Mark 15:24

I. THERE MAY BE A BLESSING IN ENFORCED SERVICE. Simon the Cyrenian is raised into the light of history; perhaps to teach us this. No nobler honor for the Christian than to reflect, "I have been called to bear the cross." And for some to reflect, "I was forced into carrying the cross I would have refused, or left on the ground." So with that other Simon, surnamed Peter.

II. PAIN IS RATHER TO BE STRUGGLED WITH THAN ARTIFICIALLY SUPPRESSED, We seek anodynes for our troubles. Jesus teaches us to react against them by the force of faith. In the hour of duty we are to seek presence, not absence, of mind; to collect our faculties, not to distract them.

III. WHAT IS PHYSICALLY POSSIBLE MAY BE MORALLY IMPOSSIBLE. Christ could have come down from the cross in the former sense, could not in the latter. He presents the ideal of suffering service for us, and the revelation of God's ways. There may be things which God cannot do, in our way of speaking, because he knows they are not well to be done. We, at ]cast, cannot save ourselves at the expense of duty, and must be content to appear foolish or impotent to many. Suffering and salvation are facts eternally wedded and at one. - J.

They parted His garments.
The soldiers who crucified our Lord were not Jews, but Romans; they had not, therefore, the same grounds of opposition to Him which the Jews had: they had not the same expectations of the Messiah, nor the same prejudices as to the perpetuity of the Mosaic ritual; and yet they participated largely in the great crime of His crucifixion. All classes were, in an extraordinary manner, brought in contact with the Redeemer during His last sufferings, that all might have an opportunity of displaying the state of their minds towards Him, of showing how they were affected towards the Saviour of men. It is remarkable what a share all ranks had in His death, — priests, rulers, the common people, kings, governors, soldiers; the rich and the poor, the high and the low, the religious and the profligate, the learned and the rude; from the representative of Caesar on the Roman tribunal, to the wretched malefactor on the cross; from the sanctimonious Pharisee, with his phylacteries and his prayers, to the profane and profligate wretch who lived without a thought of God; from the learned Rabbi, with his books and his speculations, to the illiterate peasant who knew not the use of letters; from the king, with his insignia of royalty, down to the poor drudge who scarcely dared to call himself a man; from the high priest, with his sacerdotal vestments and functions, down to the Gentile soldier, — all were brought near Him during His last sufferings; all had a voice or a hand in them; and all showed that their hearts were not with Him. We have now brought before us the actual perpetrators of the murder of Jesus Christ. Indeed, we have here a striking illustration of the difference between the act and the guilt. The actual murderers of Jesus were not the most criminal; perhaps they were the least so of all the parties concerned in the transaction. The soldiers who executed the sentence of death upon Jesus were not so guilty as Pilate who pronounced it; Pilate who pronounced it was not so guilty as the people who demanded it; and the people who demanded it were not so guilty as the priests and rulers who designed it, and who instigated the whole proceeding. Guilt pertains not so much to the hand as to the head, and still more to the heart; it lies not so much in the deed, as in the design and purpose of the inner man. The priests and rulers who did not touch Him were far more guilty of His murder than the soldiers who actually nailed Him to the cross. The remarks we have to offer on the conduct of the soldiers will relate to the brutality which marked their treatment of the Redeemer, and then to their unconscious connection with the greatest event which the history of the world records.

I. Our first remarks will relate to THE BRUTALITY AND CRUELTY OF THE SOLDIERS TOWARDS JESUS. It is to be observed that there was not, on the part of the soldiers, any personal enmity to Jesus. But still there were evident marks of brutality and cruelty; such were their stripping Him of His raiment, arraying Him in the old scarlet robe, putting the reed in His hand as a mock sceptre, crowning Him with thorns, bowing the knee to Him, and crying, "Hail, King of the Jews!" How are we to account for this barbarity of the Roman soldiers towards one who was guilty of no crime.

1. Their occupation tended to blunt their sensibilities, and to harden their hearts. They were familiar with deeds of horror and of blood, not only on the field of battle, but in the prison house, and the place of public execution; they were familiar with fetters and stripes; they sported with lacerations and death. Strange things the human heart can be brought to.

2. But another reason may be assigned for it; it is found in our Lord's claim to royalty. He was accused of attempts against the Roman government, and of declaring Himself the King of the Jews. They may have heard of the expectations which prevailed amongst the Jews respecting the Messiah. But the claims of Jesus, who seemed only a poor oppressed peasant, to royalty, would appear to them ineffably absurd — a fit subject for derision and scorn. Hence their indignities and insults were founded chiefly on this. Thus it often is: men pronounce that ridiculous which they do not understand; they declare there is nothing visible, because they are too blind to see. Hence, we perceive, how almost all sin is based on ignorance. Had the soldiers known Jesus they could not have mocked Him.

3. But we have one remark more to offer on this part of our subject. The character which the soldier has ever been taught and accustomed to admire is the opposite of that of Jesus Christ. The character which he admires is the bold, high-spirited — keen to perceive insult, and quick to resent an injury; the meekness, gentleness, forbearance of Jesus Christ were beyond his comprehension. It is a true remark, that mankind have almost always admired and lauded the destroyers of their race more than their greatest benefactors. Indeed, the world's admiration of conquerors is wonderful. Military greatness, as the eloquent Channing has justly remarked, is by no means the highest order of greatness. With him we claim the first rank for the moral; real magnanimity, which, perceiving the true, the right, the good, the pure, and loving it, cleaves to it at all hazards, and will die for it rather than deny it. The second rank we assign to the intellectual; the power of thought which perceives the harmonies of the universe, which discloses the secrets of nature, and, revealing to men some of the laws by which God governs the material or the spiritual word, augments the power of man, and increases his means of enjoyment. We cannot assign a higher than the third rank to the active; the energy and force of will which surmounts practical difficulties. And it is to this class the soldier belongs: it is with the physical, not with the spiritual, that he has to do. Hence Napoleon was not so great a man as Bacon and Newton, as Milton and Shakespeare; nor so great a benefactor to his race. Still less is he to be compared with Howard, with Carey, with Williams. Napoleon felt this; hence he wished to rest his fame far more on the noble code of laws which he was the means of giving to his vast empire, than on all his splendid victories. We trust the days are coming in which correct views of this subject will be generally formed; and that the discoveries of science, and the various inventions of man, will contribute, in conjunction with the diffusion of the spirit of the gospel, to banish wars from the earth. Meantime, as to the military profession, one wonders at the estimate in which it is held. I speak not of individuals, but of the system. To think of men letting themselves out for a shilling a day to shoot their fellow creatures, and to be shot at! What a high estimate they must form of themselves!

II. It is time that we adverted to the second train of remark in which we propose to indulge. They knew they had many hours to wait, and, having completed their task, they composed themselves as well as they could; they put themselves, mentally and physically, in an attitude of patience, till death slowly, but surely, accomplished his work. "They sat down and watched him there." There is something very affecting in the position of him who sits down and watches a fellow creature as life slowly ebbs. The tender mother, as she watches her beloved child, or the affectionate daughter, as she watches her aged parent, thus sinking in the arms of death, feels her position to be at once a painful and a solemn one. Oh! yes, in the chamber of the dying saint, what solemn and impressive thoughts may we not indulge! But the men who were appointed to see the last of Jesus, watched Him without the slightest emotion; they were not impressed with the solemn character of their position; death was there at work, but they had been accustomed to his neighbourhood, and were unmoved by his presence. Oh! how closely, and yet how unconsciously, may men be allied to the most interesting and the most important events. How unconscious were they of the character of Him who was suffering there. They were utterly unconscious of His dignity or His worth; they did not know that when they saw Him, they saw the fullest and clearest revelation of God that the world ever beheld — that the fulness of the Godhead dwelt in Him bodily. When God appeared on Mount Sinai, the Jews trembled; when the cloud filled the tabernacle and the temple, the priests could not abide there, they were awe-struck; but in Jesus, they had not simply a symbol of the Divine presence — the Divinity itself dwelt in Him, so that His disciple said, "We beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth;" and He said, "He that hath seen Me, hath seen the Father." And little did they think, when they roughly bound Him, fiercely scourged Him, and rudely nailed Him to the tree, that they had in their hands the Lord's anointed; that they were thus treating the only begotten and well-beloved Son of God; that they were thus touching the apple of His eye. Had they known Him, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory; had they known Him they would not readily have touched Him, they would rather have trembled in His presence; they would have fallen down at His feet and worshipped Him. But not knowing Him, they imbrued their hands in His blood; unconsciously they crucified the Son of God. Ignorance is a fearful thing; say we not truly, sometimes, that all sin is a mistake, — a grand, a fatal mistake? How much evil may we do ignorantly? Take heed of your sins of ignorance. The apostle says, "Unawares some have entertained angels," and some have entertained them strangely. Prophets, God-sent men, have been among them, and they have not regarded them, but have treated them most contumeliously. The soldiers were equally unconscious of the nature and grandeur of the transaction in which they were concerned; they saw in it merely a very common occurrence, an event of no importance, and of very partial and transient interest. They were wholly unconscious of the real nature of the transaction, of the infinite and enduring interest of the event. Little did they think, while they sat down watching Him there, of the relation of what was passing before them to all worlds and to all beings — to heaven, earth, hell — to God, to man, to angels, and apostate spirits. Little did they think that they were witnessing the greatest act of obedience to the Divine commands which God had ever received; that the Divine law was never so magnified. They were equally ignorant of the consequences which would result from it. Ah! no; while men live in opposition to God, they are ignorant of the real nature of their conduct, and are altogether unprepared for the consequences which must ensue. The responsibility increases, however, with the means of information within our reach. Ignorance, so far from excusing the transgressions which grow out of it, may itself be exceedingly sinful. All that they did had been foreseen and foretold by some of the ancient seers; the whole of their conduct had been described by inspired men, who had looked at it through the vista of ages; and every action of theirs, in connection with the crucifixion of Jesus, was the fulfilment of some prediction; but they knew it not. In this sense, too, "they knew not what they did." This part of our subject suggests an important reflection: it relates to the consistency between the free agency of man, and the foreknowledge of God.

(J. J. Davies.)

Tom Baird, the carter, the beadle of my working man's church, was as noble a fellow as ever lived — God-fearing, true, unselfish. I shall never forget what he said when I asked him to stand at the door of the working man's congregation and when I thought he was unwilling to do so in his working clothes. "If," said I, "you don't like to do it, Tom; if you are ashamed" "Ashamed!" he exclaimed, as he turned round upon me; "I'm mair ashamed o' yersel', sir. Div ye think that I believe, as ye ken I do, that Jesus Christ, who died for me, was stripped o' His raiment on the cross, and that I — Na, na, I'm prood to stand at the door." Dear, good fellow! There he stood for seven winters, without a sixpence of pay; all from love, though at my request the working congregation gave him a silver watch. When he was dying from smallpox, the same unselfish nature appeared. When asked if they would let me know, he replied: "There's nae man leevin' I like as I do him. I know he would come. But he shouldna' come on account of his wife and bairns, and so ye maunna' tell him!" I never saw him in his illness, never hearing of his danger till it was too late.

(Norman Macleod.)

There was a profligate gamester, whose conversion was attempted by some honest monks, and they in order to break his heart for sin, put into his hands a fine picture of the crucifixion of Christ; but when they inquired what he was studying so intently in the picture, hoping his conversion was going forward, he replied, "I was examining whether the dice, with which the soldiers are casting lots for the garment, be like ours." This man too well resembles bad men in the ceremonies of religion, and their hearts guide their eyes to what nourish their vices, not to what would destroy them.

(Robert Robinson.)

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