BETHLEHEM AND HER CHILDREN
THE BABE OF BETHLEHEM—CONTINUED
Capernaum was at one time the metropolis of all Galilee, and the principal port on the sea of Gennesareth. Here Christ performed many of his stupendous miracles, and on an adjoining mountain he ordained his twelve disciples. Here he preached that divine sermon recorded in the sixth chapter of John. In this vicinity it also was that he walked through the cornfields on the Sabbath-day, where his disciples plucked the ears of corn, and were reproved by the Pharisees.
That sermon, recorded in Matthew, chapters five to seven, and familiarly known as "Christ's Sermon on the Mount," was delivered on one of Capernaum's mountains, to a great multitude of his countrymen. When evening approached, he dismissed the concourse of people that heard him, and came down from the mountain, wearied with his day's toil, to go to the house of Peter, in the city. Before he reached the place, a leper met him and begged to be healed. Christ, according to his invariable practice, restored him to his usual health; and charging him to go and show himself to the priest, and offer the gift which Moses commanded, he left him and went on his way.
Scarcely had he parted from the leper, when a centurion sent to him, and besought him earnestly to cure a servant of his, who lay at home grievously tormented. "I am not worthy that thou shouldest come under my roof; but speak the word, and it shall be done," was his language. Christ marvelled at his faith, and performed the cure. When he arrived at Peter's house, he found the mother of Peter's wife lying sick of a fever. Here was another opportunity for displaying his power: he touched her hand and her fever left her, and she arose and ministered to those around her.
All day Christ had been thronged with the multitude, which had gathered around his pathway and listened intently to his words. He had taught those vital truths which, if received and practised, would lead their sinful souls to heaven. And it was on this eventful day that his mother and his brothers came, desiring to speak with him, and he declared that whosoever did his will was his brother and sister and mother. No sooner had the sun set, and the cool of the evening arrived, than all those who had friends sick, or possessed with devils, brought them to Peter's house, and Christ graciously healed them all.
When he saw the multitudes of people that were gathered and were still gathering about him, he went down to the sea-coast, and sat in a ship and taught the people who stood upon the shore.
His discourse ended, Christ commanded his disciples to depart to the other side of the sea; and being now freed form the throng, he retired to the hinder part of the boat, took a pillow, laid himself down, and slept. He did not awake, although a tempest had gathered around them and the angry waters dashed into the boat. Long and faithful the disciples, some of whom were fishermen, labored to manage the boat and preserve themselves from a watery grave; but still the tempest raged, and when every other hope was gone, they went to Christ and awoke him with these words, "Lord, save, or we perish." Then he arose, and like a God rebuked the sea and the wind, and there was a great calm.
Jesus is now glorified. He never sleep s or slumbers, but stands with outstretched arms, saying, "Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest." Thus he cries to the troubled soul, lashed by an awakened conscience, and terrified by the prospect of eternal death. And how great is the calm produced in the breast of those who cast themselves upon him for help!
The sea of Galilee, around which Christ spent so much of his time, and performed so many miracles, lies beautifully embedded among the mountains. Its whole length from north to south is only from twelve to fourteen miles; and its broadest place, which is north of the middle, is only about seven miles. The water is clear; and many large and small fish are seen by travellers at this day, sporting in its waters.
The basin in which this sea lies is deep, varying from three to four hundred feet; the banks are covered in spring with the richest green, and diversified by fountains and rivulets, which leaping and dancing on their way down from the hill-tops, finally mingle their musical waters with the silent Galilee.
On the eastern side of the sea, where Christ was now going, were wild and desolate mountains, which contrasted finely with the deep blue waters at their feet. In these rocky heights were the graves of past generations, whose deep sleep was not disturbed by the moanings of the devil-possessed beings who hid among the tombs. As Christ and his disciples moored their boat upon the shore, one of these beings met them. Living as he had done among the mountains, without clothes or comfortable food, his flesh was torn, his bare feet were cut, and his long, tangled hair fell loosely over his wild glaring eyes and sunken cheeks; giving him a most frightful and repulsive appearance.
He had been in this condition a long time, and as his friends could neither keep him bound or chained, he was given up by them as worse than dead, and wandered wherever he pleased. Christ was moved with compassion at his deplorable condition, and commanded the devils to come out of him. The hideous looking being ran and prostrated himself before Christ, and calling him "Jesus, the living God," besought him not to torment him. The devils acknowledged Christ's divinity and power, and presented a request, which he granted, and they soon found, with the swine they entered, the bottom of the sea. But the man's poor soul had escaped from their tormenting power; and he being clothed and in his right mind, sat quietly at the feet of Jesus. And when the inhabitants of that region gathered in large numbers around Christ, and besought him to leave their coasts, the restored maniac was apparently the only one who desired his company.
How strange is human nature! As long as the devils were in possession of the man, the people were quiet; but when he was freed, and their swine were destroyed, the people arose in a mass and besought Christ to leave their coasts.
The Saviour sometimes takes at their word those who do not desire his presence; and after advising the man to go home and tell his friends what great things the Lord had done for him, he entered the boat, and returned to Capernaum. A multitude had gathered upon the shore waiting for him, and they received him gladly.
While he was teaching the people, a ruler named Jairus came to him and begged that he would go and heal his daughter, a girl twelve years old; but as he was delayed on the way by the woman who touched the hem of his garment, the child was dead when he entered the house. They laughed him to scorn when he said, "She is not dead, but sleepeth," knowing that she was dead; but he quickly restored her to life.
Soon after Christ sent out from Capernaum his twelve disciples, to different villages, to preach and to heal diseases; while he himself appears to have remained at that place, employed as before in doing good. How long the apostles were gone we are not informed, but when they returned and had told Christ what they had done, he took them to a place called Bethsaida, north of the sea of Galilee, and east of the Jordan. Within its borders they found a retired place, where they hoped for quiet and rest. But they were followed by multitudes of people, whom Christ received kindly, teaching, and healing their sick till near night; and when the disciples spoke of sending them away, Christ told them to distribute among them first their five loaves and two fishes, all that they had; and there the five thousand ate and were satisfied, leaving more to be gathered up as fragments than they had wherewith to commence.
That same night, while the disciples were crossing the lake in their boat, a violent storm arose; the waves were high, and threatened to engulf them. But towards morning Christ went to them, walking on the water; and when he reached the boat, he commanded the winds and waves to be still, and there was a great calm. After this, he continued to teach the people divine truth, and to work miracles among them, visiting Galilee, and the region of Tyre and Sidon, and the country east and north of the sea of Galilee. But we cannot here relate even a small part of what he did and said.
One day the Saviour took Peter, James, and John, and went up upon a mountain to pray, and was transfigured before them. "His countenance was altered, and his raiment was white and glistening;" and Moses and Elijah were there talking with him. One object of this transfiguration was, to give Christ's followers an assurance that they should be raised to glory and immortality with him. His transfigured body was an emblem of a glorified body at the resurrection, for then we shall be like him. It was also an evidence to the disciples that those good men who once walked the hills and plains of this world, and suffered and died like other men, were alive in another state of existence, and were yet taking an interest in the affairs of the church below.
Moses and Elijah talked with Christ about the death he was to accomplish at Jerusalem—the most wonderful and important of all earthly events, and one that kings and prophets for many ages had longed to understand. The apostles, either overpowered by their presence, or drowsy with fatigue, did not at first fully realize the presence of these holy beings; but gradually a sweet sense of heaven dawned upon their souls, and Peter exclaimed from the fulness of his heart, "Lord, it is good for us to be here; let us make three tabernacles, one for thee, one for Moses, and one for Elias:" not wishing ever again to descend to the strife and sins of the world below. While they were yet speaking a cloud descended and overshadowed them all, and a voice from the cloud said, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him."
Deeply terrified at the presence of the infinite Jehovah, the disciples with covered faces prostrated themselves upon the earth, and saw and heard no more till Christ laid his hand kindly upon them, with the soothing words, "Arise, and be not afraid;" and when they lifted up their eyes, they were alone with Jesus.
After this Christ returned to Capernaum and wrought many mighty and gracious works there, and in other parts of Galilee; also in Samaria, and in Jerusalem, and in the region beyond Jordan. It was a sad and solemn time when the last day and the last night of his presence at Capernaum came. It had been for years his chief home; here he had daily mingled with the inhabitants, walked their streets, ate at their tables, taught them upon the seashore, and upon their mountains, healed their sick, and raised their dead; and now as he saw the hardness of their hearts and their unbelief, he said with sorrow, "And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted to heaven, shalt be thrust down to hell." If those who so long enjoyed the preaching of Christ himself were lost, let us in this Christian land, and with the light of the nineteenth century around us, fear lest we also fail of a personal interest in the Saviour, and so be finally cast away.
Christ gathered his disciples together, and wending his way down the lake, left Capernaum for ever. After spending some months in Samaria and Judea, they crossed the Jordan and continued their journey through the towns and villages on the eastern side, teaching men and healing their diseases.
But when the time arrived for his appearance at Jerusalem, when he was to deliver himself up to his murderers, he took the twelve, and crossing the Jordan for the last time, came to Jericho. Here he was met by Bartimeus the blind man, whom he cured. Zaccheus too, who for a long time had had a desire to see Jesus, ran ahead, and climbed a sycamore-tree, that he might see him as he passed. Christ dined with Zaccheus that day, and salvation came to his house.
Passing on, the Saviour continued his course towards Jerusalem. He had often visited the city during his ministry, and spent whole nights on mount Olivet in prayer. He had also found dear friends at the house of Martha and Mary, whose brother Lazarus he had raised from the dead; and now he was approaching the beloved, but guilty and self-ruined city, where he was to receive insult, abuse, and death. But devoted to the great object of his mission to earth, he pressed forward to the accomplishment of the grand design.
In less than a week more, he was to be delivered up to be crucified. It was to be a week of sufferings and of trials, of which finite man can form no conception; and like a man bowed under a load too heavy to bear alone, he sought once more the consoling influences of friendship, from his disciples and in the house of Martha and Mary at Bethany.
The feast of unleavened bread was at hand; the paschal lamb was to be slain, and Christ the Lamb of God was to be sacrificed for the sin of the world.
On the second day of this week, as he was approaching Jerusalem, the colt of an ass was procured, and the disciples seated the Saviour upon it; then, followed by the multitude, he proceeded towards the city. They were met by a large company, who, hearing of his approach, had taken palm branches and come out to meet him, crying, "Hosanna; Blessed is the King of Israel that cometh in the name of the Lord." The company continued on its way down the sides of the mountain, and passed by the garden in which Jesus was so soon to be betrayed by one of those very disciples who were now singing his praise.
There in all its glory lay the beautiful city, with its mount Zion, and its golden temple, where God had manifested himself to man, and accepted their sacrifices. But Jerusalem's children had rejected his proffered mercies, and to their other revolting acts of iniquity were about to add this crowning one of all, the crucifying of the Son of God.
The fourth day of the week, after teaching all day in Jerusalem and on the mount of Olives, he again went out to Bethany. Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead, was there to welcome him, and to do what he could to cheer his drooping spirit. A man named Simon, living in the same town, and wishing to express his regard for Christ, invited him with the disciples, an Martha, Mary, and Lazarus, to a supper; and while they sat and talked, Mary opened a box of very costly ointment and poured it upon the feet of the Saviour, and kneeling, wiped them with the hair of her head.
The unhappy Judas sat by and frowningly asked, "Why was not this ointment sold, and given to the poor?" This he said, not that he cared for the poor, but because he was a thief, and wished the money for himself. Christ meekly replied, "Let her alone: the poor ye always have with you, and ye may do them good whenever ye will; but me ye have not always; agastin the day of my burying hath she kept this."
But the Passover feast was now to be observed. Two disciples were sent on before into the city, to prepare a place in which Christ and the twelve could eat the Passover. The lamb was to be slain between three and five o'clock in the afternoon preceeding the first day of the feast, which commenced at sunset, and was eaten with unleavened bread and bitter herbs on the same evening. Each Jewish family were to have a lamb, or if the families were small, two might associate together.
Christ met his disciples in an upper chamber to eat the lamb which typified his own sufferings and death. He is called "our Passover," and "the Lamb of God." As the lamb was to be without defect, so Christ was wholly "without spot." His blood was poured out freely for the sins of his people, as the lamb's blood was poured by the priest at the foot of the altar. No bone of the sacrifice should be broken. So no bone of Christ was broken, although a Roman soldier went out on purpose to break the legs oft hose crucified on that day. The lamb was to be eaten: so Christ said to his disciples, as he took bread and broke it, "This is my body, broken for sin; take and eat." Faith in him is represented to us as eating his flesh, in evident allusion to the eating of the paschal lamb. The Hebrews in Egypt sprinkled their door-posts and lintels with the blood of the lamb, in order to save themselves from the destroying angel; and it is only by the blood of Christ that any of our race can escape the just demerit of sin.
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