I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord.”
Strength by the Way
Horatius Bonar (1808–1889)
Jesus, while this rough desert-soil
I tread, be Thou my guide and stay;
Nerve me for conflict and for toil;
Uphold me on my stranger-way.
Jesus, in heaviness and fear,
’Mid cloud, and shade, and gloom I stray
For earth's last night is drawing near;
O cheer me on my stranger-way.
Jesus, in solitude and grief,
When sun and stars withhold their ray,
Make haste, make haste to my relief;
O light me on my stranger-way.
Jesus, in weakness of this flesh,
When Satan grasps me for his prey;
O give me victory afresh;
And speed me on my stranger-way.
Jesus, my righteousness and strength,
My more than life, my more than day;
Bring, bring deliverance at length;
O come and end my stranger-way.
—Horatius Bonar, Hymns of Faith and Hope, First Series (James Nisbet & Co., 1878).
The Gospel According to John
Christ’s Brothers Do Not Believe
7 After these things Jesus was walking in Galilee, for He was unwilling to walk in Judea because the Jews were seeking to kill Him. 2 Now the feast of the Jews, the Feast of Booths, was near. 3 Therefore His brothers said to Him, “Leave here and go into Judea, so that Your disciples also may see Your works which You are doing. 4 For no one does anything in secret when he himself seeks to be known publicly. If You do these things, show Yourself to the world.” 5 For not even His brothers were believing in Him. 6 So Jesus said to them, “My time is not yet here, but your time is always opportune. 7 The world cannot hate you, but it hates Me because I testify of it, that its deeds are evil. 8 Go up to the feast yourselves; I do not go up to this feast because My time has not yet fully come.” 9 Having said these things to them, He stayed in Galilee.
Christ Secretly Goes to the Feast10 But when His brothers had gone up to the feast, then He Himself also went up, not publicly, but as if, in secret. 11 So the Jews were seeking Him at the feast and were saying, “Where is He?” 12 There was much grumbling among the crowds concerning Him; some were saying, “He is a good man”; others were saying, “No, on the contrary, He leads the people astray.” 13 Yet no one was speaking openly of Him for fear of the Jews.
The chapter we now begin is divided from the preceding one by a wide interval of time. The many miracles which our Lord wrought, while He “walked in Galilee,” are passed over by St. John in comparative silence. The events which he was specially inspired to record are those which took place in or near Jerusalem.
We should observe in this passage the desperate hardness and unbelief of human nature. We are told that even our Lord’s “brethren did not believe in Him.” Holy and harmless and blameless as He was in life, some of his nearest relatives, according to the flesh, did not receive Him as the Messiah. It was bad enough that His own people, “the Jews sought to kill Him.” But it was even worse that “His brethren did not believe.”
That great Scriptural doctrine, man’s need of preventing and converting grace, stands out here, as if written with a sunbeam. It becomes all who question that doctrine to look at this passage and consider. Let them observe that seeing Christ’s miracles, hearing Christ’s teaching, living in Christ’s own company, were not enough to make men believers. The mere possession of spiritual privileges never yet made any one a Christian. All is useless without the effectual and applying work of God the Holy Ghost. No wonder that our Lord said in another place, “No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him.” (John vi. 44.)
The true servants of Christ in every age will do well to remember this. They are often surprised and troubled to find that in religion they stand alone. They are apt to fancy that it must be their own fault that all around them are not converted like themselves. They are ready to blame themselves because their families remain worldly and unbelieving. But let them look at the verse before us. In our Lord Jesus Christ there was no fault either in temper, word, or deed. Yet even Christ’s own “brethren did not believe in Him.”
Our blessed Master has truly learned by experience how to sympathize with all his people who stand alone. This is a thought “full of sweet, pleasant, and unspeakable comfort.” He knows the heart of every isolated believer, and can be touched with the feeling of his trials. He has drunk this bitter cup. He has passed through this fire. Let all who are fainting and cast down, because brothers and sisters despise their religion, turn to Christ for comfort, and pour out their hearts before Him. He “has suffered Himself being tempted” in this way, and He can help as well as feel. (Heb. ii. 18.)
We should observe, for another thing, in this passage, one principal reason why many hate Christ. We are told that our Lord said to His unbelieving brethren, “The world cannot hate you; but me it hateth, because I testify of it, that the works thereof are evil.”
These words reveal one of those secret principles which influence men in their treatment of Christ. They help to explain that deadly enmity with which many during our Lord’s earthly ministry regarded Him and His Gospel. It was not so much the high doctrines which He preached, as the high standard of practice which He proclaimed, which gave offence. It was not even His claim to be received the Messiah which men disliked so much, as His witness against the wickedness of their lives. In short, they could have tolerated His opinions if He would only have spared their sins.
The principle, we may be sure, is one of universal application. It is at work now just as much as it was eighteen hundred years ago. The real cause of many people’s dislike to the Gospel is the holiness of living which it demands. Teach abstract doctrines only, and few will find any fault. Denounce the fashionable sins of the day, and call on men to repent and walk consistently with God, and thousands at once will be offended. The true reason why many profess to be infidels, and abuse Christianity, is the witness that Christianity bears against their own bad lives.—Like Ahab, they hate it, “because it does not prophesy good concerning them, but evil.” (1 Kings xxii. 8.)
We should observe, lastly, in this passage, the strange variety of opinions about Christ, which were current from the beginning. We are told that “there was much murmuring among the people concerning him: for some said, He is a good man others said, Nay, but he deceiveth the people.” The words which old Simeon had spoken thirty years before were here accomplished in a striking manner. He had said to our Lord’s mother, “This child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel: and for a sign which shall be spoken against;—that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.” (Luke ii. 34, 35.) In the diversities of opinion about our Lord which arose among the Jews, we see the good old man’s saying fulfilled.
In the face of such a passage as this, the endless differences and divisions about religion, which we see on all sides, in the present day, ought never to surprise us. The open hatred of some toward Christ,—the carping, fault-finding, prejudiced spirit of others,—the bold confession of the few faithful ones,—the timid, man-fearing temperament of the many faithless ones,—the unceasing war of words and strife of tongues with which the Churches of Christ are so sadly familiar,—are only modern symptoms of an old disease. Such is the corruption of human nature, that Christ is the cause of division among men, wherever He is preached. So long as the world stands, some, when they hear of Him, will love, and some will hate,—some will believe, and some will believe not. That deep, prophetical saying of His will be continually verified: “Do not think that I am come to send peace on earth; I came not to send peace, but a sword.” (Matt. x. 34.)
What do we think of Christ ourselves? This is the one question with which we have to do. Let us never be ashamed to be of that little number who believe on Him, hear His voice, follow Him, and confess Him before men. While others waste their time in vain jangling and unprofitable controversy, let us take up the cross and give all diligence to make our calling and election sure. The children of this world may hate us, as it hated our Master, because our religion is a standing witness against them. But the last day will show that we chose wisely, lost nothing, and gained a crown of glory that fadeth not away.