Page:EB1911 - Volume 15.djvu/382

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357
JESUS CHRIST


incident of the penitent robber. He appears to have had no information as to the appearance of the risen Lord in Galilee, and he accordingly omits from his reproduction of St Mark's narrative the twice-repeated promise of a meeting with the disciples there. He supplies, however, an account of the appearance to the two disciples at Emmaus and to the whole body of the apostles in Jerusalem.

St Luke's use of his two main sources has preserved the characteristics of both of them. The sternness of certain passages, which has led some critics to imagine that he was an Ebionite, is mainly, if not entirely, due to his faithful reproduction of the language of the second document. The key-note of his Gospel is universality: the mission of the Christ embraces the poor, the weak, the despised, the heretic and the sinful: it is good tidings to all mankind. He tells of the devotion of Mary and Martha, and of the band of women who ministered to our Lord's needs and followed Him to Jerusalem: he tells also of His kindness to more than one sinful woman. Zacchaeus the publican and the grateful Samaritan leper further illustrate this characteristic. Writing as he does for Gentile believers he omits many details which from their strongly Jewish cast might be unintelligible or uninteresting. He also modifies the harshness of St Mark's style, and frequently recasts his language in reference to diseases. From an historical point of view his Gospel is of high value. The proved accuracy of detail elsewhere, as in his narration of events which he witnessed in company with St Paul, enhances our general estimation of his work. A trustworthy observer and a literary artist, the one non-Jewish evangelist has given us — to use M. Renan's words — “the most beautiful book in the world.”

6. Additions by St John. — We come lastly to consider what addition to our knowledge of Christ's life and work is made by the Fourth Gospel. St Mark's narrative of our Lord's ministry and passion is so simple and straightforward that it satisfies our historical sense. We trace a natural development in it: we seem to see why with such power and such sympathy He necessarily came into conflict with the religious leaders of the people, who were jealous of the influence which He gained and were scandalized by His refusal to be hindered in His mission of mercy by rules and conventions to which they attached the highest importance. The issue is fought out in Galilee, and when our Lord finally journeys to Jerusalem He knows that He goes there to die. The story is so plain and convincing in itself that it gives at first sight an impression of completeness. This impression is confirmed by the Gospels of St Matthew and St Luke, which though they add much fresh material do not disturb the general scheme presented by St Mark. But on reflection we are led to question the sufficiency of the account thus offered to us. Is it probable, we ask, that our Lord should have neglected the sacred custom in accordance with which the pious Jew visited Jerusalem several times each year for the observance of the divinely appointed feasts? It is true that St Mark does not break his narrative of the Galilean ministry to record such visits: but this does not prove that such visits were not made. Again, is it probable that He should have so far neglected Jerusalem as to give it no opportunity of seeing Him and hearing His message until the last week of His life? If the writers of the other two Gospels had no means at their disposal for enlarging the narrow framework of St Mark's narrative by recording definite visits to Jerusalem, at least they preserve to us words from the second document which seem to imply such visits: for how else are we to explain the pathetic complaint, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how often would I have gathered thee, as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings; but ye would not”?

St John's Gospel meets our questionings by a wholly new series of incidents. and by an account of a ministry which is concerned mainly not with Galileans but with Judaeans, and which centres in Jerusalem. It is carried on to a large extent concurrently with the Galilean ministry: it is not continuous, but is taken up from feast to feast as our Lord visits the sacred city at the times of its greatest religious activity. It differs in character from the Galilean ministry: for among the simple, unsophisticated folk of Galilee Jesus presents Himself as a healer

and helper and teacher, keeping in the background as far as possible His claim to be the Messiah; whereas in Jerusalem His authority is challenged at His first appearance, the element of controversy is never absent, His relation to God is from the outset the vital issue, and consequently His Divine claim is of necessity made explicit. Time after time His life is threatened before the feast is ended, and when the last passover has come we can well understand, what was not made sufficiently clear in the brief Marcan narrative, why Jerusalem proved so fatally hostile to His Messianic claim.

The Fourth Gospel thus offers us a most important supplement to the limited sketch of our Lord's life which we find in the The Purpose of St John's Gospel. Synoptic Gospels. Yet this was not the purpose which led to its composition. That purpose is plainly stated by the author himself: “These things have been written that ye may believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and that believing ye may have life in His name.” His avowed aim is, not to write history, but to produce conviction. He desires to interpret the coming of Jesus Christ into the world, to declare whence and why He came, and to explain how His coming, as light in the midst of darkness, brought a crisis into the lives of all with whom He came in contact. The issue of this crisis in His rejection by the Jews at Jerusalem is the main theme of the book.

St John's prologue prepares us to find that he is not writing for persons who require a succinct narrative of facts, but for those who having such already in familiar use are asking deep questions as to our Lord's mission. It goes back far behind human birth or lines of ancestry. It begins, like the sacred story of creation, “In the beginning.” The Book of Genesis had told how all things were called into existence by a Divine utterance: “God said, Let there be . . . and there was.” The creative Word had been long personified by Jewish thought, especially in connexion with the prophets to whom “the Word of the Lord” came. “In the beginning,” then, St John tells us, the Word was — was with God — yea, was God. He was the medium of creation, the source of its light and its life — especially of that higher life which finds its manifestation in men. So He was in the world, and the world was made by Him, and yet the world knew Him not. At length He came, came to the home which had been prepared for Him, but His own people rejected Him. But such as did receive Him found a new birth, beyond their birth of flesh and blood: they became children of God, were born of God. In order thus to manifest Himself He had undergone a human birth: “the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory” — the glory, as the evangelist has learned to see, of the Father's only-begotten Son, who has come into the world to reveal to men that God whom “no man hath ever seen.” In these opening words we are invited to study the life of Christ from a new point of view, to observe His self-manifestation and its issue. The evangelist looks back across a period of half a century, and writes of Christ not merely as he saw Him in those far-off days, but as he has come by long experience to think and speak of Him. The past is now filled with a glory which could not be so fully perceived at the time, but which, as St John tells, it was the function of the Holy Spirit to reveal to Christ's disciples.

The first name which occurs in this Gospel is that of John the Baptist. He is even introduced into the prologue which sketches in general terms the manifestation of the Divine Word: “There was a man sent from God, whose name was John: he came for witness, to witness to the Light, that through him all might believe.” This witness of John holds a position of high importance in this Gospel. His mission is described as running on for a while concurrently with that of our Lord, whereas in the other Gospels we have no record of our Lord's work until John is cast into prison. It is among the disciples of the Baptist on the banks of the Jordan that Jesus finds His first disciples. The Baptist has pointed Him out to them in striking language, which recalls at once the symbolic ritual of the law and the spiritual lessons of the prophets: “Behold, the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.”