Matthew 27:39

It is not difficult to understand Pilate. He is a commonplace, and in no sense a complex character. His act in putting this inscription above Christ's head reveals the mean-souled man who, because he cannot have his way, will have his revenge in a paltry, petty way. Not an outrageously wicked man, the key to his character lies in his love of distinction, power, and self-indulgence. A man of weak, and, with his temptations, of corrupt character, he was anxious to conciliate the Jews, so he surrendered Jesus; but he would force his stubborn way in the trumpery matter of the superscription. To all expostulations he replied, "What I have written I have written."


1. Old prophecies had indeed suggested the kingship of Messiah, but the kingship anticipated was a theocracy rather than an earthly rule.

2. Disciples had taken up the idea that Christ was to be an earthly King. There was a materializing tendency in that age, because material deliverance from Roman bondage seemed to be the one thing needful.

3. Christ never claimed such a title, and never acted as if he claimed it. There is a royal tone in Christ's words and works. He spoke of himself in relation to the "kingdom of heaven;" but never of himself as "King of the Jews."

4. Christ emphatically declared, even to Pilate, that in such senses as men attached to the words, he was not "King of the Jews." "My kingdom is not of this world." Christ is not an earthly king, and never will be. He is King of truth, King of souls, King of righteousness.

II. TO CALL CHRIST "KING OF THE JEWS" MAY EXPRESS THE TRUTH CONCERNING HIM. He is King of the Jews, but not of those who are only nationally such. He is King of all who are the true children of Abraham, because they have the faith of Abraham. Christ may be called a "King" if we understand by that term:

1. King of truth seekers; of all truth seekers everywhere.

2. King of the spiritually minded; of those who cannot be satisfied with the seen and temporal, but must breathe the atmosphere of the unseen and eternal.

3. Christ, as we see him on the cross, is Champion-King.

4. Christ, as now in the spiritual realm, is King of his Church. "On his vesture and thigh his name is written, King of kings, and Lord of lords." - R.T.

He saved others; Himself lie cannot save.
I. The incontestible fact — "He saved others." Let us bring forth witnesses: Angels, healed men and women.

II. Himself He cannot save. He is Divine. The world was made by Him; yet Himself He cannot save. The acts of unlimited providence are ascribed to Him" He sustaineth all things by the word of His power." "Himself He cannot save." The resurrection of the dead, administration of judgment are ascribed to Him. "Himself He cannot save." The power to save Himself is demonstrated in those very acts by which He "saved others." The devils were subject to Him. "No man taketh my life from Me, I lay it down of Myself."

III. However paradoxical all this may seem, I must proceed to ESTABLISH THE MOMENTOUS TRUTH ignorantly expressed in those words. In its literal sense it was false; Jesus was not destitute of physical power to save Himself; in its theological sense it was true. There was no original necessity that the Son of God must die; He might have left the race to perish. The necessity of the death of Jesus was founded —

1. In the purpose and foreordination of God.

2. On the fulfilment which that event gives to the predictions of sacred Scripture.

3. To fulfil the typical representations by which, under the Mosaic law, it had been prefigured.

4. In order to verify His own declarations.

5. As a sacrificial atonement for the sins of the world.

6. In order to the effusion of the Holy Spirit.

7. Even in order to the perfection of His example.Learn:

1. The affecting display which our subject presents of the love of Christ.

2. The glorious and certain effects of the Redeemer's sufferings.

3. I conjure you to seek a personal interest in the important benefits of the Saviour's death.

4. Let it be the theme of your meditation and the confirmation of your faith.

(J. Bowers.)

Christ seems a failure. Thus His enemies asserted and His friends seemed to admit it. Where they right?


1. Certainly not that which is merely in appearance strong, beautiful, or prosperous, for inwardly it may be quite different. The ship on the waters may be beautiful to look at, but if made of inferior material is not a success.

2. Not that which is good merely for the time being. The finest house built on a sand-hill has its ruin beneath it.

3. Nor is it a necessary element of success, that it should confer aught of benefit or reward upon him who has brought it about. The highest favour often comes after death.

4. Nor is any result, however magnificent, obtained on doubtful principles worthy of this royal title. God and His laws are against it. Success is that good purpose which hath been conducted upon right principles to a prosperous and durable completion.


1. His purpose was good — to "save His people from their sins."

2. His purpose was conducted upon pure and holy principles.

3. Though small in its beginnings His purpose is evidently intended to prosper. His influence has been steadily increasing.

4. His success is always durable.

III. HENCE THE PHARISEES ERRED. They mistook the dawn of success for the clouds of a coming failure. The causes that led them to the error.

1. The bad habit of looking only at the outside of things. They were quick to see a colour or a cloth, but not a principle.

2. Because they judged results by what they wanted instead of by what He wanted. They wanted a temporal Messiah, He a spiritual.

3. Because they deemed success a matter of thirty or forty years instead of all time.

4. They could not understand His tearing self out of view. The omnipotence of love exceeds mere physical almightiness.

(W. W. Walker.)

I. WHAT THEY DEEMED HE COULD DO. "Himself He cannot save."

1. He could. It was not in the power of man.

2. He could not. He would fulfil the Scripture.


(S. H. Simpson.)When originally spoken.

I. Implied a critical position.

II. Expressed a mistaken view of religion. The men who saw the Saviour dying thought exclusively of the present; were more concerned for pain and physical deprivation than for sin; argued from self-love to the salvation of others.

III. Witnessed unconsciously to the principle of atonement. A moral necessity compelled Him to die: the righteousness of God had to be vindicated; He could only save others (in the deeper sense of the word) by self-sacrifice. The great question with us all now should be, not "Could He save Himself?" or "Could He save others?" but, "Has He saved us — has He enfranchised us from self?"

(A. F. Muir, M. A.)

Many voices from Calvary; all significant.

I. A GREAT TRUTH. Truer word never uttered. Who meant by" others"? Whoever referred to, the words true. This His work day by day. All ages shall declare that this testimony of enemies was true.

II. A FALSEHOOD. He could save Himself. Did the speakers know their words were false?

III. A latent truth. Concealed from the men who proclaimed it. A power at work within Christ which made it impossible for Him to save Himself. Impossibility seen in whatever way we regard His death. As a martyr, example, victim of sin, substitute for sin, He could not save Himself. Conclusion: The death of Christ a lesson of self-sacrifice. The highest rule in the world that of Christ. His Spirit's rule who could not save Himself. Is the cross of Christ such a power in our lives as to lead us in daily life to feel and to show that though we can, yet we cannot? Appeal to men to yield themselves to Him who gave Himself for them.

(J. M. Blackie, LL. B.)

He saved others, Himself He cannot save.
These men only needed to alter one letter to be grandly and gloriously right. If, instead of "cannot," they had said "will not," they would have grasped the very heart of the power, and the very central brightness of the glory of Christianity. "He saved others; " and just because He saves others, Himself He will not, and, in a real sense, "He cannot, save."... It was His own will, and no outward necessity, that fastened Him to the cross; and that will was kept steadfast and immoveable by nothing else but His love: He Himself fixed the iron chain which bound Him. He Himself made the" cannot." It was His love that made it impossible He should relinquish the task; therefore His steely will, like a strong spring constantly working, kept Him close up against the sharp edge of the knife that cut into His very heart's life. Though there were outward powers that seemed to knit Him there, and though to the eye of sense the taunt of the priests might be true, "Himself He cannot save," — the inmost verity of that cross is, "No man taketh My life from Me, I lay it down of Myself, because I love and will save the world."... Yet a Divine necessity for the cross there was. No saving of men from any evil can be effective but at the cost of self-sacrifice. The lamp burns out in the very act of giving light. So that, while on the one side there is necessity, on the other there is free, willing submission. It was not high priests, Pilate, soldiers, nails, that fastened Jesus to the cross. He was bound there by the cords of love, and by the bands of his own infinitely merciful purpose.

(A. Maclaren, D. D.)

I. The confession made by the bitterest enemies of the Lord Jesus. They had long tried falsehood, now they admit the truth — "He saved others." But we may go back to the earlier eras in proof of this assertion. It was He that saved Lot; the Egyptians from bondage; the people out of Babylon. He is able to save others to the uttermost of human guilt, to the uttermost of human life, to the uttermost of human time. How it comes to pass that He who saved others, could not save Himself? It was not for want of power, for He had all power in heaven and earth. It was not through any deadness to a feeling of pain; for his sensibilities were keen. It was not from any ignorance of the issue. The answer is, "He came to seek and to save, etc." The inability to save Himself was not physical.

I. It arose from the nature of the work he had undertaken. Without shedding of blood was no remission. If others were to be saved Christ must die.

II. The everlasting purpose of the Father was another reason why He could not save Himself.

III. The Saviour's free undertaking of the office of a Priest and Victim and Redeemer brought Him into the condition that while He saved others Himself He could not save. He pledged Himself to go through with the amazing work of redemption, even though hell oppose.

IV. The glory and honour of God made ,it the only alternative that while He saved others, Himself He could not save.

V. The love that He bore to us is another reason of the truth of the text. Learn:

1. The inseparable connection that subsists between the sacrifice of Jesus and the salvation of His people.

2. Deduce the length, height, depth of the love of Jesus.

3. What a fearful and obnoxious thing is sin.

4. What must be the great theme of the gospel ministry.

(J. Cumming, D. D.)

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