"CHOOSE YE THIS DAY."
--MARK 15:1-15.--JUNE 5.--
Golden Text:--"Then said Pilate to the chief priests and
to the people, I find no fault in this man."--Luke 23:4.
HOW MUCH depends upon our proper decision of the questions of life as they come before us day by day is well illustrated in this lesson. When our Lord and the eleven apostles left the upper room for the garden of Gethsemane, Judas--who earlier in the evening had reached a decision--had left their company to conspire with the chief priests, etc., and to guide their followers and servants to where Jesus could be apprehended quietly in the night, without the knowledge of the multitude in the city at that time for the Passover occasion. For the friends of Jesus, it was anticipated, might arouse a commotion amongst the throng of people, which might make the religious rulers of the Jews appear to be seditious, the Romans always being very much alert at such times for the suppression of any indications of revolt against the Roman authority. Judas doubtless had already conferred with the chief priests, and was probably present at the Passover Supper, [R3366 : page 150] partly for the purpose of learning the direction which Jesus and the others would take after the Supper. Our Lord's words to him, "What thou doest do quickly," seemed to imply that the matter was already arranged, and that Jesus by supernatural power was aware of it. That was the moment of final decision for Judas. He was a money lover, and decided to sell his Lord for money. Perhaps indeed he surmised that Jesus could deliver himself, and possibly he thought to gain the money without our Lord being injured; but in any event it shows a baseness of character and willingness to do evil for selfish reasons that remind us very much of the Prophet Balaam, who so greatly desired Balek's rewards of iniquity.
BARTERING THE TRUTH FOR POTTAGE.
This matter of selling the Lord for money cannot be practised today in the same manner in which Judas practised it, yet we believe there is somewhat of the same ignoble spirit manifested by some in our day. It perhaps does not go to the same extent, but it is of the same kind, and who knows but that under favorable conditions it might be willing to go to the same length? We refer to some who are willing to sell the Truth for financial profit, for social advantage, for money; and others willing to sell the members of the Lord's body as Judas sold the Head, for earthly advantage, to deliver one another up to evil, to assist in bringing evil, tribulation, adversity, reproaches, etc., upon the members of the body of Christ. Yet with each of these, as with Judas, there was a time when they were perfectly innocent [R3367 : page 150] of such base ingratitude and wicked designs; there was a time when neither self-love, nor money love, nor any other consideration would have moved them to do injury to members of the anointed body. Let us beware of the little things which, like a switch upon a railway, turn a train into an entirely different track, and may let us off far from the goal we at first desired to reach. We cannot be too careful in the way we meet the trials and testings of character which come to us daily, and whose determination means so much to us respecting the present and the future life.
Our Lord, as he went with his disciples from the upper room and crossed the brook Cedron to the Mount of Olives, to the garden of Gethsemane, was likewise entering--a trial. His trial was from the opposite standpoint to that of Judas; his hour was fully determined, his consecration was completed, he wavered not in respect to the work he had come into the world to accomplish, he had no thought of anything else than dying for our sins. But as he stood upon the brink of death and realized that in a few hours the whole matter of his consecration, his "baptism into death," would be "finished," two matters presented themselves forcefully to his attention. One was that he perceived clearly that his arraignment would take place before the Roman tribunal--that his death would be according to the Roman form, by crucifixion--that, in order to secure his condemnation by the Roman government, the chief priests and scribes, his enemies, would misrepresent his character and teachings, and that his record before the world would stand as that of a blasphemer against God and an evil worker amongst men.
We have no doubt that there are characters in the world who would measurably gloat over an opportunity to suffer as outlaws and desperadoes; they would feel themselves more or less heroes, and would be regarded more or less as heroes amongst their own class, similarly depraved in mind. But for those of more refined temperament--for the upright and honorable and pure in design--to pass through the same experiences would be a terrible ordeal. We may well imagine that our dear Redeemer, perfect, and with sentiments not in the slightest degree degraded, would feel the shame and ignominy of his position in such circumstances more than any of us could do. It was this shame, this reproach of being executed as a blasphemer against God and an injurious person amongst men, that we believe our Lord referred to as the cup which he prayed might, if possible, pass from him, saying at the same time, "Nevertheless, not my will but thine be done."
"OF THE PEOPLE THERE WAS NONE WITH HIM."
That sad hour in Gethsemane's garden, his disciples asleep, unable to appreciate the situation as he did, was the most trying hour of our dear Redeemer's experience. Added to the cup of grief and shame and ignominy came the thought that it is written in the Law, "Cursed is every one who hangeth on a tree," and thus he would be held up and marked amongst all the people of God as being accursed. A further thought was: "Is it possible that I have failed to meet the entire demand of the Law perfectly? Is it possible that I have failed in some little particular, and that thus the curse of the Law of God is to rest upon me, and that I shall lose life entirely after having striven to do the will of the Father and the fulfilment of perfect manhood under the divine Law?"
The strain upon the nervous system became so intense as to produce a bloody sweat, a form of illness very rare indeed and yet not unknown to medical men. This was the greatest agony of all. If he had failed in the slightest degree he had no future, but all of his bright prospects of returning to the Father's love and favor and heavenly conditions by a resurrection would all be vitiated. The Apostle refers to this saying, how in the days of his flesh he offered up strong cryings and prayers unto him who was able to save him from [out of] death, and who was heard in that he feared. (Heb. 5:7.) He was heard in respect to that he feared: he was delivered from death by a resurrection. More than that, he was delivered from the fear of death, from all doubt [R3367 : page 151] as respected his faithfulness to the Father's will and his acceptance of the Father down to that very moment. An angel, a heavenly messenger, appeared and strengthened him, comforting him and assuring him of the Father's love and care, and that he was well pleasing in his sight. Such an assurance to the loyal heart of Jesus was all that was necessary. He could go through any experience courageously while confident that the Father was well pleased with his course, and that the result would be his reattainment of the glories he had left when he came into the world to be our Redeemer, and the attainment also of all the other joys set before him in the Father's promises. Here was a trial upon a great heart that resulted in great blessing to himself as well as to others. The result of his trial was the peace, joy and confidence which, during that night and the next day, kept him the most calm of all, even to his dying moment, and which, as the Apostle declares, led to his glorification in the resurrection, and which eventually shall bring blessings to every member of the human family in the lifting of the curse, the right to lift which was secured by his faithfulness even unto death.
BETRAYED BY A PROFESSED FRIEND.
Presently Judas arrived on the scene with a company of the high priest's servants--not followers in the ordinary sense of the term, but court followers, resembling more the police of the present time. Some of them carried swords and some carried clubs, as our Lord's language to them indicates. Peter and another of the apostles had swords with them--a not unusual matter in those times, though unusual for the apostles, as the context shows. They doubtless had the swords with them to demonstrate that our Lord was not taken contrary to his own will. He had with him eleven able-bodied men, willing to lay down their lives at his command in his defence. One of these, Peter, drew his sword and smote off the ear of the high priest's servant, and doubtless the defence would have been carried on vigorously if our Lord had said the word, or rather had he not interfered by intimating to Peter that what he had done was enough. He bade him put up his sword --he was not to battle for his Lord with carnal weapons --and meantime healed the wounded ear. Our Lord, in surrendering himself, stipulated that his apostles were not included in the arrest.
Thus awakened, surprised, dismissed by the Lord, his disciples saw him taken from them, and were bewildered and confounded, notwithstanding our Lord's words to them on several occasions previously, intimating that some such calamity might be expected. It was a trial to them at the time, as the Master had already intimated, saying, "Watch and pray, lest ye enter into temptation." They had not sufficiently appreciated his words, had slept while the trial hour was coming on, and were, therefore, the less prepared for it.
Our Lord, his hands bound, was led away to Annas and Caiaphas. Although it was night time, about one o'clock, some of the chief officers of the Jews and the Sanhedrin had gathered, being informed that the arrest would take place that night, that one of his disciples would pilot the officers to take him, and the matter was urgent, so that his death could take place as quickly as possible on the next day, before the people in general learned about the matter and before the Passover week would begin. It was not lawful to try a man for any capital offence between sundown and sunrise, and hence this trial was in one sense an informal one--it would be required to be ratified by the Sanhedrin after sunrise. They were willing, however, to come as near as possible to breaking the Law that thus they might accomplish their purposes.
THE VILE CHARGE OF BLASPHEMY.
As he stood before the high priest, and as his enemies brought witnesses and the trial progressed, our Lord may be said to have made no defence; it would have been useless anyway, as they were intent on finding a charge of some kind--they had murder in their hearts. The charge they sought to establish was blasphemy, one of the few charges the penalty of which under the Law was death, and it was his death they wanted. The blasphemy against God was declared to be proven in that he claimed to be the son of God, and blasphemy against the Temple was claimed to be proven in that some had heard him say that if the Temple were destroyed he could rear it again in three days. A decision was reached, but nothing could be done until day light. Meantime the petty officers of the court spat upon the Lord, blindfolded him, and struck him, saying, "Prophesy, now, who is he that smote thee?" and thus the weary hours passed till daybreak. The Jews thought it a trial of the Lord, but his trial was all in the past. It was the trial of their high priests, of the court officers and of the members of the Sanhedrin and of the Jewish nation. It was a trial of whether they loved truth or a falsehood, righteousness or unrighteousness. They decided for unrighteousness.
Meantime the Apostle Peter was having a great trial, too. He had gained access to the outer room of the court and could probably hear or see something from where he stood and warmed himself at the fire. The first instinct of nature, self-preservation, overpowered him. It flashed upon him that if he were recognized as one of Jesus' subordinates he might be treated in the same manner as the Master, and in his desire to avoid the troubles that had come upon Jesus he denied that he knew him, and on a second occasion of the same kind he even swore that he did not know him. Poor Peter! It was a time of severe trial, and, alas he failed. How he might have gloried afterwards if he had suffered something for Christ's sake and for his [R3367 : page 152] acknowledgment of being his follower! But had he done so, all of the Lord's followers since would have lost a very valuable lesson conveyed to us in Peter's experiences.
Peter's weakness on this occasion, afterwards so bitterly lamented and acknowledged and forgiven, has in some respects been a great blessing to all of the [R3368 : page 152] Lord's followers as they found that they, too, had weaknesses, and that sometimes they were overtaken in a fault as was Peter. They have learned from Peter to weep bitterly for these shortcomings, and have not been utterly cast down when they have found that Peter was received again by the Lord and heartily forgiven, and that the lesson thus learned made a deep impression on his life and resulted evidently in his favor. It is related of Peter that ever after this he arose every morning at cock crowing, made a fresh remembrance before the Lord of his weakness on that occasion, and accepted divine forgiveness. It was a testing time to Peter, and so similarly testing times come to all of us. Let us see to it that under no circumstances shall we ever deny our Lord. More than this, let us remember that the Lord places himself and his Word and his brethren on a par, and assures us that those who deny his Truth deny him, and those who deny his Word of prophecy are thus denying him.
TREASON AGAINST ROME.
With sunrise the Sanhedrin met officially, and, accepting the testimony of the high priest, that he had examined witnesses and that it had been proven that Jesus had blasphemed God and the Temple, the verdict was reached that he should die. Then, as related in our lesson, they held a private consultation respecting how they should present the matter before Pilate, the Roman governor. They well knew that he would pay no attention whatever to their charges of blasphemy and would tell them that was not a crime under the Roman law. They determined that the charge against our Lord before Pilate should be treason against the Roman government. In support of this charge of treason they said that he declared there was another king besides Caesar, namely, himself, the Messiah; and to seemingly corroborate this they declared falsely that he had forbidden to pay taxes to Caesar's government, whereas when they tried to catch him on this very subject two days before he had answered to the contrary, "Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's." Moreover, he had paid taxes himself, Peter being sent for the fish to pay the tax for them both. But this false allegation would seemingly prove the truth of the original charge of treason.
Now Pilate's time had come for trial. He stood as judge, and the principles of right and wrong, truth and untruth, righteousness and unrighteousness, in this case were for him to determine. What a wonderful chance he had! Suppose he had refused to connive at the malice of the high priest when he recognized that it was "for envy they had delivered him." Suppose that Pilate had dismissed the high priest and Sanhedrin and the multitude and had set Jesus free, and had cautioned them that if any of them did him injury they would be answerable with their lives! What a noble picture it would have been before the eyes of history! But, instead, his course and reputation have been anything but commendable and admirable. Nevertheless, while recognizing that he thus had a test and that he failed to take the noble part, we are far from sharing with the majority in their very ignominious view of this governor.
We are to remember that Pilate was neither a Jew nor a Christian, but a heathen man--without God and having no hope in the world. We are to remember that he did not believe in the Jews' religion, whatever he may have believed. He did not believe in Jesus, nor had he any respect for the Messianic promises. He was filling the office of governor as the representative of Caesar's government at Rome. He had his own pleasures and self-gratifications distinct from the Jews and their festivals, etc., for which he cared nothing. He was amenable not to our God, for he knew him not, but merely to Caesar, and Caesar expected nothing of him except that he would preserve the peace and quiet of the city and maintain the dignity and authority of Rome. Rome cared not if one or ten or hundreds of innocent persons were put to death, if only the peace of the country were maintained. It was, therefore, Pilate's first duty as Roman governor to keep the peace in Jerusalem.
ART THOU THE KING OF THE JEWS?
From this standpoint we can say that Pilate's course was noble and just--though not the noble and just one which we would have preferred for him. Pilate did not readily accept the charges of the Pharisees: he knew them to be hypocritical, and really we may here say that the worst wickedness in the world at any time, at every time, in its history has been that form of wickedness which parades under the cloak of religion, which does evil in the name of that which is right, true, good. Pilate asked for specifications respecting the treason, and this seems to have surprised the chief priests, who presumed that their word would be taken on that subject without proof. If they thought a Jew had been worthy of death for treason then Pilate should certainly so suspect and so believe, for they were not supposed to wish the destruction of any fellow-Jew on such a charge. Pilate looked at Jesus and saw in him no criminal appearance, saw that he did not look at all like one who would become a leader of sedition; that, instead, meekness, gentleness, patience, long suffering, love, were marks of his features. Pilate inquired of Jesus respecting this charge, "Art thou the king of the Jews?" Our Lord's answer was not quite equivalent to yes, and yet it intimated [R3368 : page 153] that he did not wish to dispute the charge. To have attempted to explain the Kingdom of God under such circumstances would have been improper, for none there were prepared to hear and appreciate or understand; to have done so would have been in conflict with our Lord's own instruction on the subject, not to cast pearls before swine. Those present were not prepared to understand that the Kingdom would come a spirit Kingdom, that it would have earthly representatives, etc.
Meantime the chief priests accused him fiercely, Jesus saying nothing--"He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearer is dumb, so he opened not his mouth." He was not there to defend himself, nor to protest against his execution. On the contrary, he was there to sacrifice his life, to lay it down, to permit it to be taken from him without resistance. Pilate himself marveled that anyone could be so indifferent to the results of his trial. All this, however, proved the more conclusively that there was nothing dangerous to the interests of Rome in connection with our Lord's life or teachings: it all disproved what the chief priests were charging, and demonstrated that they had some ulterior malevolent spirit of opposition to Jesus.
PREFERRING BARABBAS TO JESUS.
There had been a real sedition, a genuine movement against the authority of Rome, at a previous time, and Barabbas and others had been made prisoners on account of it. Some one in the crowd started a call on the governor to do as was his custom every year at this time--to release some prisoner as a matter of clemency and favor. Soon the whole mob took it up, and Pilate inquired, "Shall I then release unto you the king of the Jews?"--Jesus. His thought evidently was to arouse in them to some extent an enthusiasm in favor of his liberation of Jesus, for we read that he perceived that it was the chief priests and not the multitudes that were against Jesus. He hoped to turn the rabble to the side of Jesus and to release him on their request. But the chief priests, who had accused Jesus, stirred up the multitude to request the release of Barabbas, the seditionist, the rioter. One wonders that they were not ashamed in the presence of even a heathen governor to manifest their perfidy in this manner --to accuse Jesus of being a traitor to Rome and asking to have him crucified and in the same breath to urge the release of one about whose rioting there was no question.
Pilate evidently heard something said about Jesus' work being largely done in Galilee, and thought to be rid of the matter by turning the case over to Herod, the ruler of Galilee, who was present in Jerusalem at the time. He therefore sent Jesus bound to Herod, with the explanation that, as he was a Galilean, Pilate was pleased to acknowledge Herod and to submit the case to his adjudication. Really he was glad to be rid of the case, for he preferred not to put to death an innocent man, yet he perceived that the chief priests could make very violent charges against him if he refused to put to death one whom they charged with treason against the Roman government. At Rome such conduct would have the appearance of favoring rebellion; and if Pilate should reply that there was no danger of rebellion, that the man was merely a quiet, innocent man, they would have probably responded that he was entirely too particular anyway, that he should be prompt in the execution of anybody and everybody charged with the slightest degree with rebellion in word or act against the Roman power. Thus, no doubt, he would have lost his position and would have been degraded for the remainder of life. Pilate was in a very trying position.
HEROD'S OPPORTUNITY AND FAILURE.
The coming of Jesus to Herod meant a trial for Herod. How would he receive Jesus? What would be his conduct toward righteousness and truth and justice and purity and goodness? This is the same Herod who about a year and a half before had beheaded John the Baptist, and who, hearing of Jesus, had suggested that he might be a reincarnation of John. Herod, we are told, was glad to see Jesus and hoped to see him perform some miracle of which he had heard so much; but the Lord was absolutely silent before him, not a word had he to say before such a man. Such a course was probably the most striking rebuke he could have administered to Herod, and was entirely in line with the whole conduct of our Lord--his determination to do nothing that would hinder the accomplishment of that which he knew to be the divine purpose--his death that very day.
Finding that Jesus would not even reply for him, nor perform any miracles for his entertainment, Herod [R3369 : page 153] suggested to his men of war that they robe him as a king and have some sport with him, as it seems was a custom of that time in respect to criminals--the soldiers were granted opportunity to give them mock homage and then to buffet them, etc., before they were executed. This done to Jesus he was returned to Pilate, Herod in turn expressing his appreciation of Pilate's course, but declining to interfere in Pilate's territory. From that time Pilate and Herod were friends, though previously they had been adversaries.
"DO NOTHING AGAINST THIS JUST MAN."
The case returning to Pilate, and the chief priests evidently fearing some slip of their plans, were very persistent in demanding the death of Jesus and in inciting the multitude to clamor for it. Some six times in all Pilate declared the innocence of Jesus, yet under the circumstances already narrated he hesitated to absolutely refuse the demand of the Jewish priests and multitude: [R3369 : page 154] especially did he feel the point of the argument made by the priests, "If thou let this man go, thou art not Caesar's friend," which meant, You are an enemy to Caesar and to the government of Rome. Pilate realized that such a course would not be understood by his superiors, and hence he tried every method to get the Jews satisfied in the matter. One step in this proceeding was to order that Jesus should be scourged. He hoped that the scourging would satisfy his adversaries' thirst for blood. Meantime Pilate's wife sent a message to him urging that he do nothing against this man, for that she had had a dream in the night to this effect. Under the circumstances Pilate evidently did everything that could be expected of a worldly man in the times and under the conditions in which he lived. The only exception to such a procedure that we could expect would be on the part of a Christian, or of some one who under Christian influence had gained a much more than ordinary love for justice, and willingness to sacrifice every interest in its behalf.
It was in connection with his endeavor to free Jesus from those who sought his life that Pilate stood Jesus forth so that they might see him, exclaiming, "Behold the man!" The impression we get is that Pilate himself was struck with the quiet dignity of our Lord in his facial expression, in his composure under trying conditions. His words seem to mean, Look at the man you are talking about crucifying! Why, Jews, you have not such a man in all your land. I doubt if there is any man his equal anywhere! But it was all of no avail; the multitude had become excited and were clamoring for our Lord's blood. In the expressive symbolic language of the time, Pilate, before delivering Jesus for crucifixion, indicated that he was averse to the sentence they were compelling him to pronounce, and that wherever the responsibility lay he was not the guilty party. He did this by washing his hands with water in the presence of the people, exclaiming, "I am innocent of the blood of this just person."--Matt. 27:24.
THE RESULT OF THESE TRIALS--RETRIBUTION.
What a number of trials, testings and provings we have found in this lesson--and now let us briefly glance at the results. Judas, as a result of failure in his trial, died soon by his own hand. Pilate, the unwilling instrument of the condemnation and not one hundredth part as guilty as the Jews, shortly afterwards lost his commission as governor and in despondency committed suicide. Annas, the high priest, was subsequently dragged through the streets, scourged and murdered. The multitude who cried out, "Crucify him!" and who in answer to Pilate's declaration that he was innocent of the blood of Jesus, declared, "His blood be upon us and upon our children," experienced a baptism of blood not many years after when the entire city of Jerusalem was a scene of most horrible atrocities, which culminated in the utter destruction of their city with great loss of life, in the overflow of the entire Jewish polity in Palestine, and the scattering of the survivors amongst all nations and peoples. The curse they thus brought upon themselves still remains to some extent; his blood is still upon them, and from that day until the present time the Jews have suffered greatly; and although the divine disfavor has been passing from them as a nation since 1878, it will continue in some measure until nearly or quite 1914. The curse will be remitted because of its being forgiven through the grace of God in Christ.
On the other hand, note the blessings which came to those whose testings were received in the proper manner, demonstrating their loyalty to the Lord. Our Lord Jesus was highly exalted, far above angels, principalities and powers and every name that is named-- because faithful unto death, even the death of the cross. Peter the Apostle, although partially overtaken in a fault, nevertheless through repentance and bitter tears was accepted back again to the Lord's favor, profited by his sad experience, and became one of the noblest of the apostles, one of the most honored, and is yet to be honored in the Kingdom as joint-heir with his Redeemer.
THINK NOT STRANGE YOUR FIERY TRIALS.
We are not to expect similar trials, in all respects like those of our lesson, but we are to expect fiery trials, and we are to note that the results will be in accord with the manner in which we meet them. The lesson to us is that we should follow in the footsteps of Jesus and resolve to be faithful to our heavenly Father, to do his will at any cost, at any sacrifice of earthly interests --not grudgingly, but, as expressed prophetically of our Lord, "I delight to do thy will, O my God; thy Law is written in my heart." Another lesson is that if temporarily we should stumble in following the Master we must not be discouraged, but turn the failure and stumbling into a blessing by permitting it to bring us into closer relationship to the Lord and to make us more and more careful and more faithful in our walk with the Lord henceforth.
Some one has said: "This scene has often been alleged as a self-condemnation of democracy. Vox populi, vox Dei (The voice of the people is the voice of God), its flatterers have said; but look yonder. When the multitude has to choose between Jesus and Barabbas, it chooses Barabbas. If this be so, the scene is equally decisive against aristocracy. Did the priests, scribes and nobles behave any better than the mob? It was by their advice that the mob chose Barabbas." This is a very wise and a very truthful suggestion. The voice of the people can be relied upon in some matters, and, on the whole, the republican form of government is probably the best of any in the world for civilized peoples under present conditions; but as respects religious [R3369 : page 155] things the voice of the people is far from being the voice of God. On the contrary, the Apostle declared, "The world by wisdom knows not God." It must not, therefore, prejudice our judgments to find the popular voice against us. What we seek for and listen for is the voice of the Lord through his Word. With this let us be satisfied as was our Redeemer, content whatever lot we see since it is our God who leadeth us. It is possible that the closing scenes of the Church's experience may in some respects resemble that of our dear Redeemer; it is possible that some of the Lord's people may be branded as blasphemers and hailed before governments on the charges of preaching Christ as another King. Should it ever come to such a pass, we should have no doubt whatever respecting our position. It should be that of full confidence in the Lord, and through faithfulness to him, to his Word, and to all the brethren. Let us leave the outcome of these trials and testings in the hands of the Lord, assured by his Word that he will make these afflictions to work out for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.