A Harvest Festival in Jerusalem
St. John VII. 14‑18 and 25‑52.
Do not read this Scripture at beginning. Wait for its right place after introductory matter and trace on map the journey from Capernaum to Jerusalem.
P OINT out first that our Lord's public life divides itself into two parts:
1. The Public Ministry in Galilee,
2. Going up to Jerusalem to die,
and that the first of these has been dealt with in the previous lessons. Now open all Bibles and look at St. Luke ix. 51 and make all pupils repeat this important verse:
NOW WHEN THE TIME WAS WELL NIGH COME THAT HE SHOULD BE RECEIVED UP, HE STEADFASTLY SET HIS FACE TO GO TO JERUSALEM.
§ 1. How St. Luke Wrote His Gospel
We are now beginning second part of the Lord's life. What writer has written this verse? St. Luke. Now put a mark in every Bible at this verse. Then let pupils turn over to xviii. 14, and hold this intervening sheaf of pages separate. This is a new section which St. Luke has inserted in the Gospel. It is mainly the memories of the Road to Jerusalem which he had gathered from old disciples and friends who had been with Jesus thirty years before. And this verse just read contains the opening words.
How St. Luke wrote his Gospel is an interesting story. We find him in the Acts and St. Paul's Epistles—a young physician of literary instincts, travelling about with St. Paul. He carried with him in his baggage two manuscript books. One was a Diary, which was afterwards to be published as a Life of St. Paul in the Acts of the Apostles; the other, to be published first, was his chief book. He had set his heart on writing a Life of our Lord fuller than the other Gospels and Paul was helping him. As he moved about he was continually meeting old disciples who had been with Jesus thirty years ago and who remembered many things not already written. Think of his delight the day he heard the lovely story of The Prodigal Son—or when he heard, perhaps from the Blessed Virgin herself in Jerusalem, the story of "when shepherds watched their flocks by night." How he would hurry back to write them down. This whole section (chaps. ix. to xviii.) was mainly concerned with the Road to Jerusalem.
§ 2. The Two Stories
Now when Jesus bade good-bye to Galilee, He was going up to the Harvest Festival (the Feast of Tabernacles), one of the great annual feasts, where He would find a million of Jews from all over the world, assembled in Jerusalem, a splendid opportunity for teaching about His Kingdom. But the Jews would not listen. They turned Him out every time He got in, and tried to kill Him. So He had to go and teach outside in the roads and villages where He could and wait to get in again at the next Festival. That is why the whole story up to the Crucifixion is about six months long. It was a hard time, travelling in the winter and always in danger.
Long after another disciple, St. John, wrote his memories of this time. Curiously he only tells each time of what happened in Jerusalem, while St. Luke only tells of what happened outside Jerusalem on the road. It is like two stories of the Siege of Paris in 1870, where one writer was inside and couldn't get out, and the other writer was outside and couldn't get in. We have to combine the town story of St. John with the country story of St. Luke to find what happened.
§ 3. Harvest Festival in Jerusalem
Now we resume the narrative. He left Galilee and travelled towards Jerusalem. The Samaritans stopped Him (St. Luke ix. 52) and He had to change His route. After a while He got to Bethany, four miles out of Jerusalem. There He was received in the house of Lazarus and Martha and Mary, who afterwards became His very close friends. Do you remember the wonderful things that happened about Lazarus six months later? There He slept that night, while right across the valley were the lights of Jerusalem and the vast assembled crowds. Next day He made His entrance. Therefore we must leave St. Luke's country story and go to St. John's town story.
Here read St. John vii. 14‑18 and 25‑32.
Now it is the 18th of October, A.D. 28. (The month Tisri). The Feast of Tabernacles, the Harvest Festival, is in full swing, the brightest, gladdest holiday of all the year. The Feast of a nation resting from its work. "The Feast of Ingathering at the end of the year when thou hast gathered in thy labours out of the field." Everybody went to this popular festival. It was a joyous, dramatic representation of the old Wilderness days when their fathers dwelt in tents. People lived in the open air in booths of green branches of olive and vine with bunches of ripe fruit hanging over the booths. There they kept holiday. The old Rabbis used to say, "He who has not seen this Festival does not know what joy means."
§ 4. Nicodemus and the Police
The Festival was half over when Jesus appeared. There had been much disappointment, for He was already famous and the strangers all wanted to see and hear Him. Unexpectedly they came on Him teaching in the Temple. What first surprised them as they listened? (v. 15). What did Jesus reply? "If any man willeth," etc. What did that mean? Think. Yes. To know God is not a mere matter of brains. It is the Heart and the Will more than the intellect that finds God. He that willeth to do God's will he shall know. So a very clever man may miss Him, while a poor ignorant man finds Him. That is the encouragement for plain, simple people.
Now as He goes out, St. John hears the muttered talk.
They are wondering why the rulers do not arrest Him.
"Is not this He," etc. (vv. 25‑27). "Is it because they
know He is the very Christ?" Was it? Ah! no. Why
did they not stop Him? They dared not lay hands on Him
with that sympathetic multitude around. As we saw
already, the common people were on His side. And the
crowd of foreign Jews were not afraid of the priests
like the Jerusalem Jews. So the rulers were afraid. But
they could not stand it when they heard the multitude
speaking in His favour and believing in Him. What did
they plan? (v. 32). So that evening when He came back,
He saw the police in the crowd and He knew why. He knew
what was coming. So He sadly tells the people: "I
shall not be much longer with you on earth. I go my way
Did the police arrest Him? Tell me what happened? (vv. 45, etc.) Who else stood up for Him? Do you remember Nicodemus before? (St. John iii.) He had not forgotten the young Teacher who so impressed him last year when he timidly "came to Jesus by night." He admired Jesus and had a lingering affection for Him, and at any rate he wanted to see fair play. Tell about him here (v. 50) and what the rulers replied. And I am afraid Nicodemus had not the courage to fight for Him further just then. Six months later, when Jesus was dead, we find the good old man coming to bury Him.
§ 5. Two Startling Pronouncements
Jesus startled them all greatly next day. You see He was now, as the end approached, beginning to tell who He was. In Galilee He had moved amongst the people as a kindly human friend. They thought Him a prophet for His noble teaching, and they looked with wondering awe at His great miracles. They did not know what to think of Him, only that many of them loved Him. Now it seemed as if He wanted that million of foreign Jews to carry home more solemn impressions—that He wanted the hostile Jews of Jerusalem to know who He was before they killed Him.
The Temple was crowded. All eyes were fixed on the solemn ceremonial as the water and wine from the golden ewer were poured out upon the altar to symbolise the giving of water in the desert long ago, to thank God for showers of water on their thirsty land, and, more than that, to pray Him for showers of blessing on thirsting souls thirsting for God. Then came a dramatic pause as the sacrifices were brought in. And St. John remembers how at this critical moment in the waiting silence rang out a clear, solitary voice. What did it say? "If any man thirst, let him come unto Me and drink. He that believeth on Me out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water." It was the Son of God himself looking on thirsting souls thirsting for God. And St. John, writing long afterwards, sees the meaning in the light of after events: "This spake He of the Spirit which they that believed on Him should receive."
Why did this startle and anger the Jews? Yes. It seemed an awful thing to say. Was He divine or was He mad? This lone, mysterious prophet saying of God's gift to thirsting souls: If any man thirst, let him come unto Me.
And again at the evening service, He startled them still more. The golden candelabra was blazing with light to commemorate the Pillar of Light which led their fathers in the desert—and in the first waiting pause that clear voice came again: "I am the Light of the World. He that followeth Me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life!"
Surely these assembled pilgrims had a strange story to carry home. No man had ever heard such words before. And they were not without effect. "As He spake these things many believed on Him. But the others called it blasphemy. They took up stones to stone Him, but Jesus was hidden and went forth out of the Temple."
So ends His first attempt at Jerusalem. He must now flee to the wilderness outside with His little band, and there continue the message that He would leave for the world, which Jerusalem would not hear.
Questions for Lesson I
1. Tell me how and why St. Luke wrote his gospel.
2. Tell of the two books in his baggage.
3. What is meant by the Town Story and Country Story?
4. Who lived in Bethany?
5. Why was the story of the Road six months long instead of a few days?
6. Relate fully the two daring things that the Lord said.
7. What was the result?