By Harris Franklin Rall
Now the last journey begins. The little company turns toward Jerusalem. Whatever the disciples may have thought, the Master knew that they were approaching the cross. That fact of the nearing cross we must constantly keep in mind as we study this lesson. We look at Jesus in its light. The deep and tender sympathy is still there, but there is a sterner note as he speaks about what disciple-ship means. We gain a new picture of Jesus himself as he thus enters the shadow of the cross, a new vision of his determination and courage. And the disciples too are revealed to us more clearly. How do they meet the test and what kind of men does it show them to be? With their usual frankness the Gospels show us the darker and the brighter side of these men.
The Test of the Cross
The Steadfast Face. —It is to the Master that we turn first. How does he appear now that the bright days are behind him and each step bears him nearer to the great trial? The few words of the Gospels are like the simple, strong strokes of a master painter, setting the scene perfectly before us. '''And it came to pass, when the days were well-nigh come that he should be received up, he steadfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem" (Luke 9. 51). "And they were on the way, going up to Jerusalem; and Jesus was going before them: and they were amazed; and they that followed were afraid" (Mark 10. 32). We see it all as we read these words: the Master no longer in the group,_ but going on before, with a steadfast purpose and a spirit resting upon him that awed his followers; the disciples following, amazed, afraid, and yet remaining with him.
The Confident Christ. —There is one word of Jesus, probably coming at the beginning of this journey, that shows his spirit in this hour. It was perhaps during the last hasty visit to Galilee that a few Pharisees, who may have been friendly to him, brought him word that Herod Antipas was waiting to seize him. Jesus' answer shows his scorn for the weak and crafty king, his clear realization of what his final lot was to be, but beneath all this a deep confidence in the Father who was ordering his life. He sees clearly enough the enemies and the cross, but they only mean the perfecting of his work according to God's plan. "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: for it cannot be that a prophet perish out of Jerusalem" (Luke 13. 31-33).
The Disciples Follow. —And how did the disciples meet the test of the approaching cross? They had joined him in those brighter days of Galilee. They had not forsaken him when the multitudes turned away. They were with him in his wanderings, and had believed on him as Messiah in the hour of his loneliness and danger. Would they stand this hardest test when he told them of his coming death? Would they go with him when he turned to Jerusalem? They could not realize the full meaning of his warnings, but they did know that Jerusalem was the very citadel of their Master's foes. And yet they followed him. Peter and the rest might protest, but they had no thought of leaving their Lord. It was this that stirred the heart of Jesus, and moved him to say at a later time, "Ye are they that have continued with me in my temptations" (Luke 22. 28). It was another instance of his wonderful power over them and, despite their faults, there lay in this loyalty the promise of their future service.
Lessons by the Way
The Disciples Still Learning. —The Gospels show us the loyalty of the disciples, but they show us also how much they had yet to learn. The shadow of the cross which brings out the courage and devotion of the Master only serves to throw into sharper relief their petty quarrels and ambitions. The journey was just another stage in their instruction. Looking back to these days after their Lord's death and resurrection, the disciples must often have wondered at their own blindness and sorrowed at their littleness. And this may be the reason why they preserved for us so many incidents that bring out these facts. That they should have handed down these stories that reflect so upon themselves seems like a form of penance on their part.
The Lesson of Service. —The first of these incidents occurred apparently just before they left Galilee (Mark 9. 33-37). It was probably not very long after the acknowledgment by Jesus of his Messiahship. While his thoughts were burdened with future danger and trial, theirs were filled with dreams of future glory. What should be the rank of each in the coming kingdom? Who should be first? It may be that the favor shown to the three whom Jesus took to the mount had occasioned the controversy. Jesus did not chide them for being ambitious; it was not stupid and satisfied men that he wanted. The fault lay in having wrong ambitions. The first place in my kingdom, he says, means service, and not rule. He had placed a little child in the midst; now he took the child into his arms. It was a simple act of lovingkindness to some unknown child of the street. Then he added: To receive some poor one like this little child, that is to receive me, and not only me, but the Father that sent me.
The Rebuke of Narrowness. —"Teacher,'' said John, "we saw one casting out demons in thy name; and we forbade him because he followed not us." Here was the same spirit again. Jesus' kingdom meant to them position and preferment. Here was a man taking Jesus' name who had not been regularly admitted to their circle. He might be claiming a place with them some day. How often this spirit has appeared among Christ's followers since then, men to whom office in the church means authority and rights which others must respect. My kingdom, says Jesus to John, means service. He who serves belongs to us, and we have nothing to fear of such. And no matter how humble the service that is done in my spirit, it shall not fail of its reward (Mark 9. 38-41).
The Inhospitable Samaritans. —The brothers James and John figure in two other incidents of this period. The first occurred in Samaria. Jesus had planned to stop at a certain village and had sent messengers ahead to arrange for the entertainment of his company. The bitter prejudice which the Jews held against the Samaritans was matched by that of the Samaritans toward the Jews. When they saw that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem they would not receive him. The disciples were indignant. James and John recalled the story of Elijah calling down fire from heaven to destroy his foes and they proposed this at once. Here was the same difference again: they were thinking of power, he of love; they of rule, and he of service. As some of the old manuscripts of the Gospel put it, "The Son of man came not to destroy men's lives, but to save them'' (Luke 9. 51-56, and note in margin).
The Sons of Zebedee. —Now the strife about the first place in the Kingdom comes up again (Mark 10. 35-45). The minds of the disciples had not grasped even yet what was the meaning of the Kingdom, or what this journey to Jerusalem signified. Of course they did not doubt the word of Jesus when he told them of his suffering and death; but he had spoken many strange sayings, and this was like some others which they had not understood. Whatever it meant, one thing was certain in their minds: their Master was the Messiah and he was coming into his kingdom. So the strife went on. They had been ashamed to have Jesus know of this contention, but now James and John took the matter into their own hands (perhaps with their mother; see Matt. 20. 20) and came to Jesus asking him for the first places in his kingdom.
The Cost of Power. —And so Jesus takes up again the question of authority and power. They are asking for places of power; are they ready to pay the cost? Can they drink his cup? Very lightly they both answer yes. They could not see it then, but they learned the lesson later. The cup of Jesus was the cup of pain and anguish of soul that he was soon to drink. The throne of power lay beyond. We see his power to-day, a power over men that was never so great as now. But we know, too, what Jesus knew even then, that the only road to his throne lay through Gethsemane and Golgotha. And then Jesus thought of what lay before James and John. They would prove true, he believed; in the end they would tread this same road of service and sacrifice upon which he had entered. They remembered his words and understood them later: "The cup that I drink ye shall drink; and with the baptism that I am baptized withal shall ye be baptized: but to sit on my right hand or on my left hand is not mine to give."
The Nature of Power. —Then Jesus calls the twelve. What you are thinking of, he says, is the pagan conception, the idea of making people serve you. In my kingdom it is different. I am with you not as lord, but as servant, giving my life for men. Do you wish to be great? Then make yourself a servant. Does any one of you wish first place? Then let him be the servant of all. Power in my Kingdom is simply power to serve.
What Discipleship Demands
Would-Be Followers Refused. —A number of incidents of this last Journey are concerned with Jesus' call or refusal of disciples. In them Jesus seems to set up new and more exacting standards. To understand the demands of Jesus we must remember two things: First, the question at issue is not whether these men are to believe in Jesus, but whether they are to join his company and go with him to Jerusalem. Second, the time of peril and testing is at hand; in his company there is room only for men of absolute devotion. These facts we must bear in mind when we read of the two whom Jesus refused (Luke 9. 57-63). One was a scribe, as we learn from Matthew's account (8. 19). Perhaps he thought of Jesus as a great rabbi from whom he might learn. There was sterner business on hand, and Jesus made him feel it. "The foxes have holes," he told him, "and the birds of the heaven have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head." Another said, "I will follow thee. Lord; but first suffer me to bid farewell to them that are at my house." Jesus read the halfhearted purpose, and knew that there was not the stuff here to stand the test of the coming days. "No man, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back," he declared, "is fit for the kingdom of God."
An Urgent Call. —That does not mean that Jesus did not care for more followers. On the contrary, this was the time when he wanted men of utter devotion to share in the great work that was coming. And so we read of two men whom he himself invited. One of these asked for permission first to bury his father (Luke 9. 69, 60). It seems a simple request and a mark of filial piety. But the fasting and ceremonies of such an occasion in that land involved days of time, and fitted ill with the urgency of Jesus' requirement. Leave those that are dead (spiritually) to bury their dead, said Jesus; but do thou publish the tidings of the Kingdom.
The Rich Young Ruler. —The other is the familiar instance of the rich young ruler (Mark 10. 17-31). The brief story gives us clearly his picture. Though young, he is a man of position, a synagogue ruler. He is a man of wealth. More than all this, he is a man of earnestness and enthusiasm. Despite wealth and standing, he runs to meet Jesus upon the way, kneels to him, calls him by the unusual name of Good Teacher, and asks him for something further that he may do to inherit eternal life. Such eager earnestness appealed to Jesus. It was men of this kind that he wanted at this hour. There was something personally engaging in the man. So Jesus began to question him. Have you kept the commandments? he asks. Significantly he specifies those of the second table, as the Jews were accustomed to divide them, the commandments that concerned a man's relations to his fellows. We need not question the honesty of the man when he answers. "All these have I observed from my youth," Then Jesus said, "Sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, follow me." To the young ruler it was a severe test, and Jesus had not asked this of others; but danger lay before, the end was near, and Jesus must have followers of absolute devotion. But if the demand was great, the privilege which Jesus offered was greater; it was an invitation to join the intimate circle of his personal friends. And the man refused. He had no doubt been sincere in his question and desire. He may have expected Jesus to ask him to give some large sum to the poor, or to build a synagogue. That would have enabled him to win a fine reputation for generosity and still to keep his wealth. He had done many fine things, he was ready to do more, but not ready to "seek first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness." And he went away sorrowful. So must Jesus also have done, who had looked upon him and loved him, and had coveted him for a great cause.
Concerning the Journey
The Route and the Company. —The Gospels give us no connected story of this last journey. We form our picture of it from a few items given here and there. As to the route that the party took, we have two suggestions. From Luke we learn that they passed through Samaria (Luke 9. 52). Mark and Matthew say that he came into the borders of Judaea beyond the Jordan (Mark 10. 1; Matt. 19. 1). It seems probable that both references are to this journey and that both are correct; it may well be that he started through Samaria and then crossed the Jordan, taking the rest of the journey along the route east of the river. There was quite a company with Jesus, a score at least, probably more. There were other disciples besides the twelve, among them women whom he had healed and certain other women. At least some of these were women of means, for they helped to defray the expenses of the journey (Luke 8. 1-3).
The Work on the Way. —The journey must have consumed some time. But though Jerusalem was Jesus' goal, there was still work by the way. He proclaimed the good news of the Kingdom as he went, and with more urgency because of the nearness of the end. The messengers whom he sent ahead probably not only arranged for the entertainment of the company, but prepared the people for Jesus' teaching. We learn that multitudes followed him, and that he healed as well as taught (Mark 10. 1; Matt. 19. 1, 2). But his chief concern was still the preparation of his disciples. For such instruction and for quiet fellowship the long road by which they traveled gave abundant opportunity. If the days of Galilee were wonderful for these disciples to look back upon, what must not have been these last weeks before the end?
Directions for Study
Read Luke 13. 31-33; Mark 9. 33-41; Luke 9. 51-62; Mark 10. 17-45.
Briefly recall the events since Jesus and his disciples gave up their work in Galilee, as we have studied them: the journey-to the coasts of Sidon and Tyre; Jesus' meeting with the Gentiles in the person of the Syrophcenician woman; the training of the disciples in the quiet of retirement; the journey northward to Caesarea Philippi; the great moment of the confession, and the word to Peter; the decision to go to Jerusalem; the night of prayer and transfiguration. Note how all this prepares for our study of to-day.
Read the chapter with constant reference to the Scripture passages. Try to get the following clearly before you:
1. A picture of Jesus and his company on the way: the Master earnest, determined; the disciples wondering and following behind.
2. The strife of the disciples, its cause, and the lessons with which Jesus tried to correct this.
3. Jesus' severe demands in these last days as shown (1) in the two disciples whom he refused, (2) in the case of the two whom he called.
4. A picture of the journey as a whole, its route, the number of followers, and what occupied Jesus upon the way.
Discuss the place of devotion (loyalty) as an element in character. Discuss the need of decision as an element in success.