free while helping to build churches and support pastors in Uganda.
Click here to learn more!
And straightway in the morning the chief priests with the elders and scribes, and the whole council, held a consultation, and bound Jesus, and carried him away, and delivered him up to Pilate. Straightway in the morning (εὐθέως πρωΐ́). The proceedings recorded in the last chapter terminated probably between five and six; the cock-crowing helps to fix the time. Now came the more formal trial. The whole Sanhedrim united in consultation. All the proceedings hitherto had been irregular and illegal. Now, for form's sake, they tried him afresh. But there was another law which was also violated. It was now Friday. In capital cases, sentence of condemnation might not legally be pronounced on the day of the trial. Yet our Lord was tried, condemned, and crucified on the same day. They "hound him," that he might be impeded in any attempt to escape. They "carried him away" (ἀπήνεγκαν), with the semblance of force; although we know that he went "as a lamb to the slaughter." How truly might it be said of these chief priests and elders, "Their feet are swift to shed blood!" And delivered him up to Pilate. Judaea now was added to the province of Syria, and governed by procurators, of whom Pontius Pilate was the fifth. It was necessary for the Jews to deliver Christ over to the Roman power; because the power of life and death had been taken from them since they became subject to the Romans. "It is not lawful for us," they say (John 18:31) "to put any man to death;" that is to say, they could not put to death without the authority of the governor. Our Lord predicted of himself, "They shall deliver him to the Gentiles."
Art thou the King of the Jews? It appears from St. Luke (Luke 23:1-5) that when Pilate demanded particularly what the charges against Jesus were, on account of which the Jews urged that he should be crucified, they alleged these three things:
(1) that he perverted the nation;
(2) that he forbade to give tribute to Caesar;
(3) that he said that he was Christ, a King.
Whereupon Pilate, who had heard by many of the blameless life, the pure doctrine, and the famous miracles of Jesus, goes at once to the point, and asks him, "Art thou the King of the Jews?"—a question which, of course, affected the position of Caesar. Our Lord's answer, Thou sayest (σὺ λέγεις), was in the affirmative, amounting to this "Thou sayest that which is true."
And the chief priests accused him of many things. The words in the Authorized Version, "but he answered nothing," are not to be found here in any of the best manuscripts or versions. But they are to be found in St. Matthew (Matthew 27:12); and Pilate's question in the next verse confirms St. Matthew's statement, and makes the sentence unnecessary here. Our Lord answered nothing, because all that they had to say against him was manifestly false or frivolous, and unworthy of any reply. St. Augustine says on this, "The Savior, who is the Wisdom of God, knew how to overcome by keeping silence."
It would seem that Pilate had led Jesus out of his palace, into which the Jewish priests could not enter (John 18:28), lest they should be defiled by entering a house from which all leaven had not been scrupulously removed. This would have been a violation of their religious scruples; and therefore he went out into the open court, and there heard the accusations of the chief priests. It is supposed that the building occupied by Pilate was the palace built or rebuilt by Herod near the gate of Jaffa, north-west of Mount Zion. It was doubtless occasionally occupied by Pilate, and it was conveniently situated, being near to Herod's palace—the old palace of the Asmoneans, between it and the temple.
Pilate marvelled. He marvelled that the innocent Savior, wise and eloquent, standing before him in peril of his life, should remain silent when thus vehemently accused by the leading men of the Jews. Pilate marvelled at his forbearance, his calmness, his contempt of death; from all of which he argued his absolute innocence and holiness, and resolved to do everything in his power to deliver him. The silence of a blameless life pleads more powerfully than any defense, however elaborate.
St. Mark omits here what took place next in the order of events, namely, the sending of our Lord by Pilate to Herod (Luke 23:5). This was Herod Antipas, ruler of Galilee; and Pilate, apparently convinced of our Lord's innocence, hoped to escape the responsibility of condemning an innocent man, by handing him over to Herod; for Pilate had heard that our Lord was a Galilean. Moreover, he hoped to accomplish another good result, namely, to recover the favor of Herod, which was desirable on political grounds. The first intention failed; for Herod sent our Lord back to Pilate in mockery, "arraying him in gorgeous apparel" (περιβαλὼν ἐσθῆτα λαμπρὰν). But the second succeeded: "Herod and Pilate became friends with each other that very day" (Luke 23:12). There was now, however, another resource. At the feast (κατα ἑορτὴν)—literally, at feast-time—he used to release unto them one prisoner, whom they asked of him ὅνπερ ἠτοῦντο). In St. John (John 18:39) we read that Pilate said, "Ye have a custom, that I should release unto you one at the Passover."
And there was one called Barabbas, lying bound with them that had made insurrection, men who in the insurrection had committed murder. Pilate appears to have thought of Barabbas, not doubting but that, by limiting their choice between him and Jesus, he would secure the liberation of our Lord. But Pilate little knew the temper of the chief priests and scribes, and their bitter hostility to Christ. The word "Barabbas," better written "Bar-Abbas," means "son of father."
And the multitude went up and Began to ask him to do as he was wont to do unto them. Went up (ἀναβὰς). This is the reading to be preferred to the old reading, "crying aloud" (ἀναβοήσας). The reading ἀναβὰς is supported by the Sinaitic, the Vatican, and the Cambridge manuscripts; also by the Old Italic, the Gothic, and other versions. The AEthiopic Version combines the two," going up and crying aloud." The geographical position of Pilate's residence quite justifies the use of the term
Pilate doubtless hoped that they would ask for Jesus. He knew that the chief priests had delivered our Lord for envy. That he could not help observing, as a shrewd Roman judge, from their gestures and manner. And then he knew also, at least by report, of the purity of Jesus, and of the holy freedom with which he rebuked their vices. So he thought, reasonably enough, that if the chief priests wished to destroy him for envy, the people, who had experienced so many kindnesses from him, would desire that he should live.
Envy was the low passion that influenced the chief priests. They saw that Jesus was gaining a great and increasing influence over the people by the sublime beauty of his character, by the fame of his miracles, and the constraining power of his words. And hence they concluded that, unless he was arrested in his course, and put out of the way, their own influence would soon be gone. The whole world was going after him. Therefore he must be destroyed.
But the chief priests stirred up the multitude (ἀνέσεισαν τὸν ὄχλον), that he should rather release Barabbas unto them. St. Matthew (Matthew 27:20) says, "They persuaded the multitudes" (ἔπεισαν τοὺς ὄχλους). St. Mark's word (ἀνέσεισαν) implies a rousing of their bad passions; agitating them to a blind zeal for his crucifixion.
And Pilate again answered and said unto them, What then shall I do unto him whom ye call the King of the Jews? The word "again" has the support of three great uncials, and the best of the cursives. Pilate did not give way without many an inward struggle. And now at last he puts the matter, so to speak, in their own power; so that it might be an act of their clemency, and that they might have the honor of saving our Lord's life. But it was all in vain. For the chief priests had resolved to press for his crucifixion, little dreaming that they were doing what "God's hand and God's counsel had before determined to be done." Pilate puts the question before them with much shrewdness and tact. He speaks of our Lord as one whom "they called the King of the Jews." He appeals to their national pride and their national hopes. Would they degrade themselves, and extinguish their hopes, by giving up to the most ignominious of deaths one who had established such claims upon their reverence and their love?
And they cried out again, Crucify him. These words might seem at first to justify the old reading, in Mark 15:8, adopted in the Authorized Version," crying aloud." But there the word was ἀναβοήσας, here it is ἔκραξαν. Moreover, in Mark 15:14, it is not (περισσοτέρως) "the more exceedingly," but (περισσῶς) "they cried exceedingly."
And Pilate, wishing βουλόμενος to content the multitude, released unto them Barabbas, and delivered Jesus, when he had scourged him, to be crucified. St. Luke and St. John are more full in details here. From their narratives it appears that when Pilate found that his attempt to rescue our Lord, by putting Barabbas in contrast with him, had failed, he next hoped to move the multitude to pity by the terrible punishment of scourging, after which he trusted that they would relent. Scourging was a vile punishment, inflicted on slaves. But it was also inflicted upon those who were condemned to death, even though freemen This scourging, which was a part of the punishment of crucifixion, was of frightful severity. Horace speaks of it as "horrible flagellum." But it appears from St. John (John 21:1) that the scourging of Jesus took place before his formal condemnation to be crucified; we may therefore suppose that it was not a part of the ordinary punishment of crucifixion. At all events, there is nothing, upon a careful comparison of the narratives, to lead us to the conclusion that our blessed Lord was scourged twice. In fact, Pilate anticipated the time of the scourging, in the vain hope that he might by this means save our Lord from the capital punishment. A comparison of the narratives of St. Matthew and St. Mark with that of St. John will make this clear; for they all three refer to one and the same scourging. Recent investigations at Jerusalem have disclosed what may probably have been the place 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 structure itself, but just such a dwarf pillar as criminals would be tied to to be scourged. The chamber cannot be later than the time of Herod (see Professor Westcott on St. John 19:1-42.).
And the soldiers led him away within the court, which is the Praetorium; and they call together the whole band. This was the principal court of the palace, where a large number of soldiers were always quartered. "The whole band" would be the "cohors praetoria" of Cicero; Pilate's body-guard.
Mark 15:17, Mark 15:18
And they clothe him with purple, and plaiting a crown of thorns, they put it on him; and they began to salute him, Hail, King of the Jews! They clothe him with purple (ἐνδύουσιν αὐτὸν πορφύραν). So also says St. John (John 21:2, ἱματιον πορφυροῦν). St. Matthew says (Matthew 27:28), "They put on him a scarlet robe (περιέθηκαν αὐτῷ χλαμύδα)." Purple and scarlet are not such very dissimilar colors. Purple is a royal color; and the chlamys of St. Matthew was a short military cloak of scarlet, intended to be a kind of royal livery. St. Cyril says that the purple cloak symbolized the kingdom of the whole world, which Christ was about to receive, and which he was to obtain by the shedding of his most precious blood. It was designed in mockery of his claim to be a King, and it probably bad a reference to his supposed insurrection against Caesar. All this was permitted by Pilate, in order that he might the more easily, after this ignominious treatment, deliver Christ from the extreme sentence. And plaiting a crown of thorns, they put it on him. The crown of thorns was in all probability woven from the Zizyphus spina Christi (the nabk of the Arabs), which grows abundantly in Palestine, fringing the banks of the Jordan. This plant would be very suitable for the purpose, having flexible branches, with leaves very much resembling the ivy leaf in their color, and with many sharp thorns. The pain arising from the pressure of these sharp thorns upon the head must have been excruciating. And they began to salute him, Hail, King of the Jews! (Χαῖρε βασιλεῦ τῶν Ἰουδαίων). This word, χαῖρε, was an ancient form of salutation; here used by the soldiers in bitter mockery of his claim to be a king.
And they smote his head with a reed—the same reed, according to St. Matthew (Matthew 27:29, Matthew 27:30), which they bad first put into his right hand as a scepter, to complete the mocking symbolism—and did spit upon him (ἐνέπτυον αὐτῷ). The verb is in the imperfect; they did it again and again.
And when they had mocked him, they took off from him the purple, and put on him his garments. The silence of our blessed Lord during these wanton and aggravated insults is very remarkable, and also the total absence of any legal grounds for his condemnation. And they lead him out to crucify him. Assuming the palace of Pilate to have been near the gate of Jaffa, north-west of Mount Zion, and the place of crucifixion that now assigned to it, within the Church of the Holy Sepulchre,—the distance would be about one-third of a mile.
And they compel one passing by Simon of Cyrene, coming from the country, the father of Alexander and Rufus, to go with them, that he might bear his cross. It seems from St. Matthew (Matthew 27:32) that our Savior bore his own cross from the palace to the gate of the city. The tablet, with the inscription afterwards attached to the cross, would be carried before him; and a certain number of soldiers would be appointed to go with him to the place of execution, and to see the sentence carried out. Having passed out through the gate of the city, they met one Simon of Cyrene, coming from the country, and they compel him (ἀγγαρεύουσι); literally, they impress him. The Cyrenians had a synagogue in Jerusalem (Acts 6:9), and this Simon may probably have been one of those who had come up to keep the Passover. He must have been a Hellenistic Jew, a native of Cyrene, on the north coast of Africa. Alexander and Rufus, his sons, were no doubt, at the time when St. Mark wrote his Gospel, well-known disciples of our Lord. St. Paul, writing to the Romans (Romans 16:13), sends a special salutation to Rufus, "chosen in the Lord, and his mother, and mine;" a delicate recognition by St. Paul of something like maternal care bestowed upon him by the mother of Rufus. It is probable that his father Simon, and perhaps his brother Alexander, may have been dead by this time. Rufus is also honorably mentioned by Polycarp in his Epistle to the Philippians. There is a tradition, mentioned by Cornelius a Lapide, that Rufus became a bishop in Spain, and that Alexander suffered martyrdom. To go with them, that he might bear his cross. St. Luke (Luke 23:26) adds the touching words, "to bear it after Jesus (φέρειν ὔπισθεν τοῦ Ἰησοῦ)."
And they bring him (φέρουσιν); literally, they bear him. At Mark 15:20 another word has been used ἐξάγουσιν "they lead him out." It seems as though, when they had reached the gate of the city, they saw symptoms that our Lord was fainting under his burden; and so they pressed Simon into the service, that he might be ready to assist. At first our Lord carried his own cross. Tradition says (Cornelius a Lapide) that the cross was fifteen feet long, the transverse limb being eight feet; and that he so carried it that the upper portion rested on his shoulder, while the foot of the cross trailed on the ground. When they saw that he was breaking down under the weight of the cross, they laid it on Simon, that they might the more quickly reach the place of crucifixion. The place Golgotha, which is, being interpreted, The place of a skull. "Golgotha" is a Hebrew, or rather Chaldaic, word, applied to the skull on account of its roundness, that being the idea which lies in the root of the word. The Greek equivalent to the word is Κρανίον; and this is rendered in the Vulgate, Calvaria, a skull, from calva, bald. St. Luke is the only evangelist in whose Gospel (Luke 23:33) this word is rendered "Calvary." In the Revised Version it is rendered "the skull" The place was so called, either from its having been the spot where executions ordinarily took place (though in this case we might have expected to find it called τόπος κρανίων rather than κρανίον); or, more probably, it was derived from the configuration of the place itself, perhaps a round-like mound, or knoll, sufficiently elevated to be seen at a little distance and by a large number. As to the actual site of Golgotha, recent researches seem to have done much to confirm the ancient tradition. The Bordeaux pilgrim, a.d. 333, says, "On the left side of the original Church of the Holy Sepulchre is the hillock (monticulus) Golgotha, where the Lord was crucified. Hence, about a stone's throw distant, is the crypt where his body was deposited." St. Cyril of Jerusalem alludes to the spot frequently, and there was no doubt about it in the time of Eusebius, a.d. 315. Professor Willis says that the rock of Calvary still stands up, some fifteen feet above the pavement. "It appears likely," he says, "that in its original state this rock was part of a little swell of the ground that jutted out from the slope of Sepulchre Street, and probably always formed a somewhat abrupt view on the west and south sides" (see 'Speaker's Commentary' on St. Matthew). Captain Conder thinks that he shall be able to show that the traditional Golgotha is the site of the original temple of Ashtoreth, and that this temple was the Jebusite sanctuary before David took Jerusalem, and round which the sepulchres of the kings were hewn after the worship of Jehovah had consecrated the temple hill.
And they offered him wine mingled with myrrh: but he received it not. There were two occasions on which drink was offered to our Lord during the agonies of his crucifixion. The first occasion is that mentioned by St. Matthew (Matthew 27:34), when they offered him wine mingled with gall. This was a kind of stupefying liquor, a strong narcotic, made of the sour wine of the country, mingled with bitter herbs, and mercifully administered to dull the sense of pain. This was offered before the actual crucifixion took place. It is to this first occasion that St. Mark here refers. The words in the original are (καὶ ἐδίδουν αὐτῷ ἐσμυρνισμένον οἶνον), "they were giving, they offered him." But he received it not. He would not seek alleviation of the agonies of the crucifixion by any drugged potion which might render him insensible. He would bear the full burden consciously. The second occasion on which drink was offered to him was after he had been some hours on his cross, and when the end was drawing near; and it was then given in answer to his exclamation, "I thirst." This drink does not appear to have been mingled with any stupefying drug; and we do not read that he refused it. St. Mark does not record this second occasion.
And they crucify him (καὶ σταυροῦσιν αὐτὸν,). Such is the most approved reading. The evangelist states the fact without staying to dwell on the painful circumstances connected with the act of nailing him to the cross; and passes on to the mention of other things. They part his garments among them, casting lots upon them, what each should take. The outer robe and the tunic would have been removed previously to the crucifixion. St. John (John 21:23) here goes into details. "They took his garments, and made four parts, to every soldier a part; and also the coat: now the coat was without seam, woven from the top through.. out." His garments (τὰ ἱμάτια). This would be the loose, flowing outer dress with girdle. The tunic (χιτών) was a closefitting dress, worn underneath the ἱμάτιον. There were four soldiers employed for each crucifixion. St. Cyril refers to the clothes of criminals as the perquisite of the executioners. Here was another ingredient of bitterness in our Lord's cup, that he saw before his eyes his garments torn by the soldiery, and his tunic divided to them by lot. But he divested himself of these garments of mortality, that he might clothe us with life and immortality.
And it was the third hour, and they crucified him. The third hour would literally be nine o'clock. But we gather from Mark 15:33 that our Lord was on his cross, and still alive, at the sixth hour, that is, at twelve o'clock. The simplest mode of solving the chronological difficulty seems to be this: The Jews divided their day into four parts, which they called hours, namely, the first, from six to nine; the third, from nine to twelve; the sixth, from twelve to three; and the ninth, from three to six. It was, then, within the third hour, that is, between nine and twelve, that they crucified him; and it was from the sixth to the ninth hour that he was actually upon his cross. St. John employs the Asiatic mode of computing time.
And the superscription of his accusation was written over, THE KING OF THE JEWS. This would probably be the shortest form of inscription, and in Latin, "Rex Judaeorum." All the evangelists mention the inscription; but no two of them in precisely the same words. It appears by comparison of them that the whole title was, "This is Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews." In the ease of remarkable prisoners the accusation was written on a white tablet, and carried before them as they went to the place of execution. It was then placed over their heads when the cross was erected. St. John tells us that our Lord's title was written in three languages—Hebrew, Latin, and Greek. Such appears to be the proper order of the words, namely, the national, the official, and the common dialect. St. Mark, writing at Rome, would naturally mention the Latin title. It is quite possible that the superscription may have varied in the different renderings in which it was given. It is evident from St. John (John 21:19-22) that the title was much canvassed by the Jews and the chief priests. Bode says that this title was fitly placed over his head, because, although he was crucified in weakness for us, yet he shone with the majesty of a King above his cross. The title proclaimed that he was after all a King; and that from henceforth he began to reign from his cross over the Jews. And therefore Pilate was divinely restrained from making any alteration in the title, so that it should mean anything less than this.
And with him they crucify two robbers (λησταί)—not "thieves" (κλέπται); St. Luke (Luke 23:32) shows that these two robbers formed a part of the procession to Calvary; but they were crucified after our Lord—one on his right hand, and one on his left. We know from St. Luke (Luke 23:40) that one of these malefactors was saved; while it would appear that the other died in his sins. And thus Christ upon his cross, between these two men, and with the title of King over his head, presented a striking and awful picture of the final judgment. Such is the view of St. Ambrose on St. Luke 22:1-71., and of St. Augustine, who says," This cross, if you mark it well, was a judgment-seat. For the Judge being placed in the midst, the one who believed was set free; the other who reviled him was condemned; and thus he signified what he will do with the quick and the dead. Some he will place on his right hand, and some on his left".
This verse is omitted in the oldest manuscripts. It is supposed to have been taken from St. Luke (Luke 22:37).
Mark 15:29, Mark 15:30
And they that passed by railed on him, wagging their heads. Here was another fulfillment of prophecy, and other aggravation of the misery of Christ. "All they that see me laugh me to scorn they shoot out the lip, they shake the head, saying, He trusted on the Lord that he would deliver him; let him deliver him, seeing he delighteth in him" (Psalms 22:7, Psalms 22:8). The torment of crucifixion itself was terrible; but it was a still greater torment to the Crucified to be insulted in his agony. Our Lord may well have had these words in his mind, '"They persecute him whom thou hast smitten, and they tell of the sorrow of those whom thou hast wounded" (Psalms 69:26). They that passed by. Calvary was probably near to one of the thoroughfares leading to the city; so that there would be a continual stream of persons passing to and fro; more especially at this time, when Jerusalem was thronged with visitors. And no doubt the words of the accusation against him in its incorrect form would pass freely from mouth to mouth, Ha! thou that destroyest the temple, and buildest it in three days, save thyself. If you could make such a boast as this, show your power by coming down from the cross.
The chief priests and the scribes are more bitter than the people. In fact they had all along endeavored to rouse the bad passions of the people against our Lord. And now they take advantage of this his present degraded condition to renew the old charge that his miracles of healing had been wrought by Beelzebub, because, if they had been wrought by God, God would have interposed in this his sore extremity and have set him free. He saved others. They cannot deny this fact. But they now try to turn this fact against him, by alleging that he who pretended to work miracles upon others, wrought them, not by the finger of God, but by Beelzebub, seeing that, if they had been wrought by a Divine power, the same power would now be exercised for his deliverance. They desired to take advantage of this public opportunity of exposing him as an impostor, and so they hoped to get rid of him, and at the same time to blot the very name of Christianity from out of the earth.
Christ might have come down from the cross; but he would not, because it was his Father's will that he should die upon the cross to redeem us from death. So he despised the taunts of the wicked, that he might teach us by his example to do the same. If he had chosen to descend from the cross, he would not have ascended. He knew that the death upon the cross was necessary for the salvation of men; and therefore he would go through the whole. He withheld the exercise of his power. His omnipotence restrained the natural longings of his suffering humanity to escape from these unutterable torments. So he would not come down from the cross, although within three days he would rise from the grave. And yet there was no word of indignation against his tormentors. On the contrary, he proclaimed mercy; for as he hung on his cross he said, "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do."
And when the sixth hour was come. This would be midday, twelve o'clock; and the darkness continued until the ninth hour, that is, three o'clock. This supernatural darkness came when the day is wont to be at its brightest. The moon was now at the full, so that it could not have been caused by what we call an eclipse, for when it is full moon the moon cannot intervene between the earth and the sun. This darkness was doubtless produced by the immediate interference of God. An account of it is given by Phlegon of Tralles, a freedman of the Emperor Adrian. Euse-bius, in his records of the year a.d. 33, quotes at length from Phlegon, who says that, in the fourth year of the 202nd Olympiad, there was a great and remarkable eclipse of the sun, above any that had happened before. At the sixth hour the day was turned into the darkness of night, so that stars were seen in the heaven; and there was a great earthquake in Bithynia, which overthrew many houses in the city of Nicaea. Phlegon attributes the darkness which he describes to an eclipse, which was natural enough for him to do. The knowledge of astronomy was then very imperfect. Phlegon also mentions an earthquake. This brings his account into very close correspondence with the sacred narrative. There was darkness ever the whole land (ἐφ ὅλην τὴν γῆν). "Land" is a better rendering than "earth." We are not informed precisely how far the darkness extended. Dionysius says that he saw this phenomenon at Heliopolis, in Egypt, and he is reported to have exclaimed, "Either the God of nature, the Creator, is suffering, or the universe dissolving." St. Cyprian says, "The sun was constrained to withdraw his rays, and close his eyes, that he might not be compelled to look upon this crime of the Jews. To the same purpose St. Chrysostom, "The creature could net bear the wrong done to its Creator. Therefore the sun withdrew his rays, that he might not behold the deeds of the wicked."
Eloi, Eloi, lama sabacthani? St. Mark here uses the Aramaic form St. Matthew refers to the original Hebrew. St. Mark in all probability took his form from St. Peter. It seems from hence that our Lord was in the habit of using the vernacular speech. Why hast thou forsaken me? (εἰς τί με ἐγκατέλιπες;). This might be rendered, Why didst thou forsake me? It is generally supposed that our blessed Lord, continually praying upon his cross, and offering himself a sacrifice for the sins of the whole world, recited the whole of the psalm (22.) of which these are the first words, that he might show himself to be the very Being to whom the words refer; so that the Jewish scribes and people might examine and see the cause why he would not descend from the cross; namely, because this very psalm showed that it was appointed that he should suffer these things.
Notwithstanding the supernatural darkness, there were those who lingered about the cross. Indeed, the darkness would add greatly to the awfulness of the place. It was out of that darkness that the voice of Jesus was heard; and inasmuch as Elias, or Elijah, was believed to hold some relation to the Messiah, it was natural for some of those who stood by to understand the words to mean that our Lord was actually calling for Elias.
There is a slight difference here in the narratives. St. Matthew (Matthew 27:49) says, "And the rest said, Let be; let us see whether Elijah cometh to save him." Here in St. Mark the words are recorded as having been spoken by him alone who offered our Lord the vinegar. According to St. John (Joh 21:1-25 :28), the offering of the vinegar followed immediately upon the words of our Lord, "I thirst." This drink was not the stupefying potion given to criminals before their crucifixion, to lull the sense of pain, but the sour wine, the ordinary drink of the soldiers, called posen. The reed was most probably the long stalk of the hyssop plant. Dr. J. Forbes Royle, in an elaborate article on the subject, quoted in Smith's 'Dictionary of the Bible', arrives at the conclusion that the hyssop is none other than the caper plant, the Arabic name of which, asuf, bears a strong resemblance to the Hebrew. The plant is the Capparis spinosa of Linnaeus. The apparent difference between the narratives of St. Matthew and St. Mark may be reconciled by weaving in the narrative of St. John with those of the synoptists—the "Let be" of the soldiers in the one case being intended to restrain the individual from offering the wine; and the "Let be" of the individual, corresponding to our "Wait a moment," while he answered our Savior's cry, "I thirst."
And Jesus uttered a loud voice, and gave up the ghost. The three synoptists all mention this cry, which appears to have been something different from the words which he uttered at or about the time of his death. It was evidently something supernatural, and was so regarded by the centurion who stood by; and who had no doubt been accustomed to scenes like these. Usually the voice fails the dying, more especially when the natural forces have been weakened by long agony, as in the ease of our Lord. It seems, therefore, the right conclusion that he cried out, just before he expired, by that supernatural power which his Godhead supplied to him; and thus he showed that, although he had gone through all the pains which were sufficient in ordinary cases to produce death, yet that at length he did not die of necessity, but voluntarily, in accordance with what he had himself said, "No one taketh my life from me … I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again" (John 10:18). Victor Antiochanus, in commenting upon this chapter, says, "By this action the Lord Jesus proved that he had his whole life, and his death, in his own free power."
And the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom. There were two veils—one before the holy place, and the other before the holy of holies. The holy place would correspond to what we call the nave of the church, in which the priests were continually present; the holy of holies would correspond to our chancel choir—the holiest part of the building. This was always kept closed; nor might any one enter it but the high priest, and that only once in the year, on the day of expiation. The veil which was rent at our Lord's death was that which was placed before the holy of holies; it was called the καταπέτασμα. The outer veil was called κάλυμμα. It was the duty of the officiating priest, on the evening of the day of preparation, at the hour of evening prayer, which would correspond to the time of our Lord's death, to enter into the holy place, where he would of course be between the two curtains, or veils, the outer veil, or κάλυμμα, and the inner veil, or καταπέτασμα It would then be his business to roll back the κάλυμμα, or outer veil, thus exposing the holy place to the people, who would be in the. outer court. And then and there they would see, to their amazement, the καραπέτασμα, the inner veil, rent asunder from the top to the bottom. These veils or curtains, according to Josephus, were each forty cubits in height and ten in breadth, of great substance, very massive, and richly embroidered with gold and purple. Now, this rending of the veil signified
(1) that the whole of the Jewish dispensation, with its rites and ceremonies, was now unfolded by Christ; and that thenceforth the middle wall of partition was broken down, so that now, not the Jews only, but the Gentiles also might draw nigh by the blood of Christ. But
(2) it further signified that the way to heaven was laid open by our Lord's death. "When thou hadst overcome the sharpness of death, thou didst open the kingdom of heaven to all believers." The veil signified that heaven was closed to all, until Christ by his death rent this veil in twain, and laid open the way.
And when the centurion, which stood by over against him (ὁ παρετηκὼς ἐξ ἐναντίας αὐτοῦ) saw that he so gave up the ghost. The words, "so cried out," are not in the most important authorities. It was the business of the centurion to watch all that took place, and to see that the sentence was executed. He must have been standing close under the cress; and there was that in the whole demeanour of the dying Sufferer, so different from anything that he had ever witnessed before, that it drew from him the involuntary exclamation, Truly this man was the Son of God. He had observed him through those weary hours; he had noticed the meekness and the dignity of the Sufferer; he had heard those words, so deeply impressed upon the faith and reverence of Christians, which fell from him from time to time as he hung there; and then at last he heard the piercing cry, so startling, so unexpected, which escaped him just before he yielded up his spirit; and he could come to no other conclusion than this, that he was in very deed God's Son. It has been supposed by some that this centurion was Longiuus, who was led by the miracles which accompanied the death of Christ, to acknowledge him to be the Son of God, and to be a herald of his resurrection, and was ultimately himself put to death for the sake of Christ in Cappadocia. St. Chrysostom repeats the common report, that on account of his faith he was at last crowned with martyrdom.
And there were also women holding from afar (ἀπὸ μακρόθεν θεωροῦσαι). St. Matthew (Matthew 27:55) says that there were many. Amongst them were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the wife of Clopas, or Alphaeus, and mother of James the less and of Joses, called brethren of our Lord, and the mother of Zebedee's children, that is, Salerno. The mother of our Lord had been there until the time when, having with St. John crept as near the cross of Jesus as she might venture, she was consigned by our Lord to St. John's care, and taken away by him. St. Mark mentions this to show the faith and love of these holy women, because in the very presence of the enemies of Christ they dared to stand by his cross, and shrank not from testifying their piety and devotion. St. John says that they stood near. He must have known; for at one time at least he was standing near. St. Matthew and St. Mark speak of them as at a distance. They were at a distance, no doubt, for the most part, as compared with the soldiers, whose duty it was to be in close attendance and to keep the people off. But these devoted women came as near as they could, so as to see and hear their Lord. Perhaps they were sometimes further off and sometimes nearer, as they saw opportunity, or as the humor of the officials suffered them.
From this verse we learn that these women followed him, and ministered unto him when he was in Galilee; and that many other women came up with him unto Jerusalem. The sublime beauty of his character, and the spiritual, influence which he wielded, attracted them; and they were able to minister to the various needs of his humanity.
And when even was now come. The sabbath commenced on the Friday evening at six o'clock. The evening commenced at three o'clock. Our Lord must be buried before six o'clock.
Joseph of Arimathaea. St. Jerome says that this city was called Ramathaim-Zophim (the lofty place), where dwelt Elkanah and Hannah of old, and where Samuel was born. Joseph was most probably a native of Arimathaea; but he was now a citizen and counsellor of Jerusalem. He was an honorable counsellor (εὐσχήμων βουλευτής), a councillor of honorable estate (Revised Version). St. Matthew says he was a rich man. It is evident that he regarded himself as a settled inhabitant of Jerusalem, since he had thus provided himself with a place of sepulture. He was waiting for (προσδεχόμενος)—literally, looking for—the kingdom of God. St. Matthew (Matthew 27:57) says that he was a disciple of Jesus. These circumstances explain his desire to bury our Lord. He boldly went in (τολμήσας εἰσῆλθε)—literally, he took courage and went in—unto Pilate, and asked for the body of Jesus. A poor man would not have dared to approach Pilate for such a purpose as this. St. Chrysostom says, "The courage of Joseph is greatly to be admired, in that, for the love of Christ, he exposed himself to the danger of death." The fact that he was "looking for the kingdom of God" explains his conduct. It shows that he believed in Christ, and through his grace hoped for everlasting salvation; and in this hope he thought little of shelving his reverence for Christ, and so" boldly went in unto Pilate, and asked for the body of Jesus."
And Pilate marvelled if he were already dead: and calling unto him the centurion, he asked him whether he had been any while dead. It must have Been somewhat early in the afternoon, probably not long after three o'clock, when Joseph went. The day being the Preparation, the Jews were anxious to satisfy the letter of the Law (Deuteronomy 21:13), and that, more especially, because the coming sabbath was a "high day." So they had gone early to Pilate to obtain permission to accelerate the deaths of the sufferers by the terrible additional punishment called σκελοκοπία. This violence was not inflicted upon our Lord, because he was already dead; and so another Scripture was fulfilled, "A bone of him shall not be broken." But it was necessary that Pilate should be assured of the fact that death had taken place before he gave up the body; and thus, in the providence of God, another evidence was given of the reality of Christ's death. Joseph asked for the body (σῶμα). Then Pilate asked the centurion "whether he had been any while dead." The verb here is in the aorist, and the adverb means "formerly" (εἰ πάλαι ἀπέθανε); literally, if he died some time ago.
And when he learned it of the centurion, he granted (ἐδωρήσατο) the corpse (τὸ πτῶμα) to Joseph.
And he bought a linen cloth (σινδόνα). This was a fine linen garment, or shroud, something like that in which the young man fled the night before. And taking him down (καθελὼν αὐτὸν). It appears from these words that Joseph himself, assisted probably by Nicodemus and others, actually took the body of our Lord down from the cross. wrapped the sindon round him, and laid him in his own new tomb, which had been hewn out of the rock. The word rendered "tomb" is μνημεῖον, as being intended to be a memorial of the departed. And he rolled a stone against the door of the tomb. The door here means "the opening," or "entrance." Thus, while our Lord died with the wicked, he was with the rich in his death (Isaiah 53:9).
And Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses beheld where he was laid (ἐθεώρουν ποῦ τίθεται); literally, were beholding where he was laid. These women were two of the group mentioned at Mark 15:40. They remained, after the body of our Lord had been deposited, in sad and silent contemplation. The women appear to have broken up into two groups. One group went alone to purchase spices and ointments, which it was necessary for them to do before six o'clock, when the sabbath commenced; in readiness for the embalming. Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses and Salome appear to have bought them after six o'clock on the Saturday night.
The trial before Pilate.
How true it is that "God spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all"! Jesus was first examined by Annas, then tried before Caiaphas, the high priest, then formally condemned by the Sanhedrim. But these mock-trials, with all their injustice and their indignities, were not enough to exhaust the appointed humiliation and suffering. Christ must needs be brought before the Roman governor, who had come up from Caesarea to Jerusalem to attend the Feast of the Passover. In order that he might endure the curse attaching to every one that hangeth on a tree, in order that he might fulfill his own prediction that he should die by crucifixion, he must needs be sentenced, not merely by a Hebrew, but also by a Roman tribunal. The passage before us exhibits the several agencies by which the condemnation of Christ was brought about.
I. THE MALICE AND ENVY OF THE PRIESTS. Pilate "perceived that for envy the chief priests had delivered him up." They both hated the spiritual teaching of the Prophet of Nazareth, so much at variance with their own; and they were jealous of the influence which he had acquired over the people, not only in Galilee, but in Judaea. The hatred and envy of the priests, Pharisees, Sadducees, and scribes, had been abundantly shown by their treatment of Jesus for some time past, but was made more apparent by the events of the past night. Their apprehension of him in the garden, their treatment of him before the high priest, had been flagitiously malicious and unjust. And now their charge against him at the bar of Pilate—a charge virtually of political treason against the authority of the Roman empire—was a proof of the length to which their hatred and hypocrisy could proceed. They brought this charge, simply because they thought that this would tell most against him in the estimation of the procurator.
II. THE FICKLENESS AND THE UNPRINCIPLED CHOICE OF THE MULTITUDE. But a few days ago the crowds in the streets of Jerusalem had welcomed the Prophet of Nazareth with the cry, "Hosanna to the Son of David; blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord." Of those who thus hailed the triumphal entry of the Nazarene, probably the greater part were Galileans. And the apprehension of Jesus had been effected at night; the trial of Jesus had been hurried on before the day, probably with this intent, that the pilgrims from the north of Palestine, who were so largely adherents of Jesus, might be prevented from taking any steps to rescue the Prisoner, or at all events from making a demonstration on his behalf. Yet the populace inhabiting and sojourning in the city cannot be acquitted of proverbial fickleness. The minions of the priesthood, no doubt, led the way, and raised the first shouts of popular outcry against Jesus. The multitude were instigated by the sacerdotal party and their adherents to this position of hostility, this ferocious howl for the blood of the Innocent. The infamous choice of the populace, who preferred Barabbas to Jesus, is one of the most distressing incidents of the awful martydom. A rioter and murderer was apparently represented as a champion of national independence, whilst "the Holy One and the Just" was charged with being the enemy of the temple and its services and solemnities. In this way the people were wrought upon to demand the death of the precious and the liberation of the vile.
III. THE WEAKNESS, SELFISHNESS, AND FEAR OF THE ROMAN GOVERNOR. After all, the responsibility of capital punishment lay with Pilate. Had he stood firm for justice and right against lawlessness and violence, Jesus would have been saved. But so it was not to be. The governor's own conviction of the innocence and excellence of the accused are evident, both from his language, "Why, what evil hath he done?" "I find no fault in him," and also from his repeated though unsuccessful, because irresolute, efforts to save his life. It is clear that Pilate admired and respected the Prisoner, whilst he despised the accusers and the mob. Yet he yielded to the savage outcry, from a desire to content the Jews, with whom it was his interest to stand well, and from fear lest, if he acquitted the Prisoner, his conduct might be misrepresented to the emperor to his disadvantage, and so might prove the occasion of his ruin. Desire of popularity, fear of the tyrant's frown,—these were the two motives which, in the mind of the cynical and selfish procurator, outweighed all considerations of righteousness and humanity. So it came to pass that Jesus "suffered under Pontius Pilate."
IV. THE CONFESSION AND THE DEMEANOUR OF CHRIST HIMSELF. The demeanour of Jesus was dignified and honorable, but far from fitted to procure his release. Silence, when false witnesses testified against him, only infuriated his foes. Before the Jewish tribunal he acknowledged that he was the Messiah and the Son of God. Before Pilate he confessed himself a King—a confession which, however explained as a claim to spiritual dominion, was an embarrassment to his well-wisher and judge. And his reminder that there was a higher, because a Divine, authority, to which all earthly authority is subordinate, was itself irritating to a proud and absolute ruler. There was a marvellous mingling of boldness and meekness in the conduct of the innocent and holy Prisoner. Morally, this demeanour exculpated him; but legally it was to his disadvantage. And his confession of royalty became his sentence of condemnation; written upon his cross for the apparent vindication, but for the real and eternal censure, of those who accused and of him who sentenced him. Thus did Jesus "witness a good confession before Pontius Pilate."
1. Observe the force and virulence of sin taking possession of human nature, and corrupting and degrading it. The malice, bigotry, and falsehood of the priests, the fickleness and unreasoning fury of the mob, the selfishness and cowardice of the governor,—all illustrate the length to which sin can go. The innocence and benevolence of the Victim render more conspicuous the enormity of his foes.
2. Observe the faultless and beautiful spirit displayed by the Sufferer, the absence of all resentment or complaint, the meek submission to all that he needs must suffer. A Being so morally perfect demands our admiration and our worship, invites our confidence and our love.
3. Consider the price of our redemption. Jesus bore all this injustice, these insults, for man. He was condemned that we might be acquitted; he was slain that we might live.
During this awful night and morning our Lord thrice underwent the suffering and indignity of public and vulgar derision. First before the high priest, at the hands of the officers and servants of Caiaphas; then again when he was set at nought and mocked by the brutal soldiery of Herod Antipas; and now yet once more, when Pilate delivered him into the keeping of the Roman soldiers, a company of whom were about to lead him forth to crucifixion. Insult was added to insult, and his bitter cup ran over.
I. THE MOCKERS. The whole band or cohort are said to have joined in the ribald sport in the Praetorium. What they did, it must be remembered, they did largely in ignorance. These Roman legionaries knew nothing of a Messiah, and were probably utterly unacquainted with the character and career of him whom Pilate had delivered over to them. Their insensibility to human suffering was equal to their indifference to human innocence and virtue. All they knew was that their master, though professedly convinced of Jesus' blamelessness, was yet content to give him up into their hands to ill treat and to put to a shameful death. We cannot, therefore, wonder at their insolence and cruelty. Yet we cannot read the sad story without feelings of shame and of sorrow, as we remember that persons belonging to our race, and sharing our nature, should have inflicted such indignities upon "the Holy One and the Just," upon the world's Friend and Savior.
II. THE MOCKERIES. These were many, base, and repeated.
1. Jesus was invested with a purple robe. Probably this was a military cloak, whose crimson hue might render it an emblem of the imperial purple.
2. He was crowned with a circlet of thorns, another symbol of royalty, doubtless roughly woven from the stem of a prickly shrub.
3. He was addressed as "King." Utterly incapable of understanding a moral sovereignty, a spiritual sway, these coarse soldiers, to whom force was all, insulted the meek and unresisting Sufferer by the use of a title which from their lips could be only derisive.
4. He was saluted with the semblance of honor and homage; they" bowed the knee, and worshipped him."
5. They smote his sacred head with the scepter-reed. How affecting this treatment! The very fact which should have been Christ's claim to respect, confidence, and adoration—his royal authority over the conscience and heart of humanity—was turned into a ground of reproach and a matter of reviling. Thus men treated their Divine and rightful King.
III. THE STERN REALITY TO WHICH THE MOCKERY WAS A PRELUDE AND A CONTRAST. Knowing what was before the Condemned, decency and humanity should have led them to spare him these insults. But when they were over, there was worse to come. The purple was stripped from his form; his own garments were placed on him; the beam of the cross was laid upon his shoulders; he was thrust into his place in the rude procession; and then was led away to crucifixion.
1. Admire the meekness of him "who, when reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, threatened not." Never was sorrow like his sorrow, and never patience like his patience.
2. Recognize the true royalty which a spiritual judgment may discern underlying the mockery and derision here recorded. See in Jesus a King, though crowned with thorns.
3. Learn to confide in a Savior whose purpose to save was so resolute and so benevolent, as is apparent here. A salvation procured at such a cost is a salvation of which none should hear unmoved, and which none who needs it should hesitate or delay to accept.
The bigots and the mob have gained their end, and now have their own way with "the Holy One and the Just." The power of Rome is brought into the service of Jewish fanaticism and malice. All evil influences have conspired together. Now is their hour and the power of darkness. The world's sin has culminated in the rejection of the world's Savior. All happens as has been foreseen in the counsels of God, and foretold by inspired prophets and by the Son of man himself. The Christ of God is crucified.
I. THE PREPARATIONS FOR THE CRUCIFIXION. The story is very simply told; there is no endeavor to excite feeling by any other means than by the clear and artless relation of the facts. But this is enough to awaken the sympathy of every mind capable of realizing the injustice of Christ's enemies, and the meekness, compassion, and fortitude of the Sufferer.
1. The bearing of the cross. That Jesus, exhausted by the events of the past night and of this morning, by the wakeful hours, the scourging and the insults he had endured, should now be incapable of carrying the instrument of his final sufferings, is natural enough. The soldiers, indisposed themselves to bear the burden, beneath which they see the Sufferer sinking, impress into the service a Cyrenian Israelite, who has come to the Passover now celebrating at Jerusalem, and who has been sleeping in one of the villages near the city, but is on his way to the scene of the sacred solemnities. What seems to the soldiers and to the mob a degradation, is to become an honorable and happy memory to Simon, whose family is destined in after years to hold a high place in the regard of the Christian community, and whose name is henceforth to be linked with that of the Redeemer by this sacred and touching association.
2. The approach to Golgotha. Imagination has filled the void wisely left by the evangelists; and the via dolorosa has been marked by "stations," each of which has been signalized by some episode of suffering, mercy, or sympathy. The spot where the execution of the iniquitous sentence took place may have been to the north-west of the city, and the name—"the place of a skull"—may have been derived from its form, rounded and bare. It needs no fanciful legends to endear a spot so memorable to the heart of Christendom; the pathos of the plain fact is enough. Calvary—"lovely, mournful Calvary"—was the scene of Immanuel's passion.
3. The offering of myrrh-mingled wine. The compassion of the ladies of Jerusalem is said to have provided a soporific, stupefying, narcotic draught, to be administered in humanity to the criminals who were condemned to die a painful and lingering death, it seems to have been in conformity with custom and from motives of sympathy that the draught was offered to Jesus.
"Fill high the bowl, and spice it well, and pour
The dews oblivious: for the cross is sharp;
The cross is sharp, and he
Is tenderer than a lamb."
His refusal was owing to his determination to accept to the full the lot of undeserved pain and anguish appointed for him. "Thou wilt feel all, that thou may'st pity all." He had already exclaimed, "The cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?" and it would seem that this cup of woe could not be drunk except by the retention of his faculties to the very last.
4. The parting of his garments. These were the perquisite of the executioners, who divided amongst themselves some of his raiment, and who cast lots for the seamless robe. This was not on]y the fulfillment of a prediction, but it was an element in the humiliation and self-sacrifice of the Son of man.
II. THE CRUCIFIXION AND ITS ACCOMPANYING CIRCUMSTANCES. "They crucified him;" such is the brief notification of the most stupendous crime committed in the history of mankind. Every circumstance recorded in such a connection is worthy of attention.
1. There is a note of time. It was the third hour, i.e. nine o'clock in the forenoon. From this we infer how hurried had been the proceedings since the break of day, and how prolonged were those sufferings, which did not close until three in the afternoon.
2. There is a memorandum of the superscription. This was the accusation, upon which, unproved and misrepresented, Pilate had been induced to sanction this legal murder. A King crucified, and crucified by his subjects; no wonder that such a crime should be disowned, or rather such a stigma resented, by the priests and elders. When Pilate persisted that the inscription should remain, he bore witness unconsciously alike to the spiritual royalty of Jesus and to the flagitious rebellion of the leaders of the Jewish nation. The cross was in truth Christ's earthly throne, the symbol of a world-wide empire. He had said, "I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me."
3. There is an account of his companions upon the cross. If anything could possibly add to the ignominy of our Savior's death, it was the society in which he suffered. Barabbas had, indeed, been released; but there were two robbers condemned to death, and awaiting the execution of their sentence. Accordingly, advantage was taken of the opportunity to carry out the sentence against the Christ and the criminals upon the same occasion. Thus was he "numbered with the transgressors," and an additional stigma attached to him by his association with the vilest of the vile. No wonder that the ignorant and unspiritual made this a ground of reviling against Jesus, and of reproach against his followers.
III. THE MOCKERY THAT FOLLOWED THE CRUCIFIXION. To add to the insults, the jeering, the scoffing, which Jesus had endured during his trials, it was permitted that his dying hours should be disturbed, and his dying agonies intensified, by the mockery of various classes of his foes.
1. The passers-by railed on him. With the customary contempt for the fallen and deserted, those passing in and out of the city insulted the Crucified, with gestures of derision and tones of contempt, recalling the language in which he had asserted his authority, and contrasting it with his pitiable condition, terrible sufferings, and apparent helplessness.
2. The chief priests and scribes, who had been foremost in effecting his downfall, were prominent in glorying over the work of their hands, and in scoffing at him upon whom they had wreaked their vengeance. From their lips came the language which, intended to be a reproach, was really, and has ever been deemed, one of the most glorious tributes ever paid to the Redeemer: "He saved others; himself he cannot save!" When they asked that he should come down from the cross upon which their malice had raised him, and professed their willingness upon such evidence to believe in him, we cannot doubt that their words were hollow, vulgar mockery.
3. That no element of misery might be wanting in the Savior's anguish, it was permitted that the very thieves should join in the raillery with which Jesus was encompassed and tortured. This, indeed, only gives an additional touch of pathos to the story of the penitent thief which St. Luke tells so exquisitely, and shows, in the brighter colors of contrast, the powerful gentleness and unselfish pity of the dying Savior.
1. Admire the submission and meekness of Christ's demeanour.
2. Consider with gratitude the redemptive purpose which animated and sustained the Sufferer.
3. Learn to glory in that cross, which, from an emblem of shame, has by Christ been transformed into a symbol of salvation.
The death of Jesus.
Jesus had, in the course of his ministry, raised the dead to life. Three such instances are recorded in the Gospels; and it is intimated that there were other cases which have not been circumstantially related. And now the time came for himself to die, to accomplish at Jerusalem the decease he had foreseen and foretold. That he might have avoided this fate is obvious; and he had himself declared that no man took his life from him. The time, however, had arrived for him to lay down that life of himself, in submitting to be, "by wicked hands, crucified and slain."
I. The evangelist relates CIRCUMSTANCES PRECEDING CHRIST'S DEATH.
1. The darkness which brooded over the city, and over the whole land, for the space of three hours, was apparently supernatural, and has usually been regarded as a manifest token of Nature's sympathy with her Lord. It was an appropriate accompaniment to the sad and awful event that was transpiring.
2. The utterance of desertion and of woe. The dying Savior's cry has ever been regarded as affording a glance into the innermost, the sacred, the unfathomable mysteries of his soul. Explain it we cannot; disregard it we dare not. Surely, this cannot be regarded as a mere exclamation of distress! Surely, it cannot have been wrung from the Redeemer by the severity of bodily pain and anguish! It has been well said that the sufferings of his soul were the soul of his sufferings. The only explanation of the cry, "My God, why hast thou forsaken me?" is that furnished by the mental agonies which the world's Redeemer was enduring, which clouded his sense of the Father's favor. On the one hand, we cannot suppose this language to have been a mere cry of distress; on the other hand, we cannot conceive that the Father had withdrawn his favor from his well-beloved Son, who wan now proving himself to be obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. The fact is that the burden of the world's sins and sorrows pressed like a dense cloud upon his soul, and obscured from his view the shining of the Father's face.
3. The ministry of pity. Although at the commencement of the crucifixion Jesus had refused the stupefying draught which had been offered him, now that he had hung six hours upon the cross he was consumed with an intolerable thirst. The expression of his distressing sensation seems to have followed upon the cry of desertion. A bystander, doubtless in pity, offered him a sponge filled with the sour wine which was the soldiers' ordinary drink, and it would seem that he did not now refuse the alleviation offered. It is not easy to understand who could have so misapprehended his cry as to suppose the dying Sufferer to invoke the ministry of Elijah; though it is easy to believe that some would jeeringly propose to wait for the prophetic intervention.
4. The dying cry. Mark gives no words; but from the other Gospels we learn that, immediately before his expiring, Jesus uttered aloud two ever-memorable sayings: viz. "It is finished!" and "Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit!" It is clear, therefore, that the cry was not an inarticulate utterance of pare. There was an expression of his conviction that his ministry of humiliation was ended, that the purpose of his incarnation was completed, that nothing more remained for him to do on earth. And in addition to this utterance, which was ministerial, was another, which was personal. As he had said "My God," so now he says "Father," an address which proved his possession of the assurance of his Father's undiminished and undimmed approval. The hour of agony and dissolution was thus an hour of triumph: Christ's work was completed, his obedience was perfected, his acceptance was assured, his victory was achieved.
II. The evangelist records THE FACT OF CHRIST'S DEATH. How simply is it related!—"He gave up his spirit." In one word is recorded, without exaggeration, without a word to heighten the effect, without a comment of any kind, the most stupendous, pathetic, and momentous event which this world has witnessed. The Being who was "the Life" bowed his head in death. He who, whilst his hour was not yet come, had eluded his foes, now submitted to the felon's doom. The Lord of immortality, who was to hold the keys of death and of the unseen world, saw and tasted dissolution, though not corruption. He knew, though the spectators, friends and foes alike, were ignorant of the fact, that his death was destined to be the life of the world. He had foretold that, when lifted up from the earth, he should draw all men unto himself; that the grain of wheat should fall into the earth and die, and should bring forth much fruit. And the events which have followed have verified the Savior's words. Even those who have no disposition to regard Christ's character and work as supernatural cannot be blind to the fact that the cross has proved a tree whose fruits have been for the satisfaction, and whose leaves have been for the healing, of the nations. But, to us Christians, the death of Christ was the redemption of our souls.
"Oh, never, never canst thou know
What then for thee the Savior bore,
The pangs of that mysterious woe
Which wrung his bosom's inmost core.
"Yes, man for man perchance may brave
The horrors of the yawning grave;
And friend for friend, or son for sire,
Undaunted and unmoved expire,
From love, or piety, or pride;
But who can die as Jesus died?"
III. The evangelist puts upon record CERTAIN CIRCUMSTANCES FOLLOWING UPON CHRIST'S DEATH.
1. One incident occurs which is typical of the influence of our Savior's death upon the elder, the Jewish, dispensation: the rending of the temple veil. This curtain screened off the holiest place, which was representative of the Divine indwelling, and at the same time of the necessity of a mediatorial scheme by which God can admit men to his fellowship and favor. And when this veil was rent, it was signified that by the death of Jesus, the true High Priest, the way was made open into the presence of a holy God. The distinction between Jews and Gentiles was abolished, and a Divine mediation was declared available for all mankind.
2. The witness of the centurion was an earnest of the world's witness to the crucified Redeemer. It was the manner of Jesus' death—the demeanour and the language of the innocent, uncomplaining, forgiving Sufferer, the darkness and the general awe—which together produced upon the mind of this Roman officer the impression that this was, not merely no criminal, but no ordinary mortal; that he had been superintending the crucifixion of a Son—the Son—of God. It is significant that, in his death, our Lord effected the conversion of a sinful fellow-sufferer, and the enlightenment, to say the least, of one so little likely to be prepossessed in his favor as this Roman officer.
3. Mention is made of the gaze of some of those who had been, and still were, the faithful friends of Jesus. The mother of the Lord had been led away from the painful scene by the disciple to whose care she had been entrusted by her dying Son. But Mary of Magdala, Mary the mother of James and Joses, and Salome the wife of Zebedee, are mentioned as, with others, lingering at some distance from the cross, and yet within sight of it, to behold the end. Whilst their services could be of use to him, they had attended his steps and supplied his wants; and now that they could do no more for their beloved and revered Master, they remained near his dying form, to watch with him, to sympathize with him to the last, to hear his dying words, to keep him in sight until the lifeless body should be disposed of, and hidden from them in the earth. Sweet is the thought that, when his disciples forsook Jesus and fled, when he had to endure the anguish caused by the treachery of one, the denial of a second, and the desertion of others, there were devout and attached women who would not leave the sacred spot, or take their eyes from off the hallowed form. Even by human devotion and love Jesus was not utterly forsaken, was not left utterly alone. Some there were who had proved his kindness, tested his wisdom, profited by his authority during his ministry, whose hearts changed not towards him in the hour of his darkness, anguish, and woe. Memorable is the ministry of those holy and affectionate women, who are recorded to have been "last at the cross, and earliest at the tomb."
APPLICATION. Christ's death is:
1. To sinners the means of salvation. The Lord paid on the cross the ransom-price of the souls of sinful men; he bore our sins; he redeemed us with his precious blood. Here is pardon, healing, and life, for those who receive the good tidings with sincere faith.
2. To suppliants the assurance of the gracious answer of Heaven to their prayers. "If God spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, will he not with him also freely give us all things?"
3. To struggling souls the inspiration of resistance and endurance, the earnest and pledge of victory. "Our old nature is crucified with him;" "Reckon ye yourselves dead unto sin."
4. To Christian teachers and preachers the theme of their ministry. In this Paul is an example to us all, who exclaimed, "We preach Christ crucified;" "God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ."
The burial of Christ.
The reality of the death of our Lord Jesus has been questioned, at various times and upon various grounds. Some have denied the possibility of a resurrection from the dead, and have absurdly supposed that Jesus only fainted or swooned, and that his recovery from a swoon was reputed among his followers to be a resurrection. Against all such unreasonable and incredible assumptions the record of the evangelists, who relate his burial, and that in the most minute and circumstantial manner, ought to be regarded as definitely and certainly conclusive.
I. THE APPLICATION. Of Joseph of Arimathaea we know only what is recorded in connection with Christ's interment. In circumstances he was rich. His rank was that of a member of the Sanhedrim; his character is described in the words, "a good man and a just;" his religious position may be inferred from the two facts, that he waited for the kingdom of God and that he was a disciple of Jesus, though secretly, from fear of the Jews, whilst his view of what had taken place with respect to Jesus is expressly put upon record in the statement that he had not consented to the counsel and deed of the priests and elders. His coming forward on this occasion is an instance of the way in which circumstances may bring out virtues, such as courage and fidelity to conviction, which have long been latent.
II. THE APPLICATION. The boldness with which Joseph asked for the body is mentioned as something to his credit, for such a step would certainly not commend him to his fellow-citizens and fellow-councillors. As the Jews approved of the burial of the dead in every case, and as it was not considered decent that the bodies of the crucified should be exposed upon the coming sabbath of Paschal solemnities, there was the more obvious ground for this appeal. And it was seemly and honorable in Joseph to wish to rescue his Master's corpse from the indignity of a criminal's interment. The procurator had no ill will to Jesus, and perhaps took a pleasure in what would offend the priests. At all events, he was amenable to bribery. His surprise was excited by the tidings that Jesus had already expired, concerning which he required to be satisfied by an official report. Whether or not he received money from Joseph, he readily gave permission to him to take possession of the body. In the case of Joseph, who begged the body of Jesus, and of Nicodemus, who purchased the spices and aided in the interment, we see a remarkable instance of the power of the cross of the death and love of Jesus—to overcome the fears excited by a regard to the world's opinion, and by a wish to stand well with the world. The cross brings out latent love and undeveloped courage, and leads to boldness and confession.
III. THE ENTOMBMENT. In preparation for this the body was taken down from the cross, was wound in linen bought for the purpose, being enfolded in fragrant myrrh and aloes. Joseph was the owner of a garden near to Calvary, where in the solid rock was hewn a tomb, destined probably for the reception of his own remains—what we might term a family vault. In this suitable and peaceful sepulcher Joseph, aided (as John tells us) by Nicodemus, laid the sacred form in which the Lord of life and glory had labored and suffered for mankind. Against the entrance of the grave a huge stone was rolled, to secure the resting-place from intrusion. Thus, as in a garden Christ had endured his agony, in a garden he rested in the repose of death. How cherished in the memory and heart of Christendom were and are these sad and sacred scenes, none can be ignorant. Christ's "precious death and burial" have been celebrated in Christian hymns, commemorated in Christian ordinances, embalmed in Christian liturgies of prayer and intercession. The crucifixion, the descent from the cross, the mourning of the faithful women (the pieta), the entombment of the Savior,—all these have been favorite and congenial themes with Christian painters. And of all subjects of Christian preaching, none are so pathetic, so melting, so fitted to awaken contrition for sin, so fitted to produce contempt for the world, as the topics suggested by these mournful incidents. It is solemnly affecting to think of this earth as being, during those sacred hours, the sepulcher of the Son of God.
IV. THE WITNESSES OF CHRIST'S BURIAL. It is observable that the holy and faithful women, who had ministered to Jesus in his public career, who had stood in the neighborhood of the cross, and who had seen him die—they who were to be the first witnesses of his resurrection,—these were present at the entombment, as loth to part from the Lord whom they honored and loved, as lingering for the last look upon the form of him to whose words they had so often listened with joy, and at whose hands they had received blessings priceless and immortal.
1. The moment when sin seems triumphant is the moment when Divine Providence is preparing for its confusion and destruction. To Christ's enemies his death appeared simply the end of his holy ministry, and when his lifeless form was committed to the grave they deemed his influence for ever at an end. Yet, in truth, now was about to commence the reign of him who tasted death for every man, but was about to ascend to the throne of spiritual empire.
2. The burial of our Savior is to us the token of his love and of the completeness of his mediatorial work. That he did not shrink from even the ignominy and the weakness of the grave should be to us an assurance of his perfect humanity, his complete sympathy, and a pledge that the salvation which he did and suffered so much to secure shall be thorough and complete, shall be sure and everlasting.
3. The burial of Christ is to be, in a spiritual sense, shared by all his believing and renewed people. We are one with Christ, in his death and in his resurrection. And, as if to show how thoroughly we participate in our Savior's death unto sin, we are represented as even buried with him. By baptism or consecration unto his death we are said to enter, as it were, his tomb; that, dying unto sin, we may rise again and live unto righteousness, holiness, and God.
4. The interment of our Lord seems to cast most precious and consolatory light upon our own and our friends' mortality. That there is naturally a repulsiveness in the grave and in dissolution is not denied. Yet to know that our gracious Lord deigned to taste death for every man, and to be laid to rest in a cave of the earth, is to be fortified against the unpleasing and distressing associations which are all that unbelievers connect with dissolution. When the lifeless form of a good man is borne to the grave, let us think of such an event in close connection with the burial of him who was and is the Lord of life.
5. Secret disciples should take encouragement from the conduct of Joseph and Nicodemus. Remember this, that whilst you have less excuse than they had for concealing your faith and disguising your attachment to Jesus, you have more reasons and stronger inducements to open confession. The Lord Jesus has not hidden his love for you; he has expressed it in words, and proved it by sufferings as well as actions. And he expects that you should boldly avow yourselves his, that you should confess him before men. Then he will not be ashamed of you before his Father and the holy angels.
HOMILIES BY A.F. MUIR
Jesus at the bar of the Roman power.
In its officers and agents representative of the whole Gentile world; so that the whole human race is involved in his condemnation and death.
I. THE PURPOSE OF THE FURTHER REFERENCE. TO obtain authority for carrying out the death-sentence. This would not be allowed to a simple Jewish tribunal. The step taken was, therefore, a practical abdication of their theocratic pretensions. Hatred drives men into inconsistency and hypocrisy.
II. THE CHARGE MADE. Not the same as that upon which they themselves condemned him, but such an interpretation of it as would most readily render him liable to the judgment of the Roman government.
III. His REPLY TO PILATE. An idiomatic equivalent for "Yes," "I am so." The question is understood as an assertion put interrogatively, "Thou art the King of the Jews?" "The rationale of the idiom is that when the interrogative form is withdrawn from the class of interrogations referred to, the saying that remains is the reality" (Morison). A similar purpose to that which animated the reply to the high priest is here apparent. The Roman world was certified as to the dignity of Christ. In John's Gospel (John 18:36-38) the true interpretation of this title as a moral and spiritual one is recorded as having been given by Christ to Pilate. It involved no treason, therefore, against the Roman power.
IV. THE GENERAL DEMEANOUR OF CHRIST TOWARDS HIS ACCUSERS. Silence.
1. A marvel. The calmness of the Prisoner was unlike the behavior of prisoners generally, and appeared supernatural.
2. It was equivalent to an appeal to a higher tribunal.
3. An impressive moral victory.—M.
Christ or Barabbas.
I. A REVELATION OF THE HATRED OF THE NATURAL MIND FOR TRUTH AND GOODNESS. Several ancient authorities are in favor of readings here and elsewhere which would give us, "Jesus Barabbas" (i.e. son of a father or rabbi), as the full name of the "robber" who was here the favorite of the populace. ]f this be so, there would be two of the name Jesus, and the choice would thus be strikingly emphasized. The character of Barabbas as a rioter and murderer is glossed over by the semblance of patriotism, as he is said to have been engaged in the insurrection caused by Pilate's appropriation of the corban of the temple for building an aqueduct. In any case the personal character is utterly subordinated, and motives of policy prevail. The season of the Passover recalled the historic sparing of Israel's firstborn and the destruction of Egypt's. The positions seemed now to be reversed, or Israel deliberately assumed the character of Egypt, preferring that the guilty should be set free. We have here the self-conviction of:
1. Perverted religious instincts. In the case of the chief priests and people of the Jews. Their whole religious training ought to have prepared them to receive Christ.
2. Popular opinion unguided by the Spirit of God. A prey to unscrupulous influences, to false sentiment, and to passing excitements.
3. Spiritual indifference. In the person of Pilate, in whom it lent itself readily to unprincipled diplomacy and the surrender of innocence.
II. A PARABLE OF THE CHOICE EVERY MAN IS CALLED UPON TO MAKE.
1. In daily life. Minute occurrences in which the contrasts may not seem so striking, or the choice so final. Their ultimate influence in the determination of character and destiny.
2. In the great crises of religious decision. It is well at such times to consider carefully the respective ends of the courses of conduct that present themselves.
III. A SYMBOL OF THE CENTRAL MYSTERY OF REDEMPTION. In the gospel the method of salvation is that the innocent shall suffer for the guilty. Jesus the Christ thus became the substitute of Barabbas the robber. The latter only gained the prolongation of his earthly life thereby; a questionable benefit. But those who believe in Christ as the vicarious Sacrifice and voluntary Self-sacrificer for sinners will receive eternal salvation.—M.
Mark 15:16-20, Mark 15:29-32
The mockery of Jesus.
The scene, the courtyard of the governor's residence; the actors, the Roman soldiery and the Son of God; and the awful fate that awaited the Sufferer, render this mockery one of the most impressive incidents in human history. It was deliberate, brutal, and inhuman.
I. WHAT IT WAS IN HIM THAT WAS MOCKED. The crown and the purple and the sham homage are interpreted by the cry, "Hail, King of the Jews!"
1. It was his kingly pretensions they ridiculed. So the Jews had laughed to scorn his prophetic office. To those Roman soldiers, impressed with the grandeur of the power they themselves represented, the claim to be king of a small and subject land like Palestine was very petty. They could afford, so they thought, to laugh at it; even as Pilate was not afraid to have released him who preferred it.
2. But even more did they despise his title as a theocratic King. How far these citizens of the empire of law were from realizing the true character of the kingdom of righteousness! Had he even been recognized by the Jews themselves as their ruler, the nation was too small, too insignificant in a political or military point of view, to be of any consequence. There was no suspicion in their minds of danger to the Roman empire, or of the influence which his moral and spiritual character was to wield in the new ages of the world. It is, although they knew it not then, by virtue of this same moral majesty and power that he, in turn, has become the Conqueror of mankind, and is maintaining and extending his sway in regions where mouldering ruins and obsolete statutes are all that remain to witness to Rome's vanished greatness. It is the mockers themselves that are now ridiculous.
II. HOW MEN MAY MOCK HIM STILL. There is a feeling of human tenderness that is outraged as we imagine the meek Sufferer amidst the brutal throng. But the true sentiment that ought to be awakened is that which concerns the principles of righteousness and truth, of which he was the embodiment and representative. It is for them he would have us solicitous even to jealousy. Men still wound and mock Christ:
1. When they reader to him a merely nominal homage. "When we pervert the truth of the Word for our own evil ends, we scourge the Son of man; when to justify our evils we fabricate a system of ingenious error, and thus exalt our own wisdom above the wisdom of Jesus, we plait a crown of thorns and put it on his head; when we substitute our own righteousness for the righteousness of Christ, we clothe him with a purple robe; when we are inwardly worshippers of self and outwardly worshippers of the Lord, our worship of him is a mocking salutation of 'Hail, King of the Jews!' while every presumptuous sin we commit is a stroke inflicted on the Son of man" (W. Bruce).
2. When they ignore the moral nature of his power, relying on material and external means instead of spiritual. When they use the methods of business in a business spirit, or even the arts of diplomacy, to advance his kingdom. So men clothe Christ in the insignia of Herod. "The kingliest King was crowned with thorns!
3. When they would accept the advantages of his kingdom without observing its conditions. As when persons profess to enjoy the preaching and ordinances of the gospel, but do not carry its doctrines into practice; or when they are "straightway offended" at the tribulations and privations which true discipleship involves.—M.
Mark 15:31, Mark 15:32
The Savior's helplessness.
A paradox. The situation as regarded by those who surrounded the cross was manifestly in contradiction with the pretensions of Jesus. This prima facie impression was not accidentally produced, but belonged, so to speak, to the very essence of the gospel as a "mystery;" and it had its ends to serve in the inscrutable wisdom of God. That it tended at first to conceal the true character of the Savior's sufferings there can be no doubt; but as certainly it prepared the way for subsequent spiritual revelation. It served—
I. TO EXCITE ATTENTION. This apparent self-contradiction in the career of Jesus was a matter of public notoriety. Had it been overlooked by any, the enemies of the truth were eager to point it out. There is something piquant to the curiosity and speculation of men in a matter which wears such an aspect.
II. AS A MEANS OF AVENGING THE TRUTH UPON ITS ADVERSARIES. How quick they were to seize upon it and turn it to the best advantage! For a little while they had it all their own way. So infatuated were they, that they put the seeming contradiction in the strongest possible form; the antithesis is all but perfect. Not quite so, however. They had to confess that he had "saved others." The monuments of his work remained, and facts are hard to discredit. There was something in the very sound which would recall histories of gracious sympathy and help; miracles of saving power. It was precisely this element of stubborn matter of fact which could not be accounted for on the theory of mere pretension, and which in turn vitiated their argument. A thousand presumptions will not disprove, but must yield to, a single fact. Now, the fact of Christ's miraculous works is certified to us by those who sought to discredit and disprove them. Out of their own mouths are they condemned. They are self-sentenced to a vicious mill-round of mere logic. The natural man cannot understand the heavenly mystery.
III. AS A MEANS OF DISCIPLINING AND REWARDING FAITH.
1. That the disciples themselves did not comprehend it at first is evident from the Gospel narrative. It must have been hard for them to see what appeared the falsification of their hopes; harder still to be taunted by those who had so cruelly slain their Master. What part may it not have had in the "cup" the Savior himself had to drink?
2. But by this very discipline it prepared them for the inner and spiritual "discerning of the Lord's body." Their spiritual susceptibilities were awakened, and they began to realize the meaning of the mystery. Gradually they were to emerge from the bewilderment and perplexity. Peter and the rest of the disciples traveled far ere they reached Pentecost, but each step in the journey of their faith was a revelation of the secret of Jesus. It was not to human force he had submitted, but to his Father's will. The necessity that bound him to the cross was a spiritual one. It was because he wished to save others absolutely that he would and could not save himself.—M.
Mark 15:40, Mark 15:41
Women watching the cross.
The prominence of women in the Gospel narrative suggests the fact that Christianity has done more to awaken the spiritual nature of women, and to furnish them with a sphere for the exercise of their special gifts and graces, than any other religion. For the first time the gospel gave to woman dignity and recognized position in spiritual things. In the gospel, the feminine as well as the masculine aspects and phases of morality are represented. Why were they at the cross?
I. A PROOF OF THEIR ATTACHMENT TO CHRIST.
1. They had already shown this. They were, some of them, of good social standing, and had command of considerable means. This advantage they had employed in the interests of Christ and his work" they ministered unto him" when he was in Galilee. And the service they rendered involved a certain inconvenience and trouble, for they had to follow him almost as much as his apostles.
2. Now they gave even more signal evidence. Modestly retiring to the outskirts of the rabble, they persistently watched him. They might have been excused by ordinary scruples from witnessing the horrible scene, but they could not allow themselves to go away. He still represented their highest spiritual interest, and they were willing to brave anything for his sake.
II. A TRIAL OF THEIR LOVE. It rose into heroic resolution and sacrifice.
1. How typical their experience was of that which their sisters have had to go through in all ages! They stood by helpless, unable to render any further service. It was not for them to attempt a rescue when brave men had forsaken him and fled. But they could show the virtue of passive endurance. They could prove to the Sufferer that their love was unabated, their faith forlorn, but not dead. So many a noble wife, sister, or mother has had to stand by when loved ones have been done to death, or ruined by great concerns in which they might not interfere. They have been able only to trust and wait and pray, to comfort when they could not deliver. One consolation remained to them—they had done what they could.
2. To so try it was the grandest recognition of its genuineness. They were accounted worthy to suffer with Christ. Their affection was to pass through the fires seven times refined. Peter might be faithless, and the rest of the disciples sadly fail, but they could watch with the Savior as his spirit sank beneath its accumulated woe.—M.
The burial of the Crucified.
I. PROVIDED FOR BY GOD. There are several striking proofs of providential arrangement in the burying of the Savior. He never stipulated as to where or how he should be buried; his mind was too much occupied as to how he should die. Yet were great things to turn upon the manner, the time, and the place of his burial. He whose angels hid the grave of Moses, was equally careful to make known the place where his Son lay. The sepulcher was new, and in the midst of a garden, therefore isolated from other graves. The identity of the risen One is thus secured against all possibility of mistake. In inspiring the agents through whom the burial was effected, God fulfilled his own eternal appointment. The death, hastened by the unusual delicacy of the Sufferer, and the intervention of the sabbath, secured on the one hand that "not a bone should be broken," and, on the other, that he should be buried on the day before the sabbath, his rest in the grave coinciding with the sabbatic rest of the Creator, fulfilling the week, so to speak, of the old economy, and ending with the beginning of the first day of the next week, thus ushering in a new economy, a new creation. The garden-tomb of Joseph a fit resting-place for him who was to be the Firstfruits of the resurrection. If the cross was shameful, the tomb was honorable. "They had appointed him a grave with the despised; and among the honored (did he obtain it) in his death" (Isaiah 53:9, Lange's translation).
II. VOLUNTARILY EFFECTED BY MEN.
1. A Victory of faith. A "councillor of honorable estate" is moved by an inward impulse to make this his own special concern. The tragic circumstances of the last few hours had touched his heart and kindled his enthusiasm; and he and his friend Nicodemus—"the same who came to Jesus by night"—casting off all secrecy or fear of man, vied with one another in paying the last tribute of respect to the illustrious Dead. His simple request was an act of faith; the boldness which rendered it so effectual was a victory of faith. Already the power of the cross was being felt. The centurion, the governor, Joseph, and Nicodemus alike confess to its influence.
2. A tribute of love. How careful are the two in their preparations! The linen cloth and the spices are the offering of affection, which follows its object even to the tomb. As in Mary's spikenard, the question of expense is put wholly out of sight. The richest and best that they may offer are brought forth for the occasion.
3. In token of undying hope. The spices arrested the process of corruption, and witnessed to the expectation of the resurrection.—M.
HOMILIES BY A. ROWLAND
Mark 15:11, Mark 15:12
The foes of Jesus.
It is remarkable that the evangelists speak of their Lord's enemies with such unruffled calmness. If our dearest friend had been subjected to inhuman treatment, ending in his death, we should have held up the names of his oppressors to the execration of the world. But in the Gospels we look in vain for a strong epithet, or a burst of indignant declamation. This was not because the evangelists were deficient in love to their Lord, but because they had caught something of the spirit of him "who, when he was reviled, reviled not again," and because they had learnt that amid these strange, sad scenes the Divine purpose was being fulfilled, and that he who was the Victim of sinners was the Sacrifice for sin. Hostility to the Lord Jesus Christ is the irrefragable proof of man's antagonism to goodness and truth. The cross of Calvary, stained by his blood, is a witness at once to the depravity of man and the infinite love of God. Hatred to goodness was never more pronounced and desperate, for goodness was now both incarnate and aggressive. It was no longer an abstraction, but a Person; no longer inert, but active. The Jews were generally left unmolested, because they were content to dwell as a peculiar and separate people, without assailing idolatry in others. But our Lord and his disciples endeavored to make the truth known and felt. Moses said in effect, "Keep yourselves from surrounding peoples, lest ye be defiled." Christ said, "Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature." The old economy was represented by the temple, which was compact, perfect, kept free from the defiling tread of the heathen; the new was represented by the mustard seed, which would grow under the open sky till it became a tree, and many nations found rest under its shadow. It was partly because Jesus Christ was aggressive in his work that the world rose in arms against him. Let us study the characteristics of some of his foes, and discover their motives, that we may be on our guard against becoming their modern representatives. In the two verses we have chosen we have glimpses of the priests, of the people, and of Pontius Pilate.
I. THE PRIESTS WERE HOSTILE TO OUR LORD FROM PRIDE. They should have been the first to welcome him. As Jews they were familiar with the utterances of the prophets, and as priests they should have known the meaning of the sacrifices they offered. They had heard the preaching of John when he announced Messiah, and they had again and again had evidence respecting the work and teaching of Jesus. But pride summoned prejudice to build up an obstacle impervious to all assaults. Their social dignity refused to recognize this peasant Teacher; their intellectual culture spurned the utterances of the Prophet of Nazareth; and their ecclesiastical prestige held it to be incredible that a carpenter's Son should be "the Light of the world." In our day, too, pride has such disastrous influence. Many admit that Jesus Christ was a pattern of benevolence and of moral purity; but when he declares himself to be an infallible Teacher of Divine truth, when he claims superhuman power, when he demands submission to his will, they rise against him, as those did who once exclaimed, "For good works we stone thee not, but for blasphemy; because thou, being a man, makest thyself God."
II. PILATE WAS HOSTILE TO OUR LORD FROM POLICY. He saw at a glance the vindictiveness of the priests, and the innocence of him they accused; and, after a few minutes' conversation, frankly said, "I find in him no fault at all." But this was followed by a pitiful struggle and fall. He tried to rid himself of responsibility by sending the Galilean to Herod; he offered to release him, not on the ground of innocence, but as an act of grace, usual at the Passover; he cruelly scourged him, in the hope that this would satisfy the bloodthirsty mob. But when these devices failed, and the people threatened Pilate himself, as a traitor to the emperor, he delivered Jesus to be crucified. He fell through moral cowardice, brought about by former crimes, fearing lest he should lose office and honor unless he fell in with the demands of this brutal crowd. Things seen rule the man who has no faith in things unseen. Personal interests seemed more to him than the life or death of one poor Prisoner. He yielded to clamor; and though at the time he knew it not, he crucified the Christ.
III. THE PEOPLE WERE HOSTILE TO OUR LORD FROM PASSION. "The chief priests moved the people." They would urge that Jesus had been condemned by their own orthodox court, and that it was the duty of every patriot to induce the Romans to support its decisions; and they would further urge that Barabbas, the leader of an insurrection, was a friend of the people and a champion of their liberties, so that he was to be preferred to Jesus of Nazareth. The mass of the people were not intelligently hostile to our Lord. Some knew little of him, and thought that the Sanhedrim was best able to judge of such questions; and others went with the popular current, whether it led them to shout "Hosanna!" or "Crucify him!" Hence they were included with the soldiers in the prayer of our Lord, "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do."—A.R.
Darkness around the cross.
When we remember who he was who was dying amidst the mockery of the world he came to save, we are no longer incredulous about this statement. The "Light of the world" was in darkness, the Savior was refusing to save himself, the King of glory was wearing thorns as his crown, and had ascended the cross as his throne. The event referred to in our text is one of many examples of the deep and secret connection existing between the kingdoms of nature and of grace. We believe that the Invisible created the visible, and still acts upon it, producing now and again transmutations of its energies, though never making a break in their continuity, and that when Christ Jesus came forth from the invisible world there was manifested in him a peculiar communication between these two realms. In him was seen the connection which had so often been indicated in the Divine economy, e.g. a curse had accompanied man's spiritual fall. Promises of temporal good were associated with moral worth. Images drawn from the "desert" and the "trees" and "rivers" by the prophets found their justification in the truth uttered afterwards by St. Paul, "The whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now," etc. The darkening of the sun was the testimony of Nature to her dying Lord; a hint that creation is dependent on him, that Nature is supported by unseen spiritual powers, and that the fate of the earth is involved in the kingdom of God. It is no meaningless portent described here, but an event which had its teaching both immediate and remote. Consider—
I. THE EFFECTS OF THIS DARKNESS ON THOSE AROUND THE CROSS.
1. This supernatural gloom would increase the solemnity of the event. As the darkness grew denser, silence would fall on the gibing tongues and every noisy laugh would be stilled; and as the gloom deepened into unearthly night over the busy streets, the open fields, and the sacred temple, many would ask themselves, "What meaneth this?" Carelessness and flippant scepticism are always out of place in view of the cross. If the narrative be mythical, it should at least be rejected intelligently and seriously; for, if it be true, it involves stupendous issues to us all.
2. It hid his agony from the onlookers. Faithful friends and, above all, the loving mother stood there till they could bear no more; and God would not suffer them to be tried above bearing, so darkness shrouded the Sufferer. And the foes of our Lord were shut out from a scene too sacred for them to witness. Beyond what was necessary, the well-beloved Son should not be exposed to their brutal jeers.
3. It was an admonition to our Lord's foes. They were readers of Old Testament Scriptures, and knew well how their fathers had been dealt with. They remembered that in the day of their national deliverance darkness had fallen on Jehovah's foes, and had proved the precursor of heavier plagues, and therefore we do not wonder that some went home "beating their breasts," and saying, "What next?" Would that they had turned even then!
II. THE SUGGESTIONS OF THIS DARKNESS TO THE WORLD.
1. It indicated the going out of the world's Light. Jesus had plainly declared, "I am the Light of the world;" "Walk while ye have the light, lest darkness come upon you." To some, at least, such words would come back with new meaning and power. To reject Christ is to shut off light from the soul, and become ready for the outer darkness. A Christless world was set forth when the sun was darkened.
2. It suggested the ignorance of the Gentiles and the malignity of the Jews. The soldiers were brutal, yet knew not what they did. Pilate, in political scheming, had lost all sense of righteousness and truth, and so in ignorance delivered Jesus to be crucified. "Darkness covered the earth, and gross darkness the people." On the other hand, the Jews had in themselves the fulfillment of the words, "The god of this world hath blinded the minds of them that believe not."
3. It reminded the Church of the mystery of the Atonement. The death of the Lord Jesus had a Godward as well as a worldward aspect. It was to attract human love, but at the same time to reveal Divine love. When the darkness passed away, and the sun shone upon the cross, the returning light was like the bow of promise after the Flood—a sign of peace between man and God, and a pledge of "the rainbow round about the throne," in the land where all give thanks to God and to the Lamb that was slain.—A.R.
Joseph of Arimathaea.
In comparison with the leading apostles of our Lord Joseph of Arimathaea was not distinguished, lie had not the spirituality of St. John, nor the prominence of St. Peter, nor the world-wide influence of St. Paul. We are consciously turning from the generals of Christ's army to contemplate one of the ordinary soldiers; but it was he who, when his natural leaders had fallen, stepped to the front and proved himself a hero. We know but little of Joseph beyond such facts as these: he was a rich man, respected by his countrymen as one who was "good and just;" a member of the Sanhedrim, who refused his consent to the resolution passed that Jesus should be put to death; and a resident in Jerusalem, who, having prepared for himself a new grave, dedicated it to his crucified Lord. We may learn valuable lessons from his courage and fidelity, the more so if we blend together all the references made to him by the evangelists.
I. THAT WE OUGHT TO REFUSE OUR CONSENT TO A WRONG, EVEN THOUGH OUR REFUSAL WILL NOT PREVENT ITS ACCOMPLISHMENT. Except for Nicodemus, Joseph stood alone in protesting against the action resolved on by the council against Jesus. He was, no doubt, strongly urged to yield to the majority, so that the council might appear united in the endeavor to put down One who had disregarded its authority. But although his protest was seemingly powerless, he resolutely persisted in it, and to the last he "did not consent to the counsel and deed of them." lie was an example in this to all who conscientiously object to habits and practices which obtain in their own sphere of activity, be they politicians, men of business, or boys and girls at school. But let all such be sure that a real principle is at stake, not a prejudice, and that they are not moved by self-assertion, obstinacy, or pride.
II. THAT BY BRAVELY DOING WHAT WE BELIEVE TO BE RIGHT WE EMBOLDEN AND HELP OTHERS. Joseph required courage on the council, and still more now when he went in to Pilate to beg the body of Jesus. So terrible was the hatred felt against Jesus by the chief priests that the procurator himself had trembled before it, and Peter, with his fellow-disciples, had forsaken the Lord. Yet Joseph stepped to the front as a friend of the crucified One, and Nicodemus followed him. All men of decided convictions thus influence others. Thousands thanked God secretly for the stand which Elijah made on Carmel. Multitudes wait to be led aright by those whose character and ability bring responsibility.
III. THAT IF WE GO RIGHT ONWARD IN THE PATH OF DUTY WE SHALL SUCCEED BETTER THAN WE EXPECT. When Joseph undertook his mission he knew that he might risk his life, or at least his reputation; that he might be called on to pay a heavy and prohibitory ransom as a bribe to the governor; or that he might be refused with scorn and insult. Yet, when he went in boldly to Pilate, to his own amazement, his request was freely granted! Many have had a similar experience: e.g. the Israelites when they obeyed the command, "Go forward," and saw the sea divide before their advancing footsteps; and Peter, who followed the angel and found the great gate of the prison open of its own accord. Apply this to typical experiences in a Christian's life.
IV. THAT A CRISIS COMES IN THE HISTORY OF MEN WHICH DETERMINES THEIR WHOLE FUTURE. The crucifixion of Jesus constituted a crisis to Joseph. Under the influence of sorrow and indignation he was prompted to this step, and the future destiny of this secret disciple depended upon his taking it. Such times come to us all. Our spiritual life has not always the same even flow. Occasionally we are strangely, strongly moved to resolve, to speak, or to act, and tremendous issues depend upon our obedience to God-given impulse. If the vessel aground on the harbor bar is not set free when the tide is highest, she will be wrecked in the coming storm.
V. THAT THE MOVING CAUSE OF DECISION FOR GOD IS THE CROSS OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST. Joseph had listened to the teaching of Jesus, and witnessed his superhuman works, but till now had been a disciple "secretly," for fear of the Jews. That position was a false one, and so long as he was in it he was deficient in gratitude and courage. But when he saw Jesus on the cross he felt as the centurion did when he cried, "Truly this was the Son of God;" and henceforth he was known as the Lord's disciple and servant. Christ's death has been to millions the beginning of new life.
VI. THAT GOD WILL FULFILL HIS PURPOSES WHETHER HIS AVOWED SERVANTS ARE LOYAL TO HIM OR NOT. The twelve were scattered and the Church seemed destroyed, when suddenly there came forth from their former obscurity two secret disciples, who took upon themselves the work which others had left. And in all ages God has his faithful ones who are sometimes unrecognized by the Church; yet, filled with his Spirit, they shall aid in establishing the kingdom of the crucified, and now risen, Christ.
HOMILIES BY R. GREEN
Barabbas; or, the evil choice.
A strange custom prevailed. To appease the anger of the rabble, and to curry favor with them, Pilate was wont, on the recurrence, of certain feasts, to release a prisoner, giving the mob permission to choose who should be the favored one. At this feast "the multitude went up and began to ask him to do as he was wont to do unto them." Knowing that "for envy the chief priests had delivered him up," he tested the feeling of the multitude by asking them if he should release "the King of the Jews," thus giving them the opportunity of repudiating the deed of the priests. The question hangs as in a balance. The voice of a rabble is called upon to decide the fate of "the Son of man. On that voice hinges (apparently) the course of the work of the world's redemption. The die is cast. The multitude make their election. The choice is proclaimed in a wild, uproarious cry, "Not this man, but Barabbas." So the besotted rabble declare their spirit, their low moral condition, their attitude towards truth and righteousness. Barabbas, we learn, was "a robber," and he was cast into prison "for a certain insurrection made in the city, and for murder." Thus they "denied the holy and righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted unto" them. Nothing could more clearly declare the spirit they were of. Sadly and in silence many pure hearts mourned while the rabble gave vent to their evilness, pouring forth the uttermost malignity as a flood to sweep away "the Prince of life." The insensate tools of a corrupt, self-condemned priesthood, they, by yielding all too readily to them who should have guided them into the right way, become identified with "the chief priests" in a choice which for ever brands them with the utmost vileness. The spirit of the people must be judged by their attitude towards Jesus on the one hand, and towards Barabbas on the other; and a word is sufficient to declare it. In the one we behold the Teacher of righteousness, who had endeavored to enforce the laws of God. He represented truth. To it he bore witness. He denounced evil in thought, in word, in deed. He opened to the feet of the people the path of virtue; he pointed to the gates of the eternal city, and gave men assurance of immortality. Never had the world looked upon so perfect an embodiment of pure goodness; never will it look upon his like until he himself appear again and every eye beholds him. The other is the embodiment of evil. His name is the synonym of it. The one name men dare not assume from its loftiness; the other they would not from its lowness. But this rabble-host chooses the evil one, and so declares its spirit is in accord with his. It is self-condemned. How painfully we read:
1. The perilous influence which unscrupulous leaders may exert over an undisciplined, untutored mob.
2. How possible it is for the human heart so to deceive itself that the highest representatives of the purest system of truth and morals may be debased into an alliance with the most corrupt and degraded, and may prostitute the holiest functions to the most evil ends. High priests of God may lead men to the service of the devil.
3. The sad consequences of
(1) a blinded intelligence,
(2) an undisciplined moral nature,
(3) a corrupt prejudice.
High priests and people have their way. "Their voices prevailed." And Pilate, moved with fear, and evidently against his convictions of right, "to content the multitude," "released him … whom they asked for; but Jesus he delivered up to their will." Thus the world to-day demands its Barabbas and rejects Jesus. Truth, goodness, charity, patience, heavenly mindedness—all that is pure and good—is sacrificed, and by "the multitude" still evil is preferred, and they, alas! are "content."—G.
The crucifixion: the human deed.
To the contemplation of that supreme fact in history, around which the thoughts, the hearts, of men gather more and more, we are directed by the few sad, solemn words, "Pilate … delivered Jesus, when he had scourged him, to be crucified." The preliminary incidents are minutely related. They describe the most solemn mockery ever perpetrated. The scourging first. He is stripped to the waist, his hands tied behind him; his bent back is beaten with leathern thongs weighted at the ends with bits of lead or sharpened bone. Bleeding, he is led within the court, "the Praetorium," where the whole cohort of soldiers vent their ingenuity in exposing their Victim to ridicule. They cast a purple-dyed military cloak over him; with their hard hands they twist twigs of nabk, with its long, hard, sharp spikes or thorns, into a mock-crown, and press it down upon his fever-heated brow. In his yielding hand they thrust a reed, and bow their knees in mock submission and homage, and with coarse gibes hail him "King of the Jews." Snatching the reed from his hand, they beat him with it on his bleeding head; they strike him with their fists or with rods; and in the direst indignity spit upon him. Then, "wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe," he is led out. To this uncomplaining Sufferer—this smitten and forsaken One—Pilate calls the attention of the multitude with words which, like those he wrote, float on through the ages, bearing their different message as the listening ears differed—"Ecce homo!" The echoing cry from the mingled voices of "the chief and the officers" arose above all others, "Crucify, crucify!" A miserable squabble between Pilate and the Jews ends in his "Behold your King!" and their reply "Away with him; away with him, crucify him!… We have no king but Caesar." In the temple Judas is casting down "the thirty pieces of silver," making confession, in a repentance all too late, "I have sinned in that I betrayed innocent blood," and his agonized spirit seeks a vain relief in a hasty destruction of a life he cannot support Jesus "bearing the cross, is led away to be crucified, when, stoking, exhausted with suffering, beneath its weight, he is relieved by its being laid on "one Simon of Cyrene"—the first in a long line of lowly cross-bearers who endure the shame for Jesus' sake. "And they bring him unto the place Golgotha." One only spark of humanity is left. "They offered him wine mingled with myrrh." Then upon a cross—symbol of the uttermost degradation and shame, and more than a symbol of the uttermost suffering—they stretched his sacred, quivering limbs, piercing his hands and his feet with rough nails. Thus "they crucified him." Then from out of the most indescribable agony of body broke forth the gentle murmur of a loving heart in modest prayer, "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do." Ah! they crushed, they broke that heart; but it sent forth only the sweet fragrance of its love, as a crushed flower its perfume. But he is not alone. "'With him they crucify two robbers, one on his right hand and one on his left." Thus is he "numbered with the transgressors." "Racked by the extremest pain, and covered with every shame which men were wont to heap on the greatest criminals; forsaken and denied by his disciples; no sigh escaped his lips, no cry of agony, no bitter or faltering word; only a prayer for the forgiveness of his enemies. They had acted in blindness, under the influence of religious and political fanaticism; for, to use St. Paul's words, had they known it they would not have crucified the Lord of glory." Surely they could not know, or it would not have to be recorded in one sentence: "And they crucify him, and part his garments among them, casting lots upon them, what each should take." So hard, so insensible! In presence of the central fact in the world's history, men gamble!
Here we must find our lessons, in the contrasted intensity of interest in human salvation which is shown from above, and that careless, blind indifference which marks men "before whose eyes Jesus Christ [is] openly set forth crucified." The world must see itself represented in the actors on that dread evening; and each of us may see himself in one or other of the many surrounding "the Man" on that day of darkness, doom, and death. Let each bring himself into presence of that cross—the true judgment-seat—of Christ, and there test his heart, and try and prove his life. And further, let each one learn how his hand is not wanting among those rude hands that smote that tender flesh; nor his words from those that fell on that quick ear; nor his sins from those that burdened that too heavy-weighted heart.
"Our sins of spite were part of those that day,
Whose cruel whips and thorns did make him smart;
Our lusts were those that tired him in the way;
Our want of love was that which pierced his heart:
And still when we forget or slight his pain,
We crucify and torture him again."
The crucifixions: the Divine words.
Seven words are counted by them who now treasure his sayings, as spoken by Jesus on the cross. Each evangelist contributes his portion towards the little perfect stock.
I. The first was A WORD OF PRAYER FOR FORGIVENESS, itself a forgiveness. "I forgive them: do thou, O Father, forgive." It was a word of excuse for them who did it ignorantly and in unbelief. "They see only a malefactor: open their eyes that they may see and know." If the prayer may be offered for them who, with wicked hands, crucified the Lord of glory, because they did it ignorantly, learn we that such a prayer may be offered, and surely will be heard, for all ignorant, blinded ones who, in sinning against the Lord, are sinners against their own souls· In proportion as we sin wifully, having knowledge of the truth and of what we do, we put ourselves further and further away from the possibility of forgiveness. How true is it that men to-day sin, not knowing what they do! This prayer covers all sin, for no one knows truly and fully what he does when he sins against Christ.
II. The second word is A WORD OF PROMISE IN RESPONSE TO PRAYER AND CONFESSION. The time was brief; the last moments of the twelfth hour were hurrying past. In the heart of one of the malefactors some early teaching remained to quicken the conscience into life; and the punishment of crime was working its right effect. "We indeed justly … we receive the due reward of our deeds." The word which passed the sacred lips, unmoistened with the stupefying wine, were words of life and healing and promise in response to the prayer, "Jesus, remember me when thou comest in thy kingdom." What faith is here! Faith in the kingdom, in the coming, in the readiness to hear! "Jesus" may not have had the same meaning to him it has to us. The reply to a dying, penitent thief has been a fountain of life to many. "Verily I say unto thee, To-day shalt thou be with me in Paradise."
III. A third, word was A WORD OF TENDER, FILIAL LOVE. The languid, bloodshot, half-closed eyes turned, and "Jesus … saw his mother, and the disciple standing by, whom he loved." The fountain of love was not stayed; the holy heart was well-nigh breaking, yet it beat truly in all filial affection. From out of his great suffering he thinks of her, and thinks with fervent love. "Hail, thou that art highly favored I" He is still her Son, henceforth to be represented in the "son" who is now to regard her as "mother." But he makes provision for her future. Ere those lips which spoke so often to the disciple" whom he loved" were closed, he uttered one last word to him, revealing the deep thought of the Sufferer's heart, and committing to him a sacred charge he would entrust only to one "whom he loved"—"Behold thy mother." It is all beautifully human; but as all human deeds, when they are true and beautiful, approach the Divine, so was this beautifully Divine. It was enough. A wish from that heart and those dried lips was sacred. "From that hour the disciple took her unto his own home"—took her with the sword piercing through her soul.
IV. A fourth word is FROM THE VERY ABYSS OF SUFFERING—perhaps from a greater depth than any word arose that ever escaped from the lips of man. Darkness was over the land; darkness was over the pure Sufferer's soul. The words present the deepest of mysteries; we cannot open it. Was it, as has been suggested, the effect of the combination of profound mental anguish with the well-nigh intolerable pangs of dissolution, rendered all the more natural and inevitable in the case of One whose feelings were so deep, tender, and real; whose moral consciousness was so pure, and whose love was so intense? Had his abiding conviction of fellowship with God for the moment given way under the pressure of[extreme bodily and mental suffering? Was it a mere passing feeling, as though he were no longer sustained by the power of the Divine life? Surely more than this. Ah! who can know? It is only as we descend to these depths that we can understand how dark, how colds how sad they are. Mere words can never convey an idea of suffering. The bitterness of this cup he only knows who drinks it. What is the forsaking by the God to whom he still clings—"My God, my God"—and "why" is he forsaken, remain for us depths into whose darkness we may peer but cannot fathom.
V. A fifth word is FROM THE POOR REVERED FRAME. Fainting from loss of blood, from acute pain, from unrelieved suffering. "I thirst." Truly he may say, "My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue cleaveth to my jaws." The former cry ascended to heaven; this sinks upon the earth. A moistened sponge on a hyssop rod brought him temporary relief and brought him strength sufficient to utter—
VI. A sixth word, uttered with "a loud" (was it a triumphant?) "voice," declaring, "It is finished." Yea, all is finished, notwithstanding the efforts of wicked men to prevent it. They unconsciously wrought out that which the Divine "hand and counsel foreordained to come to pass." "It is finished;" yea, Jesus' work is finished. The great end is reached. The last supreme act., or consummation of the continuous act of that life which was" one offering of himself," is now in process of completion. So far as relates to the toil, and service, and sacrifice, and suffering of earth, all is finished; and the last act of the conscious life, the last breath of the living frame, the last word of the lips of truth, seal the whole past.
VII. And in a seventh word, with one supreme effort to that Father from whom he seemed momentarily separated, he yields up himself—"gave up his spirit." Now are the words fulfilled, "I lay down my life, that I may take it again. No one taketh it away from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received from my Father."—G.
The sabbath hurried on—the day of rest. Joseph of Arimathaea, "a councillor of honorable estate, who also himself was looking for the kingdom of God," begged permission of Pilate to have the body of Jesus for interment. Pilate, being satisfied of the death of Jesus, "granted the corpse to Joseph." Then with tender hands he wrapped the body in a linen cloth and laid it in a tomb; "and he rolled a stone against the door of the tomb." Now the work is complete. The human rage is satisfied. The voice of the accuser is silent. The Divine condescension is perfect. It could descend no lower. The grave is the goal of human weakness. It is the lowest step; then begins the upward ascent. The humiliation being complete, the exaltation begins. The grave is really the pathway to glory and honor. Jesus, who has sanctified every path of life, now sanctifies the grave. He has withdrawn the sting from death; he dissipates the darkness from the tomb. And though we cannot desire the grave, yet it is no longer the repulsive, loathsome place it had ever been. Christ in the tomb of Earth plainly speaks to us many lessons.
I. Concerning him, it teaches us that No DESCENT WAS TOO GREAT FOR HIM TO MAKE IN HIS LOVING SERVICE TO THE CHILDREN OF MEN. He who stooped so low as to be born in a manger, sharing his first bed with lowing oxen, stoops lower still in making ready for the children of men their last sleeping-place. He who washed the feet of his disciples shared the grave with guilty men. Forasmuch as they whom he was not ashamed to call brethren must needs die and be buried, "he also himself in like manner partook of the same;" as "it behoved him in all things to be made like unto his brethren," he refused not this.
II. Concerning the grave, it is A SANCTIFICATION OF IT. We need not be ashamed to descend into this valley of humiliation, for our "Head" has gone before. If we can endure the sufferings of our cross, we can despise the shame of our tomb. We need not fear to die, for he hath brought "to nought him that had the power of death, that is the devil;" nor need we fear to lie down in the tomb, for Jesus lay there.
"'Tis now a cell, where angels use
To come and go with heavenly news,
And in the ears of mourners say,
'Come, see the place where Jesus lay.'"
It is not the final goal of the human feet, as we shall soon learn. Its bolts can be withdrawn; its seal can be broken; its stone can be rolled away. The grave may be the pathway to the throne.
III. But it brings home to our hearts CHRIST'S CLAIM UPON US FOR OUR UNDYING GRATITUDE. Never shall we repay that debt. Even the bitterest cup he will drink for us; the most laborious service he will undertake for us; the uttermost humiliation he will endure for us. We owe all to him in the constitution of our life and its surrounding conditions; we owe no less the entire redemption of our life from all evils; we owe the smoothing of the rough places of life, our uplifting above the pains of life, and we owe the sanctification and perfecting of life. Truly we owe all. Only by reverent faith, by lowly service, by growing love, can we acknowledge our deep-abiding debt. This we may perfect by a calm and trustful yielding up our life to our Father on high, both in the daily dying to self and in a final committal of all to him, breathing out our life into his hands.
"So, buried with our Lord, we'll close our eyes
To the decaying world, till angels bid us rise."
HOMILIES BY E. JOHNSON
The second trial.
I. IT ELICITED THE INNOCENCE OF JESUS. Charges were made that he had excited sedition through the country, had prohibited the Roman tribute, and had claimed royalty. The last only had any show of plausibility in it. Jesus admitted his kingship, but declared it in immortal words to be the sovereignty of truth over the consciences of men. Reading the narratives of the other evangelists, we gain a clear impression of the innocence of Jesus, as it was exhibited to all who looked on, and defied the inventions of malice. Especially is that innocence reflected from the bearing of Pilate. To him our Lord replied when he asked for information; but met the accusations of the' priests with a silence equally significant. And Pilate was struck dumb with conviction. Character is self-sufficiency. It is "centrality; the impossibility of being displaced or overset." Words will not prove innocence; it speaks louder in silence. Passion and unreason illustrate it. We are generally more anxious to avoid misconstruction than to act as we think right. Jesus teaches us to be servants of the truth, and to be indifferent to the constructions of our enemies. God and the angels are the true spectators of our actions; and the judgment of posterity will reflect the judgment of God.
II. IT ELICITED HIS PERFECT LOYALTY. There must come a time when the truths we have professed will demand to be sealed by our action. Christ had taught men to "seek first the kingdom of God;" to postpone everything to duty; to take heed to the light within; to esteem the soul of greater worth than the whole world. His conduct now falls into harmony with his words; and perfect music flows through the world from both. He preferred the fulfillment of duty to the preservation of life.
III. IT ELICITED HUMAN INJUSTICE AND VICE. Socrates told his judges at Athens that it was they who were really on their trial. So it was the Sanhedrim, and also Pilate, who were on this occasion tried and condemned. The ages have since been reverberating their damnation. Expediency and worldly favor were in one scale; right, innocence, truth, in the other. The former dipped. Worldly authority was opposed to spiritual majesty; the former struck a blow at the latter, which recoiled with Divine effect. The condemnation of Christ was an outrage upon the conscience of the world, both Jewish and pagan. Pilate's illustrious countryman, Cicero, had taught with enthusiasm that the useful and the right form a unity; that the useful can never be put before the right without defeating the social good ('De Officiis,' 3.). An action can never be useful unless it is first right. Here was a great reversal of that order. That Jesus should die is expedient, said the Sanhedrim; but not right, said their conscience. On other grounds, Pilate took the same position; while his wife, like a second conscience, would have restrained him. In similar crises of personal experience, let us remember that to subordinate right to expediency is to condemn the Lord of life afresh.
IV. IT ILLUSTRATES THE METHODS OF PROVIDENCE. When innocence suffers and violence prevails, the foundations of moral order seem to be shaken, and the righteous exclaim, "What shall we do?" The face of Providence seems obscured. But God is One who hideth himself. What we call the evil in nature may be the disguise of his wisdom; and not less does he conceal himself behind the evil of men. Here the greatest evil on their part gave occasion for the greatest good.
V. IT ILLUSTRATES THE ILLUSIVENESS OF APPEARANCES. Jesus is insulted by Roman soldiers; himself the spiritual Emperor of mankind. He is mocked with a semblance of royalty; the mocking expresses an eternal fact. "Ridicule is the test of truth." Beware of mockery and insolence; we may be defying the Spirit of God. Seek below the praise and the blame of men, their applause and their abuse, for the eternal fact. Judge not of Christianity by what men say of it, but by itself. Estimate not its divinity by the worldly honor that attaches to it; but rather by the dishonor of the many, and the loyalty and life of the few. Truth and meekness, truth and spiritual force,—these are mightier than all falsehood and scorn.—J.
I. THERE MAY BE A BLESSING IN ENFORCED SERVICE. Simon the Cyrenian is raised into the light of history; perhaps to teach us this. No nobler honor for the Christian than to reflect, "I have been called to bear the cross." And for some to reflect, "I was forced into carrying the cross I would have refused, or left on the ground." So with that other Simon, surnamed Peter.
II. PAIN IS RATHER TO BE STRUGGLED WITH THAN ARTIFICIALLY SUPPRESSED, We seek anodynes for our troubles. Jesus teaches us to react against them by the force of faith. In the hour of duty we are to seek presence, not absence, of mind; to collect our faculties, not to distract them.
III. WHAT IS PHYSICALLY POSSIBLE MAY BE MORALLY IMPOSSIBLE. Christ could have come down from the cross in the former sense, could not in the latter. He presents the ideal of suffering service for us, and the revelation of God's ways. There may be things which God cannot do, in our way of speaking, because he knows they are not well to be done. We, at ]cast, cannot save ourselves at the expense of duty, and must be content to appear foolish or impotent to many. Suffering and salvation are facts eternally wedded and at one.—J.
Death of Jesus.
I. THERE MAY FOR A TIME BE AN ECLIPSE FOR THE FAITHFUL. "No light!" There is an extremity of trial in these words. No hope! The very sun of life seems extinguished, and all worth of existence vanished. Reason can find no foothold in this darkness.
II. YET THERE IS NO ABSOLUTE DARKNESS. Out of it comes the cry of faith. The first words of a long-remembered psalm break from the lips of Jesus; a psalm that rises out of the minor into the major key, from the darkness into the blaze of prophetic vision. Doubtless in that moment the soul of Jesus passed swiftly through the whole scale of that psalmist's experience, and rose into joy upon the wings of thanksgiving.
III. MAY THE TERMINUS OF LIFE AND OF SERVICE BE IDENTICAL! We may breathe this prayer before the cross of Christ. Our work finishes, what need have we to tarry? Pericles, in his oration over those who fell for Athens' good, says that, devoting their lives which had been usefully passed in peace on the field, their happiness and their life ended at the same moment. As Christians, our ideal is service, terminable only with life, "Too busy with the crowded hour to fear to live or die." May we
"Obey the voice at eve obey'd at prime;
Lowly faithful, banish fear,
Right onward drive unarm'd;
The port, well worth the cruise, is near,
And every wave is charm'd."
IV. FINIS CORONAT OPUS. "Many signs showed that he who died upon the cross was the Son of God." "Regard the end." It reflects its light upon the whole course from its beginning. What deep conviction of sin, of righteousness, of judgment; of the frailty of man, the power and wisdom and the love of God, roots itself in the cross of Jesus! It is an end which is a beginning.—J.
I. FAITH THRIVES IN SORROW. Remoter disciples draw near, and secret disciples come forth, in the hour of humiliation and defeat. The sun sets, but not their hope; and the stars rise, but their faith is earlier up.
II. LOVE SURVIVES ALL LOSS. Its burning ray, like that of a hidden gem, flashes out in the gloom. The nobleness of Christ had taught them to master selfishness and despair. His form was enshrined in the "amber of memory." They who had been all eye when he was present, were all recollection now that he was gone.
III. GRIEFS ARE CERTAIN, JOYS COME BY SURPRISE. It was certain that Jesus was dead; and none expected his resurrection. There is change, not loss, in the kingdom of the spirit. God takes away a good to restore it in a new form. Disappointment vacates the heart for higher blessings. His revelation is in light and shadow.—J.
HOMILIES BY J.J. GIVEN
Parallel passages: Matthew 27:1, Matthew 27:2, Matthew 27:11-26; Luke 23:1-7, Luke 23:13-24; John 18:28; John 19:16.—
I. JESUS SENT FROM THE SANHEDRIM TO PILATE—FROM THE JEWISH TRIAL TO THE ROMAN TRIAL.
1. The first stage of the Jewish trial. After the arrest at Gethsemane, our Lord was conducted back to the city, across the Kidron to the palace-of the ex-high priest Annas, the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the actual high priest that same year. The influence of this functionary was very great; his age, astuteness, riches, power, perhaps presidency of the Sanhedrim.—all contributed to it. In answer to the inquiries of Annas about our Lord's disciples and doctrine, the Savior appealed to his teaching in the synagogue, in the temple, always in public; and referred him to his auditors on these occasions. This reply was construed into disrespect towards the ex-high priest., and resulted in the first act of violence, apart from the arrest itself; for one of the officers struck Jesus with the palm of his. hand or with a rod (ῥάπισμα), as rendered in the margin. This was the first of the three stages of the Jewish trial. Here we remark
(1) that both Jews and Gentiles took part in arresting Jesus and conducting him to the high priest. "The band and the captain," or chiliarch, that is, tribune, formed the Roman or Gentile element; while the "officers of the Jews" composed the Jewish element. Thus from first to last "the Gentiles and the people of Israel" combined against the Lord and his Anointed. The mention
(2) of both Annas and Caiaphas as high priests by St. Luke (Luke 3:9.) tallies with the fact that, owing to the arbitrary interference of the Romans, there might be several high priests alive at the same time; that is, those who had held the office and been deposed, and the person actually exercising the office. Of course, according to the Law of Moses, there could only be one high priest at a time, and that rightful high priest was the hereditary representative of Aaron. Even in the Roman period the high priesthood had not become a yearly office, though the frequent depositions and displacements occasioned many changes and much confusion. Thus Annas had been deposed in the twelfth year of our era by Valerius Gratus, the immediate predecessor of Pilate in the procuratorship of Judaea; yet, so great was his influence, that he had his own son Eleazar, his son-in-law Caiaphas, and four other sons subsequently appointed to the high priesthood.
(3) The preliminary inquiry before Annas might elicit information with regard to the extent of discipleship, and so of sympathy among the rulers, as in the case of Nicodemus, that might be calculated on; not only so, it would result in a prejudgment of the ease through the shrewdness and influence of the ex-high priest. Further, a higher object—an object most probably not dreamt of by either Annas or Caiaphas—was antitypical. We read in Leviticus 16:1-34 that on the great day of Atonement, Aaron laid both his hands upon the head of the live, or scape-goat, and confessed over him all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions in all their sins, putting them upon the head of the goat; and sent him away by the hand of a fit man into the wilderness; and the goat bore upon him all their iniquities into a land not inhabited. Similarly, the high priests concerned in this trial were, in the exercise of an analogous function, pronouncing sin to be upon the head of the Victim before he was led forth to crucifixion.
2. The second stage of the Jewish trial. The second stage of the Jewish trial consisted of an informal investigation before Caiaphas, and a committee or commission of the Sanhedrim. In order that a conviction might be obtained, it was necessary to secure two witnesses at least to depose to some definite charge. But while the testimony of some was irrelevant, that of others was self-contradictory. At length two volunteered to testify in the case. For this testimony, such as it was, they were obliged to travel back over a period of some three years. Then, fixing on certain words of our Lord at the first Passover after entering on his public ministry, in reference to the temple, they either misunderstood them, or misinterpreted and consequently misrepresented them. The words in question were constructed into contempt of the temple; this contempt, if fully proved, would have constituted a capital charge, just as, in the case of the protomartyr Stephen, the charge was that he ceased not to speak "blasphemous words against this holy place and the Law." But this charge was not substantiated; the evidence broke down in consequence of the disagreement of the witnesses. Our Lord had said, "Destroy (λύσατε) this temple, and in three days I will raise it up" (ἐγερῶ, a word quite suitable to resurrection, but no way appropriate to rebuilding); "but he spake of the temple of his body." One of the witnesses perverted this into, "I wilt destroy (καταλύσω) this temple that is made with hands, and within three days I will build (οἰκοδομήσω) another made without hands" (Mark 14:58); the other testified, "I can destroy (δύναμαι καταλῦσαι) the temple of God, and build (οἰκιδομῆσαι) it in three days" Matthew 26:61. Accordingly, St. Mark adds, "Neither so did their witness agree. What our Lord had spoken in a figurative sense they applied literally; for upraising they substituted building; what was really a promise they twisted into a threat; if they themselves destroyed their temple, he promised replacement. The temple had long been distinguished by the Shechinah glory or visible presence of Jehovah, yet was doomed to destruction; the human body of Jesus, in which dwelt the fullness of the Godhead bodily, when raised up would supersede the inhabitation of God in the literal temple.
3. Pretence of legality. What now can the members of the Sanhedrim present on this occasion do? They wish to keep up the semblance of law and justice, but the evidence has signally failed. The condemnation of Jesus is a foregone conclusion, in whatever way it is to be effected, and still the appearance of legality must be maintained. A clever thought occurs to the mind of the high priest, and in default of evidence he resorts to the desperate expedient of causing Jesus to criminate himself. Accordingly, standing up into the midst (εἰς μέσον), and thus passing from his seat to some conspicuous position, as St. Mark graphically describes it, he adjured Jesus most solemnly to declare if he were indeed the Messiah, that is, "the Christ, the son of the Blessed," viz. if he claimed to be not only the expected Messiah, but also to be a Divine person—the Son and equal of God. Whereupon followed the avowal by which he criminated himself, and gave ground of condemnation. Though he had acknowledged the confession of Peter to the same effect, and even commended it; though he had accepted the same or an equivalent title on the occasion of his public entry into Jerusalem, he had not as yet publicly claimed it. Now, however, he avowed it in the most public manner, in the presence of the high priest and members of council. According to St. Mark, this avowal was expressed by "I am;" according to St. Matthew by "Thou hast said;" while in St. Luke's report of the third Jewish trial, the two are combined with a trifling variation, namely," Ye say that I am."
4. Hypocrisy in high places. If our Lord had remained silent, they would have probably charged him with imposture; now that he confessed his Messiahship and future exaltation, they proceeded to condemn him for blasphemy. The council sought nothing further; they wanted only evidence against him—something to inculpate, not to exculpate, him. They did not wish to hear the grounds of his claim; they wanted no explanation. With the Jews the setting up of a claim to any Divine' attribute was regarded as blasphemy; the claim of Christ, according to their opinion of him, came under the Mosaic law of blasphemy. And now the hypocrisy of the high priest is something shocking. As the highest ecclesiastical functionary of the nation, and the principal officer of its great council, his duty surely was to investigate the confession and claim of one who professed to embody the hopes of the nation, and to scrutinize the true nature of that claim, the real meaning of it, the grounds on which it rested, the reasons of it, and the evidence for it. On the contrary, he grasped with avidity at the prospect of a condemnation. His sense of justice was no higher than his sense of religion; on anything that might tend to explain, or extenuate, or exculpate, he shut his eyes and closed his ears. But what is still more disgusting in the conduct of this ecclesiastic was his abominable hypocrisy. He feigned abhorrence at the crime which he was so anxious to establish. Glad as he was to have this constructive crime of blasphemy to allege, he pretended the most extreme horror by tearing his garments from the neck to the waist. Here, indeed, was "spiritual wickedness in high places."
5. The third stage of the Jewish trial. This was the more formal trial; it was held at dawn of day, and in the presence of the whole Sanhedrim (ὅλον τὸ συνέδριον). The previous trial, being held at night, was invalid; besides, it had been conducted only by a representation—an influential representation or committee of the Sanhedrim, consisting, it is probable, mainly of the priests. At the present stage the whole council was present, with its three constituent parts—elders, chief priests, and scribes. This is the meeting of council mentioned in the first verse of the present chapter, and in the parallel verses of St. Matthew and St. Luke, viz. 27:1 of the former, and Luke 22:66 of the latter. The object was to ratify a predetermined decree. They also found it necessary for their purpose to change the charge, and consequently also the venue. It was more, perhaps, with the object of consummating than of ratifying their sentence that this meeting was hastily summoned. The judicial murder which they had decided on was not in their power to carry out. Had it been so, stoning would have been the death-penalty. A deputation of an influential and imposing kind waited upon Pilate, to whom the Prisoner is now transferred, either hoping, through the facile condescension of the procurator, to get the case remitted to themselves for execution, or to devolve it on the Roman governor.
II. THE ROMAN TRIAL, OR TRIAL BEFORE PILATE.
1. Incidents leading to crucifixion. Crucifixion was a mode of death unknown to Jewish law, and unpractised by the Jewish people. It was fearfully familiar as a mode of execution among the Romans—this we learn from their writings; as, "Thou shalt not feed the crows on the cross," of Horace; "It makes no difference to Theodore whether he rots on the ground or aloft, i.e. on the cross," of Cicero; also from such expressions as the following:—"Go, soldier, get ready the cross;" "Thou shalt go to the cross." It was not, however, till the Roman period that it was introduced into Judaea. It was only after Jew and Roman had come into collision, and had taken respectively the position of conqueror and conquered, of sovereign and subject, that this cruel mode of death found its way into the Holy Land. And yet, strange to say, long years before the Romans had risen to pre-eminence and power, and centuries before Judaea had been catalogued as a province of their vast empire, it had been foretold that Messiah's death would be by crucifixion. We refer to the well-known prediction in the twenty-second psalm, where we read, "They pierced my hands and my feet" ("piercing my hands and my feet," according to Perowne; "geknebelt" ['fastened,' as the extremities were in crucifixion] meine Hande und Fusse," according to Ewald). 'Before that prophecy was fulfilled a long series of events had to be evolved; dynasties had to rise and fall; a kingdom had to pass through the hands of many successive rulers and become extinct; an empire, the greatest of ancient times, had to rise to unprecedented power; that kingdom had to be absorbed,.and become a province of that empire. In a word, Judaea had to become tributary and Rome triumphant before the event could take place. The facts referred to changed the complexion of our Lord's trial. Of the many charges they might have manufactured, such as violation of the sabbath law, contempt of oral tradition, purification of the temple, heretical teaching, or esoteric doctrines of a dangerous kind., they elected that of blasphemy, grounded on his own confession of divinity, or of being "the Son of God;" while he strengthens the admission by foretelling that, besides (πλὴν) the verbal avowal, they would have ocular proof when they should see him—the Son of man as well as Son of God—"sitting at the right hand of power, and coming on the clouds of heaven." This admission was, as we have seen, extorted after the suborned witnesses had entirely broken down, and the two best of them had shamefully perverted and prevaricated; but, notwithstanding, it was seized by the high priest from his false notions of Messiah as an acknowledgment of the charge preferred. Stoning was the mode of death which the Law appointed for that crime; but though the Jews could pass sentence, they could not execute it. One of the signs of Messiah's advent thus stared them in the face; "the scepter had [thus] departed from Judah, and a lawgiver from between his feet." Accordingly, they were obliged to have recourse to the Roman procurator, Pilate; but then they knew that he would not interfere with their religious controversies. What now is to be done? They take new ground; they change the accusation from blasphemy to treason, in order to subject their Prisoner to the secular power.
2. Charges preferred. The charge was really constructive treason, but their indictment as first advanced consisted of three articles. They charged him
(1) with perverting the nation;
(2) with forbidding to give tribute to Caesar; and
(3) with affirming that he himself was Christ, a King.
Pilate pays no attention to the first and second, and only notices the third. His mode of procedure was in accordance with the Roman respect for law and sense of justice. He refused to confirm the sentence of the Sanhedrim, and proceeded to hold a private and preliminary examination (ἀνακρίσις: as we read in Luke 23:14, ἀνακρίνας), having removed Jesus into the Praetorium, or governor's palace. This examination Pilate conducted in person, as he had no quaestor; and was satisfied of the harmlessness of the title of King by the Savior's explanation that his kingdom was not of this world. Pilate was convinced of our Lord's innocence, but hearing Galilee mentioned, he at once caught at the idea of shifting the responsibility, or at least sharing it with Herod Antipas, and at the same time of conciliating the tetrarch by an act of courtesy; and in consequence remitted (ἀνέπεμψεν) the accused to Herod's as the higher court, or technically from the court apprehensionis to the court originis. Herod, having been disappointed by seeing no miracle performed by the reputed miracle-worker, and dissatisfied by his dignified silence, sent him back to Pilate, arrayed in a white or gorgeous (λαμπρὰν, from λάω, to see) robe, thus caricaturing his candidatcship or claim to royalty, and thereby hinting to Pilate that instead of a punishable offense, it was rather a matter of contempt and ridicule. Pilate is perplexed, and no wonder; his vacillation now begins to take effect. He sins against his sense of justice as a Roman magistrate; he sins against conscience; he proposes a most unjust and unlawful compromise, namely, the chastisement (παιδεύσας) of an innocent person. But this concession, unrighteous as it was, did not satisfy; and again he tried to avail himself of the custom of releasing one at the feast in compliance with the clamor of the multitude; but the cry of the populace, instigated by the agents of the priests, was, "Not this man, but Barabbas." By a symbolic act, this weak judge seeks to transfer the guilt to the infuriate mob, and still clinging to the hope that the multitude would be content with a compromise, he delivered Jesus to be scourged, and that, not with the rods of the lictors, but with the horrible scourge tipped with bone and lead (φραγελλώσας).
3. Retrospect at the indignities. The first act of insult and violence was, as we have seen, during the inquisition by Annas, who sought to entangle him by insidious interrogatories, when one of the officers struck Jesus with his hand or with a rod (ῥάπισμα), as St. John informs us. The next was in the course of the second Jewish trial, which was conducted by Caiaphas, and by which the confession of being "the Christ, the Son of God," was extorted. In describing this sad scene, no less than five forms of beating are mentioned by the Evangelists Matthew and Mark and Luke. The latter has
(1) δέροντες, properly to skin or flay, and then beat severely;
(2) ἔτυπτον, imperfect, they kept smiting him;
(3) παίσας, to inflict blows or strike with violence; St. Matthew has
(4) ἐκολάφισαν, they buffeted with clenched fist; and
(5) ἐρράπισαν, they struck with open palms or rods; while St. Mark has ῥαπίσμασιν … ἔβαλλον, they received him with blows of the hands or strokes of rods.
It was on this occasion they did spit in his face and blindfold him, derisively bidding him "prophesy, who is it that smote thee?" with many other vilifications, in some or all of which the members of the council, as well as the menials of the court, took part. We now hasten from such a disgraceful scene—from the scornful spitting, the shameful scoffing, the savage smiting, the ribald revilings, the shocking cruelties, and the savage barbarities of the miscreants of the Sanhedrim—and pass on to his treatment by Herod. He joins with his men of war in setting him at nought and mocking him, and arrays him in a gorgeous robe, as if to caricature his pretensions, or, as some think, a bright or white robe, as though in mimicry of his candidature for royal honors. Thus sent back to Pilate, he is scourged by the procurator's command. The very thought of that scourging makes the blood run cold and the heart sick. All that preceded, cruel as it was and devilish as it was, caused but little of bodily pain as compared with the scourging. He had indeed suffered dreadfully, in both body and mind. He had been betrayed by one disciple, denied by another; three slept when they should have sympathized; at length all forsook him and fled. He has been hurried from one tribunal to another—from the Sanhedrim to the Roman governor, from the Roman governor to the Tetrarch of Galilee, and from Herod back to Pilate. See him the night preceding in the Garden of Gethsemane, in the midst of his agony, when perspiration bathed his body, and that bloody sweat trickled in big drops down to the ground. See him now in the place where he is scourged, cruelly scourged, his face marred, his body mangled, the quivering flesh fearfully torn with the bits of lead and bone plaited into the leathern thongs, while he is still barbarously smitten, and savage stripes inflicted on him. See him again, surrounded by a band of ruffian soldiers—provincial or rather Roman soldiers, to their disgrace be it recorded—who plait a crown of nabk thorns, and press it down so that the sharp and prickly points more painfully pierce his temples and lacerate his bleeding brows. While his body is still smarting from the wounds made by the scourging, while the blood is still running down on every side from the thorn-crown, while insult is being heaped on insult and added to injury, they smite his sacred head with a reed as if to gash that head more brutally, and leave the thorns yet deeper in the skin. One other act in that bloody tragedy precedes and prepares for the crucifixion itself. Instead of the gorgeous or white robe with which Herod and his men of war had, in their bitter mockery, clothed him, the Roman soldiers of the governor arrayed him with the military scarlet or purple war-cloak, mimicking the imperial purple. He is stripped a second time—the mock-garments are pulled off him, and his own put on; and thus all his wounds are opened afresh and their pain renewed. During the mock-coronation, in which the leaves of thorn burlesqued the imperial wreath of laurel, the reed the royal scepter, and the soldier's cloak the emperor's purple, they spat upon him, they smote him on the head,, they bowed the knee in mockery, and they scoffed him, saying," Hail, King of the Jews!"
4. Pilate's last effort to release him. Once more Pilate makes another effort to prevent the crucifixion of Christ. Though scourging was usually the frightful preparation for crucifixion, yet Pilate is most anxious to proceed no further. He seeks to have it regarded, perhaps, in the light of trial by torture without anything worthy of death being elicited, or perhaps he wishes to have it accepted as a sufficient substitute for crucifixion. With some such purpose—a purpose, as it is generally and properly understood, of commiseration—he exhibits the Savior in that unspeakably sad and sorrowful plight—worn, wan, and wasted; his features here befouled with spitting, there besmeared with blood; his face disfigured by blows—marred more than any man's and his countenance more than the sons of men; while blood-drops trickle from many a wound down on the tesselated pavement, lie calls their attention to this woebegone and most pitiable spectacle, saying, in words that have thrilled many a heart, and shall thrill thousands in the generations that may be yet to come, "Behold the Man!" But in vain. The only response was a louder, sterner, fiercer cry: "Crucify him! crucify him!" He deserves to die, "because he made himself the Son of God." Moved to the inmost depths of his being, Pilate struggles on for his release; but, amid the loud clamor for the Victim's blood, there are ominous growls that boded a possible impeachment on the charge of treason against the governor himself. "If thou let this man go, thou art not Caesar's friend;" "We have no king but Caesar." Shame upon those bloodthirsty hypocrites who could say so; though they hated Caesar and all his belongings, and 'were real rebels at heart! And shame upon that cowardly judge, who, as a Roman magistrate, quailed before such cruel clamor, and had not the courage of his own certain convictions!
5. Agencies co-operating to compass the crucifixion. If we glance for a moment at the various influences that were at work to compass our Lord's death upon the cross, we find in the foreground the envy and malice of chief priests and rulers; the mean-spirited avarice of the wretched traitor Judas; the want of firmness and thorough conscientiousness on the part of Pilate; the fury of a fickle mob misled by designing demagogues; the submission of the soldiers to the orders of their superiors;—all obeying the propensities of their own nature, though ignorant of the reason or the results; all fulfilling the predictions of Scripture, though not knowing it; and all accomplishing the purposes of God, though not intending it. But in the background, as we shall see in connection with the crucifixion itself, it was sin on the part of man, and substitution on the part of the Savior. "He bore our sins," says the apostle, "in his own body on the tree." It was determinate counsel and foreknowledge on the part of God. In accordance with that counsel and foreknowledge, and in consequence of our sin and the Savior's substitutionary self-sacrifice, "ought not Christ to suffer these things?" Was it not necessary for him to become "obedient unto death, even the death of the cross"?—J.J.G.
Parallel passages: Matthew 27:27-56; Luke 23:26-49; John 19:17-37.—
The closing scene.
I. THE CRUCIFIXION AND ACCOMPANYING EVENTS,
1. The words of the Creed. The words of the Creed, "crucified under Pontius Pilate," are familiar to almost every young person who has been trained in the Christian religion. All down the centuries the name of this Roman knight, who was Procurator of Judaea under the Propraetor of Syria, has been associated with the greatest crime that has blotted and blackened the page of history since the beginning of the world. He was a descendant of the great Samnite general, C. Pontius Telesinus, and so belonged to the Pontian gens. His surname, Pilatus, is usually derived from pilum, a javelin, and so means "armed with a javelin;" though others connect it with pileatus, from pileus, a cap worn by manumitted slaves, implying that he had been a freedman, or the son of one. His head-quarters were at Caesarea, on the sea, but during the Jewish feasts, when such crowds assembled in Jerusalem, in discharge of his duty he came up to Jerusalem to keep order. In like manner Herod, whose usual residence was at Tiberias, had come up to Jerusalem to keep the feast, ostensibly in conformity to the Jews' religion, but more especially to conciliate the favor of the Jewish people. It thus happened that the tetrarch and Roman governor were both at Jerusalem at the same time—the former occupying the old Asmonean palace, and the latter Herod's Praetorium a palace of Herod the Great, or perhaps a part of Fort Antonia.
2. Pilate's embarrassment and earnestness to secure the Savior's acquittal. He had offended the Jews by bringing the Roman standards to Jerusalem, and had been obliged to retrace this step; he had quarrelled with them about secularizing the corban, or sacred treasury money, to provide a suitable water-supply for Jerusalem; he had been engaged in a deadly feud with the Samaritans; and had mingled the blood of the Galilaeans with their own sacrifices. He was thus on bad terms with the people of every province in the land, and could not, therefore, afford further to provoke their wrath. On the other hand, he had had three warnings—the voice of his own conscience, the dream of his wife, Claudia Procula, and the announcement of Jesus' mysterious title of "Son of God." On the one side was the fear of the Jews whom he had so deeply offended, and fear also of compromising himself with the emperor, now that his patron Sejanus had fallen; on the other were his remaining sense of justice, his respect for Jesus as an innocent man, perhaps as something more—so that Tertullian says of him, "Jam pro conscientia Christianus"—and the threefold warning already mentioned. In consequence he does his best, in his perplexing circumstances, to have Jesus released; for he sent him to Herod, then offered to release him as a favor, according to an established custom. Next he thought to substitute scourging for crucifixion; and when that had failed, he appealed to their pity. But all to no purpose. What was he to do? Why, assert, as he was bound to do, the power of the Roman law, maintain the cause of justice, and obey the voice of conscience at all hazards. But instead of this he vacillated at the beginning, temporized afterwards, and yielded to his fears in the end. Unhappily, he allowed fear for his personal safety to stifle the voice of conscience.
3. The crucifixion. Crosses were of different sorts and shapes. There was the crux simplex, or simple cross, which was rather a stake on which the body was impaled; there was the crux decussator, or St. Andrew's cross, in the form of the letter X; there was the crux immissa, or Latin cross, in the form of a dagger with point downward † ; there was the cruz commissa, in the form of the letter T. On account of the inscription the form of the cross on which our Lord suffered is generally supposed to have been that of the third sort. And now we are arrived at the last sad scene in that shocking drama. Criminals usually carried their cross, or the cross-beams of it, as they went to execution; hence the term furcifer, or cross-bearer. Jesus, exhausted by all he had previously endured, and crushed beneath that heavy cross, sank by the way. Simon, an African Jew, is impressed into the service (ἀγγαρεύουσι, send out a mounted courier, from the mounted couriers ready to carry the royal despatches in Persia; then force to do service, compel) and compelled to carry the Savior's cross. Jesus is fastened to that cross; his hands and his feet are pierced with nails; the cross is hoisted, and with a rude and sudden dash it is sunk deep into the earth. There the bleeding Victim hangs, his bones disjointed, his veins broken, his wounds freshened, his skin livid, his face wan, his strength exhausted; blood flows from his head, blood from his hands, blood from his feet, blood from his opened side. There he hangs, wounded, tortured, fainting, bleeding, dying. There he hangs upon that cursed tree, the passers-by reviling him and wagging their heads, soldiers mocking him, rulers deriding him, malefactors railing on him,—a fearful fourfold mockery. He is offered vinegar and gall (or wine and myrrh, i.e. wine myrrhed, or made acid), but, in the first instance, will not drink, lest it should blunt the pain of dying or cloud his faculties; "The cup that my Father gave me, shall I not drink it?" He suffers the withdrawment of his heavenly Father's countenance, and in consequence exclaims, "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?"—"My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" At length, with a loud voice, he cries out, "It is finished!" and bows his head in death. We do not marvel at the accompanying circumstances, strange and marvellous as they were. No wonder the sun drew back from the spectacle, and shrouded his glorious rays in darkness, rather than gaze on such a scene. No wonder that dense darkness settled on the land for three long hours. No wonder earth trembled and quaked in horror at the foul deed that had been done. No wonder that rocks rent and graves opened, and the tenants of the tomb came forth as though in consternation, shocked at human sinfulness, and in sympathy with the heavenly Sufferer. No wonder the veil of the temple, strong and thick, is torn in twain from top to bottom, for the humanity of the Savior is torn with thorns, and smitings, and nails, and spear-thrust; while he is pouring out his life unto death.
4. The inscription. The main part of the superscription, viz. "The King of the Jews," is found in the record of each evangelist—the same in all and correct in each. In one it is completed by the name, "Jesus," which a Roman, proud of the purity of his speech, and jealous of preserving it, naturally enough left out of the Latin title; in another it is supplemented by the name of the place, "Nazareth;" while the words "This is" are only introductory. Otherwise the inscription was trilingual, and exactly recorded as written in the three languages by three of the evangelists respectively, while St. Mark records the actual charge—the superscription of his accusation αἰτίας common to them all; and this was the assumption of royalty.
5. The time of the crucifixion. The crucifixion really commenced at 9 a.m. The darkness began at noon; death took place at 3 p.m. The apparent discrepancy between the synoptists and John 19:14 is not to be removed by the similarity of the Greek numerals for six and three (ς and γ) respectively, and the supposed substitution or rather misreading of the former for the latter in the Johannean Gospel. The reconciliation is more probably effected by a difference of time-reckoning—the synoptists adopting the Jewish and St. John the Roman method. Thus the delivery and preparations began at 6 a.m. according to the latter.
II. THE DESIGN OF THE CRUCIFIXION.
1. Not for personal chastisement. The design could not in any sense be for personal chastisement, for Jesus had been holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners;" it is expressly stated, too, that he was "cut off, but not for himself." Neither could it be as an example, for the example of One perfectly innocent suffering so severely would only discourage the guilty, and might well drive them to despair; for if this were done to a green tree, what would be done to a dry—if the guiltless suffered so fearfully, what might the guilty expect? Besides, if Christ suffered as an example, what possible good could his example do to those that lived before his day? Neither was it for confirmation of his teaching—to confirm the doctrines which he taught and seal them with his blood; for some of the prophets had done this before him, several of the apostles did so after him, and the martyrs all down the ages have suffered in like manner. And yet, though thus entitled, according to the theory in question, to stand on the same platform with Jesus, of none of them could it ever be asked, with the expectation of an affirmative answer," Was he crucified for you?" Of no one in all the glorious company of the apostles, or in all the goodly fellowship of the prophets, or in all the noble army of martyrs, or in all the holy Church throughout all the world, could it be said, "He was crucified for you." How, then, are we to account for the unparalleled sufferings of the Son of God; for the indescribable distress that overwhelmed him during those sufferings? What reason can we render for the transcendent value ascribed to the gift of God's Son—that unspeakable gift; for the incomparable worth of the boon, so that all other benefits sink into insignificance when placed beside it? How are we to explain the fact that, amid the utmost chariness of human eulogy, we find the highest praises everywhere throughout this Book lavished on the Son of God? How comes it to pass that while we are instructed to "cease from man, for wherein is he to be accounted of?" we are invited to look up with greatest reverence to the Man Christ Jesus, as placed far above the proudest pinnacle of earthly grandeur, and his name raised high above every name, so that in honor of that name "every knee should bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father'? Even in heaven the Lamb, in the midst of the throne, as he had been slain, is still the marvel of the universe; while the key-note of the song sung by the redeemed in glory, and ever sounding along the arches of the sky, is," Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honor, and glory, and blessing," What is the solution of all this? We have no doubt, and feel no difficulty in giving a decided and definite answer to all questions of the sort proposed, for Scripture itself supplies that answer. It is because he "came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many;" it is because he "hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for sweet-smelling savor;" it is because he "bare our sins in his own body on the tree," suffering, "the just for the unjust, to bring us to God;" it is because "he was made sin for us, though he knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him;" it is because in him "we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace," Why, again, are there so many Scriptures all bearing on this same subject? Just to exhibit it under its various aspects and from sundry standpoints; just to explain it more clearly and enforce it more fully; and, still more, to awaken our liveliest interest in it, and impress us with a due sense of its supreme and paramount importance.
2. The sufferings of the cross vicarious. Objections have been urged against the fairness of the holy suffering in the stead of the unholy, and the objectors strive to explain away the fact of such substitution. - To such objectors we reply—If you object to the fairness of the holy suffering in the room of the unholy, and seek to explain it away, we object to the fairness of what you can never explain away—of what you must admit, however reluctant, and cannot deny, however desirous. If you object to the holy suffering in place of the unholy, we object to the holy suffering at all; and yet you are bound to acknowledge that the Holy One has suffered, and cannot venture, so long at least as you credit the Gospel narrative, to gainsay the historic fact. But perfect holiness is justly entitled to happiness, and by the law of Heaven is (as it should be) entirely exempt from suffering; and therefore, unless the Holy One suffered in the room and stead of the unholy, his sufferings would not only be most unjust, but at the same time altogether meaningless.
3. The doctrine of substitution in both secular and sacred history. Of the very many instances of this doctrine of substitution met with in the pages of both sacred and secular history, a few examples may be here adduced. Judah intreated Joseph that he might be kept instead of Benjamin—a bondman in his room. After an address of most pathetic and powerful pleading, he says, "Now therefore, I pray thee, let thy servant abide instead of the lad a bondman to my lord; and let the lad go up with his brethren. For how shall I go up to my father, and the lad be not with me? lest peradventure I see the evil that shall come on my father." In the days of King David an unnatural war broke out. Rebels banded themselves against their sovereign; his son became their leader. A disastrous battle was fought in the wood of Ephraim, and the young man Absalom was slain. One messenger follows on the heels of another, saying, "Tidings, my lord the king;" while his question is once and again the same, "Is the young man Absalom safe?" The king, it is plain, would rather have lost the battle than his son; he would have parted with his kingdom rather than his son; nay, he would have given life itself for his son's life. For now, when he has learnt at length that that fair and favorite son had fallen by the hand of the martial but merciless Joab, "the king," we read, "was much moved, and went up to the chamber over the gate, and wept: and as he went, thus he said, O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! would God I had died for thee, O Absalom, my son, my son!" Even Caiaphas enunciated the doctrine, though ignorant of its true bearing and unconscious of the great truth it involved, when he "gave counsel to the Jews, that it was expedient that one man should die for the people." The sins of the whole people laid on the head of the scapegoat, the sins of the individual person transferred to the head of the sin offering,—such acts as these symbolically teach the same. When we turn to the secular classics, we find that one of the sublimest poems and simplest tragedies of antiquity is based on the doctrine of substitution; it represents a deity suffering in the cause of humanity and on account of favors bestowed on man. Another instance, and one containing the most genuine example of conjugal affection in the old Greek drama, represents a wife giving her life a substitute for that of her husband. So familiar was this doctrine to the ancients. The great Theban poet, with wonted power, sketches in a few stirring sentences the loyalty and love of the brave Antilochus defense of his aged parent Nestor, the renowned knight of Pylos. Enfeebled by years and endangered by younger warriors, his horse wounded by the archery of Paris, his chariot impeded, and himself fiercely assailed by the Ethiop Memnon, the old man, in trepidation of spirit, called loudly on his son for succor; nor did he call in vain. Promptly was his call heard and heeded. The faithful son proved his devotion to his sire; he hastened to his side; he defended him from the strong spear of the assailant; he saved that site's life, but not without the sacrifice of his own; he rescued his parent from ruin, but received his own death-blow; he averted the fate that impended over his father, but at the expense of his own heart's blood. Hundreds of years have rolled'. away since that deed of daring and devotedness was done, and still it is enshrined in the immortal verse of the Pindaric muse, and the hero's memory embalmed among the younger men of ancient days as first in affection to his father. Again, we admire the Roman poet's graphic delineation of the battle-scene in which the gallant son of Mezentius fell. We admire still more the filial affection of that son who, when the deadly blow had been aimed at his father, interposed himself in his father's stead, received the blow, lost his own life, but saved his father's. "By thy death I live, my son; by thy wounds I am saved!" the veteran warrior exclaimed. In like manner the Son of God took the sinner's place, and stood in the sinner's room; and in the words of inspiration, the sinner who trusts in him can say, "He was wounded for my transgressions, he was bruised for my iniquities: the chastisement of my peace was upon him; and with his stripes I am healed." For us the Savior hung upon that cross; for us that frame writhed in agony; for us those limbs quivered in torture; for us that ghastly paleness overspread his face; for us those eye-strings broke in death; for us that side was pierced with the rude soldier's spear; for us he suffered and for us he died.
4. The power of the cross in conversion. The first convert of the Greenland mission was a robber-chief, called Kajarnak. That mission had long been unsuccessful; the missionaries had been sorely tried. At last, disheartened, they were about to leave the country, when one day the bandit, with his followers, came to rob the mission tent. On entering, he saw the missionary writing, and wondered what it meant; the missionary explained to him that, by the marks he was making on the paper, he could tell the thoughts that had passed through the mind of a man called John hundreds of years before. "Impossible I" exclaimed the savage chief. The missionary, who was finishing his translation of the Gospel of St. John, read to these heathen Greenlanders the record of the crucifixion as contained in the nineteenth chapter of that Gospel, on which he was then employed. The chieftain and his men were strangely interested in the narrative. At length Kajarnak, with much emotion, cried out, "What had the man done that they treated him so?" The missionary addressed him in reply, "That man did nothing amiss, but Kajarnak has done much wrong; Kajarnak murdered his wife; Kajarnak has robbed as well as murdered; Kajarnak has filled the land with violence; and that man was bearing the punishment; of Kajarnak's sins that Kajarnak might be saved." Tears rolled down the cheek of the rude robber-chief., and he besought the missionary to read him all that over again, "for," he added, "I too would like to be saved." We do not wonder that the story of the cross had such a powerful effect on the first convert in Greenland.
5. Christ's death on the cross a satisfaction. The death of Christ did not cause God to love us, but, on the contrary, was the expression of that love; it did not originate God's love to man, but, contrariwise, was the effect and evidence of that love; and in accordance with this we read that "God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." A mighty debt was due to the government, law, and justice of God, as well as to his truth and holiness and purity; that debt was sin. This huge hindrance barred the way of access to communion and fellowship with God; but God himself appointed, accepted, and applied the means for the removal of that hindrance and the reopening of the way. Again, the sun is always shining, though we do not always see it; either clouds overspread the sky and cover the fair face of day, or earth rolls round upon its axis, and so during the hours of night we are turned away from the sun. Notwithstanding this, the sun is ever sending out his rays; and when the clouds scatter, or the earth rolls round again, his full-orbed brightness beams upon us, we see him in the splendor of his shining; and "a pleasant thing it is for the eyes to behold the sun." So the face of God is ever shining, but the clouds of sin darken the sky above us and separate between us and our God; by the death of Christ those clouds are driven away, and that severance ceases; we are brought back into the clear light of unclouded day, and bask in the bright effulgence of our heavenly Father's face. The death of Christ on the cross thus bridged the chasm that sin had made; it spanned the gulf that iniquity had fixed; it opened the new and living way to you bright world above. By the cross is the way of safety and salvation; for by that cross our sins were expiated, by that cross propitiation was effected, by that cross atonement was made. By that cross, moreover, the Creator and his fallen creature were brought together; by that cross man and his Maker were reconciled; by that cross the offended Sovereign and the rebel sinner were set at one again. In that cross we see the vicarious suffering of one for many, the wondrous substitution of the just for the unjust, the punishment of the sinner inflicted on the Savior. Through that cross we see the Law magnified, justice satisfied, truth vindicated, government estab- lished, sin punished, God glorified, our debt cancelled, the handwriting against us blotted out, and the believing sinner saved.
"Thus from the Savior on the cross
A healing virtue flows;
Who looks to him with lively faith
Is saved from endless woes."
6. Double aspect of Christ's death on the cross. The death of Christ on the cross is a purification as well as a propitiation; it is the source of sanctification and the ground of satisfaction. In reply to the question of the elder in Revelation, saying," What are these which are arrayed in white robes? and whence came they?" the answer is returned, "These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb." So, also, in Hebrews 9:14," How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?" There is a seeming incongruity in blood purifying. We speak-of being defiled with blood or stained with blood, but Scripture speaks of blood cleansing, which is the opposite. We may to some extent illustrate this by certain ceremonies that had to be gone through in olden times by a person who had committed homicide. Among the ancient Greeks the person in question forfeited life. The soul of the slain was supposed to demand life for life, but that life might be redeemed or bought off by the vicarious substitution of a victim. This victim was usually a ram, the slaying of which symbolically denoted the surrender of the guilty man's own life. This was the ceremony of atonement to appease the soul of the slain, and was called hilasmoi. But another ceremony was needed—a ceremony of purification to fit the man, whose guilt had been atoned by the propitiatory sacrifice just mentioned, for intercourse with his fellow-men. He then stood on the fleece of the ram of atonement or propitiation, in order to come into the closest possible contact and most intimate connection with the victim which had, as we have seen, vicariously represented him, when an animal of another kind was slaughtered as a victim of purification, and slaughtered in such a way that the blood which spurted, from the wound fell upon the hands of the homicide, and thus the human blood which still cleaved to his hands was conceived to be washed away by the blood of this second victim. This process was called katharmoi, and thus was he purified. The custom to which we have alluded, borrowed, like so many other heathen customs, from scattered and distorted fragments of Divine truth, shows, among other things, that the idea of cleansing by means of blood was familiar to the ancients. At the same time that we use this illustration we do not understand the blood of the cross in the gross literal sense, but understand by it the death of Christ upon the cross, and, as that was a bloody one, we are not surprised that it should be called in several Scriptures his blood. The death of Christ
(1) as a propitiation turns away the wrath of God, due to sin, from man: this is its propitiatory efficacy. It turns away man from sin: this is its purificatory effect. God loved us with an everlasting love, but sin he hates with an infinite and everlasting hatred. As a Friend God loves us, but as a Lawgiver he denounces our sin, as a Judge he condemns it, and as a King he must root it out of his dominions altogether. The love of God is like a mighty river. It has flowed from eternity in the majesty of its strength and in the glorious fullness of its stream; but sin rose as a vast. obstruction to the current—it lay like a formidable boom across the stream. At length, in the fullness of time, the cross of Christ broke through the boom, forced aside the obstruction, and opened up the channel; and now the sinner, sheltered beneath the shadow of that cross, can say, "Though thou wast angry with me, thine anger is turned away, and thou hast comforted me." "God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself." How? "Not imputing unto men their trespasses;" not charging us with those offenses by which we justly incurred his displeasure and merited his wrath; forgiving them, forgetting them, and so reconciled to us, and reconciling us to him, through the blood of the cross. But the death of Christ
(2) is a purification. It purifies the whole man; its purifying influence goes on, and is needed, till death. "The blood of Jesus Christ," we read, "cleanseth us from all sin." No doubt it cleanseth as a propitiation from the guilt of sin, but more especially it cleanseth as a purification from the filth of sin. It cleanseth the soul from the love of sin and the body from the practice of it; the faculties from thoughts of sin, the members of the body from works of sin. The hands are purified from deeds of darkness; they are fitted for and filled with works of faith and labors of love on earth, and thus prepared for sweeping the harps of gold and swelling the symphonies of heaven. The eyes are purified; they are cleared of scales, and opened to see the wondrous things of God's Law, and the gracious things of both Law and gospel. Thus, too, are they prepared for gazing on the radiant splendor of the eternal throne and the glories of the upper sanctuary. The ears are opened to hear what God the Lord says to his servants, and are thus prepared at length for drinking in the music of the skies and for being charmed with the melodies of heaven. The feet are kept back from every false step and every wrong way, and furnished as though with wings to move readily and rapidly in the way of God's commandments; and thus they are prepared at last to stand upon the glassy sea and tread the golden streets. The head is freed from every iniquitous scheme, and enlightened to comprehend the Divine counsels of mercy; and thus it is prepared to wear a crown, fair in its form, fresh in its coloring, brilliant in its lustre, unfading in its beauty, and amaranthine in its bloom. The heart is purified from every propensity to evil; it overflows with the love of God on earth, and waits to have that love still more intensified amid the raptures and ecstasies of heaven.
III. LESSONS TAUGHT US BY THE CROSS.
1. God's hatred of sin is seen in the cross. We trace the wrath of God in the waters of the flood that swept away the antediluvians; in the sin-ruined cities of which few fragments remain to tell where once they were; in the dreary waters that roll over the desolated plain where Sodom and Gomorrah once stood; in the peeled and scattered and sifted race whose fathers' awful imprecation, "His blood be upon us, and our children," called down the withering curse of Heaven; in that dark abode where the angels that kept not their first estate are reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day; in that region of despair where the finally impenitent are doomed to weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth, and where the smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever. And yet the wrath of God, we think, is revealed in clearer light and blazoned in more glaring characters in the sacrifice of the cross, because "God spared not his own Son," when that Son undertook the penalty of our sin, "but delivered him up for us all."
2. The highest morality comes from the cross. No theory of morals is so persuasive, no precepts so powerful, as the picture of dying love exhibited in the cross. "The love of Christ constraineth us," says the apostle; "because we thus judge, that one died for all, therefore all died; and he died for all, that they which live should no longer live unto themselves, but unto him who for their sakes died and rose again" (Revised Version); and also, "He gave himself for us, to redeem us from all iniquity, and to purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works;" and once more, "The life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me." Oh, how can we go on in sin if we reflect, as we ought, that sin crucified the Lord of life and glory; if we reflect that it was sin inflicted those wounds upon him; if we remember that sin caused him that agony of soul as well as anguish of body, when, in the language of the prophet, he might well say, "Is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by? behold, and see if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow, which is done unto me, wherewith Jehovah hath afflicted me in the day of his fierce anger;" if we consider that our sin was laid upon him and borne by him when "he became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross," and when "he put away sin by the sacrifice of himself"? The way to purify our fallen humanity and elevate the standard of morality is not by moral lessons, however proper and useful in their own place, but by leading sinners to the foot of the cross, and by pointing to that cross as embodying three arguments, than which there is nothing more potent or more powerfully persuasive in all the universe besides. The first argument which the blood that flowed on that cross embodies is the mercy of God the Father, in reopening the channel of his love which sin had dammed up and closed. The second argument is the love of God the Son, in assuming our nature, in agonizing and sweating, in being smitten and scourged and spit upon and scorned, in being cruelly crowned and crucified; and all to "finish transgression, and to make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness." The third argument is the grace of God the Holy Spirit, in sprinkling the blood thus shed on the conscience, when he brings home the death of Christ, in the power and demonstration of faith, to the sinner's heart. How is it possible to resist this triple argument? How is it possible to go on in sin, which caused our Lord such suffering, and when such love—the love of the Trinity—is constraining us to abandon it for ever?
3. The innocence of the Sufferer. Heaven and earth attested his innocence. Friend and foe bore witness to it. A noble Roman lady, wife of the governor, warned her lord, saying, "Have thou nothing to do with that just man." Pilate himself, the judge, informed chief priests and people, "I find no fault in this man." Again a second time, having assembled chief priests and rulers and people, he affirmed publicly and positively Jesus' innocence in the following strong terms:—"Behold, I, having examined him before you, found no fault in this man touching those things whereof ye accuse him: no, nor yet Herod: for he sent him back unto us; and behold, nothing worthy of death hath been done by him" (Revised Version). Once more, for the third time, he asserted his innocence, saying, "Why, what evil hath he done? I have found no cause of death in him." Judas, the traitor, admitted the same thing, saying, "I have betrayed innocent blood." The Roman centurion, who superintended the execution, cried out, "Certainly this was a righteous man;" and again, after he had seen the earthquake and those things that were done, "Truly this was the Son of God." One of the malefactors, his companion in suffering, frankly acknowledged, "This man hath done nothing amiss." The whole record of his trial furnishes the plainest and most positive evidence of his innocence. Satan had tried him, and found nothing in him. God the Father had owned him three times by an audible voice from heaven. He had committed no offense against the religion of the land, no crime against the laws of his country, no sin against God. He went about continually doing good; he was acknowledged to have done all things well; he was "holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners."
"We held him as condemn'd by Heaven,
An outcast from his God,
While for our sins he groan'd, he bled,
Beneath his Father's rod.
"His sacred blood hath wash'd our souls
From sin's polluted stain;
His stripes have heal'd us, and his death
Revived our souls again."
4. His seven sayings on the cross. Of these three are recorded by St. Luke, other three by St. John, and the remaining one by both St. Matthew and St. Mark. The first of those seven sayings, or seven words, is a prayer for his murderers: "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do." There is no doubt that they were acting in ignorance and unbelief; yet they were not excusable on that account, for men are accountable for their belief, and especially so when they have abundant means of rectifying their misbelief or removing their unbelief. The spirit of forgiveness which this prayer breathes is truly wonderful. There is an entire absence of revenge and of all vindictiveness, and yet this was only the negative side; there was the positive feeling of love to his enemies, pity for his murderers, and prayer for those who used him so despitefully. Thus he practiced what he preached, and exemplified what he taught in the condition of the petition, "Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive them that trespass against us." The second of those words is a promise to the penitent sufferer beside him: "To-day shalt thou be with me in Paradise." At first it would appear that both malefactors had railed upon him, or the plural is used idiomatically for the singular. One became penitent, rebuking the railing of his fellow-sufferer. By faith he looked to the pierced One at his side, and mourned. His faith became marvelously strong in an incredibly short space. The right rendering of his prayer in the Revised Version makes this more manifest: "Jesus, remember me when thou comest in thy kingdom." The common rendering of into, as if it were εἰς with the accusative, would imply that Jesus passed into his kingdom at the hour of his dissolution, so that faith would not have long to wait; but the expression "in thy kingdom" (ἐν, with the dative) points not to the immediate future like the former, but to the more distant future when Jesus would come again in his kingdom; and still the faith that prompted the petition patiently looked forward to that far-off day. Thus there is no sinner beyond the reach of mercy; no time too late to seek salvation; and no prayers of faith rejected. The soul united to Jesus is safe in his arms, and admitted to glory soon as separated from the body. The third saying is a provision for his widowed mother in her sore bereavement: "Woman, behold thy son!" and to the disciple he said, "Behold thy mother!" It was to the beloved John the intimation was given to treat the Virgin mother as his own mother, while Mary was to regard and depend on John as her son. The hint was understood by both; the new relationship was accepted, John undertook the responsibility, and Mary confided herself to his care. Jesus, as he hung in agony, was thus mindful of his mother, making careful provision for her. What a lesson of filial love is taught us here! What a lesson of dutifulness to a parent, especially when that parent is bereaved and desolate! The fourth saying is a position of spiritual loneliness: "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" Here there is faith, but faith wanting the assurance of sense. There is faith in Jesus acknowledging God as his God; but a sense of the Divine presence is absent. The complaint of Divine abandonment is caused by that absence, and the deserted soul is in agony. The condition of the Christian is sometimes similar—when, like Job, he goes forward, but God is not there; backward, but he cannot perceive him; and when he turns himself to every side, but cannot find him. But oh, how great the difference! Such a season of darkness is for the most part occasioned by sin; so in our Savior's case it was indeed for sin, but not his own! The fifth is the pain of bodily suffering: "I thirst." The pain of thirst is worse to bear than that of hunger; when long continued it is distressing in the extreme. Men who have traveled in a desert district or under a tropical sun can realize the severity of this condition. In the case of our Lord there was a peculiar aggravation. Near the cross had been placed a vessel of sour wine (posca) for the use of the soldiers, the sight of which would increase the feeling of thirst and pain on the part of the Sufferer. Nor was that all; among the cruel mocking of our Lord in the earlier stage of the crucifixion was the circumstance that the soldiers tantalized him by raising to his lips their jar or sponge of vinegar, and then suddenly withdrawing it, for we read, "The soldiers also mocked him … offering him vinegar." The sixth is the perfection of his work: "It is finished." As has been beautifully said," Finished was his holy life; with his life his struggle, with his struggle his work, with his work the redemption, with the redemption the foundation of the new world."
"''Tis finished!' was his latest voice:
These sacred accents o'er,
He bow'd his head, gave up the ghost,
And suffer'd pain no more.
"''Tis finish'd!' The Messiah dies
For sins, but not his own;
The great redemption is complete,
And Satan's power o'erthrown.
"''Tis finish'd!' All his groans are past
His blood, his pain, and toils,
Have fully vanquished our foes,
And crown'd him with their spoils.
"'Tis finished!' Legal worship ends,
And gospel ages run;
All old things now are pass'd away,
And a new world begun."
The seventh is presentation of his spirit to his Father: "Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit." Many a time have these words waked a corresponding sentiment in the dying Christian's breast; many a time have they been used by the dying Christian to express his soul's surrender to God. Similarly the protomartyr's "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." Likewise in the language of ancient piety, "Into thine hand I commit my spirit: thou hast redeemed me, O Lord God of truth." Hence too we infer the immateriality of the soul, and its independence of the body. Here also we learn how to die, yielding our soul into the hand of our heavenly Father.—J.J.G.
Parallel passages: Matthew 27:57-61; Luke 23:50-56.—
I. SECRET DISCIPLES. Among secret disciples of our Lord were Joseph of Arimathaea and Nicodemus. The residence of the former was Ramah, or Ramathaim, the name signifying a hill; while some identify it with Ramleh in Dan, others with Ramathaim in Ephraim, and others, again, with Ramah in Benjamin. But the character of the man is of much more importance to us than his place of abode. Accordingly, one evangelist describes him, as has been ingeniously pointed out, according to the Jewish ideal, as a rich man,—so St. Matthew; a second according to the Roman ideal, as an honorable (εὐσχήμων) councillor, or councillor of honorable estate (Revised Version),—so St. Mark; while a third according, to the Greek ideal, as good and just, somewhat similar to the Greek καλὸς καὶ ἀγαθός, implying a person of good social position and respectable culture, and thus presumably of correct morals,—so St. Luke. In any case, the third Gospel represents him as a moral man and a religious man—two characteristics that should never be dissociated. We are further informed that Joseph, being one of the seventy Sanhedrists, protested against the conduct of the Sanhedrim in their condemnation of our Lord. Though it is not expressly stated, we may be sure that Nicodemus, the same who is characterized as coming to our Lord by night, if present, joined him in the protest; but 'they were a small minority, and so the majority of that body accomplished their counsel and crime. Of Joseph's discipleship St. Matthew says, "Who also himself was Jesus' disciple;" and St. Luke, "Who also himself waited for the kingdom of God." The also in both cases implies that he was a faithful follower of Christ, though in secret, as well as the more open disciples; while St. John tells us the reason of the secrecy in the words, "secretly for fear of the Jews." He now laid aside his timidity, and proved himself no longer deficient in Christian courage; for he went in boldly (τολμήσας) to Pilate and craved the body of his Lord. Though "not many mighty according to the flesh, not many noble," are called; yet, thank God! there are still some such. Among these, Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews, a master in Israel, a Sanhedrist, or member of the great national council, who had absented himself, or at all events refused consent to the condemnation, "brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pound weight," for his burial. On mention of Nicodemus, it is remarkable we are still reminded of his night interview with our Lord. "He that came to Jesus by night," says St. John, and again, "which at first came to Jesus by night," as is added by the same evangelist. know he too has been emboldened by the cross. Joseph, on obtaining the body, laid it in his own new tomb, so that the prediction was fulfilled to the effect that, though his grave was made with the wicked intentionally, that is, according to the intention of his enemies, yet was actually with the rich in his death. Crucified with malefactors, it was intended and expected that he would share their fate in burial. Not so, however; for though he died as a criminal, he was not buried as one.
II. THE SURPRISE OF PILATE. The usual time for death to supervene in the case of persons crucified was some three days, the very shortest a day and a half. Consequently Pilate expresses his astonishment, and requires the evidence of the centurion to satisfy him of Jesus death. He first asks in surprise if he were already dead (τέθνηκε), and then, calling the centurion, inquires if he had been any while dead (ἀπέθανε). Here the accurate use of the Greek tenses is worthy of attention, and brings out the governor's amazement more clearly. His first inquiry is expressed by the perfect, and refers to the state—if he was already in the state of death; satisfied of that, and not a little surprised, he asks an additional question (ἐηρώτησεν,) of the centurion, and in this second inquiry he employs the aorist in relation to the occurrence—if death had occurred any length of time previously, or how long, in any case to make sure it was not a swoon. It has been stated and maintained, on respectable medical authority, that the direct cause of Christ's death was rupture of the heart. In that case the blood passed from the interior of the heart out into the heart-sac, and, like all extravasated blood, separated into the red clot and watery element. This would agree well with the suddenness of the Savior's death, after only some six hours on the cross—a circumstance which, as we have just seen, took Pilate himself so much by surprise; whereas crucifixion usually caused death by exhaustion, and after many hours' lingering. This would also agree well with the loud voice of that cry which the Savior uttered when he yielded up the ghost. This would agree well with the quantity of blood shed to fill that fountain, of which the prophet speaks, saying, "In that day there shall be a fountain opened to the house of David, and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, for sin and for uncleanness;" for in crucifixion the loss of blood is diminished by the nails choking up the wounds they make. This would agree well with such Scriptures as the following:—"Reproach hath broken my heart; My heart is like wax; it is melted in the midst of my bowels." This would, moreover, agree well with the fact that when he poured out his soul unto death, his bodily sufferings, bitter as they were, had less effect than his mental agony in producing that death. This would still further agree well with what occurred when the soldier pierced the Savior's side with his broad-headed spear. That rude Roman had no command to inflict such a wound; it was mere bootless barbarity on his part. The body was dead; why gash it so, except perhaps to make sure it was death and not syncope? Nevertheless, he fulfilled prophecy without thinking it; he realized the opening of the prophet's fountain without knowing aught about it. He made a passage for the blood and water already escaped from that broken heart; he helped to open the fountain that cleanseth from all sin.
III. SIGNIFICANCE OF THE BLOOD AND WATER. The blood and water that flowed from the fountain thus opened in the Savior's side are significant of the two great blessings which believers partake through Christ. There was blood for redemption, water for regeneration; blood for remission, water for renewal; blood for pardon, water for purity; blood to put away the guilt of sin, water to purge away its filth; blood for justification, water for sanctification; blood for atonement (and this is the special work of the Son of God), water for purification (and this is the province of the Spirit of God); blood and the sacramental wine is a symbol of it, water and the baptismal element is a sign of it. Thus the two great agents in salvation—the Son of God and the Spirit of God; the two great works they accomplish—redemption and regeneration; the two great doctrines of a standing and spiritual Church—justification and sanctification—are kept fresh in the memory and visible to the eye by the sacramental seals of the covenant. In allusion, probably, to this St. John (1 John 5:6) says, "This is he that came by water and blood, even Jesus Christ; not with water only, but with the water and with the blood" (Revised Version). These two must always go together; these two flowed forth together from the pierced side of the Savior; these two the apostle has joined together. These two form the streams of the prophetic fountain; and by means of the twofold stream of this fountain "ye are washed, ye are sanctified, ye are justified in the Name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God."
"Rock of ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in thee;
Let the water and the blood,
From thy riven side which flew'd,
Be of sin the double cure,
Cleanse me from its guilt and power,"
IV. THE FUNERAL. The funeral consisted, as far as we can learn, of few persons. There are only four persons named by name as present on the occasion—two men and two women; though it is probable that a few females besides, who had accompanied him from Galilee, were also at least spectators, as St. Luke tells us that "the women also, which came with him from Galilee, followed after, and beheld the sepulcher, and how his body was laid." Joseph wrapped the body in the fine linen he had purchased, and sprinkled the myrrh and aloes among the folds, then laid the body in the rock-hewn tomb, and rolled a stone of large size to close therewith the entrance of the sepulcher. In these several operations, but especially in that of rolling the huge stone, Joseph was assisted, we may be certain, by Nicodemus, and both by their servants or attendants; while Mary of Magdala, and Mary the mother of Joses, and the other women from Galilee, were looking on. They beheld (ἐθεώρουν), carefully observing the place and manner of the sepulcher.—J.J.G.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Mark 15". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29