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—JOHN 19:17-42.—MAY 24—
Golden Text:—"Christ died for our sins
according to the Scriptures."—1 Cor. 15:3 .
ONE of the most remarkable facts of history is that the most intelligent people of the world, the most highly civilized, recognize as their Leader, their Prophet, Priest and King, one whom they admit was crucified as a malefactor nearly nineteen centuries ago! Still more remarkable is the fact that the doctrines promulgated in his name by his followers lay stress upon the fact that his crucifixion was a part of the divine program; more than this, that his crucifixion was necessary; that by the blood of the cross, by the death of the crucified One, atonement is effected for the sins of the Church and of the world—"He is the propitiation for our sins [the Church's sins], and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world." (I John 2:2.) Indeed, by divine providence we see that the cross of Christ (not the pieces of wood, but the sacrifice made thereon and represented thereby) is the very center of the great salvation which God had prepared for our race before sin entered the world, foreknowing that it would come. The divine sentence was death, and this rested upon Adam and all his posterity. None of the condemned could redeem himself or his brother, hence the divine provision that the Logos should leave the heavenly condition and become a man, that he might redeem man.
The death of the man Christ Jesus in any form would have been a sufficiency to offset the original sentence; but God was pleased to test our dear Redeemer's loyalty to him by arranging that the death should be a peculiarly trying one, a disgraceful one, so that the loyalty of Jesus should thereby be the more particularly demonstrated, both to angels and to men; and so that the Father could be fully justified in rewarding him with the highest exaltation—far above angels, principalities, powers and every name that is named—that all men should honor the Son, even as they honor the Father. It was for this reason, then, that the [R4171 : page 150] death of the cross was intimated in the Scriptures as being the most ignominious—"Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree." The Apostle implies this added ignominy of the cross in his account of how the Lord left the glory which he had with the Father, humbled himself, took upon himself the form of a servant and was found in fashion a man—"And being found in fashion a man he humbled himself unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God hath highly exalted him." (Phil. 2:7-10.) So far, then, as our dear Redeemer himself was concerned, this disgrace of the cross, which would have been so trying to any noble son and particularly to the Perfect One, became to him a stepping stone to glory, honor and immortality, the divine nature. As for us, it certainly has already exalted our dear Redeemer in the estimation of all truly his and guided by the Word of the Lord. These glory in the Master's faith and obedience thus demonstrated to the last degree. We are aware, however, that the Higher Critics and Evolutionists have no sympathy with any such thought. Considering themselves wise they neglect the wisdom from above, which instructs us that only by this sacrifice of himself our Redeemer presented to the Father the ransom price for father Adam's life and for the lives of all his posterity, forfeited through his disobedience; and that only by this ransom could any of these attain to a resurrection and opportunity for eternal life in harmony with God.
Our lesson does not include the trial of our Lord by the High Priest and the Sanhedrin, nor his presentation to Pilate's court, then at Herod's and his return to Pilate and the endeavors made by that Roman governor for his release. It was only when a riot was feared that Pilate consented that Jesus should be crucified and gave the order therefor, at the same time washing his hands before the multitude, saying, "I am guiltless of the blood of this just person." It was then that the multitude cried out, "His blood be upon us and upon our children," and Jesus was led away for crucifixion.
Jerusalem has several times been destroyed and rebuilt since then, and the levels of some of the streets are quite different from what they then were; yet the Via Dolorosa, or the "sorrowful way," is still pointed out, and also a portion of the archway known as the Arch of Ecce Homo, reputed to have been the place where Pilate stood when, pleading for our Lord's release, he said to the rabid throng, "Behold the man!"—as though he would say, Do you really wish me to crucify such a noble sample of humanity and of your race? Look at him! decide now and finally on the subject! That these traditions are well founded is shown by the fact that in quite recent times excavation made for the foundation of a house on the supposed site of Pilate's palace revealed at a considerable depth an extensive portion of a mosaic pavement of fine work such as would have probably been connected with a palace; and this identifies itself through the statement of John 9:13, which refers to the judgment seat as being in a place "called the Pavement." Herewith we publish a small diagram of the city, from which can be judged the route taken by our Lord and the Roman soldiers who were to crucify him while they went to the "place of a skull" called in the Hebrew language Golgotha, and in the Latin, Calvary. The supposed site is on a hill near Jerusalem, which in the distance has the general contour of a skull, with hollows corresponding to the eye-sockets. Modern scholars are well agreed as to this site, which answers well to the general requirements of the Gospel narrative—outside the city walls, nigh to the city, in a conspicuous position, near a frequented thoroughfare, and still called by the Jews the "place of stoning." Christian tradition from the fifth century fixes this as the place of the stoning of Stephen.
It was a part of the custom of these crucifixions that the culprit must bear his own cross; and so we read that Jesus bore his until, faint from the nervous strain of the preceding twenty-four hours, without sleep and probably with but little nourishment, and under great strain and exhausted from the beating, he sank under the weight of the cross. If on the one hand we think of the fact that he was perfect, we might suppose that he would have had more strength; but on the other hand we should remember that man in his perfection was not necessarily a giant in size or a Hercules in strength. Quite to the contrary; these abnormal conditions are the expressions, the results of imperfections. We may suppose that a perfect specimen of our race would combine the best qualities of mind and body represented in both the male and the female, and that delicacy, refinement and elegance with moderate strength should be nearer to our conception of perfection. Thus with fruits and vegetables; the largest fruits are frequently the coarsest; the perfect are neither over-sized and coarse-grained nor dwarfs. Our race seems to have left perfection to such a degree that the majority are either too delicate or too coarse. Furthermore, in our Lord's case we are to remember that he had been sacrificing his life for three and a half years; [R4171 : page 151] that vitality had been going out of him for the healing of all kinds of disease. This loss would tend to weaken him. In other words he had been dying for three and a half years and was now on his way to Calvary to finish the matter of surrendering his life in harmony with the Father's will.
Some of our Lord's disciples were onlookers (John, at least, was one), and truly they would have been glad to bear the cross for him. We must suppose that they were hindered from proffering their services by fear of being considered as interfering with the officers of the law. However, in the emergency the soldiers found a countryman on the route whom they compelled to bear the cross after Jesus. This expression might have meant to walk after him, to relieve him of part of the load; or it might have meant for him to carry all the load while the Lord walked on before. But we do know that this enforced task upon Simon was a very precious privilege. How many of the Lord's followers since have almost envied him the opportunity enjoyed! Tradition says that Simon ultimately became a Christian, [R4172 : page 151] that his name was known to the Apostle John and also the part of the country whence he came. The mention of the names of his sons gives strong corroboration to the tradition.—Mark 15:21.
While sympathizing with our Lord and thinking how we should have enjoyed helping to bear his cross, we should not forget in this connection two privileges which he has provided for us. First, he tells us that if we would come after him as his disciples we may share with him in the bearing of the cross of this present time—"Whosoever will be my disciple let him take up his cross and follow me." Then, after believing on the Lord, and being justified by faith, and having peace with God, and realizing the forgiveness of our sins, we are invited to make a full consecration of ourselves, to take up our cross—to cross our own wills and to do the will of the Lord, which is the will of the Father which sent him. Do we appreciate the privilege enough thus to take up our cross daily? Are we still bearing the cross? Is it our resolution that by the Lord's grace we will continue to bear it to the end of the journey, until like him we shall be able to say, "It is finished"—the work given us to do, the privilege of bearing witness to the Word of truth by word and by daily conduct?
The second way of crossbearing is to help others who, as members of the Body of Christ, are his representatives about us in the world. When we see any of these with crosses too heavy for them to bear, crosses under which they will likely sink or have already sunk, let us think of the Master and of how we coveted the privilege of helping him to bear his burdens, and let us hear his voice assuring us that what is done unto one of the least of his disciples in his name is done unto him. Oh, how many helpful words this would mean to many of the burdened and the weak of the Lord's Little Flock! Oh, how many cups of kindness it would imply! How much it would bring of cheer and comfort to some of those whom the Lord recognizes as members of his Body! As one member of our body assists another member in distress, so in the Body of Christ. All the members are to bear one another up, strengthen one another, comfort one another, refresh one another, and generally to make one another ready for the glorious consummation of our hopes in the Kingdom.
Numerous details connected with the crucifixion are enumerated. The time was the third hour, nine o'clock, according to Mark, but the sixth hour or noon according to John. The discrepancy is accounted for by the oriental lack of exactness; or Mark may have referred to the fact that the sentence was pronounced in the third hour, while John's record has to do with the time when our Lord was actually on the cross—after the slow journey, the fastening to the cross, and the making out and attaching the board indicating the charge against our Lord, "This is Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews," and then the subsequent raising of the cross with Jesus on it, all of which would occupy quite a considerable period of time, probably nearly or quite three hours.
The Jewish leaders were disappointed with the placard which appeared on the cross, indicating the crime for which the culprit had been executed. They protested about it, denying that Jesus was the King of the Jews. But the Governor refused to alter the matter; and doubtless he worded it especially as a rebuke to them, for he perceived that for envy, malice, they had delivered Jesus to him for death. He would now shame them. The multitudes could all read the inscription: for according to custom it was written in three languages, in Hebrew, the language of the people; in Latin, the language of the government, and in Greek, the language of the educated of that time. Thus in spite of his enemies, the crucified Jesus was proclaimed the Messiah. Yet how strange! A crucified Messiah! How different are God's ways and means of accomplishing an object from man's ways! Truly, as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are his ways higher than our ways. Had Jesus not died, had he not redeemed us from sin, the most that he could have done as a ransomer would have been to assist man to more reasonable and better lives—but not to eternal life, which had been forfeited through Adam and which could not be recovered except through a redemption. Under the divine plan, however, he who humbled himself to redeem the world is now highly exalted by the Father to his own right hand of power and dignity, and shortly, as the King of Israel and the King of all the world, he will reveal himself to the overthrow of wickedness, to the uplifting of righteousness, and to the assistance of the weak and the poor and the ignorant, for the blessing of all the families of the earth according to the promise.—Gen. 12:3.
Our Lord was made a companion of robbers. The two crucified with him, one at either side, were probably members of the band of Barabbas, and were [R4172 : page 152] probably considered by the people as more or less of heroes. At all events we are not informed that any jests or jibes were hurled at them by the people. Thus it must be with the Lord's followers to this day. We must remember that our Master and his cause are unpopular; that the learned and influential of the world will be opposed to us, as they were to him, and that this is according to his Word and to the principle upon which the divine plan is being worked out, namely, that if we would reign with him, we must also suffer with him. Crucifixion particulars are not given, and we may be glad of it, for the picture which suggests itself to the mind is horrible enough without any incidental details, and the fact that four writers recorded the main features of the execution, but gave none of the details of the crucifixion itself, is in full accord with the general treatment of such matters in the Bible so different from what would ordinarily be the course of a narrator. Ian MacLaren suggests:—
"There was no death so cruel as that of crucifixion, because the prisoner died not from loss of blood nor in a short space of time, but through the lingering agony of open wounds, the arrested circulation at the extremities, the tension of the nervous system, and the oppression of heart and brain. For five long hours Jesus endured this pain of torn nerves, of intense thirst and of racked body and throbbing brain!"
It is not to be expected that anyone under such conditions would have much to say. It is quite probable, therefore, that the recorded words or messages of our Lord were the only ones he uttered. These words represent faithfully some of the most important features of our Lord's character and teaching.
What is generally known as the first of these words from the cross is recorded in Luke 23:34. Then said Jesus, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." We have no doubt at all that our Lord's heart was full of a forgiving spirit, but for several reasons we doubt if he ever uttered these words: (1) They are not found in the Greek MSS., Codex Vaticanus, No. 1209 (fourth century), and Codex Alexandrinus (fifth century). (2) These words would not seem to be appropriate, for those who were guilty of our Lord's death were not repentant, and our understanding is that the Scriptures clearly indicate that repentance is necessary to forgiveness. (3) Those who were guilty of our Lord's death did not believe on him nor trust in his merit, and the clear teaching of the Scriptures is that forgiveness must be preceded by faith. (4) It is not recorded that they were of repentant and contrite hearts and that they had turned away from sin; and the clear teaching of the Scripture is that no one is forgiven unless in this attitude of repentance. (5) Our Lord had not yet finished the work of sacrifice, nor had he yet ascended to the Father and presented that sacrifice even on behalf of believers, and hence the Father would not be prepared to forgive the sin. (6) We have no evidence that the sin was forgiven, but every evidence that the prayer of the Jews themselves, "His blood be upon us and upon our children," was answered in the time of trouble which came upon that nation, of which the Apostle says, "Wrath is come upon them to the uttermost."—I Thess. 2:16.
The reputed second word from the cross, "Verily I say unto you today, thou shalt be with me in Paradise,"* is apparently authentic. It was the Lord's message to one of the robbers who confessed his sin and desired the Lord's favor and clemency when he would come into his Kingdom. Our Lord has not yet fully come into his Kingdom; hence the time has not yet come when the thief desired to be remembered. Notwithstanding the dark day and the apparent eclipse of our Lord's life and hopes, he assured the penitent one that he was able to answer his petition and would do so. The fulfilment of that request, as the Scriptures show, will come at our Lord's second advent, when he shall take his great power and reestablish Paradise in the earth, the Paradise which was lost on account of sin, but which was redeemed by the precious blood. Then the penitent thief will come forth; yea, the Scriptures tell us that all that are in their graves shall hear the voice of the Son of man and shall come forth; and this call will include the other thief also. They will come forth to the favorable conditions of the Millennial Kingdom; but we may be sure that the penitent one will have an advantage over the other and a special reward, too, for ministering a word of comfort to our Redeemer in his dying hour.
*Note corrected punctuation. See DAWN-STUDIES, Vol. VI., p.667 [R4173 : page 152] our Lord, so far from thinking of himself and his own anguish, was thinking of others. As during his ministry he had gone about doing good, so in his dying hour here he thought of the good, the welfare of others, and in the above words committed his mother to the care of the loving disciple. Beautiful is the lesson! How it shows us the largeness of our Lord's heart and sympathy, and how it teaches us not to be entirely engrossed with our own trials and difficulties, large and small, but rather to be burden-bearers of others, allowing our sympathies, our thoughts and our plans to be active for the blessing of all those who in any measure are under our care in matters temporal or spiritual!
"My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me!" These words are known as the fourth word or message from the cross. They mark to us the depth of our Lord's anguish. He was dying as the sinner's redemption price, as the substitute, in order that God might be just and the justifier of all who believe in Jesus, and that he might grant them in due time a resurrection from the dead and a return to the Father's favor and to eternal life—to all that was lost in Adam. To be our substitute he must in everything suffer all that we were doomed to suffer as sinners. This included not only his loss of life, but also his cutting off from all fellowship with the Father. A moment, as it were, would [R4173 : page 153] do; but there must come that moment of darkness, of separation, and we may readily understand that this was the darkest moment in all of our Lord's experiences, still darker than Gethsemane, which was merely a foreshadowing of this experience. How glad we are that we can see the philosophy, the reason why this experience came to our Lord! And as we realize this, may it more and more fill our hearts with appreciation of the blessings which are ours through Christ; the privilege of return to the Father's fellowship and love, so that we can apply to ourselves the Master's words, "The Father himself loveth you." (John 16:27.) There is nothing in this dying word of our Lord that would suggest insincerity on his part, and surely nothing in it that would suggest the doctrine of the Trinity! It is in perfect keeping, however, with all that he said on the subject of his relationship to the Father.
The fifth word: "I thirst." This expression calls forcibly to mind several facts: (1) Exposed to the heat of the sun, with but slight covering and under nervous excitement and pain, thirst must have been one of the principal elements of torture to the crucified. (2) When we think of the fact that our Lord had been the active agent of Jehovah in the great work of creation of all things, including water, the Master's voluntary humiliation and resignation to thirst—yea, to die on behalf of the rebels of the realm—is a remarkable illustration of his love for mankind. This cry of thirst, we are told, was uttered when he knew that all things had been finished, when all of the work which had been given him to do had been accomplished—and not until then might he refer to his own condition. Even this cry was in fulfilment of the prediction of Psalm 69:21. Our Lord had refused the stupefying draught, but now accepted the refreshment given him from a sponge lifted to his lips on a reed, probably two and one-third feet long. As we think of this matter let us remember that our Lord hungered and thirsted that we, with all for whom he died, might have the water of life and the bread of life—might attain eternal life!
This sixth word was one of triumph. He had finished the work which the Father had given him to do; he had been loyal from first to last, self-sacrificing. He was glad, surely, that his earthly course was at an end, glad because it ended in victory and because this meant ultimately the blessing of the world of mankind and their release from the power of sin and death and the Adversary. It might be said in this sense of the word that our Lord began his work when he left the heavenly courts and humbled himself to take the human nature; and that it progressed during the period of his attaining manhood's estate, thirty years: however, Scripturally considered, the work that was finished was the work of sacrifice which began at Jordan when he was baptized, when he made a full consecration of himself even unto death. Just before his crucifixion he had said, "I have a baptism to be accomplished and how am I straightened until it be finished." Three and a half years was the period of his baptism into death, and now the final moment had come—"It is finished."
"Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit." This is supposed to have been the last word, the last act of our Lord's earthly ministry, its finishing touch. How appropriate that he who had sought to do the Father's will at any cost should have absolute confidence that in his death his spirit of life would be in the Father's care and keeping, and that he should thus express himself! And this should be true of all who are his followers. Having resigned our all to the Lord we should so fully appropriate his gracious promises as to be without fear as we go down into death. Death in our Lord's case, however, must have meant far more than it could possibly mean to any of us. We not only have the Lord's assurance of a resurrection, but we have in our Lord's own case an illustration of the divine power. It was he who raised our Lord Jesus from the dead whose power will be exercised through him in bringing us forth to glory, honor and immortality. Our Lord was the forerunner; none before him had ever been raised from the dead, either to the perfection of human life or to the perfection of the divine nature.
St. Luke informs us that he cried with a loud voice, a testimony and witness to all that were near of his hope in God and in a resurrection. Some modern writers regard the cry as the utterance of one dying of a ruptured heart, the supposition being that this was the immediate cause of our Lord's death. It is admitted that there is such a thing as an actually broken heart. We might attribute the cause of this rupture to the ignominious circumstances surrounding our Lord's betrayal, denial, condemnation, scourging and crucifixion; and no doubt all of these would tend to depress him in spirit. But in our judgment the primary cause of his heart rupture was the grief mentioned in the fourth cry, the withdrawal of divine fellowship, the loneliness which was his during his last hour.
"The bloody water that burst from Christ's side when pierced by the soldier's spear evidenced this. The blood exuding from the heart into the pericardium had separated into red clots and a water serum. Jesus died literally from a broken heart."
It does not surprise us that in the divine order nature is made to manifest a sympathy with our Lord by the peculiar darkness which came over the land at the time Jesus hung on the cross. One ancient MS., treating of the subject, says that "many went about with lamps, and the darkness lasted until Jesus was taken from the cross." A great earthquake is mentioned also as having taken place at this time, in connection with which the heavy curtain of the Temple, separating the Holy from the Most Holy, was torn from the top to the bottom, symbolizing thus, as the Apostle suggests, that the way into the Most Holy was now made manifest, made possible through the suffering and death of [R4173 : page 154] Christ. According to Mark, Joseph of Arimathea went "boldly" to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. From all accounts he must have been a noble character. Matthew says "he was a rich man"; Luke says, "a good man and a righteous...who was looking for the Kingdom of God"; Mark says he was a "counsellor of honorable estate," that is, a member of the Sanhedrin. "How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the Kingdom of heaven," said Jesus. It is hard for them, because they have much more to overcome proportionately than if they were poor. Had this Joseph of Arimathea not been a rich man he probably would have been fully a follower of Jesus. We are pleased, however, to know that so many good things could be said about him, and that his courage and boldness increased, instead of diminishing under trial. May we not hope that ultimately he became a disciple and footstep follower in the fullest sense? Geike remarks respecting him:—
"It was no light matter Joseph had undertaken: for to take part in a burial at any time would defile him for seven days and make everything unclean which he touched (Num. 19:11); and to do so now involved a seclusion through the whole Passover week with all its holy observances and rejoicings."
With pleasure we find Nicodemus, another wealthy and influential ruler of the Jews, associated with Joseph in caring for our Lord's body. We may be sure that these men received at the hands of the Lord special blessing because of the courage and zeal which they exhibited on this occasion. We may be sure that those who are so fearful as to hold back when opportunities are offered for service to the Lord are unlikely to be approved of the Master and unlikely, therefore, to gain the great reward which he is now offering to victors. To us the lesson in all this is to be bold for the right, for the truth, for the Lord, for the brethren—at any cost. Indeed, the more our courage and faithfulness to privilege and opportunity may cost us, the greater will be our reward, both in the present life and in that which is to come. This is the third mention we have of Nicodemus in connection with our Lord's ministry. First he visited Jesus by night, as recorded in John 3. [R4174 : page 154] Second, he cautiously interposed on Jesus' behalf when an attempt was made to seize the Lord, as recorded in John 7:44-52. And now, as some one suggests, he "improved a last opportunity for service with the bitter consolation of having failed where he might have done much." He was a rich man and brought an hundred Roman pounds (67 lbs. our weight) of myrrh, resin and pounded aloewood, aromatic and preservative, supposedly used by the Jews in wrapping up the dead. A lesson for us is that we should not be content with neutrality in connection with the truth and its service. We should be positive as far as possible; we should take our stand for righteousness and do with our might on behalf of the Lord's cause and the Lord's brethren; while using wisdom and discretion, we should nevertheless be courageous. We should bring our flowers to cheer and comfort in life and not wait until death has prevented an appreciation of these.
"Golgotha! There is a legend that it was the very center of the earth's surface, the middle point of the habitable globe. We think nothing of the legend, but very much of the truth which it suggests, for the cross of Christ is the true center of the Church where all believers meet, of all tribes and nations."
"How shall we dare, with the cross in our view, to lay out our lives for self-blessing and self-indulgence? How shall we make the possession of this world's honors, its wealth, or its favor or its high places, the main end and scope of our lives? taking no part in the sufferings of Christ, choosing ever the feast and never the fast?"
"You have your cross, my friend. There is pain in the duty which you do. But if in all your pain you know that God's love is becoming a dearer and a plainer truth to you, then you can triumph in every sacrifice. Your cross has won something of the glory and beauty of your Lord's. Rejoice and be glad, for you are crucified with Christ."
In closing this lesson let us remember the important truths of its Golden Text, "Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures." He did not die because death was natural, because he was sinful like other men, nor to show us how to die; he died for our sins, because of our sins; because the penalty of our sins was a death penalty, and because we must be redeemed in order to have any future life on any plane. Hence:—