Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. THE GARDEN WAS TO THE MINDS OF THE TWELVE A PLACE OF HOLY INTERCOURSE WITH THEIR LORD. "Jesus ofttimes resorted thither with his disciples." Doubtless they learned much from Jesus as he taught in the temple and in the synagogues, in the highways, and in the dwellings of the people. But there was much he wished to say to them which could be said better in private. He took them aside into a desert place, and in seclusion and quiet communicated to them tidings which were not for the multitude. He gathered them together in an upper room, and discoursed to them with such profundity and spirituality, that it needed the illumination of events that were yet to happen to make plain his wonderful sayings. He led them away from the thronged streets and temple-courts of the city, crossed the Kedron ravine, and took them into the retired garden, that he might, without interruption, reveal to them whatever truth they were able to bear. Gethsemane thus became a symbol for the "quiet resting-places," where the Savior meets congenial souls, and unfolds to them the volume of his truth, the mystery of his love. Such intercourse binds the heart of the scholar to his Master. Such fellowship makes its lasting mark upon the character. "Did not I see thee in the garden with him?"
II. THE GARDEN WAS TO THE LORD JESUS THE SCENE OF BITTEREST MENTAL ANGUISH. It seems strange that John, who, we know, was one of the chosen three who were near Jesus in his agony and bloody sweat, says nothing of his Master's conflict in Gethsemane. This silence cannot be attributed to want of sympathy, for the beloved disciple felt keenly with and for his Lord. He was content that his fellow-evangelists should tell the awful sorrows of the Redeemer. The unexampled pains which Christ endured, when with strong crying and tears he made supplication, constituted a phase of his mediatorial ministry, not only deeply affecting to the sensitive mind that contemplates the scene of woe, but doubtless ever memorable to our Divine Representative himself.
"Our Fellow-Sufferer yet retains III. THE GARDEN WAS TO JUDAS THE SPOT WHERE HE HEARTLESSLY BETRAYED HIS LORD. To the mind of the traitor the one point of interest in Gethsemane was this - it was a place where Jesus might be apprehended by the officers of the priests and Pharisees, with no fear of disturbance or opposition. The garden, though near Jerusalem, was secluded and solitary; no admiring and sympathizing crowd would there protect or rescue the honored and beloved Teacher and Healer. After the capture, during the few hours of life remaining to him, Judas could not think of Gethsemane without distress of mind, which deepened, not into repentance, but into remorse. The thought of his own sin and of his Master's innocence must have oppressed his guilty soul, until he was driven to confession and to suicide. Terrible is the state of that man before whose memory there constantly arises the scene of crime from which he sees no deliverance, for which he sees no expiation, the scene of violence and cruelty, of debauchery, or of profanity. "Better had it been for that man that he had never been born." IV. THE GARDEN IS TO CHRIST'S CHURCH FOR EVER ASSOCIATED WITH DIVINE SACRIFICE AND REDEMPTION. The same place, the imagination of which awoke the guilty conscience of Judas to misery and despair, is associated in all Christians' minds with the ransom which was paid for the deliverance of many from sin and death. There the anguish was endured, the cry was uttered, the cup was drunk, the perfect submission was rendered, the death on Calvary was anticipated. Very dear to the heart, very present to the memory, of Christendom is the garden whither Jesus oft resorted, where Jesus suffered himself to be betrayed, where Jesus took upon his heart the burden of human sin, where Jesus cried, "Not my will, O my Father, but thine, be done!" - T.
III. THE GARDEN WAS TO JUDAS THE SPOT WHERE HE HEARTLESSLY BETRAYED HIS LORD. To the mind of the traitor the one point of interest in Gethsemane was this - it was a place where Jesus might be apprehended by the officers of the priests and Pharisees, with no fear of disturbance or opposition. The garden, though near Jerusalem, was secluded and solitary; no admiring and sympathizing crowd would there protect or rescue the honored and beloved Teacher and Healer. After the capture, during the few hours of life remaining to him, Judas could not think of Gethsemane without distress of mind, which deepened, not into repentance, but into remorse. The thought of his own sin and of his Master's innocence must have oppressed his guilty soul, until he was driven to confession and to suicide. Terrible is the state of that man before whose memory there constantly arises the scene of crime from which he sees no deliverance, for which he sees no expiation, the scene of violence and cruelty, of debauchery, or of profanity. "Better had it been for that man that he had never been born."
IV. THE GARDEN IS TO CHRIST'S CHURCH FOR EVER ASSOCIATED WITH DIVINE SACRIFICE AND REDEMPTION. The same place, the imagination of which awoke the guilty conscience of Judas to misery and despair, is associated in all Christians' minds with the ransom which was paid for the deliverance of many from sin and death. There the anguish was endured, the cry was uttered, the cup was drunk, the perfect submission was rendered, the death on Calvary was anticipated. Very dear to the heart, very present to the memory, of Christendom is the garden whither Jesus oft resorted, where Jesus suffered himself to be betrayed, where Jesus took upon his heart the burden of human sin, where Jesus cried, "Not my will, O my Father, but thine, be done!" - T.
I. WHAT HE MIGHT HAVE DONE UNDER THE CIRCUMSTANCES There is no virtue in not doing thus if we cannot do otherwise. But what could Jesus do now?
1. He might have not visited the garden on this night. He knew all that was coming. He knew that the devil of piltering and covetousness had entered Judas, and that he was then in the city betraying him to his thirsty and cruel foes. He entered not the garden in ignorance of what was coming. It would be the easiest thing for him to go elsewhere.
2. He might have escaped before his foes were upon him. Apart from his absolute knowledge of things, the gleaming light and subdued talk of the hostile throng would give him sufficient warning, and he could have made his escape under the cover of friendly trees. His little guard slept fast; but he was awake, and specially sensitive to every approaching sight and sound.
3. He might have disappeared from his foes in their very presence. He might have let them come upon him so as to think that he was in their hands, and then at once vanish away from their very clutches, disappoint their fondest hopes, and make fools of them all.
4. He might, with his power, strike them dead, or into a fit so as to make their hostile attack quite futile. He just showed them what he could do when he said, "I am he;" they went backwards, and fell to the ground. What produced this? Was it a flash of his Divinity from without striking terror to his assailants, or a flash of memory from within of his mighty deeds? or was it the effect of the simple moral courage and majesty of that defenseless but heroic One? However, they fell to the ground - a striking illustration of what he might have done.
5. He might have received almighty help from his Father. If he at this time had not many earthly friends, and those not very strong nor skilful in human warfare, he was rich in heavenly allies, and these were all at his command, as he told one of his followers, "Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father," etc.? One of these with the brush of his wing slew the mighty Assyrian army, and one of them would slay all Christ's enemies it he so wished. But he did not use his power nor influence in his own defense. He had sufficient courage to stand all alone.
II. WHAT HE DID.
1. He remained in the garden. He was perfectly self-composed. He had a special work to do in the garden. There the coming battle was morally fought and won. There he trained himself for the encounter, edged his sword and put on his armor, and viewed the battle-field. He was too busily engaged with his Father and the business of his life to be disturbed by the approaching foe.
2. He went forth to meet his enemies. He had finished his work there, and his language and action were, "Let us arise, and go hence." He went forth to meet them. His courage was not rash, but discreet, and under the guidance of perfect wisdom. He never went forth to meet his enemies before, for his hour was not come; but now his hour was come, and as soon as he heard the clock strike it, instead of waiting their arrival, he went forth to meet them. He had a great work to do in an hour, and there was no time to lose. His courage completely spoilt their anticipated sport of a chase or a fight.
3. He made himself known to them. He could ask them with firmness, "Whom seek ye?" but tremblingly they replied, "Jesus of Nazareth." The Roman soldiers had unflinchingly faced many mighty foes, but this defenseless Jesus of Nazareth overpowered them with his majesty. "I am he" proved too much for them. They fell to the ground. And the collision would have proved fatal to them were it not for the buffers of his goodness and mercy. Judas's kiss was unnecessary; Jesus introduced himself.
4. He went forth, although knowing all. '" Knowing all things," etc. His knowledge in one sense was disadvantageous to him. There is a certain amount of ignorance connected with all human bravery. Hope of escape and victory is an element in the heroism of the bravest soldier. If we knew all our future, it would go far to unnerve our courage and paralyze our energies; but Christ knew all. He had mentally gone through all the tortures of the next few hours. He knew that death with all its pains and shame was but a drop to the ocean of his agonies. He knew infinitely more than the soldiers and the disciples. They only knew the outward; he knew the inward. They only knew the visible; he knew the invisible. They only knew a part; he knew all. The weight of death was nothing to the weight of sin he had to hear. He knew this in all its bearings and bitterness; but in spite of all, such was his courage that, in this hour of trial, he did not flag, but went forth.
III. THE SOURCES OF HIS COURAGE. What courage was his?
1. The courage of an exceptionally great nature. We must have an adequate cause to every effect. The heroism of Jesus, although human, yet often towered above it and became Divine. He was the Word made flesh, and God manifested in the flesh. He was a perfect Man, but ever united with Divinity - full of Divine life which made him triumphant over death and its agonies.
2. The courage of loving obedience to his Father's will. He was ever conscious of this. It was his delight, and the inspiration of his life. "My meat and my drink," etc.; "The cup that my Father hath given," etc.? It is bitter, but I shall drink from his hand whatever may be the consequences.
3. The courage of conscious rectitude and innocency. Guilt and imposture make a man a coward, while rectitude and innocency make him a hero. Conscious of the Divinity of his mission, the purity of his life, the guilelessness of his spirit, and the rectitude of his motives, Jesus went forth to meet his foes; and this consciousness raised him so far above timidity as to clothe him with the majesty of Divine heroism, which sent them reeling to the ground.
4. The courage of perfect knowledge of results. He not only knew his sufferings, but also his joys; not only the shame, but also the glory; not only the apparent defeat, but the subsequent grand victories. He could see life in his death for myriads, and glory in the highest. With the agonizing groans of Gethsemane were mingled the anthems of triumph, and in the gleam of torches and lanterns he could see the world flooded with light, and heaven with glory and happiness.
5. The courage of self-sacrificing and disinterested love. In the greatest bravery of selfishness there is an element of cowardice; but in Christ there was not a taint of selfishness, - his life was absolutely a sacrifice for others. He would not implicate others in his hour of trial, but gave himself to save them - and all this was voluntary. The volunteer is ever more courageous than the pressed soldier. The courage of Jesus was that of a volunteer, and his heroism that of Divine and self-sacrificing love.
1. The foes of Jesus were the unconscious ministers of Divine justice demanding his life as a raison for sin. They were inspired by hatred to Jesus, but this hatred was overruled to answer the most benevolent purpose.
2. Jesus personally and willingly gave his life up for this purpose. He was most anxious that justice should be paid in the genuine coin, and not in counterfeit. "If ye seek me, let," etc.
3. In consequence of his meeting the demand of justice by his life, he demands the release of his friends. "if ye seek me," etc. He does not ask this as a favor, but demands as his right.
4. This demand is most readily granted. In this instance they were not touched. Justice cannot resist the logic of Christ's death and intercession with regard to believers. If the accepted surety pay, the debtor is free.
5. The infinite importance to be united by faith with Christ. Then the chastisement of our peace is upon him, but otherwise it must be upon ourselves. - B.T.
I. THERE WERE SPECIAL REASONS WHY AT THIS CRISIS JESUS SHOULD TAKE MEASURES FOR THE LIBERTY AND SAFETY OF HIS FRIENDS AND FOLLOWERS.
1. Jesus intended them to be his apostles, and therefore it was not in accordance with his purposes that they should at that time accompany him to trial and to death.
2. It was part of Jesus' plan to die alone. Malefactors, indeed, yielded up their breath by his side. But as his was a death unique in its import, it was not consonant with his wishes that any of his adherents should partake his Passion, and distract attention from himself.
3. In all likelihood the faith and devotion even of his nearest friends were not such as to enable them to endure participation in his death. They could not suffer for Christ until Christ had first suffered for them.
4. Our Lord designed to fulfill his own declaration uttered in his intercessory prayer - that of those given to him he had lost none.
II. This REGARD OF JESUS FOR OTHERS WAS IN HARMONY WITH HIS CONDUCT THROUGHOUT HIS MINISTRY. It was his habit to forget himself in his benevolent work and in his regard for those whom he came to save. E.g. his disinterested and generous treatment of his forerunner, John; the complete self-forgetfulness which he displayed in the season of his temptation, when he, for the sake of his mission to men, lost sight of hunger, reputation, power; his benevolent ministry to the multitude, to the sick, the suffering, the sinful. His own ease, comfort, or renown, never occupied his attention; but no pains did he ever spare that he might serve the objects of his Divine pity. Christ would not have been himself if he had not thought of and secured the liberation of his threatened friends.
III. THE UNSELFISHNESS WHICH JESUS DISPLAYED IN THE HOUR OF HIS ARREST WAS PERFECTED IN HIS SACRIFICIAL SUFFERINGS AND DEATH. It was his own profession that the laying down of his life should be for his friends - his sheep. Paul testified that he gave himself a Ransom for all, that he was a Propitiation for the sins of the whole world. When the Savior - in accordance with the appointment of Divine wisdom, and with a view to ends the most purely benevolent that were ever conceived in the whole history of the universe - hung upon the cross, it seems to us that he uttered a cry which was the earnest of the spiritual deliverance and emancipation of mankind, a cry which was the expression at once of the deepest agony and the kingliest gladness of his compassionate nature, and-that the purport of the cry was this: "Let these men go!"
IV. CHRIST'S BENEVOLENT SELF-FORGETFULNESS IS OFTEN NEGLECTED AND ABUSED. In a family we sometimes observe one person peculiarly kind and unselfish, whose demeanor, so far from being an example and an advantage to the other members of the household, is abused. The yielding and self-denial of one sets others at liberty to carry out their own favorite plans, to gratify their own selfish tastes. There is something parallel to this in the way in which some persons in Christian communities take advantage, for their own temporal comfort and prosperity, of the influences of Christianity, without at all recognizing their obligation to the Savior for all the benefits they have received, social and domestic. So tar as we can see, such persons are little the better for all that Christ has undergone for them, for the immunity from many ills which he has secured for them. The self-devotion, magnanimity, and pity of the Redeemer should surely be to such, first a rebuke, and then an exhortation to a nobler and a better life.
V. THE SELF-SACRIFICING DEVOTION OF THE SAVIOR IS THE EVERLASTING INSPIRATION OF THE HIGHER LIFE OF MANKIND. This was the intention of Christ; and it was this prospect which sustained him amidst the treachery, the hatred, the desertion, the malice, the indignities, to which he exposed himself. How sorely the world was in need of a principle and power which should correct and heal its selfishness, is well known to every one who is acquainted with his own heart, who has studied the moral ills of human society. The wars and enmities which even now disgrace humanity are sufficient evidence of this. There were others than Christ who to some extent saw the evil, and desired to do what in them lay to remedy it. Even the heathen Seneca could say, "I would so live as if I knew I received my being only for the benefit of others." But that which philosophical theory, ethical dogma, even serene example, could not effect, has been in some measure effected, and will be brought at last perfectly to pass, by him whose unselfish, self-sacrificing spirit found utterance in the cry, "Let these men go!" - T.
I. LOOK AT THOSE ATTACKING JESUS. They act after their kind and according to their light. They know no weapons but force and stratagem. The whole appearance of this multitude, going out with swords, and sticks, and lamps, and torches, has something ridiculous and despicable about it. This array of forces would have been all right if a lion or a bear from the wilderness had been seen skulking about the Mount of Olives. The weapons would have corresponded against a murderer or a brigand in hiding there. But it was Jesus against whom they were going out - Jesus, who did everything in his work by persuasion and spiritual energy. Of course, all this showed great ignorance, but that is what the enemies of Christ and his Church always do show. The opposition of the world, being completely ignorant of what has to be conquered, has no astuteness in it. What can all the combined efforts of the world do against a man who is ready, if need be, to die for his religion? Jesus in the hands of his enemies is the grand illustration of how little the enemies of the body of Christ can do, or rather the particular enemies who make physical pain their weapon. Such are not the worst enemies. It is not the wolf, confessed in all his natural ferocity, that we have most to fear, but the wolf in sheep's clothing, the foe who comes with the look and language of the friend.
II. LOOK AT THE METHODS OF DEFENSE.
1. The way of Peter. Peter had very likely made himself possessor of one of the two swords mentioned in Luke 22:38. Of course, this shows an utter misunderstanding of the meaning of Jesus in Luke 22:36. If we act on some wrong meaning of a word of Jesus, we shall suffer for the blunder, sooner or later. Peter got a weapon into his hands that, to a man of his rash, impetuous ways, was just the thing to bring him into trouble. Peter should have done the right thing at the right time. Jesus put him and others to watch and pray, to act as sentinels. The sentinels fell asleep at their posts, and reckless lunging with a sword could not mend matters afterwards. Notice, too, how the effects of this rash act were worst to the man who committed it. Here surely is the secret of the subsequent denials.
2. The way of Jesus. Jesus yields. He defends and conquers by yielding. He shows in his own Person how the just man has a fortress impregnable to violence. He could have vanished mysteriously from the midst of his enemies, as he had done before; but what would that have advantaged us? We cannot vanish from an opposing world; we must either meet violence with violence, or yield what is merely outward, knowing that the inward is sacred and invulnerable. - Y.
I. CHRIST'S DISAVOWAL OF THE SWORD.
1. The sword is the symbol of physical force, of resistance. Properly a weapon of attack, it may nevertheless be used for defense. The sword is in the hands of the soldier who withstands his foe; of the magistrate who maintains order and vindicates justice, and who bears it not in vain. It is the emblem of secular authority, of carnal power.
2. There was a sense in which the use of the sword had been sanctioned by Christ. When he had said, "I came, not to send peace, but a sword," Jesus had referred to the conflicts which should arise in society as a result of his mission to earth. But he had, almost immediately before the occurrence in connection with which the words of the text were spoken, expressly directed his disciples to arm themselves, telling them of the perils they should encounter, and bidding them even to sell their garments in order to procure the means of defense. Evidently there were some kinds of danger against which they were at liberty to arm.
3. The time of Christ's sacrifice was not the time for resistance. Peter, indignant at his Lord's betrayal, impulsive in his nature, and impetuous in his action, seeing his Master in danger, drew and used his sword. But Jesus forbade and disclaimed the use of carnal weapons in his cause. His kingdom was not of this world, and it would not have been consonant either with his gentle character or with the nature of his religion - a spiritual religion relying on conviction and affection - to sanction the promulgation of his doctrine, the extension of his Church, by means of the sword. Christ's people were not prohibited from taking advantage of their privileges as citizens, from using lawful means to secure protection and safety, from defending themselves against lawless violence. But to resist civil authority by force, in the name of Christ and for the spread of Christianity, was certainly forbidden, both by the language and by the example of Jesus.
II. CHRIST'S ACCEPTANCE OF THE CUP.
1. The nature of this cup is apparent from the context as well as from other parts of Scripture. By "the cup" we are to understand suffering and sorrow. This is its meaning in the question, "Can ye drink of the cup which I drink of?" and in the prayer, "If it be possible, let this cup pass from me." The bitter ingredients in Christ's cup were the suffering and agony of body involved in crucifixion; the mental distress involved in his betrayal, denial, and forsaking by his disciples, in the apparent success of his enemies' plot, in the fickleness and ingratitude of his fellow-countrymen; the anguish of soul consequent upon his consciousness of the world's sin, its estrangement from God, and ill desert, the heavy burden (to change the figure) of his sacrifice.
2. Christ's shrinking from this cup was natural; for his bodily frame was sensitive, and his heart was tender. He would fain have avoided drinking the bitter draught. He even prayed to be relieved from the distressing experience, if such avoidance and relief were compatible with the Father's will, and with his own purpose to redeem mankind.
3. The inducement to accept the sorrow was the highest and the most constraining possible; the CUP was "given" him by his Father. Apparently it was prepared and handed to him by his foes. But really, in a wonderful, mysterious sense, it was the appointment of the Father's wisdom. This was not at the time understood by Peter or by the other disciples; Jesus alone comprehended the nature of this crisis in the moral history of mankind. The cup was not given as a sign of the Father's displeasure, but as a means to a higher spiritual end, which was dear to the Father's heart.
4. The resolve of the Son of man to drink the cup, when this was seen and felt to be the Father's will, is very instructive. This was part of his perfect obedience, of obedience taking the form of submission. Thus was he made "perfect through suffering."
5. The results of this sacrifice have been most beneficial and precious to mankind. By drinking the cup of suffering our Savior has released us from drinking the cup of personal guilt and merited punishment.
1. Gratitude and faith towards a Savior so compassionate and self-sacrificing.
2. Patience and submission beneath the trials and sufferings of life. When seeking for motive and for strength to drink the bitter cup of pain and grief, let Christians recur with humility and with sympathy to the incomparable example of their suffering Lord. - T.
I. ARDENT AFFECTION. The sincerity and strength of Peter's love for Jesus cannot be questioned.
1. It was this which had impelled him to draw the sword in his Master's defense.
2. It was this which impelled him to follow Jesus when his colleagues and companions had fled.
3. It was this which urged him to accompany John without having the guarantee of safety which John possessed.
4. It was this which led him to dare the risk attaching to the neighborhood of the court and high priest's dwelling. No motive save the pure motive of affection could have induced Peter to act as he did.
II. TIMOROUS FALSEHOOD.
1. This was apparently upon a slight occasion and inappreciable danger. The charge brought by a maid who kept the door was enough to throw off his guard the boldest and chief of the apostles.
2. It was in contrast with his previous confessions. None of the twelve had been more forward to apprehend and to acknowledge the claims of Jesus to Messiahship and to Divinity than had Peter.
3. It was a poor recompense for the distinguishing favor which had been shown to Peter in common with two other of the twelve. He who had been on the mount and in the garden with Jesus now denied him.
4. It was the occasion of bitter remorse and true repentance on the part of the offender against conscience and against Christ.
5. It became a recollection, which in his after-ministry stimulated Peter to watchfulness and to prayer.
LESSON. The narrative is a warning against relying too much upon religious feeling. Peter felt deeply and warmly towards Christ; yet he fell. Many Christians think that they are secure because the gospel touches their emotions. The counsel of Jesus himself must not be forgotten: "Watch and pray, lest ye enter into temptation!" - T.
I. PETER MEANT TO BE PRUDENT. He sought to keep safe what he valued most, and what he valued most was his own present life. What a man most fears to lose is his treasure. Peter had not yet gained the true prudence, because he had not yet found out the most precious thing a man can possess, even an inward union with that which is inward in Jesus. He had to do the best he could for the best he had, and that best led him into a lie. Once he admitted his association with Jesus, he did not know what the admission might lead to.
II. THE ONLY PATH TO TRUE COURAGE. The Christian can be the only truly courageous person. For he knows that, whatever may come from the outside, the best things are safe. A higher courage is often needed than that in which Peter proved to be lacking, even moral courage. Some would even dare to die, but they would not dare to fly in the face of the world's customs and demands. Peter had harder things to do afterwards than preserve his natural life. He had to turn his back on Judaism. He had to make ready for being laughed at and sneered at, again and again. The wisest fear is a fear of losing living union with Jesus. If we value that as we ought to do, then the laughter and the threats of men will be robbed of what makes them so dreadful to many. - Y.
I. AS A MATTER OF FACT, OUR LORD FULFILLED HIS MINISTRY AS A PUBLIC TEACHER, WITH UNDENIABLE PUBLICITY. In the country districts he taught in the synagogues, the places appointed for public religious instruction and worship. In the metropolis he was wont to frequent the precincts of the temple, not only upon ordinary occasions, but at the great national festivals. He expressly witnessed that his open instructions had been intended for the benefit of the Jews and of the world at large.
II. AS A RELIGIOUS TEACHER, JESUS HAD NOTHING TO CONCEAL AND EVERYTHING TO PROCLAIM IN PUBLIC. He had nothing to be ashamed of in the whole cycle of his doctrine. And knowing that his communications were adapted to benefit all mankind, Jesus benevolently desired to bring as many as possible under the sound of his voice, under the influence of his revelation, counsels, and promises. His lessons were as the living waters of the brook, which flow in a ceaseless stream, so that all may drink of them and be refreshed.
III. THE PUBLICITY OF CHRIST'S TEACHING SECURED THE ESTABLISHMENT OF HIS INNOCENCE AND OF THE INJUSTICE OF HIS FOES. If he had spoken aught secretly, an opening might have been left for the slanderous imputations of his foes. But all Judea and all Galilee were witnesses to his doctrines concerning God, concerning man, concerning duty, sin, judgment, forgiveness, and life eternal. Of high and holy doctrine unnumbered witnesses were able to testify. But none could be brought forward with any credible account of sayings subversive of order, of peace, of morality. Nothing could be clearer than the inability of Christ's foes to convict him of any teaching which might justify their charges.
IV. IN THIS PUBLICITY CHRIST IS A MODEL FOR ALL HIS FOLLOWERS TO COPY. Christianity has no esoteric doctrines, no secret societies or guilds, no rites or ceremonies for private performance. Christianity is no sect, no party. A world-wide religion, it challenges the attention of all mankind. Those who teach and preach in Christ's name are bound to follow the example of their Lord - to discharge their ministry in public places wherever men resort. The language of the true preacher of wisdom and righteousness is this: "To you, O men, I call, and my voice is unto the sons of men." - T.
I. A CONTRAST. What religion is there that can bear the light of day as Christianity can? The false needs to be arranged and beautified and kept ever in one particular light. Jesus could expose everything if necessary. What a contrast to the life in the temple at Jerusalem! There was not a priest who could afford to have all his doings brought out and set before men. This ought to be part of our power when we are dealing with false religions. The more they are searched into, the more their abominations are exposed. The more Christianity is searched into, the more transparent and attractive it becomes. Not that everything is clear to the intellect, not that there is absence of mysteries; but these mysteries, whatever they are, lie open for everybody to contemplate them and be the better for them. The mysteries of heathendom are only priestcraft when one gets in behind them. Christianity is symbolized by the contents of the ark. That ark was sacred, not to be touched with heedless hands; but once it was opened, nothing lay there but the commandments, every one of which uttered forth the condemnation of everything false.
II. AN EXAMPLE. That openness which was in Jesus must be in all his followers. All true Christian assemblies are perfectly open places, except when, in charity and kindness to individuals, the door is closed; and even then the closing of the door is known to all, and why it is so. Those entrusted with the propagation of Christianity have nothing to conceal. Their aim is the good of men; their method is by persuasion and appeal; they draw all their topics and their teaching from a book which is as open to others as to themselves. None of the first apostles needed to conceal anything; there was no false step, no dubious word of their Master to gloss over or keep in the background; and similarly we have nothing to apologize for. We need not to proclaim a mere ideal for the acceptance of men. Our real is better than the best ideal our imagination can fancy.
III. A CAUSE FOR GLORYING. Difficulty is taken out of our way. We feel that since all is open and clear and satisfactory now, it always will be so. We find nothing to be ashamed of, nothing contradictory, in our experience of Christ in time. And similar surely will be our experience in eternity. "Whatever record leap to light," Christ will be the same. Whatever testimonies be unearthed, there will be nothing awkward to get over. - Y.
I. WHY JESUS COULD REFER TO HIS HEARERS. It is not every teacher that could refer confidently to his hearers, not even to his most attached and trustful ones. If he did, and if an accurate report could be got of all their impressions, the result might not be very complimentary to the teacher. He might find out that as yet he himself was only a learner. He might find out that he himself was only making guesses and dealing with the surface of things. But Jesus knew whence he came, and all he said was said with the spontaneity, the natural coherence, belonging to him who spake as never man spake. We know the impression the teaching of Jesus makes upon us, and we know that the miscellaneous crowds who first listened to it must have been impressed in the same way. It is not meant that they understood everything, or always understood rightly. But there was this impression, at all events, that Jesus spoke with authority, and not as the scribes. Jesus knew that the common people of the country were not against him, and his enemies also knew that they could not afford to inquire too curiously into the opinions of the multitude. That multitude might not be enthusiastic about Jesus, but a decided condemnation of him the multitude never would give, if only a sufficient number of people had been asked.
II. A HINT FOR US IN OUR JUDGMENTS ABOUT JESUS. We are too much accustomed to fly to books about Jesus which have intellectual merit rather than personal experience in them. Jesus referred confidently to the great bulk of his auditors, even the common people. And we should try to find out what the common people think about him. If Jesus cannot bless everybody, he cannot bless anybody. The scribes and Pharisees made difficulties where the common people made none. And so we should do well in our difficulties to consider whether they are shared by others. There is great benefit in listening to the opinions of all sorts of people about Jesus Christ. It is well, on the one hand, to hear what can be said by the learned and academic mind; and it is also well, on the other, to listen to those who, behind all that has been peculiar in Christ's teaching, all that has wanted learning whereby to understand it, have seen the universal truth that was meant to do them good. Christ's teaching can lay hold of hearts and consciences when the most elaborate system of mere ethics has no grasp. Christ is more than anything he has said, and those who make no pretence to intellectual superiority or anything special, can see him through his every word and deed. We had better not reject Christ before we have listened well to the kind of people who have accepted him. - Y.
I. CEREMONIAL DEFILEMENT MAY BE AVOIDED WHILST REAL DEFILEMENT OF THE SOUL IS CONTRACTED. The heathen religions of antiquity were in no vital way connected with morality. A man might be a very religious, and yet a very bad, man; and that without any inconsistency. But the faith of the Hebrews was based upon revelation, and combined belief of the truth with practice of righteousness. It was culpable in a high degree in men who enjoyed revelation so clear and full, to be led aside from the ways of justice at the very moment when they were carefully observing the requirements of the ceremonial law. It is an evidence of their depravity, and at the same time of their blunted sensibilities to what was right and reasonable, that they should so act. How much more deserving of condemnation are professed Christians, who, whilst scrupulously observing the ordinances of religion and the regulations of their Churches, at the same time are guilty of serious infractions of the moral law! Yet men are found who keep with outward strictness the day of rest, who partake of the holy Eucharist, and yet are not ashamed to act unjustly, to speak slanderously, and to cherish a selfish and worldly spirit.
II. CEREMONIAL DEFILEMENT MAY BE CONTRACTED WHILST REAL DEFILEMENT OF THE SOUL IS AVOIDED. There are many cases in which "to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams." As David ate the showbread, as the disciples of Jesus plucked the ears of corn, and Jesus himself healed the sick on the sabbath, so men may often be justified in transgressing the letter of a commandment in order to keep the spirit of the law. The claims of humanity are rightly to be preferred to the requirements of an external character, which nevertheless have their place and their use. And good men may even frequent the society of the vicious, the criminal, the degraded, when, by so doing, they may make an opportunity for bringing the gospel of Christ's love before the minds of those to whom nothing but the gospel can bring rescue, salvation, and eternal life. Many methods may upon this principle be justified which would not on their own account be accepted and practiced by the sensitive and fastidious. Salus populi suprema lex. If it is so in politics, surely in the religious life we may well be, like the apostle, "all things to all men, if by any means we may Will some.' - T.
I. CHRIST'S KINGDOM IS UNWORLDLY IN ITS COMPATIBILITY WITH AND ITS TOLERANCE OF OTHER KINGDOMS. Earthly governments do not admit of the imperium in imperio. The same subject cannot owe allegiance to two lords. The same land cannot admit the promulgation of different codes of law. Oppression, confusion, rebellion, anarchy, would be the result of such an attempt. But the kingdom of the Lord Jesus can exist and flourish in the most diverse forms of secular government. The subjects of a despotic monarchy, and the citizens of a democratic republic, are alike capable of acknowledging the supremacy and obeying the commands of King Jesus. So far from destroying or imperiling a state, Christianity, when it takes possession of a people, tends to establish a state in righteousness, freedom, and peace. The ruler and the governed may alike confess the sway and honor the authority of the Lord and King of men.
II. CHRIST'S KINGDOM IS UNWORLDLY IN THE CHARACTER AND THE APPEARANCE OF ITS MONARCH. Earthly kings are always imperfect in character, and sometimes unjust, malevolent, vain, and selfish; yet they may maintain the outward semblance of dignity, wealth, magnificence, and power. The Lord Christ, on the contrary, had no earthly rank, or splendor, no gorgeous palace, no imposing retinue. He was in outward guise lowly and obscure, and he was by men scoffed at and despised. Yet he was and is the Holy One and Just, the faultless and benevolent Ruler of men, the Lord of heaven, the Judge of all. How wonderful and sublime a contrast to the kings of this world is the meek Monarch, the scepter of whose kingdom is a right scepter!
III. CHRIST'S KINGDOM IS UNWORLDLY IN ITS OWN ORIGIN AND IN ITS SOVEREIGN'S TITLE AND CLAIM. The conception did not spring up in a human mind. "Now," said Jesus, "is my kingdom not from hence." Designated "the kingdom of heaven" and "the kingdom of God," it is, in its ground and in its character, what such designations involve. It is to the Divine wisdom and love that this unworldly kingdom must be traced. Christ is King by inheritance, as Son of God; by conquest, as the redeeming Lord; by choice and election, being welcomed by the joyful acclamations of his loyal subjects. In all these respects our Savior's title to the throne is very different from the titles put forward by the kings of this earth.
IV. CHRIST'S KINGDOM IS UNWORLDLY IN THE NATURE OF ITS DOMINION OVER ITS SUBJECTS. The subjects of an earthly monarch are usually born beneath the sway of their liege lord. In any case their obedience and submission, their aid and support, are required, and the requirement is, if necessary, enforced by penalties. The sway of the king is over the outward actions, the speech and habits of the subjects. Very different is the case with the members of that spiritual state of which Jesus is the sovereign Ruler. They are all citizens of the commonwealth and subjects of the King in virtue of personal faith and voluntary submission. Christ reigns in the heart; he has no care for the mere homage of the lips, the mere prostration of the body. His is a spiritual empire.
V. CHRIST'S KINGDOM IS UNWORLDLY IN THE AIM IT SEEKS AND THE MEANS IT EMPLOYS. Whilst earthly sovereignties aim at the outward order and prosperity of the community, at peace and wealth, at conquest and glory, at power and fame, and whilst they employ secular means towards these ends - Christ's kingdom contemplates purely moral ends - the growth and prevalence of righteousness and holiness, patience and love; in a word, those spiritual characteristics which are distinctive of every divinely ordered society, and by means in harmony with such ends. No fear or constraint, no magistrates, officers, soldiers, prisons, does Christ employ. He disclaims force; "else," said he, "would my servants fight." His is a kingdom in which truth is revealed and embodied - truth which calls for faith, and the support of intelligence and loyalty. The laws of the spiritual kingdom are not prohibitions; they take the form of examples, and are sustained by the sanction of Divine love.
VI. CHRIST'S KINGDOM IS UNWORLDLY IN ITS EXTENT AND PERPETUITY. Whilst no earthly conqueror has been suffered by Divine providence to achieve a universal dominion, Christ shall "reign from sea to sea, and from the river unto the ends of the earth." Whilst all human governments are liable to decay, and the Roman empire itself passed into a decline which issued in its fall, Christ's "kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and his dominion endureth to all generations." - T.
I. JESUS IN HIS TREATMENT OF PILATE'S QUESTION. TO Pilate the question was simple enough. He meant, of course, a king in the ordinary acceptation of the term. If Jesus had said "No" to this question, the answer would have been right enough, but it would only have led on to other questions, without any real result to the interests of truth. Jesus evidently did not wish to talk much at this season. The time for teaching was past; the time for submission and suffering had now fully come. Still, whatever Jesus had to say must be significant, and mere "Yes" or "No" to ignorant human questionings would have told nothing. Hence, without saying he was a king, Jesus talks about his kingdom and its principles of defense, which, of course, were equally its principles of attack.
II. Thus we see Jesus answering the question by showing THE ELEMENTS OF HIS POWER AND THE METHOD OF HIS PROGRESS.
1. The elements of his power. He looks a lonely man before the representatives of the greatest power in the then world. Whatever could be done by force of numbers and discipline, Rome could do. But quantity of a lower kind can do nothing against quality of a higher kind. Jesus is not concerned to maintain the integrity of a fleshly body, though even that he could have done if needful. It was the integrity of the inner life Jesus had to maintain against temptation. Jesus had his own personal battle to fight and victory to win, before he could lead men in their greatest battle and most decisive victory. The risen Savior is the Man Christ Jesus made fully manifest in his abiding sinlessness. If Pilate will only wait a little while, and open his mind to the truth, he will see by deeds that Jesus is a King. Not what a man says, but what he does, proves his claim.
2. The method of his progress. Jesus wants us to get above the ideas of mere conflict and victory and overcoming of opposition. What he desires is the free, joyous, and entire submission of the individual, because of the truth which is made clear to him in Jesus. Jesus is the only one who can distinguish reality from appearance, truth from falsehood, and the abiding from the perishing. Jesus, as he says, came into the world. The world was ever in his thoughts, for the world's good. He no more belonged to the land he happened to live in than the sun belongs to that particular part of the earth where he happens to be shining. The sun belongs to the whole world, and so does Jesus. The sun belongs to every age, and so does Jesus. He came into the world to bear witness to the truth, and wherever there is a soul wrapped in delusion and falsehood, mistaking realities for dreams, and dreams for realities, Jesus is there to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. - Y.
I. UNBELIEF ASKS, "WHAT IS TRUTH?" WITH A CYNICAL CONTEMPT TOWARDS THOSE WHO BELIEVE THAT THEY HAVE FOUND IT. The disbelief of Christianity as a Divine and authoritative religion is no new thing. Infidelity has existed from the earliest ages of Christianity down to the present time. It has taken different forms. Atheism, agnosticism, deism, rationalism, mysticism, differ in what they affirm, but they largely agree in what they deny. The chief offence taken with our religion is because of its supernatural claim, because, by affirming Jesus to be the Son of God and to have risen from the dead, it affirms the being of a God deeply interested in man's true welfare, and interposing in order to secure it. That there is some solid basis for the Christian faith and-for the Christian Church, only the most ignorant deny. With regard to the historical facts which accounted for Christianity as a human system, there is among unbelievers difference of opinion. But when the Christian teacher or preacher declares, as he is bound to do, that the Scriptures reveal "the truth" concerning the character and purposes of God, and concerning the nature and prospects of man, then all the hostility of the opponent of religion, of the man who believes in food and clothing, in science and art, and in nothing beyond, is aroused within him; and with all the scorn of incredulity in his tones he asks, assured that there is no answer to be given, "What is truth?"
II. SCEPTICISM ASKS, "WHAT IS TRUTH?" WITH THE SADDEST DOUBT AS TO THE POSSIBILITY OF ATTAINING IT. The opponent of the believer is the infidel, who disbelieves. Between the two stands the skeptic, whose attitude is one of doubt, examination, indecision. This is a stage of thought through which most educated and thoughtful persons pass - some to faith and some to disbelief, whilst there are those who linger in this state throughout the rest of life. Christianity is no foe to candid inquiry; it bids us "prove all things;" any other principle would keep heathens, heathens, and Mohammedans, Mohammedans, all through life. What is to be avoided and blamed is the settled, contented acquiescence in doubt, which tends to no conclusion of belief, no definite action. Now, whilst there are topics upon which we are not bound to have an opinion - topics beyond our faculties, or remote from our interests - it must be maintained that religion is of importance so vital, that if truth with regard to it can possibly be attained, it must earnestly be sought. Permanent skepticism is either a sign of the weakest intellect, or it is a confession that the problem of greatest interest to us is a problem we can never solve.
III. INQUIRY PUTS THE QUESTION, "WHAT IS TRUTH?" WITH SINCERE AND PRAYERFUL INTEREST. There is no question which affords to the Christian teacher and preacher greater pleasure, when propounded with intelligence and candor, than this. It evinces a mind alive to the great purposes and the great possibilities of life. And further, there is the assurance that the seeker shall be the finder of truth. In many of their enterprises the fervent, the inquisitive, the avaricious, the ambitions, are doomed to fail. But there is a price with which truth may be bought; and the promise holds good, "He that seeketh findeth." Truth must indeed be sought in a right method and in a right spirit; so sought, it will not be sought in vain.
IV. FAITH ASKS, "WHAT IS TRUTH? "AND RECEIVES TO THE QUESTION AN ANSWER DEFINITE, ASSURED, AND SATISFYING. Belief in Christian truth is reasonable, based as it is upon evidence and testimony, upon the highest and most unquestionable authority, and upon the congruity between Christianity and the innate needs of man's understanding, conscience, and heart. Belief, as an intellectual assent, is necessary to true religion; but it is in itself insufficient. To believe the gospel is to put faith in him who is himself the Gospel, and faith in Christ is faith in God. Christ has said, "I am the Truth;" they, then, who find him, find revealed in him the mind, the very heart of God. The truth is to the Christian the favor and the fellowship of the Eternal, the law of life, the satisfaction of the whole nature. Very different are the Christian's convictions from many which are held tenaciously by the "men of this world;" for they are convictions which shall never be distrusted and abandoned; they shall outlast the perishable fabrics reared by human ingenuity and human imagination. - T.
I. THE IMMEDIATE AND HISTORICAL LESSONS DEDUCIBLE FROM THIS ACKNOWLEDGMENT OF PILATE.
1. With reference to the governor himself who thus spoke, we infer from this language his judicial impartiality. Accustomed to such examinations as that he was now conducting, he saw at once through the motives of the accusers, and recognized the absurdity of their charges and the innocence of the Accused. This was to the credit of his intelligence; but his clear perception of the merits of the case makes his guilt the greater in yielding to the malice of the priests and the passion of the populace.
2. This language testifies to the sinful and malicious conduct of Christ's enemies. Pilate was ready enough to see matters as they were seen by the influential class among the Jews. But the case was so flagrant a case of groundless hatred and false accusation, that it was impossible that Pilate should be blinded to the truth. What the governor said was literally true - there was no crime in Jesus.
3. We are justified in accepting this witness to the character of our Lord. As Christians we believe, indeed, far more than the Savior's innocence of the crime of civil insurrection. But we are at liberty to take this evidence, and to require its acceptance by all students of Christ's character and claims. If the historical inquirer will go no further, we may justly expect him to grant that the charge upon which our Lord was put to death was a charge utterly groundless.
II. THE GENERAL AND RELIGIOUS LESSONS DEDUCIBLE FROM THIS ACKNOWLEDGMENT OF PILATE.
1. It harmonizes with the declarations of Scripture concerning the blamelessness and sinlessness of Jesus.
2. It suggests the inquiry why one so blameless should endure such undeserved ignominy and suffering. It is plain from the narrative that Jesus might have avoided what, as a matter of fact, he consented to undergo. There was a reason for this - a reason to be found in the Divine purposes regarding the salvation of sinful men. His qualifications are such as fit him for his mighty and merciful office, as the sinless Savior of a sinful race. - T.