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The King nobody wanted
By NORMAN F. LANGFORD
Illustrated by John Lear
THE WESTMINSTER PRESS PHILADELPHIA
COPYRIGHT, MCMXLVIII, BY W. L. JENKINS
* * * * *
2 A King Is Born
4 Jesus Goes to Work
5 A Busy Time
6 Friends and Foes
7 Slow to Understand
8 Jesus Is Strong
9 Refusing a Crown
10 The Way to Jerusalem
11 Nearing the City
12 In Jerusalem
13 The Last Night
14 The Last Day
15 The Victorious King
* * * * *
ABOUT THIS BOOK
In a very real and interesting way, THE KING NOBODY WANTED tells the story of Jesus. Where the actual words of the Bible are used, they are from the King James Version. But the greater part of the story is told in the words of every day.
Since you will certainly want to look up these stories in your own Bible, the references are given on pages 191 and 192. You will discover that often more than one Gospel tells the same story about Jesus, but in a slightly different way. In THE KING NOBODY WANTED, the stories from the Gospels have been put together so that there is just one story for you to read and understand and enjoy.
Two thousand years ago, in the land of Palestine, the Jewish people were waiting for something to happen—or, really, were waiting for someone to come.
"When will he come?" was the question they were always asking one another. "Will he come in five years? next year? Or is he already on his way?"
They were waiting for someone, and when he came they would call him "the Messiah." If they spoke the Greek language, they would call him "Christ." The people thought he would be a great king.
They had one king already. His name was Herod the Great. But Herod was not the kind of king they wanted. Herod was hard and cruel. He poisoned and beheaded those who made him angry. He was not a Jew by birth. The Messiah, when he came, would be a good king. He would be a Jew himself, and a friend to all the Jewish people. One of the prophets said he would be like the shepherds of Palestine, who watched their sheep night and day, and carried the small lambs in their arms.
But the most important thing about the Messiah was that he would drive Caesar and his armies out of the country. Caesar! How they hated his very name! For Caesar was the emperor of the Romans. Some years before, the Romans had occupied the country and begun to rule it. Herod was still king of the Jews, but now he took his orders from Caesar. Everybody had to take orders from Caesar. The Jews were not a free people any more.
"It used to be so different," the older people sighed, "before the Romans came."
Everywhere in Palestine Roman armies went marching. Their shields flashed in the sunlight, and when they were on the march they carried golden eagles which stood for Caesar's power.
The Romans tried to rule the country well. They said that everybody would get justice and fair play. But the Jews could not see the fairness in having to pay taxes to a foreign king who did not even worship God. They did not like to see Roman soldiers whipping people with long leather whips called scourges, into which bits of glass and lead and iron were fastened to make them bite more deeply into some poor Jew's back. They were sick at heart when the Romans began to punish criminals by nailing them up by their hands and feet to big wooden crosses, and leaving them to hang there until they died.
Well, the Messiah would take care of the Romans. He would gather an army from east and west and north and south. Then there would be a great day for the Jewish people, a great day for the nation that was called by the glorious name of Israel! From all over the country the men of Israel would rise up. They would come when their king called them, and he would lead them to victory against Caesar. The Romans would go back where they came from, and Israel would be free and peaceful and rich and happy again. The Messiah would make Israel into a great kingdom, bigger and more powerful than the Roman Empire ever was. The Jews would rule the world. Everyone, everywhere, would worship the God of Israel, and the Messiah would be King of all the nations of the earth. If only he would come!
It was hard to wait so long. They had waited for him a long time, and their fathers and grandfathers had waited for him too. Sometimes word would go around that he had finally arrived, and in great excitement some of the Jews would get ready to drive the Romans out of Palestine. But always it turned out to be a mistake, and the Jews would be disappointed, and shake their heads, and say, "Will he ever come?"
But when they grew discouraged, they would remember what was written in their Holy Scriptures. For it was surely written there that the Messiah would come someday. There could be no mistake about it. Someday he would come!
And so it went on, month after month, year after year. The people worked, and dreamed, and hoped, and prayed. The rains would fall in October and soften the hard, dry ground after the heat of summer, so that the farmer could do his plowing. And as he plowed the land, the farmer thought about the Messiah, and wondered if he would come before the harvest in the spring. Then spring would come, and the wheat and barley would be growing up in the smiling fields, and all down the hillside the grapevines and the olive trees would be full of fruit. The Romans were still marching through the country, and still there was no Messiah. But the farmer thought that maybe he would come before the next fall rains.
The fisherman would go sailing across the deep-blue Sea of Galilee, and while he waited for the fish to come into his net, he thought of how long Israel had waited for the Messiah to come. The beggars in the city streets, who were deaf, or blind, or crippled, would sit at the corners and ask for money to buy food. They were wondering too if the Messiah would ever come and help the poor folk of Israel.
The shepherds, out on the rocky hills where nothing would grow but grass for sheep and goats and cattle, were also thinking of the Messiah. In good weather and bad they were there, keeping an eye on their sheep, and they had plenty of time to think. When the rain and the snow were in their faces, the shepherds were thinking, When will he come? And when the hot sun climbed overhead, and the heat was like a furnace, or when the east wind came and blew dust in their faces, then too the shepherds thought, When will he come and save us?
Farmers, fishermen, shepherds—these were not the only people who were thinking of the Messiah. Sometimes along the hot, lonely roads of Palestine, where robbers and wild animals were hiding, a traveler would have dreams. Or the dream might come to someone in sunny Galilee, where camel caravans crossed with their loads of spices and jewels and precious things from Far Eastern lands. But it was most likely to come to a man when he was standing in the great, white, gleaming Temple at Jerusalem, where all good Jews went to worship God.
And the dream would be that the sky opened, and a great light blazed down from heaven. An army came marching down out of the sky, led by a shining warrior whose face was bright as lightning. From his eyes shot flames of fire. His arms and feet shone like polished brass or gold, and when he spoke his voice was like the shouting of ten thousand men. It was King Messiah! "Destroy the Romans!" he would cry. "Burn up their armies! Let not a single one escape!" Fire would pour down from the skies when he gave the order, and the Romans would melt away to nothing, as though they had never been.
Then the dream would fade away. The dreamer would just be trudging along the dusty road, or watching the camel caravans go by, or standing in the Temple with the crowds of unhappy people pushing all around him.
It was just a dream. The Romans were still there. There was no Messiah anywhere to be seen.
If only the King would come!
2. A King Is Born
Nobody saw the lions in the daytime, for they were sleeping in their caves. But at night they might come out to prowl around the rocky hills, looking for a fat sheep to eat. After dark the hyenas and jackals began to howl. Robbers might be somewhere in the darkness too. In the night, when other folk were fast asleep, a good shepherd needed to be awake and on the watch, to see that no harm came to his sheep and lambs.
One night when winter was in the air, some shepherds were huddled together on a stony field not far from the town of Bethlehem. Not many miles to the north lay Jerusalem, the capital city of Palestine. But here in the fields it was quiet, and lonely, and cold.
The shepherds sat upon the rocks, or stood leaning upon their staves. Now and again one of them would see something move, or hear a little rustling sound. He would raise his eyes and peer out anxiously into the darkness to make sure that all was well.
Suddenly, without any warning, the sky was flooded with light from beyond the clouds. Everything had been dark a minute before, but now every stone and tree and hillock in the field showed up bright as day.
The shepherds jumped to their feet. Some were too frightened to speak, and others cried out in terror.
"What is it?"
"What can it be?"
"It's the glory of the Lord," one called out. "Lord, have mercy upon us!"
Suddenly they heard a loud, clear voice.
Silence fell upon the group.
"Shepherds, do not be afraid. I bring you the good news which all the Jews have waited so long to hear. This very day, Christ your Saviour has been born in the city of David. And this is how you will know him: you will find him as a baby, wrapped in swaddling clothes, and lying in a manger."
The voice broke off, and a great chorus began to sing. The sky rang with the music, and these were the words of the song:
"Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, good will toward men."
As quickly as they had come, the light and the singing were gone. There was just the darkness again, and the far-off howling of wild beasts. Everything was the same as before, except that the shepherds' eyes were still blinded by the light, and their ears were full of the music.
Their excited voices broke the spell as they all talked at once.
"He's come at last—the Messiah's come!"
"Where did the angel say?"
"The city of David—that means Bethlehem."
"Why are we waiting here? Let's go to Bethlehem."
"Yes, let's go to Bethlehem at once, and find out what has happened there."
For the first time in their lives, the shepherds left their sheep to look after themselves. Across the hills and the stone fences and the rocky fields the shepherds scrambled, and hardly stopped for breath till they reached the edge of the town. Everything in Bethlehem was dark as night can be. But no—not everything. One tiny speck of light was flickering in the blackness.
"He must be where the light is," said one of the shepherds.
Down the street they ran, and in through a door.
They were standing in a stable. There were no angels there. Instead of that, the shepherds saw cows and donkeys eating hay. A cold draft of air was blowing in around the cracks of the door and over the dirt floor. Beside one of the mangers they saw a man standing. A young woman was resting close by. She was watching a baby who lay in the straw.
"We came to see the Messiah," one of the shepherds stammered.
The baby cried. The animals munched their food.
There was some explaining to do. The shepherds told the story of what had happened in the field.
The young man beside the manger did not have anything very exciting to tell the shepherds.
"My name," he said, "is Joseph. This is my wife Mary. We used to live here in Bethlehem, but no one remembers us now. I've been working in Galilee for years. I have a carpenter shop there. The only reason we came back to Bethlehem was to have our names entered in the government records.
"We got here only yesterday. We tried to get a room in the inn, but there wasn't any room for us with all the important people here. They said we could sleep in the stable. The baby came tonight. Here he is, if you would like to see him."
The shepherds looked at the baby. They hoped that they would see something unusual about him, but he looked just like any other baby.
Then they remembered the angels' song.
Outside again, the shepherds looked up and saw a faint gray light streaking the blackness in the east. Morning was coming. Soon the people of the countryside would be getting up.
What a story the shepherds were going to tell them! Who would have thought of looking for the Messiah in a manger! The shepherds were the first to learn the secret. As they walked back to their flocks they prayed and gave thanks to God.
Meanwhile, the little family in the stable were gathered in silence around the manger. Mary, the mother, said never a word, but her thoughts were busy with the tale the shepherds had told about her little child.
* * * * *
The shepherds were not the only people to see strange lights in the sky. Many miles away, three men saw a new star. They were Wise Men, and they knew all the stars, but this one they had never seen before.
It was not only a new star, but a moving star. Like a bright fingertip in the heavens, it seemed to beckon them on. The Wise Men were rich and important, and thought nothing of a journey. At once they made ready and set out to see where the star would lead them. For many days they traveled across the desert, and at last they came to Jerusalem.
Although they were not Jews, they had heard that a Messiah was expected someday in Palestine. When they saw that the star had brought them to Jerusalem, they decided that the Messiah must have come.
"We are strangers here," they said to each other. "We had better ask our way."
King Herod was in Jerusalem just then, and the Wise Men went to his palace. Since they were rich and famous, they had no trouble getting in to see the king.
They bowed down respectfully before the king, and Herod received them with courtesy. Then the Wise Men asked:
"Where is the newborn King of the Jews? We have seen his star in the east. We have come to worship him, but we do not know where he is."
Herod was surprised, and then he was angry. A new king of the Jews? Why, Herod himself was the king of the Jews! However, he hid his feelings, and answered,
"I will find out what you want to know."
He left the Wise Men, and hurried off to consult with his advisers.
"The Messiah!" he shouted. "Where do they say the Messiah will be born?"
Solemnly he was told:
"In Bethlehem. An ancient book of the Holy Scriptures tells us that out of Bethlehem shall come a governor to rule the people of Israel."
Fear and jealousy boiled up in Herod. But a king must control his feelings, and Herod was old and wise. When he had called his three visitors to him, he was as smooth and polite as ever. He told them that they would find the child in Bethlehem.
"Go there," Herod said, "and look for him carefully. And when you have found him come and tell me, for I too want to go and worship him."
The Wise Men thanked the king, and set out for Bethlehem. Soon they arrived at the place where Joseph and Mary were staying with the baby. It was very different from Herod's palace.
There the three Wise Men fell down on their knees as they would before a king. They opened their treasures and put their gifts in front of the baby. One brought gold. The others brought sweet-smelling ointments, frankincense and myrrh.
"Hail, Messiah!" they murmured in adoration. "Hail, Christ! Hail, King of the Jews!"
When they were once more outside on the road, one of them spoke:
"I think," he said, "that it would be well for us not to see anything of Herod again. I had a dream...."
The others agreed with him quickly. They had had a dream too.
"God sent that dream to warn us that Herod is dangerous," they said. "Herod means to harm the child. Let us find some other road back home."
The days went by, and soon the baby was given his name. He was to be called Jesus.
One day, when Jesus was about six weeks old, Joseph said to Mary:
"Now that we have a child, we must go up to the Temple in Jerusalem and give an offering to the Lord. We cannot afford a lamb. But we can at least take pigeons or a pair of turtledoves."
So Joseph and Mary left Bethlehem, and carried Jesus with them to Jerusalem, five miles away.
An old man came up to them in the Temple.
"My name is Simeon," he said. "I have been waiting for you a long time. All my life I have been waiting to see the Messiah. And now the day has come."
He took Jesus from his mother's arms, and as he held the baby he began to pray.
"Lord, let me now die in peace," he prayed. "For I have seen the Messiah, the Saviour of all nations and the glory of the Jewish people."
Simeon turned back to Joseph and Mary, who were looking at him in wonder.
"Mary," he said, "this child of yours is going to break your heart. He will make enemies, and cause great trouble in this country. He will suffer, and others will suffer too, because of him. But also he will give joy, and bring many people to God. God bless you now."
With these words the old man handed the baby back to Mary, and turned away. Joseph and Mary never saw him again, but they remembered his words forever after.
They took Jesus, and started on their walk back to Bethlehem. There was so much for them to think about.
First there was the story of the shepherds. Then the Wise Men had come with their wonderful gifts. And now there was this old man with his strange words of blessing and warning.
Everything seemed to tell them that Jesus was the Messiah. They should be happier than anyone in the world. And yet they were not happy. There was trouble in the air. Their baby was going to be King of the Jews. Why should there be any trouble about it? They could not understand.
Trouble was not long in coming. One night Joseph had a dream. When he awoke he called to his wife, and told her that they must leave Bethlehem at once. God had sent the dream as a warning for them to get out of the country. They did not dare to stay there any longer. So Joseph and Mary packed up their belongings, and set out for the far country of Egypt where they would be safe.
They left Bethlehem none too soon. For Herod was exceedingly angry when the Wise Men did not come back. Now he was sure that the Messiah really had been born! He was afraid that soon there would be a new king in Palestine to take his throne away from him.
When Herod was afraid, he never wasted any time. Somewhere in Bethlehem was a child whom he feared, and somehow that child must be killed. But he did not know which child it was. How could he be sure to find the right one? He thought of a simple plan.
He called his army officers together, and gave them their orders.
"Send your soldiers to Bethlehem," he told them, "and have them kill every boy in the place who is two years old or younger."
The officers sent their men to Bethlehem, and all the little boys they could find there were put to death. No matter who they were they had to die. It did not take the soldiers very long.
In a few hours they were back in Jerusalem. Herod breathed more easily.
That's a good thing, he thought. If every little boy in Bethlehem is dead, the Messiah must be dead along with the rest.
Herod did not know that the baby whom he feared was gone from Bethlehem before the soldiers got there. While the fathers and mothers of Bethlehem were crying because their little ones were dead, Joseph and Mary and Jesus were safely on their way to Egypt.
Herod did not live long enough to find out his mistake. After he died, the little family in Egypt learned that it was safe to go home again.
But this time they did not go back to Bethlehem. They went straight to the town of Nazareth in Galilee, where Joseph had worked before Jesus was born. There they settled down as though nothing unusual had happened.
In Galilee nobody knew that anything strange had happened at all. Nobody there had heard of the shepherds and the Wise Men, and nobody knew what Simeon had said in the Temple. Nobody knew why it was that so many babies in Bethlehem had been murdered. Nobody in Nazareth thought that the Messiah had come.
In Nazareth people only said, "I hear the carpenter has a son." When Jesus began to walk perhaps they said, "Joseph's son is strong for his age." And later they said, "The carpenter's lad is doing well at school."
But there were more interesting things to talk about in Nazareth than the carpenter's family. There was the Messiah to talk about. "When will he come?" the people asked each other.
Nobody in Nazareth had heard the angels sing.
When boys in Nazareth were about six years old, it was time for them to go to school. No girls were there, for the girls stayed home with their mothers. But every day except the Sabbath, the boys went to the school and sat on the floor with their legs crossed, and there the teacher taught them many things that every Jewish boy would need to know.
He taught them their A B C's in the Hebrew language. Instead of A, he showed them how to make a mark like this: [Hebrew: a]. Instead of B, they learned to make this letter: [Hebrew: b]; and so on, through all the alphabet. Then when they knew their letters, they could learn to read. And every Jewish boy had first of all to read the Scriptures.
The teacher taught them what was in the Scriptures. Over and over they said their lessons aloud, talking all at once, until they knew everything they were supposed to know by heart.
The teacher taught them psalms which had been sung for many years in the Temple of Jerusalem.
He taught them also about the prophets. The prophets were preachers whose words had long ago been written down in the sacred Scriptures. These books were long pieces of skin, which were kept rolled up when no one was reading them. There were many prophets—Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Amos, Malachi, and many others. Little by little the boys began to discover what these preachers had said.
The teacher also made sure that they knew about that part of the Scriptures called the Law. The Ten Commandments were in the Law, and many other sayings which told people what they must do and what they must not do in order to please God. The boys learned how God gave the Commandments to Moses, while lightning flashed and thunder crashed, at the far-off mountain of Sinai.
The teacher told them stories of all that had happened to the Jewish people in the years gone by. But the most important was the story of the Passover. This story explained why their parents went to Jerusalem each spring.
Now this was what every Jewish boy had to learn about the Passover, and remember always:
Once there was a time, hundreds of years before, when the Jews did not live in Palestine. They lived in Egypt, where they were slaves. They wanted to escape, so that they might have a country of their own where they could be free.
One spring night God sent a disease into Egypt, and thousands died of it. There was not an Egyptian home where the oldest child in the family did not die. But none of the Jews died. Therefore, they said that God passed over their doors that night.
Then there was a great uproar and clamor in Egypt, with the Egyptians weeping, and nursing their sick, and burying their dead. The time had come for the Jews to get away. Under their leader, Moses, they began their long journey toward Palestine.
The Jewish people never forgot what God did for them in Egypt. So in the spring of each year was held the Feast of the Passover, to give thanks to God for the help he had given them long ago. They gathered together and sang:
"O give thanks unto the Lord, for he is good: For his mercy endureth for ever."
To the Passover feast every family brought a lamb to be killed as a sacrifice to God. Only the best could be given to God. They chose a lamb that was white, and pure, and fine, and precious. Then they roasted the lamb, and ate it. What a feast they had, so solemn and so joyful, as they remembered all that God had done!
Everyone knew the best place to hold the Passover feast was at Jerusalem. Therefore, every year, when spring came round, the people said to one another, "It is Passover time," and as many as could leave their homes went up to the great city.
When the boys heard the story, they understood why their parents went there in the spring.
When Jewish boys were twelve years old, and could read the Hebrew language, and knew the psalms, and understood the prophets, and were learning to obey the Law—then they were practically grown up. At this age a boy could be called "a son of the Law." He could go along with his parents to Jerusalem when it was Passover time.
Each year Joseph and Mary liked to be in Jerusalem for the Passover. When Jesus was twelve years old, he was "a son of the Law," like other boys his age, and for the first time he went with them. Many friends and relatives kept them company as they started on the road.
Now from Nazareth it was more than eighty miles to Jerusalem, and eighty miles is a long way to walk.
It would have been easier to ride in a cart; but nobody traveled that way in Palestine. The roads were too rough and narrow for anything but walking. Donkeys and horses might carry the heavy luggage, but the people went on foot. There were no bridges, and so the only way to get from one side of a river to the other was to find a shallow place and wade across.
It would take two or three days to go from Nazareth to Jerusalem. When the travelers were tired at night, there was not likely to be any place to sleep along the road, except under the open sky and the stars.
There were three stages to their journey. The first was the pleasant part, through Galilee. When the travelers left Nazareth that day, the sky was clear and the air was fresh. The fields lay lovely in the sunlight. The roads were full of people from many countries. There were always merchants on the road traveling from the East to Greece and Egypt, and back to the East again. Galilee was beautiful, and Galilee was busy.
Sooner or later the time must come to leave pleasant Galilee behind. But which way would they go from there? Should they go straight south through Samaria? That would have been the shortest and the easiest way. The only thing against it was that the people of Samaria were not friendly to Jews. Long years before, Samaria had been the home of many of the Jewish people. But foreigners came and settled among them. Then their ways became so different that the people of Jerusalem said they were not Jewish any more. They were bitter rivals of the Jews, and it was hardly safe to go among them.
So the travelers chose, for the second stage of their journey, the long road down the valley of the river Jordan. But they did not find this very pleasant, either. High above the river stood the banks, and it seemed as though the river itself were at the bottom of a great, deep ditch. And down there was the road they had to take. In some places they came to slime and mud, and dead trees and twisted roots. But sometimes there were farms and villages. It was hot at the north end of the Jordan, when first they came to it; and the farther south the travelers went, the hotter grew the weather.
Very hot, very tired, and very thirsty, they finally reached the last stretch of the journey—across country from the Jordan to Jerusalem. They were nearly there. But the last part of the trip was the hardest of all. Around them stretched a dreary desert. There were bleak hills, and ugly rocks, and hardly a drop of water anywhere to drink. No wonder nobody went to Jerusalem, except Jews and Roman soldiers! There were no gay caravans of Eastern merchants here. Galilee seemed very far away.
Up one side of a hill, and down another, and then another higher hill to climb! Up and up, over stones and bare earth and bushes and thorns, until they were high above the Jordan—that was the road to Jerusalem. Would they ever get there? What they would have given just to sit down and wash the sand off their hot, tired feet!
Then all at once they saw it. From the top of the hill they saw it, walls and roofs and towers gleaming in the morning sun. A shout of joy went up. Every man and woman and child joined in the shouting. Jerusalem, the city of David! King David built that city, a thousand years ago. The enemies of God had come and burned it to the ground, but the Jews built it up again. They were sure that it could never be destroyed. It would always be there, for ever and ever. Someday the Messiah would come, and all the peoples and nations of the world would come to see Jerusalem, as these poor folk from Galilee were doing now.
The travelers began to march again, but faster this time; forgotten were the weary miles behind. They marched, and as they marched they sang. They sang one of the psalms that the boys had learned at school. Everyone took up the song:
"'I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of the Lord. Our feet shall stand within thy gates, O Jerusalem.... Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: They shall prosper that love thee.'"
There were so many visitors in Jerusalem that they could not all find a place to stay in the city. Some of them stayed in the villages near by, and others slept in tents out in the open air. At an ordinary time of the year, there would be only about thirty thousand people living in Jerusalem. But at the Passover there might be twice that, or even more.
Even the Roman governor was in Jerusalem at Passover time. He lived in another city, but he always came to Jerusalem for the great feast. It was not that he cared about the Passover. It was because he was afraid that with such great crowds in Jerusalem there might be trouble unless his Roman soldiers were on guard. It would be especially bad if anyone showed up claiming to be the Messiah. All the people might make him king, and rebel against Rome, and great numbers would be killed.
With such crowds in the city, it was hard for the people from Nazareth to get through the narrow streets. All along the streets they saw shops. Some of the shopkeepers were selling goods that had been brought down from Galilee—fish and oil and wine and fruit. Besides the merchants there were shoemakers, butchers, carpenters, tailors. On the side streets gold-smiths and jewelers were making things for the rich people. Here and there was a merchant selling fine silks which had been brought from the Far East. A man could buy almost anything he wanted in Jerusalem, provided that he had the money.
The travelers from Galilee pushed their way through the crowded streets, and on up to the Temple on the hill. Here was God's own house! How large it was! Herod the Great had built this Temple. Ten thousand men had worked many years to build it, and it was not quite finished yet. Eight gates led into the beautiful building with the white walls and the golden towers. Inside there was room for many thousands of people.
What a clatter and a clamor and a tumult there was! It seemed as though all the world were there. Doves and cattle, as well as lambs, were offered in the Temple as a sacrifice to God. You could hear the poor creatures calling out—the cows lowing, the lambs bleating, the doves singing their sweet, sad song. Money was clinking on the tables. Only one kind of coin could be used as an offering, and travelers had to exchange those they were carrying for Jewish money. The men who made the exchange often cheated the visitors.
The people from Galilee separated when they came to the Court of the Women. The women and girls could go no farther, but the men and boys went up some steps into the Court of Israel. There they watched the priests of the Temple taking the doves and lambs and cattle that the worshipers had brought, and offering them up as a sacrifice. The priests killed the animals, and let the blood drip on the altar where the sacrifices were given to God.
The Court of Israel was as far as anyone could go, unless he were a priest. There was another room called the Holy Place, which only priests could enter. To the people it was a place of great mystery. Then farther on was a still more mysterious room called the Holy of Holies. Even a priest did not dare to step inside that door. That was the secret place of God. Only the high priest, who was head of all the priests, could enter there. And he could go in only once a year.
The visitors from Nazareth saw a priest coming toward them. Anyone could tell from his clothes that he was wealthy. He came from one of the families that were known as the Sadducees. The Sadducees were the only people who were at all friendly with the Romans. The reason for this was that they were better off than most other people and well-satisfied with things as they were. They thought it wise to stay on good terms with Caesar. Nobody liked the Sadducees very well, but everyone had to admit that they were certainly very important. They sat in a high council and governed everything that went on around the Temple.
And here was a Pharisee, looking very well pleased with himself! Jesus had seen Pharisees before, around Nazareth, and they always seemed to have that look. The word "Pharisee" meant "someone who is different." What made the Pharisees different was that they were always talking about the Law, and claiming that they obeyed it better than anyone else. They were kindly folk, on the whole, and very well respected, but they did not have any official position, like the Sadducees. All they did was study the Law and tell other people about it. The Pharisee whom the visitors were watching began to pray so that everyone could see him. It seemed as if he were saying, "O Lord, I thank thee that I am better than these other people here!"
Most of the great throng crowding the Temple were not priests, or Sadducees, or Pharisees. They were plain people who had come to bring their sacrifices, or to talk about the Scriptures, or simply to be in the Temple because they loved God's house.
Nobody was paying much attention to Jesus. He was just a young boy, lost in the crowd.
* * * * *
The days went by, and the lambs were killed and eaten. The prayers were said and the hymns were sung. It was all over at last, and the time had come to go home.
Joseph and Mary did not see Jesus the morning they all were supposed to leave. They did not wait to find him, for the other travelers from Nazareth were anxious to get started on the long journey back to Galilee.
Joseph and Mary said to each other:
"Jesus is safe enough. There are so many of us from Nazareth that he can't get lost. No doubt he is somewhere in the party."
The Nazareth people said good-by to the Temple for another year, and started off for home. Out through the city gates they went, and back into the desert through which they had come. They walked a whole day, and still Joseph and Mary saw no sign of Jesus. This was beginning to seem strange. Surely they would see him somewhere!
At last it dawned upon them. He wasn't there at all!
They were frightened now. What could have happened to Jesus? What would become of him in Jerusalem? There was nothing to do but to leave the party, and turn back alone to the city. But Jerusalem was a big place, and they hardly knew where to hunt for Jesus. How would they ever find one boy among all those thousands of people?
They went to the Temple. But even if he were here, it would not be easy to find him quickly. Walking through one of the courts, they noticed a group of people gathered around a rabbi. There was nothing unusual about that. There were a great many teachers in the Temple, and a visitor often saw groups gathered around them to listen to their teaching.
But there was something different about this group. Most of the men in it were Pharisees who were themselves rabbis. And the strange thing was that they were not doing all the talking as they usually did. They were listening too. And they were not listening to a rabbi, but to the voice of a boy.
Joseph and Mary moved closer. There could be no mistake about it—it was Jesus who was talking! He was asking questions; he was answering questions. The long-bearded rabbis were standing there, their mouths open in astonishment. Jesus was not just a boy in the crowd any longer. Men old enough to be his grand-father were listening to what he had to say.
Mary's surprise turned to anger. She pushed her way through the crowd and took Jesus by the arm.
"Why did you do this?" she cried. "Your father and I have been looking for you everywhere."
Jesus stood just where he was. It was as though he belonged there. He said:
"Why did you come to look for me? Don't you know that I must be looking after my Father's business?"
Joseph and Mary stood there too, not knowing what to make of their boy or of what he said.
They waited to see what he would do.
And then, in a minute, Jesus turned and went with them. They did not have to ask him again. The three of them went home to Nazareth.
Jesus knew that someday he would go back to the Temple. But he was not ready for that yet. He must do his duty to his parents. He must obey God at home. Then he would always know how to obey God in the wide world beyond Nazareth.
The lambs went quietly to the Temple when they were taken there to be offered to the God of Israel. Jesus must be obedient like a Lamb of God.
4. Jesus Goes to Work
When Jesus was thirty years old, people began to talk about the great man who had come to Palestine.
"This man is so great," they said, "that he may be the Messiah."
But it was not Jesus they were talking about. It was his cousin, John.
John was a preacher. He was afraid of no one, and as a result everyone was a bit afraid of him. John was a rough, strong man. Next to his skin he wore leather, and over that he wore a cloak of camel's hair. Honey and locusts were his food.
Every day John preached down by the river Jordan. The people flocked out from Jerusalem and from all the countryside round about to hear him preach. It was a wild and dreary place to come to, but when John preached everybody wanted to be there.
This was how he preached:
"Give up your sins, and begin a new life at once, for God is coming to rule over men! I am a voice crying in the wilderness. I tell you—prepare for the Lord!"
And when the people heard him, they were afraid. Many of them cried out, "We have sinned!" and came forward out of the crowd. John led them down the bank into the river and baptized them as a sign that they wanted to be cleansed of their sins and begin a new life. Thus John came to be known as "John the Baptist."
But when John thought that a man was not in earnest, then he refused to baptize him. Some of the Pharisees and the Sadducees came to be baptized, and John would have nothing to do with them. They might be great men in Jerusalem, but John called them "snakes in the grass." He told them:
"I've seen the snakes out here in the wilderness, wriggling for dear life to get out of the way when the grass catches fire. That's what you remind me of. You're scared. You think that something terrible is going to happen, and so you're pretending to be good people so that it won't go so hard with you. You will have to show me that you want to be something different from what you are! And don't think that you amount to anything just because you are Jews. God could make as good Jews as you are out of these stones."
That is how John the Baptist talked to some of the great men of Jerusalem. It made people think more than ever that he might be the Messiah. Who except the Messiah would dare to talk that way to Pharisees and Sadducees?
But others shook their heads and said, "No—this couldn't be the Messiah!" For they thought that when the Messiah came he would drive the Romans out of the country; and many people said that the only way to do that would be to get an army together. Some men were meantime killing all the Romans they could. They were called "Zealots," because they were so much filled with zeal about killing off the Romans. A few even carried daggers with them, and stuck the daggers into Romans whenever they got a chance.
"The Romans will not be overthrown," they said, "just by preaching. You will have to get out and kill the Romans."
John himself said that he was not the Messiah.
"There is someone coming who is greater than I," he told the people. "Someone is coming whose shoe-laces I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. Compared to him, I am nobody. I am just preparing the way for the Messiah."
One day there was a great crowd, as usual, down by the Jordan, and John was busy baptizing the people as fast as they came to the water. One after another they came. It went on for hours.
John had just baptized one man and helped him to the bank. The next one was coming forward. John looked up to see who it was. He was looking into the face of Jesus of Nazareth.
"You! Not you!" John spoke in a hoarse whisper. "No! I can't baptize you. You must baptize me instead!"
Before anyone could notice that anything was wrong, Jesus stepped to the water's edge.
"Don't say anything about it, John," he said softly. "Treat me just like the rest of them. We shall all be baptized together into a new life."
Jesus went forward into the river and John baptized him. In a moment Jesus was up the bank and lost in the crowd. The next man was coming forward.
John stared after the vanishing figure of Jesus. The crowd made way for Jesus, thinking, There goes another man who came to be cleansed of his sins.
But John said: "When I baptized him, I saw the Spirit of God come down out of heaven like a dove, and light upon him. Jesus is the Son of God. I am nothing. He is everything. He is the Messiah. He is the Lamb of God!"
The next man was coming down the bank toward John. John stood peering into the crowd. Jesus was nowhere to be seen.
Jesus had gone away to be alone, as God wanted him to do. He went into the loneliest part of the desert, where there were only the wild animals to keep him company.
I am the Messiah, he thought. There is no doubt that I am the Messiah. I must save my people. How should I begin?
There was nothing to eat in the wilderness, and Jesus grew hungry. He looked around him, and saw that the stones were shaped like loaves of bread.
There seemed to be a voice inside him which was not his own. The voice said:
"If you really are the Messiah, you oughtn't to be hungry. If you really are the Messiah, you would just have to say the word and these stones would be turned into bread. Then you would have plenty to eat for yourself, and, besides, you could go and give bread to all the hungry folk out there who are waiting for you to help them."
It was very quiet in the wilderness. The voice spoke up again.
"But maybe you are afraid to try. Suppose you said to the stones, 'Stones, become bread!' and then nothing happened! That would prove that you weren't the Messiah, wouldn't it?"
Jesus shook his head, to get rid of the thought. Some words from the Scriptures came into his mind. "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God." No, it would not do to try playing tricks with stones. It would not matter if he did turn them into bread. Bread was not the most important thing in the world. People might think that there was nothing so important as eating, but there were bigger things in life than that. People might think that what the Messiah ought to do was to make the country prosperous, but that would not help them so much as they thought. That was not the kind of Messiah he was going to be.
But what was the best way to prove that he was the Messiah? The tempting voice inside tried again.
"Maybe the best idea," it said, "is to go to Jerusalem and climb up on the tower and jump down! Everyone says that the Messiah is going to come suddenly out of heaven. You would come down suddenly enough that way! And nothing would happen to you. It says in the Scriptures that God will send his angels to hold you up and keep you from being hurt. Surprise the whole city by jumping off the Temple, and everybody will worship you at once!"
Again Jesus shook the thought away, and again he thought of what the Scriptures said.
"Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God." I can't go and put God to the test, to see whether he will keep me from being hurt. And it won't make me the Messiah just to cause a big sensation in Jerusalem. That's what everyone is expecting, but that is not the right way at all. There must be some other way.
And the voice spoke up again.
"There is something else you could do. What the world needs is a ruler like you. Everybody says that the Messiah is going to be a world ruler, great and good. Don't let the people down! You are a great man. You could be anything you wanted to be—a general, a governor, a king."
Jesus thought, That's Satan tempting me, that's the devil himself talking!
He spoke out loud:
"Go away from me, Satan! For the Scriptures say, 'Thou shall worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve!'"
The voice said no more. A great quietness came over Jesus. There was no great thing that he needed to do right away. He was the Messiah, but he did not need to make the country wealthy. He did not need to jump from the Temple, and he did not need to command an army or rule an empire.
There was one thing that he would have to do, but he could not tell anybody about it yet. It was going to be his secret for a while. But someday everybody would see what he was doing. Someday it would be understood.
And now it was time to be on his way. He had been in the wilderness forty days, and that was long enough. He found the trail back to the outside world, and soon he was on the road to Galilee.
* * * * *
When Jesus got home to Galilee, he began to preach to people in the streets. What he said at first was very much like what John the Baptist said:
"Give up your sins, and begin to live a new life, for God has come to rule over you!"
But the crowds that heard Jesus were not so large as those that went to the Jordan to hear John.
Jesus needed some followers now who would be with him all the time, and learn everything he had to tell them. John the Baptist had his followers; "disciples" was what they were called. Jesus began to look for disciples of his own.
One morning he went down to the shore of the Sea of Galilee. When he came back to the town, he had four disciples with him.
Two of them were brothers named Simon and Andrew. Andrew remembered Jesus, for he had once been a disciple of John the Baptist. He had seen John point to Jesus, and heard him say, "He is the Lamb of God!" Andrew had told Simon all about it.
When Jesus came to them along the shore of the Sea of Galilee, he found them putting a net into the water, for Andrew and Simon were fishermen.
Jesus said to them,
"Come and follow me, and I will make you fishers of men."
Fishing was good business, but Simon and Andrew were ready to give it up to follow the man John had called "the Lamb of God." They came away with him at once.
Farther along the shore was another pair of brothers. One of them had also been with John the Baptist. Their names were James and John, and they were with their father, Zebedee. They had done so well at fishing that they could afford to have servants to help them. But when Jesus called them they also came at once, and left their father and the servants behind.
That was four to start with, and soon he had eight others. But no one of them was a very important person, and people said that one of them was wicked. That was Levi, who was also called Matthew. The trouble with Levi was that he was a taxgatherer. Everybody hated taxgatherers. They were called "publicans," and it was thought that no one could be much lower than a publican.
The publicans worked for the Roman government. They were not Romans themselves, but Jews, which made it all the worse. They were looked upon as traitors, for they collected the taxes for the hated Romans, and made a fortune for themselves by cheating the people.
Levi's job was to collect the fee for traveling along the road, and what he could collect over and above the amount he ought to have charged, he kept for himself. Then Levi heard Jesus preaching. He heard him say that he ought to give up his sins, and begin to live a new life. When Jesus came to Levi's table one day, and said, "Follow me," just as he had said it to the honest fishermen by the lake shore, Levi was ready to come away. Without a word Levi got up and left his taxgathering behind, and all his fortune. Levi became a disciple like the other eleven, and was treated like the rest.
But other people were shocked when they saw a publican with Jesus, and tongues began to wag. No one seemed to notice that Levi had stopped collecting taxes. He had been a publican once, and no one except Jesus was ready to give him a second chance.
Other publicans sometimes came to have dinner with Jesus and his disciples, along with many people who were looked down upon in the community.
The Pharisees in particular were angry when they saw the company that Jesus kept. One day they came to one of these dinner parties, and told the disciples that they did not care for Jesus' choice of friends.
"How is it," they asked, "that your master eats and drinks with publicans and sinners?"
Jesus heard them, and replied:
"It is not well people who need a doctor, but the sick. I didn't come here for the sake of the good people, such as you think that you are, but for the sake of sinners—to lead them into a new life."
But the Pharisees still objected. They said:
"Look at John the Baptist. John is a good man. His disciples are so religious that they sometimes go without their meals. Your disciples always seem to be eating!"
"Why shouldn't they eat and feast and be merry?" Jesus answered. "They are like the friends of a man who is being married. When someone is to be married, his friends have a great feast. They are joyful because the bridegroom is with them. In the same way my disciples are joyful because they have me with them."
Jesus meant that they were joyful because he was the Messiah, and his disciples were glad to be with him. But he did not say that he was the Messiah, and no one knew what he was talking about. The Pharisees would have had more respect for him if he had had a better class of friends. Fishermen might do, but not publicans and sinners of that sort! If only Jesus were more like John the Baptist!
They never once thought that Jesus might be the Messiah. When they saw the kind of friends he had, they wondered if he was even a good man.
5. A Busy Time
The Pharisees may not have liked Jesus, but no one could deny that he knew how to preach. The crowds that came to hear him were growing larger. Often Jesus stood at the foot of a hill and preached to the crowd that had gathered on the hillside.
Now everyone who heard Jesus preach was likely to be surprised. For he did not say the things that people expected to hear. Often he said the very opposite of what they wanted him to say.
He did not believe in giving people a good opinion of themselves. He told them what was wrong with them. He did not say that it was easy to be good. He said that it was much harder than anybody thought. He did not try to preach sermons that would make him popular, for he was not thinking of himself. He was thinking of what God had to say to the people, and so he told them plainly what they ought to know and what they ought to do.
Jesus knew that his listeners found it easier to hate other people than to love them. And so he stood one day at the foot of the hill and said:
"You have all heard the saying, Love your friend and hate your enemy. But that is not what I say. I say, Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who use you badly. That is what God does. He makes the sun rise on everybody, good or bad. He sends the rain to fall on everyone, no matter who he is.
"If you love only those who love you, you don't deserve any credit for that. That's what everybody does. Be like God. He is merciful, and you ought to be merciful too. Forgive those who do you a wrong, or you cannot expect God to forgive you."
All the people thought that they were at least doing the right thing in hating the Romans. How could anyone help hating those rough Roman soldiers, who often came along and made Jews carry their packs for them? But Jesus said,
"If a Roman soldier makes you carry his pack for a mile, carry it another mile as well, to show that you love him."
Another thing that Jesus knew about his listeners was that many of them were worried about money, and food and clothes. It was hard to blame them for that; for some of the people were very poor, and were never sure that they were going to get enough to eat.
Jesus was poor enough himself. His disciples were also poor, and they got no richer by following him. Turning to the disciples, Jesus said to them,
"Blessed are you who have nothing you can call your own."
The disciples pricked up their ears. "Blessed"—that meant to be fortunate, or well off. What was good about having nothing? Jesus went on:
"Blessed are you who have nothing, for yours is the kingdom of heaven.
"Blessed are you who often go hungry, you shall be fed later on.
"Blessed are you who are sad, the time will come when you will be joyful.
"Blessed are you, when other people hate you, and will have nothing to do with you, because you are my disciples. Be glad when that happens, because that is what has happened to all God's servants. God will reward you for everything you suffer for my sake."
There was silence. Jesus looked out over the crowd and spoke again,
"Woe to you who are rich!"
Again the disciples were amazed. The rich people would not like that! The disciples were poor themselves, but they wondered what was wrong with being rich.
Jesus thought of a rich man whom he knew, who wore fine purple clothes and ate the best food in the land. And he thought of a poor beggar who sat all day long outside the rich man's house. His body was covered with sores, and he was so hungry that he would have been glad to get the crumbs that fell from the rich man's table. But the only friends he had were the dogs that came and licked his sores.
Jesus continued, in a stern voice:
"Woe to you who are rich! For you have already had everything you are ever going to have! Woe to you who are well-fed! The time is coming when you will go hungry. Woe to you who are enjoying yourselves all the time! Someday you will weep. Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you! It is easy to be popular if you aren't faithful to God. That's the way it has always been."
Jesus knew that all of them were too much interested in the things that money could buy. They wanted the Messiah to come so that he would make them all rich. And so Jesus said, to show them where they were wrong:
"Don't be always thinking about what you are going to eat and drink and wear. Why, that's the kind of thing the Romans worry about. There is more to life than food and clothing."
He paused for a moment. It was a warm summer day. The birds were flying overhead, and singing; and up the hillside the wild flowers made patches of color in the grass. Jesus spoke again:
"Look at the birds of the air. They never plant crops, or reap harvests, or gather the grain into barns. Yet your Heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not more important than birds? Think of the lilies of the field, how they grow. They never yet made any clothes for themselves, and yet the great King Solomon in all his glory was not so beautifully clothed as one of these little flowers. You people who have so little faith in God—think! If God clothes the flowers of the field, which are here today and gone tomorrow, will he not clothe you? Seek the Kingdom of God first of all, and you will be given all the food and clothes you need. Never worry about tomorrow. Tomorrow will look after itself when it comes. Think about how you ought to live today."
There was another weakness that Jesus had seen in people, especially in the Pharisees. They loved to show off their good deeds. He had to speak about this too.
"When you give something to the poor," he said, "don't make a great noise about it, like some people I could mention, who want to impress everybody with how generous they are. If you give anything, keep quiet about it. God will know what you have done, and that's enough.
"It's the same with prayer," Jesus continued. "Don't stand praying on the street corners where everyone can see you. There are many people who do that. When you pray, go into your own room and pray with the door closed. God will hear you, and he is the only one who needs to hear."
Jesus had his admirers. Some people admired him so much that they began to call him "Master" and "Lord." But Jesus did not think that they were all in earnest. He spoke plainly about this also.
"It won't do you any good to come saying, 'Lord, Lord,'" he said, "unless you do the things God expects of you. Someday, I suppose you will come and tell me of all the wonderful things you have done in my name. And then I will have to say to you: 'I don't even know who you are. Go away!'
"If anyone hears my teachings, and does what I tell him to do, he will be like a man who builds his house upon a rock. The rain comes down and the wind blows, and the house keeps on standing there, because it is built upon a rock. You will be strong like that house, if you do as I say. But anyone who hears my teachings and pays no attention to them is like a man who builds his house upon the sand. When the rains and the floods and the winds come, the house will fall down and that will be the end of it. You will be weak like that house, if you do not obey my words."
Now when the people heard how Jesus preached, they were amazed. They wondered who this was who spoke to them as though he were God himself. That was not how other preachers taught. They were always quoting somebody else, as though they were afraid to speak for themselves.
But Jesus simply said, "I am telling you." He said, "Listen to me."
* * * * *
Every Friday evening at sunset the Sabbath began, and there could be no more work until sunset on the following day. Saturday morning all the Jewish people went to attend the service in the synagogue. The people would come in and take their places, with the most important people up in front. At the beginning of the service, everyone stood and faced in the direction of Jerusalem, and recited some verses from the Scriptures. These were always the same. They began: "Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might."
After this there was prayer. Then the minister opened a cabinet and brought out the Scriptures, which were written on long pieces of skin made into a kind of paper. The pieces were kept rolled up when they were not in use. The minister brought two of the rolls and laid them on the reading desk. Someone read the Scripture lessons then, and after that anyone in the congregation who wished could go up to the front and explain what the lesson meant.
Like all the other Jews, Jesus went to the synagogue on Saturday mornings. One Saturday when he and his disciples were in the town of Capernaum they went to the service as usual. When the time came to explain the lesson, Jesus went up to the front. He surprised the people as he always did; but something else happened which surprised them even more.
There was suddenly a great commotion at the back of the synagogue. A man began to cry out. There seemed to be some evil thing inside him, which made him hate the very sight of Jesus. The people said that he had "an unclean spirit."
Strange, wild words came pouring out of the man's mouth.
"Let me alone!" he cried. "What have I to do with you, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy me? I know who you are. You are the Holy One of God!"
Jesus stood his ground, and spoke to the evil thing in the man.
"Be quiet," Jesus said, "and come out of that man."
There was another wild shriek and then silence. The man looked around him as though he wondered where he was. He was in his right mind again.
The people were amazed by what they had seen and heard. On the way home from the synagogue they asked each other,
"What kind of preaching is this, which makes a madman well again?"
Before the day was over, word of what Jesus had done had gone all over town.
After the service, Jesus went to Simon's house, and there he found more trouble waiting for him. Simon's wife's mother was sick in bed. Jesus went to her bed-side, and took her hand, and helped her to her feet. All at once the sickness left her, and she was able to prepare the meal.
Jesus could rest in the afternoon, but when the sun went down in the evening he had to go to work again. Everyone had heard of how he cured people who were out of their minds, and of how he was able to heal the sick. As long as the Sabbath lasted, the people had to stay quietly at home. But once the sun had set the Sabbath was over, and they could do as they pleased. It seemed as though the whole town wanted to do only one thing, and that was to go to see Jesus.
A great throng of sick people were soon gathered outside the door of the house, with everyone else in Capernaum looking on. Jesus came out to heal the sick. Darkness fell, and night came on, and still the people pressed around Jesus to have him touch them and make them well. Hour after hour he worked with them, until it was too late to do anything more that night.
Yet Jesus was out of bed in the morning before the sun was up. It had been a busy Sabbath, and he needed to go off by himself and rest. And what he needed more than anything else was to pray. He wanted to be alone for a while with his Father. So many people to preach to! So many men who had begun to hate him! Jesus needed strength for it all, and he knew that praying would make him strong.
While everyone else was sleeping, and the darkness still lay upon the land, Jesus silently slipped away from the house. He found a lonely place, where no one would disturb him.
But when Simon and the other disciples woke up, they could not wait for him to come back. They went at once to look for him. And when they had found him, they said,
"Everyone is looking for you."
It was quiet out there in the hills. Jesus would have liked to stay there for the whole day. All day long he could have rested and prayed. But then he thought of the people who were waiting for him. He thought of the people who needed him. He thought of the places he had not yet visited. There was so much to do, and there was so little time.
He rose to his feet.
"Let us go, then," he said. "Let us go to the next towns, so that I can preach in them too. After all, that is why I came into the world—to tell men the good news from God!"
He left the quiet countryside, and went back to the towns. The people who loved him were there. The people who needed him were there. And the people who were afraid of him, and the people who had begun to hate him—they too were there.
Jesus returned to the towns, where his friends and his foes were waiting.
6. Friends and Foes
Jesus thought the time had come to visit Nazareth. Before he had gone away, there was nobody who thought that he was a person of any great importance. But he had become a famous man. The whole of Galilee was talking about him. And now he was at home with his friends and family again.
On the Sabbath morning he went to the old familiar synagogue. There was a full congregation that day, for everyone supposed that Jesus would preach. He had never preached in Nazareth before.
When the time came to read the Scripture lesson, Jesus walked up to the front. He took the roll from the minister, and found the place he wanted. It was in the book of the Prophet Isaiah. He began to read:
"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor; he has sent me to heal the broken-hearted, to preach liberty to the prisoners and recovering of sight to the blind, to set free those who suffer, and to say that God will be good to his people."
Jesus stopped reading and handed the roll back to the minister. He sat down in the seat from which Jewish preachers always spoke to the people in the synagogue.
The whole congregation was very still, waiting to hear what Jesus had to say. That was an exciting lesson he had read from the Scriptures. It made the people think of the Messiah. Someday a preacher would be able to say, "This has all come true!" And that would mean that the Messiah had come.
Jesus looked around at the faces he knew so well. Thirty years he had lived among these people. Now he was back to tell them something that they had never known before.
He began to speak.
"Today," he said, "you are seeing this Scripture lesson come true."
A thrill ran through the audience. The Scripture had come true? The Messiah was really here? Could he mean that he was the Messiah? The people gasped. Some laughed. Others were angry. They started to talk among themselves.
"The Messiah? Him? Why, that's only Jesus! The carpenter's son!"
"Everybody knows who Jesus is! Lived down the street since I don't know when!"
"Who does he think he is?"
Jesus again raised his voice above the others':
"I know what you are going to say. You are going to quote that old saying, 'Doctor, cure yourself.' You are going to tell me to start doing the things I am supposed to have done in Capernaum. I'm not surprised. A servant of God never gets any honor among his own people. The same thing happened to the prophets long ago.
"Don't expect me to do anything wonderful here in Nazareth. You wouldn't believe it if you saw it. Why do you think you ought to get any special favors from God?"
A great roar went up from the congregation. All his old friends got up from their seats and rushed to the front of the synagogue. They took hold of Jesus and dragged him out of the building. At the edge of the town there was a high cliff, and they took him there to throw him down on the rocks below. But Jesus slipped out of their hands, and turned around. Calmly he walked through the crowd. Nobody had the courage to touch him again.
Jesus never went back to Nazareth any more. Once, when he was preaching in another town, someone came and told him that his mother and his brothers had come to take him home. They thought that he ought to stop this nonsense of pretending to be the Messiah.
But Jesus would not go home with them, for they did not believe in him. It was better to stay with his disciples. He was at home with those who trusted him.
"My mother?" he said. "My brothers?"
He looked around at his disciples, and said: "These are my mother and brothers—my own disciples. Anybody who obeys the will of God is my brother and my sister and my mother, all in one. That's the kind of family I want!"
* * * * *
Back in Nazareth nobody thought that Jesus was of much account. But in other places he meant everything to people who needed help. The Pharisees were often glad to see him go away. But the poor and the sick could never see enough of him.
Once there came to Jesus a man who was sick with the dreaded leprosy. A leper's skin was deathly white, and his flesh was rotting, and he was sure to die of the disease. Nobody needed help more than a leper did, but no one would even touch him.
The people back in Nazareth were too proud to admit that the carpenter's son from down the street might be the Messiah. But a leper did not have any pride. This leper came to Jesus, and fell on his face before him, crying out, "Lord, if you will do it, you can make me clean from this disease!"
Then Jesus did what everybody else was afraid to do. He reached down and put his hand on the sick man, and said:
"I will. Be clean."
At once the man was healed of his leprosy. Jesus told him to go and give thanks to God, and not to tell anyone what had happened. But the leper could not help telling. Jesus became still more famous as the man who healed the sick.
Another time he made a blind man see again. The Pharisees tried to get this man to say that the person who cured him had not been sent from God. But the man who had been blind knew better. When the Pharisees tried to threaten him, he did not give an inch. He said:
"Who ever heard of anyone opening the eyes of the blind since the world began? But this man did it. How could he have made me see, if he hadn't come from God?"
When Jesus heard of this, he went and found the man who had been blind, and asked him,
"Do you believe that I am the Son of God?"
The man answered,
"Yes, Lord, I believe."
The blind man had found his Messiah.
Then there was a man who was paralyzed so that he could not move. His friends wanted to bring him to Jesus, but there were so many people standing around the house where Jesus was teaching that they could not get near him. But somehow or other they must get the sick man there.
Like many of the houses in Palestine, this house had a flat roof, with a stairway leading up to it. They placed their friend on a mat, carried him up the stairs, and cut a hole in the roof. After fastening a rope to each corner of the mat, they gently lowered it to the floor, right at Jesus' feet.
Jesus was glad when he saw the faith they had in him. He looked at the helpless man, and said,
"Man, your sins are forgiven you."
There were scribes and Pharisees standing there, waiting, as usual, to find fault with Jesus. They began to talk among themselves. They said:
"Who is this who is talking as if he were God? Such blasphemy! Who can forgive sins, except God himself?"
But Jesus knew what they were saying, and he answered them:
"Which do you think is easier—to say, 'Your sins are forgiven you,' or to say to this man, 'Pick up your mat and walk away'? I will show you that I can do one as well as the other!"
He turned to the paralyzed man and said,
"Pick up your mat, and go on back to your house."
The sick man got up from the floor, rolled up the mat and put it under his arm, and went home. As he walked, there was a song of praise to God in his heart. And many of the people who saw what had happened were so surprised that they did not know whether to be glad or to be afraid. But they all agreed on one thing. They said,
"We have seen strange things today!"
Nothing that Jesus did seemed to please the Pharisees. But there was one thing that made them especially angry. He was not so careful as they thought he ought to be about keeping the Law.
Now the Law meant everything to the Pharisees. They were so much in earnest about keeping God's Law that they were not satisfied with what was in the Scriptures. They followed many rules which had been made up since the Scriptures were written. Unless a man kept all these rules, it did not matter to the Pharisees how much good he did.
Jesus was always getting into trouble with them about the Sabbath. The Pharisees had a list of thirty-nine different kinds of work that nobody was allowed to do on the Sabbath Day. This list included so much that unless a Jew was careful, he would be likely to break the Sabbath without even knowing it.
If he tied a knot that could be untied with one hand, that was all right; but if he took two hands to untie it, then he had broken the Sabbath. He even had to be careful about sitting in a chair, for if he happened to drag his chair across the dirt floor the Pharisees said that he was plowing, which was a great sin on the Sabbath Day. It was forbidden to make a fire on the Sabbath. And so, if a woman wanted hot food, she had to cook it the day before, and keep it warm. But that did not mean that she could set it on a stove. For the stove might get hotter than it was, and make the food hotter, and that was just the same as making a fire. The only safe way to keep a meal hot was to wrap the dishes in cloth or pigeon feathers.
Jesus did not think that rules like this were what the Scriptures meant when they said, "Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy." He did not think that this was the way to honor God. And because Jesus did not agree with them about the Sabbath, the Pharisees were always watching for a chance to put him in the wrong.
Once, when Jesus and his disciples were walking through a field of grain on the Sabbath Day, the Pharisees saw that the disciples were eating some of the grain. There was nothing wrong with eating it, if they were hungry. But the trouble was that in order to get the grain they had to pluck the ears. That, said the Pharisees, was harvesting! Moreover, they had to take the ripe ears and rub them in their hands to get rid of the chaff. The Pharisees thought that that was just the same as threshing! Such things to do on the Sabbath Day! The Pharisees stopped the disciples, and demanded to know why they were doing something that was against the Law.
It was really Jesus with whom they wanted to pick a quarrel, and so Jesus answered for the disciples:
"Why, you must have read in the Scriptures that King David and his soldiers once went into the Temple and ate some of the holy bread which only a priest is allowed to eat. Surely if David could do a thing like that, my disciples can pick a few ears of grain in a field!
"You don't understand what the Sabbath is for," Jesus went on. "We aren't supposed to be slaves to the Sabbath; this day is meant to do us good. The Sabbath was made for man; man was not made for the Sabbath."
Then he added something else, which took the Pharisees by surprise:
"The Son of man is Lord also of the Sabbath."
They were puzzled. Jesus was talking again as though he was the Messiah. So far as the Pharisees could see, Jesus was just a preacher who broke the Law.
The Pharisees began to watch him still more carefully. They found another chance to get him into trouble soon after this. Jesus had gone into the synagogue to teach, and in the synagogue was a man whose hand was withered and useless. On any other day there was no doubt that Jesus would heal this man. But this was the Sabbath, and it was against the Law to heal anybody on that day unless he were in danger of dying. A man with a withered hand could wait another day. Surely even Jesus would not dare to break the rules again!
Jesus knew that they were watching to see what he would do. They would never forgive him if he made a move to heal this man.
He called out to the man,
"Stand up—up here, in front of everybody!"
When the man had come to the front, Jesus turned to the Pharisees.
"I am going to ask you something," he said. "If any one of you owned a sheep, and it fell into a pit on the Sabbath, wouldn't you lift it out? And don't you think that a man is worth more than a sheep? You say that it is against the Law to heal a man on the Sabbath. I say that it is always right to do good to somebody, on the Sabbath just the same as any other day!"
He looked around at the whole crowd. He was angry now. Would they actually let a man suffer one day more than was necessary? He turned back to the man with the useless hand.
"Stretch out your hand!" he commanded.
And when he spoke, the withered hand was healed, and made as good as the other one.
The Pharisees went out of the synagogue, and their faces were hard with anger.
"He has gone too far!" they said to one another.
"He is breaking all our good rules. It is not safe for the country to have him around. He ought to die!"
They really meant it. They thought they were doing the right thing. They were afraid of what Jesus would do. The Pharisees even called in some of their enemies to ask their advice about the best way to get rid of Jesus.
Meanwhile Jesus had gone out of the city to be alone again. On a lonely mountain, under the moon-light, he prayed to his Father all night long. Back in the city men were planning to take his life. And out on the mountain Jesus prayed for power to do good to men.
7. Slow to Understand
Not all the Pharisees treated Jesus as an enemy. There was one of them, named Simon, who decided to have Jesus come to his house for dinner.
Perhaps Simon thought that the other Pharisees were too hard on Jesus. Perhaps he thought that he might show Jesus where he was wrong. Or perhaps he was just curious. Jesus had become very well known, and many people called him "Rabbi" or "Teacher." It would be interesting to talk with the famous rabbi all afternoon.
Whatever the reason was, Simon asked Jesus to come and have a meal with him and his friends.
While they were eating their dinner, a woman stole in quietly through the open door. She had not been invited. Simon would never have dreamed of inviting her into his house, for everyone in town gave her a bad name. "She's not a good woman—not a nice woman at all," people said. They turned their eyes away when they met her on the street.
At any other time the woman would not have wanted to come to Simon's home, for no one likes to be stared at coldly and be put out of the house. But today was different. Jesus was there.
She brought with her a box of ointment. Ointment was the gift that Jewish people brought, when they wanted to honor an important person or some dear friend.
Clutching her box of ointment, the woman crept across the room to where Jesus was sitting. She began to cry. The tears rolled down her cheeks and dropped on Jesus' hot, dusty feet. Then she wiped his feet with her hair and kissed them. She opened her precious box and began to rub his feet with the soft white salve.
No one spoke or moved. Simon was angry and disappointed with Jesus. The other Pharisees were right after all!
So this is the great new prophet, sent from God! he thought to himself. If Jesus were a prophet, we shouldn't be looking at a scene like this. He would know what kind of woman that is who is touching him. Why, everybody knows how bad she is!
Jesus did not need to be told what Simon was thinking. Still sitting there, while the woman clung to his feet, Jesus spoke.
"Simon, I have something to say to you."
"Yes, Rabbi?" Simon replied. "What is it?"
"Let me tell you a story," Jesus said. "There was once a moneylender who had two men owing him money. One of them owed him five hundred dollars, the other owed him fifty. Neither of them had anything with which to pay him back, so the moneylender told them both to forget about the debt—that they didn't need to pay. Now tell me—which of those two men will love the moneylender most?"
"Why, I suppose the man who owed him the most."
"That's right," Jesus replied. "Now, Simon," he went on, "look at this woman. When I came to your house today, you didn't even give me any water to wash the sand off my feet, though that is what is done in friendly homes. But this woman has washed my feet with her own tears, and dried them with the hair of her head. You have scarcely been polite to me; but this woman has done nothing but kiss my feet. You never thought of putting ordinary olive oil on my head; but this woman has put precious ointment on my feet.
"You think this woman is a great sinner," Jesus continued, "and so she is. She has done many things that are wrong. But her sins have been forgiven her. I have brought her to a new life, and she doesn't have to worry any more about the sins of the past. That is why she loves me so much. But, of course, a person who hasn't had his sins forgiven isn't going to know much about love."
Jesus turned away from Simon. He might have added:
"A cold Pharisee like you, so sure that nothing is wrong with you, is a great deal worse off than this poor, sinful woman. You have got all your sins still to worry about, and you don't even know it!"
But Jesus did not say it. He left Simon to think that out for himself. Instead, he spoke to the woman,
"Your sins are forgiven."
The other people in the room began to mutter to themselves:
"There he goes—forgiving sins again! What right has he to forgive anybody's sins?"
But Jesus paid no attention. He spoke once more to the woman at his feet:
"Your faith in me has saved you," he said. "Everything is all right now. Go in peace."
That was the end of the dinner party at Simon's house. But it was not the end of the talk and gossip about the kind of friends that Jesus made. Some thought he must be bad himself because he had so much to do with people to whom the Pharisees would not even speak. Everywhere he went, there was the same complaint.
Time and time again Jesus tried to explain why he was more interested in sinners than in anyone else. Why, the people that the Pharisees despised were the very people who needed his love the most! What could be better than to save somebody from an evil life?
Jesus told story after story, to show the Pharisees what he meant. One time he said:
"Suppose a shepherd had a hundred sheep, and one sheep strayed away from the others and got lost. Would he not leave the other ninety-nine, and go after the lost sheep until he found it? And when he did find it, he would pick it up and carry it joyfully home. Then he would go around and tell all his friends and neighbors. He would say: 'Rejoice with me! For I have found my sheep that was lost.'
"Or suppose a woman had ten silver coins, and dropped one of them on the floor. Wouldn't she light a candle and sweep the floor and look everywhere until she found it? Then she would say to her friends and neighbors: 'Rejoice with me! For I have found the coin that I lost!'
"In the same way," Jesus said, "God is more pleased over one sinful person who stops sinning than over all the others who think they have never sinned."
The Pharisees still did not get the point. So Jesus tried again with another story. He said:
"A certain man had two sons. One day the younger son said, 'Father, give me my share of the property which is coming to me,' So the father gave each of the sons his share.
"Then the younger son packed up his belongings, and went away to a far country. There he spent all his money foolishly. After his money was gone, this young man had nothing left to live on. He went to work for a farmer, who sent him out to feed the pigs. He was so hungry that he would have been glad to eat the pigs' food, but no one gave him anything.
"Then one day he said to himself: 'What a fool I am! Why am I staying here?' He thought of how even the servants at home had plenty to eat, while he was starving to death. He said: 'I will go back to my father, and tell him that I have sinned against him and against God. I will tell him that I am not worthy to be his son, and ask him to give me work as one of his servants.'
"So he went home. But before he reached the house, his father saw him coming, and ran out to welcome him. The young man started to say, 'I have sinned, and I am not worthy to be your son.' But his father called out to a servant: 'Bring the best clothes in the house, and shoes for my boy's feet. Then kill the fattest calf we have, and get a feast ready. My son is back, and we are going to celebrate!'
"Meanwhile, the older brother was out in the field. When he came home, he heard music and dancing in the house. He asked a servant why they were having a party. When he was told, he became very angry. He would not even go into the house. When his father came out to ask him to join the party, the older brother said: 'All these years I have stayed at home and helped you! I did everything you told me to. In all that time you never once gave me a party. But when my brother comes back from spending your money—why, nothing is too good for him!'
"But the father answered him kindly. 'Son,' he said, 'you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. It is right that we should celebrate, and be happy. For it is as if your brother had been dead, and now he is alive again. He was lost, and now he is found.'"
The days went by. Some days were good, and some were bad. Once in a while Jesus would find somebody who seemed to understand him and believe in him. Then again it would seem that he was failing in what he tried to do.
The time he healed the Roman officer's servant was one of the good days. Jesus was just coming back to Capernaum after preaching out in the country, when this officer approached him. Although he was a Roman, and the captain of a company of Roman soldiers, this man was well liked in Capernaum. For he had built the Jews a synagogue, and everyone knew that he loved the Jewish people.
He came to Jesus, and said, "Lord, my servant is lying at home, very sick and suffering greatly."
Jesus replied at once, "I will come and heal him."
But the officer shook his head.
"Lord," he said, "I am not worthy that you should come into my house. Just speak a word, standing here, and that will heal my servant. You see, I have an army under me. I say to a soldier, 'Come here,' and he comes. I tell my servant to do something, and he does it right away. You have that kind of power too. You just have to say that my servant shall be healed, and he will be healed."
Jesus was joyful when he heard these words. To those who were standing around he said:
"I tell you, I have not found among the Jewish people anyone who believes in me so much as this Roman does! And I tell you this too: When you talk about the Kingdom of God you shouldn't think that God has no place in it for anyone except Jews. God is going to bring together people from every country, everybody who has faith like this officer's faith. And some of the Jews may find themselves outside the Kingdom looking in!"
Then he turned to the officer and said:
"Go back to your house. You have had faith in me, and I will give you what you ask."
When the officer went home, he found that his servant had recovered from his illness while Jesus was speaking.
That was one of the good days, when Jesus found a new believer. But a bad day came, when Jesus found that his oldest friend had begun to lose faith in him. John the Baptist was not sure any longer that Jesus was the Messiah.
And John was in trouble. He had preached against King Herod, the son of the king who had died when Jesus was a baby. Herod married another man's wife, and John the Baptist said that this was a sin. Herod threw John into jail.
As John lay in his prison cell day after day, he began to wonder about Jesus. Had he been wrong in thinking that Jesus was the Messiah? Jesus did not seem to have done very much as yet. The Romans were still in the country. The rich people were as bad as they had always been, and the poor were just as poor.
At last John could not stand it any longer. When two of his followers visited him in jail, he sent them to ask Jesus who he really was.
"Ask him," said John, "'Are you or are you not the Messiah?'"
John's followers found Jesus busy healing the sick. They drew him aside, and told him what John wanted to know.
"Are you the One who was to come," they asked, "or must we look for somebody else?"
So even John the Baptist had his doubts! John, the man who had said that he was not worthy to baptize Jesus; the same John who once called Jesus the Lamb of God!
Jesus pointed to the crowd of people whom he had been healing, and he said to John's disciples:
"Go back and tell John what you have seen and heard here. Tell him I am doing what I can. Tell him how the blind are getting back their sight. Tell him too, how the lame are learning to walk, and how the lepers are being cured. Tell him that I am preaching to the poor. Tell him all about what I am doing, and let him decide for himself whether or not I am the Messiah. And tell him this: Blessed is anyone who believes in me, and takes me just as I am!"
Jesus never heard what John thought of this message. For John did not live much longer. One night King Herod gave a birthday party, and a pretty girl danced so well that the king offered to give her anything she asked. The girl went to her mother, to find out what she ought to say. Her mother hated John the Baptist because he had spoken the truth, and so she told her daughter:
"Ask for the head of John the Baptist to be brought in here on a platter!"
The girl went to the king, and asked for John's head. The king was sorry then that he had made that promise, for he was half afraid of John. However, he had to keep his word. And so he sent servants to the prison, and they cut off the head of John the Baptist with a sword, and brought it back to the palace on a platter.
When Jesus heard what had happened, he felt very sad. He said,
"Let us go out to some quiet place, and rest awhile."
Things were not going very well. John the Baptist was dead, and Herod might be planning to kill Jesus next. Some men, in fact, came one day to warn him to get out of Herod's kingdom.
"Go and tell that fox," he said, "that I am busy curing the sick and conquering evil, and neither Herod nor anybody else is going to stop me until I have finished my work!"
But things were going badly, just the same. Jesus saw that there were not many of the people who understood his message or knew who he was. A few believed in him, but others soon lost interest in him, if they ever cared at all. Only once in a long while did he see any results from all his work.
He explained this in one of his stories when he said:
"A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he sowed, some of the seed fell in the pathway, and people walked on it, or the birds ate it up. Some fell on a rock, and this seed began to grow; but no sooner had it sprung up than it died, because it did not have deep roots. Some fell among thornbushes; and the thorns grew faster than the seed, and choked it. But some of the seed fell on good ground, and there it grew into a good harvest."
When the disciples were alone with him, they asked Jesus to tell them what this story meant. He said that the seed stood for the words that he spoke to them. Some people heard him, but they soon forgot what he said. That was like seed falling on the pathway.
Others were very excited about what he said when they first heard it, but when it was hard to do what he told them they soon gave up trying. That was like seed falling on a rock, where there was no soil or water to give it root.
Then there were some who cared more about money and pleasure than they cared about God. That was like seed being choked by thorns.
But some people heard Jesus preach; and they believed in him, with good and honest hearts, and they were faithful. That was when his preaching brought results, and it was like seed falling on good rich earth.
"Unless people have faith in me," said Jesus, "they will never understand God. They will see the things I do, and never even know what they are looking at. They will listen to me, and never know what they are hearing. I can do nothing with them. But you—my disciples—you have faith in me. You will understand everything someday."
The disciples were going to be good ground for the seed that Jesus sowed.
8. Jesus Is Strong
That night Jesus said to the disciples, "Let us go across the lake."
Simon and Andrew and James and John were fishermen. They knew where to get a boat, and they knew how to sail it too.
All twelve disciples, along with Jesus, climbed into a boat and pushed away from shore.
The Sea of Galilee was a lovely blue lake in the daytime, when the sunlight sparkled on the water. In the evening it was lovely too, when the waves were lapping peacefully against the side of a boat, and the stars came out twinkling overhead.
But the Sea of Galilee was not always so lovely or so peaceful. Sometimes the wind came roaring down the steep banks around the lake, and the water grew white and angry.
Then again everything might be calm and quiet when a boat left the land. But before it had gone very far a storm might be howling all around. It would toss the boat around like driftwood, and then it would be too late to turn back to shore.
Some of the disciples were fishermen, and they had fished here all their lives. They knew what the sudden storms were like. It was no surprise to them when the stars disappeared as though the rising wind had blown them out. They knew what was coming now. The night would grow black as ink, and the great foaming waves would smash against the ship and fill it up with water. There was nothing anyone could do about it. Nobody could sail or row or steer the boat any longer. Only God himself could bring the poor sailors safe to shore.
The sea was rough already, and getting rougher every minute. They were afraid. They were always afraid of the sea when storms began to blow. It was so big and dangerous and terrible, and men were so small and weak! It was like a frightful monster, tossing them up and down before it swallowed them alive.
If only they had stayed on the good, safe land! They had been so worried and so tired that night; so discouraged about Jesus and his work. And now there was this storm on top of everything! It looked as if none of them would live to see another day. They had left their homes and families behind, to follow Jesus. What was the use of following Jesus if they were all to be drowned?
Now the boat was full of water. They tried to bail it out, but the fishermen knew that nothing they could do would be of any use.
In the dark they could hardly see one another's faces. Where was Jesus? No one had heard a word from him since the storm began to blow.