The closing scenes in the life of our precious Lord Jesus Christ are here set before us, beloved friends, in the aspect in which the Gospel of Luke was intended by God to present them, and I invite you to dwell upon them for a little with me this evening.
We were looking last week at Gethsemane, and even though it has the appearance of repetition, permit me just to recall your attention to the difference between the agony in the garden, and the scenes recorded in this chapter in connection with the crucifixion and death of our Lord Jesus Christ. There is deep blessing for our souls in dwelling upon, and getting an understanding of, the nature of both.
Now, what marks Gethsemane (as we have, I trust, already seen) is this: that Satan — who, you will remember, had departed from Christ for a season after the temptation in the wilderness, after the Blessed One, in the perfection of His own position in dependence upon God, had gained the victory over the tempter, had bound the strong man — Satan here returns with all the horrors of the impending death and judgment that were before Christ; he comes back again, wielding a power which he had acquired through the sin of man — "the power of death." The Epistle to the Hebrews tells us this: "That through death He might destroy [annul] him that had the power of death." As a usurper Satan had gained that power. Man sinned, turned away from God; death came in; and Satan, profiting by man's disobedience, acquired that power, and he wielded that power until the Lord Jesus Christ in death annulled him who had it: "That through death He might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; and deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage." Heb. 2:14, 15.
Here, then, in Gethsemane, we see Satan presenting death in all its horrors, seeking to bring that in between Christ and all His perfection as Man before God, upon whom He leaned in perfect dependence as a Man. That is what constitutes the agony in the garden. It is hardly, beloved brethren, a subject to discourse about, but more one to think of upon your knees before God. But when you gaze on it; when you dwell on it here; when you see Him praying, watching, agonizing; always uninterruptedly dependent; never anything but Man perfectly cast upon God, wholly leaning upon God; taking the cup from His Father's hand — "The cup which My Father hath given Me, shall I not drink it?" — shrinking from it, as it were, in the perfection of His holy nature; accepting it equally in the perfection of the same dependent Man; how it strikes you as being most mysterious and wonderful!
When we come to the cross, when the cross is actually reached, He goes through that terrible hour in all the calmness and quietness of One who had in spirit traversed the road before. There are these two things; what comes out in Gethsemane is the perfection of dependence; what comes out upon the cross is the perfection of subjection. Dependence marked Gethsemane, its anguish, and its agonies, in Luke; subjection, and superiority as Man, marked the cross. Hence we shall, when we come to look at it, see that the Lord speaks peace to the poor thief, and that He calmly commends His spirit to His Father. Death is to Him but the occasion of perfect communion, perfect fellowship, perfect rest of heart as Man with God. Because, observe — and it is well just to keep these things before the mind — in the Gospel of Luke it is not the aspect that you have in the Gospel of Matthew. In Matthew He is the Victim all through. I do not mean to say that He is not this in any record you look at: He is everywhere a Victim, in that sense; but there are special aspects of His sufferings recorded in each gospel. It is the victim character in Matthew, the servant character in Mark; in Luke it is everywhere the perfect Man; while in John He is a divine Person all through. Therefore each gospel, according to what the Spirit of God had in view in the writing of it, adheres strictly and accurately to the special aspect in which the Lord is set forth. It is quite characteristic of Luke that he does not speak of the abandonment: you get that in Matthew. Luke does not say the Lord was not abandoned, but he does not record that fact. The same event is narrated, it is true, but with a different aspect, and from a different point of view. There is, of course, only one death in all the gospels, but Matthew records the abandonment. Hence he gives the Lord's cry, "My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me." Luke omits this; his object being to record the perfection and subjection that characterized Christ as a Man. Having previously, in the perfection of dependence and communion as Man, gone through all the suffering in spirit with His Father, He comes out as perfect master of the situation, and death becomes the occasion to Him to commit His spirit into His Father's hands: "Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit." v. 46.
You notice that the chapter begins with the charge which they bring to the Roman governor, Pilate, against the blessed Lord. They accuse Him of saying that He was a King. What was their object in bringing that accusation before Pilate? When the Lord was before the chief priests and scribes it was another thing. Nothing would so arouse the prejudice, the hatred, and the animosity of the Jews as for Him to assert that He was God's Son; because that was to claim the Messiahship, the very thing they would not allow. But to accuse Him of saying He was a King, to bring that charge against Him, was to excite the jealousy and prejudice of the Romans.
Thus did the Jews seize on the very thing that suited their mind. It was they who railed on Christ, saying that He made Himself the Son of God; and now it is they who cry before the Romans that He says He is a King. This, they know, is the point to which Pilate will attach the most importance. Oh, the subtlety of the heart of man! How cunningly it adapts all occasions to its own wicked ends! How it presses everything into its service! It is a solemn fact that there is no hatred in this world equal to religious hatred; no hatred so bitter, blind, and relentless as religious hatred. It is grievous to think that such a principle should assert itself even amongst the saints of God; and I ask sorrowfully, Is not the history of the Church, in this respect, a solemn, sad witness of the fact to which I thus call attention? See how it is manifested in Israel, in the Jewish nation. What impelled them on? Deep-seated religious hatred. Their terrible, deadly animosity against Christ consumed them, and therefore we see everything pressed, as it were, into this service. They seek to arouse the sensibilities of the Roman governor, in order, if possible, to depreciate the Blessed One. They will, so to speak, act upon every feeling in every breast to depreciate Him. Oh, the depths of the wickedness of the human heart! The awful, hidden, secret depths of the heart of man! What is it not capable of? "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it? I the Lord search the heart." None but God Himself can get to the bottom of what moves in that deep well.
Now, all these things drop into their places here. That is how the chapter opens, with this accusation before Pilate. There was a measure of truth in what they said and yet it was false in the way it was presented. There is many a word spoken in this world that is true, which is pressed into the service of falsehood. How often a person tells the truth to hide the truth! There is no greater falsehood in this world than that. It was perfectly true that Christ was a King. He is the King of kings; He will wield the sceptre of universal empire. "There shall be one Lord, and His name one." "The Lord shall be King over all the earth." "He shall reign for ever and ever." "He shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of His kingdom there shall be no end." See Zech. 14:9; Rev. 11:15; Luke 1:33. All this is true: it was false as they presented it. Their object was to bring forward His kingly titles and glories as if He were asserting them in order to subvert the Roman power. There is the point in which the untruth was. It was perfectly true He was a King; it was perfectly false that He was asserting His kingly claims at that time in order to set aside the Roman government. There could have been no foreign yoke on the Jewish nation except for Israel's sin. They were an enslaved people because of their sins. There is nothing more solemn than to see how continually that was brought before them. On another occasion the Lord said, "Show me a penny." What did He mean by that? If there had been the smallest lingering exercise of conscience in them, looking upon a Roman penny ought to have wrought conviction of their state. As a proof of their subjection to a foreign yoke, it ought to have brought their national sin before them, and would have done so had there been any real sensibility left in their souls.
I would remark, in passing, that it is very helpful for us as Christians to see that there is no power in this world but what God has ordained. That would settle a thousand difficulties for you if you bowed to the Word of God. It is not a question of whether the power is good or bad. The Christian's place is to be in subjection to the civil magistrate. Why? Because there is no power except of God, the Source of all power. Scripture is very distinct and plain about that. "Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation." Rom. 13:2. If you remember who it is that has allowed the power, your duty in respect of it is simple and plain. How is it we are now living under the power of the fourth beast? God has put power into the hands of the Gentiles, and the Gentiles are responsible to Him for the exercise of it. We have nothing to do but to own the power, and to see God behind the civil magistrate. The blessed Lord, as Man on earth, recognized in this way the Roman power. His own words are precise and distinct as to this: "Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's." Mark 12:17.
The Roman yoke was brought upon the Jewish people directly in connection with the government of God. Therefore, for Christ to assert His own authority to set aside the Roman power would have been for Him to deny the very thing upon which He was insisting. Still, He was a King; but His kingdom was not of this world, and the time for Him to wear the crown had not then arrived.
I am now about to call your attention briefly to three things. The first is this: Whatever part we trace of His blessed life, whatever portion of the history, the sacred record, of our Lord Jesus Christ we study, we shall always find in the presence of each fresh incident that man is fully exposed. You cannot look at any part, whether His glory, or the sufferings and sorrows of His path down here in this world, and not find this solemn reality. So it is here. There are in this chapter three great instances of the condition in which men are found today. There is Pilate, there is Herod, and there are the Jews. Now, I find mankind classed under these three heads, and it all comes out here in each of them. Look at Pilate for a moment. He was said to be a cruel man; but, as far as we know, he had no enmity against Christ. On the contrary, he would have released Him if he could. Certain things moved that man. His natural conscience was uneasy; he was not at rest. His wife's dream troubled him. He had the conviction as a judge, "That is an innocent Man. He is not guilty of the crimes laid to His charge." All these things acted upon his conscience. His own sense of things asserted strongly an innocent Christ. How markedly without excuse did the evidence leave him, that at his bar was One without guilt. He knew, too, that for envy the Jewish people had delivered Him. And then his clear-sightedness as a judge must have told him that things were laid to the charge of the Blessed One which He knew not. Yet see what a history is set before us in this Pilate. Look at the struggle that went on in that man's soul. Look at the various bidders, so to speak, all collected there in connection with this moment. What is the real secret of it? Why could he not gratify his natural conscience? Why not cast the die in favour of the Lord Jesus Christ, and free Him as One in whom there was no blame? Why not? Because Pilate could not afford to give up his friendship with the world. That was the secret of it. You remember the words recorded in another gospel, "If thou let this Man go, thou art not Caesar's friend: whosoever maketh himself a king speaketh against Caesar." John 19:12. If you set Him free, if you allow your natural conscience to rule you, if you listen to the voice from heaven which your wife had in that dream, if you go according to your own sense of right as a judge, you will lose the friendship of Caesar.
Oh, what a voice there is in that for our souls to-night! Is there not many a person in this company morally situated as Pilate was? Your conscience touches you; you would like to be on the side of the Lord Jesus Christ; you have had numbers of intimations of various kinds which have reached you; you would like to stand up for Him, would like to be His friend, would like to be on His side: but then there is the world; you cannot give up the world; you cannot break with it, cannot part company with its friendship. How many here may be in that position this evening! How many there are in this great city who would be on the side of Christ except that they cannot break with this world's friendship! They cannot give up their Caesar. "If thou let this Man go, thou art not Caesar's friend: whosoever maketh himself a king speaketh against Caesar." The moment Pilate heard that word, the die was cast; that was what decided it; and he determined to hold to Caesar; so he gives up the spotless Jesus "to their will." Awful words! How God shows us what is at the bottom of our hearts! How He opens to us the secrets that are down there! How He, as it were, unlocks the chambers of the soul! How He comes to us and lets the light in, and shows us all the motives that work there! That is what I read in Pilate and the conflict of his feelings.
In Herod, the apostate king of apostate Israel, we see an unmixedly wicked man; a vile, wicked wretch, without a single redeeming feature in his character. Therefore the Lord does not answer him a word. I do not know anything more solemn than the interview between Christ and Herod. The Lord answers Pilate: there is no enmity in him. He also answers Caiaphas, because of the oath of God; but not a word does He utter to Herod. It is an awful thing for God to be silent to us. Better far that He speak to us in a voice of thunder, than not at all. Oh, what a thing it is when God is silent; when, so to speak, the sky over our heads is leaden, and there is no voice, no sound! Well did the psalmist pray, "Be not silent to me; lest, if Thou be silent to me, I become like them that go down into the pit." Psalm 28:1.
Ah! that is the meaning of all this. If God is silent to thee; if God speaks no word in thine ear, ah! it is as if thou art given up for the pit. This is what the case of Herod brings before us. What a voice of the Lord has this dealing with Herod for our souls
Then, what we have in the Jews is not only that terrible religious hatred and enmity against God and Christ, but, in another aspect of it, the world's choice as well. Pilate says to them, as it were, Well, now, choose between these two. Here is the spotless One; the One in whom I find no fault; against whom I can record no indictment; the One who went about doing good, who spake as never man spake, whose miracles and words of kindness, whose goodness and compassion, are well known on every side and here is Barabbas, a convicted thief, a robber, a sedition-monger. It is of necessity that one should be released at the Passover.
It is well to understand there was that custom of commemorating the intervention of God on behalf of the nation. A prisoner was annually released in remembrance that Israel had been released by God in former days. Moreover, there were two backdoors, as it were, open before Pilate. One was Galilee. He heard that Christ was a Galilean. He says, as it were, I will keep my friendship with Caesar, and pass Him over to Herod; He belongs to Herod's jurisdiction. Here is the Passover coming too. I must release one then. Shall I liberate Barabbas or Jesus?
That is the course multitudes of people are pursuing to-day. God only knows whether there is one of that character in this company to-night. If so, permit me to ask, Is not that exactly what you are doing? Your mind runs in this way: "I do not want Jesus Christ; I do want religion; I could not do without religion; I must have my religion; I would die for my religion; I must have my form of Christianity; but I cannot afford to have Jesus Christ! I will keep my religion, but I do not want Christ nor His cross."
That is exactly where the world is to-day. The world cannot do without its religion. There is what is called the religious world. Strange combination of terms! And there is the world of religion; but they do not want Christ; they will not have Christ. They want to have happiness without Him. Forms and ceremonies are an advantage to them; they can profit by such; they will go in for them to any extent — the more of them the better; but Christ is not wanted, and He is not welcome. "Not this Man, but Barabbas." God may be thus speaking through His servant to some souls in this company to-night; some perhaps preferring their sins and follies, vanities, lusts and passions, to God's own Christ. That is exactly what is set forth in the choice of the world. "Not this Man, but Barabbas." Is this, dear friends, your choice? You have your Barabbas in some shape or form, but it is the very contrast to Jesus Christ, the very opposite to Him. The Barabbas of to-day is no doubt of a different character from the Barabbas of former days; but then or now, the world's choice is not Christ. "Not this Man, but Barabbas," is its voice still.
I trust that now you see how humanity, in every shape and form, stands out here before us. But there is a class of persons different from all these; namely, the daughters of Jerusalem, who indeed display much feeling at the sight of Christ's sufferings, but entirely apart from faith. The distressing circumstances of that Blessed One simply aroused their human sensibilities. As McCheyne sweetly sings —
"Like tears from the daughters of Zion that roll,
I wept when the waters went over His soul;
Yet thought not that my sins had nailed to the tree
'Jehovah Tsidkenu:' 't was nothing to me."
I know that at this present moment there is a power by which it is very possible to work upon human feelings; but it is of no profit. You may work upon human feelings to such an extent that people will weep and wail; but when the excitement is past there remains no real impression on the soul. What we want are the tears of conscience, tears at the back of the eyes, so to speak, deep down in the inner man, which no eye sees but the eye of God. That is what is wanted; not the mere stirring of the natural feelings, which are ever evanescent, have no continuity in them, but quickly pass away.
Observe the grace of the blessed Lord here, the self-forgetful love of His heart— "Daughters of Jerusalem," He says, "weep not for Me." They did not understand the cross; they knew not what was coming upon themselves; but He adds, "For, behold, the days are coming, in the which they shall say, Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bare, and the paps which never gave suck. Then shall they begin to say to the mountains, Fall on us; and to the hills, Cover us. For if they do these things in a green tree, what shall be done in the dry?" vv. 28-30.
Those days did come, though I admit that the Lord's prophecy was only partially fulfilled, and that it will have a fuller accomplishment by-and-by; but if you would read a dark and bloody page of history, sit down and read the account of the sack of the city of Jerusalem by the Romans under Titus, and you will gaze on horrors that will strike to the very bottom of your soul, horrors only to be exceeded during that time of terrible tribulation which is yet to come.
"If they do these things in a green tree" — He was the green tree Himself — "what shall be done in the dry?" — that dry, apostate Israel without God, that sere and sapless tree fit only for the fire. That is the meaning of these two expressions. The dry tree was the withering, ripening-for-judgment, spiritually dead state of Israel. When they are fully manifested as dry and apostate, ready for the burning flame, what will be done then?
Now let me draw your attention to the last subject in our scripture, a part of it so deeply affecting to our souls — the immediate circumstances accompanying the crucifixion itself. First, you will notice that there was no infamy, no shame, no amount of opprobrium, too great to heap upon the spotless One. They first hang Him upon a gibbet; and I say "gibbet" for a special reason. We must look at things as they really are. We speak of the cross, and God speaks of the cross; but I sometimes think there is very little realization of what the cross means. The cross has become a fashionable ornament in Christendom; people decorate their persons with the cross. Yet what was the cross but a gibbet, the Roman mode of capital punishment — a cruel, shameful, scornful, hateful kind of death?
They hanged Him, then, upon a tree — "Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree." It was not, as we know, the Jewish way of punishing criminals. We learn from the Old Testament Scriptures that when an offender was put to death by the Jews he was stoned. But to be hanged, to be placed upon a gibbet, was a Gentile, a heathen mode of execution; and thus it was they handed Christ over to the Romans, saying, "It is not lawful for us to put any man to death." The heathen Roman soldiery were little better than savage executioners, and were unrivalled for brutality and cruelty. They placed the Blessed One between two malefactors, proving what I have said before, that there was no amount of ignominy, scorn, and shame, too great to invest Him with in that moment. And therefore the Holy Ghost records here: "There were also two other, malefactors, led with Him to be put to death. And when they were come to the place, which is called Calvary, there they crucified Him." vv. 32, 33.
Now, Calvary means "the place of a skull" — token of the end of humanity on its own side. This is what man is reduced to, an empty skull. If you look at him in his natural state he is morally but a sightless skull. Alas! what nothingness, what vanity, marks man in his own condition at best. It seemed suitable that they should come to this place, Calvary; and there it was they crucified Him, and the two others with Him, on either side one, and Jesus in the midst.
And here, beloved friends, you find a thing that never was known till now — a crucified robber jeers at Him! It had never before come to this, that a man in death would laugh and scorn and ridicule another in death by his side. No such thing had ever been known until you come to the crucifixion of our precious Lord Jesus Christ. A robber, suffering the extreme penalty of the law, by His side, despises Him, contemns Him, sneers at Him, rails upon Him. Oh, what a scene! Oh, what is man not capable of! What will he not do in the presence even of God's own precious, spotless Christ! It seemed to be reserved for that moment for man to exhibit all his worst where love endured its last. That is what comes out here. And you will find another thing, too, which I would particularly lay upon your hearts; namely, the marked way religious nature is seen. There is such a thing as religious nature as well as irreligious nature. Wherever you find mere natural religion, or the religious yet natural heart, you will find what is expressed in that word, "If thou he Christ, save Thyself and us." v. 39. It was but the expression of the natural heart at such a moment. How solemn to witness it!
There has been for a considerable time a doctrine abroad, which perhaps has received a little more impetus of late, that, by the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ, fallen and depraved humanity is connected with God. Though largely held by a certain class of professing Christians, it is a doctrine by which man is left in his lost estate and guilt, and Christ and God are dishonoured. Its keystone is this: that the blessed Lord, by taking manhood into God, made that manhood the medium of communicating life to the souls of sinners; that He now does this by the sacraments, that which He Himself performed in the days of His flesh; that the eucharist communicates life to him who receives it, inasmuch as the body of Christ is really present in the sacrament. I may just say that these sacraments by which the blessings of incarnation are thus continued are administered by men who call themselves priests, these persons professing to be in an unbroken line of succession from the apostles.
What a solemn denial of the truth is this! There is no way by which man can have to do with God save through death and resurrection. No, beloved friends, the Lord Jesus Christ's own words are full and distinct as to this: "Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone." John 12:24. Mark this, I beseech you. Short of His death and resurrection there is no connecting of man with God, no being brought to God, no righteous ground upon which God can come out in all the deep, unutterable love of His heart, and take man up in a new order of things altogether. Hence it is we find His death and resurrection so brought out in Scripture. Christ as Man has taken, in glory, an entirely new place through death and resurrection. Thank God, He can now bring us there, He can give us title to be in that place, He can have us with Himself in that place; but that is the very opposite of the anti-scriptural fable of Christ's union with sinful humanity.
What follows here is exceedingly touching. Thank God, we have often dwelt upon the history of the poor thief who was convicted and saved, and who went with Christ into Paradise; and I would not for a moment lessen the blessedness of that in our hearts; but there is a side to it that is increasingly precious to me when I think of his case. I desire to reiterate what, through grace, we have known and held; namely, that it is the great instance of surpassing, sovereign grace. This man was crucified on a gibbet; but no matter, as has been said, gibbet, or no gibbet, when God and the soul meet we have the simple and immense fact that the soul is brought at once into His presence. Mark well the words that come from his lips at this moment: "Dost not thou fear God?" not, "Art thou not ashamed of being a thief?" Here was grace that wrought in him as well as — what we also see here — grace that wrought for him. Christ was bearing that man's sins before God, and the Spirit of God wrought conviction in that man, and repentance and faith corresponding to the work that Christ wrought for him. The work was done by Christ for him, and there was also a work done in that man by the mighty power of the Holy Spirit of God. We find here sovereign grace working in the man, and we find as well the sovereign grace that gave Jesus to do the work for him. What could be more blessed, if the Lord Jesus Christ had taken the sinner's place, than that the sinner should be entitled to take the Saviour's place. That is exactly what we find. Christ had taken the sinner's place, and, in virtue of that, the sinner is entitled to have the Saviour's place. Christ says, "To-day." Oh, the blessedness of it! There is no theme out of heaven so grand as this. "To-day." An immediate reality! This is what God meant by the sufferings and death of His own precious Son: "To-day shalt thou be with Me in Paradise." v. 43. It is as if the Blessed One had said, Not the kingdom yet. True, I am a King; true, I have a kingdom; true, I shall wear a crown; but before the kingdom comes, and before the crown is worn, you will "be with Me in Paradise."
That is what God meant by the cross, and that is what God can do for poor, vile, wretched sinners that trust in Christ. Is there a poor, lost, unforgiven one here tonight? In a moment, in a twinkle of the eye, in virtue of that wonderful victory of the Lord Jesus Christ, He can take you into heaven. Observe, too, one leading character of the Gospel of Luke here, even the bringing into present blessing: so perfect is the work of Christ that this thief taken up for his crimes was that day made absolutely fit for heaven. "To-day shalt thou be with Me in Paradise."
And there is more even than that. I have looked at the conversion of this thief, not only as an instance of sovereign grace, as a proof of what God meant by the cross, but in this way also that at that moment God had a balm prepared for the heart of His precious Christ. Oh, the blessedness of it! God had this balm there in this poor thief; a poor, vile malefactor; so bad that the world was getting rid of him. And that is all the world can do: it can put men on gibbets, or shut them up in prison. A man thus shut up comes out from prison the same as he went in, save by the grace of God. The world cannot change a man's nature. I quite grant the power of the civil law to be all right with respect to human government and authority. I fully believe that evil-doers should be dealt with by the strong arm of the law; that murderers should atone before men upon the gallows. I have not a question of it. That is all in place according to the sword of government entrusted to the hands of the Gentiles. But that accomplishes nothing for a man's soul. A man goes to prison, and, except the grace of God work in that man's soul, he comes out the same as he went in. Neither the gallows nor penal servitude will ever reach a man's soul. Nothing but the mighty power of God will do that.
But how blessed to meditate on the case of that man hanging beside the precious Christ of God on the cross — a murderer, notorious for sedition and robbery, and no doubt for villainy of every kind! In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, that man passes from death to life; and in all the misery and wretchedness of his soul he turns to Christ, and says, as it were, I will reverse all the verdict against you, all the judgment against you. You are a King; you have a kingdom; you will wear a crown; you are coming to reign. I am only a poor thief; let me wrap my soul in your eternal perfections. "Lord, remember me." Oh, what a balm for the heart of Christ that was! What a blessed, wondrous cheer from God for the heart of His own Son in the very first moment of His victory in death, that one should be hanging upon that cross who was the comfort and solace of His heart amidst the contempt, the jeers, the scoffs, the scorn and ridicule, all around!
That is what I read in this story. I do not want to lessen the sovereign grace, the work of the Spirit of God in the conscience of that man, and the work of Christ for him upon the cross; but beyond that think how it delighted God at that moment to minister comfort to the heart of His own beloved, suffering Son.
At the last stage of this great transaction there is darkness over all the earth. How suitable it should be so! God and Christ were alone there. This scene had been pictured long before in these words: "There shall be no man in the tabernacle of the congregation when he goeth in to make an atonement in the holy place." Lev. 16:17. Though that darkness was emblematic, in a certain sense, of the darkness that rested on the mind and heart of the nation at that moment, the terrible state and condition of darkness that rested morally upon Israel, yet doubtless God intended to abstract His Son in that hour, that no eye should see what passed between Him and Christ when the Blessed One bore the judgment of God against sin.
Another thing went along with this. The veil of the temple was rent. That marked the passing away of a different kind of darkness. God had said that He would dwell in thick darkness; but now He dwells in it no longer. Previously God was hidden, though He acted. He was concealed behind the veil; but now He reveals Himself in the death of Jesus, and by means of that death. How blessed! The veil of the temple, which separated God in His holiness from man, and shut man in his sins out from God, was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; that is, from God to man. Could anything be more blessed? Yet man is to-day endeavouring to put that veil up again. That is what a large portion of Christendom now, desire to do, to set up that veil again between God and man. The veil was rent in twain as soon as ever Jesus died; but people in our day want to put it up again, to put God in the darkness, and man in the distance from Him. That is the great object of the largest portion of professing Christendom. I hope I shall offend nobody if I say it openly and plainly here to-night. The genius of both popery and ritualism is to put God in the darkness and man at a distance. You have it in these two systems, the essential genius of each being distance from God. But here the veil of the temple was rent in twain; not removed to be put up at another time; not rent, observe, from man's side, as if man were the abolisher of it, but rent from God's side. The only One who might rend it was the One who erected it. God had erected that veil, but now He rends it. It is rent in twain from the top to the bottom.
One thing more, which is also characteristic of the Gospel of Luke. Jesus cried with a "loud voice." Why is that recorded? Why does the Spirit of God dwell upon that here? In order to show that our Lord Jesus Christ retained the full, undiminished, unchanged strength of His manhood; that, in the full possession of all His powers as a Man; not wasted, not worn out with suffering; His strength in no sense deteriorated by what He had gone through; but in the full vigour of perfect humanity He cried with a "loud voice," and said, "Father." What a beautiful word! Perfect communion, perfect repose, perfect subjection of spirit in all the rest of the heart, even though death was there; but a death that truly was only the occasion of His commending His spirit into His Father's hands. How beautiful and blessed to dwell upon this!
The Lord give our hearts to abide here in the sense of His infinite grace. In this lies the power that wins our poor, cold hearts. It is a suffering Christ that wins the affections. He wins us, attracts us, in suffering. It is when the heart rests on Him as thus suffering that we can exclaim —
"Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were an offering far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all."
God, in His infinite grace, set before us His suffering, precious Son in all the blessed perfections that mark Him as a Man, and keep Him before us, that we may see the folly and vanity of all else in the light of that cross, the nothingness of all the great schemes of this world. All its plans and glories are here measured and estimated at their true value.
Lord Jesus Christ, set Thou Thyself as the bleeding, suffering One before all our hearts, for Thy precious Name's sake.