The ruler who withdrew from the midst of the disturbed temple managers for a night-call upon Jesus was radically changed in his convictions and his life-purpose. He had an open mind. The work was begun at that first Jerusalem Passover. Under the holy spell of John's presence he is drawn away from his enraged brother-rulers to seek the night talk. The frankness and fullness of Jesus' talk shows plainly how open he was and how much more he opened and yielded that evening. And the after protest in the official meeting of the rulers, and the loving care for the body of Jesus reveal how radical was the transformation wrought upon his will and heart by Jesus.
The Samaritan woman is changed from utter indifference to a change of will and purpose that makes her an eager messenger to her people until they hail Jesus as the Saviour of the world. The change involved a radical face-about in habit and life amongst the very people who knew her past sinful life best. It meant more than change of conviction, that change actually put into practice across the grain of the habits of years, and of the lower passions, so hard to change. It is a distinct step up from the change in Nicodemus simply because there was so much more to change. The same power had more to do. And it did it.
The story of the woman accused of the gravest offense is a double one in the power seen at work. She would naturally be hardened, and stony hard, shameless to the point of hopeless indifference in moral sense, and all this increased by their coarse publicity of her. And so little is said, but so much suggested of a change in her.
The purity of Jesus' face and presence would be a tremendous power of conviction. The gentleness of His quiet question would couple softening of heart with conviction of her sin. The word of counsel as she is dismissed would seem a mirror reflecting the inner longing of her heart and the new purpose stirring within, as memory recalls early days of virgin purity, and a wild hope within struggles towards life that there may yet be a change even for her.
The change in her accusers is, at least, as remarkable though wholly different. Morally hardened, as shameless and coarse as the woman as regards a fine moral sensibility; by their own tacit confession no better in practice than she in the point of morals raised; in their malignant cunning only concerned with the woman's sin as a means of venting their spleen upon the man they hated and feared, -- what a hideous spirit-photograph!
Under the strange compelling power of Jesus' word and will, utterly conscience-stricken at being as guilty as she in the particular item under discussion, they turn, one by one, and slink softly out, until the last one is gone. As an instance of one will controlling and changing another will wholly against its will to the point of forcing out confession of personal guilt, it is most remarkable. One wonders if, under that tremendous conviction of personal sin, some of these were later included in those of the Sanhedrin who openly accepted Jesus. It is quite possible. It is not improbable.
The fact is noted that the very language used here under the English indicates a different authorship of the incident than John's. Possibly a thoughtful delicacy of regard for the woman restrains John's pen if she were still living as he writes. And then later the Holy Spirit, who so tactfully restrains John's pen, guides another to fit the remarkable story in its place in the record.
The drastic turning of bargaining cattle-dealers and bickering money-brokers, out of the temple-area, and restoring it from a barn-yard to a place of holy worship, is a most remarkable illustration of restraint upon antagonistic wills at the point of their greatest concern. These leaders would gladly have turned Him out.
And who was He, this man with flashing eye and quiet stern word? A stranger, unknown, from the despised country district of Galilee. And they have authority, law-officers, everything of the sort on their side. Yet the restraint of His presence and will over them is as absolute as though they were in chains. They weakly ask for a sign and evidence of power. They themselves experienced the most tremendous exhibition of power the old temple-area had known for generations.
The power of restraint at the Feast of Tabernacles is yet greater. Or it might be more accurate to say that it is a greater antagonism that is restrained by the same power. They are fully prepared now. The cleansing incident took them unawares. It made them gasp to think that any one would dare oppose them like that.
Now they are on guard. Then, too, their antagonism has intensified and embittered to the point of plotting His death. And they have grown more openly aggressive. There are three attempts at His arrest. Yet that strange noiseless power of restraint is upon them. They do not do as they would. Clearly they cannot. They are restrained. The man whose presence so aroused, also held them in check, apparently without thinking about it. His presence is a restraint.
Then a second clash of wills comes a day or so later. Their opposition is yet intenser. There has been no cooling-off interval. His continued open teaching in face of their attempts at arrest puts fresh kindling on the fire. "No man took Him," but clearly they wanted to. Their open relations become more strained. He uses yet plainer speech in exposing their hypocrisies. This stirs them still more. Their hooked fingers reach passionately for the stones that would make a finish at once, and the green light flashes out of their enraged eyes. It's the sharpest clash yet. They are at a high fever point.
It seems to take a greater use of power to restrain. "He hid Himself" is the simple sentence used. This is one of four times that we are told of His overcoming the hostile attack of a crowd by simply passing through their midst and going on His way. Perhaps something in the glance of that eye of His, or in the set of His face, something in Him restrained them as He quietly passes through the uproarious crowd and goes on His way undisturbed. They are held back against their wills from doing the thing they are so intent on doing.
A few months later He is back in Jerusalem. But the interval seems not to have cooled their passion, only to have heated and hardened their enmity. They at once begin an aggressive wordy attack. Then losing self-control in their rage they again reach down for the stones to kill Him at once. And again they are restrained from their passionate purpose, as Jesus quietly goes on talking with them. Again they attempt to seize His person. And the simple striking sentence used, "He went forth out of their hand," points to the extent of their purpose and to a yet greater use of His power of restraint over their unwilling wills.
The last incident of this sort is the kingly entry into the city amid the enthusiasm of the pilgrim and city crowds. It says not a word about any attempt on their part nor of His restraint over them. But the very boldness of this wholly unexpected move on His part constituted a tremendous restraint. Their hate had gone through several stages of refined hardening during the few months preceding. The formal decision to kill, the edict of excommunication, the public notice that any information of His whereabouts must be made known, and the decision to kill Lazarus also, -- all indicate the hotter burning of the flames of their rage.
Yet into just such a situation He quietly turns the head of His untamed unridden young colt of an ass and rides through the city surrounded by the crowds under the very eyes of these leaders and their hireling legal minions. The tenseness of the whole scene, the power of restraint so put forth, the volcano smouldering underfoot waiting the slightest extra jar to loose out its explosion, all are revealed in the little sentence so pregnant in its concealed dynamic meaning, Jesus "hid Himself from, them." There's an exquisite blending of restraint over them and boldness with cautious prudence. He was walking very close to the edge that time.
So His power, shown so quietly but irresistibly before the eyes of all during those brief years, rises to a double climax nothing short of stupendous. Miraculous power in the realm of nature and of the human body had reached its climax in the raising of Lazarus, attested beyond question. Power over the human will both in affecting a voluntary change, and in actually restraining its action against its own set purpose, had risen to its climax in the bold open entry in broadest daylight into the capital where His death was officially and publicly decreed. The two climaxes touch. And it is tremendously significant that whereas they sometimes question His miraculous power, they could not deny His restraining power over themselves. How gladly they would if only they could.
And all this, mark you keenly, is a bit of His wooing. The wooing is ever the dominant thought in His heart. So He was revealing to them who He was. He claims to be the Son of God, their kingly Messiah. And He lived His claim. Power is the one universally recognized touchstone by which we judge God and man. His power told who He was even more than His tremendous words did. He was acting naturally. His presence among them thus natural, true to the power native in Him, -- this was the wooing.
But there was more than power. There was love. There was a perfect blend of the two. With the power went the love. Nay, rather, with the love went the power. Love was the dominating thing. Jesus was love in shoes, God in action. Always there was the tenderness, the gentleness, the patience, the purity, the unflinching ideals, yes, the courage, the utter fearlessness tempered with a wise prudence. All these are the fuller spelling of love.
Always these went in closest touch with the resisted but resistless power. These are the two traits of God, two traits that are one. Men always think most of the power. God Himself always emphasizes most the love. But true power is simply love in action. The power is the outcome of love, and under the control of love.
This is the second of John's great impelling pictures. The first shows us the Person, the Man Jesus, God with us, God making a world, and then, in homely human garb walking amongst its people, one of themselves.
This second shows us the wooing. This Man, so tender in touch, so gentle in speech, so thoughtful in action, so pure in life, so unbending in ideals, so fearless in the thick of opposition, so faithful to the chosen faithless nation, -- this Man Himself is the wooing. His words, His actions, His power, His persistence, His patience, this also is the wooing of this great God-Man-Lover. This is God spelling Himself out into human speech, wooing men out and up and in to Himself.