Monday, 25 March 2013
Behold the Man by Abraham Kuyper
BEHOLD, THE MAN
From His Decrease at Jerusalem. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1928.
Then that Parthian or that Syrian or that Egyptian would have committed a crime against Jesus, but the world as such would not have been guilty of the judicial murder of God’s Firstborn. It would have remained a private piece of shame on the part of this Satrap or of that lawless people, and would not have concerned us as a race.
The Church of Christ has felt this, and therefore in her creed she has confessed: “suffered under Pontius Pilate.” Not as a superfluity. Not as a reminder of an incident, which is neither here nor there. No, the Church has made this a part of her confession, as though she would say: The Emperor of Rome was lord of the whole world; in the whole world there was no nobler development of jurisprudence than that which went out from Rome; and in the name of the Emperor of the whole world, by him who sat as judge in this highest developed form of jurisprudence, Jesus has been delivered to the cruel death of the Cross. For thus the whole world stands guilty of His cruel death, and it was the highest form of justice, found among men, which outraged itself, when it passed sentence of death upon Jesus. Hence it is indeed the world as world, humanity as such, that appointed Jesus unto death, and no one of us can wash his hands in innocence, but we all have to accuse ourselves, and to confess our mortal sin before God.
This is the reason, why the Evangelists give so brief an account of the trial before the Sanhedrin, and one so circumstantial of that before Pontius Pilate.
Not what the Sanhedrin in wild fanaticism asserted, but what Pontius Pilate in calmly pronounced sentence would decide, is what here counted.
And Pilate shrank from it.
He felt that it was unjust. He did not want to do it. At first he did not dare. He exhausted himself in subterfuges, by which to stop the mouth of the Sanhedrin. Intentionally, knowingly, to deliver to the executioner, one, whose guilt was fabricated, whose innocence was clear as sunlight, was to a Roman judge cruel, pusillanimous and dishonorable.
That in this combat Pilate finally succumbed, was our succumbency; it was the violation of right perpetrated against Him, Who died to regain our right with God.
Only one way of escape might still be open: human feeling might raise a voice against this violation of right.
On the square of Gabbatha the great multitude was gathered. In the hearts of those people was a twofold trait. On one hand cruelty, that revels in the sight of pain. But also on the other hand humanity, that feels the urge of pity at the sight of the chosen victim.
Upon that first trait banked the high priests and their accomplices, and with wild gesticulations they kindled in the heart of the vast crowd fanatical cruelty, calling out and crying: To the cross with this miscreant, Away with Him, Away with Him. Crucify Him!
But Pilate trusted in that other trait, the human feeling, the trait of commiseration with, and compassion for a victim. And there was promise in this of much, when he, the stern Roman and severe judge, took measures to waken that human feeling.
From the court-room he came outside again, and standing on the steps of the house of judgment, he briefly addressed the masses as follows: “See, I bring Jesus out to you once more, that ye might know that I find no fault in Him.”
And then by his officers he ordered Jesus to be brought out from the court-room to the front steps, robed not in the garb of the hated rabbi, but in that of a mock king. With a purple mantle about His shoulders, a crown of thorns upon His head, and with a reed, as though it were a sceptre, in His hand.
And when all the people, in the first moment of surprise, in silence looked upon Jesus, Pilate, in true Roman fashion, embraced the opportunity, very briefly, as a Roman speaks, to say to the multitude: “Behold, the man” (John 19: 5).
He counted upon the tragic contrast. The mock-robe, and the reposeful, holy face of the Christ; the restful-tender and yet so touching appearance of Jesus’ entire person.
As though he would say: For one moment forget this wild noise, and the clamor of your leaders for His blood. Consider what you do. See Who here stands before you.
Behold, the man. Think no more of the Rabbi; no more of the hard accusations. Have an eye to the man; to your victim. And if there is any human feeling in your heart, confess, is this a man to put to death without just cause.
Pilate might perchance have reached a stronger effect, if he had left off that mock-robe; but he evidently counted on the power, which mockery sometimes exercises, of breaking the tension of seriousness.
The report had gone out from the Sanhedrin that Jesus was a false Messiah, and that had excited the minds of the people against Jesus. This in all seriousness had made the people angry with Him. Against this the resounding cry had been raised.
Might not ridicule of so foolish a pretension unnerve this frenzy of the people?
What danger can there be, that this mock-king should present Himself as the real Messiah? What is this but the imagination of fools? What could Rome, what could the Jews fear from this impotent, this almost silly man?
Of danger there is no semblance or appearance. Of effort to lay claim to sovereignty there is not the faintest notion.
Here is no pretention, and though He might have called Himself a King, so foolish an assertion betrayed but its own emptiness.
Behold Him, look at Him. Is He one to lay snares for your national peace? Is this Jesus a man to turn your State upside down?
Behold, the man. What is He but a man like other men. Perchance one given to mental aberration and conceit. But as He stands there, is He not rather a helpless than a disturbing figure?
For once think not of what has been told about Him, but see Him Himself.
He, Who here stands before you, is after all a man; is there in your human heart no pity for this man?
Pilate’s endeavor did not succeed.
What he achieved, was merely, that human feeling hardened itself against Jesus, and this added new and bitter woe to His suffering. For nothing affects one so bitterly as to perceive that in hot, blind passion, even ordinary human feeling is denied him.
No one can now say, that the authorities alone incurred guilt with regard to Jesus, for that the people at least pleaded for the innocent One, and human feeling asserted itself in compassion for Jesus. No, with public authority, legal verdict, and people’s plebiscite, and human feeling, in brief, with all the energies of our human heart and our human life, we have arrayed ourselves against Jesus, and the wild passion, mad with fury against Jesus, is by nothing abated.
That, Behold, the man, spoken by Pilate, and greeted by the people wth new outcries for His blood, consummated the guilt of the world wherewith it has sinned against the Holy One.
There is more.
As in the saying of Caiaphas: “It is expedient that one man should die for the people” (John 11:50), there lay a deep, prophetic truth, which he himself did not perceive, so Pilate in this: Behold, the man, gave expression to a mystery, of which he himself had no idea.
What the world lacks, what in all its spiritual conflicts the world seeks, is the man. Not man sunken away from himself, such as every one finds him in his own heart; not fallen man whom we meet in one another every day. But the man, who can reconcile us again to the fact of our being man ourselves. The man about whom to enthuse. The man, as our ideal. The man who lifts us up from our humiliation, and who restores us again to what in ourselves as man we lack.
And the answer to this burning inquiry the Church of Christ has understood to be the Ecce, homo. Behold the man.
The only true man, the Christ has become to her.
And in this mystery to the eye of her soul the mock-robe changes into glorious reality.
The man, Who, because He alone was truly man, is not a mock-prince, but Lord and King of us ali.