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And bound Jesus.
The Lamb of God
It is interesting to observe the remarkable resemblance which is found to exist in several particulars between the ceremonial of the daily sacrifice of the lamb on the altar in the Temple and the sacrifice of the true, spotless Lamb of God. After the lamb had been kept under watch for four days, and had been examined by an inquisition of the priests on the evening before, to make sure that it was without spot or blemish, it was brought forth early in the morning as soon as it was light. At the cockcrow the altar had been swept clear of ashes to prepare it for the victim. Then “the president said to the other priests, ‘Go out and see if it be time to slay the lamb.’ If it was, the observer said, ‘There are bright streaks of light in the east.’ The president asked, ‘Do they stretch as far as to Hebron?’ If he answered that it was so, then he said, ‘Go ye and bring the lamb from the prison of the lamb.’” Now, in like manner, on the fourth day after Jesus had come to Jerusalem to be offered up as “the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world,” when the morning was come after the night inquisition into the spotlessness of the Lamb of God, He is brought forth from His prison to he re-examined and ordered to be slain. The lamb of the daily sacrifice, before being laid on the altar, was bound. “Those priests,” we read, “whose lot it is to attend to the pieces (with the view of laying them upon the altar) took hold of the lamb and bound it.” So in the Antitype, “they bound Jesus, and carried Him away.” Christ is bound when He is in the hands, the power, of men. So is it always with the world. It desires to have not a free, but a bound Jesus. As the servants covered His face, so does the world desire to have a not all-seeing God. The world strives to emancipate itself from the bonds of obedience to the will of God. Let us break, they say, the bonds which the Lord God and His Christ lay on us; and even the very cords of love whereby they would draw us, let us cast away. There is a cry for freedom. Freedom is the most perfect blessing man can have. Freedom from what? Freedom to do what? Among the many, the desire is to be freed from responsibilities caused by duty, and to do their own will unrestrained by any obligations. That is, indeed, the great cry of the day. All duties are irksome, all obligations intolerable. No man can develop his individuality except in absolute freedom. But at the same time that the world seeks freedom from the bonds of Christ, it tries to impose bonds on Christ. Providence is to be bound with laws. Science imposes rules on the Most High, and lays down principles by which God must act-if there be a God-or science will do without Him. Prayer is declared to be worthless, because man cannot alter the course of Nature. God is fettered by self-imposed laws. He is not a free agent. Not only so, but God’s Church must not be free. It also must be hampered and restricted in every way-prevented from doing all it may for the cause of Christ. (S. Baring Gould, M. A.)
But He answered nothing.
The silence of our Lord
From our Lord’s sublime silence we may learn-
1. That the manifestation of anger and temper is inconsistent with a Christian spirit. Again, anger is said to rest “in the bosom of fools,” a mortifying fact, which should be a corrective to this tendency. Socrates, when kicked by a profligate person, said to those who would have him retaliate, “Had an ass kicked me, would you have me kick back in return?” It requires no intellect to be angry. It is rather a sign of mulishness. You give an advantage to your adversary. Men get the fruit of the cocoanut tree by exasperating the monkeys that live among the branches, so that the animals hurl down the fruit. The assailants keep up the altercation until their end is gained and their baskets are full. But to be patient is to be godlike. Here, then, are two mirrors. In which is your face reflected? Are you easily irritated, or are you able to patiently stand, like your Lord, answering not a word?
2. No one grace more glorifies God than the spirit shown in the silence of Christ. The following incident is related of that eminent minister, Dr. Hopkins: A brother-in-law who was a sceptic, said that his pious kinsman would bear exasperating circumstances no better than anyone else, and, to try him, stated to him some facts peculiarly aggravating. Dr. H. went away very angry, and the remark was made, “I told you so.” The night, however, was spent in prayer, and with the morning Dr. H. came and confessed his sin of unholy passion, whereupon his brother was deeply affected, and admitted that this was a spirit which he did not possess. The infidel was led to re-examine the grounds on which he stood. He became a humble follower of Christ and a minister of the gospel. But the objector says, I cannot control myself: what is the remedy? In general, we may answer, Watch and pray. God will do His part, we must do ours. More specifically: Keep yourself from temptations. Again, your physical condition is to be cared for. Late hours, bad ventilation, and improper diet affect the temper. If you eat mince pie, fruit cake, and lobster salad at night, you will have dyspepsia, If you have dyspepsia, you will be cross. Think, again, how belittling to you are these spurts of ill-temper, and let it shame you. Think, too, how trivial are these annoyances, and how transitory life is. Look at Christ, whose whole nature was sweet to the depths of His being, and so was not obliged continually to curb the risings of unholy emotion. Commit your cause unto Him who judgeth righteously, and answer not a word. (American Homiletic Review.)
He released unto them one prisoner whomsoever they desired.
Barabbas or Christ
It affords the most vivid illustration in the New Testament of just two great moral lessons: Pilate’s behaviour shows the wicked wrong of indecision, and the chief priests’ choice of Barabbas’ release shows the utter rain of a wrong decision. These will become apparent, each in its turn, as we study the story.
I. Earliest of all, let us group together the incidents of the history, so that their order may be seen.
1. Observe the rapid action of the priests (Mark 15:1). It must have been very late on Thursday night when the great council finished the condemnation of Jesus. But the moment that was over, the priests hurried Him at dawn into the presence of the Roman governor. Their feet ran to evil, and they made haste to shed innocent blood (Isaiah 59:7).
2. Now comes the providential moment for Pilate. For the wisdom of God so orders it that this man shall be able to meet his tremendous responsibility unembarrassed by a mob for his audience. These zealots, like all creatures who have the form of godliness but deny the power thereof, are so emphatically pious that even in the midst of murder they pause on a punctilio; they will not enter the judgment hall lest they should be so defiled that they could not eat the passover (John 18:28). This left Pilate the chance calmly to converse with Jesus alone.
3. Then succeeds the pitiable period of subterfuge which always follows a shirked duty. Convinced of our Lord’s innocence, Pilate proposed that his official authority should just be counted out in this matter. He bade the chief priests take their prisoner themselves, and deal with Him as they pleased. To this he received a reply which showed their savage animosity, and at the same instant disclosed the use they meant to make of his power. They cried out that the only reason why they had consulted him at all was found in the unlawfulness of killing a man without due form of procedure (John 18:30-31).
4. Next to this is recorded the attempt of the governor to shift his responsibility. Pilate learned from the mere chance use of a word that Jesus was from Galilee; and as this province was in the jurisdiction of Herod, the titular monarch of the Jews, he sent his prisoner under a guard over to the other palace (Luke 23:7). The king was quite glad to see this Nazarene prophet, and tried to get Him to work a miracle, but did not succeed in evoking so much as a word from His lips (Isaiah 53:7). But before the return, he put a slight on Jesus’ kingly claims, so that Pilate might know how much in derision he held them. The soldiers mocked Him, arraying Him in a gorgeous robe, and then led Him back into the presence of the governor again.
5. At his wits’ end, Pilate at last proposes a compromise. He remembered that there was a custom, lately brought over from Italy into Palestine, of freeing someone of the State’s prisoners every year at Passover as a matter of proconsular clemency (Mark 15:6). He offered to let Jesus go under this rule. Such a procedure would be equivalent to pronouncing him technically a criminal, but thus His life would be spared. But the subtle priests put the people up to refuse this favour flatly.
6. The governor’s wife now meets him with a warning from a dream. He had returned to the judgment seat, and was just about to pronounce the decision. His wife interrupted: “Have thou nothing to do with that just man” (Matthew 27:19). This threw Pilate into a frantic irresolution once more. A second time he left the room, and went forth to reason and expostulate with the infuriated crowd at the door. With renewed urgency he pressed upon their consideration the half-threat that he would let loose on them this wretch Barabbas, if they persisted in demanding Jesus’ death (Luke 23:18). This only exasperated them the more.
7. Finally, this bewildered judge gave his reluctant consent to their clamours. But in the act of condemnation he did the foolishest thing of all he did that awful day. He took water and washed his hands before the mob, declaring thus that he was innocent of the blood of the just person he was delivering up to their spite (Matthew 27:24).
II. So we reach the crisis of events in the spiritual career of that ruler and of that nation.
1. Observe the singular picture. It is all in one verse of the Scripture (Mark 15:15). Two men, now in the same moment, appear in public on the steps of the Praetorium: Jesus and Barabbas. One of them was the Son of God, the Saviour of men. “Then came Jesus forth, wearing the crown of thorns, and the purple robe. And Pilate saith unto them, Behold the man!” (John 19:5). Art has tried to reproduce this scene. Dore has painted the whole of it; Guido Reni has painted the head with thorns around the forehead. Others have made similar attempts according to their fancy or their ability. It is a spectacle which attracts and discourages. Beyond them all, however, lies the fact which each Christian will be likely to fashion before his own imagination. Jesus comes forth with His reed and His robe: Ecce Homo! Barabbas alongside! This creature has never been a favourite with artists. He was a paltry wretch any way, thrust up into a fictitious importance by the supreme occasion. We suppose him to have been quite a commonplace impostor. Bar means son; Abba, which some interpret as father. Very likely he chose his own name as a false Messiah, “Son of the Father;” indeed, some of the ancient manuscripts call him “Jesus Barabbas.” He does not poise picturesquely; look at him!
2. The moral of this scene turns upon the wilful choice made between these two leaders, the real and the pretended Christ. Now let it be said here that the whole history is often repeated even in these modern times. It is unwise to lose the lesson taught us by rushing off into pious execration of those bigoted Jews. Men had better look into their own hearts. In his introduction to the study of metaphysics, Malebranche remarks very quietly, “It is not into a strange country that such guides as these volumes of mine will conduct you; but it is into your own, in which, not unlikely, you are a stranger.” It will be well to bear in mind that the decision is offered and made between Jesus and Barabbas whenever the Lord of glory is represented in a principle, in an institution, in a truth, in a person.
3. So let us pause right here to inquire what this decision involves for those who make it. The illustration is helpful, and we can still employ it. Dwell a moment upon the deliberateness of the choice which the multitude made that day. The exhibition was perfectly intelligible: it always is. There is Barabbas! there is Christ! When a sharp moral crisis is reached, men generally know the side they ought to choose. Right and wrong, truth and error, sin and holiness, the world or God-this is just the old Jerusalem scene back again. Such a choice fixes character. “As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.” When one wills strongly, he moulds himself in the likeness of the thing he chooses. The old Castilian proverb says, “Every man is the son of his own work.” Then observe the responsibility of the choice between Barabbas and Christ. The chief priests declared they would take it (Matthew 27:25). Pilate could ruin no soul but his own. In the end Jesus’ blood rested upon the nation that slew Him. Oh, what a history! a land without a nation-a nation without a land! All the vast future swung on the hinge of that choice. Note, therefore, the reach of this decision. It exhausted all the chances. Once-on that Friday morning early-those two men stood side by side, and Pilate asked the question, “Whether of the twain?” (Matthew 27:21). It was never possible after that to traverse the same spiritual ground of alternative again. Whoever chooses the wrong must go and fare for good or ill with the thing he has chosen. The thief becomes master, the murderer lord.
III. We are ready now to receive the full teaching of the story: our two lessons appear plainly.
1. We see the wicked wrong of indecision. We are agreed that Pilate wished to let Jesus go. But when he gave Him up to the spite of His murderers, he himself “consented” and so shared the crime (Psalms 50:18). Thus he destroyed his character. Trimming, injustice, cruelty: step by step he went down, till he added a scourging which nobody demanded. “The facility with which we commit certain sins,” says Augustine, “is a punishment for sins already committed.” Thus he also destroyed his reputation. One man there has been whose name was put in an epistle just for a black background on which to write a name that was white (1 Timothy 6:13). The same was put in the Apostles’ Creed that all Christendom might hold it in “everlasting fame” of infamy: “crucified under Pontius Pilate.”
2. We see also the utter ruin of a wrong decision. Do not waste any more thought on Pilate or the Jews. Think of yourself. See life and death, blessing and cursing; choose life (Deuteronomy 30:15; Deuteronomy 30:19). Do not forfeit what may be your soul’s last chance. (C. S. Robinson, D. D.)
Not Barabbas but Jesus
Tremellius was a Jew, from whose heart the veil had been taken away, and who had been led by the Holy Spirit to acknowledge Jesus as the Messiah and the Son of God. The Jews who had condemned our Saviour had said, “Not this man, but Barabbas;” Tremellius, when near his end, glorying in Christ alone, and renouncing whatever came in competition with Him, used very different words, “Not Barabbas, but Jesus.” (Baxendale’s Dictionary of Anecdote.)
Barabbas preferred to Christ
I. This implies a history.
II. It records a choice. The choice involves two things-first, what was repudiated; next, what was approved. Here was the repudiation of One who was absolutely faultless. Here was the repudiation by the world of One who had wrought for the world the greatest wonders of material kindness. Here was the repudiation of One who loved them, knowing their lack of love to Himself. Here was the repudiation of One who had at His command power destroy as well as to save. From what was repudiated, turn to what was approved, “Not this man, but Barabbas.”
III. It suggests a parallel. If you prefer any passion or habit, any thing or man, any person or personification, to Christ, that is your Barabbas. If you prefer any treasure to Him wile is “value,” that is your Barabbas. If you prefer any company to His company, any love to His love, that object of preference is your Barabbas. If you prefer any given sin to the grace that would conquer it, that sin is your Barabbas. If, though you ought to know that this sin is destructive, that the blood of souls is on it, that it is a robber, and that it still lurks in darkness to rob you of your nobility, of your peace, of your spiritual sensitiveness, of your liberty to have fellowship with the Infinite One, and still refuse to give the vile thing up to be crucified, but will rather give up Christ, that vile thing is your Barabbas. If, refusing Christ, you trust something else to be the “Jesus” of your souls, that false righteousness, false foundation, false comfort, false hope, is your “Jesus Barabbas.” Of all the faculties with which God has enriched man, there is not one so mysterious in its nature and awful in its working as the choosing faculty. (Charles Stanford, D. D.)
Had delivered Him for envy.
Envy and malevolence
Mutius, a citizen of Rome, was noted to be of such an envious and malevolent disposition, that Publius, one day, observing him to be very sad, said, “Either some great evil is happened to Mutius, or some great good to another.”
Envy and malevolence
Dionysius the tyrant, out of envy, punished Philoxenius the musician because he could sing, and Plato the philosopher because he could dispute, better than himself.
Envy in a Christian
“Who is this elder son?” was once asked in an assembly of ministers at Elberfeldt. Daniel Krummacher made answer: “I know him very well; I met him yesterday.” “Who is he?” they asked eagerly; and he replied solemnly, “Myself.” He then explained that on the previous day, hearing that a very ill-conditioned person had received a very gracious visitation of God’s goodness, he had felt not a little envy and irritation.
Envy punishes itself
A Burmese potter, says the legend, became envious of the prosperity of a washerman, and, in order to ruin him, induced the king to order him to wash one of his black elephants white, that he might be lord of the white elephant. The washerman replied that, by the rules of his art, he must have a vessel large enough to wash him in. The king ordered the potter to make him such a vessel. When made, it was crushed by the first step of the elephant in it. Many trials failed, and the potter was ruined by the very scheme he had devised to crush his enemy.
The persecutors-the causes of their hostility
We now proceed to the consideration of the “causes” of this strange conduct; in other words, we shall inquire, Why the chief priests and rulers of the Jews acted thus towards our Lord? We remark, in general, that the cause was this-that the whole of our Lord’s conduct and ministry was in direct opposition to their views, prejudices, and interests.
1. It is obvious to remark, that there was much in what may be called their national feelings and prejudices, against which our Lord greatly and constantly offended. The chief priests and rulers would, of course, share with the people generally, in the expectation of a temporal prince in the person of Messiah, and of national distinctions and honours under his reign. But there was nothing in our Lord’s conduct or ministry to favour these views.
2. But this is not all. There was much in their official position and interests which rendered our Lord an object of constant suspicion, and of bitter hatred. The whole of their power and influence depended on the continuance of the ecclesiastical system which then existed. Their power and influence in their own nation were very great; and few who have once possessed power are willing to relinquish it. But our Lord’s conduct and ministry appeared not only unfavourable to their expectations of national aggrandizement, but they seemed to threaten even the existence of the system of ecclesiastical polity which then obtained amongst them.
3. But the grounds of hostility to our Lord were carried further still, he had rendered himself personally offensive to the chief priests and rulers of the Jews. “Beautiful,” said men, “these prayers and fastings, these alms and phylacteries, this scrupulous attention to the smallest points of the law!” “Beautiful,” replied our Lord, “as whited sepulchres, which are full of corruption and dead men’s bones; the very abodes of putridity, loathsomeness, and death.” It was a very common thing with Him, not only in His private intercourse with His disciples, but also in His public ministry, to caution men against the designs and the practices of the Scribes and Pharisees, of whom these chief priests and rulers, for the most part, consisted. “Beware of them,” He often cried. “Do not as the Pharisees do;” “they give alms, and say long prayers, to be seen of men.” It may not be improper to confirm the view we have taken of their conduct by a more direct reference to the evangelical history. I remark, then, that the truth of it appears in the origin of their opposition. It is evident that their hostility originated in the success of our Lord’s ministry; and it increased with the increase of His influence. To point out every illustration of this which the sacred narratives afford, would be to go through a great part of our Lord’s history. But we may notice the extraordinary event which specially stimulated their malignity, and led to their determination to destroy Him; that is to say, the resurrection of Lazarus. It was not many months before His crucifixion that this, in some respects His greatest miracle, was performed. “Then from that day forth they took counsel together for to put Him to death.” They tried to put the people down, but in vain; they appealed to our Lord, “Master, rebuke Thy disciples; but Jesus said, If these should hold their peace, the stones would immediately cry out.” Then “they said among themselves, Perceive ye how that ye prevail nothing; behold the world is gone after Him.” Thus we find that their hostility increased just as His influence increased. But, in addition to His influence with the people, our Lord, as we have already seen, rendered Himself personally offensive to the chief priests and rulers by His unsparing exposure of their hypocrisy. Before we leave this part of our subject, let us pause for a moment to inquire whether the same spirit has ever been displayed since the persecutors of Jesus went to give in their account?
1. There are very few men who will not decidedly oppose every effort to overturn a system, on the continuance of which their worldly interests depend. Very few who are fed, enriched, ennobled by any social arrangement, will ever care to inquire whether it be in itself good, whether it be generally beneficial, or whether it be not for the public weal that it give place to another? For them and theirs it is good; and they are all the world to themselves. They can see nothing but disaster in its overthrow, and nothing but wickedness in those who wish to effect it. And this suggests a passing remark, that the best institution may become antiquated. All the unprejudiced perceive that it is fast becoming a nuisance, and that the sooner it is allowed to be decently interred, the better for all interests. But the fact that it was once a benefit, helps to blind the eyes of those who are still interested in its continuance to another fact-that it has ceased to be so.
2. It is also worthy of remark, that generally speaking, their hostility is bitter in proportion to their apprehensions of the unsoundness of the system with which they are connected.
3. No men are more frequently placed in this position, or have more frequently displayed this spirit, than ecclesiastics. Their power is of a peculiar kind, and always rests, more or less, on public opinion.
4. It is still worse when they have become completely corrupt, and their corruption and hypocrisy are exposed to the world. Hence the persecutions which faithful men have endured in every age, and almost invariably through the instigation of ecclesiastics. Hence the sufferings of the Lollards, the Puritans, the Nonconformists, in our own country; of the Waldenses, the Albigenses, the Huguenots, on the continent of Europe. Hence, we say, and hence alone. Why was Wycliffe so hateful to the ecclesiastical rulers of his day? Simply because of the light which, from time to time, he threw on the system of corruption with which they were identified, and by which they were enriched and ennobled; because, by the calm and earnest exhibition of the truth, he was undermining their influence, and exposing them to contempt. Were Gardiner and Bonnet, men of some note in their day, better than Annas and Caiaphas? Wherein, beloved reader, and how much, were they better? They acted on precisely the same principles, and in precisely the same spirit; and if they were not better than the persecutors of Jesus, were they worse than some of their successors, the Elizabethan bishops? Were they worse than Parker and Whitgift; than Aylmer, and many others? (J. J. Davies.)
The King of the Jews
The title-“King of the Jews.”
II. The embarrassment that prompted the utterance of this question.
III. Regard this as a present question. What shall you do with reference to Him who is “King of the Jews”? Will you reject Him? Will you be neutral? Will you be like the Jews-for Him today, against Him tomorrow? Will your conscience be content if you simply call Him by His name? (Charles Stanford, D. D.)
And so Pilate, willing to content the people.
Pilate and Jesus
I. What sort of man was Pilate? Probably not worse than many Roman governors; not very unlike Festus, Felix, Gallio, and the rest.
II. What was he to do with Jesus? This was his difficulty; this was the rock on which he was stranded. The voice of the nation demanded Christ’s death. Insurrection, possibly even war, impended, if the demand was refused. What was to be done?
III. Pilate tries to evade the responsibility of deciding.
IV. Why did not Pilate dare to refuse the Jews’ demand?
1. He had an evil conscience.
2. By defending Jesus, he would run the risk of earthly loss.
3. He had no fixed belief to support him.
V. Observe the effect of living habitually for the present world. A man of the world, who lives only for the things of time and sense, content if he can satisfy Caesar and the people, has authority given him to deal with the cause of Christ. He cannot make up his mind to take up the cross and follow Him; for he has lived for self alone, and walked only by sight. What will such a man do in time of sudden trial but follow Pontius Pilate. If I must, I must. I see it is wrong. I would give much to escape, but there is no other way open. I must be content to satisfy the people. Jesus of Nazareth, His Church, His kingdom, His interest, His people, I surrender them to your will. (C. H. Waller, M. A.)
Pilate’s weakness and the chief priests’ guilt
I. Principle will, but policy will not, preserve you from sin. If you will not make the sacrifice which goodness requires, give up all hope of keeping your goodness. Courage is absolutely necessary for goodness.
II. A man’s sins weigh him heavily. If Pilate had had a guiltless conscience, he would have defied the clamour of the rulers. He walks along the downward path to hell with his eyes open.
III. Beware of compromise. Come to no terms with evil, but resist it.
IV. If we can prevent wrong being done, we cannot by verbal protests escape the responsibility for it. Pilate’s hand washing has many imitators, men substituting a feeble protest for vigorous and dutiful action. But in vain does Pilate think to wash his hands of guilt.
V. The hollowness of earthly pride and pomp comes out here.
VI. There is an exhibition here of the sinful side of human nature. Self-will seems a bright, brave thing, very excusable. Behold its guiltiness here. Weakness seems a harmless, good-tempered thing; it may easily commit the greatest crime.
VII. The hardships of transgressors’ ways is illustrated here. Pilate would have found it ten times easier to do right. Think of his shame, self-contempt; of the horror he would feel when Christ rose from the dead; of the penalties which followed. It was not more than seven or eight years before Caiaphas and Pilate were both degraded from their posts; and shortly after, Pilate, weary with misfortunes, killed himself. Nor, when we hear the men of Jerusalem ask the Roman governor for a cross, can we help remembering that they got their fill of crosses from the Romans; when, Titus crucifying sometimes 500 a day of those seeking to escape from the doomed city, at length, in the circuit of Jerusalem, room was wanting for the crosses, and crosses wanting for the bodies.
VIII. Our weakness increases the Saviour’s troubles.
IX. Christ never goes without a witness. Pilate, Herod, Pilate’s wife, and even the hypocrisy of the crowd, all proclaim, “There is no fault in Him.”
X. The Saviour’s sufferings claim our gratitude, but they also call on us to take up our cross and go after Him. Let us copy the Divine meekness, majesty, and love which met in the cross of Christ. (R. Glover.)
The miserable governor is an example to us of a man of infirm principle who seeks to tide over a difficulty by temporising. He proposed to inflict ignominious sufferings on Christ, grievous in themselves, but yet short of death; hoping in this way to appease the multitude, and by moving their fickle humour by the sight of blood, to induce them to remit the punishment they had just cried out to have executed on Christ. Pilate had no strength of character, no moral rectitude and fortitude. He could not do a right thing unless he were backed up by the people. He must have the popular voice with him to do justice or to commit an injustice. A terrible instance is Pilate to us of what comes of seeking a principle of action, direction, outside of our own selves, of being swayed by popular opinion. Pilate knew too well what were the Jewish expectations of a Messiah to suppose for an instant that the High Priests had delivered Jesus over because He sought to rescue His nation from a foreign domination. He appears never to have been deceived for a moment as to the malignant motives of those who sought the death of Christ; but he had not the moral courage to stand out against the popular voice. (S. Baring Gould, M. A.)
Triumph of evil only apparent
Jesus is given over to death. Wickedness has had its way; righteousness and pity have been trodden down. Yet no Divine defeat here. Though seemingly a victory for hell, it was really a triumph for heaven.
I. As a vindication of character. In no other way could such irresistible proof have been given of Christ’s sinlessness. Deadly foes, with everything their own way, cannot find against Him a single cause of just accusation. Six times He is declared by two Roman officials to be without fault. Throughout the scene it is continually forced on us that Jew and Roman are on trial, and Jesus is the judge. Not by His charges, but by His silence, they are made to convict themselves of prejudice, envy, hypocrisy, falsehood, outrage of justice, cruelty, and murder.
II. As a fulfilment of the Divine plan. The hope of the world was fulfilled at this hour. Eden’s distant anticipation of bruising the heel of Him who should bruise the serpent’s head; Abraham, across the altar of his son, beholding this day afar off; Moses, lifting up the serpent in the wilderness; the Psalmist’s picture of rejection, trial, and death; that chapter in Isaiah where we are made to stand beside the cross; all these, and many another prophetic assurance, waited for this tragic hour of salvation. Not alone through the love of friends, but even more through the wrath of man, the purpose of God marched on through tears and Crime to redemption.
III. The final outcome of Christ’s condemnation displayed with startling power where defeat and triumph rested. Pilate gave up Jesus to death to save his place; soon he was accused to his master, and driven forth, a broken-hearted exile. The priests persuaded the people to give Jesus to death to save their place and nation; that generation had not passed away before their own madness brought down on them, ten thousand times repeated, all the cruelty and outrage to which they had surrendered Him. But the crucified One-on the third day rises, and on the fortieth ascends to the throne of God. Today, while the Roman Empire is only a name, and the Jew is a restless and afflicted wanderer, Jesus triumphs. (C. M. Southgate.)
Christ willing to be crucified
Among the Romans the despotic power was so terrible, that if a slave had attempted the life his master, all the rest had been crucified with the guilty person. But our gracious Master died for His slaves who had conspired against Him. He shed His blood for those who spilt it. He was willing to be crucified, that we might be glorified. Our redemption was sweeter to Him than death was hitter, by which it was to be obtained. It was excellently said by Pherecides that God transformed Himself into love when He made the world. But with greater reason it is said by the apostle, God is love, when He redeemed it. (Handbook to Scripture Doctrines.)
“I will chastise Him,” said Pilate. The word used (παιδεύειν) is contemptuous; it means to correct as a naughty child, or, as a slave, to scare him against again committing the same offence. By Roman usage, when a slave was about to be set free, his master led him before the Praetor, and the latter then slightly beat the slave on the back with a rod (virgulta), as a reminder to him of the slavery in which he had been, and from which he was about to be set free. And now, see, the Jewish people lead Jesus, bound as a slave, before the Roman governor, and Pilate ignorantly deals with Him according to the law for the manumission of slaves. He beats Him-but Jesus does not pass at once from His court to freedom. He must first traverse the dark valley of death, and go to His death through the way of sorrows. There were various kinds of scourges employed among the Romans. There was the stick (fustis), the rod (virga), the whip (lorum), which was of leather-platted thongs, and into the plats were woven iron spikes (scorpio) or knuckle bones of animals. When Rehoboam said to the deputation, “My father chastised you with whips, but I will chastise you with scorpions,” he contrasted the simple scourge of leather thongs with that which was made more terrible with the nails and spikes, and which was called the scorpion, and was in use among the Jews as well as among the Romans. The lictors who stood about the Praetor bore axes tied in bundles of rods. The rods were for beating, the axes for decapitating; but they only used the rods for persons of distinction and quality. A Praetor such as Pilate had six of such officers by him. We may be quite sure that they did not proceed to unbind their bundles of rods to scourge Jesus with them-that would be rendering Him too much respect. He would not be beaten with the lictors’ rods, but be scourged with the thonged whip, armed either with scorpions or knuckle bones, the instrument of chastisement for slaves and common criminals. Before Christ was scourged He was stripped of His raiment before the people, His hands being bound and attached to a pillar. We have descriptions from old heathen writers of the manner in which such a scourging was performed. “In Rome,” says Aulus Gellins, “in the Forum was a post by itself, and to this the most illustrious man was brought, his clothes stripped off, and he was beaten with rods.” There is a profane Life of Christ, of uncertain date, written in Hebrew, circulating anciently among the Jews, that embodies their traditions about Christ, and in it it is said that “The elders of Jerusalem took Jesus and bound Him to a marble pillar in the City, and scourged Him there with whips, crying out, ‘Where now are the wondrous works that Thou hast done?’“ In the Jewish laws it is ordered that behind the man to be scourged shall stand a stone, upon which the executioner shall take his place, so as to be well raised, that thereby the blows he deals may fall with greater effect. It is probable that before Herod’s palace, where Pilate held his court, was a low pillar, and the prescribed square block on which the executioner was to stand, whilst the person to be scourged was fastened to the low pillar in a bowed position, the ropes knotted about his wrists being passed through a ring strongly soldered into the stone pillar. Thus the scourger stood above the man he beat and struck downwards at his bent back. The tradition that the scourging of Jesus took place somehow thus, that He was attached to a pillar when beaten, is very old. (S. Baring Gould, M. A.)
Contrast between a scourged Christ and a pampered Christian
Christ shows us how the flesh is to be mastered by the spirit, how we are to strive to obtain such a dominion over our bodies that we can bear pain without outcry and anger. God Himself sends us pain sometimes, and we are disposed to be restive under it, to murmur, and to reproach Him. Let us look to Jesus, scourged at the pillar, and see how He endured patiently. Let us learn to keep the body under, and bring it into subjection; ease, luxury, self-indulgence have a deadening effect on the soul, and this is an age of self-indulgence. We are always intent on heaping to ourselves comforts; we have no idea of “enduring hardships.” We must have softer, deeper carpets for our feet; garments that fit us most perfectly and becomingly, easy chairs, soft springy beds, more warmth, better food, purple, fine linen, sumptuous fare every day. Our rooms must be artistic, the decorations and colours aesthetic; the eye, the ear, the nose, the touch must all be gratified, and we seek to live for the pleasures of the sense, and think it a sort of duty to have the senses tickled or soothed. How strangely does the figure of Jesus, bowed at the pillar, with His back exposed, and the soldiers lashing at Him with their whips loaded with knuckle bones, contrast with this modern foppishness and effeminacy! What a lesson he teaches of the control of the senses, of the conquest of the flesh! I would not say that it is wrong to cultivate art and to love that which is beautiful; but it is wrong to be so given up to it as to allow the love of the ease and beauty and gracefulness in modern life to take the fibre out of our souls, and reduce us to moral limpness. We must endure hardship as good soldiers of Jesus Christ; we must strive to be above the comforts and adornments of modern life, and make of them the accident and not the substance of our existence. (S. Baring Gould, M. A.)
Duty and interest
In Pilate’s case, the particular influence that prevented was the fear of man. “What will the Jews say, what will the Jews do, if I discharge this Prisoner whom they wish me to condemn? “When once men are governed in their conduct, not by the sense of right, but by the desire to obtain the world’s approval, or the fear of incurring the world’s hatred, they are at the mercy of the binds and waves, without chart or rudder. They are not rocks against which the waters break, but which stand unmoved because they are rooted into the solid earth, but they are things that drift upon the surface, borne hither and thither as the current sets or the breezes drive them. The man who owns Christ only when the world tolerates it, or as far as the world bears it, will deny Christ when the world frowns. It is impossible to be a lover of Christ and a lover of the world; it is impossible to fear God and man too; it is absolutely impossible to please men and be the servant of Christ. (Oxford Lent Sermons.)
And they clothed Him with purple and platted a crown of thorns.
Among the Babylonians and Persians it was customary on a certain feast to bring forth a malefactor from the prison, to place him on a throne, adorned with the royal insignia, to treat him with homage and honour, give him a splendid banquet, and then tear off his crown and royal apparel, scourge him, and put him to death by burning him alive. In Aricia, the priest, king for the year, was anciently sacrificed annually, but afterwards a slave was taken and adorned with royal and priestly ornaments for a few days, and treated with all reverence, and then was stripped and put to death. Throughout the heathen world, at midwinter, it was customary to thus give a short-lived dignity to some person, who was afterwards despoiled of his splendour and put to death, and this custom lingered on in a modified form in Europe, and at Twelfth Night Epiphany kings and queens were installed. Even in Mexico, when discovered and invaded by the Spaniards, a somewhat similar usage was found. A young man for a whole year was treated with homage, and given everything he desired, and then was suddenly despoiled and put to death. Haman, when he desired the royal apparel for himself, and the royal steed, had little idea that he was seeking a brief glory which would end in the gallows, just like the annual exaltation and execution of the Sagan, as he was called. The Romans kept their Saturnalia when the slaves took their masters’ places, and were dressed in the best robes, and banqueted at their tables, whilst their lords served them. And then, in a night, all was changed, and the slave was subjected to the rod and bondage. The soldiers were wont to keep their Saturnalia, and knew all about the custom of dressing up a victim as a king, then disrobing him and putting him to death, and now they practised this on Jesus. Their act was not one prompted by a sudden fancy. It was a thing to which they were either themselves accustomed, or knew of it as a rite still in use. They regarded Jesus as a victim, and as a victim they treated Him to this short honour; but they did it, for all that, in mockery. (S. Baring Gould, M. A.)
A crown of thorns
We usually think of it as with an Eastern diadem; but it was far more probably in imitation of the victor’s wreath, which the emperor of the time was so fond of wearing, as the statues of Liberius abundantly testify. One of the soldiers must have run into the garden of the palace, or down the rocky valley hard by, and gathered a handful of thorny bramble; of what kind it was, has been often disputed. Those who thought most of the infliction of pain fixed on an Acanthus, with long spikes that sting as well as prick; others, who saw in the crowning more of mockery than cruelty, chose the Nebk-the Spina Christi-which, with its pliant twigs and bright ivy-like leaves, best recalls the Imperial wreath. Whichever it was, it is enough for us to feel, as an evidence of the restitution wrought by the Incarnation, that what sprang from the ground as a curse on Adam’s transgression, was woven into a crown, and worn by Christ. (H. M. Luckock, D. D.)
The curse and crown of thorns
And thus, as the curse began in thorns (Genesis 3:18), it ended in thorns. (Hiller.)
Symbolism of the crown of thorns
Thorns and briars were the curse of the earth, sent because of man’s disobedience, and after his expulsion from Paradise. There is, therefore, a symbolical propriety in Christ assuming a crown of thorns. He who had come to undo the fault of Adam, to take away its consequences, takes to His head the symbol of the evil brought on the earth, and bears it on His temples … God of old likened the law which He gave to Israel to a thorn hedge enclosing His people. Christ has come to take away the law of ordinances which tore and tortured the Jewish people, and He takes its symbol, the thorny circle, and is crowned with it … The thorn has also the symbolic meaning of sin, and a dry thorn was regarded as the symbol of a sinner (Ezekiel 2:3; Ezekiel 2:6)…A thorn is symbolical, not of sin only, but of mockery. As the thorn enters into the flesh and works itself deeper in, and rankles there, causing intolerable pain, and can only with the greatest difficulty be extracted, so is it with the stabbing word of sarcasm-it pierces deep into the heart, and festers there. (S. Baring Gould, M. A.)
The coronation of Christ
The thorn chaplet was a triumphal crown. Christ had fought with sin from the day when he first stood foot to foot with it in the wilderness, up to the time when He entered Pilate’s hall, and He had conquered it. As a witness that He had gained the victory, behold, sin’s crown seized as a trophy! What was the crown of sin? Thorns. But now Christ has spoiled sin of its richest regalia and He wears it Himself. Glorious Champion, all hail! (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The thorn crown a stimulus
In the thorn crown I see a mighty stimulus.
1. To fervent love. Can you see Christ crowned with thorns, and not be drawn to Him?
2. To repentance. Can you see your best-beloved put to such shame, and yet hold truce or parley with the sins which pierced Him. It cannot be. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The thorn crown a shelter
Ofttimes I have seen the blackthorn growing in the hedge all bristling with a thousand prickles, but right in the centre of the bush have I seen the pretty nest of a little bird. Why did the creature place its habitation there? Because the thorns become a protection to it, and shelter it from harm. And to you I would say-Build your nests within the thorns of Christ. It is a safe place for sinners. Neither Satan, sin, nor death can reach you there. And when you have done that, then come and crown His sacred head with other crowns. What glory does He deserve? What is good enough for Him? If we could take all the precious things from all the treasuries of monarchs, they would not be worthy to be pebbles beneath His feet. If we could bring Him all the sceptres, mitres, tiaras, diadems, and all other pomp of earth, they would be altogether unworthy to be thrown in the dust before Him. Wherewith shall we crown Him? Come, let us weave our praises together, and set our tears for pearls, our love for gold. They will sparkle like so many diamonds in His esteem, for He loves repentance, and He loves faith. Let us make a chaplet with our praises, and crown Him as the laureate of grace. Oh, for grace to do it in the heart, and then in the life, and then with the tongue, that we may praise Him forever who bowed His head to shame for us. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
A crown of thorns
When John Huss, the Bohemian martyr, was brought out to be burnt, they put on his head a triple crown of paper, with painted devils on it. On seeing it he said, “The Lord Jesus Christ for my sake wore a crown of thorns. Why should not I then for His sake wear this light crown, be it ever so ignominious? Truly I will do it and that willingly.” When it was set upon his head, the bishop said, “Now we commend thy soul to the devil.” “But I,” said Huss, lifting up his eyes to heaven, “do commit my spirit into Thy hands. O Lord Jesus Christ, to Thee I commend my spirit, which Thou hast redeemed!” When the fagots were piled up to his very neck, the Duke of Bavaria was officious enough to desire him to abjure. “No,” said Huss, “I never preached any doctrine of any evil tendency, and what I have taught with my lips I now seal with my blood.” (Mother’s Treasury.)
The cruel coronation
First, the cruel coronation is set before us; secondly, the abjects exulting over their supposed victim, mocking Him and hailing Him with the supposition that He only pretended to be a king; but we cannot stop there-we must go on to notice His exaltation in consequence, and look to Him where He is.
I. I was led to the first statement from the circumstance of the rejoicings in the week that is past, on account of its being coronation week, or coronation day. “Well,” I said in my own soul, as I turned over the leaves of my Bible,” every day of my life, God helping me, shall be a coronation day. He must be crowned Lord of all. But mark, in His official character He must be crowned cruelly with thorns first. Thorns were the symbol of the curse. When God pronounced a curse upon creation, in consequence of man’s fail, it was said, “Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth unto thee.” Not a few, yea, probably, all of God’s saints have had to experience that there are thorns in their path, that there are thorns around them, that there are thorns in their choicest gardens, perhaps, in their families, in their children; that there are thorns in their most pleasant circumstances, that there are thorns in their most prosperous businesses, that there are thorns in their fondest hopes; but none among them, that I have ever heard of, have been crowned with thorns. I sometimes flinch if a thorn only touches my finger-I sometimes flinch if a thorn seems threatening the destruction of my fond expectation. What should I do if I were brought to be crowned with them? That was only the honour belonging to the King of kings, who, though King of kings, was the Prince of sufferers; and this Prince of sufferers was crowned with that curse which belonged to poor, fallen, ruined sinners, and which must have crushed you and me into eternal destruction, if He had not been crowned with it. Have we never read, that He was “made a curse for us,” because “it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree.” When this crown of thorns was placed upon the head of our blessed Lord, it was that as a crowned head He should proclaim the liberation of His people from the curse. As though He had said, “Plat it closely, take them all in, do not leave a single thorn for My bride, do not leave a single point that shall be experienced, in a judicial sense, for any that the Father gave Me; plat it thicker, plat it higher, lay it heavier, that I may endure all.” And why? Because He loved His Church, and would put away the curse, and secure the blessing of His Father upon them, and at least welcome them home with the very appellation of blessing, “Come, ye blessed of My Father.”
II. Let us advance to take a view of these abjects, that were exulting in His sufferings. Are there not many such mockers now? But just look for a moment at the characters set forth here, as the abjects that mocked Him, “What!” say you, “are we to count chief priests and scribes among the abjects?” I do so always and among the very worst of abjects. What was Pilate? an abject. What were the priests, that prompted and goaded the people to cry, “Away with Him, away with Him.” They were all abjects, decided mockers of Christ. And yet these abjects did not like to go forward in a party by themselves, but must summon the other abjects to do so for them. Now look for a moment how Christ is mocked, in the present day, with all the gaudy show, with all the mimicry of expressions in honour of Him, in which the heart does not go, with all the superstitious ceremonies and abominable idolatries that are palmed upon men under the name of Christianity! But you will observe, that amidst all this insult and mockery, which was heaped upon Jesus when He was upon earth, by these abjects, yet they were obliged to honour Him as King, and they cried out, though they only meant it in mockery, “Hail, King of the Jews.” Now pause here for a moment, just to ask the question, “How do I honour Him?” Are we really honouring Him as our King? or are we fleeing from Him, as His disciples did amidst His sufferings.
III. This will lead me to say a few words about His present exaltation. Now this present exaltation, I am told, is “at the right hand of the Majesty on high,” where He is enthroned in glory. (J. Irons, M. A.)
The world’s treatment of Christ
John Wesley, at a considerable party, had been maintaining with great earnestness the doctrine of Vox populi, vox Dei, against his sister, a lady whose talents were not unworthy the family to which she belonged. At last the preacher, to put an end to the controversy, put his argument in the shape of a dictum, and said, “I tell you, sister, the voice of the people is the voice of God.” “Yes,” she replied, mildly, “it cried, ‘Crucify Him, crucify Him.’” A more admirable answer was, perhaps, never given.
The world’s treatment of Christ
Dr. Blair, at the conclusion of a sermon in which he had descanted with his usual eloquence on the loveliness of virtue, gave utterance to the following apostrophe: “O virtue, if thou wert embodied, how would all men love and imitate thee.” His colleague, the Rev. R. Walker, preached that afternoon, and took occasion to say, “My reverend friend observed in the morning that, if virtue were embodied, all men would love and imitate her. Well, virtue has been embodied; but how was she treated? Did all men love her? Did they copy her? No! She was despised and rejected of men, who, after defaming, insulting, and scourging her, led her to Calvary, where they crucified her between two thieves.”
Fickleness of the populace
When Napoleon was returning from his successful wars in Austria and Italy, amid the huzzas of the people, Bourrienne remarked to him that “it must be delightful to be greeted with such demonstrations of enthusiastic admiration.” “Bah!” replied Napoleon, “this same unthinking crowd, under a slight change of circumstances, would follow me just as eagerly to the scaffold.” (Dictionary of Anecdote.)
An indictment against man
I. Here we have the basis of a tremendous indictment against human nature.
1. Human nature does not know good. It if had, it would not have crucified the Lord of glory.
2. Human nature hated goodness in its most attractive form.
3. Humanity is guilty of the utmost possible folly, because in crucifying Jesus it crucified its best friend.
4. Human nature destroyed its best instructor.
5. Human nature submitted to the insolent tyranny of the priests.
6. Human nature was guilty of craven cowardice in striking One who would not defend Himself.
II. Let me shut the door against some self-righteous disclaimers.
1. “I should not have done so.” Of whom wast thou born, but of a woman, as they were?
2. “I would have spoken for Him.” Yes; and dost thou speak for Him now? What have you done already? Have you sneered at the gospel? Have you rejected it? Are you ignorant of it? Have you ever doubted His power and His willingness to save? For believers-oh what a sorrow to think we stabbed our Friend to the heart. If we have crucified Him-let us resolve to crown Him. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
And led Him out to crucify Him.
Preparations for crucifixion
The case was shut and the last chance was gone, and Pilate uttered the terrible formula, “Go, soldier; get the cross ready!” The cross, perhaps, was found on a pile of grim lumber in some prison yard not far off. Perhaps it was a bole of some common tree, with the boughs lopped off and the bark left on. This log and its transverse beam had to be roughly knocked together at the place of crucifixion-not before. Some officer would say to the man and his mates who went for it: “You may as well bring two other crosses, for there are two other men to be crucified, and we may as well put them all three to death together, and so save trouble.” Meanwhile, there stands Jesus meekly waiting, still thorn-crowned-for, when the soldiers took away the fantastic robe they did not take away (according to any evidence that we have) the crown of thorns. Then the two convicts are fetched out, and yonder they slouch. Ah! I can almost see the two horrors-two hard, white-grey cruel faces, two pairs of eyes that shift and shine under two shocks of rough wild hair. Now all is ready. The three are formed into a line, each one carrying a part of his cross, and each one has slung before him, from his neck, a board whitened with gypsum, on which you see his name and crime scored in great red letters. A centurion, on horseback, goes first; and then comes the Holy One, sinking under the shaft of His cross. The crier walks by His side, shouting, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews! Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews!” The second man comes after Him, and the third man after him, attended in like manner. As they stagger slowly along, all the reeking, ragged lazzaroni swarm out in larger numbers from the slums of outcast Jerusalem, leaping, laughing, swearing, and playing off practical jokes upon one another. (Charles Stanford, D. D.)
The way to the cross
The procession formed, and started on its way. First went a trumpeter to call attention and clear the road. This was usual both among the Romans and the Jews. Among the latter a herald led the way, crying out, “So-and-so, the son of So-and-so, is being led forth to execution. The witnesses against Him are so and so. If anyone knows any reason why the sentence be remitted or deferred, let him now declare it.” Also, when a criminal had been sentenced, two members of the council accompanied him to execution. We may be sure it was so on this occasion, Jesus had been condemned to death by the Sanhedrim, and members of it would be likely to attend and see that Christ was really slain; we find also that when He hung upon the cross some of these were present, who mocked, and these were probably the two members delegated to assist at the execution, according to law. A centurion also attended the procession, mounted on horseback. He represented the governor, and his function was to see that the execution was properly and fully carried out, and that the person executed died on his cross. We see in the presence of the centurion under the cross, when Christ died, as well as in that of the chief priests deriding Jesus as He hung, one of those many little touches of truth, those undesigned coincidences, which serve to show the fidelity of the record to the facts of the case. A considerable detachment of soldiers was also in attendance, and accompanied the Lord on His way to death. There were fears of a riot, and possibly of an attempt to release the two thieves. If these were, as we may suppose, of the band of Barabbas, they were not only found guilty because they were robbers, but also because they were political offenders. The mob had demanded and obtained the release of Barabbas; it was not unlikely they might make an attempt to free the two other conspirators. Now try to picture the train as it moved. The streets of Jerusalem were narrow, and though the road chosen was one of the principal streets, yet that street was by no means broad. It was part of the custom to convey criminals to death through the most frequented portions of the city. Quinctilian says, “As often as we crucify criminals, the most populous streets are traversed, so that the crowd may see and be filled with fear.” Another ancient writer gives a description of the cross bearing of a slave, which is interesting, as it shows what the usage then was, and helps us to realize the scene when Christ went through the streets of Jerusalem to His passion. He says that a noble Roman had delivered over one of his slaves to death, and he bade the fellow slaves convey this man about Rome, and make his death as conspicuous and notorious as possible. He had been first scourged in the Forum, and then dragged about to all the most frequented parts of the city. He was made to carry his cross, his hands were bound to the arms of the cross, and the full weight of the rough cross was laid on his back and shoulders, bleeding and raw from the scourging he had received. The streets were not only narrow, but they were winding. The way led to the gate Gennath, or the Garden Gate, which was in the corner between the old wall of Zion and the wall of the lower town, and belonged to the latter. It was so called, because, outside the city, to the north of the Pool of Hezekiah, lay gardens belonging to citizens, one of which, as we learn later, belonged to Joseph of Arimathea. The procession moves on, in the full glare of day, with the hot Syrian sun streaming down on the train. Above, the sky is blue, the street, though narrow, is full of light, for the walls reflect the glare of the sun. (S. Baring Gould, M. A.)
The scene at Calvary
1. What was crucifixion? To the devout Christian every item of information he can gain concerning that dread scene at Calvary is of the utmost value.
1. It was foreign in every sense in its infliction upon our Lord. This kind of capital punishment was Roman, and not Jewish.
2. It was excessively cruel in its details. The word which it has given to our English language indicates its severity. To be “excruciated” simply means to be in suffering like that of crucifixion; it signifies the extreme anguish to which human sensibility can go.
3. It was long and lingering in its operation. Severe as these wounds were, they could never be very dangerous. Hardly more than a few drops of blood fell from them. It would have been too much of a merciful indulgence for this mode of execution to make any of its agonizing strokes immediately fatal. Death did not ensue sometimes until after several days of torture. Even then it was brought on by weakness and starvation, coupled with the low fever which the inflammation from the wounds sooner or later produced. The great suffering was caused by the constrained posture on the cross, the soreness of the members from the nails, and of the back from the welts raised by the whips in the scourging. Every motion brought with it only anguish without relief. Thus the poor body was permitted to hang with no respite and no hope, through the night and through the day, in the chillness of the evening, in the heat of the noon, until death lint an end to consciousness add to life.
4. Such a punishment powerfully arrested the popular imagination as a spectacle. Sometimes the military men put on guard were compelled to accelerate the final agony by brutally beating the legs of the victims with bludgeons till the bones were crushed and the sudden shocks produced collapse. No wonder people called this “the most cruel, the worst possible fate.” It is on record that a soldier once said that, of all the awful sounds human ears could be forced to listen to, the most terrible out of hell were those pitiable cries, in the solemn silence of the midnight, from the lonely hill where crucified men were hanging in agonies out of which they could not even die while a breath to suffer with remained.
5. So we see whence came the suggestion of a crucifix as a symbol of faith and penitence. It is not likely that the physical pains of our Lord were the severest He had to bear; but they certainly have availed from the earliest time to move the hearts of the simpleminded common people. Nor is this all: there are moments of deep spiritual feeling when even the most cultivated penitent will find an argument in the “agony and bloody sweat” as well as in the “cross and passion” of the Divine Redeemer. The popular mind is moved by such a picture; but the mistake might easily be made of trusting a crucifix in an impulse of superstition, instead of Christ on a principle of faith.
II. So much, then, as to the manner of our Lord’s crucifixion; now comes up for our study a far more interesting question concerning its meaning.
1. Considered merely as a matter of historic incident, the death of Jesus Christ is of little, if any, spiritual value. Doubtless there were other executions at Golgotha before and after this one, equally painful and equally iniquitous-for the Roman government in Palestine was never free from charges of injustice. We do not care, however, to remember the sufferers’ names. And Christ’s crucifixion is but one more wail of abused humanity, if we contemplate it alone.
2. We must consider this event as a matter of theological doctrine. When history is so momentous and so mysterious as this, we are compelled to read below the surface and between the lines. He was “delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God” in order that He should suffer precisely as He did (Acts 2:23). Men wreaked their violent passions upon Him, and it was by wicked and responsible hands He was crucified and slain. Messiah was “cut off, but not for Himself” (Daniel 9:26). The wisdom of God overruled the wrath of His murderers to the Divine glory and the salvation of men. One of the ancient commentators springs up almost out of sober exposition into the realm of song, as he exclaims; “In their frantic anger they pluck to pieces the Rose of Sharon; but by so doing they only display the brilliance of every petal. In their fury they break a diamond into fragments; by which they only cause it to show its genuineness by its sparkling splinters. They are anxious to tear from Immanuel’s head the last remnant of a crown; but they only lift the veil from the forehead of His majesty!”
3. More than anything else we must also consider the crucifixion of Jesus as a matter of vicarious atonement. There is something very fine in the quiet simplicity with which one of the apostles explains this entire scene at Calvary: “All have sinned.” Christ died to be “a propitiation through faith in His blood” (Romans 3:23-26). Pilate wrote an inscription to be put over the head of the Saviour; according to a Roman custom, this was designed to explain the transaction to all who stood by. The true inscription on the cross would be “Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners.” These are the words which would give to the scene at Calvary its eternal interpretation before the Church and the ages. The very voice of Immanuel Himself as He seems to speak out of the midst of His suffering, is: “See! I have taken away the handwriting that was against you, and have nailed it to My cross” (Colossians 2:13-14). The one word which describes the whole gospel plan of salvation is substitution. Christ was sinless, yet He suffered: we are sinful, yet we go free (2 Corinthians 5:21).
4. This will lead at last to our consideration of the crucifixion as a matter of personal experience. Believers all glory in the cross. Many a death bed has been illumined by its light. Many a sorrowful and lonely heart has been encouraged by the remembrance of it. There have been old men, just trembling on the verge of the tomb, whose eyes filled with the tears of grateful gladness as they died thinking of it. There have arisen voices from around the stake in the midst of the martyr’s flames, singing praise to Him who hung upon it. Many a bowed sinner has come forth into freedom as he laid his burden at the foot of the cross. This personal experience begins with self-renunciation. Every other reliance must absolutely be surrendered, and each soul must become content to owe its salvation to Jesus Christ’s merits, not to its own. So this personal experience continues to the end with a deep solicitude against lapsing into sin again. (C. S. Robinson, D. D.)
And they compel one Simon a Cyrenian.
Bearing the cross
I. In going through the history of the fact, our thoughts must glance along the links of the connection between the last appeal of Pilate, “Behold, the Man,” and the subject which claims our attention now.
II. We pass from the historic fact to the challenge founded upon it. In view of what is now meant by cross bearing, we ask, “Who among you is willing to become a cross bearer for Christ?” The only cross in prospect now is a cross for the soul. Carrying a cross after Christ means, for one thing, some kind of suffering for Christ. View the cross bearing as something practical, in distinction from something only emotional, and answer the question, “who is now willing to be a cross bearer for Christ?” “Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for Me, but weep for yourselves, and your children!” On the roadside near an old Hungarian town, grey with the stains of time and weather, there is a stone image of the great Cross bearer, and under it is sculptured this inscription in Latin; “Is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by? Behold, and see if there be any sorrow like unto My sorrow.” “The thorough woe-begoneness of that image,” remarks an old scholar, “used to haunt me long: that old bit of granite-the beau-ideal of human sorrow, weakness, and woe-begoneness. To this day it will come back upon me.” Natural sensibility is not irreligious; but, considered in itself alone, it is not religion. With all the pain of bursting heart, and all the leverage of straining strength, Simon, bearing the cross for Christ, is the perpetual type of one who not only feels for Christ, but who tries to do something. I charge you by the crown of thorns, that you shrink from no ridicule that comes upon you simply for Christ’s sake. On July 1, 1415, when John Huss had to die for Christ’s sake, and when, on the way to the dread spot, the priests put upon his head a large paper cap, painted with grotesque figures of devils, and inscribed with the word, “Hoeresiarcha!” he said, “Our Lord wore a crown of thorns for me; why should not I wear this for Him?” I charge you by the truth that Christ was not ashamed of you, that you be not ashamed of Christ. In view of the strength assured to each cross bearer, who is willing? (Charles Stanford, D. D.)
Carrying the cross for Christ
Christ comes forth from Pilate’s hall with the cumbrous wood upon His shoulder, but through weariness He travels slowly, and His enemies urgent for His death, and half afraid, from His emaciated appearance, that He may die before He reaches the place of execution, allow another to carry His burden. The tender mercies of the wicked are cruel, they cannot spare Him the agonies of dying on the cross, they will therefore remit the labour of carrying it. They place the cross upon Simon, a Cyrenian, coming out of the country. We do not know what may have been the colour of Simon’s face, but it was most likely black. Simon was an African; he came from Cyrene. Alas poor African, thou hast been compelled to carry the cross even until now. Hail, ye despised children of the sun, ye follow first after the King in the march of woe. We are not sure that Simon was a disciple of Christ; he may have been a friendly spectator; yet one would think the Jews would naturally select a disciple if they could. Coming fresh from the country, not knowing what was going on, he joined with the mob, and they made him carry the cross. Whether a disciple then or not, we have every reason to believe that he became so afterwards; he was the father, we read, of Alexander and Rufus, two persons who appear to have been 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. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Simon helping Jesus
Little did these people know that they were making this man immortal! Notice in this connection:
I. The greatness of trifles. Had Simon started from the little village where he lived five minutes earlier or later, had he walked a little faster or slower, had he happened to be lodging on the other side of Jerusalem, had he gone in at another gate, had the centurion not fixed on him to carry the cross, all his life would have been different. And so it is always. Our lives are like the Cornish rocking stones, pivoted on little points.
1. Let us bring the highest and largest principles to bear on the smallest events and circumstances.
2. Let us repose in quiet confidence on Him in whose hands the whole puzzling overwhelming mystery lies. To Him “great” and “small” are terms that have no meaning. He looks upon men’s lives, not according to the apparent magnitude of the deeds with which they are filled, but simply according to the motives from which, and the purpose towards which, they were done.
II. The blessedness and honour of helping Jesus Christ. Though He bore Simon’s sins in His Own Body on the tree, He needed Simon to help Him to bear the cross; and He needs us to help Him to spread throughout the world the blessed consequences of that cross. For us all there is granted the honour, and from us all there is required the sacrifice and the service of helping the suffering Saviour of men.
III. The perpetual recompense and record of humblest Christian work. How little Simon thought, when he went back to his rural lodging that night, that he had written his Name high up on the tablet of the world’s memory, to be legible forever. God never forgets, or allows to be forgotten, anything done for Him. We may not leave our works on any record that men can read. What of that, if they are written in letters of light in the Lamb’s Book of Life, to be read out by Him, before His Father and the holy angels, in the last great day. We may not leave any separate traces of our service, any more than the little brook that comes down some galley on the hillside flows separate from its sisters, with whom it has coalesced in the bed of the great river, or in the rolling, boundless ocean. What of that, so long as the work, in its consequences, shall last?
IV. The blessed results of contact with the suffering Christ. Only by standing near the cross, and gazing on the Crucified Jesus, will any of us ever learn the true mystery and miracle of Christ’s great and loving Being and work. Take your place there behind Him, near His cross; gazing upon Him till your heart melts, and you, too, learn that He is your Lord, and Saviour, and God. Look to Him who bears what none can help Him to carry-the burden of the world’s sin; let Him bear yours; yield to Him your grateful obedience; and then take up your cross daily, and bear the light burden of self-denying service to Him who has borne the heavy load of sin for you and all mankind. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
The compulsion of Simon
The Persian monarchs had a service of carriers or post, and these were called angari; they were allowed to seize on any horses and equipages they needed, to demand entertainment wherever they came, free of expense and this proved a great grievance. The word passed into use among the Greeks (ἀγγαρεύειν), and the Romans exercised pretty freely the same rights of requisitioning. When the Baptist said to the soldiers, “Do violence to no man,” he doubtless referred to this system of extorting the use of their horses, their beasts, even their own work, out of subject people, without payment. (S. Baring Gould, M. A.)
Simon helping Jesus
We are not told as much, but we may conclude that Jesus had fallen under the weight. He seemed unable to bear the cross any further. Perhaps He had fainted from the loss of blood and from the long fasting. He sank on the pavement and could bear the wood no longer. Something of the sort must have occurred, or the centurion would not have halted the convoy, and ordered that the cross should be transferred to another. This was not done out of compassion, but out of necessity. Jesus could not bear it any further; therefore, in order that the place of execution might be quickly reached, someone else must be got to carry it. No Roman would carry the cross. To do so would dishonour him. The soldiers looked out for someone, and seized on Simon. They were wont thus to requisition men and animals for the service of the State. Simon was a foreigner, a native of Lybia in Africa, a dark man, possibly not exactly a negro, but so dark-complexioned that he went by the name of Niger, or the Black Man. He was coming into the town, probably laden with the wood for the fire on which the Easter lamb was to be burnt, for on this day of the preparation the Jews were wont to go out of the city and collect the necessary wood, lay it on their shoulders and bring it home. So now, on the day of the preparation, the Lord carries on His shoulders the wood for the new sacrifice, on which He, the Lamb of God, was to have His life consumed. As He goes, He meets Simon carrying the wood into Jerusalem for the typical lamb. The soldiers at once seize Simon, make him cast down his load, and take on his shoulders the burden of Christ’s cross. He was the first; he, this African, to take up the cross, and follow Christ; he, the representative of the race of Ham, the most despised of all the descendants of Noah, that on which the yoke of bondage seems ever to have pressed. And now, how wonderful, if this our conjecture be true. The Romans and Greek, representatives of Japhet; the Jews, representatives of Shem; and Simon, the representative of Ham, are all united in one stream, setting forward to Calvary. Each, this day, gives a pledge of conversion; the centurion, the son of Japhet; the thief, the son of Israel, of Shem; and, first of all, the Cyrenian, the descendant of Ham … Simon was compelled. He was not, at first, willing to take it; if, as we suppose, he was carrying his bundle of wood, he was constrained to lay that down. So must we lay aside every weight, and the sin that doth so easily beset us, that we may follow after Jesus, bearing His reproach. Simon shrank both from the burden and from the shame, and the natural man shrinks from the cross of Christ, shrinks from the cross that God lays on us. He compels us to bear the cross; and though we may wish to escape it at first, yet, if like Simon we submit, and bear it in a right spirit, it will bring us, as it did Simon, to meekness and patience, and a more perfect knowledge of Christ. (S. Baring Gould, M. A.)
Shape of the cross
The shape of the cross on which our Lord suffered has been much debated. Some ancient Fathers, fancying they found a typical reference in the crossing of the hands over the head of the scapegoat, and in the peculiar mode in which Jacob blessed his grandsons, often assumed that it was in the form of what is commonly called a St. Andrew’s Cross; others again, seeing in the mystical mark or Tau set upon the foreheads of the righteous in Ezekiel’s vision a foreshadowing of the cross, concluded that it was like that which bears the name of St. Anthony, in form like a capital T. It is far more probable that it was what is known familiarly as the Latin Cross. It was prefigured by the transverse spits which the priest placed in the Pascal lamb. Its four arms, pointing to the four quarters of the globs, symbolized “the breadth, and length, and depth, and height” of Christ’s universal Church. It is a strong argument in favour of this form that “the inscription” was set above the head of the Crucified, which would be impossible in either of the other forms. (H. M. Luckock, D. D.)
Sharing the cross with Jesus
Jesus was pleased to take man unto His aid, not only to represent His Own need, and the dolorousness of His Passion, but to consign the duty unto man, that we must enter into a fellowship of Christ’s sufferings, taking up a cross of martyrdom when God requires us, enduring affronts, being patient under affliction, loving them that hate us, and being benefactors to our enemies, abstaining from sensual and intemperate delight, forbidding ourselves lawful recreations when we have an end of the spirit to serve upon the ruins of the body’s strength, mortifying our desires, breaking our own will, not seeking ourselves, being entirely resigned to God. These are the cross and the nails, and the spear and the whip, and all the instruments of a Christian’s passion. (Bishop Jeremy Taylor.)
Simon bearing the cross
A scene for all the ages of time and all the cycles of eternity; a cross with Jesus at the one end of it, and Simon at the other, suggesting the idea to every troubled soul, that no one need ever carry a whole cross. You have only half a cross to carry. If you are in poverty, Jesus was poor, and He comes and takes the other end of the cross. If you are in persecution, Jesus was persecuted too. If you are in any kind of trouble, you have a sympathizing Redeemer. Let this be a lesson to each of us. If you find a man in persecution, or in sickness, or in trouble of any kind, go up to him and say, “My brother, I have come to help you. You take hold of one end of this cross, and I will take hold of the other end, and Jesus Christ will come in and take hold of the middle of the cross; after a while there will be no cross at all.” (T. De Witt Talmage, D. D.)
A strange episode
Simon was probably a pilgrim to the feast; possibly had not known of the existence of Jesus Christ before; is not now seeking Him. But Christ crosses his path; and forced to yield a detested service, Simon learns in the brief companionship of a few hours enough to lead him to yield to Christ the service of a life. There is something very characteristic about this story. The Saviour is perpetually crossing men’s paths in life; doing so sometimes painfully with some awful thought, painful aspect, thwarting some plan, spoiling some holiday pleasure, or some effort to get gain. And constantly we see the pain of first acquaintance, the early resentment against the gospel for spoiling plans and pleasures, giving way, and changing into lifelong fidelity. (R. Glover.)
So he got linked forever to the Lord! (J. Morison, D. D.)
The place Golgotha.
The place of execution
Calvary, or Golgotha, is not now distinguishable as a hill, partly because of the accumulation of rubbish from the ruin of the city, in the hollows and valleys, and partly because it is doubtful whether it ever was, properly, a hill. It stood below Zion, and was looked down on from Herod’s new palace, but it was slightly above the elevation of the lower town. Its name, Golgotha, more correctly, Golgoltha, comes from the same root as Gilgal, that signifies a hill, and the term golgoi was used for sacred stones, employed in the heathen rites of the Canaanites and Phoenicians, in their worship of Venus (Baaltis). As in Wales and Cornwall, and in Scotland, Pen means “head” and “mountain,” so this word golgol came to have a double meaning. Among the early Christians a legend existed, that Calvary took its name from Adam’s skull having been buried there, and it is possible that the Jewish rabbis had such a story; but the name Calvary, or Golgotha, properly means only the rounded stone, and by a corruption of the original signification was taken to signify “the place of a skull.” Just in the same way, the Capitoline hill, in Rome, was so called, because it was a rounded elevation, but afterwards a fable grew up that it took its designation from the head of a certain Tolus having been dug up there. The spot, Calvary, would seem to have been the place of execution from an ancient date. It is probably mentioned by Jeremiah (31:38, 39), in a prophecy concerning the rebuilding and enlargement of Jerusalem, in which he foretells that the wall would be built in an extended are from the hill of Gareb in the East, sweeping round, along the North, to the hill of Goath in the West-and Goath, here, answers to Calvary, and means the place of execution. His prophecy was fulfilled about seven years after the death of Christ, by Agrippa, when Golgotha was actually enclosed within the new walls; and at the present day it lies within the city. (S. Baring Gould, M. A.)
They parted His garments.
The soldiers who crucified our Lord were not Jews, but Romans; they had not, therefore, the same grounds of opposition to Him which the Jews had: they had not the same expectations of the Messiah, nor the same prejudices as to the perpetuity of the Mosaic ritual; and yet they participated largely in the great crime of His crucifixion. All classes were, in an extraordinary manner, brought in contact with the Redeemer during His last sufferings, that all might have an opportunity of displaying the state of their minds towards Him, of showing how they were affected towards the Saviour of men. It is remarkable what a share all ranks had in His death,-priests, rulers, the common people, kings, governors, soldiers; the rich and the poor, the high and the low, the religious and the profligate, the learned and the rude; from the representative of Caesar on the Roman tribunal, to the wretched malefactor on the cross; from the sanctimonious Pharisee, with his phylacteries and his prayers, to the profane and profligate wretch who lived without a thought of God; from the learned Rabbi, with his books and his speculations, to the illiterate peasant who knew not the use of letters; from the king, with his insignia of royalty, down to the poor drudge who scarcely dared to call himself a man; from the high priest, with his sacerdotal vestments and functions, down to the Gentile soldier,-all were brought near Him during His last sufferings; all had a voice or a hand in them; and all showed that their hearts were not with Him. We have now brought before us the actual perpetrators of the murder of Jesus Christ. Indeed, we have here a striking illustration of the difference between the act and the guilt. The actual murderers of Jesus were not the most criminal; perhaps they were the least so of all the parties concerned in the transaction. The soldiers who executed the sentence of death upon Jesus were not so guilty as Pilate who pronounced it; Pilate who pronounced it was not so guilty as the people who demanded it; and the people who demanded it were not so guilty as the priests and rulers who designed it, and who instigated the whole proceeding. Guilt pertains not so much to the hand as to the head, and still more to the heart; it lies not so much in the deed, as in the design and purpose of the inner man. The priests and rulers who did not touch Him were far more guilty of His murder than the soldiers who actually nailed Him to the cross. The remarks we have to offer on the conduct of the soldiers will relate to the brutality which marked their treatment of the Redeemer, and then to their unconscious connection with the greatest event which the history of the world records.
I. Our first remarks will relate to the brutality and cruelty of the soldiers towards Jesus. It is to be observed that there was not, on the part of the soldiers, any personal enmity to Jesus. But still there were evident marks of brutality and cruelty; such were their stripping Him of His raiment, arraying Him in the old scarlet robe, putting the reed in His hand as a mock sceptre, crowning Him with thorns, bowing the knee to Him, and crying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” How are we to account for this barbarity of the Roman soldiers towards one who was guilty of no crime.
1. Their occupation tended to blunt their sensibilities, and to harden their hearts. They were familiar with deeds of horror and of blood, not only on the field of battle, but in the prison house, and the place of public execution; they were familiar with fetters and stripes; they sported with lacerations and death. Strange things the human heart can be brought to.
2. But another reason may be assigned for it; it is found in our Lord’s claim to royalty. He was accused of attempts against the Roman government, and of declaring Himself the King of the Jews. They may have heard of the expectations which prevailed amongst the Jews respecting the Messiah. But the claims of Jesus, who seemed only a poor oppressed peasant, to royalty, would appear to them ineffably absurd-a fit subject for derision and scorn. Hence their indignities and insults were founded chiefly on this. Thus it often is: men pronounce that ridiculous which they do not understand; they declare there is nothing visible, because they are too blind to see. Hence, we perceive, how almost all sin is based on ignorance. Had the soldiers known Jesus they could not have mocked Him.
3. But we have one remark more to offer on this part of our subject. The character which the soldier has ever been taught and accustomed to admire is the opposite of that of Jesus Christ. The character which he admires is the bold, high-spirited-keen to perceive insult, and quick to resent an injury; the meekness, gentleness, forbearance of Jesus Christ were beyond his comprehension. It is a true remark, that mankind have almost always admired and lauded the destroyers of their race more than their greatest benefactors. Indeed, the world’s admiration of conquerors is wonderful. Military greatness, as the eloquent Channing has justly remarked, is by no means the highest order of greatness. With him we claim the first rank for the moral; real magnanimity, which, perceiving the true, the right, the good, the pure, and loving it, cleaves to it at all hazards, and will die for it rather than deny it. The second rank we assign to the intellectual; the power of thought which perceives the harmonies of the universe, which discloses the secrets of nature, and, revealing to men some of the laws by which God governs the material or the spiritual word, augments the power of man, and increases his means of enjoyment. We cannot assign a higher than the third rank to the active; the energy and force of will which surmounts practical difficulties. And it is to this class the soldier belongs: it is with the physical, not with the spiritual, that he has to do. Hence Napoleon was not so great a man as Bacon and Newton, as Milton and Shakespeare; nor so great a benefactor to his race. Still less is he to be compared with Howard, with Carey, with Williams. Napoleon felt this; hence he wished to rest his fame far more on the noble code of laws which he was the means of giving to his vast empire, than on all his splendid victories. We trust the days are coming in which correct views of this subject will be generally formed; and that the discoveries of science, and the various inventions of man, will contribute, in conjunction with the diffusion of the spirit of the gospel, to banish wars from the earth. Meantime, as to the military profession, one wonders at the estimate in which it is held. I speak not of individuals, but of the system. To think of men letting themselves out for a shilling a day to shoot their fellow creatures, and to be shot at! What a high estimate they must form of themselves!
II. It is time that we adverted to the second train of remark in which we propose to indulge. They knew they had many hours to wait, and, having completed their task, they composed themselves as well as they could; they put themselves, mentally and physically, in an attitude of patience, till death slowly, but surely, accomplished his work. “They sat down and watched him there.” There is something very affecting in the position of him who sits down and watches a fellow creature as life slowly ebbs. The tender mother, as she watches her beloved child, or the affectionate daughter, as she watches her aged parent, thus sinking in the arms of death, feels her position to be at once a painful and a solemn one. Oh! yes, in the chamber of the dying saint, what solemn and impressive thoughts may we not indulge! But the men who were appointed to see the last of Jesus, watched Him without the slightest emotion; they were not impressed with the solemn character of their position; death was there at work, but they had been accustomed to his neighbourhood, and were unmoved by his presence. Oh! how closely, and yet how unconsciously, may men be allied to the most interesting and the most important events. How unconscious were they of the character of Him who was suffering there. They were utterly unconscious of His dignity or His worth; they did not know that when they saw Him, they saw the fullest and clearest revelation of God that the world ever beheld-that the fulness of the Godhead dwelt in Him bodily. When God appeared on Mount Sinai, the Jews trembled; when the cloud filled the tabernacle and the temple, the priests could not abide there, they were awe-struck; but in Jesus, they had not simply a symbol of the Divine presence-the Divinity itself dwelt in Him, so that His disciple said, “We beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth;” and He said, “He that hath seen Me, hath seen the Father.” And little did they think, when they roughly bound Him, fiercely scourged Him, and rudely nailed Him to the tree, that they had in their hands the Lord’s anointed; that they were thus treating the only begotten and well-beloved Son of God; that they were thus touching the apple of His eye. Had they known Him, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory; had they known Him they would not readily have touched Him, they would rather have trembled in His presence; they would have fallen down at His feet and worshipped Him. But not knowing Him, they imbrued their hands in His blood; unconsciously they crucified the Son of God. Ignorance is a fearful thing; say we not truly, sometimes, that all sin is a mistake,-a grand, a fatal mistake? How much evil may we do ignorantly? Take heed of your sins of ignorance. The apostle says, “Unawares some have entertained angels,” and some have entertained them strangely. Prophets, God-sent men, have been among them, and they have not regarded them, but have treated them most contumeliously. The soldiers were equally unconscious of the nature and grandeur of the transaction in which they were concerned; they saw in it merely a very common occurrence, an event of no importance, and of very partial and transient interest. They were wholly unconscious of the real nature of the transaction, of the infinite and enduring interest of the event. Little did they think, while they sat down watching Him there, of the relation of what was passing before them to all worlds and to all beings-to heaven, earth, hell-to God, to man, to angels, and apostate spirits. Little did they think that they were witnessing the greatest act of obedience to the Divine commands which God had ever received; that the Divine law was never so magnified. They were equally ignorant of the consequences which would result from it. Ah! no; while men live in opposition to God, they are ignorant of the real nature of their conduct, and are altogether unprepared for the consequences which must ensue. The responsibility increases, however, with the means of information within our reach. Ignorance, so far from excusing the transgressions which grow out of it, may itself be exceedingly sinful. All that they did had been foreseen and foretold by some of the ancient seers; the whole of their conduct had been described by inspired men, who had looked at it through the vista of ages; and every action of theirs, in connection with the crucifixion of Jesus, was the fulfilment of some prediction; but they knew it not. In this sense, too, “they knew not what they did.” This part of our subject suggests an important reflection: it relates to the consistency between the free agency of man, and the foreknowledge of God. (J. J. Davies.)
Stripped of His raiment
Tom Baird, the carter, the beadle of my working man’s church, was as noble a fellow as ever lived-God-fearing, true, unselfish. I shall never forget what he said when I asked him to stand at the door of the working man’s congregation and when I thought he was unwilling to do so in his working clothes. “If,” said I, “you don’t like to do it, Tom; if you are ashamed” “Ashamed!” he exclaimed, as he turned round upon me; “I’m mair ashamed o’ yersel’, sir. Div ye think that I believe, as ye ken I do, that Jesus Christ, who died for me, was stripped o’ His raiment on the cross, and that I-Na, na, I’m prood to stand at the door.” Dear, good fellow! There he stood for seven winters, without a sixpence of pay; all from love, though at my request the working congregation gave him a silver watch. When he was dying from smallpox, the same unselfish nature appeared. When asked if they would let me know, he replied: “There’s nae man leevin’ I like as I do him. I know he would come. But he shouldna’ come on account of his wife and bairns, and so ye maunna’ tell him!” I never saw him in his illness, never hearing of his danger till it was too late. (Norman Macleod.)
The hardened gamester
There was a profligate gamester, whose conversion was attempted by some honest monks, and they in order to break his heart for sin, put into his hands a fine picture of the crucifixion of Christ; but when they inquired what he was studying so intently in the picture, hoping his conversion was going forward, he replied, “I was examining whether the dice, with which the soldiers are casting lots for the garment, be like ours.” This man too well resembles bad men in the ceremonies of religion, and their hearts guide their eyes to what nourish their vices, not to what would destroy them. (Robert Robinson.)
And they crucified Him.
The mystery of eternity
It was a death of horror; yet inflicted on Jesus, the Son of God, whose crime was mercy, whose mission here was one of redeeming love.
I. All the mysteries of human nature are here.
3. Judgment. After these things must there not be some reckoning?
II. The mysteries of Divine revelation.
1. God’s love.
2. God’s meekness.
3. God’s method of curing sin. By enduring its strokes He shames and vanquishes transgression.
III. The mysteries of salvation.
2. Reconciliation. In the cross our love meets God’s love, and we are reconciled.
3. A great inspiration. Ever since, the cross has been the pattern on the mount which holy lives have copied, and it has inspired love and sacrifice into countless hearts.
IV. All mysteries of consolation. Had Christ evaded death, who would have dared to face it? He has changed Jordan’s streams into still waters, and its banks to green pastures. Death fixed its sting in Christ, and left and lost it there. Thus Christ’s cross is our Alpha and Omega, glowing with law and gospel, comfort and restraint, power and peace; it is the new Tree of life in the midst of life’s wilderness. (R. Glover.)
Crucifixion of Christ
I. The death of crucifixion.
2. Involving self-abasement on Christ’s part.
3. Conformity in will on ours.
II. The place of crucifixion.
1. Common execution ground for felons and outlaws. A place of desolation and horror.
2. We have to bear His reproach.
III. The blindness of hate. They did all in their power against Him. But with what result?
1. That was the salvation hour for the whole world.
2. Jesus went into the realm of the dead, and revolutionized it, opening the door of Satan’s stronghold and setting the captives free.
3. He has changed the aspect of death forever-rolled away its sting. (F. B. Proctor, M. A.)
Our part in Christ’s crucifixion
A traveller ascends a hill: having reached the summit and seen the view, he descends. As he descends he sees at the foot of the hill a little cottage from which cries of lamentation proceed. He enters. He sees the mangled form of a strong man surrounded by a weeping wife and children, He sympathizes. He pities. But when, on inquiry, he learns that a stone rolling down the hill put an end to that man’s life, how different are his feelings-not sympathy, but shame; not pity, but anguish: for he remembers that he wilfully (for there was a notice up, warning him) hurled a boulder down the hillside for his own gratification. (G. Calthrop, D. D.)
Whitfield and the execution
During one of the visits which the Rev. George Whitfield paid to Edinburgh, an unhappy man, who had forfeited his life to the offended laws of his country, was executed in that neighbourhood. Whitfield mingled with she crowd that was collected on the occasion, and was struck with the solemnity and decorum which were observable at so awful a scene. His appearance, however, drew the eyes of all upon him, and raised a variety of speculations as to the motives which had induced him to join the crowd. The next day being Sunday, he preached to a very large congregation in a field near the city; and in the course of his sermon he adverted to the event of the previous day. “I know,” said he, “that many of you will find it difficult to reconcile my appearance yesterday with my character. Many of you, I know, will say that my moments would have been better employed in praying for the unhappy man, than in attending him to the fatal tree; and that, perhaps, curiosity was the only cause that converted me into a spectator on that occasion; but those who ascribe that uncharitable motive to me are mistaken. I went as an observer of human nature, and to see the effect that such an example would have on those who witnessed it. I watched the conduct of those who were present on that awful occasion, and I was highly pleased with their demeanour, which has given me a very favourable opinion of the Scottish nation. Your sympathy was visible on your countenances, particularly when the moment arrived that your unhappy fellow creature was to close his eyes on this world forever; and then you all, as if moved by one impulse, turned your heads aside and wept. Those tears were precious, and will be held in remembrance. How different it was when the Saviour of mankind was extended on the cross! The Jews, instead of sympathizing with the Divine Sufferer, gloried in His agony. They reviled Him with bitter words,-ay, with words more bitter than the gall and vinegar which they handed Him to drink. Not one, of all that witnessed His pains, turned his head aside, even in the last pang. Yes, my friends, there was one; that glorious luminary,” pointing to the sun, “veiled his brightness, and travelled on his course in tenfold night.”
I. Why Christ was crucified. The sufferings of our Lord were not less because He was the Son of God. His was a Divine sorrow. Natures most sensitive to all that is holy and true, most keenly aware of all that is false, suffer sharpest torture when rudely invaded. These sufferings came upon Him from the first. To John the Baptist He appeared as the Lamb of God. Christ’s sufferings were public and ignominious. It was in the broad, open day, and in the most public place, that He was crucified. His most sacred sufferings were made a public spectacle. It was a part of His degradation that He did not suffer alone. Two wretched criminals from the city were crucified with Him. For one moment He lost sight of His Father’s face. In that hour He was linked to all that is worst and vilest in our common humanity.
II. How Christ suffered. Through it all He showed the faith of the Son of God-“My God.” He suffered as a king might suffer.
III. Why Christ suffered. He suffered in order that He might obey the Father. “He humbled Himself and became obedient unto death.” He suffered to make known the Father. “He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father.” He suffered that men might be redeemed. (E. B. Mason.)
The sufferings of Christ
Our Lord’s sufferings were inexpressibly great and exquisitely painful. They may be said to have commenced at the very first moment He came in contact with our nature, He suffered in every possible way, and in every possible degree, he suffered in His body and in His soul; He suffered personally, and He suffered relatively. If we had been told that the Son of God was to come into our world, and to save us by His sufferings, we naturally would have supposed that He was to die, and if to die, that He would die in a state of glory-if He were to fall, that He would fall in the field of war: and that, when He died. His praises would be shouted by the whole world. But how different a lot was assigned to the Saviour of sinners. Moreover, He suffered under the seal of the curse. Crucifixion was, among the Romans, the death awarded only to slaves, and by the Jews it was held in execration. Remember, too, that the influence of many, and of various characters, contributed to our Lord’s last sufferings. Here, above all the rest, was to be seen the supreme hand of God allotting to Him the various parts of His suffering, and overruling those who had an instrumental hand in bringing it about. Then again, there are wonderful things to be seen in the manner and circumstances of our Lord’s crucifixion. We see here God withdrawing, and yet God supporting; the Redeemer sinking under His sufferings, and, at the same time, rising triumphantly above them all. And, once more, we observe in the last sufferings of Christ a remarkable accomplishment of the Word of God. In Him all the ancient predictions of the Jewish prophets were fulfilled. So much in relation to the history of the death and last sufferings of our Saviour. Let these things be deeply impressed upon your minds. But beware of regarding them in the mere light of history. You may be acquainted with all the historical facts relating to our Lord’s sufferings and death, and yet you may obtain no interest whatever in their benefits. They may float in your understanding without ever sinking into your heart, or influencing your conduct. Yet the bare history, the minute facts of the Saviour’s life are of such importance that they ought to be known. Traced in their connection one with another, they throw a flood of light over the Bible. (Thos. McCrie, D. D.)
Lessons at the cross
I. “We may learn something from the fact that our Lord was actually put to death like an ordinary criminal. All of the evangelists call attention to the circumstance of Christ’s having been associated with two malefactors crucified at the same moment. Thus Pilate makes the two robbers intensify Jesus’ shame in the eyes of the multitude. Each one of the common people who saw the sad spectacle, would inevitably draw the conclusion that Christ was the chief malefactor of them all. The terrible humiliation of the death which our Saviour suffered is thus made apparent. But the power of this scene is, singularly enough, deepened by this very particular. We call to mind as an illustration of such a statement the tale of Colonel Gardiner’s conversion,-a tale so remarkable that it has remained historic for more than a hundred and fifty years. He was a gay military man, without any virtues to commend him, licentious, profane, and intemperate. One Sabbath evening he had been carousing in company with some roystering comrades; late at night he retired to his chamber. There his eye accidentally lighted upon a book entitled “The Christian Soldier; or, Heaven taken by storm.” He took it up to ridicule it, but fell asleep while it lay in his hand. He dreamed: he thought he saw a prodigious blaze of light shining upon the volume; raising his eyes to know what was so suddenly bright overhead, he saw suspended in the air a vivid representation of the Lord Jesus Christ upon the cross; distinctly then he heard someone saying, “This I did for thee; what hast thou done for Me?” Struck to the very depth of his conscience, he was wakened instantly; at once, filled with contrition, as a sinner he sought peace and found pardon for his soul
II. We may learn, also, something from the record that this form of death was a fulfilment of prophecy. Mark says that when Jesus was “numbered with transgressors,” the scripture “was fulfilled.”
III. We may learn, once more, something from the account given of the taunts which our Lord received. It would appear that all sorts of people joined in this sarcasm. The passers-by “railed,” the rulers “derided,” the soldiers “mocked;” even the thieves “reviled” Him. The utmost ingenuity in invention of jibes and epithets seemed to grow in demand that awful morning. The lesson here is plain; the patience of our Lord is simply wonderful. How He could bear all this contumely and reproach passes understanding.
IV. In like manner, we may learn something from the sudden darkness which Jesus endured on that day. This darkness is to be understood as symbolical of God’s horror of sin even when borne vicariously by an innocent Christ. How an impenitent man can hope to have audience with his Maker, so as to implore and obtain pardon, when even Christ was left in the darkness unpitied, passes all comprehension.
V. We may likewise learn something from the grief of our blessed Lord when He found Himself deserted.
VI. We may learn something, also, from our Lord’s rejection of the draught proffered for His relief. What an example of self-sacrificing fidelity there is here for us! How little courage we have when our day of trial comes on! Jesus had always been the embodiment and pattern of dutifulness and affection in His Father’s sight; He was not going to shirk and shrink and fail now. He told His disciples once in simple sincerity just what was His purpose: “I can of mine own self do nothing: as I hear, I judge; and My judgment is just; because I seek not Mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent Me.”
VII. Finally, we may learn something from the cry which oar Lord uttered as His “great voice” at the last. It was really a shout-a shout of triumph. There is great significance in the fact that not one of the inspired biographers says Jesus died; they all agree in an unusual form of speech which preserves the notion of His entire voluntariness in the surrender He made to death’s power. He “yielded” His soul, He “gave up” His breath-such are the expressions; but the adversary did not gain the victory: it was Death that died in the conflict. What this cry was is told us in the Gospel of John-“It is finished!” His entire work was done. The Lord standeth sure now for the believer. It is recorded of a dying minister, one of the faithfullest of modern times, that in his last hour his son asked him, “Father, are you comfortable now?” And he answered, “Certainly: why not? for I lie most comfortably resting upon the finished work of my Lord Jesus Christ.” (C. S. Robinson.)
The King of the Jews.
Jesus mocked and crucified
Jesus suffered and died under the forms of law. His execution was the result of a six-fold trial-three trials at the hands of the Jews, and three at the hands of the Romans. When Jesus was led to Golgotha bearing His cross, He had stood at the focal point of the world’s best light and been pronounced guilty of death. For what offence? Pilate, as the custom was, with his own hand wrote the charge. “And the superscription of His accusation was written over, ‘The King of the Jews.’”
I. The words of the superscription correctly express what Jesus claimed. He was condemned, not so much upon the testimony of the non-agreeing witnesses, as upon His own admission of this. He maintained it to the last. No terror from the sight of the cross could make Him withdraw the claim. He died resolutely claiming that He was King.
II. The words of the superscription indicate the claim Christ makes today. Eighteen centuries have not dimmed the title Pilate wrote. As decisively now as then He stands at every court, at every public and private tribunal, at the door of every man’s heart, at every turn in our journey, before every thought of our mind, every choice of our will, every act of our life, and says, “I am King.” If He be indeed King, His offices and attributes are kingly and He has the right to demand that no one dim the lustre of His crown, or weaken the sway of His sceptre. It is sometimes said that it matters little what place we assign to Christ, or with what attributes we clothe Him, so that life is only upright, and our conduct such as He would not condemn. At His trial before the Jewish and Roman Courts it mattered much what place was allotted Him and what title He should be allowed to bear. He died rather than disown His royal title. Is He less mindful of it now in His exalted glory, and less regardful of those attributes which rightfully constitute His regal claim? If He be a King, His is the right to hold the name and place thereof. Who shall dare to put forth the hand and pluck one jewel from His diadem of omnipotence, or efface one ray from His halo of infinite wisdom?
III. The words of the superscription indicate why so many now reject Christ. Because He asserts kingly authority-the right to rule, and to control men’s hearts and lives. Men exalt the compassion of Jesus; they praise His teachings; they laud the good deeds with which His life was full; they extol the lustre of His example; but when asked if they have placed within their heart a throne on which He may sit and reign, they falter. The title they apply to Him is burden bearer rather than lawmaker, benefactor rather than king, counsellor rather than judge, one to admire and extol rather than obey.
IV. The wonts of the superscription indicate in what way Christ is now to be received. As the world’s Redeemer Christ fulfils the threefold office of Prophet, Priest, and King. To accept Him as the first is to believe and adopt His teachings; as the second, to rely for pardon and approach to God upon His atonement and intercession; as the third, to add to the others a surrender of the will to Him in loyalty and love, to install Him as ruler of our hearts and lives. We thus receive Him as our Saviour and Lord; we at once believe in Him and submit to Him; we ask Him to both pardon us and control us; and while He justifies He takes us, with our cordial consent, into His own care for the direction and government of our life both here and hereafter. Henceforth the thought that Christ is King is welcome. A place is gladly made in the heart for His throne to stand immutably. He is supreme. His will is law. (P. B. Davis.)
Christ the King of kings
When Mr. Dawson was preaching in South Lambeth on the offices of Christ, he presented Him as Prophet and Priest, and then as the King of saints. He marshalled patriarchs, kings, prophets and apostles, martyrs and confessors of every age and clime, to place the insignia of royalty upon the head of the King of kings. The audience was wrought up to the highest pitch of excitement, and, as if waiting to hear the anthem peal out the coronation hymn, the preacher commenced singing “All hail the power of Jesus’ Name.” The audience, rising as one man, sang the hymn as perhaps it was never sung before. (Foster’s Cyclopaedia.)
And with him they crucify two thieves.
We propose to advert to the fact that Jesus endured his last agonies between two malefactors; and then to notice the respective characters of his companions in suffering.
I. Let us behold this strange sight: Jesus suffering, dying between two malefactors! What an amazing spectacle! And it may have been without any specific design on the part of his oppressors that He was crucified in the midst, rather than on either side of His companions in suffering. But whether it was designed by His enemies or not, there can be no doubt that this circumstance constituted a part of our Lord’s humiliation. A preeminence was thus assigned Him in ignominy and shame. This circumstance affords a striking fulfilment of prophecy; then was accomplished the declaration of the prophet, “He was numbered with the transgressors:” and not only so, but it is also illustrative of the prophetic Scriptures, as it shows how, without any design whatever, and sometimes with the very opposite design, men may be fulfilling God’s purposes, and accomplishing the predictions of His Word. That strange spectacle suggests the remark, how closely men may be allied by circumstances-how completely identified as to their lot on earth-between whom there is no resemblance in real character. Here are three persons suffering at the same time, and in the same place, the same cruel and ignominious death, and yet how perfectly dissimilar in point of character! Outwardly their lot is the same; but inwardly there is not the slightest resemblance between them. Heaven, earth, and hell, are brought into closest contact in the persons of those three sufferers. In the elevated character of Jesus we have all that is highest, purest, best in heaven; in the obduracy, the profaneness, and the impiety of one of the malefactors, we have the most striking characteristic of the lost, who are hardened in sin beyond the possibility of repentance; while in the contrition and prayerfulness of the other, we have what is peculiar to the good on earth. Often may the best and the worst be found in close connection here, sitting at the same able, or suffering on the same scaffold. How clearly does this indicate another state of being! Under the government of one infinitely wise and just, as well as almighty, such disorders cannot be final; there surely must come a time of separation, of adjustment!
II. We now proceed to consider the character of the malefactors who suffered with our Lord. We have already intimated, that they differed essentially from each other; we must, therefore, consider them separately. And, first, of the impenitent malefactor. The treatment which our Lord received at his hands is remarkable, and deserves our attention. He reviled the Redeemer, even on the cross. The conduct of this wretched man, in reviling the Redeemer on the cross, not only illustrates the power of example, but it is further instructive, as showing how near death a man may be, and yet how far from thinking seriously of any of the consequences of dying; how far from any reflections suited to his solemn position and prospects! How strikingly does this illustrate the folly of deferring to a dying hour, the all-important work of preparation for an eternal world! Men often speak of the penitent thief, and expect, like him, in their last moments, to find repentance unto life; but they rarely think of his companion who died unchanged; and yet it is to be feared he is the representative of a far larger class than the other. Let us turn to a more pleasing theme-the spirit and conduct of the penitent thief; in which there is much that is extraordinary, and deserving of our best attention. We may notice his deep sense of the solemnity of his situation. “He feared God,” into whose immediate presence he was so soon to enter. Nothing can operate so powerfully, so constantly, in deterring from evil, and in imparting to the character the highest elevation and purity; and those who do not realize this are exposed to every breath of temptation, and are guilty of neglecting their noblest and best interests. We notice, also, the free and spontaneous acknowledgment of his guilt. He felt and confessed that he and his companion deserved to die, and that they were justly exposed to the displeasure of God-“We, indeed, justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds.” How deep seemed to be his conviction of sin and demerit; and how free and full his acknowledgment of it! What a touching illustration we have here of the distinguishing grace of God! The two malefactors who suffered with our Lord were probably condemned for the same offence. They had been associates in sin, and now they were companions in shame, and suffering, and death; and yet, how the one is made to differ from the other! And this leads me to notice his knowledge of the character of Christ. “This man has done nothing amiss.” Whence he derived his knowledge of the character of the Redeemer, it were in vain to inquire. It is not impossible that, in former days, he may have heard Jesus preach, and may have witnessed some of His stupendous miracles of power and of mercy. It is not improbable that, while on his way to the cross, and while hanging on it, he heard much of Jesus; for while the multitude reviled and reproached Him, there were some amongst them who bewailed and lamented Him; and these, doubtless, spoke of His worth; and it is certain that he that day saw much of the spirit and conduct of the Redeemer, as well as of His enemies; and no man could observe the conduct of Jesus with an impartial mind, without being convinced that He was a righteous person. Still more remarkable is the persuasion which he entertained and expressed of the dominion and spiritual power of the Redeemer: “Lord, remember me when Thou comest into Thy kingdom.” Strange that he could recognize a king in one whose environment was so humiliating. I cannot but remark, finally, his deep humility, which appears in his throwing himself so unreservedly on the compassion and grace of the Saviour. “Lord, remember me when Thou comest into Thy kingdom.” There is no presumption, no dictation, here. There is nothing of the Spirit of the two disciples who prayed that they might sit, the one on His right hand and the other on His left, in His kingdom; but there is the deep humility which is always characteristic of genuine repentance. (J. J. Davies.)
Let Christ, the King of Israel, now descend from the cross.
A glorious reproach
In the Divinest sense He could not save Himself. Physically, of course, He could have delivered Himself, “come down from the cross,” and overwhelmed His enemies with destruction. But morally He could not, and His moral weakness here is His glory. He could not because He had promised to die, and He could not break His word. He could not, because the salvation of the world depended upon His death. The greatest man on earth is the man who cannot be unkind, who cannot tell a falsehood, who cannot do a dishonourable act or be guilty of a mean, selfish deed. The glory of the omnipotent God is, that “He cannot lie.” These men, therefore, should have honoured the weakness that they acknowledged; adored it. Their very confession condemns their conduct. (Homilist.)
The heroism of the crucified
The testimony of an enemy is always valuable. What is it that they testify? First, that “He saved others:” and second, that in order to save others-nay, they testify not that, yet it is implied in the assertion they make-in order to save others He was content not to save Himself. Perhaps there never was a sentence, that was in one sense so radically false, and in another sense so sublimely true, as this particular sentence. Take it in the abstract, and it contains a most outrageous and glaring falsehood. There was not a moment from beginning to end of His human career in which our blessed Lord might not have turned back from shame and suffering. Yet while these words are false absolutely, they are none the less true relatively. Relatively to the work which our blessed Lord had undertaken, it was necessary that He Himself should not be saved. Because He was the Son, there was a certain blessed, constraining influence which rendered it, in one sense, necessary that He should go forward: but the necessity was not imposed upon Him from without, but accepted from within. It was the necessity of love; love, first and foremost to His Father, and then love to thee and to me. When you look over His history, how much there was to lead Him to exercise this power which all along He possessed. How natural it would have been if He had done so. He has scarcely come into the world before He begins to meet with the world’s bad treatment. When He was born, they had no room for Him in the inn. Would it not have been most natural if our blessed Lord had even then thought better of it. “These rebel sinners, these thoughtless beings, I have come into the world to save-they have not even a place whereon to lay My infant form.” As He grew up to be a young man, “He came unto His own:” His very brethren did not believe in Him. When He found that there was cold incredulity, an absence of sympathy in His own family circle, might He not reasonably have been expected to say, “Ah, well! this is not what I expected: I thought I should have been received with open arms; that every heart would have been full of sympathizing tenderness towards Me: but they have nothing but hard thoughts to think, and hard sayings to say of Me. Let them alone: from this time I give up the task: it is a hopeless one.” We read “that He was in the world, and the world was made by Him, and the world knew Him not.” How wonderful a thing it was that Jesus Christ should have stood all this, and yet continued true to His purpose still. They laid the cross upon Him, and He faints on the way to Calvary. O, Son of God! Thy body has fainted! Weakness has done its work! Surely Thou wouldest be justified in giving in now! He might reasonably have said, “Flesh and blood will bear no more; My physical strength has absolutely yielded under the terrible shock; I can carry it no further.” But no, no. He may faint; but He will not yield. Is it not wonderful? What made Him stand to His purpose? What gave Him that strange stability? Well, I can only say, “He loved us.” Why He loved us, I do not know; but He loved us, and He loves us still; and it is because He loved us that “He saved others; Himself He could not save.” But we are only skimming the surface. We must endeavour, if we can, to go deeper than this. There is a mystery of sorrow here. If we are to understand what is transpiring on yonder cross, we must endeavour to look within the veil; we must try to see things as God saw them. Yet it is an awful thing to think of that world descending in that gradually lowering scale into the very jaws of darkness and death. Where are we to find the hero of humanity? Who shall fight our battle for us? Who shall avail to lift that sinking world from the very depth of doom into which it is disappearing? No angel in heaven can do it. There is only One who can do it, and there is only one way in which He can do it. By a sovereign effort of His own will, Christ might have called a new world into existence; He might have blasted this world with judgment, and caused it to disappear altogether; but in doing so He would have been stultifying-shall I say?-His own designs; He would have been withdrawing from His own eternal purposes of mercy and love. Nay, nay; the ruinous world must be saved-How is it to be done? The Son of the Father’s bosom steps into that ascending scale. Now look! He does it voluntarily. “I lay down My life,” He says; “no man taketh it from Me; I give it; for it was His own free gift for man, for you, for me. What means this strange sense of desolation! Through all His human life, there was one thing that had sustained Him, one joy that had ever been present to Him. It was the joy of His Father’s presence. He had lived in the light of His countenance. He had refreshed Himself with His fellowship. “He had drank of the brook by the way, and therefore He lifted up His head.” But lo! the brook by the way seems to be dried up. It was no mere natural thirst that parched Emmanuel. That outward thirst was but the indication, the type, the symbol, of the inward thirst which burned within His soul. What means this strange sense of desolation? What is it? Is it the loss of human friends? No; something more than that. That is bad enough to bear; but it is something more than that. What is it? For the first time in His human life He finds Himself alone. The light is eclipsed; the sun has disappeared from His heaven, and the joy of existence is gone. He gazes round and round-east, and west, and north, and south. What is it? It is but a little matter that the outward sun was eclipsed; but there was a dread eclipse had taken place within the soul of Emmanuel, of which that outward darkness was but the type. What was it? Wherever sin goes it brings its own deadly shame of everlasting night along with it. And because He had taken the burden of the world’s sin upon Him, therefore the shadows of night were resting upon Him now. One shrinks from following out these words, yet one can fancy-and it is no mere fancy-what must have passed through His heart. “I could have borne that My own people should treat Me thus: I could have borne that My own disciple should betray Me for thirty pence: I might have borne that Simon Peter should deny me with oaths and curses: I might have borne the outward pain, the bodily anguish: but O, My God, My God, Thy smile has been my light: Thy presence has been My joy. What have I done? How comes it to pass that instead of fellowship I have desolation; instead of Thy joyful company, Thy blessed society, I have this awful sense of loneliness? What is it? What means it?” “My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” What did it all mean? It meant that “He saved others:” and because “He saved others, Himself He could not save:” and so the scale that bore the Christ descended into the deepest darkness, and the scale that bore a ruined world began to rise, and to rise. Lo! the gloom is settled on that, and the sunlight on this: that, is sinking down into the darkness of death; this, is rising into the glories of life. The angels are veiling their faces in horror as they behold the Son of God disappear beneath the cloud: the sons of God are shouting in triumph as they behold a ransomed world rising into the very sunlight of the Divine smile, the curse revoked, the doom recalled, the gates of everlasting life opened to a ruined world. So He carried it through,-that wonderful enterprise-through to the bitter end: and so He drank the cup to the last drop, and He paid the ransom to the last penny, sinner, for thee, and for me. I want to ask you, Have you accepted that which He has purchased at such a price? What is it that renders sin inexcusable? Just this glorious fact we are gazing at. Your condemnation, my friend, lies in this: that at the cost of such indescribable agony as we shall never know, until we get to the other side: and not even then, Christ has bought everlasting life for you, and you have refused to accept it. Tonight, that pierced hand seems to hold it out for you. It seems as though He pleaded with you; as if He were saying, “Now, my dear brother, I have saved, not Myself, that I might save thee: I turned not my face from shame and spitting, that thy face might be irradiated with Divine glory: I wore that crown of thorns that thou mightest wear the crown of glory: I carried that cross that thou mightest sway the sceptre: I hung in agony that thou mightest sit in triumph: I fathomed the depth that thou mightest rise to the height. Men! do you think there is anything manly in trampling such love as that under your feet? Women! do you think there is anything womanlike in turning your back upon such love as that? Oh, let us be ashamed of ourselves tonight, that we have sinned against that love so long! (W. H. Aitken, M. A.)
The demand of sinners unreasonable
These words are a demand that He would prove His claims to the Messiahship by coming down from the cross, and a promise that, if He would do this, they would receive Him as the Messiah. It strikes us at once that this demand is unreasonable, even to effrontery.
I. You make demands which are unreasonable, because compliance with them would defeat the Divine plan of redemption. This was one characteristic of the unreasonable demand of the Pharisees. If Christ had come down from the cross, the work of redemption would never have been finished. Similar demands are often made by ungodly men-demands that Christ would come down from the cross-that He would save them in some other way than by His atoning sacrifice, and His blood.
II. Your demands are unreasonable, because you create for yourselves the very difficulties which you claim to have removed. Jesus was moving among the Jews, working the most convincing miracles. They seized Him, and nailed Him to the cross: then they demanded that He should undo what their own malice had done-“Come down from the cross, and we will believe.” A similar unreasonableness belongs to many of your demands. Is it not your own hand that has plunged your soul into this flood of worldliness, etc.? With what reason can you urge, as your apology for inaction, the chains which your own hands have fastened on your souls?
III. Demands are unreasonable which require additional evidence of the importance of religion, when sufficient has been already given. Unreasonableness of this kind characterized the demand of the Pharisees. They had seen the Saviour’s miracles, etc. It was unreasonable in them to propose that, if a single miracle should be added to the multitude already given, they would be ready to receive Jesus as the Christ. Precisely similar is the unreasonableness of many of your demands. You say, “If I had lived in Christ’s day, and had seen His miracles, I should have been His disciple.” Other demands exhibit the same unreasonableness. The reason most commonly given for indifference to religion, is the inconsistency of professors. I presume every one of you knows some whom he acknowledges as real Christians. You are no stranger to these triumphs of the cross, to these demonstrations of its Divine power. And yet you plead that, because A, B, and C do not live consistently with their profession, you will neglect religion, and treat it as if it were a worthless imposture. Similar are all the reasons for neglecting religion, founded on its mysteries. If men never engaged in worldly business till all who engage in it manage it wisely, honestly, and successfully; if they never acted except on certainty-never acted till everything dark was cleared up, and every objection removed, they would never act at all.
IV. It is unreasonable to demand more, when God has already done so much in your behalf, especially when you have not made improvement of what He has done. The Jews might have known, from the ancient prophecies, that Christ was to suffer an ignominious death. It was unreasonable.
V. Your demands are unreasonable, because God has proved it by testing them. You have made similar demands before; God has condescended to comply with them, and yet you did not, even then, keep the promises you had made. Time and again had the Pharisees asked Jesus to give them a sign that they might see and believe. Signs He had given them, the most stupendous and convincing; yet they were not more ready to receive Him than before. And even when He rose from the dead, they still rejected Him.
VI. Your demands are unreasonable, because, in the very act of making them, you admit what justifies your condemnation. The Pharisees said, “He saved others.” They admitted that He had wrought miracles. Thus, by the very justification which they attempted, they condemned themselves. So it is with you. Whatever reason you may give for neglecting religion, you admit its Divine authority, its reality, and importance. “Out of thine own mouth will I judge thee, thou wicked servant.”
VII. Your demands and apologies are unreasonable, because they lay the blame of your continued impenitence on God. (S. Harris.)
The sight of the Saviour’s suffering
Do you not know that this simple story of a Saviour’s kindness is to redeem all nations? The hard heart of this world’s obduracy is to be broken before that story. There is in Antwerp, Belgium, one of the most remarkable pictures I ever saw. It is “The Descent of Christ from the Cross.” It is one of Rubens’ pictures. No man can stand and look at that “Descent from the Cross,” as Rubens pictured it, without having his eyes flooded with tears, if he have any sensibility at all. It is an overmastering picture-one that stuns you, and staggers you, and haunts your dreams. One afternoon a man stood in that cathedral looking at Reuben’s’ “Descent from the Cross.” He was all absorbed in that scene of a Saviour’s sufferings when the janitor came in and said: “It is time to close up the cathedral for the night. I wish you would depart.” The pilgrim, looking at that “Descent from the Cross,” turned around to the janitor and said: “No, no; not yet. Wait until they get Him down.” O, it is the story of a Saviour’s suffering kindness that is to capture the world. (Dr. Talmage.)
There was darkness over the whole land.
The three hours’ darkness
What a call must that midday midnight have been to the careless! They knew not that the Son of God was among them; nor that He was working out human redemption. The grandest hour in all history seemed likely to pass by unheeded, when suddenly night hastened from her chambers and usurped the day. Every one asked his fellow, “What means this darkness?” Business stood still: the plough stayed in mid-furrow and the axe paused uplifted. There was a halt in the caravan of life. Men were startled, and hushed into silence.
I. Let us view this darkness as a miracle which amazes us. Abundant reason for a miracle at this time. The unusual in lower nature is made to consort with the unusual in the dealings of nature’s Lord. The sun darkened at noon is a fit accompaniment of the death of Jesus.
II. Let us regard this darkness as a veil which conceals.
1. A concealment for guilty enemies.
2. A sacred concealment for the blessed Person of our Divine Lord. The angels found for their King a pavilion of thick clouds, in the which His Majesty might be sheltered in its hour of misery.
3. The Passion is a great mystery, into which we cannot pry.
4. The powers of darkness will always endeavour to conceal the cross of Christ.
III. Let us consider this darkness as a symbol which instructs. The veil falls down and conceals; but, at the same time, as an emblem it reveals.
1. It is the symbol of the wrath of God which fell on those who slew His only-begotten sent.
2. It tells us what our Lord Jesus Christ suffered.
3. It shows us what it was that Jesus was battling with-darkness.
IV. A prophetical display of sympathy.
1. All lights are dim when Christ shines not.
2. See the dependence of all creation on Christ.
3. If under a cloud, take comfort from the thought that Jesus also was once there. Feel after Him. Lean on Him. He will hold you up. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Total eclipse of the sun
A pious astronomer, in describing an eclipse which he witnessed in Norway, says: “I watched the instantaneous extinction of light, and saw the glorious scene on which I had been gazing turned into darkness. All the horizon seemed to speak of terror, death, and judgment; and overhead sat, not the clear flood of light which a starry night sends down, but there hung over me dark and leaden blackness, which seemed as if it would crush me into the earth. And as I beheld it I thought, How miserable is the soul to whom Christ is eclipsed! The thought was answered by a voice; for a fierce and powerful sea bird which had been swooping around us, apparently infuriated at our intrusion on its domain, poured out a scream of despairing agony when it was surprised in the darkness.” What, then, will be the fearful surprise, when the lost soul finds itself in that world “where hope, withering, flees, and mercy sighs, Farewell!” (Christian Age.)
My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?
Forsaken of God
One thing we know, He was alone; He had reached the climax of that loneliness in which His whole earthly work had been carried on. It is hardly possible for us to understand the nature of the solitude of the life of Christ. “It was not the solitude of the hermit or monk; He ever lived among his fellow men; not the solitude of pride, sullenly refusing all sympathy and aid; not the solitude of selfishness, creating around its icy centre a cold, bleak, barren wilderness; not the solitude of sickly sentimentality, forever crying out that it can find no one to understand or appreciate; but the solitude of a pure, holy, heavenly spirit, into all whose deeper thoughts there was not a single human being near Him, or around Him, who could enter; with all whose deeper feelings there was not one who could sympathize; whose truest, deepest motives, ends, and objects, in living and dying as He did, not one could comprehend. Spiritually, and all throughout, the loneliest man that ever lived was Jesus Christ.” (Hanna.) Yet there were times when this loneliness deepened on His soul. Again and again, when in this place or that, “He came unto His own, and His own received Him not.” But one other stage was reached of yet more utter solitude when, in the darkness of that most mysterious noonday that veiled the scene of Calvary, and in the grossest darkness of unfathomable anguish that enveloped the human soul of Jesus, He trod the winepress of the wrath and justice of God alone, and entered that last stage of solitude in which He could no longer say, “I am not alone, because the Father is with Me,” but uttered that hitter cry-a cry from the darkest, deepest, dreariest loneliness into which a pure and holy spirit ever passed-“My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” We may in reverence consider three causes which seem to have produced this element of the Sacred Passion. The first cause of this awful desolation was the fact of the accumulated sin of the whole world, from the disobedience of Eden down to the last intention of sin that shall be disturbed by the archangel’s trumpet, resting upon one Human Soul, to whom the faintest shadow of sin was intolerable. The second cause was the gathering of the hosts of darkness, vanquished in the wilderness, and in the garden, and in many of the souls they had possessed, but now, rallied and marshalled, and massed for one last supreme effort, hurling themselves with the fury of despair and hate upon their Vanquisher. The third cause was the hiding of the Father’s face. He who is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity could not look even upon His beloved Son, when deluged thus in our sin. Beloved, out of the depths of this most bitter woe of the passion of Jesus there comes some solid comfort for us. He endured that utter loneliness that we might never be alone. (Henry S. Miles, M. A.)
Eclipse of the face of God
The black mephitic cloud of a world’s sin came between God and Christ. Necessarily there was an eclipse of the face of God. An eclipse of the sun is caused, as you are all aware, by that opaque body the moon coming between the earth and it. That preternatural darkness of which we read in the preceding verse, was caused by some thick veil of sulphurous clouds being drawn across the face of the sun-the sun veiling his face, that he might not witness the perpetration of the blackest crime ever perpetrated on even our sin-cursed earth-a crime that made even incarnate nature shudder to its innermost core. So when this opaque body of our sins came between Christ and God, when that dark sulphurous cloud of a world’s sins enwrapped the being of Christ like some great funereal pall, necessarily there was an eclipse of the loving face of God, who is light. Necessarily there was, on the part of Christ, spiritual darkness, and desertion, and loneliness-a darkness, and desertion, and loneliness which found expression in the wailing cry, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” (J. Black.)
The presence of God the support of the martyrs
What was it that enabled Ignatius, waiting to be thrown to the lions, to say-“Let me be food for the wild beasts, if only God be glorified;” that enabled the aged Polycarp, the flames lapping his body, to cry-“I thank Thee, O Father, that Thou hast numbered me among the martyrs;” that enabled Latimer, under the same circumstances, to say-“Be of good cheer, Brother Ridley”-What but the feeling of His nearness to them; the thought of His approving smile; and that though they were hated and persecuted by men, they were not forsaken of God. But Christ, in His hour of deepest need-He is robbed of that all and alone sufficient help. When He most needs the presence of God, just then God forsakes Him. Friends! we are here brought face to face with a great mystery. Christ Himself feels that. His words, if they, mean anything, mean that. “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” (J. Black.)
The cry of the forsaken
I. And first, let us not forget that this cry was a pang put into Old Testament words. To be perfectly fair in any consideration of the phase of anguish expressed by them, we must look to the twenty-second Psalm, where the words first of all occur. Let us read a verse or two of the Psalm. Take verses 7, 8, “All they that see me laugh me to scorn: they shoot out the lip, they shake the head, saying, He trusted on the Lord that He would deliver him: let Him deliver him, seeing he delighted in Him;” almost the very cry of the railing passers by. Verse sixteen is yet more remarkable in its application: “They pierced my hands and my feet.” Equally so is the eighteenth verse: “They part my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture.” If the Psalm had been written after the occurrences of that day, it might almost have been given as an historical record of them in these particulars. But I want you to think of the possibility-nay, extreme probability-that while our Lord’s mind in that dark hour rested upon these portions of the Psalm, it would also recall other portions of it. For mark how from the cry of the twenty-first verse there arises a strong hope: “Save me from the lion’s mouth: for thou hast heard me from the horns of the unicorns. I will declare Thy name unto my brethren: in the midst of the congregation will I praise Thee.” From these words forth there is no longer any sense of desolation. “For He hath not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; neither hath He hid His face from him; but when he cried unto Him, He heard.” Now, I say, we ought to remember this in our endeavour to interpret the cry. Heavy enough indeed, with all the suffering it involved, was the hand of God that day as it rested upon the patient Sufferer; and life was ebbing out even while the cry came forth. And yet surely the blessed Saviour was not long bereft of consolation. Did He cling only to the first cry of the Psalm? Was this all? Was there no mounting aloft into the blessed heights of faith and of hope and of praise? I would believe there was; and this, though it may not deprive the scene of all its mysteriousness, helps me somewhat to apprehend its significance, which, as I have already intimated, is about all I thought we could attempt to do-all we purposed to attempt.
II. Next, we will view the words as the revelation of a great anguish. And yet, when we began to think a little more about this, Christ’s sense of utter desertion and loneliness, in the light especially of His relation to our race as its true head and High Priest; we should find ourselves ready to admit some sort of a congruousness in the fact. For we know that this experience, a sense of God-desertion, is one of the most real of men’s troubles. And there seems a fitness in the ordination of the Redemptive scheme which allows a place for this sense of God-desertion in those sufferings by which that Redemption was secured and ratified. So far as we have any knowledge of Christ’s inner experience during the years before, we fail to discern any trace of this God-desertion. On the contrary, it was the one sweetness and light of His life, even when He thought and told of the coming desertion of His chosen ones, that still amid all circumstances the Father was with Him. It was not always so in the case of the Old Testament saints and worthies. They had, as we have, intervals, when the clear shining of the Divine face is interfered with, and the summer of the soul ceases awhile. When God is nigh, when we feel able to say, “The Lord is at my right hand,” we can add, “I shall not be greatly moved.” But up comes the mist from the rolling sea of passion and self-will and pride and human weaknesses, and we find that the light of our life is awhile quenched. Many days we may have lost sight of land and sun and star, and God appears to hide Himself, until the soul cries out passionately, “Where is thy God-where?” And the tempter echoes and re-echoes the dreary desolate cry, “Where, ah, where indeed?” And anyone who has ever found himself in such darkness knows that it is most profound; he who has felt such a distance between God and him knows it is most terrible and dreary. He who perfectly fulfilled the Eternal Will, and who was at that very moment fulfilling its more mysterious ordinations, cannot wholly escape this bitterness. And yet, I say, never was Christ more truly fulfilling the Divine Will than now. Never was the Father more delighted in the blessed Son than now. Why, it was the suffering of a perfect sacrifice. It was a true self offering. If Christ had been dragged to this tree against His will, if Christ had tried to escape from the hands of his tormentors, it would have been different. O, my brethren, instead of trying to build upon this cry of the Saviour’s any strange theory, let us rather think how much of real and abiding comfort we may draw from it. You and I may often have had to pass through the gloomy way unrelieved by any of heaven’s sunshine. It may seem to us that everything has conspired against us, and that the very heavens are sealed against our cry. Our prayers may seem to return to us unanswered. All may appear to be lost, even God. Let us but at such moments look at the blessed Christ. Let us think how God put His best beloved One through the hottest fires and the most searching tests. He knew once what it was to have the heavens above Him darkened. And yet the Eternal Father loved Him. May He not love you too?
III. And now we come to these words from another point of view. We have seen in them the utterance of a great anguish; let us look at them as the expression of a clinging faith and love. You will perceive why we called attention to the twenty-second Psalm. That Psalm shows us one who felt himself forsaken, and who was by no means actually forsaken; and the words used by Christ may serve also to show us how very close Christ was to the Eternal heart when He uttered them. “My God”-O, if we can only say this, “My God.” It matters little what we may say afterward. If we can only say “My God,” the darkness will not long brood upon our souls. They are words of faith and love, which, when truly spoken, must bring in the daylight. In the battle of the Christian faith and life, the victory is more than half won when we can say, “My God.” No soul that is lost can say, “My God.” I turn again to the real comfort wrapped up within the very words which expressed the Saviour’s agony. How often is this the case. The very words by which we express our sorrow, our trouble, are themselves often charged with deep and true solace and refreshment. We know not how long this cloud rested over the Saviour. I do not think it could be for long. Presently, we know, the Father was looking upon Him with shining, unveiled face; for calmly and restfully He breathed forth the dying sigh of thousands since, “Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit.” (C. J. Proctor, B. A.)
Jesus, throwing Himself into the bosom of His Father, implores consolation
This Scripture leads our thoughts to the desolation of our Jesus; to inquiry after the cause; and to the exclamation that passed from His lips, through the intense suffering of His heart.
I. First, the desolation of Jesus. It was not unforeseen. With regard to the desolation of Him, whose love undertook our cause; that we may understand the meaning of the term He used, it becomes us to enter on a clear, a Scriptural view of His person, and of the intimate relation which subsisted between the Father and Himself. He was emphatically “the Word,” that was “in the beginning,” eternal, before all time, before the glowing sun came forth from his chamber, as a bridegroom, and rejoiced as a giant to run his course. He “was with God”-distinct in His Person; and He “was God”-self-existent in nature or essence. “All things were made by Him;” then He is the mighty Creator of the universe, of which we form an insignificant part; and “without Him was not anything made that was made.” As to the nature, then, of this forsaking, of which the lips of Jesus utter lamentation, it is clear, to him who receives the word of Scripture in simplicity, that there was no desertion of His humanity by the Word. This Eternal Word took His human flesh and reasonable soul into union with itself; and that union was never dissolved. By this oneness, the body never saw corruption, although, after death, it was laid in Joseph’s tomb: nor was it separated from the reasonable soul in Paradise. By this Godhead body and soul were reunited on the morning of the Resurrection; that union is preserved to the present, and will be after that wondrous prediction shall be accomplished, that all things having been subdued unto Him, the Son, the Mediator, the ancient Daysman, shall Himself be subject unto Him that put all things under Him; that God may be all in all. We are instructed likewise by Holy Scripture, as to the nature of that intimate and mysterious relationship that subsisted between the Father and the Son, co-equal, co-eternal. What testimony can be plainer than the words of Christ Jesus, written in St. John 10:37-38? “If I do not,” says He, “the works of My Father, believe Me not. But if I do, though ye believe not Me, behove the works: that ye may know, and believe, that the Father is in Me, and I in Him.” He entreats, with an earnestness His own, that all the children of faith may be one: as “Thou, Father, art in Me, and I in Thee, that they also may be one in Us.” If the Word forsook not the humanity, it follows that the Father essentially deserted not the same, because the Father and the Son are One in nature, eternally, inseparably. Hence, then, the question, What are we to understand by the complaint of being forsaken? That He was bereft of the countenance, the comforts, the consolations of the Father, in which He had rejoiced.
II. We have viewed the first part of our subject, namely, Christ forsaken; and come to the cause, which was asked by His lips. The Father gives the answer to this interrogation-“Why?” Because you have become the Bondsman of sinners, have consented to stand in their stead; therefore, as at your hands, I look for a continual and perfect obedience to the law in its exceeding breadth, so, in your person, I exact the penalty to its utmost tittle.” Here Isaiah, who seems to look upon the scene before us: “the Lord hath lain on Him the iniquity of us all.” Be attentive to Paul: “He made Him to be sin for us,” therefore to bleed and die, “that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.” Little did the Jews imagine, when they exulted in the ignominy of Jesus, who was without sin, and lived without guile, that in gratifying their malice, they were but dealing the second blow; that the first was dealt by a secret, powerful, invisible hand; yet such was the fact, according to the testimony of prophets and apostles. St. Peter, addressing the men of Israel at Jerusalem concerning Israel, says, “Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God”-there is the secret purpose-“ye have taken, and by wicked hands crucified and slain;” there is the resulting blow. In a Psalm of the passion (69:26) we read, “They persecute Him” (the second blow), “whom Thou hast smitten” (the first stroke), “and they talk to the grief of those whom Thou hast wounded.” That secret blow was the fruit of sin, which covered perfect innocence with confusion. Thus Jesus speaks, in the seventh verse, “Shame hath covered My face.” “Why?” As there was no impatience under the blow, there was no ignorance of the cause. Jesus asks, not for knowledge, but to call our notice to the fearful cause. Himself gives the answer, as me have it in the Vulgate. “Far from My deliverance is the matter of My sins.”
III. Thirdly, we look at the exclamation that passed through His lips, arising from the intense suffering of the heart. Jesus at this time does not simply speak; and who can imagine the bitterness of that cry-it pierced the heavens-He cried-“He cried with a loud voice.” It before was the sweet word “Father,” but not so now. Is He forsaken? why should we wonder at the hiding of Heaven’s countenance? Jesus in His agony, inquires, “Why?” Is it not our wisdom to say, “Is there not a cause?”-to search it out and expose our sore to the pitying eye of a Father? Jesus was made desolate by that Father, that we might be supported, comforted, delivered. Jesus instructs us for a dying hour: He turns from creatures, and occupies Himself with God. Be this our happiness, as it is our privilege; and when heart and flesh both fail, the Lord will be the strength of our heart, and our portion forever. (Thomas Ward, M. A.)
A sponge full of vinegar.
The acids of life
They go to a cup of vinegar, and soak a sponge in it, and put it on a stick of hyssop, and then press it against the hot lips of Christ. You say the wine was all anesthetic, and intended to relieve or deaden the pain. But the vinegar was an insult. I am disposed to adopt the theory of the old English commentators, who believed that instead of its being an opiate to soothe, it was vinegar to insult. Malaga and Burgundy for grand dukes and duchesses, and costly wines from royal vats for bloated imperials-but stinging acids for a dying Christ. He took the vinegar! In some lives the saccharine seems to predominate. Life is sunshine on a bank of flowers. A thousand hands to clap approval. In December or in January, looking across their table, they see all their family present. Health rubicund. Skies flamboyant. Days resilient. But in a great many cases there are not so many sugars as acids. The annoyances, and the vexations, and the disappointments of life overpower the successes. There is a gravel in almost every shoe. An Arabian legend says that there was a worm in Solomon’s staff, gnawing its strength away; and there is a weak spot in every earthly support that a man leans on. King George of England forgot all the grandeurs of his throne because, one day in an interview, Beau Brummell called him by his first name, and addressed him as a servant, crying: “George, ring the bell!” Miss Langdon, honoured all the world over for her poetic genius, is so worried with the evil reports set afloat regarding her that she is found dead with an empty bottle of prussic acid in her hand. Goldsmith said that his life was a wretched being, and that all that want and discontent could bring to it had been brought and cries out: “What, then, is there formidable in a gaol?” Corregio’s fine painting is hung up for a tavern sign. Hogarth cannot sell his best paintings, except through a raffle. Andrew Delsart makes the great fresco in the Church of the Annunciata at Florence, and gets for pay a sack of corn; and there are annoyances and vexations in high places as well as in low places, showing that in a great many lives the sours are greater than the sweets. “When Jesus, therefore, had received the vinegar.” It is absurd to suppose that a man who has always been well can sympathize with those who are sick, or that one who has always been honoured can appreciate the sorrow of those who are despised, or that one who has been born to a great fortune can understand the distress and the straits of those who are destitute. The fact that Christ Himself took the vinegar makes Him able to sympathize today and forever with all those whose cup is filled with sharp acids of this life. (Dr. Talmage.)
And Jesus cried with a loud voice.
Christ died as a substitute
In one sense, Jesus died as our substitute. Now, what is a substitute. A substitute is one who suffers for or instead of another. A schoolboy feeble of body was brought up to the master’s desk for breaking one of the laws of the school. In those days, the punishment at school was something like that which is given to garrotters in our prisons. The poor boy took off his clothes, and stood there with his thin body and his hones almost pushing through his skin. It was a pitiable sight, so poor and thin and wretched was that body! There was a great hush in the school! Then one of the leading boys sprang up with tears in his eyes, and in a moment almost tore his clothes from his back, and, while every boy wept, he stood before the master, saying, “Please, sir, he cannot bear it; I will take his punishment.” (W. Birch.)
The death of death
Last winter, Jacob, a native assistant of mine, was summoned to his rest. On the day before his death, having been asked how he felt, he replied, “I shall not rise from this bed again. I am called hence to the Lord.” He then raised his arm, stretched it out, and said, “Look! my arm is nothing but bones and skin; it is the same with my earthly body. The flesh is dead within me; my desire is fixed on my heavenly country-that country where I shall behold Him who loves me, and whom I love. Yes, I shall see Him shortly.” When asked whether he feared death, “Oh, no,” he answered, “how can I love Christ and fear death? How can death affect me? The death of Christ was the death of Death!” (J. Kogel, Greenland.)
In the recent floods in France, at Castle-zarazin, while the house was being swept away, the mother, in agony to save her two children, put them in a bread tray and floated the bread tray off upon the waves; but the tray with the two children had gone but a short distance when it struck a tree and capsized. The mother started out for the place. She got there. She took the two children. She somehow clambered up into the tree with them, and held on to a branch. But while hanging there the branch began to crack, and she knew it could not long hold the three, and so she wrapped up her little ones as well as she could, and she tied them fast to the branch, and then she kissed the darlings good-bye and fell backward into the wave and died, while they lived and were recovered. What do you think of that? O! you say: “Bravo! bravo! That was just like a mother to do that;” but what do you say when I tell you that these tides of sin and death are bearing away the race, and that Jesus Christ swims through the flood, and He comes to us tonight to lift us out and to fasten us to the tree of life, and then having given us the kiss of pardon and peace, falls back Himself in the billows of death, dying Himself that we might live. O! the sacrifice of the Son of God! Bleeding Jesus, let me embrace Thee now! (Dr. Talmage.)
And the veil of the temple was rent.
The rent veil
If you look into the account of the arrangements and furniture of the Jewish temple, you will find that there were two veils-the one at the entrance into the holy place; the other between the holy place, or the sanctuary, and the most holy, or the holy of holies. This latter is called by St. Paul, in his Epistle to the Hebrews, “the second veil;” and its position is thus described by him-“After the second veil, the tabernacle which is called the holiest of all;” for therein, as the apostle goes on to enumerate, were deposited the most sacred of those mystic articles, which were appropriated to the rites of the Jewish religion. The second veil is always considered to have been that which was rent in twain at the death of our Lord; so that the thing done through the rending, was the throwing open that heretofore invisible and inaccessible place, the holy of holies. Invisible and inaccessible, forasmuch as no one but the High Priest was ever permitted to pass the veil, and he but once in the year, on the great day of atonement. On that day-all whose ceremonies and sacrifices were so wondrously significative, representing as with the accuracy of history rather than of prophecy, the expiatory work of the Lord our Redeemer-it was ordered that the High Priest having slain certain victims, should carry the blood within the veil, that he might therewith sprinkle the mercy seat. There is no debate that in performing this, the High Priest was a type of Christ in His office of intercessor; for Christ after suffering without the camp, offering Himself up as a sin offering to the Almighty, was to pass within the veil-to enter, that is, into the immediate presence of God in heaven-carrying with Him His own blood, that He might plead its virtue on behalf of His church. Here is the office which Christ still discharges as Mediator-He died but once, for one offering sufficed to make expiation for the sins of the whole world, but He ever liveth to present the merits of His oblation, and through it to act in heaven as the advocate of those for whom He submitted to the death of the cross. But we can perhaps scarcely say, that the rending of the veil had reference to Christ’s entrance on His office of intercessor, except that He may thus have shown that He had opened the way into the holy of holies, and had obtained a right to enter as our advocate. Until He had completed on the cross the redemption of the world, He could not become an intercessor with the Father; He must have blood wherewith to sprinkle the mercy seat; and therefore as the rent rooks and opened graves proclaimed Him victorious in death, so may the river veil have declared that He had won for Himself an access into heavenly places, there to perpetuate the work which had been wrought out on Calvary. And there are other intimations which may, perhaps, have been conveyed by the occurrence in question. It is probable, for example, that the abolition of the Mosaic economy was hereby figuratively taught. What could be more significative of a change of dispensation, than that, at the moment of Christ’s death, there should have been miraculously destroyed the covering which had heretofore shrouded the golden censer, and the ark of the covenant, and the cherubim of glory shadowing the mercy seat; those majestic and mysterious things which looked upon by any but the High Priest, demanded the death of the presumptuous beholder? The priests may have been in the holy place, when suddenly an invisible hand tore in twain the veil, within which they had never dared to gaze, and revealed those symbols of divinity which gave an awful sacredness to the unapproached shrine. What thought they? How felt they? If the flashing light from characters traced by an unseen hand, spread consternation through the halls of the Assyrian, and caused the monarch to tremble, though girt round with guards, what effect should have been wrought on the ministering priests by the sudden shining of all that bright gold which had long been hidden from the human eye, and in whose deep rich lustres Deity might be said to have imaged His presence? Did they turn and flee, as if fearing that Jehovah was about to come forth from the tremendous solitude, and purify His temple; or did they dare to stand and look at the uncovered shrine, amazed that they might behold, and not be instantly struck dead? Nay, I know not what may have been the feelings of the officiating priests at this strange, this fearful visitation of the holy of holies; but they knew what was then transacting oh Calvary. Their voices had been loud in demanding the death of Jesus of Nazareth; and had they not been given up to a judicial blindness-a blindness justly awarded them for their long rejection of light-they could scarcely have resisted the surpassing evidence, that the Mosaic economy was now to pass by. Had, indeed, the expiring groan of Jesus of Nazareth rent asunder the veil of the temple, and thus made common things of those which for ages had been fearfully sacred? O, then, ye priests, ye ought to ]earn that your office is at an end; O quench the fires on your altars; O drive the sacrificial victims from your courts; and whilst the earth yet trembles, and appalling and portentous things tell out the majesty of your crucified King, fall down before Him whom ye have crucified and slain, and learn, as ye may learn, the most amazing thing of all, that He is compassionate enough to love His enemies, and powerful enough to save His murderers. Yes, learn that He has indeed come to destroy the law, but only that He might substitute for it a better covenant; for all that is taught you by the fact, that immediately on His giving up the ghost, “the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom.” But we do not thus exactly bring home to ourselves the type of the rent veil, or give it part in that continuous instruction which we look for in the prodigies which attended Christ’s death. You will remember that not only was there a very quick rending of the veil, but that the graves were opened, and many bodies of saints which slept arose and came out of their graves after His resurrection and appeared unto many. The leaking of the earth was as much as to tell us that Satan’s dominion was overthrown-that dominion of which the earth was the seat. The solid globe shook to its centre, indicating the falling to ruin of that empire of evil which had been erected upon it. And the rocks were rent; mountains had been piled up between God and man; the barrier was as that of the everlasting hills; but the Redeemer in dying broke into shivers the vast impediment, and reconciled the world to its Creator. But the parable was yet more explicit-the graves were opened. It had been through apostasy that death had entered the world; it was one of the most fearful and comprehensive of the consequences of sin; and, therefore was its abolition to be looked for, as one of the chief results of the interference of a surety. Hence the opening of the graves. In dying, Christ destroyed death; and therefore did the sepulchres at once throw open their gloomy doors, as though in confession that they had no longer right to hold fast their prey. And if the bars are loosened, and the prison gates opened, may not the captives march instantly forth? What can longer hinder the emancipation of the dead? Yet here there is a pause; a delay intervenes; and the evangelist specially notes that it was after the resurrection of Jesus, that many bodies of the saints which slept arose and came out of the graves. Does not this figuratively teach that Christ was to be raised again for our justification: that although the sacrifice of the cross had perfected our redemption, in respect of God shaking the earth, rending the rocks, opening the graves, there yet remained a further act to complete it towards us? Resurrection must follow on death, otherwise would the prison be opened, and yet the prisoner not discharged. As we gaze on the dying Redeemer, and listen to the piteous exclamation which marks how He is deserted of the Father, we are tempted to doubt whether it be indeed as a conqueror that He departs from this earth, whether He has indeed vanquished our enemies and those of God, as He hews His head and gives up the ghost. But soon is heard a sound as of victory. Proof after proof crowds in upon us, that whatsoever was undertaken has been accomplished, whatsoever we needed been obtained. First, there are general symbols-a trembling earth and riven rocks. Creation has recognized her Maker in the expiring man, and confesses by the dissolving of her most solid parts, that He has now effected a wondrous transformation, extracting good out of evil, converting the fall of man into an occasion of discomfiture to Satan and of glory to God, and thus virtually turning the rock into a standing water, the flint into a fountain of waters. But I seem to crave yet more specific testimony. I know that creation has before now been disquieted, when it was no message of comfort to man which was written in its struggles and uttered through its groans; and I have the more specific testimony. What shall I say to opened graves and quickened bodies? I remember the Saviour to have said, “The hour is coming and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God, and they that hear shall live.” And now the voice which they have heard, and on which they stirred in their narrow beds, is the voice which had exclaimed, “It is finished.” O beautiful token that in dying Christ hath indeed mastered death, and that what He finished on the cross is my rescue from the powers of darkness. But still I crave further testimony; I need a higher blessing; it is not enough for me to be emancipated from corruption; I long for admission into the world which is radiant with the presence of the Lord God Almighty; I long for companionship with angels; I would walk where they walk; I would wait with cherubim and seraphim in the court of the celestial King, gazing on His glories, and delighting to execute His will. Is this possible? A creature of dust-where are the wings with which I may soar, where the path which I may tread, and find that it conducts me within the veil? Within the veil! Why, whilst I look on the graves which Christ hath opened by the greatness of His might, and feel that though they tell me of a resurrection, they do not tell me of entrance into the celestial courts, there come tidings which announce that the veil of the temple has been rent in twain-that very veil which I have always regarded as being before the holy of holies, to show me that there is no admission for such as myself into the place where Deity is specially manifested. The veil is rent. Then with it should be rent away all doubt and all unbelief. The door of heaven, as well as the door of the grave, is thrown open through the work of mediation. I may not only rise from the dust; I may tread the firmament; I may enter by the gate of pearl, and I may walk the street of gold. There is a remarkable prophecy in the writings of Micah, which seems closely to bear upon the subject of our present discourse: it is this-“The breaker is come up before them: they have broken up, and have passed through the gate, and are gone out of it; and their King shall pass before them, and the Lord at the head of them.” Now, here is presented to us a magnificent procession, led by a chief under the expressive title of the breaker; He heads a vast company, He directs them through some gate, which He presses open by His own energy or labour; and they follow in triumph, and pass on like marching conquerors. Who is this but the Lord Jesus Christ, who, having vanquished death, and opened the closed gate of everlasting life, has gone before that He may prepare a place for His followers, who through faith and patience, shall inherit His promise. And do you observe how the title of the breaker, as applied to our Redeemer, is verified or vindicated by the prodigies which throng the crucifixion! The broken earth, the broken rocks, the broken graves, the broken veil of the temple-how do all these teem to correspond with the name of the breaker! Oh! that in our own case we might be able to add broken hearts to the list, and thus prove that Christ is still a breaker; but a breaker who breaks only with the gracious purpose of making whole. (H. Melvill, B. D.)
Truly this Man was the Son of God.
The centurion’s confession
Never did reason obtain a more complete victory over prejudice. Death is the touchstone of the soul. Even in the most favourable circumstances it tries a man severely. But in this instance there were many aggravating circumstances to weigh clown and overwhelm the soul.
1. The treason of Judas. Jesus had been delivered up to His enemies by one who had been admitted to His friendship and close intercourse with Him.
2. Christ’s utter abandonment by His disciples. Not a voice had been uttered in Ills defence, or to comfort Him; not one was found to come forward courageously and acknowledge Him.
3. The injustice of His sentence. Even His judge was convinced of His innocence; yet He was condemned to the most cruel death ever devised.
4. The ignominy accompanying His punishment. The death of Jesus, “expiring in the midst of tortures, abused, insulted, cursed by a whole nation, is the most horrible that could be feared.”
5. His knowledge of all that was to come upon Him. His passion and death commenced in Gethsemane. There He resigned Himself unreservedly to all the anguish He afterwards underwent. Nor did He for one moment draw back from the awful sufferings that followed. Was not the centurion justified in the conclusion forced upon him by such a spectacle as this-that He who could thus die must be of a truth not Man only, but the very Son of God? (L. H. Horne, B. D.)
The believing centurion
What was Jesus Christ to this heavy-bearded, battle-scarred soldier? He had heard of Him, doubtless, for the hot talk and the excited crowds in the streets of Jerusalem could not have escaped the notice of one of the officers appointed to preserve order in the city. But in his opinion Christ was nothing but a Jewish fanatic, in regard to whom he was profoundly indifferent. He had received the order to superintend the execution of this disturber of the peace without any emotion. After an impassive fashion he had directed the details of the execution, supposing that it would be only the repetition of a scene familiar to him. The fact was far otherwise. As has been said, he “halted as he passed the cross when Jesus uttered His loud death cry.” He was within a few feet of Him, and must have involuntarily fixed his gaze on Him at such a sound. He saw the change pass over His features; the light of life leaving them, and the head suddenly sink. As it did so, the earthquake shook the ground, and made the three crosses tremble. But the tremor of the earth affected the Roman less than the piercing cry and sudden death. He had likely attended many crucifixions, but had never seen or heard of a man dying within a few hours on a cross. He had never heard a crucified man, strong to the last, utter a shriek that showed, as that of Jesus did, the full vigour of the vital organs to the last. He felt that there was something mysterious in it, and joining with it all he had seen and heard of the sufferer, he broke involuntarily into this confession.” The triumphs of the kingdom of the cross were beginning. The Jewish thief had already asked and received Messiah’s salvation, and now the Gentile centurion bowed in loyalty to the Divine Sufferer. The confession of the centurion wag a sort of first fruits of the crucifixion. Tradition has it that years afterwards, unable to shake off the influence, he became a preacher of the gospel; and certainly that cross testified, as nothing else could, to the divinity of Him who endured its pains. (E. S. Atwood.)
Converting power in the sight of Christ
The Roman centurion is not one you would have expected to be impressed. He was there but casually; had probably only been in Jerusalem a few days, Caesarea being his station. His deities were those whose chief characteristic was power. Meekness and lowliness were, by his people, considered failings, not virtues. He had probably everything about religion to learn; and yet be follows the dying thief in the path of faith and of salvation. He would not mean, perhaps, by his exclamation, all that St. Paul would have meant; but he meant that Christ was more than mere man; that God was in Him; that whatever claims He made we should reverently admit them. Such a converting power is there in the mere sight of Christ. We have but to fix our honest gaze on Him and we begin to believe upon Him and to become like Him. (R. Glover.)
The risen Lord Divine
If in dying the Roman officer became convinced that Jesus was Divine, how much more should we be convinced of the Divinity of a risen and exalted Christ. (D. C. Hughes, M. A.)
Involuntary testimony to the Divinity of Jesus
A well-known learned man of Saxony, after having all his life long attacked Jesus and His gospel with all the weapons of sophistry he could command, was in his old age partially deprived of his reason, chiefly through the fear of death, and frequently fell into religious paroxysms of a peculiar nature. He was almost daily observed conversing with himself, while pacing to and fro in his chamber, on one of the walls of which, between other pictures, hung one of the Saviour. Repeatedly he halted before the latter, and said, in a horrifying tone of voice, “After all, Thou wast only a Man.” Then, after a short pause, he would continue, “What wast Thou more than a Man? Ought I to worship Thee? No, I will not worship Thee, for Thou art only Rabbi Jesus, Joseph’s son, of Nazareth.” Uttering these words, he would return with a deeply affected countenance, and exclaim, “What dost Thou say? That Thou camest from above! How terribly Thou eyest me! Oh, Thou art dreadful! But Thou art only a Man, after all!” Then he would again rush away, but soon return with faltering step, crying out, “What! Art Thou in reality the Son of God?” The same scenes were daily renewed, till the unhappy man, struck by paralysis, dropped down dead; and then really stood before his Judge, who, even in His picture, had so strikingly and overpoweringly judged him.
The evidence which arises from the nature and character of the gospel
I. That the religion of the gospel is the only one which has ever yet appeared among mankind which is adequate to all the instinctive desires and expectations of the human mind.
II. There is a second view of it which arises from its relation to the welfare of society, or the prosperity of the world. III, That the religion of the gospel is the only one which has ever appeared among mankind which is commensurate to the future hopes or expectations of the human soul. (A. Alison, LL. B.)
He had been condemned as a blasphemer by the ecclesiastical authorities, because He had said that He was the Son of God. It was proper, it was needful, that His claims should be vindicated. This was done, indeed, effectually by His resurrection from the dead: He was then declared to be the Son of God with power-with the most powerful weight of evidence. But it was not necessary to wait till the third day; it was fitting rather that something should be done to vindicate His claims while He yet suffered, so that His enemies should not completely triumph. The prodigies which attended the crucifixion of our Lord seemed necessary also, in order to bring His death into harmony with His life. As in the person so also in the history of Jesus, there was a strange combination of humiliation and dignity, of power and weakness. The centurion was convinced by the scenes which he witnessed of the innocence of Jesus. “When the centurion saw what was done, he glorified God, saying, Certainly this was a righteous man.” His enemies had said all manner of evil of Him. They had said that He was a sinner, a Sabbath breaker, a profane person, a leader of sedition, a Samaritan who had a devil and was mad. But to the centurion all nature became animated, vocal, and refuted these foul calumnies. The centurion was convinced by the scenes which he witnessed, not only of the innocence of our Lord, but also of His Messiahship; he not only exclaimed, “Certainly this was a righteous man,” but he said again, “Truly this was the Son of God.” Some have supposed that we should interpret this as the language of a heathen; and that it means simply this was “a son of a god;” He was a hero; there was something Divine in Him. But in reading the new Testament we are struck with the fact that many of the Roman soldiers, those especially of any rank, who were stationed in Judea, appear to have derived much religious knowledge from their intercourse with the Jews. It is necessary only to refer to the centurion at Capernaum. This centurion appears to have known that Jesus claimed to be the Son of God, the promised deliverer of mankind, but that the Jews denied the claims of Jesus, that they rejected Him, that they pronounced Him guilty of blasphemy, and worthy of death; and now the centurion felt that God had decided the controversy-that He had decided it against the Jews and in favour of Jesus. He and those with him felt that those prodigies were expressions of the Divine displeasure; they said therefore, “What have we done? We have been partakers with the Jews in this great sin; we have contributed to the murder of this righteous man; we have crucified the Son of God. And what will God do? He will surely be avenged on such a people; He will punish such a deed as this!” Here it is worthy of remark, that they were soldiers, Roman soldiers who were thus impressed by the prodigies which attended the death of our Lord; they were Gentile soldiers who were convinced by those signs and wonders of the innocence of Jesus, and of the justice of His claims; the Jews were not impressed, were not convinced by them; nothing could convince them; nothing could remove their prejudices and unbelief; especially of the chief priests and rulers. So it often is; we frequently find most where we expect least; we often find publicans and sinners, soldiers and Gentiles, more open to conviction, and more susceptible of impression, than religious professors and self-righteous Pharisees. Of all men these indeed are generally the most hardened and the most hopeless. We should remark further: the centurion and those that were with him watching Jesus, that is to say, those who were the least guilty of all the parties concerned in the melancholy transactions of that day, feared greatly when they saw in the wonders which attended the death of our Lord the proofs of His Messiahship, and of the Divine displeasure against His enemies; but those who were most guilty had no fear. Luke tells us indeed that all the people that came together to that sight, beholding the things that were done, smote their breasts and returned. But Annas and Caiaphas, the chief priests and rulers, were not amongst them. Their consciences were seared, their minds were reprobate; they were given up to judicial blindness and obduracy. (J. J. Davies.)
Joseph of Arimathaea, an honourable counsellor.
The crisis in Joseph’s life
The record of spiritual progress through many years is given here. Long looking for the promised Saviour, almost convinced that Jesus is the Christ, yet for a while doubting so great a consolation, we find him at last settling in the great belief that He was the promised Saviour. With the timidity natural to a rich man and a ruler, he waits to be still more fully assured before openly committing himself to a discipleship which will involve him in persecution of the sternest kind. He, therefore, opposes in the Sanhedrin the persecution of Christ, but does nothing more. But the constraining power of the cross makes him abandon his policy of secrecy. It is not a time to shrink from shame or danger when Jesus hangs upon the cross.
1. Give men time to grow. “First the blade,” etc.
2. Secrecy invariably kills discipleship, or discipleship secrecy. Here the latter happier result is seen; but beware of concealing God’s righteousness in your heart.
3. The rulers had thought to rob Christ of His followers among the people; but all they really do is to give Him additional followers (Nicodemus, as well as Joseph) among themselves.
4. There is always “a remnant” that remains faithful to God. Even in the Sanhedrin there are some that believe.
5. In no circumstances is goodness an impossibility. (R. Glover.)
Joseph of Arimathaea
This man becomes prominent on the momentous day of Calvary, but till then unknown. He belongs to a class who appear for a moment on the stage of the history, to teach some great lesson or to perform some special service, and then disappear. All we know of him is that he was of Arimathaea (the site of which is not certainly known), a man of wealth, a member of the Jewish Council, a good man and a just, who waited for the kingdom of God, and a disciple of Jesus, but secretly, through fear of the Jews; that his fear gave place to courage in that day of Christ’s greatest humiliation, when he avowed himself His disciple, and boldly craved the body of the crucified Jesus; and that he had the high honour of laying it in his own new tomb, hewn in a rock, near the city. In his story we see how-
I. Faith is sometimes found in unexpected quarters.
II. Faith, hitherto weak, by God’s grace may spring into strength to meet and surmount greatest difficulties.
III. Instruments are forthcoming at the right moment to fulfil God’s purposes, when to man it would seem impossible. (T. M. Macdonald, M. A.)
Secret discipleship like that of Joseph is truly excellent, inasmuch as times and opportunities will occur for it to render essential service to truth and virtue; but open discipleship is infinitely preferable, inasmuch as in season and out of season its example and action are continuously and powerfully influencing for good, more or less, all who come into contact with it. (Dr. Davies.)
Legend respecting Joseph
A special interest attaches to his name for Englishmen from his supposed connection with this country. He is one of the few Scriptural names that are associated with the early legends of British history. He shares the distinction with Pudens, Claudia, and St. Paul. Tradition says that he was sent by St. Philip as a missionary to this island, and that, settling at Glastonbury, he erected the first Christian Church in Britain, made of wicker twigs, on the site where the noblest abbey was subsequently built. His pilgrim’s staff, which he drove into the ground, is said to have taken root and grown into an umbrageous thorn to protect him from the heat. We smile, perhaps, at the legend, but it was only the romantic dress in which an imaginative age clothed an important truth. It tells how, from a small and unpretending enterprise, the founder, whoever he may have been, was able to raise up a vast monastery, within the walls of which he took refuge himself, and offered means of shelter to others from the bustle and turmoil of the world. (H. M. Luckock, D. D.)
Joseph’s position and character
The Sanhedrin of Jerusalem consisted of seventy members, of whom twenty-four were the heads of the priesthood, twenty-four were heads of the tribes of Israel, and twenty-two were scribes learned in the law. Joseph was, no doubt, one of the noble representatives of the people, and, as such, shared in the functions of government, and was conversant with those sacred Scriptures which formed the basis of the Jewish Commonwealth. Arimathaea is thought to have been situated on the fertile plain of Sharon, where, probably, Joseph’s property lay. He also possessed an estate in Jerusalem-possibly a house in the city-certainly a garden in the outskirts. Josephus tells us that the Holy City was in those times thickly surrounded by groves and gardens; shady retreats in the heat from the crowded streets of the metropolis. Captain Conder, and some of the leading topographical experts, are of opinion that recent research has fixed on the probable site of Calvary, and of Joseph’s garden near at hand, some short distance outside the city, where an elevation of the ground, in the form of a skull, abuts upon an old Roman road; and near at hand, till lately buried under the accumulated soil, a sepulchre in the adjacent rock has been discovered, which, it is thought, may have been the very tomb happily concealed for so many ages from the corrupt worshippers and crusaders, who have lavished their regard upon a mistaken site inside the walls. Be this as it may, we know that Jesus died “outside the camp,” and from St. John that “in the place where Jesus was crucified was a garden,” and that “the sepulchre was nigh at hand” to Calvary. A place of public execution, and a garden nigh at hand, were both more probably situated outside the city wall, and abutting on some roadway, rather than within the immediate precincts of Zion. Here, then, under the shade and concealment of trees and umbrageous shrubs, we may think of this honourable counsellor as refreshing his spirit in peaceful meditations, by day and night, when his public duties permitted of repose. One’s thoughts picture this good man sitting under the shadow of some terebinth or sycamore, in full view of the holy temple rising in the distance, and reading the prophet Isaiah, very likely reading sometimes the fifty-third chapter, and asking himself-“Of whom speaketh the prophet, of himself, or of some other man?” How little he imagined, as he sat there, poring over the sacred scroll, that he himself was denoted on that wondrous page as the “rich man” who should furnish a “sepulchre” to the crucified Messiah; much less did he imagine, as he paced along his favourite shady pathway, in the morning or the evening light, and stood before the door of his tomb, that that garden of his was destined to be most holy ground, the scene of an event on which the justification, redemption, and immortal life of mankind depended. (Ed. White.)
Burial of Christ
I have been told that the bells in St. Paul’s Cathedral, London, never toll save when the king or some member of the royal family dies. The thunders in the dome of heaven never tolled so dolefully as when they rang out to the world the news, “King Jesus is dead!” When a king dies, the whole land is put in black: they shroud the pillars; they put the people in procession; they march to a doleful drum beat. What shall we do now that our King is dead? Put blackness on the gates of the morning. Let the cathedral organs wail. Let the winds sob. Let all the generations of men fall in line, and beat a funeral march of woe! woe! woe! as we go to the grave of our dead King. In Philadelphia they have a habit, after the coffin is deposited in the grave, of the friends going formally up and standing at the brink of the grave and looking in. So, I take you all tonight to look into the grave of our dead King. The lines of care are gone out of his face. The wounds have stopped bleeding. Just lift up that lacerated hand. Lift it up, and then lay it down softly over that awful gash in the left side. He is dead! He is dead! (Dr. Talmage.)
An honourable man
The power of religious character in men of high station.
The humblest Christian life has an irresistible influence for good in some measure and in certain directions. A man need not be nobly born, or distinguished for talent and wealth, in order to do brave work for God. And yet it remains true that those who are held in high esteem among men have an exceptional influence, and so are weighted with an exceptional responsibility. It is probable that no other of the disciples could have accomplished what Joseph affected. Mary Magdalene would have been turned away from the door of Pilate’s palace; Peter and John would have been answered with a curt rebuff, even if they had gained a scant hearing from the Roman governor. But Joseph’s social standing was such that he could not be dismissed with a sneer and a frown. He matched his station against that of Pilate, and so received courteous treatment, and had his request granted. Constituted as human society is, how often this incident has been repeated in history. Constantine embraced Christianity, and all the idolatry of the empire shrank in sudden collapse. President Garfield confessed Christ in creed and life, and the nation kindled with a new reverence for the faith of the gospel. His dying bed was a pulpit that preached more emphatically than all the other pulpits of the land. Men in authority, civic or social, by reason of their opportunities, owe more to God than the great multitude. Their service need not be ostentatious. Rulers and statesmen and scholars need not flaunt their piety in the eyes of men, but if it is genuine and earnest it can make channels of influence for itself, as the streams from the mountain tops cleave their way to the sea by simple momentum, through intervening ridges and barriers of rock, beautifying all the leagues through which they flow. Great opportunities bring great responsibilities. It is well for men in high places when they recognize the fact and accept the burden. (E. S. Atwood.)
Went in boldly.-Moral courage
A great deal of talent is lost in the world for the want of a little courage. Every day sends to their graves a number of obscure men, who have only remained in obscurity because their timidity has prevented them from making a first effort; and who, if they could have been induced to begin, would in all probability have gone great lengths in the career of fame. The fact is, that to do anything in this world worth doing, we must not stand back shivering and thinking of the cold and danger, but jump in and scramble through as well as we can. It will not do to be perpetually calculating risks and adjusting nice chances; it did very well before the flood, when a man could consult his friends upon an intended publication for a hundred and fifty years, and then live to see its success afterwards; but at present a man waits and doubts, and consults his brother and his particular friends, till one fine day he finds that he is sixty years of age; that he has lost so much time in consulting his first cousins and particular friends that he has no more time to follow their advice. (Sydney Smith.)
Great occasions discover great qualities
Some natures need powerful incentives to draw out their better traits and nobler qualities. Close to Bracelet Bay, Mumbles, is a bell buoy marking a concealed rock. This bell rings only in the storm. It is only when the wind is high and the billows roll and beat against it that it gives forth the music that is in it.
On the crucifixion, death, and burial, of Christ
You are invited-
1. To witness the crucifixion of Christ.
2. To attend the burial of Christ; and-
3. To watch at His grave.
I. You are invited to witness the crucifixion of Christ. “It was the third hour of the day, and they crucified Him.” Here you will naturally mark-
1. The instrument of His torture. It was a cross-a cross composed of two pieces of timber; one a transverse beam, and the other a perpendicular one, the foot of which was inserted into the ground; and then the sufferer was nailed to that cross, and suspended in bleeding anguish, till life became extinct. It was not only a most ignominious, but it was a most agonizing death; and not only was it agonizing, but it was lingering. You will naturally think of the place of His crucifixion. “They led Him to a place called Golgotha,” which signifies, the place of skulls. There it was that malefactors were executed. In that gloomy, melancholy, horrifying spot, did the Saviour pay the forfeiture of our guilt. You will naturally revert, not only to the instrument of His torture, and the place of His suffering, but to the time of His crucifixion. It was a very remarkable season; at the particular moment when the Jewish Passover was held, and when, consequently, there was a vast concourse of persons gathered, both Jews and proselytes from among the Gentiles, in order to keep this annual feast. This was remarkable, both with respect to the typical relation of Christ’s death, and with respect to the open publicity or popularity of His death. You will not only think of the instrument, and the time, and the place, of His crucifixion, bet you will think of the aggravations of it. In His agonies He met with mockery, insult, and derision. He was exposed to the rude treatment of the soldiers, and had the mortification of beholding their avaricious contention among themselves, when they “parted His raiment, and for His vesture they did cast lots.” There are those who care little for Christ, beyond His robes and His vesture. If they can enrich themselves with the smallest perquisite from His wardrobe, this is all that concerns them, and all that they are disposed to contend about. But that which seems to have constituted the greatest aggravation of His crucifixion, was this-the withdrawment of the light, and sensible consolation, derived from the presence of His Divine Father. You will not only notice the instrument, and the place, and the time, and the aggravations, of His crucifixion, but you will advert to those supernatural portents which accompanied this transaction, and which proved it to be decidedly extraordinary, and of what we may call a miraculous character: for you will remember that while He was suspended on the cross, darkness extended itself over the whole land. He was crucified.
II. We are further invited, this morning, to attend His burial. This demonstrates, in the first place, the truth and indubitable certainty of His death. All this was not an imaginary scene; it was no fantastic illusion. He really suffered, and He really died. The character of His death deserves our particular notice. He died not an ordinary or common death, but He died as a public person; and His death was of a threefold character.
1. It may be considered as a satisfaction for sin.
2. As a glorious triumph.
3. As an edifying example.
III. And now, my dear hearers, for a short season, you are invited to watch at His grave. “Come, see the place where the Lord lay.”
1. It was a new tomb-it had never been previously occupied. By which, I think God intended, in His Providence, to put especial honour upon the mangled remains of His Son; “that in all things, He might have the preeminence”-that precedence might be given to Him, even in the lowest depths of His humiliation.
2. It was the tomb which Joseph of Arimathaea had prepared as his own resting place. How willingly should men sacrifice everything for Christ; the honour of an honourable interment, not excepted. Then, it was well for Joseph of Arimathaea, that Christ, by condescending to occupy his grave, seasoned it and perfumed it, and left there a lasting fragrance.
3. It was a tomb singularly guarded and fortified. I have only to add, once more, that it was in a garden. It was in a garden that man lost his innocency; in a garden that Adam sinned; and therefore in a garden Christ was buried, that He might expiate the guilt of sin, and take away the sting of death. Now, brethren, in retiring from the crucifixion, from the burial, and from the grave, of Jesus, we must first observe the vehement displeasure and indignation of God against sin. Secondly, in departing, let us bitterly bewail those sorrows which we have been instrumental in inflicting upon the immaculate Redeemer. Thirdly, let us accept the oblation and sacrifice of the Son of God. In the fourth place, how little reason have we to fear death. If we are united to Christ, “death is ours”-“to die, is gain.” Lastly, how reasonable it is that we should give our lives to Him, who has encountered death in all its bitterness for us. (G. Clayton, M. A.)
The burial of Jesus
No mention is on record concerning the final disposal of Jesus’ crucified body, except the somewhat bare statement that a stranger asked the privilege of laying it in his family tomb.
I. The friend in need. It was a settled principle of the Mosaic law, that, if a man had been executed for a capital crime, his body should not be suffered to remain unburied even over a night; for he that was hanged was accursed of God (Deuteronomy 21:22-23). This seems to have been borne in mind by the chief priests when they suggested that Jesus’ legs should be broken in order that he might not be dilatory in dying (John 19:31). And after He was dead the same recollection led a new man-a stranger from one of the towns in Ephraim, but having a residence in Jerusalem-to the carrying out of a much more generous purpose. On Friday evening he went to the governor, and gained permission for the interment of the body.
1. Who was Joseph of Arimathaea? Mark tells us he was a councillor who like old Simeon had “waited for the kingdom of God” (Mark 15:43). John says he was a true disciple of Jesus, only he had hitherto been afraid to confess Him openly (John 19:38). Matthew adds that he was a “rich man” (Matthew 27:57). And Luke informs us that in character he was a good man and a just, and that although he was a member of the Sanhedrin, he had refused to vote for Christ’s condemnation (Luke 23:50-51).
2. What was his special usefulness?
(1) He furnished generous help. Just then there was a supreme need in the circle of Jesus’ friends. Crisis periods in the providence of God, occurring now and then, cause even commonplace services to become intensely important. Who else would have buried Jesus, when all the disciples had forsaken him and fled?
(2) He fulfilled an embarrassing prophecy. It had been declared many hundred years before that the Messiah should make His grave with the rich in His death (Isaiah 53:9). There surely was no wealth within reach for those faithful women who were exhausting their resources on the costly spices they purchased for the embalming. Joseph was raised up for this grand office. Noble opportunity always discloses the needed man.
(3) He obtained a valuable argument. In the endless debate about Christ’s resurrection from the dead, it has pleased some reckless disputants to assert that the reason why Jesus was found alive on Sunday morning, was because he had never been actually dead after all. Joseph’s request for the body surprised Pilate, for he did not suppose that the man he had crucified would have died so soon; hence he instantly took measures to ascertain from the military officer who had conducted the execution the facts in the case. Satisfied on this point, he gave his consent at once (Mark 15:44-45). Thus Joseph’s consideration and courage added another unanswerable testimony to the truth for the Church’s use.
II. The new sepulchre. Our next question arises most naturally concerning the exact place where our Lord Jesus was laid. Joseph did not find it necessary to consult anyone as to the disposal of the body his bold petition had gained. He seems to have had his own way about everything.
1. What tradition has to say concerning the locality is easily stated; but it will bring no satisfaction. There stands in Jerusalem to this day what is called the “Church of the Holy Sepulchre;” a dirty, rambling, old structure, which the resident priests of many faiths assert was raised upon the precise field of the crucifixion, and now covers the whole area of Golgotha. The tomb of Jesus is represented by an imposing mausoleum in the midst of it; and beside it, and around it, is almost everything else under that extensive roof which the imagination could wish or the purse could pay for. Calvary is a domed room upstairs and in the air. A knob in the floor marks the exact “centre of the earth.” Underneath this is Adam’s grave, and the tomb of Melchizedek is close by. One can have almost any historic site within this absurd enclosure, at a proper price and with fit notice. It is evident at once, when a man in simplest of candour sets his eyes upon this place with its surroundings, that such an edifice, with its populous shrines, could never by any possibility have been situated beyond the city wall, “without the gate,” and yet have left room for Jerusalem to exist on its sacred hills.
2. The Scriptures do not pretend to give any aid in locating the tomb of Jesus. Matthew says Joseph laid the body in a sepulchre which was “his own,” and which was “new” (27:60). Mark relates that this burial ground was hewn out of the rock (15:46). Luke adds that it had never been used for an interment before (23:53). John furnishes all the hints of help we have, when he states that it was in a “garden,” and the garden was “in the place where Jesus was crucified” (19:41, 42). Some of the best scholars on both sides of the ocean are coming to believe that the spot which best answers all the requisitions of the inspired narrative, is to be found in the neighbourhood of the northern wall of Jerusalem, close by what is called the Damascus Gate; and that to the rounded knoll, of slight elevation, but resembling a skull in general shape so strikingly as to arrest the attention of every beholder,-the knoll, which arches over what is known as the “Cave of Jeremiah,”-was once given the name of Calvary.
3. The decision, even if it could be made, however, might prove far from valuable now. When we remember the follies of devoteeism, and the offensive wrestle of the Eastern national churches over so-called holy shrines for many a century, we may perhaps be willing to think it is better that the exact locality of Jesus’ burial should never be known, and Golgotha remain unmarked on the map.
III. The few mourners. To most of us it appears passing strange that not one of the disciples is recorded as having been present at the burial of Jesus. John tells us that Nicodemus, that other wealthy ruler of the Jews who once came for an interview with Our Lord in the night, was associated with Joseph in these kind offices of affection (John 19:39). Mark mentions the Virgin Mary and Mary Magdalene by name (Mark 15:47). This is confirmed by Matthew (Matthew 27:61). Luke, by a singular form of expression, seems to refer us to another verse in his own gospel (Luke 23:55). These “women also which came with him from Galilee” are named once before (Luke 8:2-3). And Mark likewise identifies them for us by the same expression; those who “ministered unto Him when He was in Galilee” were “looking on afar off” during the crucifixion (Mark 15:40-41). Thus, as we compare the narratives of the different Evangelists, do what we will, we cannot find that more than these seven or eight persons-two men and five or six women-assisted in this last service.
1. As to the men-Joseph and Nicodemus-it is suggestive to remark that they resembled each other in public position; they were both senators in the grand council of the nation. Moreover, they had both been timid and backward all along, till this great crisis in affairs brought them out. They periled fame and fortune now in uniting themselves to the cause of Christ, when the look of it on the human side was most melancholy and desperate.
2. As to the women-Mary the mother of Jesus; Mary Magdalene; Joanna; Susanna: Mary the mother of James; and Salome,-some few particulars may profitably be noted.
(1) How tender was their spirit! For of course we reckon them in that pathetic group of the “daughters of Jerusalem,” to whom, as they wept, Jesus had spoken on His way to the cross (Luke 23:27-28). Some of them had stood patiently at His feet all through the dark time when He was dying (John 19:25).
(2) How grateful were their memories! It was impossible for Mary of Magdala to forget the favour she had received. Each of them all must have recalled some good deed Jesus had done, or some kind word He had spoken.
(3) How lavish were their offerings! They had been in the habit of ministering to Him “with their substance” while in Galilee; and even now, on that melancholy Friday evening, they were at much expense preparing unguents and “sweet spices” with which to anoint His body (Luke 23:56). So we conclude as before, that these devout and honourable women have a right to have the grand memorial that remains of them. Wherever the Bible goes, will go the story of that gentle group of Christian friends around Jesus’ grave in the garden.
IV. The silent tomb. Our study closes today with the vision of that impressive scene still resting upon our imagination. A few reflections arise as we remain sitting among the shadows by the sepulchre.
1. Things are not what they seem. What contrasts are here of the mean with the majestic! A poor crucified body lies in a borrowed tomb. A slender company of friends are in waiting. A band of drowsy soldiers are stationed before the sealed door (Matthew 27:66). But within the enclosure, unseen as yet, there are already two angels from heaven, one at the feet, one at the head, reverently keeping watch (John 20:12). And the supreme God is looking down providently; for He is not going to suffer His Holy One to see corruption (Acts 2:31).
2. Redemption is not yet fully completed. We ask curiously, Where was our Saviour’s soul during those three days? The Apostles’ Creed assumes to answer “He descended into hell;” thus it follows David’s Ps (16:10). But it cannot mean what it appears to say. Simon Peter (1 Peter 3:19) speaks about His preaching to “spirits in prison;” but commentators differ sharply concerning the interpretation his words will bear. We do not know: this mystery lies concealed in the infinite reserve of God.
3. Our only glory is in the cross (Galatians 6:14). We have nothing to glory over in the burial. It seems sad and lonely: but the resurrection was coming. (C. S. Robinson, D. D.)
Some topics of interest present themselves for our consideration, on a view of the conduct of Joseph and Nicodemus; such as the fact of their discipleship; the secrecy of it; the noble avowal of it on occasion of our Lord’s deepest humiliation; and the bearing of this On the evidence of His Divine mission, and of His resurrection from the dead. In the fact that our Lord was buried by Joseph and Nicodemus, and in the grave of the former, we have the accomplishment of an important prediction respecting the Messiah, while, at the same time, it served to render the fact of His resurrection undeniable.
I. We notice the fact that Joseph and Nicodemus were the disciples of Jesus; and the first thing which strikes us in connection with the fact of their discipleship, is their position in society. They were distinguished at once by their wealth, and by their rank and influence. “Not many wise men, not many mighty, not many noble, are called;” and, while our Lord was yet on earth, His enemies asked, with an air of triumph, “Have any of the rulers, or of the Pharisees, believed on Him?” And it is certain that He had but few disciples amongst the respectabilities of His day. But yet He had some, and Joseph and Nicodemus were of them. This fact also suggests a very cheering reflection, that true piety may sometimes be found where we least expect to meet with it. Joseph and Nicodemus were the disciples of Jesus. This expression cannot signify less, in ray opinion, than this, that they believed His Messiahship; they believed, not only that He was a just man and a prophet, but that He was the Christ-the long-promised and earnestly-expected deliverer of Israel. The professed disciples of Jesus avowed this as their belief, and were understood to avow it. But as Joseph and Nicodemus were disciples secretly, they did not avow it, but they inwardly cherished it; in their hearts they believed that Jesus was the Christ. They, too, had found the Messiah, but in how strange an environment! How different the reality from all the expectations which they had formed of Him! “Blessed are our eyes, for they have seen the Lord’s Anointed; blessed are our ears, for they have heard Messiah’s voice.” They were the disciples of Jesus. This suggest, another reflection: how great the diversity of opinion which obtained amongst the Jews respecting the character and claims of the Redeemer! We find amongst then all shades of opinion respecting Him, from the most exalted conceptions of His dignity, and the most profound veneration for His worth, down to the most profane and impious ideas of His character. And yet, believe me, the truth you will never receive unless you are yourself true. They were the disciples of Jesus. How or when Joseph was convinced of the Messiahship of Jesus we are not informed; but an interesting narrative, in the early part of St. John’s Gospel, acquaints us with the introduction of Nicodemus to our Lord, and informs us of the subject of their conversation. It appears that, from that time, Nicodemus was inwardly persuaded that Jesus was the Christ. And as the miracles of Jesus convinced him that He was a prophet, so His wisdom and knowledge convinced him that He was the Messiah. From that night he appears to have been the sincere, though secret disciple of Jesus.
II. And this leads us to our next topic, the secrecy of their discipleship. They were the disciples of Jesus sincerely, but secretly; they were inwardly persuaded of His Divine mission, and of His Messiahship, but they kept their convictions and feelings to themselves. How far did they proceed in the concealment of their attachment to Jesus? We are mistaken if we imagine that they were guilty of positive duplicity, or that they used any art to conceal their real sentiments. But why did they hesitate to avow their conviction? They were evidently amiable, and perhaps, also, they were timid men. The amiable are often timid, though not always, or necessarily so, by any means. The amiable, but, at the same time, thoroughly principled and devout man, is not unlike the verdant slopes in the midst of rugged rocks, which you sometimes see beside our broad rivers, where all seems so soft, so gentle, and so green, and presents an air of so much tranquility and repose, that the eye delights to rest upon it, and the mind is soothed and refreshed by its sweet influence; but around and underneath that softness and gentleness, there is a solid rock, on which the fiercest storms may beat in vain. The Jews had resolved that whosoever confessed that Jesus was the Christ should be “cast out of the synagogue”-should be excommunicated. This was a terrible evil, amounting, in its severest form, to nothing less than civil death; and Joseph and Nicodemus had much to lose. We are mistaken if we suppose that the rich and powerful can more easily avow their convictions, especially in times of danger, than the poor and destitute. The more men have to lose, the greater in general is their reluctance to part with it. Under these circumstances, Joseph and Nicodemus, while in reality yielding to the fear of man, perhaps thought, that in not avowing their belief of the Messiahship of Jesus, they were but acting with justifiable prudence and caution. This is one way in which we often deceive ourselves. We would fain be persuaded that we are exercising a moral virtue, that we are even wiser than other men, when, in truth, we are yielding to temptation, and falling into a snare. The language of Scripture would lead us to regard the situation of these men as one of great peril. It is the duty of all who receive the righteousness of God to make it known. In making man the depository of His richest treasure, Divine truth, it is God’s gracious design, not that it should be concealed, but communicated. To hide the truth that is in us, is, therefore, unfaithfulness to God and man; and this, surely, is a state of guilt and of danger.
III. We proceed to notice the noble avowal of their real sentiments and feelings, which Joseph and Nicodemus made on the occasion of our Lord’s death. How strange that these men who begged the body of Jesus, and who united in showing the utmost respect to His lifeless remains, did not rise up, some hours before, to demand, or, at least, to solicit, His acquittal! While the trial proceeds, no voice is heard on His behalf; He must be condemned-He must die. But no sooner is He condemned than tones of the bitterest woe are heard in the temple: it is Judas, exclaiming, “I have sinned in that I have betrayed the innocent blood!” As He is led away to be crucified amidst the tramp and confused noise of myriads moving in one mass through the streets of Jerusalem, you distinctly hear the sighs and cries of those who bewailed and lamented Him. While He is hanging on the cross, the penitent malefactor testifies to His innocence, His power, and His grace. When He is dying, all nature sympathizes with Him; Gentile soldiers smite on their breasts, and exclaim, “This was the Son of God.” And no sooner has He expired, than the flame of love, which had been long pent up, blazes in the hearts of these noble counsellors, and a spirit of holy courage animates them, and they beg the body of Jesus; and they bury Him with the profoundest respect, with their own hands performing the funeral rites. The conduct of these noblemen appears remarkable when contrasted with that of the apostles. They all forsook Him when He was apprehended; and afterwards, they seemed, for the most part, ashamed to show themselves openly. Their conduct is still the more remarkable when taken in connection with their own previous history. When Jesus was alive and at liberty, when all confessed His power, and the world went after Him, their attachment to Him was a secret; but now that He is publicly condemned and crucified, and His chosen disciples have deserted Him, they come forward and beg His body, and honour His sacred remains. How strangely men change! Often do they change with circumstances; sometimes they change even against them. With what feelings did they bury Him? With what faith? Did they still believe that He was the Messiah?
IV. We must just advert to the bearing of this fact on the evidence of our Lord’s Divine mission and of the truth of His resurrection. The fact that our Lord was buried by these noblemen in the grave of Joseph of Arimathaea, affords one more evidence of His Divine mission: it was necessary to complete the proof of His Messiahship; for thus was fulfilled a very remarkable prophecy concerning Him: “His grave was appointed with the wicked; but with the rich man was His tomb” (Isaiah 53:9. [Lowth’s translation]). But this fact has also an important bearing on the resurrection of our Lord: it has served to render it undeniable. If Jesus had been buried with the malefactors with whom He suffered, in some common grave, His resurrection might have been very doubtful; an air of uncertainty might always have attached to it. But the circumstances of His burial wore so ordered that there could be no possibility of a mistake touching His resurrection; that if He were not risen there could be no doubt about it, and that, if He were risen, the fact must be unquestionable. (J. J. Davies.)
The character of an honourable counsellor
A counsellor is a man who studies the law, to qualify himself for defending the life, property, or reputation of his client. To become an honourable counsellor, a man must be-
1. Perfectly satisfied that the basis of the law is justice; and-
2. He must be irrevocably determined neither to engage in an unjust action, nor to continue the defence of one from the tinge he discovers it to be so.
(1) Because be will thereby take part with the oppressor, and become an accomplice in depriving the injured parties of their rights.
(2) Because, in such an action he must speak against his conscience, and advance untruths to support his cause, and must descend to despicably mean arts to confound the evidence, and to influence the jury to decide in opposition to justice.
(3) Because nothing less than total depravity could, for the love of money, induce a man to appear in defence of injustice, at the hazard of his conscience, his integrity, his veracity, the salvation of his soul, and the esteem of man.
(4) Because retrospection must be painful.
(5) Because to obviate the consequences of such proceedings, it will be absolutely requisite that restitution should be made to every one whose injury he has been the means of occasioning. (The Pulpit.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Mark 15". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26