THE SPRING-TIME of the year came, when the people from all parts of the land went up to Jerusalem to attend the great feast of the Passover. You remember that this feast was held to keep in mind how more than a thousand years before God had led the Israelite people out of Egypt, where they had been slaves. It was called the feast of the Passover because on the night of their going-out the angel of death had “passed over” the houses of the Israelites when he brought death to the Egyptian homes. On that night, too, they went out of Egypt in such haste that the women did not have time to wait for the bread to rise before baking it, and all the bread eaten at that time was “unleavened bread,” or bread made without yeast.
To keep in mind that great day, the day when Israel became a nation, ruling itself, in the spring of every year all the people gathered in Jerusalem, and for one week ate unleavened bread, that is, bread made without yeast. Great services were held in the Temple on every day of this feast; and on one evening a special dinner of a roasted lamb was eaten by everybody, to keep in mind the last meal which the Israelites ate in the land of Egypt, with their hats on their heads and their cloaks on their shoulders and their shoes on their feet, all ready to march away.
Jesus and the little company of his disciples or followers went up to Jerusalem, walking, as many times before, down the Jordan valley to Jericho, and then climbing the hills to the holy city. For many years Jesus had been coming to the feast of the Passover; but never before had he come as he came now, in the power of the Spirit, as the Son of God.
Around the House of God was a great open court, called the Court of the Gentiles, where foreign people who were not Jews came to pray; since none but Jews or Israelites could enter the inner courts. But the Jews held all Gentiles or foreign people in contempt. They did not look upon the part of the Temple buildings where foreigners prayed as holy; and they had turned this court, the Court of the Gentiles, into a market place. Here Jesus found everywhere sheep and oxen brought there for sale; cages full of doves, which were sold to the poorer people for offerings upon the altar; counters where sat men changing the money of people from other lands into the coins of Judea. There was nothing of the quiet and peace which should be in a place of prayer; all was noise and confusion; the lowing of oxen, the voices of men buying and selling, the jingling of silver on the tables.
These sights and sounds stirred the heart of Jesus. He felt that such work as went on around him was unfit and was wicked in a place set apart for the worship of God. He picked up a piece of rope from the floor and untwisted its cords until it seemed like a whip. Then standing before the buyers and the sellers, he called upon them to stop their trading. They looked up amazed at this stranger whose. face glowed with power as though he were a king.
Alone, without help from anyone, he drove all these people out of the court. He bade them lead away the sheep and the oxen; he commanded those who sold the doves to carry out their cages; he overturned the tables of the money-changers and sent their silver rolling upon the floor.
“Take all these things away,” he cried out. “This is the house of my Father; you shall not make it a house fer buying and selling.”
Even the little company of his disciplesPeter, John, Andrew and the othersstood still in wonder as they saw their Master alone, armed only with a piece of rope, driving out the gates this crowd of men, who were frightened at the kingliness of his looks and fled before him, not for one moment daring to resist his will.
But soon came the priests and rulers of the Temple. They ought not to have allowed these men to trade in the Temple Court and to make it a market place. But some of them took a share of the money that was made in that place. One high priest, it is said, owned all the cages of doves and pigeons that were kept in the Temple for sale. These rulers were very angry to have the trading stopped and their gains taken away.
“What right have you to come here,” they said to Jesus, “and make trouble? Who are you that you should undertake to rule in this place? Show us some sign or proof that you are Master here!”
“The time is coming,” said Jesus, “when I will show you a sign of my power, but not now; and when that sign comes, you will not believe it.”
Then, making a motion of his hands as though pointing to himself, he added:
“Destroy this Temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”
The Jews were horrified at these words; for they thought that he was speaking of the building on Mount Moriah, and in their mind to speak of puffing down the house where God dwelt was a terrible thing. But Jesus was speaking of himself as the Son of God, in whose body dwelt the Spirit of God. Far more than that building, where men cheated and did evil deeds, Jesus himself was the house of God. The rulers said:
“This Temple has taken forty-six years to build, and it is not finished yet; and will you raise it up in three days?”
Nearly fifty years before, King Herod had begun to rebuild the Temple, which in his time had become old and decayed. The repairs were made very slowly, and in the time of Jesus the building was still far from being finished. It was not finished until more than twenty years afterward.
We know what Jesus meant by those words; that three years afterward, those very men would cause him, the Son of God, whose body was God’s dwelling place, to be put to death; and within three days after his death he would rise from his tomb, to be the Temple of God again and forever. The disciples of Jesus heard these words, but at that time did not know what they meant.
Jesus stayed for some time in Jerusalem and talked to the people about the Kingdom of God. He also did some wonderful works, such as curing the sick; and the people who saw these acts believed his words, as from one whom God had sent to men. But the priests and the rulers hated Jesus, because he spoke against their wicked lives, and they did all that they could to turn the people away from him.
Among the rulers, however, were a few men who listened to Jesus and believed his words. One of these was a man named Nicodemus. He wished to have a talk with Jesus and learn more of his teachings. But he was afraid to be seen with Jesus in the day-time, knowing that the other rulers were so strongly against Jesus. So he went quietly one night, unknown to every-body, and had a meeting with Jesus. Nicodemus began by saying :
“Teacher, we all know that you have been sent by God to speak to us, because no one could do these wonderful things that you are doing unless God were with him to give him power.”
Jesus said to him:
“Let me tell you and all your people one thing. No man can have any part in the Kingdom of God unless he is born again from God.”
Nicodemus did not know what this meant, and he said, “How can a man be born again after he is grown up ?”
“Everyman,” said Jesus, “must become a new man and have the Spirit of God dwelling in him, if he is to come into the Kingdom of God. Do not be surprised that I say to you, `You must be born anew.’ There are many things that you cannot understand. Listen to the wind blowing! You can hear it, but you cannot tell from what place it comes nor to what place it goes. Just so is it with every one who is born of God’s spirit.”
What Jesus meant in these words was that every one who would be a follower of Christ needs to have a new heart and to live a new life; and this new heart and new life God alone can give to him.
One great sentence was spoken by Jesus at this time. Here it is.
“God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have eternal life.”