"Lazarus, come forth!"
And all who were bending forward toward the low, dark door of the tomb saw a man wrapped in linen come forth from the darkness and try to ascend the stone steps.
"Loose him and let him go," said Jesus. And then there was a scene so full of sacred joy that John, the disciple, who tells the story, does not show it to us.
After this many believed in Jesus, but others went and told the Pharisees all about it.
It was spring in Peraea, and the valley of the Jordan was full of the singing of birds and the color of blooming trees and wild flowers, while in the fields the young wheat was growing. The people thronged to Jesus in crowds, for He taught them in the open air. The disciples were busy with the people, explaining to the dull, listening to those who wished to ask something of the Master, or keeping back the curious. This had to be done in every village through which they passed. There were many mothers with their children around them who came out of their low white houses to follow Jesus in the way, and to listen when He sat down to teach.
The mothers loved to have the Rabbi's bless their children, for since the days of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the blessing of a good man means much to the Israelite.
One day some mothers brought their little ones to Jesus, and begged Him to bless them. The disciples told the mothers to stand back, and not trouble the Master while he was teaching. Jesus knew what they were saying, and He called them unto Him and said,
"Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not, for of such is the Kingdom of God. Verily I say unto you, whosoever shall not receive the Kingdom of God as a little child shall in no wise enter therein."
In this way he made it clear to His disciples, to the mothers, and to all who have read His word since that day, that every child is a citizen of the Lord's Kingdom, and dear to the heart of the King.
Perhaps the mothers had heard that the Lord was about to leave the country east of Jordan to go up to Jerusalem, and they longed to have their little ones share in the blessing they had received while sitting at the feet of the great Teacher and learning of Him, for soon after He crossed the Jordan, and, teaching as he went, set His face toward Jerusalem.
THE YOUNG MAN THAT JESUS LOVED.
A rich young ruler came running after Jesus one day, saying,
"Good Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?"
So eager was he to know that he knelt before Jesus by the road side.
Jesus spoke gently to him telling him that God alone is good, and that he knew the commandments that God had given.
"All these have I kept from my youth up," said the young man.
As Jesus looked upon him He saw that he was really trying to be good, and hoping that he could do some great and good act that would give him a certain entrance into heaven. He had been taught by the Rabbis that men were saved by keeping the law and doing outward works of righteousness. He did not know that heaven must begin in his own heart.
Jesus, reading his heart, loved him, and longed to have him know the truth.
"Yet lackest thou one thing," he said, "sell all that thou hast and distribute unto the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me."
When he heard these words the young man turned away and lost the eager look with which he had come to the Lord's feet. He was very sorrowful, for he was very rich, and he found that he loved his riches more than he loved anything else.
"How hardly," said Jesus, "shall they that have riches enter into the Kingdom of God! For it is easier for a camel to go through a needle's eye than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God."
"Who then can be saved?" asked one.
"The things which are impossible with men, are possible with God," He said.
"Lo, we have left all," said Peter, "and followed Thee," and then the Lord gave to His disciples that promise that has been proven true by millions of His children for ages past,—
"There is no man who hath left house or parents, or brethren, or wife, or children for the Kingdom of God's sake, who shall not receive manifold more in this present time, and in the world to come life everlasting."
THE LAST JOURNEY TO JERUSALEM.
When Jesus and His disciples were finally on the way to Jerusalem Jesus went before them, and the shadow of the great trial He was about to suffer cast its shadow upon Him. The disciples saw it, and Mark says that "they were amazed; and as they followed, they were afraid." He told them all about the trial and the death that lay before Him, but so unwilling were they to believe it, and so sure were they that He would be made king of the Jews, that two of them brought their mother to Jesus to ask that her two sons might sit next to Him when He should come to the throne.
"Ye know not what ye ask," He said, "can ye drink of the cup that I drink of? and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?" and they said,
"We can," not knowing that He spoke of suffering and death.
He told them that though they would indeed drink of His cup, He had no honors to give them.
Then, when the others were vexed with James and John for their foolish request, He talked to them all tenderly about the grace of humility.
"Whosoever of you who will be chiefest," He said, "shall be servant of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give His life a ransom for many."
It was the time of the Passover Feast at Jerusalem, and as they crossed at the Fords of Jordan and went over the Jericho plain they must have joined some of the groups of joyful people who were going up to the Feast, some on camels and asses, and some walking beside the beasts bearing tents or merchandise. The valley of the Jordan was bright with the freshness of spring, and as they came near Jericho with its rose-gardens, and orchards, and feathery palms, it looked like the gardens of Paradise. It was sometimes called Jericho "the perfumed" because of its great gardens of roses, and its balsam plantations from which they made perfumes that were sold in all the East. It was warm even in winter there, and no frosts destroyed its tropical fruits and flowers. The rich plain was made fertile by two springs that sent their waters through trenches all through these gardens and orchards. One is called the "Elisha Spring," because the prophet made its poisonous waters pure by casting salt into them.
And so the Passover pilgrims entered Jericho.
There was in Jericho a man named Zaccheus, who, like Matthew of Capernaum, was a rich tax-gatherer. He wanted to see Jesus as He passed, but the crowd was great, and he was a small man, so he ran before the people and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see Him.
As Jesus passed the tree He looked up and said,
"Zaccheus, make haste and come down, for to-day I must abide at thy house."
Zaccheus came down in great haste, and was full of joy to be able to entertain Jesus, though some complained that a sinner should have the honor of taking the Master into his house.
Zaccheus must have heard these cruel remarks, for he said humbly,
"Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have taken anything from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold."
Then Jesus said heartily, "This day is salvation come to this house, forsomuch as he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which was lost."
It was just outside of Jericho that the bands going out toward Jerusalem passed a blind beggar who cried,
"Jesus, thou Son of David, have mercy on me!"
The Lord heard the cry and called him, and there by the roadside He opened the eyes of Bartimeus to see the beauty all around him, and the kind face of Jesus looking at him. And he followed Him.
The pilgrims came up the steep, rocky road from Jericho to Jerusalem, and they were fortunate who could ride, for the heat was great, and the road hard to climb. Jesus and His friends walked, for they were poor men, as riches are counted in this world.
It was a six hours' journey, and when they reached the green heights of the Mount of Olives they turned aside to the village of Bethany, and there Jesus rested in the house of Mary and Martha and the brother whom He had called back from the grave. The disciples were lodged in the town, no doubt, among their friends, and so grateful and happy were they of Bethany to have the Lord once more among them that they made a supper to show their joy at His coming. It was at the house of Simon, who had been a leper, and cured, perhaps, by Jesus, and Lazarus sat at the table with Jesus, and Mary and Martha served.
It was a holy, happy time, yet shadowed with sadness because of the words of Jesus concerning His death, which the disciples could not believe.
In the midst of the supper Mary brought an alabaster box of very precious and costly perfume, and poured it upon the head of Jesus and also upon His feet, wiping them with her long hair. Judas, one of the twelve, frowned upon her, and said it was a waste, for the perfume might have been sold for money to give to the poor.
But Jesus knew what Mary did.
"Let her alone," He said, "against the day of my burying hath she kept this; for the poor always ye have with you; but me ye have not always."
"She hath done what she could."
"Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached throughout the whole world, this also that she hath done shall be spoken of for a memorial of her."
THE PRINCE OF PEACE.
It was in the lovely spring time of a land that scarcely knows winter that a strange and beautiful scene made Jerusalem still more beautiful. Over the Mount of Olives, where the olive and the fig-trees were in tender leaf, came a procession of people crying,
"Hosanna; blessed is the King of Israel that cometh in the name of the Lord!"
The road was crowded with people who with lifted faces and songs of praise waved branches of palm as they walked before and beside Jesus, who was riding toward Jerusalem, seated upon a young ass, after the manner of the kings and prophets of ancient Israel.
After Jesus and His friends had left Bethany to go to Jerusalem He had sent two of His disciples to a village near by to bring to Him an ass, with its colt, that they would find tied there, and they were to say to the owner of the asses, "The Lord hath need of them," that the words of the prophet might be fulfilled,
"Tell ye the daughter of Zion, 'Behold thy king cometh unto thee, meek, and sitting upon an ass, and a colt, the foal of an ass.'"
While the Lord and His friends were coming up the Mount of Olives, many people from Jerusalem who knew that He was on His way came to meet Him, and when the two disciples brought to Jesus the ass upon which He was to ride they placed Him upon it, and spreading their garments in the way, and with waving palms and singing they came over the ridge of the Mount of Olives from which they could see Mount Zion shining before them. The Pharisees had come out to see what it meant and were angry. "See—the world is gone after Him!" they said, but Jesus, when they asked Him to stop the praises of the people, told them that the very stones would cry out if the people should hold their peace. As they came to a point in the road where from a smooth rocky height they could see the great city with its temple before them, the whole company stopped, and Jesus, beholding it, wept over it saying,
"If thou hadst known, even thou, in this thy day, the things which belong to thy peace, but now they are hid from thine eyes!"
And He spoke of the days when enemies should surround the Holy City, and lay it even with the ground, because they knew not the time of their visitation. Fifty years after the Romans took the Holy City and burned the beautiful Temple, and put uncounted people to death. And so Jesus went down through the valley of the Kedron and up through the city gates with the great procession that grew at every step until He came to His Father's House—the Temple. Then He looked about and saw the buyers and sellers again making the Temple a market, but He went silently away with His friends to Bethany again. He had entered the city as the Prince of Peace, not as a Roman Emperor would do, with sound of trumpet and the tread of armed legions, and they knew not the time of their visitation.
THE CHILDREN IN THE TEMPLE.
The next morning Jesus went early with His disciples to the Temple. It was on the way as they went over the Mount of Olives that they passed a barren fig-tree—one that bore nothing but leaves. It was like the Pharisees, who outwardly seemed to be religious, but were inwardly evil, and bore none of the fruits of a religious life.
"Let no fruit grow on thee henceforward forever," said Jesus, and it withered away. When the disciples wondered, Jesus said,
"If ye have faith, and doubt not, ye shall not only do this which is done to the fig-tree, but also if ye shall say unto this mountain, 'Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea,' it shall be done. And all things whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive." When Jesus came again to the Temple He drove out the buyers and sellers and the money-changers, as He had done before.
"It is written," He said, "'My house is the house of prayer, but ye have made it a den of thieves.'"
When they had been driven out, the people who had been waiting for Jesus, and the blind and the lame came to Him, and He healed all who came. The Pharisees looked on with hatred in their hearts, and talked with the priests of arresting Him then and there, but a clear, sweet sound of young voices singing came floating through the temple courts, and they saw bands of children who were crying, "Hosanna to the Son of David!" and it rang like heavenly music through all the place.
"Hearest thou what these say?" cried the angry Pharisees, and Jesus answered, "Yea; have ye never read, 'Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings thou hast perfected praise?'" Then He left them and went again to Bethany to rest in the house of His faithful friends, Martha, and Mary, and Lazarus.
THE LAST DAY IN THE TEMPLE.
It was on a Tuesday that Jesus came again early to the Temple. It was the last day of His teaching there and He filled it with wonderful sayings that have been taught in thousands of Christian temples for nearly two thousand years. The chief priests and elders, who were full of anger because He had acted as if He had a right to say who should come into the Temple courts, came to Him as He was teaching and said,
"By what authority doest thou these things? and who gave thee this authority?" Jesus answered them by asking a question, "The baptism of John, whence was it? from heaven, or of men?" They could not answer, for they said in their own minds, "If we shall say 'From heaven,' He will say, 'Why did you not then believe him;' but if we shall say 'Of men,' we fear the people, for all men hold John as a prophet." And so they said, "We cannot tell."
And Jesus answered, "Neither tell I you by what authority I do these things." They could not find what they wanted—something to accuse Him of before the Jewish Council and so they tried to lead Him to say something that would turn the Romans against Him. They came to Him with flattering words, saying that they knew that He taught the way of God truly, and would He tell them if it was lawful to give tribute to Caesar or not? He saw their deceit and cunning, and said, "Why tempt ye me? Show me a penny. Whose image and superscription is this?" They told Him it was Caesar's. "Render therefore," He said, "unto Caesar the things which be Caesar's, and to God the things which be God's."
They wondered much at the wisdom of His answer, and could find nothing whereof to accuse Him, but perhaps they never knew what He really meant to say to them—and to us also—that His Kingdom was not of this world.
THE LAST WORDS IN THE TEMPLE.
On this day also, as Jesus sat near the treasury of the Temple and saw the rich, and the self-righteous casting their money into the boxes placed there, He saw a poor widow come with her mourning dress showing that she was the poorest of the poor—a pauper—and yet she had something to give: she dropped two "mites" into one of the boxes under the marble colonnade that surrounded the court of the women. Taken together these two coins were worth much less than a penny, but they were "all her living" and though the Lord did not speak to her, as far as we know, He saw her faith, and His blessing must have reached her in ways that we know nothing about. To those who stood about Him He said, "Of a truth I say unto you that this poor widow hath cast in more than they all; for all these have of their abundance cast into the offerings of God; but she of her penury hath cast in all the living that she had."
Jesus, who "spake as never man spake," preached the new Gospel of the Kingdom by means of stories, or parables, and on one long day of teaching in the Temple He told several stories that the people never forgot. Two of them were stories of the vineyard. One of them was of a man who sent his two sons into his vineyard to work. One answered "I will not," but afterward repented and went, while the other, who had said "I go, sir," went not. Jesus taught in this that real sinners who at first refuse to enter God's kingdom but afterward repent and enter, are better than the heartless hypocrites who talk much of their religion but are inwardly evil.
The other story was of a certain householder who owned a vineyard and let it out to some men while he took a journey into a far country. When the time of the fruit drew near he sent his servants to the men who had rented the vineyard, that they might receive the fruits of it, but the men beat one servant, and stoned another, and killed another. When the owner sent other servants they treated them in the same way. Then he sent his son saying, "They will reverence my son," but the men determined to kill the heir and take the vineyard for themselves, and they cast out the son of the lord of the vineyard and killed him. In this story He spoke of His own death, as well as that of the prophets and John the Baptist before Him.
The chief priests and Pharisees, when they heard this parable knew that the Lord spoke of them, and they tried again to take Him by force, but feared the people.
Another story told in the Temple that day was of the "Marriage of the King's Son" which you will find in the twenty-second chapter of Matthew. It shows first how the Jews were asked into the Kingdom of Christ, but refused to come, and their city was given over to their enemies to destroy. In the second part of the parable the call of all nations to come into Christ's kingdom is described, and the man who was found at the feast without a wedding garment, describes those who come into the church without real faith in the Lord Jesus, and are not prepared to enter heaven. "For many are called," said Jesus, "but few are chosen."
Knowing the wickedness of the priests and Pharisees, who stood before the people as more holy than others, the Lord ended His last day in the Temple with words to them that must have been sharper than a sword, and more burning than flames of fire. These words are in the twenty-third chapter of Matthew, and may no child who reads them ever live to deserve to hear them for himself. To the hypocrite alone the Lord was stern and severe, but to the sinner who truly repented He was full of forgiving love. After telling them of the sorrows and desolations that must fall upon the Holy City because of the sins of those who should be true and faithful teachers of their holy religion, He sent forth these last words of love and sorrow through the Temple courts,
"O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not! Behold your house is left unto you desolate, for I say unto you, ye shall not see me henceforth till ye shall say, 'Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord.'" And He went out of the Temple to return no more.
AN EVENING ON THE MOUNT OF OLIVES.
Jesus and His friends went out from the Temple and Jerusalem to the Mount of Olives, and as they looked back upon the beautiful buildings of marble and gold that made the Temple seem like a great jewel shining in the sunset, the disciples turned to Jesus and spoke of it, but He said,
"There shall not be left here one stone that shall not be thrown down."
They sat down on the slope of Olivet where the olive and fig-trees were putting forth their new leaves, and in that quiet time Peter, and James, and John, and Andrew drew close about their beloved Master, and said, "Tell us, when shall these things be, and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and the end of the world?" He told them many things hard to be understood; of the sorrows of Israel when their city should be destroyed, and the people scattered; of the end of the age, when they should turn to the Lord they had rejected, and of His coming to the whole world.
"Watch, therefore," He said, "for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come," and He told them of the faithful and the unfaithful servants; that the one was found doing his duty when his lord returned, and was made ruler over all his goods, but the other, unfaithful in all things, was surprised by his lord's coming and cast out.
He told them another beautiful "watching" story of the Ten Virgins who went forth with their little lamps to meet the bridegroom on his way to the marriage feast. Five of them took oil to fill their lamps, and five took no oil with them. The bridegroom was long in coming, and they all fell asleep; but at midnight there was a cry, "Behold the bridegroom cometh! go ye out to meet him!" Then they all arose and trimmed their lamps, but five of the lamps had gone out, and the foolish maids who brought no oil to fill them begged it of the others, but they were told that they must go and buy it of those who had it to sell. While they went to buy the bridegroom came, and they that were ready went in with him to the marriage, and the door was shut. Afterward, when the five thoughtless ones came to the door crying, "Lord, Lord, open to us!" they only heard the answer, "I know you not."
After this He told them the story of the Talents, which you may read in the twenty-fifth chapter of Matthew. It is the Lord's teaching to all disciples about making the most of the life He gives us.
His last story was a picture of the gathering of the nations, and the separation of the good and the true from the false and the evil. The King's call to the good, "Come ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world," carried with it a strange reason. "For I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat; I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink; I was a stranger, and ye took me in; naked, and ye clothed me; I was sick, and ye visited me; I was in prison, and ye came unto me."
Then the good whom He had called were astonished, and cried, "Lord, when saw we thee an hungered and fed thee? or thirsty, a stranger, sick, or in prison?" and He answered, "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me." To the false and the evil He could not say these things, but quite the opposite; and when they wondered when they had seen the Lord hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and had not ministered unto Him, He said, "Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me." Those by a life of love and service had chosen eternal life, but these by a life of selfishness had chosen death.
THE HOLY SUPPER.
There were two more days before the Passover Feast when Jesus would eat the Paschal Supper with His disciples. He spent the time with them trying to help them to bear the great trial that was before them, and which would shake their faith in Him to the utmost. They still believed that some great miracle would break around them like light in the darkness, and that Jesus would be acknowledged as the Messiah for whom the whole nation was waiting and yet the shadow grew deeper. The faith of one had failed. Judas had secretly hoped that Jesus would be made king, and that His disciples would be honored with riches and power, but little by little this hope had been dying, and little by little his heart had been turning away from his Master and his brethren, until, with the resolve to forsake the Lord, he opened the door of his heart to Satan, who began to enter in and possess him.
The high priest and the elders were plotting against Jesus in their council, and Judas, leaving Bethany and the company of the Lord and His disciples, went over the road he had so often walked with Jesus with a thought from Satan burning in his heart. He loved money more than everything else, and there was but one thing that would bring it now since all hope of Jesus becoming a king was past.
He went to the Temple and asked to be taken before the rulers, and he said to them, "What will ye give me, and I will deliver Him unto you?" There was a bargain made at once, and out of the Temple treasury they weighed him thirty pieces of silver, and he carried them away with the promise that he would watch Jesus, and tell them when and where they could take Him. He did not remember that five hundred years before the prophet Zechariah had written, "So they weighed for my price thirty pieces of silver."
On Thursday morning, the first day of the Feast, Jesus sent Peter and John to prepare a place where He should hold the Paschal Supper with His disciples in the evening. He told them to go into the city, and there they would meet a man bearing a pitcher of water, and if they would follow him he would show them a large upper room furnished. There they were to make ready the Passover.
They found it as He had said, and when the lamb had been slain at the Temple, the feast prepared, and the hour was come, the Lord sat down with the twelve. It was the last time that He would break the bread of the Passover with them before He suffered, and it was to be the first Holy Supper of the Christian Church. "With desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer;" He said, "for I say unto you that I will not any more eat thereof until it be fulfilled in the Kingdom of God." Before Him were the cakes of unleavened bread, the wine, the water and the herbs, while the Paschal Lamb was on a side table. After the blessing and the thanks, the Lord filled a cup with wine and water, and blessing and tasting it passed it to His disciples. It was the custom for the master of the feast to wash his hands at this point, and Jesus rose, and laid aside His tunic, and tying a long towel around His waist, poured water into a large basin and going to His disciples knelt down to wash their feet. They had been contending as to who should sit nearest to the Lord, and so be accounted greatest, and He thus taught them a lesson of humility. He told them that they were not to be among those who hold authority. "But he that is greatest among you let him be as the younger," He said, "and he that is chief as he that doth serve." The disciples looked on astonished and distressed, for their Master was doing the work that slaves were in the habit of doing, and Peter cried, "Lord, dost thou wash my feet?" Jesus said gently, "What I do thou knowest not now, but thou shalt know hereafter." "Thou shalt never wash my feet;" said the loving, impulsive Peter, and Jesus answered, "If I wash thee not thou hast no part with me." "Lord, not my feet only," the humbled disciple said, "but also my hands and my head!" When He sat down with them again He talked tenderly to them of serving each other as He had served them, adding, "If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them." With a troubled spirit He said, "Behold, the hand of him that betrayeth me is with me on the table." Then the disciples began to inquire sorrowfully among themselves who it could be, and to ask the Lord in turn, "Is it I?" Even Judas, close beside Him, asked the same question, but the disciples did not hear the Lord's reply. Peter, beckoning to John, signed to him to ask the Master, for John sat next the Lord, and leaned upon His breast. When he asked, "Lord, who is it?" Jesus said, perhaps in a whisper to John,
"He it is to whom I shall give a sop when I have dipped it," and He gave it to Judas Iscariot. Then Satan entered fully into the angry, covetous heart of Judas, and when Jesus said to him in a low voice, "That thou doest do quickly," he rose and went out into the night. Alone with His faithful friends, the Lord took bread and blessed it and broke it, and gave to them, saying, "Take, eat, this is my body; this do in remembrance of me." And He took the cup, saying, "Drink ye all of it, for this is my blood of the New Testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins."
And so the Lord founded the Holy Supper of His Church, the mystery and the holiness of which you will know more and more as you grow in the heavenly life, and receive through His Spirit the new wine of the Kingdom. John, the beloved disciple, kept for us the wonderful and precious words that the Lord spoke after the Holy Supper. They are full of a love for His children so deep and wide that we can never hope to measure it. They are written in the fourteenth, fifteenth, sixteenth, and seventeenth chapters of John's Gospel, and every child should hide them in his memory and heart before he is grown, and in after life they will be bread in time of spiritual famine. Looking around upon their troubled faces at the table the Lord said to His disciples, "Let not your heart be troubled; ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father's house are many mansions. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you unto myself, that when I am there ye may be also." He answered their questions, and He promised them the Comforter—the Holy Spirit of Truth, who would teach them all things, and make all the dark things clear. He also promised certainly to come back to them and not leave them orphans.
After they had sung a psalm they arose from the table, but they lingered for the Lord's last words and His prayer. He charged them to be steadfast and live from Him, as a branch lives from the vine, for He was the true spiritual Vine, and without Him they could do nothing. He told them of His great love for them, and that they must love one another through all the suffering and persecution that was before them, and trust to the Spirit of Truth, who would guide them in all things, and teach them the things He would say to them, but which they were not yet able to bear. And He promised that whatever they should ask the Father in His name should be given them. Then lifting up His eyes to heaven He prayed for His disciples, and for all disciples who should believe on Him through their word, that they might be one with each other and with Him as He was one with the Father, and, being made clean from the evil that is in the world that they should be with Him forever in heaven. After the prayer they went out of the city, and over the brook Kedron into a garden where Jesus had often sat with His disciples.
THE NIGHT OF THE BETRAYAL.
As they went out through the darkness down the valley and over the Kedron, Jesus still talked with His disciples. To Peter's question, "Lord, where goest thou?" He said, "Whither I go thou canst not follow me now, but thou shalt follow me afterwards." "Lord, why cannot I follow thee now?" said Peter. "I will lay down my life for thy sake."
"Verily, verily I say unto thee, the cock shall not crow till thou hast denied me thrice," said Jesus.
"Simon, Simon, behold Satan hath desired to have you that he may sift you as wheat; but I have prayed for thee that thy faith fail not; and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren."
"All ye shall be offended because of me this night; for it is written, 'I will smite the Shepherd, and the sheep of the flock shall be scattered abroad.'"
Jesus and his friends had reached the olive trees of Gethsemane when He asked them to sit there while He went away a little distance to pray. He took Peter and James and John with Him; and began to be very sorrowful, and He said,
"My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death: tarry ye here and watch with me." He went a little farther, and fell on His face and prayed, saying, "O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless, not as I will, but as Thou wilt." He found His disciples sleeping for sorrow, and He said to Peter, "What! could ye not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray, lest ye enter into temptation." Again He prayed, "O my Father, if this cup may not pass away from me except I drink it, Thy will be done." And there appeared an angel unto Him from heaven, strengthening Him. Then there was the sound of the tread of many feet, and the light of torches moving among the olive trees, and Judas, leading a band of priests, elders and captains of the Temple came toward the little group, and kissed Jesus as a sign that He was the One whom they sought. Jesus turned to him saying, "Judas, betrayest thou the Son of Man with a kiss?" And to the others, "Whom seek ye?"
"Jesus of Nazareth," they answered. And when Jesus had said to them, "I am He," they fell backward at the sight of His face. "When I was daily with you in the Temple," He said, "ye stretched forth no hands against me; but this is your hour and the power of darkness." Peter drew a sword and struck at the high priest's servant in defence of his Master, but Jesus said gently,
"Suffer ye thus far," and touched his ear and healed him. "Put up thy sword into the sheath," He added. "The cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?"
Then they took Jesus and bound Him to lead Him away, and the disciples forsook Him and fled, as had been written in the prophets. But John, the loving and beloved, came back and followed Jesus. So did Peter, remembering his vow, but he followed Him afar off.
DESPISED AND REJECTED OF MEN.
Jesus was first taken to Annas, the old High-Priest, who sent Him bound to Caiaphas, who was his son-in-law, and High-Priest that year.
John went in with Jesus to the palace of the High-Priest, but Peter stood outside the door, shivering with the chill of the night, but more with fear.
A servant girl at the door said, when John came out to bring him in,
"Art not thou also one of this man's disciples?"
And Peter said, "I am not."
Restless and unhappy, he walked about, or warmed himself by the fire, until three had accused him of being a follower of Jesus, and three times he had denied his Lord. Then there came a sound that struck him through—he heard through the open windows the crowing of a cock. It had crowed once before, but he did not think then of what the Lord had said, but now his memory and conscience were wide awake, for, as he looked over the heads of the people towards Jesus standing bound and alone before the High-Priest, the Lord turned and looked upon Peter. That look broke Peter's heart, and he rushed out of the place, and wept bitterly.
There was a mock trial which would pain the heart of a child to dwell upon, and which we will not describe at length. It is enough to know that the Lamb of God, who had come to take away the sins of the world, was willingly in the power of His enemies, and going down to death. A wonderful description of the trial and death of the Messiah may be found in the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah, which was fulfilled in the trial and death of Jesus. The hatred of the priests, the scoffings, the blows, and the cruel words of the people we will not describe. "He was oppressed, and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth. He is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so He opened not His mouth." Finally Caiaphas cried,
"I adjure thee by the living God, that thou tell us whether thou be the Christ, the Son of God!" Jesus said,
"I am; and ye shall see the Son of Man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven."
Then the High Priest rent his garments as if shocked at such profanity, and said,
"Ye have heard the blasphemy; what think ye?" And they all condemned Him to be guilty of death.
There was another gathering of the priests in the morning as the day began to dawn. There were more cruel words and blows for the Divine Man who was bearing the sins of the world, and He was taken away to Pilate.
And where was the wretched man who had sold his Master into the hands of His enemies!
He could not have thought that he was bringing death on His Master; but when at last he saw the Lord coming, pale, suffering and bound, down the marble steps, and heard "Death! death!" on every side, he became terrified. He had no one to turn to, for he had not a friend among men. He ran to the Temple and, finding some priests, begged them take back the money they had given him, saying, "I have sinned, in that I have betrayed the innocent blood."
"What is that to us," said the heartless priests. "See thou to that."
Then Judas cast the thirty pieces of silver over the marble floor, and fled from the place. Afterward he was found outside the city, where he had hanged himself. The priests could not put the price of blood in the Lord's treasury, and so they bought with it a field in which to bury strangers.
THE KING OF HEAVEN AT THE BAR OF PILATE.
Pilate, the Roman Governor, who had come up from Caesarea by the sea to keep order in Jerusalem during the Passover, was in his fine palace called "The Praetorium." Adjoining was "The Hall of Judgment," where cases were brought to the Governor to be judged, and just outside this Hall was a place called "The Pavement." It was a broad floor of many-colored marbles, open toward the city, and having an ivory judgment-seat.
While the morning was lighting the gold of the Temple roof to splendor, there was a deep shadow over the friends of Jesus. Their Lord was being led through the streets of Jerusalem by Roman guards, condemned to die. His mother and the women who believed in Him were in the city and saw Him, perhaps, as He was hurried by, pale and weak from the cruelty of wicked men. The priests would not go into the Judgment Hall for fear of defilement at the time of their Feast, so Pilate came out to "The Pavement" and sat down upon the ivory judgment seat. He was a stern, proud man wearing a white toga with a rich purple border—the robe of a Roman ruler.
"What accusation do you bring against this man," asked Pilate, looking at the pure, pallid face of the Divine Man, and turning to the dark and evil faces of His accusers. To their complaining remark, "If he were not a malefactor we would not have delivered him up unto thee," Pilate replied,
"Take ye him and judge him according to your law."
When they replied that (under Roman rule) it was not lawful for them to put any man to death. Pilate did not wish to condemn that just One of whom he had known nothing but good, for he had heard of His miracles, and had doubtless heard his wife speak of the young Rabbi. He rose and went into the Hall, ordering the guards to bring Jesus to him. Then he questioned Him,
"Art thou the King of the Jews?" he asked.
"My Kingdom is not of this world," said Jesus. "If my Kingdom was of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now my Kingdom is not from hence."
"Art thou a king then?" said Pilate.
"Thou sayest that I am a king. To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice."
"What is truth?" said Pilate, wondering, perhaps, what kingdom of truth this harmless man was dreaming of, and then he rose and went forth to the people on "The Pavement" who were saying that this man was stirring up the people from Galilee to Jerusalem.
Pilate, hearing that Jesus was a Galilean, sent him to the palace of Herod Antipas, who ruled over that province, and who was now in Jerusalem, but He was sent back to Pilate crowned with thorns and wearing a faded purple robe. The Roman soldiers had jested about His kingship, and Antipas had cruelly carried it out in returning Him in this dress to Pilate, through the streets of the city. He had been tried the fourth time and now Pilate made another effort to set Him free, He questioned Him again and heard the complaints of the Jews, but Jesus would not defend Himself.
"Hearest thou not how many things, they witness against thee?" said Pilate. "Answerest thou nothing?" If Jesus would only defend Himself!
Then Pilate thought he would scourge Jesus to satisfy His enemies, and let Him go.
"Ye have brought this man unto me," he said to the chief priests, "as one that perverteth the people, and behold, I, having examined him before you, have found no fault in this man. No, nor yet Herod. I will therefore chastise him and release him."
The cry of "Crucify him! crucify him!" rose again.
A message was sent to Pilate from his wife, which deepened the shadow on his face. "Have thou nothing to do with that just man," she said, "for I have suffered many things this day in a dream because of him."
The people had been persuaded by the priests to ask for Barabbas, and when Pilate asked which of the two he should release to them, they cried,
"What shall I do with Jesus, which is called Christ?" and all cried,
"Let him be crucified!"
"Why, what evil hath he done?" asked Pilate, but the cry was so great he could bear it no longer, and calling a slave to bring water, he washed his hands before them as a sign that he took no blame for the act, and said,
"I am innocent of the blood of this just person: see ye to it," but they cried,
"His blood be upon us, and upon our children." And when Pilate had given the order to scourge and crucify Jesus, he went into his palace.
LOVE AND DEATH.
Jesus had been meeting and conquering evil all His life, and in the last hour of it the last enemy was overcome. There were no children at the cross when Jesus laid down His life for us all, and we will not lead you there to point out all the means used by evil men to increase the suffering of our Lord. It was greatest within the great Heart of Love which broke for the sins of the world, and when you have learned the nature of Spirit you will be able to understand that Jesus chose to pass through an earthly life of poverty and temptation, and die a painful and shameful death, that He might be the Brother of the poor, the tempted, the suffering and the dying. "He was taken from prison and from judgment:" "He poured out His soul unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors;" "He bore the sins of many, and made intercession for the transgressors." So Isaiah wrote of the coming Messiah seven hundred years before. But so blind were the Jews that they could not see that the Redeemer had come to Zion, "He came unto His own and His own received Him not."
Bearing His cross He went forth meekly to death, and when He fell beneath the heavy cross, the Roman soldiers forced a passing stranger to carry it. All along the street women wept for pity as He passed, and there was sorrow in many hearts for the Man whom they had believed in as the One who was to deliver their nation.
But the eleven disciples—where were they? In deep grief somewhere; but only one—John the Beloved—followed his Master down to death. With the suffering mother of Jesus and the faithful women disciples he kept near his Lord. They saw the rough soldiers as they took the Lord's garments and divided them among themselves, and when they put His body upon the cross they heard Him pray,
"Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do!"
Two robbers were crucified with Jesus, upon His right hand and on His left. One begged Him to save him, and reviled Him because He did not; but the other said, "Lord, remember me when Thou comest into Thy Kingdom." And Jesus said, "Verily I say unto thee, To-day shalt thou be with me in Paradise."
His dying eyes also beheld His mother standing by the cross with the beloved John and the faithful women who had been His friends. The hour had come spoken of by Simeon in the Temple when he said, "Yea a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also." Jesus, looking at His mother supported by John said,
"Woman, behold thy son!" And to the disciple He said, "Son, behold thy mother!" And from that hour John took her to his own home to love and care for her through the rest of her life.
We will not look at the darkness that rolled over the sky, shutting out the light of the sun, or the sights and sounds of that day on Calvary. Jesus, thinking of the redemption He had wrought out for us, bowed His head and said,
"It is finished! Father, into Thy hands I commend my spirit." Then the great veil before the Holy Place in the Temple was torn in two from the top to the bottom, as a sign that the Lord Jesus by His death had opened the way for us into life eternal.
LOVE AND LIFE.
There was a good man of Arimathea named Joseph who was a disciple of Jesus, but not a fearless one. He had not followed Jesus with the twelve, but he had loved Him, and when he knew that his Master, who had not where to lay His head in life, had not a place of burial in death, he lost all fear and went to Pilate and begged the body of Jesus. This Pilate willingly gave him, and he, bringing helpers, took the body from the cross and tenderly brought it to his own garden in which was a new tomb hewn out of the rock. In this peaceful garden-room for the dead they laid Him, wrapped Him in fine linen and spices, for another disciple who had not dared to follow Jesus openly had come with a mixture of myrrh and aloes of a hundred pounds weight to embalm the body of Jesus. This was Nicodemus who had a talk with Jesus by night among the olive trees about the breath of God in man. So these two rich men buried Jesus, and a prophecy was fulfilled.
We do not know that any of the eleven disciples helped to bury Jesus, but, while John took the mother of Jesus to a place of rest and safety, his own mother, Salome, and Mary, the mother of James, and Mary Magdalene stood looking on afar off. There were other women also, who helped to guard the body of the crucified Lord when it seemed to be forsaken of all men. They marked the place where He lay and went away, for the hours of "preparation" and the Sabbath were before them. On the eve of Friday they prepared spices and ointments, and rested the Sabbath day (seventh day) according to the commandment. But Roman soldiers came and set a seal upon the tomb, and watched it night and day. On the first day of the week (now the Christian Sabbath) very early in the morning, while the streets were still, and there lay only a faint streak of rose in the purple east, Mary Magdalene hastened out of the city to the tomb in the garden, bearing her spices. When she reached the place she saw no guards there, and the heavy stone was rolled away from the door of the tomb. A great fear fell upon the woman who "loved much," and she ran to find Peter and John. "They have taken away the Lord out of the sepulchre," she said, "and we know not where they have laid Him."
Then Peter and John ran, and John the loving ran faster than Peter the believing, and was the first to reach the tomb. The other women also had gone to the tomb early bearing their spices for the embalming, wondering on the way who should roll away for them the great stone that stood at the door of the tomb. But they found the stone rolled past the door, and entering the low vestibule they saw a vision of an angel, in a long white garment, and were afraid.
"Ye seek Jesus of Nazareth which was crucified," he said; "He is risen; He is not here: behold the place where they laid Him. But go your way, tell His disciples and Peter that He goeth before you into Galilee; there shall ye see Him, as He said unto you."
The Lord had left a special message for Peter who had denied Him so cruelly and had repented so thoroughly! As they looked to "behold the place where they laid Him," they saw another angel shining white through the gloom, "one at the head, and the other at the feet where the body of Jesus had lain." They also ran, glad, yet half afraid, to tell the disciples what they had seen and heard.
Peter and John found the linen that had wrapped the Lord's body laid carefully aside. They did not yet remember the prophecy concerning His resurrection from the dead, but they believed He had risen, and they went away, hoping perhaps, that He was seeking them.
Mary Magdalene could not leave the empty tomb until she had learned something more about the Lord. Weeping and desolate she stood at the low door of the cave-tomb, and stooping to look in again she saw the vision of angels that the other women had seen, "one at the head and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain."
"Why weepest thou?" they asked, and she answered,
"Because they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid Him." As she turned to go out into the garden she saw one standing there who said,
"Woman why weepest thou? Whom seekest thou?"
She thought as she looked through her tears that it must be the man who kept the garden, so she said,
"Sir, if thou have borne Him hence tell me where thou hast laid Him, and I will take Him away."
It was the voice of Jesus—the same that once said to her, "Thy sins are forgiven," and she spread her arms to clasp His feet, crying.
"Touch me not," He said, "for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren and say unto them, 'I ascend unto my Father and your Father: and to my God and your God.'"
It was while Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James, were still in the garden, perhaps, that Jesus met them and said,
"All hail!" and they fell at His feet and worshipped Him.
"Be not afraid," He said, "go tell my brethren that they go into Galilee and there shall they see me."
When the women told all these things to the apostles who had come together to mourn for their dead Master, they could not believe. But the first Easter had risen upon the world, and though the joy of it filled all heaven, only a few women knew the blessed secret on earth, and were saying over and over, "The Lord is risen! the Lord is risen indeed!"
THE EVENING OF EASTER.
It was the afternoon of the same day in which the women had brought such strange stories from the tomb of the buried Christ, that two disciples went out to their home at Emmaus, a village about eight miles from Jerusalem. They had been in the upper room where they often gathered, and had heard the stories of Mary Magdalene, and of Peter and John, and they knew not what to believe.
As Cleopas and his companion (Luke, perhaps) went westward over the hills they talked of all these strange things with bowed heads and sad hearts, for Jesus, the One whom they had trusted was the Redeemer of Israel, was crucified, dead and buried, and as for the words of these women, they seemed like idle tales; but what if they should be true?
Another step seemed to fall beside theirs, and looking up they saw a noble looking young Stranger who was following the same road. He greeted them and said,
"What manner of communications are these that ye have one to another as ye walk, and are sad?"
"Art thou only a stranger in Jerusalem," Cleopas said, "and hast not known the things that are come to pass there in these days?"
"What things?" asked the Stranger, and they said, "Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, which was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how the chief priests and our rulers delivered Him to be condemned to death, and have crucified Him. But we trusted that it had been He which should have redeemed Israel: and besides all this to-day is the third day since these things were done."
Cleopas also told the story of the women who had come from the sepulchre that morning talking of a vision of angels, with that of Peter and John, who had gone also, and found it even as the women had said.
Then the Stranger began to speak to them of many things, and in words so full of wisdom and love and faith that their hearts were drawn with Him to believe that Jesus had risen from the dead. He told them that they were very foolish and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets had spoken. "Ought not Christ to have suffered these things," He said, "and to enter into His glory;" and He explained to them all the Scriptures that foretold the coming, the suffering, and the death of the Messiah, until the two hours' walk seemed as nothing.
As they came to the village where they lived, and the Stranger was passing on, they urged Him to come with them into the low white house near by which was the house of one of them. "Abide with us," they said, "for it is toward evening, and the day is far spent." And He went with them, and sat down with them to their evening meal.
Then another and strange beautiful vision was given at the sunset of the first Easter Day, like that which was given to the women at its dawn. The Stranger took bread and blessed it and broke it, and as He handed it to each disciple their eyes were opened, and they knew Him. It was the Lord! But in a moment He had vanished from their sight, and they could only wonder and believe. They began to recall His words. "Did not our hearts burn within us while He talked with us by the way, and while He opened to us the Scriptures?"
Perhaps they ate the bread that He had broken as they would take the sacrament, and then rose, though the day was fading over the hills of Ephraim and hurried back to Jerusalem to the friend's house where the disciples met. There in the upper room, the doors closed and guarded for fear of the Jews, they told the story of the Stranger to the eager disciples, and found that the Lord had also appeared to Peter.
In the midst of the joy and the wonder there fell a strange hush over the little company, for suddenly the Lord was seen standing in the midst and they heard the greeting so dear and familiar to them all,
"Peace be unto you!" and to them all He spread His hands having the print of the nails in them, and showed them His side that bore the mark of the Roman spear. That they might be still more sure He was the Lord and Master they had loved and followed (for they were afraid), He asked them to touch him; and as they had been at supper together He asked to share their meal, and He ate of the broiled fish and of the honey-comb before them. After this He talked lovingly with them of Himself—of the fulfillment of the prophecies concerning Him and of the work of the kingdom that was before them. Again he blessed them, and breathed on them, saying, "Receive ye the Holy Ghost." And so ended the day of the Lord's resurrection from the dead—the first Easter of the Christian Church.
THE LORD'S LAST DAYS WITH HIS DISCIPLES.
On Easter evening, when the Lord's friends were gathered in the upper room where He appeared to them, one of the eleven was absent. There were others beside the apostles—Cleopas and his companion, and probably the women of Galilee, as well as Mary, and Martha, and Lazarus of Bethany, but Thomas was not there. The others had told him that the Lord had shown Himself to them and had broken bread with them, but he could not believe. He believed, perhaps, in a vision, but not in the return of the crucified Jesus. He declared,
"Except I shall see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into His side, I will not believe."
A week passed, and the disciples were again gathered in the upper room, and Thomas was with them. The doors were shut and guarded as before, but, as before the Lord suddenly stood in the midst, saying,
"Peace be unto you." Then He turned to Thomas with gentle rebuke,
"Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand and thrust it into my side, and be not faithless but believing." Thomas did not wait to touch the Lord, but cried,
"My Lord and my God!"
"Thomas," He said, "because thou hast seen me thou hast believed; blessed are they that have not seen and have believed."
Soon after this the apostles went away into Galilee, as the Lord had commanded them to do. There by the Lake where He had called them from their nets to follow Him they waited for Him. Peter, and James, and John were there, with Thomas, and Nathanael, and two others of His disciples. The old love for the Lake came back to Peter, and he said,
"I go a fishing," and the others said,
"We also go with thee," and they went out for a night with the nets on the Lake, but they caught nothing. In the morning as they drew a little nearer land they saw a dim figure on the shore and heard a voice saying to them,
"Children, have ye any meat?" They answered "No," and then the clear voice came across the water saying,
"Cast the net on the right side of the ship, and ye shall find." This they did, and so heavy did the net become with fishes that they were not able to draw it. Perhaps John remembered another day on the Lake when the nets broke with the weight of the fishes, and looking at the figure standing on the shore in the sunrise, he said to Peter,
"It is the Lord!"
Peter did not wait to reply, but tying his fisher's coat around him he threw himself into the Lake to swim towards His Master on the shore. The others followed in the ship dragging the net with them, and when they had landed they found a fire of coals there, with fish laid upon it and bread, and the Lord Himself standing there as one who served.
"Bring of the fish ye have now caught," He said. And Peter, first to obey, drew the net to land full of great fishes—one hundred and fifty-three—and the net was not broken. While they were silent for joy and wonder, knowing that it was the Lord, and yet not daring to question Him, He said, "Come and dine." And there upon the sands the Lord for the third time since He rose from the dead, broke bread with his disciples. John, the beloved disciple was there, but it is not recorded that Jesus spoke to him personally. His heart was wholly with his Lord, and he did not need the loving help that was given to doubting Thomas, and self-confident, wavering Peter. To Simon Peter He said after they had finished their simple meal,
"Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these?"
Peter must have remembered that he had vehemently declared, "Although all shall be offended, yet will not I. If I should die with Thee yet I will not deny Thee in any wise," and had straightway forsaken and denied Him. Now he said simply and humbly,
"Yea, Lord: Thou knowest that I love Thee." And the Lord answered, "Feed my lambs."
Again the Lord asked him the same question, and Peter gave the same reply. And the Lord said, "Feed my sheep."
When the Lord had asked this question the third time, Peter, full of love and grief cried,
"Lord, Thou knowest all things: Thou knowest that I love thee." And the Lord answered again, "Feed my sheep."
By this Peter knew that the Lord trusted him to be an apostle, and teach the gospel of the kingdom to all men, but that he must have a steadfast love and faith. The Lord also said, "When thou wast young thou guidedst thyself, and walkest whither thou wouldest; but when thou shalt be old thou shalt stretch forth thy hands and another shall guide thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not." Afterward Peter was crucified as his Lord had been, and then John remembered these words of the Lord about him. As the Lord said to Peter, "Follow me," Peter saw John following also, and he said, wondering, perhaps, why the Lord had no word of counsel, of rebuke, or of prophecy for John,
"Lord, and what shall this man do?" And Jesus replied, "If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? Follow thou me." And they went away from the Lake, following the Lord, as they had done three years before when He called them to be "fishers of men."
"HE ASCENDED INTO HEAVEN."
Once more the Lord met His little company of followers and gave the apostles authority to found the Kingdom of God among men. "All power has been given to me," He said, "in heaven and on earth."
And this was the work that He gave them to do: "Go ye therefore and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you."
And this was His true word of promise to them: "Lo I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. And, behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you: but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem until ye be endued with power from on high."
It was about six weeks after His death that the disciples were again in Jerusalem where the Lord had told them to go and wait for the coming of His Spirit. He led them out over the Mount of Olives as far as Bethany, where the house of Martha had been a place of rest and refreshment for the homeless Man of Sorrows while He was founding His Kingdom of Heaven on the earth.
As they ascended a hill just above Bethany, the Lord could see spread out before Him the Hebron hills toward Bethlehem where He was born: the great city with its golden Temple where He had taught and had been rejected; Gethsemane, where He had suffered, and had been betrayed; and beyond the western walls the place where He had been crucified. Not far from Golgotha was the garden and the tomb in which He had been buried, and from which He had risen.
He was about to leave the little group that He had made the founders of His Kingdom, and one of them ventured a question,
"Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the Kingdom to Israel?" And the Lord replied,
"It is not for you to know the time and the seasons, which the Father hath put in His own power. But ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost parts of the earth."
Then He blessed them, and while they were looking at Him He was lifted above them, and a cloud seemed to come between them and their Divine Master.
While they still gazed toward heaven hoping perhaps to see Him again, two men in white garments stood by them and said,
"Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen Him go into heaven."
Then they worshipped their ascended Lord, and returned to Jerusalem full of joy and praise, to meet the other disciples in the upper room, to tell them of what they had seen, and to wait for the Promise of the Father.
THE PROMISE OF THE FATHER.
While the disciples of Jesus waited in Jerusalem for the gift of the Holy Spirit—the Comforter—who was to come and teach them all things, and bring all the Lord's words to their remembrance, they were much in prayer, and looked to the Lord for direction about the things of the Kingdom.
Peter did much to help the others, for his faith had grown stronger, and he was no longer afraid. Many who had partly believed in Jesus before His crucifixion, and who had come to believe in the risen Lord, joined the little band, until they numbered one hundred and twenty at one of their meetings, and the mother of Jesus was among them. At this meeting Peter proposed that some disciple who could be a witness with them to the Lord's resurrection should be appointed to the place that Judas once held in the circle of the twelve. The ten disciples agreed with Peter, and two were chosen—Joseph and Matthias. Then they prayed that the Lord Himself would show them which of these two He wished to be an Apostle, and when they cast lots the lot fell upon Matthias.
When the upper room became too small they went to a larger one that was more public, and did not try to guard their doors, for the priests had become afraid of the people as well as of the signs at the time of the Lord's death, when the sky was darkened, the rocks rent by an earthquake, and the Temple veil by an unseen Hand.
The Feast of the Weeks came on, and at the end of May—the day of Pentecost (the fiftieth after the second day of the Passover), the Lord's little church had gathered in their large public room to pray and wait for the Promise. Suddenly there came a sound from the heavens like the rushing of a mighty wind, and with it came a flash of fire which was not lightning, but which divided into many, and sat above the brow of each like a soft, bright tongue of flame.
Then the silence was broken, and they all began to praise God in other languages, as the Spirit gave them utterance, for the Promise of the Father had been given, and the Lord Himself had come to dwell in His people—not only in these, but in all who should believe on Him through their word.
There were some good Jews present who had come from foreign countries to the Feast, and spoke other languages, and when each heard his own language spoken by these unlearned men they were astonished. The news spread and many came to hear. "Are not all these which speak Galileans?" they asked, "and how hear we every man in our own tongue wherein we were born? What meaneth this?" Others made light of it all, and said that they were full of new wine.
Then Peter, strong in the power of the Holy Spirit, stood up and spoke to the people. You will find Peter's sermon in the second chapter of Acts, and his text was a wonderful saying of the prophet Joel, beginning, as Peter gave it,—
"And it shall come to pass in the last days I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall dream dreams; and on my servants, and on my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. And it shall came to pass that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved."
Peter did not spare the enemies of our Lord in his sermon, nor did he fear them. He preached to them of Jesus of Nazareth, and whom they had taken and by wicked hands had crucified and slain: and whom God had raised up, having loosed the pains of death, because it was not possible that He should be holden of it. He closed by telling them that God had made that same Jesus whom they had crucified both Lord and Christ.
There were many among the people gathered there who were pricked in their hearts because of Peter's words, which had the power of the Holy Spirit in them. They looked at each other and said,
"Men and brethren, what shall we do?"
Peter encouraged them to repentance and baptism in the name of Jesus Christ, telling them that the promise was to them and to their children, and to all that were afar off.
It was a wonderful day for the Church of Jesus Christ, and for His Kingdom on the earth, for there were about three thousand who that day received baptism, and joined the little despised company of the followers of Jesus of Nazareth. And all that believed were drawn together by the love of the Lord Jesus, and no longer lived for themselves, but for each other. That there might be no rich and no poor among them, they sold their possessions and parted them to all, as every one had need. In the Temple, in each other's houses breaking bread together, wherever they were they were happy and strong in their new faith and in favor with all the people. Though great trials and persecutions came after awhile, they bore them as seeing their invisible Lord, and they joyfully met the loss of all things—even that of life itself with a smile, remembering the Father's House with its many mansions, and their spiritual Elder Brother who had gone to prepare a place for them.
Dear Child:—God's Book is a Book of Ages, a Book of Races, and a Book of Nations; but it is far more, it is a Book through which God Himself speaks to the soul of man. We begin to read it thinking that He is speaking to the mind; afterward, when our conscience wakes, we believe He speaks to the heart, but at last we find that He speaks to the inmost spirit—the immortal soul. Then all that had seemed to be history, poetry, biography, philosophy, begins to be to us the voice of God in the inmost of the soul, speaking of the life of the spirit.
We, find at last, too, that One has walked beside us all the way, teaching us by His Spirit as He taught the people on the hill-side, or by the lake-side in Galilee: the One who said, "Before Abraham was, I am"—the Child of Bethlehem, whose name was called "Wonderful, Counsellor, The Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace." That you, dear child, may find Him walking close beside your way, be in the habit of walking daily with Him in the paths of His Word, and He will reveal Himself to you there.