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32. And there were also two other malefactors, rather, “ two others who - were malefactors,” led with him to be put to death.
33. And when they were come to the place which is called Calvary, i.e. the place of a skull, there they crucified him, and the malefactors; one on the right hand and the other on the left.
As if his crime had been more enormous than those of the others, they allot him the distinction of being placed between them.
34. Then said Jesus, Father forgive them: for they know not what they do.
This prayer seems to have been formed, just after they had nailed him to the cross, and placed him between the two malefactors; while his body was writhing with the pain which had just been inflicted, in the cruel operation of crucifixion.
And they parted his raiment, and cast lots.
1. That portion of sacred history which we have been reading affords us ground to admire the conduct of divine Providence, in permitting Christ to appear before so many tribunals: for as nothing could be proved against him, this furnishes us with the stronger evidence of his innocence. If he had had but one trial, it might have been supposed that his judges were, in some unaccountable way, prejudiced in his favour, and partial to him. But this does not appear likely, when he is called before several, in different places, and those entire strangers to him. From the Jewish council, where he was first tried, he is carried before Pilate; and from him to Herod; but no where does there appear any proof of his being guilty of any crime : on the contrary, the governor acknowledges that he can find no fault in him, and the Jewish Tetrarch shows plainly by his conduct that he entera tained the same opinion. The Jewish council indeed condemned him for blasphemy, but it was only for saying that he was the son of God or the Messiah; a character to which his miracles and doctrines prove him to have had the best claim. What strengthens the force of this argument, derived from the acknowledgment of his judges, is that it proceeded entirely from the conviction of their own minds, unassisted by the aid of eloquence, either on the part of Jesus the person accused, or of any friend who might stand up in his defence: for Jesus declined to plead his own cause, and no one appeared to plead for him; while his persecutors were the Jewish priests and senators, the principal persons in the state, and men of the first rank for ability and eloquence. Such a testimony to his innocence as we have seen Pilate and Herod make in these circumstances could proceed from nothing but the absence of guilt. Thus we see in this instance, as in many other cases, how Providence brings good out of evil, and over-rules the malice of men to defeat their purposes. By bringing Jesus to trial before a court of justice, and by procuring his condemnation, his enemies hoped to impeach his character, and for ever discredit his pretensions ; but this method which they pursued has proved the means of establishing his innocence, beyond all future doubt and controversy.
2. The conduct of Jesus in going to the place of execution, and his behaviour while he was there, illustrate the extraordinary excellence of his character. While walking to Calvary, surrounded with all the horrid apparatus of crucifixion, and but a few moments before he was to submit to this dreadful punishment,
we find his mind more distressed at the idea of the sufferings of others than in the prospect of his own. What benevolence and magnanimity! Who has ever exceeded or even equalled him in the exercise of these virtues ! Nothing can be found superior to this conduct, except it be his own behaviour upon the cross, in entreating God to forgive his enemies. This was practising the most difficult of all virtues, in the most difficult circumstances; not when he lived at ease; when the malicious purposes of his enemies had been defeated, and they had terminated in his own triumph; but at the very moment when their schemes against him had succeeded; when they were glorying in their success, and when he himself was in an agony of pain from the wounds which they had just inflicted. " At this trying period he prays that they may be forgiven, which shows that all resentment against them had subsided in his breast, and that he wished them good for the evil which they had done to him. After this, let no one say that this virtue is impracticable, or complain of the difficulty which attends it. Christ our master has performed it, , in more painful circumstances than any in which we are likely to be placed. . .
S. Let wicked men remember the observation of Christ, as he was going to suffer: “If they do these things in the green tree, what shall be done in the dry? If God permits such dreadful sufferings to befal the virtuous and good, and the most excellent of his servants, what may there not be reserved for those of an opposite character? Is there any punishment too great for them to merit, or for his justice to inflict? Let them seriously consider this, and not heedlessly expose themselves to the effects of his displeasure. In the sufferings of good men they may see a pledge of what will come upon others. ';i.
Luke xxiii. 35-38. corresponds with Matt. xxvii.
Luke xxiii. 39–43 39. And one of the malefactors which were hanging, that is, upon the cross, railed on him, saying, If thou be the Christ, save thyself and us.
It is the opinion of Bishop Pearce that the two men who were crucified with Jesus, and who are here called malefactors, and, in the parallel passage in Matthew, thieves, were not such persons as we usually understand by these terms, that is, either house-breakers or highwaymen, persons who rob and plunder all they meet; but of that sort of Jews who took up arms upon the principle that it was not lawful to pay tribute to Cæsar, and plundered the Romans, in return for the tribute which they exacted; and that these men, when once engaged in these dangerous attempts, sometimes did the same thing to their countrymen, being com. pelled to do it for support, contrary to their wishes and intentions. Josephus calls this class of men by the same name which the evangelists have given to these malefactors, that is, robbers; although it is evident that they might differ much in character from those who usually bear that denomination. This opinion may perhaps derive some confirmation from the language of one of the malefactors which I have just read. The Roman soldiers had ridiculed the pretensions of Jesus to kingly power, by saying, If thou be the king of the Jews, save thyself. In this mockery one of the malefactors joined, adding such sentiments as his own situation suggested: for he said, If thou be the Christ save thyself and us; that is, If thou art the Messiah, and appointed by God to deliver the Jews from the Roman yoke, save thyself from thy present situation, and us, who like thee are suffering for our
attempts to throw off that yoke. There is a peculiar propriety in his language, although spoken by way of ridicule, when considered in this connection : for the favour which he asks is, as he pretends, for fellow-sufferers in the same cause; whereas if both these men were common thieves, there was no reason for supposing that the Jewish Messiah, although a temporal deliverer according to their ideas, would show particular favour to that class of men.
The supposition now made respecting the character and views of this man, may likewise derive confirmation from observing that Barabbas, whom the Jews requested to have spared instead of Jesus, is called by the evangelist John a robber; but by Luke he is said to be cast into prison for sedition and murder. In this sedition and murder these two men were probably his accomplices.
40. But the other, answering, rebuked him, saying, Dost thou not fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation ?
Art thou not afraid to offend God, before whose tribunal thou must shortly appear, by committing a fresh crime, in addition to that which thou hast committed already, by insulting an innocent person and a divine messenger?
Matthew and Mark represent the two malefactors as joining in the insulting language, although Luke confines it to one of them. The former says, “ The thieves also who were crucified with him casť the same in his teeth.” And Mark says, “ And they that were crucified with him reviled him.” But as Luke is so much more particular in his narrative than the other two evangelists, it is probable that his account is the most accurate. So far, however, is this disagreement from invalidating the testimony of the evangelists, that it renders the leading facts of their history still more credible; as it proves that they did not write in concert; and consequently that the general agreement