Dr. W. A. Criswell
11-13-66 8:15 a.m.
On the radio you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the message from one of the most dramatic of all the incidents in human history, and certainly one of the most dramatic in the Word of God. In the nineteenth chapter of the Gospel of John, reading the first several verses:
Then Pilate therefore took Jesus, and scourged Him.
And the soldiers plaited a crown of thorns, and put it on His head, and they put on Him a purple robe,
And said, Hail, King of the Jews! And they smote Him with their hands.
Pilate therefore went forth again, and saith unto them, Behold, I bring Him forth to you, that ye may know that I find no fault in Him.
Then came Jesus forth, wearing the crown of thorns, and the purple robe. And Pilate saith unto them, Behold the man!
Which is the text and the title of the message, Behold the Man.
When the chief priests therefore and officers saw Him, they cried out, saying, Crucify Him, crucify Him. Pilate saith unto them, Take ye Him, and crucify Him: but I find no fault in Him.
The Jews answered him, We have a law, and by our law He ought to die, because He made Himself the Son of God.
And the title of the subject this solemn and reverent hour is Behold the Man. As John wrote it in Greek Idou o anthropos or as it is translated in Latin, ecce homo.
And that explanation of Pontius Pilate, presenting the Lord, "Behold the man," ecce homo, has captured the imagination of the Christian artists of all time. So much so that a picture of our Lord in the days of His suffering, crowned with thorns, a picture like that is called an ecce homo. And what has happened to the captured imaginations of the artists of the ages is exactly the thing that captured the attention of Pontius Pilate when he made the explanation. For the Roman governor, knowing of the innocence of the Lord and expressing it, nevertheless bowing to the will of a bloodthirsty and clamorous mob, the governor had turned over to his soldiers the Lord Jesus for them to scourge Him in preparation for the crucifixion. Some of these authors that I have read in describing a Roman crucifixion, some of these authors say that a criminal who was condemned to death died more under the terrible lashing and scourging of that awful trial of whipping, flagellation, than he did from the nails driven through his hands and his feet. And in preparation for His execution, Jesus had been delivered by the Roman governor to the soldiers. And those coarse, rude, crude Roman legionnaires seeking any kind of an opportunity to ridicule and to scorn the Jews took advantage of this deliverance into their hands. So they mocked Him as a king. But if a king comes to his royal dignity he must have a crown; so the Roman soldiers wove a crown out of thorns and pressed it upon His head. But a king must have a robe; somewhere in the palace they found a dirty cast off purple robe, and that was the robe of the king of the Jews. But a king must also have a scepter; so one of the soldiers found a reed and put it in His hand, and this was His insignia of royalty. And they bowed down the knee in buffoonery, and in mockery, and in ridicule, and in scorn, and said, "Hail king of the Jews" [Matthew 27:27-31 Mark 15:16-20,John 19:2-5].
And while these soldiers were in their coarse, blasphemous humor, making fun and ridiculing the Son of God, Pilate apparently happened to pass by and saw Him in the hands of his soldiers, scourged and bloody, and crowned with thorns, and a cast off purple robe around His shoulders, and a reed for a scepter in His hand. He made such a pitiful spectacle, so innocent, so unresisting, that Pilate thought, "Surely, surely a bloodthirsty mob could not further clamor for the life of one so gentle and so innocent and so suffering as that." So Pilate took Jesus and led Him out on the balcony above the clamoring mob below and stood by His side and made that explanation: in Greek, Idou o anthropos; in Latin, ecce homo; in English, "Behold the man" [John 19:5].
As we look upon Him today with our eyes, suffering, scourged, crowned with thorns, a mock reed in His hand and a cast off purple robe around His shoulders, as we look upon Him we who are taught in the Christian faith cannot help but think of the contrast between this reviled and despised and rejected man and the Prince of glory that He was, when before His incarnation He led all the heavenly hosts in all of the celestial ramparts of heaven. As the Scriptures have said, "And let all the angels worship Him" [Hebrews 1:6]. Think of the exalted estate of our Lord before the world began, before the foundations of the universe were set, before the morning stars sang together; how often is that presented in the Bible? As Paul will say, "Jesus, who is the image of the invisible God, the first born of all creation" [Colossians 1:15]; or as the author of Hebrews will say: "The Son by whom were made all things, Being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of his power" [Hebrews 1:2, 3], "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God. And the Word was made flesh, and we beheld His glory" [John 1:1, 14].
Think of the Lord in heaven, with the myriads of multitudes of innumerable angels worshiping and adoring God’s Son; and now, look upon Him, crowned with thorns and despised, and rejected. The contrast staggers the imagination. This is Simeon’s prophecy when the child was born: "Behold, this child is set for the rising and the falling again of many in Israel. And for a sign that shall be spoken against" [Luke 2:34], and then turning to his mother added, "Yea, and a sword shall pierce through thine own soul also" [Luke 2:35]. What has happened?
Or think again, the first Christmas, when He was born, and an angel appeared heralding, trumpeting, announcing in glory, from the ramparts of heaven itself, and to the startled shepherds said:
Behold, behold I bring you great tidings of glorious, wonderful joy;
For unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.
And this shall be a sign unto you, you shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.
And the startled and amazed shepherds said, "Let us go to Bethlehem to see this marvelous thing which is come to pass. And behold heaven was opened, and there appeared the choirs of angels," who had been rehearsing since the dawn of creation, "and they praised God saying, Glory, glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace, good will toward men" [Luke 2:13-15]. And now, look upon Him, Idou o anthropos, ecce homo, "Behold the man," crowned with thorns, scourged, despised, and rejected. What has happened?
Or, think of our Master in the days of His flesh and in His Galilean, Perean, and Judean ministries: healing the sick, opening the eyes of the blind, cleansing the lepers, preaching the gospel to the poor, the lowly, humble, precious, friend of mankind, the Lord Jesus. And now, look upon Him, Idou o anthropos, ecce homo, "behold the man." Is this the reception of God by the human family, and is this the reward of Him who wrought as no man ever wrought? You know, I can easily imagine in that throng below on the pavement before Pilate’s judgment hall, I can easily imagine as the priests persuaded the people, "Crucify Him, crucify Him" [John 19:5], I can easily imagine in that throng a blind man who would say, "But he opened my eyes, but he opened my eyes." I can easily think of a leprous man who would say, "But He cleansed me of my leprosy." Why I can even think of some who were dead, who would say, "But He raised me from the dead." What an amazing contrast; what He was, what He is, what He ever shall be, God Himself, deity; and how rejected and despised and mistreated of men. Who did that? Whose fault was that? This is the greatest tragedy in human history. This is the sorriest, darkest moment in all the story of mankind. Who did that?
Oh, we have many answers. There are those who say, "God did it, God did it. God is the author of sin and suffering; God did that." And how many times in human life and story is there the inclination on the part of men to say, "This is something God did, it’s God’s fault"? And they curse the fate and fortunes that has overwhelmed them. Don’t you remember reading in the life of the patriarch Job, when Job lost his fortune, and lost his house, and lost his goods, and lost his health, finally Job’s wife said to him, "Curse God and commit suicide. Curse God and die" [Job 2:9].
"It’s God’s fault; the reason there’s trouble in the world, it’s God’s fault. The reason there’s war in the world, it’s God’s fault. The reason there’s suffering and sin in the world, is God’s fault. And the reason I have fallen into these providences so evil and disastrous, it’s God’s fault; God did it." There are those who say, "It’s God’s fault." And there are world without end people who would say, "It’s His own fault; he got Himself into that trouble, He made his bed, let Him lay in it." World without end are those who judge our misfortunes like that, "He did that, that’s his fault. Well, why wasn’t he a better manager, why didn’t he arrange things better?" This great doctor in Africa who recently died, Dr Albert Schweitzer, wrote a book; and that’s the thesis of it. It is called "The Quest for the Historical Jesus". And in that book Albert Schweitzer wrote, he said that "the Lord expected an apocalyptic descent of the kingdom of heaven, and when it didn’t happen he died in frustration, and defeat, and despair. It’s his fault; he should have managed better, he did it himself." Then there are those, of course, who say, "It was Pilate’s fault. A weak and vacillating ruler who was without courage, and without strength; he delivered him to be crucified, it’s Pilate’s fault." And there are those who say, "It’s the Jews’ fault. Who delivered him to scourging, and to crucifixion, and to death? It was the Jews’; they hated Him, and they despised Him, and they refused Him. It’s the Jews’ fault." Then there are those who would say, "It’s Judas’ fault. He sold Him for thirty pieces of silver; he was the one responsible for His death. It’s Judas’ fault." Then there are those who would say, "Why, the soldiers did it, of course. It’s the Roman soldiers’ fault!" Who planted that crown of thorns? Who put around His shoulders that mock purple robe? Who put that reed in His hand? Who bowed down in scorn and said, "Hail, King of the Jews"? [John 19:3] Who drove the nails through His hands and His feet? It was the soldiers’ fault; they were the ones that did it.
I can hear through the passing of the centuries, I can hear Pontius Pilate as he answers in despair and in agony, "Oh, no, not I. It is not my fault, not I. I washed my hands in water [Matthew 27:24]; it is not my fault. I did it not. It is not my fault; I did it not. Lay not to my charge, I did it not." If you’ve ever been in Lucerne, Switzerland, Lucerne is built right by a mountain called Mount Pilates, Mount Pilate. And I asked a citizen, "Isn’t it strange that here in Lucerne, Switzerland is a mountain named after Pontius Pilate, Mount Pilate?" And he referred me to a piece of history that I had forgotten about. When Pontius Pilate the Roman governor was dismissed from his governorship, his procurator-ship in Judea, he was cast out and disgraced, finally died of suicide, his body placed in Italy, then exhumed and placed in Lake Lucerne. And the legend is that the peasants in Switzerland walking by that lake in the late twilight and evening can see the body of Pontius Pilate rise from the depths of that sea and wash his hands in the clear blue water of Lake Lucerne. "It is not my fault, I did it not."
And I can hear the Jews for these two millenniums, cry out and say, "Would you bring this man’s blood upon us, and upon our children? We did it not; it is not our fault." I can hear the Roman soldiers as they would so earnestly avow, "But we are men under authority. We but executed under the command and under the aegis, and by the authority of the Roman government; we just carried out commands. It is not our fault." Who did that? Who is responsible for that? Whose fault is that? Whose guilt is that? It must be we all had a part. It must be that my sins pressed on His brow the crown of thorns, my sins drove those great nails through His hands and His feet; it must be our sins crucified the Son of God. Oh, oh! This is how the human family – and I am a part of it – receive the Prince of glory; and this is the cost, the agony, the tears, the sobs, the cries, the blood, the death, that pays the penalty for my sins. Could it be? Is such a thing possible? Oh, oh! Oh, oh! Idou o anthropos, ecce homo, "behold the man" [John 19:5]. And as we look upon so tragic and so sorrowful a sight there are some things that immediately come into our souls, immediately. And if there is any realization, any cognizance, any quickening of the Spirit, there is in us a deep, a spiritual, a reverential response, "O Lord, O Lord."
Count Zinzendorf, a rich, young, Moravian, nobleman, living a life of carefree affluent nobility, yet the Spirit of God making appeal to his soul, was walking through the Dusseldorf Gallery one day and saw an Ecce Homo, a glorious picture portrayal of the suffering and passion of our Lord; crowned with thorns, mocked, despised, and rejected; a beautiful painting in itself. And the subject so startling and appealing, and underneath the Count read the Latin inscription, Hoc feci pro te, quid facis pro me? "This have I done for thee, what hast thou done for Me?" He stood transfixed before that picture, bowed, knelt, and answered, "This will I do for Thee." And he arose and gave his life and devoted his fortune as long as breath did last, that incomparably glorious and dedicated count, nobleman, gave himself for the evangelization of the world; the first modern missionary movement, the Moravians. It was the Moravian that won John Wesley and Charles Wesley to Christ, and sent them out preaching up and down the streets of England, over here in Georgia. It was the Moravians that lay back of this great Baptist missionary movement under William Carey and Andrew Fuller. It was the dedication of that glorious nobleman that ushered in the most amazing of all of the outreaches for the poor, and the lost, and the others in these missionaries who go to places where nobody else goes to, and preaches the gospel in languages no one else ever heard of. And it all began from the dedication of that nobleman, affluent, gifted, looking upon the suffering and the passion of our Lord.
Was it for crimes that I have done, He groaned upon the tree?
Amazing pity, grace unknown, and love beyond degree!
But drops of grief can ne’er repay, the debt of love I owe,
Here Lord, I give my self away, ’tis all that I can do.
["At the Cross," Isaac Watts]
Will you do that? The great apostle to the Gentiles, the apostle Paul, avowed, "You are not your own, you are bought with a price" [1 Corinthians 6:19, 20]. God died for you. Jesus suffered for you. In His own body, carried our sins to the tree, laid down His life for us; in His grace became poor that we, through His poverty, might be rich. Hoc feci pro te, "This have I done for thee." Quid facis pro me? "What hast thou done for Me?"
"O Lord, I give you my whole life; what I am, what I have, every dream, what I could ever hope to be. Lord, no longer mine, but Thine." Would you? Would you? In this moment that we press this appeal, nobody leave, nobody move. If anybody moves, let it be toward God and toward this holy altar. In this great balcony round, on this lower floor, as all of us pray and share in this reverent appeal, somebody you, today, give your heart to Jesus; would you come and stand by me? A family you, a couple you, to put your life in the fellowship of this dear church, would you come and stand by me? One somebody you, taking Jesus as your Savior, come and give me your hand, "Preacher, I give you my hand, a sign that I give my heart to Jesus." Or to answer an especial call from heaven; however the Spirit shall lay the appeal upon your heart, will you come? All of us standing in a moment, praying, prayerfully sharing this song of appeal; if God bids you here, make it now, come this sacred, holy hour, while we stand and while we sing.