Two by Two.
Jesus had a desire to once more speak to the people of His own little town of Nazareth, and so He came again to His own, but His own received Him not. Once more he went into the Nazareth Synagogue where He had listened to the reading of the law all through His childhood and to teach as He had done nine or ten months before. They did not rise up and thrust Him out as they did then, but they cast cold looks and scornful words upon Him. They could not understand His great power and wisdom, but they would not believe in Him.

"Is not this the carpenter, the Son of Mary," they said, "the brother of James and Joses, and of Juda and Simon? And are not His sisters here with us?" They were offended with Him. Jesus, knowing their faults said,

"A prophet is not without honor, but in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own house."

He wondered why they were so unbelieving, when in His great love for them He was ready to do works of mercy among them, and to tell them the glad tidings of the Kingdom of Heaven, but He laid His hands on a few sick folk and healed them, and that was all.

As He went away to come back no more, His heart turned toward the many who were waiting for the tidings that His old friends had rejected, and He called the twelve together to send them out, two by two, into the world around them. He gave them power to cast out evil spirits, and to heal the sick; and He put the preaching power within them so that they could tell to others the wonderful truths of the Kingdom of Heaven. He told them that they must take nothing for their journey, except a staff, with which to walk over the steep mountain paths. He told them also to bless the house that sheltered them, and to leave the house or the city that would not receive them. He said that they would have many trials, and that their lives would be sought by wicked men, but that they need not fear, for the very hairs of their head were numbered, and that even a sparrow could not fall to the ground without their Father, and they were of more value than many sparrows.

He said many other words to them that gave them comfort and strength. They had left all to follow Him, and He showed them how, in losing their all in this life they were finding much more than that -- even eternal life.

So, two by two, they went forth and left Jesus alone.

That great and good man, John the Baptist, was still in the prison of King Herod Antipas, down by the Dead Sea. He had been there more than a year, but no word came from the king saying that he was free. Queen Herodias wanted him to be put to death for he had spoken against her marriage with King Herod. She was a wicked woman, and the evil hate the good. Herod believed in his heart that John should go free, but for the Queen's sake he kept him in prison, but allowed his friends to see him, and sometimes sent for him secretly to hear him talk of the Kingdom of Heaven.

On the king's birthday he gave a great feast to his lords and captains, and when they had been served with dainty food in dishes of silver and gold, and had tasted the rare fruits and the costly wines, the dancing girls came in to flit over the polished marble floor, and wave their airy scarfs to please the king and his guests.

At last a young girl came in and danced alone. She was dressed like a princess, and she was a princess.

Queen Herodias had sent her young daughter, Salome, where an innocent girl and a queen's daughter should not have gone.

She pleased the king and his lords greatly, and when she had finished, and had knelt before the king to hear what he had to say to her, he cried,

"Ask of me whatsoever thou wilt, and I will give it thee," and with an oath he declared that he would certainly do it if she should ask the half of his kingdom.

She did not decide for herself, but ran to her mother, saying,

"What shall I ask?" And the cruel mother said,

"The head of John the Baptist."

King Herod did not expect this. He thought she might ask for some jewel of great price, or perhaps a royal palace for her very own, and when he heard her request he was very sorry. But an oath made before his lords could not be broken.

He sent men to the prison, and the good prophet, who had never known fear, went home to God, and they brought his head to the princess who gave it to her mother. The king's feast ended in gloom, and the poor girl, who only obeyed her wicked mother, had nothing but a dreadful memory to keep forever as the king's gift.

And the king himself -- what trouble followed him during the rest of his life! Riches and honors were all taken from him, and he was sent out of his own country, while John had gone to his Father's house in the Heavenly Country to suffer no more forever.

John's disciples buried the body of their beloved master, and then went and told Jesus. Only Jesus can give real comfort in trouble.

The disciples -- now called apostles, or teachers -- who had been out teaching among the villages, heard, perhaps, of the death of John the Baptist, and came back to Jesus two by two, as they had gone out. They had been preaching, healing the sick, and casting out evil spirits. They often said "The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand," and the people wondered if it would not be best to rise up and make Jesus their king.

Herod heard of the work of Jesus and the apostles, and was afraid. He half believed that John whom he had killed had risen from the dead. He tried to see Jesus, but the One who had come to preach the gospel to the poor had no time to give to Herod.

As Peter, and John, and Andrew and all the rest came back they were full of stories of the wonderful things that had been done through the power that the Lord had given them. Many came with them to find Jesus. He saw that they needed to come away from the crowds that were always around them so that He could speak to them of their work, and so that they could rest, and think, and pray.

They took a boat and crossed the Lake. The shore was crowded with people who wished to be with Jesus, and when they knew that He was going to Bethsaida-Julias at the northern end of the Lake they resolved to follow Him, for it was only a few miles away.

At the end of the Lake they entered the Jordan river, and sailing up a little way to the landing-place they saw the people coming, some in boats, and more in groups along the shore -- men, women and children -- and Jesus, filled with love and pity for them, led them to a green hillside where He sat down to teach them as He had often done before.

It was spring, and the grass was like a great green carpet sprinkled with bright wild-flowers, while the river, lined with bushes flowed below, and beyond lay the beautiful blue Lake. The disciples stood around their Master while He taught the people in simple language that they could understand the greatest truths the world has ever heard. All the afternoon He spoke to them, and when the sun was slowly going down over the hills of Galilee they still wished to stay. They were as sheep having no shepherd. The disciples were troubled about them, for they were far from the villages where bread could be bought, and they had nothing to eat. They begged Jesus to send them away.

"Give ye them to eat," said Jesus. Then the disciples were astonished, for there were about five thousand men, beside the women and children. "Shall we go and buy two hundred pennyworth of bread, and give them to eat?" said Philip. Then Jesus, who knew what He would do, said, "How many loaves have ye? Go and see."

They went among the people, and Andrew came back, saying,

"There is a lad here which hath five barley loaves, and two small fishes; but what are they among so many?"

Then Jesus told His disciples to seat all the people in order upon the green grass, and soon there were little companies of fifty, and larger ones of an hundred sitting all over the hillside with their faces turned toward Jesus, who stood looking out upon them as a father would look upon his children. What were they waiting for? No one knew, but they saw Him take the little lad's basket of bread and the two little fishes and look up to heaven, blessing them as He did so. Then He began to break the bread and divide the fishes. As He broke the bread and gave to the disciples they took it away to the people sitting on the grass, and when they came back to Jesus there was still more waiting for them. In this way all the people were fed.

[Illustration: Feeding the five thousand]

When they were satisfied Jesus said to His disciples,

"Gather up the fragments that remain, that nothing be lost."

And they filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the barley loaves that were left.

What a silent and wonderful supper of bread fresh from the hand of its Creator!

At last they began saying to each other in a low voice,

"This is of a truth that Prophet that should come into the world!" and they began to ask each other if it would not be best to take Him at once and make Him king whether he would or would not consent, but when He saw what they wished to do, He slipped away and went farther up among the hills to rest.

Evening had now come, and the people not finding Jesus, went away to their homes, and the disciples in their little ship returned to Capernaum. The people could not understand, nor could His disciples, that Jesus did not come to be an earthly king over the little nation of the Jews. Not until the Holy Spirit came to make all things clear did they understand that He was to be the Spiritual King of all the world.

chapter xxii called back
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