Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
(1) from the romantic legends current among Christians regarding it, from the time of Helena, the mother of Constantine, downwards; and
(2) from the frequent representations of the thorn-crowned Redeemer produced by Christian painters, who have used all the resources of their art to give to the "Ecce Homo!" the interest of sorrow and of spiritual beauty.
I. THE OBVIOUS AND ORIGINAL SIGNIFICANCE OF THE CROWN OF THORNS.
1. It was an evidence of the cruelty and brutality of Christ's foes. The actual plaiting of the crown, and the actual placing of it upon the holy Sufferer's head was the deed of the Roman soldiers. Insensibility to the pain experienced by Jesus may have been natural to such men; but the mockery and scorn displayed in the pretence of homage must have been learned from the Jews.
2. It was an opportunity for Jesus to exhibit those moral qualities which have ever since been peculiarly associated with his name. His patience, his meekness, this dignity, were never more conspicuous than when he was insulted and ill used by his calumniators and foes. Nor can we see that such dispositions could have been so strikingly exhibited except in circumstances such as those in which the Man of sorrows was then placed.
II. THE SYMBOLIC AND PROPHETIC SIGNIFICANCE OF THE CROWN OF THORNS.
1. This affecting coronation is an emblem of our Savior's earthly ministry. His career brought together the hate and the loving devotion of multitudes; it was marked by poverty and lowliness, and yet by a majesty quite unique; he was despised and rejected of men, yet his teaching constrained the exclamation, "Never man spake like this Man!" and his miracles constrained the cry, "What manner of Man is this?" The thorns of hatred and contempt were thrust into his head; yet love and loyalty wrought them into a victor's wreath, a monarch's diadem.
2. The crowning of Jesus with thorns symbolized the character of the religion which he founded. The cross was followed by the resurrection; the entombment by the ascension. Thus God brought together, in the career of his own Son, the profoundest humiliation and the most exalted glory. And this arrangement represents the nature of Christianity. It is a religion of humility, contrition, and repentance, and also of peace, victory, and power. It smites the sinner to the earth; it raises the pardoned penitent to heaven.
3. This incident was prophetic of the progress and the victory of the Christian faith. Our religion has indeed triumphed, but it has triumphed through suffering. Its onward course has been marked by the blood of confessors, martyrs, and missionaries, and by the toil and anguish of thousands of faithful promulgators. The thorns of suffering are the means; the crown of glory and of conquest is the end. Christ was made perfect through suffering, and his Church shall reach a universal dominion only by a toilsome path of strife, watered by tears and stained with blood. - T.
I. WHOM DO WE BEHOLD?
1. The Man whom God sent into this world - his Representative and Herald, his Anointed One, his only Son.
2. The Man whom, as a matter of history, the Jews, in their infatuation, rejected.
3. The Man whom his own disciples forsook in the hour of his distress.
4. The Man whom the Romans, unconscious instruments of a Divine purpose, crucified and slew.
5. The Man who was destined, as events have shown, to rule and bless the world where he met with a treatment so undeserved. Reading the Gospels as ordinary narratives, gazing upon the figure of the Nazarene as a great figure in human history, we see thus much. But as Christians we are not satisfied to behold him thus. We see in him what the lessons of inspiration and of experience have taught us to see, and what we wish the world to see for its own enlightenment and salvation.
II. WHAT Do WE BEHOLD IN HIM? The Man: more than meets the eye, the ear, far more than Pilate understood by the words he used. We behold:
1. The faultless Man. He alone of all who have appeared on earth claims sinlessness, and is admitted to have been without a stain. ]n his character he fulfilled the law of holiness.
2. The benevolent, self-sacrificing Man. Not only was he without sin; in him was exemplified every active, self-denying virtue. He lived and died for others - for the race whose nature he assumed.
3. The Man, the Mediator, bringing about reconciliation between heaven and earth, introducing the Divine grace and the Divine life into human hearts.
4. Thus the ideal Man, and the Head and Founder of the new humanity. Wonderful is the correspondence between Christ and man as he first proceeded from the plastic hand of the Eternal, between Christ and man as he shall be presented at the last before the Author of his being and his salvation.
III. How SHOULD WE BEHOLD HIM?
1. With sincere interest and concern. Well may the world be asked concerning Christ," Is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by?" etc.
2. With admiration and reverence. The hero-worshipper has often been disappointed in the object of his adoration, in whom he has discovered unsuspected flaws. But the longer we gaze at Jesus, the brighter grows his glory, the more harmonious his perfections.
3. With gratitude and love. To behold him is to remember what he has done, what he has suffered for us, is to cherish towards him those feelings to which in the same measure no other has a claim.
4. With faith and trust, dispositions of the soul which find in him their supreme Object.
5. With consecration and obedience. He who finds it hard to serve God is bidden to behold his Savior as he stood crowned with thorns before his murderers: there is no such rebuke to selfishness and willfulness, no such motive to devotion and serf-denial.
6. With the hope of beholding him more nearly and for ever, not in lowliness and shame, but in beauty transcendent, in glory eternal. - T.
I. PILATE'S MEANING. He meant that a very little thing frightened the priests and elders and their sympathizers. He invited them to look at Jesus, with the. thorny crown encircling his brows, and the purple robe - doubtless some tattered and outworn piece of costume thrown over his shoulders. Surely if Jesus were indeed a King, if his royalty was in power as well as in word, all this mockery would have brought the reality out.
II. THE ACTUAL RESULT OF THIS TREATMENT. Pilate meant that Jesus should appear utterly contemptible. Little did be dream how in course of time a vast multitude of all nations, and kindred, and people, and tongues, would respond to this summons, and count Jesus King all the more, just because of the crown of thorns and the purple robe. It was Pilate, not Jesus, who was to become ultimately contemptible. The very Jews themselves could not look on things with Pilate's eyes, and Pilate even could not keep straight on in the tone of scorn and contempt. A few verses later we read of him being afraid. And we, as we leek back on this scene, with all its manifestation of beautiful character, may almost feel as if we owed Pilate's memory a debt of gratitude. The soldiers did something which no disciple of Jesus would wish to have been done; but, being done, every disciple of Jesus is glad for what it showed. The work of coronation, if looked at in the proper light, was a most real one.
III. WE MUST BEHOLD, NOT JESUS ONLY, BUT THE MEN WHO TREATED HIM SO. The men into whose hands Jesus was delivered up were to have their own way without let or hindrance. Men had full opportunity to show how bad they could be. Pilate points to Jesus and says, "Behold the Man!" God points to Pilate and the priests, and says, "Behold mankind!" These men were not specially bad specimens of humanity, but just average expressions of the spirit of the world. But in the very contrast between Jesus and his tormentors there is hope and joy. For if the tormentors are of the same flesh and blood as we are, so also is Jesus. Jesus, the thorn-crowned, always gentle, always harmless, always beneficent, always far above everything that is selfish and resentful, is of our race. We should never look at any of the degrading specimens of humanity without looking also at Jesus. For then we keep the just mean between saying too much and too little. We shall both remember how much better Jesus is than the best, and how patient and pitiful he is with the worst.
IV. WE MUST BEHOLD THE MAN IN ALL HIS MANIFESTATIONS. On the cross. After his resurrection. To Paul on his way to Damascus. To John in Patmos. In glory, as in humiliation, the man is still evident. With whatever brightness the Divinity may shine, it cannot conceal the humanity. Here is the man we ought to be; here is the man we shall be. There can be no true knowledge of human nature without the knowledge of Jesus; and the more we know of him, the more shall we know of ourselves. - Y.
I. THE INQUIRY.
1. There is much in Christ himself which prompts the question. His character, his wonderful works, his still more wonderful language, the whole ministry which he fulfilled upon earth, and especially the sacrifice and the victory in which that ministry culminated, - all are fitted to suggest and urge inquiry into his origin and nature.
2. There is much in man which induces him to seek the truth upon this most interesting question. It concerns every one to whom the gospel comes to know with what authority Jesus spoke, and what value attaches to his redemption. And in order to this it is necessary to know whence he is, from whom he comes, and in whose name he makes his claim upon men.
II. THE REPLY. Why Jesus did not answer Pilate is not hard to understand. He had already, both by his language and by his demeanor, given abundant evidence for the formation of a judgment. And Jesus intended Pilate to understand what were their relative positions. The governor deemed himself in this case omnipotent; Jesus gave him to understand that in reality his power was very limited, whilst the power of the accused and apparently helpless One was in reality that of God himself. But we should make a mistake if we supposed that the Lord Jesus was or is unwilling to give reason for men to acknowledge his claims and to render honor to the Son.
1. Christ's origin is Divine: he came forth from God, and was one with the Father.
2. Christ's authority is Divine: he spake, wrought, and suffered in the name of God.
3. Christ's Divine origin and authority render him in all his offices fit to fulfill his gracious purposes towards mankind. Is he our Prophet, Priest, and King? It makes all the difference to his sufficiency whether or not he fulfils these offices with Divine authority. Men are right in asking of Jesus, "Whence art thou?" But they are wrong if, receiving his own answer, they refuse him the faith of their heart, the allegiance of their life. - T.
I. PILATE'S ASSERTION OF AUTHORITY. It was very natural for Pilate to speak so. He mistook the spirit or' Jesus; but he made no vain boast in speaking of his power to crucify and to release. He had troops of obedient soldiers at his disposal, to effect whatever he decided. This exhibition of Pilate's power had its good side. Bad as Pilate may have been, he held a necessary and a beneficial office. Brutal as the soldiers were, they made the last barrier against anarchy and lawlessness. The office of Pilate is ever honored in all true Christian teaching. A strong executive is a thing to be thankful for. Judges and magistrates have to be watched, for the mere wrapping of a man in scarlet and ermine cannot take away his frailties, prejudices, and antipathies. But the office is good, and the man that fills it is often good. We are not wild beasts. There must be something to restrain the violent and predatory hand. If the lion in the desert sees the antelope, he springs on him at once; no after-power will come in to demand of the lion wherefore he slew the helpless beast. But if a man in a civilized community ponders an evil deed, he has to ponder also all the possible results. He cannot get past the risk of punishment.
II. JESUS AND THE ORIGIN OF AUTHORITY. Pilate was not a man caring to seek and think under the surface of things, or he would have asked himself the question, "Why are these soldiers so ready to obey me? Why is it that I, one man, have all these dwellers in Jerusalem under my control?" Man recognizes the need of authority. Jesus did not mean to dispute the right of Pilate to do what he liked with him. Pilate would have traced the origin of his authority to Rome, but that only threw the question a little further back. When we get to the very highest seen thing, we feel that, as it were, an invisible hand is stretching down and making it what it is. Jesus wanted to make Pilate feel that, whatever power he had, he would be called to account for the use of it. Judas had the greater blame, but Pilate could not escape. - Y.
I. THE GROUND OF CHRIST'S KINGSHIP. Earthly sovereigns come to the throne sometimes by right of conquest, sometimes in virtue of inheritance, sometimes by means of election. Now, Jesus is King:
1. By Divine appointment and native right. "Yet," ran the prophecy, "have I set my King upon my holy hill of Zion." He is Christ, i.e. the Anointed, and he is anointed Monarch of mankind. Men's recognition or rejection of him makes no difference as to the fact. In the very nature of things, because he is Son of God, he is the rightful Ruler.
2. By mediatorial acquisition. He is Prophet and Priest, and therefore King. In order that his rightful sovereignty might become an actual sovereignty, the Lord Jesus was obedient unto death, and purchased his own inheritance. The cross was the means by which he won the throne.
II. THE REALM OVER WHICH CHRIST EXERCISES HIS SWAY.
1. His kingdom is differenced from the kingdoms of this world in that it is not over the outward actions, the life merely, of men. He does not reign by the scepter and the sword. He has no palace, no army, none of the paraphernalia of earthly royalty.
2. Our Lord's kingdom is spiritual; it is first and chiefly a dominion over the hearts, the convictions, and the affections of men. He sets up his throne in the inner being and nature of his subjects; and if he rules over their speech and actions, it is because he first rules over their thoughts and desires. All his true subjects, therefore, are such willingly, and not by constraint.
III. THE CHARACTER OF CHRIST'S ROYAL DOMINION. Our Lord Jesus combines in himself the two supreme attributes of government.
1. He is the Legislator King. He promulgates the laws which his subjects are bound to study, to respect, and to obey. The laws of earthly kingdoms are sometimes unjust. But Christ's laws are supremely righteous; they are commandments of God himself; only the authority which properly belongs to them is penetrated with a spirit of grace and kindness.
2. He is the judicial King. He enforces his own edicts. He is the Judge alike of the Church and of the world. He demands submission and obedience. And from the sanctions of his rule none can escape. His friends shall be exalted, and foes and rebels shall be placed beneath his feet.
IV. THE EXTENT AND DURATION OF CHRIST'S KINGSHIP.
1. His kingdom is universal. When Jesus, in his parables, spoke of the kingdom of God as destined to include all nations, nothing could have seemed to ordinary listeners less likely of fulfillment than such a prediction. And when he himself was crucified, what prospect there was of dominion to be exercised by him must, in the view of most men, have vanished utterly. Yet our Savior's dominion has been constantly extending, and is still taking in new provinces. And faith realizes the approach of the time when "the kingdoms of this world shall become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ."
2. His kingdom is immortal. Of states and empires historians have written the decline and fall; no earthly kingdom can resist the law of decay to which all things human appear subject. Of Christ's kingdom, however, "there is no end;" it is "from everlasting to everlasting."
1. Let attention be given to this Divine Monarch. "Behold your King!" Of all beings he first claims the regard of men.
2. Let his dignity and authority be recognized. When Pilate pointed the gaze of the multitude to Jesus, his was a disguised royalty, for Jesus was "a Man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;" and his was a derided, insulted royalty, for he had been clothed in mockery with a purple robe, and a crown of thorns had pierced his head.
3. Let homage, reverence, loyalty, devotion, be rendered to him to whom they are justly due. Truly to behold Christ is to discern his just claim to all that our heart, our life, can offer. His sovereignty is absolute, and our obligation to him is unlimited. - T.
I. THE STOOPING OF MEN WHEN THEY HAVE AN END TO GAIN. "We have no king but Caesar." Assuredly the high priests would never have said anything like this except in the way they actually said it. They had no love to Rome and Rome's ruler, and Pilate knew it, and must have despised them as they professed to be influenced by loyalty to Caesar in all their enmity to Jesus. They were ready to say anything and do anything, however inconsistent, however mendacious, if only it helped them to their end. Thus we have clear evidence from their own conduct of what bad men they were. We cannot give them the credit of being mistaken patriots. Real lovers of their country, however exasperated, however driven into a corner, would never have made a lying confession of allegiance to the hated foreigner.
II. EVEN IF THE STATEMENT HAD BEEN TRUE, THE ACTION BELIED THE WORD. Suppose there had been a real fidelity to Caesar, rejection of Jesus was the very way to injure Caesar's government. The more subjects of Jesus there are in any kingdom, the better for that kingdom. Christians can struggle bravely against all that is tyrannous and overbearing without forgetting that human authority of some sort is an ordinance of Heaven, and must be maintained and honored. All opposition to Christianity tends toward anarchy, and none the less so because the tendency may be denied. - Y.
I. ONE CROSS IS THE SYMBOL OF DIVINE LOVE AND OF HUMAN SALVATION. The central figure of the three is that which draws to it every eye.
1. There is in this cross what every spectator can discern. A Being undoubtedly innocent, holy, benevolent, is suffering unjustly the recompense of the evildoer. Yet he endures all with patience and meekness, with no complaint, but with sincere words of forgiveness for his foes. We conceive Jesus saying, "All ye that pass by, behold, and see; was there ever sorrow like unto my sorrow?"
2. What did Christ's enemies see in his cross? The fruit of their malice, the success of their schemes, the fulfillment, as it seemed to them, of their selfish hopes.
3. A more practical and interesting question for us is - What do we behold in the cross of Christ? To all Christ's friends, their crucified Lord is the Revelation of the power and the wisdom of God, none the less so because his enemies see here only an exhibition of weakness, of folly, and of failure. The voice that reaches us from Calvary is the voice that speaks Divine love to all mankind. Here Christians recognize the provision of full and everlasting salvation; and here they come under the influence of the highest motive which appeals to the spiritual nature, and calls forth an affectionate and grateful devotion.
"From the cross uplifted high, II. A SECOND CROSS IS THE SYMBOL OF IMPENITENCE AND REJECTION OF DIVINE MERCY. In the blaspheming robber who hung by the side of the Lord Jesus we have an awful example of human sin and crime; an awful witness to human justice and to the penalty with which transgressors are visited; and an awful illustration of the length to which sinners may carry their callous indifference to sin. An impenitent criminal reviles the one Being who has the power and the disposition to deliver him from his sin and from its worst results. Selfishness of the narrowest and meanest kind is left: "Save us!" i.e. from torture and the impending fate. A degraded life is followed by a hopeless death. Several terrible lessons are taught by this felon's character and fate. 1. How impossible it is for those to be saved who reject the means of salvation! 2. How possible it is to be close to Christ, in body, in communication, in privilege, and yet, because destitute of faith and love, to be without any benefit from such proximity! 3. How foolish it is to rely upon a late repentance, seeing that sinners are found to persevere in sin and unbelief even in the immediate prospect of death! III. A THIRD CROSS IS THE SYMBOL OF PENITENCE AND OF PARDON. The story of the repentant malefactor shows us that, even when human justice does its work, Divine mercy may have its way. 1. The process of seeking God, even in mortal extremity. Conscience works; conviction of sin ensues, and creates a new disposition of the soul; this prompts a fearless rebuke of a neighbor's sin; faith - in the circumstances truly amazing - is exercised; true, simple, fervent prayer is offered. 2. The manifestation of compassion and mercy. The dying Lord imparts to the dying penitent an assurance of favor; free pardon is announced; bright hope is inspired; immortal happiness is secured. 3. Lessons of precious encouragement are impressed upon the spectators of this third cross. It is possible for the vilest to repent. It is certain that the sincere penitent will be regarded with favor. Even at the eleventh hour salvation is not to be despaired of. There is a prospect before those who are accepted and pardoned, of immediate joy and Divine fellowship after this life is over. - T.
II. A SECOND CROSS IS THE SYMBOL OF IMPENITENCE AND REJECTION OF DIVINE MERCY. In the blaspheming robber who hung by the side of the Lord Jesus we have an awful example of human sin and crime; an awful witness to human justice and to the penalty with which transgressors are visited; and an awful illustration of the length to which sinners may carry their callous indifference to sin. An impenitent criminal reviles the one Being who has the power and the disposition to deliver him from his sin and from its worst results. Selfishness of the narrowest and meanest kind is left: "Save us!" i.e. from torture and the impending fate. A degraded life is followed by a hopeless death. Several terrible lessons are taught by this felon's character and fate.
1. How impossible it is for those to be saved who reject the means of salvation!
2. How possible it is to be close to Christ, in body, in communication, in privilege, and yet, because destitute of faith and love, to be without any benefit from such proximity!
3. How foolish it is to rely upon a late repentance, seeing that sinners are found to persevere in sin and unbelief even in the immediate prospect of death!
III. A THIRD CROSS IS THE SYMBOL OF PENITENCE AND OF PARDON. The story of the repentant malefactor shows us that, even when human justice does its work, Divine mercy may have its way.
1. The process of seeking God, even in mortal extremity. Conscience works; conviction of sin ensues, and creates a new disposition of the soul; this prompts a fearless rebuke of a neighbor's sin; faith - in the circumstances truly amazing - is exercised; true, simple, fervent prayer is offered.
2. The manifestation of compassion and mercy. The dying Lord imparts to the dying penitent an assurance of favor; free pardon is announced; bright hope is inspired; immortal happiness is secured.
3. Lessons of precious encouragement are impressed upon the spectators of this third cross. It is possible for the vilest to repent. It is certain that the sincere penitent will be regarded with favor. Even at the eleventh hour salvation is not to be despaired of. There is a prospect before those who are accepted and pardoned, of immediate joy and Divine fellowship after this life is over. - T.
I. SOMETHING IN HARMONY WITH THE POSITION JESUS NATURALLY TAKES. Jesus never put himself officiously in a position of eminence. He never needed to say, "Leave the central place for me." Wherever he sat naturally became the central place. We cannot help putting Jesus in the midst. He acted in such a way that he could not help being the central character in every assembly. And this is the glorious thing about Jesus that, being the first, he has never lost his position in the midst. He is not so much above men as among them. Wheresoever two or three are gathered together he desires to be in their midst. Jesus, we may be sure, is interested in everything that ought to interest mankind. And in the same way we ought not to be interested in anything unless we can have Jesus in the enterprise.
II. AN EXAMPLE FOR US. There is not anything else in which we should follow the example of these soldiers, but we may well do it by always putting Jesus in the midst. And especially when we have to deal with sufferers of any sort, we should try to make them feel, by a remembrance of his position on the cross, that Jesus himself as a Sufferer was in the very midst of sufferers. And may it not be hoped that all evil-doers, all law-breakers, all suffering punishment for crime, will be particularly susceptible to the claims of Jesus, when it is made clear to them that in this emphatic way Jesus was "numbered with the transgressors"? - Y.
I. As ILLUSTRATIVE OF CERTAIN THINGS WITH REGARD TO THE CRUCIFIERS AND THE CRUCIFIED.
1. With regard to the crucifiers.
(1) Their utter want of common delicacy. The first thing they did in executing the sentence was to strip the culprit of every rag of clothes, and hang him on the cross in a state of nudity. This reveals on the part of the patrons of this custom utter lack of delicacy, and grossness and barbarity of taste. They were willing to gratify the most morbid tastes, most animal passions, and lowest curiosity of an excited and thoughtless mob. The Romans were not the first nor the last to manifest these qualities with regard to the execution of criminals. Till very recently our executions were much of the same style. Thousands went to see the last struggles of a criminal with very much the same feelings as they would go to see a bull-fight, and many of them very much worse in the sight of God than he who was hung. But, thanks to our advanced Christian civilization, this has passed away. Our executions are now performed in private, with as much decency, and as little pain to the culprit as possible, thus recognizing the sacredness of life, even that of the meanest, most worthless and injurious. It is to be hoped that life will soon become more sacred still in accordance with the merciful spirit of the dispensation under which we live.
(2) Their refined cruelty. It was not enough for the Crucified to bear all the torture of the cross, but also be had to bear all the shame and indignities of nakedness. To some, doubtless, who were sunk in the deepest physical and spiritual debauchery, it was not so painful, but by the pure soul of Jesus it must have been keenly felt. There was no consideration shown in his case. He was not exempted from a single item in the catalogue of indignities, nor from a single ignominy in the program of shame; but rather to the contrary, these were lengthened by the voluntary contributions of a servile crowd. The crucifiers of Jesus were as refined in their cruelty as they were coarse in their tastes, and as minute in their indignities as they were lax in their sense of common delicacy.
2. In relation to the crucified One. It indicates:
(1) The simplicity of his dress. Only the common costume of a poor Galilaean. Jesus did not go in for fashion and finery in dress anymore than for luxuries in diet; but in all he was characterized by simplicity. In one sense this was strange, too, that he who paints the lily and rose in the richest hues, and the bird's wing in the most fantastic colors, should be himself clothed in the simple dress of a poor artisan! But, in another sense, this is not strange; it is generally the case with true greatness. He was sufficiently glorious in himself. It is not the garment, but he who wears it.
(2) The poverty of his circumstances. When his worldly affairs were wound up they consisted in a humble dress. When this was divided all was divided, he possessed in this world, He had no houses, money, nor land to be confiscated by the government, and to enrich the imperial treasury, only the robe and the tunic, and these probably the gifts of some kind friend, the latter, perhaps, woven by the tender hands of his mother, or by Magdalene, as the original device and gift of love for an original and Divine kindness. This is very affecting and significant, that he who was in the world, and the world was made by him, should leave without any of it. He who made the world could alone be satisfied to leave it thus. He was.
(3) His more than human submissiveness in suffering. When deprived of his garments he made no complaint, no request to be spared this indignity. One would naturally expect that he would ask this favor, and say, "I am willing to suffer even unto death, but let me die in my clothes." But not a word or a murmur. "As a lamb he was brought to the slaughter," and all for us. He was stripped that we may be clothed, became naked that we may be robed in spotless white.
II. AS AN ACT OF SELFISH RAPACITY. "The soldiers," etc.
1. They were inspired by the love of sordid gain. Every base principle in existence was represented on Golgotha that day. All the vultures of hell hovered over the cross ready to descend on their respective prey. And among the dark groups was the love of gain ready for his garments. It cared for nothing else.
2. This was confirmed by habit and custom. The clothes of the victim were their fee for the execution. It was not such a profitable job then as it is now. But you will find people willing to do anything for a little worldly advantage. They will hang you for your clothes; they will murder you physically or morally, which is worse still, for the attainment of a little selfish end. His own disciple sold him for thirty pieces of silver: why, then, should we wonder at these rough and ignorant soldiers crucifying him for his garments? And this demon of selfish gain was sanctioned by law.
3. It was done with great haste. As soon as he was crucified, before he was dead, they hastened to divide his garments under his very eyes. In this they are typical of a good many more. The love of gain is ever in haste. The votaries of selfishness are ever in a hurry. As soon as the victim is safe in the grip of affliction, they begin to search for the keys. The grave is opened before almost he has breathed his last.
4. The division is just and fair. This is one redeeming quality in the affair. Rather than spoil the vest, they cast lots for it. This probably arose from selfishness, each one hoping it would be his; but, if selfish, it was wise, and an example to many in dividing the spoil. It is better to cast lots or leave a thing alone, than render it worthless. There is some honor amongst thieves, yes, more than among many men of higher standing. "The children of this world are wiser," etc.
III. AS THE FULFILMENT OF SCRIPTURE. "That the Scripture," etc.
1. Christ was the great Subject of ancient Scripture. His incarnation, character, and many incidents of his life and death were foretold centuries before he made his appearance. Many of the prophets described him as if he were really present to them. David, the great anti-type of the Messiah, was often so inspired that he personified him, and related facts as if they had actually happened in his own experience, whereas they related entirely to the coming King. Such was his reference to the parting of his garment.
2. In the life and death of Christ the ancient Scripture was literally fulfilled. Even in the division of his garment.
(1) In this the soldiers were unconscious agents. Nothing could be remoter from their knowledge and consciousness than that they fulfilled any Scripture.
(2) In this they only carried out their own contract, and fulfilled their own designs. There was no secret and supernatural influence brought to bear upon them, so that their actions may fit with ancient prophecy; but ancient prophecy was a true reading of future events, and was proved by these events as they occurred.
(3) Through these unconscious agents the Scripture was fulfilled.
3. This literal fulfillment of ancient Scripture was a remarkable proof of the Messiahship of Jesus - that he was the Divine One promised of old, and with whom the old dispensation was in travail. Even the division of his garment testified to his identity and the Divinity of his mission; and these soldiers bore unconscious testimony to his Messiahship.
1. Everything connected with true greatness becomes interesting. The birthplace of a great man, the house in which he afterwards lived, the chair in which he sat, and the staff he carried. The garments of Jesus are full of interest, especially the seamless vest. The disposal of even his garments is not passed unnoticed.
2. The garments of Jesus fell into thoughtless hands. One is almost curious as to who had the pieces of the robe, and who had the seamless tunic. What an exchange! The vest once worn by the Son of God was afterwards worn by a thoughtless soldier. It was well that none of his garments fell to his friends; if so, there would be a danger of idolatry.
3. The garments of Jesus lost their virtue when he ceased to wear them. The outer robe, the hem of which was so healing to faith, was so no more. The virtue was not in the garment, but in the wearer. He gave greatness and virtue to everything connected with him.
4. Let us arrange our affairs as far as we can ere we die, and leave the rest to the lottery of events, which is ever under Divine control. It matters but little to us what will become of our garments after we finish with them. If we have them as long as we require them, we should feel thankful. - B.T.
I. THIS INTERESTING GROUP AT THE CROSS. Who composed it?
1. The mother of Jesus. She is mentioned first. She stands prominent among the rest, as well she may. Of all mothers, she is the most popular and interesting. She stands alone in the maternal roll of the world. Never a mother had such a Son, and never a son had such a mother. She has been made too much of on the one hand, and too little on the other. From her the Son of God inherited his humanity and his human breeding. Humanly speaking, he owed much to his mother for his fine human nature and sympathies. That Mary was his mother was not an accident. Never a mother had such joy nor such sorrow; and she was now overwhelmed with the latter. She was there: and what could keep her away?
2. Her sister. Who was she? not the wife of Cleophas. She was also a Mary; and two sisters of the same name was not a likely thing. She was doubtless Salome, the wife of Zebedee, and the mother of James and John. John was Christ's first cousin, which accounts for the likeness, the attachment, and the trust. Her name is not mentioned, which is characteristic of John's modesty. He would not mention his own name, neither that of his mother.
3. Mary the wife of Cleophas. The mother of James the Less, Joses, and Judas. Whether this Cleophas was the same as that who met Jesus on the way to Emmaus, it is difficult to decide. He was, doubtless, a good man and a disciple of Jesus; but is brought into prominence in the sacred history in connection with his more heroic wife, who outstripped him in the race, left him on the outskirts of the crowd, and pressed on with her comrades to the cross of the Lord.
4. Mary Magdalene. A well-known character of this period. Jesus healed her of many infirmities, at least from her seven unclean spirits, and ever afterwards she was specially attached to her great Benefactor, and was one of the many good women who followed Jesus from Galilee, and administered to him of their substance, according to the custom of the Jews; and she was now among that little group of sympathetic souls who attended his last moments.
II. THEIR POSITION. "By the cross of Jesus." In this position they manifested:
1. Great fortitude. To realize this:
(1) Think of the sufferings they had to witness, and the spectacle they had to see. They had to witness the agonizing death, the shame, and the untold indignities of their best Friend. Many a stout heart has failed at the death-bed of a loved one; but they stood at the death-cross of their Lord.
(2) Think of the public scorn and ridicule to which they were exposed. They were, doubtless, known to many of the Savior's foes as his adherents, and it was not at all fashionable for women to appear at such a scene; but what cared they for social propriety or public scorn? Their courage towered far above this in the performance of a sacred duty.
(3) Think of their personal danger. As the friends of the crucified One, in the very teeth of his cruel foes, their lives were in jeopardy; but they counted not these dear unto them, but stood there face to face with death.
2. Strong affection. This accounts for their courage. Their heroism was that of love, and their courage that of affection. Their affection may be looked at as:
(1) Maternal affection. What love so faithful and heroic as that of a mother? And it was never stronger than in her heart who was the mother of our Lord; and it drew her now near to his cross.
(2) Social affection.
(3) Pious affection. It was more than the ordinary affection of human kindred and friendship. It was love arising from pious attachment, from Christian hope, and faith in him as the Messiah and Savior. Mary Magdalene was still on fire with gratitude and faith, which blazed all the more near the cross.
3. Strong and genuine sympathy. They were ready to render him any help, and would, if possible, have taken some of his agonies upon themselves. They were helpless, but did what they could and went as far as possible.
4. Great self-control. We have read of mothers becoming frantic and losing their lives to save loved ones; but here there was a wonderful calm maintained, which makes the mother's love more heroic, and her heroism more sublime. There were emotions deep and stirring in their breasts, with but little or no demonstration; but there was wonderful self-control manifested, as if their souls had caught the calm spirit of the crucified One.
III. THEIR CONDUCT AS AN EXAMPLE FOR THE IMITATION OF ALL.
1. They stood by him in his hour of greatest trial and sufferings. It was one thing to stand by him in his hour of joy and triumph, in the day of his power and the exploits of his loving strength, when the heaven opened and streamed upon him its glory; when Divinity encircled his brow, and made his word omnipotent and his very gaze or touch almighty; when at his bidding diseases fled, and demons quitted their dark haunts; when the storm was hushed, and the waves crouched at his voice; when food increased under his hands, and even Death gave up his prey when he spoke. But it was another thing to stand by him on a cross, when hell besieged him with its torments, heaven seemed closed to his breathings, and Divinity itself seemed to have deserted him.
2. They stood by him when others had left him. It is one thing to stand by Jesus, one of many; but it is another to stand by him, one of four. It is one thing to follow him with faithful disciples and a jubilant crowd; but it is another to stand alone by his cross. Where were zealous and good-hearted Peter, James, Andrew, and Philip, and others? They had all left, with the exception of the disciple of love and these loving women. Others may be among the crowd, or on the outskirts, beholding from afar; but they stood by his cross when all had left him. As others leave Christ, let us stand by him and draw to him all the closer.
3. They did all they could. They were helpless, and could render no assistance. They could make no progress; still they stood their ground, and manifested their undying and unconquerable attachment. They clung to Jesus for his own sake apart from circumstances. Like them, let us do what we can, and advance as far as possible, and, when we cannot go any further, let us stand; and, indeed, in the hour of direst temptation the utmost we can do is to stand our ground.
1. Jesus has not been at any time wholly deserted.
2. It is worthy of notice that the faithful ones at the cross were women. Surely "he giveth power to the faint." In the weaker vessels was the greatest strength.
3. Those who stood by the cross of Jesus unconsciously stood near a rich treasury. The outward scene was that of shame, poverty, and untold agony and misery; but the inward was that of untold peace, joy, riches, and glory. There was the atonement made, the fountain opened, and the work of redemption finished. They stumbled on a rich fortune. This did not occur to them then, but flashed upon them afterwards. The cross did more good to them than they to him who hung upon it.
4. Those who stand by Jesus in his hour of trial, he will stand by. We all have our crosses, affliction, and death in our turn. Let us stand by the cross of Jesus, and he will stand by ours, and will not leave us in the hour of our greatest trial. - B.T.
I. WE CANNOT BUT REVERENTIALLY ADMIRE THE SELF-FORGETFULNESS OF THE CRUCIFIED REDEEMER. The absorbing nature of extreme bodily suffering is well known. In the hour of agony it is hard for the sufferer to think of aught but his own pains and torture. We know that the Lord Jesus was exquisitely sensitive to suffering. Yet even amidst the anguish of body and of mind which he was then enduring, the Savior was able to turn away his thoughts from himself to her who gave him birth, who had often shared the honors and the trials of his ministry, and who had now, with noble fortitude and sympathy, come to witness his death.
II. WE ARE INSTRUCTED BY THE REVELATION OF THE HIGH PLACE WHICH HUMAN LOVE HELD IN OUR SAVIOR'S HEART. Mary was now advancing in life; her husband Joseph was probably dead. Her long-proved affection was reciprocated by that Son whose filial devotion had been perfect, and who had not now to remember one unfilial act, or word, or even thought. As he looked upon her he saw that the prediction was now fulfilled, "A sword shall pierce through thine own heart also." He had loved her all his life, and his love was never more grateful, more tender, more compassionate, than now. He was bearing the burden of a world's sin and sorrow; yet there was room in his sacred heart for affectionate thoughts of his beloved mother. John, too, who records this incident, in which he occupied a part so prominent, took pleasure in speaking of himself as "the disciple whom Jesus loved." He had reclined on the Master's breast at the Supper: right and meet it was that he should take his station at his Master's cross. Jesus, who had loved him in life, cherished the same affection towards John in this his own hour of anguish. As it would have been a comfort to Jesus had his three favored apostles watched with him in the garden, so no doubt it was a comfort to him that the beloved disciple was standing hard by the cross of ignominy and woe. Jesus loved his friend for his faithfulness, and rewarded him for it even in the hour of his own decease. We thus recognize with gratitude the persistence of Immanuel's tender affection: "Having loved his own... he loved them even to the end."
III. WE ARE ASTONISHED AT THE FORETHOUGHT AND WISDOM EXERCISED BY THE DYING SAVIOR. He had already prayed for his murderers; he had already cheered his fellow-sufferer by words of grace and promise. He now turned his thoughtful regard to the mother who stood weeping among her friends. The arrangement which he proposed was one the propriety and suitableness of which are most apparent. Who so fit to take his place - as far as that place could be taken - as the beloved disciple? There is a pathetic grace and beauty in the language in which Jesus commended the two to each other. He acknowledged the mother's fidelity and devotion to himself; he foresaw the desolation which must come to her; he provided for her not only a protector and a home, but that solace which would come with common memories and mutual sympathy. There were those, perhaps, nearer of kin, but none could be nearer in heart, to Mary than Jesus' most intimate and trusted friend. Thus it was secured that Mary should be removed from the distressing scene, and should be assured of constant and affectionate tendance. Nor can we doubt that this arrangement was a permanent one - that Mary enjoyed the friendship and ministrations of John until she went to see her Son in that glory which followed upon his bitter humiliation. Thus love and wisdom went together in this as in preceding acts of the Son of man. And what Jesus said and did upon this occasion was an earnest of his work for humanity at large. Hone are so happy, so safe, so strong, as those to whom the Savior reveals his heart, and for whom he in his wisdom takes holy, helpful thought. - T.
I. THE INFERIORITY OF HUMAN RELATIONSHIPS. Our Lord addresses his mother as "woman" - a term of tenderness and respect; still suggesting at once the inferiority of human relationships when compared with spiritual ones.
1. Human relationships belong to this world. They belong to the natural, physical, and visible order of things. They are the outcome of our existence, the arrangements of wise Providence, and important for the government of the human race, their social order, progress, and happiness, and capable of serving our highest interests.
2. Christ spoke of and treated them as inferior to spiritual relationships. Although he was the most obedient, affectionate, and exemplary of sons, yet he ever spoke of his spiritual and Divine relationships as being superior and more important - those arising from a Divine and spiritual birth, from the will of God, as superior to those arising from physical birth, or the will of the flesh. The former had ever his preference, and he was louder of his relations after the spirit than of those after the flesh. Once. when told that his mother and his brethren were outside, seeking him, he said, "He that doeth the will of my Father," etc.
3. At death human relationships are merged into those of a higher life. He saith, "woman," not "mother;" and, pointing to John, and not to himself, "Behold thy son!" As much as to say, in the old sense of the term, "Henceforth I cease to be thy Son, and thou ceasest to be my mother." She had to think of him, not as her Son, but as her Lord and Savior. By the regenerative influence of Christianity and the transition of death, the material is lost in the spiritual, the human in the Divine, and the temporal in the Eternal.
II. THE PERFORMANCE OF FILIAL DUTY. "When he saw his mother," etc. This duty involved provisions for the future support and comfort of his mother.
1. This duty is felt and admitted by Christ. This implies:
(1) That human relationships involve special duties. Brothers have special duties to brothers, parents to children, and children to parents. Christ felt that his widowed mother was dependent upon him for support and comfort, and he feels it his sacred duty to provide for her.
(2) These duties are incumbent, although the relationships whence they arise are about to cease. Jesus was about to cease to be Mary's Son, in the old sense; he was about to enter into a higher life. Still he felt it is duty to provide for her. The spiritual does not atone for the material. The obligations of every state of existence should be performed in that stage. Our obligations survive the relationships which gave rise to them.
(3) Christianity makes all under its influence more alive to the duties of human relationships. It is not Christ-like to leave the world as thieves and those who loved and were dependent upon us as absconders. The higher life of Christ inspired him to perform the duties of this, Christianity ennobles every relationship, and consecrates every duty of life. The Christian son will be the most affectionate and careful of his surviving mother.
2. This duty was performed by Christ under the most trying circumstances. This duty was done amidst the most excruciating sufferings, physical, mental, and spiritual. It was done in the very act of dying. When uttering these words of tenderness, he was in the grip of the most painful death. It was done when performing the most important work of his life. When providing for the spiritual wants of the world, he provided for the temporal wants of his mother. These facts prove:
(1) His utter self-obliviousness. "He made himself of no reputation." Not himself, but others. Not his own agonies, but the comfort of his surviving and stricken mother.
(2) His wonderful sovereignty over the most adverse circumstances of life. In the midst of sufferings and indignities he was perfectly calm and self-possessed. He had full control over his feelings, actions, sufferings, and even death. He kept death at bay till he performed the last duty of love pertaining to this life.
(3) The strength of his filial affection.
(4) His continued inherent interest in those he loved. In his beloved mother and disciple. And this interest, which blazed so brightly in the gloom of death, was net likely to be extinguished in the happiness and effulgence of the life beyond.
(5) The minuteness and. tenderness of his loving care. While we contemplate this, his last act of filial love, under the circumstances in which it was performed, we are ready to exclaim, "How human! how Divine! how comprehensive! how minute! how God-like! How like the Father of all!" While he governs and sustains the vast universe, he forgets not a single object - not even the smallest. He lights the sun and guides the stars, but forgets not the glow-worm - nor to smile on the rose and the lily. And so the Divine Son now on the cross, while he made an atonement for sin, satisfied justice, and honored the Law; still, at the very time, his mother is not forgotten.
3. This duty was performed in the best way.
(1) in the most efficient way. He entrusted her to the care of his best earthly friend, one with the means and the heart, the will and the way. He could do nothing else. He had no means to bequeath to her; but he had a loving heart at his command, which would ever be kind to her.
(2) In the most natural way. What could comfort the bereaved mother as much as another son, and so loved by and so like the lost one? John would remind her of Jesus, and their society would be congenial, and their conversation sweet as to the past and the future.
(3) In the most suitable time. Up to this time he was with her; there was no need of any one else. But now his life is past hope; his mother was in the suppressed agonies of grief and sorrow - the sword was through her heart. Then another son was introduced who would never cease to care for her - a very present help.
III. THE EXERCISE OF LOVING OBEDIENCE. This is illustrated in the mother and in the disciple.
1. The new relationship is most naturally felt and realized. It jars not on the feelings of either; but a flush of a new kinship passes over their countenance.
2. The sacred charge was most cheerfully accepted. There was no need of along lecture; only the brief introduction, "Behold," etc.! By his Spirit and providence he had prepared both for the new relationship.
3. It was practically accepted. He took her to his own home. Loving obedience is ever practical and full. To his own home, which was the home of love.
4. It was immediately practical. There was no delay. "From that hour." The obedience of love is hearty and prompt. Probably that very minute he took her away.
(1) For her own sake. She could scarcely stand the heart-rending scene any longer. Her motherly instincts would cling to the cross till the last; but the tender instincts of her newly adopted son would considerately lead her away. It was enough.
(2) For Christ's sake. His human eyes should see the obedience of love. The sacred charge would be taken at once, and his will immediately executed. This should not press a moment on him. A weeping mother should not hold him back from death. Would not even Christ die more happily after seeing his mother cared for?
1. There are some whom Jesus loves more than others. John was such. He specially loved him on account of his specially loving qualities and his likeness to him.
2. Those whom Jesus specially loves he specially honors - honors with his confidence, friendship, mind, and treasures.
3. The greatest honor which Christ can confer upon us is to employ us in his special service.
4. Jesus has many poor relations still in need of care. Those who befriend the orphan and the widow are doing Jesus special service. We hear still from the cross the words, "Son, behold thy mother!" etc. - B.T.
I. CONTRAST WITH THE WAY IN WHICH THE RELATIVES OF JESUS TREATED HIM. This is the only transaction of Jesus with his kinsfolk in which he takes the initiative. Jesus had to guard himself from the plausible suggestions of those who felt they had a claim to shape or at least to modify his course. His difficulties in this way would begin long before he emerged into public life. We may be sure Jesus did not love opposition or contradiction for opposition's or contradiction's sake. But when his natural kinsfolk pointed one way, and his heavenly Father another, there could be no doubt in his own mind which way to take. And we must learn, as Jesus did, to make little of kindred as advisers, and yet remain loving and helpful to them as kindred. That a man is your father does not make him more competent to advise you; it may only make him more powerful to mislead and ruin you, if his advice is bad.
II. KINSFOLK MUST EVER BE TREATED AS KINSFOLK. The time comes when the claim of nature is recognized, and met all the better because other claims had to be refused before. If Jesus had listened to the expostulations of his kindred, he himself might have supported the old age of his mother, and soothed her dying pillow. But he did something far better. Whatever Mary may have lost in the natural, she had the chance of gaining far more in the spiritual. Mary was among the praying band in the upper room, waiting for Pentecost, and doubtless, when the Spirit of power came down, she would rejoice with exceeding gladness that her Son had gone on in single-hearted devotion to his Father's will. Jesus, therefore, is a great Example and Guide to us in all dealings with kinsfolk. In such dealings we peculiarly need an example and guide. He would not let his kinsfolk go beyond their rights, but all the time he was keenly observant of their claims. As we read of him providing a protector and son for his mother, we cannot but remember his indignant exposure of those who kept back helpful gifts from father and mother under pretence that they were dedicated to God. To please Christ we must both attend to the legitimate claim of natural kinship, and also we must be ready for the claim that comes upon the human friend. - Y.
I. THIS CRY REMINDS US THAT OUR LORD JESUS SHARED OUR HUMAN NATURE AND ITS INFIRMITIES. The need and desire to which expression was thus given had a physical cause and was accompanied by a physical pain. Jesus had thirsted upon his journey when he asked from the Samaritan woman a draught of water from Jacob's well. Jesus seems to have taken no refreshment from the time when he supped with the apostles in the upper room; since then he had endured the agony in the garden, had passed through the repeated examinations before the Jewish council and the Roman governor, and had hung for hours upon the cross. The bodily anguish and exhaustion of crucifixion, aggravated by his unspeakable mental distress, account for the thirst which possessed the dying Sufferer. When the refreshment was offered, Jesus moistened his lips with the posca, or sour wine, offered him in the sponge raised on the stem of hyssop. This seems to have revived him, and strengthened him for the last cries which he uttered in his humiliation.
II. THIS CRY IS AN EVIDENCE OF OUR LORD'S EXTREME HUMILIATION. When we remember that Jesus was the Lord of nature, who could feed multitudes with bread, and could supply a banquet with wine; when we remember that this acknowledgment of thirst was made in the presence of his enemies and persecutors; when we remember from whom Jesus deigned to accept the draught by which his thirst was relieved; - we cannot but be impressed by the depth of humiliation to which he stooped, He was "obedient unto death;" the "things which he suffered" were unexampled. Christ not only condescended to die; he accepted death in a form and with accompanying circumstances which rendered it something more than death. His death was sacrificial, and he shrank from nothing that could contribute to make him "perfect through suffering."
III. THIS CRY INSTRUCTS US AS TO THE PRICE BY WHICH OUR REDEMPTION WAS SECURED. Our Lord's pain of body, his anguish of soul, the ignominious circumstances attending his decease, were all foreseen and accepted. This very cry was a fulfillment of an ancient prophecy; and the language of the evangelist forbids us to regard this as a mere coincidence. "By his stripes we are healed;" and we may look upon his voluntary endurance of thirst as a means of satisfying the deep thirst of our immortal spirit. At all events, in his anguish he paid the price by which his people are redeemed.
IV. THIS CRY SUGGESTS TO US A METHOD BY WHICH WE MAY, IN ACCORDANCE WITH CHRIST'S OWN DIRECTIONS, MINISTER UNTO HIM. Jesus has taught us to identify his people with himself. If love to him would find an opportunity for its display, an outlet by which it may flow forth, this is to be found in those ministrations to Christ's "little ones" which he enjoins upon those who recognize his authority and who love to please him. The cup of cold water may be given to the thirsty one in the name of a disciple. Some want may be supplied, some suffering alleviated, some wrong redressed. And they who for Christ's sake thus minister to the thirsting, the needy, the friendless, are justified in deeming themselves, so far, ministers to Christ himself. It is all as though, hearing his dying cry, they raised the refreshing draught to his parched lips. He will account the deed of charity as done unto himself. - T.
I. THE FEELING ITSELF. To know that Jesus thirsted in this way is to know that he must have suffered a great deal of physical pain. The pain is suggested rather than described, which is a great deal better; for who wants minute descriptions of physical pain? And yet there must be some particular hint to produce on our minds a most distinct impression as to the reality and intensity of the suffering through which Jesus passed. Jesus, while a calm Sufferer, must be also a great Sufferer, otherwise it cannot be fully true that "he tasted death for every man." Painless death - euthanasia, an easy exit from the world - such is the portion of some; they seem to dissolve out of natural existence with hardly an ache. But what a scene of suffering other deaths present! what groanings! what clenched hands! what unendurable misery revealed in the face! And because of this, Jesus also had to know the greatest intensity of physical pain. His comforts in pain are the comforts of one who has been through pain. The very fact that he suffered so much physically shows that physical suffering is far from the worst of evils. It is a thing to be escaped, if possible, and relieved as much as possible; but there are things far worse. A suffering Jesus with no feeling of forgiveness for those who had so treated him, with no sympathy for his fellow-sufferer, with no solicitude for his mother about to be bereft, absorbed in his own suffering, - a Jesus such as that would have suggested experiences more deplorable than any physical pain.
II. THE UTTERANCE OF THE FEELING. The thirst might have been felt, yet the feeling not expressed. Why, then, was it expressed? The mere fulfillment of a prophecy does not explain, for then the prophecy itself has to be explained. Surely the great lesson of the utterance is that, when suffering has done its work, it may cease. In suffering merely as suffering there is no merit. The merit of suffering is measured by the remedial and purifying agencies it brings into play. Jesus was no ascetic, even on the cross. He never went an inch out of his way to seek privation and pain. What came in the way of duty he faced and accepted; but to the notion that God can be pleased with suffering as suffering, with austerity as austerity, he never lent the slightest sanction. And so, when the mental pain was over, he took the first opportunity to relieve the physical pain. But we must not stop with the mere literal interpretation of the cry. It was not enough for Jesus to escape from suffering. Bodily thirst was soon allayed, but there remained a thirst of the heart to be satisfied. We have to think of the aims, desires, and achievements that lay beyond all this suffering. There is the intense desire in the heart of Jesus to win the world to himself. The longings of prophets and apostles for a better world are but faint types of the longing that abides in the heart of the Savior. He knew from experience the delight of a draught of cold spring water in a dry and thirsty land. Pleasant to him such a draught must often have been. But pleasanter far is it, because refreshment to his loving heart, when each latest one among the children of men comes to him in fullness of trust and obedience. - Y.
I. THE PREDICTIONS REFERRING TO THE MESSIAH WERE NOW ALL FULFILLED. It had been written, "The Seed of the woman shall bruise the serpent's head;" "Thou hast brought me into the dust of death;" "It pleased the Lord to bruise him;" "The Messiah shall be cut off;" "I will smite the Shepherd." These predictions of the sufferings of the Anointed of God were now verified in the experience completed by the Son of man.
II. THE OBEDIENCE AND HUMILIATION OF THE SON OF GOD WERE NOW COMPLETED. His humiliation had been apparent in his taking the form of a servant, and enduring poverty and privation, anguish and contempt. His obedience had commenced with his childhood, had been continued during his ministry, and was now perfected in death, even the death of the cross. His active service was one long act of obedience, and his patient endurance now made that obedience complete. He "learned obedience by the things which he suffered." Nothing had been left undone which could prove Christ's unhesitating submission to the will of God his Father. When he had endured the cross, despising the shame, his offering of filial obedience, subjection, and consecration was ready to be presented to the Father by whose will he had come, and had endured all the consequences of coming, into this world of sin and misery.
III. THE TERM OF CHRIST'S SUFFERING AND SORROW WAS AT AN END. He had shrunk from no trial; he had drained the cup to the dregs. Now there was no more humiliation, subjection, conflict. He was about to exchange the mock robes of royalty, the reed-scepter, the crown of thorns, for the symbols and the reality of universal empire. The period of agony was past; the period of triumph was at hand.
IV. THE SACRIFICE OF THE LAMB OF GOD WAS ACCOMPLISHED. The one offering appointed by Divine righteousness and love was now to fulfill its purpose, to supersede the prophetic and anticipatory sacrifices of the dispensation which was passing away. The economy of shadows was to give place to that of substance. Reconciliation, not merely legal, but moral, not for Israel only, but for mankind, was now brought about by the work of the Divine Mediator. The veil of the temple was rent, the way into the holiest was opened. Provision was made for the inflowing of mercy like a mighty stream. The means were now introduced to secure the end dear to the Divine heart - the everlasting salvation of sinful men.
1. In this language we have an appeal to the Father's approval. It is to us a matter of infinite importance to know that the will of God was fulfilled to the very utmost by our Substitute and Representative.
2. We have also in this cry an exclamation expressive of Christ's own satisfaction and joy. To him it could not but be a relief to feel that the experience of pain and bitter woe to which he had submitted was now at an end. It is our privilege to suffer with him, and with him to die unto sin.
3. The hearer of the gospel may in these words welcome an assurance that redemption has been wrought, that the ransom has been paid, that salvation may now be published to all mankind through the once crucified and now glorified Redeemer. - T.
I. We must illustrate how JESUS LOOKED FORWARD TO A TIME FOR UTTERING THIS WORD. Recollect what he said to the disciples by the well: "My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work." Recollect also his word to the Jews after he bad healed the impotent man on the sabbath day. He speaks there concerning the works which the Father had given him to finish. Here are specimens of the peculiar and testifying works of Jesus. Here are declarations by Jesus himself of the uniting and definite purpose with which his life was bound up. What he talked of now and then he must have thought of continually. To the superficial eye, indeed, the life of Jesus did not look as if it had any definite purpose. How would he have been put down in the "occupation" column in a census record? Yet the life of Jesus was full of purpose - purpose never absent, never forgotten. The parable of the man who went away from home, leaving his money as a trust in the hands of his servants, is surely a parable out of the very depths of the Savior's own experience. To him there was given a stewardship of inestimable value. How the servant with the five talents would look forward to the surrender and accomplishment of his trust! And just in this spirit Jesus must have looked forward to the hour when he should be able to say, "It is finished!"
II. THUS IN THE INCARNATE LIFE OF JESUS WE HAVE SOMETHING COMPLETE FOR US TO PROFIT BY. Something complete! The life of Jesus was complete, just as the life of a seed becomes complete when it has gone through all the cycle of its changes - germination, budding, blossoming, formation of fruit, ripening of fruit. The very life of Jesus was a finished work. It was like a book on the last page of which "Finis " could be truly written. Here is the book of a really complete human life. What a difference between Jesus and many authors and makers of finished things! Many complete things, things that the world is agreed in calling complete and precious in their own order, were achieved by very incomplete men. Read the words of Gibbon the historian, in which he records his emotions on completing his monumental work. He has succeeded, and yet in the bottom of his heart he has somehow failed. Thousands are finishing many things, but never touching the one thing needful. We, from our life's incompleteness, should look on the completeness of the life of Jesus, and, while we look, rise into that hope and confidence which his manifested completeness is meant to give. Here is One who lived out the life of humanity according to the ideal of him who made humanity. He never needed to pray," Forgive me my debts;" for he never owed a debt he did not pay, never closed a day of life which was not as full of service as of opportunities of service. And he finished that we might begin and also finish something which, but for the finishing of his own work, we never should have had the disposition to touch. - Y.
I. THERE ARE VARIOUS CAUSES WHICH ACCOUNT FOR SECRECY IN CHRISTIAN DISCIPLESHIP.
1. It is natural and proper that the beginnings of conscious discipleship should be hidden. When the seed begins to germinate, to put forth the signs and the promise of life, it remains hidden beneath the surface of the soil unseen by any eye. And when a young heart in its yearnings, or a penitent heart in its mingled regrets and hopes, turns to the Lord Jesus, as to a Divine Friend and mighty Savior, the change is unknown, unheeded by the observer. The time comes when the plant appears above the ground; and the time comes when the tokens of spiritual life in a changed character, disposition, and habits are unmistakable. But there is a time for secrecy, and there is a time for publicity.
2. There are those who keep secret their interest in Christian truth, their affection for Christ himself, through a trembling reverence for spiritual and Divine things. Doubtless many are sincere in the public shouts and songs, by which their boisterous natures boast of new-found light and liberty. But many gentle, timid, and refined spirits are equally sincere and devout in their reserve. Men and women there are like her who "kept and treasured these things in her heart." A time there is in Christian experience when feeling is too sacred to be professed.
3. Distrust of self, and an awed sense of responsibility, account for the backwardness of many sincere disciples to avow their faith and love. What if they should profess to be Christ's, and then afterwards should prove ashamed of him, or should discredit him by any want of loyalty? The very fear lest this should be so leads to reticence and silence.
4. An inferior motive has to be considered, viz. the fear of man. Some, especially among the young, fear the opposition or the ridicule or the reproach of their fellow-men. Such was the case with Joseph, who feared the Jews - dreaded lest he should, like Jesus, be persecuted, or lest he should be despised and hated. A member of a distinguished and privileged class is peculiarly sensitive to the coldness, the contempt, or the ridicule of those whose opinion makes the public opinion which has most influence over him.
II. THERE IS MISCHIEF WROUGHT BY SECRET DISCIPLESHIP. When those who love Christ, and make it their aim to serve him, conceal their attachment and their pious resolution, whether through timidity or distrust, harm follows.
1. The disciple who withholds or delays his open confession of the Savior, by so doing thwarts his own religious progress and happiness. "With the heart man believeth unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation." The very attitude of bold and public acknowledgment of faith in the Lord Jesus is a means of spiritual confirmation and improvement. For such an attitude is the natural expression of faith, and attracts the countenance and sympathy of those who are like-minded.
2. The withholding of a confession of Christ is disobedience to Christ and to his Spirit. If we learn of him, we are bound to obey him. And be has bidden us take up our cross and follow him. He has bidden us observe the Lord's Supper in memory of his death. It is not honoring Christ to delay, without sufficient reason, such an avowal of our faith in him as his own Word justifies, and indeed requires.
3. Secrecy of discipleship is discouraging to the Church of Christ. That Church has many enemies; it has need of all its friends. It weakens the forces of the spiritual host when those who should fall into the ranks stand aloof. There is a sense in which those who are not with Christ are against him.
4. The world is confirmed in error and unbelief when there is a disinclination on the part of Christians openly to avow themselves what they really are. It is natural enough for the world to interpret such conduct as indicating a want of heartiness and thoroughness in discipleship. Men ask whether those who stand outside are not in the same position as those who go up to the door, but do not enter in.
III. THERE ARE CONSIDERATIONS WHICH MAY PROTECT AGAINST THE TEMPTATION TO CONCEAL CHRISTIAN DISCIPLESHIP.
1. The greatness of the Master to whom we owe allegiance. Christ is so great that none need feel any shame in belonging to him; such a relation is the highest honor accessible to man. Christ is so great that none need feel any fear in openly avowing loyalty to him. None is so well able as the "Lord of all" to protect and deliver those who adhere to him.
2. It should be remembered by those who are in doubt whether or not to confess Christ, that a day is coming in which the real position of all men with regard to the Divine Redeemer must be made manifest. Of those who are ashamed of him before men the Lord Jesus will be ashamed in the judgment before his Father and the holy angels. - T.
I. THE HISTORICAL PURPOSE FULFILLED BY CHRIST'S BURIAL. It is observable that all four evangelists record, and with many details, the interment of the Son of man. This is accounted for, not so much by any intrinsic importance belonging to burial, as by its intermediate position between the crucifixion and the resurrection of our Lord.
1. The burial of Jesus is of moment, as establishing the fact of his actual death. It has been absurdly contended by some infidel theorizers, at a loss to know how to deal with the evidence for our Lord's subsequent appearances, that he did not really die upon the cross, that he merely fell into a swoon, from which, under the care of his friends, he recovered. If such had been the case, the body could not have been laid in the tomb and left there.
2. The narrative is also conclusive as to the reality of our Lord's resurrection. He could not have risen from the dead unless he had first died. It is not possible to disconnect the several parts of the narrative from one another. As it stands, the record is consistent and credible.
II. THE APPLICANT AND THE APPLICATION. It is remarkable that, in the very crisis when the professed and prominent disciples of Jesus were timid and vanished from the scene, two secret disciples came forward and discharged the last offices of friendship for the Lord in his humiliation. Of Joseph we know that he was from Arimathaea, that he was rich and an honored member of the Sanhedrin, that he did not agree to the condemnation passed upon the Prophet of Nazareth; We also know concerning his religious position that he was one of those who were looking for God's kingdom to be set up, and that he was a disciple of Jesus, though secretly, for fear of the Jews. With Joseph was associated Nicodemus, who seems to have been emboldened by the example of Joseph to come forward, to declare his affection for Jesus, and to take part in the interment of his Master. An illustration of the contagion of a courageous example, which may be commended to those who are hesitating between secret and open discipleship. With respect to Pilate, it is to be observed that, as he had no personal hostility to Jesus, and probably took a pleasure in annoying the Jewish leaders, he was naturally willing enough, apparently without being bribed, to agree to the request of Joseph. He satisfied himself, by the testimony of the centurion, that Jesus was dead, and then suffered the applicant to take the body. Thus neither was the corpse exposed during the Paschal solemnities, nor was it consigned to the indignity of a criminal's interment.
III. THE PLACE AND MANNER OF THE BURIAL. Tender care is manifested in every line of this picture. Affectionate hands wound the body in folds of costly linen. Consecrated wealth placed myrrh and aloes in the folds. Generous fellowship offered the tomb which was designed for the owner's family, but which was deemed to be honored and sanctified by becoming the temporary abode of the Savior's form. Strong and willing hands rolled the great stone against the opening to the rock-hewn sepulcher. Reverent and loving women, who had watched the Sufferer when on the cross, now watched the lifeless body consigned to its peaceful resting-place. These are homely incidents, but they are hallowed and glorified by the human love which they reveal. Fancy lingers by the garden which was the scene of these ministrations, and finds it seemly that, as a garden had witnessed the Savior's agony, a garden also should witness his repose.
IV. THE WONDROUS FACT OF CHRIST'S BURIAL. That Jesus, being what he was, the Son of God, the Lord of glory, the King of men, should consent to die and to be buried, is amazing indeed. That such a life - a life devoted to benevolent purposes, a life evincing the possession of irresistible power - should end in the grave, this appears altogether anomalous. That men should slay their Savior, that he should consent to die, that the Father in heaven should suffer such an end to such a career, - this must fill a thoughtful and sensitive observer with wonder akin to fear! Earth was for some hours the sepulcher of the Son of God!
V. THE RELIGIOUS SIGNIFICANCE OF THE BURIAL OF CHRIST.
1. We remark Jesus sharing the whole of our lot in its utmost humiliation. He who stooped to the manger at his birth did not disdain the grave after his death. As Son of man, he would shrink from no human experience. It behooved him in all things to be made like his brethren. Thus he qualified himself to be at once our Representative before God, and our eternal Brother - a High Priest touched with a feeling of our infirmities.
2. We remark that the end of our Lord's humiliation was the beginning of his glory and reign. He was made perfect through suffering. Through the grave he passed to the throne. His "precious death and burial" were the means and the introduction to the majesty and dominion which are his of right, and his for ever.
VI. THE PRACTICAL LESSONS OF CHRIST'S BURIAL.
1. Our obligation to gratitude and love is brought strikingly before our hearts when we thus learn what our Savior bore for us.
2. Christians are spiritually to share Christ's death and sepulture. They are buried with Christ, - by their baptism unto his death.
3. The grave loses its terrors to those who know that Jesus shares it with his people. As the tomb could not hold him, so the stone which seals his people's sepulcher shall surely be rolled away. - T.
I. THAT JESUS IN EVERY AGE HAS SOME SECRET DISCIPLES. There are two mentioned here - Joseph and Nicodemus. Why were they secret?
1. Because of the danger with which they were surrounded. "For fear of the Jews." What were the influences which excited their fear?
(1) The influence of position. They were in a high worldly position, members of the chief council of the nation, and to confess Jesus meant the loss of this.
(2) The influence of caste. Caste feelings were very strong among the Jews; as they are, indeed, specially strong among all nations, Christian as well as heathen. These councilmen would be outcasts from society if they accepted Jesus as their Teacher.
(3) The influence of wealth. They were wealthy men, and their public confession of Jesus would mean the loss of this.
2. Their natural timidity of disposition. We may well assume that the natural disposition of Joseph and Nicodemus was modest, thoughtful, cautious, timid, and retiring; and this naturally influenced their public conduct. Their disposition was the very reverse to Peter's, and their temptation would lie in an opposite direction. On account of natural disposition it is no effort, and consequently no virtue, in one to be brave and heroic; while in the other it is the difficult task of life.
3. The essential incompleteness of their faith. Faith in Christ at this time, in the best, was weak and imperfect. It was so in the disciples, who had all the advantages of Christ's ministry and miracles. What must it have been in these more distant and secret disciples? They had not enjoyed the advantages of religious education, and therefore their faith was naturally incomplete.
4. Nevertheless, they were genuine disciples. The fear of the Jews, although it had some influence with them, was not really predominant. Publicity of profession is not a guarantee for sincerity; neither is secrecy a barrier to it. Every true discipleship commences in secret, and has much that is secret throughout its career. The true moral force of man is in the secrecy of his heart.
II. THAT GENUINE DISCIPLES, ALTHOUGH SECRET, ONLY REQUIRE SUITABLE CIRCUMSTANCES TO DRAW THEM OUT. These were drawn out; and what drew them?
1. Additional evidence to faith.
(1) The evidence of Christ's conduct. His meek, patient, submissive, and dignified conduct in the most tried circumstances, and the most excruciating sufferings and provocation, was highly calculated to inspire faith in him.
(2) The false and mad conduct of his enemies. Their perjury, their extreme and mad cruelty in relation to such a character, would naturally tell in his favor, and would recoil upon themselves.
(3) The evidence of Pilate. Whatever the character of that remarkable governor, he most decidedly pronounced judgment against the Jews and for Jesus. He only delivered him up to them at last under a protest. This, to any reflective and well-disposed person, must have been very significant and even convincing.
(4) The evidence of nature. The rending of the veil and rocks, the quakings of the earth, the opening of graves, and the darkening of the sun at noontide when Jesus hung on the cross, spoke mightily to faith in his favor. There was such a concurrence of evidence from beginning to end which would naturally bring faith out wherever it was, and even produce it where it was not.
2. The death of Christ, in itself, was calculated to draw out latent love and courage. Death is a circumstance which has a tendency to lessen man's faults and magnify his virtues. Of the former Jesus had none, and through the gloom of death the latter shone with Divine brilliancy. In the timid breast they would naturally inspire conscience with regret, and with a desire to make amends, and would fan the smoking flax of love into flame. Only at the death of a dear one we and others come to know how much we loved him in life. Joseph and Nicodemus never knew that they loved Jesus so much till he was crucified and had passed away.
3. Latent love and courage were brought out by example. Joseph came out first, and his example was inspiring. Nicodemus caught the contagion, being the most timid of the two, and he came also; probably he watched the movements of Joseph. He was almost dying to show his respect and love to the crucified One, but felt too weak till he saw the decided action of his stronger brother. This at once decided his course, and he came also. Joseph and Nicodemus doubtless held many a secret converse on the object of their common love, and one encouraged and inspired the other.
III. THAT SECRET BUT GENUINE DISCIPLES, DRAWN OUT BY SUITABLE CIRCUMSTANCES, ARE OFTEN VERY HEROIC AND BENEVOLENT. These qualities are manifested here in:
1. A courageous request. Joseph came to Pilate to ask permission to take away the body of Jesus to be buried. This was a bold venture, as expressed by Mark, involving considerable personal risk, and so contrary to his natural temper and past conduct. But he is now his new self and not his old, or his old and real self in its true garb.
2. A courageous and loving deed. Permission was given. His inspired venture proved successful. His eloquent request was granted, and he took away the body. This was a public act, in which he shared and for which he was responsible. His fear of losing position, caste, and wealth is now gone. He is under the sway of the opposite principle of love. It is not the fear of the Jews, but the love of Jesus, sways him now, and he is soon joined by a timid brother.
3. Benevolent gifts.
(1) The gift of Nicodemus. A hundred pounds of costly spices. He came to the funeral neither empty-hearted nor empty-handed, but with a princely gift - abundance of spices to embalm the dead but sacred corpse.
(2) The gift of Joseph. The linen and the grave. He was determined that the body of Jesus should not share the fate of ordinary criminals, but that it should have a grave - a new grave in his garden, probably intended for himself. Jesus should sleep in his bed. But there would be no inconvenience, as Jesus would leave it early enough; so there was no danger of its being needed by Joseph before it would be left by Jesus. And he left it much improved. A garden was never the depository of such a seed; and a grave was never the resting-place of such a tenant.
(3) These were gifts and acts of devotional love. Theirs was the heroism of unconquerable affection, which could no longer be repressed. The river overflowed its banks and swept all before it. The living Christ was in Joseph's heart, and his dead body was now in his sacred grave. The hundred pounds of costly spices were the devotions of Nicodemus's love to the Savior.
4. All this was manifested at the darkest hour.
(1) When his enemies had completed their work. They had accomplished their purposes, and realized their fondest hopes in the crucifixion and death of Jesus. But while the council had crucified him, two of its members buried his body. When hatred had reached its highest mark of triumph, latent and secret love reached a higher mark of public courage.
(2) When his friends had deserted him. Only the women and the beloved disciple were in attendance at his last hour. None of his public followers came to bury him, nor follow his body to the tomb. Then these secret disciples came forward as the reserve force of the King, and courageously and lovingly performed his sacred obsequies.
(3) When his cause was apparently at an end. Nicodemus never came to him on such a dark night as this. The common faith was eclipsed, and hope all but extinguished; but then the faith, hope, and love of these private disciples glowed and shone in the gloom of death.
1. That general sincerity of character is advantageous to the reception of Jesus. Joseph was a just and honorable man. This was his general character, and to such Jesus must recommend himself.
2. In the most wicked councils generally there are some good men. In the very nest of his murderers Jesus had at least two genuine friends.
3. Genuine principle, however weak, will triumph in the end. Life ultimately will make itself seen and felt. Those who sincerely come to Jesus by night will come to him at last by day, and in the day of greatest need.
4. Jesus has ever some secret disciples, who wilt do for him what others will or cannot. It was intended that he should have a princely burial. If in life he was with the poor, he was with the rich in his death. No one could foresee how this could come to pass; but Jesus had secret friends among the rich, and they buried his body in a rich fashion, very befitting. Others buried him; he rose himself.
5. Christ was more influential in death than in life. In life he had failed to draw Joseph and Nicodemus out publicly; but in death they could not resist the attraction. He said, "If I die, I will draw;" and here is a striking illustration, but not the only one. - B.T.