Expositor's Dictionary of Texts
And the whole multitude of them arose, and led him unto Pilate.With Me in Paradise
We have heard the first word of peace: the priestly intercession for the transgressors. Now we listen to the comfortable word that the Son of man addresses to one who truly turns to Him. There is a natural sequence: first the sinner, then the penitent The prayer of Christ is no sooner uttered than it begins to be answered. The firstfruits of the cross is the malefactor who hangs by Jesus' side.
And the robber receives a message of peace. Christ's gift to him is the entire absolution of the penitent, the assurance of a speedy entrance into the Paradise of God, the pledge of fellowship in the joy of his Lord.
The answer is the saving utterance of royal favour, of priestly power, of Divine peace: 'Verily I say unto thee, today shalt thou be with Me in Paradise'. It is absolution certain, immediate, complete.
I. It is certain.—'Verily I say unto thee,' 'Amen, I say'. The words are familiar, to all readers of the Gospels, as Christ's accustomed phrase in declaring a truth of peculiar significance. The promise made to the dying thief is a revelation of the state of the blessed dead, for whose absolute reality Christ pledges His honour, His character, His truth. It is no statement of opinion, no expression of probability, no protestation of moral certainty that is here involved. 'Amen, I say,' is the ipse dixit of one who claims to know. In the awful moments, when amid the agonies of the cross the sands of life were fast running out, is it possible to account for the calm assurance of the meek, the gentle, the patient Son of man, as He not only accepts the homage of His fellow-sufferer, but accords to him a place of light and refreshment in the unseen world, if this word be not spoken out of that serene life of the Eternal, where there are no shadows? Let us thank God for the Amen of Calvary. 'Verily, verily I say unto you,' is not the teacher's trick of phrase, the unconscious exaggeration of the controversialist, the eager emphasis with which the preacher's enthusiasm marks his words. Such eloquence deserts the sufferer in the day of agony and the hour of death. It is the peace of an eternal certainty that breathes in the unfaltering pledge. 'Amen, I say unto thee.'
II. The absolution is immediate.—The robber had recognised the Messiah in the dying Jesus. But it was a far, indefinite future to which he looked forward. His was not the 'sure and certain hope' of the Christian. For the present all is over: a few hours and the curtain of night will cover up this earthly scene. And then—ah, what? The terrors of death and judgment and, it may be far, far off, the coming of the kingdom. If only then, whensoever that kingdom come, the Messiah will not forget him! 'Remember me when thou comest in Thy kingdom.' 'And Jesus said unto him, Verily 1 say unto thee, Today.' Life is not the possibility of the remote future; forgiveness is an actual fact; salvation is a present power. 'He that believeth on Me hath everlasting life.' That is the law of absolution. 'Thy sins are forgiven.' 'To-day shalt thou be with Me.'
III. The absolution is complete.—'With Me'—full communion; 'in Paradise'—eternal rest.
—J. G. Simpson, Christus Crucifixus, p. 256.
References.—XXIII. 4.—F. B. Cowl, Preacher's Magazine, vol. xvii. p. 571. XXIII. 6-12.—W. C. Wheeler, Sermons and Addresses, p. 108.
Herod the Tetrarch
The student of the artless and strangely passionless story of the cross notices many marvellous things which escape the less observant reader. One of them is this. All the actors in the drama of the Gospel history seem to be compelled, as by an inexorable fate, to appear on the stage in the last scene of all. Sadducees and Pharisees, governors and priests, disciples who were loyal to Him and disciples who were base, men who loved Him secretly, and women whom nothing daunted—all pass into His light, and in the passing receive their judgment. Here is Herod, who belonged to Galilee, who scorned Judæa, and detested the Jews, who was at enmity with Pilate, and yet 'he also was at Jerusalem at that time'. And here is Herod who had never seen Jesus, though with a vulgar curiosity he had often desired to see Him, who has had little to do with Jesus, though he had played his part in the Gospel story, and yet because Pilate, with the astuteness of the trained lawyer, saw his way of escape from being the judge of Jesus, under the plea that He 'belonged to Herod's jurisdiction,' Herod also is brought face to face with Jesus. He stands for only one half-hour in Christ's presence, but as he stands we see into his very soul. It is not the deaf conjunction of the writer of fiction—not the artifice of discerning literature. It is the finger of God.
I. Herod Antipas was one of the many sons of Herod the Great. That Herod was the man who murdered his wife who had sacrificed everything for him, and his two sons, who faithfully served him, and in his closing days lived in an atmosphere of jealous and vengeful blood-thirstiness. The massacre of the few innocents at Bethlehem was only a detail in a career of ruthless butchery. He was a man who could pretend to any religion, or make the more truthful profession of having none, as it best suited his purpose. But he professed the Jewish faith, and his children were trained in Hebrew learning. The Herodians were the party in the State who were willing to accept him as the promised King of Israel. Without committing ourselves to any confident conclusions as to the complex laws of heredity, we may allow that young Herod was not born in a saintly succession. Certainly he was weighted by tendencies in his blood, which would have made a holy life a sore struggle through all his years. Yet he reached manhood devoid of the tiger cruelty of his father; perhaps, by a natural reaction, revolting from it; open to suggestions of better things; at times moved by a dim vision of good. He was a type of young manhood very common among us.
The hour of determination came to this young worldling as it comes to all. He had to accept his poor share of his father's dominions with unconcealed chagrin, as such a youth among us accepts the scanty provision of his father's will, but he had administered the affairs of Galilee with only the usual Oriental oppression. He married most suitably, and began to court the favour of Rome, building Tiberias on the Sea of Galilee as his capital. But in an evil hour his eyes fell upon his brother Philip's wife, Herodias. It was because this man had a burdened conscience that the religious revival, which was beating in so many young hearts in Galilee, became a thing of deep interest to him. It was because he had his uneasy spirit that he sought the companionship of so unlikely a court preacher as John. It was because he had his wounded spirit that he observed him, and did many things gladly, that he might get an anodyne for his pain.
II. From a story like this, not only lessons of arresting import, but great spiritual truths shine in upon mind and heart. One truth and its lesson would I urge. It is this: that the moment of decision for Christ may be one in which no word of Him, no thought of Him, and not even His name shall be consciously in your mind. Herod Antipas never saw the face of Jesus until that last fruitless half-hour. Herod Antipas never heard His voice. Herod Antipas never had Christ preached to Him. No! but in the hour when he trifled with his convictions, in the hour when he chose to keep his braggart oath to Salome, the dancing-girl, in the hour when he made the decision which had its awful consequences—he decided against Christ. He made that decision which ranked him with the men of pride and lust and murder, and when he comes into Christ's presence, the hall-mark of hell is on his face. The decision which determined his fate was made years before he saw the face of Jesus. It was too late then, Christ had no word for him.
—W. M. Clow, The Day of the Gross, p. 43.
References.—XXIII. 7.—Expositor (6th Series), vol. vii. p. 133. XXIII. 7-11.—Ibid. vol. ii. p. 119. XXIII. 8.—Bishop Winnington-Ingram, The Men who Crucify Christ, p. 29. XXIII. 8, 9.—Bishop Alexander, The Great Question, p. 171. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxviii. No. 1645.
Looking for the Wrong Thing
Man is always fond of conjuring and frivolity and entertainment. He divides the word into many different meanings, parts of meanings and applications, but it all comes to the same thing, that man likes to see something, or kill something, or be amused by something, or be entertained in any way, the less costly the better.
I. The case before us is that of Herod. When Pilate knew that Jesus Christ belonged to Herod's jurisdiction he was right glad of it, an immense burden of responsibility was taken off his shoulders. Pilate sent Jesus to Herod, who happened to be at Jerusalem at that time. Never was weary man more glad of unexpected rest than Pilate was when he heard that this illustrious but mysterious Prisoner belonged to some other man's jurisdiction. When Herod saw Jesus he was exceeding glad; it was in very deed the thing he had been waiting for day after day. Kings and rulers cannot rush into the streets to see all the irregular and eccentric characters which perplex the mind of the general populace; so they must have shows by command, and opportunities created by sovereign fiat or by personal charge. When Herod heard that Jesus Christ was actually in the house, he was not only glad, he was exceeding glad; for he was desirous to see Him of a long time, because he had heard many things of Him; he hoped to have seen some miracle done by Him. A miracle all to oneself, a miracle at home, a domestic festival, an opportunity of seeing the Conjurer close at hand, and watching the cunning manipulation, tracing the action of every finger and marking well the expression of the eyes. This was Herod's opportunity. We all have that opportunity according to our varying conception of the term. When Herod saw Jesus he was exceeding glad. It is awful to think that a man may be interested in religion, and yet may be irreligious. There is an irreligious religion; there is an interest in piety which is impious.
II. Jesus does not accept the glittering opportunity, He declines it; He walks on higher levels, He breathes a purer air. But surely Herod was a man worth placating? No. A man?—an insect, a worm. In relation to the eternal God there is no man worth placating in the common vulgar sense of that term. The only man with whom Jesus Christ will speak is the man of a broken heart; a broken and a contrite spirit He will not despise. He who thinks he can do Christ a favour, in the sense of conferring a patronage, has not begun to understand even the outline of the infinite character of the Son of God.
III. We get from Christ just what we bring to Him. If we bring a humble heart to Christ we receive a blessing; if we come behind Him and touch Him with the fingers of faith, then the wound is stanched and our youth is renewed. If we come saying, Lord, I am blind and poor and ignorant, what wouldst Thou have me do? teach me Thy will, O God, and give me grace and strength to obey it all; then Jesus Christ will hold the sun standing still, and the moon shall not depart from Ajalon till the great largess of His heart be poured out upon such suppliant penitence and sincerity. The proud He sendeth empty away. He has no message to pride. The Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost; this Man receiveth sinners and eateth with them. He that is whole needeth not a physician, but he that is sick. Jesus Christ cured the sick, but He never cured a painted wound. The Son of man came to the sick, the afflicted, the sore of heart, but the proud, the respectable, the self-sufficing He sendeth empty away, and after them a wind of contempt.
—Joseph Parker, City Temple Pulpit, vol. ii. p. 61.
References.—XXIII. 9.—A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture—St. Luke, p. 286. XXIII. 11.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxiv. No. 2051. W. H. Evans, Short Sermons for the Seasons, p. 67. J. Watson, The Inspiration of our Faith, p. 108. XXIII. 13-26.—A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture—St. Luke, p. 296.
A passionate mob, with its unearthly admixture of laughter with fury, of vacancy with deadly concentration, is as terrible as some uncouth antediluvian, or the unfamiliar monsters of the sea, or one of the giant plants that make men shudder with mysterious fear.
—John Morley, Miscellanies, vol. i. p. 22.
Thou shalt honour the right man, and not honour the wrong, under penalties of an alarming nature. Honour Barabbas, the Robber, thou shalt sell old clothes through the cities of the world: shalt accumulate sordid moneys, with a curse on every coin of them, and be spit upon for eighteen centuries.
References.—XXIII. 20, 21.—T. Arnold, Sermons, vol. iii. p. 70. XXIII. 20-25.—C. Stanford, The Evening of our Lord's Ministry, p. 289. XXIII. 21.—H. Bonar, Short Sermons for Family Beading, p. 157.
The Prevailing Voice
Every man is, like Pilate, consciously or unconsciously shaping life and quality and destiny by obedience to some voice or other, and the far-reaching test to which each honest soul must apply himself is as to which voice really prevails in his life. To which does he give most diligent heed, and of which is he most afraid when the call to resistance is upon him?
I. For there are clamant voices all round about us, keyed to many notes and loud in their call. Passion, pride, imagination, ambition are all appealed to in turn with varying degrees of strength, and it is a fact of experience that the voice to which obedience is given grows stronger, while simultaneously the remonstrating voice of conscience grows weaker and feebler.
There is the voice of sin, too, that voice which speaks in solitariness, and appeals for that which conscience as instantly condemns. Its call is to a reckless disregard of consequence, and its influence is like that of some sensuous music which hypnotises the senses and makes the hearer an unresisting victim. Like the tiger which has tasted blood and is never again satisfied without it, so sin is relentless in its demands. It constantly cries out concerning Christ, 'Let Him be crucified,' and the man who yields, and allows its voice to prevail over his judgment, his conscience, and his heart, is lost indeed.
II. In contest with all these voices seeking the attention and obedience of our hearts there ever sounds the voice of God, speaking in gentle insistence by Jesus Christ, 'Come'—'Follow'—'Abide'. His voice comes in differing ways and by various media, but is seldom unrecognised by the heart or unattested by the conscience. It sounds in sorrow's muffled peal as in the clash of joy-bells, and rings out in the darkness and in the sunlight alike. The fact that it has so often been unheeded, and that other voices have prevailed over it, never serves to change its entreaty or weaken its emphasis. And blessed is the man of whom it may be said with truth that 'His voice prevailed'. For this is indeed the record of eternal life, when one can say with the conviction borne of an indubitable experience, 'I heard the voice,—I came to Jesus.'
—J. Stuart Holden, The Pre-Eminent Lord, p. 11.
Reference.—XXIII. 24.—W. H. Simcox, The Cessation of Prophecy, p. 287.
Canon Carus tells how this verse proved a finger of light once to Simeon of Cambridge. 'At an early period of his ministry, and when he was suffering severe opposition, he was in much doubt whether it was his duty to remain in Cambridge.... He opened his little Greek Testament, as he thought and intended, in the Epistles, and, finding the book upside down, he discovered he was in the Gospels, and his finger on Luke xxiii. 26, "They laid hold on one Simon (Simeon), and on him they laid the cross," etc. "Then," said Mr. Simeon, "lay it on me, Lord, and I will bear it for Thy sake to the end of my life; and henceforth I bound persecution as a wreath of glory round my brow."' The incident is used also by Mr. Shorthouse in the second chapter of Sir Percival.
References.—XXIII. 26.—W. H. Hutchings, Sermon-Sketches, p. 145. H. R. Mackintosh, Life on God's Plan, p. 242.
The Women of Jerusalem
The evangelist feels that these women are typical of universal womanhood, and that the act and words of Jesus reveal His mind. And so we find three things impressed upon us as we ponder the story. First, the moral and spiritual appeal Jesus makes to womanhood; second, His compassion for womanhood; and third, His message to womanhood. Let us take these in order.
I. The Moral and Spiritual Appeal Jesus makes to Womanhood.—It is a commonplace we should never be weary in repeating and rejoicing over, that between Jesus and women there was an instant and elective sympathy. Thrice only did any word of strong chiding fall from His lips upon a woman's ears. He hushed Mary's too eager prompting at the marriage feast; He reproached Martha for her needless worry for His comfort; and He rebuked the woman who was guilty of indelicate word and offensive cant when she cried, 'Blessed is the womb that bare Thee, and the paps which Thou hast sucked'. But for the women who crowd the Gospel story He has, as a rule, no words but words of peace, and no deed but deeds of grace. The Gospel of Luke—the Gospel of the human and domestic affections—is more apt and eager to mark this innate sympathy than any other.
As long as Jesus walks among the golden candlesticks, as long as He sits down among His worshipping people and makes the place of His feet glorious, as long as He is to be seen, in the visions of the sanctuary, walking in His ineffable holiness and speaking with His voice of pity as He passes to His cross, so long will women respond to His moral and spiritual appeal, and, wiser than the learned, proclaim Him Lord.
II. His Compassion for Womanhood.—Jesus did not disdain these women's tears. They were a solace in His loneliness and sorrow. But He could not suffer them to misinterpret His mind to the dull-minded mob. He was going to His cross in the high elation of His sinlessness, of His unfaltering faith, of His consecration, and of His spiritual desire for men. It is a needless sorrow to overmuch lament the wounds by which the hero wins his triumph, or to mark the way of victorious sacrifice by tears. 'Weep not for Me,' He calls, as He hushes the outburst of wailing.
'Behold the days are coming,' said Jesus to these daughters of Jerusalem. It may be they could as little understand His prophecy as could any of the blind Sadducees who chafed at this interruption in the progress to the cross. But He spoke through them to all generations, and proclaimed His Divine compassion for womanhood in all days that are to come. When a complex civilisation has gathered men and women into its overgrown cities, and compelled its toilers to work in close and dusty factories, at unwholesome trades, and among poisonous materials, has housed them in long lines of mean streets, and set them to eke out existence on a scanty wage, it is the women and children who faint and die under the travail. Who can walk the streets, who can listen to the sad histories of family life, who can witness the stern and losing battle with adverse circumstances, with its haunting fear of miserable poverty; who has ever had revealed to him vexed and disappointed hearts of loving women, who must both work and weep, and not catch the sob in the words of Jesus as He saw these sights down all the centuries, and cries, 'Weep not for Me, but weep for yourselves, and for your children'.
III. His Message to Womanhood.—Jesus had more than this sad prophecy of compassion for these daughters of Jerusalem. He had a message to give to their terrified and trembling hearts. With His unfailing grace He sets it in a familiar proverb, dear as all proverbs are to simple, untutored minds, and so easily remembered, that in the days to come it echoed in their ears: 'For if they do these things in a green tree, what shall be done in the dry?' It is the last message of Jesus, for with these words He ceased His public ministry, and it is a message to womanhood.
The message here is an appeal for prayerfulness, for loyalty to righteousness, for a large-minded and patient charity. Nothing could save Jerusalem now, but if its women will abide in prayer, if they will be loyal to truth and to purity, if they will busy their hands in the holy service of the sick and the poor, they and theirs shall be remembered when the anger of the Lord is kindled against Jerusalem.
That is the ruling note of Christ's message to womanhood. It is not her part to determine the policy of the State, or to sit in the councils of the Church, or to take service in the field, or to join the ranks of the captains of industry. Some few may fill high posts in public life, but they must ever remain few. But it is the woman's part to do something higher, holier, more potent still. It is given to her to see the vision of the green tree and the dry, and by her devoutness and faith, her unflinching allegiance to holiness, and her loving service in home and hospital, and school and street, to redeem the cities from their sin, and turn the thoughts of men to God.
—W. M. Clow, The Day of the Gross, p. 171.
The Revealing Cross
Luke 23:27-31I. The cross is not to excite mere compassion for Him.
II. Let the cross of Christ prophesy judgment.
1. As a human act dragging after it retribution.
2. As a Divine procedure exhibiting God's displeasure against sin. Learn at the cross the goodness and severity of God.
III. Let the cross reveal sin.
3. As revealing judgment, so making the evil more conspicuous.
4. As an act which is the measure of what sin may arrive at.
5. As an act the guilt of which belongs to us all.
IV. Let the cross preach repentance.
Reference.—XXIII. 27-31.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxii. No. 1320.
Ruskin, in the second of his Lectures on Art (secs. 56-58), takes this as the text of a vehement warning against the morbid instinct, fostered by some phases of art, which leads people to lament Christ's past sufferings instead of preventing the present woes of men.
'Try to conceive,' he cries, 'the quantity of time and of excited and thrilling emotion, which have been wasted by the tender and delicate women of Christendom during these last six hundred years, in thus picturing to themselves, under the influence of such imagery, the bodily pain, long since passed, of One Person.... And then try to estimate what might have been the better result, for the righteousness and felicity of mankind, if these same women had been taught the deep meaning of the last words that were ever spoken by their Master to those who had ministered to Him of their substance: "Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for Me, but weep for yourselves, and for your children". If they had been but taught to measure with their pitiful thoughts, the tortures of battlefields—the slowly consuming plagues of death in the starving children, and wasted age, of the innumerable desolate those battles left;—nay, in our own life of peace, the agony of unnurtured, untaught, unhelped creatures, awaking at the grave's edge to know how they should have lived; and the worse pain of those whose existence, not the ceasing of it, is death.' Such, he adds, is one fatal effect of the ministry of mediaeval art to religion, promoting, as it does, the tendency to serve with the best of our hearts and minds, some dear or sad fantasy which we have made for ourselves, while we disobey the present call of the Master, who is not dead, and who is not now fainting under His cross, but requires us to take up ours.
References.—XXIII. 28.—J. Martineau, Endeavours after the Christian Life, p. 25. XXIII. 28-31.—C. Bosanquet, The Consoler and the Sufferer, p. 253. Expositor (5th Series), vol. v. p. 27. XXIII. 30.—T. Arnold, Sermons, vol. iv. p. 214. Expositor (6th Series), vol. v. p. 87. XXIII. 31.—D. Fraser, Metaphors in the Gospels, p. 370. XXIII. 31.—A. T. Robertson, Epochs in the Life of Jesus, p. 145. XXIII. 32.—Expositor (6th Series), vol. i. p. 163. XXIII. 33, 34.—Bishop Gore, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxxvii. p. 209. XXIII. 33.—F. W. Farrar, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlv. p. 209. C. D. Bell, Hills that Bring Peace, p. 313. R. J. Wardell, Preacher's Magazine, vol. xix. p. 317. XXIII. 33-46.—A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture—St. Luke, p. 301.
Father, Forgive Them; for They Know Not What They Do
Let us consider our Divine Master. He carried His Cross unselfishly for others, and thinking of others; but this word is more than unselfish; it is a word of active love. 'Father, forgive them.' This is certainly a first lesson, and we should learn a lesson of love. It is the first, and it is indeed the last; it runs through all.
When the thorns pierced His brow, when the nails pierced His hands and His feet, when the spear pierced His side—these were but so many openings through which the one fountain of His Love might flow.
I. 'Father, forgive them.' Have you any grudge against anybody? If so today forgive. Do you think that you have been over-reached in business, and feel altogether that you have had a hard life of it, that people have not treated you well? Think today: have you been treated as badly as your Lord? It should be enough for the servant to be as His Master, but look up at Him today, look at His life, and see the end, and meditate on His words of unselfish, loving forgiveness.
II. To this prayer of unselfish pardoning love He added a most powerful but awfully suggestive reason—'for they know not what they do'.
What words are these! What a true confession of our ignorance of the injury of sin! They tell us, nay, He tells us by them, that we do not know what harm we are doing when we sin. He tells us this, seeing the full view of sin from the Tree of the Cross.
When the Jews nailed Jesus to the cross they were crucifying the Lord of Glory; when we sin we grieve the Spirit—we persecute Jesus, we deal with His members, we sin against God: this is what the Crucifixion brings out.
Just as when you have been throwing with a stick at apples, and the stick is caught and hangs in the branches, and you cannot get it down, it must remain as a witness against you of your sin. So when we sin on earth we do not see the limit of our sins—they pass beyond our reach, they go higher than we meant, we cannot get them back—they make, as it were, a mark in heaven too high for us to rub out.
But today, children, Jesus Christ has climbed the tree for us: He knows the mystery of sin; He can reach to heaven from the cross; He can and will throw down all the witnesses of our early faults; He can and will rub out the writing against us, though it were written too high for us to reach.
—Bishop Edward King, Meditations on the Last Seven Words.
Father, Forgive Them
'Father.' In that word, uttered with the entire surrender of a perfect correspondence of understanding, affection, will, between the mind of Jesus and the heart of Him from whom He came forth and to whom He goes, lies the secret of the peace of Calvary. It is the first thought of the Redeemer when He is lifted upon the cross; it is the last thought with which He bows His head. Within its large embrace are gathered all the activities of the Crucified—the intercession for sinners, the absolution of the penitent, the ministry to the faithful, the spiritual combat, the bodily pains, the finished work. That dear Name thus twice repeated is the great bracket which holds together the series of the seven words. When the eye rests upon the Almighty Father sitting upon the circle of the earth, upholding the whole sum of existence within the everlasting arms, complete beyond all incompleteness, perfect above all imperfection, then for us love is the abiding background of the universe, and ours is God's peace. 'For I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor princedoms, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God.' 'Who shall separate? 'It was the consciousness of a union which no power could break, of a bond which no force could sever, that breathed in the first word that fell from the lips of the Divine Sufferer.
I. Father, forgive.—The prayer implies forgiveness on the part of Him who prayed. He works, He dies, He forgives. Surely it needs a clearer faith than the vague perception of a possible brotherhood of men to justify this uttermost surrender! Great sacrifices of time, of opportunity, of life, may be made in the promotion of a high ideal. But the love which forgives the malice that has brought ruin upon the highest ideal, and shattered the noblest work the world has ever seen, witnesses to the presence of a peace of mind which knows that failure only seems to be defeat. Cease to believe in the final triumph of goodness, justice, and truth, and you have ceased to love. Cease to hope in the possibility of repentance in the lives of men, and you leave no place for the spirit that forgives. But Christ can say, 'Father, forgive'. There is the unbroken fellowship with God, which is the one true end of human life.
When a man feels that he cannot forgive, his peace is gone; but it is not the malice of his enemies that has robbed him, it is the loss of the vision of the Divine Fatherhood.
II. Father, forgive them.—The intercession of God's Priest was offered for His enemies—not those only, or chiefly, who drove in the nails, but all. 'When we were enemies, we were reconciled.' That cross has no meaning as a universal atonement, if the words of St. Paul are not true. 'We were enemies.' Our position in the Church implies this fact; each sacrament whereof we are partakers is the witness to it. We have been 'brought nigh by the blood of Christ'. The cross is first the intercession of the Son of man on behalf of all. 'Father, forgive them.'
—J. G. Simpson, Christus Crucfixus, p. 269.
The Seven Words From the Cross
I. If ever God's cause seemed lost in this world, it was at the moment when the cross of Jesus was uplifted; and yet that is the very moment when the Eternal Son lifts up His voice in prayer to God—prayer trustful, prayer persevering, prayer selfless.
(1) A trustful prayer; though God seemed to be so far distant, yet Jesus names the dear Name of Father—'Father, forgive them'.
(2) A prayer persevering, for we might have thought that at such a moment as that the very power of prayer was lost in agonising pain, with no sort of privacy but the hard bed of the cross, with the noise of blasphemies and insults in His ears. How ashamed we ought to be of the excuses that we make for ourselves when we do not feel inclined to pray! We say that we have not privacy enough. But Jesus, in spite of every difficulty, perseveres in prayer.
(3) And then it is prayer selfless; it is a prayer for His enemies.
II. By this wondrous prayer, uttered at such a moment, Jesus is the helper of them that doubt You find it hard to believe in the Providence, in the overruling care of God. You see the failure of good causes, you think of the unassuaged wrongs and miseries of the poor and suffering, and you think that God has forsaken the world. But Jesus would have us in the first instance not confuse imagination with knowledge. We know from the Holy Gospel that God does care for every one of His creatures, but we cannot imagine the way in which His Providence acts over so vast a surface. Just as in science we know many things which we cannot imagine, chemical transformations which we cannot picture to ourselves, so it is with the doctrine of the Providence of God, which, though we cannot imagine, we know, we believe.
And then, we must remember not to attempt a generalisation of God's children. This world in which we live is not wholly given over to the powers of the enemy. Everywhere God has His own children. We must never give way to that faithless thought that God has forsaken the world or that He has left Himself without witness.
And then, again, we should always remember that much of the apparent forgetfulness of God which distresses, much of the sin and neglect that vexes our souls, is, after all, due to ignorance. 'They know not what they do.' We can put ourselves by the side of Jesus Christ, and thank and bless His gracious Name that He has brought us relief in one of the most painful and fundamental doubts that can shake the soul.
References.—XXIII. 34.—W. Robertson Nicoll, The Seven Words from the Gross, p. 3. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xv. No. 897, and vol. xxxviii. No. 2263. W. Butterworth, A Book of Lay Sermons, p. 59. A. G. Mortimer, The Chief Virtues of Man, p. 15. J. Keble, Sermons for the Holy Week, p. 247. F. B. Cowl, Preacher's Magazine, vol. xvii. p. 571. Bishop Alexander, Verbum Crucis, p. 31. R. W. Hiley, A Year's Sermons, vol. iii. p. 187. G. W. Brameld, Practical Sermons (2nd Series), p. 137. G. S. Barrett, The Seven Words from the Cross, p. 7. W. H. Simcox, The Cessation of Prophecy, p. 303. R. W. Church, Village Sermons (2nd Series), p. 100. Len. G. Broughton, The Prayers of Jesus, p. 169. Expositor (4th Series), vol. ix. p. 106; ibid. (6th Series), vol. ii. p. 332. A. G. Mortimer, In the Light of the Cross, p. 13. XXIII. 35.—T. Arnold, Christian Life: Its Hopes, p. 279.
'I implore you,' F. W. Robertson writes to a friend, 'do not try morphine, ever; no, not once.... Remember what Maria Theresa said when she began to dose in dying, "I want to meet my God awake"; remember that He refused the medicated opiate on the cross. Meet misery awake.'
References.—XXIII. 39-43.—J. Iverach, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlix. p. 396. E. Bersier, Sermons in Paris, p. 1. J. M. Bleckley, The Christian Armour, p. 57. G. Body, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lix. p. 174. C. Perren, Revival Sermons in Outline, p. 132. Expositor, 5th Series, vol. iii. p. 215. XXIII. 39-44.—S. H. Fleming, Fifteen Minute Sermons for the People, p. 18. XXIII. 39, 45.—Bishop Gore, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxxvii. p. 210. XXIII. 40, 41.—E. A. Stuart, His Dear Son, and other Sermons, vol. v. p. 185. XXIII. 40-42.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxii. No. 1881. XXIII. 41.—C. S. Home, The Soul's Awakening, p. 107. J. Keble, Sermons for Septuagesima to Ash Wednesday, p. 31. R. W. Church, Village Sermons (3rd Series), p. 125. M. G. Glazebrook, Prospice, p. 1.
Christ Remembering Penitents
Of all our Lord's seven last words, none is fuller of comfort than that which He spake to the penitent thief. And certainly the faith of this thief was greater than any other faith of which we read, either in the Bible or in the history of the Church, to this time. The faith which enabled the martyrs to triumph over agony, to yield themselves to wild beasts, to stand without shrinking in the flames, to be filled with joy on the rack, to be stoned, sawn asunder, destitute, afflicted, tormented, that faith—I may say it boldly, cannot be compared to the wonderful power of the grace of God then shown in the dying thief.
He speaks of a kingdom, and a kingdom into which the seeming malefactor at His side was about to enter, and in which He Himself hoped to be remembered, was there ever—so it must have seemed to the Jews—such madness? 'Lord, remember me when Thou comest into Thy kingdom.' When Thou comest. Why, there is not one of us who, to an earthly eye, has not a better hope of a kingdom than our Lord then had. When Thou comest? Surely to have said, If Thou comest, If Thou be the Son of God, would have been astonishing faith. But now, to make no doubt, to take the thing for granted, to have no kind of reasoning about it, but to make a prayer upon it, this truly is the greatest miracle of grace that ever was, and probably that ever will be.
David says, 'Thy Word is tried to the uttermost, and Thy servant loveth it'. Now our Lord's Word had been, 'Him that cometh unto Me, I will in no wise cast out'. This prayer of the thief was indeed a trial of its truth to the uttermost. He came to our Lord, and he was not cast out.
I. He prays to be remembered. That were much. Many who promise in misery forget their promise in happiness. 'Think of me,' says Joseph in prison to the butler, 'when it shall be well with thee; and make mention of me unto Pharaoh, and bring me out of this house.' And what follows? 'Yet did not the chief butler remember Joseph but forgat him.' But our Lord, of whom this chief butler was but a type (for He trod the wine-press alone, He giveth that wine that truly maketh glad the heart of man, His own precious blood), our Lord promises far more than this. 'Remember me,' is the prayer of the thief; 'thou shalt be with Me in Paradise,' is the answer of the Saviour. He that has pronounced a blessing on them who shall take in the stranger, took in this stranger into no worse a house than His own.
II. And then as to the time. All that was asked was, 'When Thou comest into Thy Kingdom': whenever that might be: years to come, perhaps hundreds of years to come; and Christ answers him—'To-day'.
III. 'Thou shalt be with Me in Paradise.' It is the first faint view of 'the land that is very far off'. It is like a distant sight of a lovely country. We are not there yet; we hardly know whether we may ever hope to be there at all; but we know that there is such a land. I was once in a ship voyaging to an island not far from the west of Africa. We had been out many days, we had been exceedingly tossed with a tempest; and at the beginning of a stormy evening, in one gleam of sunshine, the man at the masthead made out the land. Night came down and shut it out from us; but we knew it was there, and rejoiced in the hope of reaching it.
So as to the thief. Our Lord goes forth as a champion to meet the prince of the powers of this world. He had not conquered him then, but yet He speaks certainly of victory. If the thief is to be with him in Paradise, He must needs be there Himself; if there Himself, He must have overcome Satan; for He could not reign till He had conquered.
O happy malefactor, that thus, at the last hour, was heard, and like a most blessed thief, stole the kingdom of heaven!
—J. M. Neale, Sermons in Sackville College Chapel, vol. i. p. 206.
The Penitent Malefactor
The one absorbing thought in the mind of this man who is moved by the Holy Ghost, is to show us a soul passing from darkness into marvellous light, from death unto life, from the power of Satan unto God.
I. 'Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound.' There is a way to heaven from the very gate of hell. There is no soul so sunken in sin and given over by the shallow heart of man but one glimpse of the mercy of God may restore him. Listen to the way in which Browning puts this truth, as he tells the story of a man of whom the best despaired, a man whom fox-like cunning and wolf-like ferocity had possessed:—
For the main criminal I have no hope
Except in such a suddenness of Fate.
I stood at Naples once, a night so dark
I could have scarce conjectured there was earth
Anywhere, sky or sea, or world at all;
But the night's black was burst through by a blaze—
Thunder struck blow on blow, earth groaned and bore,
Through her whole length of mountains visible;
There lay the city thick and plain with spires,
And, like a ghost dis-shrouded, white the sea.
So may the truth be flashed out by one blow
And Guido see, one instant, and be saved.
—(The Ring and the Book, Pope, III. 147.)
That sets this great experience for us. This malefactor saw one instant, and was saved. He hung upon the cross, at first in torpor, for the wine mingled with myrrh had done its stupefying work. But as his awful agony asserted itself, he fixed his eyes upon his fellow-sufferer. He marked His grace. He saw a sight he never saw before. There, in loneliness, hung One on whose face was imprinted the ineffaceable beauty of holiness. There He hung, and heard the taunts and derision of priest and ruler and passer-by, yet He reviled not again. And as he looks, lo! like a soft, sweet music that rises and hushes every coarse and clamouring sound, His voice is heard in prayer: 'Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do'. The great, long bound heart of this man stirred within him. Like the Arctic world, after the dreary winter, when the summer sun has come, a new life began to leap within him. You can trace in his words the very birth of his soul.
II. Now this story is teeming with spiritual truth beating directly on the rise and progress of religion in the soul. Let me ask you to think first of the suddenness of a spiritual change. This malefactor was led to his cross at some hour before noon. He walked to Golgotha with cursing in his heart, in the defiance of despair, looking out to the darkness of death. He hung upon the cross with the second death—that awful shadow beyond death itself—casting its chill upon him, yet in an instant the great spiritual change passed upon him, and in three hours after he is living in the light of God, with penitent confession, lowly ascription of honour, imploring prayers upon his lips, and the grace of God, like a well of cleansing water, springing up in his heart.
Mark, in the second place, the swiftness of spiritual growth. This malefactor, as we have seen, was a noble theologian, the only discerning Christian thinker of his day, a man who knew with more than Peter's knowledge, and saw with more than John's vision. But we can make an even greater claim for him. He was justified by faith alone. He was snatched as a brand from the burning, and yet it can be made clear that in those few hours he hung beside Jesus, he grew into the ripest saint, the man on earth meetest for heaven. For what makes a man a saint? A tender conscience, a deep reverence for God, a devout submission to His will, a heart lifted above the power of the world, scorning its gifts and advantages, a complete dependence on God, a vivid sense of the world unseen, a humble trust in Christ, relinquishing all personal merit, a whole-hearted zeal for His honour, and an absorbing craving for His fellowship. These things make a saint wherever they are found, and all these grew to strength and beauty in the soul of this malefactor in that short afternoon, while his life-blood ebbed away.
But the truth which engrosses all our hearts, as we read this amazing story, is that there is hope for the worst of sinners. Here is the most unlikely man, under the most unlikely circumstances, saved by the grace of God in Christ. After a youth of waywardness, and a manhood of crime, he is seized and held when on the very edge of his doom.
—W. M. Clow, The Day of the Cross, p. 227.
References.—XXIII. 42.—J. Edwards, Preacher's Magazine, vol. x. p. 128. S. Baring-Gould, Village Preaching for a Year, vol. ii. p. 213. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture—St. Luke, p. 306.
A Saved Soul and a Lost Life
This story brings to us a twofold message. I see in it the beckoning finger of encouragement; I see in it also the uplifted finger of warning. His soul was saved but his life was lost; Christ seeks to save both our soul and our life. Let us look at these two points in turn for a moment.
I. The encouragement Exactly what this penitent robber knew of Christ we do not know: at most it could be but little. And yet, though he knew not even what he said, and though his prayer dropped from lips already white with death, Christ heard and saved him: 'To-day shalt thou be with Me in Paradise'. To all God offers to forgive the sin of the past and to give strength for the future; and He offers to do it now. Christ never spurns a true cry for pardon. What I fear is not lest a day should come when Christ will be deaf, but a day when you will be dumb; not that He will say 'No' to your prayer, but that you will not care to pray. Now, now, though it be the eleventh hour, though the candle of life have burnt to the socket, though you have nothing to offer God but the fragments that remain from a misspent life, yet even now if you will He will receive you, and whatsoever of good His love can bring to sinful men, He will give to you.
II. We turn from the encouragement to the warning. 'One was saved upon the cross,' says an old divine, 'that none might despair; and only one that none might presume.' The robber's soul was saved, but his life was lost. But God seeks to save not only our soul but our life—our days, our years, our strength for service. I want to tell you why you should come to Christ now. (1) It will save you from vain and bitter regrets in after life. (2) And further, I want you to come to Christ now because, coming to Him, you will be saved for earnest service. I have no greater quarrel with sin than this, that it unfits men for this high service. In some churchyard in Germany two tombstones stand side by side; on the one it is written Vergeben, 'Forgiven,' on the other Vergebens, 'In vain'. If I had to write an epitaph for some, I think I would write both Vergeben and Vergebens.
God asks your life while the bloom is on it; will you wait to give it Him till it is a poor, withered, shrivelled thing?
—G. Jackson, First Things First, p. 237.
References.—XXIII. 42, 43.—C. Kingsley, The Good News of God, p. 291. J. Bunting, Sermons, vol. ii. pp. 190 and 205. Bishop Alexander, Verbum Crucis, p. 39. A. Bradley, Sermons Chiefly on Character, p. 114. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxv. No. 2078. W. M. Clow, The Day of the Cross, p. 311.
Today Shalt Thou Be with Me in Paradise
The more one studies our Lord's life, the more one is able to see that He did all things well, and the more, also, one finds out that, in gentleness and quietness, He was doing all things in due order and in due time. So we may venture perhaps to trace even in the midst of this most terrible battle on the battlefield of the cross, a calmness and an order and a gentle taking up of events.
We saw in the first word our Lord spoke of those who were still His enemies, those who were persecuting Him and crucifying Him: He prayed for them. Now, in the second word, He comes as it were a little nearer to Himself, and He addresses His words to one who had been a great enemy, but who now had turned. It is the word, you know, to the penitent thief—'This day shalt thou be with Me in Paradise'. It is addressed to one not now His enemy, but to one who had been His enemy. And it is a word of comfort, of assurance, and of love.
I. This man, whose penitence was, like St. Peter's, complete, threw his heart at the feet of our Lord, and challenged His Omniscient Love to unravel and explain the circumstances which were so dead against him. St. Peter said, 'Lord, Thou knowest all things; Thou knowest that I love Thee'. Circumstances and appearances are against me, the penitent thief must have felt; but he was brave and trustful, and exclaimed:'Lord, remember me; remember all my life; do not forget a bit of it; for if any other should take it up and bring it forward, if it is brought before the judgment-seat by any hand but Thine, I am lost. Remember every act, word, thought, remember it all; "Remember me when Thou comest into Thy kingdom".'
He would have all known, and all remembered; because he had no doubt at all of the measurement of the Cross of Christ—the length, and breadth, and height, and depth, was the measure of His infinite love, which went beyond the robber's life. He wished it to be remembered, and he was not afraid of it. 'I have no fear to tell you what I was, being what I am,' is one of the brave utterances of an English poet. And this penitent thief could take it up: 'I have no fear to remember what I was, being what I am—a penitent believer in Jesus. That is all in all to me. I care not for the rest,' and you know the answer—so quick the love flows—'Verily I say unto you, To-day shalt thou be with Me in Paradise'.
II. I cannot leave the word 'Remember' without giving one more thought of hope. What a proof it is that the soul after death still lives. Our Lord must have been a mere mocker if He did not mean that the penitent thief though dead would live. And surely it means more than that when He said, 'To-day shalt thou be with Me in Paradise'. He meant not that his soul should be with Him in sleep; when He said, 'To-day shalt thou be with Me,' He expressed the conscious presence of two awakened personalities. 'To-day shalt thou be with Me in Paradise' was deceitful language unless it meant that the soul of the penitent thief should be conscious of the presence of Jesus.
Yes, this word 'To-day shalt thou be with Me in Paradise 'gives us a firm, strong hope that those who have gone before in the faith of Christ are happy in His presence. Oh, let none despair then. Here was a robber up to the end of his life; he threw himself without any reservation on the heart of Jesus; He accepted him at once, and pledged His word that that day they should be together in Paradise.
—Bishop Edward King, Meditations on the Seven Last Words.
The Penitent Thief
Below the cross the soldiers are dicing and shouting and quarrelling. The priests jeer and scoff. The women stand afar off and watch. The crowd are scanning with curious eyes the sufferers upon the crosses, and above what strange things are happening! What words are passing between one and the other? What is it which God looks down upon with so much pleasure, which the angels rejoice to see?
I. A Soul Come Back.—It is a soul come home, come back. I would ask you to see for a moment that here we have a wonderful illustration of how God seeks and wins. This man was not penitent; he was a robber, going about in those bands which haunted the mountains of Judea, just as years and years ago there were bands of robbers infesting the forests in this country. Often young men, who were wild and got themselves into trouble, would join these bands of robbers for the sake of adventure. It may be that this man was one like that, and God had been seeking him, seeking him all his life, through his home life, through the prayers of his mother, through all the many ways in which God pleads for the soul, and yet he had remained hardened, he had still been untouched. What shall win him back, what shall bring him back to his God? Then he was to suffer death as a criminal; he was to be hanged upon a cross as a felon. Was it too late, then? Was there no chance that this man might yet be touched? There was only one way—that God should place His own Son on the cross next to him. So God sent His Son to the cross for that robber. It was the last appeal that could be made, and it was the last appeal which won. Is it not something like that in our own lives? God is seeking each one of us; He has sought us all our lives. God makes a last appeal to us. He brings His own Blessed Son to die on the cross next to us that we may witness His suffering; and we humbly pray, 'Lord, remember me!' and the blessing comes back swift and sure, 'To-day, today shalt thou be with Me in Paradise'.
II. The Cross as the Divider of Men.—Again, there is another thought which is suggested, How the cross divides men! Is it not strange that the only man who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ at that moment in the world, the only one who really believed in Christ, was the dying robber upon the cross! All the others had gone. The Disciples had fled. A few women in their tenderness and love stood at a distance from the cross. They had lost all hope; only the robber could say, 'I believe'. There was the cross a dividing power amongst men. These two men, the two malefactors, crucified one on one side and the other on the other, had witnessed the same suffering, had had the same appeal made to each of them. They had heard the same prayer; and yet what was the effect? The one was made penitent and the other was hardened. And the same spectacle is going on all through the ages.
III. The Appeal to the Individual.—Let us remember that the greatest obstacle to our coming to God is not sin in its outward form, but sin and self-righteousness. 'Lord, remember me!' How the cry rings out! 'I am suffering and deserve it' Was there ever a greater confession of sin than that? 'Lord, remember me!' Was not that a great, stirring appeal of faith? And the answer was as sure and certain, 'To-day shalt thou be with Me in Paradise'.
The Penitent Thief
Luke 23:43I. We have here a wondrous revelation of the unseen world.
II. We have here the utterance of kingly conscious ness of power.
III. We have also a royal and loving answer to penitence and faith.
References.—XXIII. 43.—W. Robertson Nicoll, The Seven Words from the Cross, p. 21. A. G. Mortimer, The Chief Virtues of Man, p. 31. J. Keble, Sermons for the Holy Week, p. 268. F. Harper, Preacher's Magazine, vol. v. p. 30. G. Body, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlv. p. 113. T. F. Crosse, Sermons, p. 88. J. J. Blunt, Plain Sermons (3rd Series), p. 35. G. S. Barrett, The Seven Words from the Cross, p. 23. S. H. Fleming, Fifteen Minute Sermons for the People, p. 22. J. M. Neale, Sermons for Some Feast Days in the Christian Year, p. 369. F. E. Paget, Helps and Hindrances to the Christian Life, vol. i. p. 160. Expositor (4th Series), vol. iii. p. 254; ibid. vol. x. p. 447; ibid. (5th Series), vol. vii. p. 222. A. G. Mortimer, In the Light of the Cross, p. 20. XXIII. 44.—Expositor (4th Series), vol. vii. p. 216. XXIII. 44-46.—Bishop Gore, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxxvii. p. 214. XXIII. 46.—Expositor (5th Series), vol. ii. p. 313.
Into Thy Hands
The first word from the cross breathed the calm of an unbroken communion between the Father and the Son, which made the sufferings of the wounded body of Jesus an act of intercession for the transgressors. And the last expresses the sweet surrender of the loyal spirit into the hands of its faithful guardian. The peace of a perfect love and the peace of a finished work blend in the peace of a perfect trust, as the life 'which drew from out the boundless deep turns again home'.
The first thought that springs out of this last word is a very obvious one. Jesus came forth from God and goeth to God. That is the explanation of His whole career; it is the interpretation alike of His loving ministry and of His perfect life.
The last words of Jesus convey 'no sadness of farewell'. In the old Greek tragedy Aias, the warrior king, passes out in the night of self-destruction, with a pathetic lament for 'the light of golden day,' and the 'sacred land that was my home': 'To you that fed my life I bid farewell'.
What a contrast is this hopeless misery to the quiet confidence of the Son of man. When the sun is going down toward the west, beyond the roofs and towers of Jerusalem, and the evening shadows creep gently up over the braes of Olivet, the dying Saviour greets the dawn of the endless day and commits Himself to the guardianship of His eternal home: 'Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit'.
Two facts account for the striking contrast: (1) the revelation of Fatherhood, (2) the unique character of Christ's surrender of life.
I. If the ultimate fact of all existence be neither force nor fate but fatherhood, then there can be no death except separation from the living will that loves. Dr. Newman has a sermon, the title of which is The Thought of God the Stay of the Soul. That surely is the truth. 'Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die,' is a philosophy that brings no satisfaction. From the bodily life men turn to the society of their fellows; the intercourse of friendship, the affections of the family, the love of home. But these too pass away, for 'man that is born of a woman hath but a short time to live'. But to call Him Father who exists behind all change, is to find rest.
II. The unique character of Jesus' death.
When we speak of a man's exit from the world, we say 'he died' or 'he breathed his last'. If it be a person of more than ordinary piety whose death we record, we say 'he entered into rest,' or 'he fell asleep'. None of these expressions are used by the evangelists to describe the death of Jesus. St. Matthew says, 'He let go His spirit,' St John, 'He bowed His head and yielded up His spirit'. And it is clear that much more is implied in the words of commendation which Christ borrows from the thirty-first Psalm than they originally meant or have been employed by others to mean. Some men have cheerfully acquiesced in the necessity of dying. Others have chosen the manner, method, or time of death. But the death of the Son of man, as the Gospel writers present it to us, is as willing, as self-determined, as free as the acceptance or refusal of any of the ordinary duties of life. It is the obedience of a glad mind to a Divine call. 'I lay it down of Myself.' 'No man taketh it from Me.' In committing His spirit as a deposit to the hands of His Father, Christ exercises the free right of disposition which is His. His confidence is the peace of an unflinching loyalty. His own implicit faithfulness is the measure of His implicit trust in the utter faithfulness of God.
—J. G. Simpson, Christus Crucifixus, p. 295.
Once more ere the end the Son's heart turned to the Father. He had commenced with the appeal to the Father; He closed His life with His Father in His mind. None of us can read the story of His life in the Gospels without realising how often that word 'Father' was on His lips. It was that word 'Father' which summed up the whole purpose of His life.
I. The Removal of Sin.—And it suggests, first of all, that here is the result of the removal of sin. Through the darkness He was bearing the curse of sin as He had borne it at no other time. Then, having made atonement, having borne the curse, having taken it away, having made a living new way by which men might approach and come back to God, it is not 'My God,' but it is 'Father'. So it is with us. You and I will never know the depths of love there is in the word 'Father' as applied to God until we know what it is to partake in the atonement which Christ has made; you and I will never know the depths of love which the Father can lavish upon His children until we know something of our Lord's blessed redemption and atonement.
II. The Purpose of Life.—And yet, again, that word 'Father' seems to sum up the whole purpose of our Blessed Lord's life. You remember how constantly He was saying 'I go to My Father'. Now the time has come when he is going to His Father. If you and I could have that same thought in our minds, do you not think that as we look upon our lives it would unravel many of the mysteries? We are faced with so many problems, but our Lord saw no mystery in them. He saw no mystery in suffering and pain as He shared it It was quite plain. Why? Because of this great fact of Fatherhood, because He could appeal to God as His father; therefore He understood it. If you and I could understand in our daily lives the meaning of these words, 'I go to My Father,' what a help it would be to us! If our faith were only large enough, these words would be a help to us, would supply us with a purpose in our lives if we understood them. The small vexations of our daily life are but part of the discipline of the child on the journey. We know that the end of all things is the Father. That is the summary of life, that is its final climax. So these words come to us as supplying a rich purpose in our lives.
III. The Source of Comfort.—Not only that, but they also come to us in words of comfort The death of Jesus has been called a magnificent and royal procession, and yet how He shuddered and shrank from it! You and I need not think that we are faithless because we have a fear of death. Most of us have that, and, believe me, the more we realise what life is, the more we realise what life can be, the more we realise that our bodies are the temples of the living God, the more, perhaps, will that fear of death come to us. Yet, when that time comes, when all is done, if we have lived with the conscious presence of God, we can look back and say, 'It is finished'. And Christ, because He has been before us, will give us strength to have the same prayer upon our lips, 'Father, Thou with Whom I have lived my life, Thou with Whom I have had such joy, Thou Who hast been my Father here on earth, I commend my spirit into Thy hands'.
Jesus, the Helper of the Dying
Jesus, the Helper of the dying. Let us try to remember those who are dying, who axe appointed to death, who are nigh unto death. Let us pray our Blessed Saviour that He will speak the word of comfort, of light, of assurance, to those who are drawing nigh to the dark shadow of death. For there is a question which we ask with trembling breath, the question which now and then arises and seems to shake our souls—Is there hope in death? Do those we have lost still live? The last words of Jesus give us the answer, an answer which we cannot mistake. Yes; the soul lives. 'Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit.'
I think our Saviour helps us very simply by dwelling on two fundamental truths of religion which we are very apt in the strain and stress of life to forget or overlook.
I. First of all there is the true Fatherhood of God. If God seems other to us than a Father, if He seems a hard taskmaster or tyrant, if He seems to us a relentless force that carries us we know not where, we have yet to learn the chief lesson which Jesus came to teach; and if that great truth is to sustain us at death, as it has sustained so many, we must learn to grasp it and make it our own now. If you once begin honestly and whole-heartedly to believe in the Fatherhood of God, you are on the way to become one of those who adore the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, and who find their freedom and their joy and their blessedness in the ancient faith of the sons of God from the beginning. Hold fast, then, to the Fatherhood of God. There you shall find a secret that shall transfigure life.
II. And the other great truth that Jesus would have us remember to hold fast throughout life is the reality of spiritual things. You have only got to look within you, and there you find the presence of your Lord Jesus Christ. If you have only got a longing to serve God better, that longing is His gift, whereas if you know that you have the spirit of your Father within you, you need no other evidence that He is at work in the world, and that God Himself is your God, your Father, your 'Guide, even unto death'. Every Christian man and woman lives in two worlds. There is this world that surrounds us and hems us in so closely that it seems, as it were, to shut out the sight and the thought of God. And yet there is another world. The Christian is in London, just as of old he was in Galilee, in Philippi, in Rome, in Ephesus; but he is also in Christ. There is his true Home.
And here is our comfort, our last word of comfort, as we think of the dead. We and they are alike in Christ—one in Christ as our Home, as the atmosphere in which we walk and move, and they also are in Christ.
So we think of the Blessed Saviour dying and going to make a home for us. He died for all, that they that live should no longer live unto themselves, but unto Him that died, and rose again.
Into the Hands of God
Luke 23:46I. We here listen to the voice of a Son.
II. The voice of perfect trust and perfect obedience We do not sufficiently think of Christ's life as a life of faith. His life was a true human life and His death a true human death; hence He is our pattern and example here as well as our sacrifice. We, too, may share in His clear consciousness of falling into God's hands.
III. Here speaks the Lord of Life and Death. The words must be taken in their fullest sense as expressive of His voluntary act.
This verse was often upon Luther's lips as he lay dying. 'I shall yield up my spirit,' he said, as the last agony seized him. Then he cried aloud to God, 'Take my poor soul into Thy hands,' and almost his last effort was to repeat quickly in Latin three times the words, Father, into Thy hands I commend my spirit, for Thou hast redeemed me, O Lord God, of truth.
References.—XXIII. 46.—A. G. Mortimer, In the Light of the Cross, p. 57. Len. G. Broughton, The Prayers of Jesus, p. 191. Bishop Alexander, Verbum Crucis, p. 101. A. G. Mortimer, The Chief Virtues of Man, p. 101. G. Body, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lix. p. 225. G. S. Barrett, The Seven Words from the Cross, p. 111. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxix. No. 2311, and vol. xlv. No. 2644. Expositor (5th Series), vol. iii. p. 223; ibid. vol. vii. p. 270; ibid. (6th Series), vol. ii. p. 74; ibid. vol. iv. p. 376. XXIII. 48.—F. E. Paget, Helps and Hindrances to the Christian Life, vol. i. p. 151. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xv. No. 860. XXIII. 50.—Expositor (5th Series), vol. iv. p. 167. XXIII. 50, 51.—T. F. Crosse, Sermons, p. 1. XXIII. 54.—J. M. Whiton, Summer Sermons, p. 3. XXIII. 55.—J. Keble, Sermons for the Holy Week, p. 215. XXIII. 55, 56.—Ibid. p. 205.
In such simple and beautiful words does the evangelist record the action of the devout women. He tells you how these faithful followers of Christ had come—after that awful Friday evening when His body was taken from the Cross of Shame—to perform their last tribute, as they thought, to His sacred memory. And even in this loving act of anointing His sacred body with precious spices, they were heedful to keep holy the Sabbath Day, and were careful to get this, their work of devotion, done so that they might spend the day in rest and devotion.
The Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath, but this cannot be considered to read that man can do anything he likes on the Sabbath, otherwise you might say, 'Speech was made for man, and therefore a man can say what he likes, good or bad; he is at liberty to praise or to blaspheme'. He has the power, truly, and he has the power to reverence or to profane the Sabbath, but he is responsible for the way he uses that power, and he will one day have to render up an account of his deeds.
I. A Few Facts about the Sabbath.—It is part of a God-given moral law for all time that cannot be set aside without grave danger to the individual and the community. Remember, too, that it was given for a certain purpose, and if it is spent in accordance with the will of God, it will most certainly bring the blessing of God in its train. Even as the old teaching has it, 'A Sabbath well spent brings a week of content'. It should be a sign-post in the journey of life that tells us something of our start and destination. It is our duty and our privilege to keep holy the Sabbath Day as did the faithful women and the Holy Apostles of the Lord. It should be a haven of rest from the storm and stress of our week of toil and care. The great William Wilberforce once said: 'Oh, what a blessing is Sunday, interposed between the world of business. There is nothing about which I can advise you to be more strictly conscientious than keeping the Sabbath Day holy. I can truly declare that to me the Sabbath has been invaluable.' There were few men who had to pass through more stress and worry than William Wilberforce. When he set himself the task of freeing the slaves he had all the world against him.
II. The Sabbath is Meant to be a Day of Rest.—We all know that man's nature is threefold—body, mind, and spirit. When God gave us the Sabbath, he gave it to bo a rest for each part of our nature.
(a) Rest for the body. There is a cessation of all toil and labour. Thank God for that! How beautiful it is to go into the country on a summer evening where, on all hands, you see the evidence of blessed, peaceful rest! Lord Macaulay says: 'We are not poorer but richer because, through many ages, we have rested one day in seven. That day is not lost while industry is suspended, while the plough lies idle in the furrow. A process is going on quite as important as is performed on more busy days.' Man returns to his labours on the Monday with a clearer intellect and livelier spirits.
(b) Rest for the mind. Some people will say, 'When I have been busy all the week, I like to go out on Sunday and play cricket or golf. It does me so much more good than going to church.' I quite agree that there is more physical exercise, and bodily exercise certainly profiteth for a little time, but 'Godliness is profitable unto all things, having the promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come'. If you mean to tell me, honestly and sincerely, that Sunday exercise benefits not only your body, but your mind and spirit, then go and take it, but how about those other people whose rest and worship is destroyed by your selfish pleasure? How about the example you are setting to weaker brethren? When do you worship God in prayer? When do you study His Word? When do you work in His service? Think!
(c) Rest for the soul. How many aching voids there are in the lives of all of us! That is why Jesus said so divinely, 'Come unto Me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest'. And He says, 'Where two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in their midst'. Do you go to God's house to seek rest? 'Seek and ye shall find.' I would like to close with a little anecdote. A gentleman was inspecting a house in Newcastle with a view to occupying it as a residence. The landlord took him to the principal window and expatiated on the beautiful prospect. 'You can see Durham Cathedral from this window on Sunday,' he said. 'Why on Sunday above any other day? 'The reply was conclusive: 'Because on that day there is no smoke from those tall chimneys'. Blessed is the Sabbath to us, when the earth's smoke of care and turmoil no longer beclouds our view.
References.—XXIV. 1.—Expositor (6th Series), vol. viii. p. 348. XXIV. 1, 2.—A. P. Stanley, Sermons on Special Occasions, p. 43. XXIV. 1-12.—A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture—St. Luke, p. 318.
And they began to accuse him, saying, We found this fellow perverting the nation, and forbidding to give tribute to Caesar, saying that he himself is Christ a King.
And Pilate asked him, saying, Art thou the King of the Jews? And he answered him and said, Thou sayest it.
Then said Pilate to the chief priests and to the people, I find no fault in this man.
And they were the more fierce, saying, He stirreth up the people, teaching throughout all Jewry, beginning from Galilee to this place.
When Pilate heard of Galilee, he asked whether the man were a Galilaean.
And as soon as he knew that he belonged unto Herod's jurisdiction, he sent him to Herod, who himself also was at Jerusalem at that time.
And when Herod saw Jesus, he was exceeding glad: for he was desirous to see him of a long season, because he had heard many things of him; and he hoped to have seen some miracle done by him.
Then he questioned with him in many words; but he answered him nothing.
And the chief priests and scribes stood and vehemently accused him.
And Herod with his men of war set him at nought, and mocked him, and arrayed him in a gorgeous robe, and sent him again to Pilate.
And the same day Pilate and Herod were made friends together: for before they were at enmity between themselves.
And Pilate, when he had called together the chief priests and the rulers and the people,
Said unto them, Ye have brought this man unto me, as one that perverteth the people: and, behold, I, having examined him before you, have found no fault in this man touching those things whereof ye accuse him:
No, nor yet Herod: for I sent you to him; and, lo, nothing worthy of death is done unto him.
I will therefore chastise him, and release him.
(For of necessity he must release one unto them at the feast.)
And they cried out all at once, saying, Away with this man, and release unto us Barabbas:
(Who for a certain sedition made in the city, and for murder, was cast into prison.)
Pilate therefore, willing to release Jesus, spake again to them.
But they cried, saying, Crucify him, crucify him.
And he said unto them the third time, Why, what evil hath he done? I have found no cause of death in him: I will therefore chastise him, and let him go.
And they were instant with loud voices, requiring that he might be crucified. And the voices of them and of the chief priests prevailed.
And Pilate gave sentence that it should be as they required.
And he released unto them him that for sedition and murder was cast into prison, whom they had desired; but he delivered Jesus to their will.
And as they led him away, they laid hold upon one Simon, a Cyrenian, coming out of the country, and on him they laid the cross, that he might bear it after Jesus.
And there followed him a great company of people, and of women, which also bewailed and lamented him.
But Jesus turning unto them said, Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for me, but weep for yourselves, and for your children.
For, behold, the days are coming, in the which they shall say, Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bare, and the paps which never gave suck.
Then shall they begin to say to the mountains, Fall on us; and to the hills, Cover us.
For if they do these things in a green tree, what shall be done in the dry?
And there were also two other, malefactors, led with him to be put to death.
And when they were come to the place, which is called Calvary, there they crucified him, and the malefactors, one on the right hand, and the other on the left.
Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do. And they parted his raiment, and cast lots.
And the people stood beholding. And the rulers also with them derided him, saying, He saved others; let him save himself, if he be Christ, the chosen of God.
And the soldiers also mocked him, coming to him, and offering him vinegar,
And saying, If thou be the king of the Jews, save thyself.
And a superscription also was written over him in letters of Greek, and Latin, and Hebrew, THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS.
And one of the malefactors which were hanged railed on him, saying, If thou be Christ, save thyself and us.
But the other answering rebuked him, saying, Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation?
And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss.
And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom.
And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise.
And it was about the sixth hour, and there was a darkness over all the earth until the ninth hour.
And the sun was darkened, and the veil of the temple was rent in the midst.
And when Jesus had cried with a loud voice, he said, Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit: and having said thus, he gave up the ghost.
Now when the centurion saw what was done, he glorified God, saying, Certainly this was a righteous man.
And all the people that came together to that sight, beholding the things which were done, smote their breasts, and returned.
And all his acquaintance, and the women that followed him from Galilee, stood afar off, beholding these things.
And, behold, there was a man named Joseph, a counseller; and he was a good man, and a just:
(The same had not consented to the counsel and deed of them;) he was of Arimathaea, a city of the Jews: who also himself waited for the kingdom of God.
This man went unto Pilate, and begged the body of Jesus.
And he took it down, and wrapped it in linen, and laid it in a sepulchre that was hewn in stone, wherein never man before was laid.
And that day was the preparation, and the sabbath drew on.
And the women also, which came with him from Galilee, followed after, and beheld the sepulchre, and how his body was laid.
And they returned, and prepared spices and ointments; and rested the sabbath day according to the commandment.