The Life of Jesus

By Harris Franklin Rall

Chapter 7


After our study of the temptation we can understand the way in which Jesus began his work. His whole mind was filled with the thought of God. That living, loving God he saw in all the glorious history of the past, in all the world of men and nature about him; but above all, he knew him in his own heart. It was this thought of God, his Father, that determined all else for Jesus. It determined his idea of the Kingdom and delivered him from all the external and selfish conceptions of the people round about him. They dreamed of a Messiah working wonders and overthrowing their foes. He faced that expectation in the wilderness days and definitely broke with it. The kingdom of God, the rule of his Father, must be first of all love and peace, righteousness and good will, the reign of a new spirit among men.

Jesus the Teacher

Simply and quietly, Jesus begins his work as a wandering preacher and teacher. He does not set up his standard at some one place, as John did, and gather the throngs about him; indeed, he goes away from the multitudes again and again. He goes everywhere and speaks to folks as he meets them, by the wayside, in the market place, at the seashore, in the home, at the place of toll, and on the Sabbath in the synagogue. Such a life in itself would occasion no comment; the people were used to such preachers at this time, wandering rabbis and others. Nor was it unusual for such men to have their little company of followers, as Jesus did.

His Purpose. —The purpose of Jesus in all this is clear. As Messiah he could not, of course, always remain hidden; some time the Messiah was to stand forth before all as the Anointed One; he was to rule. As he told his disciples later, Jesus did not know just when this was to be, nor does he seem to have known under just what circumstances his reign should come; he was content to leave all that to his Father. But he did know one thing: that the people were not ready either for the Kingdom or the declaration of his Messiahship. The Zealots would have said, "Arise against Rome, and Jehovah will come for deliverance." The Pharisees would have said, "Wait in quiet, and Jehovah will come in good time and work his wonder." Jesus does neither of these things. He goes forth to prepare the people by his teaching. God must have a humble, penitent folk, showing his spirit of love in their life with men.

Where His Work Began

In Judaea. —The fourth Gospel gives us an interesting and vivid picture of the simple beginning of Jesus' work. If we had only our first three Gospels, it would appear that Jesus met Peter and James and John and Andrew almost by chance and summoned them at first sight to be his special companions. John's Gospel makes this clear by giving us an earlier chapter. Jesus had come to know all these men except James in the company of John the Baptist, and with them Philip and Nathanael. He had learned to appreciate their spirit there in the south and had probably planned to meet them again in Galilee.

He Turns to Galilee. —But any work that Jesus may have done in Judaea was incidental. His real public work, according to Mark, did not begin till after the death of John the Baptist, and then he decided to commence it in Galilee. It is significant that these men whom he won in the south were themselves Galilaeans, as he was. He knew these Galilaeans. They were looked down upon with good-natured contempt by the men of Jerusalem, who could easily identify them at the feast by their uncouth accent (Matt. 26. 73). But Galilee had none of the priests of Jerusalem and far fewer of the scribes and Pharisees, and her spirit was much more open and free than that of Judaea.

The Province and the Lake. —No place except the city of his death so appeals to the follower of Christ as Galilee. Here was the home of his boyhood and the scene of by far the larger part of his ministry. Here he called his followers, the men through whom his word and his life have come down to us. Here were the cities that saw his mighty works. These shores echoed his voice. It was Galilee's fair flowers whose beauty he praised, and her singing birds which revealed to him the Father's care. Her fertile fields were far different from the rough hillsides of Judaea. And nowhere else was such a lake as Galilee! Thirteen miles long and some seven miles in its greatest width, its smiling surface mirrored innumerable boats and its waters were full of fish. Round about it lay the cities that we know so well. Beginning at the north and passing west and south were Bethsaida, Chorazin, Capernaum, Magdala, Tiberias, besides others not mentioned in Gospel pages. Across the lake lay Gamala and the city of the Gergesenes. Galilee teemed with people, even if we discount Josephus, who declares that it had two hundred and four cities and villages, the least of which had fifteen thousand inhabitants. Add to this the fact that it was covered with a network of splendid roads, and we can easily understand the quick gathering of the multitudes to which the Gospels so often refer. The lake itself bore various names, Galilee from the province, Gennesaret from the fertile plain lying on the west, and Tiberias from the like-named city.

At Capernaum

The Call of the Four. —Coming from the south toward Galilee, the road which Jesus followed touched the lake at its southern point and thence moved northward along its western shore. Capernaum lay well toward the end of this coast road, and as Jesus drew near to this city he recognized Peter and Andrew down at the shore busy with their work as fishermen. They had talked over the matters of the coming kingdom before; now it was time to act. "Come after me/' Jesus called to them; "I will make you fishers of men." Farther on was the other pair of brothers, James and John, and the same call went to them. And so the little company entered Capernaum.

The Draft of Fishes. —The great catch of fish, which Luke narrates, may have occurred on the same day before Simon Peter and his brother left their nets to follow him. Near the populous city, it was easy for a crowd to gather quickly, people who would listen to his burning words about the coming Kingdom as he was speaking to his friends, and whom he would be very ready to include in his message. As the crowd grows, Jesus at length steps into Peter's boat, that he may more easily address them. Then comes the wonderful draft of fishes at the close. It is idle to discuss whether this was a miracle or not. Of one miracle here we are sure; that was the character of Jesus itself. Luke says Peter was amazed at the draft of fishes; was he not more amazed at the man whose message he had heard and who had given the command to sink the nets? There is an ancient tradition which tells how, long years later, this same Peter gave to the young man John Mark that story of Jesus' deeds which forms our second Gospel. But greater than any word or deed of Peter's was the Master himself. On that day Peter took the first of those lessons in the appreciation of his Lord which culminated in his confession at Caesarea Philippi.

Worship in the Synagogue. —In the city the little company seems to have gone to Peter's home. On the following Sabbath day Jesus went, as a matter of course, to the synagogue service. As we have already noted, the synagogue was the great institution of Jewish life and the Sabbath worship was its central interest. We know what the main features of that worship were at this time. There was the recitation of the Schema, so called from its opening word and composed of the passages Deuteronomy 6. 4-9; 11. 13-21; Numbers 15. 37-41. There was a prayer, probably of a fixed form. There was a lesson read from the Law and one from the Prophets, with the priestly benediction. In Palestine, at least, the lessons were read in Hebrew, then practically a dead language, and translated for the people into their common Aramaic speech. The central interest was apparently the sermon or address in which the lessons were explained.

A Democratic Service. —It was a democratic service, such as was to be found nowhere else until it reappeared in the early Christian Church. The Jewish community and the synagogue were under the control of elders, and there was a chief ruler of the synagogue (see Mark 5. 23) who had general direction of the service; but the worship itself was not conducted by him nor by any regular official, either priest or minister. The ruler simply chose from out of the congregation the one best fitted to perform this service. It was thus that Jesus came to be called upon that day, as Paul so often was later on. The emphasis of the service, however, was not upon the worship, but the instruction, especially in the Law. On another occasion we have the report of an address which Jesus gave in the Nazareth synagogue, and we know the passage from the Prophets which he read on that day. The "minister" mentioned in that instance (Luke 4. 20, Authorized Version) was not a minister in our sense of the term, but the sexton who had charge of the precious rolls of the Law, and who was sometimes the teacher of the little children as well.

The Preaching of Jesus

Not As the Scribes. —What Jesus said on this first Sabbath at Capernaum we do not know, but Mark tells us what was the chief impression that he made: "He taught them as having authority, and not as the scribes." The difference between Jesus and the scribes was not in the knowledge of the Scriptures. It is true that the scribes gave a lifetime to their study; but we know how Jesus pondered them, and how he met the scribes later on and worsted them with these their own weapons. The difference, rather, was this: they used authorities, he spoke with authority. Their method was simply an endless dreary repetition of what had been said by other scribes in the past. Men could give a scribe no higher praise than to declare that he never said anything but what his teacher had spoken. The ideal pupil was compared to a well-plastered cistern, that let not a drop escape. If they were cisterns, Jesus was like a fountain. Fresh from his own soul the living waters poured. They could speak merely out of a dead past, telling what others had said; he poured forth the treasures of a living experience of his own. They had only endless laws and rules; he stirred men's hearts with the thought of that living and loving Presence who filled his own life. Religion for him was a living present power; for them it was a tradition.

His Message. —But there was more in the power of Jesus than the fact that he spoke directly from his own experience. He had a great message and a great purpose. We can see these in the first petition of the prayer that he taught his disciples: "Father, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come.'' Here are the message and the purpose; God and the coming Kingdom. We speak these words so often and think so little of what they mean; but Jesus' heart was filled and stirred by them, and that burning heart set fire to others. Men knew so little of this God who was all his life, and men were so far from ready for his coming reign. He must show them God, and he must make them ready. That great purpose lay back of this work of teaching. So Jesus becomes the Teacher. How patiently, how constantly, he pursues that work, whether he has before him the multitude on the mountainside or one poor woman at the well! And he follows this method to the end. When the fickle multitudes turn away, he centers upon his disciples. When he must leave the north, he turns to Jerusalem. His last days find him still preaching, still warning and appealing, though he knows with what little promise of success: 0 Jerusalem, Jerusalem! If thou hadst known!

Directions for Study

Read John 1. 35-51; Mark 1. 14-22; Luke 5. 1-11.

Review briefly the last three lessons and try to realize the situation: the nation stirred by John, Jesus' visit to John and his call, Jesus facing the question of his lifework. Try to understand the problem that Jesus faced as to how he should begin his work.

Study the passages from John and Mark together. Note that Jesus is using at the very beginning his first great method: to win individual men and work through them. It is a very simple beginning, but consider what these men meant later on for the church and the Kingdom.

In connection with Luke 5. 3 and Mark 1. 21, 22, consider Jesus' second great method, that of teaching. Run over hastily the outline of Jesus' life and see how much of it is taken up with teaching, and how this work continues to the very end.

Make a list of the different places and conditions in which Jesus taught; of his different classes of hearers.

What are the chief qualities in his teaching?