Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
1. Their scrupulosity about entering the palace. They would not cross a Gentile threshold during the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Types in this of all who are able to be religious without being moral; who shrink from violating some ceremonial rule, but without scruple violate their own convictions - whited sepulchres, outwardly spotless, but inwardly full of rottenness and corruption.
2. The satanically prompted cunning of their accusation. They had but an hour ago been obliged to acquit him of such charges, and to condemn him on the ground of his claiming to be the Son of God. But Pilate is too keen sighted to be deceived by their show of loyalty. He cannot believe that since last Passover this great conversion from hatred to love of his government has taken place. One cannot but reflect what a pregnant moment this was for Pilate, when our Lord seemed to wish to open the deepest desires of that severe Roman heart, and prompt him to long, with the Jews, for a spiritual kingdom. Before answering his question, "Art thou the King of the Jews?" he must first know, as John tells us, in what sense Pilate uses the words, "Sayest thou this thing of thyself? Is it not possible that thou too for thine own sake shouldest seek to know this King of the Jews for whom Israel has longed?" There were officers under Pilate whose heathen upbringing had not prevented them from discovering the spiritual grandeur of Jesus, and desiring to belong to his kingdom. But it was too much for Roman pride to be taught by a Jew how to find peace, and even to submit to this bound Jew before him as to a King. A mirror is here held up to those of us who do not "of ourselves" ask Christ what his claims are, who think it quite right that other people should accept and acknowledge him, but cannot bring themselves to do so. Pilate was a man who represents thousands in every age, who persistently and on principle live for the world, and seal up the deeper nature in them that the world does not satisfy; who try, as it were, to live down their own nature, their own immortality. Have your own spiritual necessities taught you the meaning of God's promise of a King to the Jews? - D.
Genesis 49:10). Doubting whether the Roman governor would put Jesus to death for an alleged offence in religion, the Sanhedrin resolve to accuse him of treason against the Romans on the ground of his having allowed himself to be saluted as King of the Jews (cf. ver. 11; Luke 23:2; John 18:31). This decision brought Judas again upon the scene (ver. 3, etc.).
I. WHAT COULD THIRTY SHEKELS DO?
1. They could sell Christ into the hands of murderers. The prophecy in Zechariah sets forth:
(1) That God appointed one eminent Shepherd to feed the Jewish people, who are called "the flock of slaughter," evidently in anticipation of what they should suffer from the Romans. This blessed Person is Divine, and confessedly Messiah (see Zechariah 11:7).
(2) That the ordinary guides had no regard for their charge: "Their own shepherds pity them not" (Zechariah 11:5). This was literally the case with the Jewish rulers, Pharisees, scribes, and priests, in our Lord's time.
(3) That between these unworthy shepherds and the shepherds of God's appointing there was strong enmity: "My soul loathed them, trod their soul also abhorred me." So Christ had a holy loathing for the pride, hypocrisy, and wickedness of the scribes and Pharisees, and they cherished a malignant hatred of him for his purity and truth.
(4) That he gives up his charge in judicial visitation. And here follows an awful description of the ruin to be brought upon them by the Romans (see ver. 9).
(5) That the covenant between him and his people was broken, viz. the Sinai covenant, and his people rejected, because they refused the covenant from Zion which came to replace it (Zechariah 11:10).
(6) That some of the people, however, should admit Messiah's claims. "So the poor of the flock," etc. (Zechariah 9:11). These were evidently the disciples of Jesus, who were chiefly from the humbler classes.
(7) That in contrast to these, the heads of the nation estimate Messiah at the price of a slave: "thirty pieces of silver" - the "goodly price," as he sarcastically observes, "that I was prised at of them" (Zechariah 11:12, 13). When they had an opportunity of withdrawing from their infamous bargain with Judas, they refused it.
2. They could purchase "the potter's field, to bury strangers in. This field was thenceforth called The field of blood," and thereby became:
(1) A monument to the truth of Scripture. Zechariah continues, "And I took the thirty pieces of silver, and cast them to the potter in the house of the Lord" (cf. vers. 3-10; Zechariah 11:13).
(2) A monument of the innocence of Jesus. This act of Judas was ordained by Providence to refute the sceptic who otherwise could object that Jesus was crucified as an impostor, on the testimony of a disciple who knew him well. In confessing Jesus innocent, Judas acknowledged his Messiahship, for otherwise he would not have been innocent. In this confession of Judas we have a specimen of the victory of Christ over Satan, and a warning to persecutors.
(3) A monument of the infamy of the traitor and of the rulers. And it remained so when Matthew wrote. Jerome also says that in his days it was to be seen in AElia (the name of the city built on the site of Jerusalem), on the south side of Mount Zion.
(4) It was "to bury strangers in." The unclean "stranger" must not, even in his burial, come near to the "holy" villains who murdered their Messiah! The "stranger" has a Friend in Jesus. As the priests by procuring the Lord's death had been unwitting agents in procuring the redemption of the world, so in the final disposal of the price of his blood they unconsciously did an act which represents the reception of the Lord's salvation by the Gentiles. He that has his burial through the blood of Christ may hope also for a resurrection through it.
II. WHAT COULD THE SHEKELS NOT DO?
1. They could not redeem Christ from death.
(1) Over that mile lying between the house of Caiaphas to that of Pilate, they led him away, "from prison and from judgment" (see Isaiah 53:7, 8), to "deliver him to the Gentiles," according to his prediction (cf. Matthew 20:19; John 18:32). The Churchmen of the Apostasy imitated their Jewish predecessors when they called in the civil power to shed for them the blood of the martyrs.
(2) The bonds in which Jesus was now led differed from those in which he was carried to Annas. They were those special bonds which marked it to be the will of his persecutors that he should be crucified (see John 21:18). So we note that Jesus was put to death by his own countrymen in his true character as the "Son of God;" and by the Romans as "King of the Jews."
(3) The true bonds which bound Jesus were those of his wondrous love to man. Other bonds could not have held him. He suffered himself to be bound, that man might be loosed from the bands of sin (see Proverbs 5:22; Lamentations 1:12-14). So likewise "by his stripes we are healed."
2. They could not purchase the repentance of the rulers.
(1) "What is that to us?" These men did not concern themselves about the innocency of Jesus. They did not say, "What is that to us?" when Judas came to them saying, "What will ye give me, and I will deliver him unto you?" They paid the price of blood, and were determined to shed it. If the elders of Jezreel, to please Jezebel, murder Naboth, is it nothing to Ahab (see 1 Kings 21:19)?
(2) "See thou to that." Thus they disclaim the guilt of their own wicked instrument, and turn him over to his terrors. Obstinate sinners stand on their guard against convictions. Those who betray Christ, and justify themselves, are worse than Judas. The resolutely impenitent look with disdain upon the penitent. The wicked encourage men to crime, and desert them after its commission.
(3) The cold villainy of the priests and elders bears testimony to the injustice with which they had treated Christ.
(4) "And the chief priests took the silver pieces, and said, It is not lawful for to put them into the treasury." An astonishing amount of rascality may be associated with the utmost ceremonial scrupulosity. Probably they had taken the money out of the treasury to pay the price of blood (see Matthew 23:24). They were fearful of defiling the temple with blood money, while ruthlessly defiling their consciences with innocent blood. Men are often scrupulous about trifles who stick not at great crimes.
3. They could not redeem Judas from perdition.
(1) Some think Judas was partly induced to betray his Master by the expectation that, as Messiah, he could not suffer death, and that he would deliver himself from the rulers as he had done before. He might, therefore, have calculated that in this case Christ would have the honour, the Jews would have the shame, and he would have the money. They are mistaken who imagine that Christ will work his miracles in the interests of selfishness. But actions are not to be estimated by their consequences, but by their relation to the Law of God.
(2) How differently did the silver appear to the traitor before and after his transgression! He "cast down" the price of the innocent blood. How the victim now hates the snare! That which is ill gotten brings sorrow to the getter (see Job 20:12-15).
(3) As Judas was actuated by avarice in his sin, so was he possessed with despair in his repentance. Remorse, sharpened by the sense of the contempt and abhorrence of good men, is unbearable. Miserable is the wretch who must go to hell for ease. The repentance of Judas was that of the damned at the judgment, when mercy's door is shut.
(4) There is little reason to believe that the repentance of Judas was more than the remorse of an upbraiding conscience (cf. Matthew 26:24; John 17:12; Acts 1:25). It was a repentance which needs to be repented of (2 Corinthians 7:10). Had he returned the money before he had betrayed Christ, he would have agreed while yet in the way (see Matthew 5:23-26). Had he gone to Christ, or even to the disciples of Christ, in his distress, he might have obtained some relief. Sinners under conviction of sin will find their old companions miserable comforters. The devil by the help of the priests drove Judas to despair. Despair of the mercy of God is a fatal sin. One may know his sin, repent, confess, make restitution, and yet be like Judas! - J.A.M.
I. THE TRAITOR CONFESSED HIS SIN. He knew that he had acted vilely, and his accomplices, who were glad to use him as their tool, had no pity for such a scoundrel But it is something that he was brought to own himself a sinner. The vilest sinner is the man who tries to hide his sin, who plays the hypocrite before men, and who even endeavours to excuse himself in his own conscience by sophistical arguments. There are sins, however, whose scarlet hue so blazes in the sunlight that the rankest hypocrite does not attempt to deny them. Confession is good, but it is not repentance, much less is it regeneration.
II. JUDAS OWNED THE INNOCENCE OF CHRIST. He knew it was innocent blood that he had betrayed. It is striking to notice how many of the leading actors in the murder of Christ testify to his merits. Pilate could find no fault in him. The centurion at the cross acknowledged him as a Son of God. Even the traitor is constrained by his own conscience to own his treason and to vindicate the innocence of his Master. Many men have a fair appearance in the distance, but they will not bear too close a scrutiny. But those who knew Jesus most intimately, and those who examined him in the most critical moments, were able to discover no flaw in his perfect character.
III. CONFESSION OF SIN AND A RECOGNITION OF THE MERITS OF CHRIST ARE NOT SUFFICIENT FOR SALVATION. In Judas there were the beginnings of better things. But alas! they ended in despair and death. If we only see our sin and Christ's goodness, we may well shrink from entertaining any hope for ourselves. We need to go a step further. Judas never fled to Christ's cross; therefore he ran to his own gallows. The only deliverance from the tyranny and the doom of sin is to be found in the redemption which Christ has wrought on the cross. Even the murderers of the innocent Saviour come within the scope of his wonderful grace. There would be hope for a Judas, if Judas would but turn from his awful sin in real repentance to Christ as even his Saviour. - W.F.A.
I. REMORSE IS BUT THE SHAME OF HAVING FAILED. The word means "to bite back." It may be illustrated by biting one's lips through vexation. It involves shrinking from the results of having failed. It is the annoyance of having, miscalculated; it is the feeling of being convicted of stupidity; it is the regret of seeing a scheme fall about us in ruins because we made a false move. It may include some reset at the mischief we have made for others, without doing any good to ourselves. But there is no sense of the sin and shame of the thing done. The seeming confession, "I have sinned," does but lightly pass the lips. Judas would have done it again, if he could have been sure of succeeding the second time. Remorse includes no self-revelation, no humbled feeling. There is anger with one's self, but not shame or humility. So there is no chance of betterment for a man while his feeling keeps mere remorse.
II. REMORSE KEEPS A MAN AWAY FROM GOD. You cannot take remorse to God. You never want to do so. It drives you away from him. Judas never offered a prayer to God; never thought of pardon for his offence. Remorse made him hopeless and desperate. He took the life that seemed worthless. Penitence always moves towards God; it seeks him. There is in it prayer and hope. God is the All-merciful One. - R.T.
I. THE PRISONER AT THE BAR.
1. "Now Jesus stood before the governor.
(1) But who is this Jesus? Immanuel! The Creator and Upholder of all things, mysteriously enshrined in human nature.
(2) Then what a miracle of condescension is here! The stoop was wonderful from the throne of glory to the manger of Bethlehem. But what a marvel that he should submit to be arraigned before a mortal!
(3) The condescension will be set in its strongest light by a grand reversal of this scene. He wilt yet appear as Judge of all. Pilate will then have to answer at his bar. The accusers also will then have to give account of their accusations.
(4) We shall all do welt to keep that solemnity evermore in mind (see Psalm 50:3, 22).
2. Listen to his confession.
(1) To implicate him with the Romans, he is accused of claiming to be the King of the Jews (see Luke 23:2). He shrinks not from the avowal without explanation or qualification. He is King over Jews and Romans, over angels and devils, over heaven, earth, and hell.
(2) But he explains the spiritual nature of the kingdom he came there to establish (see John 18:33-37). While asserting his royalty without qualification, he takes care that Pilate should not proceed it, ignorance upon the malicious suggestions of the priests.
(3) Caesar, then, evidently, had nothing to fear from Jesus. In the face of this good confession" (1 Timothy 6:13) the accusation was utterly broken down.
3. Mark his silence.
(1) When accused of the chief priests he answered nothing. There was nothing to refute. Lo, here the dignity of innocence!
(2) This might well astonish Pilate, that One whose life was sought by charges so manifestly false should not utter a word to repel them. It was a new thing in the experience of the governor. Such conduct plainly showed that Jesus was no common person.
(3) To Pilate still he answers nothing. The written Word, like the Lord, does not accept the challenge of the unbeliever. It leaves every man to work out his own conviction, as it leaves him to work out his own salvation.
(4) Innocence is its own vindication. It can afford to wait for justice. Hence we must not render railing for railing (see 1 Peter 2:23).
II. THE WITNESSES IN COURT.
1. The leaders were the rulers of the Jews.
(1) They were those hypocrites whose enormities Jesus had so unsparingly rebuked in his preaching. Of this hypocrisy they never repented, but nursed their resentment against him.
(2) They had vindicated the truth of the account he gave of them, by the manner in which they proceeded against him.
(a) In their plot to destroy him.
(b) Their bribery of Judas.
(c) The indecent haste in which they gathered the council in the night.
(d) Their false accusation against him of blasphemy.
(3) They vindicated it still in their proceeding. In accusing him before Pilate they proceed under a new accusation. They artfully concluded that the charge of sedition would be that by which the Roman governor might be moved. Rank, whether civil or ecclesiastical, is no security against rascality.
2. The multitude were under their inspiration.
(1) They are moved by them to clamour for Barabbas.
(a) At the Paschal Feast, which commemorated the release of the Hebrews from the bondage of Egypt, it became a custom, probably of Roman origin, to release some criminal (see Matthew 26:5). At our gospel Paschal Feast sinners are liberated from the bondage of sin
(b) In accordance with this custom, Pilate gave them the option of releasing Barabbas, a notable offender, guilty at once of treason, murder, and felony (see Luke 23:19; John 18:40), or Jesus. Note: Barabbas was really guilty of the particular crime of which they falsely accused Jesus (see Mark 15:7). Here, then, is the choice between good and evil, between which every man has to decide.
(c) They preferred Barabbas. "Not this man, but Barabbas!" is still the cry of every one who hates good and loves evil. Herein the Jews violated their Law, which inflicts death "without mercy" upon criminals (see Hebrews 10:28).
(d) How their injustice here proclaims the innocency of Jesus! The guilty Barabbas thus released that Jesus might die, was a fitting representation of that countless multitude of pardoned sinners to whom his death brings everlasting life.
(2) The multitude, moved by the rulers, demand the crucifixion of Jesus. They did this against reason. They did it against the expostulation of Pilate. What an opportunity they had of defeating the purposes of the rulers! They fatally preferred the evil to the good.
(3) They are moved to take the guilt of his blood upon them.
(a) This was intended to indemnify Pilate, who wavered between justice and expediency. It is a bold undertaking to be bound for a sinner to the Almighty. None but Christ can effectually bear another's sin.
(b) But they shared Pilate's guilt by sharing his sin.
(c) They cruelly involve their children also; and without limiting the terrible entail. By this act they renounced that ancient charter, "I will be a God to thee and to thy seed." Wicked men are the natural enemies of their own children.
(4) How dreadfully this imprecation was verified! Within forty years they suffered with singular resemblance to the manner in which they caused Jesus to suffer. Josephus says, "When they [the Romans] had scourged them [the Jews], and tormented them before death all manner of ways, they crucified them over against the wall of the city." He proceeds to describe the horrors that he witnessed, and says they were crucified by Titus, five hundred in a day, till "room was wanting for crosses, and crosses for bodies."
III. THE GOVERNOR IN THE JUDGMENT SEAT.
1. He was convinced of the innocency of Jesus.
(1) His good sense showed him that nothing was proved against him. The best men often have been accused of the worst crimes. He saw that "envy" had instigated the rulers. This is worse than hatred; for it is hatred without a cause. Hatred presumes the imputation of a fault, but envy acknowledges an excellence. The eye of the ruler was evil because Jesus was good.
(2) In this judgment he was confirmed by his wife's dream. It was clearly a Divine testimony to the innocence of Jesus. It was probably of such a nature as to fill her with apprehensions of the consequences of her husband's consenting to the death of Jesus (cf. Genesis 20:3). The "suffering" of Pilate's wife on this account was creditable to her conscience. Tradition calls her Claudia Procula, and she is canonized in the Grecian Church. Note: This reference to Pilate's wife marks the time of the event, and proves the veracity of the narrative, for we learn from Tacitus that in the reign of Tiberius the wives of governors had permission to attend them in the provinces.
(3) He therefore sought to release Jesus. He declared that he "found no fault in him." In naming such a wretch as Barabbas as the alternative to Jesus, in the release at the feast, he hoped to secure that of Jesus. He pleaded with the multitude against their clamour for the blood of Jesus.
2. Yet he sacrificed justice to expediency.
(1) He knew that Tiberius was jealous and sanguinary, and he feared the malignity of the Jews. Philo describes Pilate as "naturally inflexible, rigid, and self-willed." But he had already had to contend with two insurrections of the Jews, viz. when he attempted to bring the Roman standard into Jerusalem, and when he applied the wealth of the sacred treasury to secular uses.
(2) He ought never to have appealed to the people; but he loved power rather than justice. He was prepared to do unscrupulous things rather than risk his procuratorship, if not his liberty or life. There are occasions in every life to test character.
(3) He would fain relieve himself of his responsibility. He tried to devolve it upon Herod (see Luke 23:5, etc.). He then tried to devolve it upon the people (ver. 24). No ceremony of washing the hands can free them from the stains of blood guiltiness. To protest innocence, while practising crime, is to sin against conscience. "Sin is a brat nobody is willing to own" (Henry). The priests threw it upon Judas; Pilate now throws it upon them. "See ye to it."
(4) Still God finds it at the sinner's door (see Acts 4:27). Not long after this, Pilate was deprived of his office through the accusations of that very people, and, being banished to Gaul, ended his life by suicide.
IV. THE SOLDIERS IN THE PRAETORIUM.
1. They were in the pay of Caesar. They were by their profession jealous of the honour of their master. But there is a King of kings, to whom subjects of earthly sovereigns owe the first allegiance. In mistaken zeal:
2. They mock the royalty of Jesus.
(1) They invest him with a scarlet robe, in derision, as though he wore the crimson or purple of kings (cf. Mark 15:17; John 19:2). They crown him with plaited thorns. The frail reed is made to serve as his sceptre (cf. Matthew 11:7; Psalm 45:6).
(2) In this character they pay him insolent homage. They spat upon him, as he had been before abused in the high priest's hall (see Matthew 26:27). They smote him with the reed, making his ensign of mock royalty an instrument of cruelty.
(3) The soldiers seem to have taken their cue from Herod (see Luke 23:11). It was ordained that the contempt of men should in all this signally confess the truth of God.
(4) The evangelists record no word of Christ's during these tortures. He sustained them with unresisting submission (see Isaiah 53:7). How completely is he left alone! The Jews persecute him, Judas betrays him, Peter denies him, the rest forsake him; and now the Roman is with his enemies. No plot could have been better contrived to show the moral grandeur of a hero, not braving but enduring the accumulated wrongs of an evil world with the dignity of meekness. - J.A.M.
1. His silence before the high priest. False witnesses, bribed witnesses, made an accusation, by twisting one of his figurative sentences. The high priest was prepared to twist any reply that Jesus might make. "But he held his peace." And the silence made the consciences of his judges speak out, and accuse them of unscrupulous and malicious wickedness.
2. His silence before Herod. "Herod poured out a flood of rambling remarks, but Jesus did not vouchsafe him one word. He felt that Herod should have been ashamed to look the Baptist's Friend in the face. He would not stoop even to speak to a man who could treat him as a mere wonder worker who might purchase his judge's favour by exhibiting his skill. But Herod was utterly incapable of feeling the annihilating force of such silent disdain."
3. His silence before Pilate (as in text). It does not seem that our Lord was silent to Pilate. It was when the clamour of the priest party arose, interrupting the trial, that Jesus preserved silence. Observe the very important distinction between the silence of moodiness and sulkiness and the silence of conscious innocence. Only the latter silence has the true, reproachful, conscience-quickening power. "A silent lamb amidst his foes." The lamb is the type of innocence. Christianity has glorified the silent endurance of wrong, and has made such "silent endurance" one of the most masterful forces that sway humanity. Illustrate these points.
I. INNOCENCE CAN AFFORD TO BE SILENT.
1. Because it sufficiently speaks in attitude and in countenance.
2. Because God is always on its side.
3. Because time works its vindication.
II. INNOCENCE CONVICTS THE INJURER BY SILENCE.
1. It takes away all possibility of contention.
2. It prevents the injurer keeping up the excitement of rage and malice.
3. It compels the injurer to question his own doings.
4. It takes away all the pleasure of the injurer, when a man bears the injury meekly and silently.
The silence of Jesus searches priest party, Herod, and Pilate. - R.T.
1. The predicament of many among ourselves who would gladly be rid of the question. But it cannot be. There is this judgment to pronounce. Even if there were no blessedness in following Christ, the fact remains that he is presented to you, and that it is your duty to accept him.
2. We see how futile was the attempt of Pilate to transfer the guilt of this action to the Jews. They were willing to take the blood of Christ on their heads; but, though history shows how terrible has been their share in the vengeance they ignorantly invoked, Pilate was not necessarily exempt. Men frequently mistake the point at which their own power, and therefore their own responsibility, ends. They consent to iniquity, and say they were forced to it. How were you forced? Would every man in your circumstances do as you are doing? Or, men invite you to share their sin, persuading you that the guilt is theirs, if there is any; you will find that they cannot bear your share, and that you vainly seek to lay the guilt on them. The very fate Pilate feared, and to avoid which he sacrificed the life of our Lord, came upon him. Six years later he was deposed from his office, and died by his own hand. We are apt to say of him that he was weak rather than wicked, forgetting that moral weakness is that which makes a man capable of any wickedness. And who is the weak man but the one who is not single-minded, who attempts to gratify both his conscience and his evil or weak feelings, to secure his own selfish ends as well as the great ends of justice and righteousness? Such a man will often be in as great a perplexity as Pilate, and will come to as ruinous, if not so appalling, an end. - D.
I. PILATE'S READING OF THE CHARACTER AND MOTIVES OF THE PRIEST PARTY. Pilate "was a typical Roman, not of the antique, simple stamp, but of the imperial period; a man not without some remains of the ancient Roman justice in his soul, yet pleasure loving, imperious, and corrupt. He hated the Jews whom he ruled, and, in times of irritation, freely shed their blood. They returned his hatred with cordiality, and accused him of every crime - maladministration, cruelty, and robbery." "Pilate understood their pretended zeal for the Roman authority." He may not have known the precise occasion for their strong feeling against Jesus; but he saw plainly that it was a case of malice and revenge, and they were prepared to humiliate themselves utterly in carrying out their evil purpose. But, if Pilate knew them so well, we must judge his guilt in yielding to them by the light of his knowledge.
II. PILATE'S READING OF THE CHARACTER AND MOTIVES OF JESUS. He seems to have known something of Jesus. The story of the triumphal entry had been duly reported to him; and he formed his opinion when he found that Jesus took no material advantage of that time of excitement. He settled it - Jesus was a harmless enthusiast, of no account politically. "He questioned Jesus in regard to the accusations brought against him, asking especially if he pretended to be a King." He may have laughed cynically at our Lord's answer, but he knew well that nothing of the demagogue lurked behind that calm and peaceful face. Again and again he declared him innocent - he found no fault in him. Pilate read him aright, but condemned himself in the reading. Our guilt is always measured by our knowledge. - R.T.
I. BARABBAS WAS PREFERRED TO CHRIST.
1. An indication of the people's hatred to Christ. There is no reason to think that Barabbas was a popular hero. His insurrection was covered with the ignominy of failure, and his patriotism was stained with the lawlessness of brigandage. Yet he was chosen and Christ rejected. So intense was the passion of hate in the mob under the influence of their unprincipled leaders in the Jewish hierarchy! It is strange that any could hate the gracious Christ; and yet, since he was the deadly enemy of all sin, he provoked the opposition of sinners. A person who clings to his sin will come in his heart to what is virtually a hatred of Christ.
2. A sign of the people's blindness to the merits of Christ. The wickedness of hypocritical rulers was the driving force behind the fury of the mob; with many of the unthinking multitude there was doubtless no great antipathy to our Lord until this had been roused by malignant agitators. But the people did not perceive the attractions of Christ, or they would not have preferred Barabbas. The leaders were wicked, the people were blind. It is possible to be in very close external contact with Christ, and yet not to know him.
II. BARABBAS WAS SPARED INSTEAD OF CHRIST. This was not fair or reasonable, for Barabbas was guilty and Christ was innocent. Nevertheless, the unjust thing was done. This is typical of another substitution. Sinners are spared and Christ is crucified. That too would be monstrously unjust if our Lord himself had taken no part in the transaction. We can never see the bare outline of the atonement even till we perceive Christ's own free action in the matter. Though the substitution of Jesus for Barabbas is suggestive of Christ's great sacrifice for mankind, the cases are not parallel, because our Lord gave himself up for the world's redemption. What is unjust and wrong in those who slay him does not affect the right of the Saviour to surrender himself; and it is in this voluntary giving up of himself that the atonement, as a part of the Divine economy of redemption, is just and right. In conclusion, let us remember that we may be in danger of sinning like the people who preferred Barabbas to Christ, when we are tempted to sacrifice our Lord's claims to any earthly considerations. Money, pleasure, self-will, may be our Barabbas, chosen to be saved though Christ is renounced. - W.F.A.
Deuteronomy 21:6). Pilate thinks that "when he gets the Jews to take the crucifixion of Jesus upon themselves, he has relieved himself, if not entirely, yet in a great measure, of the responsibility. But just as the outward washing of hands could not clear him of his share in the guilt, so guilt contracted by our being a consenting or cooperating party in any deed of injustice and dishonour cannot be thus mitigated or wiped away" (Hanna). Hand washing as a symbolic action is familiar at all times. Lady Macbeth cannot wash off the murder spot which her conscience clearly sees on seemingly clean hands.
I. THE GUILT OF IGNORANCE WILL WASH OFF. We may do things that are wrong without knowing them to be wrong. They may do mischief and bring trouble; but they do not involve soul stain; so the sins of ignorance - if the ignorance is not guilty ignorance - will wash off.
II. THE GUILT OF FRAILTY WILL WASH OFF. We sometimes do wrong through body bias. Sometimes even against our will. Sometimes by temporary swerving of the will. If there be no set purpose, only human infirmity, the guilt will wash off.
III. THE GUILT OF FORCED DOING AGAINST OUR WILL WILL WASH OFF. We may be compelled, by circumstances or human persuasions, to do what we would not do. That may bring trouble and spoil our lives, but it does not soil our souls, and it will wash off.
IV. THE GUILT OF WILFUL SIN WILL NOT WASH OFF. That involves inward stain. It must be got out. That can only be done
(1) by regeneration, or
(2) by judgment. Oh! if a man could roll off his deeds on other men; if a man that is a partner with others could only roll off his portion of crime upon his confederates, as easily as a man can wash his hands in a bowl of water, and clean them, how easy it would be for men to be cleansed from their transgressions in this world! Pilate was the guiltiest of all that acted in this matter. He was placed where he was bound to maintain justice. He went against his better feelings. He willed the death of One whom he knew to be innocent. Pilate's guilt will not "wash off." - R.T.
I. THE KINGSHIP OF CHRIST NECESSITATED A CROWN OF THORNS,
1. Because he was King he could not but suffer. That is a vulgar notion of royalty which regards it as a state of enviable pleasure. The king of the fairy tales may live in a palace of delights; but the king of history is better represented by Shakespeare, one of whose monarchs exclaims, "Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown!" Most kings find some thorns in their crowns.
2. The peculiar Kingship of Christ involved peculiar suffering. No other king wore a crown wholly woven of thorns. No other king ever suffered as he suffered. It was not the common fate of kingship that bruised and crushed the heart of the Divine King. He came to rule in the souls of men, and the rebellion of men's souls wounded him. He came to rule the wills of his people, and the resistance of self-will hurt him. He came to rule with righteousness, to cast out all unrighteousness, and the wickedness of the world turned against him. His great aim was to overthrow the kingdom of Satan and to set up his own kingdom instead of it. That is to say, he came to conquer sin and to reign in holiness. But the victory over sin could only be had through suffering and death.
II. THE CROWN OF THORNS CONFIRMED THE KINGSHIP OF CHRIST. If they had only known it, those heartless, mocking soldiers were really symbolizing the right of their victim to be their king. Their mimicry of a coronation was most typical of his real coronation. Jesus is a King crowned with thorns, because he is crowned with sorrows, because his sufferings give him a right to sit on his throne and to rule over his people.
1. The sufferings of Christ give him a right to the highest honour. After describing his self-emptying and obedience even to the death of the cross, St. Paul adds, "Wherefore God hath highly exalted him, and given him the Name above every name," etc. (Philippians 2:9). There is no merit in mere pain, but there is great honour in suffering for a noble cause. Christ went further; he was more than a martyr. He drank a more bitter cup than any other man has tasted, and he took all this suffering upon him for the saving of the world. Such a crown of thorns worn for the good of others marks its wearer as worthy of the highest honour.
2. The sufferings of Christ give him the kingdom over which he rules. He had to win this kingdom for himself, and it is his now by right of conquest. But he did not use any weapons of carnal warfare. He did not fight with the sword. The sufferings of the war were not inflicted on the territory he was conquering, but on himself, He won the world to himself by dying for the world on the cross. - W.F.A.
I. THE CROSS ITSELF WAS A REPROACH,
1. It was a symbol of shame.
(1) As a tree was the means of introducing the curse into the world, so hath God ordained that a tree should be the means of its removal. Hence from the earliest time, whoever was hanged upon a tree was accounted accursed of God (cf. Genesis 3:12-19; Deuteronomy 20:22, 23; Joshua 8:29; Joshua 10:26, 27). Those curse bearers were types of Christ (see Galatians 3:13).
(2) Crucifixion amongst the heathen is traced back to the age of Semiramis. It was chiefly inflicted on slaves; on free persons only when convicted of the most heinous crimes. Hence Paul's emphatic "even the death of the cross" (Philippians 2:8).
(3) It was a part of the reproach of a criminal that he had to carry his own cross to the place of execution. Plutarch says, "Every kind of wickedness produces its own peculiar torment, just as malefactors when brought forth to execution carry their own crosses." So Jesus carried his cross until he sank under it (see John 19:17), overcome by exhaustion through his agony in the garden followed by his sufferings in the Praetorium. He carried it as Isaac carried the wood upon which he was to be offered up.
(4) So shameful a thing was the cross, that no Jew or Roman citizen could be induced to carry one. Hence Simon the Cyrenian was impressed to bear the cross of Jesus. Probably he was pointed out as a disciple of Jesus (cf. Mark 15:21; Romans 16:13). He became thereby the honoured representative of the suffering followers of Christ in every age (cf. Matthew 16:24; Hebrews 13:13).
2. It was an instrument of shame.
(1) There was a cruel torture inflicted upon the victim before he came to his crucifixion. Jesus was accordingly delivered by Pilate to be scourged, preparatory to his being crucified. The soldiers to the scourging added cruel mockings.
(2) At the place of execution he was stripped of his garments. "The poorest man dies with some clothing on, Jesus with none; and his garments fall not to his friends, but to the soldiers who crucified him" (Harmer). David said in the spirit of prophecy of Christ, for it was never true of himself, "They part my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture" (Psalm 22:18).
(3) Then came the actual crucifixion. The stretching of the victim upon the wood. The transfixing. The concussion through the striking the foot of the cross into the hole dug for its reception, by which the bones became dislocated (see Psalm 22:14). The lingering torture, the vitals being avoided. "The tender mercies of the wicked are cruel."
II. REPROACH WAS ASSOCIATED WITH IT.
1. In the place of the crucifixion.
(1) "A place called Golgotha, that is to say, The place of a skull." It had its name from being the place of common execution. Christ being crucified there gives expressiveness to the prediction of Isaiah, "numbered with the transgressors."
(2) The ghastly place was an emblem of the devastated state of the Church that crucified Christ. So of every Church member who crucifies him afresh. But to the repentant sinner it is the end of death and beginning of life. "Wherefore Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered without the gate (Hebrews 13:12).
(3) "Golgotha" (גלגלת) resembles "Gilgal," with the Syriac addition (אּתא). The latter place was named by Joshua to commemorate the temporal redemption of Israel from the reproach of Egypt. In the former place Jesus freed his people by a spiritual redemption from the reproach of sin (see Joshua 5:9).
2. In the inscription on the cross.
(1) "His accusation written" (ver. 37). It was common to affix a label to the cross, giving a statement of the crime for which the person suffered.
(2) But the accusation of Jesus alleged no crime. It was really an accusation of the priests. They condemned Jesus for blasphemy, but had him crucified for treason. It impeached them as murderers.
(3) The accusation of Jesus asserted a glorious truth. The truth was emphasized by being three times written, viz. in three languages. Pilate could not be induced to alter what he had written (see John 19:21). Like Balaam, he blessed when he was entreated to curse (see Numbers 24:10).
(4) When we look at the cross as the emblem of suffering, we see over the head of the Sufferer the promise of triumph and the hope of glory. Sanctified suffering evermore brings forth this fruit.
3. In the characters crucified along with him.
(1) "Two robbers, one on the right hand, and one on the left." Placing the Lord between the robbers was intended to stigmatize him with peculiar infamy, as if he were the greater criminal of the three.
(2) Herein note a further fulfilment of the words of Isaiah, "He was numbered with the transgressors." He was so numbered that we may be numbered with his saints.
III. REPROACH WAS CAST UPON HIM.
1. By those that passed by.
(1) "They railed on him, wagging their heads, and saying, Thou that destroyest the temple, and buildest it in three days, save thyself." Here is a shameful misconstruction of his words. Cruelty has its refuge in falsehood. "Save." They mock at the name of Jesus, equivalent to" Saviour."
(2) "If thou art the Son of God, come down from the cross." Had he not by many miracles proved himself the Son of God? He would not save himself by coming down from the cross, his gracious purpose being to sacrifice himself in order to save sinners. The sign he had given them was not his coming down from the cross, but his coming up from the grave.
(3) Why have they not the patience of the "three days" to which they referred, and they might see the raising of the temple of his body?
(4) The wagging of the head was the expression of a malicious triumph. Little did they consider that this very gesture was the fulfilment of a prophecy to their dishonour (see Psalm 22:7).
2. By the heads of the nation.
(1) "In like manner also the chief priests mocking him, with the scribes and elders said, He saved others; can he not save himself?" A Saviour who saves not, but sacrifices himself to be the victim for salvation to others, they cannot understand.
(2) "He is the King of Israel." Here is irony founded on the inscription which they could not induce Pilate to alter. "Let him now come down from the cross, and we will believe on him." Sceptics are ever ready to prescribe to God what miracles he must work in order to gain their confidence, as though that confidence also were an infinite benefit to him. When Christ gave them the more astonishing evidence of his Messiahship by rising from the dead, they did not believe. His completing his work and not coming down from the cross is the reason why we believe.
(3) "He trusteth in God; let him deliver him now if he desireth him: for he said, I am the Son of God." In this railing they unwittingly fulfil a remarkable prophecy of the Messiah (see Psalm 22:8). The fulfilment of the predictions concerning the sufferings of Messiah by the enemies of Jesus establishes his claims.
3. By the impenitent malefactor.
(1) "And the robbers also," or one of them "that were crucified with him, cast upon him the same reproach." The plural is sometimes put for the singular as, "They are dead," meaning only Herod (Matthew 2:20); and, "When the disciples saw it they had indignation," meaning only Judas (Matthew 26:8; John 12:4).
(2) The arguments used by the railers are the stock arguments of infidels. Libertines like the Jews are offended at the paradoxes of a High Priest who designs to destroy the temple; at a Saviour who saves not himself; at the Son of God submitting to be crucified. But in these very paradoxes the believer finds the sources of the joys of salvation. - J.A.M.
Acts 13:1 - coming out of the country; and the soldiers laid hold upon him, and compelled him - the term is a military one, 'pressed him into the service' - to help our Lord with his burden. Perhaps they laid the whole beam on his shoulder, perhaps only the light end, Jesus still going foremost and continuing to bear the principal weight; so that in the most literal way Simon bore it after him." Dr. Hanna says, "It was part of the degradation of a public crucifixion that the doomed one should assist in carrying to the place of crucifixion the instrument of death." But the reason why this particular man was seized upon for this ministry is not suggested. We may suppose either
(1) that it was a simple act of wantonness on the part of the soldiers, who feared their victim would die before they could get him to the place of execution; or
(2) that he was known as a secret disciple, and the people pointed him out to the soldiers; or
(3) that he had reproached the soldiers for treating Jesus so cruelly, and, in spite, they made him bear the cross. However it was, we certainly envy Simon the honourable and helpful service he was permitted to render to our suffering Lord. Fix attention on him as the one and only man who helped Jesus in the time of his sorest need. From his arrest to his death no apostle helped him, no disciple helped him; he was alone. This unknown Simon breaks the loneliness, and shares with him the burden of his cross.
I. SIMON'S MINISTRY WAS A SYMPATHY. There must have been something that drew the attention of the soldiers to Simon. It might well have been an expression of sympathy with the fainting cross bearer. It was a sight to move a sympathizing soul.
II. SIMON'S MINISTRY WAS A COMPULSION. Yet evidently a willing compulsion. He could not have offered to bear the cross - that would have been against the rules. He gladly did what he was made to do.
III. SIMON'S MINISTRY WAS A SERVICE. Just the service of the hour. The thing Christ needed just then. The thing to do for Christ just now is what we all need to find out. - R.T.
I. CHRIST WOULD NOT SHRINK FROM HIS ALLOTTED SUFFERING. This scene is strangely contrasted with the scene in Gethsemane but a few hours earlier. In the garden Jesus had besought God, with tears and in agony, that if possible the cup of his Passion and death might pass from him. Now he will not take the cup that brings alleviation to his sufferings. How shall we account for this difference of mental attitude? The answer is that Christ knew that it was God's will that he should suffer. Before he had only prayed that the cup of his sufferings might pass, if it had been God's will to release him. But he discovered that it was not God's will. Then there was not a moment's hesitation. Christ was human in his shrinking from pain and insult and death. But he was strong and absolutely brave in facing whatever he might have to meet in doing or in bearing the will of God. He was no weak, effeminate sufferer, as pictures of the Correggio school represent him. His courage was perfect. Manly and strong in soul, he faced death and its accompanying torments without flinching, when he saw his way led him through those horrors.
II. CHRIST HAD A WORK YET TO FINISH. We are thankful for the anodyne which medical science is now able to apply to great suffering. The chloroform that renders the patient unconscious during a surgical operation, and the morphia that relieves acute pain, are welcomed as gifts of God. Surely it cannot be wrong to employ such things. There is no merit in the mere endurance of pain. But in our Lord's case there was much more to be considered than the suffering of a painful death. He had a testimony to bear. His words from the cross are among the most precious memorials of his earthly ministry. He could not say, "It is finished!" until he was about to bow his head and give up the ghost. Therefore he felt it necessary to preserve his consciousness to the last. Then his suffering was itself a part of his work. The way in which he endured what was laid upon him entered into the very process of his atoning sacrifice. As our great High Priest, he was made perfect through suffering (Hebrews 5:8, 9). Would he have been the perfect Christ he was if he had left one drop of the bitter cup? If he had taken the opiate which would have allayed his pains at the expense of his consciousness, would he have made the complete atonement for sin? If it is too much to say "Yes" to these questions, at least we may see that his great and awful work could only have been accomplished by the willing and conscious surrender of himself, and this surrender would have been obscured to our view if he had accepted the offered relief. Thus we see how to the very last he would not care for himself, how he gave himself utterly in suffering and death for the world's redemption. - W.F.A.
Luke 23:28), and this he did when in all his human weakness he was just going to his death. Much more would he say the stone now that he has risen from the dead and ascended to the right hand of God. He does not want our pity. This would be a wasted and mistaken sentiment. How, then, should we today regard the crucifixion of our Lord?
I. IT IS THE CONDEMNATION OF SIN.
1. Sin killed Christ.
(1) The immediate cause was the wickedness of the Jews, who would not submit to his reforming and spiritual reign. Judas's treason, Caiaphas's rage, Herod's jealousy, Pilate's weakness, were all wicked things. Christ's death was a murder, an awful crime.
(2) Behind these particular causes the world's sin led to the rejection and crucifixion of Christ. Our sin crucifies him afresh. Thus his cross bears witness to the exceeding wickedness and the awful results of sin.
2. Christ kills sin. He condemned sin by dying under its assault. He bore the crushing weight of the world's sin in his own Person. But in so doing he faced and conquered the spirit of evil. Christ on the cross makes our sin look hideous and hateful; thus he slays it.
II. IT IS THE REVELATION OF LOVE. Never before or after has so great a love been tested so severely, or revealed so truly in its absolute purity, in its invincible strength. God crowned the love that is shown in creation, providence, and his merciful spiritual work in our consciences, by the supreme gift of his Son. Thus Christ, as the manifestation of One whose name is Love, makes the love of God known to us. He does this throughout his life by the graciousness of his ministry to the sick and suffering and sinful, by his kindness to little children, by his mercy to weeping penitents. But here at the cross is the crown of love. He loves his sheep so much that he will lay down his life fur them. His love is stronger than death. He chooses death rather than the sacrificing of his love.
III. IT IS THE REDEMPTION OF THE WORLD. There is a great purpose in Christ's death. The wicked men who bring it about have their low, selfish objects. But behind and above these is God's great plan, Christ's glorious aim. This is no less than the saving of the world that rejected him - we may say that of the very men who nailed him to the cross; for he died for his enemies as well as for his friends. We must not be satisfied with contemplating the tragic scene of the Crucifixion by itself. We must look at its deep meaning. Here is the sacrifice for sin - the cross, the altar; Christ, the willing Victim. Here, then, is the hope and promise of our salvation.
IV. IT IS THE INSPIRATION OF SACRIFICE. The apostles rarely point to the cross without speaking of the example of Christ for our following. "Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus," says St. Paul (Philippians 2:5). Christ suffered for us, leaving us an example, is St. Peter's teaching (1 Peter 2:21). His fidelity, his unselfishness, his courage, his patience, his love in giving himself for others, are the great models for Christians to follow. - W.F.A.
I. TO CALL CHRIST "KING OF THE JEWS" MAY PRODUCE A FALSE IMPRESSION.
1. Old prophecies had indeed suggested the kingship of Messiah, but the kingship anticipated was a theocracy rather than an earthly rule.
2. Disciples had taken up the idea that Christ was to be an earthly King. There was a materializing tendency in that age, because material deliverance from Roman bondage seemed to be the one thing needful.
3. Christ never claimed such a title, and never acted as if he claimed it. There is a royal tone in Christ's words and works. He spoke of himself in relation to the "kingdom of heaven;" but never of himself as "King of the Jews."
4. Christ emphatically declared, even to Pilate, that in such senses as men attached to the words, he was not "King of the Jews." "My kingdom is not of this world." Christ is not an earthly king, and never will be. He is King of truth, King of souls, King of righteousness.
II. TO CALL CHRIST "KING OF THE JEWS" MAY EXPRESS THE TRUTH CONCERNING HIM. He is King of the Jews, but not of those who are only nationally such. He is King of all who are the true children of Abraham, because they have the faith of Abraham. Christ may be called a "King" if we understand by that term:
1. King of truth seekers; of all truth seekers everywhere.
2. King of the spiritually minded; of those who cannot be satisfied with the seen and temporal, but must breathe the atmosphere of the unseen and eternal.
3. Christ, as we see him on the cross, is Champion-King.
4. Christ, as now in the spiritual realm, is King of his Church. "On his vesture and thigh his name is written, King of kings, and Lord of lords." - R.T.
not Messiah. This text is the taunt founded on this idea. "He saved others" is satire. They did not believe that he had saved anybody. To them his imposture and his helplessness were at once shown in this - "himself he cannot save." Those mockers were wrong every way.
I. CHRIST DID SAVE OTHERS. Illustrate, by specimen cases, the following three points:
1. He did save from disability and disease. He gave sight to the blind, and cleansed the leper.
2. He did save from death. He brought Lazarus back from the grave.
3. He did save from sin. Authoritatively saying to the paralytic, "Thy sins are forgiven thee." He did "save to the uttermost."
II. CHRIST COULD HAVE SAVED HIMSELF. Had he so wished, he could have commanded the service of "twelve legions of angels." "There was not a moment, from beginning to end of his human career, in which our blessed Lord might not have turned back from shame and suffering. At the very moment when these words were uttered, be had but to speak, and he would have been surrounded by the responsive hosts of heaven, and in one moment his pain would have been exchanged for triumph." Nails could not hold him against his will. He could have come down from the cross.
III. CHRIST WOULD NOT SAVE HIMSELF. There is the mystery of the great self-sacrifice. Because he would save others, he would not save himself. Relatively to the work which our blessed Lord had undertaken, it was necessary that he himself should not be saved, His mission required:
1. That his submission to God's will should be fully tested. And the last test of a man is this - Can you die just when God pleases, just where God pleases, just how God pleases?
2. That mission required the surrender of a human life as a sacrifice for sin. That was the Divine plan for the redemption of men from sin; Jesus must offer that sacrifice, so he would not come down from the cress. Our Lord's own will gave the virtue to his sacrifice. He could have saved himself, but he would not. He meant to yield himself, in a voluntary act of obedience to God. "By the which will we have been sanctified, through the offering of the body of Jesus once for all." - R.T.
I. BY A HORROR OF DARKNESS.
1. This was preternatural.
(1) It was not the result of an ordinary eclipse of the sun. The Passover was celebrated at full moon, when such an event could not have taken place. A solar eclipse never continues beyond a quarter of an hour. This darkness continued three hours.
(2) It may have been produced by the intervention of dense clouds. Such an intervention would have been unusual in Judaea in the spring of the year during the brightest hours of the day. But whatever may have been the secondary causes, they were commissioned by the same Providence that sent the plague of darkness upon the Egyptians (cf. Exodus 10:21-23).
(3) It was no chance that so intimately connected this darkness with the event of the Crucifixion. It was "over all the land," viz. of Judea, where Christ suffered, and prevailed during the latter three hours of his suffering. It terminated also with the termination of those sufferings. To explain such coincidences as purely accidental is but to substitute a miracle of chance for a miracle of Providence. What is gained?
2. It was portentous.
(1) It expressed the moral anguish of spirit which Jesus then endured for us. For in those three dreadful hours he was enduring the punishment of our offences. This experience of Divine anger drew from him the pathetic exclamation, "Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?"
(2) It expressed the present triumph of the powers of darkness over the Sun of Righteousness (cf. Genesis 3:15 Luke 22:53). An extraordinary illumination heralded the birth of Christ, an extraordinary darkness signalized his death.
(3) It indicated the spiritual darkness of the Jewish people, who obstinately closed their eyes upon the Light of the world, and filled up the measure of their iniquity by crucifying the Just One. It presaged also the desolation which in consequence they were destined to suffer.
(4) It expressed a mourning spread over nature for the horrible crime then perpetrated by men. This sentiment is put into the mouth of Dionysius the Areopagite, who, witnessing a wonderful eclipse of the sun at Heliopolis, in Egypt, said to his friend Apollophanes, "Either God himself suffers or sympathizes with the sufferer."
II. BY THE RENDING OF THE TEMPLE'S VEIL.
1. This also was preternatural.
(1) The matter of fact cannot be disputed. For it occurred at the time of the evening sacrifice, while the priest was offering incense in the holy place, and on the occasion of a great festival when the people in vast numbers were praying without. The testimony of Matthew might therefore have been readily contradicted had it not been true. It is too late in the day to attempt to contradict it now.
(2) We are not informed how the wonder was effected, whether by lightning or by invisible hands; but the veil was thick and strong, and could not have been "rent from the top to the bottom" by any ordinary force. God can work his miracles immediately or by secondary causes.
(3) That this was a Divine thing is evident from its coincidence with the moment of the Redeemer's yielding up his spirit. To say this was a mere accident is but to make the miracle of chance all the more stupendous.
2. This too was portentous.
(1) Paul teaches us to regard the rending of the veil of the temple as emblematical of the rending of the body of our Lord, the sacrificial efficacy of which opened to the guilty the way of access to God, and opened to all who believe, the way into his glorious presence in the future life.
(2) It intimated also the abolition of the Jewish ceremonial Law, which, by its interposition of imperfect and mystic rites, had obstructed free and direct approach to God.
(3) It signified the revealing and unfolding of the mysteries of the Old Testament, so as to make the face of Moses to shine in the radiance of the gospel. In Christ we discover the true Propitiatory, or Mercy seat. He is that Ark of the covenant who contains in his heart the unbroken tables of the Law. He is that precious golden pot of incorruptible Manna, the very Bread of life from heaven.
III. BY THE PORTENTS FROM THE EARTH.
1. The earthquake.
(1) Travellers have observed marks of extraordinary convulsions in these rocks. The fissures lie across the natural cleavage. Though earthquakes are produced by natural causes, yet are they under the control and direction of Providence.
(2) This earthquake attested God's approbation of the Sufferer, as it expressed also his anger against his persecutors (cf. Amos 8:8; Nahum 1:6). So as the rending of the veil intimated the removal and abolition of the Jewish Church, this rending of the rocks imported the ruin that was coming upon the nation.
(3) The phenomenon occurring at that critical moment when Jesus dismissed his spirit, significantly evinced that the dreadful act of rejecting and crucifying the Christ provoked the desolation.
(4) It may also be taken as a token and earnest of that mighty convulsion of nature which will attend Christ's coming to the judgment (cf. Hebrews 12:26).
2. The opening of the tombs.
(1) This showed that the power of death and the grave was vanquished by the death and resurrection of Christ. When our Lord gave up the ghost it was not life but death itself that died. This was the great death out of which life was educed. He triumphed over death in the "place of a skull" - where the trophies of death lay around. His Divinity was proved, for he imparted life to the bodies of the sleeping saints (see John 5:25).
(2) "This opening of the graves was designed both to adorn the resurrection of Christ, and to give a specimen of our resurrection, which also is in virtue of his" (Flavel).
(3) It was a strong confirmation of the resurrection of Christ. For those who came forth from the tombs after his resurrection "appeared to many" to whom our Lord himself did not appear. Returning with Jesus to heaven, they were also pledges to angels and spirits of men of the general resurrection to come. See now -
IV. THE EFFECT UPON THE SPECTATORS.
1. Upon the Jews.
(1) The horror of darkness interrupted their raillery. It struck them with terror. Guilt trembles in darkness. It did not change their hearts.
(2) Until near the close of this period of horror, Jesus suffered silently in the sorrowfulness of his soul for the sin of the world, and distressed with the awful loneliness of being forsaken of his God. This was the worst part of his sufferings, and extorted from him that loud pathetic cry. This roused again the courage of his revilers to say, "This Man calleth Elijah." They misunderstood him, as carnal men do evermore, substituting trust in the human for trust in the Divine.
(3) Jesus then said, "I thirst" (see John 19:28). This moved one standing by to fix a sponge soaked in vinegar on a hyssop stalk, and put it to his mouth, but the kindness was interrupted by others who, in the same obdurate spirit, said, "Let be; let us see whether Elijah cometh to save him." The heart is desperately wicked.
2. Upon the soldiers.
(1) They had reviled him before (see Luke 23:36), but now they "fear exceedingly," and the centurion in particular is thoughtfully affected, for he makes a true confession.
(2) In his reflections he thought upon the manner of the death of Christ (see Mark 15:39), for his death was evidently a voluntary act.
(a) Luke tells us that the last utterance was, "Father, unto thy hands I commend my spirit." This he uttered with a loud or great voice. Then immediately he "yielded up his spirit." His strength was unbroken. He died as the Prince of life.
(b) The circumstance of his expiring sooner than was usual with crucified persons (see Mark 15:44), as well as the loudness of his voice in the very act of his dying, showed the voluntariness of his death (see John 10:17, 18).
(c) Our Lord is nowhere said to have fallen asleep (cf. ver. 52), but always to have died. "Abraham, Isaac, Ishmael, Jacob, breathed their last; Ananias, Sapphira, Herod, expired; Jesus gave up the ghost, dismissed or delivered up his own spirit" (A. Clarke). In the manner of his death, then, behold the manner of his love.
(d) Christ's loud voice was like the trumpet blown over the sacrifices.
3. Upon the women.
(1) They followed him in love. They had ministered to him. They seem now to have been the only disciples, excepting John, present at the Crucifixion. They were "afar off." This expression may only intimate that they had come from far, even from Galilee. For the mother of Jesus stood by the cross with John, and Mary of Magdala and others also were near. Yet when Christ suffered, his friends were but spectators. Even angels stood aloof when he trod the winepress alone.
(2) Their faith and love were strengthened. All that the centurion saw they also saw, and with wider and deeper conviction. - J.A.M.
I. CHRIST AS A TRUE MAN SHARED IN THE FLUCTUATIONS OF HUMAN EMOTION. He quoted the language of a psalmist who had passed through the deep waters, and he felt them to be most tree in his own experience. Jesus was not always calm; certainly he was not impassive. He could be roused to indignation; he could be melted to tears. He knew the rapture of Divine joy; he knew also the torment of heart-breaking grief. There are sorrows which depend upon the inner consciousness more than on any external events. These sorrows Jesus knew and felt. We cannot command our phases of feeling. It is well to know that Jesus also, in his earthly life, was visited by very various moods. Dark hours were not unknown to him. Having experienced them, he can understand them in us, and sympathize with our depression of spirit.
II. CHRIST AS THE ATONEMENT FOR SIN FELT THE DARK HORROR OF ITS GUILT. He could not own himself to be guilty when he knew he was innocent. But he was so one with man that he felt the shame and burden of man's sin as though it had been his own. As the great Representative of the race, he took up the load of the world's sin, i.e. he made it his own by deeply concerning himself with it, by entering into its dreadful consequences, by submitting to its curse. Such feelings might blot out the vision of God for a season.
III. CHRIST AS THE HOLY SON OF GOD WAS UNUTTERABLY GRIEVED AT LOSING THE CONSCIOUSNESS OF HIS FATHER'S PRESENCE. There are men who live without any thought of God, and yet this is no trouble to them. On the contrary, they dread to see God, and it is fearful for them to think that he sees them. These are men who love sin, and therefore they do not love God. But Jesus lived in the love of his Father. To lose one whom we love with all our heart is a cause for heart-breaking anguish. Jesus seemed to have lost God. To all who have the love of God in their hearts any similar feeling of desertion must be an agony of soul.
IV. CHRIST AS THE BELOVED SON IN WHOM GOD WAS WELL PLEASED COULD NOT BE REALLY DESERTED BY GOD. Not only is God physically near to all men, because he is omnipresent, but he is spiritually near to his own people to sustain and save them, even when they are not conscious of his presence. The vision of God is one thing, and his presence is another. We may miss the first without losing the second. Our real state before God does not rest on the shifting sands of our moods of feeling. In the hour of darkness Jesus prayed. This is enough to show that he knew that he was not really and utterly abandoned by his Father. In spiritual deadness, when it is hard to pray at all, the one remedy is in prayer. Our cry can reach God through the darkness, and the darkness will not last forever; often it is the gate to a glorious light. - W.F.A.
"Is it not strange, the darkest hour I. MANIFESTLY THIS WAS THE DEATH OF A MAN. It is singular that, in the early Church, no evident effort was made to maintain the truth of our Lord's Divinity; early controversy dealt with the reality of our Lord's humanity. And an important part in the impression of that humanity was taken by the scenes of his death. These sufferings are a man's sufferings; these cries are a man's cries; this death is a man's death. The humanity is brought home to us by his dying a violent death, a death which was certified by a public officer. Our text, whatever else it may be, is certainly the cry of a dying man, the element of the flesh, the body, is now added to our Redeemer's struggle. Medical science tells us that the accounts of our Lord's dying accurately represent what occurs in a ease of ruptured or broken heart. The same spasm of dreadful pain, forcing a great cry, and the same flowing of mingled blood and water when the heart sac is pierced. There is a very striking thing, further bringing out to view the real humanness of the cry of the text. Our Lord did not make a new sentence, separating his experience from that of men, but he used words spoken by a psalmist as an utterance of his own distress (see Psalm 22:1). Our Lord evidently intended to identify his struggle with that of man. It may be said that this text embodies and expresses the effect of intense bodily suffering, and of approaching death, on a man's will. The will of Christ was set, not on submission only, but on active obedience to the will of the Father. In Gethsemane the resolve had no present actual pain to battle with, only the anticipation of it. At Calvary the will was borne upon by actual, intense, overwhelming, physical pain; it had to struggle to hold its own. The text represents a supreme moment, when intense pain seemed to force the will aside, and darken the soul with a moment's shade. Can we estimate what dying is in its influence on the will? What is dying when it comes consciously to a man in full health? No falling asleep, and passing away; but the soul in some awful way dropping down, losing everything - light, breath, God, all; passing under, and in that dread moment seeming to be left in utter desolation. If we could know what that means, we should begin to understand our Lord's great cry. It is a dying man's cry. II. MANIFESTLY THIS WAS THE DEATH OF THE SECOND MAN, THE LORD FROM HEAVEN. This is a Scripture term. It is the peculiar relation which Christ bears to us that gives his death scene its profounder significance. He has undertaken for man the removal of sin, and that undertaking of necessity brings him into contact with sin, and makes its consequences and its burdens rest on him. Christ undertook the work of saving men from sin; that is, of saving the life of love and obedience to God in their souls from being utterly crushed out by sin. Then he must come into conflict with it. Its burden of disabilities must lie on him. He must keep his own soul trust and obedience while all the burden, disability, agony, death of sin, buffet him. If he can keep his obedience and his love perfect under the worst that sin and Satan can do, then he breaks their power over man forever - he breaks that power for us. Sin so far succeeded as to kill the body, sin failed utterly to touch the soul; in the last moments the soul is full of affection and devotion - it cries, "My God, my God!" So the power of sin was broken. Man is freed, in Christ's triumph, from the soul bondage hitherto laid on by sin. Christ was made perfect, through his sufferings, to become the "Bringer-on of sons to glory." He is "able to save unto the uttermost all who come unto God through him." - R.T.
I. MANIFESTLY THIS WAS THE DEATH OF A MAN. It is singular that, in the early Church, no evident effort was made to maintain the truth of our Lord's Divinity; early controversy dealt with the reality of our Lord's humanity. And an important part in the impression of that humanity was taken by the scenes of his death. These sufferings are a man's sufferings; these cries are a man's cries; this death is a man's death. The humanity is brought home to us by his dying a violent death, a death which was certified by a public officer. Our text, whatever else it may be, is certainly the cry of a dying man, the element of the flesh, the body, is now added to our Redeemer's struggle. Medical science tells us that the accounts of our Lord's dying accurately represent what occurs in a ease of ruptured or broken heart. The same spasm of dreadful pain, forcing a great cry, and the same flowing of mingled blood and water when the heart sac is pierced. There is a very striking thing, further bringing out to view the real humanness of the cry of the text. Our Lord did not make a new sentence, separating his experience from that of men, but he used words spoken by a psalmist as an utterance of his own distress (see Psalm 22:1). Our Lord evidently intended to identify his struggle with that of man. It may be said that this text embodies and expresses the effect of intense bodily suffering, and of approaching death, on a man's will. The will of Christ was set, not on submission only, but on active obedience to the will of the Father. In Gethsemane the resolve had no present actual pain to battle with, only the anticipation of it. At Calvary the will was borne upon by actual, intense, overwhelming, physical pain; it had to struggle to hold its own. The text represents a supreme moment, when intense pain seemed to force the will aside, and darken the soul with a moment's shade. Can we estimate what dying is in its influence on the will? What is dying when it comes consciously to a man in full health? No falling asleep, and passing away; but the soul in some awful way dropping down, losing everything - light, breath, God, all; passing under, and in that dread moment seeming to be left in utter desolation. If we could know what that means, we should begin to understand our Lord's great cry. It is a dying man's cry.
II. MANIFESTLY THIS WAS THE DEATH OF THE SECOND MAN, THE LORD FROM HEAVEN. This is a Scripture term. It is the peculiar relation which Christ bears to us that gives his death scene its profounder significance. He has undertaken for man the removal of sin, and that undertaking of necessity brings him into contact with sin, and makes its consequences and its burdens rest on him. Christ undertook the work of saving men from sin; that is, of saving the life of love and obedience to God in their souls from being utterly crushed out by sin. Then he must come into conflict with it. Its burden of disabilities must lie on him. He must keep his own soul trust and obedience while all the burden, disability, agony, death of sin, buffet him. If he can keep his obedience and his love perfect under the worst that sin and Satan can do, then he breaks their power over man forever - he breaks that power for us. Sin so far succeeded as to kill the body, sin failed utterly to touch the soul; in the last moments the soul is full of affection and devotion - it cries, "My God, my God!" So the power of sin was broken. Man is freed, in Christ's triumph, from the soul bondage hitherto laid on by sin. Christ was made perfect, through his sufferings, to become the "Bringer-on of sons to glory." He is "able to save unto the uttermost all who come unto God through him." - R.T.
natural impression, because it was made on an outsider, who had come into no relations with Christ, and is not likely to have had any prejudices either for or against him. It was made on a Roman officer, who would be calm and self-restrained, inclined indeed to be cynical, familiar with death scenes, and hardened by the familiarity, and not at all susceptible of emotional influences. We can easily see what the Crucifixion was to the Marys, who stood watching it through the telescope of their tears from afar off; but it surprises us to find what a power it had on that cold and self-restrained Roman. The man appears before us but for a moment, and then vanishes forever away. But the vision of him reminds us that the crucified Christ has been a larger, wider power in the world than we have reckoned who did but count the number of his professed adherents. The truth is larger than we have ever thought it to be, which Jesus uttered when he said, "And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me."
I. WHAT IMPRESSED THE CENTURION AS SO STRANGE? Remember he had seen criminals die before that day. Watching Jesus, he was smitten with the conviction, "That Man is not a criminal."
1. He contrasted him with the two thieves who were being crucified with him. There was a calm dignity about Jesus which the other sufferers did not and could not show. Compare the things spoken. Thieves reviled; Jesus reviled not again.
2. He could compare Jesus with other victims he had crucified. And the comparison had to be a contrast, a most striking and impressive contrast. Account must be taken too of the influence on the Roman of the darkened sky and the quaking ground.
II. WHAT WAS THE IMPRESSION PRODUCED ON THE CENTURION? St. Luke reports him as saying, "Truly this was a righteous Man." He felt his innocence. A Roman would not put our high meaning into the term "Son of God." What he felt was that the man was a victim, a sacrifice; he was suffering no just reward of his deeds. The natural impression of the Crucifixion confirms our view of Jesus as "holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners," and fit to be, what he was, the world's Sacrifice for sin. - R.T.
I. JESUS SUBMITTING TO BURIAL. Jesus himself had departed. It was only the deserted house that was now left. Still this was the body of Jesus, and the burial of it had a significance in regard to the spirit that had once inhabited it.
1. The burial proves the death of Christ. If he had risen immediately it would have been said that he had never died at all - that he had only fainted. But that in his state of exhaustion he could have been torn down from the cross and sealed up in a tomb without receiving any nourishment; that he could then have come forth and walked about with no traces of suffering upon him, - all this is simply impossible.
2. The burial completes the humiliation of Christ. It is an humiliation for the body to be handled by others as lifeless clay, and then to be laid in the tomb, put out of sight as a dreadful thing, soon to become repulsive and loathsome. Christ's body never saw corruption; but it was humbled to the grave.
II. JOSEPH BEGGING THE BODY OF JESUS.
1. This reveals his true discipleship. Joseph was a rich man in a high position. It was highly dangerous for such a man to avow himself a Christian. But the privilege of burying the body of his beloved Master encouraged him to run the risk. We are best known as Christ's by what we will do for him, especially when our service involves sacrifice.
2. This also reveals the tardiness of his confession. It was a late avowal. Why had not Joseph owned his faith during the lifetime of Christ? He was too like those who build the tombs of the prophets. His courage was real, but it was half spoilt by the fact that it was not manifested when it would have been most valuable. How many opportunities of Christian service are missed by delay in coming out openly on the Lord's side! It is well to treat the bodies of our departed friends with respect; but this is a small service compared with the help and love we could show them during their lifetime. The Josephs who can only bury a dead Christ are not of the stuff out of which apostles are made.
III. PILATE SURRENDERING THE BODY OF JESUS. The miserable man should have protected the life of the Prisoner whom he knew to be innocent. His surrender of Jesus to death at the clamour of the Jews was more than an act of weakness, it was treason against justice. Now it is too late to save the life of the Prophet of Nazareth. The awful crime has been committed, and it can never be undone, Through all the ages it will brand the name of Pilate with an indelible mark of ignominy. Yet the governor will make a little concession. A friend of Jesus - especially as he is rich and influential - may have the lifeless corpse. Thus we see men who are false to their real duty and the sacred trust that is laid upon them showing a reasonable kindness in small things. But this cannot atone for their great, black wickedness.
IV. THE MARYS AT THE TOMB. Sorrowful and loving, they sit and watch by the tomb. It is all they can do for their Lord, and they cannot bear to leave him. Their faithful love is rewarded. To them is given the first news of the Resurrection. Cleaving to Christ will be rewarded by many a surprise of joy. From the very tomb new hope will come to those who hold faithfully to him. - W.F.A.
1 Corinthians 10:17; Ephesians 4:16; Colossians 1:18). In this figure the fact is strongly set forth, viz. that Christ takes home to himself whatever treatment his Church may receive (see Proverbs 19:31; Matthew 25:35-46; Acts 9:1, 4, 5). This also applies to individual members. And agreeably to this analogy, what was done to the literal body of Jesus is suggestive of the treatment he also receives as he is represented in his followers. The actors may be described as -
I. THOSE LOVINGLY SOLICITOUS FOR HIS HONOUR.
1. Christ has disciples, secretly so through fear.
(1) Joseph of Arimathaea was a "rich man" and yet "Jesus' disciple." Things impossible with men are possible with God (see Matthew 19:23-26). "Judge nothing before the time."
(2) He was an "honourable counsellor," a member of that wicked Sanhedrin that condemned Christ, but "he had not consented to the counsel and deed of them." In difficult circumstances he was true. He was "a good and righteous man, who was looking for the kingdom of God" (cf. Mark 15:43; Luke 23:50). Genuine honour is the associate of goodness and righteousness. These come to us through Christ.
(3) Yet he had been a disciple "secretly through fear of the Jews." Probably he had been converted by his friend and fellow ruler, Nicodemus, and his timidity was in keeping with the caution which prompted Nicodemus to visit Jesus under the cover of "night" (see John 3:1, 2 ). Note: There are family likenesses in spiritual relationships.
(4) But he did not allow his timidity to involve him in the wickedness of the council. He doubtless gave his voice as well as his vote against their Crime. It was he probably who cross examined the suborned witnesses, making their disagreement too apparent for the comfort of the priests (see Mark 14:56, 59). In his protest he probably took some such line of argument as that of Gamaliel on a subsequent occasion (see Acts 6:34-39).
2. They will show kindness to his body.
(1) The righteous soul of Joseph was grieved at the indignities to which it had been subjected, and at the earliest opportunity he went to Pilate and asked for it. He then proceeded without loss of time to remove it from the accursed tree (see Acts 13:29). He had it decently swathed in linen, and laid in his own new tomb which he had hewn out in the rock. His friend Nicodemus laid in with it "a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pound weight" (see John 19:39). Then, rolling a great stone to the door of the tomb, they departed. God can find fit instruments for his work. His providence had reserved these two secret disciples for this solemn duty. Secret disciples are more generally employed in rendering service to the body of Christ, or material interests of his Church.
(2) God honours the faithfulness of his secret disciples by encouraging and strengthening their faith. Had Joseph listened to the promptings of human prudence, he would have hesitated to interfere for the body of Christ, lest he should be brought under suspicion, incapacitated for doing good, perhaps utterly ruined. Probably his timidity had been removed by the prodigies at our Lord's death, working in him a stronger conviction that Jesus was the Messiah. Now he went "boldly" to Pilate (Mark 15:43).
3. Thereby they advance the interests of his truth.
(1) The riches and honourable station of Joseph are mentioned, not only because of the influence they would have with Pilate, but to show the fulfilment of the words of Isaiah, "And his grave was appointed with the wicked, but with the rich man was his tomb" (Isaiah 53:9, Lowth's translation). His grave would have been with the malefactors had not Joseph interposed. How infallibly the providence vindicates the truth of God!
(2) See here also an admirable Divine propriety. It was proper that the grave of Jesus should be borrowed, because the grave is the heritage of sinners (see Job 24:19; Psalm 146:4). It was proper it should be new - never tainted with corruption, for in no sense should the Holy One see corruption. It was proper that the cavil should be obviated, as if the body of Christ had been resuscitated by touching the bones of some prophet (see 2 Kings 13:20). Christ's burial takes off the terror of the grave, and we may now be buried with him.
4. Christ has disciples who openly confess him.
(1) The women were at the tomb. There was Mary of Magdala. She was a respectable woman, out of whom the Lord had cast seven devils, whose power over her was probably her affliction rather than her crime. She is without warrant confounded with the woman who was "a sinner," but whose name is not mentioned. There was "the other Mary," evidently "the mother of James and Joses," mentioned in ver. 56, who appears to have been a sister of the mother of our Lord. There was also Salome, unless "the other Mary" and Salome are the same, which is doubtful (see Mark 16:1). Joanna the wife of Chuza, Herod's steward, appears to have been there too (see Luke 24:10). The mother of our Lord had probably at this time been taken to the home of John (see John 19:26, 27).
(2) These noble women had followed Jesus, some of them at least from Galilee, were ever ready to minister to his temporal necessities, were present at his crucifixion, and here they are again at his burial. They are in the posture of mourners, and so testify to his innocency, for the Jews had forbidden to show any external marks of mourning at the burial of malefactors. They had heard the Lord speak of his resurrection, but probably interpreted him in some figurative sense. But though their faith was confused and unsettled, their love was strong. Where love is there is everything; and it will all come out as the ways of Providence unfold.
(3) These women were there gratefully to witness and commend the kindness of Joseph and Nicodemus. And after the men had retired, they went into the city just before the setting in of the sabbath, to purchase spices for the embalming of the body as soon as the sabbath should have passed. Their love was constant (cf. Matthew 26:12, 13).
II. THOSE MALICIOUSLY ANXIOUS TO DISCREDIT HIM.
1. Notice the villainy of the rulers.
(1) See it in their guilty fears. The kindness of the friends of Jesus gave him a tomb; the malice of his enemies would keep him in it. Should he rise again his blood will be upon them. They cannot forget the raising of Lazarus. Resurrections are terrible things to the wicked, especially of those murdered by them for their testimony to the truth (see Revelation 11:11). If the disciples of Jesus had lost all hope, his enemies had not lost all fear. The fears of the wicked should encourage the hopes of the good.
(2) See it in their nervous promptitude. They are with Pilate soon after Joseph had left him. The morrow after the preparation was just after six in the evening. The celerity of hatred is only exceeded by that of love.
(3) See it in their sycophancy. They were "gathered together unto Pilate, saying, Sir, we remember that that deceiver said." Pilate is "Sir," Jesus "That deceiver." What an outrageous inversion of propriety! "The malicious slanderers of good men are commonly the most sordid flatterers of great men." (Henry).
(4) See it in their unscrupulousness. They had often quarrelled with Christ for doing works of mercy on the sabbath, they hesitate not themselves to be busied with a work of malice on it. Neither do they hesitate to procure soldiers to mount guard upon it. Again they say, "We remember," etc. Thus these base hypocrites made it evident that they well enough knew that the words of Christ, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up," referred to "the temple of his body," when they perverted them at the trial (cf. Matthew 26:61).
2. See how Providence rebuked it.
(1) By their confession it was publicly known that Jesus had uttered the prediction that he should rise again the third day. The prediction, then, was not read into the narrative after the event of the Resurrection. They were anxious "until the third day," because he had "said while yet alive, After three days I rise again." Note: The mode of computation was that which still obtains in the East. "After three days" means "until the third day."
(2) They relied upon the seal and the guard. The seal supplied the place of a lock. It was in use as anciently as the time of Daniel (see Daniel 6:17). The sepulchre was cut into the rock, so had but one entrance, which was not only blocked by a great stone sealed, but guarded by sixty soldiers. The disciples could not possibly "steal him away." Their case rendered the evidence of the Resurrection all the more convincing.
(3) "So the last error," etc. The devil never speaks the truth but when he intends to promote some evil purpose by it. The rulers were true prophets against their will Little did they imagine that the measures they adopted would in the most powerful manner contribute to the result they dreaded. There is neither might nor council against God (see Acts 5:23; Acts 16:23);
III. THOSE WHO AFFECT INDIFFERENCE TO HIS CLAIMS.
1. Pilate affected a haughty indifference.
(1) He conceded the body of Christ to the request of Joseph. He wan the more willing to do so, having found no fault in Jesus at his trial.
(2) He also conceded the guard to the request of the rulers.
(3) He leaves the watch to the priests, not caring to be seen himself in such a thing. "Make it as sure as ye can," looks like banter.
2. The soldiers of the watch were mercenaries.
(1) They guarded the tomb because they were paid to render obedience to command. Can a man reduce himself to the condition of an automaton?
(2) When they took the bribe of the rulers to conceal the resurrection of Christ and give publicity to a lie, they acted as free agents.
(3) There can be no neutrality in relation to Christ. To affect it cannot be innocent. Every age has its Pharisees, who make the written Word of God a sealed book, perverting the letter and denying the spirit (cf. Revelation 22:10). "Do thou hinder the resurrection of thy sin; seal it down with strong purposes, solemn covenants, and watch it by a wakeful, circumspect walking" (Gurnall). - J.A.M.
I. JOSEPH'S WEAKNESS IN NOT ACKNOWLEDGING CHRIST BEFORE. Whatever allowances we may be able to make for him, it certainly was a weakness - it always is a weakness - to try to be a secret disciple. Joseph was placed in very difficult circumstances. He was a member of the Sanhedrin. He must have known of the schemes of the high priest's party. His soul must have revolted against them, and yet he dared say nothing. He was not strong man enough to brave opposition. He was a timid soul; but, like timid souls, he could on occasion do a strangely brave thing. "Spirit was willing, but flesh was weak."
II. JOSEPH'S COURAGE IN ACKNOWLEDGING CHRIST AT LAST. For in going to Pilate, as a known member of the council, to beg the body of Jesus, Joseph declared himself. Pilate would quite understand that he cared for this "Enthusiast." And Joseph was obliged to do this publicly, so the news of his request would be spread abroad; and our Lord's enemies would not be satisfied until they found out what had become of the dead body. This act of Joseph's, we may be sure, made him a marked man henceforth in the council. He confessed Jesus by his act.
III. JOSEPH'S ONE ACT IN THE SERVICE OF CHRIST. It was precisely the thing which only a man having the authority and the wealth that he had could do.
1. Christ's body had to be saved from insult, and not one of his disciples dare advance to claim it. If it had been left to the Romans, it would have just been flung, with the other bodies, into the common pit, or burned in the valley of Hinnom. Joseph did this good service - he saved it from desecration.
2. Christ's body ought to have the honourable burial of a king, and the kindly tending of loving hands. Joseph provided both. Gentle handling, reverent preparing, tender carrying, loving burial in his own new tomb. - R.T.
I. THE WOMEN WATCHING THE CROSS. There seems to have been quite a little company of them, and we know that Mary, our Lord's mother, was one of them. Custom made them keep together, and stand a little apart from the men: but they were not far off, not out of the sound of our Lord's voice, and they could see everything. But what must that sight have been to them? Suffering is sacred to woman; a son's suffering is an infinite woe to a mother. Not a dry eye; and oh! what heaving breasts!
II. THE WOMEN WATCHING THE GRAVE. Only two of them now. When the last sigh came from that cross John tenderly upheld the fainting mother, and bore her away, some of the women going with them to help in tending her. Two of them felt as if they could not go. We know those two. They were Mary Magdalene and Mary of Bethany. They watched the taking down.. They followed, as loving mourners, the sad procession. They saw the men carry the body into the tomb, come out, roll the stone to the door, and go away. But they were fascinated. They sat down over against the sepulchre; they waited until the gathering shadows and the cold night winds drove them to seek shelter. Dear women! Their love was helpless: it could do nothing for its loved One. Oh, say not so! Love does everything for its loved one, when it loves on through all woe, faithful, true, self-denying, unto the very end. - R.T.
bona fide belief that Jesus had risen from the dead and was alive. The question is - How was this belief produced? There are three answers.
(1) The disciples saw our Lord alive after crucifixion, but he had never been dead.
(2) They only thought they saw him.
(3) They did see him alive after being dead and buried. The first is scarcely worthy of attention, - it is so obviously inadequate. We ask for an explanation of this singular circumstance, that a number of men arrived at the firm conviction they had an Almighty Friend, One who had all power in heaven and on earth, and we are told they had seen their Master after crucifixion, creeping about the earth, scarcely able to move, pale, weak, helpless. This supposition is no explanation of their faith in him as a risen, glorious, almighty Lord. The second would suffice had we only to explain how one person believed he or she had seen the Lord. But what we have here to explain is how several persons, in different places, at different times, and in various moods of mind, came to believe they had seen him. He was recognized, not by persons who expected to see him alive, but by women who went to anoint him dead; not by credulous, excitable persons, but by persons so resolutely sceptical and so keenly alive to the possibility of delusion that nothing but handling his body could convince them. Nothing will explain the faith of the apostles and of the rest but the fact of their really seeing the Lord, after his death, alive and endowed with all power. They were men animated by no paltry spirit of vain glory, but by seriousness, even sublimity of mind - men whose lives require an explanation precisely such as is given by the supposition that they had been brought into contact with the spiritual world in this surprising and solemnizing manner. It is not denied that the evidence for the Resurrection would be quite sufficient to authenticate any ordinary historical event. It can be refused only on the ground that no evidence, however strong, could prove such an incredible event. The supernatural is rejected as a preliminary, so as to bar any consideration of the most important evidences of the supernatural. No account of the belief in the Resurrection has ever been given more credible than that which it seeks to supplant - the simple one that the Lord did rise again. The position of the Resurrection in the system of Christian facts and motives is all-important.
I. It is the chief proof that Jesus was not mistaken regarding his own Person, his own work, his relation to the Father, and the prospects of himself and his people. It is also the Father's attestation to the sufficiency of his work.
II. If our Lord's work be viewed as a revelation of the Father, the Resurrection will equally be seen to be necessary. Were there no resurrection, we should be obliged to seek our highest ideas of God in the tomb, not in the Divine condescension and love which are visible on the cross, but in a being overcome and defeated by the same ills that overwhelm us all.
III. In the risen Lord we find the source of all spiritual strength. Any one who passes through death uninjured, who conquers that which conquers all other men without exception, shows that he has some command over nature which does not belong to other men. And he who shows this superiority in virtue of a moral superiority, and uses it in the furtherance of the highest moral ends, shows a command over the whole affairs of men which makes it easy to believe he can guide us into a condition like his own. Especially does the Resurrection enable us to believe that our Lord can communicate the Holy Spirit. Salvation is reduced to very small limits indeed, and the Christian religion becomes a mere system of morality, if there be not now a living Christ able to bestow a living Spirit.
IV. In the risen Lord we see the character of the life to which we are called in fellowship with him, and also the destiny that awaits us in him. As he passed to God, and lives with him, so must we now live wholly to God, letting this great gulf of death stand between us and our past life of self-pleasing and worldliness. In him risen, with a human body and not a bare spirit, we see what we ourselves are to be in that future life. The Divine Spirit is the source both of holiness and of immortality; if we now have the one evidence of his indwelling, we shall one day have the other. - D.