When the morning was come, all the chief priests and elders of the people took counsel against Jesus to put him to death:…
The tools of more respectable sinners are flung away as soon as they are done with. These three, Judas, the priests, and Pilate, suggest to us a threefold way in which conscience is perverted.
I. Judas — the AGONY OF CONSCIENCE. I see nothing in Scripture to bear out the hypothesis that his motives were mistaken zeal; he was a man of a low, earthly nature, who became a follower of Christ, thinking that He was to prove a Messiah of the vulgar type. The sudden revulsion of feeling which followed upon the accomplished act; not like the words of a man who had acted on mistaken love. What an awful difference there is between the look of sin before you do it and afterwards; before, attractive and insignificant; after, contemptible. Here is hell, a conscience without hope of pardon. You cannot think too blackly of your sins, but you may think too exclusively of them.
II. Pilate — THE SHUFFLINGS OF A HALF-AWAKENED CONSCIENCE. Here, then, we get once more a vivid picture that may remind us of what, alas! we all know in our own experience, how a man's conscience may be clear-sighted enough to discern, and vocal enough to declare, that a certain thing is wrong, but not strong enough to restrain from doing it. Conscience has a voice and an eye; alas! it has no hands. It shares the weakness of all law, it cannot get itself executed. Men will climb over a fence, although the board that says "Trespassers will be prosecuted," is staring them in the face in capital letters at the very place where they jump. Your conscience is a king without an army, a judge without officers. "If it had authority, as it has the power, it would govern the world," but as things are, it is reduced to issuing vain edicts and to saying, "Thou shalt not!" and if you turn round and say "I will, though," then conscience has no more that it can do. And then, here, too, is an illustration of one of the commonest of the ways by which we try to slip our necks out of the collar, add to get rid of the responsibilities that really belong to us. "See ye to it" does not avail to put Pilate's crime on the priests' shoulders. Men take part in evil, and each thinks himself innocent, because he has companions. Half a dozen men carry a burden together; none of them fancies that he is carrying it. It is like the case of turning out a platoon of soldiers to shoot a mutineer-nobody knows whose bullet killed him, and nobody feels himself guilty; but there the man lies dead, and it was somebody that did it. So corporations, churches, societies, and nations do things that individuals would not do, and each man of them wipes his mouth, and says, "I have done no harm." And even when we sin alone we are clever at finding scapegoats.
III. And so, lastly, we have here another group still — the priests and people. They represent for us the torpor and misdirection of conscience. "Then answered all the people and said, His blood be on us and on our children." They were perfectly ready to take the burden upon themselves. They thought that they were "doing God service" when they slew God's Messenger. They had no perception of the beauty and gentleness of Christ's character. They behoved Him to be a blasphemer, and they believed it to be a solemn religious duty to slay Him then and there. Were they to blame because they slew a blasphemer? According to Jewish law — no! They were to blame because they had brought themselves into such a moral condition that that was all they thought of and saw in Jesus Christ. With their awful words they stand before us, as perhaps the crowning instances in Scripture history of the possible torpor which may paralyze consciences. The habit of sinning will lull a conscience far more than anything else.
(A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: When the morning was come, all the chief priests and elders of the people took counsel against Jesus to put him to death: