HIS THREE PUBLIC YEARS
“Jesus began both to do and to teach." (Acts 1:1)
Turning now to the three years which were public, there may again be considered the facts and the characteristics. Here everything is different. Silence has given way to speech, privacy to publicity; submission to human authority has been changed into authoritative teaching and deeds, in the midst of human affairs. His induction to public ministry is recorded by Luke. Returning to the synagogue, with which He was so familiar, and taking up the book of the prophet, He read Himself into His sacred office. From the prophecy of Isaiah He read the marvelous description of the mission of the Servant of God, and then in awe-inspiring and quiet majesty announced that "today hath this Scripture been fulfilled in your ears." (Luke 4:16-21) There was no one to introduce Him, for no one appreciated the meaning of His mission. Passing from the life of privacy to the days of publicity, He definitely and positively claimed that He was the One, anointed of God, for the fulfillment of the dreams, and the realization of the hopes, of the ancient people.
The description of the following years is all crowded into the brief descriptive statement, with which Luke opens his second treatise. “Jesus began both to do and to teach." (Acts 1:1) For the purposes then of gathering the general impression of the facts of the three years, they may be considered under that twofold heading, of His doing and His teaching.
There is no necessity here to attempt to record the deeds. It will be sufficient to state concisely their character again in the words of Luke. “Jesus of Nazareth . . . went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil; for God was with Him." (Acts 10:38) That covers the whole fact concerning the deeds of Jesus in the three years of public ministry. Doing good means infinitely more than being good, or doing good things that are right. The phrase indicates ACTIVE BENEFICENCE. He was, in the richest and fullest sense of the word, a Benefactor. He lived a life in which there was the constant activity of deeds of goodness and kindness towards other people. The goodness referred to is positive and relative, assuredly the goodness of character, but also that manifested in conduct, not merely the rightness of inward attitude, but the beneficence of outward act. His vocation during the hidden years had been that of a carpenter. When He laid that calling aside, He entered upon the vocation of doing good, serving others, scattering blessing. All life now was an opportunity for benefiting someone. His journeying, His ordinary deeds, the miracles of His power, are all contained within the phrase "doing good." He was pouring out of His own rich treasury upon other people, scattering gifts, bestowing benefits. He went about doing good.
Then as to His teaching. This consisted in the announcement of the principles of human life, and was a revelation of the convictions and conditions lying behind true conduct. It is almost impossible to summarize the teaching of Jesus, and yet the attempt must be made, though the result will of necessity be imperfect.
As in the Gospels four facts are revealed concerning the Personality of Christ, so also these Gospels reveal four phases of His teaching; and the whole system of the teaching of Jesus can only be understood, as these phases are all present to the mind, and their harmony and balance are discovered.
THE TEACHING OF MATTHEW HAS TO DO WITH THE GOVERNMENT OF GOD. It is teaching concerning the Kingdom. In it lies that most matchless document, the Manifesto of the King. Afterwards there occurs His commissioning of His first messengers, with yet fuller revelation of the true meaning of the Kingdom. Then in perfect harmony of deed with word, illustrations and explanations of the benefits and values of the Kingdom are given. Then incidentally scattered through the Gospel there are illuminative illustrations, and ever broadening teaching, concerning the powers and perfections of the kingly authority. The people, who have listened, have become antagonized, and as in the beginning of the teaching, there were the Beatitudes, so towards its closing, so far as the crowd is concerned, the woes are pronounced, the stern and awful denunciations of such as reject the Kingdom of God. Towards the close of the three years, the program concerning the final movements of the Divine economy, in the casting out of evil, and the establishment of the Kingdom is announced. Along the entire pathway incidental teaching, great parables, and revealing deeds, unite in making clear the great facts concerning the Kingdom of God, yet to be set up on the earth, and spoken of almost invariably, therefore, through Matthew, as the Kingdom of heaven.
IN THE GOSPEL OF MARK, the teaching is of a different character. There is very little of it. HE IS REVEALED AS TO HIS PERSON, AS THE SERVANT, ALWAYS GIRDED, ALWAYS BUSY, STRIPPED OF ROYALTY, AND CONSECRATED TO DUTY. Incidental accounts which had to do largely with that aspect of truth, fall from His lips. A special section is devoted to the charge He delivers to His servants, concerning their work, and in which He speaks of the final things.
IN LUKE again the character of the teaching is different, harmonizing as it does with the Person of Jesus as therein presented. In this Gospel there is no consecutive body of teaching. THE SON OF MAN, THE UNIVERSAL SAVIOR, SPEAKS AS OCCASION DEMANDS, OF THE GREAT SUBJECTS THAT ARE EVER ON HIS HEART. First the Gospel contains in condensed form some of the mighty sayings contained within the Manifesto of the King, as recorded by Matthew. Then there are general instructions, and solemn warnings uttered to His apostles, as He equips them for their work. That however which is peculiar to Luke is His wonderful teaching concerning publicans and sinners, their lost condition, and the redemption He has come to accomplish for them. In Luke there is the parable concerning the lost sheep, the lost silver, and the lost son. It is a parable of the lost. It is a parable of the lost sought. It is a parable of the lost found. And that parable of Jesus may be said to reveal His teaching concerning humanity in the light of His mission more perfectly than it is revealed in any other of His recorded words. In this Gospel moreover, is contained the denunciation of the Pharisees, the parables of service, of the talents, and yet again, words concerning the final things.
Coming to THE GOSPEL OF JOHN, in some senses the greatest of all, because PRESENTING JESUS AS TO HIS DEITY, there is the most wonderful teaching of all. From first to last the teaching of Jesus in John may be spoken of as THE SPEECH OF HEAVEN TO EARTH. There are the wonderful conversations with Nicodemus, and the woman at the well; the remarkable discourses, delivered in the hearing of the crowds, concerning His unity with the Father; His discourse on the sustenance of the life of the spirit, as being of infinitely greater importance than the feeding of the physical; a declaration of the meaning of His mission, as being that of providing life for those who need it, by the liberation of His own, through the mystery of death. Finally, the great Paschal discourses, in which He promises to His Church the coming of the Spirit, and declares the meaning and the method of that great advent.
It is in John that there is the repetition so constantly of the Divine title, "I am," linked to simple symbols of things human, and in that very fact is a key to the whole teaching of Jesus, as contained in the Gospel of John. It is the speech of heaven to earth, of God to men. It is but to pass through the Gospel reading His "I am's," and their setting, to discover this key. "I am the bread." (John 6:35) "I am the Light." (John 8:12) "I am." (John 8:58) "I am the door." (John 10:7) “I am the good Shepherd." (John 10:11) “I am the resurrection." (John 11:25) “I am the way, and the truth, and the life." (John 14:6) "I am the true vine." (John 15:1) Here is a growing revelation. Here is a declaration of the whole meaning of His gracious mission. The human symbols are simple. The Divine title ever thrills with the infinite music unfathomable. Yet in their combination is heard the voice from heaven; the Logos, the Word of God.
How different these three years from the thirty. The characteristics of the thirty, and those of the three, make a striking contrast. In the thirty, depending on human will. In the three, uttering authoritative speech, and performing deeds of power. In the thirty years, the commonplace duty a daily call. In the three, manifesting Himself as the Lord of duty, demonstrating the dignity of the Son of Man by the miracles of His power, and the glory of the Son of God in the matchless magnificence of His Person, and the infinite wisdom of His teaching. In the thirty years, a life lived strictly within human limitations, a life in which there was constant relation to the Divine, but the relation of dependence, submission, fellowship. In the three years while this continued, yet the life was evidently broadening out into a spacious and conspicuous cooperation with the Divine, until the utmost consciousness left upon the mind is that of the movements of God through the deeds and words of man. The thirty years were those of the long silence in which the Son of God was seen stripped and emptied of all royalty, excluding that of His perfect Manhood. The three years are the years of the brief speech, in which the Son of Man is seen clothed in authority, filled with power, speaking in the tone and accent of the Son of God.