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Luke 23:1. Whole multitude.—Rather, “company” (R.V.). The word is a different one from that so often used to denote “the crowd,” or “the mob.” It here simply means the members of the Sanhedrim. Pilate.—His rule in Judæa had been marked by many acts of harshness and cruelty. His hatred of the people rendered it necessary for considerable adroitness to be made use of by the Jewish rulers to get him to do as they wished. They drop the charge of blasphemy in claiming to be the Son of God, and concoct an accusation of a political character.
Luke 23:2. We found.—This a legal term, implying “we have tried and convicted him of.” This fellow.—Rather, “this man” (R.V.). Perverting.—Seducing, deceiving. The nation.—Rather, “our nation” (R.V.). Forbidding to give tribute.—This is a direct falsehood. See Luke 20:20-42.20.26. Christ a King.—This is a translation of the term Christ, or Anointed One, for Pilate’s benefit.
Luke 23:3. And Pilate asked Him.—The history in the fourth Gospel casts great light on Luke 23:3-42.23.4 (see John 18:33-43.18.38). Jesus had been brought into the Prætorium, while His accusers were without. Pilate examines Him, and finds that the kingdom spoken of is not “one of this world.” Then he returns to the accusers and declares Jesus to be innocent of the charge. Without the supplementary narrative of St. John, Pilate’s words in Luke 23:4 would scarcely be intelligible. Pilate must have known well that one who had done the things laid to the charge of Jesus would be no such object of hatred to the Sanhedrim. He may have had some previous knowledge of the actual character of Christ’s public ministry.
Luke 23:5. And they were the more fierce.—Rather, “but they were the more urgent” (R.V.); or perhaps the words mean “they strengthened” or “redoubled the charge.” All Jewry.—Rather, “all Judæa” (R.V.). This is another indication of more prolonged labours in Judæa than are recorded in detail in the synoptical Gospels. From Galilee.—Perhaps this is mentioned to provoke Pilate against Jesus, because of his quarrel with the Galilæans (Luke 13:1) and enmity against their ruler (Luke 23:12); it serves, however, only to give Pilate an apparent way out of the difficulty.
Luke 23:7. Sent Him.—The word is a technical one, and implies transference of a case to a court of competent jurisdiction. Also was at Jerusalem at that time.—I.e., the Passover-time. Herod usually resided at Tiberias, but had come up to Jerusalem to the celebration of the Passover; Pilate, who usually resided at Cæsarea, had come up to see to the maintenance of order while the capital was crowded with pilgrims. The purpose of Pilate in sending Jesus to be tried by Herod was to remove the responsibility of condemning an innocent person from himself, and to conciliate the Jewish ruler At that time.—Lit., “in these days” (R.V.).
Luke 23:8. Desirous to see Him.—Cf. Luke 9:7-42.9.9. St. Luke shows himself specially well informed in matters concerning Herod Antipas. Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s steward (Luke 8:3), was in Jerusalem at this time (Luke 24:10), and was a most faithful disciple of Jesus. She may have supplied information concerning Herod’s relations with our Lord. Heard many things of Him.—Omit “many things”; omitted in R.V. “Had heard concerning Him.”
Luke 23:9. Answered him nothing.—“The murderer of the Baptist, who was living in open incest, and who had no higher motive than curiosity, deserved no answer” (Farrar).
Luke 23:10. Vehemently accused Him.—Probably this refers to accusations of blasphemy, added to those made before Pilate; the former, Herod, as a Jew, might be expected to treat as of grave importance.
Luke 23:11. Men of war.—I.e., the body-guard in attendance upon Herod. Set Him at nought.—Treated as deserving of nothing but contempt. Gorgeous robe.—“The same word as in Acts 10:30—‘shining’—not purple or scarlet (as in Matthew 27:28; John 19:2), but white, in allusion to the claim to kingly dignity” (Speaker’s Commentary).
Luke 23:12. Were made friends together.—Rather, “became friends with each other” (R.V.). At enmity.—The cause is unknown; probably it was about some question of jurisdiction. Herod may have resented Pilate’s summary procedure in the case of the Galilæans above mentioned.
Luke 23:14. Ye have brought.—Rather, “ye brought” (R.V.).
Luke 23:15. For I sent you to him.—A better supported reading gives, “for he sent Him back unto us” (R.V.). Is done unto Him.—R.V. has “done by Him.” A much better rendering is suggested in The Thinker, September 1893: “Nothing deserving death has been laid to His charge.” The writer contends that the word is used as a technical term for taking proceedings against any one accused, and he points out that this view is substantiated by the rendering in the Vulgate, not “factum ab eo,” but “actum ei,” ago, meaning bringing a suit, raising an action, or taking proceedings, civil or criminal—against any one.
Luke 23:17. For of necessity, etc.—This verse is omitted in the R.V., as insufficiently supported by MS. authority. It may be a gloss, but one phrase in it, translated “of necessity,” is highly idiomatic and characteristic of St. Luke’s style. It is not a mere repetition of any of the parallel passages. In some MSS. it occurs after Luke 23:19. “The Gospels are our only authority for the existence of the custom of releasing a prisoner at this religious festival, but it is in accordance with Roman policy” (Farrar).
Luke 23:18. All at once.—R.V. “all together”; lit. “in full number.” Barabbas.—The name is not strictly a proper name, but means “son of a [distinguished] father,” or if the reading Barrabban, found, as Jerome says, in the Gospel according to the Hebrews, be preferred, “son of a teacher.” In Matthew 27:16 some MSS. of no great authority have “Jesus Barabbas.” As an insurgent against Roman rule, he probably enjoyed a certain measure of popularity in some sections of Jewish society.
Luke 23:20. Willing to release Jesus.—Rather, “desiring to release Jesus” (R.V.).
Luke 23:21. But they cried.—Rather, “but they shouted” (R.V.).
Luke 23:22. Hath He done.—Rather, “hath this man done” (R.V.).
Luke 23:24. Gave sentence.—The word is a technical one, and means “gave final sentence.”
Luke 23:25. Him that for sedition, etc.—This substitution of a description for the name Barabbas is an indication of the writer’s indignation. It is but seldom that the evangelists display personal feeling in their narratives. Whom they had desired.—Rather, “whom they had asked for.”
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Luke 23:1-42.23.25
Various Forms of Antagonism to Christ.—In the trial before the ecclesiastical court of His nation Jesus had been condemned to death on the charge of blasphemy in claiming to be the Son of God. He is now brought before the civil court, in order that the sentence of death may be ratified, and is subjected to examination both by the Roman judge and by Herod, to whom, as the ruler over Galilee, the case was referred. A court of justice is usually an impressive sight, and suggests to a thoughtful mind the Divine tribunal before which all men must appear. But in this case accusers and judges are seen to be animated by malign and unworthy motives, and the forms of justice are simply used to cloak the murder of an innocent man. We see enmity, frivolity, and injustice in those who co-operated together to put Jesus to death.
I. The enmity of the priests.—The grounds of their hatred were their dislike of the teaching of Christ, their irritation at His correction of the abuses at which they had connived, and their jealousy at the popularity which He enjoyed in certain parts of the country and in certain sections of society. They felt forced into antagonism towards Him—that they must either submit humbly to Him or crush Him; for He did not merely ask for toleration, but required them to accept Him as the Messiah and the Son of God. And a like choice is now forced upon all to whom Christ is presented; they must either yield to Him or resist Him. He cannot be ignored. So resolute are they in their determination to secure His death, that they are unscrupulous in selecting means for their end. A heathen judge, they know, would probably refuse to sanction a sentence of death on a charge of blasphemy, and therefore they proceed to accuse Him of being a disturber of the public peace and of setting up claims to sovereignty which must necessarily lead to insurrection against the Roman power. And when these accusations break down, they use their influence with the people, to stir them up to demand the death of the prisoner, in spite of the judge’s repeated protests that he could find no fault in Him. Their conduct strikes us with the deeper horror when we reflect that they were men who served at God’s altar, and who should have been conspicuous examples of uprightness and compassion. The evil-doing of a minister of religion is all the more heinous because of the vows of consecration which rest upon him.
II. The frivolity of Herod.—Jesus was sent to Herod because, as a Galilæan, He belonged to Herod’s jurisdiction. Could there be a greater contrast between king and subject than was here presented? The record of Herod’s life is black with many a stain. He had been a debauchee and a murderer, and his guilt was enhanced by the fact that he sinned against the light—he had stifled the voice of conscience, violated the precepts of the religion he professed, and resisted and slain the messenger from God who rebuked his evil life. He was the only man concerning whom Christ used an epithet of sheer contempt—“that fox.” He had once been susceptible to religious impressions, and for a time shown some signs of amendment of life, in obedience to the preaching of John the Baptist. But the sin he would not give up had seared his conscience and hardened his heart. He had once trembled at the report of Christ’s teaching and works, from the superstitious belief that this new prophet was the Baptist come to life again. But all this is now past. He has now no fears in the presence of Christ Himself, but is glad to see Him, as one of whom he has heard so much. He thinks of Christ as a wonder-worker, and hopes to induce Him, as the price of His acquittal, to perform some miracle. So frivolous and debased has he become that he looks upon Jesus as a kind of juggler or magician, who may provide some amusement for him by performing some wonderful feat. “Then he questioned with Him in many words; but He answered him nothing.” He had nothing to say to one of Herod’s temper and spirit. There were no formal judicial proceedings conducted by the Jewish king, or Christ might have opened His lips in defence or protest, as He had done in the presence of His other judges. The Saviour was silent because He would not gratify the cravings of an empty curiosity. Yet let us not imagine that mere indignation and contempt animated our Lord in thus dealing with Herod. The silence He maintained was the very thing most fitted to speak home to the conscience and heart of the Jewish king. “Had there been a spark of conscience left in him, those Eyes, looking him through and through, and that Divine dignity, measuring and weighing him, would have caused his sins to rise up out of the grave and overwhelm him. Jesus was silent, that the voice of the dead Baptist might be heard.” The profound significance of the silence of Jesus was evidently not understood by Herod, or he did not wish to understand it. He affected to treat Christ as a pretender whose claims had broken down and whose power had deserted Him; and with mockery and contempt he dismissed Him from his presence.
III. The injustice of Pilate.—Had the Roman judge been called upon to deal with religious questions, his task would have been a difficult one, owing to his ignorance and inexperience, and we would sympathise with the perplexities of his position. As it was, the path of duty should have been very plain to him. He had found the Prisoner innocent of the charges brought against Him—charges which were of a kind easily dealt with, as they involved merely matters of fact and not of belief or opinion. All that he was required to do was to order the release of a man whom, after full examination, he had found innocent of the charges brought against Him; and his failure to do this has rendered his name infamous in history. He was fully aware of the evil motives that animated the enemies of Christ, and of their hypocrisy in pretending to be zealous for the maintenance of Roman authority and for the payment of tribute to Cæsar. Yet he allowed himself to be used as the tool of men whom he despised, for the gratification of an enmity in which he did not share. His sole motive was to acquire a little popularity with his subjects, and he did not consider the judicial murder of an innocent man too high a price to pay for it. Nor would he have hesitated to do as he was asked but for the strange impression produced upon him by the demeanour and words of Jesus. And so he tries one way after another to escape from the perpetration of the crime into which he was being forced; he seeks to impose the responsibility of dealing with the case upon another; he suggests scourging as a substitute for death; and he proposes to grant release as an act of favour. His miserable subterfuges only revealed his weakness and indecision to those who were resolute that their victim should not escape out of their hands. The case of Pilate shows us how dangerous it is to resist the voice of conscience, to what fatal errors indecision and infirmity of purpose may expose us, and how selfish aims may blind the soul to the beauty and majesty of Christ.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON Luke 23:1-42.23.25
Luke 23:1-42.23.12. Jesus before Pilate and Herod.
I. The Jews brought three charges against Jesus.—All of these were carefully chosen to influence Pilate against Him. Two of them were false—that He perverted the nation, and that He forbade to give tribute to Cæsar. The third was true in the letter, but thereby the more treacherously false in the spirit—that He claimed to be Christ—a king. Pilate took up the last only, and learned that Christ’s kingdom was not temporal, but spiritual.
II. The mob expected this.—But Pilate can be moved by clamour and threats. And Pilate gladly evades responsibility by sending Jesus to Herod.
III. Herod is pleased to see Jesus.—But his pleasure arises from vulgar curiosity—he hopes to see some miracle done by Him. But Jesus is silent before Herod. What a lesson in that! He conversed with the ignorant Roman, but to the well-taught Hebrew’s questions He has nothing to say. For Herod has thrown away exceptional opportunities, and now what is there but a fearful looking-for of judgment? Hastings.
Luke 23:1. “Led Him unto Pilate.”—The heathen world becomes partaker with the Jewish in the greatest wickedness that has ever been committed. In this it appears that the true light is hated as well by those who are under the Law as by those who are without the Law, and the judgment (Romans 3:19-45.3.20), appears as a perfectly righteous one. But at the same time there is also revealed therein the grace of God, as having appeared to all who believe, without respect of persons (Romans 3:21-45.3.31).—Van Oosterzee.
Luke 23:2. Began to accuse Him.”—Note
(1) the contemptuous description—“this fellow” or “man,” without naming Him;
(2) the affected gravity of the accusers—“we found”;
(3) the pretence of consulting for the best interests of the people—“our nation” (R.V.).
The Threefold Accusation.—
1. His seeking to turn the people aside from the good road on which they and the Romans would have them to walk.
2. Forbidding payment of tribute to Cæsar.
3. Claiming to be a king.
“Christ a King.”—The explanation of Christ as meaning a king is a stroke of malice. It was only by attributing a political meaning to the title of king that the accusation of forbidding to pay tribute could be brought against Him. If He were a king in the ordinary sense of the word He must necessarily forbid the payment of tribute to any other but Himself. They declare that He has done what, according to their theory, He was logically bound to do.
Luke 23:3. “The King of the Jews.”
I. Jesus did not look much like a king.—He stood there, with hands bound, and a cord round His neck. Pilate’s question sounds like ridicule. Yet Jesus answered, “Yes, I am a King.” Strange answer! Where were His throne, His crown, His sceptre, His royal robe? Who recognised His sway? Pilate probably looked at Him with mingled contempt and pity.
II. But to us to-day how different does it all appear!—Christ is on the throne. In heaven He is honoured as “King of kings.” On His head are many crowns. All over the earth, as well, His sway is felt.
III. And He was really a king when He stood before Pilate.—For His kingdom is spiritual, a kingdom of truth, righteousness, grace, holiness, love. He seemed the weakest of men; in reality He was the grandest, mightiest, kingliest. The real power of the world is Christ’s power—the kingdom whose sway is over human hearts and lives.—Miller.
Luke 23:4. “I find no fault.”—Though Jesus had confessed that He claimed to be a king (Luke 23:3), the conversation which is recorded in John 18:33-43.18.38 had clearly proved to Pilate that he had not to do with one who was a rival to Cæsar.
Luke 23:5. “He stirreth up the people.”—The false accusations are a testimony to Christ’s integrity. None of the things He had actually said and done could be brought forward as a charge against Him.
“To this place.”—An allusion to the triumphal entry of Christ into the city a few days before.
Luke 23:6. “Whether the man were a Galilæan.”—Those who gave the information to Pilate were ignorant of the fact that Jesus was born in Bethlehem.
Luke 23:7. “Sent Him to Herod.”—Not necessarily to relieve himself from responsibility, but perhaps either to obtain a favourable opinion from Herod concerning the accused or to elicit some further information in reference to the case, as well as to show courtesy to the Jewish king.
Luke 23:8-42.23.12. Jesus and Herod.
I. Herod’s reception of Jesus was characteristic.—He was not abashed or terrified. He once had been so, but all that was past. He was “exceeding glad” to see Jesus. It was a new excitement. And it was also a compliment from the Roman. And chiefly he hoped to see Jesus work a miracle. Now was his chance to gratify his curiosity and wonder. He put Christ on the level of a new singer or dancer. He expected entertainment from Him. He addresses Him in a friendly way. He talks of religion, and waits for no replies. No mouth is more voluble than that of a characterless man of feeling.
II. Christ has nothing to say to such a man.—Herod grew angry at His silence, but Jesus held His peace. For one thing the entire proceedings were irrelevant. Jesus had been sent to Herod to be tried, not to be made a spectacle of. Religion to Herod was a mere diversion. So Christ will not stoop to please him. He has nothing to say to such a character. There are many to whom religion and its services are only a form of amusement or dissipation. Christ never speaks to the soul in such surroundings. Did Jesus miss an opportunity? Should He have spoken? His silence was in itself an eloquent appeal. Christ’s silence is the most eloquent of all appeals.
III. Did Herod understand the meaning of Christ’s silence?—We cannot tell. It is impossible to say. Probably he did not wish to understand it. At all events, he acted as if he did not; he treated it as if it were stupidity. Jesus, he thought, was discredited, was an impostor, a mere pretender. So he thought, and so he said, and his satellites chimed in. And they would, doubtless, think it a great stroke of wit for Herod to send Jesus back to Pilate with a gorgeous robe cast over His shoulders, probably in imitation of the white robe worn at Rome by candidates for office. The suggestion was that Jesus was a candidate for the throne of his country, but one so ridiculous that it would be a mistake to treat Him with anything but contempt.—Stalker.
Luke 23:8. “Hoped to have seen some miracle.”—No petitioner, however humble, ever had his hopes disappointed when he applied to Christ for relief; yet Christ defeats the hopes of this frivolous prince.
Luke 23:9. “Answered him nothing.”—Mark
(1) the wisdom,
(2) the dignity,
(3) the eloquence of this silence. “The shade of John could have observed no more inviolable silence, if it had really appeared to his murderers” (Van Oosterzee).
I. The hatred of the priests.
II. The contempt of the courtiers.—How easily might Christ have overwhelmed both with confusion! Yet He refuses to work any miracle for His own advantage now, as in the temptation in the wilderness.
Luke 23:10. “Vehemently accused Him.”—From Luke 23:15 we learn that Pilate had commanded His accusers to appear before Herod. Doubtless in any case they would have gone, in order to try to prevent their Victim’s escape from condemnation. The indifference manifested by Herod only increased their vehemence in accusing Him; yet, after all, it was Herod’s disappointment, and not their accusation, that led to fresh ignominy being heaped upon the Saviour.
Luke 23:11. “Set Him at nought.”—“He is despised and rejected of men. He was despised and we esteemed Him not.”—Isaiah 53:3.
“Mocked Him.”—The priests accuse the Saviour, the courtiers mock Him. The former are animated by hatred, the latter by contempt.
“A gorgeous robe.”—Unconsciously Herod did honour to Christ, as did Pilate afterwards in the title which he ordered to be affixed to the cross.
Luke 23:12. “Became friends together.”—Though the coalition of Herod and Pilate was not based upon any active enmity to Christ, yet by the indecision of the Roman judge and the indifference of the Jewish king, the way was prepared for the unjust sentence of death being passed upon the Saviour. And so their conduct was a virtual fulfilment of the prophecy in Psalms 2:2. Cf. Acts 4:27.
Luke 23:13-42.23.25. “Back to Pilate.”—Herod’s worldliness was of a frivolous type. Pilate’s was strenuous—the worldliness which makes self its aim and subordinates everything to success. The more common type. It reveals itself in Pilate under the search-light of Christ’s scrutiny.
I. Pilate should have released Jesus, on receiving Him back from Herod.—But he most unjustly threatens to scourge Him, as a sop to the rage of the mob, and then set Him at liberty as a tribute to justice. A most unjust proceeding! but characteristic of the man. The spirit of compromise was characteristic of Rome. Manœuvre and expediency were universal. It is not true that this spirit is always and everywhere displeasing to God?
II. He grasps at a way of escape.—It was the custom to release a prisoner on the Passover morning. He welcomes the chance of releasing Christ. He offers Jesus to the crowd—unjustly—for Jesus was not a criminal; and worse, he was staking the life of an innocent man on a guess, which might be mistaken, as to the fancy of the mob. He, doubtless, considered it kind. And the offer he makes—Jesus or Barabbas—is the essence of all the great choices of life. Every individual has to face this decision.
III. The mob chooses Barabbas.—A surprise, a staggering blow, to Pilate. Jesus is left on His hands. “What shall I do with Jesus?” He tries to free himself of guilt. He washes His hands theatrically. He ought to have exerted them rather. Blood does not come off so easily. He could not thus abnegate responsibility and cast it upon others. He ought to have opposed the popular will at all risks. But this would have meant loss to himself. The mob gained their end. They clamoured for Christ’s blood, and the will of Pilate broke down before their well-directed persistency.—Stalker.
Luke 23:13. “And the people.”—Pilate communicates his views both to the rulers and to the assembled people, for both were now associated together in seeking to have a sentence of condemnation passed upon Jesus.
Luke 23:14. Three Good Points in Pilate’s Procedure—
I. He had carefully investigated the case.
II. He had declared his conviction of the innocence of Jesus.
III. He had sought the opinion of one who was qualified to give a decision upon the questions at issue.
“Perverteth the people.”—I.e., one who turns them from their allegiance to Cæsar.
Luke 23:15. “Nor yet Herod.”—The phrase implies that if even Herod, though well acquainted with the Jewish Law, and, as the sovereign of the accused, especially solicitous that He might not be allowed to stir up the people against the Romans, Herod’s patrons—if even he could find no matter of complaint, the case might be looked upon as decided.
Luke 23:16. “Chastise Him and release Him.”—Pilate hoped, by this proposal, to effect two objects:
1. He would not burden his own conscience by imposing a heavier sentence.
2. He would do something towards satisfying the enmity of the Jews against the Saviour. A certain measure of mercy towards Jesus is implied in the suggestion; but “the tender mercies of the wicked are cruel.”
Luke 23:17. “Must release one.”—And what does this signify but that at this great Feast, the true Passover, we, to whom death is due, are let go free? Christ is taken; we, who are guilty, like Barabbas, escape.”—Williams.
“He must release.”—Perhaps this custom commemorated the great national deliverance from Egypt, and so was appropriate at the time of the Passover.
Luke 23:18. “Release unto us Barabbas.”—I.e., one who was actually a revolutionary—guilty of the same kind of crime as that of which they had accused Jesus.
Luke 23:19. “And for murder.”—In this and in Luke 23:25 there is an undertone of indignation at the blindness and hardness of heart which impelled the Jews to make such a choice. Cf. Acts 3:14, “But ye denied the Holy One and the Just, and desired a murderer to be granted unto you.”
Luke 23:20. “Spake again to them.”—The substance of his speech or exclamation is not given, but may be guessed from the words “desiring to release Jesus.” The excited multitude interrupted him and did not allow him to give full expression to his desire.
Luke 23:21. “Crucify Him.”—For the first time the terrible cry is here heard, which, as the secret wish and thought of the chief priests, is now by these placed upon the people’s lips, and with fanatical rage raised by them.—Van Oosterzee.
Luke 23:22. “What evil hath He done?”—It is very noteworthy that Pilate took step after step to secure the acquittal of Jesus.
1. He emphatically and publicly announced His perfect innocence.
2. He sent Him to Herod.
3. He made an offer to release Him as a boon.
4. He tried to make scourging take the place of crucifixion.
5. He appealed to compassion.—Farrar.
Luke 23:23. “And of the chief priests.”—Even they, unmindful of decorum, join in the impetuous cry of the raging people for blood.
Luke 23:24. “It should be as they required.”—The weakness of Pilate led him to become the confederate of those whose hatred of Christ he did not partake in. His case is a striking illustration of the saying, “He that is not with Me is against Me.”
Luke 23:25. Fatal Decision.
I. So ends Pilate’s weak struggle with his conscience and with his sense of right.—He has tried every way to evade the issue; then he has temporised; at last he has yielded. His name is pilloried for ever as the man who delivered Jesus to the will of the mob. He is known by no other act. Better a thousand times to have remained in obscurity.
II. He took water to wash his hands.—In symbol he declared that he was not responsible for Christ’s death. It was in vain. The water did not wash away one particle of his guilt. On him the final responsibility rested. No other could send Jesus to the cross. That others urge us to sin does not take away our guilt for that sin. No being in the universe can compel us to do wrong; if, then, we do wrong, the sin is our own.
III. The Jews took the responsibility of Christ’s death.—“His blood be on us, and on our children!” The self-imprecation was awfully fulfilled. The story of the next forty years is the terrible record of its fulfilment. The crime was successful, but what came of the success in the end? Sin always brings woe. The worst of all sins is sin against the Lord Jesus Christ.—Miller.
Luke 23:26. Simon, a Cyrenian.—Rather, “of Cyrene” (R.V.). There was a colony of Jews in Cyrene, and they had a synagogue in Jerusalem (Acts 6:9; Acts 11:20). Probably he had come up to the Passover in Jerusalem. St. Mark speaks of his two sons “Alexander and Rufus,” who were evidently well known in Christian society as disciples. Probably Jesus was unable, because of being exhausted by His agony in the garden, and the scourging He had undergone, to bear the cross. This seems to be indicated by the words “laid hold upon,” or, as St. Mark says, “compelled”; Simon was impressed to assist in bearing the burden, which would scarcely have been necessary if Jesus had been able to do it. Perhaps Simon showed some sign of commiseration on meeting the procession. Coming out of the country.—This might mean coming from work, but scarcely can have that signification here. Perhaps it simply denotes his meeting the procession: he was on his way into the city; they were on their way out of it. Bear it after Jesus.—Apparently assist in carrying; Simon bearing the hinder part, Jesus the fore part.
Luke 23:27. A great company.—As is usual at an execution. Women.—Not Galilæan women (cf. Luke 23:49), but women of Jerusalem. Their sorrow was evidently that excited by sympathy with a condemned criminal; but, of course, some of them may have been disciples of Jesus.
Luke 23:28. Daughters of Jerusalem.—Inhabitants of a doomed city. For yourselves.—No doubt some of them afterwards experienced the horrors of the siege.
Luke 23:30. Begin to say, etc.—A quotation from Hosea 10:8.
Luke 23:31. Green tree.—I.e., “if these things are done to one who is innocent, what shall be done to those who are guilty?” The idea of dryness suggests “fit for burning.”
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Luke 23:26-42.23.31
Two Alleviations of Jesus’ Sufferings.
I. The strength of a man relieved His body of the burden of the cross.—Though He bore His own cross out of the palace of Pilate, He was not able to carry it far. Either He sank beneath it on the road, or He was proceeding with such slow and faltering steps that the soldiers, impatient of the delay, recognised that the burden must be removed from His shoulders. One or two of the soldiers might have relieved Him. Out of a spirit of horseplay and mischief they laid hold of a passer-by and requisitioned his services for the purpose. To the man it must have been an extreme annoyance and indignity. Doubtless he was bent on business of his own, which had to be deferred. His family or his friends might be waiting for him, but he was turned the opposite way. To touch the instrument of death was as revolting to him as it would be to us to handle the hangman’s rope; perhaps more so, because it was Passover time, and this would make him ceremonially unclean. It was a jest of the soldiers and he was their laughing-stock. As he walked by the side of the robbers, it looked as if he were on the way to execution himself. This is a lively image of the cross-bearing to which the followers of Christ are called. We are wont to speak of trouble of any kind as a cross; and doubtless any kind of trouble may be borne bravely in the name of Christ. But, properly speaking, the cross of Christ is what is borne in the act of confessing Him, or for the sake of His work. When any one makes a stand for principle, because he is a Christian, and takes the consequences in the shape of scorn or loss, this is the cross of Christ. The pain you may feel in speaking to another in Christ’s name, the sacrifice of comfort or time you may make in engaging in Christian work, the self-denial you exercise in giving of your means that the cause of Christ may spread at home or abroad, the reproach you may have to bear in identifying yourself with militant causes or with despised persons, because you believe they are on Christ’s side—in such conduct lies the cross of Christ. It involves trouble, discomfort, or sacrifice. One may fret under it, or sink under it; it is ugly, painful, shameful often, but no disciple is without it. Our Master said, “He that taketh not his cross and followeth after Me is not worthy of Me.” Apparently this rencontre issued in Simon’s salvation and in the salvation of his house. There can be little doubt that the connection of his family with the Church (noted by St. Mark), was the result of this incident in the father’s life. Is this not a significant fact, proving that nothing happens by chance? Had Simon entered the city one hour sooner or one hour later, his after history might have been entirely different. On the smallest circumstances the greatest results may hinge. A chance meeting may determine the weal or woe of a life. How much may follow when Christ is revealed to any human soul! The salvation of those yet unborn may be involved in it—of children and children’s children.
II. The pain of Christ’s soul was cooled by the sympathy of women.—It was, indeed, a surprising demonstration. It would hardly have been credited, had it not there been made manifest, that Jesus had so strong a hold upon any section of the population of Jerusalem. In the capital He had always found the soil very unreceptive. Yet now it turns out that He has touched the heart of one section, at least, even of this community. It is a great testimony to the character of Christ, on the one hand, and to that of woman on the other. Woman’s instinct told her, however dimly she at first apprehended the truth, that this was the Deliverer for her. Because, while Christ is the Saviour of all, He has been specially the Saviour of woman. At His advent, her degradation being far deeper than that of men, she needed Him more; and wherever His gospel has travelled since then, it has been the signal for her emancipation and redemption. His presence evokes all the tender and beautiful qualities which are latent in her nature; and under His influence her character experiences a transfiguration. It may be that there was no great depth in the emotion of the daughters of Jerusalem; but this response of womanhood to Christ was a beginning, and therein lay its significance. It was to Him a foretaste of the splendid devotion which He was yet to receive from the womanhood of the world. The sounds of sympathy flowed over His soul as gratefully as the gift of Mary’s love enveloped His senses, when the house was filled with the odour of the ointment. His words, in response to their sympathy,
(1) reveal Himself—they show how completely He could forget His own sufferings in care and anxiety for others;
(2) they show the depth and fervour of His patriotism;
(3) they reveal His consideration for women and children;
(4) they contain an exhortation to repentance.
The two incidents are a parable of what men and women can do for Christ still. He needs the strength of men—the strong arm, the vigorous hand, the shoulders that can bear the burden of His cause; He seeks from men the mind whose originality can plan what needs to be done, the resolute will that pushes the work on, in spite of opposition, the liberal hand that gives ungrudgingly what is required for the progress and success of the Christian enterprise. From women He seeks sympathy and tears. They can give the sensibility which keeps the heart of the world from hardening; the secret knowledge which finds out the objects of Christian compassion, and wins their confidence; the enthusiasm which burns like a fire at the heart of religious work. The influence of women is subtle and remote, but it is on this account all the more powerful; for they sit at the very fountains, where the river of human life is springing, and where a touch may determine its entire subsequent course.—Stalker.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON Luke 23:26-42.23.31
Luke 23:26-42.23.46. Outline of The Narrative.—
1. The procession to Calvary (Luke 23:26-42.23.32).
2. The crucifixion (Luke 23:33-42.23.38).
3. The time passed upon the cross (Luke 23:39-42.23.46).
Luke 23:26. “On him they laid the cross.”—The Christian’s bearing of the cross is like that of Simon.
I. The cross is not chosen willingly, but imposed.
II. It is best borne in a spirit of resignation.
III. There is a reward attached to the patient bearing of it.
Simon and Jesus.
I. The greatness of trifles: accidentally coming up at that moment; catching the eye of the centurion.
II. The blessedness and honour of helping Jesus Christ.
III. The perpetual recompense and record of the humblest Christian work.
IV. The blessed results of contact with the suffering Christ.—Maclaren.
Simon the Cross-bearer.
I. The incident.—A very singular one. A strange providence in Simon’s life.
II. Simon bore Christ’s cross.—At first by compulsion. No one was anxious for this task. But the compulsory task became to him a joy and honour. A type of the future power of the cross. Compulsion was changed into delight. The task was a brief one, but it made his name immortal.
III. The lessons.—
1. Let us do, in spirit, what Simon did literally. Let us take up our cross and follow Christ. And let us do this willingly.
2. Christ is our pattern Cross-Bearer. Let us seek, in everything, to be conformed to His image.—Hutchings.
Luke 23:27-42.23.34. Prophet, Priest, and King.—It is remarkable how, in three following sayings, the Lord appears as Prophet, Priest, and King: as Prophet, to the daughters of Jerusalem; as Priest, interceding for forgiveness; as King, acknowledged by the penitent thief, and answering his prayer.—Alford.
Luke 23:27. “Women, which bewailed.”—St. Luke, in whose Gospel the most of the women who stood in connection with Jesus are described, relates to us here how their compassion strewed yet one last flower for our Lord upon His path of thorns.—Van Oosterzee.
“Lamented Him.”—Though there were two others led with Him to execution, it was to Him alone that this sympathy was shown.
Luke 23:28. “Weep not for Me.”—He Himself wept over the city, and did not weep for Himself.
Luke 23:29. “Blessed.”—The word introduces a fearful woe. Compare for a similar thought to that here, Hosea 9:12-28.9.16.
“Say to the mountains,” etc.—It is interesting to see how often David, who frequently hid among the rocks of the wilderness from Saul, calls the Lord His Rock (Psalms 18:2; Psalms 18:46; Psalms 42:9, etc.). Those who have this defence will not need to call on the rocks to hide them.
“Cover us.”—The words found a literal fulfilment at the time of the siege of Jerusalem, for the Jews in multitudes “hid themselves in the subterranean passages and sewers under the city.”
Luke 23:31. “The green tree.”—The green tree is Jesus, whom the Jews deliver over to death by the hands of the Romans, in spite of His constant submission to pagan authority; the dry is the Jewish people, who, in consequence of their spirit of rebellion, will draw down upon themselves in a proportionately greater degree the vengeance of the Romans.—Godet.
“What shall be done in the dry?”—With these words our Lord’s teaching closes, and His high-priestly office begins. His first three sayings on the cross are for others. See Luke 23:43; John 19:26-43.19.27.
Luke 23:32.—Malefactors.—Called by St. Matthew and St. Mark “robbers.” Probably they were insurgents against Roman rule, who had been more like brigands than patriots.
Luke 23:33. Calvary.—Rather, “The Skull.” The Greek word is simply “kranion,” a rendering of the Hebrew “Golgotha”; our A.V. adopts the Latin word for the same thing. There is no reason for speaking of the place as a mount; it was probably a knoll of ground somewhat like a skull in shape. The idea that it derived its name from the skulls of persons who had been executed, lying on the ground, is erroneous. The Jews scrupulously buried the dead.
Luke 23:34. Then said Jesus.—Probably during the act of crucifixion; and the words referred primarily to the Roman soldiers who nailed Him to the cross. St. Luke records three of the seven sayings from the cross—Luke 23:34; Luke 23:43; Luke 23:46. This saying is strangely omitted in some very ancient MSS., but there can be no doubt of its genuineness. Parted His raiment.—The clothes of the criminal in most countries being appropriated by the executioners.
Luke 23:35. Stood beholding.—Though the attitude tells nothing of their state of mind, there is no reason to believe that any reaction in popular feeling had set in, or that those who demanded His death now abstained from deriding Him. With them.—Omit these words: omitted in R.V. If He be Christ.—Rather, “if this is the Christ of God, His chosen” (R.V.). The word translated “this” implies contempt.
Luke 23:36. Soldiers.—Four in number (John 19:23), with a centurion. Vinegar.—I.e., sour wine; probably forming part of their midday meal.
Luke 23:38. A superscription.—“A titulus” written in black letters on a board smeared with white gypsum. It was usual to put such a board over the head of a crucified person. In letters of Greek, etc.—Omitted in R.V. Perhaps the words are taken from the parallel passage in John 19:20. This the King, etc.—The title on the cross is variously given, probably because of the varying forms of expression in the three languages used. One evangelist may have in his mind the Hebrew rendering, another the Greek, another the Latin, and another may give us the general substance of all three.
Luke 23:39. One of the malefactors.—St. Matthew and St. Mark say that those crucified with Jesus reviled Him; but they evidently speak of classes of persons who did so—those that passed by, chief priests, scribes, elders—even the robbers; though, of course, it is possible that both of His companions in death at first joined in the derision, and that after a time one of them repented of having done so. If Thou be Christ.—Rather, “Art not Thou the Christ?” (R.V.).
Luke 23:40. Dost not thou? etc.—Rather, “Dost thou not even fear God?” (R.V.).
Luke 23:41. For we receive, etc.—Lit., “for we are receiving back things worthy of what we did.”
Luke 23:42. Into Thy kingdom.—More correctly, “in Thy kingdom”—a consummation in the far-distant future.
Luke 23:43. To-day.—This is the emphatic word: immediate instead of far-off reward, Paradise.—“This is a Persian word for park, or garden; used in LXX. of Eden (Genesis 2:8). In 2 Corinthians 12:4 it is used as equivalent to “the third heaven”; in Revelation 2:7 it is the same as the restored Eden figured in Revelation 21:22 as the New Jerusalem. The language is figurative, but no doubt in accordance with the truth concerning the unseen world” (Speaker’s Commentary).
Luke 23:44. Sixth hour.—I.e., midday. All the earth.—R.V. “the whole land.” This darkness could not have been an eclipse, as it was now (Passover) full moon.
Luke 23:45. The sun was darkened.—R.V. follows the reading, “the sun’s light failing”; which seems more like a gloss to explain the darkness than the original text. Veil of the Temple.—I.e., the veil that divided the Holy of Holies from the Holy Place.
Luke 23:46.—Father, into Thy hands, etc.—From Psalms 31:5. Gave up the ghost.—None of the evangelists use the words “He died,” but say “He breathed forth,” or “gave up His spirit.”
Luke 23:47. Glorified God.—“A notice characteristic of St. Luke (Luke 2:20, Luke 5:25, Luke 7:16, Luke 13:13, Luke 17:15, Luke 18:43)” (Farrar). A righteous man.—I.e., innocent, just; and as Jesus had, in his hearing, twice spoken of God as His Father (Luke 23:34; Luke 23:46), he was persuaded He must be a Son of God. The latter is given as the saying of the centurion in St. Matthew and St. Mark.
Luke 23:48. Smote their breasts.—I.e., in token of penitence. They were now, to some extent, repentant for the actions into which they had been goaded by the priests.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Luke 23:32-42.23.49
Three Words from the Cross.—Seven words, in all, Christ spoke from the cross; St. Luke records only the prayer He offered for His murderers, His promise to the penitent, and the last cry in which He commended His spirit into the hands of His Father.
I. “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.”—Notice:
1. The invocation. The first utterance of Jesus was a prayer, and His first word “Father.” Was it not an unintentional condemnation of those who had affixed Him there? It was in the name of religion they had acted, and, in the name of God; but which of them was thus impregated through and through with religion? Which of them could pretend to a communion with God so close and habitual? It is a suspicious case when, in any trial, especially an ecclesiastical one, the condemned is obviously a better man than the judges. The word “Father,” further, proved that the faith of Jesus was unshaken by all through which He had passed, and by that which He was now enduring. Great saints have been driven, by the pressure of pain and disappointment, to challenge God’s righteousness in words which it is not lawful for a man to utter. But when the fortunes of Jesus were at the blackest He still said “Father.”
2. The petition. Our hearts burn with indignation at the treatment to which He was subjected. The comment of Jesus on it all was, “Father, forgive them.” Long ago, indeed, He had taught men, “Love your enemies, … and pray for them which despitefully use you.” And here He practised what He taught. He is the one teacher of mankind in whom the sentiment and the act completely coincide. His doctrine was the very highest; too high, it often seems, for this world But He proved that it can be realised on earth when He offered this prayer. Perhaps nothing is more difficult than to forgive. Even saints in the Old Testament curse those who have persecuted and wronged them, in terms of uncompromising severity. Had Jesus followed these, who would have ventured to find fault with Him? Even in that there might have been a revelation of God, because in the Divine nature there is a fire of wrath against sin. But how poor would such a revelation have been in comparison with the one which He now made! It told that God is love.
3. The argument. This allows us to see further still into the Divine depths of His love. The injured are generally alive only to their own side of the case, and they see only those circumstances which tend to place the conduct of the opposite party in the worst light. But at the moment when the pain inflicted by His enemies was at the worst Jesus was seeking excuses for their conduct. It is true of every sinner, in some measure, that he knows not what he does. And to a true penitent, as he approaches the throne of mercy, it is a great consolation to be assured that this plea will be allowed. God knows all our weakness and blindness; men will not make allowance for it, or even understand it, but He will understand it all, if we come to hide our guilty head in His bosom.
II. “To-day shalt thou be with Me in paradise.”—There was probably malice in the arrangement by which Jesus was hung between the two thieves. Yet there was a Divine purpose behind the wrath of man. Jesus came to the world to identify Himself with sinners; He had lived among them, and it was meet that He should die among them. It gave Him, too, an opportunity of illustrating, at the very last moment, both the magnanimity of His own character and the nature of His mission. As the parable of the Prodigal Son is an epitome of the whole teaching of Christ, so is the salvation of the thief on the cross the life of Christ in miniature. There is no reason to doubt either that this thief was a great sinner or that he was suddenly changed. And therefore his example will always be an encouragement to the worst of sinners when they repent. It is common for penitents to be afraid to come to God, because their sins have been too great to be forgiven; but those who are encouraging them can point to cases like Manasseh, and Mary Magdalene, and this, and assure them that the mercy which sufficed for these is sufficient for all: “The blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, cleanseth us from all sin.” How complete the revolution was in the penitent is shown by his own words. St. Paul, in one place, sums up Christianity in two things: repentance towards God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. And both of these we see in this penitent’s words. It is worth noting that it was not by words that Jesus converted this man. He did not address the penitent thief at all till the thief spoke to Him. The work of conviction was done before He uttered a word. Yet it was His work. It was by the impression of His patience, His innocence, His peace, and His magnanimity, that Jesus converted the man. Yet His words, when He did speak, added immensely to the impression. He accepted the homage of His petitioner; He spoke of the world unseen as of a place native and familiar. He gave him to understand that He possessed as much influence there as he attributed to Him. This great sinner laid on Christ the weight of his soul, the weight of his sins, the weight of his eternity; and Christ accepted the burden.
III. “Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit.”—
1. The final words of the dying Saviour was a prayer. It was not by chance that this was so, for the currents within Him were all flowing Godward. While prayer is appropriate for all times, there are occasions when it is singularly appropriate—at the close of day, in moments of mortal peril, at the Communion Table, and before death. On this last occasion it is more in its place than anywhere else. Then we are, perforce, parting with all that is earthly. How natural to lay hold of what alone we can keep hold of! And this is what prayer does; for it lays hold of God. Yet, natural as prayer is at that time, it is only so to those who have learned to pray before. It had long been to Jesus the language of life, and it was only the bias of the life asserting itself in death when, as He breathed His last, He turned to God.
2. The last word of the dying Saviour was a quotation from Scripture. If prayer is natural to the lips of the dying, so is Scripture. In the most sacred moments and transactions of life there is no language like that of the Bible. Especially is this the case in everything connected with death. In this supreme moment Jesus turned to the Psalms. This is undoubtedly the most precious of all the books of the Old Testament. It is a book penned as with the life-blood of its author; it is the record of humanity’s profoundest sorrows and sublimest ecstasies; it is the most perfect expression which has ever been given to experience; it has been the vade-mecum of all the saints; and to know and to love it is one of the best signs of spirituality.
3. It was about His spirit that the dying Saviour prayed. Dying persons are sometimes much taken up with their bodies, or with their worldly concerns. Nor did Jesus altogether refrain from bestowing attention on these things, for one of his sayings on the cross had reference to His bodily necessities, and another to His mother’s future comfort. But His supreme concern was His spirit, to the interests of which He devoted His final prayer. He placed it in the hands of God. There it was safe. Strong and secure are the hands of the Eternal. They are soft and loving too. With what a passion of tenderness must they have received the spirit of Jesus.
4. His last word revealed His view of death. The word used by Jesus in commending His spirit to God implies that He was giving it away in the hope of finding it again. He was making a deposit in a safe place, to which, after the crisis of death was over, He would come and recover it (cf. 2 Timothy 1:12). Death is a disruption of the parts of which human nature is composed. But Jesus was looking forward to a reunion of the separated parts, when they would again find each other, and the integrity of the personal life be restored. His dying word proves that He believed for Himself what He taught to others. Not only, however, has He, by His teaching, brought life and immortality to light; He is Himself the guarantee of the doctrine; for He is our immortal life. “Because I live,” He has said, “ye shall live also.”—Stalker.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON Luke 23:32-42.23.49
Luke 23:32. “Two others.”—Probably these had been former associates of Barabbas, in whose place Jesus was crucified. They were, as it were, assigned as subjects to “the King of the Jews,” in order to mock His claims. Yet one of them did actually become His subject. God added fresh glory to His Son by causing the wrath of men to turn to His praise.
Luke 23:33. “One on the right hand.”—The very cross was the tribunal of Christ, for the Judge was placed in the middle; one thief, who believed, was set free; the other, who reviled, was condemned: which signified what He was already about to do with the quick and dead, being about to set some on His right hand, and some on the left.”—Hall.
I. There they crucified Him.
II. There they crucified Him.
III. There they crucified Him.
IV. There they crucified Him.—Young.
The Three Crosses.
I. We shall look at the two crosses upon which the malefactors suffered.—
1. We consider the crucifixion of the malefactors as the protest of human society against rebellion, in the vindication of its own life, and of the sacredness of its own laws. This was a terrible punishment, even to malefactors, who were evidently men of the lowest type. They were looked upon as the recognised enemies of human society. The worst punishment civilisation could inflict upon, and the most terrible weapon it could use toward, those who, by their desperate conduct, had forfeited existence, was the cross. We know of what type these malefactors were—not thieves, as the A.V. gives it, but robbers or brigands; men who never considered aught binding in their war with their fellows. These men belonged to that terrible class which becomes the pest of oppressive governments or ill-regulated human communities, just as epidemics are the outcome of bad sanitation, or the neglect of the first laws of health. These belonged to a class of men who represent all the desperation of which grinding poverty is capable, and all the degradation which irresponsibility can produce. Thus in these two crosses—losing sight for the present of the great central Cross—we have human society’s vindication of its own life and its own laws.
2. We also find here the triumph of justice over rule and rebellious force. This is so far gratifying. Thus the crosses upon which the malefactors were crucified were the safety of society and the vindication of law. In those crosses we see the due reward of human criminality, the last weapons that society, and the justice of the community, could use. Justice, having failed to restore, can only destroy. Justice can do no more. Thus in these two cases we have the triumph of human society and human government over men who otherwise would lay the earth waste, and make countries a devastation.
II. We next view the central cross, upon which Christ died.—That cross taught a very different lesson from that which was taught by the other crosses. The other crosses revealed the criminality of those who suffered, but
(1) That central cross revealed the sinfulness and criminality of those who crucified the Innocent One.
2. This cross bears a relationship with every man. Since He who died upon it died not as a criminal, not even as one who was falsely condemned, or as a martyr only, but as one who was vindicated by His own judge, who found “no fault in Him,” and vindicated by the very man who betrayed Him, and who exclaimed, “I have betrayed innocent blood.” One who did no crime against man—yea, no sin against God: “He did no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth.”
3. This, too, was a death which He voluntarily accepted, though He had the power to escape it. It was not the infliction of death upon one who could not withstand the power that inflicted it. It was the death of One who beforehand said, and gave this as the clue to His disciples of the nature of His Cross and passion, “I lay down My life, that I might take it again.” I accept, then, that central Cross, as telling of sin; but as telling of it in a very different way from the other crosses.
4. In the Cross of Christ I find the greatest condemnation of sin. I find there the greatest and most awful revelation of the possibilities of human sinfulness.
5. But it also tells of more than that. As the Cross was the condemnation of man and the revelation of human guilt, so was it the revelation of a Divine love that triumphed over all the guilt, ingratitude, and hatred, of men in a sacrifice that knew of no reserve, even the death of the Lord’s Anointed One.
III. And now let us look at the relationship between that cross and the two other crosses.—There was one man who died impenitent—one man who sank deeper and deeper into the iniquity in which he had already sunk so low, and defied every sacred influence; one, moreover, who was not overcome by those things that overcame the centurion who presided over the execution; and, finally, one who was not touched by the protest of that fellow-sufferer who, though as sinful as himself, could no longer resist, but pleaded with him in the earnestness of a fresh conviction—pleaded in tones which quivered alike with the agony of suffering and with the earnestness of a new belief, but died an impenitent and hardened sinner. There was another cross, upon which was to be seen the penitent one, who at first found expression in the blasphemy which came from both malefactors, but who at length paused as he felt the drawing power of Him who died on that central Cross, and then at every risk became the first vindicator of that great Sufferer in the presence of the chief priests and scribes who mocked, and an angry multitude who beat like a furious storm around those crosses. He became the first to rebuke blasphemy in the presence of the Cross, and then in the additional light that comes to every man who acts up to the light that he has already received, turned to the crucified Christ and exclaimed, “Lord, remember me when Thou comest in Thy kingdom.” Thus, there are exhibited here two typical attitudes towards Jesus Christ. Now, the world to-day is represented by the one or the other—the impenitent, who is still untouched; and the penitent, who breaks down in the presence of the Cross. There is no third class.—Davies.
Luke 23:34. “Father.”—With this name both the first and the last (seventh) saying upon the cross opens.
“Father, forgive.”—A model prayer.
I. God addressed as Father.
II. Forgiveness of sin the chiefest benefit to be asked for.
III. Inspired by love, even for enemies.
“Know not what they do.”—This suggests a motive for forgiveness—that of pity—and not the ground of forgiveness. Ignorance may be a palliation of guilt, but does not remove it, or else no prayer for forgiveness would be needed.
(1) a plea for forgiveness;
(2) yet is culpable and needs forgiveness.
The First Word.
I. Sin needs forgiveness.
II. Forgiveness is obtainable.
III. The great Intercessor pleads for it.—Ireland.
I. His first word was no cry of pain.
II. His first word pleads for His murderers.
III. His first word was the beginning of an intercession that is still going on.
IV. His first word teaches us a great lesson on Christian forgiveness.—Miller.
Ignorance in Doing Wrong.—“Father, forgive them; they know not what they do.” These words, so full of pathos and Christian spirit, are the words of our Christ while He was being fastened to the cross, or while in agony upon it. They breathe the noble spirit of love to man, even to bitterest enemies, whose cruel acts spoke the hatred of their hearts. “Forgive them!” How deep must have been the love of that noble heart! “They know not what they do.” How clear was the spiritual vision of that great soul! That heart knew sorrow, but not hatred. That soul saw the right, and knew that no temporal eclipse could put wrong on the everlasting throne. It has been well said that “the brave only know how to forgive.” The power of forgiving flows only from a strength and greatness of soul. These words may apply to the people—the unthinking mass, easily led for good or bad. They may apply to the obedient tools of power—the Roman soldiers—those who were His immediate crucifiers. Or Pilate may have been most prominent in Jesus’ mind,—poor, weak creature, with the semblance of greatness, but without the real thing. His outward exterior belied the weak soul within. Perhaps it is Caiaphas who needs the prayer—the man who ought to speak the word of truth and justice; the really strong man, with a fixed purpose, and with means to attain that purpose. Jesus meant all. All were men in error and sin. But did not these, one and all, know what they were doing? How far the people knew it is difficult to say. They gave little time to any careful thought over the matter. Their leaders demanded the life of this Jesus. Right or wrong, they followed their leaders. Small aims, little policies, poor, superficial reasons, satisfied them. The immediate present was all they saw. The Roman soldiers were trained to obey: this was their first duty. Not for them to reason why, but to do. They were, as are all soldiers, mere instruments of higher powers. They were the brute and blind means by which the higher powers maintained themselves. But, for all this prayer, these people and soldiers knew better than they acted; they did not live up to what little Divine light they had. They must stand in judgment, and receive their well-merited stripes. Pilate did know what he was doing. He knew he was twisting, in his weakness, the Roman law (which had some bit of justice in it) to please the Jews, whose governor he was. He trembled before the cry of the priests: “If thou let this man go, thou art not Cæsar’s friend.” He sought outside, not inside, approval. He thought more of public opinion, of the opinion of the great, than of the opinion he could have of himself. He sacrificed moral integrity on the altar of power. Let Pilate be Cæsar’s friend at all cost, though to be so he violated Cæsar’s law. Pilate thus far knew what he was doing, He was thinking of his own hold on the governorship of Judæa. Those in power know what they are doing. We need waste no pity on them. They know that the one thought is not the benefit of man or country, but how to maintain themselves in powerful places. There is no need to ransack history—to tell of the deeds of tyrants, of their trampling down by their soldiers the mass of human kind, of their courts and judgments. History is full until it flows over with examples. We must get power, we must hold on to power, by all means. Let God and man, and country and justice, and truth and integrity, go. Let all that is held to be principle be crucified. You cannot pray, “Forgive them: they know not what they do.” They do know. And that is the worst of it. Caiaphas and the hierarchy knew what they were doing. This gentle rabbi, Jesus, who would get at the spirit under the ceremony, who laid so little stress on form, who would have men come direct to God as children, was really a destroyer of the Temple worship and of priestly power. He represented the new, larger, freer thought; they, the old, outgrown thought. He stood for progress, they for stagnation. They were wise men; they would use the enactments of men to thwart the laws of God. If they did not enforce these ordinances, the Temple would go, the service would go, the people would no longer worship the God of their fathers, Moses would be dishonoured, the prophets despised, and holy Judaism, purchased at fearful cost, would be a thing forgotten. Let, therefore, this young man be silenced, and, if it must be, by death. Let the old crush this destroying new. They knew well what they were doing. In the same sense the men who, all along our trail of blood called history, have sent their fellows to death, knew what they were doing. They knew what they were doing, or, to be more exact, they thought they knew. But did they know, after all? Let us see. In the broad sweep of the question, did they know? Of course, the blind mass did not know. Nor do they know now; and, in their ignorance, they commit crime and do acts of folly. Those who do know suffer through the ignorance of the ignorant. When one stops and thinks that he is the product of his age—his age with all its blindness, folly, and sin; when he thinks that his soul and its everlasting destiny is being moulded by his surroundings, and that his surroundings include the besotted, the knaves, the brutish, and the brutal,—he may bestir himself to improve these surroundings, to make better his age. He feels the great solemnity of the prayer of Jesus when applied to these darkened masses. “Father, forgive them; they know not what they do.” They know not the real nature of sin or the majesty of Divine justice. Nor did the soldiers know what they were doing. They thought they were carrying out the law, whereas they were the blind instruments of cruelty and injustice. It is a sad picture, this yielding up of will and moral responsibility to a supposed superior. It is a most dangerous thing, and it has ever, in the end, proved a terrible thing to the weak. It is something to make one pause when one really takes in the thought of thousands, hundreds of thousands, of men yielding up to another will their wills and consciences. It gives food for reflection when these thousands practically say, “Think for me. Be responsible to humanity and God for me. I will act. I will dye my hands in blood, guilty and innocent. Only be thou responsible.” They did not know that, no matter what may be the customs and ordinances of nations, no man can shift to another his responsibility to man and God. Pilate—did he really know what he was doing? In one way, yes; but, in a deeper way, no. He fancied he was upholding Roman power. The majesty of human law asserted itself in him. He thought that human ordinances were final. He knew not that at the back of these arose, as clouds of threatening darkness and as clouds of approving light, the everlasting principles of justice. Pilate was a lawyer, and most naturally confounded the judgments of men with the wisdom of God. He thought that to apply human ordinances was the only way to order and good government. He forgot, or never knew, that government is a means, not an end. In the interest of his earthly empire he was blinded to the deeper interest of the kingdom of God. He saw the Roman army, the Roman power, the Roman law. He did not see higher powers and Diviner principles than had then or have now found their way into human ordinances. Poor, blinded man. And Caiaphas! Oh, we pity him! His name and memory have suffered. His deed has brought down upon the heads of noble men, pure women, and innocent children the curses and cruelties of the ignorant and bigoted. Poor priest, of a once great religion, the one who was to lead to hope, to faith, to duty, leads to hate, death, and destruction. He fancied that religion was a thing of the outer man, not the living principle of the soul. He did not see that God can uphold His own cause. He needs no man’s crime to assist Him. He called for the death of one greater than the Temple, greater than all the Temple’s ritual, greater than Moses,—a new man, with a new, large word from the God in heaven and the God in the human soul. He knew not what he did. When we think of Pilate and Caiaphas, the men in power, on whose will the lives of their fellows depended; when we think of their dense ignorance;—we pity our humanity, and them with it. Men find it a most difficult lesson to learn that you may slay men, but you cannot thus take the life of God out of those deep, fundamental principles on which all life rests, and by which all life is sustained,—those fundamentals that make thought possible, that regulate the moral universe. These are as eternal as God is eternal. Men may come, men may go; but these abide for ever. So runs the law of God, Oh, how real, then, the prayer, “Father, forgive them; they know not what they do”! These men, one and all—people, soldiers, governor and priests—knew and did not know. They knew better than they lived up to, but they were ignorant of the great fact that God’s laws are eternal. Their ignorance is their excuse. It is also their crime. God pities man’s ignorance, but God’s law punishes that same ignorance. We do not know. Let Him forgive. But we ought to know. Ignorance is often our own fault as well as our only excuse. But, ignorant or wise, there is mercy. Beneath and above the blindness of the people, the submissive obedience of the soldiers, the folly of the governor, and the bigotry of the priest, is the Divine pity. Oh, the mighty heart which, with its flowing blood, cried out for this forgiveness to its enemies! From it we may gather, not all its grandeur, but a small portion of its power of love to man.—Walkley.
The Calmness and Justice of Christ upon the Cross.—Dying is just a part of living—sometimes a long part, often a hard part. With Christ, life and death were all of a piece—simple and calm. Even on the cross He took up things in order, and gently. His first word was about His enemies.
I. Forgiveness is His first thought in death.—The ruling thought of His mission, men’s need of it, and how they could have it.
II. Pain shakes the sense of justice.—Christ suffered agony unspeakable. But His sense of justice was unaffected. He judged as scrupulously as He will from His white throne. He apportioned degrees of guilt.
III. The men who nailed Him had little knowledge of Him.—They were nearly as much instruments, we might say, as the nails they hammered. But even the smallest knowledge of Christ brings responsibility. How much more a full knowledge! With what measure shall those be judged who claim a true and just acquaintance with Christ?—Nicoll.
The Unselfish Christ.—His voice is heard—not of anger or resentment, but of pleading intercession.
I. He finds an excuse for those who pierced Him.—The most glorious instance of a Divine unselfishness—of an absolute self-sacrifice. His self-sacrifice rises into the sublimer region of a literal self-forgetfulness: enough, surely, of itself, to explain how Jesus Christ, coming to minister to all the diseases of humanity, has a right to undertake the treatment and cure of this particular disease of selfishness.
II. How does He heal us of this malady of selfishness?—Is not the question half answered in the asking? He was unselfishness. Selfishness and He cannot co-exist. In the heavenly glory He still forgets Himself in the sorrows of His “brethren.”
III. To see Him, to be united to Him, to be one with Him—this is to be a Christian.—This is to be like Him in His unselfishness. When Christ came to bear our sins, He not only took away by His cross the mid-wall of guilt between each man and his God; He also took away the mid-wall of selfishness between each man and his brother. He made that possible in all cases to Christian love which was impossible before in any case to the natural. Selfishness is done away with by the introduction of a new self which embraces and comprehends us all.—Vaughan.
The Forgiveness of the Cross.—
I. One thing is not said here, nor anywhere else, by the Saviour.—There is no confession of sin, and no cry for personal forgiveness. He neither did, nor could, pray for His own forgiveness. He did pray for the pardon of others.
II. We are taught here the simple and primary duty of the forgiveness of injuries.—Christ seems to be almost more exacting in relation to forgiveness than in relation to purity.
III. A limit is affixed to Christ’s prayer.—Who come within the scope of the word, within the embrace of this appeal? The prayer included the executioners and the Jewish chiefs and rulers. And perhaps it reaches out to a wider area. But there is no charter of universalism in the prayer—no assurance that all sin will be remitted and every sinner forgiven. No doubt, however, ignorance lessens the guilt of sin, but it does not obliterate it. If the sinner could always say boldly, “I knew not,” then there would have been no need for this intercession of the Mediator.—Alexander.
Luke 23:34; Luke 23:43; Luke 23:46. Luke’s Record of the Words from the Cross.—
I. The beauty of forgiving tenderness.
II. The beauty of pardoning power.
III. The beauty of perfect peace—Ibid.
Luke 23:35. “Cast lots.”—Lots would be cast for the division among the four soldiers of the robe, the turban, the girdle, and the sandals of Jesus, and then again for disposing of His tunic which, as the other gospels tell us, was of some special value.
“He saved others.”—This may be ironical, or it is a recognition of His miracles of mercy, to taunt Him with a supposed loss of His power just when He needed it most for Himself. His very mercy is used in mockery.
“The chosen of God.”—The epithet describes Christ as appointed beforehand by God for the realisation of His plans for Israel and for the world. Cf. Luke 9:35.
Luke 23:37-42.23.38. “The soldiers also mocked Him,” etc.—In deriding the claim of Christ to be a king, probably both the soldiers, who offered Him a mock homage, and Pilate, who drew up the title upon the cross, desired rather to give expression to their contempt for the Jewish people than to insult the Saviour.
Luke 23:39-42.23.43. The Experience of the Malefactor.
I. As a convert.—
1. The previous character of the penitent enhances the greatness of his conversion.
2. The unlikelihood of his conversion in the special circumstances of the case.
3. The suddenness with which it was produced.
4. The completeness and maturity by which it was marked.
5. The scantiness of the means by which it was effected.
II. As a witness.
III. As a suppliant.—Cairns.
The Penitent and Christ.—
I. The penitent
(1) humbly acknowledges his guilt;
(2) eagerly seeks for salvation; and
(3) courageously confesses His Saviour.
II. The Saviour
(1) pardons the guilt;
(2) hears the prayer; and
(3) bestows a reward far in excess of the penitent’s hopes or expectations.
Despair and Faith.—Compare the despairing cry “Save Thyself and us” with the humble petition, “Lord, remember me.”
Abundant Teaching of This in Advent.—We have here
(1) a most wonderful illustration of the glory and grace of the Saviour;
(2) a striking example of the efficacy of prayer;
(3) an antidote to despair;
(4) a proof of nearness and reality of the spiritual world.
Encouragement and Warning.
I. The case of the penitent thief shows that conversion is possible, even at the last hour.
II. The case of the impenitent thief shows the danger of postponing conversion to the last hour.
All the Elements of Genuine Conversion Present.—Brief as the utterance of the penitent thief was, yet there is nothing lacking to it that belongs to the unalterable requirements of a genuine conversion: sense of guilt, confession of sin, simple faith, active love, supplicating hope—all these fruits of the tree of the new life we see here ripen during a few moments.—Van Oosterzee.
No Encouragement to Delay Repentance.—His case affords no encouragement to any one to put off repentance to a death-bed. Our faith cannot come up to that of this penitent, for our condition is very different from his. We have seen Christ’s glorious resurrection and ascension into heaven. We have received the Holy Ghost from heaven. He had none of these benefits. He saw Christ deserted by His disciples and dying on the cross, and yet He confessed Him as a King, and prayed to Him as his Lord.—Wordsworth.
A Witness for Christ Raised Up.—This is a comfortable symbol and example for all Christendom, that God will never let faith in Christ, and the confession of His name, go down. If the disciples as a body, and those who were otherwise related to Jesus, confess not and lose their faith, deny Him in fear, are offended, and forsake Him—a malefactor or murderer must come forward to confess Him, to preach Him to others, and teach all men who He is, and what consolation all may find in Him.—Luther.
1. The penitent malefactor.—
1. His expostulation with his companion in suffering.
2. His confession of guilt.
3. His recognition of Christ’s innocence.
4. The faith, humility, and earnestness, manifested in his prayer to Christ.
II. The gracious Redeemer.—
1. He has sympathy for others in the midst of His own dire sufferings.
2. He anticipates entrance upon a state of blessedness.
3. He is conscious of power to open the gate of Paradise to others,
4. He gives far more than was asked from Him.
Luke 23:40. “Dost not thou fear God?”—The thought of the Divine justice before which he was so shortly to appear might well cause him to refrain from mocking his fellow-sufferer: the thoughtless crowd were under no such restraint.
Luke 23:41. “Hath done nothing amiss.”—Even had the robber said nothing more than this, yet he would awaken our deepest astonishment, that God—in a moment wherein literally all voices are raised against Jesus, and not a friendly word is heard in His favour—causes a witness for the spotless innocence of the Saviour to appear on one of the crosses beside Him.—Van Oosterzee.
Luke 23:42-42.23.43. The Absolution of the Cross.
I. The assurance.—There is absolute certainty in it. Christ’s especial utterance is, not “I think,” but “I say.”
II. The promise.—It is twofold:
1. A gracious promise of the abridgment of suffering.
2. The better part. More than the penitent thief thought of or asked for. Not possibly, in some remote future and vaguely, but verily, to-day, and close to Himself.
III. The revelation.—This is one of Luke’s words of revelation, unveiling. It is the great dictum probans for the rest of the saints in Paradise. To say “in heaven” would be inaccurate. Oh the preciousness of the hope which enfolds our dead in Christ, ever since the dying Lord said to the dying penitent “to-day in Paradise”! What speed, what rest, what companionship!—Alexander.
“With Me in Paradise.”
I. What did the robber expect?—That they two would die. That the long trance would come; that the wrong would be righted at last; and that when it was, Jesus would be Lord. And then, “Have a thought of me.”
II. What was the answer?—“When I go to My kingdom, thou shalt keep Me company, and that before the setting of the sun.” The prayer was great, but the answer was greater still. We may suppose that the robber did not understand much of the word “Paradise,” but he understood the word “with Me,” and it was enough. If the prayer was like a river, the answer was as a great sea.—Nicoll.
I. The word of the dying thief.
II. The word of the dying Lord.—Ireland.
Luke 23:42. The Dying Thief.
I. We see here an illustration of the cross, in its power of drawing men to itself.
II. We have here the cross, as pointing to and foretelling the kingdom.
III. Here is the cross as revealing and opening the true Paradise.—Maclaren.
The Penitent Thief.
I. What he thought of himself.
II. What he thought of Christ.
III. What Christ thought of him.
Luke 23:43. “To-day.”—The penitent thief could scarcely have expected death on that day, for those crucified often lingered several days upon the cross. The breaking of the legs of the two who suffered with Christ secured the fulfilment of this prophecy and promise. Thus the enemies of Christ unconsciously brought about the fulfilment of Christ’s words.
I. A place in Paradise.
II. The presence of Christ with Him in Paradise.
III. An entrance with Him into Paradise that very day.
Luke 23:44. “There was a darkness,” etc.—There is evidently something extraordinary in these phenomena, whether their exceptional character is to be ascribed to a supernatural cause, or simply to a providential coincidence. It is impossible to ignore the profound relation which exists, on the one hand, between man and nature, and, on the other, between humanity and Christ. For man is the soul of the world, as Christ is the soul of humanity.—Godet.
Luke 23:45. “The veil of the temple was rent.”—
1. This was a type of the violent rending of Christ’s body on the cross (Hebrews 10:20).
2. It typified our Lord’s own entrance into heaven (Hebrews 9:24).
3. It intimated that the ceremonies of the Law were abolished.
4. That the distinction between Jew and Gentile was at an end.
5. That there was freedom of access to the throne of grace.
6. That Christ had opened up, by His death, an entrance into heaven for all His followers (Hebrews 9:7).—Foote.
The Temple no longer the Abode of God.—Was not this sign meant to show that the Temple was no longer the abode of God? As the high priest rent his robe in the presence of a great scandal, so God rent the veil which covers the Holy of Holies, where formerly He had manifested Himself. It implied a desecration of the most holy place, and consequently of the Temple, with its courts and altar and sacrifices. The Temple is profaned, abolished by God Himself. The efficacy of sacrifice has henceforth passed to another blood, another altar, and a new order of priesthood. This fact is implied in the declaration of Jesus: “Slay Me, and you will thereby have destroyed this Temple.”—Godet.
Luke 23:46. Last Words.
I. Christ’s work as Redeemer was done.—His previous word, “It is finished” marked its completion. Now He is ready to return to His Father. Before Him lies the mystery of death.
II. Here we see His calm, trustful faith.—The terrible struggle is over, and He is at perfect peace. His use of the word “Father” shows that His soul has recovered its serenity. The darkness is gone. The Father’s face beams upon His in loving approval.
III. A picture of Christian dying.—It was but a breathing of the spirit into the hands of the heavenly Father. It is natural to regard death as a strange experience. What is it? Where shall we be when we escape from the body? Will it be dark or light? Shall we be alone or accompanied? Here comes this word of our Lord, and we learn that the soul, when it leaves the body, passes at once into the Father’s hands. Surely that is enough for us to know. We shall be perfectly and eternally safe if we are in our Father’s keeping. If we think thus of death, it will have no terrors for us.—Miller.
The Peace of the Cross.
I. The view of death taken by the Lord Jesus.—Not fate: irresistible and irrevocable necessity. Not impersonal absorption into the universal life, or positivist immortality of a subjective character. His death comes as from a Father’s love. He has the assurance of life in definite personality, the true life of the spirit after the body has gone down into the grave. It is free, spontaneous, unhesitating surrender. The deposit must be safe that is lodged with such a Depository.
II. The use to be made of Scripture during the approach of death.—One chief employment of Scripture is for the dying. Scripture is not only a rule of life. How much of it is of use for the spirit in dying!
III. This word supplies an answer to an objection not seldom made to the Atonement.—How the Atonement effects its object we are not told. But this last word attests how willingly Jesus died. There was no reluctance, no repugnance, no shrinking, no compulsion. His dying word shows how true was His own repeated declaration, “I lay down My life.”—Alexander.
I. The work of the Dying One.
II. The attitude of the Dying One.
1. Making satisfaction for sin.
2. Alone with the Father.
III. The spirit of the Dying One.—
1. Voluntary surrender.
2. Obedient love and holy peace.
IV. Our interest in the death and dying word of Jesus.—A lesson
(1) for dying,
(2) for living.—Ireland.
“Into Thy hands.”—The Father receives the spirit of Jesus; Jesus receives the spirits of the faithful (Acts 7:59).
“I commend My spirit.”—At the moment when He is about to lose self-consciousness, and feels that His spirit is passing away, He commits it in trust to His Father.
Luke 23:47-42.23.49. The Effects Produced upon Spectators by the Death of Christ.—
1. Upon the Roman centurion.
2. Upon the people.
3. Upon His adherents.
Luke 23:47. “A righteous man.”—More than mere innocence of the charge on which He suffered is implied in this testimony. Jesus had claimed to be the Son of God, and if He were righteous He must be more than man. Hence the form in which St. Luke gives this testimony is in virtual agreement with that in which it is reported by St. Matthew and St. Mark: “Truly this was the Son of God.”
Luke 23:48. “That sight.”—They came, from motives of curiosity, to look on that spectacle, but they depart with feelings of awe and alarm.
“Smote their breasts.”—As the exclamation of the centurion is an anticipation of the conversion of the pagan world, so also the consternation which seizes upon the Jews, who witness this scene, is an anticipation of the penitence and final conversion of that nation (Zechariah 12:10-38.12.14).—Godet.
Luke 23:49. “All His acquaintance.”—In what mood they now stood there, after they were now no longer hindered by the scoffings of the people from coming near, may be better felt than described. With the deepest sorrow over this irrevocable loss, which was not yet softened by the joyful hope of the resurrection, there is united melancholy joy that now at last the agonising conflict is ended, and the heart-felt longing to render now the last honours to the inaminate corpse.—Van Oosterzee.
The Ministering Women.
I. These were the earliest of a great and noble army of Christian women, attached to Christ by deep personal love, following and ministering unto Him.
II. Woman has always been grateful, to Christ, and has served Him with great devotion.
III. There is a field everywhere for woman’s ministry.
IV. Let every woman imitate this company, by following Christ.—Miller.
Luke 23:50. A counsellor.—I.e., a member of the Sanhedrim.
Luke 23:51. Had not consented.—I.e., had absented himself, and had taken no part in the action of the council against Jesus. Arimathæa.—Some identify this with Rama in Benjamin, or Rama (Ramathaim) in Ephraim, the birthplace of Samuel (1 Samuel 1:1). The form of the name is more like the latter.
Luke 23:52. Went unto Pilate.—An action needing some courage, especially on the part of one in Joseph’s position, who, up to this, had not avowed the fact that he was a disciple of Jesus.
Luke 23:54. The preparation.—The ordinary designation of Friday, as on that day the Jews prepared for the Sabbath which began at sunset. Drew on.—Lit. “began to dawn”—i.e., the phrase properly used of the natural day is here applied to the conventional day.
Luke 23:56. Returned.—I.e., to the city or to their homes in it. Spices and ointments.—I.e., dry and liquid substances for embalming. The intention of the women was to come, after the Sabbath was over, to complete the embalmment, which had been only partially effected
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Luke 23:50-42.23.56
The Last Offices of Love.—With the crucifixion of Christ the rage of His enemies was spent; they had done their worst, and retire into the background, while His friends and disciples draw near, to show their love by taking reverent care of His lifeless body. Not only do His known and accredited followers come forward at this hour, but also some from unexpected quarters, who had been disciples secretly, have now the courage of their convictions and manifest openly their affection for Him who had been put to such an ignominious death. One of these was Joseph of Arimathæa, a member of the Sanhedrim itself, a man of wealth, of well-known probity and piety, who had taken no part in the proceedings against Jesus. At the moment when the cause of Christ is at its lowest ebb this hidden friend comes forth, constrained by love of Him, and gives honourable interment to the body of his Master.
I. Love towards Christ gives courage.—Joseph had much to risk by coming forward at this time to confess his love for Christ; he exposed himself to the enmity of the Sanhedrim, and to the penalty of excommunication by the ecclesiastical authorities of his nation—with all that it implied of loss of station, separation from kindred, and from the society of his fellows. The fear of this had already restrained him from confessing himself to be a disciple of Jesus; but now love raises him above fear. It was the violence of the enemies of Christ that urged him to religious decision; it reached a point at which he felt himself bound to make a stand, and openly to identify himself with the hated and persecuted cause. Thus does religious persecution overreach itself; it cows the timid and half-hearted, but it rouses up others to cast in their lot with what they know to be the side of God and truth. He went in boldly to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus.
II. This love inspires deeds of devotion.—Joseph did all that love could suggest as possible to be done. He took down the body from the cross, wrapped it in a linen cloth with costly spices, and laid it in his own new tomb. He did not employ his servants to do this work, but did it with his own hands. Love could not be satisfied with less than this. The tomb was one which he had had excavated for himself. Though he belonged to a city at a distance from Jerusalem, he wished, like many of his nation, to be buried in the most sacred spot in the land, and hence had made preparations beforehand against the day of his death. But now he gives up with great generosity, this highly valued property, and consecrates it to be the tomb of Jesus. We note from this that rich men have ways of serving Christ which are inaccessible to their poorer brethren. Joseph’s rank, and dignity, and wealth, doubtless disposed Pilate to listen to his petition. The Roman judge would probably have refused to accede to a like petition, if it had been presented by some poor and obscure disciple. Another might have had all Joseph’s love and devotion to the Master, and yet have been unable to provide an equally suitable place of burial for Him.
III. The love of one towards Christ stirs up the like feeling in others.—We learn from the fourth Gospel that Nicodemus, too, came forward to assist in the work of burial, and brought “a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pound weight,” and here we read that the women which came from Galilee, when they saw what was being done, made preparations for bringing fresh spices and ointments as soon as the Sabbath was past. The example of one loyal, loving disciple prompted others to imitation. They would not be behindhand in honouring the Master. What had been done in the way of anointing was amply sufficient for the purpose; but they would not be satisfied with merely being spectators of the piety of others, they must themselves assist in rendering honour to Him. “To what purpose is this waste?” a cold-hearted, utilitarian world might ask; but every loving heart knows that nothing is wasted which is given out of love to Christ.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON Luke 23:50-42.23.56
Luke 23:50. “A good man and a just.”—St. Luke names the more comprehensive quality first; for every good man is also just, while not all just men are good.
“A good man, and a just.”—Each evangelist describes Joseph in his own way. St. Luke’s words correspond to the Greek ideal of character (καλὸς κἀγαθός): St. Mark speaks of him as “an honourable counsellor”—the Roman ideal: St. Matthew as “a rich man”—the Jewish ideal.—Godet.
Luke 23:51. “The counsel and deed.”—I.e., he had not consented to the sentence passed on Jesus, nor to the shameful artifices by which the Roman judge had been urged into ratifying the sentence.
Luke 23:52. Joseph of Arimathæa.
I. Joseph had been a secret disciple of Christ for some time already.
II. Now he throws away his timidity, and comes out boldly as a friend of Jesus.
III. True love for Christ cannot always keep hid.
IV. We must ever be grateful that Joseph gave Jesus such noble burial.
V. Yet, after all, his love blossomed out too late.—He ministered, not to this living, but to the dead Christ. He discipleship was incomplete.—Miller.
Luke 23:53. The Sepulchre.
I. Christ touched life at every point.—He began at infancy and ended at the grave. There is no path on which His holy footprints are not seen. Why should we dread the grave, since Jesus has lain in it?
II. He lay in a borrowed grave.—His friends provided it. Another mark of His deep humiliation.
III. How hopeless the prospect seemed!—Jesus was buried; the disciples were scattered. The grave seemed to be the tomb of all their hopes. And yet it was simply the lowly gateway to honour and glory. So no hopes perish when a Christian is buried—just beyond is glory.—Ibid.
Luke 23:54. “The Sabbath drew on.”—What different feelings would fill the minds
(1) of those who had slain Jesus;
(2) of those who were His disciples, on this day of rest. For Him it was a day of rest and peace indeed.
Luke 23:55. “Beheld the sepulchre.”—I.e., they followed those who carried Jesus to the grave, and took notice of the place, with the intention of returning after the Sabbath was over to complete the embalming which had been hastily begun. Though Christ had foretold His resurrection, yet, as the words of the penitent thief imply, a glorious reappearance of the Saviour after death was expected, at least by some of His followers, but not the rising again of the body which was laid in the tomb.
Luke 23:56. “Rested the Sabbath day.”—These words reveal the pious and humble fidelity of these Jewish women to the law of the Sabbath. It may be said that this Sabbath was the last of the Old Covenant, which came to a close with the death of Christ. It was scrupulously respected by all those who, unconsciously, were about to inaugurate the New.—Godet.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Luke 23". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week of Advent