The Life of Jesus

By Harris Franklin Rall

Chapter 12


We come now to the great turning point in the work of Jesus. The ministry in Galilee reaches its close. Jesus comes back again to the familiar places, but the old ways are not resumed. Nor does Jesus begin elsewhere a ministry like this. What were the real results of this ministry, and what was the meaning of Jesus' journey "Beyond the Borders of Israel"?

The Results of the Galilean Ministry

The People Fail Jesus. —What had Jesus accomplished in this period? We have already seen his failure to win the leaders. That might not have counted so much if he had really won the people, but the real failure came here. In part the people were probably influenced by their leaders, but there was a deeper reason. We have already seen that the religion of the Jews at this time was a religion of law on the one side and of hope on the other. The Pharisees were concerned with the former, the interest of the people lay in the latter, in the dream of deliverance from Rome and an earthly kingdom. Jesus had alienated the Pharisees by his attitude toward the Law; now he alienated the people because he did not meet their ideal of the Kingdom hope. His first healings had aroused their enthusiasm, but he refused to work signs for them or to become a mere healer. He said nothing about revolt from Rome nor the future glories of Israel. Instead, he put more and more clearly his message about sin and repentance, about the kingdom of righteousness and love.

The Woes upon the Cities. —Jesus had been under no illusion as to the meaning of the crowds and their enthusiasm. That did not lessen his grief at their refusal or his condemnation of their lack of faith. We see his estimate of the results in the woes that he pronounces upon the three cities where most of his work was done: ''Woe unto thee, Chorazin! woe unto thee, Bethsaida! for if the mighty works had been done in Tyre and Sidon which were done in you, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. . . . And thou, Capernaum, shalt thou be exalted unto heaven? thou shalt go down unto Hades: for if the mighty works had been done in Sodom which were done in thee, it would have remained until this day. But I say unto you that it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for thee" (Matt. 11. 21, 23, 24). Men are to be judged according to their light. Never had such a message come to any people. If the Queen of Sheba came from the ends of the earth to hear the wise king, what of this people that would not listen to a greater than Solomon? They were worse than the pagan Ninevites, for these repented at the prophet's preaching, and a greater than Jonah was here (Luke 11. 29-32).

Where Jesus Succeeded. —And yet the ministry in Galilee was not a failure. The people as a whole had rejected him, but there was a little group that had heard and rejoiced and obeyed. Twelve men he had found in these days upon whom he expected to build. And there were not a few others. The wise and the mighty had refused him, but the publicans and sinners, the poor and humble had turned to him, and his heart had been stirred again and again by their faith and eager desire. It was not what he had expected, but now he saw that it was his Father's good will, and he rejoiced in his Father's wisdom and mercy. That is what lies back of those words of wonder and rejoicing and gracious invitation, perhaps the most beautiful words in the Gospels, which come out of this very hour of darkness: "I thank thee, 0 Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou didst hide these things from the wise and understanding, and didst reveal them unto babes: yea. Father, for so it was well-pleasing in thy sight." And then the wonder gives place to humble joy and eager longing, joy that such a ministry is his, longing that all sinful and needy men may have its blessing: "All things have been delivered unto me of my Father: and no one knoweth the Son, save the Father; neither doth any know the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son willeth to reveal him. Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light" (Matt. 11. 35-30).

The Crisis and the Departure

The Open Break With the Pharisees. —The opposition of the Pharisees came at length to a crisis. It was Jesus' own act that brought the final break. They had criticized his disciples for eating with unwashed (ceremonially unclean) hands. Jesus not only corrected their teaching, but openly and by name condemned them. He called them hypocrites, that is, men who were playing a part like the actors with their masks on the Greek stage. There was no real devotion to God with all their ostentatious piety. They seemed the strictest of saints, but he showed how by their rules they were nullifying the laws of God (Mark 7. 5-13). It was a definite break. The young teacher had defied and denounced the powerful leaders of the church. Even his disciples were astonished. "Knowest thou that the Pharisees were offended?" they said to him, as soon as they were alone (Matt. 15. 12). "Offended" was a mild word to describe the anger which the Pharisees felt. They had tried earlier to confute Jesus before the people and his answers had left them speechless (Matt. 12. 9-14). Now he denounced them before the people and they had no answer. It was no longer a mere debate about some law or rule; they saw at length that his teaching meant the overthrow of all for which they stood, and his success their loss of place and power. Mark tells us in another place (3. 6) that they began plotting with the Herodians, probably a political party and adherents of Herod Antipas. Their plan may have been to attack Jesus as a dangerous political revolutionary, and so secure the help of this ruler who had so recently executed John the Baptist, They did not succeed at this time, but it was upon such a charge that they haled him at last before Pontius Pilate and brought him to the cross (Luke 23. 2).

Leaving Galilee. —Jesus thus decides to leave Galilee. The failure of the people and the danger from Herod may have moved him equally. He did not go through fear. That is plain from his response to a later warning as to peril from Herod: "Go and say to that fox. Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures to-day and to-morrow, and the third day I am perfected. Nevertheless I must go on my way to-day and to-morrow and the day following" (Luke 13. 31-33). His life was in God's care and he had no fear, but his work was not yet done. To be reckless of danger was not a sign of faith; it was simply tempting God (Matt. 4. 5-7).

The Wanderings

The Second Period of His Work. —The second period of Jesus' work, which now begins, bears four marks: (1) It is a time of wandering, most of it outside of Galilee, some beyond the borders of Israel. (2) In this time Jesus turns from the masses to give his special attention to the training of a smaller circle of disciples. (3) He wins the confession of that circle, and declares definitely his Messiahship. (4) He sees suffering and death as his end and prepares the disciples for it.

Where Jesus Went. —Very little is known of this period in which Jesus wandered beyond the bounds of his own people. As near as we can tell, he journeyed from Galilee northwestward to the regions bordering upon Tyre and Sidon, and upon his return kept on the east side of the lake coming down to Decapolis (Mark 7. 24, 31). A second journey to the north led him to Caesarea Philippi, where Peter made the great confession and whence he returned again for at least a brief visit to Galilee and Capernaum (Mark 8. 27; 9. 30, 33).

Jesus and the Gentile Woman. —Only one incident is preserved for us from this first northern journey—that of the Syrophoenician woman. Jesus had gone north, not to continue his public ministry among other peoples, but for a period of retirement with his disciples. His fame, however, had reached even here. Some one who had gone up to Galilee from this region probably recognized him. Thus it happened that a certain woman came to the house where he was staying and besought him to cast a demon out of her daughter. According to Matthew, Jesus answered her that he was only sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. When she persisted, he added, "It is not meet to take the children's bread and cast it to the dogs" (Matt. 15. 26). All this at first sight seems strangely at variance with Jesus' usual quick sympathy and readiness to help. It must be remembered that Jesus was seeking retirement with his disciples; to begin the work of healing would at once bring the multitudes. Moreover, words tell but little oftentimes. Were the words playfully spoken? Or was he testing her faith? Two facts, in any case, are plain: the woman was encouraged to persist, and Jesus healed her child (Mark 7. 24-30).

Jesus and the Gentiles

Was It a Mission to the Gentiles? —All this, however, raises a deeper and more important question. What was Jesus' attitude toward the Gentiles? The Jews had failed him; was he turning now to the Gentiles? Did he hold that the Gentiles had an equal right to the Kingdom? Or did he still share something of the feeling of his own people, that the Kingdom and its blessings were for the Jew? It is clear that he undertook no mission to the Gentiles at this time. He had told the woman that he was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, and when he had sent out his disciples it was with the instruction not to enter Samaritan or Gentile villages.

Jesus' Method. —There are two questions to be distinguished here: (1) Did Jesus include the Gentiles with the Jews in his plans and message? (2) What was Jesus' method of carrying out this plan? Let us look at the latter first. Jesus was preparing men for the coming of the Kingdom. That meant a great deal more than to go out and make an announcement, to preach a sermon and then pass on, though this idea of "evangelizing the world" has been in the minds of some of his followers. He knew the work that it required to make men see the meaning of the Kingdom and to turn them to repentance. There was only one place to begin: with Israel, whom God had prepared for this message. If Israel refused, what encouragement was there to go to their Gentile neighbors, whose religion was a mass of superstition, whose lives were on the lowest plane? What, then, was Jesus' plan when the people of Galilee failed him? It was twofold. Ultimately he planned to make his appeal to Jerusalem. That was necessary, though he expected little from it. His real plan, however, was the training of a smaller group through whom his work might be done. The kingdom of heaven was like the leaven; it must spread quietly, working within. And the leaven was not to be the Jewish people as a whole, but this little group of his disciples. The method of Jesus, then, was the training of this little group. It was not time yet to preach to the Gentiles, and it was to be their task, and not his.

Jesus and the Jewish Attitude. —We turn now to the other question: Did Jesus include Gentiles with Jews in his thought of the Kingdom? The Jewish position we know. The Gentiles were enemies to be overthrown; or, as subject peoples, they were to bring tribute to Jerusalem. The kingdom of God meant the triumph of Israel; the Gentiles were the obstacle. First, we must note that it was against this idea of the Kingdom that Jesus fought all his life. It was not Gentile enemies that he was concerned about. He would not let himself be entrapped in any anti-Roman campaign (Mark 12. 13-17). The strong man whom he had overcome was not Rome, but the power of evil (Luke 11.20-22).

His Message Is to Men as Men. —In the second place, in all Jesus' preaching of the Kingdom there is no room for favor for Jews as Jews or discrimination against Gentiles as such. Jesus' preaching is not to Jews or to Gentiles, but to men as men. The old barriers of race and language and national hatred all drop away in his message. See what he asks of men: humility, penitence, earnestness, trust. There is not a word of anything Jewish, of circumcision, or washings, or holy days; any Gentile could render this just as well as a Jew. Note what he sets forth as the object of trust and ground of hope: not the Jehovah of Israel who delivered them from Egypt, but that Father God whom all men might know, who made his sun to shine upon the evil and the good (Matt. 5. 44, 45). The kingdom of Jesus is not a kingdom of the Jews. It is a kingdom of men, men with the spirit of mercy which makes them true children of such a Father of mercy.

His Treatment of Gentiles. —All this is exemplified in Jesus' treatment of individual Gentiles, whom he had abundant opportunity to meet,- since Galilee was so largely Gentile. There is no narrowness here. He rejoices over the faith of the Roman centurion, as over that of the Syrophoenician woman (Matt. 8. 10). The Samaritans were scorned by the Jews almost more than were the pure Gentiles; yet Jesus holds up for praise the Samaritan leper in contrast with the rest of the ten who were presumably Jews. More striking still is the parable of the man that was a neighbor, where Jesus took a Samaritan for his hero and made "good Samaritan" forever a term of praise (Luke 10. 30-37). Again and again he condemned the Jews in contrast with Gentiles who were more ready for the word of God. Thus he spoke of the Ninevites and the Queen of Sheba, of Naaman and the widow of Sarepta, and compared Tyre and Sidon and Sodom, names that were very bywords for iniquity, with proud Capernaum and Bethsaida and Chorazin.

A Summary. —We may sum up by saying: Jesus did not turn from Israel to begin a work among the Gentiles; but neither did he show any of the Jewish narrowness and race hatred. His religion is human, and not national. He rejoiced in love and faith wherever he found it. His kingdom was not a kingdom for Jews, but for the humble and contrite and merciful. As his ministry drew to a close he saw with increasing clearness that the Jews as a nation would refuse him, while the Gentiles came into the Kingdom.

Directions for Study

Read Matthew 11. 20-30; Luke 11. 29-32; Mark 7. 5-13; John 6. 66-68. These passages suggest the success and failure of the early ministry in Galilee.

Read Mark 7. 24-31. This passage, with the scattered references in the narrative, raises the question of Jesus' relation to the Gentiles.

Read the Scripture passages first; then read the narrative with constant reference to the Scripture, including the additional passages cited.

Try to gain for yourself a clear idea on two points: (1) Looking backward, what were the results of this early ministry? (2) Looking forward, what was Jesus' attitude toward those outside of Israel, and how did he plan to bring the good news of the Kingdom to them?

Discuss the character of Christianity as a universal religion, one suited to all nations and all men.