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The foregoing chapter gave us an account of Judas's treason, in delivering our Saviour into the hands of the chief priests unto Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor, in order to his arraignment and condemnation.
Whence observe, that it has been the old policy of corrupt church governors to abuse the power of the civil magistrate, in executing their cruel and unjust censures upon holy and innocent persons. The chief priests and elders do not kill our Saviour themselves, but they deliver him over to the secular power, and desire Pilate, the civil magistrate, to sentence and condemn him, which soon after we shall find he did. They bound him, and led him away; but what need was there of binding him, that never made any resistance? And O, what ingratitude was it to bind him with cords, who came to unloose those bands of sins wherewith we were bound.
Here we have a sad relation of Judas's desperate death, after an hypocritical life, as also of the horror of his mind and conscience before his death.
Observe here, 1. The time when Judas repented; after it was too late. When he saw that he was condemned, he repented.
Observe, 2. The repentance itself, in the several parts and branches of it; he was sorrowful for the fact, he made confession of his sin, and made restitution for the wrong done. He repented, saying, I have sinned; and cast down the thirty pieces of silver.
Learn thence, that a wicked man, when conscience is thoroughly awakened, may make confession of his sin, express some sorrow for it, and endeavour also the making of some satisfaction and restitution for the wrong and injury done by it. They that mourn for sin as sin; they that mourn more for the intrinsic evil that is in sin, than for the penal or consequential evils that follow sin; they that confess sin voluntarily and freely, particularly, penitently, believingly, with an eye of sorrow upon their Saviour; they that make restitution as an act of obedience to the command of God, and as an act of justice and righteousness to their neighbour; such persons' repentance shall find acceptance with God.
Observe, 3. The answer and reply which the wicked high priests and elders make to despairing Judas.
1. They excuse themselves, What is that to us? It is natural to all sinners to shift sin from themselves, and to lay it at any door rather than their own. Those that have had a share in the pleasure and profit of sin, are yet very desirous to throw the odium and guilt of it upon others. What is that to us? say these monsters in sin. O wonderful stupidity! could they think it nothing to them to hire a man to betray innocent blood? Was not the money given, the price of blood, and the field they bought called the field of blood? yet do they impudently say, What is that to us?
2. As they excuse and acquit themselves, so they load and burden him; Look thou to that. Lord! What miserable comforters are companions in sin to one another, when distress and sorrow comes upon them. When sin comes to be questioned, in order to its being punished, every sinner is for shifting for himself, and leaves his fellow in the lurch. Let us then remember the words of the Holy Ghost, He that walketh with wise men shall be wise, but a companion of fools shall be destroyed.
How jolly soever sinners are together, when in the height of their lusts, they are but miserable comforters to one another upon a sick-bed, or under the lashes of an awakened conscience. But though they may avoid each other now, there is a time coming when it will be impossible; at the great day, the sinner shall see both his companions in sin, then here, the vilest of monsters.
Observe, 4. The sad and fatal end of Judas; He went forth and hanged himself. Horror and despair took hold upon him, and seized his conscience; which was so intolerable that he ran to the halter for a remedy.
Learn thence, 1. That conscience is a powerful, though invisible executioner; the wrath of man may be endured, but the wrath of God is insupportable, and the eruptions of conscience are irresistible. O how intolerable are those scourges that lash us in this tender and vital part! Judas, awakened with the horror of his fact, conscience begins to rouse, and the man is unable to bear up under the furious revenge of his own mind.
There is an active principle in men's breasts and bosoms, which seldom suffers daring sinners to pass in quiet to their graves. Guilt is naturally troublesome and uneasy; it disturbs the peace and serenity of the mind, and fills the soul with storms and thunder, both in life and death! How vainly did Judas hope to take sanctuary in a grave, and to meet with that ease in another world which he could not find in this. Thus ended this miserable man, Judas.
Behold! ye professors of religion, the terrible example of God's justice on a deceitful hypocrite. Behold! a disciple, and apostle, first a traitor, and then a self-murderer. Behold! Judas, once shining in the robes of a glorious profession, now shining in the flames of God's eternal wrath and vengeance.
Lord! how earnest ought we to be for thy preserving grace, when neither the presence, the miracles, the sermons, the sacraments of Christ, could preserve and secure a professor, a disciple, and apostle, from the fatal mischief of a ruinous apostasy. Let him that thinketh he standeth, take heed lest he fall.
Observe here, 1. The niceness and scrupulosity of these hypocrites; they made no scruple to give money to shed blood, but they scruple the putting that money into the treasury which was the price of blood. They are afraid to defile their treasury, but are not afraid to pollute their souls. Thus hypocrites strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel; scruple a ceremony, but make no conscience of murder and perjury.
Observe, 2. The use which they put this mount to, which Judas brought them; they bought with it a field to bury strangers in. Thus Christ, who was himself a stranger in a borrowed grave, by the price of his blood (being thirty pieces of silver) conferred graves on many strangers.
Observe, lastly, how the wisdom of God ordered it, that hereby a scrupture prophecy might be fulfilled, Zechariah 11:13. "They weighed for my price thirty pieces of silver, and I took and cast them unto the potter."
Whence learn, that all the indignities and abasing suffering which the Lord Jesus under went, were not only fore-ordained by God, but also fore told by the holy prophets; his being scourged, buffeted, spit upon, and here his being sold for thirty pieces of silver.
Observe here, 1. That our Saviour readily anwsers Pilate, but refuses to answer the chief priests, and to all that they laid to his charge before Pilate. Pilate asks him, Art thou the king of the Jews? Jesus readily answers, Thou sayest; or, it is as thou sayest. But to all the accusations of the chief priests, and to all that they laid to his charge before Pilate, our Saviour answered never a word: probably for these reasons; because his innocency was such as needed no apology; because their calumnies and accusations were so notoriously false, that they needed no confutation; to show his contempt of death, and to teach us, by his own example, patience and silence, when for his sake we are slandered and traduced.
Learn thence, that although we are not obliged to answer every captious and ensnaring question, nor to refute every slander and false accusation, yet are we bound faithfully thereunto. Our Saviour, as a deaf man, hears not, answers not the calumnies of the chief priests; but when Pilate asks him, Art thou the king of the Jews? or as St. Mark has it, Art thou the Son of the Blessed? Jesus said, I am; though he knew that answer would cost him his life.
Hence the apostle, says That Christ before Pontius Pilate witnessed a good confession. 1 Timothy 6:13. Teaching us sometimes to hold our peace when our reputation is concerned; but never to be silent when the honour of God, the glory of his truth, the edification and confirmation of others, may effectually be promoted by our open confession: then must we with Christ give a direct, plain, and sincere answer. For whoever denies him, or any truth of his, knowingly and wilfully, him will Christ deny in the presence of his Father, and before all his holy angels.
Now at the feast, that is, the feast of the passover, which by way of eminency is called the feast, the governor used to release a prisoner (possibly by way of memorial of their deliverance out of Egypt); accordingly Pilate makes a motion to them, that Christ may be the prisoner set at liberty in honour of the feast; for he was sensible that what they did was out of envy and malice. As covetousness sold Christ, so envy delivered him. Envy is a killing and murdering passion: Envy slayeth the silly one, Job 5:2, that is, It slays the silly person who harbours this pestilent lust in his bosom, and is like a fire in his bones, continually preying upon him, causing him to pine away, and die miserably, because another lives happily.
To envy another man's prosperity, is an argument of the worst simplicity: yea, farther, as envy slayeth the silly one, so it prompts and provokes the sinner to seek the slaying of simple and innocent ones. Envy wishes the envied person out of the way, yea, our of the world; and if need be, will not only wish it, but lend a lift towards it too; witness the chief priests here, whose envy was so conspicuous, that Pilate himself takes notice of it, and says, He knew that for envy they had delivered him.
There are several sorts or kinds of dreams, natural, moral, diabolical, and divine. The question is, what kind of dream this was? Not natural, all agree; some think it was diabolical, and that Satan hoped thereby to prevent the work of man's redemption by the death of Christ. But if so, why had not Pilate the dream rather than his wife? Probably this dream was from God, for even our very dreams are ordered by God; our sleeping, as well as our waking times, are in God's hand.
Learn hence, How wonderfully the wisdom and power of God is seen in this woman's testimony, which she gave to the innocence of our Saviour. When all his disciples were fled from him, when none of his friends durst speak a word for him, God raises up a woman, a stranger, a pagan, to give evidence of his innocency.
And it is observable, That at our Saviour's trial, not one mouth was opened to plead or speak a word for him, in defence of innocency itself, but only Pilate's and his wife's; they both pronounce him righteous, though they were Gentiles and Pagans, whilst his own kindred and countrymen, the Jews, thirst after his righteous and innocent blood.
Observe here, 1. How exceedingly unwilling and averse Pilate was to be the instrument of our Saviour's death; one while he bids the Jews take him themselves, and judge him according to their law; another while he offers to save Christ in honour of their feast, when by custom he was to release a prisoner, and this prisoner he desired might be Jesus. When this would not satisfy, he expostulates with them about our Saviour's innocency, What evil has he done? Nay says, Luke 23:22 That Pilate came forth three times, and professed that he found no fault in him. Yet though Pilate was satisfied, the Jews would not be denied.
Thence learn, That wicked men and hypocrites within the visible church, may be guilty of such tremendous acts of wickedness, as the conscience of infidels and pagans without the church may boggle at, and protest against. Pilate, a pagan absolves Christ, whilst hypocritical Jews which had heard his doctrine, and seen his miracles, condemn him.
But observe, 2. Who influenced the main body of the Jew to desire Barabbas, and to destroy Jesus? It was the chief priests and elders, they persuaded the multitude. Woe unto the people, when their guides and leaders are corrupt for then they shall be tempted by wicked counsel; and woe unto them, much more, if they follow their wicked and pernicious counsels. Thus did the Jews follow their guides, the chief priests, till they had preserved Barabbas, and destroyed Jesus.
Two things are here observable in Pilate's washing of his hands.
1. By this action he pronounces our Saviour's innocency, and was willing thereby to testify his own, that he did not consent to our Saviuour's death; washing the hands being and usual ceremony, in prostestation of a person's innocency.
But, 2. It was great folly and madness in Pilate, to think that washing of his hands did or could free him from the guilt of innocent blood. "O Pilate! thou hadst need rub hard, if thou meanest to scour from thy soul the guilt of that crimson sin which thou hast committed; thy guilt cleaves so close unto thee that nothing can expiate it but the blood which thou hast spilt."
Neither was it any excuse of Pilate's sin, that what he did was to please the people, and to gratify their importunity. It is a fond apology for sins, when persons pretend they were not committed with their own consent, but at others instigation and importunity.
That is, "Let the guilt and punishment of his blood rest upon us and our posterity." A most horrid and impious imprecation; the dreadful effects of it began to come upon them forty years after, in the destruction of Jerusalem, and has rested and remained upon their posterity to this day, near eighteen hundred years; the Jews being vagabonds over the earth, abhorred by all nations where soever they come. The just God has heard their wicked wish, and caused that blood to fall upon them in so severe, righteous a manner, as must pierce the heart of those that read and observe it.
God has given them blood to drink, as indeed they were worthy. This ought to be a terror and a warning to all persons, that they avoid all cursed imprecations, and wicked wishes upon themselves or others. Woe to such as wish damnation to themselves, pox and plague upon others; how if God says Amen, and ratifies in heaven the wicked Jews: His blood be on us, and on our children?
Yet what they with a wicked mind put up as a direful imprecation, we may with a pious mind offer up to God as an humble petition; Lord, let thy Son's blood, not in the guilt and punishment, but in the efficacy and merit of it, be upon us, and upon our posterity after us, for evermore.
As the death of the cross was a Roman punishment, so it was the manner of the Romans first to scourge and whip their malefactores, and then deliver them to be crucified. Now the manner of the Romans scourging is said to be thus; they stripped the condemned person, and bound him to a post; two strong men first scourged him with rods of thorns; then two others scourged him with whips full of knots; and lastly two more with whips of wire, and therewith tore off the very flesh and skin from the person's back and sides.
That our Saviour was thus cruelly scourged, seems to some not improbable, from that of the psalmist, The ploughers ploughed upon my luck, and made long furrows. Psalms 129:3 Which, if spoken prophetically of Christ, was literally fulfilled in the day of his scourging. But why was the precious body of our blessed Lord thus galled and torn with scourgings! Doubtless to fulfil that prophecy; I gave my back to the smiters, and my cheeks to them that plucked off the hair,-That by his stripes we might be healed.
And to learn us patience from his example: Why should we think it strange to be scourged either with the tongue or the hand, or with both, when we see our dear Redeemer bleeding by stripes and scourges before our eyes?
The next part of our Lord's sufferings consisted of cruel mockings. Our blessed Saviour had said, that he was the King of the Jews; not a temporal king, to reign over them with pomp and power, but a spiritual king, to rule in the hearts of his people; but the Jews, missing of their expectations of a temporal king in Christ, look upon him as and impostor; and accordingly they treat him as a mock king, putting a crown upon his head, but a very ignominious and painful one, a crown of thorns: a sceptre in his hand, but it was of a reed; and a robe of purple or scarlet, both of which were wont to do to princes.
Thus all the marks of scorn imaginable are put upon of blessed Redeemer: yet that which they did in jest, God did in earnest, for all these things were ensigns and marks of sovereignty; and Almighty God caused the regal dignity of his Son to appear and shine forth, even in the midst of his abasement.
Whence was all this jeering and sport, but to flout majesty? And why did Christ undergo all this ignominy, disgrace, and shame, but to show us what was due to us for our sins, and to give us an example to bear all the scorn, reproach, and shame imaginable for his sake, Who for the joy that was set before him, endured the cross, and despised the shame?
The sentence of death being passed by Pilate, who can with dry eyes behold the sad pomp of our Saviour's bloody execution? Forth comes the blessed Jesus out of Pilate's gates, bearing that cross which was soon after to bear him. With his cross on his shoulder, he marches towards Golgotha; and when they see he can go no faster, they force Simon, the Cyrenian, no out of compassion, but from indignation, to be the porter of his cross. This Cyrenian being a Gentile, no a Jew, who bare our Saviour's cross, might signify and show, that the Gentiles should have a part in Christ, and be sharers with the Jews in the benefits of his cross.
At length Christ comes to the place of execution, Golgotha, or mount Calvary. Here, in a public place, with infamous company, betwixt two thieves, he is crucified: that is, fastened to a great cross of wood, his hands stretched forth abroad, and his feet close together! and both hands and feet fastened with nails; his naked body was lifted up in the open air, hanging betwixt heaven and earth; thereby intimating, that the crucified person was unfit to live in either.
This shameful, painful, and accursed death, did the holy and innocent Jesus undergo for sinners. Some observe all the dimensions of length, breadth, depth, and height, in our Saviour's sufferings. For length, his passion was several hours long, from twelve to three, exposed all that time both to hunger and cold: the thieves crucified with him were not dead so soon: they endured but personal pain, he undergoing the miseries of all mankind.
But what his passion wanted in length, it had in breadth, extending over all the parts and powers of his soul and body; no part free but his tongue, which was at liberty to pray for his enemies. His sight was tormented with the scornful gestures of such, as passed by, wagging their heads: his bearing grieved with the taunts and jeers of the priests and people: his smelling offended with noisome savours in the place of skulls: his taste with the gall and vinegar given him to drink. His feeling was wonderfully affected by the nails which pierced his hands and feet, and the crown of thorns which pierced his tender temples with a multiplicity of wounds. And for the depth of his passion, it was as deep as hell itself; enduring tortures in his soul, as well as torments in his body; groaning under the burden of desertion, and crying out, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?
Lastly, for the height of his sufferings, they were as high as heaven; his person being innocent and infinite, no less than the Son of God, which adds and infinite worth and value to his sufferings. Lord, let us be able to comprehend with all saints, what is the breadth and length, depth and heighth, and let us know the love of Christ, which in suffering for us passeth knowledge. So infinite every way were the dimensions of it.
It was the manner of the Romans, when they crucified any man, to publish the cause of his death in capital letters, placed over the head of the person. Now see how the wisdom and providence of God powerfully over-ruled the heart and pen of Pilate to draw his title, which was truly honourable; and fix it to his cross: Pilate is Christ's herald, and proclaims him, King of the Jews.
Learn hence, That the regal dignity of Christ was proclaimed by an enemy, and that in a time of his greatest sufferings and reproaches. Pilate did Christ a special honour, and an eminent piece of service. He did that for Christ which none of his own disciples durst do; but he did it not designedly for his glory, but from the special over-ruling power of divine Providence: but the highest services performed to Christ undesignedly, shall never be accepted or rewarded by God.
Here we have several aggravations of our Lord's sufferings upon the cross. 1. From the company he suffered with, two thieves. It had been disparagement enough to our blessed Saviour to have been sorted with the best of men; but to be numbered with the scum of mankind, is such an indignity as confounds our thoughts. This was intended by the Jews to dishonour him the more, and to persuade the world that he was the greatest of offenders; but God over-ruled this, that the scripture might be fulfilled, He was numbered with the transgressors.
2. Another aggravation of our Lord's sufferings on the cross, was the scorn and mocking derision which he met with in his dying moments from the common people, from the chief priests, and from the thieves that suffered with him. The common people, both in words and actions, expressed scorn and detestation against him. They reviled him wagging their heads.
The chief priests, though men of age and gravity, not only barbously mock him, in his extremest misery, whom humanity obliged them to pity; but they scoff astheistically and profanely, jeering at his faith and affiance in God; tauntingly saying, He trusted in God that he would deliver him; let him deliver him now if he will have him.
Where observe, That persecutors are generally atheists, though they make a profession of religion. The chief priests and elders here, though learned and knowing men, yet they blaspheme God, mock at his power, and deride his providence, which was as bad as to deny his being.
Hence we gather, That those who administer to God in holy things by way of office, if they be not the best, they are the worst of men. No such bitter enemies to the power of godiness, as the ministers of religion who were never acquainted with the efficacy and power of it in their own hearts and lives. Nothing on this side hell is worse than a wicked priest, a minister of God devoted to the service of the devil.
A third aggravation of our Lord's sufferings on the cross, was, that the thieves that suffered with him reviled him with the rest; that is, one of them, as St. Luke has it, or perhaps both of them, might do it at first. Which, if so, increases the wonder of the penitent thief's conversion.
From the thief's impenitency we learn, That neither shame nor pain will change the mind of a resolute sinner; but even then when he is in the very suburbs of hell, will he blaspheme.
Observe here, 1. How the rays of Christ's divinity,, and the glory of his godhead, break out and shine forth in the midst of that infirmity which his human nature laboured under. He shows himself to be the God of nature, by altering the course of nature. The sun is eclipsed and darkness overspreads the earth, for three hours; namely, from twelve o'clock to three. Thus the sun in the firmament becomes close mourner at our Lord's death, and the whole frame of nature puts itself into a funeral habit.
Observe, 2. That the chief of Christ's sufferings consisted in the suffering of his soul; the distress of his spirit was more intolerable than the torments of his body, as appears by his mournful complaint, My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me? Being the first words of the 22nd psalm; Psalms 22:1, and some conceive that he repeated that whole psalm, it being an admirable narrative of the colours of his passion.
Learn hence, that the Lord Jesus Christ, when suffering for our sins, was really deserted for a time, and left destitute of all sensible consolation. Why has thou forsaken me?
Learn farther, That under this desertion Christ despaired not, but still retained a firm persuasion of God's him. My God, my God, These are words of faith and affiance, striving under temptation. Christ was thus forasaken for us, that we might never be forsaken by God; yet by God's forsaking of Christ, is not to be understood any abatement of divine love, but only a withdrawing from the human nature the sense of his love, and a letting out upon his soul a deep afflicting sense of his displeasure which God utterly forsake a man, both as to grace and glory, being wholly cast out of God's presence, and adjudged to eternal torments; this was not compatible to Christ, nor agreeable to the dignity of his person.
But there is a partial and temporary desertion, when God for a little moment hides his face from his children: now this was both agreeable to the dignity of Christ's nature, and also suitable to his office, who was to satisfy the justice of God for our forsaking of him, and to bring us near to him, that we might be received forever.
Observe lastly, What a miraculous evidence Christ gave of his divinity instantly before he gave up the ghost. He cried with a loud voice. This showed that he did not die according to the ordinary course of nature, gradually departing and drawing on, as we express it. No, his life was whole in him, and nature as strong at last as at first. Other men die gradually, and towards their end their sense of pain is much blunted; they faulter, fumble, and die by degrees: his life was whole in him. This was evident by the mighty outcry he made when he gave up the ghost, contrary to the sense and experience of all ather persons; this argued him to be full of strength. And he that could cry with such a loud voice (in articulo mortis) as he did, could have kept himself from dying, if he would.
Hence we learn, That when Christ died, he rather conquered death, than was conquered by death. He must voluntarily and freely lay down his life, before death could come at him. He yielded up the ghost. O! wonderful sight; the Lord of life hangs dead, dead on the accursed tree. O! severe and inexorable justice in God! O! amazing and astonishing love in Christ! love beyond expression, beyond conception, beyond all comprehension! with what comparison shall we compare it? Verily, with nothing but itself; never was love like thine.
Here we have an account of several extraordinary and wonderful things which occurred and fell out about the time that our Saviour died.
Observe, 1. The vail of the temple rent asunder, that is, the hanging which parted the holy from the most holy place, to hide the mysteries therein; namely, the ark of the covenant and mercy-seat, from the view of the ordinary priests. This vail was now rent from the top to the bottom, and the rending of it did impart these great mysteries:
1. That now our great High Priest was entering into the most holy place with his own blood, having made the atonement for us. By his own blood entered once into the most holy place having obtained eternal redemption for us. Hebrews 9:12
2. That the means whereby he entered into the most holy place, was by the rending of his humanity, his soul from his body, typified by rending of this vail; accordingly his body is called a vail. Consecrated through the vail of his flesh. Hebrews 10:20
3. That now by the death of Christ all those dark mysteries vailed up formally in the most holy place, as the ark of the covenant and mercy-seat are now unfolded and laid open, and the use of the whole ceremonial law at an end, and the Jewish temple-service ceased.
4. That now the kingdom of heaven, the most holy place, is open to all believers. Christ, our great High Priest, is entered in with his own blood, and hath not closed the vail after him, but rent it asunder, and made and left a passage for all believers to follow him, first in their prayers, and next in their persons. Having therefore boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way wich he hath consecrated for us through the vail, that is to say, his flesh; let us draw near with a true heart, &c. Hebrews 10:19-Proverbs :.
Observe, 2. The earth quaked. As there was an universal eclipse, so likewise an universal earthquake, at our Lord's crucifixion, which did awaken many of the saints (that died before our Saviour's incarnation) out of their dead sleep. These arose both as witnesses of Christ's resurrection, and also as sharers in it. But none of them arose till Christ was risen, he being the first fruits of them that slept. And those holy persons that arose with him, possibly attended him to heaven at his ascension.
From hence we learn, That Christ was the Saviour of those who believed in him before his incarnation, as well as those that believed in him since his incarnation: And that the former are partakers of the fruit and benefit of his death and ressurection, no less than the latter. Others conjecture, that those who rose out of their graves, were such as believed Christ, and died before him, as old Simeon, &c. Accordingly they understand, The hour is coming and now is, that the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of man, Joshua 5:15 of this resurrection here mentioned. And whereas it is said they went into the holy city, and appeared to many; it is probable they were known to them unto whom they did appear: And if so, they must have lived in the time of their knowledge.
Observe next, What influence and effect the sight of those prodigious things had upon the centurion convinced of the divinity of Christ, than the unbelieving Jewish doctors. Obstinacy and unbelief filled their minds with an invincible prejudice against Christ; so that neither the miracles done by him in his life, nor wrought at his death, could convince the high priests, that Christ was any other than an imposter and deceiver.
Observe lastly, Who of Christ's friends were witnesses of his death: They are women, who followed him from Galilee, and ministered unto him: Not one of his dear disciples, except St. John, who stood by the cross with the Virgin Mary. What a shame was this for the apostles, to be absent from a spectacle upon which the salvation of the whole world did depend! and what an honour was this to the female sex in general, and to these women in particular, that they had the courage to follow Christ to the cross, when all the disciples forsook him and fled!
God can make women glorious professors of his truth, and arm them against the fears of sufferings, contrary to the natural timorousness of their tempers. These women wait upon Christ's cross, when apostles fly, and durst not come near.
Here we have an account given of our Lord's funeral and interment in the grave; such a funeral as never was since grave were first digged. Concerning which, we have these particulars observable:
Observe, 1. The preparatives that were made for our Lord's funeral; namely, the begging and perfuming of his dead body; his body could not be buried, till by begging it was obtained of Pilate; the dead bodies of malefactors being in the power and disposal of the judge. Pilate grants it; and to manifest their dear affection to their dead Lord, they wrap the body in fine linen, with spices to perfume it. But what need of odours for that body did not want them, yet the affections of his friends could not with-hold them.
Observe, 2. The bearers that carried his body to the grave, or the persons concerned in solemnizing his funeral, Joseph of Arimathea, and Nicodemus, two rich men, and two secret disciples.
1. They were rich men, senators, honourable counsellors; and so that prophecy was fulfilled. He made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death. Isaiah 53:9.
2. They were good men as well as rich men, disciples though secretly, for fear of the Jews. Grace doth no always make a public and open show where it is. As there is much secret riches in the bowels of the earth, which no eye ever saw, so there may be grace in the heart of a Christian, which the world takes no notice of. We never hear any news of Joseph of Arimathea till now; yet was he eminently rich, wise, and good; a worthy though a close disciple. Much grace may be where little is seen. Some gracious persons cannot put forward, and discover themselves, like others; and yet such weak Christians, perhaps, when a trial comes, shall stand their ground, when stronger run away. We read of none of the apostles at Christ's funeral; fear had chased them away, though they professed a readiness to die with Christ: But Joseph and Nicodemus appear boldly for him.
Let it be a caution to strong Christians, neither to glory in themselves nor to glory over the weak. If God desert the strong, and assist the weak, the feeble shall be as David, and the strong as tow.
Observe, 3. The mourners that followed the hearse; namely, the women that followed him out of Galilee, and particularly the two Maries: A very poor train of mourners, a few sorrowful women. Others are attended to their graves by their relations and friends; but Christ's disciples were all scattered, and afraid to own him either dying or dead. Our blessed Lord affected no pomp or gallantry in his life, and it was no way suitable either to the end or manner of his death. Humiliation was designed in his death, and his burial was the lowest degree of his humiliation.
Observe, 4. The grave or sepulchre in which they buried him; it was in a garden. As by the sin of the first Adam we were driven out of the garden of pleasure, the earthly paradise; so by the sufferings of the second Adam, who lay buried in a garden, we may hope for an entrance into the heavenly paradise. It was in a sepulchre hewn out of a rock; that so his enemies might have no occasion to cavil, and say, that his disciples stole him away by secret holes, or unseen passages under ground. And it was in a new sepulchre, in which never any man was laid, lest his adversaries should say, it was some other that was risen, or that he rose from the dead by touching some other corpse.
Observe, 5. The manner of our Lord's funeral, hastily, openly, decently celebrated. It was done in haste, by reason of the straits of time, the preparation for the passover caused them to be very expeditious; the sabbath was approaching, and they lay all business aside to prepare for that.
Learn hence, How much it is our duty to dispatch our wordly business as early as we can towards the end of the week, that we may be the better prepared to sanctify the Lord's day, if we live to enjoy it. We ought to remember that day before it comes, and to sanctify it when it is come.
Again, Our Lord was buried openly, as well as hastily; all persons had liberty to be spectators, that none might object there was any fraud or deceit used in or about his burial. He was also interred decently, his body wrapt in fine linen, and perfumed with odours, according to the Jewish custom, which used not to unbowel, but embalm, their dead.
Observe, 6. The reason why our Lord was buried, seeing he was to rise again in as short a time as other men lie by the walls; and had his dead body remained a thousand years unburied, it could have seen no corruption, having never been tainted with sin. Sin is the cause of the body's corruption; it is sin that makes our bodies stink worse than carrion when they are dead. A funeral then was not necessary for Christ's body, upon the same accounts that it is necessary for ours.
But, 1. He was buried to declare the certainty of his death, and the reality of his resurrection; and for his reason did God's providence order it, that he should be embalmed to cut off all pretensions. For in this kind of embalming, his mouth, his ears and his nostrils, were all filled with spices and odours, so that there could be no latent principle of life in him; being thus buried, then, declares him to be certainly dead.
2. He was buried to fulfil the types and prophecies that went before concerning him. Jonas's being three days and three nights in the belly of a whale was a type of Christ's being three days and three nights in the heart of the earth; and the prophet Isaiah said, He made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death. Isaiah 53:9. Pointing, by that expression, at this tomb of Joseph's, who was a rich man; and the scripture cannot be broken.
3. He was buried to complete his humiliation; They have brought me to the dust of death, says David, a type of Christ. This was the lowest step he could possibly descend in his abased state; lower he could not have been laid, and so low his blessed head must be laid, else he had not been humbled to the lowest.
4. He went into the grave, that he might conquer death in its own territories and dominions. Christ's victory over the grave causes his saints to triumph and sing; O grave, where is thy destruction? Our blessed Lord has perfumed the bed of the grave by his own lying in it: So that the pillow of down is not so soft to a believer's head, as a pillow of dust.
Observe, lastly, Of what use the doctrine of Our Lord's burial may be unto us.
1. For instruction; here we see the amazing depths of Our Lord's humiliation. From what, to what his love brought him; even from the bosom of his Father, to the bosom of a grave. Now the depth of his humiliation shows us the fulness and sufficiency of his satisfaction as well as the heinousness of our transgression.
2. For consolation against the fears of death and the grave. The grave received Christ, but could not retain him. Death swallowed him up, as the fish did Jonas, but quickly vomited him up again; so shall it fare with Christ mystical as it did with Christ personal; the grave could not long keep him, it shall not forever keep us; as his body rested in hope, so shall ours also; and though they see corruption, which they did not, yet shall they not always lie under the power of corruption. In a word, Christ's lying in the grave, has changed and altered the nature of the grave; it was a prison before, a bed of rest now; a loathsome grave before, a perfumed bed now. He whose head is in heaven, and need not fear to put his foot into the grave.- Awake and sing, thou that dwelleth in dust, for the enmity of the grave is slain by Christ.
3. For imitation; let us study and endeavour to be buried with Christ, in respect of our sins: I mean, Buried with him into death. Romans 6:4. Our sins should be as a dead body, in several respects.
Are dead bodies removed far from the society of men? So should our sins be removed far from us. Dead bodies in the grave spend and consume away by little and little; So should our sins daily.
Will dead bodies grow every day more and more loathsome to others? So should our sins be to ourselves.
Do dead boodies wax out of memory, and are quite forgotten? So should our sins, in respect of any delight that we take in remembering of them. We should always remember our sins to our humiliation; but never think or speak of them with the least delight or satisfaction; for this, in God's account, is a new comission of them, and lays us under an additional guilt.
This last paragraph of the chapter acquaints us with the endeavours that the murderers of Christ used to prevent his foretold resurrection: they ask and obtain of Pilate, that his sepulchre might be strongly guarded till the third day was past and over, when probably they intended to have exposed his dead body to the view of the people; and accordingly a threefold guard is set about the grave; the stone, the seal, and the watch; concluding that Christ was safe enough either from rising or stealing: the stone making the grave sure, the seal making the stone sure, and the watch or band of soldiers making all sure. The stone being sealed with the public seal, no person might meddle with it upon pain of death.
Where note, 1. The wonderful wisdom, the over-ruling power and providence of God; by this excessive care and extraordinary diligence, the high priests hoped to prevent our Saviour's resurrection, but the truth and belief of it was hereby ocnfirmed to all the world. How much evidence had Christ's resurrection wanted, if the high priests and elders had not been thus maliciously industrious to prevent his rising!
Learn, 2. That the endeavours used to obstruct our Lord's resurrection, have rendered it more certain and undoubted: had not all this care and caution been used by his enemies, the grounds of our faith had not been so strong, so evident, and so clear. It was very happy, that the Jews were thus jealous and suspicious, thus careful and distrustful; for otherwise the world had never received so full and perfect an evidence of Christ's doth depend. Verily their solicitous care to suppress our Redeemer's resurrection, has rendered it more conspicuous, and freed it from all suspicion of forgery.
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Burkitt, William. "Commentary on Matthew 27". Expository Notes with Practical Observations on the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29