And it came to pass, when Jesus had finished all these sayings, he said unto his disciples,
The Alabaster Box.
Here is a woman—probably a poor woman—doing an action which excites the indignation of the whole Church. Not a voice is heard in her favour except—sublime exception!—the voice of Jesus. In such circumstances there must be something worth looking at. A minority which God approves must not be overlooked with heedlessness and contempt. The wisdom in this case is with the few, and the folly with the many; the wisdom is with love, not policy, with gratitude, not calculation.
The points of special interest are these:—
I. The all-surrendering generosity of love. The woman had ah alabaster box of very precious ointment—only one box—and that solitary box she broke, and poured its pure nard on the only human head that had not lost its crown. Love never puts its own name upon anything. Love has some object, must have some object, on whose shrine it lays its every possession. Love, warm, intelligent, growing love, keeps back nothing from God.
II. The moral blindness of a prudential policy in the service of Christ. There are men who can never take other than an arithmetical view of things. They are the keen economists of the Church; they get near enough to Christ to ascertain the texture of His garments, and to calculate the value of His seamless vesture. There is a point of criticism here most singularly suggestive. The same word in the original is used to signify both waste and perdition; and if we connect this idea with another, we shall apprehend the idea I wish to present. "Those that Thou gavest Me I have kept, and none of them is lost, but the son of perdition;" and this very son of perdition was the man who, on another occasion, and probably on this, called a sacrifice "waste," and vehemently maintained the claims of the poor. There, then, is the startling fact before us, that the men who denominate other people's service "waste" are themselves the most likely to be cast away as the refuse of the universe.
III. The all-comprehending wisdom of the Saviour's judgment. (1) He shows His anxiety for the peace of all who attempt to. serve Him. (2) He shows His sympathy with the poor. (3) He shows that every age brings its own opportunities for doing good.
IV. The assured immortality of goodness.
Parker, Hidden Springs, p. 276; see also Inner Life of Christ, vol. iii., p. 194.
References: Matthew 26:6-13.—Clergyman's Magazine, vol. ii., p. 156; Homiletic Magazine, vol. xii., p. 141; A. B. Bruce, The Training of the Twelve, p. 300.
Matthew 26:13There can be no question but that in this action of Mary there was something deeply symbolical. I am not going to say that Mary meant it to be so. There may often be far more in our own actions than we imagine. Perhaps, though, her ardent love led her to do just the right thing at the right moment, and that is the highest wisdom. The act of Mary suggested to the mind of Christ the greater act He was about to perform; and in that pure offering of Mary's love He saw symbolised the greater offering He was about to make, prompted by a love infinitely deeper than hers. He saw the broken alabaster box; He noted the flowing ointment; He smelt the sweet savour that filled all the house, and He said, "This Gospel—the Gospel that is in figure here—this Gospel, wherever it is preached, shall be linked with Mary's action, for there is a spiritual affinity between the two."
I. The woman's sublime devotion; and she may serve as a model to all God's children in one or two respects. (1) She was completely under the sway of devoted love to Christ's Person. If you read the record you will see how Christ distinguished, all the way through, her personal attachment to Him. "She hath done a good work unto Me." In the mind of Christ devotion is the chiefest of Christian virtues. (2) Her devotion was both original and fearless. The disciples had only one idea for doing good. Charity was their hobby, and so the moment they saw Mary pouring out this ointment upon Christ, they began to count up the cost, and said, "Why was not this ointment sold for three hundred pence, and given to the poor?" They were spiritually stereotyped in their mode of action. Love must always be original. Let a person only love, and he becomes a genius in manifesting it. (3) This manifestation was magnificent. The woman did not think simply how little she could give and yet maintain her character. It was, "What does my heart prompt?" Let us ask our souls this question, "My heart, hast thou ever done a magnificent thing for Christ? Hast thou ever known what it is to be, in the judgment of the world, extravagant for Him?
II. Christ's chivalrous championship of this woman. In espousing her cause He was espousing His own. Note the resemblance that exists between this woman's action and our Lord's action in a few hours after the incident—the resemblance that leads Him to say, "This Gospel." There is a resemblance: (1) In the motive; Christ knew that it was pure love which prompted this gift of consecration. He saw in this a symbol of the motive power of His own action. (2) Mary's work resembled His in its self-devotion. In the broken alabaster box He saw His own offering unto death, and therefore said, "Wheresoever this Gospel is preached."
A. G. Brown, Penny Pulpit, No. 1,085.
Christ anointed for His Burial.
I. There can be no doubt that the majority of Christians, if they candidly gave utterance to their sentiments, would express surprise at the high honour promised to Mary for so slight a service. What she did was unnecessary; it was of no utility; it could be in itself of no value to our Blessed Lord. If disproportion exist between the service of Mary in anointing Him, and His commendation, the whole passage of Scripture must remain obscure. But is there such disproportion? We are prepared to argue that there is not; that light and trivial as the action seems of her so blessed, it contained in it enough to merit the gracious promise of remembrance which Christ enunciated. What is our ideal of a religious character? Is it not that a man should be uniformly upright, sober, just, and regular in his habits? The result is, that the temper of our religion is the reverse of enthusiastic. And from our national prejudices it arises that such narratives as that in which the text occurs, seem strange and hard to understand. The conduct of the woman who anointed our Lord was the result of an overflowing love, which mastered all her powers to suppress. He who measures every act of His creatures, not by its intrinsic value, but as it has Himself for its source, its object and its end, may, and it would seem does, rate the offering of the heart's deep love higher than all. It may have been to teach us this, that in the days of His sojourn below the Eternal Son bestowed praise so high upon Mary's simple act of love, and promised that wherever His Gospel should be preached that thing which she had done should be told for a memorial of her.
II. The woman in the text offers also an illustrious example of implicit faith. It is probable that she, like the disciples, had heard the Redeemer speak of His death. On the very day upon which the feast in the abode of Simon the leper took place, He had said to them, "Ye know that after two days is the feast of the Passover, and the Son of Man is betrayed to be crucified." He made mention of His death, and her mind travelled at once to His entombment. She took the precious ointment, and anticipating in her love and faith those sorrowing women who, a few days later, came early to the sepulchre, she brake the box and poured it upon His head. She who anointed Him for His burial was the first who signified her assent to the mystery of His death, with a love that could not be restrained, and a faith that nothing could withstand.
J. R. Woodford, Occasional Sermons, p. 84.
References: Matthew 26:13.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. vi., No. 286; Preacher's Monthly, vol. iii., pp. 331, 333; W. M. Taylor, Three Hundred Outlines from the New Testament, p. 28. Matthew 26:14-16.—C. C. Bartholomew, Sermons chiefly Practical, p. 115. Matthew 26:14-25.—Preacher's Monthly, vol. i., p. 272. Matthew 26:14-30.—Parker, Inner Life of Christ, vol. iii., p. 204. Matthew 26:20.—F. W. Brown, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xiii., p. 58. Matthew 26:20-22.—J. R. Macduff, Communion Memories, p. 74. Matthew 24:20-25.—A. B. Bruce, The Training of the Twelve, p. 371.
Matthew 26:22I. Look at the question, "Lord is it I?" in connection with the scene and the time when each disciple was shocked and startled into asking it. You have, perhaps, in the mirror of memory, the picture of a certain tranquil sunset. If in that moment, and without any premonitory sign, there had all at once burst out upon the tranquillity a peal of terrible thunder, you could not have been so startled as were the disciples when these words struck upon them. There never was a sunset like this, the sunset of the Sun of Righteousness. It was an hour of beautiful peace and farewell revelation, when out broke the thunderclap, "One of you shall betray Me." Never before had words filled souls with the shock of such an unspeakable surprise.
II. Look at this question in connection with the remark that called it forth: "The Son of Man goeth as it is written of Him: but woe unto that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! it had been good for that man if he had not been born." Reading these predictive words in the light of what we find farther on, we know that they pointed to Judas.
III. Look at the question in connection with the simple, unsuspecting brotherliness it revealed in those to whom it was spoken. It might have been thought that instant suspicion would have fastened on Judas. His character had always been open to question. When, therefore, Christ's declaration was made, "One of you shall betray Me," it would not have been wonderful if such words as these had passed through various minds: "It is Judas—I always mistrusted that Judas—I never liked his grasp of the bag." No such thoughts were in open or secret circulation. With lips that were tremulous, and cheeks that were blanched, each one said, not "Lord, is it he?" but "Lord is it I?"
IV. Note the fear for himself shown by everyone who asked this question. Pitiless detectors of sin in others should begin at home.
V. Note the love that worketh in the heart of the questioner. Not one of them ever knew how much he loved his Lord, but this shock brought the love out.
VI. Note the answer to the question. Eleven times the question had been asked, for the scare was felt and the cry was uttered by every man at the table. Then it was forced from Judas, who repeated it, and Jesus answered, "Thou hast said." You can read what is on the open page, Jesus can look through the lids of the book—read off the shut-in print. You can see the whited sepulchre, He can see the skeleton within. You can see the body, He can see the soul.
C. Stanford, Evening of Our Lord's Ministry, p. 36.
Matthew 26:22, Matthew 26:25(with John 13:25)
I. In the first form of the question: "Is it I?" we have an example of that wholesome self-distrust, which a glimpse into the possibilities of evil that lie slumbering in all our hearts ought to teach every one of us. Every man is a mystery to himself. In every soul there lie, coiled and dormant, hybernating snakes—evils that a very slight rise in the temperature will wake up into poisonous activity. And let no man say, in foolish self-confidence, that any form of sin which his brother has ever committed is impossible to him. The identity of human nature is deeper than the diversity of temperament, and there are two or three considerations that should abate a man's confidence that anything which one man has done it is impossible that he should do. (1) All sins are at bottom but varying forms of one root—selfishness. (2) All sin is gregarious; is apt not only to slip from one form to another, but any evil is apt to draw another after it. (3) Any evil is possible to us seeing that all sin is but yielding to tendencies common to us all. (4) Men will gradually drop down to the level which before they began the descent, seemed to be impossible to them.
II. We have here an example of precisely the opposite sort, namely, of that fixed determination to do evil, which is unshaken by the clearest knowledge that it is evil. Judas heard his crime described in its own ugly reality, he heard his fate proclaimed by lips of absolute love and truth; and notwithstanding both he comes unmoved and "unshaken with his question." The dogged determination in the man that dares to see his evil stripped naked, and is not ashamed, is even more dreadful than the hypocrisy and sleek simulation of friendship in his face.
III. We have in the last question an example of the peaceful confidence that comes from communion with Jesus Christ. It was not John's love to Christ, but Christ's love to John, that made his safety. He did not say, "I love thee so much that I cannot betray thee." For all our feelings and emotions are but variable, and to build confidence upon them is to build a heavy building upon quicksand; the very weight of it drives out the foundations. But he thought to himself—or he felt rather than he thought—that all about him lay the sweet, warm, rich atmosphere of his Master's love, and to a man that was encompassed by that, treachery was impossible.
A. Maclaren, Christian Commonwealth, March 5th, 1885.
References: Matthew 26:24.—Preacher's Monthly, vol. i., p. 269; E. Mason, A Pastor's Legacy, p. 386.
Matthew 26:24-25Judas rebuked by Christ.
I. It will give increased interest to the sayings of our Lord in the text if we suppose that they were uttered with a special reference to Judas, with the merciful design of warning him of the enormity of his projected crime, and thus, if it were yet possible, of withholding him from its commission. The Son of Man was about to go as it was written of Him—nothing was about to happen to Him which had not been distinctly prearranged. The part which Judas was about to take in the fearful tragedy was every jot as accurately defined in the Divine plan as if Judas had been simply a passive instrument in the Divine hand; but nevertheless, woe unto that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! And if the wretched Judas dreamt, as possibly he did, of its being a sort of apology for his treachery, that it was needful in order to the accomplishment of prophecy, it should have brought home to him an overwhelming conviction of the falsehood which he harboured that Christ could thus combine the certainty of His being betrayed, and the criminality of His betrayer.
II. Glance next at another delusion to which it is likely that Judas gave indulgence. This is the delusion as to the consequences, the punishment, of sin being overstated or exaggerated. It might have been that Judas could hardly persuade himself that a Being so beneficent as Christ, whom he had seen wearying Himself to bless even His enemies, whom he had beheld weeping bitter tears over the infidel Jerusalem, would ever wholly lay aside the graciousness of His nature, and avenge a wrong done by surrendering the doer to intense and interminable anguish. In all the range of Scripture there is not, perhaps, a passage which sets itself so decisively against this delusion as the latter clause of our Saviour's address in the text. "It had been good for that man if he had not been born." Better, indeed, better never to have been born—never to have risen in the world, a being endowed with the magnificent but tremendous gift of immortality—if sin incur the surrendering of that immortality to a portion of fire and shame. The saying of our text roots up utterly the falsehood to which Judas and his followers are so ready to cling.
H. Melvill, Penny Pulpit, No. 1,866.
References: Matthew 26:26.—Contemporary Pulpit, vol. vii., p. 182; Durrant, Thursday Penny Pulpit, vol. ii., p. 277. Matthew 26:26, Matthew 26:27.—G. Calthrop, Words to my Friends, p. 177.
I. When the Lord's Supper was first kept, and who kept it. As He was eating, Jesus took bread. He was eating unleavened bread and drinking wine at the Feast of the Passover in the city of Jerusalem. The Last Supper was first eaten at the Passover Supper of the Jews. It was first eaten by Jesus and His Twelve Apostles the night He was betrayed.
II. What did these words mean to those who first heard them? The Apostles did not know what they meant. Jesus was with them at the feast. They could see His body, touch it. His blood was not poured out. But they knew that He spoke no words in vain. The bread was a token from Him, they could but eat it as He bade them. The wine was a token from Him, they could but drink it as He bade them. But after His Resurrection the Apostles began to know a little what was meant by the words which were spoken at the feast. Then they understood that in the body of Jesus Christ God was united to men, men to God. Then they understood that His blood was poured out, not for a few disciples, but for all men in all lands. That blood was the seal of a new covenant between God and men that He would blot out their sins and give them a new life,—the life of Him who died unto sin once, over whom death has no more dominion.
III. To us the Lord's Supper is the assurance of the redemption and reconciliation which God has made for us, and all mankind, in the body of His Son. It is the assurance that we are very members incorporate in the body of His Son. It is the assurance that He will give us His Spirit to enable us to do the good works which He has prepared for us to walk in. It is a better and higher feast to us than the Passover was to the Jews; a feast like that which tells us of a God who has broken our bonds asunder; a feast like that which tells us that He is the King over us; but a feast which is not limited to one people, but which is intended for all, because our Lord Jesus Christ is, as St. Paul says, the Head of every man, the Author and Giver of salvation and life to those who have been most tied and bound by the chains of sin and death.
F. D. Maurice, Sermons preached in Country Churches, p. 277.
Reference: Matthew 26:26-28.—C. Molyneux, Christian World Pulpit, vol. iii., p. 225. Matthew 26:26-29.—A. B. Bruce, The Training of the Twelve, p. 359.
Matthew 26:27-28I. The Cup to us speaks of a Divine treaty or covenant. Ancient Israel had lived for nearly two thousand years under the charter of their national existence, which, as we read in the old Testament, was given on Sinai amidst thunderings and lightnings; and that covenant, or agreement, or treaty, on the part of God, was ratified by a solemn act, in which the blood of the sacrifice, divided into two portions, was sprinkled: one half upon the altar, and the other half, after their acceptance of the conditions and obligations of the covenant, on the people, who had pledged themselves to obedience. The new covenant, which Christ seals in His blood, is the charter, the better charter, under the conditions of which not a nation but the world may find a salvation which dwarfs all the deliverances of the past. The new covenant, in the exuberant fulness of its gracious purposes, is at once the completion and the antithesis of the ancient covenant with its precepts and its retribution.
II. This Cup speaks to us of the forgiveness of sins. One theory, and one theory only, as it seems to me, of the meaning of Christ's death, is possible if these words of my text ever dropped from Christ's lips, or if He ever instituted the rite to which they refer; He must have believed that His death was a sacrifice, without which the sins of the world were not forgiven, and by which forgiveness came to us all.
III. This Cup speaks likewise of a life infused. "The blood is the life" says the physiology of the Hebrews. The blood is the life, and when men drink of that cup they symbolise the fact that Christ's own life and spirit are imparted to them that love Him. The very heart of Christ's gift to us is the gift of His own very life to be the life of our lives.
IV. And lastly, it speaks of a festal gladness. They who live on Christ, they who drink in of His Spirit, should be glad in all circumstances, they and they alone. We sit at a table, though it be in a wilderness, though it be in the presence of our enemies, where there ought to be joy and the voice of rejoicing. But beyond that, this Cup points onward to a future feast. At that solemn hour Jesus stayed His own heart with the vision of the perfected kingdom and the glad festival then. So this communion has a prophetic element in it, and links on with predictions and parables which speak of the marriage supper of the great King, and of the time when we shall sit at His table in His kingdom.
A. Maclaren, Christian Commonwealth, Nov. 5th, 1885.
References: Matthew 26:28.—Expositor, 1st series, vol. xii., p. 49; A. Barry, Sermons for Passiontide and Easter, p. 89. Matthew 26:29.—Spurgeon, Three Hundred Outlines from the New Testament, p. 29.
Matthew 26:30There are many truths which present themselves to the mind, when it duly ponders the simple statement of the text.
I. The first of these truths is that our blessed Lord, by conforming to certain customs of the Jews in the eating of the Passover, gave His sanction to ceremonies which may not be able to plead a Divine institution. It was not only in the singing of psalms, but in many other particulars, such as the recumbent posture, and the drinking of wine, that the Jews had altered or added to the original practice; but our Saviour made no objection to the alteration or addition. He celebrated the Passover just as He found it then used to be celebrated, submitting, so to speak, to tradition and custom. Had our Lord been a leader, disposed to make ceremonies the occasion of schism, He might have armed Himself with very specious objections, and have urged that there were conscientious grounds for separating from the communion of the national Church. But we may justly conclude that our Lord proceeded on what (were it not for modern cavils) we might call a self-evident principle, that rites and ceremonies are not in themselves any part of the public worship of God; they are nothing but circumstances and customs to be observed in conducting that worship, and may, therefore, be enacted and altered as shall seem best to the Church.
II. The singing of a hymn was apparently inappropriate to the circumstances of Christ and His Apostles. They were joyous hymns in which they joined. Praise is the best auxiliary to prayer; and he who most bears in mind what has been done for him by God, will be most emboldened to supplicate fresh gifts from above. We should recount God's mercies, we should call upon our souls and all that is within us to laud and magnify His Name, when summoned to face new trials and encounter fresh dangers. This is too much overlooked and neglected by Christians. They are more familiar with the earnest petition than with the grateful anthem. Like the captives in Babylon, they hang their harps upon the willows when they find themselves in a strange land; whereas, if they would sing one of the songs of Zion, it would not only remind them of home, but encourage them to ask assistance and expect deliverance. Look at Christ and His Apostles. Before they departed—the Redeemer to His terrible agony, the disciples to the dreaded separation—the last thing which they did was to join in the chanting of thankful psalms; it was not until they had sung an hymn, but then it was, that they went out into the Mount of Olives.
H. Melvill, Sermons on Less Prominent Facts, vol. i., p. 71.
Reference: Matthew 26:30.—Preacher's Monthly, vol. vii., p. 205.
Matthew 26:33Enthusiasm and its Dangers.
I. One reason of St. Peter's confidence was that he did not realise the situation which was awaiting him. As yet he had had no experience of any trial of the kind, and he seems not to have had that kind of imagination which can anticipate the untried with any sort of accuracy. When he said, "Though all men should be offended because of Thee, yet will I never be offended," he had not thought out in detail what was meant by the contingency which he thus describes. He had never yet seen his Master deserted by His friends and disciples, and he really treats such an occurrence in his inward heart as utterly improbable. Had St. Peter placed clearly before his mind what was meant by all men being offended at Christ, had he pictured to himself how matters would stand, when even St. James, even St. John, had forsaken the Divine Master, he would have shrunk from adding his concluding words. St. Peter's confidence, then, was first of all the confidence of inexperience, aided by lack of imagination. It is repeated again and again under our eyes, at the present day.
II. Closely allied to this general failure to realise an untried set of circumstances was St. Peter's insufficient sense, at this period of his life, of the possibly awful power of an entirely new form of temptation.
III. St. Peter's over-confidence would seem to have been due in part to his natural temperament and to his reliance on it.
IV. What, then, is the lesson which we should try to carry away from this one event in St. Peter's history. Not, assuredly, to think cheaply of moral or religious enthusiasm as such, but to measure well, if possible, our religious language, especially the language of fervour and devotion. When religious language outruns prudence or conviction, the general character is weakened.
H. P. Liddon, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxiv., p. 113.
References: Matthew 26:33.—J. Vaughan, Children's Sermons, 6th series, p. 30. Matthew 26:33-35.—A. B. Bruce, The Training of the Twelve, p. 393.
Matthew 26:34Christian Recompense.
The case of Peter shows that there is a denial of Christ which may be forgiven, although there is a denial of Him which will not. There is a denial of Him which may be forgiven, if we turn to Him, as Peter did, in sincere and hearty repentance. Peter went out and wept bitterly. But the denial of Him, which seems to us a little thing and to require no earnest repentance, is, indeed, not far from being a betrayal of Him.
I. What is the difference between the sin of Peter and the sin of Judas? Let us see what was the difference of their general lives. We know that Peter loved our Lord sincerely, and that he followed Him with a real desire to do His will, whereas what we know of Judas, even before His great sin, is unfavourable. It is of importance to observe this, because, in fact, our particular sins take their colour from the general character of our lives. What we call sin of infirmity, a sudden yielding to some very strong temptation, can hardly be said to exist in a man whose life is generally careless or sinful. He who takes no heed at any time to strengthen his nature has no right to plead its weakness; he who is the slave of all common temptations has no right to say that this one temptation overcame him because of its greatness.
II. Yet the acts of Peter and of Judas were in themselves different. The act of Peter was done without premeditation. Assuredly had he felt himself in any danger of denying his Lord, he would have gone away to his own home rather than have sought admission to the palace of the high priest. But Judas's sin was deliberate; it had been resolved upon, not some minutes only before it was committed, but some hours, and even some days.
III. And so after the two sins were committed, what followed in either case? One look at our Lord recalled Peter to himself, to that very self, that better and habitual self, which our Lord had pronounced to be clean. He went out and wept bitterly. But of all this in the case of Judas we hear nothing: with him there was remorse indeed, but not repentance—an unblessed sorrow, working an unblessed death.
T. Arnold, Sermons, vol. v., p. 98.
Matthew 26:36The Conflict in Gethsemane.
I. The place of the conflict calls for a brief notice. Gethsemane is now only a name for one of the booths in Vanity Fair. There are two rival Gethsemanes, and rival guides wrangle about the truth of this and that local identification. One place, called the true Gethsemane, is walled round by the Latins. Another, a little more to the north, is walled round by the Greeks; both enclosures being under lock and key. The New Testament lends no help to enquiries that have reference to sanctity of places.
II. The story of this conflict. (1) Its intensity is the first fact in the story that strikes us. (2) This awful inward conflict was in a scene of outward peace. (3) The conflict wrung from the Saviour a great cry: "O, My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as Thou wilt." We have a glimpse here of the conflict carried on by Christ for us, single-handed. (4) We see that under all the sorrows of the Man of Sorrows, in this night of conflict, there was tender personal thought about His disciples.
III. The sleep of the disciples while this conflict was going on. While the Lord's great cry rang they were dropping asleep. On three occasions He came back from His own terrible post, that He might see how they were faring at theirs, and on these occasions He found them asleep. "Couldest not thou watch one hour?" He had only asked Peter and his associates to watch. As a true man, He longed to have at least their sympathy, though He would not have their cooperative work. In your measure you know the feeling. "The spirit, indeed, is willing; but the flesh is weak." There was tender remonstrance, but not severe reproof. The sleep of the disciples has been cited as a sign of indifference; but it was treated by Jesus only as a symptom of mortality. In the case of excessive sorrow and care, the immense fatigue demands the enormous sleep. There is no master so merciful as He, no friend who makes such allowances. This quick apology of love for weakness is set on record for all who need it; and we, ashamed of our slumbers, and alarmed at our deadness of soul to things tremendous, may sometimes be kept from despondency by these words of Christ—golden words to be hidden in our most sacred treasury.
C. Stanford, Evening of Our Lord's Ministry, p. 171.
References: Matthew 26:36.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xii., No. 693; H. J. Wilmot-Buxton, Sunday Sermonettes for a Year, p. 199; Preacher's Monthly, vol. vii., p. 215.
I. The first thing to which we direct attention, is the intense severity of the suffering which now overwhelmed and oppressed the mind of Christ. The extreme severity of Christ's sufferings in the garden are indicated by several circumstances. (1) It appears that as soon as He had retired with the three disciples who were permitted to be near Him, the internal conflict commenced, and a sudden change took place in His appeareance. "He began to be sorrowful and very heavy." There was a complete prostration of the bodily powers; a suspension or deprivation, so to speak, of nervous energy. His internal strength seemed to fail and forsake Him, and He appeared in danger of passively yielding to the onset of sorrow, as if it were hopeless to bear up against it. (2) The next particular that shows the severity of His suffering, is the language in which He Himself describes it, "My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death." (3) The crushing and agonising nature of our Lord's sufferings may be seen in His earnest appeal to His three friends: "Tarry ye here, and watch with Me." (4) There appeared an angel from heaven, strengthening Him. But this shows to what a mysterious condition of weakness He was reduced. Physically and mentally He was brought very low, and needed to have His anguish assuaged, His courage recalled, and His frame supported, by one from heaven.
II. The seat of our Lord's suffering was the soul. The Scriptures seem to refer to three sources of this distress and anguish. (1) There was some mysterious conflict with the great adversary of God and man. (2) There was some mysterious infliction direct from the hand of God, some wonderful withdrawal of His countenance and complacency, or, at least, of their sensible manifestation. (3) Our iniquities were laid upon Him, and He bore the curse and penalty of transgression.
III. Note the conduct of Jesus under His mysterious trial. He was sorrowful, amazed, and very heavy; but He roused Himself to pray, and was heard in that He feared. He was not literally delivered from death, nor from those deadly mental pangs, so much worse than the cross itself; but He was saved from sinking under them, He was strengthened by an angel sent to Him from the Father, and was thus enabled to bear up until the darkness had passed away.
T. Binney, King's Weigh-house Chapel Sermons, 2nd series, p. 150.
References: Matthew 26:36-41.—A. B. Bruce, The Training of the Twelve, p. 469. Matthew 26:36-46.—Homiletic Quarterly, vol. xv., p. 70; Christian World Pulpit, vol. ii., p. 325. Matthew 26:36-50.—Preacher's Monthly, vol. i., p. 275.
Matthew 26:38The Valley of the Shadow of Death.
I. Whether death be easy or painful, it is appointed unto all men once to die. This everyone knows, so that each person thinks that he can gain nothing by hearing it repeated. But I imagine, that although we know that we shall die, yet we who move about in health and strength have a very faint and imperfect notion of what death is. Indeed, it is not more concealed from our spirit than it is shut out from our minds. It would be vain to say that we can by any means escape all its bitterness, most certainly we cannot; but we can make this bitterness only a brief suffering of a few days or weeks, instead of the beginning of a miserable eternity. This we may gain, with God's blessing, by thinking seriously and frequently upon it.
II. It becomes us to accustom ourselves to consider death as something real, to make it a part of every day's serious thoughts; to bring steadily before our eyes the possibility that before the day closes which has now begun, it may be near, even at the doors. Will it be said that such thoughts would unfit us for our common business, or, at least, would stop all cheerfulness, and mark our countenances with a perpetual expression of gloom? Then we must still be in bondage to the weak and beggarly elements; we must be ignorant of the liberty which Christ has given us; or else our mirth and pleasure, and our business, must be such as Christ would condemn, and, in that case, we must, at whatever cost, get rid of them. For most certainly that is no fit employment and no Christian relaxation, in which we should be afraid to die; but either it is wrong in itself, or it takes us too much time, or it encourages us in a spirit of sloth, or pride, or carelessness. If it does none of these, and if it be pursued with thankfulness, as the gift of God, then the thought of death need not disturb or sadden it; we may go to it without scruple from our most solemn thoughts and prayers; and we may be called from it without fear if such be the will of God in the pangs of the most sudden death.
T. Arnold, Sermons, vol. i., p. 85.
Christ's Agony in the Garden.
I. It was in the soul rather than in the body that our blessed Saviour made atonement for transgression. He had put Himself in the place of the criminal, so far as it was possible for an innocent man to assume the position of the guilty; and standing in the place of the criminal with guilt imputed to Him, He had to bear the punishment that misdeeds had incurred. You must be aware that anguish of the soul more than of the body is the everlasting portion which is to be awarded to sinners, and we might well expect that our Lord's external affliction, however vast and accumulated, would be comparatively less in its rigour 01 accompaniments than His internal anguish, which is not to be measured or imagined. This expectation is quite borne out by the statements of Scripture, if carefully considered. Was it the mere thought of dying as a malefactor which so overcame the Redeemer that He needed strengthening by an angel from heaven? Was it this that wrung from Him the thrilling exclamation, "My soul is exceeding sorrowful?" Though we cannot explain what passed in the soul of the Redeemer, we would impress on you the truth, that it was in the soul rather than in the body that those dire pangs were endured which exhausted the curse denounced against sin.
II. It gives a preciousness to every means of grace, to consider it as brought into being by the agonies of the Redeemer. It would go far, were this borne in mind, to defend it against resistance or neglect if it were impressed on you that there is not a single blessing of which you are partakers that did not spring from this sorrow—this sorrow unto death—of the Redeemer's soul. Neither is it the worth only of the means of grace that we may learn from the mighty sorrow by which they were purchased; it is also our own worth, the worth of our own soul. If you read the form of the question, "What shall a man give in exchange for his soul?" you will see it implies that it is not within the empire of wealth to purchase the soul. But cannot this assume the form of another question—What would God give in exchange for the soul? Here we have an answer, not of supposition, but of fact; we tell you what God has given, He has given Himself. Wonderful as it may be, the human soul is worth the incalculable price which was paid for its ransom.
H. Melvill, Penny Pulpit, No. 1,501.
Reference: Matthew 26:38.—W. Gresley, Parochial Sermons, p. 189.
Matthew 26:38-40Divine Sorrow.
It is not on the actual physical sufferings of the Crucifixion that the Bible most invites us to dwell—it relates them, but it passes over them as lightly as the circumstances will admit—but on the inner suffering, on the inner intentions of the scene, we are invited to rest; and it is this inner intention which it expresses in the garden of Gethsemane.
I. Consider what were the causes which wrung from the Redeemer this strong crying and tears, the intolerable anguish of that hour among the sacred olive-trees, on the eve of the first Good Friday. (1) First, that gloom may have been the sense of the near approach of death with all the dread misgivings which beset the spirit in that supreme hour. (2) Or, again, it may have been the sense of loneliness—of the ingratitude, the desertion, the failure of disciples and kinsmen and country. (3) Or, yet again, it may have been something deeper, the sense of the load of human wretchedness entering into his soul, so as almost to take possession of it, so that, in the strong language of St. Paul, "He who knew no sin was made sin for us."
II. Let us remember that this scene is the silent, but most significant, protestation against the misery of wrong-doing, against the exceeding sinfulness of sin. Let us remember it also as the memorial that if we are oppressed by trials, which seem to us too hard to bear, we are but sharing the destiny of the well-beloved Son in whom God is well pleased. The scene suggests also how and in what spirit we ought to pray. There is something nobler and higher in the efficacy and the answer of prayer than the mere demanding and receiving the special blessings for which we ask. We are, indeed, by this narrative encouraged to lay all our wants before our Father, to cast all our cares upon Him, to beseech Him that He will hear us in small things as in great. We may pray, even as our Saviour prayed, that if it be possible the cup of our trial may pass from us; but if no direct answer be given, if the cup does not pass from us, let not our faith be shaken; let us look at the history of our Saviour's agony.
A. P. Stanley, Christian World Pulpit, vol. i., p. 344.
Matthew 26:39The Will of God the Cure of Self-will.
It was the deep disease of self-will to cure which our good Lord came, in our nature, to fulfil the Father's will, to suffer what the Father willed, to "empty Himself and become obedient unto death." Since pride was the chief source of disease in our corrupted wills, to heal this the Eternal Son of God came as now from His everlasting glory, and as a little child fulfilled His Father's will. So He teaches us how to learn that will; by filial obedience; by willing suffering; and so at last by active doing of the will of God. We unlearn self-will by receiving all patiently which crosses self.
I. It is not against the will of God even strongly to will if it should be His will, what yet may prove not to be His will. Entire submission to the will of God requireth absolutely these two things: wholly will whatsoever thou knowest God to will; wholly reject whatsoever thou knowest God willeth not. Beyond these two, while the will of God is as yet not clear unto thee, thou art free.
II. Nor again is it against the will of God that thou art bowed down and grieved by what is the will of God. How can we but weep and have sorrow of heart when, if it be, for our own sins and the sins of our people, the Ark, the Church of God, is sorely stricken, and the hearts of men are perplexed and the work of God is hindered? And even when the heaviness is for our own griefs, yet, if it be patient, it too is according to the will of God. For had we not grief we should not have suffering, and without suffering there were no healing.
III. Whatever thy grief or trouble be, take every drop in thy cup from the hand of Almighty God. Thou knowest well that all comes from God, ordered or overruled by Him.
IV. Again, no trouble is too small wherein to see the will of God for thee. Great troubles come but seldom. Daily fretting trials—that is, what of thyself would fret thee—may often, in God's hands, conform thee more to His gracious will. They are the daily touches whereby He traces on thee the likeness of His Divine will. There is nothing too slight wherein to practise oneness with the will of God. "Father, not as I will, but as Thou wilt." So hath our Lord sanctified all the natural shrinkings of our lower will. He vouchsafed to allow the natural will of His sacred manhood to be amazed and very heavy at the mysterious sufferings of the Cross, to hallow the "mute shrinking" of ours, and guide us on to the all-holy submission of His will. It is a great word which He lets us take into our mouths, "Not what I, but what Thou." I and Thou stand, as it were, over against each other. I, this worm of the earth, yet endowed with what even God will not break, this fearful gift, the will; Thou, the fountain of love, of wisdom, overflowing goodness. Give but thy will to God, and I and Thou become one. Choose but the will of God, and thou wiliest with His wisdom, thou choosest with His all-perfect choice, thou enterest into His councils, thou lovest with His love.
E. B. Pusey, Sermons for the Church's Seasons, p. 67.
I. "I will" is the most sublime phrase that man is capable of uttering. In that one short expression is contained the true secret of his highest greatness. The will which man possesses is not only the reflection of the Divine image within him, but it is also the essential expression of his personality or real self.
II. For what purpose was this stupendous gift given us? What is the true use to which God would have us turn it? To this question only one answer is possible. God, almighty and self-existent from eternity before all worlds, could only out of pure love have created all things to reflect Himself in them, could only have created man for His own glory. "The Lord hath made all things for Himself." And so when God made man in His own image, He did not wish to make a mere machine, but He gave him the Divine gift of free will, that man might be able to choose God for himself. That, then, was the purpose for which will was given to man,—that man might freely give it back to God. As then the powerful will is the reflection of God's image, so the act of willing should be the reflection of God's will. As face answereth to face in the glass, so should the will of man be in complete correspondence with the will of God.
III. How is it then, we may ask with wonder, that the experience of mankind is so different? How is it that the will of man is not subject to the will of God? It is because there exists a counteracting force. The will implies a struggle and a mystery, a deliberately setting before us two courses, and a choice of one. A choice, then, lies before us between God's will and all that is opposed to God's will. To make the right choice is the struggle that God requires from each of us. Here, then, is the most important question we can put to ourselves: Am I choosing God, or that which is opposed to God? This is the test question by which we must try every action of our lives. Have I obtained that complete self-mastery, which enables me to dedicate all the actions of my life to God's glory? The key to self-mastery is self-knowledge; and the way to self-knowledge is self-examination.
W. Baker, Penny Pulpit, new series, No. 707.
References: Matthew 26:39.—Preacher's Monthly, vol. i., p. 292; Spurgeon, Morning by Morning, p. 82; W. Baker, Thursday Penny Pulpit, vol. iii., p. 35; G. Dawson, Sermons on Disputed Points, p. 129.
Matthew 26:39, Matthew 26:42Submission a Progress.
To enter fully into the mystery of Christ's agony is not given to the living. But even the faint distant glimpse which we catch of it causes to rise upon this life of ours a marvellous light. The mourner has felt it so, and the sinner has felt it so, and the tempted has felt it so, and the disconsolate and solitary man has felt it so, and the dying man has felt it so. Consider the example, the model, the type of suffering, which is here set before us in Christ.
I. All sorrow, all suffering, even if it be anguish, even if it be agony, is a cup. It is something definite—something of a certain size, measure, and capacity—something which may be compared to the contents of a vessel; and that vessel prepared, presented, administered, by the hand of God Himself.
II. Again, concerning the cup itself, you may pray. Though it is of God's sending, yet He will be inquired of, He will be applied to, He will be entreated, concerning it. If ever there was a cup which could not be prayed against, it was the cup of the sinbearing. And yet Christ prayed even against it.
III. But how pray? In what spirit, Christ being still our Teacher? (1) As to a Father. "O My Father." Never is a childlike spirit so needful as in regard to suffering, and in regard to prayer concerning it. (2) Again, with an "if." If it be possible. Then it may not be possible that the Gup should pass. And you must recognise this possible impossibility. (3) Once more, with an earnest confession of the comparative value of two wills—your will and God's. If the two clash, have you made up your mind to wish, cost what it may, that God's should prevail?
Our Lord's second prayer asks not at all for the removal of the cup. The first was prayer with submission; the second is submission without even prayer. There was progression, even in this solemn hour, in the discipline of the Saviour's obedience. He was learning obedience. Beyond the submission of the will lies the silence of the will; beyond the desire to have only of God's will the desire that God only may will, whether I have or have not. The first prayer, the former text, was the one; the second prayer, the latter text, was the other. All of us have wishes, have desires. How shall these pass into our entire good, into our final perfection? (1) We must turn them into prayers; (2) we must pray in the spirit of submission.
C. J. Vaughan, Last Words at Doncaster, p. 165.
References: Matthew 26:39, Matthew 26:42.—Homiletic Magazine, vol. xiv., p. 283. Matthew 26:40.—H. W. Beecher, Christian World Pulpit, vol. i., p. 20;—Ibid., Plymouth Pulpit Sermons, 5th series, p. 187.
Matthew 26:40-41I. How gently, yet how earnestly, does Christ call upon us to watch and pray, lest we enter into temptation. To watch and to pray; for of all those around Him some were sleeping and none were praying; so that they who watched were not watching with Him, but against Him. In our careless state of mind the call to us is to watch; in our over-busy state the call is to us to pray; in our hard state there is equal need for both. And even in our best moods, when we are at once sober and earnest and gentle, then not least does Christ call upon us to watch and to pray, that we may retain that than which else no gleam of April sunshine was ever more fleeting; that we may perfect that which else is of the earth earthy, and when we lie down in the dust will wither and come to dust, too.
II. "The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak." How great is the lovingkindness of these words! how gently does Christ bear with the weakness of His disciples! But this thought may be the most blessed or the most dangerous thought in the world: the most blessed if it touches us with love, the most dangerous if it emboldens us in sin. There may be some here who may go on grieving Christ and crucifying Him afresh for as much as seventy years; and He will bear with them all that time, and His sun will daily shine upon them, and His creatures and His word will minister to their pleasure, and He Himself will say nothing to them, but to entreat them to turn and be saved. But as these years pass on Christ will still spare us, but His voice of entreaty will be less often heard; the distance between Him and us will be consciously wider. From one place after another, where we once used sometimes to see Him, He will have departed; year after year some object which used once to catch the light from heaven will have become overgrown, and will lie constantly in gloom; year after year the world will become to us more entirely devoid of God. The increased weakness of our flesh has destroyed all the power of our spirit, and almost all its willingness; it is bound with chains which it cannot break, and indeed scarcely desires to break.
T. Arnold, Sermons, vol. iv., p. 174.
These words of our Lord in the garden, when He came from His agony and found the Apostles asleep, are very sorrowful and touching. They show an ineffable depth of tenderness and compassion. He made the disciples' defence for them; His very warning taught them how to plead with Him; and by teaching it He acknowledged the truth of the plea "The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak!" Let us consider these words.
I. By the "spirit" is to be understood what we call the heart or will, illuminated by the grace of God; by the "flesh" is to be understood our fallen manhood, with its affections and lusts, so far as they still remain even in the regenerate. (1) We may trace the weakness of our nature in the great fluctuations of our inner state. (2) We may take as another example of this weakness the speedy fading away of good impressions even in those that live lives of real devotion. (3) This same weakness which besets our imperfect nature, is the reason why we fall so far short, in effect, of our aims and resolutions; and, in a word, of the whole law and measure of obedience.
II. Do not be out of heart at the ever-present consciousness of the weakness of your moral nature. It is well known, and better understood, and more closely scanned by Him to whose perfection you are mystically united. It is the very condition of the regenerate, and the law which governs the knitting together of His mystical body, and the educing of a new creation out of the old, that it should be gradual; imperfection passing into perfection, death being slowly swallowed up of life, sin through long striving cast forth by holiness. Moreover, we know not what mysterious purpose in the spiritual world may be fulfilled even in our weakness; how the glory of the Son of God, and the abasement of sin, may be perfected in our infirmity. And once more, as there seems to be some great purpose in the permission of our weakness, so does there also appear to be as deep a design in permitting the infirmities of the saints to cleave so long and closely about them. We must be made partakers of the humiliation of Christ, and therefore we are left girded with the burden of our fallen nature. It is by learning the depth of our fall and of the evil that dwells in us that we are to be fully abased. Our weakness and faults are left to abide in us that we may learn the perfection of hating what God abhors. They are as a purifying fire, which eats through us with a sleepless pain, and an anguish which cleanses the soul. Our soils and our sins lie so deep, they must needs be long in the refiner's fire. Pray rather that, if need be, you may be tried seven times, so that all may be clean purged out.
H. E. Manning, Sermons, vol. i., p. 223.
In the precept, "Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation," there is enjoined a feeling of apprehension and alarm. It is equivalent to saying, "Do not suffer yourself to be at ease." Beware of quietly enjoying your life. You are lost if you live without fear. As to moral and spiritual dangers, the greater number seem to have determined to indulge in a careless and almost unlimited confidence. As a natural consequence, they are overrun and spoiled and ruined by what they so little dread and guard against—that is to say, by temptations.
I. "That ye enter not into temptation." The words seem to say very pointedly: Beware of the beginning, for it is in fatal connection with the next ensuing, and yet connects what is behind. And since temptation is sure to be early with its beginnings, so too should watching and praying; early in life; early in the day; early in every undertaking. "Enter not"—that is, that we be cautious of venturing into anything which we have reason to believe or suspect may soon become temptation. It may be fair and harmless at the outset; but how far on? "Enter not"—that is, that we be considerate how a thing may become temptation. This demands an exercise of discerning foresight.
II. "That ye enter not"—that is, that we may be quickly alarmed at the indications that a thing is becoming temptation. "Here a questionable effect is beginning upon me; nay, but it is a bad effect. Certain principles of truth and duty are beginning to slacken their hold on me." Beware of becoming so partial to a thing that this circumstance shall become a trifling matter. You may have seen such examples; uneasiness has been felt for a while; there may have been a questioning whether to relinquish the object; but the heart grew faster to it. Be cautious of pursuing an evident good in a way in which there must be temptation. Be specially fearful of that where, if there be good to be obtained, the good is to come afterwards, but the temptation first. If the temptation coming first shall blind my discernment of the good—cool my zeal or destroy my relish of it—I should stop with the temptation and abandon the good. Beware of the kind of companionship that directly leads into temptation. But let no man be beguiled to think that he is safe against temptations at the times when his only companion is himself. The whole tempting world may then come to him through the medium of the imagination. The great deep of his own evil heart may be broken up. In this solitude may come that tempter that came to our Lord in the desert. In truth, unhappily there is no situation or employment in which temptation is not to be apprehended.
J. Foster, Lectures, vol. i., p. 42.
References: Matthew 26:41.—Homiletic Quarterly, vol. iii., p. 418; J. H. Thom, Laws of Life after the Mind of Christ, p. 114; F. W. Farrar, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxviii., p. 60; J. Pott, A Course of Sermons for the Lord's Day, vol. i., p. 346. Matthew 26:42.—H. Allon, Three Hundred Outlines from the New Testament, p. 30.
Matthew 26:45Too Late.
In these words our Lord means: "It is too late. The opportunity is lost and gone. The time for watching and praying is over; you have let it escape you. You may as well sleep now. Alas! there is now nothing to be done; you must now enter, as you may, into temptation." If this be the true account of the words as first spoken, we shall readily think of ways in which they come home to us.
I. They have a direct bearing upon the whole subject of temptation. Christ, who loves us, bids us watch and pray, lest we enter into temptation. This, beforehand. The traitor was not yet in sight with his band and his weapons. The high priest's servants, who were to be the human tempters, were themselves sleeping unconscious. This is the time for watching and praying—before the temptation comes. Mark that well. It is the moral of the whole. Remember there is a prayer which comes too late; there is a prayer which even contradicts itself in the asking; there is a prayer which asks to be kept safe under the temptation which we are going in quest of.
II. "Sleep on now, and take your rest." The words have a meaning also as respects opportunity. God gives us all a multitude of opportunities, and with respect to all He says to us, "Watch and pray;" "Occupy till I come." We will not, we never see, never feel the sacred aspect of these things. Each opportunity as it is towards God, is also, as towards man, a possibility of selfishness. There is not a relation in which we stand one to another, which may not be taken as a selfishness and refused as an opportunity. One by one, these are withdrawn. He who once said, "Watch and pray," says at last, "Sleep on now, and take your rest."
III. This saying, which is so true and so solemn as to the several opportunities which God here gives us, is not less so in its bearing upon that total sum of all opportunities which is the life. When Christ at last comes, and finds us still sleeping; then He is compelled to say—else He could be trifled with, else He were not the Judge, He were not the Faithful One and the True—He is compelled to say, "Sleep on now, and take your rest." The time is gone by. "The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved."
C. J. Vaughan, Lessons of the Cross and Passion, p. 1.
Matthew 26:45-46The Parabolical Language of Christ.
I. Our Lord's habitual language was parabolical. I use the word in a wide sense, to include all language which is not meant to be taken according to the letter. This seems to have been, if I may venture to say so, the favourite language in which He preferred to speak; but when He found that He was not understood, then, according to the nature of the case, He went on in two or three different manners. (1) When He saw that the misunderstanding was wilful, He made His language more and more figurative. (2) When He found not a disposition but yet a profound ignorance of His meaning He broke off the conversation, and adopted another method of instruction. (3) When He was speaking to His own disciples, to whom it was given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God, He generally explained His meaning—at least so far as to prevent practical error when He found that they had not understood Him.
II. Note the general lesson conveyed by our Lord's words in the text. How truly do we deserve the reproof; how thankfully may we accept the call! Are we to take the words of reproof literally? May we really sleep on and take our rest? Oh, vain and wilful folly, so misunderstood! But lest we should misunderstand, let us hear our Lord's next words: "Rise, let us be going," and that instantly; the time and opportunity already lost is far more than enough. Rise, let us be going," so Christ calls us; for He has still other work for us to do, for Him and with Him. The future is yet our own, though the past be lost. There will be a time when we might strike out the words, "Rise, let us be going," they will concern us then no more. It is only said, "Sleep on now, and take your rest;" all your watching time is wasted, and you can now watch no more; there remains only to sleep that last sleep, from which we shall then never wake to God and happiness, but in which we shall be awake for ever to sin and misery.
T. Arnold, Sermons, vol. iv., p. 266.
References: Matthew 26:47-55.—Parker, Inner Life of Christ, vol. iii., p. 226.
Matthew 26:50The Last Pleading of Love.
I. The patience of Christ's love. If we take no higher view of this most pathetic incident than that the words come from a man's lips, even then all its beauty will not be lost. There are some sins against friendship, in which the manner is harder to bear than the substance of the evil. It must have been a strangely mean and dastardly nature, as well as a coarse and cold one, that could think of fixing on the kiss of affection as the concerted sign to point out their victim to the legionaries. Many a man who could have planned and executed the treason would have shrunk from that. But what a picture of perfect patience and unruffled calm we have here, in that the answer to the poisonous, hypocritical embrace was these moving words. Surely if there ever was a man who might have been supposed to be excluded from the love of God, it was this man. Surely if ever there was a moment in a human life when one might have been supposed that ever open heart would shut itself together against anyone, it was this moment. But no, the betrayer in the very instant of his treason has that changeless tenderness lingering around him, and that merciful hand beckoning to him still.
II. The pleading of Christ's patient love. There is an appeal to the traitor's heart, and an appeal to his conscience. Christ would have him think of the relations that have so long subsisted between them, and He would have him think too of the real nature of the deed he is doing, or perhaps of the motives that impel him. The grave, sad word by which He addresses him is meant to smite upon his heart. The sharp question which He puts to him is meant to wake up his conscience; and both taken together represent the two chief classes of remonstrance which He brings to bear upon us all—the two great batteries from which He assails the fortress of our sins.
III. The possible rejection of Christ's patient love. (1) Even that appeal was vain. Man can frustrate the counsel of God. (2) Judas held his peace—no more. There was no need for him to break out with oaths and curses—to reject his Lord with wild words. Silence was sufficient. And for us no more is required. (3) The appeal of Christ's love hardens where it does not soften. That gentle voice drove the traitor nearer the verge over which the fell into a gulf of despair.
A. Maclaren, Sermons preached in Manchester, 3rd series, p. 305.
References: Matthew 26:52;—W. F. Hook, Sermons on the Miracles, vol. ii., p. 241; S. Macnaughton, Real Religion and Real Life, p. 134. Matthew 26:55, Matthew 26:56.—A. B. Bruce, The Training of the Twelve, p. 469. Matthew 26:56.—Christian World Pulpit, vol. vi., p. 127; Spurgeon, Morning by Morning, p. 87.
Matthew 26:56The Fickleness of Friends.
I. "Then all the disciples forsook Him and fled." The cruelty of all this it would be hard to exaggerate. For three years and upwards their Divine Master had been building up their faith and binding them to Himself by a thousand heavenly arts. They had witnessed His miracles; they had heard His discourses; they had experienced His favours; they had been made the objects of His priceless love. Behold, the end is at last approaching—the end of life. The extremity of suffering and the severest brunt of the conflict with the unseen world is even now at hand. He has washed their feet; He has made them partakers of His body and of His blood; He has prepared them for danger: more than that, He has made them privy to His own mysterious need of support and consolation, even of their human sympathy; He has exposed to them His secret sense of loneliness and desertion: "What, could ye not watch with Me one hour?" I have no wish to exaggerate the faithlessness of the eleven Apostles, or to detract from the severity of their trial. Our wisdom is rather to behold in their conduct an image of what would assuredly have been our own, had we been there. We are spectators, not judges; and we should be silent and sorrowful, if we would profit by what we are permitted to see of the transactions of the last night in the earthly life of the Son of Man.
II. A lesson of patience towards one another. A lesson of kindness and forbearance and long-suffering towards those whom we call our friends. This is the teaching of the incident we are now considering. We claim so much; any token of wavering constancy, any want of faithfulness to ourselves in our hour of need—how prone we are to revenge it with coldness, and rebuke, and indignant displeasure! It is often the sign of a warm and faithful spirit which cannot brook in another what it especially would shrink from being guilty of itself. But, however we may explain it—however palliate the offence—an offence it is, and an offence against the Spirit of Him whom we serve, and whose holy name is called upon us. Let us be more patient, more long-suffering and less ready to take offence and rail against the world and its ways; remembering that thou hast bound no one on the earth's surface to thee—nor canst bind—as Christ bound the eleven, who, when they beheld Him apprehended in the garden, at once forsook Him and fled.
J. W. Burgon, Ninety-one Short Sermons, No. 38.
References: Matthew 26:30-34.—Expositor, 3rd series, vol. ii., p. 132. Matthew 26:31, Matthew 26:32.—Homiletic Magazine, vol. xiv., p. 242. Matthew 26:31-46.—Parker, Inner Life of Christ, vol. iii., p. 215.
Matthew 26:57-58, Matthew 26:69-75Peter's Denial of Jesus.
Although Peter's denial of his Lord shocked all witnesses as a sudden, unaccountable, disconnected thing, it was in reality but the last act in a succession of acts, one growing out of another.
I. Think of this deed in connection with a certain weakness in which it began. Who denied the Lord? Was it that supreme scoundrel, Judas? No—infinitely pathetic tale to tell!—it was Peter! There was nothing artful, nothing subtle, nothing indirect, nothing mean in that man. Look at him. His very eyes tell the truth, his very blunders show his honesty; yet it was he who told the lie. Peter had many strong points, but one weak one; and that one, undetected by himself, was at the beginning of this disaster. It was the weakness of excessive constitutional impulsiveness. Impulse is beautiful and good, but impulse is only like steam in the works of a factory, or wind in the sails of a yacht. Impulse is a good servant of the soul, but a bad master.
II. Think of this act of Peter in connection with his entrance into the temptation to commit such an act. "Enter not into temptation," said the Lord, but Peter seems to have heard what was expressly meant for him without a ripple of emotion, or a rising of alarm. He could depend on his own self-protective instinct. Peter thought himself an iron man; but there was a flaw in his iron, though he knew it not until he had entered into a trial for which he was not fitted; then the iron broke.
III. Think of Peter's denial of Christ in connection with its three occasions. As is often the case with a man whose life has been passed in the country, when off his guard he talked in his broadest native dialect, so that all knew the poor chatterer to be from Galilee. A young saucy face turned on him suddenly, and its owner said, "Thou also wast with Jesus of Galilee." Impulse has no dominion over the critical instances of life; impulse prompted his first lie; in his terror, and before he was aware, Peter said, "Woman, I know Him not."
IV. Think of Peter's denial in connection with the treatment that Christ was receiving at the time. Just in the anguish of the Master's trial was the culmination of the servant's sin.
V. Think of Peter's denial of Christ in connection with Christ's act of restoring love. He turned upon Peter with a look. The curse only drew forth love, and the love went out with that look—so melting, so mournful, so pathetically expressive. We may not imagine what this look was like, but we know what effect it had upon the disciple. He flung himself out into the night. In anguish almost unendurable, in a torture of tenderness, and with love wrought into a storm of passionate remorse, he felt himself to be lost. Some structures can only be saved by being ruined. The Athenian said, "I should have been lost, if I had not been lost." With what deep meaning and mighty emphasis might the glorified Peter now say the same.
C. Stanford, The Evening of Our Lord's Ministry, p. 237.
Reference: Matthew 26:57.—Preacher's Monthly, vol. i., p. 292.
Matthew 26:58I. Like the rest of the disciples, Peter no sooner saw the capture of the Lord than he forsook Him and fled. He has scarcely fled when he turns to follow—but he follows afar off, as one who would disguise even while he yields to the impulse. In the very midst of the high priest's servants, he seats himself, hoping by the parade of confidence to disarm suspicion. But he had miscalculated his own powers. He was too good a man to be a good actor. The part was overplayed. He had rushed into unnecessary danger, and he could neither tell the truth bravely, nor utter a falsehood quietly. He had come to see the end, and yet that natural impulse was dangerous for him. It had temptation in it. It brought him to the edge of that fall which might have been his ruin. But for that determination to see the end, Peter might have been as Matthew, might have been as Andrew, almost as Thomas—doubter, not denier; if deserter, yet not rebel. It was the sight of Christ on His trial, which gave possibility to the blasphemy: "I know not the man."
II. There is responsibility in seeing the end, to us, as well as for Peter. It is possible so to see as to see not for the better but for the worse. This is so, when we either contemplate the cross carelessly, or turn its very grace into a licence for sin. It is possible—who shall gainsay it?—to make Christ crucified (as St. Paul expresses it) the minister of sin, to say, or to live as though saying, "Saved by grace; let me continue in sin that grace may abound." Thus we give occasion to the enemy to blaspheme, and take out of the salt of grace its whole savour of blessing. The preaching of the cross is no power, unless it sanctifies; it is no power, unless it saves from sin. The end is also a beginning; the death is also a life.
C. J. Vaughan, Temple Sermons, p. 353.
References: Matthew 26:58.—H. J. Wilmot-Buxton, Waterside Mission Sermons, 2nd series, No. 10; H. W. Beecher, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xvii., p. 220; Clergyman's Magazine, vol. xvi., p. 138.
Matthew 26:63When our Lord was upon earth, the measure of the fulness of His revelation to men was conditioned by their disposition towards Himself, and by their general moral character. This explains His silence to Caiaphas, to Herod, and to Pilate. In like manner the Scriptures are silent to some and full of heavenly wisdom for others. That which a man will get out of the Bible depends on what he brings to the Bible. The eye can see only what it brings with it the power of seeing.
I. Prejudice, whatever be its source, gets nothing out of the Scriptures. If you bring a full pitcher to a spring you can get nothing from that spring.
II. Habitual indulgence in sin will also prevent us from getting any answer to our inquiries from Scripture. Hardened sinners find nothing good in the Bible, because their moral sens is so hardened that they do not know good when they see it. The Herods of today get no answer from Christ.
III. The influence of scepticism makes the Scriptures silent. Pilate did not believe there was any truth, and if there was it could not be known. He belonged to the school of the elder Pliny, who said, "There is no certainty, except that nothing is certain." I do not wonder that philosophers who have adopted this philosophy can find nothing in the Bible. They must first believe that truth is, and then Christ will tell them what it is.
W. M. Taylor, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxix., p. 47.
References: Matthew 26:63.—Preacher's Monthly, vol. iv., p. 103; Clergyman's Magazine, vol. iii., p. 289. Matthew 26:64.—Ibid., vol. xix., p. 276; Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxiii., No. 1364.
Matthew 26:69-75Peter's Denial.
I. The precursors of Peter's fall. (1) Among these we give a prominent place to self-confidence. It will not do to speak of Peter as insincere in his protestations of attachment to the Lord. We must not forget either that he was the only one of the eleven, save John, who followed Jesus into the palace of the high priest. The others had forsaken their master altogether for the time, and so, in a sense, Peter's greater guilt than theirs was owing to his greater love. But the root of the evil in him was that he trusted in his own heart. His self-confidence threw him off his guard, and made him think that he had no need to pray for strength, and so he fell an easy victim to the tempter's stratagems; (2) another precursor of this denial was rashness. Peter had cut off the ear of Malchus. Misplaced bravery is very often, as in this instance, the forerunner of cowardice. If by our folly we put ourselves in jeopardy, we are on the highway to falsehood in order to get ourselves out again; (3) another precursor of these denials was distance from the Lord. "Peter followed afar off." If we are going to follow Jesus at all, the easiest as well as the safest way to do so is to follow Him fully. Decision wards off attack.
II. The aggravations of these denials. These were many. (1) For one thing, Peter had been well warned of his danger. (2) Another aggravation of Peter's denials was connected with the time at which they were uttered. It was with Jesus Himself the hour and power of darkness. If for no other reason than because so many others had forsaken him, the Apostle whom he had so loved and honoured ought to have been firm. (3) Further, these denials were aggravated in Peter's case by the fact that the Lord had given him many special tokens of His regard. (4) These denials were aggravated by the manner in which they were made.
III. The sequel of the denials. Peter lived on his Master's look—a mingling of reproof, of tenderness, and of entreaty—till the Master met him after the resurrection; and the thought of the prayer ("I have prayed for thee that Thy faith fail not") kept him from despair. Had it not been for these things, he, too, might have gone, like Judas, and hanged himself. Note one or two important inferences from this subject: (1) Great prominence in Christ's service does not keep us from peril; (2) our greatest danger does not always lie where we are weakest, but is sometimes where we are usually strongest; (3) if Peter's fall be a warning against over-confidence, his restoration ought to be an antidote to all despair.
W. M. Taylor, Peter the Apostle, p. 138.
References: Matthew 26:69-75.—A. B. Bruce, The Training of the Twelve, pp. 469, 489. Matthew 26:74, Matthew 26:75.—W. Bull, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xx., p. 149. Matthew 26:75.—Plain Sermons by Contributors to "Tracts for the Times," vol. viii., p. 33; J. Pott, A Course of Sermons for the Lord's Day, vol. i., p. 363; E. Garbett, The Soul's Life, p. 249. Matthew 27:1-19.—Parker, Inner Life of Christ, vol. iii., p. 237. Matthew 27:1-54.—Clergyman's Magazine, vol. ii., p. 153.
Ye know that after two days is the feast of the passover, and the Son of man is betrayed to be crucified.
Then assembled together the chief priests, and the scribes, and the elders of the people, unto the palace of the high priest, who was called Caiaphas,
And consulted that they might take Jesus by subtilty, and kill him.
But they said, Not on the feast day, lest there be an uproar among the people.
Now when Jesus was in Bethany, in the house of Simon the leper,
There came unto him a woman having an alabaster box of very precious ointment, and poured it on his head, as he sat at meat.
But when his disciples saw it, they had indignation, saying, To what purpose is this waste?
For this ointment might have been sold for much, and given to the poor.
When Jesus understood it, he said unto them, Why trouble ye the woman? for she hath wrought a good work upon me.
For ye have the poor always with you; but me ye have not always.
For in that she hath poured this ointment on my body, she did it for my burial.
Verily I say unto you, Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached in the whole world, there shall also this, that this woman hath done, be told for a memorial of her.
Then one of the twelve, called Judas Iscariot, went unto the chief priests,
And said unto them, What will ye give me, and I will deliver him unto you? And they covenanted with him for thirty pieces of silver.
And from that time he sought opportunity to betray him.
Now the first day of the feast of unleavened bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying unto him, Where wilt thou that we prepare for thee to eat the passover?
And he said, Go into the city to such a man, and say unto him, The Master saith, My time is at hand; I will keep the passover at thy house with my disciples.
And the disciples did as Jesus had appointed them; and they made ready the passover.
Now when the even was come, he sat down with the twelve.
And as they did eat, he said, Verily I say unto you, that one of you shall betray me.
And they were exceeding sorrowful, and began every one of them to say unto him, Lord, is it I?
And he answered and said, He that dippeth his hand with me in the dish, the same shall betray me.
The Son of man goeth as it is written of him: but woe unto that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed! it had been good for that man if he had not been born.
Then Judas, which betrayed him, answered and said, Master, is it I? He said unto him, Thou hast said.
And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body.
And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it;
For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.
But I say unto you, I will not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine, until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom.
And when they had sung an hymn, they went out into the mount of Olives.
Then saith Jesus unto them, All ye shall be offended because of me this night: for it is written, I will smite the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock shall be scattered abroad.
But after I am risen again, I will go before you into Galilee.
Peter answered and said unto him, Though all men shall be offended because of thee, yet will I never be offended.
Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, That this night, before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice.
Peter said unto him, Though I should die with thee, yet will I not deny thee. Likewise also said all the disciples.
Then cometh Jesus with them unto a place called Gethsemane, and saith unto the disciples, Sit ye here, while I go and pray yonder.
And he took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be sorrowful and very heavy.
Then saith he unto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death: tarry ye here, and watch with me.
And he went a little further, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.
And he cometh unto the disciples, and findeth them asleep, and saith unto Peter, What, could ye not watch with me one hour?
Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.
He went away again the second time, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if this cup may not pass away from me, except I drink it, thy will be done.
And he came and found them asleep again: for their eyes were heavy.
And he left them, and went away again, and prayed the third time, saying the same words.
Then cometh he to his disciples, and saith unto them, Sleep on now, and take your rest: behold, the hour is at hand, and the Son of man is betrayed into the hands of sinners.
Rise, let us be going: behold, he is at hand that doth betray me.
And while he yet spake, lo, Judas, one of the twelve, came, and with him a great multitude with swords and staves, from the chief priests and elders of the people.
Now he that betrayed him gave them a sign, saying, Whomsoever I shall kiss, that same is he: hold him fast.
And forthwith he came to Jesus, and said, Hail, master; and kissed him.
And Jesus said unto him, Friend, wherefore art thou come? Then came they, and laid hands on Jesus, and took him.
And, behold, one of them which were with Jesus stretched out his hand, and drew his sword, and struck a servant of the high priest's, and smote off his ear.
Then said Jesus unto him, Put up again thy sword into his place: for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword.
Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels?
But how then shall the scriptures be fulfilled, that thus it must be?
In that same hour said Jesus to the multitudes, Are ye come out as against a thief with swords and staves for to take me? I sat daily with you teaching in the temple, and ye laid no hold on me.
But all this was done, that the scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled. Then all the disciples forsook him, and fled.
And they that had laid hold on Jesus led him away to Caiaphas the high priest, where the scribes and the elders were assembled.
But Peter followed him afar off unto the high priest's palace, and went in, and sat with the servants, to see the end.
Now the chief priests, and elders, and all the council, sought false witness against Jesus, to put him to death;
But found none: yea, though many false witnesses came, yet found they none. At the last came two false witnesses,
And said, This fellow said, I am able to destroy the temple of God, and to build it in three days.
And the high priest arose, and said unto him, Answerest thou nothing? what is it which these witness against thee?
But Jesus held his peace. And the high priest answered and said unto him, I adjure thee by the living God, that thou tell us whether thou be the Christ, the Son of God.
Jesus saith unto him, Thou hast said: nevertheless I say unto you, Hereafter shall ye see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven.
Then the high priest rent his clothes, saying, He hath spoken blasphemy; what further need have we of witnesses? behold, now ye have heard his blasphemy.
What think ye? They answered and said, He is guilty of death.
Then did they spit in his face, and buffeted him; and others smote him with the palms of their hands,
Saying, Prophesy unto us, thou Christ, Who is he that smote thee?
Now Peter sat without in the palace: and a damsel came unto him, saying, Thou also wast with Jesus of Galilee.
But he denied before them all, saying, I know not what thou sayest.
And when he was gone out into the porch, another maid saw him, and said unto them that were there, This fellow was also with Jesus of Nazareth.
And again he denied with an oath, I do not know the man.
And after a while came unto him they that stood by, and said to Peter, Surely thou also art one of them; for thy speech bewrayeth thee.
Then began he to curse and to swear, saying, I know not the man. And immediately the cock crew.
And Peter remembered the word of Jesus, which said unto him, Before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice. And he went out, and wept bitterly.