(Matthew 26:69-75; Mark 14:66-72)
Suggested further reading: Psalm 51
The infinite mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ is brought out forcibly by a fact that is only recorded in Luke's Gospel. We are told that after Peter's third denial, 'The Lord turned, and looked upon Peter' (v. 61). Those words are deeply touching. Surrounded by bloodthirsty and insulting enemies, in the full prospect of horrible outrages, an unjust trial and a painful death, the Lord Jesus yet found time to think kindly of his poor erring disciple. Even then he would have Peter know he did not forget him. Sorrowfully, no doubt, but not angrily, he turned and looked at Peter. There was a deep meaning in that look. It was a sermon that Peter never forgot.
The love of Christ towards his people is a deep well which has no bottom. There is about it a mine of compassion, patience and readiness to forgive sin, of whose riches we have but a faint conception. Let us not be afraid to trust that love when we first feel our sins. Let us never be afraid to go on trusting it after we have believed.
How bitter sin is to believers when they have fallen into it and discovered their fall! Peter's bitter weeping (v. 62) shows that he had found out the truth of Jeremiah's words (Jer. 2:19). He felt keenly the truth of Solomon's saying (Prov. 14:14) and could no doubt have repeated the words of Job (Job 42:6).
Sorrow like this, let us always remember, is an inseparable companion of true repentance. Here lies the grand distinction between repentance unto salvation and unavailing remorse. Remorse can make a man miserable, like Judas Iscariot, but it can do no more. It does not lead him to God. Repentance makes a man's heart soft and his conscience tender and shows itself in a real turning to a Father in heaven. The falls of the man who professes Christianity, yet has no grace, are falls from which there is no rising again. But the fall of a true saint always ends in deep contrition, self-abasement and amendment of life. Let us not make Peter's fall an excuse for our sin, but let us learn from his sad experience to watch and pray lest we fall into temptation.
For meditation:God always picks up the Christian who stumbles (Ps. 37:23-24).
Suggested further reading: Hebrews 12:14-17
Judas gives us a plain proof of the innocence of our Lord with respect to every charge laid against him. If there was any living witness who could give evidence against our Lord, Judas Iscariot was the man. A chosen apostle of our Lord, a constant companion in all his journeyings, a hearer of all his teaching, both in private and public, he must have known if our Lord had done any wrong, either in word or deed. A deserter from our Lord's company, a betrayer of him into the hands of his enemies, it was his interest, for his own character's sake, to prove Jesus guilty. It would extenuate and excuse his own conduct if he could make out that his former Master was an offender and an impostor.
Why then did Judas Iscariot not come forward? Why did he not stand forth before the Jewish council and specify his charges, if he had any to make? Why did he not venture to accompany the chief priests to Pilate and prove to the Romans that Jesus was a malefactor? There is but one answer to these questions. Judas did not come forward as a witness because his conscience would not let him. Bad as he was, he knew he could prove nothing against Christ. Wicked as he was, he knew well that his Master was holy, harmless, innocent, blameless and true. Let this never be forgotten. The absence of Judas Iscariot at our Lord's trial is one among many proofs that our Lord was without blemish, a sinless man.
There is such a thing as repentance which is too late. His repentance (v. 3) and confession (v. 4) were not unto salvation. This is a point which deserves special attention. It is a common saying that 'It is never too late to repent.' That saying is no doubt true if repentance is true, but unhappily late repentance is often not genuine. It is possible for a man to feel his sins and be sorry for them, to be under strong convictions of guilt and express deep remorse, to be pricked in conscience and exhibit much distress of mind, and yet, for all this, not to repent with his heart. Present danger or the fear of death Mayaccount for all his feelings, and the Holy Spirit may have done no work whatever in the soul.
For meditation:Those who say that they will put off repentance until later usually put it off for ever.
Suggested further reading: 2 Peter 2:17-22
Judas teaches us how little comfort ungodliness brings a man in the end. We are told that he cast down the thirty pieces of silver, for which he had sold his Master, in the temple and went away in bitterness of soul. That money was dearly earned. It brought him no pleasure even when he had it, just as Scripture says (Prov. 10:2).
Sin is, in truth, the hardest of all masters. In its service there are plenty of fair promises, but an utter dearth of performance. Its pleasures are but for a season. Its wages are sorrow, remorse, self-accusation and, too often, death. They that sow to the flesh do indeed reap corruption (Gal. 6:7-8).
Are we tempted to commit sin? Let us remember the words of Scripture (Num. 32:23) and resist the temptation. Let us be sure that sooner or later, in this life or the life to come, in this world or in the Judgement Day, sin and the sinner will meet face to face and have a bitter reckoning. Let us be sure that of all trades sin is the most unprofitable. Shameful sin brings no benefits (Rom. 6:21).
To what a miserable end a man Maycome if he has great privileges and does not use them rightly! What an awful death Judas died! (v. 5). An apostle of Christ, a former preacher of the gospel, a companion of Peter and John, commits suicide and rushes into God's presence unprepared and unforgiven.
Let us never forget that no sinners are so sinful as sinners against light and knowledge. None are so provoking to God. It is a solemn saying of Bunyan's that 'None fall so deep into the pit as those who fall backward.' Solomon teaches the same (Prov. 29:1). Maywe all strive to live up to our light. There is such a thing as sin against the Holy Spirit. Clear knowledge of truth in the head, combined with deliberate love of sin in the heart, go a long way towards it.
For meditation:'Judas' has become a term for treachery. Judas betrayed Christ for money; other Judases have done so for other gods. Have you a god that is coming between you and Christ and that might lead you to desert him for it?
(Matthew 27:11-14; Mark 15:1-5)
Suggested further reading: Psalm 35:1-18
False accusations were laid to the charge of our Lord Jesus Christ. The Jews accused him of various subversive activities (v. 2). In all this indictment we know that there was not a word of truth. It was nothing but an ingenious attempt to enlist the feeling of a Roman governor against our Lord.
False witness and slander are two of the favourite weapons of the devil. He was a liar from the beginning and is still the father of lies (John 8:44). When he finds that he cannot stop God's work, his next device is to blacken the character of God's servants and to destroy the value of their testimony. With this weapon he assaulted David, Elijah and Jeremiah (Ps. 35:11; 1 Kings 18:17; Jer. 38:4). With this weapon he assaulted the apostles (Acts 24:5; 17:6). With this weapon he assaulted our Lord throughout his ministry (Luke 7:34; John 8:48). Here in these verses we find him plying his old weapon to the very last. Jesus is arraigned before Pilate upon charges which are utterly untrue.
The servant of Christ must never be surprised if he has to drink of the same cup as his Lord. When he who was holy, harmless and undefiled was foully slandered, who can expect to escape? (Matt. 10:25). Nothing is too bad to be reported against a saint. Perfect innocence is no fence against enormous lying, calumny and misrepresentation. The most blameless character will not secure us against false tongues. We must bear the trial patiently. It is part of the cross of Christ. We must sit still, lean back on God's promises and believe that in the long run the truth will prevail (Ps. 37:6-7).
What meekness and lowliness the Lord showed in the face of these accusations! Though the charges against him were false and he knew no sin, he was content to endure the contradiction of sinners against himself. Let us learn from our Saviour's example to suffer patiently and not to complain, giving way to irritation and ill temper in trial.
For meditation:The law of the world is to 'give as good as you get'. The example of Christ is to seek no revenge and retaliation but to leave God to sort things out.
(Matthew 27:11-14; Mark 15:1-5)
Suggested further reading: Acts 24:22-26
Strange and mingled motives influence the hearts of unconverted men. Herod's attitude and hopes with regard to our Lord are remarkable (v. 8). Herod was a sensual worldly man, the murderer of John the Baptist, a man living in foul adultery with his brother's wife. Such a man we might suppose would have no desire to see Christ. But Herod had an uneasy conscience. The blood of God's murdered saints no doubt often rose before his eyes and destroyed his peace. The fame of our Lord's preaching and miracles had penetrated even into his court. It was said that another witness against sin had risen up, who was even more faithful and bold than John the Baptist, and who confirmed his teaching by works which even the power of kings could not perform. These rumours made Herod restless and uncomfortable. No wonder that his curiosity was stirred and he 'desired to see Christ'.
It May be feared that there are many great and rich men like Herod in every age of the church, men without God, without faith and living only for themselves. They generally live in an atmosphere of their own, flattered, fawned upon and never told the truth about their souls, haughty, tyrannical and knowing no will but their own. Yet even these men are sometimes conscience-striken and afraid. God raises up some bold witness against their sins whose testimony reaches their ears. At once their curiosity is stirred. They feel found out and are ill at ease. They flutter around his ministry like a moth around the candle and seem unable to keep away from it even while they do not obey it. They praise his talents and openly profess their admiration of his power. But they never get any further. Like Herod, their conscience produces within them a morbid curiosity to see and hear God's witnesses. But, like Herod, their heart is linked to the world by chains of iron. Tossed to and fro by storms of ungovernable lust or passions, they are never at rest while they live, and after all their fitful struggles of conscience they die at length in their sins.
For meditation: No one was ever saved by merely being curious about the gospel. More than a passing interest or infatuation is needed.
(Matthew 27:11-14; Mark 15:1-5)
Suggested further reading: John 11:45-57
Let us learn from Herod's case to pity great men. With all their greatness and apparent splendour, they are often thoroughly miserable within. Costly clothes often cover hearts which are utter strangers to peace. That man knows not what he is wishing who wishes to be a rich man. Let us pray for rich men as well as pity them. They carry weight in the race for eternal life. If they are saved it is only by the greatest miracles of God's grace. Our Lord's words are very solemn (Matt. 19:24).
How easily and readily unconverted men can agree in disliking Christ! By sending our Lord to Herod, Pilate and Herod became friends again. We know not the cause of their enmity. It was probably some petty quarrel such as will arise amongst great men as well as small. But whatever the cause of enmity, it was laid aside when a common object of contempt, fear or hatred was brought before them. Whatever else they disagreed about, Pilate and Herod could agree to despise and persecute Christ.
This incident before us is a striking emblem of a state of things which Mayalways be seen in the world. Men of the most discordant opinions can unite in opposing truth. Teachers of the most opposite doctrines can make common cause in fighting against the gospel. In the days of our Lord the Pharisees and the Sadducees might be seen combining their forces to entrap Jesus of Nazareth and put him to death. In our own time we sometimes see Romanists and Socinians, infidels and idolaters, worldly pleasure lovers and bigoted ascetics, the friends of so-called liberal views and the most determined opponents of change ranked together against evangelical religion. One common hatred binds them together. They hate the cross of Christ (Acts 4:27). All hate each other very much but they hate Christ more.
For meditation:It does not matter what the sect calls itself. Whether it is Roman Catholicism, the Jehovah's Witnesses Movement, the Mormons or liberalism, while all disagree greatly with each other, all are agreed in opposing salvation by faith in the death of Christ alone. Salvation by grace alone, by faith alone, through Christ alone is the common point of opposition that unites them all.
(Luke 23:13-25; Mark 15:6-15)
Suggested further reading: 1 Corinthians 4:1-5
These verses describe the appearance of our Lord before Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor. That sight must have been amazing to the angels of God. He who will one day judge the world allowed himself to be judged and condemned, though he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth (Isa. 53:9). He from whose lips Pilate and Caiaphas will one day receive their eternal sentence suffered silently an unjust sentence to be passed on him. Those silent sufferings fulfilled the words of Isaiah (Isa. 53:7). To those silent sufferings believers owe all their peace and hope. Through them they will have boldness in the Day of Judgement who in themselves would have nothing to say.
How pitiful is the condition of an unprincipled great man! Pilate appears to have been inwardly satisfied that our Lord had done nothing worthy of death. He knew why they had handed our Lord over to him (v. 18). Both his judges bore striking testimony to his innocence (Luke 23:14-15). Left to his own unbiased judgement, Pilate would probably have dismissed the charges against our Lord and let him go free.
But Pilate was the governor of a jealous and turbulent people. His great desire was to procure favour with them and please them. He cared little how much he sinned against God and conscience, so long as he had the praise of man. Though willing to save our Lord's life, he was afraid to do it if it offended the Jews. And so, after a feeble attempt to divert the fury of the people from Jesus to Barabbas, and a feebler attempt to satisfy his own conscience by washing his hands publicly before the people, he at last condemned one whom he himself called 'a just person' (v. 24). He rejected the strange and mysterious warning that his wife sent to him after her dream. He stifled the remonstrances of his own conscience and delivered the Lord over to be crucified (v. 26).
How many people know that their acts are wrong, but they fear being laughed at and cannot bear being unpopular! Like dead fish they float with the tide. The praise of man is the idol before which they bow down and to that idol they sacrifice conscience, inward peace and their souls.
For meditation:How much weight do you put on what other people think? Do you sin to keep friends?
(Luke 23:13-25; Mark 15:6-15)
Suggested further reading: John 3:16-21
Let us learn from the conduct of the Jews on this occasion the desperate wickedness of human nature. The behaviour of Pilate afforded the chief priests and elders an opportunity of reconsidering what they were about. The difficulties he raised about condemning our Lord gave time for second thoughts. But there were no second thoughts in the minds of our Lord's enemies. They pressed on with their wicked deed. They rejected the compromise Pilate offered. They actually preferred a felon named Barabbas to Jesus. They would head up all by recklessly taking on themselves all the guilt of our Lord's death (v. 25).
What had our Lord done that the Jews should hate him so? He was no robber or murderer, no blasphemer of their God, or reviler of their prophets. He was one whose life was love (Acts 10:38). He was innocent of any transgression against God or man. And yet the Jews hated him and never rested till he was dead! They hated him because he told them the truth. They hated him because he testified that their works were evil. They hated the light because it made their own darkness visible. In a word, they hated Christ because he was righteous and they were wicked, because he was holy and they were unholy, because he testified against sin and they were determined to keep their sins and not let them go.
There are few things so little believed and realized as the corruption of human nature. Men fancy that if they saw a perfect person they would love and admire him. They flatter themselves that it is the inconsistency of professing Christians which they dislike and not their religion. They forget that when a really perfect man was on earth in the person of the Son of God he was hated and put to death.
Let us never be surprised at the wickedness there is in the world. Let us mourn over it and labour to make it less, but let us never be surprised at its extent. There is nothing that the heart of man is not capable of conceiving, or the hand of man of doing. As long as we live let us mistrust our own hearts (Jer. 17:9).
For meditation:'The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify that what it does is evil' (John 7:7).
(Matthew 27:27-44; Mark 15:16-32)
Suggested further reading: Matthew 24:15-25
To the women who were following him as he was led away to be crucified our Lord gave prophetic warning (vv. 28-31). These words must have sounded peculiarly terrible to the ears of a Jewish woman. To her it was always a disgrace to be childless. The idea of a time coming when it would be a blessing to have no children must have been a new and tremendous thought to her mind. And yet within fifty years this prediction of Christ was literally fulfilled. The siege of Jerusalem by the Romans under Titus brought down on all the inhabitants of the city the most horrible sufferings from famine and pestilence that can be conceived. Women are actually reported to have eaten their own children through lack of food during the siege. Upon none did the last judgement sent upon the Jewish nation fall so heavily as upon the wives, mothers and little children.
Let us beware of supposing that the Lord Jesus holds out to man nothing but mercy, pardon, love and forgiveness. Beyond all doubt he is plenteous in mercy. There is mercy with him like a mighty stream. He delights in mercy. But we must never forget that there is justice with him as well as mercy. There are judgements preparing for the impenitent and unbelieving. There is wrath revealed in the gospel for those that harden themselves in wickedness. The same cloud that was bright to Israel was dark to the Egyptians (Exod. 14:20). The same Lord Jesus who invites the labouring and heavy laden to come to him and rest declares most plainly that unless a man repents he will perish, and that he who does not believe shall be damned (Luke 13:3; Mark 16:16). The same Saviour who now holds out his hands to the disobedient and gainsaying will come one day in flaming vengeance on those who know not God and who obey not the gospel (2 Thess. 1:8). Christ is indeed most gracious. But the day of grace must come to an end at last. An unbelieving world will find at length, as Jerusalem did, that there is judgement with God as well as mercy. Wrath long accumulated falls most heavily.
For meditation:To reject Christ is to reject the only Saviour. Without Christ, without hope.
(Matthew 27:27-44; Mark 15:16-32)
Suggested further reading: Acts 7:54-60
When our Lord was crucified his first words were words of gracious intercession (v. 34). His own racking agony of body did not make him forget others. The first of his seven sayings on the cross was a prayer for the souls of his murderers. His prophetical office he had just exhibited by remarkable prediction. His kingly office he was about to exhibit by opening the door of paradise to the penitent thief. His priestly office he now exhibited by interceding for others, even those who crucified him.
The fruits of this marvellous prayer will never be fully seen until the day when the books are opened and the secrets of all hearts are revealed. We have probably not the least idea how many of the conversions to God which took place during the first six months after the crucifixion were the direct reply to this marvellous prayer. Perhaps this prayer was the first step to the penitent thief's repentance. Perhaps it was one means of affecting the centurion (v. 47) and the people who smote their breasts (v. 48). Perhaps the three thousand on the Day of Pentecost, foremost it May be at one time amongst our Lord's murderers, owed their conversion to that prayer. The day will declare it. There is nothing secret that shall not be revealed. This only we know: that the Father always hears the Son (John 11:42).
Let us see in our Lord's intercession for those who crucified him one more proof of Christ's infinite love to sinners. The Lord Jesus is indeed full of pity, most compassionate and gracious. None are too wicked for him to care for. None are too far gone in sin for his almighty heart to take an interest in their souls. He wept over unbelieving Jerusalem. He heard the prayer of the dying thief. He stopped under the tree to call the publican Zacchaeus. He came down from heaven to turn the heart of the persecutor Saul. Love like this is a love that passes knowledge. The vilest of sinners can apply to a Saviour like this without fear. He prayed for his murderers from the cross.
For meditation:How much real love is there in your heart for others, especially the difficult people you know?
Suggested further reading: 2 Corinthians 7:8-12
We are told that two malefactors were crucified together with our Lord, one on his right hand and one on his left. Both were equally near to Christ. Both saw and heard all that happened during the six hours that he hung on the cross. Both were dying men and suffering acute pain. Both alike were wicked sinners and needed forgiveness. Yet one died in his sins as he had lived, hardened, impenitent and unbelieving. The other repented, believed, cried to Jesus for mercy and was saved.
A fact like this should teach us humility. We cannot account for it. We can only use our Lord's words (Matt. 11:26). How it is that under precisely the same circumstances one man is converted and another remains dead in sins, why the same sermon is heard by one man with perfect indifference and sends another home to pray and seek Christ, why the same gospel is hid to one and revealed to another — all these are questions which we cannot possibly answer. We only know that it is so, and it is useless to deny it. One thief was saved, that no sinner might despair, but only one, so that no sinner might presume.
The unvarying character of repentance is seen in the sinner's salvation. Thousands look at the broad fact that the thief was saved in the hour of death and look no further. They do not look at the distinct and well-defined evidences of repentance which fell from his lips before he died.
The first notable step in the thief's repentance was his concern about his companion's wickedness in reviling Christ (v. 40). The second step was a full acknowledgement of his own sin (v. 41). The third step was an open confession of Christ's innocence (v. 41). The fourth step was faith in Christ's power and will to save him (v. 42). The fifth step was prayer. He cried to Jesus hanging on the cross and asked him even then to think upon his soul. The sixth and last step was humility. He mentions no great thing. Enough for him if he is remembered by Christ. Though this thief's time was short for giving proof of his conversion it was time well used.
For meditation:Deathbed repentance is a rare thing. Now is the time for salvation.
Suggested further reading: 2 Corinthians 5:1-10
If we search the Bible from Genesis to Revelation we shall not find a more striking proof that Christ is able to save to the uttermost. The time when the thief was saved was the hour of our Lord's greatest weakness. He was hanging on the cross in agony. Yet even then he had the power to hear and grant a sinner's petition.
The man whom our Lord saved was a wicked sinner at the point of death, with nothing in his past life to recommend him and nothing notable in his present position but a humble prayer. Yet he was shown mercy.
Do you want proof that salvation is of grace and not of works? We have it in the case before us. The dying thief was nailed hand and foot to the cross. He could literally do nothing to save his own soul. Yet even he, through Christ's infinite grace, was saved. He had the assurance of Christ's word.
Do we want proof that sacraments and ordinances and church membership are not essential to salvation? The dying thief is the proof. He repented, believed and was saved. The same is true for the vilest sinner today.
How near a dying believer is to rest and glory! The word 'today' (v. 43) contains a body of divinity. It tells us that the very moment a believer dies his soul is in happiness and in safe keeping. His full redemption is not yet come. His perfect bliss will not begin before the resurrection morning. But there is no mysterious delay, no season of suspense, no purgatory between his death and a state of reward. In the day that he breathes his last he goes to paradise. In the hour that he departs he is with Christ (Phil. 1:23).
Let us remember these things when our believing friends fall asleep in Jesus. We must not sorrow for them as those who have no hope. While we are sorrowing they are rejoicing. While we are putting on our mourning and weeping at their funerals they are safe and happy with the Lord. For ourselves to die is a solemn thing. But if we die in the Lord then we need not doubt that to die is gain.
For meditation:Do you, like the thief, think yourself worth nothing more than a place in Christ's thoughts? Such humility Christ rewards.