When Herod saw Jesus, he was greatly pleased. He had wanted to see Him for a long time, because he had heard about Him and was hoping to see Him perform a miracle.
I. HOW PITIFUL HUMAN AUTHORITY MAY PROVE TO BE! Poor Pilate, occupying his high seat of authority and power, is "driven with the wind and tossed," as if he were a leaf upon the ground. He "finds no fault in Jesus" (ver. 4), but he dares not acquit him; he is afraid of the men he is there to govern. He casts about for a way of escape; he at lasts hits upon the poor expedient of shifting the difficulty to other shoulders. He presents to us a very pitiable object as a man who sits in the chair of office, and dares not do his duty there. Authority divested of a manly courage and shaking with fear of consequences is a deplorable thing.
II. HOW FEEBLE IS MERE PASSIONATE VEHEMENCE! The people, led by the priests, were "the more fierce" (ver. 5), insisting that Pilate should not release the Prisoner of whose innocence he was convinced. We see them, with hatred flashing from their eyes, indulging in frantic gestures of deprecation and incitement, loudly clamouring for the condemnation of the Holy One. Their urgency did, indeed, prevail for the moment, as vehemence frequently does. But into what a dire and terrible mistake it led them! to what a crime were they hastening! what awful issues were to spring from their success! How truly were they sowing the wind of which they would reap the whirlwind! Earnestness is always admirable; enthusiasm is often a great power for good; but passionate vehemence is nothing better than a noisy feebleness. It is not the presence of real power; it is the absence of intelligence and self-control. It leads men to actions which have a momentary success, but which end in a lasting failure and in sad disgrace.
III. HOW UNFRUITFUL IS IDLE CURIOSITY. (Vers. 8, 9.) Herod congratulated himself too soon. He reckoned on having a keen curiosity fully gratified; he thought he had this Prophet in his power, and could command an exhibition of his peculiar faculty, whatever that might prove to be. But he did not want to arrive at truth, or to be better able to do his duty or serve his generation; and Jesus Christ declined to minister to his royal fancy. He was silent and passive, though urged to speech and action. Christ will speak to our hearts, and will work for our benefit and blessing when we approach him in a reverent and earnest spirit; but to a worldly and irreverent curiosity he has nothing to say. It must retire ungratified, and come again in another mood.
IV. HOW INCONSTANT IS UNSPIRITUAL FRIENDSHIP! Herod had very little to thank Pilate for, on this occasion; he appears to have mistaken a cowardly attempt to evade duty for a mark of personal respect or a desire to effect a reconciliation (ver. 12). A friendship that had to be renewed, and that was patched up in so slight a way and on such mistaken ground, would not last long and was worth very little. Friendship that is not built on thorough knowledge and on mutual esteem is exceedingly fragile and of small account. It is only common attachment to the same great principles and to the one Divine Lord that binds together in indissoluble bonds. Sameness of occupation, similarity of taste, exposure to a common peril, or the possession of a common hope, - this is not the rock on which friendship will stand long; it rests on character, and on the character that is formed by close, personal intimacy with the one true Friend of man.
V. HOW WRONG AND EVEN WICKED IS UNENLIGHTENED SCORN! (Ver. 11.) Quite unimaginable is the uproarious laughter and the keen, low enjoyment with which the actors went through this wretched ribaldry, this (to us) most painful mockery. How little did they think that he whom they were so mercilessly insulting was the King he claimed to be, and was immeasurably higher than the highest of them all! Wrong and wicked is human scorn. Often since then has it mocked at truth and wisdom, and poured its poor ridicule on the head of holiness and true nobility! It is not only the "stranger" who may prove to be the "angel unawares entertained;" it is also the man whom we do not understand, whom we may think entirely in the wrong, whom we are tempted to despise. Many are the mockers who will be fain, one day, to receive a gracious pardon from the object of their derision.
VI. HOW MAJESTIC IS SPIRITUAL MEEKNESS! (Ver. 11.) We know well how our Lord bore this cruel trial. "A silent Man before his foes" was he. Able at any moment to bring them into utmost humiliation, to turn the mocking glance of triumph into the countenance blanched with unspeakable fear, and the brutal laugh of mockery into a cry for mercy, he stood without a blow, without a word on his own behalf, enduring as one that saw the invisible and the eternal. There is nothing more majestic than a calm endurance of wrong. To accept without return the strong buffeting of cruelty, to take without reply the more keen and piercing utterance of falsehood, because stillness or silence will advance the cause of truth and the kingdom of God, - this is to be very "near the throne" on which it is our highest ambition to be placed; it is to be carrying out, most acceptably, the commandment of the meek, majestic Savior as he says to us, "Follow me!" - C.
When Herod saw Jesus, he was exceeding gladI. THAT ALL SUBJECTS REVEAL THEMSELVES ACCORDING TO THE MENTAL MOOD IN WHICH THEY ARE EXAMINED. That which is looked for, is found or thought to be found. The same person or principle examined through the respective media of sympathy and antipathy, will reveal aspects the most different. It is of vital importance to remember this fact in all our investigations of creeds, or balancings of contradictory evidence, so that we may escape both the traductions of prejudice and the blindings of partiality. The non-recognition of this truth has induced the grossest misrepresentations of social life, of individual belief, and of denominational doctrine.
II. THAT THE DIVINE BEING DISCRIMINATES OUR MENTAL MOODS. Apparently, Herod was in a pleasing state of mind. Superficial observers would have been delighted with his animated and cordial bearing. What could be more gratifying to Christ than that Herod was "exceeding glad" to see Him? There was no royal hauteur, no cold rebuff, no vengeful triumph. Why, then, that awful silence? Could Herod have done more to conciliate the favour of his renowned prisoner? Was it not an act of incomparable condescension for Herod to wear a smile in the presence of a reputed blasphemer and seditionist? For Christ's significant reserve there must be some peculiar but satisfactory reason. It was not fear of the judge, for He was the judge's Creator and Sovereign; it was not contempt, for He entertains a just regard for all the creatures of His hand; it was not constitutional sullenness, for none could be more open and engaging than He; it was not consciousness of guilt, for His most rancorous foes failed in their attempts at crimination. Why, then, did Christ thus treat a man who was "exceeding glad" to "see Him"? The only satisfactory answer which we can suggest is that Herod's gladness did not arise from a proper cause; or, in other words, was no true index to his mental mood. Christ looked deeper than the smile which lighted Herod's countenance, or the mere blandishment of his manner; He discriminated the mood of mind, and acted accordingly.
III. THAT CERTAIN MENTAL MOODS DEPRIVE MEN OF THE RICHEST BLESSINGS OF CHRISTIANITY. Why that solemn silence on the part of Christ? Because of Herod's mental mood. The judge wished his curiosity gratified, he had heard of the great wonder-worker, and longed to behold His feats of skill, or His displays of power. Christ knew the treatment proper for the oblique-minded judge, and acted accordingly: He would not work miracles to gratify a king; He would smile on a child, or dry the tear of misery, but He would not court the applause or solicit the patronage of royalty. To whom, then, will the Lord Jesus deign to reveal Himself in tender speech or loving vision? Is there any intellect on whose conflicts with scepticism He will bestow His attention? Is there any heart on whose strugglings with sin He will lift up the light of His countenance? Since He was silent before Herod, will He be communicative to any of His creatures? He shall answer for Himself, "To this man will I look." Suppose the Divine speaker had paused here, what inquisitiveness and suspense would have been occasioned! "To this man"; to which man, blessed Lord, wilt Thou look? to the man who has slain kings, and wandered to the throne of power through the blood of the warrior and the tears of the widow? to the man who has enrolled his name among the proudest of conquerors? to the man who boasts attachment to the cold exactitudes of a heartless theology? to the man arrayed in purple, and enshrined in the splendour of a palace? is this the man to whom Thou wilt look? Nay! 'Tis a grander spectacle which attracts the Divine eye — to the man "that is poor, and of a contrite spirit, and that trembleth at My word" (Isaiah 66:2). Here, then, we have two conditions of Divine communion, viz., contrition and reverence: apart from these there can be no spiritual fellowship. In Herod these conditions were not found; hence Christ was dumb i So with us: if we would truly worship God we must fulfil the conditions herein demanded. To be more distinct on this part of the subject, I may enumerate a few classes of hearers, whose mental moods deprive them of spiritual enjoyment:
1. Men of violent personal antipathies. Such persons confound the minister with his message; so that if any whim has been assaulted, or any favourite dogma contravened, they forthwith resort to misinterpretation, they turn every appeal into a personality, and that which was intended as a blessing they pervert into a curse! God will not commune with them: they fulfil not the conditions of fellowship — they are neither contrite nor reverent — and Christ answers them nothing!
2. Men of large speculative curiosity. Herod belonged to this class. They wish to pry into the secrets of the Infinite: not content with the ample disclosures which the Divine Being has graciously granted, they would penetrate into the deepest recesses of His nature, and scale the loftiest altitudes of His universe. They conceive a philosophic dislike for the common-place truths of Christianity; and regard with patronising pity the minister who lingers on the melancholy hill of Calvary. Such men would understand all mystery: they would break the silence of the stars, or detain the whirlwind in converse: they would summon angels from their high abode and extort the secrets of heaven, they would even dare to cross-examine the Deity Himself on the propriety of His moral government! God will answer them nothing.
3. Men who accept rationalism as their highest guide. They reject all that reason cannot comprehend. Their own intellect must see through every subject, otherwise they consider it as worthy only of repudiation. They read the New Testament as they would read a work on mathematics, or a treatise on physical science, expecting demonstration of every point. Such men leave the Bible with dissatisfaction. Christ treats them with silence: their flippant questions elicit no response: their feeble reason plunges in hopeless confusion — Infinitude refuses to be grasped in a human span, and Eternity disdains to crowd into one little intellect its stupendous and magnificent treasures.
4. Men who delight in moral darkness. Such men have no objection to theological discussion; they may even delight in an exhibition of their controversial powers, and, at the same time, hate the moral nature and spiritual requirements of the gospel. So long as attention is confined to an analysis of abstract doctrines they listen with interest, but the moment the gospel tears away the veil from their moral condition — reveals their depravity — upbraids their ingratitude — smites their pride — and shakes their soul with the assurance of judgment and eternity, they sink back into sullenness, they take refuge in infidelity, or they curse and blaspheme! Your Herods care not for moral betterance; they wish their fancies gratified — they desire their questions answered, but they persist in following the devices of their imagination, and imprisoning themselves in the bond-house of bestial passion. The text suggests —
IV. THAT MEN SO DEPRIVED RESORT TO OPPOSITION. "And Herod with his men of war set Him at naught, and mocked Him, and arrayed Him in a gorgeous robe, and sent Him again to Pilate." This is a striking illustration of the manner in which the truth has been treated in all ages. Men have approached the Bible with foregone conclusions, and because those conclusions have not been verified they have revolted, and assumed an antagonistic attitude. Ample illustration of the proposition might be adduced from the history of infidelity, bigotry, and persecution: but instead of lingering on this department of the subject we hasten to indicate the practical bearing of the thesis on the matter more immediately in hand. As an assembly of men responsible in some degree for the dissemination of Christian truth, it is important to understand how we can best fulfil our mission. In prosecuting this inquiry let me remind you of three things:
1. That the Bible is God's appointed representative. What Christ was to Herod, the Scriptures are to us, viz., the embodiment of Divine truth and love. The very fact of our having the Bible, involves a tremendous responsibility.
2. That the Bible must be approached in a sympathetic spirit.
3. That we are responsible for our manner of reproducing the Bible.
(J. Parker, D. D.)
(H. O. Mackay.)
I. In the passage itself let us note, in the first place, THE DEALINGS OF HEROD ANTIPAS WITH JESUS.
1. Herod did not take any active part in the greatest tragedy of time.
2. It will be necessary for our purpose to consider, secondly, Herod's position in the religious world of his day. That he was a Sadducee would seem to be certain from profane history, and from a comparison of St. Matthew with St. Mark.
3. The character of Herod Antipas may be thought too black to contain even a warning for any of us. He was but a promising pupil in the school of which Tiberius was a master; a meaner trickster, a punier liar, a feebler murderer. He was "the fox," as our Lord called him, not the wolf. Yet in one respect he was not so unlike some of us. A mist of superstition hung over the unclean pool of lust and hatred which he had made his soul. He was alternately repelled and attracted by Christ. That he was not incapable of religious curiosity the text sufficiently witnesses. Some in our day might exclaim that it was perhaps unfortunate that an opportunity was lost of gratifying the curiosity of a person so interesting — as if Christ was Incarnate to amuse dilettanti. But He who knows all men and what is in man knew better. The blood-stained hands are held out "half caressingly." The voice which commanded the head of John Baptist to be given to the daughter of Herodias pours forth its flood of superficial questions. He will not waste one miracle or one word. As they of old loved to teach, the silent Jesus, working no sign, is a prophecy and a sign to us. "He answered him nothing."
II. The whole incident thus becomes full of lessons to us. A thoughtful, meditative reader stops in awe. If we feel the awfulness of that silence, we shall, I think, recognize the truth of that which I am about to say. There is, no doubt, a sort of curiosity about religion which is the necessary result of quickened intellectual, nay, of quickened spiritual life. But the smiting of the people of Beth-shemesh is net recorded for nothing. Free inquiry is one thing, free-and-easy inquiry is another. If we play with God, it is at our own risk. The question is — what do you believe? We stand fronting eternity, not with the many propositions which we affect to believe or think we believe, but with the few which we do believe. Can we make an act of faith in God? We see Him standing mute before the curiosity of Herod Antipas, and we say, "Save us, oh save us, from that silence!"
(Bishop Win. Alexander.)I. HEROD BEFORE JESUS.
1. See idle curiosity at its best.
2. Idle curiosity disappointed.(1) Our Lord came not into this world to be a performer.(2) Herod had already silenced the Voice; no wonder he could not now hear the Word.(3) Herod might have heard Christ hundreds of times before if he had chosen to do so.(4) Christ had good reason for refusing to speak to Herod this time, because He would not have it supposed that He yielded to the pomp and dignity of men.
3. Idle curiosity curdles into derision.
II. JESUS IN THE PRESENCE OF HEROD. Although no blows are recorded, I greatly question whether our Divine Master suffered anywhere more than He did in the palace of tiered.
1. Fully in earnest for the salvation of souls, and in the midst of His griever's passion, He is looked upon as a mountebank and a mere performer, who is expected to work a miracle for the amusement of an impious court.
2. Then to think of our Lord's being questioned by such a fop as Herod!
3. Then the ribaldry of the whole thing!
4. It was no small pain to our Lord to be silent.
5. Think of the contempt that was poured upon Him.
(C. H. Spurgeon.)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 PREVENT US FROM GETTING ANY ANSWER TO OUR INQUIRIES FROM SCRIPTURE. When you want an answer from the telephone, you not only put your ear to the instrument, but you also say to those about you, "Hush! I want to hear." If you would hear Christ you must say "Hush" to the murmuring of sin.
III. THE INFLUENCE OF SCEPTICISM MAKES THE SCRIPTURES SILENT.
(W. M. Taylor, D. D.)
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