For he knew it was out of envy that the chief priests had handed Jesus over.
I. A REVELATION OF THE HATRED OF THE NATURAL MIND FOR TRUTH AND GOODNESS. Several ancient authorities are in favor of readings here and elsewhere which would give us, "Jesus Barabbas" (i.e. son of a father or rabbi), as the full name of the "robber" who was here the favorite of the populace. ]f this be so, there would be two of the name Jesus, and the choice would thus be strikingly emphasized. The character of Barabbas as a rioter and murderer is glossed over by the semblance of patriotism, as he is said to have been engaged in the insurrection caused by Pilate's appropriation of the corban of the temple for building an aqueduct. In any case the personal character is utterly subordinated, and motives of policy prevail. The season of the Passover recalled the historic sparing of Israel's firstborn and the destruction of Egypt's. The positions seemed now to be reversed, or Israel deliberately assumed the character of Egypt, preferring that the guilty should be set free. We have here the self-conviction of:
1. Perverted religious instincts. In the case of the chief priests and people of the Jews. Their whole religious training ought to have prepared them to receive Christ.
2. Popular opinion unguided by the Spirit of God. A prey to unscrupulous influences, to false sentiment, and to passing excitements.
3. Spiritual indifference. In the person oF Pilate, in whom it lent itself readily to unprincipled diplomacy and the surrender of innocence.
II. A PARABLE OF THE CHOICE EVERY MAN IS CALLED UPON TO MAKE.
1. In daily life. Minute occurrences in which the contrasts may not seem so striking, or the choice so final. Their ultimate influence in the determination of character and destiny.
2. In the great crises of religious decision. It is well at such times to consider carefully the respective ends of the courses of conduct that present themselves.
III. A SYMBOL OF THE CENTRAL MYSTERY OF REDEMPTION. In the gospel the method of salvation is that the innocent shall suffer for the guilty. Jesus the Christ thus became the substitute of Barabbas the robber. The latter only gained the prolongation of his earthly life thereby; a questionable benefit. But those who believe in Christ as the vicarious Sacrifice and voluntary Self-sacrificer for sinners will receive eternal salvation. - M.
Had delivered Him for envy.
1. It is obvious to remark, that there was much in what may be called their national feelings and prejudices, against which our Lord greatly and constantly offended. The chief priests and rulers would, of course, share with the people generally, in the expectation of a temporal prince in the person of Messiah, and of national distinctions and honours under his reign. But there was nothing in our Lord's conduct or ministry to favour these views.
2. But this is not all. There was much in their official position and interests which rendered our Lord an object of constant suspicion, and of bitter hatred. The whole of their power and influence depended on the continuance of the ecclesiastical system which then existed. Their power and influence in their own nation were very great; and few who have once possessed power are willing to relinquish it. But our Lord's conduct and ministry appeared not only unfavourable to their expectations of national aggrandizement, but they seemed to threaten even the existence of the system of ecclesiastical polity which then obtained amongst them.
3. But the grounds of hostility to our Lord were carried further still, he had rendered himself personally offensive to the chief priests and rulers of the Jews. "Beautiful," said men, "these prayers and fastings, these alms and phylacteries, this scrupulous attention to the smallest points of the law!" "Beautiful," replied our Lord, "as whited sepulchres, which are full of corruption and dead men's bones; the very abodes of putridity, loathsomeness, and death." It was a very common thing with Him, not only in His private intercourse with His disciples, but also in His public ministry, to caution men against the designs and the practices of the Scribes and Pharisees, of whom these chief priests and rulers, for the most part, consisted. "Beware of them," He often cried. "Do not as the Pharisees do;" "they give alms, and say long prayers, to be seen of men." It may not be improper to confirm the view we have taken of their conduct by a more direct reference to the evangelical history. I remark, then, that the truth of it appears in the origin of their opposition. It is evident that their hostility originated in the success of our Lord's ministry; and it increased with the increase of His influence. To point out every illustration of this which the sacred narratives afford, would be to go through a great part of our Lord's history. But we may notice the extraordinary event which specially stimulated their malignity, and led to their determination to destroy Him; that is to say, the resurrection of Lazarus. It was not many months before His crucifixion that this, in some respects His greatest miracle, was performed. "Then from that day forth they took counsel together for to put Him to death." They tried to put the people down, but in vain; they appealed to our Lord, "Master, rebuke Thy disciples; but Jesus said, If these should hold their peace, the stones would immediately cry out." Then "they said among themselves, Perceive ye how that ye prevail nothing; behold the world is gone after Him." Thus we find that their hostility increased just as His influence increased. But, in addition to His influence with the people, our Lord, as we have already seen, rendered Himself personally offensive to the chief priests and rulers by His unsparing exposure of their hypocrisy. Before we leave this part of our subject, let us pause for a moment to inquire whether the same spirit has ever been displayed since the persecutors of Jesus went to give in their account?
1. There are very few men who will not decidedly oppose every effort to overturn a system, on the continuance of which their worldly interests depend. Very few who are fed, enriched, ennobled by any social arrangement, will ever care to inquire whether it be in itself good, whether it be generally beneficial, or whether it be not for the public weal that it give place to another? For them and theirs it is good; and they are all the world to themselves. They can see nothing but disaster in its overthrow, and nothing but wickedness in those who wish to effect it. And this suggests a passing remark, that the best institution may become antiquated. All the unprejudiced perceive that it is fast becoming a nuisance, and that the sooner it is allowed to be decently interred, the better for all interests. But the fact that it was once a benefit, helps to blind the eyes of those who are still interested in its continuance to another fact — that it has ceased to be so.
2. It is also worthy of remark, that generally speaking, their hostility is bitter in proportion to their apprehensions of the unsoundness of the system with which they are connected.
3. No men are more frequently placed in this position, or have more frequently displayed this spirit, than ecclesiastics. Their power is of a peculiar kind, and always rests, more or less, on public opinion.
4. It is still worse when they have become completely corrupt, and their corruption and hypocrisy are exposed to the world. Hence the persecutions which faithful men have endured in every age, and almost invariably through the instigation of ecclesiastics. Hence the sufferings of the Lollards, the Puritans. the Nonconformists, in our own country; of the Waldenses, the Albigenses, the Huguenots, on the continent of Europe. Hence, we say, and hence alone. Why was Wycliffe so hateful to the ecclesiastical rulers of his day? Simply because of the light which, from time to time, he threw on the system of corruption with which they were identified, and by which they were enriched and ennobled; because, by the calm and earnest exhibition of the truth, he was undermining their influence, and exposing them to contempt. Were Gardiner and Bonner, men of some note in their day, better than Annas and Caiaphas? Wherein, beloved reader, and how much, were they better? They acted on precisely the same principles, and in precisely the same spirit; and if they were not better than the persecutors of Jesus, were they worse than some of their successors, the Elizabethan bishops? Were they worse than Parker and Whitgift; than Aylmer, and many others?
(J. J. Davies.)
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