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"the thirty pieces of silver, the price of him that was valued, whom they of the children of Israel did value; and gave them for the potter's field, as the Lord appointed me." So wonderfully does the divine Providence overrule both the weakness and the wickedness of men to the divine glory, bringing good out of evil continually, and causing the light of heavenly truth to shine forth amidst the darkest scenes of human crime and folly.
See Matt. xxvi. 57-xxvii. 10. Mark xiv. 53-72. Luke xxii. 54-71. John xviii. 12—27.
FIFTY-FIFTH SUNDAY EVENING.
CHRIST BEFORE PILATE.
M. I told you last Sunday how Jesus was taken very early in the morning to the judgment-hall of Pilate; and that the charges already brought against Him before the Sanhedrim, even if they had been as just as they were wicked, were not sufficient to obtain a sentence of death from the Roman governor. Accordingly when they brought Christ before Pilate, they were obliged to have recourse to some fresh charge.
E. But what could they find to say against Him?
M. This was the difficulty. At first they tried to bring a sort of general charge against Him, saying to Pilate, "If he were not a malefactor, we would not have delivered him up unto thee;" expecting the governor, without any further inquiry, to confirm their sentence, But the Romans were for the most part strict in ad
ministering justice; and Pilate accordingly, though willing to please the Jews, would not consent to condemn any one unheard; but proposed, instead, that they should take Him and judge Him according to their own law, inflicting such a punishment as was still permitted to them; such as St. Paul alludes to, when he says that at five different times he received stripes at the hands of the Jews. But this did not satisfy the malice of the Sanhedrim. They were bent upon our Lord's death; and as they could no longer inflict that penalty themselves, they persisted in leaving Jesus in the hands of the governor; thus fulfilling our Lord's own prophetic words, "Behold, we go up to Jerusalem, and the Son of man shall be betrayed unto the chief priests and unto the Scribes ; and they shall condemn him to death, and shall deliver him to the Gentiles."
E. And so, Mamma, they were themselves proving Christ to be a prophet.
M. Yes; and that, too, at the very moment when they were condemning Him as a malefactor. When Pilate found that he could not persuade the Jews to be content with some lighter punishment than death, he returned into the judgment hall, and called Jesus to him for the Jews would not go in, for fear they should contract some defilement which would unfit them to celebrate the passover.
E. Oh! what deceitful men, Mamma! as if murder and all manner of false dealings were not worse in God's sight than going among the heathen.
M. So deceitful, Edward, is the heart of man when given up to its own wickedness; so readily does it "strain at the gnat whilst it swallows the camel." They thought murder no defilement, but to enter into a
gentile court, that would pollute them!
it was they took the holy Jesus. But real holiness is not contaminated by outward things. Like the light it passes amidst things unclean, yet remains pure and heavenly. So was Jesus undefiled when called by Pilate into his hall of judgment.
As yet the Roman governor had received no direct charge against our blessed Lord. But he could hardly be in Jerusalem without hearing something of Him, without having his mind in some degree prejudiced against Him by his artful persecutors, or without having been told of what had taken place when Jesus approached Jerusalem, and how the multitudes about Him had made the air resound with the cry, "Blessed be the king that cometh in the name of the Lord." Here then was alarm enough even for a Roman governor. True there was so much in our Lord's appearance and circumstances to contradict this idea, and make it altogether incredible, that we do not find the chief priests bringing forward the charge at first; but we find Pilate asking, as if in surprise, perhaps in mockery: "Art thou the king of the Jews?" As if He had said, "can it be possible that one so meek and lowly, so poor and powerless, can pretend to be a king."
E. But I dare say our Lord told Pilate that He was so, just as plainly as He declared to Caiaphas that He was the Son of God?
M. He did indeed make that "good confession"," only explaining that His "kingdom was not of this world;" not one which depended upon worldly power or glory, but a heavenly kingdom, the reign of truth.
11 Tim. vi. 13.
Then said Pilate unto Him, "What is truth?" Oh! that he had asked this question seriously! but a momentary anxiety, perhaps, there might have been to be set right on this important subject: but it was only momentary, for he went out again unto the Jews without waiting for an answer; convinced indeed that Jesus was innocent, but not inclined to listen to His instruction. Justice, however, compelled him to acknowledge that Christ had committed no crime. "I find in him no fault at all." "Oh! noble testimony to the innocence of Jesus from that mouth which afterwards condemned Him to death!" So far, you see, Pilate was just, and we find that he was merciful too, and wished to save Jesus from an unrighteous sentence. For he went to the Jews, and reminded them that it was a custom among them, that, at every celebration of the passover, some one prisoner was to be released from prison and punishment; and he offered therefore to release Jesus. But they all cried, saying, "Not this man, but Barabbas; now Barabbas was one who for sedition made in the city, and for murder, was cast into prison." Thus did they "refuse the Holy One, and the just, and desire a murderer to be granted unto them."
E. But would not Pilate be very wrong if he consented to this? ought he not to have done as he thought right, and to have protected an innocent person from the rage of the people, and from those wicked high priests?
M. There are very different opinions of the conduct of Pilate on this occasion. We must observe that our Lord treats him all along with a degree of consideration, and merciful allowance for his difficulties, as well
as for his ignorance, which He did not show towards His Jewish judges: nor can we say what effect our Lord's conduct and words may have had upon him. He had told him of His heavenly kingdom, and this led, even at the moment, to some inquiry in Pilate's mind may it not afterwards have wrought on that mind, until, as an old Christian writer asserts, it brought to the foot of the Cross the very heathen magistrate who ordered the crucifixion? Certain it is, at any rate, that Pilate showed great anxiety to avoid putting Jesus to death. He did, indeed, permit Him to be scourged, that is, to be "examined by scourging," as was the practice then, for the purpose of extorting the truth from those who were accused. He did also suffer the soldiers to plat a crown of thorns and put it on His head; to put on Him a purple robe, with a reed as a sceptre in His hand, and to salute Him in mockery as a king, mingling with their mockery rudeness and insult; for they smote Him with their hands. But perhaps he hoped by complying so far with the passions of the Jews, and with the feelings of his own soldiers, who were Cæsar's subjects, to save Jesus from more violent treatment. Perhaps he brought Him out to them arrayed in the mock robes of royalty, for the very purpose of showing them the absurdity of charging such a man with treason, or of suspecting Him of any such intentions as those with which they had charged Him. But, unhappily, the effect was only to enrage His enemies still more. They now began loudly to call upon Pilate to put Him to death; crying out continually, "Crucify him, crucify him!"
E. I cannot bear to think of the rude insults, which those wicked men heaped upon our blessed Redeemer;