Cross—the Expression of Man's Unbelief
By Horatius Bonar, 1867
But they kept shouting, "Crucify him! Crucify him!"
Crucifixion was the death of the outcast only, the
Gentile outcast. Stoning was the Jewish death, crucifying
the Gentile death, or rather the Roman death; the death devised and
inflicted by the fourth great beast of Daniel, when exercising his power in
trampling down the nation of God with his iron feet.
"Crucify him," then, meant, Let him die the worst of
deaths—the Gentile death, the death that is so specially connected with the
curse; the death that proclaims Him to be not merely an outcast from Israel,
an outcast from Jerusalem—but an outcast from the Gentile, an outcast from
He to whom this cry is directed, is a Gentile ruler; and
it is striking to observe the Jew handing over his fellow-Jew to the
abhorred Gentile, the conqueror of his city and nation. With what a hatred
must these crucifiers have hated their victim—when they give him over to the
Gentile to have their utmost malice executed upon him!
He, against whom they thus furiously shout forth their
bitterness, is the Son of God; not merely a holy man—but one in whom the
fullness of the Godhead dwells; one who has been sent of the Father to carry
out his purpose of love. It is against "the Word made flesh," the
"only-begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth," that the cry is
raised, "Crucify him! crucify him! let him die the worst of deaths; not this
man—but Barabbas!" It was not his human holiness merely, which excited the
hatred and the outcry; it was his divine perfection. It was not merely man
hating man because better than himself. Here is man hating God--man seeking
to rid himself, and rid the world of God altogether. Here is man seizing the
opportunity he now had, in having God in a human form within his power--of
eliminating Jehovah--as the Being to whose absolute dominion he would not
submit, and whose presence on the earth, in human form, was altogether
Who were they who raised the cry and made this dreadful
demand, in the name of justice and religion, upon a Gentile ruler, for the
death of the Son of God?
They were the Jews, the Jews of Jerusalem; not the more
ignorant and irreligious Jews of Samaria or Galilee—but the Jews of
Jerusalem. No, and chief among these haters of Messiah were the men who
professed most to be looking for his advent; the best educated, most
learned, and, according to their ideas—the most devout and religious of the
nation. They were not Egyptians or Persians, or Greeks or Romans, worshipers
of false gods; but children of Abraham, men who studied Moses and the
prophets, men well-read in the Scriptures, and worshipers of the one
Jehovah. They were the choice men of a nation which had been trained up, for
well-near two thousand years, in the knowledge of God; with whom God had
taken infinite pains—to teach, to guide, to elevate, to keep from
surrounding falsehoods, and superstitions, and sins. They were a people that
knew more of truth, heavenly truth, than any other on the face of the earth.
They were, beyond comparison, the best educated, most enlightened nation on
the earth. No blessing had been grudged, no miracle withheld, no privilege
refused, no cost spared—to make them the nation of nations— religiously,
morally, and intellectually, and physically as well. They were, then, the
best specimens of the race—the representatives of humanity in its best
estate—the exhibition of the natural man, improved to the uttermost, by
knowledge, and law, and government, and religion.
It was to this people that Messiah was proposed, for
reception or rejection. If they rejected him, who could be expected
to receive him? If they hated him, who could be expected to love him? If
they treated him with dishonor, who could be expected to honor him? If the
best portion of the race, who had been expressly separated from the rest,
and divinely trained, in order to be ready for his advent, refused him—what
could be expected of the worst; what could be expected of the race as a
whole? God gave to Israel, and to our race in them, all advantages for
receiving his Son. Yet, with all these advantages and privileges, they
rejected him! "He came unto his own, and his own received him not." Their
cry was not, "Crown him," but "Crucify him!" not, Let the King live
forever—but, Let him die the worst of deaths!
It was thus that man rejected Christ—civilized man,
educated man, religious man! It was thus that the natural heart spoke out,
and showed the depths of its enmity and atheism—the extent of its desperate
unbelief. Yes, it was the unbelief of the human heart that
here manifested itself, and cried, "Crucify, crucify!"
All unbelief, then, is rejection of the Son of God.
Whatever be its evasions, and subterfuges, and excuses, and fair pretenses,
this is its essence—rejection of Jesus Christ. In thousands of cases it does
not reach the length of the rejection in Pilate's hall; but not the less
true is it that such is its true and ultimate form of expression; that to
such a height all unbelief is tending, and would assuredly rise, did
circumstances call it forth! And that the great reason why, in so many
cases, it does not ripen into this awfulness of aspect, is, that man is not
so directly confronted with the Son of God, face to face, and the natural
heart is not so explicitly shut up to the choice between Christ and
Barabbas, nor so immediately and peremptorily called to decide upon the
reception or rejection of the Son of God. Were the natural heart, even in
its best estate, called upon to speak out, by the demand being made upon it
for immediate and unreserved affection and allegiance to Messiah, it would
rise up into the same dreadful attitude of enmity, and manifest its
unbelief, in the same terrific outcry for the crucifixion of the Son of God,
"Crucify Him! Crucify Him!"
And why this desperate rejection; this hatred of man
towards Christ? For many reasons; but chiefly for this—that God's religion,
of which Christ is the beginning and the ending—is so thoroughly opposed to
man's religion, or man's ideas of religion, that to accept Jesus of Nazareth
would be a total surrender of self, a confession of the utter absence of all
human goodness; and an overturning of every religious idea or principle,
which the flesh had cherished and rested on! In such a case, and with such
an alternative, it does not seem so incredible that man should resist to the
uttermost the claims of Christ upon his faith and his heart. His alternative
is, the denial of self—or the denial of Christ; the rejection of his own
claims to be his own savior—or the rejection of the claims of Christ; the
crucifixion of the flesh—or the crucifixion of Christ. With such an
alternative, what will the natural unbelief of the human heart not resort
to; and what but the almightiness of the Divine Spirit can effectually
oppose the claims of self, and prevent the most daring rejection of Christ,
or turn that rejection into a cordial and trustful reception? Nothing else
will overcome the unbelief, or turn it into faith and love. Allow unbelief
to take its own way, and run its course, and it will end in the crucifixion
of the Lord of glory. It will prefer self, the flesh, the devil—the worst of
criminals to Christ.
"Do you want me to release 'the king of the Jews?" They
shouted back, "No, not him! Give us Barabbas!" John 18:39-40
It is supposed by many that such a thing as the rejection
of Christ could only have occurred among uneducated, uncivilized, lawless,
irreligious men. But no.
Education will not hinder rejection of Christ.
They who crucified Him were educated men; not ignorant and brutal.
Civilization will not hinder rejection of
Christ. It was the civilized Roman, and the more civilized Jew, who
crucified him. Civilization is a poor rampart against the assault of man's
Law will not hinder rejection of Christ. The
Roman is the representative of man's law, and the Jew of God's; yet both
combine to reject Christ's claims, and to crucify himself.
Religion will not hinder rejection of Christ.
Christ was crucified by men who had more of what man calls religion
than any other on the earth. They prayed, they fasted, they gave alms, they
multiplied sacrifices—yet they crucified Christ! It was the Scribes and
Pharisees, the religious and respectable men of Israel, who were the
foremost in rejecting Messiah. God's way of dealing with them, as announced
by Christ, was so opposed to their ideas of the way in which they ought to
be dealt with, that rejection of the claims of Jesus, and hatred of his
person, were necessary elements in, or at least indispensable deductions
from, their religion. How often among ourselves, does a man's religion, or
religiousness, or ritualism, form the great hindrance to his reception of
the gospel! It is not Christ that is his religion; it is his religion that
is his Christ! This being the case, Christ cannot be prized, or loved, or
trusted in; he can only be rejected, hated, crucified.
This rejection of Christ showed itself in various
aspects, in the different character and events described by the evangelists,
in this last scene in Jerusalem. In all of them, however, it is unbelief
that is showing itself—the same unbelief which still induces opposition
to Christ, the same unbelief which keeps an anxious sinner oftentimes so
long in darkness and distrust. And, as we judge of the real nature of a
thing best, when fully developed and carried out—so we learn the true nature
of all unbelief, from the modes in which it expressed itself at this great
scene of rejection, enacting at Jerusalem, from the hour that Judas sold his
Master, up to the moment when the thief railed on him from the cross.
Look at Judas then—there is unbelief. The traitor
is neither more nor less than an unbelieving man carrying out his unbelief
in betrayal of his Lord. His is the unbelief that treats Christ as a piece
of merchandise, bought and sold between man and man! O unbelieving man, you
are Judas, you are the traitor; for all unbelief is betrayal of the Lord!
Look at the disciples; "they all forsook him, and
fled." Professing to love him, they treated him as one unworthy to be
suffered for. That act of forsaking was the unbelief even of the converted
man, coming out and showing itself again. Especially in Peter do we see it.
In him there is open denial, and in that denial we see the old heart of
unbelief again speaking out. O backslider! remember this, all unbelief is a
forsaking of the Lord, a denial of the Master. Say what you will, this is
your crime. You do you think are not so bad as Peter. The difference is only
in degree, hardly even that.
Look at Herod; he mocks Jesus, and sets him at
nothing. Here is another phase of unbelief. O unbelieving man, you are
Herod; you and your companions are Herod with his men of war; for all
unbelief is mockery of the Lord. You say you never mocked him; yet your
unbelief, if unfolded, would make you a Herod.
Look at the Soldiers; they scourge and buffet him.
There again is the natural heart acting itself out. These indignities
and wounds, are but another utterance of man's enmity. O unbelieving man,
you are the executioner; for all unbelief is a buffeting and scourging of
the Son of God!
Look at the Scribes and Pharisees, the
Jewish crowds that demand his execution, and shout, "Crucify him!
crucify him!" There is the evil heart of unbelief giving vent to itself.
These crowds are fair specimens of the race; they are no worse than you are,
O unbelieving man. In like circumstances, you would have said and done the
same; for all unbelief is a crucifixion of the Son of God. You are the
Scribe, you are the Pharisee, you are the clamoring Jew; it is the voice of
your unbelief which cries, "Crucify him! let him die the death, let
him die the worst of deaths!"
Look at the thief that is nailed beside him; he
rails at him there. Ah, surely unbelief might have been silent in such
circumstances! Yet no; even upon the cross it reviles. O unbelieving man,
you are the reviler of the Son of God.
Look at the crowd around the cross; they wag their
head, and taunt, and jest. It is still but man's natural unbelief that is
speaking out. O unbelieving man, you are the taunter, you are the jester,
you are the mocker—of Jesus of Nazareth.
Look at the soldier who pierces his side, after he
has breathed his last. He is determined to make sure of his death. Unbelief
will not bear the thought that there should be the very chance of life left.
O unbelieving man, you are the soldier—it is your spear that is drawing out
the blood and water; it is your unbelief that not only says, Let him die the
death; but, let us make sure of his death; let there be no mistake as to
Learn, then, the true nature of all unbelief; its
deceitfulness and desperate malignity; its rooted hostility to Christ and to
his claims upon man; its determination to be satisfied with nothing but his
death; its resolute rejection of his person, and work, and grace; its
natural and unchangeable watchword, "Not this man—but Barabbas!" "Crucify
him! crucify him!"
Nor has this unbelief anything to say for itself. It
cannot be accounted for by anything in the object presented. "They hated me
without a cause" (John 15:25). "For my love—they give me hatred" (Psalm
109:5). This is the plain statement of the fact. The object hated, was most
loveable, most trustworthy, most glorious; but man would have none of it.
Here was the Being who, of all others, was most fitted to call up love and
trust; for here was the only-begotten of the Father, full of grace and
truth; here was the embodiment of divine love and loveableness—but God's
love is met with man's hatred; the most definitive revelation of divine
love, calls forth the most fearful utterance of human hatred and unbelief!
O man! can that heart of yours be anything but evil,
which thus deals with God and his love? Can that unbelief of yours be a
trifle? Can it be anything but the most resolute and guilty enmity; enmity
which, though it may often slumber for a season, yet which, the moment it
awakes and recovers strength, breaks forth in mockery against the Son of
God, and demands his instant condemnation and crucifixion, "Crucify him!
crucify him!" Be ashamed of it! Abhor it! Cast it utterly away!
When Christ comes again in his glory, how will unbelief
appear? It will be seen to be rejection of the Son of God—rejection
the same as Israel's. You will be of those that "pierced him." All who
distrust, all who standing aloof—will be seen in their proper character.
Your unbelief brings you among those who "have not obeyed the gospel," and
that brings you under the rod of him who comes to take vengeance upon such!
Christ may come soon; but, whether or not—let the thought of that
great day shut you up to immediate faith, immediate reception of
Him whom Israel crucified!