Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
January 14, 1971
NUMBER 35, PAGE 4-5a

It Was A Bloody World


Jesus was about eleven years of age. Judas the Galilean gathered a powerful company of reckless patriots, and with wild fury and abandon launched an attack against the king's armory in Sepphoris, a thriving town lying only four miles north of Nazareth. They overcame the guard, seized the weapons, and rallied the men of Galilee in a furious rebellion against the hated Romans. These were the "Zealots" to whom the New Testament writers were later to make reference. The raid on the armory was quite similar in character to that mounted by the fanatical John Brown on the government arsenal at Harper's Ferry, Virginia, two continents away and nearly two millennia later. But the results of the two raids were the same — failure.

The Roman general in command of the forces in Palestine was named Varus. He sent a considerable force to Sepphoris under the command of his friend, Caius. The Romans "took the city of Sepphoris, and burnt it, and made slaves of its inhabitants." Varus then had his men round up all the Zealots they could find, made slaves of those least involved in the tumults, "but such as were guilty he crucified; these were in number about two thousand." (Josephus.)

On that day when Judas was slain and his army scattered, when burning Sepphoris sent up its smoke to heaven and its inhabitants were being violently bound to be carried away into slavery, can anyone doubt that the eleven-year old Jesus was in the fearful and frightened crowd of Nazarenes who must have watched from their hill-top as the neighboring city was destroyed? These were their neighbors, their kinsmen. Nazarene boys had married girls from Sepphoris, and the men of Sepphoris had married girls out of Nazareth. This was no far-off, unknown people who were perishing; these were the closest neighbors and kinsmen that Nazareth knew! And a few days later when TWO THOUSAND men were nailed to the crude Roman crucifixes and suspended between heaven and earth to die in slow agony, their terrible cries of tortured pain must have been heard clearly by the frightened Nazarenes who still were able to look upon the ghastly scene.

The hills around Nazareth were most certainly frequented by the growing Jesus. From the highest hill he could see nearly sixty miles in one direction, and more than twenty miles in two other directions. The mighty sweeping plain of Esdraeton unfolded beneath his eyes. He could see Cannel where Elijah had triumphed over the prophets of Baal and had slain over four hundred of them; he could see Jezreel where Naboth's vineyard had been; Gilboa where Saul and his sons had perished. Beth-shan where their desecrated bodies had been fastened to the walls of the city until rescued by the men of Jabesh-Gilead. He could see the plain where Gideon's little band had destroyed the hosts of Midian. Clearly visible was Mount Tabor and the brook Kishon, with their memories of Barak's victory.

And wherever he looked, north, south, east, or west, he would behold hills and valleys that had been soaked in blood. For Nazareth was at the cross-roads; northern Palestine was the narrow land bridge over which the tramping soldiers had to march in the endless wars between the Euphrates and the Nile. These Galilean hills could be indeed beautiful with the flowers of the springtime; but they had also known the warm rich crimson of human blood as untold thousands had died in anguish and terror.

All of which is simply to say that Jesus was born into a violent and evil world; he lived in it; he perished in it. And he left a gospel of hope and salvation for all those who would be saved from it. He was no stranger to suffering. The anguished cry of the widow and orphan were not unknown to his ears. His world, so far away and so long ago, was so nearly like our world of today that the similarities are startling — and horribly depressing. Will it always be so — wars and rumors of wars, violence, hatred, death and destruction? So long as sinful men inhabit the earth their sinful ways will continue. But because Jesus lived, and died and lived again, there is hope for a different world, "wherein dwelled righteousness." It is in that hope, and by that hope, we live. Without it, man might well despair. But the gospel of Christ is designed for just such a world. It robs the grave of its victory, and death of its sting. Those who live without it are lost forever after a fleeting moment of misery on this blood-stained planet; those who walk in the light have a rendezvous with eternity which no mortal tongue can tell and no mortal mind can conceive.

The smoking ruins of Sepphoris must have terrified the boy Jesus (for was he not human as well as divine?); but because he was God's child he overcame the terror. He overcame the world.

And so can we, bloody though it be!

- F. Y. T.