by Arthur W. Pink
Philologos Religious Online Books
Studies in the Scriptures
by Arthur W. Pink
BEHOLDING THE CRUCIFIED CHRIST.
“They crucified Him....and sitting down they watched Him there" (Matt. 27:35, 36). The reference is to the Roman soldiers, as is clear from John 19:23, confirmed by Matthew 27:54. They were the ones authorized to carry out the death sentence which had been passed by Pilate, and into their hands the governor had delivered the Saviour (Matt. 27:26, 27). With coarse scurrility they executed their task. Adding insult to injury they exposed the Lord Jesus unto the indignities of a mock coronation: robing Him in scarlet, crowning Him with thorns, hailing Him as King of the Jews. Giving full expression to their enmity they spat upon Him, smote Him with a reed, mocked Him. Restoring to Him His raiment, they conducted Him to Golgotha and affixed Him to the Cross. Having gambled for His garments, they sat down to watch Him—to frustrate any attempt at rescue which His friends might make, and to wait until life was extinct. By way of introduction let us briefly take note of three things.
First, the circumstances. The initiative had been taken by the religious leaders of Israel, for there “assembled together the chief priests and the scribes, and the elders of the people, unto the palace of the high priest, who was called Caiaphas, and consulted that they might take Jesus by subtlety and kill Him" (Matt. 26:3, 4). How many of the foulest crimes which have blackened the pages of history were perpetrated by ecclesiastical dignitaries? Yet the common people were in full accord with their leaders, for “the multitude" (Mark 15:8) requested Pilate to adhere to his custom of releasing a prisoner unto them, and when he gave them the choice between Christ and Barabbas, they preferred the latter; and when the governor asked what was their pleasure concerning the former, they cried “Crucify Him" (Mark 15:13). And it was to “content the people" Pilate released Barabbas (v. 15). When Pilate expostulated with them “all the people said, His blood be on us and on our children" (Matt. 27:25). And Pilate, the administrator of the Roman law, which boasted of justice, acceded to their unjust demands.
Second, the scene. This was the outskirts of Jerusalem, a city more memorable than either Rome, London or New York. This was the residence of David, the royal city, the seat of Israel's kings. It had witnessed the magnificence of Solomon's reign. It was here the temple stood. It was here the Lord Jesus had taught and wrought miracles, and into which He had ridden a few days earlier seated upon an ass, the multitudes crying, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest" (Matt. 21:9)—so fickle is human nature! Israel had rejected their King and therefore He was conducted beyond the bounds of the city, so that He “suffered without the gate" (Heb. 13:12). The actual place of the crucifixion was Golgotha which signified “the place of a skull." Nature had anticipated the awful deed, the very contour of the ground resembling a death's head. Luke gives the Gentile name “Calvary" (23:33), for the guilt of that Death rested on both Jew and Gentile, as its saving efficacy was to be experienced by each.
Third, the time. This was as significant and suggestive as the historical and topographical associations of the place itself. Christ was crucified on the fourteenth of Nissan or about the beginning of April. It was the first of Israel's great national feasts, the most important season in the Jewish year. It was the Passover, when solemn celebration was made of that night when all the firstborn sons of the Hebrews were spared from the angel of death in the land of Egypt. At this season Jerusalem was thronged by immense multitudes, for it was one of the three annual occasions when every male Israelite was commanded to appear before Jehovah in the temple (Deut. 16:16). Thus, huge crowds had journeyed thither from all parts of the land. It was in no obscure corner nor in secret that the Great Sacrifice was offered up to God. And the fourteenth of Nissan was the day appointed for it, for the Lord Jesus was the antitypical Lamb—“Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us" (1 Cor. 5:7). On no other day could He be slain: at an earlier date they “sought to take Him: but no man laid hands upon Him, because His hour was not yet come" (John 7:30).
“They crucified Him....and sitting down they watched Him there." My divisions will be simple: what they saw; what I see; what do you see?
I. What they saw.
1. They beheld the most amazing event of all history, the most awe-inspiring spectacle ever set before the eyes of men, the most tragic and yet the most glorious deed ever performed on this earth. They beheld God incarnate taken by wicked hands and slain, yet at the same time the Redeemer voluntarily laying down His life for those who have forfeited every claim upon Him. To those soldiers it was an ordinary event: the execution of a criminal. And thus it is with most of those who hear the Gospel: it falls upon their ears as a religious commonplace. To those Roman soldiers, at least for awhile, Christ appeared to them only as a dying Jew. Thus it is with the multitude today: to them the Lamb of God possesses neither form nor comeliness and when He is set before them in the mirror of the Word they see in Him no beauty that they should desire Him. His peerless Person attracts them not. His righteous claims are disregarded—His sceptre is flouted—for His atoning blood they feel no need.
2. They beheld the incomparable perfections of the crucified One. How immeasurably different the mien of the suffering Saviour from what they had witnessed from others in similar circumstances! No cursing of His lot, no reviling of His enemies, no maledictions upon themselves. The very reverse—His lips are engaged in prayer! “Father," He says, “forgive them, for they know not what they do" (Luke 23:34). How amazed they must have been as they heard that Blessed One on the tree making “intercession for the transgressors" (Isa. 53:12). The two thieves who were crucified with Him mocked the Redeemer (Matt. 27:44), but at the eleventh hour one of them was “granted repentance unto life" (Acts 11:18) and turning to Jesus he said, “Lord, remember me when Thou comest into Thy kingdom" (Luke 23:42). The Lord did not decline his appeal and say he had sinned beyond the reach of mercy but answered, “Verily, I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with Me in Paradise" (v. 43). Thus they witnessed an unparalleled display of sovereign grace unto one of the greatest of sinners.
3. They beheld most mysterious phenomena. They had sat down to “watch Him," but after a while they were no longer able to do so. At midday it suddenly became as midnight: “from the sixth hour (after sunrise) there was darkness over all the land unto the ninth hour" (Matt. 27:45). It was as though the sun refused to shine on such a scene, as though nature itself was mourning over such a sight! During those three hours there took place a transaction between Christ and God which was infinitely too sacred for finite eyes to gaze upon—a mystery which no mortal mind can fully enter into. As soon as the Saviour committed His spirit into the hands of the Father, “Behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake and the rocks rent, and the graves were opened, and many bodies of the saints which slept arose" (Matt. 27:51, 52). No ordinary sufferer was this. It was the Creator of Heaven and earth, and Heaven and earth here expressed their sympathy.
4. They beheld and heard that which was blessed to their conviction and conversion. Pharaoh witnessed the moat remarkable display of God's power in the plagues which He sent upon Egypt, but so far from inclining him to repentance he continued to harden his heart. Thus it ever is with the unregenerate while then are left to themselves: neither the most astonishing tokens of God's goodness nor the most awe-inspiring of His judgments melt or move them. But in the case before us God was pleased to soften the callous hearts of these Roman soldiers and illumine their heathen minds, for we are informed, “Now when the centurion and they that were with him, watching Jesus, saw the earth quake and those things that were done, they feared greatly, saying, truly this was the Son of God" (Matt. 27:54). Personally we regard this as another of the miracles which took place at Calvary—a miracle of amazing grace, and it is our expectation to meet in Heaven the very man who hammered the nails into the Saviour's hands and feet and thrust the spear into His side: God's answer to Christ's prayer, “Father, forgive them." Thus there is hope for the vilest sinner out of Hell if he will surrender to the Lordship of Christ and trust in His all-sufficient blood.
II. What I see.
I perceive here an unveiling of the character of man. “Now all things that are discovered (margin) are made manifest by the light: for whatsoever doth make manifest is light" (Eph. 5:13). Now Christ is “the true light" (John 1:9)—the essential, Divine, all-revealing light; consequently all men and all things stood exposed in His presence. The worst things predicated in Scripture of fallen human nature were verified and exemplified in the days of Christ. God says that the heart of man is “desperately wicked" (Jer. 17:9), and it was demonstrated to be such by the treatment meted out to His beloved Son. Scarcely was He born into this world than a determined effort was made to slay Him. Though He constantly went about doing good, relieving the distressed and ministering to both the souls and bodies of the needy, yet so little was He appreciated that He had to say, “The foxes have holes and the birds of the air nests, but the Son of Man hath not where to lay His head" (Matt. 8:20). On one occasion, “they besought Him that He would depart out of their coasts" (Matt. 8:34).
But not only was Christ unwelcome here, men hated Him and that “without a cause" (John 15:25). He gave them every reason to admire and adore Him, but they had an inveterate aversion for Him. The Word of Truth declares that “the carnal mind is enmity against God" (Rom. 8:7). Men do not believe it, in fact most of them affect the very opposite; nevertheless, at Calvary they gave proof of it. Multitudes go through the form of paying homage to God, but it is a “god" of their own imagination. They hate the true and living God, and were it possible would rid the universe of His existence. This is clear from their treatment of Christ, for He was none other than “God manifest in flesh" (1 Tim. 3:16) and Him they hated and hounded to death, and nothing short of death by crucifixion would appease them. Here at Calvary the real character of man was revealed and the desperate wickedness of his heart laid bare. There it was shown that he was capable of the blackest of all crimes. Then let us not be surprised that the history of mankind is written in tears and blood.
2. I perceive here air unveiling of sin. Sin! that “abominable thing" which the Lord hates (Jer. 44:4), but which is regarded so lightly by those who commit it. Sin! which caused our first parents to be banished from Eden and which is responsible for all the want and woe that is in the world. Sin! which produces strife and bloodshed and has turned this “land of the living" into a mammoth cemetery. Sin! that hideous monster we so much dislike hearing about and which we are so ready to gloss over and excuse. Sin! over which Satan employs all his subtle arts to render attractive, setting it forth in the most appealing colours and winsome garbs. One of the great designs of the Incarnation was to bring to light the hidden things of darkness. The personal presence here of the Holy One acted like a brilliant light being turned on in a long-neglected room, revealing its squalor and filth. “If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin, but now they have no cloak for their sin" (John 15:22).
In the passage just quoted Christ was speaking comparatively. Evil as man had shown himself all through his history, the coming of Immanuel to this earth brought sin to such a head that all that which had gone before was relatively but a trifling thing when compared with the monstrous wickedness which was done against Love incarnate. In the treatment which the Son of God received at the hands of men we see sin in its true colours, stripped of a disguise, exposed in its hideous reality, revealed in its true nature as contempt of God, rebellion against Him. Here at Calvary we behold the climax of sin and the fearful and horrible lengths to which it is capable of going. That which germinated in Eden culminated in the crucifixion. The first sin occasioned spiritual suicide, the second took the form of fratricide (Cain murdering his brother), but here at Calvary it issued in Deicide—the slaying of the Lord of Glory. We see also the fearful wages which sin pays—death, departure from God. Since Christ hung there as the Sin-bearer of all who believe in Him, He received the punishment which was due unto them.
3. I perceive an unveiling of the character of God. The heavens declare His glory and the firmament shows His handiwork, but nowhere are His perfections more awfully and illustriously displayed than at the Cross. See here His ineffable holiness. The holiness of God is the delight He has in all that is pure and lovely, and therefore does His nature abominate and burn against whatever is evil. God hates sin wherever it is found and He made no exception of Christ when He beheld it lying by imputation upon His beloved Son. There God had “laid on Him the iniquity of us all" (Isa. 53:6)—that is, all His people—He dealt with Him accordingly, pouring out His holy wrath upon Him. God is “of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look on iniquity" (Hab. 1:13) and therefore did He turn His back upon the Sin-bearer. “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?" the suffering Saviour cried, and then answered His own query: “Thou art holy" (Psa. 22:1, 3).
See here God's inflexible justice. The pronouncement of His Law is, “the soul that sinneth it shall die" (Ezek. 18:4), and no deviation from it can be made, for Jehovah has expressly declared that He, “will by no means clear the guilty" (Exo. 34:7). But will He not make an exception of that One whom He testifies is the Lamb “without spot and without blemish" (1 Peter 1:19)? No, for though Christ was sinless both by nature and by action yet because the sins of His people had been laid upon Him, God “spared not His own Son" (Rom. 8:32). Because sin was transferred to Him punishment must be visited upon Him, and therefore did God cry, “awake O sword against My Shepherd, against the Man that is My Fellow, saith the LORD of hosts, smite the Shepherd" (Zech. 13:7). God would not abate one iota of His righteous demand or allow sentiment to sully the fair face of His government. He claims to be par excellence the Judge who is “without respect of persons" and fully was that demonstrated at Calvary by refusing to exempt the Person of His Beloved, the One in whom His soul delighted (Isa. 42:1), when occupying the place of the guilty.
See here God's amazing grace. “God commendeth His love toward us (His people) in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" (Rom. 5:8). Had He so pleased, God could have consigned the whole of Adam's race to everlasting woe. That is what each of us richly deserve. And why should He not do so? By nature we are depraved and corrupt; by practice incorrigible rebels—with no love for Him and no concern for His glory. But out of His own goodness and benignity He determined to save a people from their sin, to redeem them by Christ, “to the praise of the glory of His grace" (Eph. 1:6). He determined to pluck them as brands from the burning, that they might be the eternal monuments of His mercy. And because it was wholly outside of their power to make atonement for their fearful crimes, He Himself provided an all-sufficient Sacrifice for them. He is “the God of all grace" (1 Peter 5:10) and innumerable tokens and proofs has He given of this, but nowhere were the “riches of His grace" so lavishly and so wondrously displayed as at Calvary.
See here God's manifold wisdom. The Word of Truth declares, “There shall in nowise enter into it anything that defileth, neither worketh abomination" (Rev. 21:27), then how is it possible that I can ever gain admittance into the heavenly Jerusalem? How can it be that one so completely devoid of righteousness as I am and so filled with unrighteousness could ever receive the Divine approbation? The Law says, “The soul that sinneth it shall die" and I have sinned and broken the Law—how then can I escape its penalty? Since I am a spiritual pauper how can the necessary ransom be procured? Those are problems that no human intelligence can solve. Nor is the knot to be cut by an appeal to the bare mercy of God, for His mercy is not an attribute which overrides His justice and integrity. But at the Cross the Divine perfections shone out in glorious unity like the blending of the colours in the rainbow: there “mercy and truth met together, righteousness and peace have kissed each other" (Psa. 85:10). God's justice was satisfied by Christ and therefore His mercy flows freely to all who repent and believe. God's grace reigns “through righteousness," and Christ's blood can cleanse the foulest. The wisdom of God appears in creation and Providence but nowhere so grandly as at the Cross.
4. I see myself. What? Yes, as I turn my gaze to the Cross I behold myself, and so does each other who looks with the eyes of faith. Christ hung there as the Sponsor and Surety of His people, and there cannot be representation without identification—Christ identified with those whose sins He bears—believers identified with Him. In the sight of God they are one. Christ took my place and faith appropriates that fact. In the Person of my Substitute I satisfied every requirement of God's Law. In the Person of Christ I paid the full price which Divine justice demanded. In the Person of Christ I stand approved before God, for I am clothed with His meritorious perfections (Isa. 61:10). The whole ransomed Church of God can say of Christ, “He was wounded for our transgressions and bruised for our iniquities" (Isa. 53:5), “Who His own self bare our sins in His own body on the tree" (1 Peter 2:24). And faith individualizes it and declares, “I am crucified with Christ....who loved me and gave Himself for me" (Gal. 2:20). Hallelujah! What a Saviour.
III . What do you see ?
I mean those of you who are unsaved. 1. You behold One whom you despise and reject. Perhaps you deny it, saying your attitude is merely negative—indifference. You err. If you are not the friend of Christ you are His enemy—there is no third class. “He that is not with Me is against Me" (Matt. 12:30) is His own verdict, and from that there is no appeal. You have despised His authority, flouted His laws, treated His claims with contempt. You reject His yoke and sceptre, refusing to be ruled by Him. Thus you unite with those who cast Him out and hounded Him to death.
2. You behold One who is presented as Saviour. Yes, despite your wicked treatment of Him hitherto. He is set before you in the Gospel as One willing and able to heal the wounds that sin has made and save your souls from eternal death. If you will throw down the weapons of your warfare against Him, surrender to His Lordship and trust in His redeeming blood, He will accept you now—“him that cometh to Me I will in no wise cast out" (John 6:37). But if you refuse to do so, then—
3. You behold the One who is to be your Judge. Come to Him now as a repentant sinner, as a spiritual pauper, casting yourself upon His grace, and He will pardon your iniquities and give you a royal welcome. “Come unto Me all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest" (Matt. 11:28) is His own invitation and promise. But continue turning your back upon Him and He shall yet say to you, “Depart from Me ye cursed into everlasting fire, prepared for the Devil and his angels" (Matt. 25:41).
[A sermon—slightly revised—preached by the editor in Colorado in 1911.]