Then came the second stage, the aggressive rejection.
This is the plotting stage. Their hot passion is cooling now into a hardening purpose. This has been shaping itself under the surface for months. Now it is open. This was a crowded year for Jesus, and a year of crowds. The Galileans had been in His southern audiences many a time and seen His miracles. The news of His coming up north to their country swiftly spread everywhere. The throngs are so great that the towns and villages are blockaded, and Jesus has recourse to the fields, where the people gather in untold thousands.
An ominous incident occurs at the very beginning of this Galilean work. It is a fine touch of character that Jesus at once pays a visit to His home village. One always thinks more of Him for that. He never forgot the home folk. The synagogue service on the Sabbath day gathers the villagers together. Jesus takes the teacher's place, and reads, from Isaiah, a bit of the prophecy of the coming One. Then with a rare graciousness and winsomeness that wins all hearts, and fastens every eye upon Himself, He begins talking of the fulfilment of that word in Himself.
Then there comes a strange, quick revulsion of feeling. Had some Jerusalem spy gotten in and begun his poisoning work already? Eyes begin to harden and jaws become set. |Why, that is the man that made our cattle-yoke.| -- |Yes, and fixed our kitchen table.| -- |He -- the Messiah!| Then words of rebuke gently spoken, but with truth's razor edge. Then a hot burst of passion, and He is hustled out to the jagged edge of the hill to be thrown over. Then that wondrous presence awing them back, as their hooked hands lose hold, and their eyes again fasten with wonder, and He passed quietly on His way undisturbed. Surely that was the best evidence of the truth of His despised word.
Seven outstanding incidents here reveal the ever-hardening purpose of the leaders against Jesus. First comes another clash in the temple. Their ideas of what was proper on the Sabbath day receive a shock because a man enslaved by disease for years was healed with a word from Jesus' lips. Could there be a finer use of a Sabbath day! We can either think them really shocked, or hunting for a religious chance to fight Him. Jesus' reply seems so to enrage that a passion to kill Him grips them. It is notable that they had no doubt of the extent of Jesus' claim; |He called God His own Father, making Himself equal with God.| On these two things, His use of the Sabbath, and His claim of divinity, is based the aggressive campaign begun that day.
The incident draws from Him the marvellous words preserved by John in his fifth chapter. In support of His claim He quietly brings forward five witnesses, John His herald, His own miraculous acts, His Father, the Scriptures entrusted to their care, and Moses, the founder of the nation. That was a great line of testimony. This first thought of killing Him seems to have been a burst of hot, passionate rage, but gradually we shall find it cooled into a hardened, deliberate purpose.
At once Jesus returns to the northern province. And now they begin to follow Him up, and spy upon His movements and words. In Capernaum, His northern headquarters, a man apparently at unrest in soul about his sins, and palsied in body, is first assured of forgiveness, and then made bodily whole. Their criticism of His forgiving sins is silenced by the power evidenced in the bodily healing. But their plan of campaign is now begun in earnest, and is evident at once. Later criticism of His personal conduct and habits with the despised classes is mingled with an attempt to work upon His disciples and undermine their loyalty. The Sabbath question comes up again through the disciples satisfying their hunger in the grain fields, and brings from Jesus the keen comment that man wasn't made for the Sabbath, but to be helped through that day, and then the statement that must have angered them further that He was |Lord of the Sabbath.|
Another Sabbath day in the synagogue they were on hand to see if He would heal a certain man with a whithered hand whom they had gotten track of, |that they might accuse Him.| They were spying out evidence for the use of the Jerusalem leaders. To His grief they harden their hearts against His plea for saving a man, a life, as against a tradition. And as the man with full heart and full eyes finds his chance of earning a living restored, they rush out, and with the fire spitting from their eyes, and teeth gritting, they plan to get their political enemies, the Herodians, to help them kill Jesus. A number of these incidents give rise to these passionate outbursts to kill, which seem to cool off, but to leave the remnants that hardened into the cool purpose most to be dreaded.
A second time occurs that significant word, |withdrew.| Jesus withdrew to the sea, followed by a remarkable multitude of Galileans, and others from such distant points as Tyre and Sidon on the north, Idumea on the extreme south, beyond the Jordan on the east, and from Jerusalem. He was safe with this sympathizing crowd.
The crowds were so great, and the days so crowded, that Jesus' very eating was interfered with. His friends remonstrate, and even think Him unduly swayed by holy enthusiasm. But it is a man come down from Jerusalem who spread freely among the crowds the ugly charge that He was in league with the devil, possessed by an unclean spirit, and that that explained His strange power. No uglier charge could be made. It reveals keenly the desperate purpose of the Jerusalem leaders. Clearly it was made to influence the crowds. They were panic-stricken over these crowds. What could He not do with such a backing, if He chose! Such a rumor would Spread like wildfire. Jesus shows His leadership. He at once calls the crowds about Him, speaks openly of the charge, and refutes it, showing the evident absurdity of it.
Then a strange occurrence takes place. While He is teaching a great crowd one day, there is an interruption in the midst of His speaking Oddly, it comes from His mother and her other sons. They send in a message asking to see Him at once. This seems very strange. It would seem probable from the narrative that they had access to Him constantly. Why this sudden desire by the one closest to Him by natural ties to break into His very speaking for a special interview? Had these Jerusalem men been working upon the fears of her mother heart for the safety of her Son? She would use her influence to save Him from possible danger threatening? There is much in the incident to give color to such a supposition. Perhaps a man of such fineness as He could be checked back by consideration for His mother's feelings. They were quite capable of pulling any wire to shut Him up, however ignorant they showed themselves of the simple sturdiness of true character. But the same man who so tenderly provides for His mother in the awful pain of hanging on a cross reminds her now that a divine errand is not to be hindered by nature's ties; that clear vision of duty must ever hold the reins of the heart.
Then comes the most terrible, and most significant event, up to this time, in the whole gospel narrative -- the murder of John. This marks the sharpest crisis yet reached. For a year or so John had been kept shut up in a prison dungeon, evidence of his own faithfulness, and of the low moral tone, or absence of moral tone, of the time. Then one night there is a prolonged, debased debauchery in a magnificent palace; the cunning, cruel scheme of the woman whose wrong relation to Herod John had honestly condemned. The dancing young princess, the drunken oath, the terrible request, the glowing-coal eyes closed, the tongue that held crowds with its message of sin, and of the coming One stilled, the King's herald headless -- the whole horrible, nightmare story comes with the swiftness of aroused passion, the suddenness of a lightning flash, the cold cruelty of indulged lust.
Instantly on getting the news Jesus |withdrew| -- for the third time withdrew to a retired desert place. This had tremendous personal meaning for Him. Nothing has occurred thus far that spells out for Him the coming tragic close so large, so terribly large, as does this. He stays away from the Passover Feast occurring at this time, the only one of the four of His public career He failed to attend.