Luke 23
Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
Deeply interesting is this interview between the Nazarene and the Roman, the Jewish Prisoner and the Roman judge; the one then brought forth as a malefactor and now seated on the throne of the world, the other then exalted on the seat of power and now sunk to the depth of universal pity if not of universal scorn. "Art thou a King?" asks the latter, in the tone of lofty superiority. "I am," replies the former, in the tone of calm and profound assurance. W hat, then, was this kingdom of which he spoke? What was that kingdom of God, that kingdom of heaven, that "kingdom of the truth" (John 18:37) which he foretold, which he came to this world and which he laid down his life to establish? It was the sovereignty of God over all human souls. God's claim - which is not founded on prescription, nor upon force, but upon righteousness - is his claim on the reverence, the affection, the obedience, of those whom he has created, preserved, enriched, who owe to him all that he demands of them. With us, who have revolted from his rule, this means nothing less than the restoration of our loyalty, and thus our return to his likeness and to his favor as well as to his sway. We look at -

I. THE ORIGINALITY OF THE CONCEPTION. We plume ourselves upon the originality of our ideas, upon our "creations." But when did the mind of man launch on the sea of human thought such a conception as this kingdom of God? Men had entertained the idea of founding by force a widely extended empire which should command the outward homage and tribute of hundreds of thousands of men, and should last for many generations. But who ever designed a creation like this glorious "kingdom of heaven" - a world-wide sway embracing all living souls whatsoever, exercised by an unseen King, in which the service of the lip, and even that of the life, would be of no account at all without the homage of the heart and the willing subjection of the spirit, characterized by universal righteousness, and crowned by abounding peace and lasting joy?

II. THE IMMENSITY OF THE WORK TO BE ACCOMPLISHED. For what would be involved in the establishment of such a kingdom as this? Not only the formation and maintenance of a new religion that should hold up its head and keep its course amid surrounding faiths, but the utter intolerance and complete subversion of every other creed and cultus; the emptying of all the temples and all the synagogues in every laud; the dissolution of all the venerable religious institutions which were rooted in the prejudice, fixed in the affections, wrought into the habits and the lives of men; it meant the establishment in the convictions and in the conscience of mankind of a faith which came into direct collision with all its intellectual pride, with all its social selfishness, with all its powerful passions.

III. ITS SUBLIMITY AS A PURPOSE AND A HOPE. Not merely to ameliorate the circumstances and conditions of a country, or of the world at large. That would have been a noble purpose; but that would have been slight and small in comparison with the aim of Jesus Christ. His view was to put away the source of all poverty and sorrow and death; to "put away sin by the sacrifice of himself;" to found in the hearts and therefore in the lives of men a kingdom of holiness, and therefore of true and lasting blessedness; to restore to God his rightful heritage in the love of his children, and, at the same time, to restore to men everywhere their high and glorious portion in the favor and friendship, in the likeness and glory, of God. Was ever scheme, was ever hope like this - so divinely new, so magnificently great, so unapproachably sublime? 1. The way into this kingdom is by a humble, living faith. 2. The way on to its higher places is the service of sacrificial love. The path which takes us to the cross is the way to the throne. - C.

We pass now from the ecclesiastical to the secular sphere. The charge brought forward in the Sanhedrin is blasphemy; before Pilate and Herod the charge must be sedition and treason. Yet amid his unscrupulous enemies unimpeachable testimony is forthcoming of his innocence.

I. THE TESTIMONY ELICITED BY PILATE. (Vers. 1-7,) The accusation made against Christ was twofold:

(1) forbidding to pay tribute;

(2) assuming royalty.

Now, the first part of the accusation was totally false. Jesus, when asked about the tribute, had expressly advised the people to "render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's." There could be no conflict of interests between the emperor and Christ so far as tribute was concerned. Doubtless upon this first point Pilate received ample assurance that it was groundless, When, again, he inquired about Christ's royalty, he was told that his kingship was not earthly, but spiritual. Although Pilate could not grasp its exact meaning, he saw sufficient to assure him that it was on a different plane from that of Caesar's. Hence Pilate declared his innocence before his accusers. Upon this the chief priests and scribes were reduced to the complaint that he was stirring up the people from Galilee to Judaea. Strange complaint, that Jesus was rousing up his fellows! He was troubling Israel very much as Elias had done. Men are in desperate need of an accusation when they resort to this one, which merely means that the accused one is in downright earnest! As soon as Pilate hears of Christ's earnestness in Galilee, he inquires if he belongs to Herod's jurisdiction, and is happy to hand him over for trial to the Idumean.

II. THE TESTIMONY BORNE BY HEROD. (Vers. 8-12.) We have next to notice how Herod has unconsciously to testify to Christ's innocence. The murderer of the Baptist thinks, now that Jesus is brought before him, that he has only to express a wish for a miracle, and it will be gratified. To his great surprise and humiliation he receives no answer to his numerous questions; nor do the fierce calumnies of the Jews elicit from the meek Messiah a single word in mitigation or defense. The treatment of Herod was that of silent contempt. The wicked king deserved no other fate. And his only revenge was to mock Christ and set him at naught. So they array him in a robe such as the high priests wore, white and brilliant, indicating at once what he pretended to be and how innocent he really was. Herod, in sending him back in this scornful fashion, conveyed to Pilate's mind clearly that he had no more fault to find with him than the Roman governor had. This was the second testimony to the innocency of Jesus.

III. THE TESTIMONY IMPLIED BY THE DEMAND FOR BARABBAS. (Vers. 13-19.) In no clearer way could the chief priests have shown the utter groundlessness of their first charge than in demanding Barabbas in preference to Jesus. Here was a real rebel, who had committed murder in the insurrection, and he is made the idol of the Jewish populace. They show in this their sympathy with sedition. They show clearly to Pilate that Jesus must be thwarting in some way their seditious designs, else they would not clamor so eagerly for his blood. Instead of substantiating their accusation against Jesus, therefore, they really formulate an accusation of treason against themselves. They were guilty; he was innocent. They were the dangerous class; Jesus occupied a region altogether outside the interests of Caesar.

IV. JESUS SACRIFICED TO POPULAR CLAMOUR. (Vers. 20-25.) There is no show of justice in condemning Christ. All accusation against him fails, and all which can be done is to shout him down. If Jesus be not crucified, Jerusalem will go into revolt. Will not an emeute be worse than the death of an individual? And so the worldly governor, charged by Rome to keep the peace in the province at all hazards, prefers to deliver the innocent to the will of the guilty than to brave their wrath. It is clamor that secures his condemnation. The judge, who should be the protector of the innocent, unites with the populace in doing him to death. Alas! that men should be so bent on peace as to be ready to sacrifice the innocent to secure it! And yet our Lord's character never shone with so bright a lustre as when he submitted to such wrongs as these. He was truly meek and lowly in heart when he bore so quietly the wrath of the Jews and the time-serving policies of Pilate and Herod. This friendship of Herod and of Pilate, resting on a common indifference to Jesus, is the emblem of those worldly truces which men make who wish to enjoy immunity from trouble; but they do not wear well. - R.M.E.

Beautiful in the last degree, as a moral spectacle, is the sight of the meek but mighty Savior in the presence of the scornful human sovereign. But there are many lessons which we may gather on our way to that striking scene.

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.

Twice (see ver. 22) Pilate made this offer to the Jews. He would chastise Jesus and release him; he would thus gratify them by putting the Object of their hatred to pain and humiliation, and he would satisfy his own conscience by saving an innocent man from the last extremity. It was a poor and a guilty compromise he proposed as a solution. If Jesus were as guilty as they claimed that he was, he deserved to die, and Pilate was in duty bound to condemn him to death; if he were innocent, he certainly ought not to have been subjected to the exposure and agony of scourging. It was a cowardly and ignoble endeavor to save himself at the expense either of public or of individual justice. Compromises are of very different character. There are compromises which are -

I. JUST, AND THEREFORE HONOURABLE. Two men in business have claims one against the other, and one cannot convince the other by argument; the proposal is made to adjust their respective claims by a compromise, each man consenting to forego something, the concession of the one being taken as a fair equivalent to that of the other: this is honorable to both. It very probably results in each man getting what is his due, and it saves both from the misery and expense of Litigation, and preserves good will and even friendship.

II. WISE, AND THEREFORE COMMENDABLE. A society - it may be of a distinctly religious character - is divided by its members holding opposite opinions. Some advocate one course, the others urge a different one. The idea is suggested that a third course be adopted, which includes some features of the two; there is no serious principle involved, it is only a matter of procedure, a question of expediency. Then it will probably be found to be the wisdom of that society to accept the proposed compromise. Every one present has the double advantage of securing something which he approves, and (what is really better, if it could but be realized) that of yielding something to the wishes or the convictions of other people.

III. GUILTY, AND THEREFORE CONDEMNABLE. Such was that of the text. Such have been innumerable others since then. All are guilty that are effected:

1. At the expense of truth. The teacher of Divine truth may bring his doctrine down to the level of his hearers' understanding; he may make known the great verities of the faith "in many portions" (πολυμερῶς); but he may not, in order to "please men," distort or withhold the living truth of God. If he does that he shows himself unworthy of his office, and he exposes himself to the severe condemnation of his Divine Master.

2. At the expense of justice. However anxious we may be to preserve outward harmony, we may not, for the sake of peace, do any one man a wrong; may not asperse his character, injure his prospects, wound his spirit. Rather than do that, we must face the storm, and guide our bark as best we can.

3. At the expense of self-respect. If Pilate had been less hardened than he probably was, less accustomed to the infliction of human pain and shame, he would have gone back to the interior of his house ashamed of himself, as he thought of the lacerating scene that immediately followed that mockery of a trial. If we cannot yield without inflicting on our own soul a real spiritual injury, without doing (or leaving undone) an action the remembrance of which will not only shame but weaken us, then we must not compromise the matter in dispute. We must tell our tale, whatever it may be; we must make our motion, whomsoever it may offend; we must walk straight on in the road of rectitude, in the path of humanity. - C.

It is true that Pilate's opinion concerning Jesus of Nazareth was very different indeed from that of his accusers; but he little imagined chat it would be to that poor suffering Prisoner that he would owe such immortality as he is to enjoy. Yet so it is; it is only because we are disciples of Jesus Christ that we care to ask who and what was Pilate. He is nothing but the gold upon the altar. In considering the elements of his character, we note -

I. THAT HE WAS POSSESSED OF ENERGY AND ENTERPRISE. He would hardly have reached the station he occupied, or held it as long as he did, if he had not had these two qualities in his character.

II. THAT HE WAS NOT DEVOID OF SPIRITUAL DISCERNMENT. It is clear that he was much impressed by all that he saw of Jesus. The calmness, patience, and nobility of our Lord called forth from Pilate a sincere respect. There was genuine admiration in his heart as he led forth the Divine Sufferer and exclaimed, "Behold the Man!" He was affected, and even awed, by the moral greatness he was witnessing, he may also have been moved to pity.

III. THAT HIS WORLDLINESS HAD WORN OUT HIS FAITH. He had probably had his visions, in earlier days, of the sacredness and supremacy of truth; he had indulged his idea of what was morally good and sound, more to be desired than riches, more to be pursued than honor or authority. But a life of worldliness bad done for him what it will do for any of its votaries - it had eaten away his early faith; it had caused his fairest views and noblest purposes to melt and to disappear; it had left his spirit "naked to his enemies," without any assured belief in any one or in anything. "To bear witness to the truth." "What's truth?" asks the poor sceptic, whose soul was empty of all sustaining trust, of all ennobling hope.

IV. THAT HE HAD COME TO SUBORDINATE RIGHTEOUSNESS TO POLICY. That Prisoner on his hands was innocent: of that he was well assured. He would not condemn him to a cruel death unless he was obliged to do so. But he must not push his preference for righteousness too far. He must not seriously endanger his own position; he must not put a handle into the power of his enemies. No; rather than that, this pure and holy One must be scourged, must even die the death. As the trial proceeds, it appears that he is exciting a very strong hostility to himself. Let the poor Man go, then, to his doom; one more act of injustice, however regrettable in itself, will not make much difference. "And Pilate gave sentence that it should be as they required."


1. Outward circumstances prove very little. It is the judge whom we pity now; it is the bound and buffeted, the maltreated and maligned Prisoner whom we now honor and emulate.

2. Real strength is in righteousness and in love. Unrighteousness and selfishness, in the person of Pilate, resorted to shifts and expedients, and vacillated again and again between obligation and self-interest. Flawless integrity and abounding love for man, in the person of Jesus Christ, wavered not for an instant, but pursued its holy and gracious purpose through pain and shame. Policy prevails for a very little while; it goes back to its palace, but its end is exile and suicide. Poverty and love go through the deep darkness of earth to the unshadowed glory of the skies. - C.

Here we have an illustration of -

I. HUMAN VIOLENCE. "They laid hold upon" one Simon, and "him they compelled" (Matthew 27:32) to bear his cross. What right had these Roman soldiers to impress this stranger into their service? What claim had they upon him? By what law of rectitude did they arrest him as he was entering the city, and insist on his bearing a burden, and going whither he would not? What justified them in laying hands upon him and violently enforcing this service? None whatever; nothing whatsoever. It was only another instance of the unscrupulousness of human power. Thus has it been everywhere and always. Let men but feel that they have the mastery, that theirs is the more powerful mind, the firmer will, the stronger hand, and they will ask no leave, consult no law, be restrained by no consideration of conscience. The history of man, where not under special Divine direction, has been the history of the assertion of strength over weakness; that has been the course of national, of tribal, of family, of individual life. The strong man, well armed, has "laid hold upon" the weak man, and laid some burden upon him to carry. He has virtually said, "I can command your labor, serve me; if you refuse to do so, you shall pay some penalty of my own choosing." Human violence

(1) is essentially unrighteous, for it is based on no claim that can be properly so called;

(2) has been found to be shamelessly unmerciful;

(3) has been gradually, though slowly, subjected to the great rule of Christ (Matthew 7:12);

(4) is destined in time to make way for the rule of righteousness.

II. DIVINE PERSUASIVENESS. God does not compel us to serve him. He may, indeed, so wisely overrule all things as to make the life deliberately withheld from him or the action directed against him (e.g. the act of betrayal by Judas) contribute to the final issue; but he does not force the individual soul to serve him. Jesus Christ does not compel us to his service. It is true that his invitations have the authority of a command; but his commands have the sweetness of invitations.

1. He invites us to approach him and seek his favor. "Come unto me all ye that labor" is not a severe command; it is a most gracious invitation. "Whosoever believeth on me hath everlasting life" is not a peremptory injunction; it is a welcome and generous announcement. And while it is indeed true that Christ says, imperatively "Follow me!" it is also true that he does not force any one into his company; he makes his appeal to our conscience and conviction; he will not have any in his service who do not freely and whole-heartedly consent to come.

2. He graciously influences us, that we may see and follow the true light. Paul, indeed, does speak of Christ as "apprehending," or laying hold of, him (Philippians 3:12). But this referred to the very exceptional manifestation of his Divine power, and the language is strongly figurative. The Spirit of God does illumine our understanding and affect our heart; but he does not compel us to decide without the consent of our own will. In the last resort we have to "choose life" or death.

3. He summons us to a full discipleship by following him as one that bore a cross (Luke 9:23; Matthew 16:24). He lets us know that we shall not meet with iris full approval if we do not bear the cross after him, if we do not follow him in the path of sacrificial love. But there is truest kindness, both of substance and manner, in this his urgent challenge.

4. He promises us inward rest here, and a large reward hereafter, if we do hear his voice and do thus follow him. Between human compulsion and Divine invitation or Divine constraint, there is exceeding breadth: the one is an intolerable tyranny; the other is essential righteousness, and introduces to true liberty, to spiritual rest, to abiding joy. - C.

Delivered unto the will of the Jews by the indecision of Pilate, Jesus accepts the cross, and proceeds under its crushing weight towards Calvary. But seeing him fainting under it, they press Simon the Cyrenian into service, and he has the everlasting honor of carrying the end of the beam after Jesus. Thus is it in all life's burdens - the weighty end of them is carried by the sympathetic Master, while the lighter end he allows his people to carry after him. And here we must notice -

I. HIS CONSIDERATION FOR JERUSALEM'S WEEPING DAUGHTERS. (Vers. 27-31.) The victim of 'Rome's cruelty, he has enlisted the sympathy of many weeping women. They see in his death the departure of their best earthly Friend. It is the moment of their deepest sorrow. But Jesus tells them to reserve their tears for themselves. This death of his will lead inevitably to the destruction of Jerusalem and to the dire calamities of the nation. These will be much more lamentable than any sorrows through which he is now to pass. Why, then, does he call upon them to weep? Manifestly that their timely repentance may ensure their escaping the troubles which are so surely coming upon the earth. But the self-forgetful attitude of Jesus is surely most instructive. He thinks not of himself, but of their hard case, even though on his journey to the cross. It is the most perfect consideration for others' welfare, and the most beautiful forgetfulness of one's own, that he here exhibits.

II. HE WAS NUMBERED WITH THE TRANSGRESSORS. (Vers. 32, 33.) There was something peculiarly contemptuous in the arrangement of Jesus between two notable criminals. They were robbers - perhaps had been associates of Barabbas. They had committed, most probably, murder in the insurrection, so that the cross was the rightful end of such careers. But to number Jesus, the innocent, with them, to make him one with the greatest criminals then available, was diabolical! And yet he does not protest. Nay, he is willing to be thus identified that he may save even one of his associates. And yet, is not this arrangement, which numbered him with the transgressors, simply the outward expression of the great fact which is the foundation of our salvation? ]f Jesus had not voluntarily taken up the position of substitute, and identified himself with sinners, we should never have been redeemed.

III. INTERCESSION FROM THE CROSS. (Ver. 34.) It was ignorance on the part of many which led to this great crime, but culpable ignorance. They should have known better. They needed forgiveness for it. They are the subjects of his intercession. He prays. "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." There never had been such a forgiving spirit manifested since the world began. No wonder that the dying scenes took on ever after a new halo, and that martyrs were able, in spite of suffering, to forgive their murderers and intercede for their salvation! It was the glory of patience which was manifested upon the cross.

IV. THE CHARGE OF SELF-NEGLECT. (Vers. 35-38.) As they walk round the cross in their selfishness, the Jews charge Jesus with self-neglect. He had saved others, but now he does not try to save himself. If he would only show that he can take care of "number one," they would believe on him. Assuredly we have here the self-revelation of the world. The world believes in the selfish, self-seeking leaders of men. A Napoleon or Caesar, who is willing to sacrifice millions of men to gratify his ambition, is believed in - at all events for a time! But Jesus, who sacrifices himself, is derided. Yet in the end the kingship of the self-sacrificing Savior is acknowledged. The true King of the Jews is he who could lay down his life for his subjects, and so redeem them.

V. THE FIRST RECOGNIZER OF CHRIST'S KINGSHIP. (Vers. 39-43.) One in the vast assemblage, however, sees below the surface, and recognizes the sovereignty of self sacrifice. At first reviling Christ, he had come to see, beneath the meek exterior of the Savior, the real regal spirit. Hence he changes sides, begins to rebuke the other malefactor who continues his unholy maledictions, and then quietly implores the Lord to remember him when he comes in his kingdom. The poor robber, who had perhaps fought under some false Messiah, and knew what Jewish hopes were, believes that this meek and suffering One upon the cross beside him will yet come to his kingdom. When that advent is to be he knows not. But even in the far-off time it will be well for him to be remembered by him. Thus he prays, and is answered. But "To. day shalt thou be with me in Paradise," is the blessed hope set before him. Paradise is part of his kingdom, and the dying robber will be with Jesus in its peaceful bowers that very day. What a hope to be opened up to the dying man! What comfort it gave him, and should give to us!

VI. THE CONSUMMATION. (Vers. 44-46.) After these preliminaries are settled, the dealing of Jesus with the Father himself comes on. It was meet that a veil of darkness should surround the suffering Son and the righteous Father. The Priest and the Victim, who offered himself without spot to God, should in deep darkness pass through the act of unexampled worship. No wonder also that the veil of the temple was rent in the midst; for it was exactly this which his death secured - a way into the holiest through the rent veil of his flesh. And then, when the cry of desolation, that loud and bitter cry, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" had given place to quiet assurance, and amid returning light the last cry from the cross went up to heaven, "Father, into thy hands! commend my spirit!" it was meet that he should quietly surrender his life and give up the ghost. There is much to encourage and strengthen us in this consummation on the cross. - R.M.E.

Before reaching Calvary an interesting and instructive incident occurred. Among the tumultuous crowd that surged round the soldiers and their victims were many women. These were better away, we are disposed to think, from a scene so brutal and so harrowing as this. But we will believe that something better than curiosity, that gratitude, that affection, that womanly pity, drew them, spite of their natural shrinking, to this last sad ending. By whatever motives impelled, they were certainly moved to strong compassion as they saw the Prophet of Nazareth, the great Healer and Teacher, led forth to die. Their loud laments did not fall on the ear of One too occupied with his own impending doom to hear and heed them. Our Lord made to these weeping women the reply which is here recorded, longer and fuller than we should have supposed the circumstances would allow. It suggests to us -

I. THAT HUMAN DISTRESS NEVER FAILS TO REACH AND TOUCH HIM. If there were any moments in his life when he might have been preoccupied, and might not have noticed the sounds of sorrow, it was this hour of his agony, this hour when the weight of the world's sin rested on his soul, when the great sacrifice was in the very act of being offered. Yet even then he heard and stopped to console the troubled. An appeal to Jesus Christ in circumstances of sorrow is never ill-timed.

II. THAT SUCH SYMPATHY WITH JESUS CHRIST IS ENTIRELY OUT OF PLACE. "Weep not for me." Some men speak and act as if it were appropriate to express sympathy with the Savior on account of his sufferings. It is, indeed, impossible to read the story of his last hours, and realize what it all meant, without having our sympathetic feeling very keenly quickened; but Jesus Christ does not ask that we should express to him, or to one another, our sympathy with him as One that then suffered. These sufferings are past; they have placed him upon the throne of the world; they have made brighter than ever his celestial crown, deeper than ever his heavenly joy. So far as we are concerned, and so far as they speak of our sin, they may well humble us; in so far as he is concerned, we rejoice with him that he "was perfected through suffering.'"

III. THAT A HOLY SOLICITUDE FOR OURSELVES AND OURS IS OFTEN THE MOST APPROPRIATE SENTIMENT. "Weep for yourselves, and for your children." We know well what reason these Jewish women had, both as patriots and as mothers, to be concerned for the fate that threatened their country and their homes. Our Lord certainly would not condemn, would not disparage, an unselfish sympathy. He who wept at Bethany, and whose law of love was the law that covered and inspired a gracious burden-bearing (Galatians 6:2), could not possibly do that. Indeed, we seldom stand nearer to his side than when we "weep with them that weep." But there are many times when we are tempted to be troubled by our brother's smaller difficulty instead of being concerned about our own much greater one. Do not be blind to the bodily pains or the circumstantial struggles of your neighbor; but look eagerly and earnestly to the rent which is opening in your own reputation, to the gap that is increasingly visible in your own consistency, to the fact that you are palpably descending the slope which leads down to spiritual ruin.


V. THAT SIN AND PUNISHMENT BECOME DEEPER AND NEARER AS TIME GOES ON. The green tree is exposed to the consuming fire; but the green tree in time becomes the dry, and how much more certain and more fierce then will be the devouring flame! The nation goes from bad to worse, from the worse to the worst; from dark to darker guilt, from condemnation to calamity. So does a human soul, unguided by heavenly truth and unguarded by holy principle. At any and every time in danger, its peril becomes continually greater as its guilt becomes constantly deeper. Go not one step further in the course of sin, in the way of worldliness, into the "far country" of forgetfullness. Each step is an approach to a precipice. Return on thy way without a moment's lingering. - C.

Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do. When - at what particular point did he say that? It is commonly believed that he uttered this most gracious prayer just at the time of the actual crucifixion. Just when the nails were driven into those hands, the hands that had constantly been employed in some ministry of mercy; into those feet that had been continually carrying him on some errand of kindness; or just when the heavy cross, with its suffering Victim fastened upon it, had been driven into the ground with unpitying violence; - just then, at the moment of most excruciating pain and of intolerable shame, he opened his lips to pray for mercy on his executioners. We have here -


1. Conscious, not only of perfect innocence, but of the purest and even the loftiest aims, Jesus Christ found himself not only unrewarded and unappreciated, but misunderstood, ill treated, condemned on a totally false charge, sentenced to the most cruel and shameful death a man could die. What wonder if, under those conditions, all the kindliness of his nature had turned to sourness of spirit!

2. At this very moment he was the object of the most heartless cruelty man could inflict, and must have been suffering pain of body and of mind that was literally agonizing.

3. At such a time, and under such treatment, he forgets himself to remember the guilt of those who were so shamefully wronging him.

4. Instead of entertaining any feeling of resentment, he desired that they might be forgiven their wrong-doing.

5. He did not haughtily and contemptuously decline to condemn them; he did not hardly and reluctantly forgive them; he found for them a generous extenuation; he sincerely prayed his heavenly Father to forgive them. Human magnanimity could hardly go further than that.

II. A BEAUTIFUL EXAMPLE OF HIS OWN LOFTY DOCTRINE. When in his great sermon, (Matthew 5-7.) he said, "Love your enemies... pray for them which despitefully use and persecute you, that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven," he urged upon us to cherish and to illustrate the loftiest virtue on the highest grounds. This he now beautifully, perfectly exemplified. He was literally and truly praying for those who were using him despitefully, As the greatest generals and captains have proudly and honourably claimed that they "never bade men do that which they were not willing to do themselves," so this our glorious Leader, he who came to be the "Leader and Perfecter of the faith" (Hebrews 12:2: Alford), never desired of us any virtue or grace which he did not possess and did not himself adorn. He could and did say to his disciples, not only," Go thither in the way of righteousness," but also, "Follow me in every path of purity and love." We may well love our enemies, and pray for those who despitefully use us, that we may be the children of our Father in heaven, and that we may be followers of our patient, magnanimous Master. And it is here, truly, that we have -


1. To pray sincerely for those who do us wrong is one of the very highest points, if not actually the very loftiest, of human magnanimity. To dismiss all vindictive purpose, all resentful thought; to look at our enemy's procedure in a kindly light, and to take, as Christ did here, a generous view of it; to cherish a positive wish for his good; to put this wish into action, into prayer; - by these stages we reach the summit of nobility.

2. This is an attainment we should sedulously and devoutly pursue. There are those of noble nature, men and women whom God endows with a most "excellent spirit," to whom this may be plain and easy; to them it is not a steep ascent to be laboriously climbed, but a gentle slope along which they can walk without difficulty. But to most men it is an attainment and not an endowment. It is an attainment which ban only be secured by earnest and continued cultivation. But we have for this great end the most effectual means:

(1) the realization of the near presence of God, and the knowledge of his Divine approval;

(2) the sense that when we succeed we win the greatest of all victories;

(3) the efficacy of prayer - its subjective influence, and the aid which it brings us from above;

(4) the inspiration of our Lord's example, and that of his most faithful followers (Acts 7:60; 2 Timothy 4:16). - C.

They know not what they do. There is more in our actions, and therefore in our life, than there seems to be to ourselves (see "The largeness of Our life," homily on Luke 10:16). There is more of good; more also of evil. These soldiers imagined that they were doing nothing more than executing a malefactor. They were murdering a Messiah; they were putting to death the Son of Man, the Savior of mankind. They knew not what they did; they did not recognize the extreme seriousness, the actual awfulness, of the crime they were committing. Thus is it constantly. We suppose ourselves to be doing something of very little consequence; but he who knows the realities and the issues of all things sees in our action something far more serious than we see. We know not what we do when we err from the straight line of moral and spiritual rectitude. We do not know -

I. HOW WE HURT A HUMAN SPIRIT WHEN WE WOUND IT. Whether this be by something said or done, by a glance of the eye, by the withholding of the expected word or action, we often wound more deeply than we think. We suppose we have caused a momentary irritation. If we knew all, we should know that we have produced a soreness of feeling, a keenness of disappointment, or (it may be) a depth of distress, which it will take weeks or months to heal.

II. HOW WE WRONG OURSELVES WHEN WE SIN AGAINST OUR CONSCIENCE, It is, we assure ourselves, a very slight deviation from rectitude; it is a negligence for which we can easily make up a little further on. But, in truth, we have begun a slow, steady, spiritual descent, which will take us to the bottom. We know not what we do when we take the first step in moral laxity. We have started our soul on an evil course; we have done ourselves a wrong which we quite fail to measure.

III. HOW WE DAMAGE ANOTHER'S CHARACTER WHEN' WE INJURE IT. We have only induced our neighbor to take a step which will open his eyes to that which he ought to know. So we say, and perhaps think. But, in fact, we have done much more than that. We have led him to do that which has injured his conscience, which has weakened his self respect, which has enfeebled his character. He will be less strong, henceforth, in the evil hour of temptation; he will be more open to attack, less likely to resist and to conquer his adversary. When we lead into temptation and sin, we "know not what we do."

IV. HOW WE GRIEVE OUR SAVIOUR WHEN WE DISOBEY OR DISHONOUR HIM, We do not know how much he expects of his disciples, especially of those who have such opportunities as we have of knowing and doing his will - how much attachment, how strong an affection, how quick an obedience, how full and patient a submission, he has a right to look for, and does wait to receive. And we do not know the fullness and intensity of his feeling of disappointment and sorrow when we fail him. The disciples did not know what they did, how grievously they failed, when they slept in that hour through which they should have watched. What depth of touching, tenderest pathos we hear in these words of gentle remonstrance: "Could ye not watch with me one hour?"

V. HOW WE HINDER THE CAUSE OF CHRIST when we discredit it. We think, perhaps, that the evil impression we have conveyed by our inconsistency will soon be forgotten, lost entirely in the current of human affairs. But more harm is done than we know or think. Some souls are shocked, scandalized, injured; their faith is lessened, perhaps pierced; they will not count for Christ what they would have counted. Springs of anti-Christian influence are started: who shall say whither they will flow?

VI. HOW WE SIN AGAINST GOD WHEN WE WITHHOLD FROM HIM OURSELVES AND OUR SERVICE. We may imagine that we are only delaying till a more suitable or convenient time the duty we intend to discharge. But we are really disobeying a Divine command; we are refusing a Divine invitation; we are continuing in open rebellion, in unfilial estrangement. We are seriously sinning against our heavenly Father, our merciful Savior, our rightful and righteous Sovereign.

1. Our ignorance of "what we do" is. in part a necessity of our finite nature; for we cannot possibly look down into the depth of things; nor can we look on to the final issues. This is beyond the compass of our powers.

2. But it is in part also the fault of our character. We do not think, we do "not consider" (Isaiah 1:3), we do not inquire. We do not use as we might our spiritual faculties. More patient, prayerful consideration of "what we do" would save us from many errors, many wrongs, and also from many painful memories and much self-reproach. - C.

And the people stood beholding. "Sitting down they watched him there" (Matthew 27:36). Shall we envy those spectators the scene they then witnessed? Shall we wish that we had lived when, with our mortal eyes, we could have seen the Savior crucified on our behalf? I think not. With this distance of time and space between us, we have a better, truer standpoint where we are. No doubt we lose much by that distance; but we gain at least as much as we lose. To those who "stood beholding," or who "sat and watched," there was -


1. A human being suffering the last extremity of pain and shame. Some among that company could look upon that scene with positive enjoyment, some with stolid indifference; but those of whom we think, the disciples, would witness it with intense, heart-piercing sympathy, with utmost agitation of spirit. His suffering must, in a large degree, have been theirs also - theirs in proportion to the love they bore him.

2. A Prophet who had failed to be appreciated, and was now a martyr nobly dying in attestation of the truth.

3. A sacred cause losing its Chief and Champion; a cause being wounded and almost certainly slain in the person of its Founder and Exponent. For who could hope that there would be found amongst his disciples any that would take the standard from his hands, and bear it on to victory? For Christ to die was for Christianity to perish. Such was the spectacle on which his disciples looked as they gathered about his cross. The scene was more vivid, more impressive, more powerfully affecting, as thus enacted before their eyes; but we see in reality more than they did. We have before us -

II. THE SUPREME VISION on which we can gaze on earth. We see:

1. One who once suffered and died, but whose agony is over; whose pain and sorrow are not now to him sources of evil, but, on the other hand, the ground and the occasion of purest joy and highest honor (see homily on vers. 27-31). Had we been present then, we must have shrunk teem the spectacle before us as too painful for sensitiveness to endure. Now we can bear to dwell on his dying and his death, because the element of overwhelming and blinding sympathy is happily withdrawn.

2. A grand spiritual victory. We do not see in the crucified prophet One that was defeated; we see One that told us all that he came to tell, communicating to us all the knowledge we need in order to live our higher life on earth, and to prepare for the heavenly life beyond; that was not prevented from delivering any part of his Divine message; that completed all he came to do; that was amply entitled to say, as he did before he died, "It is finished.

3. A Divine Redeemer ensuring, by his death, the triumph of his cause. Had he not died as he did, had he saved himself as he was taunted and challenged to do, had he not gone on to that bitter end and drunk that bitter cup even to the dregs, then he would have failed. But because he suffered unto death, he triumphed gloriously, and became the Author of eternal salvation to all them that believe." This is the supreme vision of human souls. We do well to gaze on nobility as we see it illustrated in human lives around us. We do well to look long and lovingly on human virtue as manifested in the lives and deaths of the glorious army of martyrs. But there is no vision so well worthy of our view; of our frequent, our constant, our protracted and intense beholding, as that of the merciful and mighty Savior dying for our sins, dying in wondrous love that he might draw us to himself and restore us to our Father and our home. Before our eyes Christ crucified is conspicuously set forth (Galatians 3:1); and if we would have forgiveness of sin, rest of soul, worthiness of spirit, nobility of life, hope in death, a blessed immortality, we must direct our eyes unto him who was once "lifted up" that he might be the Refuge, the Friend, the Lord, the Savior of the world to the end of time. Better than the saddest spectacle man ever saw is that supreme vision which is the hope and the life of each looking and trusting human heart. - C.

We have two things here of which the latter is much the more worth looking at.

I. INHUMANITY AT ITS LOWEST. There are many degrees of inhumanity.

1. It is bad for men or women deliberately to shut themselves out of the society of the wrong and miserable, in order that, without distraction, they may minister to their own comfort or consult their own well-being..

2. It is worse to look on the wounded traveler as he lies within sight and reach of us, and to pass him coldly by "on the other side."

3. It is worse still to regard the overthrow of human greatness or prosperity with positive satisfaction of spirit, to find a guilty enjoyment in the humiliation of another.

4. It is worst of all to do as did these men at the cross - to mock at human misery, to taunt it in the hour of its agony, to add another pang to the keen sufferings that already lacerate the soul. Alas! what may not men become! what positively awful possibilities of evil are wrapt up in every human soul! that tiny hand, so soft and delicate, so beautiful, so harmless, what blow may it not possibly strike, some day, against all that is most sacred and most precious! It makes all the difference whether, under Christian principles, we are steadily climbing up toward that which is holy and Divine; or whether, under the dominion of evil forces, we are slowly sliding down toward all that is wrong and base. What an argument for ranging ourselves, while yet young, under the guidance of Jesus Christ, the Righteous and the Gracious One!


1. The extremity of evil to which our Lord was then submitting; the most excruciating bodily pain; the most terrible and almost intolerable mental distress; the apprehension of approaching death.

2. The powerful temptation presented to him to deliver himself from it all. By one volition of his will he could have descended from the cross, thus releasing himself and confounding his enemies. He had

(1) the strongest possible inducement to do this from the instincts of the nature he had assumed;

(2) the strongest possible provocation to do this in the bitter and cruel taunts of his enemies.

3. His most magnanimous refusal to exert his power in his own favor. He heard those derisive cries, but he heeded them not. He let those revilers think that he was unable to save himself; he knew that if he did save himself he could not save others (Matthew 27:42). So he voluntarily continued to endure all that torture of body, to bear all that burden of shame and agony of spirit, to go on and down into the deepening shadow of death. Surely spiritual nobility could never strike a higher note than that, could never reach a loftier summit than that. How far can we follow our Lord along this upward path? There have been men who, at a certain point in their career, have clearly foreseen a dark and deathful ending, who have been entreated by their friends to go no further, to stand aside, to "save themselves" and think no more about the salvation of others (see Acts 21:12). And it is quite possible that, though we shall never be placed in a position just like that of our Master, we may have the choice offered us which was then offered him - we may have to choose between saving ourselves and leaving others to their fate on the one hand, or sacrificing ourselves and saving our fellows on the other hand. It' that choice should be presented to us, what should we do? The answer depends very much on the measure of the spirit of unselfishness we are cherishing and practising continually.

(1) Before us is a noble opportunity - that of teaching, enlightening, (instrumentally) redeeming men; but

(2) we cannot use this opportunity to any extent without self-sacrifice. If we are determined to "save ourselves," we shall do but very little in the work of saving others.

(3) We must choose between the two: either we must resolve to spare ourselves expenditure and endurance, and let the work of human elevation go on without our help; or we must resolve not to spare ourselves, not to save time or money, or trouble, or health, not to spare ourselves uncongenial acts or unpleasant endurances, that men may learn what they know not, may see that to which they are yet blind, that they may be led out of exile into the kingdom of God. If we are keeping our Master well in view, especially if we are beholding him on the cross refusing to save himself though challenged with utmost bitterness to do so, we also shall make the nobler choice. - C.

These verses narrate what we may call a standard fact of the gospel of Christina fact to which appeal will always be made, as it has always been made, in reference to a late repentance. We have to consider -

I. THE BREVITY WITH WHICH A GREAT' SPIRITUAL REVOLUTION MAY BE WROUGHT IN A HUMAN MIND. Twelve hours before, this man was a hardened criminal, habituated to a life of rapacious and murderous violence; his counterpart is to be found to-day in the cells of a penal establishment. And now, after a short companionship with Jesus, after hearing him speak and seeing him suffer, his heart is purged and cleansed of its iniquity, he is another man, he is a child of God, an heir of heaven. There are great capacities in these human souls of ours, which do not come often into exercise, but which are actually within us. Powerful speech, imminent peril, great emergencies, sudden inspiration from God, - these and other things will call them forth; there is a brilliant flash of remembrance, or of emotion, or of realization, or of conviction and resolution. And then that which is ordinarily wrought in many days or months is accomplished in an hour. The movements of our mind are not subject to any time-table calculations whatsoever. No man can define the limit of possibility here. Great revolutions can be and have been wrought almost momentarily. Not slowly toiling upward step by step, but more swiftly than the uprising of the strongest bird upon fleetest wing, may the human soul ascend from the darkness of death into the radiant sunshine of hope and life.


1. He recognizes the existence and the power and the providence of God (ver. 40).

2. He has a sense of the turpitude of his own conduct, a due sense of sin (ver. 41).

3. He recognizes the innocence and excellence of Jesus Christ (ver. 41).

4. He believes in his real royalty, though it is so hidden from sight, and though circumstances are so terribly against it (ver. 42).

5. He believes in the pitifulness as well as the power of this kingly Sufferer, and he makes his humble but not unhopeful appeal to his remembrance.

6. He does the one thing for Christ he can do as he is dying on the cross - he remonstrates with his companion in crime, and seeks to silence his cruel taunts. Here is penitence, faith, service, all springing up and in earnest exercise in this brief hour.

III. A SUDDEN TRANSITION FROM THE LOWEST TO THE HIGHEST ESTATE. (Ver. 43.) "What a day to that dying man! How strange a contrast between its opening and its close, its morning and its night! Its morning saw him a culprit condemned before the bar of earthly judgment; before evening shadowed the hill of Zion he stood accepted at the bar of heaven. The morning saw him led out through an earthly city's gates in company with One who was hooted at by the crowd that gathered round him; before night fell upon Jerusalem the gates of another city, even the heavenly, were lifted up, and he went through them in company with One around whom all the hosts of heaven were bowing down as he passed to take his place beside the Father on his everlasting throne" (Hanna). In view of this most interesting fact we gather two lessons.

1. One of hopefulness. It is never too late to repent; in other words, repentance, when real, is never ineffectual. None could be more undeniably impenitent until within a few hours of his death than this malefactor, and no man's penitence could be more decisively availing than his. It was real and thorough, and therefore it was accepted. It is a great thing for those who speak for Christ to be warranted, as they are, in going to the dying and despairing, and telling these departing ones, that true penitence, however late, avails with God; that his ear is not closed against the sigh of the contrite, even at the last hour of the day; that up to the last there is mercy to be had by them who truly seek it. But there is another lesson to be learnt.

2. One of warning and of fear. There is every reason to hope that true though late repentance is always accepted; but there is grave reason to fear that late repentance is seldom real and true. How often does experience prove that men in apparently dying hours have believed themselves to be penitent when they have only been apprehensive of coming doom! The dread of approaching judgment is far from being the same thing as repentance unto life. Not the last hour, when a selfish dread may be so easily mistaken for spiritual conviction, but the day of health and strength, when conviction can pass into action and honest shame into faithful service, is the time to turn from sin and to seek the face and the favor of the living God. Let none despair, but let none presume. - C.

The darkness which fell upon Jerusalem at midday and enshrouded the scene of the Crucifixion was a phenomenon for which it is impossible to account physically, and which it is not easy to explain morally. It is a matter for reverent conjecture, for thoughtful and devout inference, for sacred and solemn imagination. We are on sure ground when we say that it came from the Divine Father, and came on behalf of his beloved Son. We do not venture much when we suggest that it came in response to that Son's appeal in this dark "day of his flesh" (Hebrews 5:7). We may do well to consider what was the probable impression it made on those who were concerned in that sad and sacred scene.

I. ON THE LEADERS OF THE PEOPLE. Surely they were smitten with consternation. One would suppose that, as these men witnessed the wonderful works of Christ, some doubts as to the rightness of their antagonism to him must have darted into their minds, and that beneath their confident and defiant attitude of enmity there must have lain some secret misgivings as to the course they were taking. Probably they were not without their fears that something would happen at the last to disappoint them. But as the day wore on, and Jesus actually hung upon the cross, and his strength was certainly going, and the people quietly acquiesced if they did not possibly "assist," all seemed to be satisfactory, to be indeed triumphant. When, lo! a strange, unaccountable darkness, an impenetrable obscurity! The sun refuses to shine at midday. No man sees his fellow, or sees him only in the faintest light. The Crucified One is screened from view. The scoffs and shouts are silenced, and there is a terrible stillness and solemnity. What can that mean? God is speaking in his own chosen way, and is rebuking their guilty deed. There is a quaking at the proud Pharisee's heart, a trembling in the soul of the scribe; there are no more taunts from their bitter lips; an unspeakable terror invades even their closed hearts which no casuistry can bar. Is it, then, the blood of their Messiah that they have been shedding?

II. ON THE MULTITUDE. How must they have been subdued with awe, if not agitated with wild alarm! How overwhelming to their less cultured minds must so astounding an event have been! "Whither," we hear them say, "have our rulers led us? Surely there is something sacred and Divine in this Galilaean Prophet! Heaven is pronouncing in his favor. Have we crucified our King? Will his blood be upon us?" and the daughters of Jerusalem already begin to weep for themselves and for their children, as they think that some great calamity impends.

III. ON THE ROMAN SOLDIER. Trained to face peril and to be calm even in the presence of overshadowing death, he probably remained quiet and firm, the least moved of all the throng. Nothing could be done, and he would lean on his spear, waiting the centurion's command when light should break; though exceedingly astonished and awe-struck, he would stand to his post with unmoved purpose and well-mastered fear.

IV. ON THE DISCIPLES. To them it must have come as a relief, if not a promise. Believing in their Lord, wondering with great amazement at his capture and crucifixion, they would feel that any miraculous interposition was not unlikely, was quite probable. It raised their hopes a few degrees above despair; possibly many degrees. If God interposed thus far, he might restore everything. At the least, this welcome darkness screened themselves, who were too near the cross for security, though too far from their Master for service; perhaps it quieted their fear while it comforted their conscience.

V. ON THE SAVIOUR HIMSELF. TO him we may be well assured that it was a most welcome succor.

1. It was a verdict from heaven attesting his innocency. It brought confusion to his enemies and confirmation to himself It was "a sign from heaven" distinctly in his favor. The sun refused to shine on so guilty a crime as that then perpetrated; the darkness that wrapped them round was God's attestation of the darkness of the deed then being enacted.

2. It effectually shut the mouth of ribaldry and reproach. "it stopped each wagging head, it silenced each gibing tongue." We cannot tell how painful and how piercing to his sensitive spirit those cruel mockings were; nor can we, therefore, tell how much of a relief was the stillness that came with the darkness.

3. It screened him from shame. "Men would leave the Crucified exposed in shame and nakedness to die, but an unseen hand was stretched forth to draw the drapery of darkness round him and hide him from vulgar gaze."

4. It gave him a desired privacy for sorrow and for prayer. Sorrow and prayer always seek solitude; they desire to be alone with God. We do not like any others, except it be one that is most beloved, to witness the deeper griefs, or the sadder and sterner wrestlings of our soul. We seek the shade of some Gethsemane for such sacred experiences as these. What awful sorrow now rested upon Christ, now agitated his soul to its very depths, we may never understand. But we know that the burden he bore for us was at its very heaviest, that the sorrow he endured for us was at its extremest point just at this time, for it culminated in that terrible cry of desolation (Matthew 27:45, 46) which we do not try to fathom, which silences all speech and subdues every spirit. Such sacred sorrow, accompanied, as it certainly was, with the most close communion and fervent prayer, was not for the curiosity of that heartless crowd. It needed the most perfect privacy. And so the Divine Father, in this supreme hour of his Son's great work and of the redemption of mankind, "made darkness, and it was night;" shut the Savior round with the merciful folds of thick darkness, that he might be alone with that Father in whose sole presence the great sacrifice was to be completed. - C.

At the time when Jesus died it is exceedingly probable that there would be priests in the "holy place." It was now afternoon, it was drawing toward the time of evening sacrifice; they would be in attendance rendering the service of the sanctuary; they would certainly be aware of what was happening just outside Jerusalem, and would be powerfully affected by the fact. Suddenly, as if grasped and rent by unseen hands, that most sacred veil interposing between the antechamber and the reception-room of God himself, was torn in twain, "from the top to the bottom." The incident was undeniably miraculous. No Jew would have dreamed of daring to do an act that would have been so impious in a man. A Divine hand must have been there, and when they entered into the mysterious darkness and felt the earthquake, must not these priests have asked themselves whether the rending of the veil did not signify a new epoch in the kingdom of God? May not the conversion of a "great company of the priests' (Acts 6:7) be partly accounted for by this striking and significant event? But what did it symbolize?

I. THAT GOD HAD ADOPTED A NEW METHOD OF ASSERTING HIS HOLINESS AND IMPRESSING IT ON THE MIND AND HEART OF THE WORLD. That veil was an essential part of a system of carefully graduated approach to God. It divided the "holy" from the "most holy" place, and beyond it none might pass but the high priest, and he only once a year. It was intended to teach the absolute holiness of God - that it was only as men were prepared, and as they were separated from sin that they could be admitted to his presence. It was not without effect on the Jewish mind; that nation had thus grasped the idea of the purity and perfection of God. But now his character was so revealed that all such symbolism was no longer needed. The death of Jesus Christ his Son, as the Sacrifice for the sin of the world, was an expression of Divine holiness incomparably superior to the symbolism of the temple and for ever superseding it. Henceforth, when men wanted to know what God felt about sin - how he hated it, what he thought it worth while to do and to suffer in order to expel it - they would look to that cross at Calvary, and there read his mind and know his will. Holy places were no longer needed.

II. THAT GOD HAD NOW PROVIDED ANOTHER AND BETTER WAY OF MERCY FOR MANKIND. Behind the veil was the innermost chamber; and of this chamber the furniture was the ark with the two tables of the Law, and the mercy-seat above it; we read of this compartment thus: "within the veil before the mercy-seat." Mercy was thus resting on Law. Mercy always must be founded on holiness; lot without holiness there can be no mercy worthy of the name. And on the great Day of Atonement the high priest entered this "holy of holies," and sprinkled blood upon the mercy-seat for the cleansing of the sins of the nation. But the cross of Jesus Christ spoke of the Divine mercy as no temple furniture could do; there needed nothing to teach the supremacy of mercy above Law after the dying love of the Redeemer of mankind, and there needed no more sprinkling of blood upon a mercy-seat after this great Day of Atonement, when "by one sacrifice of himself for ever" the spotless Lamb of God presented "a Propitiation for the sins of the world." The temple rites then became obsolete; its services were past; there need be no more guarding of one sacred place from another; let the sacred curtain be taken down or rent in twain.

III. THAT THE WAY TO THE HOLY ONE HIMSELF IS NOW OPEN TO ALL MANKIND. 'That veil was an instrument that not only secluded, but excluded; through it no eye might venture to glance, no intruding hand might reach, no presumptuous feet might step. To pass that limit was to incur the heaviest penalty; "the Holy Ghost this signifying, that the way into the holiest of all was not yet made manifest." But now "the good High Priest is come, supplying Aaron's place" and having offered up the one all-sufficient sacrifice, having obtained thereby "eternal redemption," that excluding veil is rent in twain, that barrier is broken down; there are no more limitations, no more distinctions; there is access for every child of man to the mercy-seat of God - to the Holy One himself, to seek his grace and find his favor. Are we drawing nigh? Are we entering in? Are we availing ourselves of this priceless privilege, this glorious provision for our spirit's need? In many words and ways God invites us to draw nigh to himself: he did so when his invisible hand rent in twain that separating veil. "Having therefore boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus... let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith." - C.

Our text treats of the dying of our Lord. We may distinguish between death and dying. All men die, but all men have not a dying experience. Those who are killed instantaneously in war or by accident, those who are attacked by fatal apoplexy, those who die in their sleep, have no such experience. It is probable that we shall have to face the fact that we are passing away from life, that when a few more hours have come and gone we shall have entered the unseen world. It is therefore of no small value to us that our great Exemplar underwent not only death, but the conscious act of dying, and that in this respect also he "left us an example that we should follow his steps." We look at -

I. THE DYING OF OUR LORD IN THE LIGHT OF THESE WORDS. The words he uttered just as his end drew near indicate:

1. Deep serenity of spirit. They show nothing of agitation or anxiety; they breathe a calm stillness of soul; they are fragrant of peace and tranquillity. They begin with that word, "Father," which all along had been a name of strength and peace; he was evidently resting in the assurance of parental love. And the words that follow are in a strain of entire spiritual composure.

2. True and living faith. Jesus was resigning his spirit to God's gracious charge, knowing that in his holy and mighty keeping it would be safe and blessed. Here was fullest confidence in God and in immortality.

3. Holy resignation. As a Son of man, Jesus felt still subject to the Divine Father of all; and as he came to do and bear his will, and had done and had borne it perfectly in every hour and act of life, so now in this last volition he yielded himself to God. Thus with a soul tranquil to its profoundest depths, realizing the unseen and eternal world, resigning his spirit to the Divine Father, he bowed his head in death.

II. OUR OWN DEPARTURE. Having found in the death of Jesus Christ that which is the ground of our pardon, our peace, our life before God; having lived in the love and in the service of a once crucified and now ever-living Savior; - there is no reason to doubt that we shall die as he died, breathing the spirit he breathed, if we do not use the very language that was upon his lips.

1. Our departure will be tranquil. We shall not be terrified, alarmed, agitated; our spirit will look calmly forward to the moment of departure from this world and of entrance into another. We shall face the very near future with a smile.

2. For we shall be sustained by a living faith.

(1) We shall feel that we are only going into the nearer presence of our own Father - of him before whom we have been living and in whom we have been rejoicing; only passing from one room to another in our Father's house.

(2) We shall have faith in Jesus Christ himself. That death upon the cross constitutes him a Divine Savior, in whom we hide; and we shall die in the calm assurance that we shall be "found in him," and accepted through him. We shall say, with deeper and fuller meaning than the psalmist could, "Into thine hand I commit my spirit: thou hast redeemed me, O Lord God of truth (Psalm 31:5).

(3) We shall yield ourselves to God in the spirit of consecration, assured that in that new and unknown realm which we are entering we may spend our time and our powers, liberated and enlarged, in his holy and blessed service: and the spirit of consecration is the spirit of confidence and hope. And while these words are particularly appropriate to dying lips, and very probably suggested the last utterance of the first Christian martyr (Acts 7:59), they need not be held in reserve for that occasion; they admirably express our true attitude in -

III. OUR DAILY LIFE. SO David evidently felt (Psalm 31:5), and so we may feel. In faith and in self-surrender we should be continually commending our spirit to Our heavenly Father's charge:

1. When the day is done and we enter the nightly darkness and unconsciousness, during which we can take no charge of ourselves.

2. As we go forth each morning to duties, trials, temptations, opportunities, to which our own unaided strength is quite unequal.

3. If we feel that we are entering some dark cloud of adversity and trial in which we shall have peculiar need of Divine support.

4. When we are called to new spheres and weightier responsibilities, wherein other graces will be required than any that have yet been demanded of us. At all such times should we, in faith and consecration, commit the keeping of our souls to our heavenly Father, to be sheltered in his faithfulness, to be enriched by his love and his power. - C.

Our Lord died in the light. The disappearance of the darkness before his decease was an outward symbol of the light and serenity which came across his spirit. His departure exercised a powerful influence upon all around the cross. Let us notice the consequences of the death, as detailed by Luke.

I. THE ROMAN CENTURION WAS CONVINCED OF CHRIST'S RIGHTEOUSNESS AND DIVINE SONSHIP. (Ver. 470 In Matthew the exclamation of the centurion is given as, "Truly this was the Son of God;" while here in Luke it is, "Certainly this was a righteous Man." The one conclusion had reference to the Roman trial. His death was so glorious and triumphant as to vindicate his character from every aspersion. He was no malefactor, but a benefactor of mankind. The other conclusion had reference to the Jewish trial, which was on the ground of his claim of Sonship. Now, his last cry was in the light of Sonship, and "Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit!" was so tenderly and yet firmly uttered as to convince the centurion that the Lord's claim was real. In the same way, should not our death as believers constitute some vindication of our character and claims? It should show that our righteousness and sonship were not pretences, but glorious realities.

III. THE PEOPLE WERE CONVINCED OF THEIR SIN IN HAVING CLAMOURED FOR HIS CRUCIFIXION. (Ver. 48.) The smiting on the breast was a sign of perplexity and penitence. They were evidently humiliated that they had so treated One who could so nobly die. If the conviction of the centurion was an earnest of the conversion of the pagan world, this was an earnest of the conversion of the Jewish (cf. Godet, in loc.). The meek and quiet spirit with which Christ died broke down their hard-heartedness more than any other course could have done; so that its effect was a manifest preparation for the triumphs of the Pentecost. And should not a Christian's death strike alarm into the heart of unbelievers, suggesting to them the possibility of their being unable to meet death with becoming courage?

III. His ACQUAINTANCE AND THE WOMEN FROM GALILEE ARE PETRIFIED WITH ASTONISHMENT. (Ver. 49.) "They stood," we are told, "afar off." They were so unmanned that they could not venture nigh. To them the death was inexplicable. It was apparently the defeat of all their hopes. It was a crushing blow. No mystery in providence had ever appeared to them exactly like this. They were ready to say, with Jacob, "All these things are against us." Is this not the position of God's people often? They have entertained bright hopes about the Master and his cause, but have found them fading away like summer flowers, so that they stand perplexed and afar off before God's providences. Is it not the dark hour before the dawn? Is it not the travail-hour before the jubilance of birth? The disciples experienced this, and so may we. Before apparent defeat, let us always exclaim by faith, "It is real victory."

IV. JOSEPH OF ARIMATHAEA IS LED BY CHRIST'S DEATH TO REAL DECISION. (Vers. 50-52.) Joseph, a good and just man, had been for some time, we know not how long, a "secret disciple" of Jesus. Nicodemus and he seemed to be in the same category, and perhaps they were led into faith about the same time. In the Sanhedrin they had done all that timid men could to prevent the crime of the Crucifixion; but popular feeling was always too strong for them. They had not as yet taken the bold step of professing to belong to Christ. But, strange to say, the death of Jesus, the apparent defeat of his cause, determined them both to be professors. Joseph accordingly goes and boldly begs the body from Pilate, that he may lay it in his own new tomb, while Nicodemus goes off to procure the needful spices. And here have we what seems a law in God's kingdom. Successors always appear to carry on his work. Christ's death induces two at least to join his cause at once. As the apparently important pass away, it is only to be succeeded by others, and perhaps a larger number, to take up the fallen banner and prove their faithfulness. Apparent calamities are splendid tests of character - they call forth the brave!

V. CHRIST'S FUNERAL COULD ONLY BE A TEMPORARY INTERMENT. (Vers. 53-56.) It was necessary that the body should be put away before the sabbath began. Now, if he died a little after three o'clock, there were less than three hours to complete the interment. There could not be the customary embalmment. All that was possible was to wrap the dear remains in linen with spices, and then, if nothing prevented, to complete the embalmment on the first day of the week. It was a hurried burial, therefore, and by compulsion a temporary one. Yet "with the rich was his tomb." It was in a virgin sepulcher, so to speak, he lay for a season, just as he had lain in the Virgin's womb. It was so far private also that none apparently but the immediate friends and acquaintances followed the funeral. All the circumstances combined to make the funeral and interment most singular. It was well known where they laid him; it was known that they intended completing the embalmment on the first day of the week; his enemies had every opportunity, therefore, to prevent any imposture about a resurrection. All was above-board, like everything in our Lord's life. Consequently there was in the burial of Jesus a noble foundation laid for that crowning hope of resurrection. We shall see that there was every advantage offered to those who wished to expose duplicity about his rising again. It was the most important burial and most hopeless, so far as the mourners were concerned. They above all others seemed oblivious of all promise of resurrection, - R.M.E.

There was a considerable company of spectators at the Crucifixion. They were attracted not only by the spectacle of a triple execution, but, far more, by the fact that the Prophet whose fame had filled the land was to be led forth to die. It was not the riffraff of Jerusalem merely that "beheld the things that were done." The sense of impropriety in attendance at such sanguinary and harrowing scenes is quite modern. It did not prevail there and then. Probably the leading citizens were present - the well-to-do, the educated, the refined - male and female. All classes and all characters were there - the devout and the profane, the rough and the gentle, the selfish and the sympathetic. And of that large company of people there would be present men and women very variously affected toward Jesus Christ. We may say, without hesitation, that the eleven were there; though it is more than likely that, for a time at any rate, they stood afar off, we cannot doubt that they were there, waiting and wondering; hoping with a faint hope, fearing with a terrible and mastering dread. Many true and loyal disciples were there, among whom, truest among the true, were the women who had followed him and "ministered to him" (Matthew 27:55). Besides these were the fickle, doubled-minded multitude, who cried, "Hosannah!" one day, and a few days later shouted, "Crucify him!" And beyond these in spiritual distance were his implacable and bitter enemies. What may we suppose to have been the effect of the Crucifixion on the minds of "the people that came together to that sight"?


1. There were physical elements sure to excite their wondering imagination. When an unnatural darkness brooded over the entire scene for three long dread hours, when the earth trembled, when the loud death-cry of the suffering Savior pierced the air, there was a combination of strange marvels and unusual experiences which must have shaken their souls and filled them with a great awe.

2. And there were moral elements there fitted to touch their hearts. There was the presence of death - death, "the great reconciler," that quenches strong animosities, that awakens an unwonted pity, that subdues the hardened soul to a surprising softness. There was the death of a Man still young, of a Man who had rendered undeniably great services to many hearts in many homes. There was death met with heroic fortitude, undergone with a calmness, a magnanimity, a moral greatness, such as their eyes had never seen before. These two elements together powerfully affected the people that drew to that sight; and with whatsoever thought in their mind they "came together," it is certain that a very great majority of them went home astonished, if not ashamed and alarmed; they returned "smiting their breasts." But what were -


1. Some effects were permanently good. Surely it was partly, if not largely, the remembrance of what they had seen and done and felt on this great day that led to the "pricking of heart" they experienced when Peter spoke so faithfully, and led them to Christian baptism (Acts 2:22, 23, 37 11). Was not the "smiting of the breast" more than an antecedent in time to that being smitten in heart when they listened and responded?

2. Others, we may be sure, were evanescent and unfruitful. It would have been a very singular case if there were not many who felt much agitation that day, and the next, and, perhaps, the day after; but who soon allowed pressing cares or passing pleasures to drive convictions from the soul. They "smote their breasts, and returned;" but, instead of returning to God, they went back to the old routine and the old formalism and unspirituality. It is well to be affected by the facts of God's providence, whether these be simple and ordinary, or whether unusual and startling. It is well indeed to be affected by the view of a Savior's death, however that death may be presented to our souls. But let no man rest contented with such emotion as was in the breast of the people who "came together to that sight." It is wholly undecisive; if it lead not to something better than itself, it will bring forth no fruit of life. It must pass, and should pass quickly, into an intelligent conviction of sin, into a real and living faith in him who was then the Crucified One, and so into newness of life in him and unto him. - C.

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