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PONTIUS PILATE.-THE SANHEDRIN.
the sword than suffer their law to be broken: and, to avoid bloodshed, Pilate at length consented to withdraw the offensive standards. The next quarrel did not end so peacefully, as the governor was resolved not to give way to the people a second time. On coming to Jerusalem he determined to construct an immense aqueduct, similar to those at Rome; and, as it was intended to supply the whole city with water, he thought proper to pay the workmen out of the treasures of the Temple. His works were quickly interrupted by the people, who pleaded against such an employment of sacred wealth. Pilate, who had expected such a check, had placed some of his soldiers in disguise among the workmen, and, at a given signal from him, they drew out their hidden weapons, slew a great number of the unarmed multitude, and put the rest to flight. It was by Pilate's command also that a company of Galileans, possibly some of the followers of Judas of Galilee, were slain whilst they were offering sacrifice (see Luke xiii. 1).
The remains of power left to the Jewish nation, after their land was included in the Roman empire, was lodged in the hands of the general council, or Sanhedrin, before mentioned; and this seems to be referred to in the Gospel when “the chief priests, scribes and elders of the people” are spoken of: for it was composed of seventy-one persons, partly priests, partly Levites, and partly elders. The high-priest presided in the Sanhedrin with the empty title of prince; at his right hand sat the vice-president who bore the title of Ab-beth-din, or father of the house of judgment; and at his left hand was the most learned doctor of the law, denominated the Wise Man. The rest of the members sat round the president in a semi-circle, having a scribe or secretary at each end, one to write the votes of condemnation, the other those of acquittal.
In the other towns of Judea there were councils consisting of twenty-three members; but all appealed to the great Sanhedrin, which was in fact the voice of the nation, professing to be able to express the mind of the people to their foreign rulers. The members of this important council were then most carefully chosen as the fitting representatives of the nation. It is said, they were to be without deformity or personal blemish : their age was to be mature, but not too advanced, lest they should be enfeebled or morose. They were to be fathers of children, to ensure their tender-heartedness and compassionate feeling. They
HEROD ANTIPAS, AND PHILIP THE TETRARCH.
were moreover to be skilled in all that related to magic, sorcery or idolatry, in order to discern what was evil; and they were required to have an extensive knowledge of arts and languages, and to understand physic, arithmetic, astronomy and astrology. It was by such a body of men, in real ignorance of the thoughts and ways of God, yet professing to have all knowledge of things human and divine, that the actings of the Son of God were so falsely judged, and his person so lightly esteemed.
After glancing at the character of the government which succeeded that of the banished Archelaus, we must inquire into that of the other sons of Herod. Herod Antipas had been reigning peaceably as Tetrarch of Galilee, and chiefly resided at Sepphoris, his capital ; but in honour of the emperor he founded a city on the lake of Gennesareth, which he called Tiberias : hence that lake in the Gospels is frequently called the sea of Tiberias. He had first married the daughter of Aretas, king of Arabia, but divorced her about this period because he preferred Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip, not the Tetrarch, but Herod's son by the second Mariamne. It was for this crime he was rebuked by John the Baptist, whose mission we are about to consider.
Philip the Tetrarch also preserved the favour of Tiberius by re-modelling two towns in his dominions, one of which he called Cæsarea and the other Julias, in honour of the emperor and his wife. He was a just and humane prince, and so anxious not to delay the administration of justice that he had no fixed tribunal; but the judgment-seat was carried after him wherever he went, and he at once formed a court in order to decide the cases brought under his notice. He died in the same year that the Lord was crucified ; and, as he left no heir, his territory was for a time added to the prefecture of Syria.
During the foregoing period, the only memorial of the life of Christ is given us in these comprehensive words, “ He increased in wisdom and in stature, and in favour with God and man.” His perfect human nature is here brought before us. As the Son of God he was “ wisdom from everlasting (see Prov. viii.), from the beginning, or ever the earth was.” But as the Son of Man, in his humiliation passing through all the successive stages of human nature, from birth even to death, his mind and his body were capable of growth; and he was at every step righteously winning that favour which none besides deserved. CHAP. IV.
THE MINISTRY OF JOHN THE BAPTIST.-THE HUMILIATION AND
THE REJECTION OF CHRIST.-THE TWO-FOLD EFFECT OF THE
• SURELY, if our hearts are rightly affected, no period of history
can excite such intense and absorbing interest as that in which it pleased the Lord from heaven to teach, to work, and to suffer as man upon the earth which He created. It was, indeed, in the wisdom of God, that a messenger was sent to prepare the way, and to make ready a people for this wonderful One. That messenger, as you know from Scripture, was John the Baptist. The manner of his birth, his secret training in the deserts, his outward appearance when he came forth, and the character of his preaching, all proved that he was a very extraordinary person; and it was not surprising that a general inquiry was made, “Is not this the Christ?” The multitudes, who had bitterly felt their state of degradation, were quickly attracted by the proclamation, “ The kingdom of heaven is at hand ;” and, like sinners in every succeeding age, who would exchange present misery for happiness in a heaven of which they knew little but the name, they did not consider whether they were fit subjects of this kingdom and prepared to submit to the Messiah as their king.
Man had been thoroughly tried under the law and proved guilty ; it was most clear that there was no power in man to get life by the works of the law. John, therefore, was not sent with such words as “ Do this and thou shalt live ;" but he came with a message from God, altogether new, “Repent; for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” He came to the Jewish people, taking it, as it were, for granted that they had broken the law, that they were all sinners, and inquiring whether those who had failed to obey had hearts to repent. By John the last trial was made, whether there was any power left in man, and that being ended, the power of God was to be revealed, and the whole field left open for the exercise of the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. It was as impossible for man to repent as to obey without the grace of God; and thus it was declared by Peter after the resurrection of Jesus, “ Him hath God exalted with his right hand to be a prince and a Saviour, for to give 22
MINISTRY OF JOHN THE BAPTIST.
repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins ” (Acts. v. 31). Nevertheless, all who submitted to the baptism of John owned the need of repentance; and those who received him in the spirit of Elijah, were ready to follow Jesus, to whom he pointed as the Lamb of God.
But the chief priests and elders would not listen to his counsel; the Pharisees and lawyers, who pretended to be wiser * than all besides, refused to be baptized; they were satisfied with their own righteousness and sought to prevent others from entering into the kingdom of heaven. They were too proud to acknowledge that all their goodliness was as the flower of grass, and therefore refused the Eternal Word of God. The nation did not mourn when John lamented, and therefore they could not rejoice when the Gospel, the good tidings of great joy, was proclaimed by the Lord Jesus.
The witness of John concerning Christ was so clear that all who refused it were without excuse. When the people were willing to rejoice in him as a burning and shining light, he tried to withdraw their attention from himself to the true light. He told the messengers from Jerusalem he was only the voice crying in the wilderness, “ Make straight the way of the Lord.” That very Lord stood among them unknown to them ; for though after the flesh He came after John, He is preferred before him, for He was before him because He was God. He told the Pharisees and Sadducees that this mightier one than he would baptize with the Holy Ghost and with fire. He de. scribed him as the Lord of the harvest, having his fan in his hand, and prophesied that He would thoroughly purge his floor and gather his wheat into the garner, but burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire. Many other things he preached to the people; but I shall only now briefly refer to his testimony, as it is preserved by the Apostle John. We there find him pointing to Jesus as the sacrifice that had been prefigured by all the offerings since the fall of man ; the One on whom the faith of Abel and of all the Old Testament believers rested, the One of whom Abraham prophesied, when he said, “ God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering ;' in short, the substance of all the foregoing shadows of good things. “Behold," said John, “the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.” And in this blessed testimony the declaration of mercy is no longer limited to Israel ; but the uncircumcised,
THE CHRIST OF GOD.
the aliens from their commonwealth, the strangers from their
in the world—are brought, as it were, within the circle of mercy through this precious sacrifice. John's testimony to the work of Jesus was accompanied by a testimony to the glory of His person, which gave it such exceeding value. Upon Him the Spirit descended from heaven and remained ; to Him there came a voice from the Father in heaven, saying, “ This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased;" and John bare record, - This is the Son of God.” From that moment the messenger was prepared to retire : he again pointed out Jesus to his disciples as the Lamb of God; and when the gathering of the multitude to Jesus seemed to excite their surprise, John reminded them that he was only the earthly messenger of this heavenly One, and told them his joy was fulfilled in hearing the Bridegroom's voice. Again he repeated his testimony that this was the Christ, having the Spirit without measure, and beloved of the Father, who had given all things into his hand. John's faithful ministry closes with a record of the deepest importance (may it powerfully affect your hearts !):-“He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life ; but the wrath of God abideth on him” (John iii. 36).
The grace and loveliness of the walk and ways of Jesus can only be fitly described by the Holy Ghost, and understood by his power. But the mere story contained in the Gospels is enough to convince even a child that never such an one has been seen on earth before or since, and that never man spake like this man. May you be earnest in searching the Scriptures, and may you be so led by the Spirit as to receive Jesus for your Lord and Saviour, that you may join the happy throng redeemed with his blood, who cry with a loud voice, “Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb !” I would just ask you to consider the humiliation of Jesus in contrast with His glorious person and place with the Father before the world was. How infinite was the distance between the bosom of the Father and the bosom of Mary, yet Jesus could fill both at the same time! He whom the heaven of heavens cannot contain condescended to be wrapped in swaddling clothes in the manger of the inn at Bethlehem! The only begotten Son of God bearing the name of " the carpenter's