|Witness of John the Apostle|
|Our whole country was excited. Everywhere people were talking of a new king. The preaching of John the Baptist had accelerated their interest. I was one of the multitudes sharing this feeling and vitally concerned. I was present when Jesus returned from his wilderness temptations and heard John the Baptist say, "Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world."|
My father, Zebedee, was a fisherman who married Salome, the sister of Mary, the mother of Jesus. This means that James, my older brother, and I were first cousins to Jesus. Our acquaintance with him was rather limited since he lived in Nazareth and we in Bethsaida near the Sea of Galilee.
Fishing was my trade. Religiously, I followed the views of my parents. Politically, I leaned toward the zealots, but was never active for lack of opportunity. Educationally, I was trained in our hometown synagogue, was taught as a pupil by Nicodemus in Jerusalem with James, my brother, and Judas Iscariot.
Early in the ministry of John the Baptist, my brother and I were attracted and we became supporters of his cause. In temperament I was eager and vehement in my affections and at times controlled by ill-instructed ambitions and undisciplined zeal. Brother James and I both were married relatively young in harmony with the wish of our parents and the custom of the Pharisees. With the financial aid of my father I established a home in Jerusalem which became a headquarters for our relatives, especially during the great festivals.
My religious interest dated back to my earliest memories. Every year my father, Zebedee, took his entire family to the great feasts in Jerusalem where we strictly observed the Passover and made our trespass and sin offerings according to the Levitical law. During these visits we had an opportunity to observe the white robed priests as they prepared and offered the morning and evening sacrifices. We often stood by the great brazen altar as the sacrifices burned and felt that our sins along with the sins of our nation were being atoned for at least twice daily.
It was while we were there observing the festival of Pentecost that we met Rabbi Nicodemus. He had been recommended to my father as one of the outstanding teachers in Israel. Our frequent visits to Jerusalem enlivened our religious interests and acquainted us with the Temple, the high priest, the worship, the music, and the law. Occasionally we had the privilege of observing the Sanhedrin Court in action. We saw the learned rabbis robed in academic garments significant of their scholarly achievements.
We heard them discuss the legality of pertinent religious issues. Impressive also were the pupils of these noble rabbis who freely joined in the discussions.
My feeling in all these things was very keen. I desired to be a pupil of some distinguished rabbi and to be associated with the people, the places, and the things which were cherished and honored most highly. Visions of my being a rabbi some day penetrated and persisted in my thinking.
It was my father, Zebedee, who upon learning of my interest, made plans with a very distinguished rabbi. Their agreement was simple. My father promised to supply food and currency. The rabbi agreed to keep James and me in his home and teach us in his way. His name was Nicodemus.
Our education under his instructions became far more difficult than I ever anticipated. We arose, in an adjoining room, early each morning only minutes after Rabbi Nicodemus' feet touched the floor. Before our breakfast of honey, butter, wheat cereal, milk and figs, it was his custom to assemble us for a season of reading from the Law of Moses, or from the writings of one of the prophets. After breakfast we were admonished to follow him everywhere. This we did.
We accompanied him to the market places, to the meeting houses of the learned, to the Temple, to the assembly of the Sanhedrin Court, to his library, and to his small classroom. We met the merchants and traders, the rabbis and priests, the scribes and Pharisees, soldiers and publicans, the rich and the poor. We learned history and law, prophecy and poetry, customs and traditions, politics and government.
Nicodemus was a keen observer with deep insights into the Scripture and into the religious trends of our day. He was dignified in appearance, well versed in many branches of knowledge, a fair minded and skillful debater, a respected ruler, a good provider for his family and pupils, and a deeply religious Pharisee.
I shall always appreciate him for the years of training that he gave me.
Soon after the establishment of my home in Jerusalem, John the Baptist came preaching. Upon the suggestion of Nicodemus, I went as an observer to report on the messages and movement of this new wilderness preacher. Nicodemus was favorably impressed with what I reported about John, but disagreed kindly regarding the necessity of repentance and baptism. He thought it would be good for James and me, but personally he felt no need either for repentance or baptism.
My observations of John the Baptist continued; so did my interest and faith. I became absolutely convinced that his messages were true and that the kingdom of heaven was at hand, that soon the king would appear with his battle axe to strike the root of the trees, that to be ready for his coming I must obey the voice of the Baptizer. I obeyed and became a zealous promoter of these new views believing that quickly good and righteous things would occur.
Almost every other purpose and interest of mine receded into nothingness and vanished from my attention.
John the Baptist had the message. His was the battle cry of the hour and I could not afford to miss one message, not even one word. I went to his services early and stayed late. I observed the masses as they came to the Jordan River from Perea, from Samaria, from the hill country of Judaea, from the cities around the Sea of Galilee, and from aristocratic Jerusalem. Young and old, rich and poor learned and simple, Pharisees and Sadducees, publicans and soldiers, rabbis and elders assembled in his congregation as eager listeners.
I saw them quiet themselves into a breathless silence as he took his stone platform and began to preach. His words came slowly at first as though he had poured over every sentence through hours of intensive research. As he quickened the tempo, his voice became clear like a trumpet. Some nodded their heads in the affirmative while others were motionless opened eyed and stone-faced. Some wept and all agreed that this man was of God. They were swayed by his power like leaves by the breeze. At the close of his messages, I heard them confess their sins and saw them baptized in the muddy waters of Jordan.
I was present when the representative group from Jerusalem came to question John the Baptist as to who he was. Some of them I knew personally since I had seen them in the circles of the learned. They came on Thursday.
It was in the early springtime of the year when the leaves were unfolding from their buds and the countryside was tinted with its first greenery. I stayed until after their departure and talked with the preacher about them. He seemed appreciative and asked me to return on the following day.
The following day was an active Friday in which the Baptizer enthusiastically proclaimed the requirements of repentance. His service was brief, but spirited. The response of the people was effective as usual, and then came his dismissal.
As the people were melting away I turned just in time to see John the Baptist as though he were gripped in a vice. He was motionless, tense, and worshipful in his gaze. Joining with him I, too, beheld a lone person approaching as the others were departing.
I heard the Baptist say, "This is he on whom I saw the Spirit descend as a dove from heaven and it remained on him. Previously, I myself did not know him; but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, 'He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.' And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God."
As to where Jesus went from the scene and why these two leading personalities did not engage in conversation I do not know. It was the following day when most of the people were attending Sabbath services in the synagogues that I took a friend, Andrew, with me to investigate the meaning of John's announcement about this new person. We arrived at the scene near the River Jordan in the early part of the morning.
At about ten o'clock, just at the moment when we were ready to quiz John, our attention was attracted by this lone person. He was walking. We heard John say, "Behold, the Lamb of God!"
We did not think to request leave of the Baptist, nor did Jesus beckon us to follow. It was an irresistible impulse, a heavenly instinct that set our feet to follow his steps. It was in modest silence that we approached, scarce knowing why, but inwardly feeling that life and death depended on every step. He turned himself about, and waiting, observed us as we stalked awkwardly into his presence. His penetrating gaze left us feeling that he knew more about us than we knew about ourselves.
He said to us, "What do you seek?"
We answered, "Rabbi, where are you staying?"
He said, "Come and you shall see."
We went. We saw. He conquered. Where we went, what we saw, and the things we heard wrought changes in me and my thinking for life and eternity. It was a dream, a dream now in reality that we were actually in the presence of the Person for whom Israel had so long awaited.
Our stay with him was brief when we concluded without question that this was indeed the Messiah about whom Moses and the prophets wrote. Our joy was more than we could contain. Before the day was over we requested leave of him to find our brothers.
Andrew and I sprinted away in quest for our brothers. We were experiencing the breaking dawn of a new day. We felt as though we had just unearthed hidden treasures with unlimited values, had discovered the greatest secret of the ages, had beheld the rarest truth ever revealed, had come into possession of a clean slate in life and character, eternal life with all of its splendor of freeing one from sin.
We had found the Messiah who knew what we were seeking, had gained life, fear, and death, who knew how to satisfy our inward soul longings in our desire for peace and happiness.
Now we could announce that Israel's Messiah is here and that we know him personally. It is too good to be true, too noble to tell, but we must tell!
Where could we find James and Simon? Andrew and I parted. He went to the place where he would most likely find Simon and I did the same in searching for James.
Andrew found Simon first and took him to Jesus only minutes before James and I returned. Upon our arrival we heard Jesus say, "So you are Simon, the son of John? You shall be called Cephas" (which means Peter). Simon Peter and James became as elated and amazed as Andrew and I.
With Jesus we four, rejoicing at his answers, spent the rest of this Sabbath asking questions. We were his first converts and he seemed actually more interested in us than we were in him, if such were possible. We learned that he planned to go to Jerusalem, but he considered it more befitting first to go to Galilee.
He thought it advisable to acquaint us with himself and his work. He could best do so by taking us with him to Galilee.
It was the next day, Sunday, that he planned to make the trip from Bethabara to Cana, a distance of twenty miles. Just as final details were being completed for our leaving, we saw Jesus beckon to a friend of Andrew and Simon. He was Philip of Bethsaida, who lived in their hometown.
Jesus invited Philip to follow him. He welcomed him to take the journey with us to Galilee. Philip was not reluctant, but inquisitive. From his analytical mind poured a volley of questions. He wanted to know where he grew up? Who was his father? Was he the one about whom Moses prophesied? The one spoken of in the law? Could he be the fulfillment of the prophecy given by Isaiah?
As Jesus carefully and kindly answered each question, Philip became more and more convinced. I saw his face as his expression changed from one of honest questions to faith and assurance. He believed every answer and became overjoyed to be numbered as the fifth person to join our party.
Walking was our mode of travel and we enjoyed every minute of it. The early spring breeze during this bright morning was invigorating. However, neither walking nor the weather preoccupied our minds. We were engrossed in the meaning of all this.
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