A Life of Jesus

Kenneth B. Tindall

Chapter XVII.

The Net Tightens.

On the morning of the following day young John turned up unexpectedly from Jerusalem. After welcoming him and introducing him to the Twelve, Jesus asked what he had come for.

“You ought to be hard at work at the College,” he said; “why have you shirked off here?”

John laughed.

“Our exams are next week,” he explained; “and Dr. Boaz advised us all to get away into the country and have a complete rest before starting them. I went out to Bethany two days ago to see if Lazarus and his sisters could put me up for the weekend. I found that Lazarus was ill; I don’t know what’s the matter with him, but Martha and Mary were obviously worried about him. They were wondering how they could get a message to you here. I offered to come and tell you.”

“A twenty mile walk,” remarked Jesus, smiling.

“The exercise has done me good; and I stayed last night in Jericho,” said the boy. “Will you come back to Bethany with me tomorrow? They’re very anxious for you to come.”

“Tomorrow’s the Sabbath,” said Jesus, with a twinkle of amusement. “We can’t travel on the Sabbath.”

The Twelve looked at him in astonishment. It was so unlike the Master to let the Sabbath rules stand in the way of doing an act of kindness.

“Besides,” he went on, “you’ll need a day’s rest before making the return journey. We can’t have you tiring yourself out just before the exam. Lazarus is in no danger; he will be restored to perfect health. And his recovery will prove the power and goodness of God.”

So John spent the Sabbath day at Nathaniel’s house, and no further reference was made to the cause of his visit.

On the first morning of the new week, as they were eating their breakfast of nuts and dried figs, John opened the subject again.

“Master,” he said, “I must get back today. My exams start the day after tomorrow. Are you coming with me?”

“Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep,” Jesus replied, almost casually.

The boy John looked up quickly; he was the only one present who understood what Jesus meant.

“There’s nothing like a good sleep for putting a sick man to rights again,” remarked young James cheerfully. He and Thaddaeus had taken a special interest in the news of Lazarus’ illness, because in their Bethany days they had supplied him and the young ladies with vegetables at their little house on the hill.

“But,” continued Jesus, “we are going to Bethany with John, so that I can wake him out of sleep.”

“Look, here, Master,” said Peter obstinately, “we’ve been talking this over. Last time you were in Judaea, you’ve told us the people tried to stone you. You surely don’t mean to go there again? Not as soon as this, anyway?”

But Jesus laughed off their fears. “We are going to Bethany,” he said conclusively. “I cannot fail my friends. Lazarus is dead.”

A gasp of horror greeted his words. Though none of the Twelve knew Lazarus well, they knew of the Master’s intimacy with him and his sisters.

“I am glad for your sakes that I was not there,” Jesus went on; “it will help you to understand and believe. But you see that I must go to Judaea. There’s no need for any of you to come, if you prefer not to.”

“If you are going,” said Thaddaeus at once, “we come too. We’re ready to follow you into danger—and to death, if need be.”

It was late in the afternoon when they reached the hill from which Lazarus’ house looked down on to the snug little village of Bethany. Young John ran ahead to tell the sisters of their arrival. In a few minutes he returned, accompanied by Martha. They were all conscious of a confused sound of wailing at some distance away to their left, possibly the hired mourners still performing their macabre office, or more probably acquaintances of the family paying the customary social tribute to the dead. The noise violated the peace of the evening, and jarred on the nerves.

There were tears in Martha’s eyes and a tone almost of reproach in her voice as she greeted Jesus.

“Master,” she said, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” She paused perceptibly and then added: “And even now I know that anything you ask from God, He will give you.”

Jesus did not answer immediately. “Your brother shall rise again,” he said at last.

“I know he will rise again,” the girl replied, with a hint of impatience, “in the Resurrection at the last day.”

Jesus said: “I am the Resurrection and the Life. If anyone believes in me, even though he dies, he shall live. Those who believe in me in this life can never die. Do you believe this?”

“Yes, Master,” answered Martha, awed by the solemnity of his words; “I have come to believe that you are the Messiah, the long promised Son of God.”

She turned and hurried back to the house. She beckoned to her sister who was sitting surrounded by sympathetic friends. With a word of apology Mary rose and followed her.

“The Master is here,” Martha whispered, as soon as they were outside the door; “come and see him.”

Together they hurried along the lane to the spot where Martha had left Jesus.

One of the visitors, an elderly councillor who had been a friend of their father’s, remarked to the others: “they’re going back to the tomb, I suppose. Those poor girls oughtn’t to be left alone. Let us go after them.”

But to their surprise they saw that the sisters had not taken the way to the burial place. They were moving swiftly up the road, away from the village. They followed: at a distance they watched the scene which ensued.

As Mary came up with Jesus, she knelt before him. “Master,” she whispered; “if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

In her voice there was not a sign of the challenge which had been noticeable in Martha’s—nothing but a profound sorrow and steadfast belief in Jesus’ power to help.

The presence and sympathy of the Master broke down Mary’s restraint; she gave way and sobbed. The bystanders were visibly affected; several of them made no effort to control their tears.

“Where have you laid him?” asked Jesus. The practical question was the kindest form of sympathy. The girl pulled herself together immediately.

“Come and see,” she said.

She led the way by a rough track round the bottom of the garden to a rocky depression where a flight of rough stone steps led down to a natural hollow. At one side of this a great stone closed the mouth of a cave which had been hewn out of the rock.

Jesus was walking ahead with the two sisters; the Twelve fell in at some distance behind with the friends who had come to offer their sympathy to Martha and Mary. Young John overheard several scraps of whispered conversation.

“Did you notice the tears in the prophet’s eyes?”

“He must have been very fond of Lazarus.”

“But surely he could have prevented his death? Didn’t you hear how he cured the blind beggar in Jerusalem?”

By this time the little crowd had halted round the lip of the depression. Martha and Mary stood on the top of the steps. Jesus was already half way down to the hollow. He stopped.

In a low, distinct voice he said: “Take away the stone.”

A flurry of muttered conversation broke out above; Martha hurried down the steps to Jesus.

“Master,” she said in an urgent tone, “he’s been dead four days already.”

“Didn’t I tell you,” was the calm reply, “that if you believed, you should see the glory of God? Take away the stone.”

There was a moment’s hesitation. Then a labouring man, perhaps the gardener, detached himself from the group above. He looked about and noticed the two sons of Zebedee; he touched John on the arm.

“Here,” he said; “give us a hand, mates. I can’t shift that thing myself.”

The three powerful men descended past Jesus to the cave; setting their shoulders against the great boulder, they heaved it aside. The mouth of the cave, murky in the failing twilight, stood revealed. The dim, still, white form within could just be made out against the deeper blackness of the damp rock. Nothing was heard save the drip, drip of water from a clump of moss above the cave’s gaping mouth.

Jesus raised his eyes to the amethyst sky. “Father,” he prayed aloud, “I thank you for having heard me. I know you hear me always. But I want all those who are here to understand and believe. Father, let them understand that you have sent me into the world, so that they may believe in your power and goodness.”

Slowly he made his way down the remaining steps to the open tomb. Resting one hand on the great slab of rock, he leaned forward and peered in.

Suddenly his voice rang out, loud and authoritative. “Lazarus, come forth.”

Every head in the living group above craned forward, staring into the gathering gloom. Then a shuddering sigh swept through the throng. There had been a movement inside the cave.

The still form rose, stood erect, walked to the mouth of the cave. Jesus raised his hand and plucked the linen cloth from the face. It was the face of a living man, the flesh healthy and firm, intelligence in the eyes. The lips spoke.

“Master, you called me. I have come back.” Jesus turned to Martha and Mary. “Release him from these wrappings,” he said, “and take him home.”

The little crowd melted away. The scene was too intimate, too touching for prying eyes. When the sisters had finished their joyous task, they looked round to heap their thanks on the Master. He too was gone, and the Twelve with him.

They were alone with their brother—the brother who had been four days dead.

It was not Jesus’ intention to remain in Judaea. There were still three weeks before the Passover and he proposed to spend a fortnight quietly in the country at some place where he was not known. He knew that the priests were determined to get rid of him; he knew that the restoration of Lazarus would increase his own reputation and therefore harden the resolve of his enemies. He must have a little time to prepare himself, and the Twelve, for the ordeal which lay ahead. If things turned out as he expected, they must be ready to carry on his work.

As soon as they were well out of sight of the village, Jesus turned to John.

“You must cut along back to Jerusalem,” he said; “and take it easy tomorrow. You’ve got to be on the tip of your form for that exam. Good luck to you. Give my love and best wishes to Mark too. Now be off with you.”

“Are you going back to Nathaniel’s house?” asked the boy.

“Never you mind where we’re going,” was the bantering answer. “I’m going to have a rest; so while you’re sweating at those exams, you can think of us having a really good holiday. See you again at Passover time. And tell your Mother not to let the upper room to anyone else.”

“There’s no fear of that,” said John. “And by that time I shall know the result of my exam.”

Jesus watched him disappear over the brow of the hill; then he turned to the Twelve.

“We’re going north, straight across country,” was all he said. “We must find some barn to spend the night in.”

And the next day they reached the little hill town of Ephraim, about fifteen miles north of the capital. It was a pleasant, sleepy little place, quite out of the world; here they could remain until it was time to go up to the Feast.

Meanwhile in the capital there was considerable agitation in priestly circles. Lazarus was a young man well-known in Jerusalem society; his return from the tomb was the chief topic of conversation at all social gatherings. There was a sudden reversion of feeling in favour of the Galilean prophet who had worked this astonishing miracle. Lazarus and his sisters were besieged by sympathetic callers, ostensibly wishing to offer their congratulations, but really anxious to satisfy their curiosity and add fuel to the fire of gossip. From the poorer classes crowds of sightseers flocked out to Bethany and hung around the little garden on the hill, in the hope of catching a glimpse of the young man who had been four days dead.

Several councillors had actually witnessed the miracle; they had been paying a visit of sympathy to the sisters at the time. Some of these returned to Jerusalem half convinced that Jesus was a divinely ordained prophet; others, realising that this view would undermine the whole authority of the priesthood, asserted stoutly that the incident was another example of black magic and that the perpetrator of it was guilty of a heinous offence against the laws of nature established by the wisdom of God.

It was these councillors who reported the matter to Caiaphas, who had now succeeded his father-in-law as High Priest. After consultation with old Annas, he summoned a special meeting of the Sanhedrin to consider the situation.

On the appointed day Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathaea entered the council-chamber with sinking hearts. They knew that all the influential members of the Council were set on obtaining a vote for the forcible suppression of Jesus’ teaching.

The meeting was a long one. Caiaphas opened it with a short formal speech, pointing out that he had called them together to consider their attitude towards the Galilean teacher.

“The man is credited with some very startling miracles,” he said; “none of us can deny that. What we have to decide is from what source he derives his undoubted powers. You may possibly accept the theory that these powers come from God; yet we have incontrovertible evidence that he is a Sabbath-breaker and a blasphemer; it is for you to form your opinion as to whether a true prophet of God would infringe the Sabbath regulations or take His holy name in vain. There is only one other possible alternative—that he practices witchcraft; and I do not need to remind you, gentlemen, that that would be a very serious charge indeed.”

The High Priest then asked all those who had been present at Bethany to give their own versions of what had occurred. One of these was Dr. Joseph; when his turn came he gave a plain, unvarnished statement of the facts. But he and Nicodemus were already strongly suspected of sympathy with the Nazarene, and little attention was therefore paid to his account. Some of the other stories were much more highly coloured, and contained details which were either dictated by the speaker’s fancy or were deliberately inserted to give a wrong impression.

After the evidence had been taken, a more general discussion on policy took place. One speaker after another rose and urged that Jesus should be excommunicated from the synagogues; some went further and recommended imprisonment.

Towards the end of the debate one old politician stood up.

“It seems clear,” he said, “that this crazy fellow is aiming at some kind of revolutionary kingdom. Every one here must have heard accounts of what happened a year ago at the Lake of Gennesaret; he deliberately tried to incite a crowd to proclaim him King. We all know what the result of a fanatical rising would be: the Romans would send a punitive force and take away what is left of our liberty. We should cease to exist as a nation.”

He sat down amid subdued applause.

The High Priest held a whispered consultation with his father-in-law, who, as ex-High Priest, occupied the place of honour at his right hand. During the pause another member rose.

“Mr. Chairman,” he began, “would it be in order to move a resolution?”

“What is your proposal, Dr. Samuel?” asked Caiaphas.

“I should like to move, my lord, that Jesus the Nazarene be arrested at the earliest possible moment and placed in solitary confinement pending the Council’s further decision.”

There were further murmurs of approval.

The High Priest rose to address the meeting. “Gentlemen,” he began a little stiffly, “I must admit that I feel doubtful of the wisdom of Dr. Samuel’s proposal. If we imprison the Nazarene, there will be continual unrest due to agitation from his supporters, and I feel bound to remind you that he has a considerable following. There might be attempts at rescue; there would almost inevitably be riots and disturbances, which would incur the displeasure of Rome as much as a rising with this Jesus at its head. Now uprisings do not occur in favour of a leader who is already dead.”

He paused impressively. His cold eye travelled from face to face, to discover the effect of his words. Some of the members were unquestionably shocked; many glanced at old Annas as if to obtain guidance. His eyes were closed, but he was nodding his venerable head in slow approval.

“I trust that no one is misunderstanding me,” resumed the High Priest. “If anyone supposes that I am advocating violence or assassination, he must have a strange opinion of my attitude towards the sacred office which I am privileged to hold. This is clearly a case for the Roman courts.”

Several members settled themselves more comfortably in their chairs. If the case was to be tried before the proconsul, the responsibility was not theirs.

“However strongly we might be disposed to advocate mercy,” continued Caiaphas, “there seems to me no doubt that the proconsul will take a serious view of the man’s activities. And we must be careful not to impede the course of justice. On our own standards Jesus of Nazareth is worthy of death, both as a law-breaker, a blasphemer and a dabbler in witchcraft. But none of these charges will weigh with Pilate; it must be proved to his satisfaction that the prisoner is guilty of sedition against Rome. Any evidence to this effect it will be our duty to lay before the court.”

He cleared his throat, took a sip of water and proceeded.

“Possibly the course I am recommending may seem harsh to you, gentlemen. Believe me, it is the result of much anxious thought and prayer. The welfare of our people is threatened. Not only are the ignorant and superstitious being deluded by this plausible impostor, but, as one member has pointed out, there is a serious risk of a popular insurrection, which could not fail to be followed by punishment from Rome, punishment in which the innocent would be bound to suffer equally with the guilty. I appeal to your patriotism, gentlemen. Is it not expedient that this one man should perish, rather than that our beloved nation, God’s chosen people, should sink into ruin and oblivion?”

The High Priest sat down amid a storm of cheers.

A resolution was hastily framed and passed; by this, Jesus of Nazareth was to be arrested at the first convenient opportunity, and handed over to the Roman governor for trial.

“Is there any further business, gentlemen?” inquired the chairman. “In that case, our meeting is adjourned.”

Immediately after the meeting Dr. Alexander repaired to the palace, to the room of his uncle Annas.

“I want your opinion,” he began without any preliminaries; “if this fellow Jesus is really put out of the way, do you imagine that the movement will automatically fizzle out? He has a lot of followers.”

“Mostly fishermen and working folk,” replied the old man confidently. “There may be a few professional men among them, but no one with any real influence. Yes, I think we may assume the whole thing will die out.”

“This latest incident at Bethany has made a tremendous sensation,” objected his nephew. “Hundreds of people are talking about it. It has added enormously to the Nazarene’s influence.”

“A nine days’ wonder, no doubt,” said Annas. “Excitement of that kind never lasts long.”

“I wish I felt certain of that,” replied Alexander; “it seems to me that so long as young Lazarus lives, he will be known as the man who was raised from the dead after four days in the tomb. Of course we know the whole thing was a put-up job to increase the Galilean’s reputation. But that’s not the way most people are looking at it.”

“You think it was a fake?” asked the old priest.

“What else could it have been?” said the younger man. “It would be simple enough. The two sisters were constantly visiting the tomb; they could have easily smuggled in food.”

“Did you attend the funeral?” asked old Annas.

“No. Why?”

“I have spoken with a number of people who did,” said his uncle. “When I first heard of the incident, my view was the same as yours. But I took the trouble to make a few enquiries. The body was seen by those at the ceremony; it lay exposed to the gaze of all for several hours. Dr. Haggai was the physician attending the case: he was actually present when death occurred. I asked for a personal interview with him; he assures me that the young man was dead beyond a shadow of doubt.”

“But it’s impossible!” muttered Alexander.

“This is not the first case of the kind, you know,” old Annas went on. “There was a young working man at Nain in Galilee who was resuscitated by this man Jesus as he was being carried out to burial. And at Capernaum he revived the child of a well-known citizen, one Jairus, the ruler of one of the local synagogues. In each case death had been certified by a qualified doctor.”

“You believe these cases are genuine?” asked Alexander with a puzzled frown.

“All the evidence points that way,” replied his uncle. “I have been at some pains to follow the man’s career, and have had regular reports from our agents in the north. I have sifted everything most carefully and have been forced unwillingly to the conclusion that he has most unusual powers. From what source he derives these powers I cannot hazard a conjecture.”

“Then who and what is he?” burst out the younger priest.

Old Annas regarded his nephew through half-closed eyelids, before replying.

“You ask what he is,” he said at last; “I’ll tell you. Jesus of Nazareth is a danger to our nation, and a menace to our priestly order and to all the sacred tradition which has collected round it throughout the long centuries of our country’s history. He is a revolutionary; not a violent revolutionary, mind; he is far too clever for that. But by persuasion and contemptuous words he is trying to destroy all that we hold most precious in our national life; in a word, to alter the whole sense of values which have come down to us from the remote past. The authority of the priesthood and Jesus of Nazareth cannot exist together; long ages of experience have proved the value of the priesthood. So it follows that Jesus of Nazareth must be swept aside. Caiaphas was right in saying that nothing will achieve this, except his death.”

“The proconsul may not give the verdict we hope for,” objected Alexander.

“I think Pilate can be persuaded,” returned the old man slowly. “He is not fond of taking risks. Now, about young Lazarus; what do you suggest?”

The question was shot at him with such unexpected suddenness that Alexander was for the moment confused. He stammered, cleared his throat, got up and walked across to the window. After a few moments of abstracted thought he returned to his seat.

“Uncle,” he said, “so long as Lazarus is alive the Nazarene will be remembered and revered. But if he were to die too,—”

“There is no possible charge against him,” snapped the old statesman.

“I don’t think you quite see my point,” his nephew continued. “If Lazarus were to die quite soon of some mysterious disease, it would appear that the Nazarene’s miracle had been only temporarily successful—that he was unable to hold his friend from the clutches of death. The second death would be popularly regarded as a proof of God’s displeasure against the man who had tried to reverse His decrees.”

Old Annas’ eyes were shut. His head rested on the open palm of his left hand.

“Such an event,” he murmured, “would doubtless have a desirable effect. And may God’s will prevail.”

It was not long before the decision of the Council was widely known in Jerusalem. And at the same time ugly hints began to be circulated of a plot against Lazarus’ life.

On hearing these rumours, Nicodemus hurried out to Bethany to warn his friends, and at the same time to find out from them the whereabouts of Jesus and the Twelve. If possible they must be prevented from coming to Jerusalem for the Passover Feast.

Lazarus was quite unmoved on hearing that his life was in danger.

“It was by God’s will,” he said, “that my life was restored. It can only be by his will that it can be taken from me again. But your other news is disquieting, and we cannot send word to Jesus, for we have no idea where he is. He is due here a week before the Feast. All we can do is to warn him when he comes.”

And Nicodemus returned to the city with anxious foreboding in his heart.

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