(St. John vii.1-16; St. Luke ix.1-56; 57-62; St. Matthew viii.19-22.)
THE part in the Evangelic History which we have now reached has this peculiarity and difficulty, that the events are now recorded by only one of the Evangelists. The section in St. Luke's Gospel from chapter ix.51 to chapter xviii.14 stands absolutely alone. From the circumstance that St. Luke omits throughout his narrative all notation of time or place, the difficulty of arranging here the chronological succession of events is so great, that we can only suggest what seems most probable, without feeling certain of the details. Happily, the period embraced is a short one, while at the same time the narrative of St. Luke remarkably fits into that of St. John. St. John mentions three appearances of Christ in Jerusalem at that period: at the Feast of Tabernacles, at that of the Dedication, and His final entry, which is referred to by all the other Evangelists. But, while the narrative of St. John confines itself exclusively to what happened in Jerusalem or its immediate neighborhood. it also either mentions or gives sufficient indication that on two out of these three occasions Jesus left Jerusalem for the country east of the Jordan (St. John x.19-21; St. John x.39-43, where the words in ver.39, they sought again to take Him,' point to a previous similar attempt and flight). Besides these, St. John also records a journey to Bethany - though not to Jerusalem - for the raising of Lazarus, and after that a council against Christ in Jerusalem, in consequence of which He withdrew out of Judæan territory into a district near the wilderness' - as we infer, that in the north, where John had been baptizing and Christ been tempted, and whither He had afterwards withdrawn. We regard this wilderness' as on the western bank of the Jordan, and extending northward towards the eastern shore of the Lake of Galilee.
If St. John relates three appearances of Jesus at this time in Jerusalem, St. Luke records three journeys to Jerusalem, the last of which agrees, in regard to its starting point, with the notices of the other Evangelists, always supposing that we have correctly indicated the locality of the wilderness' whither, according to St. John xi.54, Christ retired previous to His last journey to Jerusalem. In this respect, although it is impossible with our present information to localise the City of Ephraim,' the statement that it was near the wilderness,' affords us sufficient general notice of its situation. For, the New Testament speaks of only two wilderness,' that of Judæa in the far South, and that in the far North of Peræa, or perhaps in the Decapolis, to which St. Luke refers as the scene of the Baptist's labours, where Jesus was tempted, and whither He afterwards withdrew. We can, therefore, have little doubt that St. John refers to this district. And this entirely accords with the notices by the other Evangelists of Christ's last journey to Jerusalem, as through the borders of Galilee and Samaria, and then across the Jordan, and by Bethany to Jerusalem.
It follows (as previously stated) that St. Luke's account of the three journeys to Jerusalem fits into the narrative of Christ's three appearances in Jerusalem as described by St. John. And the unique section in St. Luke supplies the record of what took place before, during, and after those journeys, of which the upshot is told by St. John. This much seems certain; the exact chronological succession must be, in part, matter of suggestion. But we have now some insight into the plan of St. Luke's Gospel, as compared with that of the others. We see that St. Luke forms a kind of transition, is a sort of connecting link between the other two Synoptists and St. John. This is admitted even by negative critics. The Gospel by St. Matthew has for its main object the Discourses or teaching of the Lord, around which the History groups itself. It is intended as a demonstration, primarily addressed to the Jews, and in a form peculiarly suited to them, that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of the Living God. The Gospel by St. Mark is a rapid survey of the History of the Christ as such. It deals mainly with the Galilean Ministry. The Gospel by St. John, which gives the highest, the reflective, view of the Eternal Son as the Word, deals almost exclusively with the Jerusalem Ministry. And the Gospel by St. Luke complements the narratives in the other two Gospels (St. Matthew and St. Mark), and it supplements them by tracing, what is not done otherwise: the Ministry in Peroea. Thus, it also forms a transition to the Fourth Gospel of the Judæan Ministry. If we may venture a step further: The Gospel by St. Mark gives the general view of the Christ; that by St. Matthew the Jewish, that by St. Luke the Gentile, and that by St. John the Church's view. Imagination might, indeed, go still further, and see the impress of the number five - that of the Pentateuch and the Book of Psalms - in the First Gospel; the numeral four (that of the world) in the Second Gospel (4x4=16 chapters); that of three in the Third (8x3=24 chapters); and that of seven, the sacred Church number, in the Fourth Gospel (7x3=21 chapters). And perhaps we might even succeed in arranging the Gospels into corresponding sections. But this would lead, not only beyond our present task, but from solid history and exegesis into the regions of speculation.
The subject, then, primarily before us, is the journeying of Jesus to Jerusalem. In that wider view which St. Luke takes of this whole history, he presents what really were three separate journeys as one - that towards the great end. In its conscious aim and object, all - from the moment of His finally quitting Galilee to His final Entry into Jerusalem - formed, in the highest sense, only one journey And this St. Luke designates in a peculiar manner. Just as he had spoken, not of Christ's Death but of His Exodus,' or outgoing, which included His Resurrection and Ascension, so he now tells us that, when the days of His uptaking' - including and pointing to His Ascension - were being fulfilled, He also steadfastly set His Face to go to Jerusalem.'
St. John, indeed, goes farther back, and speaks of the circumstances which preceded His journey to Jerusalem. There is an interval, or, as we might term it, a blank, of more than half a year between the last narrative in the Fourth Gospel and this. For, the events chronicled in the sixth chapter of St. John's Gospel took place immediately before the Passover, which was on the fifteenth day of the first ecclesiastical month (Nisan), while the Feast of Tabernacle began on the same day of the seventh ecclesiastical month (Tishri). But, except in regard to the commencement of Christ's Ministry, that sixth chapter is the only one in the Gospel of St. John which refers to the Galilean Ministry of Christ. We would suggest, that what it records is partly intended to exhibit, by the side of Christ's fully developed teaching, the fully developed enmity of the Jerusalem Scribes, which led even to the defection of many former disciples. Thus, chapter vi. would be a connecting-link (both as regards the teaching of Christ and the opposition to Him) between chapter v., which tells of His visit at the Unknown Feast,' and chapter vii., which records that at the Feast of Tabernacles. The six or seven months between the Feast of Passover and that of Tabernacles, and all that passed within them, are covered by this brief remark: After these things Jesus walked in Galilee: for He would not walk in Judæa, because the Jews [the leaders of the people ] sought to kill Him.'
But now the Feast of Tabernacles was at hand. The pilgrims would probably arrive in Jerusalem before the opening day of the Festival. For, besides the needful preparations - which would require time, especially on this Feast, when booths had to be constructed in which to live during the festive week - it was (as we remember) the common practice to offer such sacrifices as might have previously become due at any of the great Feasts to which the people might go up. Remembering that five months had elapsed since the last great Feast (that of Weeks), many such sacrifices must have been due. Accordingly, the ordinary festive companies of pilgrims, which would travel slowly, must have started from Galilee some time before the beginning of the Feast. These circumstances fully explain the details of the narrative. They also afford another most painful illustration of the loneliness of Christ in His Work. His disciples had failed to understand, they misapprehended His teaching. In the near prospect of His Death they either displayed gross ignorance, or else disputed about their future rank. And His own brethren' did not believe in Him. The whole course of late events, especially the unmet challenge of the Scribes for a sign from heaven,' had deeply shaken them. What was the purpose of works,' if done in the privacy of the circle of Christ's Apostles, in a house, a remote district, or even before an ignorant multitude? If, claiming to be the Messiah, He wished to be openly known as such, He must use other means. If He really did these things, let Him manifest Himself before the world - in Jerusalem, the capital of their world, and before those who could test the reality of His Works. Let Him come forward, at one of Israel's great Feasts, in the Temple, and especially at this Feast which pointed to the Messianic ingathering of all nations. Let Him now go up with them in the festive company into Judæa, that so His disciples - not the Galileans only - but all, might have the opportunity of gazing' on His Works.
As the challenge was not new, so, from the worldly point of view, it can scarcely be called unreasonable. It is, in fact, the same in principle as that to which the world would now submit the claims of Christianity to men's acceptance. It has only this one fault, that it ignores the world's enmity to the Christ. Discipleship is not the result of any outward manifestation by evidences' or demonstration. It requires the conversion of a child-like spirit. To manifest Himself! This truly would He do, though not in their way. For this the season' had not yet come, though it would soon arrive. Their season' - that for such Messianic manifestations as they contemplated - was always ready.' And this naturally, for the world' could not hate' them; they and their demonstrations were quite in accordance with the world and its views. But towards Him the world cherished personal hatred, because of their contrariety of principle, because Christ was manifested, not to restore an earthly kingdom to Israel, but to bring the Heavenly Kingdom upon earth - to destroy the works of the Devil.' Hence, He must provoke the enmity of that world which lay in the Wicked One. Another manifestation than that which they sought would He make, when His season was fulfilled;' soon, beginning at this very Feast, continued at the next, and completed at the last Passover; such manifestation of Himself as the Christ, as could alone be made in view of the essential enmity of the world.
And so He let them go up in the festive company, while Himself tarried. When the noise and publicity (which He wished to avoid) were no longer to be apprehended, He also went up, but privately, not publicly, as they had suggested. Here St. Luke's account begins. It almost reads like a commentary on what the Lord had just said to His brethren, about the enmity of the world, and His mode of manifestation - who would not, and who would receive Him, and why. He came unto His own, and His own received Him not. But as many as received Him, to them gave He power to become children of God . . . which were born . . . of God.'
The first purpose of Christ seems to have been to take the more direct road to Jerusalem, through Samaria, and not to follow that of the festive pilgrim-bands, which travelled to Jerusalem through Peræa, in order to avoid the band of their hated rivals. But His intention was soon frustrated. In the very first Samaritan village to which the Christ had sent beforehand to prepare for Himself and His company, His messengers were told that the Rabbi could not be received; that neither hospitality nor friendly treatment could be extended to One Who was going up to the Feast at Jerusalem. The messengers who brought back this strangely un-Oriental answer met the Master and His followers on the road. It was not only an outrage on common manners, but an act of open hostility to Israel, as well as to Christ, and the Sons of Thunder,' whose feelings for their Master were, perhaps, the more deeply stirred as opposition to Him grew more fierce, proposed to vindicate the cause, alike of Israel and its Messiah-King, by the open and Divine judgment of fire called down from heaven to destroy that village. Did they in this connection think of the vision of Elijah, ministering to Christ on the Mount of Transfiguration - and was this their application of it? Truly, they knew not of what Spirit they were to be the children and messengers. He Who had come, not to destroy, but to save, turned and rebuked them, and passed from Samaritan into Jewish territory to pursue His journey. Perhaps, indeed, He had only passed into Samaria to teach His disciples this needful lesson. The view of this event just presented seems confirmed by the circumstance, that St. Matthew lays the scene immediately following on the other side' - that is, in the Decapolis.
It was a journey of deepest interest and importance. For, it was decisive not only as regarded the Master, but those who followed Him. Henceforth it must not be, as in former times, but wholly and exclusively, as into suffering and death. It is thus that we view the next three incidents of the way. Two of them find, also, a place in the Gospel by St. Matthew, although in a different connection, in accordance with the plan of that Gospel, which groups together the Teaching of Christ, with but secondary attention to chronological succession.
It seems that, as, after the rebuff of these Samaritans, they were going' towards another, and a Jewish village, one' of the company, and, as we learn from St. Matthew, a Scribe,' in the generous enthusiasm of the moment - perhaps, stimulated by the wrong of the Samaritans, perhaps, touched by the love which would rebuke the zeal of the disciples, but had no word of blame for the unkindness of others - broke into a spontaneous declaration of readiness to follow Him absolutely and everywhere. Like the benediction of the woman who heard Him, it was one of these outbursts of an enthusiasm which His Presence awakened in every susceptible heart. But there was one eventuality which that Scribe, and all of like enthusiasm, reckoned not with - the utter homelessness of the Christ in this world - and this, not from accidental circumstances, but because He was the Son of Man.' And there is here also material for still deeper thought in the fact that this man was a Scribe,' and yet had not gone up to the Feast, but tarried near Christ - was one' of those that followed Him now, and was capable of such feelings! How many whom we regard as Scribes, may be in analogous relation to the Christ, and yet how much of fair promise has failed to ripen into reality in view of the homelessness of Christ and Christianity in this world - the stranger ship of suffering which it involves to those who would follow, not somewhere, but absolutely, and everywhere?
The intenseness of the self-denial involved in following Christ, and its contrariety to all that was commonly received among men, was, purposely, immediately further brought out. This Scribe had proffered to follow Jesus. Another of his disciples He asked to follow Him, and that in circumstances of peculiar trail and difficulty. The expression to follow' a Teacher would, in those days be universally understood as implying discipleship. Again, no other duty would be regarded as more sacred than that they, on whom the obligation naturally devolved, should bury the dead. To this everything must give way - even prayer, and the study of the Law. Lastly, we feel morally certain, that, when Christ called this disciple to follow Him, He was fully aware that at that very moment his father lay dead. Thus, He called him not only to homelessness - for this he might have been prepared - but to set aside what alike natural feeling and the Jewish Law seemed to impose on him as the most sacred duty. In the seemingly strange reply, which Christ made to the request to be allowed first to bury his father, we pass over the consideration that, according to Jewish law, the burial and mourning for a dead father, and the subsequent purifications, would have occupied many days, so that it might have been difficult, perhaps impossible, to overtake Christ. We would rather abide by the simple words of Christ. They teach us this very solemn and searching lesson, that there are higher duties than either those of the Jewish Law, or even of natural reverence, and a higher call than that of man. No doubt Christ had here in view the near call to the Seventy - of whom this disciple was to be one - to go and preach the Kingdom of God.' When the direct call of Christ to any work comes - that is, if we are sure of it from His own words, and not (as, alas! too often we do) only infer it by our own reasoning on His words - then every other call must give way. For, duties can never be in conflict - and this duty about the living and life must take precedence of that about death and the dead. Nor must we hesitate, because we know not in what form this work for Christ may come. There are critical moments in our inner history, when to postpone the immediate call, is really to reject it; when to go and bury the dead - even though it were a dead father - were to die ourselves!
Yet another hindrance to following Christ was to be faced. Another in the company that followed Christ would go with Him, but he asked permission first to go and bid farewell to those whom he had left in his home. It almost seems as if this request had been one of those tempting' questions, addressed to Christ. But, even if otherwise, the farewell proposed was not like that of Elisha, nor like the supper of Levi-Matthew. It was rather like the year which Jephtha's daughter would have with her companions, ere fulfilling the vow. It shows, that to follow Christ was regarded as a duty, and to leave those in the earthly home as a trial; and it betokens, not merely a divided heart, but one not fit for the Kingdom of God. For, how can he draw a straight furrow in which to cast the seed, who, as he puts his hand to the plough, looks around or behind him?
Thus, these are the three vital conditions of following Christ: absolute self-denial and homelessness in the world; immediate and entire self-surrender to Christ and His Work, and a heart and affections simple, undivided, and set on Christ and His Work, to which there is no other trial of parting like that which would involve parting from Him, no other or higher joy than that of following Him. In such spirit let them now go after Christ in His last journey - and to such work as He will appoint them!