|Witness of John the Apostle|
|Leaving Cana of Galilee, we went to Capernaum for a short visit. Accompanying us to this busy seaside town were the mother and brethren of Jesus. He was tender in his affection to them, but they seemed to misunderstand his mission regarding divine things. Even though they had known him during most of his earthly life, it didn't seem to penetrate their minds that his loyalty to them would be best manifested through his completely undivided loyalty to his heavenly Father. |
At no time did he manifest shame regarding their humbleness, nor impatience for their misunderstandings. When the hour came for his bidding them adieu, we joined him and journeyed up to Jerusalem.
The ancient and annual festival of Passover was at hand. This feast was instituted during the night when the battle of Moses and Pharaoh came to a climax. Our Hebrew forefathers had been commanded by Moses to take from the flock a male of the first year.
It was to have no blemishes. It was to be selected from either the sheep or the goats on the tenth day of the first month and kept in a pen until the evening of the fourteenth day, at which time they were to slay it.
Part of its blood was to be sprinkled with hyssop on the two door posts and the lintel of the house in which they lived. Its flesh was to be cooked only by roasting and eaten with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. It was to be roasted with its head and its legs and not a bone of its body was to be broken. Our forefathers were to eat the meal in haste and be prepared for departure from Egypt any moment with their loins girded, with sandals on their feet, and with staffs in their hands.
Great emphasis was placed upon the importance of striking the door posts and the lintel with the animal's blood. It was a symbol of faith and obedience by those who applied it. It also became the protective agency that preserved Israel's firstborn. For it was that famous night that the destroying angel of the Lord passed over and destroyed the firstborn in every family where the blood was not found. The day following was the time when our Hebrew nation was thrust out of bondage into liberty.
Because of its importance, it was to be commemorated generation after generation forever. It was to observe this Passover Feast that we made our way up to Jerusalem.
At least a month before the Passover, our nation came alive with activated interest in preparing for this annual occasion. Bridges and roads were repaired for the welcomed festive pilgrims who came on camel and donkey trains from the lands of the Eastern and Western dispersions. Sepulchres were whitewashed and clearly distinguished to prevent accidental pollution to the pilgrim worshippers.
Some made this the festival in which they tithed of their flocks and hers. Others attended early for the purpose of completing Levitical purification.
One month in advance the authorized money changers opened their stalls in almost every village of Judaea where they exchanged the sacred half shekel on terms well to their financial advantage.
The annual Temple tribute had to be paid for all men twenty years old and up. No coin bearing the image of a foreign prince, a Caesar, or any idolatrous symbol could be offered in the sacred worship of Jehovah.
The Temple tax could only be the half shekel and it was offered as a redemption price for the souls of both rich and poor. From the 15thto the 25thAdar, the moneychangers kept busy in the country-town of Galilee, Perea, and Judaea. On the latter date, they closed stalls and moved to the big money market in Jerusalem where they established their shops within the precincts of the Temple.
The moneychangers made gain not only on the exchange for the required half shekel for worship, but they made gain on their changing foreign currency for other Temple expenditures, on the votive offerings of foreign Jews, on the sale and inspection of sacrifices, plus a dozen other practices that had actually made our Temple worship obnoxious to our common people and distasteful to many members of both the Pharisees and Sadducees.
It had long been concluded that little could be done to correct these Temple vices because Annas, the high priest, and his family controlled them.
Annas was a great hoarder of money who had made himself rich by exploiting the poor and by taking unscrupulous advantage of worshippers who were required by sacred law to offer approved animals as well as the half shekel.
This family kept itself entrenched in the favor of the ruling Romans by sharing with them their gains. Luxury, gluttony, evil whispering and cruelty were terms often used by the common people to describe this family.
That which made this family so extremely repugnant was the fact that they had selected the Temple precincts as the central place where they directed their nefarious traffic. Actually the Temple was more like a den of robbers than a house of worship.
I was delighted to be back in Jerusalem, back in the city of great kings, a city around which Hebrew history revolved. And to be here with Jesus, Israel's new Messiah King, was a joy that elated my heart with throbs of praise which sent me through the narrow streets telling all my old acquaintances about him whom my soul had so recently learned to love and admire.
To my surprise others from Galilee were spreading the news of Jesus and when he came to the Temple, not a few were there to catch a glimpse of him.
We followed him through one of the large court gates into the courtyard. He approached the Temple by way of the brazen altar where he paused to observe the burning of the morning sacrifice. At the base of the altar we saw the mouth of the aqueduct through which a river of blood had flowed during the past centuries. From here he went to the porch of the Temple and then into the Court of the Gentiles.
We heard the lowing of cattle, the bleating of sheep, the cooing of doves. Above all we heard the chatter of men bartering at the marts. Some were skillful and shrewd; others loud and boisterous; some angry and disgusted. The barnyard stench mingled with smoking incense from the Holy Place and the burning flesh of the sacrifice produced a sickening odor.
At first Jesus observed the whole affair with restrained quietness. Gradually his facial expression changed from pleasantness to indignation. His forehead was crumpled into ridges as his eyes flashed like blazes of fire.
Though he was angry at their wickedness and corruption, he at no time lost control of his emotions or belittled his dignity. He plaited a whip of small cords and went directly to the stalls of the cattle and sheep. Having let them loose, he opened the doors of the pigeons and doves.
The running of animals and the flying of birds attracted the attention of the Temple officials. They, with the increasing multitude, followed him to the tables of the moneychangers where he poured out their money and overturned their tables. With stern rebuke he informed them that his Father's house should be a house of prayer, but they had made it a den of thieves and a house of trade.
The people rejoiced to see a lone person dare to stand against the wicked and lucrative bazaars of the sons of Annas, against the cowardly Temple officials, and even against the authorities of Rome. The common people were happy. The priests were disturbed. The moneychangers were awe-stricken and angry, but dared not oppose him openly or start a riot. Fearing both the people and the Romans, the Jewish Temple officials finally stepped forward and merely raised a question.
They asked, "By what authority do you do these things?"
Jesus gave a strange and unusual answer, "Destroy this Temple, and in three days I will raise it up."
The Jews said, "It has taken forty-six years to build this Temple, and will you raise it up in three days?"
Their questions were thin veils to their motives of greed and self-centered sin loving. Their guilty conscience bore witness to the rightness of his cleansing the Temple, but they would dispose of their guilt by casting reflection on Jesus in the minds of the people. If possible, they would minimize and sweep away his good by challenging his authority and demanding a sign.
Wicked and adulterous was this generation and who could see through their hypocrisy more completely or more quickly than Jesus? Their questions were their first reactions, but Jesus' answer was a parabolic prophecy of their last reactions. The battle lines were drawn between Jesus and the Jewish officials and neither side would change. This was the beginning that ultimately led to the tragic end.
His cleansing the Temple occurred on the day preceding the beginning of our festive Paschal week at the time when the homes of Israel were purged of all leaven. He did for his Father's house what the head of each home was required to do for his own house.
They were to cleanse thoroughly their houses from all evil and leaven which was a necessary prerequisite to their properly observing the activities of this festive season. The house cleaning was the beginning of the Passover week for the Jewish family, and so it was for Jesus.
At night, Jesus came to my home. During the days he went into the streets, into the Temple and courtyard, into the houses. He willingly taught all who would listen to his words.
Out of his merciful heart he extended love to the downtrodden, consolation to the emotionally disturbed, peace of mind to the mentally perplexed, forgiveness to those who had soul guilt, and healing to the physically sick. His was a busy week of deeds and miracles.
Among those who were impressed by his cleansing the Temple and by his miracles was the distinguished Rabbi Nicodemus who was a member of the Sanhedrin Court and a Pharisee. By nature he was cautious and timid. In character he was sincere, honest, and fair-minded. He desired to talk personally with Jesus, but in his way were hindrances.
The city of Jerusalem was in a buzz of opinion regarding Jesus. The leaders were opposing him. The common people were listening gladly to him. Lending his influence so a new teacher from Galilee could be damaging, if not disastrous, to the reputation of the great Sanhedrist.
Nevertheless, an inward conviction along with a deeply disturbed lack of spiritual security compelled him to seek an appointment to meet Jesus secretly by night. Through me he made the appointment which was to be at my home.
The spring night was young, yet extremely dark, when Nicodemus ventured from his home into the narrow streets. It was at a time when superstition demanded men to be housed in their homes with their families.
Gusty winds tugged at his garments as he trekked his way to the appointment. Arriving, he took the outer stair to the upper room where he found Jesus by a table meditating in the flickering light of a candle.
I was present when these two men met and was permitted to remain during their conversation. I was excited and hopeful that possibly Jesus would persuade Nicodemus to join our cause and become a disciple. How wonderful his conversion would be, and how great would be the influence that he could exert among the leading Jewish officials.
But Jesus did not share my excitement. His politeness was only ordinary. He showed no eagerness to persuade, no desire to influence unduly, no disposition to compromise, and no immoderate accommodation.
He did not assume the role of a superior, nor an inferior teacher. He did not condescend, condemn, or express irony.
His personality in the presence of the great Nicodemus was as it was in his absence: calm, dignified, and sure. Quietly he observed the visitor as he entered and waited for him to open the conversation.
Nicodemus said to him, "Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him."
Jesus answered him, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born anew he cannot see the kingdom of God."
Nicodemus said to him, "How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born?"
Jesus answered, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, 'You must be born anew.' The wind blows where it wills and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know whence it comes or whither it goes; so it is with every one who is born of the Spirit.
Nicodemus said to him, "How can this be?"
Jesus answered him, "Are you a teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand this? Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know and bear witness to what we have seen; but you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven but he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And as Moses lifted up the servant in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life."
The discussion of the two continued until late in the night.
Both of them were considering the Kingdom of God and how one could enter it, but their concepts were completely different.
Nicodemus had believed and taught that the Kingdom of God was attained by one's taking upon himself willingly and meticulously the life of obedience to the letter of the law, that additional meritorious blessings would be accrued when he strictly observed the traditions of the elders, that genuine progress toward the kingdom would be gained through mental and moral discipline, self-improvement, self-development, self-restraint, willing submission to one's higher ideals, developing pure morals, and following aesthetic altruism.
He believed that through one's laborious progression toward the good, he would somewhere cross the line of justification and thus attain membership in the Kingdom. But where and when one crossed the line, Nicodemus did not know. This disturbed him with uncertainty, doubt, and inward fear.
Jesus taught that one could not see, nor become a subject of the Kingdom of God through human achievement, through the will of the flesh, or through noble and purposeful self-development. There was no price one could pay, no gifts one could make, no sacrifices one could perform that would merit one's being in the Kingdom of God.
Rather Jesus taught that it was an act of God's Spirit, quite beyond the grasp of human reach, by which divine life was breathed into the human soul. It was a spiritual birth directed from above that brought the dead and wayward soul into living relationships with its creator.
This unattainable reach of man, but simple act of God, placed one not only in a position to see, but to enjoy the realities of citizenship in the Kingdom of God. Conditions for attaining the new birth and an entrance into the Kingdom were partially proclaimed by John the Baptist.
He led men through repentance to the door of the Kingdom, which was a necessary prerequisite to the new birth.
When one was brought to the door, he then entered by steps of faith in which he submitted willingly heart, mind, and life to the Divine King of the New Kingdom. At the time of entrance a moral renovation and the forgiveness of sins occurred, guilt vanished, and a new set of values and different life objectives were adopted.
Just before Nicodemus left, I detected question marks in his face. He realized that Jesus was a teacher sent from God and that his statements were true, but he could not understand how one could be born again, how the Spirit and the wind were alike in actions, why his approach to the eternal through fleshly attempts was insufficient, and what connection the lifting up of the serpent in the wilderness had with the Son of Man.
Finally he bid us adieu and left in a state of confusion. As he walked the dark and narrow streets of our beloved old city on this gusty spring night, only a few rays of light broke in upon his brilliant and deeply philosophical mind.
He at that time did not fully realize that "God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life."
Having concluded the activities of his first visit to Jerusalem after I met him, Jesus decided to go into the hill country of Judaea to advocate the truth of the New Kingdom.
I became amazed at the excited interest of the people. Their flocking about him reminded me of the great preaching successes of John the Baptist. Actually, many of them were very definitely influenced by John's preaching. They believed that his baptism was of God and upon their repenting, they requested the rite of baptism as he had administered it. Jesus also agreed that his baptism was of God and suggested that we, his disciples, administer this service to them.
When information reached the disciples of John, that we were baptizing more followers than did John and that greater crowds were following Jesus, they were concerned for the honor and cause of their leader.
Their concern was intensified because the popularity of the Baptist was declining and to their sight no visible results were permanently established. Numbers of those who, like myself, had previously followed John were now turning to follow the instructions of Jesus. This shift of interest and the turning of the people led the disciples of the Baptist to draw his attention to the change.
His reactions to their concern were spiritually superb. He manifested the same noble attitude with which he had previously directed me to the Lamb of God. Meekly he informed them that the influence and work of Jesus would continue to increase while his would decrease, that there was full joy in the setting sun of his day and nothing pleased him more than to see the fulfillment of that for which he had so long labored and waited.
He had passed the peak of his popularity. The radiant flame of his fame was diminishing. His voice no longer held sway over the masses and soon the soldiers of Herod would apprehend him and choke his voice into silence behind the gray walls of prison.
Neither Herod nor Salome would allow their sins to be condemned publicly by John without their administering severe retaliation.
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