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CRITICAL AND EXEGETICAL NOTES
Mark 15:1. And the whole council.—Even the whole Sanhedrin, which consisted of the three classes just named—chief priests, elders, and scribes (1Ma. 14:28).
Mark 15:2. Thou sayest it.—Σὺ λέγεις. This is generally taken as a direct affirmation—an idiomatic or courteous “Yes”; but Prof. Thayer seems to have shewn that it is rather an appeal to the questioner’s own conscience. “Art Thou the King of the Jews?” asked Pilate, half in scorn and half in amusement. “Dost thou say this?” is Christ’s reply; or, as in John 18:34, “Sayest thou this of thyself, or did others tell it thee concerning Me?” Bee Expository Times, vol. vi. No. 10, pp. 437–439.
Mark 15:3. But He answered nothing.—Omit this clause, “imported from Matthew 27:12.
Mark 15:6. Render: Now at feast-time he was wont to release unto them one prisoner, whomsoever they desired. For ὅνπερ ᾐτοῦντο, א, A, B read ὃν παρῃτοῦντο, whom they begged off.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Mark 15:1-15
(PARALLELS: Matthew 27:1-2; Matthew 27:11-26; Luke 23:1-7; Luke 23:13-24; John 18:28 to John 19:16.)
Christ and Pilate: the True King and His counterfeit.—The so-called trial of Jesus by the rulers turned entirely on His claim to be Messias; His examination by Pilate turns entirely on His claim to be King. The two claims are indeed one; but the political aspect is distinguishable from the higher one, and it was the Jewish rulers’ trick to push it exclusively into prominence before Pilate, in the hope that he might see in the claim an incipient insurrection, and might mercilessly stamp it out.
I. The True King at the bar of the apparent ruler (Mark 15:1-6).—Pilate holding Christ’s life in his hand is the crowning paradox of history and the mystery of self-abasing love. One exercise of the Prisoner’s will and His chains would have snapped and the governor lain dead on the marble “pavement.” The two hearings are parallel, and yet contrasted. In each there are two stages—the self-attestation of Jesus, and the accusations of others; but the order is different. The rulers begin with the witnesses, and, foiled there, fall back on Christ’s own answer. Pilate, with Roman directness and a touch of contempt for the accusers, goes straight to the point, and first questions Jesus. His question was simply as to our Lord’s regal pretensions. “Thou a king?”—poor, helpless peasant! A strange specimen of royalty this! How constantly the same blindness is repeated, and the strong things of this world despise the weak, and material power smiles pityingly at the helpless impotence of the principles of Christ’s gospel, which yet will one day shatter it to fragments, like a potter’s vessel! There are plenty of Pilates to-day who judge and misjudge the King of Israel. The silence of Jesus in regard to the eager accusations corresponds to His silence before the false witnesses. Christ can afford to let many of His foes alone. Contradictions and confutations keep slanders and heresies above water, which the law of gravitation would dispose of, if they were left alone. Pilate’s wonder might and should have led him further. It was the little glimmer of light at the far-off end of his cavern, which, travelled towards, might have brought him into free air and broad day. One great part of his crime was neglecting the faint monitions of which he was conscious.
II. The people’s favourite (Mark 15:7-15).—“Barabbas” means “son of the father.” His very name is a kind of caricature of the “Son of the Blessed,” and his character and actions present in gross form the sort of Messias whom the nation really wanted. The popular hero is like a mirror which reflects the popular mind. He echoes the popular voice, a little improved or exaggerated. Jesus had taught what the people did not care to hear, and given blessings which even the recipients soon forgot, and lived a life whose beauty of holiness oppressed and rebuked the common life of men. What chance had truth and goodness and purity against the sort of bravery that slashes with a sword, and is not elevated by inconvenient reach of thought or beauty of character above the mob? Even now, after nineteen centuries of Christ’s influence have modified the popular ideals, what chance have they? Are the popular “heroes” of Christian nations saints, teachers, lovers of men, in whom their Christlikeness is the thing venerated? That fatal choice revealed the character of the choosers, both in their hostility and admiration; for excellence hated shews what we ought to be and are not, and grossness or vice admired shews what we would fain be if we dared.—A. Maclaren, D.D.
A coward, and what became of him.—Fix your eyes on Pilate. An o’er close contact with an evil world had ploughed furrows across his face; sensuality had left its impress there. He had come up from Caesarea a little while ago to keep peace during the great annual festival, for the Jews were a turbulent race. He made his headquarters at the castle of Antonia, and doubtless kept well indoors; for he was the best-hated man in all Jerusalem, and deserved it. On the morning of this April day he was awakened early by a beating at his gates. He doubtless arose from his couch with reluctance and muttering maledictions on these troublesome Jews. They had brought a prisoner for trial. Last night, at the conclave of the Sanhedrin, He was accused of blasphemy, of making Himself equal with God. But no Roman magistrate would take cognisance of a theological indictment. So they must needs trump up charges against Him. First, He had perverted the nation. Second, He had forbidden payment of tribute to the emperor. Third, He had proclaimed Himself as a king. Pilate must determine upon this case: there was no escape. And you, friend, must also decide what you will do with Jesus who is called the Christ.
I. Now mark the circumstances which aggravated his cowardice—
1. He had heard about Jesus and knew Him. His wonderful work and words and name were in the air. He had had, moreover, an interview with Jesus. He had asked Him, “Art thou a king?” And Jesus answered, “Thou sayest it; but My kingdom is not of this world—I am come to reign in the province of truth.” So he knew about Him. What will he do with Him?
2. He had been warned concerning Him. Not only had his conscience rung the alarm—as conscience warns us all—but a special admonition had been given him. His wife Procula had dreamed in the waking hours of the morning—the hour when Israel thought all dreams came true—and tradition tells us the dream. She saw a conflagration that consumed homes and temples and palaces, licked up forests, and burned the heavens like a parched scroll, so that nothing could extinguish it. There were cries of the homeless and fear-stricken and dying. Then a lamb appeared, and as it lifted its eyes all sounds were hushed. It mounted the flaming pyre; its side was pierced, blood gushed forth, and the fires were quenched. Then the lamb assumed human form, and the appearance was, as the dreamer said,
“Of a Man Divine and passing fair,
And like your august Prisoner there.”
Therefore she said, “Do no harm to that just Man.”
3. Pilate’s cowardice was aggravated by his attempts at evasion and compromise. He entreated the people, “Why, what evil hath He done?” He might as well have sung a lullaby to a cyclone. “Crucify Him!” was the answer. “Crucify Him!” And then he sent Him to Herod—a happy thought. But Herod would not be responsible for the decision of this perplexing case; so he sent the Prisoner back. Pilate must judge Him; so must you and I. Here is this Jesus; and what will he do with Him? A great problem confronts him. He said, “I will chastise Him and let Him go.” Oh, shame upon him for a Roman magistrate! The Man is either guilty or innocent. If guilty, He should die the death; if innocent, let Him go. Compromise never pays. “Nothing is settled until it is settled right.” No man nor Church, no pastor nor teacher, can afford to split the difference in spiritual things.
II. But what was the occasion of this man’s cowardice?—
1. To begin with, he was a trifler. He lived in an age of cynicism; the foundations of religion were broken up. He had mingled with the soldiers at the camp-fire, cracking jokes about the gods and making sport of sacred things. And now, facing this Divine Truth-giver, the irony of his retort—“What is truth?”—was but the outcome of his pernicious habit. Some of you, perhaps, have been wont to trifle in like manner. But we cannot make light of any serious matter without ultimately paying for it.
2. He had no opinions of his own. He went to the people, to his wife, to the priests, for advice. Oh, man, think for thyself! It behoves us to have convictions of our own. Let us live by them, stand for them, and be willing in their defence, if need be, to die. If ever we are in doubt, we have a sure Counsellor (James 1:5).
3. Another reason for Pilate’s cowardice was his sycophancy. At all hazards he must be Caesar’s friend. What was the result? A little while after Tiberius was off the throne and Caligula was on. And Caligula said, “Go bring me Pilate; he must answer to certain charges concerning an aqueduct, a Roman standard, and a murder at the altar.” And a little later Pilate was an exile and a wanderer.
III. Let us not be too hard upon Pilate, for there may be some moral cowards among us. Let me give you a parting word, the motto of the Guthrie family, “Sto pro veritate.” Let us stand for the truth, the truth against the world. There is nothing better than that We are all in Pilate’s place. The Lord Jesus stands in judgment before us. What are you going to do with Him? Will you meet Him with mock heroics, admiration of His manhood and rejection of His Divine claim? Out upon all mere sentimentalism! Let us be logical and sensible. Christ was what He claimed to be, or else an impostor who deserved to die.—D. J. Burrell, D.D.
Personal conviction and popular clamour.—This Jewish scene, so important in the world’s life, introduces us to a very serious subject, involving moral and religious questions—the rule or prevalence of the majority. The theory that every man has a voice and vote in the arrangement of things, and that that arrangement shall be according to the opinion which combines the greatest number of those votes or voices, is almost universal. It seems to embody the only principle upon which a decision has any justice, or is binding at all. It encourages activity, free thought, and discussion, and the individual personal interests of us all. And yet we are sorely perplexed about it at times. We feel that the voices of the majority often mean nothing at all, and should have no weight—that is, they are mere empty noise, behind which there is no truth, but only ignorance, or only a half-truth, destructive in its mutilated state. When, then, ought the many voices to prevail?
I. When the responsibility of decision and action is to belong to the many whose voices are heard.—If a company of travellers are to choose between certain plans or paths of journeying, and no one person has or is to have the responsibility, and the success or disappointment will not be visited upon any one member, but all are interested and will bear the blame or praise of the future action, then a vote of the entire companionship is taken. Their decision may be wrong in itself, but it is right that it should have been so made. Now in the case of our text it was not so. The multitude had nothing to do with the judging or deciding. It was an individual matter between Pilate and Christ. And so it is with each of us. Every quiet moment of conviction, when we stand face to face with Christ and His pure cross-marked religion, and debate anxiously the question, “Shall I decide for or against Him?” is a reproduction of the interviews of Pilate and Jesus at the inner judgment-seat. We should decide in a moment for Jesus, if it were not that other voices enter in. They control the sentence, and we bear the responsibility and results of it. Oh, think of it! That empty-tongued crowd of fashion or society, which cries down your single heart’s voice—that hard-voiced throng of money-seekers, which shames and silences your warm conviction for the Lord—that false, smooth-toned multitude of unbelievers, which surround you and ply you with their infidel voices and sneers and arguments, and chill your spiritual aspirations,—you can never fasten the blame upon them. They will only mock at you when the results come. They will say, “It is none of our matter.” And it will be true.
II. In a matter of fact, in the testimony of experience—The more witnesses to a fact of experience that can be brought, the better for the truth, whoever has to decide it. But now turn to this story of Pilate again. What sort of voices did he listen to and allow to prevail? Did they bring the overwhelming weight of experience against him? Was that what controlled and turned his decision? No, he knew that those chief priests cried for crucifixion out of envy. He knew that his own experience of Christ, that his comprehension and appreciation of Him, was something of which this crowd had nothing. They should never have prevailed. If you have felt the truth of Christ’s love to you only for a moment—if you have felt His purity by the side of your sin in one quick instant of repentant experience—if you have once felt His gentle yet complete kingliness by the side of false earthly power,—there is a voice of experience within you over which all voices of men who have seen and learnt no such facts should never prevail. Oh, if a man’s moral self and God’s Spirit insist upon being heard together, and above all else, it is not obstinacy, but firmness of purpose; it is the strongest condition of man; it is the richest of life’s harmonies—man’s voice and God’s voice at one.—F. Brooks.
OUTLINES AND COMMENTS ON THE VERSES
Mark 15:1. Activity in evil.—While honest men lay them down in peace and take their rest, suspecting no harm because they mean none, thieves and robbers are up and abroad, spreading their nets for the prey and watching to do mischievously. “The devil’s martyrs,” saith Bernard, “are more swift in running to hell than we to heaven.” How slack are we to do God any service! how backward to suffer anything for Him! And how they, on the other side, can bestir them to serve the devil, and be content to suffer a kind of martyrdom in his service! The way, sure, is broad enough and easy enough that leadeth to destruction; yet so much pains is there taken to find it, that I verily believe half the pains many a man taketh to go to hell, if it had been well bestowed, would have brought him to heaven.—Bishop Sanderson.
Jesus delivered to Pilate.—What a spectacle was that! The heads of the Jewish nation leading their own Messiah in chains to deliver Him up to a Gentile governor, with the petition that He should be put to death! Shades of the heroes and the prophets, who loved the nation and boasted of it and foretold its glorious fate, the hour of destiny has come, and this is the result! It was an act of national suicide. But was it not more? Was it not the frustration of the purpose and the promise of God? So it certainly appeared to be. Yet He is not mocked. Even through human sin His purpose holds on its way. The Jews brought the Son of God to Pilate’s judgment-seat, that both Jew and Gentile might unite in condemning Him; for it was part of the work of the Redeemer to expose human sin, and here was to be exhibited the ne plus ultra of wickedness, as the hand of humanity was lifted up against its Maker. And yet that death was to be the life of humanity; and Jesus, standing between Jew and Gentile, was to unite them in the fellowship of a common salvation.—J. Stalker, D.D.
Why was Jesus taken to Pilate?—The common opinion, that the Romans had deprived the Jews of the power to inflict capital punishment, would seem to be erroneous; for we learn from the Acts that the Sanhedrin put St. Stephen and others to death. The truth probably is, that the Pharisees, who were the chief instigators of our Lord’s death, were averse to the shedding of Jewish blood by the Sanhedrin, and preferred to throw the odium of His execution upon the Romans. The Sadducees, who took the lead in the persecution of the early Christians, had no such scruples.
Mark 15:2. Avowal and description of kingship.—Never answering the dishonest attack, the Saviour always answered the honest inquiry. Here He explicitly avows that He is “a king”—the King, according to the fuller reply recorded by John, of more than Jews; and, according to that account, He intimates His kingship (John 18:36) to be other than worldly royalties, not employing force and fighting men, but that His kingship is the royalty which invests all who can testify the truth, and invests Him as the Truth, as the Great Revealer of God, of duty, of mercy, of hope. There is no sort of kingliness like this.—R. Glover.
Mark 15:3-5. The silence of Jesus proceeds from His owning all our crimes before His Father, His only lawful judge. Concern, passion, fear of death, love of reputation, and desire to be justified, make an accused person speak who has nothing at liberty but his tongue; but even the tongue itself of Christ is not at liberty, being under a kind of confinement from His meekness, His patience, His wisdom, His humility, His obedience, and His quality of victim, which make Him even in love with shame and with the Cross.—P. Quesnel.
The silence of Jesus.—Much is said, and well said, on the teaching of Jesus—His manner and method as a speaker; how independent He was of times and circumstances; and how, in His peasant’s garb, and by the hillside or the river-shore, He forced the confession from His hearers, “Never man spake like this man!” He was troubled by no interruption. He was always ready to bear questionings, and no teacher was ever so patient to repeat himself so long as repetition promised anything. But there was the limit. When speech was useless, He was silent. The prudence of Jesus is seen in His keeping silence, and never more so than where He answered no more questions or thrusts. And the governor marvelled greatly. Pilate marvelled because he knew Jesus could speak. He knew the power with which He could plead the cause of truth. He knew the influence He had exerted by His eloquence. He knew these accusations came because of the power which the wonderful Teacher had exerted by His speech. He did not keep dumb because He had no words, nor because He was unused to discussion, nor because He could not bear the presence of these ecclesiastical dignitaries. Discussion and they were familiar to Him; but He had to practise the instructions He had given to His disciples. He had forbidden them to throw pearls where they would find no gold setting; and where there was only talk and no heart, He bade them leave the place and go elsewhere. He had not only taught this, but He had practised it. Many instances you will find which illustrate that so soon as He discovered that the disposition of the people was wrong He retired, and in silence found confidence and strength. And there in Pilate’s hall, accused and scorned, He who could wake the dead and still the sea, who could blast the unproductive fig tree whose life was expressed only in leaves, and who could open the deaf ear and bid the dumb to speak—He in the hour of mortal peril was silent. There He stood—still as the stars dropping their crystal light—still as the grass springs and the blossoms unfold—still as the subtlest forces of nature speed on their way—still as the footsteps of God, when He visits specially the human soul—still as the spirit goes to the resurrection. The example of Jesus in reference to the time to keep silent must not be lost upon us. We sometimes forget that the world is not wholly ruled by talk, that it is not possible at all times to find an unperverting hearing, and we need the discipline of silence. To Jesus let us go for an example in reference to the times and seasons of silence; and then in the difficult passes of life we shall say our word calmly, solemnly, truthfully, and leave the issues with God, not doubting the fidelity of His providence.—Henry Bacon.
Silence under misconception.—There still are few, even under the tuition of the example of Christ, who can preserve this supreme silence. It is not altogether easy, even for the wisest and the best, to be serenely contented to be misunderstood—to let their thought quietly grow, their good intention gradually become known of all men, their larger plan, their higher purpose, their prophetic anticipation of the world-age next to come, wait its hour, while they themselves may be regarded as unbelievers, or looked upon as visionaries, or hardly tolerated as dangerous Christian teachers; and they themselves may not expect to live to see the larger good in which some day their thought and toil may find beneficent fruitions. And if silence under misconception is no easy virtue always even for the wisest and the best, it is a spiritual gift not even coveted by the great mass of men and women whom the slightest misunderstanding may irritate into bitter speech and the least provocation cause to bristle up in offensive self-assertion. The millennium can hardly be expected to come even to the best society until men and women shall have mastered more humbly and unselfishly the secret of this personal silence of the Christ. His conduct in this particular seems the more remarkable when we consider what powers of commanding speech He possessed, had He been pleased to exercise them in His own behalf. What a vindication, had He pleased, He might have given of His life as the Son of Man, when the Jews falsely accused Him before Pilate of making Himself a king in Caesar’s place! What glorious argument of His doctrine He might have spoken when Herod asked Him many questions! What sublime apology for His life as the Divine Servant of men He might have left for disciples to publish to the coming ages after He should have suffered a martyr’s death! Yet He chose a kinglier silence for His record, and Heaven’s approval for His crown. He could wait, He alone of the great powers of our human history, until the glory of the Father which He had from the beginning should be manifested, and in His name all be reconciled.—N. Smyth, D.D.
Mark 15:10. The envy of the chief priests.—Christ’s earthly life was in many respects so unenviable that the thought of envy at first occasions surprise. He had no advantage of wealth or station. His limited successes in preaching the gospel of His kingdom were chiefly among poor and despised classes. How came it, then, that rich and haughty Sadducees envied Him? The truth is, that envy is a passion of blacker face than the mere feeling of disquiet at sight of the worldly successes of others. The heart that is apart from God and unreconciled to Him, lacking a worthy object for its affection, is a prey to unrest. Sometimes it must needs be discontented. And then the sight of spiritual peace and happiness in others awakens that sense of lack and that pain of contrast which we call envy. It may be hardly more than a tinge of feeling, or it may grow to be a dominant and malignant passion. Lord Bacon said: “A man that hath no virtue in himself ever envieth virtue in others, for men’s minds will either feed upon their own good or upon others’ evil; and who wanteth the one will prey upon the other; and whoso is out of hope to attain another’s virtue will seek to come at even hand by depressing another’s fortune.”
The choice of alternatives.—Tinworth has graphically reproduced this scene in clay, and called it “The World’s Choice.” He thus treats it not only as an historic but also as a typical fact. It expresses the spirit of the world. Note a few of the many elements in it.
1. Hatred of Rome and a desire to perplex Pilate.
2. Sympathy with the man who had lifted up his hand against the hateful rule of Rome and her representatives.
3. Bitter resentment against Christ for His scathing words in cleansing the Temple, and His daring deeds in scourging unholy traffickers.
4. The infectious influence of raging passion, or the feverish and mad frenzy of a crowd.
5. The felt inconvenience of being in the minority.—D. Daivies.
The tragedy of Pilate’s life.—There was nothing to signalise him; he was no bad example of an average Roman governor. In a few months he might have retired from his post, to end his days in the merciful obscurity which has closed over the remains of thousands such as he. But the pathetic tragedy of his life lies in this: that suddenly, by accident (as we speak), without any wish or choice or consent of his own, unasked, unwarned, surprised, he is found to be placed at the very hour and centre of the. sharpest and fiercest crisis that the world has ever seen. The heat of the great battle surges with abrupt vehemence, with furious emphasis, round the spot where he happens to stand. It is the hour of all hours, and he is in the very thick of its awful pressure before he is aware of it, before he can take its measure. Unexpected, uncalculated, the eternal war has swung his way—the war between good and evil, God and devil—the death-struggle for the world’s redemption. Round him the forces of the spiritual strife surge and swell. In a moment he is caught up into them, as into a whirlpool—round and round they eddy, they storm, they howl; they clamour for a decision from him—a decision swift, momentous, vital. “Yes or no.”—Canon Scott-Holland.
Mark 15:12. The parting of the ways.—It is very easy and respectable to place Pilate in our thoughts upon a pedestal of infamy; but are we sufficiently alive to the fact that our responsibility is as great? We have to pursue a certain course in regard to Christ. There are two main divergent roads, and only two. We must side with the mob, we must belie our own conscience, as Pilate did; or we must yield Him our allegiance, and crown Him with our love. Yet, of course, there are degrees in partisanship. The relations of men to Christ may be more elaborately described.
1. For example, you may put Christ off. Thousands do that without the slightest thought of dying infidels, and finally and deliberately rejecting the Christian gospel. But, oh, remember postponement is distinct action! For the time being it is final.
2. Or you may patronise Him. You may clothe Him in the fine robe of genteel respect; you may support the institutions of religion that bear His name; you may never speak against Him—you may even speak up for His Church. How high a value, think you, does Christ place upon this kind of support?
3. Or, again, you may sell Christ. You love money. But, it may be, you cannot make money as you have been making it and place Him on the throne of your heart. You are in sight of a big success; you have only to square your conscience and the thing will be done. Oh! face the situation boldly, know distinctly what you are going to do with Jesus which is called Christ!
4. Or, once more, you may boycott Him. In your heart of hearts you acknowledge His claim; yet you never seem to know Christ in society. You never speak of Him, you never honour Him, you never stand up for Him, you treat Him like a poor relation of whom you are ashamed. Now, is not each of these expedients the selection of a way? Is it not the adoption of a party? Is it not enlistment on one side of the great struggle? The most obvious and important lesson from this incident in Pilate’s history is the impossibility of shirking spiritual responsibilities.—R. B. Brindley.
A crisis in Pilate’s life.—Quite apart from that which is at stake, it is a terrible picture of a man, by no means all bad, driven by bold, bad men to do a dreadful deed, a deed from which his heart and his conscience and his honour each in turn recoil, a deed which has made the name of Pontius Pilate stand out in lurid letters as no other name ever named among men stands out, as no other name ever can stand out. It was not, you must notice, the first or the second time that Pilate had been defeated in the attempt to carry out his will by the determination of the Jews. He knew well what they were. His was the famous order which sent into the Holy City the standards of the Roman soldiers with the desecrating image of the emperor; and after one device and another had failed, after he had tried persuasion, and had tried the threat and the shew of violence, they made him withdraw the order. He it was who hung up in the palace of the Roman governor shields inscribed with the names of the Roman deities; but here, great as was the outrage to the Jews, he remained firm, and, had to bear the indignity of a special order from Tiberius to remove them. In both of those cases he was wrong from the first and throughout, and he had to give way,—in the one case to submit; in the other, in the case which fills our thoughts to-day, he strove to do what was right, and he had to give way, as before. It is a terrible warning to a weak man in a place of responsibility.—Canon G. F. Browne.
Pilate’s weakness.—“Poor mockery of a ruler,” one has said, “set by the Eternal to do right upon the earth and afraid to do it! Told so by his own bosom; strong enough in his legions, and in the truth itself, to have saved the Innocent One and kept his own soul,—he could only think of the apparently expedient. Type of the politician of all ages who forgets that only the right is the strong or wise.”
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 15
Mark 15:3-5. Silence and self-control.—Moltke, the great strategist, was a man of lowly habits and few words. He has been described as a man “who can hold his tongue in seven languages I”
Mark 15:10. Envy.—Dionysius the tyrant, out of envy, punished Philoxenus the musician because he could sing, and Plato the philosopher because he could dispute, better than himself.
Mark 15:11-14. A change of national sentiment.—Englishmen can very well understand what a change of national sentiment means—what it is for a ruler to have the confidence of the nation at one time and lose it at another. When that happens, and is proved to have happened by a general election, there need not be any voters—there seldom are more than a few scores or hundreds—who actually change sides, who vote one way one time and the opposite way another. But the party that was dominant at one time, that knew what it wanted and meant to get it, is at another time halfhearted and doubtful; if they will not vote against their old party they perhaps do not care to vote at all, or at any rate they do not care to try to convince others, to gain over those who are doubtful, or to urge to activity those who are indifferent, or still more half-hearted than themselves.—W. H. Simcox.
Fickleness of popularity.—On July 25th, 1553, Northumberland and Lord Ambrose Dudley were brought in from Cambridge, escorted by Grey and Arundel, with four hundred of the Guards. Detachments of troops were posted all along the streets from Bishopsgate, where the duke would enter, to the Tower, to prevent the mob from tearing him to pieces. It was but twelve days since he had ridden out from that gate in the splendour of his power: he was now assailed from all sides with yells and execrations; bareheaded with cap in hand, he bowed to the crowd as he rode on, as if to win some compassion from them; but so recent a humility could find no favour. His scarlet cloak was plucked from his back; the only sounds which greeted his ears were, “Traitor I traitor I Death to the traitor I” And he hid his face, sick at heart with shame, and Lord Ambrose at the gate of the Tower was seen to burst into tears.—J. A. Eroude.
Inherent weakness of human nature.—The poet has said, “Nature never did betray the heart that loved her.” Can you say that of human nature?
Mark 15:13. The world’s reception of Christ.—It is said of Dr. Robertson, the celebrated historian, that, preaching once in the forenoon, he affirmed, in the words of the ancient heathen, that “if perfect virtue were to descend to the earth clothed in a human form, all the world would fall prostrate and worship her.” In the afternoon Dr. Erskine, his colleague, remarked, on the contrary, that “perfect virtue, in the human nature of the Saviour of mankind, had indeed appeared on the earth; but, instead of being universally worshipped, the general cry of His countrymen was, “Crucify Him I crucify Him I”
Mark 15:15. Scourging.—We cannot tell what that Roman punishment was; we read about it in the olden books, but men do not understand what they read so much as what they feel. The victim was tied by the hands to a post or standard; he was compelled to assume a stooping position; the knotted thong was in the hands of a Roman executioner, and be administered the punishment largely according to his own will or passion. We have heard of the knout in Russia; in our own land we have the “cat,” so feared by felons; in the Roman law there was this arrangement for scourging, that men might be humbled as well as punished, that the truth might be extorted from them as well as a penalty inflicted, that they might be brought into lowliness of mind and submissiveness of temper, so that the judge could do with them what he pleased. The hands of Christ were tied to the stake, the flagellum was used upon His naked back; He was scourged by Roman hands.—J. Parker, D.D.
CRITICAL AND EXEGETICAL NOTES
Mark 15:16. See R.V.
Mark 15:17. Render: And they invest Him with “a purple”—the official robe of gs and rulers, no matter what its colour.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Mark 15:16-20
(PARALLEL: Matthew 27:27-31.)
The Son of God mocked and wounded.—Solar eclipses are not miraculous appearances. Men acquainted with the situations and revolutions of the celestial orbs foretell these appearances. The humiliation of the Son of God is the eclipse of the Sun of Righteousness. Infamy and reproach covered Him in the days of His flesh, and toward the end of these days intercepted His rays, hiding, like a dark body, the brightness of His glory from the eyes of the world. Foreseeing this, a prophet says, “His visage was so marred more than any man,” etc.; and relating this, an apostle says, “Who being in the form of God,” etc. The obscuration of the Sun of Righteousness in His humiliation was not, however, a total eclipse. A prophet foretells one day that shall be “not day nor night,” the light being not clear nor dark, but a mixture of both qualities. So is the light of the Sun of Righteousness in His humiliation; and in looking down to Him at this period, we behold an unparalleled mixture of light and shade, of glory and infamy, of honour and dishonour, and of beauty, meanness, and shame.
I. Concerning the Sufferer.—
1. The Sufferer is the Son of the Highest. “The Highest” is one of the lofty titles which distinguish and exalt the living and true God; and “the Son of the Highest” is a glorious title, with which, according to the prediction of Gabriel, the Saviour of the world is honoured. The real import of it is given by the apostle when he affirms Him to be “the brightness of glory, and the express image of the Father.” Every perfection essential to the Father dwells bodily and essentially in the Son; and the singular titles, “Own Son,” “Dear Son,” “Beloved Son” “Only Begotten Son,” exalt Him above creatures, and equal Him to the Highest.
2. The Sufferer is the Kinsman of the human race. To a part of our race the Lord Jesus bears a special relation, but He dwells in the nature common to the whole. Partaking of flesh and blood, of which all, as well as the children, are partakers, every man under heaven, upon the revelation of Him, is warranted to call Him kinsman.
3. The Sufferer is the Undertaker for the elect. All that the precept of the law of works required to be done by them He undertook to perform, and what its penalty denounced He engaged Himself to bear. Nor hath He failed in either. The satisfaction which by suffering and dying He made is the shield that protects them from its vengeance.
4. The Sufferer is the Horn of Salvation which God raised up in the house of David. The horn of an animal is its weapon, both for defence and vengeance. With this it defends itself, and with this it pushes down the enemy. In some prophecies horn is an emblem of the power of a king and the strength of his kingdom, and with the highest propriety is transferred to the Lamb of God, in whose office the powers of salvation and destruction are vested, and in whose administration these powers are exerted. The horns of the bulls of Bashan were not able to break the horn of the Lamb,
5. The Sufferer is the Author and Finisher of faith. In His own exercise He is the Prince and Leader who goes before believers, and who, in trusting and hoping Himself, leaves them a finished and perfect pattern of trust and hope.
6. The Sufferer is the Sun of Righteousness, or Light of the World. In His birth He was deeply obscured. From His agony and seizure in the garden to His death and resurrection this glorious Sun was thought to be totally eclipsed. His visage was marred, His face discoloured with spittle, His head crowned with thorns, His back furrowed with cords, and His hands and feet pierced with nails. But under this darkness the title Sun of Righteousness existed, and through it light beams upon the world.
II. Concerning the indignities which our lord suffered.—These are related in the text without colouring and without reflexions. The holy writer neither praises the fortitude and glory of the Sufferer, nor reprobates the baseness and inhumanity of the wicked by whom He was abused. Facts are truly stated in the relation, and simplicity is rigidly observed.
1. When made under the law, our Lord subjected Himself to the suffering of these indignities.
2. In suffering the insolences of the ungodly our Lord was not ashamed and confounded. Behold the Sufferer, not a desponding and cowardly but a bold and mighty Sufferer, whose back, furrowed by the lash, and covered with the scarlet robe, upheld the universe—whose countenance, marred with shame and spitting, was harder than flint and bolder than Lebanon—and whose faith, assailed and affronted by every indignity, stood firmer than the pillars of heaven and earth! Trusting in God, and beholding the joy set before Him, He despised the shame, endured the pain, and triumphed over the diversion and wantonness of wickedness and inhumanity.
3. The Lord Jesus suffered these indignities for and instead of the elect. Indignation at the rudeness and brutality of the soldiers is not the only passion which the record of these abuses should kindle in our breasts. Rather it should kindle indignation against ourselves, for whose iniquities He submitted to abuse.
4. The suffering of these indignities was a part of the ransom which our Kinsman gave for the redemption of the elect. Redemption is an expensive undertaking; none but Himself was equal to it, and it cost Him dear.
5. In suffering these indignities our Lord Jesus left us an example that we should follow His steps.
III. Concerning the glory of Christ in suffering these indignities—The sacred writer relates His sufferings without revealing His glory. But by the light of other parts of Scripture we behold it; and without a display of it the knowledge of the fellowship of His sufferings could not be attained.
1. In suffering these indignities the glory of His faith and trust appears bright and resplendent. Unmoved, undismayed, unashamed, He stood firm, and without fainting held fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end.
2. In the common hall, where the Lord Jesus suffered the indignities, the glory of His love appears in splendour and dignity. Observe the scarlet robe, the reed, and the crown of thorns; behold the vilest ruffians bowing the knee, striking, reviling, and spitting upon the Blessed and Only Potentate, and say, “Behold how He loved us!”
3. In suffering the reproaches and indignities of the ungodly glory appears in the zeal of our Lord Jesus Christ.
4. In suffering the indignities and insolences of the wicked the humility of the Lord Jesus is glorious. Found in fashion as a man, they treated Him not as a man, but trampled on Him as a worm. Astonishing humiliation! Astonishing, indeed, when we consider that He humbled Himself so low to declare the righteousness of God, in “raising up the poor out of the dust, and lifting up the beggar” and the criminal “from the dunghill, to set them among princes, and to make them inherit the throne of glory.”
5. In suffering the insolences of brutish men the meekness of Jesus Christ is glorious. The testimony of the false witnesses He heard in silence. The rudeness of the wicked, who spit in His face, and buffeted Him, and smote Him with the palms of their hands, He endured with composure. The derision and pain in the common hall He suffered with boldness and mildness. Nothing defective appeared in His temper, His language, nor in His behaviour.
6. In suffering the insolences and abuses of men the patience of Jesus Christ is glorious. “He suffered, but threatened not with stoical apathy and sullen and philosophical pride, but with bold tranquillity and reverential and humble and holy composure.
7. In suffering the resignation of the Lord Jesus is glorious. As the hour of suffering approached a conflict was felt—a conflict not between sin and grace, but between the weakness of His human nature and the strength and glory of His grace; while at the same time resignation triumphed (John 12:27). Another conflict was in His agony, when resignation also triumphed (Mark 14:36). The palm, the scourge, the reed, the thorn, the purple, the spittle, the cross, and the nails were bitter and painful infusions; yet these, all these dregs, He submitted to wring out and drink.
1. The harmony between the predictions of prophets and the relations of evangelists concerning the sufferings of Christ is obvious and striking.
2. In His person and office the Lord Jesus is inconceivably glorious. “Brightness of Glory” is one of His distinguishing titles.
3. The grand design of revelation is to manifest the glory of Christ in His person—God-man.
4. The various representations which have been made of the person, sufferings, and glory of Christ are suitable means of working in believers a lively frame of heart for shewing His death at His table.
5. The various representations exhibited of the person, sufferings, and glory of our Lord Jesus Christ lead to the satisfactory answer of a question of the highest importance to the unbelieving, the ungodly, and the unholy. “What must we do to be saved?” Behold, O perishing and helpless creatures! behold the Doer and the Sufferer! To the Doer and Sufferer thou must be united, betrothed, and joined, and married. Obey His voice, and receive His grace; believe in His name, and rejoice in His salvation.—A. Shanks.
OUTLINES AND COMMENTS ON THE VERSES
Mark 15:17-19. Lessons from the mockery of the soldiers.—
1. Notice in the conduct of the tormentors of Jesus the abuse of one of the gifts of God. Laughter is a kind of spice which the Creator has given to be taken along with the somewhat unpalatable food of ordinary life. But when directed against sacred things and holy persons, when used to belittle and degrade what is great and reverend, when employed as a weapon with which to torture weakness and cover innocence with ridicule, then, instead of being the foam on the cup of the banquet of life, it becomes a deadly poison. Laughter guided these soldiers in their inhuman acts; it concealed from them the true nature of what they were doing; and it wounded Christ more deeply than even the scourge of Pilate.
2. It was against the kingly office of the Redeemer that the opposition of men was directed on this occasion. The soldiers considered it an absurdity and a joke that one apparently so mean, friendless, and powerless should make any such pretensions. Many a time since then has the same derision been awakened by this claim of Christ. He is the King of nations. But earthly kings and statesmen have ridiculed the idea that His will and His law should control them in their schemes and ambitions. Even where His authority is nominally acknowledged, both aristocracies and democracies are slow to recognise that their legislation and customs should be regulated by His words. Most vital of all is the acknowledgment of Christ’s kingship in the realm of the individual life; but it is here that His will is most resisted.
3. In what Jesus bore on this occasion. He was suffering for us. Thorns were the sign of the curse. And does not the thorn, staring from the naked bough of winter in threatening ugliness, lurking beneath the leaves or flowers of summer to wound the approaching hand, tearing the clothes or the flesh of the traveller who tries to make his way through the thicket, burning in the flesh where it has sunk, fitly stand for that side of life which we associate with sin—the side of care, fret, pain, disappointment, disease, and death? In a word, it symbolises the curse. But it was the mission of Christ to bear the curse; and as He lifted it on His own head, He took it off the world.
4. Christ’s sufferings are a rebuke to our softness and self-pleasing. It is not, indeed, wrong to enjoy the comforts and the pleasures of life. God sends these, and if we receive them with gratitude they may lift us nearer to Himself. But we are too terrified to be parted from them, and too afraid of pain and poverty. Many would like to be Christians, but are kept back from decision by dread of the laughter of profane companions or by the prospect of some worldly loss. But we cannot look at the suffering Saviour without being ashamed of such cowardly fears.—J. Stalker, D.D.
Christ was intended for the whole world.—Let us see the Divine intention in the Crucifixion. In that are mingling lines of glory and of humiliation. The King of humanity appears with a scarlet camp-mantle flung contemptuously over His shoulders; but to the eye of faith it is the purple of empire. He is crowned with the acanthus wreath; but the wreath of mockery is the royalty of our race. He is crucified between two thieves; but His Cross is a judgment-throne, and at His right hand and His left are the two separated worlds of belief and unbelief. All the Evangelists tell us that a superscription, a title of accusation, was written over His Cross; two of them add that it was written over Him “in letters of Greek, and Latin, and Hebrew” (or in Hebrew, Greek, Latin). In Hebrew,—the sacred tongue of patriarchs and seers, of the nation all whose members were in idea and destination those of whom God said, “My prophets.” In Greek,—the “musical and golden tongue which gave a soul to the objects of sense and a body to the abstractions of philosophy”; the language of a people whose mission it was to give a principle of fermentation to all races of mankind, susceptible of those subtle and largely indefinable influences which are called collectively Progress. In Latin,—the dialect of a people originally the strongest of all the sons of men. The three languages represent the three races and their ideas,—revelation, art, literature; progress, war, and jurisprudence. Wherever these three tendencies of the human race exist, wherever annunciation can be made in human language, wherever there is a heart to sin, a tongue to speak, and eye to read, the Cross has a message.—Bishop Wm. Alexander.
Mark 15:17. The crown of thorns.—The imposition of the mock crown was only one among many indignities. It was not only a mock crown, but a circlet of torture.
I. To wear this crown Christ had laid aside that of Divine majesty.—We can pity the fallen and weep for the great who are degraded, or who are made to feel the hardship of reversed fortune—we can measure the depth of the descent because they are human; but we have no power to gauge the height from which He came when He “humbled Himself and became obedient unto death.”
II. By wearing this crown of mockery Christ added a glory to that He wears eternally.—He conquered suffering, sorrow, death, for us, and now every branch and spike of the mock crown is a jewel inwrought with that of His Divine majesty. Thus the very scorn of man Christ transforms into the sign of Divine regal power.
III. By wearing the mock crown Christ gained the further right to bestow a crown of life on all the faithful.
IV. Consider the power Christ gained over human souls by wearing that mock crown.—
1. Men are led to mourn the guilt that brought Him such pain.
2. He gains such intense affection as He could have obtained in no other way. We should not have loved mere majesty or power, however great; but Jesus we can love as God manifest in the flesh. “The love of Christ constraineth.”—Anon.
The crown of thorns.—In the thorns composing the Redeemer’s crown we see reflected—
1. The true character of sin as the deadly curse in the life and history of man.
2. The triumphant conquest and carrying away of sin.
3. The glorious transformation of the consequences of sin.
4. A symbol of Christ’s work. Crowned with thorns! Oh the deep disgrace to those who did it! Yet what so pathetically appropriate, what so beautifully significant, that at the close and climax of such a life as His, full of travail of soul and agony of spirit, bitterness and reproach of men and devils and sin’s burden, there should be placed on His head a crown such as should be the expression and picture of it all! Jesus Christ, the ideal King of humanity, who shall yet be historic King, found His kingdom “lying in the beast” of prejudice and passion, and ever since with kingly courage He has been engaged in lifting it into the “beauty of the Lord”—bitter, heart-breaking, thorny work.—W. B. Melville.
The crown of thorns.—
I. Jesus Christ claimed the highest dignity: “King.”—Proved by—
1. His own words and deeds.
2. The service of angels.
3. The dread of demons.
4. The phenomena of nature.
5. The appearance of the departed.
6. The acknowledgment of God.
II. The claim of Christ to the highest dignity was treated with contempt.—“Crown of thorns.”
1. Its reason.
(1) Its ordinary human appearance.
(2) The spirituality of His kingdom.
(3) The preconceived notions of men.
2. Its form. Mockery and pain. This arose from—
(1) A cruel occupation: “soldiers.”
(2) Servile obedience.
(3) Heathenish cruelty.
(4) Example of superiors.
(5) Sinful excitement.
III. Contempt for the claim of Christ to the highest dignity was overruled to the advantage of Christ.—
1. Suffering revealed His greatness. Love, patience, forgiveness.
2. Greatness gave value to His sufferings. Sufferings of the God-man, dignity of Godhead, and sufferings of manhood-atonement. The “curse” represented by the “thorns” becomes a blessing represented by the “crown of thorns.—B. D. Johns.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 15
Mark 15:20. Christ mocked.—A strange illustration of the scene is afforded by what happened only a few years afterwards at Alexandria, when the people, in derision of King Agrippa I., arrayed a well-known maniac in a common door-mat, put a papyrus crown on his head, and a reed in his hand, and saluted him as “maris” (lord).—A. Edersheim, D.D.
CRITICAL AND EXEGETICAL NOTES
Mark 15:21. Compel.—Press into service: original word is of Persian origin, and denotes the impressment into service which officials were authorised to make to expedite the mails.
Mark 15:26. The fact that the inscription was written in three languages is quite enough to account for the slight variations in wording.
Mark 15:27. Thieves.—Robbers, or bandits.
Mark 15:28. Wanting in many of the best MSS., but found in all the most ancient versions; therefore probably genuine.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Mark 15:21-41
(PARALLELS: Matthew 27:32-56; Luke 23:26-49; John 19:17-37.)
Lessons from Calvary.—
I. Let us be willing to bear the cross for Him who bore the cross for us (Mark 15:21).—They compel Simon to bear His cross. It was a reproach, and none would do it but by compulsion. “We must not think it strange if crosses come upon us suddenly, and we be surprised by them.” The cross represents the sufferings which we are called upon to bear as Christians. “Cross-bearing and self-forgetfulness fitly go together (as in Matthew 16:24); for he that will not deny himself the pleasures of sin and the advantages of the world for Christ, when it comes to the push will never have the heart to take up his cross.” In running the race set before us there is often a cross in the way—something which is not only not joyous, but even grievous. This is no mournful aspect of discipleship; for if we are willing to bear the cross for Christ, we shall be thereby brought into closer fellowship with Christ.
II. The place of death to Him is the beginning of life to us (Mark 15:22).—“Once a Golgotha, Calvary has ceased to be a place of skulls. Where men went once to die they go now to live.” There was opened the fountain for sin and uncleanness—for your sins and mine, for the sins of the whole world. Have you been to the place called Calvary?
III. The manner of death He endured for us shews with what manner of love He loved us (Mark 15:24).—Crucifixion was regarded as the appropriate punishment for the most infamous characters. “The cross being placed in position, the victim was within reach of every hand that might choose to strike a blow, and near enough also to note every gesture of insult, and to hear every mocking word levelled at him.” Yet for us, for our salvation, Christ was obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. The rocks rent asunder when Jesus died; and surely our hearts must be harder than granite if the story of the Cross fail to touch them. Christ died for the ungodly, and He will not see of the travail of His soul and be satisfied until every heart is renewed, as it has been redeemed.
IV. The cruel challenge (Mark 15:29-32).—Could our Lord’s enemies but have grasped the truth comprehended in their sarcastic taunt, tears of gratitude would have dimmed their eyes as they learned that Christ had voluntarily laid by the power He possessed to save Himself, that by His death the way might be opened for fallen man to return to God. In wilful and therefore criminal ignorance the terrible act of crucifixion was sanctioned and carried out. It is possible for men to be fulfilling Scripture prophecies even when they are breaking Scripture precepts.
V. The two signs—light at birth, and darkness at death (Mark 15:33). At the Saviour’s birth heaven’s host rejoiced and the dazzling lustre of the glory of the Lord was manifest. At the Saviour’s death the prophecy was fulfilled, “I will cause the sun to go down at noon, and I will darken the earth in the clear day.” So awestruck were the people that one heathen writer said concerning it, “There was a general belief that either the God of nature was suffering, or the machine of the world was tumbling to ruin”
VI. The cry of a Saviour’s agony (Mark 15:34).—It is as though He had said, “I could have borne all else—the being despised and rejected of men; I could have endured the outward pain, the bodily anguish; but oh! My Father, Thy smile has been My light, Thy presence and fellowship My joy. Why hast Thou forsaken Me?” We have here the summit of human bliss—“My God! My God!” We have here the lowest depth of human woe—the being God-forsaken.
VII. Triumph in death (Mark 15:37).—He commended His soul to God and expired. He triumphed in death at Calvary. So may we.
VIII. The signification of the rent veil (Mark 15:38).—The kingdom of heaven is open to all believers. We may now draw near in full assurance of faith; for we may boldly “enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He hath consecrated for us through the veil—that is to say, His flesh.”—S. Oliver.
Mark 15:25. The Son of God nailed to the Cross.—Upon the crucifixion of a good man Xenophon or Livy would have lavished all the stores of descriptive language, loaded the memory of the murderers with every indignant epithet, and honoured the virtue and heroism of the sufferer with the highest applause. Mark despatches his history of the crucifixion of the Son of God in one word, saying, with apparent coolness and bold simplicity, “And they crucified Him.” Taught to record the deed and suppress the reflexion, he hath, however, given the world all that faith desires for a foundation, a fact under the hand and seal of the Spirit of truth.
I. The crucifiers.—
1. Israelites and Gentiles, the two great divisions of men at that time, took part in it; the agency of both was criminal, though not equally criminal. “He that delivered Me to thee,” said our Lord to the Roman governor, “hath the greater sin.” The agency of Judas and Caiaphas was more criminal than the agency of Herod and Pontius Pilate, and the Gentiles were less blamable than the people of Israel. By the hands of wicked men Christ was crucified and slain, but their wicked hands did that which the righteous counsel of God determined before to be done. The determination of His counsel was just and holy; the deed of the ungodly assembly who executed it was wicked and unjust.
2. The crucifiers knew not what they did. Ignorance, though neither the justification nor the excuse of wickedness, is an alleviation pleadable in applications to the throne for pardon.
II. The Crucified.—
1. The Man Christ Jesus is Son and Servant and Elect of God (Psalms 2:7; Isaiah 13:1),—Son, the Brightness of glory, the express Image, and in every perfection the Equal of the Father, by whom He is begotten; Servant, righteous Servant, who, doing the work which pleased the Father, glorified Him on earth, finishing it by bowing His head and giving up the Ghost; Elect of God, and precious Chosen of Him from eternity, and foreordained to obedience and suffering before the corner-stones of creation were fastened.
2. The Man Christ Jesus is the Seed of the woman, and the Seed of Abraham, the Root and Offspring of David, and the Son of Mary (Genesis 3:15; Genesis 22:18; Revelation 22:16; Luke 1:32; Acts 2:30). These titles, which break forth along the line of His ancestry according to the flesh, are proofs that He is the Saviour promised to the world and invitations to believe and praise the love of God, who in “the fulness of time sent forth His Son,” etc.
3. The Man Christ Jesus is the Mediator, the Surety, and the Messenger of the covenant. In the covenant, of which Christ Jesus is mediator, there is an old and a new testament. The efficacy of His mediation, running along the Old Testament, breaks forth with greater lustre and vigour under the New; and “by means of His death for the redemption of the transgressions under the first testament, they who are called” under both, whether Israelites or Gentiles, “receive the promise of eternal inheritance.” The Mediator of the covenant is the Surety of it. The vigour of His suretyship, together with its precious effects, extends itself to both testaments of the covenant; but under the new its beauty is more conspicuous and its effects more extensive. The Mediator and Surety is the Messenger of the covenant. The glad tidings of a new and everlasting covenant He published to the world in paradise, proclaimed by His holy prophets, sealed and ratified with His own blood upon the Cross, and by the mouth of His apostles, with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven, made them known to all nations for the obedience of faith.
4. The Man Christ Jesus is the Priest, the Prophet, and the King whom God hath raised up and anointed. Salvation, effected by His death as a priest and revealed in His Word as a prophet, is completed under His administration as a king. While on earth He executed the offices in His humiliation; and after rising and ascending into heaven, He executes them in His exaltation. Their glory is not an occasional and transient blaze, but a sunshine, which shall continue for ever, and fill the heaven of heavens with brightness of glory through eternity.
III. The crucifying.—Christ Jesus is the Man by Himself. Among the sons of the mighty none is equal to Him, none is like Him, and there is none besides Him. The crucifying is a deed of which, in all its circumstances, there is no example in the history of punishment.
1. The crucifying of the Man Christ Jesus is exhibited to the world as a deed which executed the counsel of God (Acts 2:23).
2. The crucifying of the Man Christ Jesus is exhibited to the world as a deed that fulfilled many prophecies of Scripture (Genesis 3:15; Psalms 22:16; Isaiah 53:0.; Zechariah 12:10; Daniel 9:26).
3. The crucifying of the Man Christ Jesus is exhibited to the world as the infliction of a penalty. The crucifiers beheld it as the punishment which their laws inflicted upon blasphemers of God and the king; but “He had done violence to none, neither was any deceit in His mouth. It pleased the Lord to bruise Him, to put Him to the grief” of dying on the Cross, and to “make His soul an offering for sin.” In the judgment of God, which is according to truth, the crucifying of the Lord of Glory, in our nature and stead, is the punishment that transgressors of the law under which He was made deserved.
4. The crucifying of the Man Christ Jesus is exhibited to the world as the operation of a curse. The curse is the sentence which the Lawgiver denounced upon the transgressor of His law.
5. The crucifying of the Man Christ Jesus is exhibited to the world as the expedient of reconciliation for iniquity. In this expedient the wisdom and love of God break forth to the world, and meeting together with His holiness, mercy, truth, and righteousness, glorify themselves in the highest.
IV. Wonders in the Crucifixion.—Here God and man, sin and holiness, love and hatred, weakness and strength, honour and dishonour, death and victory, the blessing and the curse, meet together, and exert themselves wondrously, forming coalitions of conflicting causes, and producing effects apparently discordant, yet perfectly harmonious.—A. Shanks.
The call of the Cross.—The Cross is the symbol of the eternal love of God, and it is the symbol of the perfect life of man. The call of the Cross is like the call of other facts of nature and of the universe. It is like the call of the sunshine and the rain, and no more mysterious. The sunshine and the rain call the farmer to sow the seed to co-operate with nature, to link his little life with the great life of God. The one is no more mysterious than the other. The farmer labours in a narrow sphere; the Christian labours in all the spheres. The Cross shews to us the true life of man—the Christ-life.
I. The Cross calls all men to personal holiness.—The end of salvation is that men may have the very life of God. There are two elements in this idea of holiness. The sacrifices when they were brought to be offered, if they were acceptable sacrifices, must be of animals in perfect health, perfect physical health and purity. And so the primary idea of holiness is that of healthfulness or of purity. We speak of the sacrifice of Christ, the stainless purity of Christ: to be fit to be offered to God as He was—to that all men are called. But then there is another idea in connexion with these sacrifices. The first idea was the idea of health and purity; the second idea is of something which is set apart to the service of God. Now we are to understand that goodness does not imply weakness. Goodness implies the finest strength and the finest beauty and the most finished culture, all set apart to God. There has been an idea in other ages that what we call the heroic virtues—bravery, courage—that these were the things which require strength. But love requires more strength than all the heroic virtues combined. It was a braver thing for Ignatius Loyola, when that rabble of Chinese turned upon him and a rude ruffian rushed up and spat in his face, quietly to look down and smile upon him and commend him to the love of God, than for Marshal Ney at Waterloo to lead the Old Guard. The one had all the enthusiasm and passion of a great occasion; the other saw ten thousand men against him and only God above. A man once said: “If I were an artist, I should like to paint my ideal of God; I should paint Him, not as some have painted Him, as a feeble old man with snowy hair; I should paint Him, not as others have painted Him, seated upon a lofty throne, with thousands bowing before Him; I should paint my ideal of God as a great cloud, and out of the cloud an outstretched hand, and in our weakness and guilt, in our consciousness of our utter impotence to be that to which we are called, I would see that hand reaching from beyond the stars.”
II. The Cross calls all to fill their lives with service and sacrifice for humanity.—Christ’s ideal is to become our life. Not only are we to become like Him, not only are we to think His thoughts, but we are to do as He did. I sometimes wonder how it is that people have so mistaken emphasis, and have spent so much time in seeking to adjust the death of Christ to a philosophical system, when all the while there is the example of One who went about doing good, who bound up the broken-hearted, who was seeking opportunities to be helpful to those who are in suffering. It is only one thing that can make a cross, and that is love; and love must go into that shape, because love means sacrifice. Love always hangs on the cross. The more we love, the more we must suffer. The more our hearts are tied to our dear ones, the more awfully will they be broken if those dear ones do not realise the life to which they are called.
III. We are called by that Cross of Christ to believe in the triumph of the truth and righteousness.—That shews us, as nothing else does, what has been spent—that poverty, that sorrow, that sin, can be destroyed. And in our hours of darkness, when we feel as if everything were going awry, when it seems to us as if there were no God at the heart of things, when we look up into the great wide sky inquiring wherefore we were born, for earnest or for jest—in those moments, when it seems as if nothing but a heartless and cruel fate were at the heart of things, the voice from the cross, serene as the music of the angel-choirs, rings out its inquiry, “Can you believe that a work which was baptised with the blood of the Son of God, and which Jesus died to start, can ever be defeated?”—A. H. Bradford, D.D.
Mark 15:26. The title on the Cross.—That white board has long since perished—it has crumbled to dust; and yet there is a glorious sense in which the inscription can never be obliterated. Fire cannot burn it out; waters cannot wash it away; spears cannot erase the wondrous words; and to-day, in living letters of glorious light, it stands out for as and for every living creature to read that Jesus—this Jesus of Nazareth—is King—King of the Jews and King of the world.
I. What this inscription meant to Pilate.—It was Pilate’s revenge on the priests; it was a studied insult to them. It was one of those sarcastic sallies in which the Romans delighted. Pilate must have fallen very low to make scoff and sport at such a time. There is no knowing where a man may be led when he once gives way to revenge. Nothing is sacred then; he will trample under-foot foot the most solemn thing; he will disregard the most solemn moment. For ever the character of Pilate stands out as the character of a man who knew the right, but did it not—who was convinced of the true path, but deliberately turned round and walked in the false;
II. What the priests could have seen in that inscription—To them it was one of the most startling and searching sentences upon which their eyes had ever looked, and we can see from the wondrous story how vexed, how bitter, they were when they found out the trick that Pilate had played upon them. Why, there was the very thing they least loved—that proclamation of the Kingship of this Man dying on the Cross. They could not reconcile His lowly origin and His ignominious death with His Divine claims and glorious title. And that is the difficulty with many even now. The real distinctive character of Christianity is that it is independent of all outward and material conditions of greatness.
III. What could have been the special relation to Jesus, as He hung upon the Cross, of that inscription above His head?—It was written in jest—but there was a tremendous meaning in those words! There, above the Cross, is inscribed His sweetest name. Jesus! Mystic, blessed, soul-healing name! Jehovah! Emmanuel! Shepherd! Unspeakable Gift! Saviour! Name of sweetness! Name of power! Name for the guilty! Name for the lost! Name for all nations! Note also that on the Cross is a mark of the wondrous condescension of Jesus, for there is “Nazareth,” “Jesus of Nazareth,” despised Nazareth. Ay, and there I see also His rightful dignity, “King.” But where is His throne, and where His sceptre and His crown? Ah! don’t you see them? That wooden Cross is His throne; the nails in His hands are His sceptre; those twisted thorns form His crown. “He conquered when He fell”; He reigned when He died; and never king was more kingly than Jesus on the Cross. But I see also a hint of His future glory. “King of the Jews.” He is coming again; and “when He cometh to make up His jewels,” as the children sing, among the brightest of His crown shall be some of the children of Abraham, “bone of His bone, and flesh of His flesh”; and though now they are cast out and scattered, though they are a nation and yet no nation, though indeed they have no human king and no human governor, when He comes, He who scattered Israel shall gather them, and reign over the people who once pierced Him.
IV. What is it to us?—What is it to me? Some one has said that that inscription on the Cross was the first printed sermon. It was printed in three languages—in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin. Hebrew was the language of religion, Greek the language of culture, Latin the language of power. Was it not prophetic? Has it not its messages for to-day? Yes. What is the message of the Cross for men of culture? It is this: that Jesus must be their King, Jesus must be owned as Master of the mind and Lord of every gift and talent. Oh that to-day intellect, genius, science, art, literature, and all culture might own the kingship of Christ! And what shall we say of the Latin—the emblem of power and empire? Christ must be King—King over men of influence, men of power, statesmen, rulers, magistrates, judges. King in the senate-house, King on the bench, King in our courts of law, King in all our local assemblies. Dare we forget it? Woe be to our dear land if we do! And what of religion? Oh, if He is not King here, religion will be the deadest, dullest, dreariest, most abominable thing of all! Oh that we who profess to be men and women religious in heart and life may truly own the kingship of Christ! Now I want us all to recognise in these three languages emblems of the three parts of our own lives; and I want us to say to Jesus Christ, “Oh, Christ of the Cross, Saviour of men! come and rule in my life, not in one part of it, but in all parts of it—come and make me all Thine own.”—W. J. Mayers.
Jesus our King.—” Behold your king!” exclaimed Pilate to the Jews, as they crowded round his tribunal to witness the condemnation of Jesus. The words may have been spoken in sarcasm; but we would hope they were rather intended as a last appeal to the compassion of the populace. Some have even thought that they embodied the secret impression of Pilate’s own mind. Certain it is that he was alarmed by the peculiarity of Christ’s appearance and manner; and possibly enough he entertained a fear lest He should have a real claim to the title thus assigned Him. But, with whatever motive he uttered the words—whether in derision or in seriousness, in contempt or in faith—his tongue was the instrument of Providence in declaring a great and stupendous truth; and that truth he afterwards recorded, in “the three great languages of the ancient world—the languages of culture, of empire, and of religion”—upon the Cross of Christ.
I. The kingly relation in which Jesus stands to us is far more definite and intelligible than it was to the Jews.—
1. Though He was indeed their king by the strongest claims—announced to them as such by prophecy, expected by them in that character for ages, and manifested to them by demonstrations of miraculous power—yet it must be confessed that there was much difficulty and much obscurity hovering about His pretensions, when He stood before the tribunal of Pilate or hung upon the tree of Calvary. It must have been a hard matter even for the eye of faith to discover in that apparently helpless and destitute Object any appearance of regal dignity. He seemed abandoned alike by heaven and earth—One whose condition was that of utter hopelessness, whose ruin was inevitable, and who was only rescued from absolute contempt by the placid dignity of His manner. Accordingly we find that even those who had seen His arm uplifted in the majesty of omnipotence, and heard His voice when it hushed the tumult of the waves or called the dead back to earth, made shipwreck of their faith in this hour of trial. Although therefore a keen observer of mankind might, as Pilate did, perceive in the conduct of Jesus symptoms of an extraordinary and wondrous character, how were the multitude to discriminate or to recognise a King in One condemned to crucifixion as a criminal? But we are under no such difficulty. To us Jesus appears not as a culprit, but as the Conqueror of death and the Lord of life. Why, then, should we hesitate to acknowledge Him as our King?
2. The Jews were differently situated from us with respect to Christ, as they had received no positive, public, and official assurance from Him of His being their king. It did not enter into His design to announce Himself formally to them in that capacity. He was, in fact, their spiritual, not temporal sovereign; but as long as He was present amongst them in person He could never have made them comprehend the distinction. He therefore left it to His apostles to explain fully the nature of His kingdom, its extent, and the qualifications requisite for membership in it. Now the explanation which the apostles gave in consequence of that commission we are in full possession of. We find in the New Testament an account of a spiritual kingdom, whose Invisible Head is Christ, the King of kings and Lord of lords.
3. The Jews had received no such benefits as they expected from Christ as their King. He had, it is true, proved a great and signal benefactor to them in many respects; but the blessings of His kingdom were not dispensed so long as He remained on earth in the flesh. The Holy Spirit, who was to be the agent in dispensing the blessings and extending the bounds of that kingdom, did not openly commence His work till Christ’s bodily presence was withdrawn. We, on the other hand, have from infancy shared all the present privileges and advantages of Christ’s kingdom, and have been cheered with the hope of those which are hereafter to be revealed. We therefore are utterly without excuse if we do not acknowledge and reverence Him as our King. In His hands the Father has been pleased to place the absolute control of all our destinies. He is our Ruler, our Protector, our Example, and our Judge.
II. The feelings with which we should regard Jesus as our King.—
1. With reverence. The very thought of Him should stifle every lofty imagination and hush every unguarded word. We bend ourselves, with a feeling of awe, before an earthly monarch: should we not, then, present ourselves in a constant attitude of humility before the Supreme Sovereign of creation? Let this thought operate upon the minds of those who are in the habit of speaking lightly of the gospel, and using the name of Christ more familiarly than they would that of a common acquaintance. This practice, though originating often in thoughtlessness, is an offence of a very serious cast, which blunts the delicate edge of spiritual susceptibility.
2. With love. An earthly sovereign, by a few acts of munificence, or even by a few generous expressions, finds an easy passage to the hearts of his people. But has Christ conferred no more than one or two benefits upon us? Has He uttered only a few expressions of kindness? Surely, if ever sovereign deserved the love of His subjects, it must be He who, after having said and done everything that could encourage and console, laid down His life for them! What an inversion is it, not merely of right reasoning, but of proper and honourable feeling, when we loudly extol those whose ambition has led thousands to death, as sheep to the slaughter, but dare to depreciate that Divine Mercy which could offer up itself a sacrifice for the ungodly!
III. Where especially shall we offer our homage to Christ as King?—He is not to be seen, as formerly, walking amongst men, in the humble state of a companion, or the still more lowly form of a servant. Nor is He at present to be seen by us in the magnificence of celestial splendour. The time indeed will come when the eye that now looks to Him in faith shall actually behold Him in all the brightness of His glory. But the mists of earth cannot yet be penetrated, and we must be satisfied with a distant and mental contemplation of our King. Yet is He not far from any one of us; and occasions there are when we may know that He is specially among us, to receive our worship and our praise.
1. He marks the looks, the gestures, nay, the inmost thoughts, of those who present themselves in the courts of His house. And there also those who are thus seen by Him may with the eye spiritual behold Him in return—may see Him smiling benignly, may hear Him whispering peace, and may feel Him in their souls blessing their efforts and strengthening their resolutions.
2. We may behold and worship Him in the retirement of private devotion. When, bowed down under the sense of sin, or in affliction or sickness, we raise our hearts to heaven, we may see Him bending from His throne. of love to hear our prayer and recommend it by His advocacy to His Father.
3. But surely our homage is more particularly due to Him when we kneel before Him at that altar which He Himself consecrated as the peculiar scene of His intercourse with His people. There He meets us by special appointment. There He pours forth in fullest measure the riches of His grace. There, then, let us not fail to present ourselves continually before Him, and offer Him our most heartfelt praise and thanksgiving, and plead before the Eternal Father the Great Sacrifice of Calvary.
Mark 15:34. Our Lord’s desertion by the Father.—This complaint is borrowed from the twenty-second Psalm, which begins with these words. And if it be asked why our Saviour chose to express Himself on this occasion in the language of David, two probable reasons may be given for this.
1. That the Jews might call to mind the great resemblance between His case and that of this illustrious king and prophet. In both cases innocence and virtue were borne down by violence and eclipsed under a cloud of sufferings, while the wicked triumphed and the vilest of men were exalted.
2. The other reason of Christ’s taking the words of this psalm might be that this psalm was allowed to belong to the Messiah, and to have its ultimate completion in Him. To signify that He was the person foretold in this psalm our dying Lord makes the complaint His own, and this after His crucifiers had as it were challenged Him to make good His titles to this character.
I. Consider the style which our dying Lord uses in addressing Himself to God.—“My God, My God.”
1. These words can signify no less than a consciousness of His integrity at the time of our Saviour’s using them. At that very time His heart was so far from reproaching Him as to applaud every action of His life and fill Him with great peace and assurance.
2. Christ might well say, “My God, My God,” because He had chosen and avouched Him for such, and loved and delighted in Him with a flame of devotion which angels themselves cannot equal.
3. These words imply the filial confidence and trust which Christ reposed in His Father at the very time that He complained so tenderly of His having forsaken Him.
II. In what sense was Christ forsaken by God in His passion?—
1. Are we to believe that God was angry with His well-beloved Son? Was His heart turned against Him, and His love towards Him for some time interrupted? Did the wrath of God fall upon this sacrifice like fire from heaven, and as. it were consume it, as He saith of His own zeal? These things I call impossible. For how in the nature of things could they possibly be? How could the same Person at the same time be both innocent and guilty, the object of the love of God and of His wrath? Or how could the righteous Judge of the world, who is infinite in knowledge, reckon things and persons to be what they really were not?
2. But if God was not angry with His Son, might not the Son apprehend that He was, or at least doubt of the continuance of His Father’s love to Him, the fear of which filled Him with this amazing anguish? No. The Scripture saith it is impossible for God to lie. But what had such a delusion as this been better?—to make His Son believe things for which there was no manner of foundation? And as for His being in such an error if left to Himself, it is also impossible. His conscience could not accuse Him of what He never committed; and He had too worthy and honourable thoughts of the Deity to apprehend His displeasure, while His own heart did not condemn Him.
3. The true meaning of this complaint.
(1) “Why hast Thou forsaken Me?” i.e. “Why dost Thou leave Me destitute of Thy heavenly aid in this dreadful conflict? In My agony when I prayed so fervently that the cup might pass from Me there appeared an angel from heaven strengthening Me; but now Thou neither helpest Me immediately nor by Thy holy angels: I am left to wrestle single against principalities and powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world.” And was He not a match for them in His own strength?—able alone to stand against their whole force, and to support the load of sufferings which was laid upon Him, without the assistance of ministering angels? Doubtless He was, and for that reason was left to Himself upon the Cross.
(2) “Why hast Thou forsaken Me?” i.e. “Why hast Thou taken from Me the joys and consolations of Thy presence. If I had these, as I have formerly enjoyed them, no sorrows and pains that I could feel would make any great impression upon Me. But, oh! the scene is changed, and that darkness which now covers the earth is but an emblem of that thicker night which has involved My soul!”
(3) “Why hast Thou forsaken Me?” i.e. “Why am I left so long in this suffering condition, exposed to the insults of wicked men and the rage of infernal spirits, a spectacle of shame and horror to the world? Why dost Thou delay so long to take My soul? Oh, come, My Father, and at length release My wearied spirit!”
(4) How is the condition of our Redeemer changed since the time He made this bitter complaint! As the sun, after its eclipse, broke out with double lustre upon the world, so did the light of His Father’s countenance upon His soul; shame and sorrow and suffering were succeeded by glory, rest, and felicity—and victory with triumph.
III. Inquire into the reasons of God’s thus forsaking His beloved Son.—As the Scripture does not give us any particular reasons of this, distinct from those of His sufferings in general, we have no other rule to go by but the end or design of His sufferings, which relates either to His example, or His sacrifice, or His priesthood, or His victory over the enemies. of His Church. 1. If the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ was pleased to forsake His well-beloved Son in His dying passion, it was in order to add the greater perfection to His example (1 Peter 2:2; Hebrews 5:7-9). To carry His example to the greatest height, He not only suffered from men, but from God—pain and shame and death from men, desertion from God: in all teaching us how to behave with humble, filial resignation to the One, and charity and meekness to the other.
2. Another design of the Father in this temporary desertion of His dying Son might be to increase the perfection of His atonement (1 Peter 2:24; Hebrews 9:26; Hebrews 10:14; Ephesians 1:7). He not only sheds His blood, in which the life of the body consists, but He sheds it with all the circumstances necessary to complete the expiation: His soul had its share of suffering; and though, being pure and innocent, He could know nothing of the gnawings of a guilty conscience, that worm which never dies, nor suffer under the wrath and displeasure of a Holy God, who, loving righteousness, could not for a moment hate that Person who of all beings represented Him most exactly in this respect, yet He bore all that an innocent being could well be liable to, and for so long a time as the Divine Wisdom judged meet.
3. This circumstance of our Saviour’s sufferings, His being forsaken of God, contributes to the perfection of His priesthood. He suffered by inward sorrow and desertion, as by outward and bodily pain, and is therefore able to succour them that are in the same condition, so as to be also willing and inclined to do it.
4. This completes His victory over the grand adversary of God and man, and renders His triumph the more glorious. Satan shall see that he has another kind of person to deal with than he had in the first Adam—One who, left to Himself, is not only able to cope with him, but easily to baffle all his temptations and stratagems, and with an invincible courage to repel all his assaults.
1. How should this endear the Redeemer of the world to us, who was willing to suffer such things for our sakes—shame and pain and death; to be persecuted by men, assaulted by Satan, and forsaken of God!
2. This part of the history of our Saviour’s last passion carries in it a great deal of instruction and consolation to His faithful disciples when they are in like circumstances with Him.—H. Grove.
Mark 15:38 The rent veil.—This seems a trifling incident to record in such a solemn place. That an ancient curtain, worn out in the lapse of years, should be torn—what is there in that to excite surprise or be thought worthy of notice, especially at such a time?
I. The whole worship and ritual of the Jews was like a volume of pictures, by which they were taught spiritual truths.—
1. The veil told them that there was a barrier between them and God—sin. They felt as they gazed upon it somewhat of the same awe that falls upon us as we stand outside the chamber of death, and know that a few feet away there is a visitor stronger than any human power, unseen, but terribly real.
2. There is nothing to hinder us from coming face to face with God in worship—no outward symbol that sets a barrier to us, past which we dare not go. But though the veil has been taken away, that still remains of which the veil was but the picture. Our sin hangs as a thick curtain between us and the purity of God.
3. Have we ever felt that this veil is there, over our hearts—no delusion, but an awful fact? It is indeed the most fundamental of all truths—that which we must start with. Here a beginning is made with us by God. He speaks to sinners, and to sinners alone. We cannot feel the full joy of salvation if we have not first felt the sorrow, the desolation, of the separation that sin has made between us and God.
4. The depths and the heights of Christian experience lie close together. There is no better place to seek God, no surer place to find Him, than in some valley of humiliation. The veil of the temple—let us take our stand before it, along with the great company of those who in all ages have mourned over their sin.
II. The death of Christ can take the barrier of sin away.—
1. It is broken; the veil is rent; there is a way for us to God, a living way, for whomsoever will tread it. This is the gospel of Christ. It is a gospel that wounds before it heals, humbles before it exalts, strikes us down with a conviction of sin before it lifts us up with the assurance of forgiveness.
2. It is glad tidings to know that Christ has opened this way. But what good will it do to know it if we do not tread it? It will not do for us just to say, “Yes, Christ is the Saviour of sinners.” We must each one by one take a journey to the Cross alone, and meet Christ there. In the darkness we stretch out the feeble hands of faith, and pray that the veil may be withdrawn, the shadow lifted from off our souls. And lo! even as we pray our scarlet sins become white as snow, the veil is rent, and we are at peace with God.
III. The rent veil signifies also that death is conquered.—To the Jews death was at the best a sore discouragement, an unsolved problem. God was on the other side of the veil—they knew that; but whether He dwelt there alone or in company with the living saints of bygone days they could not be quite sure. So the whole of life was to them but a walking in the valley of the shadow of death, at the farther end of which sat that giant form—dim, dark, repulsive—filling up the whole space, and projecting his gloomy shadow along the whole path they travelled. But Christ has changed all this. He has rent for us the veil that is over our eyes, has brought to light the life and immortality that is beyond death, and has shewn to us on the other side not an empty heaven where God sits alone, but a heaven peopled with all who have loved and served Him here.—R. T. Cunningham.
Mark 15:39. The confession of the centurion.—Many of us no doubt have witnessed a death—the death, probably, of some one near and dear to us. It was one of those events, necessarily rare in life, that in a few moments impress a stamp upon us which a lifetime cannot efface. We are not dead metal, but living souls. Such moments are full of awe,—not merely because of this more immediate contact with things unseen, but because of the increased responsibility; for we have one more great crisis to answer for, one more opportunity of making a fresh start on the flood-tide of feeling, which a crisis of this kind almost necessarily involves. And yet, after all, how small the event was which effected all this! The death of just one out of the myriads of the human race. How few there were that even for a short time missed him! How very narrow was the circle of affairs that was in any degree affected by his loss! But in spite of the evident want of change in the world around us, we cannot for a moment doubt the reality of the change which has come over ourselves.
I. Once, and once only, in the history of the world all surrounding circumstances did change, in order to be more in harmony with a scene of death.—Once, and once only, nature has swerved from its iron course for the sake of a dying man, and shewn clear signs of distress and suffering, in order to be in sympathy with a soul in agony. And well might it do so; for the agonised soul was the soul of its Maker and its Master. When the human soul of Christ took its willing flight to the hands of its Heavenly Father, the sun hid its face, “the earth did quake, and the rocks rent”—the very graves set free their dead. It was sights and sounds such as these which told upon the centurion and his companions, and wrung from them that marvellous confession, “Truly this was the Son of God.”
II. In all that multitude they were the very group from whom one might least have expected it.—Such an exclamation would have come naturally from the lips of the disciples. It would not have surprised us had it been uttered by the crowd—a mob which had been raised to such enthusiasm for Him on Palm Sunday by the report of the raising of Lazarus, and to such frenzy against Him by the machinations of the priests, might easily have been won back (we think) by portents like these. Nay, it would not wholly have astounded us if it had proceeded from the priests themselves. The darkness, and the earthquake, and the rending of the veil might have forced home the truth even on them. But no; the priests are already preparing to take further measures against “that deceiver.” The most that any of the people do is to smite their breasts and return. And as for the disciples, the very things that should have turned their hopes into certainties robbed them of hope altogether. On Easter morning the news of His resurrection seemed to them as “idle tales.” No; the only persons able to interpret these awful signs aright are despised Gentiles; and among these not people of thought and culture, but Roman soldiers. Nor was it the execution which touched them. The cruel punishments of Rome had made them familiar enough with scourging and crucifixion. But they had had other experiences to-day. They may have been part of the band who found themselves prostrate on the ground at the mere word of their Prisoner. They may have heard, one of them may have carried, the message from Pilate’s wife. They had heard the cry of the Jews, which made Pilate “the more afraid,” and of which their own exclamation seems to be an echo: “By our law He ought to die, because He made Himself Son of God.” And no doubt they had been on duty during the three hours of darkness, at the close of which came the earthquake. They had heard also the last great cry with which that Life which redeemed the world was yielded up. And St. Mark tells us that it was this cry, even more than the surrounding wonders, that called forth the confession of the centurion.
III. And why?—Possibly because such proof of unsubdued power, after the long hours of agony and exhaustion, seemed nothing short of miraculous. But still more perhaps because His dying immediately after such proof of power shewed that, after all that the malice of His enemies had inflicted on Him, His death was voluntary. He surrendered His life. There is yet one more fact which may well have contributed to produce this startling conviction in the mind of the centurion and his companions: the dying words of Christ. “Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit.” They had heard that He claimed to be “Son of God”—a title quite unknown to them among their own divinities and heroes. What did it mean? “Son of Jupiter,” “Son of Venus,” “Offspring of the gods,” they could have understood. But “Son of God”? Death stared Him in the face; and to speak falsely in the hour of death is scarcely human; and yet with His dying words He had commended His spirit into the hands of that Almighty Father whose Son from His childhood upwards He had claimed to be. It was this then that drove the truth home to the Roman soldiers. “Certainly,” they said, “this was a righteous man.” Certainly this man was no deceiver. “Truly this was the Son of God.”
IV. The assent of more than eighteen centuries has ratified their verdict.—And it will hold good till He Himself makes good the promise made to Caiaphas: “Hereafter shall ye see the Son of Man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven.”
1. Christ’s willing surrender of His life may teach us that in the spiritual world there is only one road to success—the surrender of self. He who “hallowed birth by being born,” and “conquered death by dying,” conquered the stubborn wills of men by surrendering His own. And there is no other way for us. This is not a lesson to be buried in a napkin until some great affliction calls it into use. It is a lesson for every day and every hour. There is no annoyance too trifling for the exercise of it. If in the petty vexations of which we have a dozen a day we learn to submit with cheerfulness for the sake of Christ’s Cross, we shall be ready even to give thanks to Him for His chastisement, when He sees fit to bruise us more severely. Thus all our lives long we may share the mind of our dying Master. To us to live will be Christ, and to die gain.
2. And this easily leads us to the second point—our Lord’s commendation of His spirit into the hands of His Father. If we have in any way learnt to surrender our wills to God, we shall not find it hard to commend our whole being to Him. The right to do so has been won for us by Christ. That which would be an abomination to Him, “who charges even the angels with folly,” becomes a sweet-smelling sacrifice when united with the Sinless Victim of the Cross. Christ’s offering was a double one—His own Divinity and our humanity. Ours must be double also—ourselves with Christ, Christ with ourselves. And this also is a work not for a few great and rare occasions, but for our whole life. In all that we do we must ever be commending ourselves, in union with Christ, to God. Yet there are times when it may be done with more than usual solemnity and devotion; and among these surely is our Easter Communion. Let Easter morning, or at least some day in Easter week, find us on our knees before God’s altar, saying with all the humble confidence a sinful soul can cherish, and all the loving self-sacrifice a grovelling heart can feel, “Father, into Thy hands I commend my life. Do with me as seemeth best unto Thee in time and in eternity.” And as we retire with the seal of Christ’s body and blood within us, assuring us that the fire of the Lord has fallen upon our offering, we shall know, not by the darkness and the earthquake, but by the light and peace of His presence, that “truly this is the Son of God.”—A. Plummer, D.D.
OUTLINES AND COMMENTS ON THE VERSES
Mark 15:21. Simon the Cyrenian.—Simon was a Jew by descent, probably born, certainly resident, for purposes of commerce, in Cyrene, on the North African coast of the Mediterranean. No doubt he had come up to Jerusalem for the Passover; and, like many strangers, met some difficulty in finding accommodation in the city, and so was obliged to lodge in one of the outlying villages. From this lodging he is coming in, in the morning, knowing nothing about Christ or His trial, and happens to see the procession as it is passing out of the gate. He is compelled by the centurion, for what reason we do not know, to carry the heavy Cross of the Saviour,—reluctantly no doubt, but gradually touched into some kind of sympathy; drawn closer and closer, as we suppose, as he looked upon this dying meekness; and at last yielding to the soul-conquering power of Christ.
I. The greatness of trifles.—Our lives are like the Cornish rocking-stones, pivoted on little points. The most apparently insignificant things have got such a strange knack of suddenly developing unexpected consequences, and turning out to be not small things at all, but great and decisive and fruitful. And so let us look with ever fresh wonder on this marvellous contexture of human life, and on Him that moulds it all to His own perfect purposes. Let us bring the highest and largest principles to bear on the smallest events and circumstances, for you never can tell which of these is going to turn out a revolutionary and formative influence in your life. And then let us learn this lesson, too, of quiet confidence in Him in whose hands the whole puzzling, overwhelming mystery lies.
II. The blessedness and honour of helping Christ—Christ’s Cross has to be carried to-day; and if we have not found out that it has, let us ask ourselves if we are Christians at all. There will be hostility, alienation, a comparative coolness, and absence of a full sense of sympathy in many people with you, if you are a true Christian. There will be a share of contempt from the wise and the cultivated of this generation, as in all generations. The mud that is thrown after the Master will spatter your faces too, to some extent; and if we are walking with Him, we shall share to the extent of our communion with Him in the feelings with which many men regard Him. Stand to your colours! Do not be ashamed of the Master in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation. And there is another way in which this honour of helping the Lord is given to us. As in His weakness He needed some one to aid Him to bear His Cross, so in His glory He needs our help to carry out the purposes for which the Cross was borne. The paradox of a man carrying the Cross of Him who carried the world’s burden is repeated in another form too. He needs nothing, and yet He needs us.
III. The perpetual recompense and record of humblest Christian work.—“How little Simon knew that where-ever in the whole world this gospel was preached, there also this that he had done should be told for a memorial of him!” Why, men have fretted their whole lives away to get what this man got, and knew nothing of one line in that chronicle of fame. And so we may say it shall be always, “I will never forget any of their works.” We may not leave them on any records that men can read. What of that, if they are written in letters of light in that “Lamb’s Book of Life,” to be read out by Him before His Father and the holy angels in that last great day. We may not leave any separable traces of our service, any more than the little brook that comes down some gully on the hillside flows separate from its sisters, with whom it has coalesced in the bed of the great river or in the rolling, boundless ocean. What of that so long as the work, in its consequences, shall last!—A. Maclaren, D.D.
The firstfruits of the heathen world.—The Synoptists in the accounts which they give of the Crucifixion bring into prominent notice Simon of Cyrene as the man who was compelled to bear the Cross of Christ, and with this brief notice he disappears apparently from the pages of Scripture. I think, however, if we look a little more closely, we shall find that he reappears in Acts 13:1 as a member of the early Church under the name of Simeon, who was called Niger. My view of the matter was suggested by the following considerations:
1. Simon and Simeon are interchangeable names, as where in Acts 15:14 Simon Peter is called Simeon.
2. Simon of Cyrene might appropriately have been called Niger, in allusion to the colour of his skin, coming as he did from Africa.
3. Simeon, who was called Niger, is mentioned in Acts 13:1, in close juxtaposition with Lucius of Cyrene. I might further add, not as an argument, but as a fitting corollary to the circumstances, that we can scarcely think that Simon would not have been greatly impressed by the scenes which he witnessed, if indeed he did not receive some personal blessing from our Lord—he who in so real a sense had borne the Cross up the hill to Calvary, who had come into such close contact with Christ at such a critical moment, and who in all probability had been an eye-witness of the Crucifixion. So that we might almost expect to find him a member of the early Church, or at least would meet him there without surprise. If this identity be a real one, we see in Simon of Cyrene the very firstfruits of the heathen world.—G. F. Assinder.
Providential leadings.—What moved Simon to take that turning in the streets which brought him to Christ and His Cross, and just at the very moment he was needed? We cannot say. How curiously we are led! We take one turning in life rather than another, hardly knowing why, and the whole of our after-history is changed. It is not chance—it is God and ourselves. We often say that our lives are very dull and commonplace—there is nothing romantic or interesting about them—their story is not worth the telling. If we could only see them for a moment as God sees them, how different they would look! If we could only see the meaning and importance of the events which are taking place, of the things we do so thoughtlessly, the words we speak so carelessly, and understand the eternal interests involved in every hour that we live, we need not seek for romance outside the narrow circle in which we live.—R. T. Cunningham.
Cross-bearing is never pleasant, take it at its best; there is always a sting and a hardship in it which makes us smart at the time: take it as for the most part we know it, and we shall find that we generally murmur and resist and complain, and try to shake it from our shoulders. But it must be done. It is through tribulation that our characters are perfected and heaven is won. So God does not ask our permission, or whether we are willing. He lays His Cross upon us, and compels us to carry it. Thank God He does!—R. T. Cunningham.
Carrying Christ’s Cross.—Christ’s Cross-bearing is not over yet; after nineteen hundred years He is still carrying it; and somehow I cannot but think of Him as continually tired and needing help. We can do something to relieve the sin and wretchedness beside which we live; and in relieving it we are making Christ’s Cross easier for Him to bear.—Ibid.
The Cross of Christ is the pivot of history.—On this the doors of ancient life shut and modern history open. Heathen nations, however new or young, are ancient; Christian nations, however old, are modern. Western civilisation began on Calvary. Significant is the fact that the root of the word stauros (cross), descending from the Sanskrit, and meaning what “stands’ or is “fixed,” and thence reappearing in all the Indo-Germanic languages of Europe, is a figure of history’s humblest yet mightiest landmark. On the head of that Cross were joined in one those three languages which represented religion, culture, and law, typifying the three world civilisations that were to become confluent and be vitalised by a Divine Person and character, and His ever-abiding Spirit. Asia furnished alike the Victim and him who delivered Him up; Europe the judge, tribunal, and executioners; but Africa bore the Cross. In this the century of hope for the Dark Continent, let it be remembered that one of her sons, in vicarious labour, carried that Cross on which the Redeemer of the African, as well as of the Asian and European, bore the sins of humanity.
Mark 15:22. Golgotha.—The most approved explanation of this name is that it denotes a place slightly elevated and skull-shaped. The Latin designation, Calvary, which comes from the Vulgate, may or may not be meant to express the same meaning. That it was a place where the skulls of malefactors executed there were found is fanciful and improbable, because the Jews would not have suffered it, who were so careful to avoid everything Levitically unclean. Though Christ was suffering so much at this moment, and was about to suffer so much more intensely, He forgot Himself, and thought only of the distress of those who followed Him weeping and wailing, who soon, in the judgments that were hastening to fall on the guilty city, would themselves suffer such hitherto unknown calamities (Luke 23:27-31).—H. B. Hackett, D.D.
Mark 15:23-26. The mystery of eternity. Death by crucifixion was of all deaths the most shameful and most horrible—a pagan penalty that Judaism had never adopted, and one only inflicted by pagans on those of whom it was meant to make a horrible example. Wounding no vital part, and not robbing the victim of any blood, it was a death horribly lingering; while infinite varieties of anguish—from the crushed nerves, from the weight of the body, from the exposure to the scorching sun, from the fever set up by the wounds, and, in Christ’s case, from the back ridged and furrowed, where each stroke of the lash had cut through the flesh—all conspired to make it a death of horror. Yet this is inflicted on Jesus, the Son of God, whose crime was mercy, whose mission here was one of redeeming love.
I. All the mysteries of human nature are here.—
1. That of sin: depravity, as we have already noted, shewing itself clearly here, and demonstrating the corruption of mankind.
2. That of free-will is here. God restrains our sin by truth, mercy, grace, appeal, and warning, but not by force. Man’s freedom to wreck his immortal nature is shewn conspicuously here.
3. That of judgment is here suggested strongly. After these things must there not be some reckoning? (Luke 23:31).
II. The mysteries of Divine revelation are here.—Not till a man has seen God in Christ on the Cross has he seen God. Here all marvels of God are displayed.
1. The mystery of God’s love is here. Nature reveals God’s wisdom; providence, His mercy and His judgment; but Calvary reveals His heart. It displays God’s passion of mercy, His yearning to bless, His appreciation of man, His power of sacrifice.
2. The mystery of God’s meekness is here. Daily He turns the left cheek to those who smote the right, and men mistake His patience for indifference to their faults. Here the meekness and lowliness of the Lord God Almighty are displayed.
3. The mystery of God’s method of curing sin is here. By enduring its strokes He shames and vanquishes transgression.
III. The mysteries of salvation are here.—
1. For here is atonement. The sin of man had never been adequately owned, prayed for, counterbalanced. But by accepting death—its penalty—Christ owns the death-worthiness of our sin. In His prayer, “Father, forgive them; they know not what they do,” He makes intercession for the whole guilty race. And there is enough love, faith, obedience, goodness, in Christ’s dying to more than balance all the dishonour a world’s transgression has done its God. This owning, praying for, repairing the wrong of a world’s transgression is atonement.
2. Reconciliation is here (John 10:17; 1 John 4:19). Our love meets God’s love there, and we are reconciled.
3. The mystery of a great inspiration is here. Ever since, the Cross has been the pattern on the mount which holy lives have copied, and it has inspired love and sacrifice into countless hearts.
IV. All mysteries of consolation are here.—Had Christ evaded death, who would have dared to face it? But when He has been with us in passing through the waters, He has changed Jordan’s streams into still waters and its banks to green pastures. Death fixed its sting in Christ and left and lost it there. “He hath abolished death” (2 Timothy 1:10) by dying, and the consolations of peace and of immortal hope come from it. Thus Christ’s Cross is our Alpha and Omega, glowing with law and gospel, comfort and constraint, power and peace; it is the new tree of life in the midst of life’s wilderness. Let us refuse to glory save in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.—R. Glover.
Mark 15:23. “Wine mingled with myrrh.”—Literally, “myrrhed wine,” that is, drugged wine, to produce heartening it might be (see Bartholinus, de vino myrrhato, in his De Cruce, p. 136), or to induce comparative anæsthesis or insensibility. Myrrh is a strong stimulant. The administration of drugged wine to criminals about to suffer was a merciful custom, which relieved to a small degrees the excessive ferocity so characteristic of the executions of those olden times (see Buxtorf’s Lexicon Talmudic, p. 2131, and Wetstein in loc). “But He received it not.” Or, as the reading is in the Sinaitic and Vatican manuscripts, and “the queen of the cursives”
(33), who, however, received it not (ὅς instead of ὅ). Our Lord did not Wish to use any artificial means to mitigate or otherwise modify His sense of the sufferings connected with the culmination of His work. The value of these sufferings centred in the free activity that, first of all, chose their endurance, in consideration of the sublime moral ends to be subserved, and then self-sacrificingly held out, under their undiminished superincumbence, till all was finished.—J. Morison, D.D.
Mark 15:24-25. “When they had crucified Him,” i.e. when they had affixed Him to the Cross. A world of pain is hidden behind these simple words. Stripping the Sufferer of cloak and coat, the outer and inner tunic, the soldiers would place Him on the Cross as it lay on the ground, and, stretching His arms across the cross-beam, drive the point of a large iron nail through one open palm after the other with blows from a mallet. They would then draw the legs down the upright, and drive another such nail through either foot, or perhaps through both together. Then, lifting the Cross into its socket, fresh pangs would thrill along all the fine and sensitive nerves thus lacerated, and the whole body would be racked with excruciating pains. All this He endured for us men and our salvation. And it seems probable that it was at this point that, instead of breaking into a scream of agony, He uttered the prayer for His murderers which Luke (Luke 23:34) records, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.”—S. Cox, D.D.
Mark 15:26. “The King of the Jews.”—Jesus is a King, and the King of the Jews; and neither the insult of Pilate, nor the anxious denial of the multitude, can affect the reality of that fact in the smallest degree. Though humbled, insulted, and crucified, Jesus was and is at once the King of Israel and the Head and Sovereign of every immortal man. To Him the Almighty has assigned the throne of His father David; and that throne, therefore, He needs must occupy. Nay, He has been exalted to kingly supremacy over the whole universe; and that kingly supremacy all must acknowledge, or perish.—J. Cochrane.
Mark 15:27-28. Christ’s companions in shame.—Pilate may have to surrender Barabbas, the leader of the band, to the clamour of powerful hypocrites; he all the more readily will crucify two of his comrades. If he is to crucify Christ, he will label Him “King of the Jews,” and give Him two thieves to keep Him company, in token of the sort of nation He would have to rule. The fact that such association dishonours Christ does not prevent him ordering it when it may give him the sweets of a little revenge in shewing his contempt for everything Jewish. Yet even so there is something very instructive as the association of transgressors with Him in His death.
1. It is suggestive of the philosophy of the Atonement. The prophecy alluded to in Mark 15:28 was quoted by Jesus Himself (Luke 22:37), and gives the simplest theory of the Atonement which we can frame. Numbered with two conspicuous transgressors, the fact suggested that God had “numbered” Him with the whole race of transgressors, and permitted the common penalty of the world’s sin to fall on Him. He is associated with us in our curse, that we may be associated with Him in heavenly bliss.
2. Where most need and misery are, there Christ always is. On His Cross He is near those dying on a cross. He is always nearest the neediest.
3. Be not over-solicitous of reputation. Christ is classed with thieves, Paul with deceivers. One of the most universal of afflictions for Christ’s sake is being misunderstood. Marvel not if your name be “cast out as evil.”—R. Glover.
Mark 15:28. Fulfilment of Scripture at the Crucifixion.—Above every other aspect, the crucifixion of Christ was fulfilment. Let any one familiar with the language of prophet and psalmist pencil-mark every one of their words, verses, and versicles found in the Evangelists’ story of Calvary. The result will be a well-underscored page, and the effect very striking to the eye. In the Greek text, like that of Westcott and Hort, where Old Testament language is printed in uncial or capital letter type, the effect is startling. From many angles of vision, the seers of truth in the past ages caught glimpses of history’s most august figure. Many are the photographic outlines set in the Old Testament pages of the Sinless Victim; but they are in profile or silhouette. Not one is perfect, none full-face or express image. Even they who wrote down their visions could not fully compre hend and interpret what they saw. Nevertheless, while inquiring and searching diligently of the salvation to come, they searched what or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand of the sufferings of the Messiah and the glory that should follow.
Mark 15:29-32. Mockers at the Cross.—One does not know whether the blindness or the cruelty of these words is the more wonderful. There is nothing so cruel or so blind as religious hatred.
I. Christ’s Cross apparently shatters to fragments Christ’s claims—Either Jesus Christ died and rose again from the dead, and then He is the Son of God, and God hath exalted Him to be a Prince and a Saviour, as He claimed to be; or He died like other men, and there is an end of it. And then it is no use to talk about Him as a wise Teacher and a lovely perfect character, He is a fanatical Enthusiast, all the beauty of whose religious teaching is marred and spoiled by the extravagant personal claims which He attached to it. We must dismiss the fair dream of a perfect Man, unless we are prepared to go further and say, an Incarnate God.
II. The Cross of Christ is a necessity, to which He voluntarily submitted in order to save a world.—These men only needed to alter one letter to be grandly and gloriously right. If, instead of “could not,” they had said “would not,” they would have grasped the very heart of the power and the very central brightness of the glory of Christianity. It was His own will, and no outward necessity, that fastened Him there; and that will was kept steadfast and immovable by nothing else but His love—He Himself fixed the iron chain which bound Him. He made the “cannot.” It was His love that made it impossible that He should relinquish the task; therefore His steely will, like a strong spring constantly working, kept Him close up against the sharp edge of the knife that cut into His very heart’s life.
III. The Cross is the throne of Christ.—His dominion is a dominion based upon suffering, and wielded in gentleness and meekness; and the crown of thorns lies beneath the many diadems that He wears in heaven. The sceptre of reed, light, fragile, emblem of a meek and merciful dominion that lays a light and loving hand upon the inner springs of the will, and commands by serving, is a stronger rod of dominion than all golden jewel-tipped sceptres that monarchs bear.
IV. The death of Christ is the great proof that God had delight in Him.—Mystery of mysteries, where blend all opposites in harmonious reconcilement: Divine justice and Divine righteousness; the extremities of humiliation and the superlative of exaltation: life and death, the Divine forsaking and the Divine complacency.—A. Maclaren, D.D.
Mark 15:31. Truth in mockery.—Many true things have been said in jest. This is one. Never did a more important truth fall from the lips of a scoffer.
I. A great tribute involuntarily accorded to Jesus.—“He saved others.” They practically condemn their own unbelief and their treatment of Him by making this admission. Even His bitterest enemies could find nothing worse to say about Him than this—that He had spent His life in acts of self-sacrificing love. And yet they have no compunction in hounding to death the One True Benefactor of mankind!
II. A declaration true in one sense, false in another.—” Himself He cannot save.”
1. Not true in the sense they meant.
(1) That God had disowned Him as an impostor.
(2) That He was unable from want of power.
2. But most blessedly true in a sense far beyond their comprehension.
(1) Christ’s sufferings and death were part of a Divine plan.
(2) They fulfilled a pledge given (Genesis 3:15).
(3) The object to be attained by them. (a) God’s honour. (b) Man’s rescue.
Mark 15:32. Sight not conducive to faith.—An earnest desire to see is but a very ill disposition in order to believe. Had Christ descended from the cross and not died, all faith had been quite destroyed, and He could not have been either the Author or Finisher of it. See here another delusion of human pride, to imagine that miracles are of themselves sufficient to engage men to believe—as if faith were not a gift of God. These men will believe, they say, if Christ save Himself from death—when they themselves had seen Him raise one who had been dead four days, without any other effect than increasing in envy, incredulity, and hardness of heart. So greatly does the sinner deceive himself.—P. Quesnel.
Mark 15:33. The veiled Cross—The darkening of the sun was the testimony of nature to her dying Lord. It is a hint of the truth that creation is dependent on Him, that nature is supported by unseen and spiritual powers, that the fate of the earth ultimately rests on that of the “kingdom of God.”
I. The suggestions of this darkness.—
1. It indicated the going out of the world’s Light.
2. It represented the ignorance of the Gentiles and the malignity of the Jews.
3. It reminds us of the mystery of the Atonement. Christ went into the darkness to save us from darkness; and when the gloom passed away, and the sun shone upon the Cross, the restored light was like the bow of promise after the Flood, a sign of peace between man and God.
II. The effects of the darkness upon those who surrounded the Cross.—
1. It increased the solemnity of the event.
2. It veiled His agony from those around.
3. It whispered warning to the impenitent.—A. Rowland.
The supernatural darkness.—It was not occasioned by an eclipse, for the full moon cannot intervene between the earth and the sun. It was no doubt supernaturally contrived or overruled, as a fringe of the entire supernatural drapery of the great supernatural event which was transpiring within the Sufferer on the Cross. Not that any universal laws were contravened or suspended. But a new force came in, which limited the scope and modified the direction of the other forces that were ordinarily at work. Or when we go to the ultimates of thought, and to the corresponding ultimates of objective reality, we may represent the case thus—a peculiar volition took place in the Divine mind, which modified the action, in that particular scene, of the omnipotent Divine hand. It was meet that there should be around our Lord a penumbra of darkness. It at once reflected the mediatorial eclipse that was going on within, and cast a fitting shade over the guilty population in the immediate vicinity of the scene.—J. Morison, D.D.
Mark 15:34. The causes of Christ’s desolation.—Though we cannot understand this sorrow of our dear Lord, because to us, perhaps, to be forsaken of God would mean so little—though we feel that we are in the presence of a mystery we cannot fathom, whose depths we cannot enter, at whose brink we can but stand and wonder and adore,—yet we may in reverence consider three causes which seem to have produced this element of the Sacred Passion.
1. The first cause of this awful desolation was the fact of the accumulated sin of the whole world, from the disobedience of Eden down to the last intention of sin that shall be disturbed by the archangel’s trumpet, resting upon one Human Soul, to whom the faintest shadow of sin was intolerable.
2. The second cause was the gathering of the hosts of darkness, vanquished in the wilderness, and in the garden, and in many of the souls they had possessed, but now, rallied and marshalled and massed for one last supreme effort, hurling themselves with the fury of despair and hate upon their Vanquisher.
3. The third cause was the hiding of the Father’s face. He who is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity could not look even upon His beloved Son, when deluged thus in our sin.
“He hides His face from sinners,
He hideth it from Thee.”
And what is all this but hell itself! To be deluged in sin, literally sin-ful, to be surrounded and attacked and tormented on all sides by devils, to be hidden from the light of God’s countenance—what is all this but the foretaste of that misery of outer darkness, of weeping and gnashing of teeth, of everlasting destruction from the presence of God—the final awfulness of unrepented sin.—H. S. Miles.
The forsaking of Christ by His Father.—All His other sufferings seem small by the side of this; they bore rather upon His body, this upon His soul; they came from the hands of men, but this from His Father.
1. This was a penal forsaking, inflicted on Christ for the satisfaction of our sins.
2. It was a real forsaking, not a fictitious one. The Father kept back at this time all the joys, comforts, and love from Christ the Man.
3. This forsaking took place in the very time of Christ’s need. Yet His soul still cleaves to God for all this.—Jas. Lonsdale.
Why God forsakes.—For our sins, worldliness, carelessness, coldness, God justly forsakes us. Let us look diligently for the cause. Let us ask, “Is it in this thing or in that, that we have grieved Thy Holy Spirit? What duty have we neglected? What evil temper shewn? Do our thoughts wander in prayer? Are we formalists? Are we unthankful for Thy love?” So let us search our spirits that nothing escape us.—Ibid.
The cry of desertion.—Speaking of the words uttered by Christ in this terrible moment of loneliness, one says: “When I read what men have written to explain the meaning of Jesus in that cry, I always feel anew how much deeper than our comprehension went His identification with humanity when He plunged into the darkness of its sin. ‘He was made flesh.’ Into what mysterious contact with the sinfulness to which the flesh of man had given itself that ‘being made flesh’ brought Him I know no man has ever fathomed. If I try to fathom it at all, I can only picture to myself the most Christlike act, the most Messianic entrance into the strange and dreadful fate of other men which my imagination can conceive.” The perfectly Holy One did bear sin, and out of the horrible abyss into which He had plunged came the agonising cry.
The last temptation and triumph.—These words are a quotation from the twenty-second Psalm. Are they not more an appropriation of the whole psalm? The words directed the disciples to it as pointing out the current of His thoughts and expressing His condition. Thus they direct us, and in the psalm and its character we must look for the meaning and significance of His cry. Pitying them amid His agony, He cannot tell them all; but calling to mind the old familiar hymn, let them find His heart and its experience and triumph there. Read that psalm as such, and however darkly it opens, that only makes more glorious the psalmist’s testimony. It is the history of a passionate soul passing through fierce discipline and suffering to confident security and triumph, feeling its way through weakness to strength, proving each step how faithful, how wonderful, is the abiding presence and keeping of God. The passionate cry of its opening verse is but the vivid sense of need, and emphasises the needlessness of all fear, the sureness of God’s enclosing and faithful deliverance—the impossibility of being forsaken, for “God delivers even from the horns of the unicorn.” Christ’s utterance told truly His suffering and need, but pointed directly to the sureness of His triumph and glory. By the very words He chooses He would seem to be feeling after and touching His disciples’ inner thought and weakness, forestalling as it were their despairful fears and conclusion when the tragedy shall be complete; and by pointing in such words their uncomprehending thought, and carrying their minds to this psalm, He would comfort them in its assurances and give them its hope and security. Looked at in the light of the whole psalm, Christ is standing face to face with His sacrifice and work, facing its temptation and measuring Himself with it. The shadow which has crept nearer and nearer, vague but threatening, and deepening into awfulness, through His whole ministry, at length is known and felt, has become palpable and distinct, and holds Him; and He must know its meaning and measure. Isolating Him from human sympathy, it insinuates Him isolated from God also. The fear of the psalmist grows distinct and forceful before His broken and suffering spirit, challenging His faith; He takes it up, and through it moves into the confidence of the psalmist. “God doth not abhor the affliction of the afflicted.” He hurls the insinuation, baffled and destroyed, from Him by His clear consciousness and confidence in the Father. He has measured His strength and resources, and can drink the cup He has accepted, and, drinking it, His work is finished.—S. D, Thomas.
Mark 15:37. The death of Christ reveals—
1. His perfect humanity.
2. A completed work of self-sacrifice.
3. The completeness of His rejection by the world.
4. The completion of the old dispensation.
5. A completed salvation. We instinctively expect consistency in a great and good man’s death. We feel he ought to leave the trail of his greatness behind him. His dying influence should adorn what he leaves as witness to his worth. So Christ dies, sinking to rest as the setting sun in a stormful sky, making His life’s close His triumph. You have seen the broken banks of storm-clouds massed in the heavy west of a winter’s sky, with broken dun cloudlets floating through monotonous grey, changed into splendour by the sinking sun, flushed into rose and floating islets of light and gold, and then the many tints deepening into the deep purple of evening’s quiet. So Christ passed and sank to rest, so set the Sun of Righteousness, changing the storm, the tragedy, and Cross by heroism, wondrous words and prayers, into light and glory, deepening into serenity and rest. There was such a nobleness and greatness in the whole we cannot think of it as death; it was but a setting, His life’s work crowned.—Ibid.
Mark 15:38. The veil rent.—This veil formed the first mark of distinction which was observed in the use of the Temple with respect to the several gradations of those who worshipped therein. In these gradations consisted a feature of the Jewish Church which was not to be preserved in that which was to succeed it. In the new temple there was to be no family like Aaron’s, no tribe like Levi’s, no nation like the Israelites. The partition walls between outward and inner court, between the temple and its holy of holies, were all broken down; and the idolater who came in at the eleventh hour was as free of the new temple as the converted son of Abraham, whose fathers had served there from the first dawn and early morning of the Church. See Hebrews 9:1-8; Hebrews 10:16-22.—S. Hinds.
Mark 15:39. Recognising nobleness.—Next to being noble is the ability to recognise nobleness in others. In fact, this ability indicates a measure of nobleness in oneself; the recognition is a proof of kinship. It is in this as it is in every other line of observation and of outreaching: one’s perceptions and attractions and repulsions are the truest test of one’s personal character. The next thing to being manly is to recognise and honour manliness in another. The next thing to being unselfish is to recognise and honour unselfishness in another. The next thing to being pure is to recognise and honour purity in another. And the next thing to being Christlike is to perceive the likeness of Christ; indeed, to perceive Christ’s likeness is in itself to be Christlike.—H. C. Trumbull.
Mark 15:40-41. Women at the Crucifixion.—How true to the purpose of woman’s creation as the helpmeet of man was the association of these faithful, clinging souls with their Lord in His passion! And He, in the perfection of His manhood, did not refuse the comfort of their presence. As He looked down upon that little group of loving faces in the midst of the pitiless crowd that was now surging round His Cross, we may reverently believe that the Son of Man found a little’ comfort in their true-hearted devotion, seeing in them the firstfruits of the faithful of all time, in whom He should see of the travail of His soul.—H. S. Miles.
Woman’s ministry to Christ.—If such a thing is possible, the Saviour had done much more for woman than for man. Some who have rejected the gospel (Comte, for instance) have been the readiest to admit that it has raised the status of women immeasurably. Of the many elements in the gospel which have contributed to this, nothing has been more operative than the services which the Saviour has received from woman’s hand. The gospel gave them a noble cause, to be advanced by methods of holiest peace; it engaged the love which made such service a delight, and gave the grace which crowned it with supreme success. The ministry of women to the Rabbis was a recognised thing; and Jesus, in His homeless greatness and in His Divine poverty, could receive the gentle tendance of Galilean matrons without reproach.
(1) It is a great cause which enlists the best feelings of the best women on its side.
(2) Some might have objected to their going there, asking, “What good could possibly be done?” In dealing with such questions it is always safer to trust to the instincts of affection than to our reason. Their heart bade them stand beside Him, and, doing so, they gave a testimony greatly needed and of richest worth, and found themselves ready to help Joseph in his gracious task.
(3) Mary Magdalene, “out of whom went seven demons” (Luke 8:2), ought to be regarded as having been a great sufferer whom Christ relieved, not as a great sinner whom Christ forgave. We have in her action the full beauty of gratitude displayed.
(4) Mary, wife of Cleophas (or Alpheus, for these are two forms of one name), is another instance of a good mother having good sons. When we see her heroic love, and that of Salome, who stands beside her, we do not marvel that each of them is the mother of two apostles.
(5) What honour these women find, without having a single thought of working for it! So honour ever flies those who seek, but seeks those who merit it. See to thy work, and God will see to your reward.—R. Glover.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 15
Mark 15:21. The shape of the Cross.—The shape of the Cross on which our Lord suffered has been much debated. Some ancient Fathers, fancying they found a typical reference in the crossing of the hands over the head of the scape-goat, and in the peculiar mode in which Jacob blessed his grandsons, often assumed that it was in the form of what is commonly called a St. Andrew’s cross; others again, seeing in the mystical mark or Tau set upon the foreheads of the righteous in Ezekiel’s vision a foreshadowing of the Cross, concluded that it was like that which bears the name of St. Anthony, in form like a capital T. It is far more probable that it was what is known familiarly as the Latin cross. It was prefigured by the transverse spits which the priest placed in the paschal lamb. Its four arms, pointing to the four quarters of the globe, symbolised “the breadth, and length, and depth, and height “of Christ’s universal Church. It is a strong argument in favour of this form that “the inscription” was set above the head of the Crucified, which would be impossible in either of the other forms.—Dean Luckock.
Mark 15:24. Stripped of His raiment.—Dr. Norman Macleod relates the following incident: “Tom Baird, the carter, the beadle of my working-man’s church, was as noble a fellow as ever lived—God-fearing, true, unselfish. I shall never forget what he said when I asked him to stand at the door of the working-man’s congregation, and when I thought he was unwilling to do so in his working clothes. ‘If,’ said I, ‘you don’t like to do it, Tom; if you are ashamed—’ ‘Ashamed I’ he exclaimed, as he turned round upon me,’ I’m mair ashamed o’ yersel’ sir. Div ye think that I believe, as ye ken 1 do, that Jesus Christ, who died for me, was stripped o’ His raiment on the Cross, and that I—Na, na, I’m prood to stand at the door.’ Dear, good fellow I There he stood for seven winters, without a sixpence of pay, all from love, though at my request the working congregation gave him a silver watch. When he was dying from small-pox, the same unselfish nature appeared. When asked if they would let me know, he replied: ‘There’s nae man leevin’ I like as I do him. I know he would come. But he shouldna’ come on account of his wife and bairns, and so ye maunna’ tell him I’ I never saw him in his illness, never hearing of his danger till it was too late.”
A hardened gamester.—There was a profligate gamester whose conversion was attempted by some honest monks, and they, in order to break his heart for sin, put into his hands a fine picture of the crucifixion of Christ; but when they inquired what he was studying so intently in the picture, hoping his conversion was going forward, he replied. “I was examining whether the dice with which the soldiers are casting lots for the garment be like ours.” This man too well resembles bad men in the ceremonies of religion, for their hearts guide their eyes to what may nourish their vices, not to what would destroy them.
Mark 15:25. The Gross explains the world’s mystery.—In the Palace of Justice at Rome they take you sometimes into a chamber with strangely painted frescoes on the ceiling, and around the walls, and upon the floor, in all kinds of grotesque forms. You cannot reduce them to harmony; you cannot make out the perspective; it is all a bewildering maze of confusion. But there is one spot upon the floor of that room, and one only, standing upon which every line falls into harmony; the perspective is perfect, the picture flashes out upon you, instinct with meaning in every line and panel. You can see at that point, and that only, the design of the artist that painted it. I believe that this world is just as bewildering a maze looked at at every point except one. I look back upon the records of history; I look upon the speculations of science; I endeavour to gaze into the future of this world’s career; wherever I turn I am opposed by the mysteries that hem me in and crush me down, until I take my stand at the foot of the Cross. Then darkness and discord become light and harmony; the mystery is solved; the night that shuts me in becomes radiant with the Divine light and glory. At the foot of the Cross art, science, literature, history, become at once to me a Divine, a glorious, and a blessed thing. And so I claim for my Lord His rightful dominion over all the works of His hands. We will gather all the beauties of art, all the treasures of music, all that is brightest and best in this world, and we will lay them down at His feet; for “worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive might, and majesty, and riches, and power, and honour, and glory.” His is the sceptre, His is the right, His this universal world.—Dr. Manning.
The Cross the sufferer’s support.—A poor woman in a ward of one of the great London hospitals had to undergo a fearful operation, and as a special favour besought that it might be performed on Good Friday, which was close at hand, that the reflexion on her Redeemer’s agony might the better enable her to endure her own sufferings.—A preacher has found an illustration of the saving efficacy of the Redeemer’s work in the great breakwater or pier which stretches in front of Plymouth Harbour, on which all the force of the storms expend their violence, and behind whose solid strength the ships of many a distant land find shelter and security. So does the atonement of Christ offer us rest for our souls, if only we seek it as our refuge; and so too, when the things of this world are full of bitterness, we shall find life sweetened and purified by means of the Cross.
Mark 15:31. Salvation of others by self-sacrifice.—
1. A converted Japanese was explaining the Atonement. He used this touching illustration: A woman was crossing the great plain. She carried a child on her back. When in the midst of the plain, she looked suddenly behind her and saw that it was afire. She had but a moment to think. She laid down the child, desperately scooped with her hands a hole in the earth, with trembling haste laid the child in it, and covered it with her own body. There they found the two. The poor mother was dead, but the child was saved. “So Jesus died for me,” said the simple-hearted convert. “That I might live, He put His body between me and everlasting fire.”
2. When Dr. Bushnell, after telling one of his children that if he touched the plants in the conservatory his own geranium, as a penalty, should be put in the cellar, and, seeing the child disobey, put his own geranium, the largest and most beautiful of all, into the cellar instead, the boy understood the sacrifice of feelings thus made—that if he was to be spared, and his father’s word respected, his father must suffer.
3. A wealthy young man, living in London, undertook to improve the condition of the poor of that vast city. For this purpose he visited them and gave away large sums. But within a short time he discovered that, if he was to do any permanent good, he must live among them. He did not hesitate. He took a lodging in the heart of the Seven Dials, the worst district of the city. There he toiled until he died. He was cut off in the beginning of his work, but he succeeded. He had found the secret of his calling—that if he would save, he must Buffer.
Self-sacrificing devotion.—Edwin, King of Northumbria, in 617 gave audience to an envoy from the King of Wessex. In the midst of the conference the envoy started to his feet, drew a dagger from his robe, and rushed madly on the king. Lilla, one of the royal band, threw himself between Edwin and the assassin; but so furious was the stroke that even through Lilla’s body the dagger still reached its aim. The king, however, soon recovered, though his devoted servant died.
Sacrifice to save.—In the early days of the American settlement Captain John Smith was among the most intrepid of the explorers, and earned for himself the title of “Father of the Colony.” He was once seized by the Indians and held in captivity, being afterwards sentenced to death. A tenderhearted Indian maiden, touched with pity, interceded for him, but in vain, and then flung herself beneath the executioner’s axe, and clasped the victim in her arms, risking her own life, but saving the captain and the colony of Virginia.
Mark 15:33. Christ eclipsed.—A pious astronomer, in describing an eclipse which he witnessed in Norway, says: “I watched the instantaneous extinction of light, and saw the glorious scene on which I had been gazing turned into darkness. All the horizon seemed to speak of terror, death, and judgment; and overhead sat, not the clear flood of light which a starry night sends down, but there hung over me dark and leaden blackness, which seemed as if it would crush me into the earth. And as I beheld it I thought, “How miserable is the soul to whom Christ is eclipsed!” The thought was answered by a voice; for a fierce and powerful seabird which had been swooping around us, apparently infuriated at our intrusion on its domain, poured out a scream of despairing agony when it was surprised in the darkness.” What, then, will be the fearful surprise when the lost soul finds itself in that world “where hope withering flees, and mercy sighs, Farewell!”
Nature’s sympathy with her Lord.—We feel a deep appropriateness in the sympathy of nature with the crucifixion of our Lord, in the profound darkness that overspread the earth as the outer token of the spiritual darkness that overwhelmed His soul, and in the rending of the rocks that accompanied the rending of His mortal flesh and the separation between soul and body. Superstition has sought for farther proofs than those which Scripture gives of such sympathy, and imagined that it has found them in the continual trembling to this day of the leaves of the aspen when all around is still, as if in shuddering recollection of the use made of its wood for the construction of the cross; and also in the dark stains that appear ineffaceably on the leaves and the crimson spots that mingle with the white blossoms on one of the commonest weeds of our cornfields, said by tradition to have grown beneath the Cross. And the scarlet anemones, which blaze in spring-like embodied flames on the hills of Palestine, are called by the Christian residents “blood-drops of Christ,” under the idea that these beautiful flowers were dyed with the blood that issued from our Saviour’s pierced side. Unfounded as these superstitions are, it must be confessed, notwithstanding, that there is something in them that appeals to our natural sense of fitness. It is difficult to realise that nature should hold on serenely in her accustomed way while her Lord was dying. We should have expected that the supernatural darkness would have continued all the time—that the fields would languish and the flowers fade in token of their deep sympathy with the death of Him who gave them all their beauty, and whose smile of blessing rested always upon them while He trod the earth,—Hugh Macmillan, D.D.
Mark 15:37. The death of Death.—A Greenland missionary relates the following: “Last winter, Jacob, a native assistant of mine, was summoned to his rest. On the day before his death, having been asked how he felt, he replied, ‘I shall not rise from this bed again; I am called hence to the Lord.’ He then raised his arm, stretched it out and said, ‘Look! my arm is nothing but bones and skin. It is the same with my earthly body: the flesh is dead within me; my desire is fixed on my heavenly country—that country where I shall behold Him who loves me and whom I love. Yes, I shall see Him shortly.’ When asked whether he feared death, ‘Oh no,’ he answered; ‘how can I love Christ and fear death? The death of Christ was the death of Death.’ ”
Mark 15:39. Power of the Cross.—The well-known story of Colonel Gardiner’s conversion illustrates the power of the Cross. He lived a gay life, and after having spent the Sunday evening in carousing retired to his room, when he took up a book entitled The Christian Soldier, intending to make fun of it. He fell asleep with the book in his hand, and dreamed: a blaze of light shone on the book, and overhead he saw suspended in the air a vivid representation of the Saviour on the Cross. Distinctly he heard a voice saying, “This I did for thee: what hast thou done for Me?” He awoke, and filled with contrition he sought and found pardon and peace.—One afternoon a man stood in Antwerp Cathedral gazing at Rubens’ “Descent from the Cross.” He was so absorbed in what he saw, that when the verger came and told him it was time to close the cathedral he exclaimed, “No, no, not yet; wait until they get Him down.”
Involuntary testimony to the Divinity of Christ.—A well-known learned man of Saxony, after having all His life long attacked Jesus and his gospel with all the weapons of sophistry he could command, was in his old age partially deprived of his reason, chiefly through the fear of death, and frequently fell into reigious paroxysms of a peculiar nature. He was almost daily observed conversing with himself, while pacing to and fro in his chamber, on one of the walls of which, between other pictures, hung one of the Saviour. Repeatedly he halted before the latter, and said in a horrifying tone of voice, “After all, Thou wast only a man.” Then after a short pause he would continue, “What wast Thou more than a man? Ought I to worship Thee? No, I will not worship Thee, for Thou art only Rabbi Jesus, Joseph’s son, of Nazareth.” Uttering these words, he would return with a deeply affected countenance, and exclaim, “What dost Thou say? That Thou earnest from above! How terribly Thou eyest me! Oh, Thou art dreadful! But Thou art only a man, after all!” Then he would again rush away, but soon return with faltering step, crying out, “What! Art Thou in reality the Son of God?” The same scenes were daily renewed, till the unhappy man, struck by paralysis, dropped down dead; and then really stood before his Judge, who, even in His picture had so strikingly and overpoweringly judged him.
Rousseau’s testimony to the death of Christ.—Rousseau once wrote in one of his better moments that “if the death of Socrates was that of a sage, the death of Jesus was that of a God.” It may be too, probably, that he wrote not as one who adores, but as one who admires. Bitter epigrams on Rousseau’s sentence were not wanting. “It may be a pretty turn,” some one said, “but then, unluckily, it is absurd.” But He who in one undivided Person is God and Man, who died His death, is so different from all others that the paradox of Rousseau is literally true.—Bishop Wm. Alexander.
CRITICAL AND EXEGETICAL NOTES
Mark 15:43. Went in boldly.—Took courage and went in.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Mark 15:42-47
(PARALLELS: Matthew 27:57-61; Luke 23:50-56.)
Seasons of trial, times of preparation.—The unrenewed mind is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. Things seen and temporal have a tendency to carnalise the affections, and we are apt to forget whence we come, what we are doing, and whither we are going. He therefore who is preparing for a happy immortality gladly embraces seasons peculiarly devoted to the concerns of the soul. A pious divine has justly remarked that one part of the week is properly adapted for reflexion, and the other for preparation. A time of preparation, generally, is a season of trial, and is painful to flesh and blood. Training is not enjoyment, but the means by which it is acquired. The way to heaven is through a wilderness and by a vale of tears. Times of refreshing revivals are ushered in by a night of preparation, often dark and portentous What may be said of the state of the Church is also true of every individual it is a time of preparation, because every individual is either preparing for happiness or misery.
I. Times of preparation in the Church are seasons of trial.—Every individual who is acquainted with the history of the Church knows that it has undergone various changes. It is subject to incessant fluctuations, and either is progressing or retrograding. Such a state of things may be expected under the spiritual warfare in which the Church is engaged. If we fix our attention on that ever of preparation referred to in the text and connect with it past events and those which immediately succeeded, we shall be fully convinced that a time of preparation is a season of trial. After the Babylonish captivity the Jews were little giver to idolatry. The means of instruction were more widely diffused, and with this change of circumstances the carnality of their heart operated in new channels Satan adapted his temptations to their moral state, and while externally they worshipped God the internal homage of the heart was withheld. Their religion was a form of godliness without its power. At this period the heathen nations lay prostrate at the feet of Satan; and the Jews, with few exceptions, yielded to his will. During this even of preparation Simeon had a few sons, and Anna some daughters, who observed the aspect of the times, and waited for the Consolation of Israel. The sceptre had departed from Judah, and every even seemed to hasten the grand consummation foretold by the prophets. An astonishing Personage appeared, in whom their hopes centred. With wisdom unequalled, benevolence unwearied, and power uncontrollable, He seemed to be the Desire of all nations. Hosannas ascend to His praise, and He is welcomed as the anticipated Deliverer of Israel. He announces that His kingdom is not of this world, and the crowd cease their acclamations—He reproves vice, and sinners overawed retire, determined on His destruction. The hour and the power of darkness was come, and the Saviour of mankind was apprehended insulted, and nailed to the accursed tree between two malefactors. The Saviour bowed His head and gave up the ghost. This was, if not the hour of despair to spiritual Israelites, at least it was the even of preparation—the season of trial. Even those who had imbibed the spirit of prophecy had much to agitate and perplex their minds. The promises of God they could not doubt, but how they were to receive fulfilment was beyond their comprehension. The faithful disciples were scattered as sheep without a shepherd. The mangled body of the Saviour was entombed; and hope, though still lingering in the breast, scarcely durst embody a wish. The Jewish Sabbath passed, and a slumbering Saviour burst the bands of death asunder, triumphed over death, and him who had the power of death. The preparation over, the trial in the Divine economy had accomplished its purpose, and a different scene is now presented to our contemplation. A triumphant Saviour, enraptured disciples, a stupefied Sanhedrin, an amazed multitude, a Conqueror ascending on high, bearing gifts for men, the Spirit bestowed at Pentecost, the heralds of the Cross endowed with miraculous gifts, numbers added to the Church, and Christianity proclaimed throughout the vast extent of the Roman Empire. The night of diffidence, doubt, and perplexity was the immediate harbinger of confidence, assurance, and clear manifestations of Heaven’s approbation. In proportion as the even of preparation was awfully portentous and severely trying, so were the triumphs which followed and the pleasures which the faithful enjoyed.
II. Life is a time of preparation for every individual, and either works for his good or evil according as he is exercised.—From a consideration of the character of the Creator, we conclude that benevolence is an essential attribute of His nature, and that His tender mercies will appear throughout all His works. This world, as wheeled into space, was crowned with beauty. It was worthy of the creating hand of a benevolent Being, and a suitable abode for innocence and happy creatures. Every creature is finite, and, coming perfect from the hand of God, may become imperfect from personal acts. By the Fall man was not only liable to punishment, but had become morally depraved. Christ by dying bore the penalty of a violated law, and thus delivered believers from punishment, and He procured the agency of the Spirit to create the heart anew, and thus restored the Divine image which was lost by sin. The deliverance from punishment which Christ effected for believers is an act, and is called “justification”; the renewing of the heart is a work, and is called “sanctification.” The latter being progressive, though an act of grace, is accomplished by means. Life to Christians frequently is a chequered scene, and at every remarkable stage of their pilgrimage to eternity fresh proofs of an unseen directing Power are furnished. They are often led by a way which they know not, and conducted to an issue which they did not anticipate. Ordinary occurrences are much under our own control, and by certain modes of action we can in not a few cases predict the result. Circumstances, however, which we did not foresee, and which from our ignorance of the cause we term accidents, give new directions to our plans, and change in a greater or less degree the aspect of our personal history. Prosperity engenders pride, and adversity balances in some minds the actuating powers. A sickly existence may preserve the soul in health. Bereavements loosen the heart from created objects. All works for the good of the Christian, and the fluctuations to which he is exposed, prepare his mind for the spiritual employments of heaven. Every individual in future will be rewarded according to his works. As we sow so shall we reap. He that sows sparingly shall reap also sparingly. Among the angelic host there are various degrees, and though all are happy in heaven the capacity for enjoyment is infinitely varied. As vessels all are full to overflowing, but all cannot partake of the same extent of enjoyment. In the joy of our Lord as we have employed our talents so will be the measure of our reward.—A. Robertson.
The dead Christ.—Here we behold the dead Christ. We follow not the departed spirit in its sojourn till the third day, or speculate on its disembodied occupation. We do not attempt to dwell on the incarnate mystery of the Son of God still united to the body of death. We contemplate the sacred body, the movements of affection and faith called forth by it, and the providential circumstances attending the sepulture.
I. The reality of the dead Christ.—
1. The body of Jesus. How affecting the sight of a dead body! Motionless, inert, cold, and pale: the blood no longer circulates, the heart has ceased to beat or the bosom to heave, the eye emits no flash—all is fixed, dull, marbled, and silent. Deaf, dumb, blind, palsied, beauty itself vanishes, corruption hastens, the last feature is obliterated, and all that remains is the lifeless clay. And this was the powerful frame, the fair countenance, the fine organisation; this was the active, indefatigable machine of life; this was the outward man, and tabernacle of the friendship and love of home and of business life, that have passed into memory. How immeasurably affecting to gaze on the dead body of a friend, and that the nearest and dearest of the earth, and the most revered, on whom we have trusted, depended, and with whom we have taken sweet counsel—a guardian and a friend, a more than half of our soul! How keenly all this was felt by the stunned disciples and the mourning women as they gazed on the lifeless form still suspended on the cross, and withdrew, leaving it in the rough custody of the soldiers, possibly to behold it no more!
2. The dead body of Jesus. More than the common mystery of death is here. This was He “who should have redeemed Israel.” This was He who seemed death-proof, who had power over death, who gave back to the widow of Nain her son from the bier, and Lazarus to his sisters from his four days’ grave. This was He who did so many “mighty works” that all marvelled. Yet here death has laid its cold grasp even upon Him. “Son of Man,” “Son of Abraham,” “Son of David,” “Son of God,” so named, so proved, so believed, and held, and loved; yet is this His dead, His pulseless form. How comes it that death hath this “dominion over Him”? They are not yet able rightly to answer. “Great is the mystery of godliness.” “Crucified through weakness.” Lo! the dead Christ.
3. Where is redemption now? What chapter, what verse, is this? Where stands the world, the Church, redeemed or unredeemed? Was redemption yet complete? It was impossible, doubtless, for Christ to fail—impossible for the Son of God. Yet we see how slight-seeming are the links of events, how frail-looking is the agency, how hopeless to all sense as we gaze on the dead Christ! The wisdom of God is foolishness with men.
4. It is upon this dead body we must continue to fix our eye. We must understand by faith that the dead Christ fulfils a great part in the history and economy of our salvation. We are allowed to gaze until the reality of His death is pressed home on our soul. There in that dead body we see the power of the law. Who can stand against that stroke and live? Christ Himself is smitten by it to the dust of death. His connexion with us, His adoption of our liabilities, His taking of our sins, though Himself spotless and righteous, lays Him low. See in the dead Redeemer the deadliness of our sins. “He was wounded for our transgressions … the chastisement of our peace was upon Him.”
5. To us it is now easy and possible to see the end from the beginning. In the dead Christ is the token of the finished work of Calvary—the foundation of redemption. He has laid down His life. He has yet “to take it again.” A dead Jesus, a disembodied Christ, fulfils not all the offices of Redeemer. The gospel is not the story of one who died and “saw corruption,” like other hopes of the world, but of One who died for our sins, and was buried and rose again, and saw no corruption, whom yet we shall behold as He is now reigning in glory.
II. The preciousness of the dead Christ.—How precious is that dead body! It is to be the transformed and glorified organ of the living Redeemer through all ages. It must needs ascend incorruptible and unmutilated to the heavens. But how shall this be, exposed to the indignity and careless scorn of the world, with no shield, no guardianship, but the military watch, all the disciples terrified and fled? And is this Providence, we ask, that cares for the sparrow’s fall and numbers the hairs of our head? How loose all seems, how casual, how easily natural, as if there were no more care in heaven for this sacred body than for the malefactor’s corpse or the torn prey of the fields! Yes, this is Providence, which finds its instrument in every fluctuation of human feeling, in every incident and circumstance of the hour, all united by invisible connexions to the past and to the future, a line of purpose and of agency stretching from the throne of God through all history, and joining the eternities. Do not fear, mournful soul, for the dead Christ! Wait and watch but long enough—and it shall not be unduly long: you shall see stirrings of life beneath the shroud, the colour of resurrection on the pallid cheek; you shall behold the old glistening of the eye of love, you shall see the erect, resuscitated form, hear the footstep of the Conqueror of death, and the tones of “the voice that was still.” This shall be for Mary and John, and Peter and Thomas, in after-time, not distant; but now this dead body, so precious and imperilled, is taken into unexpected care and is protected by unlikely means. “There is no wisdom nor understanding nor counsel against the Lord.” The body of Jesus is brought safely through the dark passage of history—some one and something ever provided for its protection and honour. God had ready not His angels only, but His centurion and His Pilate, His Joseph and His Nicodemus—He had ready the willing and the unwilling to do service to the dead Christ. It was in full assurance of this that Jesus fell asleep. “Thou wilt not leave My soul to Sheol, neither wilt Thou suffer Thine Holy One to see corruption.” The garden was there and the tomb, and the heart of its owner ready to yield to the touch of His grace. The hour of the last word of Calvary was timed by no wisdom of men, and it anticipated and baffled their reckless desires; and all that looked so purposeless and of accident was part of the sublime but unobserved concatenations of Heaven (Acts 4:27-28).
III. The influence of the dead Christ.—How powerful and mysterious the influence of death! How it softens and awes, puts men on honour and conscience, and brings home a sense of the invisible world! See it gathering long-sundered friends from far and near, renewing ties of nature and grace, imposing order as with authority, silencing the busy tongue! See the dead Christ drawing, as by some magnet, the secret admirer, the unavowed friend, the unsuspected lover, the cold neighbour, the remorseful wrong-doer, the abashed ingrate, the very distant relative, the negligent and unfriendly one of former days, as though summoned to-day before some unseen tribunal, to say why it was they thought and spoke and acted so! But what is the influence of the dead Christ? There are shattered hopes, but no doubts of the heart. Mystery shrouds all, but the Lord and Master lost was never more precious. Where there was love before, now it gushes from the hearts of those womanly believers; where it was unavowed, it is now expressed; where it was secret, it now reveals itself; where it was remorseful and penitent, it is now of inexpressible contrition; where it was intimate and thrice endeared, it now presses home the sense of irreparable loss; where it cannot bear disappointment, it bursts into language which refuses comfort; where it was halting and fearing, it shoots into sudden strength; where it has been false, it works despair; Judas cannot bear the face of the dead Christ, and rushes to his place; Peter cannot sleep till he sees it again; John must reach the heart of the mystery of the bosom on which he leaned; the Marys and the loving women “prevent the dawning,” that they may anoint the body of the blessed dead. Seeing we know the mystery of the dead Christ, let us thank God for His adorable providence in grace and redemption, by which “all things work together for good to them that love God.” And let us “thus judge that, if one died for all, then all were dead … that like as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even we also should walk in newness of life.”—G. C. Button, D.D.
OUTLINES AND COMMENTS ON THE VERSES
Mark 15:43-46. Joseph of Arimathea.—See in this “good and just” man of Arimathea the long embrace and tender constancy of Jesus’ love to us. First, He puts into our heart the good desire to serve Him; then He brings our purpose to good effect; and afterwards, instead of claiming the work as His, He allows it to be our own. His memory will not forget it, His affection will not leave it; but long after we are gone He still comes to it, looks on it, and keeps it up like a parent treasuring the little things of a departed child, and keeping the little garden it used to work in and call its own.—T. F. Crosse, D.C.L.
Mark 15:46. The Saviour’s grave.—Jerusalem was surrounded by graves cut out of the limestone rock. Yet it seems strange that in the spot recently identified by Conder and Sir William Dawson as Calvary you may still find a garden, and in the garden a sepulchre, and the sepulchre closed with a huge circular stone, like a colossal grindstone, which, rolling in a groove cut for it, would cover or expose the opening into the tomb as you might move it. Perhaps it was to spite Joseph that they had the Saviour crucified in this spot near his garden. If so, the spite served Joseph well. None other had lain in this grave. It was sacred to Him. Christ died what one may call a borrowed death; He is laid in a borrowed tomb. Only the death was the most shameful of all deaths; while the grave is rich and noble. There is much about this grave-dwelling of the Saviour worthy of earnest thought.
1. A grave seems an item in the experience of all things good. Nothing great or good seems to go straight to its throne, but always through a grave. Good causes seem always lost before they are won, the dark hour of weakness being used of God to draw forth the allegiance that gives them victory. The testimony of prophets seemed generally to find only a grave, and “who hath believed our report?” has been its constant epitaph. Religion, truth, and goodness go not through the world in bright apparel, but persecuted, dying, and finding graves. Judge not success by seeming, power by popularity. The great Christ found a grave.
2. It was meet Christ should enter our graves, for all the world is but a grave—a vast cemetery where we transact a little business and indulge a little pleasure before lying down beside the dead. There is no household without its grave. Life is only a procession to our own funeral. So Christ would not have thoroughly come to the world if He had not come to our grave.
3. The Saviour hallows the grave by occupying it. He removes its reproach, dispels its terrors. When He enters it, He shews it is one of “the places of God’s dominion,” a region where life is not extinct and God’s mercy not vanished away. Since that new tomb was occupied all graves have become new, and thoughts of rest, sleep, refreshment, waking, are now associated with them. When death fixed its sting in Christ, it lost it for all who follow Christ.
4. We now can feel “those who sleep in Jesus” are safe. Where God permitted His Son to lie we may safely place our dear dead.—R. Glover.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 15
Mark 15:43. Great occasions disclose great qualities.—Some natures need powerful incentives to draw out their better traits and nobler qualities. Close to Bracelet Bay, Mumbles, is a bell-buoy marking a concealed rock. This bell rings only in the storm. It is only when the wind is high and the billows roll and beat against it that it gives forth the music that is in it.
Glastonbury.—In the middle of the county of Somerset there is a green and open vale, through which several small rivers flow quietly along towards the western channel. These waters, as they wind through the meadows, form a sort of island, upon which may still be seen the grey ruins of an ancient abbey. These ruins are of an extent and richness which tell of an institution once important. Among them one can trace the outline of a solitary chapel, standing westward and apart. This chapel was dedicated to Joseph of Arimathea, and it was ever the fixed and firm belief of all the inmates of the abbey, and the long tradition of preceding generations, that in this remote and sheltered place Joseph of Arimathea had planted a mission, and had himself passed the latter years of his life. Here he had built a fragile church, which persevering piety renewed with increasing beauty from age to age. Here he who had buried Jesus had himself found a grave, and here his Heavenly Saviour had paid him back a hundredfold his garden-grave at Calvary, and had written an epitaph of blessing on his work of love, until it grew into a stately pile, and became a great light of learning and lamp of truth in the Western world. Such was the beginning of Avalon, the famed Abbey of Glastonbury, where men said King Arthur lies asleep, and where King Alfred found his shelter from the Danes; but chiefly where Joseph of Arimathea, the councillor of the East, found both his first and last refuge from the world, and was in his turn “laid in a sepulchre that was hewn in stone, wherein never man before was laid.”—T. F. Crosse, D.C.L.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Mark 15". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
Eve of Ascension