The Remorse of Judas on the Condemnation of Christ.
We gather from the narrative of the Evangelists that the devil had much to do with the treachery of Judas. He became, as it were, given up to the will of the evil one, surrendering himself as an agent in effecting his purpose against the Anointed of God. But, now, are we to think that there was nothing needed with Judas but the laying before him a certain paltry bribe? that there were no scruples to be overcome, no objections to be removed, before he could be brought to the betraying his Lord? Here, as we think, our text comes in, explaining, or at all events suggesting, how Satan proceeded in working up Judas to his infamous treachery. If it were when he saw that Jesus was condemned, that Judas was seized with the agony of remorse, we may fairly suppose that it was under an expectation that Jesus would not be condemned, that Judas was brought to meditate the crime of his betrayal.
I. We may consider it probable, that the devil suggested to Judas, that by placing Christ in the hands of His enemies He would only afford Him an opportunity of showing His power by defeating their malice. Then with what ease may he have gone forward in his iniquitous treason. His very belief that Jesus was the Christ would only confirm him in the belief that, though betrayed, He would not be condemned. Any rising feeling, as to the ungenerousness of his conduct in requiting with perfidy so gracious a Master, would be kept down by the persuasion that he did but seek that Master's glory.
II. There is something very affecting in the fact that Judas gave himself up to despair on seeing that Jesus was given over to death. Had he had any true notion of what Christ had come to do, it would have been the seeing Him condemned, which would have kept him from suicide. Strange, indeed, was the position of Judas. His was a repentance with no hope, because Christ was condemned; and yet it was Christ's being condemned which should have given hope to repentance. The wretched man died because Christ must die, and yet Christ died that the wretched man might live.
H. Melvill, Penny Pulpit, No. 1,880.
References: Matthew 27:3, Matthew 27:4.—C. Girdlestone, A Course of Sermons, p. 365; E. Mason, A Pastor's Legacy, p. 407.
The text leads us to the contemplation of the conduct and fate of Judas under the remorse occasioned by his betrayal of his Lord. We cannot think any the better of Judas for feeling that remorse, nor will we for a moment admit it as an extenuation of his guilt. Peter wept bitterly after he had denied Christ; but there was more real penitence in his tears than in the frantic desperation of Iscariot when he had handed over his Master to the accuser. The remorse of Judas was but the beginning of his retribution—the first stripe of the avenging angel's lash, not the bleeding of a contrite or relenting heart.
I. Observe that this remorse was caused by looking at the consequences of his sin rather than at the sin itself. It was "when he saw that Jesus was condemned" that he flung down the money before the elders, and gave vent to his despair.
II. The sting of the remorse of Judas arose from the thought of the innocency of Him whom he had betrayed. (1) "I have sinned in that I have betrayed the innocent blood." Although this was the lamentation of his soul, he did not realise the entire greatness of his guilt, because he did not know the full innocence of the betrayed One. Could he but have thought of this, how ineffable would have been his remorse! It drove him to suicide as it was; but if he could have slain himself ten thousand times, it could not have attested all the woe he would have felt had he known all. (2) The sense of wrong-doing eventually becomes intolerable to the wrong-doer. He does not feel it at the time, but the retrospect shall bring the retribution. There is a capacity in the human soul for self-review, and a tendency in that direction also. The barbed thoughts will not be kept down, the unwelcome visitors will not be shut out.
III. The next conspicuous idea presented by the text is the worthlessness of worldly gains. The price of innocent blood lay in the dust, spurned as a loathsome thing by him who had received it; avoided as a merited curse by those who had offered and paid it; no greedy Jew with hardihood enough to pick it up;—a stern and speaking evidence of the worthlessness of guilty gains.
IV. Confederacy in sin does not diminish individual guilt.
V. Note, lastly, the intolerable remorse which sin brings with it, or, at least, brings after it. Whatever we may say about the natural depravity of man, there is a capacity in the soul for suffering through sin, which sometimes makes the thought of a past evil almost maddening. Life to Judas became unbearable, and he went out and hanged himself.
A. Mursell, Calls to the Cross, p. 106.
I. We see from the repentance of Judas how wide is the difference between a sin in prospect and a sin in retrospect. Before, nothing is in sight but the pleasure, or the honour, or the reward. Afterwards the sting alone remains. Judas had his desire, but along with it a famine entered his soul. Those looks and words of kind and deep compassion—that unceasing self-sacrificing care for his happiness and his good, of which at the time he had thought scorn—now rushed upon his mind with a power which he could not resist; and when he saw that Divine Friend handed over by his instrumentality to suffering and to death, that hard heart was subdued for the moment by a thrill of unwonted tenderness, and he who had betrayed his Lord, when he saw that He was condemned, repented himself.
II. Judas repented himself, but with no godly sorrow. His sorrow was neither from God nor towards God. No cry for forgiveness, no entreaty for a new heart, preceded or followed that crushing sense of sin. It was the remorse of despair, the last token of lingering animation in the natural heart, before the light that was in it should have become darkness for ever.
III. For ourselves, then, let us learn not to rest on any signs and circumstances of repentance, but to seek that true renewal of the heart which comes from God only. The nature of the repentance of Judas is proved but too clearly by its end. He had so long despised mercy that at last he despaired of it. How could he, who for three years and a half had accompanied the Lord, had seen His works and heard His words, not only without loving Him, without being attracted by His Divine character, but actually as a spy and a traitor, and who at last had succeeded in delivering Him up to His enemies, and consigning Him to His last sufferings—how could he even hope, even ask, for forgiveness at God's hand? And if not, why should he linger out in blank and utter despair the few short years that might yet have remained to him upon earth? If an eternity of wretchedness must be endured, why seek to curtail it by a few days or months, which in comparison with its endless duration could be but as a drop in the ocean?
C. J. Vaughan, Harrow Sermons, 2nd series, p. 81
References: Matthew 27:3-5.—E. B. Pusey, Parochial Sermons, vol. ii., p. 197; E. M. Goulburn, Occasional Sermons, p. 139; C. A. Fowler, Parochial Sermons, p. 101.
Judas and the Priests—the End of Evil Association.
I. Judas, and the state of mind to which he is brought (1) The first effect of his sin is separation from human companionship. (2) His sin brought him to a state where he was deserted by himself. (3) His sin separated between his soul and God.
II. The chief priests and their conduct. Note (1) their disregard for their instrument when their purpose is gained. (2) Their attempt to shake off the responsibility of the common act. (3) They end their sinful compact with a taunt.
J. Ker, Sermons, p. 282.
References: Matthew 27:4.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. iii., No. 113; R. W. Evans, Parochial Sermons, vol. ii., p. 36; Clergyman's Magazine, vol. iv., p. 86.
(with Luke 23:34)
Self and Christ.
I. Some charges require proof; others are patent, going before unto judgment. The charge of selfishness as a crime of humanity is of the latter kind. To whom need it be proved? As a crime of the race, all plead guilty to it. It is only when we come close home, and charge it upon the man, the separate individual man, that we so much as need a witness. There are forms of selfishness so draped and veiled as to be almost indiscernible. (1) There is a selfishness of earnestness. The man has an end in view, and through quicksands of peril, and over mountains of difficulty, he will reach it or die. The end is a good end; if personal, at least honourable; it may be patriotic; it may be philanthropic; it may be religious. And yet, in his way to it the very earnestness of the aim may make him harsh, narrow, bitter, overbearing, contemptuous. (2) There is a selfishness of affection. Sometimes the very power of loving, beautiful in itself and Godlike, becomes a snare. Viewed in its aspect towards a third person, it may be selfishness; in its aspect towards God, a giving to the creature of affections formed for the Creator. (3) The selfishness of sin. These men who repudiated all share or concern in the misery of Judas, were men who had not only instigated but hired his treachery. Never expect from the accomplice, from the companion of your sin, a burst of hearty natural sympathy, when that sin finds you out.
II. Christ is unselfishness. To see Him, to be united to Him, to be one with Him—and thus it is to be a Christian—is to be like Him in His unselfishness.
C. J. Vaughan, Temple Sermons, p. 101.
References: Matthew 27:4-24.—Contemporary Pulpit, vol. vii., p. 173. Matthew 27:5.—A. Thomas, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xviii., p. 348; G. Dawson, The Authentic Gospel, p. 252.
The Field of Blood.
I. The whole history of the transaction whereby our Saviour was betrayed into the hands of His enemies is brimful of awful interest and solemn edification. First, as proving to us that a man will sell his soul for an utterly vile and paltry thing—and that thing, very possibly, money. Nor can the sin of covetousness occupy so prominent a place in the Gospel, in vain. The reason must be, that we are all more prone to it than we like to believe. Next, it is terribly striking to observe how soon the gratifications of sin prove worthless even in the sinner's eyes; for Judas could not bear to retain his bribe after all.
II. Consider the purpose to which the chief priests are related to have resolved on applying the price of our Lord's blood. It is worth your notice that St. Matthew goes out of his way to relate this circumstance. The precious blood of Christ is so very precious that the very application of the money for which it was sold must needs be related. We learn that the price of Christ's blood was expended in purchasing a field for the burial of strangers; that is of such Gentiles as happened to die at Jerusalem. And what else is this but our own history in a parable? for it is the account of how we, Gentiles, acquired our first interest in the precious blood of Christ. As, by His death, He went to prepare a place for the souls of many; so did He, in dying, procure a place of rest for the bodies of many, likewise. Thrice happy and blessed he who was first conveyed to Aceldama for sepulture. A Gentile he, who was already joined in a species of sacrament to Christ. And what if it were some believer in the despised Jesus of Nazareth—one of the first Christians—who was the first to be buried in the field which Christ's blood had purchased! Would not the outward circumstance and the inward reality have been in marvellous conformity, and had the strictest historical correspondence? Yes, Abraham's true seed, the members of the Christian Church, begin (like their father Abraham) to inherit the promises; and it is—like him—by having a burial-place given them for a possession; and this at a time when God gave them no inheritance in the land, though He had promised them that in the end they should inherit the whole earth.
J. W. Burgon, Ibid., Ninety-one Short Sermons, No. 43.
References: Matthew 27:6.—F. Hastings, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxvii., p. 168. Matthew 27:7.—H. J. Wilmot-Buxton, Sunday Sermonettes for a Year, p. 76.
I. Profoundly interesting is it to note, as traced by St. John, the mortal duel which is fought out between the Roman governor and the Jewish hierarchs; a duel which is not less real, nor waged the less fiercely, because carried on under forms which partially veil it from our eyes, so that only at certain moments the intense hostility which animates both him and them is permitted to appear. The conflict is undecided long, but the Jewish hierarchs are victorious in the end. And no wonder. They know their own minds, and he only half knows his. They are consistent, thorough-going in evil, he is weak and less than half-hearted in good. Perhaps Pilate might have ventured something in the cause of righteousness and truth; but an accusation at Rome, and to Tiberius, the most suspicious of all tyrants, this he could not brave; and it is with this that the Jewish chief priests threaten him. They will charge him at Rome with this, his unseasonable lenity to a rebel and pretender to Cæsar's throne. This they make Pilate clearly to understand, and this is enough. His guilty conscience tells him, that even if in this matter he could clear himself, there were charges enough of malversation, of violence, of cruelty, which they could bring against him, and from which it would be impossible to clear himself. He was prepared to drive matters far, but he dared not drive them so far as this. He delivered Jesus unto them to be crucified.
II. And so ends the tragedy of Pontius Pilate—a bad man, but by no means the worst of that wonderful group which are gathered round the Cross of Christ, and on whom that Cross has poured such a flood of light; who, as actors, abettors, or approvers, share the primary guilt of that crime; the secondary guilt of which is shared by us all. A bad man, but very far from the worst; and therefore the more awful example of the crimes in which men may be entangled merely through a lack of moral stamina; for who can attest to us with such a terrible clearness as he does, how little feeble motions towards good will profit—nay, how they will serve only to deepen the damnation of those who refuse to yield obedience to them: who, seeing what is the better part, do yet for by-ends of worldly policy and convenience, and to make things safe and pleasant to themselves, shrink from the painfulness of duty, and leaving that better part, choose the worse?
R. C. Trench, Sermons in Ireland, p. 212.
Reference: Matthew 27:14.—Spurgeon, Morning by Morning, p. 93.
The great practical truth which ought to be derived from the text is, that, however our actions have been foreknown and overruled by God, we shall be answerable for them, as resulting from our own will and wrought in opposition to sufficient warning and instruction.
I. It may occur to us as in some respects singular, that this vision was to Pilate's wife, and not to Pilate himself. Why was there this indirect communication? We can only say, that this would greatly depend on points in Pilate's character with which we have not full acquaintance, and that we are bound to conclude that God took the course which was best adapted, on the whole, to the circumstances of the case. As the supernatural message came through Pilate's wife, there may have been furnished a double motive to the governor; in addition to obedience to the vision, there may have been the desire of pleasing the person to whom it had been granted. The attachment of Pilate to his wife may have been great; and on such a supposition, the terrors of the vision would have been more effective upon Pilate as conveyed to him through the tears and entreaties of her whom he loved, than had they burst upon him in their unearthliness, with all the demonstrations of superhuman agency.
II. Observe how greatly it increased the criminality of Pilate, that the message of his wife reached him at the very moment of his taking his place on the judgment seat. Whatever power the vision could have was brought to bear upon him at the precise moment when he most required aid; and the whole thing was ordered, so as to afford him the strongest possible assurance that it had come as a warning from God, and to afford it him when it was most likely to strengthen him to do right. We believe that the same accurate timing of warning and admonition is to be traced in the experience of all, so that, if any one would carefully observe how things fall out when he is exposed to temptation, he would find proof that God sends him seasonable aids, and disposes events to the strengthening him to resist and overcome. Certainly, if He took care that Pilate should receive a message just as he ascended the tribunal whence he would be tempted to deliver a wrong verdict; He will not leave without the appropriate assistance any of those who, being brought into perilous circumstances, are sincerely desirous to keep unsullied their Christian profession.
H. Melvill, Sermons on Less Prominent Facts, vol. ii., p. 258.
I. Pilate's behaviour on the occasion of this memorable trial. Our Lord's accusers told him that they had brought Jesus there on political grounds, because He disturbed the public peace by assuming a royal title, by inciting the people to insurrection, and by forbidding them to pay the customary tribute to Rome. This, of course, was a most transparent falsehood, and the shrewd Roman saw through it at a glance. It was absurd to suppose that an attempt to free the nation from the yoke of the foreigner could be criminal in the eyes of the Jewish Sanhedrim. There must be some deeper motive, which at present he could not fathom, for this particular proceeding. Pilate was inclined to do right, but feared to do right. At one time he thought he would follow his convictions and take the consequences. At another time these consequences seemed so appalling that he shrank from the step which would involve him in them. He hesitated, he wavered, and it was just at this very crisis of his fate that there came a supernatural impulse—a warning from Heaven that he could not have expected or hoped for to urge him in the right direction. But it was all to no purpose. The populace, instigated by their priests, chose Barabbas for pardon, howled for the death of Jesus; and the unhappy Roman governor gave way when he heard their clamour.
II. The Saviour's mode of dealing with this unhappy man. It is obvious, on the very surface of the narrative, that Christ did all in His power to save Pilate from the commission of this monstrous crime. He endeavoured to awaken Pilate's conscience, to strengthen his good resolutions, to make him understand the unspeakable importance of the circumstances in which he was placed; and we can see clearly that He produced an impression which although it did not, unhappily, lead to the desired result never passed away entirely from the mind of the Roman official. But another agency still is brought to bear upon the Roman governor, even the supernatural agency connected with the dream of his wife. We may suppose that Pilate was greatly attached to his wife. This circumstance is rendered more probable by the fact that he had brought her with him into the province, whereas to have left her behind would have been in accordance with the usual custom of the Jewish procurators. When this message comes therefore from one of whose sincerity and affection he could not for a moment stand in doubt, can it be supposed that even the words of Jesus Himself would produce a deeper effect upon the mind of this perplexed and vacillating man? I cannot but look upon this incident as the supreme Divine effort for the salvation of the sinner, as the last instrumentality which even God Himself was able to employ, the success or failure of which would decide the question of Pilate's eternal destiny.
G. Calthrop, Penny Pulpit, No. 1,059.
References: Matthew 27:19.—T. R. Stevenson, Christian World Pulpit, vol. vi., p. 14; D. G. Watt, Ibid., vol. xv., p. 366; G. T. Coster, Ibid., vol. xxviii., p. 118; Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxviii., No. 1647; Homiletic Magazine, vol. xii., p. 246. Matthew 27:20.—H. Phillips, Christian World Pulpit, vol. i., p. 478. Matthew 27:20-54.—Parker, Inner Life of Christ, vol. iii., p. 248.
I. All of life is one great warfare. Every thought, word, and deed is a portion of it. All the history of our race, from Adam's fall until our Lord, shall, at His coming, destroy Antichrist with the spirit of His mouth, is one long attempt of the evil one to set up his authority in the place of God's, and to dispute His sovereignty over His creatures. God offers us eternity of bliss, pleasures for evermore in Him: Satan so prolongs the present with busy thoughts and schemes and anticipations, as to hide from us an eternity of woe with him. All time is one history of this one manifold choice. All throughout the whole world is one choice between God and Satan, Christ and Barabbas. We know not, indeed, what we do; and so, again and again, our blessed Lord intercedes for those who deliver Him to His foes. But whenever a choice is given, if we have but any fear that we are choosing amiss, if we do what we suspect to be wrong, or worse, if we say wilfully what we think better unsaid—what do we, in fact, but choose Barabbas?
II. We can never make any real progress in holiness, we can hardly take the very first step, we shall be constantly slipping backwards, until, by God's mercy, we have this stamped upon our souls, that we are ever anew making, that we must in all things make, this choice. There are degrees of choice; as there were degrees and steps in the rejection of our Lord. But there is no safety against making the very worst choice, except in the fixed conscious purpose, in all things to make the best. The character deepens unconsciously; and at last, in men's sight and but for some mighty interposition of God, it becomes fixed; because it has all along been secretly following or resisting grace, and so choosing God, or rejecting Him. Men will not think they sin; the Jews would not think that Jesus was indeed the Christ; but both crucify Him; and to persuade themselves that they do not only makes their repentance hopeless. Men desire to do things for Him, and then by some self-deceit seek to obtain for them praise of men; or they would give themselves to God's service, and then become ambitious, as they think, to promote His glory, and end in becoming worldly. They would love God, and end in loving self. What is all this but strictly to go on the way with Jesus, lead Him into the holy city, sing hosannas to Him, and then prefer to Him Barabbas?
E. B. Pusey, Sermons for the Church's Seasons, p. 274.
I. The Roman proconsul looks with a strange mixture of awe and surprise at the poor weary prisoner, and asks, "Art Thou a king?" His wife's dream had warned him that there was something uncommon about this man, and he was more than willing to set Him free, for he could find no fault in Him. Pilate's relations with Rome, however, made him afraid to risk a tumult, and so, yielding to the popular clamour which demanded His death, and which threatened to swell into a riot, Pilate delivered Jesus unto them. That was his answer to the awful question of the text.
II. The question which Pilate asked, and which he answered so fatally, is a question which we have, every one of us, still to answer. It is far more awful for us than it was for Pilate. We have to answer it with a full knowledge of what Jesus was and is. We have to answer it aided by the light of centuries streaming upon that Divine Face. So long as Christ is popular, so long as being with Him means going on safely with a rejoicing, happy multitude, there is no doubt or difficulty as to what we will do with Christ; we will gladly follow Him. But there come awful moments in every experience—the Passion Week of every life—when the Christ stands pleading before your soul. A wild, frenzied mob of passions, prejudices, indulgences, sins, raise their murderous clamour, and demand that we shall give Him up—that we shall take into our favour some other popular idol—and each of us has then to answer the question, "What shall I do then with Jesus?" We try to escape it; we endeavour to postpone it as Pilate did, by general discussions about abstract truth. Then we soothe ourselves with the thought that the words which once moved us were exaggerated; this cannot be the Christ; until some great moment of trial comes, and the earth and all that we thought solid and durable in life quakes beneath us, and a darkness, perhaps the darkness of death falls upon us; and then old sins, old decisions for evil, come forth from the graves of memory, and appear unto us, and in the agony of our souls we cry, as the terrible conviction then comes upon us: "Truly, this was the Son of God!"
T. T. Shore, The Life of the World to Come, p. 127.
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 with Jesus, which is called Christ?" 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 today. 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: "Away with Him!"
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 that 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. 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, Oxford and Cambridge Journal, March 2nd, 1882.
I. The title given to Jesus in this question: "Jesus which is called Christ." How came Pilate by the knowledge of the descriptive and official title here used—"Christ"? Christ never once occurs in the language of the Jewish clerics addressed to Him, as reported in these chapters. "Christ" is not a Roman word, and it represents no idea that belongs to the Roman religion. Perhaps it was to Him only a sound; but it was a sound that had been sufficiently repeated in his hearing to get fixed in his memory, and to be regarded as connected with the name of Jesus.
II. The embarrassment that prompted the utterance of this question. When we try to trace what led up to it, our conclusion is, that it began to darkle in his heart long before it came on his lip, in fact, we seem to see it working with silent but gathering strength through all the stages of the trial. The defeat of Pilate's attempt to find a substitute for Jesus had brought him to the last extremity. It was the custom of the Romans, at the feasts, to release a prisoner doomed to die, the people being allowed the right to name him. Pilate wished them to consider Jesus as the sentenced prisoner, but to release Him, and to take in His place a certain infamous criminal called Barabbas. This woke a furious cry of resentment. Then the question came out. Silent until now, at last it found language. His tortuous policy had no other contrivance at command, he lost himself, and did the most pitiable thing a judge can do, that is, he asked the advice of the prosecutors. In a burst of desperation he said, "What shall I do then with Jesus which is called Christ?"
III. Regard this as a present question—What shall you do to Him which is called Christ? will you be neutral? This is what Pilate tried to be. He would take, as he imagined, no part, one way or the other. He had no strong feeling in either direction, no earnestness of any kind, no animus against the accused and none against the accusers: he would only lift a protest, just to satisfy his conscience and save his honour; but would not make a strong stand on either side, and he would simply and fairly keep neutral. We know not a few who are like him. When we think of him, and of those who tread in his steps, two scenes rise before our imagination. The first scene is that of Jesus before the bar of Pilate. Pilate is neutral. The other is that of Pilate at the bar of Jesus. Hell is due; despair is due; sin has to be paid for; Jesus alone is the one constituted Saviour, and now Jesus is neutral. This is a vision: may it never be a reality.
C. Stanford, The Evening of Our Lord's Ministry, p. 256.
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. Why all this reluctance on his part to send Jesus to the cross? He was not usually so scrupulous. Wherefore, then, 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. All the controversies of our times, social, philosophical, and theological, lead up to, and find their ultimate hinge in, the answer to this inquiry, "Who is this Jesus Christ?" Those in the age who have the spirit and disposition of Pilate will anew reject Him; but those who are sincere and earnest in their inquiries will come ultimately out into the light; for "if any man be willing to do His will, he shall know of the doctrine whether it be of God."
III. And what is true of the age, as a whole, is true also of every individual to whom the Gospel is proclaimed. For each of us this is the question of questions, "What shall I do with Jesus, which is called Christ?" You cannot evade the decision, but be sure that you look at the Christ before you give Him up.
W. M. Taylor, Contrary Winds, p. 37.
References: Matthew 27:22.—Contemporary Pulpit, vol. ix., p. 96; J. Fraser, University Sermons, p. 1; H. W. Beecher, Sermons (1870), p. 233; Clergyman's Magazine, vol. i., p. 115. Spurgeon, Three Hundred Outlines from the New Testament, p. 31; New Manual of Sunday-school Addresses, p. 75. Matthew 27:23-26.—Homiletic Magazine, vol. x., p. 204.
From this act of Pilate's, I suppose, has arisen a phrase which has passed into the common language of mankind. We talk of washing our hands of a business, and we mean thereby that we will have nothing to do with it. This is exactly what Pilate meant. But there are certain situations in life where it is not possible to rid oneself of a responsibility, and Pilate was precisely placed in such a situation. Act he must, and act he did. How he desired to act the incident recorded in the text shows clearly enough. He would have given much to set our Saviour free. He went through a barren form, therefore, staining his hands with the very water wherewith he washed them, and proclaiming his own guilt even while he declared our Lord's innocence.
I. Most persons are secretly inclined to pity rather than to blame Pilate; for his conduct gives one the notion of a man driven by circumstances to pursue a course which was contrary to his nature. I take leave to say at once that this is a mistake. Pilate's nature is a matter of express record, and it proves to have been stubborn, pitiless, inflexible, implacable. Harsh, stern, relentless, and unfeeling he is proved by many of his known acts to have been. If we behold Pilate thus irresolute, it is not him we must pity, but the mercies of Christ which we must rather admire. We infer the calm majesty, the grand innocence, the overwhelming nobility of the Lord, that the sight of Him could fairly unnerve, and overawe, and paralyze, and perplex such a one as Pontius Pilate.
II. It is remarked by Bishop Pearson (in his book on the Creed) that it was "necessary to include the name of Pilate in our Creed: (1) that we might for ever be assured of the time when our Saviour suffered; (2) because Pilate gave a most powerful external testimony to the certainty of our Saviour's death, and the innocency of His life; (3) that thereby we might understand how it came to pass that Christ should suffer, according to the Scriptures." But I am persuaded that there is yet another reason why the name of the Roman governor is there, and it is in order that it might be an eternal reminder to men that, with every sinful transaction the name of him who connives at it, as well as of him who commits it, is linked in God's sight, and will be linked for ever. The contriver of an iniquity is the doer thereof, but the abetter of sin is by no means guiltless. His name is tied fast to it, and can never be disconnected from it any more.
J. W. Burgon, Ninety-one Short Sermons, No. 37.
References: Matthew 27:24.—Preacher's Monthly, vol. ii., p. 115; vol. iii., p. 213; W. M. Taylor, Three Hundred Outlines from the New Testament, p. 32.
The Character of Pilate.
I. There is nothing in the Gospel account of Pilate which is repugnant to the representation of Philo and Josephus. A man of the world without principle is described in both. Nowhere can we fasten on Pilate one single conviction, whether moral or religious. When he came in contact with firm belief in others he was utterly perplexed. When the Jews had remonstrated against bringing the effigies of Cæsar into the city he threatened them with instant death; but the Jewish historian tells us that they bared their throats to the sword, saying, "Death is better than that our laws should be broken," and the weak spirit was overcome by a courage so unintelligible—how could men be willing to die upon a question of images?—and he laid his cruel threats aside, not without admiration, and carried back the obnoxious ensigns to Cæsarea. For ten years he managed to govern the most stubborn people of all the tributaries of the Empire, for a master hard to please. Perhaps from the Roman point of view he had merits as a governor. Where he saw his way clearly he was firm. His cruelty and harshness appeared, perhaps, the best means of restraining a most turbulent race, and so were adopted deliberately. Pilate was a man, then, devoted to his own profession, doing his best to satisfy the master whom he served, and hoping to be rewarded in time with a higher command. But the Jews knew well the weak point in his position, and the power which it gave them over him: "If thou let this man go thou art not Cæsar's friend."
II. Instead of thinking the Roman governor a monster without parallel, I am persuaded that characters of that type are the commonest that can be found. The man who, much occupied in his own worldly engagements, becomes convinced, by some means of God's sending, that Christ is truly the Son of God and our Redeemer, yet has not the moral courage to take that truth home to his heart, and let it fashion all his life without regard to what others may say of him, is that a character hard to discover? To say "I find no fault in him," to wash the hands from participation in His blood, to set up over Him "The King of the Jews," and refuse to take it down—such was the Christianity of Pilate; and I fear that many men go no farther. If, from the fear of being singular, we dare not follow Him whom we know to have the right to lead us, then Pilate's sin is repeating itself in us.
Archbishop Thomson, Lincoln's Inn Sermons, p. 47.
References: Matthew 27:24, Matthew 27:25.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxviii., No. 1648; H. W. Beecher, Sermons, 1st series, p. 92.
Behold the Man.
I. Behold the Man, and see who He is. We see that He is a real and actual man. Men had been on the outlook for that Son of God who should come down in the likeness of man. Perhaps no one expected that the Coming One would prove to be a real man; perhaps even the Jews, to whom pertained the oracles of God, rejected that idea as incongruous and mean, and thought that no hint could be found that Jehovah would ever dwell among them in the nature of such humanity as they could yet imagine; but all expected Him "in the likeness of man." At last He came. "Behold the Man."
II. Behold the Man, and see the tokens of His sorrow. (1) See in these tokens inflictions meant to express contemptuous rejection. (2) See in these sufferings, the tokens of which Christ bore upon Him, some of the sufferings that He volunteered to endure for us men, and for our salvation.
III. Behold the Man, and decide upon what you mean to do. Decide whether you will vote, or not vote, for his crucifixion, was Pilate's meaning. That question was settled instantly, but the words are used now to quicken your decision on questions of infinite moment still pending. (1) Behold Him, and say whether you will trust your souls with Him or not. Make sure against mistakes on a question so vital as this. Consult the book which is the only verbal authority on the question, the only ultimate standard by which you can decide all controversies in relation to it; resolve to act on what that book declares, and say, will you trust Jesus Christ only, or not? There is not a moment left for trying experiments or making delays. The present life is but "a comma in the endless volume of eternity," and to some of you but a fraction of this life remains. If there be any other foundation on which to build, build upon it; if there be any other name given under heaven, in which you may safely trust for your salvation, trust in that favourite name; if there be any other and any better refuge, fly to it; but if not, at once behold as your one undivided object of trust the Saviour whom we preach. (2) Behold Him, and settle whether you will take Him for your example or not. "Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that we should follow His steps."
C. Stanford, Evening of our Lord's Ministry, p. 289.
(with Mark 15:15-37)
Christ on the Cross.
Christ on the Cross is our subject. You know His history, And when you read, "The people stood beholding" you will be ready to add, "And no wonder." Here, before their eyes, was the tragic consummation of a life that was begotten by the Holy Ghost, born of a virgin, and signalized at its birth by the homage of both heaven and earth.
I. His nature was singularly complete. No one of the constitutional temperaments usually distinctive and characteristic of other men is seen in Him, for all of them are resolved in the perfect completeness of His manhood.
II. This completeness of nature displays itself in a corresponding harmony of life. Though of Jewish birth, He was free from bigotry and wedded to no class opinions. In His life there was no excess nor defect, no exaggeration nor narrowness. It presents a complete sphere of beautiful virtue and devout piety, in which all qualities find room for equable adjustment and contribute to an intenser harmony.
III. Notwithstanding such an inward fulness of perfect being, but indeed because of it, His life was full of grief and trouble; His countenance was marred; He was a man of sorrows; grief was His acquaintance, for while His own soul was clear as a morning without clouds, He ever shared the lot of those who sat in darkness, that He might lessen their gloom. He lived not to Himself, but gave His life in service to all.
IV. What think we of Him? Who can doubt that among all the sons of men He only is the Son of man, humanity's root and flower; that in Him all men are united in their ground and Head? But if among the sons of men He only is the Son of man, it can only be because, among all the sons of God, He only is the Son of God, embodying and representing the fulness and glory of God as He embodies and represents the fulness and glory of man. Let us learn to regard His death as sin's great act, as the culminating deed of sinful development in the world's history. The spiritual and worldly powers unite to crucify the Holy One of God. The cross of Christ is a revelation of the sin and guilt of the whole world. But, wonder of wonders! if it is sin's great act, it is also sin's great cure. The cross, which is a monument of the world's doom, is also a standard of the world's deliverance.
W. Pulsford, Trinity Church Sermons, p. 119.
Jesus and Tiberius.
I. Consider the equity of mankind, which was at the same moment awarding to Jesus derision, torture, death, and to Tiberius the most servile and adulatory homage. The equity of mankind, did I say? May we with reverence ascend higher than mankind, and without impeaching the righteousness of the Supreme, ask why His lightnings were not despatched to calcine that Roman despot, and why legions of angels did not descend upon the Prætorium of Pontius to rescue Jesus from His executioners? Why do success and honour wait thus obsequiously upon vice, while holiness encounters only failure and contempt? Is this earth the workmanship and property of One in whom mercy and righteousness meet together? or is it the plaything of some malign power who delights only in obliquity, incongruity, and paradox?
II. What the vulgar world counts ignominious and of low esteem is not the measure of real and moral greatness, or of real and supreme happiness. Look for a moment at the scene especially presented to us in the narrative of the agony in Gethsemane; the cruelty in the Prætorium; the tragedy upon the cross; the burial in the Arimathean's garden; and then pass to that august day when the conscience of all nations shall be brought before the judgment-seat of Christ. Here, then, with what a different tone it is exclaimed, "Hail, King of the Jews!" Yes; Hail, King of Jew, and King of Gentile, and King of all humanity! It was Thou who didst first reveal to us a universal Father of compassion, a compassion wider than the east is from the west; it was Thou who didst teach us that though He sits upon a throne in heaven, He permits us also to receive Him as a guest into our hearts; it was Thou who, by sealing upon the cross the truths which have redeemed mankind, hast won a name which is above every name, and at which every knee must bow.
W. H. Brookfield, Sermons, p. 216.
References: Matthew 27:29.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xx., No. 1168; Ibid., My Sermon Notes: Gospels and Acts, p. 53; F. W. Brown, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xix., p. 270; Preacher's Monthly, vol. x., p. 85; G. Brooks, Five Hundred Outlines of Sermons, p. 406; Homiletic Quarterly; vol. vi., p. 212. Matthew 27:32.—T. Gasquoine, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xviii., p. 85. Matthew 27:35.—Preacher's Monthly, vol. i., p. 294; B. J. Snell, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxiv., p. 372; Case, Short Practical Sermons, p. 104.
I. We could not spare this incident; it would leave a gap in the evangelical histories, which it would be quite beyond our power to fill. We have indeed evidence that Christ could hunger and thirst and be weary—and all such evidence is precious, as testifying to the real humanity of the Saviour. But, nevertheless, the evidence is far from being considerable; and if you set it against the account of a crucifixion, in which there is not the least proof that any pain was felt, you might find it hard to furnish a convincing demonstration that Christ suffered in the body like one of ourselves. But the text gives evidence enough to assure the most doubtful that He is verily a man, with all a man's susceptibilities, His consciousness of pain, His capacity of being tortured. For as He came out from the city, bearing His cross, so worn down was He by His sufferings, so faint with loss of blood, so exhausted by fatigue, that even His remorseless enemies either pitied Him or feared that He would die before He was crucified; the soldiers "found a man of Cyrene, Simon by name, and him they compelled to bear His cross."
II. We can hardly doubt that an event, which has apparently so much significance, was designed to be received by us as a parable, and interpreted as a lesson to the Church. What the Saviour had spoken of, and what He had enjoined, was simply the bearing of the cross—the performing duties and the submitting to endurances, from which nature might be adverse, but which were appointed unto those who would gain eternal life. He had not spoken of His own cross as that which His disciples were to carry; but now, before He departs from the world, He would teach them that they must not only bear some cross or other, if they would follow Him to glory, but that very cross which He carried Himself. Many a cross is of our own manufacture, our troubles are often but the consequences of our sins, and we may not dignify these by supposing them the cross which is to distinguish the Christian. Crosses they may be, but they are not the cross which was laid upon Simon, and which had first been on Christ. He alone bears Christ's cross who suffers in His cause, who has troubles to endure simply because he is a Christian.
H. Melvill, Sermons on Less Prominent Facts, vol. ii., p. 208.
The lessons that the incident teaches us may be very simply gathered together.
I. First we infer from this the old truth of how ignorant men are of the real meaning and outcome of what they do. These four Roman soldiers were foreigners; I suppose they could not speak a word to a man in that crowd. They had plenty of practice in crucifying Jews. It was part of their ordinary work in these troublesome times, and this was just one more. They went back to their barracks stolid and unconcerned, and utterly ignorant of what they had been about. Well, now, so are we all, though in less extreme fashion. No man knows the real meaning, and none of us know the possible issues and outcome, of a great part of our lives. We are like people sowing seed in the dark; it is put into our hands, and we sow. We do the deed; this end of it is in our power, but where it runs out to, and what will come of it, lie far beyond our ken.
II. Take another very simple and equally plain lesson from this incident; viz., the limitation of responsibility by knowledge. These men were ignorant of what they were doing, and therefore they were guiltless. Christ said that Himself: "They know not what they do." But it is marvellous to observe that while the people that stood round the cross, and were associated in the act that led Jesus there, had all degrees of responsibility, the least guilty of the whole were the men that did the actual work of nailing Him to the cross, and lifting it with Him upon it. As knowledge and light rise and fall, so responsibility rises and falls along with them.
III. The last lesson is, How possible it is to look at Christ on the cross and see nothing.
A. Maclaren, Christian Commonwealth, August 5th, 1886.
References: Matthew 27:36.—New Outlines on the New Testament, p. 18; Lefroy, Literary Churchman, Sermons, p. 96; Clergyman's Magazine, vol. xii., p. 148.
The First Effect of the Crucifixion.
I. Identify the persons who uttered this taunt. They were, I think, not like the other people present, there on purpose for the show; no idlers, no loiterers, no sightseers were they. They were bound for the city, and we may fairly assume that they were bound on business. We are not directly told that they were the persons elsewhere spoken of as the buyers and sellers in the Temple, but that they were so is a fair and almost inevitable inference from recorded facts.
II. Recall the speech of Christ which had given these revilers such deep offence. The Lamb of God was the Son of God, and therefore Lord of the Temple. This He declared Himself to be. It was no unsustained assertion; the supernatural power put forth, both in what He said and what He did, proved it. These men now remembered His words in answer to their former demand for a sign, "Destroy this temple, and I will build it again in three days." In the sudden light of hell fire they saw that these words might be so reported as to secure His conviction for a capital offence. They had no time personally to work the contrivance, but there hung about the doorways vile creatures who would swear to anything for money, and two of these they paid to be ready when called upon to swear thus: "This fellow said, I am able to destroy the Temple of God, and to build it in three days."
III. See how these men turned this speech of Christ into ridicule. They exulted to see Him on the cross. They were not afraid that He could hurt them now. It was perfectly safe to insult that which was dying on a cross, therefore they insulted the Sufferer, and this was the spirit of their terrible mirth, "Come down from the cross, if you can! You cast us out of the Temple twice; cast us out again."
IV. Observe that just at the time when this saying was being ridiculed it was being verified. All was coming to pass just as He had said, He had never said, "I will destroy this temple;" when He said "Destroy it" the force of the word was declarative rather than imperative, and He only intimated that if they did, or when they did, destroy His body, He would raise it again in three days. The first part of the oracle was now being fulfilled; the body was being destroyed. The second part was to be fulfilled in three days.
V. Observe the indifference to the death of Christ which these words imply. These men had their fling at the Crucified One; but the crucifixion was no business of theirs; their business was in the city. Jesus heard the men fling their taunt, saw them pass by, and was hurt because they had no pity for themselves. The words of the prophet express the spirit of Jesus, His spirit then, His spirit now, "Is it nothing to you that pass by?"
C. Stanford, Voices from Calvary, p. 71.
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. When they had been in His congregation they saw that sure enough He was a man. A man's foot flashed out that wet print in the sand; a man's voice lived in His lips; it was a man's tear that they saw glisten. Now, pointing to that which was on the cross, whatever were the words they actually uttered, the language of their spirit was, "Look at that! is the Godhead under that veil of horror? is it likely?" "Come down from the cross," they cried, and in that cry they dared Him to come down.
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, Voices from Calvary, p. 93.
The Patience of Christ on the Cross.
I. It was a cruel aggravation of the sufferings of our blessed Lord to heap reproaches on His head, even after His enemies had secured His condemnation. Their revilings proved their malice. As to the motives of their conduct, Nature seems to plead with us for them, that such inhuman cruelty was not their own by nature. The truth is, they were not their own masters; they were the ministers of Satan. They had so wilfully indulged their deadly temper that they were given over to Satan, and in these words, "Come down from the cross," they were uttering the wish of Satan.
II. And here, again, is a terrible lesson! All mankind shall minister to the glory of God—some by receiving His saving mercy, some by falling under His awful judgment. Have you ever thought of the meaning of these words in the Proverbs, "The Lord hath made all things for Himself; yea, even the wicked for the day of evil?" Christ had taken upon Himself the work of the atonement, and He would not put it down till it was finished. Think how sublime is His patience. He was deserted by His friends, surrounded by His enemies. With one movement of His limbs He could have loosened the nails, and stepped upon the earth, and made it shake with the tread of angels' feet. But they cried on, and louder, "Come down from the cross." He seems as one that is deaf and does not hear. It was not His Divine nature, impassive and insensible of temptation, but His strong human purpose of obedience, that was the secret of His undeviating patience. Human nature in His person felt the force of counter attractions and overcame them; it swerved not from its single purpose.
III. The transcendent result of this patience is, of course, the perfection of the atonement; but there is another, worthy of all consideration. Observe the repose and tranquillity which result from patience. Around our Lord there were confused cries and restless tormenting questionings; but He was calm and serene, because He had a single purpose and was patient. The depth of His repose you may attempt to conjecture by His sublime silence, by the calmness of His speech when His lips moved, by His unselfish regard for others. He let the order of Eternal Wisdom take its course; He never interrupted it. He had come for one purpose, only to fulfil it; and while heaven and hell met in conflict, and the earth shook with the concussion, He was calm, and gentle, and full of peace.
C. W. Furse, Sermons at Richmond, p. 32.
References: Matthew 27:42.—Clergyman's Magazine, vol. iv., p. 89; Homiletic Quarterly, vol. iii., p. 267; Ibid., vol. v. p. 159; H. G. Robinson, Man in the Image of God, p. 139; Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxx., p. 245.
The Mockers at the Cross.
I. The first remark that strikes me as deducible from the whole of these words before us is this, that Christ's cross apparently shatters to fragments Christ's claims. Either Jesus Christ died and rose again from the dead, and then He is the Son of God, as He claimed to be; or He died like other men, and there is an end of it. And then it is of no use to talk about Him as a wise teacher and a lovely perfect character; He is a fanatical enthusiast, all the beauty of whose religious teaching is marred and spoiled by the extravagant personal claims which He attached to it. We must dismiss the fair dream of a perfect Man, unless we are prepared to go farther, and say an incarnate God. The cross of Christ shatters the claims of Christ, except He be risen from the dead and exalted to the right hand of God.
II. "He saved others; Himself He cannot save." The cross of Christ is a necessity, to which He voluntarily submitted in order to save a world. These men only needed to alter one letter to be grandly and gloriously right. If instead of "could not," they had said "would not," they would have grasped the very heart of the power, and the very central brightness of the glory of Christianity. It was His own will, and no outward necessity, that fastened Him there; and that will was kept steadfast and immovable by nothing else but His love. He Himself fixed the iron chain which bound Him.
III. The cross is the throne of Christ. In one aspect His death is the lowest point of His humiliation; in another it is the highest point of His glorifying. In one aspect it is His stooping to the lowliest condition of the lowly whom He would serve; in another it is, as He called it Himself, the hour in which "the Son of man shall be glorified."
IV. The concluding taunt here gives us another thought, viz., that the death of Christ is the great proof that God had delight in Him. Christ's faith never reached a higher energy than it did in that solemn and mysterious moment when it blended with the sense of desolation in that cry, "My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?" and God's delight in His well-beloved Son reached its highest energy in the same moment when He became obedient unto death.
A. Maclaren, Christian Commonwealth, Nov. 12th, 1885.
Good Friday and its Lessons.
There are two outward incidents recorded in connection with the story of the crucifixion which always impress the mind with a sense of solemnity: one is the rending of the veil of the Temple, the other is the darkness which is recorded to have passed over the face of the land. I propose to say a few words on the dark shadow which belongs to the best of things. We must not be discouraged if we find that the Divine light, coming into the world of human mist and darkness, has itself been at times obscured by that darkness; and now on this great day, this supreme trial of the Christian faith, it might have seemed that Christianity had turned out to be a failure. The grandest career, the holiest cause that ever dawned upon the earth, had ended not in a splendid triumph, but in a dismal ignominious defeat. What, then, do we learn from this?
I. The first lesson is patience and perseverance. We must be patient with others if they stumble in this darkness, if they do not at once find their way towards the truth. There is a darkness of the light for the whole earth, or at least a shadow of suspense and of waiting in which it may well be that some shall find it their first duty to stand and wait, for whom Luther's text and motto is their best decree, "In silence and in hope shall be our strength."
II. And secondly, the darkness of Good Friday at the cross of Calvary is a likeness of the opposition which each one of us ought to be and will be called to face in doing his duty. Those only can avoid offence who shrink from their appointed tasks, who yield to everything, and who so pass out of life without being spoken against because they never will be spoken of at all. "No cross, no crown;" that is to say, if there is no effort there will be no result worth having.
III. The darkness of the dismal tragedy of the Crucifixion, combined with what followed, reminds us of this yet further consoling truth: Failures are not perpetual failures. Good Friday was a failure as regarded all outward appearance, but after it came Easter Day, and Easter Day was a complete contrasting success.
A. P. Stanley, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xvii., p. 193.
Reference: Matthew 27:45.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxii., No. 1896.
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. It was not the darkness of night, for it began at twelve o'clock in the day. It was not the darkness of an eclipse, for it was then full moon, and it is only at the new moon that eclipses of the sun can take place. (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 sympathize with the passion of His Son. The crowning crime of men, the crime of killing the Prince of Life, and so of casting out the Lord of Nature from His own world, was not to pass without some expostulation of Nature itself against it. (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 sinbearing, 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. Just then, when He was being crucified in weakness, His cry was "My Strength, My Strength." Although in that hour of darkness He does not utter that happy cry "My Father," He, as the perfect Man, clung fast to his Rock, held on through all the blows of the waves and billows; and even in this short burst of language in agony applied to God the word "My" twice over, appropriating the "Living Strength" as His very own.
C. Stanford, Voices from Calvary, p. 159.
References: Matthew 27:45, Matthew 27:46.—New Outlines on the New Testament, p. 23. Matthew 27:45, Matthew 27:51.—Ibid., p. 23.
"Why hast Thou forsaken Me?" May we dare to answer that desolate cry? may we presume to take up the question and say, "Lord, it was for us men, and for our salvation?"
I. First, that we might learn what sin is, how deadly, to cause Thy suffering; how hateful in the sight of God, that Thou shouldest feel Thyself forsaken of Him for so much as coming nigh to it, even to bear and to destroy it.
II. Secondly, that we might know how entirely Thou didst take and carry it—yea, for an Apostle has said it—didst even become sin; that we might feel it gone, and in our new freedom might even, as the same holy Apostle has said, become righteousness in Thee.
III. Thirdly, that we might distinguish between the feeling and the reality of God's desertion; that we might learn, in Thee, to trust Him even when we cannot see, even when we are out of the sunshine of His smile, in the shadow of that spiritual solitude which is darker, yea, darker far, than the valley of death itself.
IV. And so, finally, that we might be made willing, if need be, even to die thus; even to be made like Thee in Thy uttermost desolation, when, with the sins of a world upon Thee, and with tenfold need of the brightest ray from heaven to make the load endurable, Thou wast called to taste death itself in darkness, teaching us that it is not comfort, but safety, not the consciousness, but the reality of God's love, which is indispensable; that as there is of course no merit, so neither is there always any advantage, in that confidence of acceptance, in that serenity of hope, in that broad daylight of assurance which some make the essence of faith or the whole of religion.
C. J. Vaughan, Words from the Cross, p. 43.
Consider the nature of our Lord's spiritual cross. It was the being brought under all the conditions of a sinner, though Himself without sin. Sin tried upon Him all its powers, first to lure, afterwards to destroy. As for instance—
I. He was tempted by direct suggestions of evil. The approaches of the wicked one were made to the will of the Son of God, with the design of withdrawing the consent of His pure soul from His heavenly Father. They were a thousandfold more hateful and harrowing than the falsehood of His suborned accusers, or the scourging of His sinless flesh.
II. Again, He suffered a perpetual unmingled sorrow for the sins of men. Doubtless the destinies of His Church on earth stood like a lowering horizon behind the Mount of Crucifixion. The rents and wounds of His mystical body already pierced His spirit; and the false kiss which the world should give, to the betrayal of His Church; and the afflictions of His saints, and the tyranny of the strong, and the pampered self-pleasing of soft spirits, and the plagues of worldliness, and the foreseen apostasy of the latter days—all these dwelt heavily on Him to whom all things to come are as things that are.
III. And once more: He suffered throughout we know not how large a portion of His whole life the natural fear of death and of His coming agony. We know with what a piercing strength the first glimpses of a coming sorrow shoot in upon us; how they chequer our whole life, and overshadow all things; how sad thoughts glance off from all we do, or say, or listen to; how the mind converts everything into its own feeling and master-thought. Perhaps our keenest sufferings are in sudden recollections, remote associations, indirect hints, words, tones, little acts of unconscious friends. And even so it was with Him. When a lowly woman anointed Him with ointment He saw in it the preparation for the grave.
IV. And as the chief of all His sorrows, He suffered we know not what darkness of soul upon the cross. He was made sin for us.
There is one more truth we may learn from what has been said. I mean, what necessity there is that all should be thus crucified with Him. Suffering is sharp and piercing, but it cleanses, purifies; it puts in the sharper lines and the deeper colouring; it is as the shadow of His crown of thorns.
H. E. Manning, Sermons, vol. i., p. 258.
References: Matthew 27:46.—Contemporary Pulpit, vol. ix., p. 168; J. Keble, Sermons for Holy Week, p. 264; G. Macdonald, Unspoken Sermons, 1st series, p. 163. Matthew 27:46, Matthew 27:47.—Homiletic Magazine, vol. xii., p. 142.
(with John 19:30)
I. The words "It is finished" are an expression of relief. Who can rightly conceive what a relief to Jesus, in His perfect human nature, it was to have passed through all His appointed sufferings? How much was finished when His course of suffering came to an end! (1) There was all the pain which His holy soul endured from the nearness of the world's corruption, and from the virulence of the world's hatred. (2) The words express His sense of relief from the assaults of the powers of darkness. (3) They express His sense of relief from all He suffered in His experience of the wrath of God.
II. These words express an anticipation of satisfying rest. Between Him and the actual enjoyment in human nature of the rest awaiting Him in the Father's house there was yet the act of dying. But His eye looked, as to something very near, to the "joy set before Him." On that very day His soul was to be in Paradise, and in continuation of this there stretched eternally before His view what awaited Him as "the Lamb who was slain," in the rest, the blessedness, and the glory of a place "in the midst of the throne of God." In an anticipation of this, so near, there was present rest to His human soul. There was rest to Him also in the results of the work which He finished on the cross.
III. These words are a shout of triumph. The very finishing of the work of Christ, apart from its design and results, was a victory. (1) "Through death He destroyed him that had the power of death, that is the devil." (2) He in His death triumphed over sin. (3) He won a triumph over the world. (4) He knew that in the moment when His spirit was gone out of His body, to it death should be for ever past, and that His death should be the death of the death of all His people. (5) He could bear to think of His body being laid in the grave, after His soul had passed into Paradise; for such was His view of His victory over the grave that He could not in the near prospect of it but raise a shout of triumph.
IV. These words are a "joyful sound." (1) They convey the joyful news that the great work of redemption is completed. (2) They tell us that the everlasting covenant is sealed, and that if we come to Christ we shall obtain, on the ground of His finished work, a right to all its blessings. (3) They tell us that you can find in Christ a right to victory over every enemy.
J. Kennedy, Sermons, No. 29.
The rending of the veil proclaims—(1) that man, as man, has access to the heavenly temple; (2) that the powers of the world to come have entered into and possessed man and his world; (3) the final overthrow and abolition of death.
J. Baldwin Brown, The Sunday Afternoon, p. 386.
Reference: Matthew 27:51.—Spurgeon, Morning by Morning, p. 110.
The Language of the Signs.
I. The earthquake. This was—(1) a sign wrought by the direct and unusual interposition of the Creator. (2) It was a sign to alarm men, on account of the capital crime which they had just committed. There is no such alarum as an earthquake. When thunder is travelling under foot, when the ground opens and shuts, when great pits suddenly yawn in the heaving floor, and make massive walls topple on to it, then "the heart meditates terror, and is moved out of its place." 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) The earthquake was a sign by which God called attention to the Divine work, which, through the medium of the human work, had just been done. (4) The earthquake was 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) The rending of the veil was a sign that the Jewish dispensation was now, by God's own act, abolished. (3) The rending of the veil was a sign showing that now, by the death of Christ, there was a revelation of the mystery hid from ages. (4) The rent veil was a sign by which God declared that a free right of way into the Holiest was henceforth open to all.
III. The sign next in order was seen in 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. There is another sign to study in connection with the death of Christ, and that is 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; for they know not what they do."
C. Stanford, Voices from Calvary, p. 233.
References: Matthew 27:55, Matthew 27:56.—Homiletic Quarterly, vol. iii., p. 230; Parker, Inner Life of Christ, vol. iii., p. 258. Matthew 27:57-60.—S. Leathes, Truth and Life, p. 175.
Buried with Christ.
I. There was an old heathen philosophy that taught deadness to this world; it required the thorough laying aside of all human feelings and passions; but what it inculcated partook of that awful and dread calm which nature itself derives from the grave of man; it had nothing of the peace which the Christian learns by the tomb of Christ, wherein there is release from sin by dying with His death, and in those fruits of righteousness wherein God still works, while He gives rest. There Christ, being dead, yet speaketh, while by His Spirit He quickeneth our mortal bodies. The world invites us to live to it; philosophy bids us to be dead to the world, but Christianity adds, in order that we may live to God. We are not only to be dead with Christ, but to learn of Him and live with Him, if we would find His rest for the soul.
II. Though the Christian be dead to the world, and so really unharmed by it, yet the world will not be dead towards him. This is a great and important truth. The world at this time and at all times lies upon the Church of God like a heavy and oppressive weight, that would stifle and crush it if it could. It is so in the great public at large, as you will find in popular assemblies, in the books and daily records which speak its voice. It is the Pharisee again and again, consulting with Pilate, and speaking of "that deceiver." And the weak Christian is harassed, angry, yet half-ensnared by it, and often shaken in his opinions and his conduct; for the world itself, even in its enmity, seems to be half-Christian, for it says, "That deceiver saith, I will rise again." Though unwilling, it bears testimony; and from a kind of uneasiness and fear which lies deep within it is urged to deeds of ill-will and enmity, and this is a trial to the love and faith of good but over-anxious disciples, because it seems to dishonour their Lord. But our blessed Saviour seems from the sepulchre to say, "Stand still, and see the salvation of God." What is desirable is not merely that we should not be troubled, but seeing, as in the history of this day, how God is bringing good out of evil, and making all things work together for the good of those that love Him, that we should adore His unsearchable judgments, that with love and wonder we should wait for Him, "more than they that watch for the morning."
I. Williams, Sermons on the Epistles and Gospels, vol. i., p. 386.
References: Matthew 27:57-66.—Clergyman's Magazine, vol. ii., p. 210. Matthew 27:61.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxiv., No. 1404; Preacher's Monthly, vol. vii., p. 56. Matthew 27:62-64.—Ibid., p. 273. Matthew 27:66.—J. Keble, Sermons on Various Occasions, p. 509; Clergyman's Magazine, vol. iv., p. 224. Matt 27—Homiletic Quarterly, vol. i., p. 60; R. S. Candlish, Scripture Characters and Miscellanies, p. 75.
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Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Matthew 27". "Sermon Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
Second Sunday after Epiphany