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Now at the feast, that is, at the feast of the passover, which by way of eminence is called the feast, the governor used to release a prisoner; (possibly by way of memorial of their deliverance out of Egypt;) accordingly Pilate makes a motion to them, that Christ may be the prisoner set at liberty in honour at their feast; for he was sensible that what they did was out of envy and malice. As covetousness sold Christ, so envy delivered him. Envy is a killing and murderous passion: Envy slayeth the silly one, Job v. 2. That is, It slays the silly person who harbours this pestilent lust in his bosom, and is like a fire in his bones continually preying upon him, causing him to pine away, and die miserably, because another lives happily. To envy another man's prosperity, is an argument of the worst simplicity; yea, farther, as envy slaycth the silly one, so it prompts and provokes the sinner to seek the slaying of simple and innocent ones. Envy wishes the envied person out of the way, yea, out of the world; and, if need be, will not only wish it, but lend a lift towards it too; witness the chief priests here, whose envy was so conspicuous, that Pilate himself takes notice of it, and says, He knew that for envy they had delivered him.
19 When he was set down on the judgment-seat, his wife sent unto him, saying, Have thou nothing to do with that just man; for I have suffered many things this day in a dream because of him.
There are several sorts or kinds of dreams, natural, moral, diabolical, and divine. The question is what kind of dream was this' Not natural, all agree; some think it was diabolical, and that Satan hoped thereby to prevent the work of man's redemption by the death of Christ. But if so, why had not Pilate the dream rather than bis wife} Probably this was from God, for even our very dreams are ordered by God; our sleeping as well as our waking times are in God's hand. I.c.n n hence, How wonderfully the wisdom and power of God is seen in this woman's testimony, which she gave to the innocence of our Saviour. When all his disciples were fled fiom him, when none of his friends durst speak a word for him, God raises up a woman, a stranger, a pagan, to give evidence of his innocency. And it
is observable, that at our Saviour's trial not one mouth was opened to plead or speak a word for him, in defence of innocency itself, but only Pilate's and his wife's; they both pronounced him righteous, though they were Gentiles and pagans, whilst his own kindred and countrymen, the Jews, thirst after his righteous and innocent blood.
20 But the chief priests and elders persuaded the multitude that they should ask Barabbas, and destroy Jesus. 21 The governor answered and said unto them, Whether of the twain will ye that I release unto you? They said, Barabbas. 22 relate saith unto them. What shall I do then with Jesus, which is called Christ? Thty all say unto him, Let him be crucified. 23 And the governor said, Why? what evil hath he done? But they cried out the more, saying, Let him be crucilied.
Observe here, 1. How exceedingly unwilling and averse Pilate was to be the instrument of our Saviour's death; one while he bids the Jews take him themselves, and judge him according to their law; another while he offers to save Christ in honour of their feast, when by custom he was to release a prisoner, and this prisoner he desired might be Jesus. When this would not satisfy, he expostulates with them about our Saviour's innocency, What evil has he done? Nay, St Luke says, chap. xxiii. That Pilate came forth three times, and professed that he found no fault in him. Yet though Pilate was satisfied, tlie Jews would not be denied. Thence learn, That wicked men and hypocrites, within the visible church, may be guilty of such tremendous acts of wickedness, as the conscience of infidels and pagans without the church may boggle at, and protest against. Pilate, a pagan, absolves Christ, whilst hypocritical Jews, which had heard his doctrine, and seen his miracles, condemn him. But observe, 2. Who influenced the main body of the Jews to desire Barabbas, and to destroy Jesus. It was the chief priests and elders, they persuaded the multitude. Woe to the people when their guides and leaders are corrupt; for then they shall be templed by wicked counsel; and woe unto them, much more, if they follow their wicked and pernicious counsels. Thus did the Jews follow their guides the chief priests, till they had preserved Barabbas and destroyed Jesus.
24 When Pilate saw that he could prevail nothing, but that rather a tumult was made, he took water, and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, I am innocent of the blood of this just person : see ye to it.
Two things are here observable in Pilate's washing of his hands. 1. By this action he pronounces our Saviour's innocency, and was willing thereby to testify his own, that he did not consent to our Saviour's death; washing the hands being a usual ceremony in protestation of a person's innocency. But, 2. It was great folly and madness in Pilate, to think that washing of his hands did or could free him from the guilt of innocent blood. "O Pilate! thou hadst need rub hard if thou meanest to scour from thy soul the guilt of that crimson sin which thou hast committed; thy guilt cleaves so close unto thee, that nothing can expiate it but the blood which thou hast spilt." Neither was it any excuse of Pilate's sin, that what he did was to please the people, ancUo gratify their importunity. It is a fond apology for sins, when persons pretend they were not committed with their own consent, but at others' instigation and irr port unity.
25 Then answered all the people, and said, His blood be on us, and on our children.
That is, " Let the guilt and punishment of his blood rest upon us and our posterity." A most horrid and impious imprecation! The dreadful effects of it began to come -upon them forty years after in the destruction of Jerusalem, and has rested and remained upon their posterity to this day, near seventeen hundred years ; the Jews being vagabonds over the earth, abhorred by all nations wheresoever they come. The just God has heard their wicked wish, and caused that blood to fall upon them in so severe, though righteous, a manner, as must pierce the heart of those that read and observe it. God has given them blood to drink, as indeed they were worthy. This ought to be a terror and a warning to all persons, that they avoid all cursed imprecations, and wicked wishes, upon them
selves or others. Woe to such as wish damnation to themselves, pox and plague upon others. How if God say Amen, and ratifies in heaven thy cursed imprecations made on earth, as he did this of the wicked Jews; His blood be on us and on our children! Yet what they with a wicked mind put up as a direful imprecation, we may with a pious mind offer up to God as an humble petition; Lord, let thy Son's blood, not in the guilt and punishment, but in the efficacy and merit of it, be upon us, and upon our posterity after us, for evermore.
26 Then released he Barabbas unto them: and when he had scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified.
As the death of the cross was a Roman punishment, so it was the manner of the Romans first to scourge and whip their malefactors, and then deliver them to be crucified. Now the manner of the Romans' scourging is said to be thus: they stripped the condemned person, and bound hini to a post; two strong men first scourged him with rods of thorns; then two others scourged him with whips of cords full of knots: and, lastly, two more with whips of wire, and therewith tore off the very flesh and skin from the persoi.'s back and sides. That our Saviour was thus cruelly scourged, seems to some not improbable from that of the psalmist, Psal. exxix. 3. The ploughers ploughed upon my back, and made longfurrows. Which, if spoken prophetically of Christ, was literally fulfilled in the day of his scourging. But why was the precious body of our precious Lord thus galled and torn with scourgings? Doubtless to fulfil that prophecy; I gave my back to the smiters, and my cheeks to them that plucked off the hair.—That by his stripes we might be healed. And to learn us patience from his example; Why should we think it strange to be scourged either with the tongue or the hand, or with both, when we see our dear Redeemer bleeding by stripes and scourges before our eyes?
27 Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the common hall, and gathered unto him the whole band of soldiers. 28 And they stripped htm, and put on him a scarlet robe. 29 And when they had platted a crown of thorns, they put it upon his head, and a reed in his right hand: and tin \ bowed the knee before him, and mocked him, sarins;, Hail, King of the Jews! 30 And they spit upon him, and took the reed, and smote him on the head. SI And after that they had mocked him, they took the robe off from him, and put his own raiment on him, and led him away to crucify Aim.
The next part of our Lord's sufferings consisted of cruel moekings. Our blessed Saviour had said that he was the King of the Jaws; not a temporal king to reign over them with pomp and power, but a spiritual King, to rule in the hearts of his people: but the Jews, missing of their expectation of a temporal king in Christ, look upon htm as an impostor; and accordingly they treat him as a mock king, putting a crown upon his head, but a very ignominious and painful one, a crown of thorns; a sceptre in his hand, but it was of a reed, and a robe of purple or scarlet, both which were used by piinces, and bowed the Itncc before him, as they were wont to do to princes. Thus all the marks of scorn imaginable are put upon our blessed Redeemer . yet that which they did in jest God did in earnest; for all these things were ensigns and marks of sovereignty; and Almighty God caused the regal dignity of his Son to appear and shine forth, even in the midst of his greatest abasement. Whence was all this jeering and sport, but to flout majesty? And why did Christ undergo all this ignominy, disgrace, and shame, but to show us what was due unto us for our sins, and to give us an example To bear all the scorn, reproach, and shame imaginable, for his sake: Who, for the joy that was set before him, endured the cross, and despised the shame,
32 And as they came out, they found a man of Cyrene, Simon by name: him they compelled to bear his cross. 33 And when they were come unto a place called Golgotha, that is to say, A place of a scull, 34 They gave him vinegar to drink mingled with gall: and when he had tasted thereof, he would not drink. 35 And they crucified him, and parted his garments, casting
lots; that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, They parted my garments among them, and upon my vesture did they cast lots. 36 And sitting down, they watched him there;
The sentence of death being passed by Pilate, who can with dry eyes behold the sad pomp of our Saviour's bloody execution? Forth comes the blessed Jesus out of Pilate's gates bearing that cross which was soon after to bear him. With his cross on Iiis shoulder he marches towards Golgotha: and when they see he can go no faster, they force Simon the Cyrenean, not out of compassion, but from indignation, to be the porter of his cross. This Cyrenian being a Gentile, not a Jew, who bare our Saviour's cross, might signify and show, that the Gentiles should have a part in Christ, and be sharers with the Jews in the benefits of his cross. At length Christ comes to the place of execution, Golgotha, or mount Calvary. Heie in a public place, with infamous company, betwixt two thieves, he is crucified; that is, fastened to a great cross of wood, his hands stretched forth abroad, and his feet close together, and both hands and feet fastened with nails; his naked body was lifted up in the open air, hanging betwixt heaven and earth; thereby intimating, that the crucified person was unfit to live in either. This shameful, painful, and accursed death, did the holy and innocent Jesus undergo for sinners. Some observe all the dimensions of length, breadth, depth, and height, in our Saviour's sufferings: for length, his passion was several hours long, from twelve to three, exposed all tliat time both to hunger and cold; the thieves crucified with him were not dead so soon; they endured but personal pain, he undergoing the miseries of all mankind. But what his passion wanted in length, it had it in breadth, extending over all the parts and powers of his soul and body, no part free but his tongue, which was at liberty to pray for his enemies. His sight was tormented with the scornful gestures of such as passed by, wagging their heads: his hearing grieved with the taunts and jeers of the priests and people; his smeU ling offended with the noisome savours in the Place of Skulls; his taste, with the gall and vinegar given him to drink. His feeling was wonderfully affected by the nails which pierced his hands and feet, and the crown of thorns which pierced his tender temples with a multiplicity of wounds. And for the depth of his passion, it was as deep as hell itself; enduring tortures in his soul, as well as torments in his body; groaning under the burden of desertion, and crying out, Afy God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? Lastly, for the height of his sufferings, they were as high as heaven; his person being innocent and infinite, no less than the Son of God, which adds an infinite worth and value to his sufferings. Lord, let us be able to comprehend with all saints -what is the breadth and length, depth and height, and let us know the love of Christ, which in suffering for tis passeth knowledge. So infinite every way were the dimensions of it.
37 And set up over his head his accusation written, THIS IS JESUS THE KING OF THE JEWS.
It was the manner of the Romans, when they crucified any man, to publish the cause of his death in capital letters placed over the head of the person. Now see how the wisdom and providence of God powerfully overruled the heart and pen of Pilate to draw this title, which was truly honourable, and fix it to his cross: Pilate is Christ's herald, and proclaims him, King of the Jews. Learn hence, That the regal dignity of Christ was proclaimed by an enemy, and that in a time of his greatest sufferings and reproaches. Pilate did Christ a special honour, and an eminent piece of service. He did that for Christ which none of his own disciples durst do: hut he did it not designedly for his glory, but from the special overruling power of Divine Providence: but the highest services performed to Christ undesignedly, shall never be accepted nor rewarded by God.
38 Then were there two thieves crucified with him; one on the right hand, and another on the left. 39 And they that passed by reviled him, wagging their heads, 40 And saying, Thou that destroyest the temple, and buildest it in three days, save thyself. If thou be the SotiofGod, come down from the cross. 41 Likewise also the chief priests mocking Aim, with the scribes and elders, said, 42 He saved others, himself he cannot save. If he be the King
of Israel, let him now come down from the cross, and we will believe him. 43 He trusted in God: let him deliver him now, if he will have him: for he said, I am the Son of God. 44 The thieves also which were crucified with him, cast ihe same in his teeth.
Here wc have several aggravations of our Lord's sufferings upon the cross. 1. From the company he suffered with, tea thieves. It had been disparagement enough to our blessed Saviour to have been sorted with the best of men ; but to be numbered with the scum of mankind, is such an indignity as confounds our thoughts. This was intended by the Jews to dishonour him the more, and to persuade the world that he was the greatest of offenders; but God overruled this that the scripture might be fulfilled, He was numbered with the trans
fressors. 2. Another aggravation of our ord's sufferings on the cross, was, the scom and mocking derision which he met with in his dying moments from the common people, from the chief priests, and from the thieves that suffered with him. The common people both in words and actions expressed scorn and detestation against him. They reviled him, -wagging their heads. The chief priests, though men of age and gravity, not only barbarously mock him in his cxtremest misery, whom humanity obliged them to pity; but they scoff atheistically and profanely, jeering at his faith and affiance in God, tauntingly saying, He trusted in God thai he would deliver him; let him deliver him now, if he will have him. Where observe, That persecutors arc generally atheists, though they make a profession of religion. The chief priests and eiders here, though learned and knowing men, yet they blaspheme God, mock at his power, and deride his providence, which was as bad as to deny his being. Hence we may gather, That those who administer to God in holy things by way of office, if they be not the best, they are the worst of men. No such hitter enemies to the power of godliness, as the ministers of religion who were never acquainted with the efficacy and power of it in their own hearts and lives. Nothing on this side hell is worse than a wicked priest, a minister of God devoted to the service of the devil. A third aggravation of our Lord's sufferings on the cross, was, that the thieves that suffered with him reviled him with the rest; that is, one of them as St. Luke has it, or perhaps both of them, might do it at first. Which if so, increases the wonder of the penitent thief's conversion. From the thief's impenitency we learn, That neither shame nor pain will change the mind of a resolute sinner, but even then when he is in the very suburbs of hell, will he blaspheme.
45 Now, from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land unto the ninth hour. 40 And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? 47 Some of them that stood there, when they heard that, said, This man calleth for Elias. 48 And straightway one of them ran, and took a sponge, and filled it with vinegar, and put tt on a reed, and gave him to drink. 49 The rest said, Let be, let us see whether Elias will come to save him. 50 Jesus, when he had cried againwith a loud voice, yielded up the ghost.
Observe here, 1. How the rays of Christ's divinity, and the glory of his Godhead, break out and shine forth in the midst of that infirmity which his human nature laboured under. He shows himself to be the God of nature, by altering the course of nature. The sun is eclipsed, and darkness overspreads the earth for three hours; namely, from twelve o'clock to three. Thus the sun in the firmament becomes close mourner at our Lord's death, and the whole frame of nature puts itself into a funeralhahit. Observe, 2. That the chief of Christ's sufferings consisted in the sufferings of his soul; the distress of his spirit was more intolerable than the torments of his body, as appears by his mournful complaint, My God, my God, -why hast thou forsaken me? being the first words of the 22d Psalm; and some conceive that he repeated that whole psalm, it being an admirable narrative of the dolours of his passion. Learn thence, That the Lord Jesus Christ, when suffering for our sins, was really deserted for a time, and left destitute of all sensible consolation. Why hast thou forsaken me . * Learn farther, that under this desertion Christ despaired
not, but still retained a firm persuasion of God's love unto him, and experienced necessary supports from him. My God, my God; these are words of faith and affiance, striving under temptation. Christ was thus forsaken for us, that we might never be forsaken of God; yet by God's forsaking of Christ, is not to be understood any abatement of divine love, but only a withdrawing from the human nature the sense of his love, and a letting out upon his soul a deep afflicting sense of his displeasure against sin. There is a total and eternal desertion, by which God utterly forsakes a man, both of his grace and glory, being wholly cast out of God's presence, and adjudged to eternal torments; this was not compatible to Christ, nor agreeable to the dignity of his person. But there is a partial and temporary desertion, when God for a little moment hides his face from his children: now this was both agreeable to the dignity of Christ's nature, and also suitable to his office, who was to satisfy the justice of God for our forsaking of him, and to bring us near to him, that we might be received for ever. Observe lastly, What a miraculous evidence Christ gave of hisdivinity instantly before he gave up the ghost. He cried with a loud voice. This showed that he did not die according to the ordinary course of nature, gradually departing and drawing on, as we express it. No, his life was whole in him, and nature as strong at last as at first. Other men die gradually, and towards their end their sense of pain is much blunted; they faulter, fumble, and die by degrees; but Christ stood under the pains of death in his full strength; his life was whole in him. This was evident by the mighty outcry he made when he gave up the ghost, contrary to the sense and experience of all other persons; this argued him to be full of strength. And he that could cry with such a loud voice (in articulo mortis) as he did, could have kept himself from dying if he would. Hence we learn, That when Christ died, he rather conquered death, than was conquered by death. He must voluntarily and freely lay down his life, before death could come at him. He yielded up the ghost. O wonderful sight! the Lord of life hangs dead, dead on the accursed tree. O severe and inexorable justice in God! O amazing and astonishing love in Christ! love beyond expression, beyond conception, beyond all comprehension; with what comparison shall we compare it! Verily with nothing but itself; never was love like thine.