How mournfully solemn was that last meeting in that upper chamber! All felt that a dark shadow was resting heavily upon their spirits; but the reality they could not discern till Christ, being troubled in spirit, said, sorrowfully, "One of you shall betray me." What a thrill of horror electrified their hearts at these words! They sat and looked one upon another, and with distrust of themselves and many fears did the words, "Lord, is it I?" drop from lip after lip. Dared they wait or hope for an answer to so fearful a question? But Christ soon indicated to them who was to be the traitor; and then to the traitor he said, "What thou doest, do quickly." Judas left the room hurriedly; and the other disciples thought, as he had the purse, he had gone out to buy something for the feast, or to give to the poor.
Darkness had settled down over Jerusalem; but Judas, like one possessed of an evil spirit, hurries on alone from street to street, nor stops till he arrives at the house of the chief priest; and calling him aside, he informs him that if he will supply him with a body of Roman soldiers, he will probably be able to deliver to him before morning, the "king of the Jews," as they deridingly called Christ. The chief priest was rejoiced, and covenanted to give him money; and then going to the chief captain, he found no difficulty in raising a multitude; and while they were hurrying here and there, preparing their torches and girding on their swords, Christ, though perfectly conscious of the whole transaction, sat in that upper room, and taught, like a sympathizing and suffering man, his sorrowful disciples.
How kindly Christ says to them, "Let not your heart be troubled;" assured them that he is going to prepare a place for them in his Father's house; promises to come again and receive them when they were through with earth's trials; and tells them, that while they were in the world he would be with them, and answer all their prayers.
He then commanded them to love one another. Strange, that it should be necessary to give such a command to such a body of Christians. It indicates a dark spot in human nature, and should be a warning to all Christians, "lest they fall out by the way."
Christ told them that he had many things more to say to them, but seeing their hearts ready to break with sorrow, he added, "Ye cannot bear them now. I will send you the Comforter, and he shall guide you into all truth." He then lifted up his eyes to heaven, and uttered that most pathetic and tender prayer which is recorded in the seventeenth chapter of John—a prayer which included not only the disciples to whom he was speaking, but also all who should believe on him through their word.
When his prayer was ended, he arose to go. Midnight was approaching, and he must go forth to tread the wine-press of God's wrath alone. He descended the stairs with the eleven, and came out into the street of the city. Look at that band of sorrowing men as they went their way in the darkness towards the eastern gate of the city, and descend slowly into the valley of the Kidron. They entered the garden called Gethsemane, and then was witnessed by multitudes of spiritual beings, both holy and unholy, a more heart-rending scene than had ever occurred on this sinful earth. It was that exceeding sorrow which brought the blessed Saviour night unto death, until "his sweat was as great drops of blood falling down to the ground." When his spirit was groaning beneath its awful burden, the compassion of heaven was manifested in the advent of an angel to strengthen him, that he might accomplish the great atoning sacrifice.
Then came Judas and the multitude with torches, swords, and staves, clamorous for the blood of their innocent victim. How meekly and like a lamb he delivers himself up to his murderers! But see how cruelly and roughly they handle him; how tight they draw those cutting cords around his hands, and how rapidly they hurry him away to his mock trial.
He was first taken to Annas, but he gave him back bound, to the rabble; and he was taken through the dark streets to the house of Caiaphas. Here he was questioned and abused by that dignitary of the Jewish church, and by the Sanhedrin, through the remainder of the night; and when the day began to dawn, was sent to Pilate the Roman governor.
Josephus informs us that "Pilate was a man of an obstinate and impetuous temper, and one who would for money sell justice, and pronounce any sentence that was desired." He makes mention of his rapines, his impositions, his murders, and the torments that he inflicted upon the innocent; not a few of whom were put to death without any forms of law. St. Luke says that Pilate mingled the blood of the Galileans with their sacrifices, but why we are not informed. He disturbed the repose of Judea during his whole administration of ten years; but was at length deposed, sent to Rome to give an account of his conduct to the emperor, condemned to go into exile, and there reduced to such extremities, that it is said he laid violent hands upon himself.
When Christ was arraigned before this unjust and cruel man, it is not surprising that he was delivered up to his murderers; although his innocence was so clear that even Pilate would not have condemned him, but for the urgent demands and threatenings of the Jews.
It was the custom, before delivering a man up for crucifixion, to scourge him with rods or whips, a torture under which the sufferer sometimes expired. Pilate scourged Jesus, and then delivered him up to the soldiers and the mob, who led him away out of the city gate to the place of crucifixion.
We would gladly draw a veil over this part of the awful tragedy; but as these sufferings were inflicted for our sins, we should with deep humility draw near and behold the scene. Though the Saviour is wearied, and sinking with the previous day's trials and burdens, the sleepless night of unutterable agony, and the scourging upon his naked body, they unfeelingly lay upon him his cross and compel him to carry it.
The cross of the Romans was generally about ten feet high after it was placed in the ground, and had a small projection, about half way up, on which the sufferer partially sat, to prevent the weight of the body from tearing the hands and feet from the nails, and so letting the person down. The beam was placed firmly in the ground, the criminal elevated upon it, the arms tied to the cross-piece with ropes, and his hands and feet afterwards nailed with spikes. Sometimes each foot received a nail, at other times one spike answered for both. In this position the poor sufferer was left to linger on, from day to day, until death finally came to his relief. As long as any life remained, he was watched by a guard.
To produce intoxication, or a stupor, that the crucified one might be less sensible of pain, the Jews gave a medicated drink of wine and myrrh. This Christ refused, for the obvious reason that he wished to die with his mind and spirit unclouded. It was a different drink which was afterwards offered him by the soldiers. This was a common beverage among the soldiers.
Crucifixion was not only the most ignominious death, but it was cruel beyond description. "The position of the body is unnatural, the arms being extended back, and almost immovable. In case of the least movement, the nails being driven through the hands and feet, which abound with nerves and tendons, create the most exquisite anguish. The exposure of so many wounds to the open air brings on an inflammation, which every moment increases the poignancy of the suffering. In those parts of the body which are distended or pressed, more blood flows through the arteries than can be carried back by the veins. The consequence is, that a greater quantity of blood finds its way into the head and stomach than would be carried there by a natural circulation. The general obstruction extends its effects likewise to the heart, and an internal pressure and anguish more intolerable than death itself is produced. The degree of anguish is gradual in its increase, and the person crucified is able to live under it commonly till the third, and sometimes till the seventh day."
To all these sufferings Christ yielded himself up freely, that he might surely save the church that he loved with an unearthly love. He took upon him our sins, and bore them in his own body upon the tree. He suffered and died as a man, but opened the gates of Paradise to the dying thief like a God!
His body was wrapped in a winding-sheet, and laid in the sepulchre cold and pale in death. But the grave could not hold him, for by his own immortal energies he burst the bands of death, and rose triumphant, like a God.
See him again after his resurrection. He meets his disciples, and sympathizes and talks and eats with them; and then leading them out as far as Bethany, he ascends in radiant majesty a God confessed! "God has gone up with a shout! The Lord with the sound of a trumpet! Sing praises unto God; sing unto our King, sing praises."
"All hail the power of Jesus' name,
Let angels prostrate fall;
Bring forth the royal diadem,
And crown him Lord of all."