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Matthew 27:2. Pontius Pilate.—Must have belonged, by birth or adoption, to the gens of the Pontii, one of whom, C. Pontius Telesinus, had been the leader of the Samnites in their second and third wars against Rome, B.C. 321–292. The cognomen Pilatus means “armed with the pilum or javelin,” and may have had its origin in some early military achievement. When Judæa became formally subject to the empire, on the deposition of Archelaus, a procurator, or collector of revenue, invested with judicial power, was appointed to govern it, subject to the Governor of Syria (Luke 2:2), and resided commonly in Cæsarea. Pontius Pilate, of whose previous career we know nothing, was appointed, A.D. 25–26, as the sixth holder of that office. His administration had already, prior to our Lord’s trial, been marked by a series of outrages on Jewish feelings.
(1) He had removed the headquarters of his army from Cæsarea to Jerusalem, and the troops brought their standards with the image of the emperor into the Holy City. The people were excited into frenzy, and rushed in crowds to Cæsarea to implore him to spare them this outrage on their religion. After five days of obstinacy and a partial attempt to suppress the tumult, Pilate at last yielded (Jos., Ant. XVIII. iii. 1, 2; B.J., II. ix. 2–4).
(2) He had hung up in his palace at Jerusalem gilt shields inscribed with the names of heathen deities, and would not remove them till an express order came from Tiberius (Philo. Leg. ad Caium, c. 38).
(3) He had taken money from the Corban, or treasury of the temple, for the construction of an aqueduct. This led to another tumult, which was suppressed by the slaughter, not of the rioters only, but also of casual spectators (Jos., B. J., II. ix. 4).
(4) Lastly, on some unknown occasion he had slain some Galileans while they were in the very act of sacrificing (Luke 13:1), and this bad probably caused the ill-feeling between him and the tetrarch Antipas mentioned in Luke 23:12. It is well to bear in mind these antecedents of the man, as notes of character, as we follow him through the series of vacillations which we now have to trace (Plumptre). The wish of the Sanhedrin in delivering Jesus to Pilate was to have their sentence confirmed without inquiry. See Matthew 26:66 (Carr).
Matthew 27:3. Repented himself.—It is worth while to mark in the translation the difference between μεταμέλομαι, to change one’s care, and μετανοέω, to change one’s mind or purpose, and thus between the repentance of Peter, who abhorred the cause of his sin, and the remorse of Judas, who shrank back from the effect; or the godly sorrow which leads to life, and the worldly regret which leads to death (Schaff).
Matthew 27:5. In the temple.—Into the sanctuary (R.V.). “The holy place,” into which only the priests might enter. How is this to be explained? Perhaps he flung the money in after them. But thus were fulfilled the words of the prophet (Zechariah 11:13) (Brown).
Matthew 27:6. The treasury.—The temple free-will-offering treasury, called “Corbanas” (Jos., B. J., II. ix. 4), into which the corbans, or gifts of the people, were cast (Morison). The price of blood.—See Deuteronomy 23:18. By parity of reasoning, the priests seem to have thought that the blood-money which was thus returned was excluded also (Plumptre).
Matthew 27:7. The potter’s field.—Tradition places this (Aceldama, Acts 1:19) in the valley of Hinnom, south of Jerusalem. To bury strangers in.—That is, say Grotius, Fritzsche, and Meyer, for such stranger-Jews as might die while visiting the city on occasion of any of the great festivals. It is more likely, however, that the reference is to foreigners, such as Greeks and Romans, whose ashes would be regarded as, in a special sense, unclean. So Beza. There would thus be a compromise of feelings. The money would be treated as unclean, and yet it would be laid out for a charitable purpose (Morison).
Matthew 27:8. Wherefore.—St. Luke (Acts 1:19) assigns the death of Judas in a field which he had bought as the origin of the name. It is possible that two spots may have been known by the same name for distinct reasons, and the fact that two places have been shown as the Field of Blood from the time of Jerome downwards is, as far as it goes, in favour of this view. It is equally possible, on the other hand, that Judas may have gone, before or after the purchase, to the ground which, bought with his money, was, in some sense, his own, and there ended his despair, dying literally in Gehenna, and buried, not in the grave of his fathers at Kerioth, but as an outcast, with none to mourn over him, in the cemetery of the aliens (Plumptre).
Matthew 27:9. Jeremy the prophet.—The citation is from Zechariah 11:13, but neither the Hebrew nor the LXX. version is followed exactly. Among the explanations of the prophecy being attributed to Jeremiah rather than Zechariah are the following:
(1) “Jeremiah,” who begins the Book of the Prophets in the Hebrew Canon, is intended to indicate the whole of that division of the Scriptures. This was the view of Lightfoot (Hor. Hebr.), and is favoured by Scrivener, David Brown, and others.
(2) This is an error on the part of an early transcriber.
(3) This is a slip of the pen or a slip of the memory on the part of the Evangelist himself.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Matthew 27:1-10
The homage of guilt.—“When the morning was come,” it appears to have been thought by those who had condemned the Saviour to death that the time had arrived for carrying out the resolution they had come to. They therefore, it is said, “took counsel” as to the best way of so doing. Two things seem to have determined them in the line they adopted. One was that the power of life and death was now out of their hands (John 18:31-32). The other that the Roman governor, in whose hands it lay, would soon be taking his morning seat for the administration of justice. To him, therefore, they lead the Saviour forthwith, taking Him “bound” (Matthew 27:2) as one already condemned, and going in a body (Luke 23:1), as though to show that the condemnation was the act of them all. None that looked on, therefore, could fail seeing all that was meant. Jesus is now “seen” to be “condemned (Matthew 27:3). The effect of this sight on the man who had betrayed Him, and the effect of this effect on those who had condemned Him, are told to us next.
I. The effect on Judas.—We see this, first, in that which he says. When he “sees” that Jesus is “condemned” (ibid.), he sees also what has been said of Him by the priests, viz., that He is guilty, and so worthy of death. What he says in reply, seeing this, is, that He is nothing of the kind. To shed His blood, on the contrary, will be to shed “innocent blood.” That is the first thing he declares. He declares, also, what is implied in this, that he had his own share in the matter. “I have sinned” in that I have betrayed this innocent blood. And he showed, yet further, how strongly he felt this by the peculiar emphasis of his words: Here, take this money which you gave me for betraying Him, for I desire to have it no more (Matthew 27:3). A marvellous result on the part of one who is spoken of as a “thief” (John 12:6), that he should thus deny, as it were, his own nature, on account of the depth of his feelings. The same effect is shown still more in that which he does. In this we find him resolved, at all costs, to have nothing more to do with that bribe. If they will not accept it, he will not retain it, be the result what it may. In no sense shall it be his any more. It shall not even, as it were, be any more in his hands. As something, therefore, now utterly hateful to him, “he flings it down” in the temple, and then goes away, and, in a similar manner, flings away his own life (Matthew 27:5). The whole tragedy, in short, is, in every way, a most striking testimony to the innocency of Jesus. Even this man of covetousness cannot bring himself to keep the price of His life. What a revelation of the real nature of his convictions about Him! With all the almost certain suspiciousness of his nature (see John 12:4-5); with all the length and depth of his past intimacy with Jesus; he remembers nothing of Him but that which is good! No more competent witness, no more reliable witness, no louder witness, to the innocency of Jesus, could possibly be. Even Judas cannot live and see it denied!
II. The effect of this effect on the priests.—This was very significant in itself. Carefully gathering together the pieces of silver thrown down, all they think of is how to invest them in the most politic way. As the price of blood, it would never do to return them to the treasury of the temple. On the other hand, to them it would be just as inadmissible not to use them at all. What they resolve on, therefore, is to employ them in purchasing a piece of ground in the neighbourhood of the city, once used by a potter, but now probably exhausted, and so to be had (probably) for the exact modicum of money of which they wished to dispose. Not impossibly they had learned this through Judas himself. Not impossibly, also, this is how that exact sum had come to be agreed on between them. Anyhow, if the transaction was begun by him, it was completed by them. Thinking the place a convenient one to “bury strangers in”—and looking on it, doubtless, as quite good enough for that purpose—they purchased it for that end. Herein, therefore, we see the whole effect upon them of what Judas had done. The further question, whether or not they were really shedding “innocent blood,” as he said, was, in their judgment, no business of theirs (Matthew 27:4). Even more significant, next, was this action of theirs in regard to the future. That purchased field became one of immense notoriety before long. Bought with the money of perishing Judas, it became inseparably linked with that fact. It became known, therefore, for all future time, as the “field of” (innocent) “blood,” because bought with money which the betrayer himself, with his dying lips, had declared to be the price of such blood. Who could see that field afterwards without thinking of the two lives it had cost? And without remembering also what the one of those lives had virtually said of the other, viz., that it was a life without sin? Quite as significant, lastly, was this action of the priests in connection with the past. Either as a thing of vision, or else of equally instructive typical history, there was language on record in one of the prophets—it does not really matter in which—which relates the purchase of an exactly similar field at an exactly identical price; and describes that price also as being, in some way, the value set on a life (Matthew 27:9-10). So plainly, although so mysteriously; so fitly, and therefore so forcibly, had this step been foretold. Whatever else is doubtful, this is clear about that mysterious word. It was the crowning element in lending importance to this nefarious transaction. Long prophecy, in a word, had foreseen, what all posterity has since verified, of the significance of that field as an unconscious but eternal testimony to the innocency of the Saviour.
1. See, therefore, finally, on the one hand, the real origin of this testimony.—We have called it the homage of guilt. Judas designedly—the priests undesignedly—proclaim Christ here to be guiltless. Like so many Balaams, these later witnesses, intending to curse, are found blessing instead. But what has brought this about? Whose hand is it that is working in reality behind both Judas and them? And whose voice is it, therefore, that, as well by his lips and their actions as by the voice of prophecy about both, is thus testifying to Jesus? No devout heart can help seeing that it is the voice of His Father Himself. Practically, in short, it is Matthew 3:17; Matthew 17:5 over again.
2. See, in consequence, on the other hand, the peculiar timeliness of this testimony.—Just after Judas has treated the Saviour as guilty, he is compelled to testify to the exact opposite in the most irresistible way. Just after the priests have condemned the Saviour, they are made to condemn themselves for so doing. In other words and finally, just when Jesus has been delivered up to the Gentiles as guilty, God declares Him thus to be His “Holy One” still. Perhaps never more so than then!
HOMILIES ON THE VERSES
Matthew 27:1-2. Christ sent to Pilate.—
1. The wicked are exceeding watchful to accomplish an ill turn, especially against Christ; for late at night and early in the morning are the chief priests and others busy to have Christ put to death.
2. It is no new thing to see corrupt church governors abuse the civil magistrate in execution of their unjust and cruel conclusions, as here the priests and elders deliver Christ bound to Pilate the governor.—David Dickson.
Was Jesus dealt with legally?—The question is sometimes asked, Was the trial of Jesus fair and legal according to the rules of Jewish law? The answer must be that the proceedings against Jesus violated both
(1) the spirit, and
(2) the express rules of Hebrew jurisdiction, the general tendency of which was to extreme clemency.
I. The Talmud states: “The Sanhedrin is to save, not to destroy life.” No man could be condemned in his absence, or without a majority of two to one; the penalty for procuring false witnesses was death; the condemned was not to be executed on the day of his trial. This clemency was violated in the trial of Jesus Christ.
II. But even the ordinary legal rules were disregarded in the following particulars:
(1) The examination by Annas without witnesses;
(2) The trial by night;
(3) The sentence on the first day of trial;
(4.) The trial of a capital charge on the day before the Sabbath;
(5) The suborning of witnesses;
(6) The direct interrogation by the high priest.—A. Carr, M.A.
Matthew 27:3-5. Judas Iscariot.—In the story of Judas Iscariot we have the prominent tragedy of the Gospels.—
I. The character of Judas.
II. The history of his scheme.
III. The efforts to save him.—Judas did not fall at once and unwarned. He had the same chances of better things which his brother Apostles had. He thrust away from himself the helping hand which Christ’s love extended to him. From the earliest time to the latest moment, Christ sought to save the traitor from himself. Recall Christ’s method. He did not receive recruits without caution. There were after-warnings also. Generally, the tone of our Lord’s teaching respecting worldliness was one constant warning. To a man like Judas, trying to secure his own interest, and making this the prime object of his thoughts, the words, “Ye cannot serve God and Mammon,” came like a trumpet-toned note of alarm. But besides general language like this, there were utterances of our Lord’s which, in the light of Judas’ character, sound like direct and special efforts to awake him from his dream of self. Read in the light of Judas’ designs the parable of the unjust steward. Or, again, the parable of the wedding-garment had its message for the traitor. As the crisis draws near, Christ puts forth fresh and final attempts to save him. “Ye are not all clean,” He said, at the time when it was not yet too late for the traitor to cleanse his fault. Christ still stood near at hand in the garb of service, stooping to wash the earth stains from His disciples’ feet. One more effort Christ will make. At the supper table He quotes the words, “He that eateth My bread lifted up his heel against Me” (John 13:18). Later still more explicitly, “One of you shall betray Me” (John 13:21). Even then it was not too late. The last step had not been taken by Judas. But, as with a man sliding down a steep place, the impetus of temptation was too strong. He takes the food from the hand of Christ. With treason in his heart, he does not hesitate to take that pledge of affection and loyalty. There is a treachery in the doing so; the Nemesis of base acts is further baseness. “After the sop Satan entered into him” (John 13:27). The crisis is passed at that moment. He will not turn back now. “That thou doest, do quickly” (John 13:27). “He went out straightway; and it was night.” An hour later his treason was an accomplished fact.
IV. The catastrophe.—The inward story of Judas’ life is a story of help refused and warning disregarded.—Bishop W. B. Carpenter.
Judas’ remorse.—Having uttered these words of anguish to the chief priests (Matthew 27:4), probably as they led the procession on the way back from Herod’s court to Pilate’s, and having suffered the coarse, ungrateful, cruel rebuff that drove him to desperation, he, with hell in his heart and the price of innocent blood in his hand, rushed headlong through the Court of the Gentiles, the Court of the Women, and up the fifteen steps where the Levites were wont to sing the Songs of Degrees. There, because able to proceed no farther, he stood madly at the Gate Nicanor—where penitents had received, a thousand times, those words of forgiveness and blessing which he should never hear, and where, thirty-three years before, Mary had presented the Holy Child whose blood he had betrayed—and, with the might of despair and the bitter vengeance of a lost man, threw the thirty accursed coins over the Court of the priests, over its altar of burnt offering and its brazen laver, over the steps of the priests; so that, having gone hissing through the air, they rang the knell of doom upon the marble floor of the Holy Place. After this act of burning insanity he rushed down the valley of Hinnom, climbed its slippery slopes on yonder side, and on the summit hanged himself—hanged himself probably with the girdle in which he had carried the price of blood; but the girdle that could not carry the price of betrayal could not bear the betrayer, and so it snapped, letting fall its burden over the rocky steeps, down, down, into the valley of Gehenna—“his own place.”—David Davies.
1. Though before a sin be committed the bait and allurement is only seen, and the conscience blindfolded, kept captive and benumbed; yet after sin is committed it shall be wakened at last, and see the ugliness of sin discovered.
2. When the evil of sin is discovered, then is the naughtiness of every inducement unto it discovered also, and the grief is more than any gain or pleasure inducing unto it can counterbalance; for Judas now counteth little of the thirty pieces of silver, bringeth back the price, and casteth it down in the temple.
3. Such as sin by the inducement of others need not look for comfort from the enticers of them unto it, but must bear the guilt of it alone.
4. When Justice pursueth the sinner, and he flieth not to God’s mercy in Christ, there needeth no other judge, or witness, but his own conscience only; it is sufficient to convict, condemn, and torture him, so as he will choose to strangle himself rather than endure the vexation of it.—David Dickson.
Matthew 27:11. Tie governor asked him.—Pilate, true to the Roman sense of justice, refused merely to confirm the sentence of the Sanhedrin (Carr).
Matthew 27:16. Barabbas.—“Son of Abba,” i.e. Son of Father (so-and-so). The name would originally be given to one who was the son of some Rabbi who had been known in his locality as Father (so-and-so). Not unlikely Barabbas would thus be a person of respectable parentage, though for long he had gravitated toward the lowest stratum of society (Morison).
Matthew 27:19. When he was set down.—While he was sitting (R.V.). His wife.—Claudia Procula or Procla. Traditions state that she was a proselyte of the gate, which is by no means unlikely, as many of the Jewish proselytes were women. By an imperial regulation provincial governors had been prohibited from taking their wives with them. But the rule gradually fell into disuse, and an attempt made in the Senate (A.D. 21) to revive it completely failed (Carr).
Matthew 27:21. They said, Barabbas.—Pilate’s expedient to avoid the necessity of pronouncing sentence is here set forth at length, probably because it brings into strong relief the absolute rejection of their Messiah alike by the rulers and by the people (Gibson).
Matthew 27:24. Washed his hands.—See Deuteronomy 21:6. Cf. Psalms 26:6. See ye to it.—“Ye shall see to it; I presume that ye take to yourselves the whole responsibility of the deed” (Morison).
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Matthew 27:11-26
The homage of power.—Jesus is now standing before the Roman governor (Matthew 27:11); in the presence, therefore, of the representative of the then highest power upon earth. To what conclusion does this Imperial delegate come about Him? And how far does he give evidence of the nature of his thoughts? A threefold answer seems discoverable in the passage before us. Notwithstanding the many accusations (Matthew 27:12) to which he is listening, we find Pilate first suspecting, then convinced of, and finally proclaiming, the complete innocency of the Accused.
I. Suspecting the truth.—First, we may believe that the appearance of the Saviour Himself had not a little effect in this way. One of the accusations brought against the Saviour—even a leading one, it would seem (Luke 23:2; John 19:12; John 19:15)—was that of (constructively) impairing the supreme authority of “Cæsar.” No Roman governor could think lightly of such an accusation. No Roman emperor made more of it than the Roman emperor of that day. Many men of the highest rank were being put to death by him yearly on the mere suspicion of such a charge (see Tacitus). Naturally, therefore, when Pilate heard of it here, he would look with special closeness of attention on the Man charged with such guilt, and would expect to find something at least in Him to correspond with so very lofty an aim. There should be something Cæsar-like—palpably—in any one who thought, however distantly, of being in rivalry with him. It would appear from the story, however, that Pilate found nothing like it in the appearance of Christ; no marks of pride; no sign of ambition; nothing, in fact, to betoken a desire to be great upon earth, in the heavenly meekness of that sorrow-lined face. Hence the peculiar and marked emphasis of the question he asks (Matthew 27:11), “Art Thou”—Thou, being such as Thou art—“the King of the Jews?” As much as to say, “Never yet did I see any one with less of earthly royalty in his look.” The Saviour’s demeanour, in the next place, seems to have confirmed this idea. How utterly unmoved He stands by the accusations He hears! How many these are! How silent Himself! Does He hear them, in fact (Matthew 27:13)? And, if so, why is it that He takes no notice of them whatever? This does not look like guilt, or a fear of the consequences, or an anxiety to escape them (see John 19:10). At any rate, it is clear evidence that there is something strange indeed in this case (Matthew 27:14). Lastly, we may well believe that there was something in the demeanour of the Saviour’s accusers which added strength to this thought. Their accusations were such as could easily be accounted for without supposing them to be valid. There was that about their reproaches which showed how highly they valued the praises of men (cf. Matthew 23:5-7; Luke 20:45-47), as also how greatly this meek Jesus of Nazareth had interfered with them in this matter. Pilate saw in this, therefore, what was the real root of all their clamour and hate (Matthew 27:18; Mark 15:10), and so was struck, most probably, rather by the weakness than by the strength of their case. “Is this the worst that even such consummate ‘envy’ can lay to His charge? If so, there cannot be much in Him that is worthy of death!”
II. Ascertaining the truth.—Two things especially seem to have brought this about. One was connected with a remarkable message which came to him at that time. During the previous night, or early that morning, his wife had dreamed about Christ. The details are not told us, but its effects speak for themselves. She has been so scared thereby that she sends her husband word of it, even while seated in court, and earnestly entreats him, in consequence, to beware how he allows himself to deal with Jesus as other than “just” (Matthew 27:19). A somewhat similar warning, in consequence of a dream, is said to have been sent to Julius Cæsar by his wife on the morning of his death. If Pilate was such a believer in dreams and omens as most Romans were in his day, the recollection of that dream would make this one seem to him a message from Heaven itself, and so would help to make him believe that what he had suspected before was nothing indeed but the truth. Another thing telling on him in the same direction was the behaviour of the “multitude” which, by this time, had collected together. Some time previously he had thought that he saw in their presence and apparent disposition a way of settling this case. With this idea he would take advantage of a custom they observed at that “feast” (Matthew 27:15). He would give them the choice, in accordance with that custom, between this Man who seemed to be in favour with them (though not with the priests) and another man who was then in prison and notorious for his crimes (Matthew 27:16; John 18:40). The result turned out exactly contrary to what he had expected and hoped. “Persuaded” by the “priests” (Matthew 27:20), the “multitude” asked the release, not of Jesus, but of the other. Not only so, the more he pleads with them in opposition to this the worse they become. They ask now, not only that Jesus should not be released, but that He should die the death of the cross. And they ask it the more, the more he challenges them to give a reason for so doing. And this, in fact, is, so far, the end. He asks them to say, and they cannot say, “what evil” Jesus “hath done.”
III. Proclaiming the truth.—Finding that all appeal is in vain, hearing nothing further in the way of testimony or evidence, and fearing that the only result of further effort to deliver Him would be a “tumult” for which he would have to answer at Rome, Pilate contents himself with openly declaring his own thoughts about Christ. This he does, first, in the most deliberate way—“taking water,” and having it brought to him (as we may infer) for this end. Next, in a most public way, “before the multitude”—in their sight. Further, in the most significant way, viz., by using the water brought him for washing his hands. Once more, in the most explicit way, by explaining verbally what he meant by that sign (Matthew 27:24). And, lastly, in a way which the answer of the multitude (Matthew 27:25) showed that they perfectly understood. Miserable, in short, as the effort was in the way of exonerating himself, it was trumpet-tongued and beyond capability of mistake in proclaiming the innocence of the Saviour!
This “proclamation” was specially important:—
1. Because of the character of the man.—As we learn from Luke 13:1 and other sources, he was by no means unwilling to be a shedder of blood. Few Roman governors were. Pilate, probably, as little unwilling as any. How striking, therefore, in this case, to see him fighting against it so long, and doing all that he thought he could do, in order to avoid it! There must have been something in his eyes peculiarly dazzling in the lustrous innocence of this Jesus. He was prepared for anything, short of losing his life, rather than treat it as guilt.
2. Because of the nationality and rank of the man.—This Pilate was not only a Gentile, he was a representative Gentile as well. He spoke for Cæsar, who spoke in turn for the world. The whole, in short, of the world’s non-Judaic faith may be said to have culminated then in Tiberius. This fact, therefore, gives to the proclamation in question a kind of “œcumenical” ring; the heathen world, as it were, following up the Jewish world in virtual vindication of Christ.
3. Because of the exceedingly critical character of the juncture.—This final vindication is uttered at the very moment of finally consigning Christ to the cross. Also by the very same lips. The very same power which says He is to die also says He ought not; and that in the very same breath. Thus at once acquitting Him and condemning itself. Thus at once, also, treating Him as guilty and pronouncing Him guiltless—the very marrow of the gospel of Christ!
HOMILIES ON THE VERSES
Matthew 27:12-14. The silence of Jesus at the bar of Pilate.—The predictions which we find in the Old Testament in relation to the Messiah seem to have been all fulfilled; and it is not easy to bring them and the life of Jesus Christ into juxtaposition, and resist the conclusion that He was the promised Saviour. It was predicted that toward the close of His beneficent career, He would not so much as open His mouth in certain circumstances, and this prediction, like all the rest, was literally verified. Before the Sanhedrin, before Herod, before Pilate, He “retired into the great empire of silence.” Before Pilate He was not absolutely silent. He appears to have replied to most of Pilate’s queries, and to have given him, in the capacity of judge, all the information that was really necessary to a right decision in the case; and the fact that He spoke when He conceived that there was occasion shows that His silence was not exactly premeditated. There was no obstinacy about it. In prospect of the trial He did not rashly or cunningly resolve that He would not in any way commit Himself by speaking. His silence was spontaneous, natural, and on that account all the more impressive and suggestive. In seeking to account for it, we would observe:—
I. That at those times when He became silent it was not necessary to speak.—After Pilate had heard all that the chief priests and elders had to say against Him, he felt constrained to acknowledge that they had not made good a solitary charge. He, as judge, declared that in his opinion there was no fault in Him, and with this view Herod coincided. Had they substantiated their charges, Jesus might have spoken. Since no tangible proof of political guilt was adduced, He stood before Pilate with sealed lips; and His silence was more condemnatory of His accusers than a score of speeches would have been. It frequently happens that silence is the best answer that can be given.
II. That it would have served no practical purpose for Christ to have spoken.—Suppose that Jesus had with the breath of His mouth blown away the accusations brought against Him by His enemies, as smoke is driven away by the wind, would Pilate have acquitted Him and not have delivered Him to the Jews? No. He had not the courage to set Jesus at liberty, and dare the Jews to lay a finger on Him. His silence did not make against Him, and He was certain that it would not. It may be asked, Was speech not needed for His vindication in the eyes of posterity? No. His silence notwithstanding, posterity has decided that Jesus was all that He professed to be; and this will become more and more its belief.
III. That Jesus came into the world expressly to die.—In the light of this fact, what is there in the silence of Christ to perplex us? Nothing whatever.
1. There was not in Jesus a morbid love of life.
2. The innocence of Christ.
3. In Jesus there was any amount of self-control.—G. Cron.
Matthew 27:19. The dream of Pilate’s wife.—We inquire reverentially:—
I. Why the dream in question was sent.—Among all the absurdities that have been uttered and believed about dreams, the following things seem quite clear, viz., that we cannot order our own dreams; that no other men can order them for us; that God sometimes does (or has, at the least); that no other beings ever have, that we know of, except Him; and, consequently, that however uninterpretable and unimportant such things in general are, those which have a special significance and bearing may be reasonably traced to God’s hands. In the case of this dream, moreover, the fact of its relation by the Evangelist is an additional argument on this side. And if so, then the dream, in reality, was:
1. A Divine preaching of Christ to the mind of the sleeper. It had the effect of concentrating her waking attention, not only on Christ in His innocence, but on Christ in His death—that same marvellous combination which seems to have converted the penitent thief. Had she, therefore, thought of these things as he did; had she followed up these first truths, as she ought; had she inquired, and so heard of the wonders accompanying His crucifixion, and of the truth and glory of His resurrection; who can exaggerate the result? Her dream placed the key of heaven in her hands; something as was done for Cornelius by his own vision and that of Peter, and something as was done for Saul by the vision of Ananias.
2. Another merciful object was to warn another sinner of the extreme peril of his position at that particular time. Pilate, of himself, could know next to nothing of the unparalleled position he stood in. But to warn him of the excessive peril of his position was the purport of the dream and message of his wife. May we not consider that dream, then, a final warning to him to beware? This would be quite in keeping with God’s dealings. Judas had received such a warning from Christ (Matthew 26:24) and had conveyed one to the priests (Matthew 27:5). So did Pilate himself afterwards to the Jews at large (Matthew 27:24). And if so, how affecting an illustration of 1 Timothy 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9, etc.!
II. Why the dream is related.—Partly, it is possible, as an illustration of God’s power, mysteriously controlling even those innermost thoughts which are so uncontrollable by ourselves. Partly, too, by way of illustration of God’s mercy, and as opening out, by the case of Pilate and Pilate’s wife, an almost boundless prospect of the opportunities, strivings, and warnings vouchsafed to our race. But neither of these would appear to be the chief purpose of the history. The prosecution had broken down. In such a case, however, “not proven” is not enough. God would have the innocence of His Son beyond doubt. Two independent, consistent witnesses (as required by the law) “established” this great point—the false disciple and the judge, the unscrupulous and unpopular judge who would lose nothing and gain much (as he judged) by condemning, and the suspicious, yet intimate companion who would certainly have detected evil if there had been any to detect. Thus far the testimony of man. But in a case such as this, virtually tried in the presence of the universe, greater testimony still is required. This we have, therefore, in prophecy, in the subsequent inspired declarations of Apostles, in voices from heaven during life, and now, at last, just previous to death, in this mysterious dream. Thus strikingly, thus almost dramatically, at the very crisis of the Saviour’s fate, is He declared without sin. The whole subject is a signal evidence of the importance attached to the Atonement. The perfect innocence of the Saviour is an essential feature in that doctrine. See how carefully, how profoundly, how anxiously, and so to speak, reconditely, the point is established.—Mathematicus in “Homilist.”
Matthew 27:21. Rejecting Christ.—One evening, at a small literary gathering at which Carlyle was present, a lady, who was somewhat noted for her “muslin theology,” was bewailing the wickedness of the Jews in not receiving Christ, and ended her diatribe against them by expressing her regret that He had not appeared in our own time. “How delighted,” said she, “we should all have been to throw our doors open to Him, and listen to His Divine precepts! Don’t you think so, Mr. Carlyle?” Thus appealed to, Carlyle said, “No, madam, I don’t. I think that, had He come very fashionably dressed, with plenty of money, and preaching doctrines palatable to the higher orders, I might have had the honour of receiving from you a card of invitation, on the back of which would be written, ‘To meet our Saviour’; but if He had come uttering His sublime precepts, and denouncing the Pharisees, and associating with the publicans and lower orders, as He did, you would have treated Him much as the Jews did, and have cried out, ‘Take Him to Newgate, and hang Him!’ ”—Tools for Teachers.
Matthew 27:22. Christ before Pilate—Pilate before Christ.
I. Let us try to account for the hesitation of Pilate to give up the Lord, and then for his final yielding to the clamour of the people.—Wherefore this unwonted squeamishness of conscience? It was the result of a combination of particulars, each of which had a special force of its own, and the aggregate of which so wrought on his mind that he was brought thereby to a stand. There was
1. The peculiar character of the prisoner.
2. The singular message of his wife.
3. The fatality that there seemed about the case. He had tried to roll it over on Herod, but that wily monarch sent the prisoner back upon his hands. The deeper he went into the case he discovered only the more reason for resisting the importunity of the Jews, and however he looked at it, his plain duty was to set the prisoner free. Why, then, again we ask, was his perplexity? The answer is suggested by the taunt of the Jews, “If thou let this man go, thou art not Cæsar’s friend.” He foresaw that if he resisted the will of the rulers, he would make them his enemies, and so provoke them to complain of him to the emperor, who would then institute an inquiry into his administration of his office; and that he was not prepared to face. His past misdeeds had put him virtually into the power of those who were now so eager for the condemnation of the Christ. His guilty conscience made him a coward at the very time when most of all he wanted to be brave.
II. The question of the text is pre-eminently the question of the present age.
III. What is true of the age is true also of every individual to whom the gospel is proclaimed.—W. M. Taylor, D.D.
Christ still on His trial.—Jesus Christ is on His trial again before the research and culture of the nineteenth century. The controversies which once raged round His miracles have now gathered about His Person. For acute thinkers saw it was useless to deny the supernatural, so long as Jesus Christ Himself, the great central miracle in history, passed unchallenged. And now, in this age, thoughtful man must, sooner or later, ask himself the question which Pilate put to the Jews: “What shall I do, then?” etc. And from the motley crowd of Jews and Gentiles, of friends or foes, grouped round that calm, majestic Figure, come the three chief answers that the human heart can give.
I. The answer of rejection.—The fickle crowd cried, “Let Him be crucified.” It was the cry of prejudice, of thoughtlessness, of conscious guilt. That cry finds an echo to-day. It is couched in less offensive language. It is clothed in the garb of poetry and philosophy, of the highest culture; the form is changed, the spirit is unaltered. It is still the answer of rejection.
II. From Pilate comes the answer of indifference.—He represented the Roman society of his age, which had lost faith in religion and morality, and yet was troubled by dreams; which was at once sceptical and superstitious; whose creed had been summed up by one of its own writers in a notable saying: “There is no certainty save that there is nothing certain, and there is nothing more wretched or more proud than man”—a nerveless, hopeless, sorrowful creed, the parent of apathy, cynicism, and unrest. Pilate is a picture of that vain and shallow indifference which is too weak to believe in the truth, and yet too fearful to deny it altogether.
III. The answer of faith.—There were some in that crowd insignificant in number, in wealth, in influence—often, alas! untrue to their own convictions—who could give a very different answer to Pilate’s question. One of them the previous night had acted as the spokesman of his brethren, when he said, “Lord, I will follow Thee to prison and to death.” They were brave words, the language of a faithful and loving heart—forgotten and broken at the first blush of trial, but nobly fulfilled in after years; and they are the answer of faith.—F. J. Chavasse, M.A.
I. In this day Jesus is on His trial, and it has reached the phase marked by the text. The question to-day is, “But if we accept this deliverance of science or that dictum of criticism, what shall we do, then, with Jesus which is called Christ? How shall we judge Him?” All great questions pass through, say, four stages, viz., neglect, opposition, attention, decision. The question of the Christ has in these days come to the last stage when it must be decided.
II. Some of the present forms of the phase of the trial of Jesus.—Take two—agnostic secularism and evolution.
III. The gravity of the present phase of the trial of Jesus.—To Pilate’s question the answer came, “Let Him be crucified.” The gravity lies here: the trial of Jesus in this day has developed to this crisis; we must either accept Him as the Christ, or deliver Him to be crucified. No middle course possible.—A. Goodrich, D.D.
Matthew 27:24. Pilate.—The power of conscience in Pilate was strong enough to protest, but it was not strong enough to resist.
I. We are compelled to look into the man himself for the explanation of his conduct.—
1. He had, by his injustice and selfishness in the administration of his province, put himself already at the mercy of the Jews.
2. He had no sure moral standard for the regulation of his conduct.
3. He held low views of responsibility. Was there ever such a display of silliness as this washing of his hands before the people?
II. Practical lessons.—
1. Be on your guard against fettering yourself for the future by the conduct of the present.
2. Remember there is a higher rule of life than mere selfish expediency.
3. Learn that sin is a voluntary thing.
4. Do not forget that it is not the washing of hands in water, but the cleansing efficacy of the blood of Christ alone, that can take away guilt.—W. M. Taylor, D.D.
Pilate disclaiming responsibility.—“See ye to it.” Pilate forgot that in things moral men cannot clear one another by a mere act of will. Still less can they, in their individual actions, be like the rowers in our British waters, who look one way and go another.—J. Morison, D.D.
Sinning in the light of the clearest evidence.—Pilate’s conduct plainly shows that it is possible to sin against the conviction of our own mind. Learn:—
I. That guilt may be contracted through others.—Guilt is none the less our own because somebody else is implicated. This should be borne in mind when positions are offered us respecting which we have conscientious misgivings.
II. That guilt knowingly contracted admits of no honourable excuse.
III. That guilt may be contracted by not preventing evil, as well as by committing it.
IV. That guilt, however contracted, cannot be removed by any mere form or ceremony.—“Pilate washed his hands,” etc. It was customary among the Greeks, Romans, and Hebrews, to wash their hands in token of their innocency from any imputed guilt. But no ceremony can of itself cleanse away our guilt. “The blood of Jesus Christ,” etc.—A. Hilittch.
Matthew 27:27. The common hall.—Literally, the Prætorium, a word which, applied originally to the tent of the prætor, or general, and so to the headquarters of the camp, had come to be used with a somewhat wide range of meaning,
(1) for the residence of a prince or governor; or
(2) for the barracks attached to such a residence (as in Philippians 1:13); or
(3) for any house as stately. Hero (as in Acts 23:35) it appears to be used in the first sense. Pilate’s dialogue with the priests and people had probably been held from the portico of the Tower of Antony, which rose opposite the temple court, and served partly as a fortress, partly as an official residence. The soldiers now took the prisoner into their barrack-room within (Plumptre). The whole band.—The word used is the technical word for the cohort, or subdivision of a legion (ibid.).
Matthew 27:28. A scarlet robe.—A soldier’s scarf; Lat. chlamys. It was generally worn by superior officers, but its use was not confined to them. This may have been a worn-out scarf belonging to Pilate; it is different from “the gorgeous robe” (Luke 23:11), which Herod’s soldiers put on Jesus. Scarlet was the proper colour for the military chlamys. St. Mark has the less definite “purple,” St. John, “a purple robe.” Purple, however, is used by Latin writers to denote any bright colour (Carr).
Matthew 27:29. A crown of thorns.—It cannot be known of what plant this acanthine crown was formed. The nubk (zizyphus lotus) struck me, as it has struck all travellers in Palestine, as being most suitable both for mockery and pain, since its leaves are bright, and its thorns singularly strong; but though the nubk is very common on the shores of Galilee, I saw none of it near Jerusalem. There may, however, have been some of it in the garden of Herod’s palace, and the soldiers would give themselves no sort of trouble, but merely take the first plant that came to hand (Farrar).
Matthew 27:32. Cyrene.—A city in north-eastern Africa. A large colony of Jews had settled there, as in other African and Egyptian cities, to avoid the oppression of the Syrian kings (Carr). Simon.—Why, we ask, out of the whole crowd that was streaming to and fro, on the way to the place of execution, did the multitude seize on him? St. Mark’s mention of him as the father of Alexander and Rufus (see Mark 15:21), suggests the thought that his sons were afterwards prominent as members of the Christian community. May we not infer that he was suspected even then of being a secret disciple, and that this led the people to seize on him, and make him a sharer in the humiliation of his Master? (Plumptre).
Matthew 27:33. Golgotha.—The site is not certainly known, though Major Conder, R. E., who commanded the survey parties of the Palestine Exploration Fund, between 1872 and 1882, says: “It may be said to be generally agreed that the tradition preserved by the Jerusalem Jews is worthy of belief. This tradition, discovered by Dr. T. Chaplin, places the old “House of Stoning,” or place of public execution according to the law of Moses, on the top of the remarkable knoll outside the Damascus Gate, on the north side of Jerusalem. It was from this cliff that the criminal used to be flung before being stoned (according to the Talmud), and on it his body was afterwards crucified; for the spot commands a view all over the city, and from the slopes all round it the whole population of the town might easily witness the execution. Here, then, was the Hebrew place of crucifixion, and here, in all human probability, once stood the three crosses bearing the Saviour of men between the two thieves” (Primer of Bible Geography).
Matthew 27:34. Vinegar.—Wine (R.V.).—The ordinary military wine, posca. Gall.—Some bitter ingredient fitted to stupefy.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Matthew 27:27-34
Via crucis.—In Matthew 27:26 of this chapter we are told of our Saviour’s being handed over to the Roman soldiery, for the purpose of crucifixion. In Matthew 27:35, and what immediately follows, we have the crucifixion itself. In these intervening verses we are, therefore, shown Jesus on His way to the cross, and, in that connection, are asked to observe, on the one hand, how much He had to endure just previously to His death; and, on the other hand, how far He was affected thereby.
I. How much He had to endure.—Much, obviously, in the first place, in the way of acute bodily pain. If the “scourging” then inflicted (Matthew 27:26) by order of Pilate, was at all like what was usual in such cases—it must have been a most terrible thing. Terrible, because of the instrument used—a thing of leather thongs, armed with many points of cruel metal or bone. Terrible, because of the manner of infliction, viz., straight down on the unprotected frame of the victim, as he stood quivering and naked-shouldered, with his hands fastened to a pillar in front. Terrible, because there was no merciful limit, as in the law of Moses, to the number of strokes. If one could describe, therefore, one would not like to describe, the amount and depth of laceration produced, and the consequently increasing agony caused by each successive descent of those thongs. We must simply remember, on this point, that what we can thus hardly bear to think of, the Master had to endure, and that the living body of the man, Jesus of Nazareth, was actually put to the torture described. Secondly, there must have been, at least, as much suffering of a mental description. These brutal legionaries evidently took no little delight in their task. To them it was a kind of sport, in which the whole cohort must join (Matthew 27:27). First, therefore, they deprive their unresisting Prisoner of His usual outermost garment, and then invest Him, in bitter mockery, with a scarlet one in its stead (Matthew 27:28). In the same spirit, they either weave together a crown of thorns (Matthew 27:29), or take one already woven (John 19:5), and thrust it on to His head. After this, they place in His hand a feeble sceptre of “reed” (Matthew 27:29), and offer Him, in contempt, the outward homage of body and lip—“bowing the knee and saying to Him, Hail, King of the Jews!” What a pleasure it is—what a safe pleasure—to mock that silent Man thus! Who ever saw such a King—such a sceptre—before? Soon, however, even these gross insults begin to weary upon them; probably because, in this instance, they are found to fail of their mark. Other, therefore, and even grosser outrages are resorted to next. Some present even go so far as to “spit” on that Holy One’s face. Others, again, with like wantonness of insult, “smite Him on the head” with the “reed” (Matthew 27:30). In every way He is despised and rejected by these hangman-like souls. Nothing do they shrink from which seems to them fitted to heap indignity on His head.
II. How far the Saviour was affected thereby.—In one way, He was so overwhelmingly, viz., as to His bodily strength. Very affecting is the evidence which is supplied us of this. It is said to have been the ordinary rule, in cases of crucifixion, that the instrument of crucifixion should be carried by the victim who was about to suffer thereon. It was part of such a man’s punishment in this way to carry his punishment with him. We find, accordingly, in one account (John 19:17) that this method of procedure was attempted at first with our Lord. But we also find, from other accounts (Matthew 27:32; Mark 15:21; Luke 23:26), that it was found impossible to go on with it. Another man’s strength, therefore, had to be “impressed” to carry the cross of the Saviour. Evidently this was because His own strength was found unequal now to the task. We say this, on the one hand, because of the well-known utter impossibility of resisting the strength of utter bodily weakness. The most iron will, the hardest heart, has to submit to its strength. And we say it, on the other hand, because we believe that the men concerned in this instance would have given way to nothing less than such irresistible strength. Evidently they see that Jesus cannot carry His cross. Evidently we see, therefore, how His previous sufferings have told on His frame. Though He has never complained of them, never resented them, never deprecated them for a moment, they have succeeded in penetrating to the very spring of His bodily life. So far as that is concerned, in fact, we may almost say of Him that He is already half dead. On the other hand, those sufferings, so far as His will is concerned, have not told on Him at all. Very significant and marked, in this connection, is the contrast we find here. Roman custom appears to have allowed one mitigation only in regard to the torture of crucifixion. The man about to die by it was allowed to partake of a mixture which was believed to have the power of making its torture more easy to bear. When those who brought Jesus to the place of crucifixion found themselves there, some among them offered Him a “cup” of this kind (Matthew 27:33-34). But such an offer is not one which He will allow Himself to accept. While He, therefore, so far respects it as to “taste” the mixture in question—and so, perhaps, make sure of its nature—He will not avail Himself of its help. The distinction seems plain. In that other matter, where He was called upon to make use of His strength, having no strength to make use of, He submitted to be helped. In this case, where He only has to endure, He refuses help, because He is able to do what is asked. The meaning, also, seems plain. Nothing shall be done by Him to diminish the bitterness of what He has to go through. On this point His will is as strong as though He had not suffered at all!
How admirable, therefore, and how affecting, also, is the picture before us! So much so in both ways, that one can hardly determine in which way the most! Perhaps, however, the story is most affecting when we look back at it from this point. For then we see, as we have said, how much the Saviour’s previous sufferings must have told on His strength, and what a long and wearying fever of torture He must have already gone through. On the other hand, there is, perhaps, most to admire here when we look forward from this point. Much of His previous suffering, if we may not say most, was in the way of anticipation. The worst of all, however, in that way remains still to be faced; and faced, moreover, in that extreme bodily weakness which has Him now in its grasp. Yet He neither shrinks from it now, nor allows it to be mitigated in any degree. The less He is physically able, the more He is morally determined, to encounter it all. Never, it is said, was there any sorrow like that coming then upon Him! Never any human being at once less fit, and more ready, to face it! Is there anything in the way of fortitude to go beyond this?
HOMILIES ON THE VERSES
Matthew 27:29. The crown of thorns.—Reflect on:—
I. The fact.—
1. He was and is a King.
2. His Kingship was attained through sorrow.
3. His reign was begun in sorrow.
II. The explanation.—This may be reached in some degree by observing three things:—
1. The nature of Christ’s sorrow.—
(1) In His Divine nature He was holy, and He came into a world of sin.
(2) In His human nature He was one with His fellow-men without sharing their love of sin and bluntness of conscience. He bore the world’s sin, and it broke His heart.
2. The spirit in which Christ bore sorrow.—His suffering was a supreme act of sacrifice. In it He offered Himself to God (Hebrews 9:14).
3. The purpose of Christ’s sorrow.—He suffered from sin that He might destroy sin.
2. Grateful reverence.
3. Submission.—W. F. Adeney, M.A.
The mockery of Christ.—The Jews mocked Christ’s offices.
I. His prophetical office.—“Prophesy who smote Thee.”
II. His priestly office.—“He saved others,” etc.
III. His kingly office.—“Hail, King of the Jews.”—Richard Ward.
Matthew 27:32. The cross enforced or chosen.—Here we have Simon and Christ: one compelled to bear the cross, the other choosing to bear it. And I want you to notice that whilst it is probable there is some cross or other which every one of us is compelled to carry, there is a cross which we may choose to carry; and there are a few simple lessons which may be learnt from the contrast.
I. There is always something accidental about the cross which one is compelled to carry.—We name one or two of these crosses, and we find they bring to view the mere accidents of life.
2. Absence of success in the work of life, or in some special work which has been undertaken.
3. The powers of their life are felt by some to be so limited, that it is the very smallness of faculty which seems to be a cross, and a great cross.
4. How many men are not content with the position they occupy!
II. When we have now to speak of the cross which may be chosen, we are coming to the life indeed, getting below the mere surface of things. We may see three principles, learning from the life of our Saviour, in such a cross.
1. It is one chosen from love to some others than ourselves.
2. It is borne in quiet submission to the will of the Father.
3. It springs from hatred of sin and sorrow for sin.
1. Sometimes the cross which is not compelled to be borne may be put down. There is no merit in bearing a cross, so far as the mere bearing is concerned.
2. The cross which we are really compelled to carry we may choose to carry.
3. The cross goes with the bearing of it. We choose it, would rather not have it away, and it gradually ceases to be a cross. The cross of Christ becomes His throne.—T. Gasquoine, B.A.
Matthew 27:35. That it might be fulfilled, etc.—Omitted in R.V. It ought not to be questioned that the words were interpolated by the copyists, from John 19:24 (Scrivener).
Matthew 27:36. They watched Him there.—See R.V. They remained on guard over Him.
Matthew 27:37. His accusation—This was what was technically known as the titulus—the bill, or placard, showing who the condemned person was, and why he was punished (Plumptre).
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Matthew 27:35-44
On the cross.—After a long approach to the cross, we stand, in this passage, as it were, at its foot. What is the real nature—what was the supposed nature—of the Sight we see there?
I. Its true nature and force.—On the one side, this is almost too plain. The cross itself, for example, tells of nothing but shame. It was the death of the outlaw, the villain, the slave. No Roman citizen, do what he might, could be put to death in that way. Every one recognised it as involving a “curse” (Galatians 3:13). What was seen in front of the cross also testified the same thing. The garments belonging to a crucified man were the usual perquisites of those who put him to death. This mark of shame also was not omitted in the case of our Lord. As prophecy had noted of Him beforehand in this particular as in so many others, so it was done (Matthew 27:35). Nor was there wanting testimony of the same kind on each side of His cross. On either side of Him there hung those who were known to be guilty of crime (Matthew 27:38); and guilty of such crime, moreover, as made them fully worthy even of that infamous death (Luke 23:41). So plain was it so far that He was being treated then as one of the worst of mankind. On the other side, however, there was that in this sight which was correspondingly dark and occult. What was the meaning, e.g., of that conspicuous “title” which stood over His head? The usual purport of such inscriptions was an affirmation of guilt. They set forth in plain language the particular enormity for which the culprit beneath them had been condemned to that death. In this case, however, there was in reality (Matthew 27:37) no “accusation” at all. The chief priests, we are told (John 19:21), had noted this with no little concern. They had even besought Pilate in consequence—but besought him in vain—to have that “title” changed in some way (ibid., Matthew 27:22). So significant did this peculiarity seem as well in his eyes as in theirs. It was simply repeating what he had said all along (Matthew 27:23-24). That is why he kept to it still. Nor does it seem to have been less important, it is to be noticed next, in the eyes of all who tell us the tale. The precise words objected to and yet retained, are put down as these: “THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS.” It is worthy of note that all the four Evangelists, comparatively brief as all their accounts are, tell us of this title. It is as worthy of note that no two of them do so in quite the same words. It is more worthy of note that, notwithstanding these obvious dissimilarities between them, they all agree in comprising in their descriptions of the title, the above-specified words. In all these ways, therefore, we are pointed to them as specially worthy of note. And we can see, also, for ourselves, that they are so in a kind of mysterious way, when we compare them with those other plain points which we noted before. Taken in combination with these, how surprising indeed is the language spoken by this virtual acquittal of Christ! How extraordinary and perplexing the announcement it makes! An acknowledged King numbered with malefactors! Perfect innocence dying as guilt! God’s Holy One in the position of the worst of mankind!
II. Its supposed nature, as seen at the time.—What was thought of it, in the first place, by the ordinary observer? Such would be those mere “passers-by” of whom we read in Matthew 27:39—men who had taken no special part in bringing about the crucifixion of Jesus, but had heard something of the particulars of the case from common report, and had connected these with what they now saw. To them the contrast would be so violent as to be even a matter of jest (see Matthew 27:40). That is all that they would see in that sight; a pretentious career, brought to an ignominious—not to say a ridiculous—end. Not unlike this were the thoughts of those who were most accountable for that sight. To them what they saw was only convincing proof of what they had all along said. A complete answer, e.g., to all the miracles which were said to have been wrought by His power. Even if such things were true, they were fully disposed of as proofs of His mission by this total absence of miraculous power at a time like the present, which clearly called for it most. So also of His recent pretension (ch. 21, etc.) to be King of the Jews. That was equally disposed of by His present inability to come down from the cross. And so, finally, even of the very piety that had been heard in His words. If that were a real thing, why did God now let Him remain on that cross (see Matthew 27:42-43)? All that they saw, in short, was, in their judgment, simply condemnation of Him! And even those, lastly, who were suffering with Him saw nothing more in that sight; nothing more, at first, although one of the two saw much more indeed in the end (Luke 23:39-43). But, for the time present, in the eyes of both of them, there was nothing but despair in that “sight.” Even these miscreants only saw in it evidence that He was as bad as themselves! Did they not imply, indeed, by the “reproaches” they “cast on Him,” that He was even worse than themselves?
The story furnishes us with illustrations:—
1. Of the utter blindness of sin.—Two vivid truths, as we have seen, were inscribed on that cross: innocence, on the one hand; guilt, on the other. All the eyes of all the sinners who gazed on it, saw only the latter. The light of the former was but darkness to them.
2. Of the partial blindness, even of faith.—How many Christians there are who do not see to this day the full “guilt” of the cross! The guilt implied in the fact that Christ ever came to that cross! And that, being there, He was allowed to remain there, both by God and Himself? Why else was it that He did not reply to His enemies by coming down from the cross? Surely it was sin, though not His own sin, which kept Him up there!
HOMILIES ON THE VERSES
Matthew 27:35. Christ’s sufferings unique.—The unique character of Christ’s sufferings lies—
1. In the contrast between His heavenly healthiness and sensibility and this hellish torture.
2. In the contrast between His holiness, innocence, philanthropy and Divine dignity, and this experiencing of human contempt, rejection, and of apparent abandonment by God. Above all,
3. In His sympathy with humanity, which changes this judgment to which the world was surrendered into His own, and so transforms it into a vicarious suffering.—J. P. Lange, D.D.
Crucifixion.—Dr. Christian F. G. Richter, a pious physician of the Orphan House in Halle, who died in 1711, thus describes the physical sufferings of the crucifixion:
1. On account of the unnatural and immovable position of the body and the violent extension of the arms, the least motion produced the most painful sensation all over the body, but especially on the lacerated back and the pierced members.
2. The nails caused constantly increasing pain on the most sensitive parts of the hands and feet.
3. Inflammation set in at the pierced members and wherever the circulation of the blood was obstructed by the violent tension of the body, and increased the agony and an intolerable thirst.
4. The blood rushed to the head and produced the most violent headache.
5. The blood in the lungs accumulated, pressing the heart, swelling all the veins, and caused nameless anguish. Loss of blood through the open wounds would have shortened the pain; but the blood clotted and ceased flowing. Death generally set in slowly, the muscles, veins, and nerves gradually growing stiff, and the vital powers shrinking from exhaustion.
Gambling.—Look upon the picture presented in this verse, and endeavour to realise its frightful significance. There is nothing that can subdue the passion of the hardened gambler. Never, perhaps, did the hideousness of the gambling mania receive a more tragic illustration. We are apt to think that the more frantic forms of gambling are past incidents in the world’s history. Whenever we wish to glorify the nineteenth century we choose the eighteenth as a convenient preface. The picture of gambling in the eighteenth century is as bad as it is possible to conceive. It was the century in which Charles James Fox ruined himself with gambling debts, the century in which family after family with historic names were dishonoured, broken up, destroyed, by gambling follies. Gambling, no doubt, at the present day is more decorously conducted, but it is even more universally practised now than in the eighteenth century. But what is gambling? Here is the definition of it which is given us by the first philosopher of our time; and you who do not respect the Bible will at least respect, perhaps, the intellectual thoughts of Herbert Spencer. “Gambling is a kind of action by which pleasure is obtained at the cost of pain to another. It affords no equivalent to the general good; the happiness of the winner implies the misery of the loser.” The desire to possess money is a natural and not necessarily a pernicious desire. But two things must be remembered: first, to get money by honourable means; and second, that any possession of money which does not contribute to the common social good is infamous and evil. This is the indictment that I would bring against gambling:—
I. It renders men morally callous.—hardens them as no other vice does; it shuts their eyes to almost all the things that are beautiful in life; it fills them with a frantic passion for gain.
II. It destroys the very radical principles of honour and honesty.—There is a form of business—if it may be called by that honoured name—on the Stock Exchange, which is nothing but gambling.
III. It excites the fatal passion of cupidity.
Conclusion.—To get money without work is always a perilous thing. You see it in the spendthrift who inherits money from a penurious father, and who gets rid of it with all the rapidity he can. There is a proverb in Lancashire that “From shirt-sleeves to shirt-sleeves is only three generations,” and it is a proverb which applies to many places besides Lancashire. But it is far worse to get money by gambling. All sense of pleasure or value in the possession of money is lost when it is got by gambling, when a man finds by a little craft and cunning it is possible for him to float like scum on the surface of society and to have no root down in anything. It unsettles the mind, it destroys intellectual taste. I defy any youth who has once acquired a passion for gambling to apply his mind to any study, any hard task that will better him in mind and which will raise him in society. It destroys self-respect. It renders you, sooner or later, morally callous, spiritually deaf. And it is not surprising that it does all this when we recollect that in the light of the teaching of Jesus Christ it is a profoundly immoral act; for the teaching of Jesus Christ is that money is a stewardship.—W. J. Dawson.
The degradation of gambling.—Charles Dickens was not a Puritanical or Pharisaical writer, was he? Read what he has to say upon Doncaster races as he saw them. George Eliot was not a Puritanical or a Pharisaical writer. Read her description of the gambling tables which you will find in Daniel Deronda. Robert Louis Stevenson and Thomas Hardy are novelists who have not yet been accused of being Puritanical or Pharisaical. Two of the most extraordinary chapters in the greatest books of these artists are chapters which describe what Stevenson calls “the disgusting vice of gambling.” And the daily papers are not over Puritanical or Pharisaical; they simply chronicle the time. But even the Press has become frightened at last with the horrible growth of cupidity which is being fostered at the present hour by those who ought to know better, for they profess to provide journals which elevate and instruct and amuse. Or, if you do not care to take evidence of this kind, go and see for yourselves. Look at the sort of faces that one sees on the racecourse—the bestial, the foxy, the degraded. Travel in the same railway-carriage with habitual gamblers and hear what their talk is like. I stayed, some time ago, in one of the fairest of English cathedral cities. My friend, who is certainly not a Puritan, looking at the broad stretch beyond the city wall, said, “In a few weeks that green turf will be covered with the scum of the earth, with faces which haunt you afterwards like a dream of hell.” Is that strong language? No stronger than the language which Charles Dickens used about Doncaster racecourse. I have known such mad debauches after races, such diabolical impurities, that they are unnameable; they are all but unutterable. The gambling passion is the most insensate of all passions; it does more to render the heart callous than any other; it does not end with itself, but incites into diabolical activity every lust and passion of depravity; and the soldiers gambling at the feet of the dying Christ afford us just the type of moral deformity to which the lust of unearned gain reduces men.—Ibid.
Matthew 27:34-35. The inhumanity of man.—The Roman soldiers sat down at the foot of the cross. Some one of them took the dice out of his pocket, which was carried commonly by all Romans of that class. Another produced a bottle of cheap sour wine. There, beneath the shadow of the cross, with the blood trickling down from the burning arms and feet of the Crucified, they drank and gambled for the garments of the One that died to save them. I know not where you will find in history a more striking illustration of the inhumanity of man than in that scene—the drinking and the gambling at the foot of Christ’s cross.—L. Abbott, D.D.
Matthew 27:36. The Roman soldiers on guard.—They were a little tired with their march and their work, and they had to stop there on guard for an indefinite time, with nothing to do but two more prisoners to crucify; so they take a rest, and idly keep watch over Him till He shall die. How possible it is to look at Christ’s sufferings, and see nothing! These rude legionaries gazed for hours on what has touched the world ever since, and what angels desired to look into, and saw nothing but a dying Jew. They thought about the worth of the clothes, or about how long they would have to stop there, and, in the presence of the most stupendous fact in the world’s history, were all unmoved. We, too, may gaze on the cross, and see nothing.—A. Maclaren, D.D.
Matthew 27:37. The inscription on the cross.—A better inscription for the cross the Apostles themselves could not have devised. “This is Jesus,” the Saviour—the Name above every name. How it must have cheered the Saviour’s heart to know that it was there! “This is Jesus, the King,” never more truly King than when this writing was His only crown. “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews,” despised and rejected of them now, but Son of David none the less, and yet to be claimed and crowned and rejoiced in, when at last “all Israel shall be saved.”—J. M. Gibson, D.D.
Matthew 27:39-43. The scoffing wayfarers.—The passers-by were representative men.—
I. Reason of their conduct.—
1. Christ was unpopular—they went with the stream.
2. It gratified their vanity—“we are wise, open-eyed men.”
3. They felt the bitterest hatred—practical Christianity always repulsive.
II. The heinousness of their conduct.—
1. They misrepresented His words.
2. They derided His claims.
3. They jested at His agonies.
III. The folly of their conduct.—
1. Thought there was force in their argument.
2. Imagined themselves secure.
3. What did they gain?
IV. Treatment their conduct received.—Silence.
1. The disciples did not denounce them.
2. Nor did the crowd protest.
3. Nor did Jesus speak—His public sayings were ended; He is silent, but observant (see Matthew 12:36.)—Stems and Twigs.
Matthew 27:39. Running with the stream!—How many of these scoffers, to whom death cast no shield round the Object of their poor taunts, had shouted themselves hoarse on the Monday, and waved palm branches that were not withered yet! What had made the change? There was no change. They were running with the stream in both their hosannas and their jeers, and the one were worth as much as the other. They had been tutored to cry, “Blessed is He that cometh!” and now they were tutored to repeat what had been said at the trial about destroying the temple. The worshippers of success are true to themselves when they mock at failure.—A. Maclaren, D.D.
Matthew 27:40. The first prayer to the Crucified One.—I. Think of the speech as spoken by those who were passing by.—Their complete phrase was, “If Thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross.” It was no easy thing for these men to believe that Christ was the Son of God.
II. Think of this challenge as spoken by the leaders of the people.—It is plain that their minds were not easy. The mental questions would arise: “Have we gone too far? Is it possible that we have made a tremendous mistake? What if, after all, this should be the Christ of God, the King of Israel?” To keep down their doubts, to keep up their courage, they drew together in close conference, and talked one to another in answer to unspoken language of horrible misgiving and surmise. “Is that the Saviour? He cannot save Himself—that the King! He is not even King over that cross.”
III. Think of the cry as spoken by the soldiers.—For them the word “Christ” was jargon; the word “Israel” had no meaning; but the word “King” roused them to a rough and terrible play. To them it was rare sport to make believe that this was a coronation day, and grimly ridiculous to speak of a king crowned with thorns, and nailed upon his throne; and they, therefore, caught up the banter, and joined in the chorus of infamy.
IV. Think of this cry as joined in by one, if not both, of the malefactors.—It is at least certain that one of the dying men struck in with the cruel cry.
A storm of voices rang out the call, “Come down from the cross.” The only answer to this exasperating demand was a kingly, expressive silence.
1. It was the silence of power.
2. The silence of intensity in resistance of temptation.
3. He was silent because it was a moral impossibility that He should have come down from the cross.
4. It was the silence of One who was doing a great work, and who would not stop to answer trivial words about it.—C. Stanford, D.D.
Matthew 27:42. Christ’s enemies condemned out of their own mouth.—
I. Their affirmation.—Sublimely true, and it condemns them. “He saved others.” This testimony condemns them:—
1. For their base ingratitude.
2. For their daring impiety.
II. Their denial.—Gloriously true, and it condemns them. “Himself He cannot save.” In the Divinest sense He could not save Himself. His moral weakness here is His glory. He could not, because He had undertaken to die, and He could not break His word. He could not, because the salvation of the world depended upon His death. The greatest man on earth is the man who cannot be unkind, etc. The glory of the omnipotent God is that He cannot lie. Learn:
1. The worst men may give utterance to the greatest truths. These murderers of Christ here proclaim
(1) Christ as a Saviour: “He saved others “;
(2) Christ as a Sacrifice: “Himself He cannot save.” Not a coerced sacrifice, but a voluntary one.
2. The best men are often most glorious in their weakness. “Himself He cannot save.” Godly tradesmen are too weak to make fortunes at the expense of honesty, etc. The grandest man on earth is the man who is too weak to be untrue, ungenerous, and self-seeking.—Homilist.
The cross a throne.—O blind leaders of the blind! that death which seemed to them to shatter His royalty really established it. His cross is His throne of saving power, by which He sways hearts and wills, and because of it He receives from the Father universal dominion, and every knee shall bow to Him. It is just because He did not come down from it that we believe on Him. On His head are many crowns; but, however many they be, they all grow out of the crown of thorns. The true kingship is absolute command over willingly submitted spirits; and it is His death which bows us before Him in raptures of glad love; which counts submission, liberty, and sacrifice blessed. He has the right to command because He has given Himself for us, and His death wakes all-surrendering and all-expecting faith.—A. Maclaren, D.D.
Matthew 27:45. From the sixth hour.—The first three Gospels agree as to time and fact. Assuming them to follow the usual Jewish reckoning (as in Acts 2:15; Acts 3:1; Acts 10:3; Acts 10:9) this would be noon. St. John names the “sixth hour” as the time of our Lord’s final condemnation by Pilate, following apparently (though this is questioned by many interpreters) the Roman or modern mode of reckoning from midnight to noon. Looking to the facts of the case, it is probable that our Lord was taken to the high priest’s palace about 3 a.m. (the “cockcrow” of Mark 13:35). Then came the first hearing before Annas (John 18:13), then the trial before Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin, then the formal meeting that passed the sentence. This would fill up the time probably till 6 a.m., and two hours or so may be allowed for the proceedings before Pilate and Herod. After the trial was over there would naturally be an interval for the soldiers to take their early meal, and then the slow procession to Golgotha, delayed, we may well believe, by our Lord’s falling, once or oftener, beneath the burden of the cross; and so we come to 9 a.m. for His arrival at the place of crucifixion (Plumptre). Darkness.—Not an ordinary eclipse of the sun, inasmuch as the Passover was celebrated at the time of full moon. Over all the land.—The Evangelist was thinking, indefinitely and indeterminately, of the terrestrial region of which Jerusalem was the centre (Morison).
Matthew 27:47. Calleth for Elias.—Calleth Elijah (R.V.). A blasphemous Jewish joke, by an awkward and godless pun upon Eli (Meyer). If we conceive to ourselves the state of matters, we may easily assume that joking and mockery were now past (see Luke 23:48). It may be supposed that the loud cry, “Eli, Eli!” wakened up the consciences of the onlooking Jews, and filled them with the thought, “Perhaps the turning-point may now actually have come, and Elijah may appear to bring in the day of judgment and vengeance;” and, occupied thus, they may not have heard the remaining words (Lange).
Matthew 27:48. Sponge.—Which, perhaps, served as a cork for the vessel containing the vinegar. Gave Him to drink.—Christ drank this draught—
1. Because the wine was unmixed.
2. Because now the moment of rest had come (Lange).
Matthew 27:54. The centurion.—See on Matthew 8:5. He was the “military superintendent of the execution” (Brown). They that were with him.—The quaternion of soldiers (see John 19:23).
Matthew 27:55. Ministering.—See Luke 8:3.
Matthew 27:56. Mary Magdalene.—A native of Magdala, a very warm-hearted disciple of Jesus, out of whom He had cast seven devils (Luke 8:2). There is not the slightest ground in the New Testament history for the popular identification of the Magdalene with the great sinner of Luke 7:36. It had its origin, probably, from the proximity of the two passages (Macpherson). Mary, the mother of James and Joses.—James had been apparently small in stature, and hence, to distinguish him, either from some other James in the same circle, or from the various other Jameses in inter-related circles, he was often called “James the little” (see Mark 15:40). Mary, their mother, need not be confounded with the sister of our Lord’s mother, for it is probable that in John 19:25 four persons, not three, are referred to, and it is unlikely that our Lord’s mother and her sister would each be simply called Mary (Morison). She may have been identical with the wife of Clopas (possibly another form of Alphæus) mentioned in John 19:25 as standing near the cross with the mother of the Lord (Plumptre).
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Matthew 27:45-56
“Articulo mortis.”—In the last passage we found ourselves in front of the cross of the Redeemer. In this, we are witnesses of His actual death—that most momentous of all mundane events. The chief characteristics of the passage are something like those of the passage before. There is profound obscurity, on the one hand; there is marvellous light, on the other.
I. Very great darkness.—Darkness, e.g., in the very atmosphere in which the portent occurred. A kind of pall hung over the whole of the “land” (Matthew 27:45). Darkness, again, with regard to the time—the exact time—of Christ’s death. When events are in progress of such a nature as to wholly absorb the attention and dominate the emotions of those who behold them, they lose their count of the hours. Either they are surprised to find it so late, or else they thought the time had long gone. It is possible also, that, in this case, the very atmospheric darkness just spoken of had made it impossible, by means of the then usual appliances, to determine the exact hour of the day. At any rate, it is as one not certain about it that the Evangelist speaks. He describes the time of death as being simply “about the ninth hour” (Matthew 27:46). Apparently both his ignorance and his accuracy will not let him say more. How much obscurity there is, once more, in the Redeemer’s first cry at that time. That cry itself seems to have left an eternal impression on many who heard it. Through them the very sounds of the language in which it was spoken—apparently a most unusual thing and connected always with occurrences in which life and death or something as wonderful were at issue (see Mark 5:41; Mark 7:34; Mark 7:37, etc.) have been bequeathed to the world (Matthew 27:46). Yet, for all that, and for all the translation here given of the words in question, how much there is in them that is dark! Why is that “Holy One” “forsaken” at all? Why forsaken of “God”? Most emphatic and most astounding is that “Me”! Scarcely less so that “Thou”! How far, also, does that “forsaking” extend? Why does not our Saviour now (cf. His language even a few hours before in the garden, ch. Matthew 26:39; Matthew 26:42; also John 17:0 passim), address God as His Father? Why does He, yet, so emphatically claim God as His own? (Matthew 27:46). Also, can we here be certain even as to the duration of this forsaking? Is it over now? Or still on? Does the Saviour ask “Why hast Thou,” or “Why didst Thou” forsake Me? Is He thus crying out as men do when they feel the utmost severity of a trial all but crushing them as it passes? Or, as men do when they look back on the immensity of what has passed over their heads? What, in fact, is being done—what, in fact, is being endured—to call forth this complaint, this solitary complaint (is it not so?), from that long-suffering Heart? The answer to these questions is not given us here. We can only ask them—afar—in wonder and grief. Finally, what marks of obscurity there are in the effect of this cry on those who stand by. Some mistake its very direction, and think it a call on “Elijah.” One who is near sees in it simply an expression of the intensest bodily pain, and “runs,” therefore, to do what he can in the way of instant assuagement (Matthew 27:48). In others it arouses little more than curious wonder and doubt. Can there be—is there—anything in that singular cry? We can but wait the result (Matthew 27:49). Thus they, at that time, understood little more than that they did not understand what they beheld. Thus we also, at this distance, so far in the story, not seeing much more!
II. Wonderful light.—Wonderful light, in the midst of this very darkness and doubt. We find this, on the one hand, in the second cry of the Saviour (Matthew 27:50). What a revelation of strength, and that in the very act of departure, there is in its character! “Jesus cries with a loud voice.” What a revelation of authority in its language! “Jesus dismisses” (so some) “His spirit” (cf. John 10:18; Hebrews 9:14). Not less light is there, on the other hand, in the replies to this cry. There is one such from the neighbouring temple of God (Matthew 27:51). The jealous privacy of long generations is suddenly gone. The heavy “veil” which for ages past had only just permitted the annual passage of the blood-besprinkled high priest to the glory beyond it, is a means of separation no longer. Like the body of Jesus, it is “rent in twain from the top to the bottom.” There is another reply from the rocks of the earth (ibid.). Their solid strength is torn asunder by the power of that Voice. A third reply comes next from the homes of the dead (Matthew 27:52-53). The graves are opened, and many bodies of the saints which are sleeping there arise, and come (afterwards) into the holy city, and appear unto many. A final and most explicit reply comes from the hearts of the living. Earlier in that day numberless voices had scouted the very idea of that crucified Man being God’s Son (Matthew 27:43). Later on it had almost seemed (Matthew 27:46, supra) as though He had begun to doubt it Himself. Now it is proclaimed virtually by the very voice which had commanded His death. Cæsar it was, in the person of Pilate, who had really ordered that death. Cæsar it is now, by Pilate’s deputy, who confesses this truth. “Truly this was the Son of God” (Matthew 27:54). Thus does Rome itself do homage to that dead “King of the Jews.”
Even this light, however, in one sense, only increases the darkness. If it be marvellous, as indeed it is, to see such innocence delivered to death, it is at least as marvellous to see such omnipotence (is this saying too much?) submitting thereto. What amazing majesty, what more than kingly authority, what superhuman power, have been nailed to that cross! Possibly there may have been some such thoughts in the minds of those faithful ones who are described here (Matthew 27:55-56) as having seen these things “afar off.” We who, in one sense but not in another, stand farther off still, cannot banish them from our minds. What commanding weakness; what awe-inspiring meekness; what dying energy, we see here! Who is this that, in submitting to death, overcomes it as well? Who is this that restores life to others by the act of “dismissing” His own? The Evangelist does not directly inform us how to answer these questions. He simply bids us behold—in this death of Jesus of Nazareth—at once the most significant and the most mysterious of all human events.
HOMILIES ON THE VERSES
Matthew 27:45-46. The cry from the depths.—I. We have to speak about the darkness.—Note:—
1. That it was a darkness which science is unable to explain.
2. The darkness was in keeping with the cry which at this time hung over the Redeemer’s spirit.—God was pleased to make Nature visibly sympathise with the passion of His Son.
3. Regard the darkness at the Crucifixion as a sign from God, intended not only to mark the importance of the event transpiring, but to work upon the consciences of the crucifiers before the deed was done.
II. We have now to speak about the cry.—
1. What was there in this cry different from any other dying cry?—We must take choice of two alternatives; one is that the cry came from a faintness of heart that was unworthy of a man, the other that it came from feeling a mystery of sin-bearing, unfathomable and Divine. That was the cup “tasted,” the cup for the passing away of which from Him, if it were possible, He prayed, and to the drinking of which, if the Will required it, He solemnly devoted Himself.
2. The cry had been foretold.—The exclamation, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” is the first verse, and sounds the very key-note, of the 22nd Psalm. Regarding that psalm as a prophecy of Christ’s thoughts while on the cross, we may fairly regard this verse as indicating the thought that would then have first place and power in the great Atoner’s mind.
3. In this cry we have the perfect example of trust in trial.—C. Stanford, D.D.
Matthew 27:46-49. “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani!”—We have here:—
I. The most wonderful misconstruction put upon a cry of anguish.—“This man calleth for Elias.” No man has been doomed to have his acts, and even his very words, misinterpreted like Christ. Still, we find in their mistake a common fault on the part of the world. In the deepest longings and bitterest cries of your soul, they are always liable to misunderstand you. You are in bereavement, you feel lonely, and utter a wailing lament; and they say, “It is unbelief.” You are cast down by misfortune. Nothing that you have set your hand to has prospered. You have lost all, and you utter a cry of despair; and they say, “You are complaining against God.” You are cast down by doubts, feeling your way after truth, seeking to have a reason for the hope that is in you; and they say, “You are a sceptic,” etc. All this may be hard to bear. Remember David, Job, and Christ, “My God, My God,” etc.
II. A most inadequate relief offered to a spiritual want.—“And straightway one of them ran,” etc. If intended as an opiate, it could not touch the cause of His complaint, could not reach the seat of His suffering. Intentionally or not, it was an insult, a mockery, to offer it. This, however, is another, fault of the world. “If a son shall ask bread of any of you that is a father, will he give him a stone?” etc. No! Yet, when the mind-afflicted is hungering for rest, and the heart-wearied is thirsting for the Divine, the world has nothing better to offer. No narcotic can finally quiet a soul in search after God. All the opiates of earth cannot still its cry.
III. The most heartless indifference shown towards helpless suffering.—“The rest said, Let be,” etc.
1. They were heartless in their own inactivity.
2. They were heartless in their interference. They try to prevent this soldier from administering what would give Him relief.—T. Davis.
Matthew 27:50. Christ yielding up His spirit.—The loud cry of the dying Christ is worthy of record; for crucifixion ordinarily killed by exhaustion, and this cry was evidence of abundant remaining vitality. In accordance therewith, the fact of death is expressed by a phrase, which, though used for ordinary deaths, does yet naturally express the voluntariness of Christ. “He sent away His spirit”—as if He had bid it depart, and it obeyed. Whether the expression may be fairly pressed so far or no, the fact is the same, that Jesus died, not because He was crucified, but because He chose. He was the lord and master of death; and when He bade His armour-bearer strike, the slave struck, and the King died, not like Saul on the field of his defeat, but a victor in and by and over death.—A. Maclaren, D.D.
Matthew 27:51-54. The language of the signs.—
I. The earthquake.—This was:—
1. A sign wrought by the direct and unusual interposition of the Creator.
2. A sign to alarm men, on account of the capital crime which they had just committed.—To shake the hearts, to shake the conscience, to shake up men from the dull dream of a sense-bound existence, did God shake the earth, in the moment when man had just crucified His Son.
3. A sign by which God called attention to the Divine work, which, through the medium of the human work, had just been done.
4. A sign through which God caused the earth to pay royal honour to Jesus, when Jesus died.
5. The earthquake may furnish an illustration of the power that is to work wonders in connection with the cross of Christ.
II. The rent veil.—
1. The rending of the veil was, as it was intended to be, the sign which the Jews noticed first. To them, as Jews, the earthquake, in comparison, was a mere nothing; they forgot the earthquake when they thought of the veil.
2. A sign that the Jewish dispensation was now, by God’s own act, abolished.
3. A sign showing that now, by the death of Christ, there was a revelation of the mystery hid from ages.
4. A sign by which God declared that a free right of way into the Holiest was henceforth open to all.
III. The opening of the graves and the rising of the dead.—Who were these that were raised? What was it precisely that happened at the moment of the Lord’s death? It is vain to conjecture, but at least the miracle teaches how, by the work of Calvary, Christ has power and authority to reconquer from the grasp of death the life that He once created.
IV. The effect of these foregoing signs on the centurion and his companions.—The only man who dared to give Jesus His Divine title was one of the soldiers who were the first sinners for whom He had offered the prayer, “Father, forgive them,” etc.—C. Stanford, D.D.
Matthew 27:52-53. The resurrection of many bodies of the saints which slept.—The fact is expressive of:—
I. The supernaturalness of Christ’s death.—Untold millions of men have died. Thousands have died the death of crucifixion, and tens of thousands of noble and Godlike men have died as martyrs for the truth. But there is not a single death found in all history attended by such marvels as those connected with the death of Christ. No wonder that the centurion and those that stood watching with him exclaimed, “Truly this was the Son of God.” His death had a power over the graves of the departed. It also penetrated Hades. The goodly army of the patriarchs that saw His day in the distance and rejoiced, the illustrious line of the prophets who pointed Him out to their contemporaries, and the holy priests who typified Him in their sacerdotal functions, would all in the spirit world feel the moral vibrations of His cross. But this opening of the graves and attracting the spirits of the holy dead is but a single specimen of the supernatural power of His death. The moral wonders it has wrought are far greater than the material ones which attended His crucifixion.
II. The conditions of the holy dead.—
1. Rest. “Slept.” No terror in sleep. Nothing injurious in sleep. No permanency in sleep.
2. Deep interest in Christ.
3. Not permanent.—There was an alteration now in their condition. A resurrection day to come.
III. The secrecy of the heavenly world.—The fact that we have no record of any communications made by those saints that arose and went to Jerusalem concerning the celestial world in which they had been living, is very remarkable. This strange omission suggests the fact that the particulars of heaven are to be kept secret from men on earth. This truth is supported by the fact that other tenants of the celestial world who have visited this earth have maintained the same silence. Why this secrecy about heaven? Two reasons may be suggested:—
1. Impossibility.—Heaven, both as a place and a feeling, may be altogether so different to men’s experiences of places and emotions on earth, that for the want of comparison human language would be utterly incompetent to convey any information.
2. Impropriety.—A graphic representation of the minute details of heaven to men on earth would not only have been an inconvenience, but an injury. Heaven has in mercy concealed from us all the coming periods of our life, that we may, by attending rightly to the present, be prepared for all the future.—D. Thomas, D.D.
Matthew 27:52-56. Effects of the atoning death of Jesus.—
I. Upon the realm of the dead; beginning of the resurrection.
II. Upon the Gentile world; beginning of confessions (Matthew 27:54).
III. Upon the world of the oppressed classes, viz., of women. Free communion with Christ in spirit, suffering, and victory.—J. P. Lange, D.D.
Matthew 27:56. Mary of Magdala.—She was:—
I. A great sufferer healed by Christ (Luke 8:2).
II. A grateful ministrant to Christ (Luke 8:2-3; Mark 15:41).
III. A faithful adherent to Christ (Mark 15:40; John 19:25).
IV. A sincere mourner for Christ (cf. Matthew 27:61; Mark 15:47; John 20:1-2; John 20:11-18).
V. An honoured messenger of Christ (John 20:17-18; Mark 16:10).—T. S. Dickson, M.A.
Matthew 27:57. Even.—The first or early evening. See Deuteronomy 21:23; Jos., B. J., IV. Matthew 27:2. Arimathæa.—Generally identified’ with Ramathaim-zophim, on Mount Ephraim, the birth-place of Samuel (1 Samuel 1:1), the site of which is not certainly known. Joseph.—A member of the Sanhedrin (Luke 23:50). Disciple.—He must undoubtedly have absented himself from the meetings of the Sanhedrin when Jesus was condemned. See Luke 23:51 (Carr).
Matthew 27:58. Begged the body.—It was the Roman custom to allow the bodies to hang upon the cross till they wasted away, or were consumed by the birds of prey. But should friends request the bodies to be taken for interment, the request could not be refused (Meyer). A concession was made in favour of the Jews, whose law did not suffer a man to hang all night upon a tree (Deuteronomy 21:23) (Carr).
Matthew 27:61. The other Mary.—The mother of James and Joses (Matthew 27:56).
Matthew 27:62. The next day.—On the morrow (R.V.). After sunset on Nisan 14. Preparation.—The “preparation” (Paraskeuè) was a technical term, not, as is sometimes said, in reference to preparing for the Passover, but, as in Mark 15:42, to a preparation for the Sabbath. Josephus, Ant., XVI. vi. 2, is decisive on this point (Plumptre). Several reasons have been assigned for this roundabout way of describing the Sabbath day. Bengel suggests, because St. Matthew did not choose to call the Jewish Sabbath any longer “the Sabbath.”
Matthew 27:64. Until the third day.—The phrase is worth noting, as indicating the meaning which the priests attached to the words “after three days.” They were looking for the fraud which they anticipated as likely to be attempted at the beginning of the third day from the death (Plumptre.) By night.—Omitted in R.V. Error.—Better, deceit, to connect the word, in English as in the Greek, with the “deceiver” of Matthew 27:63 (Plumptre).
Matthew 27:65. Ye have a watch.—A guard (R.V.). See also R.V. margin. The verb may be either indicative or imperative. “The guards had already acted under orders of the Sanhedrin, with Pilate’s consent; but probably they were not clear about employing them as a night watch without Pilate’s express authority” (Brown).
Matthew 27:66. Sealing.—Probably effected by drawing one or more ropes across the stone and fastening either end to the rock with wax or cement of some kind (Plumptre). Setting a watch.—The guard being with them (R.V.). What is meant is that the priests were not content to leave the work to the soldiers, but actually took part in it themselves (ibid.).
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Matthew 27:57-66
Total eclipse.—The mystery attaching to the death of the Saviour does not interfere with its truth. Difficult indeed to account for, it is a fact impossible to deny. This is shown us very convincingly in the words which come next. A like in the behaviour of His friends, on the one hand, and in the conduct of His enemies, on the other, ample evidence is given us here of the absolute certainty of His death.
I. The behaviour of His friends.—The behaviour, in the first place, of one special friend at this time. A certain man of substance (Matthew 27:57) and standing (Mark 15:43), known as Joseph of Arimathæa, was in Jerusalem at this time. A sincere disciple of the now crucified Jesus (Matthew 27:57), he appears yet to have been in such a position (Mark 15:43) as to have had ready access to the governor’s presence. He goes to him accordingly, and asks permission to take down the body of Jesus. After due investigation by the centurion (Mark 15:44-45), Pilate consents, and gives the requisite orders for having the body committed to Joseph’s care. Convincing proof, therefore, that in the eyes of all three, it is now a body without life. Neither would the centurion have certified, nor Joseph asked, nor Pilate consented, had any one of them had any doubt on this point. The behaviour, next, of those who assisted this chief friend at this time. Under his supervision these (doubtless) willing assistants wrap a fair linen cloth with reverent care round the body of Jesus. With equal reverence and care they next lay it in a new sepulchre (Matthew 27:60), which Joseph had caused to be prepared for himself in the solid rock of that spot. After which they proceed, with at least as much care, to close that sepulchre up; a stone of such apparently unusual magnitude being used for that purpose, that it had to be “rolled” to its place notwithstanding the lateness of the hour (Matthew 27:57), and the consequent need of the most urgent despatch (Matthew 27:60; Luke 23:54). In all these steps, therefore, they give us both indubitable and progressive evidence of two things of capital importance in connection with the reality of His death; the one being that these persons were all themselves convinced of the reality of that death, and the other that no appearance whatever in a contrary direction (had there been such in existence), could possibly have escaped their notice whilst taking such steps. To them, in a word, if He had not been dead, the fact must have come out. By them, notwithstanding, He is treated as dead in everything that they do. The behaviour, lastly, of certain other friends who, in all this, sat by (Matthew 27:61). If they have not personally assisted, they have fully acquiesced, in all they see done. They go away, indeed, to show this (see Luke 23:56) in a way of their own. To them also, therefore, the proper place now for the body of Jesus is the place of the dead. Their breaking hearts, also, that would have hoped if they could, have no doubt of His death.
II. The conduct of His enemies.—Their conduct, first, in waiting on the governor. After the burial of Jesus, on “the next day,” the “chief priests and Pharisees” (Matthew 27:62) “came together” to speak to Pilate about Jesus. But their manner of doing so is widely different from what it had been only a short time before. To their apprehension little is now left of Jesus but the memory of His words (see Matthew 27:63). And even this memory appears to them to be deserving of attention only in connection with other men’s acts. Only if the disciples of Jesus were to adventure on “stealing His body away,” and on “saying” afterwards “to the people” that “He had risen from the dead” would there be cause for alarm. In that case, no doubt, the “last error”—as they spake of it—would be “worse than the first.” But, excepting that, they know of nothing now which has to be feared. As one so undeniably dead do they now speak of Jesus in the governor’s ears! Their conduct, next, in watching the sepulchre of Jesus proclaims just the same thing. Pilate’s almost contemptuous reply to their request for a “guard” is all they wish for in other respects. “Take the guard you desire. Go to the sepulchre. Make everything safe” (Matthew 27:65). They go accordingly, and endeavour to do so in every conceivable way. To the security of the huge stone already closing its mouth, they add that of a seal. To this security they add a third, securer than both. A company of Roman soldiers is stationed there as a guard. A guard to do what? To prevent that “seal” from being tampered with; that stone from being removed; that dead man’s body being taken away. Could there well be a louder proclamation of the undoubted reality of Christ’s death? Verily, if these things do not mean this, they mean nothing at all!
In this remarkable succession of proofs we seem to see not a little:—
1. Of the hand of God in the course of events.—We know what the resurrection of Christ now is to the church. On that great reversal depends the reversal of all that we grieve over or fear. Without assurance of this there is neither faith nor hope for the believer in Christ. See such passages as Acts 1:22; Acts 25:19; 1 Corinthians 15:14; 1 Corinthians 15:17; 1 Peter 3:21, etc. But how can there be certainty of the reversal of an evil, without previous certainty concerning the evil itself? How recovery without previous loss? How restoration without previous destruction? How rising again, except out of the grave? And how could proof of this be better accomplished than by that singular accumulation and clearness and variety of evidence of which we have now taken note? Who could deny what Pilate, and the centurion, and Joseph and his companions, all knew to. be true? Or how could even the priests dispute what they had so loudly proclaimed? And is it not reasonable to think, therefore, yet further, that in such a condition of things, the hand of God may be traced? We certainly believe as much in regard to the superstructure of the resurrection? Why not, therefore, in these circumstances, of this its foundation as well?
2. Of the hand of God in the structure of Scripture.—Not only did the things noted prevent denial for the time. The record we have of them was also such as to prevent it for the future. We ourselves now can see from this account of them the absolute certainty of Christ’s death, and so, as it were, the stability of that foundation on which our whole hope is erected. And this evidence we have, also, which is very much more, in the most natural possible way. If there is everything forcible from this point of view, there is nothing forced, in the story before us. No one can suspect the writer, any more than in the parallel cases of Matthew 9:24; Luke 7:12; John 11:17; John 11:39, of having put this evidence in. All the more reason, therefore, is there for believing that it has come in through a greater Hand than his own.
HOMILIES ON THE VERSES
Matthew 27:57. The rich disciple.—He is rich:—
I. In means.—Some are rich in money only. How poor are they!
II. In silence.—Had the courage to hold his tongue. How few regret that they kept silence!
III. In patience.—Valuable the hostility and salutary the fear which leads a man in silence to spin the silken thread of patience, waiting for the kingdom of God.
IV. In courage.—Mark says he went boldly and begged the body of Jesus. The result of silent patience is surprising might.
V. In service.—Timely, distinguished, unique, essential, personal. Did he, unaided, draw the nails, wrap the body, carry it to rest? Nicodemus carrying his hundred pounds of myrrh and aloes. Heroic burden-bearers. He is rich:—
VI. In praise.—Thy daring devotion in the darkest hour has brought thee imperishable renown.—H. T. Miller.
Joseph of Arimathæa.—
I. Cared more about the sepulchre for the dead Christ than service to the living Saviour.—Nothing heard of Him till now. Rich Christians often more careful about ceremonies than true work and the true spirit.
II. Cared more about the silent body than the speaking lips of Jesus.—Hence did not confess and follow the living Redeemer.
III. Though late in the field as a public confessor, His influence was exerted most usefully for the church.—A poor and influential suppliant would have been spurned by Pilate. The wealth of Joseph was his shield. The rich man’s well-constructed tomb furnished opportunities to both foes and friends for testing the reality of the resurrection.
IV. Rich Christians have their uses.—Their influence often protective, and their wealth sustaining to Christian institutions, etc.—J. C. Gray.
Matthew 27:59-60. Christ’s deep humiliation.—
I. The deep humiliation of the Lord Jesus, from the time of His death to His resurrection. He continued in the state of the dead for a time, which was the lowest step of His humiliation, and the deepest abasement of the Son of God.
II. Why our Lord continued in the state of the dead, and under the power of it, for a time.—
1. That the types and prophecies relative thereto might have their accomplishment.
2. To ascertain the reality of His death and resurrection from the dead.
3. That He might fully satisfy the demands of the law and justice of God for our sins.
4. That He might conquer death and the grave in their own territories (Hosea 13:14).—Anon.
Matthew 27:62-66. The guarded sepulchre.—
I. The precautions used to secure the tomb.
II. The advantages derived thence to the cause of Christ.
III. Some general deductions from the subject.—
1. How vain the counsels of the ungodly!
2. How happy are they who have God on their side!—C. Simeon, M.A.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Matthew 27". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent