Some such message John the Baptist had already begun to deliver. He, too, had undoubtedly placed himself in opposition to the leaders of the people; for any man who tells people to “reform,” and at the same time enjoins nothing more than repentance and good works, always comes into opposition with the official leaders of religion and church. But beyond the lines of the message of repentance John did not go.
Jesus Christ then appeared. He first of all accepted and affirmed the Baptist’s message to its full extent, and he acknowledged the Baptist himself; nay, there was no one of whom he spoke in language of such warm recognition. Did not he say that among them that were born of women there had not arisen a greater than John the Baptist? Again and again he acknowledged that his cause began with the Baptist and that he was his forerunner. Nay, he had himself been baptised by him, and thereby put himself into the movement which the Baptist began.
But he did not rest there. When he appeared, he, too, it is true, like John proclaimed: “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand”; but his message became one of joy as he delivered it. The traditions about him contain nothing more certain than that his message was an “evangel,” and that it was felt to bring blessing and joy. With good reason, therefore, the evangelist Luke began his narrative of Jesus’ public appearance with the words of the prophet Isaiah:—” The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to ‘preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the broken-hearted, to preach deliverance to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord.” Or in Jesus’ own words:—” Come unto me all ye that labour and are heavy laden and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly of heart; and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” These words dominated Jesus’ whole work and message; they contain the theme of all that he taught and did. They make it at once obvious that in this teaching of his he left John the Baptist’s message far behind. The latter, although already in silent conflict with the priests and the scribes, did not become a definite signal for contradiction. ” The falling and the rising again,” a new humanity opposed to the old, the God-man—Jesus Christ—was the first to create. He came into immediate opposition with the official leaders of the people, and in them with ordinary human nature in general. They thought of God as of a despot guarding the ceremonial observances in His household; he breathed in the presence of God. They saw Him only in His law, which they had converted into a labyrinth of dark defiles, blind alleys and secret passages; he saw and felt Him everywhere. They were in possession of a thousand of His commandments, and thought, therefore, that they knew Him; he had one only, and knew Him by it. They had made this religion into an earthly trade, and there was nothing more detestable; he proclaimed the living God and the soul’s nobility.