God-Spell
by W.H.Boulton

CHAPTER XXI

JESUS OF NAZARETH

THE prophet Amos foretold a time when there should be a famine of hearing the words of the law of the Lord. That time came at the end of the ministry of Malachi. For over four hundred years no prophet arose in Israel like those who had been their teachers for so long. There were prophets of a kind, and there were patriots and priests who struggled hard to keep the nation right, but there were none who have a part in this Story, until once more the voice of a prophet was heard in the land.

Strange circumstances attended his birth. His parents were advanced in years and had had no child. His father was a priest, and was ministering in the temple when an angel appeared to him with the message that he should have a son who would appear before Israel in the spirit and power of Elijah, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord. In this reference to Elijah the end of the Old Testament is linked with the beginning of the New. The child who was born in accordance with this promise was John the Baptist.

The Messenger

Some months afterwards an angel appeared to a virgin of Nazareth named Mary with a still more surprising message. He said, “Behold thou shalt conceive in thy womb and bear a son . . . He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David, and he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and of his kingdom there shall be no end.” In explanation of how this wonder might be brought about, the angel also said “The holy Spirit shall come upon thee, and the power of the Most High shall overshadow thee therefore also that which is to be born of thee shall be called holy, the Son of God.” Not only there­fore was the voice of prophecy to be revived, but the great promises of the past were being remem­bered; David’s son who was to possess the throne over Israel was about to be born.

Mary was espoused to Joseph, a carpenter of Nazareth. When he found that his affianced bride was about to have a child he was greatly troubled. He knew he was not the child’s father, yet, being of a kindly disposition, he did not want any scandal to attach to Mary. As he thought of the matter he had a vision of an angel who said, “Fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife; for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.” He was also told that the whole matter was a fulfilment of the prophecy that a virgin should bring forth a son who should be called Immanuel, which means, God with us. Both he and Mary were told to name the child “Jesus,” for he was to save his people from their sins.
The birth of Jesus

In due time the child was born, Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God, the only begotten of the Father, yet made of a woman and therefore a partaker of the nature of his mother . . Although known as Jesus of Nazareth he was born in Bethlehem, whither his mother, and his supposed father, had gone on account of a command of the Roman Emperor that a census should be taken. On the night of his birth as some shepherds of Bethlehem watched their flocks by night they were visited by an angel who brought the message, “Behold I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be to all the people; for there is born to you this day in the city of David, a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.” Sud­denly the messenger was surrounded by a multitude of angels, singing,

“Glory to God in the highest,
And on earth peace among men
In whom He is well pleased.”

The child narrowly escaped destruction. Wise men from the East sought Herod, the king of the country, saying, “Where is he that is born king of the Jews?” Herod ascertained that according to the old prophecies, the Messiah, the king of the Jews, was to be born in Bethlehem. He directed the Wise men there, asking them to return to him and let him know where the young child was. They found the babe, and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, but they did not return to Herod as they were warned by God to return another way. Foiled in his attempt to ascer­tain where the child was, Herod gave instructions for all the children under two years of age in the city of Bethlehem to be killed, but the child was saved through another vision in which Joseph was told to take him and his mother to Egypt. There they remained until Herod was dead.

Thirty years passed by during which the only thing recorded of Jesus is a visit he paid with his mother and father to Jerusalem and the temple. There at. the age of twelve he was found listening to the doctors of the law and asking them questions. To his mother’s anxious expostulations he replied, “Wist ye not that I must be in my father’s house?”

Jesus’ baptism

At the end of the thirty years Israel heard again the voice of prophecy. It was John, who came with a message for the people, “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand.” It was a great message and it portended great things. It created a stir among the people, for multitudes went out to hear what John had to say. He introduced the initiatory rite of baptism, that is immersion in water, for any­thing short of that is not baptism at all. Great numbers of people flocked to him and were bap­tized. The main theme of his teaching was that a greater One than he was coming. Meanwhile he said the axe was laid at the root of the tree of Israel, and that unless the nation brought forth fruits meet for repentance the axe would be used to cut the tree down. Such a message insistently delivered, aroused the attention of the people, and the civil and religious leaders of the nation sent a deputa­tion to know who he really was, Was he Elijah who was to come? or was he the prophet? or was he the Christ? His answer was instructive. “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make ye ready the way of the Lord, as said the prophet Isaiah.”

It may have seemed a strange application of Isaiah’s prophecy, but it was very apt. Isaiah had foretold that such a proclamation should be made, and had associated it with the statement, “The voice of one saying, Cry. And one said, What shall I cry? All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field; the grass withereth, the flower fadeth, ... but the word of our God shall stand for ever.” It was a reminder that there was something stable in a perishing world though few really grasped the fact, either then or now.

One day as John was preaching, Jesus of Nazareth came to him to be baptized. John would have dissuaded him, his baptism was for the remission of sins, and he knew enough of his kinsman to feel sure that he had no sins. But Jesus insisted, “Suffer it to be so now, for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness.” No greater emphasis could be given; it “became” Jesus to fulfil all righteousness by submitting to baptism, and no follower of his can refuse to do the same. Immediately afterwards the Holy Spirit, in the shape of a dove, descended and alighted on Jesus, and a Voice was heard saying, “This is My beloved son, in whom I am well pleased.” To this John added his testimony, “Behold the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world.” Under such auspices Jesus of Nazareth entered upon his public career.

His work

John’s testimony secured for Jesus his first two disciples, Andrew, and John the son of Zebedee who were immediately joined by their brothers Peter and James, and, shortly afterwards, by Philip of Bethsaida. As the days passed, and the influ­ence of Jesus grew, the little band increased until a special choice was made of twelve who were to be apostles and witnesses of the things that he did and said. To write of these things would require a volume of itself; all that can be told here is the barest outline of the story.

Among his deeds reference must be made to the miracles he wrought. These were not mere prodigies, aimed at producing a feeling of wonderment; they were beneficent acts, performed for the good of those who were the subjects of them. The sick were healed, the blind received their sight, the dumb were given speech, the hungry were fed, lepers were cleansed, demoniacs restored to their right mind, and the dead were raised up. Such works coincided with the claims that Jesus made, and his works can only be properly appreciated when they are placed alongside the things he said. He was to take away the sin of the world; what better proof could there be than that he should remove the effects of sin?

. . . And teaching

As a teacher he was unique. The rabbis of his time were prolix, and depended on the sayings of their predecessors. Jesus was often terse and his teaching original. It went straight to the mark, and reached the heart, so that men and women became his ardent friends or his bitter enemies. He spoke “with authority.” “Ye have heard it said by them of old time” thus and so, “but I say unto you” this or that. He preached a new morality. Men were to be judged not by what they did, but by what they thought or desired. A man who looked at a woman with lust in his heart had committed adultery already in intent. The “Thou shalt nots” of the Law gave place to such positive injunctions as “Love your enemies,” “Pray for those that persecute you,” “Resist not evil,” “Ye therefore shall be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

His word pictures are the most delightful examples of such teaching that can be found anywhere. They were based on the most common of everyday things, yet they took on a profound meaning. The familiar sight of a sower sowing his seed was made to teach great lessons. Tares growing in a wheatfield taught others. Such things as the fisherman’s net, the merchant’s trading, a woman leavening her meal or searching for a lost piece of silver, the shepherd on the mountains, the householder on a journey, virgins attending a wedding feast, all were made to point a moral. Nothing seemed to be too trivial to be made the basis of spiritual lessons, which to-day, after nineteen hundred years, are, in all lands, as fresh as when they were first uttered. Even the political events of the period were used to give point to him and his mission. Herod the Great and Archelaus had both journeyed to Rome to receive the kingdom over Israel. So Jesus spoke of a nobleman who went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom and return. No one could miss the point. He preached the Kingdom of God, and he must go to God in the far country of heaven, to receive the credentials of his kingdom and then return.

In his teaching he laid the old Story under tribute. He referred to Adam and Eve and the first marriage, to the Flood, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to the destruction of Sodom, to Moses, David Isaiah and Daniel. He knew all about them, and his comments gave importance to many things that might otherwise have seemed quite unim­portant. He seemed to gather up the spirit of the past, and to focus its meaning in himself. “Your father, Abraham, rejoiced to see my day, he saw it and was glad.”

Temptations

So three strenuous years passed by, preaching, teaching, travelling, and healing, above all, showing men how to prepare for the future when they would have to give account of the actions of the present. There were many sad incidents in his life. A profligate Herod had been induced to murder John the Baptist, and Jesus withdrew himself to a desert place apart to mourn. As the last days approached he was deserted by his followers until he turned to the Twelve and said, “And will ye also go away?” It is one of the most pathetic questions in all the world’s literature; it reveals a depth of meaning and of suffering that can scarcely be realised.

On the other hand there were sometimes periods of great exaltation. One of these occurred towards the end of his life when, probably on Mount Hermon, the incident generally referred to as the transfigura­tion took place. Accompanied by his three most intimate disciples, Peter, James, and John, Jesus had ascended the mountain to pray. As he was engaged in prayer his countenance seemed to alter; it became radiant, and his raiment was white and dazzling. Then Moses and Elijah appeared and talked with him. It was a strange conversation for such a brilliant scene, they talked of his coming death in Jerusalem! Suddenly they were engulfed in a great cloud, and the voice of God was heard saying, “This is My Son, My chosen one; hear him.” Then they were alone again; the vision was over, but the experience must have been a tre­mendous source of strength in the dark days that soon followed.

It was in Jerusalem, the place of the throne that had been promised him, the centre of the worship of his Father, that he found his most bitter enemies. It seemed as if he could do nothing to please its inhabitants. They set traps to catch him in his speech, only to be staggered at his answers, and to marvel at the way in which he turned the tables on them. At last they could stand it no longer. The priests and rulers took counsel, and it only waited for a traitor in the inmost circle of his friends to betray him into their hands.

By that time all the hopes that had been enter­tained by his followers had been crushed. He had said, “Fear not little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” “Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth.” He had even promised them that they should sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel. Now he was always talking of his approaching death. True, he said that he should rise again, but in their depressed state that saying made no impression upon them; the shadow of the cross was too dark.

The last supper

His last meeting with the Twelve took place in an upper room in Jerusalem where they met to celebrate the Passover. There he spoke to them as he had never spoken before. “Let not your heart be troubled, ye believe in God, believe also in me. ... If I go I will come again.” He promised them the gift of the Holy Spirit, and spoke one of the most beautiful of all parables, that of the True Vine. “I am the true vine and my Father is the husbandman.” “I am the vine, ye are the branches.” He depicted the ideal unity of their association together. Then he prayed for them that they might be one, “I in them, and Thou (Father) in me, that they may be perfected into one.”

While they were assembled in the upper room, Jesus took bread and when he had given thanks gave it to them, saying, “This is my body which is given for you; this do in remembrance of me.” After that he took a cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, even that which is poured out for you.” Throughout the ages the memory of that meal, and of the things represented by the bread and the wine, have been commemorated wherever true believers in Jesus have been found. On the first day of each week such people meet to remember Jesus in his final act of self-sacrifice, though at the same time they remember that he is now “the Lord in Spirit,” who brought life and immortality to light in his own experiences. After the supper Jesus and the eleven left Jerusalem for the garden of Gethsemane.

Before they left, Judas, one of the twelve, had gone to the chief priests. Meanwhile Jesus had withdrawn himself even from his disciples to seek his Father in prayer. There in Gethsemane he prayed, “O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as Thou wilt.” So great was the agony of this last struggle that his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling to the ground. While he was praying his disciples slept, worn out by the emotions of the last few days. Suddenly the garden was invaded by a mob bearing lanterns, torches and weapons, led by Judas, who, by a pre-arranged signal, be­trayed his Master by a kiss!

At first it looked as if the attempt would fail. The armed men fell backwards, awed by the pres­ence of the one they sought to take. They soon recovered themselves and laid hold on Jesus, when one of the disciples, Peter, drew a sword and cut off the ear of a servant of the high priest. Jesus put forth his hand and healed him, saying to Peter, “Put up thy sword into the sheath, for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword,” which expresses a truth of eternal application that all his followers must respect.

His trial

Now everything was rushed. The Passover was approaching and the priests wanted to get rid of Jesus before the routine of the feast made it impos­sible for them to do anything further. So they rushed him from Annas to Caiaphas, and from Caiaphas to Pilate, where trials took place which were a mockery of all legal forms. Before the Jewish courts Jesus was asked, “Art thou the Christ?” “Art thou the son of God?” to which he replied “Ye say that I am.” It was sufficient to enable the judges to justify their condemnation. They termed it blasphemy and pronounced him to be worthy of death. While this was taking place the mental sufferings of the prisoner were deepened by a three-fold denial of one of his closest friends Peter.

Then a new trial was rushed through. The Jewish court had no power to inflict a death sentence; the Roman Procurator, Pontius Pilate, must declare him guilty and pass the sentence. A charge of blasphemy would have failed before Pilate, so a new one was preferred, a charge that Jesus claimed to be the king of the Jews. It was true, yet it was false. As the Messiah of Israel Jesus necessarily claimed to be the king of the Jews. Yet when, shortly before, the multitude had desired to take him by force and make him king, he refused to submit to such a thing. In reply to Pilate’s question, “Art thou a king then?” He replied, “My kingdom is not of this world (or order), if my kingdom were of this world then would my servants fight that I should not be delivered to the Jews, but now is my kingdom not from hence.” When Pilate pressed the question, “Art thou a king then?” he replied, “Thou sayest that I am a king (the Hebrew form of affirmation). To this end have I been born, and to this end am I come into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth.” Pilate could not understand it. He recognised that envy was at the bottom of the accusation, the prisoner before him was not one of whom Rome need be afraid, and he was ready to release Jesus. He tried to save him by suggesting that he should be released as an act of clemency, but the Jews cried out that he should rather release Barabbas, a robber. Then the priests played their final card. “If thou let this man go thou art not Caesar’s friend; every one that maketh himself a king speaketh against Caesar.” It was their last argument and Pilate dared not face it; he was afraid, and against his convictions gave the order for Jesus to be crucified.

Crucifixion

Matters were still rushed, the death must take place before the feast, so Jesus was hurried away to Calvary and there, between two thieves, was crucified. Pilate provided the wording for the cross. “This is Jesus of Nazareth, the king of the Jews.” It was too pointed for the chief priests, and they urged Pilate to modify it. “What I have written I have written,” was his reply, and there the words remained which connected Jesus with the kingship of the Jews, David’s son, the Messiah despised and rejected of men, apparently forsaken by God, deserted by his friends, denied by one of his closest followers, yet the Lamb of God who was to take away the sin of the world. A great darkness fell on the land, and with a last cry, “My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?” Jesus died-”died for our sins according to the Scriptures.”

Now the chief priests were very careful. They knew that Jesus had said that he would rise again on the third day, so they sought for permission to have the tomb sealed and watched. Pilate appears to have been very curt with them, “You have a watch,” he said, “make it as sure as ye can.” The tomb was sealed, and a watch set while the disciples of Jesus, helpless and dis-spirited, were scattered. It seemed as if all the promise connected with Jesus was over.

Resurrection

On the morning of the third day, however, when some women who had been his followers, went with- spices for his body, they found the tomb open and empty. They saw a vision of angels who gave them the startling information that he was alive. They hurried to the disciples with the news, and Peter and John ran to the sepulchre, and also found it empty. Mary Magdalene, one of the women, spoke to one whom she thought to be the gardener, but a word from him, “Mary,” showed her that it was the Master, risen from the dead. Afterwards he appeared to all the disciples, as well as to individuals among them, and proved to them, “by many infallible proofs” that God had raised him from the dead. He was “raised again for our justification.”

For forty days he remained, meeting them from time to time, that they might be fully assured of his resurrection. Then he gave them their great charge, “Go ye into all the world, preach the gospel to the whole creation, he that believeth and is baptised shall be saved, but he that dis-believeth shall be condemned.” It was his last command, and it has never been rescinded; belief of the gospel and baptism are unchanging essentials for all who would be saved, to which must be added the idea expressed in another account of the commission, “teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I commanded you.” No one who reads, and thinks over the Story, can avoid the conclusion that this last command of Jesus must be obeyed. Having given this commission Jesus ascended to heaven, there to be a merciful and faithful high priest, an advocate with the Father for his people.

As he ascended from them the disciples became aware that two angelic beings were standing by them. They brought a message, a message that has been the central feature of all Christian teach­ing ever since. “Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye looking into heaven? This Jesus, which was received up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye beheld him going into heaven.” No words could be used which would more simply, or more explicitly, convey the idea that Jesus of Nazareth must come back to the earth to fulfil all the things predicted of him, to raise the dead, to act as a judge, because the Father has com­mitted all judgment to the Son, to possess the Land of Promise as the Seed of Abraham, and to sit as a king upon the throne of David in accord­ance with the covenant concerning the sure mercies of David.

This is an exceedingly brief account of the most important chapter in the whole of the God-Spell, or Story. But from this chapter it will be seen that Jesus was I, The Seed of the woman; 2, The Seed of Abraham; 3, The Prophet like unto Moses; 4, The Antitype of the lambs slain under the Mosaic Law; 5, David’s greater Son; 6, Immanuel (God with us), for “God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself”; 7, The Branch of the Lord; 8, The Lord our Righteousness. Thus all the Old Testament lines of promise and prophecy converge in him who was the Word made flesh.

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