Here, I. Pilate, to gratify the Jews’ malice, delivers Christ to be crucified, Mark 15:15. Willing to content the people, to do enough for them (so the word is), and make them easy, that he might keep them quiet, he released Barabbas unto them, who was the scandal and plague of their nation, and delivered Jesus to be crucified, who was the glory and blessing of their nation. Though he had scourged him before, hoping that would content them, and then not designing to crucify him, yet he went on to that; for no wonder that he who could persuade himself to chastise one that was innocent (Luke 23:16), could by degrees persuade himself to crucify him.
Christ was crucified, for that was, 1. A bloody death, and without blood no remission, Heb. 9:22. The blood is the life (Gen. 9:4); it is the vehicle of the animal spirits, which connect the soul and body, so that the exhausting of the blood is the exhausting of the life. Christ was to lay down his life for us, and therefore shed his blood. Blood made atonement for the soul (Lev. 17:11), and therefore in every sacrifice of propitiation special order was given for the pouring out of the blood, and the sprinkling of that before the Lord. Now, that Christ might answer all these types, he shed his blood. 2. It was a painful death; the pains were exquisite and acute, for death made its assaults upon the vitals by the exterior parts, which are quickest of sense. Christ died, so as that he might feel himself die, because he was to be both the priest and the sacrifice; so that he might be active in dying; because he was to make his soul an offering for sin. Tully calls crucifixion, Teterrimum supplicium—A most tremendous punishment: Christ would meet death in its greatest terror, and so conquer it. 3. It was a shameful death, the death of slaves, and the vilest malefactors; so it was accounted among the Romans. The cross and the shame are put together. God having been injured in his honour by the sin of man, it is in his honour that Christ makes him satisfaction, not only by denying himself in, and divesting himself of, the honours due to his divine nature, for a time, but by submitting the greatest reproach and ignominy the human nature was capable of being loaded with. Yet this was not the worst. 4. It was a cursed death; thus it was branded by the Jewish law (Deut. 21:23); He that is hanged, is accursed of God, is under a particular mark of God’s displeasure. It was the death that Saul’s sons were put to, when the guilt of their father’ bloody house was to be expiated, 2 Sam. 21:6. Haman and his sons were hanged, Est. 7:10; 9:13. We do not read any of the prophets of the Old Testament that were hanged; but now that Christ has submitted to be hanged upon a tree, the reproach and curse of that kind of death are quite rolled away, so that it ought to be any hindrance to the comfort of those who die either innocently or penitently, nor any diminution from, but rather an addition to, the glory of those who die martyrs for Christ, to be as he was, hanged upon a tree.
II. Pilate, to gratify the gay humour of the Roman soldiers, delivered him to them, to be abused and spitefully treated, while they were preparing for the execution. They called together the whole regiment that was then in waiting, and they went into an inner hall, where they ignominiously abused our Lord Jesus, as a king, just as in the high priest’s hall his servants had ignominiously abused him as a Prophet and Saviour. 1. Do kings wear robes of purple or scarlet? They clothed him with purple. This abuse done to Christ in his apparel should be an intimation to Christians, not to make the putting on of apparel their adorning, 1 Pet. 3:4. Shall a purple or scarlet robe be matter of pride to a Christian, which was matter of reproach and shame to Christ. 2. Do kings wear crowns? They platted a crown of thorns, and put it on his head. A crown of straw, or rushes, would have been banter enough; but this was pain also. He wore the crown of thorns which we had deserved, that we might wear the crown of glory which he merited. Let us be taught by these thorns, as Gideon taught the men of Succoth, to hate sin, and be uneasy under it, and to be in love with Jesus Christ, who is here a lily among thorns. If we be at any time afflicted with a thorn in the flesh, let it be our comfort, that our high priest is touched with the feelings of our infirmities, having himself known what thorns in the flesh meant. 3. Are kings attended with the acclamations of their subjects, O king, live for ever? That also is mimicked; they saluted him with “Hail, King of the Jews; such a prince, and such a people, even good enough for one another.” 4. Kings have sceptres put into their hand, marks of dominion, as the crown is of dignity; to imitate this, they put a reed in his right hand. Those that despise the authority of Jesus Christ, as not to be observed and obeyed, who regard not either the precepts of his word, or the threatenings of his wrath, do, in effect, put a reed in his hand; nay, and, as these here, smite him on the head with it, such is the indignity they do him. 5. Subjects, when they swear allegiance, were wont to kiss their sovereign; and this they offered to do, but, instead of that, spit upon him. 6. Kings used to be addressed upon the knee; and this also they brought into the jest, they bowed the knee, and worshipped him; this they did in scorn, to make themselves and one another laugh. We were by sin become liable to everlasting shame and contempt, to deliver us from which, our Lord Jesus submitted to this shame and contempt for us. He was thus mocked, not in his own clothes, but in another’s, to signify that he suffered not for his own sin; the crime was ours, the shame his. Those who pretend subjection to Christ, but at the same time give themselves up to the service of the world and the flesh, do, in effect, the same that they did, who bowed the knee to him in mockery, and abused him with, Hail, king of the Jews, when they said, We have no king but Caesar. Those that bow the knee to Christ, but do not bow the soul, that draw nigh to him with their mouths, and honour him with their lips, but their hearts are far from him, put the same affront upon him that these here did.
III. The soldiers, at the hour appointed, led him away from Pilate’s judgment-hall to the place of execution (Mark 15:20), as a sheep to the slaughter; he was led forth with the workers of iniquity, though he did no sin. But lest his death, under the load of his cross, which he was to carry, should prevent the further cruelties they intended, they compelled one Simon of Cyrene to carry his cross for him. He passed by, coming out of the country or out of the fields, not thinking of any such matter. Note, We must not think it strange, if crosses come upon us suddenly, and we be surprised by them. The cross was a very troublesome unwieldy load: but he that carried it a few minutes, had the honour to have his name upon the record in the book of God, though otherwise an obscure person; so that, wherever this gospel is preached; so that, wherever this gospel is preached, there shall this be told for a memorial to him: in like manner, though no affliction, no cross, for the present, be joyous, but grievous, yet afterward it yields a crown of glory to them that are exercised thereby.