The life of Jesus, regarded from a mere human point of view, presents an astonishing problem. An obscure man in an obscure province has revolutionized the world. Every letter and public document of the most cultured nations dates from his birth, as a new era. How was this man educated? We find he had no access to the Greek and Roman literature. Jesus was emphatically a man of one book. That book was the Hebrew Scriptures, which we call the Old Testament. The Old Testament was his Bible, and this single consideration must invest it with undying interest for us.
We read the Bible which our parents read. We see, perhaps, pencil-marks here and there, which show what they loved and what helped and comforted them in the days of their life-struggle, and the Bible is dearer to us on that account. Then, going backward along the bright pathway of the sainted and blessed who lived in former ages, the Bible becomes diviner to us for their sake. The Bible of the Martyrs, the Bible of the Waldenses, the Bible of Luther and Calvin, of our Pilgrim Fathers, has a double value.
I have in my possession a very ancient black-letter edition of the Bible printed in 1522, more than three hundred years ago. In this edition many of the Psalms have been read and re-read, till the paper is almost worn away. Some human heart, some suffering soul, has taken deep comfort here. If to have been the favorite, intimate friend of the greatest number of hearts be an ambition worthy of a poet, David has gained a loftier place than any poet who ever wrote. He has lived next to the heart of men, and women, and children, of all ages, in all climes, in all times and seasons, all over the earth. They have rejoiced and wept, prayed and struggled, lived and died, with David's words in their mouths. His heart has become the universal Christian heart, and will ever be, till earth's sorrows, and earth itself, are a vanished dream.
It is too much the fashion of this day to speak slightingly of the Old Testament. Apart from its grandeur, its purity, its tenderness and majesty, the Old Testament has this peculiar interest to the Christian, – it was the Bible of the Lord Jesus Christ.
As a man, Jesus had a human life to live, a human experience to undergo. For thirty silent years he was known among men only as a carpenter in Nazareth, and the Scriptures of the Old Testament were his daily companions. When he emerges into public life, we find him thoroughly versed in the Scriptures. Allusions to them are constant, through all his discourses; he continually refers to them as writings that reflect his own image. "Search the Scriptures," he says, "for they are they that testify of me."
The Psalms of David were to Jesus all and more than they can be to any other son of man.
In certain of them he saw himself and his future life, his trials, conflicts, sufferings, resurrection, and final triumph foreshadowed. He quoted them to confound his enemies. When they sought to puzzle him with perplexing questions he met them with others equally difficult, drawn from the Scriptures. He asks them: —
"What think ye of the Messiah? whose son is he? They say unto him, the Son of David. He saith unto them, How then doth David in spirit call him Lord, saying, The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand till I make thine enemies thy footstool? If David then call him Lord, how is he his son?"
So, when they ask the question, "Which is the greatest commandment of all?" he answers by placing together two passages in the Old Testament, the one commanding supreme love to God and the other impartial love to man's neighbor. The greatest commandment of all nowhere stands in the Old Testament exactly as Jesus quotes it, the first part being found in Deuteronomy vi. 5, and the second in Leviticus xix. 18. This is a specimen of the exhaustive manner in which he studied and used the Scriptures.
Our Saviour quotes often also from the prophets. In his first public appearance in his native village he goes into the synagogue and reads from Isaiah. When they question and disbelieve, he answers them by pointed allusions to the stories of Naaman the Syrian and the widow of Sarepta. When the Sadducees raise the question of a future life, he replies by quoting from the Pentateuch that God calls himself the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and God is not the God of the dead, but the God of the living, for all are alive to him. He cites the history of Jonah as a symbol of his own death and resurrection; and at the last moment of his trial before the High Priest, when adjured to say whether he be the Christ or not, he replies in words that recall the sublime predictions in the Book of Daniel of the coming of Messiah to judgment. The prophet says: —
"I saw in my vision, and, behold, One like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days; and there was given unto him dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all people and nations and languages should serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion, that shall not pass away or be destroyed."
When the High Priest of the Jews said to Jesus, "I adjure thee by the living God that thou tell us whether thou be Messiah or not," he answered, "I am; and hereafter ye shall see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power and coming in the clouds of heaven."
So much was the character of our Lord's teaching colored and impregnated by the writings of the Old Testament that it is impossible fully to comprehend Jesus without an intimate knowledge of them. To study the life of Christ without the Hebrew Scriptures is to study a flower without studying the plant from which it sprung, the root and leaves which nourished it. He continually spoke of himself as a Being destined to fulfill what had gone before. "Think not," he said, "that I am come to destroy the Law and the Prophets. I am not come to destroy but to fulfill." He frequently spoke of himself as of the order and race of Jewish prophets; like them he performed symbolic acts which were visible prophecies, as when he knew his nation had finally rejected him he signified their doom by the awful sign of the blasted fig-tree. Through all the last days of Jesus, as his death approaches, we find continual references to the Old Testament prophecies, and quotations from them.
And after his resurrection, when he appears to his disciples, he "opens to them the Scriptures;" that talk on the way to Emmaus was an explanation of the prophecies, by our Lord himself. Would that it had been recorded! Would not our hearts too have "burned within us!"
Now, a book that was in life and in death so dear to our Lord, a book which he interpreted as from first to last a preparation for and prophecy of himself, cannot but be full of interest to us Christians. When we read the Old Testament Scriptures we go along a track that we know Jesus and his mother must often have trod together. The great resemblance in style between the Song of Mary and the Psalms of David is one of the few indications given in Holy Writ of the veiled and holy mystery of his mother's life. She was a poetess, a prophetess, one whose mind was capable of the highest ecstasy of inspiration. Let us read the Psalms again, with the thought in our mind that they were the comforters, the counselors of Jesus and Mary. What was so much to them cannot be indifferent to us.
Nor did the disciples and Apostles in the glow of the unfolding dispensation cease to reverence and value those writings so closely studied by their Lord. They did not speak of them as a worn-out thing, that had "had its day," but they alluded to them with the affectionate veneration due to divine oracles. "The prophecy came not of old times by the will of man, but holy men of old spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost." St. Paul congratulates Timothy that "from a child thou hast known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation," and adds: "all Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works."
Even while the New Testament was being formed, its writers gave this complete testimony to the Old, as being able to make men "wise unto salvation," and to complete a man's spiritual education. This book, then, so dear to Christ and his Apostles, is something that should be dear to all Christians. Its study will enrich the soul. It is wonderful, mysterious, unique – there is no sacred book like it in the world; and in reading it we come nearer to Him who was foretold by it, and who when he came upon the earth found in it nourishment for his soul, instruction and spiritual refreshment by the wayside, comfort even in the extreme agonies of a dreadful death. However dear to us may be the story of his life in the Gospels and his teachings through his Apostles and their Epistles, let us in following his steps forget not "the Scriptures" which he bade us search, but diligently read and love the Bible of our Lord.
CHRIST'S FIRST SERMON
The first public sermon of the long-desired Messiah – his first declaration of his mission and message to the world – what was it?
It was delivered in his own city of Nazareth, where he had been brought up; it was on the Sabbath day; it was in the synagogue where he had always worshiped; and it was in manner and form exactly in accordance with the customs of his national religion.
It had always been customary among the Jews to call upon any member of the synagogue to read a passage from the book of the prophets; and the young man Jesus, concerning whom certain rumors had vaguely gone forth, was on the day in question called to take his part in the service. It was a holy and solemn moment, when the long silence of years was to be broken. Jesus was surrounded by faces familiar from infancy. His mother, his brothers, his sisters, were all there; every eye was fixed upon him. The historian says: —
"And there was delivered unto him the book (or roll) of the prophet Isaiah, and when he had unrolled the book he found the place where it is written (Isaiah lxi.): —
The spirit of the Lord is upon me.
He hath anointed me to preach good tidings to the poor;
He hath sent me to heal the broken-hearted;
To preach deliverance to the captives;
The recovering of sight to the blind;
To set at liberty them that are bruised;
To preach the acceptable year of the Lord."
We may imagine the sweetness, the tenderness, the enthusiasm with which this beautiful announcement of his mission was uttered; and when, closing the book, he looked round on the faces of his townsmen and acquaintances, and said, "This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears," – it was an appeal of Heavenly love yearning to heal and to save those nearest and longest known.
It would seem that the sweet voice, the graceful manner, at first charmed the rough audience; there was a thrilling, vibrating power, that struck upon every heart. But those hearts were cold and hard. A Saviour from sin, a Comforter of sorrow, was not what they were looking for in their Messiah. They felt themselves good enough spiritually, in their observance of the forms of their law and ritual; they were stupidly content with themselves and wanted no comforter. What they did want was a brilliant military leader. They wanted a miracle-working, supernatural Lord and Commander that should revenge their national wrongs, conquer the Romans, and set the Jewish people at the head of the world. Having heard of the miracles of Christ in Cana and Capernaum, they had thought that perhaps he might prove this Leader, and if so, what a glory for Nazareth! But they were in a critical, exacting mood; they were in their hearts calling for some brilliant and striking performance that should illuminate and draw attention to their town. Although the congregation were at first impressed and charmed with the gracious words and manner of the speaker, the hard, vulgar spirit of envy and carping criticism soon overshadowed their faces.
"Who is this Jesus – is he not the carpenter? What sign does he show? Let him work some miracles forthwith, and we will see if we will believe."
It was this disposition which our Lord felt in the atmosphere around him; the language of souls uttered itself to him unspoken. He answered as he so often did to the feeling he saw in the hearts rather than the words of those around him. He said, "Ye will say to me, Physician, heal thyself. Do here in thy native place the marvels we have heard of in Capernaum. I tell you a truth; no prophet is accepted in his own country. There were many widows in Israel in the time of the prophet Elijah, but he was sent only to a widow of Sarepta, a city of Sidon. There were many lepers in Israel in the time of Elisha, yet none of them was healed but Naaman the Syrian." It would seem as if our Lord was preparing to show them that he had a mission of love and mercy that could not be bounded by one village, or even by the chosen race of Israel, but was for the world.
But the moment he spoke of favors and blessings given to the Gentiles the fierce national spirit flamed up; the speech was cut short by a tumultuous uprising of the whole synagogue. They laid violent hands on Jesus and hurried him to the brow of the precipice on which their city was built, to cast him down headlong. But before the murder was consummated the calm majesty of Jesus had awed his persecutors. Their slackened hands dropped; they looked one on another irresolute: and he, passing silently through the midst of them, went his way. He had offered himself to them as their Saviour from sin and from sorrow in the very fullness of his heart. Heavenly tenderness and sweetness had stretched out its arms to embrace them, and been repulsed by sneering coldness and hard, worldly unbelief.
Nazareth did not want Him; and he left it. It was the first of those many rejections which He at last summed up when he said, "How often would I have gathered thy children, and ye would not."
But, though he thus came to his own and his own received him not, yet the lovely and gracious proclamation which he made then and there still stands unfading and beautiful as a rainbow of hope over this dark earth. The one Being sent into the world to represent the Invisible Father, and to show us the hidden heart and purposes of God in this mysterious life of ours, there declared that his mission was one of pity, of help, of consolation; that the poor, the bruised, the desolate, the prisoner, might forever find a Friend in him.
There are times when the miseries and sorrows of the suffering race of man, the groaning and travailing of this mysterious life of ours, oppress us, and our faith in God's love grows faint.
Then let us turn our thoughts to this divine Personality, Jesus, the anointed Son of God, and hear him saying now, as he said at Nazareth: —
"The spirit of the Lord is upon ME.
He hath sent me to preach good tidings to the poor;
He hath sent me to heal the broken-hearted,
To preach deliverance to the captives,
The recovering of sight to the blind,
To set at liberty them that are bruised!"
It is said of him in the prophets: "He shall not fail nor be discouraged till he have set judgment in the earth. The isles shall wait for his law. Our Redeemer is mighty; the Lord of Hosts is his name – our Saviour, the Holy One of Israel!"
THE FRIENDSHIPS OF JESUS
In turning our thoughts toward various scenes of our Lord's life, we are peculiarly affected with the human warmth and tenderness of his personal friendships. The little association of his own peculiar friends makes a picture that we need to study to understand him.
St. John touchingly says: "Now when the time was come that Jesus should depart out of the world unto the Father, having loved his own which were in the world he loved them unto the end." When we think that all that we know of our Lord comes through these friends of his – the witnesses and recorders of his life and death – we shall feel more than ever what he has made them to us. Without them we should have had no Jesus.
Our Lord, with all that he is to us, is represented to us through the loving hearts and affectionate records of these his chosen ones. It is amazing to think of, that our Lord never left to his church one line written by his own hand, and that all his words come to us transfused through the memories of his friends. How much to us, then, were these friendships of Jesus – how dear to us, for all eternity, these friends!
We are told that immediately after the resurrection there was an associated church of one hundred and twenty, who are characterized by Peter as "men that have companied with us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us."
The account of how these friends were gathered to him becomes deeply interesting. St. John relates how, one day, John the Baptist saw Jesus walking by the Jordan in silent contemplation, and pointed him out to his disciples: "Behold the Lamb of God." And the two disciples heard him speak and followed Jesus. Then Jesus turned and said, "What seek ye?" They said, "Master, where dwellest thou?" He answered, "Come and see." They came and saw where he dwelt, and abode with him that day. We learn from this that some of the disciples were those whose spiritual nature had been awakened by John the Baptist, and who, under his teaching, were devoting themselves to a religious life. We see the power of personal attraction possessed by our Lord, which drew these simple, honest natures to himself. One of these men was Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter, and he immediately carried the glad tidings to his brother, "We have found the Messiah;" and he brought him to Jesus. Thus, by a sort of divine attraction, one brother and friend bringing another, the little band increased. Some were more distinctly called by the Master. Matthew, the tax-gatherer, sitting in his place of business, heard the words, "Follow me," and immediately rose up, and left all and followed him. James and John forsook their nets, in the midst of their day's labor, to follow him. In time, a little band of twelve left all worldly callings and home ties, to form a traveling mission family of which Jesus was the head and father. Others, both men and women, at times traveled with them and assisted their labors; but these twelve were the central figures.
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