Saturday, June 3rd, 2023
the Week of Proper 3 / Ordinary 8
the Week of Proper 3 / Ordinary 8
The Pulpit Commentaries The Pulpit Commentaries
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Luke 23". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ tpc/ luke-23.html. 1897.
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Luke 23". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
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The trial before Pilate: First examination.
And the whole multitude of them arose, and led him unto Pilate. The Sanhedrin had now formally condemned Jesus to death. They were, however, precluded by the Roman regulations then in force from carrying out their judgment. A capital sentence in Judaea could only be inflicted as the result of a decision by the Roman court. The Sanhedrin supposed, and as we shall see rightly, that the judgment they had pronounced would speedily be confirmed by the Roman judge. The Sanhedrin condemnation to death was, however, from the Jewish standpoint, illegal. In capital cases judgment could not be legally pronounced on the day of trial. But in the case of Jesus, the Accused was condemned without the legal interval which should have been left between the trial and the sentence. The Prisoner was then at once hurried before the Roman tribunal, in order that the Jewish sentence might be confirmed and carried out with all the additional horrors which accompanied Gentile public executions in such cases of treason. Derenbourg attributes the undue illegal precipitancy of the whole proceeding to the overwhelming influence exercised in the supreme council by Annas and Caiaphas with their friends who were Sadducees, a party notorious for their cruelty as well as for their unbelief. Had the Pharisees borne sway in the Sanhedrin at that juncture, such an illegality could never have taken place. This apology possesses certain weight, as it is based upon known historical facts; yet when the general bearing of the Pharisee party towards our Lord during the greater part of his public ministry is remembered, it can scarcely be supposed that the action of the Sadducee majority in the Sanhedrin was repugnant to, or even opposed by, the Pharisee element in the great assembly. Pilate, Pontius Pilate, a Roman knight, owed his high position as Procurator of Judea to his friendship with Sejanus, the powerful minister of the Emperor Tiberius, He probably belonged by birth or adoption to the gens of the Pontii. When Judaea became formally subject to the empire on the deposition of Archelaus, Pontius Pilate, of whose previous career nothing is known, through the interest of Sejanus, was appointed to govern it, with the title of procurator, or collector of the revenue, invested with judicial power. This was in a.d. 26, and he held the post for ten years, when he was deposed from his office in disgrace. His government of Judaea seems to have been singularly unhappy. His great patron Sejanus hated the Jews, and Pilate seems faithfully to have imitated his powerful friend. Constantly the Roman governor appears to have wounded the susceptibilities of the strange, unhappy people he was placed over. Fierce disputes, mutual insults arising out of apparently purposeless acts of arbitrary power on his side, characterized the period of his rule. His behaviour in the one great event of his life, when Jesus was brought before his tribunal, will illustrate his character. He was superstitious and yet cruel; afraid of the people he affected to despise; faithless to the spirit of the authority with which he was lawfully invested. In the great crisis of his history, flora the miserably selfish motive of securing his own petty interests, we watch him deliberately giving up a Man, whom he knew to be innocent, and felt to be noble and pure, to torture, shame, and death.
And they began to accuse him, saying, We found this fellow perverting the nation, and forbidding to give tribute to Caesar, saying that he himself Christ a King. To understand this scene perfectly we must read St. John's account in his eighteenth chapter. From the place of meeting of the Sanhedrin, Jesus was led to the palace of Pilate, the Prsetorium. The Roman governor was evidently prepared for the case; for application must have been made to him the evening before for the guard which arrested Jesus in Gethsemane. St. John tells us that the delegates of the Sanhedrin entered not into the hall of judgment, "lest they should be defiled; but that they might eat the Passover." Pilate, who knew well from his past experience how fiercely these fanatics resented any slight offered to their religious feelings, wishing for his own purposes to conciliate them, went outside. These Jews, prior to eating the Passover, would not enter any dwelling from which all leaven had not been carefully removed; of course, this had not been the case in the palace of Pilate. The governor asks them, in St. John's account, what was their accusation against the Man. They replied that they had three charges:
(1) he had perverted the nation;
(2) he had forbidden that tribute should be given to Caesar;
(3) he had asserted that he was Christ a King.
And Pilate asked him, saying, Art thou the King of the Jews? Pilate then went again into his judgment-hall, where he had left Jesus, but before going back he could not resist addressing an ironical word to the accusing Jews: "Take ye him, and judge him according to your Law" (John 18:31), to which the Sanhedrists replied that they were not allowed to put any man to death, thus publicly confessing the state of comparative impotence to which they were now reduced, and also revealing their deadly purpose in the case of Jesus. Pilate, having gone into the judgment-hall again, proceeds to interrogate Jesus. The first two accusations he passes over, seeing clearly that they were baseless. The third, however, struck him. Art thou, poor, friendless, powerless Man, the King I have been hearing about? And he answered him and said, Thou sayest it. St. Luke gives only this bare summary of the examination, in which the prisoner Jesus simply replies "Yes," he was the King. St. John (John 18:33-38) gives us a more full and detailed account. It is more than probable that John was present during the interrogatory. In the sublime answers of the Lord, his words explanatory of the nature of his kingdom, which "is not of this world," struck Pilate and decided him to give the reply we find in the next verse.
Then said Pilate to the chief priests and to the people, I find no fault in this Man. The Roman was interested in the poor Prisoner; perhaps he grudgingly admired him. He was so different to the members of that hated nation he had been brought into such familar contact with; utterly unselfish, noble with a strange nobility, which was quite unknown to officials and politicians of the school of Pilate; but as regards Rome and its views quite harm. less. The Roman evidently was strongly opposed to harsh measures being dealt out to this dreamy, unpractical, generous Enthusiast, as he deemed him.
Pilate sends Jesus to be tried by Herod.
And they were the more fierce, saying, He stirreth up the people, teaching throughout all Jewry, beginning from Galilee to this place. On hearing the Roman governor's declaration that in his opinion the Prisoner was innocent, the Sanhedrists became more vehement, repeating with increased violence their accusation that Jesus had been for a long time past a persistent stirrer-up of sedition, not only here in the city, but in the northern districts of Galilee.
Luke 23:6, Luke 23:7
When Pilate heard of Galilee, he asked whether the Man were a Galilaean. And as soon as he knew that he belonged unto Herod's jurisdiction, he sent him to Herod, who himself also was at Jerusalem at that time. Now, Pilate dreaded lest these Jews should make his clemency towards the Prisoner a ground of accusation against him at Rome. Pilate had enemies in the capital. His once powerful patron Sejanus had just fallen. His own past, too, he was well aware, would not bear examination; so, moved by his cowardly fears, he refrained from releasing Jesus in accordance with what his heart told him was just and right; and yet he could not bring himself to condemn One to whom he was drawn by an unknown feeling of reverence and respect. But hearing that Jesus was accused among other things of stirring up sedition in Galilee, he thought he would shift the responsibility of acquitting or condemning, on to the shoulders of Herod, in whose jurisdiction Galilee lay. Herod was in Jerusalem just then, because of the Passover Feast. His usual residence was Capernaum.
And when Herod saw Jesus, he was exceeding glad: for he was desirous to see him of a long season, because he had heard many things of him; and he hoped to have seen some miracle done by him. This was Herod Antipas, the slayer of John the Baptist. He was at that time living in open incest with that princess Herodias concerning whom the Baptist had administered the public rebuke which had led to his arrest and subsequent execution. Godet graphically sums up the situation: "Jesus was to Herod Antipas what a juggler is to a sated court—an object of curiosity. But Jesus did not lend himself to such a part; he had neither words nor miracles for a man so disposed, in whom, besides, he saw with horror the murderer of John the Baptist. Before this personage, a monstrous mixture of bloody levity and sombre superstition, he maintained a silence which even the accusation of the Sanhedrin (Luke 23:10) could not lead him to break. Herod, wounded and humiliated, took vengeance on this conduct by contempt."
And Herod with his men of war set him at nought, and mocked him, and arrayed him in a gorgeous robe, and sent him again to Pilate. He treated him, not as a criminal, but as a mischievous religious Enthusiast, worthy only of contempt and scorn. The "gorgeous robe," more accurately, "bright raiment," was a white festal mantle such as Jewish kings and Roman nobles wore on great occasions. It was probably an old robe of white tissue of some kind, embroidered with silver. Dean Plumptre suggests that we might venture to trace in this outrage a vindictive retaliation for the words which the Teacher had once spoken—with evident allusion to Herod's court—of those who were gorgeously apparelled (Luke 7:25). It was this Herod of whom the Lord had spoken so recently with for him a rare bitterness, "Go ye, and tell that fox [literally, 'she-fox'] Herod" (Luke 13:32).
And the same day Pilate and Herod were made friends together. This union of two such bitter enemies in their enmity against Jesus evidently struck the early Church with sad wonderment. It is referred to in the first recorded hymn of the Church of Christ (Acts 4:27). How often has the strange sad scene been reproduced in the world's story since! Worldly men apparently irreconcilable meet together in friendship when opportunity offers itself for wounding Christ!
The Lord is tried again before Pilate, who wishes to release him, but, over-persuaded by the Jews, delivers him to be crucified.
And Pilate … said unto them.., behold I… have found no fault in this Man … No, nor yet Herod:… lo, nothing worthy of death is done unto him; more accurately rendered, is done by him. This was the Roman's deliberate judgment publicly delivered. The decision then announced, that he would scourge him (Luke 23:16), was singularly unjust and cruel. Pilate positively subjected a Man whom he had pronounced innocent to the horrible punishment of scourging, just to satisfy the clamour of the Sanhedrists, because he dreaded what they might accuse him of at Rome, where he knew he had enemies! He thought, wrongly as it turned out, that the sight of Jesus after he had undergone this dreadful and disgraceful punishment would satisfy, perhaps melt to pity, the hearts of these restless enemies of his.
(For of necessity he must release one unto them at the feast.) Probably, however, before the scourging was inflicted, the attempt to liberate Jesus in accordance with a custom belonging to that feast was made by Pilate. We know it failed, and a condemned robber called Barabbas was preferred by the people. The more ancient authorities omit this verse (17). It probably was introduced at an early period into many manuscripts of St. Luke as a marginal. gloss, as an explanatory statement based on the words of Matthew 27:15 or of Mark 15:6. As a Hebrew custom, it is never mentioned save in this place. Such a release was a common incident of a Latin Lectisternium, or feast in honour of the gods. The Greeks had a similar custom at the Thesmophoria. It was probably introduced at Jerusalem by the Roman power.
Luke 23:18, Luke 23:19
And they cried out all atones, saying, Away with this Man! and release unto us Barabbas: (who for a certain sedition made in the city, and for murder, was east into prison). Barabbas, whose release the people demanded at the instigation of the influential men of the Sanhedrin, was a notable leader in one of the late insurrectionary movements so common at this time. St. John styles him a robber; this well describes the character of the man; a bandit chief who carried on his lawless career under the veil of patriotism, and was supported and protected in consequence by many of the people. The meaning of his name Bar-Abbas is "Son of a (famous) father," or possibly Bar-Rabbas, "Son of a (famous) rabbi." A curious reading is alluded to by Origen, which inserts before Barabbas the word "Jesus." It does not, however, appear in any of the older or more trustworthy authorities. Jesus was a common name at that period, and it is possible that "when Barabbas was led out, the Roman, with some scorn, asked the populace whom they preferred—Jesus BarAbbas or Jesus who is called Christ!" (Farrar.). That this reading existed in very early times is indisputable, and Origen, who specially notices it, approves of its omission, not on critical, but on dogmatic grounds.
And they were instant with loud voices, requiring that he might be crucified. The Roman governor now found that all his devices to liberate Jesus with the consent and approval of the Jews were fruitless. After the clamour which resulted in the release of Barabbas had ceased, the terrible cry, "Crucify him!" was raised among that fickle crowd. Pilate was determined to carry out his threat of scourging the Innocent. That might satisfy them, perhaps excite their pity. Something whispered to him that he would be wise if he refrained from staining his life with the blood of that strange quiet Prisoner.
St. Luke omits here the "scourging;" the mock-homage of the soldiers; the scarlet robe and the crown of thorns; the last appeal to pity when Pilate produced the pale, bleeding Sufferer with the words, "Ecce Homo!" the last solemn interview of Pilate and Jesus, related by St. John; the sustained clamour of the people for the blood of the Sinless. "Then he delivered Jesus to their will" (verse 25).
Of the omitted details, the most important piece in connection with the "last things" is the recital by St. John of the examination of Jesus by Pilate in the Praetorium. None of the Sanhedrists or strict Jews, we have noticed, were present at these interrogatories. They, we read, entered not into the judgment-hall of Pilate, lest they might be defiled, and so be precluded from eating the Passover Feast.
St. John, however, who appears to have been the most fearless of the "eleven," and who besides evidently had friends among the Sanhedrin officials, was clearly present at these examinations. He too, we are aware, had eaten his Passover the evening before, and therefore had no defilement to fear.
The first interrogatories have been already alluded to, in the course of which the question, "Art thou a King, then?" was put by Pilate, and the famous reflection by the Roman, "What is truth?" was made. Then followed the "sending to Herod;" the return of the Prisoner from Herod; the offer of release, which ended in the choice by the people of Barabbas. The scourging of the prisoner Jesus followed.
This was a horrible punishment. The condemned person was usually stripped and fastened to a pillar or stake, and then scourged with leather throngs tipped with leaden balls or sharp spikes.
The effects, described by Romans, and Christians in the 'Martyrdoms,' were terrible. Not only the muscles of the back, but the breast, the face, the eyes, were torn; the very entrails were laid bare, the anatomy was exposed, and the sufferer, convulsed with torture, was often thrown down a bloody heap at the feet of the judge. In our Lord's case this punishment, though not proceeding to the awful consequences described in some of the 'Martyrologies,' must have been very severe: this is evident from his sinking under the cross, and from the short time which elapsed before his death upon it. "Recent investigations at Jerusalem have disclosed what may have been the scene of the punishment. In a subterranean chamber, discovered by Captain Warren, on what Mr. Fergusson holds to be the site of Antonia—Pilate's Praetorium—stands a truncated column, no part of the construction, for the chamber is vaulted above the pillar, but just such a pillar as criminals would be tied to to be scourged" (Dr. Westcott).
After the cruel scourging came the mocking by the Roman soldiers. They threw across the torn and mangled shoulders one of those scarlet cloaks worn by the soldiers themselves—a coarse mockery of the royal mantle worn by a victorious general. They pressed down on his temples a crown or wreath, imitating what they had probably seen the emperor wear in the form of laurel wreath—Tiberius's wreath of laurel was seen upon his arms (Suetonius, 'Tiberius,' c. 17). The crown was made, as an old tradition represents it, of the Zizyphus Christi, the nubk of the Arabs, a plant which is found in all the warmer parts of Palestine and about Jerusalem. The thorns are numerous and sharp, and the flexible twigs well adapted for the purpose. "The representations in the great pictures of the Italian painters probably come very near the truth" ('Speaker's Commentary').
In his right hand they placed a reed to simulate a sceptre, and before this sad, woebegone Figure "they bowed the knee, saying, Hail, King ,of the Jews!"
Hase is even moved to say, "There is some comfort in the fact that, even in the midst of the mockery, the truth made itself felt. Herod recognizes his innocence by a white robe; the Roman soldiery his royalty by the sceptre and the crown of thorns, and that has become the highest of all crowns, as was fitting, being the most meritorious."
It was then and thus that Pilate led Jesus out before the Sanhedrists and the people, as they shouted in their unreasoning fury, "Crucify him!" while the Roman, partly sadly, partly scornfully, partly pitifully, as he pointed to the silent Sufferer by his side, pronounced "Ecce Homo!"
But the enemies of Jesus were pitiless. They kept on crying, "Crucify him!" and when Pilate still demurred carrying out their bloody purpose, they added that "by their Law he ought to die, because he made himself the Son of God."
All through that morning's exciting scenes had Pilate seen that something strange and mysterious belonged to that solitary Man accused before him. His demeanour, his words, his very look, had impressed the Roman with a singular awe. Then came his wife's message, telling him of her dream, warning her husband to have nothing to do with that just Man. Everything seemed to whisper to him," Do not let that strange, innocent Prisoner be done to death: he is not what he seems." And now the fact, openly published by the furious Jews, that the poor Accused claimed a Divine origin, deepened the awe. Who, then, had he been scourging?
Once more Pilate returns to his judgment-hall, and he says to Jesus, again standing before him, "Whence art thou?"
The result of this last interrogatory St. John (John 19:12)briefly summarizes in the words, "From thenceforth Pilate sought to release him."
The Sanhedrists, and their blind instruments, the fickle, wavering multitude, when they perceived the Roman governor's intention to release their Victim, changed their tactics. They forbore any longer to press the old charges of blasphemy and of indefinite wrong-doing, and they appealed only to Pilate's own dastardly fears. The Prisoner claimed to be a King. If the lieutenant of the emperor let such a traitor go free, why, that lieutenant emphatically was not Caesar's friend!
Such a plea for the Sanhedrin to use before a Roman tribunal, to ask for death to be inflicted on a Jew because he had injured the majesty of Rome, was a deep degradation; but the Sanhedrin well knew the temper of the Roman judge with whom they had to deal, and they rightly calculated that his fears for himself, if properly aroused, would turn the scale and secure the condemnation of Jesus. They were right.
And Pilate gave sentence that it should be as they required. This sums up the result of the last charge of the Sanhedrin. Pilate's selfish fears for himself overpowered all sense of reverence, awe, and justice. There was no further discussion. Bar-Abbas was released, and Jesus was delivered up to the will of his enemies.
On the way to Calvary. Simon the Cyrenian. The daughters of Jerusalem.
And as they led him away. Plutarch tells us that every criminal condemned to crucifixion carried his own cross. There was borne in front of him, or else hung round his own neck, a white tablet, on which the crime for which he suffered was inscribed. Possibly this was what was afterwards affixed to the cross itself. Simon, a Cyrenian. Cyrene was an important city in North Africa, with a large colony of resident Jews. These Cyrenian Jews had a synagogue of their own in Jerusalem. It is probable that Simon was a Passover pilgrim. St. Mark tells us he was the father of "Alexander and Rufus;" evidently, from his mention of them, these were notable persons in the early Christian Church. Very likely their connection with the followers of Jesus dated from this incident on the road to Calvary. Coming out of the country. He was probably one of the pilgrims lodged in a village near Jerusalem, and met the sad procession as he was entering the city on his way to the temple. On him they laid the cross. Our Lord was weakened by the trouble and agitation of the past sleepless night, and was, of course, faint and utterly exhausted from the effects of the terrible scourging. The cross used for this mode of execution was
(1) either the Cruz decussata X, what is usually known as St. Andrew's cross; or
(2) the Cruz commissa T, St. Anthony's cross; or
(3) the ordinary Roman cross † , Cruz immissa.
Our Lord suffered on the third description, the Roman cross. This consisted of two pieces, the one perpendicular (staticulum), the other horizontal (antenna). About the middle of the first was fastened a piece of wood (sedile), on which the condemned rested. This was necessary, else, during the long torture, the weight of the body would have torn the hands, and the body would have fallen. The cross was not very high, scarcely twice the height of an ordinary man. Strong nails were driven through the hands and feet. The victim usually lived about twelve hours, sometimes much longer. The agonies endured by the crucified have been thus summarized: "The fever which soon set in produced a burning thirst. The increasing inflammation of the wounds in the back, hands, and feet; the congestion of the blood in the head, lungs, and heart; the swelling of every vein, an indescribable oppression, racking pains in the head; the stiffness of the limbs, caused by the unnatural position of the body;—these all united to make the punishment, in the language of Cicero ('In Verr.,' 5.64), crudelissimum teterrimumque supplicium. From the beginning Jesus had foreseen that such would be the end of his life."
And there followed him a great company of people, and of women, which also bewailed and lamented him. The great company was made up of the usual concourse of curious lookers-on, of disciples, and others who had heard him in past days, and now came, with much horror, to see the end. The women specially noticed consisted mostly, no doubt, of holy women of his own company, such as the "Maries," together with some of those kindly Jerusalem ladies who were in the habit of soothing the last hours of these condemned ones—unhappily in those sad days so numerous—with narcotics and anodynes. These kindly offices were apparently not forbidden by the Roman authorities. This recital respecting the women is peculiar to St. Luke.
But Jesus turning unto them said, Daughters of Jerusalem. This address to them by the Lord indicates that the majority at least of this company of sympathizing women belonged to the holy city. Weep not for me, but weep for yourselves, and for your children. Again here, as on the cross, the utter unselfishness of the dying Master comes out. His thoughts in his darkest hour were never of himself. Here, apparently, for the first time since his last interrogation before Pilate does our Lord break silence. Stier beautifully calls this the first part of the Passion sermon of Christ. The second part consisted of the "seven words on the cross." "Weep," said our Lord here It is noticeable that it is the only time in his public teaching that he is reported to have told his listeners to weep. "The same lips whose gracious breath had dried so many tears now cry on the way to the cross, 'Weep for yourselves, and for your children.'"
Blessed are the barren. A strange beatitude to be spoken to the women of Israel, who, through all their checkered history, so passionately longed that this barrenness might not be their portion!
Then shall they begin to say to the mountains, Fall on us; and to the hills, Cover us. The allusion, in the first place, was to the awful siege of Jerusalem and to the undreamed-of woes which would accompany it; and in the second place, to the centuries of misery and persecution to which the children of these "daughters of Jerusalem'' would, as Jews, be subjected in all lands.
For if they do these things in a green tree, what shall be done in the dry? Bleek and others interpret this saying here thus: The green wood represents Jesus condemned to crucifixion as a traitor in spite of his unvarying loyalty to Rome and all lawful Gentile power. The dry wood pictures the Jews, who, ever disloyal to Rome and all Genesis tile authority, will bring on themselves with much stronger reason the terrible vengeance of the great conquering empire. Theophylact, however, better explains the saying in his paraphrase, "If they do these things in me, fruitful, always green, undying through the Divinity, what will they do to you, fruitless, and deprived of all life-giving righteousness?" So Farrar, who well summarizes, "If they act thus to me, the Innocent and the Holy, what shall be the fate of these, the guilty and false?"
And there were also two other, malefactors, led with him to be put to death. Many commentators suppose that these, were companions of that Bar-Abbas the robber who had just been released. They were not ordinary thieves, but belonged to those companies of brigands, or revolted Jews, which in those troublous times were so numerous in Palestine.
And when they were come to the place, which is called Calvary; literally, unto the place which is called the skull. The familiar name "Calvary" has its origin in the Vulgate translation, Calvarium, a skull. The name "Place of a skull," Golgotha (properly Gulgoltha, an Aramaic word אתלגלן, corresponding to the Hebrew Gulgoleth, תלגלג, which in Judges 9:53 and 2 Kings 9:35 is translated "skull"), does not come from the fact that the skulls of condemned persons remained lying there, but it is so called from being a bare rounded mound like a skull in form. Dean Plumptre suggests that the spot in question was chosen by the Jewish rulers as a deliberate insult to one of their own order, Joseph of Arima-thaea, whose garden, with its rock-sepulchre, lay hard by. A later legend derives the name from its being the burying-place of Adam, and that as the blood flowed from the sacred wounds on his skull, his soul was translated to Paradise. A tradition traceable to the fourth century has identified this spot with the building known as the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. St. Cyril of Jerusalem alludes to the spot repeatedly. In the time of Eusebius there was no doubt as to the site. The Bordeaux Pilgrim writes thus: "On the left side is the hillock (monticulus) Golgotha, where the Lord was crucified. Thence about a stone-throw distance is the crypt where his body was deposited." Recent research confirms this very ancient tradition, and scholars are generally now agreeing that the evidence in support of the traditional site is strong and seemingly conclusive. And the malefactors, one on the right hand, and the other on the left. St. John adds, "and Jesus in the midst," as holding the position of preeminence in that scene of uttermost shame. Even in suffering Christ appears as a King. Westcott thus comments on the next detail recorded by St. John (John 19:19), where the accurate rendering is, "And Pilate wrote a title also." This title (see further, verse 38) was drawn up by Pilate, who caused it to be placed on the cross. The words, "wrote a title also," perhaps imply that the placing of the Lord in the midst was done by Pilate's direction.
Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do. These words are missing in some of the oldest authorities. They are found, however, in the majority of the most ancient manuscripts and in the most trustworthy of the old versions, and are undoubtedly genuine. These first of the seven words from the cross seem, from their position in the record, to have been spoken very early in the awful scene, probably while the nails were being driven into the hands and feet. Different from other holy dying men, he had no need to say, "Forgive me." Then, as always, thinking of others, he utters this prayer, uttering it, too, as Stier well observes, with the same consciousness which had been formerly expressed, "Father, I know that thou hearest me always." "His intercession has this for its ground, though in meekness it is not expressed: 'Father, I will that thou forgive them." In the same sublime consciousness who he was, he speaks shortly after to the penitent thief hanging by his side. These words of the crucified Jesus were heard by the poor sufferer close to him; they—with other things he had noticed in the One crucified in the midst—moved him to that piteous prayer which was answered at once so quickly and so royally. St. Bernard comments thus on this first word from the cross: "Judaei clamant, 'Crucifige! 'Christus clamat,' Ignosce!' Magna illorum iniquitas. seal major tun, O Domine, pietas!" And they parted his raiment, and cast lots. The rough soldiers were treating the Master as already dead, and were disposing of his raiment, of which they had stripped him before fastening him to the cross. He was hanging there naked, exposed to sun and wind. Part of this raiment was torn asunder, part they drew lots for to see who was to wear it. The garments of the crucified became the property of the soldiers who carried out the sentence. Every cross was guarded by a guard of four soldiers. The coat, for which they cast lots, was, St. John tells us, without seam. "Chrysostom," who may have written from personal knowledge, thinks that the detail is added to show "the poorness of the Lord's garments, and that in dress, as in all other things, he followed a simple fashion."
And the people stood beholding. A hush seems to have fallen over the scene. The crowd of by-standers were awed as they at first silently gazed on the dying form of the great Teacher. What memories must have surged up in the hearts of many of the gazers—memories of his parables, his mighty miracles, his words of love; memories of the raising of Lazarus, and of the day of palms! Such a silent awe-struck contemplation was dangerous, the rulers felt, so they hastened to commence their mockery—"to clear," as Stier remarks, "the stifling air, and deafen the voice which was stirring even in themselves." "Look now," they would cry, "at the end of the Man who said he could do, and pretended to do, such strange, unheard-of things!" They seem soon to have induced many to join in their mocking cries and gestures, and so to break the awful silence.
And the soldiers also mocked him, coming to him, and offering him vinegar. Three times in the Crucifixion scene we find a mention of this vinegar, or the sour wine of the country, the common drink of the soldiers and others, being offered to the Sufferer.
(1) Matthew 27:34. This was evidently a draught prepared with narcotics and stupefying drugs, no doubt by some of those compassionate women addressed by him on his way to the cross as "daughters of Jerusalem," a common work of mercy at that time, and one apparently permitted by the guards. This, St. Matthew tells us, "he tasted of," no doubt in courteous recognition of the kindly purpose of the act, but he refused to do more than taste of it. He would not dull the sense of pain, or cloud the clearness of his communion with his Father in that last awful hour.
(2) The second, mentioned here by St. Luke, seems to imply that the soldiers mocked his agony of thirst—one of the tortures induced by crucifixion—by lifting up to his parched, fevered lips, vessels containing their sour wine, and then snatching them hastily away.
(3) The third (John 19:28-30) relates that here the Lord, utterly exhausted, asked for and received this last refreshment, which revived, for a very brief space, his fast failing powers, and gave him strength for his last utterances. The soldiers, perhaps acting under the orders of the compassionate centurion in command, perhaps touched with awe by the brave patience and strange dignity of the dying Lord, did him this last kindly office.
And a superscription also was written over him in letters of Greek, and Latin, and Hebrew, THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS. The older authorities omit "in letters of Greek, and Latin, and Hebrew," but the fact is indisputable, for we read the same statement in John 19:20, where in the older authorities the order of the titles is, "in Hebrew, in Latin, and in Greek." Such multilingual inscriptions were common in the great provincial cities of the empire, where so many nationalities were wont to congregate. The four reports of the inscriptions slightly differ verbally, not substantially. Pilate probably (see note on John 19:33, on effect of accurate rendering of John 19:19, "and Pilate wrote a title also") wrote a rough draft with his own hand, "Rex Ju-daeorum hic est." One of the officials translated freely into Hebrew and Greek the Roman governor's Latin memorandum of what he desired to have written in black on the white gypsum-smeared board to be affixed to the upper arm of the cross.
מידוהיה כְלם ירצנה ושי (John).
Ὁ βασιλεὺς τῶν Ιουδαίων (Mark).
Rex Judaeorum hic est (Luke).
Dr. Farrar suggests that the title over the cross was as above. St. Matthew's is an accurate combination of the three, and was not improbably, as a combination of the three inscriptions, the common form reproduced in the first oral Gospel.
Luke 23:39, Luke 23:40
And one of the malefactors which were hanged railed on him, saying, If thou be Christ, save thyself and us. But the other answering rebuked him, saying, Dost not thou fear God? In the first two synoptists we read how, shortly after they were nailed to their crosses, both thieves "reviled" Jesus. The Greek word, however, used by SS. Matthew and Mark is ὠνείδιζον (reproached). The word used by St, Luke in this place of the impenitent one is ἐβλασφήμει, "began to use injurious and insulting language"—a much stronger term. Farrar suggests that at first, during the early hours of the Crucifixion, in the madness of anguish and despair, they both probably joined in the reproaches levelled by all classes alike at One who might seem to them to have thrown away a great opportunity. They, no doubt, knew something, possibly much, of Jesus' career, and how he had deliberately prevented more than once the multitude from proclaiming him King. Watching him as he hung bravely patient on his cross, only breaking the dread silence with a low-muttered prayer for his murderers to his Father, one of these misguided men changed his opinion of his fellow-Sufferer, changed his opinion, too, of his own past career. There, dying with a prayer for others on his lips, was the Example of true heroism, of real patriotism. If thou be Christ. The more ancient authorities read, Art thou not the Christ? But the other. In the Apocryphal Gospel of Nicodemus the names of the two are given as Dysmas and Gysmas, and these names appear still in Calvaries and stations in Roman Catholic lands. Seeing thou art in the same condemnation. His words might be paraphrased, "How canst thou, a dying man, join these mere lookers-on at our execution and agony? we are undergoing it ourselves. Dost thou net fear God? In a few hours we shall be before him. We have at all events deserved our doom; but not this Sufferer whom you revile. What has he done?"
And he said unto Jesus. Lord, remember me when thou oomest into thy kingdom. The majority of the older authorities omit "Lord." The translation should run thus: And he said, Jesus, remember me when thou comest in thy kingdom—in, not into. The penitent looked forward to the dying Jesus coming again in (arrayed in) his kingly dignity, surrounded with his power and glory. Very touching is this confidence of the dying in the Dying One who was hanging by his side, his last garment taken from him; very striking is this trust of the poor penitent, that the forsaken Lord will one day appear again as King in his glory. He, and he alone, on that dread day read aright the superscription which mocking Pilate had fixed above the cross, "This is the King of the Jews." He read "with Divine clearsightedness in this deepest night" (Krummacher). He asks for no special place in that kingdom whose advent he sees clearly approaching; he only asks the King not to forget him then. On this knowledge of the thief concerning the second advent of Christ, Meyer well writes, "The thief must have become acquainted with the predictions of Jesus concerning his coming, which may very easily have been the case at Jerusalem, and does not directly presuppose any instructions on the part of Jesus; although he may also have heard him himself, and still remembered what he heard. The extraordinary character of his painful position in the very face of death produced as a consequence an extraordinary action of firm faith in those predictions."
And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, To-day shalt thou be with me in paradise. No strengthening angel could have been more welcome to the dying Redeemer than these words of intense penitence and strong faith. Very beautifully Stier suggests that the crucified King "cannot see these two criminals, cannot direct his glance to this last without adding to his own agony by movement upon the cross. But that he forgets, and turns with an impulse of joy as well as he can to the soul that speaks to him, thus making the nails more firm." With those solemn words, "Verily I say unto thee," with which he had so often in old days begun his sacred sayings, he replied to the sufferer by his side. One at least, St. John, of his disciples would have heard the well-known words from the well-known voice. What memories must they not have recalled to that disciple whom Jesus loved, as he stood hard by the cross with the Mother of sorrows! The Lord's answer was very striking, Remember him, who could call on him with such reverent faith at the moment of his deepest humiliation! Remember him! yes; but not in the far-off "coming," but on that very day, before the sun then scorching their tortured bodies set; he would not be remembered by him only, but would be in closest companionship with him, not, as he prayed, in some far-off time in the midst of the awful tumult of the bloody and fiery dawn of the judgment advent, but almost directly in the fair garden, the quiet home of the blessed, the object of all Jewish hopes. There would he be remembered, and there, in company with his Lord, would the tortured condemned find himself in a few short hours. Are we right in thinking that there was no fulfilment of the words till death had released the spirit from its thraldom? May there not even then have been an ineffable joy, such as made the flames of the fiery furnace to be as a "moist, whistling wind" (Song of the Three Children, verse 27), such as martyrs have in a thousand cases known, acting almost as a physical anaesthetic acts? (Dean Plumptre).
"Non parem Paulo veniam require,
Gratiam Petri neque posco, sed quam
In crucis ligno dederis latroni
This striking verse is engraved on the tomb of the great Copernicus, and alludes to this prayer and its answer. Paradise. This is the only instance we have of our Lord's using this well-known word. In the ordinary language used by the Jews, of the unseen world, it signifies the" Garden of Eden," or "Abraham's bosom;" it represented the locality where the souls of the righteous would find a home, after death separated soul and body. The New Testament writers, Luke and Paul and John, use it (Acts 2:31; 1Co 15:5; 2 Corinthians 12:4; Revelation 2:7). To Luke and Paul, probably, this was a memory of the word spoken on the cross, which they alone record in their Gospel. It may have been told Luke by the Mother of sorrows herself. John, who uses it in his Revelation, doubtless heard it himself as he stood at the foot of the cross. Paradeisos is derived from the Persian word pardes, which signifies a park or garden.
The time of the Crucifixion. And it was about the sixth hour. We have before given (see note on Luke 22:47) the approximate hours of the several acts of the last night and day. This verse gives us the time of the duration of the "darkness"—from the sixth to the ninth hour; that is in our reckoning, from 12 noon to 3 p.m. With this date the other two synoptists agree. Our Lord had then been on the cross three hours. But while the three synoptists are in perfect harmony, we are met with a grave difficulty in St. John's account, for in John 19:14 : of his Gospel we read how the final condemnation of our Lord by Pilate took place about the sixth hour. At first sight, to attempt here to harmonize St. John with the three synoptists would seem a hopeless task, as St. John apparently gives the hour of the final condemnation by Pilate, which the three give as the hour when the darkness began, i.e. when the Sufferer had already hung on the cross for three hours. Various explanations have been suggested; among these the most satisfying and probable is the supposition that, while the three synop-tists followed the usual Jewish mode of reckoning time, St. John, writing some half a century later in quite another country, possibly twenty years after Jerusalem and the temple had been destroyed, and the Jewish polity had disappeared, adopted another mode of reckoning the hours, thus following, probably, a practice of the province in which he was living, and for which he was especially writing. Dr. Westcott, in an additional note on John 19:14, examines the four occasions on which St. John mentions a definite hour of the day; and comes to the conclusion that the fourth evangelist generally reckoned his hours from midnight. The Romans reckoned their civil days from midnight, and there are also traces of reckoning the hours from midnight in Asia Minor. "About the sixth hour" would then be about six a.m. Before touching upon the strange darkness which at the sixth hour seems to have hung over the land like a black pall, we note that somewhere in the first three hours, possibly after the words spoken to the dying penitent, must be placed the incident of the entrusting the virgin-mother to St. John (John 19:25, etc.). There is no doubt that on the surface of this, his third word from the cross, lay a loving desire to spare his mother the sight of his last awful suffering. Hence his command to John to watch over from henceforth the mother of his Lord. We may assume, then, that, in obedience to his Master's word, John led Mary away before the sixth hour. So Bengel, who comments here, "Great is the faith of Mary to be present at the cross; great was her submission to go away before his death." And there was a darkness over all the earth until the ninth hour. St. Matthew gives us additional particulars respecting this phenomenon. He says that besides this darkness there was also an earthquake, and that several graves were opened, and the dead during those hours of solemn gloom appeared to many in the holy city. Early Christian writers of high authority, such as Tertullian ('Apol.,' ch. 21) and Origen ('Contra Cels.,' 2.33), appeal to this strange phenomenon as if attested by heathen writers. It was evidently no slight or imaginary portent, but one that was well known in the early Christian years. The narrative does not oblige us to think of anything more than an indescribable and oppressive darkness, which like a vast black pall hung over earth and sea. The effect on the scoffing multitude was quickly perceptible. We hear of no more cries of mocking and derision; only just at the end of the three dark hours is the silence broken by the mysterious and awful cry of the Sinless One related by SS. Matthew and Mark, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" Godet's comment is remarkable: "The darkness, the rending of the veil of the temple, the earthquake, and the opening of several graves, are explained by the profound connection existing on the one side between Christ and humanity, on the other between humanity and nature. Christ is the Soul of humanity, as humanity is the soul of the external world." The darkness, he suggests, was perhaps connected with the earthquake with which it was accompanied, or it may have resulted from an atmospherical or cosmical cause. The phenomenon need not necessarily have extended over all the earth: it probably was confined to Palestine and the adjacent countries.
And the veil of the temple was rent in the midst. This was the inner veil, which hung between the holy place and the holy of holies. It was rich with costly embroidery, and very heavy. Before the willing surrender of life told of in the next versa (46), our Lord spoke twice more. These fifth and sixth words from the cross are preserved by St. John (John 19:28, John 19:30). The first of these, "I thirst "—an expression of bodily exhaustion, of physical suffering—was predicted as part of the agony of tile Servant of God (Psalms 69:21). The second, "It is finished!" tells that "the earthly life had been carried to its issue. That every essential point in the prophetic portraiture of Messiah had been realized. The last suffering for sin had been endured. The end of all had been gained. Nothing was left undone or unborne" (Westcott).
And when Jesus had cried with a loud voice, he said. This is better rendered, and Jesus cried with a loud voice and said. The cry with the loud voice is the solemn dismissal of his spirit when he commended it to his Father. The object of the receiving the refreshment of the vinegar—the sour wine (John 19:30)—was that his natural forces, weakened by the long suffering, should be restored sufficiently for him to render audible the last two sayings—the "It is finished!" of St. John, and the commending his soul to his Father, of St. Luke. Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit. St. John (John 19:30) has related now already Jesus had uttered the triumphal cry, Τετέλεσται! "It is finished!" This was his farewell to earth. St. Luke records the words which seem almost immediately to have followed the "It is finished!" This commending his spirit to his Father has been accurately termed his entrance.greeting to heaven. This placing his spirit as a trust in the Father's hands is, as Stier phrases it, an expression of the profoundest and most blessed repose after toil. "It is finished!" has already told us that the struggling and combat were sealed and closed for ever. Doctrinally it is a saying of vast importance; for it emphatically asserts that the soul will exist apart from the body in the hands of God. This at least is its proper home. The saying has been echoed on many a saintly death-bed. Stephen, full of the Holy Ghost, in his great agony shows us the form of this blessed prayer we should properly use for ourselves at that supreme hour, when he asked the Lord Jesus to receive his spirit, and then fell asleep. Thus coming to the Son, we come through him to the Father. Huss, on his way to the stake, when his enemies were triumphantly giving over his soul to devils, said with no less theological accuracy than with sure, calm faith, "But I commit my spirit into thy hand, O Lord Jesus Christ, who hast redeemed it." And having said thus, he gave up the ghost. This setting his spirit free was his own voluntary act. He already told his disciples of his own independent power to lay down and take up his life (John 10:17, John 10:18). The great teachers of the early Church evidently lay stress on; his (see Tertullian, 'Apol.,' Luke 21:1-38). Augustine's words are striking: "Quis ita dormit quando voluerit, sicut Jesus mortuus est quando voluit? Quis ita vestem ponit quando voluerit, sieur se came exuit quando writ? Quis ita cum voluerit abit, quomodo tile cure voluit obiit?" and he ends with this practical conclusion: "Quanta speranda vel timenda potestas est judicantis, si apparuit tanta morientis?" "Under these circumstances," writes Dr. Westeott, "it may not be fitting to speculate on the physical cause of the Lord's death, but it h,s been argued that the symptoms agree with a rupture of the heart, such as might i.e. produced by intense mental agony."
Now when the centurion saw what was done, he glorified God, saying, Certainly this was a righteous Man. This was the Roman officer who was in command of the detachment on guard at the three crosses. St. Paul—who, if he did not absolutely put together the Third Gospel and the Acts, had much to do with the compilation and arrangement of these writings—on his many journeys and frequent changes of residence in different parts of the empire, had many opportunities of judging the temper and spirit of the Roman army, and on several occasions speaks favourably of these officers (Luke 7:2; Luke 23:1-56. Luke 23:47; Acts 10:1; Acts 22:26; Acts 27:43). Certainly this was a righteous Man. The noble generosity, the brave patience, and the strange majesty of the Sufferer; the awful portents which for three hours had accompanied this scene—portents which the centurion and many of the bystanders could not help associating with the crucifixion of him men called "the King of the Jews;" then the death, in which appeared no terror;—all this drew forth the exclamation of the Roman. In St. Matthew, the words of the centurion which are reported are "the Son of God." Twice in those solemn hours had the centurion heard the Crucified pray to his Father. This may have suggested the words, "Son of God;" but this change in the later Gospel of St. Luke to "a righteous Man" seems to point to the sense in which the Roman used the lofty appellation.
And all the people that came together to that sight, beholding the things which were done, smote their breasts, and returned. We must remember that the condemnation of the Christ was no spontaneous deed of the multitude. Their miserable share in the act was suggested to them by their rulers. In the multitude very quickly revulsion of feeling sets in, and they often regret the past with a bitter, useless regret. The wave of sorrow which seems to have swept across those wavering, unstable hearts, which induced them to smite their breasts in idle regret, was a dim and shadowy rehearsal of the mighty sorrow and true penitence which will one day, as their prophet told them, be the blessed lot of the once-loved people when "they shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him, as one mourneth for his only son" (Zechariah 12:10).
Stood afar off. Disciples open and secret, friends and acquaintances among the Jerusalem citizens and Galihaean pil-trims, all alike lacked courage and devotion, all feared to stand by their Master and Friend at that awful season. He trod the winepress alone (see Isaiah 63:3). None possessed the heroic faith which through the sombre cloud of seeming failure could see the true glory of the Sun of Righteousness, which so soon was to arise and shine.
The entombment. The sequence of events which immediately followed the death of Christ appears to have been as follows.
Our Lord expired apparently soon after 3 p.m. The "even" alluded to by St. Matthew and St. Mark began at 3 p.m. and lasted till sunset, about 6 p.m., when the sabbath commenced. Some time, then, between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. Joseph of Arima-thaea went to Pilate to ask for the body of Jesus. The governor was surprised, not at the request, but at hearing that Jesus was dead already (Mark 15:44), and, to assure himself of the fact, sent to inquire of the centurion on duty at the crosses. Some. where about the same time, probably a little later in the "evening," but still before 6 p.m., the Jews, i.e. the Sanhedrin leaders, came to Pilate with a request that the death of the three crucified might be hastened by their legs being broken, in order that their bodies hanging on the crosses might not pollute the very sacred day which followed. (It would be the sabbath, and the day of the Passover.)
This terrible, but perhaps merciful, end to the tortures of the cross seems not to have been uncommon in Jewish crucifixion inflicted by the Roman authority.
Crucifixion with this and all its attendant hinters was abolished by the first Christian emperor Constantine in the fourth century.
The two thieves apparently expired under this treatment. The soldiers, however, when they looked on the form hanging on the central cross, found the Crucified, as we know, dead already. To make sure of this, one of the executioners thrust his spear deeply into the side of the motionless body of Jesus, "and forthwith came there out blood and water" (John 19:33, John 19:35). Upon this, in accordance with the permission of the governor already obtained, the body of the Lord was delivered to Joseph of Arimathaea and his friends.
Luke 23:50, Luke 23:51
And, behold, there was a man named Joseph, a counsellor; and he was a good man, and a just: (the same had not consented to the counsel and deed of them; ) he was of Arimathaea. This Joseph was a member of the Sanhedrin, a personage of high distinction in Jerusalem, and evidently of great wealth. It is especially mentioned that his vote in the supreme council was not given when the death of Jesus was determined on. Nicodemus and his costly offering of spices for the entombment is only mentioned by St. John (John 19:39). Arimathaea, the place whence this Joseph came, is famous in Jewish history, being identical with Ramathaim Zophim, the "Ramah of the watchers," the native town of Samuel. Each evangelist speaks of Joseph in high terms, and each in his own way. "Luke styles him 'a counsellor, good and just;' he is the καλὸς κὰγαθός, the Greek ideal. Marl; calls him 'an honourable counsellor,' the Roman ideal. Matthew writes of him as 'a rich man:' is not this the Jewish ideal?" (Godet). And St. John, we might add, chooses another title for this loved man, "being a disciple of Jesus:" this was St. John's ideal. In Joseph of Arimathaea and Nicodemus we have specimens of a class of earnest and devout Jews, perhaps not uncommon at that time—men who respected and admired our Lord as a Teacher, and half believed in him as the Messiah (the Christ), arid yet from many mixed and various motives shrank from confessing him before men till after the cross had been endured. It was not only the Resurrection which so enormously increased the number and raised the character of the followers of Jesus. When he was gone, men reflected on the inimitable life, on the deep, heart-searching teaching, on the confirmatory works of power; and when the news of the Resurrection came, the little wavering, half-hearted band of follower's and hearers became in a few months a great host, and in a few years they had spread over the then civilized world. There is a strange but interesting tradition which tells how this Joseph of Arimathaea came to Great Britain about a.d. 63, and settled in Glastonbury, and there erected a humble Christian oratory, the first in England. The miraculous thorn of Glastonbury, long supposed to bud and blossom every Christmas Day, was reported to have sprung from the staff which Joseph stuck in the groined as he stopped to rest himself on the hill-top.
And he took it down, and wrapped it in linen. The last sad rites of love seem all to have been performed by friendly hands. Joseph and Nicodemus, and those with them, reverently took down the pierced and bleeding body; then, after the usual ablution, the sacred head was covered with the napkin, the soudarion (St. John), and the holy body was wrapped tenderly and carefully in broad bands of the finest linen, covered with thick layers of the costly aromatic preparation of which Nicodemus had laid up such ample store (St. John). This was to preserve the loved remains of the Master from any corruption which might set in before they could proceed with the process of embalming, which was delayed necessarily until after the sabbath and Passover day were passed. St. John adds, "as the manner of the Jews is to bury," probably marking the Jewish custom of embalming and thus preserving the body, as contrasted with burning, which was the Roman usage. And laid it in a sepulchre that was hewn in stone. St. John tells us the sepulchre was in a garden. This seems not to have been an unusual practice with "the great" among the Jews. Josephus relates of Kings Uzziah and Manasseh that they were buried in their gardens ('Ant.,' 9.10 and 10.3. 2). "He made his grave with the rich" (Isaiah 53:9). Wherein never man before was laid. St. John styles it "a new sepulchre." These details are given to show that the Lord's sacred body was not brought into contact with corruption.
And that day was the preparation, and the sabbath drew on. It was the preparation for the sabbath, but more especially for the great Passover Feast. St. John, for this reason, calls the coming sabbath "a high day." Drew on; literally began to dawn; although the sabbath began at sunset, the whole time of darkness was regarded as anticipatory of the dawn. The evening of Friday was sometimes even called "the daybreak."
Luke 23:55, Luke 23:56
And the women also, which came with him from Galilee, followed after, and beheld the sepulchre, and how his body was laid. And they returned, and prepared spices and ointments. The real process of embalming, the women who were of the company of Jesus—the Maries, Salome, and others—proposed to undertake as soon as the sabbath was passed, that is, on the first day of the coming week—the Sunday. How little even his nearest and dearest friends dreamed of a resurrection of the body! It seems probable that they expected, at least some of them, a glorious reappearance of Jesus, but when, but how, they had evidently formed no definite conception. None, however, seemed to have thought of the bodily resurrection which took place on the first day of the week- on that Sunday morning. St. Matthew (Matthew 27:62-66) relates how, after the entombment, the chief priests and Pharisees went to Pilate and asked that the sepulchre might, "until the third day," be made sure; and how the Roman governor bade them take such precautions as seemed good to them. These—his bitter opponents—were more clearsighted than his friends. They had some dim fears of something which might still follow, while his disciples, in their hopeless sorrow, thought nil was over. And rested the sabbath day according to the commandment. "It was the last sabbath of the old covenant. It was scrupulously respected" (Godet).
Friday night until Sunday morning.
"It is finished!" But there are witnesses to the solemnity of the moment and the significance of the word, whose testimony gives weight to the voice of conscience. The rumble and reel of the earth-quake are felt. When "the loud voice" is uttered, the veil which separates the most holy from the holy place is torn in two; an ominous darkness covers the city; there is a crash as of rending rocks and opening tombs, and strange forms, as of those who were dead, flit before the vision. Three hours are marked by portents (Luke 23:44, Luke 23:45), beneath whose impression even the officer in charge of the Roman soldiery exclaims (Luke 23:47), "Certainly this was a righteous Man. He must have been a Son of God." And when, besides, the multitude, hushed and solemnized, gazes on the countenance now calm and still in the repose of death, and the recollection of the life so pure and noble becomes vivid in the mind, the reaction from intense excitement sets in, and (Luke 23:48) smiting on their breasts in unavailing sorrow, they steal away from the scene of death. Only two groups remain—the soldiers, who must watch until the crucified are dead, and their bodies are removed; and "the acquaintance of Jesus, and the women who had followed him from Galilee, far off, in speechless amazement beholding these things" (Luke 23:49). All that remains is the burial. He whose cross was erected between the malefactors is dead. The priests and scribes had begged that the closing act of the death by crucifixion, that called the crucifragium—the smiting or breaking of the legs—might be hastened and the corpses removed, so that no offence to decency might be felt on the high day, "the double sabbath," at hand. Pilate had acceded to the request; and the forms of the two malefactors had been smitten. Not the form of Jesus. No spark of life, it was said, remained. Only, to make assurance sure, a spear is thrust into the side; the spear, it may be, pierced the pericardium of the heart, or that had already been ruptured; anyhow, a mixture of blood and water flows out. St. John is emphatic as to this, no doubt to silence the suggestion that Jesus had only seemed to die, or that the seeming death had been only a swoon. [No, says the evangelist (John 19:35), "I saw it myself." It is the symbolic meaning of that effusion which we set before us when we sing—
"Let the water and the blood,
From thy riven side which flowed,
Be of sin the double cure—
Cleanse me from its guilt and power."
Is the Lord buried in the sepulchre reserved for those who had been doomed to capital punishment? No. Here there comes into view the beautiful and striking incident recorded in verses 50-53. And, in connection with it, we light on a word which is used at the hour when we should least have expected to find it. One of the Sanhedrists—a man universally esteemed for piety and prudence—Joseph of Arimathaea—had not consented to the counsel and deed of his colleagues. Hitherto he had never dared to avow the attraction which he felt. Why should he now risk his reputation, it may be his life, by an acknowledgment which he had withheld in his eat liar days? Every dictate of worldly wisdom bade him be wholly silent. What do we read in Mark 15:43? It is the death of Christ that dispels the fear, that at last prompts to decision. He goes in boldly to Pilate, and craves the body of Jesus. And the demand of the senator is granted. And as he bears away the sacred frame, he is joined by another (John 19:39), the Nicodemus of whom we read at the beginning of the ministry (John 3:1-36.), who brings with him a princely offering of myrrh and aloes. The reverent and loving hands thus joined together wrap the body (verse 53) in linen, and hastily and partially embalm it, laying it in the tomb which Joseph had scooped out for himself as his own last resting-place. What happened between this time and the third, the appointed day? Let us ask, first, What, as it concerns our Lord? secondly, What, as it concerns the disciples? and, thirdly, What, as it concerns the world which crucified him?
I. WHAT HAPPENED AS IT CONCERNS OUR LORD? Two or three words give us some hints concerning our Lord after his death and before the Resurrection. First, his own assurance given to Mary on the resurrection-day (John 20:17), "I am not yet ascended to my Father." The place and condition into which he passed, in dying, were intermediate between the life on earth and the life in glory. He was not then, as the Man Jesus, in the glory of the Father. And, as bearing on this, we further recall the promise to the dying malefactor (Mark 15:43). "Lord, remember me," he had said, "when thou comest into thy kingdom." "To-day," was the reply, "shall thou be with me in Paradise. Paradise, then, received the soul of Christ. Thither he bore with him the one who, in penitence and faith, had cast himself on his mercy. And Paradise meant the region in the under-world of the dead set apart for the faithful as their rest until the resurrection—a blessedness real, though incomplete; a garden with the tree of life in it, but not the full enjoyment of the beatific vision. This is the meaning of the clause in the Apostles' Creed, "He descended into hell," i.e. into Hades, the state of the dead. It is true that this clause has not the antiquity which may be claimed for other clauses; but it expresses the belief of all times that our Lord submitted to the conditions of the holy dead—that he was truly and verily numbered among them. The soul was actually in Hades, or Sheol. What part in the great redemptive work was fulfilled by this descent? Had he a ministry in this short but significant period? There is a passage in 1 Peter too obscure to allow of being pressed as an answer to this question, but suggestive of interesting lines of thought (1 Peter 3:18-20). To many it has seemed that the preaching to the spirits in prison mentioned there was the work of the Hades-state; that he proclaimed his gospel to those who were kept in ward—not the righteous only, but those who were disobedient, e.g. the antediluvian generations to which Noah had preached in vain. And the inference drawn from this view of the passage has appeared "to throw light on one of the darkest enigmas of Divine justice—the cases where the final doom seems infinitely out of proportion to the lapse which has incurred it." No argument can be built on a passage whose interpretation is doubtful; but the exposition hinted at falls in with convictions which have been cherished from the time of the apostles. We are, at all events, on solid Scripture ground when we suppose that, in the world of the dead, the triumph over him that had the power of death, i.e. the devil, was completed. The descent was the following of the enemy into his innermost citadel; it was the spoiling of the principalities and power of darkness; it was the opening of the way through death into life by him who has the keys of Hades. Is not Paradise all the sweeter that Christ has been there? Is not the inheritance all the surer that through death he went to the Father? Is not this the symbol of our faith and hope—that "the Lord has set his cross in the midst of Hades, which is the sign of victory that will remain to eternity "?
II. WHAT HAPPENED AS IT CONCERNS THE DISCIPLES. But what of those who weep and lament whilst the world is rejoicing—the sorrow-stricken, orphaned company of disciples? The last to leave the place where the body of Jesus was laid, as the first to hasten to the tomb when the sabbath is past, are the holy women (verses 55, 56). We see them on Friday evening watching the tomb, and observing how the lifeless form was attended to, end then hastening into the city, that they may make ready the spices and ointments for embalming before the sabbath began. Their love is stronger than their faith. The heart's yearning is sometimes more than the heart's believing. A very dreary sabbath that was to all the disciples. "They rested according to the commandment'' (verse 56). A commandment—rest, and nothing more. What conflicts of thought and affection! What desolation of spirit! Peter—what a strange sabbath it must have been to him! Only one thing for all. The sense of relation to the crucified Jesus can never be effaced; but it has no glow of hope, it has only the darkness of a memory, the gloom of a despair. "They rested on the sabbath; but" (the first word of the twenty-fourth chapter should be "but" rather than "now"); but the running of the spirit, the movement of the love, is only towards the garden and its sepulchre. Is it not the type of Church, of Christian, wanting the power of the Holy Ghost? Work for Christ, loyal but cheerless, without sight of his glory, or waiting for his advent—this is suggested by the preparation of the spices and ointments, and the sabbath-keeping but without the true spiritual sabbath, the joy of the Lord; ordinances observed, but with no inner alacrity, only because of the commandment. This is suggested by the unrestful resting on that seventh day. Not yet is there the anointing of the Holy Ghost, the power of the Resurrection.
III. WHAT HAPPENED AS IT CONCERNS THE WORLD WHICH CRUCIFIED HIM. Is it not strange that what was absent from faith as a hope was present to unbelief as a fear? Those who had crucified the Lord have their memory wonderfully quickened. They recall (Matthew 27:62-64) some words which he uttered nearly three years before, about a temple which he would raise in three days, and their dread gives a force to these words. Sabbath though it be, the chief priests and Pharisees seek an audience of Pilate, and beg him to "make the sepulchre sure until the third day, lest his disciples come by night, and steal him away, and say to the people, He is risen from the dead: and so the last error be worse than the first." They are told to go their way and do as they choose; and hence the sealing of the great stone and the setting of the watch. Is not all now secure? Have they not for ever dispelled the illusions as to the Deceiver? So thought the Jewish authorities; so men think still. They are always crying out that the Christian religion is effete, that the Christian's Christ has been slain. "Are there any Christians still?" asked a notable sceptic some years ago. O purblind souls! What avail your watch and seal? He whom you call Deceiver is yet alive; and there are compunctions of heart, convictions of guilt and wrong-doing. and needs of spiritual restoration and inward rectitude, which will assert themselves against all your philosophies! Pentecost days are never far distant days when a mighty remorse rolls over the minds of men, and the cry which never can be silenced, because it is the cry of the human soul in its most solemn hours, and with reference to its deepest wants, bursts through lips which are quivering with a genuine earnestness, "What shall we do to be saved?" On that sabbath the world religious and irreligious holds its rest. It cannot altogether forget; but it holds its Paschal feasts, and complies with all the etiquette of these feasts, as if there were no Calvary, as if no Jesus had lived and died. And is not this the feature of all times? Do not men push their ambitious projects, scheme and toil, spend their strength, and hold their sabbaths without the living consciousness of the Christ who died for their sins? May not we ourselves say—
"I sin; and heaven and earth go round
As if no dreadful deed were done,
As if Christ's blood had never flowed
To hinder sin or to atone"?
There is no word more solemn than that (Hebrews 6:4-6) in which the sacred writer reminds us that if those who have tasted the Word of God. and the powers of the world to come fall away, they pass from the fold of the Church into the ranks of Christ's enemies, seeing "they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame."
HOMILIES BY W. CLARKSON
The Divine kingdom.
Deeply interesting is this interview between the Nazarene and the Roman, the Jewish Prisoner and the Roman judge; the one then brought forth as a malefactor and now seated on the throne of the world, the other then exalted on the seat of power and now sunk to the depth of universal pity if not of universal scorn. "Art thou a King?" asks the latter, in the tone of lofty superiority. "I am," replies the former, in the tone of calm and profound assurance. W hat, then, was this kingdom of which he spoke? What was that kingdom of God, that kingdom of heaven, that "kingdom of the truth" (John 18:37) which he foretold, which he came to this world and which he laid down his life to establish? It was the sovereignty of God over all human souls. God's claim—which is not founded on prescription, nor upon force, but upon righteousness—is his claim on the reverence, the affection, the obedience, of those whom he has created, preserved, enriched, who owe to him all that he demands of them. With us, who have revolted from his rule, this means nothing less than the restoration of our loyalty, and thus our return to his likeness and to his favor as well as to his sway. We look at—
I. THE ORIGINALITY OF THE CONCEPTION. We plume ourselves upon the originality of our ideas, upon our "creations." But when did the mind of man launch on the sea of human thought such a conception as this kingdom of God? Men had entertained the idea of founding by force a widely extended empire which should command the outward homage and tribute of hundreds of thousands of men, and should last for many generations. But who ever designed a creation like this glorious "kingdom of heaven"—a world-wide sway embracing all living souls whatsoever, exercised by an unseen King, in which the service of the lip, and even that of the life, would be of no account at all without the homage of the heart and the willing subjection of the spirit, characterized by universal righteousness, and crowned by abounding peace and lasting joy?
II. THE IMMENSITY OF THE WORK TO BE ACCOMPLISHED. For what would be involved in the establishment of such a kingdom as this? Not only the formation and maintenance of a new religion that should hold up its head and keep its course amid surrounding faiths, but the utter intolerance and complete subversion of every other creed and cultus; the emptying of all the temples and all the synagogues in every laud; the dissolution of all the venerable religious institutions which were rooted in the prejudice, fixed in the affections, wrought into the habits and the lives of men; it meant the establishment in the convictions and in the conscience of mankind of a faith which came into direct collision with all its intellectual pride, with all its social selfishness, with all its powerful passions.
III. ITS SUBLIMITY AS A PURPOSE AND A HOPE. Not merely to ameliorate the circumstances and conditions of a country, or of the world at large. That would have been a noble purpose; but that would have been slight and small in comparison with the aim of Jesus Christ. His view was to put away the source of all poverty and sorrow and death; to "put away sin by the sacrifice of himself;" to found in the hearts and therefore in the lives of men a kingdom of holiness, and therefore of true and lasting blessedness; to restore to God his rightful heritage in the love of his children, and, at the same time, to restore to men everywhere their high and glorious portion in the favor and friendship, in the likeness and glory, of God. Was ever scheme, was ever hope like this—so divinely new, so magnificently great, so unapproachably sublime? 1. The way into this kingdom is by a humble, living faith. 2. The way on to its higher places is the service of sacrificial love. The path which takes us to the cross is the way to the throne.—C.
The majesty of meekness, etc.
Beautiful in the last degree, as a moral spectacle, is the sight of the meek but mighty Savior in the presence of the scornful human sovereign. But there are many lessons which we may gather on our way to that striking scene.
I. HOW PITIFUL HUMAN AUTHORITY MAY PROVE TO BE! Poor Pilate, occupying his high seat of authority and power, is "driven with the wind and tossed," as if he were a leaf upon the ground. He "finds no fault in Jesus" (Luke 23:4), but he dares not acquit him; he is afraid of the men he is there to govern. He casts about for a way of escape; he at lasts hits upon the poor expedient of shifting the difficulty to other shoulders. He presents to us a very pitiable object as a man who sits in the chair of office, and dares not do his duty there. Authority divested of a manly courage and shaking with fear of consequences is a deplorable thing.
II. HOW FEEBLE IS MERE PASSIONATE VEHEMENCE! The people, led by the priests, were "the more fierce" (Luke 23:5), insisting that Pilate should not release the Prisoner of whose innocence he was convinced. We see them, with hatred flashing from their eyes, indulging in frantic gestures of deprecation and incitement, loudly clamouring for the condemnation of the Holy One. Their urgency did, indeed, prevail for the moment, as vehemence frequently does. But into what a dire and terrible mistake it led them! to what a crime were they hastening! what awful issues were to spring from their success! How truly were they sowing the wind of which they would reap the whirlwind! Earnestness is always admirable; enthusiasm is often a great power for good; but passionate vehemence is nothing better than a noisy feebleness. It is not the presence of real power; it is the absence of intelligence and self-control. It leads men to actions which have a momentary success, but which end in a lasting failure and in sad disgrace.
III. HOW UNFRUITFUL IS IDLE CURIOSITY. (Luke 23:8, Luke 23:9.) Herod congratulated himself too soon. He reckoned on having a keen curiosity fully gratified; he thought he had this Prophet in his power, and could command an exhibition of his peculiar faculty, whatever that might prove to be. But he did not want to arrive at truth, or to be better able to do his duty or serve his generation; and Jesus Christ declined to minister to his royal fancy. He was silent and passive, though urged to speech and action. Christ will speak to our hearts, and will work for our benefit and blessing when we approach him in a reverent and earnest spirit; but to a worldly and irreverent curiosity he has nothing to say. It must retire ungratified, and come again in another mood.
IV. HOW INCONSTANT IS UNSPIRITUAL FRIENDSHIP! Herod had very little to thank Pilate for, on this occasion; he appears to have mistaken a cowardly attempt to evade duty for a mark of personal respect or a desire to effect a reconciliation (Luke 23:12). A friendship that had to be renewed, and that was patched up in so slight a way and on such mistaken ground, would not last long and was worth very little. Friendship that is not built on thorough knowledge and on mutual esteem is exceedingly fragile and of small account. It is only common attachment to the same great principles and to the one Divine Lord that binds together in indissoluble bonds. Sameness of occupation, similarity of taste, exposure to a common peril, or the possession of a common hope,—this is not the rock on which friendship will stand long; it rests on character, and on the character that is formed by close, personal intimacy with the one true Friend of man.
V. HOW WRONG AND EVEN WICKED IS UNENLIGHTENED SCORN! (Luke 23:11.) Quite unimaginable is the uproarious laughter and the keen, low enjoyment with which the actors went through this wretched ribaldry, this (to us) most painful mockery. How little did they think that he whom they were so mercilessly insulting was the King he claimed to be, and was immeasurably higher than the highest of them all! Wrong and wicked is human scorn. Often since then has it mocked at truth and wisdom, and poured its poor ridicule on the head of holiness and true nobility! It is not only the "stranger" who may prove to be the "angel unawares entertained;" it is also the man whom we do not understand, whom we may think entirely in the wrong, whom we are tempted to despise. Many are the mockers who will be fain, one day, to receive a gracious pardon from the object of their derision.
VI. HOW MAJESTIC IS SPIRITUAL MEEKNESS! (Luke 23:11.) We know well how our Lord bore this cruel trial. "A silent Man before his foes" was he. Able at any moment to bring them into utmost humiliation, to turn the mocking glance of triumph into the countenance blanched with unspeakable fear, and the brutal laugh of mockery into a cry for mercy, he stood without a blow, without a word on his own behalf, enduring as one that saw the invisible and the eternal. There is nothing more majestic than a calm endurance of wrong. To accept without return the strong buffeting of cruelty, to take without reply the more keen and piercing utterance of falsehood, because stillness or silence will advance the cause of truth and the kingdom of God,—this is to be very "near the throne" on which it is our highest ambition to be placed; it is to be carrying out, most acceptably, the commandment of the meek, majestic Savior as he says to us, "Follow me!"—C.
Twice (see Luke 23:22) Pilate made this offer to the Jews. He would chastise Jesus and release him; he would thus gratify them by putting the Object of their hatred to pain and humiliation, and he would satisfy his own conscience by saving an innocent man from the last extremity. It was a poor and a guilty compromise he proposed as a solution. If Jesus were as guilty as they claimed that he was, he deserved to die, and Pilate was in duty bound to condemn him to death; if he were innocent, he certainly ought not to have been subjected to the exposure and agony of scourging. It was a cowardly and ignoble endeavor to save himself at the expense either of public or of individual justice. Compromises are of very different character. There are compromises which are—
I. JUST, AND THEREFORE HONOURABLE. Two men in business have claims one against the other, and one cannot convince the other by argument; the proposal is made to adjust their respective claims by a compromise, each man consenting to forego something, the concession of the one being taken as a fair equivalent to that of the other: this is honorable to both. It very probably results in each man getting what is his due, and it saves both from the misery and expense of Litigation, and preserves good will and even friendship.
II. WISE, AND THEREFORE COMMENDABLE. A society—it may be of a distinctly religious character—is divided by its members holding opposite opinions. Some advocate one course, the others urge a different one. The idea is suggested that a third course be adopted, which includes some features of the two; there is no serious principle involved, it is only a matter of procedure, a question of expediency. Then it will probably be found to be the wisdom of that society to accept the proposed compromise. Every one present has the double advantage of securing something which he approves, and (what is really better, if it could but be realized) that of yielding something to the wishes or the convictions of other people.
III. GUILTY, AND THEREFORE CONDEMNABLE. Such was that of the text. Such have been innumerable others since then. All are guilty that are effected:
1. At the expense of truth. The teacher of Divine truth may bring his doctrine down to the level of his hearers' understanding; he may make known the great verities of the faith "in many portions" (πολυμερῶς); but he may not, in order to "please men," distort or withhold the living truth of God. If he does that he shows himself unworthy of his office, and he exposes himself to the severe condemnation of his Divine Master.
2. At the expense of justice. However anxious we may be to preserve outward harmony, we may not, for the sake of peace, do any one man a wrong; may not asperse his character, injure his prospects, wound his spirit. Rather than do that, we must face the storm, and guide our bark as best we can.
3. At the expense of self-respect. If Pilate had been less hardened than he probably was, less accustomed to the infliction of human pain and shame, he would have gone back to the interior of his house ashamed of himself, as he thought of the lacerating scene that immediately followed that mockery of a trial. If we cannot yield without inflicting on our own soul a real spiritual injury, without doing (or leaving undone) an action the remembrance of which will not only shame but weaken us, then we must not compromise the matter in dispute. We must tell our tale, whatever it may be; we must make our motion, whomsoever it may offend; we must walk straight on in the road of rectitude, in the path of humanity.—C.
The character of Pilate.
It is true that Pilate's opinion concerning Jesus of Nazareth was very different indeed from that of his accusers; but he little imagined chat it would be to that poor suffering Prisoner that he would owe such immortality as he is to enjoy. Yet so it is; it is only because we are disciples of Jesus Christ that we care to ask who and what was Pilate. He is nothing but the gold upon the altar. In considering the elements of his character, we note—
I. THAT HE WAS POSSESSED OF ENERGY AND ENTERPRISE. He would hardly have reached the station he occupied, or held it as long as he did, if he had not had these two qualities in his character.
II. THAT HE WAS NOT DEVOID OF SPIRITUAL DISCERNMENT. It is clear that he was much impressed by all that he saw of Jesus. The calmness, patience, and nobility of our Lord called forth from Pilate a sincere respect. There was genuine admiration in his heart as he led forth the Divine Sufferer and exclaimed, "Behold the Man!" He was affected, and even awed, by the moral greatness he was witnessing, he may also have been moved to pity.
III. THAT HIS WORLDLINESS HAD WORN OUT HIS FAITH. He had probably had his visions, in earlier days, of the sacredness and supremacy of truth; he had indulged his idea of what was morally good and sound, more to be desired than riches, more to be pursued than honor or authority. But a life of worldliness bad done for him what it will do for any of its votaries—it had eaten away his early faith; it had caused his fairest views and noblest purposes to melt and to disappear; it had left his spirit "naked to his enemies," without any assured belief in any one or in anything. "To bear witness to the truth." "What's truth?" asks the poor sceptic, whose soul was empty of all sustaining trust, of all ennobling hope.
IV. THAT HE HAD COME TO SUBORDINATE RIGHTEOUSNESS TO POLICY. That Prisoner on his hands was innocent: of that he was well assured. He would not condemn him to a cruel death unless he was obliged to do so. But he must not push his preference for righteousness too far. He must not seriously endanger his own position; he must not put a handle into the power of his enemies. No; rather than that, this pure and holy One must be scourged, must even die the death. As the trial proceeds, it appears that he is exciting a very strong hostility to himself. Let the poor Man go, then, to his doom; one more act of injustice, however regrettable in itself, will not make much difference. "And Pilate gave sentence that it should be as they required."
1. Outward circumstances prove very little. It is the judge whom we pity now; it is the bound and buffeted, the maltreated and maligned Prisoner whom we now honor and emulate.
2. Real strength is in righteousness and in love. Unrighteousness and selfishness, in the person of Pilate, resorted to shifts and expedients, and vacillated again and again between obligation and self-interest. Flawless integrity and abounding love for man, in the person of Jesus Christ, wavered not for an instant, but pursued its holy and gracious purpose through pain and shame. Policy prevails for a very little while; it goes back to its palace, but its end is exile and suicide. Poverty and love go through the deep darkness of earth to the unshadowed glory of the skies.—C.
Compulsion and invitation; the human and the Divine methods.
Here we have an illustration of—
I. HUMAN VIOLENCE. "They laid hold upon" one Simon, and "him they compelled" (Matthew 27:32) to bear his cross. What right had these Roman soldiers to impress this stranger into their service? What claim had they upon him? By what law of rectitude did they arrest him as he was entering the city, and insist on his bearing a burden, and going whither he would not? What justified them in laying hands upon him and violently enforcing this service? None whatever; nothing whatsoeverse It was only another instance of the unscrupulousness of human power. Thus has it been everywhere and always. Let men but feel that they have the mastery, that theirs is the more powerful mind, the firmer will, the stronger hand, and they will ask no leave, consult no law, be restrained by no consideration of conscience. The history of man, where not under special Divine direction, has been the history of the assertion of strength over weakness; that has been the course of national, of tribal, of family, of individual life. The strong man, well armed, has "laid hold upon" the weak man, and laid some burden upon him to carry. He has virtually said, "I can command your labor, serve me; if you refuse to do so, you shall pay some penalty of my own choosing." Human violence
(1) is essentially unrighteous, for it is based on no claim that can be properly so called;
(2) has been found to be shamelessly unmerciful;
(3) has been gradually, though slowly, subjected to the great rule of Christ (Matthew 7:12);
(4) is destined in time to make way for the rule of righteousness.
II. DIVINE PERSUASIVENESS. God does not compel us to serve him. He may, indeed, so wisely overrule all things as to make the life deliberately withheld from him or the action directed against him (e.g. the act of betrayal by Judas) contribute to the final issue; but he does not force the individual soul to serve him. Jesus Christ does not compel us to his service. It is true that his invitations have the authority of a command; but his commands have the sweetness of invitations.
1. He invites us to approach him and seek his favor. "Come unto me all ye that labor" is not a severe command; it is a most gracious invitation. "Whosoever believeth on me hath everlasting life" is not a peremptory injunction; it is a welcome and generous announcement. And while it is indeed true that Christ says, imperatively "Follow me!" it is also true that he does not force any one into his company; he makes his appeal to our conscience and conviction; he will not have any in his service who do not freely and whole-heartedly consent to come.
2. He graciously influences us, that we may see and follow the true light. Paul, indeed, does speak of Christ as "apprehending," or laying hold of, him (Philippians 3:12). But this referred to the very exceptional manifestation of his Divine power, and the language is strongly figurative. The Spirit of God does illumine our understanding and affect our heart; but he does not compel us to decide without the consent of our own will. In the last resort we have to "choose life" or death.
3. He summons us to a full discipleship by following him as one that bore a cross (Luke 9:23; Matthew 16:24). He lets us know that we shall not meet with iris full approval if we do not bear the cross after him, if we do not follow him in the path of sacrificial love. But there is truest kindness, both of substance and manner, in this his urgent challenge.
4. He promises us inward rest here, and a large reward hereafter, if we do hear his voice and do thus follow him. Between human compulsion and Divine invitation or Divine constraint, there is exceeding breadth: the one is an intolerable tyranny; the other is essential righteousness, and introduces to true liberty, to spiritual rest, to abiding joy.—C.
Sympathy and solicitude.
Before reaching Calvary an interesting and instructive incident occurred. Among the tumultuous crowd that surged round the soldiers and their victims were many women. These were better away, we are disposed to think, from a scene so brutal and so harrowing as this. But we will believe that something better than curiosity, that gratitude, that affection, that womanly pity, drew them, spite of their natural shrinking, to this last sad ending. By whatever motives impelled, they were certainly moved to strong compassion as they saw the Prophet of Nazareth, the great Healer and Teacher, led forth to die. Their loud laments did not fall on the ear of One too occupied with his own impending doom to hear and heed them. Our Lord made to these weeping women the reply which is here recorded, longer and fuller than we should have supposed the circumstances would allow. It suggests to us—
I. THAT HUMAN DISTRESS NEVER FAILS TO REACH AND TOUCH HIM. If there were any moments in his life when he might have been preoccupied, and might not have noticed the sounds of sorrow, it was this hour of his agony, this hour when the weight of the world's sin rested on his soul, when the great sacrifice was in the very act of being offered. Yet even then he heard and stopped to console the troubled. An appeal to Jesus Christ in circumstances of sorrow is never ill-timed.
II. THAT SUCH SYMPATHY WITH JESUS CHRIST IS ENTIRELY OUT OF PLACE. "Weep not for me." Some men speak and act as if it were appropriate to express sympathy with the Savior on account of his sufferings. It is, indeed, impossible to read the story of his last hours, and realize what it all meant, without having our sympathetic feeling very keenly quickened; but Jesus Christ does not ask that we should express to him, or to one another, our sympathy with him as One that then suffered. These sufferings are past; they have placed him upon the throne of the world; they have made brighter than ever his celestial crown, deeper than ever his heavenly joy. So far as we are concerned, and so far as they speak of our sin, they may well humble us; in so far as he is concerned, we rejoice with him that he "was perfected through suffering.'"
III. THAT A HOLY SOLICITUDE FOR OURSELVES AND OURS IS OFTEN THE MOST APPROPRIATE SENTIMENT. "Weep for yourselves, and for your children." We know well what reason these Jewish women had, both as patriots and as mothers, to be concerned for the fate that threatened their country and their homes. Our Lord certainly would not condemn, would not disparage, an unselfish sympathy. He who wept at Bethany, and whose law of love was the law that covered and inspired a gracious burden-bearing (Galatians 6:2), could not possibly do that. Indeed, we seldom stand nearer to his side than when we "weep with them that weep." But there are many times when we are tempted to be troubled by our brother's smaller difficulty instead of being concerned about our own much greater one. Do not be blind to the bodily pains or the circumstantial struggles of your neighbor; but look eagerly and earnestly to the rent which is opening in your own reputation, to the gap that is increasingly visible in your own consistency, to the fact that you are palpably descending the slope which leads down to spiritual ruin.
IV. THAT THERE ARE SAD EXTREMITIES OF EVIL WHEN NOTHING IS LEFT BUT A HOPELESS CRY. (Luke 23:30.)
V. THAT SIN AND PUNISHMENT BECOME DEEPER AND NEARER AS TIME GOES ON. The green tree is exposed to the consuming fire; but the green tree in time becomes the dry, and how much more certain and more fierce then will be the devouring flame! The nation goes from bad to worse, from the worse to the worst; from dark to darker guilt, from condemnation to calamity. So does a human soul, unguided by heavenly truth and unguarded by holy principle. At any and every time in danger, its peril becomes continually greater as its guilt becomes constantly deeper. Go not one step further in the course of sin, in the way of worldliness, into the "far country" of forgetfullness. Each step is an approach to a precipice. Return on thy way without a moment's lingering.—C.
Magnanimity an attainment.
"Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do." When—at what particular point did he say that? It is commonly believed that he uttered this most gracious prayer just at the time of the actual crucifixion. Just when the nails were driven into those hands, the hands that had constantly been employed in some ministry of mercy; into those feet that had been continually carrying him on some errand of kindness; or just when the heavy cross, with its suffering Victim fastened upon it, had been driven into the ground with unpitying violence;—just then, at the moment of most excruciating pain and of intolerable shame, he opened his lips to pray for mercy on his executioners. We have here—
I. A RARE INSTANCE OF HUMAN MAGNANIMITY.
1. Conscious, not only of perfect innocence, but of the purest and even the loftiest aims, Jesus Christ found himself not only unrewarded and unappreciated, but misunderstood, ill treated, condemned on a totally false charge, sentenced to the most cruel and shameful death a man could die. What wonder if, under those conditions, all the kindliness of his nature had turned to sourness of spirit!
2. At this very moment he was the object of the most heartless cruelty man could inflict, and must have been suffering pain of body and of mind that was literally agonizing.
3. At such a time, and under such treatment, he forgets himself to remember the guilt of those who were so shamefully wronging him.
4. Instead of entertaining any feeling of resentment, he desired that they might be forgiven their wrong-doing.
5. He did not haughtily and contemptuously decline to condemn them; he did not hardly and reluctantly forgive them; he found for them a generous extenuation; he sincerely prayed his heavenly Father to forgive them. Human magnanimity could hardly go further than that.
II. A BEAUTIFUL EXAMPLE OF HIS OWN LOFTY DOCTRINE. When in his great sermon, (Matthew 5-7.) he said, "Love your enemies … pray for them which despitefully use and persecute you, that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven," he urged upon us to cherish and to illustrate the loftiest virtue on the highest grounds. This he now beautifully, perfectly exemplified. He was literally and truly praying for those who were using him despitefully, As the greatest generals and captains have proudly and honourably claimed that they "never bade men do that which they were not willing to do themselves," so this our glorious Leader, he who came to be the "Leader and Perfecter of the faith" (Hebrews 12:2 : Alford), never desired of us any virtue or grace which he did not possess and did not himself adorn. He could and did say to his disciples, not only," Go thither in the way of righteousness," but also, "Follow me in every path of purity and love." We may well love our enemies, and pray for those who despitefully use us, that we may be the children of our Father in heaven, and that we may be followers of our patient, magnanimous Master. And it is here, truly, that we have—
III. A CHALLENGE TO A GREAT ATTAINMENT.
1. To pray sincerely for those who do us wrong is one of the very highest points, if not actually the very loftiest, of human magnanimity. To dismiss all vindictive purpose, all resentful thought; to look at our enemy's procedure in a kindly light, and to take, as Christ did here, a generous view of it; to cherish a positive wish for his good; to put this wish into action, into prayer;—by these stages we reach the summit of nobility.
2. This is an attainment we should sedulously and devoutly pursue. There are those of noble nature, men and women whom God endows with a most "excellent spirit," to whom this may be plain and easy; to them it is not a steep ascent to be laboriously climbed, but a gentle slope along which they can walk without difficulty. But to most men it is an attainment and not an endowment. It is an attainment which ban only be secured by earnest and continued cultivation. But we have for this great end the most effectual means:
(1) the realization of the near presence of God, and the knowledge of his Divine approval;
(2) the sense that when we succeed we win the greatest of all victories;
(3) the efficacy of prayer—its subjective influence, and the aid which it brings us from above;
(4) the inspiration of our Lord's example, and that of his most faithful followers (Acts 7:60; 2 Timothy 4:16).—C.
Sin greater than it seems.
"They know not what they do." There is more in our actions, and therefore in our life, than there seems to be to ourselves (see "The largeness of Our life," homily on Luke 10:16). There is more of good; more also of evil. These soldiers imagined that they were doing nothing more than executing a malefactor. They were murdering a Messiah; they were putting to death the Son of Man, the Savior of mankind. They knew not what they did; they did not recognize the extreme seriousness, the actual awfulness, of the crime they were committing. Thus is it constantly. We suppose ourselves to be doing something of very little consequence; but he who knows the realities and the issues of all things sees in our action something far more serious than we see. We know not what we do when we err from the straight line of moral and spiritual rectitude. We do not know—
I. HOW WE HURT A HUMAN SPIRIT WHEN WE WOUND IT. Whether this be by something said or done, by a glance of the eye, by the withholding of the expected word or action, we often wound more deeply than we think. We suppose we have caused a momentary irritation. If we knew all, we should know that we have produced a soreness of feeling, a keenness of disappointment, or a depth of distress, which it will take weeks or months to heal.
II. HOW WE WRONG OURSELVES WHEN WE SIN AGAINST OUR CONSCIENCE, It is, we assure ourselves, a very slight deviation from rectitude; it is a negligence for which we can easily make up a little further on. But, in truth, we have begun a slow, steady, spiritual descent, which will take us to the bottom. We know not what we do when we take the first step in moral laxity. We have started our soul on an evil course; we have done ourselves a wrong which we quite fail to measure.
III. HOW WE DAMAGE ANOTHER'S CHARACTER WHEN' WE INJURE IT. We have only induced our neighbor to take a step which will open his eyes to that which he ought to know. So we say, and perhaps think. But, in fact, we have done much more than that. We have led him to do that which has injured his conscience, which has weakened his self respect, which has enfeebled his character. He will be less strong, henceforth, in the evil hour of temptation; he will be more open to attack, less likely to resist and to conquer his adversary. When we lead into temptation and sin, we "know not what we do."
IV. HOW WE GRIEVE OUR SAVIOUR WHEN WE DISOBEY OR DISHONOUR HIM, We do not know how much he expects of his disciples, especially of those who have such opportunities as we have of knowing and doing his will—how much attachment, how strong an affection, how quick an obedience, how full and patient a submission, he has a right to look for, and does wait to receive. And we do not know the fullness and intensity of his feeling of disappointment and sorrow when we fail him. The disciples did not know what they did, how grievously they failed, when they slept in that hour through which they should have watched. What depth of touching, tenderest pathos we hear in these words of gentle remonstrance: "Could ye not watch with me one hour?"
V. HOW WE HINDER THE CAUSE OF CHRIST when we discredit it. We think, perhaps, that the evil impression we have conveyed by our inconsistency will soon be forgotten, lost entirely in the current of human affairs. But more harm is done than we know or think. Some souls are shocked, scandalized, injured; their faith is lessened, perhaps pierced; they will not count for Christ what they would have counted. Springs of anti-Christian influence are started: who shall say whither they will flow?
VI. HOW WE SIN AGAINST GOD WHEN WE WITHHOLD FROM HIM OURSELVES AND OUR SERVICE. We may imagine that we are only delaying till a more suitable or convenient time the duty we intend to discharge. But we are really disobeying a Divine command; we are refusing a Divine invitation; we are continuing in open rebellion, in unfilial estrangement. We are seriously sinning against our heavenly Father, our merciful Savior, our rightful and righteous Sovereign.
1. Our ignorance of "what we do" is. in part a necessity of our finite nature; for we cannot possibly look down into the depth of things; nor can we look on to the final issues. This is beyond the compass of our powers.
2. But it is in part also the fault of our character. We do not think, we do "not consider" (Isaiah 1:3), we do not inquire. We do not use as we might our spiritual faculties. More patient, prayerful consideration of "what we do" would save us from many errors, many wrongs, and also from many painful memories and much self-reproach.—C.
A sad spectacle and the supreme vision.
"And the people stood beholding." "Sitting down they watched him there" (Matthew 27:36). Shall we envy those spectators the scene they then witnessed? Shall we wish that we had lived when, with our mortal eyes, we could have seen the Savior crucified on our behalf? I think not. With this distance of time and space between us, we have a better, truer standpoint where we are. No doubt we lose much by that distance; but we gain at least as much as we lose. To those who "stood beholding," or who "sat and watched," there was—
I. AN EXCEEDINGLY SAD SPECTACLE. They saw:
1. A human being suffering the last extremity of pain and shame. Some among that company could look upon that scene with positive enjoyment, some with stolid indifference; but those of whom we think, the disciples, would witness it with intense, heart-piercing sympathy, with utmost agitation of spirit. His suffering must, in a large degree, have been theirs also—theirs in proportion to the love they bore him.
2. A Prophet who had failed to be appreciated, and was now a martyr nobly dying in attestation of the truth.
3. A sacred cause losing its Chief and Champion; a cause being wounded and almost certainly slain in the person of its Founder and Exponent. For who could hope that there would be found amongst his disciples any that would take the standard from his hands, and bear it on to victory? For Christ to die was for Christianity to perish. Such was the spectacle on which his disciples looked as they gathered about his cross. The scene was more vivid, more impressive, more powerfully affecting, as thus enacted before their eyes; but we see in reality more than they did. We have before us—
II. THE SUPREME VISION on which we can gaze on earth. We see:
1. One who once suffered and died, but whose agony is over; whose pain and sorrow are not now to him sources of evil, but, on the other hand, the ground and the occasion of purest joy and highest honor (see homily on Luke 23:27-31). Had we been present then, we must have shrunk teem the spectacle before us as too painful for sensitiveness to endure. Now we can bear to dwell on his dying and his death, because the element of overwhelming and blinding sympathy is happily withdrawn.
2. A grand spiritual victory. We do not see in the crucified prophet One that was defeated; we see One that told us all that he came to tell, communicating to us all the knowledge we need in order to live our higher life on earth, and to prepare for the heavenly life beyond; that was not prevented from delivering any part of his Divine message; that completed all he came to do; that was amply entitled to say, as he did before he died, "It is finished."
3. A Divine Redeemer ensuring, by his death, the triumph of his cause. Had he not died as he did, had he saved himself as he was taunted and challenged to do, had he not gone on to that bitter end and drunk that bitter cup even to the dregs, then he would have failed. But because he suffered unto death, he triumphed gloriously, and became "the Author of eternal salvation to all them that believe." This is the supreme vision of human souls. We do well to gaze on nobility as we see it illustrated in human lives around us. We do well to look long and lovingly on human virtue as manifested in the lives and deaths of the glorious army of martyrs. But there is no vision so well worthy of our view; of our frequent, our constant, our protracted and intense beholding, as that of the merciful and mighty Savior dying for our sins, dying in wondrous love that he might draw us to himself and restore us to our Father and our home. Before our eyes Christ crucified is conspicuously set forth (Galatians 3:1); and if we would have forgiveness of sin, rest of soul, worthiness of spirit, nobility of life, hope in death, a blessed immortality, we must direct our eyes unto him who was once "lifted up" that he might be the Refuge, the Friend, the Lord, the Savior of the world to the end of time. Better than the saddest spectacle man ever saw is that supreme vision which is the hope and the life of each looking and trusting human heart.—C.
Self-saving and self-sacrifice.
We have two things here of which the latter is much the more worth looking at.
I. INHUMANITY AT ITS LOWEST. There are many degrees of inhumanity.
1. It is bad for men or women deliberately to shut themselves out of the society of the wrong and miserable, in order that, without distraction, they may minister to their own comfort or consult their own well-being..
2. It is worse to look on the wounded traveler as he lies within sight and reach of us, and to pass him coldly by "on the other side."
3. It is worse still to regard the overthrow of human greatness or prosperity with positive satisfaction of spirit, to find a guilty enjoyment in the humiliation of another.
4. It is worst of all to do as did these men at the cross—to mock at human misery, to taunt it in the hour of its agony, to add another pang to the keen sufferings that already lacerate the soul. Alas! what may not men become! what positively awful possibilities of evil are wrapt up in every human soul! that tiny hand, so soft and delicate, so beautiful, so harmless, what blow may it not possibly strike, some day, against all that is most sacred and most precious! It makes all the difference whether, under Christian principles, we are steadily climbing up toward that which is holy and Divine; or whether, under the dominion of evil forces, we are slowly sliding down toward all that is wrong and base. What an argument for ranging ourselves, while yet young, under the guidance of Jesus Christ, the Righteous and the Gracious One!
II. MAGNANIMITY AT ITS HIGHEST.
1. The extremity of evil to which our Lord was then submitting; the most excruciating bodily pain; the most terrible and almost intolerable mental distress; the apprehension of approaching death.
2. The powerful temptation presented to him to deliver himself from it all. By one volition of his will he could have descended from the cross, thus releasing himself and confounding his enemies. He had
(1) the strongest possible inducement to do this from the instincts of the nature he had assumed;
(2) the strongest possible provocation to do this in the bitter and cruel taunts of his enemies.
3. His most magnanimous refusal to exert his power in his own favor. He heard those derisive cries, but he heeded them not. He let those revilers think that he was unable to save himself; he knew that if he did save himself he could not save others (Matthew 27:42). So he voluntarily continued to endure all that torture of body, to bear all that burden of shame and agony of spirit, to go on and down into the deepening shadow of death. Surely spiritual nobility could never strike a higher note than that, could never reach a loftier summit than that. How far can we follow our Lord along this upward path? There have been men who, at a certain point in their career, have clearly foreseen a dark and deathful ending, who have been entreated by their friends to go no further, to stand aside, to "save themselves" and think no more about the salvation of others (see Acts 21:12). And it is quite possible that, though we shall never be placed in a position just like that of our Master, we may have the choice offered us which was then offered him—we may have to choose between saving ourselves and leaving others to their fate on the one hand, or sacrificing ourselves and saving our fellows on the other hand. It' that choice should be presented to us, what should we do? The answer depends very much on the measure of the spirit of unselfishness we are cherishing and practising continually.
(1) Before us is a noble opportunity—that of teaching, enlightening, (instrumentally) redeeming men; but
(2) we cannot use this opportunity to any extent without self-sacrifice. If we are determined to "save ourselves," we shall do but very little in the work of saving others.
(3) We must choose between the two: either we must resolve to spare ourselves expenditure and endurance, and let the work of human elevation go on without our help; or we must resolve not to spare ourselves, not to save time or money, or trouble, or health, not to spare ourselves uncongenial acts or unpleasant endurances, that men may learn what they know not, may see that to which they are yet blind, that they may be led out of exile into the kingdom of God. If we are keeping our Master well in view, especially if we are beholding him on the cross refusing to save himself though challenged with utmost bitterness to do so, we also shall make the nobler choice.—C.
These verses narrate what we may call a standard fact of the gospel of Christina fact to which appeal will always be made, as it has always been made, in reference to a late repentance. We have to consider—
I. THE BREVITY WITH WHICH A GREAT' SPIRITUAL REVOLUTION MAY BE WROUGHT IN A HUMAN MIND. Twelve hours before, this man was a hardened criminal, habituated to a life of rapacious and murderous violence; his counterpart is to be found to-day in the cells of a penal establishment. And now, after a short companionship with Jesus, after hearing him speak and seeing him suffer, his heart is purged and cleansed of its iniquity, he is another man, he is a child of God, an heir of heaven. There are great capacities in these human souls of ours, which do not come often into exercise, but which are actually within us. Powerful speech, imminent peril, great emergencies, sudden inspiration from God,—these and other things will call them forth; there is a brilliant flash of remembrance, or of emotion, or of realization, or of conviction and resolution. And then that which is ordinarily wrought in many days or months is accomplished in an hour. The movements of our mind are not subject to any time-table calculations whatsoever. No man can define the limit of possibility here. Great revolutions can be and have been wrought almost momentarily. Not slowly toiling upward step by step, but more swiftly than the uprising of the strongest bird upon fleetest wing, may the human soul ascend from the darkness of death into the radiant sunshine of hope and life.
II. THE THOROUGHNESS OF THIS MAN'S CHANGE AS EVIDENCED BY HIS WORDS.
1. He recognizes the existence and the power and the providence of God (Luke 23:40).
2. He has a sense of the turpitude of his own conduct, a due sense of sin (Luke 23:41).
3. He recognizes the innocence and excellence of Jesus Christ (Luke 23:41).
4. He believes in his real royalty, though it is so hidden from sight, and though circumstances are so terribly against it (Luke 23:42).
5. He believes in the pitifulness as well as the power of this kingly Sufferer, and he makes his humble but not unhopeful appeal to his remembrance.
6. He does the one thing for Christ he can do as he is dying on the cross—he remonstrates with his companion in crime, and seeks to silence his cruel taunts. Here is penitence, faith, service, all springing up and in earnest exercise in this brief hour.
III. A SUDDEN TRANSITION FROM THE LOWEST TO THE HIGHEST ESTATE. (Luke 23:43.) "What a day to that dying man! How strange a contrast between its opening and its close, its morning and its night! Its morning saw him a culprit condemned before the bar of earthly judgment; before evening shadowed the hill of Zion he stood accepted at the bar of heaven. The morning saw him led out through an earthly city's gates in company with One who was hooted at by the crowd that gathered round him; before night fell upon Jerusalem the gates of another city, even the heavenly, were lifted up, and he went through them in company with One around whom all the hosts of heaven were bowing down as he passed to take his place beside the Father on his everlasting throne" (Hanna). In view of this most interesting fact we gather two lessons.
1. One of hopefulness. It is never too late to repent; in other words, repentance, when real, is never ineffectual. None could be more undeniably impenitent until within a few hours of his death than this malefactor, and no man's penitence could be more decisively availing than his. It was real and thorough, and therefore it was accepted. It is a great thing for those who speak for Christ to be warranted, as they are, in going to the dying and despairing, and telling these departing ones, that true penitence, however late, avails with God; that his ear is not closed against the sigh of the contrite, even at the last hour of the day; that up to the last there is mercy to be had by them who truly seek it. But there is another lesson to be learnt.
2. One of warning and of fear. There is every reason to hope that true though late repentance is always accepted; but there is grave reason to fear that late repentance is seldom real and true. How often does experience prove that men in apparently dying hours have believed themselves to be penitent when they have only been apprehensive of coming doom! The dread of approaching judgment is far from being the same thing as repentance unto life. Not the last hour, when a selfish dread may be so easily mistaken for spiritual conviction, but the day of health and strength, when conviction can pass into action and honest shame into faithful service, is the time to turn from sin and to seek the face and the favor of the living God. Let none despair, but let none presume.—C.
The shelter of the darkness.
The darkness which fell upon Jerusalem at midday and enshrouded the scene of the Crucifixion was a phenomenon for which it is impossible to account physically, and which it is not easy to explain morally. It is a matter for reverent conjecture, for thoughtful and devout inference, for sacred and solemn imagination. We are on sure ground when we say that it came from the Divine Father, and came on behalf of his beloved Son. We do not venture much when we suggest that it came in response to that Son's appeal in this dark "day of his flesh" (Hebrews 5:7). We may do well to consider what was the probable impression it made on those who were concerned in that sad and sacred scene.
I. ON THE LEADERS OF THE PEOPLE. Surely they were smitten with consternation. One would suppose that, as these men witnessed the wonderful works of Christ, some doubts as to the rightness of their antagonism to him must have darted into their minds, and that beneath their confident and defiant attitude of enmity there must have lain some secret misgivings as to the course they were taking. Probably they were not without their fears that something would happen at the last to disappoint them. But as the day wore on, and Jesus actually hung upon the cross, and his strength was certainly going, and the people quietly acquiesced if they did not possibly "assist," all seemed to be satisfactory, to be indeed triumphant. When, lo! a strange, unaccountable darkness, an impenetrable obscurity! The sun refuses to shine at midday. No man sees his fellow, or sees him only in the faintest light. The Crucified One is screened from view. The scoffs and shouts are silenced, and there is a terrible stillness and solemnity. What can that mean? God is speaking in his own chosen way, and is rebuking their guilty deed. There is a quaking at the proud Pharisee's heart, a trembling in the soul of the scribe; there are no more taunts from their bitter lips; an unspeakable terror invades even their closed hearts which no casuistry can bar. Is it, then, the blood of their Messiah that they have been shedding?
II. ON THE MULTITUDE. How must they have been subdued with awe, if not agitated with wild alarm! How overwhelming to their less cultured minds must so astounding an event have been! "Whither," we hear them say, "have our rulers led us? Surely there is something sacred and Divine in this Galilaean Prophet! Heaven is pronouncing in his favor. Have we crucified our King? Will his blood be upon us?" and the daughters of Jerusalem already begin to weep for themselves and for their children, as they think that some great calamity impends.
III. ON THE ROMAN SOLDIER. Trained to face peril and to be calm even in the presence of overshadowing death, he probably remained quiet and firm, the least moved of all the throng. Nothing could be done, and he would lean on his spear, waiting the centurion's command when light should break; though exceedingly astonished and awe-struck, he would stand to his post with unmoved purpose and well-mastered fear.
IV. ON THE DISCIPLES. To them it must have come as a relief, if not a promise. Believing in their Lord, wondering with great amazement at his capture and crucifixion, they would feel that any miraculous interposition was not unlikely, was quite probable. It raised their hopes a few degrees above despair; possibly many degrees. If God interposed thus far, he might restore everything. At the least, this welcome darkness screened themselves, who were too near the cross for security, though too far from their Master for service; perhaps it quieted their fear while it comforted their conscience.
V. ON THE SAVIOUR HIMSELF. TO him we may be well assured that it was a most welcome succor.
1. It was a verdict from heaven attesting his innocency. It brought confusion to his enemies and confirmation to himself It was "a sign from heaven" distinctly in his favor. The sun refused to shine on so guilty a crime as that then perpetrated; the darkness that wrapped them round was God's attestation of the darkness of the deed then being enacted.
2. It effectually shut the mouth of ribaldry and reproach. "it stopped each wagging head, it silenced each gibing tongue." We cannot tell how painful and how piercing to his sensitive spirit those cruel mockings were; nor can we, therefore, tell how much of a relief was the stillness that came with the darkness.
3. It screened him from shame. "Men would leave the Crucified exposed in shame and nakedness to die, but an unseen hand was stretched forth to draw the drapery of darkness round him and hide him from vulgar gaze."
4. It gave him a desired privacy for sorrow and for prayer. Sorrow and prayer always seek solitude; they desire to be alone with God. We do not like any others, except it be one that is most beloved, to witness the deeper griefs, or the sadder and sterner wrestlings of our soul. We seek the shade of some Gethsemane for such sacred experiences as these. What awful sorrow now rested upon Christ, now agitated his soul to its very depths, we may never understand. But we know that the burden he bore for us was at its very heaviest, that the sorrow he endured for us was at its extremest point just at this time, for it culminated in that terrible cry of desolation (Matthew 27:45, Matthew 27:46) which we do not try to fathom, which silences all speech and subdues every spirit. Such sacred sorrow, accompanied, as it certainly was, with the most close communion and fervent prayer, was not for the curiosity of that heartless crowd. It needed the most perfect privacy. And so the Divine Father, in this supreme hour of his Son's great work and of the redemption of mankind, "made darkness, and it was night;" shut the Savior round with the merciful folds of thick darkness, that he might be alone with that Father in whose sole presence the great sacrifice was to be completed.—C.
The rent veil.
At the time when Jesus died it is exceedingly probable that there would be priests in the "holy place." It was now afternoon, it was drawing toward the time of evening sacrifice; they would be in attendance rendering the service of the sanctuary; they would certainly be aware of what was happening just outside Jerusalem, and would be powerfully affected by the fact. Suddenly, as if grasped and rent by unseen hands, that most sacred veil interposing between the antechamber and the reception-room of God himself, was torn in twain, "from the top to the bottom." The incident was undeniably miraculous. No Jew would have dreamed of daring to do an act that would have been so impious in a man. A Divine hand must have been there, and when they entered into the mysterious darkness and felt the earthquake, must not these priests have asked themselves whether the rending of the veil did not signify a new epoch in the kingdom of God? May not the conversion of a "great company of the priests' (Acts 6:7) be partly accounted for by this striking and significant event? But what did it symbolize?
I. THAT GOD HAD ADOPTED A NEW METHOD OF ASSERTING HIS HOLINESS AND IMPRESSING IT ON THE MIND AND HEART OF THE WORLD. That veil was an essential part of a system of carefully graduated approach to God. It divided the "holy" from the "most holy" place, and beyond it none might pass but the high priest, and he only once a year. It was intended to teach the absolute holiness of God—that it was only as men were prepared, and as they were separated from sin that they could be admitted to his presence. It was not without effect on the Jewish mind; that nation had thus grasped the idea of the purity and perfection of God. But now his character was so revealed that all such symbolism was no longer needed. The death of Jesus Christ his Son, as the Sacrifice for the sin of the world, was an expression of Divine holiness incomparably superior to the symbolism of the temple and for ever superseding it. Henceforth, when men wanted to know what God felt about sin—how he hated it, what he thought it worth while to do and to suffer in order to expel it—they would look to that cross at Calvary, and there read his mind and know his will. Holy places were no longer needed.
II. THAT GOD HAD NOW PROVIDED ANOTHER AND BETTER WAY OF MERCY FOR MANKIND. Behind the veil was the innermost chamber; and of this chamber the furniture was the ark with the two tables of the Law, and the mercy-seat above it; we read of this compartment thus: "within the veil before the mercy-seat." Mercy was thus resting on Law. Mercy always must be founded on holiness; lot without holiness there can be no mercy worthy of the name. And on the great Day of Atonement the high priest entered this "holy of holies," and sprinkled blood upon the mercy-seat for the cleansing of the sins of the nation. But the cross of Jesus Christ spoke of the Divine mercy as no temple furniture could do; there needed nothing to teach the supremacy of mercy above Law after the dying love of the Redeemer of mankind, and there needed no more sprinkling of blood upon a mercy-seat after this great Day of Atonement, when "by one sacrifice of himself for ever" the spotless Lamb of God presented "a Propitiation for the sins of the world." The temple rites then became obsolete; its services were past; there need be no more guarding of one sacred place from another; let the sacred curtain be taken down or rent in twain.
III. THAT THE WAY TO THE HOLY ONE HIMSELF IS NOW OPEN TO ALL MANKIND. 'That veil was an instrument that not only secluded, but excluded; through it no eye might venture to glance, no intruding hand might reach, no presumptuous feet might step. To pass that limit was to incur the heaviest penalty; "the Holy Ghost this signifying, that the way into the holiest of all was not yet made manifest." But now "the good High Priest is come, supplying Aaron's place" and having offered up the one all-sufficient sacrifice, having obtained thereby "eternal redemption," that excluding veil is rent in twain, that barrier is broken down; there are no more limitations, no more distinctions; there is access for every child of man to the mercy-seat of God—to the Holy One himself, to seek his grace and find his favor. Are we drawing nigh? Are we entering in? Are we availing ourselves of this priceless privilege, this glorious provision for our spirit's need? In many words and ways God invites us to draw nigh to himself: he did so when his invisible hand rent in twain that separating veil. "Having therefore boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus … let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith."—C.
How to die and to live.
Our text treats of the dying of our Lord. We may distinguish between death and dying. All men die, but all men have not a dying experience. Those who are killed instantaneously in war or by accident, those who are attacked by fatal apoplexy, those who die in their sleep, have no such experience. It is probable that we shall have to face the fact that we are passing away from life, that when a few more hours have come and gone we shall have entered the unseen world. It is therefore of no small value to us that our great Exemplar underwent not only death, but the conscious act of dying, and that in this respect also he "left us an example that we should follow his steps." We look at—
I. THE DYING OF OUR LORD IN THE LIGHT OF THESE WORDS. The words he uttered just as his end drew near indicate:
1. Deep serenity of spirit. They show nothing of agitation or anxiety; they breathe a calm stillness of soul; they are fragrant of peace and tranquillity. They begin with that word, "Father," which all along had been a name of strength and peace; he was evidently resting in the assurance of parental love. And the words that follow are in a strain of entire spiritual composure.
2. True and living faith. Jesus was resigning his spirit to God's gracious charge, knowing that in his holy and mighty keeping it would be safe and blessed. Here was fullest confidence in God and in immortality.
3. Holy resignation. As a Son of man, Jesus felt still subject to the Divine Father of all; and as he came to do and bear his will, and had done and had borne it perfectly in every hour and act of life, so now in this last volition he yielded himself to God. Thus with a soul tranquil to its profoundest depths, realizing the unseen and eternal world, resigning his spirit to the Divine Father, he bowed his head in death.
II. OUR OWN DEPARTURE. Having found in the death of Jesus Christ that which is the ground of our pardon, our peace, our life before God; having lived in the love and in the service of a once crucified and now ever-living Savior;—there is no reason to doubt that we shall die as he died, breathing the spirit he breathed, if we do not use the very language that was upon his lips.
1. Our departure will be tranquil. We shall not be terrified, alarmed, agitated; our spirit will look calmly forward to the moment of departure from this world and of entrance into another. We shall face the very near future with a smile.
2. For we shall be sustained by a living faith.
(1) We shall feel that we are only going into the nearer presence of our own Father—of him before whom we have been living and in whom we have been rejoicing; only passing from one room to another in our Father's house.
(2) We shall have faith in Jesus Christ himself. That death upon the cross constitutes him a Divine Savior, in whom we hide; and we shall die in the calm assurance that we shall be "found in him," and accepted through him. We shall say, with deeper and fuller meaning than the psalmist could, "Into thine hand I commit my spirit: thou hast redeemed me, O Lord God of truth" (Psalms 31:5).
(3) We shall yield ourselves to God in the spirit of consecration, assured that in that new and unknown realm which we are entering we may spend our time and our powers, liberated and enlarged, in his holy and blessed service: and the spirit of consecration is the spirit of confidence and hope. And while these words are particularly appropriate to dying lips, and very probably suggested the last utterance of the first Christian martyr (Acts 7:59), they need not be held in reserve for that occasion; they admirably express our true attitude in—
III. OUR DAILY LIFE. SO David evidently felt (Psalms 31:5), and so we may feel. In faith and in self-surrender we should be continually commending our spirit to Our heavenly Father's charge:
1. When the day is done and we enter the nightly darkness and unconsciousness, during which we can take no charge of ourselves.
2. As we go forth each morning to duties, trials, temptations, opportunities, to which our own unaided strength is quite unequal.
3. If we feel that we are entering some dark cloud of adversity and trial in which we shall have peculiar need of Divine support.
4. When we are called to new spheres and weightier responsibilities, wherein other graces will be required than any that have yet been demanded of us. At all such times should we, in faith and consecration, commit the keeping of our souls to our heavenly Father, to be sheltered in his faithfulness, to be enriched by his love and his power.—C.
There was a considerable company of spectators at the Crucifixion. They were attracted not only by the spectacle of a triple execution, but, far more, by the fact that the Prophet whose fame had filled the land was to be led forth to die. It was not the riffraff of Jerusalem merely that "beheld the things that were done." The sense of impropriety in attendance at such sanguinary and harrowing scenes is quite modern. It did not prevail there and then. Probably the leading citizens were present—the well-to-do, the educated, the refined—male and female. All classes and all characters were there—the devout and the profane, the rough and the gentle, the selfish and the sympathetic. And of that large company of people there would be present men and women very variously affected toward Jesus Christ. We may say, without hesitation, that the eleven were there; though it is more than likely that, for a time at any rate, they stood afar off, we cannot doubt that they were there, waiting and wondering; hoping with a faint hope, fearing with a terrible and mastering dread. Many true and loyal disciples were there, among whom, truest among the true, were the women who had followed him and "ministered to him" (Matthew 27:55). Besides these were the fickle, doubled-minded multitude, who cried, "Hosannah!" one day, and a few days later shouted, "Crucify him!" And beyond these in spiritual distance were his implacable and bitter enemies. What may we suppose to have been the effect of the Crucifixion on the minds of "the people that came together to that sight"?
I. IMMEDIATE EFFECTS PROBABLY PRODUCED.
1. There were physical elements sure to excite their wondering imagination. When an unnatural darkness brooded over the entire scene for three long dread hours, when the earth trembled, when the loud death-cry of the suffering Savior pierced the air, there was a combination of strange marvels and unusual experiences which must have shaken their souls and filled them with a great awe.
2. And there were moral elements there fitted to touch their hearts. There was the presence of death—death, "the great reconciler," that quenches strong animosities, that awakens an unwonted pity, that subdues the hardened soul to a surprising softness. There was the death of a Man still young, of a Man who had rendered undeniably great services to many hearts in many homes. There was death met with heroic fortitude, undergone with a calmness, a magnanimity, a moral greatness, such as their eyes had never seen before. These two elements together powerfully affected the people that drew to that sight; and with whatsoever thought in their mind they "came together," it is certain that a very great majority of them went home astonished, if not ashamed and alarmed; they returned "smiting their breasts." But what were—
II. THE ULTIMATE EFFECTS PRODUCED?
1. Some effects were permanently good. Surely it was partly, if not largely, the remembrance of what they had seen and done and felt on this great day that led to the "pricking of heart" they experienced when Peter spoke so faithfully, and led them to Christian baptism (Acts 2:22, Acts 2:23, Acts 2:37 Acts 2:11). Was not the "smiting of the breast" more than an antecedent in time to that being smitten in heart when they listened and responded?
2. Others, we may be sure, were evanescent and unfruitful. It would have been a very singular case if there were not many who felt much agitation that day, and the next, and, perhaps, the day after; but who soon allowed pressing cares or passing pleasures to drive convictions from the soul. They "smote their breasts, and returned;" but, instead of returning to God, they went back to the old routine and the old formalism and unspirituality. It is well to be affected by the facts of God's providence, whether these be simple and ordinary, or whether unusual and startling. It is well indeed to be affected by the view of a Savior's death, however that death may be presented to our souls. But let no man rest contented with such emotion as was in the breast of the people who "came together to that sight." It is wholly undecisive; if it lead not to something better than itself, it will bring forth no fruit of life. It must pass, and should pass quickly, into an intelligent conviction of sin, into a real and living faith in him who was then the Crucified One, and so into newness of life in him and unto him.—C.
HOMILIES BY R.M. EDGAR
Jesus vindicated by his enemies.
We pass now from the ecclesiastical to the secular sphere. The charge brought forward in the Sanhedrin is blasphemy; before Pilate and Herod the charge must be sedition and treason. Yet amid his unscrupulous enemies unimpeachable testimony is forthcoming of his innocence.
I. THE TESTIMONY ELICITED BY PILATE. (Luke 23:1-7,) The accusation made against Christ was twofold:
(1) forbidding to pay tribute;
(2) assuming royalty.
Now, the first part of the accusation was totally false. Jesus, when asked about the tribute, had expressly advised the people to "render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's." There could be no conflict of interests between the emperor and Christ so far as tribute was concerned. Doubtless upon this first point Pilate received ample assurance that it was groundless, When, again, he inquired about Christ's royalty, he was told that his kingship was not earthly, but spiritual. Although Pilate could not grasp its exact meaning, he saw sufficient to assure him that it was on a different plane from that of Caesar's. Hence Pilate declared his innocence before his accusers. Upon this the chief priests and scribes were reduced to the complaint that he was stirring up the people from Galilee to Judaea. Strange complaint, that Jesus was rousing up his fellows! He was troubling Israel very much as Elias had done. Men are in desperate need of an accusation when they resort to this one, which merely means that the accused one is in downright earnest! £ As soon as Pilate hears of Christ's earnestness in Galilee, he inquires if he belongs to Herod's jurisdiction, and is happy to hand him over for trial to the Idumean.
II. THE TESTIMONY BORNE BY HEROD. (Luke 23:8-12.) We have next to notice how Herod has unconsciously to testify to Christ's innocence. The murderer of the Baptist thinks, now that Jesus is brought before him, that he has only to express a wish for a miracle, and it will be gratified. To his great surprise and humiliation he receives no answer to his numerous questions; nor do the fierce calumnies of the Jews elicit from the meek Messiah a single word in mitigation or defense. The treatment of Herod was that of silent contempt. The wicked king deserved no other fate. And his only revenge was to mock Christ and set him at naught. So they array him in a robe such as the high priests wore, white and brilliant, indicating at once what he pretended to be and how innocent he really was. Herod, in sending him back in this scornful fashion, conveyed to Pilate's mind clearly that he had no more fault to find with him than the Roman governor had. £ This was the second testimony to the innocency of Jesus.
III. THE TESTIMONY IMPLIED BY THE DEMAND FOR BARABBAS. (Luke 23:13-19.) In no clearer way could the chief priests have shown the utter groundlessness of their first charge than in demanding Barabbas in preference to Jesus. Here was a real rebel, who had committed murder in the insurrection, and he is made the idol of the Jewish populace. They show in this their sympathy with sedition. They show clearly to Pilate that Jesus must be thwarting in some way their seditious designs, else they would not clamor so eagerly for his blood. Instead of substantiating their accusation against Jesus, therefore, they really formulate an accusation of treason against themselves. They were guilty; he was innocent. They were the dangerous class; Jesus occupied a region altogether outside the interests of Caesar.
IV. JESUS SACRIFICED TO POPULAR CLAMOUR. (Luke 23:20-25.) There is no show of justice in condemning Christ. All accusation against him fails, and all which can be done is to shout him down. If Jesus be not crucified, Jerusalem will go into revolt. Will not an emeute be worse than the death of an individual? And so the worldly governor, charged by Rome to keep the peace in the province at all hazards, prefers to deliver the innocent to the will of the guilty than to brave their wrath. It is clamor that secures his condemnation. The judge, who should be the protector of the innocent, unites with the populace in doing him to death. Alas! that men should be so bent on peace as to be ready to sacrifice the innocent to secure it! And yet our Lord's character never shone with so bright a lustre as when he submitted to such wrongs as these. He was truly meek and lowly in heart when he bore so quietly the wrath of the Jews and the time-serving policies of Pilate and Herod. This friendship of Herod and of Pilate, resting on a common indifference to Jesus, is the emblem of those worldly truces which men make who wish to enjoy immunity from trouble; but they do not wear well.—R.M.E.
The merciful Savior on the cross.
Delivered unto the will of the Jews by the indecision of Pilate, Jesus accepts the cross, and proceeds under its crushing weight towards Calvary. But seeing him fainting under it, they press Simon the Cyrenian into service, and he has the everlasting honor of carrying the end of the beam after Jesus. Thus is it in all life's burdens—the weighty end of them is carried by the sympathetic Master, while the lighter end he allows his people to carry after him. And here we must notice—
I. HIS CONSIDERATION FOR JERUSALEM'S WEEPING DAUGHTERS. (Luke 23:27-31.) The victim of 'Rome's cruelty, he has enlisted the sympathy of many weeping women. They see in his death the departure of their best earthly Friend. It is the moment of their deepest sorrow. But Jesus tells them to reserve their tears for themselves. This death of his will lead inevitably to the destruction of Jerusalem and to the dire calamities of the nation. These will be much more lamentable than any sorrows through which he is now to pass. Why, then, does he call upon them to weep? Manifestly that their timely repentance may ensure their escaping the troubles which are so surely coming upon the earth. But the self-forgetful attitude of Jesus is surely most instructive. He thinks not of himself, but of their hard case, even though on his journey to the cross. It is the most perfect consideration for others' welfare, and the most beautiful forgetfulness of one's own, that he here exhibits.
II. HE WAS NUMBERED WITH THE TRANSGRESSORS. (Luke 23:32, Luke 23:33.) There was something peculiarly contemptuous in the arrangement of Jesus between two notable criminals. They were robbers—perhaps had been associates of Barabbas. They had committed, most probably, murder in the insurrection, so that the cross was the rightful end of such careers. But to number Jesus, the innocent, with them, to make him one with the greatest criminals then available, was diabolical! And yet he does not protest. Nay, he is willing to be thus identified that he may save even one of his associates. And yet, is not this arrangement, which numbered him with the transgressors, simply the outward expression of the great fact which is the foundation of our salvation? ]f Jesus had not voluntarily taken up the position of substitute, and identified himself with sinners, we should never have been redeemed.
III. INTERCESSION FROM THE CROSS. (Luke 23:34.) It was ignorance on the part of many which led to this great crime, but culpable ignorance. They should have known better. They needed forgiveness for it. They are the subjects of his intercession. He prays. "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." There never had been such a forgiving spirit manifested since the world began. No wonder that the dying scenes took on ever after a new halo, and that martyrs were able, in spite of suffering, to forgive their murderers and intercede for their salvation! It was the glory of patience which was manifested upon the cross.
IV. THE CHARGE OF SELF-NEGLECT. (Luke 23:35-38.) As they walk round the cross in their selfishness, the Jews charge Jesus with self-neglect. He had saved others, but now he does not try to save himself. If he would only show that he can take care of "number one," they would believe on him. Assuredly we have here the self-revelation of the world. The world believes in the selfish, self-seeking leaders of men. A Napoleon or Caesar, who is willing to sacrifice millions of men to gratify his ambition, is believed in—at all events for a time! But Jesus, who sacrifices himself, is derided. Yet in the end the kingship of the self-sacrificing Savior is acknowledged. The true King of the Jews is he who could lay down his life for his subjects, and so redeem them.
V. THE FIRST RECOGNIZER OF CHRIST'S KINGSHIP. (Luke 23:39-43.) One in the vast assemblage, however, sees below the surface, and recognizes the sovereignty of self sacrifice. At first reviling Christ, he had come to see, beneath the meek exterior of the Savior, the real regal spirit. Hence he changes sides, begins to rebuke the other malefactor who continues his unholy maledictions, and then quietly implores the Lord to remember him when he comes in his kingdom. The poor robber, who had perhaps fought under some false Messiah, and knew what Jewish hopes were, believes that this meek and suffering One upon the cross beside him will yet come to his kingdom. When that advent is to be he knows not. But even in the far-off time it will be well for him to be remembered by him. Thus he prays, and is answered. But "To. day shalt thou be with me in Paradise," is the blessed hope set before him. Paradise is part of his kingdom, and the dying robber will be with Jesus in its peaceful bowers that very day. What a hope to be opened up to the dying man! What comfort it gave him, and should give to us!
VI. THE CONSUMMATION. (Luke 23:44-46.) After these preliminaries are settled, the dealing of Jesus with the Father himself comes on. It was meet that a veil of darkness should surround the suffering Son and the righteous Father. The Priest and the Victim, who offered himself without spot to God, should in deep darkness pass through the act of unexampled worship. No wonder also that the veil of the temple was rent in the midst; for it was exactly this which his death secured—a way into the holiest through the rent veil of his flesh. And then, when the cry of desolation, that loud and bitter cry, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" had given place to quiet assurance, and amid returning light the last cry from the cross went up to heaven, "Father, into thy hands! commend my spirit!" it was meet that he should quietly surrender his life and give up the ghost. There is much to encourage and strengthen us in this consummation on the cross.—R.M.E.
The consequences of our Savior's death.
Our Lord died in the light. The disappearance of the darkness before his decease was an outward symbol of the light and serenity which came across his spirit. His departure exercised a powerful influence upon all around the cross. Let us notice the consequences of the death, as detailed by Luke.
I. THE ROMAN CENTURION WAS CONVINCED OF CHRIST'S RIGHTEOUSNESS AND DIVINE SONSHIP.
The smiting on the breast was a sign of perplexity and penitence. They were evidently humiliated that they had so treated One who could so nobly die. If the conviction of the centurion was an earnest of the conversion of the pagan world, this was an earnest of the conversion of the Jewish (cf. Godet, in loc.). The meek and quiet spirit with which Christ died broke down their hard-heartedness more than any other course could have done; so that its effect was a manifest preparation for the triumphs of the Pentecost. And should not a Christian's death strike alarm into the heart of unbelievers, suggesting to them the possibility of their being unable to meet death with becoming courage?
III. His ACQUAINTANCE AND THE WOMEN FROM GALILEE ARE PETRIFIED WITH ASTONISHMENT. (Verse 49.) "They stood," we are told, "afar off." They were so unmanned that they could not venture nigh. To them the death was inexplicable. It was apparently the defeat of all their hopes. It was a crushing blow. No mystery in providence had ever appeared to them exactly like this. They were ready to say, with Jacob, "All these things are against us." Is this not the position of God's people often? They have entertained bright hopes about the Master and his cause, but have found them fading away like summer flowers, so that they stand perplexed and afar off before God's providences. Is it not the dark hour before the dawn? Is it not the travail-hour before the jubilance of birth? The disciples experienced this, and so may we. Before apparent defeat, let us always exclaim by faith, "It is real victory."
IV. JOSEPH OF ARIMATHAEA IS LED BY CHRIST'S DEATH TO REAL DECISION. (Verses 50-52.) Joseph, a good and just man, had been for some time, we know not how long, a "secret disciple" of Jesus. Nicodemus and he seemed to be in the same category, and perhaps they were led into faith about the same time. In the Sanhedrin they had done all that timid men could to prevent the crime of the Crucifixion; but popular feeling was always too strong for them. They had not as yet taken the bold step of professing to belong to Christ. But, strange to say, the death of Jesus, the apparent defeat of his cause, determined them both to be professors. Joseph accordingly goes and boldly begs the body from Pilate, that he may lay it in his own new tomb, while Nicodemus goes off to procure the needful spices. And here have we what seems a law in God's kingdom. Successors always appear to carry on his work. Christ's death induces two at least to join his cause at once. As the apparently important pass away, it is only to be succeeded by others, and perhaps a larger number, to take up the fallen banner and prove their faithfulness. Apparent calamities are splendid tests of character—they call forth the brave!
V. CHRIST'S FUNERAL COULD ONLY BE A TEMPORARY INTERMENT. (Verses 53-56.) It was necessary that the body should be put away before the sabbath began. Now, if he died a little after three o'clock, there were less than three hours to complete the interment. There could not be the customary embalmment. All that was possible was to wrap the dear remains in linen with spices, and then, if nothing prevented, to complete the embalmment on the first day of the week. It was a hurried burial, therefore, and by compulsion a temporary one. Yet "with the rich was his tomb." It was in a virgin sepulcher, so to speak, he lay for a season, just as he had lain in the Virgin's womb. It was so far private also that none apparently but the immediate friends and acquaintances followed the funeral. All the circumstances combined to make the funeral and interment most singular. It was well known where they laid him; it was known that they intended completing the embalmment on the first day of the week; his enemies had every opportunity, therefore, to prevent any imposture about a resurrection. All was above-board, like everything in our Lord's life. Consequently there was in the burial of Jesus a noble foundation laid for that crowning hope of resurrection. We shall see that there was every advantage offered to those who wished to expose duplicity about his rising again. It was the most important burial and most hopeless, so far as the mourners were concerned. They above all others seemed oblivious of all promise of resurrection,—R.M.E.