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his esteem, and surely in ours also, Christ's crown outweighs them all. He gave his life for it; and alone, of all monarchs, he was crowned at his coronation by the hands of Death. Others cease to be kings when they die. By dying he became a king. He laid his head in the dust that he might become " head over all;" he entered his kingdom through the gates of the grave, and ascended the throne of the universe by the steps of a cross.
The connection between our Lord's sufferings and kingly claims marks some of the most touching scenes of his history. In what character did his people reject him? It was as a king; they cried " We will not have this man to reign over us." In what guise did the soldiers ridicule and revile him? It was as a king; "they clothed him with purple, and platted a crown of thorns, and put it about his head." For what crime was he crucified? It was because he claimed to be a king. The noble character of the sufferer shone through the meanest circumstances of his death, and was read in the inscription that stood above his dying head, "Jesus of Nazareth the King of the Jews." His royal claims have been lightly thought of, and often trampled beneath the heavy foot of power. Men have dared to treat them with scorn. Yet he, who is surely the best judge of their importance and value, has himself taught us a very different lesson; and in proof of that, let us now turn to two separate occasions on which our Lord refused to abate one iota of these claims—maintaining them under circumstances of the strongest temptation to do otherwise.
Turn your eye on that desert, where, Heaven and Hell watching the issue at a distance, alone and without attendants, the two mightiest potentates that ever met on earth, meet—not for conference, but for conflict. Knowing that he has another now to deal with than a guileless woman—the beautiful but fragile vessel his cursed hand shattered in Eden—Satan enters the lists, armed with his deepest craft. He knows that Jesus stands before him, a poor man; who, though aspiring to universal empire, has neither friend nor follower, neither fame nor rank. Never was deeper poverty! He presents himself before us in its most touching aspect—he has neither a morsel of bread to eat, nor a bed to lie on. Ever suiting the temptation to the tempted, and, like a skillful general, assaulting the citadel on what he judges to be its weakest side, Satan comes to Jesus with no bribe for passions so low as avarice, or lust, or ease, or self-indulgence. He addresses that love of power, which was his own perdition, and is the infirmity of loftiest minds. Tacitly acknowledging, by the magnificence of the temptation, how great is the virtue of him whom he tempts, he offers him the prize of universal empire. By somo phantasm of diabolical power, he presents a panoramic view of " all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them ;" and when he thinks the spell has wrought, and that he has roused the dormant passion to its highest pitch, he turns round to Jesus, saying, " All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me." He shall, and shall for ever, be king, if he will for once yield up his claims, and receive the kingdom at Satan's hand. No; neither from such hands, nor on such conditions, will our Lord receive the sceptre. He stands firm upon his own right to it; and, rather than yield that up, is ready to endure the cross and despise the shame. He turns with holy scorn from the temptation, and foils the Enemy with the words, " Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve."
Turn now to another scene. Jesus stands before Pilate. Alone? Not now alone; worse than alone. Deserted by the few humble friends he had, without one to know him, he is confronting malignant and powerful accusers. A savage crowd surrounds him. Blind to his divine excellence, deaf to the calm voice of reason, dead to gentle pity, they glare on him with their eyes; they gnash their teeth at him; nor are restrained but by the steady port and resolute demeanor of these Roman guards from rushing in like a pack of blood-hounds, and tearing him to pieces. Blessed Lord! now, now mayest thou say, " My soul is among lions; and I lie even among them that are set on fire, even the sons of men, whose teeth are spears and arrows, and their tongue a sharp sword." There, in that hour, see how his life hangs on a thread, on a single word. Every charge they have brought against him has broken down—bursting into spray and foam, as I have seen the sea-wave that has launched itself upon a rock. Leaving their witnesses to convict themselves of perjury, he preserves, on his part, unbroken silence. Serene and unmoved he stands the cruel pelting of the storm. Shame to his chosen disciples, shame to his followers, shame even to the thousands he had blessed and cured, not one is there to espouse his cause; and, boldly stepping out, to say, in the face of that infuriate crowd," I know the man; I know him to be the purest, kindest, greatest, best of men. Assembly of murderers! crucify him not; or, if you will perpetrate so foul a crime, crucify me with him."
Such are the circumstances in which Pilate puts his question, " Art thou the King of the Jews?" On this question, and our Lord's answer, everything is now to turn. The crisis has come. His fate is in the balance. Let him say, no, and resign his claim—he lives; and, the baffled crowd dividing before him like the sea of old before the host of Israel, he leaves the bar for life and liberty. Let him maintain his silence—continue dumb, he is safe. Unless he compromise himself, this coward judge condemns not" innocent blood." Have you ever been present in a court of justice when the bell rang, and the jury returned, and the foreman rose to pronounce a verdict of death or life on the pale, anxious, trembling wretch who stood before you? Then you can fancy the deep, hushed, breathless silence, with which judge, and accusers, and the whole multitude, bend forward to catch our Lord's reply. If he claims to be a king, he seals his fate. If he renounces and disavows his right, the Roman sets him at liberty. Our Lord foresees this. He has a full foreknowledge of all the consequences of the word he is now to speak. Yet he claims the crown. Refusing to abandon, or even to conceal his kingly character, he returns to Pilate this bold reply, " Thou sayest;" in other words, " I am a king "—King of the Jews.
How do these facts illustrate the preeminent importance which Jesus attached to his office and character as a king! They do more than illustrate, they demonstrate it. To explain this, let me recall a recent circumstance to your recollection. When our Indian empire was shaken to its foundations, and, as many feared, tottering to its fall, the enemy in one instance offered terms of compromise. They were rejected. Unmoved by the most adverse fortunes, undismayed by the pestilence, starvation, and murder, which stared them in the face, with the hope of relief burning lower and lower as the weary days wore on, our gallant countrymen, in the darkest hour and crisis of their fortunes, would listen to no compromise. They could die but not yield; and so sent back this stern answer, "We refuse to treat with mutineers." And if we would yield up no right in the hour of our greatest weakness and terrible extremity, far less shall we do so with the tide of battle turned in our favor, and that enemy crushed, or crouching in abject terror at our feet. Now, our Lord had the strongest temptations to abandon his kingly claims; and if he refused to give them up in the desert, where he had not a morsel to eat, and at the bar, when to have parted with them would have saved his life, he is not likely now certainly to yield one jot or tittle of what belongs to him as a King. He has no inducement to do so. A friendless prisoner no more, he stands at the right hand of God; the head which was bound round with a thorn wreath, now wears the crown of earth and heaven; and the hand they mocked with a reed sways, over angels, men, and devils, the sceptre of universal empire. Think you that Christ will allow Satan, or the world, or the flesh, to pluck from his power what they could not wring from his weakness? Never. He will never consent to share his throne with rivals from whom he won it. He claims to reign supreme in your hearts, in every heart which his grace has renewed, over all whom he has conquered by love and redeemed with blood.