ to love us as He did. To love as He did—is to let our lives be consumed as in a flame, to let them be burned as on an altar. The trouble with too much of what we call love—is that it costs nothing, is only a sort of gilded selfishness, is not ready to give up anything, to suffer, to endure. Oh, profane not the holy name of love, by calling such life as that love! To love as Christ loves—is to repeat Christ's sacrifice continually in serving, bearing, enduring—that others may be helped, blessed, saved. Christ's love laid itself across the chasm of eternal death—to make a bridge for us to pass over, from death to life!
"Love one another, as I have loved you." Let us try to know what the words mean, and then let the love of Christ itself into our heart. Then it will not be we that love—but Christ loving in us.
How Christ Comforts
John 14:1, 2
The words of the fourteenth chapter of John were spoken by the Master to His friends in a time of deep grief which seemed inconsolable. Yet He said, "Let not your heart be troubled." This seemed a strange thing to say to those men that night. How could they keep their hearts from being troubled in such circumstances? To think of all that Jesus had grown to be to them! For three years they had been members of His personal family, enjoying the most intimate relations with Him.
How much a friend can be to us, depends on the friend. If he has a rich character, a noble personality, power to love deeply, capacity for friendship, the spirit of pure unselfishness; if he is able to inspire us to heroism and to worthy living—what he can be to us is immeasurable. Think what Jesus Christ, with His marvelous manhood, must have been as a friend to His disciples, and you can understand something of what His going from them meant to them.
Then He was more than a friend to them. They had believed in Him as the Messiah, who was to redeem them and lead them to honor and glory. Great hope rested in Him. His death was, as it seemed to them—the defeat and failure of all their hopes. The announcement that He was to leave them, swept away, as they thought, all that made life worthwhile. There are human friends whose death seems to leave only desolation in the hearts and lives of those who have loved them and leaned on them. But the death of Christ was to His personal friends and followers—the blotting out of every star of hope and promise. Their sorrow was overwhelming.
Yet Jesus looked into their faces and said, "Let not your heart be troubled." It is worth our while to think of the grounds on which Jesus could reasonably say this to His disciples, when they were entering into such great and real sorrow. The first thing He bade them do, was to believe. "Let not your heart be troubled: you believe in God, believe also in Me." Thus far they had believed in God. Jesus had taught them a new name for God. They were to call Him Father. He had not been known by this name before—but Jesus used no other name for Him. The word Father is a great treasure-house of love-thoughts. It told the disciples of personal thought, love and care, extending to all the events of their lives. The very hairs of their heads were all numbered. It told them of goodness which never failed. It was a great lesson they had been learning, as they came to think of God as their Father. In the shock of the last terrible days; however, the danger was that they would lose their faith in God. But Jesus said to them: "Believe in God. Let nothing take this faith out of your heart. Let nothing take from you what you have been learning from Me about God."
"Believe also in Me." They had accepted Jesus as the Messiah. You remember the splendid confession made by Peter, "You are the Christ, the son of the living God." In this confession, all the disciples had joined. They believed that He had come to be the world’s Savior. Now, in the announcement that Jesus was to die at the hands of wicked men, there was danger that they should lose their faith in Him. But to save them from their loss of faith He exhorted them to continue to believe. Not one of their hopes had perished. "You believe in God, believe also in Me."
We are always in danger of losing faith in time of sorrow or any sore trouble. Many times people are heard asking such questions as, "How can God be a God of love, and allow me to be so bereft, so stripped of good things? Where are now the promises of blessing which are made in the Scriptures over and over again? Has God forgotten to be gracious?" To those questions of doubt and fear the answer is, "Let not your heart be troubled: you believe in God, believe also in Me." Let nothing disturb your faith. Though it seems that God's love has failed, that God has not forgotten you, that Christ is no longer your friend—still continue to believe; believe in God, believe also in Christ.
Sorrow is full of mystery. We go everywhere asking, "Why?" "This is not love," we say. "This is not goodness. This is not salvation." We cannot answer the WHY. Should we expect to know why God does this or that? How could we, with our narrow vision and our small knowledge, understand the plans and purpose of God? God does not plan to give us an easy time in this world—He wants to make something of us, and often the way to do this—is to give us pain, loss, and suffering.
A German writer speaks of the "hardness of God's love." Love must be hard sometimes. A writer tells of keeping the cocoon of an emperor moth for nearly a year, to watch the process of development. A narrow opening is left in the neck of the flask, through which the insect forces its way. The opening is so small that it seems impossible for the moth to pass through it. This writer watched the efforts of the imprisoned moth to escape. It did not appear to make any progress. At last he grew impatient. He pitied the little creature and, in a weak kindness to it, decided to help it. Taking his scissors, he snipped the confining threads to make the struggle easier. In a moment the moth was free, dragging out a great swollen body and little shriveled wings. He watched to see the beauty unfold—but he watched in vain. "It never was anything but a stunted abortion, crawling painfully about, instead of flying through the air on rainbow wings." Nature's way—that is, God's way—with moths is the only true way, although it is a way of pain, struggle, and suffering. Human pity may make an easier way—but the end will be destructive.
God's love never makes this mistake, either in nature or in dealing with human lives. God lets us suffer—if by suffering we will best grow into perfect beauty. When the mystery of pain or hardness comes into our life—let us not doubt. Let us suffer and wait. The disciples thought all their hopes were gone—but in the end they learned that no hope had perished or failed. Blessing and good came out of what seemed irretrievable disaster. "You believe in God, believe also in me," is always the word of faith and comfort. Trust God. Nothing is going wrong. You cannot understand—but He understands.
The disciples were in great distress because their Master was going away from them. They were dismayed as they thought of their loss. They thought they could not live without Him. But He explained that He was going away—for their sake. They thought they would not have His help anymore, and He explained that He would still be active in their behalf. "In my Father's house are many mansions… I am going to prepare a place for you."
He told them where He was going—to His Father's house. These are precious words. They tell us that heaven is home. On this earth there is no place so sweet, so sacred, so heart-satisfying as the true home. It is a place of love, purest, gentlest, most unselfish love. It is a place of confidence. We are always sure of home's loved ones. We do not have to be on our guard when we enter our home doors. We do not have to wear masks there, hiding or disguising our real selves. Home is a refuge into which we flee from the danger, the enmity, the suspicion, the unkindness, the injustice of the world. Home is the place where hungry hearts feed on love's bread.
Mrs. Craik in one of her books had this fine picture:
Oh, conceive the happiness to know that some one person dearer to you than your own self, some one heart into which you can pour every thought, every grief, every joy; one person who, if all the rest of the world were to calumniate or forsake you—would never wrong you by a harsh thought or an unjust word; who would cling to you the closer in sickness, in poverty, in care; who would sacrifice all things to you, and for whom you would sacrifice all; from whom, except by death, night or day, you never can be divided; whose smile is ever at your hearth. Such is marriage, if they who marry have hearts and souls to feel that there is no bond on earth so tender and so sublime.
This is a glimpse of what a true home is. The picture is sometimes realized on the earth. There are homes which are well-near perfect. But the home sought, will be realized full in heaven. The Bible paints heaven in colors of dazzling splendor, its gates and streets and gardens and streams and fruits, all of the utmost brilliance; but no other description means so much to our hearts as that which the Master gives in these three words, "My Father's house"—home!
"My Father's house." That is the place to which we are going! That is the place where those we have lost awhile from our earthly homes, falling asleep in Jesus, are gathering. That is the place to which the angels have carried the godly dead. What a vision will burst upon our eyes when, some quiet day or night, we shall fall asleep—to awake no more on earth—but to awake in heaven, in our Father's house! You have read of men coming over the sea as immigrants, and landing in a strange city as utter strangers—throngs all about them—but not one familiar face, no welcome in any eye, no greeting. But it will not be this way with you when you leave this world and enter heaven. Loved ones will meet you and receive you with joy.
Jesus said also to His disciples, "I go to prepare a place for you." They thought His dying was an interruption of His work. The Messiah they had conceived of was to live and be a glorious King, conquering the world. Suddenly they were told that soon they should not see Him—He would be gone. They were bitterly disappointed. All their homes were now to perish. Jesus comforts them by telling them that the reason He was going away—was to prepare a place for them. Nothing was going wrong with His Messiahship. They had misunderstood it—that was all. He could easily have escaped from the plots of the rulers, the betrayal of Judas, the arrest by the temple officers. But hat would have been to fail in part of His work.
The reason He was going away—was that He might continue and complete His work in heaven. "I go to prepare a place for you." The thought is very beautiful. How does Christ prepare places for us? We need not understand—but it is a sweet thought to know that He thinks of us—as you think of a dear guest who is coming to visit you—lovingly, and prepares for your coming. You good women, when you are expecting a friend you love very much, make the guest room just as tidy and beautiful as you can. You think of the friend's tastes, and prepare the room with this in mind. You put up a picture you think will please him. You lay on the table the books you know he will like. You gather his favorite flowers and place them on the dressing bureau. You do everything you can to make the room beautiful, so that he will feel at home in it the moment he enters it. Christ is preparing a room for you!
There is something else here. "If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there you may be also." This is more of the work Jesus went away to do for His friends. First, He would make ready for them, build a home for the, prepare a place. Then, when all things were ready, He would come for them and take them home. That is what He does when we leave this world. Men call it dying—but dying is a gloomy, forbidding word. Jesus said, "Whoever lives and believes on Me—shall never die." What we call dying—is really only Jesus coming to receive us unto Himself. Why, then, should anyone dread to leave this world? It is the Master coming to tell you that your place in the Father's house is ready for you—and that He has come to take you to it!
When Stephen was being stoned to death—he had a beautiful vision. He saw the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God. As the mob stoned him, Stephen was calling upon Jesus Christ and praying, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!" (see Acts 7:58-60). It was the Savior coming for His servant. The place was ready for him. His work here had been short—but it was all that had been allotted to him. His departure was tragic—he died at the hands of a religious mob; but it mattered not how he was taken away—really it was Jesus who took him away—receiving His spirit into strong, gentle and secure hands.
The comfort to us in our sorrows and bereavements, is that nothing has gone wrong, that God's purpose is going on in all the wrecks of human hopes. Your friend passed away the other night. You thought he would have been with you for many years. You had plans covering a long future of happiness. You were appalled when the doctor said that your friend could not live. Life to you would be dreary, lonely and empty without this one who had become so dear to you. You say: "My friend stayed so brief a time! I could almost wish that I had not let my heart fasten its tendrils about this dear life, since so soon it was torn away from me!" Say it not! It is worthwhile to love—and to let your heart pour out all its sweetness in loving, though it be for but a day—and then to have the bliss give way to grief.
Why Does No One See God?
John 14:8, 9
"Philip said, "Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us." Jesus answered: "Don't you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me—has seen the Father. How can you say, 'Show us the Father'?"
Christ had just told His disciples that they had seen the Father. Philip was bewildered. What did the Master mean? That was just what the disciples were longing for—to see the Father. "Lord, show us the Father," said Philip, "and that will be enough for us."
There are many sincere Christians today who are longing for fuller, clearer revealings of God. They wish they might see Him. God seems unreal to them. An earnest young Christian wrote: "For some time I have been drifting away from God and have not been able to drop anchor. The more I read and study the life of Jesus, the farther I drift. I find myself ever asking, 'Are these things true? They certainly are very beautiful to read about; but are they true? How do we know they are true?'"
Human hearts are alike in their feelings, their longings, and their perplexities of faith; and, no doubt, there are many who sometimes ask the same questions as they read the wonderful story of Christ. "Are these things true? How do we know they are true?"
There is nothing wrong in such questionings. Philip had the same longing. Spiritual things seemed unreal to him. Many of the best people who ever lived, have had similar difficulty. There come times in the life of almost every Christian, when such questions as these arise.
Two girls were overheard one evening by a gentleman, talking with unusual earnestness, as if in perplexity, and one of them said, "Yes—but why has no one ever seen God?" This was all the gentleman heard of the conversation, as he stood near them, waiting for his car; but this single sentence showed their state of mind. Evidently they had been talking about the apparent unreality of spiritual things. Why had nobody ever seen God? They had heard a great deal about God, about His love, His care, His interest in human lives, His kindness. But they had never had a glimpse of Him. How could they know that all they had heard about Him was true? How could they be sure that there is a God? How could they know that the things of Christian faith and hope are real?
Questions will arise with all who think. Does God indeed love me? If He does—why must I suffer so? If He does—how can I explain all the accidents, calamities, and troubles of my life? There is nothing wrong in such questions. God is not grieved with us if we ask them, desiring light. Christ is always patient with the questions of honest doubt.
It is not surprising if sometimes we cannot understand the mysteries of Christian faith. All life is full of things we cannot comprehend. Can you explain how on the bushes in your garden, which in March were bare and briery, there were in June masses of glorious roses? In the most common things there is mystery. Linnaeus, the great botanist, said there was enough mystery in a handful of moss—to give one a lifetime's study. There really are few things which you can actually understand and explain. How do your eyes see? How do your ears hear? Shall we refuse to believe these things—because we cannot explain them?
We have read how the cry of the wireless went out from the wrecked ship and was heard far and wide over the sea—a prayer of distress—and how help came swiftly. No one doubts this pathetic experience of the sea. Why, then, should we doubt or question that when a mother sat by her sick child the other night, while the little one hovered between life and death, and pleaded with God, her prayer reached the ears of her heavenly Father? Why shall we doubt or question that God loves us—when we believe that our human friends love us? You cannot see the love in the friend's heart—any more than you can see the love for you in God's heart. You tell me that your friend is true, is patient, and is kind; that he is a refuge, a tower of strength, to you. But you cannot see these qualities in him. Your friend is much away, out of your sight, and you cannot set spies on him to know that he is always faithful. Yet you never doubt him. Evil tongues whisper false things about him—but you refuse to believe them. How do you know that your beliefs in him are true? Why can you not, then, in the like manner believe in the love of God, who you cannot see?
A sorrow breaks in upon the joy of your home. You cannot understand it. By why must you understand? We would be far happier sometimes if we did not try to understand things. Robertson Nicoll says: "There are some very devout people who know far too much. They can explain the whole secret and purpose of pain, evil, and death in the world. They prate about the mystery of things—as if they were God's spies. It is far humbler and more Christian to admit that we do not fully discern a reason and method in this long, slow tragedy of human existence." You remember that Jesus Himself said, "I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear" (16:12). Why should we expect to understand God and His ways?
God does show Himself to us, and we do see Him more often than we think. There is a picture of Augustine and his mother which represents them looking up to heaven with deep earnestness, great eagerness, and longing. One is saying, "If God would only speak to us!" The other replies, "Perhaps He is speaking to us—and we do not hear His voice!" Philip said to Jesus, "Lord, show us the Father." And did you notice what Jesus said to him? "Don't you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me—has seen the Father!" Jesus told him that he had been seeing Him all the time He had been with the disciples. What Philip had in mind when he said, "Show us the Father," was some revealing of glory, some outshining of majesty and splendor, a theophany, a transfiguration. That was the way he thought God must appear.
When Jesus said, "Anyone who has seen me—has seen the Father," He referred to His common daily life with His disciples, not to His miracles. Only a small proportion of the things Jesus did were miraculous, supernatural. Ninety-nine percent of His acts were simple, common things that did not need Deity to perform. He performed only one miracle in the Bethany home—but in His frequent visits—sitting with the family by the open hearth or at the table, talking with them in the quiet evening, walking with them in the garden, sharing with them the gentle things of friendship—there were a thousand kindnesses which made His name sacred to them.
It was so in all Christ's life. There were a few miracles, showing divine power. But there were countless revealings of gentleness, sympathy, thoughtfulness, cheer, encouragement, which were as full of God, as the miracles. It was to this part of His life that Jesus referred when He said to Philip, "Anyone who has seen me—has seen the Father." It was in Christ's most human ways, that the disciples saw most of God. His miracles dazzled their eyes and awed them. Many could not have sat at His feet and listened calmly—if He had appeared transfigured. John could not have leaned on His bosom at supper restfully and quietly—if glory had been shining in His face. God is love. Wherever there is love, God is revealing Himself.
Jesus showed the disciples the Father—in all the love and sweetness and compassion they saw in Him continually. Do we not see God in similar ways? Does not God reveal Himself to us in a thousand familiar things that we do not think of at all as divine revealing? A writer says that most men are religious when they look upon the faces of their dead babies. The materialism which at other times infects them with doubts of God and immortality, drops away from them in this hushed hour.
People see God only in the unusual, the supernatural. "If we could see miracles," they say, "we would believe." But the common things are full of God. Moses saw God in one bush that burned and was not consumed. Yet God is as real in every bush in the woods, for those who have eyes to see, as He was in that little tree in Horeb.
Have you never seen God? If you think of God as only burning majesty, shining glory, you will answer, "No—I never saw God." But splendor, Sinai clouds, and flaming fires are not God. God is love. You remember Elijah's vision. A great wind swept through the mountains—but God was not in the wind. An earthquake made the hills tremble—but God was not in the earthquake. A fire swept down over the crags—but God was not in the fire. Then came a still small voice, a sound of gentle stillness—and that was God (see 1 Kings. 19:11-13).
You have seen God a thousand times—in love, in peace, in goodness, and in comfort. You see Him daily—in providential care, in the sweet things of your home, in friendships, in the beauty of little children. Do not forget that you have been receiving blessings all your life in manifold ways. Do not call it chance, or luck, or good fortune. The heart-hungry girl asked, "Why has no one ever seen God?" Yet she had seen God herself every day, every hour of her life, in the goodness and mercy which had followed her from her infancy.
You were in danger, and there came a mysterious protection which sheltered you from all harm. You called it chance. It was God. You had a great sorrow which you thought you could not possibly endure, and you felt strange, sweet comfort which filled your heart with peace. You thought it came through a friend's gentle kindness. Yes—but it was the loving-kindness of God that brought it. There was a tangle in your affairs which seemed about to wreck everything, and in an inexplicable way it was all straightened out as by invisible hands. You had a crushing loss which threatened to overwhelm you, and suddenly—the loss proved a gain! You were wronged by a professed friend, and the stars in your sky all seemed to go out. That was some while ago, and today you are quietly praising God for the event which was a deliverance from a real misfortune, for there came instead—a blessed friendship which fills all your life.
Your years have been full of great providences, wondrous guidances, gentle comforts, answered prayers, sweet friendships, happy surprises of goodness, divine love and help and care. Yet you say you never have seen God, and ask, "How may I know that the beautiful things the New Testament tells me about Christ are true?"
Think of some definite ways in which we may learn that the things of Christian faith and hope are true, and how we have them become more real to us.
First, by experience. In one of Psalms we read, "those who know your name—will put their trust in you" (9:10.) It is sometimes said of a man that none know him—but also love him. They who truly know God—both love Him and trust Him. We have to learn by experience to love our human friends. One was telling how he found a particular friend. He had heard much about him. His neighbors spoke well of him, praised him—his unselfishness, his kindness, his sincerity, his helpfulness, his readiness to give time and thought and money in assisting others. But this man never had met him. Some months since, circumstances led him to seek his kindly interest. Then he found that all the good he had heard about him was true, and that the half had not been told. Now he believes in him.
In the same way we can only learn to know God. We read in the Bible of His goodness, His justice, His truth, His kindness, His faithfulness. But we must come into personal relationship with Him—before we can surely know that these qualities are really in Him. When Philip said to Nathanael, "I have found the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth" (see 1:45, 46), Nathanael sneered at the suggestion that the Messiah could come from so lowly a place as Nazareth. Philip did not argue. He said only, "Come and see!" He knew that if His friend would only meet Jesus, he would believe. If we can only get people to come to see Jesus, to get to know Him, to experience His love—they will soon believe in Him and follow Him.
The story of the conversion of Lady Aberdeen is well known. She had been long in doubt, wavering, indecisive. In her time of perplexity she sat one day under a tree in her garden, in deep thought. Out of the silence she heard a mystic voice speaking as clearly to her consciousness as if a friend had uttered the words, "Act as if I were—and you will find that I am." She had been asking the very question of my friend's letter, "How can I learn that these things are true?" Was Christ real? She could not be sure. Would He be her friend? Would He bless her as the New Testament says He would? "Act as if I were," said the voice, "and you will learn that I am, and that all these things are true." There is no other way to find out that Christ is, and that the things the Scriptures tell us about Him are true.
Again, if we begin to do the will of God, we shall learn the reality of the spiritual life. Jesus said, "If any man will do His will, he shall know of the teaching" (7:17). You are to will to do God's will. This means the most earnest determination, the most unfaltering obedience. As we do the things of God's will, as they are made known to us—we shall learn the reality of God and the beauty and blessedness of His love. One who tried to believe there is no God, confessed that it was never in His best moments that he felt himself an atheist. Jesus said the pure in heart shall see God. He did not mean only that we shall see God when we get to heaven, and look upon God in His glory. He meant also that those whose hearts are pure—shall see God on the earth. They will not be troubled about the reality of the things of faith. They well not ask, "Why has no one ever seen God?" They will see Him themselves! No cloud will ever dim for them the radiance of His face.
Then it is only in Christ that we can see God. Notice the precise words in which Jesus answered Philip's request, "Show us the Father." "Anyone who has seen me—has seen the Father." In Jesus Christ, therefore, and only in Jesus Christ, can we see God. The Incarnation was God coming to the earth in human life—that men could understand Him. Those who saw Jesus—looked upon the face of God. Those who knew Him—knew God. Those who became His friends—became God's friends. This privilege is ours. Friendship is the holiest and most sacred of all human relations. Think of all that is possible in ideal human friendship. Then think of all that is possible in friendship with Jesus Christ. There never was another friend like Jesus. Think of what His friendship may be to you, if you will let it into your life in all its sweetness, its divineness, its power to transform and bless.
But the girl asks: "Are these things true? How do we know they are? They are very beautiful. They were true of the people who knew Jesus personally; but may I have a share in them?" The friendship of Christ is the most real and the most wonderful thing in this world. To very many people there does seem to be an unreality in the things of spiritual life. God seems far away. We cannot see Him. We cannot feel His touch. But this need not be so. Christ wants to reveal the Father to us. He wants His friendship with you to be as real and as close as your friendship with your closest earthly friend. Get acquainted with Christ. Act as if He were what He says He is. Trust His promises—not one of them shall fail. Let His love into your heart—it will fill you with joy and peace; it will transform your life into love and beauty and radiance.
The Way, the Truth, and the Life
The fourteenth chapter of John's gospel is the most familiar chapter of the New Testament. Its words are sweet music. As spoken first, it was the little company of the disciples sitting at the Last Supper who heard them. They were in great sorrow. They were about to lose their Master, their best friend. They had hoped that He was the Messiah and were expecting some special manifestation of His power. Now all their hopes seemed to be swept away. Jesus speaks to them as they sit around the table. He seeks to comfort them. He says to them, "Let not your heart be troubled." This seems a strange word to say to them at this particular hour. How was it possible that they should not be troubled when He, their Master—was about to leave them?
We may be sure, however, that the words He spoke were not empty or formal. Many things that earthly comforters say to their friends in their times of trouble mean but little. They say, "Weep not. Dry your tears. All will come out right," but they have no real comfort to offer. They can give no reason why their friends should not weep, or why all will come out right. Their optimism is without foundation. But when Christ said, "Let not your heart be troubled," He knew what He was saying, and there were in His mind clear reasons why He spoke in this strong, confident way. The same is true of the comfort Christ speaks now to us. No matter what the sorrow, how great the loss, how deep the darkness, if we are Christians, the same voice always speaks to us in the same words.
Christ tells the disciples what they should do, how they might cease to be troubled. "You believe in God." This was the way their trouble could be comforted. There was no need to ask questions, for their questions could not be answered, or at least they could not understand the answers. But they were to keep their faith in God and in Jesus Christ unshaken, undisturbed, in the midst of all the sorrow. They thought everything was gone, that they did not have God anymore that all their hopes about Jesus Christ had failed, were only dreams. He tells them that nothing they had believed about God or about Jesus, was gone. Their faith in God was to abide. What they had hoped about Jesus Christ was true. They had lost nothing.
This is the foundation of all true comfort. We cannot understand the mystery of sorrow—but if we believe in God and in Jesus Christ, we need not lose our confidence or our peace, whatever the distress may be. A word of an old prophet (Isaiah 26:4) says, "Trust you in the Lord forever, for in the LORD JEHOVAH is the everlasting strength." If we are hidden in the cleft of the Rock of Ages, we need not fear any seeming disaster. Another word says, "you will keep him in perfect peace—whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You" (Isaiah 26:3). We may always be sure of God's eternal faithfulness and of Christ's unchanging love—and believing these great truths, we may be quiet and confident in the worst calamities.
The first thought Jesus gave His disciples, was that all the world is the Father's house. They were greatly distressed by what was transpiring in a little corner of the world. He assures them that the stage of action reached out far beyond the city and the country in which they lived. There are many mansions in the Father's house. They were distressed that He was leaving them—but He was leaving only one of the mansions—and going to another. They would not lose Him by His departure, for He would continue to be their friend, and would still be interested in their welfare. "I go to prepare a place for you."
Dr. David Smith thus explains the words of Jesus:
The disciples were like travelers, and His companionship had hitherto cheered them on their journey. And now He must leave them. But He was not forsaking them. He was only hastening on in advance to make ready for them. And when they arrived He would be waiting for them and would bid them welcome.
His going away was not a desertion of His friends. He was going on their account, to prepare a place for them. The thought of mansions prepared for us beforehand, is a very beautiful one. We need not fear that when our time comes to go home there will be no place ready for us. We shall not go to the gate as strangers or aliens—but as those who are expected, those who indeed have been sent for. Jesus assured His disciples not only that He was going on to prepare a lodging place for them—but that when the place was ready—He would come again, to receive them unto Himself, that where He would be, they might be too. The separation was only apparent, not real, and certainly not final. The relation between them would not be broken by His going away. The ministry of His love which had come to mean so much to them, would not be interrupted by His departure. He was going to leave them in their present lodging place—but it would be only to prepare another lodging place for them in another part of His Father's house.
"I am the WAY." Christ is the way from earth to heaven, and from heaven to earth. Through Him God comes to us with love and blessing, and through Him we go to God. He is the Mediator between God and man. He is the one ladder down which angels come on their ministries; and up which they can ascend to the gates of glory. Christ is the way, and the only way. If we reject Him we can never get to God and heaven. But if we believe on Him, and love Him, and abide in Him, there never can be any confusion, any mystery, any need unmet, any yearning unfulfilled.
Even now, with all our knowledge of spiritual things, the other life is still full of mystery. When our loved ones leave us, we cannot understand where they have gone; and when we think of going ourselves, we cannot realize anything of the way. So it was with the first disciples. Thomas was perplexed about the way of their going where Jesus was going. "Lord, we don't know where you are going, so how can we know the way?" Jesus sought to relieve the mystery. "I am the way," He said. This is the answer to all our longings. Philip thought he knew Christ well. He had been in His family for more than three years. It is possible for us to be with Christ a long time, in His Church, among His people, familiar with the story in the Gospels—and yet not really know Him. There is a great difference between knowing about Christ and knowing Him.
Jesus went on to explain to Philip, the meaning of the blessed, beautiful life He had been living with them. "He who has seen me—has seen the Father." If John had said this about himself we would have called it blasphemy. When Christ said it about Himself—He very clearly claimed to be divine. He was the revealer of God. What men saw in His life—was an interpretation of God's own life. When we see Him taking little children in His arms, laying His hands on their heads and blessing them—we see how God feels toward children. When we see the compassion of Jesus stirred by human suffering and sorrow—we learn how our Father is touched by the sight of earthly suffering. When we see Jesus receiving sinners and eating with them, speaking forgiveness to penitents who crept to His feet, and making stained lives white and clean—we learn the mercy of God. When we follow Christ to His cross and see Him giving His life a willing sacrifice in redemption for lost men—we see how God loves this world. So the holiness of Christ—was the Father's holiness; His meekness, patience, gentleness and compassion—were mirrorings of the same qualities in the Father. If we would see what God is like, we have but to turn to the gospel story. To know Christ—is to know the Father.
Now we have another phase of the marvelous teaching. Christ and the Father were one. He who saw the life of Christ, saw God. Still more, Christ and His followers were one. His life was in them. "He who believes on me, the works that I do shall he also do." Christ Himself was going away, and would be missed from the earth. Those He had comforted and helped, would long for His visits when He would come no more.
There are some good men and women who leave a great emptiness in the world when they go away. The departure of Christ left a great blank in the homes He had been used to visiting. But it was the plan of Christ, that His disciples should take His place and go on with the ministry which He had begun. His life was to be taken away—but He would live on in His disciples. If we take off slips from a geranium and put them into the ground anywhere, they will grow and have the same beauty and fragrance as the original plant. All true Christians are parts of Christ, branches of Christ, so to speak; and wherever they may be—they will have His likeness and His spirit, His love and gentleness, and will do the same woks that He produced. Are we fulfilling our mission as Christians? If not, why not?
There was another link in the chain. Christ was going away—but He would not be out of reach. "Whatever you shall ask in my name, that will I do." They could not see Him face to face in human life and get the things they needed—but they could speak to Him and ask Him for blessings and get them. While Jesus was going away and would be out of sight—He would not be beyond call. His people on earth could speak to Him and, although they saw Him not, He would hear them. The way of communication with Christ has never been broken. We are to pray always in the name of Christ—that is we are to ask things for His sake, because He is our Savior.
The Comforter Promised
Everything in Christian life is love. "The fruit of the Spirit is love." There are other things that are mentioned as fruit—but love is named first, and all the others are only parts or qualities of love. The one white ray of light is resolved into the seven colors of the rainbow. Just so does love, the white ray that shines from the face of God, separate itself into all the heavenly graces. "The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance" (Galatians 5:22, 23).
Love is the one essential in the life which the Holy Spirit produces. Paul tells us we may have great eloquence, tongues of angels, the gift of prophecy, faith that can move mountains, generosity that will give all we possess, the martyr's spirit; and yet, if we have not love—we are nothing. Men have been champions of orthodoxy, and yet, lacking love—are given to anger, evil temper, and resentment. There are those who are devoted to the institutions of religion and who yet fail to show love at home. These do not meet the highest requirement of the gospel. Nothing but love can satisfy the demands of the Holy Spirit.
We must prove our love—by our life. "If you love me—you will keep my commandments." We cannot live truly, except by loving—but we cannot love and not live worthily. It is very easy to say we love a person—but our conduct is the only true index. In one of his epistles John, the disciple of love writes: "This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue—but with actions and in truth." (1 John 3:16-18). John is speaking of the proof of love to our fellow men—but the same principle applies to our profession of love to Christ. It is not enough that we sing it in our hymns and say it in our prayers and recite it in our creeds; we must show it in our life by obedience to His commandments. A fruit tree proves its usefulness, by bearing fruit. If there is "nothing but leaves," the tree's profession is empty. The rosebush must prove its right to the distinction, by putting forth beautiful roses in the season for roses. When we claim to be Christ's friends, we must show it by doing what Christ bids us do.
"If you love me—you will obey what I command." Promise follows requirement. Then he says, "And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Comforter to be with you forever—the Spirit of truth." The "and" is important. It links the promise back to the previous verse. There are four links in the chain. If we love Christ, we will keep His commandments; then He will ask the Father, and the Father will give us another Comforter. The disciples thought they would be sore losers by Christ's leaving them, and so they were, in a sense. It broke their hearts to part from Him. But He assures them that instead of His personal presence, another heavenly Friend would be sent to them.
The name "Comforter" is a very precious one. Even in the common usage of the English word it is sacred. One who is a comforter to us, ministers to us in our sorrows, consoles us when we are in grief. Then the word "another" shows what kind of comforter the Spirit would be—Jesus had been a comforter, and the Spirit would be one just like Him. We sometimes wish we had lived when Jesus was on earth, and feel that those who knew Him in the flesh had a privilege no other believers ever again can have. But this word tells us that the Holy Spirit, who came in Christ's place—is all to us that Jesus was to His friends. He may not take away our sorrows from us—but if not, He gives us strength so that we can bear them. That is part of what the Holy Spirit does for us. He is not, however, merely a comforter in the sense that the word is now used. The word is "Paraclete," which has not precise equivalent in English. The same word is translated "Advocate" in one of John's epistles, which means one who stands by or stands for one. We may put all our affairs into the hands of this Advocate. He will defend us, intercede for us, and be our comrade and friend.
The world does not want to receive the Holy Spirit—"Whom the world cannot receive." It has no love for Him, no eyes to behold His beauty, no ears to hear His words. The world does not want the Holy Spirit as guest. Only those who desire to be holy, have any yearning for Him. It is one of the most wonderful proofs of the love of God, that the Holy Spirit is wiling to live in a corrupt, defiled, loathsome human heart, amid all its sin and impurity, for the purpose of cleansing it and making it holy and fit for heaven! It was one of the qualities of the love of Christ, that it went out in compassion and longing to the most unworthy. Someone defined the love of God as "loving people He did not like." The Spirit of God takes up His abode in the worst heart—that He may make it clean and holy.
It is wonderful how gently Christ dealt with His disciples that night. He talked with them as a mother about to leave her children would talk to them—mingled counsel, with words of love. He knew how lonely they would be when He was gone away from them. They would indeed be desolate in their sorrow and bereavement. We remember how it was with them those days that He lay in the grave. Then for forty days they saw Him occasionally, receiving sweet consolation from Him. After this He went away—but soon He came again in the Holy Spirit, and after that the disciples were never lonely anymore, for they had their Master's presence with them in close and loving tenderness all the while. We ought never to feel desolate if we have Christ. Everything else may be stripped off, and we may be driven out into the world, orphans, and homeless; but if we have Christ, we are rich in love and in all heavenly blessing.
The proof of love for God—is obedience to His commandment. Then, when love for God is in our lives, God Himself is with us. "If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him." It is a wonderful truth that is declared to us here—that God actually desires to have our love and longs to make His home in our hearts.
"Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid." One of the great words of the Bible is peace. Our heart hungers for it. Everywhere men search for it—in paths of pleasure, in the avenues of fame. But peace does not come by finding a quiet place to hide in, away from the world's storms. It must begin in the heart. Indeed, the peace a Christian has—must be a peace that will hold the heart quiet in spite of the world's storms.
Two artists went out to paint each a picture of peace. One painted a silvery lake embosomed deep amid the hills, where no storm ever could touch it. The other painted a wild sea, swept by tempests, strewn with wrecks—but rising up out of it a great rock—and in the rock, high up, a cleft with herbage and flowers, amid which, on her nest, a dove was sitting. The latter is the true picture of Christian peace. "In the word you shall have tribulation," but "In me you shall have peace" (see 16:33). The peace of Christ is a peace that holds the heart quiet—in the very heart of the world's trials. This peace is offered to us here as a gift, as Christ's legacy to us. We can get it only by taking Christ Himself into our heart.
The Vine and the Branches
When Jesus says, "I am the true vine," He means that He is the source of the spiritual life of His people, who are compared to branches. What the vine is to its branches, Christ is to all who believe on Him. The branches, down to the smallest twigs, are dependent on the vine. So every believer is dependent on Christ. He is the source of the spiritual life of every Christian.
A traveler in Kamchatka who spent many nights in the poor huts of the people, tells of His experience. The hut in which he was entertained was dirty, and the people were in every way repulsive. But their kindness was beautiful. They were most attentive to the traveler's needs. The best morsels were put upon His plate. The best bed was given to him. When bedtime came there was family prayer, closing with these words, "Lord, bless our home and bless and prosper our guest." There was something almost heavenly in the spirit of the home, which deeply impressed the visitor. He had found a branch of the true Vine. The life of Christ was flowing in it. There was a vital connection between these kinds of hearts in Kamchatka, and Christ.
Wherever a real Christian life is found, there is a little branch of the great Vine. There is no other vine to which any soul can be joined and from which it can be nourished. Other religions may present their legends, their ceremonies, and their rules of conduct; but there is no life in any of them. The religion of Christ is more than a creed or a system of beliefs, more than a set of moral precepts. It has a great stream of heavenly life flowing from it. All the fullness of God is in it, and of this fullness—we all receive.
Another truth suggested in this figure, is the dependence of the vine upon the branches. It is easy to see how the branches depend upon the vine—but the only way a vine can bear fruit—is on its branches. So the only way Christ can feed the world's hunger—is through His disciples. We ought to think of the responsibility of being a branch. The only way to be a good branch—is to be full of fruit, the same kind of fruit that Christ bore on His life.
The culture of the plant is also important. Jesus says that the Father is the Gardener. The care of the branches is in His hands. It ought to be a great comfort to us, to know that our life's training and discipline are under the Father's care. If an ignorant, inexperienced, unskillful man were to enter a beautiful vineyard and begin cutting the vines, he would soon destroy them. He does not know what he ought to cut off. But if the man who comes to prune knows about vines, and has had experience and is skilled, though he may sometimes seem to be destroying a vine, yet we know that he is not making any mistakes and that His most severe and painful prunings are for the good of the vine. We have similar confidence when God seems to be dealing sorely or even harshly with us. The Gardener is our Father; He has all wisdom and love, and never gives us pain, nor cuts away any of our joys—except when such pruning is for our good.
The Gardener does not trouble to prune the fruitless branches—but only cuts them off and casts them away. "He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit." All through the Bible uselessness meets God's disfavor and condemnation. The wicked are compared to the chaff which the wind drives away. Chaff is of no use; it feeds no hunger; it has no value and no beauty; it is fit only to be burned. The fruitless branch stands for the formal profession of religion. Merely nominal church members without spiritual life—are not of any benefit to the church. For a time the Gardener may be patient with them, waiting while He tried in all ways to bring them into real union with Himself, and to make the fruitful; but when due efforts have been made and there is still no fruitfulness, they are cut away.
It is the fruitful branches, which the Gardener prunes and tends. The motive of His care—is that in this way these branches may become more fruitful. "Every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, so that it will be even more fruitful." The pruning process is a very important one. Dead twigs must be cut away. Sometime there is too much foliage. There is not life enough to nourish all the branches. Some of them, therefore, must be cut off, that what remains may receive full nourishment. There may then be less fruit for the present—but it will be better, richer fruit. The Gardener does not prune the unfruitful branches—pruning would do them no good. It is the Christian that the Father chastens and causes sometimes to suffer under sore discipline. Mere formal professors of religion are left alone, and often they grow very luxuriant, like unpruned vines. But in their luxuriance there is no spiritual fruit.
Notice also that the object of the Father's pruning, is that the branch may be made to bear more fruit. It sometimes seems that the pruning is destructive. Great branches are cut off, and it seems as if the very life of the vine is endangered. But He who holds the knife, knows that what He is doing will make the vine in time more luxuriant and its fruit sweeter and more luscious. If only we would bear this in mind—when we find ourselves under God's chastening, it would help us to bear the pain in patience, and also to cooperate with God in His design to make us more fruitful. Earthly prosperity is often to a Christian like the excessive luxuriance of a vine, which the vine-dresser must cut away with his merciless hand, in order to save the vine's life.
Jesus reminded His disciples that He had been acting as their Gardener and Caretaker. "Now you are clean through the Word which I have spoken unto you." For three years He had been teaching them, speaking to them words of correction, of counsel, of exhortation, and these words had trimmed off the faults, the evil habits, and the sinful things from their lives, leaving them now clean. The Word of God is the knife which is used in pruning the branches. This word, Paul says, is profitable for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works. Every time we read the Bible as we should, thoughtfully, yielding our life to its sway—the knife cuts off some twig or branch which is marring our life or hindering its usefulness. We never should shrink from the impact of the Words of God—but should let them cut deep as they will into our life, exposing hidden faults, secret sins, and unlovely dispositions.
Since the branches draw life from the vine, it is essential that their attachment shall always be complete. "Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit itself, except in abides in the vine; no more can you, except you abide in me." We might as well try to grow plants without roots—as to have a Christian life without attachment to Christ. The kinds of fruits Christian lives should bear, are indicated by Paul as love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, and temperance. These fruits can grow only when the life of Christ is in the heart. A branch torn from a vine—at once withers and dies.
Two trees grew in the same yard. One spring, when the time for leaves came, it was noticed that while one of the trees put forth its foliage as usual, the other stood dark and bare, with neither bud nor leaf nor any life. The same warm sunshine fell upon both, and the same spring rains watered the roots of both—but in one there was life, while in the other there was no life. There are men and women, too, who have spiritual privileges in home and church and Christian friendship—but who bear no fruit. It is because they are not really attached to Christ, not rooted in Him, and therefore they have no life in them.
Many are the blessings of abiding in Christ. One is answer to prayer, "If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, you shall ask what you will, and it shall be done unto you." This promise is a great key with which we may open the door of the divine treasury and take from it whatever we need. But we must not overlook the condition—the twofold condition on which the promise depends. First, we must abide in Christ—in close, intimate union and communion with Him. Secondly, Christ's Words must abide in us. This means that His words must be received by us into our hearts, that we must love them, meditate upon the, allow them to rule our actions and words, to color our thoughts and feelings, and to inspire our dispositions. Only when these conditions are fulfilled, can we claim the promise.
It is very important that we should clearly understand how we may abide in Christ. Jesus tells us plainly, "If you keep my commandments, you shall abide in my love." Jesus Himself, in His incarnation, was under the same law of obedience. He says, "Even as I have kept my Father's commandments, and abide in His love." Nothing can take the place of obedience in Christian life. In absolutely no other way, can we abide in Jesus Christ's love.
One of the great privileges of Christian life is friendship with Christ. Those who abide in Him and do His will—shall become His friends. "You are my friends—if you do whatever I command you." That is the way we are to show our love for Christ. It is not enough to say we love Him. That is well so far as it goes, and if we prove it by our deeds, it is all right.
The Spirit's Work
"Now I am going to him who sent me—yet none of you asks me, 'Where are you going?' Because I have said these things, you are filled with grief."
The disciples were in great sorrow. Jesus had told them that He was going to leave them, and they were so absorbed in thoughts of their loss and so overwhelmed that they had not even thought to ask Him where He was going or why He was going away. He seems here to complain of them for this. Their conduct showed selfishness; they were nor interested in His glory, but were absorbed in their own grief and loss. It showed also lack of faith, for they were in danger of losing their hope in Him as the Messiah.
We may get a lesson here for ourselves when called to endure bereavement. We are in danger of making the same mistake. When God takes away from us our beloved friends, we are apt to think only of ourselves and our own earthly loss—and not of the joy and glory into which our Christian friends have gone. Is there not in this an element of selfishness? Is it right that we should think only of what we have lost in their departure, and not of what they have gained? Is it not unbelief that sees only the sorrow and the gloom—and not the light that is behind the gloom? Should we not be willing to stiffer loss to ourselves, when what is loss to us is eternal gain to those we love? We train ourselves in the fellowships and experiences of life to endure cost and hardship, that our friends may be helped, benefited, or made happier. Shall we not exercise the same spirit of unselfish affection toward our loved ones who have gone from us into glory, when we suffer loneliness and must bear the double burdens which are ours because they are not with us?
The disciples thought that Christ's going away would be an irretrievable loss for them. It seemed the crushing of all their hopes. They saw no silver lining whatever in the dark cloud that was gathering. But now Jesus says to them, "It is for your good that I am going away." There was a silver lining after all in that black cloud. What seemed an irreparable loss, would prove in the end a gain. They did not understand it now—but here were the Master's words assuring them of it.
The same is true in the case of Christ's disciples now when He calls away their human friends. We can readily see how it is well for our believing friends, when Christ takes them home. They exchange earth—for heaven, sin-for holiness, and pain—for eternal joy. But how about the friends who are left with bleeding hearts to walk on, lonely and sad over earth's ways? This word of Christ replies, "It is for your good that I am going away."
The young wife whose husband is called from her may believe that it is better for him to be with Christ. He is doing more exalted service. He sees His Lord's face. His wife, who stays behind, has to meet life's tasks and responsibilities alone, and misses the joy of companionship. But she, too, has her gain. She learns lessons in the hardness of her loneliness, which she never would have learned in the sheltered and pampered care of love. The finer possibilities of life are brought out in her. Burden-bearing develops her womanly strength. She grows into a strength and a beauty of character which she never would have attained, if she had not lost the companionship which made life so restful and quiet. We cannot understand now, and neither could the disciples understand how Christ's departure could be better for them, than His staying with them would have been. Afterwards they knew; and afterwards we shall know, too, how even for us the going away of our Christian friends will become a blessing, if we in faith submit ourselves to God.
The disciples had no thought that when Jesus was gone from them, He would be more to them than He ever had been in His bodily presence. "Unless I go away, the Comforter will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you." Many people wish they could have known Christ as His personal disciples and other friends knew Him. They think it would have been so much easier to have loved and trusted Him if they could have seen His face, and heard His words, and felt His
touch—if they could have gone to Him with all their questions and perplexities and could have had His help in every experience of need. But Christ Himself says that His staying with His disciples would have been a loss to them, and that His going away would be a gain.
Christ has not left the world; He was never so really present with His own disciples when they could see Him—as He afterward was, when they could not see Him. The presence of the Holy Spirit in the world, is a greater blessing than Christ's continued bodily presence would have been. It is the same presence in a form that can do infinitely more for us. There are limitations to physical presence—but there are no limitations to the divine Spirit. We have lost none of the blessing which those who knew Christ in the flesh enjoyed; on the other hand, He is far more to us now than He was to the first disciples. In the body He could not be present in even two places at the same time; in the Spirit He can be with millions of people in different lands at the same moment!
Jesus tells His disciples of the work the Spirit will do, when He comes. "When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment." The first work of the Spirit is not pleasant work—but painful. He crushes—before He heals. He brings terror—before He brings joy. He comes first of all—to show us our sins. As His light shines upon us—we see the stains in our hearts. As His holiness is revealed—it shows us how unholy we are.
Then, as He lifts the veil, we have a glimpse of the judgment when we must stand before God's bar. Yet this is not unkind work; He shows us our guilt and peril, not to trouble us—but to save us, and then, when we have seen our need and danger—He points us to Jesus Christ the Savior!
Some tourists once lost their way in the Alps as night came on. They groped about for a time, not knowing where they were, and at length a terribly violent storm burst upon them, and a lightning flash showed them that they were standing on the very edge of a fearful precipice; a few steps more, and they would have been hurled to death. It was a kind storm that by its lurid flash revealed to them their peril, because thereby it saved them. Terrible are the convicting flashes of the Spirit, sometimes striking terror into the soul; but they are merciful flashes, for they are meant to save.
"In regard to sin, because men do not believe in me." The sin of which the Holy Spirit convicts—is the sin of unbelief. So the worst of sins—is the rejection of Christ. He is the Son of God who came to the world to prepare and bring salvation. People think that murder is the worst sin, and they think that stealing and lying are terrible sins—and so they are. But do we ever think that no other sin we can possibly commit is so base and so soul-destroying, as the sin of unbelief in Christ? We should think of this. Unbelievers are very ready to pick flaws in the conduct of professing Christians, and they congratulate themselves that, while they do not believe in Christ, they are better than those who do. They do not remember that, as evil as their other sins are, their unbelief is the blackest of them all in God's sight! No moral goodness, however beautiful it may be, makes one acceptable in God's sight—while Jesus Christ is rejected in the heart and shut away from the life. It is a terrible thing to reject the Son of God, who comes to us to be our Savior.
"But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth." Part of the work of the Spirit, is to lead us into ever fuller and deeper knowledge. We never can know the truth, if the Spirit is not our teacher. We cannot understand the Bible, unless the Spirit makes it plain. Men of great intellectual powers have listened to sermons of which they could understand scarcely a word; while some plain, unlettered woman, with threadbare garments, sitting in some back gallery seat, understood every word, her heart being enlightened and thrilled by the blessed truths. She was taught by the Spirit. There are devout men who never open the Bible without a prayer that God would show them its meaning.
We must remember also that it is as a guide that the Spirit comes to us. He does not promise to teach us Himself; He will not make any new revelation to us; He teaches through Biblical truth. He comes to guide us to the understanding of the truths already revealed in Scripture. He honors God's Word, and comes not as a teacher of new truth—but as an interpreter of Scripture truth. There is no doubt about the Spirit's readiness to help us into the deepest things of the Scriptures, if we are truly ready to follow His guidance. But we must be willing to receive the truth without question, though it sweeps away all our own opinions; and to accept it as a rule of our life, though it revolutionizes all our conduct.
The great work of the Spirit, is to make Christ known. "He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you." Even the divine Spirit does not preach Himself—but, remaining unseen, points men to Christ. The Spirit glorifies Christ; that is, makes Him glorious in the eyes of men. As the world saw Jesus, He was far from lovely. His visage was marred; He was despised; He died on a cross of shame; His name was hated and covered with defamation. But the Spirit came and poured such light upon Him, that He appears all glorious in His beauty! In all the world there is no other face so lovely, so radiant—as the face of Jesus Christ. Men who have hated Him, seeing Him only dimly—when the Spirit reveals Him to them as He really is—see Him as the chief among ten thousand, and the altogether lovely one.
Alone—yet Not Alone
"But a time is coming, and has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home. You will leave me all alone. Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me."
The loneliness of Jesus while in this world was one of the most pathetic elements of His experience. There are two kinds of loneliness.
One is, when a person is away from all human presences. A man who had been shipwrecked and had drifted for many hours on a piece of wreckage, spoke of the terrible feeling of desolation he experienced when on all alone on the waters, he could see no sign of human life, hear no voice, get no ear to listen to his calls of distress.
But there is another loneliness. One may be in the midst of people—and yet be utterly without companionship. Were you never oppressed with a sense of loneliness in a crowd that surged all about you and pressed close to you on every side? Think of the loneliness of one who lands from a foreign country and enters the throngs on the streets of a strange city—but sees no face he ever has seen before, catches no glance of recognition from any eye. In a surging multitude of human beings—he is utterly alone. It takes more than human presence to make companionships; hearts must touch; there must be love and sympathy.
In a sense, Christ was always alone in this world. His very greatness of character, made it impossible for Him to find real, deep, and full companionship. All great men are in a sense, solitary men. Their exalted life lifts them above the plane in which other people live. They are like the few tall mountain peaks of the earth that lift their heads far above the clouds, and wear their crowns of unmelting snows. The little hills are not lonesome, for there are so many of them—but the giant mountains are lonely in their solitariness because there are so few of them. The world's few great men are solitary, because common people cannot rise into companionship with them in thought, in feeling, in purpose. Christ found no fellow, no equal, no real companion, among men.
Then, in His work as Redeemer, Christ was alone. He had few friends. There is infinite pathos in such words as these, which describe His personal loneliness: "He was in the world, and the world was made by Him—and the world knew Him not. He came unto His own—and His own received him not" (John 1:10, 11). He revealed His feeling of aloneness and sense of homelessness when He said, "Foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man has nowhere to lay His head." (Matthew 8:20; Luke 9:58). Thus in the midst of multitudes, His own people, too, not foreigners, those also He had come to deliver and save—He was alone because hearts and homes were shut against Him.
Then, too, Jesus had a gentle heart, which craved affection and companionship. There are some men with cold, stern natures, who are indifferent to the coldness they meet in the world. They desire no sympathy. They are not pained by men's rejection. Opposition acts as stimulus to them. They almost court unpopularity. But Jesus craved affection and sympathy. We remember how He welcomed love whenever it came to Him; what a strength the beloved disciple was to Him; what a shelter and comfort the Bethany home, with its love, was to Him; how even the slightest tokens of kindness comforted and cheered His heart. We see also His deep craving for companionship in the Garden, when He wanted His closest friends near Him in His bitter agony and so deeply felt the disappointment when they slept and did not watch with Him. Jesus was not, then, a cold, iron man, who was unaffected by the indifferences and rejection of the people. He suffered keenly from every unloving act and touch. This intensified His loneliness.
Here we have another phase of Christ's loneliness. "You will be scattered, each to his own home." The only human relief to His loneliness, along the years of His public ministry, was in the love of His friends; and this love, we know, was very imperfect. These friends, though loyal and devoted, never fully understood their Master. They had an earthly conception of His Messiahship, yet they were very unspiritual. They hurt Him continually by their lack of gentleness, thoughtfulness, and perfect trust. They grieved Him unintentionally, of course, ignorantly, loving Him still—but giving Him pain every day by the rudeness and harshness of their contacts with His sensitive heart. Very poor and imperfect, indeed, was the companionship which He found even with the gentlest and truest of His human friends.
But now He looks forward to the losing of even this solace and support, "You will be scattered, each to his own home, and shall leave me alone." Even the little company of friends, who had walked with Him along the way, would desert Him in the hour of His supreme trial. We remember how it was. One of those who had eaten bread with Him, dipping His hand in the same dish, betrayed Him! Another, until then His bravest confessor, denied even knowing Him! They all forsook Him and fled. Alone, He was led away to His trial. Alone, He was left to stand before the court and before the governor. Loving and craving love as no other ever loved and craved love, He was left alone—with no pitying eye, with not one friendly voice raised in His behalf. At the close of a life given to love of men and to efforts to save men—He was left with no one confessing to have been helped or saved by Him, no friend, no follower; abandoned to the cruelty of brutal men. Even Barabbas, a notorious criminal, found friends that day, while Jesus, who had given His life to gentle deeds and kind ministries, was dragged away by His enemies through the streets, as if He had been a murderer, with no one to speak a word for Him.
But read what He says of this hour of abandonment: "You will be scattered, each to his own home. You will leave me all alone. Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me." There was One whose companionship never failed Him for a moment. Through the years when His infinite divine nature found such meager, imperfect fellowship even in the best love of human friends—He had but to turn His face toward His Father to have His hungry heart filled. When His affectionate nature met only misunderstanding, coldness, rejection, and antagonism among the people for whose love and trust He so hungered, He would go away at nightfall, apart from men, and on some mountaintop or in some deep garden shade, He would commune with One who was all love, who never misunderstood Him, and in whose blessed companionship all of the hungers of His heart were satisfied, and all the hurts of love were healed.
One of the most touching incidents in the Gospels, described what occurred at the close of one day in the temple. "Every man went unto His own house; but Jesus went unto the Mount of Olives" (see John 7:53-8:1). It was evening night was gathering. It was time for all to go away. But nobody asked Jesus home with him. They went to their own fine houses on the great streets, leaving Him there. Then He, homeless, with no place to go, no place to lay His head that night, climbed the Mount of Olives, and there stayed alone—alone, but not alone, because the Father was with Him.
We may apply the words to experiences in our own lives. We, too, have our times of loneliness. In a certain sense, all life is lonely. Even with sympathetic friends all about us, there is an inner life which one of us lives, in which we are solitary. We must make our own decisions and choices. We must meet our own questions and answer them ourselves. We must fight our own battles, endure our own sorrows, carry our own burdens. Friendship may be very close, so close that it seems to us there is no part of our deepest life, which our friend does not share with us; yet there is an inner sanctuary of each human life, into which even the most perfect friendship may not enter.
Blessed are those who in this aloneness can say, "Yet I am not alone, because my Father is with me!" God is the only friend who can really enter into the inner sanctuary of our life. God's is the only companionship we can really have in the inner experiences of our hearts. God's is the only friendship that can really meet all our soul's deep needs and cravings. Human love is only a little trickling stream; God's love is a great river, broadening into a shoreless ocean! Human companionship helps us at a few points; the divine fellowship flows all about us and enters into every experience of ours. We never can be left alone—if we still have Christ. When other helpers and comforts flee—He will abide with us. When other faces fade out of view—His face will appear, shining out with perfect love, pouring its holy light upon us. "I am not alone, because the Father is with me.
There are special times when we are alone. Pain sets us apart. We have to endure it alone. In any pain or grief of yours, you may have truest friends surrounding you—but none of them can bear one pang for you. Sometimes we almost blame our friends because they do not come near to us in our trouble, because they do not appear to feel for us or sympathize with us. We say they do not understand us. We think they ought to help us more. But the truth is—we have to live all our inner lives alone. Our friends love us and want to help us, but they cannot. None can fully understand us. None can really help us in any deep and efficient way. Those about us, even those who are our truest friends, who sympathize with us most fully, leave us alone because they cannot share our suffering. But we can always say, "I am not alone—because the Father is with me!"
There is a loneliness which is made by the breaking up of homes. A true home is an incalculable blessing to the young lives that nestle in it. It is a shelter where they find protection. It is a school where they are educated, where they learn life's lessons. There is guidance also in a true home. Many of life's hardest questions, are answered by wise parents. Blessed is that young man or young woman who takes every perplexity, every mystery, every fear and doubt, every heart-hunger, to the sacredness of love's sanctuary at home and gets wise counsel and guidance!
Home has also its blessed companionships. It is one place where we are absolutely sure of each other, where we need never suspect anyone, where we do not need to be on our guard. Youth has its unexpected longings, its deep cravings, its hunger for affection, its inexperience needing direction. A true home is the very shadow of Gods wings, the very cleft of the Rock of Ages, to those who abide in its love. But sometimes the home is torn down and its shelter broken up. Sore indeed is the loss when a young person, used to all that is gentle and satisfying in home tenderness, is driven out to homelessness. Other human friendships are very sweet—but they never can give back home with its rest and comfort. But blessed is he who in earthly homelessness can say, "Yet I am not alone!" Who can look into the face of Christ and breathe out the psalm of peace, "Lord, You are my dwelling place; You are home to my heart!"
Another time of special loneliness is that of old age. Old people often grow very lonely. Once they were the center of large groups of friends and companions. One by one the beloved associates slipped away. Now the old man or the old woman stands almost entirely alone. The streets are full, the church is full; but where are the faces of forty or fifty years ago? There is a memory of empty cribs, of vacant chairs, of little graves, of marriage altars—and then the starting of new homes, perhaps far away. But the old faces are gone. It is young life that now fills the home, the street, the church. Only here and there perhaps, is a companion of forty, fifty years ago remains. The old people are lonely.
Yet Christian old age can say, "I am not alone!" No changes can take Christ away. Other companions scatter, leaving them humanly alone—but He never departs. Indeed, Christ becomes more and more real to aged Christians—as other friends drop off and become fewer and fewer. While human friendships filled the life, Christ was not turned to very often, though He was believed in and loved. The joys that were needed were found so easily in the human loves that were always at hand, that Christ did not seem so indispensable, so necessary. But as one by one the earthly loved ones dropped off and slipped away, and could not be turned to in the time of need, then Christ began to be more necessary and was turned to more frequently. As the years went on, and more and more of the old friends were missing, Christ grew every day more precious, until now He is almost the only one left. Blessed is the aged Christian; he is now drawing near to glory. A little while longer—and he will enter heaven! Soon the old people will pass over, and find again, waiting for them, those who were once their friends here, companions once more, inseparable now, in heaven!
But it is not old people only, who are left lonely by life's changes. Sorrow touches all ages. There is a continual breaking of human companionships. Blessed are those who can say with every bereavement, "Alone—yet not alone, because Christ is mine, and He never leaves me!" Then in Christ also, our human ties are made inseparable. We never really can lose each other if we are united in Christ. In Christ we never lose a friend.
But this is not all, nor the best. Human loneliness here, is filled with the divine presence of Christ. "I am not alone, because the Father is with me!"
There is no other loneliness in all human experience, like that of dying. We cannot die in companies, or in groups, nor even two by two. We must die alone. Two may walk together for long years, never divided in joy or sorrow. But they cannot die together. Human hands, however long they have held each other, must unclasp as the friends enter the valley of shadows—one taken, the other left. Human faces that have looked into ours through the years, must fade from our vision—as we pass into the mists of the valley of death.
"I cannot see you," said a dying friend the other night, as the beloved ones stood about His bed. "I cannot see you." So will it be with each of us some night. Human friends cannot go beyond the edge of the valley. "You shall leave me alone." Yes, that will be true of each of us in our turn. But we need not be alone, even in that supreme moment. When the hand of human love unclasps—the hand of Christ will take your hand and lead you through the dark valley of death. When human faces fade out—Christ's face will be revealed, with its welcome of infinite love. When you must creep out of the bosom of human affection, and pass into the mystery of death—it will be into the clasp of the Everlasting Arms! So death's loneliness will be filled with divine companionship! "I am not alone, because the Father is with me!"
Thus the one great need of life—is Christ. If we do not have Christ—what will we do in life's crises? When human joy fades—what will be left? When human companionships are stripped off—who will walk with us the rest of the lonely way? When death comes, and we must drift out from all we ever have known, from earth's refuges and trusts and from earth's familiar places and friends—where shall we go? In whom shall we trust? Who will receive us and lead us home? If we have not Christ, life is hopeless and the universe is homeless for us. But if we have Christ, then, no matter what is taken, He will remain—and He will suffice!
Jesus Prays for His Friends
A writer tells of quietly opening the door of his mother's room one day in his boyhood, seeing her on her knees, and hearing her speak his own name in prayer. He quickly and quietly withdrew from the sacred place—but he never forgot that one glimpse of his mother at prayer, nor the prayer for himself, which he heard her speak to God. Well did he know that what he had seen that moment, was but a glimpse of what went on every day in that place of prayer. The consciousness of this fact, he says, strengthened him countless times in duty, in danger, in struggle.
In this seventeenth chapter of John's gospel, we hear Christ praying just once, a few sentences—but we know that this is only a sample of what is going on forever in heaven, for the Scriptures tell us that He ever lives—to make intercession for us!
Jesus knew that the end had come, the time for Him to make His great sacrifice, to offer Himself for the redemption of His people. He knew how much depended upon this hour. So He prayed that the Father would glorify Him in His sufferings, that in turn He might glorify His Father. When we are about entering any sore trial, or taking up any great duty on which much depends, it should be our prayer that God would so sustain us that we may honor Him in the experience and in the way we pass through it. We should dread nothing so much as the dishonoring of God in sorrow, in trial, or in pain—by losing faith, by complaining, or by murmuring. The deepest wish and prayer of our hearts always should be that we may be enabled to glorify God in every experience of our lives. "Love's secret," says Faber, "is to be always doing things for God, and not to mind because they are such very little things."
This means that we do nothing, say no word, let no feeling enter our heart—that would in any way dishonor God. A great preacher who was subject at times to seasons of excruciating suffering would ask when the paroxysms were over, "Did I complain? I did not want to complain." He wished to endure His anguish without yielding to any expression of pain, and he feared that he had not honored God as he had wished to do. Too many fail in glorifying God in suffering. Allowing themselves to cry out, to fret, to chafe and repine, giving way to feelings of pain, to impatience, to envy or jealousy, to anger and bitterness, to discouragement or despair—is to fail in glorifying God.
Jesus looks back over His past, too, with comfort and satisfaction. He can say to the Father, "I have brought you glory on earth—by completing the work you gave me to do." (17:4). He is the only person that ever lived who could say this. The most faithful of us, have done but a little of what God meant for us to do when He made us. The best and most complete human lives, are but little fragments in which are left undone—many things which ought to have been done.
We may take a lesson, too, from Christ's way of accomplishing His work. He did it by simply doing each day, the will of His Father. He was only a young man, thirty-three years old when He died. We think of those dying early—as dying too soon, before their work is accomplished. Yet we learn from Jesus that even a young man may leave a finished work. Years enough are given to each one—in which to do the work allotted. And the young man who dies at thirty-three, with his hands full of tasks, whom his friends mourn as having died prematurely, if only he has lived faithfully while he lived—has accomplished the work that God gave him to do. It is not the amount of years we live—but our diligence and faithfulness which count with God.
Jesus makes an earnest prayer for His disciples before He leaves them. He knows what lies before them—the persecutions, the struggles, the temptations, and then their weakness, their ignorance, their inability in themselves to meet these perils and difficulties; so He commends them to His Father, "Holy Father, keep through your own name, those whom you have given me." While He was in this world, Jesus had kept them in the Father's name, guarding them so that not one of them had perished, but the son of perdition. Now, however, He was about to leave them in the world. He was going back to God, and they would not have His protection, the shelter of His love, His divine strength, to keep them. He knows that the world will hate them and persecute them—even as it had hated and persecuted Him. But He will not leave them alone. He will so keep them that they shall not be overwhelmed in the world's enmity. In great tenderness, He commends them to His Father's keeping.
"I am not praying that You take them out of the world but that You protect them from the evil." John 17:15. Jesus does not pray that His disciples should be taken out of the world to escape the danger. This would have been the easier way for them, for with Him in heaven—they would have been safe from all persecution. But they had a work to do in this world, and therefore they must stay to do it. They were to represent their Master, carrying on His work among men. Hence, He must leave them behind Him. It was for this very work that He had called them and made them His followers.
It would be a great deal easier in one sense for Christian people, if they were taken to heaven as soon as they had become Christ's followers. Then they would have no cross-bearing, no giving of their lives for others, no struggles, no self-denials, no sacrifices. But who then would do Christ's work in the world? Who would look after the wandering ones, or rescue those who are tempted? Thus followers of Christ are left to the world after they become Christ's friends—both for their own sakes and for the sake of others. It seems hard to have to fight battles and endure trials—but these battles and trials are means of strengthening and growth. Not those who have the easiest life, are really the most favored ones—but those who endure life's trials victoriously.
They are not the most majestic trees that grow in the sheltered valley—but those that are found on hilltops and mountains, where they must encounter fierce storms. When armies return from victorious war, the loudest cheers are not for those who have fought the fewest battles and wear the fewest scars, nor for the flags that are cleanest—but for the regiments that are cut down to the fewest men, and for the colors that have been shot to tatters. So when the redeemed are welcomed home, those who have fought the hardest battles and who wear the most scars—will be received with the highest honor.
The prayer that Jesus did make for His disciples, was that they should he kept from the evil of the world. There is but one evil in the world. It is not trouble, not persecution, not suffering nor sorrow. The one and only evil—is sin. No matter what comes to us, so long as we do not sin, we have not been really harmed.
The Revised Version makes the evil personal "the evil one." We know who this "evil one" is. It is a great comfort also for us to know that Christ Our Master is stronger than Satan, and if we are faithful to Him, Satan will have no power to harm us.
"Sanctify them by the truth; Your Word is truth." Jesus prayed also for His disciples, that they might be sanctified in the truth. A man is sanctified, when he is given up to God to live for Him only, to think, to feel, to act, to do all things for the glory of God and in God's service of love for men. It means also the cleansing and purifying of the life and character.
Then the prayer of Christ reached out beyond the little group of men who stood about Him that night in the upper room—and took in all who ever would believe on Him. "I pray not only for these, but also for those who believe in Me through their message." We can think of ourselves as remembered that night by the Master, before He set out for His cross. The special prayer that He made for all His disciples, was that they might be one. Anything that separated them in heart and life, the one from the other, would destroy their unity as believers.
"May they all be one, as You, Father, are in Me and I am in You. May they also be one in Us, so the world may believe You sent Me." The great passion of the Redeemer's heart, was that His disciples might be one. The reason He so longed for their unity—was that the world might be impressed by their oneness, and might be led to believe in Christ. It was a unity of heart and spirit which Christ had in mind—not a mere formal unity. He would have His people bound together in bonds of love. Denominationalism need not be wrong nor harmful, if the different churches live together in the spirit of love and unity. But controversy and strifes not only dishonor Christ—but greatly mar the influence of Christianity in the world!
An old legend says that when Adam and Eve were turned out of Eden, an angel broke the gates to pieces, and the fragments flying over the earth are the precious stones which men now gather. A writer makes an application of the legend—he says that the precious stones were picked up by the various religions and philosophies, each claiming that His own fragment alone reflects the light of heaven, and is the material of which the gates of paradise were made. But as all these fragments had the same origin, it is the work of Christianity to gather them all back again into one unity, thus reconstructing the gates of paradise.
Every Christian represents Christ, and all Christians combined together should represent the spirit of Christ, the love of Christ, the compassion, the patience, the mercy of Christ. We all should seek to be one in spirit, to whatever particular branch of the Church we may happen to belong.
It was after the great intercessory prayer. Jesus now set out on His
journey to the cross. The Garden of Gethsemane was on the way. This was one of His familiar sacred resorts for prayer, and here He lingered for an hour. Leaving eight of His disciples at the outer edge of the Garden to watch, He took three, His closest friends, with Him a little farther. "Sit here," he said to them, "while I go over there and pray" (Matthew 26:36). He was drawing near to the terrible experience of the cross, and sought help. Before He passed into the darkness, He wanted the lamps of comfort lighted. Though He was the Son of God, He sought strength and help—in prayer and communion with His Father. We know that the praying in Gethsemane made the darkness of Calvary less dark, and the woe less bitter. Indeed, the battle was really fought under the olive trees, and when the next day came with its darkness and anguish—He was ready for it and met it all calmly.
The great lesson for us, is that the way to prepare for coming perils and sorrows—is by prayer. A season spent with God, will make us strong for any experiences of struggle or duty. It is said that a young officer under Wellington, when ordered to perform some perilous duty, lingered a moment and then said to his commander, "Let me first have a grasp of your all-conquering hand—and then I can do it." We need to feel the grasp of the mighty hand of Christ—and then we can perform any duty, meet any peril, and endure any trouble. A mother whose life was very hard used often to go away upstairs to her room for a little while, when the burdens became unbearable, and she always would come back with a song and a shining face and a brave heart. We should always seek the Garden—before we have to take up the cross.
This Garden meant a great deal to Jesus. Often He had come here with His disciples in the troublous times when His enemies were plotting His death. Here we have a glimpse of our Lords devotional habits. All through His life—He had His times for prayer. There were mountaintops where He spent whole nights communing with His Father. We are apt to wonder why He, the Son of God, needed so much to have His seasons of prayer. But the holiest need prayer the most. Some people manage to get along without much praying—but it is at the expense of their spiritual life. Not feeding their souls—they grow very lean. Luther used to say he had so much to do—that he could not get along with less than three hours of prayer each day. Some of us would put it the other way, and say that we have so much to do—that we have almost no time for praying. But Luther was wise. A great deal of praying needs always to go—to a very little working. Then the habit of praying is important. Some people tell us that prayer should be spontaneous and that regular periods make it formal and take the life out of it; but if there are no regular seasons and places of prayer—there will soon be no prayer at all. Jesus had habits of prayer.
Jesus, as He was nearing His cross, sought strength in two ways. He craved human sympathy. He wanted His disciples to be near Him, and to wait and watch with Him. In this they failed Him. Then He craved His Father's help. In this longing, He was not disappointed. God never fails those who call upon Him in their distress. The cup did not pass from Him—but as He pleaded, His agony became less and less intense, until His cries were quieted into submissive peace.
As Jesus came from the Garden, He saw the torches flashing in the near distance. Every new line in the story of the betrayal, shows new blackness in the heart of Judas. Going out from the supper table, he hastened to the priests, and quickly got under way with his band of soldiers and police. He knew very well where Jesus had gone. Then, when he had found Him, the manner in which he let the officers know which one of the company they were to arrest, shows the deepest blackness of all—he went up to Him as to a dear friend, eager and ardent, and kissed Him! And the words mean that he kissed Him repeatedly, over and over, and with pretended warmth and affection.
Let us remember how the treason grew in the heart of Judas, beginning in greed for money, growing into theft and falseness of life, ending at last in the blackest crime the world ever saw! We should watch the beginnings of evil in our hearts.
A picture in the royal gallery of Brussels, represents Judas wandering about on the night after the betrayal. He comes by chance upon the workmen who have been making the cross on which Christ shall be crucified on the morrow. A fire nearby throws its light full on the faces of the men who are sleeping peacefully, while resting from their labor. Judas' face is somewhat in the shade—but it is wonderfully expressive of awful remorse and agony—as he catches sight of the cross and the tools used in making it—the cross which his treachery had made possible! But still, though in the very torments of hell, as it appears, he clutches his moneybag and seems to hurry on into the night. That picture tells the story of the fruit of Judas' sin—the moneybag with thirty pieces of silver in it (and even that, he could not keep long), carried off into the night of fiendish despair—that was all. The same terrible story of sin is repeated yet, whenever men sell their souls for money, or for any price this world pays.
Jesus was not taken by surprise. He knew what it all meant when He saw the soldiers and officers with lanterns and torches and weapons, coming toward Him. He knew the meaning of the kiss from Judas. But He was not startled. He met the betrayal calmly. He stepped forth, saying, "Whom do you seek?" When they told Him, "Jesus of Nazareth," He said, "I am He." They were panic-stricken and fell to the ground. Here we have a glimpse of the power of Jesus. Though He seemed to be ensnared and unable to escape—yet really He never was more free, than at that moment. He could have called legions of angels with a word, though even that would have been unnecessary, for He had almighty power in Himself, before which, had He put it forth, all His enemies would have been as nothing!
We must remember that Christ's death was voluntary. He gave Himself as a sacrifice. He laid down His life for the sheep. Here we see the love of Jesus in freely offering Himself as our Redeemer.
"When Jesus said, 'I am he,' they drew back and fell to the ground!" In this scene we have also a hint of the appalling effect which Christ's look will have upon His enemies on the judgment day. One glance of His holy eye, will send terror into all impenitent hearts and drive the ungodly forever away before the wind! They will call upon the hills and rocks to fill upon them, to hide them from the wrath of the Lamb—but in vain!
In the time of His own great danger Jesus did not forget His disciples—but sought and secured their safety. "If therefore you seek me—then let these go their way," He said. Illustrating the picture He had drawn of the Good Shepherd, He did not flee when He saw the wolf coming, leaving the sheep to be scattered; but gave His own life for the sheep.
The incident also illustrates the great work of redemption. Jesus procures the deliverance of His people—by surrendering Himself to shame and death, while they go their way in joy and safety. So watchful was He over His own people in their time of panic and fear, that as He had said, "Of those whom you have given me—I have not lost one." And that is just as true now, after nineteen centuries, as it was that day. He never has lost a single soul who trusted in Him. No one ever has perished, who took refuge in the love of Christ. His infinite power protects all who submit themselves to Him as Redeemer and Savior. At the day of judgment Christ will be able to say these same words, "Of those whom you have given me—I have not lost one." We need not be afraid to trust ourselves to the saving of Christ. No matter what our peril may be in any condition or circumstances, we need never be afraid, if we are doing our part faithfully and trusting Him. No power can snatch us out of the hands of Christ!
We are not surprised to find the disciples interfering in behalf of their Master. It broke their hearts to see Him handled so roughly. Peter was always brave. He could not restrain himself, and, after drawing his sword, which he carried, he struck at one of the guards and cut off his ear. But Jesus checked his assault and said, "Put your sword away! The cup which my Father has given me—shall I not drink it?" We ought to take this word of Jesus for our own. He meant that no resistance such as Peter had attempted, should be offered to His arrest; and the reason was that His betrayal, capture, and coming death belonged to "the cup" which the Father had given into His hands; and therefore must not be rejected. The lesson is, that there are some evils against which we should not lift a finger!
Just how far we ought to resist wrongs inflicted upon us by others—is often a difficult question to settle. We remember the words of Christ elsewhere: "But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well." (Matthew 5:39, 40).
Possibly this doctrine of nonresistance may sometimes be carried too far; but there is no doubt that far more frequently the erring is on the other side. At least we are very sure that if the wrongs threatened belong to "the cup" which the Father has given us—we ought not to resist them.
Jesus Before Pilate
It was early in the morning. There was special hurry that day, for the rulers wanted to get their business out of the way, because of the approaching feast. The trials before the high priest and religious council, preceded that before the governor. The rulers, when they could find absolutely nothing against Jesus, had sought to make out their case by bringing in hired false witnesses. But even this testimony fell to the ground—no two of the witnesses agreeing. The only hope was to compel Jesus to convict Himself by some word He might speak. He stood silent, however, before them, until the high priest adjured Him to answer whether He were the Christ or not. Then He could be silent no longer. On this admission, the sentence of condemnation was passed by the Sanhedrin. This was as far as the council could go. They must wait now for the approval of their sentence by the Roman governor.
Pilate was the one man in all the world who could give the final word with regard to the sentencing of Jesus. This put upon him a fearful responsibility. While Jesus was standing before Pilate, apparently to be tried by him, Pilate himself was really on trial before Jesus, and in the light of His holy face—the character of the Roman governor was plainly revealed.
Pilate was deeply impressed by his prisoner. He was convinced of His innocence. He wanted to set Him free. But he had not the courage to oppose the religious rulers, and so he let them have their way and sent Jesus to His cross, even against his own conscience, and in spite of the pathetic pleadings of his wife!
"To avoid ceremonial uncleanness, the Jews did not enter the palace." John 18:28. The religious rulers carried their pious scruples even to the palace of Pilate. Amazingly, they had no scruples about their wicked treatment of an innocent man—but they were scrupulously conscientious about matters of mere ceremonial requirement! They would not set their feet on the Gentile's floor—for that would have defiled them! Yet meanwhile their hearts were full of evil and murderous thoughts and resolves!
There will always be people who are most punctilious in their religious rituals—but who in practical life, are little better than heathen! We should learn well, that God is grieved more by our bitter feeling, our lack of love, our hate and envy—than He is with little omissions in religious ceremonies and formalities.
When the rulers had presented Jesus to Pilate, he wanted to know what the charges against their prisoner were. He asked them, "What accusation do you bring against this man?" Jesus could not be put to death without Pilate's sentence. It was only fair, therefore, that he should ask His accusers what their charge against Him was. No man ever should be condemned without a trial. We have a right to ask the same question now, of those who reject Christ. What wrong has He done? What faults have you found in His character? Whom has He injured?
The rulers attempted no answer to Pilate's question; indeed, no answer was possible, for no accusation could be brought against Him. It would have been easy to bring a thousand witnesses to testify to the good things Jesus had done—the works of mercy, the deeds of kindness, the miracles of compassion; but in all the country—not one person could have been found to testify to the smallest wrong thing that He had ever done to any being! His life had been a perpetual blessing wherever He had gone. His lips had ever been speaking words of comfort and love. He was hurried to death—by men's hate, without reason or charge of any kind.
The rulers assumed an air of dignity, in answer to Pilate's demand to know what charge they brought against Jesus, saying that if He were not an evildoer, they would not have brought Him before Pilate. Their bearing was haughty, and Pilate was offended by it. "Take Him—and judge Him according to your law." As Pagan as Pilate was, and heartless—the presence of Jesus before him as prisoner, filled his heart with dread. There was something about this prisoner which awed him. Ordinarily he cared nothing for justice—but now he sought to evade the responsibility of sentencing this man. Instead of refusing to have anything to do with the sentencing of an innocent man, Pilate sought all that morning by evasion, simply to get clear of the case. Each time, however, Jesus came back and stood before him, waiting for His decision.
So the scene closed, and Jesus was sent to His cross. In a little while Pilate fell into disgrace and committed suicide in his exile. When he went into the eternal world and found himself before the throne of the judge—into whose eyes did the guilty Roman governor look? What a reversal there was! Once Pilate was judge—and Jesus stood at his bar; now Jesus is judge—and Pilate is before Him! In like manner, Jesus waits before every sinner, meek and lowly, with love and mercy, asking to be received. The scene will soon change, however, and those who reject Him here—will stand before Him as their omnipotent Judge!
If Jesus had been put to death under the Jewish law, it would have been by stoning. But again and again He had foretold that He would be lifted up, implying that He would die on a cross. Thus, unconsciously, the rulers were fulfilling our Lord's own prophecy regarding Himself. God keeps His hand on all events. In all the surging waves of the sea—not one drop of water ever rushes beyond the leash of His control. In all the turmoil of human events—no one ever gets beyond God's control. The whole fearful chapter of wickedness enacted around Christ's cross, even the most minute particular, was the fulfillment of prophecies made long before. We need never fear that the affairs of this world—shall get beyond God's control. We never can drift beyond His love and care.
A little bird built its nest under the iron track of a railroad. Day and night the heavy trains thundered along, with their terrific noise—but the little bird was not disturbed, and sat there in quiet peace, rearing her little ones in safety. Just so, amid this world's danger and rushing noise, a believer in God may rest in quiet confidence, undisturbed, undismayed.
There certainly seemed nothing kingly about Jesus at that time—at least in an earthly sense. He stood there, bound and suffering, with no followers, no friends, with neither throne nor scepter nor crown, with not even a place to lay His head. Little wonder is there that Pilate's question was put in tones of such surprise, "Are You a king?" Yet Jesus was (and still is) King! He is King of all angels and of all men. Kingliness does not consist in purple robes, crowns of gold, and the pageantry of earthly honor. We have but to follow the account of this trial through to the end—to see in this lowly, despised Man—the highest type of kingliness. Study His bearing—His calm dignity, His gentle patience, His quiet self-control, His majestic silence under wrong and insult. While we look with love at Jesus so kingly amid all the scenes of His humiliation, let us take a lesson for ourselves. Let us learn to be patient under wrong and injury, to be gentle and uncomplaining in the rudest and most unjust treatment!
Pilate sought again to be rid of the responsibility of sentencing Jesus to the cross, by getting the people to choose Him as the one man to be set free at that feast. But in this, too, Pilate failed. "No, not Him! Give us Barabbas!" they shouted.
They had their choice between Jesus the holy, the pure, the sinless Son of God—and Barabbas, the bandit, robber, murderer. And they chose Barabbas for liberty and life—and sent Jesus to death on the cross! We all agree in our condemnation of the rulers. But let us not forget that to every one of us a like choice comes. There are but two masters in the world—Christ and Satan. Both ask our allegiance, our obedience. We must make a choice—we cannot be neutral, for no man can serve two masters. In choosing Barabbas the Jews sent Jesus to a cross! He who rejects Christ now—crucifies Him afresh and counts His blood an unholy thing!
Pilate Sentencing Jesus
Pilate's portrait is hung up in the gallery of the world's great criminals. His is one of the names which never will be forgotten. The incident of the scourging is one of the darkest blots in the story of that terrible Friday. Pilate claimed that he could find no fault in Jesus, and that He should be released—yet, hoping that it would satisfy the Jews, he ordered Him to be scourged. The scourging must be considered as a part of Christ's sufferings as the world's Redeemer. The shame and indignity of being tied like a slave to a whipping post and then beaten until He seemed dead, we never can realize, for, thanks to the softening influence of the religion of Christ, such treatment even of the worst criminals is now unknown in civilized lands. There is, however, a word in Isaiah which gives a fresh meaning to this part of Christ's suffering. "With His stripes we are healed" (Isaiah 53:5), says the prophet. The peace we enjoy is ours, because the rod of chastisement fell upon Him—because He was smitten. Our soul's diseases are healed, their wounds made whole, because the body of Jesus was gashed and lacerated by the horrible scourge!
After the cruel scourging came the crowning with thorns and the mockery of Jesus as a King. "The soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head." We ought to look with great love and reverence at the picture—Jesus the Son of God, our Savior, standing there in the midst of heathen soldiers, mocked and insulted by them. We know how truly He is a King, and what a glorious King He is.
When the crusaders had captured the Holy City, Palestine became an independent kingdom. Godfrey, of Bouillon, was made king of Jerusalem, and it was proposed that he be crowned with a golden crown. But Godfrey's noble answer was, "I will not wear a crown of gold in the city where my Savior wore a crown of thorns."
It is a sweet thought, too, that because Jesus wore a crown of thorns in the day of His shame—His redeemed ones shall wear crowns of glory in the life to come.
In one sense this mock coronation of Jesus was very significant. Was He really ever more a King than when He was enduring His cross? All through John's gospel we have seen that Jesus spoke of His going to His cross—as His being glorified. His cross really was His throne. It was on the cross that He fought the great battle and won the great victory of redemption. The cross was the ladder that led up to His throne. His crown of thorns, too, was fitter for Him than a crown of gold would have been, for He was the King of sorrow; He reached His glory—by His sufferings; He saved His people—by dying for them. He is adored and worshiped now as the King who has lifted men up by His own sorrows and blood to eternal life and blessedness.
Pilate showed pitiful weakness at every step in his dealing with Jesus. He knew there was no sin in Him, and yet he brought Him out to the people and surrendered Him to them. "Behold the Man!" Our eyes should be fixed upon Jesus as He stands there in the presence of the multitude. On His head—is the crown of thorns, and around His torn and bleeding body—is a purple robe, mock emblems of royalty. Behold the Man! Behold the Man enduring shame and contempt, set forth as a spectacle of mockery, that He might be presented at last in glory, and honored before angels and the Father. Behold the Man, reviled—yet reviling not again; hated—but still loving on; cruelly wronged—but speaking no resentful word. Behold the Man, the God-Man, wearing humanity, the Son of God humbling Himself and becoming obedient unto shame and death—that He might save our souls! Behold the Man, holy, sinless, undefiled, separate from sinners—yet bearing upon His own head as the Lamb of God, the sin of the world.
The only righteous thing for a just judge to do when he finds his prisoner innocent—is to set him free. Pilate brought Jesus out to the people—but said plainly, "I find no fault in Him." Nobody could. Nobody ever did. The rulers tried zealously enough to find something that they use as a pretext—but they found nothing. They tried false witnesses—but even these could not agree in their witnessing. Now the keen Roman judge inquires into His character, into His life, into His motives—but finds nothing against Him. No other man has lived in whom no fault could be found. The holiest men have sinned. But Jesus was absolutely sinless. Why then did He suffer as a sinner? We know well the answer. They were our sins that they laid upon Him. "Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us" (Gal. 3:13). Christ also has suffered once for sins, "the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God." "Who His own self bore our sins in His own body on the tree."
We never should forget this. In these days perhaps there is a tendency to forget the sacrifice of Christ, in thinking of His salvation. Between us in our curse and our blessing—stands the cross of our Savior. He was wounded for our transgressions and bruised for our iniquities. Let us praise the grace that took our sins, that we may stand whiter than snow before the throne of judgment!
The silences of Jesus are always as significant as His words. He was silent to Pilate. He understood Pilate's weak insincerity. Pilate had had opportunity enough to do the right thing for Jesus—but he had thrown away His opportunity. Now Jesus would answer no more of His questions. One lesson we must get from this silence—is that if we reject Christ's offer of mercy and grace over and over, the time may come, will come, when Christ will be silent to us. And of all calamities that can possibly ever come to any soul—none could be so great as that Christ should be silent to its prayers. "Then shall they call upon me—but I will not answer; they shall seek me early—but they shall not find me" (Proverbs 1:28).
Another lesson we may learn from Christ's example, is that there come times in all our lives, when silence is better than speech. Often to words of reviling or to insult—silence is the only true Christian answer. To many of the assaults of skeptics on our religion and on our Lord—it is better that we remain silent than that we speak. There is a time to speak boldly and without fear in the presence of Christ's enemies—Christ did speak several times in reply to Pilate—but there are also times when we should keep silence, attempting no answer.
Pilate tried to compel Jesus to answer him. "Don't you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?" The answer of Jesus is very clear. "You would have no power over me—if it were not given to you from above." No man's power belongs to himself, to do with as he pleases; it is given him from God, the Source of all power. This is true of the authority of parents and teachers, and of the power possessed by civil magistrates. Men are eager to obtain positions of power, and they do not always realize the responsibility which is attached to such positions. Power belongs to God, and must be used for God, or its misuse will bring its sore penalty. It is a talent which is given to us to be accounted for, and no treason is worse than malfeasance in the employing of power. This is true all the way from the power of the child on the playground or in the home, up to the power of the president of the nation or of the king on His throne. "You would have no power over me—if it were not given to you from above."
There is another sweet thought suggested by the words "against me" in this sentence. Christ in this world was under the protection of His Father, and no one on earth could lift a finger against Him but by the Father's divine permission. What was true of Him, the Son of God, is true of each one of the sons of God in all their earthly life. Each believer, the humblest, the weakest, is kept in this world as the apple of God's eye. No one can lift a finger to touch one of God's little ones, except by divine permission. This shows how secure we are, amid all the world's dangers and enmities, while we trust ourselves, like little children, in our Father's keeping.
When Pilate ceased His weak efforts to have Jesus released, saying to the rulers, "Behold Your King!" they cried out, "Away with him, crucify him!" Thus they finally rejected their Messiah. We read at the beginning of John's gospel that "He came unto His own—and His own received him not" (1:11 ). The whole story of His life was an illustration of this rejection of Him. Wherever He went they received Him not. Here and there a home opened its doors to Him, and now and then there was a devout heart that made hospitality for Him—but these receptions were so few that they could easily be counted. Crowds of the common people thronged after Him, and many heard Him gladly—but very few became His true disciples. Even on Palm Sunday, five days before He died, there was a vast multitude to cry, "Hosanna!" and wave palm branches; but soon the palms lay withered in the streets, and on Friday only cries of "Crucify him!" were heard in the air. "He came unto His own—and His own received Him not."
It is the saddest event in all history, this coming of the Son of God to this earth, bearing in His hands all divine and heavenly blessings—but finding only shut doors and shut hearts, being compelled to take away His gifts because men would not receive them. We read this old story and wonder how His own people could have treated Him so; yet how is it with us? Do we treat Him any better? We do not cry, "Crucify him!" but we shut the doors of our hearts in His face and keep Him out. We reject and refuse His gifts which He comes all the way from heaven to bring to us. We may not with angry voice exclaim, "Away with him!" but in our hearts many of us do keep Him away.
The struggle had ceased, and "Pilate delivered him therefore unto them to be crucified." He first tried every way to avoid the issue; then he temporized, hoping in some way to evade the responsibility. At least he yielded, and his name goes down through history pilloried forever, as the man who delivered Jesus to be crucified, knowing and confessing that He was free from any crime. He was known in the world by no other act. Surely it is an unenviable notoriety. It had been a thousand times better for him if he had never been horn, or if he had remained forever in quiet obscurity, instead of going to that high place of power in the land, in which he had to meet and deal with this most monentous question of history.
We read in one of the Gospels that Pilate took water in the presence of the people and washed his hands, thus by symbol declaring that he was not responsible for the sentencing of Jesus to die. But the water did not wash away one particle of the stain of the guilt of that terrible sin! Pilate had the misfortune to be the only man in all the province who could send Jesus to the cross. Upon him, therefore, the final responsibility rested, no matter the pressure that was brought to bear upon him by the enemies of Jesus.
Just so, the fact that others urge us to sin—does not take away our guilt for that sin. No being in the universe can compel us to do wrong; if, then, we do wrong—the sin is our own. True, Jesus said there was one other whose guilt was even greater than Pilate's—that was the high priest. His sin was not only that he himself was determined to do wrong—but that he dragged others with him. We remember that the rulers replied to Pilate's act of washing his hands, "His blood be on us and on our children!" (Matthew 27:25). No one who has read the story of the next forty years can doubt that this self-imprecation was fulfilled. Forty years later, thousands of the people were scourged and crucified. The crime of the rulers was successful—but what came of the success in the end? Let us learn that sin brings always terrible woe, and that the worst of all sin—is sin against the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Crucifixion of Christ
An old legend said that Calvary was at the center of the earth. So it was, really, for the cross was the meeting place of two eternities—a past eternity of grace and hope, and a future eternity of faith, gratitude, love and devotion. It is the center of the earth, too, because toward it the eyes of all believers turn for pardon, comfort, light, joy, hope. As from all sections of the ancient camp, the bitten people looked toward the brazen serpent on the pole at the center of the camp—so from all lands sin-stricken ones look in their penitence, and sorrow-stricken ones in their grief, toward the cross.
"Carrying his own cross, he went out to the place of the Skull (which in Aramaic is called Golgotha)." The first picture we see is Jesus leaving Pilate's judgment hall bearing His cross. The custom was that a criminal should carry to the place of execution, the cross, on which he should be fastened. The cross was heavy. Yet, as heavy as it was, the wooden cross was not all the load Jesus carried that day. We know there was another still heavier, for He bore the burden of the world's sin. The old prophet said, "All we like sheep have gone astray ... and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all" (Isaiah 53:6). It would seem that none of the apostles were with Jesus as He went out to Calvary. John was caring for Mary, whom Jesus had committed to His care. She, with John and other friends, were presently watching by the cross. Certain other women were in the crowd, lamenting with Jesus. These He comforted even in His own great-sorrow.
When He staggered under His cross, a passer-by was seized and compelled to carry His load. It would have indeed been a strange irony—had the man who carried the cross missed the salvation whereof it is the instrument and the symbol.
The next picture shows us Jesus being nailed upon the cross. He was not alone, for two others were crucified with Him, although this was contrary to Jewish law. These were criminals, men suffering justly for their sin. Thus He was "numbered with the transgressors" (Mark 15:28, cf. Is. 53:12). They put Jesus on the middle cross, as if He had been the greatest of the criminals. This was the place of the deepest dishonor. As He hung there, He was at the lowest point of shame in the world, in the place of the worst sinner. This tells us that there is no known stage of sin or guilt possible on earth, down to which Jesus cannot, will not, go as Savior.
One of the criminals beside Him was saved that day, lifted up by Him out of his guilt and sin, and borne in His arms to Paradise. This shows us that no sinner is so low in degradation or condemnation, that Jesus cannot lift him up to glory.
But while we are looking at this one sinner who was saved that Good Friday, we must not fail to glance in sadness at his companion. He had the same opportunity for salvation that the other had, for he was equally close to Jesus, could hear His gracious words, see the blood dropping from His wounds, and behold His patience and compassion. Yet this man was not saved. He remained impenitent, though so close to the dying Redeemer. When people say they will take the chance of the dying thief on the cross, repenting at the last hour, they must remember that there were two dying thieves, equally close to Christ's cross, and that one of them was lost.
The next picture we see shows us Jesus Christ on His cross. "Pilate had a notice prepared and fastened to the cross. It read: JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS." Jesus was indeed the King of the Jews, their own Messiah. He was also the King of the world. After He arose, He said that all authority was given unto Him in heaven and on earth. In the visions of the Apocalypse we see Him in glory as King of kings. He did not seem kingly that hour on the cross. It was a strange throne for a king to occupy. Yet it was His throne, and the crucifixion was the point of His highest earthly honor. There His glory streamed out as at no other time in all His life. The love of God shone from the cross. It is the power of the cross that is changing the world today and drawing lives to the Savior!
The rulers asked Pilate to change the title he had put over the cross. They wanted him to write only that Jesus said He was King of the Jews. They did not themselves wish to have it suggested that He was indeed in any sense their king. But Pilate refused to make any change in the superscription. "What I have written I have written," he declared. He spoke a deeper truth than he knew. He was making a record which would stand forever, and which in spite of all the injustice and dishonor of the day was true.
Just so—we are all writing, all the while, ineffaceably. What we have written, we have written. Every act we perform, every word we speak, every thought we think and every influence we give out—goes down to stay on the page. This is well when the things we do are good, right and beautiful things; but it is just as true when they are sinful and unholy things. We should lay this truth to heart and should live so that we shall write down in the inexpungeable record of our lives—only things we shall be glad to meet a thousand years hence. We never have the opportunity to go over our records—to correct the mistakes we have made. As we write the words, so will they stand.
The next picture we see shows us the soldiers dividing the garments of Jesus among themselves. We can think of these men going about at their duty after that day, wearing the garments which Jesus had worn during His beautiful and holy life. We may carry the illustration farther, and think of ourselves and all redeemed ones—as wearing the garments which Jesus prepared for us that day on the cross.
The scene of the soldiers gambling for the scant possessions of Jesus, while the most stupendous event of all time was being enacted above their heads, suggests to us how indifferent the world is to the glory of God and the glorious things that God does. Men are irreverent and are unmoved by even the holiest things!
The next picture shows us a little group of the dearest friends of Jesus, standing near the cross, while He was enduring His unfathomable sorrows. His mother was there, and John, the beloved disciple. When Jesus saw His mother, His heart was touched with compassion for her, and He commended her to the beloved disciple, who from that time became as a son to her, taking her to his own home. In this scene we have a beautiful commentary on the Fifth Commandment.
Even on His cross, in the midst of the anguish of this terrible hour, He did not forget her who had borne Him, who had blessed His tender infancy and defenseless childhood with her rich, self-forgetful love. Every young person, or older one with parents living, who reads this fragment of the story of the cross, should remember the lesson and pay love's highest honor to the father or the mother to whom he owes so much.
The next picture shows us Jesus in His anguish of thirst. In response to His cry, "I am thirsty!" one of the soldiers dipped a sponge in the sour wine that was provided for the watchers and held it up on a reed, that it might moisten His lips. This is the only one of the seven sayings on the cross in which Jesus referred to His own suffering. It is pleasant to think that one of the soldiers gave a kindly response to His cry. This is the only gleam of humanity in all the dark story of cruelty and hardness enacted around the cross. It is a comfort to us to know that even so small a kindness was wrought for Him who has filled the world with the fragrance of His love, blessing so many millions of suffering ones.
For us the lesson is that we should train ourselves to deeds of thoughtful gentleness to all who are in distress. We remember that beautiful word of our Lord, that the giving of even a cup of cold water to a disciple in His name will not go unrewarded (see Matthew 10:42). There are thirsty ones coming to us continually, and countless are the opportunities of doing good to them in Christ's name. We should not fail to put the cup to lips that are burning with life's fever. Since Jesus thirsted on the cross and was refreshed, if only by so much as the moisture of a sponge filled with sour wine, He is quick to recognize and reward any kindness to one of His that thirsts.
The last picture shows us Jesus dying. He said, "It is finished!" Then He bowed His head and gave up His spirit. It was a cry of victory which fell from His lips. His work was finished. He had done each day the work given Him to do that day, and when the last hour of the day came there was nothing that He had left undone. We should learn the lesson—and live as He lived, so as to have every part of our work finished when our end comes.
But what was it that was finished when Jesus bowed His head on the cross? A famous picture represents Christ lifted up, and beneath Him an innumerable procession of the saints, advancing out of the darkness and coming into the light of His cross. There can be no doubt that He had such a vision of redemption while He hung there, for we are told that He endured the cross, despising the shame, because of the joy set before Him. "It is finished!" was therefore a shout of victory as He completed the work of suffering and sacrificing that the world might be saved.
"It is finished!"
The three hours of darkness was ending. The light was breaking. The Scripture tells us that Jesus then cried out in a loud, strong voice. It was not the cry of exhaustion and faintness; it was the shout of a victor. The cross seemed like defeat. Those who understood nothing of the meaning of the life and death of Christ, would think of Him as a man who had failed, all of whose dreams and hopes had perished. But we who understand something at least of the meaning of His mission and of the great purpose of His life, know that nothing failed. "It is finished," was the shout of a victor in the hour of His glorious success. It told of the completion of His work. All had been accomplished that He set out to do. His work was done. He had nothing more to do. There was no reason why He should live an hour longer, for the last task had now been done. A little while before, He said in His prayer in the upper room, "I have glorified you on the earth: I have finished the work which you gave me to do." When He said in dying, "It is finished!" He meant that there was nothing whatever left now for Him to do.
His friends did not think so. They thought His work was only beginning. He was but thirty-three years old, and at thirty-three we regard life as no more than just begun. He had been only three years in His public ministry. Think, too, what years these had been, how full of blessing to those whom He had touched with His life. We can imagine Joseph and Nicodemus as they reverently took His body down from the cross and prepared it for burial, lamenting His early death, talking of what He might have done if only He had been spared longer. His disciples, too, in their anguish and their loss would speak together of the terrible bereavement they had suffered. He had just begun to live. He had gone about through the towns and villages, doing good for three years, healing, comforting, helping, blessing. What would fifty years of such ministry have meant to the world!
We talk the same way of our human friends who are taken away in early years. Their lives were full of promise. They had just begun to do beautiful things. They had shown a little of the power that was in them, to be a strength to others, to be a comfort to those who were in sorrow, to be inspirers of noble things. Our dreams for them were just beginning to be realized. Then, suddenly, they slipped away—and all was ended. We say that they could not be spared, that the world needed them longer. Over their graves we set up the broken shaft, symbol of incompleteness. It is a great comfort, then, to remember that life is not counted by the number of its years—but by what it puts into the years, few or many, that are lived.
We live in thoughts—not breaths.
We live in deeds—not years.
We should count time by heart-throbs. He most lives—who thinks most, feels the noblest, and acts the best.
A millionaire recently, when dying, sent for a clergyman and said to him, "Doctor, I have failed, for I have groveled." He had not lived dishonestly; he had not made his money by unjust treatment of others, by the oppression of the poor, or in any way that men called wrong. Men said he had lived well. He had failed, according to his own thought, because he had groveled, lived as if he were a worm. Eighty years of such life, with God and heaven and love left out, however stupendous the earthly success, will not count so much in eternity—as much as one day of self-denying life of love, such as Jesus lived. Jesus, dying at thirty-three, had lived longer than any man who had reached fourscore years of selfishness, of groveling, of fame-seeking. When a friend dies early, with only a few years of life—but with those years filled with usefulness, helpfulness, unselfishness, and faithful doing of duty—do not say he had not done his work.
Another comforting truth started by the dying words of Jesus, is that God allots to us our work, little or much, and the time in which it must be done. Jesus spoke often of His hour. Again and again we read that His hour had not yet come, meaning the hour when His work would be finished, His earthly life ended. "His hour was not yet come." Then, at last, He said His hour had come. The time of His death was not accidental. Then He spoke also of His work as what His Father had given Him to do. It was not a haphazard matter how much work He should do, or what particular work it should be. It was all given Him by His Father. When He said in His last moments, "It is finished!" He meant that everything He had come into the world to do, all that the Father had given Him to do—He had done, and that now He had only to yield up His life into the hands of Him who gave it.
What was true of Him—is true also of us. There is an appointed time to man on earth, and each one has his mission, his work to do. Whether it is a brief time or many years, it matters not; our only care should be to do what has been given us to do, and to fill our appointed days, short or long, with duty well done. We need not fret, then, if our time is short, if we have only a few years given us to work. Faithfulness while the day lasts—is all that we need to concern ourselves with. The things we wanted to do and longed to do—but could not do, were not part of our work at all; they belonged to some other one coming after us.
"It is finished!" He meant fully accomplished, done perfectly. Not a word was unspoken which it was His to speak. Nothing, however small, was left undone which the Father had given Him to do. This never can be true of us. We do nothing perfectly. Our best work is marred and flawed by imperfections. We get the white pages from God day by day—and return them blotted and stained. Our lives are full of blanks, neglects, duties not performed, things left undone—which we ought to have done. But all Christ's work was complete. He never omitted a kindness that was His to do, never passed by on the other side, to escape doing a service of love. We are never quite sure of the purity of our motives, even for the most sacred and worthy deeds we do. "Who of you convicts Me of sin?" Jesus could say as He looked into men's faces. But can we always say it? Why do we do our good things, our holy things? Is it really from love to God, and so for love to men, or is it sometimes from desire for praise? Everything in our lives is flecked and imperfect. We have to ask divine forgiveness on our best acts and words and thoughts.
But when Jesus said, "It is finished!" He looked back upon a life work without a flaw, without an omission, without the slightest failure in thought or motive or deed. His life was brought under most searching light by the rulers in their eagerness to find something to accuse Him of when they sought justification for crucifying Him. But with all efforts to find a flaw, in the blaze of the most dazzling light—they found nothing! Herod sent Him back to Pilate with the testimony that he had found no fault in Him. Pilate declared the same of Him when he had examined Him. Then we have the witness of the Father, as He looked down upon Him and said out of the clouds of glory, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." Christ's work was not merely ended when He bowed His head on the cross and said, "It is finished!" it was completed. His life was perfect.
"It is finished!" In a sense nothing He had done was finished; all His work was only begun. Luke spoke of the treatise he had made—as narrating only "all that Jesus began both to do and to teach." All would go on forever. This is true of everything we ourselves do. They tell us that every word spoken into the air goes quivering on through time forever; that if you throw a pebble into the sea it starts wavelets which will ripple on and on until they break on every shore. Thus it is with every word we speak, with everything we do, with every influence that goes forth from our lives. We are starting things each day—which will continue into eternity. Nothing we do—is ever finished. We cannot know the end of any act, of any word.
The same was true of the life and work of Christ. He only began the world's redemption. He ever lives at God's right hand, interceding for His church, blessing and saving man. His life seemed a failure the day He said this word. He had made but a slight impression upon the great world. He had gathered only a few friends, and they were men of no distinction, of no power or rank among men. He had been teaching for three years, speaking words of divine wisdom—but they had not been written down, and seemed now to be utterly lost. There were thousands of beginnings of blessing—but they were only merest beginnings, like seeds dropped into the soil.
We know what Christianity is today. The words Jesus spoke, which seemed altogether lost the day He died, have been filling the world with their blessings. The influence of His life, which then had touched only a few lowly lives, has since touched nations and generations, and has changed all the world, has transformed millions of lives, and is bringing the nations up out of heathenism into holiness and happiness! The beginnings of the first Good Friday, have developed into a glorious kingdom of light and love!
"It is finished!" When Jesus said this, He had reached the end of His sufferings. All His life He had been a sufferer. He came into the world to redeem the world, by pain and suffering. He was the Man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief. Perhaps we are in danger these days of losing sight of the place of the wounding of Christ in the redemption of the world. In G. Campbell Morgan's book, 'The Crises of the Christ,' there is a chapter called "The Wounded God." The title is startling. Dr. Morgan reminds us that it is impossible to omit from the ascended and reigning One, the wounds He bears. They are part of His personality. In glory He appears as a lamb that has been slain. He was our suffering Savior.
You remember how vividly this is pictured even in the Old Testament. He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities. When He said, "It is finished!" He had just passed through the three awful hours of darkness. What took place in His experience during those hours—no mortal can ever know. We know only this, that in the mysterious depths of those hours, human redemption was accomplished. It was then, that He redeemed us from the curse of the law by being made a curse for us. It was then that He who knew no sin was made sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.
As we hear His word of relief, "It is finished!" we know that the work of redeeming love had been accomplished. The infinite meaning of the sufferings He endured in those hours—we cannot fathom; earth has no line long enough to sound those holy depths; but we know that out of what was done on Calvary those hours—come all the hopes of our lives. Every one of us had a share in those pains of His. In some mysterious way—our sins were imputed to Him, part of the awful blackness that obscured the sun, and also for a time hid the Father's face from the holy Sufferer. In some way, what took place there—set us free from the curse of sin.
"It is finished!" was the first announcement of the completion of redemption. It was the first proclamation of the gospel after the price had been paid. The Redeemer Himself made the announcement. Let us hear it today. Redemption is finished. We can be sure of eternal life if we receive this Savior—as our Savior. There was nothing left undone in those hours, that needed to be done to open the way for us to God, to put away sin, to provide eternal salvation for everyone who will accept it.
"It is finished!" Think of the words a moment—as words that we ourselves must speak, each of us. We are always finishing something. One by one duties come to us, and we must finish them quickly and leave them. How are we finishing them? Are we doing them as well as we can, or negligently? One by one the days come to us, white and beautiful, from God. What are we doing with them? What are we writing on the fair pages? One by one, in quick succession, opportunities come to us, opportunities to be kind, to be patient, to be forgiving, to help others, to honor Christ, to witness for Him, to plant a seed of truth in a heart—and we must meet them promptly, for a moment later they will be gone. What are we doing with our opportunities?
We are finishing a hundred things every day. What are we finishing? How are we finishing the things we do? Soon we shall come to the end of all our living, doing our last task, saying our last word. When we come to the end of all our living and doing—what will be finished? What will we leave behind? Will it be something that will make the world forever better, purer, holier? When you and I say, "It is finished," what will be finished?
John tells us that the new tomb in which Jesus was laid to rest, was in a garden. This is more than a picture—it is a little parable of the meaning of the grave of Christ. It was in a garden. Wherever the gospel goes it makes gardens, turning deserts into places of blossoming beauty. Since Jesus died and rose again, every Christian's grave is in a garden. All about it bloom the flowers of hope and joy. Our dead shall rise again. Like His Master, the Christian cannot be held by death. As sad as bereavement is, the Christian has comforts which bloom like spring flowers and pour their fragrance on the air.
The first appearance of Jesus after He arose, was to Mary Magdalene. She and other women had taken a tender part in the burial of Jesus, and then had come very early in the morning of the first day to the garden where the grave was. They were startled to find the grave open. They hasten to find Peter and John, and, having told them what they had discovered, Peter and John came quickly to the grave. John, being the younger and fleeter, first reached the tomb—but Peter, being the bolder, hurried in while John lingered. When Peter had pressed in, John followed him. In the grave they saw the linen cloths lying—but the body was gone! The two disciples, amazed by what they had seen, went to their home. Mary, however, could not tear herself away from the spot. She wept inconsolably because the body was no longer in the grave.
She did not realize that if the body had been there that morning, she would have had real cause for weeping. Then the world's hopes would have been quenched, lost in the darkness of eternal night! What to her was a great grief—was really the secret of a great joy. The things which we regard as causes of sorrow, if we could see them as God sees them—would appear to be secrets of joy. The empty grave, if only Mary had understood it, was the attestation of the Messiahship of Jesus!
Mary saw a vision of angels. "She saw two white-robed angels sitting at the head and foot of the place where the body of Jesus had been lying." We find angels all along the story of the life of Jesus. They sang at His birth. They ministered to Him after His temptation, and again in the Garden, after His agony. He said that He could have called twelve legions of angels to His defense during His trial. Now we find angels watching in His tomb; and at the ascension we see them waiting to comfort His disciples as their Master parted from them.
The presence of the angels in the empty grave, suggests to us the change which Christ's resurrection made in the graves of all believing ones. We dread the tomb. It is a place of impenetrable darkness. But since Christ lay there, the sleeping places of His followers are all brightened. They are little beds in which the bodies of the saints rest—until He who has the key to their graves shall come to call them again. If we had eyes to see, no doubt, as we lay our loved ones away, we would see angels sitting at the head and at the feet of each, keeping their sacred watch.
The angels tried to comfort Mary, asking her why she wept. She told them why very frankly, "Because they have taken away my Lord, and I don't know where they have put him." "At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus." She supposed He was the gardener. She was thinking of Him as dead, and did not recognize Him in the living man she saw. Then her eyes were dim with weeping, and she could not see.
Many a time it is the same with us. Christ is close by us in our need or in our sorrow—but we cannot see Him, and so we miss the comfort of His presence. If only we would believe in the constant presence of Christ with us, and would make that presence real by our faith, our darkest hours would be lightened, our loneliest moments would be filled with companionship, and in our weakness we should have all the divine strength about us. It was said of Moses that "he endured, as seeing him who is invisible." Moses did not see God—but His faith made the presence of God as real to him, as if he had seen Him with His human eyes. Such faith as this would change all of life for those who believe in Christ.
The first recorded word from our Lord's lips after He arose, is that which He spoke to Mary here, "Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?" The words were spoken to comfort one who was in sorrow. Jesus had always been a comforter. He comes to everyone who is in grief with the same question, "Why are you crying?" He had come that morning from the grave, achieving His great victory over the last enemy. He was therefore the first who could have spoken such words, for before that, no one was able to wipe away the tears of sorrow. His question implied that there was no need for weeping. Mary was grieving for a dead Christ—and the living Christ was standing beside her! In our grief it is the same—He who comes to us is the risen One. The hand of Jesus has been wiping away tears ever since that morning. We may not get back our godly dead—but we have the blessed assurance that they have passed into the keeping of Christ, where they will be safe forever. Then some day we shall greet them and be greeted by them, alive!
Jesus revealed Himself to Mary by speaking her name. "Jesus said unto her, Mary!" The ancients believed that death washed away completely every memory of the earthly life, its friendships even passing from recollection. But we see Jesus here on the other side of death, and we find the old affections unchanged in Him. He took up the threads of the story with His friends just where they had been broken off three days before, and went on as if only a night's sleep had intervened. Death made no break in His life. Nothing was blotted out, nothing beautiful or good, nothing worthwhile. When our friends pass through death, whatever changes may be made in them, we know that there will be no change in their love for us. "Death does hide—but not divide."
When Mary heard her name spoken in the old familiar tones, she recognized Jesus. "She turned toward him and cried out, Rabboni!" We do not recognize Jesus—until He calls us by name. We love Him—because He first loved us. Mary's answer showed the loyalty of her heart. She was ready now to devote her life to Him.
Many people get only a fragment of the true thought of Christ. They believe in Him as their Savior—but do not think of Him as their Lord and Master. Their faith leads them to trust in Him for salvation—but it does not bring to them the comfort of a living Savior, present with them, helping them. They think of themselves as having been saved by Christ's death upon the cross—but do not realize that, important as the cross may be, their actual salvation comes through their attachment to and companionship with a living Master and Friend. Mary had a true conception—she took Christ as her Master. She surrendered herself to Him.
It was a strange word that Jesus spoke to Mary after she had recognized Him. "Do not hold on to me, ... but go to my brethren, and say unto them." He probably meant to say to her that the old physical relationship was not to be reestablished. He was risen now, and the relationship must be spiritual. Further, He meant that there was no time now for the satisfying of love, however tender and true it was. Mary would have stayed at the Master's feet in the rapture of her joy and homage. But there was something else more important. Others must know of the joy. A message must be carried immediately to the other friends of Jesus. We are too apt, when we find a great joy, to wish to cherish it alone. But duty to others calls us away. When at the communion table, for example, we find a great gladness in fellowship with Christ, we must never forget that there are others outside the sacred walls, who are in sorrow, or in danger, and we should hasten to them with the message of Christ's love.
The scene in the upper room that night was a wonderful one. The disciples had assembled in fear and trembling, hiding away, lest harm might come to them. Suddenly Jesus Himself appeared. "Jesus came and stood in the midst, and said unto them, Peace be unto you." This was the first appearance of Jesus to the disciples as a group. His first salutation to them was, "Peace be unto you!" The words were familiar as a common greeting—but they had a new meaning to those men that night. They fell from the lips of the risen Christ! Wonderful among the gifts of Jesus to His disciples, was the giving of His peace. It quiets the troubled heart. It changes sorrow into joy.
The disciples were awed by the presence of their Master, and to quiet their trembling fear He held up His hands. "He showed unto them His hands and His side. Then were the disciples glad, when they saw the
Lord." They were pierced hands which He held up. They bore the prints of the nails. Thus they assured these men that they were the same hands which had been nailed to the cross! The wounds told them first, that He had indeed died for love of them. They told them, further, that He had risen also, His hands still bearing the marks of the nails. Christ is known everywhere, by the print of the nails in His hands. A gospel without these marks is not a gospel. The preaching that does not tell men of the cross will not point men to salvation.
"Peace Be unto You!"
John 20:19, 21, 26
No other benediction that could fall upon the ears of men, could mean more than this: "Peace be unto you!" This is a restless, striving, struggling world. Nation wars with nation. Business interests are in antagonism with other business interests. There are race wars which sometimes seem utterly unappeasable until one or the other race has been exterminated. Then there are family feuds which sometimes go on for generations in deadly enmity. And there are personal quarrels, alienations, strifes, which separate friends. Besides all this, there is a restlessness in human hearts. Men are unhappy and not at peace in themselves. There is strife within the bosom of nearly everyone.
No word Christ ever spoke caught more ears than when He said, "Come unto me ... and I will give you rest" (Matthew 11:28), or "Peace be unto you!" His words answered a universal need and a universal yearning.
"Peace be unto you!" This was the first word the risen Christ spoke to His disciples as a body after He returned from the grave. This gives special significance to what He said. Three different times He spoke the same words, "Peace be unto you!" twice the evening of the day on which He rose, and once the following week. Yet, while He used precisely the same words, they had a different meaning each time, and were not merely a repetition.
Look at the setting of the benediction as He first uttered it. It was evening. The disciples had sought the quiet and safety of the upper room for a meeting together. The doors were carefully shut, for fear of the Jews. The little company was in sore dread of those who had crucified their Master. "Jesus ... stood in the midst, and said unto them, Peace be unto you! And when he said that, he showed unto them His hands and His side." Why did He show them His hands and His side? Because of the WOUNDS. He reminded them of His sufferings, through which alone peace could come to them.
The second use of the words was a few minutes later. "Then Jesus said to them again, Peace be unto you!" Then He added, "As my Father has sent me, even so I send you. And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said unto them, Receive the Holy Spirit." Here the benediction of peace, is accompanied by the gift of the Spirit. There can be no true, deep peace in us—except when the Holy Spirit holds sway in our hearts.
The third time the benediction was given: "A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, 'Peace be with you!' Then he said to Thomas, 'Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.' " Here the purpose of the benediction was to help Thomas' slow faith.
"Peace be unto you!" The spirit of Christianity is all in the direction of peace. There is a picture called "Peace" which is suggestive. It shows a cannon lying in a meadow, in the grass, with a lamb feeding beside it, nibbling at its very mouth. But while the picture is beautiful, it is incomplete. The cannon, which once was used in war, dealing death, is still a cannon, useless—but ready to be used again in the old way. The prophet suggests a more fitting and complete picture when he says in his vision of the redeemed nation, "They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore." (Isaiah 2:4; Micah 4:3). That is the kind of peace Christ would make. The sword shall no longer be a sword, though rusty and unused—but shall be made into a plowshare, doing its work for humanity. In the artist's picture would be truer to the spirit of Christianity, if the cannon were not merely lying in the meadow, with the lamb feeding quietly beside it—but instead was made into church bells to call the people to the house of God.
The peace which our Master would make is not merely the laying down of arms—but a peace which shall bring good to both nations and restore them to fellowship. Christian peace is not merely a drawn battle, with the old bitterness remaining. The bitterness must be swallowed up in love. If two have been estranged through misunderstanding, or by whatever cause, Christ's peace leads them together in a new friendship which forgets the past—and wipes out all traces of difference in a relationship of love.
"Peace I leave with you!" This was the Master's bequest to His friends. He did not leave them gold and silver. He did not entail great estates upon them. He had none of these to leave. In His life on earth, the birds were better off than He, for in the world His hands had made—He had nowhere to lay His head. When He died—He had no grave in which His body might rest, and would have been buried in the potter's field, amid criminals and outcasts, had not a noble friend rescued Him from that ignominy and lent Him a new rock-hewn tomb, for the three days and nights He slept. He was poor, and had no earthly inheritance to bequeath. But He left peace as a heritage. "Peace I leave with you!"
"MY peace I give unto you!" (14:27) It was not merely peace—but His own peace, that He bequeathed to His friends. "My peace"! Think what Christ's peace was. It was the peace that He had had in His heart and life all His days. You know how serenely He met all experiences. He never lost His quietness and composure in any circumstances. Life had no terrors for Him. His was not an easy life. Soon after His public ministry began, opposition began, developing into bitter enmity, with plottings and schemings for His death. But nothing disturbed Him. He was never fearful or alarmed. He knew what was before Him. The cross threw its dark shadows on His path—long before He reached it. But with unruffled peace He moved on toward it. "My peace I give unto you!" It is possible for Christ's followers to have the same peace the Master had. He bequeaths it to them—let them claim their inheritance. He gives it to them—let them accept the gift.
But why is it that so many Christians do not have this peace? What restless lives many of us live! Some of us scarcely ever have an hour of real peace. We fret at every trifle. We allow ourselves to be annoyed by the smallest things that do not go as we want them to go. We are full of discontents and complainings. We are envious at the prosperity of others. We vex ourselves over the things that are disagreeable in even the least way. We are continually dismayed by life's experiences. We are afraid to live—and afraid to die. Is that the best that Christ can do for us? Is that the full meaning of His words here, "Peace be unto you; Peace I leave with you; My peace I give unto you"? Is that all that our religion can do for us?
No! Jesus meant just what He said. He means for us to have His peace. We may have it too. He shows us His hands and says, "Peace be unto you! I have purchased peace for you." He breathes on us His divine Spirit, and says, "Peace be unto you!" Let the peace of God into your heart today. You have had enough of restlessness, fret, anxiety and struggle. Let Christ's peace rule.
"Peace be unto you!" "My peace I give unto you!" When men have fought for their country, loyal patriots, and when the war is over, and the victory won, those who survive come home with wounds and scars, maimed and broken, and those who look upon them see the price of the peace which the country is enjoying. Let us not forget that the peace which Christ gives, cost Him suffering and shame and death. We have peace—because He went to His cross!
In a gallery in Europe, two pictures hang side by side. One is of a sea swept by storms—great waves, black clouds, lightning bolts, and on the wild water wrecks of vessels, with human forms struggling or dead. The artists calls His picture, "Life".
Hanging beside this picture is another, almost the same—a rough sea, billows, clouds, lightnings, wrecks, men struggling in the waters. In the center of this picture, however, a great rock rises up out of the wild sea, reaching above the highest waves, standing serene and firm in the midst of the storm. Then in the rock, far up, is a cleft of herbage and flowers growing, and as you look closely, you see in the midst of the herbage—a dove sitting quietly on her nest. The artist calls His picture "Peace."
It represents the Christian's life. In the world there is tribulation. Peace does not come through the quieting of earth's storms. Christ does not make a little spot of calm for us, shutting off the storms. No! that rock rising above the waves tells the story.
It is peace in the midst of the storm, in Christ. We have it in the hymn, "Rock of Ages, cleft for me; Let me hide myself in Thee!"
The Christian has no promise of less sorrow than his worldly neighbor; or of an easier life, a life without struggle, pain, or buffeting. You remember how Christ got His peace—not by living in a little paradise—but in the enduring of all manner of suffering calmly and quietly. His peace was within. We must get our peace—on fields of struggle. It must come through Christ's victory over the world. It must be Christ's gift. It must be in our heart.
President Eliot, of Harvard University, said this at the dedication of an art gallery: "The main object in every school should be, not to provide the children with means of earning a livelihood—but to show them how to live a happy and worthy life, inspired by noble ideals which will exalt and dignify both labor and leisure. To see beauty and to live it—is to possess large securities for such a life."
To live only to get bread and clothes—is a groveling aim. To live only to make money, to get on in the world, is an unworthy aim for an immortal being. We live worthily—only when we live to grow into beautiful character and to do beautiful things of love. Peace is the highest mark of spiritual beauty.
There is a German legend of the origin of the moss rose. One day the angel of the flowers, weary in his ministry in the heat of the sun, sought a place to rest—but found none. Turned from every door, he lay down under the shelter of a rose, and slept and was refreshed. He thanked the rose for the pleasure and comfort he had enjoyed in its shade, and then said that, to reward it, he would adorn it with a new charm. So soft, green moss grew around the stem, and those who looked at the flower saw the beautiful moss rose, loveliest of all the roses. So to those who are faithful to Christ, He gives a new charm, life's highest and most heavenly adornment, peace.
We should be at peace with all men. If there is bitterness toward any human being, our peace is not Christ's peace. No matter what wrongs Jesus suffered, how unjustly or cruelly He was treated—He kept love in His heart. It is easy to cherish resentments. We like to say we have a right to he angry. Yes—but that is not the divine way. God forgives and forgets and loves on. Suppose God never forgave! Suppose He cherished resentments and refused to love us and to bless us! Let love heal all heart-hurts. If we think we have been treated wrongfully, let us forgive, and new beauty will come, instead of a scar. The storm made a great gash on the mountainside—but grass, moss and flowers came, and the mountain was never so beautiful before as now it became.
We should have peace also in our own hearts. Why should we go on in the old restlessness and strife a day longer? Why should we worry so and fret—when Christ offers us His own serene peace? No matter what may come to us in any possible future, nothing will come which could break our peace, if only we are obedient and true to God. There will be mysteries, contradictions, perplexities, disappointments—but in all these a divine Hand will move—and nothing can fret us—if we are truly Christ's. "The peace of God ... shall keep your hearts and your minds through Christ Jesus" (Phil. 4:7).
The Beloved Disciple
The name of John is not once mentioned in all his gospel. Again and again the writer refers to himself as "the disciple whom Jesus loved." He has been criticized for this, as if he had been vain and self-conceited in thus speaking of his own distinction among the disciples. But no grace is more marked in John, than humility. He does not speak of himself as the disciple who loved Jesus. This would have been to claim preeminence among the disciples and would have shown a boastful and self-confident spirit. He said he was the disciple whom Jesus loved. He glorified the grace of Christ. He was what he was—only because Christ loved him.
Right here we have one of the deepest truths of Christian life, one of the great secrets of Christian peace, an essential quality of faith: that our hope does not rest in our love for Christ—but in His love for us. People are often discouraged when they find in themselves so little that is good and beautiful. They cannot see that they love Christ any more this year, than they did last. They do not find in themselves the beautiful fruits of the Spirit which they wish they could find. But there is another way to look at our lives, which gives us more hope. It is John's way—not our love for Christ—but Christ's love for us!
Ar the best our love is variable in its moods and experiences. Today it glows with warmth and affection for Jesus, and we say that we could die for our Master. We know we love Him. Tomorrow, in some depression, we question whether we really love Him at all, our feelings respond so feebly to His name. A peace which depends on our loving Christ—is as variable as our own moods. But when it is Christ's love for us that is our dependence, our peace is undisturbed by any earthly changes.
The usual conception of John, is that he was gentle and affectionate, but not strong. Yet this is a mistaken conception. He was a man of magnificent strength. When we see John at first, he had his faults. He was not always the disciple of gentleness and love. He was impetuous, fiery, intemperate in his zeal. We have an illustration of this quality in him, in his impatience with the people of the Samaritan village to which his Master was not hospitably welcomed. His anger flamed hotly against them. He wished to call down fire from heaven upon the town and the people! He had not then learned the mind that was in Jesus Christ.
Another blemish in John at first was his desire for greatness. He supposed that Christ was to be an earthly king, ruling over the world. In this great kingdom John and his brother were ambitious to fill the highest offices. "Grant unto us to sit at your right hand and at your left." This, too, was contrary to the spirit of Christ. The places nearest to Him—are reached by the paths of humility and service. He who becomes as a little child—is greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
In our disappointment with ourselves—it comforts us to be reminded that even the disciple whom Jesus loved, was once a hot-headed zealot, ready to burn anyone who would not become a Christian, and a man with a worldly ambition clamoring for high office in Christ's kingdom! We need a religion that will take us as we are, with all our faults and imperfections, and make of us such a man as John's religion made of him.
It is not every kind of religion that produces such men as John, "the disciple whom Jesus loved." Some people are Christians a long while, and yet never grow into sweetness of spirit, never become gentle, kind, patient, thoughtful, unselfish. Not always does the resentful spirit—become the spirit of mercy, forgiveness and charity, even after years. Not always does the eagerness for first places, for prominence, for distinction, grow into the lowly humility which we see in John in his later life.
Instead of holding a prominent place among the apostles, he appears as a quiet, modest man, keeping close to Peter, walking in his shadow, sweetly accepting the second place. Instead of wishing to call down fire on those who would not honor his Master, he preached love as the great duty—as the one thing of Christian life.
You know how this "disciple whom Jesus loved" came to stand at last as the ideal of love, not only in his teaching, but also in his life. We all want a religion that will do for us—what John's religion did for him. We desire that our life, with its resentments, its insincerities, its selfishness, its irritability, its vanity, its pride, its worldly ambition—can be made into the life of love which John attained. We are not satisfied with our faulty character, our poor living. We are not the kind of Christians we know we ought to be. Our religion does not seem to make us grow ever better. We attend church, we sing the hymns and join in the prayers, we enjoy the worship, we give to the cause of Christ, we go through the rounds of services and ordinances—but somehow we do not become sweeter, gentler, truer, braver, stronger, more Christlike.
What was the secret of John's religion? We may put it into one phrase, "Christ and John were friends!" It was a great, all-absorbing, overmastering friendship began that day, when the Baptist said to two young men, as Jesus passed near, "Behold the Lamb of God" (1:29). The two young men followed Him and were invited to His lodgings, spending the afternoon with Him. What took place during those hours we do not know, but we do know that a friendship began between John—scarcely more than a boy then—and Jesus, whose bonds have never slackened since. For three years this friendship grew in sweetness and tenderness, and during those years it was that the wonderful transformation took place in the disciple.
We know a little about the power of a strong, rich, noble, human friendship in shaping, inspiring, uplifting lives. There are many lives that are being saved, refined, sweetened, enriched by a human friendship. One of the best of the younger Christian men I have known—I have seen lifted up from a life of ordinary ability and education, into refinement, power and large usefulness by a gentle friendship. The girl whom he loved was rich-hearted, inspiring, showing in her own life the best ideals, and her love for him and his love for her—lifted him up to love's nobility. She stayed with him only a few years, and then went home to God—but he walks among men today with a strength, an energy, and a force of character, born of the holy friendship which meant so much to him.
George Eliot's Silas Marner is about a miser who hoarded his money. Someone stole away his hoard, and his heart grew bitter over the wrong to him. Then a little child was left at his door. His poor, starved heart took in the little one, and love for her redeemed him from sordidness, bitterness and anguish of spirit. God saves many a life—by sending to it a sweet human friendship.
A Christian climbed the rickety stairs to the miserable room where a woman lay in rags on a pile of straw. She bent over the poor woman, all vile with sin, said a loving word, and kissed her. That kiss saved her. Christ comes to sinners—and saves them with love. That is the way He saved the prodigals of His time. He came to them—and became their friend.
It is to a personal friendship with Himself, that Christ is always inviting men. He does not come merely to make reforms, to start beneficent movements, to make the conditions of life better. He does not try to save the world by giving it better laws, by founding schools, by securing wholesome literature. Christ saves men—by becoming their friend. John surrendered his heart and life to this friendship with Jesus. He opened every window and door to his new Master.
Another thing which helped on John's friendship with Christ, was his trust. He never doubted. Thomas doubted and was slow to believe. This hindered the growth of his friendship with Jesus. Peter was one of our Savior's closest friends, but he was always saying rash words and doing rash things, which interrupted his fellowship with Christ. But John loved on in silence—and trusted. At the Last Supper he leaned on the Master's bosom. That is the place of confidence: the bosom is only for those who have a right to closest intimacy. It is the place of love—near the heart. It is the place of safety—in the secret place of the Most High. The bosom is the place of comfort. It was the darkest night the world ever saw, that John lay on the bosom of Jesus. But he found comfort there. Trust in the secret of peace. "You will keep in perfect peace—all who trust in you, whose thoughts are fixed on you!" (Isaiah 26:3).
That is what leaning on bosom means. Do not think that that place of innermost love was for John alone, and has never been filled since that night. It is like heaven's gates—it is never closed, and whoever will, may come and lie there! It is a place for those who sorrow—oh, that all who have grief knew that they may creep in where John lay, and nestle there!
John's transformation is the model for all of us. No matter how many imperfections mar the beauty of our lives, we should not be discouraged. But we should never consent to let the faults remain. That is the way too many of us do. We condone our weaknesses and imperfections, pity them—and keep them. We should give ourselves no rest until they are cured. But how can we get these evil things out of our lives? How did John get rid of his faults? By letting the love of Christ possess him. Lying upon Christ's bosom—Christ's sweet, pure, wholesome life permeated John's life—and made it sweet, pure and wholesome.
So it is the friendship of Christ alone which can transform us. You are a Christian not because you belong to a church, not because you have a good creed, not because you are living a fair moral life; you are a Christian because you and Christ are friends. What can a friend be to a friend? Let us think of the best that earth's richest-hearted friend can be to us, and do for us. Then lift up this conception, multiplying it a thousand times! If it were possible to gather out of all history and from all the world, the best and holiest things of pure, true friendship, and combine them all in one of great friendship— Christ's friendship would surpass the sum of them all.
Even our human friendships we prize as the dearest things on earth. They are more precious than rarest gems. We would lose everything else we have rather than give them up. Life without friendships would be empty and lonely. Yet the best earthly friendships are but little fragments of the friendship of Christ. It is perfect. Its touch is always gentle and full of healing. Its help is always wise. Its tenderness is like the warmth of a heavenly summer. If we have the friendship of Christ, we cannot be utterly bereft, though all human friends be taken away. To be Christ's friend—is to be God's child, with all a child's privileges. This is one essential in being a Christian.
We could not say Paul is our friend, or John—but Jesus is living, and is with us evermore. He is our Friend as really as He was Mary's or John's. Christ is our Friend. That means He will supply everything we really need. No want can be unsupplied. No sorrow can be uncomforted. No evil can overmaster us. For time and for eternity—we are safe! It will not be the streets of gold, and the gates of pearl, and the river and the trees—which will make heaven for us—it will be the companionship, the friendship of Christ!
But we must not forget the other part of this friendship. We are to be Christ's friends, too. It is not much we can give to Him or do for Him. But He would have us loyal and true.
If a sacred human friendship exerts such influence over a true life, surely the consciousness that Christ is our Friend and we are His—should check every evil thought, quell every bitter feeling, sweeten every emotion, and make all our life holy, true and heavenly!