And could not find what they might do: for all the people were very attentive to hear him.
That Jesus Christ, as a Teacher, had no small share of popularity is beyond all question. "The people were astonished at his doctrine; for his word was with power;" "He taught them as one that had authority." His hearers wanted to know "whence hath this Man this wisdom?" The officers of the Sanhedrin declared that "Never man spake like this Man." His enemies' purpose was defeated: "They could not find what they might do: for all the people were very attentive to hear him." Large companies of men and women flocked to hear him; he had not to seek an audience; he had to seek shelter from their curiosity and intrusion. "Whence had this Man" this popularity? What was the source and the secret of it? There were -
I. THREE THINGS IN SPITE OF WHICH HE WAS POPULAR WITH THE PEOPLE.
1. The depth of his doctrine. Many gain a ready audience with the people by carefully restricting themselves to those truths which their hearers can easily understand: superficialities are generally acceptable. Not so with the great Teacher. He struck far below the surface, and was frequently announcing and enforcing truths which the majority of his hearers must have found "hard to be understood." Many of his utterances were "hard sayings" (John 6:60).
2. The height of his purpose. Christ would have "got on "with the multitude much further and faster if he had but brought down his teaching to the level of their national aspirations. But when they were thinking of something as shallow and as transitory as a political revolution, he was laying broad and deep the foundations of a spiritual, universal, everlasting kingdom of God. The strength and straightness of his charge. "Do you suppose these men were extraordinary sinners? I tell you, Nay; but except ye repent," etc.; "Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye cannot enter the kingdom;" "Except your righteousness exceed the righteousness of the scriber," etc. (Luke 13:2, 3; Matthew 18:3; Matthew 5:20).
II. TWO THINGS WHICH CONTRIBUTED TO, WITHOUT ACCOUNTING FOR, HIS POPULARITY.
1. The illustrativeness of his style. He called to his aid all visible nature, all homely occupations, the familiarities of social and domestic life.
"He talked of grass and wind and taint
And fig trees and fair weather,
And made it his delight to bring
Heaven and the earth together.
He spoke of lilies, vines, and corn,
The sparrow and the raven;
And words so natural, yet so wise,
Were on men's hearts engraven."
2. The fearless front he showed to those who were the worst enemies of the people. He denounced in unsparing terms the selfishness and rapacity as well as the pretentiousness and actual impiety of those who were fastening the bonds of a merciless and oppressive legality on the necks of their victims; and the people looked on with approval and with enjoyment. Men always listen with delight when oppression is unsparingly denounced. They always like to see the mask torn off the face of falsehood. But it is not here that the secret of the popularity of Jesus is to be found.
III. FOUR THINGS WHICH MADE CHRIST'S TEACHING ACCEPTABLE TO THOSE WHO HEARD HIM, and may well make his doctrine acceptable to us to-day.
1. He spoke of those things the truth of which the people most wanted to know. They did not want to know a number of legal niceties and small social and domestic proprieties of which the scribes spoke to them. They wanted to know what God thought of them, and how he felt toward them, and what was the way by which they could gain and claim his favour; what was the meaning and the purpose and the possibility of human life; what followed death; and what was the true hope for the after-time. On such themes Jesus spoke to men, and we need not wonder that "all the people listened attentively" as he spake.
2. He spoke as one that knew. He spoke "with authority, and not as the scribes." "His word was with power. He did not indulge in hair-splitting argumentations, nor in vague and dreamy imaginings, nor in doubtful and unreliable guesses. He spake as one that knew; as one who could speak about God, because he came forth from him, and dwelt with him; about prayer, because he was in constant communion with Heaven; about righteousness, because he himself was pure in heart; about love, because his whole life was one act of self-denial. Oat of the depths of a living soul he gave the known facts of experience, the certain truths of God.
3. His teaching was that of helpfulness and hopefulness. He saw men as sheep without a shepherd, tired out and lying down," wandering, smitten, dying. He grieved over the multitudes that were being misled, and he longed to do them good, to lead them back; he knew that he could help, that he could restore them. So he announced himself as that One who came "to preach good tidings to the poor, to heal the broken-hearted, to preach deliverance to the captive;" he offered himself as One to whom all the heavy-laden might repair, and in whom they would find rest unto their souls. He stretched forth an uplifting hand to those who were thought by every one else to have fallen beyond recovery. He breathed hope and life into despairing and dying ears.
4. His doctrine was sustained by his character and his life. Men listened to him, not only because he "spake as never man spake," but because he lived as never man lived before - in such perfect purity, in such constant devotion, in such self forgetting love, with such gracious and tender sympathy in his heart and upon his countenance. They listened to him with such wrapt attention because they loved him for his goodness and for his love.
(1) Such popularity as springs from such sources as these we may desire and seek to obtain.
(2) For these same reasons we should be as attentive to hear the Master as were "the common people who heard him gladly" when he lived amongst us. - C.
Parallel VersesKJV: And could not find what they might do: for all the people were very attentive to hear him.