A VISIT TO JERUSALEM.
ANY one who has carefully and repeatedly studied the Gospel narratives side by side, in order to form from them as clear a conception as is possible of the life of Christ on earth, can hardly fail to have been struck with two or three general facts respecting the sequence of events in His public ministry. In spite of the difficulty introduced by the varying and non-chronological arrangements of the Synoptists, and by the silence of the fourth Gospel about the main part of the preaching in Galilee, we see distinctly the following circumstances:
1. That the innocent enthusiasm of joyous welcome with which Jesus and His words and works were at first received in Northern Galilee gradually, but in a short space of time, gave way to suspicion, dislike, and even hostility on the part of large and powerful sections of the people.
2. That the external character, as well as the localities, of our Lord's mission were much altered after the murder of John the Baptist.
3. That the tidings of this murder, together with a marked development of opposition, and the constant presence of Scribes and Pharisees from Judæa to watch His conduct and dog His movements, seems to synchronise with a visit to Jerusalem not recorded by the Synoptists, but evidently identical with the nameless festival mentioned in John v. 1.
4. That this unnamed festival must have occurred somewhere about that period of His ministry at which we have now arrived.
What this feast was we shall consider immediately; but it was preceded by another eventthe mission of the Twelve Apostles.
At the close of the missionary journeys, during which occurred some of the events described in the last chapters, Jesus was struck with compassion at the sight of the multitude. They reminded Him of sheep harassed by enemies, and lying panting and neglected in the fields because they have no shepherd. They also called up to the mind the image of a harvest ripe, but unreaped for lack of labourers; and He bade His Apostles pray to the Lord of the harvest that He would send forth labourers into His harvest. And then, immediately afterwards, having Himself now traversed the whole of Galilee, He sent them out two and two to confirm His teaching and perform works of mercy in His name.
Before sending them He naturally gave them the instructions which were to guide their conduct. At present they were to confine their mission to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, and not extend it to Samaritans or Gentiles. The topic of their preaching was to be the nearness of the kingdom of heaven, and it was to be freely supported by works of power and beneficence. They were to take nothing with them; no scrip for food no purse for money; no change of raiment; no travelling shoes (hupodémata, calcei), in place of their ordinary palm-bark sandals, they were not even to procure a staff for the journey if they did not happen already to possess one; their missionlike all the greatest and most effective missions which the world has ever knownwas to be simple and self-supporting. The open hospitality of the East, so often used as the basis for a dissemination of new thoughts, would be ample for their maintenance. On entering a town they were to go to any house in it where they had reason to hope that they would be welcome, and to salute it with the immemorial and much-valued blessing, Shalôm lakem, "Peace be to you," and if the children of peace were there the blessing would be effective; if not, it would return on their own heads. If rejected, they were to shake off the dust of their feet in witness that they had spoken faithfully, and that they thus symbolically cleared themselves of all responsibility for that judgment which should fall more heavily on wilful and final haters of the light than on the darkest places of a heathendom in which the light had never, or but feebly, shone.
So far their Lord had pointed out to them the duties of trustful faith, of gentle courtesy, of self-denying simplicity, as the first essentials of missionary success, He proceeded to fortify them against the inevitable trials and persecutions of their missionary work.
They needed and were to exercise the wisdom of serpents no less than the harmlessness of doves: for He was sending them forth as sheep among wolves.
Doubtless these discourses were not always delivered in the continuous form in which they have naturally come down to us. Our Lord seems at all times to have graciously encouraged the questions of humble and earnest listeners; and at this point we are told by an ancient tradition, that St. Peterever, we may be sure, a most eager and active-minded listenerinterrupted his Master with the not unnatural question, "But how then if the wolves should tear the lambs?" And Jesus answered, smiling perhaps at the naïve and literal intellect of His chief Apostle, "Let not the lambs fear the wolves when the lambs are once dead, and do you fear not those who can kill you and do nothing to you, but fear Him who after you are dead hath power over soul and body to cast them into hell-fire." And then, continuing the thread of His discourse, He warned them plainly how, both at this time and again long afterwards, they might be brought before councils, and scourged in synagogues, and stand at the judgment-bar of kings, and yet, without any anxious premeditation, the Spirit should teach them what to say. The doctrine of peace should be changed by the evil passions of men into a war-cry of fury and hate, and they might be driven to fly before the face of enemies from city to city. Still let them endure to the end, for before they had gone through the cities of Israel, the Son of Man should have come.
Then, lastly, He at once warned and comforted them by reminding them of what He Himself had suffered, and how He had been opposed. Let them not fear. The God who cared even for the little birds when they fell to the groundthe God by whom the very hairs of their head were numberedthe God who (and here He glanced back perhaps at the question of Peter) held in His hand the issues, not of life and death only, but of eternal life and of eternal death, and who was therefore more to be feared than the wolves of earthHE was with them; He would acknowledge those whom His Son acknowledged, and deny those whom He denied. They were being sent forth into a world of strife, which would seem even the more deadly because of the peace which it rejected. Even their nearest and their dearest might side with the world against them. But they who would be His true followers must for His sake give up all; must even take up their cross and follow Him. But then, for their comfort, He told them that they should be as He was in the world; that they who received them should receive Him; that to lose their lives for His sake would be to more than find them; that a cup of cold water given to the youngest and humblest of His little ones should not miss of its reward.
Such is an outline of these great parting instructions as given by St. Matthew, and every missionary and every minister should write them in letters of gold. The sterility of missionary labour is a constant subject of regret and discouragement among us. Would it be so if all our missions were carried out in this wise and conciliatory, in this simple and self-abandoning, in this faithful and dauntless spirit? Was a missionary ever unsuccessful who, being enabled by the grace of God to live in the light of such precepts as these, worked as St. Paul worked, or St. Francis Xavier, or Henry Martyn, or Adoniram Judson, or John Eliot, or David Schwarz?
That the whole of this discourse was not delivered on this occasion, that there are references in it to later periods, that parts of it are only applicable to other apostolic missions which as yet lay far in the future, seems clear; but we may, nevertheless, be grateful that St. Matthew, guided as usual by unity of subject, collected into one focus the scattered rays of instruction delivered, perhaps, on several subsequent occasionsas for instance, before the sending of the Seventy, and even as the parting utterances of the risen Christ.
The Jews were familiar with the institution of Sheluchîm, the plenipotentiaries of some higher authority. This was the title by which Christ seems to have marked out the position of His Apostles. It was a wise and merciful provision that He sent them out two and two; it enabled them to hold sweet converse together, and mutually to correct each other's faults. Doubtless the friends and the brothers went in pairs; the fiery Peter with the more contemplative Andrew; the Sons of Thunderone influential and commanding, the other emotional and eloquent; the kindred faith and guilelessness of Philip and Bartholomew; the slow but faithful Thomas with the thoughtful and devoted Matthew; the ascetic James with his brother the impassioned Jude; the zealot Simon to fire with his theocratic zeal the dark, flagging, despairing spirit of the traitor Judas.
During their absence Jesus continued his work alone, perhaps as He slowly made His way towards Jerusalem; for if we can speak of probability at all amid the deep uncertainties of the chronology of His ministry, it seems extremely probable that it is to this point that the verse belongs"After this there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem." This nameless feast was in all probability the Feast of Purim.
But how came Jesus to go up to Jerusalem for such a feast as thisa feast which was the saturnalia of Judaism; a feast which was without divine authority, and had its roots in the most intensely exclusive, not to say vindictive, feelings of the nation; a feast of merriment and masquerade, which was purely social and often discreditably convivial; a feast which was unconnected with religious services, and was observed, not in the Temple, not even necessarily in the synagogues, but mainly in the private houses of the Jews?
The answer seems to be that, although Jesus was in Jerusalem at this feast, and went up about the time that it was held, the words of St. John do not necessarily imply that He went up for the express purpose of being present at this particular festival. The Passover took place only a month afterwards, and He may well have gone up mainly with the intention of being present at the Passover, although He gladly availed Himself of an opportunity for being in Judæa and Jerusalem a month before it, both that He might once more preach in those neighbourhoods, and that He might avoid the publicity and dangerous excitement involved in His joining the caravan of the Passover pilgrims from Galilee. Such an opportunity may naturally have arisen from the absence of the Apostles on their missionary tour. The Synoptists give clear indications that Jesus had friends and well-wishers at Jerusalem and in its vicinity. He must therefore have paid visits to those regions which they do not record. Perhaps it was among those friends that He awaited the return of His immediate followers. We know the deep affection which He entertained for the members of one household in Bethany, and it is not unnatural to suppose that He was now living in the peaceful seclusion of that pious household as a solitary and honoured guest.
But even if St. John intends us to believe that the occurrence of this feast was the immediate cause of this visit to Jerusalem, we must bear in mind that there is no proof whatever of its having been in our Lord's time the fantastic and disorderly commemoration which it subsequently became. The nobler-minded Jews doubtless observed it in a calm and grateful manner; and as one part of the festival consisted in showing acts of kindness to the poor, it may have offered an attraction to Jesus, both on this ground and because it enabled Him to show that there was nothing unnational or unpatriotic in the universal character of His message, or the all-embracing infinitude of the charity which He both practised and enjoined.
There remains then but a single question. The Passover was rapidly drawing near, and His presence at that great feast would on every ground be expected. Why then did He absent Himself from it? Why did He return to Galilee instead of remaining at Jerusalem? The events which we are about to narrate will furnish a sufficient answer to this question.