JESUS’ TRUST IN GOD
"He trusted on God."
-Matthew xxvii : 43-
WE are trying to see Jesus as he was. It is surprising that we do not know him better when his image is so vividly portrayed for us in the Gospels. The very familiarity of the story has a deadening effect upon the mind. We have heard so much of Jesus ever since the days of childhood, have heard so many teachers and preachers speak about him, that the mind has hardened and refuses to be impressed by him. Many of us have had faulty methods of Bible study. We have studied the Bible piecemeal, in scraps and patches, getting a knowledge of isolated passages and never putting together the various parts so as to see Jesus as a man among men. We have caught, it-may be, one trait of his lovely character; we have fixed our gaze upon one bright particular star, and have missed the sweep and swing of the constellations; we have picked up a pebble now and then and have failed to take in the curve of the vast shore and the swell and surge of the sea. Our object in all these studies is to see him as he was seen by the men of his time.
We have already found in him the note of strength and the note of gladness, and now let u6 get a little deeper and find out if we can the spring from which strength and gladness flow. How does it happen that this man was so masterful in every situation, and how did it come to pass that he was joyful in the midst of so many shadows? The answer to the question lies written broad on all the pages of the New Testament. His strength and gladness came from his steadfast trust in God. If you were to ask me what is deepest and most fundamental in the character of Jesus, I should say, it was his trust in God. I see not how any one can read the New Testament without feeling that this to him was the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last. It was the heaven above his head, the earth beneath his feet, the atmosphere he daily breathed, the spirit in which he was saturated, the music that ran through all his conversation, the inspiration of all his life. Possibly no better testimony upon this point can be found in all the Scriptures than that taken from the lips of his deadliest foes. We have already found these enemies of Jesus valuable witnesses, and they will not disappoint us here. When he was dying on the cross many people laughed at him and wagged their heads, saying derisive and spiteful things. Among these people, strange to say, there were members of the Sanhedrin, chief priests, scribes and leaders – they all ridiculed and scorned him, and the climax of their vituperation was this, "He trusted on God!" No blacker jeer ever was belched forth from the jaws of hell than that. It is incredible that human beings could be so diabolical as to sneer at a man in the hour of death; but that is what the religious leaders of Palestine did when the Prophet of Galilee was dying. The dark and terrible sentence throws a blaze of light upon the teaching and the conduct of Jesus. His whole course of action had made upon the people among whom he moved the impression that he trusted in God.
Should you ask me for illustrations of this trust, I should be embarrassed not because there are so few but because there are so many. One can dip into the Gospels where he will and find things that bear testimony to Jesus’ trust in God. When only a boy he said to his mother, "Wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?" His last words upon the cross were, "Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit." From that first point to the last point the music of his trust was never broken. He is everywhere and always a man of prayer. At the crises of his life we find him praying. At his baptism and the transfiguration, in the garden, on the cross, he is pouring out his soul to God. Before every important action, in the midst of every difficult situation, at the completion of every stage of work, we find him praying. It was a common thing in Palestine for men to pray, but no man had ever prayed like this man, with such simplicity, with such earnestness, with such boundless trust. Men gathered round him awestruck and said, "Master, teach us how to pray." All Hebrew children were taught to pray from earliest infancy. Prayer was an indispensable feature of Hebrew piety, but men who had prayed from earliest youth felt when they heard this man pray that they had never prayed at all. The word that he applied to God was Father. Only occasionally in the long sweep of the ages had a soul here and there ventured to apply to Deity a name so familiar and sweet, but Jesus of Nazareth always thinks and speaks of God as Father. He names Him this in his own prayers, he tells other men that they also may use this name. To trust in the goodness and mercy of the good Father was his own fullest and most intense delight; to induce others to trust in Him also was his constant ambition and endeavor.
How much Jesus has to teach us at this point. It is often supposed that it is easy to believe in God. The fact is, nothing is more difficult to do at certain times and in certain circumstances. It is easy, indeed, to say that one trusts in God, but really to do it when justice seems dead and love seems to have vanished, that is difficult indeed. Who can study Nature without finding things in it which make it difficult to believe in the good Father? Does not Nature seem to be cruel? Does she seem to have any heart? Do not fire burn and water drown and volcanoes cover cities without mercy? Does Nature not carry on her vast operations with absolute indifference to the wishes or welfare of men? All of the great thinkers who have gazed into the face of Nature have been appalled by her heartlessness and her indifference. Jesus of Nazareth found in Nature fresh evidences of God’s love. Other men noting how the sunshine falls upon the heads of the good and the bad had come to the conclusion that God does not know – God does not care. Whereas Jesus looking on the same phenomenon sees in it fresh evidence of the great heart of ‘the good Father. The rain falls upon the farm of the man who blasphemes and also upon the farm of the man who serves God, not because God is indifferent to the difference in character, but because he is so good that his mercy covers all of his children. just as the earthly parent allows the disobedient son to sit down at the table with his obedient brothers and sisters, so it is the good God who feeds the good and the bad, the just and the unjust, unwilling to show resentment, hoping still that every heart will surrender. To Jesus Nature is a great witness, clothed in light, bearing continuous testimony to the width of the eternal mercy.
But if Nature seems indifferent and cruel, what shall we say of history – the arena in which has been played out the tragedy of human life? What a jumble of mysteries! What a mass of woes! All of the centuries groaning with agony, all of the ages dripping with blood 1 Who can look upon the sufferings of the innocent, or hear the cries of the oppressed, or witness the slaughter of the pure and the good without asking himself: Does God know? Does God care? Right forever on the scaffold, wrong forever on the throne, – so it seems to the man who reads history. Vice triumphs over virtue, dishonesty tramples upon honesty, injustice lords it over justice, hate defies and defeats love. This happens not once but ten thousand times. Some men read the dark and terrible story and give up their faith in God. Jesus looks upon the same scene and gives to it a different interpretation. He sees good men come and offer their services to the world only to be rejected and repulsed. One of them is stoned, another is beaten, another is killed. Their dead bodies are piled up in sickening heaps, but to Jesus this is not evidence of the indifference of God – it is the proof of his long-suffering patience; it is because he is not willing that any should be lost that he keeps on century after century, sending into the world prophets and apostles, heroes and saints, who shall proclaim the message of heaven to bewildered and sinful man.
But if the processes of Nature and the courses of history make war upon one’s trust in God, much more terrible is the conflict that is often necessitated by one’s own personal experience. Many a man has for years trusted in God only to discover when evil fortune came that his trust was not strong enough to stand the shock. The very best and strongest of men when overtaken by misfortune are obliged to readjust their faith. For a while they are stupefied and dazed, scarcely knowing whither to turn or what to think. So it was with job. His faith in God was complete, so he thought; but when his children were taken and his fortune was swept away and his health vanished, he lay upon the ground in his misery crying to God in his pain, unable to see Him either on the right hand or on the left, either behind or before. Many things conspire to blot out one’s trust in God. Disappointment may do it, a man’s fondest dream may come to nothing, his central ambition may fail. One disappointment after another may come upon him until he sinks down vanquished and hopeless, his torch extinguished. Persecution may break a man’s faith in God, the inhumanity of man may turn sour the juices of the heart; the misunderstandings and misrepresentations of men, their hostility and faithlessness, their contempt and their scorn, may render it well-nigh impossible to believe that God rules the world.
Other men are overcome by failure. Nothing to them was so sweet as success. To win success they give the best of their years and all their powers, but in spite of all they can do success does not come. At the end of the day they confess themselves defeated. In the bitterness of their defeat they cry out, "Where is God?" Jesus of Nazareth had all the dark experiences that it is possible for the soul to have. He had a work to do to which he gave all the energy of his brain and his heart. He, had a dream which filled him with enthusiasm, he had a message to communicate which he was certain would drive away the gloom and the woe of the world. He went to Jerusalem to announce it the door there was slammed in his face. He announced it in the synagogues of Galilee, but the people there would not receive it. He then preached it on the street comers of the great cities, but the crowds melted away like snow banks in June. There were at last only twelve men who stood by him, and the hearts of these were so fluctuating that he said, "Will ye also go away?" To these twelve men he gave himself with passionate devotion, pouring into their souls his own very life. But the boldest of them turned out a coward, and one of the most trusted of them became a traitor, and when the crisis in his life came they all forsook him and fled.
But notwithstanding his disappointment, his trust in God was unbroken. In the midst of the
tempest his torch kept on burning, and he cried, "Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world." He was persecuted as no other man before his day or since; he was maligned, abused, execrated. Men called him crazy, others said he had a devil. He was accused of blasphemy, of treason – but his heart remained sweet. Men buffeted him and abused him, hissing at him their ingratitude and hatred, but he said, "The cup which my Father has given me to drink, shall I not drink it?" And then finally he failed. He failed to do the thing to which he had devoted all of his powers – the thing for which he had steadfastly prayed. We do not often enough ponder this – that the earthly life of Jesus was a failure. We dwell upon the things that have happened since his death, and dwelling upon these we see that he has succeeded; but it should never be forgotten that his life on the day of his death was a terrible and heart-breaking failure. Injustice was stronger than justice; unrighteousness was mightier than righteousness; hate was stronger than love. He had tried to induce the world to accept a beautiful truth, but the world spurned him. In the hour of his great defeat he still looked to God saying, "Not my will but thine be done." Defeat itself could not daunt him or make him draw back. If it is necessary, he said, that I should be sacrificed, that I should be trodden under the feet of the men who are thirsting for my blood, if that is the will of the Infinite Father, then to that I gladly submit.
Never was there a man – like this man. Other great and strong men have lived and labored, but never a man like Jesus of Nazareth. John the Baptist was mighty, but when the wind blew he bent like a reed. Simon Peter was a giant, but when the storm raged he began to sink. But Jesus of Nazareth, in the midst of the wildest storm that ever blotted out the heavens and caused the earth to quake, looked steadily toward God, saying, "Not my will but thine be done." Look down across the ages and see the great men, how they are swayed and tossed by the winds and storms; but there above them all there rises this man of Galilee like some majestic mountain, his peaceful head outlined against the blue.