A Life of St. John
For the Young
GEORGE LUDINGTON WEED
AUTHOR OF "A LIFE OF CHRIST FOR THE YOUNG," "A LIFE OF ST. PAUL FOR THE YOUNG," "GREAT TRUTHS SIMPLY TOLD," ETC., ETC.
GEORGE W. JACOBS & CO
103-105 SOUTH FIFTEENTH STREET
BY GEORGE W. JACOBS & CO
The recorded incidents of the Life of St. John are few. Almost all those of which we certainly know are related in the Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles, The Epistles of St. John, and The Revelation. Some of the traditions concerning him are in such harmony with what we do know that we are almost ready to accept them as historic.
The known events though few, are very distinct. They are the beautiful fragments of a great picture. The plan of this volume does not include those which pertain to him in common with the twelve disciples. Such a record would practically involve the story of the life of our Lord. This is limited to those events in which his name is mentioned, or his person otherwise indicated; to those in which he was a certain or implied actor; to those in which we may suppose from his character and relations he had a special interest; to those narratives whose fulness of detail makes the impression that they are given by an eye-witness; to those in which a deeper impression was made on him than on his fellow-disciples, or where he showed a deeper insight than they into the teachings of the Lord, and is a clearer interpreter; to those records which add to, or throw light upon, those of the other three Evangelists; and especially to those things which reveal his peculiar relation to Jesus Christ.
Another limitation of this volume is its adaptation, in language, selection of subjects and general treatment, to young people, for whom it is believed no life of John, at any rate of recent date, has been prepared. It is designed especially for those between the ages of ten and twenty, though the facts recorded may be of value to all.
The attempt is made to trace the way by which John was led to, and then by, Christ. We first see him as a boy with Jewish surroundings, taught to expect the Messiah, then watching for His coming, then rejoicing in finding Him, then faithful and loving in serving Him; becoming the most loved of His chosen ones. We see the Christ through John's eyes, and listen to the Great Teacher with his ears. Christ and John are the central figures in the scenes here recorded.
The full table of contents suggests the variety and scope of the topics presented.
In the mind of the writer the interest of many of the scenes described has been greatly deepened by memories of the paths in which he has followed in the footsteps of the Master and His disciple.
The many quotations of words, phrases and texts—which are from the Revised Version—are designed to direct the young to Scripture forms with which they should become familiar; and sometimes to emphasize a fact or truth, or to recall a former incident.
Grateful acknowledgment is made especially to the works of Farrar, Edersheim and Stalker, for facts, and germs of thought which have been simplified in form and language for the interest and instruction of the young, in the hope that they may thereby be led into deeper study of one of the noblest of human lives. G.L.W. Philadelphia, July, 1900.
A HOME IN THE BLESSED LAND, BY THE SACRED SEA
A Fitting Study for the Young—The Glory of all Lands—Divisions of Palestine—Galilee—People of Galilee—Gennesaret and its Surroundings—Comparisons—Jewish Sayings—McCheyne—Towns, Villages and Palaces—Fisheries—Bethsaida 19
FIVE BOYS OF BETHSAIDA—RAMBLES ABOUT HOME
Five Apostles of Jesus—Two Pair of Brothers—Salome—Brothers Indeed—Views from a Hilltop—View of the Lake—Poetic Description—Rambles North of the Lake—On the West—Keble's Poem—Answer to the Poet's Question—The Sower—Object Lessons of the Great Teacher—Mount of Beatitudes—Nature's Influence on John—Philip 24
JOHN'S ROYAL KINDRED
Salome and Mary Sisters—John and Jesus Cousins—Visit to Bethsaida—Visit to Nazareth—A Picture of the Boy Jesus—The Picture a Help—A Phrase to Remember—A Kinsman of John and Jesus—Education—The Messiah 31
THE GREAT EXPECTATION IN JOHN'S DAY
Prophecy Concerning the Messiah—Jewish Mistakes—Roman Conquest—Judas of Galilee—The Five Bethsaidan Boys—John and Peter 35
EARLY INFLUENCES ON CHARACTER
Special Influences on the Five—Scripture Students—Rabbi Like Simeon, or a Teacher—Prophetess Like Anna—Home Teaching—From the Five to Two—Salome and Her Sons—Review—Boyhood Traits—Imperfections—Perfection 39
FIRST VISIT IN JERUSALEM
Jewish Boy at Twelve—Interest in the First Pilgrimage—John's Journey—The Jordan Ford—City, Temple and Altar—John and Saul—Silent Years—Parental Thoughts Concerning John 44
JOHN'S VIEW OF THE COMING MESSIAH
John's Old Testament Studies—First Gospel Promise—Promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob—Promise to David—Mary and Immanuel—Names and Titles of the Messiah—John's Misreading of the Old Testament—Christ's Sufferings 48
JESUS THE HIDDEN MESSIAH
The Infancy of Jesus Forgotten—Our Ignorance of Christ's Childhood—The Boy in the Temple—The Carpenter's Silent Years 53
"THE PROPHET OF THE MOST HIGH"
Elizabeth and Her John—A Father's Prophecy—The Prophet in the Wilderness—Young Men of Galilee—The Hermit—His Galilean Disciples—His Public Ministry—His Hearers—His Preaching—St. John the Baptist—St. John of Galilee 57
THE MESSIAH FOUND
"Jesus from Galilee to Jordan"—Baptism of Jesus—Temptation—"Behold the Lamb of God"—Andrew and John with the Baptist—Our First Knowledge of John of Galilee—Parting of the Baptist and Jesus—The Two St. Johns and Jesus—Following Jesus in the Way—Blessed Invitation Accepted—Precious Memories—Change of Discipleship—Silence of John—Disciples at Emmaus—Brothers Brought to Jesus—Memorials of Andrew—John's Memories of His First Day with Jesus—Philip—Nathanael—Jesus' First Disciples—John the Nearest to Him 63
JOHN A WEDDING GUEST
Invited Guests to a Marriage Feast—Words of Mary and Jesus Concerning Wine—Three Commands of Jesus—First Miracle—Belshazzar's Feast—Believing Disciples—Believing Samaritans—What John Might Have Written—First Miracle, for Innocent Joy—John and Mary at the Feast—Mary's Thoughts of John and Her Sons—Her Thoughts of Jesus 72
JOHN AND NICODEMUS
Reasons for a Night Visit to Jesus—John's Possible Abode in Jerusalem—Nicodemus Goes Thither—His Conversation With Jesus—Seven Great Truths—Golden Text of the Bible—Golden Truth of John—Tradition of Nicodemus 79
ST. JOHN AND THE SAMARITANESS
John's Record—With the Master—Valley and Well—A Personal Privilege—John With Jesus at the Well—Memories of the Region—Abraham—Thoughts of the Future—A Samaritaness—Strange Request—Living Water—Greater than Jacob—Difference in Waters—Woman's Request—Jesus a Prophet—Place and Spirit of True Worship—"Messiah Cometh"—John an Earnest Listener—Jesus' Revelation of Himself—Changed Name for the Well—Wonder of the Disciples—The Samaritaness a Gospel Messenger—Unknown Meat—John's Watchful Eye—His Story of the Well—A Memorable Hour for Him 84
THE CHOSEN ONE OF THE CHOSEN THREE OF THE CHOSEN TWELVE
Two Pair of Brothers Mending Nets—Call of Four Disciples—Fishers of Men—A Partner in Fishing—Followers of Him—True Brothers—Family Ties—The Twelve Chosen—First Disciples, First Apostles—The Inner Circles—Peter and John—John—Aaron's Breastplate—Apostolic Stones 92
JOHN IN THE HOME OF JAIRUS
A Father's Cry—Reason for Hope—Sad Message—Strength of Faith—"Fear Not"—Curious Crowd—The Twelve and the Three—Jealousy—Ambition—A Coming Change—John One of Three—"Tahtha Cumi"—A Lesson for John—A Future Scene—Influence of a Secret 97
JOHN A BEHOLDER OF CHRIST'S GLORY
Family Prayer—Sayings of Men Concerning Jesus—Saying of Peter—A Great Need—Christ's Prophecy of His Death—Apart by Themselves—Not Tabor, but Hermon—Thoughts of the Nine and of the Three—Heavy with Sleep—Answers to Two Prayers of Jesus—Transfigured—Moses and Elijah—Moses' Shining Face—The Lord's Shining Figure—The Shechinah—A Strange Proposal—Voice from the Clouds—Touch and Word of Jesus—Descent from Hermon—A Great Secret—Peter's Memory of the Transfiguration—John's Record—Greater than John the Baptist or Moses—Moses and the Shechinah—Ungranted Request, but Answered Prayer—Hermon, a Mount of Prayer 101
ST. JOHN'S IMPERFECTIONS
Four Reasons for Recording Failings—Jealousy and Pride—Intolerant Spirit—Two Questions, What? and Who?—First and Last—An Object Lesson—The Child-Spirit—Startled Disciples—John's Confession—Lesson Not Learned—Hospitality—Samaritan Hatred—Hospitality Refused—Indignant Brothers—A Story of Elijah—Fiery Spirit of James and John—Rebuked by Jesus—Ambitious Brothers—Mother's Request—Sons' Request—Sorrowing Lord's Reply and Thoughts—Two Thrones—Though Imperfect, a Grand Character 111
JOHN AND THE FAMILY OF BETHANY
John's View of a Family Group—His Relation to It—A Sad Message and the Reply—The Lord's Delay and Concealed Purpose—A Possible Thought of John's—John and Thomas—"Our Friend"—"Sleepeth"—John an Eye-witness—Mary and Jesus—"Jesus Wept"—Mourning Disciple—Glorified Father and Son—Jesus with Martha at the Tomb—Repeated Command, "Arise"—The Release from the Tomb—John a Companion in Joy—John's Memory of Mary—Lazarus' Tomb and Jesus' Cross—A Tradition of Lazarus 120
JOHN'S MEMORIAL OF MARY
A Scene in Bethany—An Unfinished Picture—John with Manuscripts of Matthew and Mark—A Great Event not Understood—A Joyful Meeting—A Supper in Honor—A Fitting Place—Omitted Names—An Unnamed Woman Named—Mary's Cruse—Interested Witnesses—An Unusual Anointing—An Unwoven Towel—Odor of the Ointment—Judas the Grumbler—Jesus' Defence of Mary—A Prophecy—John the Preserver of Mary's Name—Prophecy Fulfilled—Judas and Mary—Judas and the Chief Priests—A Group of Three—A Sublime Action—A Group of Four 128
JOHN A HERALD OF THE KING
The Messiah-King—The Prophetic Colt—The Lord's Need—The Lord's Heralds—Hosannas—Disciples' Thoughts—Changed Earthly Scenes—Lamb on Earth and in Heaven—A Prophecy Recalled—Twice a Herald 138
WITH THE MASTER ON OLIVET
The Lord in His Temple—His Farewell to It—Admiring Disciples—Sad Prophecy—The Two Pair of Brothers on Olivet—A Sacred Memory—The Poet Milman's View from Olivet—Unanswered Question—The Coming Fall of Jerusalem—The Poet Heber's Lament Over Jerusalem 142
JOHN A PROVIDER OF THE PASSOVER
The Betrayer—A Lamb and a Place—Not Judas, but Peter and John—A Secret Sign—The Goodman of the House—A New Friendship—Upper Room—"Furnished"—"Prepared"—Paschal Lamb—Child Memories—John and the Baptist—Temple Worship—Obeying Silver Trumpets—Slaying of the Lamb—Chant and Response—Lamb and Lamps—Alone with Jesus—Jerusalem Chamber—John and the Upper Room 148
JOHN'S MEMORIES OF THE UPPER ROOM
The Open Door of the Upper Room—Door Ajar—Revelation by John—Two Statements by Luke—Cause of Contention—John's Relation to the Quarrel—Sittings at the Table—John and Judas Beside Jesus—Two Things About Jesus—Grieved Spirit—Bethany Recalled—A Great Contrast—Love and Reproof—Lesson Ended—A Sacred Relic—A Guest an Enemy—Troubled Spirit—"Verily, Verily"—Looking and Doubting—John's Gaze—"Is It I?"—Peter and the Great Secret—Jesus' Hint of the Great Secret—Meaning of the Sop—Judas and Satan—Departure of Judas—"It Was Night"—A New Name—A New Command—Farewell Words and Prayer and Song—Closed Door to be Opened Again 154
ST. JOHN WITH JESUS IN GETHSEMANE
An Eye-witness—Departure from the Upper Room—Kidron—Gethsemane—Olive Trees—John's Memories—Garden Owner—Charge to the Nine—Mt. Moriah—Final Charge—A Prophecy—Companions in Glory and Sorrow—A Sad Change—John Beside Jesus—Sorrowful Soul—Charge to the Three—Jesus Alone—Jesus Seen and Heard—Garden Angel—Agonizing Prayer—Sleeping Disciples—Midnight Scene—Sleeping for Sorrow—Awakening Call—Flesh and Spirit—Repeated Prayer—Victory—"Arise"—Path of Prayer—Gathered Band—Lighted Way—Empty Upper Room—John's Contrasted Memories—Betrayal Sign—Warning Cry—Unshrinking Purpose—The Meeting—Traitor's Kiss—Marred Visage—Repeated Question and Answer—Two Bands—One Request—Peter's Sword—Changed Voice—A Captive and Legions of Angels—The Fleeing Disciples 163
JOHN IN THE HIGH PRIEST'S PALACE
Flight of the Nine—Captive Lord—Peter and John Following—The Palace—Disciple Within and Disciple Without—Peter Brought In—The First Denial—John's Watch of Peter—Peter's Tears—His Restlessness—His Sin and John's Silence—Three Turning and Looking—John's Pity for Peter—John and Pilate—Christ a King—"What is Truth?"—The Mocked King—"Behold the Man"—"Behold your King"—John the Faithful Watcher and Comforter 176
JOHN THE LONE DISCIPLE AT THE CROSS
Following the Cross—Jesus Bearing the Cross—Wearing the Thorny Crown—Great Multitude Following—"Daughters of Jerusalem"—Calvary—John's Memories—Group of Four Enemies—Seamless Coat—Casting Lots—Jesus and the Gamblers—Three Marys and Salome—John their Companion—A Contrast—Other Apostles—John and Salome—A Mother's Love—Mary's Thoughts—Sword of Anguish—Comfort in Sorrow—Lonely Future—Loyal Son—New Relation—Mary's Return from the Cross—Why John Her Guardian—A Poet's Words to John—In the New Home 184
JOHN THE LONE DISCIPLE AT THE CROSS—CONTINUED
"I Thirst"—"It Is Finished"—The Bowed Head—The Women and John—His Anxious Thoughts Relieved—Pierced Side—Two Prophecies—Prayer in Song—Joseph of Arimathaea—Nicodemus—Two Secret Friends of Jesus—Two Gardens—The Stone Closing the Tomb—Two Mourners at the Tomb—John's Thoughts on Leaving the Tomb 195
JOHN AT THE TOMB
John and Mary Magdalene—Mary's Mistaken Inference—Her Report to Peter and John—Their Hastening Toward the Tomb—John Alone at the Tomb—Silent Witnesses—Peter's Entry and Discovery—John Within the Tomb—The Rolled Napkin—Seeing and Believing—Lingering in the Tomb—The Return from the Tomb—Weeping Mary—Silence of Angels—Mary and the Angels—Jesus Unknown to Mary—"Mary" and "Rabboni"—John's Two Records of Mary—Day of Days—Evening Benedictions—Pierced Side—Close of John's Gospel 204
"WHAT SHALL THIS MAN DO?"
An Added Chapter—Old Scenes Revived—Following Peter—Stranger on the Shore—John and Peter—John's Remembrance of the Miracle—"Fire of Coals"—Reverent Guests—"Lovest Thou Me?"—"Feed My Lambs and Sheep"—An Interested Listener—A Prophecy—John Following Peter—Question and Answer—Mistake Corrected by John—Partial Answer to Peter's Questions—A Former Hour Recalled 212
ST. JOHN A PILLAR-APOSTLE IN THE EARLY CHRISTIAN CHURCH
On a Mount in Galilee—The Great Commission—Waiting for the Promised Comforter—Words of the Baptist Recalled—A Revived Hope and a Question—Jesus' Reply—The Ascension—Angels' Question—"The Upper Chamber"—Luke's Lists of the Apostles—The Lord's Mother, Brethren and Sisters—The Day of Pentecost—A Great Miracle—Pentecostal Gifts to John—Evening Prayer—Beautiful Gate—Lame man—A Gift Better than Alms—John Twice a Prisoner—Prison Angel—Preaching of Philip—John Sent to Samaria—John and the Samaritaness—His Changed Spirit—Death of James—The Pillar Apostles 219
Last Record—Meeting of Paul and John—Years of Silence—Leaving Jerusalem—New Home in Ephesus—City and Temple—Paul and John—Churches of Asia Minor—John in Patmos—Solitude—The Lord's Day—Aid to Meditation—Calm and Turmoil—A Voice and a Command—A Contrast—"As One Dead"—The Eagle—John's Three Kinds of Writings—The Revelation—John's Gospel—His First Epistle—The Apostle of Love—His Second Epistle—The Apostle of Childhood—"Little Children, Love one Another"—John's Death 231
Boyhood—The Disciple—What John Saw—What He Heard—What He Made Known—John a Reflector of Christ—Alone in History—Our Glimpses of Him—In Everlasting Remembrance on Earth—With His Lord in Heaven 241
LEGENDS AND TRADITIONS OF ST. JOHN
St. John and the Robber-Chief—St. John and the Partridge—"Little Children, Love One Another"—Miraculous Preservation from Death—The Empty Grave—The Heaving Grave 251
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
St. John Domenichino. Frontispiece
Map of the Land Where St. John Lived 19
Sea of Galilee Old Engraving 20
Site of Bethsaida From Photograph 22
Calm on Galilee From Photograph 26
Virgin, Infant Jesus and St. John (Madonna della Sedia) Raphael 32
Christ and St. John Winterstein 35
Simeon and Anna in the Temple Old Engraving 39
The Boy John Andrea del Sarto 41
Jerusalem Old Engraving 43
Joshua's Host Crossing the Jordan Old Engraving 45
The Prophet Isaiah Sargent 55
The Boy Jesus in the Temple H. Hofmann 58
A Street Scene in Nazareth From Photograph 60
Visit of Mary to Elisabeth Old Engraving 62
The Wilderness of Judea From Photograph 64
Traditional Place of Christ's Baptism From Photograph 67
The Baptism of Jesus Old Engraving 68
The First Disciples Ittenbach 83
The Marriage at Cana Old Engraving 85
Belshazzar's Feast Old Engraving 87
The Hill of Samaria Old Engraving 90
Jacob's Well From Photograph 92
The Miraculous Draught of Fishes Old Engraving 94
Raising the Daughter of Jairus H. Hofmann 99
The Transfiguration Old Engraving 106
Moses on Mt. Pisgah Artist Unknown 109
Bethany Old Engraving 120
Resurrection of Lazarus Old Engraving 126
Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem. Gustave Dore 133
Christ and St. John Ary Scheffer 140
The Last Supper Benjamin West 156
In Gethsemane Gustave Dore 163
The Valley of Jehoshaphat Old Engraving 165
Christ Before Caiaphas Old Engraving 167
Christ Before Pilate (Ecce Homo) H. Hofmann 170
Christ Bearing His Cross H. Hofmann 185
The Virgin and St. John at the Cross Old Engraving 192
The Descent from the Cross Rubens 195
In the Sepulchre H. Hofmann 199
Jesus Appearing to Mary Magdalene (Easter Morning) B. Plockhorst 202
The Descent of the Spirit Old Engraving 206
St. Peter and St. John at the Beautiful Gate Old Engraving 211
Ephesus From Photograph 227
The Isle of Patmos Old Engraving 231
Smyrna Old Engraving 234
Pergamos and the Ruins of the Church of St. John Old Engraving 242
Ruins of Laodicea Old Engraving 246
A Life of St. John
A Home in the Blest Land, by the Sacred Sea
"Blest land of Judaea! Thrice hallowed in song, Where the holiest of memories pilgrim like throng, In the shade of thy palms, by the shores of thy sea, On the hills of the beauty, my heart is with thee." —Whittier.
A Galilean boy, a fisherman, a follower of Jesus, one of the twelve Apostles, one of the favored three, the beloved one, the Apostle of love, the Apostle of childhood, the one of all men who gave to mankind the clearest view of Jesus Christ—such was St John.
For young people he is a fitting study. To aid such is the purpose of this volume.
Let us first glance at the land where he lived, surrounded by influences that directed his life, and moulded his character.
Palestine was called by God Himself "The Glory of All Lands." He made it the home of His people the Jews, who long waited for the promised time when it should have greater glory by becoming the home of the Messiah, the Son of God. Before He was born the Jews were conquered by the Romans, and governed by them instead of the Jewish judges and kings. The country was divided into three parts. The southern was called Judaea; the middle, Samaria; and the northern, Galilee, which was the most beautiful part. It contained the hills of Galilee, and the plain and sea of Gennesaret, hallowed by the presence of Jesus, and what He there did.
At the time of which we write, two thousand years ago, Galilee was not inhabited wholly or chiefly by Jews. Other peoples, called Gentiles, were mixed with the Jewish race which continued to cultivate the land, and to tend the vineyards and olive-yards, and to dwell in the fisherman's huts and moor their boats on the sandy beach. Some Jews were artisans, working at their trades in the smaller towns. But there were vast crowds of foreigners whose life was a great contrast to that of the Jews. Their customs were those of the nations to which they belonged. They spoke their own languages. They worshiped their own false gods. Their amusements were such as they were accustomed to in their distant homes. This was especially true of the Romans who had theatres, chariot races, and gladiatorial combats, by the peaceful waters of Galilee.
There were also Greeks who had sought new homes far from their native land. Many Arabians came from the deserts on swift horses, in roving bands in search of plunder. They wore brightly-colored dresses, and flashing swords and lances, carrying terror wherever they went. Egyptian travelers came with camels loaded with spices and balm. The bazaars were crowded with merchandise from India, Persia and Arabia. Long caravans from Damascus passed through Galilee, with goods for the markets of Tiberius on Lake Gennesaret, and the more distant cities of Jerusalem, Caesarea and Alexandria.
The gem of Galilee and of Palestine itself, is the Lake of Gennesaret, or the Sea of Tiberius. Its length is twelve and three-fourths miles; its greatest width, seven and one-fourth; its greatest depth, one hundred and sixty feet. On the west is the beautiful Plain of Galilee. On the east are rounded hills; and rugged mountains which rise nine hundred feet above the waters, with grassy slopes, and rocky cliffs barren and desolate. Bowers of olive and oleander deck the base of the hills whose sides yield abundant harvest. Around the lake is a level white beach of smooth sand. Gennesaret has been fittingly compared to a sapphire set in diamonds; and to a mirror set in a frame of richness and beauty.
"He hath made everything beautiful," says Solomon concerning God. It is a well-known saying of Jewish writers, "Of all the seven seas God created, He made choice of none but the Lake of Gennesaret." It was called the "beloved of God above all the waters of Canaan."
The writer of this volume gratefully recalls blessed memories of Gennesaret, wishing his young friends could view with their own eyes those scenes which he asks them to behold through his own. Then could they join him in singing with the saintly McCheyne,
"How pleasant to me thy deep blue wave, O Sea of Galilee! For the glorious One who came to save, Hath often stood by thee.
* * * * *
"O Saviour, gone to God's right hand, Yet the same Saviour still, Graved on Thy heart is this lovely strand, And every fragrant hill."
At the period of which we speak the region was full of people. Nine large towns, each containing fifteen thousand inhabitants, bordered on the lake. Numerous populous villages lined the shores, or nestled in the neighboring valleys, or were perched on the hilltops. Fishermen's huts—which were mere stone sheds—fringed the lake. They stood in every rift of rock, and on every knoll, with their little cornfields and vine ledges extending to the sandy beach.
On the seashore, among the chief buildings, were palaces for Roman princes, and quarters for Roman soldiers. The waters were covered with boats for pleasure, merchandise and fishing. Four thousand floated at one time on the narrow lake. Vast quantities of fish were caught in the waters, supplying not only the people of Galilee, but the populous city of Jerusalem, especially when crowded with pilgrims; and were even sent to distant ports of the Mediterranean. We shall see John's interest in such labors.
On the north-western shore of Gennesaret is a beautiful bay sheltered by hills and projecting cliffs. The sight is such as would be a fisherman's delight—a little haven from storm, with a broad beach of sand on which to moor his boats. There is no place like it in the region of Galilee. Close to the water's edge, it is supposed, was the town of Bethsaida, probably meaning House of Fish.
Five Boys of Bethsaida—Rambles About Home
"Walking by the Sea of Galilee, He saw two brethren, Simon who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother."—Matt. iv. 18.
"And going on from thence, He saw other two brethren, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother."—v. 21.
"Philip was from Bethsaida, of the city of Andrew and Peter."—John i. 44.
Bethsaida was honored as being the home of five of the Apostles of Jesus. We know nothing definitely concerning them until their manhood. We wish we knew of their childhood. It is only because of their relation to Jesus that they have been remembered. Had it not been for this they would, like many other boys of Galilee, have lived on the shores of Gennesaret, fished in its waters, died, and been forgotten. These five Bethsaidan boys were two pairs of brothers and a friend. The names of one pair were Andrew and Peter. They were the sons of Jonas, a fisherman. As they grew up they were engaged with him in casting the net and gathering fish, by day or by night, and thus securing a livelihood without thought of change of occupation. It was a Jewish custom for boys to learn a trade or business, which was generally that of their fathers.
The names of the other pair of brothers were James and John. Their father was named Zebedee. He also was a fisherman having so much prosperity in his business that he employed servants to help him. Judging by what we know of the family they must have been highly respected by the people among whom they lived.
We do not know the exact date of John's birth. He was probably younger than James, and several years younger than Peter.
The mother of James and John was named Salome. We know more of her than of her husband. She was a warm friend of Jesus, ministering to Him when He was living, and was one of the few who cared for His dead body. Her sons seemed to be greatly attached to her. All were of kindred spirit, having like thoughts, feelings and plans.
James and John were brothers indeed, companions until the death of James separated them. The feelings of boyhood must have been greatly strengthened in later scenes, and by influences which we shall have occasion to notice. As we know of them as daily companions in manhood, we think of the intimacy and affection of boyhood. It will help us to gain an idea of their companionship, and the influences of their surroundings, if we notice some things with which they were familiar in the region of their home.
Standing on one of the hills behind Bethsaida they beheld a magnificent panorama. In the northeast Hermon rose like a mighty giant, called by the people of the land the "Kingly Mountain." They knew it by the name Moses had given it—"the goodly mountain." They were to know it by the name which Peter would give in after years, "The Holy Mount," so called for a blessed reason of which all of them were to learn. Down from its snowy glittering sides a thousand streamlets blended in larger streams combining in the Jordan, which flowed through marshes and Lake Merom until it entered Gennesaret near their home. Eastward, across the lake, the rugged cliffs of Gadara cut off their view. Perhaps at this very hour the winds from Hermon rushed through the gorges, first ruffling the placid waters of the lake, and then tossing them as if in rage. They little thought of a coming time when they themselves would be tossed upon them until they heard a voice saying, "Peace be still." And now
"The warring winds have died away, The clouds, beneath the glancing ray, Melt off, and leave the land and sea Sleeping in bright tranquillity. Below, the lake's still face Sleeps sweetly in th' embrace Of mountains terraced high with mossy stone."
In another hour they watch the more quiet movements of pleasure boats,—gay barges and royal galleys—and trading vessels, and fishing boats,—all crowding together seemingly covering the lake.
As it narrows in the southern distance, the Jordan commences the second stage of its journey of one hundred and twenty miles through rugged gorges. As it leaves the quiet lake, we can almost hear them saying to it
"Like an arrow from the quiver, To the sad and lone Dead Sea, Thou art rushing, rapid river, Swift, and strong, and silently, Through the dark green foliage stealing, Like a silver ray of light."
Descending from the hill we may follow James and John in their rambles in the region near their home. On the northern extremity of the lake, among the colossal reeds, and meadow grass and rushes, they watch the little tortoises creeping among them; and the pelicans which make them their chosen home; and the blue and white winged jays that have strayed from the jungles through which the Jordan has pushed its way; and the favorite turtle-doves; and the blue birds so light that one can rest on a blade of grass without bending it; and the confiding larks and storks which, not fleeing, seem to welcome the visitors to their haunts. Here grow oleanders of such magnificence as is seen nowhere else in the country, twenty feet high, sometimes in clumps a hundred feet in circumference; and "masses of rosy red flowers, blushing pyramids of exquisite loveliness."
Our ramblers follow the western shore to the shallow hot stream, where boy-like,—or manlike as I did—they burn their hands in trying to secure pebbles from its bottom. They rest under the shade of an olive or a palm. They gather walnuts which are in great abundance; and grapes and figs, which can be done ten months in the year; and oranges and almonds and pomegranates.
They wander through meadows rich in foliage, and gay with the brightness and richness of flowers which retain their bloom in Galilee when they would droop in Judaea or Samaria.
We hear the poet Keble asking them,
"What went ye out to see O'er the rude, sandy lea, Where stately Jordan flows by many a palm, Or where Gennesaret's wave Delights the flowers to lave, That o'er her western slope breathe airs of balm?
"All through the summer night, These blossoms red and white Spread their soft breasts unheeding to the breeze, Like hermits watching still, Around the sacred hill, Where erst our Saviour watched upon His knees."
To the poet's question James and John would answer that they "went out to see the blue lupin and salvia, the purple hyacinth, the yellow and white crocus, the scarlet poppy, and gladiolus, the flowering almond, the crimson and pink anemone."
They also saw the cultivated fields, and the sower casting his seed which fell on the hardened pathway, or barren rocks, or bounteous soil. They watched the birds from mountain and lake gather the scattered grain. They thought not of the parable into which all these would be weaved; nor of Him who would utter it in their hearing near where they then stood. They saw the shepherds and their flocks, the sparrows and the lilies, that became object lessons of the Great Teacher yet unknown to them. In their rambles they may have climbed the hill, only seven miles from their home, not thinking of the time when they would climb it again; after which it would be forever known as the Mount of Beatitudes.
Such were some of the charming and exciting scenes with which John was familiar in his early life, and which would interest his refined and observing nature, of which we know in his manhood. They must have had an important influence in the formation of his character.
We have spoken of five Bethsaidan boys—Andrew and Peter, James and John—and a friend. His name was Philip. We know but little of him. What we do know is from John. He tells us that "Philip was of Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter." Perhaps he was their special friend, and so became one of the company of five, as he afterward became one of the more glorious company of twelve. We shall find three of these five in a still closer companionship. They are Peter, James and John. One of these shall have the most glorious honor of all. It is John.
John's Royal Kindred
It seems almost certain that Salome and Mary the mother of Jesus, were sisters. Royal blood was in their veins. They were descendants of David. The record of their ancestry had been carefully preserved for God's own plans, especially concerning Mary, of which plans neither of the sisters knew until revealed to her by an angel from God. We think of them as faithful to Him, and ready for any service to which He might call them, in the fisherman's home of Salome, or the carpenter's home of Mary. Mary's character has been summed up in the words, "pure, gentle and gracious." Salome must have had something of the same nature, which we find again in her sons.
If Salome and Mary were sisters, our interest in James and John deepens, as we think of them as cousins of Jesus. This family connection may have had something to do with their years of close intimacy; but we shall find better reason for it than in this kinship. There was another relation closer and holier.
We wonder whether Jesus ever visited Bethsaida, and played with His cousins on the seashore, and gathered shells, and dug in the sand, and sailed on Gennesaret, and helped with His little hands to drag the net, and was disappointed because there were no fish, or bounded with glee because of the multitude of them.
We wonder whether James and John visited Jesus in Nazareth, nestled among the hills of Galilee. Did they go to the village well, the same where children go to-day to draw water? Did James and John see how Jesus treated His little mates, and how they treated Him—the best boy in Nazareth? Did the cousins talk together of what their mothers had taught them from the Scriptures, especially of The Great One whom those mothers were expecting to appear as the Messiah? Did they go together to the synagogue, and hear the Rabbi read the prophecies which some day Jesus, in the same synagogue, would say were about Himself?
Jesus was the flower of Mary's family, the flower of Nazareth, of Galilee, of the whole land, and the whole world. Nazareth means flowery—a fitting name for the home of Jesus. It was rightly named. So must James and John have thought if their young cousin went with them to gather daisies, crocuses, poppies, tulips, marigolds, mignonette and lilies, which grow so profusely around the village. Did they ramble among the scarlet pomegranates, the green oaks, the dark green palms, the cypresses and olives that grew in the vale of Nazareth, and made beautiful the hills that encircled it? Did they climb one of them, and gain a view of the Mediterranean, and look toward the region where John would live when his boyhood was long past, in the service of his cousin at his side?
A great artist, Millais, painted a picture of the boy Jesus, representing Him as cutting His finger with a carpenter's tool, and running to His mother to have it bound up. Did John witness any such incident? How little did he think of a deeper wound he was yet to behold in that same hand.
We cannot answer such questions. These things were possible. They help us to think of Jesus as a boy, like other boys. James and John thought of Him as such only until long after the days of which we are speaking.
While thinking of John and Jesus as cousins, we may also think of a kinsman of theirs, a second cousin of whom we shall know more. John was to have a deep interest in both of the others, and they were to have more influence on him than all other men in the world.
There were some things common to them all. They were Jews. According to Jewish customs they were trained until six years of age in their own homes. Their library was the books of the Old Testament. They learned much of its teachings. They read the stories of Joseph, Samuel and David. At six they went to the village school, taught by a Rabbi. Some attention was paid to arithmetic, the history of their nation, and natural history. But, as at their homes, the chief study was the Scriptures. They were taught especially about One—"Of whom Moses in the law and the prophets did write." Let us remember those words for we shall hear them again. That One was called the Messiah—He whom we call Jesus, the Christ, the Saviour of the world. He had not then come. We look back to the time when He did come: those boys looked forward to the time when He would come. The Messiah was the great subject in the homes of the pious Jews, and in the synagogues where old and young worshiped on the Sabbath.
The Great Expectation in John's Day
Moses wrote of a promise, made centuries before the days of John, to Abraham—that in the Messiah all the nations of the earth,—not the Jews only—should be made happy with special blessings. Isaiah and other prophets wrote of the time and place and circumstances of His coming, and of the wonders He would perform.
The Jews understood that the Messiah would descend from David. They believed that He would sit "upon the throne of David," ruling first over the Jews, an earthly ruler such as David had been, and then conquering their enemies; thus being a great warrior and the king of the world.
But they were sadly mistaken in many of their ideas of the Messiah. They had misread many of the writings of the prophets. They had given wrong meanings to right words. They made real what was not so intended. They overlooked prophecies about the Messiah-King being despised, rejected and slain, though God had commanded lambs to be slain through all those centuries to remind them of the coming Messiah's cruel death. Each of those lambs was a "Lamb of God." Remember that phrase; we shall meet it again. They looked for wonders of kinds of which neither Moses nor the prophets had written. Many did not understand what was meant by the kingdom of God in the hearts of men, as differing from the earthly kingdom of David. They did not understand that Messiah's kingdom would be in the hearts of all people.
With such mistaken views of the Messiah at the time of which we are writing, the Jews had not only the great expectation of the centuries, but the strong belief that Messiah was about to appear.
A great event had happened which made them especially anxious for His immediate coming. The Jewish nation had been conquered by the Romans. The "Glory of All Lands" was glorious only for what it had been. Galilee was a Roman province which, like those of Judaea and Samaria, longed for the expected One to free them from the Roman yoke, and show Himself to be the great Messiah-Deliverer of the Jews. They were prepared to welcome almost any one who claimed to be He. Such an one was at hand.
In those days appeared a man who has been known as Judas of Galilee. He had more zeal than wisdom. In his anger and madness at the Romans he was almost insane. He was an eloquent man. He roused the whole Jewish nation. Multitudes welcomed him as the promised Messiah. Thousands gathered around him; many of them fishermen, shepherds, vine-dressers and craftsmen of Galilee. They followed him throughout the entire land with fire and sword, laying waste cities and homesteads, vineyards and cornfields. Their watchword was, "We have no Lord or master, but God."
But this rebellion against the Roman government failed. Judas himself was slain. Villages in Galilee—Bethsaida probably one of them—became hospitals for the wounded in battle. The whole region was one of mourning for the dead. There was terrible disappointment concerning Judas of Galilee. None could say of him, "We have found the Messiah." "We have found Him, of whom Moses in the Law, and the prophets, did write." Again think of these words; they are yet to be spoken concerning another.
What the five young Galileans of Bethsaida saw and heard of these events must have made a deep impression on them. They were old enough to be young patriots interested in their nation. Their sympathies would be with those trying to free their people from Roman power. Perhaps their thoughts concerning Messiah became confused by the false claims of Judas, the pretender, and his deluded followers.
But this did not destroy their confidence in the Scriptures. They believed the prophecy it contained would yet be fulfilled. At this time John is supposed to have been about twelve years of age. Had he been older, the temperament which he afterward showed, and which sometimes misled him, allows us to think that he might have been drawn into the rebellion. Peter also in his fiery zeal might have drawn his mistaken sword. They might have become comrades in war, as they did become in peace. For many years they continued their Scripture studies, without however gaining the full knowledge of the Messiah and His kingdom, to which at last they attained.
Early Influences on Character
As we trace the history of the five youthful Bethsaidans, it seems almost certain that some special influence or influences helped to shape their characters, and to unite them in thought, purpose and effort; and so secure marked and grand results. This union was not a mere coincidence. Nor can it be accounted for by their being of the same nation or town, and having the same education common to Jewish boys. There was something which survived the mere associations of boyhood, and continued to, or was revived in, manhood. The influence whatever it was must have been special and powerful. What was it? In that little village were their faithful souls praying more earnestly than others, and searching the Scriptures more diligently, finding spiritual meanings hidden from the common readers, and so understanding more correctly, even though not perfectly, who was the true Messiah, and what He would do when He came? Or, was there some rabbi in Bethsaida like Simeon in Jerusalem, of whom it could be said, "the Holy Ghost was upon him," and "he was waiting for the consolation of Israel"—the coming of the Messiah? Or, was there a teacher of the synagogue school in Bethsaida, instructing his pupils as no other teacher did? Or, was there some aged Anna, like the prophetess in the Temple, who "served God with fastings and prayer," who going about the village full of thoughts concerning the Messiah, "spake of Him to all them that looked for His coming"? Or, was it in the homes of the five that we find that special influence? Did Jonas talk with his sons as few other fathers did, while Andrew and Peter listened most attentively to his words? Did Zebedee and Salome, as Jonas, prepare by teaching their sons for the coming time when the two pairs of brothers should be in closer companionship than the family friendship of these Galilean fishermen and business partnership could secure? Was Peter, full of boyish enthusiasm, a leader of the little company; or did John in quiet loveliness draw the others after himself? Did Philip have such family training as had the other four, or was he guided by the lights that came from their homes?
And now in thought we disband the little circle of five, to be reunited elsewhere after many years. We glance into the home of James and John. We have already spoken of Salome's royal descent, and of the sympathy between her and her sons. With what deep interest we would listen to her teachings and watch the influence on them as they talked together of David their ancestor, and of how they were of the same tribe and family to which the Messiah would belong. Salome understood much about Him, more probably than most mothers: but she was much mistaken about what was meant by His Kingdom. She thought He would rule like David on an earthly throne. Her sons believed as she did, and so were as sadly mistaken. It was long before they discovered their mistake. That was in circumstances very different from what were now in their minds.
Thus far we have attempted to restore the surroundings of John in his early days, which did much in shaping his early life, and fitting him for the great work he was to perform. We have glanced at the country and town in which he lived. As we see them through his eyes, he appears the more real to us. We have watched the little circle of his intimate friends, on whom he must have had an influence, and who influenced him. We have glanced at his home with his parents and brothers. We have tried to gain some idea of what and how much he had learned, especially concerning the Messiah. We are now prepared to look at him alone, and try to get a more distinct view of his character.
We are not told what kind of a boy John was. We are told of many things he said and did when he was a man. These help us to understand what he must have been when young. Though there be great changes in us as we grow older, some things remain the same in kind if not in degree. Judging by certain things in John's manhood, we form an idea of his childhood. We may think of him as a lovable boy. His feelings were tender. He was greatly interested in events which pleased him. He was quick and active. He was modest and generally shy, yet bold when determined to do anything. He was not ready to tell all he felt or knew. He was helpful in his father's business. He thought and felt and planned much as his mother did. He was thoughtful and quick to understand, and sought explanation of what was not easily understood. He was frank in all he said, and abhorred dishonesty, especially in one who professed to be good. Above all he was of a loving disposition, and this made others love him. He was beloved because he loved.
Yet John was not perfect, as we shall see in another chapter. We know of some things he said and did when a man, which help us to understand the kinds of temptations he had in his younger days. They were such as these; contempt for others who did not think and do as he did, judging them unjustly and unkindly, and showing an unkind feeling toward them; a revengeful spirit, ready to do harm for supposed injury; selfishness; ambition—wanting to be in honor above others. His greatest temptation was to pride. But at last he overcame such temptations. What was lovable in childhood became more beautiful in manhood. He more nearly reached perfection than any other of whom we know—by what influence, we shall see.
First Visit to Jerusalem
At twelve years of age a Jewish boy was no longer thought of as a child, but a youth. Before he reached that age he looked forward to an event which seemed to him very great. It was his first visit to Jerusalem. Peter was probably older than James or John. With boyish interest they listened to the report of his first pilgrimage to the Holy City. When the time came for James to accompany him, John's interest would increase as he heard his brother's story; and much more when he could say, "Next year I too shall see it all." And when at last he, probably the youngest of the five Bethsaidan boys, could be one of the company, a day of gladness indeed had come. With his father, and perhaps his mother, he joined the caravan of pilgrims, composed chiefly of men and boys. Their probable route was across the Jordan, then southward, through valleys and gorges, and along mountain-sides which echoed with the Psalms which were sung on these pilgrimages, called "Songs of Degrees."
At Bethabara, nearly opposite Jericho, the travelers recrossed the Jordan. There John might think of that other crossing many years before when Joshua led the hosts of Israel between the divided waters; and when Elijah smote them with his mantle, and there was a pathway for him and Elisha. John was to add to his memories of the spot. At a later day he would there witness a more glorious scene.
At last from the Mount of Olives, at a turn in the road, he had his first view of the Holy City; its walls and seventy towers of great height, and the Holy House—the Temple of God, with which in after years he was to become familiar. There he saw for himself of what he had often heard;—the Holy Altar and lamb of sacrifice—reminders of the coming Messiah; the offering of incense; and the many and varied forms of stately worship.
At the time that John made this visit to Jerusalem, there was a celebrated school known as that of Gamaliel, who was the most noted of the Jewish Rabbis, or teachers. Boys were sent to him from all parts of Palestine, and even from distant countries in which Jews lived. There was one such boy from the town of Tarsus, in the Roman province of Cilicia in Asia Minor. Though living in a heathen city, surrounded by idolatry, he had received a Jewish training in his home and in the synagogue school, until he was old enough to go to Jerusalem to be trained to become a Rabbi. Like John he had learned much of the Old Testament Scriptures, but it does not appear that he had the special influences which we have imagined gave direction to the thoughts and plans of the five boys of Galilee. In his boyhood he was known as Saul; afterward as Paul. He and John in their early days differed in many things; in the later days they became alike in the most important thoughts, feelings, purposes and labors of their lives. And because of this they became associated with each other, and are remembered together as among the best and greatest of mankind.
It is possible that John visited the school of Gamaliel, and that the boy from Bethsaida and the one from Tarsus met as strangers, who would some day meet as friends indeed. It is more probable that they worshiped together in the temple at the feast, receiving the same impressions which lasted and deepened through many years, and which we to-day have in what they wrote for the good of their fellow-men.
When John returns from Jerusalem to his home we lose even the dim sight of him which our imagination has supplied. During the silent years that follow we have two thoughts of him,—as a fisherman of Galilee, and as one waiting for the coming of the Messiah. His parents' only thought of him is a life of honest toil, a comfort in their old age, a sharer in their prosperity, and an heir to their home and what they would leave behind. They little think that he will be remembered when kings of their day are forgotten; that two thousand years after, lives of him will be written because of a higher relationship than that of mere cousinship to Jesus; and that their own names will be remembered only because John was their son. Only God sees in the boy playing on the seashore, and in the fisherman of Gennesaret, the true greatness and honor into which He will guide him.
John's View of the Coming Messiah
In our thoughts of Jesus we have chiefly in mind the things that happened at the time of His birth and afterward. We read of them in the Gospels. John had the Old Testament only, containing promises of what was yet to happen. We have the New Testament telling of their fulfilment.
Thus far we have spoken of Jesus as John knew Him—as a boy in Nazareth, the son of Mary, and his own cousin. We have also spoken of John's ideas of the Messiah. As yet he has not thought as we do of Jesus and the Messiah being the same person. It is not easy for us to put ourselves in his place, and leave out of our thoughts all the Gospels tell us. But we must do this to understand what he understood during his youth and early manhood, respecting the Messiah yet to come.
Let us imagine him looking through the Old Testament, especially the books of Moses and the prophets, and finding what is said of Him; and see if we can what impressions are made on this young Bible student of prophecy. His search goes back many years. He finds the first Gospel promise. It was made while Adam and Eve, having sinned, were yet in the Garden of Eden. It was the promise of a Saviour to come from heaven to earth, through whom they and their descendants could be saved from the power of Satan and the consequences of sin. We do not know how much our first parents understood of this coming One: but we feel assured that they believed this promise, and through repentance and faith in this Saviour, they at last entered a more glorious paradise than the one they lost. That promise faded from the minds of many of their descendants and wickedness increased. But God had not forgotten it. John could find it renewed by him to Abraham, in the words, "In thee shall all the families of the earth be blessed,"—meaning that the Messiah should be the Saviour of all nations, Gentiles as well as Jews. The promise was renewed to Isaac, the son of Abraham; and then repeated to his son Jacob, in the same words spoken to his grandfather. Jacob on his dying bed told Judah what God had revealed to him, that the Messiah should be of the tribe of which Judah was the head.
Many years later God made it known to David that the Messiah should be one of his descendants. This was a wonder and delight to him as he exclaimed, "Who am I, O Lord God, and what is mine house! for Thou hast spoken of Thy servant's house for a great while to come." John must have been taught by his mother that they were of the honored house of David. They, in common with other Jews, believed that the "great while to come" was near at hand.
John read in Isaiah of her who would be the mother of the Messiah, without thought that she was his aunt Mary. He read that she should call her son Immanuel, meaning "God with us," without thinking this was another name for his cousin Jesus. John would find other names describing His character. His eye would rest on such words and phrases as these—"Holy One;" "Most Holy;" "Most Mighty;" "Mighty to Save;" "Mighty One of Israel;" "Redeemer;" "Your Redeemer;" "Messiah the Prince;" "Leader;" "Lord Strong and Mighty;" "King of Glory;" "King over all the earth."
Most of all John would think again and again of a wonderful declaration of Isaiah, writing as if he lived in John's day, saying, "Unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government shall be upon His shoulders, and His name shall be called Wonderful Counsellor, The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. Of the exercise of His government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David."
Had John known that these words of Isaiah referred to Jesus, he might have repeated them, not as a prophecy, but with a present meaning, saying, "The Child is born!" As he read the prophecy of Haggai, uttered more than five hundred years before—"The desire of all nations shall come"—he might have exclaimed, "He has come!"
In John's reading in the Old Testament it seems strange to us that some things made a deeper impression on him than did others, and that he understood some things so differently from what we do, especially about the Messiah's kingdom. He noticed the things about His power and glory, but seems to have misread or overlooked those about the dishonor, and suffering and death that would come upon Him. We read in the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah, how He was to be "despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief, ... wounded for our transgressions and bruised for our iniquities, ... brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before his shearers, ... and make His grave with the wicked." We know that all this happened. We think of a suffering Saviour. We wonder that John did not have such things in his mind. But in this he was much like his teachers, and most of the Jews. Though, as we have imagined, his family and some others were more nearly right than most people, even they did not have a full knowledge or correct understanding of all that the Old Testament Scriptures taught, concerning these things.
But at last John learned more concerning Christ than any of them. We are yet to see how this came to pass. For the present we leave him in Bethsaida, increasing in wisdom and stature. So is also his cousin in Nazareth, of whom let us gain a more distinct view before He is revealed to John as the Messiah.
Jesus the Hidden Messiah
"There has been in this world one rare flower of Paradise—a holy childhood growing up gradually into a holy manhood, and always retaining in mature life the precious, unstained memories of perfect innocence."—H.B. Stowe.
The aged Simeon in the Temple, with the infant Jesus in his arms, said, "Now lettest Thou Thy servant depart, O Lord, ... in peace; for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation"—the expected Messiah. But it was not for Him to proclaim His having come. The aged Anna could not long speak "of Him to all them that looked for redemption in Jerusalem," or anywhere else. For awhile the shepherds told their wonderful story, and then died. The angels did not continue to sing their hymn of the Nativity over the plains of Bethlehem. The Wise Men returned to their own country. Herod died, and none thought of the young child he sought to kill. The hiding in Egypt was followed by a longer hiding of another kind in Nazareth. The stories of those who gathered about the infant cradle were soon forgotten, or repeated only to be disbelieved. Mary, and her husband Joseph—who acted the part of an earthly father to the heaven-born child—carried through the years the sacred secret of who and what Jesus was.
We long to know something of the holy childhood. We have allowed our imagination to have a little play, but this does not satisfy our curiosity, nor that desire which we have concerning all great men, to know of their boyhood. What did He do? Where did He go? What was His life at home, and in the village school? Who were His mates? How did He appear among His brothers and sisters? So strong is a desire to know of such things that stories have been invented to supply the place of positive knowledge; but most of them are unsatisfactory, and unlike our thoughts of Him. Thus much we do know, that, "He grew in wisdom and stature" not only, but also "in favor with God and man."
It has been finally said; "Only one flower of anecdote has been thrown over the wall of the hidden garden, and it is so suggestive as to fill us with intense longing to see the garden itself. But it has pleased God, whose silence is no less wonderful than His words, to keep it shut." That "one flower" refers to Jesus' visit to Jerusalem just as He was passing from childhood to youth, when He tarried in the Temple with the learned Rabbis, asking them questions with which His mind was full, and making answers which astonished them.
A most interesting question arises in connection with that visit; Did Jesus then and there learn that He was the Messiah? When He asked His mother, "Wist ye not that I must be in My Father's house," or, "about My Father's business?" did He have a new idea of God as His Father Who had sent Him into the world to do the great work which the Messiah was to perform?
There were eighteen silent years between His first visit to Jerusalem, and the time when, at thirty years of age, he made Himself known as the Messiah. They were spent as a village carpenter. He was known as such. No one suspected Him to be anything more. In His work He must have been a model of honesty and faithfulness. We can believe that "all His works were perfect, that never was a nail driven or a line laid carelessly, and that the toil of that carpenter's bench was as sacred to Him as His teachings in the Temple, because it was duty."
In His home He was the devoted eldest son. It was of that time that the poet sings to Mary;—
"O, highly favored thou, in many an hour Spent in lone musings with thy wondrous Son, When thou didst gaze into that glorious eye, And hold that mighty hand within thine own.
"Blest through those thirty years when in thy dwelling He lived as God disguised with unknown power, And thou His sole adorer, His best love, Trusted, revering, waited for His hour." —H.B. Stowe.
Joseph had probably died, and the care of Mary fell especially on Jesus. But in the carpenter's shop, in the home, and wherever He was, He had thoughts and feelings and purposes hidden from all others. They were such as no mere human being could have. He was alone in the world. In silence and solitude His communions were with His Father in heaven. Calmness and peace filled His soul. His great work was before Him, ever present to His thought. So was His cross, and the glory which should come to God, and the blessedness to man, when His work on earth was done. As John long after declared, "He was in the world and the world knew Him not." As a great King He had come from heaven, and was waiting for a certain one to proclaim His coming. Toward that herald let us turn and with John listen to his voice.
"The Prophet of the Most High"
"Zacharias was filled with the Holy Ghost, and prophesied, saying, ... "Yea, and thou, child, shalt be called the prophet of the Most High: For thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to make ready His ways."—Luke i. 67, 76.
"There came a man, sent from God, whose name was John. The same came for witness, that he might bear witness of the light, that all men might believe through him."—John i. 6, 7.
"He was the lamp that burneth and shineth."—John v. 35.
"In devotional pictures we see St. John the Evangelist and St. John the Baptist standing together, one on each side of Christ."—Mrs. Jameson.
Salome and Mary had a cousin named Elizabeth. Her home was not in Galilee, but in Judaea—the southern part of the Holy Land—probably near Hebron, possibly near Jerusalem. She had a son also named John. He was so called because the angel Gabriel, who had told Mary to call her son Jesus, had said to Zacharias, an aged high priest, the husband of Elizabeth, concerning their son, "Thou shalt call his name John." This name means "The Gift of God." Born in their old age he seemed especially such to them. He was a gift not only to his parents, but to his country and mankind. While Zebedee and Salome had not been told what their John should become, Zacharias and Elizabeth had been told the future of their John. The angel declared, "He shall be great." Had he said only this, we might think he meant great in power, or learning, or in other things which men call great, but which the Lord does not. Gabriel said, "He shall be great in the sight of the Lord."
Mary visited the home of Elizabeth and the happy cousins praised God for what He had revealed to them concerning their sons.
The greatness to which Elizabeth's son was to attain was that of a prophet—greater than Elijah, or Isaiah, or any other who had lived before him. With exultation Zacharias said to him, "Thou, child, shalt be called the prophet of the Most High."
God had arranged that he should be ready to proclaim the coming One just before the Messiah should appear among men. For this reason he was called the Fore-runner of the Messiah. But though Jesus was in the world, the time for His appearance as the Messiah had not yet come.
John was greatly saddened by what he saw of the wickedness of men, even those who professed to be the people of God, and their unfitness to receive Him for whom they were looking. Led by the Spirit of God, John retired to the wilderness of Judaea, in the region of the Dead Sea and the Jordan, for meditation and communion with God. But he was not entirely concealed. There were a few who heard of his sanctity and wisdom, sought instruction from him, and abode with him, becoming his disciples. He seems to have had special influence over young men. Our Bethsaidan boys have now grown to be such since we saw them in their early home, and as school and fisher boys. They were now toiling at their nets with their fathers, closer than ever in their friendship for each other, still waiting and watching for Him whom they had been taught from their earliest days to expect. We think of their interest in the rumors concerning the prophet of Judaea.
As the two pair of brothers talk together, we can hear one of them saying, "I must see and hear and know for myself. I will lay aside my fishing, and go to the wilderness of Judaea." To this the others reply, as on another occasion to Peter, "We also come with thee." Leaving the quiet shores of Gennesaret, they follow the road each has traveled annually since twelve years of age on his way to the feast in Jerusalem.
They met the hermit in the wilderness. His appearance was strange indeed. His hair was long and unkempt; his face tanned with the sun and the desert air; his body unnourished by the simple food of locusts and wild honey. His raiment was of the coarsest and cheapest cloth of camel's hair. His girdle was a rough band of leather, such as was worn by the poor,—most unlike those made of fine material, and ornamented with needlework. His whole appearance must have been a great contrast to his gentle and refined namesake from Galilee.
The solemn earnestness of the prophet, and the greatness of the truths he taught, were well calculated to excite the greatest interest of the young Galileans. They looked upon him with increasing conviction that he was "a prophet of God." Instead of returning to their homes, they remained in Judaea and attached themselves to him, and became known as his disciples. In their new service there was a new bond of union for themselves, which—though they then knew it not—would lead to another yet stronger.
At last "the word of the Lord came unto" John, when he was about thirty years old, calling him to a more public ministry. So "He came into all the country about Jordan." Beginning in the south he moved northward from place to place.
Rumors concerning the new strange prophet spread rapidly. "There went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judaea, and all the region round about Jordan." Shepherds left their flocks and flocked around him. Herdsmen left their fields, and vine-dressers their vineyards, and Roman soldiers their garrisons, for the wilderness. Rabbis left their parchments in the synagogue, the schoolroom and the home, to hear the living voice of a teacher greater than any one of them. Self-righteous Pharisees and common people followed them. Some sought the preacher only from curiosity; some to hear the truth. John's preaching was summed up in two phrases,—"Repent ye," and "The kingdom of heaven is at hand."
His preaching was bold, clear, earnest, and forcible. Many yielded to the power of his preaching. They were baptized by him; for this reason he was known as St. John the Baptist, or the Baptizer.
John of Galilee was one of those who obeyed the injunction "Repent ye." With all his lovable qualities which we have imagined in his childhood—his refinement, his faithfulness in his home and synagogue, and his honest toil—he saw that within himself which was not right in the sight of God. He repented of his sins and sought forgiveness. A lovely character became more lovely still, to be known as the loving and beloved one. He was ready to welcome the Messiah of whom the Baptist told. He had no fears that another Judas of Galilee had arisen. He believed that the promises concerning the coming One were being fulfilled. He was a faithful disciple of the prophet and forerunner, to whom he must have been a great joy, but who was ready to have him, whenever the time should come, transfer his following to the Lord of them both. For how long a period the two Johns continued together, we do not know, but it was drawing to its close.
The Messiah Found
"They found Him not, those youths of noble soul; Long seeking, wandering, watching on life's shore, Reasoning, aspiring, yearning for the light.
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"But years passed on; and lo! the Charmer came, Pure, simple, sweet, as comes the silver dew, And the world knew Him not,—He walked alone, Encircled only by His trusting few." —H.B. Stowe.
"We"—Andrew and John—"have found the Messiah."—Andrew to Peter.
"We"—Andrew and Peter, James and John, and Philip—"have found Him, of Whom Moses in the law, and the prophets did write, Jesus of Nazareth."—Philip to Nathanael.
"The fulness of the time was come," not only when "God sent forth His Son," but "when the Son should reveal Himself to the world." So Jesus came forth from His retirement in Nazareth to enter on His public ministry.
"Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to Jordan, unto John to be baptized of him." What a meeting! Probably the first in their lives. It is no marvel that John said, "I have need to be baptized of Thee, and comest Thou to me?" But he obeyed Jesus' bidding, "Suffer it to be so now." "So He was baptized of John in Jordan." Then followed the prayer of the Son of God; and then "the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon Him"; and then the voice of the Father, saying, "Thou art my beloved Son: in Thee I am well pleased." Let us remember that voice: we shall hear it again.
And then for forty days and forty nights Jesus was hidden completely from the face of man, alone on the Mount of Temptation, with wild beasts, until ministering angels come to Him from heaven.
He returned to the region where the Baptist was preaching. "John seeth Jesus coming to him." His eye is turned away from the multitude thronging about him, and is fastened upon Jesus only. His thought is of Him of whom Isaiah wrote long before—"He is brought as a lamb to the slaughter." Pointing to Jesus he exclaims, "Behold the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world!"
The Galilean disciples were doubtless present, and were deeply moved by their Master's exclamation. Because of their previous training in their homes, and in the wilderness with the prophet, it must have kindled in them deeper emotion than it did in any others of that astonished throng. But it was to become deeper still. This was especially true of two of them.
The next day, probably a Sabbath, was to become a memorable day in the history of the two and of their master. It was a morning hour. We think of the three as alone, before the multitudes had gathered, or the day's ministry of preaching and baptizing had begun. They walked along the bank of the river communing together of Him whom they had seen the day before. In the distance John saw the Figure again. In awe and reverence, and with a fixed gaze, "John was standing, and two of his disciples; and he looked upon Jesus as He walked, and saith, Behold, the Lamb of God!" The exclamation was in part that which they had heard in the presence of the multitude; but that was not enough. It was as if John had said, "Behold the Messiah for whom our nation has waited so long; Him of whom our Scriptures have told us; Who has been the theme in our homes from childhood; of whom I have been the prophet and herald. He it is of whom I have taught you, my disciples, as you have followed me in the wilderness until I now can bid you behold Him. Henceforth follow Him."
John says that one of the two was Andrew. There is no doubt that the other was himself. We shall notice in his writings that he never uses his own name. This incident is our first definite knowledge of him. All we have said hitherto is what we think must have been true, judging from circumstances of which we do know, and from his character revealed after this time.
We long to know whether "Jesus as He walked" came near the Baptist, and with what salutation they met, and what were their parting words, for this seems to be the last time of their meeting. If Mary and Salome were sisters, and Elizabeth was their cousin—as we use the term—John of Galilee and Jesus were related to John the Baptist in the same way. But there was a closer relationship than that of family. In this Jesus was the connecting link between the two Johns. "One on each side of Christ"—this was their joy and their glory. One was the last prophet to proclaim His coming: the other was to be the last evangelist to tell the story of His life on the earth.
When the Baptist the second time uttered the cry, "Behold the Lamb of God!" "the two disciples heard Him speak and followed Jesus." Their old master saw them turn from him without a jealous, but with a gladsome thought. Encouraged by him, and drawn by Jesus, with reverential awe, in solemn silence or with subdued tone, they timidly walked in the footsteps of the newly revealed Master. The quickened ear before them detected their footsteps or conversation. "Jesus turned and saw them following," as if to welcome their approach, and give them courage. He then asked them a question, "What seek ye?" It was not asked because He was ignorant, but to encourage them in familiar conversation, as He did at other times. Their answer was another question, "Rabbi, where abidest Thou?" They longed for a fuller opportunity than that on the road to be taught by Him. "Come and see," was His welcome reply. "They came and saw where He dwelt, and abode with Him that day." First by a look, then a question, then an invitation, then hospitality, they were drawn to Him, and into His service.
Often in after years must Andrew and John have recalled that walk with Jesus, and "rehearsed the things that happened," and said one to another, "Was not our heart burning within us while He spake to us in the way?" So afterward did other two, of Emmaus, when "Jesus Himself drew near and went with them." But the eyes of Andrew and John were not "holden that they should not know Him." The pleasing dream of years was past: they were wakening to a glorious reality. Their following of Him in that hour has been claimed to be "the beginning of the Christian Church."
That day of abiding with Jesus was the first of many days these disciples spent with Him, knowing Him more and more perfectly, and the truth which He alone could reveal. They were then passing from the school of the Baptist to that of the Greatest Teacher. What was said in those sacred hours? John has reported other private interviews with Jesus, but concerning this one his lips are sealed. Did he tell of his surprise and joy to learn that He, Jesus, the son of his aunt, Mary, was the Messiah of whom his mother, Salome, had taught him from his early days? Were there any memories of childhood—of the sandy beach of Bethsaida, or the hills of Nazareth; or, were all such thoughts buried in newer and deeper question? Was there any hint of their future relation too sacred for others then to know? Was this the beginning of that sweet intimacy so private then, but of which the whole world should hear in all coming time?
After the evening meal in Emmaus the two disciples there "rose up the same hour, and returned to Jerusalem," with joyful and quickened steps to report the glad tidings of what they had seen and heard. Andrew and John were to be of the number who, in three years, would hail these disciples from Emmaus. Like them, Andrew and John hastened away from the sheltering booth on the Jordan bank on a like errand. But they went not together, nor to an assembled company. They each went in search of his own brother—Andrew for Peter, and John for James. Andrew found his brother first. Afterward John found his: so we infer from his narrative. Each carried the same tidings, "We have found the Messiah!"
Andrew is thought to have asked leave to bring his brother. "He brought him to Jesus." When John wrote that simple statement, he did not think how much was included in it concerning Peter and his own relation to him. As little did Andrew think to what the promptings of his brotherly affection would lead. His mission seems to have been that of bringing others to Christ—his own brother, the lad with five loaves and two fishes, and certain Greeks who desired to see Jesus. John only has made note of these three incidents. In so doing he has given to us the key to the character of his friend, and caused him to be held in everlasting remembrance. Andrew is remembered in the cross that bears his name; in his anniversary day; in the choice of him for the patron saint of Scotland; in orders of knighthood, and in Christian societies of brotherhood named after him, as an example and inspiration to the noblest of Christian endeavor—that of bringing old and young to Christ.
It is John alone who wrote of that memorable day on the Jordan. His impressions were deep and lasting. The record of them is so fresh and minute that we seem to be perusing a notebook which was in his hands when these events were transpiring. His memory is distinct of the exact location of each; of the attitudes and movements of the actors,—as when "John stood," and "Jesus walked," and "Jesus turned"; of the fixed and earnest look of Jesus—as on Andrew and John in the way, and Peter in the place of His abode. John remembered the words of the Baptist, and of his two disciples, and of Jesus. He remembered the day not only, but that "it was about the tenth hour when he accepted the invitation to come and see where Jesus was tarrying."
All these pictures hung unfading on the walls of John's memory. This was not strange. It was the day and the hour for which he looked through all his early years, and to which he looked back in his latest. Then was the beginning of a most blessed relationship, alone in the history of mankind; that which was to make his name immortal, and radiant with a halo which encircles none other.
"The day following, Jesus would go forth into Galilee, and findeth Philip, and saith unto him, Follow Me. Now Philip was of Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter." So writes John, recalling to us the Galilean group of Bethsaidan boys. When we became familiar with their names, there was no prospect that the two pairs of brothers and their friend would head the roll of disciples of the Messiah for whom they were looking. But such a day had come. We know not that Philip had a brother whom he could bring to Jesus, as did Andrew and John, but he was as full of wonder and joy as they. Like them he must go in search of some one to whom he could repeat their exclamation. The search was not long. John tells the result. "Philip findeth Nathanael and saith unto him, We have found Him." But this simple declaration is not enough for Philip. He recalls those Scripture scrolls in his home and the Rabbi's school, and the synagogue, that told of the coming Messiah, and so he exclaims, "We have found Him of whom Moses and the Law, and the Prophets did write"—thus repeating the phrase we were to remember till we should hear it again. Nathanael, coming to Jesus declared in wonder and admiration, "Thou art the Son of God; Thou art the King of Israel." His name was added to those of the Galilean group.
The disciples now numbered five or six—Andrew, John, Peter, Philip, Nathanael, and probably James. These were one half of a completed circle to surround Jesus. All but one of them were of the Bethsaidan band. John has drawn lifelike pictures of them, more complete than those of the other apostles,—except that of Judas, whom he contrasts with all the rest. We have thought of James and John as nearest to Jesus in kinship. We are already beginning to think of John as nearest in discipleship.
John a Wedding Guest
"There was a marriage in Cana of Galilee; and the mother of Jesus was there: and Jesus also was bidden, and His disciples to the marriage."
"The mother of Jesus saith unto Him, They have no wine."
"The ruler of the feast tasted the water now become wine."
"This beginning of His signs did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, and manifested His glory; and His disciples believed on Him."—John ii. 1-3, 9, 11.
Again John notices the very day on which occurred a remarkable event, of which he had a vivid recollection. It was the third, as is probable, after the departure of Jesus from Jordan for Galilee.
He was invited to a wedding in Cana. His disciples were invited also, we may suppose out of respect to Him. James and John might have been there without the rest. It is possible that they were relatives of the family, as their aunt Mary is thought to have been. She was there caring for the guests, and what had been provided for them. The marriage feast lasted several days. Jesus and His disciples were not present at the beginning. After their arrival, Mary discovered that the wine had given out. Like the sister of another Mary, in whose house Jesus was a guest, she was troubled because it looked as if the family had not provided for all the company. She had probably been a widow for several years, and as Jesus was her oldest Son, she had gone to Him for advice and help when in trouble at home. So now "when they wanted wine, the mother of Jesus saith unto Him, They have no wine." We are not to suppose that she intended to ask Him to do a miracle. Perhaps she simply said, "What shall we do?" as many a housekeeper has said when in doubt. He made a reply which seems harsh and unkind, unless we understand His meaning, and imagine His words to have been spoken in a kind tone, and with a kind and loving look. She was not offended by His reply. Thinking He might do something—she knew not what—she said unto the servants, "Whatsoever He saith unto you, do it."
It might be said of Him at this time, as it was at another, "He knew Himself what He would do." He gave three simple commands to the servants. The first was, "Fill the water-pots with water." They did as Mary had said, and obeyed Him. Watching them until the jars were full, He said, "Draw out now and bear unto the ruler of the feast." This was probably a special friend of the family, who with Mary was directing it. While Jesus' command was being obeyed, His first miracle was performed. "When the ruler had 'tasted the water now become wine, and knew not whence it was,' ... he called the bridegroom," and in a playful joke praised the goodness of the wine which he imagined had purposely been kept to the last.
"The water now become wine" is the brief statement of the first of the thirty-six recorded miracles of our Lord. It was seen by the six disciples. They witnessed the first of the miracles since those in the days of Daniel, of which they had read in their Scriptures, one of the last of which was at the impious feast of Belshazzar. There the holy cups from Jerusalem were used in praising false gods of silver and gold, in the hands of the king and his lords, as they read the handwriting on the wall, interpreted by Daniel. How different the feast in Cana. There was no fear there. When the disciples saw the cup in the hands of the hilarious governor, and heard his playful words, they were not in a sportive mood. Theirs was that of astonishment and reverence at the miracle. No Daniel was needed to interpret the meaning of that water changed into wine. John tells us what they understood thereby—that "Jesus manifested His glory." He showed the power which belongs to God only.