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Lord’s Day 9, 2011


I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord.”

The Substitute. [My preferred tune: Crucifix]
Horatius Bonar (1808–1889)

“Jesu, plene caritate,
Manus tuæ perforatæ
Laxent mea crimina;
Latus tuum lanceatum,
Caput spinus coronatum,
Hæc sint medicamina.” —Old Hymn.

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I lay my sins on Jesus,
The spotless Lamb of God;
He bears them all, and frees us
From the accursèd load;
I bring my guilt to Jesus,
To wash my crimson stains
White in His blood most precious,
Till not a stain remains.

I lay my wants on Jesus;
All fullness dwells in Him;
He heals all my diseases,
He doth my soul redeem:
I lay my griefs on Jesus,
My burdens and my cares;
He from them all releases,
He all my sorrows shares.

I rest my soul on Jesus,
This weary soul of mine;
His right hand me embraces,
I on His breast recline.
I love the Name of Jesus,
Immanuel, Christ, the Lord;
Like fragrance on the breezes
His Name abroad is poured.

I long to be like Jesus,
Meek, loving, lowly, mild;
I long to be like Jesus,
The Father’s holy Child:
I long to be with Jesus,
Amid the heavenly throng,
To sing with saints His praises,
To learn the angels’ song.

—Horatius Bonar, Hymns of Faith and Hope, First Series (James Nisbet & Co., 1878).

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John 18:28–40

Then they led Jesus from Caiaphas into the Praetorium, and it was early; and they themselves did not enter into the Praetorium so that they would not be defiled, but might eat the Passover. 29 Therefore Pilate went out to them and said, “What accusation do you bring against this Man?” 30 They answered and said to him, “If this Man were not an evildoer, we would not have delivered Him to you.” 31 So Pilate said to them, “Take Him yourselves, and judge Him according to your law.” The Jews said to him, “We are not permitted to put anyone to death,” 32 to fulfill the word of Jesus which He spoke, signifying by what kind of death He was about to die.

33 Therefore Pilate entered again into the Praetorium, and summoned Jesus and said to Him, “Are You the King of the Jews?” 34 Jesus answered, “Are you saying this on your own initiative, or did others tell you about Me?” 35 Pilate answered, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests delivered You to me; what have You done?” 36 Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm.” 37 Therefore Pilate said to Him, “So You are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say correctly that I am a king For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.” 38 Pilate said to Him, “What is truth?”

And when he had said this, he went out again to the Jews and said to them, “I find no guilt in Him. 39 But you have a custom that I release someone for you at the Passover; do you wish then that I release for you the King of the Jews?” 40 So they cried out again, saying, “Not this Man, but Barabbas.” Now Barabbas was a robber.

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The verses we have now read contain four striking points, which are only found in St. John’s narrative of Christ’s passion. We need not doubt that there were good reasons why Matthew, Mark, and Luke were not inspired to record them. But they are points of such deep interest, that we should feel thankful that they have been brought forward by St. John.

The first point that we should notice is the false conscientiousness of our Lord’s wicked enemies. We are told that the Jews who brought Christ before Pilate would not go into “the judgment hall, lest they should be defiled; but that they might eat the passover.” That was scrupulosity indeed! These hardened men were actually engaged in doing the wickedest act that mortal man ever did. They wanted to kill their own Messiah. And yet at this very time they talked of being “defiled,” and were very particular about the passover!

The conscience of unconverted men is a very curious part of their moral nature. While in some cases it becomes hardened, seared, and dead, until it feels nothing; in others it becomes morbidly scrupulous about the lesser matters of religion. It is no uncommon thing to find people excessively particular about the observance of trifling forms and outward ceremonies, while they are the slaves of degrading sins and detestable immoralities. Robbers and murderers in some countries are extremely strict about confession, and absolution, and prayers to saints. Fastings and self-imposed austerities in Lent, are often followed by excess of worldliness when Lent is over. There is but a step from Lent to Carnival. The attendants at daily services in the morning are not infrequently the patrons of balls and theaters at night. All these are symptoms of spiritual disease, and a heart secretly dissatisfied. Men who know they are wrong in one direction, often struggle to make things right by excess of zeal in another direction. That very zeal is their condemnation.

Let us pray that our consciences may always be enlightened by the Holy Ghost, and that we may be kept from a one-sided and deformed Christianity. A religion that makes a man neglect the weightier matters of daily holiness and separation from the world, and concentrate his whole attention on forms, sacraments, ceremonies, and public services, is to say the least, very suspicious. It may be accompanied by immense zeal and show of earnestness, but it is not sound in the sight of God. The Pharisees paid tithe of mint, anise, and cummin, and compassed sea and land to make proselytes, while they neglected “judgment, mercy, and faith.” (Matt. xxiii. 23.) The very Jews who thirsted for Christ’s blood were the Jews who feared the defilement of a Roman judgment hall, and made much ado about keeping the passover! Let their conduct be a beacon to Christians, as long as the world stands. That religion is worth little which does not make us say, “I esteem all Your commandments concerning all things to be right, and I hate every false way.” (Ps. cxix. 128.) That Christianity is worthless which makes us compound for the neglect of heart religion and practical holiness, by an extravagant zeal for man-made ceremonies or outward forms.

The second point that we should notice in these verses, is the account that our Lord Jesus Christ gives of His kingdom. He says, “My kingdom is not of this world.” These famous words have been so often perverted and wrested out of their real sense, that their true meaning has been almost buried under a heap of false interpretations. Let us make sure that we know what they mean.

Our Lord’s main object in saying “My kingdom is not of this world,” was to inform Pilate’s mind concerning the true nature of His kingdom, and to correct any false impression he might have received from the Jews. He tells him that He did not come to set up a kingdom which would interfere with the Roman Government. He did not aim at establishing a temporal power, to be supported by armies and maintained by taxes. The only dominion He exercised was over men’s hearts, and the only weapons that His subjects employed were spiritual weapons. A kingdom which required neither money nor servants for its support, was one of which the Roman Emperors need not be afraid. In the highest sense it was a kingdom “not of this world.”

But our Lord did not intend to teach that the kings of this world have nothing to do with religion, and ought to ignore God altogether in the government of their subjects. No such idea, we may be sure, was in His mind. He knew perfectly well that it was written, “By Me kings reign” (Prov. viii. 15), and that kings are as much required to use their influence for God, as the meanest of their subjects. He knew that the prosperity of kingdoms is wholly dependent on the blessing of God, and that kings are as much bound to encourage righteousness and godliness, as to punish unrighteousness and immorality. To suppose that He meant to teach Pilate that, in His judgment, an infidel might be as good a king as a Christian, and a man like Gallio as good a ruler as David or Solomon, is simply absurd.

Let us carefully hold fast the true meaning of our Lord’s words in these latter days. Let us never be ashamed to maintain that no Government can expect to prosper which refuses to recognize religion, which deals with its subjects as if they had no souls, and cares not whether they serve God, or Baal, or no God at all. Such a Government will find, sooner or later, that its line of policy is suicidal, and damaging to its best interests. No doubt the kings of this world cannot make men Christians by laws and statutes. But they can encourage and support Christianity, and they will do so if they are wise. The kingdom where there is the most industry, temperance, truthfulness, and honesty, will always be the most prosperous of kingdoms. The king who wants to see these things abound among his subjects, should do all that lies in his power to help Christianity and to discourage irreligion.

The third point that we should notice in these verses is the account that our Lord gives of His own mission. He says, “To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth.”

Of course we are not to suppose our Lord meant that this was the only end of His mission. No doubt He spoke with special reference to what He knew was passing through Pilate’s mind. He did not come to win a kingdom with the sword, and to gather adherents and followers by force. He came armed with no other weapon but “truth.” To testify to fallen man the truth about God, about sin, about the need of a Redeemer, about the nature of holiness,—to declare and lift up before man’s eyes this long lost and buried “truth,”—was one great purpose of His ministry. He came to be God’s witness to a lost and corrupt world. That the world needed such a testimony, He does not shrink from telling the proud Roman Governor. And this is what Paul had in view, when he tells Timothy, that “before Pontius Pilate Christ witnessed a good confession.” (1 Tim. vi. 13.)

The servants of Christ in every age must remember that our Lord’s conduct in this place is meant to be their example. Like Him we are to be witnesses to God’s truth, salt in the midst of corruption, light in the midst of darkness, men and women not afraid to stand alone, and to testify for God against the ways of sin and the world. To do so may entail on us much trouble, and even persecution. But the duty is clear and plain. If we love life, if we would keep a good conscience, and be owned by Christ at the last day, we must be “witnesses.” It is written, “Whoever shall be ashamed of Me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him also shall the Son of man be ashamed, when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.” (Mark viii. 38.)

The last point that we should notice in these verses is the question that Pontius Pilate addressed to our Lord. We are told that when our Lord spoke of the truth, the Roman Governor replied, “What is truth?” We are not told with what motive this question was asked, nor does it appear on the face of the narrative that he who asked it waited for an answer. It seems far more likely that the saying was the sarcastic, sneering exclamation of one who did not believe that there was any such thing as “truth.” It sounds like the language of one who had heard, from his earliest youth, so many barren speculations about “truth” among Roman and Greek philosophers, that he doubted its very existence. “Truth indeed! What is truth?”

Melancholy as it may appear, there are multitudes in every Christian land whose state of mind is just like that of Pilate. Hundreds, it may be feared among the upper classes, are continually excusing their own irreligion by the specious plea that, like the Roman Governor, they cannot find out “what is truth.” They point to the endless controversies of Romanists and Protestants, of High Churchmen and Low Churchmen, of Churchmen and Dissenters, and pretend to say that they do not understand who is right and who is wrong. Sheltered under this favorite excuse, they pass through life without any decided religion, and in this wretched, comfortless state, too often die.

But is it really true that truth cannot be discovered? Nothing of the kind! God never left any honest, diligent inquirer without light and guidance. Pride is one reason why many cannot discover truth. They do not humbly go down on their knees and earnestly ask God to teach them.—Laziness is another reason. They do not honestly take pains, and search the Scriptures. The followers of unhappy Pilate, as a rule, do not deal fairly and honestly with their consciences. Their favorite question,—What is truth?—is nothing better than a pretense and an excuse. The words of Solomon will be found true as long as the world stands: “If thou criest after knowledge, and liftest up your voice for understanding; if thou seekest her as silver, and searchest for her as for hid treasures; then shalt thou understand the fear of the Lord, and find the knowledge of God.” (Prov. ii. 4, 5.) No man ever followed that advice and missed the way to heaven.

—J. C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on the Gospels (Banner of Truth, 2012).



Posted 2011·02·27 by David Kjos
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Posted in: Expository Thoughts on the Gospels · Gospel of John · Horatius Bonar · Hymns of Faith and Hope · J C Ryle · Lord’s Day

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