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The soldiers platted a crown of thorns
The unwilling tribute
According to prophecy the Messiah was to fill the three offices of Prophet, Priest, and King.
Carnal expectation ignored the two former, and built its hopes on the latter. They were unwilling to be taught by the Prophet, they could not support the Priest, as His demand of sacrifices and offerings was beyond the extent of their love for religion; but they were willing that a King might reign over them. The kingly idea attached to the person of Christ agitated them the most. The Roman soldiers crowned and worshipped Him in derision; these were the rugged steps leading up to His throne.
I. THE CROWN OF THORNS WAS AN EMBLEM OF THE ASCENDANCY OF JESUS THROUGH SUFFERING TO THE GOVERNMENT OF THE WORLD. “Ought not Christ to have suffered these things?” &c. The course was not understood by His persecutors, “But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels,” &c. He gave to all the subjects of His future kingdom an example of
1. Willing service. Even with the crown on His head, His last strength was spent in the service of truth and justice.
2. Entire submission to the will of God. “He was oppressed,” &c. Such an example of service and submission claims for Him the crown which the thorns symbolized.
II. THE PURPLE ROBE WAS EMBLEMATIC OF THE POWER WHICH HE WOULD EXERCISE OVER MANKIND. The other evangelists call it scarlet, but a robe with the colour of red in it was generally called purple. The one used was, no doubt, an old left-off robe of the proconsul. It was an emblem of power, worn by governors and generals. A reed was also put in His hand to represent the seeptre. Jesus is King
1. By Divine appointment. “Yet have I set My King upon My holy Hill of Zion.” The government was to be on His shoulder. All judgments are committed to His care.
2. By virtue of His influence. Men’s thoughts are captive to the obedience of Christ. The hearts of the sons of men are in His hand. The kingdoms of this world are bowing to His authority. The angels of God worship Him.
III. THE MOCK HOMAGE WHICH WAS PAID IS AN EMBLEM OF THE ADORATION WHICH HE WILL RECEIVE (John 19:3). They saluted Him in terms of loyalty which they did not feel; but myriads have since said, “Crown Him Lord of all.” The vision reveals the four and twenty elders casting their crowns before the throne. And in another vision, “On His head were many crowns.” (Weekly Pulpit.)
The mock crown
God intended that the evil of sin should be fully manifest by the death of Christ. Those who had a hand in it show by their malignant spirit what a hell the world would become if there were no check upon it. But submitting as He did, Christ checked that spirit, and seemed to say, “Do your worst on Me, and let it suffice for ever.”
I. TO WEAR THIS CROWN CHRIST HAD LAID ASIDE THAT OF DIVINE MAJESTY. What a contrast is here. They mocked Him in all His characters. As a Prophet they said, “Prophesy unto us”; as a Priest, “He saved others,” &c. In bitter scorn of His Kingly claims, they crowned him with thorns. We can pity the great who are degraded, or impoverished, because, being human, we can measure the depth of their descent; but we have no power to gauge the height from which Christ “humbled Himself.” He left a world of glory for one of meanness, one of purity for one of crime, &c. He who had created all things was sold for thirty pieces of silver. He who was the source of bliss suffered anguish. He who had worn the royal robes of heaven was clad in a cast-off robe of office. He who had borne the crown of the universe was tormented with the spiky circlet of mockery. None could have placed it on His brow but by His consent; and the power by which He laid aside the one led Him to receive the other.
II. BY WEARING THIS CROWN OF MOCKERY CHRIST ADDED A GLORY TO THAT WHICH HE WEARS ETERNALLY. It is not the weight of gold in a crown, or its jewels, that are the measure of its value, but the character of its wearer. Judged thus, what glory attaches to the crown of Christ! It was wondrous love to man that led Him to wear the thorn-crown, and never was there such a crown as that which He now wears. We have read of crowns given for distinguished services, of crowns won by splendid victories, of crowns worn by hereditary right, royal crowns, imperial crowns, &c., but where is one like that which Jesus now wears? He conquered suffering and death for us, and now every spike of that mock crown is a jewel inwrought with that of His Divine majesty.
III. BY WEARING THE MOCK CROWS CHRIST GAINED A FURTHER RIGHT TO BESTOW A CROWN OF LIFE ON ALL THE FAITHFUL one without thorns. “Be thou faithful unto death,” &c. “To Him that overcometh,” &c. That which Christ died to obtain at such a cost must be worth having. Eternal bliss alone could balance such Divine sufferings. We may say, like Paul, “With a great sum obtained I this freedom.” “Ye were not redeemed,” &c. As Jonathan stripped Himself (1 Samuel 18:4) of his royal robes and put them, as signs of honour and love, on David, so Jesus was stripped that we might have the covering of His righteousness. He hungered, thirsted, sorrowed, was made a curse, &c., that we might not hunger, &c.
IV. THE POWER CHRIST GAINED OVER HUMAN SOULS BY WEARING THAT MOCK CROWN.
1. Men are led to mourn the guilt that brought Him such pain. “Weep not for Me” He said, knowing that the sin which could so treat Him was far more terrible than all suffering. Thorns are pressed on Him such as these
(1) Indifference to His sufferings.
(2) Unbelief in His great work.
(3) Unreality of professed belief.
(4) Inconsistency of life.
(5) Greed of worldly gain and pleasure.
(6) Neglect of others for whom He died. Surely He has had thorns enough thrust in already. Will you add more?
2. He gains such intense affection as He could have obtained in no other way. We could never have loved majesty or power; but Jesus we can love as God manifest in the flesh. Nothing arouses love like a sight of the crucified Saviour. Hence the cross has been His stepping-stone to dominion over souls. (Homiletic Magazine.)
The crown of thorns
Of other plants growing in the vale of Jericho, we noticed the Nebk, the most abundant thorn in the Holy Land. Hasselquist (“Voyage and Travels”) says, “In all probability this is the tree which afforded the crown of thorns put on the Head of Christ: it grows very common in the East.” This plant was very fit for the purpose, for it has many small and sharp spines, which are well adapted to give pain. The crown might be easily made of these soft, round, and pliant branches: and what in my opinion seems to be the greatest proof, is, that the leaves much resemble those of ivy, as they are of a very deep green. Perhaps the enemies of Christ would have a plant somewhat resembling that with which emperors and generals were used to be crowned, that there might be calumny even in the punishment. (Wilson’s “Lands of the Bible.”)
The thorn bushes, which during the summer and autumn had been so dark and bare, were clothed with delicate green sprays of finely-serrated leaves, which almost hid the sharp, cruel-looking thorns. They were sprinkled with little round buds; when they opened, they threw out silky tufts of crimson, crowned with golden-coloured powder. The seed vessel is round, and divided into four quarters: at first it is almost white, but gradually becomes pink: and at the apex there is a little green tuft, in the shape of a Greek cross. When the seed is quite ripe, it is about half-an-inch in diameter, and of a very shining red colour. I have never seen a plant of which so beautiful, and at the same time so cruel, a crown could be composed. This thorn is the Proterium spinosum. About Easter it is seen in all its beauty, the leaves glossy and full-grown, the fruit or seed-vessels brilliantly red, like drops of blood, and the thorns sharper and stronger than at any other time. No plant or bush is so common on the hills of Judaea, Galilee, and Carmel as this. (Roger’s “Domestic Life in Palestine.”)
The martyr’s crown
When John Huss, the martyr, was brought forth to be burned, they put a paper over his head, on which were pictured three devils, and the title, “heresiarch.” When he saw it, he said, “My Lord Jesus Christ, for my sake, did wear a crown of thorns: why should not I, therefore, for His sake, wear this ignominious crown?” (Bp. Ryle.)
A pillow without thorns
How well did that converted Tahitian, Barn his name was, understand the comfort to be derived from these thorn.wounds of Jesus; when on his deathbed, he said: “The blood of Jesus is my sure foundation. He is the best of all kings. He gives me a pillow for my head without thorns.” (R. Besser, D. D.)
They put on Him a purple robe.--This again was done as a mark of contempt and derision, in order to show how ridiculous and contemptible was the idea of His kingdom. The colour, “purple,” was doubtless meant to be a derisive imitation of the well-known imperial purple, the colour worn by emperors. Some have thought that this robe was only an old soldier’s cape, such as a guard-house would easily furnish. Some, with more show of probability, have thought that this “robe” must be the “gorgeous robe” which Herod put on our Lord, mentioned by St. Luke, when he sent Him back to Pilate (Luke 23:11), a circumstance which John has not recorded. In any case we need not doubt that the “robe” was some shabby, cast-off garment. It is worth remembering that this brilliant colour, scarlet or purple, would make our blessed Lord a most conspicuous object to every eye, when He was led through the streets from Herod, or brought forth from Pilate’s house to the assembled multitude of Jews. We should call to mind the symbolical nature of this transaction also. Our Lord was clothed with a robe of shame and contempt, that we might be clothed with a spotless garment of righteousness, and stand in white robes before the throne of God. (Bp. Ryle.)
Hall, King of the Jews!
The mock homage
These words were spoken in contemptuous imitation of the words addressed to a Roman Emperor, on his assuming imperial power: “Hail, Emperor!” It was as much as saying, “Thou a King indeed! Thou and Thy kingdom are alike contemptible.
” (Bp. Ryle.)
It was the kingdom of the Jews itself that the soldiers laughed at. They regarded Jesus as the representative of the Messianic hope of the Jews. They would turn to ridicule these royal hopes, which were known widely in the heathen world, more especially as they aspired to the dominion of the whole earth. (Hengstenburg.)
I find no fault in Him
Alas! it was discoursing to wolves about the innocence of the lamb.
(W. H. Van Doren, D. D.)
It is very noteworthy that this expression is used three times by Pilate in the same Greek words in St. John’s account of the passion (chap. 18:38; 19:4-6). It was meet and right that he who had the chief hand in slaying the Lamb of God, the Sacrifice for our sins, should three times publicly declare that he found no spot or blemish in Him. He was proclaimed a Lamb without spot or fault, after a searching examination, by him that slew Him. (Bp. Ryle.)
Pilate saith unto them, Behold the Man
“Behold the Man”
FROM PILATE’S STANDPOINT.
1. He was a Roman, and apart from the interests of the empire, cared little for the creed or worship of the Hebrews. It was no part of his duty to interfere with the religion of the people he was ruling. Provided it did not lead to sedition he was content to let it contemptuously alone. “What is truth?” he asks, “What is it worth? What has it done? Is it worth any one’s while risking anything for it? It is power, and not truth we need. Let us have something practical, tangible, and not vain and idle discussions about abstract questions.”
2. Pilate is a type of a vast multitude. Like the compilers of an encyclopaedia, they cannot avoid becoming acquainted with the titles of religious subjects, parties, men. Yet if pressed would deliver themselves very much after Pilate’s fashion. To offer Christ to men of this character is to “cast pearls before swine.” What is the “truth in Christ” to them? He may be “chief among ten thousand,” and able to give pardon, and righteousness, and grace, and glory. But He is not money, business. He cannot give social rank, political success; and so they spurn the offer. This man is a sample of Satan’s workmanship--the devil’s masterpiece. But “what shall it profit a man,” &c.
II. FROM THE STANDPOINT OF THE JEWS.
1. The guilt of Pilate was great, but it is not for a moment to be compared with that of the high priest. “He that delivereth Me unto thee hath the greater sin.” They saw the light and hated it. They knew the truth and rejected it. They could not resist the evidence that Jesus was the Christ; but He was a Christ so different from Him whom they desired that they cried, “Crucify Him!”
2. Here is another and far more perilous standpoint: to look upon Christ and His religion as something to be hated and banished. Let me speak faithfully of the danger of this class. The sin that will banish the perpetrators from the presence of the Lord at His coming is not the sin of Adam. That has been atoned for by the second Adam. It will not be the sin of ignorance. “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” It will not be any word or deed too heinous to be forgiven; for there is no exception to the gracious offer: “If we confess our sins,” &c. But it will be that of rejecting--calmly, wilfully, and persistently--the greatest offer which God has made to us: His Son as our personal Saviour. “He that believeth not,” &c.
III. FROM BELIEVER’S STANDPOINT. During the “Reign of Terror” an old French gentleman walked up to the gate of the prison in hope of getting a brief interview with his son, then lying under sentence of death. His name was Loiserolles. As he stood there, the dreaded cart arrived at the prison door. “Loiserolles” was one of the names shouted; and “Here I am, Loiserolles!” was answered suddenly from the crowd. The voice was not that of the young prisoner--asleep at that moment in his cell--it was older, feebler, and a trifle more eager than a prisoner’s might be supposed to be. But there was no time or care to make investigation. The father was taken for the son, bound, hurried off, and executed. He died for his boy who was asleep. Not till long afterwards did the younger Loiserolles know at what a sacrifice his life had been purchased. And if we may be allowed to compare small things with great, I would say that the day of our trial and judgment was passed; the morning of our execution had arrived. We, as prisoners of sin, were summoned to receive the death penalty; the sons of men were called. But “I am the Son of Man” was the answer given to the challenge. “If, therefore, ye seek Me, let these go their way.” The central truth of our Christianity is the Saviour that died for us and rose again. Can you look upon Jesus in this light? Do you see Him to be your Substitute, Intercessor, Prince, and Saviour? Then you have beheld the Man. (R. Balgarnie D. D.)
I. HIS HUMANITY attested. His flesh was lacerated, His body bruised.
II. HIS INNOCENCE confirmed. Scourging had elicited no secret crime.
III. HIS MAJESTY revealed. He endured without complaint.
IV. HIS LOVE proclaimed. He suffered stripes that sinners might be healed.
V. HIS DIVINITY suggested. Only a Son of God could have borne Himself so. (T. Whitelaw, D. D.)
Eece Homo, or perfect humanity
When you point to any object or event you never know what the witness really sees. Hold a picture before a score of people, and they all see and value it differently. In a wild district I saw a rude stone wall. To the simple builder and passers by it was just so many stones held together by mortar. But an instructed eye saw in succession blocks of quartz, trap, schist, sandstone, conglomerate, and other suggestive monuments of the world’s history. Point out the stars to a multitude. All see the same objects, and yet not the same.
I. WHAT THE ACTORS IN THAT TRAGEDY BEHELD. All the world was in that crowd.
1. Pilate; or what worldliness beheld. A mysterious man--no ordinary criminal. Superstition is never far from worldliness. There was fear in the mind of Pilate at something supernatural at the back of demeanour so strange, placid, and holy.
2. The priests; or what bigotry beheld. Jesus has not respected their traditions and echoed their dogmas; therefore, He is an imposter and blasphemer. There is no hate like priestly hate. Bigotry in the midst of revealed religion is farther from God than heathen worldliness. There was some lingering susceptibility in the breast of Pilate; in the Hebrew priest, none. Pilate saw something which excited both awe and pity. The priests nothing but the hideous creation of their own malignant passions.
3. The mass; or what ignorant resentment beheld. The Christ of their desire was only a more vulgar rendering of the political Messiah of the infuriated priests. Scarcely a week ago, they greeted Him as their King. But there is Jesus, weak, bound, silent, and trampled upon. They saw one who raised their expectations to the highest, and disappointed them. A mob is never so savage as when it conceives itself to be imposed upon by one whom it has made its idol. They therefore join ix the cry, “Crucify Him!”
4. The soldiers; or what heathen brutality beheld. A hardened Roman in the ranks could feel nothing but contempt for a Jewish criminal. Such men could admire and adore a Caesar who could lead them through fields of slaughter to the fame of a Roman victory. They understood that He was a sham king from a district in fanatical and turbulent Galilee.
5. Nicodemus; or what unavowed discipleship beheld. Lack of courage and decision brought no consolation in this dread hour. Little has he risked to avert this tragedy, and he is beginning to feel it.
6. The centurion; or what heathen piety beheld. “The Son of God.”
7. Peter; or what the unfaithful apostle beheld. Jesus cast one look on him, but the apostle could encounter that eye no more.
8. Judas; or what the traitor and apostate beheld. From that eye, so downcast, he has often seen look forth the love of God. The memory of that sight is fire unquenchable, the writhing of the worm that never dies.
9. John; or what the disciple whom Jesus loved beheld. He could not look for his tears; but yet he saw what few eyes there witnessed, but what we need to see to-day--our Incarnate and Redeeming God.
10. Mary; or what the mother and the believing woman beheld. How her motherly love and her religious reverence are wounded by the suffering and shame heaped on her Son and Saviour! There are other holy women here. Shame on the men among His followers! Where are they?
II. WHAT WE BEHOLD IN THE MAN OF SORROWS.
1. A man.
(1) He was born of a woman. He passed through the life of a little child.
(2) In the home of Joseph, at Nazareth, there were many boys and girls. It was no unimportant contribution to the development of our Saviour’s wide and sympathetic manhood, that brothers and sisters were the companions of His first years. The temptation in the wilderness was not our Saviour’s first nor last trial. His young life had its tests.
(3) Our Lord, too, was born in circumstances favourable to the culture of a true manhood. Among the humble poor, and inured to a lowly calling. Men who begin their career at the summit of society do not uncommonly acquire much real fellow-feeling with classes which lie farther down. Men from the ranks, who have lived through the grades in their ascent, develop human sympathies deeper and broader. Every great worker for God and humanity has to be brought by some means or other into personal contact with the multitude. Galilee was a more important school than the halls of the Rabbis at Jerusalem.
(4) Jesus had His personal friendships. He is beneath a man or above him, who is without human friendship.
2. A tempted man (Hebrews 4:15). One with the form and the faculties of a man, is yet not a man if without temptation.
3. A suffering man. That pain is allotted to sinful creatures is not surprising. But here is one who never transgressed a precept. He suffered with the race and for the race which He came to save. But the ministry of suffering must come to every man. We bring into the world only raw materials. The discipline of life must weave the precious fabric. The suffering Jesus garnered in His sinless humanity the precious fruits of trial and sorrow (Hebrews 2:10). When your soul is bowed down, to which friend would you go in your sorrow? You could not repair to inexperienced amiability and to goodness unruffled by trial. A bosom so smooth has not treasured the balm of fellow-feeling for which the smitten heart aches to its very core.
4. THE MAN. Jesus is the only one who can be so styled. He is the perfection of humanity. Human beings at the best are a mixture of good and evil. Jesus Christ was “separate from sinners.” He belonged to a totally different classification. He has more than every man’s excellence, and exhibits no man’s defect. Qualities seemingly opposite and irreconcilable were habitually blended in Him. The extreme of ease and dignity, loftiness and condescension, gentleness and severity, manly firmness and womanly sympathy, &c.
5. Is He man only? Nay, verily. Standing alone as a creature, no one can be complete as a man. One only perfect Man has been in our world, and He was the Incarnation of God. (H. Batchelor.)
Behold the Man
I. THE FALSE AND IMPIOUS ASSUMPTIONS RESPECTING THE LORD, WHICH THE JEWS, IN CONNECTION WITH HIS EXHIBITION TO THEM, INDULGED. They regarded Him
1. As mean, when He was eminently dignified.
2. As guilty, when He was absolutely innocent and holy.
3. As being hostile to their interests, when He was infinitely kind and benevolent.
II. THE RIGHTFUL TRIBUTE WHICH THE EXHIBITION OF HIM IN HIS TRUE CHARACTER MUST ALWAYS SECURE. “Behold the Man!” and there ought to be
4. Love. (J. Parsons.)
Behold the Man
I. WHOM THE WORLD DESIRED. This is He of whom the prophet spake--“the desire of all nations shall come.” At the Fall, preparations were begun for the advent of the Deliverer, and continued without intermission.
1. We all know in general what forms these preparations assumed: how the early promise of Eden was brightened and enlarged; how sacrifice was instituted at the very gates of Paradise; how a great system of type and shadow succeeded pointing to Him; how the law became a schoolmaster leading unto Him; how prophets foretold His sufferings and glory.
2. While thus instructing them so carefully in spiritual things, He was also conducting them providentially, and was making the lessons of their outward life--the mercies and the judgments, the wars and the captivities, the declensions and revivals of their national history--to co-operate with the things more expressly gracious, in preparing a way for “the Messenger of the covenant,” and in preparing the mind and heart of the Church, to give Him a loving and loyal welcome. Accordingly, we see a grand procession of joyful worshippers at the opening of the New Testament history--angels, shepherds. Simeon and Anna, and the wise men.
3. In the outer world, also, God was working by Him providence and Spirit to prepare the nations for the coming of His Son. We behold a succession of rising and falling monarchies, of dreadful battles, the building and the burning of cities, the terrors of superstition, constant strange movement, but never to any “dawning of the day,” and man, as man, felt more deeply as time rolled on the moral hopelessness of his condition without celestial help. There was thus a yearning for deliverance, a longing in the hearts of men for relief, and liberty, and higher life--for recovery of long-lost fellowships, and for returning presence of God. Then, in the fulness of time, He comes to answer the world’s questionings, to relieve its sorrows, to meet its deepest wants, “Behold the Man” whom all other men in their best moments were yearning for and inly pining to see! How strange then that we have to say
II. WHOM THE WORLD CRUCIFIED.
1. If ever there was an act in which this whole world was united, the crucifixion of the Son of God was that act. It was the fair outcome and expression of its moral dispositions, and its spiritual state before God. It was not without a struggle that it was done; there were many relentings and misgivings, just as there are now to men when they sin. In following the steps of His pilgrimage and ministry, we sometimes think that the world is going to open its heart and receive Him at once. But how fallacious such appearances! The world, thus put on its solemn trial, failed to prove itself truer and brought out before other worlds the most conclusive proof of its depravity and guilt. “The light shone in the darkness, and the darkness comprehended it not.” One who “did no sin,” who missed no opportunity of doing good and glorifying God--was not suffered to live. There was much to attract in His life and character, but, as the event proved, there was more to repel; and humanity, which had fallen before in the first Adam, fell again just before it rose in the second. Christ was “the desire of all nations” before He came, and that proved that man had not fallen into an irretrievable degradation--that seeds and elements of good were working in him still, and that the great Father was not forgetful of His prodigal children. Christ was the rejected of all nations when He came, and this proved that our fall was not a temporary and a trifling circumstance, but that it had rent the most sacred bonds, and filled human nature with guilt and sin.
2. But oh the depth of the riches, both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! The world crucified His Son, and He made that very crucifixion the means of the world’s life. The same event which proved the sinfulness of our nature as nothing had ever proved it before, turned full upon the world in sudden revelation the love and mercy of God; and what to our natural judgment would have seemed the most impregnable of barriers in the way of our return to God, was made the means of our repentance, and the gate of everlasting life. He vindicated Divine righteousness while proclaiming Divine mercy; He honoured the law by making the gospel.
III. WHOM THE WORLD WILL CROWN. Heaven has crowned Him already.
1. But earth must crown Him too. And she will. He must be honoured in the very scene of His humiliation. He must gather joys where He sowed tears and sufferings. He must claim a kingdom where He shed His blood. And not a murmur of dissent will be heard from shore to shore as proclamation is made through every land that “the kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our God and of His Christ.”
2. We neither know exactly how nor when this great result is to be brought about; the times and the seasons are reserved in the Father’s power. But what of that? If I cannot tell the length of the prophetic days, am I to hope or labour any the less earnestly for that blessed day of millenial peace and joy which, when they have elapsed, will come? It I cannot interpret aright the sound of one angel’s trumpet, am I not to speed “another angel who flies in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach.” (A. Raleigh, D. D.)
Behold the Man!
I. WHOM? The Man--perfect humanity.
1. Physically, Christ was perfect
(1) In form. It is not without significance that He is the principal figure in art, and that the world’s great painters have depicted Him as “the altogether lovely.” We have no portrait of Him extant, but it is difficult to believe that the genius of eighteen centuries has nothing corresponding to its ideal.
(2) In health. He bare our sicknesses, but was never ill Himself. No disease could prey upon a sinless body. What vigorous health must Jesus have had to have maintained such unruffled calmness and nerve, through these protracted proceedings, after the agony of Gethsemane; and then after such sufferings to have survived to die on the Cross.
(1) He was without doubt. He had perfect intuitions of God and Divine things. Hence the perfect confidence with which He moved towards each of the phases of His great career.
(2) He was without error. He had perfect knowledge of all things that pertained to His mission. Hence He never made a mistake, or failed to deliver a necessary truth.
(3) He was “the Truth” personally. Compare Him with others.
(1) He was without sin, as confessed by Himself, Pilate, Judas. Peter tells us He “did no sin.” John, that He “had no sin.”
(2) He was entirely holy. Not only was there no law broken by Him: He fulfilled all righteousness.
(3) He was utterly self-abnegating and benificent. “He went about doing good.” “Greater love hath no man than this,” &c.
II. IN WHAT CHARACTER.
1. As a Saviour. Had He not been a man He could not have qualified Himself for this office by death. Had He not been the Man, the Man appointed, perfect, Divine, His death had been of no avail. But being “without blemish,” He was the accepted “Lamb of God that taketh away,” &c.
2. As an example. Students require the best models in art, music, literature. Perfect imitation may be beyond reach; but the study of imperfect models infallibly ensures imperfection. So with man. But there is only one perfect Model--Him who left us an example that we should follow His steps.
3. As a Friend. Who possesses such qualifications for friendship as Christ?
4. As Lord.
1. Under conviction of sin--“To whom shall we go?”
2. In trouble.
3. In difficulty.
4. In the hour of death.
5. In the day of judgment. (J. W. Burn.)
The mind directed to Christ
The hour of the Saviour’s sufferings was come--Judas had betrayed Him--His disciples forsaken Him--His enemies apprehended Him--but Pilate seeks to release Him; hence the scene before us. Let us inquire
I. WHAT WE SHALL BEHOLD IN THE MAN CHRIST JESUS.
1. The perfection of purity, meekness, and benevolence.
2. An amazing work for the redemption of mankind.
3. The boundlessness of the Father’s grace.
II. THE PURPOSES FOR WHICH WE ARE TO BEHOLD THE MAN CHRIST JESUS.
1. That our hearts may be melted into contrition.
2. That wavering faith may be established.
3. That Christian principle may conquer carnal policy.
4. That love may be cherished towards all His followers.
5. That believers may be comforted in suffering and in death.
The appeal of Pilate
Weakness is sometimes not much better than wickedness. It places a man at the disposal of other weaknesses--Ahab, Pilate. We have here
I. AN APPEAL FOR PITY FOR CHRIST. It was this; not a mocking. Pilate was anxious to get Christ off. It was not to aggravate Christ’s misery, but to excite the compassion of His foes. Pity
1. For a prisoner.
2. For a prisoner unjustly accused.
3. For a prisoner whose sufferings and shame men enhanced by cruel mocking. Dressed up as a king. And yet He was one. Men can only caricature the reality of Christ and Christianity.
II. AN APPEAL FROM PILATE TO THE JEWS.
1. From Pilate.
(1) An old soldier.
(2) A heathen.
(3) One who despaired of truth.
2. To the Jews
(1) To whom He came.
(2) Who had opportunity to test His claims.
(3) Who were convinced of them, but rejected Him, because He was not the rebel they wanted.
III. AN APPEAL FROM ONE WHO NEVERTHELESS PUT CHRIST TO DEATH. Pilate did his utmost to save Jesus, with one exception, his own interest. He tried by expression of his own conviction, by delay, by solemn acts, by appeal to justice and to pity. He would not endanger self. So now men may feel for Christ--do much for Him--reprove others, and yet stop short at sacrifice
1. Of worldly interests.
2. Of sinful lusts. (A. J. Morris.)
When the chief priests therefore and officers saw Him
Pilate at bay
THE CLAMOUR. “Crucify Him!”
1. Its occasion: the presentation of Christ “therefore.” One would have expected, as Pilate doubtless did, that revenge would be satiated by the bleeding form of One who had offended them by His teaching, and by the humiliation of One whom they had charged with kingly ambition. Here surely was an end of His prestige--the people would never listen to Him again, or shout hosannahs any more. Instead of this, these human tigers having tasted bleed, only thirsted for more.
2. Its nature.
(1) Cowardly, inasmuch as its object was an innocent defenceless prisoner.
(2) Ferocious, for it called for a death, of all deaths the most humiliating and cruel. To have cried “Drown!” “Behead!” “Pelson!” would have argued some relic of pity; for these would have been comparatively painless means of putting their victim out of His misery.
3. Its accordance with the Divine plans. This was the form of death deliberately chosen and predicted by Jesus. Hence the clamour was an unconscious means of helping to fulfil His prophecies of being “lifted up.” “He causeth the wrath of man to praise Him.”
II. PILATE’S RESPONSE TO THE CLAMOUR. “Take ye Him,” &c. A response
1. Contemptuous: showing the governor’s repugnance to being the dirty tool of an unscrupulous and fanatical mob. All the Roman’s sense of right and pride of race come out here.
2. With a merciful design. It meant “I have nothing to crucify Him for; crucify ye Him if ye dare!” It was something like the reply of a British officer in India to a Brahmin who consulted him with reference to a Sutee. It was represented that the burning of a certain widow was in conformity with the laws of their religion. “Very good,” said the officer, “you carry out your laws and I will execute mine. According to mine, to burn a widow is murder, and I will hang every man connected with the murder.” Pilate doubtless thought that this would be an end to the matter. He little knew, apparently, those with whom he had to deal.
III. THE GROUND FOR PILATE’S RESPONSE, “I find no fault in Him.” This is the third time that Pilate made this confession. It should go for something, for it came from an experienced Roman judge--after a personal examination; after a trial, when all the odds were against the prisoner; after excruciating torture; and was made to a people whom Pilate had every reason to desire to propitiate. The only inference that can be drawn is that there was no fault in Jesus. And if Pilate found no fault in Him can we? (J. W. Burn.)
I find no fault in Him.
The faultlessness of Jesus
I. OF WHOM THIS IS SAID.
1. The Man Christ Jesus. Behold the Man! Can you find any fault
(1) With His character, which was “holy, harmless,” &c. “Which of you convinceth Me of sin?”
(2) With His words, which were untainted by falsehood, malice, wrath (except for hypocrisy and evil doing), but were full of grace, love, and truth.
(3) With His actions, which were all straightforward, righteous, beneficent.
2. The Teacher. Will you find fault with
(1) The matter of His teaching. Produce its like from pagan sages or even inspired prophets!
(2) The manner: so tender, illustrative, interesting, forceful. “Never man spake as this Man.”
3. The Saviour. Can you find fault with
(1) His power to save. “He is able to save to the uttermost.”
(2) His willingness. “Come unto Me.” “This Man receiveth sinners”--now.
4. The King. No fault can be found with One the principle of whose government is to cause all things to work together for His subjects’ good.
II. BY WHOM THIS IS SAID.
1. Pilate, the Roman judge, after the most careful examination. What would Pilate not have given had it been possible to find fault, and so extricate himself.
2. Judas His betrayer. I have shed innocent blood.” What would not that guilty conscience have given to have found one flaw on that spotless innocence.
3. The saved sinner who has trusted in Him and found mercy.
4. The afflicted believer who finds His grace sufficient.
5. The dying saint. “Yea, though I walk through the valley,” &c.
6. Angels and glorified spirits. “Worthy is the Lamb.”
What then is the conclusion to be drawn from all this?
1. All other men--the most wise and the most saintly--are faulty somewhere. But this Man had no fault.
2. Upon no other man has this verdict been passed. Friends or enemies, or himself, have found some fault. But neither friend nor foe could find fault with Jesus. Nor did He find fault with Himself. Was He not then the Holy One of God? (J. W. Burn.)
The Jews answered him, We have a law
Literalism and party spirit
WHAT WAS THE MOTIVE OF THE JEWISH PEOPLE AND PRIESTHOOD IN COMPASSING THE DEATH OF CHRIST? It was the one fixed idea of devotion to the law of Moses. It was the stubborn toughness of character which made the Jewish people the backbone of the world. It was the hereditary mark of the house of Levi, which in their zeal for their race knew no other ties. When they took up stones they could not bear to think that Christ was greater than Abraham. When the council met at the raising of Lazarus, Caiaphas declared that one man must die for the people, that was the concentrated essence of the general feeling that the national existence was at stake. And when on that second meeting, convened in the dead of the night in the high priest’s palace, it was no want of solemnity which called forth the adjuration, no false assumption of horror when he rent his robes and demanded the sentence of death. And when they saw their designs accomplished it was doubtless with a proud satisfaction that they were fifty celebrating their festival. “We have a law.” Yes, a Divine law, the type and centre of all law. “And by that law He ought to die” (see Leviticus 24:16). Often has Jesus declared Himself the Son of God. True, there is in Him an authority which teaches not as Scribes teach; a wisdom which forces us to acknowledge that never man spake as this Man; a power before which storms are hushed and sick healed; a goodness which rises above all legal institutions. All this might seem to be a far higher fulfilment of the law than could be attained by His death. But still the letter of the law, immemorial usage, say that He must die, So they argued, and with such arguments must have acted as they did. They little thought how that nation and those institutions which they had endeavoured to preserve at so dreadful a cost, were doomed by the very act by which they sought to save them.
II. WHAT ARE THE PRACTICAL LESSONS? The fact that this crime was not the result of rashness, but was the result of fixed adherence to usage, and resistance to change, might teach us
1. That there are times when such a frame of mind is not the sign of a religious spirit, but a mark of audacious and reckless presumption.
2. That the most enormous evils may flow from carrying to excess any one idea however good. In the story of the Crucifixion we may see reflected the evil of narrowness of purpose, exclusiveness of admiration, idolatry of a single principle, the bowing down to “the idols of the cave,” the idols of the party, shop, or sect that happens to be ours. Common sense is the one salt which alone can save such exaggerations from their own corruption. Had Caiaphas been open to the new influences, he would have seen in the very law and prophets he was upholding the best witness to Him he was condemning for blasphemy.
3. The value of those feelings of common humanity which justly resist all efforts of hard logic or dry reason to set them aside. Nothing could be more complete than the arguments by which the conduct of the priests was sustained; but within and above all they might have seen a pathos of suffering to which they were nevertheless wholly insensible, by which the whole world has since been moved to sympathy. Witness the revulsion of feeling with reference to other historical events--the execution of Mary Queen of Scots, the outrage on Cromwell’s remains, &c. (Dean Stanley.)
When Pilate therefore heard that
Pilate’s second interview with Christ
THE STARTLED INQUIRY--on the part of Pilate (John 19:9).
1. Its occasion
(1) Not the outcry of the Jews for Christ’s death. Pilate had already twice resisted that.
(2) Not the reminder that he, a governor, ought to respect their laws.
(3) But the intimation that Christ had called Himself “The Son of God” (John 19:7).
2. Its motive
(1) Not idle curiosity or angry impatience. The situation was too solemn for the former, too critical for the latter.
(2) Not horror at the supposed blasphemy. Pilate had not so high a religious consciousness.
(3) Not alarm lest he should be accused to Tiberius. It had not come to that yet.
(4) But semi-superstitious fear, lest Jesus, whose prefer-human greatness had impressed him, should after all be the offspring of some divinity--in which case it would be far from comfortable to him to fight against the gods.
3. Its import
(1) Not to what country dost thou belong? Pilate knew this.
(2) But of what race art Thou? human or divine? Next to “Is there a God?” the greatest question of the day.
II. MYSTERIOUS SILENCE--On the part of Christ (John 19:9).
1. Predicted (Isaiah 53:7).
2. Becoming. The question was
(1) Irrelevant. The problem before Pilate was that of Christ’s guilt or innocence, not of His origin.
(2) Unnecessary. Pilate had evidence enough, and had already decided that Jesus was without crime.
(3) Insincere Pilate was not prepared to accept the answer Christ might give. He had not done so on a former occasion (John 18:38).
(4) Too late. Pilate was not likely now to be able to extricate himself from the net in which he had been taken.
3. Eloquent--more significant than speech it proclaimed His Divine origin.
4. Perplexing. Pilate could not understand Him.
III. ANGRY REMONSTRANCE--On the part of Pilate (John 19:10).
1. Offended dignity. Pilate had marvelled greatly at his prisoner’s taciturnity when the mob first gnashed their teeth at Him (Matthew 27:14); but was not he the embodiment of imperial authority, “To me dost Thou not speak?” putting ruffled pride and mortified vanity into his tones. Men whose causes and arguments are weak generally take shelter behind their self importance. Men commonly stand on their dignity when they have nothing else to stand on.
2. Mean intimidation. The vicegerent of Rome could not resist telling his prisoner that His life and death were in his hands! It was the speech of a small dignitary who was a great coward.
3. Mistaken assumption. Unjust judges and persecutors have often since supposed that they held the life of Christ’s followers and Christ’s cause: but they have erred as Pilate did.
IV. DIGNIFIED CORRECTION--on the part of Christ (John 19:11).
1. Pride rebuked. Pilate conceived of himself as a sort of deus minor invested with at least a delegated omnipotence: Christ tells Him that both he and Caesar were simply instruments by which God worked, and in particular that he had no power over Him except as the temporary holder of the magisterial office; and that it was owing to that circumstance entirely that he had anything to do with the case.
2. Error corrected. Whatever part Pilate had to play in this momentous drama and whatever authority he had to wield, he held it not from Caesar, who himself was a vassal of the King of kings, but from above Romans 13:1; Proverbs 8:15). Hence the exercise of that power was determined not by such an accident as the answer that might be extracted from Christ. A great and illuminating thought for Pilate.
3. Sin qualified. Pilate and his prisoner have changed places. Pilates sin was great--against evidence, conscience, heaven’s warning, and Christ could say nothing to underestimate these. Only He closes not the door of hope. In the transaction there had been a greater sinner--Caiaphas. In comparison with Pilate’s guilt that of the High Priest was as a mountain to a feather, an ocean to a stream. Lessons:
1. The judicial blindness into which an unbelieving soul may fall (2 Corinthians 3:4)--exemplified in the Jewish nation and the priests.
2. The paralysing fear of a guilty conscience (Job 18:11)--illustrated in Pilate.
3. The real reason why the Jews rejected Christ--He was not the sort of Messiah they wanted (1 Corinthians 1:23).
4. The dignified reticence with which heaven treats men’s demands for more evidence--enough having been provided to enable all in earnest to decide the attitude they shall assume towards Christ (Luke 16:29; Luke 16:31).
5. The insufferable vanity which official dignity not unfrequently inspires in small souls.
6. The necessity of remembering that the source of all power and authority is God--to whom therefore all must eventually render account Romans 14:12).
7. The different degrees of culpability attaching to different sins Matthew 11:24; Matthew 11:24; Luke 12:47).
8. The duty of keeping silence (James 1:19). (T. Whitelaw, D. D.)
He was the more afraid.
I. OF THE PEOPLE.
II. OF THE EMPEROR.
III. OF THE PRISONER. (S. S. Times.)
The cowardice of guilt
Men who have lost their innocence cannot preserve their courage. (Lord Clarendon.)
Whence art Thou?
But Jesus gave him no answer
The silences of Christ
I. CHRIST PRESERVES SILENCE IS THE PRESENCE OF FALSE AND MALIGNANT ACCUSATIONS (Matthew 27:12-14). But why? Not simply because He was sublimely conscious of innocence, for there may come times when it is the duty of the innocent to defend their reputation by every lawful means. But there was no necessity for answer. Neither the men who made the statements nor the people who heard them put any faith in them--nay, they knew them to be manufactured lies. The echo of their own voices, not His voice, should condemn them--the most powerful condemnation of all. The memory of that Prisoner’s calmness and quiet dignity would haunt the false accusers night and day like a perpetual shadow until death stilled the throbbing of their tortured brains and hearts. Does not something of the same kind mark the history of the past and Christ’s dealings with men? Since the days of His earthly life false charges have been made against Him and His gospel without number. His character has been maligned, His words perverted, His claims despised. Men who hate the grandeur and purity of His teachings, who fear lest their own pretensions should be despised, have sought, by every false and selfish means, to slander Christ and Christianity. Eager, impatient Christians have even prayed for some mighty display of power to put an end to the wicked accusations, though it might involve swift judgment on the enemies of the faith. But the heavens have been dumb, Christ has been silent, and His disciples have wondered why it should be so. But such silence has been best for the Church and for the foes of the faith, while it is most in harmony with the dignity and majesty of the Divine nature. Christ cannot answer every false accuser. There is the truth; let that be His vindication. And this silence has justified itself; for where to-day are the many charges that have been urged against our Lord? Have they not disappeared, or confuted one another? We have only to set one class of opponents of Christianity over against another, and their statements become mutually destructive.
II. CHRIST PRESERVES SILENCE IN THE PRESENCE OF UNWORTHY CURIOSITY. The scene which illustrates this point is recorded for us by Luke alone (Luke 23:9). Let any man treat religion as a thing to be speculated about, as a matter for purely intellectual pleasure, as a question for exciting controversy, as only one of many strange phenomena abounding in the world, and therefore to be accounted for, and there will be no response from the heavens. Christ will be silent to that man; he will never discover the truth. Religion belongs to our moral and spiritual nature; it has to do with our hearts sad their profoundest needs. Cur desire to ascertain its truth and its meaning must be accompanied by a resolve that if we discover it to be true we will apply it to our individual necessities, a resolve to reverence it with our whole natures, to obey its every command, to cling to it with an enthusiasm and love strong as life itself. Then Christ will speak, and testify to mind and heart concerning Himself. To other motives Christ will not deign a reply. His deathlike silence will be our greatest reproach.
III. CHRIST PRESERVES SILENCE IN THE PRESENCE OF RESISTED CONVICTION. Perhaps history does not present a more saddening picture than that of Pilate, the governor, in his judicial dealings with Jesus Christ. “Whence art Thou? But Jesus gave him no answer.” The man’s nature evidently quivers with anxiety--yet his question is met with absolute silence. Why is this? Here is a truly anxious inquirer. At first sight the conduct of Christ seems strange. But we must remember two things.
1. The man’s previous conduct. He had been convinced of Christ’s innocence, and yet had given way to the clamours of a mob. When men have despised the voices that have appealed to them, what right have they to expect further revelations?
2. Jesus Christ knew the man, knew his weakness, knew he would ask but with no desire to do, and the King of Truth was not to be trifled with. There are men who have trifled with truth and conscience, with all the interests of their souls, with every influence given to draw them heavenward, and yet they wonder they are not saved, that Christ does not answer their first prayer. Why, so far as right is concerned, they have forfeited it all by their contemptuous treatment of Divine influences. More than that, they have thus rendered themselves, in a measure, incapable of receiving further revelations from heaven. (W. Braden.)
The silences of Jesus
I. BEFORE CAIAPHAS AND FALSE WITNESSES (Matthew 26:63; Mark 14:61). The Faithful and True Witness before liars and hypocrites.
II. BEFORE HEROD (Luke 23:9). The Holy One of God before the idle curiosity of a flagitious prince.
III. BEFORE THE ACCUSATIONS OF THE CHIEF PRIESTS AT PILATE’S BAR Matthew 27:14). The Sinless One before charges the speakers knew were lies.
IV. BEFORE PILATE (John 19:9). The King of Truth before an insincereinquirer.
V. BEFORE THE SYRO-PHOENICIAN WOMAN (Matthew 15:23). Incarnate love before a humble and earnest petitioner. (T. Whitelaw, D. D.)
He was acting according to His own precept Matthew 7:6).
This is very strange. Hitherto He had spoken freely and replied to questions; now He refused to speak any more.
I. THE REASON MUST BE SOUGHT IN THE STATE OF PILATE’S SOUL. He deserved no answer, and therefore got none. He had forfeited his title to any further revelation about his prisoner. He had been told plainly the nature of our Lord’s kingdom, and the purpose of His coming, and been obliged to confess publicly His innocence. And yet he had treated Him with flagrant injustice. He had, in short, sinned away his opportunities, forsaken his own mercies, and turned a deaf ear to the cries of his own conscience. Hence our Lord would have nothing more to do with him.
II. Here, as in many other cases, WE LEARN THAT GOD WILL NOT FORCE CONVICTION ON MEN, and will not compel obstinate unbelievers to believe, and will not always strive with men’s consciences. Most men, like Pilate, have a day of grace, and an open door put before them. If they refuse to enter in, and choose their own sinful way, the door is often shut, and never opened again. There is such a thing as a “day of visitation,” when Christ speaks to men. If they will not hear His voice they are often left to reap the fruit of their own sins. It was so with Pharaoh, Saul, and Ahab, and Pilate’s case was like theirs.
III. We must not forget that PILATE’S WICKED REFUSAL TO LISTEN to his own conscience, AND OUR LORD’S consequent REFUSAL TO SPEAK TO HIM ANY MORE, WERE ALL OVERRULED BY THE ETERNAL COUNSELS OF GOD to the carrying out of His purpose of redemption. If our Lord had revealed who He was, and forced Pilate to see it, the crucifixion might perhaps never have taken place, and the great sacrifice for a world’s sins might never have been offered. Our Lord’s silence was just and well merited. But it was also part of God’s counsels about man’s salvation.
IV. Note that THERE IS “A TIME TO BE SILENT,” as well as “a time to speak.” This is a matter in the social intercourse of daily life, about which we all need to pray for wisdom. To be always saying to everybody everything we know, is not the line of a wise follower of Christ.
V. Note that IF WE DO NOT MAKE A GOOD USE OF LIGHT AND OPPORTUNITIES,--and if we resist Christ speaking to our conscience,--A TIME MAY COME WHEN, LIKE PILATE, WE MAY SPEAK TO CHRIST, and ask things of Him, AND HE MAY GIVE US NO ANSWER (Proverbs 1:24-32). (Bp. Ryle.)
The tribute of Christ’s silence to His Deity
This silence was the most emphatic answer to all who had ears to hear it, was a reference to what He had said before (chap. 18:37), and so a witness to His Divine origin. Would any mere man, of true and upright character, have refused an answer to a question so put? Let the modern rationalist consider this. (Dean Alford.)
I. SILENT DIGNITY.
II. UNCOMPLAINING SUBMISSION.
III. HELPLESS TYRANNY. (S. S. Times.)
Then said Pilate unto Him, Speakest Thou not unto me?
I. WEAKNESS RAGING IN THE PRESENCE OF POWER.
II. COWARDICE STORMING IN THE PRESENCE OF COURAGE.
III. SIN WRITHING IN THE PRESENCE OF SANCTITY.
IV. MAN BOASTING IN THE PRESENCE OF GOD. (S. S. Times.)
Knowest Thou not that I have power to crucify Thee?… Thou couldest have no power at all against Me, except it were given thee from above
All power from God
Men are inclined to think that they have power for good or power for evil because of their wealth, station, or influence. They fail to consider that all their power is a simple trust from God; and that not only are they responsible for the use they make of it, but the power itself is liable to be taken away from them, or held in check at the command of God at any instant. Men are free agents in the use of all their faculties and all their possessions; but their free agency is a gift of God; and God has not surrendered His watch or His control of every free agent in His service or among His opponents. No man has power for good or for evil except as God consents to that man’s temporary exercise of power. There is a warning in this thought to those who may have fancied that they could either serve or resist God of their own strength. There is comfort and cheer in this thought to those who are threatened, or who are imperiled, by the hostility of others. A man can, in a sense, help God’s cause by generous giving, or by earnest doing--if God permits man to give help in that way. A man can, in a sense, harm God’s cause by opposing the right, or by withholding the aid that he ought to render--if God permits the man to do harm in that way. But, in the truest sense, no man can render a service to the devil, or harm a hair of a believer’s head, unless God consents to this exercise of the man’s power. But in either case the man is responsible for what he would like to do. By God’s permission he is a free agent there. (H. C.Trumbull, D. D.)
Therefore he that delivered Me unto thee hath the greater sin.
The greater sin
These words are a declaration of the great guilt of the Jewish nation and its rulers in asking Pilate to exercise his God-given authority against the Son of God. Pilate did what he did ignorantly and in unbelief; they knew he knew not. The greater sin was committed by the men who with the Scriptures in their hand called on him who had not those Scriptures to condemn their own Messiah.
I. PILATE’S POWER WAS FROM ABOVE.
1. As governor. “There is no power but of God,” &c. The recognition of this lies at the root of all true politics. Earthly crowns are thus linked with the heavenly. Kings and magistrates are by reason of their office responsible to God. Not personally, as other men, merely. It is just because of their office that they are bound to consecrate everything that their office gives them power over to the service of Him from whom they have received their power.
2. As a Gentile governor. The Jews, for their sins, had been given over to Gentile dominion. So that in a double sense Pilate’s power was not his own, nor from Rome, nor from the people, but from God, and was therefore to be specially used for God. He might not know all this; but Israel knew it, for their prophets, Daniel especially, had taught them it; and therefore they had the “greater sin.”
II. EVEN A BAD MAN’S POWER IS FROM GOD. Our Lord affirms this of Pilate when using that power for the perpetration of the greatest crime ever committed. Let no man therefore point to the sins of potentates and say, Can the power of these men be given them from above? Listen to our Lord’s words here, or St. Paul’s when in the days of Nero he said (referring to the words of Christ), “Let every soul be subject to the higher powers,” i.e., authorities holding from above; and when he proclaims civil government to be “the ordinance of God”; nay, when he calls the civil ruler “the minister of God.”
III. THE USE OF GOD-GIVEN POWER FOR A BAD PURPOSE IS ALLOWED OF GOD. Pilate is free to act; but he is responsible to God for his actions. God overrules his wickedness and employs him as an instrument for carrying out His purposes. He ought to use his power for a good purpose; not for condemning the Son of God, but for honouring Him; and when he abuses his authority he is doubly guilty, though that guilt is made use of by God. What a reckoning is at hand with the kings of the earth for the abuse of their power (Psalms 82:1-8.)! Like Pharaoh working out Israel’s deliverance, Pilate here works out the deliverance of the Church, according to the purpose of God. (H. Bonar, D. D.)
Greater and lesser sins
The delivering of Christ to suffer and to die is sometimes spoken of as a good deed (Romans 8:32). And it was no sinful act in God; but was an act of
(1) Love (John 3:16).
(2) Infinite justice. When He had taken our debt upon Him, it was just that He should suffer for it. But in Judas it was a wicked act. God delivered Him to Judas, Judas to the priests, the priests to Pilate, and Pilate to death. There was sin in all those, but there was no sin in God.
I. THERE ARE SOME THINGS IN WHICH ALL SINS ARE ALIKE.
1. In the same definition. They are all a breach of the law.
2. In the desert of them (Galatians 3:10 : Romans 6:23). Every transgression of the law deserves death.
3. In that the same price is paid to satisfy for them; no little sin is satisfied with less than the blood of Christ.
4. In respect of the possibility of the pardon of them; it was ill-said of Cain, “Mine iniquity is greater than can be forgiven” (mar. Genesis 4:13).
II. IN WHAT RESPECT IS ONE SIN SAID TO BE GREATER THAN ANOTHER? When one sin is said to be little, it is not meant absolutely as if any sin were little, but comparatively. There are three Scripture comparisons.
1. Some sins are called gnats, others camels (Matthew 23:24).
2. Some motes, and others as beams.
3. Some pence, and others talents. Note that some sins
(1) Are more displeasing to God than others.
(2) Grieve the conscience more than others.
(3) Procure more plagues and punishments in this world than others.
(4) Sink people lower in belt than others.
(5) Spread more of their infection upon others.
(a) By the example. He that begins m a sin, that sin is greater in him than in others; therefore, Adam’s sin was great, because we all sinned in him.
(b) In respect of the penal consequence: the sin of David in numbering the people was great; and it appeared, because God did visit it on His people, and slew thousands of them; therefore, all sins are not alike.
III. WHAT IS IT THAT MAKES ONE SIN GREATER THAN ANOTHER. Judas’s sin was the greater for four reasons.
1. It was a leading sin (Acts 1:16). He is called the guide to them that took Jesus. Take heed how you are, any of you, guides to others to sin.
2. That which moved Pilate was fear of Caesar; but it was not fear that made Judas betray Christ, but love of money (cf. Matthew 26:14-15 Luke 22:3-5)
. Satan entered into Judas. So, where the love of money is, it is a sign that the devil is entered. There is no sin so great but the love of money will make a man commit it; so it was with Ananias and Sapphira; Satan had filled their hearts.
3. The greatest aggravation of Judas’s sin was the price--thirty pieces of silver; the price of a common servant (Exodus 21:32).
4. The dissimulation that was in it.
(1) Pilate was a heathen, a stranger to Christ.
(2) Pilate did it openly; but Judas did it in the night, when honest people were a-bed.
(3) What Judas did, he did with a kiss, but Pilate did not do so
5. The deliberation and contrivance that was in it (Luke 22:21). Pilate’s hand was not there. Every premeditated sin is a great sin (Micah 2:1). It is one thing to be overtaken with a fault, and another thing to overtake it. Conclusion: What happened to Judas for this sin?
1. He died by his own hand despairing.
2. It brought him to his own place.
3. His name stinks to this day. (Philip Henry.)
From thenceforth Pilate sought to release Him
Pilate’s last attempt to rescue Christ
DESPAIRING STRUGGLES BY A FEEBLE SOUL (John 19:12).
1. The earnestness of this attempt. Already he had endcavoured to rescue Christ
(1) By refusing to proceed without an accusation (John 18:29).
(2) By offering a choice between Barabbas and Jesus (John 18:39;Matthew 27:17).
(3) By scourging Christ and thus appealing to their sympathy (John 19:5). These stratagems were defeated, perhaps largely because Pilate had not been in earnest. Now he bends himself with energy and determination to the task.
2. The reason of this attempt.
(1) The inward conviction of fear that Christ was a supernatural being.
(2) The deepening impression made by Christ’s person and character.
(3) The secret apprehension that it would not be safe to proceed farther against Christ.
(4) The gentleness Christ had displayed in palliating his offence.
II. DEXTEROUS MANOEUVRING BY A CRAFTY FOE. “But the Jews cried out,” &c. The last arrow that the Jews had in their quiver, was
1. Sharply pointed. It was a return to the original indictment of sedition which Pilate an hour before had waved aside as absurd. Now they show the governor how adroitly it may be turned against himself. Tiberius would hardly regard as a loyal act the liberation of one who had professed to be a king.
2. Correctly aimed. The shaft found the open joint in Pilate’s harness and went straight to his heart. There was nothing that Pilate had more reason to dread than deletion to the emperor.
3. Powerfully driven home. Like men bent on having their way, they cried out with one simultaneous yell. And they had it! The procurator reeled as one shot.
III. IGNOMINIOUS SURRENDER BY AN UNJUST JUDGE (John 19:13). The capitulation was
1. Cowardly. These accused hierarchs had proved better players than himself for Jesus’ life. With truth, justice, conscience, heaven, Christ and God on his side he had lost the game because he was a coward. The one thing he could not contemplate without a shudder was being reported to the emperor.
2. Complete. The struggle so long and at one time so gallantly and to appearance so hopefully, maintained was ended. There was no mistaking the import of Pilate’s next actions, the fetching out of Jesus, the sitting down upon the judge’s chair, and perhaps the handwashing.
3. Contemptuous. “Behold your King!” as if intimating with fierce disdain and stinging mockery of the people that had conquered him, that the thorn-crowned prisoner was indeed their King.
4. Conclusive. The deed was irrevocable (John 19:16). If for a moment there was hesitation while for the last time he asked, “Shall I crucify your King?” it was only for a moment, it was swept away before the awful shout, “We have no king but Caesar.”
1. The difficulty of doing right when self-interest stands in the way, “If self the wavering balance shake, its rarely right adjusted” (Robert Burns).
2. The feebleness of every soul that hesitates to follow conscience. Had Pilate listened only to the still small voice within he had been invincible.
3. The guilt incurred by openly defying conscience. Christ palliated Pilate’s sin before the preceding interview: it is not clear that He would have done so after that interview closed.
4. The degeneracy into which a soul may fall by turning away from Christ. Priests and people elected Caesar for their king rather than have God’s Son for their Messiah! (T. Whitelaw, D. D.)
Pilate; or, worldly policy
We have here an illustration of
I. WORLDLY POLICY. The main motive that led to Pilate’s final decision was a regard to his safety and his ease. He felt that to take a determined stand on the innocence of our Lord would involve peril to his position; and he was not prepared to incur that danger. It is by such considerations that men are moved and confronted in doing wrong. We live in a time of expediency, in the sense of not doing right lest it should be unprofitable. A high civilization and a large development of the commercial spirit is always in danger of fostering this. In public affairs, the favourite point of view is the economic; the popular inquiries are, what will it cost? Dishonesty is practised in business because it is lucrative, and conscientious conviction is suppressed lest it should lead to social disrepute. Oh! beware of Pilate’s sin; learn the grand lesson that we have nothing to do with consequences when truth and right are involved. It will often happen that sincerity and righteousness will entail loss and suffering; and he who would keep a good conscience must lay his account with these. If we be not prepared for them, if we will only cleave to godliness when it is “gain,” and to honesty when it is the best policy, there is nothing for us but to go in Pilate’s steps, and abandon Christ, though convinced that there is no fault in Him at all.
II. WORLDLY POLICY RESISTING AND EFFECTUALLY SUBDUING THE STRONGEST CONVICTIONS OF DUTY. Pilate wished and tried to deliver Christ, without sacrificing himself, for that purpose. He did not choose to do wrong; he did much to avoid doing it. And this may be the case with us: it often is. We do not fall at once. We set ourselves manfully against the besetting suggestions of interest, pleasure and good opinion. We enter the contest with a sincere desire to be right. It is long, perhaps, before we are prepared to give up; we strive to subordinate circumstances to our convictions; we go on, now under one pretence and now under another, until all pretences are exhausted: but at last an election must be made, Christ must be sacrificed or sin must be resigned, and, like the young man we feel the pressure of his demands to be too strong for us, and depart from him though “sorrowful.” And there are times when the case assumes an especially solemn form; that, e.g., of deep spiritual conviction, and that of decision as to the general way and course of life. Then is Christ before us, arraigned and accused by the Sanhedrim of passion, interest, and sophistry, before the Pilate of reason, conscience, and true affection; the conflict may be long and painful; ingenious devices may be used to terminate or to postpone it: but escape and delay are both impossible; a decision must be made; and the soul reluctantly, and with a tearful eye, resigns the Saviour, and gives itself up to sin, and to a lie. And often this decision is final; it cannot be reversed. “If we sin wilfully,” &c.
III. WORLDLY POLICY BRINGING A MAN INTO BONDAGE TO THOSE HE SHOULD GOVERN. Pilate was afraid of being accused by the Jews of unfaithfulness to the Roman emperor. He was the governor, and was deterred from doing right by the malice of the people over whom he presided. He was subject to those who were subject to him. Worldly policy often makes us abdicate our proper functions, and serve when we should reign. We are in the world, and in the Church, to do good, and to maintain righteousness. Whatever our superiority over others, and our means of affecting them, it is a faculty intended to resist their evil and advance their welfare; but if we give heed to the suggestions of selfishness; we not only do wrong, but do wrong to those whom we allow thus to influence us. Pilate, the governor, is the instrument of the Jews.
IV. WORLDLY POLICY DERIVING STRENGTH FROM. A MAN’S OWN MISDEEDS. Pilate’s rule in Judaea was very far from what it should have been. He could not therefore afford to provoke the nation. He must do wrong again, because he had done wrong already. And how often do we see sin working in this way! We have put ourselves in the power of the world by our transgressions and inconsistencies. Could we bring an unsullied character, human esteem and honour, with us to the task, we might hope to make some impression, but now there will be the mocking surprise, the bitter retort, the hot wrath; and the will to do good, as in Pilate’s case, is chained by the memory of past evil. And if past sins may make us subject to men, they are still more likely to make us slaves to ourselves, “When we would do good, evil is present with us.” How many are there who, like Pilate, would let Christ go, aye and welcome Him as the Son of God, but for the oppressions of former iniquities! could they but blot them out, what would they not do! but the tyranny of lust and worldliness is strong upon them; and he is sacrificed, and they are sacrificed, to “old sins.” (A. J. Morris.)
Was Pilate exceptionally weak in this thing? He wanted to be of service to Jesus, but he was not quite ready to be ruined for Him. There are corresponding tests of fidelity to the right in every man’s experience all the way along in life. A public official or representative has to decide whether he will yield to some unjust popular clamour in behalf of a special interest, or against an obnoxious class, or lose all his hopes of promotion and even all fair prospect of well doing in the public service. A business man must meet the question whether he will conform to some established method of wrong-doing in the line of his business, or abandon his prospects of “success” in life. An employe finds himself face to face with the problem, how he can do the work that is required of him, at the times when it is called for, consistently with his conscience and the law of God; and whether he is willing to accept the consequences of standing out against the necessities of his employment as it is. The position of Pilate was, after all, no more trying than is the position of almost every man who faces Christ and Christ’s cause to-day; and now, as always, only he who is ready to lose his life, and to lose a great deal more than life, for the sake of Christ, can fairly be called a true and faithful servant of Christ. Pilate was weak under such a pressure as this. Would to God he had been the last weak one in such an emergency! (H. C.Trumbull, D. D.)
If thou let this man go thou art not Caesar’s friend
Caesar or Christ
I. CAESAR’S FRIEND.
1. An enemy of Christ.
2. A lover of self.
3. A slave of man. Such Pilate was!
II. CHRIST’S FRIEND.
1. A lover of the truth.
2. A doer of the right.
3. A champion of the wronged.
4. A sympathizer with the suffering.
5. A servant of conscience.
6. A denier of self. Such Pilate might have been. (T. Whitelaw, D. D.)
When Pilate therefore heard that
The down grade
Pilate’s time for playing with the situation is gone; now the situation plays with him.
First he said, not asked, “What is truth?” Now his frightened heart, to which the emperor’s favour is the supreme law of life, says, “What is justice?” (J. P. Lange, D. D.)
A place that is called the pavement, but in the Hebrew, Gahbatha.--Both these words occur here only, and are instances of the writer’s minute knowledge of the localities in Jerusalem. It may have been better to have preserved the Greek name (Lithost-roton), as well as that by which the place was known in the Hebrew (Syro-Chaldaic), of the time. The word literally means stonepaved, and was the Greek name for the tesselated “pavement” of marble and coloured stones with which, from the time of Sylla, the Romans delighted to adorn the Praetorium. The Chaldic word means “an elevated place,” so that the one name was given to it from its form, and the other from the material of which it was made. Suetonius tells us that Julius Caesar carried about with him such pieces of marble and stone, but the mention of the “place” bears the impression that it was a fixture in front of the Praetorium at Jerusalem, in which the Bema was placed; or it may have been a portion of the northern court of the sanctuary to which Pilate came out, if we identify the Praetorium with the tower Antonia (cf. Matthew 27:27)
. Josephus mentions that the whole of the Temple mountain was paved with this kind of mosaic work. (Archdeacon Watkins.)
It was the preparation of the passover.
--The name Paraskeue? was given to the day of the week, our Friday, the day before the Sabbath, and had absolutely nothing to do with any preparation for the passover. The Gospels show this beyond a doubt (Mark 15:42; Mt Luke 23:54). If any confirmation were wanted it may be found in the fact that the name is applied in a Greece-Roman decree quoted by Josephus (“Ant.” 16.6, sec. 2) to the week day which answers to our Friday. Even the phrase which seems most to suggest a different view, “the preparation of the passover,” here in John, does not mean more than “Passover Friday”; the Friday in Passover week, and coming, therefore, before a Sabbath more solemn than others (verse 31). It may be noted further that the term Paraskeue? was adopted by the Church, Western as well as Eastern, as a synonym for the Dies Veneris, or Friday. (Archdeacon Watkins.)
And about the sixth hour.--It is difficult to harmonize this statement with Matthew’s narrative, according to which, at mid-day, Jesus had been for some time on the cross, and still more with Mark 15:25, where it is said that it was the third hour, i.e., nine o’clock, when Jesus was crucified. But let it be remembered
1. That the day as a whole was divided, like the night, into four parts of three hours each. This explains why mention is scarcely ever made in the New Testament of any hours except the third, sixth and ninth (cf. Matthew 20:1-5)
, and why also the expressions “almost” or “about” are so frequent (Matthew 27:46; Luke 23:44; John 4:6; Acts 10:3-9). The ὡς, about, is expressly added here. It is therefore certainly allowable to take the mean here, both in Mark and John, especially if it be remembered that the apostles had not watch in hand. As Mark’s third hour may extend from eight to ten o’clock, John’s sixth certainly includes from eleven to twelve.
2. But above all account must be taken of an important circumstance that Matthew and Mark have given to the scourging of Jesus, the meaning which it ordinarily had, and have regarded it as the beginning of the whole punishment. They have consequently identified the two judicial acts which are strictly distinguished by John, that whereby Pilate condemned Jesus to scourging, and that whereby He delivered Him over to the last penalty of death. It is easily conceivable that Mark, having lost sight of the entire interval between the two condemnations, has dated the pronouncing of the sentence of death at the time which was properly that of the sentence of scourging. (F. Godet, D. D.)
He saith unto the Jews, Behold your King
The two kingdoms
The words are words of scorn, at once angry and bitter. Pilate is exasperated by the obstinate determination of the Jews to have the blood of Jesus. He has an infidel’s contempt for the bigotry and fanaticism of these fierce zealots. He has the contempt of a Roman soldier for conquered provincials, writhing in vain under the heel of the conquerer. And yet, for the moment, these fierce fanatics are too strong for him. They know their own mind, and he does not know his. Thus, in this supreme moment, which (humanly speaking) sealed the fate of Jesus, there come into clear view two distinct kingdoms--two absolutely antagonistic forms of royal power: one, represented by the crown of thorns the other, by the imperial sceptre of Rome; one, impersonated, then and ever since, in Jesus the crucified--the other, for the moment, in a Tiberius. And the question--not then only, but at all times and for all men--is: To which of these two diverse and antagonistic kingdoms shall we yield the homage of our hearts--the indivisible loyalty of soul and will? There is a power which addresses itself to the eye--which dazzles, and by dazzling attracts. And, again, there is a power which addresses itself, not to the eye of sense, but to the spirit within; and which attracts, not by any external dazzling, but by an interior subjugation, to which conscience and heart yield themselves freely and joyfully. The empire of Borne was of the former kind; the empire of Jesus Christ was, and is, of the latter. Power of the former kind is essentially local and fleeting and transient; power of the latter kind may be universal and eternal. The kingdom of Christ has upon it the marks, which indicate, to say the very least, the possibility of such universal and everlasting empire. The ruins and debris of the Roman empire are all that survives to show where and what it once was. Christ’s kingdom grows stronger and stronger, larger and larger, with every passing century. Even now it is only in its infancy. What will it be? Now this kingdom is founded upon service and sacrifice. He stoops to conquer. He stoops to the likeness of men, in order to conquer humanity for God. The cross is His passport to the throne of our hearts. In our best moments we all acknowledge His right to reign over us. But ever and again, side by side with that kingdom of His, which is not of this world, there comes into view a kingdom which is of this world; the allurements of wealth, or pleasure, or interest, or power--the life lived to self, and not to God. This is our “Caesar,” brethren. It is of this, that we find ourselves, again and again, tempted to cry,” “We have no king but Caesar.” More than this. According as we yield ourselves to the sway of the one kingdom or of the other--the kingdom which is of this world, or the kingdom which is not of this world--accordingly do we exercise, in nut own small place and day, the powersof that kingdom. They transmit themselves through us as their agents, and we become workers for the one kingdom or the other, as the case may be. Will we offer ourselves to Christ, our rightful king, in a truly loyal allegiance? Forthwith, behold, we become, as it were, a medium of communication between Him and the world around us. He works through us. He seats us, if we may say so, on the lowest step of His own throne. We share His present power, even now; as we shall share His future, final triumph, hereafter. If, on the other hand, we yield ourselves to the Caesar of this world, and allow him practically, in any one or more of his many forms, to rule over us; we do so, not for ourselves only and to the peril of our own souls, but for others also and to the peril of theirs. “No man liveth to himself.” No man can so isolate himself from his fellows, that no influence, either for evil or for good, shall pass through him to them. No man can either ruin or save his own soul, without doing something, it may be much, to ruin or to save the souls of others. The picture may seem to some overdrawn. True: it is an ideal picture. In actual experience, no life is wholly surrendered to the sway, either of the kingdom of Christ, or of the kingdom of this world. Motives, actions, characters--all, in real life, are, more or less, mixed. The worst have traits of goodness. The best bear at least the scars of conquered evil. Yet still, the weight of every human soul--the momentum of every human life--is flung distinctly andunmistakably, in its net result, either on Christ’s side or on Caesar’s. Brethren, which of these two alternatives do we embrace? (D. J.Vaughan, M. A.)
1. Pilate spake far more than he understood, and therefore we shall not confine ourselves to his meaning.
2. Everything concerning our Lord was more than ever full of meaning just then; the saying of Caiaphas, the fleeing of the disciples, the dividing of His garments, the soldier piercing His side, &c.
3. It was to the Jews that Jesus was brought forth, and by them He was rejected; yet was He distinctly declared to be their King.
4. The same is repeated at this day among those favoured with special privileges; but whether they accept Him or not, He is assuredly in some sense or other their King.
5. To the summons of the text the answer was mockery.
6. We would with deepest reverence draw near and behold our King. Behold Him
I. PREPARING HIS THRONE.
1. He lays the foundation of it in His suffering nature.
2. He makes it a throne of grace by His atoning griefs.
3. He prepares access to it through His ability to have compassion on those who come to Him, by partaking in all their sorrows.
4. He canopies and glorifies it by the shame to which He willingly and unreservedly yields Himself. Believe in the perpetuity of a throne thus founded.
II. CLAIMING OUR HOMAGE. By the right of
1. Supreme love.
2. Complete purchase.
3. Grateful consecration, which we heartily accord to Him under a sense of loving gratitude. Glory in rendering homage thus made due.
III. SUBDUING HIS DOMINIONS.
1. Jews and Gentiles are won to obedience by beholding His sufferings for them.
2. This brings in His own elect everywhere.
3. This restores backsliders. They look to Him whom they have pierced, and return to their allegiance.
4. This holds all His true servants captive; they glory in yielding their all to Him who was thus put to shame for them.
5. This subdues all things unto Him. By His Cross and Passion He reigns in heaven, earth, and hell. Bow low before the sceptre of His Cross.
IV. SETTING FORTH THE PATTERN OF HIS KINGDOM. He stands there the Prophet and the Type of His own dominion.
1. It is no earthly kingdom: the difference is palpable to all.
2. It is associated with shame and suffering, both on the part of the King and of His loyal subjects.
3. It is based on His love and self-sacrifice: this is His right of sovereignty, this His force of arms, this the source of His revenue.
4. It is made resplendent by His woes: these are the insignia and ornaments of His court; His glory even in heaven. Glory only in the Cross.
V. PROVING THE CERTAINTY OF HIS KINGDOM
1. Is He King there in His shame? Then, assuredly, He is King now that He has risen from the dead, and gone into the glory.
2. Is He King amid shame and pain? Then He is able to help us if we are in like case.
3. Is He King while paying the price of our redemption? Then, certainly, He is King now that it is paid, and He has become the Author of eternal salvation.
4. Is He King at Pilate’s bar? Then truly He will be so when Pilate stands at His bar to be judged. Conclusion:
1. Come hither, saints, and pay your accustomed worship!
2. Come hither, sinners, and adore for the first time! (C. H.Spureon.)
But they cried out … Crucify Him.
--As the “Crucify Him!” falls upon our ears, it is simply the cry of an excited mob, instigated by the chief priests and elders. It falls painfully upon our Christian, and even upon our civilized, ears. We do not like to see human nature wrought up to such a pitch of frenzy. And if He whose cruel execution is thus demanded is the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world, then this cry pierces our very souls. But let us, while we gather around the cross, close our outward ear and hear with the ear of faith. Then other voices will reach us, and, though they utter the very same sentence, it will sound very differently and produce a far different impression. We hear a voice
I. FROM THE DIVINE SIDE.
1. From the throne of God. “Let Him be crucified” is the decree of the Almighty, the “determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God.” This shedding of the precious blood of Christ, as of “a lamb without blemish and without spot,” was “fore-ordained before the foundation of the world.” We cannot discern the point at which God’s sovereignty and man’s free agency meet: we know that they were without excuse who nailed the Redeemer to the tree; but underlying all, overruling all, accomplishing all, is the Divine purpose. Through that guilty act of man there was wrought a mysterious bat most real purpose of Divine love. “God so loved the world,” &c. We shall never know at what a cost nor understand the terrible strain upon the heart of the infinite Father. But though there entered into His ear that deepest wail of sorrow, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” He only answered by His silence--“Let Him be crucified.” It was a terrible price to pay, but only thus can sin be taken away and man be saved from everlasting death.
2. From the cross itself. Christ had prayed a little before that if it were possible for human salvation to be secured in any other way He might be spared. But not otherwise. It was for this purpose He had taken human nature upon Him. “Lo, I come,” &c. And now, He asks not for deliverance; nay, though He is able to come down from the cross, yet will He not do it. “Let Me be crucified” is the utterance of the willing sufferer. “I have power to lay down My life, and I will lay it down for My sheep.” “For the joy that is set before Me I will endure the Cross and despise the shame.” “Father, forgive them,” &c.
3. The Holy Spirit joins His voice. In all that He had caused to be written He had foreshadowed the death of the Son of God. The sacrifice in Eden; the sacrifice of Abel; the paschal lamb and the scapegoat; the sacrifices offered every day upon the Jewish altar; all pointed to this Lamb of God now laid upon the altar of the cross. How then, saith the Spirit, shall “all be fulfilled” unless He be crucified?
II. FROM THE HUMAN SIDE. Is there no petition for this atoning death from the lips of the sinners themselves whom God has so loved? I will suppose that we are gathered about the cross of Christ, and that the consciousness of our sin and misery has dawned upon our minds and is burdening our souls. Shall we enter our protest? Shall we say, “Let Him not be crucified.” Oh, then, if He should heed our cry, what would become of us? We cannot by any means save ourselves. “The soul that sinneth, it shall die”; and we cannot make ourselves alive. We are sold unto Satan; we are powerless to deliver ourselves; only One can do that, and He in one way only, viz., by being crucified. If He dies the death, at that instant the doors of our prison-house will fly open and Satan will be powerless to hold us. But not otherwise. And so we cry, “O Son of God, die for us.” Are we selfish? Would we have Him perish that we may live? Ah, if the condition of our salvation were His everlasting destruction, God forbid that we should demand the awful sacrifice! For what would heaven be with such a memory as that? But when we know that, “having died for our sins, He will rise again for our justification”; that He would far rather die for us thus than to have us lost; and that our salvation will be a source of joy to Him for ever, we can say, while we mourn that our sins have pierced Him and made it necessary for Him to die, “Let Him be crucified.” Conclusion:
1. Let nothing draw you who are Christians away from Christ crucified even for one careless moment.
2. What shall be said to those who seem so indifferent about this great event? Shall heaven and hell be moved by this scene, and any of us men, for whose salvation it occurred, pass by it? (G. D. Baker, D. D.)
The chief priests answered, We have no king but Caesar
No king but Caesar
1. There is nothing which shows more completely what sin is, than the scenes which centre about the death of our Lord. We see wicked men now, but they act generally under restraint; but here sin seemed to be without restraint; and it carried the Jews on to a wickedness unparalleled in history. For Christ did nothing in the whole course of His life to anger men. What aroused evil passions was simply the righteousness that was in Him. Therefore, if we desire to understand what sin itself is, we must look at it in those wicked men, who would have nothing but the blood of the sinless Saviour.
2. In the text we see the degradation of sin. These Jews renounced every thing of national honour and greatness, every hope concerning the Messiah; every principle of patriotism; and they confessed themselves the abject slaves of their Roman conquerors. Heretofore, their highest glory was that God was their King; and in the strength of this position they had endured, with a certain air of grandeur, their oppression. But the language, “We have no king but Caesar,” was a complete abandonment of all their claims. What was it all for? Simply that hatred might satiate itself in the blood of One who had conferred upon them the highest benefits. It was sin in the heart, acting without restraint, showing its true self. In order to carry out purposes of wrong, it is not unusual to find men falsifying their whole past record, and placing an indelible stain upon their characters. See what avariciousness and covetousness will make a man stoop to, the many mean, tricky, and dishonest actions. See what ambition will bring men to. See how the inordinate appetite for strong drink will bring men from respectability to the gutter. See how impurity, unchastity, and all the vices of fleshly sensuality, destroy manhood. He abandons every thing, to serve the Caesar of his own sinful lusts and passions.
3. In the end these Jews got more than they wanted from Caesar. When they were made to feel the iron heel of the despot in the destruction of their city, how their minds must have reverted to the day when they cried out to Pilate, “We have no king but Caesar”! So is it with sin when it has finished its work. Its imperious will must be submitted to. When at last the man has reached that awful end in eternity, when there is no thought, desire, affection, will, but to do iniquity; when he is entirely under the control of sin, and is enduring the suffering consequent upon sin--then will be realized the bitter degradation and curse to which sin legitimately tends. (C. S. Abbott.)
Christ, a great King
Latimer, while preaching one day before Henry VIII., stood up in the pulpit, and seeing the king, addressed himself in a kind of soliloquy, thus: “Latimer, Latimer, Latimer, take care of what you say, for the great King Henry VIII. is here.” Then he paused, and proceeded: “Latimer, Latimer, Latimer, take care what you say, for the great King of kings is here.” (W. Baxendale.)
The universal sovereignty of Christ
When Alexander the Great set forward upon his great exploits before leaving Macedonia, he divided amongst his captains and nobles all his property. On being rebuked by a friend for having, as he thought, acted so foolishly in parting with all his possessions, reserving nothing for himself, Alexander replied, “I have reserved for myself much more than I have given away: I have reserved for myself the hope of universal monarchy; and when, by the valour and help of these my captains and nobles, I shall be monarch of the world, the gifts I have parted with will come back to me with an increase of a thousandfold.” (W. Baxendale.)
Then delivered he Him therefore unto them to be crucified
I. NOT WHEN THE EVIDENCE AGAINST JESUS WAS CONCLUSIVE. Charges had been made, but nothing had been proved. Neither in their testimony, nor in the utterances of Jesus Himself, did Pilate find any ground for passing the death-sentence.
II. NOT WHEN HEROD SENT HIM BACK TO PILATE. Had that ruler sent word that Christ was worthy of death, Pilate might have yielded, and “then” have passed sentence on the prisoner. But Pilate says: “No, nor yet Herod: for I sent you to him; and lo, nothing worthy of death is done unto Him.”
III. NOT WHEN HIS WIFE URGED HIM TO PLEASE THE JEWS. Herod had, indeed, beheaded John the Baptist through his wife’s influence. But, singularly enough, Pilate’s wife defended the righteous Prisoner.
IV. NOT WHEN HE THOUGHT THAT THE MOTIVES OF HIS ACCUSERS WERE JUST AND HOLY. Pilate was not by any means deceived by them.
V. NOT WHEN HE HAD NO POWER TO DELIVER CHRIST FROM THEIR RAGE. “Knowest Thou not that I have power,” &c. The power lay absolutely in his hands. The Jews knew this, and Pilate knew it. He never could have pleaded that he was powerless.
VI. NOT WHEN HIS CONSCIENCE FAILED TO ACT IN THIS MATTER. If ever Pilate’s conscience was active, it was just at this time. To the very last it strove with him, even to the extent of making him wash his hands. His testy answer to the Jews, later on, when they wanted the superscription over the cross changed, shows that he was irritated at having been dragged into the position in which he found himself.
VII. WHEN HE SAW THAT BY REFUSAL HE WOULD FORFEIT THE FAVOUR OF THE JEWS. He did not want to do wrong, if he could help it. But, at the same time, he did not want to lose the favour of the Jewish leaders. Two desires strove within him for the mastery. The conflict was long and bitter. All arguments but one were in favour of the release of Jesus. But all just arguments had to go to the wall before the one selfish motive of popularity. Conclusion: And are there no modern Pilates? The youngest child has had experience enough to enable him to sympathize keenly with this man.
1. For no one lives long in this world without finding that, sooner or later, duty and desire conflict with each other. Not for lack of light, but for lack of will, do men go astray.
2. Like Pilate, men seek to evade the responsibility for their actions. How often “circumstances” are blamed, or companions are made the bearers of the responsibility. “Inability” to resist is pleaded. Any flimsy excuse is laid hold of and magnified, in order to shift the guilt of the act from the sinning soul. Pilate’s hand-washing seems to us frivolous and childish. Is it any more childish than half of the foolish excuses offered for the evil deeds of many?
3. It is very possible that a previous misdeed of Pilate’s may have occurred to him as a reason for this iniquitous act (Luke 13:1). Is it too fanciful to suppose that at this time Pilate saw an opportunity to regain the popularity which then he had lost? One lie calls for another, and one dishonest deed begets a second. The only way out of past wrong is to confess it, and break from the bondage of old-time sins. Otherwise, the last state of a man simply becomes worse than his first. (A. F. Schauffler.)
The morally wrong ever inexpedient
I. A DIFFICULTY REMOVED DESTINED TO APPEAR IN MORE TERRIBLE FORMS “Then delivered he,” &c. In this no doubt Pilate felt that he had got rid of a difficulty. How to meet the claims of his imperial master, maintain his popularity with the Jews, and save his conscience, constituted a difficulty that had distracted him beyond measure. Now handing Christ over to the Jews he would breathe more freely. Alas! the difficulty is merely temporarily shifted and pushed for a moment out of sight, but otherwise becoming, more huge and revolting. No difficulty can be removed by outraging or ignoring rectitude.
1. One man has a financial difficulty: accumulated debts drag him down, and he knows not how to deliver himself. He makes himself bankrupt, or forges a bill and fancies the difficulty removed. Not so.
2. Another has a social difficulty. By amorous impulses and reckless vows, he has committed himself to some one whom he comes to loathe as an intolerable infliction. In an evil moment he uses a razor or administers a poison, foolishly supposing that the difficulty is got rid of. But the old tormentor, though buried in the earth, is alive in memory to haunt it for ever.
3. Another has a moral difficulty; his conscience is oppressed with a sense of guilt, and he seeks to remove the difficulty by resorting to drink and revelry. But the sleeping conscience soon awakes.
II. A CONQUEST ACHIEVED WHICH MUST OVERWHELM THE VICTORS IN ULTIMATE RUIN. “And they took Jesus and led Him away.” The Jews were now triumphant: but of what worth was their victory? Even in this life they felt the rebound. A few years on, and the king they chose ravaged their country, destroyed their Temple, extinguished their national life, and scattered them throughout the earth. Truly the “triumphing of the wicked is short.” History abounds in instances of conquests reversed and victors vanquished. “Whoso taketh the sword shall perish by the sword.” The slaveholders martyred John Brown, and thought they had killed the antislavery movement; hut in the course of a few years the cause of slavery was ruined. The principle is this--what is wrongfully achieved must lead to ruin. A man struggles for a fortune. He achieves it, but how? He struggles for senatorial honours, but how? The how is the question. All the produce of human labour, however valuable, if unrighteously obtained, the justice of the universe turns into stone that will grind the possessors to powder. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
And they took Jesus, and led Him away
The procession of sorrow
I. CHRIST AS LED FORTH. Pilate scourged our Saviour according to the custom of Roman courts, and gave him over to the Praetorian guards to insult him. We do not read that they removed the crown of thorns, and therefore it is probable that our Saviour wore it along the Via Dolorosa. They put on Him His own clothes that the multitude might discern Him to be the very man who had professed to be the Messiah. We all know that a different dress will often raise a doubt about the identity of an individual; but lo! the people saw Him in the street wearing His garment without seam. How they led Him forth we do not know; perhaps with a rope about His neck, since it was not unusual for the Romans thus to conduct criminals to the gallows. We care, however, far more for the fact that He went forth carrying His cross. This was intended at once to proclaim His guilt and intimate His doom.
1. We learn here as we see Christ led forth that which was set forth in shadow by the scapegoat. Did not the high-priest bring the scapegoat, and put both his hands upon its head, confessing the sins of the people, that thus those sins might be laid upon the goat? Then the goat was led away by a fit man into the wilderness, and it carried away the sins of the people. Now we see Jesus brought before the priests and rulers, who pronounce Him guilty; God Himself imputes our sins to Him; He was made sin for us; and, as the great Scapegoat, led away by the appointed officers of justice.
2. Jesus was conducted to the common place of death. Our great Hero, the destroyer of Death, bearded the lion in his den, and slew the monster in his own castle.
3. He was led thither to aggravate His shame. Calvary was like our Old Bailey. Christ must die a felon’s death in the place where horrid crimes had met their due reward. In this, too, He draws the nearer to us, “He was numbered with the transgressors,” &c.
4. But the great lesson is, “let us go forth, therefore, without the camp, bearing His reproach.”
(1) The multitude are leading Him forth from the Temple. He is not allowed to worship with them.
(2) He is exiled from their friendship. No man dare whisper a word of comfort to Him.
(3) He is banished from their society, as if He were a leper. See, here is a picture of what we may expect from men if we are faithful to our Master. It is not likely that we shall be able to worship with them, have their friendship, or be received into their society. Go ye, then, like the Master, expecting to earn reproach, without the camp.
II. CHRIST CARRYING HIS CROSS. I have shown you, believer, your position; let me now show you your service. Christ comes forth from Pilate’s hall with the cumbrous wood, all to heavy for His exhausted frame; so they place it upon Simon, a Cyrenian. He was the father of Alexander and Rufus, two persons well known in the early Church; let us hope that salvation came to his house when he was compelled to bear the Saviour’s cross. Let us comfort ourselves with this thought, that in our case, as in Simon’s
1. It is not our cross, but Christ’s which we carry. When your religion brings the trial of cruel mockings upon you, then remember, it is Christ’s cross; and how delightful is it to carry that.
2. You carry the cross after Him. Your path is marked with footprints of your Lord.
3. You bear this cross in partnership. It is the opinion of some that Simon only carried one end of it. That is possible; Christ may have carried the heavier end. Certainly it is so with you. Rutherford says, “Whenever Christ gives us a cross, He cries, ‘Halves, My love.’” Others think that Simon carried the whole of the cross. If he carried all the cross, yet he only carried the wood of it; he did not bear the sin which made it such a load. If you think that you suffer all that a Christian can suffer, yet, remember, there is not one drop of wrath in all your sea of sorrow. Jesus took that.
4. Although Simon carried Christ’s cross, he did not volunteer to do it, but they compelled him. I fear that the most of us carry it by compulsion; at least when it first comes on to our shoulders we do not like it; but the world compels us to bear Christ’s cross. I do not think we should seek after needless persecution. That man deserves no pity who purposely excites the disgust of other people. We must not make a cross of our own. Let there be nothing but your religion to object to, and then if that offends them, it is a cross which you must carry joyfully.
5. Though Simon had to bear the cross for a very little while, it gave him lasting honour. The cross we have to carry is only for a little while at most. “I reckon that these light afflictions,” &c.
III. CHRIST AND HIS MOURNERS. When the voice of sympathy prevailed over the voice of Scorn, Jesus paused, and said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for Me,” &c. This was a very proper sorrow; Jesus did not by any means forbid it, He only recommended another sorrow as being better.
1. Weep not because the Saviour bled, but because your sins made Him bleed. The Lord thinks far more of the tears of repentance than of the mere drops of human sympathy.
2. Weep over those who have brought that blood upon their heads. We ought not to forget the Jews.
3. Sorrow deeply for the souls of all unregenerate men and women. What Christ suffered for us, these must suffer for themselves, except they put their trust in Christ.
IV. CHRIST’S FELLOW-SUFFERERS. There were two other cross-bearers, malefactors. Their crosses were just as heavy as the Lord’s, and one of them had no sympathy with him, and his bearing the cross only led to his death, and not to his salvation. I have met with persons who have suffered much, and therefore suppose that because of that they shall escape punishment. Yonder malefactor carried his cross and died on it; and you will carry your sorrows, and be damned with them, except you repent. No sufferings of ours have anything to do with the atonement of sin.
V. THE SAVIOUR’S WARNING QUESTION. “If they do these things in the green tree, what will they do in the dry?” “If I, the innocent substitute for sinners, suffer thus, what will be done when the sinner himself shall fall into the hands of an angry God?” Remember that when God saw Christ in the sinner’s place He did not spare Him, and when He finds you without Christ, He will not spare you. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
And He bearing His cross went forth
The lonely Cross-bearer
BEARING THE CROSS FOR HIMSELF (Isaiah 63:3).
1. An aggravation of His misery.
2. An intensifying of their sin.
3. A heightening of His love.
4. An enlargement of their hope.
II. BEARING THE CROSS FOR US.
1. As an expiation of our guilt (Colossians 1:20; Colossians 2:14).
2. As a pattern for our life (1 Peter 2:21). (T. Whitelaw, D. D.)
The great Cross-bearer and His followers
(Text, and Mark 15:20-21)
1. When our Lord had been condemned, the execution of His sentence was hurried. Every moment of delay was wearisome to the Jews. It was the day of the passover, and they wished to have this matter finished before they went with hypocritical piety to celebrate the festival. We do not wonder at their eagerness; but at Pilate we do wonder. In all civilized countries there is usually an interval between the sentence and the death. As the capital sentence is irreversible, it is well to have a little space in which possible evidence may be forthcoming, which may prevent the fatal stroke. With the Romans it was usual to allow the reasonable respite of ten days. Now Pilate might have pleaded this; and he was culpable, as he was all along, in thus yielding to the clamour for an immediate execution. When once we begin to make the wishes of other men our law we know not to what extremity of criminality we may be led.
2. Being given over to death, our Saviour was led away outside the city.
(1) Because by the Jews He was treated as a flagrant offender who must be executed at the Tyburn of the day. Alas! Jerusalem, thou didst cast out thy last hope.
(2) Because He was to be consumed as a sin-offering. The sweet-savour offerings were presented upon the altar, and were accepted of God, but sin-offerings were burnt without the camp or gate, because God can have no fellowship with sin.
(3) Because He died, not for Jerusalem, nor Israel alone, but for the race. Out in the open He must die, to show that He reconciled both Jews and Gentiles unto God.
(4) That we might go forth unto Him without the camp, bearing His reproach. “Come ye out from among them,” &c.
3. Let us draw near our Lord for awhile, and carefully observe each instructive detail.
I. HIS DRESS.
1. The crown of thorns. Jesus died a crowned monarch. The Man by whom we are redeemed is crowned with that product of the earth which came of the curse.
2. He was bound. By Roman custom criminals were bound with cords to the cross which they were doomed to carry. “Bind the sacrifice with cords, even to the horns of the altar.”
3. Jesus wore His own clothes
(1) For identification, that all who looked on might know that it was the same person who had preached in their streets and had healed their sick.
(2) That there might be a fulfilment of prophecy. “They parted My garments among them,” &c. Other raiment could readily have been rent and divided.
(3) To indicate that our Lord’s passion was a true and natural part of His life; He died as He lived. His death was not a new departure, but the completion of a life of self-sacrifice, and so He goes to die in His ordinary everyday garments. Does not it almost seem as if people put on their Sunday clothes because they regard religion as something quite distinct from their common life? Can we not wear our own clothes, habits, characteristics, and peculiarities and serve the Lord? Is there not some suspicion of unnaturalness in services which require men to put on a strange, outlandish dress? It is ill for a man when he cannot lead his fellows in prayer till he has gone to the wardrobe.
II. HIS COMPANY.
1. The rough Roman soldiers, strong, muscular, unfeeling men, ready to shed blood at any moment. I do but bid you look at them to remind you that from beneath their eagle our Saviour won a trophy; for their centurion confessed, “Certainly this was the Son of God.”
2. Two malefactors. He must not be separated from the basest of men. I mention them because our Lord won a trophy by the conversion of one of them.
3. The scribes and Pharisees and high priests. Their hate was insatiable, but it was accompanied with fear, and that night it was seen that Christ had conquered them, for they begged a guard to prevent their victim from leaving the tomb.
4. A great rabble. The same, who a week ago shouted, “Hosanna!” The Lord endured the popular scorn as He had once received the popular acclamation. He lived above it all.
5. Kindly women.
6. We must now leave the company, but not till we have asked, Where are His disciples? Where is Peter? Did he not say, “I will go with Thee to prison and to death”? Where is John? Holy women are gathering, but where are the men? Though the women act like men, the men act as women.
III. HIS BURDEN. Our Lord carried His own cross at the commencement of the sorrowful pilgrimage. This
1. Increased His shame. It was a custom of the Romans to make felons bear their own gibbet. Furcifer, “gallows bearer,” was hissed at men in contempt, just as “gallows-bird” is now.
2. Note next its weight.
3. There was a typical evidence about this. If Simon had carried Christ’s cross all the way, we should have missed the type of Isaac, who carried the wood for his own sacrifice.
4. The spiritual meaning of it was that Christ in perfect obedience was then carrying the load of our disobedience.
5. It also has a prophetic meaning; that cross which He carried through Jerusalem shall go through Jerusalem again. It is His great weapon with which He conquers and wins the world. “The government shall be upon His shoulder;” that which He bore on His shoulder shall win obedience, and they that take His yoke upon them shall find rest unto their souls.
IV. HIS CROSS-BEARER.
1. He was pressed into this duty. The word used signifies that the person is impressed into the royal service, How often has a burden of sorrow been the means of bringing men to the faith of Jesus!
2. His name was Simon; and where was that other Simon? What a silent but strong rebuke this would be to him, “Hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown.” Simon Peter lost a crown here, and another head wore it.
3. Simon was a Cyrenian--an African--I wonder if he was a black man. In Acts 13:1-52., we find mention of a Simeon that was called Niger, or black. Surely the African has had his full share of cross-bearing for many an age. Blessed be he, whether African or Englishman, that has the honour of bearing the cross after Christ.
4. He was coming in from the country. How often the Lord takes into His service the unsophisticated country people, who as yet are untainted by the cunning and the vice of the city.
5. He was the Father of Alexander and Rufus. Which is the greater honour to a man, to have a good father, or to be the father of good sons? Under the Old Testament rule we usually read of a man that he is the son of such a one, but here we come to another style. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Christ bearing His cross
Our Lord, when a workman in the carpenter’s shop at Nazareth, had willingly carried pieces of timber in the service of His foster-father. Here, with no less cheerfulness, He bears to Golgotha the timber of the cross, in order to raise the altar on which He is to be sacrificed, and to do the will of His Father in heaven. (R. Besser, D. D.)
The crucifixion of Christ
I. THE CROSS IS THE POWER OF GOD FOR EXPOSING SIN AND FOR SUBDUING THE SINFUL HEART. What will sin do? Show us this and you give us the best exposition of sin. This gospel story tells us that sin crucified the Son of God. But the Cross, as we have said, is God’s power for subduing the sinful heart. The subduing power of the fact that we crucified Christ, our best Friend, may be illustrated by an incident which Bronson Alcott relates as having taken place in his school. He made it a law that all offences should be punished in order that the authority of the school might be kept inviolate. The punishment of offences he decreed should be borne by himself He intended to put every offending scholar under the power of this thought, “I made my friend and teacher suffer.” So much for the law of the school; let us see how it worked. Mr. Alcott gives us this instance: “One day I called before me a pupil, eight or ten years of age, who had violated an important regulation of the school. All the pupils were looking on, and they knew what the rule of the school was. I put the ruler into the hand of the offending pupil and extended my hand. I bade him strike. The instant the boy saw my extended hand and heard my command, I saw a struggle begin in his face. A light sprang up in his countenance. A new set of shuttles seemed to be weaving a new nature within him. I kept my hand extended. The school was in tears. The boy struck once, and he himself burst into tears. I constantly watched his face, and he seemed in a bath of fire which was giving him a new nature. He had a different mood toward the school and toward the violated law. The boy seemed transformed by the idea that I should take chastisement in the place of his punishment.”
II. THE CROSS GIVES US A STANDING EXHIBITION OF THE WAY IN WHICH SOME MEN TREAT CHRIST. I wish to speak especially of the soldiers at the cross, who are an ancient type of a modern class. They gamble for tim seamless robe of Christ. To them the garments of Christ were everything, but Christ Himself was nothing. They prize the garments but despise Christ. When Christ was within the robe, it had healing virtue; but when Christ was crucified it had no healing, life-giving power whatever. There are multitudes to-day who are like these soldiers. For example, there are crowds of citizens in this republic who glory in the civil rights which our national fathers bequeathed, but they hate and crucify the Christ of our fathers. It was under the inspiration of Christ that our fathers sacrificed and fought for the rights which they bequeathed. If there had been no Christ, there would have been no Plymouth Rock Pilgrims in Massachusetts. There is no fact more patent in history than this: American freedom owes its origin to Christ. Yet there are Americans by the thousand who would take the freedom and crucify the Christ. But what is freedom disassociated from Christ? What is it worth in comparison with the freedom which throbs with the life of Christ? Freedom, when it is a robe with the living Christ in it, will cure and keep in life the nations which touch its hem; but freedom, when it is a robe torn from Christ, will let the nations die even while they handle it, own it, and boast about it. We needed Christ to procure our liberty and we need Christ to secure our liberty.
III. THE CROSS WITH ITS SACRIFICE FOR SIN OPENS UP TO US THE ONLY WAY OF SALVATION. (David Gregg.)
Bearing the cross
The Rev. C. Simeon, in conversation with a friend, once said, “Many years ago, when I was an object of much derision in this university, I strolled forth one day afflicted, with my little testament in my hand. I prayed earnestly to my God that He would comfort me with some cordial from His Word, and that on opening the book I might find some text which should sustain me. The first text which caught my eye was this, ‘They found a man of Cyrene, Simon by name,’ &c. You know Simon is the same as Simeon. What a world of instruction was here! What a blessed hint for my encouragement! To have the cross laid upon me that I might bear it after Jesus. What a privilege! It was enough. Now I could leap and sing for joy as one whom Jesus was honouring with a participation in His sufferings.” (W. Baxendale.)
Cross-bearing for Christ
At a large Sunday-school anniversary it was found that the speakers expected had failed, and none were ready to take their places. After some singing the meeting became dull, and the interest seemed to be dying out. The superintendent, who had set his heart on success, was anxious, and at a loss to know what to do, but finally gave a general invitation to the scholars to repeat any texts or hymns they had learned. He was pleasantly answered, but only for a short time. Eventually a boy of Jewish caste, with piercing eyes, in the midst of deep silence rose and repeated: “Jesus, I my cross have taken, All to leave and follow Thee,” &c., in a voice so thrilling as to move the whole audience. Many eyes were moist, for the story of the young Jew was known. His father had told him he must either leave the Sunday-school or quit home for ever; and the hymn showed what he had given up to follow Christ. The meeting was inspired with new life. Friends gathered round him at the close, and business men united in securing him a situation by which he could earn his own living. (Christian at Work.)
The cross of Christ
I. UNDER THE CROSS (John 19:17).
1. The weary pilgrim--Jesus.
(1) Exhausted by the agony and the subsequent excitement.
(2) Suffering through the scourging.
(3) Burdened with the weight of the cross, the upright lying along His back, the transverse fastened to His fettered hands.
(4) Degraded by the white tablet borne before Him, or suspended from His neck, proclaiming His alleged crime.
2. The varied attendance--robbers, soldiers, &c.
3. The sorrowful way.
II. UPON THE CROSS. Jesus in the midst, numbered with transgressors (John 19:18), arrived at Golgotha. The cross was
1. Furnished with its victim. As it lay upon the sward, with nails driven through His hands and feet (Psalms 22:16; Luke 24:40), He prayed Luke 23:34).
2. Upraised to its position. Suspended by His hands and feet, His body resting on an upright peg, our Lord was exhibited a spectacle of woe--the priests and people mocking His misery.
3. Set in the midst. On either side a crucified robber proclaimed Him the worst of the three.
III. ABOVE THE CROSS. The title (verse 19).
1. Its conspicuous position--seen by all.
2. Its threefold language--to be read by all.
3. Its providential use--to attest
(1) Christ’s true humanity, “Jesus of Nazareth.”
(2) His Messianic dignity: “King of the Jews.”
(3) Israel’s sin: they had crucified their Sovereign.
(4) The world’s hope: Israel’s rejected Messiah was the Saviour of men.
IV. BENEATH THE CROSS. Gambling for the Saviour’s clothes, the soldiers fulfilled prophecy (verses 23, 24).
1. Heartless cruelty.
2. Moral insensibility.
3. Appalling criminality.
4. Unconscious instrumentality.
V. NEAR THE CROSS. The Galilean women: the post of love (verse 25).
1. Their names.
(1) Mary, the mother of Jesus. True to her motherhood she was there to be pierced (Luke 2:35).
(2) Mary’s sister, Salome, the wife of Zebedee, and mother of the Evangelist, who was thus Christ’s cousin, which may account for the mental and spiritual affinity between them.
(3) Mary, the wife of Clopas, or Alphaeus, the mother of James the less and Joses.
(4) Mary Magdalene.
1. Their position by the cross, marking
(1) Their courage--not afraid of crowd or soldiers.
(2) Their fidelity in contrast to the male disciples.
(3) Their affection.
(4) Their sympathy--intending to console Him, as they doubtless did.
(5) Their privilege--a gracious opportunity of hearing His last words.
1. The completeness of Christ’s obedience (Philippians 2:8).
2. The depth of His humiliation (Isaiah 53:12).
3. The reality of His atoning work (2 Corinthians 5:21).
4. The certainty of His Messiahship, proved by the title.
5. The moral insensibility to which depraved natures may sink Ephesians 4:19).
6. The heroism of women when inspired by faith and love Daniel 11:32).
7. The startling contrasts of life--the soldiers and the women.
8. The power which still lies in the Cross to reveal human hearts. (T. Whitelaw, D. D.)
A place called the place of a skull, which is in Hebrew Golgotha.
Two explanations of the term are given.
1. That it was the spot where executions ordinarily took place, and therefore abounded in skulls; but according to the Jewish law, these must have been buried, and therefore were no more likely to confer a name on the spot than any other part of the skeleton. In this case, too, the language would have to be plural instead of singular.
2. That the form of the spot was bold, round, and skull-like, and therefore a mound or hillock in accordance with the common phrase, for which there is no direct authority, “Mount Calvary.” Whichever of these is the correct explanation, Golgotha seems to have been a known spot--outside the Hebrews 13:12), but close to the city (verse 20); apparently near a thoroughfare on which there were passers by. This road or path led out of the “country,” and was probably the ordinary spot for executions. Why should it have been otherwise? To those who carried the sentence into effect Christ was but an ordinary criminal, and there is not a word to indicate that the soldiers in “leading Him away” went to any other than the usual place for what must have been a common operation. A tradition at one time prevailed that Adam was buried in Golgotha, and that from his skull it derived its name, and that at the crucifixion the drops of Christ’s blood fell on the skull and raised Adam to life. The skull commonly introduced in early pictures of the Crucifixion refers to this. (Sir G. Grove.)
The traditional site of Golgotha
is consecrated by three chapels of different sects. An opening, faced with silver, shows the spot where the cross is said to have been sunk in the rock, and less than five feet from it is a long brass open-work slide over a cleft in the rock which is about six inches deep, but is supposed by the pilgrims to reach to the centre of the earth. This is said to mark the rending of the rocks at the Crucifixion. But there is an air of unreality over the whole scene, with its gorgeous decorations of lamps, mosaics, pictures, and gilding; nor could I feel more than the gratification of my curiosity in the midst of such a monstrous aggregation of wonders. Faith evaporates when it finds so many demands made upon it. When it is assured that within a few yards of each other are the scene of Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac; that of the appearance of Christ to Mary; the stone of anointing; the place where the angels stood at the Resurrection; the tombs of our Lord, Joseph, and Nicodemus; the column to which our Lord was bound; His prison; the burial place of Adam; the tree in which the goat offered instead of Isaac was caught, and much else. (Cunningham Geikie, D. D.)
The probable site of Golgotha
There is little in the New Testament to fix its exact position, though Hebrews 13:12 is enough to prove that the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is not on the true site. The name Golgotha may well have referred to the shape of the ground, and, if this be so, a spot reminding one of a skull must be sought outside the city. It must, besides, be near one of the great roads (Mark 15:29). That Joseph carried the body to his own tomb, hewn out in the rock, and standing in the midst of the garden, requires further that Calvary should be found near the great Jewish cemetery of the time. This lay on the north side of Jerusalem. Now, just here, outside the Damascus gate is a knoll or swell which fulfils all these conditions. Rising gently towards the north its slowly rounded top might easily have obtained, from its shape, the name of “a skull.” This spot has been associated from the earliest times with the martyrdom of Stephen, who could only have been stoned at the usual place of public execution. And this is fixed by local tradition as “the Place of Stoning” where offenders were not only put to death, but hung up by the hands till sunset after execution. As if to make the identification still more complete, the busy road, which has led to the north in all ages, passes close by the knoll, branching off, a little further on, to Gibeon, Damascus, and Rameh. It was the custom of the Romans to crucify transgressors at the sides of the busiest public roads. Here then, apparently, on this bare rounded knoll, rising shoat thirty feet above the ground, the low yellow cliff of Jeremiah looking out from its southern end, the Saviour of the world was crucified. (Cunningham Geilkie, D. D.)
Where they crucified Him
The common mode of inflicting it, in all probability, was to strip the criminal--to lay him on the cross on his back--to nail his hands to the two extremities of the cross-piece, or fork of the cross--to nail his feet to the upright piece, or principal stem of the cross-then to raise the cross on end, and drop it into a hole prepared for it--and then to leave the sufferer to a lingering and painful death. It was a death which combined the maximum of pain with the least immediate destruction of life. The agony of having nails driven through parts so full of nerves and sinews as the hands and feet must have been intense. Yet wounds of the hands and feet are not mortal, and do not injure any great leading blood-vessel. Hence a crucified person, even in an eastern climate, exposed to the sun, might live two or three days, enduring extreme pain, without being relieved by death, if he was naturally a very strong man and in vigorous health. To a sensitive, delicate-minded person, it is hard to imagine any punishment more distressing. Whether the person crucified was bound to the cross with ropes, to prevent the possibility of his breaking off from the nails in convulsive struggling--whether he was stripped completely naked, or had a cloth round his loins--whether each foot had a separate nail, or one nail was driven through both feet--are disputed points which we have no means of settling. Of one thing, however, we may be sure. The feet of a crucified person were much nearer the ground than is commonly supposed, and very likely not more than a foot or two from the earth. In this, as in other points, most pictures of the Crucifixion are grossly incorrect, and the cross is made out to be a piece of timber so long and so thick that no one mortal man could ever have carried it. Concerning the precise amount of physical suffering, and the precise effect on the human body in a crucifixion, the following medical account by a German physician, named Richter, says
1. The unnatural position and violent tension of the body caused a painful sensation from the least motion.
2. The nails driven through parts of the hands and feet, which are full of nerves and tendons, and yet at a distance from the heart, created the most exquisite anguish.
3. The exposure of so many wounds and lacerations brought on inflammation, which tended to become gangrene, and every moment increased the poignancy of suffering.
4. In the distended parts of the body more blood flowed through the arteries than could be carried back into the veins: and hence too much blood found its way from the aorta into the head and stomach, and the blood vessels of the head became pressed and swollen. The general obstruction of circulation caused an internal excitement, exertion, and anxiety, more intolerable than death itself.
5. There was the inexpressible misery of gradually increasing and lingering anguish.
6. To all this we may add burning and raging thirst.” When we remember, beside all this, that our Lord’s head was crowned with thorns, His back torn with savage scourging, and His whole system weighed down by the mental and bodily agony of the sleepless night following the Lord’s Supper, we may have some faint idea of the intensity of His sufferings. (Bp. Ryle.)
Nature’s testimony to the Crucifixion
A person who travelled through Palestine told me that an ingenious person, his fellow-traveller, who was a Deist, used to make merry with all the stories that the Romish priest entertained them with as to the sacred places and relics they went to see, and particularly when they first showed him the clefts of Mount Calvary, which is now included within the great dome that was built over it by Constantine the Great. But when he began to examine the clefts more narrowly and critically, he told his fellow-travellers that now he began to be a Christian; “for,” said he, “I have long been a student of nature and the mathematics, and I am sure these clefts and rents in this rock were never made by a natural or ordinary earthquake, for by such a concussion the rock must have been split according to the veins, and where it was weakest in the adhesion of the parts; for thus,” said he, “I have observed it to have been done in other rocks, when separated or broken after an earthquake, and reason tells me it must always be so. But it is quite otherwise here, for the rock is split athwart and across the veins in a most strange and supernatural manner. This, therefore, I can easily and plainly see to be effect of a real miracle, which neither nature nor art could have effected; and therefore I thank God that I came hither to see this standing monument of a miraculous power by which God gives evidence, to this day, of the divinity of Christ.” (J. Fleming.)
The crucifixion realized
A little girl in a mission-school sat on the front seat; and, when the superintendent was telling about how they hanged Jesus on the cross, the tears came to her eyes, and she had to get up and go out. In the afternoon she came back smiling; and the superintendent asked her, “Mary, where did you go this morning?” And she said, “Oh, teacher! I could not stand it when you Spoke to us about Jesus being nailed on the cross; for I felt just as if I helped to pound the nails in; and I went off a little piece from the school, and got down on my knees, and told Jesus that my sins helped to hang Him on the cross; and I asked Him to please forgive me for helping to kill Him; that I was so sorry! but now I feel so happy!”
Impression of the Crucifixion
Colossians Gardiner was won from a life of worldly pleasure by a dream in which he saw the Saviour hanging on the cross, and saying, “I have suffered this for thee, and is this thy return?” The deep conviction of his ingratitude led him to repentance and a life of piety.
Krummacher describes the mysterious cross as a rock, against which the very waves of the curse break; as a lightning-conductor, by which the destroying fluid descends, which would have otherwise crushed the world. Jesus, who mercifully engaged to direct the thunderbolt against Himself, does so while hanging yonder in profound darkness upon the cross. There He is, as the connecting link between heaven and earth; His bleeding arms extended wide, stretched out to every sinner; hands pointed to the east and west, indicating the gathering-in of the world of man to His fold. The cross is directed to the sky, as the place of the final triumph of His work in redemption; and its foot fixed in the earth like a tree, from whose wondrous branches we gather the fruit of an eternal reconciliation to God the Father. (J. Caughey.)
Prizing the cross
Tacitus reports that though the amber-ring among the Romans was of no value, yet, after the emperor began to wear it, it began to be in great esteem: it was the only fashion amongst them. So our Saviour has borne His cross, and was borne upon it. We should esteem it more highly than many of us do, and bear it daily in remembrance of Him. (W. Baxendale.)
Love in the cross
Do not be afraid to bow before Jesus. That cross is the enfranchisement of theology. It stands up against heaven to say, “God, with His infinite power, is not cruel. God is the sufferer, and not one that makes suffering.” The Divine nature is not one that oppresses races, as the cluster is pressed, that the wine may flow out into the vintner’s cup. The testimony of Christ’s life, and the mission of Christ’s death, and that everlasting love that streams from the cross of Christ is, “God so loved the world.” Loved it? No mother ever loved her child half so much. And yet, what mother is there that did not, in her small, feeble way, symbolize the whole atonement of Christ? What mother is there that did not bring forth her child with pangs, and strong crying and tears? What mother is there that did not take the utter helplessness of the little babe for weeks and months, and give her life for it? How she gives up her sleep; how she gives up her heart’s desires; how she foregoes pleasure; how she withdraws herself from society; how she gives the whole royalty of her rich nature to that little child that can neither speak nor think, nor know what helps it!
And then, through what sickness does she watch! And with what labour and pain does she develop the child! And how does she bring it finally to intelligence and virtue and manhood, all the way through a living sacrifice of love for the child! (H. W. Beecher.)
The cross our safety
There is an affecting passage in Roman history which records the death of Manlius. At night, and on the Capitol, fighting hand to hand, he had repelled the Gauls and saved the city when all seemed lost. Afterwards he was accused, but the Capitol towered in sight of the Forum where he was tried, and as he was about to be condemned he stretched out his hands and pointed, weeping, to that arena of his triumph. At this the people burst into tears, and the judges could not pronounce sentence. Again the trial proceeded, but was again defeated; nor could he be convicted till they had removed him to a low spot, from which the Capitol was invisible. What the Capitol was to Manlius the cross of Christ is to the Christian. (Preacher’s Lantern.)
The cross the soul’s haven
While your bark is tossed about at sea, it is very likely that she wants a new copper bottom, or the deck requires holystoning, or the rigging is out of repair, or the sails want overhauling, or fifty other things may be necessary; but if the wind is blowing great guns, and the vessel is drifting towards those white-crested breakers, the first business of the mariner is to make for the haven at once, to avoid the hurricane. When he is all snug in port, he can attend to hull and rigging, and all the odds and ends besides. So with you, child of God, one thing you must do, and I beseech you do it. Do not be looking to this, or to that, or to the other out of a thousand things that may be amiss, but steer straight for the cross of Christ, which is the haven for distressed spirits; fly at once to the wounds of Jesus, as the dove flies to her nest in the cleft of the rock. (C. H.Spurgeon.)
Plea from the cross
A clergyman in Germany, who had exercised the ministerial office for twelve years, while destitute of faith in and love to the Redeemer, one day, after baptizing the child of a wealthy citizen, one of the members of his congregation was invited, with some other guests, to a collation at this person’s house. Directly opposite to him, on the wall, hung a picture of Christ on the cross, with two lines written under it:--“I did this for thee; what hast thou done for Me?” The picture caught his attention; as he read the lines they seemed to pierce him, and he was involuntarily seized with a feeling he never experienced before. Tears rushed into his eyes; he said little to the company, and took his leave as soon as he could. On the way home these lines constantly sounded in his ears--Divine grace prevented all philosophical doubts and explanations from entering his soul--he could do nothing but give himself up entirely to the overpowering feeling; even during the night, in his dreams, the question stood always before his mind, “What hast thou done for Me?” He died in about three months after this remarkable and happy change in his temper and views, triumphing in the Saviour, and expressing his admiration of His redeeming love. (J. Whitecross.)
The three crosses
I. THAT OF JESUS; dying for sin--redemption.
II. THAT OF THE IMPENITENT ROBBER; dying in sin--perdition.
III. THAT OF THE PENITENT ROBBER; dying out of sin--salvation. (T. Whitelaw, D. D.)
There were three hanging there. The first was the Saviour; the second to be saved; the third to be damned. The pain of all three was one; but the cause diverse. (Augustine.)
Jesus in the midst
On the cross, between earth and heaven; in the grave, between the living and the dead; on the throne, as separating between the saved and the lost. Everywhere, in all time, in whatever aspect or relation, men shall contemplate the Saviour, the same central object shall meet them--“Jesus in the midst.” We cannot look upon Christ as lifted up without seeing
I. THE JUNCTION POINT BETWEEN THE LAW AND THE GOSPEL. The sacrifice of the Cross constitutes that crisis in all dispensational history, at which shadows were to become substances, outlines perfect forms, and the pale lamps, which had shed light on the ancient sanctuary, to give place to the Bright and Morning Star. The veil of the Temple was rent, and it told of a covenant waxed old; of the superseding of the blood of bulls and goats by the blood of Him who, “through the Eternal Spirit, offered Himself without spot to God.” Christ was “the end of the law for righteousness;” the end of the prophecies for fulfilment; the end of devout anticipation as of a surety the Lord’s anointed; the end of all expected revelation, as God speaking to us by His Son. And He was especially in the midst of the two systems, as He hung upon the cross. For He felt all the terrors of the law, while His lips were dispensing all the tender charities of the gospel. And He saw, in marked contrast, the effect of the two systems the chief priests and rulers hurling the mockery on the one side, and the great company of people lamenting Him on the other. And yet all are looking to Him; all are drawn towards Him. Whether to revile or to pity, to blaspheme or to pray, none could turn their eyes to any other object. He who in heaven has a throne which is above every throne, seemed to have a cross which was above every cross.
II. CHRIST OCCUPYING SOME MYSTERIOUS ISTHMUS BETWEEN CONDEMNATION AND FORGIVENESS--a place where the two seas meet--that of infinite justice, unable to clear the guilty; and that of the infinite mercy, cleansing from all spot of sin. Here mercy triumphs, for wrath is done away; and yet justice is honoured, for the victim dies. Both these attributes put in their claims. Neither of them, without dishonour to the Divine character, could endure to have them set aside. But the meeting here was not hostile. These attributes met to embrace, to unite, to shed, each on the other, new glory; to vindicate, each for the other, its prescriptive and everlasting claims. It seemed as if in the whole universe there was but one spot, where, in a posture of reconciliation, God and man could meet. Thither the Eternal Father would repair to make sublime demonstration of His holiness; thither the penitent child was to go to lay down the burden of his sin. And over that cross they were to be made one.
III. A REPRESENTATION OF CHRIST AS HE IS IN THE WORLD NOW.
1. The cross is set up in the midst of condemned men. Men dying, with the means of life before them--lost, while a look would save them. One, like Pilate, sees no fault in Christianity, but will not yield to it; another, like Herod, is curious to see what Christianity is, and mocks it; and a third, like Judas, sells it.
2. The circumstance shows how very near two people may be to the same outward Christ, ordinances, truth, influences for good--and yet the one to be subdued to penitence, and the other hardened.
3. Especially is the scene emblematical of the different effect produced on two persons by affliction and Divine chastisement. Jesus is in the midst--having emptied a cup more bitter far than any of which they have tasted--and that too in order that any bitterness in their cup might be mitigated or pass away. And both these afflicted ones will look to Him. But how? One is chafed, and stubborn, and rebellious. The other is subdued, and tender, and heart-stricken. And therefore his looking to Jesus is one of humble, loving faith.
IV. AN EMBLEM OF THE SOLEMN ADJUDICATIONS OF THE LAST DAY. “That cross,” says Augustine, “was the tribunal of Christ, for the judge was placed in the middle; and whilst one thief who believed was set free, the other who reviled was condemned.” They who on earth were divided by the cross, are they who in heaven will be divided by the throne. The impenitent here will be the lost there; the railing here will be the accursed there--on the left hand both, whether at the cross or before the throne. But the humble and the trusting shall be on the right hand. And their life in heaven will be a continuation of their life on earth--a looking to “Jesus in the midst”--in the midst of His saints, to be glorified; in the midst of His angels, to be worshipped; in the midst of the upper paradise, a tree of life; and in the midst of the throne of God, “a Lamb as it had been slain.” (D. Moore, M. A.)
Jesus in the midst
It is to this position that our Lord owes His glorious title of Mediator. He is the Days-man who stands between the perfection of a holy Creator and the imperfections of His creatures. And it is in virtue of this office that He is entitled to His position as the central object in the economies of grace and of judgment. Very interesting and instructive it is to notice how frequently this position--“in the midst”--is assigned to our Lord. He is represented as
I. “In the midst” OF HEAVEN (Revelation 5:6; Revelation 7:17). Twice the expression is employed of the mystical tree of life--the type of Christ Revelation 2:7; Revelation 22:2). His maintenance in this position is the secret of heaven’s harmony. Just as in the solar system the planets observe a fixed relation to each other because they all have a common relation to the sun, just as their motions are the very embodiment of order and harmony because of this common relationship, so the countless intelligences of heaven all fall into their own proper relationships to each other because of their common relation to the central object.
II. “In the midst” OF THE CHURCH He was “in the midst” of that embryo Church, the simple peasants whom He gathered around His person Luke 22:27). “Where two or three,” &c. Here we have a description of the first component elements of the Christian Church. In keeping with this, we notice that He takes His rightful place at the moment when He greets His Church after His resurrection. “Jesus Himself stood in the midst.” Once again we are permitted to gaze upon the risen Lord, now no longer visibly present, yet still “in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks,” i.e., of the Church as she exercises her office of light-bearer.
She shines by reflecting the light shed upon her by the Master, just as the moon reflects the light of the sun. Or, once again, He is represented as in the midst of the Church in her worship, “inhabiting the praises of Israel” Hebrews 2:12). But, alas! the great sin of the outward Church has ever been to put Christ on one side. How often has the Church placed a hierarchy, a system, a party, a creed, a superstition, &c., in the place that belongs to Him. Hence our unhappy and disastrous divisions. If Christians are to draw nearer to each other, it must be by a determined attempt to restore the Lord Jesus to His proper position. Then we shall find it possible to make some progress towards the enjoyment of that harmony in our relations with each other which ought to characterize the sons of God on earth, and which must bind all together in heaven.
III. As with the Christian Church at large, so with THE INDIVIDUAL HEART. “Know ye not that Christ is within you?” &c., not as a distinct part of our being, but as a power pervading and supreme over all. This is what St. Paul meant when he exclaimed, “I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.” Let us not think of assigning Him a corner in the palace. Christ will not accept such a subordinate position.
IV. When Christ is in the heart, He will also be “in the midst” of OUR HOME. Of how many of us may it be said, as it was said of Martha, that she “received Him into her house”? How many of us can fill in our name where the word Martha stands? If we would really have Him abiding with us, it must not be so much as a mere guest, “a wayfaring man turning aside to tarry for a night,” but as the true though invisible Head of the house, just as He is the true though invisible Head of the Church. “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” In our domestic arrangements, it is His will that must be consulted. We cannot keep Him in our closet, and deny Him the right of access to our scenes of social intercourse and pleasure. We cannot place Him at the head of our family on Sunday, and bid Him go into retirement for the remainder of the week.
V. “In the midst” of our WORLDLY BUSINESS. Ah, this fatal distinction between sacred and secular! how much it has done to drive religion out of our lives! Surely everything becomes sacred that is done with Jesus in the midst. Our offices are consecrated as actually as our churches; holiness to the Lord is written upon the very “bells of the horses;” upon our ledgers and cash-books.
VI. “In the midst” OF ALL CHRISTIAN ENTERPRISE. “They went forth and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them,” &c. How possible it is to work for Christ, and yet in our very work to deny Christ His proper place in relation to the work; to be guilty of self-seeking even while we seem to be endeavouring to further His cause (Jeremiah 45:5). It is when we see Jesus in the midst that self loses its tyrant power, and worldly motives cease to influence us. Conclusion: How are we to ensure the presence of Jesus in the midst of our hearts, and therefore in the midst of our lives? By accepting Him as the Mediator between God and man. (W. Hay-Aitken, M. A.)
The centre of the universe--Jesus in the midst
1. All men have looked up to the heavenly bodies. This fact invests them with additional interest. We have not seen the men of past ages; we cannot see those of distant continents; but we can look at the same objects as they all have looked at.
2. In a higher degree, when we look into the pages of the Word of God, and consider how many eyes have looked at the same words--wondering, weeping, inquiring, praying, and scoffing; and how many hearts have beat over the same book, do we feel that this great light of time has been uniting the generations.
3. In a still higher degree do we feel the uniting power of one great central object--“Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, and to-day, and for ever.” As we look, our gaze is drawn to Calvary and its three crosses--resting at last upon the middle cross. On one cross the physical suffering is doubly darkened by the gloom of despair; on another it is lighted up by hope and faith; on the middle cross it is crowned and glorified by the infinite and unutterable love of God. Many executions took place on Golgotha. Why then should these three have remained, burning like beacons in the night of time? It is because “Jesus is in the midst.” And, as around that central cross there were all kinds of lookers at the time, so has it been in every time. There fell on that cross the look of hate, and of love, of indifference, and of interest.
I. JESUS IN THE MIDST OF THE VISIBLE WORLD.
1. Jerusalem was in the middle of Palestine, and Palestine in the middle of the civilized world. The cross, then, was literally in the midst of the visible world: and its position there is symbolical of Christ’s position, for His life was lived between the two great continents of history--the ancient and the modern. A new civilization dates from His birth--the old civilization died in His death. And thus, in relation to human history, as developed in place and time, it is a simple geographical and chronological fact that “Jesus is in the midst.”
2. Nature is a part of the visible world, and Christ is the centre of nature, for He is its Creator. “All thing were made by Him,” &c., and “by Him all things consist”--the whole material universe is held together by Him.
3. The Hebrew Theocracy was a part of the visible world, and Christ Jesus was in the midst of it.
(1) The Tribes went up to Jerusalem as their centre. The centre of Jerusalem was the Temple. The centre of the Temple was the Holy of Holies, and the centre of the Holy of Holies was the mercy-seat, sprinkled with blood, containing the Law, of which the shed blood was the satisfaction; all of which represented our Saviour’s mediatorial work.
(2) This was His position in relation to the whole life and history of the Jews. In so far as they were children of God, they were moulded after the image of the Son of God. His Spirit inspired the prophets. In the dark house of bondage, and at the bitterest hour of their history, Jesus is found in the midst, making a fourth in the furnace of Babylon.
4. Heathendom is a part of the visible world, and Jesus is in the midst of it. For what mean those victims slain in sacrifice all over the world? Jesus is “the desire of all nations,” and is in their midst--if only in this negative sense, that the void at the heart of humanity can be filled only by Him.
5. Coming to Christendom, Christ is the visible centre of it. Europe embraces the highest life in the world, and the centre of that highest life is Christ. The great Church in the middle of every capital city is called a Christian Church. Jesus is acknowledged to be the source of all our moral and spiritual activities. And if we enter the world of thought, most emphatically is Jesus in the midst here. His Person includes the inmost and ultimate question in every sphere. Do we try to form a science of theology? The foundation must be our doctrine of the Person of Christ. The view we take of that will determine our view of God, man, sin, atonement. Jesus very soon became the central figure in the schools. At twelve years of age He was found in the Temple. If we take any ultimate question, we find Jesus the living and practical solution of it, Do we take the question, How can finite man ever know the infinite God? Jesus is the Man who knows
God fully. Hence the variety of forms in which the account of His life is ever appearing in modern times.
6. The political world is a part of the visible world; and the rightful place of Christ is in the midst of it, too. If any one rules a nation in the name of any one but Christ, he is a usurper. Christ’s cross has been the centre of the past; His crown will be the centre of the future. “All kings shall fall down before Him,” &c.
II. JESUS IN THE MIDST OF THE INVISIBLE WORLD.
1. The true Church on earth is a part of the invisible world; and Jesus is in the midst of it. In the midst of
(1) The individual life. He is the most intimate Counsellor, Friend, and Companion of every Christian soul.
(2) The Christian family. His presence is the bond of its perfectness.
(3) The little prayer-meeting. “Where two or three,” &c.
(4) The Christian Church on earth viewed as a whole. “Lo! I am with you alway,” &c. “In the midst of the candlesticks, one like unto the Son of Man.” All true lights are fed by the hand of Christ.
2. Lifting our eyes to the Church in heaven, it is still the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne. The throne itself is in the midst; the first position of dignity and power in the universe, and Christ sits upon it. He must, therefore, be God--King of kings, and Lord of lords. Further, it is as the Lamb that He is on the throne--showing that the centre of His work is His sacrifice of Himself. His highest value to the world is not that He is a pattern of virtue merely, or a moral Reformer. The Apostle conducts us from company to company until we come to Him who is in the midst. “Ye are come unto Mount Sion,” &c.
3. But, higher still, Jesus is in the midst of the Godhead. In the threefold name, Jesus is in the midst; and in the manifestation of the three-one God, He occupies the same position. In the First Dispensation there was the revelation of the Unity or first Person of the Godhead. Our dispensation is that of the Holy Spirit, for in it we have a revelation of the work of the third Person. But in the midst of the two, there is the manifestation of the second Person.
4. Jesus is in the midst: of all the Divine attributes. They have their harmonious meeting-place in Him. He is love, and love is the bond of the Divine perfectness as well as of human. In Him the problem has been solved, how God can be just and yet the Justifier of him that believes in Jesus.
III. JESUS IN THE MIDST BETWEEN THE TWO WORLDS.
1. He descended into the visible that He might translate us into the invisible. He is the only Door between the two worlds. Through that, ministering angels, and all Divine and saving influences, come forth to enlighten and enliven this lower world; and through it there pours in return the multitude of sinners saved by grace. He is the spiritual reality symbolized in Jacob’s ladder. He has this position became He is in the midst--between God and man. In the translation of sinners from the: kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light, Jesus is in the midst. He was lifted up on the cross between the two worlds that He might draw all men unto Him.
2. At the moment of death Jesus stands on “the dark frontier,” to receive the soul of the believer. There are weeping friends on the one side, and rejoicing angels on the other; and the Saviour is between the two.
3. And, last of all, who is this sitting on the great white throne--the holy angels with Him? The Son of man; “Jesus is in the midst!” In conclusion: Is all this true of Jesus of Nazareth?
1. He is indeed “the Wonderful, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father.”
2. What sort of a universe would this be without Christ? It would not be a universe--a cosmos, or a well-ordered system of thing; but a chaos. Yea, if there were no Christ, evil would triumph.
3. Consider what the life and heart of the individual man is without Christ. It has no centre. All its pursuits, however refined, are worse than useless. All its pleasures are short-lived and false. Apart from Christ, there can be no aim in a human life adequate to the worth of that life. (F. Ferguson, D. D.)
Salvation no failure
Now, away among the mountains, I know a place, where once three shepherds, brothers, were to leap, as they had often done, from rock to rock, across the narrow chasm through which the swollen waters rushed onward to their fall. Bold mountaineers, and looking with careless eye on a sight which had turned others dizzy, one bounded over like a red deer; another followed--but, alas, his foot slipping on the smoothly treacherous ledge, he staggered, reeled, and falling back, rolled over with a sullen plunge into the jaws of the abyss. Quick as lightning, his brother sprang forward--down to a point where the waters issue into a more open space, just above the crag over which they throw themselves into the black, rock-girdled, boiling cavern. There, standing on the verge of death, he eyes the body coming; he bends--his arm is out--thank God, he has him in his powerful grasp. Bravely, brotherly done! Alas! it is done in vain. The third brother, sad spectator of the scene, saw him swept from his slippery footing: and, in their death not divided, as of old they had lain in their childhood, locked in each other’s arms they went over, horribly whelmed in the depths of the swirling pool. Not so perished our elder Brother, and the thief He stretched out His hand to save. He plucked him from the brink of hell; He saved him on the dizzy edge of the dreadful pit. (T. Guthrie, D. D.)
And Pilate wrote a title and put it on the cross
The superscription on the cross
A GLORIOUS FACT UNCONSCIOUSLY PUBLISHED TO THE WORLD--the royalty of Jesus. This is one of the greatest truths of the Bible, although Pilate only meant it in scorn. How often the worst of men utter the highest truths I Some event strikes on the soul, and the truth flashes out like fire from flint. Hence the utterances of ungodly men may repay attention.
II. A REVENGEFUL PASSION GRATIFYING ITSELF BY FRAUD. The Jews compelled Pilate to violate his conscience. Now it is over, his passion finds vent in a falsehood such as would torment the instigators of his crime. He did not believe Jesus to be a king at all. No passion is more ravenous than revenge; and fraud in the form of slander is, in these days, its most potent weapon.
III. A WICKED TRANSACTION, BRINGING ITS OWN PUNISHMENT. The accusation was that Christ had made Himself a King, and now the Jews find over the cross a statement that the Crucified was their King. How intolerable to these descendents of illustrious patriarchs and monarchs! How bitterly they must have felt the haughty reply, “What I have written,” &c. “I have been pliable in working out your designs, now I am inexorable.
I scorn you.” Thus a small instalment of their retribution came at once. “Be sure your sin will find you out.”
IV. A MORAL OBLIQUITY WHICH ESTIMATES WHAT IS TRULY GLORIOUS A DISGRACE. Had the Jews seen things in a right light they would have gloried in this superscription. That Malefactor was “the glory of His people Israel.” As Sage, Saint, Hero, King, there never had been or would be one like Him. Depraved men are ever acting thus. Sinners see degradation when there is nobility. If men saw things as they are, they would often see ignominy on thrones, and royalty in the beggar’s hut. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
The superscription on the cross
I. WHAT IT TESTIFIES--Of Jesus of Nazareth.
1. His Majesty.
2. His victory.
3. The foundation of His kingdom.
4. His jurisdiction and government.
II. IT WAS
1. Read of all.
2. Vexatious to many.
3. Obstinately defended by one.
1. Wilt thou pass it unheeded?
2. Wouldst thou alter it?
3. Wilt thou not accept it? (J. P. Lange, D. D.)
The inscription on the cross
This was what Pilate wrote on the cross of Christ. Instead of mourning over your cross, write on it
I. JESUS, i.e., Saviour. If He has delivered you from sin and its consequences you need not be greatly concerned about the mere scratches of life.
II. NAZARETH. If you are poor, unknown, despised, remember that Christ your Redeemer came from Nazareth. Despite your present condition, you may yet do something in the world.
III. KING. Never forget that your Saviour is supreme. You, therefore, are safe.
IV. JEWS. We owe much to the Jews. By a Jew we are saved. Conclusion: Put this inscription on your cross and it will lighten it. On the cross of
1. Persecution. You are not alone; your Master bore this before you.
2. Public profession. Remember Christ, and you will find nothing to be ashamed of.
4. Poverty and pain. Jesus bore them all and will surely keep you. (C. Spurgeon, jun.)
The inscription on the cross
I. THE UNCONSCIOUS TESTIMONY OF BAD MEN TO THE TRUTH. Pilate the vacillating, the superstitious, the cowardly, the civil, causes a statement to be written about Christ, than which no apostle’s argument, no angel’s song could be more truthful. The Kingship of the carpenter’s Son, the royalty of the peasant teacher of Nazareth. Similarly Balaam and Caiaphas, and they who cavilled at Christ because He received sinners, were all unconsciously testifying to great truths, e.g., Balaam to the moral fascination of a godly nation, Caiaphas to the necessity of vicarious sacrifice the cavillers to the mercy of the great philanthropist.
II. THE FAILURE OF MERE CULTURE TO EFFECT THE HIGHEST ENDS. These three languages the unlettered could not understand; but he who could read all used his knowledge in the service of the deadliest murder. Culture without religion is but civilized barbarism and disguised animalism. “Not by might nor by power,” &c.
III. THE OMNISCIENT ARRANGEMENTS OF GOD’S PROVIDENCE. The fact that these languages were employed reminds us of the historic marvel that this was just the epoch when most naturally Hebrew faith, Greek eloquence, and Latin empire, could combine to serve the propagation of the new evangel. Christ came “in the fulness of time.”
IV. THE UNIVERSAL AVAILABLENESS OF CALVARY. The fact float most concerns the peoples of all centuries and climes is not transcendental, but an event which all can understand--a death--1. The death of a Man. Its availableness is illustrated in its relation to the population of the city then. For it happened not at the distance of a long pilgrimage, but “near the city.” And it was explained in three languages, one or other of which the motley group that passed by could understand. So it is with the spiritual meaning of that fact--“Say not in thy heart who shall ascend … the Word is nigh thee.”
V. THE WORLD-WIDE VICTORIES OF THE CROSS. Jerusalem, Athens, Rome, have known, or is gradually knowing, the triumph of Christ. And His wondrous biography, infallible teaching, and redeeming power, is now proclaimed not in three, but in hundreds of languages, and “every tongue shall confess that Christ is Lord.” (U. R. Thomas.)
Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews
Jesus of Nazareth
(Preached at Nazareth on Good Friday):--What are the lessons of Good Friday?
I. THE UNIVERSAL LOVE OF GOD TO HIS CREATURES.
1. That is why it is so truly called Good Friday. It has its good news as much as Christmas or Easter Day. It was by His death, more even than by His life, that He showed how His sympathy extended far beyond His own nation, friends, family. “I, if I be lifted up,” &c.
2. This is a truth which comes home to us with a peculiar force in Palestine. What is it that has made this small country so famous; that has carried the names of Jerusalem and Nazareth to the uttermost parts of the earth? The death of Christ. Had He not died as He did, His religion, name, country, would never have broken through all the bonds of time and place as they have.
3. This universal love of God in Christ’s death is specially impressed upon us in Nazareth. What Christ was in His death, He was in His life. And if we wish to know the spirit which pervades both, we cannot do so better than consult His first sermon at Nazareth (Luke 4:18). “The Spirit of the Lord was upon Him”
(1) “To preach the gospel to the poor,” the glad tidings of God’s love to the humble, neglected, dangerous classes, the friendless, the oppressed, the unthought for, the uncared for.
(2) “To heal the broken-hearted,” as a good physician heals, not with one medicine, but with all the various medicines and remedies which Infinite
Wisdom possesses, all the fractures, and diseases, and infirmities of our poor human hearts. There is not a weakness, a sorrow, a grievance, for which the love of God, as seen in the life and death of Christ, does not offer some remedy.
(3) “To preach deliverance to the captive.” Whatever be the evil habit, inveterate prejudice, master passion, or the long indulgence, which weighs upon us like a bondage, He feels for us, and will set us free.
(4) To “give sight to the blind.” How few of us there are who know our own failings, who see into our own hearts, who know what is really good for us! That is the knowledge which the thought of Christ’s death is likely to give us. For every one of these conditions, He died. Not for those only who are professedly religious, but for those who are the least so. Christianity is the only religion of which the Teacher addressed Himself, not to the religious, the ecclesiastical, the learned world, but to the careless, the thoughtless, the rough publican, the wild prodigal, the heretical Samaritan, the heathen soldier, the thankless peasants of Nazareth, the swarming populations of Galilee.
II. WHATEVER GOOD IS TO BE DONE, IN THE WORLD, even though it is God Himself who does it, CANNOT BE DONE WITHOUT A SACRIFICE.
1. So it was especially in the death of Christ. So it was in His whole life, from the time when He grew up, “as a tender plant,” in the seclusion of this valley, to the hour when He died at Jerusalem, was one long struggle against misunderstanding, opposition, scorn, hatred, hardship, pain. He had doubtless His happier and gentler hours--we must not forget them: His friends at Bethany, His apostles, His mother. But here, amongst His own people, He met with angry opposition and jealousy. He had to bear the hardships of toil and labour, like any other Nazarene artisan. He had here, by a silent preparation of thirty years, to make Himself ready for the work which lay before Him. He had to endure the heat and the cold, the burning sun, and the stormy rain, of these hills and valleys. “The foxes” of the plain of Esdraelon “have holes,” “the birds” of the Galilean forests “have their nests,” but “He had,” often, “not where to lay His head.” And in Jerusalem, though there were momentary bursts of enthusiasm in His behalf, yet He came so directly across the interests, the fears, the pleasures, and the prejudices of those who there ruled and taught, that at last it cost Him His life. By no less a sacrifice could the world be redeemed and His work be finished.
2. In that work, in one sense, none but He can take part. “He trod the winepress alone.” But in another sense, often urged upon us in the Bible, we must all take part in it, if we would wish to do good to ourselves or to others. We cannot improve ourselves, we cannot assist others, except by exertion. We must, each of us, bear our cross with Him. When we bear it, it is lightened by thinking of Him. When we bear it, each day makes it easier to us. Once the name of “Christian,” of “Nazarene,” was an offence in the eyes of the world; now it is a glory. But we cannot have the glory without the labour which it involves. (Dean Stanley.)
Pilate preaching the gospel
Pilate knew that “Jesus” was thought to be a most despicable name; and that “Nazareth” with the Jews was a proverb of condensed contempt. But “God held his hand while he did write.” All unconscious, he was used as an instrument for publishing words of deep and mystic potency. First things are significant things, especially in the history of a dispensation. The first voice we hear speaking of Christ after His crucifixion is the voice of an angel, and the first title given to Him is Jesus of Nazareth. The first time that the Saviour was preached by man was under this title. Peter fell its infamy when “one of the maids of the high priest” said to him, “Thou also wast with Jesus of Nazareth.” But soon as the Spirit was poured out, Peter rang out the name “Jesus of Nazareth.” The first time that Jesus Himself, after His enthronement, spoke, He made Himself known under these words (Acts 22:8). Taking these things into consideration, we find that what was done by man only in contempt, has been turned by God into the most effectual means of exalting the Saviour and preaching the gospel.
I. “THE CROSS,” on which the writing was placed, first arrests our attention.
1. Was it like the thing sometimes looked at before the glass, put on admiringly, then taken off, then dropped among the tinkling trinkets? Like the thing that sparkles in the crown, or blows in the banner, or flames on the spire? We need have no superstitious fancy about this artistic device; only let us be careful not to allow the sight of it to deaden the sense of what Christ’s cross really was. It was a shame! And when it was lifted up, I should have thought that any man would look another way. Any dying man is a sacred being, any dying scene a sacred place; but Jesus was nailed upright in a crowd to die. And then it was that Pilate hammered over the dying head the mocking proclamation.
2. I would not make the physical cross a theme for merely descriptive or declamatory wards; nor do I make a venture into the sea of God’s deep thoughts about the atonement; but I know that Jesus on that cross, dying for sinners, did in some way suffer what is instead of His people dying. We may enter this scene, but not as artists, sculptors, poets, musicians, talkers with a hard, ready rattle of syllables, but as priests, with stilled hearts and reverential steps; we may pause, but with prayer; we may look, but through tears. Pilate was the instrument of the fulfilment of Christ’s words--“I, if I be lifted up from the earth,” &c.
II. THE NAME “JESUS.” “Joshua,” to which “Jesus” corresponds, means “the Lord’s salvation,” or, “the Lord of salvation.”
1. By the time of our Lord’s advent, the Jews had got to place the lowest possible construction on the predictions of a Saviour. They thought only of a political salvation; and every leader of an insurrection was tempted to call himself the Jesus of prophecy. There is some ground for the opinion that Barabbas played the part of a false Christ, taking the name of Jesus. The Roman governor of Judaea would know that the Jews looked upon the name Jesus as belonging to “the coming man,” who should save them from the Romans. This to his mind would make it a name of scorn. At this hour the Jews were also ashamed of it.
2. Never was greater mistake about a name than this. Its true interpretation had been given by the angel, “For He shall save His people from their sins;” and if the same angel was the one who announced His resurrection, it is no wonder that the first word of announcement was “Jesus.” He would triumph in that name. We share in this triumph. Some persons mainly think of Christ as a Saviour from penalty. We know indeed that by the cross the Saviour removes legal impediments in the way of pardon; but is that all? Is He simply like one who clears off old scores for us; wipes out the past as a child wipes off a false sum from his slate; who says, “Let bygones be bygones;” who holds the paper with the dreadful writing on it in the flame until it burns right away and says, “There, I have nothing against you!” Is that all? Not so. He will says me by setting me right, and not merely by setting right my relation to His law. “The blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin.”
III. THE APPELLATIVE “OF NAZARETH.” The Jews had objected to part of Pilate’s superscription, but not to this, for it expressed exactly what they were determined to affirm. According to His own account, He was “Jesus of heaven” (John 8:23; John 8:42). Just see what this implies.
1. A contradiction of Christ’s claims to be the Heavenly Witness. Yet it was overruled so as to be the means of their glorious vindication. Keep in mind the distinction between a teacher and a witness. A teacher is one who imparts knowledge; a witness is one who gives evidence. We expect him to tell us the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth from what has passed in his own personal presence. This is what Christ claimed to be. When Nicodemus said, “We know that Thou art a Teacher sent from God,” His answer meant, “More than that, I am a Witness.” “We speak that we do,” &c. So at last with Pilate, He claimed to be the Heavenly Witness. “To this end was I born,” &c. Of course no mere mortal could give evidence about anything that happened before He was born. God might say to any one of us (Job 38:4-7); but Christ, being the Witnessgiving the gospel revelation, had from the nature of the case to give evidence as to facts that belong to a place far above this world, and to a period far before it. Of course this claim includes the claim to be the Son of God. If a real Witness, it is plain that His birth was not the point of emergence from the blank of non-entity; but the arrival of a Traveller who said, “I am crone forth from the Father, and am come into the world.” Of course it is a mystery--the doctrine that Eternity should clothe itself in the garment of Time. But Mystery is the sign of the Infinite; and that which is not mysterious is not Divine. The animus of the inscription on the cross is endorsed by the Jews. “He is only Jesus of Nazareth.” But this most public contempt of Christ’s claims only led to their most public and irresistible vindication. The cross, which called attention to the one, calls attention to the other. The death on the cross led to the stupendous miracle of the Resurrection, by which He has been “declared to be the Son of God with power.”
2. To insinuate the charge of sin; but it has been overruled to call attention to His spotless holiness. Nazareth was looked upon as the very sink of Galilee. There have been such Nazareths in old England. London had one in a place called Alsatia; many a nest of wreckers by the seaside was a social Nazareth. There are Nazareths now, to be in which implies loss of character; places that are like hells on earth; but Jesus lived thirty years in Nazareth of Palestine. Even the candid Nathanael said, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth? “But the critics of Christ can find no spot in Christ even there. Christ’s pure life in polluted Nazareth was a great fact in the great gospel apparatus. It provided for the most searching chemistry of character; and after living so long under the action of such a test, He was found perfect. Such a human diamond found in filth, yet drinking in and flashing out again the pure light of God, could owe nothing to the filth in which it was discovered. Such holiness in Nazareth must be that before which all angels cry aloud, Holy, Holy, Holy!
3. This appellative pleased those who scorned Christ as the “son of a carpenter,” for as such He was well known at Nazareth; but it reminds us of the honour due to Him as the Friend of poor and working people. It was as much as to say, “a carpenter is not a king;” but, besides that, it was meant to suggest, “Who would belong to a religion that has for its sacred central personage a carpenter?” The same spell would work in the same way now, and thousands who now profess Christianity would not do so, if doing so would make them look so low, socially, as did the first followers of the Carpenter. Let us call to mind the significance of the fact that the man Christ Jesus was a carpenter, and trace afresh the reasons why we should glory in it. It helps to make Him very real and homely; to make us feel that our religion is not a thing that belongs to some mysterious world of its own; but a thing for use, for the work-day world, for the majority. It helps to make us feel that He belongs to us all. Human princes take territorial names for their own distinction; Jesus takes a territorial name. And what is it? “Jesus of Paradise?” “Jesus of Glory?” “Jesus of Jerusalem the Golden?” No! but “Jesus of Nazareth,” the place where He was only known as “the Carpenter.” He was insulted by that name in His last hour on earth, but, now, it is one of the names by which He is known in the heraldry of heaven.
IV. THE TITLE, “The King of the Jews.” In writing this, Pilate intended to express the most extreme contempt. Not contempt for the religion of Jesus. In matters of religion he had no bias one way or the other; in his opinion, one religion was as good as another. He was not conscious of any active contempt for the person of Jesus; but he thought to use Him as an instrument to mortify the Jews. It was as much as to say, “There, you vile Jews! Your King is that! then what are you? Your own grand monarch is now nailed on His throne. Know yourselves!” They would have made no objection if Pilate had written, “He said, I am King of the Jews!” At the time when Jesus was born, men were eagerly asking, “Where is He that is born King of the Jews?” No one, however, thought for a moment of looking for Him at Nazareth. As was shrewdly said in a London yard by one of its native evangelists, “If the Prince of Wales had lived thirty years in Raymond’s Yard, folks would not have believed that he was the Prince of Wales. I expect that Nazareth was a poor sort of place, like this; yet there He was. If you find a sovereign in the mud, you think it only a farthing till you come to change it; and so, because they found Jesus at Nazareth, they never thought that He could be a King!” Even so. At the same time, it was not altogether the thought of Nazareth that made the Jews refuse to bend the knee. There was a time when that was no insuperable difficulty. The cause was in their own worldly nature, which He, by disappointing, had infuriated. They were mad because they thought He could break the Roman yoke for them, but would not. The priests thought they had got their revenge on Jesus for refusing to trample down the Romans. But when the cross was lifted, to their amazement, the truths they had tried to kill stood written over it, and the Crucified One was proclaimed their King! The wretched Pilate little knew that he had thus written one of the grandest truths. Appearances did seem to be against such a fact; yet, for God to be manifest in one place is no greater stoop of condescension than to be manifest in the other; and only our vulgar ideas of the majestic make us feel it to be a greater mystery there than anywhere else. The mystery was that He should appear as man anywhere.
V. THE NOTICE placed over the head of Jesus “was written in Hebrew, and Greek, and Latin.” In the East, in the old time, when a government issued a notice intended to be read by the different nations of a large empire, it was the custom to write it on a tablet in the different languages of that empire, so that if men speaking these different languages would be able to read the inscription. Like the Rosetta Stone in the British Museum, showing one inscription in three dialects; like the inscribed rocks at Behistan, recording the fame of Darius Hystaspes in three forms of arrow-headed writing, so as to be understood by Assyrian, Median, and Persian readers--the inscription on the cross was written in three languages, and these were the three keys to unlock all the languages living in the world. So, without knowing what he was doing, Pilate thus began the publication of Christ to all the world; and all that evangelists at home and abroad have to do is to do by the Holy Ghost, and do thoroughly, what he began to do. Let the real meaning of what he wrote in these everlasting letters be brought out; and let all people in all languages read it or hear it, and Christ’s missionary law will be fulfilled. (C. Stanford, D. D.)
In Hebrew, and Greek, and Latin
I. THESE LANGUAGES REPRESENT IN THEIR STRUCTURE THREE ENTIRELY UNLIKE TYPES OF CHARACTER.
1. The Hebrew has grandeur, but no grace.
2. The Greek is spoken beauty, yet fit more for nymphs than angels.
3. The Latin is the language of command, resolute purpose and decisive action, whose very study is a tonic. These three tongues were all familiar to the Jewish ear in the time of Christ; the Hebrew as still the language of worship, the Greek as the language of educated men, the Latin as the official language of the Roman Government.
II. THESE LANGUAGES CORRESPOND TO THE FORMS OF CULTURE which were grouped together in every land; for the Hebrews had long been a migratory people; the Greeks were the preceptors of the world; while Roman soldiers and officials swarmed in all parts of the empire.
1. The Hebrews were pre-eminently a religious people. Even their idolatry was in sad earnest, and from the time of the Captivity their zeal for God and the law has no parallel. Their first temple, long anterior to Greek art, was the most magnificent edifice in the world, and their apparatus of worship the most organized and majestic that the world has known. Nor was Judaism in its earlier days a mere ritual--witness the psalms and prophets. But in the time of Christ it had lapsed into a punctilious formalism.
2. The Greek culture was distinguished by the sovereignty of beauty. It gave transcendent grace and charm to daily life. But it lacked the religious element; and the reverence of the worshipper who gave credence to the myths embodied in its art could only minister to his degradation. This culture eventually lapsed into a feeble sensualism, and Greek adventurers carried into every land with their art and philosophy, luxury, effeminacy, and the vices that follow in their train.
3. The Roman culture was that of unbending law, rigid discipline, and hardy self-control; in their better days their religion was sincere, and their standard of purity high. But their advancing knowledge soon outgrew their faith, and their religion became a nonentity to the enlightened, and a mere police force to the populace. Rude and averse to refining influences, they at first resisted the influence of Greeks, but eventually succumbed. At the Christian era moral corruption had replaced the robust virtues of the early Romans.
4. These were the effete forms of culture, whose signature was written over the cross. Each was ready to perish for lack of the others.
(1) Religion may exist alone in the individual soul; but as an element of social and national life it needs all the humanities, and can only live as a working force.
(2) Art needs religion for its purity, grandeur and influence as an educational agency, and requires the element of law to blend vigour with grace.
(3) Law demands a higher sanction than its own, and requires that its sternness be relieved by the humanizing influence of art.
III. JESUS COMBINES IN HIS PERSON THESE THREE FORMS OF CULTURE.
1. He is emphatically King of the Jews; for the intensity of the religious life is betrayed in His every utterance.
2. He is more than Grecian in the grace, amenity, and sweetness of His Spirit.
3. He is more than Roman in the perfectness with which He is the incarnate law of God, and alone finishes the work God gave Him to do.
IV. THESE ELEMENTS ARE BLENDED IN THE CHRISTIAN CHARACTER WORTHY OF THE NAME.
1. It has the fervent religiousness of the Hebrew psalmists and Jews, only with less of the Sinai than of the Zion type.
2. However destitute of the wonted means of culture, it takers in a culture of its own, so that the grace of God assumes forms which man can recognize as graceful.
3. It is also a law-abiding Spirit, submitting not as to a hard yoke, but as to a loving service.
V. WE HAVE IN THE THREEFOLD CAPTION OF THE CROSS OUR OWN DIRECTORY OF DUTY.
1. Religion, the inmost consecration of the soul to God, is the main element.
2. But religion is a power which should diffuse itself; and this it can only do by alliance with whatever adorns, sweetens and elevates the life of man. There has been a religiousness destitute of grace, and even repulsive; but if those who seek to be Christians would only prize and cultivate the beauty of holiness, they would be much more efficiently missionaries for the faith.
3. We need equally the Roman element of law to make us Christians indeed. A thoroughly obedient life, pervaded by the spirit of service, is the result of nurture in the school of Christ. (A. P. Peabody, D. D.)
Pilate answered, What I have written I have written
The ineffaceable record
Men often speak wiser than they know.
During Christ’s trial Pilate had made for himself a record of ineffaceable infamy. We, too, are making up a record irreversible, ineffaceable.
I. WE ARE WRITING UPON THE TABLETS OF OUR OWN SOULS. The fossiliferous rocks bear traces of rain-drops and foot-prints of birds made long ago, and destined to last to the end of time. More sensitive and susceptible is the human soul, upon which every thought, feeling, volition, action makes an impression, and the sum of these impressions makes character. The solemn thing about these impressions is that they are ineradicable. What we have written once we have written for ever. The impressions may have faded out in the long lapse of years, and yet little things--a name, a face, a strain of song--will bring up the buried past and make us live it over again. We never quite forget, and the severest torture of the damned will be that which comes from memory.
II. WE ARE WRITING, TOO, UPON THE TABLETS OF OTHER HUMAN SOULS. It may be on the tender susceptibility of a little child, every unkind act or reproach makes a wound which will leave an ugly scar that will be carried to the grave. The like is true of the tender tracery of love. An old preacher long ago had among his hearers a fair-haired boy whom he tenderly loved, and for whose salvation he longed. The preacher went to heaven; the boy found a home far away in this Western world. One day, with his hands on the plough, that boy, now a man of sixty years, paused in the furrow, and as he paused there came to him the echo of the voice of that preacher to whom he had listened in early youth. And so let the patient mother whose love seems lost upon her wayward boy, take heart and hope.
III. AND SO WE ARE WRITING ON THE TABLETS OF ETERNITY AS WELL. Every man is an author, and the book he is writing is his autobiography. Authors commonly have a chance to revise what they write; but of this life record there shall be no revision. And this is the book that shall be opened, and out of this the dead shall be judged. We come to-day (last day in the year) to the close of another chapter of this book. We cannot revise it, but we may review it. In the review it would possibly appear that it resembles many a copy-book whose opening lines give evidences of painstaking, but whose later writing is sadly blurred. Let us humbly hope that some deeds of love have been recorded and some words of cheer for struggling souls set opposite our names. Yet how little the record shows, we fear, of holy endeavour and heroic sacrifice. But not a sentence can we efface, for what we have written we have written. And yet there is a ray of hope and a voice of comfort for those who mourn over their miserable record. A poor wretch, burdened with a sense-of sin, dreamed that the demon of darkness held up before him all the long, black catalogue of his crimes, The devil thought to drive him to despair, but while he looked and trembled, lo! One appeared who was like unto the Son of Man, and he looked and saw that His hands were pierced, and from those precious hands some drops of blood were trickling. The hands were laid upon the dreadful page, and with His blood He wiped it out. This is our consolation and our hope. And, again, there is another hope. It is the Book of Life, and in it are recorded all the names of God’s saints. Let us humbly rejoice that our names are written there. (P. S. Henson, D. D.)
Life an inscription on a cross
I. MAN’S LIFE IS AN INSCRIPTION ON A CROSS.
1. It is evident that to Pilate the hour had come when he must reveal the spirit of his life by one great act of decision, and that decision was before the Cross. In that tremendous moment when Christ stood at his bar, the influences of two great worlds appealed to his soul--the everlasting world of Truth--Right--God; and the world of self-interest and wrong. He might crucify self or Christ; but whichever course he might adopt, he must announce his life-purpose for the world to read. By deciding for the worldly, he wrote the inscription, “I crucify Christ--truth--conscience; and enthrone self and the world in my soul,”
2. When a man chooses anything before Christ, he virtually crucifies Christ. To choose anything in preference to Christ’s truth is to crucify that truth. Christ asks for the absolute surrender of man’s heart in the name of eternal love; to refuse this surrender is to trample on that love, and to scorn its appeals. There is no middle ground. “He that is not with Me, is against Me.” Therefore, whenever Christ is felt claiming man, and the claim is passed by, the man stands in the position of Pilate of old.
(1) The man of the world has his hour when, at the door of his heart, stands the Christ summoning him once more to yield. At the same moment comes the hissing voice of the tempter, “Take thine ease a little longer; hear Christ to-morrow;” and the soul, like Pilate, leaves the judgment-throne, and yields to the lying voice. Now, go within that man’s heart: Do you not see a cross standing there in the gloom, while a pale hand is writing over it, in letters of the spirit-world, this title, “This is Jesus--I crucify the King”?
(2) There comes a day in the history of the young soul when he feels that he has left childhood behind, and is girding himself for the battle of life, then often the Man of Nazareth approaches that soul, saying, “For thee I died; I will give thee glory if thou wilt take up thy cross and follow Me:” and at the same moment come the three mocking spirits of the world--pleasure, wealth, fame--saying, “Follow me.” The choice is made, the struggle ended! Enter that soul, and gaze on the newly-erected cross, and read the letters of fire, “I crucify Christ, the King of men; I will not crucify myself:” and the inscription of life has begun.
II. THAT INSCRIPTION IS WRITTEN IRREVOCABLY: “What I have written I have written.” Pilate felt that the deed was done--Jesus crucified; his own struggle miserably ended, the past was beyond his recall. The inscription of man’s life is written on two tablets.
1. The tablet of the eternal past.
(1) Every deed done is done for ever. When a man has written his life-title on the cross, he may weep oceans of tears, but no human tears can wash it away.
(2) The past, moreover, is a living power in the present, and it gradually forms the unchangeable character. Pilate found out that. It would have been immeasurably harder for him to change afterwards. You say the past has perished, but you forget that the present is filled with its living and active results. You see the snow covering the mountains; and you may feel that you are looking on the records of a dead past. There it lies cold--motionless. But the spring sun shines; and, in the form of a desolating avalanche, that dead past starts into a living power in the present. So in life, the sins of the past are not dead and gone; they have helped to make us what we are; and let the opportunity arise, let temptation come, and by our acts in the living present, they will terribly assert their power. Crucify self, and the cross becomes easier every day. Crucify truth, and every day you will find it harder to take the cross down.
2. The tablet of the immortal memory. We can forget nothing. Memory may sleep, but it cannot perish. Within the soul is the everlasting picture of all our life; and it only needs the light of conscience to waken it into awful brilliancy.
III. THAT INSCRIPTION IS READ BY GOD. (E. L. Hull, B. A.)
Then the soldiers, when they had crucified Jesus, took His garments
One event with many revelations
The SPOLIATION OF DEATH. Christ is crucified. Death has completed its work. What had it done?
1. It had not destroyed His existence. He had gone in His full personality, and in the plenitude of His powers to His God and ours.
2. It had not destroyed His character. Death cannot rob us of this. It is the only property we can carry out of this world. What then does it take from us?
(1) Our material frames. Here was Christ’s body torn from Him--the body through which He looked out at the universe, through which He received His sensations, by which He delivered His sublime doctrines and wrought His marvellous deeds. A precious thing is the body, and yet death takes it from every man, however much he may appreciate it.
(2) Our material property. The garments of Christ were His only earthly property, but of them He was stripped. No doubt He valued them, not merely on account of their utility, but on account of those hands of love that had woven and presented them. Such is the spoliation of death. “We brought nothing into the world,” &c.; “Naked came we,” &c. All of the earth which men struggle for and gain they must lose.
II. THE DESECRATIONS OF AVARICE--gambling over the garments of the Son of God. If aught of this earth were sacred, these were; yet avarice seizes them, gambles over them, and turns them to its sordid ends. Avarice has ever traded in the sacred, and now more than ever. It not only trades in corn, manufactures, &c., but in philanthropic and religious institutions. Preaching has become a trade; temples, houses of merchandise; charitable societies, organs of worldly greed.
III. THE CULMINATION OF WICKEDNESS. Where can you see
1. Baser ingratitude than in putting to death One who “went about doing good”?
2. More outrageous injustice than in torturing One who was exquisitely tender and overflowing with mercy? Truly the Crucifixion is the culmination of sin! And yet it is marvellous that the most consummate production of human wickedness should be made by God the instrument by which to banish it from the world. Thus sin frustrates its own purpose. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
Now the coat was without seam.
More exactly the tunic, or undergarment. It reached from the neck to the feet, while the outer “garment” was a square rug thrown round the body. Ordinarily the tunic consisted of two pieces connected at the shoulder by clasps; but that worn by Jesus was made in one piece. This seems to have been the rule with the priestly tunic. (Archdn. Watkins.)
Legend of the Holy Coat
This relic is alleged to have been discovered in the fourth century by Helena, the mother of Constantine, and by her deposited at Treves, at that time the capital of Belgie Gaul and residence of the later Roman emperors. Concealed in a crypt from the Normans in the ninth century, it was rediscovered in 1196, and then exhibited, and, not exhibited again till 1512, when Leo X. appointed it to be shown once every seven years. The Reformation and wars prevented the observance for some time, but the celebration was attended in 1810 by a concourse of 227,000 persons, and by a larger number in 1844, when Archbishop Arnoldi announced a centenary. Net only were miraculous cures asserted to have been wrought by this relic, but this celebration is memorable for the reaction which it produced, leading to the secession of Johann Rouge and the German Catholics from the Church of Rome. The dimensions given on an engraving, published at Treves in 1844, are, from the extremity of each sleeve, 5 feet 5 inches; length from collar to lowermost edge, 5 feet 2 inches. In parts it is tender or threadbare; and some stains upon it are reported to be those of the Redeemer’s blood. It is a loose garment of coarse material, dark brown in colour, probably the result of age, and entirely without seam or decoration. (Biblical Museum.)
Let us not rend it.--Bengel observes that we never read of our Lord “rending” His own garments in desperate sorrow, like Job, Jacob, Joshua, Caleb, Jepthah, Hezekiah, Mordecai, Ezra, Paul, and Barnabas (see Genesis 37:29; Numbers 14:6; Jdg 11:35; 2 Kings 19:1; Esther 4:1; Job 1:20; Acts 14:14). (Bp. Ryle.)
Now there stood by the cross of Jesus His mother
Manifold revelation of love
We have here a revelation in love of
MORAL HEROISM--the presence of the woman and John. Scarcely could they have placed themselves in a more perilous position. Love is the soul of courage. There is no power for magnanimous endurance and fearless achievements equal to womanly affection. Such love you can trust. It clings to its object as ivy to the castle: holds on to it midst the scorchings of summer and the blastings of winter; survives even the ruin of its object, and spreads a beauty over its grave.
II. PARENTAL DISTRESS.
1. What must have been the feelings of Mary. Now was fulfilled the prophecy, “a sword shall pierce thy soul also.” There are no trials more poignant than those of a mother in the death throes of her child. Rachels, the world over, weep for their children and refuse to be comforted.
2. But there are circumstances which sometimes mitigate the distress when death occurs in unconscious infancy, or when a child is one of a large number, or when death occurs in maturity among friends Mary’s Son was in the prime of life, and died among malignant foes, and at their hands: and moreover was perhaps her only Son, and she probably a widow.
III. FILIAL COMPASSION. “Woman, behold thy Son”--a gleam of unearthly sunshine.
1. No sufferings, however great, can quench love. Christ’s sufferings surpassed all conception, yet they did not drown the memory of His mother. He seemed to forget His agonies m her tears. Children learn a lesson from this l Plead no personal inconvenience as a reason for neglecting your parents.
2. No engagements, however vast, can justify the neglect of domestic duties. How vast were Christ’s engagements! Here was a crisis in the history of the universe--yet Christ attended to the needs of His aged mother. Let none plead--statesmen, ministers, or reformers--their engagements as a justification for neglecting home duties.
3. No legacy, however precious, is equal to the Legacy of Love. Christ could have made His mother the mistress of an empire; but He bequeathed her what was better--the affection of a noble soul. What is equal to this?
4. No argument, however plausible, can justify us in regarding Mary as an object of worship. The mothers of great men are to be held in high veneration. Albeit, ought we to regard this poor desolate woman whom Jesus commended to the care of John as Queen of Heaven I
IV. CHRISTIAN OBEDIENCE. “From that hour,” &c. Tradition says that John never forsook his trust, and remained in Palestine till the mother of his Lord was dead. His obedience was prompt and full. There are only three admissible reasons supposable for not attending at once and fully to Christ’s commands.
1. If the command is inconsistent with the eternal principles of right.
2. If the difficulties are such that only time can remove them.
3. If there is ground to suppose that help not now obtainable will be granted in the future. Such reasons, though admissible, do not exist, and therefore, like John, we should at once obey. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
The cross of Jesus
I purpose to consider the text with reference to
I. THE INDIVIDUALS spoken of in it. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John all take particular notice of the women who ministered unto Jesus, and followed Him to Calvary, but St. John is the only one who mentions three of them by name. He does so, perhaps, as writing subsequently to the others, and as having himself stood with the Marys by the cross and observed them there. They were, moreover, persons peculiarly characterized, and therefore also worthy to be specifically mentioned. Mary, the mother of Jesus, would naturally feel a deep and solemn interest in all that befell her Divine Son. It is not determined in the original whether the second Mary was the wife, the mother, or the daughter of Cleophas: but it is generally believed she was his wife, and that he was also called Alpheus, and therefore the mother of James, and Joses, and Simon, and Matthew 12:46; Mark 6:3). Be this, however, as it may, she was ardently and devoutly attached to her Lord. The other Mary, Magdalene, was a woman of Magdala, a large and populous town, near the lake Tiberias, in Galilee, and out of her Jesus cast seven devils. “There,” might Mary the mother of Jesus say, “dies my Son.” “There,” might the wife of Cleophas say, “dies my Friend.” “There,” might the Magdalene say, “dies my Saviour.”
II. OURSELVES. And first observe, that the cross, which the Marys beheld with their bodily eyes, we must behold by faith. Others’ personal witness does not supersede the necessity of our belief.
1. Would we have our sins forgiven? Let us stand by the cross of Jesus. Though by “wicked hands He was crucified and slain,” yet in His death was the meritorious means of our forgiveness.
2. Would we have our iniquities subdued? Let us stand by the cross of Jesus. There is with Him “a power whereby He is able even to subdue all things to Himself.” Our will, our affections, our memory, and imagination, He can bring into sweet and entire subserviency to the law of the Spirit of Life.
3. Would we be softened? Let us stand by the cross of Jesus. How were the pious sensibilities of the Marys moved as they stood and mourned for Him! When we can most feelingly enter into the condescending kindness, and the dying love of Christ, then shall we ourselves be most truly kind and conciliating.
4. Would we preserve serenity and peacefulness of spirit? Let us stand by the cross of Jesus. Nothing will so effectually quell mental strife as meditation on the death of Christ. Wild may be the tumult of conflicting opinions, and contrariety may pervade all human schemes and devisings; but, “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace,” &c.
5. Would we be crucified unto the world? Let us stand by the cross of Jesus. What was the world, either in its prosperous or adverse circumstances, to the Marys. When any feel it to be hard to give up some carnal pleasure or worldly advantage, let them inquire whether they recollect their Saviour’s cross?
6. And as Jesus our Lord “endured the cross, despising the shame,” would we take up our daily cross with cheerfulness? Let us stand by the cross of Jesus. Let us quell every complaining of our heart with the question, “Did not Jesus suffer?” “Therefore let us both labour and suffer reproach;” and “esteem,” like Moses, “the reproach of Christ greater riches than all the treasures of Egypt,” or all the wealth of worlds.
7. Would we truly love the Lord and Saviour of our souls? Let us stand by His cross. Boundless is the love we owe Him.
8. Would we descend ourselves into the grave resignedly? Let us stand by the cross of Jesus. If we go down into Hades from Calvary, we need entertain no distressing fear: “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints.” (W. Mudge, B. A.)
Nearness to the cross
I. THE SITUATION OF THE MOTHER. I admire in her the efficacy of Divine grace. She is able to stand near the cross; she does not faint away. Here are no outrageous exclamations, no bitter complaints flung at heaven. She feels as a mother, but endures as a Christian. The people of God know not what they can bear till they are tried: When the “time of need” comes, then comes sufficient “grace to help.” I shall never despair of the support of a Christian, in any situation, after beholding Mary here. Ye bereaved mothers, remember, religion allows you to feel, but forbids you to faint. Think of Mary, for who can adequately imagine her anguish! To see her Son enduring such a death! And such a Son! And to crown all she was now a widow.
II. THE ADDRESS OF THE SAVIOUR. He speaks in a manner suited to her trying circumstances. Though I die, there is one who will discharge the filial office. Then saith He to the disciple--“Behold thy mother! Receive her--not as a pauper. Note
1. The indigence of our Lord. Many talk of poverty, but He was poor. When He came to die, all He had to bequeath was His wearing-apparel; and even this never came to His mother. What becomes then of riches? “Foxes have holes,” &c.
yet He was “the brightness of the Father’s glory.” But, alas! all this will not keep numbers from thinking money the essence of all excellency.
2. An instance of the Divine goodness, which ought to encourage the poor and needy. When one comfort is withdrawn, another is furnished. When Jesus is removed, John is raised up. Let those who are dying, and have nothing to leave, hear God saying, “Leave thy fatherless children,” &c.
3. We should endeavour to be useful, not only living, but dying. Christ dies as He had lived--“doing good!” Dr. Rivet said, in his last illness, “Let all who come to inquire after my welfare be allowed to see me: I ought to be an example in death as well as in life.”
4. A lesson of filial piety. Children are under an obligation to succour their parents, not out of charity, but in common justice. David, when wandering from place to place, seemed regardless of himself, if he could provide for his father and mother; and David’s Son and Lord, even in the agony of crucifixion, commends His poor mother to the beloved disciple. Why did He this? Could not He, who could feed a whole multitude, have furnished means for His destitute mother? The answer is that He does not needlessly work miracles. He generally fulfils His kind designs in the established course of things: The poor are as much consigned by Providence to the care of the affluent as Mary was charged upon John.
III. THE OBEDIENCE OF THE DISCIPLE. John does not stand weighing things; “Can I afford the expense, trouble, reproach and suspicion?” True obedience is prompt, and will lead us to “do all things without murmuring and disputing.” This is peculiarly the ease with regard to charity. While we stop to investigate, and take great pains not to be deceived, the opportunity is gone. Therefore, says Solomon, “Withhold not good from them to whom it is due,” &c. (W. Jay.)
Silences at the cross
Is it not a striking fact that our Lord was allowed to die under such conditions of cruelty and wrong-doing without a single protest, so far as we can find from the record, from the lips of aa apostle, disciple, or well-wisher? This is a fact which we ought honestly to consider. Catching a new inspiration, the apostles became eloquent in the proclamation of that Cross whose mystery, while it was uplifted, had silenced them. Let us consider
I. The silence of some IN THE PRESENCE OF A STRANGE AND PAINFUL SURPRISE, In order to understand this better, let us recall some of our Lord’s preceding utterances to His disciples: See how repeatedly He discourages the possible suggestion of resistance. He had also said, “No man taketh it [My life] from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again.” He further intimated, when danger seemed to threaten Him prematurely, that there were twelve hours in the day, and that His hour had not yet come. Throughout it was not resistance, but passive endurance, that Christ taught.
II. The silence of the majority of the disciples arose also from FEAR OF THE APPARENT TRIUMPH OF EVIL, AND THE SUCCESSFUL CONSPIRACY OF WICKED MEN. Their fears weakened their grasp of Christ, and when that was done there was nothing left for them but flight. Not an apostle’s voice was heard at the cross. They alone of all men were those who had nothing to say! In the face of that silence the question comes to us, “How could these men ever speak again in the name of that Christ?” And with what a high sense of privilege the commission came to those who had so recently been silent when they might have spoken--“Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature”! It came to them as the restoration of a forfeited right ever to speak again for Jesus, since that gift had been neglected in the supreme moment of need.
III. The silence of HELPLESSNESS IN THE PRESENCE OF TYRANNICAL FORCE--a silence that would largely pertain to the women.
IV. The silence of LOVE IN THE PRESENCE OF INSCRUTABLE MYSTERY. This would above all apply to Mary. The cries of blasphemy which now rent the air, and pierced her ears, but ill accorded with the harmonies of the angels’ song which still lingered in her memory. There are times when our only safety is to be quiet, to bear passively the burden of mystery, and to look conflicting providences in the face and answer them nothing.
V. The silence of INTENSE GRIEF THAT COULD ONLY SPEAK--if it spoke at all--in tears, since words were too weak.
VI. The silence of FAITH THAT COULD WAIT FOR THE SOLUTION. I believe that Mary and John and the woman at the cross had that faith in a great measure. There might have been other obscure disciples in the crowd who had it. I wonder sometimes that some of the deaf and dumb to whom Christ had given speech and hearing did not use their new-born speech on this occasion; but it may be that in that throng, as well as in the smaller group near the cross, there was at least one here and there who could look the mystery in the face and say, “I cannot solve it, but I will wait. He that believeth shall not make haste.” Even at the cross of Christ, and among that tumultuous throng, there was a faith to be found in solitary hearts that could leave all with the Crucified One. “I have power to lay down My life, and I have power to take it up again?” To some at least who had heard those words, the suggestion would come, “What if this be after all but the expression of His power? What if the Cross be but the Gospel in paradox?” Conclusion: While, therefore, there is much in the silences at the cross of Christ that fills us with humiliation and shame, we will not indiscriminately condemn all the reticence of that hour. There are times in every true life when silence is the expression of the mightest faith. One man speaks and ejaculates, yet only reveals hysterical weakness; the other man waits, is calm, and utters not a word, because he is strong enough to be quiet. The Cross of Jesus Christ is too sacred, too sublime a thing for us to talk of until we know something about it. “He loved me, and gave Himself for me.” If you do not know that, the best thing you can do is to be quiet, and look at that Cross in silence. Do not talk flippantly, much less scornfully, about that in which you have no share. In the presence of His Cross the world is now silent for very shame, but we who have trusted in Him are in its presence filled with a joy which shall sustain us in all sorrow, and find its consummation in the rapture of that eternal world, where, Christ shall see of the travail of His soul and be satisfied, and where we shall face to face behold Him who has washed us from our sins in His own blood. (David Davies.)
Nearness to the cross
1. Many and dissimilar were the groups gathered round the cross. Some were drawn by hatred, some by curiosity, some by the duties of their office, these Marys by love.
2. Their position suggests the topic of spiritual nearness. All true piety begins in the soul’s coming to the Cross.: Bunyan was right in keeping the burden on the back of the Pilgrim till he had a sight of the Crucified. But when the soul has gained that position, then begins the conflict of opposing forces. On the one side the Cross with its mighty magnetism; on the other the world with all its witcheries. But the importance of nearness to the Cross is seen if we regard it as the place in which to see
I. OURSELVES. No one has seen himself till he has looked at himself in the light of the Cross. In that light sin is seen in its true colours--as God estimates it.
II. THE WORLD. The man of science has his position and outlook, and the statesman his. But only here is the true view. Here we see that it is a world for which Christ died and to every soul of which redemption is offered. It was this outlook that moved the great heart of Paul to heroic sacrifice and endeavour. The world had but one aspect to Him. Christ had died for it. This was the outlook of Judson and other devoted missionaries. Talk of philanthropy--there is none save that which is kindled at the foot of the cross!
III. THE CHARACTER OF GOD. The heavens declare His glory. God has never been without His witnesses if man would listen. But to fallen man another revelation was necessary, and that revelation just suited to man’s deepest need was made by the Cross. It is there we learn how God loved a sin-blasted world. (W. Lamson, D. D.)
The disciple standing by whom He loved
The beloved disciple
Though the rest of the disciples forsook Christ and fled, yet John followed Him into the high priest’s palace, and was an afflicted spectator of His sufferings upon the cross. This may be ascribed in part to the greatness of his courage, and in part to the strength of his affection. John himself is the narrator of this event; and such was his humility that he does not mention his own name. This resembles the conduct of Paul (2 Corinthians 12:1-21). In this way do the sacred writers love to conceal themselves when speaking of their own attainments or enjoyments.
I. THE CHARACTER OF JOHN.
1. He is called a disciple.
(1) This implies that he was teachable. As Christ is qualified to give instruction, so His disciples are prepared to receive it. God has opened their ears, that they are capable of spiritual instruction; and their understandings, that they are capable of spiritual discernment. They “receive with meekness the ingrafted Word” (Psalms 25:9).
(2) He was not only apt to learn, but was actually taught, like the noble Bereans, who “received the Word with all readiness of mind.” If they are asked, “Will ye also go away?” their answer will be, “Lord, to whom should we go?” They have learnt the evil nature of sin; of their own weakness; the world, and its insufficiency; the necessity of a Saviour, and the suitableness of Christ; and “the grace of God teaches them, that denying ungodliness,” &c. Such a disciple was the beloved John.
2. He was “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” Jesus loved all the disciples, and considered in His supreme character, He loved them all alike; all the members are alike necessary to the body, and as such are equally beloved. But in the peculiar affection which Christ bare to John, we may remark
(1) That this respects His human nature. Christ as a man had all the sinless affections of that nature which He assumed. Now this disciple being possessed of amiable qualities, it is probable, in a more eminent degree than the rest, Jesus loved him as a friend, as well as a disciple.
(2) That it respects love, not as inherent, but as manifested. If Christ made a difference between one disciple and another in His treatment of them, it is no more than what He continues to do. One is kept, as it were, at a distance, while another is laid in the bosom. All are alike justified by His righteousness, but not equally comforted by His Spirit.
(3) The words of our text being those of the beloved disciple, may denote the high sense he had of the favour of our Lord towards him. It seems natural for a gracious person to think that the love of Christ has been more freely and eminently bestowed on him than on any other, as feeling himself more unworthy of it. Thus Paul says, “And the grace of our Lord was exceedingly abundant,” &c., as if it had exceeded every former example of mercy. John had been distinguished, and was amazed that it should be so. The lower opinion he had of himself, the more exalted thoughts he had of Christ’s goodness towards him.
II. THE SITUATION OF JOHN. He “stood by the cross.”
1. That he might attentively observe the important transactions of that solemn season upon which so much depended. He might well think that so extraordinary a Person would finish His course in an extraordinary way; and he was not mistaken.
2. That he might show his attachment to Christ, and his faith and confidence in Him. He had been told, that if any one would be Christ’s disciple, he must hate father and mother, &c.: from these terms in this trying season he did not draw back. As the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, so was his soul knit to his indulgent and now suffering Saviour.
3. That he might perform any friendly office, and afford all the assistance in his power. Though he could not prevent the sufferings of his Lord, yet his standing by the cross would tend a little to mitigate them. When Paul made his appearance before Nero, he complained that “no man stood by him” 2 Timothy 4:16). David also seemed to take it hard that Mephibosheth went not with him when he left Jerusalem on account of the rebellion of Absalom. No blame, however, lay upon John in this respect. He did more than the rest; and though he could not drink of his bitter cup, yet he would sympathise with Christ.
4. That he might receive of Him His last instructions, or at least, learn of Him how to die. As there had been such an endearing friendship between them, be might think that the dying Saviour would have something to say to him in particular, and in this he was not disappointed. (B. Beddome, M. A.)
Woman, behold thy son
The sympathy of Christ
Among the friends who were gathered round the cross there is one whose presence does not surprise us--the beloved disciple. But who beside? Not Peter “the rock,” or Thomas once ready to die with Him. A few trembling women who had ministered to Him in life and would not forsake Him in death. Amongst these was His mother who, thirty-three years before, had pressed Him to her bosom a helpless babe, and who heard about that sword which now pierced her soul. Note here
I. THE SELF-FORGETFULNESS OF CHRIST’S LOVE.
1. Try to think of what He was suffering--the anguish and shame of the most lingering and bitter of deaths. But bodily torture was His least agony. The world’s sin in its most awful form was there to trouble His last moments--the bitter taunts, &c. But who shall venture to imagine His thoughts as He hung a sacrifice for sin? Is it not wonderful that men should here pretend to explain and analyse. You might as well hope to fathom the sea or compass it. It is better to bow our heads in faith and confess that the Atonement far exceeds our poor logic, and to gratefully accept it. Surely if sorrow be a sacred thing, that of the Divine Sufferer must be far above our sympathy, as above our comprehension.
2. In that awful hour He was alone, but its loneliness did not render His suffering selfish. All His thoughts were for others. Ere He reached the cross He said, “Daughters of Jerusalem,” &c.: when nailed to it His first words are, “Father, forgive them,” and His next those of kingly grace to the robber. And now His words are the tender utterance of human love. Jesus forgot the greatest grief that ever fell on human heart that He might minister to the grief of others.
3. Have we learnt this lesson? It is a hard and costly one. In our sorrows we expect sympathy, but have we ever sought their sweetest, holiest alleviation in ministering to others. Learn at the foot of the cross, that whether in sorrow or joy, no Christian man liveth unto himself.
II. HIS FILIAL TENDERNESS.
1. All through His life He had seemed to stand apart from the ties of relationship. He was never only the Son, the Brother, He was always more.
His first recorded act was submission to His parents, but even then with a consciousness of a higher relationship. But no sooner does He enter on His public ministry than He refuses to recognize the tie, “What have I to do with thee?” “Yea, rather blessed are they who hear the word of God and keep it.” Behold my mother and my brethren.” Such conduct is evidence enough to refute the Roman view, and is studiously so framed as if by anticipation to condemn it. He would have us see, too, that He thought far more of spiritual than natural relationship, and so He bids us to hate father, mother, &c.
2. Yet now, upon the cross, He consecrates anew the love of parents and children, and ratifies with His blood the commandment, “Honour thy father,” &c. What a depth of tenderness does this reveal! He gave His mother His last solemn blessing, and bequeathed to her His best earthly legacy. She could be no more His mother, but He gave her another son, who of all His disciples was most like Himself. Jesus could thus discharge the debt of human love in the hour of His deepest passion. He did not say “It is finished” till He had said, “Woman, behold thy Son.”
3. How is it with us, who so often suffer our work for God to be a pretence for the neglect of home duties? He who gave the first table of the law gave the second. Whatever other duty God has given us, it can never excuse the parent in neglecting the child, or vice versa.
III. THE WISE THOUGHTFULNESS OF OUR SAVIOUR’S LOVE.
1. He calls her not mother: He never had. He does not acknowledge the parental right, even while He discharges the filial duty. But He does more. He teaches His mother the same lesson as when He said, “I will not leave you orphans.” He will not leave her childless. He can no more be to her a Son, but she shall have another son. If on earth He refused to call her mother, in heaven the relationship must be at an end for ever. In the selection of John we see wise thoughtfulness. He in a worldly sense could best bear the burden, being in easy circumstances. But it was not only for her earthly wants that Jesus provided. There He might have left her to her natural guardians. But He gave her a heart that could best understand her own. It is not always our relations who understand us best. A friend may be more to you than brother or sister, or father or mother. James, with his common-sense, practical view of religion, would probably be unable to sympathize with the deeper thoughts of her who loved to keep and ponder the mysteries of heaven. For her children after the flesh, she had now a son after the Spirit, St. John, the man of virgin soul, as the early Church loved to call him, for her of virgin mind the best friend. And the friendship was as abiding as it was holy. The friendships of the world are too often hollow, brittle, delusive. Friendships made beneath the Cross of Jesus are the truest and best. Death cannot destroy them.
2. Have we learned this? There is something better and truer than politeness, or even kindness. Politeness is a thing of the day, and changes with the changing customs of society. Kindness may be a matter of mere feeling, is often an evidence of weakness, and only touches the surface of other men’s characters. And both may be only forms of selfishness. But wise, thoughtful love can only be learned at the foot of Christ’s Cross. (Bp. Perrowne.)
The bequest of Jesus
Here we see
1. The fulfilment of the promise: “Them that honour Me, I will honour.” John honoured Christ most emphatically. Consequently, Jesus applied to him the very name He had, “Son,” and made him the guardian of the Virgin in His place.
2. The disinterestedness of Christ. Pain and weakness often make people peevish and irritable. Jesus was anxious about others, in spite of agony indescribable. To the very last it was true that He “came not to be ministered unto, but to minister.”
3. In one sense, the words, “Behold thy mother,” show how intensely human Jesus was. Of whom should a dying son think but of his mother?
4. What shall be said of Mary as she stands at the cross? Surely, if she were as great and as powerful as Popery teaches, Christ would not have committed her to the care of John. He would rather have commended John to her. Stabat Mater--the mother stands by the cross. What an impressive spectacle! She and three other women are there; John is the only man. Four women to one man--quite prophetic of Christianity’s future. Behold Mary’s fortitude! Despite all the horrors, we see her stand, not faint. Mary avowed herself Christ’s disciple when disciples were few and enemies were many. May we do the same. The text delivers three messages.
I. ATTEND DILIGENTLY TO SECULAR DUTIES. Jesus was expiring as a martyr. But was that all? Nay. He was now offering Himself as a sacrifice for us. Yet, mark! in the midst of all He thinks of His mother, and commends her to the care of His friend. This is very significant. Preaching, singing, &c., are a small part of religion. They are chiefly means to an end--holy conduct in ordinary life. The earth has two motions: she turns onher axis, and she travels round the sun. Can the one be made a substitute for the other? We are to revolve round the Sun of Righteousness, and also on the axis of common, daily duty. Jesus Christ did not say much about theology. He taught that holiness finds itself at home anywhere. Why did He talk about fish, loaves, candles, salt, silver, &c.? To show that, save sin, “nothing is common nor unclean.” Dr. Arnold said, respecting literature, that what we want is not more books on religion, but more books written in a religious spirit. A distinguished ecclesiastic, whose overwrought brain urgently needed relaxation, was once engaged in a game of chess. His companion suddenly asked, “If Christ were to come here now, what would you do?” He replied, “I would finish the game; I began it to the glory of God.” A humble Christian was visited once by his pastor when he was occupied with his ordinary craft at the tan works. Offering an apology to the minister, the latter cut it short by saying, “My friend, God grant that I may so be found when the Lord shall come--found doing my duty as you are.” The New Testament abounds in exhortations and encouragements to the most commonplace obligations. Husbands love your wives, &c. The world cares little for many of our theological debates. But one thing it never fails to understand and to value, namely, goodness! Let the poor and the suffering find in us ready sympathy and succour; then will men exclaim, “No man can do these works that thou dost, except God be with him.”
II. TRUST THE APPOINTMENTS OF PROVIDENCE. Why did Jesus say to John, “Behold thy mother”? It seems strange that He passed over her own sons. Yes, and only seems. First, Mary’s sons rejected Jesus. “Neither did His brethren believe on Him.” They were out of sympathy, spiritually, both with Christ and Mary, whereas John was, heart and mind, devoted to Him. Secondly, John was in a better social position than the other apostles, and than the Lord’s mother. We see, then, that what looks strange was really very wise and kind. All God’s dealings are the same. If He was good at the cross, He must be good here and now. We sorely need this faith. There is much in our experience which is painfully mysterious. Why is might so often allowed to conquer right? Why do the innocent suffer for the guilty, &c.? We fully sympathize with the ancient writer who said: “When I thought to know this, it was too painful for me.” Is there rest anywhere? There is. “At the feet of Jesus.” Sit there. He will not remove all our perplexities. Nevertheless, be assured of this: Christ tells enough to console us, to take off the edge of our difficulties, and to render us trustful. He reveals a God so good that, if we take Christ at His word, we may be perfectly satisfied that somehow all shall yet be well. “Have faith in God,” and thus “return unto thy rest, O, my soul.”
III. GIVE PROFOUND HEED TO THE COUNSELS OF THE DYING. John did so. The advice of the expiring is almost invariably right and good. “Fools men may live, but fools they cannot die.” The dying tell us
1. That earthly possessions cannot satisfy us in death. Philip II. of Spain cried, “O, would God I had never reigned! O that I had lived alone with God! What doth all my glory profit, but that I have so much the more torment in death?” Albert the Good said, “I am surrounded with wealth and rank, but if I trusted only to them, I should be a miserable man.” Salmasius declared, “I have lost a world of time. Oh, sirs! mind the world less and God more.” Bunsen exclaimed, “My riches and experience is having known Jesus Christ. All the rest is nothing.”
2. That Christ, not themselves, is the ground of their hope. Archbishop Whately, a distinguished scholar, thinker, philanthropist, replied to a friend who said to him, “You are dying as you lived, great to the last.” “I am dying, as I lived, in the faith of Jesus.” Another remarked, “What a blessing that your glorious intellect is unimpaired.” “Do not call intellect glorious,” answered Whately; “there is nothing glorious out of Christ.” A third observed, “The great fortitude of your character now supports you.” “He said, “No, it is not my fortitude that supports me, but my faith in Christ.” May such simple but sufficient trust be ours! (T. R. Stevenson.)
I. THE STATION OF MANY. This suggests thought of
1. Her great love. A bird cleaves the storm to reach its nest; a mother walks through levelled lances to clasp her child.
2. Her great anguish. Once she had felt the most exquisite happiness that a mother could know.
3. Her strength. “She stood.” Here are no violences, no hysterics. Such strength to stand was not from nature. Her nature was timid and retiring. Once, at one word from Jesus that sounded like a check, she vanished for a long time out of the story (John 2:4). We see the efficacy of Divine grace. Look around, and you may find many illustrations of this. There is a woman who stands dumb beside her young husband’s grave; there is another who stands in tender agony over an empty cradle; there is another who night after night stands listening for the tipsy stumble of a thing that was once a man. Poor heart! she must make what she can of life. It is a real cross, and strength to stand by it must be of the kind that Mary had. Such strength is never given for fancy crosses.
4. Her public profession of faith. It was grand to see Luther take his station in the face of a frowning world; it was grander to see Mary take her station at the cross. It would have been much for man to do; it was more for the shrinking, tremulous delicacy of woman. It is easy to stand by Jesus when others stand.
II. THE SAYING OF JESUS. Note
1. His tender considerateness. Suffering is proverbially selfish. While Jesus is Himself one flame of pain, His first cry is for the crucifiers; His second to sinful humanity; His third of love to His own.
2. Jesus providing for His own, and thus setting us an example. In treating John as if he were of nearer kin to Mary than her natural relatives were, He reminds us of the life which binds together all who axe one in Him. He leaves His people one to another.
3. The Saviour’s poverty. He made no will but this in relation to what He had in this life, and only the name of John was in it. Looking at the things of this world, the “I am,” not the “I have,” is the standard of His valuation. His own choice was the poor man’s lot (2 Corinthians 8:9). Silver and gold are not named among the things that come to us through the death of Christ. But if we are not down in His will for earthly property, we shall, through His Cross, have “the true riches.”
4. The sentiments due to the Virgin Mary. Although they are not given in the form of law, they have the force of law. The offer of worship to Mary, on the ground that she is the mother of Jesus, is forbidden by this text.
(1) Attention is called to the text because it is one of the seven memorable sayings on the cross; on account of its publicity, for nothing ever can be so public as the cross; as the last of three recorded sayings spoken to Mary by our Lord in the course of His ministry. Look at this one in the light of the preceding two. In the first (Luke 2:41-50) we trace no regret or excuse; and the plain point of His language being that into the affairs of His Father in heaven, He repudiates her intrusion. In the second (John 2:3-4), with an air the most imperative, He gives an indication that in His own high province she, as His mother, has no authority. Here, again, soften the word as you may from seeming hardness, it is remarkable that, in these three instances, He calls her, not “Mother,” but “Woman.”
(2) You have heard His final words to her: what were His final words to John? “Behold the mother of God? the queen of heaven? the mediatrix?” Was John to make a shrine for her? No, but to make a home for her. The grandest honour a woman could have was that of being the medium through whom the Saviour came into the world. Yet I cannot forget that once, when a woman used words to that effect, He said, “Yea, rather, blessed are they that hear the word of God and keep it.” Surely it must have put great constraint upon His loving heart to accost her in words so studied, so cautious. I can only account for them on the principle that in His foreknowledge He saw what a handle would be made of even the most ordinary epithet of honour and affection applied by Him to her, and was resolved to leave no datum, no vestige, no shadow of a shadow of excuse for Mariolatry. After all this, millions who wear the Christian name still worship Mary as a goddess. Poor woman! If a sword could pierce the heart of Mary in heaven, it would be this.
III. THE OBEDIENCE OF THE DISCIPLE. What Christ told him to do he did at once. What He tells you to do do it at once. Take your orders from Mary herself; she refers you to Him, and says, “Whatsoever He saith to you, do it.” He is our Lawgiver. Why wait? (C. Stanford.)
Regard for a parent
A young man who was anxious to devote himself to the work of the ministry among the heathen, and had been recommended to the London Missionary Society, on undergoing the usual examination, stated that he had one difficulty: he had an aged mother entirely dependent upon an elder brother and himself for support; and in case of his brother’s death, he should wish to be at liberty to return home, if his mother were still living, to soothe her pathway to the grave. Scarcely had he made this frank statement, when the harsh voice of a cast-iron committee-man exclaimed, “If you love your mother more than the Lord Jesus Christ, you will not do for us!” Abashed and confounded, the young man was silent. Some murmurs escaped the committee, and he was requested to withdraw for a while, that his proposal might be duly considered. On his being again sent for, Dr. Waugh, the venerable chairman, told him, with unaffected kindness, that the committee did not feel authorized to accept of his services for a period which might be so short and uncertain, but immediately added: “We think none the worse of you, my good lad, for your dutiful regard for your aged parent. You are acting in conformity to the example of Him whose gospel you wished to proclaim among the heathen, who, as He hung upon the cross, in dying agonies, beholding His mother and the beloved disciple standing by, said to the one, ‘Woman, behold thy son!’ and to St. John, ‘Behold thy mother!’” (J. N.Norton, D. D.)
After this, Jesus knowing that all things were now accomplished that the Scriptures might be fulfilled, saith, I thirst
A word from the cross
1. Our Lord’s seven words from the cross, have in all ages been very dear to the Church. There is nothing strange in this. Had it been but some earthly monarch, great, wise and good, would not his latest words, or words uttered at some notable crisis, be accounted a precious legacy? But what king, what moment like this?
2. That the words should be thus exactly seven, the sacred and mystical number is not without its significance. No evangelist records them all; every evangelist some. St. John alone records the briefest of them all; only one word in the original. It is the only utterance which contains any allusion to Christ’s bodily anguish. He has from His cross a word of intercession on behalf of His enemies; a word of grace for an enemy turned into a friend; a word of tender and thoughtful love for His mother; a word of triumph as He contemplates the near consummation of His work; a word of affiance on His Father and God; yes, too, and His soul’s agony has claimed one mysterious utterance for itself.
3. And even this word was not wrung out from Him by any overpowering necessity. He would not have spoken it, if He had not known that this was one of the things which were foretold concerning Him. The Scriptures referred to are no doubt Psalms 22:1-31. and Psalms 69:4. Physicians assure us that all the worst which we could imagine would be but a feeble and remote approach to His sufferings from thirst. Consider all which during the last few hours He had gone through. There is no suffering comparable to that of an unassuaged thirst, such as everything here was caculated to arouse. Those who have wandered over a fresh battlefield inform us that the one cry of the sufferers there is for water; all other agony being forgotten in this. The cry for water swallows up every other cry.
I. WHAT A LESSON OF COMFORT DOES THIS UTTERANCE CONTAIN! We want a Saviour, at least in our times of trial and suffering, not Himself untouched with the same, who can have a fellow-feeling with those who suffer, in that Ha Himself has suffered first. And such a Saviour we are assured that we have. He was God; yet He did not take refuge in His divinity when the stress of the trial grew sharp and strong. There was no make believe in the matter. As He had known slighter accesses of this human infirmity, when, for instance, at Jacob’s well, so now He endured the fiercest access of it. He who avoided not this, we may be sure, avoided none of the weaknesses and woes of our fallen humanity.
II. WHAT A CONSTANTLY RECURRING TEMPTATION BESETS EVERY ONE OF US IN THE NECESSARY REFRESHMENT AND REPARATION OF THE DAILY WASTE OF THE BODY. How easily we come to attach too much importance to what we shall eat and what we shall drink; and, though guilty, it may be, of no excess in the eyes of others, yet to burden and clog the spirit through over-much allowing and indulging the flesh! How easily in this way our table may become a snare to us. It is not for nothing that our warning examples of those who sinned, seduced by temptations of appetite, are scattered through all the Scripture. The first sin of all was a sin of this character. It is for a mess of pottage that Esau sells his birthright. No sins of the children of Israel in the wilderness are so frequent as these. Surely, if we would overcome these, the power to do this must be found, where all other power is to be found, in the Cross of Christ. And we need this help. The whole mechanism of social life is at this day, for the higher classes of society, so finished and elaborate, that they are very little trained or disciplined to meet small annoyances, disappointments, and defeats of appetite. Great danger, therefore, there is that those, who would perhaps have borne some great trial bravely, should be immoderately disturbed by these small ones. But how will the Cross of Christ put to silence these petty discontents.
III. CONSIDER WHO IT WAS WHO SPAKE THOSE WORDS. We have seen in them the evidence that He was Man, but He was also God. Surely when we would stir up these cold hearts of ours to love Him better and to serve Him more, it is well that we should bring this before our mind, that He had been in the form of God from eternity, who had now made Himself so poor for us that He was content to ask and to receive a boon from one of the unworthiest of His creatures. He who exclaimed now, “I thirst,” was the same who had made the sea and the dry land, who held the ocean in the hollow of His hand. All streams and fountains, all wells and waterbrooks, and the rivers that run among the hills, were His, who now thirsted as probably no other child of man ever had.
IV. AND WHEREFORE DOES HE THIRST? That our portion may not be with Him who, tormented in that flame, craved in vain a drop of water for His burning tongue; that we may receive of Him that gift of the water of life which shall cause us never to thirst any more; that He may lead us at last to that pure river of the water of life, etc.; that He might see us thirsting after God. When He sees this in us, then He beholds the fruit of the travail of His soul, and is satisfied. (Abp. Trench.)
The shortest of the seven cries
We shall look upon these words as
I. THE ENSIGN OF CHRIST’S TRUE HUMANITY. Angels cannot thirst. A phantom, as some have called him, could not suffer in this fashion. Thirst is a common-place misery, such as may happen to peasants or beggars; it is no royal grief; Jesus is brother to the poorest. Our Lord, however, endured thirst to an extreme degree, for it was the thirst of death, and more the thirst of one whose death was “for every man.” Believing this
1. Let us tenderly feel how very near akin to us our Lord has become. You have been parched with fever as He was, and gasped out, “I thirst.” Your path runs hard by that of your Master. Next time your fevered lips thus murmur, you may say, “Those are sacred words, for my Lord spake in that fashion.” While we admire His condescension let our thoughts turn with delight to His sure sympathy.
2. Let us cultivate the spirit of resignation, for we may well rejoice to carry a cross which His shoulders have borne before us. If our Master said, “I thirst,” do we expect every day to drink of streams from Lebanon? Shall the servant be above his Master? &c.
3. Let us resolve to shun no denials, but rather court them that we may be conformed to His image. May we not be half ashamed of our pleasures when He says, “I thirst?”
II. THE TOKEN OF HIS SUFFERING SUBSTITUTION.
1. “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” points to the anguish of His soul; “I thirst” expresses the torture of His body; and they were both needful. The pangs that are due to law are of both kinds, touching both heart and flesh.
2. The present effect of sin is thirst, dissatisfaction. Now Christ standing in the stead of the ungodly suffers thirst as a type of His enduring the result of sin. More solemn still is the reflection that thirst will also be the eternal result of sin. “Father Abraham, send Lazarus,” &c.
3. He had no sooner said “I thirst,” and sipped the vinegar, than He shouted, “It is finished;” and all was over; and our great Deliverer’s thirst was the sign of His having smitten the last foe.
III. A TYPE OF MAN’S TREATMENT OF HIS LORD.
1. It was a confirmation of the Scripture testimony with regard to man’s natural enmity to God. According to modern thought man is a very fine and noble creature, struggling to become better. But such is not the Scripture estimate. At the first there was no room for Him at the inn, and at the last there was no water for Him to drink; but when He thirsted they gave Him vinegar. Manhood, left to itself, rejects, crucifies, and mocks the Christ of God.
2. Have we not often given Him vinegar to drink? Did we not do so years ago before we knew Him? We gave Him our tears and then grieved Him with our sins. Nor does the grief end here, for our best works, feelings, prayers, have been tart and sour with sin.
IV. THE MYSTICAL EXPRESSION OF THE DESIRE OF HIS HEART.
1. His heart was thirsting to save men. This thirst had been on Him early. “Wist ye not that I must be about My Father’s business?” “I have a baptism to be baptized with,” &c., and when on the cross the work was almost done His thirst could not be assuaged till He could say, “It is finished.”
2. He thirsts after the love of His people. Call to mind His complaint in Isaiah 5:1-30, “It brought forth wild grapes”--vinegar. According to the sacred canticle of love (Solomon’s Song of Solomon 5:1-16.), we learn that when He drank in those olden times it was in the garden of His Church that He was refreshed.
3. He thirsts for communion with His people, not because you can do Him good, but because He can do you good. He thirsts to bless you and to receive your grateful love in return.
V. THE PATTERN OF OUR DEATH WITH HIM. Know ye not that ye are crucified together with Christ? Well, then, what means this cry, “I thirst,” but this, that we should thirst too
1. After Christ. Certain philosophers have said that they love the pursuit of truth even better than the knowledge of truth. I differ from them, but, next to the actual enjoyment of my Lord’s presence, I love to hunger and to thirst after Him.
2. For the souls of our fellow-men. Thirst to have your children, your workpeople, your class, saved.
3. As for yourselves, thirst after perfection. Hunger and thirst after righteousness, for you shall be filled. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The fifth word from the cross
Wrung from Christ by the most agonizing of pains. Teaches us that Christ was no stoic. Psalms 22:15, fulfilled. Not bodily thirst only. The soul sympathized with the body, and through it betrayed its deepest wants. These words
I. Betray AN IRREPRESSIBLE LONGING FOR HUMAN SYMPATHY. Learn this Psalms 69:20. The sympathy of Peter rejected because mistimed; that of the daughters of Jerusalem because misdirected. Here, and in Gethsemane, Christ, as a true Man, felt the want of it.
II. Reveal THE DEPTH OF THAT HUMILIATION TO WHICH CHRIST DESCENDED IN ACCOMPLISHING HUMAN REDEMPTION. All the resources of the universe were at His disposal. Had He not miraculously fed the multitude, &c., and proclaimed, “If any man thirst,” &c. That the Son of the Highest should stoop to ask aid from His executioners proves the voluntariness and greatness of His humiliation.
III. Form THE CLIMAX TO THE PRECEDING CRY OF DISTRESS. “My God, My God,” &c. Not the Father’s approval, but the consciousness of it, obscured for a moment. Christ longed to hear the familiar words of approval, “This is My beloved Son.” Two dense clouds intervened.
1. Combined hosts of darkness.
2. Accumulated load of human guilt (Psalms 69:1-3).
IV. Express THE SAVIOUR’S YEARNING FOR HUMAN PENITENCE AND LOVE. He looked upon the multitude, but found no sign of relenting. When He sat on the well He said, “Give Me to drink,” and meant, “Give Me thy heart”--so here. (W. Forsyth, M. A.)
The thirst of Christ
Considered in its
I. PHYSICAL ASPECT.
1. Its producing cause--bodily pain and exhaustion.
2. Its significance--that Christ was very Man.
II. SPIRITUAL ASPECT.
1. Its objects. Christ thirsted for
(1) The love of men.
(2) The salvation of men.
(3) Reunion with His Father.
III. PROPHETIC ASPECT.
1. Its expression and import--“that the Scripture might be fulfilled.”
2. Its significance--that Christ was very God.
IV. PRACTICAL ASPECT. It teaches us
1. To bear suffering with patience and submission.
2. That patience in suffering is quite distinct from stoical endurance.
3. To abstain from fleshly lusts.
4. The blackness of human ingratitude.
5. The unselfishness of Divine love.
6. For what man should thirst.
(1) For reconciliation to God through Christ, by quenching the thirst of His dear Son in accepting His offered salvation, and turning to Him with love, sorrow, and repentance.
(2) For the communion of Christ’s body and blood in the perpetual memorial of His precious death. (Thirty Thousand Thoughts.)
Now there was set a vessel full of vinegar.--This vessel of the ordinary sour wine drunk by the Roman soldiers was placed near in order to be given to those who were crucified. Thirst was always an accompaniment of death by crucifixion, and that the vessel of wine was prepared for this purpose is probable by the mention of the sponge and the hyssop. This latter detail is peculiar to John. Bochart thinks that the hyssop was marjoram, or some plant like it, and he is borne out by ancient tradition. The stalks from a foot to a foot and a half high would be sufficient to reach to the cross (Archdeacon Watkins.)
When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar
Christ drinking the vinegar
He wished to die sober, so He refused the wine, intended to deaden pain; but the vinegar was an insult.
He took it, nevertheless. In some lives the saccharine seems to predominate. Life is sunshine on a bank of flowers. But in others there are not so many sugars as acids. A man who is always well cannot sympathize with the sick. But the fact that Christ took the vinegar makes Him able to sympathize with those whose cup is filled with the sharp acids of this life. There is the sourness of
I. BETRAYAL. Christ was hurt by the treachery of Judas. There was one friend on whom you put especial stress. After he turned upon you. You were stung, and the wound will never be healed. I commend you to the sympathy of a betrayed Christ, whose friend sold Him for less than twenty dollars.
II. PAIN. Some have not had a well day for years, but you never had worse pains than Christ. All the pains of all the ages were compressed into His sour cup; He can therefore feel for you.
III. POVERTY. Well, you are in glorious company. Christ owned not the house in which He stopped, the colt on which He rode, the boat in which He sailed. He had to perform a miracle to pay a tax.
IV. BEREAVEMENT. Jesus knows all about that. He had only a few friends, and when He lost one it brought tears to His eyes.
V. THE DEATH HOUR. Christ knows what it is to leave this beautiful world. He died physicianless and in agony. Application:
1. To all those to whom life has been an acerbity, I preach the omnipotent sympathy of Christ. Do not carry your ills alone. When you have any trouble, take it to Jesus, knowing that for our sakes He took the vinegar.
2. My utterance is almost choked at the thought that people refuse this Divine sympathy, and drink their own vinegar. (T. DeWitt Talmage, D. D.)
He said, It is finished
The sixth cry from the cross
I. THE SAVIOUR’S COURSE ON EARTH WAS FINISHED. His life
1. As the Incarnate Son of God.
2. Of poverty and toil.
3. Of weariness, hunger, and temptation.
4. Of holy obedience and usefulness.
5. Of grief and pain.
II. ALL THAT GOD IN HIS GRACE HAD MADE KNOWN BEFORE WAS FULFILLED.
1. The promises beginning with that at the Fall.
2. The covenants with Noah, Abraham, and Israel.
3. The prophecies.
4. The types.
III. THE WORK OF MAN’S REDEMPTION WAS COMPLETED.
1. Every obstacle was removed, symbolized by the rending of the veil.
2. The way of mercy was opened.
IV. THIS CRY COMPREHENDS THE FUTURE, AS WELL AS THE PAST. As the oak is contained in the acorn, as the fruit is wrapped up in the blossom, so the fruits of Christ’s redeeming work were contained in the death of the cross. (W. T. Bull, B. A.)
The sixth excellent saying of Christ upon the cross
1. It is but one word in the original; but in that one word is contained the sum of all joy, the very spirit of all Divine consolation. The ancient Greeks reckoned it their excellency to speak much in a little, to give a sea of matter in a drop of language. What they only sought is here found.
2. According to the principal scope of the place we observe that Jesus Christ hath perfected and completely finished the great work of redemption, committed to Him by God the Father. To this great truth the Apostle gives a full testimony (Hebrews 10:14). And to the same purpose Christ speaks (John 17:4).
I. WHAT WAS THE WORK WHICH CHRIST FINISHED BY HIS DEATH? The fulfilling the whole law of God in our room and for our redemption, as a Surety for us. The law is a glorious thing; the holiness of God is engraven upon every part of it. It cursed every one that continued not in all things contained therein (Galatians 3:10). Two things, therefore, were required in him that should perfectly fulfil it, and both found only in our Surety.
1. A subjective perfection. Perfect working always follows a perfect being. That He might therefore finish this great work, lo! in what shining and perfect holiness was He produced! (Luke 1:35.Hebrews 7:26; Hebrews 7:26). So that the law could have no exception against His person.
2. An effective perfection, or a perfection of working and obeying. This Christ had (Matthew 3:15). He did all that was required to be done, and suffered all that was requisite to be suffered. And this work, finished by our Lord Jesus Christ, was
(1) A necessary work.
(a) On the Father’s account. I do not mean that God was under any necessity, from His nature, of redeeming us this, or any other, way. But when God had once decreed to redeem sinners by Jesus Christ, then it became necessary that the counsel of God should be fulfilled (Acts 4:28).
(b) With respect to Christ upon the account of that previous compact that was betwixt the Father and Him about it (Luke 22:22; John 9:3).
(c) Upon our account; for, had not Christ finished this work, sin had quickly finished all our lives, comforts, and hopes (John 3:14-15).
(2) Exceeding difficult. It cost many a cry and tear before Christ could say, “It is finished.” All the angels in heaven were not able, by their united strength, to lift that burden which Christ bore upon His shoulders--yea, and bore away. But how heavy this was may in part appear by the agony in the garden and the bitter cries upon the cross.
(3) Most precious. Justification, sanctification, adoption, &c., in this life flow from it, besides the happiness and glory of the life to come.
II. HOW AND IN WHAT MANNER JESUS CHRIST FINISHED THIS GLORIOUS WORK.
1. Obediently (Philippians 2:8; Isaiah 50:5).
2. Freely (John 10:17-18; Psalms 40:1-17.).
3. Diligently (Acts 10:38; John 4:30-31).
4. Fully. Whatever the law demanded is perfectly paid; whatever a sinner needs is perfectly obtained.
III. WHAT EVIDENCE WE HAVE THAT CHRIST HATH SO FINISHED REDEMPTION-WORK.
1. The infinite efficacy of the blood and obedience of Christ.
2. The discharge God the Father gave Him when He raised Him from the dead and set Him at His own right hand. If Christ, the sinner’s Surety, be, as such, discharged by God the Creditor, then the debt is fully paid Hebrews 10:12-14).
3. The blessed effects of it upon all that believe in Him. Their consciences are now rationally pacified, and their souls at death actually received into glory.
IV. INFERENCES. Hath Christ perfected all His work for us? Then
1. How sweet a relief is this to us that believe in Him, against all the defects and imperfections of all the works of God that are wrought by us.
2. How dangerous and dishonourable a thing is it to join anything of our own to the righteousness of Christ in point of justification before God.
3. There can be no doubt but He will also finish His work in us Philippians 1:6; Hebrews 12:2).
4. How excellent and comfortable beyond all compare is the method and way of faith!
5. How necessary is a laborious life to all that call themselves Christians Philippians 2:12)! Imitate thy Pattern.
(1) Christ began early to work for God.
(2) As Christ began betime, so He followed His work close John 4:31-32; Mark 3:21).
(3) Christ often thought upon the shortness of His time, and wrought hard because He knew His working-time would be but little (John 9:4). (J. Flavel.)
Christ’s work completed on the cross
These words, whether we consider their import or the moment of their utterance, are memorable. No fiat of Godhead had ever equalled this. It comprised in it all others, whether past or future. The expression--
I. MARKS THE ACCOMPLISHMENT OF PROPHETIC SCRIPTURE. “Jesus, knowing that all things were now accomplished.” The general series of prophecies to which the Evangelist refers, supply a body of evidence perfectly irresistible in favour of His Messiahship. Can it be doubtful whether the very expressions contained in Psalms 69:1-36. relate to the phenomena of the Crucifixion? The particulars cannot apply to any other kind of death besides. But the impression is yet more full when we regard the whole complexion of prophetic testimony, marking their perfect agreement with the character and temper of the Sufferer. How truly does the drawing set forth the great living Original! What, then, is the inference, but that heaven’s hand guided the pencil, and mixed and applied the colours? Mere nature could not furnish such a combination; nor could the same class of circumstances ever again exactly meet. Nor does the bee, by the force of instinct, working out heaven’s art, or the bird building its nest, or any natural agent performing works beyond the power of reason and the art of man, show the all-presiding intellect and will of Providence more truly than did the agents, whether human or satanic, show the presence of the all-controlling mind in this instance. They did the will of God when doing their own.
II. RELATES TO THE ENTIRE COURSE OF HIS MEDIATORIAL SERVICE.
1. Admitting that our Lord came to fulfil these Scriptures, why do such Scriptures exist? Certain fore-announcements were not put into the record for their own sake, or merely in anticipation of certain events to meet in the history of one illustrious person. They might authenticate a character, but not let us into the reason and end of that character. When our Lord therefore cried, “It is finished,” He must have looked back on the entire career of His mediatorial service, comparing it with that programme which He brought with Him to earth.
2. What was the true character of our Lord’s obedience? His human and Divine natures make up but one Person, in all the acts of obedience He performed, beginning with His descent from heaven, and ending with His death upon the cross. The assumption of a lower nature might, and did, give a specific character to His obedience; but it was the presence of the higher nature that gave it majesty, merit, glory. Hence He came Divinely furnished for His great work. And what a career was that on which our Saviour upon the cross looked back, surveying the whole as with one glance; and, marking its faultless perfection as He had done the work of His hands on the sixth day of creation, could say, “It is finished!” No actions of creatures, no agencies even of God, as God alone, ever partook of the same characters as His.
3. There was sovereignty as well as submission. It was a voice as supremely royal, though uttered from the head crowned with thorns, and surmounted by a mocking title, as that heard in the Apocalypse from the throne of the Lamb, saying, “It is done.”
III. APPLIES TO THE ACCOMPLISHMENT OF THE GREAT DESIGNS OF THIS DIVINE OBEDIENCE, IN THE REDEMPTION OF THE WORLD. It has especial respect to His preceding endeavours, whether in body or mind, whether in anticipation or in actual suffering. The great body of Scripture testimony gives marked pre-eminency to the sufferings of Christ. The first intimations of deliverance gave promise of a terrific, though decisive, struggle between the father of evil and his superhuman antagonist. The typical system, from that hour to the moment in which our Lord yielded up the ghost, prolonged the same strain of doctrine, exhibited the same sign. The whole history, from Moses to Christ, is one prolonged testimony, that without the shedding of blood there is no remission. One mind is thus seen presiding over the religion of the world from the beginning. One grand principle is brought out and upheld, like its Author, without variableness or shadow of turning. The doctrine of sacrifice was the substance of faith, and the great channel of grace to the world. It was a type of the act of God, by which the covenant was finally to be ratified by the offering of Christ. Hence the atoning nature of the Messiah’s sufferings was set forth by the prophets, especially by Isaiah and Daniel, provisionally at least, though not actually, agreeably to John’s exclamation, “Behold the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world.” The hour, therefore, that had arrived, showing the Lord upon the cross, was consummatory of the mighty, all-restoring plan. In that most momentous hour, every perfection of the Divine nature was glorified in Him who ordained and in Him who offered the satisfaction of the cross for the sins of the world. No further act was needed, no repetition possible; the offer could never be supplemented.
IV. DENOTED THE FULFILMENT OF THE CONDITIONS OF HIS MEDIATORIAL EXALTATION. It was expressive of the termination of His descending course, the sepulchre being only an adjunct of His Cross Everything antecedent to this was preparatory only; this was consummating. From this hour all our Lord’s after glory sprang, as the harvest from the seed, to which He so beautifully likens it.
1. The first glory in order--the Resurrection--was a testimony to the truth of the text. Else how could He have destroyed death in His own Person, had not His work upon the cross been complete, had He not in that hour finished the transgression, the visible standing penalty of which was death? But the Resurrection was the proof of this fact, and that Satan had been dethroned, and the curse no longer dominant over the race.
2. His return to His own glory followed. He took possession of the throne of the universe, to display His victory, and to evince how every scheme of creature malice and opposition had not merely been frustrated, but made to advance His glory to its fulness. Then was man in Him crowned with glory and honour, and in Him advanced to personal fellowship and oneness with God.
3. But His supreme prerogative, as Mediator, was to send forth the Spirit. This was a glory far greater than the government of all things made; and as truly as the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world, so did the Son send the Spirit to illumine and sanctify the world; and hence, as Christ came not to do His own will, nor to glorify Himself, so neither did the Spirit come to do His own will, or to bear testimony to Himself.
V. IMPLIED THE PROVISIONAL COMPLETENESS OF HIS ATONING REIGN. He is emphatically “the Lamb in the midst of the throne.” All the doctrines, institutions, and powers of His religion flow from the sovereignty of His Cross. The only satisfying reasons for the abolition of Judaism arise hence--a fact which the rending of the veil at the moment of His death testified.The full reign of evangelical grace took date from the advent of the Spirit. Then was His truth perfectly revealed, the gifts received for man richly poured from heaven upon man, that the Lord God might dwell among them. His servants were empowered to give testimony for Him in all nations, to form the Church on His own model, to offer mercy to all men. It is as impossible there should be a fresh and more perfect administration, as that there should be a more perfect sacrifice for sin than the one He has offered. His salvation is immutably treasured up in His truth, and dispensed to faith in His Cross, which is “the power of God and the wisdom of God.”
VI. THIS ONE EVENT INCLUDED AND BETOKENED EVERY OTHER. It was our whole redemption, from which every event, whether past or future, stood in the relation of an effect to its cause. It sealed redemption to all who had previously lived and died in the faith of this great event. It placed in our Lord’s hands the keys of the unseen world. That hour, in its fullest sense, was entirely His own; thenceforth were all ministries His; adverse principalities and powers were spoiled; judgment was passed in heaven against the usurper; and our Lord was enthroned to carry out that judgment to its ultimate issue--expulsion and final punishment. (G. Steward.)
The end of Christ’s coming
What was finished? What are we to suppose that our blessed Lord meant when He spake that word? To finish, you know, is to bring to an end; and there are two ways in which things may be brought to an end or finished. A work is said to be finished when it is completed or brought to perfection. Thus in the Book of Exodus we read that “all the work of the tabernacle of the tent of the congregation was finished”; and again, in the First Book of Kings, that “Solomon built the house of the Lord, and finished it”; and again, in the Book of Ezra, that the elders of the Jews rebuilt the house of the Lord, “and finished it.” In these passages, you will easily see, “finishing” means completing; and in like manner the account of the Creation in the Book of Genesis is wound up with these words: “Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them.” On the other hand, a thing may come to an end by being destroyed; and then also it is sometimes said to be finished. When Daniel is interpreting the writing on the wall to King Belshazzar, he says that the interpretation of the first word, “Mene,” is “God hath numbered thy kingdom and finished it.” So, too, Gabriel tells Daniel that “seventy weeks are determined upon the Jews, and upon the holy city, to finish the transgression, and to make an end of sins. Again the word is often used to signify merely that something is brought to an end, without regard to the nature of that end. As we read in St. Matthew: “When Jesus had finished all these sayings”; “When Jesus had finished all these parables.” Thus St. Paul, in his Letter to Timothy, says, “The time of my departure is at hand; I have finished my course.” Now, in which of these senses are we to conceive that our Lord on the cross said, “It is finished”? What was finished at that moment? what was brought to an end, and to what manner of end? When we look at these words along with those which come immediately after them, the first sense in which we are led to understand the word “finished” is much like that which it bears in the passage just quoted from St. Paul. So, and more completely, was our Lord’s earthly course then finished-so entirely finished, that but a moment afterward “He bowed His head and gave up the ghost.” The end of life--of every life, whatever notion we may be wont to form of that which is to come after--is an awful moment. It is an awful moment even in the eyes of ignorant savages. The eye no longer sees; the limbs no longer move; the heart ceases to beat; all speech, thought, feeling, are extinguished at once; and from that moment the body, the only part of the man that we see or know any more of, begins to moulder and crumble into dust. Moreover, while we are torn away from everything that we have been accustomed to love and prize and seek, we go we know not whither. Faith alone, enlightened by revelation, enables us to feel an assurance that death is not annihilation, but a change from one state of being to another. What this new state of being, however, may be, with what facilities we may be gifted in it, what we may have to do in it, whom we shall find in it, we can frame no conception or imagination. Therefore a man must be very thoughtless and heartless who could hear any one say that his life was finished without being moved thereby to something of compassion for him who is departing, and with something of awe at witnessing this evidence and proof of the destiny which awaits himself and all mankind. But when we call to mind all that had gone before--when we think ourselves of all that Jesus had to endure, of the cruel indignities that were heaped upon His innocent head, we may understand the exclamation, “It is finished,” in a further sense, as declaring that now at length His sufferings were come to an end, that His soul was about to flee away and be at rest, and that He should no longer feel wounds from the smiting, or the still more painful scoffing of His persecutors. When we look at them in this light, the words “It is finished” acquire something of a consolatory character. Even after a long and grievous illness, we at times see persons looking forward almost wishfully to the moment that is to put an end to their pangs and release their souls from the house of torment. In a still higher degree was it a joyful moment to the martyrs, when they felt that their spirits were on the point of taking flight from their earthly tabernacles; and stories are told of those who, from the midst of the flames, cried to the bystanders to pile up more fire around them, and thus to hasten the moment when their torments would be finished. Such, or akin to these, would be the feelings with which we should hear the words “It is finished” from the lips of a common man in a like situation; and such would be the meaning we should attach to them. But, as uttered by our Saviour on the cross, those words have a far wider and deeper meaning. For as His life was totally unlike that of all other men, so was His death. He did not live for Himself, or to Himself, nor as one of many; nor did He die so. Therefore that which He declared to be finished, when He was about to give up the ghost, must have been the great work, to work which He came into the world, and which was wrought by Him and in Him for all mankind. It must have been the work which, when sacrifices and burnt-offerings, and all things else, were found unavailing to reconcile man to God, He said that He came to do, and that He was content to do it with His whole heart. Already, in our Lord’s divine prayer, as recorded in the seventeenth chapter of our Gospel, He had said, when He besought His Father to glorify Him, “I have glorified Thee on earth; I have finished the work which Thou gavest Me to do.” He had then finished everything that He came to do. He had finished the doctrine which He came to teach, so far as for the present He purposed to make it known. He had finished and completed the example, which He came to set before men, of a life entirely at one with God, of a life spent throughout in doing the will of God, of a life in which no motion of any other will than the will of God was ever allowed to arise in the soul, of a life which had never been sullied or disturbed by a single sinful or selfish act or word or thought. All that He came to do by action had already been finished. But His greatest trial was still awaiting Him. His work was still incomplete. The hour of the power of darkness, as He Himself calls it (Luke 22:53), was still to come. His great work was to be completed and made perfect, as every truly great work must be, by suffering. All this, then--the whole work of the redemption of mankind, the whole work which from the beginning He had taken upon Himself--does our Lord in the text declare to be finished. Even as we read that, on the seventh day, when the heavens and the earth, and all their hosts, were finished, God rested from all the work that He had made, in like manner our Saviour on the cross, having brought down heaven in all its perfection to earth, and manifested the fulness of the Godhead in the form of a Man--having thus finished this His great work--was about to enter into His rest. As God’s work was the work ofcreating the world, and His rest was the rest of governing and guarding and upholding the world which He had created, so our Saviour’s work was that of renewing man’s nature, and of laying the foundations of His Church--of laying down Himself, His own Incarnate Diety and Divine Humanity, to be its chief Cornerstone; and His rest was that of watching over and directing and strengthening and sanctifying His Church and all its members. The work which was then declared to be finished was the greatest work ever wrought upon earth--a work which none but God could work, which the wisdom of God came down from heaven and dwelt upon earth in the form of a man to work, a work in which all the generations of mankind are more or less interested, and through the power of which alone can any man escape death, can any inherit everlasting life. You may feel a trustful assurance that, as Christ at that hour finished His work for you, at the cost of such bitter suffering and humiliation, so He will assuredly be ready to finish His work in you, and to enable you to finish the work which He has set you to do. For although the great work which Christ came to work was finished once for all on this day, it was not finished as when we finish a work, and leave it to itself, and turn to something else. It was wrought, even as the work of the Creation was, in order that it might be the teeming parent of countless works of the same kind, the first in an endless chain that should girdle the earth and stretch through all ages. While in one sense it was an end, in another it was a beginning--an end of the warfare and struggle which had been desolating the earth hopelessly ever since the Fall, and a beginning of the peace in which the victory won on that day was to receive its everlasting consummation. He conquered sin and Satan for us, in order that He might conquer them in us, and that we might conquer them for Him, through His love constraining, and His strength enabling us. Yes, my brethren, every one who sets himself to fight against his enemies in the way in which Jesus fought against them--by patience, by meekness, by silent endurance, by humility, by faith, by holiness, by love--shall assuredly conquer them; and every one who seeks this armour earnestly and diligently from Him, from His example, from His word, from His Spirit, shall obtain it. We know that the work has been finished, and by whom. We know who is for us; who, then, can be against us? When thus considered, our Saviour’s word is a source of the greatest comfort and encouragement to the believer, who desires to die the death and to live the life of Christ, and to have Christ formed in his heart. But to him who chooses to abide in sin, and who refuses to accept the mercy and grace of Christ’s atoning sacrifice, this same word, if he would but attend to it, would bring a most awful warning. For it declares that everything which could be done for his redemption has been finished, that God has done His utmost, that His mercy is exhausted, that there is no second Saviour, no new way of salvation for him; and that, if he persists in slighting the proffered mercy, nothing can remain for him but to lie weltering and rotting in his sins, dashed to and fro by the restless waves of remorse and despair. “It is finished.” Was it the last expiring cry of Hope and of Peace, of Righteousness and of Truth? Did it declare that the strife of God with man; that His efforts to save man, to teach him, to guide him, to restore him, were come to an end; that He was now forsaking the world, and giving it over to the powers of Evil? Thoughts of this kind, we may suppose, must have rushed upon those who loved the Lord, who had lived under the shelter of His wings, and who had set all their hopes upon Him for themselves, for the restoration of Israel, and for the establishment of righteousness and truth, when they heard the awful word “It is finished”; more especially if they meditated on it in connection with that terrible exclamation just before--His cry to the God who had forsaken Him.
Looking at the immediate aspect of things, they could see nothing else than despair, the destruction of good, the triumph of evil. Yet how wide were these thoughts from the truth! how totally opposite to it! If they could have cast their eyes forward through forty hours, they would have seen that the hour of the power of darkness was also the hour when darkness was to be conquered for ever. Even in the darkest hour, the light is preparing to burst forth; nor, when it comes, can the darkness stand against it. The mourners shall be comforted. The hungry shall be filled. The meek shall inherit the earth. The dominion of the earth shall be with the kingdom of heaven, not with the kingdom of hell. On the other hand, the enemies, the murderers of Jesus, when they heard that same word, “It is finished,” would interpret it according to the lusts of their hearts. They would exult in the thought that their work was now accomplished, that they had gained a decisive victory over Him before whose word their unrighteous power had seemed to totter, and that they might hold their revels over His downfall. Their master, too--the prince of this world--did he not deem that his empire over the earth was now established for ever? Yet this also was a vain delusion, which in forty hours was scattered to the winds. For the Second Adam had not been overcome. On the contrary, He had overcome sin, wherefore death had no power over Him. It was sin that had been overcome--sin in all its forms, with all its snares and weapons; and before Him who overcomes sin, death brightens into eternal life. Such was the real state of things then; and such it will ever be. Evil may seem to be mighty for the moment; but it shall perish; for God is against it. In like manner we are led to conclude, from the prophetic accounts of the last times, that Evil will then abound and prevail and hold its revels over the earth, while Faith will be weak and rare. Evil will again think that the earth is its own, and that it has driven out Faith for ever. Yet again the hour shall come, when the whole race of man and all the creatures upon the earth will cry out with one universal, wailing cry, “It is finished.” That end, however, will only be the beginning. The power and the glory and the victory will again be with the Lord of Hosts; and that which shall arise out of the wreck of the world will not he the kingdom of hell, but the kingdom of heaven. (Archdn. Hare.)
Blessedness of completed work
1. There have been other great works to which the words of the text might be applied. A great man undertakes some cause. He begins with the world against him, and ends with the world on his side--he has lived to see the principle to which his soul was devoted safe and beyond dispute. The writing of a history; the discovery of a new scientific method; the reformation of a religion; the consolidation of an empire; the completion of a beneficent scheme of policy; the creation of a new school of philosophy--these things have been perfected by the almost superhuman power of asingle man. What singular thoughts must arise in the minds of such men at the close of life! and we should like to think of them as offering up their work to God, saying, “I have finished the work which Thou gavest Me to do.”
2. But these examples are above the level of ordinary humanity, Most of us would like to have done something before we grow old and die, but the thought may arise in our minds of the shortness and uncertainty of life. I would rather consider this subject from the point of view of the comparative certainty of human life. The probable duration of our lives may be easily calculated, and is the basis of various dealings between man and man. We have not so long to live at thirty as we have at twenty, or at sixty as we have at fifty. Time becomes more and more valuable to us, and we fear that the night may overtake us sooner than we supposed. And as a man gets on in life, the feeling that his time is short should quicken him in the service of God. Every one has felt the satisfaction of having done something. To have carried through some business which we were disposed to put off; to have paid a, debt; to have written a book; even to have answered a letter, will be a considerable pleasure to us. There is a peace of mind to a man when he is dying in knowing that he has set his life in order, and left none of the common duties of life unfulfilled. We like to have done something, not to be always about to do something. In order to a completed life
I. THE PLAN MUST BE ADAPTED TO OUR CHARACTERS AND CIRCUMSTANCES.
1. There is a sense in which people cannot go against their own natures; they must supplement rather than extirpate their original qualities. This is what we mean by a man feeling his own deficiencies. Until he knows himself as he is in his own weakness and in his strength, he will be always making mistakes. And, therefore, in fixing on a plan of life a man must consider his own character, and limit himself by that. There are some things which he can do easily, some which he can do with an effort, others which he flatters himself he can do, but which he cannot do at all. For example, he may fancy that he will be a great speaker when he has nothing to say, or a great poet when he has no sense either of language or of metre. The art is to start from what he is that he may become something more, to be equal to the present while attempting things beyond.
2. And he must not dissipate himself by trying to do too many things. One work, or one kind of work, is enough for the life of most men; he is not good for much who is good for every-thing--for everything but his own occupation. One man has no definite idea of what he is going to learn, or of what he knows. Another has at once presented to his mind an outline of what he means to learn; he divides the whole into parts; he makes every part throw light on every other; he examines himself to see whether he has his facts really under control; he has a hold of his subject, and is able to say of it that he knows and can use his knowledge.
3. Then, again, there are mistakes that men make in a life of study as in other things. They go on reading and never writing, until their acquisitions have become altogether out of proportion to their power of using them, or their taste may be so fastidious, their love of minutiae so great that no considerable work could ever be executed on the scale or with the perfection which they proposed.
4. But few of us are students, and there are works of the most different kind which have to be performed often in silence by women as well as men, by the old as well as by the young. There is the care of the household or of the business. Besides the engagements of society and the blessings of family life, let us make some other interest, if we can, which may bind our days together with a golden thread, and survive the changes which the lapse of years is making. To such works we should give not only the chance thoughts, or moments, or feelings--we should look forward a little and scheme for the good of others, and not merely for own narrower selfish purposes. Then again there may be works of the most private sort--of duty and affection. It brings a man great peace at the last to have fulfilled all these trusts, not to have the words “Too late” ringing in his ears. There are many lifelong works of this kind among the poor. Many of us must have known of servants who have devoted themselves to the bringing up of a family. They, too, have finished the work which was given to them, and have gone home and taken their wages.
II. WE MUST THINK OF THIS WORK AS THE WORK OF GOD UPON EARTH, in which we are allowed to bear a part. It wonderfully clears a man’s head and simplifies his life when he has learned to rest, not on himself, but on God. He is not divided between this world and another, or trying to make the best of both; he has one single question which he puts to himself, one aim which he is seeking to fulfil--the will of God. He does not care about the compliments of friends or the applause of the world. This is the ideal which the Apostle holds before us when he speaks of offering up his work to God, of presenting the body “a living sacrifice,” &c. Like Christ we have a work to do which we cannot transfer to Him, but in which the thought of Him, the great Example of mankind, may be always present with us. Conclusion: There must be some broken as well as perfect lives, which, owing to accident, or illness, or early death, could never be framed into any perfect whole. There have been men of genius cut off before their time--statesmen having the promise of a great future; and there is hardly any family in which the touching question is not sometimes asked, What would he or she have been if living now? Yes; we acknowledge that there are pieces of lives which have been begun in this world to be completed in another state of being. And some of them have been like fragments of ancient art, which we prize, not for their completeness, but for their quality, and because they serve to give us a type of something which we could hardly see anywhere upon earth. Such lives we must judge, not by what the persons said, or wrote, or did, but by what they were. God does not measure men’s lives wholly by the amount of work which they are able to accomplish in them; He who gave the power of work may also withhold the power; and some of these broken lives may have a value in His sight which no bustle or activity or ordinary goodness can attain. There have been persons confined to a bed of sickness who yet may be said to have lived an almost perfect life. Such persons afford examples to us of a work which at any moment is acceptable to God. (Prof. Jowett.)
The one success in life
How seldom can one coming to die say of anything but life itself, that “It is finished?” Our projects overlap our days, and are either never accomplished, or left to others to complete. Most will then say with Job, “My days are past,” &c. But Jesus was accustomed to measure life’s meaning only by its results. “My meat is to do the will of Him,” &c. When, therefore, He cried, “It is finished,” it must have referred to the accomplishment of that for which His life was given Him. What was the deathless purpose which absorbed the life of Jesus?
I. TO SOLVE THE PROBLEM OF SUFFERING, AND TO REMOVE ITS OCCASION. it. He seemed to gather into His own sensitive heart all the pangs which He witnessed in others. “Surely He hath borne our griefs,” &c.
2. As a practical experience of those who accept the ministry of Christ and His cross, the evil of suffering is gone; it is transformed into an agency of blessing. “In all these things we are more than conquerors.”
II. TO SOLVE THE PROBLEM OF DEATH, AND TO REMOVE ITS OCCASION.
1. He wept over Lazarus. Why, when He knew that in a moment Lazarus was to be restored to life? Because Lazarus represented all the dead for whom resurrection was not a possibility until after His own death should allow him to enter and vanquish the power of death in its own realm.
2. Since then, believers in Jesus triumph over the grave, being able to say, “This is life eternal.”
III. TO SOLVE THE PROBLEM AND TO BREAK THE POWER OF SIN.
1. The occasion of both suffering and death. Jesus always associated sin with sorrow and death. When He healed, it was in connection with some revelation of Himself as the sin-bearer. “Thy sins be forgiven thee” was in His mind equivalent to “Take up thy bed and walk.” When He cried, “It is finished,” He esteemed sin as a “broken hold” upon mankind. “When he shall make his soul an offering,” &c.
2. Since then, believers can experience what they confess, “Being justified by faith we have peace with God,” &c. The life of Jesus only was a complete one, except as our lives are “hid in His.” (Homiletic Monthly.)
It is finished
What was finished? On the heaven side, no man can answer; on the earth side, we can perhaps reach some particulars.
I. THE PERSONAL SUFFERING OF JESUS. He was now dying. We cannot pretend to define the anguish of Christ, we must be content with noting three degrees in the apparent growth of His experience.
1. Jesus had a measure of inexplicable dread as He neared His death. He kept talking about an “hour,” and seemed filled with solicitude concerning it. This feeling reached its supreme height in Gethsemane.
2. Soon, however, He righted up into a fine sense of tranquility, and we hear Him saying that He was quite willing to drink the cup which His Father was giving Him; and from that time forward we hear no more of His shrinking away as if from pain.
3. And here, in this explosive utterance, He has touched the supreme degree of His satisfaction; and this cry is an outburst of self-congratulation that His terrible cup has been entirely drained. And so He sends out before an anxious universe this “loud voice” like a bulletin from a field of battle. He is all through the charge, right, safe, at rest.
II. THE EARTHLY ERRAND OF JESUS CHRIST.
1. He had met man’s desperate need as a transgressor.
2. He had satisfied the law’s demand in God’s government.
3. He had answered every scriptural type with an antitype.
4. He had fulfilled every ancient prophecy concerning Himself.
5. Thus, in one word, Christ exhaustively discharged that entire former dispensation in a new one.
III. HIS OFFICIAL CONFLICT WITH SATAN. For this purpose He had been manifested (1 John 3:8).
1. He was the “last Adam” in order that He might take up the defeat in the Garden of Eden and reverse it into a victory (Romans 5:14).
2. This was the reason why He was made to endure the open attacks of the same adversary. He “was led up … into the wilderness, to be tempted of the devil.” Jesus must submit Himself to a like condition of exposure, yet He must conquer in the fight (Hebrews 2:18).
8. He had been anticipating this renewed trial for a long time. Hence He kept giving those mysterious hints of a “prince of this world.”
4. At last, when He uttered this cry, He knew He had conquered His foe Colossians 2:15). When a shout of victory like this came forth from the cross, who shall attempt to picture the unutterable dismay it must have sent into the shadows of Hades?
IV. THE GOSPEL MESSAGE. One more word to His Father--just a decorous salutation at coming; then there remained only a human body on the tree.
1. For believers, then, here is ground for confidence unwavering Hebrews 10:12-14).
2. Per backsliders there is also a lesson here (Hebrews 11:4-6).
3. For all others, here is invitation free and full. Is anything more needed? “All things are now ready.” Why does any one wait? “It is finished”--what can be wished for more? (C. S. Robinson, D. D.)
It is finished
I. THE OPPORTUNITY OF THE JEWISH RACE HAD GONE. The offer to them was completed. Their response to it was now final. There they were gathered, the two typical groups: those who had received Him for life, and those who had received Him for death. His blood was upon both; but upon the one to the cleansing of sin; upon the other to the making indelible its stain. “His blood be on us and on our children.”
II. PILATE’S OPPORTUNITY WAS OVER. When he had written that title and had had it placed upon the cross, saying, “What I have written, I have written,” his position was finally taken.
III. THE MERELY HUMAN RELATIONS OF JESUS WERE FINALLY ADJUSTED (John 19:26-27). And the final adjustment of His relations with us, and so of our social relations with each other, is at the cross. To Mary He says, “Another shall fill My place. Fill thou to the one I choose, as far as possible, the relation thou hast occupied to Me.” To John He says, “Be such a son as I have been.” Should we not see a consecration of all these ties of earth if we could come often beneath the cross and listen to the Saviour’s last bequest? He has entrusted us to each other as with His dying breath, as with the seal of His blood.
IV. ALL THE PROPHECIES POINTING TO THE CROSS WERE NOW ACCOMPLISHED. The scrupulousness with which prophecies concerning our Saviour were accomplished is most notable in the two periods of His infancy and His sacrifice. Two references only to prophecy occur in the other three gospels. In Mark (15:28) the language of Isaiah (53:12) is recalled. In Matthew (27:35) is a reference to the Psalm (22:18). John makes four definite citations (chap. 19:24, 28, 36, 37).
V. THE MEDIATION OF CHRIST WAS COMPLETED. He had come to mediate between God and men. For this He was both God and Man. What was between them He must take away. He must bring them together, or they were to remain separated forever. This He did perfectly, and what He did has only to be received in penitence and trust, and salvation is assured. Conclusion: Perhaps the noblest building in the world is the Cathedral of Cologne. It was designed on the most magnificent scale, so costly and vast that after the lapse of five centuries it was still unfinished. At last it was resolved to make a great effort to complete it. It was resumed as a national work. The most competent architects were obtained, the most skilled workmen in great numbers were employed, and, at last, the crowning stone was laid in the presence of a vast assemblage gathered from all Europe, and from America, with the most august ceremonies. A shout broke from that vast concourse, as the surmounting cross was secured in its lofty place, whose burden was, It is finished. I stood before that pile, that crowning triumph of architecture, with emotions of awe and wonder. I thought of the centuries of the building, in which generations of builders had toiled and passed and left it incomplete. I saw the cross everywhere wrought into the walls and ornaments, and lying outspread in the majestic outline of stone, upon that ancient square, where once had stood a heathen temple. How grand a response, I thought, to the cross of my Redeemer. It seemed some worthy rejoinder to the cry of Calvary. But there is a response grander far than the cathedral builders have given Him, the response of the lowliest sinner, coming to the Cross for pardon, opening his heart for the finished work to be wrought within him. It requires no costly offering for this, no pile of masonry, no generations of builders, and centuries, to make it complete. Now, without the delay of a minute, it may be made complete in you, because Jesus finished the great provision. It is complete. He who receives it at once is completely saved. (Monday Club Sermons.)
It is finished
I. IT, not this and that: all that lays the foundation of a new, eternal world of God.
II. It Is, not is being (Hebrews 10:14).
1. As a spiritual act.
2. As a mortal suffering.
3. As a triumph of Christ.
4. As the salvation of God. (J. P. Lange, D. D.)
It is finished
Let us consider
I. THE PERSON OF THE DYING SUFFERER.
1. He was God.
2. He was Man.
3. He was a Person in whom the Divine and human natures were united.
4. He was the Surety of sinners.
II. THE MEANING OF HIS LAST WORD.
1. The predictions of ancient prophets concerning the work and sufferings of the Messiah were now accomplished.
2. The purposes and designs of the ceremonial law were answered.
3. The righteousness of the law was fulfilled.
4. The great end of legal sacrifices was completed.
5. The whole of the work which the Father had given Him to do was finished.
III. THE MANNER IN WHICH THESE WORDS WERE UTTERED. Matthew and Mark inform us, that “He cried with a loud voice;” and the same is recorded by Luke, who also adds that He said, “Father, into Thy hands I commit My Spirit;” but John mentions a word unnoticed by the other evangelists “It is finished!” The manner of the Saviour uttering this exclamation did not so much consist in the sound of the voice or the strength of the expression, as in the important signification it conveyed.
1. It was a declaration of an important truth.
2. It was the signal of victory.
3. It was not the cry of the languishing or the wounded, or the dying man, but the triumphant shout of an Almighty Conqueror, “He spoiled principalities and powers” on the cross. (W. Thorpe.)
It is finished
I. Let us hear the text and UNDERSTAND IT. The Saviour meant
1. That all the types, promises, and prophecies were now fully accomplished in Him. The whole Book, from the first to the last, was finished in Him. There is not a single jewel of promise, from the first emerald which fell on the threshold of Eden, to that last sapphire-stone of Malachi, which was not set in the breast-plate of the true High Priest. Nay, there is not a type, from the red heifer down to the turtle-dove, from the hyssop up to Solomon’s temple, which was not fulfilled in Him; not a prophecy, whether spoken on Chebar’s banks or on the shores of Jordan; not a dream of wise men, whether they had received it in Babylon, or in Judaea, which was not now fully wrought out in Christ. And what a wonderful thing it is, that a mass of promises, apparently so heterogenous, should all be accomplished in one person! Take away Christ from it and the Old Testament becomes an insoluble problem.
2. All the typical sacrifices of the old Jewish law, were now abolished as well as explained. Imagine for a minute the saints in heaven looking down on what was done on earth. From the times of Noah, they see altars smoking, recognitions of the fact that man is guilty, and the spirits before the throne say, “Lord, when will sacrifices finish?--when will blood no more be shed?” The offerings soon increase. Aaron and the Levites every morning and evening offer a lamb, while great sacrifices are offered on special occasions. And all the while the saints are crying, “O Lord, how long?--when shall the sacrifice cease?” David offers hecatombs, and Solomon and Hezekiah and the spirits of the just say, “Will it never be complete?” But lo, He comes who is to close the line of priests! Not now with linen ephod, &c., but His cross His altar, His body and His soul the victim, and cries, “It is finished!”--that for which ye looted so long is fully achieved and perfected for ever.
3. His perfect obedience was finished. It was necessary, in order that man might be saved, that the law of God should be kept, for no man can see God’s face except he be perfect in righteousness. Christ undertook to keep God’s law for His people; to obey its every mandate, and preserve its every statute intact. It needed nothing to complete the perfect virtue of life but the entire obedience of death. Our perfect Substitute put the last stroke upon His work by dying. Christ the Creator, who finished creation, has perfected redemption. God can ask no more. The law has received all it claims.
4. The satisfaction which He rendered to the justice of God was finished. The debt was now, to the last farthing, all discharged. The atonement and propitiation were made once for all, and for ever, by the one offering made in Jesu’s body on the tree.
5. Victory over the powers of darkness.
(1) Sin nailed Him to the cross; but in that deed Christ nailed sin also to the tree.
(2) Next came Satan. Not long was the struggle; He who is the Son of God as well as the Son of Mary, having despoiled him of his armour, having quenched his fiery darts, and broken his head, He cried, “It is finished.”
(3) Death had come against Him, as Christmas Evans puts it, with his fiery dart, which he struck right through the Saviour, till the point fixed in the cross, and when he tried to pull it out again, he, left the sting behind. What could he do more?
II. Let us hear and WONDER. Let us perceive what mighty things were secured by these words.
1. Thus He ratified the covenant. That covenant was signed and sealed before, but when the blood of Christ sprinkled it it could never be reversed, nor could one of its stipulations fail.
2. His Father was honoured, and Divine justice fully was displayed. He would, as a God of love, and now He could as a God of justice, bless poor sinners.
3. He Himself was glorified. He had honour as God, but as man He was despised and rejected; now as God and Man Christ was made to sit down for ever on His Father’s throne, crowned with honour and majesty.
4. The words had effect on heaven. Before, the saints had been saved, as it were, on credit. But Christ said, “It is finished,” and oath, and covenant, and blood set fast the dwelling-place of the redeemed, made their mansions safely and eternally their own, and bade their feet stand immoveably upon the rock.
5. The words took effect on hell. Lost souls mourned that day, for if Christ Himself, the Substitute, could not be permitted to go free till He had finished all His punishment, then they can never be free.
III. Let us hear and PUBLISH IT.
1. TO those who are torturing themselves, thinking through mortification to offer satisfaction. Yonder Hindoo is about to throw himself down upon the spikes. Stay, poor man I wherefore wouldst thou bleed, for “It is finished”!
2. To the benighted votaries of Rome, when ye see the priests, offering every day the pretended sacrifice of the mass. “Cease, false priest, false worshipper, for ‘It is finished!’”
3. To the foolish who call themselves Protestants, but who think by their gifts, prayers, vows, church-goings, &c., to make themselves fit for God; and say to them, “Stop!” Why improve on what is finished?
4. To all poor despairing souls. Ye find them on their knees, crying, “O God, what can I do to make recompense for my offences?” Tell them, “It is finished;” the recompense is made already.
5. To professed Christians in doubts and fears. We have thousands that really are converted, who do not know that “It is finished.” (C. H.Spurgeon.)
It is finished
1. As the evangel of Christ.
2. As the confession of the Church.
3. As the jubilation of the believing heart.
4. As an excitation to every work of faith.
5. As a prophecy of the last day. (J. P. Lange, D. D.)
It is finished
The words of dying men, says the great dramatist, “enforce attention.” How much more the words of the dying God-Man. Note
I. THE LIGHT CAST BY THIS UTTERANCE ON CHRIST’S WORK ITSELF. It exhibits to us
1. A great work. It is not of any ordinary or trifling act that we use this stately phrase; it belongs to what we regard as an achievement to get off our hands. And never was it more worthily applied than to the work of redemption. What is great, if that is not? The Hebrew equivalent of this expression, and which concludes Psalms 22:1-31. (from which probably our Lord took it), is the same as we have in Genesis 2:3. That voice from the cross marked the termination of a work far greater in its nature and issues than the work of Creation. It made known the manifold wisdom of God in a way which no creative acts could do. It unfolded the very heart of God, and revealed Him to be Love as well as Light.
2. A difficult work. A work may be great and yet not difficult--the Creation, e.g.
“He spake and it was done.” But who can imagine the feeling of infinite relief represented by “It is finished.” Christ’s human nature quailed before it. “Father, if it be possible,” &c. But now that the last drop has passed His lips; now that the justice of God is satisfied, He gives vent to the relief felt in these words.
3. A definite work. He knew when it was done. It had a beginning, certain well-marked stages, and an unmistakeable termination. He often spoke of it as something prescribed. “The work Thou gavest Me to do.” The same is implied in His Messiahship. Ambassadors have always definite instructions. This view is needed in these days of theological vagueness when Divine mercy is panegyrized, but no positive statements forthcoming as to how a sinner is to be accepted of God. We are twitted with our theology being hard and dry, but when solid footing is wanted these qualities are preferable to quicksands and quagmires. The Saviour’s work was definite in its nature, objects, and results.
4. A perfect work. A definite goal was reached, and all up to that point was perfect, and could never again be reopened or improved. And the Scripture leaves us in no ignorance of what was perfected--the Atonement Hebrews 10:10; Hebrews 10:14).
II. THE RESPECTS IN WHICH CHRIST’S WORK WAS THEN FINISHED.
1. That it was finished in every view of it was manifestly not the case; for it is still in progress, and will not be absolutely finished till “the days of the voice of the seventh angel” (Revelation 10:7).
2. As a whole it was finished as a battle is finished. After the conflict at Gravelotte had raged for twelve hours, Moltke rode up to the King of Prussia and quietly said, “The battle is finished.” He meant that the key of the position was wrested from the enemy, and that it was only a matter of time for his dispositions to close the struggle. So here the contest was raging fiercer than ever, and still rages: but Christ won the key of the position, and virtually secured everything.
3. In certain details it was absolutely finished. The typical system was abolished, animal sacrifices had accomplished their mission, and prophecy was fulfilled.
III. SOME OF THE PRACTICAL EFFECTS WHICH THE FINISHING OF CHRIST’S WORK SHOULD HAVE UPON US.
1. It ought to annihilate all disposition to self-righteousness. The natural man has no pleasure in contemplating Christ’s work as finished. He must first be made to feel himself a helpless, worthless, perishing sinner, and then a work requiring no contributions of his will exactly suit his case.
2. We should see in it a ground of immediate peace and joy--as it was to the early disciples (Acts 2:46-47; Acts 8:39; Acts 16:34). Jesus has done all that you need for your acceptance: nothing remains for you but to accept it, and take the comfort of it.
3. We see the pledge that Christ’s work will be complete in all His people. Conclusion: This pillar of light has a frowning aspect for unbelievers. Christ’s enemies were terribly frightened when He said, “It is finished.” The earth quaked, &c., and the onlookers Smote upon their breasts and fled, fancying that all was finished. They were mistaken, of course, but a day is coming when it will be no mistake. It will then be finished for the ungodly; finished with prayer, mercy, pleasures of sin, everything except the wrath of God, and that will be for ever. (James Moir, M. A.)
It is finished
I. IN WHAT SENSE.
1. Prophecy was fulfilled.
2. The substance of the types was accomplished.
3. All was finished that was necessary to make Him a fit pattern for us.
4. All was done which God required as an expiation of sin.
II. THE EVIDENCES.
1. The dignity of the Person finishing.
2. The greatness of the work.
3. God’s approbation of Him and it.
III. THE COMFORT.
1. It answers the grand scruple which is at the bottom of all our Micah 6:6-7).
2. God can now require no satisfaction from us (Isaiah 53:5).
3. It affords the strongest motive to duty and gives to duty its sweetest pleasure.
4. It encourages us to look for great things from God in this life and the next. (T. Manton, D. D.)
It is finished
I. A PROPHETIC WORD--all Scripture fulfilled.
II. A HIGH PRIESTLY WORD--the expiatory sacrifice completed.
III. A KINGLY WORD--the kingdom of heaven founded. (J. P.Lange, D. D.)
It is finished
The significance of these words as regards
I. CHRIST PERSONALLY. They indicated
1. That His passion was accomplished.
2. That the Father’s will had been perfected in the Son.
II. THE POWERS OF DARKNESS. They indicated that Christ’s absolute sovereignty was established over Satan, death, and hell.
III. MANKIND. They indicated that the debt of sin was cancelled and man’s atonement made. Conclusion: The saying teaches us
1. To realize in the apparent failure of His mission the true dignity of Christ.
2. The necessity of individual co-operation with Divine grace.
3. To offer ourselves to God in living consecration.
4. To be faithful unto death. (Thirty Thousand Thoughts.)
It is finished
It is interesting to see the first outlines and drawings, the rough sketches which some of the great painters have left of their great pictures; but what are these compared with the completed masterpieces when the shade and colour have been put in and the final touch has been added! It is interesting to see the block of rough marble that has received the first strokes of the chisel, but how is this surpassed when the statue is finished and appears to breathe with life! And the pleasure of the beholder is eclipsed by that of the artist. When Palissy, after years of toil and experiment, amidst privation and reproach, at last mastered the secret, and found that his jars came out of the fire covered with the beautiful white enamel, what an intense relief he must have felt when he discovered the long-lost art! When one has undergone a painful operation and it proves successful, with what intense relief does the sufferer whisper, “Thank God! it is over now.” So in this word on the cross there seems to breathe an intense relief and joy that the work which the Father had given Him was finished. (W. T. Bull, M. A.)
means more than “ended.” Five times in the course of the evangelic record Christ is said to have used the word now in question. In four instances out of the five our translators have rendered it “accomplished.” We must certainly take it as conveying the idea, not simply of ending, but of ending to perfection. Some interpreters understand Christ to speak only of His life. It would, however, be little for any one of us to say in the last hour, “Life is ended”--the question will be, Is it finished? When a certain graceful queen of fashion was dying, she said, “Oh, my God, it is over! I have come to the end of it--the end--the end! To have only one life--and to have done with it--and to lie here! To have lived and loved, and triumphed, and to know that it is over! One may defy everything else, but not this!” While the listener to these words sat, not once moving her eyes from the face of her who was speaking, “in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye,” that face changed into a mere mask of stone on the pillow, gazing at her with fixed stare. Oh the difference between one who could only say, “I have ended my course,” and one who could say, “I have finished it” (2 Timothy 4:7-8). When a poet, long the pride of Germany, was writing his last work, death stopped him in the midst of it, and the unfinished manuscript was placed upon the coffin as it was carried to the grave; touching type of what might be done at every funeral! Our lives on earth are broken fragments of existence, crowded with the beginnings of things. Unfinished pictures in the studio, unfinished plans on the anvil of thought, unfinished papers on the desk, unfinished houses in the street, unfinished settlements of affairs; and the beginners of these taken away, all remind us of the difference between us and our Master. His purposes are never “broken off.” In creation, though various checks, blights, and frosts are permitted, as far as His creative processes are concerned, you find that even in the smallest thing nothing is left unfinished; you meet with no unfinished insect, no unfinished flower, no unfinished “medallions of creation.” “All His work is perfect;” and everything, from the shell on the shore to the star in the sky, is what He meant it to be. No one can say of Jesus Christ, in any department of His operations, that He only half does, or only almost does. What He does, He finishes. No one shall point to the cross and say of “the Man, Christ Jesus,” “This Man began to build, and was not able to finish.” What He did then, He did thoroughly; and it was with truth most exact and absolute that He said, “It is finished!” (C. Stanford, D. D.)
Christ proclaiming His finished work
Looking at it
I. IN CONNECTION WITH HIMSELF, we may notice
1. The wonderful composure it indicates. Dying men have often spoken composedly, but this has generally been when they have had no intense bodily suffering to distract them, and all quiet within their souls. But Jesus is dying in a storm. His bodily frame is sinking with agony, and as for His soul, none but Himself can form an idea of the waves and the billows that are going over it. Yet where are His thoughts? He is described in the verses preceding as calmly reviewing the predictions concerning Him, and finding one of them yet unfulfilled, providing for the fulfilment of it. What an honour is here put on Holy Scripture! And this mental composure appears yet more wonderful, when we contrast it with the agitation He manifested only a few hours before in the apprehension of His sufferings in Gethsemane. One of the most wonderful things attending His sufferings, is the amazing power of suffering He discovered under them. And where did this power come from? From His Father. And for what end? To enable Him to bear the weight of misery now laid on Him; but also that His Father might show forth in Him the boundless power of His strengthening grace. And this strength has never been withdrawn from Him. He calls it His grace, and He delights in sending it forth to the weak and suffering. He who bore with calmness the misery of the cross could bear up a whole miserable world would that world but cast itself on Him.
2. The language is that of joy also. Here is
(1) Great suffering over. The strength given to our Lord on the cross did not render Him insensible of the burden He bore there. This is not the nature of Divine grace. It enables the soul to endure suffering, but it adds to, rather than diminishes, its sensibility under it. His joy is like that you may have witnessed when the long tried Christian has been told on the bed of sickness that the hour of His release is come.
(2) A great evil removed. Our Lord’s sufferings were to expiate once for ever the transgressions of His people. When, therefore, Jesus sees this accomplished by Himself; we cannot wonder that even in a dying moment joy springs up in Him that must have utterance. It is like the joy a father feels who, after years of toil, has just paid down the sire that is to ransom his captive children; or like the joy of another father who has plunged into a raging sea to save his child.
(3) A great work accomplished. Our Lord had not only to expiate sin for His people, He had to work out for them a complete righteousness in which they are to appear at the last before the bar of God.
3. But here is triumph also. Picture to yourselves a general maintaining an important post. He cannot move to drive away his foe, but there he is obliged to remain and sustain all his reiterated attacks. And these are renewed so often and so fiercely, that they become at last exceedingly trying to him. “I can never be beaten,” he says. “My troops will never yield. But oh, that the hour were come, when I might put forth my strength, and by one blow crush that enemy.” The hour does come, he strikes the blow; and as he sees his astonished foes fleeing before him, with what a mixture of joy and triumph can we imagine him shouting, “It is over; I have finished it!” There is a picture of Jesus as He is described in this text.
II. AS ADDRESSING HIS FATHER IN IT. In this light the exclamation before us takes the character of a faithful servant’s language, claiming from a faithful master his well-earned recompense. The blessed Jesus is often spoken of in Scripture as His Father’s servant. He seemed to take pleasure in speaking so of Himself. Now, then, when the appointed work is done, the final victory won, all the glorious purposes for which He left the heavens performed, we see Him looking up to His Father with an appeal to His Father’s faithfulness and munificence. His resurrection, heavenly exaltation and joy, the diffusion and triumphs of His gospel, the salvation of His Church, the establishment of His kingdom, all enter His thoughts, and in one word He reminds His Father that they must be His, for He has paid the price of them. “I have glorified Thee on the earth; I have finished the work which Thou gavest Me to do. And now, O Father, glorify Thou Me.”
III. But there is a third party concerned in this text--OURSELVES. He muttered it in man’s hearing; His Holy Spirit has recorded it in His Word. We may be sure, therefore, that He intended it for man. It speaks to us the language of
1. Joyful congratulation. Angels came down from heaven to bid the earth rejoice when this Saviour began His work on it; He seems to have uttered this cry to congratulate His Church again now He has completed it. “And has He left nothing for us to do?” Yes, but only to seek, accept, and enjoy the salvation He has completed.
2. Of invitation. What is your soul’s desire? “I want pardon,” you say. “It is finished,” this sentence says, and all you have to do is to go and say, “Lord, give it me.” And do you want a perfect righteousness in which you may stand with humble fearlessness before a holy God? “It is finished,” this dying Saviour says again. Or is it the grace of a Holy Spirit that you want to teach you, to comfort you, to strengthen you, to sanctify and guide you? Again the same voice says, “It is finished.” (C. Bradley, M. A.)
Christ’s finished work
There never existed but one Being who in truth could affirm of His work--“It is finished!” Incompleteness and defect trace the most vast, elaborate and accomplished products of human genius and power. Let us consider these words as
I. THE CRY OF A SUFFERER. Contemplate
1. His Divine dignity. “Awake, O sword, against my shepherd and against the man that is my fellow,” &c. Upon the doctrine of Christ’s Deity reposes the fabric of the atonement.
2. The expiatory and vicarious character of His sufferings. “He was wounded for our transgressions,” &c.
3. These sufferings were unparalleled and intense. That is a sublime sentence “on the liturgy of the Greek Church--“Thine unknown agonies.”
(1) There was the physical element.
(2) There was mental agony, and what He endured in His mind who can conceive?
(3) But the soul-suffering was more intense than all.
“My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death.” The billows of God’s wrath began now to penetrate His nature. When a vessel coursing its way over the ocean is arrested by a storm, as long as his gallant bark ploughs its way, and keeps its course, the mariner treads its deck undaunted by fear, confident in its strength and firmness. But let the cry be heard, “A leak! the waters are coming in!” And in a moment despair enters, and the hearts of the stern sons of the sea die within them. That was the moment of our Lord’s unknown agony, when He could explain, “Save Me, O God, for the waters are come into My soul.” In what else can we resolve all this mystery of agony but in the “love of Christ which passeth knowledge.” Oh mystery of suffering! Oh deeper mystery of love!
4. But these sufferings now are over. Rejoice, then, that the tempest will no more beat around him, and all the sorrow, through which He leads you home to Himself, hath not one drop of the curse to embitter it. He took your cup of grief and of the curse, drank it to its dregs, then filled it with His love, and gave it back for you to drink, and to drink for ever.
II. THE LANGUAGE OF A SAVIOUR Those words speak hope to the hopeless, pardon to the guilty, acceptance to the lost. He had finished all that justice asked, that the law demanded; and opened the bright pathway for the sinner to retrace his steps back to God, and once more feel the warm embrace of his Father’s forgiving love.
III. THE SHOUT OF A CONQUEROR. Christ was a man of war, our glorious Joshua was He. He met His foes on the battle field, confronted all His enemies, and on the cross He destroyed--He divested death of its sting, triumphed over Satan, the grave, and hell. Conclusion:
1. What a spring of comfort is here for the true believer amid his innumerable failures, flaws, and imperfections. What service do you perform, what duty do you discharge, of which you can say, “It is finished?” But “Ye are complete in Him.” God beholds you in Christ, “wherein He hath made us accepted in the beloved.”
2. If Christ’s atoning work is finished, what folly and sin to attempt to supplement it! Away with your tears, confessions, duties, charities, even your repentance and faith, if these things dare to take their place side by side with the finished work of Christ.
3. Let me warn you of the utter worthlessness and fallacy of all grounds of faith, and of all human hope that comes in conflict with the finished work of Christ.
4. Beware of the errors of the day, the tendency of which is to veil the light and glory of Christ’s finished work, and to mislead, misguide, and misdirect souls on their way to the judgment seat. (O. Winslow, D. D.)
It was the labour of Mr. Charles’, of Bales, lifetime to procure a complete and correct Welsh Bible. His toil was very great, and wholly unremunerative. He often expressed a strong wish that his life might be spared till the work was done, and then, he used to say, “I shall willingly lay down my head and die.” He lived to see it completed; and he expressed himself very thankful to the Lord for having graciously spared him, and the last words ever written by him, as it is supposed, were these, with reference to his great work, “It is now finished.”
Finishing of work
In the year 735 there stood on the south bank of the Tyne, near the retired hamlet of Jarrow, a small monastery. On the evening of the 26th of May a stillness, unusual even in that peaceful sanctuary, reigned throughout the building. The monks moved along the corridors with silent tread and solemn faces, ever and anon addressing each other in low, anxious whispers. On an humble pallet in one of the little cells lay an aged monk. His body was wasted almost to a skeleton. The sunken eyes and hollow cheeks, and quick-drawn, gasping breath told but too plainly that death was near. Beside the bed sat a scribe. A book was before him, and a pen in his hand. He had just raised the pen from the page, and as he held it ready, he looked with an expression of deepest anxiety, mingled with grief, on the face of the dying man. “Now, father,” he said, “there remains only one chapter; but you speak with difficulty, the exertion is too great.” “It is easy,” replied the monk, in feeble accents. “Take your pen; write--write as fast as you can.” Sentence after sentence flowed from the tremulous lips, and was committed to writing. There was a pause. Nature seemed exhausted. “Father,” said the scribe, with anxious tenderness, “only one sentence is now wanting--only one.” In faltering accents that sentence too was repeated. “It is finished,” said the scribe. “It is finished,” repeated the dying saint. “Lift up my head; higher yet; let me sit in my cell. Let me sit in the spot where I have been accustomed to pray. And now, Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost.” Thus died the venerable Bede; and thus was completed the first vernacular translation of a portion of God’s Word in this country. (Clerical Anecdotes.)
In what sense these words refer to the prophecies
All the Scripture prophecies which spoke of Christ’s death and sufferings were now accomplished, as
1. That He should make His entrance into Jerusalem upon an ass in humility (Zec 9:9, cf. Matthew 21:4-5).
2. That He should be betrayed by one of His familiars, His own disciple Psalms 55:12-13; Psa 41:9, cf. Matthew 26:23; Matthew 26:47).
3. That He should be sold for thirty pieces of silver (Zechariah 11:12, Matthew 26:15).
4. That with this price there should afterwards be bought a field of potsherds (Zec 11:13, cf. Matthew 27:7).
5. That being apprehended, He should be most barbarously entreated Isa 50:6, cf. Matthew 26:67).
6. That they would wound His body with scourges before they put Him to Isa 53:5, cf. Matthew 27:26).
7. That He should be put to death (Daniel 9:26).
8. That His death should be that of the cross (Psalms 22:16; Zec 12:10, cf. Luke 23:33).
9. That He was crucified between two malefactors was according to Isaiah 53:12 (cf. Luke 22:37)
10. That He was to pray for His enemies (Isa 53:12, cf. Luke 23:24).
11. That He should have vinegar to drink (Psa 69:21, cf. John 19:30).
12. That they should divide His apparel, and cast lots for His upper garment (Psa 22:18, cf. Matthew 27:35). (T. Manton, D. D.)
Christ finishing the types and prophecies
I will give the Old Testament to any wise man living and say, Go home and construct in your imagination an ideal character who shall exactly fit all that which is herein foreshadowed. Remember, he must be a prophet like unto Moses, and yet a champion like unto Joshua; he must be an Aaron and a Melchisedec; he must be both David and Solomon, Noah and Jonah, Judah and Joseph. Nay, he must not only be the lamb that was slain and the scapegoat that was not slain, the turtle dove and the priest that slew the bird, but he must be the altar, tabernacle, mercy-seat, and shewbread. Nay, to puzzle this wise man further, we remind him of prophecies so apparently contradictory that one would think they could never meet in one man. Such as these, “All men shall fall down before Him, &c., and “He is despised,” &c. He must begin by showing a man born of a virgin mother, He must be a man without spot or blemish, but one upon whom the Lord doth lay the iniquities of us all. He must be a glorious One, a Son of David, yet a root out of a dry ground. Now if the greatest intellects could set themselves to invent another key to the types and prophecies they could not do it. These wondrous hieroglyphics must be left unexplained till one comes forward and proclaims, “the Cross of Christ and the Son of God incarnate.” Then the whole is clear, so that he who runs may read, and a child may understand. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
And He bowed His head and gave up the ghost
The death of Christ
I. WHEN. Not till all was perfected.
(1) Love to His Father (John 18:11).
(2) Love to the Church (Ephesians 5:25-26; Revelation 1:5, Ephesians 5:27).
(3) Respect to the glory set before Him (Hebrews 12:2).
2. The lessons this teaches.
(1) Confidence in the benefit purchased.
(a) The wrath of God is appeased (Romans 5:9).
(b) The law is satisfied (Galatians 4:4-5).
(c) Satan is vanquished (John 12:31).
(d) Guilt is removed (Ephesians 1:7).
(e) Sin is subdued (Romans 6:6).
(f) Death is unstinged (1 Corinthians 15:55-57).
(g) The curse is removed (Galatians 3:13).
(2) Perseverance in duty that when we come to die we may be able John 17:4; 2 Timothy 4:7-8.
(3) Comfort in death. It finishes all our labours and sorrows, as
Christ shows when He gave up the ghost (Isaiah 57:2).
1. Freely and willingly. He first bowed His head in resignation, or as beckoning death to come and do its office, and then yielded up the ghost. Wicked men, because they die against their wills, their souls may be said to be taken away (Luke 12:20; Job 27:8). In Christ’s death, while there was much of violence, there was no coercion.
2. Why Christ was so willing to die.
(1) Out of obedience to the Father (Luke 24:46; Luke 24:46; John 10:18).
(2) Out of love to us (Matthew 20:28).
(3) To finish His labours. Death was Christ’s last enemy.
(4) To complete His triumph (Hebrews 2:14; Colossians 2:15).
(5) To enter into His glory.
III. THEIR USES.
1. To commend the love of Christ to us.
2. To comfort humbled sinners. Take Christ as freely as He offers Himself. He resigned Himself to death, and will you not resign yourselves by faith?
3. Learn to imitate Christ. (T. Manton, D. D.)
The death of Christ
I. ITS NATURE.
1. What is death? The dissolution of soul and body; departure from this world.
2. Christ experienced the usual accidents of death. His soul left His body and entered Hades; His body became inanimate.
3. But it is not the death of a man, but of a Divine Person--of the Lord of Glory, of the Son of God, of God. The Divine nature as little affected as the human soul. To this is due its infinite value and efficacy.
II. ITS DESIGN. In general the redemption of man, including deliverance from condemnation and restoration to the favour and image of God. This it effects
1. By being a satisfaction to justice, a propitiation.
2. And hence He becomes our ransom by delivering us from the law and from Satan.
3. Presents us righteous before God.
4. Secures the gift of the Holy Ghost.
5. Secures access to God, and with His favour all the blessings of the covenant of grace.
III. ITS RELATION TO US.
1. It is our death, because it was the death of our Representative, endured in our place.
2. Hence it is also our death effectively as well as legally. It involves a death to the law, to sin, to the world.
3. It becomes a source of life; the motive for avoiding sin; the reason why we should live to God; the ground and source of our joy.
IV. ITS RELATION TO THE UNIVERSE.
1. The great means of exhibiting the manifold wisdom, i.e., the perfections of God--to good and fallen angels, to lost men.
2. Hence to sustain the authority of God.
3. To promote the holiness and happiness of the kingdom of God.
V. INFERENCES. The death of Christ should be
1. The constant theme of our meditations.
2. The ground of gratitude and devotion.
3. The means whereby we should endeavour to convert the world. (C. Hodge, D. D.)
The death of Christ
The death of Socrates, peacefully philosophising among friends, appears the most agreeable that one could wish: that of Jesus, expiring in agonies, abused, insulted, and accursed by a whole nation, is the most horrible that one could fear. Socrates, indeed, in receiving the cup of poison, blessed the weeping executioner who administered it; but Jesus, amidst excruciating tortures, prayed for His merciless tormentors. Yes, if the life and death of Socrates were those of a sage, the life and death of Jesus are those of a God. (J. J. Rousseau.)
The Jews therefore because it was the preparation
Profanity of fanaticism
They must make ready for keeping holy the Sabbath while their hands are red with the murder of the Son of God.
A stroke of that Jewish hypocrisy which strains at gnats and swallows camels similar to John 18:28. These men considered themselves strictly bound to observe every jot and tittle of an outward ordinance, but never scrupled to violate the most weighty precepts of the moral law. They made no conscience of murdering an innocent Person, and yet could not think of letting His dead body hang upon the cross upon the Sabbath day. (W. H. Van Doren, D. D.)
The dead Christ
I. THE SIGHTS JOHN BEHELD (John 19:32-35).
1. The breaking of the robbers’ legs. How and why this came to pass the Evangelist explains; also how and why the operation was omitted in the case of Christ.
2. The piercing of the Saviour’s side. Not a slight scratch, but a strong thrust of a soldier’s lance, given to render assurance of Christ’s death doubly sure.
3. The streaming of blood and water from the wound--unusual, if not directly miraculous. As Christ’s body saw no corruption the change upon it which should culminate in a resurrection had begun. The water and the blood were an indication of the presence of that new life which was to issue in the transformation of what was earthly and corporeal into that which is heavenly and spiritual.
II. THE REFLECTIONS JOHN MADE (John 19:36-37; 1 John 5:6).
1. That Christ was the true Paschal Lamb. He arrived at this conclusion by observing the coincidence between the not breaking of Christ’s legs and the ancient paschal ordinance (Exodus 12:46). At the time perhaps it escaped his notice, but reflecting on it afterwards he saw in that seemingly accidental, but really providential, circumstance, “the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world.”
2. That Israel would one day be converted to Christ. John rememberedZechariah 12:10; Zechariah 12:10. Since the first part of the prophecy was undeniably fulfilled, he knew the other would be, and he had not long to wait. Within two months many of Christ’s murderers were crying, “What shall we do?” Acts 2:37). And the day will come when all shall cry it (Romans 11:25-26; 2 Corinthians 3:16).
3. That Christ crucified was an all-sufficient Saviour for men. This was suggested; if not then, afterwards, by streaming forth of blood and water, to cleanse and regenerate (1 John 5:6). (T. Whitelaw, D. D.)
A fragment of a wonderful history
I. THE IMMORALITY OF TECHNICAL SAINTHOOD. The Jews here were in a conventional and ceremonial sense great saints, and felt themselves such; albeit they were destitute of genuine morality, and in heart disregarded every precept of the decalogue. It has ever been so. There is a pietism which eats out the heart of humanity, and turns men into bigots and persecutors.
II. THE SERVILITY OF STATE HIRELINGS. The soldiers who crucified and pierced Christ had sold themselves to the state, and surrendered their whole individuality to their employers. The spirit of manhood was extinct; they had become machines to murder and kill. This is the curse of nations. In proportion to the servile spirit of a people is the strength of tyranny. Sycophancy paralyses patriotism. This is not unknown even in England.
III. THE CERTITUDE OF THE GREATEST FACT.
1. The greatest fact in history is the death of Christ. To it all past events pointed, and from it all future have their rise and take their date. It created moral influences which deepen every day.
2. The most competent witness of the fact was John. No one was
(1) More intellectually competent. No one was so much with Christ, and so intimately acquainted with Him.
(2) More morally competent. He was incorruptibly honest and incontrovertibly disinterested.
IV. THE PHILOSOPHY OF EVANGELICAL. PENITENCE (verse 37). He who looks with the eye of faith on the cross as the demonstration of human wickedness and the expression of God’s compassion for sinners, is in a way to have his heart broken with contrition for sin. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
Then came the soldiers and broke the legs--By no mode of judicial death has “man’s inhumanity to man” been more shown than by crucifixion.
It was a slow death by exhaustion and starvation. These processes were so slow, that when the crucified person was in ordinary health and vigour, invariably he survived the first twenty-four hours, lived generally over the second, occasionally even into the fifth or sixth day. “I was told,” says Captain Clapperton, speaking of the punishments in the Soudan, “that wretches on the cross generally linger three days before death puts an end to their sufferings.” In old times, at nightfall, when the crowd had gone home, and each head had found its soft pillow, the soldiers lighted their lanterns and waited. Through the frost of the night, through the fire of the day, then through another night and day, the man on the cross would be dying slowly, until the savage watchers, out of patience, would sometimes, not indeed for his sake, but for their own, by blow of mace or mallet, break his limbs; and the shock of this would shake out the last quivering spark of life. In this instance, besides the impatience of the soldiers, there was that of the people. Next day would be the Sabbath of the Passover, regarded as the great Sabbath of the year. According to their standard, it would have been desecration of this day if they had allowed a man to die on it by hanging on a tree. A deputation, therefore, waited on the governor, with an entreaty that the men who were on the crosses might be despatched at once, and their bodies taken away. He acceded to this; the order was forwarded to the soldiers; in carrying out this order they broke the legs, first of the malefactor on the one side, next of him on the other side of the central cross; but when they came to that they found that Jesus was dead already. (C. Stanford, D. D.)
One of the soldiers with a spear pierced His side
The piercing of Christ’s side
IT WAS AN ACT OF INSULT AND INDIGNITY TO HIS PERSON. To this, indeed, He was no stranger. In the hall of Pilate, and on the cross He encountered indignities of the cruellest kind. But, beyond the moment of death, the malice of His enemies pursued Him. We cannot behold the body, which the Holy Spirit had prepared, thus mangled, without the deepest sorrow and humiliation. We could not see the body of a convicted malefactor thus insulted without the deepest pity. “He was wounded for our transgressions.” Let us look to Him whom we pierced, and mourn because of Him. And let the believing contemplation of the wounds of Jesus teach us submission under the varied ills and sorrows of our own earthly lot.
II. IT ASCERTAINS, AND PLACES BEYOND QUESTION, THE REALITY OF HIS DEATH. On this some of the most important truths depend.
1. If He had not actually expired, there would have been no sacrifice at all. The true nature of a sacrifice is the actual dying of the victim. If, therefore, the death of Jesus were not put beyond all question, His doctrine might enlighten, and His example direct us, but we should have no assurance that an actual and efficient atonement had been made for sin.
2. The reality of our Lord’s death is essential to the confirmation of the hopes which are founded on His resurrection. If we could not show that death had actually taken place, “our preaching would be vain, your faith would be vain, and you would be yet in your sins.” The piercing of His side put His death beyond question. Believing that He “both died, and rose, and revived,” we look up to Him with sacred satisfaction and joy, and adore Him as “Lord both of the dead and of the living.”
III. IT WAS THE FULFILMENT OF ANCIENT PROPHECIES.
1. With respect to the first of these, it is obvious, that it is the prescription in reference to the Paschal Lamb that is pointed to. The executioner breaks the legs first of the one malefactor, and then of the other; but why does he stop short? Nobody interferes to arrest the fatal blow. But had it fallen the pretensions of Jesus to be the antitype of the Paschal Lamb, and consequently the Messiah of Israel, would have been for ever annulled. While, therefore, the executioner proceeds to do his work, an invisible Power interposed to restrain him. The honour of God’s Son was at stake--the comfort of the Church was in peril--the mission of Jesus must beestablished by the fulfilment of prophecy.
2. Nor is the piercing of His side a less remarkable fulfilment. In the accomplishing of the one, the soldier abstains from doing to Jesus what he had done to the others, and what he had been told to do to all; while, in accomplishing the other prophecy, another soldier does to him what he did not do to the others, and what he was not told to do. And by this opposite conduct of two Roman soldiers were two memorable predictions of God’s Word accomplished.
IV. IT WAS AN EMBLEM OF THE EXPIATORY AND PURIFYING VIRTUE OF HIS SACRIFICE. The piercing of his Master’s side, and the issuing of blood and water from the wound, made a deep and abiding impression on the mind of John, and we find him recurring to it in his first Epistle (verse 6). “This is He who came by water and blood.” In all languages water has been employed as an emblem of moral cleansing, while the universal prevalence of sacrifice has made blood the proper symbol of expiation. (J. Johnston.)
The piercing of Christ’s side
I. THE OCCASION. The scrupulosity of the Jews, which teaches us
1. That superstition is fuller of ceremony than of mercy.
2. That the worst of men are usually very solicitous about external worship.
3. That malefactors are not to be taken out of the hands of justice, and left to the malice of the executioner or the fury of the multitude. They had to ask leave of Pilate for the additional punishment.
4. That when a man once gives himself up to please men there is no end to his compliance. Pilate who began by consenting to scourge Christ ends by signing an order for the breaking of His legs.
5. That Christ was willing to die for us, hence He died before the usual time. Had His legs been broken His death would have seemed the effect of violence rather than His own resignation (John 10:18).
II. THE CIRCUMSTANCE.
1. AS an act of Christ’s love and condescension, that He would expose His body to the malice and violence of wicked men. He might have dried up the soldier’s arm as He did Jeroboams; but by this stroke Christ would have His heart opened to show how full of love He is to sinners. As at the beginning Adam’s side was opened and Eve was taken out of it; so is the Church out of Christ’s side. In this circumstance there is
(1) Hope for all wounded sinners. It is said of those converts (Acts 2:37) that “they were pricked to their hearts.” Christ’s heart is wounded that they might be healed. This is the cleft of the rock in which guilty men may find refuge when wrath makes inquisition for sinners.
(2) Matter of thankfulness. Soldiers to endear themselves to their country are wont to show their scars received in public service: so Christ (John 20:27). In the sacrament these things are presented to faith.
2. As a certain pledge of Christ’s death. The flowing of blood and water shows that the pericardium was pierced. So His enemies could not say that He was half dead, and that His resurrection was but a reviving out of a swoon. Upon this is based the Resurrection and all its benefits, and the fulness of the expiation which Christ offered to justice.
3. As a Divine necessity. Christ was to die
(1) As a Surety. We deserved death, but our Surety was to pay our debt. This Christ did (1 Peter 3:18; 1 Timothy 2:6).
(2) As a Testator or Maker of the New Testament. We could never have had the benefit of the Covenant if Christ had not died (Hebrews 9:16). (T. Manton, D. D.)
Forthwith came there out blood and water
Blood and water
In the water and the blood are represented the most essential elements of salvation. The water has a remote reference to baptism, but it chiefly symbolizes the moral purifying power of the word of Christ. The blood points out the ransom paid for our guilt, as well as the atoning sacrifice. The blood flowed separately from the water; justification must not be mingled with, much less substituted for, personal amendment. (F. Krummacher.)
The physical cause of the death of Christ
Since Dr. Stroud published his work on “The Physical Causes of Christ’s Death,” we have met with no doubt expressed as to the death of Christ having immediately resulted from rupture of the heart. “Joy, or grief, or anger, suddenly or intensely excited, have often been known to produce this effect. The heart, which the universal language of mankind has spoken of as peculiarly affected by the play of the passions, has been found in such cases to have been rent or torn by the violence of its own action. The blood issuing from the fissure thus created has filled the pericardium, or sac, by which the heart is enclosed, and by its pressure has stopped the action of the heart” (Dr. Hanna). Common sorrow can, in its sudden extremity, break hearts; why may not that sorrow, deep beyond all other sorrows, have broken His? We believe it did. Now, when blood escapes from its vessels, within a short time it coagulates, its watery part separating from the rest; and there would be, so science tells us, within an hour or two after death such a flow of blood and water from a piercing as that which John saw. The late Sir James Simpson has said on this matter: “It has always appeared, to my medical mind at least, that this mode by which death was produced in the human body of Christ intensifies all our thoughts and ideas regarding the immensity of the astounding sacrifice which He made for our sinful race on the cross. Nothing can possibly be more striking and startling than the appalling and terrific passiveness with which God as man submitted, for our sakes, His incarnate body to all the horrors and tortures of the Crucifixion. But our wonderment at the stupendous sacrifice only increases when we reflect that, whilst enduring for our sins the most cruel and agonizing form of corporeal death, He was ultimately slain, not by the effects of the anguish of His corporeal frame, but by the effects of the mightier anguish of His mind; the fleshly walls of His heart, like the veil, as it were, in the Temple of His human body, becoming rent and riven, as for us He poured out His soul unto death. ‘The travail of His soul’ in that awful hour thus standing out as unspeakably bitterer and more dreadful than the travail of His body.” (C. Stanford,D.D.)
And he that saw it bare record, and his record is true
The Gospel witness
THE SIGHT--the whole crucifixion, but especially what constituted its essence as an evangelical fact, viz., the issue of blood and water, an emphatic testimony to the Redeemer’s death. This is one of the most important texts of the Bible. If no one saw Christ die, how can we be sure that He did die; and unless we are sure of His death we are left in uncertainty as to His atonement and resurrection, and consequently as to our salvation and futurity. John saw a sight
1. Most wonderful. Great is the mystery of godliness all through--nowhere more than here. That God should become incarnate is inexplicable, no less so that being incarnate He should die. Learn here
(1) The limits of human reason.
(2) The very manhood of Christ.
2. Most painful--to all whose feelings are not utterly brutalized. The death-bed of an ordinary friend, or even a stranger, under the best circumstances, is sufficiently painful; but what must such a man as John have felt as he saw such a Friend nailed to the cruel tree? Learn here
(1) The inhumanity of man.
(2) The feelings with which we should contemplate Christ crucified.
3. Most beneficent. Such a mysterious scene enacted, and such dreadful sufferings endured voluntarily, must have been for some adequate purpose. Martyrdom for truth falls far short of it. The only adequate motive is Joh 3:16; 1 John 2:2. God incarnate was crucified to save a world.
II. THE TRUE RECORD.
1. Such an event actually took place.
(1) John could not have been mistaken; if the senses were deceptive here, when all was so striking, then they are trustworthy nowhere.
(2) John was not a madman--his Gospel and Epistles are a sufficient proof of that.
(3) John was not a deceiver; he suffered the loss of all things, and imperilled his life for the sheer sake of recording what he saw.
2. What took place John was bound to record.
(1) Not simply as an important historical fact, although he had responsibilities here.
(2) But as a display of Divine mercy, and the sole means of human salvation. “Woe is me,” he might have said, “if I write not the gospel.”
3. This record he knew to be true. Because
(1) He saw what he recorded.
(2) He knew that he was a truthful man.
(3) Reading what he had written he was sure that it was in accordance with the whole of the facts. Nothing essential was omitted; nothing false or superfluous was included.
III. THE EVANGELICAL PURPOSE.
1. Not personal display. John was a deep thinker and a graphic writer; but it was the furthest from his intention to pose as a philosopher, or to excite admiration as a rhetorician.
2. Not to excite emotion. How different the narrative from the scenic and heart-harrowing descriptions in books of devotion and pulpit declamations.
3. But to create belief. Hence the record is clear, earnest, tender, and full of subtle spiritual influence.
Learn the qualifications of a true Gospel witness.
1. He must have actually seen what he endeavours to describe. Theory and hearsay are worthless here. There must be clear, positive experience of Christ crucified.
2. Fidelity. He must confine himself to what he has seen--not his fancies or speculations, but what he knows of Christ’s love and salvation.
3. A sense of responsibility. He has a medicine that has cured him, and can cure every one. He is wicked therefore to keep it to himself.
4. A sincere and self-abnegating motive--not to court admirers but to win believers. (J. W. Burn.)
The evidences of truth
The truth we receive from another may either derive its authority from the teacher, or reflect on him the authority it contains. As the receiver of money may argue, either that money is good because it is an honest man who pays it, or that the man is honest because he pays good money, so in the communication of truth, it may be a valid inference, either that the doctrine is true because it is a trustworthy man who teaches it, or that the man who teaches it is a veracious and trustworthy because his doctrine is true. (J. Caird, D. D.)
Testimony dependent on the character of the witness
Dr. Weyland was once lecturing on the weight of evidence furnished by human testimony, and was illustrating its sufficiency for establishing the truth of miracles. “But,” said one of his students, “what would you say, doctor, if I stated that as I was coming up College Street, I saw the lamp-post at the corner dance?” “I should ask you where you had been, my son,” was the quiet reply.
A bone of Him shall not be broken
The inviolate body of Christ
1. His enemies might tear His flesh, &c., take away His life, heap upon Him every dishonour, but they could not break a bone of the body of Jesus. An attempt was made. Pilate commanded the soldiers to break the legs of the crucified. This was done to the two malefactors, but when they came to Jesus they could not break His legs. Roman soldiers were not accustomed to break the commands of their governors; but there stood what was mightier than the governor, mightier than Caesar: a text of Scripture.
2. From the manner in which the Evangelist speaks, it is evident that there is some important lesson to learn (John 19:35). The evangelists generally are content with a simple statement, and leave it to produce upon the reader its own impression; but here, as if there were important things that must be believed, he stays, contrary to his usual manner, to asseverate. Now, what are the lessons?
I. THAT CHRIST, OUR PASSOVER, IS SACRIFICED FOR US. Notice
1. A peculiarity of John. He appears as if he had gone back to the days of his youth, and the events were all passing before him. Matthew, Mark, and Luke wrote as historians, but John as a witness. He saw and felt it all again. He says: “Then came the soldiers,”--and what did they do? They brake the legs of the two malefactors? That would have been Matthew’s way of putting it. But John says, “and brake the legs of the first.” That is done; “and of the other that was crucified with him.” That is done. “But when they came to Jesus,”--he watches them coming--“and saw”--He observed their looks--“that He was dead already;” there was the certain expression of death on the countenance of the blessed Saviour that could not be mistaken; and the soldiers were sure He was dead; and John was sure too. And so “they brake not His legs.” It does not seem as an afterthought, nor as though he was hunting for an argument, but just then, while he was looking on, the law of the Passover was suggested to his mind, and he felt something like this: “There is the fulfilment of Scripture there; not a bone of Him is broken. There is the Passover slain for us.”
2. There was everything to remind John of the Passover. He had eaten the Passover with Christ the night before. Friends of his from Galilee had come up to keep the Passover; before them all, Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed; it was the great paschal day.
3. And what is the lesson for us? Christ was the Paschal Lamb of the Christian Church. Through the shedding of His blood we plead for mercy; the avenging angel passes by; the wrath of God is averted; there is no demand for death; peace and joy may remain in our houses.
(1) Do not reply; you are not one of the elect, and have no right to plead it. “As Moses lifted up the serpent … that whosoever”--is not that enough? As certainly as the Hebrew in Egypt was safe under the sign of the blood of the paschal lamb, so certainly may you repose in perfect security by pleading the precious blood of Christ your Passover, sacrificed for you.
(2) But you tell me that the Egyptians could have no benefit from the paschal lamb. So far I agree; but I will venture to say, that if some Egyptian, hearing and believing the proclamation of Moses, had slain a lamb and sprinkled his door-posts with its blood, the angel of death would have respected that sign. So I say, be you who you may, only come in upon the proclamation of mercy, and lay hold on everlasting life, and you will not be disappointed.
II. THAT NO DISHONOUR WHATSOEVER WAS TO BE DONE TO THE BODY OF JESUS AFTER HIS spirit had departed.
1. His life was gone, and He was no longer a consenting party. The dishonour as well as the agony He suffered was meritorious, and by it He was perfected in obedience, and was working out our salvation; but there can be nothing meritorious in any sufferings of a dead body; and therefore the body was, after death, under the guardian care of His heavenly Father; and so it was honoured in every possible way. Observe this in the narrative. What a contrast was there between the morning and the evening of that Friday! In the morning He is hung on a malefactor’s cross; in the evening He is lying in the rich man’s tomb. Great purposes were accomplished by the dishonour. “Who, when He was reviled, reviled not again,” &c. He endured the cross, and despised the shame, and showed the meekness and gentleness of His forgiving spirit when others were insulting Him. After death there could be no such object to accomplish.
2. The contrast is very remarkable; but observe how it is brought about. What was to become of the body of Jesus? It was not uncommon to leave the bodies hanging, the prey of carrion birds and ravenous beasts. But it was the great feast-time of the Jews, and it would have been a pollution to have allowed the bodies to remain there. What was to become of Jesus? There was a friend of His, a member of the Sanhedrim, who had the right to go to Pilate and ask a favour; “a disciple, but secretly, for fear of the Jews.” A man afraid to avow himself a disciple before the Jews, would he avow himself a disciple before Pilate? Well, he did so. God is never at a loss for an instrument, and sometimes He employs the most unlikely. Nicodemus also was emboldened now, and so the two, and the servants, could thus reverently take down the body of Jesus, and convey it to the tomb with every possible honour. It was as if God had marked His approval of the great work which Jesus had finished. He has not long to lie in the tomb, but every honour shall be done Him while He is there. His body saw no corruption. (R. Halley, D. D.)
They shall look on Him whom they have pierced
Looking at the pierced One
The text in relation
TO THE JEWS.
1. In relation to the past. It was the fulfilment of prophecy. Zechariah Zechariah 12:10) had predicted what they would do. Christ honours Scripture even in His death, and makes even His enemies contribute to its fulfilment.
2. In relation to the present.
(1) Some looked regretfully. They had trusted that He would have redeemed Israel.
(2) Some looked remorsefully. One cannot but believe that there were misgivings in the breasts of other actors in this grim tragedy, than in those of the Centurion and Judas.
(3) But the evidence goes to show that most looked maliciously and murderously, and had no compunctions for their awful crime.
3. In relation to the future.
(1) In the immediate future some looked on Jesus as set forth by Peter evidently crucified, and cried, “What shall we do?” and were saved (Acts 2:1-47.); and many more through the instrumentality of Paul.
(2) In the remote future. “All Israel shall be saved,” if not as a race, as penitent believers, “looking unto Jesus.”
II. TO SINNERS GENERALLY. Inasmuch as sin was the moving cause of the Crucifixion, and the Jews were literal actors, not simply as Jews, but as wicked men, so the guilt of that crime rests upon the sinful race of men. Men look on Him whom they have pierced.
1. Now. Where Christ is known at all He is the central, all-commanding figure. All men must look, whether they like it or not.
(1) Some look, and then look away--indifferent to His agonies and to the salvation they procured. Self-righteousness is sufficient, or salvation procured in that way a superfluity. “Is it nothing to you all ye that pass by?”
(2) Some look and scoff. The Cross is still a stumbling-block or foolishness to infidels, or profane, or hypercritical persons. The offence of the Cross has not ceased.
(3) Some look, and are softened into penitence, encouraged to believe and live.
2. Hereafter. All shall some day look again (Revelation 1:7); but the Pierced One will occupy not a Cross but a Throne, and will be seen either as a Judge, saying, “Depart ye cursed,” or as an everlasting Saviour saying, “Come ye blessed.” Which will He be to you? You may learn from your present attitude. (J. W. Burn.)
Looking and learning
I. THEY AWAKEN HALLOWED SORROW. Sorrow for sin is the germ of repentance. True repentance flows from the Cross.
II. THEY KINDLE ENLIVENING HOPE. Christ was pierced, not only by man, but for man, and by His stripes we are healed.
III. THEY NERVE US TO SUBMISSION. How patiently Christ submitted.
IV. THEY EXCITE US TO ZEAL. He laid down His life in His Father’s work. Should we not give up our gratifications for Him?
V. THEY RECONCILE US TO DEATH. It is not likely we shall die so painful a death as Christ did. But by death He conquered. Through Him we shall through death obtain a crown. (The Homilist.)
And after this, Joseph of Arimathea, being a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews
A threefold power
THE POWER OF WORLDLINESS. Both of these men had opportunities of being convinced of Christ’s Messiah-ship, and both were in sympathy with Him, yet neither made a public avowal of discipleship. There were perhaps, three elements of worldliness that influenced them in the matter.
1. The love of wealth. Confession of Christ meant excommunication and the spoiling of goods. Hence Christ reminded His hearers of the sacrifices they would have to make, but neither Joseph nor Nicodemus had the moral courage to make them.
2. The desire for popularity. They occupied high positions and had the honour of the populace. Had they followed Christ they would have lost both, and loving the praise of men more than of God, had not the moral strength to make the sacrifice. There are three classes of men:
(1) Those who have no moral convictions--the largest class.
(2) Those who have moral convictions, but not enough courage to avow them. There are many such in parliament and the pulpit.
(3) Those who have moral convictions and carry them out regardless of the frowns of men. These are the heroes, reformers and saviours of the world; and also the smallest class.
3. The power of caste. They were members of the highest class of Jewish society--a class which, as a whole, was malignantly hostile to Christ. Because “none of the rulers believed on Him,” these men were too weak to pronounce for Him. These three elements are as strong here as there, now as then.
II. THE POWER OF THE CROSS. There was something about Christ’s death which roused these men to manly exertion, and two wonders connected with the Crucifixion were calculated to produce this effect.
1. The material. The rending of the veil, the earthquake, &c., must have produced some impression on the most sceptical, much more on those in whom lurked a secret love.
2. The moral. His moral Majesty, His prayer, His last words--in all these there was a “still small,” soul-penetrating voice, which must have affected these men. As they now handled the mangled frame, self-reproachful tears would fall. Thus the power of the Cross overcame, and is the only power to overcome the power of the world.
III. THE POWER OF PENITENCE. Now Christ is dead their consciences are stirred to their centre. Is it not always so with those who have neglected a true friend when he is gone?
1. It forced them to a compensatory effort, Nothing too good for Him now. Conscience will sooner or later drive a man to his duty.
2. The compensatory effort came too late. Of what use was the costly embalmment now! How often this is the case now! (D. Thomas, D. D.)
There are six remarkable particulars about this funeral.
1. The preparations that were made for it.
(1) His body could not be buried till, by begging, his friends had obtained it as a favour from Pilate.
(2) And when they had gotten it, they wind it in fine linen with spices. But what need of spices? His own love was perfume enough to keep it sweet in remembrance of His people to all generations. However, by this they will manifest the dear affection they have for Him.
2. The bearers--Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus. None could imagine that ever they would have gone boldly to manifest their love to Christ, when dead, who were afraid to come to Him (except by night) when He was living, when those that made open confessions of Him are gone.
3. The attendants who followed the hearse--the women that followed Him out of Galilee.
4. The sepulchre.
(1) It was another’s. As He lived in other men’s houses, so He lay in another man’s tomb.
(2) It was a new tomb; for had any other been laid there before Him, it might have been averred that it was some former body, and not the Lord’s, that rose.
5. The disposition of the body. There is no mention made of the tears, yet we may well presume they were not wanting in plentiful expressions of their sorrow (Luke 23:48).
I. WHY HAD CHRIST ANY FUNERAL AT ALL, since He was to rise again?
1. To ascertain His death, else it might have been looked upon as a cheat. Now, since our eternal life is wrapt up in Christ’s death, it can never be too firmly established.
2. To fulfil the types and prophecies that went before (Matthew 12:40; Isaiah 53:9).
3. To complete His humiliation. Lower He could not be laid.
4. That He might conquer death in its own dominion; which victory furnisheth the saints with that triumphant song (1 Corinthians 15:55).
II. WHAT MANNER OF FUNERAL CHRIST HAD.
1. It was very obscure and private. Here was no external pomp. Christ affected it not in His life, and it was no way suitable to the ends and manner of His death.
(1) The dead body of the Lord was not brought from His own house as other men’s commonly are, but from the tree. Had they not obtained this favour from Pilate, it must have been tumbled into a pit under the cross.
(2) It was attended with a very poor train; a few sorrowful women. Other men are accompanied to their graves by their relations and friends. The disciples were afraid to own Him dying, and dead.
(3) It was done in great haste. Time was short; they take the next sepulchre they can get, and hurry Him away that evening into it. Thus was the Prince of the kings of earth, who hath the keys of death and hell, laid into His grave.
2. Yet though men could bestow little honour upon it, the heavens bestowed several marks of honour upon it.
(1) A miraculous eclipse put the heavens and earth into mourning.
(2) The rending in twain of the veil showed that all ceremonies were now accomplished and abolished.
(3) The opening of the graves showed the design and end of Christ’s going into it.
1. Was Christ buried in this manner? Then a decent and mournful funeral (where it can be had) is very laudable among Christians.
2. Did Joseph and Nicodemus so boldly appear, at a time of so much danger, to beg the body and give it a funeral? Let it be for ever a caution to strong Christians not to despise or glory over the weak.
3. Hence we may be assisted in discerning the depths of Christ’s humiliation for us, and see from what to what this love brought Him.
4. From this funeral of Christ results the purest and strongest consolation and encouragement to believers against the fears of death and the grave.
(1) The grave received, but could not destroy, Jesus Christ; and as it fared with Christ’s body personal, so it shall with Christ’s body mystical (1 Corinthians 15:20).
(2) As the union betwixt the body of Christ and the Divine nature was not dissolved, so the union between Christ and believers cannot be when their bodies shall be laid in their graves.
(3) As Christ’s body did there rest in hope, so it shall fare with the dead bodies of the saints (Psalms 16:9-11).
(4) Christ’s lying in the grave hath changed the nature of the grave, so that it is not what it was. It was once a part of the curse, but now it is no prison but a bed of rest; yea, and a perfumed bed (Isaiah 57:2; Psalms 23:4).
5. Since Christ was laid in His grave, and His people reap such privileges by it, as ever you expect rest or comfort in your graves, see that you get union with Christ now.
(1) The covenant of God holds firmly with our very dust (Matthew 22:31-32; Romans 14:7-9). That dust is still the Lord’s.
(2) As God’s covenant with our very bodies is indissolvable, so God’s love to our very dust is inseparable (Romans 8:33).
(3) As God’s love will be with you in the grave, so God’s providence shall take order when it shall be digged for you; not till you are fit to be put into Job 5:26; Acts 13:36).
(4) When ever you come to your graves, you shall find the enmity of the grave slain by Christ (1 Corinthians 3:21-22).
(5) Christ keeps the keys of all the chambers of death, and as He unlocks the door of death, when He lets you in so He will open it again for you when you awake, to let you out; He Himself wakes and watches by you while you sleep there (Revelation 1:18). (J. Flavel.)
The burial of Christ
Of all the scenes of common life, there is none so affecting and instructive as the funeral of a friend. When heroes or a beloved monarch go to their last home, thousands gather round the tomb. Shall the great Saviour and King of men have no one among us to lament His death?
I. THE CIRCUMSTANCES ATTENDING HIS BURIAL.
1. The persons who are bearing the blessed Jesus to His tomb. And who are they? The disciples? These “all forsook Him and fled;” and now He is dead, they leave His body to be mourned over and buried by others. But though, in the hour of need, they desert us who ought to be the first to minister to our necessities, yet “the Lord will provide.”
2. The time in which Jesus was interred. “The Jews’ preparation day,” and the people were now attending the service of the Temple; but Joseph and Nicodemus were not among them. They offered to God a more acceptable service than prayers and sacrifice; but having buried the Saviour, all their love for Him could not bring them to His tomb till the Sabbath was ended. Thus did they manifest the ardour of their affection, and at the same time admonish us to suppress the noblest feelings of our nature, rather than violate the command of God.
3. The place where the Lord was interred.
(1) A garden on the very hill on which He was crucified. It was right that the place where He suffered the greatest ignominy should be the first scene of His glory.
(2) His sepulchre was “hewn out in a rock.” A body could not hastily be removed from such a sepulchre by a subterraneous passage, nor could the disciples enter unperceived.
II. WHY WAS HE THUS BURIED?
1. That the prophecies concerning the Messiah should be fulfilled.
2. To prove the reality of His death.
3. To comfort His people in the prospect of death.
III. THE EFFECTS WHICH A CONTEMPLATION OF THE SAVIOUR’S TOMB SHOULD PRODUCE ON US.
1. A penitential sorrow for all the injuries we have done Him, and all the pain we have given Him.
2. Joy that His sufferings are past and His happiness begun.
3. An earnest desire to be where He is and to behold His glory.
4. The deepest anxiety to be prepared for our own latter end. (C. Bradley, M. A.)
The burial of Jesus
I. THE DESCENT FROM THE CROSS (John 19:38):
1. By whom effected. Joseph, assisted by Nicodemus, John, and the women.
(1) A native of Ramathaim in Ephraim, the birthplace of Samuel.
(2) A rich man, which rendered his service a signal display of courage, a true token of inherent nobility, a striking companion-picture to the Magi at Christ’s birth, and a beginning of fulfilment for Isaiah’s oracle concerning His death (Isaiah 53:9).
(3) A member of the Sanhedrim, though probably not present when Christ was pronounced guilty of death (cf. Luke 23:50, with Mt Mark 14:64)
(4) A good man; one of the few who kept God’s commandments, and waited for the consolation of Israel (Luke 1:6; Luke 1:24).
(5) A secret disciple--like others of the rulers (John 12:42); e.g., Nicodemus, whose faith waxed stronger as Christ’s cause grew darker.
2. When attempted. After Christ’s death, which happened about 3 p.m. Obtaining leave from Pilate, he would then concert with Nicodemus about purchasing the linen cloth, &c. It would then be approaching even.
3. How carried out. The Evangelist is silent; but from the performers, we may conclude, with reverence, tenderness, and tears.
II. THE EMBALMMENT (verse 39, 40). Nicodemus now steps into the foreground.
1. His person identified. The same mentioned in chap. 3.
2. His courage emphasized--in contrast with that interview.
3. His love proclaimed. With no straitened hand he carries out his heart’s design.
4. His reverence recorded. Along with the others he proceeds to embalm the corpse. First they lay the body on the white winding-sheet. Next the women, it may be supposed, take the smaller cloths from Nicodemus, and, filling them with aromatic powder, wrap them around its members. After this Joseph folds around it his great white sheet, and the work is complete.
III. THE INTERMENT (verses 41, 42).
1. The place of sepulture.
(1) A garden grave. In a garden death achieved its first victory. It was fitting that in a garden that victory should be reversed.
(2) A strange grave. In another grave He is laid, who died for another’s guilt.
(3) An honourable grave. He who died on a cross between malefactors is laid in a just man’s tomb.
(4) A new grave. It was congruous that He who was a new Man (sinless), born in a new way (of a virgin), who had died a new death (for sin not His own), and who was to rise unto a new life (of glory and immortality) should rest in a new tomb.
(5) A near grave. Close to Jerusalem as ours is to the heavenly city.
2. The funeral procession. Contrast it with that of the great, even the wicked great. Lessons:
1. The overruling providence of God in the fulfilment of Scripture.
2. The guarantee that the sinner’s debt has been paid.
3. The transformation of the grave. (T. Whitelaw, D. D.)
Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus at the burial of Jesus
At first, it may disturb your sense of proportion to see the names of two mere men in such a connection; thinking that no name but His own should be mentioned. You care to know nothing about them, and have eyes, ears, heart for nothing but one solemnity. We shall, however, not be out of order, nor break any canon of Christian good taste by taking emphatic notice of them.
I. BEFORE THE DEATH OF JESUS THESE TWO RULERS had been His secret disciples.
1. Foremost in the transaction we see Joseph. When we are told that fear kept him from avowing his discipleship, we are tempted at once to pass sentence upon him. But it may have been a fear natural to a mental sensitive plant, shrinking from every rough wind and every random touch--a fear fostered by an atmosphere of reverence, and heightened by anexquisite, pain at the thought of difference between himself and other men. The companion of Joseph was Nicodemus, a man like himself in station, in wealth, and in being “a disciple of Jesus, but secretly.”
2. These men were no worse than multitudes are now who pass as irreproachable. Many an undergraduate, many a man fighting his way through the earlier stages of a profession, having in his heart “some good thing toward the Lord God of Israel,” holds it secretly, out of the fear inspired by his social surroundings. Many a Christian, now loud in profession, great in repute, had he lived in the days of the Incarnation would have received no nobler notice than this--“a disciple of Jesus, but secretly.” How would it have been with you? How is it with you now? “Let him who is without fault among you cast the first stone.”
II. THE DEATH OF JESUS ROUSED THE TWO SECRET DISCIPLES TO DECLARE THEMSELVES.
1. It is remarkable that the first fact recorded in Christian history after the death of Christ is one that warns us against being merely secret disciples. Grace is not a treasure to be “hid in the earth in the midst of the tent.” Faith will not stay shut up in the heart any more than a seed will stay shut up in the soil. Sometimes, indeed, a seed may be dropped in some deep furrow where the clods harden over it, until a tearing storm fetches it out into light. Sometimes a Christian may be like that seed, and a storm of trouble may be needed to reveal him. At the Crucifixion such a storm burst upon these two disciples.
2. Look at Joseph. No one had suspected a stain on this white flower of the Hebrew aristocracy; no one had dreamt of anything on this soul of honour that could fear the world or shun the daylight; and perhaps, owing to the heart’s deceitfulness, he had hardly thought of it himself; but when at length the Saviour in whom he had secretly trusted was put to death, the shock woke him up. Then, with pangs of burning shame, he would say, “What a terrible coward I have been!” Besides his sorrow on this account, he must have been sorry on his own--how much he had lost! The instructions, comforts, helps that open disciples had enjoyed. Never once had he said, “Jesus, I love Thee”; never once had he heard Jesus say, “Go in peace!”
3. The heroism of faith is almost always kindled by desperate circumstances. The heroism of Joseph began in Christ’s hour of darkness. When the only voice lifted up for Him all that day had been the voice of a dying thief--then it was that he openly declared himself. He had “waited for the kingdom;” and perhaps this poor man’s prayer made him resolve to identify himself with the King. “Boldly” is the fit word for describing his errand to Pilate. Such a request, in later days, has cost men their lives. But the brave deed was successful. At the same time it helped to kindle similar courage in the heart of Nicodemus. They had often met in the high places of life, each knowing the other had faith in Christ that he was afraid to profess; they now met at the cross as at the altar of decision. (C. Stanford, D. D.)
Joseph of Arimathea
In this and parallel passages we have all that is recorded about the burial of Christ. Two things of importance were secured by Joseph’s interposition here.
(1) Through him we obtain an official attestation of Christ’s death, which was hardly to be expected at so early a stage.
(2) Through him the body of our Lord was saved from further indignity. We have here the illustration of
I. THE SLOW PROCESS BY WHICH SOME ARE BROUGHT TO A KNOWLEDGE OF THE TRUTH.
1. Joseph was one of that class to which belonged Simeon and Nathanael. After Christ’s ministry began, he became a secret disciple, convinced that Jesus was the Messiah. Did not confess, but kept from complicity in the conspiracy of the rulers. Deterred by dread of singularity and love of caste.
The last stage, that of open sympathy with Christ, was reached and revealed by this act.
2. There are some Christians who cannot recall the time when they did not love and follow Christ. Others, once avowed enemies, have reached almost at a bound the position of open confessors; while others have attained only after long hesitation, and through many difficulties.
II. HOW THE VERY EXTREMITY OF A CAUSE BRINGS FRESH ADHERENTS FROM UNEXPECTED QUARTERS. Who would have thought that members of the Sanhedrim would be the first to identify themselves? Neither the enthusiasm of the people nor the malice of the rulers sufficed to bring matters to a crisis with Joseph. But now, when Christ is dead, and, seemingly, his cause too, hesitation is changed to decision.
1. Something similar has often happened in struggles for national liberty. When things have come almost to a hopeless extremity dormant patriotism has been roused.
2. So in persecution for Christ’s sake; as martyrs have laid down their lives others have taken their places.
3. So in the spiritual; so long as men only admire in Jesus the perfect character, &c., they may not be prepared to sacrifice much; but let them apprehend Him dying for sin, and they will be ready to brave all obloquy for His sake.
III. HOW THE TRUE CHARACTER OF A MAN MAY BE MANIFESTED IN A SINGLE ACT. Joseph’s intercourse with the counsellers did not reveal all that he was; only at the cross were disclosed his nobility, courage, faith. How many pass a quiet life among their fellows, who little know what spirit they are of. Revealing epochs occur in most lives. Sometimes brought about by sudden affliction, or change in circumstances, or temptation. (M. Hutchison.)
Joseph of Arimathea
is not mentioned in Scripture except in connection with the part which he acted in the burial of Christ; and his conduct in that transaction was so worthy of a disciple that his praise will always remain in the Churches of God. Indeed, as if Scripture had not said enough of him, legend has supplied the defect. It is fabled that he came over to England and founded the first English abbey--that of Glastonbury; and some remains of an ancient building still bear the name of the Chapel of Saint Joseph. Tradition further reports that Joseph, when resting on his journey at this place, struck his staff into the ground, which took root and became the famous Glastonbury thorn, which blossomed every Christmas, and being the frequent resort of pilgrims, brought much gain to the crafty inventors of the story. Such vanities a sounder faith has taught us to reject; and refusing the additions of men to hold fast the acknowledged truth of God. Joseph of Arimathea was a rich man, an honourable counsellor, a member of the Sanhedrim, but one who consented not to the deed of his colleagues. He was a good man and a just. He had been timorous when the rest were bold; and now he becomes bold when they yield to fear. (J. Fawcett, M. A.)
One Joseph is appointed to take charge of Jesus in His infancy, and another is raised up to provide for His burial. (W. H. Van Doren.)
I. WHY MANY BELIEVERS PREFER SECRET ATTACHMENT TO OPEN DISCIPLESHIP. Possibly it is
1. The stringency of His requirements.
2. Shame at association with one of so lowly an origin, or so radical a reformer. Joseph would feel the force of these difficulties.
3. Fear of
(1) Being accounted presumptuous for attempting to lead instead of to follow.
(2) Being accounted righteous overmuch.
(3) Not being able to maintain consistency. They cannot trust God’s grace to keep them from bringing disgrace on the Church.
4. Because of wrong ideas about Christianity.
5. Because of the inconsistency of professors.
6. Because they do not see the need of open discipleship.
7. Because there is no fervency of love to Christ.
II. HOW FAR CHRIST RECOGNIZES SECRET DISCIPLESHIP. Let us see if we find any hint in the affirmative.
1. In the subsequent history of Joseph. We know little about him except that he gave to Christ, “who had had the death of a malefactor, the burial of a king;” but in this he seems to have had no hope in the Resurrection. No mention is made of Christ’s appearance to Joseph. If the tradition that he founded Glastonbury Abbey be credited, it only shows that he had shaken off his secret discipleship. Had his secret discipleship been intentional to help Christ as Hushai helped David, or Blonde de Nesle Coeur de Lion, there might possibly be some hope of recognition. But it is an absurd idea that Christ wishes us to appear worldly, and hide our religion, to advance his course.
2. There is no suggestion of the recognition of secret discipleship in any of Christ’s utterances. He claims open attachment--“Follow Me,” “Whosoever shall be ashamed of Me,” &c.
3. In the nature of things it is improbable that Christ should recognize it. Suppose Christianity is weak we ought to side with it because it is right. Sympathy with, and appreciation of, Christ demand it. (F. Hastings.)
A secret disciple
A native gentleman, a writer in the Missionary News relates, was taken seriously ill, and requested one of the Orissa missionaries to visit him. In the course of conversation the missionary offered to lend him any book in his library that would be likely to interest and profit him. “I have a large number of books with which to instruct and exercise the intellect, but,” added he, with emphasis, “When I want food for my soul I go to the Bible; there only,” pointing to a copy of the English Bible which lay on the table, “I get something to warm my heart.” When pressing on him the importance and necessity of making a public profession of his attachment to Christ, he said with tears, “God, who searcheth the heart, knoweth that I am a heathen but in name; that my trust, my heart, are fixed on Him to whom I offer my daily prayer, and in whose mercy alone I trust. And it is my hope and intention, by the help of God, one day to make a public avowal of this my faith.” (J. L. Nye.)
There came also Nicodemus (Text and Joh_3:1; Joh_7:50-51).
The courage-inspiring power of the cross
Each of these passages contains a vivid picture, and together they unfold the progressive spiritual experience of the man portrayed. In the first the night silence is broken by the footsteps of one who steals along, afraid, to the great Teacher. In the second, in the council-chamber of the supreme assembly of the nation, He interposes a trembling word of expostulation at a gross illegality, a word which brings down on its utterer a storm of indignation, but cannot be recalled; it shows that, though amongst His enemies, Nicodemus is at heart a friend of Jesus. In the third, at Calvary. Two men in the garb of rulers appear, and, braving the shame and scorn, advance, and with reverent gentleness take the Body down, and bear it away to the sepulchre. And of those--the two most courageous hearts in all Judaea at that moment--Nicodemus was one.
I. THE RULER’S SECRET APPLICATION TO CHRIST.
1. There was at heart a secret longing for what only Christ could give. No one would have supposed that Nicodemus was unsatisfied; he seems to have had almost every temporal good. But He had hours of anxious wondering, seasons when His thirsty soul turned away from earth as from broken cisterns which could hold no water, and a conviction that somehow what he so much wanted this Teacher sent from God could give. How little we know what is going on in those around us I No one could have thought this of Nicodemus.
2. But the gratification of that longing was opposed by great difficulties. No soul can try to make its way to Christ without finding an enemy there to prevent it; but in the case of some--those whose circle is more or less antagonistic to Christ; whose training has led them to believe that morality is enough--who have taken a position in a contrary direction from which it is hard to recede; the difficulties are almost overwhelming. They are illustrated here. This man was “a Pharisee;” as such he had set ideas on the subject of religion, was one of the council of the LXX. and a doctor of the law. Hardly anything can be more difficult than for a man, perhaps an old man, who has prided himself on his beliefs, to come to say, “Perhaps after all I am wrong, at least I am not satisfied, teach me and let me learn,” but when one knows that he must have Christ or perish, he makes short work with these barriers.
3. When these difficulties were broken through, Christ received and taught the applicant. He might have said, “Come to Me by day, I am tired and would rest,” or, “Why should I forego repose to listen to a Pharisee?” He might have upbraided him with his fear, or questioned his sincerity. Christ did none of these, “He will not break the bruised reed,” &c. How full of help are the words, “The same came to Jesus by night”! Many come by day, and we see them. There are others whom we do not see, and wonder they do not come; perhaps they come to Jesus by night. All who come as he did, are welcomed as he was.
II. THE RULER’S UNCONSCIOUS CONFESSION OF ATTACHMENT TO CHRIST. What was the immediate result of the interview we are left to imagine; but that is not difficult. Christ gave him instruction because He recognized in him a sincere seeker, and we cannot doubt that from that time Nicodemus was at heart a disciple of Jesus. But he makes no stand; months pass; he is in the council-chamber, the hatred of his colleagues to Christ breaks out in a storm, and then in spite of himself he lets fall a word which reveals that secretly he is on the Lord’s side. But why secretly? Many here may know what it would cost to stand fearlessly forward as the humble champion of righteousness in the social circle or in public, and they find the answer there. But let me remind you that such a position
1. Is one of great injustice to Christ. If we were to judge by those whom we see come forward, we should be obliged to say that comparatively few are brought to Christ when early life is passed. I have rarely seen a man of years, and position, and learning take it for the first time; and when then, we ask, Are such men past hope? we think of Nicodemus and believe there are many whose surrender to Christ is the secret of their own soul. Such do not reflect how unjust that secrecy is. We cannot estimate what would have been the consequence if Nicodemus had come boldly out at first; many of the rulers secretly believed, and only wanted a fearless leader. He who has deigned to receive us has a right to expect that we let men know what He has done for us.
2. Involves considerable pain to the man himself. Those months in which this Jewish councillor kept his allegiance to Christ a secret must have been months of great discomfort. He could not listen to debates from which he revolted, nor walk the streets and be regarded as one of those who were against Christ, without a guilty conscience. Let one live below what he knows God requires, and from that moment his happiness is doomed.
3. Is a position of great peril to spiritual hope. “Whoso shall confess Me,” &c. Confession of Christ is indispensable to salvation because it is the necessary result of that union with Christ in which salvation consists.
III. THE RULER’S OPEN AVOWAL OF DISCIPLESHIP TO CHRIST. There is a point where the real disciple must emerge from secrecy. Where is it? Where he has a vision of Jesus crucified. We lose our courage because we do not look at the cross. There are mainly three hindrances to confession of Christ, and the cross conquers them all.
1. The cross is a declaration of redemption. That meets the difficulty in uncertainty as to our position. Many a one feels that he cannot acknowledge that he is redeemed because he is not sure of it. But can he look on the Son of God in the agony of an accursed death, and then doubt whether an atonement of such worth has not satisfied the law? If such a price was paid for my redemption it is enough, I am redeemed.
2. The cross is a revelation of Divine love. That meets the difficulty to confessing Christ in coldness of heart. It is because our hearts are cold that we are “disciples secretly.” What we want is hearts aglow with love to the Redeemer, and for that we may go to Calvary.
3. The cross is a manifestation of the Divine will. That destroys the difficulty to Christian confession in ignorance of what He would have us do. Lord, what is Thy will about me whom Thou hast redeemed? “Follow Me,” He says; and as we look we see Jesus in the crucified One. The cross becomes the symbol of Christian life which, as His people, we dare not and cannot refuse, for “he that taketh not up his cross and cometh after Me cannot be My disciple.” (U. New.)
The significance of the final honours
I. BY THIS SERVICE THE SACRED FORM OF THE CRUCIFIED WAS TAKEN OUT OF THE POWER OF HIS ENEMIES. The Romans had no respect for the sanctity of death. The common expression was, “The crows to the cross.” The Jews acted on the old words, “Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree,” and carted the bodies of the executed away to the valley of Hinnom, the great abomination into which were flung things unmentionable, and past imagination, a place thought of as the symbol of hell, and as one of its three doors. When, to satisfy the Jews, orders came that the bodies of the crucified should be instantly made away with, the weeping women were in the distraction, not only of grief, but of helplessness. Just then, when their thoughts were in hopeless entanglement, and the sorrows of a lifetime condensed into one desolating burst, two strangers approached the cross, had the shaft sawn through by workmen, then laid level on the ground, took charge of the body, and set about the observance of the last solemnities. As the watchers looked on the dead weight on their hearts was lifted, the nameless terror was gone.
II. BY THIS UNITED ACTION THE ROYALTY OF THE SAVIOUR WAS RECOGNIZED. In the acute moment when the two newly-revealed disciples bent over the face that was still shadowed by the crown of thorns, only the eyes of their faith could see the marks of royalty there. The text may seem to indicate that nothing more than ordinary was done at the funeral of Jesus, “as the manner of the Jews is to bury.” The reference, however, is to the nature, not to the scale of the preparations. It certainly was not the manner of the Jews to use spices at a funeral on such a scale as this. Great quantities were used when it was intended to show high respect. At the funeral of Gamaliel the elder, eighty pounds of spices were burnt; and there were five hundred spice-bearers at that Of King Herod; but such a large use of aromatics in honour of the dead was limited to cases of distinction like these. At the Crucifixion His kingly claims had been treated with mockery. There was mockery of His crown, of His sceptre, of His robe, of a court of ceremonial in the offer of vinegar and gall, of a herald’s announcement, in the title written on His cross; and His cross was the mockery of a throne; but now, with a love which broke through all bounds of calculation, these men tried to show some sign of their loyalty, now so penitent because it was so late, and were resolved to treat their crucified Master only as a dead king is treated.
III. THE BURIAL OF JESUS IN THE PARTICULAR TOMB SELECTED WAS OVERRULED TO WORK OUT CERTAIN VITALLY IMPORTANT PURPOSES. The tomb was not a structure of masonry, like most others, but a chamber cut out of the living rock. Few could enjoy such a luxury. There are not probably five hundred in or about Jerusalem, and as that city must, in the days of its prosperity, have possessed a population of from thirty thousand to forty thousand souls, and as there must have been a population on this spot for more than three thousand years the inference will be irresistible that the possession of such a tomb must have been one of the things that marked a man of distinction.
1. This act helped to make the actual death of Christ an unquestionable fact. It was no obscure grave, affording an excuse for doubt; no tomb in Jerusalem could have been more conspicuous; no fact more public than Christ’s burial in it.
2. It prepared for, and made possible, complete and unanswerable evidence of His resurrection, which was further illustrated by the grave being in a garden.
3. Crowning all the other services to the Church; there were undesignedly instrumental in fulfilling this ancient prophecy, “He made His grave with the wicked,” &c., or, according to the most careful reading, “His grave was appointed with the wicked, but He was with a rich man,” i.e., His grave was appointed by men with the wicked--under usual circumstances, only such a grave was thought of for one who died on a cross; but He was with a rich man in His tomb after all. And why? “Because He had done no violence,” &c.
IV. THE ACT OF THESE MEN ILLUSTRATES THE FUNCTION OF WEALTH IN THE SERVICE OF CHRIST, and this is another practical outcome of their profession. The gospel is full of words to comfort and dignify the holy poor; but the gospel creates no class distinctions. “The Church is the poor man’s church;” yes, and it is also the rich man’s church; for there “the rich and the poor meet together, and the Lord is the Maker of them all.” (C. Stanford, D. D.)
A mixture of myrrh and aloes.
The mixture here mentioned was probably in the shape of powder. The two ingredients were strongly aromatic and antiseptic. The large quantity brought shows the wealth and the liberal mind of Nicodemus. It also shows his wise forethought. A dead body so torn and lacerated as that of our blessed Lord, would need an unusually large quantity of antiseptics or preservatives, to check the tendency to corruption which such a climate would cause, even at Easter. Considering also that everything must have been done with some haste, the large quantity of spices used was probably meant to compensate for the want of time to do the work slowly and carefully. “Then took they the body,” &c. Here we are told the precise manner of the preparation of our Lord’s body for burial. As always in that time and country, He was not put into a coffin. He was simply wrapped up in linen cloths, on which the preparation of myrrh and aloes had been laid. Thus the powder would be next to our Lord’s body, and interpose between the linen and His skin. How the linen clothes were provided, we are told by St. Mark (Joh 15:46). Joseph, being a rich man, had no difficulty in supplying funds for this purpose. (Bp. Ryle.)
Extremes in Christ’s history
Twice was Jesus rich in the days of His poverty. Once immediately after His birth, when the wise men offered Him gold, &c., and now after His ignominious death, when a rich man buries Him, and a distinguished man provides spices to anoint Him. Yea! a rich Joseph has taken the place of that poor Joseph who stood by the manger. (R. Besser, D. D.)
Now in the place where He was crucified there was a garden
The sepulchre in the garden
I. THE PLACE WHERE HE WAS CRUCIFIED. He has conferred honour upon every place where He has been. The place where He was born. There belonged no distinction to Bethlehem Ephratah before, she was little among the thousands of Judah; too little to be represented in the Sanhedrim. But the fact that He was born there has conferred upon Bethlehem undying fame.
1. It was in this place that was manifested the greatest love towards God, on one side, and the greatest love towards men, the enemies of God, on the other side. We do not say that it was here that He loved God and men most; but it was here that He manifested His love most. His love towards the Father was always like the sun, but it was here that it reached the meridian. His love towards mankind was like the sea, but it was here that it attained its spring-tide. The wave will never lift itself higher than it did at Calvary.
2. It was in this place that Jesus suffered most from those to whom He manifested His love most.
3. It was in this place that the holiness of Christ shone brightest of all places, and yet it was in this place that He was treated most like a sinner. I do not say that it was here that He was most holy. The “Holy and Righteous” was He in all places. “That holy thing” He was when coming into the world. But it was here that His holiness shone brightest.
4. It was in this place, of all others, that He was most completely given over to the hands of His enemies, and yet it was in this place that He realized the completest victory over them. There was some intervening shelter throughout the journey that prevented His enemies attacking Him.
5. It was in this place that He was treated as the most unworthy--and yet it was here that He won the highest title to worthiness that He possesses.
II. IN THE PLACE WHERE HE WAS CRUCIFIED THERE WAS A GARDEN. We invite you to visit the garden with us.
1. It belonged to an honourable councillor. Jerusalem was surrounded by gardens as well as by hills. The night before, we have Jesus in a garden in another direction from this.
2. It was a garden in sight of Calvary. The last thing that was impressed on the retina of His eyes was a garden. He saw many sad sights while He was here, but He closes His eyes upon our earth in view of a garden. Almost would we say, “Blessed art thou, O garden amongst gardens; thou hast been privileged to shed thy fragrance so as to counteract the offensive odours of the place of skulls, and to fan with thy sweet perfumes the Saviour of the world in the agonies of His death.” Was it not something like a picture of what He would ultimately make the moral world to be? Since I have come to this place a garden there must be now; I will convert the world into a garden. The thorns and briars must yield to the fir and the myrtle
3. A garden with a grave in it! We scarcely expect to find a grave in a garden. But a grave is appropriate in every place in our world. There are some of you who are permitted to pursue their life journey amidst roses; I count no path too smooth for you; tread upon flowers, let perfumes be diffused with every step you take; but will you be pleased to remember one thing? There is a grave at the end of the walk. But when we consider it, a garden and a grave seem, after all, to be quite in harmony with each other. What is the garden in the time of winter but a burial-place. Where is there more life buried than there is in the garden? But yet she does not refuse to be comforted, because they are not. That great Sun will come like an archangel, with his trumpet, and with a loud call will say, “Awake, and sing, ye that dwell in the dust,” and then there will be a resurrection in power and in glory. In consequence of the garden and the grave in the text, every grave has been in a garden ever since. Before that, it was in some waste howling wilderness that the grave was, with no verdure around it, nor anything betokening life near to it. The burial of the dead is henceforward a sowing. The cemetery is a garden, and beyond the grave there awaits for us the “everlasting spring.” The Great Sun of Righteousness will come to shed His beams above the burial-places of the earth so that they shall be turned into gardens.
III. THE NEW GRAVE IN THE GARDEN. It is worth our while to look at this grave. There was never one like it. There have been angels in this grave. Yes, here, the life lay sleeping on the knees of Death.
1. There was great regard paid to this grave: the eye of the Eternal Purpose was upon it. The honourable owner intended it for himself. Neither he nor the workmen who prepared it had any intention but to have it ready as speedily as it was possible. But every detail was under the control of the
Eternal Purpose, It was necessary to have it ready against the Passover. The substance of the Passover was to spend the Passover in it.
2. It was a borrowed grave that Jesus had. This is the only One who was in our world who had no grave. Sin has conferred on us a charter to a grave. In going to the grave He can only say, “With a great sum obtained I this freedom;” while the sinner can say, “But I was free born.” We sinners are “free among the dead.” Through our sin we have received the freedom of the city in the Necropolis.
3. He gave the grave back, and paid for the use of it. It was Jesus’ habit to return everything that He had borrowed better than He had found it. I believe that the upper room which He borrowed to eat the Passover in with His disciples was a better room after that supper, and that the boat which He borrowed for a pulpit was a better boat after that service. And, indeed, He gave back his grave to Joseph a better grave, though second-hand, than when it was new.
4. Oh, wonderful grave! It was in this grave that the bottom of the grave was knocked out. This grave became a womb to give birth to the Heir of the resurrection of the dead. It is off this grave that we gather the flowers with which to adorn our mourning garment after our dead. This is a grave which reconciles us to our own graves.
(1) There is another grave in sight of Calvary--a grave in which to bury sin. Neither Justice nor Law would have consented to its being buried anywhere else. Oh that we had this burial now!
(2) That grave is “in the place.” I know not what distance there is from here to the graves in which these bodies of ours shall rest; perhaps there is a much shorter distance than many think. But however near these graves are, the grave for burying sin is nearer; it is “in the place.” May our sins be buried so as never to be seen any more! (David Roberts.)
The garden by the cross
I. THE DARKEST ACT IN THE TRAGEDY OF LIFE.
1. The Crucifixion does not stand alone. It is but the culmination of all that good has suffered at the hands of evil. Christ was the Man of Sorrows, but He was also the Head of the great brotherhood of sorrow. There has never been an age in which the men whom God sent into the world to serve and save it, have not been pierced with its shafts and crowned with thorns.
2. It is a dark tragedy which is played out here, and the bud of it is inevitably a death. Sin has entered into the world and death by sin. There could be in such a world as this no other fate for the Son of Man but a crucifixion.
3. But there is something deeper than mere human suffering in our Lord’s passion. It was emphatically the hour of the prince of darkness--his last. His victory broke his power for ever.
4. The nature of sin was never fully known till then when it slew the Lord. Then the Father gave full expression of His mind about transgression, and gave to all intelligent beings the measure to His abhorrence of it.
II. BUT IN THE PLACE WHERE HE WAS CRUCIFIED THERE WAS A GARDEN. It is a startling contrast.
1. Very dear to Him during His lonely life-course were the flowers that bloomed round His feet. None of the beauty of the world He had made was hidden from Him as He passed along its pathways.
2. It is a question of deep and curious interest how far the modern intense delight in the beauty of nature was shared by the ancients, and how far it is the gift of the advent of the Lord of nature to His world. I believe that that advent has placed the whole sphere of nature in a new and closer relation to man. Here and there are exquisite passages in the classics, which reveal a delicate and cultured observation. And yet it is hardly for its own sake that nature is delighted in. The Hindoos probably come nearest to the moderns, but always there is a strong tinge of melancholy dashing the delight of the heathen heart. The Christian observation of nature is set in a new and higher key. Through Christ, Christian peoples have a delight in their world, which before Christ was hardly known to the elect spirits of our race. The Jews had much of the Christian enjoyment of natural beauty, and for the same reason: they knew the mind and heart of their King. David’s psalms complete the chord struck in Deuteronomy 8:7-9;
3. Men will come to see one day that it is the Father’s counsel which they are searching out when they fathom the depths of creation; it is the benignity of a Father’s smile that they are taking in when they bask in the sunlight, when they watch the shadows play in the upper air upon the snow peaks, or catch at even the last rosy kiss of the daylight, as it falls down the mountain slopes on a weary world. It was right that the flowers should bloom their bravest around Calvary.
4. But still the contrast stands out sharply, and we will gather some of its suggestions.
(1) Consider the impassive serenity of nature through all the struggle and anguish of life. There are times when this serenity becomes dreadful. It seems terrible that flowers should bloom when the Lord who made and rules the universe was dying the death of a slave; yet the flowers never lifted their heads more gaily in the sun than on that day. And it is ever thus. A mother who has watched night long the death struggles of her darling who in the morning has gone home, looks bitter reproach at the sun rising so calmly on her agony. The east flushes into rosy splendour, the birds carol their gayest strains, the air is musical with the hum of life, while her heart is breaking, and the night has settled over her inner world. We may blow thousands of earth’s best and bravest into fragments in the storm of battle; Nature buries them calmly, and next year she reaps her richest harvests from their graves.
(2) Let us thank God that it is so. The garden blooms on, the cross has vanished, while the tradition of it has become the most sacred and blessed possession of mankind. Pain and storm, strife and anguish, birth and death are for time: order, beauty, life are for eternity. The sun shines gaily on the morrow of our anguish, and we writhe under it; but the sun shines on, and we come to delight in it and to bless the constancy which brings it forth morning by morning to prophesy to us of the world where sunlight is eternal. And nature is right. She will not bewail our calamities as though they were irreparable. There is infinite solace in Christ for the most burdened sufferers. “Our light affliction,” &c. Why should nature weep and moan, and stay her benign and beautiful process when she knows that the stroke which we think is crushing us is a benediction.
(3) Consider of how much that garden around the cross was symbolic in relation to man and to the Lord. “He was delivered into the hands of men.” Alas! that this should mean to wounds and death. The first crime was one with the last--fratricide. His brethren they were who were raging around Him; but around and above, all was calm, nay, triumphant. The harps of heaven were swept to a more exulting strain. The great ones of the past put on their glorious forms, and pressed through the veil to meet Him. The very dead beneath the cross stirred as His footsteps pressed them, and bursting from their tombs prepared to join the train which He would lead up on high. There was joy, an awful joy, throughout the universe when that Cross was uplifted--“I, if I be lifted up,” &c. Should the flowers then droop? No. “In the place … there was a garden;” and it spread forth all its brightness as the Lord made it His pathway to His throne. And it blooms still, and will bloom on till the death day of creation and paradise is restored. (J. Baldwin Brown, B. A.)
And in the garden a new sepulchre
The sepulchre in the garden
“The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord.” Every event of our life, however minute and trivial, contains a purpose of God’s. Then we may surely assume that every fact in the life of the Perfect Man has its significance. The circumstances of our birth exert an immense influence over us: they are ordered of God; they were yet more manifestly ordered for His beloved Son. All the circumstances of our death, which is our second birth, have their influence on us, and speak eloquently to those who come after us; and these are ordered for us, and yet more manifestly for the Son. Think you it was a matter of indifference where Christ’s body was laid? We have a right then to look here for Divine thoughts, and there is one in particular. The first Adam fell from the garden into the wilderness; the Second Adam rose from the wilderness to the garden. Christ began where Adam ended, and ended where Adam began. Adam armed death with his sting; Christ has taken away the sting of death. Adam hewed the sepulchre, Christ consecrated it. Note
I. EVERYWHERE DEATH LURKS BENEATH THE BEAUTIFUL. In other words, every garden has its sepulchre.
1. The garden is the most express type of beauty. Children love flowers, as do all who retain the childlike heart. Flowers are the traditions of Paradise, and speak to us of a more perfect world and a higher blessedness. Man’s career commenced and is to close in a garden. It is natural, then, for man to love the garden.
2. But in every garden there is a sepulchre. “The brightest flower soonest fades.”
(1) The whole world seems a huge tomb adorned outwardly with manifold forms of beauty. The rocks die slowly, crumbling through the ages to give life to herb and tree. Tree and herb feed animals, and animals man, and man is the prey of corruption.
(2) Death, moreover, has a refined taste. Loveliness has a fatal attraction. What is more lovely than light? And yet when it is fairest and fullest, it slays men with a stroke. What is more glorious in beauty than the sea? Yet its bed is lined with bleached bones. The beautiful birds are infested with murderous parasites. And have we not known one in every circle whose very loveliness of body and mind, like the gorgeous colouring of the fallen leaf, was the symbol of swift decay?
II. EVERY-THING, EVEN DEATH ITSELF, HAS BEEN MADE BEAUTIFUL BY CHRIST. Every sepulchre is in a garden--not in an untended desert. The grave still stands; but it stands in the open sunlight, and is adorned with flowers. The sting, the ugliness, the terror of death is sin; and this Christ has taken away. Christ has invested it with beauty in that He has taught us that it means
1. Sacrifice. “The dying of the Lord Jesus” has brought to light the vacarious element of death. The power and beauty of His death sprang from the fact that it was His submission to His Father’s will. So, in a lesser degree, with death everywhere. We see mountains tending to decay, herbs and grasses consumed by beasts, &c., and till we know the meaning of Christ’s death, the sight brings grief and fear. But looking from the cross we can trace this vicarious law through every province of creation and see beauty. The rocks decay, but it is that herbs may live; herbs are consumed--a sacrifice to the higher life of sheep and oxen. These also die that manmay live. Earthly homes are broken up that the mansions of the Father’s houses may be occupied. Civilization has its myriad victims that subsequentages may rise to purer life. The kingdoms of the world decay that the kingdom of Christ may come. All things tend to a better time. No suffering is superfluous. Eternal wisdom marshals the progress; infinite love appoints to each its place.
2. Glorification. Christ died to live. He could not be “holden” by the power of the grave. He rose into a higher region. Apply this to the general phenomena of death, and mark the beauty with which it invests them. The rocks crumble away into soil; but that is taken up into the higher vegetable kingdom, &c. In every case the soul of these several kingdoms passes through death into higher spheres. Mark, then, the perfect sympathy between the creation and the Christ whose it is and whom it serves. As His spirit returned to glorify His earthly frame, in the end the whole framework of creation will be restored and glorified; and those who are in Christ partake of the power of His death and Resurrection. Conclusion: We need not mourn that death is everywhere. We need not weep by the sepulchre as those who have no hope; it stands in a garden. To die is no more to venture on a lonely path; Christ has trod it before us, and will tread it with us. If the sepulchre still speaks of corruption, the garden speaks of the resurrection. Nor when those whom we love are summoned to depart should we indulge in hopeless sorrow. They have gone into the garden. Their flesh rests in hope; their spirits are in Paradise. (S. Cox, D. D.)
The sepulchre in the garden
I. SIN OBTRUDES ITSELF INTO THE FAIREST SCENES. You see around a cross a multitude come together to perform the foulest act ever perpetrated. The object of their hatred has never wronged them; but, on the contrary, has even blessed them. His character presented an assemblage of graces such as the world had never witnessed. And now He hangs on a cross in a garden I What a place for the perpetration of such a crime! A garden! where nature seems best fitted to exert a soothing influence on the angry passions! Surely nature cannot have her sanctuary violated by such an outrage. Thus the text contains a most emphatic refutation of the fancy that by giving them access to natural beauty you may restrain the wickedness, if not transform the character, of men. True, there is nothing in what is beautiful, whether in nature or art, unfavourable to religion--but very much by which religions feeling may be induced and fostered. And, certainly, they are not the worst Christians who have the most extensive and loving acquaintance with nature’s works. But nevertheless the influence which these things exert depends entirely on the state of mind with which they are surveyed. They may foster and strengthen feelings which already exist; they have no power to produce feelings which are not there. They have no power to change the heart, so as to make bad men good. One of the loveliest scenes in the world is the site of Pompeii, but it would seem that God has preserved her ruins that she might testify to the nineteenth century that she resembled Sodom in the depth of her wickedness before she resembled her in the terribleness of her overthrow. Man fell in Eden--angels sinned in heaven. “In the place where He was crucified there was a garden.”
II. SORROW MINGLES WITH ALL EARTHLY ENJOYMENT. “In the garden a sepulchre.” How emblematical of human life--in which every joy is marred by some sorrow, and the presence or the memory or the prospect of death casts its shadow over all. There is some fitness in the choice. A garden is the scene of beautiful life, where everything is fitted to minister pleasure. And to erect in such a scene the receptacle of death, might, without destroying the pleasure which the place afforded, serve as a useful monitor to remind men of the sorrows which lie so near and mingle with our joys, and of the termination which death brings to all earthly pursuits. It is a good thing, as moderating our present expectations and leading us to seek after a better inheritance, to be reminded that there is no such thing here as pleasure without drawback or alloy. Most people have a sepulchre in their garden; for have not they suffered loss here and disappointment there? But others whom they see--what sepulchre have they? Their life is all garden. It has neither desert bounding it nor sepulchre within its walls. But depend upon it you see not all. “The heart knoweth its own bitterness.” Could you look beneath the surface, you would see even in that lot which seems so enviable, not a little which might excite your pity or surprise. Of Naaman the Syrian, it is said, that “he was captain of the host,” &c.; but he was a leper. Of Haman we read how he told his wife and friends of his good fortune, and then add yet--“yet all this availeth me nothing so long as I see Mordecai,” &c. And so there is some “but” or “yet” to the most favoured condition, no rose without its thorn, in every garden a sepulchre.
III. THE PRESENCE OF CHRIST CONVERTS DEATH INTO LIFE, AND SORROW INTO JOY. It was meet that the sepulchre should be placed in a garden
1. Seeing it was to contain the body of our Lord. His presence there gave to the grave a significance which it had never possessed before. And it is meet also in the case of all who are His. I like the change from the crowded unattractive churchyard to the garden-like cemetery. I like, too, to see flowers growing around, or strewn upon the grave of the loved ones. The tomb in which Christ lies, in the person of His members, is a seed-plot of immortality, from which radiant and glorious forms shall spring; “for that which thou sowest is not quickened except it die.”
2. Because of the change which the Saviour’s death is to produce in the aspect of the world. Reduced by sin to a desert, physically and morally, it shall yet be covered with garden-like beauty and fertility because Christ has died. It is a sufficient pledge of its renovation that it has contained His sepulchre. Men are said to take possession of a country when they have buried their dead in it. So the Saviour will never regard with indifference the world which contains His tomb. He will return living and glorious to the place where once He lay dead and dishonoured, and the same scene which witnessed the commencement shall witness the completion of His triumph over sin and hell--over death and the grave.
3. As symbolical of how the presence of Jesus tends to change our sorrow into joy. Christ in the sepulchre transforms the receptacle of death into the source of higher life. And therefore have no sepulchre without a Saviour in it--no trouble in which you do not seek to have the presence of your Lord. A life all pleasure would neither be so desirable nor so profitable as a life whose sorrows are sanctified by fellowship with Christ. Nor should you seek, as is sometimes done, to have the sepulchre of your own fashioning, saying, “If I had only such-and-such trials, I could bear them well: I should not complain if I were only like so-and-so.” No man ever yet had to choose his own trials. He who gives the garden gives the sepulchre with it; and determines at once its position and its form. All that you need is to have Christ in it. (W. Landells, D. D.)
Christ in a borrowed grave
I take it not to dishonour Christ, but to show that, as His sins were borrowed sins, so His burial was in a borrowed grave. Christ had no transgressions of His own; He took ours upon His head. He never committed a wrong, but He took all my sins, and all yours, if ye are believers. Concerning all His people, it is true He bore their griefs and carried their sorrows in His own body on the tree; therefore, as they were other’s sins, so He rested in another’s grave; as they were sins imputed, so that grave was only imputedly His. It was not His sepulchre; it was the tomb of Joseph. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The sepulchre in the garden
I. EACH MAN HAS A GARDEN. It may not be that where the outward sense is regaled with fruits and flowers and odorous airs, but a sacred enclosure of the heart. As on bleak hill-sides of splintered rock, green things and flowers here and there spring up, so there is something still bright where poverty and care exist. Very beautiful are some of these gardens, with dear friendships, the engaging interests of home, noble plans for self-culture and benevolence, generous trusts, and holy endearments, and the music and sunshine of dreams. All have their garden; BUT, guard and prize it as they may, it shall be the scene of tragedy; IT CONTAINS A SEPULCHRE.
1. The generous and aspiring youth seems to stand on the border of a land that will never lose its morning freshness; but this radiant landscape contains a tomb; the grave of glorious hopes that withered in the hot glare of an unsympathizing world.
2. In practical life there is no garden without a grave, and not merely in the case of the man who has fallen from prosperity to penury. There are tombs in the gardens of the rich, the gifted, and the great. Baffled purposes, alienated friendships, exhausted energy, the corpse of many a brave endeavour, the lost inspiration of eager manhood when the path to victorious light seemed garlanded with light--all this, and more, speaks of death.
3. But sadder still is the tomb in the garden of the affections. If anything on earth is sacred, it is home; yet the sepulchre is here; and it will not be empty long. There is a vacant place by the hearthstone. That home may be pleasant still, and the casual visitor may not think that it contains a place of burial. Yet, though the spot is sealed, it is not forgotten. The great world goes on as before. But bereaved hearts know it is there. In the garden is the sepulchre.
4. And it is well that it should be so; well that we learn our frailty, our ignorance, our sin, and be disciplined for our eternal home. For with man’s sinful nature and tendencies, how fearful might be his career in transgression, and how reckless his presumption upon the forbearance of God, did he never suffer from the evil within and without him!
II. THE GRAVE IN THE GARDEN IS NOT A PLACE OF EVERLASTING STILLNESS AND DECAY. The stone shall be rolled away. If you have died unto sin, anti are buried with Christ in His death, you shall rejoice in the final resurrection of all that can contribute to the bliss of the soul in the eternal kingdom. There shall be no death there. There none shall bear the cross of secret trial. But how dark is your prospect if you do not believe upon His name, nor love His appearing! The sepulchre in the garden of your life is then the symbol of the death which awakens to no celestial fruition. (H. N. Powers.)
A sepulchre in every garden
You climb an eminence, and look on the underlying scene. The river flows gently through yellowing fields and woods that teem with life. The birds fill the air with song and gladness. The fish sport and leap in the waters. Cattle roam or recline in the meadows. Man goeth forth to labour with a cheerful heart. “Unawares,” you bless the earth and the great Giver of its goodliness. The eye fills with happy tears as you pronounce it “a garden which the Lord hath blessed.” And then the cold shadow comes creeping on; reflection stills the song of the heart; the trace of the spoiler, for a moment forgotten, stands once more revealed. You see or remember that the insects sporting in the air are the prey of birds; the birds flutter and scream beneath the pursuing hawk; the splash in the river tells of some eager little life swallowed up quick; the flowers close and wither as you gather them; the woodcutter’s axe fills the air with its resounding strokes; the sheep and oxen are led away to the slaughter; the funeral train winds along the white road, flecking it with blackness, while the passing bell reminds you that another of your flesh has seen corruption. The Skeleton Shadow broods over the entire scene, obscuring its brightness. The air grows stifling; and you feel as if suddenly immerged in the gloom of some monstrous grave. And yet you have but discovered the open secret--that death is the shadow of beauty: you have but passed through the garden into the sepulchre. So, too, with the varied human world. You think of the kindnesses and charities of home--the nobilities and patriotisms of national unity; the discoveries, utilities, refinements of civilization, and you bless God that you are a man of this clime and age. Again you are wakened from your pleasant dream. The veil is lifted from the home; you find mean anxieties, wearing toils, heartburnings, jealousies, despotisms; or where love abides, you find as its attendants sorrow and solicitude; Death has driven its chariot, armed with scythes, through the family array, leaving cruel gaps and innumerable wounds. The veil is lifted from the age, and beneath its high civilization you discern want, misery, vice, disease, war, with their kin--a terrible brotherhood, the offspring of death, doing the works of their father--preying on the foundations on which the social fabric is upreared. (S. Cox, D. D.)
The cemetery a garden--Christ the Gardener
(Text, and John 20:15):
I. THE SEED.
1. All seed does not germinate, and seeds, in themselves, are worthless unless they are fecundated. Cut open a seed-bearing flower, and in its axis you will find a seed-pod, from which grows an elongated stem called the pistil. On the end of this pistil is a little tongue, or stigma. This, of all the parts of the flower or plant, alone has no skin. About the pistil are the stamens, on the top of which are the anthers, or pollen-bearing organs of the flower. This pollen must fall upon the stigma which thus receives the fecundating principle, and transmits it to the seeds; and so they are quickened into life. In many trees this pollen is produced not on themselves, but on other trees belonging to the same species, and it is carried to the stigma of the blossoms to be fecundated by the wind or the bees.
2. The same principle, the Gardener tells us, prevails among His plants; there must be an extra-human quality imparted to every one of His seeds before they are planted or they cannot bloom immortally. That quality was produced by that which was planted in the dust of the earth in Joseph’s garden and became “the first fruits from the dead.” The reason why he Son of God was incarnated, died, was buried and rose again was that He might produce this Divine--pollen (may I term it?), so that His seeds might receive that fecundating principle which quickens to an immortal life. It is scattered like the natural pollen--broadcast on the breezes, so that all who will may receive it and live again; or it is carried about by the busyness of Christian workers.
3. But you cannot be planted, with a hope of the glorious resurrection, unless you have received this fecundating principle from Christ; otherwise you must there remain, sterile and dried, unable to rise in a new life. This is one of the fixed laws of nature. Why should we not expect the same in grace? “He that believeth in Me, though he were dead yet shall he live.” But believing is only receiving this Divine quality from Christ, as the stigma of the seed-pod receives the pollen, to quicken and give it life.
II. THE SOWING. For in the Lord’s garden what we call burying is only planting; for the Apostle says, “If we be planted in the likeness of His death,” &c.
III. THE BLOOMING.
1. Are we to be different? Hear the Apostle, “It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption; it is,” &c. Our God doeth great things which we cannot comprehend. Who can understand the change wrought under ground which gives us a plant for our seed.
(1) Here we are, dried and shriveled. Sin has stripped us, yet is there great latent power for beauty, &c.
(2) Here there is no sweetness about us. Such is the wonderful alchemy of nature that the seed that rots sends up a flower rich in fragrance. More wonderful is the alchemy of grace, &c.
(3) Here there is no beauty about us, we are frost-marked. The Lord will not do half-work. He will not repair, but recreate, &c. “It doth not yet appear what we shall be,” &c. Who can guess by looking at the shriveled seed what the flower will be?
2. Shall we, then, fear to be planted in His garden, if we shall so soon rise to such life and beauty and sweetness? Conclusion: Let us walk with the Gardener while He points out to us some of His rarer plants. He points to this bed and says, “There rests a precious seed, oh, how lovely will its blooming be! On earth it was called Bleeding Heart. It grew in great tribulation.” “And what lies here in this bed, Gardener?” “You would call that, in earth’s botany, a Heliotrope--the flower that ever turns toward the sun. And there lies the Lily of the Valley, &c. And there the Calla, whose roots had to be submerged in water,” &c. “But,” we ask, “Gardener, canst Thou care for all these? Will there be no confusion or neglect? Thy flowerbeds are so many, is there no possibility that some will be overlooked?” “Oh, no,” He answers; “their names are all graven on the palms of My hands, and are written also in the Book of Life.” Oh blessed truth! What flowers shall spring up from these grassy mounds! (P. E.Kipp.)
The decorated grave
Mark well this tomb.
I. It is THE MOST CELEBRATED TOMB IN ALL THE AGES. Catacombs of Egypt, tomb of Napoleon, Mahal Taj of India, nothing compared with it. At the door of that mausoleum a fight took place which decides the question for all graveyards and cemeteries. Sword of lightning against sword of steel. Angel against military. That day the grave received such a shattering it can never be rebuilt. The King of Terrors retiring before the King of Grace. The Lord is risen.
II. See here POST-MORTEM HONOURS IN CONTRAST WITH ANTE-MORTEM INGNOMINIES. If they could have afforded Christ such a costly sepulchre, why could not they have given Him an earthly residence? He asked bread; they gave Him a stone. Christ, like most of the world’s benefactors, was appreciated better after He was dead. Poet’s Corner, in Westminster Abbey, attempts to pay for the sufferings of Grub Street. Go through that corner. There is Handel Think of the discords with which his fellow-musicians tried to destroy him. There John Dryden, who, at seventy, wrote a thousand verses at sixpence a line. There is Samuel Butler, who died in a garret. There the old blind schoolmaster, John Milton, whom Waller said, “has just issued a tedious poem on the fall of man. If the length of it be no virtue, it has none.” There is poor Sheridan. If he could have only discounted that monument for a mutton-chop! Oh! do justice to the living. All the justice you do them, you must do this side of the necropolis. Gentleman’s mausoleum in the suburbs of Jerusalem cannot pay for Bethlehem manger, and Calvarian cross.
III. FLORAL DECORATIONS ARE APPROPRIATE FOR THE PLACE OF THE DEAD. Put them on the brow--it will suggest coronation; in their hand, it will mean victory. Christ was buried in a garden. Flowers mean resurrection. Death is sad enough anyhow. Let conservatory and arboretum contribute to its alleviation. The harebell will ring the victory. The passion-flower will express the sympathy. The daffodil will kindle its lamp and illume the darkness. The cluster of asters will be the constellation. Your little child loved flowers when she was living. Put them in her hand now that she can go forth no more to pluck them for herself. On sunshiny days take a fresh garland and put it over the still heart. Brooklyn has no grander glory than its Greenwood; but what shall we say of those country graveyards, with the vines broken down and the slabs aslant, and the mound caved in, and the grass the pasture-ground for the sexton’s cattle? Were your father and mother of so little worth that you cannot afford to take care of their ashes? Some day you will want to lie down to your last slumber. You cannot expect any respect for your bones if you have no deference for the bones of your ancestry.
IV. THE DIGNITY OF PRIVATE AND UNPRETENDING OBSEQUIES. Joseph was mourner, sexton, liveryman; had entire charge of every thing. Only four people at the burial of the King of the universe. Oh! let this be consolatory to those who through lack of means, or large acquaintance, have but little demonstration of grief at the graves of their loved ones. Not recognizing this idea, how many small properties are scattered, and widowhood and orphanage go forth into cold charity. That went for crape which ought to have gone for bread.
V. YOU CANNOT KEEP THE DEAD DOWN. Seal of Sanhedrim, regiment of soldiers, door of rock, cannot keep Christ in the crypts. Come out and come up He must. First-fruit of them that slept. Though all the granite of the mountains were piled on us we will rise. (T. de Witt Talmage, D. D.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "John 19". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30