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THE GREATNESS OF JESUS IN HIS LAST SUFFERINGS.
When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said: It is finished. And he bowed his head and gave up the ghost. John xix. 30.
ST. Paul, in his first epistle to the Corinthians, speaks of the offence which some took at the sufferings of Christ. The Jews required a sign, and the Greeks sought after wisdom; insomuch that the preaching of Christ crucified was" to the Jews a stumbling-block, and to the Greeks foolishness." Nevertheless to many, " both Jews and Greeks, Christ was the power of God, and the wisdom of God," 1 Cor. i. 18-24. For which reason, and because he had himself in particular experienced the benefit of that doctrine, he determined when at Corinth, one of the politest cities of Greece, then esteemed the most polite and learned part of the world, "not to know, [or make manifest,] any thing save Jesus Christ, and him crucified."
The disciples of Jesus, who had so much reason, from the excellence of his words, and the wonders and condescensions of his life, to love and respect him, were offended in him, forsook him, and fled, when he entered into the thick cloud of affliction. But their eyes were afterwards enlightened, their understandings opened, and their hearts enlarged. And they were able and willing to recommend to all a faith in Christ curcified and risen as perfectly reasonable, and highly beneficial and advantageous.
But it is not now my intention to insist on all the ends and uses of the death of Christ, nor on all the reasons for permitting it. It is chiefly in one particular light, that I would at present consider the sufferings of the Lord Jesus; to show, in some measure, his greatness under them; how he maintained his dignity throughout this hour of affliction, and strange scene of abasement; and the fitness and propriety of all his words and actions, from his yielding up himself into the hands of his enemies to his expiring on the cross; how he joined majesty with meekness, and under the most injurious and provoking treatment, manifested great presence of thought, and perfect composure of mind.
For this end, I shall take notice of the main parts of the
whole history of the last sufferings of Jesus, as recorded by the Evangelists. The discourse shall be divided into two sections. The first containing the particulars of our Lord's apprehension and prosecution, to the time of his condemnation by Pilate; the second, containing the several things following, till he expired on the cross.
Sect. I. 1. And in the first place, there is a circumstance fit to be observed by us, which greatly exalts the fortitude of Jesus; that he knew beforehand the death he was to endure, and all the painful concomitants of it, and yet he resigns himself to it, and prepares himself for it with cheerfulness.
This composure of mind at his entering into the amazing scene of his sorrows, and his fore-knowledge of them, appear in those words spoken to the disciples, in his retirement, after the conclusion of the prayers, which he had there "Then cometh he to the disciples, and saith unto them: Sleep on now, and take your rest. Behold, the hour is at hand, and the Son of man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Arise, let us be going. Behold, he is at hand that does betray me," Matt. xxvi. 45, 46.
We may be persuaded, from the intimations which our Lord had given to many and upon divers occasions, in the course of his ministry, that he beforehand knew the painful and ignominious death which he was to undergo. Here, in these words, just read from St. Matthew, the like to which are in St. Mark's gospel, we perceive his distinct foresight of the beginning of his last sorrows, and at the same time how composed he was, Mark xiv. 41, 42.
The Evangelists usually content themselves with barely relating things as they happened, without any hint of special observation to engage the attention of readers; nevertheless St. John has thought fit just to take notice of this foreknowledge of Christ. "Jesus therefore, knowing all things that should come unto him, went forth, and said unto them: Whom seek ye ?" John xviii. 4.
Our blessed Lord's distinct foresight of all the affecting sufferings which he was to endure, greatly illustrates the resolution and fortitude of his mind, and his affectionate concern for sinful men, in resigning himself to them with such readiness as he did; which appears in the words just read, and in other particulars to be farther taken notice of.
2. Our Lord's great mind appears in the manner in which he received Judas who came to betray him, and the officers who were sent to apprehend him.
"Judas, one of the twelve," as the Evangelist relates, came, and with him a great multitude, with swords and
staves, from the chief priests and elders," Matt. xxvi. 47. "And forthwith he came to Jesus, and said, Hail, Master; and kissed him," ver. 49. He comes, with the usual tokens of respect, after some time of absence. Thus he addresseth himself to Christ, when this very salutation had been agreed upon, as a mark, denoting him whom the officers were to seize and lay hold of. Whereupon Jesus said unto him: Friend, wherefore art thou come ?" ver. 50. So in Matthew. But in another gospel: "Judas, betrayest thou the Son of man with a kiss !" Luke xxii. 48.
This was the beginning of these sorrows, and it was a very affecting case. To be betrayed by a disciple, in the eye of the world would appear a prejudice to our Saviour's reputation, and an argument of some misconduct, or of some bad designs; that one of his disciples and intimate friends delivered him to his enemies. This was an affecting thing. It must be so to any man, who is virtuous and innocent, and has a sense of honour. In ordinary minds, even where there is true goodness, it would have had one or other of these effects; to sink the spirits in a great degree; or else provoke to ungovernable resentment and indignation, breaking out into passionate expressions; but the greatness of Jesus is conspicuous. He saw the falsehood of Judas, under the fair appearance of respect and affection. Yet he returns him a familiar salutation, and calls him friend. But at the same time he intimates his discernment of his treacherous purpose, and gives a piercing reproof of his baseness: Judas, betrayest thou the Son of man with a kiss!"
Then turning himself to the officers who came with Judas, he says, "Whom seek ye? They answered him; Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus saith unto them, I am he-As soon then as he had said unto them, I am he, they went backward," or drew back," and fell to the ground. Then asked he them again; Whom seek ye? And they said, Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus answered, I have told you, that I am he," John xviii. 4-8.
Here, as every where, all along, we see proofs of great presence of mind and composure of thought. Jesus had retired into a private place; but it was not with a view of hiding himself from his enemies. He was innocent, and knew himself to be so, and shows his conscious integrity, by declaring himself to be the person whom they sought; which acknowledgment was delivered.with such majesty, or accompanied with such power, that they fell to the ground as if struck with lightning. Then a second time he asks, "whom they sought," and told them again, he was the per
son; by all this showing that he could not be apprehended, but with his own consent, and that he did now willingly yield himself up into their hands.
This ought to fill us with respect for the Lord Jesus, at once admiring his dignity, and his condescension.
And this shows, that if afterwards he does not deliver himself, or escape from his enemies, but submits to all the evils which they are disposed to inflict upon him, it is not because he is not able to save himself; but because he resigns himself to those sufferings, it being the will of God, for the good of men, that he should so acquiesce, and thereby afford an example of consummate patience, confirm his important doctrine, and draw men to him, and bring them to high degrees of virtue here, and of glory and happiness hereafter.
3. The next thing to be observed by us is the demand which he makes for the liberty of his disciples. As it follows in St. John's gospel: "Jesus answered, I have told you, that I am he. If therefore ye seek me, let these go their way. That the saying might be fulfilled, which he spake: Of them which thou gavest me, I have lost none," John xviii. 8, 9.
This is another proof that the mind of the blessed Jesus was not discomposed by the indignities already offered to him, or the sufferings which he expected to befal him. He yields up himself, but secures his disciples, who were not yet qualified for great trials, and whose life was necessary for spreading his doctrine in the world, after he should rise again.
We here also evidently discern, not only the tender compassion and faithful care of the Lord Jesus for those whom he had called to follow him, and be with him, but also the overruling conduct of Divine Providence in this event, the death of the Messiah. It is indeed a surprising thing. But it is not without a divine permission. It was the interest of the enemies of Jesus, and his doctrine, to take off his disciples, his constant followers, together with him. And if he was judged to be criminal, they must be reckoned so likewise. But the high priests and rulers had not power so much as to apprehend and imprison one of them.
Christ having authoritatively and effectually demanded safety and liberty for his disciples, they soon after this withdrew, most of them, whilst one or two of them followed afar off to see the end.
4. The next thing, which immediately follows in St. John's gospel, is the resistance made by Peter. Which is
in part related also by the other Evangelists, except that they have not mentioned that disciple by name.
Says St. John: "Then Simon Peter having a sword, drew it, and smote the high priest's servant, and cut off his right ear. Then said Jesus unto Peter; Put up thy sword into the sheath. The cup, which my Father has given me, shall I not drink it?" John xviii. 10, 11. We must take a part of this history as related by others. In Matthew: "Then said Jesus unto him; Put up again thy sword into its place. For all they that take the sword, shall perish with the sword. Thinkest thou, that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall give me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then shall the scriptures be fulfilled, that thus it must be ?" Matt. xxvi. 52–54. In St. Luke: "And one of them," that is, of the disciples, " smote the servant of the high priest, and cut off his right ear. And Jesus answered, and said; Suffer ye thus far. And he touched his ear, and healed him," Luke xxii. 51, 52. St. Mark: "And they laid their hands on him and took him. And one of them that stood by, drew a sword, and smote a servant of the high priest, and cut off his ear," Mark xiv. 46, 47.
Certainly Jesus appears great in this place. He had already done what might be sufficient to satisfy every one, that he was willing to submit to the trial that was coming upon him, how great soever it might prove, and whatever should be the issue of this attempt of his enemies upon his liberty. Nevertheless his faithful and affectionate disciples are still uneasy and perplexed to a great degree. And one of them makes resistance, takes the sword, and wounds one of the officers, who came to seize his Lord and Master. This was a testimony of sincere affection and zeal; and our Lord must have been sensibly touched with it. This was one of the bitter ingredients of his cup; the sorrow and anguish of mind which his disgraces and other sufferings caused in his disciples. But observe the alacrity with which he takes it, and the superior regard which he has for the will of God above all private interests of his disciples, whom he tenderly loved, as well as above his own. "The cup, which my Father has given me, shall I not drink it? Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he would give me more than twelve legions of angels ?" These things more especially concerning the disciples. However, the officers likewise, and all present, were hereby instructed.
Let us then take notice of this, as another proof of the fortitude and the meekness of Jesus, and his complete