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The councils and kings, the orators and lawgivers of Rome, tower out in the backward look of history, when men nearer us in time are lost in the haze. But there is one Roman who shall outlive them all. He held only a petty post in an obscure corner of the Empire, but he sat as judge on Him who shall one day judge the world, and he delivered unto death the Prince of Life. The name of Pontius Pilate, the governor, shall be remembered when every other Roman name may be forgotten.
Pilate, like all men of culture and thought, had ceased to believe in the cruel and licentious gods of Paganism. And with that disbelief had come the usual disheartening conviction that nothing in all the spiritual world could in certainty be known. For in the moment when a man's spiritual world has vanished like a dream or a mirage of the desert, when the credulities of a young and ardent youth have been proved to be false, when he sees the men around him living only for things seen, what is there left for him but a sad and melancholy mental despair? 'What is truth?' asked Pilate in the climax of his interview with Jesus, and Bacon tells us he jested. If he did jest, it was a bitter jest. It was the partly impatient, partly contemptuous, partly despairing word of a man who flings out a question to which he conceives there is no answer at all. And when we look at this well-read, widely thought, bewildered, and gloomy-minded man, we find in him the type of men common enough among us. For there is no word to describe Pilate but one, and that is 'agnostic'. It is Pilate, the agnostic, who stands face to face with Christ.
I. Now let us look at the agnostic in the light of Christ. We see Pilate in three scenes. Mark them well, for they are the steps in an agnostic's progress away from God. We see him in the grey dawn roused from his rest to hear the denunciation of those scrupulous Jewish hypocrites, who will not enter his house lest they should be defiled. We see him with his Roman feeling for justice, refusing to do an act of summary wrong. And then we see him face to face with Jesus alone, and we cannot help a sigh that he did not know his Lord. For Christ's desire here, as always, is to lift all religious inquiry out of the heating and misleading arena of discussion and debate into the region of personal conduct and conviction. It is the attempt to lead the agnostic from his dialectic, to rouse the interest of his apathetic soul, and to make him face the realities of his own life. But it failed. Pilate is stung by the personal appeal, and the quick retort comes back, with contemptuous scorn, 'Am I a Jew?' But Jesus is love that will not let him go, and this clear voice, whose spell never men failed to feel, rang through Pilate's hall in words Church leaders have not yet fathomed, which spoke of that kingdom not of this world that kingdom not of the sword but of the truth. He offered to enrol Pilate as a governor in it. Mark, He does not proclaim Himself as the Son of God. That would have been too high for Pilate, and this Teacher ever stooped to the little ones. He offers Himself as one who came into the world that He might bear witness of the truth. He touched Pilate in his tenderest memories and holiest thoughts and took him back to the days of his youth, when he had dreamed his dreams, and seen his visions of unswerving justice, untainted honour, and ennobling purity. But the agnostic's habit has become too strong for him. It holds him as in a vice, and with the deep, unalterable conviction that Jesus is innocent, he puts his agnostic question, 'What is truth?' breaks off the interview, and passes out from the presence of Christ. When he went out it was the hour of dawn, but the night had begun to fall upon his soul.
II. In the second scene we see Pilate, who has refused to make the question of his religious belief a personal one, become the man of shifts and devices. He goes out to propose Christ's release under a time-honoured custom of the Feast. But the shout for Barabbas teaches him that he has misunderstood the deep hatred felt for Jesus. A second device suggests itself to him. He will scourge Him aye, mark you! with that scourge of thongs tipped with lead, every one of which bit like a scorpion and mock Him, for surely, even their pity will be roused, and they will relent at the sight of the thorn-crowned Man, and their rage will be glutted at the sight. But he might as well have fought the blinding spray of a winter storm, as have opposed himself to these hoarse cries of 'Crucify Him! Crucify Him!' He hurries in to Jesus, anew impressed that He who could so rouse the passions of men, must be more than He seemed, and 'Whence art Thou?' he asks Him, as one might inquire at a spirit. But Pilate's question comes too late. Jesus will not answer. Truth which a man will not accept when it is offered to him, truth which a man will outrage by scourging and mocking, truth which a man will set at naught, that he may escape from a dilemma and avoid a duty, is always silent to such a question as Pilate's.
III. The third scene is the dramatic moment of it all. It is Pilate poor, fear-driven, unmanned Pilate on the judgment seat, washing his hands in water, to declare his innocence, and so chloroform his soul. Ah, perhaps you think that no man could so deceive himself, that Pilate knew that he could have saved Christ if he only had bravely dared. No, that washing of the hands was no conscious mockery to Pilate. He doubtless went down to his house feeling himself justified, for he had reached the most abandoned state of the human soul. He was sinning against the Holy Ghost.
The sweet mysteries of Christ were dark to him, and he was not asked to accept them. But because he would not be true, because he would not live out the truth he knew, because he allowed truth and innocence to pass to shame and to death, he also passed out of Christ's light, and bears an eternal shame. What hindered him? It was in one word, his interests. That, in many forms some as coarse and sordid as assailed Pilate, some as subtle and refined as seduce the man of wavering and bewildered mind among ourselves is the temptation of the agnostic.
W. M. Clow, The Day of the Cross, p. 27.
References. XXVII. 2. J. G. Stevenson, The Judges of Jesus, p. 153. XXVII. 3, 4. John Ker, Sermons, p. 282. XXVII. 3-5. E. M. Goulburn, Occasional Sermons, p. 139. E. B. Pusey, Parochial Sermons, vol. ii. p. 197. XXVII. 3-10. B. D. Johns, Pulpit Notes, p. 112.
Judas's 'I Have Sinned'
The state and history of Judas have, as we humbly trust, through the infinite mercy of God, no exact parallel amongst ourselves.
Judas, we must fear, had already passed into a reprobate state, when he said, 'I have sinned'. For years he had allowed, and systematically pursued, with a show of charity and piety, that sin which God calls the worst, and places the last, in the whole scale of wickedness. He had, probably, some secret hope that Christ might assert His power, and His sovereignty; and that he himself, after all, might have a high place in that temporal kingdom, which they all expected.
I. The Cry of Despair Disappointed everywhere remorse and horror, as they are wont, taking the place of passion the evil spirit that had lured him on now became, first tormentor, and then instigator to despair. Driven by his evil conscience, Judas sought refuge everywhere, and found it nowhere. Not in his money what could that do? 'He cast down the thirty pieces of silver,' with perfect indifference, 'on the floor of the Temple;' and the coldblooded priests, to whom he looked in his misery, said, 'What is that to us? See thou to that.' Not, assuredly, in his own breast. Not in God: he had not sought it there, and though it was not too late to find it, he saw it was too late to seek. And Judas, 'departed, and went and hanged himself,' that he might go to his own place!
II. A Heartless Acknowledgment What was the worth of his 'I have sinned' at such a time? The Greek word for 'sinned' is 'missing the mark'. It conveys a great deal of important and affecting teaching. But Judas meant probably only the literal, without the spiritual, signification of the word. 'I have made a mistake; I have missed the mark.' 'I have sinned, in that I have betrayed innocent blood.'
III. No Touch of Spiritual Truth. His 'I have sinned' was only the acknowledgment of a worldly error. It stands for no repentance. It never touched one spiritual truth.
References. XXVII. 4. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. iii. No. 113. XXVII. 4, 24. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture St. Matthew XVIII.-XXVIII. p. 299. Cox, 'The Son of Loss,' Expositions, vol. i. p. 348. French, 'Pontius Pilate,' Sermons New and Old, p. 134. 'Conscience,' Homiletic Quarterly, vol. iv. p. 554. John Ker, 'Judas and the Priests; the end of evil association,' Sermons (1st Series), p. 282. Parker, Ark of God, p. 54, and Inner Life of Christ, vol. iii. p. 238. Cox, 'A Day in Pilate's Life,' Expositor (2nd Series), vol. viii. p. 107. Jacox, Traits of Character, etc., p. 350. Kitto, Daily Bible Illustrations, vol. vii. p. 426. W. M. Taylor in Three Hundred Outlines on New Testament, p. 32; and see his Contrary Winds, p. 37. A. B. Evans, Sermons, p. 377. C. J. Vaughan, Sermons (1853), p. 81. Pusey, Sermons, vol. ii. p. 276. Simeon, Works, vol. xi. pp. 575, 583. Bishop Hacket, Sermons, p. 483. Bishop Fleetwood, Sermons, p. 444.
When an opponent at Gainsborough falsely accused George Fox of claiming to be the Messiah, the Quaker declares, 'I called the accuser Judas, and was moved to tell him that Judas's end would be his; and that that was the word of the Lord and of Christ, through me, to him. So the Lord's power came over all, and quieted the minds of the people, and they departed in peace. But this Judas went away, and shortly afterwards hanged himself, and a stake was driven into his grave.'
References. XXVII. 5. C. Holland, Gleanings from a Ministry of Fifty Years, p. 287. XXVII. 7. H. J. Wilmot-Buxton, Sunday Sermonettes for a Year, p. 76. XXVII. 11. R. H. Heywood, Sermons and Addresses, p. 37. R. C. Trench, Sermons New and Old, p. 134. H. A. Smith, A Book of Lay Sermons, p. 3. XXVII. 11-26. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture St. Matthew XVIII.-XXVIII. p. 310.
The Two Wills
Matthew 27:12-14 ; Matthew 27:20-23
Never was tragedy so awful or so swift as that which St. Matthew recounts in the chapter from which these verses are taken. And this is because the two elements of all tragedy, the Will of God and the Will of Man, are there combined and running to the same end.
We have all been puzzled by the difficulty of reconciling these two: first, that God willed Christ's death, and, second, that man was guilty of that death.
I. Nothing is clearer from the Gospel than this: that it was Christ's own will to die. He had long set His face steadfastly to Jerusalem. While others still deemed it impossible, His soul lay already under the shadow of the Cross.
Some men make up their mind to die when they feel the stress of circumstance bearing in that direction. But Jesus felt no outward circumstance compelling Him to death. Because it was His Father's will He set His face to the Cross.
He also declared why He must suffer. This was not for martyrdom alone. He had come to bear witness to the truth among a people who, as He pointed out, had with tragic consistency slain their prophets. Yet the burden of truth He brought from heaven was not the only burden He carried. He found another awaiting Him on earth in the sins of men; and this, though sinless Himself, He stooped to bear in all its weight... That is why He was so silent before the Jewish Council and with Pilate. It was not for Barabbas only He was silent. On that day Christ Jesus laid down His life for men.
We do not know what happened to Barabbas. But if he changed, if he led a new life, and as an old legend has it, became a servant of God, it was because he understood the meaning of that silence in which Christ assented to His own death and so let him go free.
We must feel what our pardon cost the love of God, and how much that love in Christ endured for us. Then shall there be born in us a penitence, a faith, a gratitude which will bind us to God, which will give us a hatred for sin, which will beget in us a power of holiness as nothing else can.
II. The way in which human guilt is brought out in this chapter is very tragic. First there is Judas, the only one who accepted his guilt, and it overwhelmed him. The rest shirked their responsibility, and sought to pass it over to one another. But they could not, for the lesson of the chapter is that, where Christ is in question, every man must make decision for himself.
It is significant that our Lord was slain by no mere drift of circumstance, but by the deliberate and confessed choice of men's wills, and that He was doomed to the cross not by the supreme Roman authority, but, before it could pass sentence, by the voice of the people.
They stood outside the court, because on that day it was not lawful for them to enter Gentile precincts. But even so they did not escape, for the governor brought Christ out to them, and in the end every man of them became His judge.
God will have every common man who has known Christ to come to a decision about Him. This was what Christ came into the world for. And we, to whom He has been presented all our lives, can, least of all, hope to escape.
Nor let us fail to notice the hour in which the men of Jerusalem were called to give their decision. The supreme moment in the history of Christ with themselves was not when He came to them as the King in His beauty, but when He stood an equal alternative with Barabbas.
It is not our attitude to our Lord in the easy hours of worship, which determines our true relation to Him. Our real heart for Him is shown, our true relation to Him is determined, far rather in those other, darker hours, when temptation is strong upon us; and we have to choose between Himself and our sin.
G. A. Smith, The Forgiveness of Sins, p. 105.
References. XXVII. 14. Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlv. 1894, p. 42. W. P. Balfern, Lessons from Jesus, p. 73.
I. We need not go beyond the New Testament for the history and character of Barabbas.
1. His name is the first significant thing about him. He is Barabbas, 'the son of the father,' or master. His father was a teacher of the Jewish law, and an expounder of its precepts. He belonged to the religious aristocracy of the Jews. He had been trained in the traditions of Hebrew history, and had been taught that to be a member of the commonwealth of Israel was the proudest privilege a man could enjoy. His childhood and youth had been spent amid the influences of a home whose chief interests were the things of God, whose dominating ambition was the steadfast advancement of His kingdom. He was as nearly as possible in the position of a son of the manse.
2. The second significant thing which we are told about him is, that he had 'made insurrection,' or, as Luke more precisely puts it, 'was cast into prison for a certain sedition made in the city'. At the time of the entrance of Barabbas on his manhood, Jerusalem was seething with discontent The whole nation was palpitating with hope, and lifting up its long shadowed face with expectation that the time of the Deliverer was at hand. 'Art Thou He that should come, or do we look for another?' was John's message to Jesus; and when Jesus was found to be able to sway the multitudes with His words, and feed the hungry with bread, thousands flocked round Him, assured that the long-looked-for King had come. Hope deferred had made the heart sick, but the spirit of the unconquerable Hebrew could not be broken, and in the Holy City itself, and especially under the walls of the Temple, insurrection was continually being plotted, and sedition hatched. There was a fierce and defiant Home Rule party in Judæa, whose unresting aim was to drive the Roman garrison from the Holy Land. Their chosen name was that of Zealots, because of their unquenchable zeal for the restoration of the Jewish Dominion. Out of their ranks came one of Christ's disciples, Simon Zelotes, whom Jesus taught a wider truth and, a better way than his fiery heart had at first conceived. These Zealots were the Invincibles in the Jewish struggle, and it was they who, at the siege of Jerusalem, fought with so desperate a fury that they appalled the veteran and disciplined soldiers of Rome. In their stubborn courage they fell in heaps, defending the breaches in the walls. It was this band of Zealots which was ever fostering sedition and making insurrection in the city. Among their number was found young Barabbas, the son of the Master in Israel, eager to roll away the reproach of his people, hating the Roman rule with an implacable hatred, willing to do and dare anything, if only a Jewish king shall reign again in Jerusalem. Many looked with hope on the eager young face of Barabbas Zelotes.
3. The third significant thing we are told of him is, that he was a robber, and had committed murder in the insurrection. To the last he was no common thief or cut-purse, but a man who had chosen to intrigue and plot, and to take the sword against the Government of Rome. But from the first he had hated Rome more than he had feared God; he had more of the proud ambition of the partizan than the lowly spirit of holy waiting for God, and, at length, his defiant and regardless deeds made him a mark for a keen-eyed and long-armed Government. He was cast into prison, whence he expected to come only to die the traitor's death on the cross.
4. The fourth and only other thing we are told, is that, both by the priests and the people, he was preferred to Jesus.
II. Now, as the Evangelists tell us the story of Barabbas; they focus our attention on one moment of his life. It is that dramatic moment in which Jesus and Barabbas pass out of Pilate's presence together, which is to them so full of pathetic suggestions.
1. The first thought in their minds, as in the mind of every one who knows the story, is the startling and amazing contrast of their fate. A man of genius and skill, in our generation, George Tin-worth, has worked out, in terra-cotta, the scene at this dramatic climax, with a discerning spiritual insight. From one door, passing before Pilate's judgment-seat, there issues Barabbas, smiling in exultation. The soldiers grasp him by the hand in rude congratulations. His friends seize him in transports of joy. The mob hails him with acclamation. By the other door, held by the hard grip of the callous soldiers, seeing no kindly face looking towards Him, confronted by the relentless hate of the infuriated multitude, there issues Jesus. In all the crowd there is only one discerning, pitying heart. The artist has placed, not very far from Christ's door, a woman with a little child in her arms, and she turns on Jesus as He passes her wondering and compassionate eyes. The woman with the child, alone of all the throng, sees whose is the victory and the unfading glory. That is a master touch. To this day men walk our streets, and sit in our high places, with the triumphant pride of Barabbas, and neither they themselves nor others know how completely they have failed.
2. The second thought which attracts us is how much Barabbas missed. We cannot help thinking of what might have been in the case of Barabbas. As we recall his radiant youth, his eager patriotism, his daring courage, his chivalrous devotion to Israel, we feel the soul of goodness that throbbed behind this man's life, his ardent abandonment to what he conceived to be the kingdom of God. This man, we see, might have been, and ought to have been, a disciple of Jesus. The very thing he so dimly and darkly saw, the thing he so fondly desired the revival of the ancient glory of Israel was being fulfilled by Jesus.
3. One other thought is plainly in the minds of the Evangelists. It is the madness and folly of the choice of the multitude. We can detect a note of pity for this befooled and blinded multitude, who chose a robber and murderer in preference to Jesus. We share this mingled amazement and sorrow. These Evangelists have caught something of the prayerful compassion of Jesus for those who did not know the time of their visitation. This multitude did not know whom they were rejecting, and did not know that they were closing the book of their history, fixing their eternal destiny, and quenching with their own breath their one hope of temporal peace and spiritual greatness, when they cried: 'Not this Man, but Barabbas!' But the crowd of condemning faces on which Jesus looks is larger than that which pronounced His doom in Jerusalem.
W. M. Clow, The Day of the Cross, p. 85.
Reference. XXVII. 16. Jesse Brett, The Soul's Escape, p. 28.
Envy's Evil Work
That quiet, simple sentence in this condensed report of Christ's appearance before Pilate always arrests the mind. It is the statement by the evangelist of the inner judgment of Pilate. He had discerned the motives which lurked behind the air of justice on the part of the chief priests and elders. He knew the men with whom he had to deal. The sight of Christ, and the short interviews he had with Him, convinced him, not only of Christ's innocence, but of His spiritual majesty. But he was a man caught in the trap of his own past. Had his past been unstained, his action might have been different. He discerned the character of Christ He was awed and touched by His greatness. 'He knew that for envy they had delivered Him.'
I. Let us first inquire what envy is. Envy must be distinguished from other passions which are sometimes confounded with it. There is a wise and commendable emulation which is far from envy.
Envy must also be distinguished from jealousy, although the one word in common speech is often interchanged for the other. Jealousy is the child of love love that believes itself wronged, injured, robbed of its due.
Envy is the child of hate. Envy does not long to run in the race and claim fellowship with those who excel. Envy does not seek the love and the well-being of the person envied. Envy is a gnawing hate, an inward grief, a wasting impatience of spirit, the souring of the heart, the distemper of the soul, 'a rottenness of the bones'.
There is in the Chapel of the Arena, at Padua, a significant fresco, by Giotto, of 'Envy'. Giotto's representation is that of a man of mean, misshapen figure, with crouching shoulder, and craning neck. He stands in profile in the picture with lean cheek, sunken, averted eyes, one hand clutching a wallet of gold, the other stretched out with fingers shaped into claws. The ears are large, unshapely, distended. Out of the mouth there plays a serpent, whose fangs are striking Envy himself on the brow. Around the feet there leap up flames of fire. A master conception this of this passion of envy! Take one or two of the features. These large, distended ears are meant to signify that envy is on the alert for every babble of slander. The serpent in the mouth points to the poisonous insinuations, the fabricated stories which the tongue of envy is eager to tell. The hands, clawed like a vulture's, set forth the tearing motion and the clutching greed of the envious spirit; and the flames of fire round the feet mark the torture and despair in which envy lives a torture and despair which are of hell. When we look at Giotto's picture, and read the story of the trial before Pilate, we no longer wonder at the quiet sentence, 'He knew that for envy they had delivered Him'. We understand that envy is no excusable resentment, no trifling meanness of the spirit, no transient passion, but a deep-seated, over-mastering, indwelling spirit of evil, which reaches its final expression when it hales its victim to his cross.
II. Let us now, in the second place, watch the consequences of envy.
1. Its simplest effect is to blind the mind; that is part of its confusion and evil work.
2. It also poisons the heart. As a poison strikes through the body and fevers the blood, so envy galls and fevers the heart.
3. The climax of evil consequence is reached when envy crucifies Christ.
III. But let us consider the remedy for envy. Envy may often visit the heart without reaching the climax of its consequence. There is no one who has not had a touch of envy at times. The man of saintly character and assured faith has found the subtle passion slipping into his heart, in some unwatchful moment, and troubling his peace. In one of the most thoughtful and uplifting of the Psalms this experience is detailed, and the sin and its remedy are disclosed. 'My feet were almost gone, my steps had wellnigh slipped. For I was envious at the foolish, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.' And the Psalmist tells us the doubts that troubled his mind, and the darkness that fell upon his spirit. But he recovered. 'When I went into the sanctuary of God, then understood I their end.' Standing in the sanctuary he was illumined, the vision of God was given him again; the baseness of the things he had envied was borne in upon him; the manner of his envious desire stood clearly forth, and in God's light he saw light clearly.
W. M. Clow, The Day of the Cross, p. 71.
Another of Badman's sins, 'among the foulest villanies... rotting the very bones of him in whom it dwells,' was envy. Bunyan quotes Matthew 27:18 to show what he means: 'For he knew that for envy they had delivered Him'. It is a certain malignant hatred of good, the lowest conceivable depth of wickedness. Its root is ignorance. For this we are usually held not to be accountable, but to Bunyan, whether we are accountable or not, was not worth debate. It was 'ignorance' which preferred Barabbas to Jesus.
Mark Rutherford, John Bunyan, pp. 183, 184.
Reference. XXVII. 18. J. Parker, City Temple Pulpit, vol. ii. p. 156.
Pilate's Wife Moral Influence of Women
Of Pilate's wife nothing is known but the bare fact, recorded by St. Matthew alone, that she interceded with her husband in favour of a prisoner who, for some reason unknown to us, had aroused her sympathetic interest.
Tradition says that her name was Claudia Procula, and that she was a Jewish proselyte. The Greek Church has canonized her, and she ranks among its saints.
The fact that this Roman lady felt so deeply about Jesus that she risked offending her husband by interposing in a matter which lay beyond her proper sphere is of many-sided interest.
I. It serves to illustrate in an undesigned way the profound impression made by our Lord upon women in every case where they came under the spell of His influence.
II. The incident may be used in illustration of the common remark that womanly instinct sometimes hits the mark while masculine calculation goes astray. So far as we know, the sole protest against the counsel and deed of those who forced on the tragedy of Calvary was the protest of a woman.
J. W. Shepard, Light and Life, p. 72.
Every religion may be tested, ethically and practically, by its appeal to womanhood. That faith which outclasses every other in its power to meet the needs of woman, and uplift her to moral beauty, will stand every other test of the truth of God. When Christ came with His meekness and lowliness, His searching and uncompromising hostility to sin, His compassion for weakness, and His great cross of love and atonement, womanhood fell down at His feet in a surpassing loyalty, and Christ placed a crown on her head. It was a man of Macedonia whom Paul saw in his vision, but it was a woman who listened by the river-side, and first made response to Christ. And to this day the voice of Christ finds its clear echo in women's hearts, and both gentle and simple are found reaching their noblest and highest when sitting at His feet.
It is then precisely what would have been expected, that amid the sad scenes of the tragedy of Christ's last day on earth, there should be told us this idyll of Pilate's wife. The story shines on the page like a strong gleam of sunshine on a winter day. It is a word of radiant prophecy in the record of a history laden with sorrow.
I. The first thing I remark about Pilate's wife was the sorrow and shame of her life. There is no doubt but that a tender love subsisted between Pilate and his wife. This cruel and worldly man had this redeeming virtue left him, as such men sometimes have. The altar flame of love had not gone out. The proof of this mutual love lies in the fact that she accompanied him to Jerusalem. A Roman governor was forbidden by law to take his wife with him to his province, very much for the same reason as a ship captain is forbidden to take his wife to sea. That law could be broken only by a strong personal appeal. But in that imperial age, hastening with swift strides to an unspeakable corruption, husbands were only too willing to be freed from a wife's watchful eyes, and wives were as willing to be left to live their butterfly lives amid the gaieties of a profligate Roman world. But Pilate's wife was more than eager to face the loneliness of a life among an alien people. Love broke even a stern Roman law. But how far apart had these two drifted although their love still persisted. The young Pilate whom the woman had idealized, whose face had flitted through the dreams of her youth, whose career she had so hopefully anticipated, had deteriorated into this sordid, cruel, vengeful, murderous man. The women of Jerusalem who saw Pilate's wife looking out from her lattice, and caught the flash of the gems on her white hands, and marked the pride of her patrician face, and envied her ease and state, never guessed how wistfully she looked upon them, and how constant was this cloud of sorrow and of shame, because she knew herself to be the wife of a dishonourable man.
II. The second thing I remark about Pilate's wife is her service to her husband. 'When he was set down on the judgment seat, his wife sent unto him, saying, Have thou nothing to do with that just man.' It was a deed of singular daring. It was the last resource of a loving heart making one more appeal. To send a message with the attempt to sway the mind of the judge while he sat upon the seat of judgment was a punishable offence, and only the awfulness of the deed she saw about to be done could have moved her to it. Pilate may have smiled at her dream, but her words stung his conscience, and had there been any way of escape for this hardly pressed man, had he had courage to brave his fate, gladly would he have set Christ at liberty, and gone home to look with the eyes of a man, redeemed from his evil fate, in the face of her whose love had almost saved him.
That is the highest service a wife can do for her husband to stand in the shadow while he faces public light; to be ever his counsellor, his helper, his gentle and yet unfaltering preacher of righteousness aye, to be his saviour is her noblest office.
III. The third thing I remark about Pilate's wife is her intercession for Christ.
And so to this day Pilate's wife walks at the head of all that long procession of nobly-born, and nobly-placed, and nobly-gifted women who do service for Christ. She leads the noble army of saintly martyrs and confessors. There follow in her train queens like Helena and St. Elizabeth of Hungary, women of generous hand like Lady Huntingdon, and of saintly wisdom like Lady Glenorchy; and those even greater and more devoted women, enshrined in the Book of Martyrs and the Scots' Worthies, true Ladies of the Covenant, who, when Christ, in His persecuted saints, walked again the way of weeping, cast aside their pride, placed no value on their rank, reckoned light the suffering, and stepped into the way with Him. Surely we shall not say too much when we believe that the name of Pilate's wife, though not written on this page, is written first on the roll of those women who laboured much in His Gospel, 'whose names are in the Book of Life'.
W. M. Clow, The Day of the Cross, p. 99.
References. XXVII. 19. G. Lorimer, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lvii. 1900, p. 243. J. G. Stevenson, The Judges of Jesus, p. 129. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxviii. No. 1647.
Christ, a Perplexity
I. We may crucify the Saviour in many ways when we do not seem to be crucifying Him. That is the very subtlety of the devil's temptation. There would not seem to be any wickedness in not forgiving a man who had injured you very much and who had prayed for your pardon. If any soul has ever asked you to forgive him, that soul supplied you with the greatest opportunity of being a Christian that ever was supplied during your whole experience To plead for mercy and not to receive it, the case being between two human hearts, that would stab the Saviour with a sixth wound.
There is another thing you can do with Christ: you can admire Him. Many persons admire Him, and get their livelihood out of Him: paint His portrait, surround His head with haloes, give His mother a nimbus, and give Himself as a Babe an aureole; all that you can do, but that is nothing. I have great fear of those who have not passed beyond the point of admiration. Jesus Christ came not to be admired, but to be believed, received, served. He is all, or nothing, and less than nothing.
There is a third thing you can do: you can adore Jesus. Now you are coming to higher ground. You can fall down before Him, you can offer Him your gold and frankincense and myrrh, not of mere gold and material, but of real reverence and love and faith, so that He shall be fairest among ten thousand and altogether lovely; not in form, but in the poetry of His meaning, in the ideality of His desire.
There is a fourth thing you can do: you can serve Him. What is 'to serve Him?' It is to suffer for Him. Do we serve Him? is His service a delight? if our lives were deprived of His service would they go down in music, in quality, in hope, in force? If you can say, Yes, then you are in very deed serving the Christ.
II. There are three things you cannot do with Christ.
1. You cannot get rid of Him. Some men may think they have dismissed Him, but they have not. It is Christ's habit, as it always has been from resurrection time, to appear unto some in 'another form'.
2. You cannot mistake Him for some one else. That is curious. The uniqueness of Christ is one of the greatest arguments in Christian apologetics. There is none to compare with Him.
3. You cannot change the terms of discipleship. They are severe terms. He never admits anybody easily into His kingdom. What is the way into the kingdom? The Cross is the only way. What is the object of discipleship? The Cross is the object of discipleship. Can I not have some ornamental cross, some ivory crucifix, and place it on my breast and say, Behold my tribe and my Master? No, this must be a heart-born Christ, this must be a cross that throws its shadow, yet its light, over the whole life. 'If any man would be My disciple, let him take up his cross daily and follow Me.'
Joseph Parker, City Temple Pulpit, vol. v. p. 184.
Last year about this time our Lord was, as it were, upon the Mount of Olives. He rode, as it were, triumphantly at the head of a small party to the market-cross of Rutherglen, and many cried 'Hosannah to the Son of David,' for a few days after. But since the 22nd of June, 1679, how many have cried out, 'Crucify Him, crucify Him, away with Him: we will have no more to do with Him. Christ is too dear a Lord for us. These field-meetings of His are too costly for us. We wish there had never been any of these field-meetings in Scotland!'
From a Sermon by Richard Cameron
References. XXVII. 22. S. H. Kellogg, The Past a Prophecy of the Future, p. 144. W. Howell Evans, Sermons for the Church's Year, p. 102. V. R. Lennard, Passion-Tide and Easter, p. 45. T. Teignmouth Shore, The Life of the World to Come, p. 125. R. Baldwin Brindley, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxxviii. p. 136. David Purves, ibid. vol. lxx. 1906, p. 70. T. Waugh, The Cross and the Dice-Box, p. 201. C. Perren, Revival Sermons in Outline, p. 164. A. Goodrich, British Weekly Pulpit, vol. ii. p. 189. C. Stanford, The Evening of Our Lord's Ministry, p. 256. XXVII. 22-50. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxix. No. 2333.
Pilate Washing His Hands
I. The first point to notice is the vain plea for wrongdoing.
Pilate excused himself to himself on the ground that policy and self-defence forced him to his act. He could say 'I am innocent' because he said, 'I am obliged to connive at this crime'. Though in his case the plea is for a gigantic sin, and in our case it may be for a comparatively small one, the same sort of thing is being said by us continually.
There is nothing necessary for a man which he can only get or keep by tampering with conscience. There are two things needful for us: God and righteousness; and there is no third.
And in another way, the pleading of compulsion from without, as an excuse for evil, is evidently vain; because no man and no thing can force us to do wrong. We know, in each specific case, that, however strong the temptation may have been, we could have resisted it if we would, and that therefore the yielding to it was our act and ours only.
II. Notice here the possibility of entire self-deception.
This man had managed to persuade himself, on a very rotten plea, that he was entirely free from guilt in his act. And the fact that the man who did the most awful of crimes though perhaps he was not the most guilty could do it with the profession, to some extent sincere, of innocence, may teach us very solemn lessons.
You can persuade yourself that almost any wrong thing is right, if only you desire to do so. Inclination can silence conscience. The rush of passion can silence conscience. The very stress of daily life tends to weaken the power of pronouncing moral judgment on the things that we are doing. We all have sins altogether unsuspected by ourselves. There are plenty of us that do just as Pilate who condemned himself in saying, 'I am innocent of the blood'.
III. Notice how here we get an illustration of the impossibility of wriggling out of responsibility.
It is very interesting to observe how the parties concerned the conspirators, if I may say so in this great tragedy try to shuffle the blame off their own shoulders and to place it on others. If there is anything a man's own, of which he cannot get rid, it is the burden of responsibility for his acts, and the inheritance of their consequences.
IV. Note the contrast between present and future estimates of our acts.
Pilate probably went back to Cæsarea after the feast, thinking that he had got well out of what threatened to be an awkward business; and in all likelihood he never thought any more, either about that strange Prisoner, or about that stormy session in the Hall of Judgment. We have not to measure his guilt. It depends upon his knowledge, and his knowledge was very slight. But, for all that, one cannot help thinking of the shock of surprise which struck him when he passed beyond life, and ceased to be a governor and a judge, and stood at the bar of the Man whom he had condemned.
The same reversal of present and future estimates will come about with many of us. 'That fierce light which' flashes from the 'throne' will show the seaminess of many a life which looks fairly well by the candle-light of this present.
A. Maclaren, The Wearied Christ, p. 222.
References. XXVII. 24. A. F. Winnington Ingram, The Men Who Crucify Christ, p. 20. XXVII. 24, 25. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxviii. No. 1648. G. F. Browne, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxxix. 1891, p. 184. H. Ward Beecher, Sermons (1st Series), p. 92. XXVII. 24-31. C. Stanford, The Evening of Our Lord's Ministry, p. 289. XXVII. 25. R. W. Hiley, A Year's Sermons, vol. i. p. 189. Father Bernard Vaughan, Society, Sin, and the Saviour, p. 155. Hugh Black, University Sermons, p. 212. XXVII. 26. W. P. Balfern, Lessons from Jesus, p. 210. XXVII. 27. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxix. No. 2333. XXVII. 27-54. Ibid. vol. xlviii. No. 2803; vol. 1. No. 2887. XXVII. 28. W. P. Balfern, Lessons from Jesus, p. 213.
It is so easy to be orthodox in creed and statement; so safe to rest in a merely traditionary belief, that many a decorous Christian fails to perceive the sure though invisible connexion between the life-confession and self-denial of a merely outward profession, and the broader form of denial by which all such profession is derided. Yet between Christ mocked and Christ rejected there is but a step; who shall say how easily it is taken, or how quickly we pass from the hollow homage, the 'Hail, Master!' which mocks our Lord, to the smiting and buffeting of open outrage? When Christ is invested with but the show of sovereignty, the reed placed in His hands will be quickly taken, as by the soldiers, to smite His head. This reed is nominal Christianity, a strange slip of a degenerate vine, beneath whose blighting shadow a poison-growth of unbelief never fails to root itself.
The whole history of Christianity shows that she is in far greater danger of being corrupted by the alliance of power than of being crushed by its opposition. Those who thrust temporal sovereignty upon her treat her as their prototypes treated her Author. They bow the knee, and spit upon her; they cry 'Hail,' and smite her on the cheek; they put a sceptre in her hand, but it is a fragile reed; they crown her, but it is with thorns; they cover with purple the wounds which their own hands have inflicted on her; and inscribe magnificent titles over the cross on which they have fixed her to perish in ignominy and pain.
Macaulay on Southey's Colloquies.
References. XXVII. 29. G. H. Morrison, The Return of the Angels, p. 34. W. H. Brookfield, Sermons, p. 216. C. Jerdan, Pastures of Tender Grass, p. 304. B. D. Johns, Pulpit Notes, p. 25. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xx. No. 1168; vol. xlix. No. 2824.
A month before his death, on 'Sabbath, 21st September,' says Dr. M'Crie, 'Knox began to preach in the Tolbooth Church, which was now fitted up for him. He chose for the subject of his discourses the account of our Saviour's crucifixion, as recorded in the twenty-seventh chapter of the Gospel according to Matthew, a theme upon which he often expressed a wish to close his ministry.'
Reference. XXVII. 32. F. D. Huntington, Christian Believing and Living, p. 338.
That spiritual beauty and spiritual truth are in their nature communicable, and that they should be communicated, is a principle which lies at the root of every conceivable religion. Christ was crucified upon a hill, and not in a cavern, and the word Gospel itself involves the same idea as the ordinary name of a daily paper.
G. K. Chesterton.
References. XXVII. 33, 34. G. Body, The School of Calvary, p. 26. XXVII. 33-44. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. li. No. 2942. XXVII. 33-50. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture St. Matthew XVIII.-XXV1II. p. 317.
The Unconscious Service of Christ
The drink offered to Jesus was a narcotic. It was offered in mercy and it was offered by those opposed to His doctrines. It was given by the Roman soldiers with a view to mitigate His pain.
I. The act is deeply suggestive. It is an act of friendship performed by antagonists. We are in the habit of dividing the world into Christians and non-Christians. To which of the two classes did these Roman soldiers belong? They were certainly not followers of Jesus; but neither were they against Him. I am told that at the Day of Judgment those will be on the right hand who gave Him drink, and those on the left hand who did not. But here on earth, He has received drink from those apparently on the left hand. Roman soldiers have sought to assuage His sufferings!
II. Is it not the same still? We are so fond of sharp divisions that we forget the intermediate shades; but God does not. There are men among us who at this hour are helping Jesus, and who yet profess to yield no allegiance but to Caesar. They are numbered among the legions, not among the saints. Yet, wherever the Son of Man is crucified, they are there.
III. Wherever humanity is heavy-laden, wherever souls are sad, wherever bodies are burdened, wherever days are darkened, wherever man is mastered by the physical, you will find them there. In the den of poverty, by the couch of pain, at the bed of languishing on the track of fallenness, you will find them there. Where Noah combats the waters, where Abraham journeys homeless, where Jacob lies on a stair, where Joseph weeps in a dungeon, where Moses mopes in a desert, where Elijah hides in a cave, where Job pines in an infirmary, where the Son of Man fasts in a wilderness, you will find them there. They see not the vintage and the gold; but they bear the vinegar and the gall.
G. Matheson, Messages of Hope, p. 249.
The Endurance of Pain
In the reports of the Passion preserved for us in the Gospels, we are told that at three different times on that first Good Friday was a draught offered to our Lord; and if we read the narratives with care, we shall observe that these draughts were not only offered Him under entirely distinct circumstances, but that His attitude with reference to them was distinct in each case.
I. Let us take first what St. John tells us. All things being now accomplished, we read that Jesus cried out in His agony that He was athirst; and some of the soldiers in tardy mercy took pity upon the patient Sufferer, and offered Him a draught of the sour wine provided for their own use. And Jesus received it, and crying out, 'It is finished,' bowed His head, and breathed out His spirit.
'All things were accomplished.' He had done that for which He had come. And so He no longer keeps back the cry, 'I thirst'. The lesson is this, that pain, as pain, is of no moral value at all. To suffer a useless pain that had no place in the economy of redemption; and it has no place in the life of redeemed humanity. When all things were accomplished, Jesus accepted the bracing draught.
II. But yet pain of a sort, of a bitter sort, comes to us all. How are we to meet it? Let us carry our thoughts back to another and earlier scene at Calvary. 'And the soldiers,' says St. Luke, 'also mocked Him, coming to Him, and offering Him vinegar, and saying, If Thou be the King of the Jews, save Thyself. The wine-cup was offered in mockery to the King Who was in truth in their midst, though they knew it not. But He endured it all in patience and sadness. All things were not accomplished yet. It does not need that tragic story to teach us that there are some pains of life which are not in our power to evade. We had best endure them in silence. The cup of insult may be offered to us; it does not rest with us to say whether we shall accept or reject it.
III. But the commonest pains of life are those which we at once ought to endure and which we could evade if we chose. As St. Mark has it, 'They gave Him to drink wine mingled with myrrh: but He received it not'. 'When He had tasted thereof, He would not drink,' says St. Matthew. Why not? The Cross was to be endured with full consciousness. The cup which His Father had given Him He would drain to the dregs. All things were not yet accomplished.
Philosophers have taught us that there are different kinds of fortitude. There is the fortitude which will endure without murmuring the pain that we cannot escape; but to endure pain that we may escape, if we will that is the true courage. This was the fortitude of the Divine King on the cross. And perhaps, without too curious prying into the purpose and manner of the Atonement, we may see in one direction at least that the conquest that has been achieved by the Gospel of Christ would not have been inspired by a Victim even a Divine Victim unconscious at the last.
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?
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 organization to perfection. The same is true in science, it is true in art, it is true in every department of human activity. A French proverb tells us that it is the first step which costs; but in truth the last step is as often the one which is critical.
J. H. Bernard, Via Domini, p. 154.
References. XXVII. 35. F. Case, Short Practical Sermons, p. 104. T. G. Selby, The Cross and the Dice-Box, p. 3. W. J. Dawson, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlii. 1892, p. 349.
The Words From the Cross ( good Friday )
Jesus Christ's death on the cross was not only a sacrifice for our sins, but was also part of His great example. He there taught us how to suffer. Let us listen to the few words which came from those patient and holy lips, that we may learn something of the spirit in which, when our hour of suffering comes, we ought to take it.
I. We may very possibly have to suffer through the fault of others; or, when we are suffering, it is possible that others may be hard or unkind to us. When those trials and temptations come, let us stop and think of Him Who was nailed to the cross. What were His first words when the nails had pierced His hands and feet, when the cross was set up, when the malice of His enemies had at length compassed what it sought, when the cup of agony was full? Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do. Jesus forgave the murderers who crucified Him. Jesus made an excuse for their cruel malice.
II. When we suffer, we generally think only of ourselves. We think that we have enough to bear without troubling ourselves about the wishes or sorrows of others. But watch Jesus Christ on the cross. Watch Him after that long morning of racking agony to nerve and to spirit. Wearied, worn, exhausted, dying, He sees His mother, and the disciple whom He loved. In His own bitter suffering, He sees how they are suffering; He thinks of them; He thinks of what would be a comfort and support to them. Woman, behold thy Son!... Behold thy mother!
III. Nor did He think only of those who belonged to Him His mother and His disciples. There was a poor wretched criminal, a murderer and a robber, the outcast and the offscouring of society, hanging at His side, hung there to do Him greater dishonour to show Him to the world as worthy to die with the vilest malefactors. Yet, in the midst of His own torments, amid the jeers and brutal mockery of this miserable man's companion, He was willing to receive and be favourable to this poor creature's petition. How should we like, in moments of pain, in the hour of death, to be asked to consider the wants, and to minister to the comfort of an outcast, friendless soul, all its lifetime abandoned to hardened sin? We dare not answer for ourselves. We dare not think what we should do. But we know what the Redeemer did. We know that He did not grudge him words that the greatest saints would have hailed with rapture Today shalt thou be with Me in Paradise.
IV. To most of us, pain and sickness seem to bring a release from ordinary duties. We feel ourselves free from the obligations which lie on us in health. We think we need not be so strict. It is one of the great trials of suffering, that it makes us indifferent to what becomes of us, careless of our duties, and of other people who depend upon us. But in those times, think of Jesus Christ on the cross. He thought of fulfilling to the uttermost all that was appointed Him. It had been said of Him that He was to drink the vinegar, so He asked for it. He said, I thirst. He did not put it from Him as a needless, useless interruption in the midst of racking pain and faintness. He would not go till He could say, It is finished.
V. There is one strange and awful sentence of those which He spoke on the cross which we must sometimes have wondered at. My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken Me? Surely those are not the words of despair and distrust. What they fully mean, it would be dangerous to ask, for they are the words of the Incarnate Son of God in man's nature. But no more comforting words than they to our poor, weak, fainting nature, were spoken on the cross. On the cross Jesus Christ utters the same cry as His weak and fainting creatures. He takes David's words in the twenty-second Psalm and makes them His own; not to teach us to cry out against God; not to teach us to distrust God; not to encourage us to give way to hard thoughts of our Father in heaven; but to give us comfort, that if we have such feelings rushing into our minds sometimes, they need not be wrong ones, unless we make them so by our impatience and repining and want of faith.
VI. Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit, and having said this, He gave up the ghost. There He has taught us how to die. Say what we will, death is an awful parting. We love life, and it is hard to take leave of it, hard to lay it down. But here is our lesson. Let these words of Jesus Christ ever be in our hearts while we are in health, that they may be ready to come to our lips when we are dying. We must learn to say them from our hearts, in the hours of pain and sickness, that we may learn to say them as Christ said them when the spirit is almost gone. 'Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit.' R. W. Church, Village Sermons (2nd Series), p. 133.
References. XXVII. 36. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture St. Matthew XVIII. -XXVIII. p. 325. Cosmo Gordon Lang, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lv. 1899, p. 209. J. Parker, City Temple Pulpit, vol. vii. p. 280. XXVII. 39, 40. W. C. Magee, Christ the Light of all Scripture, p. 165. XXVII. 40. H. Arnold Thomas, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxxviii. 1890, p. 247. R. W. Hiley, A Year's Sermons, vol. iii. p. 136. XXVII. 41-43. R. Dalby, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xl. 1891, p. 221. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture St. Matthew XVIII.-XXVIII. p. 332.
These are true words, but they were spoken by men who did not know how true they were. They describe the situation with exactness.
I. Looking back over the life of Jesus, as it is set forth for us in the Gospels, we see that, at every stage of His life, at every new departure in His work, these two alternatives were somehow set before Him If He is to save Himself, He cannot do His work; if He is to do His work, He cannot save Himself.
From the tempter at the outset of His ministry, from His mother and His brethren during the course of it, from His disciples and Peter as it drew near its close, from the chief priests, elders, and scribes while He hung on the cross, and from the thief, who desired Him to use His Messiahship for His own benefit and theirs, from friend and foe alike, came the suggestion that there was an easy, a less costly way of accomplishing His work. From first to last, from whosoever the suggestion came, Jesus resolutely and steadfastly set it aside. Nor was it merely from those who thus presented the alternative to Him that the thought came. In the agony of the garden He asked if it were possible for the cup to pass? 'Father, if Thou be willing, remove this cup from Me.' With strong crying and tears He asked if it were possible to find a less costly way of doing His work.
II. We should miss the strength and comfort which should come to us from the devout study of our Lord's life, if we did not realize that all these suggestions which we have enumerated called Him to a real decision, and led Him to a greater victory. It was a real situation which always met Him, and at each step there was a possible parting of the ways, and He always had to make a real choice; and He chose the upward, thorny path which led to the agony of the garden and the death on the cross.
III. In our way and in our measure, we are also ever called on to make a similar choice. To each of us a mission has been given, a task has been assigned, and a work has been given to do. Each of us has only one life to live, one place to fill, one work to do. It can only be accomplished if we have a clear vision, a pure heart, a good conscience, and a resolute will.
J. Iverach, The Other Side of Greatness, p. 18.
Sauve qui peut , Bonaparte is said to have exclaimed at Waterloo, along with his routed army. At all events this was the rule by which he regulated his actions, in prosperity as well as in adversity. For what is Vole qui peut! but the counterpart of Sauve qui peut! ... What an awful and blessed contrast to this cry presents itself, when we think of Him of whom His enemies said, He saved others; Himself He cannot save! They knew not how true the first words were, or how indissolubly they were connected with the latter, how it is only by losing our life that we can either save others or ourselves.
References. XXVII. 42. J. W. Brown, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xliii. 1893, p. 390. W. Scott Page, ibid. vol. lxii. 1902, p. 418. J. Baines, Twenty Sermons, p. 139. W. Hay M. H. Aitken, Mission Sermons (2nd Series), p. 169. C. W. Furse, Sermons Preached at Richmond, p. 32. XXVII. 43. C. E. Jefferson, The Character of Jesus, p. 135. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxiv. No. 2029. XXVII. 45. H. E. Manning, Sin and Its Consequences, p. 201. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxii. No. 1896. XXVII. 45, 46. Frederic Watson, The Seven Words from the Cross, p. 54.
The Cry of Dereliction
What do these words mean?
I. We cannot explain that cry as a momentary failing of human courage or human conviction. Every line of the Gospel forbids us to do so.
Think of His Name and why He bore it. 'He shall be called Jesus, for He shall save His people from their sins.' He Who was 'in the form of God 'could not be happy in heaven while the cry of the world which He had created was beating upon His ears. He had spoken often and not in vain, through Prophets and Psalmists and holy men, and now the time had come for the last supreme appeal, the sovereign proof that what He bade His people be He was Himself. And therefore He went forth and took upon Him the form of a servant and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. He went forth and He went down. He could save; but only by going down, with His Divine Nature upon Him, into the very depths of the world; by getting under all the evil, and lifting it up with the strength of His own shoulders, and the suffering of His own body, soul, and spirit.
II. Now how far did He go down? He had suffered whatever man can suffer, betrayal by a friend and disciple, denial by the chief of His Apostles, degrading insults and bodily anguish, such as we shrink from putting into words. And now at the last came those jeering priests. And He must have asked Himself, What are these men? and where are they? And beyond the indifference of the ignorant and careless, beyond the cowardice of timid friends, beyond the animal cruelty of rough soldiers, beyond and below all this, He must have seen and entered a lower depth still the mind of those who knew or ought to know, who had read their Bibles, who thought themselves the chosen people of God, and yet could crucify their Christ, and then could mock and jibe with the vilest; of the vile at the foot of the cross the mind of those who are in the outer darkness, hating the light. For one black moment He became as they, that He might be able to save even them.
Then came that loud cry was it 'Father, into Thy hands I commit My Spirit'? was it 'It is finished'? a loud triumphant cry. God is the Father again, the horrible vision has passed, and the end has come.
III. It is horrible; and yet it is the condition of power and success. For what is the horror? It is the sense of God's absence, the feeling of abandonment in the outer darkness. And who can feel that except those who know what God's presence means? Only those who have tasted of love, joy, and peace can understand what evil is. Others may see the outward symptoms of evil, the squalor, the vice, the hopelessness; they alone know the root of the disease, and therefore the way to cure it. Doctors tell us that you cannot cure symptoms. You can alleviate them, and it is a duty to do that, if you can do no more. But to cure you must get down to the cause, and is not that the absence of God? and can you make men understand that unless you know all that it means?
Let this mind be in you, says St. Paul in the Epistle, which was in Jesus Christ Go down like Him and suffer and learn, in His name and in His strength.
Charles Bigg, The Spirit of Christ in Common Life, p. 274.
The Fourth Word From the Cross
I. We are told in the Bible that there was a great darkness over all the land, from the sixth hour till the ninth. And in the midst of this outward darkness it would seem that our Lord remained quite silent till at last He uttered these words, 'My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?' Why was this darkness? Was it to point out our Saviour as the Light of the world? When He was born at Bethlehem a bright star appears; when He dies the sun veils His face. Let us catch from it this certain truth, He was the true Light. Jesus is come to be a new light to man, a new revelation, a new force, a new light for men to walk by to God.
II. But these words of our Lord, though perhaps the most difficult, have been as fruitful as any in comfort to the simple-hearted. They have been a comfort in helping good people when tempted to despondency. Here they have looked up and have seen, as it were, our Lord, not in bright cheerfulness but in darkness, and they have heard His voice crying, 'My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?' as though He were depressed in soul. As we have seen Him suffering outwardly in the body, so this was some inward agony of the soul, the crucifixion, so to speak, of His heart. And He cried, 'My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?' It was an extreme agony as though He were being shut out from the presence of God. Not that there was any sense of being actually lost; not that there was any sense of God's wrath upon Himself; because it is still, ' My God, My God '.
III. We need to be more careful, perhaps than we are, about desponding thoughts. They may be very much checked by being watchful over our imaginations. Be careful of indulging your imaginations, either way, towards success, which may lead you to vanity; towards failure which may lead you to despondency, to despair, to unworthy distrust of God. Do your best to keep in check this power of the imagination, and if you like many saints before you, yea like our Divine Master have sometimes to pass through a cloud in the journey of life, do not be afraid, if you sometimes have to feel that you are left, deserted; look up to Him, and listen to His word, which He has uttered for our consolation, our hope, 'My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?' Bishop King, Meditations on the Last Seven Words of Our Lord Jesus Christ, p. 37.
ACCORDING TO THE SCRIPTURES
They are the words of the greatest Commentator on the Old Testament that the world has ever known. When Christ presents the Passion Music of the twenty-second Psalm, the experience with which from that moment the ancient words become redolent as they ascend to Him Who is throned above the praises of Israel, makes their citation on Calvary the supreme instance of 'The Psalms in Human Life'. Enriched as they have been with fresh associations of joy and sorrow in every age, it is the crowning triumph of this wonderful book that it was able to express Golgotha.
I. The Realism of Christ. One thing at least which becomes at once apparent as Jesus uplifts this deep-throated chant upon the evening air is the intense realism of His nature. There is no dreamy idealism or sentimental mysticism in Him Who reigns from the Tree. He has all the living interest in sensation, in the actualities of experience, which marks the largest personalities. We see why it was that He refused the draught of medicated wine, which would have mitigated suffering and deadened pain. There awaited Him a fuller and more satisfying experience than the most crowded hour of glorious life, to see of the travail of His Soul, and to taste death. It is a mark of true nobility, befitting a Richard Grenville or a Robert Browning, to be ready to bear the brunt of the last conflict with unbandaged eyes. But what shall we say of a Spirit like that to which these great words bear witness, as He surveys the scene of His Crucifixion and the agony of His inward experience, nor fails to interpret either to the ear of succeeding generations? Jesus Christ is never more miraculously real than in the hour of death. He reigns because He lives. Every moment as it passes is real to Him. This is a necessary element in the highest type of influence. It is not only to the men of business, heaping up riches and therefore walking in a vain show, that the self-absorption, the other-worldliness, the unpractical quietism of the saints is an offence and a barrier. Natural instinct puts us on the side of Lippo Lippi. We feel that if the world is to be redeemed, it must be first loved, realized, and, above all, seen. The taste of wine, the scent of roses, the bustle at the street corner, the play of facial expression, the children crying in the market-place you, who would fain bear aid to the human race, will accomplish little if you do not appreciate these things. Fact must be a very sacred thing to you something axiomatic, a postulate which must be conceded as the condition of your taking life seriously. Docetism leads nowhere. A phantom Christ cannot redeem. That, it may be said in passing, is the appropriate criticism of a theology which sits loosely to the empty tomb or the Virgin Birth.
View it how we will, there can be no doubt that it is not the thought but the Passion of Jesus that has moved the world. This wonderful capacity for experience, not the sweep of His intelligence, is the true warrant of His power to redeem. With Him there are no aristocratic exemptions. He belongs to the painful people. What He tholes is the measure of what He works. Christ with His touches of things common belongs entirely to the realm of reality. His reach extends to the whole gamut of human experience. He sees, He hears, He feels. So perfectly does He bear that, far from forgetting His sufferings, He can make them equally with the impressions of sight and sound the object of a contemplation unspoiled by self-pity. 'They pierced My hands and My feet; I may tell all My bones.' Is not this the plain inference from the words that rise to His lips when at last the time for utterance has come? He muses upon the Psalm, He cons it over, He fits its passages to the blood-red experience of the Tree; His thoughts are hot within Him till His meditations find a voice, and at the last He speaks with His tongue.
II. The Transcendence of Calvary. It requires no doctrine of inspiration, no theory of the relation of prophecy to fulfilment, to see that when with loud voice Jesus cried, 'My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?' He proclaimed from the Cross, as from a universal pulpit, that Calvary is God's transcendent act, whereby He has taken to Himself the shame and sorrow of a guilty race, and out of failure has perfected praise. Never, while the world lasts, will the imagination of Christendom cease to dwell on the weird correspondence between the incidents of this marvellous Psalm and the successive episodes of the Passion. Never will the Christian believer cease to recognize the power and presence of that purposeful Spirit which reaches from one end to the other, guiding towards its appointed consummation the progressive destiny of mankind. But it is the mind and will of Christ Himself that have given to the language of this ancient poet their true significance and undying power. From the day when the Crucified took these words upon His sacred lips they have become Christ's own commentary on the Cross. 'We behold Him, Who hath been made a little lower than the angels, even Jesus, because of the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour.'
J. G. Simpson, The Guardian, 25 February, 1910.
The Saviour's Question on the Cross (For Good Friday)
We remember how our Blessed Saviour was withdrawn into a deep silence for some considerable time before He spoke these words. There is very much to be learned from the silence of Jesus Christ. It teaches us how we may most fittingly bear the chastisements of God.
Two things we notice about this mysterious cry of the stricken Saviour. 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.
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.
And one more thought is this the thought of the faithfulness of our Creator. He does not say, 'My Father, My Father,' but 'My God, My God'. He appeals to God as a Creator. 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 sympathize 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 Word of Agony ( for Good Friday )
This I would term the Word of Agony. The word of Tender Care and the word of Agony come close together, but it is significant.
In the cry ' Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani ?' our Lori goes back to the Syriac, His old vernacular. You have heard people who are in a great agony going back to their old language: it often happens. So our Lord goes back to His old vernacular, and cries ' Eli, Eli ,...' which being interpreted is, 'My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?' the most mysterious of all the words. First of all, fancy His 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.
I. What made Him cry, then? 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.
But, to be forsaken of God! We cannot get out of it, because it is so personal. 'My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?' If God forsook a sinner we could understand. But the Saviour! 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.'
II. There are times when you and I have come very near to Atheism. When things have gone entirely wrong; when the nearest and dearest have been taken away from us; when all our hopes are shattered, we have said to ourselves, 'Well, I doubt really whether there be a God at all. At any rate, if there is one, He has forsaken me!' I do not say that you have passed, but I do say that you may pass, through this gloom. For 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'.
Such words may not have been uttered, but such despair has been felt by preachers, reformers, and prophets of old time and of all time by Job, David, and Isaiah; by John the Baptist, St. Francis, Savonarola, George Fox; by Tolstoy and Mazzini. Lama Sabacthani is often the last cry of men whose life seems to end in ignominious failure, but whose very groans have a vital force long after they are gone.
References. XXVII. 46. George Macdonald, Unspoken Sermons, p. 163. A. G. Mortimer, Lenten Preaching, p. 200. C. J. Vaughan, Words from the Cross, p. 43. W. Newman, Meditations on the Seven Last Words, p. 51. W. Wade, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxi. 1902, p. 123. C. Stovell, ibid. vol. lxv. 1904, p. 197. A. F. Winnington Ingram, ibid. vol. lxxiii. 1908, p. 276; see also Addresses in Holy Week, 1902, p. 78; Lenten Addresses, p. 64. G. W. Herbert, Notes of Sermons, p. 92. V. S. S. Coles, Good Friday Addresses at St. Paul's Cathedral, p. 25. W. Morison, Passio Christi, p. 20. C. J. Ridgeway, Thoughts for Good Friday, p. 33. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxvi. No. 2133; vol. xlviii. No. 2803. F. E. Winslow, Plain Preaching to Poor People (10th Series), p. 37. J. E. Vernon, Meditations on the Seven Words from the Cross, Plain Preaching to Poor People (6th Series), p. 34. A. N. Obbard, Plain Sermons, p. 222. J. Pulsford, Our Deathless Hope, p. 92. S. D. McConnell, A Year's Sermons, p. 71. F. E. Paget, Plain Preaching to Poor People (9th Series), p. 109.
In His work for man it is the constant fate of God to be misunderstood.
References. XXVII. 47-50. W. Pulsford, Trinity Church Sermons, p. 119. Parker, Inner Life of Christ, vol. iii. p. 248. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxii. No. 1869. J. Keble, Sermons for Holy Week, p. 264. T. R. Stevenson, Christian World Pulpit, vol. v. p. 328. A. P. Stanley, ibid. vol. xvii. p. 193. G. Macdonald, Unspoken Sermons, p. 163. R. M. McCheyne, Additional Remains, p. 183. Preacher's Monthly, vol. i. p. 294. C. J. Vaughan, Lessons of the Cross and Passion, p. 150. Clergyman's Magazine, vol. ii. p. 153; vol. iv. p. 89. Homiletic Quarterly, vol. i. p. 60. W. H. Aitken, Mission Sermons (2nd Series), p. 169. XXVII. 48, 49. W. V. Mason, Short Addresses for Holy Week, p. 32. XXVII. 50, 51. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxiv. No. 2015. A. G. Mortimer, One Hundred Miniature Sermons, vol. i. p. 239. XXVII. 50-53. Spurgeon Sermons, vol. xxxiv. No. 2059. XXVII. 50-54. Ibid. vol. xxxix. No. 2311. XXVII. 51. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture St. Matthew XVIII.-XXVIII. p. 341. XXVII. 52, 53. R. M. Benson, The Life Beyond the Grave, p. 43. XXVII. 54. R. W. Hiley, A Year's Sermons, vol. iii. p. 136. S. W. Skeffington, The Sinless Sufferer, p. 93. XXVII. 55. H. R. Haweis, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lvi. 1899, p. 24. XXVII. 55, 56. A. F. Winnington Ingram, Addresses in Holy Week, 1902, p. 30. XXVII. 56. B. D. Johns, Pulpit Notes, p. 78. XXVII. 57-60. T. A. Gurney, The Living Lord and the Opened Grave, p. 1. XXVII. 60. V. R. Lennard, Passion-Tide and Easter, p. 107. XXVII. 61. T. A. Gurney, The Living Lord and the Opened Grave, p. 19. R. M. Benson, The Life Beyond the Grave, p. 12. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxiv. No. 1404. XXVII. 63. E. Fowle, Plain Preaching to Poor People (2nd Series), p. 39. XXVIII. R. Steer, The Words of the Angels, p. 72. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xliii. No. 2518.
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Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Matthew 27". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany