Expositor's Dictionary of Texts
And straightway in the morning the chief priests held a consultation with the elders and scribes and the whole council, and bound Jesus, and carried him away, and delivered him to Pilate.Mark 15:5
There are few tests of a man's spiritual condition more searching and decisive than the temper with which he bears unmerited insult and railing speech. I do not refer to mere self-command, to the self-respect which forbids an answer in kind, and imposes an external calmness of manner on a swelling indignation within.... The question is not one of self-mastery under, but of superiority to, insult, which feels no anger or resentment at insolence or contempt; and this not from an abject or craven spirit, but from living on a plane of feeling up to which personal insult does not reach. This equanimity in no wise prejudges the question whether injurious language should not be reproved, and in some cases punished; as by a judge for contempt of court. We are only concerned with that serenity of spirit which is not touched or wounded by opprobrious speech, and all will admit it is a very rare gift.
—Mr. Cotter Morison's Service of Man, iii.
A certain People, once upon a time, clamorously voted by overwhelming majority 'Not he; Barabbas! not he! Him, and what He is, and what He deserves, we know well enough; a reviler of the chief priests and sacred chancery wigs; a seditious heretic, physical force chartist, and enemy of His country and mankind: To the gallows and the cross with Him! Barabbas is our man; Barabbas! we are for Barabbas!' They got Barabbas;—have you well considered what a fund of purblind obduracy, of opaque flunkeyism grown truculent and transcendent; what an eye for the phylacteries, and want of eye for the eternal noblenesses; sordid loyalty to the prosperous semblances, and high treason against the supreme Fact, such a vote betokens in these natures? For it was the consummation of a long series of such; they and their fathers had long kept voting so. A singular People, who could both produce such Divine men, and then could so stone and crucify them; a People terrible from the beginning! Well, they got Barabbas; and they got, of course, such guidance as Barabbas and the like of him could give them; and, of course, they stumbled ever downwards and devil-wards, in their truculent, stiff-necked way.
—Carlyle, Latter-day Pamphlets, I.
References.—XV. 13.—J. H. Jellett, The Elder Son, p. 141. XV. 15.—J. M. Neale, Sermons Preached in Sackville College Chapel, vol. i. p. 266. W. J. Knox-Little, Sunlight and Shadow, p. 242. XV. 15-20.—C. Stanford, The Evening of Our Lord's Ministry, p. 289. XV. 15-39.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xli. No. 2443.
Froude, in describing Newman's preaching at Oxford, tells how once he 'described closely some of the incidents of our Lord's Passion; he then paused. For a few moments there was a breathless silence. Then, in a low, clear voice, of which the faintest vibration was audible in the farthest coiner of St. Mary's, he said, "Now, I bid you recollect that He to Whom these things were done was Almighty God ". It was as if an electric stroke had gone through the church, as if every person present understood for the first time the meaning of what he had all his life been saying. I suppose it was an epoch in the mental history of more than one of my Oxford contemporaries.'
Reference.—XV. 20, 21.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxviii. No. 1683.
Simon the Cyrenian
I. The greatness of trifles. If he had started five minutes earlier or later, his whole life would have been different.
II. The blessedness and honour of helping Jesus Christ. Let us share His shame and help in carrying out the purposes for which the cross was borne.
III. The perpetual recompense and record of humblest Christian work.
IV. The blessed results of contact with the suffering Christ. We suppose that he yielded to the soul-conquering power of Christ. He was 'the father of Alexander and Rufus'.
—Alexander Maclaren, Contemporary Pulpit, vol. I. p. 878.
Simon of Cyrene
There is more than a picture here, there is a parable for the soul. Let us understand not only the honour of the deed, but its blessedness. No one can ever do for Jesus precisely what Simon did. And yet in spirit, in the words and deeds of our daily lives, and preeminently in the greater hours of trial and sorrow, what we are called upon to do is this very thing—to walk in the way after Jesus, and to cany His cross.
I. First: Mark the greatness of the service Simon did for Jesus. As often as our thoughts are true and our love to Jesus rises in flood, we all have a blameless envy of those who did Him service. We know no distinction to compare with theirs. The women who ministered to Him; Martha, who made Him a supper; Mary, who poured her spikenard over His head; Joseph, who gave Him a grave, stand out above all the benefactors of men. All the pre-eminences and attainments of time are less than vanity compared to theirs. But if you will give rank to the services rendered to Jesus, if you will pitch upon the greatest deed done for Him—next to that supreme office of the woman who nursed Him in her bosom and gave Him suck at her breasts—easily first of all is this deed of Simon in bearing His cross.
To this day the greatest service to be done for Christ is to carry His cross.
II. Mark, in the second place, the greatness of Simon's reward. Christ never allowed any honour paid to Him, or any service done to Him to pass unrewarded. When a village girl asked Him to her wedding feast, He turned the water into wine. When a humble home offered Him hospitality on the Sabbath Day, He touched its mistress, and expelled her fever. When a Samaritan gave Him a draught from the well, He gave her to drink of the Living Water. When a poor, abandoned, city waif stooped to kiss His feet, He sent her out with a blessing of peace. No cup of cold water given to Christ ever lost its reward. And this preeminent service done by Simon enjoyed its great reward.
What was that reward? It was the deepest desire of his heart. Perhaps you say it was his own salvation. There is little doubt that he became Christ's disciple. It would have been contrary, both to nature and to grace, that any man should come so near Jesus, and should do so much for Him, and not be called into His kingdom. But as I read the Evangelists, I conceive that Simon's reward was greater than the saving of his own soul. It was the answer of his most instant and constant and urgent prayers. Away in Cyrene this pilgrim to the Holy City had left two little sons, and as he looked upon them, exiles from the land of Israel, as he taught them the fear of the God of Jacob, the very passion of his heart was distilled into prayer, that they might grow in the faith and obedience of God. Christ saw the names Rufus and Alexander graven on Simon's heart. And the great reward was given to Simon of seeing both his sons known and loved and honoured in the Church of Christ. As I read a father's heart, I do not know whether he was prouder of the deed done for Jesus, or of the holy fame of being the father of Alexander and Rufus.
III. Mark, in the third place, the greatness of Simon's opportunity. That Simon should have been coming into the city as Jesus was coming out might be called a strange coincidence. It was more. It was the predestination of God. That was the predestined moment when Simon's opportunity came to him. It was the moment when he was compelled to be alone with Christ. It was a golden opportunity. How Simon used it we can do more than guess. He might have struggled, like a galled ox, burning with deep resentment at the wrong done to him. He might have carried off his contumely with a bravado which would have appealed to the humour of the crowd. But this devout pilgrim had a spirit prepared for another way. He was precisely the man to profit by being alone with Jesus. We dare not say that any unreported words, or soft whisper, passed from Jesus to Simon. But we can be sure that Jesus turned and looked on Simon—a look of human gratitude and of Divine compassion, and of irresistible appeal. He could not resist the Divine look. Simon saw, on the way to Calvary, the light of the knowledge of the glory of God revealed in the face of Jesus Christ. No man ever saw the face of God and lived. And as Simon looked into the face of Christ, the old nature died within him, and he knew the Lord.
—W. M. Clow, The Day of the Cross, p. 157.
References.—XV. 21.—E. B. Spiers, A Present Advent, p. 192. R. F. Horton, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlvii. 1895, p. 392. J. Durran, ibid. vol. lvi. 1899, p. 6. J. Burns, ibid. vol. lxxi. 1907, p. 211. C. Stanford, The Evening of Our Lord's Ministry, p. 313. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture—St. Mark IX.-XVI. p. 237. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxi. No. 1853. XV. 21-39.—A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture—St. Mark IX.-XVI. p. 228.
Christ Refusing the Stupefying Draught
The intention of the soldiers was humane. Crucifixion was so lingering and painful that it was customary thus to deaden the consciousness of the criminal.
I. What was the Saviour's Condition at that Moment?—Intense anguish of soul combined with physical suffering.
Christ's nature was peculiarly sensitive. The sorrow at Gethsemane had already weakened Him.
Now His sorrow had reached its height.
II. Why did He Refuse the Proffered Relief?— Not to awaken men's admiration.
Not to awaken men's sympathy.
1. Because His sufferings were by Divine appointment; not simply accidental. He would not escape the full force of the penalty which He had undertaken to endure.
2. Because He was unwilling to die without a full consciousness of the conquest which He was achieving over sin and death.
III. What Enabled Him to Dispense with this Stupefying Draught?—It was the direct result of His self-surrender to the Father.
He who gives up will, purpose, life, into the hands of God, may expect that God will be all in all to him.
IV. What Lessons does His Refusal Teach Us?
1. His true nobility.
2. Our own duty under trial.
'The cup which My Father hath given Me, shall I not drink it?'
It is our privilege to accept the Saviour's love.
He suffered, died, arose, ascended to heaven, and pleads now for us.
—F. G. Austin, Seeds and Saplings, p. 19.
See Keble's lines on 'The Tuesday before Easter'.
'Johnson,' says Boswell, 'with that native fortitude which amidst all his bodily distress and mental sufferings never forsook him, asked Dr. Brocklesby, as a man in whom he had confidence, to tell him plainly whether he could recover. "Give me," said he, "a direct answer." The doctor having first asked him if he could bear the whole truth, which way soever it might lead, and being answered that he could, declared that in his opinion he could not recover without a miracle. "Then," said Johnson, "I will take no more physic, not even my opiates; but I have prayed that I may render up my soul to God unclouded." In this resolution he persevered.'
In Burnet's History of My Own Times it is related that of the regicides punished after the Restoration 'the only one who died dastardly was Hugh Peters, a very vicious man, but a sort of buffoon preacher, who had been serviceable to Cromwell on several accounts, and a fierce instigator of the king's death. He had neither honesty to repent of his sin, nor strength of mind to suffer for it as the rest had done, but was perpetually drinking some strong cordial liquors to keep up his spirits or make him insensible.'
References.—XV. 23.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xli. No. 2443. XV. 25.—W. P. Balfern, Lessons from Jesus, p. 220. XV. 31.—R. Winterbotham, Sermons Preached in Holy Trinity Church, Edinburgh, p. 148.
Fixing Our Own Evidences
'That we may see and believe:' here you have a pack of men who are setting up their own standard of evidence. What a proud 'we' was that; what a blind 'see' was that; what an impossible 'believe' was that! Observe their line of reasoning: they charged Jesus Christ to do something of their own fixing in order that they might see and believe. They would arrest the universe in order that they might get a first-class seat upon any chariot that was driving towards the gratification of selfish conceit and desire. Were they so anxious to see and believe that they would call upon God to arrest the sun and the moon upon the hills of time? Certainly not; they were not anxious to believe, they did not want to believe, but they wanted to gratify a conceit or to satisfy a fancy or an ambition; they wanted to create a new anecdote, saying, 'We said, if He would come down from the Cross we would see it and believe Him'; and God sent upon them a great negative, a contemptuous denial. None can be so deaf as God. We must take care how we set up our own little schools of evidence and our small little bodies of apologies for the deity of Christ and the redeeming efficacy of His Cross.
I. We cannot stop at any one definition of evidence, even if God were to grant it to us. He would not satisfy us, He would awaken and provoke a still keener and fouler temptation.
The eye never saved a soul, the eye is a poor instrument at best; the human may probably be the very poorest of eyes in the higher classes of animals. There is a way which the eagle knoweth not, and there is a path which the vulture's eye hath not seen, and there are paths and ways and courses of development which no human eye can see; it is the soul that sees.
II. Jesus Christ never did respond to any test set by the enemy, set by anybody. He does not accept suggestions, He reveals truths. Christ never fell into an intellectual man-trap; He laid down the law, He expounded the kingdom, He spoke in the imperative; in the subjunctive or the potential He could not speak, He was free of all that limited and hesitant grammar. Did Jesus Christ accept the suggestion of the enemy in the wilderness? He said—what a philosophy it was that He spake in that grand retort—'Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God': a new conception of life, an enlargement of our limited view of bread, of substance, of tables and dinings. Christ in effect swept all these out of the way, saying, 'Man shall live by every word, every kind of method Divinely conceived and Divinely provided: away!'
III. Many have suggested short and easy methods of proving this and that. Jesus Christ never adopted one of them. They treat Jesus Christ as if He knew nothing about these things; whereas He lived before the universe lived. They seem to think that if He would only accept their ideas, their short and easy methods, all would instantly rise and follow Christ, and make the welkin ring with thunderous acclamation. From the beginning man has had everything that was necessary to redemption and salvation. Once a lawyer thought not; he conceived the idea that the Divine revelation would be vexed by cross-examination, and he said, 'Master, which is the great commandment of the law?' Jesus answering said unto him, 'How readest thou?' The answer was given before the question was asked; there is no need for such questions, they have all been anticipated. 'Lawyer, how readest thou?' 'Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and soul and mind and strength.' 'Very good,' said Christ, 'I add nothing to it, there is no need to add anything to it; I came to see the law fulfilled, the written law turned into unwritten life. This do, and thou shalt live.' But the lawyer still thought that his plan was the best; so did they on Calvary, they said, 'O Thou that destroyest the temple and buildest it in three days, save Thyself and come down from the Cross; we would thus put Thee to the test; Thou claimant of the highest throne in Jewry, come down!' The suggestion was not accepted; it was like Christ not to answer foolish, frivolous, and conceited questions.
—Joseph Parker, City Temple Pulpit, vol. vi. p. 49.
References.—XV. 33, 34.—J. Hunter, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlv. 1894, p. 187. W. Alexander, Verbum Crucis, p. 65.
In the thirty-seventh chapter of Transformation, Hawthorne describes Sodoma's well-known fresco of the suffering Christ at Siena. 'It is inexpressibly touching. So weary is the Saviour, and utterly worn out with agony, that His lips have fallen apart from mere exhaustion; His eyes seem to be set; He tries to lean His head against the pillar, but is kept from sinking down upon the ground only by the cords that bind Him. One of the most striking effects produced is the sense of loneliness. You behold Christ deserted both in heaven and earth; that despair is in Him which wrung forth the saddest utterance man ever made, "Why hast Thou forsaken Me?" Even in this extremity, however, He is still Divine. The great and reverent painter has not suffered the Son of God to be merely an object of pity, though depicting Him in a state so profoundly pitiful. He is as much and as visibly our Redeemer, there bound, there fainting and bleeding from the scourge, with the cross in view, as if He sat on the throne of His glory in the heavens.'
Towards the end of her life Mrs. Fry said to a friend: 'I have passed through deep baptism of spirit in this illness. I may say, unworthy as I am to say it, that I have had to drink in very small measure of the Saviour's cup when He said, My God! My God! why hast Thou forsaken Me? Some of my friends have thought there was a danger of my being exalted, but I believe the danger has been on the opposite side, of my being too low.'
The Cry of Dereliction
The tragedy of the Crucifixion reached its climax at the sixth hour. The Blessed Master had passed through the outer circle of sorrow, and now the pale, bruised Form is lost in the thick darkness which surrounds Him. During the first hours our Blessed Lord reigns as a King—interceding, absolving, and commending His loved ones. Now a change passes over Him; His soul enters into a great loneliness. This cry shows that there was something deeper, something more awful, than the fear of death. He must taste death for every man, He must be made perfect through suffering; but the cry we hear from the cross was the cry of a soul which had been faithful, loyal all His life, but from Whom the conscious Presence of God had been withdrawn.
I. Do We ever Feel Forsaken?—Such days come to even the best of us—days of darkness, days of depression. But here is our comfort When all seems lost in life, when our work never seems to bring success, when we toil without any recognition and without any reward, when there seems for us no comfort in our prayers, when there is no light to gladden our eyes, then it is for us to realize that because of that One's bitter cry which rang out in the darkness, Jesus is always with us because He knew what it was to be forsaken even by God Himself. So you and I may always know that when this darkness comes upon us we may of a certainty count, because of this bitter cry, that Jesus is always with us. Oh, let us cling to the cross for this our comfort in our time of darkness!
II. The Guilt of Sin.—And yet surely it must mean more than this, something deeper than this, for it reveals to us the guilt of sin. He Who knew no sin was made sin for us; He came to make an atonement. 'God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself.' What does it all mean? What do you and I mean by that word that is so often on our lips? Let me carry your thoughts back to the old Levitical days when the high priest once in the year made an atonement for the sins of the people. You will remember the ritual of that day. What did it all mean? What was the meaning, then, to the people who saw these acts going on? Surely that sin was something very awful and terrible in God's sight; that God could not look upon sin; that it must be taken right away, and until this was done the people could not approach God. We all feel its power, do we not? We see its stain. But how few of us recognize its guilt! We cannot think little of sin when you and I realize that it cost the best, the noblest, the purest blood, when we realize that it has cost the Blood of God Himself to take away that sin; that for one great atonement it needed God to come down and live our life, it needed God to be surrounded by the darkness on the cross, to live out His life, as it were, just for a few hours making that atonement, forsaken by God Himself. Can you and I think lightly of sin after that? When we are tempted to call some sins little and some great, as they are reckoned in our social life, let us realize what it meant when our Lord cried from the cross, 'My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?'
III. The Punishment of Sin.—I think we have here not only the revelation of the guilt of sin, but we have more—we have a revelation of the punishment of sin. This one hour had loomed before Christ all His life. At this last dread moment we are shown something, only something, but surely sufficient, of what the punishment of sin really is. Our Blessed Master could endure all else but this. The thought of His Father hiding His face, and the thought of entering that darkness, was something which He could not contemplate unmoved. We are inclined—are we not?—to guess at the future condition of the soul; but after we have stood beneath the Cross, after we have heard this cry, we need not have any further speculation, for sin always means here and there separation from God. No bodily penalty, none of those mediaeval thoughts of hell which we are sometimes inclined to have in our mind, can compare with the awfulness of what it must mean for you and me for God to hide His face. Separation from God—does not the sinner know it now? Ah, but the sinner always has a feeling that he can turn to God when he likes; but to realize that sin will bring this separation, entire and complete, from God is the most awful thing that man could contemplate. Today Jesus calls to us, 'Is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by?' nothing to us who stand by the Cross? Was there ever such sorrow, ever such love?
Let us turn with thoughts of devotion and thoughts of love to behold the Lamb slain as an atonement for sin, to look and live.
References.—XV. 34.—Selected Sermons of Schleiermacher, p. 52. A. F. Winnington Ingram, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxxiii. 1908, p. 276. A. S. Peake, ibid. vol. lxxiv. 1908, p. 1. G. W. Herbert, Notes of Sermons, p. 92. A. N. Obbard, Plain Sermons, p. 222. Father Bernard Vaughan, Society, Sin, and the Saviour, p. 211. A. G. Mortimer, The Spiritual Life in the Seven Last Words, p. 37. XV. 34-47.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xl. No. 2390.
'Behold, He calleth Elias.' They misinterpreted that last drear cry. They thought He was speaking to Elias and not to God. So at the very end, and on the Cross itself, Jesus was misunderstood.
I. I want to follow that misinterpretation into one or two spheres of the earthly life of Jesus, and I notice first that men misunderstood His motives. Think, for example, of His healing miracles—'He casteth out devils by Beelzebub,' they said. Or think of His eating with publicans and sinners. That condescension spelled out love Divine, and they thought it was proof positive of guilt.
Men misunderstood the mystical and poetic speech of Jesus. They took Him very prosaically and literally when He only meant to suggest as music does, and so time and again they misconstrued Him. Take, for example, one of His early words, 'Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up again'. So, too, in the sad sweet story of the house at Bethany you recall how Jesus said to His disciples, 'Our friend Lazarus sleepeth'. They answered at once, 'Lord, if he sleep, he shall do well,' and Jesus, with a touch of pity at their dullness, has to tell them plainly that Lazarus was dead.
I think that Jesus is still misunderstood that way. There are men who love Him as these disciples did, and who are striving to serve Him in a life of duty, but they have taken the music of His speech, that was meant to suggest and to lead into the infinite, and they have built their arguments upon the letter of it, forgetting that it is the spirit that giveth life.
II. The world, then, misunderstood the speech of Jesus; but it also misunderstood His silence. And if ever the silence of Jesus was misunderstood, it was by Herod.
Is not Christ's silence still misunderstood? There is nothing harder for many a mind to grapple with than the apparent silence of our ascended Lord. It is not what God does, it is what He fails to do: it is not what Christ says, it is what He fails to say, that puzzles and perplexes many an earnest soul.
III. 'Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani,' and when they heard it they said He calleth Elias. Do you see the reason why they misunderstood Him? They had only caught a fragment of His speech.
There never was a time when Christ was more misunderstood than now, for the very reason that we find at Calvary. There was never a time when fragments of the Gospel were proclaimed with such assurance as the whole round truth. To take a part and think it is the whole is the sure way of misunderstanding Christ.
—G. H. Morrison, The Unlighted Lustre, p. 244.
Reference.—XV. 37, 38.—'Plain Sermons' by contributors to the Tracts for the Times, vol. viii. p. 76.
The Roman Centurion
One man, and one man only, is wholly competent to tell us the story of the death of Jesus. That man is this Roman centurion. It was he who sent his band across the brook Kedron, in the soft moonlight, to arrest Jesus. It was he who guarded Him as He was led to the house of Caiaphas, and then marched Him as a dangerous rebel to Pilate, and then to Herod, and then back to Pilate again. He overheard the strange parleying between Jesus and Pilate; he superintended the scourging; he looked on when the soldiers mocked Him; and it was by his lips that the message of Pilate's wife reached the governor's ears. At his word of command the glittering spears began to move along the way to Calvary; he saw the nails driven in, and then he stood with watchful eye and open ear, in the strength of his Roman discipline, and marked how Jesus died. I cannot tell you, and no man can tell you, the precise state of the blessed dead, but surely for all of us it shall be a state in which many things covered shall be revealed. And when the great multitude of the redeemed shall long to know the whole story of the last great day, we shall press round this Roman centurion, and he will inflame our hearts as he tells us how Jesus loved unto the end.
I. Of this man we know nothing certainly until he stands in the light of the dying face of Jesus. That he was a soldier assures us of an ingrained habit of obedience, a perfect courage, an unflinching loyalty, and an honest and greatly simple heart That he was a Roman soldier tells us that he belonged to the most dauntless army the world has known, whose deeds of valour went back through an almost unbroken record of success through seven centuries. And that he was a centurion tells us that he was a man in middle life, who had seen service, and had risen through merit to his high command. No inexperienced stripling was ever appointed to a Roman post of authority. It may be safely said that among the centurions of the Roman army was to be found the very flower of honour and chivalry. The Roman Empire was already in decline; but, like every great organization, it had begun to die at the heart. And when the pestilence of moral corruption had infected the governors and counsellors of Rome, there were still to be found in its armies men of fearless truth, of fine courtesy, and of incorruptible purity. How the governors in the New Testament stand out in contrast to its centurions! All the four centurions are men of moral, even of spiritual beauty. Of one of them the Jews said, 'He loveth our nation, and hath built us a synagogue,' and Jesus said, 'I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel'. Of another, Cornelius, the record is that 'he was a just man, and one that feareth God'. The third was Julius, the centurion of Augustus' band, who 'courteously entreated Paul, and gave him liberty'. And the fourth was this centurion at the cross, who, as the slow hours of the day passed away, watched Jesus die, and in the few and emphatic words of a soldier's lips, bore to Him his confident testimony.
II. Now the question this man allows us to answer is what a man of a good and honest heart, with only a Roman's education, and with Pagan ideas, thought of Jesus when he saw Him die. He knew nothing about the life of Jesus. He was not even familiar with His name. 'This Man' was the word that came to his tongue as he looked on His head sunken in death. But as he witnessed the dying of the Lord Jesus, the Roman's contempt was changed into an adoration that broke out into great and memorable words of suggestive confession.
1. His first witness to Jesus is 'certainly this was a righteous Man'. It was the innocence, the moral beauty, the unspotted righteousness of Jesus, which dawned upon Him. He broke the stillness of that awful moment with his strong, soldier-like words: 'Certainly this was a righteous Man'. He had not learned the music of the Hebrew Psalms, but if he had, this wise and true-hearted man could surely have broken out in the fervent words: 'Thou art fairer than the sons of men. Grace is poured into Thy lips. Therefore God hath blessed Thee for ever.'
2. The centurion was arrested, not only by the character of Jesus, but by the manner of His dying. Jesus died as a hero dies. For as two of the Evangelists report, he cried: 'Truly this Man was a Son of God'. His primary meaning is that Jesus was plainly no ordinary mortal, no such man as he was himself, cast in a merely earthly mould, but, like the heroes who had done the great deeds of Roman valour, of the lineage of the gods. Such heroism in dying out-distanced all he knew, and he knew well the meaning of heroism. It was a soldier spirit who had witnessed that 'Never man spake like this Man,' and this fellow-soldier testified, 'Never man died like this Man'.
3. On his darkened pagan mind there fell an awe and a sense of having been in the presence of the Divine. He saw the darkened sky, he felt the vibrating earth, he was appalled by the last great cry, and he looked up at the cross, and realized that the Divine Being whom Jesus had called His Father had owned Him for a Son.
III. Now this is what the Roman centurion saw in Jesus as he watched Him die, and when we remember what he was in mind and training, we see that his confession was very great. It had the greatness of sincerity and of fearlessness. And yet, while we commend, we cannot but pity. We cannot refrain from thinking and whispering to ourselves, 'If thou hadst but known the day of thy visitation'. His eyes were holden. He saw in Jesus only what he had eyes to see.
1. The first defect in the centurion was his want of the sense of sin.
2. The second defect in the centurion was his want of a true conception of God.
3. The third defect in this centurion was his ignorance of a love which will die to redeem.
There are men among us Today, after all the centuries of the light and the teaching of Jesus and His cross, who see no more in Him than was seen by this sincere and honest centurion.
These do not enter into the secret of Jesus. They never see 'the Lord'. What do they need to cleanse their eyes? They need exactly what this centurion needed. The only evidence which will move mind and heart and will must appeal to the conscience; and the only apologetic which will successfully plead the deity of Jesus must rise above all questions of criticism, must base itself on the history, and prove itself in that experience in which both scholar and peasant have a common ground. Toplady's 'Rock of Ages' is a more convincing and convicting apology than Butler's noble and unanswerable Analogy. One vivid sight of the print of the nails alone can evoke the rapturous and adoring confession, 'My Lord and My God'.
—W. M. Clow, The Day of the Cross, p. 299.
Joseph of Arimathaea
It is significant that all the four Evangelists tell the deed of Joseph. We can understand why it was so indelibly imprinted on their memories, and was deemed so worthy of record. The day of Jesus' death had been one long sorrow and shame. From the midnight hour in Gethsemane until Christ bowed his head in death, there had been the awful contrast between love and constancy and tender pity and holy sacrifice on the one side, and betrayal, denial, desertion, and derision on the other. But then at the close of it all, there is this brave and beautiful deed. It is a touch of tenderness after a day of unrelenting hate and cruel wrong.
I. But now let us look at the doer of this good work on Jesus. His mind and spirit are made very clear to us. Each Evangelist adds some revealing trait Joseph of Arimathæa was a man of means, of refined mind, and of high social position. He was a member of the Jewish Sanhedrin, and held in good repute among his fellow-counsellors. He stood marked out from many by his high and serious mind, his incorruptible passion for justice, his native goodness of heart. He wore all through his years 'the white flower of a blameless life'. He belonged, to use a pardonable analogy, to that class to which our country in the days of her struggle for civil and religious liberty owed so much—the class of high-minded, devout, patriotic, country gentlemen.
We are told one very revealing thing about him. 'He also waited for the kingdom of God.' The kingdom of God was the phrase into which had been condensed all the high hopes and holy ambitions, all the dreams of a better state, and all the visions of the reign of God among men, foretold by Prophet and Psalmist. To wait for the kingdom of God was to be one of that band of devout and prayerful men and women, who were steeped in the spirit of the Old Testament, who had sure faith in the God of Israel, who waited for the hour to strike when the Messiah would come, and the will of God be done on earth as it was in heaven. It was that kingdom which Simeon and Anna longed to see before death should seal their eyes; before whose narrow door Nicodemus stood and did not know it, or understand its call. It was that kingdom which poor, blinded, reckless Barabbas and his fellow-brigands sought to establish in their mistaken ungodly way. That he 'waited' meant that in the heart of Joseph there was a noble discontent with the corruptions and miseries and bondages of the times, and an unquenchable longing for the reign of righteousness, peace, and joy. As he passed through the land and remembered the great days of old, his heart was pained within him. As he walked in the city and saw, as Jesus saw, iniquity infesting it, and the vultures of vengeance hovering over it, his mind was filled with brooding thoughts. And as he sat in the council and looked with his clear, honest eyes into the craft and chicanery of Caiaphas and his tools, hope almost died within him. What could such a man, with his shadowed spirit do, but join these who had lost everything but faith in God, who could only wait and long and pray for the kingdom of God?
Very naturally this man became Jesus' disciple. Like the iron to its magnet he was drawn to Christ. Like the flower to the sun he turned his face to Jesus.
It was this man, rich, cultured, of conspicuous social position, of holy and blameless character, with his mind already enlightened by Jesus, and His heart drawn to Him, with everything true and just and pure within him, rising up in a moral horror at the wrong which is being done, who stood under the cross of Christ The events of the day had all smitten his troubled, questioning, fearful heart. And as he stood over against the cross, and heard Christ's words, and at last saw Him die, not only reverence, not only a hot moral anger, not only an afflicting pity, but a victorious and liberating faith and a passion of remorse for his past shrinking smote him, and forthwith—heedless of the scornful looks, and of the muttered taunts of scribe and Sadducee, 'he went in boldly unto Pilate,' and with the hunger of a man eager to do a service to his Lord, and to atone for days of lost opportunity, he besought the body of Jesus. And then, in his own grave, prepared for his own costly burial, with his own hands, unheeding all thought of defilement, he laid Jesus to His rest.
II. Now very plainly Jesus did more for Joseph of Arimathæa on the cross, and by the cross, than by all the words and deeds of His life. With him, as with every other man, the cross was a savour of life unto life, or of death unto death. Let us think of the deep and enduring spiritual changes which passed upon this disciple as he saw Jesus die.
1. The first of these was the perfecting of his religions character.
2. The second spiritual change which passed upon Joseph as he witnessed the cross was an enlightenment as to the use of his wealth.
3. The sight of the cross perfected his religi us character; it enlightened his mind in the use of his wealth. It had a third effect, which was the root and cause of these two great changes—it filled him with a penitent shame.
—W. M. Clow, The Day of the Cross, p. 341.
References.—XV. 42-XVI. 8.—W. H. Bennett, The Life of Christ According to St. Mark, p. 268. XV. 43-46.—Spur-geon, Sermons, vol. xxx. No. 1789.
Dostoieffsky, in his powerful romance, The Idiot, describes two Russians stopping before Holbein's picture of Jesus being lowered from the cross, with mangled body, and traces of pain, wounds, and bruises on His limbs. 'I like looking at that picture,' says one. 'That picture!' exclaims his friend. 'That picture! Why, some people's faith is ruined by that picture!' He goes on to explain that it is a representation of death as a blind, implacable force, working its will on this grand, priceless Being, Himself worth more than all nature and all the earth. Scepticism, he argues, is started by the sight of this huge monster having power to destroy the Christ.
References.—XV. 47.—R. M. Benson, The Life Beyond the Grave, p. 12. XVI.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xlii. No. 2467; vol. xlviii. No. 2780. R. Stier, The Words of the Angels, p. 72.
And Pilate asked him, Art thou the King of the Jews? And he answering said unto him, Thou sayest it.
And the chief priests accused him of many things: but he answered nothing.
And Pilate asked him again, saying, Answerest thou nothing? behold how many things they witness against thee.
But Jesus yet answered nothing; so that Pilate marvelled.
Now at that feast he released unto them one prisoner, whomsoever they desired.
And there was one named Barabbas, which lay bound with them that had made insurrection with him, who had committed murder in the insurrection.
And the multitude crying aloud began to desire him to do as he had ever done unto them.
But Pilate answered them, saying, Will ye that I release unto you the King of the Jews?
For he knew that the chief priests had delivered him for envy.
But the chief priests moved the people, that he should rather release Barabbas unto them.
And Pilate answered and said again unto them, What will ye then that I shall do unto him whom ye call the King of the Jews?
And they cried out again, Crucify him.
Then Pilate said unto them, Why, what evil hath he done? And they cried out the more exceedingly, Crucify him.
And so Pilate, willing to content the people, released Barabbas unto them, and delivered Jesus, when he had scourged him, to be crucified.
And the soldiers led him away into the hall, called Praetorium; and they call together the whole band.
And they clothed him with purple, and platted a crown of thorns, and put it about his head,
And began to salute him, Hail, King of the Jews!
And they smote him on the head with a reed, and did spit upon him, and bowing their knees worshipped him.
And when they had mocked him, they took off the purple from him, and put his own clothes on him, and led him out to crucify him.
And they compel one Simon a Cyrenian, who passed by, coming out of the country, the father of Alexander and Rufus, to bear his cross.
And they bring him unto the place Golgotha, which is, being interpreted, The place of a skull.
And they gave him to drink wine mingled with myrrh: but he received it not.
And when they had crucified him, they parted his garments, casting lots upon them, what every man should take.
And it was the third hour, and they crucified him.
And the superscription of his accusation was written over, THE KING OF THE JEWS.
And with him they crucify two thieves; the one on his right hand, and the other on his left.
And the scripture was fulfilled, which saith, And he was numbered with the transgressors.
And they that passed by railed on him, wagging their heads, and saying, Ah, thou that destroyest the temple, and buildest it in three days,
Save thyself, and come down from the cross.
Likewise also the chief priests mocking said among themselves with the scribes, He saved others; himself he cannot save.
Let Christ the King of Israel descend now from the cross, that we may see and believe. And they that were crucified with him reviled him.
And when the sixth hour was come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour.
And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani? which is, being interpreted, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?
And some of them that stood by, when they heard it, said, Behold, he calleth Elias.
And one ran and filled a spunge full of vinegar, and put it on a reed, and gave him to drink, saying, Let alone; let us see whether Elias will come to take him down.
And Jesus cried with a loud voice, and gave up the ghost.
And the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom.
And when the centurion, which stood over against him, saw that he so cried out, and gave up the ghost, he said, Truly this man was the Son of God.
There were also women looking on afar off: among whom was Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the less and of Joses, and Salome;
(Who also, when he was in Galilee, followed him, and ministered unto him;) and many other women which came up with him unto Jerusalem.
And now when the even was come, because it was the preparation, that is, the day before the sabbath,
Joseph of Arimathaea, an honourable counseller, which also waited for the kingdom of God, came, and went in boldly unto Pilate, and craved the body of Jesus.
And Pilate marvelled if he were already dead: and calling unto him the centurion, he asked him whether he had been any while dead.
And when he knew it of the centurion, he gave the body to Joseph.
And he bought fine linen, and took him down, and wrapped him in the linen, and laid him in a sepulchre which was hewn out of a rock, and rolled a stone unto the door of the sepulchre.
And Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses beheld where he was laid.