. ................. Book Index ................
The Life of Christ
Learning from Nature
This volume is based on:-
Matthew 13:10-17; John 12:20-43.
It is recommended that you read these before you read the book.
© You may freely copy this book as you desire.
The language of the Scripture quotes has been modernised for easier understanding.
In the Outer Court
"And there were certain Greeks among them that came up to worship at the feast: the same came therefore to Philip, which was of Bethsaida of Galilee, and desired him, saying, ‘Sir, we would see Jesus.’ Philip comes and tells Andrew: and again Andrew and Philip tell Jesus." At this time Christ's work bore the appearance of cruel defeat. He had been victor in the controversy with the priests and Pharisees, but it was evident that He would never be received by them as the Messiah.
The final separation had come. To His disciples the case
seemed hopeless. But Christ was approaching the consummation of His work.
The great event which concerned not only the Jewish nation, but the whole world, was about to take place. When Christ heard the eager request, "We would see Jesus," echoing the hungering cry of the world, His countenance lighted up, and He said, "The hour is come, that the Son of man should be glorified."
The larger call
In the request of the Greeks He saw a preview of the results of His great sacrifice.
These men came from the West to find the Saviour at the close of His life, as the wise men had come from the East at the beginning. At the time of Christ's birth the Jewish people were so engrossed with their own ambitious plans that they knew not of His advent. The wise men from a heathen land came to the manger with their gifts, to worship the Saviour. So these Greeks, representing the nations, tribes, and peoples of the world, came to see Jesus.
So the people of all lands and all ages would be drawn by the Saviour's cross. So shall many "come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven." Matthew 8:11. The Greeks had heard of Christ's triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Some supposed, and had circulated the report, that He had driven the priests and rulers from the temple, and that He was to take possession of David's throne, and reign as king of Israel.
The Greeks longed to know the truth in regard to His mission. "We would see Jesus," they said. Their desire was granted.
When the request was brought to Jesus, He was in that part of the temple from which all except Jews were excluded, but He went out to the Greeks in the outer court, and had a personal interview with them.
A special revelation
The hour of Christ's glorification had come.
He was standing in the shadow of the cross, and the inquiry of the Greeks showed Him that the sacrifice He was about to make would bring many sons and daughters to God. He knew that the Greeks would soon see Him in a position they did not then dream of. They would see Him placed beside Barabbas, a robber and murderer, who would be chosen for release before the Son of God. They would hear the people, inspired by the priests and rulers, making their choice.
And to the question, "What shall I do then with Jesus which is called Christ?" the answer would be given, "Let Him be crucified." Matthew 27:22.
By making this sacrifice for the sins of men, Christ knew that His kingdom would be perfected, and would extend throughout the world. He would work as the Restorer, and His Spirit would prevail. For a moment He looked into the future, and heard the voices proclaiming in all parts of the earth, "Behold the Lamb of God, which takes away the sin of the world." John 1:29.
In these strangers He saw the pledge of a great harvest, when the partition wall between Jew and Gentile should be broken down, and all nations, tongues, and peoples should hear the message of salvation. The anticipation of this, the consummation of His hopes, is expressed in the words, "The hour is come, that the Son of man should be glorified."
Through His death would come life
But the way in which this glorification must take place was never absent from Christ's mind. The gathering in of the Gentiles was to follow His approaching death. Only by His death could the world be saved.
Like a grain of wheat, the Son of man must be cast into the ground and die, and be buried out of sight; but He was to live again.
Christ presented His future, illustrating it by the things of nature, that the disciples might understand. The true result of His mission was to be reached by His death.
"Verily, verily, I say to you," He said, "Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abides alone: but if it die, it brings forth much fruit."
When the grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it springs up, and bears fruit. So the death of Christ would result in fruit for the kingdom of God. In accordance with the law of the vegetable kingdom, life was to be the result of His death.
So wide was Christ's view of truth, so extended His teaching, that every phase of nature was employed in illustrating truth. The scenes upon which our eyes daily rest are all connected with some spiritual truth, so that nature is clothed with the parables of the Master.
In the earlier part of His ministry, Christ had spoken to the people in words so plain that all His hearers might have grasped truths which would make them wise to salvation.
But in many hearts the truth had taken no root, and it had been quickly caught away.
"Therefore speak I to them in parables." He said; "because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand..... For this people's heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed." Matthew 13:13-15.
Jesus desired to awaken inquiry. He sought to arouse the careless, and impress truth upon the heart. Parable teaching was popular, and commanded the respect and attention, not only of the Jews, but of the people of other nations. No more effective method of instruction could He have employed.
If His hearers had desired a knowledge of divine things, they might have understood His words; for He was always willing to explain them to the honest inquirer.
To be known in the future
Again, Christ had truths to present which the people were unprepared to accept or even to understand. For this reason also He taught them in parables. By connecting His teaching with the scenes of life, experience, or nature, He secured their attention and impressed their hearts. Afterward, as they looked upon the objects that illustrated His lessons, they recalled the words of the divine Teacher. To minds that were open to the Holy Spirit, the significance of the Saviour's teaching unfolded more and more.
Mysteries grew clear, and that which had been hard to grasp became evident.
Jesus sought an avenue to every heart. By using a variety of illustrations, He not only presented truth in its different phases, but appealed to the different hearers. Their interest was aroused by figures drawn from the surroundings of their daily life. None who listened to the Saviour could feel that they were neglected or forgotten. The humblest, the most sinful, heard in His teaching a voice that spoke to them in sympathy and tenderness.
And He had another reason for teaching in parables.
Opened only by the Spirit
Among the multitudes that gathered about Him, there were priests and rabbis, scribes and elders, Herodians and rulers, world-loving, bigoted, ambitious men, who desired above all things to find some accusation against Him. Their spies followed His steps day after day, to catch from His lips something that would cause His condemnation, and forever silence the One who seemed to draw the world after Him.
The Saviour understood the character of these men, and He presented truth in such a way that they could find nothing by which to bring His case before the Sanhedrin.
In parables He rebuked the hypocrisy and wicked works of those who occupied high positions, and in figurative language clothed truth of so cutting a character that had it been spoken in direct denunciation, they would not have listened to His words, and would speedily have put an end to His ministry. But while He evaded the spies, He made truth so clear that error was manifested, and the honest in heart were profited by His lessons.
Divine wisdom, infinite grace, were made plain by the things of God's creation. Through nature and the experiences of life, men were taught of God. "The invisible things of Him since the creation of the world," were "perceived through the things that are made, even His everlasting power and divinity." Romans 1:20, R. V.
In the Saviour's parable teaching is an indication of what constitutes the true "higher education." Christ might have opened to men the deepest truths of science. He might have unlocked mysteries which have required many centuries of toil and study to penetrate. He might have made suggestions in scientific lines that would have afforded food for thought and stimulus for invention to the close of time. But He did not do this. He said nothing to gratify curiosity, or to satisfy man's ambition by opening doors to worldly greatness.
In all His teaching, Christ brought the mind of man in contact with the Infinite Mind. He did not direct the people to study men's theories about God, His word, or His works. He taught them to behold Him as manifested in His works, in His word, and by His providences.
A practical Person
Christ did not deal in abstract theories, but in that which is essential to the development of character, that which will enlarge mankind's capacity for knowing God, and increase their efficiency to do good. He spoke to men and women of those truths that relate to the conduct of life, and that take hold upon eternity.
It was Christ who directed the education of Israel. Concerning the commandments and ordinances of the Lord He said, "You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise up. And you shall bind them for a sign upon your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. And you shall write them upon the posts of your house, and on your gates." Deuteronomy 6:7-9.
In His own teaching, Jesus showed how this command is to be fulfilled - how the laws and principles of God's kingdom can be so presented as to reveal their beauty and preciousness.
When the Lord was training Israel to be the special representatives of Himself, He gave them homes among the hills and valleys. In their home life and their religious service they were brought in constant contact with nature and with the word of God. So Christ taught His disciples by the lake, on the mountainside, in the fields and groves, where they could look upon the things of nature by which He illustrated His teachings.
And as they learned of Christ, they put their knowledge to use by co-operating with Him in His work.
The works of nature
So through the creation we are to become acquainted with the Creator. The book of nature is a great lesson book, which in connection with the Scriptures we are to use in teaching others of His character, and guiding lost sheep back to the fold of God.
As the works of God are studied, the Holy Spirit flashes conviction into the mind. It is not the conviction that logical reasoning produces; but unless the mind has become too dark to know God, the eye too dim to see Him, the ear too dull to hear His voice, a deeper meaning is grasped, and the sublime, spiritual truths of the written word are impressed on the heart.
In these lessons direct from nature, there is a simplicity and purity that makes them of the highest value. All need the teaching to be derived from this source. In itself the beauty of nature leads the soul away from sin and worldly attractions, and toward purity, peace, and God.
Too often the minds of students are occupied with men's theories and speculations, falsely called science and philosophy. They need to be brought into close contact with nature.
Let them learn that creation and Christianity have one God. Let them be taught to see the harmony of the natural with the spiritual. Let everything which their eyes see or their hands handle be made a lesson in character building.
Thus the mental powers will be strengthened, the character developed, the whole life ennobled.
Take time to look
Christ's purpose in parable teaching was in direct line with the purpose of the Sabbath.
God gave to men the memorial of His creative power, that they might discern Him in the works of His hand. The Sabbath bids us behold in His created works the glory of the Creator.
And it was because He desired us to do this that Jesus bound up His precious lessons with the beauty of natural things. On the holy rest day, above all other days, we should study the messages that God has written for us in nature.
We should study the Saviour's parables where He spoke them,
in the fields and groves, under the open sky, among the grass and flowers.
As we come close to the heart of nature, Christ will make His presence real to us, and speak to our hearts of His peace and love.
We should choose our work carefully
And Christ has linked His teaching, not only with the day of rest, but with the week of toil. He has wisdom for him who drives the plough and sows the seed. In the ploughing and sowing, the tilling and reaping, He teaches us to see an illustration of His work of grace in the heart.
So in every line of useful labour and every association of
life, He desires us to find a lesson of divine truth. Then our daily toil will
no longer absorb our attention and lead us to forget God;
it will continually remind us of our Creator and Redeemer. The thought of God will run like a thread of gold through all our homely cares and occupations.
For us the glory of His face will again rest upon the face of nature. We shall ever be learning new lessons of heavenly truth, and growing into the image of His purity. Thus shall we "be taught of the Lord"; and in the lot wherein we are called, we shall "abide with God." Isaiah 54:13; 1 Corinthians 7:24.
A yearly picture in nature
Those who till the soil have the illustration ever before them. Year by year man preserves his supply of grain by apparently throwing away the choicest part. For a time it must be hidden under the furrow, to be watched over by the Lord.
Then appears the blade, then the ear, and then the corn in the ear. But this development cannot take place unless the grain is buried out of sight, hidden, and to all appearance, lost. The seed buried in the ground produces fruit, and in turn this is planted. Thus the harvest is multiplied.
So the death of Christ on the cross of Calvary will bear fruit to eternal life. The contemplation of this sacrifice will be the glory of those who, as the fruit of it, will live through the eternal ages.
Selflessness brings life
The grain of wheat that preserves its own life can produce no fruit. It abides alone. Christ could, if He chose, save Himself from death. But should He do this, He must abide alone. He could bring no sons and daughters to God.
Only by yielding up His life could He impart life to humanity. Only by falling into the ground to die could He become the seed of that vast harvest, - the great multitude that out of every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people, are redeemed to God.
With this truth Christ connects the lesson of self-sacrifice that all should learn: "He that loves his life shall lose it; and he that hates[disregards] his life in this world shall keep it to life eternal."
All who would bring forth fruit as workers together with Christ must first fall into the ground and die. The life must be cast into the furrow of the world's need. Self-love, self-interest, must perish. And the law of self-sacrifice is the law of self-preservation.
The farmer preserves his grain by casting it away. So in human life. To give is to live.
The life that will be preserved is the life that is freely given in service to God and man. Those who for Christ's sake sacrifice their life in this world will keep it to life eternal.
The life spent on self is like the grain that is eaten. It disappears, but there is no increase. A man may gather all he can for self; he may live and think and plan for self; but his life passes away, and he has nothing. The law of self-serving is the law of self-destruction.
"If any man serve Me," said Jesus, "let him follow Me; and where I am, there shall also My servant be: if any man serve Me, him will My Father honour."
All who have borne with Jesus the cross of sacrifice will be sharers with Him of His glory.
It was the joy of Christ in His humiliation and pain that His disciples should be glorified with Him. They are the fruit of His self-sacrifice. The outworking in them of His own character and spirit is His reward, and will be His joy throughout eternity.
This joy they share with Him as the fruit of their labour and sacrifice is seen in other hearts and lives. They are workers together with Christ, and the Father will honour them as He honours His Son.
The message of the Greeks, foreshadowing as it did the gathering in of the Gentiles, brought to the mind of Jesus His entire mission. The work of redemption passed before Him, from the time when in heaven the plan was laid, to the death that was now so near at hand. A mysterious cloud seemed to enshroud the Son of God. Its gloom was felt by those near Him. He sat rapt in thought. At last the silence was broken by His mournful voice, "Now is My soul troubled; and what shall I say? Father, save Me from this hour."
In anticipation Christ was already drinking the cup of bitterness. His humanity shrank from the hour of abandonment, when to all appearance He would be deserted even by God, when all would see Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.
He shrank from public exposure, from being treated as the worst of criminals, from a shameful and dishonoured death.
A foreboding of His conflict with the powers of darkness, a sense of the awful burden of human transgression, and the Father's wrath because of sin caused the spirit of Jesus to faint, and the pallor of death to overspread His countenance.
Then came divine submission to His Father's will.
"For this cause," He said, "came I to this hour. Father, glorify Your name." Only through the death of Christ could Satan's kingdom be overthrown. Only thus could man be redeemed, and God be glorified. Jesus consented to the agony, He accepted the sacrifice.
The Majesty of heaven consented to suffer as the Sin Bearer.
The voice of God
"Father, glorify Your name," He said. As Christ spoke these words, a response came from the cloud which hovered above His head: "I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again."
Christ's whole life, from the manger to the time when these words were spoken, had glorified God; and in the coming trial His divine-human sufferings would indeed glorify His Father's name.
As the voice was heard, a light darted from the cloud, and encircled Christ, as if the arms of Infinite Power were thrown about Him like a wall of fire. The people beheld this scene with terror and amazement. No one dared to speak. With silent lips and bated breath all stood with eyes fixed upon Jesus.
The testimony of the Father having been given, the cloud lifted, and scattered in the heavens. For the time the visible communion between the Father and the Son was ended.
The message was understood
"The people therefore, that stood by, and heard it, said that it thundered: others said, ‘An angel spoke to Him’." But the inquiring Greeks saw the cloud, heard the voice, comprehended its meaning, and discerned Christ indeed; to them He was revealed as the Sent of God.
The voice of God had been heard at the baptism of Jesus at the beginning of His ministry, and again at His transfiguration on the mount. Now at the close of His ministry it was heard for the third time, by a larger number of persons, and under peculiar circumstances.
Jesus had just spoken the most solemn truth regarding the condition of the Jews.
He had made His last appeal, and pronounced their doom. Now God again set His seal to the mission of His Son. He recognised the One whom Israel had rejected. "This voice came not because of Me," said Jesus, "but for your sakes."
It was the crowning evidence of His Messiahship, the signal from the Father that Jesus had spoken the truth, and was the Son of God.
The great sacrifice
"Now is the judgment of this world," Christ continued; "now shall the prince of this world be cast out. And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all to Me. This He said, signifying what death He should die."
This is the crisis of the world. "If I become the propitiation for the sins of men, the world will be lighted up. Satan's hold upon the souls of men will be broken. The defaced image of God will be restored in humanity, and a family of believing saints will finally inherit the heavenly home."
This is the result of Christ's death. The Saviour is lost in contemplation of the scene of triumph called up before Him. He sees the cross, the cruel, ignominious cross, with all its attending horrors, blazing with glory.
A greater work
But the work of human redemption is not all that is accomplished by the cross. The love of God is manifested to the universe. The prince of this world is cast out. The accusations which Satan has brought against God are refuted and the reproach which he has cast upon heaven is forever removed. Angels as well as men are drawn to the Redeemer. "I, if I be lifted up from the earth," He said, "will draw all to Me."
Many people were round about Christ as He spoke these words, and one said, "We have heard out of the law that Christ abides forever: and how say You, The Son of man must be lifted up? who is this Son of man?"
"Then Jesus said to them, Yet a little while is the light with you. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness come upon you: for he that walks in darkness knows not where he goes. While you have light, believe in the light, that you may be the children of light."
"But though He had done so many miracles before them, yet they believed not on Him."
Signs do not often help
They had once asked the Saviour, "What sign show You then, that we may see, and believe You?" John 6:30. Innumerable signs had been given; but they had closed their eyes and hardened their hearts. Now that the Father Himself had spoken, and they could ask for no further sign, they still refused to believe.
"Nevertheless among the chief rulers also many believed on Him; but because of the Pharisees they did not confess Him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue." They loved the praise of men rather than the approval of God. To save themselves from reproach and shame, they denied Christ, and rejected the offer of eternal life.
And how many through all the centuries since have been doing the same thing! To them all the Saviour's warning words apply: "He that loves his life shall lose it." "He that rejects Me," said Jesus, "and receives not My words, has one that judges him: the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day." John 12:48.
Alas for those who knew not the time of their visitation! Slowly and regretfully Christ left forever the precincts of the temple.
................... Text only ................... "Word" version