I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord.”
“All Flesh Is Grass”
Christina Rossetti (1830–1894)
So brief a life, and then an endless life
Or endless death;
So brief a life, then endless peace or strife:
How man but like a flower
Or shoot of grass
Blooms an hour,
Well may sigh “Alas!”
So brief a life and then endless grief
Or endless joy;
So brief a life, then ruin or relief:
What solace, what annoy
Of Time needs dwelling on?
It is, it was,
It is done,
While we sigh “Alas!”
Yet saints are singing in a happy hope
Bright eyes of faith enlarging all their scope;
Saints love beyond Time’s measure:
Where love is, there is bliss
That will not pass;
Where love is,
Dies away “Alas!”
—Christina Rossetti, Poems (Alfred A. Knopf, 1993).
The Gospel According to John
19 Pilate then took Jesus and scourged Him. 2 And the soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on His head, and put a purple robe on Him; 3 and they began to come up to Him and say, “Hail, King of the Jews!” and to give Him slaps in the face. 4 Pilate came out again and said to them, “Behold, I am bringing Him out to you so that you may know that I find no guilt in Him.” 5 Jesus then came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, “Behold, the Man!” 6 So when the chief priests and the officers saw Him, they cried out saying, “Crucify, crucify!” Pilate said to them, “Take Him yourselves and crucify Him, for I find no guilt in Him.” 7 The Jews answered him, “We have a law, and by that law He ought to die because He made Himself out to be the Son of God.”
8 Therefore when Pilate heard this statement, he was even more afraid; 9 and he entered into the Praetorium again and said to Jesus, “Where are You from?” But Jesus gave him no answer. 10 So Pilate said to Him, “You do not speak to me? Do You not know that I have authority to release You, and I have authority to crucify You?” 11 Jesus answered, “You would have no authority over Me, unless it had been given you from above; for this reason he who delivered Me to you has the greater sin.” 12 As a result of this Pilate made efforts to release Him, but the Jews cried out saying, “If you release this Man, you are no friend of Caesar; everyone who makes himself out to be a king opposes Caesar.”
13 Therefore when Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus out, and sat down on the judgment seat at a place called The Pavement, but in Hebrew, Gabbatha. 14 Now it was the day of preparation for the Passover; it was about the sixth hour And he said to the Jews, “Behold, your King!” 15 So they cried out, “Away with Him, away with Him, crucify Him!” Pilate said to them, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but Caesar.” 16 So he then handed Him over to them to be crucified.
These verses exhibit to our eyes a wonderful picture, a picture which ought to be deeply interesting to all who profess and call themselves Christians. Like every great historical picture, it contains special points on which we should fix our special attention. Above all, it contains three life-like portraits, which we shall find it useful to examine in order.
The first portrait in the picture is that of our Lord Jesus Christ himself.
We see the Saviour of mankind scourged, crowned with thorns, mocked, smitten, rejected by His own people, unjustly condemned by a judge who saw no fault in Him, and finally delivered up to a most painful death. Yet this was He who was the eternal Son of God, whom the Father’s countless angels delighted to honor. This was He who came into the world to save sinners, and after living a blameless life for thirty years, spent the last three years of His time on earth in going about doing good, and preaching the Gospel. Surely the sun never shone on a more wondrous sight since the day of its creation!
Let us admire that love of Christ which St. Paul declares, “passeth knowledge,” and let us see an endless depth of meaning in the expression. There is no earthly love with which it can be compared, and no standard by which to measure it. It is a love that stands alone. Never let us forget when we ponder this tale of suffering, that Jesus suffered for our sins, the Just for the unjust, that He was wounded for our transgressions and bruised for our iniquities, and that with His stripes we are healed.
Let us diligently follow the example of His patience in all the trials and afflictions of life, and specially in those which may be brought upon us by religion. When He was reviled, He reviled not again; when He suffered, He threatened not, but committed Himself to Him that judgeth righteously. Let us arm ourselves with the same mind. Let us consider Him who endured such contradiction of sinners without a murmur, and strive to glorify Him by suffering well, no less than by doing well.
The second portrait in the picture before us, is that of the unbelieving Jews who favored our Lord’s death.
We see them for three or four long hours obstinately rejecting Pilate’s offer to release our Lord,—fiercely demanding His crucifixion, savagely claiming His condemnation to death as a right,—persistently refusing to acknowledge Him as their King,—declaring that they had no King but Caesar,—and finally accumulating on their own heads the greater part of the guilt of His murder. Yet, these were the children of Israel and the seed of Abraham, to whom pertained the promises and the Mosaic ceremonial, the temple sacrifices and the temple priesthood. These were men who professed to look for a Prophet like unto Moses, and a son of David who was to set up a kingdom as Messiah. Never, surely, was there such an exhibition of the depth of human wickedness since the day when Adam fell.
Let us mark with fear and trembling the enormous danger of long-continued rejection of light and knowledge. There is such a thing as judicial blindness; and it is the last and sorest judgment which God can send upon men. He who, like Pharaoh and Ahab, is often reproved but refuses to receive reproof, will finally have a heart harder than the nether mill-stone, and a conscience past feeling, and seared as with a hot iron. This was the state of the Jewish nation during the time of our Lord’s ministry; and the heading up of their sin was their deliberate rejection of Him, when Pilate desired to let Him go. From such judicial blindness may we all pray to be delivered! There is no worse judgment from God than to be left to ourselves, and given over to our own wicked hearts and the devil. There is no surer way to bring that judgment upon us than to persist in refusing warnings and sinning against light. These words of Solomon are very awful: “Because I have called, and ye refused; I have stretched out my hand, and no man regarded; but ye have set at nought all my counsel, and would none of my reproof; I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock you when your fear cometh.” (Prov. i. 24–26.) Never let it be forgotten, that, like the Jews, we may at length be given up to strong delusion, so that we believe lies, and think that we are doing God service while we are committing sin. (2 Thess. ii. 11.)
The third, and last portrait in the picture before us, is that of Pontius Pilate.
We see a Roman Governor,—a man of rank and high position,—an imperial representative of the most powerful nation on earth,—a man who ought to have been the fountain of justice and equity,—halting between two opinions in a case as clear as the sun at noonday. We see him knowing what was right, and yet afraid to act up to his knowledge,—convinced in his own conscience that he ought to acquit the prisoner before him, and yet afraid to do it lest he should displease His accusers,—sacrificing the claims of justice to the base fear of man,—sanctioning from sheer cowardice, an enormous crime,—and finally countenancing, from love of man’s good opinion, the murder of an innocent person. Never perhaps did human nature make such a contemptible exhibition. Never was there a name so justly handed down to a world’s scorn as the name which is embalmed in all our creeds,—the name of Pontius Pilate.
Let us learn what miserable creatures great men are, when they have no high principles within them, and no faith in the reality of a God above them. The meanest laborer who has grace and fears God, is a nobler being in the eyes of his Creator than the King, ruler, or statesman, whose first aim it is to please the people. To have one conscience in private and another in public,—one rule of duty for our own souls, and another for our public actions,—to see clearly what is right before God, and yet for the sake of popularity to do wrong,—this may seem to some both right, and politic, and statesmanlike, and wise. But it is a character which no Christian man can ever regard with respect.
Let us pray that our own country may never be without men in high places who have grace to think right, and courage to act up to their knowledge, without truckling to the opinion of men. Those who fear God more than man, and care for pleasing God more than man, are the best rulers of a nation, and in the long run of years are always most respected. Men like Pontius Pilate, who are always trimming and compromising, led by popular opinion instead of leading popular opinion, afraid of doing right if it gives offence, ready to do wrong if it makes them personally popular, such men are the worst governors that a country can have. They are often God’s heavy judgment on a nation because of a nation’s sins.
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.