corner graphic

Bible Commentaries

Alexander MacLaren's Expositions of Holy Scripture

Matthew 26

 

 

Verse 29

Matthew

THE NEW PASSOVER

‘UNTIL THAT DAY’

Matthew 26:29.

This remarkable saying of our Lord’s is recorded in all of the accounts of the institution of the Lord’s Supper. The thought embodied in it ought to be present in the minds of all who partake of that rite. It converts what is primarily a memorial into a prophecy. It bids us hope as well as, and because we, remember. The light behind us is cast forward on to the dimness before. So the Apostle Paul, in his solitary reference to the Communion-which, indeed, is an entirely incidental one, and evoked simply by the corruptions in the Corinthian Church, emphasises this prophetic and onward-looking aspect of the backward-looking rite when he says, ‘Ye do show the Lord’s death till He come.’

Now, it seems to me that those of us who so strongly hold that the Communion is primarily a simple memorial service, with no mysterious or magical efficacy of any sort about it, do rather ignore in our ordinary thoughts the other aspect which is brought out in my text; and that comparative ignoring seems to me to be but a part of a very lamentable and general tendency of this day, whereby the prospect of a future life has become somewhat dimmed and does not fill the place either in ordinary Christian thinking, or as a motive for Christian service which the proportion of faith, and the relative importance of the present and the future suggest that it ought to fill. The Christianity of this day has so much to do with the present life, and the thought of the Gospel as a power in the present has been so emphasised, in legitimate reaction from the opposite exaggeration, that there is great need, as I believe, to preach to Christian people the wisdom of making more prominent in their faith their immortal hope. I wish, then, to turn now to this aspect of the rite which we regard as a memorial, and try to emphasise its forward-looking attitude, and the large blessed truths that emerge if we consider that.

I. First, let me say just a word about the twin aspect of the Communion as a memorial prophecy, or prophetic remembrance.

Now, I need not remind you, I suppose, that according to the view which, as I believe, the New Testament takes, and which certainly we Nonconformists take, of all the rites of external worship, every one of them is a prophecy, because every act in which our sense is brought in to reinforce the spirit-and by outward forms, be they vocal, or be they manual, or be they of any other sort, we try to express and to quicken spiritual emotions and intellectual convictions-declares its own imperfection, digs its own grave, and prophecies its own resurrection in a nobler and better fashion. Just because these outward symbols of bread and wine do, through the senses, quicken the faith and the love of the spirit, they declare themselves to be transitory, and they point onwards to the time when that which is perfect shall absorb, and so destroy, that which is in part, and when sense shall be no longer necessary as the ally and humble servant of spirit. ‘I saw no temple therein.’ Temples, and rites, and services, and holy days, and all the external apparatus of worship, are but scaffolding, and just as the scaffolding round a building is a prophecy of its own being pulled down when the building is reared and completed, so we cannot partake of these external symbols rightly, unless we recognise their transiency, and feel that they say to us, ‘A mightier than I cometh after me, the latchet of whose shoe I am not worthy to unloose.’ The light that shines in the dark heralds the day and its own extinction.

So, looking back we must look forward, and partaking of the symbol, we must reach out to the time when the symbol shall be antiquated, the reality having come. The Passover of Israel did not more truly point onwards to the true Lamb of Sacrifice, and to the true Passover that was slain for us, and to its own elevation into the Lord’s Supper of the Christian Church, than the Lord’s Supper of the Christian Church points onwards to the ‘marriage supper of the Lamb,’ and its own cessation.

But then, again, let me remind you that this prophetic aspect is inherent in the memorial aspect of the Communion, because what we remember necessarily demands the coming of what we hope. That is to say, if Jesus Christ be what the Lord’s Supper says that He is, and if He has done what that broken bread and poured out wine proclaim, according to His own utterance, that He has done, then clearly that death which was for the life of the world, that death which was the seal of a covenant, that body broken for the remission of sins, that wine partaken of as a reception into ourselves of the very life-blood of Jesus Christ, do all demand something far nobler and more perfect than the broken, incomplete obedience and loyalties and communions which Christian men here exercise and possess.

If He died, as the rite says that He did, and if dying He left such a commentary upon His act as that ordinance affords, then He cannot have done with the world; then the powers that were set in motion by His death cannot pause nor cease their action until they have reached their appropriate culmination in effecting all that it was in them to effect. If, leaving His people, He said to them, ‘Never forget My death for you, My broken body, and My shed blood,’ He therein said that the time will come, must come, when all the powers of the Cross shall be incorporated in humanity, and when the parted shall be reunited. The Communion would stand as the expression of Christ’s mistaken estimate of His own importance, if there were not beyond the grave the perfecting of it, and the full appropriation and joyful possession of all which the death that it signifies brought to mankind.

Therefore, dear brethren, it seems to me that the best way by which Christians can deepen their confidence and brighten their hope in the perfect reunion and blessedness of the heavens, is to increase the firmness of their faith in, and the depth of their apprehension of, the sacrifice of the Cross. If the Cross demands the Crown, then our surest way to realise as certain our own possession of that Crown is to cling very close to that Cross. The more we look backwards to it the more will it fling its light into all the dark places that are in front of us, and flush the heavens up to the seventh and beyond, with the glories that stream from it. Hold fast by the Cross, and the more fully, believingly, joyously, unfalteringly, we recognise in it the foundation of our salvation, the more gladly, clearly, operatively, shall we cherish the hope that ‘the headstone shall be brought forth with shoutings,’ and that the imperfect symbolical communion of earth will grow and greaten into complete and real union in eternal bliss.

Let me urge, then, this, that, as a matter of fact, a faith in eternal glory goes with and fluctuates in the same degree and manner as does the faith in the past sacrifice that Christ has made. He, and He alone, as I believe, turns nebulae into solidity, and makes of the more or less tremulous anticipation of a more or less dim and distant future, a calm, still certainty. We know that He will come because, and in proportion as, we believe that He has come. Keep these two things, then, always together, the memory and the hope. They stand like two great piers, one on either side of a narrow, dark glen, and suspended from them is stretched the bridge, along which the happy pilgrims may travel and enter into rest.

II. And now, let us turn for a moment to the lovely vision of that future which is suggested by our text.

The truest way, I was going to say the only way, by which we can have any conceptions of a condition of being of which we have no experience, is to fall back upon the experiences which we have, and use them as symbols and metaphors. The curtain is the picture. So our Lord here, in accordance with the necessary limitations of our human knowledge, contents Himself with using what lay at His hand, and taking it as giving faint shadows and metaphorical suggestions as to spiritual blessedness yonder.

There is one other way, as it seems to me, by which we can in any measure body forth to ourselves that unknown condition of things, and that is to fall back upon our present experiences in another fashion, and negative all of them which involve pain and limitation and incompleteness. There shall be no night-no sorrow-no tears-no sighing, and the like. These negatives of the strong and stinging griefs and limitations of the present are perhaps our second-best way of coming to some prophetic vision of that great future.

Remembering, then, that we are dealing with pure metaphor, and that the exact translation of the metaphor into reality is not yet possible for us, let us take one or two very plain thoughts out of this great saying-’Until I drink it new with you in My Father’s kingdom.’

Then, we have to think of the completion of the Christian life beyond, which is also the completion of the results of Christ’s death on the Cross, as being, according to the very frequent metaphor both of the Old and the New Testament, a prolonged festival. I do not need to speak of the details of the thoughts that thence emerge. Let me sum them up as briefly as may be. They include the satisfaction of every desire and the nourishment of all strength, and food for every faculty. When we think of the hungry hearts that all men carry, and how true it is that even the wisest and the holiest of us are ‘spending our money for that which is not bread, and our labour for that which satisfieth not’; when we think of how the choicest foods that life can provide, even for the noblest hunger of noble hearts, are too often to us but as a feeding on ashes that will leave grit between the teeth and a foul taste upon the palate, surely it is blessed to think that we may, after all life’s disappointments, cherish the hope of a perfect fruition, and that yonder, if not here, it will be fully true that ‘God never sends mouths but He sends meat to feed them.’ That is not so in this world, for we all carry hungers which impel us forward to nobler living, and which it would not be good for us to have satisfied here. But, unless the whole universe is a godless chaos, there must be somewhere a state in which a man shall have all that he wants, and shall want only what he ought.

The emblem of a feast suggests also society. The solitary travellers who have been toiling and moiling through the desert all the day long, snatching up a hasty mouthful as they march, and lonely many a time, come together at last, and sit together there joyous and united. Deep down in our hearts some of us have gashes that always bleed. We know losses and loneliness, and we can feel, I hope, how blessed is the thought that all the wanderers shall sit there together, and rejoice in each other’s communion, ‘and so shall we ever be with the Lord.’

But besides satisfaction and society the figure suggests repose. That rest is not indolence, for we have to carry other metaphors with us in order to come to the full significance of this one, and the festal imagery is not all that we have to take into account; for we read, ‘I grant unto you a kingdom, and ye shall sit on twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel,’ as well as ‘ye shall eat and drink with Me at My table in My kingdom.’ So repose, which is consistent and coexistent with the intensest activity, is the great hope that comes out of these metaphors. But for many of us-I suppose for all of us elderly people-who are about weary of work and worry, there is no deeper hope than the hope of rest. ‘I have had labour enough for one,’ says one of our poets. And I think there is something in most of our hearts that echoes that and rejoices to hear that, after the long march, ‘ye shall sit with Me at My table.’

But besides satisfaction, society, and rest, the figure suggests gladness. Wine is the emblem of the joyous side of a feast, just as bread is the emblem of the necessary nourishment. And it is new wine; joy raised to a higher power, transformed and glorified; and yet the old emotion in a new form. As for that gladness, ‘eye hath not seen, neither hath it entered into the heart of man to conceive, the things that God hath prepared for them that love Him.’ Only all we weary, heavy-laden, saddened, anxious, disappointed, tormented people may hope for these festal joys, if we are Christ’s. The feast will last when all the troubles and the cares which helped us to it are dead and buried and forgotten.

These four things, brethren-satisfaction, society, rest, new gladness-are proclaimed and prophesied to each of us, if we will, by this memorial rite.

Again, there comes from this aspect of the Communion the thought that the blessed condition of the Christian soul hereafter is a feast on a sacrifice. We must distinguish between the sense in which our Lord drinks with us, and the sense in which we alone partake of that feast of which He provides the viands. But just as in the symbolic ordinance of the Communion the very essence of it is that what was offered as sacrifice is now incorporated into the participant’s spiritual being, and becomes part of himself, and the life of his life, so, in the future, all the blessedness of the clustered and constellated joys of that life, which is one eternal festival, shall arise from the reception into perfected spirits with ever-growing greatness and blessedness of the Christ that died and ever lives for them. That heavenly glory, to its highest pinnacle of aspiration, to its most rapt completeness of gladness, is all the consequence of Christ’s death on the Cross. That death, which we commemorate, is the procuring cause of man’s entrance into bliss, and that death is the subject of the continual, grateful remembrance of the saints in the seventh heaven of their glory. Life yonder, as all true life here, consists in taking into ourselves the life of Jesus Christ, and the law for heaven is the same as the law for earth, ‘He that eateth Me, even he shall live by Me.’

Lastly, the conception of the future for Christian souls arising from this aspect of the Lord’s Supper is that it is not only a feast, and a feast on a sacrifice, but that it is a feast with the King.

‘With you I will drink it.’ Brethren, we pass beyond metaphor when we gather up and condense all the vague brightness and glories of that perfect future into this one rapturous, overwhelming, all-embracing thought: ‘So shall we ever be with the Lord.’ I could almost wish that Christian people had no other thought of that future than this, for surely in its grand simplicity, in its ineffable depth, there lie the germs of every blessedness. How poor all the material emblems are of which sensuous imaginations make so much, when compared with that hope! As the good old hymn has it, which to me says more, in its bold simplicity, than all the sentimental enlargements of Scriptural metaphors which some people admire so much-

‘It is enough that Christ knows all,

And I shall be with Him.’

Strange that He says, ‘I will drink it with you.’ Does He need sustenance? Does He need any external things in order to make His feast? No! and Yes! ‘I will sup with Him’ as well as ‘He with me.’ And, surely, His meat and drink are the love, the loyalty, the obedience, the receptiveness, the society of His redeemed children. ‘The joy of the Lord’ comes from ‘seeing of the travail of His soul,’ and His servants do enter into that joy in deep and wondrous fashion. We not only shall live on Christ, but He Himself puts to His own lips the chalice that He commends to ours, and in marvellous condescension to, and identity with, our glorified humanity drinks with us the ‘new wine’ in the Father’s kingdom.


Verse 30

Matthew

THE NEW PASSOVER

Matthew 26:17 - Matthew 26:30.

The Tuesday of Passion Week was occupied by the wonderful discourses which have furnished so many of our meditations. At its close Jesus sought retirement in Bethany, not only to soothe and prepare His spirit but to ‘hide Himself’ from the Sanhedrin. There He spent the Wednesday. Who can imagine His thoughts? While He was calmly reposing in Mary’s quiet home, the rulers determined on His arrest, but were at a loss how to effect it without a riot. Judas comes to them opportunely, and they leave it to him to give the signal. Possibly we may account for the peculiar secrecy observed as to the place for the last supper, by our Lord’s knowledge that His steps were watched, and by His earnest wish to eat the Passover with the disciples before He suffered. The change between the courting of publicity and almost inviting of arrest at the beginning of the week, and the evident desire to postpone the crisis till the fitting moment which marks the close of it, is remarkable, and most naturally explained by the supposition that He wished the time of His death to be that very hour when, according to law, the paschal lamb was slain. On the Thursday, then, he sent Peter and John into the city to prepare the Passover; the others being in ignorance of the place till they were there, and Judas being thus prevented from carrying out his purpose till after the celebration.

The precautions taken to ensure this have left their mark on Matthew’s narrative, in the peculiar designation of the host,-’Such a man!’ It is a kind of echo of the mystery which he so well remembered as round the errand of the two. He does not seem to have heard of the token by which they knew the house, viz., the man with the pitcher whom they were to meet. But he does know that Peter and John got secret instructions, and that he and the others wondered where they were to go. Had there been a previous arrangement with this unnamed ‘such an one,’ or were the token and the message alike instances of Christ’s supernatural knowledge and authority? It is difficult to say. I incline to the former supposition, which would be in accordance with the distinct effort after secrecy which marks these days; but the narratives do not decide the question. At all events, the host was a disciple, as appears from the authoritative ‘the Master saith’; and, whether he had known beforehand that ‘this day’ incarnate ‘salvation would come to his house’ or no, he eagerly accepts the peril and the honour. His message is royal in its tone. The Lord does not ask permission, but issues His commands. But He is a pauper King, not having where to lay His head, and needing another man’s house in which to gather His own household together for the family feast of the Passover. What profound truths are wrapped up in that ‘My time is come’! It speaks of the voluntariness of His surrender, the consciousness that His Cross was the centre point of His work, His superiority to all external influences as determining the hour of His death, and His submission to the supreme appointment of the Father. Obedience and freedom, choice and necessity, are wonderfully blended in it.

So, late on that Thursday evening, the little band left Bethany for the last time, in a fashion very unlike the joyous stir of the triumphal entry. As the evening is falling, they thread their way through the noisy streets, all astir with the festal crowds, and reach the upper room, Judas vainly watching for an opportunity to slip away on his black errand. The chamber, prepared by unknown hands, has vanished, and the hands are dust; but both are immortal. How many of the living acts of His servants in like manner seem to perish, and the doers of them to be forgotten or unknown! But He knows the name of ‘such an one,’ and does not forget that he opened his door for Him to enter in and sup.

The fact that Jesus put aside the Passover and founded the Lord’s Supper in its place, tells much both about His authority and its meaning. What must He have conceived of Himself, who bade Jew and Gentile turn away from that God-appointed festival, and think not of Moses, but of Him? What did He mean by setting the Lord’s Supper in the place of the Passover, if He did not mean that He was the true Paschal Lamb, that His death was a true sacrifice, that in His sprinkled blood was safety, that His death inaugurated the better deliverance of the true Israel from a darker prison-house and a sorer bondage, that His followers were a family, and that ‘the children’s bread’ was the sacrifice which He had made? There are many reasons for the doubling of the commemorative emblem, but this is obviously one of the chief-that, by the separation of the two in the rite, we are carried back to the separation in fact; that is to say, to the violent death of Christ. Not His flesh alone, in the sense of Incarnation, but His body broken and His blood shed, are what He wills should be for ever remembered. His own estimate of the centre point of His work is unmistakably pronounced in His institution of this rite.

But we may consider the force of each emblem separately. In many important points they mean the same things, but they have each their own significance as well. Matthew’s condensed version of the words of institution omits all reference to the breaking of the body and to the memorial character of the observance, but both are implied. He emphasises the reception, the participation, and the significance of the bread. As to the latter, ‘This is My body’ is to be understood in the same way as ‘the field is the world,’ and many other sayings. To speak in the language of grammarians, the copula is that of symbolic relationship, not that of existence; or, to speak in the language of the street, ‘is’ here means, as it often does, ‘represents.’ How could it mean anything else, when Christ sat there in His body, and His blood was in His veins? What, then, is the teaching of this symbol? It is not merely that He in His humanity is the bread of life, but that He in His death is the nourishment of our true life. In that great discourse in John’s Gospel, which embodies in words the lessons which the Lord’s Supper teaches by symbols, He advances from the general statement, ‘I am the Bread of Life,’ to the yet more mysterious and profound teaching that His flesh, which at some then future point He will ‘give for the life of the world,’ is the bread; thus distinctly foreshadowing His death, and asserting that by that death we live, and by partaking of it are nourished. The participation in the benefits of Christ’s death, which is symbolised by ‘Take, eat,’ is effected by living faith. We feed on Christ when our minds are occupied with His truth, and our hearts nourished by His love, when it is the ‘meat’ of our wills to do His will, and when our whole inward man fastens on Him as its true object, and draws from Him its best being. But the act of reception teaches the great lesson that Christ must be in us, if He is to do us any good. He is not ‘for us’ in any real sense, unless He be ‘in us.’ The word rendered in John’s Gospel ‘eateth’ is that used for the ruminating of cattle, and wonderfully indicates the calm, continual, patient meditation by which alone we can receive Christ into our hearts, and nourish our lives on Him. Bread eaten is assimilated to the body, but this bread eaten assimilates the eater to itself, and he who feeds on Christ becomes Christ-like, as the silk-worm takes the hue of the leaves on which it browses. Bread eaten to-day will not nourish us to-morrow, neither will past experiences of Christ’s sweetness sustain the soul. He must be ‘our daily bread’ if we are not to pine with hunger.

The wine carries its own special teaching, which clearly appears in Matthew’s version of the words of institution. It is ‘My blood,’ and by its being presented in a form separate from the bread which is His body suggests a violent death. It is ‘covenant blood,’ the seal of that ‘better covenant’ than the old, which God makes now with all mankind, wherein are given renewed hearts which carry the divine law within themselves; the reciprocal and mutually blessed possession of God by men and of men by God, the universally diffused knowledge of God, which is more than head knowledge, being the consciousness of possessing Him; and, finally, the oblivion of all sins. These promises are fulfilled, and the covenant made sure, by the shed blood of Christ. So, finally, it is ‘shed for many, for the remission of sins.’ The end of Christ’s death is pardon which can only be extended on the ground of His death. We are told that Christ did not teach the doctrine of atonement. Did He establish the Lord’s Supper? If He did {and nobody denies that}, what did He mean by it, if He did not mean the setting forth by symbol of the very same truth which, stated in words, is the doctrine of His atoning death? This rite does not, indeed, explain the rationale of the doctrine; but it is a piece of unmeaning mummery, unless it preaches plainly the fact that Christ’s death is the ground of our forgiveness.

Bread is the ‘staff of life,’ but blood is the life. So ‘this cup’ teaches that ‘the life’ of Jesus Christ must pass into His people’s veins, and that the secret of the Christian life is ‘I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.’ Wine is joy, and the Christian life is not only to be a feeding of the soul on Christ as its nourishment, but a glad partaking, as at a feast, of His life and therein of His joy. Gladness of heart is a Christian duty, ‘the joy of the Lord is your strength’ and should be our joy; and though here we eat with loins girt, and go out, some of us to deny, some of us to flee, all of us to toil and suffer, yet we may have His joy fulfilled in ourselves, even whilst we sorrow.

The Lord’s Supper is predominantly a memorial, but it is also a prophecy, and is marked as such by the mysterious last words of Jesus, about drinking the new wine in the Father’s kingdom. They point the thoughts of the saddened eleven, on whom the dark shadow of parting lay heavily, to an eternal reunion, in a land where ‘all things are become new,’ and where the festal cup shall be filled with a draught that has power to gladden and to inspire beyond any experience here. The joys of heaven will be so far analogous to the Christian joys of earth that the same name may be applied to both; but they will be so unlike that the old name will need a new meaning, and communion with Christ at His table in His kingdom, and our exuberance of joy in the full drinking in of His immortal life, will transcend the selectest hours of communion here. Compared with that fulness of joy they will be ‘as water unto wine,’-the new wine of the kingdom.


Verses 36-46

Matthew

GETHSEMANE, THE OIL-PRESS

Matthew 26:36 - Matthew 26:46.

One shrinks from touching this incomparable picture of unexampled sorrow, for fear lest one’s finger-marks should stain it. There is no place here for picturesque description, which tries to mend the gospel stories by dressing them in to-day’s fashions, nor for theological systematisers and analysers of the sort that would ‘botanise upon their mother’s grave.’ We must put off our shoes, and feel that we stand on holy ground. Though loving eyes saw something of Christ’s agony, He did not let them come beside Him, but withdrew into the shadow of the gnarled olives, as if even the moonbeams must not look too closely on the mystery of such grief. We may go as near as love was allowed to go, but stop where it was stayed, while we reverently and adoringly listen to what the Evangelist tells us of that unspeakable hour.

I. Mark the ‘exceeding sorrow’ of the Man of Sorrows.

Somewhere on the western foot of Olivet lay the garden, named from an oil-press formerly or then in it, which was to be the scene of the holiest and sorest sorrow on which the moon, that has seen so much misery, has ever looked. Truly it was ‘an oil-press,’ in which ‘the good olive’ was crushed by the grip of unparalleled agony, and yielded precious oil, which has been poured into many a wound since then. Eight of the eleven are left at or near the entrance, while He passes deeper into the shadows with the three. They had been witnesses of His prayers once before, on the slopes of Hermon, when He was transfigured before them. They are now to see a no less wonderful revelation of His glory in His filial submission. There is something remarkable in Matthew’s expression, ‘He began to be sorrowful,’-as if a sudden wave of emotion, breaking over His soul, had swept His human sensibilities before it. The strange word translated by the Revisers ‘sore troubled’ is of uncertain derivation, and may possibly be simply intended to intensify the idea of sorrow; but more probably it adds another element, which Bishop Lightfoot describes as ‘the confused, restless, half-distracted state which is produced by physical derangement or mental distress.’ A storm of agitation and bewilderment broke His calm, and forced from His patient lips, little wont to speak of His own emotions, or to seek for sympathy, the unutterably pathetic cry, ‘My soul is exceeding sorrowful’-compassed about with sorrow, as the word means-’even unto death.’ No feeble explanation of these words does justice to the abyss of woe into which they let us dimly look. They tell the fact, that, a little more and the body would have sunk under the burden. He knew the limits of human endurance, for ‘all things were made by Him,’ and, knowing it, He saw that He had grazed the very edge. Out of the darkness He reaches a hand to feel for the grasp of a friend, and piteously asks these humble lovers to stay beside Him, not that they could help Him to bear the weight, but that their presence had some solace in it. His agony must be endured alone, therefore He bade them tarry there; but He desired to have them at hand, therefore He went but ‘a little forward.’ They could not bear it with Him, but they could ‘watch with’ Him, and that poor comfort is all He asks. No word came from them. They were, no doubt, awed into silence, as the truest sympathy is used to be, in the presence of a great grief. Is it permitted us to ask what were the fountains of these bitter floods that swept over Christ’s sinless soul? Was the mere physical shrinking from death all? If so, we may reverently say that many a maiden and old man, who drew all their fortitude from Jesus, have gone to stake or gibbet for His sake, with a calm which contrasts strangely with His agitation. Gethsemane is robbed of its pathos and nobleness if that be all. But it was not all. Rather it was the least bitter of the components of the cup. What lay before Him was not merely death, but the death which was to atone for a world’s sin, and in which, therefore, the whole weight of sin’s consequences was concentrated. ‘The Lord hath made to meet on Him the iniquities of us all’; that is the one sufficient explanation of this infinitely solemn and tender scene. Unless we believe that, we shall find it hard to reconcile His agitation in Gethsemane with the perfection of His character as the captain of ‘the noble army of martyrs.’

II. Note the prayer of filial submission.

Matthew does not tell us of the sweat falling audibly and heavily, and sounding to the three like slow blood-drops from a wound, nor of the strengthening angel, but he gives us the prostrate form, and the threefold prayer, renewed as each moment of calm, won by it, was again broken in upon by a fresh wave of emotion. Thrice He had to leave the disciples, and came back, a calm conqueror; and twice the enemy rallied and returned to the assault, and was at last driven finally from the field by the power of prayer and submission. The three Synoptics differ in their report of our Lord’s words, but all mean the same thing in substance; and it is obvious that much more must have been spoken than they report. Possibly what we have is only the fragments that reached the three before they fell asleep. In any case, Jesus was absent from them on each occasion long enough to allow of their doing so.

Three elements are distinguishable in our Lord’s prayer. There is, first, the sense of Sonship, which underlies all, and was never more clear than at that awful moment. Then there is the recoil from ‘the cup,’ which natural instinct could not but feel, though sinlessly. The flesh shrank from the Cross, which else had been no suffering; and if no suffering, then had been no atonement. His manhood would not have been like ours, nor His sorrows our pattern, if He had not thus drawn back, in His sensitive humanity, from the awful prospect now so near. But natural instinct is one thing, and the controlling will another. However currents may have tossed the vessel, the firm hand at the helm never suffered them to change her course. The will, which in this prayer He seems so strangely to separate from the Father’s, even in the act of submission, was the will which wishes, not that which resolves. His fixed purpose to die for the world’s sin never wavered. The shrinking does not reach the point of absolutely and unconditionally asking that the cup might pass. Even in the act of uttering the wish, it is limited by that ‘if it be possible,’ which can only mean-possible, in view of the great purpose for which He came. That is to be accomplished, at any cost; and unless it can be accomplished though the cup be withdrawn, He does not even wish, much less will, that it should be withdrawn. So, the third element in the prayer is the utter resignation to the Father’s will, in which submission He found peace, as we do.

He prayed His way to perfect calm, which is ever the companion of perfect self-surrender to God. They who cease from their own works do ‘enter into rest.’ All the agitations which had come storming in massed battalions against Him are defeated by it. They have failed to shake His purpose, they now fail even to disturb His peace. So, victorious from the dreadful conflict, and at leisure of heart to care for others, He can go back to the disciples. But even whilst seeking to help them, a fresh wave of suffering breaks in on His calm, and once again He leaves them to renew the struggle. The instinctive shrinking reasserts itself, and, though overcome, is not eradicated. But the second prayer is yet more rooted in acquiescence than the first. It shows that He had not lost what He had won by the former; for it, as it were, builds on that first supplication, and accepts as answer to its contingent petition the consciousness, accompanying the calm, that it was not possible for the cup to pass from Him. The sense of Sonship underlies the complete resignation of the second prayer as of the first. It has no wish but God’s will, and is the voluntary offering of Himself. Here He is both Priest and Sacrifice, and offers the victim with this prayer of consecration. So once more He triumphs, because once more, and yet more completely, He submits, and accepts the Cross. For Him, as for us, the Cross accepted ceases to be a pain, and the cup is no more bitter when we are content to drink it. Once more in fainter fashion the enemy came on, casting again his spent arrows, and beaten back by the same weapon. The words were the same, because no others could have expressed more perfectly the submission which was the heart of His prayers and the condition of His victory.

Christ’s prayer, then, was not for the passing of the cup, but that the will of God might be done in and by Him, and ‘He was heard in that He feared,’ not by being exempted from the Cross, but by being strengthened through submission for submission. So His agony is the pattern of all true prayer, which must ever deal with our wishes, as He did with His instinctive shrinking,-present them wrapped in an ‘if it be possible,’ and followed by a ‘nevertheless.’ The meaning of prayer is not to force our wills on God’s, but to bend our wills to His; and that prayer is really answered of which the issue is our calm readiness for all that He lays upon us.

III. Note the sad and gentle remonstrance with the drowsy three.

‘The sleep of the disciples, and of these disciples, and of all three, and such an overpowering sleep, remains even after Luke’s explanation, “for sorrow,” a psychological riddle’ {Meyer}. It is singularly parallel with the sleep of the same three at the Transfiguration-an event which presents the opposite pole of our Lord’s experiences, and yields so many antithetical parallels to Gethsemane. No doubt the tension of emotion, which had lasted for many hours, had worn them out; but, if weariness had weighed down their eyelids, love should have kept them open. Such sleep of such disciples may have been a riddle, but it was also a crime, and augured imperfect sympathy. Gentle surprise and the pain of disappointed love are audible in the question, addressed to Peter especially, as he had promised so much, but meant for all. This was all that Jesus got in answer to His yearning for sympathy. ‘I looked for some to take pity, but there was none.’ Those who loved Him most lay curled in dead slumber within earshot of His prayers. If ever a soul tasted the desolation of utter loneliness, that suppliant beneath the olives tasted it. But how little of the pain escapes His lips! The words but hint at the slightness of their task compared with His, at the brevity of the strain on their love, and at the companionship which ought to have made sleep impossible. May we not see in Christ’s remonstrance a word for all? For us, too, the task of keeping awake in the enchanted ground is light, measured against His, and the time is short, and we have Him to keep us company in the watch, and every motive of grateful love should make it easy; but, alas, how many of us sleep a drugged and heavy slumber!

The gentle remonstrance soon passes over into counsel as gentle. Watchfulness and prayer are inseparable. The one discerns dangers, the other arms against them. Watchfulness keeps us prayerful, and prayerfulness keeps us watchful. To watch without praying is presumption, to pray without watching is hypocrisy. The eye that sees clearly the facts of life will turn upwards from its scanning of the snares and traps, and will not look in vain. These two are the indispensable conditions of victorious encountering of temptation. Fortified by them, we shall not ‘enter into’ it, though we encounter it. The outward trial will remain, but its power to lead us astray will vanish. It will still be danger or sorrow, but it will not be temptation; and we shall pass through it, as a sunbeam through foul air, untainted, and keeping heaven’s radiance. That is a lesson for a wider circle than the sleepy three.

It is followed by words which would need a volume to expound in all their depth and width of application, but which are primarily a reason for the preceding counsel, as well as a loving apology for the disciples’ sleep. Christ is always glad to give us credit for even imperfect good; His eye, which sees deeper than ours, sees more lovingly, and is not hindered from marking the willing spirit by recognising weak flesh. But these words are not to be made a pillow for indolent acquiescence in the limitations which the flesh imposes on the spirit. He may take merciful count of these, and so may we, in judging others, but it is fatal to plead them at the bar of our own consciences. Rather they should be a spur to our watchfulness and to our prayer. We need these because the flesh is weak, still more because, in its weakness toward good, it is strong to evil. Such exercise will give governing power to the spirit, and enable it to impose its will on the reluctant flesh. If we watch and pray, the conflict between these two elements in the renewed nature will tend to unity and peace by the supremacy of the spirit; if we do not, it will tend to cease by the unquestioned tyranny of the flesh. In one or other direction our lives are tending.

Strange that such words had no effect. But so it was, and so deep was the apostles’ sleep that Christ left them undisturbed the second time. The relapse is worse than the original disease. Sleep broken and resumed is more torpid and fatal than if it had not been interrupted. We do not know how long it lasted, though the whole period in the garden must have been measured by hours; but at last it was broken by the enigmatical last words of our Lord. The explanation of the direct opposition between the consecutive sentences, by taking the ‘Sleep on now’ as ironical, jars on one’s reverence. Surely irony is out of keeping with the spirit of Christ then. Rather He bids them sleep on, since the hour is come, in sad recognition that the need for their watchful sympathy is past, and with it the opportunity for their proved affection. It is said with a tone of contemplative melancholy, and is almost equivalent to ‘too late, too late.’ The memorable sermon of F. W. Robertson, on this text, rightly grasps the spirit of the first clause, when it dwells with such power on the thought of ‘the irrevocable past’ of wasted opportunities and neglected duty. But the sudden transition to the sharp, short command and broken sentences of the last verse is to be accounted for by the sudden appearance of the flashing lights of the band led by Judas, somewhere near at hand, in the valley. The mood of pensive reflection gives place to rapid decision. He summons them to arise, not for flight, but that He may go out to meet the traitor. Escape would have been easy. There was time to reach some sheltering fold of the hill in the darkness; but the prayer beneath the silver-grey olives had not been in vain, and these last words in Gethsemane throb with the Son’s willingness to yield Himself up, and to empty to its dregs the cup which the Father had given Him.


Verse 50

Matthew

THE LAST PLEADING OF LOVE

Matthew 26:50.

We are accustomed to think of the betrayer of our Lord as a kind of monster, whose crime is so mysterious in its atrocity as to put him beyond the pale of human sympathy. The awful picture which the great Italian poet draws of him as alone in hell, shunned even there, as guilty beyond all others, expresses the general feeling about him. And even the attempts which have been made to diminish the greatness of his guilt, by supposing that his motive was only to precipitate Christ’s assumption of His conquering Messianic power, are prompted by the same thought that such treason as his is all but inconceivable. I cannot but think that these attempts fail, and that the narratives of the Gospels oblige us to think of his crime as deliberate treachery. But even when so regarded, other emotions than wondering loathing should be excited by the awful story.

There had been nothing in his previous history to suggest such sin, as is proved by the disciples’ question, when our Lord announced that one of them should betray Him. No suspicion lighted on him-no finger pointed to where he sat. But self-distrust asked, ‘Lord, is it I?’ and only love, pillowed on the Master’s breast, and strong in the happy sense of His love, was sufficiently assured of its own constancy, to change the question into ‘Lord! who is it?’ The process of corruption was unseen by all eyes but Christ’s. He came to his terrible pre-eminence in crime by slow degrees, and by paths which we may all tread. As for his guilt, that is in other hands than ours. As for his fate, let us copy the solemn and pitying reticence of Peter, and say, ‘that he might go to his own place’-the place that belongs to him, and that he is fit for, wherever that may be. As for the growth and development of his sin, let us remember that ‘we have all of us one human heart,’ and that the possibilities of crime as dark are in us all. And instead of shuddering abhorrence at a sin that can scarcely be understood, and can never be repeated, let us be sure that whatever man has done, man may do, and ask with humble consciousness of our own deceitful hearts, ‘Lord, is it I?’ These remarkable and solemn words of Christ, with which He meets the treacherous kiss, appear to be a last appeal to Judas. They may possibly not be a question, as in our version-but an incomplete sentence, ‘What thou hast come to do’-leaving the implied command, ‘That do,’ unexpressed. They would then be very like other words which the betrayer had heard but an hour or two before, ‘That thou doest, do quickly.’ But such a rendering does not seem so appropriate to the circumstances as that which makes them a question, smiting on his heart and conscience, and seeking to tear away the veil of sophistications with which he had draped from his own eyes the hideous shape of his crime. And, if so, what a wonderful instance we have here of that long-suffering love. They are the last effort of the divine patience to win back even the traitor. They show us the wrestle between infinite mercy and a treacherous, sinful heart, and they bring into awful prominence the power which that heart has of rejecting the counsel of God against itself. I venture to use them now as suggesting these three things: the patience of Christ’s love; the pleading of Christ’s love; and the refusal of Christ’s love.

I. The patience of Christ’s love.

If we take no higher view of this most pathetic incident than that the words come from a man’s lips, even then all its beauty will not be lost. There are some sins against friendship in which the manner is harder to bear than the substance of the evil. It must have been a strangely mean and dastardly nature, as well as a coarse and cold one, that could think of fixing on the kiss of affection as the concerted sign to point out their victim to the legionaries. Many a man who could have planned and executed the treason would have shrunk from that. And many a man who could have borne to be betrayed by his own familiar friend would have found that heartless insult worse to endure than the treason itself. But what a picture of perfect patience and unruffled calm we have here, in that the answer to the poisonous, hypocritical embrace was these moving words! The touch of the traitor’s lips has barely left His cheek, but not one faint passing flush of anger tinges it. He is perfectly self-oblivious-absorbed in other thoughts, and among them in pity for the guilty wretch before Him. His words have no agitation in them, no instinctive recoil from the pollution of such a salutation. They have grave rebuke, but it is rebuke which derives its very force from the appeal to former companionship. Christ still recognises the ancient bond, and is true to it. He will still plead with this man who has been beside Him long; and though His heart be wounded yet He is not wroth, and He will not cast him off. If this were nothing more than a picture of human friendship it would stand alone, above all other records that the world cherishes in its inmost heart, of the love that never fails, and is not soon angry.

But we, I hope, dear brethren, think more loftily and more truly of our dear Lord than as simply a perfect manhood, the exemplar of all goodness. How He comes to be that, if He be not more than that, I do not understand, and I, for one, feel that my confidence in the flawless completeness of His human character lives or dies with my belief that He is the Eternal Word, God manifest in the flesh. Certainly we shall never truly grasp the blessed meaning of His life on earth until we look upon it all as the revelation of God. The tears of Christ are the pity of God. The gentleness of Jesus is the long-suffering of God. The tenderness of Jesus is the love of God. ‘He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father’; and all that life so beautiful but so anomalous as to be all but incredible, when we think of it as only the life of a man, glows with a yet fairer beauty, and corresponds with the nature which it expresses, when we think of it as being the declaration to us by the divine Son of the divine Father-our loftiest, clearest, and authentic revelation of God.

How that thought lifts these words before us into a still higher region! We are now in the presence of the solemn greatness of a divine love. If the meaning of this saying is what we have suggested, it is pathetic even in the lower aspect, but how infinitely that pathos is deepened when we view it in the higher!

Surely if ever there was a man who might have been supposed to be excluded from the love of God, it was Judas. Surely if ever there was a moment in a human life, when one might have supposed that even Christ’s ever open heart would shut itself together against any one, it was this moment. But no, the betrayer in the very instant of his treason has that changeless tenderness lingering around him, and that merciful hand beckoning to him still.

And have we not a right to generalise this wonderful fact, and to declare its teaching to be-that the love of God is extended to us all, and cannot be made to turn away from us by any sins of ours? Sin is mighty; it can work endless evils on us; it can disturb and embitter all our relations with God; it can, as we shall presently have to point out, make it necessary for the tenderest ‘grace of God to come disciplining’-to ‘come with a rod,’ just because it comes in ‘the spirit of meekness.’ But one thing it cannot do, and that is-make God cease to love us. I suppose all human affection can be worn out by constant failure to evoke a response from cold hearts. I suppose that it can be so nipped by frosts, so constantly checked in blossoming, that it shrivels and dies. I suppose that constant ingratitude, constant indifference can turn the warmest springs of our love to a river of ice. ‘Can a mother forget her child?-Yea, she may forget.’ But we have to do with a God, whose love is His very being; who loves us not for reasons in us but in Himself; whose love is eternal and boundless as all His nature; whose love, therefore, cannot be turned away by our sin-but abides with us for ever, and is granted to every soul of man. Dear brethren, we cannot believe too firmly, we cannot trust too absolutely, we cannot proclaim too broadly that blessed thought, without which we have no hope to feed on for ourselves, or to share with our fellows-the universal love of God in Christ.

Is there a worst man on earth at this moment? If there be, he, too, has a share in that love. Harlots and thieves, publicans and sinners, leprous outcasts, and souls tormented by unclean spirits, the wrecks of humanity whom decent society and respectable Christianity passes by with averted head and uplifted hands, criminals on the gibbet with the rope round their necks-and those who are as hopeless as any of these, self-complacent formalists and ‘Gospel-hardened professors’-all have a place in that heart. And that, not as undistinguished members of a class, but as separate souls, singly the objects of God’s knowledge and love. He loves all, because He loves each. We are not massed together in His view, nor in His regard. He does not lose the details in the whole; as we, looking on some great crowd of upturned faces, are conscious of all but recognise no single one. He does not love a class-a world-but He loves the single souls that make it up-you and me, and every one of the millions that we throw together in the vague phrase, ‘the race.’ Let us individualise that love in our thoughts as it individualises us in its outflow-and make our own the ‘exceeding broad’ promises, which include us, too. ‘God loves me; Christ gave Himself for me. I have a place in that royal, tender heart.’

Nor should any sin make us doubt this. He loved us with exceeding love, even when we were ‘dead in trespasses.’ He did not begin to love because of anything in us; He will not cease because of anything in us. We change; ‘He abideth faithful, He cannot deny Himself.’ As the sunshine pours down as willingly and abundantly on filth and dunghills, as on gold that glitters in its beam, and jewels that flash back its lustre, so the light and warmth of that unsetting and unexhausted source of life pours down ‘on the unthankful and on the good.’ The great ocean clasps some black and barren crag that frowns against it, as closely as with its waves it kisses some fair strand enamelled with flowers and fragrant with perfumes. So that sea of love in which we ‘live, and move, and have our being,’ encircles the worst with abundant flow. He Himself sets us the pattern, which to imitate is to be the children of ‘our Father which is in heaven,’ in that He loves His enemies, blessing them that curse, and doing good to them that hate. He Himself is what He has enjoined us to be, in that He feeds His enemies when they hunger, and when they thirst gives them drink, heaping coals of fire on their heads, and seeking to kindle in them thereby the glow of answering love, not being overcome of their evil, so that He repays hate with hate and scorn with scorn, but in patient continuance of loving kindness seeking to overcome evil with good. He is Himself that ‘charity’ which ‘is not easily provoked, is not soon angry, beareth all things, hopeth all things, and never faileth.’ His love is mightier than all our sins, and waits not on our merits, nor is turned away by our iniquities. ‘God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.’

II. Then, secondly, we have here-the pleading of Christ’s patient love.

I have been trying to say as broadly and strongly as I can, that our sins do not turn away the love of God in Christ from us. The more earnestly we believe and proclaim that, the more needful is it to set forth distinctly-and that not as limiting, but as explaining the truth-the other thought, that the sin which does not avert, does modify the expression of, the love of God. Man’s sin compels Him to do what the prophet calls his ‘strange work’-the work which is not dear to His heart, nor natural, if one may so say, to His hands-His work of judgment.

The love of Christ has to come to sinful men with patient pleading and remonstrance, that it may enter their hearts and give its blessings. We are familiar with a modern work of art in which that long-suffering appeal is wonderfully portrayed. He who is the Light of the world stands, girded with the royal mantle clasped with the priestly breastplate, bearing in His hand the lamp of truth, and there, amidst the dew of night and the rank hemlock, He pleads for entrance at the closed door which has no handle on its outer side, and is hinged to open only from within. ‘I stand at the door and knock. If any man open the door, I will come in.’

And in this incident before us, we see represented not only the endless patience of God’s pitying love, but the method which it needs to take in order to reach the heart.

There is an appeal to the traitor’s heart, and an appeal to his conscience. Christ would have him think of the relations that have so long subsisted between them; and He would have him think, too, of the real nature of the deed he is doing, or, perhaps, of the motives that impel him. The grave, sad word, by which He addresses him, is meant to smite upon his heart. The sharp question which He puts to him is meant to wake up his conscience; and both taken together represent the two chief classes of remonstrance which He brings to bear upon us all-the two great batteries from which He assails the fortress of our sins.

There is first, then-Christ’s appeal to the heart. He tries to make Judas feel the considerations that should restrain him. The appellation by which our Lord addresses him does not in the original convey quite so strongly the idea of amity, as our word ‘Friend’ does. It is not the same as that which He had used a few hours before in the upper chamber, when He said, ‘Henceforth I call you not servants, but I have called you friends.-Ye are My friends if ye do whatsoever I command you.’ It is the same as is put into the lips of the Lord of the vineyard, remonstrating with his jealous labourer, ‘Friend, I do thee no wrong.’ There is a tone, then, of less intimate association and graver rebuke in it than in that name with which He honours those who make His will theirs, and His word the law of their lives. It does not speak of close confidence, but it does suggest companionship and kindness on the part of the speaker. There is rebuke in it, but it is rebuke which derives its whole force from the remembrance of ancient concord and connection. Our Lord would recall to the memory of the betrayer the days in which they had taken sweet counsel together. It is as if He had said-’Hast thou forgotten all our former intercourse? Thou hast eaten My bread, thou hast been Mine own familiar friend, in whom I trusted-canst thou lift up thy heel against Me?’ What happy hours of quiet fellowship on many a journey, of rest together after many a day of toil, what forgotten thoughts of the loving devotion and the glow of glad consecration that he had once felt, what a long series of proofs of Christ’s gentle goodness and meek wisdom should have sprung again to remembrance at such an appeal! And how black and dastardly would his guilt have seemed if once he had ventured to remember what unexampled friendship he was sinning against!

Is it not so with us all, dear brethren? All our evils are betrayals of Christ, and all our betrayals of Christ are sins against a perfect friendship and an unvaried goodness. We, too, have sat at His table, heard His wisdom, seen His miracles, listened to His pleadings, have had a place in His heart; and if we turn away from Him to do our own pleasure, and sell His love for a handful of silver, we need not cherish shuddering abhorrence against that poor wretch who gave Him up to the cross. Oh! if we could see aright, we should see our Saviour’s meek, sad face standing between us and each of our sins, with warning in the pitying eyes, and His pleading voice would sound in our ears, appealing to us by loving remembrances of His ancient friendship, to turn from the evil which is treason against Him, and wounds His heart as much as it harms ours. Take heed lest in condemning the traitor we doom ourselves. If we flush into anger at the meanness of his crime, and declare, ‘He shall surely die,’ do we not hear a prophet’s voice saying to each, ‘Thou art the man’?

The loving hand laid on the heart-strings is followed by a strong stroke on conscience. The heart vibrates most readily in answer to gentle touches: the conscience, in answer to heavier, as the breath that wakes the chords of an Aeolian harp would pass silent through the brass of a trumpet. ‘Wherefore art thou come?’-if to be taken as a question at all, which, as I have said, seems most natural, is either, ‘What hast thou come to do?’-or, ‘Why hast thou come to do it?’ Perhaps it maybe fairly taken as including both. But, at all events, it is clearly an appeal to Judas to make him see what his conduct really is in itself, and possibly in its motive too. And this is the constant effort of the love of Christ-to get us to say to ourselves the real name of what we are about.

We cloak our sins from ourselves with many wrappings, as they swathe a mummy in voluminous folds. And of these veils, one of the thickest is woven by our misuse of words to describe the very same thing by different names, according as we do it, or another man does it. Almost all moral actions-the thing to which we can apply the words right or wrong-have two or more names, of which the one suggests the better and the other the worse side of the action. For instance what in ourselves we call prudent regard for our own interest, we call, in our neighbour, narrow selfishness; what in ourselves is laudable economy, in him is miserable avarice. We are impetuous, he is passionate; we generous, he lavish; we are clever men of business, he is a rogue; we sow our wild oats and are gay, he is dissipated. So we cheat ourselves by more than half-transparent veils of our own manufacture, which we fling round the ugly features and misshapen limbs of these sins of ours, and we are made more than ever their bond-slaves thereby.

Therefore, it is the office of the truest love to force us to look at the thing as it is. It would go some way to keep a man from some of his sins if he would give the thing its real name. A distinct conscious statement to oneself, ‘Now I am going to tell a lie’-’This that I am doing is fraud’-’This emotion that I feel creeping with devilish warmth about the roots of my heart is revenge’-and so on, would surely startle us sometimes, and make us fling the gliding poison from our breast, as a man would a snake that he found just lifting its head from the bosom of his robe. Suppose Judas had answered the question, and, gathering himself up, had looked his Master in the face, and said-’What have I come for?’ ‘I have come to betray Thee for thirty pieces of silver!’ Do you not think that putting his guilt into words might have moved even him to more salutary feelings than the remorse which afterwards accompanied his tardy discernment of what he had done? So the patient love of Christ comes rebuking, and smiting hard on conscience. ‘The grace of God that bringeth salvation to all men hath appeared disciplining’-and His hand is never more gentle than when it plucks away the films with which we hide our sins from ourselves, and shows us the ‘rottenness and dead men’s bones’ beneath the whited walls of the sepulchres and the velvet of the coffins.

He must begin with rebukes that He may advance to blessing. He must teach us what is separating us from Him that, learning it, we may flee to His grace to help us. There is no entrance for the truest gifts of His patient love into any heart that has not yielded to His pleading remonstrance, and in lowly penitence has answered His question as He would have us answer it, ‘Friend and Lover of my soul, I have sinned against Thy tender heart, against the unexampled patience of Thy love. I have departed from Thee and betrayed Thee. Blessed be Thy merciful voice which hath taught me what I have done! Blessed be Thine unwearied goodness which still bends over me! Raise me fallen! forgive me treacherous! Keep me safe and happy, ever true and near to Thee!’

III. Notice the possible rejection of the pleading of Christ’s patient love.

Even that appeal was vain. Here we are confronted with a plain instance of man’s mysterious and awful power of ‘frustrating the counsel of God’-of which one knows not whether is greater, the difficulty of understanding how a finite will can rear itself against the Infinite Will, or the mournful mystery that a creature should desire to set itself against its loving Maker and Benefactor. But strange as it is, yet so it is; and we can turn round upon Sovereign Fatherhood bidding us to its service, and say, ‘I will not.’ He pleads with us, and we can resist His pleadings. He holds out the mercies of His hands and the gifts of His grace, and we can reject them. We cannot cease to be the objects of His love, but we can refuse to be the recipients of its most precious gifts. We can bar our hearts against it. Then, of what avail is it to us? To go back to an earlier illustration, the sunshine pours down and floods a world, what does that matter to us if we have fastened up shutters on all our windows, and barred every crevice through which the streaming gladness can find its way? We shall grope at noontide as in the dark within our gloomy house, while our neighbours have light in theirs. What matters it though we float in the great ocean of the divine love, if with pitch and canvas we have carefully closed every aperture at which the flood can enter? A hermetically closed jar, plunged in the Atlantic, will be as dry inside as if it were lying on the sand of the desert. It is possible to perish of thirst within sight of the fountain. It is possible to separate ourselves from the love of God, not to separate the love of God from ourselves.

The incident before us carries another solemn lesson-how simple and easy a thing it is to repel that pleading love. What did Judas do? Nothing; it was enough. He merely held his peace-no more. There was no need for him to break out with oaths and curses, to reject his Lord with wild words. Silence was sufficient. And for us-no more is required. We have but to be passive; we have but to stand still. Not to accept is to refuse; non-submission is rebellion. We do not need to emphasise our refusal by any action-no need to lift our clenched hands in defiance. We have simply to put them behind our backs or to keep them folded. The closed hand must remain an empty hand. ‘He that believeth not is condemned.’ My friend, remember that, when Christ pleads and draws, to do nothing is to oppose, and to delay is to refuse. It is a very easy matter to ruin your soul. You have simply to keep still when He says ‘Come unto Me’-to keep your eyes fixed where they were, when He says, ‘Look unto Me, and be ye saved,’ and all the rest will follow of itself.

Notice, too, how the appeal of Christ’s love hardens where it does not soften. That gentle voice drove the traitor nearer the verge over which he fell into a gulf of despair. It should have drawn him closer to the Lord, but he recoiled from it, and was thereby brought nearer destruction. Every pleading of Christ’s grace, whether by providences, or by books, or by His own word, does something with us. It is never vain. Either it melts or it hardens. The sun either scatters the summer morning mists, or it rolls them into heavier folds, from whose livid depths the lightning will be flashing by mid-day. You cannot come near the most inadequate exhibition of the pardoning love of Christ without being either drawn closer to Him or driven further from Him. Each act of rejection prepares the way for another, which will be easier, and adds another film to the darkness which covers your eyes, another layer to the hardness which incrusts your hearts.

Again, that silence, so eloquent and potent in its influence, was probably the silence of a man whose conscience was convicted while his will was unchanged. Such a condition is possible. It points to solemn thoughts, and to deep mysteries in man’s awful nature. He knew that he was wrong, he had no excuse, his deed was before him in some measure in its true character, and yet he would not give it up. Such a state, if constant and complete, presents the most frightful picture we can frame of a soul. That a man shall not be able to say, ‘I did it ignorantly’; that Christ shall not be able to ground His intercession on, ‘They know not what they do’; that with full knowledge of the true nature of the deed, there shall be no wavering of the determination to do it-we may well turn with terror from such an awful abyss. But let us remember that, whether such a condition in its completeness is conceivable or not, at all events we may approach it indefinitely; and we do approach it by every sin, and by every refusal to yield to the love that would touch our consciences and fill our hearts.

Have you ever noticed what a remarkable verbal correspondence there is between these words of our text, and some other very solemn ones of Christ’s? The question that He puts into the lips of the king who came in to see his guests is, ‘Friend, how camest thou in hither, not having on a wedding garment?’ The question asked on earth shall be repeated again at last. The silence which once indicated a convinced conscience and an unchanged will may at that day indicate both of these and hopelessness beside. The clear vision of the divine love, if it do not flood the heart with joy and evoke the bliss of answering love, may fill it with bitterness. It is possible that the same revelation of the same grace may be the heaven of heaven to those who welcome it, and the pain of hell to those who turn from it. It is possible that love believed and received may be life, and love recognised and rejected may be death. It is possible that the vision of the same face may make some break forth with the rapturous hymn, ‘Lo, this is our God, we have waited for Him!’ and make others call on the hills to fall on them and cover them from its brightness.

But let us not end with such words. Rather, dear brethren, let us yield to His patient beseechings; let Him teach us our evil and our sin. Listen to His great love who invites us to plead, and promises to pardon-’Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.’


Verses 57-64

Matthew

THE REAL HIGH PRIEST AND HIS COUNTERFEIT

Matthew 26:57 - Matthew 26:68.

John’s Gospel tells us that Jesus was brought before ‘Annas first,’ probably in the same official priestly residence as Caiaphas, his son-in-law, occupied. That preliminary examination brought out nothing to incriminate the prisoner, and was flagrantly illegal, being an attempt to entrap Him into self-accusing statements. It was baffled by Jesus being silent first, and subsequently taking His stand on the undeniable principle that a charge must be sustained by evidence, not based on self-accusation. Annas, having made nothing of this strange criminal, ‘sent Him bound unto Caiaphas.’

A meeting of the Sanhedrin had been hastily summoned in the dead of night, which was itself an illegality. Now Jesus stands before the poor shadow of a judicial tribunal, which, though it was all that Rome had left a conquered people, was still entitled to sit in judgment on Him. Strange inversion, and awful position for these formalists! And with sad persistence of bitter prejudice they proceeded to try the prisoner, all unaware that it was themselves, not Him, that they were trying.

They began wrongly, and betrayed their animus at once. They were sitting there to inquire whether Jesus was guilty or no; they had made up their minds beforehand that He was, and their effort now was but to manufacture some thin veil of legality for a judicial murder. So they ‘sought false witness, . . . that they might put Him to death.’ Matthew simply says that no evidence sufficient for the purpose was forthcoming; Mark adds that the weak point, was that the lies contradicted each other. Christ’s presence has a strange, solemn power of unmasking our falsehoods, both of thought and deed, and it is hard to speak evil of Him before His face. If His calumniators were confused when He stood as Prisoner, what will they be when He sits as a Judge?

Only Matthew and Mark tell us of the two witnesses whose twisted version of the word about ‘destroying the Temple and rebuilding it in three days’ seemed to Caiaphas serious enough to require an answer. Their mistake was one which might have been made in good faith, but none the less was their travesty ‘false witness.’ Their version of His great word shows how easily the teaching of a lofty soul, passed through the popular brain, is degraded, and made to mean the opposite of what he had meant by it. For the destruction of the Temple had appeared in the saying as the Jews’ work, and Jesus had presented Himself in it as the Restorer, not the Destroyer, of the Temple and of all that it symbolised. We destroy, He rebuilds. The murder of Jesus was the suicide of the nation. Caiaphas and his council were even now pulling down the Temple. And that murder was the destruction, so far as men could effect it, of the true ‘Temple of His body,’ in which the fulness of the Godhead dwelt, and which was more gloriously reconstituted in the Resurrection. The risen Christ rears the true temple on earth, for through Him the Holy Ghost dwells in His Church, which is collectively ‘the Temple,’ and in all believing spirits, which are individually ‘the temples’ of God. So the false witnesses distorted into a lie a great truth.

The Incarnate Word was dumb all the while. He ‘was still and refrained’ Himself. It was the silence of the King before a lawless tribunal of rebels, of patient meekness, ‘as a sheep before her shearers’; of innocence that will not stoop to defend itself from groundless accusations; of infinite pity and forbearing love, which sees that it cannot win, but will not smite. Jesus is still silent, but one day, ‘with the breath of His lips shall He slay the wicked.’ Caiaphas seems to have been annoyed as well as surprised at Jesus’ silence, for there is a trace of irritation, as at ‘contempt of court,’ in his words. But our Lord’s continued silence appears to have somewhat awed him, and the dawning consciousness of his dignity is, perhaps, the reason for the high priest’s casting aside all the foolery of false witnessing, and coming at last to the real point,- the Messianic claims of Jesus.

Caiaphas was doing his duty as high priest in inquiring into such claims, but he was somewhat late in the day, and he had made up his mind before he inquired. What he wished to get was a plain assertion on which the death sentence could be pronounced. Jesus knew this, and yet He answered. But Luke tells us that He first scathingly pointed to the unreality and animus of the question by saying, ‘If I tell you, ye will not believe.’ But yet it was fitting that He should solemnly, before the supreme court, representative of the nation, declare that He was the Messiah, and that, if He was to be rejected and condemned, it should be on the ground of that declaration. Before Caiaphas He claimed to be Messiah, before Pilate He claimed to be King. Each rejected Him in the character that appealed to them most. The many-sidedness of the perfect Revealer of God brings Him to each soul in the aspect that most loudly addresses each. Therefore the love in the appeal and the guilt in its rejection are the greater.

But Christ’s self-attestation to the council was not limited to the mere claim to the name of Messiah. It disclosed the implications of that name in a way altogether unlike the conceptions held by Caiaphas. When Caiaphas put in apposition ‘the Christ’ and ‘the Son of God,’ he was not speaking from the ordinary Jewish point of view, but from some knowledge, of Christ’s teaching, and there are two charges combined into one.

But Jesus’ answer, while plainly claiming to be the Messiah, expands itself in regard to the claim to be ‘Son of God,’ and shows its tremendous significance. It involves participation in divine authority and omnipotence. It involves a future coming to be the Judge of His judges. It declares that these blind scribes and elders will see Him thus exalted, and it asserts that all this is to begin then and there {‘henceforth’}, as if that hour of humiliation was to His consciousness the beginning of His manifestation as Lord, or, as John has it, ‘the hour that the Son of Man should be glorified.’ Nor must we leave out of sight the fact that it is ‘the Son of Man’ of whom all this is said, for thereby are indicated the raising of His perfect humanity to participation in Deity, and the possibility that His brethren, too, may sit where He sits. Much was veiled in the answer to the council, much is veiled to us. But this remains,-that Jesus, at that supreme moment, when He was bound to leave no misunderstandings, made the plainest claim to divinity, and could have saved His life if He had not done so. Either Caiaphas, in his ostentatious horror of such impiety, was right in calling Christ’s words blasphemy, and not far wrong in inferring that Jesus was not fit to live, or He is the everlasting ‘Son of the Father,’ and will ‘come to be our Judge.’


Verse 65

Matthew

THE REAL HIGH PRIEST AND HIS COUNTERFEIT

JESUS CHARGED WITH BLASPHEMY

Matthew 26:65.

Jesus was tried and condemned by two tribunals, the Jewish ecclesiastical and the Roman civil. In each case the charge corresponded to the Court. The Sanhedrin took no cognisance of, and had no concern with, rebellion against Caesar; though for the time they pretended loyalty. Pilate had still less concern about Jewish superstitions. And so the investigation in each case turned on a different question. In the one it was, ‘Art Thou the Son of God?’ in the other, ‘Art Thou the King of Israel?’ The answer to both was a simple ‘Yes!’ but with very significant differences. Pilate received an explanation; the Sanhedrin none. The Roman governor was taught that Christ’s title of King belonged to another region altogether from that of Caesar, and did not in the slightest degree infringe upon the dominion that he represented. But ‘Son of God’ was capable of no explanation that could make it any less offensive; and the only thing to be done was to accept it or to condemn Him.

So this saying of the high priest differs from other words of our Lord’s antagonists, which we have been considering in recent pages, in that it is no distortion of our Lord’s characteristics or meaning. It correctly understands, but it fatally rejects, His claims; and does not hesitate to take the further step, on the ground of these, of branding Him as a blasphemer.

We may turn the high priest’s question in another direction: ‘What further need have we of witnesses?’ These horror-stricken judges, rending their garments in simulated grief and zeal, and that silent Prisoner, knowing that His life was the forfeit of His claims, yet saying no word of softening or explanation of them, may teach us much. They are witnesses to some of the central facts of the revelation of God in Christ. Let us turn to these for a few moments.

I. First, then, they witness to Christ’s claims.

The question that was proposed to Jesus, ‘Art Thou the Christ, the Son of the living God?’ was suggested by the facts of His ministry, and not by anything that had come out in the course of this investigation. It was the summing up of the impression made on the ecclesiastical authorities of Judaism by His whole attitude and demeanour. And if we look back to His life we shall see that there were instances, long before this, on which, on the same ground, the same charge was flung at Him. For example, when He would heal the paralytic, and, before He dealt with bodily disease, attended to spiritual weakness, and said, ‘Thy sins be forgiven thee,’ ere He said, ‘Take up thy bed and walk,’ there was a group of keen-eyed hunters after heresy sitting eagerly on the watch, who snatched at the words in a moment, and said, ‘Who is this that forgiveth sins? No man forgiveth sins, but God only! This man speaketh blasphemies!’ And they were right. He did claim a divine prerogative; and either the claim must be admitted or the charge of blasphemy urged.

Again, when He infringed Rabbinical Sabbath law by a cure, and they said, ‘This Man has broken the Sabbath day,’ His vindication was worse than His offence, for He answered, ‘My Father worketh hitherto, and I work.’ And then they sought the more to kill Him, because He not only brake the Sabbath, but also called God His own Father, making Himself equal with God.’ And again, when He declared that the safety of His sheep in His hands was identical with their safety in His Father’s hands, and vindicated the audacious parallelism by the tremendous assertion, ‘I and My Father are One,’ the charge of blasphemy rang out; and was inevitable, unless the claim was true.

These outstanding instances are but, as it were, summits that rise above the general level. But the general level is that of One who takes an altogether unique position. No one else, professing to lead men in paths of righteousness, has so constantly put the stress of His teaching, not upon morality, nor religion, nor obedience to God, but upon this, ‘Believe in Me’; or ever pushed forward His own personality into the foreground, and made the whole nobleness and blessedness and security and devoutness of a life to hinge upon that one thing, its personal relation to Him.

People talk about the sweet and gentle wisdom that flowed from Christ’s lips, and so on; about the lofty morality, about the beauty of pity and tenderness, and all the other commonplaces so familiar to us, and we gladly admit them all. But I venture to go a step further than all these, and to say that the outstanding differentia, the characteristic which marks off Christ’s teaching as something new, peculiar, and altogether per se, is not its morality, not its philanthropy, not its meek wisdom, not its sweet reasonableness, but its tremendous assertions of the importance of Himself.

And if I am asked to state the ground upon which such an assertion may be vindicated, I would point you to such facts as these, that this Man took up a position of equality with, and of superiority to, the legislation which He and the people to whom He was speaking regarded as being divinely sent, and said, ‘Ye have heard that it hath been said to them of old time’ so and so; ‘but I say unto you’: that this Man declared that to build upon His words was to build upon a rock; that this Man declared that He-He-was the legitimate object of absolute trust, of utter submission and obedience; that He claimed from His followers affiance, love, reverence which cannot be distinguished from worship, and that He did not therein conceive that He was intercepting anything that belonged to the Father. This Man professed to be able to satisfy the desires of every human heart when He said, ‘If any man thirst let him come to Me and drink.’ This Man claimed to be able to breathe the sanctity of repose in the blessedness of obedience over all the weary and the heavy laden; and assured them that He Himself, through all the ages, and in all lands, and for all troubles, would give them rest. This Man declared that He who stood there, in the quiet homes of Galilee, and went about its acres with those blessed feet for our advantage, was to be Judge of the whole world. This Man said that His name was ‘Son of God’; and this Man declared, ‘He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father.’

And then people say to us, ‘Oh! your Gospel narratives, even if they be the work of men in good faith, telling what they suppose He said, mistook the Teacher; and if we could strip away the accretion of mistaken reverence, and come to the historical person, we should find no claims like these.’

Well, this is not the time to enter into the large questions which that contention involves, but I point you to the incident which makes my text, and I say, ‘What need we any further witnesses?’ Nobody denies that Jesus Christ was crucified as the result of a combination of Sanhedrin and Pilate. What set the Jewish rulers against Him with such virulent and murderous determination? Is there anything in the life of Jesus Christ, if it is watered down as the people, who want to knock out all the supernatural, desire to water it down-is there anything in the life that will account for the inveterate acrimony and hostility which pursued Him to the death? The fact remains that, whether or not Evangelists and Apostles misconceived His teaching when they gave such prominence to His personality and His lofty claims, His enemies were under the same delusion, if it were a delusion; and the reason why the whole orthodox religionism of Judaism rejoiced when He was nailed to the Cross was summed up in the taunt which they flung at Him as He hung there, ‘If He be the Son of God, let Him come down, and we will believe Him.’

So, brethren, I put into the witness-box Annas and Caiaphas and all their satellites, and I say, ‘What need we any further witnesses?’ He died because He declared that He was the Son of God.

And I beseech you ask yourselves whether we are not being put off with a maimed version of His teaching, if there is struck out of it this its central characteristic, that He, ‘the sage and humble,’ declared that He was ‘likewise One with the Creator.’

II. Secondly, note how we have here the witness that Jesus Christ assented always to the loftiest meaning that men attached to His claims.

I have already pointed out the remarkable difference between the explanations which He condescended to give to the Roman governor as to the perfectly innocent meaning of His claim to be the King of Israel, and His silence before the Sanhedrin. That silence is only explicable because they rightly understood the meaning of the claim which they contemptuously and perversely rejected. Jesus Christ knew that His death was the forfeit, as I have said, and yet He locked His lips and said not a word.

In like manner when, on the other occasion to which I have already referred, the Pharisees stumbled at His claims to forgive sins, He said nothing to soften down that claim. If He had meant then only what some people would desire to make Him mean when He said, ‘Thy sins be forgiven thee’-viz., that He was simply acting as a minister of the divine forgiveness, and assuring a poor sinner that God had pardoned him-why in common honesty, in discharge of His plain obligations of a teacher, did He not say so-not for His own sake, but for the sake of preventing such a tremendous misunderstanding of His meaning? But He let them go away with the conviction that He intended to claim a divine prerogative, and vindicated the assertion by doing what only a divine power could do: ‘That ye may know that the Son of Man hath power enough on earth to forgive sins, He saith unto the sick of the palsy, Take up thy bed and walk.’ There was no need for Him to have wrought a miracle to establish His right to tell a poor soul that God forgave sin. And the fact that the miracle was supposed to be the demonstration and the vindication of His right to declare forgiveness shows that He was exercising that prerogative which belongs, as they rightly said, to God only.

And in precisely the same manner, the commonest obligations of honesty, the plain duty of a misunderstood Teacher, to say nothing of the duty of self-preservation, ought to have opened His lips in the presence of the Jewish authorities, if they understood wrongly and set too high their estimate of the meaning of His claims. His silence establishes the fact that they understood these aright.

And so, all through His life, we note this peculiarity, that He never puts aside as too lofty for truth men’s highest interpretations of His claims, nor as too lowly for their mutual relation the lowest reverence which bowed before Him. Peter, in the house of Cornelius, said, ‘Stand up! for I myself also am a man.’ Paul and Barnabas, when the priests brought out the oxen and garlands to the gates of Lystra, could say, ‘We also are men of like passions with yourselves.’ But this meek Jesus lets men fall at His feet; and women wash them with their tears and wipe them with the hairs of their head; and souls stretch out maimed hands of faith, and grasp Him as their only hope. When His apostle said, ‘Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God,’ His answer was, ‘Blessed art thou, for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee,’ and when another exclaimed, ‘My Lord and my God!’ this Pattern of all meekness accepted and endorsed the title, and pronounced a benediction on all who, not having seen Him, should hereafter attain a like faith.

Now I want to know whether that characteristic, which runs through all His life, and is inseparable from it, can be vindicated on any ground except the ground that He was ‘God manifest in the flesh.’ Either Jesus Christ had a greedy appetite for excessive adoration, was a victim to diseased vanity and ever-present self-regard-the most damning charge that you can bring against a religious teacher-or He accepted love and reverence and trust, because the love and the reverence and the trust knit souls to the Incarnate God their Saviour.

III. And so, lastly we have here witness to the only alternative to the acceptance of His claims.

He hath spoken ‘blasphemy,’ not because He had derogated from the dignity of divinity, but because He had presumed to participate in it. And it seems to me, with all deference, that this rough alternative is the only legitimate one. If Jesus Christ did make such claims, and His relation to the Jewish hierarchy and His death are, as I have shown you, apart even from the testimony of the Evangelists, strong confirmation of the fact that He did-if Jesus Christ did make such claims, and they were not valid, one of two things follows. Either He believed them, and then, what about His sanity? or He did not believe them, and then, what about His honesty? In either case, what about His claims to be a Teacher of religion? What about His claims to be the Pattern of humanity? That part of His teaching and character is either the manifestation of His glory or it is like one of those fatal black seams that run through and penetrate into the substance of a fair white marble statue, marring all the rest of its pale and celestial beauty. Brethren, it seems to me that, when all is said and done, we come to one of three things about Jesus Christ. Either ‘He blasphemeth’ if He said these things, and they were not true, or ‘He is beside Himself’ if He said these things and believed them, or

‘Thou art the King of Glory, O Christ;

Thou art the everlasting Son of the Father.’

Now I know that there are many men who, I venture to say, are far better than their creed, and who, believing it impossible to accept, in their plain meaning, the plain claims of Jesus Christ to divinity, do yet cleave to Him with a love and a reverence and an obedience which more orthodox men might well copy. And far be it from me to say one word which might seem even to quench the faintest beam of light that, shining from His perfect character, draws any heart, however imperfectly, to Himself. Only, if I speak to any such at this time, I beseech them to follow the light which draws them, and to see whether their reverence for that fair character should not lead them to accept implicitly the claims that came from His own lips. I humbly venture to say that if we know anything at all about Jesus Christ, we know that He lived declaring Himself to be the Everlasting Son of the Father, and that He died because He did so declare Himself. And I beseech you to ponder the question whether reverence for Him and admiration of His character can be logically and reasonably retained, side by side with the repudiation of that which is the most distinctive part of His message to men.

Oh, brethren, if it is true that God has come in the flesh, and that that sweet, gracious, infinitely beautiful life is really the revelation of the heart of God, then what a beam of sunshine falls upon all the darkness of this world! Then God is love; then that love holds us all; did not shrink from dying for us, and lives for ever to bless us. If these claims are true, what should our attitude be but that of infinite trust, love, submission, obedience, and the shaping of our lives after the pattern of His life?

These rejectors, when they said, ‘He speaketh blasphemies,’ were sealing their own doom, and the ruined Temple and nineteen centuries of wandering misery show what comes to men who hear Christ declaring that He is the Son of the living God and the Judge of the world, and who find nothing in the words but blasphemy. On the other hand, if we will answer His question, ‘Whom say ye that I am?’ as the apostle answered it, we shall, like the apostle, receive a benediction from His lips, and be set on that faith as on a rock against which the ‘gates of hell’ shall not prevail.


Verses 66-68

Matthew

THE REAL HIGH PRIEST AND HIS COUNTERFEIT

Matthew 26:57 - Matthew 26:68.

John’s Gospel tells us that Jesus was brought before ‘Annas first,’ probably in the same official priestly residence as Caiaphas, his son-in-law, occupied. That preliminary examination brought out nothing to incriminate the prisoner, and was flagrantly illegal, being an attempt to entrap Him into self-accusing statements. It was baffled by Jesus being silent first, and subsequently taking His stand on the undeniable principle that a charge must be sustained by evidence, not based on self-accusation. Annas, having made nothing of this strange criminal, ‘sent Him bound unto Caiaphas.’

A meeting of the Sanhedrin had been hastily summoned in the dead of night, which was itself an illegality. Now Jesus stands before the poor shadow of a judicial tribunal, which, though it was all that Rome had left a conquered people, was still entitled to sit in judgment on Him. Strange inversion, and awful position for these formalists! And with sad persistence of bitter prejudice they proceeded to try the prisoner, all unaware that it was themselves, not Him, that they were trying.

They began wrongly, and betrayed their animus at once. They were sitting there to inquire whether Jesus was guilty or no; they had made up their minds beforehand that He was, and their effort now was but to manufacture some thin veil of legality for a judicial murder. So they ‘sought false witness, . . . that they might put Him to death.’ Matthew simply says that no evidence sufficient for the purpose was forthcoming; Mark adds that the weak point, was that the lies contradicted each other. Christ’s presence has a strange, solemn power of unmasking our falsehoods, both of thought and deed, and it is hard to speak evil of Him before His face. If His calumniators were confused when He stood as Prisoner, what will they be when He sits as a Judge?

Only Matthew and Mark tell us of the two witnesses whose twisted version of the word about ‘destroying the Temple and rebuilding it in three days’ seemed to Caiaphas serious enough to require an answer. Their mistake was one which might have been made in good faith, but none the less was their travesty ‘false witness.’ Their version of His great word shows how easily the teaching of a lofty soul, passed through the popular brain, is degraded, and made to mean the opposite of what he had meant by it. For the destruction of the Temple had appeared in the saying as the Jews’ work, and Jesus had presented Himself in it as the Restorer, not the Destroyer, of the Temple and of all that it symbolised. We destroy, He rebuilds. The murder of Jesus was the suicide of the nation. Caiaphas and his council were even now pulling down the Temple. And that murder was the destruction, so far as men could effect it, of the true ‘Temple of His body,’ in which the fulness of the Godhead dwelt, and which was more gloriously reconstituted in the Resurrection. The risen Christ rears the true temple on earth, for through Him the Holy Ghost dwells in His Church, which is collectively ‘the Temple,’ and in all believing spirits, which are individually ‘the temples’ of God. So the false witnesses distorted into a lie a great truth.

The Incarnate Word was dumb all the while. He ‘was still and refrained’ Himself. It was the silence of the King before a lawless tribunal of rebels, of patient meekness, ‘as a sheep before her shearers’; of innocence that will not stoop to defend itself from groundless accusations; of infinite pity and forbearing love, which sees that it cannot win, but will not smite. Jesus is still silent, but one day, ‘with the breath of His lips shall He slay the wicked.’ Caiaphas seems to have been annoyed as well as surprised at Jesus’ silence, for there is a trace of irritation, as at ‘contempt of court,’ in his words. But our Lord’s continued silence appears to have somewhat awed him, and the dawning consciousness of his dignity is, perhaps, the reason for the high priest’s casting aside all the foolery of false witnessing, and coming at last to the real point,- the Messianic claims of Jesus.

Caiaphas was doing his duty as high priest in inquiring into such claims, but he was somewhat late in the day, and he had made up his mind before he inquired. What he wished to get was a plain assertion on which the death sentence could be pronounced. Jesus knew this, and yet He answered. But Luke tells us that He first scathingly pointed to the unreality and animus of the question by saying, ‘If I tell you, ye will not believe.’ But yet it was fitting that He should solemnly, before the supreme court, representative of the nation, declare that He was the Messiah, and that, if He was to be rejected and condemned, it should be on the ground of that declaration. Before Caiaphas He claimed to be Messiah, before Pilate He claimed to be King. Each rejected Him in the character that appealed to them most. The many-sidedness of the perfect Revealer of God brings Him to each soul in the aspect that most loudly addresses each. Therefore the love in the appeal and the guilt in its rejection are the greater.

But Christ’s self-attestation to the council was not limited to the mere claim to the name of Messiah. It disclosed the implications of that name in a way altogether unlike the conceptions held by Caiaphas. When Caiaphas put in apposition ‘the Christ’ and ‘the Son of God,’ he was not speaking from the ordinary Jewish point of view, but from some knowledge, of Christ’s teaching, and there are two charges combined into one.

But Jesus’ answer, while plainly claiming to be the Messiah, expands itself in regard to the claim to be ‘Son of God,’ and shows its tremendous significance. It involves participation in divine authority and omnipotence. It involves a future coming to be the Judge of His judges. It declares that these blind scribes and elders will see Him thus exalted, and it asserts that all this is to begin then and there {‘henceforth’}, as if that hour of humiliation was to His consciousness the beginning of His manifestation as Lord, or, as John has it, ‘the hour that the Son of Man should be glorified.’ Nor must we leave out of sight the fact that it is ‘the Son of Man’ of whom all this is said, for thereby are indicated the raising of His perfect humanity to participation in Deity, and the possibility that His brethren, too, may sit where He sits. Much was veiled in the answer to the council, much is veiled to us. But this remains,-that Jesus, at that supreme moment, when He was bound to leave no misunderstandings, made the plainest claim to divinity, and could have saved His life if He had not done so. Either Caiaphas, in his ostentatious horror of such impiety, was right in calling Christ’s words blasphemy, and not far wrong in inferring that Jesus was not fit to live, or He is the everlasting ‘Son of the Father,’ and will ‘come to be our Judge.’

 


Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
MacLaren, Alexander. "Commentary on Matthew 26:4". Alexander MacLaren's Expositions of Holy Scripture. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/mac/matthew-26.html.

Commentary Navigator
Search This Commentary
Enter query in the box below
To report dead links, typos, or html errors or suggestions about making these resources more useful use our convenient contact form
Powered by Lightspeed Technology