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Matthew 27:1, Matthew 27:2
Jesus brought to Pilate. (Mark 15:1; Luke 22:66; Luke 23:1; John 18:28.)
When the morning was come. This is the early morning of Good Friday, the 14th of Nisan. If the rulers had had special regard to legality, they could not have condemned Christ to death at night, as they had done at the late informal assembly; but their respect for conventional rules was overborne by passion and hatred. They had decreed his death by general consent, and then retired for a few hours' necessary rest. Now they again met together, still in the palace of Caiaphas (John 18:28), in order to complete their evil work, to endorse the previous sentence, and, under some pretence, hand their Victim over to the Roman governor, who alone could execute their murderous purpose. The particle δεÌ (πρωΐìας δεÌ γενομεìνης), omitted by the Authorized Version, takes us back to the conclusion of the council (Matthew 26:66), the account of its further proceedings being interrupted by the episode of Peter. All the chief priests and elders of the people. It was a large assembly of the Sanhedrin, many members, doubtless, taking part in these proceedings, now that the capital sentence was past, who would not have deliberately planned a judicial murder. Such was the course of Jewish casuistry. To (ὡìστε) put him to death. The council had merely to determine how to formulate such a political charge against Jesus as would compel the Romans to punish the offender with death. They were determined that he should die by an ignominious and cursed death, that his pretensions, as being sent by God, might be disposed of forever. Hence arose the persistent cry, "Crucify him!" (verses 22, 23). The Jewish view of crucifixion is seen in Deuteronomy 21:23 and Galatians 3:13. They possibly feared some outbreak if they delayed the execution, and kept him prisoner till the conclusion of the feast.
When they had bound him. With his hands tied by a rope behind his back. This was the treatment inflicted on condemned malefactors. During the actual official proceedings it was customary to release the accused person from bonds; hence this new binding was necessary. What passed in the council before this indignity was inflicted is, perhaps, told by St. Luke: the Sanhedrists satisfied themselves that they had a case against Jesus sufficient for their purpose, and they proceeded in a body to lay it before the governor. Pontius Pilate the governor (τῷ ἡγεμοìνι). Some good manuscripts omit "Pontius," as in Mark and Luke; but there seems to be no doubt that he bore this nomen gentilicium (see e.g. Tacitus, 'Ann.,' 15:44), which connected him with the Samnite gens of the Pontii. He was the sixth Roman Procurator of Judaea, and his title in Greek was ἐπιìτροπος rather than ἡγεμωìν, which was a more general term for a commander or chief possessing more extensive powers. He held the office under the Prefect of Syria for ten years, at the end of which time he was removed for cruelty and extortion, and banished to Vienne, in Gaul, where he put an end to his own life. The turbulence and national animosity of the Jews had rendered it necessary to invest the procurator with the power of life and death, which he used in the most unscrupulous manner, so that he was universally hated and feared. The quarters of the Roman governor were called the Praetorium, and to this Christ was led. Pilate usually resided at Caesarea, but came to Jerusalem at the great festival, to be ready to quell any fanatical outbreak that might occur. So nowadays the Turks keep a body of troops in the same city to preserve the peace between Christian worshippers at Easter(!). Whether Pilate occupied the barracks at the fortress Antonia, or the magnificent palace of Herod, situated at the northwest angle of the upper city, is uncertain; but as we know that the Roman procurators did reside in Herod's palace, and as on this occasion Pilate was accompanied by his wife (verse 19), it is most probable that he took up his abode in the latter, and that Jesus was brought before him there. Herod had a house of his own on the east of Zion, opposite the castle, which he seems to have occupied more often than his father's palace, thus leaving the latter at the pleasure of the Roman governors. Assuming this to be the case, Dr. Edersheim writes, "From the slope of the eastern angle, opposite the temple mount, where the palace of Caiaphas stood, up the narrow streets of the upper city, the melancholy procession wound to the portals of the grand palace of Herod. It is recorded that they who brought him would not themselves enter the portals of the palace, 'that they might not be defiled, but might eat the Passover'" ('Life and Times of Jesus,' 2:505).
Remorse and suicide of Judas, and the use made of the blood money. (Peculiar to St. Matthew; cf. Acts 1:18, Acts 1:19.)
Then. This transaction took place either when Jesus was being conducted to the Praetorium, or during the interview with Herod (Luke 23:7-11). A great number of the Sanhedrists had now withdrawn to the temple, and were sitting in conclave there. When he saw that he was condemned. He evidently had not contemplated the full consequences of his crime; he never expected that the Jewish rulers would proceed to such extremities. It is probable that, in his lust for gain and his loss of love for his Master, he had. thought of nothing but his own sordid interests, and now was appalled at the share which he had had in bringing to pass this awful result. The excuse made in modern days for Judas, that he wished only to force our Lord to exert his Divine power, and to declare himself Messiah, is refuted by one out of many considerations (see on Matthew 26:14). His remorse at this moment has to be accounted for. If he still believed in Christ's Divine commission, he would not have despaired of a happy result even after his condemnation, nay, even when he was hanging on the cross. Christ's power to deliver himself and to assume his Messianic position remained unimpaired by these seemingly adverse circumstances, and a believer would have waited for the end before he surrendered all hope. Judas's character is not bettered by considering that he did evil that good might come, or that he was led to his base course by the hope that his worldly interests would be improved by the establishment of Messiah's temporal kingdom. That he had now any desire or ambition for a place in a spiritual kingdom cannot be conceived, for he had evidently lost all faith in Jesus, and followed him only for the most sordid motives. Repented himself (μεταμεληθειìς). This word (differing from μετανοεìω, which expresses change of heart) denotes only a change of feeling, a desire that what has been done could be undone; this is not repentance in the Scripture sense; it springs not from love of God, it has not that character which calls for pardon. "Mark," says St. Chrysostom, "when it is that he feels remorse. When his sin was completed, and had received an accomplishment. For the devil is like this; he suffers not those who are careless to see the evil before this, lest he whom he has taken should repent. At least, when Jesus was saying so many things, he was not influenced, but when his offence was completed, then repentance came upon him, and not then profitably." Only now did he fully realize what he had done; in the light of his crime his conscience awoke and confounded him with vehement re-preaches: the object for which he had sinned seemed utterly unworthy and base; its attraction vanished when no longer pursued. Brought again (returned) the thirty pieces of silver. He had received the whole price for which he had bargained, but he could not retain the money now; it was a silent witness which he could not endure. He may have thought that he would throw away the guilt of his crime as he deprived himself of its wages, or that he could repair its consequences by this tardy restitution.
I have sinned. He confesses his sin, indeed, yet not to God, but to the partners and instigators of his crime, and this, not with godly sorrow, but in self-disgust and vexation of spirit that could not be repressed. His was the sorrow that worketh death (2 Corinthians 7:10). In that I have betrayed [the] innocent blood (αἷμα ἀθῷον, or, according to some manuscripts, αἷμα διìκαιον, but in either case without the article). By speaking of "blood," he showed that he knew the murder was certain. Judas seems to have had no faith in Christ's Divinity, but he had perfect assurance of his holiness and innocence, and felt, and endeavoured to make the rulers feel, that an iniquitous sentence had been passed, and that a guiltless person was condemned to death. This consideration added to the bitterness of his regret. But he obtained no comfort from the hardened and unfeeling priests. They had gotten what they had desired. The question of Christ's moral guilt or innocence was nothing to them; equally indifferent to them was the fierce remorse of Judas. What is that to us? Τιì προÌς ἡμᾶς; See thou to that (συÌ ὀìψει, tu videris, equivalent to "that is your concern," as in Matthew 27:24). A more unfeeling, nay, fiendish answer could not have been given. It threw the wretched man back on himself, left him alone with his remorse, the blackness of his night unrelieved by any ray of human sympathy. In their own obduracy and impenitence they scorn the weakness of their miserable tool. As Bengel well moralizes, "Impii in facto consortes, post factum deserunt; pii, in facto non consortes, postea medentur." To sympathize with repentance is the duty and the privilege of the Christian; to deride and scoff at the returning sinner is devilish. It is profitable to contrast the sincere repentance of Peter after his fall with the remorse of the despairing Judas.
He cast down the pieces of silver in the temple (ἐν τᾷ ναῷ, in the sanctuary, or, as good manuscripts read, εἰς τοÌν ναοìν, into the sanctuary). The priests were in the priests' court (which would be included in the term ναοìς), separated by a stone partition from the court of the Gentiles. Into the latter area Judas had pressed; and, hurrying to the wall of division, he flung the cursed shekels with all his force into the inner place, as if to rescind the iniquitous contract and to cast away its pollution. He departed. He rushed away from the temple and the city into solitude, down into and across the valley of Hinnom, up the steep sides of the overhanging mountain—anywhere to escape human eyes, and, if it might be, to flee from himself. Vain endeavour! The memory of his useless crime haunts him; he has no hope in earth or heaven; life under this burden is no longer supportable. Went and hanged himself (ἀπηìγξατο, he strangled himself; laqueo se suspendit, Vulgate). He mounted some precipitous rock, and unwinding the girdle (for it was unnecessary to find and take a rope with him) which he wore, and in which he had doubtless carried the pieces of silver, fastened it round his neck, and securing it to some tree or projecting stone, flung himself from the height. The horrible result is told by St. Peter in his first address to the disciples (Act 1:1-26 :48), "Falling headlong, he burst asunder in the midst, and all his bowels gushed out." This may have resulted from the breaking of the girdle. A fragment of Papias gives another explanation, recounting that he was crushed and disembowelled by a passing waggon. Thus Judas, the only man concerning whom the terrible expression is used, went "to his own place" (Acts 1:25). he is the Ahithophel of the New Testament (2 Samuel 17:23 : Psalms 41:9; Psalms 55:12-14).
Took the silver pieces. They picked up the coins which Judas had flung away on the marble pavement of the court, but were perplexed to determine what they should do with them. It is not lawful. These men, who had felt no doubt or hesitation in compassing the death of an innocent Man by the foulest treachery and perversion of justice, have, or hypocritically professed to have, religious scruples about the disposal of this blood money thus thrown on their hands. While they calmly outraged all moral feeling, they punctiliously observed certain outward ceremonial decencies. "They strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel." The treasury (τοÌν κορβανᾶν). The temple treasury, supplied by the offerings (corbans) of the pious for the expenses of Divine worship. It is most probable that these scrupulous priests had taken from this treasury the silver which they now deemed it sinful to replace. The price of blood. The wages of murder. It was inferred from Deuteronomy 23:18 that no money unlawfully gained, or derived from an impure source, might be used in purchasing things for God's service. Under Jewish Law such money must be restored to the donor; if circumstances rendered this impossible, or the offerer insisted on giving it, it was to be expended for some public object, the original owner being considered, by a legal fiction, to be its possessor still, and that which was paid for by the money being deemed as his gift to the community (comp. Acts 1:18, "This man purchased a field with the reward of iniquity").
They took counsel. They deliberated how to dispose of this blood money. This deliberation may have taken place after the Crucifixion. The potter's field. The spot was well known at the time. It is traditionally said to have lain on the south of Jerusalem—on the hillside across the valley of Hinnom, on what is called the Hill of Evil Counsel. Here is found a tract of clay, which is still used by the potters of the city. In the time of our Lord. the clay probably was considered to be exhausted, and the area, excavated in all directions, and useless for agricultural purposes, was sold for a trifling price. To bury strangers in. The "strangers" are probably not pagans, but foreign Jews and Gentile proselytes, who came to Jerusalem to attend the festival, and died there. Others think that foreigners (Greeks and Romans, etc.) exclusively are meant, the Jews regarding their very presence in the holy city as defilement, and a cemetery purchased by unclean money a fitting spot for their interment. The "field" was set apart in the Crusaders' times as a burial place for pilgrims, and to this day contains a charnel house wherein are deposited the poor and unhonoured dead of Jerusalem.
The field of blood. Aceldama (Acts 1:19), the Syriac name. It was so called (διοÌ) from the circumstances attending its purchase, which gave it an evil notoriety, and which the priests must have divulged. "This also," says Chrysostom, taking the blood to be that of Jesus, "became a witness against them, and a proof of their treason. For the name of the place more clearly than a trumpet proclaimed their blood guiltiness." Unto this day. Until the time when this Gospel was published, the new appellation obtained. It is implied that a considerable interval had elapsed. Such chronological hints are often found in the Old Testament (cf. Genesis 19:37, Genesis 19:38; Joshua 4:9, etc.).
Spoken by Jeremy the prophet. The prophecy, which St. Matthew says was fulfilled by the use made of Judas's pieces of silver, is found, not in Jeremiah, as we now possess his text, but, with some variations, in Zechariah 11:12, Zechariah 11:13. It must be noted, however, that, though the passage in Zechariah has many remarkable affinities to the quotation in our evangelist's history, it is not. identical with it. In the prophet's vision there is no mention of the field, and the money is to be "cast to the potter in the house of the Lord." The Septuagint Version gives a very different reading, "Lay them in the foundry [or, 'furnace'], and I will see if it is approved, as I was approved for their sakes." And the last part of our quotation is hardly a representation of the Hebrew, "Cast it unto the potter, the goodly price that I was prised at of them." In the face of these discrepancies, it is supposed by many that St. Matthew had in his mind some utterance of Jeremiah not now extant; but if, as most expositors affirm, he was citing, more or less accurately, the words of Zechariah, we have to account for their being attributed to a wrong author. Of this difficulty, as it is considered, many solutions are offered. For instance:
(1) The evangelist added no name to "the prophet;" and a scribe, hazily remembering the transaction in Jeremiah 32:6, etc., interpolated the word "Jeremiah." It is true that the Syriac omits "Jeremiah," hut all other versions, and nearly all the Greek manuscripts, insert it; so there can be no reasonable doubt that it existed in the original text.
(2) The two words written abbreviated thus, Ζριου, Ιμιου, might be easily mistaken.
(3) The evangelist fell into error, by oversight or lapse of memory, as is supposed to be the ease in Mark 2:26 and Acts 7:4, Acts 7:16.
(4) The last chapters of Zechariah were really the composition of Jeremiah.
(5) Jeremiah, being set at the head of the prophets in the Hebrew Scriptures, gave his name to all the writings following, which were cited indiscriminately as the utterances of Jeremiah.
(6) St. Matthew has made a cento of passages derived from Jeremiah 18:2, etc.; Jeremiah 19:1, Jeremiah 19:2; Jeremiah 32:8-14, combined with the prediction in Zechariah, and attributed the passage thus formed to the most celebrated prophet. Plainly the evangelist has not confined himself to the actual words of his author or authors, but has written a Targum thereon, being divinely guided to see in the present transaction a fulfilment of an obscure announcement and prefiguration in olden days There are many other solutions proposed, with which we need not concern ourselves; the one last stated is reasonable, and may be adopted safely by those simple Christians who believe that the writers of the Bible were supernaturally preserved from errors, not only in doctrine and precept and fact, but also in chronology, grammar, geography, citation, etc. The whole difficulty is of little importance, and too much has been made of what, alter all, may be simply an erratum perpetuated from an ancient copy. They took (ἐìλαβον, which might mean, "I took," as in Zechariah). In the prophecy it is the despised Shepherd who casts the money to the potter; but "gave" in the next clause is plural. The price of him that was valued (priced), whom they of the children of Israel did value (price) (ὁÌν ἐτιμηìσαντο ἀποÌ υἱῶν, Ἰσραηìλ). The Authorized Version supplies οἱbefore ἀποÌ υἱῶν Ἰσραηìλ. The Revised Version supplies τινες, "whom certain of the children of Israel did price." The words are ironical, answering to the prophet's expression, "the goodly price that I was prised at of them"! The preposition ἀποÌ may be rendered "on the part of;" so the evangelist means that the priests offered this mean price for the Shepherd at the instigation of, at the instance of, the children of Israel, who thus shared in and authorized the iniquitous transaction.
Gave them for the potter's field. This part of the citation is borrowed from Jeremiah's purchase of the field of Hanamel (Jeremiah 32:1-44.). The Christian writer introduces a second fulfilment of the ancient word. As the Lord appointed me. This must be the equivalent of Zechariah's "the Lord said unto me" (Zechariah 11:13). The destination of these wages of iniquity was foreordained. They could not be used by the Shepherd, nor stored in the temple treasury, nor kept by Judas or the priests; they were to be employed for another purpose.
Jesus examined by Pilate. (Mark 15:2-5; Luke 23:2-5; John 18:29-38.)
Jesus stood before the governor. St. Matthew omits here many details which the other evangelists, and especially St. John, supply. Pilate from the first had shown much reluctance to proceed, not being satisfied with the vague accusation that Jesus was a malefactor, and proposing that the Sanhedrists should try him according to Jewish Law, as if the question was merely a religious one. This treatment forced the priests to formulate a charge of which the roman authorities must take cognizance. They therefore stated unblushingly that Jesus had said that he was himself Christ a King (Luke 23:2). At this point St. Matthew's account steps in. Art thou (συÌ εἶ) the King of the Jews? This examination took place within the Praetorium, where Christ was detained in the custody of some guards. The accusation of the Jews had been made outside, as they had scruples about entering the building. Jesus had never actually (so far as recorded) called himself King, though the appellation had been applied to him by Nathanael (John 1:49), and the hosannahs of the multitudes had virtually so greeted him. His accusers had added the charge that he perverted the nation, and forbade to give tribute to Caesar. There is scorn and surprise, mingled with some awe, in Pilate's interrogation, "Thou—such a one as thou—art the King of the Jews?" Thou sayest. What thou sayest is true. A strong affirmation. Christ accepts in its fullest sense that which the governor puts as a question (comp. Matthew 26:25, Matthew 26:64). St. Paul alludes to this scene in 1 Timothy 6:13, "Christ Jesus, who before Pilate witnessed the good confession."
When Pilate went forth again to the door of the judgment hall, he was met by a storm of accusations from the chief priests and elders, who, seeing the impression produced on him by Christ's bearing, vied with each other in vociferating charges against the meek Prisoner. He answered nothing. With Divine patience he bore it all; he would not defend himself before people who cared nothing for truth and justice, and wanted only to secure condemnation and death. As for Pilate, he had told him expressly that his kingdom was spiritual and not of this world, and therefore his claims did not interfere with the sovereignty of Rome. To him and to the rest there was nothing more to be said.
Hearest thou not how many things (ποìσα, quanta, what great things) they witness against thee? Among the charges was one that Jesus stirred up the people to revolt, both in Galilee and Judaea. The mention of Galilee offered to Pilate a chance of escaping the responsibility of the trial, and led to his sending Christ to Herod, as St. Luke relates (Luke 23:6-12). It was on the return from Herod that the final scene took place. Pilate evidently did not believe that this dignified, meek, inoffensive Man was guilty of sedition, and he desired to hear his defence, which he was willing to receive favourably (Acts 3:13).
To never a word (προÌς οὐδεÌ ἑìν ῥῆμα, not even to one word). He made no reply to a single one of the accusations die; he was a willing sacrifice; so he acted as his prophet had foretold, "He opened not his mouth" (Isaiah 53:7). Marvelled greatly. The Roman governor in all his experience had never beheld such calm resigntion, such unshaken equanimity, such intrepid resolution in the face of death.
Barabbas preferred to Jesus. (Mark 15:6-15; Luke 23:17-25; John 18:39, John 18:40.)
Pilate now tries another expedient for delivering himself from the responsibility of condemning Jesus. At that feast (καταÌ ἑορτηìν, at a feast, at feast time). Doubtless the Passover is meant, which was the feast especially of the Jews, and it is very improbable that the practice mentioned in the clause was allowed at any other of the feasts. The governor was wont to release unto the people (τῷ ὀìχλῳ, the multitude), etc. St. Luke says, "Of necessity he must release one unto them at the feast." The custom is not elsewhere mentioned. It was, however, most probably an institution established of old time in memory of the Exodus (John 18:39), and continued by the Romans when they became masters of the country. A similar custom obtained at Rome and in Greece on certain great festivals. Whom they would. The governor usually left the priests and people unfettered in their choice; on the present occasion he desired Jesus to be selected.
They had then a notable prisoner. The plural verb must refer to the multitude, to whose class the man belonged. The Vulgate, with Origen, reads, "he had," habebat, referring to Pilate, whose prisoner he was. The man was notorious; as St. Mark tells us, "He lay bound with them that had made insurrection with him, men who had committed murder in the insurrection." We have no account elsewhere of this particular rising, nor of its leader, but such commotions were very common, and under the guise of political aims were utilized for purposes of robbery and assassination. Called Barabbas. The word means "Son of the father," which some explain "Son of a rabbi," which is improbable; and it is a question whether this was his real name, or one applied to him with reference to his pretensions to being "a political anti-Christ"—"a hideous caricature of the true Jesus, the Son of the eternal Father." It is a strange fact that in some (not very trustworthy) manuscripts the name is given as Jesus Barabbas, which affords a remarkable antithesis in Pilate's question in the following verse, "Wilt ye that I release Jesus Barabbas or Jesus called Christ?" There can be no reasonable doubt that the prefix is not genuine, but has crept into some texts inadvertently.
Therefore when (when then, οὖν) they were gathered together. The illative particle refers to the fact just mentioned that the notorious Barabbas was at that time in prison. The multitude, together with the Sanhedrists summoned from their meeting in the temple, were gathered at the doors of the Praetorium, when Pilate came out and spoke to them. Whom will ye that I release unto you? He had great hope that their answer would favour Jesus. When it came to choosing between a vile robber and murderer and a beneficent, moral teacher, common sense would guide the choice aright. Which is called Christ (Matthew 27:22). In Mark Pilate terms him, "the King of the Jews." He puts before them these two names as the limit of their choice, minor offenders being not worthy of consideration in the lace of these celebrated prisoners. And he names Christ's claims, as if he would remind the people that in Jesus they possibly had the Messiah whom they desired.
For he knew. He had recourse to this expedient because he was well acquainted with the motives which led the Sanhedrists to desire his death. They had shown their envy of Christ's influence with the people; they were jealous of his reputation and success; grudged him his marvellous powers; were embittered by his attacks on rabbinism, and the undermining of their popularity. Pilate saw much of this; he penetrated behind their flimsy pretence of averting some possible danger from the Roman dominion, and he laboured in this indirect way to save the victim of this vindictive plot. Of course, Pilate could not fully appreciate Christ's character, nor enter into the question of his supernatural claims; he saw only that he was brought before him from the basest motives, that no real offence was proved against him, and that no fear could be entertained of his heading a popular tumult.
When he was set down (was sitting) on the judgment seat. This was a curule chair placed on a raised stone platform in front of the Praetorium, where the Roman governors sat to give judgment in cases brought before them (see John 19:13). It was while he was waiting to hear the decision of the multitude with respect to the selection of the prisoners that the episode that follows (mentioned alone by St. Matthew) occurs. His wife. Her name, according to ecclesiastical tradition, was Claudia, the addition of Procula being probably a mistake. In the apocryphal Gospel of Nicodemus (Matthew 2:1-23) she is said to have been a convert to Judaism. Other accounts affirm that she ultimately became a Christian; and the Greek Church has canonized her, and inserted her in the Menology on October 27. It is probable that she was well acquainted with, and favourably disposed towards, the claims of Christ; and if she had impressed her husband in some degree with her own views, this fact may have influenced him to make some effort to save Jesus. Doubtless she had thought much upon the subject, and talked it over with Pilate; hence her dream was the natural sequence of that with which her mind had been filled in her waking moments, though providentially ordered. It speaks for the accuracy of the evangelist's account, that lately the governors had been allowed to take their wives with them into their official districts, a law previously having forbidden this indulgence (see Tacitus, 'Annul.,' 3.33, 34). Have thou nothing to do with that just Man. Wordsworth well remarks, "In the whole history of the Passion of Christ no one pleads for him but a woman, the wife of a heathen governor, the deputy of the emperor of the world." This was another wanting given to Pilate to arrest him in his criminal cowardice. The expression used means literally, "Let there be nothing to thee and that Righteous One," which is equivalent to "Do nothing to him for which you will be hereafter sorry." I have suffered (ἐìπαθον, I suffered) many things this day in a dream because of him. It is useless to inquire the nature of her dream. From the way in which it is here introduced, and from what we know of God's employment of dreams in other cases to communicate his will to men, we may reasonably conclude that this was divinely sent to convey a lesson to Pilate through his wife, who alone, perhaps, was able to arouse the better feelings of his heart. The mention of her suffering shows that she had some dreadful experiences to relate in connection with the fate of the righteous Jesus. As at the beginning of Christ's life, so at its close, such communications were addressed to strangers. Pilate's superstitious fears would be excited by this mysterious dream, but they were not able to overpower counteracting influences.
But the chief priests and elders persuaded the multitude. For a short time the people appear to have wavered in their choice, and Pilate had hopes that his stratagem worked well. But the Sanhedrists were at hand with their insidious suggestions; not a voice was raised for Christ; all his friends were scattered or silenced; and his enemies easily swayed the fickle crowd. That they should ask (ask for) Barabbas, and destroy Jesus. By directing popular favour to Barabbas, they could make the condemnation of Jesus more certain. The expression in the Greek implies that they used their persuasive powers in order that (ἱìνα) the people should demand the release of Barabbas, and compass the death of Jesus.
Answered, to the various cries which reached him. Whether of the twain? Which of the two? He repeats the question before asked (Matthew 27:17), having given the multitude time for deliberation, and offering them no alternative but to choose one of these two prisoners. Barabbas. They prefer a murderer to the Prince of life—a selection on their part guilty and malevolent, but on the part of God necessary for our salvation (Quesnel). Truly, Jesus "was despised and rejected of men." If he had been released now, his liberation would not have been, as it ought to have been, an act of simple justice, but an imperial concession, an act of grace, in which the character of the prisoner was not regarded.
It was with disappointment and indignation that Pilate heard the rabble's decision. He could not refuse to release the robber and murderer; but he still entertained some hope of a better feeling in the crowd which would allow him to acquit Jesus. What shall I do then with Jesus? Τιì οὖν ποιηìσω Ἰησοῦν; What then shall I do to Jesus? As you demand the release of Barabbas, what am I to do with the other prisoner? He dared not act boldly, as his conscience and the justice of the ease dictated; if the popular voice was not with him, he would take no open step. He added, which is called Christ, or, according to Mark, "whom ye call the King of the Jews," in scorn of the title itself, and of the fickleness which honoured him one day and now clamored for his destruction. Let him be crucified! They have their dreadful answer ready. He is a political offender; he is a mover of sedition against the Roman supremacy; let him meet the punishment to which Rome dooms her lowest criminals and runagates. This was the death which Christ had foretold for himself (ch. 20:19), the most painful, barbarous, and ignominious punishment which the cruelty of man ever invented.
Why, what evil hath he done? Τιì γαÌρ κακοÌν ἐποιìησεν; The particle γαÌρ implies a certain reasoning in the question, the speaker for the nonce putting himself in the people's position, and demanding the ground of their decision. The authorized translation is adequate. Pilate thus showed his pusillanimity and irresolution, while exercising no control over the feelings of the excited mob. But they cried out the more (περισσῶς ἐìκραζον, they kept shouting out exceedingly). The very sight of the governor's predilection, combined with his indecision, excited them to more vehement clamour; they saw that he would end by yielding to their violence. Jerome refers, in illustration, to Isaiah 5:7, "He looked for judgment, but behold oppression; for righteousness, but behold a cry."
He could prevail nothing (οὐδεÌν, ὠφελεῖ, he prevailed nothing). Naught that he did altered the determination of the multitude. But that rather a tumult was made (γιìνεται, is arising). The present tense gives a graphic touch to the narrative. The delay and hesitation of the governor exasperated the people, and there were ominous signs of a riot, which must be suppressed at any sacrifice of principle or equity. He feared that a report might reach Rome of his having occasioned dangerous excitement at the Passover by refusing to punish a pretender to the Jewish throne, he submits to the popular will, but endeavours to save himself from the guilt of an accomplice in a most atrocious murder. Took water, and washed his hands before the multitude. This symbolical action would appeal to the Jewish sentiment, as it was a mode of asserting innocence prescribed in the Mosaic Law (Deuteronomy 21:6; Psalms 26:6). Pilate thus publicly, in the sight of all the multitude who might not have been able to hear his words, attested his opinion of the innocence of Christ, and weakly cast the guilt upon the people, as if the administration of justice lay with them and not with him. Such lustrations were not exclusively Jewish, but were practised both among Greeks and Romans in expiation of guilt. I am innocent of the blood of this just Person. Some manuscripts, followed by Alford, Tischendorf, and Westcott and Hort, omit "just Person (δικαιìου)." If the word is genuine, it must be regarded as an echo of the wife's message to Pilate (verse 19). The cowardly governor thus shakes off the responsibility of the perversion of justice which he allows. See ye to it (ὑμεῖς ὀìψεσθε, vos videritis, as verse 4). You will take all the responsibility of the act; the blame will not be mine. Vain hope! Pilate may wash his hands, he cannot purify heart or conscience from the stain of this foul murder. As long as the Church lasts so long will the Creed announce that Jesus "suffered under Pontius Pilate."
Then answered all the people. Instigated by the Sanhedrists working insidiously among them, the multitude, now very numerous, respond with fiendish alacrity to Pilate's deprecation. It was a unanimous, a national assumption of guilt, lightly undertaken, terribly vindicated. His blood be on us, and on our children. The consequences of this condemnation, be they what they may, we are willing to suffer. Let God visit it, if he will. upon us and our children; we and they will cheerfully bear the penalty. A mad and impious imprecation. the fulfilment of which quickly commenced, and has continued unto this day. The terrible events connected with the destruction of Jerusalem, the overthrow of the theocracy, and the eighteen centuries of exile and dispersion, bear witness to the reality of the vengeance thus wantonly invoked. "As for the head of those that compass me about, let the mischief of their own lips cover them" (Psalms 140:9).
Released he Barabbas—"him that for sedition and murder was cast into prison, whom they had desired" (Luke). When he had scourged Jesus. This was the usual preliminary to crucifixion, especially in the case of shires, and was a punishment of a most severe and cruel nature. The verb here used, φραγελλοìω, is formed from the Latin flagellum, and denotes the employment of that terrible implement the Roman scourge. This was no ordinary whip, but commonly a number of leather thongs loaded with lead or armed with sharp bones and spikes, so that every blow cut deeply into the flesh, causing intense pain. The culprit was stripped of his clothes, pinioned, and bound to a stake or pillar, and thus on his bare back suffered this inhuman chastisement. To think that the blessed Son of God was subject to such torture and indignity is indeed a lesson for us written in blood. When "he gave his back to the smiters" (Isaiah 50:6), he was taking the punishment of our sin upon his sacred shoulders. "He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed" (Isaiah 53:5). Possibly Pilate thought that the sight of Christ's suffering might arouse at this last moment the pity of the Jews (John 19:1-16). But he was mistaken. The appetite of the bloodthirsty crowd was only whetted by this anticipatory taste; they insisted on the whole programme being canted out, and Pilate yielded to the demand, giving up the useless struggle. He delivered him to be crucified. Pilate delivered Jesus to the will of the people, directing the soldiers to carry out the ordered execution. On the view taken by the Romans themselves of crucifixion, commentators quote Cicero, 'In Verr.,' Romans 2:5. 66, "It is a crime to bind a Roman citizen; to scourge him is an act of wickedness; to put him to death is almost parricide: what shall I say of crucifying him? An act so abominable it is impossible to find any word adequately to express."
Jesus mocked by the soldiers. (Mark 15:16-19; John 19:2, John 19:3.)
The soldiers of the governor. The brutal soldiers, far from feeling compassion for the meek Sufferer, take a fiendish pleasure in torturing and insulting him. They fling upon his bleeding body his upper garments, and take him into the common hall (πραιτωìριον, the Praetorium). This name was applied to the dwelling house of the provincial governor, and here refers to the open court of the building, outside which the preceding events had taken place (see on Matthew 27:2). The whole band (σπεῖραν), which usually signifies "a cohort" (Acts 10:1), but sometimes only a maniple, which was a third part of the same (Polybius, 11.23.1). This is probably what is meant here, as they would not denude the barracks of all its occupants, who consisted of one cohort of about six hundred men (Josephus, 'Bell. Jud.,' 2.15. 6). The soldiers summoned their comrades on guard at the palace or in the Tower of Antonia to come and join in the cruel sport. "The devil was then entering in fury into the hearts of all. For indeed they made a pleasure of their insults against him, being a savage and a worthless set" (Chrysostom, in loc.).
They stripped him (ἐκδυìσαντες). Some manuscripts read ἐνδυìσαντες, "when they had clothed him;" but this seems to have been derived from St. Mark, and to be here somewhat tautological. They had heard of his claim to be a King, so they determined to deride him with the mockery of royal honours. They tore his garments from his mangled form, thus opening afresh his half-dried wounds. Put on him a scarlet robe (χλαμυìδα κοκκιìνην). This was probably the short military woollen cloak worn by officers, in colour either scarlet or purple, and fastened by a buckle on the right shoulder. Some think it was a cast-off garment from the wardrobe of King Herod, which they found and appropriated to this purpose. Whatever it was, its bright hue was suitable for this mockery of regal splendour.
Platted a crown of thorns. In carrying out their mockery, the soldiers next supply a regal crown. Palestine was a country thickly set with brambles and thorn-growing bushes. They would have no difficulty in finding plants to suit their cruel purpose, and in plucking with their gauntlet-covered bands sprays sufficient to weave into a rude coronet. What was the particular shrub employed cannot be known for certainty. The zizyphus, Spina Christi, a kind of acacia with long reflex thorns, is of too brittle a nature to be used in this way. Some variety of the cactus or prickly pear may be meant. "Hasselquist, a Swedish naturalist, supposes a very common plant, naba or nabka of the Arabs, with many small and sharp spines, soft, round, and pliant bushes, leaves much resembling those of ivy, being of a very deep green, as if in designed mockery of a victor's wreath, 'Travels,' 288" (F.M.). Thorns were the fruits of the primal curse, which Christ, the second Adam, was now bearing, and by bearing removed. A reed in his right hand. By way of sceptre. This must have been a reed or cane of a thick and solid character (see Matthew 27:30, and note on Matthew 27:48). Bowed the knee before him. Doing mock obeisance to him as King. Thus these wretched heathens did that in derision which sonic day all Gentiles shall do in solemn earnest, when "all the kindreds of the nations shall worship before him" (Psalms 22:27). Hail, King of the Jews! Doubtless they cried, "Ave, Rex Judaeorum!" in imitation of the "Ave, Imperator!" addressed to the Emperor ot Rome.
They spit upon him. Repeating the atrocious outrage already offered (Matthew 26:67). Smote him (ἐìτυπτον, imperf., kept smiting him) on the head. They tore the mock sceptre from his trembling hands, and one after the other, as they passed, struck him with it on the head, at every blow driving the thorns deeper into his flesh. Here must be introduced some other attempts of Pilate to save him, narrated by St. John (John 19:4-16), especially the episode of "Ecce Homo!"
Jesus is led to crucifixion. Via dolorosa. (Mark 15:20-23; Luke 23:26-33; John 19:16, John 19:17.) In these accounts, those of Matthew and Mark are most alike, though varied in expression and in some details; that of Luke is the fullest; that of John distinct from the rest.
St. Matthew, omitting some details, hurries to the final scene. Took the robe off from him; i.e. the scarlet robe with which they had arrayed him (verse 28). Whether they removed the crown of thorns is uncertain. The Lord is always depicted wearing it upon the cross. His own raiment (ταÌ ἱμαìτια αὐττοῦ, his garments). The term would include the outer and inner garments, especially the seamless tunic for which the soldiers cast lots (John 19:23; Psalms 22:18). Thus unknowingly they were preparing to fulfil prophecy. Led him away to crucify him. This must have been about 9 a.m. Executions took place outside the city walls (see Numbers 15:35, Numbers 15:36; Acts 7:58). "The bodies of those beasts, whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the priest for sin, are burned without the camp. Wherefore Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered without the gate" (Hebrews 13:11, Hebrews 13:12). Lange describes the procession: "Instead of being led forth by litters, the command of whom Pilate, as sub-governor, did not enjoy, Jesus is conducted to the cross by the soldiery. A centurion on horseback, called by Tacitus 'Exactor mortis,' by Seneca 'Centurio supplicio praepositus,' headed the company. A herald, going in front of the condemned, proclaimed his sentence." Behind him walked the prisoner, bearing the instrument of his punishment; a small company of soldiers completed the cavalcade.
As they came out; i.e. from the city gate which led to the place of execution. They found a man of Cyrene, Simon by name. He was, as the other synoptists mention, coming out of the country to Jerusalem, where probably he lived. Cyrene was a district in the north of Africa, under Roman rule, and colonized by a large number of Jews (Josephus, 'Cont. Apion.,' 2.4; 'Ant.,' 14.7. 2), who had a synagogue of their own at Jerusalem (Acts 6:9). Simon doubtless became a follower of Christ, and St. Mark mentions his two sons, Alexander and Rufus, as well known believers (see Romans 16:13). Probably the guards saw in him some tokens of sympathy with Christ and compassion for his sufferings; or they used his services simply as being a foreigner, and not likely to resent being put to a task which a Hebrew would deem the lowest degradation. Him they compelled (ἠγγαìρευσαν, impressed) to bear his cross. The verb translated "compelled" is derived from the Persian, and implies the compulsory power possessed by couriers of requisitioning horses and carriages in forwarding despatches (see Matthew 5:41). The cross was probably the ordinary Latin cross, crux immissa, of which, however, the lower limb below the transom was longer than the upper; and this latter afforded a place where could be affixed the board containing the inscription. It was not as tall as usually represented; we are told that beasts of prey were able to gnaw the bodies hung thereon. In fact, the culprit's feet were only just raised above the ground, being drawn up till the soles lay flat on the upright beam. Nails were driven through the hands and feet, and the body was supported partly by these, and partly by a projecting pin of wood called the seat. The rest for the feet, often seen in pictures, was never used. A slight covering was allowed for decency's sake, the rest of the body being stripped of clothing; and thus the condemned, exposed to scorching sun, bleeding from the cruel scourge, suffering untold agonies, was left to die. Whether Jesus carried the whole cross or only the transom is uncertain. It is possible that the two were tied together by a rope at one end, so as to form an inverted V, and fastened in the proper position at the place of execution. However this may he, it proved too heavy a burden for him to bear. Spent with his long vigil and lack of food, his spirit afflicted by the agony in the garden and the unknown sufferings then and afterwards, his body tortured with open wounds and weakened with loss of blood, he sank beneath the weight, as he staggered weariedly along the rough and hilly streets, Either from a momentary compunction, or more probably flora impatience at the slowness of the poor Sufferer's movements, the soldiers gladly seized on Simon to relieve the Prisoner of the cross, or to share its weight, and thus enable them sooner to complete their cruel task.
A place called Golgotha, that is to say, a place of a skull; quod est Calvariae locus (Vulgate). Hence the Latinized name Calvary. The word means "a skull;" but why the spot was so called is a doubtful question. That it was the usual place of execution is a suggestion with no proof, and one would expect the designation in this case to be "the place of skulls." Tradition (authorized by Origen) pointed to it as the spot where Adam was buried, and where his skull was found—a story that seems to have arisen from the typical reason that it was congruous that the first Adam and the second Adam should meet in death, the latter winning the victory there where the former showed his defeat. Most probably the name was given to it as descriptive of its appearance, a bare space of rock (not a hill) denuded of verdure, and bearing a distant resemblance to a human skull wanting hair. The actual situation of Calvary is hotly contested by exegetes and travellers, and is still far from being determined. The only criterion offered by our accounts in the Gospels is that it was without the then walls of the city, not far from one or the gates, and by the side of one of the principal roads leading from the city to the country. A certain knoll on the hill Gareb towards the northwest, by which the Damascus road led, and to which Jeremiah (Jeremiah 31:39) refers, is supposed, not very happily, to answer these requirements, If the present Church of the Holy Sepulchre, on the northwest of Jerusalem, really contains the actual Golgotha and the tomb of our Lord, the course of the second wall as usually drawn cannot be correct, as it embraces this site completely. Opinion, always altering, has lately been inclined to endorse the authenticity of many of the traditional sites in the holy city and its neighbourhood. Further discoveries will set this and other matters at rest. Meantime, judgment must be suspended (see on verse 51).
The Crucifixion and the mockery. (Mark 15:23-32; Luke 23:32-43; John 19:18-24.)
Vinegar...mingled with gall (χολῆς). Instead of "vinegar" (ὀìξος) very many manuscripts, followed by Tischendorf, Westcott and Hort, and others, read here, as in Mark, "wine" (οἶνον). Dederunt ei viaum bibere (Vulgate). Doubtless the two words represent the same fluid, a wine of a sharp and acrid taste. The received reading in our text is supposed to be derived from Psalms 69:21, "They gave me gall for my meats, and in my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink." "Gall" here signifies some bitter ingredient, which was infused in the wine to impart a narcotic quality. It was the custom to offer this draught to criminals about to undergo crucifixion, either as an anodyne or to give them adventitious strength to bear their sufferings. The beverage is said to have been prepared by some benevolent ladies in Jerusalem, and to have been owed to a gloss on Proverbs 31:6, Proverbs 31:7, "Give strong drink unto him that is ready to perish, and wine unto the bitter in soul; let him drink, and forget his poverty, and remember his misery no more." This was not an additional insult offered to Jesus, as some have opined, but a usual act of kindliness. When he had tasted thereof, he would not (οὐκ ἠìθελε) drink. He accepted the kindly offer so far as to put his lips to the cup, but, recognizing its stupefying qualities, he refused to drink it. He willed to endure all the coming pains without mitigation; he would meet all with the powers of mind and body undarkened; he would have his senses and his self-consciousness unimpaired to the end.
They crucified him. We should try to realize the utter degradation as well as the anguish of such a death. No modern form of punishment carries with it the abhorred ignominy with which crucifixion was regarded, and we must put ourselves back eighteen centuries, and enter into the feelings of Jews and Romans, if we would view it in its genuine aspect. The narrative of this harrowing scene could not be simpler. The writer leaves it reverently to speak for itself, without any attempt at sensational adjuncts or rhetorical amplification. There is no indignation at the outrage, no compassion for the Sufferer, no commendation of the Divine patience. These are suppressed, because they needed no words; the unvarnished details are more than sufficient to place the reader by the Saviour's side, and make him feel every pang, sympathize with the grief, the shame, the horror, that rent the heart of Jesus. The sacred authors have said little about the mode of crucifixion, and have left untold many particulars which we should have liked to hear. This horrid punishment was too well known at that time to need description, and they saw no necessity for dwelling on its revolting details. (For some of these, see on verse 32.) Whether in the present case the upright beam of the cross was fixed in its position before the Prisoner was fastened to it, or whether it was laid flat on the ground, set in order, and the Sufferer was nailed thereto before it was raised and settled in its place, we are not informed. The former was the method commonly employed. To carry out the execution a quaternion of soldiers (Acts 12:4) was appointed under the command of a centurion (verse 54) Parted his garments, casting lots. The clothes of criminals were the perquisite of the soldiers charged with the execution. They divided these amongst the four, casting lots to determine what each should take. Further details are supplied by St. John (John 19:23, John 19:24). That it might be fulfilled … they cast lots. These words are retained in the Clementine Vulgate and a few cursives, but omitted by the best uncials and most other manuscripts. Modern editors almost universally have rejected them as an interpolation from the parallel passage in St. John. There can be no doubt, however, that, whether genuine or not in this place, they represent the truth. The soldiers' act did fulfil in marvellous fashion the psalmist's enunciation (Psalms 22:18), where the stripping of the Lord's Anointed and the disposal of his raiment are prophetically stated.
They watched him there. The soldiers, in relays, had to guard the criminal from any attempt of his friends to remove him from the cross—a long and tedious duty, during the performance of which they were allowed to sit. Crucifixion was not accompanied by immediate death. It was one of its greatest horrors that the tortured sufferer sometimes lived for days before death relieved him from his agony. Till this supervened, the guard had to keep watch. That this caution was not superfluous, we have intimations in ancient history, which tells of crucified persons being sometimes removed by their friends and restored to the use of their limbs and faculties. Josephus ('Vita,' 75) relates that he thus took down three criminals after a lengthened suspension, one of whom completely recovered, though the others succumbed to their injuries. This vigilance of the soldiers was providentially ordered as one of the means of proving the reality of Christ's death.
Set up over his head his accusation written. This was the titulus. A wooden tablet smeared with gypsum, had on it, written in black letters, the charge on which the prisoner was condemned. This, which had been hung round the criminal's neck or carried before him on the way to execution, was now affixed to the upper portion of the cross over his head. THIS IS JESUS THE KING OF THE JEWS. The title had been prepared by Pilate (John 19:19, John 19:22), and was conceived in terms studiously offensive to the Jews, with whom he was deeply indignant. It was written in three languages, so that all of whatever nationality might read it—in Hebrew and in Latin and in Greek (for the order, see Westcott on John 19:20); i.e. the national Aramaic, familiar to all Jews; the official Latin,understood by the soldiers and Romans; the current Greek, the dialect of Hellenistic Jews, and largely used by all classes. "These three languages gathered up the results of the religious, the social, the intellectual preparation for Christ, and in each witness was given to his office" (Westcott). The title is given by the four evangelists with some verbal variations, which are owing in part to the actual differences existing in the three versions of the inscription. They run thus: "'This is Jesus the King of the Jews" (Matthew); "The King of the Jews" (Mark); "This is the King of the Jews" (Luke); "Jesus of Nazareth the King of the Jews" (John). Of these titles, those given by Mark and Luke probably represent the Latin; that of Matthew, the Greek; while that of John was intended for the national population, who alone would understand the veiled sneer contained in the addition, "of Nazareth." The legend of the finding of the cross and its inscription is given by Butler, 'Lives of the Saints,' on 'The Invention of the Holy Cross.' A supposed fragment of the title is preserved at Rome, in the Church of the Holy Cross, and declared by a papal bull to be authentic. In this case infallibility has rather overstepped its limits.
Then. St. Matthew does not give the exact sequence of events, generally grouping them together for ethical and other kindred reasons. Probably these two malefactors were crucified immediately after cur Lord. Thieves; λῃσταιì: robbers, brigands (Matthew 21:13). Thus was Christ "numbered with the transgressors" (Isaiah 53:12). St. Luke alone relates the acceptance of the penitent thief. If he was the one set on the right hand, possibly the careful mention of the position of the two robbers, which is found in the ether evangelists, may have a silent reference to this episode. We know from Josephus ('Ant.,' 16.10, 8; 20.8, 10; 'Belt. Jud.,' 2.12, 2, etc.) that Palestine was infested with banditti, who were rigorously pursued by the Romans, and were commonly crucified when captured. Doubtless these two criminals had been taken red-handed in some act of robbery and murder, and it was an exquisite malice that treated Jesus as their comrade and accomplice, and placed him in the position of their leader. But Augustine sees a spiritual signification in this scene: "The very cross was the tribunal of Christ; for the Judge was placed in the middle; one thief, who believed, was set free; the other, who reviled, was condemned; which signified what he was already about to do with the quick and dead; being about to set some on his right hand, but ethers on his left."
They that passed by. Golgotha being near a great high road and a much-frequented city gate (John 19:20), passersby were numerous, even without counting those who were attracted by the woeful sight. Many of them knew nothing of Christ's case, but seeing him punished in company with the two malefactors, thought that he was doubtless guilty of the same crimes as they; others, perhaps, who had seen his miracles and heard something of his teaching, conceived the notion that one whom the priests and rulers condemned must be a dangerous impostor, and deserved the cruelest of deaths. Reviled him; ἐβλασφηìμουν: railed on him; blasphemabant (Vulgate). The expression, indeed, is true in its worse sense, for they who could thus revile the Son of God were guilty, however ignorantly, of gross impiety and irreverence. Wagging their heads. In mockery and contempt, thus fulfilling the psalmist's words, "All they that see me laugh me to scorn; they shoot out the lip, they shake the head;" and, "I am become a reproach unto them; when they see me, they shake their heads" (Psalms 22:7; Psalms 109:25).
Saying. Some manuscripts (but not the best) insert οὐαì after "saying." So the Vulgate (vah!) and other versions. But it seems to he derived from the parallel passage in Mark. What the evangelist gives is only a specimen of the insults hurled at the meek Sufferer, who looked for some to take pity, but there was none, and for comforters, but found none (Psalms 69:20). Thou that destroyest the temple, etc. They shamelessly revive the old accusation (Matthew 26:61; John 2:19), doubtless at the instigation of the Sanhedrists who mingled with the crowd (verse 41). The saying rankled in the rulers' mind, and we see it playing a part later in the condemnation of Stephen (Acts 6:13, Acts 6:14). Save thyself. Thou who boastest of thy power to destroy and rebuild this magnificent and solid temple, employ that power in delivering thyself from thy well deserved death. Little they knew that Christ was then fulfilling his own prediction, which would ere long be fully accomplished. As little did they understand that by his words ("I am able to destroy," instead of, "Destroy ye") they were bearing witness to the truth that he was voluntarily laying down his life, and that but for this surrender they could have had no power over him. If thou be the Son of God, etc. Some manuscripts and versions read the passage thus: "Save thyself, if thou be the Son of God, and come down from the cross." But the Received Text is most probably correct. These revilers are doing the devil's work, and are quoting his words (Matthew 4:6), in thus taunting Jesus. They refer to our Lord's own statement before Pilate (Matthew 26:64), thinking it expedient to keep this claim before the people's mind. He might, indeed, have answered the jibe by coming down from the cross; but then, as Bishop Pearson says, in saving himself he would not have saved us.
Likewise also. All classes that composed the Sanhedrin were present at the execution, and took part in the reviling; but, unlike the soldiers (Luke 23:36) and the mob, they did not address him personally, either from supreme contempt, or because they stood aloof from the herd, and spake among themselves. Some few authorities of no great weight, after "elders" add "and Pharisees;" but the words are an interpolation, though they are without doubt true in fact. That these leaders should presume thus to revile One whom they knew to be innocent is unspeakably iniquitous.
He saved others. They knew something of his many miracles of healing; many among them had witnessed the cure of the man blind from his birth (John 9:1-41.); most must have heard of the raising of Lazarus;—they made these very works of mercy a reproach against him. He had proved himself a beneficent Saviour; he had shown superhuman power, and yet they say, Himself he cannot save. There was indeed a sense, not their sense, in which this was true. Christ willed to die; it was his purpose thus to redeem mankind; in adhering to this steadfast determination he could not deliver himself from suffering and death. Some read the clause interrogatively, "Cannot he save himself?" It is then parallel to the expression used at the grave of Lazarus (John 11:37). If he be the King of Israel. "If" (ει)) is omitted by א, B, D, L, etc., and many modern editors. Its omission is more concinnons to the other taunts, e.g. "He saved others;" "He trusted in God." His claim to be Messiah would involve the Kingship of Israel (Matthew 2:6), which the title over his head asserted. We will believe him (πιστευìσομεν αὐτῷ). We will believe (not subj., "let us believe") what he says. The Sinaitic, Vatican, and other good manuscripts read ἐπ αὐτοìν, "on him." So Westcott and Hort, Tischendorf, etc. This form of expression would imply that they would put their trust in him, become his followers. A confident boast! for they were so fully persuaded of the final triumph of thcir malice, that they decreed they might safely make such a promise. And yet Christ did a greater thing than come down alive from the cross; he rose from the dead; but they believed not in him. And if the sign which they asked had been vouchsafed, they would have explained it away, or evaded its meaning, and nave been no nearer to salvation than now.
He trusted in (ἐπιÌ, on) God. These scoffers cite a passage from Psalms 22:8, "He trusted unto the Lord that he would deliver him; let him deliver him, seeing he delighteth in him" (Hebrew); or, according to the Septuagint, "He hoped in the Lord; let him deliver him, let him save him, because he desires (θεìλει) him." Let him deliver him now, if he will have him (εἰ θεìλει). Θεìλω is used in the Septuagint in the sense of "I love," "I wish for" (see Deuteronomy 21:14; Psa 17:1-15 :19; Psalms 40:11). But the Vulgate, by omitting the first αὐτοìν, possibly takes the verb in the usual sense, Liberet nunc, si vult, eum. The Sinaitic and Vatican manuscripts and others support this reading, which is followed now by Tischendorf, and Westcott and Hort, so that the clause will run, Let him now, if he will, deliver him. But the Received Text and the Authorized Version are in closer agree ment with the original language of the psalm. For he said, I am the Son of God. Insultingly they allude to his own assertions concerning his Divine nature, implying that, were he such as he pretended to be, he would not now be dying on the shameful cross. There are wonderful coincidences in thought and language between this passage and one in the Book of Wisdom (2:13-20), which speaks of the oppression of the righteous, e.g. "He professeth to have the knowledge of God; and he calleth himself the child of the Lord....Let us see if his words be true; and let us prove what shall happen in the end of him. For if the just man be the Son of God, he will help him, and deliver him from the hand of his enemies." The similarity of expression is to be attributed to the typical nature of the treatment of Christ, which the writer of Wisdom, with remarkable insight, thus forcibly delineated.
The thieves also … cast the same in his teeth (ὠνειìδιζον αὐτῷ, were reviling him). The mention of the penitent robber is found only in Luke (Luke 23:39-42). It does not seem to have occurred in the traditional account followed by Matthew and Mark. Augustine thought that these synoptists used the plural for the singular, referring, in fact, to the impenitent malefactor. It is more likely that both the thieves at first joined the mob in their abuse and ribaldry, but that one, after a time, persuaded by the Divine patience and meekness of the Saviour, and awed by the gathering darkness, repented, confessed, and was forgiven.
Supernatural darkness. Last words, and death of Jesus. (Mark 15:33-37; Luke 23:44-46; John 19:28-30.)
The sixth hour; i.e. noon. Christ was crucified about 9 o'clock a.m., the hour of the morning sacrifice; he had therefore by this time been hanging three hours on the cross. His agonies, his sufferings mental and spiritual, were at their height. There was darkness over all the land (ἐπιÌ πᾶσαν τηÌν γῆν). The historical accuracy of this darkness there is no more reason to doubt than there is to doubt the death of Christ itself: The great fact and its details stand on the same basis. How the phenomenon was produced we know not. That it could not be an ordinary eclipse is certain, as the moon was then full, it being the Paschal time, and the darkness thus produced would have lasted but a few minutes. Nor had it any connection with the subsequent earthquake (Matthew 27:51), as some unscientific exegetes have supposed. On such occasions a thickness of the atmosphere has been noticed, but such an occurrence could never have been described in the words used by the synoptists; and. the earthquake itself was no ordinary event, and took place in no ordinary manner. We cannot doubt that the darkness was supernatural, conveying a solemn lesson to all who beheld it. When we consider what was being done on Calvary, who it was that was dying there, what was the object of his Passion, what was the infinite and unspeakable effect of the sacrifice there offered, is it wonderful that the Divine Architect controlled Nature to sympathize with her Creator, that as a supernatural effulgence heralded the Saviour's birth, a supernatural darkness should shroud his death? We are in the region of the Divine. What we have learned to regard as natural laws (but which really are only our formulary for expressing our experience of past uniformity) were superseded for the time by the interference of the Lawgiver; he used the material to enforce the spiritual being the Lord of both. Whether the darkness extended beyond Judaea unto all that part of the earth which was then illumined by the light of the sun, we cannot tell. Some of the Fathers refer to it as if it was universal. A supposed allusion was made by Phlegon, a writer of the second century, whose work, called 'Annals of the Olympiads,' is not extant, but is quoted by Julius Africanus and Eusebius (see Wordsworth, in loc.); but it seems certain that Phlegon is speaking of an astronomical eclipse which occurred in the ordinary course of nature. Tertullian states that a notice of this darkness was to be found in the archives of Rome ('Apol.,' 21.); but we have no further information on this point. There are some other uncertain references, as that of Dionysius the Areopagite, who is related to have said on the sudden obscuration, "Either the God of nature is suffering, or the machinery of the world is being dissolved;" but none of these will stand the test of criticism; and perhaps it is safer to determine that Gentile notices of the phenomenon are not forthcoming, because the darkness was confined to Palestine. It had, doubtless, a doctrinal and typical significance. Chrysostom considers it a token of God's anger at the crime of the Jews in crucifying Jesus; others see in it an emblem of the withdrawal of the light of God's presence from this wicked land. It was, in Iced, to all who would receive it, a sign of some awful event in the spiritual world of unspeakable consequence to the children of men. The ninth hour. Three o'clock p.m., about the time of the evening sacrifice.
Cried (ἀνεβοìησεν, cried out) with a loud voice. The loud cry at this terrible moment showed that there was still an amount of vitality in that mangled form from which extreme anguish of soul and body forced that pleading utterance. Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say (that is), My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken (ἐγκατεìλιπες, didst thou forsake) me? This is the only one of our Lord's seven sayings from the cross recorded by St. Matthew and St. Mark. The other evangelists do not mention it at all. The language is Aramaic, doubtless that used commonly by our Lord. He quotes the words of the twenty-second psalm as applicable to himself, as offering a foreordained expression of his agony of soul. Into the full meaning of this bitter cry we cannot venture irreverently to intrude. At the same time, thus much may be said. It was not mere bodily anguish that elicited it; it arose from some incalculable affliction of soul. He was bearing the sins of the whole world; the Lord had laid on him the iniquity of us all; there was no one to comfort him in his heaviness; and the light of God's countenance was for the time withdrawn from him. He was "left" that he might bear man's sins in their full and crushing weight, and by bearing save. Yet there is no despair in this lamentable outcry. He who could thus call upon God has God with him, even in his utter loneliness. "Amid the faintness, or the confusion of mind, felt at the approach of death, he experiences his abandonment by God; and yet his soul rests firmly on, and his wilt is fully subject to, God, while he is thus tasting death forevery man through God's grace .. He held firmly to God and retained the Divinity of his life, at the time when in his unity with mankind, and in his human feeling, the feeling of abandonment by God amazed him" (Lange). The verb "forsaken" is not in the perfect tense, as translated in the Authorized Version, but in the aorist; and it implies that during the three hours of darkness Christ had been in silence enduring this utter desolation, which had now come to its climax. The Man Christ Jesus asked why he was thus deserted; his human heart would fain comprehend this phase of the propitiatory sufferings which he was undergoing. No answer came from the darkened heaven; but the cry was heard; the unspeakable sacrifice, a sacrifice necessary according to the Almighty's purpose, was accepted, and with his own blood he obtained eternal redemption for man.
Some of them that stood there. These could not have been the Roman soldiers, for they would not have understood the Saviour's language, and could have known nothing about Elias. Edersheim supposes that the guards were provincial soldiers, and not necessarily of Latin extraction. At any rate, the speakers are Jews standing near enough to the cross to catch more or less the words uttered by Jesus. This man (οὗτος, he, pointing at him) calleth for Elias. Whether they wilfully misinterpreted the half-heard cry, "Eli, Eli!" or whether they really misunderstood it, is an undecided question. In the first ease, we must suppose that they spoke in cruel mockery—the last of the brutal insults vented on the meek Sufferer. He cannot save himself; he appeals to the old prophet to come to rescue him; was there ever such presumption? There are two considerations which militate against this supposition. The time of ribaldry and abuse is now past; the supernatural darkness has had a calming and terrifying effect; and there is no spirit of mockery left in the awed bystanders. Besides this, it is not likely that Jews, who with all their errors and vices paid an outward respect to holy things, would have presumed to make a play on the sacred name of God. Therefore it is no more reasonable to hold that, misunderstanding Christ's words, they spoke seriously, with some vague, superstitious idea that Elijah might appear at this crisis, and rescue the Sufferer (see Matthew 27:49).
Ran, and took a sponge. According to St. John, Jesus had just said, "I thirst." The sponge and the wine were provided for the purpose of ministering some relief to the crucified. Common humanity was not quite extinct even in the executioners and spectators. Vinegar. The acid wine used by the soldiers, and called posca (see on verse 34). Put it on a reed. St. John calls it a stalk of hyssop; and if this is the caller plant, it, though of a climbing nature, can produce a stick some three or four feet long (see on verse 29). Gave him to drink (ἐποìτιζεν, imperf., was offering him to drink); perhaps with the idea of helping him to endure till Elijah came. Thus was fulfilled the psalmist's word, "In my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink" (Psalms 69:21).
The rest [but the rest] said, Let be (ἀìφες). This is a common expression, meaning, "Stand off!" "Be quiet!" "Soft!" The bystanders addressed the person who had presented the drink. In St. Mark the verb is in the plural, ἀìφετε, that is, the giver of the drink calls upon the others to keep quiet and wait. Let as see whether Elias will come (ἐìρχεται, cometh, is coming). They speak in a kind of superstitious mockery, half deriding and half believing in the possible appearance of the great prophet. Between this verse and the following, the Sinaitic, Vatican, and some other manuscripts, together with some few versions, insert a passage borrowed from John 19:34, "And another taking a spear pierced his side, and there came out water and blood." This evident interpolation has been introduced by a scribe, who deemed it expedient to rectify an omission on St. Matthew's part, and clumsily inserted it in a wrong place. It is to be rejected, not only on critical, but on historical and theological grounds, seeing that it makes the piercing of the side to precede Christ's death, and conveys the impression that it was this spear wound that cut short his life.
When he had cried again. He had cried aloud once before (Matthew 27:46). But he does not repeat the former words; the horror of great darkness was past. Probably the cry here resolved itself into the words recorded by St. Luke, "Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit." With a loud voice. This loud cry at the moment of death proved that he laid down his life voluntarily; no man could take it from him (John 10:17, John 10:18); he himself willed to die; and this preternatural voice proceeded from one who died not altogether from physical exhaustion, but from determined purpose. Yielded up the ghost (ἀφῆκε τοÌ πνεῦμα); literally, dismissed his spirit; emisit spiritum). The phrase has been interpreted to signify that Christ exerted his power to anticipate the actual moment of dissolution; but there is no necessity of importing this idea into the expression. It is used ordinarily to denote the act of dying, as we say, "He expired." Perhaps the exertion of uttering this great cry ruptured some organ of the body. We know from the effect of the piercing of his side that his sacred heart was previously broken; and thus he verily and really died upon the cross. He, being in the form of God, and equal with God, became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross, suffered death forevery man. It is to be noted that the death of Christ occurred at 3 p.m., the very time when the Paschal lambs began to be slain in the temple courts. Thus the long prepared type was at last fulfilled, when "Christ our Passover was sacrificed for us."
Signs following the death of Christ. (Mark 15:38-41; Luke 23:47-49.)
And, behold. St. Matthew thus introduces his account of the portents which attended the death of the Son of God. The rending of the veil is mentioned by the synoptists as consequent on, and occurring simultaneously with, the completion of the ineffable sacrifice. The veil of the temple (τοῦ ναοῦ). There were two principal veils in the present temple—one between the vestibule and the holy place, and one other which is that here referred to, a constituent part of the edifce. This was the veil between the holy place and the holy of holies, which was moved aside only once a year to admit the high priest to the shrine on the great Day of Atonement (Exodus 26:33). It was large and costly, some sixty feet high, and made of rich materials. Josephus ('Bell. Jud.,' 5.5. 4) tells us of one of the veils in the temple, that it was a Babylonian curtain, embroidered with linen in various colours, woven together with wonderful art, such as the eye loved to rest upon. Was rent in twain from the top to the bottom. An apocryphal Gospel ('The Gospel of the Hebrews'), quoted by St. Jerome, in loc., asserts that the exquisitely carved lintel to which the veil was fastened was at this moment shattered to pieces, and in its fall tore the curtain asunder. The direction of the rent would show that no human hands had torn it apart, and the rending seems to have preceded the earthquake. The violent act was supernatural, and of a typical nature, as we are taught by Hebrews 9:6-12. The sanctuary enshrined the presence of God, from which the veil excluded every one but the high priest on one special occasion, thus denoting the imperfect reconciliation between God and his people, and that the way to the holiest was not yet made manifest. The rending of this veil betokened the opening of the access to heaven through the wounded body of Christ: as we read in Hebrews 10:19, Hebrews 10:20, "Having boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us through the veil, that is to say, his flesh." "When thou hadst overcome the sharpness of death, thou didst open the kingdom of heaven to all believers." The distinction between Jew and Gentile was abolished, the mysteries of the old Law were opened and manifested, all rites and ceremonies were made of sacramental efficacy, and ministered grace. How soon this ominous occurrence was discovered, we know not. The priest who offered incense at the evening sacrifice about this same hour must have seen it, and spread abroad among his comrades the news, to which many would attach a meaning fatal to the security of their religion. But this was comparatively a private sign; the next one was of a more comprehensive and public character. The earth did quake, and the rocks rent. The last verb is the same as was used just before in the case of the veil. There was a local earthquake at this awful moment, as if the very land shuddered at the terrible crime that had been committed. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre at Jerusalem is supposed to cover the Golgotha of the Crucifixion (see on Hebrews 10:33). "An opening, faced with silver, shows the spot where the cross is said to have been sunk in the rock, and less than five feet from it is a long brass open work slide, over a cleft in the rock, which is about six inches deep, but is supposed by the pilgrims to reach to the centre of the earth. This is said to mark the rending of the rocks at the Crucifixion". The fact of the earthquake is testified by Phlegon, whose words were quoted by Julius Africanus, in his 'Chronographia' (fragments of which work have been published by Routh and others), and by Eusebius, in his 'Chronicon' (the passage, no longer extant in the original, being preserved by Jerome, and in an Armenian version; see Morison, on verse 45). The rending of the rocks is attested by St. Cyril, Bishop of Jerusalem ('Cateches.,' 13.33), who speaks of the remarkable fissure in Golgotha, which he had often noticed.
The graves were opened. The earthquake tore away the stones that closed the mouths of many of the adjacent tombs. This and the following fact are mentioned only by St. Matthew. Many bodies of the saints which slept (τῶν κεκοιμημεìνων, who had fallen asleep) arose. Matthew anticipates the time of the actual occurrence of the marvel, which took place, not at this moment, but after our Lord's resurrection, who was "the firstfruits of them that slept" (see the next verse). Who are meant by "the saints" here is doubtful. The Jews probably would have understood the term to apply to the worthies of the Old Testament. But the opening of the sepulchres in the neighbourhood of Jerusalem would not have liberated the bodies of many of those who were buried far away. The persons signified must be those who in life had looked for the hope of Israel, and had seen in Christ that hope fulfilled; they were such as Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathaea, true believers, who are called saints in the New Testament. How did these bodies arise? or how were they raised up? They were not mere phantoms, unsubstantial visitants from the spirit world, for they were in some sense corporeal. That they were not resuscitated corpses, as Lazarus, Jairus's daughter and the son of the widow, who lived for a time a second life, seems plain from the expression applied to them in the next verse, that "they appeared unto many," i.e. to persons who had known them while living. Some have thought that in them was anticipated the general resurrection, that, delivered from Hades and united to their bodies, they died no more, but at the Ascension accompanied Christ into heaven. Scripture says nothing of all this, nor have we any reason to suppose that any human body, save that of our blessed Lord, has yet entered the highest heaven (see Hebrews 11:39, Hebrews 11:40). Another opinion is that these were not strictly resurrections, but bodily appearances of saints like those of Moses and Elias at the Transfiguration; but it is a straining of language to make the evangelist describe such visitations as bodies arising from open sepulchres. Farrar tries to elude the difficulty by a supposition, as baseless as it is dishonouring to the evangelist's strict and simple veracity. He writes, "An earthquake shook the earth and split the rocks, and as it rolled away from their places the great stones which closed and covered the cavern sepulchres of the Jews, so it seemed to the imaginations of many to have disimprisoned the spirits of the dead, and to have filled the air with ghostly visitants, who, after Christ had risen, appeared to linger in the holy city. Only in some such way," he adds, "can I account for the singular and wholly isolated allusion of Matthew." Because a fact is mentioned by one evangelist only, it is not on this account incredible. St. Matthew was probably an eyewitness of that which he relates, and might have been confuted by his contemporaries, if he had stated what was not true. An early witness to the fact is found in Igmatius, who, in his 'Epistle to the Magnesians,' Matthew 9:1-38., speaks of Christ when on earth raising the prophets from the dead. The whole matter is mysterious and beyond human ken; but we may well believe that at this great crisis the Lord, who is the Resurrection and the Life, willed to exemplify his victory over death. and to make manifest the resurrection of the body, and this he did by releasing some saintly souls from Hades, and clothing them with the forms in which they had formerly lived, and permitting them to show themselves thus to those who knew and loved them. Of the future life of these resuscitated saints we know nothing, and will not presumptuously venture to inquire. When they have demonstrated that the sting was now taken from death, that the power of the grave was broken, that men shall rise again with their bodies and be known and recognized, they pass out of sight into the unseen world, and we can follow them no further.
Came out of (ἐξελθοìντες) the graves after his resurrection. The masculine participle, not agreeing with "bodies" (σωìματα), denotes the personality of the bodies of the saints, that these arose perfect in soul and body. They could not rise before Christ rose. "Christ the firstfruits, afterwards they that are Christ's." Ewald and others have understood "after his resurrection" to mean "after he raised them from the dead." But the language is against such an interpretation, and there can be no reasonable doubt that the words refer to Christ's own resurrection. If it be contended that the word used, ἐìγερσις, is active in sense, we may reply that, granting this, it merely emphasizes Christ's voluntary action in raising himself. As was said above, St. Matthew anticipates the regular sequence of events in order to complete at one view his accounts of the portents that attended the death and resurrection of Christ. The holy city. Jerusalem, as in Matthew 4:5. The guilty Jerusalem is still the holy city, as retaining the temple, with its services, the ministry, the Scriptures. Some would understand the heavenly Jerusalem, into which these spiritual bodies entered; but the context is wholly against such an exposition. Appeared unto many. They were permitted to show themselves openly in their well known forms to pious relations and friends, as witnesses and proofs of the resurrection. If they had already gone to heaven, they could not have thus appeared. It may he right to add that many of the Fathers and modern commentators hold that these resuscitated saints were those to whom Christ preached (1 Peter 3:19) when he descended into hell, and that they accompanied him into glory when he ascended into heaven.
The centurion, and they that were with him. The officer with the small body of soldiers appointed to perform and take charge of the Crucifixion. St. Matthew relates the impression which these events made upon the soldiers' minds. Saw those things that were done. Instead of this reading, which has high authority, Alford, Tischendorf, Westcott and Hort read, "that were being done," as the Vulgate, quae fiebant. This would point especially to the loud cry, in accordance with the words of St. Mark, "saw that he so cried out, and gave up the ghost." But there is no sufficient reason for altering the Received Text; and plainly it was not merely the closing incident that affected the soldiers, but the whole course of events which they witnessed. They saw the darkness, the earthquake, the rending of the rocks, the Divine meekness of the Sufferer; they heard his last words, his loud cry, and marked his patient death. All these things contributed to their awe and fear. They feared greatly. This crucified Man must be something more than human, for all these wonders to accompany his death: will he not visit upon us our part in his crucifixion? Have we nothing to fear from his vengeance? Some such course their apprehensions may have taken. But they learned something beyond selfish dread of possible danger. Truly this was the Son (ΥιοÌς, anarthrous, Son) of God; or, according to St. Luke, "Certainly this was a righteous Man." They recognized his innocence, and acknowledged that he suffered unjustly. What the centurion meant (for the words appear to have been his) by calling him "Son of God" is more doubtful. It may have been on his lips merely an affirmation that Jesus was holy and beloved by God; but more probably it meant much more than this. He knew that Christ claimed to be the Son of God, and in this hour of overwhelming awe he felt that the claim was just, whatever it might mean. This crucified Person was at least a hero or a demigod, or that which the words would imply in a Jewish sense, though he knew only imperfectly what was signified thereby. Tradition affirms that the centurion's name was Longinus, that he became a devoted follower of Christ, preached the faith, and died a martyr's death.
Many women. These are mentioned as witnesses of all these events which the apostles are not recorded to have seen. Courageous and loving, they had followed the procession to Calvary, and at a distance watched the woeful proceedings there. Some, we know, had ventured to come closer to their dying Lord (see John 19:25). Which followed (equivalent to had followed) Jesus from Galilee, ministering unto him. They had accompanied Jesus on his last journey to the Passover at Jerusalem, tending him during all the time, and of their substance ministering to his wants (Luke 8:3).
The historian mentions the most prominent of these pious women. Mary Magdalene (ἡΜαγδαλησηì, the Magdalene). She was a native of Magdala (Matthew 15:39, where see note), a small village on the shore of Gennesaret. Some have identified her with the sister of Lazarus, chiefly because, taking her to be the "sinner" mentioned in Luke 7:37, she is related to have behaved in a somewhat similar way to our Lord as her namesake. But this is clearly a mistake. Of the two events, the locality, the scene, the occasion, the circumstances, are different. Of this Mary of Magdala we really know nothing, except that out of her Jesus had cast seven devils (Mark 16:9; Luke 8:2). That these were demons of impurity, or that she was the sinful woman who anointed our Lord, there is nothing whatever to prove; though the notion connected with the name Magdalene is so rooted in men's minds and language that it is impossible to eradicate it, however erroneous it may be shown to be. She had probably been one who was melancholy mad, and subject to fits; Christ had seen the spiritual cause of this malady, and removed it by freeing her from demoniacal possession. What wonder is it that she followed him from Galilee, tending him lovingly and anxiously until the end? Mary the mother of James and Joses. Some manuscripts read Joseph; but the Received Text is correct. These two persons are mentioned among our Lord's "brethren" in Matthew 13:55. The former is called "James the Less" (Mark 15:40), and is the apostle of that name. Mary is usually supposed to be the wife of Cleophas (John 19:25), and the sister of the mother of our Lord; so that these two disciples would be Christ's first cousins. The matter is shrouded in difficulty, and cannot be decided with absolute certainty. From the present passage, at any rate, one fact is shown, that they were not Christ's uterine brothers—a truth which needed no mention, were not the dishonouring heresy of Helvidius still rife among us. The mother of Zebedee's children. Salome. The rejection of her ambitious petition had not lessened her love and devotion to Christ.
The burial of the body of Jesus. (Mark 15:42-47; Luke 23:50-56; John 19:38-42.)
When the even was come. This was what was called the first evening, the time between the ninth hour, or three o'clock, and sunset, and the great sabbath would shortly be beginning. It was the Roman custom to leave criminals hanging on the cross for days, till their bodies were devoured by birds and wild animals; the Jewish Law enacted that when bodies were penally suspended, they should be taken down and buried before night (Deuteronomy 21:22, Deuteronomy 21:23), that the land might not be defiled. Tomorrow (beginning at sunset), being a specially solemn day, as combining the sabbath and the Passover celebration, the Jews were particularly anxious that the crucified bodies of our Lord and the two robbers should be taken away and put out of sight before the sabbath began. To effect this object, they went to Pilate, and begged him to put an end to their sufferings by the sharp, short process of breaking their legs. St. John's account must be referred to for this and the result of the soldiers' examination of our Lord. There came a rich man of Arimathaea, named Joseph, who also himself was Jesus' disciple. He is further said to have been "an honourable counsellor," i.e. a member of the Sanhedrin, "a good man and a just, who also waited for the kingdom of God, and had not consented to the counsel and deed" of the rest of the rulers. "It was divinely appointed," says the Ven. Bede, "that Joseph should be rich, in order to have access to Pilate, for no mean man could have access to the governor; and that he should be a just man, in order to receive the body of our Lord." This man's native place was Arimathaea, a town with much probability identified with Ramathaim-Zophim of 1 Samuel 1:1, which lay in Mount Ephraim, and was the birthplace of the Prophet Samuel. That he was "a rich man" naturally gave him some influence with Pilate, and joined with his position as a Sanhedrist, made his request more likely to be granted. "One Joseph was appointed by God to be guardian of Christ's body in the virgin womb, and another Joseph was the guardian of his body in the virgin tomb, and each Joseph is called a 'just man' in Holy Scripture" (Wordsworth).
He went to Pilate. St. Mark says, "came and went in boldly unto Pilate." He had hitherto been a disciple of Christ, "secretly for fear of the Jews" (John 19:38); now that Christ was dead, and his death accompanied with such manifest wonders, according absolutely with ancient prophecy, and fulfilling Christ's own predictions, he hesitated no longer, he openly professed his partisanship, and threw in his lot with the Crucified. If from expediency or pusillanimity he had refrained from taking a prominent position as a favourer of this wonderful Teacher, he had lately learned a new lesson, and hailed the opportunity of publicly honouring him deceased whom in his heart he had loved and reverenced while alive. So he went to the Praetorium to see the procurator, whose sanction was required for removing the body of a criminal from the cross. It was probably after the deputation of the Jews to Pilate, mentioned by St. John (John 19:31), that Joseph had his interview. Begged the body of Jesus. It was not unusual for friends to obtain leave to pay the last rites and to give decent sepulture in such cases; otherwise the corpses were thrown carelessly into nameless graves, if they were not left to rot on the cross. The indignities which Christ had suffered during life now began to be reversed. Commanded the body to be delivered. Pilate first, we are told, sent for the officer in charge of the execution, and finding from him that Jesus was really dead, granted Joseph's request. Perhaps he desired at the same time to flout the chief priests, and likewise to make some slight reparation to the innocent Victim of his policy.
When Joseph had taken the body. In order to effect this, the cross would be taken up and deposited upon the ground, the nails would be drawn from hands and feet, the cord unbound (if cord there was), and the corpse laid reverently down. We must remember that this act of Joseph and his friends was not only a bold proceeding, but an act of great self-denial. Contact with a corpse caused ceremonial defilement of seven days' duration, and thus they would be debarred from taking their part in the great Paschal solemnity, with its solemn and joyful observances. But the love of Jesus and the unselfish desire to render him honour enabled them to rise superior to religious prejudices, and willingly to make the required sacrifice. Wrapped it in a clean linen cloth; literally, swathed it in clean linen. The body was enveloped in a sheet of fine linen, pure and clean, as was fitting. The linen was a fine Indian cloth or muslin, much used for such purposes in Egypt. The body would then be taken to its destination on an open bier. St. John adds the fact that Nicodemus took part in the entombment, bringing a large amount of myrrh and aloes for a temporary embalming, the near approach of the sabbath leaving no time for more elaborate offices. All had to be done with the utmost expedition consistent with propriety and reverence, to avoid encroachment on the rest of that high sabbath. Some of the preparations for burial would doubtless be made in the vestibule of the tomb, which was a small court, but spacious enough for the purpose. Here the limbs would be separately bound with folds of linen, between layers of spices, the head being wrapped in a napkin.
Laid it in his own new tomb. It was placed on one of the shelves or recesses formed in the sides of the sepulchre. Thus did the Saviour make "his grave with the wicked" (dying between two thieves), "and with the rich in his death" (Isaiah 53:9). It was fitting that he whose body saw no corruption should be buried in a grave which had never been tainted by a human corpse. Thus also it was ensured that no other body could rise thence except his who alone was buried therein. This tomb, St. John tells us, was quite close at hand, which at that hurried time would be an additional reason for making use of it. Which he had hewn out in the rock. The tomb was a chamber artificially excavated in the face of the rock, with one entrance only. The wealthy Jews were especially fond of appropriating vaults for the burial of themselves and their families. The neighbourhood of Jerusalem (as other parts of Palestine) abounds with tombs cut in the solid limestone. Recent opinion has veered round to adherence to the traditional site of the holy sepulchre, of which the identification dates from the earliest days; that which is known as "Gordon's tomb" meeting with scant acceptance from experts, and other sites not fully answering the requirements of the case. The existing Chapel of the Holy Sepulchre, in the church of that designation, is thus described by Dr. Geikie: On entering the church, "immediately before you is 'the stone of unction,'said to mark the spot on which our Lord's body was laid in preparation for burial, after being anointed. It is a large slab of limestone A few steps to the left is the place where, as they tell us, the women stood during the anointing, and from this you pass at once, still keeping to the left, into the great round western end of the church—the model of all the circular churches of Europe—under the famous dome, which rests on eighteen pillars, with windows round the circle from which the dome springs. In the centre of this space, which is sixty-seven feet across, is the Chapel of the Holy Sepulchre, about twenty-six feet long and eighteen feet wide, a tasteless structure of reddish limestone, like marble, decorated all along the top with gilt nosegays and modern pictures, and its front ablaze with countless lamps. Inside it is divided into two parts, the one marking, as is maintained, the spot where the angels stood at the Resurrection, the other believed to contain the sepulchre of Christ In the centre, cased in marble, stands what is called a piece of the stone rolled away by the angel; and at the western end, entered by a low doorway, is the reputed tomb chamber of our Lord, a very small spot, for it is only six feet wide, a few inches longer, and very low. The tomb itself is a raised table, two feet high, three feet wide, and over six feet long, the top of it serving as an altar, over which the darkness is only relieved by the dim lamps." A great stone. Joseph and his friends closed the entrance to the cave by rolling up to it, and partly in it, a huge stone, to obviate all danger of the sacred body being meddled with by evil beasts or men. The Jewish sepulchres were often furnished with real doors, either of stone or wood, as is proved by existing remains, which show grooves and marks where hinges have been; Joseph's tomb was not thus supplied, either from being still in an unfinished state, or constructed on a different principle. We can not reason from the present state of the sepulchre that it is too unlike what we must conceive the original to have been to permit of the supposed identification. If other criteria point to this site, the difficulties connected with present appearances may be overcome by the consideration that the whole features of the place were altered by Constantine, the Crusaders, and other builders. The surrounding rock has in many parts been cut away, and the surface levelled or lowered, and the only portion left in situ is the inner chamber where the Lord's body was laid. Captain Conder objects to the traditional site. His own theory, which points to a rock-hewn tomb near the Grotto of Jeremiah, may be seen in the Quarterly Statement of the Palestine Exploration Fund, April, 1883. And departed. He had done what he could: sorrowing, he left the place of sepulture. Tradition has traced the later life of Joseph. He is said to have been sent by the Apostle Philip to Britain, in company with other disciples, and to have settled at Glaston bury, in Somersetshire, then much nearer to an arm of the sea than it is now. Here he erected a little oratory of wickerwork, the first Christian house of prayer that England saw, which was afterwards superseded by the noble abbey whose remains we admire to this day. There is no certain foundation on which the story rests; the only evidence of visitors from Palestine having ever arrived at Glastonbury is the existence of an Eastern thorn tree on Wearyall Hill, which possesses the curious property of blossoming at Christmas. The original tree, which sprang from Joseph's staff, is reported to have flourished till the reign of Charles I., when it was destroyed by the Puritans; but scions or cuttings were taken from it, and many such bushes are still to be found in different parts of the country.
The other Mary. The mother of James and Joses (verse 56). These pious women could not tear themselves from the spot where their Lord was buried. The last to leave him dead, they were the first to see him risen. And now they watch the last ceremonies at a distance, intending to complete the imperfect embalmment with loving care as soon as ever the sabbath was over. "Seest thou women's courage?" says Chrysostom; "seest thou their affection? seest thou their noble spirit in expending money [Mark 16:1; Luke 23:56]? their noble spirit even unto death? Let us men imitate the women; let us not forsake Jesus in temptations." We may note that the care of Joseph in providing an inviolable tomb, and the preparations of these good women, showed that they as yet had no faith in the incorruptibility of Christ's body or of his corporeal resurrection from the dead.
The great sabbath. The sepulchre sealed and watched. (Peculiar to St. Matthew.)
The next day, that followed the day of the preparation; ἡìτις ἐστιÌ μεταÌ τηÌν παρασκευηìν, which is [the day] after the preperation. The language of the original Implies that the day was one of a class. The present day was the 15th of Nisan, and both a sabbath and the chief day of the Passover festival. The term "preparation," or "prosabbath" (Judith 8:6), was applied by the Jews to the day preceding the sabbath or the chief festivals (Josephus, 'Ant.,' 16.6. 2); but by the time the gospel was committed to writing, Paraskeue had become among Christians the usual designation of the day of Christ's death; hence the sabbath, which was of less importance than the crucifixion day, is here called, "the day after the Paraskeue." The language of the synoptists leads to the conclusion that the action of the Sanhedrists in applying to Pilate took place on the sabbath, their uneasy conscience and fear of some surprising event overcoming that scrupulous regard to the sanctity of the holy day which they would have strictly enforced upon others. It is just possible, however, that they postponed their application till the evening, having nothing to fear till "the third day." Came together unto Pilate; were gathered together. A large deputation of the chief men presented itself before the procurator, anxious to obtain his aid to prevent all tampering with the buried body of Jesus, at the same time apprehending some event, they knew not what, which might tend to corroborate his claims. Neologians have argued against the credibility of this section of the gospel history, and have been followed by some commentators of greater faith. A refutation of the most prominent objections will be found in Alford's notes on Matthew 27:62.
We remember, etc. The prophecy concerning Christ's resurrection on the third day might have been made known to them in various ways. Thus they may have heard and partially understood our Lord's allusion to Jonah (Matthew 12:40), or the words on which the false accusation was founded (John 2:19); or the apostles themselves may have divulged the mysterious announcement, and a general impression had been produced that Jesus had constantly affirmed that he would rise on the third day. It is true that the apostles and the good women were far from believing in the realization of this assertion in the manner in which it came to pass. They probably looked for Christ's return in glory to establish his kingdom and to reign as Messiah. The rulers received the prediction in its literal sense, "hatred being more keen sighted than love;" hence they took practical precautions against its collusive or pretended fulfilment. That deceiver (ἐκεῖνος ὁπλαìνος: literally, that vagabond yonder). That impostor, who has become so famous, and whom you know all about. They imply that without further definition, Pilate understands whom they mean; and their calumnies and reviling cease not even with their Victim's death. While he was yet alive. These bitter enemies of Jesus, who had the best means of ascertaining the truth, certainly regarded him as now dead. Yet some modern sceptics resort to the theory of a trance to account for the Resurrection, whose historical accuracy they cannot gainsay. After three days. A popular form of expression, which would denote any space which embraced portions of three days, in the present ease being part of Friday, all Saturday, and part of Sunday. I will rise again (ἐγειìρομαι, I rise). The present tense implies greater and more assured certainty than the future.
Command therefore. In consideration of the fact which we have stated, and of our apprehension of some imposture. The rulers had no power in themselves to take the measures which they required. Jesus was a state criminal, and they dared not assume the responsibility of guarding his tomb from invasion. Until the third day. Which was all that was necessary, as Christ had promised to rise on that day—neither before nor after it; and if it passed without the predicted event, he would be proved to be an impostor. Come by night (νυκτοìς). This word is absent from the best manuscripts and from the Vulgate. It seems to have been an early interpolation. And steal him away. A most unlikely hypothesis under the circumstances. The disciples had forsaken Christ while alive, were now hiding in terror, and utterly demoralized and depressed; were they likely to incur further danger for the sake of supporting an assertion, which, unless it proved absolutely true, would only further crush their faith and hope? The rulers seem to have had an uneasy feeling that Jesus might reappear, and they thus prepared themselves to cast discredit upon him, even if, like Lazarus, he rose from the dead. This explanation of the Resurrection has obtained among the Jews from the time of Justin Martyr, and has scarcely yet died out, though in many quarters what is called the "vision-hypothesis" has taken its place. The people. The Pharisees were always disdainful of the vulgar herd. "This people who knoweth not the Law are cursed" (John 7:49). The last error … the first. "Error" is πλαìνη, as they had called Christ πλαìνος (Matthew 27:63), so the word here may be taken actively, as meaning "imposture." The deception arising from his death and supposed resurrection would be of graver consequence than that concerned with his previous life. Morison, considering the word to have its usual meaning of "error," regards it as used by the Pharisees in a political sense, in accordance with the governor's standpoint: "If that deceiver's body should be stolen by his disciples, the fickle people will undoubtedly leap back to their old conclusion, that after all he was what he professed to be. This conclusion would be, as we all know, an 'error;' but yet it would be most thin, ions to the interests of Caesar. There would be more political disaffection than ever." It is more simple to say that the first error, the acceptance of Christ's Messianic claims, was not of such decided and far-reaching consequence as would be the belief in his resurrection. They do not, indeed, see all that such belief involves; but they understood enough to know that it would give supernatural importance to all the words and acts of his life.
Ye have a watch (ἐìχετε κουστωδιìαν, take a guard). Pilate answers briefly and haughtily, "Well, I give permission; do as you like; take a body of soldiers as a guard, and go your way." This last verb is imperative, so the former is most probably imperative also. If taken as indicative, the question arises—What guard had they? This is difficult to answer, unless, as Alford supposes, it may refer to some detachment placed at their disposal during the feast. But of this we know nothing historically. Make it as sure (ἀσφαλιìσασθε, secure it for yourselves) as ye can; literally, as ye know how. Take any precaution you think fit to employ.
So they (οἱδεÌ, and they) went. They left the procurator's presence, relieved at having gained their request and precluded all fear of collusion. Sealing the stone, and setting a watch (μεταÌ τῆς κουστωδιìας, with the watch; cum custodibus). The last words are variously rendered. Thus: "scaled the stone by means of the watch" (Alford); "scaling the stone, the guard being with them" (Revised Version); "as well as having the watch" (Webster and Wilkinson); "in concert with the guard" (Morison). This last expositor has best seized the complex notion contained in the evangelist's language: "They made the sepulchre sure by sealing the stone in concert with the guard (and thereafter leaving the guard to keep watch)." The stone was sealed probably in this manner: a cord was passed round the stone that closed the mouth of the sepulchre to the two sides of the entrance; this was scaled with wax or prepared clay in the centre and at the ends, so that the stone could not be removed without breaking the seals or the cord (comp. Daniel 6:17). Thus carefully did Christ's enemies obviate the possibility of any fraud or collusion; thus did they themselves prove unanswerably the truth and reality of the resurrection of that same Jesus whoso dead body they so carefully guarded. "Everywhere deceit recoils upon itself, and. against its will supports the truth. It was necessary for it to be believed that he died, and that he rose again, and that he was buried, and all these things are brought to pass by his enemies .. The proof of his resurrection has become incontrovertible by what ye [his enemies] have put forward. For because it was sealed, there was no unfair dealing. But if there was no unfair dealing, and the sepulchre was found empty, it is manifest that he is risen, plainly and incontrovertibly. Seest thou how even against their will they contend for the proof of the truth?" (St. Chrysostom, in loc.).
The end of Judas.
I. THE FORMAL CONDEMNATION OF OUR LORD.
1. The Sanhedrin. "When the morning was come," St. Matthew says—the morning which followed the long sad hours of that night of mockery and shame; the morning which ushered in the greatest day in the world's history, the day signalized by the darkest crime ever wrought upon this sinful earth, illustrated by the one all-sufficient Sacrifice for sin, by the noblest deed of holiest self-devotion which has brightened the annals of the human race;—on that memorable morning all the chief priests and elders of the people came together. They met now to pronounce the formal sentence of death. Their previous meeting was illegal. A capital cause could, by their own rules, be tried only during daylight. This meeting, which St. Luke describes at greater length than the first two evangelists, was held to render valid the irregular sentence passed in the night. They were careful to observe forms and precedents; they heeded not the awful guilt which they were contracting.
2. The delivery to the Gentile's. Again they bound him who is the King of kings. And then they fulfilled his own prophecy—they delivered him "to the Gentiles to meek, and to scourge, and to crucify him" (Matthew 20:19). They had determined on his death. It was "not lawful for them to put any man to death;" but they scrupled not to employ the agency of the hated Romans to accomplish their wicked purpose. They hated Pilate; he had deserved their hatred by his Cruelties and by his scornful contempt of their religious prejudices. But they hated the holy Jesus more than they hated the cruel and haughty Pilate; and they delivered Jesus, that is, they betrayed him; they completed the evil deed of Judas. As he betrayed his Master to them, so they betrayed their King, their Messiah, to the Roman Pilate. It was an act of treason, awful treason, against the Divine King of the Jews. Indeed, they knew not what they did. "I wot," said St. Peter, after the Ascension, "that through ignorance ye did it, as did also your rulers" (Acts 3:17). They would not have dared thus to treat the Lord, had they believed him to be the long expected Messiah. But their ignorance was guilty ignorance. If they had searched the Scriptures with a single heart, they must have seen in the Lord's life the signs of the Messiah. Some of them were old enough to remember the visit of the Magi, and the excitement which it caused in Jerusalem. All knew more or less of the Lord's beautiful life, of his holy teaching, of his works of love and power. But they were blinded by hypocrisy and self-interest. They had long sought his death. The solemn entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, the "Hosanna! "shouts, the enthusiasm of the multitude, followed by the controversies in the temple, with the Lord's awful parables and his stern condemnation of the dominant religionism, deepened their resentment and confirmed them in their wicked purpose. They proposed to seize him alter the feast day; but the unexpected treachery of Judas enabled them to take him at once without uproar or danger. They knew his absolute innocence; they saw his holy calmness, his meek, patient self-possession in the midst of insults; they heard his majestic assertion of his Divine office and dignity. They would not believe; they were blinded by their prejudices, their pride, their interest; they made the guilt of Judas their own; they completed his fearful treason, and delivered their King into the hands of the merciless Roman governor, whose cruel contemptuous character they knew so well, and whom they expected to be the ready and willing instrument for carrying out their evil design.
1. His remorse. He had probably mingled with the crowd of spectators, like Peter. He had nothing to fear, as Peter had. It is said that there is a strange, awful attraction which draws a murderer irresistibly to the scene of his crime; some such feeling forced Judas to linger about the high priest's palace. We know not what his thoughts were during that fearful night. It is possible (though there is no Scripture foundation for the theory) that he may have looked forward, even more eagerly than the other apostles, for the expected earthly reign of the Messiah; he may have been vexed and angry with the Lord for not claiming the throne of David, and thus raising his followers to rank and eminence. It is just possible (very improbable it seems to us) that he may have designed by his treachery to force the Lord to declare himself as the Messiah, to exert his supernatural power, and to set up his kingdom in Jerusalem. It is certain that his avaricious spirit was troubled exceedingly by what he called the waste of Mary's precious ointment, and that the Lord's reproof, though gentle and loving, irritated his dark and gloomy temper, and became, through the temptations of the evil being to whom he had sold himself, the goad which drove him to his deadly sin. He brooded over his supposed wrongs; he fretted himself till he was moved to do the most evil deed the world had ever seen. He gave place to the devil; Satan entered into him, and filled him with malice and hatred, and whispered that he might by one act have his revenge, and compensate himself for the fancied loss caused by Mary's generous offering. Perhaps evil thoughts like this, bitter recollections of supposed slights, cruel exultation over his successful treachery and his ill-gotten gains, filled the traitor's heart during the night, and for a while kept him from feeling the horror of his crime. But in the morning he saw that Christ was condemned. He had not exerted his Divine power; the twelve legions of angels had not come to his aid. He was condemned like any common malefactor, and delivered to Pilate for the cruel death of the cross. And Judas was the cause of this. He had murdered his Friend, his Master, his Lord, the Innocent, the Holiest One. He repented now; but his repentance was not μεταìνοια—not a change of heart, not repentance unto life; it was only μεταμεìλεια, a change of thought as to his crime (comp. Trench, 'New Test. Syn.,'sect. 69). He saw his sin now in a different point of view. He could no longer gloat over the luxury of revenge, the evil pleasure of wicked gains; for his crime seemed to glare upon him with fiery eyes; he saw its full horror, its blackness, its hideousness. The thirty pieces of silver which he had coveted were cankered now; they were a witness against him, a witness of his infamy and of his foul treachery; they seemed to eat his flesh as it were fire. He loathed, he hated them; he returned them to the chief priests and elders. "I have sinned," he said, "in that I have betrayed innocent blood." Can he have thought that by returning the price of blood he might stay the accomplishment of that deed of blood? If he had such a thought, his hope was at once extinguished by the cold cruelty of the answer, "What is that to us? see thou to that." The guilt was his, they said. They forgot that it was equally theirs. Pilate very soon after forced them to admit it; he was innocent of that blood, he said, "See ye to it." But now they derided the misery of their companion in guilt; he was their feel; he had served their purpose; they would fling him away.
2. His despair. There was no hope for him; those cruel words drove him to madness. Perhaps he remembered words more awful still, though they were spoken in warning, "Woe unto that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed! good were it for that man if he had not been born." He had not listened to the Saviour's warning voice; he had thought more of that paltry bribe than of his own poor soul. Avarice, that degrading vice, had eaten all good and holy thoughts out of his mind; his heart was hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. Could he not even now in his misery see his guilt and own his sin, and weep like Peter, and like Peter be forgiven? Alas! no. A horror of great darkness seemed to engulf him; he could not see that look of love and sorrow which had won Peter to repentance. He had trodden underfoot the Son of God; he could not bear even to think of Christ. He had done despite to the Spirit of grace; the Spirit had departed from him. He had no hope either in this world or in the world to come. He could not enjoy the miserable wages of his treason; he threw the pieces of silver back to the priests as they sat or officiated in the sanctuary. He departed; he went and hanged himself. His death was attended by strange circumstances of horror; his name has become a word of reproach; his memory is associated with all that is hateful and accursed. Yet he was an apostle, "one of the twelve," one of the princes of the Church, who were to sit on twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel. His history is full of awful warning to all Christian people, especially to the ministers of Christ's Holy Word and sacraments. It reminds us that the highest places in the Church are not always safe, that we may not dare to trust in external privileges, however great they may be. It warns us that the deadly sins of ambition and avarice may ensnare those who seem very near to Christ. It adds force and weight to the Lord's solemn lesson, "Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation."
3. The conduct of the chief priests. They would not put the money into the temple treasury, because it was the price of blood; yet they themselves had brought about the bloodshedding of which that money was the price. The money was accursed in their eyes, but not the wicked deed.
Very strange is the self-deceit with which hypocrites blind their hearts and cheat their consciences. They bought with the pieces of silver the potter's field to bury strangers in. It was the field, it seems (comp. Acts 1:18), in which Judas had put an end to his miserable life, the field which he had designed to purchase with the reward of his iniquity. It was well called "the field of blood;" it was defiled with that scene of blood and horror, and it was bought with the price of blood. The chief priests perhaps regarded this purchase as a work of charity. So again and again in the course of history have men sought, by charitable foundations of various kinds, to atone for past transgressions. Many such gifts Lave been given in true repentance; and as the earnest and expression of repentance they are, we may not doubt, accepted. Without repentance and faith they can no more help the guilty soul than the gift of the potter's field could atone for the blood guiltiness of the chief priests.
4. The fulfilment of prophecy. St. Matthew again, as in so many other places, refers to the writings of the prophets. His thoughts seem to have dwelt much in reverent awe on the great mysteries of the sovereignty and foreknowledge of God, and of that overruling providence which ever brings to pass the counsels of the Most High. There is, apparently, an ancient transcriber's error here, and other difficulties, which this is not the place to examine, But the passage (Zechariah 11:12, Zechariah 11:13) is very remarkable. The price to be given is weighed, it is to be fixed at thirty pieces of silver. The Lord speaks of it as the "price that I [the Lord God] was prised at of them." The price is cast down in the house of the Lord; it comes ultimately to the potter. The prophecy was fulfilled. The price of the Saviour's blood bought a resting place for the bodies of Gentile strangers in the neighbourhood of the holy city—an illustration of the great and blessed truth that by the blood of Christ those are made nigh who sometime were afar off, who were aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise; but now, through him, are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God.
1. "The love of money is the root of all evil." Fight hard against it.
2. It grows and strengthens with years. Resist it in its beginnings.
3. Ill-gotten gains bring misery. Flee from them.
4. Mark the strange inconsistencies of hypocrisy. Pray to be true and real.
Christ before Pilate.
I. THE ACCUSATION.
1. Pilate's question. Pilate was proud and cruel; he despised and hated the Jews. But he had something of the old Roman love of justice—he would not condemn the Lord unheard, as the Jews at first desired (John 18:30, John 18:31). He rejected their request contemptuously, "Take ye him, and judge him according to your Law." They kept back at first the charge of blasphemy, which they knew Pilate would dismiss at once, as Gallio afterwards dismissed a similar accusation. They invented fresh charges in their cruel injustice—charges which would, they thought, force Pilate to act as they wished. "We found this fellow," they said, "perverting the nation, and forbidding to give tribute to Caesar, saying that he himself is Christ, a King." The first two charges were utterly and manifestly false; the third had some show of truth. Pilate put the question to the accused, "Art thou the King of the Jews?"
2. The Lord's answer. "Jesus said unto him, Thou sayest." It is an emphatic affirmation; he was the King of the Jews; he is the King of the Israel of God. At his nativity the Wise Men came from the East, asking, "Where is he that is born King of the Jews?" At the beginning of his ministry he permitted Nathanael to address him as the King of Israel; at his solemn entry into Jerusalem he would not listen to the Pharisees when they bade him rebuke those who were welcoming him as "the King that cometh in the Name of the Lord." He would not conceal the great and solemn truth; but neither would he leave Pilate in ignorance of the true nature of his claims. "My kingdom is not of this world," he said (John 18:36). Pilate understood the hollowness of the charge of sedition; he was not deceived by the clamour of the Jews, "If thou let this Man go, thou art not Caesar's friend; whosoever maketh himself a king speaketh against Caesar." He understood enough of the Lord's words and position to feel that the kingdom which he claimed was of a spiritual character, not opposed to the rule of Caesar; he felt that the accusation was false and malicious.
3. The Lord's silence. He had answered Pilate; he would not answer the false charges of the chief priests and elders. Pilate had some sense of justice; they had none. Their one object was to compass his death; they cared not for truth or justice, but only for the accomplishment of their wicked purpose. They brought charge alter charge, all alike untrue. The Saviour heeded them not. "He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth." He stood before them in calm majestic silence. Pilate, anxious, it seems, to hear his defence, pressed him to answer; but still "he answered him to never a word, insomuch that the governor marvelled greatly." He had never seen such a Prisoner before, so calm and collected in the immediate prospect of a death of agony, so meek and yet so dignified; he felt the nobleness of Christ, and he strove to deliver him.
II. JESUS OR BARABBAS.
1. The choice offered to the Jews. Pilate was, as St. Peter afterwards said (Acts 3:13), determined to let the Saviour go. He tried every expedient. At first he declined to hear the case: "Take ye him, and judge him."' Then, when forced to hear it, he declared himself convinced of his innocence: "I find in him no fault at all." Then he sent him to Herod. Now he appeals to the people, hoping, perhaps, that they would reverse the judgment of the chief priests, or possibly wishing to shift the responsibility of the decision from himself. He was ready, according to custom at the Passover, to release a prisoner. There was a prisoner called Barabbas, probably a mere robber and murderer (Acts 3:14); possibly, as some have thought, a leader of a band of patriots, who sought to do what Christ was accused of seeking—to put down the Roman power and to restore the Jewish kingdom. Pilate waited till a multitude was gathered together. He gave them the choice between the two prisoners—Jesus the Christ or Barabbas the robber. He had heard, perhaps had seen, how the Lord had been welcomed into the city five days before; he thought that the people would ask for his release, and that so he should be saved from the ungrateful task of condemning One whom he knew to be innocent.
2. Pilate's wife. She had had a dream that morning. She saw in a vision the holy and innocent Saviour. It may be she saw his awful sufferings; it may be she saw him in his majesty sitting on the throne of his glory to judge the world. Whatever the dream was, it caused her much anxiety. She sent at once to Pilate. He was sitting on the judgment seat, awaiting the decision of the multitude. The message was, "Have thou nothing to do with that just Man." It seems, then, that something was known of the Lord Jesus in the household of Pilate. The governor had heard, perhaps, of his miracles; probably of the great influence which he had possessed in Galilee. He had heard also of his innocence; he was no leader of sedition, no conspirator against Caesar. Pilate's with had no hesitation, no fears of consequences, such as her husband had. She bade him deliver the falsely accused, the Innocent One. Happy would it have been for him if he had followed her advice!
3. Barabbas chosen. The people, left to themselves, might, perhaps, have chosen rightly. We are not told what was the composition of the crowd; whether there was a large Galilaean element in it; whether or no many were present out of those great multitudes which had received the Lord on Palm Sunday with so much enthusiasm. Some of them, surely, must have been there; they must at least have felt an interest in the fate of One who a few days ago had been so conspicuous; curiosity, if no better motive, would have brought them there. But however this may have been, the chief priests and rulers, who ought to have guided the people aright, led them astray. They mingled with the crowd, they stirred them, they appealed to their Jewish prejudices, they used all the arts of persuasion; and they succeeded in turning the current of popular opinion. The voice of the people is by no means always the voice of God. Crowds are apt to be led by sudden impulse, by a cry, by ignorant party spirit. Alas! for a nation, when its clergy or its chief men guide it into error. The chief priests must have been astonished at the rapidity the completeness of their own success. Five days before, the Pharisees had "said among themselves, Perceive ye how ye prevail nothing? Behold, the world is gone after him." But now, when after a pause for consideration, the governor put the question to the multitude, "Whether of the twain will ye that I release unto you?" they all said, "Barabbas." They denied the Holy One and the Just, and desired a murderer to be granted unto them. And when Pilate asked again, "What shall I do then with Jesus which is called Christ?" the fierce cruel answer burst from the crowd, "Let him be crucified!" It was the first mention of the cross, save in the prophetic language of the Lord himself. It was known, perhaps, that that fearful punishment awaited Barabbas and the two other malefactors; and the chief priests, it may be, thought that by bringing about that mode of death they would both satisfy their own cruel hatred and exhibit the Lord as a raiser of sedition, a conspirator against the Roman government. The question had shown Pilate's want of courage. A judge should not devolve his responsibility upon the populace. He made now a weak attempt to check the violence of the crowd. "What evil hath he done?" he asked. But the fierce cry only gathered fresh strength. Stimulated alike by the persuasions of the chief priests, by the faint opposition of Pilate, and by the excitement of numbers and noise, it became every minute more and more violent and menacing, "Crucify him! crucify him!"
4. Pilate washes his hands. His defence of the Lord had been only half-hearted. He knew that he was absolutely innocent; he evidently had some vague undefined awe of him. He would have saved him if he could have done so without endangering himself. But Pilate feared a Jewish mob. It was at all times formidable, but especially so at the seasons of the great national festivals. His previous experience gave him reason to fear an accusation at Rome. He began to yield; but he made a weak attempt to throw the responsibility of the crime upon the people. He washed his hands before the multitude, saying, "I am innocent of the blood of this just Person: see ye to it." He thus at the same moment pronounced the innocence of the Accused, and his own guilt; for by this symbolical action he declared that it was out of fear of the people that he delivered Jesus to their will. Cowardice often leads to guilt. Very earnestly we ought to pray for holy courage and strength of purpose to persevere in the path of rectitude. Pilate, who despised the Jews, now used a significant act prescribed on certain occasions by the Mosaic Law (Deuteronomy 21:6, Deuteronomy 21:7), and shared apparently some of the feelings which led the Jews to attach so much importance to ceremonial washings. But as the outward washings of the Jews could not cleanse the heart, so Pilate's act could not remove the guilt which rested on him. He condemned the Innocent through selfish fear; his hands were full of blood. No mere outward rite can purge the soul. There is only one fountain opened for sin and uncleanness—the precious blood of Christ, which applied by faith can cleanse the conscience and make the penitent sinner whiter than snow. The people understood the meaning of Pilate. They were willing, in their wild infatuation, to take the guilt upon themselves; they answered and said, "His blood be on us, and on our children!" A fearful imprecation, and fearfully fulfilled. Some doubtless of those who uttered it, very many of their children, were sharers of the dreadful calamities which attended the siege and capture of Jerusalem less than forty years afterwards. They had said, "His blood be on us!" the streets of Jerusalem were deluged in blood. They had cried, "Crucify him! crucify him!" they perished in thousands by the cross. Still the guilt of his blood rests on that outcast race; and only that blood can wash away the stain. For the blood of Christ could cleanse even those who shed it. It is "the one full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world." It could cleanse Pilate, Caiaphas, the fierce bloodthirsty multitude, the Roman soldiers, who indeed were obeying the orders of the governor, but plainly took an evil pleasure in the cruel deed. "His blood be on us!" the crowd shouted in their frenzy. The guilt of that blood must rest even now in a greater or less degree upon all who sin wilfully against the light of the knowledge of Christ; who, knowing what the Lord most holy suffered for them, live as though the cross had never been, as though the blessed Saviour had never suffered there for them that they might live. And the holy influence of that blood is upon the hearts of those who come to Christ in faith and love, who live under the shadow of the cross, walking in the royal way of the cross, seeking ever to realize in all its depth and fulness the precious and stupendous truth that "the Son of God loved me, and gave himself for me." Pirate knew that that blood was innocent blood; but he knew not its sanctity and exceeding preciousness. He quailed before the wild clamour of the multitude; he gave sentence that it should be as they required; and he released Barabbas unto them, whom they had desired.
1. Silence is sometimes golden. The Lord was silent amid false accusations. Let us learn of him.
2. Selfish fear often leads to great sin. Pray for holy courage.
3. The favour of the multitude is uncertain. Trust not in popularity,
4. We must wash our hands in innocency. Outward rites will not cleanse the impure soul.
Preparations for the Crucifixion.
I. THE SCOURGING.
1. It had been predicted. "I gave my back to the smiters," Isaiah said in the spirit of prophecy; and again, in words very solemn and very precious to sin-laden consciences, "By his stripes we are healed." The Lord himself had told his disciples beforehand that he should suffer this cruel indignity (Matthew 20:19). The circumstances of the Lord's sufferings were revealed to the prophets ages before the time. This fact shows their solemn importance and deep spiritual significance. We should meditate in awe and adoring love on all those touching details which the Holy Ghost so long before made known to the prophets, that men should see the day of Christ by faith, and should anticipate the saving power of his atonement.
2. The intention of Pilate. Pilate had hoped to substitute the scourge for the cross. He had at first pronounced the Lord innocent. Then when the chief priests had stirred up the people and there were signs of gathering tumult, he thought of the act of grace usual at the Passover as a means for releasing him. Now when the frenzy of the excited crowd had become uncontrollable, he resorted to the scourge as a means for saving his life. "I will chastise him, and let him go" (Luke 23:22). He thought that the hatred of the chief priests might be satisfied, that the pity of the crowd might be moved by the anguish of the scourge. It was a pitiful exhibition of weakness. He would commit what seemed the lesser crime to avoid the greater. But sin ever leads on to sin. We may not do evil that good may come; we may not follow the multitude to do evil. The Christian must sometimes stand alone against an angry multitude if he knows that what is required of him is wrong in the sight of God.
3. The severity of the punishment. It was a sickening sight. The shame was cruel; the torture terrible. Holy Scripture records it in a few simple words. Ancient writers give us harrowing descriptions of the sufferings of Christian martyrs under the horrible lash. We must remember the Divine dignity of the awful Sufferer. We are treading on holy ground; we must approach these last scenes of the Lord's Passion with reverence and godly fear. He is God, and he is suffering for us. We must draw near with deep sympathy for him, and with humble contrition, remembering our many and grievous offences which brought this agony upon him. And we must come with the deepest gratitude, with fervent love; for these his bitter pains manifest the unutterable strength and tenderness of his great love for us.
II. THE MOCKERY.
1. The scarlet robe. The Lord had already been derided by the attendants of the chief priests, and afterwards by Herod; now the Roman soldiers were guilty of the like brutal insults. It was a scene of studied and gratuitous cruelty, which shows the depth of wickedness of which human nature is capable. The Lord had done them no wrong; some of them, at least, had heard the trial, and knew that he was innocent. But he was in their hands; he was to be put to death; and they would have their wicked pleasure; they would make sport of his agonies. They gathered round him the whole cohort to share their cruel game. They had heard of his claims to royal dignity; they put on him a scarlet robe, some cast-off military mantle, in imitation of the imperial purple.
2. The crown of thorns. They platted a crown of thorns to represent the wreath of laurel worn by the Caesars at Rome; they pressed it down, with its sharp spines, upon that holy head. They put a reed for a mock sceptre into his bound hands; and then the whole cohort, soldier after soldier, passed before him, each bowing the knee in pretended homage, each addressing him with the derisive title, "Hail, King of the Jews!" When they were wearied of this wicked sport, these bitter taunts, they spat upon that gracious face; they took the reed, and smote him on that thorn-crowned head, till, tired in turn of these insulting outrages, they took off the scarlet robe and put his own raiment on him, and led him away to crucify him. And he who suffered all this bitter mockery was indeed a King—King of kings, and Lord of lords. At any moment throughout his long protracted agony he might, by one word, one look, have swept his torturers into utter death. He suffered in silence, patiently, calmly, setting us an example of meekness, of holy endurance. If the Lord most holy bore these outrageous insults, we sinful men may well take it patiently when we are called to suffer wrong when men speak ill of us.
III. THE WAY OF SORROWS.
1. Simon of Cyrene. The heavy cross was laid upon the Lord. "He, bearing his cross, went forth." He was worn and wearied. The awful agony of Gethsemane, the cruel scourging, the many sufferings, bodily and mental, which in his blessed love he endured for us, had utterly exhausted his strength. He could not bear the cross; he sank beneath the burden. The soldiers, perhaps simply impatient of delay, perhaps in contempt of Simon, who may have been a disciple, and may have shown his sympathy with the suffering Lord, laid the Lord's cross upon this stranger of Cyrene," that he might bear it after Jesus." It was done in insult, but it was in truth the highest honour. Simon was privileged to bear the Saviour's cross, to help him in his seeming helplessness, to alleviate in some small degree his overwhelming sorrow. Simon has become the type, the figure of faithful Christians. They must bear the cross; the cross of suffering, in one form or another, is surely laid upon them all; they bear it after Jesus. That sad procession is a fitting representation of the Church of the elect. The Lord goeth at the head of them. After him follow in long order all his chosen, each bearing his cross, each learning of the Lord Jesus who first bore the cross, themselves to bear it patiently and with meek submission, glorying in the cross, for the royal way of the holy cross is the only way to life eternal, and without the cross there cannot come the crown.
2. Golgotha. We cannot certainly identify the spot where the dear Lord suffered. It would be consecrated by the holiest, the tenderest memories; we might well regard it as the most sacred spot in all the earth. The knowledge is hidden from us; and there is meaning in this. We may find Christ everywhere; every place, the whole world over, is hallowed by his blood. We may realize his death, and draw very near to the cross, and live under its shadow in England as well as at Jerusalem. Not all who saw him die were saved. It is the sight of Christ by faith that saves the soul. Blessed be God, we may bear about with us, wherever we go, the dying of the Lord Jesus, and in those who thus bear about that precious death, the life also of Jesus shall be manifested. The word "Golgotha" means "a skull." It reminds us of death; it tells us what we must one day be. But in that place which is called "a skull," he who is the Life of the world suffered and died; and by his death he hath abolished death; and we know that through him this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality in that day when he shall change the body of our humiliation, fashioning it like unto the body of his glory.
3. The stupefying drink. They gave him wine to drink mingled with gall. Perhaps the women who bewailed and lamented him had provided it. It was offered in kindness, to stupefy the senses and dull the feeling of pain. The Lord acknowledged the kind intention by tasting the offered potion; but he would not drink it. He did not refuse the vinegar which was given afterwards in answer to the cry, "I thirst." But he would not take the opiate; he would meet death with clear untroubled intellect. We cannot comprehend the nature of that spiritual work of atonement which he had to complete ere the great cry of victory, "It is finished!" could issue from his dying lips. He would keep his consciousness calm and serene, that he might fulfil that sacred work. Let Christians imitate their Lord; let them never, in times of pain or distress, allow themselves to seek relief in strong drink; let them learn submission from the blessed Master.
1. The Lord was scourged. Repine not in pain and agony, in unmerited disgrace.
2. He was mocked. Endure derision if it comes in his providence.
3. He bore the cross. Learn to bear it after Christ.
I. THE ROMAN SOLDIERS.
1. They crucified him. The evangelists relate the awful deed with that grand simplicity which is characteristic of Holy Scripture. There is no rhetorical description, nothing sensational in their accounts. But it was beyond all comparison the most stupendous event that has ever happened on this earth of ours. They crucified him. He was the Son of God, the Word of the Father, by whom all things were made. He was the Brightness of the Father's glory, and the express Image of his Person; and they crucified him. He gave himself to die. That tremendous sacrifice must imply tremendous necessities, deep incomprehensible causes hidden in the mysteries of the awful holiness of God, and the terrible corruption of humanity. It must mean that the accumulated guilt of the sin of the world was a burden which none could bear, a curse which none could take away, but God himself. It must involve issues deep-reaching and mysterious, very blessed and sacred, but very, very awful. And oh, it sets before us a love beautiful above all beauty, holy above all holiness, tender, compassionate, intense, above all that our selfish hearts can conceive of sweetest pity and most entire self-sacrifice. The cross is the central point of the world's history; all the great lines of our deepest moral and spiritual interests meet in it or radiate from it. It was once a thing most hateful and most horrible, far more suggestive of shame and horror then than the gibbet is now. But the Lord most holy died thereon for our salvation; and the glory of his precious love has shed an aureole of golden light around the tree of shame. And now the cross is to Christian hearts of all things dear the dearest and the most sacred; for it tells us with its silent eloquence the blessed story of the exceeding great love of our Master and only Saviour Jesus Christ. They crucified him, the four Roman soldiers; they knew not what they did; they knew nothing, probably, of the Lord's life, of his holiness, of his works of power and love; they were but obeying orders; they were less guilty than Pilate, than Caiaphas, than Judas. Perhaps they took a wicked pleasure in that deed of blood. They may probably have taken part in the insults and mockery which preceded the Crucifixion; they had no awe for Christ at first. Afterwards the centurion in command, and (it seems from St. Matthew's account) the soldiers also, recognized the Divine majesty of the awful Sufferer. It may be, we cannot tell, that that centurion, that those very soldiers, were saved by the precious blood which was shed by their hands. They pierced the Lord; they pierced his hands and his feet; in another and a more guilty sense it was the Jews who pierced him; in another sense, a true and deep sense, it was all sinners, especially those who have sinned against his cross, against light, and against knowledge. But it is written, "They shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him;" "Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted." We have pierced the Lord by our sins and hardness; but if the great love of the crucified Lord brings us to penitence, he will forgive, he will comfort, he will save. They crucified him. We can scarcely conceive the horrors which that word expresses, the shame, the cruel pain, the protracted torture. Thank God, those dreadful sights are seen no longer; the cross of the Lord saved humanity from the cross. The first Christian emperor forbade the infliction of that dreadful punishment. Christianity has done much to soften the hardness of human nature; that cruelty which was once so common seems to us now horrible and revolting. But the dear Lord suffered all that the most atrocious brutality could inflict, unrelieved by any touch of pity except the offer of the stupefying draught, and the sponge full of vinegar; unrelieved by any offices of love save the silent sympathy of the five, or four, faithful ones who "stood by the cross of Jesus." We should think much of those sufferings, and bring them home to our hearts, and try to realize them in all their touching details. The daily, constant thought of the cross is a great safeguard against wilful sin, against ingratitude, against ambitious dreams, against murmuring and repining. In our sufferings, when we are oppressed and ready to sink, let us remember the sufferings of the Lord Jesus Christ. Let us, by an act of faith, offer our sufferings to God, uniting them by faith with the one great acceptable Sacrifice, that he may make us accepted in the Beloved, that through faith in the crucified Saviour our sufferings may become a cross; for the cross, we know, raises the Christian man nearer to God, nearer to heaven.
2. They parted his garments. Virtue had come out of those garments, and had healed those who had touched the very hem. They would have been regarded by Christians as most sacred relics. But the rough soldiers thought nothing of the dignity of him who had worn them. Perhaps they despised them as poor and valueless; but, such as they were, they were their perquisites; they divided them, and cast lots upon the seamless tunic. Thus they fulfilled the prophecy of the twenty-second psalm—that psalm which describes sufferings such as were never borne by David or by any of the Old Testament worthies, but which was so wonderfully fulfilled in the circumstances of the death of Christ. The soldiers little thought that they were doing what God had foreordained. How strange it seems to us that they could cast lots, perhaps shake the dice in their brazen helmets, at the very foot of the cross! Sacred symbols will inspire reverence only in those who have a reverent spirit. They will not keep careless men from irreverent talk, or even from drinking or gambling.
3. They watched him. They watched lest his disciples should take him down. They sat there and watched, whiling away the tedious hours with vulgar jests and rough talk and idle games. Not for a long time did the awful scene touch their stern uncultured hearts. It seems to us a marvellous thing that that great sight should have had at first so little influence on the surrounding multitude. But human nature is the same in all ages. Men's hearts are as hard now as they were then. Those who read in vain, without sympathy and without emotion, the gospel story of the blessed Saviour's death, in vain had seen him die. Let us watch the dying Lord, but not as those soldiers watched him. Let us live much under the shadow of the cross, watching that precious death with sorrow and contrition and adoring thankful love. We know what was not known to those Roman soldiers—it is "the Son of God who loved me, and gave himself for me."
4. The title. Pilate wrote a title, and put it on the cross. The four evangelists give the title with slight differences. They did not heed the exact form of the expression. They all give the essential words, "The King of the Jews." It was not the accusation of blasphemy which caused the Saviour's death. That would have had no weight with Pilate. It was the charge of making himself a King which forced the Roman governor to condemn the Innocent. Pilate, by this writing, showed at once the real grounds on which his consent had been wrung from him, and his own angry contempt of the Jews. This was their King—this poor, bleeding, crucified One. And, it may be, he meant to imply his secret half belief that the Lord was in some sense a King, far more noble, high souled, king like, than those hypocritical chief priests whom he so thoroughly despised, who had driven him to a deed which he so utterly hated. We know that he is the King, the King of God's ancient people, the King of the Israel of God, the King who shall one day sit on the throne of his glory to judge the world. He reigneth from the cross. The cross is the throne which has raised him to a more than royal empire—an empire over the hearts of men, over all the best and honest and holiest human souls from that time ever onwards.
5. They crucified two robbers with him. Robbers they were rather than thieves—perhaps accomplices of Barabbas—possibly insurgents against the Roman government. And thus the Lord, the Most Holy One, was numbered with the transgressors, for they were punished justly. One was set on the right hand of Christ, the other on the left—an anticipation of the great gathering on the right and left of the Judge in the awful day. In the centre was the cross of atonement; on the right, the cross of repentance; on the left, the cross of despair. Man is born to sorrow. All of us must bear, in some form, at some time, the cross of suffering. But in the midst of a suffering world rises the cross of atonement, the cross which the holy Son of God alone could bear. The cross of atonement draws many by its constraining power to take up the cross of repentance—repentance not to be repented of. But alas! there are some who reject and despise the atoning love of Christ; and their portion must be, at the last, the awful cross of despair.
II. THE MOCKERS.
1. The passers-by. Mockery was a bitter ingredient in the Lord's cup of sorrow. He had been mocked by the servants of the high priest, by Herod and his men of war, by the Roman soldiers, and now, alas, that cruel mockery was renewed and intensified as he hung dying on the cross. Surely, we think, a crucified man might be left alone to die; surely that cruelty must be truly Satanic which in the presence of that intense suffering was not only without pity, but sought to embitter by insulting taunts the agonies of the dying. The indifference of others is very distressing to sufferers. "Is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by? Behold, and see it there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow." But how much worse was that heartless, wicked scorn! And the dear Lord, we are sure, must have felt it all the more deeply, because he was dying there for the souls of men, for the souls of those very men who were mocking him in his anguish; and he knew that that mocking meant that their hearts were hardened against his dying love, that for most of them that tremendous sacrifice was offered up in vain. This mockery was prophesied (Psalms 22:6-8); it is mentioned again and again in the predictions of the Saviour's sufferings. This shows its importance. The Lord must drink to the dregs the cup which the Father had given him; every element of woe in that cup has its part, we may be sure, in working out our redemption; nothing was in vain. The Lord must suffer scorn and contempt as well as bodily pain, cruelty of the lips as well as of the hands, that, suffering all the forms of anguish, he might make an atonement for all the forms of sin. He listened in silence; his followers must learn of their dying Lord the Christian lesson of meekness. "When thou art reviled," says Chrysostom, "set the sign of the cross upon thine heart; think how the Lord upon the cross endured that cruel scorn, and learn of him." The passers-by reviled him; they fulfilled unconsciously the predictions of the twenty-second psalm; they repeated the misrepresentations of the false witnesses; they repeated the taunt of the tempter, "If thou be the Son of God." The Son of God, the tempter had suggested, should not suffer pain and hunger; the Son of God, the mockers said, could not hang and die upon the cross. They little thought that it was because he was the Son of God that he would patiently suffer, that he would meekly die. None other than the Son of God could suffer that anguish, could die that death—"the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me."
2. The chief priests. They came too with the scribes and elders; they did not think it unbecoming to join in the shameless insults of the vulgar crowd; they forgot the dignity of their sacred office; they taunted the dying Saviour with his seeming helplessness. "He saved others," they said; they acknowledged the truth of his miracles, his works of love; and in their blind wickedness they upbraided him with those very works, with that very love. In their ignorance they proclaimed a great truth, though they knew it not. "He saved others; himself he cannot save." Yes, it was because he would save others that he could not save himself He was laying down his life of himself; at any moment during those long hours of torture he might have put forth his almighty power; but how, then, should the Scriptures be fulfilled? How should God and man be reconciled? How should sin be put away, and sinful man be saved? He who would save others must forget himself. The Lord is the Divine example of the most entire self-sacrifice: let us adore him; let us imitate him. "He is the King of Israel," they said in their biting, wicked irony; they said the truth, though they said it in mockery. They bade him come down front the cross; then, they said, they would believe on him. But he knew their hearts; they would not have believed had he done so. He had raised Lazarus; he did afterwards raise himself from the dead; but they would not be persuaded. Faith and love cannot be forced by a display of power. The Lord would win the love of men by his own constraining love. Love is free; it springs from the true heart to meet the love which calls it forth. It was his blessed death upon the cross, not a descent from the cross in awful majesty, which was to draw all men to him. The chief priests derided him for his seeming weakness; they dared even to deride him for his trust in God. "He trusted in God," they said, and then unconsciously used the very words of prophecy, the words of the twenty-second psalm, in their wickedness, "Let him deliver him now. if he will have him;" repeating the insults of the passers-by, and taunting him with his assertion of his Divine nature; for he said, "I am the Son of God."
3. The crucified thieves. They too reviled him, "If thou be Christ, save thyself and us." Affliction does not always soften; sometimes it leads to discontent, murmuring, rebellion. The near approach of death does not always bring men to repentance; sin hardens the heart; men commonly die as they have lived. The outward cross cannot save the soul; in the very presence of the cross of atonement, in the very sight of the precious blood, there was one miserable death—a death of agony without hope, without repentance, without forgiveness. The cross of the Lord Jesus is very awful, but his most blessed love sheds around it a glory of unearthly radiance. The cross of the penitent thief is awful too; but his repentance, faith, and hope are full of sweet comfort for the contrite sinner. The cross on the left hand is dreadful beyond all words; for, alas! there is nothing to relieve the horror of that death of agony and blasphemy. Let us beware and take heed to ourselves; there is but one case of deathbed repentance recorded in Holy Scripture. There is one; then we may hope for others even against hope: there is only one; then we may not dare to trust for ourselves to a hope so slender.
III. THE END.
1. The three hours' darkness. It was about the sixth hour. The noonday sun should have been pouring its full light upon Jerusalem. But there was a horror of great darkness—a darkness that could be felt. It might well be so. He was hanging on the cross by whom all things were made. He was dying who upholdeth all things by the word of his power. So stupendous an event, the death of him who is the Life of the world, must be attended by wonders, by strange and awful signs. That fearful darkness was a stern rebuke to the cruel brutal mockers. Nature was mourning for the Lord of nature, whom man, his noblest creature, was thus maltreating. The supernatural blackness of the sky figured the black wickedness of that fearful crime. The great darkness wrapt the dying Lord like a funeral pall, hiding from unsympathizing eyes that most awful spiritual conflict by which the loving Saviour wrought out our salvation. It seems to warn us that we may not pry too curiously into the mysterious secrets of his atoning work. It is his work; he alone can accomplish it. "I have trodden the winepress alone: and of the people there was none with me" (Isaiah 63:3). We stand afar off, and beat our breasts in the consciousness of great sin and utter unworthiness, and adore the most gracious Redeemer, who loved us with that exceeding love which passeth knowledge.
2. The great cry. The ninth hour was almost come. The Lord's last moments were now very near, when an exceeding loud cry pealed through the encompassing darkness. The Lord's holy human soul was emerging from the awful struggle. He had been bearing, we may reverently and sorrowfully believe, the extreme burden of the sins of the whole world. They had been pressed upon him, in all their horror and loathsomeness, in that hour when he was made "to be sin for us, who knew no sin." The Lord looked back in clear consciousness upon the fearful strife. "My God," he said. He quoted that wonderful twenty-second psalm, in which, ages before, he had by his Spirit depicted his own future sufferings. He teaches us by his own example to use the blessed words of Holy Scripture in our distress, in our death agony. "My God." The Son of God never lost his trustfulness in his heavenly Father. Never for one moment could there be a darkening of the perfect love, of the ineffable communion, of the Father and the only begotten Son; and then came those mysterious words, "Why didst thou forsake me?" Did those words relate to some strange awful experience of the Lord's human soul? Was that soul left as it were alone for a while in the presence of sin—the sin of the whole world? Had that blessed soul to bear the guilt of my sin, and to fee! that horror of great darkness when the face of God is hidden from the sinner? We cannot but ask ourselves these and such-like questions. We cannot answer them. It is a subject less suitable for words than for prayer and solemn meditation. But if it is most awful, it is also full of precious comfort. In the extreme anguish of spiritual depression the Christian soul is not cut off from Christ. There is no sorrow so great as this; and sometimes God's holiest children seem very severely tried by it. Yes, in those saddest hours when we seem well nigh hopeless, when we have lost heart, and there is no joy, but only darkness all around, even then let us draw closer to the cress, and strain our eyes to see the Crucified One, and think of the great darkness that hung around his cross, and listen to his dying words. Let us say, "My God, mine ever in gloom and spiritual dryness and chill joyless depression—my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" Only let us trust him, and we shall know at last, even in that bitterest of sorrows, that "whom he loveth he chasteneth." We shall hear at last in our inmost hearts the words of comfort, "I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee."
3. The vinegar. A strange dread came upon the souls of the surrounding multitude; there was no mockery now, but awful expectation. They thought that the Lord had called for the great prophet Elijah, the prophet who was to appear before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. Would he come? they said to one another, in excited whispers. And now there was some sympathy, perhaps springing from fear, for the dying Lord. One of them gave him to drink. The Lord did not refuse the vinegar as he had refused the medicated potion, he received it in gracious condescension. He had nothing of that haughtiness which prompts men to reject acts of kindness from those who have wronged them. There was a solemn hush among the crowd, a stillness of awe, such as we feel sometimes when a great darkness comes over the heavens at the approach of some tremendous storm. Would Elijah come? they whispered one to another. He came not. The Lord needed him not; he was giving his life for the love of souls.
4. The Lord's death. The Lord cried again with a great voice. Perhaps that cry was the word of triumph recorded by St. John, "It is finished!" He had finished the work which the Father had given him to do; he looked back upon his finished work, and summed it up in that one loud cry of victory. That loud cry from the cross peals through the world; still its echoes fall upon our ears. It calls for our devout contemplation of that finished life of holiness and beauty. It calls upon each Christian so to live, in the imitation of that perfect life, that he too may, through the grace of the Holy Spirit and the cleansing power of the precious blood, look back in some poor measure on a work in some sense finished, when his last hour is come. That loud cry spoke not of exhaustion; but at once, when his work was finished, the Lord bowed his head, and yielded up the ghost. The physical antecedent of his death was probably a broken heart; the true cause was his own sovereign will. He yielded up the ghost; he let his human soul pass from the body. It was his act, his will; none took his life from him; none could take it from him; he laid it down of himself. The holy body hung lifeless on the cross; the holy soul passed into Paradise.
1. The cross is the central fact in the world's history. Let it be the central motive in our hearts.
2. The Lord suffered cruel pain. Let us lift up our hearts to him in our anguish.
3. He is the King of the Jews. Let us take him for the King of our hearts.
4. He was cruelly derided. Let us take insults patiently.
5. He died. Let us learn of him how to die.
Witness to the Lord's Divinity.
I. THE WITNESS OF PORTENTS.
1. The rending of the temple veil. "Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us." It may be that Christ, the Lamb of God, yielded up the ghost on the day and at the hour when they killed the Passover. It was the hour of evening prayer. The priests as they entered into the holy place found the great veil, which hid the holy of holies from the eye of man, rent in twain from the top to the bottom. This had happened at the moment of the Lord's death; it was closely associated with that tremendous event. St. Matthew and St. Mark mention the Lord's death first, St. Luke puts first the rending of the veil; the two events were so very closely connected in time and meaning. The evangelists felt the deep spiritual significance of the rending of the veil; so doubtless did that great company of priests, who afterwards became obedient to the faith. It was a supernatural event, not the result of the earthquake or of any ordinary cause. It had a deep and blessed meaning. The holy of holies was the one spot in all the earth where God had been wont to manifest his immediate presence in a special manner. That manifestation had been surrounded with circumstances of awe. The sacred place where the Most High had dwelt between the cherubim was hidden from men by the great heavy veil, shrouded in awful darkness. Only on one day in the year might that veil be lifted; only one mortal being might dare to enter, and that with solemn rites of propitiation, with great fear and trembling. But now the veil was rent; it was rent at the moment of the Saviour's death: and evidently by the Divine interposition. The solemn ritual of the great Day of Atonement was fulfilled in the one Sacrifice now offered upon the cross. Such rites were no longer needed. God himself opens the way into the most holy place. His people may draw near, very near, into his immediate presence. All may come, not the high priest only, but all faithful Christians; for he who washed us from our sins in his own blood hath made us priests unto God and his Father, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable unto God through him. But the rent veil figured also the pierced body of the Saviour; for thus saith the Scripture, "Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way, which be hath consecrated for us, though the veil, that is to say, his flesh,...let us draw near with a true heart" (Hebrews 10:19-22). The Divine Word dwelt ("tabernacled," John 1:14) in the body of Christ. Now that tabernacle was rent. While he was in the flesh, that veil of mortal flesh hung, like the temple veil, between him and the true holy of holies. When it was rent, the way into the holiest was made manifest, and the Lord in his glorified humanity, "by his own blood entered in once into the holy place," that is, "into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us." There he is making intercession for us, and in the power of that prevailing intercession we may draw near to God. The veil is rent. There was a veil over all nations (Isaiah 25:7, Isaiah 25:8); it was destroyed when death was swallowed up in victory. There is neither Greek nor Jew, barbarian nor Scythian, but Christ is all, and in all. The veil is rent. There was a veil upon the hearts of men, that veil is done away in Christ. They that are his, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.
2. The earthquake. "The earth did quake, and the rocks rent." It might well be expected. Prodigies such as these are nothing in comparison with that greatest of all wonders which had just taken place. These lesser signs attested the tremendous power of that moral earthquake which the death of Christ would cause. Old beliefs would be shattered, old superstitions rent; there would be a great heaving in men's hearts, a severing of old lines of thought, a mighty change in the spiritual order of the world.
3. The opened graves. There was a strange excitement in the realm of the dead. It might well be so. Isaiah represents the nations of the dead as stirred at the coming of the King of Babylon (Isaiah 14:9-12). But what is the death of the greatest of earthly monarchs compared with the death of him who is the Son of God? "The dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God." The "loud voice" of the dying Jesus was heard in Hades. The graves were opened. And when he arose, who is the Firstborn from the dead, many bodies of the saints came out, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many. A wondrous miracle, but not wondrous compared with that chiefest of all wonders, the death and resurrection of the Lord. It is not strange that smaller wonders should cluster round that great central wonder.
II. THE WITNESS OF MEN.
1. The centurion and soldiers. They feared greatly, the centurion especially. It seems from St. Mark's account that he was deeply moved, not only by the earthquake, but by the words and bearing of the Lord. He felt not only that the Lord was wholly innocent (Luke 23:47), but that he was more than man; that that title which the mockers had ascribed to him in scorn was truly his; he was the Son of God. That centurion "glorified God;" he probably became one of that noble band of Roman soldiers, like the centurion at Capernaum and Cornelius of Caesarea, who believed in the Lord. The cross of Christ, and the Lord lifted up thereon, could draw all men unto him, even the Roman centurion, even the soldiers who had pierced him, who had sat dicing beneath the cross. May we, one and all, feel its constraining power!
2. The women. The Lord's mother had stood by the cross; probably St. John had led her away before the Saviour's death. But there were still many women beholding afar off—good and holy women, who had followed Christ from Galilee, and ministered to him of their substance. Mary of Magdala was there, out of whom the Lord had cast seven devils, who loved him with the devoted love of deepest gratitude; Salome, who bad asked for her sons the chief places in the Saviour's kingdom, and now saw the two crucified malefactors, one on his right hand and the other on his left. They had ministered to him in life, gladly giving their worldly means to supply his wants; now they were faithful even unto death. Let us imitate them in their loving almsgiving, in their holy steadfastness, in their watching round the cross. Christians should give freely, Christians should be faithful in danger and in death, Christians should ever gaze upon the cross of Jesus.
1. The veil is rent. Use the Christian's privilege; draw near in faith and love and reverence.
2. The cross won those Roman soldiers. Let us be ashamed of our hard hearts; let us pray for the strength of deep conviction.
3. Be faithful, like those Galilaean women.
The Lord's grave.
I. THE BURIAL.
1. Joseph of Arimathaea. He was a rich man and a counsellor. Like Nicodemus, he believed in Christ; but, like Nicodemus, he had not had the courage to avow his convictions. His rank, perhaps, and his riches had kept him back. It was hard for a man in his position to espouse the cause of the despised Prophet of Nazareth. He had, perhaps, absented himself from the council at which the Lord was condemned. He would not take part in that awful crime, but probably he had not dared to oppose it openly. Yet, notwithstanding his timidity, he was a good man, and a just; he waited for the kingdom of God (Luke 23:50, Luke 23:51). God judges more tenderly than men. We are apt to condemn a man wholly when we see one great fault in him. God sometimes sees sincerity, a real yearning alter truth and goodness, where we refuse to see anything save the one obvious defect. And now Joseph shook off his weakness. The Lord's majesty in suffering confirmed his wavering faith. He was ashamed of his cowardice. He had not done his best to save his Master. He would at least honour him now, cost what it might, he went in boldly unto Pilate, and craved the body of Jesus. It was a brave deed. Friends of martyred Christians again and again brought the death of martyrdom upon themselves by doing the like. But Pilate commanded the body to be delivered, he had washed his hands before consenting to the Saviour's death. Perhaps he thought that respect for the lifeless body might help, like that poor outward form, to atone for his guilt.
2. The sepulchre. The holy body was to receive no more indignities. It was not thrown, as the chief priests had probably expected, into some dishonoured grave with the two malefactors; it was not left to the eleven, who could provide only some poor interment. He was "with the rich in his death." Joseph and Nicodemus, both rich men and honourable, cast aside their shame and their fears. They took the sacred body from the cross with reverent care, wrapped it in clean and fine linen, with the costly gift of myrrh and aloes brought by Nicodemus, and laid it in Joseph's own tomb, which he had hewn out in the rock. Thus they confessed Christ before men. While the eleven were still overcome with terror and despair, these two men, who had been so fearful, shook off their fears, and showed openly their reverence for the Lord. They feared neither the fierce anger of the Jews nor the ceremonial defilement which would keep them from the Passover rites. The cross of Christ could make the timid brave. He was laid in a tomb hewn out of the rock. The rocks about Jerusalem are full of tombs. The whole world, indeed, is one vast cemetery. Countless multitudes of the dead he everywhere around us. Christ hath hallowed the grave by himself resting there. We may be well content that our poor bodies should be where his sacred body lay. Only let us seek first to be buried with him by baptism unto death; let us seek to realize in our inner souls that burial with Christ of which holy baptism is the token and the pledge—a burial out of the reach of the defiling touch of sin, in the rock where the allurements of sin cannot penetrate, if that spiritual burial is with Christ.
3. The women. Mary of Magdala and the other Mary were sitting over against the sepulchre. "Seest thou the courage of these women?" says Chrysostom; "seest thou their affection? seest thou how they continued faithful unto death? Let us men imitate these women, and let us net desert the Lord in the hour of trial."
II. THE SEALING OF THE TOMB.
1. The fears of the chief priests. The awe of the last hours of the Crucifixion was still upon their souls. The Lord was dead, but they could not rest, not even on the sabbath. Even on that holy day they came with the Pharisees to the Roman governor; they shrank not from telling him their fears and from asking his help. They knew of the Lord's prophecy of his resurrection on the third day, though they perverted it for their own ends. Some of them were present when he said, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up." They may have heard from Judas or others something of his more distinct predictions; they would prevent the fulfilment. The body was safe, hidden in the rock; they would keep it there.
2. The guard. Pilate haughtily dismissed them. it was their business; he would do nothing more for them. They had a guard. Probably there was a small body of soldiers put at their disposal to keep order during the Passover celebration. "Go," the governor said sternly, "secure it as you best can." "So they went and made the sepulchre sure, scaling the stone, and setting a watch." So all through that sabbath day, and all through the night that followed, the Roman sentries paced up and down before the sealed stone. And now the chief priests felt secure. The Lord's body lay still and. lifeless in the sepulchre; his own followers had laid it there. They had tended it with reverent care; but they had me thought, no hope of a resurrection. They had forgotten the Lord's words; they understood them not. They never seemed able to realize what he told them from time to time of his approaching sufferings and death, and of the glory that should follow. They laid the sacred body in myrrh and aloes; they rolled a great stone to the door of the sepulchre. The chief priests completed the work; they sealed the stone; they set there an armed guard; they knew that the Lord's disciples, few and. terrified as they were, would never dare to encounter those dreaded Roman soldiers. They had succeeded in accomplishing their awful sin; and, if their consciences allowed them to sleep, they slept that night securely.
1. We must not judge men hastily. Joseph, once so tearful, showed holy courage at last.
2. The Lord was buried. Let us not fear the grave.
3. His burial has a lesson for us. We are buried with him by baptism unto death. "How shall we that are dead to sin live any longer therein"?
4. The wicked may exult in the seeming success of their designs; but the Lord reigneth.
HOMILIES BY W.F. ADENEY
The wretched traitor got no satisfaction out of his crime. No sooner had he committed it than he was horrified at the enormity of the deed. Covetous as he was, he could not hold the blood money, and he flung it down as though the very touch of it burnt his fingers. It is not often that the revulsion from an act of wickedness follows so swiftly. Very probably Judas was aghast at the consequence of his treason, never having imagined that it would issue fatally, he may have aimed at forcing the hand of Jesus, assuming that, at the last his Master would exert miraculous powers and claim his Christly rights. If so, the man was grievously mistaken, and the discovery of his deadly error appalled him. Then a great darkness fell upon him, and the madness of suicide took possession of him. He seems to stand alone in the enormity of his crime, but his very despair shows him to be human, and his confession almost gives us a glimmer of hope that even in this miserable man there is a possibility of better things.
I. THE TRAITOR CONFESSED HIS SIN. He knew that he had acted vilely, and his accomplices, who were glad to use him as their tool, had no pity for such a scoundrel But it is something that he was brought to own himself a sinner. The vilest sinner is the man who tries to hide his sin, who plays the hypocrite before men, and who even endeavours to excuse himself in his own conscience by sophistical arguments. There are sins, however, whose scarlet hue so blazes in the sunlight that the rankest hypocrite does not attempt to deny them. Confession is good, but it is not repentance, much less is it regeneration.
II. JUDAS OWNED THE INNOCENCE OF CHRIST. He knew it was innocent blood that he had betrayed. It is striking to notice how many of the leading actors in the murder of Christ testify to his merits. Pilate could find no fault in him. The centurion at the cross acknowledged him as a Son of God. Even the traitor is constrained by his own conscience to own his treason and to vindicate the innocence of his Master. Many men have a fair appearance in the distance, but they will not bear too close a scrutiny. But those who knew Jesus most intimately, and those who examined him in the most critical moments, were able to discover no flaw in his perfect character.
III. CONFESSION OF SIN AND A RECOGNITION OF THE MERITS OF CHRIST ARE NOT SUFFICIENT FOR SALVATION. In Judas there were the beginnings of better things. But alas! they ended in despair and death. If we only see our sin and Christ's goodness, we may well shrink from entertaining any hope for ourselves. We need to go a step further. Judas never fled to Christ's cross; therefore he ran to his own gallows. The only deliverance from the tyranny and the doom of sin is to be found in the redemption which Christ has wrought on the cross. Even the murderers of the innocent Saviour come within the scope of his wonderful grace. There would be hope for a Judas, if Judas would but turn from his awful sin in real repentance to Christ as even his Saviour.—W.F.A.
The name of Barabbas has become odious throughout Christendom, although we really know very little against him. That he was a rebel against the Roman government only means that he furthered the cause of liberty which all his people cherished in their hearts; so that his name might have been associated with the names of Tell, Wallace, and other well known patriots, if only he had been successful. That he combined brigandage with insurrection is only too characteristic of the revolt of a wild, determined, lawless man in desperate straits, although this fact spoils much of his heroism. Still we do not know enough against him to account for the detestation which his name has attached to it. That detestation does not arise from anything in his character or conduct. It simply springs from the accident that it was he whom the people had an opportunity of preferring to Jesus. Therefore it is their treatment of him that is of significant interest when we consider the place of Barabbas in the gospel story.
I. BARABBAS WAS PREFERRED TO CHRIST.
1. An indication of the people's hatred to Christ. There is no reason to think that Barabbas was a popular hero. His insurrection was covered with the ignominy of failure, and his patriotism was stained with the lawlessness of brigandage. Yet he was chosen and Christ rejected. So intense was the passion of hate in the mob under the influence of their unprincipled leaders in the Jewish hierarchy! It is strange that any could hate the gracious Christ; and yet, since he was the deadly enemy of all sin, he provoked the opposition of sinners. A person who clings to his sin will come in his heart to what is virtually a hatred of Christ.
2. A sign of the people's blindness to the merits of Christ. The wickedness of hypocritical rulers was the driving force behind the fury of the mob; with many of the unthinking multitude there was doubtless no great antipathy to our Lord until this had been roused by malignant agitators. But the people did not perceive the attractions of Christ, or they would not have preferred Barabbas. The leaders were wicked, the people were blind. It is possible to be in very close external contact with Christ, and yet not to know him.
II. BARABBAS WAS SPARED INSTEAD OF CHRIST. This was not fair or reasonable, for Barabbas was guilty and Christ was innocent. Nevertheless, the unjust thing was done. This is typical of another substitution. Sinners are spared and Christ is crucified. That too would be monstrously unjust if our Lord himself had taken no part in the transaction. We can never see the bare outline of the atonement even till we perceive Christ's own free action in the matter. Though the substitution of Jesus for Barabbas is suggestive of Christ's great sacrifice for mankind, the cases are not parallel, because our Lord gave himself up for the world's redemption. What is unjust and wrong in those who slay him does not affect the right of the Saviour to surrender himself; and it is in this voluntary giving up of himself that the atonement, as a part of the Divine economy of redemption, is just and right.
In conclusion, let us remember that we may be in danger of sinning like the people who preferred Barabbas to Christ, when we are tempted to sacrifice our Lord's claims to any earthly considerations. Money, pleasure, self-will, may be our Barabbas, chosen to be saved though Christ is renounced.—W.F.A.
The crown of thorns.
The wreath that the unfeeling soldiers pressed on the brow of the patient Christ, in mimicry of the victor's crown, with its cruel thorns to lacerate and pain, was only meant for an insult. It was one element in the torture of rude mockery to which our Lord was subjected. Yet, though quite beyond the perception of the brutal legionaries, this was wonderfully representative of the true Kingship of Jesus. He is a King crowned with thorns. Let us look at the fact from two points of view.
I. THE KINGSHIP OF CHRIST NECESSITATED A CROWN OF THORNS,
1. Because he was King he could not but suffer. That is a vulgar notion of royalty which regards it as a state of enviable pleasure. The king of the fairy tales may live in a palace of delights; but the king of history is better represented by Shakespeare, one of whose monarchs exclaims, "Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown!" Most kings find some thorns in their crowns.
2. The peculiar Kingship of Christ involved peculiar suffering. No other king wore a crown wholly woven of thorns. No other king ever suffered as he suffered. It was not the common fate of kingship that bruised and crushed the heart of the Divine King. He came to rule in the souls of men, and the rebellion of men's souls wounded him. He came to rule the wills of his people, and the resistance of self-will hurt him. He came to rule with righteousness, to cast out all unrighteousness, and the wickedness of the world turned against him. His great aim was to overthrow the kingdom of Satan and to set up his own kingdom instead of it. That is to say, he came to conquer sin and to reign in holiness. But the victory over sin could only be had through suffering and death.
II. THE CROWN OF THORNS CONFIRMED THE KINGSHIP OF CHRIST. If they had only known it, those heartless, mocking soldiers were really symbolizing the right of their victim to be their king. Their mimicry of a coronation was most typical of his real coronation. Jesus is a King crowned with thorns, because he is crowned with sorrows, because his sufferings give him a right to sit on his throne and to rule over his people.
1. The sufferings of Christ give him a right to the highest honour. After describing his self-emptying and obedience even to the death of the cross, St. Paul adds, "Wherefore God hath highly exalted him, and given him the Name above every name," etc. (Philippians 2:9). There is no merit in mere pain, but there is great honour in suffering for a noble cause. Christ went further; he was more than a martyr. He drank a more bitter cup than any other man has tasted, and he took all this suffering upon him for the saving of the world. Such a crown of thorns worn for the good of others marks its wearer as worthy of the highest honour.
2. The sufferings of Christ give him the kingdom over which he rules. He had to win this kingdom for himself, and it is his now by right of conquest. But he did not use any weapons of carnal warfare. He did not fight with the sword. The sufferings of the war were not inflicted on the territory he was conquering, but on himself, He won the world to himself by dying for the world on the cross.—W.F.A.
Christ refusing an opiate.
The charitable ladies of Jerusalem are said to have provided some stupefying drug for the use of condemned criminals, in order to alleviate the intolerable torments of death by crucifixion. Apparently it was this drug that some people offered to Jesus; but he refused to take it. The taste of it revealed its benumbing influence, and he would not submit to this.
I. CHRIST WOULD NOT SHRINK FROM HIS ALLOTTED SUFFERING. This scene is strangely contrasted with the scene in Gethsemane but a few hours earlier. In the garden Jesus had besought God, with tears and in agony, that if possible the cup of his Passion and death might pass from him. Now he will not take the cup that brings alleviation to his sufferings. How shall we account for this difference of mental attitude? The answer is that Christ knew that it was God's will that he should suffer. Before he had only prayed that the cup of his sufferings might pass, if it had been God's will to release him. But he discovered that it was not God's will. Then there was not a moment's hesitation. Christ was human in his shrinking from pain and insult and death. But he was strong and absolutely brave in facing whatever he might have to meet in doing or in bearing the will of God. He was no weak, effeminate sufferer, as pictures of the Correggio school represent him. His courage was perfect. Manly and strong in soul, he faced death and its accompanying torments without flinching, when he saw his way led him through those horrors.
II. CHRIST HAD A WORK YET TO FINISH. We are thankful for the anodyne which medical science is now able to apply to great suffering. The chloroform that renders the patient unconscious during a surgical operation, and the morphia that relieves acute pain, are welcomed as gifts of God. Surely it cannot be wrong to employ such things. There is no merit in the mere endurance of pain. But in our Lord's case there was much more to be considered than the suffering of a painful death. He had a testimony to bear. His words from the cross are among the most precious memorials of his earthly ministry. He could not say, "It is finished!" until he was about to bow his head and give up the ghost. Therefore he felt it necessary to preserve his consciousness to the last. Then his suffering was itself a part of his work. The way in which he endured what was laid upon him entered into the very process of his atoning sacrifice. As our great High Priest, he was made perfect through suffering (Hebrews 5:8, Hebrews 5:9). Would he have been the perfect Christ he was if he had left one drop of the bitter cup? If he had taken the opiate which would have allayed his pains at the expense of his consciousness, would he have made the complete atonement for sin? If it is too much to say "Yes" to these questions, at least we may see that his great and awful work could only have been accomplished by the willing and conscious surrender of himself, and this surrender would have been obscured to our view if he had accepted the offered relief. Thus we see how to the very last he would not care for himself, how he gave himself utterly in suffering and death for the world's redemption.—W.F.A.
"And they crucified him." There is a way of regarding the crucifixion of our Lord which we may be sure he himself must disapprove of. This is to paint it in all its horrors of physical torment, so as to harrow the feelings of the spectator, and to excite the deepest commiseration for the Sufferer. Jesus bade the women of Jerusalem not to weep for him, but to weep for themselves and their children (Luke 23:28), and this he did when in all his human weakness he was just going to his death. Much more would he say the stone now that he has risen from the dead and ascended to the right hand of God. He does not want our pity. This would be a wasted and mistaken sentiment. How, then, should we today regard the crucifixion of our Lord?
I. IT IS THE CONDEMNATION OF SIN.
1. Sin killed Christ.
(1) The immediate cause was the wickedness of the Jews, who would not submit to his reforming and spiritual reign. Judas's treason, Caiaphas's rage, Herod's jealousy, Pilate's weakness, were all wicked things. Christ's death was a murder, an awful crime.
(2) Behind these particular causes the world's sin led to the rejection and crucifixion of Christ. Our sin crucifies him afresh. Thus his cross bears witness to the exceeding wickedness and the awful results of sin.
2. Christ kills sin. He condemned sin by dying under its assault. He bore the crushing weight of the world's sin in his own Person. But in so doing he faced and conquered the spirit of evil. Christ on the cross makes our sin look hideous and hateful; thus he slays it.
II. IT IS THE REVELATION OF LOVE. Never before or after has so great a love been tested so severely, or revealed so truly in its absolute purity, in its invincible strength. God crowned the love that is shown in creation, providence, and his merciful spiritual work in our consciences, by the supreme gift of his Son. Thus Christ, as the manifestation of One whose name is Love, makes the love of God known to us. He does this throughout his life by the graciousness of his ministry to the sick and suffering and sinful, by his kindness to little children, by his mercy to weeping penitents. But here at the cross is the crown of love. He loves his sheep so much that he will lay down his life fur them. His love is stronger than death. He chooses death rather than the sacrificing of his love.
III. IT IS THE REDEMPTION OF THE WORLD. There is a great purpose in Christ's death. The wicked men who bring it about have their low, selfish objects. But behind and above these is God's great plan, Christ's glorious aim. This is no less than the saving of the world that rejected him—we may say that of the very men who nailed him to the cross; for he died for his enemies as well as for his friends. We must not be satisfied with contemplating the tragic scene of the Crucifixion by itself. We must look at its deep meaning. Here is the sacrifice for sin—the cross, the altar; Christ, the willing Victim. Here, then, is the hope and promise of our salvation.
IV. IT IS THE INSPIRATION OF SACRIFICE. The apostles rarely point to the cross without speaking of the example of Christ for our following. "Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus," says St. Paul (Philippians 2:5). Christ suffered for us, leaving us an example, is St. Peter's teaching (1 Peter 2:21). His fidelity, his unselfishness, his courage, his patience, his love in giving himself for others, are the great models for Christians to follow.—W.F.A.
Forsaken by God.
We cannot fathom the depths of the dark and mysterious experience of our Lord's last mortal agony. We must walk reverently, for here we stand on holy ground. It is only just to acknowledge that the great Sufferer must have had thoughts and feelings which pass beyond our comprehension, and which are too sacred and private for our inspection. Yet what is recorded is written for our instruction. Let us, then, in all reverence, endeavour to see what it means.
I. CHRIST AS A TRUE MAN SHARED IN THE FLUCTUATIONS OF HUMAN EMOTION. He quoted the language of a psalmist who had passed through the deep waters, and he felt them to be most tree in his own experience. Jesus was not always calm; certainly he was not impassive. He could be roused to indignation; he could be melted to tears. He knew the rapture of Divine joy; he knew also the torment of heart-breaking grief. There are sorrows which depend upon the inner consciousness more than on any external events. These sorrows Jesus knew and felt. We cannot command our phases of feeling. It is well to know that Jesus also, in his earthly life, was visited by very various moods. Dark hours were not unknown to him. Having experienced them, he can understand them in us, and sympathize with our depression of spirit.
II. CHRIST AS THE ATONEMENT FOR SIN FELT THE DARK HORROR OF ITS GUILT. He could not own himself to be guilty when he knew he was innocent. But he was so one with man that he felt the shame and burden of man's sin as though it had been his own. As the great Representative of the race, he took up the load of the world's sin, i.e. he made it his own by deeply concerning himself with it, by entering into its dreadful consequences, by submitting to its curse. Such feelings might blot out the vision of God for a season.
III. CHRIST AS THE HOLY SON OF GOD WAS UNUTTERABLY GRIEVED AT LOSING THE CONSCIOUSNESS OF HIS FATHER'S PRESENCE. There are men who live without any thought of God, and yet this is no trouble to them. On the contrary, they dread to see God, and it is fearful for them to think that he sees them. These are men who love sin, and therefore they do not love God. But Jesus lived in the love of his Father. To lose one whom we love with all our heart is a cause for heart-breaking anguish. Jesus seemed to have lost God. To all who have the love of God in their hearts any similar feeling of desertion must be an agony of soul.
IV. CHRIST AS THE BELOVED SON IN WHOM GOD WAS WELL PLEASED COULD NOT BE REALLY DESERTED BY GOD. Not only is God physically near to all men, because he is omnipresent, but he is spiritually near to his own people to sustain and save them, even when they are not conscious of his presence. The vision of God is one thing, and his presence is another. We may miss the first without losing the second. Our real state before God does not rest on the shifting sands of our moods of feeling. In the hour of darkness Jesus prayed. This is enough to show that he knew that he was not really and utterly abandoned by his Father. In spiritual deadness, when it is hard to pray at all, the one remedy is in prayer. Our cry can reach God through the darkness, and the darkness will not last forever; often it is the gate to a glorious light.—W.F.A.
The burial of Jesus.
We may consider this in relation to all the persons concerned—Jesus himself, Joseph of Arimathaea, Pontius Pilate, and the Marys.
I. JESUS SUBMITTING TO BURIAL. Jesus himself had departed. It was only the deserted house that was now left. Still this was the body of Jesus, and the burial of it had a significance in regard to the spirit that had once inhabited it.
1. The burial proves the death of Christ. If he had risen immediately it would have been said that he had never died at all—that he had only fainted. But that in his state of exhaustion he could have been torn down from the cross and sealed up in a tomb without receiving any nourishment; that he could then have come forth and walked about with no traces of suffering upon him,—all this is simply impossible.
2. The burial completes the humiliation of Christ. It is an humiliation for the body to be handled by others as lifeless clay, and then to be laid in the tomb, put out of sight as a dreadful thing, soon to become repulsive and loathsome. Christ's body never saw corruption; but it was humbled to the grave.
II. JOSEPH BEGGING THE BODY OF JESUS.
1. This reveals his true discipleship. Joseph was a rich man in a high position. It was highly dangerous for such a man to avow himself a Christian. But the privilege of burying the body of his beloved Master encouraged him to run the risk. We are best known as Christ's by what we will do for him, especially when our service involves sacrifice.
2. This also reveals the tardiness of his confession. It was a late avowal. Why had not Joseph owned his faith during the lifetime of Christ? He was too like those who build the tombs of the prophets. His courage was real, but it was half spoilt by the fact that it was not manifested when it would have been most valuable. How many opportunities of Christian service are missed by delay in coming out openly on the Lord's side! It is well to treat the bodies of our departed friends with respect; but this is a small service compared with the help and love we could show them during their lifetime. The Josephs who can only bury a dead Christ are not of the stuff out of which apostles are made.
III. PILATE SURRENDERING THE BODY OF JESUS. The miserable man should have protected the life of the Prisoner whom he knew to be innocent. His surrender of Jesus to death at the clamour of the Jews was more than an act of weakness, it was treason against justice. Now it is too late to save the life of the Prophet of Nazareth. The awful crime has been committed, and it can never be undone, Through all the ages it will brand the name of Pilate with an indelible mark of ignominy. Yet the governor will make a little concession. A friend of Jesus—especially as he is rich and influential—may have the lifeless corpse. Thus we see men who are false to their real duty and the sacred trust that is laid upon them showing a reasonable kindness in small things. But this cannot atone for their great, black wickedness.
IV. THE MARYS AT THE TOMB. Sorrowful and loving, they sit and watch by the tomb. It is all they can do for their Lord, and they cannot bear to leave him. Their faithful love is rewarded. To them is given the first news of the Resurrection. Cleaving to Christ will be rewarded by many a surprise of joy. From the very tomb new hope will come to those who hold faithfully to him.—W.F.A.
HOMILIES BY MARCUS DODS
Matthew 27:1, Matthew 27:2, Matthew 27:11-14
Christ before Pilate. No. 1.
Caiaphas had a purpose to serve by giving Jesus up to the Romans. Little did he know that while he thought he was making a tool of every one, he was merely God's tool for accomplishing his purposes. The harmony of the purpose of God, the scheme of Caiaphas, the law of Rome, and the relation of the Jewish court to the Roman procurator, explains fully how, when the Sanhedrin took counsel against Jesus to put him to death, the result was that they resolved to deliver him to Pilate. In their conduct notice:
1. Their scrupulosity about entering the palace. They would not cross a Gentile threshold during the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Types in this of all who are able to be religious without being moral; who shrink from violating some ceremonial rule, but without scruple violate their own convictions—whited sepulchres, outwardly spotless, but inwardly full of rottenness and corruption.
2. The satanically prompted cunning of their accusation. They had but an hour ago been obliged to acquit him of such charges, and to condemn him on the ground of his claiming to be the Son of God. But Pilate is too keen sighted to be deceived by their show of loyalty. He cannot believe that since last Passover this great conversion from hatred to love of his government has taken place. One cannot but reflect what a pregnant moment this was for Pilate, when our Lord seemed to wish to open the deepest desires of that severe Roman heart, and prompt him to long, with the Jews, for a spiritual kingdom. Before answering his question, "Art thou the King of the Jews?" he must first know, as John tells us, in what sense Pilate uses the words, "Sayest thou this thing of thyself? Is it not possible that thou too for thine own sake shouldest seek to know this King of the Jews for whom Israel has longed?" There were officers under Pilate whose heathen upbringing had not prevented them from discovering the spiritual grandeur of Jesus, and desiring to belong to his kingdom. But it was too much for Roman pride to be taught by a Jew how to find peace, and even to submit to this bound Jew before him as to a King. A mirror is here held up to those of us who do not "of ourselves" ask Christ what his claims are, who think it quite right that other people should accept and acknowledge him, but cannot bring themselves to do so. Pilate was a man who represents thousands in every age, who persistently and on principle live for the world, and seal up the deeper nature in them that the world does not satisfy; who try, as it were, to live down their own nature, their own immortality. Have your own spiritual necessities taught you the meaning of God's promise of a King to the Jews?—D.
Christ before Pilate. No. 2.
The other evangelists tell us of Pilate's first and fatal mistake, in offering, while convinced of his Prisoner's innocence, to chastise him and let him go. He showed the Jews he was afraid of them; and from this point onwards we see him tossed between his own convictions and his fears—a type of all who in their own souls have convictions about Christ and their duty to him, which they do not act out lest they thereby incur loss or abuse. Apparently, before the Jews have time to do more than utter a murmur of discontent at his proposal, another plan suggests itself, by which he may possibly extricate himself. The governors were in the habit of releasing some well known prisoner at the Feast of the Passover, and he offers to release Jesus. No sooner had he done so than his attention is called away by the extraordinary message from his wife. Nothing is more remarkable in the Roman history of the period than the strength of character developed by the women, their keen interest in public affairs, and the prominent part they play in them. A law forbidding the wives of the governors to accompany their husbands to the provinces had lately been repealed, and Claudia Procula was not only with Pilate, but apparently keenly interested in his work and tenderly solicitous for his honour and safety. And still God often thus speaks to men; and some woman's anxious look or word, or some child's innocent question, will give the conscience new strength or arm it with new weapons. The moments given to ponder this message are not neglected by the leaders. They wind through the crowd, and prompt the people to ask for Barabbas. By offering them the alternative between a Man whom both he and they knew to be innocent of sedition, and a man notoriously guilty of it, he put them into the very difficulty they sought to fix him in. But they have already seen that he has a deeper conviction than the innocence of Jesus, namely, a fear of them, and this they use. Pilate, therefore, having done, as he persuaded himself, all he could to save Jesus, gives him up to the scourging—a barbarous punishment, under which many died. He may have interfered to prevent the full amount being inflicted. He did not interfere when the soldiers proceeded to mock their victim. In this mockery we have a concrete and visible representation of the manner in which Christ is continually used. We salute him as King; but what is the sceptre we put in his hands? Is it not in many cases a mere reed, in hands that are bound? Is it not as real a mockery for us to profess allegiance to him, and use the strongest language we can command to express our adoration, and then go and show that he has not the slightest control over our lives? In this would-be equitable Roman governor coming to the people and saying, "What shall I do then with Jesus which is called Christ?" we see:
1. The predicament of many among ourselves who would gladly be rid of the question. But it cannot be. There is this judgment to pronounce. Even if there were no blessedness in following Christ, the fact remains that he is presented to you, and that it is your duty to accept him.
2. We see how futile was the attempt of Pilate to transfer the guilt of this action to the Jews. They were willing to take the blood of Christ on their heads; but, though history shows how terrible has been their share in the vengeance they ignorantly invoked, Pilate was not necessarily exempt. Men frequently mistake the point at which their own power, and therefore their own responsibility, ends. They consent to iniquity, and say they were forced to it. How were you forced? Would every man in your circumstances do as you are doing? Or, men invite you to share their sin, persuading you that the guilt is theirs, if there is any; you will find that they cannot bear your share, and that you vainly seek to lay the guilt on them. The very fate Pilate feared, and to avoid which he sacrificed the life of our Lord, came upon him. Six years later he was deposed from his office, and died by his own hand. We are apt to say of him that he was weak rather than wicked, forgetting that moral weakness is that which makes a man capable of any wickedness. And who is the weak man but the one who is not single-minded, who attempts to gratify both his conscience and his evil or weak feelings, to secure his own selfish ends as well as the great ends of justice and righteousness? Such a man will often be in as great a perplexity as Pilate, and will come to as ruinous, if not so appalling, an end.—D.
Verse 62-ch. 28:15
The resurrection of Jesus Christ is not merely the greatest event of history, it is the hinge on which all history turns. If Christ died and lies still in his grave like other men, then the whole preaching of the apostles falls to the ground. It is plain he can afford us no help of the kind we especially need—he cannot hear our prayer, he cannot guide our life. His own word has failed, for he said he would rise. The whole revelation of God he made, all the information about things unseen and future, has doubt cast upon it. It is the resurrection of Jesus that establishes a clear and close connection between this world and the unseen and spiritual world. If he rose from the dead, then the world into which he is gone is real, and his invitation to us to join him there is one we may confidently trust to. It becomes us, therefore, to consider with candour and seriousness whatever difficulties men have felt in accepting as true this stupendous fact. May not some mistaken and ill-advised person have surreptitiously conveyed away the body and have given out that a resurrection had taken place? The authorities took the most effectual means they could think of to prevent this. So beyond doubt was it that the grave was emptied by an actual resurrection, that when Peter stood before the Sanhedrin and affirmed it, they could not deny it. This ides, therefore, may be dismissed. It is agreed, by those who deny the Resurrection as much as by those who affirm it, that the disciples had a bona fide belief that Jesus had risen from the dead and was alive.
The question is—How was this belief produced? There are three answers.
(1) The disciples saw our Lord alive after crucifixion, but he had never been dead.
(2) They only thought they saw him.
(3) They did see him alive after being dead and buried. The first is scarcely worthy of attention,—it is so obviously inadequate. We ask for an explanation of this singular circumstance, that a number of men arrived at the firm conviction they had an Almighty Friend, One who had all power in heaven and on earth, and we are told they had seen their Master after crucifixion, creeping about the earth, scarcely able to move, pale, weak, helpless. This supposition is no explanation of their faith in him as a risen, glorious, almighty Lord. The second would suffice had we only to explain how one person believed he or she had seen the Lord. But what we have here to explain is how several persons, in different places, at different times, and in various moods of mind, came to believe they had seen him. He was recognized, not by persons who expected to see him alive, but by women who went to anoint him dead; not by credulous, excitable persons, but by persons so resolutely sceptical and so keenly alive to the possibility of delusion that nothing but handling his body could convince them. Nothing will explain the faith of the apostles and of the rest but the fact of their really seeing the Lord, after his death, alive and endowed with all power. They were men animated by no paltry spirit of vain glory, but by seriousness, even sublimity of mind—men whose lives require an explanation precisely such as is given by the supposition that they had been brought into contact with the spiritual world in this surprising and solemnizing manner. It is not denied that the evidence for the Resurrection would be quite sufficient to authenticate any ordinary historical event. It can be refused only on the ground that no evidence, however strong, could prove such an incredible event. The supernatural is rejected as a preliminary, so as to bar any consideration of the most important evidences of the supernatural. No account of the belief in the Resurrection has ever been given more credible than that which it seeks to supplant—the simple one that the Lord did rise again. The position of the Resurrection in the system of Christian facts and motives is all-important.
I. It is the chief proof that Jesus was not mistaken regarding his own Person, his own work, his relation to the Father, and the prospects of himself and his people. It is also the Father's attestation to the sufficiency of his work.
II. If our Lord's work be viewed as a revelation of the Father, the Resurrection will equally be seen to be necessary. Were there no resurrection, we should be obliged to seek our highest ideas of God in the tomb, not in the Divine condescension and love which are visible on the cross, but in a being overcome and defeated by the same ills that overwhelm us all.
III. In the risen Lord we find the source of all spiritual strength. Any one who passes through death uninjured, who conquers that which conquers all other men without exception, shows that he has some command over nature which does not belong to other men. And he who shows this superiority in virtue of a moral superiority, and uses it in the furtherance of the highest moral ends, shows a command over the whole affairs of men which makes it easy to believe he can guide us into a condition like his own. Especially does the Resurrection enable us to believe that our Lord can communicate the Holy Spirit. Salvation is reduced to very small limits indeed, and the Christian religion becomes a mere system of morality, if there be not now a living Christ able to bestow a living Spirit.
IV. In the risen Lord we see the character of the life to which we are called in fellowship with him, and also the destiny that awaits us in him. As he passed to God, and lives with him, so must we now live wholly to God, letting this great gulf of death stand between us and our past life of self-pleasing and worldliness. In him risen, with a human body and not a bare spirit, we see what we ourselves are to be in that future life. The Divine Spirit is the source both of holiness and of immortality; if we now have the one evidence of his indwelling, we shall one day have the other.—D.
HOMILIES BY J.A. MACDONALD
The price of blood.
The day, whose dawn brought repentance to Peter, found the Jewish rulers still plotting how they might effect the murder of Jesus. They had in the night infamously condemned him as a blasphemer, thereby exposing him to the penalty of death by stoning. Almost a hundred years before this Judaea was conquered by Pompey, and made tributary to the Romans, yet it was not until about two years before this that it was made part of the province of Syria. Then the power of capital punishment was taken from the Jews. Surely the sceptre had now departed, and Shiloh must have come (see Genesis 49:10). Doubting whether the Roman governor would put Jesus to death for an alleged offence in religion, the Sanhedrin resolve to accuse him of treason against the Romans on the ground of his having allowed himself to be saluted as King of the Jews (cf. verse 11; Luke 23:2; John 18:31). This decision brought Judas again upon the scene (verse 3, etc.).
I. WHAT COULD THIRTY SHEKELS DO?
1. They could sell Christ into the hands of murderers. The prophecy in Zechariah sets forth:
(1) That God appointed one eminent Shepherd to feed the Jewish people, who are called "the flock of slaughter," evidently in anticipation of what they should suffer from the Romans. This blessed Person is Divine, and confessedly Messiah (see Zechariah 11:7).
(2) That the ordinary guides had no regard for their charge: "Their own shepherds pity them not" (Zechariah 11:5). This was literally the case with the Jewish rulers, Pharisees, scribes, and priests, in our Lord's time.
(3) That between these unworthy shepherds and the shepherds of God's appointing there was strong enmity: "My soul loathed them, trod their soul also abhorred me." So Christ had a holy loathing for the pride, hypocrisy, and wickedness of the scribes and Pharisees, and they cherished a malignant hatred of him for his purity and truth.
(4) That he gives up his charge in judicial visitation. And here follows an awful description of the ruin to be brought upon them by the Romans (see verse 9).
(5) That the covenant between him and his people was broken, viz. the Sinai covenant, and his people rejected, because they refused the covenant from Zion which came to replace it (Zechariah 11:10).
(6) That some of the people, however, should admit Messiah's claims. "So the poor of the flock," etc. (Zechariah 9:11). These were evidently the disciples of Jesus, who were chiefly from the humbler classes.
(7) That in contrast to these, the heads of the nation estimate Messiah at the price of a slave: "thirty pieces of silver"—the "goodly price," as he sarcastically observes, "that I was prised at of them" (Zechariah 11:12, Zechariah 11:13). When they had an opportunity of withdrawing from their infamous bargain with Judas, they refused it.
2. They could purchase "the potter's field, to bury strangers in." This field was thenceforth called "The field of blood," and thereby became:
(1) A monument to the truth of Scripture. Zechariah continues, "And I took the thirty pieces of silver, and cast them to the potter in the house of the Lord" (cf. verses 3-10; Zechariah 11:13).
(2) A monument of the innocence of Jesus. This act of Judas was ordained by Providence to refute the sceptic who otherwise could object that Jesus was crucified as an impostor, on the testimony of a disciple who knew him well. In confessing Jesus innocent, Judas acknowledged his Messiahship, for otherwise he would not have been innocent. In this confession of Judas we have a specimen of the victory of Christ over Satan, and a warning to persecutors.
(3) A monument of the infamy of the traitor and of the rulers. And it remained so when Matthew wrote. Jerome also says that in his days it was to be seen in AElia (the name of the city built on the site of Jerusalem), on the south side of Mount Zion.
(4) It was "to bury strangers in." The unclean "stranger" must not, even in his burial, come near to the "holy" villains who murdered their Messiah! The "stranger" has a Friend in Jesus. As the priests by procuring the Lord's death had been unwitting agents in procuring the redemption of the world, so in the final disposal of the price of his blood they unconsciously did an act which represents the reception of the Lord's salvation by the Gentiles. He that has his burial through the blood of Christ may hope also for a resurrection through it.
II. WHAT COULD THE SHEKELS NOT DO?
1. They could not redeem Christ from death.
(1) Over that mile lying between the house of Caiaphas to that of Pilate, they led him away, "from prison and from judgment" (see Isaiah 53:7, Isaiah 53:8), to "deliver him to the Gentiles," according to his prediction (cf. Matthew 20:19; John 18:32). The Churchmen of the Apostasy imitated their Jewish predecessors when they called in the civil power to shed for them the blood of the martyrs.
(2) The bonds in which Jesus was now led differed from those in which he was carried to Annas. They were those special bonds which marked it to be the will of his persecutors that he should be crucified (see John 21:18). So we note that Jesus was put to death by his own countrymen in his true character as the "Son of God;" and by the Romans as "King of the Jews."
(3) The true bonds which bound Jesus were those of his wondrous love to man. Other bonds could not have held him. He suffered himself to be bound, that man might be loosed from the bands of sin (see Proverbs 5:22; Lamentations 1:12-14). So likewise "by his stripes we are healed."
2. They could not purchase the repentance of the rulers.
(1) "What is that to us?" These men did not concern themselves about the innocency of Jesus. They did not say, "What is that to us?" when Judas came to them saying, "What will ye give me, and I will deliver him unto you?" They paid the price of blood, and were determined to shed it. If the elders of Jezreel, to please Jezebel, murder Naboth, is it nothing to Ahab (see 1 Kings 21:19)?
(2) "See thou to that." Thus they disclaim the guilt of their own wicked instrument, and turn him over to his terrors. Obstinate sinners stand on their guard against convictions. Those who betray Christ, and justify themselves, are worse than Judas. The resolutely impenitent look with disdain upon the penitent. The wicked encourage men to crime, and desert them after its commission.
(3) The cold villainy of the priests and elders bears testimony to the injustice with which they had treated Christ.
(4) "And the chief priests took the silver pieces, and said, It is not lawful for to put them into the treasury." An astonishing amount of rascality may be associated with the utmost ceremonial scrupulosity. Probably they had taken the money out of the treasury to pay the price of blood (see Matthew 23:24). They were fearful of defiling the temple with blood money, while ruthlessly defiling their consciences with innocent blood. Men are often scrupulous about trifles who stick not at great crimes.
3. They could not redeem Judas from perdition.
(1) Some think Judas was partly induced to betray his Master by the expectation that, as Messiah, he could not suffer death, and that he would deliver himself from the rulers as he had done before. He might, therefore, have calculated that in this case Christ would have the honour, the Jews would have the shame, and he would have the money. They are mistaken who imagine that Christ will work his miracles in the interests of selfishness. But actions are not to be estimated by their consequences, but by their relation to the Law of God.
(2) How differently did the silver appear to the traitor before and after his transgression! He "cast down" the price of the innocent blood. How the victim now hates the snare! That which is ill gotten brings sorrow to the getter (see Job 20:12-15).
(3) As Judas was actuated by avarice in his sin, so was he possessed with despair in his repentance. Remorse, sharpened by the sense of the contempt and abhorrence of good men, is unbearable. Miserable is the wretch who must go to hell for ease. The repentance of Judas was that of the damned at the judgment, when mercy's door is shut.
(4) There is little reason to believe that the repentance of Judas was more than the remorse of an upbraiding conscience (cf. Matthew 26:24; John 17:12; Acts 1:25). It was a repentance which needs to be repented of (2 Corinthians 7:10). Had he returned the money before he had betrayed Christ, he would have agreed while yet in the way (see Matthew 5:23-26). Had he gone to Christ, or even to the disciples of Christ, in his distress, he might have obtained some relief. Sinners under conviction of sin will find their old companions miserable comforters. The devil by the help of the priests drove Judas to despair. Despair of the mercy of God is a fatal sin. One may know his sin, repent, confess, make restitution, and yet be like Judas!—J.A.M.
The actors in a momentous tragedy.
The scene is laid in Jerusalem, in the palace of the Roman governor. The occasion is the trial of the Lord Jesus for his life. The whole human race and all the ages are interested. Behold—
I. THE PRISONER AT THE BAR.
1. "Now Jesus stood before the governor."
(1) But who is this Jesus? Immanuel! The Creator and Upholder of all things, mysteriously enshrined in human nature.
(2) Then what a miracle of condescension is here! The stoop was wonderful from the throne of glory to the manger of Bethlehem. But what a marvel that he should submit to be arraigned before a mortal!
(3) The condescension will be set in its strongest light by a grand reversal of this scene. He wilt yet appear as Judge of all. Pilate will then have to answer at his bar. The accusers also will then have to give account of their accusations.
(4) We shall all do welt to keep that solemnity evermore in mind (see Psalms 50:3, Psalms 50:22).
2. Listen to his confession.
(1) To implicate him with the Romans, he is accused of claiming to be the King of the Jews (see Luke 23:2). He shrinks not from the avowal without explanation or qualification. He is King over Jews and Romans, over angels and devils, over heaven, earth, and hell.
(2) But he explains the spiritual nature of the kingdom he came there to establish (see John 18:33-37). While asserting his royalty without qualification, he takes care that Pilate should not proceed it, ignorance upon the malicious suggestions of the priests.
(3) Caesar, then, evidently, had nothing to fear from Jesus. In the face of this "good confession" (1 Timothy 6:13) the accusation was utterly broken down.
3. Mark his silence.
(1) When accused of the chief priests he answered nothing. There was nothing to refute. Lo, here the dignity of innocence!
(2) This might well astonish Pilate, that One whose life was sought by charges so manifestly false should not utter a word to repel them. It was a new thing in the experience of the governor. Such conduct plainly showed that Jesus was no common person.
(3) To Pilate still he answers nothing. The written Word, like the Lord, does not accept the challenge of the unbeliever. It leaves every man to work out his own conviction, as it leaves him to work out his own salvation.
(4) Innocence is its own vindication. It can afford to wait for justice. Hence we must not render railing for railing (see 1 Peter 2:23).
II. THE WITNESSES IN COURT.
1. The leaders were the rulers of the Jews.
(1) They were those hypocrites whose enormities Jesus had so unsparingly rebuked in his preaching. Of this hypocrisy they never repented, but nursed their resentment against him.
(2) They had vindicated the truth of the account he gave of them, by the manner in which they proceeded against him.
(a) In their plot to destroy him.
(b) Their bribery of Judas.
(c) The indecent haste in which they gathered the council in the night.
(d) Their false accusation against him of blasphemy.
(3) They vindicated it still in their proceeding. In accusing him before Pilate they proceed under a new accusation. They artfully concluded that the charge of sedition would be that by which the Roman governor might be moved. Rank, whether civil or ecclesiastical, is no security against rascality.
2. The multitude were under their inspiration.
(1) They are moved by them to clamour for Barabbas.
(a) At the Paschal Feast, which commemorated the release of the Hebrews from the bondage of Egypt, it became a custom, probably of Roman origin, to release some criminal (see Matthew 26:5). At our gospel Paschal Feast sinners are liberated from the bondage of sin
(b) In accordance with this custom, Pilate gave them the option of releasing Barabbas, a notable offender, guilty at once of treason, murder, and felony (see Luke 23:19; John 18:40), or Jesus. Note: Barabbas was really guilty of the particular crime of which they falsely accused Jesus. Here, then, is the choice between good and evil, between which every man has to decide.
(c) They preferred Barabbas. "Not this man, but Barabbas!" is still the cry of every one who hates good and loves evil. Herein the Jews violated their Law, which inflicts death "without mercy" upon criminals (see Hebrews 10:28).
(d) How their injustice here proclaims the innocency of Jesus! The guilty Barabbas thus released that Jesus might die, was a fitting representation of that countless multitude of pardoned sinners to whom his death brings everlasting life.
(2) The multitude, moved by the rulers, demand the crucifixion of Jesus. They did this against reason. They did it against the expostulation of Pilate. What an opportunity they had of defeating the purposes of the rulers! They fatally preferred the evil to the good.
(3) They are moved to take the guilt of his blood upon them.
(a) This was intended to indemnify Pilate, who wavered between justice and expediency. It is a bold undertaking to be bound for a sinner to the Almighty. None but Christ can effectually bear another's sin.
(b) But they shared Pilate's guilt by sharing his sin.
(c) They cruelly involve their children also; and without limiting the terrible entail. By this act they renounced that ancient charter, "I will be a God to thee and to thy seed." Wicked men are the natural enemies of their own children.
(4) How dreadfully this imprecation was verified! Within forty years they suffered with singular resemblance to the manner in which they caused Jesus to suffer. Josephus says, "When they [the Romans] had scourged them [the Jews], and tormented them before death all manner of ways, they crucified them over against the wall of the city." He proceeds to describe the horrors that he witnessed, and says they were crucified by Titus, five hundred in a day, till "room was wanting for crosses, and crosses for bodies."
III. THE GOVERNOR IN THE JUDGMENT SEAT.
1. He was convinced of the innocency of Jesus.
(1) His good sense showed him that nothing was proved against him. The best men often have been accused of the worst crimes. He saw that "envy" had instigated the rulers. This is worse than hatred; for it is hatred without a cause. Hatred presumes the imputation of a fault, but envy acknowledges an excellence. The eye of the ruler was evil because Jesus was good.
(2) In this judgment he was confirmed by his wife's dream. It was clearly a Divine testimony to the innocence of Jesus. It was probably of such a nature as to fill her with apprehensions of the consequences of her husband's consenting to the death of Jesus (cf. Genesis 20:3). The "suffering" of Pilate's wife on this account was creditable to her conscience. Tradition calls her Claudia Procula, and she is canonized in the Grecian Church. Note: This reference to Pilate's wife marks the time of the event, and proves the veracity of the narrative, for we learn from Tacitus that in the reign of Tiberius the wives of governors had permission to attend them in the provinces.
(3) He therefore sought to release Jesus. He declared that he "found no fault in him." In naming such a wretch as Barabbas as the alternative to Jesus, in the release at the feast, he hoped to secure that of Jesus. He pleaded with the multitude against their clamour for the blood of Jesus.
2. Yet he sacrificed justice to expediency.
(1) He knew that Tiberius was jealous and sanguinary, and he feared the malignity of the Jews. Philo describes Pilate as "naturally inflexible, rigid, and self-willed." But he had already had to contend with two insurrections of the Jews, viz. when he attempted to bring the Roman standard into Jerusalem, and when he applied the wealth of the sacred treasury to secular uses.
(2) He ought never to have appealed to the people; but he loved power rather than justice. He was prepared to do unscrupulous things rather than risk his procuratorship, if not his liberty or life. There are occasions in every life to test character.
(3) He would fain relieve himself of his responsibility. He tried to devolve it upon Herod (see Luke 23:5, etc.). He then tried to devolve it upon the people (verse 24). No ceremony of washing the hands can free them from the stains of blood guiltiness. To protest innocence, while practising crime, is to sin against conscience. "Sin is a brat nobody is willing to own" (Henry). The priests threw it upon Judas; Pilate now throws it upon them. "See ye to it."
(4) Still God finds it at the sinner's door (see Acts 4:27). Not long after this, Pilate was deprived of his office through the accusations of that very people, and, being banished to Gaul, ended his life by suicide.
IV. THE SOLDIERS IN THE PRAETORIUM.
1. They were in the pay of Caesar. They were by their profession jealous of the honour of their master. But there is a King of kings, to whom subjects of earthly sovereigns owe the first allegiance. In mistaken zeal:
2. They mock the royalty of Jesus.
(1) They invest him with a scarlet robe, in derision, as though he wore the crimson or purple of kings. They crown him with plaited thorns. The frail reed is made to serve as his sceptre (cf. Matthew 11:7; Psalms 45:6).
(2) In this character they pay him insolent homage. They spat upon him, as he had been before abused in the high priest's hall (see Matthew 26:27). They smote him with the reed, making his ensign of mock royalty an instrument of cruelty.
(3) The soldiers seem to have taken their cue from Herod (see Luke 23:11). It was ordained that the contempt of men should in all this signally confess the truth of God.
(4) The evangelists record no word of Christ's during these tortures. He sustained them with unresisting submission (see Isaiah 53:7). How completely is he left alone! The Jews persecute him, Judas betrays him, Peter denies him, the rest forsake him; and now the Roman is with his enemies. No plot could have been better contrived to show the moral grandeur of a hero, not braving but enduring the accumulated wrongs of an evil world with the dignity of meekness.—J.A.M.
The reproach of the cross.
Upon the release of the infamous Barabbas, the innocent and righteous Jesus was delivered to be crucified; and now we see him suffering the reproach of the cross.
I. THE CROSS ITSELF WAS A REPROACH,
1. It was a symbol of shame.
(1) As a tree was the means of introducing the curse into the world, so hath God ordained that a tree should be the means of its removal. Hence from the earliest time, whoever was hanged upon a tree was accounted accursed of God (cf. Genesis 3:12-19; Deu 20:1-20 :22, 23; Joshua 8:29; Joshua 10:26, Joshua 10:27). Those curse bearers were types of Christ (see Galatians 3:13).
(2) Crucifixion amongst the heathen is traced back to the age of Semiramis. It was chiefly inflicted on slaves; on free persons only when convicted of the most heinous crimes. Hence Paul's emphatic "even the death of the cross" (Philippians 2:8).
(3) It was a part of the reproach of a criminal that he had to carry his own cross to the place of execution. Plutarch says, "Every kind of wickedness produces its own peculiar torment, just as malefactors when brought forth to execution carry their own crosses." So Jesus carried his cross until he sank under it (see John 19:17), overcome by exhaustion through his agony in the garden followed by his sufferings in the Praetorium. He carried it as Isaac carried the wood upon which he was to be offered up.
(4) So shameful a thing was the cross, that no Jew or Roman citizen could be induced to carry one. Hence Simon the Cyrenian was impressed to bear the cross of Jesus. Probably he was pointed out as a disciple of Jesus. He became thereby the honoured representative of the suffering followers of Christ in every age (cf. Matthew 16:24; Hebrews 13:13).
2. It was an instrument of shame.
(1) There was a cruel torture inflicted upon the victim before he came to his crucifixion. Jesus was accordingly delivered by Pilate to be scourged, preparatory to his being crucified. The soldiers to the scourging added cruel mockings.
(2) At the place of execution he was stripped of his garments. "The poorest man dies with some clothing on, Jesus with none; and his garments fall not to his friends, but to the soldiers who crucified him" (Harmer). David said in the spirit of prophecy of Christ, for it was never true of himself, "They part my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture" (Psalms 22:18).
(3) Then came the actual crucifixion. The stretching of the victim upon the wood. The transfixing. The concussion through the striking the foot of the cross into the hole dug for its reception, by which the bones became dislocated (see Psalms 22:14). The lingering torture, the vitals being avoided. "The tender mercies of the wicked are cruel."
II. REPROACH WAS ASSOCIATED WITH IT.
1. In the place of the crucifixion.
(1) "A place called Golgotha, that is to say, The place of a skull." It had its name from being the place of common execution. Christ being crucified there gives expressiveness to the prediction of Isaiah, "numbered with the transgressors."
(2) The ghastly place was an emblem of the devastated state of the Church that crucified Christ. So of every Church member who crucifies him afresh. But to the repentant sinner it is the end of death and beginning of life. "Wherefore Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered without the gate (Hebrews 13:12).
(3) "Golgotha" (תלגלג) resembles "Gilgal," with the Syriac addition (את־). The latter place was named by Joshua to commemorate the temporal redemption of Israel from the reproach of Egypt. In the former place Jesus freed his people by a spiritual redemption from the reproach of sin (see Joshua 5:9).
2. In the inscription on the cross.
(1) "His accusation written" (verse 37). It was common to affix a label to the cross, giving a statement of the crime for which the person suffered.
(2) But the accusation of Jesus alleged no crime. It was really an accusation of the priests. They condemned Jesus for blasphemy, but had him crucified for treason. It impeached them as murderers.
(3) The accusation of Jesus asserted a glorious truth. The truth was emphasized by being three times written, viz. in three languages. Pilate could not be induced to alter what he had written (see John 19:21). Like Balaam, he blessed when he was entreated to curse (see Numbers 24:10).
(4) When we look at the cross as the emblem of suffering, we see over the head of the Sufferer the promise of triumph and the hope of glory. Sanctified suffering evermore brings forth this fruit.
3. In the characters crucified along with him.
(1) "Two robbers, one on the right hand, and one on the left." Placing the Lord between the robbers was intended to stigmatize him with peculiar infamy, as if he were the greater criminal of the three.
(2) Herein note a further fulfilment of the words of Isaiah, "He was numbered with the transgressors." He was so numbered that we may be numbered with his saints.
III. REPROACH WAS CAST UPON HIM.
1. By those that passed by.
(1) "They railed on him, wagging their heads, and saying, Thou that destroyest the temple, and buildest it in three days, save thyself." Here is a shameful misconstruction of his words. Cruelty has its refuge in falsehood. "Save." They mock at the name of Jesus, equivalent to" Saviour."
(2) "If thou art the Son of God, come down from the cross." Had he not by many miracles proved himself the Son of God? He would not save himself by coming down from the cross, his gracious purpose being to sacrifice himself in order to save sinners. The sign he had given them was not his coming down from the cross, but his coming up from the grave.
(3) Why have they not the patience of the "three days" to which they referred, and they might see the raising of the temple of his body?
(4) The wagging of the head was the expression of a malicious triumph. Little did they consider that this very gesture was the fulfilment of a prophecy to their dishonour (see Psalms 22:7).
2. By the heads of the nation.
(1) "In like manner also the chief priests mocking him, with the scribes and elders said, He saved others; can he not save himself?" A Saviour who saves not, but sacrifices himself to be the victim for salvation to others, they cannot understand.
(2) "He is the King of Israel." Here is irony founded on the inscription which they could not induce Pilate to alter. "Let him now come down from the cross, and we will believe on him." Sceptics are ever ready to prescribe to God what miracles he must work in order to gain their confidence, as though that confidence also were an infinite benefit to him. When Christ gave them the more astonishing evidence of his Messiahship by rising from the dead, they did not believe. His completing his work and not coming down from the cross is the reason why we believe.
(3) "He trusteth in God; let him deliver him now if he desireth him: for he said, I am the Son of God." In this railing they unwittingly fulfil a remarkable prophecy of the Messiah (see Psalms 22:8). The fulfilment of the predictions concerning the sufferings of Messiah by the enemies of Jesus establishes his claims.
3. By the impenitent malefactor.
(1) "And the robbers also," or one of them "that were crucified with him, cast upon him the same reproach." The plural is sometimes put for the singular as, "They are dead," meaning only Herod (Matthew 2:20); and, "When the disciples saw it they had indignation," meaning only Judas (Matthew 26:8; John 12:4).
(2) The arguments used by the railers are the stock arguments of infidels. Libertines like the Jews are offended at the paradoxes of a High Priest who designs to destroy the temple; at a Saviour who saves not himself; at the Son of God submitting to be crucified. But in these very paradoxes the believer finds the sources of the joys of salvation.—J.A.M.
Prodigy rebuking levity.
Levity had diabolical revelry while the blessed Lord Jesus meekly suffered injustice the most outrageous, and cruelty the most refined. At its height it was rebuked—
I. BY A HORROR OF DARKNESS.
1. This was preternatural.
(1) It was not the result of an ordinary eclipse of the sun. The Passover was celebrated at full moon, when such an event could not have taken place. A solar eclipse never continues beyond a quarter of an hour. This darkness continued three hours.
(2) It may have been produced by the intervention of dense clouds. Such an intervention would have been unusual in Judaea in the spring of the year during the brightest hours of the day. But whatever may have been the secondary causes, they were commissioned by the same Providence that sent the plague of darkness upon the Egyptians (cf. Exodus 10:21-23).
(3) It was no chance that so intimately connected this darkness with the event of the Crucifixion. It was "over all the land," viz. of Judea, where Christ suffered, and prevailed during the latter three hours of his suffering. It terminated also with the termination of those sufferings. To explain such coincidences as purely accidental is but to substitute a miracle of chance for a miracle of Providence. What is gained?
2. It was portentous.
(1) It expressed the moral anguish of spirit which Jesus then endured for us. For in those three dreadful hours he was enduring the punishment of our offences. This experience of Divine anger drew from him the pathetic exclamation, "Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?"
(2) It expressed the present triumph of the powers of darkness over the Sun of Righteousness (cf. Genesis 3:15 Luke 22:53). An extraordinary illumination heralded the birth of Christ, an extraordinary darkness signalized his death.
(3) It indicated the spiritual darkness of the Jewish people, who obstinately closed their eyes upon the Light of the world, and filled up the measure of their iniquity by crucifying the Just One. It presaged also the desolation which in consequence they were destined to suffer.
(4) It expressed a mourning spread over nature for the horrible crime then perpetrated by men. This sentiment is put into the mouth of Dionysius the Areopagite, who, witnessing a wonderful eclipse of the sun at Heliopolis, in Egypt, said to his friend Apollophanes, "Either God himself suffers or sympathizes with the sufferer."
II. BY THE RENDING OF THE TEMPLE'S VEIL.
1. This also was preternatural.
(1) The matter of fact cannot be disputed. For it occurred at the time of the evening sacrifice, while the priest was offering incense in the holy place, and on the occasion of a great festival when the people in vast numbers were praying without. The testimony of Matthew might therefore have been readily contradicted had it not been true. It is too late in the day to attempt to contradict it now.
(2) We are not informed how the wonder was effected, whether by lightning or by invisible hands; but the veil was thick and strong, and could not have been "rent from the top to the bottom" by any ordinary force. God can work his miracles immediately or by secondary causes.
(3) That this was a Divine thing is evident from its coincidence with the moment of the Redeemer's yielding up his spirit. To say this was a mere accident is but to make the miracle of chance all the more stupendous.
2. This too was portentous.
(1) Paul teaches us to regard the rending of the veil of the temple as emblematical of the rending of the body of our Lord, the sacrificial efficacy of which opened to the guilty the way of access to God, and opened to all who believe, the way into his glorious presence in the future life.
(2) It intimated also the abolition of the Jewish ceremonial Law, which, by its interposition of imperfect and mystic rites, had obstructed free and direct approach to God.
(3) It signified the revealing and unfolding of the mysteries of the Old Testament, so as to make the face of Moses to shine in the radiance of the gospel. In Christ we discover the true Propitiatory, or Mercy seat. He is that Ark of the covenant who contains in his heart the unbroken tables of the Law. He is that precious golden pot of incorruptible Manna, the very Bread of life from heaven.
III. BY THE PORTENTS FROM THE EARTH.
1. The earthquake.
(1) Travellers have observed marks of extraordinary convulsions in these rocks. The fissures lie across the natural cleavage. Though earthquakes are produced by natural causes, yet are they under the control and direction of Providence.
(2) This earthquake attested God's approbation of the Sufferer, as it expressed also his anger against his persecutors (cf. Amos 8:8; Nahum 1:6). So as the rending of the veil intimated the removal and abolition of the Jewish Church, this rending of the rocks imported the ruin that was coming upon the nation.
(3) The phenomenon occurring at that critical moment when Jesus dismissed his spirit, significantly evinced that the dreadful act of rejecting and crucifying the Christ provoked the desolation.
(4) It may also be taken as a token and earnest of that mighty convulsion of nature which will attend Christ's coming to the judgment (cf. Hebrews 12:26).
2. The opening of the tombs.
(1) This showed that the power of death and the grave was vanquished by the death and resurrection of Christ. When our Lord gave up the ghost it was not life but death itself that died. This was the great death out of which life was educed. He triumphed over death in the "place of a skull"—where the trophies of death lay around. His Divinity was proved, for he imparted life to the bodies of the sleeping saints (see John 5:25).
(2) "This opening of the graves was designed both to adorn the resurrection of Christ, and to give a specimen of our resurrection, which also is in virtue of his" (Flavel).
(3) It was a strong confirmation of the resurrection of Christ. For those who came forth from the tombs after his resurrection "appeared to many" to whom our Lord himself did not appear. Returning with Jesus to heaven, they were also pledges to angels and spirits of men of the general resurrection to come. See now—
IV. THE EFFECT UPON THE SPECTATORS.
1. Upon the Jews.
(1) The horror of darkness interrupted their raillery. It struck them with terror. Guilt trembles in darkness. It did not change their hearts.
(2) Until near the close of this period of horror, Jesus suffered silently in the sorrowfulness of his soul for the sin of the world, and distressed with the awful loneliness of being forsaken of his God. This was the worst part of his sufferings, and extorted from him that loud pathetic cry. This roused again the courage of his revilers to say, "This Man calleth Elijah." They misunderstood him, as carnal men do evermore, substituting trust in the human for trust in the Divine.
(3) Jesus then said, "I thirst" (see John 19:28). This moved one standing by to fix a sponge soaked in vinegar on a hyssop stalk, and put it to his mouth, but the kindness was interrupted by others who, in the same obdurate spirit, said, "Let be; let us see whether Elijah cometh to save him." The heart is desperately wicked.
(4) The prodigies which followed made them "smite their breasts" (see Luke 23:48). The wicked will wail amid the convulsions of the last day (cf. Isaiah 2:19-21; Revelation 1:7).
2. Upon the soldiers.
(1) They had reviled him before (see Luke 23:36), but now they "fear exceedingly," and the centurion in particular is thoughtfully affected, for he makes a true confession.
(2) In his reflections he thought upon the manner of the death of Christ, for his death was evidently a voluntary act.
(a) Luke tells us that the last utterance was, "Father, unto thy hands I commend my spirit." This he uttered with a loud or great voice. Then immediately he "yielded up his spirit." His strength was unbroken. He died as the Prince of life.
(b) The circumstance of his expiring sooner than was usual with crucified persons, as well as the loudness of his voice in the very act of his dying, showed the voluntariness of his death (see John 10:17, John 10:18).
(c) Our Lord is nowhere said to have fallen asleep (cf. verse 52), but always to have died. "Abraham, Isaac, Ishmael, Jacob, breathed their last; Ananias, Sapphira, Herod, expired; Jesus gave up the ghost, dismissed or delivered up his own spirit" (A. Clarke). In the manner of his death, then, behold the manner of his love.
(d) Christ's loud voice was like the trumpet blown over the sacrifices.
3. Upon the women.
(1) They followed him in love. They had ministered to him. They seem now to have been the only disciples, excepting John, present at the Crucifixion. They were "afar off." This expression may only intimate that they had come from far, even from Galilee. For the mother of Jesus stood by the cross with John, and Mary of Magdala and others also were near. Yet when Christ suffered, his friends were but spectators. Even angels stood aloof when he trod the winepress alone.
(2) Their faith and love were strengthened. All that the centurion saw they also saw, and with wider and deeper conviction.—J.A.M.
The treatment of the body of Christ.
The body of Christ is mystically taken to represent his Church (see 1 Corinthians 10:17; Ephesians 4:16; Colossians 1:18). In this figure the fact is strongly set forth, viz. that Christ takes home to himself whatever treatment his Church may receive (see Pro 19:1-29 :31; Matthew 25:35-46; Acts 9:1, Acts 9:4, Acts 9:5). This also applies to individual members. And agreeably to this analogy, what was done to the literal body of Jesus is suggestive of the treatment he also receives as he is represented in his followers. The actors may be described as—
I. THOSE LOVINGLY SOLICITOUS FOR HIS HONOUR.
1. Christ has disciples, secretly so through fear.
(1) Joseph of Arimathaea was a "rich man" and yet "Jesus' disciple." Things impossible with men are possible with God (see Matthew 19:23-26). "Judge nothing before the time."
(2) He was an "honourable counsellor," a member of that wicked Sanhedrin that condemned Christ, but "he had not consented to the counsel and deed of them." In difficult circumstances he was true. He was "a good and righteous man, who was looking for the kingdom of God". Genuine honour is the associate of goodness and righteousness. These come to us through Christ.
(3) Yet he had been a disciple "secretly through fear of the Jews." Probably he had been converted by his friend and fellow ruler, Nicodemus, and his timidity was in keeping with the caution which prompted Nicodemus to visit Jesus under the cover of "night" (see John 3:1, John 3:2 ). Note: There are family likenesses in spiritual relationships.
(4) But he did not allow his timidity to involve him in the wickedness of the council. He doubtless gave his voice as well as his vote against their Crime. It was he probably who cross examined the suborned witnesses, making their disagreement too apparent for the comfort of the priests. In his protest he probably took some such line of argument as that of Gamaliel on a subsequent occasion (see Acts 6:1-15:34-39).
2. They will show kindness to his body.
(1) The righteous soul of Joseph was grieved at the indignities to which it had been subjected, and at the earliest opportunity he went to Pilate and asked for it. tie then proceeded without loss of time to remove it from the accursed tree (see Acts 13:29). He had it decently swathed in linen, and laid in his own new tomb which he had hewn out in the rock. His friend Nicodemus laid in with it "a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pound weight" (see John 19:39). Then, rolling a great stone to the door of the tomb, they departed. God can find fit instruments for his work. His providence had reserved these two secret disciples for this solemn duty. Secret disciples are more generally employed in rendering service to the body of Christ, or material interests of his Church.
(2) God honours the faithfulness of his secret disciples by encouraging and strengthening their faith. Had Joseph listened to the promptings of human prudence, he would have hesitated to interfere for the body of Christ, lest he should be brought under suspicion, incapacitated for doing good, perhaps utterly ruined. Probably his timidity had been removed by the prodigies at our Lord's death, working in him a stronger conviction that Jesus was the Messiah. Now he went "boldly" to Pilate (Mark 15:43).
3. Thereby they advance the interests of his truth.
(1) The riches and honourable station of Joseph are mentioned, not only because of the influence they would have with Pilate, but to show the fulfilment of the words of Isaiah, "And his grave was appointed with the wicked, but with the rich man was his tomb" (Isaiah 53:9, Lowth's translation). His grave would have been with the malefactors had not Joseph interposed. How infallibly the providence vindicates the truth of God!
(2) See here also an admirable Divine propriety. It was proper that the grave of Jesus should be borrowed, because the grave is the heritage of sinners (see Job 24:19; Psalms 146:4). It was proper it should be new—never tainted with corruption, for in no sense should the Holy One see corruption. It was proper that the cavil should be obviated, as if the body of Christ had been resuscitated by touching the bones of some prophet (see 2 Kings 13:20). Christ's burial takes off the terror of the grave, and we may now be buried with him.
4. Christ has disciples who openly confess him.
(1) The women were at the tomb. There was Mary of Magdala. She was a respectable woman, out of whom the Lord had cast seven devils, whose power over her was probably her affliction rather than her crime. She is without warrant confounded with the woman who was "a sinner," but whose name is not mentioned. There was "the other Mary," evidently "the mother of James and Joses," mentioned in verse 56, who appears to have been a sister of the mother of our Lord. There was also Salome, unless "the other Mary" and Salome are the same, which is doubtful. Joanna the wife of Chuza, Herod's steward, appears to have been there too (see Luke 24:10). The mother of our Lord had probably at this time been taken to the home of John (see John 19:26, John 19:27).
(2) These noble women had followed Jesus, some of them at least from Galilee, were ever ready to minister to his temporal necessities, were present at his crucifixion, and here they are again at his burial. They are in the posture of mourners, and so testify to his innocency, for the Jews had forbidden to show any external marks of mourning at the burial of malefactors. They had heard the Lord speak of his resurrection, but probably interpreted him in some figurative sense. But though their faith was confused and unsettled, their love was strong. Where love is there is everything; and it will all come out as the ways of Providence unfold.
(3) These women were there gratefully to witness and commend the kindness of Joseph and Nicodemus. And after the men had retired, they went into the city just before the setting in of the sabbath, to purchase spices for the embalming of the body as soon as the sabbath should have passed. Their love was constant (cf. Matthew 26:12, Matthew 26:13).
II. THOSE MALICIOUSLY ANXIOUS TO DISCREDIT HIM.
1. Notice the villainy of the rulers.
(1) See it in their guilty fears. The kindness of the friends of Jesus gave him a tomb; the malice of his enemies would keep him in it. Should he rise again his blood will be upon them. They cannot forget the raising of Lazarus. Resurrections are terrible things to the wicked, especially of those murdered by them for their testimony to the truth (see Revelation 11:11). If the disciples of Jesus had lost all hope, his enemies had not lost all fear. The fears of the wicked should encourage the hopes of the good.
(2) See it in their nervous promptitude. They are with Pilate soon after Joseph had left him. The morrow after the preparation was just after six in the evening. The celerity of hatred is only exceeded by that of love.
(3) See it in their sycophancy. They were "gathered together unto Pilate, saying, Sir, we remember that that deceiver said." Pilate is "Sir," Jesus "That deceiver." What an outrageous inversion of propriety! "The malicious slanderers of good men are commonly the most sordid flatterers of great men." (Henry).
(4) See it in their unscrupulousness. They had often quarrelled with Christ for doing works of mercy on the sabbath, they hesitate not themselves to be busied with a work of malice on it. Neither do they hesitate to procure soldiers to mount guard upon it. Again they say, "We remember," etc. Thus these base hypocrites made it evident that they well enough knew that the words of Christ, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up," referred to "the temple of his body," when they perverted them at the trial (cf. Matthew 26:61).
2. See how Providence rebuked it.
(1) By their confession it was publicly known that Jesus had uttered the prediction that he should rise again the third day. The prediction, then, was not read into the narrative after the event of the Resurrection. They were anxious "until the third day," because he had "said while yet alive, After three days I rise again." Note: The mode of computation was that which still obtains in the East. "After three days" means "until the third day."
(2) They relied upon the seal and the guard. The seal supplied the place of a lock. It was in use as anciently as the time of Daniel (see Daniel 6:17). The sepulchre was cut into the rock, so had but one entrance, which was not only blocked by a great stone sealed, but guarded by sixty soldiers. The disciples could not possibly "steal him away." Their case rendered the evidence of the Resurrection all the more convincing.
(3) "So the last error," etc. The devil never speaks the truth but when he intends to promote some evil purpose by it. The rulers were true prophets against their will Little did they imagine that the measures they adopted would in the most powerful manner contribute to the result they dreaded. There is neither might nor council against God (see Acts 5:23; Acts 16:23);
III. THOSE WHO AFFECT INDIFFERENCE TO HIS CLAIMS.
1. Pilate affected a haughty indifference.
(1) He conceded the body of Christ to the request of Joseph. He wan the more willing to do so, having found no fault in Jesus at his trial.
(2) He also conceded the guard to the request of the rulers.
(3) He leaves the watch to the priests, not caring to be seen himself in such a thing. "Make it as sure as ye can," looks like banter.
2. The soldiers of the watch were mercenaries.
(1) They guarded the tomb because they were paid to render obedience to command. Can a man reduce himself to the condition of an automaton?
(2) When they took the bribe of the rulers to conceal the resurrection of Christ and give publicity to a lie, they acted as free agents.
(3) There can be no neutrality in relation to Christ. To affect it cannot be innocent. Every age has its Pharisees, who make the written Word of God a sealed book, perverting the letter and denying the spirit (cf. Revelation 22:10). "Do thou hinder the resurrection of thy sin; seal it down with strong purposes, solemn covenants, and watch it by a wakeful, circumspect walking" (Gurnall).—J.A.M.
HOMILIES BY R. TUCK
The uselessness of remorse.
"I have sinned in that I have betrayed the innocent blood." There are various estimates of the character and motives of Judas Iscariot. Dr. A. Maclaren does not give sufficient scriptural reason for crediting him with mistaken zeal, and the intention of forcing Christ to act. He says, "Judas was simply a man of a low, earthly nature, who became a follower of Christ, thinking that ha was to prove a Messiah of the vulgar type, or another Judas Maccabaeus. He was not attracted by Christ's character and teaching. As the true nature of Christ's work and kingdom became more obvious, he became more weary of him and it His burst of confession does not sound like the words of a man who had been actuated by motives of mistaken affection." The word "repented," found in Matthew 27:3, is the word which merely means "regret," a simple change of feeling; it does not suggest humbled feeling, or sense of sin. A man may be vexed at the results of his conduct without any recognition of the sin and shame of his conduct. Two of the apostolic band openly failed in those hours of strain. Penitence and remorse are illustrated in their two cases. Peter, through penitence, found recovery. Judas, through remorse, found doom. Penitence is useful. Remorse is useless.
I. REMORSE IS BUT THE SHAME OF HAVING FAILED. The word means "to bite back." It may be illustrated by biting one's lips through vexation. It involves shrinking from the results of having failed. It is the annoyance of having, miscalculated; it is the feeling of being convicted of stupidity; it is the regret of seeing a scheme fall about us in ruins because we made a false move. It may include some reset at the mischief we have made for others, without doing any good to ourselves. But there is no sense of the sin and shame of the thing done. The seeming confession, "I have sinned," does but lightly pass the lips. Judas would have done it again, if he could have been sure of succeeding the second time. Remorse includes no self-revelation, no humbled feeling. There is anger with one's self, but not shame or humility. So there is no chance of betterment for a man while his feeling keeps mere remorse.
II. REMORSE KEEPS A MAN AWAY FROM GOD. You cannot take remorse to God. You never want to do so. It drives you away from him. Judas never offered a prayer to God; never thought of pardon for his offence. Remorse made him hopeless and desperate. He took the life that seemed worthless. Penitence always moves towards God; it seeks him. There is in it prayer and hope. God is the All-merciful One.—R.T.
The silence of innocence.
"He answered nothing." "We have to realize the contrast between the vehement clamour of the accusers, the calm, imperturbable, patient silence of the Accused, and the wonder of the judge at what was so different from anything that had previously come within the range of his experience" (Plumptre). Attention may be given to the silences of Jesus during his trials. They are at least as striking and as remarkable as his speeches. Look especially at these.
1. His silence before the high priest. False witnesses, bribed witnesses, made an accusation, by twisting one of his figurative sentences. The high priest was prepared to twist any reply that Jesus might make. "But he held his peace." And the silence made the consciences of his judges speak out, and accuse them of unscrupulous and malicious wickedness.
2. His silence before Herod. "Herod poured out a flood of rambling remarks, but Jesus did not vouchsafe him one word. He felt that Herod should have been ashamed to look the Baptist's Friend in the face. He would not stoop even to speak to a man who could treat him as a mere wonder worker who might purchase his judge's favour by exhibiting his skill. But Herod was utterly incapable of feeling the annihilating force of such silent disdain."
3. His silence before Pilate (as in text). It does not seem that our Lord was silent to Pilate. It was when the clamour of the priest party arose, interrupting the trial, that Jesus preserved silence. Observe the very important distinction between the silence of moodiness and sulkiness and the silence of conscious innocence. Only the latter silence has the true, reproachful, conscience-quickening power. "A silent lamb amidst his foes." The lamb is the type of innocence. Christianity has glorified the silent endurance of wrong, and has made such "silent endurance" one of the most masterful forces that sway humanity. Illustrate these points.
I. INNOCENCE CAN AFFORD TO BE SILENT.
1. Because it sufficiently speaks in attitude and in countenance.
2. Because God is always on its side.
3. Because time works its vindication.
II. INNOCENCE CONVICTS THE INJURER BY SILENCE.
1. It takes away all possibility of contention.
2. It prevents the injurer keeping up the excitement of rage and malice.
3. It compels the injurer to question his own doings.
4. It takes away all the pleasure of the injurer, when a man bears the injury meekly and silently.
The silence of Jesus searches priest party, Herod, and Pilate.—R.T.
Pilate's character reading.
"He knew that for envy they had delivered him." Pilate was never under any sort of delusion concerning Christ. Experience as a magistrate made the criminal's face, and attitude, and speech, and ways, quite familiar things to him. He watched Jesus, and was perfectly certain that he was no criminal, and no dangerous revolutionist. And Pilate had not had contention after contention with that priest party without knowing the party well; and his estimate of it we can well imagine. It did not flatter them, and it was just. Of course, he saw everything from the Roman's point of view, and he made some mistakes, as every one must who fails to put himself in the place of him whom he appraises; he was, however, right in this case. But what he read seriously increases the guilt and shame of his act. He has no excuse of even self-deception.
I. PILATE'S READING OF THE CHARACTER AND MOTIVES OF THE PRIEST PARTY. Pilate "was a typical Roman, not of the antique, simple stamp, but of the imperial period; a man not without some remains of the ancient Roman justice in his soul, yet pleasure loving, imperious, and corrupt. He hated the Jews whom he ruled, and, in times of irritation, freely shed their blood. They returned his hatred with cordiality, and accused him of every crime—maladministration, cruelty, and robbery." "Pilate understood their pretended zeal for the Roman authority." He may not have known the precise occasion for their strong feeling against Jesus; but he saw plainly that it was a case of malice and revenge, and they were prepared to humiliate themselves utterly in carrying out their evil purpose. But, if Pilate knew them so well, we must judge his guilt in yielding to them by the light of his knowledge.
II. PILATE'S READING OF THE CHARACTER AND MOTIVES OF JESUS. He seems to have known something of Jesus. The story of the triumphal entry had been duly reported to him; and he formed his opinion when he found that Jesus took no material advantage of that time of excitement. He settled it—Jesus was a harmless enthusiast, of no account politically. "He questioned Jesus in regard to the accusations brought against him, asking especially if he pretended to be a King." He may have laughed cynically at our Lord's answer, but he knew well that nothing of the demagogue lurked behind that calm and peaceful face. Again and again he declared him innocent—he found no fault in him. Pilate read him aright, but condemned himself in the reading. Our guilt is always measured by our knowledge.—R.T.
Guilt that will not wash off.
By the Mosaic regulations, the elders of a city in which an undiscovered murder had been committed were to wash their hands over the sin offering, and to say, "Our hands have not shed this blood, neither have our eyes seen it" (Deuteronomy 21:6). Pilate thinks that "when he gets the Jews to take the crucifixion of Jesus upon themselves, he has relieved himself, if not entirely, yet in a great measure, of the responsibility. But just as the outward washing of hands could not clear him of his share in the guilt, so guilt contracted by our being a consenting or cooperating party in any deed of injustice and dishonour cannot be thus mitigated or wiped away" (Hanna). Hand washing as a symbolic action is familiar at all times. Lady Macbeth cannot wash off the murder spot which her conscience clearly sees on seemingly clean hands.
I. THE GUILT OF IGNORANCE WILL WASH OFF. We may do things that are wrong without knowing them to be wrong. They may do mischief and bring trouble; but they do not involve soul stain; so the sins of ignorance—if the ignorance is not guilty ignorance—will wash off.
II. THE GUILT OF FRAILTY WILL WASH OFF. We sometimes do wrong through body bias. Sometimes even against our will. Sometimes by temporary swerving of the will. If there be no set purpose, only human infirmity, the guilt will wash off.
III. THE GUILT OF FORCED DOING AGAINST OUR WILL WILL WASH OFF. We may be compelled, by circumstances or human persuasions, to do what we would not do. That may bring trouble and spoil our lives, but it does not soil our souls, and it will wash off.
IV. THE GUILT OF WILFUL SIN WILL NOT WASH OFF. That involves inward stain. It must be got out. That can only be done
(1) by regeneration, or
(2) by judgment.
"Oh! if a man could roll off his deeds on other men; if a man that is a partner with others could only roll off his portion of crime upon his confederates, as easily as a man can wash his hands in a bowl of water, and clean them, how easy it would be for men to be cleansed from their transgressions in this world! Pilate was the guiltiest of all that acted in this matter. He was placed where he was bound to maintain justice. He went against his better feelings." He willed the death of One whom he knew to be innocent. Pilate's guilt will not "wash off."—R.T.
The honourable ministry of Simon.
"Sentence of death having been passed against Jesus, he was led forth to Calvary, bearing his cross, guarded by a band of Roman soldiers, and followed by a multitude of people. Exhausted by what he had passed through in the course of the previous night, the load he carried seemed too heavy for him. The procession was met by one Simon, a Cyrenian—who may possibly be identified with the "Niger" of Acts 13:1—coming out of the country; and the soldiers laid hold upon him, and compelled him—the term is a military one, 'pressed him into the service'—to help our Lord with his burden. Perhaps they laid the whole beam on his shoulder, perhaps only the light end, Jesus still going foremost and continuing to bear the principal weight; so that in the most literal way Simon bore it after him." Dr. Hanna says, "It was part of the degradation of a public crucifixion that the doomed one should assist in carrying to the place of crucifixion the instrument of death." But the reason why this particular man was seized upon for this ministry is not suggested. We may suppose either
(1) that it was a simple act of wantonness on the part of the soldiers, who feared their victim would die before they could get him to the place of execution; or
(2) that he was known as a secret disciple, and the people pointed him out to the soldiers; or
(3) that he had reproached the soldiers for treating Jesus so cruelly, and, in spite, they made him bear the cross. However it was, we certainly envy Simon the honourable and helpful service he was permitted to render to our suffering Lord. Fix attention on him as the one and only man who helped Jesus in the time of his sorest need. From his arrest to his death no apostle helped him, no disciple helped him; he was alone. This unknown Simon breaks the loneliness, and shares with him the burden of his cross.
I. SIMON'S MINISTRY WAS A SYMPATHY. There must have been something that drew the attention of the soldiers to Simon. It might well have been an expression of sympathy with the fainting cross bearer. It was a sight to move a sympathizing soul.
II. SIMON'S MINISTRY WAS A COMPULSION. Yet evidently a willing compulsion. He could not have offered to bear the cross—that would have been against the rules. He gladly did what he was made to do.
III. SIMON'S MINISTRY WAS A SERVICE. Just the service of the hour. The thing Christ needed just then. The thing to do for Christ just now is what we all need to find out.—R.T.
Christ as King of the Jews.
It is not difficult to understand Pilate. He is a commonplace, and in no sense a complex character. His act in putting this inscription above Christ's head reveals the mean-souled man who, because he cannot have his way, will have his revenge in a paltry, petty way. Not an outrageously wicked man, the key to his character lies in his love of distinction, power, and self-indulgence. A man of weak, and, with his temptations, of corrupt character, he was anxious to conciliate the Jews, so he surrendered Jesus; but he would force his stubborn way in the trumpery matter of the superscription. To all expostulations he replied, "What I have written I have written."
I. TO CALL CHRIST "KING OF THE JEWS" MAY PRODUCE A FALSE IMPRESSION.
1. Old prophecies had indeed suggested the kingship of Messiah, but the kingship anticipated was a theocracy rather than an earthly rule.
2. Disciples had taken up the idea that Christ was to be an earthly King. There was a materializing tendency in that age, because material deliverance from Roman bondage seemed to be the one thing needful.
3. Christ never claimed such a title, and never acted as if he claimed it. There is a royal tone in Christ's words and works. He spoke of himself in relation to the "kingdom of heaven;" but never of himself as "King of the Jews."
4. Christ emphatically declared, even to Pilate, that in such senses as men attached to the words, he was not "King of the Jews." "My kingdom is not of this world." Christ is not an earthly king, and never will be. He is King of truth, King of souls, King of righteousness.
II. TO CALL CHRIST "KING OF THE JEWS" MAY EXPRESS THE TRUTH CONCERNING HIM. He is King of the Jews, but not of those who are only nationally such. He is King of all who are the true children of Abraham, because they have the faith of Abraham. Christ may be called a "King" if we understand by that term:
1. King of truth seekers; of all truth seekers everywhere.
2. King of the spiritually minded; of those who cannot be satisfied with the seen and temporal, but must breathe the atmosphere of the unseen and eternal.
3. Christ, as we see him on the cross, is Champion-King.
4. Christ, as now in the spiritual realm, is King of his Church. "On his vesture and thigh his name is written, King of kings, and Lord of lords."—R.T.
He who saves others cannot save himself.
The leaders of the Jewish nation looked with grave suspicion on every one who claimed to be Messiah; and as they. fully believed that when Messiah came he would "abide forever," the crucifixion of Jesus was the plainest possible proof that he was not Messiah. This text is the taunt founded on this idea. "He saved others" is satire. They did not believe that he had saved anybody. To them his imposture and his helplessness were at once shown in this—"himself he cannot save." Those mockers were wrong every way.
I. CHRIST DID SAVE OTHERS. Illustrate, by specimen cases, the following three points:
1. He did save from disability and disease. He gave sight to the blind, and cleansed the leper.
2. He did save from death. He brought Lazarus back from the grave.
3. He did save from sin. Authoritatively saying to the paralytic, "Thy sins are forgiven thee." He did "save to the uttermost."
II. CHRIST COULD HAVE SAVED HIMSELF. Had he so wished, he could have commanded the service of "twelve legions of angels." "There was not a moment, from beginning to end of his human career, in which our blessed Lord might not have turned back from shame and suffering. At the very moment when these words were uttered, be had but to speak, and he would have been surrounded by the responsive hosts of heaven, and in one moment his pain would have been exchanged for triumph." Nails could not hold him against his will. He could have come down from the cross.
III. CHRIST WOULD NOT SAVE HIMSELF. There is the mystery of the great self-sacrifice. Because he would save others, he would not save himself. Relatively to the work which our blessed Lord had undertaken, it was necessary that he himself should not be saved, His mission required:
1. That his submission to God's will should be fully tested. And the last test of a man is this—Can you die just when God pleases, just where God pleases, just how God pleases?
2. That mission required the surrender of a human life as a sacrifice for sin. That was the Divine plan for the redemption of men from sin; Jesus must offer that sacrifice, so he would not come down from the cress. Our Lord's own will gave the virtue to his sacrifice. He could have saved himself, but he would not. He meant to yield himself, in a voluntary act of obedience to God. "By the which will we have been sanctified, through the offering of the body of Jesus once for all."—R.T.
The mystery of the forsaking.
Keble tenderly sings—
"Is it not strange, the darkest hour
That ever dawned on sinful earth
Should touch the heart with softer power
For comfort, than an angel's mirth?
That to the cross the mourner's eye should turn,
Sooner than where the stars of Christmas burn?"
The conflict of Calvary reaches its climax in this text. It brings before us the sublimest moment of our Saviour's life. It is the moment in which our Champion closed with the spiritual foe of evil in the last death struggle. He spent his bodily life in the effort. He gained the soul life of obedience and trust; that soul victory was his triumph for us. Watching with the Galilaean women, a little distance off, within sight of the cross, within sound of this great, this dying cry, what should be our first thought?
I. MANIFESTLY THIS WAS THE DEATH OF A MAN. It is singular that, in the early Church, no evident effort was made to maintain the truth of our Lord's Divinity; early controversy dealt with the reality of our Lord's humanity. And an important part in the impression of that humanity was taken by the scenes of his death. These sufferings are a man's sufferings; these cries are a man's cries; this death is a man's death. The humanity is brought home to us by his dying a violent death, a death which was certified by a public officer. Our text, whatever else it may be, is certainly the cry of a dying man, the element of the flesh, the body, is now added to our Redeemer's struggle. Medical science tells us that the accounts of our Lord's dying accurately represent what occurs in a ease of ruptured or broken heart. The same spasm of dreadful pain, forcing a great cry, and the same flowing of mingled blood and water when the heart sac is pierced. There is a very striking thing, further bringing out to view the real humanness of the cry of the text. Our Lord did not make a new sentence, separating his experience from that of men, but he used words spoken by a psalmist as an utterance of his own distress (see Psalms 22:1). Our Lord evidently intended to identify his struggle with that of man. It may be said that this text embodies and expresses the effect of intense bodily suffering, and of approaching death, on a man's will. The will of Christ was set, not on submission only, but on active obedience to the will of the Father. In Gethsemane the resolve had no present actual pain to battle with, only the anticipation of it. At Calvary the will was borne upon by actual, intense, overwhelming, physical pain; it had to struggle to hold its own. The text represents a supreme moment, when intense pain seemed to force the will aside, and darken the soul with a moment's shade. Can we estimate what dying is in its influence on the will? What is dying when it comes consciously to a man in full health? No falling asleep, and passing away; but the soul in some awful way dropping down, losing everything—light, breath, God, all; passing under, and in that dread moment seeming to be left in utter desolation. If we could know what that means, we should begin to understand our Lord's great cry. It is a dying man's cry.
II. MANIFESTLY THIS WAS THE DEATH OF THE SECOND MAN, THE LORD FROM HEAVEN. This is a Scripture term. It is the peculiar relation which Christ bears to us that gives his death scene its profounder significance. He has undertaken for man the removal of sin, and that undertaking of necessity brings him into contact with sin, and makes its consequences and its burdens rest on him. Christ undertook the work of saving men from sin; that is, of saving the life of love and obedience to God in their souls from being utterly crushed out by sin. Then he must come into conflict with it. Its burden of disabilities must lie on him. He must keep his own soul trust and obedience while all the burden, disability, agony, death of sin, buffet him. If he can keep his obedience and his love perfect under the worst that sin and Satan can do, then he breaks their power over man forever—he breaks that power for us. Sin so far succeeded as to kill the body, sin failed utterly to touch the soul; in the last moments the soul is full of affection and devotion—it cries, "My God, my God!" So the power of sin was broken. Man is freed, in Christ's triumph, from the soul bondage hitherto laid on by sin. Christ was made perfect, through his sufferings, to become the "Bringer-on of sons to glory." He is "able to save unto the uttermost all who come unto God through him."—R.T.
The natural impression of the Crucifixion.
We may call it the natural impression, because it was made on an outsider, who had come into no relations with Christ, and is not likely to have had any prejudices either for or against him. It was made on a Roman officer, who would be calm and self-restrained, inclined indeed to be cynical, familiar with death scenes, and hardened by the familiarity, and not at all susceptible of emotional influences. We can easily see what the Crucifixion was to the Marys, who stood watching it through the telescope of their tears from afar off; but it surprises us to find what a power it had on that cold and self-restrained Roman. The man appears before us but for a moment, and then vanishes forever away. But the vision of him reminds us that the crucified Christ has been a larger, wider power in the world than we have reckoned who did but count the number of his professed adherents. The truth is larger than we have ever thought it to be, which Jesus uttered when he said, "And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me."
I. WHAT IMPRESSED THE CENTURION AS SO STRANGE? Remember he had seen criminals die before that day. Watching Jesus, he was smitten with the conviction, "That Man is not a criminal."
1. He contrasted him with the two thieves who were being crucified with him. There was a calm dignity about Jesus which the other sufferers did not and could not show. Compare the things spoken. Thieves reviled; Jesus reviled not again.
2. He could compare Jesus with other victims he had crucified. And the comparison had to be a contrast, a most striking and impressive contrast. Account must be taken too of the influence on the Roman of the darkened sky and the quaking ground.
II. WHAT WAS THE IMPRESSION PRODUCED ON THE CENTURION? St. Luke reports him as saying, "Truly this was a righteous Man." He felt his innocence. A Roman would not put our high meaning into the term "Son of God." What he felt was that the man was a victim, a sacrifice; he was suffering no just reward of his deeds. The natural impression of the Crucifixion confirms our view of Jesus as "holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners," and fit to be, what he was, the world's Sacrifice for sin.—R.T.
The entire forsaking of our Lord's apostles and disciples has not been sufficiently considered. It must have been one of the sorest ingredients in his bitter cup of woe. Not one of them came into any relation with his suffering time. They must have been wholly bewildered by their fears. They left their Master to the tending of strangers, if he had any tending at all. But we may do honour to Simon of Cyrene and Joseph of Arimathaea, who found their opportunity.
I. JOSEPH'S WEAKNESS IN NOT ACKNOWLEDGING CHRIST BEFORE. Whatever allowances we may be able to make for him, it certainly was a weakness—it always is a weakness—to try to be a secret disciple. Joseph was placed in very difficult circumstances. He was a member of the Sanhedrin. He must have known of the schemes of the high priest's party. His soul must have revolted against them, and yet he dared say nothing. He was not strong man enough to brave opposition. He was a timid soul; but, like timid souls, he could on occasion do a strangely brave thing. "Spirit was willing, but flesh was weak."
II. JOSEPH'S COURAGE IN ACKNOWLEDGING CHRIST AT LAST. For in going to Pilate, as a known member of the council, to beg the body of Jesus, Joseph declared himself. Pilate would quite understand that he cared for this "Enthusiast." And Joseph was obliged to do this publicly, so the news of his request would be spread abroad; and our Lord's enemies would not be satisfied until they found out what had become of the dead body. This act of Joseph's, we may be sure, made him a marked man henceforth in the council. He confessed Jesus by his act.
III. JOSEPH'S ONE ACT IN THE SERVICE OF CHRIST. It was precisely the thing which only a man having the authority and the wealth that he had could do.
1. Christ's body had to be saved from insult, and not one of his disciples dare advance to claim it. If it had been left to the Romans, it would have just been flung, with the other bodies, into the common pit, or burned in the valley of Hinnom. Joseph did this good service—he saved it from desecration.
2. Christ's body ought to have the honourable burial of a king, and the kindly tending of loving hands. Joseph provided both. Gentle handling, reverent preparing, tender carrying, loving burial in his own new tomb.—R.T.
"Last at the cross, first at the grave." it does not appear that the women dared do any more than watch our Lord's death, watch his taking down from the cross, and watch where they took his body. But that watching was devotion. They did not feel that the men could do what was really needed for the dead body, and so their devotion planned loyal and loving womanly service as soon as ever the sabbath was over, and they would be clear of our Lord's bitter enemies, and of the rough Roman soldiers. They planned in their womanly way; they prepared for their intended embalming; they started to begin their work almost before the morning broke; and, though they could not do what they purposed, they did well that it was in their hearts.
I. THE WOMEN WATCHING THE CROSS. There seems to have been quite a little company of them, and we know that Mary, our Lord's mother, was one of them. Custom made them keep together, and stand a little apart from the men: but they were not far off, not out of the sound of our Lord's voice, and they could see everything. But what must that sight have been to them? Suffering is sacred to woman; a son's suffering is an infinite woe to a mother. Not a dry eye; and oh! what heaving breasts!
II. THE WOMEN WATCHING THE GRAVE. Only two of them now. When the last sigh came from that cross John tenderly upheld the fainting mother, and bore her away, some of the women going with them to help in tending her. Two of them felt as if they could not go. We know those two. They were Mary Magdalene and Mary of Bethany. They watched the taking down.. They followed, as loving mourners, the sad procession. They saw the men carry the body into the tomb, come out, roll the stone to the door, and go away. But they were fascinated. They sat down over against the sepulchre; they waited until the gathering shadows and the cold night winds drove them to seek shelter. Dear women! Their love was helpless: it could do nothing for its loved One. Oh, say not so! Love does everything for its loved one, when it loves on through all woe, faithful, true, self-denying, unto the very end.—R.T.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Matthew 27". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent