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‘When the morning was come, all the chief priests and elders of the people took counsel against Jesus to put Him to death.’
I. Our Lord’s example.—Christ is given us that all men should follow the example of His great humility. We pray that we may follow the example of His patience. How wonderfully humility and patience shine forth in the example of our Lord. Humility and patience! Is there any condescension to which He does not come? Is there any lowering of Himself from which He shrinks? Could He humble Himself more utterly than He does for our sakes? Could any patience be more wonderful than His? His example is to sink into our hearts. It is to tell on our lives. The mind which was in Christ is to be the mind of Christ’s followers.
II. Types of human character.—The various actors in those great scenes were permanent types of human character. The jealousy of the chief priests, the fickleness of the multitude, the disappointed ambition and lower covetousness of Judas, the moral cowardice of Pilate. How clearly, as one considers it, one sees the trace of characters that still survive, of tempers that are alive today—sins that even now crucify the Lord afresh, and put him to an open shame.
III. The mystery of redeeming love.—A great deal may be learned from books of Theology. But no book, no theory, can take the place, or supply the omission of the study of the Cross itself, of the actual contemplation of the Passion of our Lord. A well-spent Holy Week leaves a man with a far clearer sense of the Divine Love—a far clearer sense of what sin is in the eyes of God.
Bishop H. L. Paget.
‘Pilate saith unto them, What shall I do then with Jesus which is called Christ?’
‘What shall I do with Jesus which is called Christ?’ Pilate in his relation to Christ is typical of many to-day.
I. The expression of a miserable indecision.—Many a man face to face with Christ and religion is the subject of conflicting feelings, is restless, agitated, a prey to the wretchedness of indecision; seeing the beauty of religion, yet fearing to embrace it.
II. An attempted evasion of responsibility.—Throughout the history of Christianity, while granting the greater guilt of priest and Pharisee, Pilate stands responsible for the crucifixion of Christ. Personal responsibility can never be resigned. Others may influence us, the circumstances of life may affect us, but our conduct towards Christ is our own.
III. The declaration of a felt necessity.—A decision is necessary. He must release or condemn. We have to do with Christ. We cannot separate ourselves from Him. We cannot stand apart from Him. We must do something with Jesus which is called Christ.
IV. The precursor of a speedy and fatal decision.—The man who refuses to do what he knows to be right will end in doing what he knows to be wrong. In a little while the decision was declared. The voices of the chief priests and of the multitudes prevailed, and he delivered Jesus to be crucified.’
THE RIGHT ANSWER
‘What shall I do with Jesus which is called Christ?’ Let me try to tell you what I think is the right way to answer this question.
I. Listen to Him.—Pilate asked, What is truth? and never waited for an answer (St. John 18:38). Even our Lord’s enemies confessed, ‘Never man spake like this Man’ (St. John 7:46). His Words are living Words (St. John 6:63). Unchanging, empires rise and fall, but these remain.
II. Come to Him. (See Illustration.)
III. Live for Him.—If you have felt the magic touch of His grace, you will wish and long to live for Christ. He asks us not to die for Him, but to live for Him.
—The Rev. F. Harper.
‘There was kneeling one day in the church a poor collier lad, some ten or twelve years of age. His hair was rough, his clothes were worn and ragged, his feet were bare. His hands were clenched as in prayer—a sad, wistful look was on his face. I knelt by his side: “I want to be good,” he said, “I want to belong to the Saviour; but I could trust Him if only I could be sure that He loves me.” His had been a hard life in the world, poor heart; how shall I convince him of the fact of the love of God? I spoke to him of friends and playmates: “Is there any one you know who would, if need be, die for you?” He was silent as I pressed the question. “Is there one you have ever known who, if you had to die, would be willing to die in your stead to save you?” A moment’s silence, and then with a sweet smile he looked up and said, “I believe my mother would.” In that brief pause he had looked back on life and measured a mother’s love. Perhaps there passed before his mind the vision of her toil late at night to mend his clothes, or earn to-morrow’s bread, and, convinced of the reality of a mother’s love, his heart told him it could be strong unto death. “Then see what Jesus has done”; and I spoke to him of the bleeding Hands and Feet of the Crucified. He bowed his face into his hands as he said, “I can love Him back again, and trust Him too.” That is coming to Christ.’
CHRIST REFUSING HELP
‘They gave Him vinegar to drink … and when He had tasted thereof, He would not drink.’
Why not? The Cross was to be endured with full consciousness.
I. Endurance to the end.—What is our lesson from this last act of self-denial of Jesus Christ? Is it not this, that to suffer pain which we may evade if we will, to endure unto the end, is often the most imperative of duties? A commonplace lesson, indeed; but it is just these commonplace lessons that are hardest to learn.
(a) In the ordinary affairs of business we often see a man lose all profit of his toil, because he will not take the small additional pains which are needed to bring his machinery or his organisation to perfection. After long toil, effort becomes enfeebled, and enthusiasm wanes; and it is only the exceptional man who is so determined of purpose and so completely master of himself that he will endure the pains of labour up to the end.
(b) Or, again, in domestic life, is it not in little acts of self-denial rather than in great that character most truly displays itself? It is often because a man or woman will not give up some trivial indulgence, will not undertake some trivial daily task, that the happiness of a home is endangered.
(c) Or in the personal life of the soul, is it not by small decisions that the religious character is formed? It is, perhaps, in the pains which we experience when we resist temptation that we approach most nearly to that state which St. Paul describes as being crucified with Christ. Our pains are not, indeed, comparable to His. Nay! and yet we, too, must not only endure, but—they are His own words— take up the cross.
II. Fellowship with His sufferings.—There is a pain of renunciation which you are called to endure for a season at least. You may refuse to give up any of your time to the claims of God’s Church or His poor on the plea that you have no leisure. But remember that the pain entailed in the consecration of our leisure to the service of God rather than to the indulgence of self may be the very pain by which we shall best appropriate to ourselves Christ’s message in His Passion. To be crucified with Him means more than to be affected with a passing emotion by the Tragedy of the Cross.
ON THE CROSS
‘Then were there two thieves crucified with Him.’
I. Christ crucified with man.—That there might be no doubt about the disgracefulness of the Saviour’s sufferings, He was hung between two thieves. The Saviour’s life entered into the life of humanity at its blackest. He had left behind heaven, He had left behind even the little heavenliness He had found on earth. All the disciples had forsaken Him and fled. The little flicker of sympathy which he had seen upon the face of Pilate He had lost now. He had come to the company of robbers. ‘There were two thieves crucified with Him.’
II. Man crucified with Christ.—A few short years passed away. The crucifixion of Jesus had been illuminated by the Resurrection, the Ascension, and the Pentecost. It had become already, in the minds of hundreds of men and women, a dear and glorious event. Behind its shame and pain it had opened a heart of love and glory, and St. Paul, summing up his own life in its best privileges and holiest purposes, says,’ I am crucified with Christ.’ See how great the difference is. Before, when Christ was crucified with the two thieves, it was the Son of God brought down into the misery and shame of man. Now, when Paul was crucified with Jesus, it was man brought up into the glory of the Son of God. Evidently there must be another side, a side of privilege and delight, to the great tragedy, or else we should not hear a man cry with a tone of exultation, ‘Lo, I am crucified with Christ.’ As Christ, by His self-sacrifice, entered into the company of man, so there is a self-surrender by which man enters into the company of Christ. He came down to us and tasted on our cross the misery of sin. We may go up to His cross and taste, with Him, the glory and peace of perfect obedience and communion with God. There were two different elements at the Cross—one dreadful, and one beautiful. There was what Christ made for us, the victim, torn and tortured and distressed; and there was what Christ is in Himself, and what He wants to make us, the loving, peaceful Son of God. Christ surrendered Himself and became the first. We, if we can surrender ourselves, may become the second, and share the glory of His crucifixion.
(a) The truth of the Cross must have been Divinely and completely present with Him. That truth was the love of God.
(b) The consciousness of the Cross conveyed a clear and satisfying knowledge of His own position, and the consciousness of obedience. He was doing His Father’s will.
(c) The vision of the Cross was that He would draw all men unto Himself. When He was lifted up He must have seen them gathering.
—Bishop Phillips Brooks.
‘One afternoon a man stood in Antwerp Cathedral gazing at Rubens’ “Descent from the Cross.” He was so absorbed in what he saw, that when the verger came and told him it was time to close the cathedral, he exclaimed, “No, no, not yet; wait until they get Him down.” ’
‘He saved others; Himself He cannot save.’
We must face the fact that Jesus, Who died, is in the world to-day.
I. Apparent failure of the Master.—Judged by the ordinary standards of the world, and according to the capacity of the men who saw the Crucifixion, the Passion of our Lord must have seemed, and did seem, to mark our Lord’s work upon earth as a total failure. To all, even to the disciples who forsook Him and fled, He was one of the things that henceforth must be only a pathetic memory. Only in the light of His Resurrection did the weakness of the Cross become the uttermost sign of the power of God.
II. Apparent failure of the disciples.—And we also, who are beginning to be disciples of the Master, have to bear the experience of what looks like failure. I am not sure that any man bears the yoke of Jesus Christ without coming into contact with the piercing and stinging thought that his life is more or less of a failure. It is not only that noble sense of failure which comes when we fail in our aspiration after some higher power of life than we as yet possess. It is in lower regions. It is when our aspiration, our Christian life, our Christian hope, and our Christian desire have to strike upon the rocks of circumstance. It is when we come out from our vision and our hope of God, and have to pass the deadening and the stinging experience of average standards, and worldly surroundings, and atmospheres. If these thoughts have found their home in any one here, is it not upon the Cross that our Lord comes nearest to us? Do you see why He died, why He failed? He failed and died because He could not be anything except His Father’s Son, He could not, it was not in Him to think of anything else than His true thought for God and man. Therefore He seemed to fail before the idea of men who knew nothing of His ideal, nor His reserve. But, therefore, because for Him the world was well lost, because our Lord failed to triumph according to the standards of His time, therefore it is that we can trust Him to-day. ‘I, if I be lifted up,’ He said, ‘will draw all men unto Me.’ For ourselves we know that there is no failure in the world except one—the failure of character.
III. The true test.—So, then, now in our best moments we can see that it makes more difference to the world that a man shall be good, and shall be true, than that he should do big things, and loom large. It is better, and it is more effective, and more lasting, that a man shall just set himself to be true, to be true to his Lord, to be true to his Lord’s voice in his own conscience. That is the thing that will tell.
—The Rev. H. P. Cronshaw.
‘My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?’
A darkness had overspread the land, and there was darkness in the Saviour’s soul. We may not follow Him, but the awfulness of it we may partly understand from the exceeding bitter cry: ‘My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?’
I. Forsaken for our sins.—It was the loss of the sense of the Presence of God. God seemed so far away that He had to be called back by a conscious effort of the Redeemer. And the reason we know. Christ was burdened with the sin of men. The Lord had laid upon Him the iniquity of us all. God and sin cannot exist together, any more than light and darkness can be found in one. If Christ had not been forsaken for us we should now be inevitably forsaken of God.
II. The sinfulness of sin.—What a wonderful mystery there is about God’s dealings with us and about this fact of sin intervening. What a dislocation in the order of the world sin has produced. On every side we are aware of its consequences, and are blindly indignant at them. We cry for justice, for reversal of human conditions as we know them now. Why is God so silent? Why does He not make Himself felt? Why does He not do something? God’s justice may be slow in vindicating itself, but on the whole it vindicates itself here and now, and we must have faith to believe that it will be wholly vindicated hereafter. It was so in the case of our Saviour Christ; it will be so in ours.
III. But God’s mercy and God’s justice triumph.—Think once more, the agonised cry was not the end; Christ’s death was not the end. He died, yes; but He rose three days later. The triumph of His Cross remained. Therefore let us take courage. Let us not turn back because there comes into our life that suffering which our religion always told us we were to expect—the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings, the fellowship of the Cross—and if His yoke is easy and His burden light, it is not because it is a painless yoke, no, no, but because love will make the pain welcome. Be sure, too, that one day God’s justice will triumph, that what is base will be debased; that if we do not live to see it in our lives, yet in the next life at least there will be the great reward.
The Rev. Lionel Ford.
THE CRY OF AGONY
This is the fourth of the Seven Words from the Cross, and it is the word of Agony.
I. The cry of agony.—First of all, fancy Christ saying, ‘My God, My God!’ Hitherto it has been ‘My Father.’ It is the cry which comes from His perfect human nature. It shows us that we must not confound our Lord’s human nature with His Deity. We cannot understand these things: we cannot understand how He could ‘increase in wisdom and stature’ when He was the Eternal Son of God; but He did. We do not know why He cried, ‘My God, My God’; but He did: it was perfect human nature. It is the cry of Agony. He was born with a perfect human nature that He might die a perfect human death. He was the Man Christ Jesus ‘Who tasted death for every man.’ But He was also God.
II. What made Him cry?—Was it weakness? No. It could not be weakness, because afterwards He cried with a loud voice: He was not exhausted. Was it, do you think, that He had made a mistake and thought that God had forsaken Him? No. He could not make a mistake. He never made a mistake in His life, and not in His death. But had God forsaken Him? How could God forsake God? The only explanation that I can possibly give you is that He willed to feel forsaken that you and I might never be forsaken. It was to teach us the lesson that ‘the Lord hath laid upon Him the iniquity of us all.’ As representing Sin, He had to go through the Passion of seeming forsaken. ‘He became Sin’ (hear the words of Scripture; I do not understand these things, but I believe and worship) ‘Who knew no sin.’ And why did He become Sin? For me. ‘He loved me and gave Himself for me.’
III. God forsaken.—During the Passion darkness came upon the land, and when you have your passion (it may be at midday or midnight, and though the sun be shining in the heaven yet it may be as dark around you as night) you may say, ‘I am a God-forsaken man.’ And He will be near you, I know, and forgive you and excuse you. And when, afterwards, the sun begins to shine upon your life again, and you are sorry you ever said or thought such a thing, you can say to Him, ‘Thou, dear Saviour, didst say in thine Agony, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” I lie down under Thy Cross, and hide myself in Thine Agony, and cover myself with Thy Blood of Redemption.’
The Rev. A. H. Stanton.
THE MYSTERIOUS CRY
Two things we notice about this mysterious cry of the stricken Saviour.
I. The cry.—First of all that it is a question, the only question, which, so far as we are told, was ever uttered to the Father by His lips: ‘My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?’ And the Blessed Son of God seems to put Himself, as it were, with those holy men of old who at different times and stages of Israel’s history pleaded with God concerning His judgments.
II. God’s silence.—And yet, in the second place, how strange it is that to that question there is no reply, as if to teach us of the mystery of God’s dealing with men. What an unspeakable mystery is the Atonement of Christ! We see enough to satisfy our reason to some extent; we see enough to reassure our aching heart, but we cannot fathom the mystery of what Jesus did upon the Cross. Religion does not profess to give us cut-and-dried answers to every futile or unreasonable question that we may ask. All we know is, and that is quite enough for us, that he that followeth the Lord Jesus Christ shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life. And so I suppose in this utterance Jesus shows Himself the helper of the perplexed. Let us be sure that God’s judgments are a great deep, that there is much which in this life at least we must be content not to know, and that our Blessed Lord passed victorious through the pain of perplexity and went forth into the light once more.
III. The faithfulness of the Creator.—And one more thought is this—the thought of the faithfulness of our Creator. Christ does not say, ‘My Father, My Father,’ but ‘My God, my God.’ He appeals to God as a Creater; He commits His soul as to a faithful Creator, and He knows that He is safe. Though a man does not see what is the exact meaning, what is the end of the discipline through which he passes, he may commit himself to God with the faithful assurance that he will not be forsaken. For man is not alone in his search for truth. The Truth is seeking him. And so for our comfort in perplexity let us remember that the Blessed Saviour Himself has got a heart that can sympathise with the perplexed, and that He for Whom we seek here, and for Whom we wait, and for Whom we long, will manifest Himself, if not here, then beyond the veil, and in due season we who seek after Him shall find Him, and we shall reap if we faint not.
The Rev. T. G. Longley.
‘HE DESCENDED INTO HELL’
‘And when Joseph had taken the body, he wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and laid it in his own new tomb.’
Matthew 27:59-1 Peter :
I. The descent into Hades.—The peace of the grave is only an image of the true, deep, conscious peace of the unseen world into which Christ passed at death. He had fulfilled His dying promise to the penitent robber and He had also fulfilled the prophecy of the Psalmist ( Psalms 16:10). St. Paul alludes to the same truth ( Ephesians 4:9-2 Samuel :). Finally we have the testimony of St. Peter ( 1 Peter 3:18-Psalms : and 1 Peter 4:6). We have then abundant proof of the truth of the Article of the Creed, which declares our Lord’s descent into “hell,” i.e. into the unseen world of spirits.
The reasons of this descent
( a) Only by thus visiting the unseen world could he fulfil the conditions of death which are proper to human nature. But being God, He could not be detained.
( b) Further, St. Peter tells us that our Lord descended into Hades to preach to the spirits in prison. We must not understand by this that the place of the departed is a place of gloomy captivity; the word means rather ‘in safe keeping’ or ‘under guard.’ Our Lord went to the souls who were in safe keeping in the invisible mansion of the departed—kept safe under the Hand of God—and preached to them, i.e. preached the Gospel to them; proclaimed the glad tidings that He had come into the world for their salvation; that He had offered the sacrifice of their redemption, and was about to appear before the Father as their Intercessor, in the merits of His own blood. One generation of men, among the penitents of past ages, St. Peter singles out as a type of all,—those who once were disobedient in the days of Noah.
III. A life of growth.—If Christ’s presence is vouchsafed to the faithful departed, then the life beyond the grave is a life of growth in grace. As the knowledge of Christ is more clearly granted to each faithful soul, so each soul rises upwards to perfection. His presence is for ever glorifying the abodes of the faithful departed; and this means that they are ever receiving new graces and advancing to greater heights of holiness. Thus Christ’s work in the unseen world is an abiding work.
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Nisbet, James. "Commentary on Matthew 27". Church Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29