The Sixth Book
Tells how the Lord Jesus entered Jerusalem to die. How He was crucified, dead and buried, and the third day rose from the dead and went back to His home in Heaven.
K EEP your eyes still on the procession of pilgrims on the Jerusalem road with Jesus and His disciples walking among them. They are leaving Jericho and the shouting crowds and Zaccheus and blind Bartimeus, who is able to see them now.
Now they are passing the village of Bethany through rows of the Bethany people, crowded on the roadside, to see Jesus of Nazareth who had raised their townsman Lazarus from the dead. As He sees in the crowd the eager faces of the Bethany family come to welcome Him, Jesus with His disciples leaves the procession which continues its way to Jerusalem. We leave it too, and delay at Bethany with Jesus.
Next evening there is a supper in Bethany in His honor and, as we should expect, "Martha served and Lazarus was one of them that sat at meat." And Mary is in her little room unwrapping a vase of precious ointment to anoint the feet of the Lord. Her face is very sad, for she knows more than others do of the secrets of Jesus, and she fears that He is coming to Jerusalem to die. Now she comes out with her vase of precious ointment, and as the delightful perfume spreads through the room I am sure that many of the guests are pleased that this honor should be paid to Jesus. So they are surprised to see a man, an angry red-haired man, stand up and say it is all wrong (this was Judas Iscariot, one of the apostles, and old stories tell that he had red hair).
"Why," he asks, "should she waste this precious ointment; she should sell it and give the money to the poor and not waste it like this."
Judas is in very bad humor this night. He is a bitter, disappointed man. He had thought that Jesus would become King over Israel and that he himself would be one of His great officers, so he is disappointed and cross and would find fault with Mary or anybody.
Jesus rebuked him. "Let her alone," He said, "she is showing her love, she has done a beautiful deed, and wherever My Gospel shall be preached throughout the world this loving deed shall be told in memory of her." So you see after nineteen hundred years it is being told now to you in memory of her. If the people at that supper had known that it was the last time such a kindness should be done to Him—that within a few days He would be lying dead in Joseph's tomb—I do not think anyone there would have found fault with Mary.
The next morning is Sunday. The Bethany people awake all proud and excited. The most famous Person in the land is a guest in their village, and everyone wants to see Him who raised Lazarus from the dead, who, some people say, is the Great One from Heaven. Their little village has become famous in a night. The whole countryside is talking of it.
I am thinking of Jesus that sunny morning, returning to breakfast from His morning prayer on the hills and the disciples coming to meet Him all excited and expecting. Surely, they think, some great thing is going to happen now. By and by, they are more excited still when Peter and John come out to tell them, "He has sent us to Bethpage to find a young ass on which never man sat. The Master is going to ride in procession to Jerusalem!"
Soon the news spread, and many began to think of the famous old prophecy in their Bible. "O daughter of Zion, behold thy King cometh, sitting on an ass's colt."
You are not to think of the ass as the common little animal of our day. The ass in those countries in the days of Jesus was often a fine animal, often used even in royal processions. I read that the Judges of Israel used to ride on white asses.
Jerusalem is only four miles away. And Jerusalem, too, is all excited. Its narrow streets are crowded with thousands of foreign Jews from all over the world, come up for the Passover. Everyone is talking of Jesus, and of Lazarus of Bethany whom He had raised from the dead, and crowds are coming out to Bethany to see the dead man who has come back from the Other World. So they meet the procession from Bethany, the Bethany people and His old friends from Galilee and the multitude who admired Him all following after the Lord. The road is lined with crowds as for a royal procession. The common road is not good enough for Him. The Galilee friends are laying down their cloaks on the road, the multitudes are spreading His path with green branches and the shouting can be heard in Jerusalem itself. "Hosanna! Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed be the King of Israel that cometh in the Name of the Lord!"
It looks like a King of earth riding in to victory. They think Jesus should be proud and glad. But Jesus is not proud and glad. For it is not a King of earth riding in to victory. It is the King of Heaven riding in—to die.
At the top of the hill-road there is a turn to the north, and the city which had been hidden by the shoulder of the mountain bursts suddenly into view. Jerusalem! The City of God! The dream-city of the Jew! There in the sunny afternoon it lies before Him in all its beauty—with its gardens and palaces and its stately Temple of Mount Moriah with the sunlight on its pinnacles and spires and the blue cloudless sky spread out over all. No other sight could so stir the heart of a Jew.
And His heart is deeply stirred but with sorrow and pain that He could not have saved His nation and that fair city from its doom.
Oh what a glorious future might have been theirs! Here is the Lord from Heaven that their prophets have dreamed about come down to make them the centre of His Kingdom of God on earth. But they are refusing Him, they will not have Him. So they must lose that glorious future. He cannot save them. He can only die for them.
So as He looks out on that fair city before Him He utters aloud His sorrowful thought: "Oh Jerusalem, if thou hadst only known. If thou hadst only known."
Now the procession has come to the city, and as the shouting crowd sweep in through the beautiful Golden Gate the strangers came rushing to ask what it meant, and the answer of the multitude came like a triumphant song, "This is Jesus the prophet of Nazareth of Galilee!" And the wicked priests and Pharisees cried angrily to each other, "We can never conquer Him now. Behold the whole world has gone after Him!"
I wonder what the people expected now. Did some think He would drive out Pilate and his soldiers and be King in Jerusalem with power and great armies? Ah, how little they knew!
We don't know much more about the Palm Sunday procession. By and by Jesus got away from the crowds and got where He always loved to be—in a crowd of children. Jesus entered into the Temple of God, His Father's House, where He had come twenty years before as a little boy of twelve. And lo and behold the great church was full of children, a great congregation of boys and girls come together, I suppose, for a Passover Children's Service. I fancy they had been watching the procession in the street and hearing the multitude shouting for Jesus. So now when they saw Him they shouted to welcome Him, "Hosanna to the Son of David! Hosanna to the Son of David!" That is all they could remember of what they had been hearing outside, and Jesus, who so loves children, was pleased at their welcome. But the priests were very angry. They didn't like Jesus and were now rather afraid of Him. "Stop those children shouting," they cried, "do you hear what they are saying?"
"Yes, I hear them," He said. "Have ye never read in your Bible
That's all we know about the Palm Sunday procession.
The Beginning of the End
T HAT was the end of Palm Sunday. On Monday and Tuesday the Temple was crowded. Jesus was preaching, teaching the people the Gospel of God's Good News. The people were eagerly listening. And the wicked priests and Pharisees were listening too, greatly vexed that such crowds of people liked Him and loved to hear Him. But they didn't dare to stop Him. They were afraid of the people. That Palm Sunday procession had frightened them.
So they tried to do Him all the harm they could. They sent men to interrupt Him and to ask Him dangerous questions that might get Him into trouble. They asked Him, "Is it right that we should pay taxes to the Roman Emperor?" That was a nasty little trap. If Jesus said "Yes" the people would be vexed, for they hated paying taxes. If He said "No" the Emperor would put Him in prison.
They asked several wicked questions like that and Jesus answered them kindly and patiently. At the end they asked Him a question that their wise men were disputing about just then. "What is the greatest command in the Bible?" They thought He could not answer that since their wise men could not. But Jesus gave them a lovely answer. "This is the first and great commandment, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. These two commandments," He said, "are the whole of religion."
Surely that was a great and noble answer. The people were so pleased that the priests had to stop their questions. But they were not to get off so easily. "Wait now," said Jesus, "I am going to ask you some questions. There was once a man who had two sons and he sent them to work in his garden. The first said, I will not go, but afterwards he was sorry and went. The second said, Yes, sir, I am going, but he didn't go. Which of the two obeyed his father?"
"The first," they said.
"Yes," said Jesus, "and you are the second. God has sent you to teach these poor people and you pretend you are doing it, but you are not. You pretend to be religious and you are not. You are only doing harm to these people whom God loves."
Then as He watched their spiteful faces His anger was aroused, and the Son of God turned sternly on these proud, wicked clergy, like a King rebuking his disobedient servants. He spoke terrible words that would shame them for ever before those crowds of people.
"Woe unto you scribes and Pharisees, ye hypocrites, ye false teachers, ye blind guides, ye unfaithful servants. God sent you holy prophets and ye drove them out. God sent His own Son and you are trying to kill Him. Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how shall ye escape the judgment of God."
Then He turned and walked out of the Temple—and never entered it again.
How fiercely angry they were, these priests and Pharisees. They had been shamed before all the people, they would never forgive Him for this.
Now watch them that night; they have come together to the High Priest's house behind the Temple, they are full of anger and hate, they want to arrest Jesus and kill Him, but they are afraid of the people.
Was not that an awful sight, the clergymen who ought to have been teaching about the love of God now full of hate wanting to kill Jesus!
But now comes a more awful thing. The priest's servant enters the room. "Sir, there is a man at the gate wanting to come in."
"Who is he? What is he like?"
"He is a big red-headed man. He seems frightened and excited. He says he is a friend of Jesus of Nazareth." "Bring him in at once; perhaps he will tell us where we may get hold of Jesus."
So Judas Iscariot is brought in and stands before them. "What will ye give me," he asks, "if I deliver Jesus unto you? I can find Him when He is alone and the people are not there to save Him."
So they counted out to him thirty pieces of silver and
he planned with them to have their police ready to go
That is the most awful story in the whole history of the world. A man who sold his Lord for money. A traitor who pretended to be a friend that he might betray to death the Master who loved him! No wonder the disciples said when they heard it, "The devil must have entered into him."
So Judas went back to the disciples with that horrible money in his pocket to find out how he could catch Jesus when He was alone.
The Farewell Supper
T HURSDAY night. This is the night of the Jews' Passover supper. You remember how Jesus when He was a boy of twelve first went to that Passover supper twenty years ago.
It is the night before the great Passover Day when every year the Jews remembered God's great salvation of their people in Egypt long ago.
It is the night before our Good Friday when a greater salvation was to come, when the Son of God was to die on the Cross to save us all.
Jesus and the disciples are assembled at their Passover supper, His good-bye supper to them before He goes away to die. Jesus is feeling especially tender and affectionate to them this night, and surely they are feeling so towards Him. Yet we cannot help seeing that they are rather disappointing Him. He knows the loving hearts of them, but He wishes that just now they would not be disputing who was the greater and who should take the higher places at the table.
He notices another thing too. They had put off their shoes as they came in and were sitting with hot, tired, dusty feet. At rich people's suppers there was always a slave to wash the guests' feet. But there was no slave here and no one else was humble enough to do it except the Lord of Heaven Himself who had often taught them the beauty of service. He saw that none of them had even thought of doing it. Then Jesus arose and took a basin of water, and tied a towel around Him, and began to wash the disciples' feet and wipe them with the towel. Wondering and ashamed they watched Him. When He came to Peter, Peter tried to stop Him. "Nay, Lord, You shall never wash my feet." But Jesus went on through them all. I wonder what Judas Iscariot thought as his feet were washed. Was he thinking of where those feet had carried him last night?
When all were washed Jesus sat down and rebuked them gently. "If I, your Master and Lord, have washed your feet, don't you think that you should not be too proud to wash each other's feet?" They were greatly ashamed and remembered how He used to say to them, "The greatest among you is he who serveth."
But He is not in much mood for finding fault with them just now. It is their Good-bye after their three happy years together. It is a bitter parting for them and for Him. He is feeling very tender and loving towards them. The Bible says, "Having loved His own, He loved them unto the end."
He sees His poor disciples are sorely in need of
comfort. Their beloved Master is leaving them. All
their beautiful hopes and plans are disappointed. They
do not know what is going to happen to them. They
cannot understand it at all. They are very sad. And
Jesus is thinking of their sadness. Not thinking of
Himself and all He has to face
"My children, only a little longer am I with you—but let not your hearts be troubled. Trust in God. Trust also in Me. I am going to prepare a place for you, and I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am there ye may be also. And don't be afraid of loneliness in the life now before you. I will not leave you orphans. I will come to you. And whatsoever ye shall ask in My name that will I do that the Father may be glorified in the Son. A new commandment I give you. As I have loved you, so must you love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are My disciples if ye have love one to another. Peace I leave with you. My peace I give unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid."
Surely it comforted them. But not very much, I think. Their sorrow was too great. But they could see how He was loving them and thinking of them and wanting to cheer them up, and surely it made them love Him more than ever. Oh, how could Judas sit and listen to this! Wouldn't you think it must surely change his wicked heart? But no. The others just noticed him slipping out into the darkness. How little they know where he is going!
Now Jesus rises to do a great solemn act that all the world has remembered since. He wants to leave to them and to us all a remembrance of Him for ever.
The Bible says, "He took bread and blessed and brake
it and gave it to them saying, 'This is My Body which
is given for you. Do this in memory of Me.' After the
same manner also He took the cup and blessed and gave
it to them saying, 'Drink ye all of this, for this is
My Blood which is shed for many for the forgiveness of
sins. Do this always
in memory of
This is what we call Holy Communion. Most of you are too young yet to understand or take part in it. But you have seen people in church kneeling at the Altar and taking the Holy Bread and the Holy Cup as Jesus told them. When you are old enough be sure and don't neglect to do it in loving memory of Him, and so keep closer to the dear Lord who loves you.
Now it is nearly midnight. They must go. But before they go He stands up to pray for that poor pitiful little band who will have to face the world and work and suffer for Him when He is gone. Lifting up His eyes to Heaven He prays—and surely the tears are in their eyes as they hear Him:
"Father, the hour is come. Now I am no more in the world but these are in the world, and I come to Thee. Holy Father, keep them in Thy Name. Keep them from the Evil One. Sanctify them in Thy Truth. As Thou didst send Me into the world so am I sending them. Let the world know that Thou didst send Me and lovest them as Thou lovest Me. Neither pray I for these alone but for all them that shall believe on Me through their word. Father, I will that where I am they may be with Me. O Righteous Father, the world knew Thee not, but I knew Thee and these have known that Thou hast sent Me. That the love wherewith Thou hast loved Me may be in them and I in them."
Then, when they had sung the Passover hymn,
they went out into the Mount of Olives.
In the Garden of Gethsemane
T HEY went out into the Mount of Olives to the Garden of Gethsemane to spend in prayer with Him the last few hours they could be together. They had to go very cautiously, for they knew the enemies were watching for Him this night. They have learned with horror that one of themselves was intending to betray Him though they did not know who that traitor was. They could hardly believe it. It was too awful.
Well, at any rate, they felt, We will be faithful. We will stand by Him. No danger or trouble could make us forsake Him. "Lord," said the poor affectionate Peter, "if all the world should forsake You I certainly will not!" How little he knew his own heart. "Ah, Peter," said the Lord, "this very night before the cock-crow you will three times deny that you know Me." No wonder that Peter should passionately reply, "If I were to die with Thee I would not deny Thee in any wise." Likewise also said they all.
The Master in silence lets it pass. He cannot talk just now. They are staring at Him in surprise. Some terrible secret trouble in His mind seems crushing Him down. They cannot understand it. Of course they know that pain and suffering is before Him. But they know Him too well to think that any fear of pain would trouble Him like that. They never saw anyone so crushed down. It must be some terrible secret trouble that they don't know of. He is hurrying to be alone. Alone with His Father in prayer. And yet it is touching to see the craving for some friendly hearts to be near Him in His trouble. "I must be alone," He whispers. "Keep near Me, you three. Don't be far away from Me. Tarry ye here and watch with Me."
Then under the olive trees He hurries about a stone's throw ahead of them and falls on the ground in His agony. "Oh, My Father," He cries, "if this cannot pass away, if I must go through this, Thy Will be done." And in His torment of soul, the sweat was on His Face like great drops of blood.
We cannot bear to watch Him longer. Oh, what can this terrible suffering mean? We cannot understand. But we know that He was bearing the sins of the World. The Bible says, "He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our sins. The chastisement of our peace was upon Him. With His stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray and the Lord has laid on Him the sins of us all."
Surely something like that must be the meaning of His awful suffering for us men and for our salvation. We can't talk any more about it. But we should never forget it was all for our sakes.
We don't like to read of our Lord suffering so much, but one loves to think that in all His sufferings there was such tender thought about others. I love to see Him at the supper thinking not of Himself, but about what would cheer His poor comrades. It is touching to see Him longing for their friendship in His Agony here in the Garden. And now I notice another thing that touches one greatly and makes one love Him more than ever.
Three times in His Agony He turned to His friends who were to comfort Him by keeping near Him. And they failed Him—failed Him badly every time. In the midst of His Agony He found them fast asleep! Three times He came to them and every time they were calmly sleeping as if they didn't care at all.
I know how hurt and vexed I would be if that happened to me. "Little they care about me in my troubles," I would say. Not so Jesus. He did not misunderstand them. He knew it was not that they did not care, but that they were so dead tired after the excitement of the night. Poor fellows, "their spirit is willing enough," He says, "it is only the flesh is weak." Isn't it lovely to think that this is the Jesus whom we have to turn to, who can see the good in us when all others misunderstand us?
But they have slept too long. They should have kept on guard knowing the danger around Him that night. He Himself is the first to see it coming: the flashing of lights, the sound of rough voices, the lad in the white night-robe racing to warn Him, the police creeping round through the trees "with lanterns and torches and weapons." "Wake up," He says, "behold, he that betrayed Me is here."
The frightened disciples, rubbing their sleepy eyes, see that they are surrounded. And with horror and surprise they see something else. Standing beside the officer of the police, a red-haired man, their own comrade, the friend and comrade of Jesus! "Oh, is it Judas that is betraying Him? Oh, how could he do this!"
And now the traitor comes forward into the light and they are more startled than ever as they watch his next step. In all the horrible story of Judas there is nothing more horrible than this. The policemen did not know which of the men was Jesus. So Judas gave them a sign, "The man that I shall kiss that is He. Take Him and hold Him fast." Then he came forward like a friend with his hand held out and said, "Hail, Master," and kissed Him.
Oh, how could any man do that! Surely, said the disciples, the devil must have entered into him.
Sternly Jesus looked him straight in the face. "Judas, are you betraying Me with a kiss?"
Just think of it! The man who had sat as a friend beside Him at supper. The man who had been His comrade all these three years!
Jesus had a sore enough heart without this.
But there is more to come. I am ashamed to tell you the next thing. Jesus, to save His friends from being arrested, speaks to the officer.
"Who is it that you are seeking?"
"Jesus of Nazareth."
"I am Jesus of Nazareth. You can take Me, but let these men go, they have done nothing."
So the officer let them go. And they went! They went!
Don't you feel awfully ashamed of them? You wouldn't have done it, would you? They got suddenly frightened at the police in the darkness. Peter, in his excitement, slashed about with a sword and cut off a man's ear.
"Put away that sword," said Jesus. "If I wanted to escape I could pray to My Father and He would immediately send to Me legions of angels."
Then, says the Bible, "then all the disciples forsook Him and fled!"
Judas and St. Peter
"T HEN all the disciples forsook Him and fled." And Jesus was led away alone through the streets of the sleeping city with the hands of the rough Temple police on His shoulders. Through the darkness before the dawn they bring Him to the house of Annas and then to the house of Caiaphas, the High Priest, where the priests and scribes are waiting to judge Him. You remember how that High Priest had already decided "it is better that this man should die." So you see what little chance He had of a fair trial with His enemies as judges.
There is the most astonishing sight in history. The Judge of mankind at the Bar of men. The Saviour of mankind to be put to death by the men He came to save!
They call up false witnesses to tell lies about Him—that He wanted to destroy the Temple—that He has told them not to pay taxes to the Emperor. All lies. But the Prisoner stands there silent; it will be no use to deny these lies.
"Why don't you answer?" cried the angry High Priest. They are so angry that one of them struck Jesus across the face. Jesus said no angry word. You remember how He could be angry enough at times. He could be very angry if another were injured. He could be fiercely angry if one did harm to a woman or led a little child astray. But He could be grandly patient if they were ill-treating Himself.
At last the High Priest gets an answer, an answer that rather frightened him. "I swear you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One." Calmly and solemnly the answer came, "I AM, and one day ye shall see the Son of Man seated on the right hand of power and coming in the clouds of Heaven." Then the High Priest in horror rent his clothes. "You have heard His blasphemy, what is your sentence?" And they all condemned Him to be worthy of death.
And then—a horrible thing that I hate to tell. They flung the Prisoner about as only an angry Eastern mob can do, and some began to spit on Him and to blindfold Him and to play blind-man's buff with Him, crying, "Prophesy to us, Thou Christ, who is he that struck Thee?" And the officers received Him with blows of their hands.
The High Priest saw it and did not care. The councillors saw it and could do nothing, but one man, a fierce red-headed man in the crowd outside the door, saw it and it drove him mad. "Judas, when he saw that He was condemned, repented himself."
I see him rushing to the priests with wild and haggard face. "Take back your money, take back your money! Oh, I have sinned! I have betrayed the innocent blood." I see the cold sneer of these cruel hypocrites, "What is that to us? We don't care." This makes him fiercer than ever. I see him struggling in the grasp of the Temple police, shouting fiercely at the priests, flinging his fistfuls of silver on the marble floor at their feet. Conscience has at last the wretched traitor by the throat. The horrors of hell are upon him. As the police throw him out into the street, I see him rushing away as if ridden by devils, away through the streets, through the lonely roads, away to the desolate field of the Potters.
"Oh, I kissed Him with the traitor's kiss. I thought they might not condemn Him! I thought the people might save Him! I thought He might save Himself! And I sold Him for thirty pieces of silver! I threw them at their feet but they didn't care. Nobody cares now. Except Jesus—and I have sent Him to His death. He knew I would betray Him, but He risked His life and kept me near Him. And I kissed Him with the traitor's kiss!"
Then the end, the awful end. The Bible says, "he departed and went and hanged himself." Poor wretched sinful Judas!
When Judas had been flung, out, the scribes and priests went forward with the bound Prisoner in their midst. They were taking Him before the Roman Governor. For the Jews had no power to put any man to death. Only the Roman Governor can pass the death sentence. And as they pass out through the courtyard something happens that brings bitter shame and sorrow to another disciple of the Lord.
In that courtyard are a little crowd of police and servants. They had made a fire in the yard, for it was cold, and they were talking and gossiping around the fire waiting for the trial to be over. When all the disciples forsook Jesus and fled, two of them, Peter and John, began to feel ashamed and they stole back into the courtyard to see what would happen. As Peter came in the maid who kept the door looked sharply at him. "Ha! you are one of this man's disciples." The frightened Peter, startled at the question, answered suddenly with a lie, "I am not." But the girl was not satisfied. He hurried past to lose himself in the group around the fire, pretending to be at ease. But that girl would not let him alone. "Certainly you are one of them," cried several voices. "You are a Galilean. We know it by your voice." "Certainly I am not!" he answered. "I don't know what you are talking about."
Now came a worse fright. One very dangerous man, a friend of Malchus whose ear Peter had cut off.
"Did I not see you in the garden with Him?" In the old fisher days before he knew Jesus, Peter could probably swear as well as another, and now in his fright the old habit caught him. He began to curse and to swear, "I don't even know the man."
But the curses froze on his lips. Even before he turned round he felt he had been overheard. For just at this moment Jesus was being led, bound, through the courtyard on the way to His trial. And a cock was crowing outside in the early dawn. "And the Lord turned and looked upon Peter. And Peter went out and wept bitterly."
Could Jesus ever forgive that shameful denial? Such deep sorrow as Peter's will always bring forgiveness. In the early Church they said that Peter never forgot this sin—that whenever he heard a cock crow he would get out of his bed and cry to the Lord in shame and tears. See how tenderly the Lord forgave him. Even on the Cross He was thinking of poor Peter. Think of that touching message He left with the angels at the tomb. "Go tell My disciples and Peter—Peter who has denied Me, Peter who is breaking his heart and thinking I have cast him out for ever. Tell him especially." Oh, no wonder Peter was so fond of Him. No wonder that burst of eager passionate devotion when he met Jesus again. "Lord, Thou knowest all things. Thou knowest that I love Thee."
So the Lord went to His death with sorrowful thoughts about His closest friends. The Twelve had forsaken Him. Peter had denied Him. And Judas—I think His keenest pain was in His thoughts about Judas.
Suffered under Pontius Pilate
A ROMAN court of judgment. About seven o'clock in the morning. The court is held in the open air, in the courtyard of the Governor's palace. The priests and Pharisees have brought their Prisoner here hoping to get Him condemned to death. For only a Roman court can pass the death sentence. When all is ready Pontius Pilate, the Governor, a proud, soldierly-looking man, takes his place on the judgment seat. Now we can go in and watch the trial.
This is the real trial to decide whether Jesus is to die. The priests and Pharisees are in front. Behind them a mob of rough people looking on, and on each side to keep order in the court, a row of stern-looking Roman soldiers in full uniform, with spears in hand and with the brass Roman eagles in their helmets. The Prisoner, calm and dignified, but very tired and pale after that horrible night, is standing before the judgment seat.
Pilate is looking at Him and then at the reverend scribes and priests in front. He doesn't much like these reverend gentlemen. They have given him a good deal of trouble before now, and he suspects that they have brought their Prisoner here for some spiteful purpose of their own. I think he would like to save Him if he could. At any rate he will see that He gets a fair trial. Pontius Pilate is not a bad sort of judge to have except for one thing. He has a cowardly fear of his master, that cruel old Emperor at Rome, and is afraid to do anything that might vex him.
Now he begins with the question, "What has this prisoner done?" They cry out, "He stirreth up the people. He tells them not to pay taxes to the Emperor. He says that He Himself is Christ a King."
I don't think Pilate really believes them, but he sees that this talk of being King would vex the Emperor. So he turns to ask Jesus, "Is this true? Are you a King?"—"Yes," says Jesus, "but not in the way you mean. My Kingdom is not of this world."
"Well, but what have you done?"
What had He done! How could He tell Pilate this? He had raised that dead boy to comfort his mother. He had come down from Heaven to save the world. He had taught men the tenderness of the love of God, and started a Kingdom of God on earth to make a beautiful world. But how could He tell all this to Pilate?
"Yes," He says, "I am a King, a King of all who seek the truth."
"Nonsense," says Pilate. "Who knows what is truth?" As a heathen man he did not believe in the truth of any religion. But he sees at once that this Prisoner is just a holy, religious teacher and certainly not a rebel against the Emperor.
So he tries to get these priests to drop the charge. But they insist. "He does want to be a King," they said. "His own disciples say that He will set up a Kingdom. The crowds in the procession on Sunday were calling Him a King, and whoever calls himself a King is an enemy to the Emperor."
You see they want to frighten Pilate. They know he is afraid of the Emperor. And it does frighten Pilate. He fears that the Emperor might punish him severely if he should let Jesus go free. And yet he knows that is the right thing to do. What a pity that he has not the courage to do it.
Now comes a gaily dressed page boy up through the court carrying a tablet—a note from the Governor's wife. Pilate reads it.
This troubles him a good deal for the Romans were great believers in dreams. He knows that an Emperor, Julius Cæsar, lost his life because he neglected a dream of his wife.
Pilate is getting uneasy. He does not know quite what to do. So when he hears that Jesus has come from Galilee he thinks of sending Him across the street to King Herod, the ruler of Galilee, who happens to be staying in Jerusalem just then. He wants Herod's opinion. Herod is pleased. He has heard so much about Jesus and would like Him to do some miracles before him. But Jesus will do no miracles for him. Jesus will not even open His lips to the cruel King who murdered John the Baptist. So Herod and his officers were very angry and mocked at Him, and put an old purple robe on Him, laughing at Him as King of the Jews, and sent Him back to Pilate.
So Pilate gets no help that way. Now he is growing nervous and losing his courage. Yet he would like to save Jesus. In a weak moment he appeals to the people. "Ye have a custom that at Passover I should set free one prisoner for you. Will ye have Jesus of Nazareth?"
"No," cries the mob with a fierce, angry shout, "not this man but Barabbas."
And the whole place rings with the cry, "Barabbas! Barabbas! Barabbas!"
Now Barabbas was a robber.
Then Pilate utters the thought that had been troubling him all the morning. "What then shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?"
The mob know very well what they want done with Him. The fierce cry rings out, "Let Him be crucified!" Ah, but they have not had the troubling thoughts about Him that Pilate had. This silent Prisoner has strangely impressed him. He has talked to Him and wondered about Him. He has never seen anyone like Him before. There is a look in those Eternal eyes frightening him and yet making him think of things beautiful and high. His wife's dream, too, is troubling him.
"Crucify Him, crucify Him!"
"Why," asks Pilate, "what evil hath He done?"
But they only cry the more, "Crucify Him!"
Then Pilate gets angry.
"I will not crucify Him," he says, "I will scourge Him and let Him go."
So this order goes to the guard-room, and soon the
white, exhausted Prisoner is strapped to the
scourging-post and His blood is flowing
and His nerves are
quivering under the brutal lash of the executioner.
Surely the lowest brutes of the Roman soldiery were in
the barrack-room that morning. Who else could have the
heart for horseplay with that silent tortured Man? They
crush a crown of thorns upon His brow. They fling
Herod's purple cloak over His bleeding shoulders. They
put a reed in His right hand and mock Him crying,
"Hail, King of the Jews." Pilate is outside trying to
stir the people to pity for the Prisoner. Now he brings
Him out before them all bound and bleeding. "Then came
Jesus forth, wearing the crown of thorns and the
purple robe, and Pilate said unto them, 'Behold the
But they only received Him with howls of mockery and repeated their cry that He should be crucified. Was ever such a moment on this earth before! The Eternal Christ of God, who had come to die for men, standing in patient dignity, bleeding and mocked, before the lowest of His creatures. Had they no heart, no pity? Had Satan entered into them too?
Pilate stands watching Him, wondering and puzzled. And now his fears come doubly back as a clear accusing voice rings out across the court:
"He ought to die because He called Himself the Son of God."
The Son of God! This frightens Pilate more than ever. He takes Jesus into his room. "Tell me," he cries, "who You really are and where do You come from?"
But Jesus gave him no answer. It is too late for answers now.
What a pity Pilate was such a coward. He cannot rouse his courage and do the right thing and set Jesus free. So he took water and washed his hands before the people saying, "You are forcing me to do this thing. I am innocent of the blood of this Righteous Man. It is your fault."
So the poor coward, with the eyes of Jesus resting upon him, gave up the struggle. The Bible says, "Then he delivered Him unto them to be crucified."
On the Cross
T HIS is a sorrowful, awful story, but in all its awfulness we would not miss it for anything. For it is a lovely story too of the mind of Jesus, of His patient courage, of His tender thought for others in the midst of His pain.
The soldiers have laid Him on the big black Cross. Through His hands and feet they drive the cruel spikes. Now they lift up the Cross and drop it into its socket, tearing through nerves and muscles in that cruel shock. And the Son of God in His awful pain is looking forth on the fair city that has cast Him out to die, and the soldiers throwing dice for His clothes, and the priests boasting that they have conquered Him at last, and the careless crowd out to see the sight.
But they are not all bad. There are also the sorrowful little crowd from Galilee who remember the pleasant Capernaum days, and the women of Jerusalem weeping in pity, and His friends and disciples breaking their hearts.
It is horrible to see His enemies enjoying their revenge, sneering and mocking.
"Let Him now come down from the Cross, and we will believe. He saved others, Himself He cannot save." He hears it. He knows it. Himself He cannot save. He has come to die upon the Cross for us. If He is to save us, Himself He cannot save.
He is not even thinking of Himself but of that crowd before Him. He is so sorry for them that they should be so bad, and with sorrowful heart He turns from them to the Father in Heaven and prays:
"FATHER, FORGIVE THEM, THEY KNOW NOT WHAT THEY DO."
Think what a lovely prayer is that! He is not only forgiving them and praying for them, but His kindly heart is actually trying to find some excuse for them. "They are ignorant. They don't know who I am. They are so excited that they don't know the awful thing they are doing just now. Father, forgive them!"
Wouldn't you think that that must touch even their wicked hearts? But in the noise and shouting I think few of them heard. Only those nearest to the Cross could hear. There is some good even in the worst of us and I do believe that if they had heard that prayer some of them would have wanted to tear asunder priest and Pharisee and soldier before a hair of His blessed head were touched!
One at least did hear and it touched him to the heart. "Now there were two evil-doers crucified with Him, one on the right hand and the other at the left." Both of them at first joined in the mockery, "If Thou be the Christ, save Thyself and us." Now one of them grows suddenly silent. He holds his breath when he hears these words. Not cries of pain or curses as he would expect "They don't know!" "Father, forgive them!" He couldn't imagine anyone saying that at such a time.
And lo! A miracle! In an instant that wicked robber is changed, suddenly converted! The beauty of Christ's character has changed him in a moment and made him feel as he never felt before, shame for his bad life, dim wishes to be good, wondering admiration for the Man who in all His pain could be pitying such people at such a time. Who can He be? They are calling Him the Christ. They are crucifying Him for calling Himself the Son of God. Who is He? What is He?
The poor robber is fainting in his pain. Death is coming near and he is frightened at dying. Maybe that brave, silent Sufferer could help him. "Jesus," he cries, "will you remember me when You come in Your Kingdom!"
And the heart of Jesus went out to the poor soul. He can scarce turn His head to look at him. His parched lips can scarcely form the words, but, like a King in His majesty, the dying Christ replies:
"VERILY I SAY UNTO THEE. THIS DAY SHALT THOU BE WITH ME IN PARADISE."
So came to that poor robber forgiveness and peace. And
a promise of life at the other side of death. If anyone
knew, Jesus knew. If He meant anything He meant this:
Now it is midday, twelve o'clock. Hot noon-tide. The shouting has ceased. The people are getting tired of the show and scattering over the hill. By the Cross stand the soldiers with their captain sitting his horse as still as a statue. They do not mind that a little group who had stood afar off should come near now to see their Friend die.
So "there stood by the Cross of Jesus His mother" with her friends. She doesn't care for scorn or mockery. She is the mother. No one can hold her back. There is no comfort for her now but to be near Him. She knows He is the Christ. She knows He is her Lord. But just now above all else He is her Son, the Infant who lay in her arms long ago, the bright, brave Boy of the Nazareth workshop, the Youth who worked for her when her husband died.
It is awful for her to see Him thus. And no one feels this more than He Himself. He wants to save her from seeing the worst pain coming. It is her He is thinking of. His dying eyes are looking on her and His favorite disciple John beside her. "Mother," He said, "behold thy son, who will take care of thee. My son, behold the mother that I want you to care for." And from that hour that disciple took her away to his own home.
Then came the worst part of all His suffering. The awful trouble of His soul that we couldn't understand in the Garden and we can't understand it now. We only know that the Bible says He was bearing on His heart the sins of the world. For three hours He hung there in the silence and darkness. He felt as if the Father Himself had forsaken Him. It was all for our sakes though we can't understand it. It must have been very awful when He could cry at the end of it:
"MY GOD! MY GOD! WHY DID YOU FORSAKE ME!"
It was over now, and He did not feel forsaken now, but it was awful while it lasted.
Now He is near the end. His spirit is at rest. He sees a Roman soldier close to the Cross and I love to see how He believed in the kindness of that rough soldier. "I'm thirsty," He said, and the man lifted up a sponge of sour wine to His lips. I would like to have been the man that did that.
At last the end has come. He is dying. But what a lovely restful feeling it is to think, "It is over now. I have done all I came for. I have taught my poor brethren all about God's love. I am dying on the Cross for the sins of the world." So He cries aloud in the happiness of a work well done:
"IT IS FINISHED. FATHER, INTO THY HANDS I COMMEND MY SPIRIT."
And having said this Jesus died.
The Saturday before Easter Day
S O they took His body down from the Cross that Friday night and a friend gave his own tomb in the garden to bury Him in. And then they rolled a great stone to the door of the tomb and went away—oh, so hopeless and miserable! That Saturday was a heart-breaking day for them. The beloved Master is gone, it seems for ever. They are in the depths of despair. Their hearts were bound up in Jesus. They had trusted everything to Jesus. And Jesus is dead! His enemies have conquered Him after all. "Oh, how could He have died? He who raised Lazarus from the dead. He whom we believed to be the Christ of God."
Nowhere in all the wide world that day could be found a more hopeless, despairing set of people than the disciples and friends of Jesus, who was lying cold and dead in the tomb. The spring of their life is broken. There is nothing to do now. Nothing to look forward to. Nothing to hope for. The men are miserably thinking of going back to their fishing. The sobbing women are preparing spices to anoint His dead body. Jesus is dead! The end of all things is come!
For a moment, as we think of it, our hearts are sore for them. But we know what is coming. The very next morning look at them again, dazed and astonished, wild with excitement, startled with the first hope of unutterable gladness, in the city and out of the city meeting each other, rushing to each other, crying excitedly to each other, "The Lord is risen! He is come back from the dead! He has appeared to Peter! He has spoken to Mary! He has sent messages to us all. We are to meet Him in Galilee!"
At first "they believed not for joy." It was too good to be true. Can't you imagine the delight of that Easter morning to them! I am bringing you now to hear one of themselves tell about it all long after to the boys and girls of Ephesus.
How the Boys and Girls of Ephesus Heard about Easter
I WISH I had been present on the day that Jesus rose from the dead. And that you knew little or nothing about it. Then the story would be so much more exciting for both of us.
Whenever you are told the story of the Lord's Resurrection, you have to hear it from someone who only learned it out of the Bible. A story of 1,900 years ago.
The boys and girls of Ephesus learned it in a much more delightful way. They with their parents were told it by a man who had been there at the time, who had seen with his own eyes the wonderful thing that had happened.
This was the dear old Bishop of their Church whom everyone was so fond of. The Sunday before he died he got up into the pulpit and because he was too sick to preach he just stretched out his hands affectionately over them and said:
"My little children, love one another. This is what my dear Lord taught me to tell you, and it is enough." Then they took him back to his bed to die. I don't think they could easily forget that sermon.
Do you know who this old Bishop was?
You remember young John the disciple who so loved Jesus, to whom Jesus on the Cross gave His mother to take care of. This was that same John who was now a very old man, and he was always thinking about his dear Lord. His thoughts were ever turning back to the past to those three wonderful years, when he had walked the fields of Galilee with Jesus. "The disciple whom Jesus loved." Those years seem much more wonderful now that he knew who Jesus really was, the Lord from Heaven.
He was lonely now. All the old comrades were gone. James and Peter and Andrew and all of them were long ago departed to be with their Master in that other big World, and he was left alone with his precious memories of the past.
And how the people loved to hear the old man's memories of those years. One day he was telling them of his hopeless sorrow and misery when he saw Jesus dead, and then he tells of the first little dawning of hope. Something had suddenly happened that set his heart bounding with delight. "Then I saw and believed," he says.
"Master, tell us. What did you see? Why did you believe?"
"I will tell you. It was this way. On the first day of the week Mary Magdalene went early to the tomb while it was yet dark. She saw the stone rolled away and the tomb empty. She was terrified and rushed back to tell Peter and me. We ran full speed to see. I was younger than Peter and could run faster. So I got there first and I looked into the tomb and I saw it was as Mary had said, but I did not go in. Then Peter arrived and went straight in and I saw him staring very hard at the empty grave clothes. Then I went in, and when I saw all that Peter had seen, then I saw and believed."
Thus the old man told of the first startled dawning of hope. But I can imagine his people asking, "Is that all?"
"All! Why, no. I am only speaking of my first hope that the Lord was risen. After that we saw Him—over and over again. Sometimes I was present. Sometimes I was not."
"But, Master, tell us of what you remember of that time yourself."
"I remember that day after Peter and I got back. We were eagerly trying to tell what we had seen when suddenly Mary Magdalene burst in on us again all trembling and excited. 'Oh, I have seen the Lord! Actually seen Him! He has spoken to me! He bade me come and tell you. I didn't know Him at first. I was frightened at the empty tomb and I thought He was the gardener who might tell me what had happened. He just looked at me for a moment and my heart stood still! And then—He just called my name in the old familiar tones, "Mary!" And I knew! I knew! I fell down at His feet and cried, "Oh, my Master! my Master!" And He bade me come and tell you all.'
"That evening we were again all together. We had fastened the doors for fear of the Jews. We were talking and wondering and half afraid to hope yet. We had only seen just an empty tomb. Some of the women had told us of angels at the tomb. But we did not believe them. We were half afraid even to believe Mary Magdalene. But Peter had just come in with a strange new look in his eyes, and he told us positively and solemnly that the Lord had appeared to him. He would not talk about it. He has never talked about it since. We were greatly excited. Two disciples from the Emmaus road had also just come in and were eagerly trying to get a chance to speak. But they couldn't get a chance for the cries of delight that met them. 'The Lord is risen!' 'The Lord is risen!' 'He has appeared to Peter!' When at last they did get the chance they told us a wonderful story. How Jesus had met them and walked and talked with them on the Emmaus road and 'was known unto them in the breaking of bread.'
"So we listened and wondered and hoped and rejoiced. Then—suddenly—a solemn silence fell—JESUS WAS PRESENT! No one had heard Him come. No one had unbarred the door. But He was there! We were frightened. We thought it was a ghost. But He looked on us in the old way and spoke in His own voice. We heard His old familiar greeting, 'Peace be unto you,' and we could doubt no longer. It was no ghost. It was Himself in radiant bodily form! And, oh, we disciples were glad when we saw the Lord!
"Thomas was away somewhere. I remember how we told Thomas that night and he would not believe us. 'It is impossible,' he said. 'You must be mistaken. Unless I shall see the wounds and the print of the nails, I will not believe.'
"All that week we went about dazed like men in a
dream. The following Sunday the Lord came to us again.
We never knew when He would come or from whence. This
time Thomas was with us. And I shall never forget how
He talked to Thomas and showed him His wounded hands
and side, and how Thomas was so astonished and so
broken with joy that he could only fall down and
worship and cry, 'My Lord and my
"But Master, you saw Him at other times too?"
"Oh yes, we saw Him many other times during the Forty Days after the Resurrection. I must tell you especially of one of these days. We had been told by the Lord to meet Him in Galilee. So we were back in the old homeland, back in Capernaum at the lakeside with all its memories of the old happy days together. One morning as we waited a wonderful thing happened. We had been out all night fishing in Peter's boat—Peter and my brother James and I and Thomas and Nathaniel and two others. We had no success. All night we had toiled and rowed and flung the nets, but we caught nothing, just as on that other day three years before when He first called us. Just at dawn we saw Him on the shore. Oh, I knew, I felt sure it was He, but I could not speak. The others did not know Him in the dim morning light.
"Then we heard a voice clearly across the water. 'My children, cast your nets on the right side of the boat and ye shall find.' They cast the net wearily and without much hope. But the moment they tried to pull it in a great wonder and dread fell on them. They couldn't pull it in it was so heavy with fishes. Just what happened that other day three years ago.
"Then I couldn't keep quiet any longer. 'Oh,' I cried, 'it is the Lord! It is the Lord!' And Peter threw himself straight into the water, for we were near the land, and we all got into the little boat and hurried after him. And there was Jesus Himself on the shore! Jesus my Lord and my God!
"Then when we had breakfasted on the fish the Lord asked Peter, 'Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou Me?' 'Indeed I do, Lord.' 'Then feed My lambs.' And again He asked, 'Simon, do you really love Me?' 'Oh Lord, You know I do.' And then He asked the third time and I saw that Peter was hurt that He asked the third time, but he cried, 'Lord, You know all things. You know that I love You.' Then He told how Peter would one day lay down his life for Him.
"I was just behind. Peter turned and looked at me. They used to call me 'the disciple whom Jesus loved,' and Peter asked:
"How I waited for the answer.
"I don't know yet what it meant.
That was how the old bishop told them about the Resurrection and that was how the story got written in the Gospel of St. John, the Gospel of an old man's memories.
How the Lord Went Back Home to Heaven
F OR forty days after the Resurrection the disciples lived all excited in a new world of wonder and romance and delight that the beloved Master was back with them again. He had not disappointed them after all. He had conquered death and come back victorious to be their Friend and Master for ever.
But there is a great change in their positions. It is no longer as in the old days when He lived as a man with men, as a comrade among comrades. It is a very different life—a higher and more wonderful and mysterious life that the Lord is living now. They feel that He is someone far above them, someone who seems belonging to another world. He appears among them for awhile and then vanishes away. When doors are shut and barred, He comes into the midst of them. He comes, but no one sees Him coming. He tells them to meet Him in Galilee but does not go with them. When they are there He is suddenly beside them.
He does not eat food or live in a house with them. He does not need such things now. He used to be often hungry and thirsty. He was sometimes tired and glad of rest and shelter in the Bethany home. All this is changed. The risen Lord needs no rest or shelter. Forty days He remained on earth but in no earthly home. They see He is living a wonderful, mysterious life like what they used to read about angels in the Bible.
And so a feeling of awe and wonder comes on them. They feel that they cannot be free and familiar with Him as in the old days. They used to be like brothers going about together. One of them used to lean on His breast at supper. All this is over. We read now of their worshipping Him and bowing before Him as My Lord and My God.
So came to them more fully the great lesson that it is the Lord from Heaven that had been their Comrade and Friend, and that He can be near them even when they do not see Him.
But though He was different they felt He was just the same to His friends as ever. The same affectionate friendship was around them still. His love was, as in the old days, strong and unchanged. In all the deep feelings of His heart towards them He was just the same Jesus.
He taught them many things in this wonderful forty days. He taught them much about His Kingdom of God that He wanted on earth, that band of loyal hearts who would follow Him for love of Him—the true men and loving women and brave, loyal boys and girls that should live on this earth making it good and beautiful and then step off the edge of the world when they died into the lovely adventure of the Kingdom of God in Heaven.
Then He told them that His visit to earth was over, that He must now go back to His eternal throne in Heaven. "I came forth from the Father," He said, "and came into the world, and now I leave the world and go back to the Father." But you are not to be frightened or lonesome at My going, for I shall be looking down always and watching over you. "Lo, I will be with you always, even unto the end of the world." You can come to Me and tell Me all your thoughts and I will always hear, and God will be round you all the time.
That was why they were not troubled about His going back to Heaven. You might think they would be very sad parting with Him again, but the Bible says that after they had parted from Him They returned to Jerusalem with great joy. So you see how they trusted Him and believed what He said.
So one day came their last meeting, the final farewell. He was teaching His last lesson "of the things concerning the Kingdom of God." "All power is given unto Me in Heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Teaching them to do all things whatsoever I have commanded you. And, lo, I am with you always, to the end of the world."
Then He led them out to Bethany for the final Good-bye. And He lifted up His hands in blessing. And while He blessed them He was parted from them and carried up into Heaven. Jesus of Nazareth was gone!
Surely there was joy in Heaven when their Lord went back home.
I am thinking of the day at the beginning of this story when He came down for His great adventure on the earth and the angels were crowding over the ramparts of Heaven, singing, "Glory to God in the Highest and on earth peace. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour who is Christ the Lord!"
And I am thinking of this day at the close of our story when He returned to the Father with His great adventure accomplished, carrying the thoughts of us on His heart for ever, and I am imagining again the crowded ramparts of Heaven, crowded in joyous welcome to their victorious Lord. "Lift up your heads, O ye gates, and be ye lifted up, ye everlasting doors, and the King of Glory shall come in. Who is the King of Glory? Even the Lord of Hosts, He is the King of Glory."
N OW, boys and girls, good-bye. We have finished with our story. But have we finished with the Life of Christ?
Surely not! Only just thirty years of it. Only just a chapter in the middle of it. Only just the story of His visit to earth.
All the rest has to be written yet. All the unspeakable wonders of the ages before He came to us when He was planning those countless worlds that we see floating in the sky. All the wonderful things He has done for us since He went back that day. And all the wonderful things still before Him in the future till everything bad and wrong is done away. Till Death and Hell, the Evil and the Evil One shall be swept out of God's great Universe for ever and God shall be all in all. Think what that story will be when we get to know it! Who is to continue that Life of Christ for us? Are the angels writing it now in the Libraries of Heaven? Shall our great writers on earth go on with it when they get there? Shall you and I read it one day when we go to that Land "when the books are opened in Heaven"?
I feel quite excited as I think of what is before us! Fancy our reading some day that Life of Christ! I was going to write "THE END" at the close of this book. But my pen refuses to write it now. For this is not the end. The grandest part remains still to be told us. I can only wonderingly put down at the close of my little story: