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Chapter 15. The Civil Trial
"And straightway in the morning the chief priests held a consultation with the elders and scribes and the whole council, and bound Jesus, and carried Him away, and delivered Him to Pilate. And Pilate asked Him, Art Thou the King of the Jews? And He answering said unto him, Thou sayest it. And the chief priests accused Him of many things: but He answered nothing. And Pilate asked Him again, saying, Answerest Thou nothing? behold how many things they witness against Thee. But Jesus yet answered nothing; so that Pilate marvelled." Mark 15:1-5.
The Sport of the Persecutors.
The assembly of the Sanhedrin at which Jesus had been examined and sentenced, the account of which Mark has given us in the previous chapter, was really an informal, not to say illegal, assembly. For this meeting was obviously held in the early hours after midnight, and the Sanhedrin could not hold a legal sitting until daybreak. So, to regularise their proceedings, they seem to have met again in a formal way as soon as day had dawned, and then ratified the decisions they had come to in the small hours of the morning. Probably the meeting did not last many minutes. And if you want to know how these men spent the time that intervened, you have the story told you in Mark 14:65. "And some began to spit on Him, and to cover His face and to buffet Him and to say unto Him, Prophesy; and the officers received Him with blows of their hands." Priests and elders began the sickening sport and then the servants joined in. Here is an abyss of horror into which we shudder even to look. Do you remember the story Froude tells about the preaching of Newman at Oxford? Froude says that Newman was once describing closely some of the incidents of our Lord's Passion, the insults and coarse indignities that were heaped upon Him. He then paused. For a few moments there was a breathless silence. Then in a low, clear voice, of which the faintest vibration was audible in the farthest corner of St Mary's, he said, "Now, I bid you recollect that He to Whom these things were done was Almighty God." "It was," says Froude, "as if an electric stroke had gone through the building, as if every person present understood for the first time the meaning of what he had all his life been saying." And if we, too, would realise the shame and horror of that Mark 14:65, which says how some began to spit on Him, and to cover His face and to buffet Him, and how the officers received Him with blows of their hands, we too must recollect that He to Whom these brutal things were done was Almighty God.
The Resort to Pilate.
But daybreak brought the cruel sport to an end. "Straightway in the morning the chief priests with the elders and scribes and the whole council held a consultation, and bound Jesus and carried Him away and delivered Him up to Pilate." The formal session of the Sanhedrin was held; the solemn farce was soon over, and a few minutes after daybreak Jesus with arms bound behind Him was on His way, attended by priests and elders en masse, to the palace of Pilate the Governor. The priests and elders would fain have dispensed with the necessity of submitting the case to Pilate at all. They had pronounced Jesus guilty of blasphemy and therefore worthy of death, and they would like to have put an end to Him off-hand. But to Pilate the Governor, much against their will, they had to make their appeal. So with Mark 15:2 in this chapter begins Mark's account of what we may call the civil trial of Jesus.
The Civil Trial.
Like his account of the ecclesiastical trial, Mark's account of the civil trial is incomplete. When we compare Gospel with Gospel, we find that in the civil trial, as in the ecclesiastical trial, there were three distinct stages. (1) First of all Christ was taken to Pilate and briefly examined by him, the result being a declaration on Pilate's part of Christ's innocence. (2) Then, He seems to have been taken to Herod and tried before him, on the ground that being a Galilean, He belonged to Herod's jurisdiction. (3) Then, finally, He was brought back to Pilate for another examination. The upshot of it all was that He was condemned to death, not because He was guilty, but to appease the murderous hate of the Jews. Now of these three stages in Christ's trial, Mark says nothing at all about the second. He satisfies himself with an epitomised account of the two trials before Pilate. It is with the first of these trials the paragraph of the text deals. And even this account is, as I have said, epitomised. If you want to have the full account of what happened at Christ's first appearance before Pilate, you must supplement what Mark says by what the other evangelists and especially the fourth have to say.
The Accusers and the Governor.
The course of events seems to have been something like this. The whole Sanhedrin escorted Jesus to Pilate's palace. They knew their man. Pilate was a person who could be coerced and frightened. And the size of the deputation was deliberately meant to compel Pilate to yield to their will. They foresaw there would be difficulty in securing the condemnation of Christ. They knew that legally they had no case. By going all together they wanted to make Pilate feel that the demand for the death of Jesus was a national demand, and that, if he refused to yield to it, he would have the entire nation to reckon with. Pilate lived, during his stay in Jerusalem, in the Praetorium, a gorgeous palace, once the residence of Herod the Great. Towards that palace then the crowd tumultuously made its way. But when they reached the palace, they rigidly refused to enter. By entering the palace they might have incurred ceremonial defilement and so excluded themselves from the solemnities of the festal season. What a revelation of perverse religion! What a revelation of a twisted moral sense! These men were afraid, as Dr Glover says, of a little leaven, but they were not afraid of innocent blood; they were scrupulous about entering an unswept room, but they were unscrupulously bent upon the murder of the Holy and the Just; they were punctilious in the observance of religious ritual, but their hearts were aflame with the fires of hell. When religion degenerates into mere ritual it becomes full of deadly peril to the soul. There is something deadening, hardening, morally stupefying in religion, when it ceases to be a spirit, and becomes a set of rules.
The Accusers and their Purpose.
But, to return to the story. Seeing that they refused to enter the palace, Pilate had, however, unwillingly to come out to them. He took his seat beneath one of the porticoes, and Jesus bound was set before him. "What accusation bring ye against this Man?" he asked the mob of priests and elders. Perhaps this was more than they expected. Perhaps they had hoped that Pilate would be content without enquiry just to confirm their sentence. But Pilate, with all his faults, had the Roman sense of justice in him, and if he had to sign the death-warrant he insisted on knowing the crime; he declined to be executioner unless first he had been judge. The priests reply that unless Christ had been a malefactor they would not have brought Him to Pilate. "Very well," Pilate answers, "take Him and judge Him." They would gladly have done so; they had indeed already done so but what they could do to Jesus would not satisfy their hate. They blurted out the truth, saying, "It is not lawful for us to put any man to death." Death! nothing less would satisfy their hate. That being so, Pilate insists again upon knowing Christ's crime. The crime of which the Sanhedrin found Christ guilty was the crime of blasphemy. They sentenced Him to death because He said that He was the Son of God. But that was not the charge they brought forward now. They knew Pilate would have brushed such a charge contemptuously aside. So, in accusing Jesus to Pilate, the priests and elders changed their ground. With brazen impudence they charged Him, not with blasphemy, but with treason. They made practically a three-fold charge (judging from Luke's account). They accused Him first of perverting the nation, secondly, of forbidding the payment of taxes to Caesar, and thirdly, of stating that He Himself was an anointed king.
The Accusers and their Charges.
All this argues almost incredible baseness, for to begin with the charges were outrageously false. Fancy charging Jesus with forbidding to pay tribute to the Emperor in face of that word of His, "Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's." And they were not only false, but on the lips of the men who made them, they were impudent as well. Pilate knew that, in their heart of hearts, every man in this crowd was a rebel against Rome. Yet now in order to hound Jesus to death they affected an enthusiastic loyalty. In their thirst for the blood of Christ they were ready to trample upon their religious and their national hope. But Pilate was not deceived by this sudden access of enthusiasm for Rome. He knew that for envy they had delivered Him. Now that is the point at which the proceedings had arrived when Mark takes up the story. The priests and elders had just hurled their accusations against Christ, including as the crowning accusation of all, the charge that He made Himself a king. Pilate thereupon withdrew within the palace and took Jesus with him, that he might examine Him quietly as to these charges they brought against Him.
The Kingship of Christ.
And that was the first question he asked, Art Thou the King of the Jews? The form of the question expresses blank incredulity. The Greek brings out the tone of the question much better than our English rendering. "Thou!" so the Greek reads. "Thou! art Thou the King of the Jews." Thou! He looked at the Christ, and he knew that the charge of treason was absurd. The person he saw before him was poor and worn; He was friendless and alone; He was clothed in peasant garb; His face bore the traces of the foul usage He had endured in the judgment hall. Pilate looked at Him and he knew that here was no rebel against Rome. The charge of aspiring to kingship was, in Pilate's eyes, plainly absurd. Judge therefore of the surprise he felt when in answer to his question, " Thou, art Thou the King of the Jews?" Jesus replied, "Thou sayest," or as it might be translated to bring out its full meaning, "It is exactly as you say." Just exactly as He had avowed Himself the Son of God to Jewish priests and elders, so He avows Himself a king to the Roman Governor. Pilate was to be left without excuse. He was to be under no delusion as to the person with whom he was dealing. Here was no ordinary prisoner; no common malefactor. Here was One Who made the most stupendous claims for Himself. And there was something in the Lord's bearing that ratified and confirmed His claim. "It is exactly as you say," said Jesus, and Pilate knew it to be true. It was not in ignorance Pilate crucified the Prince of Life. He knew what He was doing. Christ confessed Himself a king, and Pilate in his heart of hearts admitted the claim to be true. It left his crime without excuse.
No Threat to Rome.
But while Christ confessed His kingship and so left Pilate in no mistake as to the person with whom he was dealing, He at the same time revealed to him the character of His kingship, so as to make it clear that He in no way threatened Caesar's rule. His kingdom, He went on to say to Pilate, was not of this world. He was no rival to Tiberius. Had He been a rival to Caesar He would have commanded His servants to fight; instead of that, He had ordered Peter to put his sword back into its sheath. His kingdom was not of this world. Caesar reigned over men's bodies. Christ wanted to reign in their hearts. Christ was no rival to Caesar, but by this claim He set Himself far above Caesar and every other earthly potentate! He claimed to be King in the realm of the eternal and the spiritual! He claimed to be the supreme Lord of conscience! He claimed to be the final answer of God to the enquiring spirit of man! The Truth! The truth about God, the truth about man, the truth about life and death and the hereafter, it is all in Christ! There may have been other pioneers in the kingdom of truth, other seekers and enquirers there were prophets and psalmists and philosophers and seers before His day but in the kingdom of truth He is sole and undisputed King! And the honest soul gladly acknowledges His kingship; the man of sincere and guileless heart does homage to Him; the man who is true and wants to be true bows down to Jesus. "Everyone that is of the truth heareth My voice."
The Failure of Pilate.
"Everyone that is of the truth heareth My voice," He said, and in that word there was an appeal to Pilate. The Lord was fighting for the soul of Pilate. Pilate saw the truth, but he was not of it. And so, instead of responding to the Lord's appeal and manfully taking his stand on the side of truth, he sneered, "What is truth?" and never waited for an answer. That was the moment of Pilate's collapse, that is the real condemnation of Pilate, he saw the truth and refused to obey it. He saw the gleam and refused to follow it. The truth still confronts us in Christ and claims our allegiance. What do we do with Him? Do we listen to Him? Do we obey Him? Do we follow Him? Christ is still the test of character. He reveals the bias of men's hearts. If the heart is honest it cannot help but love Him. "Jesus," it cries, "the very thought of Thee with sweetness fills my breast." But if the heart repudiates Him, disowns Him, rejects Him, it can only be because the heart is evil. Our attitude towards Christ fixes our place. "Everyone that is of the truth heareth My voice."
The Silence of Christ.
Pilate's failure to respond to Christ's appeal may account for Christ's subsequent unbroken silence. When Pilate turned on his heel with that sneer on his lips, "What is truth?" and faced the mob outside, it was to tell them bluntly that he found no fault in the prisoner. With his Roman sense of justice, he brought in a verdict, "Not guilty," and if left to himself would have acquitted Christ on the spot. But the priests and elders did not mean to be baulked of their prey. They began to clamour out one charge after another. "The chief priests accused Him of many things." And in the midst of the clamour and the tumult Jesus stood there calm, unmoved, silent. Never a word did He attempt to say in reply. Pilate wondered at it. He had never known a prisoner like this. "Answerest Thou nothing?" he asked, "behold, how many things they accuse Thee of." But Jesus declined to break His peace. "He no more answered anything, insomuch that Pilate marvelled." This silence of Jesus, what are we to make out of it?
The Silence of Innocence.
(1) It was the silence of conscious innocence and holiness. "Answerest Thou nothing?" asked Pilate in astonishment. There was no need to answer. The accusations fell harmless. Christ stood there clothed in the garb of a holy character, and let the charges refute themselves. Men had but to look at Him, and they knew these charges were absurd, ridiculous, lying. "If you throw plenty of mud," said Newman when replying to Kingsley, "some of it will stick. Stick," he said, "yes, but it will not stain." The mud the priests flung at Christ could not stain Him, did not even stick to Him. His very presence gave the lie to every accusation, He was obviously holy, harmless, undefiled. And not only does His silence testify to His innocence, but also to the calm serenity of spirit. "There are few tests of a man's spiritual condition more searching and decisive," says Cotter Morison, "than the temper with which he bears unmerited insult and railing speech." Christ passed through that searching test in perfect triumph.
The Silence of Judgment.
(2) But it was more than a silence of conscious innocence, I cannot help feeling there was an element of judgment in it. "Jesus no more answered anything." No more! There had been a time when He had been willing to speak to priests and elders. But a few minutes before He had gladly spoken to Pilate! But high priests and elders had received His declaration of His Messiahship with shouts of "blasphemy," and Pilate had turned aside His appeal with a sneer, "And Jesus no more answered anything." They had hardened their hearts, and He ceased to speak. They had refused to listen, and so He became silent. He refused to give that which is holy to the dogs and to cast His pearls before swine.
The silent Christ! The incident is full of solemn teaching and warning. Man is in sore plight when the Lord becomes silent to him! Does He ever become silent? There is a solemn Bible word which says, "My Spirit shall not strive with men for ever," and it is a tragic fact of experience that men may so harden themselves in sin that conscience shall cease to speak and they shall become impervious to all holy appeals. It is at our peril we neglect and reject the Gospel appeal. For that is when Christ becomes silent, when we refuse to listen. To the listening and responsive soul Christ is never the silent Christ. Before we call He will answer, and while we are yet speaking, He will hear.
Chapter 16. Barabbas or Christ?
"Now at that feast he released unto them one prisoner, whomsoever they desired. And there was one named Barabbas, which lay bound with them that had made insurrection with him, who had committed murder in the insurrection. And the multitude crying aloud began to desire him to do as he had ever done unto them. But Pilate answered them, saying, Will ye that I release unto you the King of the Jews? For he knew that the chief priests had delivered Him for envy. But the chief priests moved the people, that he should rather release Barabbas unto them. And Pilate answered and said again unto them, What will ye then that I shall do unto Him Whom ye call the King of the Jews? And they cried out again, Crucify Him. Then Pilate said unto them, Why, what evil hath He done? And they cried out the more exceedingly, Crucify Him. And so Pilate, willing to content the people, released Barabbas unto them, and delivered Jesus, when he had scourged Him, to be crucified." Mark 15:6-15.
The Final Stage of the Trial.
The third and final stage in our Lord's trial was the most protracted of the three. Mark does not tell the whole story here. Pilate tried one device after another to escape from the necessity of condemning an innocent man, and yet to avoid coming into open conflict with the priests and the Jerusalem mob. His struggles were as hopeless and as pitiable as those of a bird caught in a net. I need not rehearse the story of his shifts and evasions. You can read it for yourself in the pages of the other Gospels. Mark contents himself with noting just one of the stratagems to which Pilate resorted. He records this particular one because it really marks the crisis of the trial. When this failed Pilate had no expedient left. He knew himself doomed to defeat. He realised that he could not stand against the relentless hate of priests and people. The end of the story has all the tragic inevitability of a fate when you know the actors in it. Here is the pitiful heartbreaking end, "And Pilate wishing to content the multitude released unto them Barabbas, and delivered Jesus, when he had scourged Him, to be crucified."
The Passover Prisoner.
And now for the particular episode that Mark here narrates. It appears that it was the custom of the Roman Governor at Passover time to release a prisoner, and to allow the people to choose the prisoner to be so released. Some think that this was a custom that had come down from Maccabean times, but most probably it was introduced by the Romans themselves to conciliate the goodwill of the Jewish people. Just exactly as European monarchs celebrate their marriage day or their coronation day by remitting sentences and extending free pardons, so the Roman Governors honoured the great feast day of the Jews by making it the occasion of extending the imperial pardon to some one prisoner whom the people were allowed to select. While Pilate was on the judgment seat, telling the accusing priests that he could find no fault in Jesus, and proposing to chastise Him (as a sop to his accusers) and then to release Him, the crowd came up to the palace gates begging Pilate to grant them the usual Passover boon. Pilate welcomed the interruption, it opened to him another door of escape from the odious necessity of condemning Jesus.
There happened to be lying in prison at the time a criminal named Barabbas, or to give him his full name (as tradition records it) Jesus Barabba. Now Barabba means simply "Son of the Father." And "father" was a title in those days given to the Rabbis, as today it is given to the Roman priests. He was, therefore, a man of good family who had fallen into ways of crime. The probability is that he belonged to one of those fanatical parties which swarmed in Judaea at this time, and were continually stirring up revolt against the Roman power. In one of these insurrections this Jesus, the son of the Rabbi, had committed murder, and had been caught red-handed in the crime. He had been flung into prison to await the arrival of the Governor for judgment. For such a crime there could be but one penalty, and that was death. It is very likely that a desperado of this kind would enjoy a certain popularity with the crowd; who would think of him not as a murderer but as one who was doomed to die for his devotion to his country's cause. But while willing to admit that Barabbas may have enjoyed a certain undeserved popularity, I question very much whether they had decided to ask for Barabbas' release when they surged up to Pilate's gates. What they clamoured for was that the usual boon should be granted them.
Pilate's Offer and its Reception.
Pilate at once fell in with the crowd's humour and suggested that Jesus, "the King of the Jews," as he called Him, should be the prisoner to be released. That would be killing two birds with one stone granting a favour to the crowd and at the same time escaping the necessity of condemning Jesus. And against the idea of condemning Jesus Pilate's whole soul rebelled. "He perceived that for envy the chief priests had delivered Him up." But the chief priests were not to be baulked of their prey in this fashion. They stirred up the crowd to demand Barabbas. Possibly they painted him as a kind of national hero. Note again the hypocrisy of the whole proceeding. What was the accusation the priests brought against Jesus? The accusation of treason. But Barabbas had been guilty of the very crime of which they had falsely accused Jesus. Barabbas had committed insurrection and involved himself in the crime of murder in the process.
Pilate was staggered by the demand for Barabbas. He imagined that given the choice between Jesus the son of the Rabbi and Jesus the King of the Jews, they would not have hesitated an instant. "What then," he asked in remonstrance, "shall I do with Him Whom ye call the King of the Jews?" And the cry rang out, "Crucify Him!" give to Him the punishment intended for Jesus the son of the Rabbi. Pilate was shocked. His moral sense was outraged. "Why," he asked, "what evil hath He done?" But the only answer to his, "Why?" was another angry shout, "Crucify Him!"
To that menacing and bloodthirsty crowd, Pilate made a weak surrender. No apologies can wipe out the stain of that crime. The chief priests and scribes must bear their burden; but their cruelty is no excuse for Pilate's cowardice. He washed his hands before the crowd, as if to repudiate all responsibility for the crime. But the formality of washing his hands before the multitude has not washed out the bloodstains. You remember Macbeth's pitiful cry after the murder of Duncan
"Will all great Neptune's ocean wash this blood
Clean from my hand? No, this my hand will rather
The multitudinous seas incarnadine, making the green one red."
It is so with Pilate. The whole sea would avail nothing to wash out his bloodstains. His name and his crime are inseparably associated together, "Crucified under Pontius Pilate."
Perhaps the easiest and clearest way of summarising the lessons of this tragic episode is to consider briefly the conduct of the actors in the scene: Pilate, the chief priests, and the Jerusalem mob.
The Priests and their Crimes.
First, consider the conduct of the priests. No one can read the story of the Passion without feeling that it is at their door and not at that of the Roman Governor that the responsibility for the murder of the Christ primarily lies. On them Peter, at the first appearance before the Sanhedrin, lays the blame. He never mentions Pilate. The men whom he saw before him were the real murderers. "Jesus Christ of Nazareth Whom ye crucified." Ye! The word is emphatic. Perhaps he recalled the scene (for if he had not witnessed it, he had heard about it); how these people, when Pilate washed his hands, had cried, "His blood be upon us and upon our children." In their rage and fury, they were willing to take the responsibility and the blame. Later they sought to shift the blame on to Pilate's shoulders. The high priest, when Peter appeared before the Sanhedrin the second time, made it a ground of complaint that the Apostles were holding himself and his colleagues responsible for the death of Christ. "Ye have filled Jerusalem," he said, "with your teaching, and intend to bring this Man's blood upon us." But it was no case of intending. His blood was upon them. Peter bluntly repeated the charge. "The God of our Fathers," he replied, "raised up Jesus, Whom ye slew hanging Him on a tree."
The Root of their Crime.
What was it moved these men to this black deed of blood? Probably many things combined. Possibly they never forgave Christ for the public rebuke He inflicted when He swept the Temple clean of the mob of traffickers in whose gains they shared; they hated Him because He threatened their "vested interests." No doubt they smarted under the humiliation of repeated defeats, when they came to Him seeking to catch Him with their questions. But Mark mentions none of these things; he fastens upon one motive which perhaps was the mightiest and most potent motive of all. He says that Pilate perceived it was for envy the chief priests had delivered Him up. Trace this crime to its root and you find it sprang from envy. These men, the nominally religious leaders of the people, were envious of Christ's power and popularity with the people, they were envious of His obvious and unchallengeable goodness. "A man that has no virtue in himself, ever envieth virtue in others," says Bacon. And these men, where piety was a cloak, who were like whited sepulchres, envied Jesus because of His very goodness and purity and truth.
The Power of Envy.
Do you imagine that in tracing the crime back to envy we are assigning an insufficient motive? That is because you have not really thought upon the malignity of this evil passion. "It is also the vilest affection and the most depraved," says Bacon, once again, "for which cause it is the proper attribute of the devil himself." There is no crime to which envy will not resort. It is as cruel as the grave. Do you remember how envy and murder are coupled together in Scripture? In Romans, Paul describing the people of reprobate mind describes them as full of "envy, murder." Envy... murder, they are akin, and there is but a step from the one to the other. I do not know that we are as afraid of envy as we should be. It finds a lodging in most of our hearts more or less. I know of no surer evidence of depravity of human nature than this, that we can scarcely hear even of a friend's success without a pang! At the back of all our slandering and detracting, and backbiting, lies this evil spirit. Fear it! It is the very spirit of murder! Let us ask for the love which envieth not.
And now for a minute let me turn from the priests to consider the conduct of the crowd. The commentators tell us that we are not to identify this crowd with the throngs which escorted Christ into Jerusalem in lowly triumph a few days before, crying, "Hosanna to the Son of David." The applauding crowd of the Sunday, they say, was a Galilean crowd; the mob that clamoured for His death on the Friday was a Jerusalem mob, and upon the mob in Jerusalem Jesus had but little influence. That may be so. And yet I am not sure. The fickleness of crowds is proverbial. The hero of one day is the object of their fury the next. The London mob went frantic over Wellington when he came home after Waterloo; a few years later they were thirsting for his blood. So there would be nothing incredible in the assertion often made in popular sermons that it was the same crowd who shouted, "Hosanna" on the Sunday that cried, "Crucify Him" on the Friday. But for the credit of human nature let us accept the commentators' verdict and believe that this was another and a different crowd. This was the Jerusalem proletariat let us say.
What a hint, then, we get here as to the tragic mistakes a democracy may commit. Pilate set Jesus of Nazareth, and Jesus the son of the Rabbi, a robber and a murderer, side by side, and the Jerusalem mob chose Barabbas! There is an old Latin phrase, very popular in these days, " Vox populi, vox Dei " "The voice of the people is the voice of God." But, popular though the phrase may be, is it true? There is an old story told of John Wesley and his sister (a woman of intellectual gifts not unworthy of her two great brothers), who were discussing this very point. John Wesley, to bring the discussion to an end, laid the law down rather imperatively by saying, "I tell you, sister, the voice of the people is the voice of God." "Yes," replied his sister, "it cried, 'Crucify Him, crucify Him.'" In these democratic days, when in our own land the people are rising to a sense of their power, it is well we should be reminded that the democracy may make the most tragic mistakes. I do not say this by way of disparagement of the democracy. I do not say this with any intention of criticising the democratic form of Government. As a matter of fact, as far as the crucifixion of Christ is concerned, the aristocracy of Judaea stand in exactly the same condemnation with the democracy. I say it only to guard against the fallacy that democratic government necessarily means the beginning of the millennium. The mob may go as fatally wrong as a monarch. Here is the staggering proof of it, they chose Barabbas rather than Christ. No! there is no divine right in democracy as such. Crowds may be blinded by prejudice and passion just as easily as kings.
Barabbas and Christ! They stood for different ideals. Both had a kingdom in their minds but the kingdoms differed in nature. Barabbas dreamed of a temporal kingdom to be established by violence; Christ aimed at a kingdom of righteousness and peace and joy to be established by a change of heart. Barabbas stood for faith in the sword, Christ stood for faith in character and goodness. And the Jerusalem crowd said, "Not this Man but Barabbas." Get down to the essential meaning of the choice and it means this, they believed more in violence than they did in love, they had more faith in the sword than they had in character. They thought their kingdom was likely to be advanced by Barabbas' method rather than by Christ's. Every nation, and every class within a nation, is confronted with the same choice. It may say, "might is right" or it may say, "right is might." There is a God that judges in the earth, and the only way in the long run for a nation, or a class within a nation, to be strong is for it to be strong in Him.
The Abiding Choice.
Barabbas or Christ? Pilate offered the crowd the option, and they chose Barabbas and rejected Christ. In a different form the same option is presented to every one of us. It is true we have not to choose between some red-handed robber and the Lord. Something else takes Barabbas' place. But in every case there is a choice. That is always how Christ presents Himself to us as an alternative. We have to choose between Him and the world, in one or other of the many forms it assumes between Him and a life of pleasure, between Him and Mammon, between Him and self. And the choice is as critical for us as it was for this Jerusalem crowd. Our eternity depends upon it. Do not think that none have said, "Not this Man but Barabbas," since that fatal Friday. They are saying it continually, for they are choosing self and sin and the world, and saying of Christ, "We will not have this Man to reign over us," and so they crucify the Son of God afresh and put Him to an open shame. The choice presents itself to us. Barabbas or Christ? God help us to choose the better part, which shall not be taken away from us; to go outside the camp with Christ bearing His reproach, to be willing to suffer with Him that we may hereafter be glorified together.
Chapter 17. Pilate
"And so Pilate, willing to content the people, released Barabbas unto them, and delivered Jesus, when he had scourged Him, to be crucified." Mark 15:15.
Having traced the trial of Christ to its end, we are now in a position to form some kind of judgment upon the character and conduct of Pilate himself. His is a pitiful story. He was an unwilling participator in this deed of blood. Left to himself, he would have liberated Christ. He struggled to secure His release. But at length he was coerced into committing the wickedness which his soul abhorred. He is not the man on whom the chief guilt of the crime of history rests. Christ Himself said, "He that delivered Me unto thee hath greater sin." Caiaphas, the chief priest, is the one on whom the greater guilt principally rests. But every man must bear his own burden, and Pilate must bear his.
Pilate as Procurator.
Now in coming to discuss Pilate's character and his conduct, something must be said about his antecedent career, for that antecedent career of his had a mighty influence upon his action in connection with our Lord's trial. Nothing is known about his family or his origin. He appears upon the pages of history when he assumes office as procurator of Judaea. The Roman procurator was a kind of subordinate governor. He occupied the same kind of relationship to the Governor of the Roman province of Syria, as, say, the Lieutenant-Governor of Bombay or Madras does to the Viceroy of India. But within the limits of his province, which included Judaea, Samaria, and Galilee, the Procurator exercised practically unlimited and almost despotic power. Pilate held this office for about ten years. He came to Judaea just about the time when John the Baptist began to preach, and so his rule covered the period of our Lord's ministry, and of the first establishment of Christianity in Judaea.
What sort of a man was this Pontius Pilate? Philo, the Jewish author, describes him as "inflexible, merciless, and obstinate." No doubt, as Dr Purves says, this is a one-sided representation. But it has this value for us; it shows the kind of esteem in which Pilate was held amongst the people over whom he ruled. His administration in Judaea had been marked by a series of calamitous mistakes. Rome, as I have already said in one of my previous studies, was generous and liberal in her treatment of subject nations. She allowed them as large a measure of home rule as was consistent with the maintenance of her own imperial supremacy. And she was especially considerate and tolerant in matters of religion. She had followed her usual policy in Judaea. She had allowed the Jewish court or Sanhedrin to retain a large measure of power. And she had respected the religious prejudices of the Jews. Out of regard, e.g. for their feelings, the display of images on the part of the Roman soldiers had been forbidden in Jerusalem. But Pilate either through ignorance, or more probably out of contempt for the Jews, had wilfully offended their prejudices. Josephus tells us of two or three actions of his which irritated the Jews to something like madness.
The Figures on the Standards.
Here is one. His predecessors, as I have said, had respected the Jewish prejudice against images. It seems that the standards of the legions were adorned with an image of the Emperor. Previous procurators had taken care, when marching their soldiers into Jerusalem, to remove these images. But Pilate disdained to humour what, no doubt, he regarded as a contemptible prejudice. So he ordered the troops to enter the Holy City with the Emperor's effigy in its usual place upon the standard. The troops entered by night, but in the morning the standards were seen upon the citadel crowned by what, to the Jews, were idolatrous images. Forthwith multitudes hastened to Caesarea to beg Pilate to remove the figures. For five days Pilate scorned to listen to them. On the sixth day he bade them gather on the racecourse, and when they again renewed their appeal, a band of soldiers, placed in ambush, suddenly rushed out and with drawn swords threatened to kill them if they did not desist from their clamour and return home. But Pilate had not reckoned with the fanaticism and obstinacy of the Jewish character. To his amazement, instead of ceasing their cries, they flung themselves on the ground, bared their necks, and declared they would rather die than endure the violation of their laws. Pilate had met his match in this stubborn people. Sorely against his will, he had to order the images to be removed.
The Raid on the Temple Treasury.
Another story Josephus tells about him is this. He took in hand the business of building an aqueduct in order to provide Jerusalem with a water supply. And he seized the money paid in to the Temple treasury to help in the payment for the work. Once again the Jews were up in arms. It was perverting sacred money to profane and secular purposes. When Pilate visited Jerusalem, an abusive and threatening mob tens of thousands of them, says Josephus came clamouring that he should not persist in his design. Pilate who seems to have foreseen trouble had introduced some of his legionaries disguised into the crowd. When the Jews refused to go away, he gave these disguised soldiers the signal, and they at once attacked the crowd with their bludgeons. They used more force than Pilate had intended, with the result that they scattered the crowd indeed and quelled the disturbance, but not without wounding many and beating some even to death.
The Case of the Galileans.
We have a reference to another unfortunate incident in Pilate's career in the Gospels. He mingled the blood of some unhappy Galileans with their sacrifices. No doubt, they had been concerned in some riot or tumult, but so little regard had Pilate for any of the Jewish notions of sacredness, that he slaughtered them in one of the Temple courts. Incidents like these reveal something of Pilate's character. He was a typical Roman in his contempt and scorn for the Jews "the horde of the circumcised," as one Latin writer calls them. But they are still more illuminating as to the relationship between Pilate and the people over whom he ruled. They cordially detested one another. Pilate detested the Jews because more than once they had foiled him and beaten him. And the Jews detested Pilate because he had deliberately offended them, insulted them, and outraged them.
The Burden of the Past.
Now, notice how Pilate's conduct at the trial of Christ was affected by his past career. What was the consideration that most powerfully influenced Pilate in his conduct of the trial of Jesus? Not regard for justice. Had that been the case, he would instantaneously have acquitted Him. With trained mind he saw through the farce from the first moment. He knew that "for envy" they had delivered Him unto him. But justice really counted for nothing in the trial of Jesus. What, really did count, what dictated all Pilate's actions, was fear of the people. That was why he resorted to the various tricks and stratagems of which the evangelists tell us. He wanted to release Jesus and retain the favour of the mob at the same time. When he found he could not do both, he elected to retain the favour of the mob. Mark tracks the crime to its real and ultimate root in this Mark 15:15, in which he describes the issue of the trial, "Pilate, wishing to content the multitude, delivered Jesus to be crucified." That is why Pilate became the legal executioner of Jesus; he sought to curry favour with the crowd. Why? Because of the mistakes and crimes which marked his past administration.
The master of the Roman empire at this time was that cruel and suspicious tyrant, Tiberius. There were two things, apparently, that Tiberius cared about, the due receipt of the taxes and the maintenance of peace. So long as his Governors in various parts of the world saw to these two things, Tiberius was well content. But a Governor who failed to exact the necessary tribute, one who by blundering actions created unrest and disaffection, fell under Tiberius' displeasure. Now one complaint with reference to Pilate's administration had already been made to Tiberius and had brought forth a sharp reprimand from him. A second complaint might prove his ruin. These crimes of his were just weapons in his opponents' hands. And that was the threat that finally brought Pilate to his knees. Philo, speaking of another occasion on which the Jews threatened to report him to Tiberius, says, "The threat exasperated Pilate to the greatest possible degree, as he feared lest they might go on an embassy to the Emperor, and might impeach with respect to other particulars of his government, his corruption, his acts of insolence, his rapine, and his habit of insulting people, his cruelty, and his continual murders of people untried and uncondemned, and his never-ending, gratuitous and most grievous inhumanity." Thus Pilate knew that he had given only too much ground for complaint, and that he could not afford to let these priests and elders complain to Caesar. Here was a man burdened by his own past.
The Past and the Present.
A past of sin is a terrific hindrance to a present of virtue. This is a commonplace that scarcely needs enforcement. Peter's first lie to the maid, for instance, almost drove him to the blasphemous denial before the officers round the fire. When the men challenged him, Peter's courage might have come back and he might have bravely owned his Lord. But he had already given himself away by lying to the maid, and he had to keep up the deception. A young fellow away from home accompanies foolish and wicked companions to some evil haunt of pleasure. By so doing he delivers himself into their hands. Later, he may want to turn over a new leaf. He may want to live pure and speak true. But evil companions can always quote against him his own past. "Why," they will say to him, "you saw no wrong in it on such and such a time." And so the sin of yesterday becomes a hindrance in the way of uprightness today. All this teaches the old and familiar lesson beware of the first beginnings of sin. For sin is not done with when it is committed. Do you remember that tragic confession of Sir Percivale in Tennyson's Idylls? With other knights he had been inspired to engage in the quest of the Holy Grail, which is only a mystical way of saying that he was moved to give himself to the holy and dedicated life. But his past proved an insuperable obstacle:
"Then every evil word I had spoken once,
And every evil thought I had thought of old,
And every evil deed I ever did,
Awoke and cried, 'This quest is not for thee.'
And lifting up mine eyes I found myself
Alone and in a land of sand and thorns,
And I was thirsty even unto death;
And I too cried, 'This quest is not for thee.'"
Pilate was like Percivale. He was crippled for the duty of today by the wrong of yesterday.
Scepticism and Weakness.
That was one cause of Pilate's breakdown. The second main cause of his failure was his scepticism. When Jesus talked about every one "who was of the truth," hearing His voice, Pilate asked in reply, "What is truth?" Now there are all sorts of ways of saying, "What is truth?" A man may say it with desperate and almost heartbroken earnestness. He may be lost in the mazes of perplexity and doubt, and he may feel that his very happiness and life depend on knowing what is truth. "O that I knew where I might find Him that I might come even to His seat," cries one of the patriarchs. His heart was in the cry; for the truth about God was a matter of life and death to him. A man may ask, "What is truth?" in the spirit of intellectual curiosity. He may be interested in the truth as a problem. That perhaps is the prevailing temper of our own day. But Pilate did not ask the question, "What is truth?" in the spirit of the man who is intellectually interested in the search for truth. Still less did he ask it with the passionate eagerness of the man who feels he must know the truth or die. He asked it in the sneering temper of the sceptic. "Jesting Pilate!" Bacon calls him. But "jesting" is not the right adjective. Jesting carries with it a suggestion of geniality and sunshine. But there was nothing genial about this question of Pilate. It was bitter, scornful, cynical. It was sceptical, unbelieving Pilate who asked that question. Pilate did not believe there was such a thing as truth. You remember Gibbon's epigrammatic description of the Roman attitude towards religion. "The various modes of worship which prevailed in the Roman world, were all considered by the people as equally true, by the philosopher as equally false, and by the magistrates as equally useful." Pilate as an educated Roman reproduced the sceptical temper of his day.
Pilate, Weak, Unprincipled.
Now the main criticisms passed upon Pilate in his conduct of Christ's trial are these: (1) He showed himself a weakling. He allowed himself to be driven into the crime of sentencing to death a person who was not only innocent, but who impressed him as the noblest and holiest person in whose presence he had ever stood. "I find no fault in Him," that was Pilate's verdict. He delivered Him to be crucified, that was Pilate's sentence. For all his Roman pride, Pilate showed himself a moral weakling. (2) And the second criticism is this, he tried to secure by policy and stratagem what he ought to have stood out for on principle. Christ was innocent and he knew it. But instead of acquitting Him as a matter of justice, he tried to secure His acquittal by policy.
Because Without Faith.
These criticisms are amply justified, but they only deal with surface symptoms and not with the real disease. His weakness and his stratagem are the evidences of a deeper mischief. And that deeper mischief was this: he was a man without faith, without any outlook to the spiritual and the eternal. Pilate's scepticism was the secret of his moral collapse. Pilate's universe was bounded by the world he could touch and hear and see. The factors he had to deal with, were Tiberius away in Rome, and these menacing priests and the howling mob before his eyes. God never entered into his calculations. That is why Pilate proved a weakling. For to be courageous a man must have faith in God. If there is no God vindicating right and punishing wrong, if there is no judgment beyond the human judgment, then to the clamorous demands of the people, to the will of society men will inevitably bow. It is only in the fear of God men can brave the wrath of their fellows.
The Lesson for Us.
The lesson of it all is obvious. Scepticism in the long run spells weakness and disaster. A great deal has been written and said in praise of "honest doubt." I frankly admit there may be "honest doubt"; with the honest doubter I have every sympathy. But the state of doubt even when honest is not a state to be cultivated. According to our faith it shall be unto us. Faith is the positive quality in life. Without faith, morality is not safe. The ethical life stands but a poor chance apart from religion. The man who has no fixed stars in his sky, in the shape of faith in God, and in right, and in a judgment to come, makes shipwreck. If we are to do right at all costs, to live pure, to speak true, we must have faith in God.
Here is a prayer for us, living as we do in a world crowded with temptation, lest we sin as Pilate sinned and fall as Pilate fell, "Lord, increase our faith."
Chapter 18. The Scourging and the Crowning
"And the soldiers led Him away into the hall, called Pretorium; and they call together the whole band. And they clothed Him with purple, and platted a crown of thorns, and put it about His head, And began to salute Him, Hail, King of the Jews! And they smote Him on the head with a reed, and did spit upon Him, and bowing their knees worshipped Him. And when they had mocked Him, they took off the purple from Him, and put His own clothes on Him, and led Him out to crucify Him." Mark 15:16-20.
This is a terrible paragraph, one of the most awful paragraphs in the whole of Holy Writ. Dr Stalker points out a great change that has come over the feelings of Christian people with reference to the physical sufferings of Christ. A century or two ago, Christian folk almost revelled in the contemplation of these sufferings. The German mystic, Tauler, for example (as he points out) enlarges and exaggerates every detail until his pages seem to reek with blood, and the mind of the reader grows almost sick with horror. We incline, on the contrary, to fling a veil of reserve over the details of our Lord's death and passion. The reaction, while in some cases it is carried to an extreme, is on the whole a healthy one. It argues a certain coarseness and almost brutality of mind to be able to peer into and discuss the details of the outrages inflicted upon our Lord's sensitive flesh. I confess to having that feeling strong within me as I approach this paragraph which tells the sickening story of the scourging and the crowning. With the briefest possible word, by way of explanation, I pass on to the lessons the paragraph has to teach.
It seems it was the practice amongst the Romans to scourge a criminal before they crucified him. Pilate did not depart from the usual custom in the case of Christ. On the other hand, he had a definite object in view in ordering the scourging to take place as usual. He intended when the scourging was over, to make one final appeal to the people; he meant to show them the Christ after the soldiers had done their brutal work upon Him pale, exhausted, bleeding in the hope that the sight of Him in that condition might appeal to their pity. As a matter of fact, he did so, as you remember; he brought out the tortured Christ, and said to the Jews, "Behold the Man." But even that appeal failed to touch the bloodthirsty mob. Their answer to Pilate's last pleading was, "Crucify Him, crucify Him." Of Pilate's motive in ordering the scourging and of his appeal at the end of it, Mark, however, says nothing. They in no way affected the course of events and so were not essential to his narrative. He contents himself with recording the bare fact of the scourging and the subsequent brutal mockery.
The Mock Coronation.
Not content with the brutality of the scourging, the soldiers took Him into the Praetorium, and there set themselves to mock and ridicule and insult Him. Very likely these soldiers thought that it already finally decided that Jesus should die. They knew nothing of the plan that Pilate had in his mind; and so they proceeded to take these liberties with Christ which seem to have been not uncommon in the treatment of condemned criminals. They called together the whole band (probably about five or six hundred of them) and proceeded to make cruel sport of Jesus. They had gathered that the charge on which He stood accused was that of aspiring to be a king, and the game they played was that of a mock coronation. Jesus had been stripped of His clothing when He had been led forth to be scourged. Now, after they had led Him inside the Praetorium, they flung over His torn and excoriated back a "purple" cloak, probably some officer's cast-off garment, "a faded rag," as Dr Swete says, "but with enough colour left in it to suggest the royal purple." And then some one suggested that being a king He ought to have not simply a purple cloak upon His shoulders, but a crown upon His head. And so some one ran out and from the shrubs in the palace garden gathered a few twigs which he twisted into a wreath in derisive imitation of that wreath of victory which the Roman Emperors wore on the days of their triumphal processions. That the twigs happened to carry on them sharp and jagged thorns only added to the humour of the situation. This crown of thorns they pressed upon the Lord's meek brow. Then a king must have a sceptre, and Matthew says they put, for sceptre, a reed into His hand. And having thus fitted Him up with a travesty of the regalia of royalty, each of them advanced and did mock homage to Him, crying, "Hail, King of the Jews!" And then to show that the whole thing was meant for deadly insult, every man of them, as he rose from his knees, seems to have snatched for a moment the reed Christ held in His hand, smitten His head with it, and then spat in His face. There is the story in its bare simplicity.
The Dignity of the Lord.
And now let me turn from the contemplation of the brutality of the soldiers to the consideration of the Christ Who endured such brutality at their hands. It is a relief so to turn. For if the conduct of the soldiers is a revelation of iniquity and wickedness, the conduct of the sufferer is a subduing revelation of meekness and moral majesty. I think sometimes that He never appears greater than when enduring these indignities at the hands of the soldiers. Was there ever patience and meekness like this? "He was led like a lamb to the slaughter and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so He opened not His mouth," says the prophet (Isaiah 53:7). It was all fulfilled in the Praetorium that morning. "When reviled," says Peter, "He reviled not again, when He suffered He threatened not" (1 Peter 2:23). He might have summoned legions of angels to His aid. Instead of that, He submits to these accumulated indignities without a murmur or a protest. Here is meekness more than human! It would have been human to flare up into indignation and wrath, but meekly and silently to bear it all was nothing less than divine.
I pass from the consideration of the majesty and dignity of the Lord to speak a word or two about the crown and sceptre the soldiers gave Him. It seemed absurd to these Roman soldiers that one so poor and friendless and weak as Jesus was should aspire to kingship. And their brutal sport was meant from first to last to be a mockery of that claim. And yet God in His Providence made the wrath of these men to praise Him. More than once, things that were meant for insults to our Lord were transfigured into testimonies. When they called him "friend of publicans and sinners," they meant it for derision and contempt, but time has transfigured it into the Lord's most splendid title. And so exactly these rude soldiers meaning to mock Christ, unconsciously and involuntarily bore witness to Him. They could not more perfectly have expressed the nature of His kingship than by putting a crown of thorns upon His head, and a reed for sceptre in His hand. For think, first, of the crown they put upon His head and all that it-implies. His crown is a crown of thorns, for His kingship is based upon His sufferings. "He humbled Himself and became obedient unto death even the death of the Cross," says St Paul, "wherefore God highly exalted Him and gave Him the name which is above every name." Wherefore! His sufferings were the cause of His exaltation. His disciples thought that all was over with Christ when they saw Him beaten, bound, scourged, crucified. As a matter of fact, these unspeakable sufferings of His have given Him His power over the hearts of men. And why have our Lord's sufferings done all this for Him? Because they stand for love. That is why the thorn-crown is the most fitting crown that Christ could wear. A crown of gold stands for pomp and power a crown of thorns stands for love for strong, uttermost, self-sacrificing love. And love after all is the mightiest power on earth.
I think, now, of the sceptre they placed in our Lord's hand. It was a reed, says St Matthew, and a reed is a frail, weak thing. It is easy to break and bruise a reed. A reed not a mace, or an axe, or a sword, but a reed! Christ rules not by force, but by meekness and gentleness. If the crown sets forth the ground of His kingship, the sceptre sets forth the nature of His rule. Christ does not constrain men by force, He woos them by His gentle and gracious love. How gentle He was in all His dealings when here on earth. How exquisitely tender He was with the woman who was a sinner, and that other woman who came behind Him in the press and "healing virtue stole." And how exquisitely gentle He was to fallen Peter. He did not smite Peter with the sword of His wrath. "The Lord turned and looked upon Peter." And when He rose from the dead He sent a special message to this erring disciple. "Go, tell His disciples and Peter." Gentleness is the very spirit of Christ's rule.
The King Indeed.
They called Him king, did these rough soldiers in mockery. But He is King indeed and of a truth. The kings of the earth set themselves and the princes took counsel together against the Lord and against His anointed in Jerusalem long ago. They heaped every ignominy and insult upon God's anointed. And yet, in spite of them, God has set His King upon His holy hill of Zion. Yes, God has made His Son the King! He rules and reigns today. What are we going to do with Him? I present Him to you with the thorn of crowns on His head and the reed in His hand, and I say to you, "Behold your King!" Will you bow down and worship Him? Will you serve Him and obey Him? Will you in daily life do His will? For my own part when I see Him thus with that crown upon His head, I am in the mood to say,
"All hail, Redeemer, hail,
For Thou hast died for me,
Thy praise shall never fail,
Chapter 19. Simon of Cyrene
"And they compel one Simon a Cyrenian, who passed by, coming out of the country, the father of Alexander and Rufus, to bear His cross." Mark 15:21.
We come now to the touching and beautiful story of how Simon of Cyrene carried the Lord's cross. I have noticed, in consulting my authorities, that this incident stirs even the most prosaic of them to something like poetry. Of course, one expects poetry from a man like Dr John Watson, and the chapter in which he treats of Simon in his Companions of the Sorrowful Way, is idyllic in its simple and moving pathos. But Dr Stalker is a severely sober and restrained writer, and yet even his pages glow with imagination and throb with feeling as he speaks of this man, who for a brief space stood substitute for Christ and bore His Cross. But it is the plain prose of the affair I want to give you, though indeed the plain prose of it, without any imaginative adornment is in itself poetic enough.
On the Way to the Cross. The Open Shame.
In our country when sentence of death is passed, usually some time is allowed for the condemned prisoner to prepare himself for the last dread change, but in the case of our Blessed Lord the execution followed swiftly upon the sentence. Immediately after the failure of Pilate's last appeal, the soldiers led away Christ to crucify Him. In these days of ours we take care not to add to the bitterness of the condemned prisoner's lot. It is punishment enough to have to die, without surrounding death with unnecessary horrors and pains. But, in the hard and cruel world in which Jesus lived, everything was done to make the death of the criminal more bitter. Executions were always in public, and the prisoner was marched through streets lined by curious and jeering spectators to the place of doom. And in the case of those condemned to die by crucifixion (the most degrading and shameful death of all) this added ignominy was inflicted upon the victim that he had to carry his own cross. Now both these indignities they inflicted on Jesus. It was in the Governor's palace that the trial had taken place. When sentence was finally pronounced the soldiers proceeded to lead Jesus through the streets of Jerusalem to a place called Golgotha, which was the appointed place of execution. Where exactly Golgotha was it is impossible to say. Apparently it was so-called because of its shape; it is, as Dr David Smith says, "a skull-shaped knoll" just outside the city. Whether the Via Dolorosa that is still pointed out to pilgrims is the actual way that Christ took is very questionable, but at any rate this is certain, that He had to walk through the streets of Jerusalem while brutal crowds scoffed and jeered at Him as He passed. And not only had He to walk to His place of execution through jeering crowds, but He had to walk bearing His own Cross. We must, a little, correct our notions of the kind of cross on which Christ died. It was not the heavy and massive thing we usually see depicted. "It was," says Dr Stalker, "not much above the height of a man and there was just enough wood to support the body."
The Burden of the Cross.
No doubt such a cross was not too heavy for the usual sort of criminal to carry. But with Jesus it was otherwise. Recall the experiences of the previous few hours. First of all He had passed through the mysterious and exhausting agony of the Garden. Then had come all the tense excitement of the various trials, first before Annas, then before the Sanhedrin, then before Pilate, then before Herod, and finally before Pilate again. And then to crown everything there had come the scourging, a cruel punishment beneath which often the sufferer died. When the soldiers, therefore, came to put His Cross upon His shoulders, they were placing upon Him a burden greater than He could bear. As Dr Watson says, "He was willing to die upon the Cross, but it seemed likely that He would not be able to carry it to Calvary." John's account makes it clear that faint and spent as He was, He carried the awful burden for some distance, probably through the Jerusalem streets, but when He reached the city gate, the little strength He had gave out, and He staggered and fell beneath His load.
Simon the Substitute.
It is at this very point that Simon comes into the story. The soldiers, realising that Christ was helpless, look around for someone whom they could press into the service. It was an ignominious service this carrying of the cross, and as Roman soldiers they scorned to do it themselves. Their choice fell upon Simon. He was a man of Cyrene, a prosperous North African town. That is not to say that he was an Ethiopian, as some people think. Cyrene had a large colony of Jews. In fact the Jews of Cyrene were so populous that there was a special synagogue set apart for their use in Jerusalem. And the probability is that Simon was just a Jew from Cyrene who had come to Jerusalem for the Passover feast. He was lodging not in Jerusalem itself, but in one or other of the little villages outside. And he happened to be making his way into Jerusalem just as the procession to Golgotha was issuing out of the gate. And it was this man, Simon of Cyrene, the soldiers impressed into the ignominious service of carrying the cross.
Why was Simon the soldier's choice? Dr Watson apparently thinks that it was Simon's strength and size that attracted the attention of the soldiers. He speaks of him as a "sturdily-built country man." "His prominence and his bulk," he adds in another place, "perhaps an unconscious sympathy growing on his face, attracted their eye. Here was a fellow nature had intended to be a carrier of loads, a commen man who could make no complaint, a simpleton who had pity on an outcast." But all this is pure imagination. No hint is given us in Holy Writ of his stature or condition. For myself, I prefer to account for Simon's choice in another way. It is possible that Simon in some way showed sympathy with Jesus. Coming in from the country and seeing this crowd surging out of the gates, curiosity may have impelled Him to try to discover what the excitement was about. Edging his way through the crowd he would find himself face to face with Christ. It may be that just at that moment Christ fainted and fell beneath His burden, and some brutal act of the soldiers may have extorted from Simon some evident sign of sympathy. It was this, I suggest, that attracted the attention of the soldiers to Simon. They revenged themselves for Simon's indignant remonstrance by taking the Cross from Christ's shoulders and placing it upon his. And so it came to pass that Simon walked with Jesus to His place of execution carrying His Cross.
Let me gather up two or three of the most obvious truths this touching little incident has to teach.
How Christ Crossed Simon's Path. A Divinely Ordered Meeting.
First of all, observe how Christ crossed Simon's path. Simon was coming in out of the country, Christ was going out of the city to Golgotha, and they met at the gate. It looks, as we say, like an accidental meeting. But there was nothing accidental about it. It was divinely ordained of God that Simon should meet with His Saviour there, and that he should go outside to camp with Him, bearing His reproach. Many have deleted those mighty words foreknow, foreordain, predestinate, from religious speech. But they stand for eternal verities nevertheless. Accident, luck and chance, are pagan words. In a world which God rules there can be no accident or luck or chance. "Nothing walks with aimless feet." "The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord." It was by the Lord's ordering that Henry Barrow's steps were led to the Separatist conventicle; it was by the Lord's ordering that John Angell James' steps were led to a house where for one brief night he shared a room with a praying youth; it was by the Lord's ordering that Charles Spurgeon's steps were led to that little Primitive Methodist Chapel where he found his Saviour. God besets us behind and before and lays His hands upon us. And it was by the Lord's ordering Simon and His Saviour met at the gate leading out of the city.
Decisive for Simon.
Again, Christ crossed Simon's path in an unwelcome fashion, but the meeting probably marked a crisis in the life of Simon. His first introduction to Christ must always in his mind have been associated with that painful and humbling experience. Yet the quarter of an hour he spent with Christ's cross upon his back may have been the most sacred and blessed time in his life to Simon. From what we know of him, it seems possible that Christ so spoke to his soul by the way that before its end Simon knew he had found his Saviour. And today, as then, Christ crosses men's paths as He crossed Simon's. Our first introduction to Him is often associated with painful and humbling experiences. He has met with many a man before today upon a bed of sickness; He has met with many a man in the shadow of bereavement; He has met with many another by the side of the open grave. The pain, the sorrow, the grave, how we shrink from them! And yet, looking back, we know that our chastisement has yielded to us the peaceable fruit of righteousness.
The Lord's Helpers.
The story of Christ's end is not altogether a story of coarseness and brutality and murderous hate. You can make an ugly picture gallery out of Judas and the priests and Pilate, and Herod and the brutal soldiers. But let us not forget those who were kind to Christ. The darkness is not unrelieved. Let us not forget that in this last terrible and awful week Martha and Mary had made Him a feast. One unknown friend had lent Him an ass's colt; another had given Him his Upper Room; yet another had made Him free of his Garden; and when the day of His death came, Pilate's wife put in a word for Him, the women of Jerusalem wept over Him, Joseph of Arimathea begged His body, and Nicodemus brought an hundredweight of spices. And amongst those who did kindness to Christ, was Simon the Cyrenian who carried His Cross. And whoever would be a disciple of the Lord, must still bear His Cross. We must enter into the fellowship of His sufferings, we must become conformed unto His death.
What Christ did for Simon.
And now, let me set down m a sentence or two some of the things Christ did for Simon. First He immortalised his name. It may seem a little matter, but it is worth bearing in mind that the righteous shall be held in everlasting remembrance. Of more importance is this, that the Lord saved Simon's soul. I make no doubt at all that Simon was a Christian man after that brief walk in the company of Christ. There is no need to identify him with that Christian preacher in Antioch, Simeon who was called Niger. Just let it suffice to say that in Christ Simon found Him of Whom Moses in the Law and the Prophets did write, the King of Israel, the Redeemer of His soul. He gave him the souls of his sons as well. You notice that Mark describes him as "the father of Alexander and Rufus." That can only mean that at the time Mark wrote his Gospel, Alexander and Rufus were prominent and honoured members of the Christian Church. There is a Rufus mentioned in Paul's Epistle to the Romans (xvi. 13), and he may have been the Rufus here referred to. But in any case the fact remains that Simon's two sons grew up to be honoured Christian men and Christian workers. And he saw the desire of his soul. And I do not know whether in later days Simon was prouder of the deed he himself had done for Jesus, or of his holy fame as the father of Alexander and Rufus.
What a rich reward for a simple kindness! And that is how Christ rewards men still. The way to be eternally rich is to put Christ in your debt. For here is the great and glorious promise, signed by Him Whose word never faileth, countersigned by the experience of innumerable saints, "There is no man that hath left house or brethren or sisters, or mother, or father, or children, or lands, for My sake and for the Gospel's sake, but he shall receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers and children, and lands... and in the world to come eternal life" (Mark 10:29-30).
Chapter 20. The Crucifixion
"And they bring Him unto the place Golgotha, which is, being interpreted, The place of a skull. And they gave Him to drink wine mingled with myrrh: but He received it not. And when they had crucified Him, they parted His garments, casting lots upon them, what every man should take. And it was the third hour, and they crucified Him. And the superscription of His accusation was written over, THE KING OF THE JEWS. And with Him they crucify two thieves; the one on His right hand, and the other on His left. And the scripture was fulfilled, which saith, And He was numbered with the transgressors. And they that passed by railed on Him, wagging their heads, and saying, Ah, thou that destroyest the temple, and buildest it in three days, Save Thyself, and come down from the cross. Likewise also the chief priests mocking said among themselves with the scribes, He saved others; Himself He cannot save. Let Christ the King of Israel descend now from the cross, that we may see and believe. And they that were crucified with Him reviled Him." Mark 15:22-32.
The Cross and its Significance.
Zophar, one of the friends of Job, speaking of the character of Almighty God says to the rebellious patriarch, "It is high as heaven, what canst thou do? Deeper than Sheol, what canst thou know?" (Job 11:8). That verse can be applied with perfect fitness to the dying of our Lord. Who can hope to find out its meaning to perfection? It is as high as heaven; it is deeper than hell. It is as high as heaven, for all the grace of God is in it. It is as deep as hell, for all the hate and fury of wickedness is in it. It is a subduing revelation of love; it is a shuddering exhibition of sin. It is at once glorious and shameful, humbling and exalting, radiant with the light of heaven, and dark with all the darkness of the pit. The Cross of Christ is the meeting-place of the ages. It is the great watershed of history. To it all preceding ages pointed; from it all subsequent history takes its trend and shape. Back to that Cross millions of men and women look back today as the ground of all their hopes and the source of all their joys.
Golgotha has become the most sacred place in the world because Christ died upon it. Before Christ died there it was a place of shame and contempt just the place where criminals died. If people thought of it at all, it was with shuddering and loathing. But Christ died upon it, and the place has become holy ground. With what tenderness of heart Christian people think of the "green hill far away!" How the flood gates of the heart are opened when they think that "He hung and suffered there!" Most nations have some spot invested with special interest for them because of its association with some event of national importance. But Calvary is of interest not to a nation but to a world. On it the mightiest deliverance was wrought. On it the greatest emancipation of all was accomplished. On it, the Lord, by dying, won for all who believe in Him the forgiveness of their sins. And, just as Christ by His dying on Golgotha has converted that awful place into a veritable gate of heaven, so has He converted the Cross, that instrument of insult and of shame, into a thing of glory.
The Cross Itself.
I have no mind to dwell upon the horrors of the crucifixion; and yet we must follow Christ to Golgotha, and with awed and humbled hearts listen to what they did to Him when He hung and suffered there. And, first of all, of the Cross itself. There were three types of cross. One was shaped like an X and is popularly known as St Andrew's Cross, from the tradition that the Apostle was put to death on a cross of that kind. Another was shaped exactly like a T, that is, it consisted of an upright beam and a crossbeam at the top of it. But in the Roman Cross the upright projected above the crossbeam, and it was upon this kind of cross that Jesus died, as is evident from the fact that there was room above the cross-bar for a superscription to be written indicating the charge on account of which Jesus was put to death. Usually the victim was fastened to his cross before it was fixed in its socket. He was laid upon this instrument of torture after being stripped of his raiment, and first of all his hands were fastened to the transom by nails driven through the palms. The arms, too, were usually bound to the beam by means of cords lest the weight of the body should tear the hands away from the nails that fastened them. For the same reason, there was in the middle of the upright beam a peg or narrow shelf on which the body was made to rest. Finally, the feet were either tied or nailed to the base of the upright. And then the cross with its quivering load was lifted up and the victim was left to die a lingering death. Sometimes his sufferings lasted for two or three days. The death of the cross was, in fact, the cruellest, the most agonising form of death ingenuity could devise. " And they crucified Him."
"They Parted His Garments among Them."
But Christ was not even allowed to die in peace. His last hours were marked by accumulated insult and reviling. First of all, and nearest to the Cross, were the Roman soldiers in charge of the crucifixion. As soon as their brutal work was done, they had no more concern for their victim. All they cared about was their share of his property. It appears that the garments of the suffering were always regarded as the perquisites of the executioners. Christ had not much in the way of personal apparel to leave. He was not one of those who were clothed in purple and fine linen. But there was His cloak for one of them, and His girdle for another, and His sandals for the third, and His turban for the fourth. There was just one other garment, the tunic, which tradition says, that Mary His mother had woven for Him with her own hands. They were about to tear this into four equal portions when the fact that it was seamless arrested their notice. And one of them proposed that instead of tearing it up and so rendering it worthless they should cast lots for it. So the dice-box with which the Roman soldier was only too familiar was speedily forthcoming. And with a callousness that is beyond speech these soldiers gambled lor the Lord's seamless cloak at the very Cross's foot.
The Title on the Cross.
Pilate, too, had a hand in making Christ's death more bitter. It was the Roman fashion to placard above the criminal the crime on account of which he was suffering. Pilate ordered this to be written over Christ's head, "The King of the Jews." No doubt the insult embodied in that superscription was levelled primarily at the Jewish leaders. Pilate was repaying them for the humiliation they had inflicted upon him. And from that point of view it answered its purpose, for it stung the Jews to something like madness. But in insulting the Jews, Pilate insulted Jesus too. For that inscription meant the repudiation of Christ's kingship, it meant that this Man Who claimed to be a king deserved to be treated only as a criminal and a slave.
The "Busy Mockers."
But what embittered Christ's death most of all was the mockery of His own people and their leaders. "Those that passed by," the indiscriminate crowd, "railed on Him and wagged their heads and said, 'Ha! Thou that destroyest the Temple and buildest it in three days, save Thyself and come down from the Cross.'" And the chief priests and scribes, while refraining from the open jeering of the common people, yet mocked Him among themselves in tones loud enough for Him to hear. "He saved others, Himself He cannot save." "Let the Christ the King of Israel now come down from the Cross that we may see and believe." The very brigands who were suffering with Him joined in the chorus of insult. "They that were crucified with Him reproached Him."
Human Depravity Revealed.
What a commentary this all is upon the evil possibilities of our human nature. The human nature I see revealed in the soldiers and the priests and the scribes and the people is not so much divine as devilish. That men should be able to make a jest and joke of the suffering of anyone would have been bad enough. But that they should turn the dying Christ into an object of mockery argues a wickedness almost beyond speech. For this Christ Who they mocked was One Who had never done an evil deed. He had gone about doing good. He had healed the sick; He had cleansed the leper; He had turned houses of mourning into houses of rejoicing. He had carried joy and blessing with Him wherever He went. He was absolutely good, utterly loving, entirely holy. And they mocked at Him. They turned His dying into a jest. They hanged the Incarnate Goodness, and the Incarnate Love, and the Incarnate Holiness to a tree, and reviled Him as He suffered there.
The Last Temptation.
The very taunts they levelled at Christ made His dying more difficult, because they thrust upon Him once again the temptation He had fought in the Wilderness and in the Garden. They said, "Come down from the Cross!" They said, "Save Thyself!" They said that if He came down from the Cross they would believe. In a word they invited Christ to take another and an easier way to the throne than the way of the Cross. That was the temptation that had dogged His steps all the way through. It faced Him first in the Wilderness when the devil offered Him all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them if He would but fall down and worship him. It assailed Him again when Peter at the mention of the Cross took Him and began to rebuke Him saying, "This shall never be unto Thee." It assailed Him once more in the Garden. It was the fight against the temptation to take an easier way that made His sweat as it was great drops of blood falling to the ground. And through the taunts of the people and the priests it assailed Him once again on the very Cross itself. "The devil," says Luke in his account of the Temptation in the Wilderness, "departed from Him for a season." Yes, it was only "for a season." The attack was again and again renewed. The final victory was won only when that cry, "It is finished," broke forth from the lips of the dying but triumphant Lord. When He chose to hang there, bearing all the pain and shame, there was no more that Satan could do. Then was fulfilled that saying of our Master's, "I beheld Satan fallen as lightning from heaven." But it all added to the pains and sufferings of Christ.
The Cup He Refused. The Cup He Drained.
And now I turn from the contemplation of the wickedness of men to consider the glory of the Christ as we see it revealed in this paragraph. And first notice the courage of Christ. It seems to have been the custom amongst the wealthy and charitable ladies of Jerusalem to provide a portion of medicated wine for such as were condemned to die by the slow agony of the cross in order to make them less sensible to the pain. It was a humane practice, and in accordance with their custom they handed to Christ a vessel containing wine mingled with myrrh or gall. Our Lord seems to have put this drink to His lips, for the exhaustion of the scourging had left Him parched and faint; but when He realised what it was, He refused the drink. "He received it not." Why was it that Christ refused to avail Himself of this merciful provision? Martyrs in the Marian persecution did not hesitate to accept the bags of powder provided for them by the kindness of friends, in order to escape the slow agony of the flames. Why did Christ refuse this stupefying draught? Two or three reasons have been suggested and I think there is something in all of them. He did it because He would not omit one bitter drop in the cup the Father held to His lips. That is a significant phrase the writer to the Hebrews uses, "He tasted death for every man." He tasted death all there was in death. He did not want, shall I say, to slip through death without knowing what it was. He tasted death in all its darkness and horror. For a refutation of the charge of cowardice you need go no further than this. When they offered Christ an opiate, He refused to take it. You remember the story of Dr Johnson's passing. One day he asked his doctor to tell him plainly whether he could recover. "Give me," said he, "a direct answer." The doctor, having first asked him if he could bear the whole truth, which way soever it might lead, and being answered that he could, declared that he could not recover without a miracle. "Then," said the brave old moralist, "I will take no more physic, not even my opiates: but I have prayed that I may render up my soul to God unclouded." That was splendid courage, but it pales before Christ's courage on the Cross. There was an agony of physical pain, there was a depth of spiritual horror in His death which leaves us speechless and appalled, and yet with open eye and mind unclouded, He faced it all. "They offered Him wine mingled with myrrh, but He received it not."
The Meekness of Christ.
And secondly, notice the meekness of Christ. I have read somewhere that oftentimes the victims of this awful punishment would rend the air with their imprecations. Hanging there, bound and helpless, speech was left to them. And maddened by the fiery torture they would assail the agents of their death with all manner of insult and abuse and furious maledictions. But our Lord bore all with patience and majestic meekness. "As a sheep before her shearers is dumb so He opened not His mouth." I believe it was the meekness and patience of Christ on the Cross that Peter had in his mind when he wrote, "Who, when He was reviled, reviled not again; when He suffered, threatened not" (1 Peter 2:23). I sometimes fancy that we are still inclined to look for proofs of the Lord's divinity in the wrong place. We are in danger today of the error of which these priests and scribes were guilty long ago. Power is our proof of Deity. If Christ would only display His power in some striking way so that we might see it, we would believe. But to me the meekness of the Lord seems always more impressive even than His mighty works. Here is meekness nothing less than divine, amid all the tortures of the Crucifixion, overwhelmed as He was with insult and abuse "no ungentle murmuring word escaped His silent tongue." The only reply He made to His tormentors was to pray for them. Surely this was the Son of God.
The Self-Sacrifice of Christ
Finally, what an illustration we have here of the self-sacrifice of Christ. "He saved others," they jeered at Him, "Himself He cannot save." The taunt has been converted into a tribute. It is quite true. Just because he wanted to save others, He could not save Himself. Only the cannot was not the cannot of physical impossibility. The chief priests and scribes thought He could not come down because the executioners had done their work too well, because of the nails driven through His hands and His feet, and the ropes around His arms. But not all the nails and ropes in Jerusalem could have held Christ there had he wished to come down. What were nails and ropes to One Who could still the tempest with a word, Who had legions of angels at His command? No, it was not the nails and ropes that held Him there but His own mighty and sacrificial love. No one took His life from Him, He laid it down of Himself. And He laid it down because that was the only way of gaining redemption for the world.
He could not save Himself because He was intent upon saving others. I was in Salisbury Cathedral recently, and I saw there a tablet to a doctor who in a visitation of cholera had given himself with unstinted devotion to the task of ministering to the stricken and especially the poor; who as a result caught the deadly sickness himself, and died at thirty-two. It reminded me of my Master. There was great and self-sacrificing love in both cases. Only the love of the Lord was infinitely nobler and more beautiful. The young doctor perhaps hoped that he might escape. Jesus knew that He must die. And He died willingly. To save others He sacrificed Himself; "Who for the joy that was set before Him endured the Cross, despising shame, and hath sat down at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:2).
Chapter 21. The Death
"And when the sixth hour was come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani? which is, being interpreted, My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me? And some of them that stood by, when they heard it, said, Behold, He calleth Elias. And one ran and filled a spunge full of vinegar, and put it on a reed, and gave Him to drink, saying, Let alone; let us see whether Elias will come to take Him down. And Jesus cried with a loud voice, and gave up the ghost. And the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom. And when the centurion, which stood over against Him, saw that He so cried out, and gave up the ghost, he said, Truly this man was the Son of God." Mark 15:33-39.
Mark remains faithful to his habit of conciseness and brevity even in his account of the Lord's dying. There were several things of moving and pathetic interest which happened in the interval between the third hour when they nailed Jesus to the Cross, and the sixth hour with which this paragraph begins. But Mark passes them over in silence. The one thing he is concerned about is that men should contemplate the actual dying of the Lord, and that in that death they should see not a martyrdom, but the atoning sacrifice of the Son of God's love. And so without staying to notice the events that happened by the way, he passes swiftly to that tremendous hour of crisis when having borne our sin and the curse of it, the Lord gave up the ghost.
"When the sixth hour was come," he says, that is when it was broad noon by the time of day, instead of being broad noon, it was more like midnight, for "there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour." It was not the darkness of eclipse. It may have been nothing more than the darkness of a brooding storm, as Dr David Smith suggests. There is nothing in the narrative to suggest it was miraculous or supernatural. The evangelists make no suggestion as to how the darkness was caused, they simply record the fact, that for three long hours Jerusalem and the whole land as far as eye could see was enveloped in murky gloom. But the fact that they record the darkness at all shows this, that they felt there was some relation between the darkness of nature and the dark deed that was being perpetrated upon the Cross. It was as if nature went into mourning for the death of Christ. Milton giving the reins to his poetic fancy pictures the earth as hushed and still and expectant when Jesus was born. That is mere imagination. But it is simple historic fact that nature dressed herself in habiliments of woe when Jesus died. The people mocked at the victim, the priests taunted Him and jeered at Him, but nature hid her very face for shame. Nature sympathised with God; shared in the sorrow of God, "There was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour."
Darkness and the Man of Sorrows.
The darkness was not only in nature. There was darkness also in the soul of Christ. For at the ninth hour the Lord cried with a loud voice saying, " Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?" which is being interpreted, "My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?" Now this darkness that overwhelmed the soul of Christ is an infinitely more amazing and awful thing than the darkness which covered the face of the land. For usually our Lord lived in the sunshine. Outwardly it is true Jesus' life was hard and rough and troubled enough. He had few of what we call the comforts of life. He was born into a poor home. At an early age He had to address Himself to the hard and wearing toil of the carpenter's shop. He earned His bread in the sweat of His face. As a man His poverty clung to Him. He had not where to lay His head; He was dependent upon the kindness of friends for His support. And He had other trials to bear beside those which are incidental to poverty. He was a lonely man because He was a misunderstood man. The people at large misunderstood Him, at one time in mistaken enthusiasm wanting to take Him and make Him King, and at another in their fury wanting to kill Him out of hand. His disciples misinterpreted Him, and with the deeper purposes of His soul showed scanty sympathy; His own kinsfolk thought Him mad; while as for the leaders of the nation the priests, the scribes, the elders they had pursued Him almost from the first with malignant and relentless hatred.
Who was also the Man of Joy.
I agree that, as far as its external conditions went, it is hard to conceive a stormier and more troubled life than that of Jesus. And yet, to say that Christ's was an unhappy life would be to give an entirely false impression. He was not simply the Man of Sorrows. He was also the Man of Joy. He lived in the sunshine. He rarely or never talked of His sorrow. What He talked about was His joy. "His joy" was the bequest He wished to leave to His disciples. When "His joy" was in them there would be nothing left to wish for; perfect satisfaction and content would be theirs, their joy would be fulfilled. And the secret of our Lord's happiness, the source of this deep and abiding joy was His consciousness of the Father's presence and smile. Between Him and the Father there was constant and unbroken communion. You remember how the sense of this uninterrupted fellowship finds expression again and again in His speech. "I am not alone, the Father is with Me." "Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father in Me." "I and My Father are one." No matter what our Lord's outward circumstances might be, He knew that the Father's smile was resting upon Him. No matter though the priests and people reviled Him, He could always hear His Father say, "Thou art My beloved Son."
"Why hast Thou?"
But now, on the Cross, at this sixth hour, His soul was overwhelmed with deep night. He felt Himself bereft of His Father's fellowship. He missed the shining of His Father's face. He bore the pain of the nails, and the mockery of the people, and the taunts of the priests without a murmur. But when for a moment God's face was hidden from Him He broke out into this lamentable and heartbroken cry, "My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?"
The Cry on the Cross.
Now, this brokenhearted cry of our dying Lord is almost too sacred a thing to discuss and analyse. And discuss and analyse it as we may we shall never perhaps fully understand the desolation of soul that called it forth. The mystery of the Cross is in this cry. And while we may get glimpses into the meaning of the Cross, we are constrained to confess that there are heights and depths in it that still out-top our knowledge. If I dwell on our Lord's bitter cry, it is not because I think I can completely explain it. It will suffice to point out some of the elements of the deep and measureless sorrow which evoked it, and to repudiate some false and cruel theories which have been built on the foundation of this cry.
Not a Cry of Bodily Weakness.
The words themselves, as you all know, are quoted from the first verse of the twenty-second Psalm. On the lips of the Psalmist they form little more than the complaint of a lonely and deserted man. But there is a depth of meaning in them as Christ used them, that the Psalmist who first uttered them knew nothing about. What did they mean on the lips of Christ? First of all, we can dismiss absolutely the idea that the cry was wrung from Him by fear of death. Christ never feared the physical fact of death. As a matter of history, the victims of this cruel punishment of crucifixion longed and cried and prayed for death. Death to them was not a foe but a friend, bringing them relief from intolerable agony and pain. Nor was it a case of a soul clouded by bodily weakness. In the extremity of weakness and pain faith sometimes faints and fails. But Christ was not in the extremity of bodily weakness. His mind was not clouded. He was in the possession not only of all His faculties but of a large amount of physical strength when He actually died. Christ's death was not the death of one whose vitality was exhausted. He cried with "a loud voice" just before He gave up the ghost. The people could not believe that He really was dead. Pilate could not believe it when they told him. The fact is, Christ did not die as other men die. While vitality was strong within Him He laid down His life of Himself.
Nor of Remorse.
Again, I entirely repudiate the suggestion that this is the cry of "infinite remorse which Christ suffered as being the chief Sinner in the universe, all the sins of mankind being upon Him." To speak of Christ, even when we think of Him as the representative Man, as being the "chief Sinner in the universe" is perilously near blasphemy. And to attribute remorse to Christ is to attribute to Him a feeling of which He knew absolutely nothing. How could One Who knew no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth, know "remorse"? Moreover, the very form of the cry in itself puts this explanation clean out of court. This is not the cry of One Who felt Himself the chief of sinners, this is the cry of One conscious of His own innocence. Christ was unconscious of any reason for desertion. That is what overwhelmed and astonished Him. "My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?"
Nor drawn out by "The Wrath of God."
I will have just as little to say to that other explanation which declares that Christ on the Cross was enduring the "wrath of God" even though it comes to us backed by the authority of the Shorter Catechism. Accepting this explanation, certain theologians have spoken of God as hating Christ to the uttermost. But this too is something like blasphemy. It was in obedience to the Father's will that He hung and suffered there. To say that God was angry with Christ because He gave this final proof of His obedience, because He became obedient unto death even the death of the Cross, is to sacrifice the character of God. As a matter of fact, "God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself" (2 Corinthians 5:19). Christ was His beloved Son at the Baptism when He took up His redeeming mission, He was His beloved Son at the Transfiguration when He faced and accepted the Cross, but He was most truly God's beloved Son when He actually hung upon the Cross and in obedience to the Father's will, and to further His Father's redeeming purpose, made that last and final and uttermost sacrifice of Himself. "For this," He said Himself, "doth the Father love Me, because I lay down My life."
But as the Cry of the Sin-Bearer.
What then is the explanation of this exceeding bitter cry? I find my clue to its meaning in the way in which Christ identified Himself with men. He became bone of our bone, flesh of our flesh. He took hold upon the seed of Abraham. He was made in all things like unto His brethren. He entered our family and became our Elder Brother. But it was a sinful family He entered, and He, the one pure member of it, took the sin of the whole family upon His own heart as if it was His own. He bore our griefs and carried our sorrows, and the Lord laid upon Him the iniquity of us all. The Elder Brother did no sin, but He felt the shame and pain of His brother's sins. They sinned, and in His own pure soul He felt the guilt. As Paul puts it, "Him Who knew no sin He made to be sin on our behalf" (2 Corinthians 5:21). Now one bitter and inevitable result of sin is this, it separates between a man and God. The sinner feels like Cain, "cast out from the presence of the Lord." Sin like a black and threatening cloud hides from man the shining of God's face.
Now, Christ so realised our sin that for the time He shared in that awful doom of sin and His fellowship with the Father was arrested. So long as He had His Father, nothing mattered. But to be robbed of His Father's fellowship was very death to Christ. And yet He submitted to it, because it was thus that redemption was to be won. It was not that God had withdrawn His face or was angry with the Son Who was doing His will. It was that these crowding sins of ours hid the vision of God's face. "It needed not," as Dr David Smith says, "the Father's displeasure that He might lose the sense of the Father's presence."
But God is near in the Darkness.
I find a blessed and helpful truth suggested in this. God may be near to us when we seem to have lost sight of Him. We have our occasional bright and sunny days when we can say, "The Lord is at my right hand, I shall not be moved." But there come to us also days of darkness when our enemies mock at us and say, "Where is now thy God?" when we ourselves are tempted to think that God has clean cast us off, and to cry with our Lord, "My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?" Our prayers seem to go unanswered, and the heavens are as brass to our appeal. At such times it will comfort us to remember our Lord on the Cross. He too felt homeless and forsaken, and yet the Father knew and was at hand. It may be just like that with us. In the darkest hour He may be near. When we fear that He has forgotten us, He may be thinking upon us for our good. He can never forsake those that trust in Him.
After the Anguish the Triumph.
But note that though apparently forsaken, though enveloped in darkness, Christ says, "My God, My God." Here is superb and subduing trust. He trusted God in the deep night. When He could not see Him, He still clung to Him. He was "my God" through it all. Here is the veritable triumph and climax of faith, to believe in God when we cannot see Him: to trust where we cannot trace. No soul is ever lost that out of its darkness and despair can still cry, " my God." Follow our Lord's story. Anguish gave place to triumph. "It is finished," is the Lord's cry. "Father," He said, "into Thy hands I commend My spirit." And so it will be with us. If in the night we still cling to Him and say, " My God," the joy of assurance and recovered vision will come in the morning. Only a short time elapsed, when Jesus "crying with a loud voice" (showing that death was not due to exhausted vitality) gave up the ghost.
No death like this.
Other men die because their hour is come and they cannot help it. But Jesus, while life still beat strongly within Him, gave up the ghost. He of His own free will laid His life down. There was never dying in the world's history like this. "Truly," said the Centurion, "this Man was the Son of God." It was not the mere suddenness of the dying at the last that impressed him, but the whole circumstances of it His answer to the dying thief, His prayer for His enemies, His meekness, His moral majesty. This pagan soldier had seen nothing like it. "If the death of Socrates was that of a sage," Rousseau said, "that of Jesus was the death of a God." Can we say less than that? At the foot of the Cross, let us make our confession, "Truly this was the Son of God." And believing that Jesus was none other than the Son of God, let us rejoicingly believe that He offered for sin the "one full perfect and sufficient sacrifice, oblation and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world."
Chapter 22. The Faithful Women
"There were also women looking on afar off: among whom was Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the less and of Joses, and Salome; (Who also, when He was in Galilee, followed Him, and ministered unto Him;) and many other women which came up with Him unto Jerusalem." Mark 15:40, Mark 15:41.
The Sorrow. Stricken Group.
Hate and scorn and furious and savage contempt surged up to the very Cross of Christ, but sympathy and love were not wholly lacking. "There were also women beholding from afar." "There were also women." Your picture of the people gathered round the Cross is not complete unless you see this little group of Borrowing women. They hung upon the outskirts of the crowd. They dared not venture near. Perhaps it was that they did not care to venture into the thick of that mocking, brutal crowd. Perhaps it was that they were afraid; it was scarcely safe for anyone to identify himself or herself with Christ that day. But there they were beholding! And there was a tumult of sorrow in their hearts. For like the rest of the Lord's disciples these women had trusted that it was He Who should redeem Israel. And here He was dying before their very eyes in defeat and shame. They did not know what to think. Their hopes were all in ruins about them. Their faith was broken and shattered. But, amid the ruins of their faith, love still survived. Though He was dying there, the despised and rejected of men, their hearts still clung to Him, they still loved Him, He was to them still the chiefest among ten thousand and the altogether lovely. It was that love of theirs that brought them to that dreadful place. It was torture to them to gaze at Christ suffering, and to listen to the insults heaped upon His sacred head, but love kept them rooted to the spot. Love gave them boldness. Love lent them courage. Their perfect love cast out fear.
The disciples all forsook Him and fled. Peter, Thomas, Philip, Matthew, they were nowhere to be seen. But there were certain women beholding from afar. Prominent among them were the three whom Mark mentions by name. First and foremost, Mary of Magdala, out of whom, the evangelist tells us, Jesus had cast seven devils. It was a passion of adoring gratitude which brought Mary there. She owed everything worth having to the Lord. She had been redeemed from the lowest hell by His power. The priests and scribes might heap what insult and scorn they pleased upon His head, but nothing could dethrone Him from the supreme place in Mary's affections, for all she was and hoped to be she owed to Him Who hung and suffered there. And near her was Mary, the mother of James the Less and Joses James the Less being the second Apostle of that name in the little circle of Twelve. And near her again was Salome, the mother of James and John. Two mothers of Apostles and a woman who was herself an embodiment and illustration of Christ's saving power, these were the most prominent persons in the little group. This was not the first time on which they showed their devotion to the Lord, for they, says Mark, "when He was in Galilee followed Him and ministered unto Him." Our English translation scarcely reproduces the exact force of the Greek. The Twentieth Century Testament is nearer the mark where it renders the words, "all of whom used to accompany Jesus when He was in Galilee and attend on Him."
What a vivid light this throws upon the conditions under which Christ exercised His Galilean ministry. It is not altogether easy for us to reconstruct the historic conditions. Supposing that we had been privileged to watch Christ in His journeying through Galilee we should have seen Him, as other Jewish rabbis had been, accompanied by a little group of chosen disciples. But the twelve Apostles were not the only people in the entourage of Christ. There were also some humble, devoted women in it too. And what was the special function or office of these women? They "ministered unto Him." "There were humbler points in His personality," says Dr Morison, "in which He touched the conditions of ordinary mortals, numerous little wants to which they were capable of ministering and by their attention to which they could leave Him disembarrassed for His higher engagements." Let me put that in slightly simpler and plainer language. When Jesus took up the work of preaching, He gave up His home and His livelihood. From the material point of view He was worse off than the birds and the beasts, for, as He Himself put it, while foxes had holes and the birds of the air had nests, the Son of Man had not where to lay His head. During the whole period of His public ministry Jesus was entirely dependent upon the kindness of His friends for sustenance and support. And that that was the special duty these faithful women took upon themselves. They "ministered" to Him. They took care of His physical comfort. They prepared a home for Him. They looked after His rest and refreshment. Jesus was so absorbed in His work that He was neglectful of Himself. He had no leisure so much as to eat. I picture to myself these devoted women with gentle firmness pressing food upon Him, taking care of Him as a mother would take care of her son.
The Ministry of Women.
And all this suggests certain thoughts about the services women have rendered to Christ and His cause all down the centuries. This is the first little group of ministering women, but they have never lacked their successors. Women have always been prominent amongst those who follow Christ and minister to Him. I wonder sometimes what the Church would have been like, what indeed the Church of Christ would have done, but for its saintly, devoted, godly women. In every age they have been the Church's strength; they are the Church's strength at this very hour. In a way, I am not at all surprised to find that women are foremost in the service of Christ, for they owe Him a vast and incalculable debt. From one point of view, it is almost true to say that Christ has done for the whole of womankind what He did for Mary of Magdala in particular. He found womankind in the horrible pit and the miry clay, in a state of degradation and dishonour, treated as mere chattels or things. From that pit of dishonour and shame it was Christ's hand that lifted woman up and set her on that pinnacle of respect and dignity on which she stands today. Even men, like Comte, who reject Christ's Gospel, admit frankly that He immeasurably raised the status of women. So that, it is not surprising that women should be foremost in the service of Christ. They are simply discharging a vast and infinite debt.
Its Breadth To-Day.
"They ministered" unto Him! And what an enlarged conception of ministry a little phrase like that suggests! Mary of Magdala and Mary the mother of James and Salome, "ministered" to Christ by just attending to the needs of our Lord and His disciples. Have we not, in our time, unduly narrowed that word "ministry"? The public preaching of the word is not the only ministry Christian folk can render. The point has been raised afresh, and in a very definite form, whether women ought not to be allowed to preach and speak in churches. I do not say that women have no right to take part in public services. They have most right. But let us not make the tragic mistake of thinking that the only "ministry" of Christ is a public ministry. Christ has some of His most faithful and useful "ministers" amongst timid and shrinking women who never dare make their voices heard in the public worship of the sanctuary. I think of my own mother. I never heard her voice lifted up in one service. I never heard her even offer a word of prayer in public. But I know that she was a devoted "minister" of the Lord. And what was true of my own mother is true of those multitudes of godly mothers who are the saving of our homes and the strength of our land. And not only of mothers, but of those other women like Mary of Magdala, who have no children of their own, but lavish the affection of their souls upon the sick and the helpless and the forlorn of whom this world of ours is so full. These are the Salomes and Marys of our modern Christian life, and they are as true "ministers" of Christ, as those others whose calling it is to stand in our pulpits.
An Office for all the Faithful.
But it is not only in the case of women, but with regard to all Christian folk that we need this wider conception of ministry. Every Christian is or ought to be a minister. There is a striking passage in St Paul's Epistle to the Ephesians about the function which pastors and preachers have to fill, the force of which I do not think the average Christian man has grasped. Paul says that God gave the Church Apostles, evangelists, pastors and teachers, for the perfecting of the saints, "unto the work of ministering" (Ephesians 4:12). Now that is an ambiguous rendering. Although this view is not accepted by most scholars, I prefer to follow the rendering given in the Twentieth Century Testament, "He gave His Church Apostles, evangelists, pastors and teachers, to fit His people for the work of the ministry." It is, then, to the work of ministry that we are all called; and this work is within the reach of every one of us. We want our preachers and pastors and teachers of course. But they are not the only ministers; and theirs is not the only form of ministry. There is a gracious ministry that can be exercised in the home; there is a ministry that can be exercised in the office and the shop; there is the ministry of the personal word which is within the reach of every one of us; there is the ministry of prayer. And there is the ministry of simple kindness and beneficence. We can still "attend" to Christ as these women did. We can still minister to His necessities. For He walks our ways still in the shape of the poor and lonely and sick who need our help. May God give us grace like these holy women to do what we can, to render our service.
Chapter 23. Joseph of Arimathea
"And now when the even was come, because it was the preparation, that is, the day before the sabbath, Joseph of Arimathea, an honourable counsellor, which also waited for the kingdom of God, came, and went in boldly unto Pilate, and craved the body of Jesus. And Pilate marvelled if He were already dead: and calling unto him the centurion, he asked him whether He had been any while dead. And when he knew it of the centurion, he gave the body to Joseph. And he bought fine linen, and took Him down and wrapped Him in the linen, and laid Him in a sepulchre which was hewn out of a rock, and rolled a stone unto the door of the sepulchre." Mark 15:42-46.
An Unsuspected Friend.
All His life through Christ had more friends than the world dreamed of. Had you asked one of the leaders of His day, what friends and followers Jesus had, he might have replied scornfully and contemptuously, "Just a handful of ignorant Galileans of no account." The Jerusalem Pharisees noted the fact, that none of the rulers or the Pharisees believed on Him. They tried to create prejudice against Christ by making it out that no person of intelligence or standing accepted His claims; that it was only amongst the ignorant, uncultivated, credulous people of the North that He found followers. Yet all the time Christ had His followers even in Jerusalem, and numbered friends amongst people of culture and station. In the days of Christ's popularity they did not obtrude themselves very much. They kept modestly, or, if you prefer so to put it, timidly, in the background. But when troubles came and the day of the Lord's distress dawned, they came out of their hiding places, stood by His side and comforted Him with their devotion and love. They were like the stars, they only revealed themselves when the darkness fell. Here in the paragraph we read of an "unknown friend" who charged himself with the care of the last tender offices of respect and love; it was Joseph of Arimathea, an honourable councillor, but a secret disciple, who provided the Lord with a grave. But before we concentrate our attention on Joseph, let us run through the story.
The Death of the Crucified.
It was a Friday on which our Lord was sacrificed, that is, it was the Preparation or the day before the Jewish Sabbath; and the Sabbath that followed the day of our Lord's death was one of especial sanctity because it was the Paschal Sabbath. Now it was the cruel Roman custom to leave the bodies of the crucified hanging on their crosses for a length of time, exposed to sun and rain and to the attacks of carrion birds and beasts of prey. But the more humane Jewish Law commanded (as you will see from the concluding paragraph of Deut. xxiii.) that the bodies of executed people should not remain a night upon the tree, but should be taken down and buried the same day. I do not know whether the Romans always respected the Jewish prejudice in this respect: I do not even know whether the Jews asked them in ordinary cases to make this concession to their prejudices. But this was not an ordinary case. It was the Eve of the Passover. And they did not want their city on the day of the great Feast to be defiled by the vision of those three corpses hanging on their crosses. So they went to Pilate and begged that the legs of the crucified might be broken in order to hasten death (for death by crucifixion was a slow and even prolonged agony), and that their bodies might be taken away. In the case of the two robbers this was done; but in the case of Christ it was unnecessary, for death had taken place already, though the soldier to make assurance doubly sure thrust his sword into the Lord's side, and so drew out that stream of blood and water which by some has been taken as evidence that our Lord died literally of a broken heart.
The Intervention of Joseph.
Now Joseph knew full well what happened to the bodies of crucified criminals, unless friends came forward and by gifts of money to the authorities purchased the privilege of affording them decent burial; he knew that they were cast out as refuse to be devoured by pariah dogs or indecent birds. And so he plucked up courage to intervene just at this point. "When even was now come," that is, in the space between afternoon and sunset, Joseph took his courage in both hands, went boldly in unto Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. The "boldness" came in here, his preferment of this request meant the open avowal to Pilate and probably also to the Jews, that he was a friend and disciple of Jesus. And that was an avowal which required some pluck for a man in Joseph's position to make. But he made it. He risked everything and made his request to Pilate.
Pilate was surprised to hear that Jesus was already dead. He could not believe it was true until he had called the Centurion who was in charge of the execution, and had verified the fact. But when he knew it was even so, "he granted the corpse to Joseph." The words in this phrase are arresting. The verb translated "grant" means "gave as a free gift." The word I render "corpse" is also significant. Though used in the New Testament much as we use "body"; it here seems definitely to imply a dead body. Looking at these two words, commentators give two completely opposite accounts of Pilate's conduct. Fastening on that word corpse Dr Chadwick sees in this another illustration of Pilate's incurable frivolity. "He gave away the corpse as if it was a worthless thing." "Take it, I make you a free gift of it." On the other hand, commentators, emphasising the word "gave freely," see here again another proof of the deep impression Christ had made upon Pilate. Everything was extraordinary about this person. His bearing at the trial had been extraordinary. His character was extraordinary. Now the manner of death was extraordinary. Pilate was so deeply impressed that for once in a way he forgot to be avaricious; he declined to take the money which it was usual for Governors to demand, and probably was offered by Joseph for the right of taking Christ's body down and burying it. On the whole I incline to this second explanation. Pilate had been impressed by Christ all the way through. It would be strictly in line with his conduct throughout the trial that he should show this much respect for the dead body of the Man, the like of Whom his eyes had never beheld before, to grant it freely without bribe or price to this honourable councillor when he asked for it. At any rate, Pilate granted the petition of Joseph who immediately hurried back to Calvary, and with reverent hands took the body of Jesus down from the Cross.
Joseph was joined in the sad task, according to St John's account, by Nicodemus. Together they wrap the Lord's body in a clean linen cloth, placing the spices, which Nicodemus had brought, in the folds of the linen, as they wrapped it round. There was need for haste, as the Sabbath was swiftly drawing on (for Sabbath, as you remember, always began at sunset on the preceding day). But happily Joseph had a garden near at hand, and in that garden a tomb hewn out of the solid rock, in which Joseph intended that one day his own body should lie. To that garden they hurry with the sacred body; in Joseph's new tomb they reverently lay it, and then they roll a great stone into the mouth of the tomb.
Now look at the character of Joseph as here revealed.
Joseph looking for the Kingdom.
There are two facts about Joseph upon which the evangelist lays emphasis. He was himself looking for the Kingdom of God; and he was a councillor of honourable estate, that is to say, he was a man of rank and standing in the councils of the nation. Now those two facts in themselves suffice to explain Joseph's spiritual history. The first explains how he came to be a disciple of Christ at all, and the second explains why it was that for a long time Joseph feared to declare himself, and was content to remain a secret disciple for fear of the Jews. Let us take the first fact to begin with. "He was himself also looking for the Kingdom of God." In other words Joseph was one of those faithful souls in Palestine who longed for the coming of Messiah and expected His speedy advent. There were in Jerusalem many who belonged to this noble order of expectant souls. While, perhaps, the majority of the people allowed themselves to be absorbed in the business and pleasures of this life, the eyes of these people were always on the watch for the first sign of Messiah's approach. They watched for Him more eagerly than they who watch for the morning. Now there is a promise that everyone that seeketh findeth. The man who waits and watches for the Lord does not wait and watch in vain. The vision he has watched for comes at length to gladden his eyes and bring peace to his soul. And how did it fare with Joseph? When the first reports about Jesus got noised abroad, they may have stirred strange feelings in Joseph's soul. I believe, nay, I will go further and say, I am absolutely certain that Joseph journeyed North to see and hear for himself. I am quite sure that he made one in those crowds that hung on his lips; that he was amongst the wondering multitude who beheld His works of mercy upon the blind and lame and the leprous and the possessed; that he was one of those who held that no one could do the works that Jesus did unless God was with Him. Yes, in his soul, Joseph said, "I have found Him of Whom Moses in the Law and the Prophets did write."
But Unwilling to leave all for Christ.
But how was it, if what I have been saying is true, that Joseph is not mentioned in the list of Christ's disciples? How was it that the rulers in Jerusalem were obviously unaware that he had become a friend and disciple of Christ? The answer to these questions is to be found in the second fact about Joseph which the evangelist emphasises. He was one who looked for the Kingdom of God, but he was also a councillor of honourable estate, a man of rank and position, and as Matthew adds, rich into the bargain. All this explains why, though Joseph was sure in his soul that Jesus was the Messiah, he was not to be found in the circle of His disciples, and openly, at any rate, he was not seen in the Lord's company.
You remember how Christ, commenting on the departure of the rich young ruler, says, "How hardly," that is, with what difficulty, "shall they that have riches enter into the Kingdom of God" (x. 23). Joseph's conduct will serve as a commentary on that word! Had Joseph been a poor man, he would, I believe, have been among Christ's open and avowed disciples. He might perhaps have been a member of the glorious company of the Apostles. But he was an honourable councillor: he was rich, and he was not willing to pay the price of open discipleship. The Jews had agreed that if any one confessed Christ, he should be put out of the Synagogue; excommunicated, treated as an outcast. And Joseph, the honourable councillor, was not prepared to make that sacrifice. He had not got to the point when he was ready to count all things but loss for Christ. And so he was a disciple, but secretly, for fear of the Jews.
Can a man be a secret disciple? They try to be. There are plenty of timid, trembling souls who really love the Lord, and yet are afraid to declare their love. But in the long run, no man can be a secret disciple. A man came to his minister once and asked him, "Can I be a disciple of Jesus without anybody knowing it?" "No," replied his minister, "whoever wants to be in partnership with Christ, must write his name upon the sign-board." The attempt to be a secret disciple is trying to get the Crown without the Cross, to get the palm without the dust, to get the reward of discipleship without paying the price. As a matter of fact, it cannot be done, for at least two reasons. If a man is a disciple, the fact will reveal itself. The Christian character does not need a label to make it known. "How can a man be concealed?" cries Emerson. Character evermore declares itself. No, it is impossible for a man to conceal himself. And it is certainly impossible for a Christian man to conceal himself. If the love of Christ is in a man's heart, it will reveal itself in word and act and life. "They took knowledge of them that they had been with Jesus," it is said of Peter and John. And if we have really been with Jesus, all the world will know. Discipleship, if it is real, simply cannot be kept secret. Moreover, Jesus refuses to acknowledge the secret disciple. He knows that discipleship means suffering and sacrifice. He knows that a big price has to be paid. And He summons men to pay the price, and make the sacrifice. You remember Mazzini's cry to young Italy, "Come and suffer." And Christ's call to man took a similar tone. Christ never for a moment disguised the fact that discipleship was a costly business. But He never hesitated to ask men to pay the cost. But Joseph was not willing to pay the cost. And as I think of him, believing in Christ in his soul and yet clinging to his riches and his honourable councillorship, I begin to tremble for Joseph. For there is another solemn and almost menacing word of the Lord. "Whosoever shall be ashamed of Me and of My words... the Son of Man also shall be ashamed of him when He cometh in the glory of His Father with the holy angels" (Mark 8:38).
Joseph, the Brave Confessor.
But happily for Joseph, if, at the beginning, his fear overcame his love, in the end his love cast out his fear. And strangely enough it was in the day of our Lord's shame and defeat that Joseph declared himself. It was when the disciples forsook Him and fled that Joseph came and stood by His side. Upon fine natures danger acts like a call to courage and high resolve. Men who on ordinary days seem hesitant and timid, in days of crisis get nerved to a pitch of daring that knows no shred of fear. When Christ hung on the Cross scorned and dead, Joseph went in boldly unto Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. "He ventured to go in," for it took courage to do what Joseph did. It took courage to face Pilate, sore as he was after his defeat in the morning. It took courage to concern himself with a dead body at that particular time, for it meant that Joseph would incur defilement and would, therefore, be allowed no participation in the great Paschal celebration. And above everything, it took courage to declare to his fellow-countrymen, to all the members of the council with whom he had been accustomed to associate, in the very hour of their insolence and triumph, that he was a follower and a friend of the Jesus Whom they had crucified.
The Call for Courage.
And still it requires courage to become a disciple of Jesus. Not courage of the sort Joseph showed. It is not the opposition and hate of the outside world we have to fear. Our difficulty comes in dealing with our own appetites and lusts and passions, in crucifying our flesh, in deliberately laying self upon the altar. But even this difficulty can be overcome. We shall have courage even to lay self on the altar if we have Joseph's passionate and whole-hearted love.
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Jones, J.D. "Commentary on Mark 15". Jones' Commentary on the Book of Mark. https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent