A Sermon Delivered on Sunday Morning, February 22, 1863, by Pastor C. H. Spurgeon, at the Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington.
The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord, and against his Anointed. (Ps 2:2)
1. After our Lord had been betrayed by the false hearted Judas, he was bound by the officers who had come to take him; no doubt the cords were drawn as tight, and twisted as mercilessly as possible. If we believe the traditions of the fathers, these cords cut through the flesh, even to the very bones, so that all the way from the garden to the house of Annas, his blood left a crimson trail. Our Redeemer was hurried along the road which crosses the brook Kidron. A second time he was made like to David, who passed over that brook, weeping as he went; and perhaps it was on this occasion that he drank of that foul brook by the way. The brook Kidron, you know, was the place where all the filth of the sacrifices of the temple was cast, and Christ, as though he was a foul and filthy thing, must be led to the black stream. He was led into Jerusalem by the sheep gate, the gate through which the lambs of the Passover and the sheep for sacrifice were always driven. Little did they understand, that in so doing they were again following out to the very letter the significant types which God had ordained in the law of Moses. They led, I say, this Lamb of God through the sheep gate, and they hastened him on to the house of Annas, the ex-high priest, who, either from his relationship to Caiaphas, from his natural ability, or his prominence in opposing the Saviour, stood high in the opinion of the rulers. Here they made a temporary call, to gratify the bloodthirsty Annas with the sight of his victim; and then, hastening on, they brought him to the house of Caiaphas, a little distance off, where, though it was only a little past the dead of night, many members of the Sanhedrin were assembled. In a very short time, no doubt informed by some speedy messenger, all the rest of the elders came together, and sat down with great delight to the malicious work. Let us follow our Lord Jesus Christ, not, like Peter, afar off, but, like John, let us go in with Jesus into the high priest’s house, and when we have stayed there awhile, and have seen our Saviour despitefully used, let us traverse the streets with him, until we come to the hall of Pilate, and then to the palace of Herod, and then afterwards to the place called “the pavement,” where Christ is subjected to an ignominious competition with Barabbas, the murderer, and where we hear the howling of the people, “Crucify him! Crucify him!”
2. Brethren, as the Lord gave commandment concerning even the ashes and offal of the sacrifices, we ought to think no matter to be trivial which stands in connection with our great burnt offering. My admonition is, “Gather up the fragments which remain, so that nothing be lost.” Just as goldsmiths sweep their shops, to save even the filings of the gold, so every word of Jesus should be treasured up as very precious. But, indeed, the narrative to which I invite you is not unimportant. Things which were purposed of old, prophesied by seers, witnessed by apostles, written by evangelists, and published by the ambassadors of God, are not matters of secondary interest, but deserve our solemn and devout attention. Let all our hearts be awed as we follow the King of kings in his pathway of shame and suffering.
A Brief Interval
3. I. Come we, then, to the hall of Caiaphas. After the mob had dragged our Lord from the house of Annas, they reached the palace of Caiaphas, and there a brief interval occurred before the High Priest came out to question the prisoner. How were those sad minutes spent? Was the poor victim allowed a little respite to collect his thoughts, so that he might face his accusers calmly? Far from it; Luke shall tell the pitiful story: “And the men who held Jesus mocked him, and struck him. And when they had blindfolded him, they struck him on the face, and asked him, saying, ‘Prophesy, who is it who struck you? And many other things they blasphemously spoke against him.’?” The officers were pausing until the chairman of the court should be pleased to have an interview with the prisoner, and instead of allowing the accused to take a little rest before a trial so important, upon which his life and character depended, they spend all the time in venting their bitter malice upon him. Observe how they insult his claim to the Messiahship! In effect, they mock him thus: “You claim to be a prophet like Moses; you know things to come; if you are sent by God, prove it by revealing your foes; we will put you on trial, and test you, oh you man of Nazareth.” They bindfold his eyes, and then, striking him one after another, they bid him to exercise his prophetic gift, for their amusement, and prophesy who it was who struck him. Oh, shameful question! How gracious was the silence, for an answer might have withered them for ever. The day shall come when all who strike Christ, shall find that he has seen them, although they thought his eyes were blindfolded. The day shall come, blasphemer, worldling, careless man, when everything that you have done against Christ’s cause and Christ’s people, shall be published before the eyes of men and angels, and Christ shall answer your question, and shall tell you who it is who struck him. I speak to some this morning who have forgotten that Christ sees them; and they have ill treated his people; they have spoken ill of his holy cause, saying, “How does God know? and is there knowledge in the Most High?” I tell you, the Judge of men shall before long, single you out, and make you, to your shame and confusion of face, confess that you struck the Saviour when you struck his Church.
4. This preliminary mockery being over, Caiaphas, the high priest came in; he began at once to interrogate the Lord before the public trial, doubtless with the intent of catching him in his speech. The high priest first asked him about his disciples. We do not know what questions he asked; perhaps they were something like these: “What do you mean, to allow a rabble to follow you wherever you go? Who are you, that you should have twelve people always attending you and calling you Master? Do you intend to make these the leaders of a band of men? Are these to be your lieutenants, to raise an army on your behalf? Or do you pretend to be a prophet, and are these the sons of the prophets who follow you, as Elisha did Elijah. Moreover, where are they? Where are your gallant followers? If you are a good man, why are they not here to bear witness for you? Where are they gone? Are they not ashamed of their folly, now that your promises of honour all end in shame?” The high priest “asked him about his disciples.” Our Lord Jesus on this point did not say a word. Why was this silence? Because it is not for our Advocate to accuse his disciples. He might have answered, “Well do you ask, ‘Where are they?’ the cowards forsook me; when one proven a traitor, the rest took to their heels. You say, ‘Where are my disciples?’ there is one over there, sitting by the fire, warming his hands, the same one who just now denied me with an oath.” But no, he would not utter a word of accusation; he whose lips are mighty to intercede for his people, will never speak against them. Let Satan slander, but Christ pleads. The accuser of the brethren is the prince of this world: the Prince of peace is always our Advocate before the eternal throne.
5. The high priest next changed his tack, and asked him concerning his doctrine — what it was that he taught — whether what he taught was not in contradiction to the original teachings of their great lawgiver Moses — and whether he had not railed at the Pharisees, reviled the Scribes, and exposed the rulers. The Master gave a noble answer. Truth is never shamefaced; he boldly points to his public life as his best answer. “I spoke publicly to the world; I always taught in the synagogue, and in the temple, where the Jews always resort; and in secret I have said nothing. Why do you ask me? ask those who heard me, what I have said to them: indeed they know what I said.” No sophistries — no attempt at evasion — the best armour for truth is her own naked chest. He had preached in the market places, on the mountain’s brow, and in the temple courts; nothing had been done in a corner. Happy is the man who can make such a noble defence. Where is the joint in such a harness? Where can the arrow pierce the man arrayed in such complete a suit of armour? Little did that arch-knave Caiaphas gain by his crafty questioning. For the rest of the questioning, our Lord Jesus did not say a word in self-defence; he knew that it did not avail for a lamb to plead with wolves; he was well aware that whatever he said would be misconstrued and made a fresh source of accusation, and he wished, moreover, to fulfil the prophecy, “He is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he does not open his mouth.” But what power he exerted in thus remaining silent! Perhaps nothing displays more fully the omnipotence of Christ, than this power of self-control. Control the Deity? What power less than divine can attempt the task? Behold, my brethren, the Son of God does more than rule the winds and commend the waves, he restrains himself. And when a word, a whisper, would have refuted his foes, and swept them to their eternal destruction, he “does not open his mouth.” He who opened his mouth for his enemies, will not utter a word for himself. If ever a silence were more than golden, it is this deep silence under infinite provocation.
6. During this preliminary examination, our Lord suffered an outrage which needs a passing notice. When he had said, “Ask those who hear me,” some overly officious person in the crowd struck him in the face. The margin in John 18:22, very properly corrects our version, and renders the passage, “with a rod.” Now, considering that our blessed Lord suffered so much, this one little detail might seem unimportant, only it happens to be the subject of prophecy in the book of Micah, “They shall strike the Judge of Israel with a rod upon the cheek.” (Mic 5:1) This striking while under trial is particularly atrocious. To strike a man while he is pleading in his own defence, would surely be a violation of the laws even of barbarians. It brought Paul’s blood into his face, and made him lose his self-control when the high priest ordered them to strike him on the mouth. I think I hear his words of burning indignation: “God shall strike you, you whited wall: for do you sit to judge me according the law, and command me to be struck contrary to the law?” How soon the servant loses his temper: how far more glorious the meekness of the Master. What a contrast do these gentle words afford us — “If I have spoken evil bear witness to the evil; but if well, why do you strike me?” This was such a concentrated infamy, to strike a man while pleading for his life, that it well deserved the notice both of the evangelist and prophet.
7. But now the Court are all sitting; the members of the great Sanhedrin are all in their various places, and Christ is brought out for the public trial before the highest ecclesiastical court; though it is obviously a foregone conclusion, that by hook or by crook they will find him guilty. They scour the neighbourhood for witnesses. There were fellows to be found in Jerusalem, like those who in the olden times frequented the Old Bailey, “straw witnesses,” who were ready to be bought for on either side; and, provided they were well paid, would swear to anything. But for all this, though the witnesses were ready to perjure themselves, they could not agree with each other; being heard separately, their tales did not tally. At last two came, with some degree of similarity in their witness; they were both liars, but for once the two liars had struck the same note. They declared that he said “I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and within three days I will build another made without hands.” (Mr 14:58) Now here was, first, misquotation. He never said, “I will destroy the temple,” his words were, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” See how they add to his words and twist them to their own ends. Then again, they not only misquoted the words, but they misrepresented the sense, wilfully, because he spoke concerning the temple of his body, and not the literal temple in which they worshipped; and they must have known this. He said, “Destroy this temple” — and the accompanying action might have showed them that he meant his own body, which was raised by his glorious resurrection after destruction upon the cross. Let us add, that even when thus misrepresented, the witness was not sufficient as the foundation for a capital charge. Surely there could be nothing worthy of death in a man’s saying, “Destroy this temple, and I will build it in three days.” A person might make use of those words a thousand times over — he might be very foolish, but he would not be guilty of death for such an offence. But where men have made up their minds to hate Christ, they will hate him without a cause. Oh! you who are adversaries of Christ — and there are some such here today — I know you try to invent some excuse for your opposition to his holy religion; you forge a hundred falsehoods; but you know that your witness is not true, and your trial in conscience through which you pass the Saviour, is only a mock one. Oh that you were wise, and would understand him to be what he is, and submit yourselves to him now.
8. Finding that their witness, even when tortured to the highest degree, was not strong enough, the high priest, to get a basis for an accusation, adjured him by the Most High God to answer whether he was the Christ, “the Son of the Blessed.” Being thus adjured, our Master would not set us an example of cowardice; he spoke on purpose; he said, “I am,” (Mr 14:62) and then, to show how fully he knew this to be true, he added, “You shall see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven.” I cannot understand what Unitarians do with this incident. Christ was put to death on a charge of blasphemy, for having declared himself to be the Son of God. Was that not the time when any reasonable person would have denied the accusation? If he had not really claimed to be the Son of God, would he not now have spoken? Would he not now, once and for all, have delivered our minds from the mistake under which we are labouring, if, indeed, it is a mistake, that he is the Son of God? But no, he seals it with his blood; he bears public testimony before the herd of his accusers. “I am.” I am the Son of God, and I am the one sent by the Most High. Now, now the thing is done. They want no further evidence. The judge, forgetting the impartiality which becomes his position, pretends to be wonderfully struck with horror, tears his garments, turns around to ask his co-assessors whether they need any further witness, and they, all too eagerly, hold up their hands in token of unanimity, and he is at once condemned to die. Ah! brethren, and no sooner condemned, than the high priest, stepping down from his seat, spits in his face, and then the Sanhedrin follow, and strike him on his cheek; and then they send him down to the rabble who had gathered in the court, and they buffet him from one to the other, and spit upon his blessed cheeks, and strike him; and then they play the old game again, which they had learned so well before the trial came on; they blindfold him for a second time, place him in the chair, and as they strike him with their fists they cry. “Prophet! Prophet! Prophet! who is it who struck you? Prophecy to us!” And thus the Saviour passed a second time through that most brutal and ignominious treatment. If we had tears, if we had sympathies, if we had hearts, we should prepare to shed those tears, to awaken those sympathies, and break those hearts, now. Oh you Lord of life and glory! how shamefully were you ill treated by those who pretended to be the curators of holy truth, the conservators of integrity, and the teachers of the law!
9. Having thus sketched the trial as briefly as I could, let me just say, that, throughout all of this trial before the ecclesiastical tribunal, it is obvious that they did all they could to pour contempt upon his two claims — to Deity and to Messiahship. Now, friends, this morning — this morning, as truly as on that eventful occasion — you and I must take one of two sides. Either today we must cheerfully acknowledge his Godhead, and accept him also as the Messiah, the Saviour promised of old to us; or else we must take up our position with those who are the adversaries of God and of his Christ. Will you ask yourself the question, on which side will you now stand? I urge you, do not think that Christ’s Deity needs any further proof than what this one court gives. My dear friends, there is no religion under heaven, no false religion, which would have dared to hazard such a statement, as that that man who was spit upon and buffeted was none other than incarnate God. No false religion would venture to draw upon the credulity of its followers to that extent. What! that man there who does not speak a word, who is mocked, despised, rejected, made nothing of — what! he “very God of very God?” You do not find Mohammed, nor any false prophet, asking any person to believe such an extraordinary doctrine. They know too well that there is a limit even to human faith; and they have not ventured upon such a marvellous assertion as this, that that despised man is none other than the upholder of all things. No false religion would have taught a truth so humbling to him who is its founder and Lord. Besides, it is not in the power of any manmade religion to have conceived such a thought. That Deity should willingly submit to be spit upon to redeem those whose mouths vented the spittle! In what book do you read such a wonder as this? We have pictures drawn from imagination; we have been enchanted with romantic pages, and we have marvelled at the creative flights of human genius; but where did you ever read such a thought as this? “God was made flesh and lived among us” — he was despised, scourged, mocked, treated as though he were the offscouring of all things, brutally treated, worse than a dog, and all out of pure love for his enemies. Why, the thought is such a great one, so Godlike, the compassion in it is so divine, that it must be true. No one except God could have thought of such a thing as this stoop from the highest throne in glory to the cross of deepest shame and woe. And do you think that if the doctrine of the cross were not true, such results would follow from it? Would those South Sea Islands, once red with the blood of cannibalism, be now the place of sacred song and peace? Would this island, once itself the place of naked savages, be what it is, through the influence of the benign gospel of God, if that gospel were a lie? Ah! hallowed mistake, indeed, to produce such peaceful, such blessed, such lasting, such divine results! Ah! he is God. The thing is not false. And who shall doubt that he is Messiah? If God should send a prophet, what better prophet could you desire? What character would you seek to have exhibited more completely human and divine? What sort of a Saviour would you wish for? What could better satisfy the cravings of conscience? Who could commend himself more fully to the affections of the heart? He must be, we feel at once, as we see him, one alone by himself, with no competitor; he must be the Messiah of God.
10. Come, now, sirs, on which side will you align yourselves? Will you strike him? I ask the question — “Who is it who will strike him today? Who is it that will spit upon him today?” “I will not,” one says, “but I do not accept nor believe in him.” In that you strike him. “I do not hate him,” another says, “but I am not saved by him.” In refusing his love you strike him. Whoever among you will not trust him with your soul — in that you strike him, strike him in the tenderest part: since you impugn his love and power to save. Oh! “Kiss the Son, lest he is angry, and you perish from the way, when his wrath is kindled only a little.” That suffering man stands in the room, and place, and stead of everyone who will believe on him. Trust him! trust him! — you have then accepted him as your God, as your Messiah. Refuse to trust him! — you have struck him; and you may think it a little thing to do this today; but when he rides upon the clouds of heaven you will see your sin in its true light, and you will shudder to think that you could have ever refused him who now reigns “King of kings and Lord of lords.” God help you to accept him, as your God and Christ, today!
11. II. But our time flies too rapidly, and we must hasten with it, and accompany our Saviour to another place.
12. The Romans had taken away from the Jews the power to put a person to death, they sometimes still did it, but they did it, as in the case of Stephen, by popular tumult. Now, in our Saviour’s case they could not do this, because there was still a strong feeling in favour of Christ among the people, a feeling so strong, that had they not been bribed by the rulers, they would never have said, “Crucify him! crucify him!” You will remember that the priests and rulers did not arrest him on the feast day, “lest” they said “there is a tumult among the people.” Besides, the Jewish way of putting a person to death, was by stoning: hence, unless there was a sufficient number of people who hated him, a person would never get put to death at all. That is why the method of putting to death by stoning was chosen, because if a person was generally thought to be innocent, very few people would stone him; and although he would be somewhat maimed, his life might possibly be spared. They thought, therefore, the Saviour might escape as he did at other times, when they took up stones to stone him. Moreover they desired to put him to the death of the accursed; they would confound him with slaves and criminals, and hang him like the Canaanitish kings of old; therefore they drag him away to Pilate. The distance was about a mile. He was bound in the same cruel manner, and was doubtless cut by the cords. He had already suffered most dreadfully; please remember the bloody sweat of last week’s sermon; then remember that he has already been beaten twice; and he is now hurried along, without any rest or refreshment, just as the morning is breaking, along the streets to the place where Pilate lived, perhaps the tower of Antonia, close to the temple itself; we are not quite sure. He is bound, and they hurry him along the road; and here the Roman Catholic writers supply a great number of details of anguish from their very fertile imaginations. After they had brought him there a difficulty occurred. These holy people, these very righteous elders, could not come into the company of Pilate, because Pilate, being a Gentile, would defile them; and there was a broad space outside the palace, like a raised platform, this was called “the pavement,” where Pilate was accustomed to sit on those high days, so that he might not touch these blessed Jews. So he came out on the pavement, and they themselves did not go into the hall, but remained before “the pavement.” Always notice, that sinners who can swallow camels will strain at gnats, crowds of men who will do great sins are very much afraid of committing some little things which they think will affect their religion. Notice, that many a man who is a big thief during the week, will ease his conscience by rigid Sabbatarianism when the day comes around. In fact, most hypocrites run for shelter to some close observance of days, ceremonies, and observations, when they have slighted the weightier matters of the law.
13. Well, Pilate receives him bound. The charge brought against him was not, of course, blasphemy; Pilate would have laughed at that, and declined all interference. They accused him of stirring up sedition, pretending to be a king, and teaching that it was not right to pay tribute to Caesar. This last charge was a clear and obvious lie. He refuse to pay tribute? Did he not send to the fish’s mouth to get the money? He say that Caesar must not have his due? Did he not tell the Herodians — “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s?” He stir up a sedition? — the man who had “nowhere to lay his head?” He pretend to snatch the diadem from Caesar? — he, the man who hid himself, when the people would have taken him by force and made him a king? Nothing can be more atrociously false. Pilate examines him, and discovers at once, both from his silence and from his answer, that he is a most extraordinary person; he perceives that the kingdom which he claims is something supernatural; he cannot understand it. He asks him what he came into the world for, the reply puzzles and amazes him, “To bear witness to the truth,” he says. Now, that was a thing no Roman understood; for a hundred years before Pilate came, Jugurtha said of the city of Rome, “a city for sale”; bribery, corruption, falsehood, treachery, villany, these were the gods of Rome, and truth had fled the seven hills, the very meaning of the word was scarcely known. So Pilate turned on his heel, and said, “What is truth?” As much as to say, “I am the procurator of this part of the country; all I care for is money.” “What’s truth?” I do not think he asked the question, “What is truth?” as some preach from it, as if he seriously desired to know what it really was, for surely he would have paused for the divine reply and not have gone away from Christ the moment afterwards. He said, “Pshaw; What’s truth?” Yet there was something so awful about the prisoner, that his wife’s dream, and her message — “See that you have nothing to do with this just person,” all worked upon the superstitious fears of this very weak minded ruler; so he went back and told the Jews a second time, “I find no fault in him”; and when they said, “He stirs up the people, teaching throughout all Jewry, beginning at Galilee to this place,” he grasped at that word “Galilee.” “Now,” he thought, “I will be rid of this man; the people shall have their way, and yet I will not be guilty.” “Galilee?” he said; “why, Herod is ruler there; you had better take him to Herod at once.” He thus gained two or three points; he made Herod his friend; he hoped to exonerate himself from his crime, and yet please the mob. Away they go to Herod. Oh! I think I see that blessed Lamb of God again hounded through the streets. Did you ever read such a tale? No martyr, even in bloody Mary’s time, was ever harassed like this as the Saviour was. We must not think that his agonies were all confined to the cross; they were endured in those streets — in those innumerable blows, and kicks, and strikings with the fist, that he had to bear. They took him before Herod, and Herod having heard of his miracles, thought to see some wonderful thing, some piece of magic, done in his presence; and when Christ refused to speak, and would not plead before “that fox” at all, then Herod treated him with a sneer. “They made nothing of him.” Can you picture the scene? Herod, his captains, his lieutenants, all, down to the lowliest soldiers, treat the Saviour with a broad grin! “A pretty king,” they seem to say; “a miserable beggar would be better! Look at his cheeks, all bruised where they have been striking him: is that the colour of royalty’s complexion?” “Look,” they say, “he is emaciated, he is covered with blood, as though he had been sweating drops of blood all night. Is that the imperial purple?” And so they “made nothing of him,” and despised his kingship. And Herod said, “Bring out that costly white robe, you know; if he is a king, let us dress him so,” and so the white robe is put on him — not a purple one — that Pilate put on afterwards. He has two robes put on him — the one put on by the Jews, the other by the Gentiles; seeming to be an apt comment on that passage in Solomon’s song, where the spouse says, “My beloved is white and ruddy” — white with the gorgeous robe which denoted him King of the Jews, and then red with the purple robe which Pilate afterwards cast upon his shoulders, which proved him King of nations too. And so Herod and his men of war, after treating him as shamefully as they could, looking at him as some madman more fit for an insane asylum than elsewhere, sent him back again to Pilate. Oh! can you not follow him? You want no great imagination — as you see them dragging him back again! It is another journey along those streets; another scene of shameful tumult, bitter scorn, and cruel strikings. Why, he dies a hundred deaths, my brethren, it is not one — it is death on death the Saviour bears, as he is dragged from tribunal to tribunal.
14. See, they bring him to Pilate a second time. Pilate again is anxious to save him. He says, “I have found no fault in this man touching those things of which you accuse him: no, nor yet Herod; I will therefore release him!” “No, no,” they say; and they clamour greatly. He proposes a cruel alternative, which yet he meant for tender mercy. “I will therefore chastise him, and let him go.” He gave him over to his lictors to be scourged. The Roman scourge was, as I have explained before, a most dreadful instrument. It was made of the sinews of oxen, and little sharp pieces of bone, which, you know, cause the most frightful lacerations, if by accident you even run them into your hand; little sharp pieces, splinters of bone, were intertwisted every here and there among the sinews; so that every time the lash came down some of these pieces of bone went right into the flesh, and tore off heavy thongfuls, and not only the blood but the very flesh would be torn away. The Saviour was tied to the column, and thus beaten. He had been beaten before; but this beating by the Roman lictor was probably the most severe of his flagellations. After Pilate had beaten him, he gave him up to the soldiers for a short time, so that they might complete the mockery, and so be able to witness that Pilate had no idea of the royalty of Jesus, and no complicity in any supposed treason. The soldiers put a crown of thorns on his head, and bowed before him, and spat on him, and put a reed in his hands; they struck the crown of thorns into his temple, they covered him with a purple robe; and then Pilate brought him out, saying, “Behold the man!” I believe he did it out of pity. He thought, “Now I have wounded him and cut him to pieces thus, I will not kill him; that sight will move their hearts.” Oh! that Ecce Homo1 ought to have melted their hearts, if Satan had not made them harder than flints and sterner than steel. But no, they cry, “Crucify him! crucify him!” So Pilate listens to them again, and they change their tune, “He has spoken blasphemy.” This was a wrong charge to bring; for Pilate, having his superstition again aroused, is the more afraid to put him to death; and he comes out again, and says, “I find no fault in him.” What a strong contest between good and evil in that man’s heart! But they cried out again, “If you let this man go you are not Caesar’s friend.” They hit the mark this time, and he yields to their clamour. He brings forth a basin of water, and he washes his hands before them all, and he says, “I am innocent of the blood of this just person: you see to it.” A poor way of escaping! That water could not wash the blood from his hands, although their cry did bring the blood on their heads — “His blood be on us and on our children.” When that is done, Pilate takes the last desperate step of sitting down on the pavement in royal state; he condemns Jesus, and bids them take him away. But before he is taken to execution, the dogs of war shall snap at him again. The Jews no doubt having bribed the soldiers to excessive zeal of scorn, they a second time — (oh! notice this; perhaps you thought this happened only once. This is the fifth time he has been treated like this) — the soldiers took him back again, and once more they mocked him, once more they spat upon him, and treated him shamefully. So, you see, there was once when he first went to the house of Caiaphas; then after he was condemned there; then Herod and his men of war; then Pilate after the scourging; and then the soldiers, after the ultimate condemnation. Do you not see how obviously “he was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we did not esteem him.” I do not know when I ever more heartily wished to be eloquent than I do now. I am talking to my own lips, and saying, “Oh! that these lips had language worthy of the occasion!” I do only faintly sketch the scene. I cannot lay on the glowing colours. Oh, that I could portray your grief, you Man of Sorrows! God the Holy Spirit impress it on your memories and on your souls, and help you sympathetically to consider the griefs of your blessed Lord.
15. I will now leave this point, when I have made this practical application of it. Remember, dear friends, that today, as truly as on that early morning, a division must be made among us. Either you must today accept Christ as your King, or else his blood will be on you. I bring my Master out before your eyes, and say to you, “Behold your King.” Are you willing to yield obedience to him? He first claims your implicit faith in his merit: will you yield to that? He next claims, that you will take him to be Lord of your heart, and that, just as he shall be Lord within, so he shall be Lord without. Which shall it be? Will you choose him now? Does the Holy Spirit in your soul — for without that you never will — does the Holy Spirit say, “Bow the knee, and take him as your king?” Thank God, then. But if not, his blood is on you, to condemn you. You crucified him. Pilate, Caiaphas, Herod, the Jews and Romans, all meet in you. You scourged him; you said, “Let him be crucified.” Do not say it was not so. In effect you join their clamours when you refuse him; when you go your way to your farm and to your business, and despise his love and his blood, you do spiritually what they did literally — you despise the King of kings. Come to the fountain of his blood, and wash and be clean.
A Third Trial
16. III. But we must close with a third remark. Christ really underwent yet a third trial. He was not only tried before the ecclesiastical and civil tribunals, but, he was really tried before the great democratic tribunal, that is, the assembly of the people in the street.
17. You will say, “How?” Well, the trial was somewhat singular, but yet it really was a trial. Barabbas — a thief, a felon, a murderer, a traitor, had been captured; he was probably one of a band of murderers who were accustomed to come up to Jerusalem at the time of the feast, carrying daggers under their cloaks to stab people in the crowd, and rob them, and then he would be gone again; besides that, he had tried to stir up sedition, setting himself up possibly as a leader of bandits. Christ was put into competition with this villain; the two were presented before the popular eye, and to the shame of manhood, to the disgrace of Adam’s race, let it be remembered that the perfect, loving, tender, sympathising, disinterested Saviour was met with the word, “Crucify him!” and Barabbas, the thief, was preferred. “Well,” one says, “that was atrocious.” The same thing is put before you this morning — the very same thing; and every unregenerate man will make the same choice that the Jews did, and only men renewed by grace will act upon the contrary principle. I say, friend, today I put before you Christ Jesus, or your sins. The reason why many do not come to Christ is because they cannot give up their lusts, their pleasures, their profits. Sin is Barabbas; sin is a thief; it will rob your soul of its life; it will rob God of his glory. Sin is a murderer; it stabbed our father Adam; it destroyed our purity. Sin is a traitor; it rebels against the King of heaven and earth. If you prefer sin to Christ, Christ has stood at your tribunal, and you have given in your verdict that sin is better than Christ. Where is that man? He comes here every Sunday; and yet he is a drunkard? Where is he? You prefer that reeling demon Bacchus2 to Christ. Where is that man? He comes here. Yes; and where are his midnight haunts? The harlot and the prostitute can tell! You have preferred your own foul, filthy lust to Christ. I know some here who have their consciences pricked open, and yet there is no change in them. You prefer Sunday business to Christ; you prefer cheating to Christ; you prefer the theatre to Christ; you prefer the prostitute to Christ; you prefer the devil himself to Christ, for it is he who is the father and author of these things. “No,” one says, “I do not, I do not.” Then I again ask this question, and I ask it very pointedly of you — “If you do not prefer your sins to Christ, how is it that you are not a Christian?” I believe this is the main stumblingstone, that “Men love darkness rather than light, because their deeds are evil.” We do not come to Christ because of the viciousness of our nature, and depravity of our heart; and this is the depravity of your heart, that you prefer darkness to light, put bitter for sweet, and choose evil as your good. Well, I think I hear one saying, “Oh! I wish to be on Jesus Christ’s side, but I did not look at it in that light; I thought the question was, ‘Would he be on my side?’ I am such a poor guilty sinner that I would try to stand anywhere, if Jesus’ blood would wash me.” Sinner! sinner! if you talk like that, then I will meet you very joyously. Never was a man one with Christ until Christ was one with him. If you feel that you can now stand with Christ, and say, “Yes, despised and rejected, he is nevertheless my God, my Saviour, my King.” Will he accept me? Why, soul, he has accepted you; he has renewed you, or else you would not talk so. You speak like a saved man. You may not have the comfort of salvation, but surely there is a work of grace in your heart, God’s divine election has fallen upon you, and Christ’s precious redemption has been made for you, or else you would not talk so. You cannot be willing to come to Christ, and yet Christ reject you. God forbid we should suppose the possibility of any sinner crying after the Saviour, and the Saviour saying, “No, I will not have you.” Blessed be his name, “He who comes to me,” he says, “I will in no wise cast out.” “Well,” one says, “then I would have him today. How can I do it?” There is nothing asked of you except this. Trust him! trust him! Believe that God put him in the place of men; believe that what he suffered was accepted by God instead of their punishment; believe that this great equivalent for punishment can save you. Trust him; throw yourself on him; as a man commits himself to the waters, so do you; sink or swim! You will never sink, you will never sink; for “he who believes on the Lord Jesus Christ has everlasting life, and shall never come into condemnation.”
18. May these faint words upon so thrilling a subject bless your souls, and to God be glory, for ever and ever. Amen and Amen.