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Roman authority and Roman law-was really neither judge nor ruler, but simply a tool in the hands of Jewish bigotry and prejudice. The real judges of our Lord were the Jewish priests, and the consenters to the judgment of the priesthood were the Jewish people. Pilate was nothing but the executor of a sentence which had already been pronounced in the Jewish council. The guilt of our Lord's death must lie, no doubt, with the civil as well as with the ecclesiastical authority, for Pilate consented to it and carried it out; but the Roman State was only secondarily guilty, and the chief burden of that most black transgression must be laid upon the Jewish Church. Pilate's hands are red, and he washes them in vain, for the stain of Christ's blood must be for ever on them. But the chief criminals are those who cried, “ His blood be upon us and upon our children.” That blood has been upon them ever since, and is upon
them now. So that the true light in which to regard our Lord's condemnation is that which presents Him to our notice as a religious criminal, sentenced by the Jewish Church to die, for violating God's commandments. The reason formally assigned was a mere pretext. When the Jews cried out, “If thou let this man go thou art not Cæsar's friend : whosoever maketh himself a king speaketh against Cæsar," they were using an argument which they did not themselves believe, and which Pilate knew to be fallacious. They were no more sincere when they accused our Lord of subverting the Roman government, and of treason against the authority of Cæsar, than when they cried a little after, “We have no king but Cæsar.' No king but Cæsar! Why Cæsar was the last
person whom they were willing to acknowledge as their king! The only crime of which our Lord was guilty was the assumption of divine authority, and the assertion, often made before, but extorted from Him afresh in the presence of the Jewish council, that He was indeed the Son of God. For three years, during which He had gone in and out among them, manifesting forth His glory, teaching in their streets and villages, He had declared, with more or less distinctness, that He was the Messiah—that He was sent by God—that He was come down from Heaven -that He was I AM, God of God. And in
proportion to the growing openness and distinctness of His teaching, the opposition and hatred of the Jews had risen in intensity, till at last they resolved upon His death. Judging Him from their point of view, looking at Him with their perverted understandings, He was guilty of the greatest crime of which the Church takes cognizance. In their eyes He was nothing short of a blasphemer. They expressed their own view of His conduct with perfect truthfulness when they said, “We have a law, and by our law He ought to die, because He made Himself the Son of God.” There was His guilt. “He made Himself the Son of God.”
And thus the closer we look into the spectacle the more our wonder grows. The Son of God is condemned to die. And why? For blasphemy. He said that He was God. He avowed this certain fact; nor only avowed it, but proved, manifested, demonstrated the fact, by works which were miraculous, and by words which were miraculous no less. It was for this that they condemned Him. And by whom was He condemned ? He was condemned by
His own people. We feel the pathos of those words, “ He came unto His own and His own received Him not." But the full truth is more pathetic still. Not only did His own reject Him, His own condemned Him. His own cried, saying, “He is guilty of death." His own preferred Barabbas. laughed at Him, spat on Him, smote Him with the palms of their hands. His own clamoured for His blood, “Crucify Him, crucify Him." mocked Him as He hung upon His cross. Nor is this the whole wonder. But, stranger still, the priests were the leaders of the people in this assault upon the Son of God. The people were but like the priest. The blind led the blind, and both fell into the ditch. The priests, blind guides, strainers at so many a gnat of petty scruple, swallowed this camel whole. The priests were the leaders of that chorus which sang that song of blood. Not only were their hands imbrued in it, but their whole body, from the crown of the head to the sole of the feet, was red with its tremendous guilt. They who should have known the truth best were its most bitter enemies. They who should have been nearest to believe in Christ were at the greatest distance from Him. It is terrible to speak such things, but it is truth. They who had waited at His altar sacrificed their great High Priest; they who had taught the law destroyed the lawgiver ; they who governed the Church crucified its King. Not that we may so lay the burden upon their back as to escape from bearing any portion of its guilt ourselves. All men were guilty in their own measure. The whole world was a sharer, by representation, in the guilt of that stupendous crime. It would be truth to say, that the gathering of men assembled
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round the seat at Gabbatha was a parliament of all the world. Jew and Gentile, bond and free, man and woman, old and young, took part in the unrighteous condemnation of the Son of God. As we stand at Gabbatha, we see the men of every class and every condition. Soldiers and Servants, Scribes and Lawyers, Pharisees and Sadducees, Priests and People, Herod the King, Pilate the Governor, and Caiaphas the High Priest, men of every profession and every condition in life, all are there, and the world is represented by them. All are there, and all must cry, verily guilty concerning our brother,” in that they saw the anguish of His soul and did not heed it; in that they saw the Son of God on earth, and thought him a guilty criminal, or thought Him innocent and yet “condemned the innocent blood.” But the priests were the blackest of this band of criminals. They who ought to have been best were worst. Theirs were the hardest hearts, the blindest eyes, the deafest ears, the dullest minds, the reddest hands. For the greater the height the heavier is the fall. There are none so blind as those who will not see.
There are none so ignorant as those who will not use their light. And none so far from Heaven as those who have been led into the paths of God's counsels, and yet have turned aside from truth to that broad road which is the way to hell.
But to return to the point from which we started. What is the spectacle before us? It is this. God is on His trial before man, and man condemns Him. The particular tribunal before which our Lord stood was that of Pontius Pilate, and Pontius Pilate was a mere tool in the hands of a determined mob of Jewish priests and Jewish people. But what, after all, were
Pilate, and priests, and people, but men ; of like passions with ourselves, men whose names and circumstances were very different from our own, but whose nature was like ours, and whose sins, in their true intrinsic character, were just the same sins as we ourselves commit?
I should imagine, my brethren, that on a day like this, when you are standing beneath the cross of Christ and remembering those sins of yours for which He suffered, I should imagine that on this day you are not likely to content yourselves with blackening the character of Jews and Romans, and throwing stones and dirt at them, as though they were the only or the worst sinners who ever lived on earth, and then to congratulate yourselves upon your own comparative perfection, saying, “ God I thank Thee that I am not as other men are,” or even like this Roman governor, and these priests and Scribes and Pharisees. I believe that you stand before the Cross, convicted by your own consciences, of like if not of equal guilt, unable to hurl a single accusation, or cast against the Jews a solitary stone. And I believe that the spirit which now moves you is rather that of the publican than that of the Pharisee, and that your hands are smiting on your breasts and your lips are saying, “ Lord be merciful to me a sinner.” If such be the temper of your minds, come with me, I pray you, now to Gabbatha, and listen to the lessons which you may learn from the spectacle which is there presented to you,-Christ before the judgment-seat of Pontius Pilate.
6. Behold the man.” Behold the true man, the man indeed. Behold God in man's flesh. There is “ the Truth.” He says Himself, “ For this cause came I into