Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. THE PURPOSE OF THE FURTHER REFERENCE. TO obtain authority for carrying out the death-sentence. This would not be allowed to a simple Jewish tribunal. The step taken was, therefore, a practical abdication of their theocratic pretensions. Hatred drives men into inconsistency and hypocrisy.
II. THE CHARGE MADE. Not the same as that upon which they themselves condemned him, but such an interpretation of it as would most readily render him liable to the judgment of the Roman government.
III. His REPLY TO PILATE. An idiomatic equivalent for "Yes," "I am so." The question is understood as an assertion put interrogatively, "Thou art the King of the Jews?" "The rationale of the idiom is that when the interrogative form is withdrawn from the class of interrogations referred to, the saying that remains is the reality (Morison). A similar purpose to that which animated the reply to the high priest is here apparent. The Roman world was certified as to the dignity of Christ. In John's Gospel (John 18:36-38) the true interpretation of this title as a moral and spiritual one is recorded as having been given by Christ to Pilate. It involved no treason, therefore, against the Roman power.
IV. THE GENERAL DEMEANOUR OF CHRIST TOWARDS HIS ACCUSERS. Silence.
1. A marvel. The calmness of the Prisoner was unlike the behavior of prisoners generally, and appeared supernatural.
2. It was equivalent to an appeal to a higher tribunal.
3. An impressive moral victory. - M.
I. IT ELICITED THE INNOCENCE OF JESUS. Charges were made that he had excited sedition through the country, had prohibited the Roman tribute, and had claimed royalty. The last only had any show of plausibility in it. Jesus admitted his kingship, but declared it in immortal words to be the sovereignty of truth over the consciences of men. Reading the narratives of the other evangelists, we gain a clear impression of the innocence of Jesus, as it was exhibited to all who looked on, and defied the inventions of malice. Especially is that innocence reflected from the bearing of Pilate. To him our Lord replied when he asked for information; but met the accusations of the' priests with a silence equally significant. And Pilate was struck dumb with conviction. Character is self-sufficiency. It is "centrality; the impossibility of being displaced or overset." Words will not prove innocence; it speaks louder in silence. Passion and unreason illustrate it. We are generally more anxious to avoid misconstruction than to act as we think right. Jesus teaches us to be servants of the truth, and to be indifferent to the constructions of our enemies. God and the angels are the true spectators of our actions; and the judgment of posterity will reflect the judgment of God.
II. IT ELICITED HIS PERFECT LOYALTY. There must come a time when the truths we have professed will demand to be sealed by our action. Christ had taught men to "seek first the kingdom of God;" to postpone everything to duty; to take heed to the light within; to esteem the soul of greater worth than the whole world. His conduct now falls into harmony with his words; and perfect music flows through the world from both. He preferred the fulfillment of duty to the preservation of life.
III. IT ELICITED HUMAN INJUSTICE AND VICE. Socrates told his judges at Athens that it was they who were really on their trial. So it was the Sanhedrim, and also Pilate, who were on this occasion tried and condemned. The ages have since been reverberating their damnation. Expediency and worldly favor were in one scale; right, innocence, truth, in the other. The former dipped. Worldly authority was opposed to spiritual majesty; the former struck a blow at the latter, which recoiled with Divine effect. The condemnation of Christ was an outrage upon the conscience of the world, both Jewish and pagan. Pilate's illustrious countryman, Cicero, had taught with enthusiasm that the useful and the right form a unity; that the useful can never be put before the right without defeating the social good ('De Officiis,' 3.). An action can never be useful unless it is first right. Here was a great reversal of that order. That Jesus should die is expedient, said the Sanhedrim; but not right, said their conscience. On other grounds, Pilate took the same position; while his wife, like a second conscience, would have restrained him. In similar crises of personal experience, let us remember that to subordinate right to expediency is to condemn the Lord of life afresh.
IV. IT ILLUSTRATES THE METHODS OF PROVIDENCE. When innocence suffers and violence prevails, the foundations of moral order seem to be shaken, and the righteous exclaim, "What shall we do?" The face of Providence seems obscured. But God is One who hideth himself. What we call the evil in nature may be the disguise of his wisdom; and not less does he conceal himself behind the evil of men. Here the greatest evil on their part gave occasion for the greatest good.
V. IT ILLUSTRATES THE ILLUSIVENESS OF APPEARANCES. Jesus is insulted by Roman soldiers; himself the spiritual Emperor of mankind. He is mocked with a semblance of royalty; the mocking expresses an eternal fact. "Ridicule is the test of truth." Beware of mockery and insolence; we may be defying the Spirit of God. Seek below the praise and the blame of men, their applause and their abuse, for the eternal fact. Judge not of Christianity by what men say of it, but by itself. Estimate not its divinity by the worldly honor that attaches to it; but rather by the dishonor of the many, and the loyalty and life of the few. Truth and meekness, truth and spiritual force, - these are mightier than all falsehood and scorn. - J.
I. JESUS SENT FROM THE SANHEDRIM TO PILATE - FROM THE JEWISH TRIAL TO THE ROMAN TRIAL.
1. The first stage of the Jewish trial. After the arrest at Gethsemane, our Lord was conducted back to the city, across the Kidron to the palace-of the ex-high priest Annas, the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the actual high priest that same year. The influence of this functionary was very great; his age, astuteness, riches, power, perhaps presidency of the Sanhedrim. - all contributed to it. In answer to the inquiries of Annas about our Lord's disciples and doctrine, the Savior appealed to his teaching in the synagogue, in the temple, always in public; and referred him to his auditors on these occasions. This reply was construed into disrespect towards the ex-high priest., and resulted in the first act of violence, apart from the arrest itself; for one of the officers struck Jesus with the palm of his. hand or with a rod (ῤάπισμα), as rendered in the margin. This was the first of the three stages of the Jewish trial. Here we remark
(1) that both Jews and Gentiles took part in arresting Jesus and conducting him to the high priest. "The band and the captain," or chiliarch, that is, tribune, formed the Roman or Gentile element; while the "officers of the Jews" composed the Jewish element. Thus from first to last "the Gentiles and the people of Israel" combined against the Lord and his Anointed. The mention
(2) of both Annas and Caiaphas as high priests by St. Luke (Luke 3:9.) tallies with the fact that, owing to the arbitrary interference of the Romans, there might be several high priests alive at the same time; that is, those who had held the office and been deposed, and the person actually exercising the office. Of course, according to the Law of Moses, there could only be one high priest at a time, and that rightful high priest was the hereditary representative of Aaron. Even in the Roman period the high priesthood had not become a yearly office, though the frequent depositions and displacements occasioned many changes and much confusion. Thus Annas had been deposed in the twelfth year of our era by Valerius Gratus, the immediate predecessor of Pilate in the procuratorship of Judaea; yet, so great was his influence, that he had his own son Eleazar, his son-in-law Caiaphas, and four other sons subsequently appointed to the high priesthood.
(3) The preliminary inquiry before Annas might elicit information with regard to the extent of discipleship, and so of sympathy among the rulers, as in the case of Nicodemus, that might be calculated on; not only so, it would result in a prejudgment of the ease through the shrewdness and influence of the ex-high priest. Further, a higher object - an object most probably not dreamt of by either Annas or Caiaphas - was antitypical. We read in Leviticus 16 that on the great day of Atonement, Aaron laid both his hands upon the head of the live, or scape-goat, and confessed over him all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions in all their sins, putting them upon the head of the goat; and sent him away by the hand of a fit man into the wilderness; and the goat bore upon him all their iniquities into a land not inhabited. Similarly, the high priests concerned in this trial were, in the exercise of an analogous function, pronouncing sin to be upon the head of the Victim before he was led forth to crucifixion.
2. The second stage of the Jewish trial. The second stage of the Jewish trial consisted of an informal investigation before Caiaphas, and a committee or commission of the Sanhedrim. In order that a conviction might be obtained, it was necessary to secure two witnesses at least to depose to some definite charge. But while the testimony of some was irrelevant, that of others was self-contradictory. At length two volunteered to testify in the case. For this testimony, such as it was, they were obliged to travel back over a period of some three years. Then, fixing on certain words of our Lord at the first Passover after entering on his public ministry, in reference to the temple, they either misunderstood them, or misinterpreted and consequently misrepresented them. The words in question were constructed into contempt of the temple; this contempt, if fully proved, would have constituted a capital charge, just as, in the case of the protomartyr Stephen, the charge was that he ceased not to speak "blasphemous words against this holy place and the Law." But this charge was not substantiated; the evidence broke down in consequence of the disagreement of the witnesses. Our Lord had said, "Destroy (λύσατε) this temple, and in three days I will raise it up" (ἐγερῶ, a word quite suitable to resurrection, but no way appropriate to rebuilding); "but he spake of the temple of his body." One of the witnesses perverted this into, "I wilt destroy (καταλύσω) this temple that is made with hands, and within three days I will build (οἰκοδομήσω) another made without hands" (Mark 14:58); the other testified, "I can destroy (δύναμαι καταλῦσαι) the temple of God, and build (οἰκιδομῆσαι) it in three days" Matthew 26:61. Accordingly, St. Mark adds, "Neither so did their witness agree. What our Lord had spoken in a figurative sense they applied literally; for upraising they substituted building; what was really a promise they twisted into a threat; if they themselves destroyed their temple, he promised replacement. The temple had long been distinguished by the Shechinah glory or visible presence of Jehovah, yet was doomed to destruction; the human body of Jesus, in which dwelt the fullness of the Godhead bodily, when raised up would supersede the inhabitation of God in the literal temple.
3. Pretence of legality. What now can the members of the Sanhedrim present on this occasion do? They wish to keep up the semblance of law and justice, but the evidence has signally failed. The condemnation of Jesus is a foregone conclusion, in whatever way it is to be effected, and still the appearance of legality must be maintained. A clever thought occurs to the mind of the high priest, and in default of evidence he resorts to the desperate expedient of causing Jesus to criminate himself. Accordingly, standing up into the midst (εἰς μέσον), and thus passing from his seat to some conspicuous position, as St. Mark graphically describes it, he adjured Jesus most solemnly to declare if he were indeed the Messiah, that is, "the Christ, the son of the Blessed," viz. if he claimed to be not only the expected Messiah, but also to be a Divine person - the Son and equal of God. Whereupon followed the avowal by which he criminated himself, and gave ground of condemnation. Though he had acknowledged the confession of Peter to the same effect, and even commended it; though he had accepted the same or an equivalent title on the occasion of his public entry into Jerusalem, he had not as yet publicly claimed it. Now, however, he avowed it in the most public manner, in the presence of the high priest and members of council. According to St. Mark, this avowal was expressed by "I am;" according to St. Matthew by "Thou hast said;" while in St. Luke's report of the third Jewish trial, the two are combined with a trifling variation, namely," Ye say that I am."
4. Hypocrisy in high places. If our Lord had remained silent, they would have probably charged him with imposture; now that he confessed his Messiahship and future exaltation, they proceeded to condemn him for blasphemy. The council sought nothing further; they wanted only evidence against him - something to inculpate, not to exculpate, him. They did not wish to hear the grounds of his claim; they wanted no explanation. With the Jews the setting up of a claim to any Divine' attribute was regarded as blasphemy; the claim of Christ, according to their opinion of him, came under the Mosaic law of blasphemy. And now the hypocrisy of the high priest is something shocking. As the highest ecclesiastical functionary of the nation, and the principal officer of its great council, his duty surely was to investigate the confession and claim of one who professed to embody the hopes of the nation, and to scrutinize the true nature of that claim, the real meaning of it, the grounds on which it rested, the reasons of it, and the evidence for it. On the contrary, he grasped with avidity at the prospect of a condemnation. His sense of justice was no higher than his sense of religion; on anything that might tend to explain, or extenuate, or exculpate, he shut his eyes and closed his ears. But what is still more disgusting in the conduct of this ecclesiastic was his abominable hypocrisy. He feigned abhorrence at the crime which he was so anxious to establish. Glad as he was to have this constructive crime of blasphemy to allege, he pretended the most extreme horror by tearing his garments from the neck to the waist. Here, indeed, was "spiritual wickedness in high places."
5. The third stage of the Jewish trial. This was the more formal trial; it was held at dawn of day, and in the presence of the whole Sanhedrim (ὅλον τὸ συνέδριον). The previous trial, being held at night, was invalid; besides, it had been conducted only by a representation - an influential representation or committee of the Sanhedrim, consisting, it is probable, mainly of the priests. At the present stage the whole council was present, with its three constituent parts - elders, chief priests, and scribes. This is the meeting of council mentioned in the first verse of the present chapter, and in the parallel verses of St. Matthew and St. Luke, viz. Matthew 27:1 of the former, and Luke 22:66 of the latter. The object was to ratify a predetermined decree. They also found it necessary for their purpose to change the charge, and consequently also the venue. It was more, perhaps, with the object of consummating than of ratifying their sentence that this meeting was hastily summoned. The judicial murder which they had decided on was not in their power to carry out. Had it been so, stoning would have been the death-penalty. A deputation of an influential and imposing kind waited upon Pilate, to whom the Prisoner is now transferred, either hoping, through the facile condescension of the procurator, to get the case remitted to themselves for execution, or to devolve it on the Roman governor.
II. THE ROMAN TRIAL, OR TRIAL BEFORE PILATE.
1. Incidents leading to crucifixion. Crucifixion was a mode of death unknown to Jewish law, and unpractised by the Jewish people. It was fearfully familiar as a mode of execution among the Romans - this we learn from their writings; as, "Thou shalt not feed the crows on the cross," of Horace; "It makes no difference to Theodore whether he rots on the ground or aloft, i.e. on the cross," of Cicero; also from such expressions as the following: - "Go, soldier, get ready the cross;" "Thou shalt go to the cross." It was not, however, till the Roman period that it was introduced into Judaea. It was only after Jew and Roman had come into collision, and had taken respectively the position of conqueror and conquered, of sovereign and subject, that this cruel mode of death found its way into the Holy Land. And yet, strange to say, long years before the Romans had risen to pre-eminence and power, and centuries before Judaea had been catalogued as a province of their vast empire, it had been foretold that Messiah's death would be by crucifixion. We refer to the well-known prediction in the twenty-second psalm, where we read, "They pierced my hands and my feet" ("piercing my hands and my feet," according to Perowne; "geknebelt" ['fastened,' as the extremities were in crucifixion] meine Hande und Fusse," according to Ewald). 'Before that prophecy was fulfilled a long series of events had to be evolved; dynasties had to rise and fall; a kingdom had to pass through the hands of many successive rulers and become extinct; an empire, the greatest of ancient times, had to rise to unprecedented power; that kingdom had to be absorbed,.and become a province of that empire. In a word, Judaea had to become tributary and Rome triumphant before the event could take place. The facts referred to changed the complexion of our Lord's trial. Of the many charges they might have manufactured, such as violation of the sabbath law, contempt of oral tradition, purification of the temple, heretical teaching, or esoteric doctrines of a dangerous kind., they elected that of blasphemy, grounded on his own confession of divinity, or of being "the Son of God;" while he strengthens the admission by foretelling that, besides (πλὴν) the verbal avowal, they would have ocular proof when they should see him - the Son of man as well as Son of God - "sitting at the right hand of power, and coming on the clouds of heaven." This admission was, as we have seen, extorted after the suborned witnesses had entirely broken down, and the two best of them had shamefully perverted and prevaricated; but, notwithstanding, it was seized by the high priest from his false notions of Messiah as an acknowledgment of the charge preferred. Stoning was the mode of death which the Law appointed for that crime; but though the Jews could pass sentence, they could not execute it. One of the signs of Messiah's advent thus stared them in the face; "the scepter had [thus] departed from Judah, and a lawgiver from between his feet." Accordingly, they were obliged to have recourse to the Roman procurator, Pilate; but then they knew that he would not interfere with their religious controversies. What now is to be done? They take new ground; they change the accusation from blasphemy to treason, in order to subject their Prisoner to the secular power.
2. Charges preferred. The charge was really constructive treason, but their indictment as first advanced consisted of three articles. They charged him
(1) with perverting the nation;
(2) with forbidding to give tribute to Caesar; and
(3) with affirming that he himself was Christ, a King.
Pilate pays no attention to the first and second, and only notices the third. His mode of procedure was in accordance with the Roman respect for law and sense of justice. He refused to confirm the sentence of the Sanhedrim, and proceeded to hold a private and preliminary examination (ἀνακρίσις: as we read in Luke 23:14, ἀνακρίνας), having removed Jesus into the Praetorium, or governor's palace. This examination Pilate conducted in person, as he had no quaestor; and was satisfied of the harmlessness of the title of King by the Savior's explanation that his kingdom was not of this world. Pilate was convinced of our Lord's innocence, but hearing Galilee mentioned, he at once caught at the idea of shifting the responsibility, or at least sharing it with Herod Antipas, and at the same time of conciliating the tetrarch by an act of courtesy; and in consequence remitted (ἀνέπεμψεν) the accused to Herod's as the higher court, or technically from the court apprehensionis to the court originis. Herod, having been disappointed by seeing no miracle performed by the reputed miracle-worker, and dissatisfied by his dignified silence, sent him back to Pilate, arrayed in a white or gorgeous (λαμπρὰν, from λάω, to see) robe, thus caricaturing his candidatcship or claim to royalty, and thereby hinting to Pilate that instead of a punishable offense, it was rather a matter of contempt and ridicule. Pilate is perplexed, and no wonder; his vacillation now begins to take effect. He sins against his sense of justice as a Roman magistrate; he sins against conscience; he proposes a most unjust and unlawful compromise, namely, the chastisement (παιδεύσας) of an innocent person. But this concession, unrighteous as it was, did not satisfy; and again he tried to avail himself of the custom of releasing one at the feast in compliance with the clamor of the multitude; but the cry of the populace, instigated by the agents of the priests, was, "Not this man, but Barabbas." By a symbolic act, this weak judge seeks to transfer the guilt to the infuriate mob, and still clinging to the hope that the multitude would be content with a compromise, he delivered Jesus to be scourged, and that, not with the rods of the lictors, but with the horrible scourge tipped with bone and lead (φραγελλώσας).
3. Retrospect at the indignities. The first act of insult and violence was, as we have seen, during the inquisition by Annas, who sought to entangle him by insidious interrogatories, when one of the officers struck Jesus with his hand or with a rod (ῤάπισμα), as St. John informs us. The next was in the course of the second Jewish trial, which was conducted by Caiaphas, and by which the confession of being "the Christ, the Son of God," was extorted. In describing this sad scene, no less than five forms of beating are mentioned by the Evangelists Matthew and Mark and Luke. The latter has
(1) δέροντες, properly to skin or flay, and then beat severely;
(2) ἔτυπτον, imperfect, they kept smiting him;
(3) παίσας, to inflict blows or strike with violence; St. Matthew has
(4) ἐκολάφισαν, they buffeted with clenched fist; and
(5) ἐρράπισαν, they struck with open palms or rods; while St. Mark has ῤαπίσμασιν... ἔβαλλον, they received him with blows of the hands or strokes of rods.
It was on this occasion they did spit in his face and blindfold him, derisively bidding him "prophesy, who is it that smote thee?" with many other vilifications, in some or all of which the members of the council, as well as the menials of the court, took part. We now hasten from such a disgraceful scene - from the scornful spitting, the shameful scoffing, the savage smiting, the ribald revilings, the shocking cruelties, and the savage barbarities of the miscreants of the Sanhedrim - and pass on to his treatment by Herod. He joins with his men of war in setting him at nought and mocking him, and arrays him in a gorgeous robe, as if to caricature his pretensions, or, as some think, a bright or white robe, as though in mimicry of his candidature for royal honors. Thus sent back to Pilate, he is scourged by the procurator's command. The very thought of that scourging makes the blood run cold and the heart sick. All that preceded, cruel as it was and devilish as it was, caused but little of bodily pain as compared with the scourging. He had indeed suffered dreadfully, in both body and mind. He had been betrayed by one disciple, denied by another; three slept when they should have sympathized; at length all forsook him and fled. He has been hurried from one tribunal to another - from the Sanhedrim to the Roman governor, from the Roman governor to the Tetrarch of Galilee, and from Herod back to Pilate. See him the night preceding in the Garden of Gethsemane, in the midst of his agony, when perspiration bathed his body, and that bloody sweat trickled in big drops down to the ground. See him now in the place where he is scourged, cruelly scourged, his face marred, his body mangled, the quivering flesh fearfully torn with the bits of lead and bone plaited into the leathern thongs, while he is still barbarously smitten, and savage stripes inflicted on him. See him again, surrounded by a band of ruffian soldiers - provincial or rather Roman soldiers, to their disgrace be it recorded - who plait a crown of nabk thorns, and press it down so that the sharp and prickly points more painfully pierce his temples and lacerate his bleeding brows. While his body is still smarting from the wounds made by the scourging, while the blood is still running down on every side from the thorn-crown, while insult is being heaped on insult and added to injury, they smite his sacred head with a reed as if to gash that head more brutally, and leave the thorns yet deeper in the skin. One other act in that bloody tragedy precedes and prepares for the crucifixion itself. Instead of the gorgeous or white robe with which Herod and his men of war had, in their bitter mockery, clothed him, the Roman soldiers of the governor arrayed him with the military scarlet or purple war-cloak, mimicking the imperial purple. He is stripped a second time - the mock-garments are pulled off him, and his own put on; and thus all his wounds are opened afresh and their pain renewed. During the mock-coronation, in which the leaves of thorn burlesqued the imperial wreath of laurel, the reed the royal scepter, and the soldier's cloak the emperor's purple, they spat upon him, they smote him on the head,, they bowed the knee in mockery, and they scoffed him, saying," Hail, King of the Jews!"
4. Pilate's last effort to release him. Once more Pilate makes another effort to prevent the crucifixion of Christ. Though scourging was usually the frightful preparation for crucifixion, yet Pilate is most anxious to proceed no further. He seeks to have it regarded, perhaps, in the light of trial by torture without anything worthy of death being elicited, or perhaps he wishes to have it accepted as a sufficient substitute for crucifixion. With some such purpose - a purpose, as it is generally and properly understood, of commiseration - he exhibits the Savior in that unspeakably sad and sorrowful plight - worn, wan, and wasted; his features here befouled with spitting, there besmeared with blood; his face disfigured by blows - marred more than any man's and his countenance more than the sons of men; while blood-drops trickle from many a wound down on the tesselated pavement, lie calls their attention to this woebegone and most pitiable spectacle, saying, in words that have thrilled many a heart, and shall thrill thousands in the generations that may be yet to come, "Behold the Man!" But in vain. The only response was a louder, sterner, fiercer cry: "Crucify him! crucify him!" He deserves to die, "because he made himself the Son of God." Moved to the inmost depths of his being, Pilate struggles on for his release; but, amid the loud clamor for the Victim's blood, there are ominous growls that boded a possible impeachment on the charge of treason against the governor himself. "If thou let this man go, thou art not Caesar's friend;" "We have no king but Caesar." Shame upon those bloodthirsty hypocrites who could say so; though they hated Caesar and all his belongings, and 'were real rebels at heart! And shame upon that cowardly judge, who, as a Roman magistrate, quailed before such cruel clamor, and had not the courage of his own certain convictions!
5. Agencies co-operating to compass the crucifixion. If we glance for a moment at the various influences that were at work to compass our Lord's death upon the cross, we find in the foreground the envy and malice of chief priests and rulers; the mean-spirited avarice of the wretched traitor Judas; the want of firmness and thorough conscientiousness on the part of Pilate; the fury of a fickle mob misled by designing demagogues; the submission of the soldiers to the orders of their superiors; - all obeying the propensities of their own nature, though ignorant of the reason or the results; all fulfilling the predictions of Scripture, though not knowing it; and all accomplishing the purposes of God, though not intending it. But in the background, as we shall see in connection with the crucifixion itself, it was sin on the part of man, and substitution on the part of the Savior. "He bore our sins," says the apostle, "in his own body on the tree." It was determinate counsel and foreknowledge on the part of God. In accordance with that counsel and foreknowledge, and in consequence of our sin and the Savior's substitutionary self-sacrifice, "ought not Christ to suffer these things?" Was it not necessary for him to become "obedient unto death, even the death of the cross"? - J.J.G.
I. A REVELATION OF THE HATRED OF THE NATURAL MIND FOR TRUTH AND GOODNESS. Several ancient authorities are in favor of readings here and elsewhere which would give us, "Jesus Barabbas" (i.e. son of a father or rabbi), as the full name of the "robber" who was here the favorite of the populace. ]f this be so, there would be two of the name Jesus, and the choice would thus be strikingly emphasized. The character of Barabbas as a rioter and murderer is glossed over by the semblance of patriotism, as he is said to have been engaged in the insurrection caused by Pilate's appropriation of the corban of the temple for building an aqueduct. In any case the personal character is utterly subordinated, and motives of policy prevail. The season of the Passover recalled the historic sparing of Israel's firstborn and the destruction of Egypt's. The positions seemed now to be reversed, or Israel deliberately assumed the character of Egypt, preferring that the guilty should be set free. We have here the self-conviction of:
1. Perverted religious instincts. In the case of the chief priests and people of the Jews. Their whole religious training ought to have prepared them to receive Christ.
2. Popular opinion unguided by the Spirit of God. A prey to unscrupulous influences, to false sentiment, and to passing excitements.
3. Spiritual indifference. In the person oF Pilate, in whom it lent itself readily to unprincipled diplomacy and the surrender of innocence.
II. A PARABLE OF THE CHOICE EVERY MAN IS CALLED UPON TO MAKE.
1. In daily life. Minute occurrences in which the contrasts may not seem so striking, or the choice so final. Their ultimate influence in the determination of character and destiny.
2. In the great crises of religious decision. It is well at such times to consider carefully the respective ends of the courses of conduct that present themselves.
III. A SYMBOL OF THE CENTRAL MYSTERY OF REDEMPTION. In the gospel the method of salvation is that the innocent shall suffer for the guilty. Jesus the Christ thus became the substitute of Barabbas the robber. The latter only gained the prolongation of his earthly life thereby; a questionable benefit. But those who believe in Christ as the vicarious Sacrifice and voluntary Self-sacrificer for sinners will receive eternal salvation. - M.
1. The perilous influence which unscrupulous leaders may exert over an undisciplined, untutored mob.
2. How possible it is for the human heart so to deceive itself that the highest representatives of the purest system of truth and morals may be debased into an alliance with the most corrupt and degraded, and may prostitute the holiest functions to the most evil ends. High priests of God may lead men to the service of the devil.
3. The sad consequences of
(1) a blinded intelligence,
(2) an undisciplined moral nature,
(3) a corrupt prejudice.
High priests and people have their way. "Their voices prevailed." And Pilate, moved with fear, and evidently against his convictions of right, "to content the multitude," "released him... whom they asked for; but Jesus he delivered up to their will." Thus the world to-day demands its Barabbas and rejects Jesus. Truth, goodness, charity, patience, heavenly mindedness - all that is pure and good - is sacrificed, and by "the multitude" still evil is preferred, and they, alas! are "content." - G.
I. THE PRIESTS WERE HOSTILE TO OUR LORD FROM PRIDE. They should have been the first to welcome him. As Jews they were familiar with the utterances of the prophets, and as priests they should have known the meaning of the sacrifices they offered. They had heard the preaching of John when he announced Messiah, and they had again and again had evidence respecting the work and teaching of Jesus. But pride summoned prejudice to build up an obstacle impervious to all assaults. Their social dignity refused to recognize this peasant Teacher; their intellectual culture spurned the utterances of the Prophet of Nazareth; and their ecclesiastical prestige held it to be incredible that a carpenter's Son should be "the Light of the world." In our day, too, pride has such disastrous influence. Many admit that Jesus Christ was a pattern of benevolence and of moral purity; but when he declares himself to be an infallible Teacher of Divine truth, when he claims superhuman power, when he demands submission to his will, they rise against him, as those did who once exclaimed, "For good works we stone thee not, but for blasphemy; because thou, being a man, makest thyself God."
II. PILATE WAS HOSTILE TO OUR LORD FROM POLICY. He saw at a glance the vindictiveness of the priests, and the innocence of him they accused; and, after a few minutes' conversation, frankly said, "I find in him no fault at all." But this was followed by a pitiful struggle and fall. He tried to rid himself of responsibility by sending the Galilean to Herod; he offered to release him, not on the ground of innocence, but as an act of grace, usual at the Passover; he cruelly scourged him, in the hope that this would satisfy the bloodthirsty mob. But when these devices failed, and the people threatened Pilate himself, as a traitor to the emperor, he delivered Jesus to be crucified. He fell through moral cowardice, brought about by former crimes, fearing lest he should lose office and honor unless he fell in with the demands of this brutal crowd. Things seen rule the man who has no faith in things unseen. Personal interests seemed more to him than the life or death of one poor Prisoner. He yielded to clamor; and though at the time he knew it not, he crucified the Christ.
III. THE PEOPLE WERE HOSTILE TO OUR LORD FROM PASSION. "The chief priests moved the people." They would urge that Jesus had been condemned by their own orthodox court, and that it was the duty of every patriot to induce the Romans to support its decisions; and they would further urge that Barabbas, the leader of an insurrection, was a friend of the people and a champion of their liberties, so that he was to be preferred to Jesus of Nazareth. The mass of the people were not intelligently hostile to our Lord. Some knew little of him, and thought that the Sanhedrim was best able to judge of such questions; and others went with the popular current, whether it led them to shout "Hosanna!" or "Crucify him!" Hence they were included with the soldiers in the prayer of our Lord, "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do." - A.R.
I. WHAT IT WAS IN HIM THAT WAS MOCKED. The crown and the purple and the sham homage are interpreted by the cry, "Hail, King of the Jews!"
1. It was his kingly pretensions they ridiculed. So the Jews had laughed to scorn his prophetic office. To those Roman soldiers, impressed with the grandeur of the power they themselves represented, the claim to be king of a small and subject land like Palestine was very petty. They could afford, so they thought, to laugh at it; even as Pilate was not afraid to have released him who preferred it.
2. But even more did they despise his title as a theocratic King. How far these citizens of the empire of law were from realizing the true character of the kingdom of righteousness! Had he even been recognized by the Jews themselves as their ruler, the nation was too small, too insignificant in a political or military point of view, to be of any consequence. There was no suspicion in their minds of danger to the Roman empire, or of the influence which his moral and spiritual character was to wield in the new ages of the world. It is, although they knew it not then, by virtue of this same moral majesty and power that he, in turn, has become the Conqueror of mankind, and is maintaining and extending his sway in regions where mouldering ruins and obsolete statutes are all that remain to witness to Rome's vanished greatness. It is the mockers themselves that are now ridiculous.
II. HOW MEN MAY MOCK HIM STILL. There is a feeling of human tenderness that is outraged as we imagine the meek Sufferer amidst the brutal throng. But the true sentiment that ought to be awakened is that which concerns the principles of righteousness and truth, of which he was the embodiment and representative. It is for them he would have us solicitous even to jealousy. Men still wound and mock Christ:
1. When they reader to him a merely nominal homage. "When we pervert the truth of the Word for our own evil ends, we scourge the Son of man; when to justify our evils we fabricate a system of ingenious error, and thus exalt our own wisdom above the wisdom of Jesus, we plait a crown of thorns and put it on his head; when we substitute our own righteousness for the righteousness of Christ, we clothe him with a purple robe; when we are inwardly worshippers of self and outwardly worshippers of the Lord, our worship of him is a mocking salutation of 'Hail, King of the Jews!' while every presumptuous sin we commit is a stroke inflicted on the Son of man" (W. Bruce).
2. When they ignore the moral nature of his power, relying on material and external means instead of spiritual. When they use the methods of business in a business spirit, or even the arts of diplomacy, to advance his kingdom. So men clothe Christ in the insignia of Herod. "The kingliest King was crowned with thorns!
3. When they would accept the advantages of his kingdom without observing its conditions. As when persons profess to enjoy the preaching and ordinances of the gospel, but do not carry its doctrines into practice; or when they are "straightway offended" at the tribulations and privations which true discipleship involves. - M.
nabk, with its long, hard, sharp spikes or thorns, into a mock-crown, and press it down upon his fever-heated brow. In his yielding hand they thrust a reed, and bow their knees in mock submission and homage, and with coarse gibes hail him "King of the Jews." Snatching the reed from his hand, they beat him with it on his bleeding head; they strike him with their fists or with rods; and in the direst indignity spit upon him. Then, "wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe," he is led out. To this uncomplaining Sufferer - this smitten and forsaken One - Pilate calls the attention of the multitude with words which, like those he wrote, float on through the ages, bearing their different message as the listening ears differed - "Ecce homo!" The echoing cry from the mingled voices of "the chief and the officers" arose above all others, "Crucify, crucify!" A miserable squabble between Pilate and the Jews ends in his "Behold your King!" and their reply "Away with him; away with him, crucify him!... We have no king but Caesar." In the temple Judas is casting down "the thirty pieces of silver," making confession, in a repentance all too late, "I have sinned in that I betrayed innocent blood," and his agonized spirit seeks a vain relief in a hasty destruction of a life he cannot support Jesus "bearing the cross, is led away to be crucified, when, stoking, exhausted with suffering, beneath its weight, he is relieved by its being laid on "one Simon of Cyrene" - the first in a long line of lowly cross-bearers who endure the shame for Jesus' sake. "And they bring him unto the place Golgotha." One only spark of humanity is left. "They offered him wine mingled with myrrh." Then upon a cross - symbol of the uttermost degradation and shame, and more than a symbol of the uttermost suffering - they stretched his sacred, quivering limbs, piercing his hands and his feet with rough nails. Thus "they crucified him. Then from out of the most indescribable agony of body broke forth the gentle murmur of a loving heart in modest prayer, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do." Ah! they crushed, they broke that heart; but it sent forth only the sweet fragrance of its love, as a crushed flower its perfume. But he is not alone. "'With him they crucify two robbers, one on his right hand and one on his left." Thus is he "numbered with the transgressors." "Racked by the extremest pain, and covered with every shame which men were wont to heap on the greatest criminals; forsaken and denied by his disciples; no sigh escaped his lips, no cry of agony, no bitter or faltering word; only a prayer for the forgiveness of his enemies. They had acted in blindness, under the influence of religious and political fanaticism; for, to use St. Paul's words, had they known it they would not have crucified the Lord of glory." Surely they could not know, or it would not have to be recorded in one sentence: "And they crucify him, and part his garments among them, casting lots upon them, what each should take. So hard, so insensible! In presence of the central fact in the world's history, men gamble! Here we must find our lessons, in the contrasted intensity of interest in human salvation which is shown from above, and that careless, blind indifference which marks men before whose eyes Jesus Christ [is] openly set forth crucified." The world must see itself represented in the actors on that dread evening; and each of us may see himself in one or other of the many surrounding "the Man on that day of darkness, doom, and death. Let each bring himself into presence of that cross - the true judgment-seat - of Christ, and there test his heart, and try and prove his life. And further, let each one learn how his hand is not wanting among those rude hands that smote that tender flesh; nor his words from those that fell on that quick ear; nor his sins from those that burdened that too heavy-weighted heart.
Our sins of spite were part of those that day,
I. THE CRUCIFIXION AND ACCOMPANYING EVENTS,
1. The words of the Creed. The words of the Creed, "crucified under Pontius Pilate," are familiar to almo
I. THERE MAY BE A BLESSING IN ENFORCED SERVICE. Simon the Cyrenian is raised into the light of history; perhaps to teach us this. No nobler honor for the Christian than to reflect, "I have been called to bear the cross." And for some to reflect, "I was forced into carrying the cross I would have refused, or left on the ground." So with that other Simon, surnamed Peter.
II. PAIN IS RATHER TO BE STRUGGLED WITH THAN ARTIFICIALLY SUPPRESSED, We seek anodynes for our troubles. Jesus teaches us to react against them by the force of faith. In the hour of duty we are to seek presence, not absence, of mind; to collect our faculties, not to distract them.
III. WHAT IS PHYSICALLY POSSIBLE MAY BE MORALLY IMPOSSIBLE. Christ could have come down from the cross in the former sense, could not in the latter. He presents the ideal of suffering service for us, and the revelation of God's ways. There may be things which God cannot do, in our way of speaking, because he knows they are not well to be done. We, at ]cast, cannot save ourselves at the expense of duty, and must be content to appear foolish or impotent to many. Suffering and salvation are facts eternally wedded and at one. - J.
prima facie impression was not accidentally produced, but belonged, so to speak, to the very essence of the gospel as a "mystery;" and it had its ends to serve in the inscrutable wisdom of God. That it tended at first to conceal the true character of the Savior's sufferings there can be no doubt; but as certainly it prepared the way for subsequent spiritual revelation. It served -
I. TO EXCITE ATTENTION. This apparent self-contradiction in the career of Jesus was a matter of public notoriety. Had it been overlooked by any, the enemies of the truth were eager to point it out. There is something piquant to the curiosity and speculation of men in a matter which wears such an aspect.
II. AS A MEANS OF AVENGING THE TRUTH UPON ITS ADVERSARIES. How quick they were to seize upon it and turn it to the best advantage! For a little while they had it all their own way. So infatuated were they, that they put the seeming contradiction in the strongest possible form; the antithesis is all but perfect. Not quite so, however. They had to confess that he had "saved others." The monuments of his work remained, and facts are hard to discredit. There was something in the very sound which would recall histories of gracious sympathy and help; miracles of saving power. It was precisely this element of stubborn matter of fact which could not be accounted for on the theory of mere pretension, and which in turn vitiated their argument. A thousand presumptions will not disprove, but must yield to, a single fact. Now, the fact of Christ's miraculous works is certified to us by those who sought to discredit and disprove them. Out of their own mouths are they condemned. They are self-sentenced to a vicious mill-round of mere logic. The natural man cannot understand the heavenly mystery.
III. AS A MEANS OF DISCIPLINING AND REWARDING FAITH.
1. That the disciples themselves did not comprehend it at first is evident from the Gospel narrative. It must have been hard for them to see what appeared the falsification of their hopes; harder still to be taunted by those who had so cruelly slain their Master. What part may it not have had in the "cup" the Savior himself had to drink?
2. But by this very discipline it prepared them for the inner and spiritual "discerning of the Lord's body." Their spiritual susceptibilities were awakened, and they began to realize the meaning of the mystery. Gradually they were to emerge from the bewilderment and perplexity. Peter and the rest of the disciples traveled far ere they reached Pentecost, but each step in the journey of their faith was a revelation of the secret of Jesus. It was not to human force he had submitted, but to his Father's will. The necessity that bound him to the cross was a spiritual one. It was because he wished to save others absolutely that he would and could not save himself. - M.
e.g. a curse had accompanied man's spiritual fall. Promises of temporal good were associated with moral worth. Images drawn from the "desert" and the "trees" and "rivers" by the prophets found their justification in the truth uttered afterwards by St. Paul, "The whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now," etc. The darkening of the sun was the testimony of Nature to her dying Lord; a hint that creation is dependent on him, that Nature is supported by unseen spiritual powers, and that the fate of the earth is involved in the kingdom of God. It is no meaningless portent described here, but an event which had its teaching both immediate and remote. Consider -
I. THE EFFECTS OF THIS DARKNESS ON THOSE AROUND THE CROSS.
1. This supernatural gloom would increase the solemnity of the event. As the darkness grew denser, silence would fall on the gibing tongues and every noisy laugh would be stilled; and as the gloom deepened into unearthly night over the busy streets, the open fields, and the sacred temple, many would ask themselves, "What meaneth this?" Carelessness and flippant scepticism are always out of place in view of the cross. If the narrative be mythical, it should at least be rejected intelligently and seriously; for, if it be true, it involves stupendous issues to us all.
2. It hid his agony from the onlookers. Faithful friends and, above all, the loving mother stood there till they could bear no more; and God would not suffer them to be tried above bearing, so darkness shrouded the Sufferer. And the foes of our Lord were shut out from a scene too sacred for them to witness. Beyond what was necessary, the well-beloved Son should not be exposed to their brutal jeers.
3. It was an admonition to our Lord's foes. They were readers of Old Testament Scriptures, and knew well how their fathers had been dealt with. They remembered that in the day of their national deliverance darkness had fallen on Jehovah's foes, and had proved the precursor of heavier plagues, and therefore we do not wonder that some went home "beating their breasts," and saying, "What next?" Would that they had turned even then!
II. THE SUGGESTIONS OF THIS DARKNESS TO THE WORLD.
1. It indicated the going out of the world's Light. Jesus had plainly declared, "I am the Light of the world;" "Walk while ye have the light, lest darkness come upon you." To some, at least, such words would come back with new meaning and power. To reject Christ is to shut off light from the soul, and become ready for the outer darkness. A Christless world was set forth when the sun was darkened.
2. It suggested the ignorance of the Gentiles and the malignity of the Jews. The soldiers were brutal, yet knew not what they did. Pilate, in political scheming, had lost all sense of righteousness and truth, and so in ignorance delivered Jesus to be crucified. "Darkness covered the earth, and gross darkness the people." On the other hand, the Jews had in themselves the fulfillment of the words, "The god of this world hath blinded the minds of them that believe not."
3. It reminded the Church of the mystery of the Atonement. The death of the Lord Jesus had a Godward as well as a worldward aspect. It was to attract human love, but at the same time to reveal Divine love. When the darkness passed away, and the sun shone upon the cross, the returning light was like the bow of promise after the Flood - a sign of peace between man and God, and a pledge of "the rainbow round about the throne," in the land where all give thanks to God and to the Lamb that was slain. - A.R.
I. The first was A WORD OF PRAYER FOR FORGIVENESS, itself a forgiveness. "I forgive them: do thou, O Father, forgive." It was a word of excuse for them who did it ignorantly and in unbelief. "They see only a malefactor: open their eyes that they may see and know." If the prayer may be offered for them who, with wicked hands, crucified the Lord of glory, because they did it ignorantly, learn we that such a prayer may be offered, and surely will be heard, for all ignorant, blinded ones who, in sinning against the Lord, are sinners against their own souls· In proportion as we sin wifully, having knowledge of the truth and of what we do, we put ourselves further and further away from the possibility of forgiveness. How true is it that men to-day sin, not knowing what they do! This prayer covers all sin, for no one knows truly and fully what he does when he sins against Christ.
II. The second word is A WORD OF PROMISE IN RESPONSE TO PRAYER AND CONFESSION. The time was brief; the last moments of the twelfth hour were hurrying past. In the heart of one of the malefactors some early teaching remained to quicken the conscience into life; and the punishment of crime was working its right effect. "We indeed justly... we receive the due reward of our deeds." The word which passed the sacred lips, unmoistened with the stupefying wine, were words of life and healing and promise in response to the prayer, "Jesus, remember me when thou comest in thy kingdom." What faith is here! Faith in the kingdom, in the coming, in the readiness to hear! "Jesus" may not have had the same meaning to him it has to us. The reply to a dying, penitent thief has been a fountain of life to many. "Verily I say unto thee, To-day shalt thou be with me in Paradise."
III. A third, word was A WORD OF TENDER, FILIAL LOVE. The languid, bloodshot, half-closed eyes turned, and "Jesus... saw his mother, and the disciple standing by, whom he loved." The fountain of love was not stayed; the holy heart was well-nigh breaking, yet it beat truly in all filial affection. From out of his great suffering he thinks of her, and thinks with fervent love. "Hail, thou that art highly favored I" He is still her Son, henceforth to be represented in the "son" who is now to regard her as "mother." But he makes provision for her future. Ere those lips which spoke so often to the disciple" whom he loved" were closed, he uttered one last word to him, revealing the deep thought of the Sufferer's heart, and committing to him a sacred charge he would entrust only to one "whom he loved" - "Behold thy mother." It is all beautifully human; but as all human deeds, when they are true and beautiful, approach the Divine, so was this beautifully Divine. It was enough. A wish from that heart and those dried lips was sacred. "From that hour the disciple took her unto his own home" - took her with the sword piercing through her soul.
IV. A fourth word is FROM THE VERY ABYSS OF SUFFERING - perhaps from a greater depth than any word arose that ever escaped from the lips of man. Darkness was over the land; darkness was over the pure Sufferer's soul. The words present the deepest of mysteries; we cannot open it. Was it, as has been suggested, the effect of the combination of profound mental anguish with the well-nigh intolerable pangs of dissolution, rendered all the more natural and inevitable in the case of One whose feelings were so deep, tender, and real; whose moral consciousness was so pure, and whose love was so intense? Had his abiding conviction of fellowship with God for the moment given way under the pressure of[extreme bodily and mental suffering? Was it a mere passing feeling, as though he were no longer sustained by the power of the Divine life? Surely more than this. Ah! who can know? It is only as we descend to these depths that we can understand how dark, how colds how sad they are. Mere words can never convey an idea of suffering. The bitterness of this cup he only knows who drinks it. What is the forsaking by the God to whom he still clings - "My God, my God" - and "why" is he forsaken, remain for us depths into whose darkness we may peer but cannot fathom.
V. A fifth word is FROM THE POOR REVERED FRAME. Fainting from loss of blood, from acute pain, from unrelieved suffering. "I thirst." Truly he may say, "My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue cleaveth to my jaws." The former cry ascended to heaven; this sinks upon the earth. A moistened sponge on a hyssop rod brought him temporary relief and brought him strength sufficient to utter -
VI. A sixth word, uttered with "a loud" (was it a triumphant?) "voice," declaring, "It is finished." Yea, all is finished, notwithstanding the efforts of wicked men to prevent it. They unconsciously wrought out that which the Divine "hand and counsel foreordained to come to pass." "It is finished;" yea, Jesus' work is finished. The great end is reached. The last supreme act., or consummation of the continuous act of that life which was" one offering of himself," is now in process of completion. So far as relates to the toil, and service, and sacrifice, and suffering of earth, all is finished; and the last act of the conscious life, the last breath of the living frame, the last word of the lips of truth, seal the whole past.
VII. And in a seventh word, with one supreme effort to that Father from whom he seemed momentarily separated, he yields up himself - "gave up his spirit." Now are the words fulfilled, "I lay down my life, that I may take it again. No one taketh it away from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received from my Father." - G.
I. THERE MAY FOR A TIME BE AN ECLIPSE FOR THE FAITHFUL. "No light!" There is an extremity of trial in these words. No hope! The very sun of life seems extinguished, and all worth of existence vanished. Reason can find no foothold in this darkness.
II. YET THERE IS NO ABSOLUTE DARKNESS. Out of it comes the cry of faith. The first words of a long-remembered psalm break from the lips of Jesus; a psalm that rises out of the minor into the major key, from the darkness into the blaze of prophetic vision. Doubtless in that moment the soul of Jesus passed swiftly through the whole scale of that psalmist's experience, and rose into joy upon the wings of thanksgiving.
III. MAY THE TERMINUS OF LIFE AND OF SERVICE BE IDENTICAL! We may breathe this prayer before the cross of Christ. Our work finishes, what need have we to tarry? Pericles, in his oration over those who fell for Athens' good, says that, devoting their lives which had been usefully passed in peace on the field, their happiness and their life ended at the same moment. As Christians, our ideal is service, terminable only with life, "Too busy with the crowded hour to fear to live or die." May we
"Obey the voice at eve obey'd at prime; IV. FINIS CORONAT OPUS. "Many signs showed that he who died upon the cross was the Son of God." "Regard the end." It reflects its light upon the whole course from its beginning. What deep conviction of sin, of righteousness, of judgment; of the frailty of man, the power and wisdom and the love of God, roots itself in the cross of Jesus! It is an end which is a beginning. - J.
IV. FINIS CORONAT OPUS. "Many signs showed that he who died upon the cross was the Son of God." "Regard the end." It reflects its light upon the whole course from its beginning. What deep conviction of sin, of righteousness, of judgment; of the frailty of man, the power and wisdom and the love of God, roots itself in the cross of Jesus! It is an end which is a beginning. - J.
I. A PROOF OF THEIR ATTACHMENT TO CHRIST.
1. They had already shown this. They were, some of them, of good social standing, and had command of considerable means. This advantage they had employed in the interests of Christ and his work" they ministered unto him" when he was in Galilee. And the service they rendered involved a certain inconvenience and trouble, for they had to follow him almost as much as his apostles.
2. Now they gave even more signal evidence. Modestly retiring to the outskirts of the rabble, they persistently watched him. They might have been excused by ordinary scruples from witnessing the horrible scene, but they could not allow themselves to go away. He still represented their highest spiritual interest, and they were willing to brave anything for his sake.
II. A TRIAL OF THEIR LOVE. It rose into heroic resolution and sacrifice.
1. How typical their experience was of that which their sisters have had to go through in all ages! They stood by helpless, unable to render any further service. It was not for them to attempt a rescue when brave men had forsaken him and fled. But they could show the virtue of passive endurance. They could prove to the Sufferer that their love was unabated, their faith forlorn, but not dead. So many a noble wife, sister, or mother has had to stand by when loved ones have been done to death, or ruined by great concerns in which they might not interfere. They have been able only to trust and wait and pray, to comfort when they could not deliver. One consolation remained to them - they had done what they could.
2. To so try it was the grandest recognition of its genuineness. They were accounted worthy to suffer with Christ. Their affection was to pass through the fires seven times refined. Peter might be faithless, and the rest of the disciples sadly fail, but they could watch with the Savior as his spirit sank beneath its accumulated woe. - M.
I. FAITH THRIVES IN SORROW. Remoter disciples draw near, and secret disciples come forth, in the hour of humiliation and defeat. The sun sets, but not their hope; and the stars rise, but their faith is earlier up.
II. LOVE SURVIVES ALL LOSS. Its burning ray, like that of a hidden gem, flashes out in the gloom. The nobleness of Christ had taught them to master selfishness and despair. His form was enshrined in the "amber of memory." They who had been all eye when he was present, were all recollection now that he was gone.
III. GRIEFS ARE CERTAIN, JOYS COME BY SURPRISE. It was certain that Jesus was dead; and none expected his resurrection. There is change, not loss, in the kingdom of the spirit. God takes away a good to restore it in a new form. Disappointment vacates the heart for higher blessings. His revelation is in light and shadow. - J.
I. PROVIDED FOR BY GOD. There are several striking proofs of providential arrangement in the burying of the Savior. He never stipulated as to where or how he should be buried; his mind was too much occupied as to how he should die. Yet were great things to turn upon the manner, the time, and the place of his burial. He whose angels hid the grave of Moses, was equally careful to make known the place where his Son lay. The sepulcher was new, and in the midst of a garden, therefore isolated from other graves. The identity of the risen One is thus secured against all possibility of mistake. In inspiring the agents through whom the burial was effected, God fulfilled his own eternal appointment. The death, hastened by the unusual delicacy of the Sufferer, and the intervention of the sabbath, secured on the one hand that "not a bone should be broken," and, on the other, that he should be buried on the day before the sabbath, his rest in the grave coinciding with the sabbatic rest of the Creator, fulfilling the week, so to speak, of the old economy, and ending with the beginning of the first day of the next week, thus ushering in a new economy, a new creation. The garden-tomb of Joseph a fit resting-place for him who was to be the Firstfruits of the resurrection. If the cross was shameful, the tomb was honorable. "They had appointed him a grave with the despised; and among the honored (did he obtain it) in his death" (Isaiah 53:9, Lange's translation).
II. VOLUNTARILY EFFECTED BY MEN.
1. A Victory of faith. A "councillor of honorable estate" is moved by an inward impulse to make this his own special concern. The tragic circumstances of the last few hours had touched his heart and kindled his enthusiasm; and he and his friend Nicodemus - "the same who came to Jesus by night" - casting off all secrecy or fear of man, vied with one another in paying the last tribute of respect to the illustrious Dead. His simple request was an act of faith; the boldness which rendered it so effectual was a victory of faith. Already the power of the cross was being felt. The centurion, the governor, Joseph, and Nicodemus alike confess to its influence.
2. A tribute of love. How careful are the two in their preparations! The linen cloth and the spices are the offering of affection, which follows its object even to the tomb. As in Mary's spikenard, the question of expense is put wholly out of sight. The richest and best that they may offer are brought forth for the occasion.
3. In token of undying hope. The spices arrested the process of corruption, and witnessed to the expectation of the resurrection. - M.
a councillor of honorable estate, who also himself was looking for the kingdom of God," begged permission of Pilate to have the body of Jesus for interment. Pilate, being satisfied of the death of Jesus, "granted the corpse to Joseph." Then with tender hands he wrapped the body in a linen cloth and laid it in a tomb; "and he rolled a stone against the door of the tomb." Now the work is complete. The human rage is satisfied. The voice of the accuser is silent. The Divine condescension is perfect. It could descend no lower. The grave is the goal of human weakness. It is the lowest step; then begins the upward ascent. The humiliation being complete, the exaltation begins. The grave is really the pathway to glory and honor. Jesus, who has sanctified every path of life, now sanctifies the grave. He has withdrawn the sting from death; he dissipates the darkness from the tomb. And though we cannot desire the grave, yet it is no longer the repulsive, loathsome place it had ever been. Christ in the tomb of Earth plainly speaks to us many lessons.
I. Concerning him, it teaches us that No DESCENT WAS TOO GREAT FOR HIM TO MAKE IN HIS LOVING SERVICE TO THE CHILDREN OF MEN. He who stooped so low as to be born in a manger, sharing his first bed with lowing oxen, stoops lower still in making ready for the children of men their last sleeping-place. He who washed the feet of his disciples shared the grave with guilty men. Forasmuch as they whom he was not ashamed to call brethren must needs die and be buried, "he also himself in like manner partook of the same;" as "it behoved him in all things to be made like unto his brethren," he refused not this.
II. Concerning the grave, it is A SANCTIFICATION OF IT. We need not be ashamed to descend into this valley of humiliation, for our "Head" has gone before. If we can endure the sufferings of our cross, we can despise the shame of our tomb. We need not fear to die, for he hath brought "to nought him that had the power of death, that is the devil;" nor need we fear to lie down in the tomb, for Jesus lay there.
"'Tis now a cell, where angels use III. But it brings home to our hearts CHRIST'S CLAIM UPON US FOR OUR UNDYING GRATITUDE. Never shall we repay that debt. Even the bitterest cup he will drink for us; the most laborious service he will undertake for us; the uttermost humiliation he will endure for us. We owe all to him in the constitution of our life and its surrounding conditions; we owe no less the entire redemption of our life from all evils; we owe the smoothing of the rough places of life, our uplifting above the pains of life, and we owe the sanctification and perfecting of life. Truly we owe all. Only by reverent faith, by lowly service, by growing love, can we acknowledge our deep-abiding debt. This we may perfect by a calm and trustful yielding up our life to our Father on high, both in the daily dying to self and in a final committal of all to him, breathing out our life into his hands. "So, buried with our Lord, we'll close our eyes
III. But it brings home to our hearts CHRIST'S CLAIM UPON US FOR OUR UNDYING GRATITUDE. Never shall we repay that debt. Even the bitterest cup he will drink for us; the most laborious service he will undertake for us; the uttermost humiliation he will endure for us. We owe all to him in the constitution of our life and its surrounding conditions; we owe no less the entire redemption of our life from all evils; we owe the smoothing of the rough places of life, our uplifting above the pains of life, and we owe the sanctification and perfecting of life. Truly we owe all. Only by reverent faith, by lowly service, by growing love, can we acknowledge our deep-abiding debt. This we may perfect by a calm and trustful yielding up our life to our Father on high, both in the daily dying to self and in a final committal of all to him, breathing out our life into his hands.
"So, buried with our Lord, we'll close our eyes
I. SECRET DISCIPLES. Among secret disciples of our Lord were Joseph of Arimathaea and Nicodemus. The residence of the former was Ramah, or Ramathaim, the name signifying a hill; while some identify it with Ramleh in Dan, others with Ramathaim in Ephraim, and others, again, with Ramah in Benjamin. But the character of the man is of much more importance to us than his place of abode. Accordingly, one evangelist describes him, as has been ingeniously pointed out, according to the Jewish ideal, as a rich man, - so St. Matthew; a second according to the Roman ideal, as an honorable (εὐσχήμων) councillor, or councillor of honorable estate (Revised Version), - so St. Mark; while a third according, to the Greek ideal, as good and just, somewhat similar to the Greek καλὸς καὶ αγ᾿αθός, implying a person of good social position and respectable culture, and thus presumably of correct morals, - so St. Luke. In any case, the third Gospel represents him as a moral man and a religious man - two characteristics that should never be dissociated. We are further informed that Joseph, being one of the seventy Sanhedrists, protested against the conduct of the Sanhedrim in their condemnation of our Lord. Though it is not expressly stated, we may be sure that Nicodemus, the same who is characterized as coming to our Lord by night, if present, joined him in the protest; but 'they were a small minority, and so the majority of that body accomplished their counsel and crime. Of Joseph's discipleship St. Matthew says, "Who also himself was Jesus' disciple;" and St. Luke, "Who also himself waited for the kingdom of God." The also in both cases implies that he was a faithful follower of Christ, though in secret, as well as the more open disciples; while St. John tells us the reason of the secrecy in the words, "secretly for fear of the Jews." He now laid aside his timidity, and proved himself no longer deficient in Christian courage; for he went in boldly (τολμήσας) to Pilate and craved the body of his Lord. Though "not many mighty according to the flesh, not many noble," are called; yet, thank God! there are still some such. Among these, Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews, a master in Israel, a Sanhedrist, or member of the great national council, who had absented himself, or at all events refused consent to the condemnation, "brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pound weight," for his burial. On mention of Nicodemus, it is remarkable we are still reminded of his night interview with our Lord. "He that came to Jesus by night," says St. John, and again, "which at first came to Jesus by night," as is added by the same evangelist. know he too has been emboldened by the cross. Joseph, on obtaining the body, laid it in his own new tomb, so that the prediction was fulfilled to the effect that, though his grave was made with the wicked intentionally, that is, according to the intention of his enemies, yet was actually with the rich in his death. Crucified with malefactors, it was intended and expected that he would share their fate in burial. Not so, however; for though he died as a criminal, he was not buried as one.
II. THE SURPRISE OF PILATE. The usual time for death to supervene in the case of persons crucified was some three days, the very shortest a day and a half. Consequently Pilate expresses his astonishment, and requires the evidence of the centurion to satisfy him of Jesus death. He first asks in surprise if he were already dead (τέθνηκε), and then, calling the centurion, inquires if he had been any while dead (ἀπέθανε). Here the accurate use of the Greek tenses is worthy of attention, and brings out the governor's amazement more clearly. His first inquiry is expressed by the perfect, and refers to the state - if he was already in the state of death; satisfied of that, and not a little surprised, he asks an additional question (ἐηρώτησεν,) of the centurion, and in this second inquiry he employs the aorist in relation to the occurrence - if death had occurred any length of time previously, or how long, in any case to make sure it was not a swoon. It has been stated and maintained, on respectable medical authority, that the direct cause of Christ's death was rupture of the heart. In that case the blood passed from the interior of the heart out into the heart-sac, and, like all extravasated blood, separated into the red clot and watery element. This would agree well with the suddenness of the Savior's death, after only some six hours on the cross - a circumstance which, as we have just seen, took Pilate himself so much by surprise; whereas crucifixion usually caused death by exhaustion, and after many hours' lingering. This would also agree well with the loud voice of that cry which the Savior uttered when he yielded up the ghost. This would agree well with the quantity of blood shed to fill that fountain, of which the prophet speaks, saying, "In that day there shall be a fountain opened to the house of David, and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, for sin and for uncleanness;" for in crucifixion the loss of blood is diminished by the nails choking up the wounds they make. This would agree well with such Scriptures as the following: - "Reproach hath broken my heart; My heart is like wax; it is melted in the midst of my bowels." This would, moreover, agree well with the fact that when he poured out his soul unto death, his bodily sufferings, bitter as they were, had less effect than his mental agony in producing that death. This would still further agree well with what occurred when the soldier pierced the Savior's side with his broad-headed spear. That rude Roman had no command to inflict such a wound; it was mere bootless barbarity on his part. The body was dead; why gash it so, except perhaps to make sure it was death and not syncope? Nevertheless, he fulfilled prophecy without thinking it; he realized the opening of the prophet's fountain without knowing aught about it. He made a passage for the blood and water already escaped from that broken heart; he helped to open the fountain that cleanseth from all sin.
III. SIGNIFICANCE OF THE BLOOD AND WATER. The blood and water that flowed from the fountain thus opened in the Savior's side are significant of the two great blessings which believers partake through Christ. There was blood for redemption, water for regeneration; blood for remission, water for renewal; blood for pardon, water for purity; blood to put away the guilt of sin, water to purge away its filth; blood for justification, water for sanctification; blood for atonement (and this is the special work of the Son of God), water for purification (and this is the province of the Spirit of God); blood and the sacramental wine is a symbol of it, water and the baptismal element is a sign of it. Thus the two great agents in salvation - the Son of God and the Spirit of God; the two great works they accomplish - redemption and regeneration; the two great doctrines of a standing and spiritual Church - justification and sanctification - are kept fresh in the memory and visible to the eye by the sacramental seals of the covenant. In allusion, probably, to this St. John (1 John 5:6) says, "This is he that came by water and blood, even Jesus Christ; not with water only, but with the water and with the blood" (Revised Version). These two must always go together; these two flowed forth together from the pierced side of the Savior; these two the apostle has joined together. These two form the streams of the prophetic fountain; and by means of the twofold stream of this fountain "ye are washed, ye are sanctified, ye are justified in the Name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God."
"Rock of ages, cleft for me, IV. THE FUNERAL. The funeral consisted, as far as we can learn, of few persons. There are only four persons named by name as present on the occasion - two men and two women; though it is probable that a few females besides, who had accompanied him from Galilee, were also at least spectators, as St. Luke tells us that "the women also, which came with him from Galilee, followed after, and beheld the sepulcher, and how his body was laid." Joseph wrapped the body in the fine linen he had purchased, and sprinkled the myrrh and aloes among the folds, then laid the body in the rock-hewn tomb, and rolled a stone of large size to close therewith the entrance of the sepulcher. In these several operations, but especially in that of rolling the huge stone, Joseph was assisted, we may be certain, by Nicodemus, and both by their servants or attendants; while Mary of Magdala, and Mary the mother of Joses, and the other women from Galilee, were looking on. They beheld (ἐθεώρουν), carefully observing the place and manner of the sepulcher. - J.J.G.
IV. THE FUNERAL. The funeral consisted, as far as we can learn, of few persons. There are only four persons named by name as present on the occasion - two men and two women; though it is probable that a few females besides, who had accompanied him from Galilee, were also at least spectators, as St. Luke tells us that "the women also, which came with him from Galilee, followed after, and beheld the sepulcher, and how his body was laid." Joseph wrapped the body in the fine linen he had purchased, and sprinkled the myrrh and aloes among the folds, then laid the body in the rock-hewn tomb, and rolled a stone of large size to close therewith the entrance of the sepulcher. In these several operations, but especially in that of rolling the huge stone, Joseph was assisted, we may be certain, by Nicodemus, and both by their servants or attendants; while Mary of Magdala, and Mary the mother of Joses, and the other women from Galilee, were looking on. They beheld (ἐθεώρουν), carefully observing the place and manner of the sepulcher. - J.J.G.
I. THAT WE OUGHT TO REFUSE OUR CONSENT TO A WRONG, EVEN THOUGH OUR REFUSAL WILL NOT PREVENT ITS ACCOMPLISHMENT. Except for Nicodemus, Joseph stood alone in protesting against the action resolved on by the council against Jesus. He was, no doubt, strongly urged to yield to the majority, so that the council might appear united in the endeavor to put down One who had disregarded its authority. But although his protest was seemingly powerless, he resolutely persisted in it, and to the last he "did not consent to the counsel and deed of them." lie was an example in this to all who conscientiously object to habits and practices which obtain in their own sphere of activity, be they politicians, men of business, or boys and girls at school. But let all such be sure that a real principle is at stake, not a prejudice, and that they are not moved by self-assertion, obstinacy, or pride.
II. THAT BY BRAVELY DOING WHAT WE BELIEVE TO BE RIGHT WE EMBOLDEN AND HELP OTHERS. Joseph required courage on the council, and still more now when he went in to Pilate to beg the body of Jesus. So terrible was the hatred felt against Jesus by the chief priests that the procurator himself had trembled before it, and Peter, with his fellow-disciples, had forsaken the Lord. Yet Joseph stepped to the front as a friend of the crucified One, and Nicodemus followed him. All men of decided convictions thus influence others. Thousands thanked God secretly for the stand which Elijah made on Carmel. Multitudes wait to be led aright by those whose character and ability bring responsibility.
III. THAT IF WE GO RIGHT ONWARD IN THE PATH OF DUTY WE SHALL SUCCEED BETTER THAN WE EXPECT. When Joseph undertook his mission he knew that he might risk his life, or at least his reputation; that he might be called on to pay a heavy and prohibitory ransom as a bribe to the governor; or that he might be refused with scorn and insult. Yet, when he went in boldly to Pilate, to his own amazement, his request was freely granted! Many have had a similar experience: e.g. the Israelites when they obeyed the command, "Go forward," and saw the sea divide before their advancing footsteps; and Peter, who followed the angel and found the great gate of the prison open of its own accord. Apply this to typical experiences in a Christian's life.
IV. THAT A CRISIS COMES IN THE HISTORY OF MEN WHICH DETERMINES THEIR WHOLE FUTURE. The crucifixion of Jesus constituted a crisis to Joseph. Under the influence of sorrow and indignation he was prompted to this step, and the future destiny of this secret disciple depended upon his taking it. Such times come to us all. Our spiritual life has not always the same even flow. Occasionally we are strangely, strongly moved to resolve, to speak, or to act, and tremendous issues depend upon our obedience to God-given impulse. If the vessel aground on the harbor bar is not set free when the tide is highest, she will be wrecked in the coming storm.
V. THAT THE MOVING CAUSE OF DECISION FOR GOD IS THE CROSS OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST. Joseph had listened to the teaching of Jesus, and witnessed his superhuman works, but till now had been a disciple "secretly," for fear of the Jews. That position was a false one, and so long as he was in it he was deficient in gratitude and courage. But when he saw Jesus on the cross he felt as the centurion did when he cried, "Truly this was the Son of God;" and henceforth he was known as the Lord's disciple and servant. Christ's death has been to millions the beginning of new life.
VI. THAT GOD WILL FULFILL HIS PURPOSES WHETHER HIS AVOWED SERVANTS ARE LOYAL TO HIM OR NOT. The twelve were scattered and the Church seemed destroyed, when suddenly there came forth from their former obscurity two secret disciples, who took upon themselves the work which others had left. And in all ages God has his faithful ones who are sometimes unrecognized by the Church; yet, filled with his Spirit, they shall aid in establishing the kingdom of the crucified, and now risen, Christ.