by Evangelist Billy Sunday (1862-1935)
"What shall I do then with Jesus which is called Christ?" —Matthew 27:22
Nineteen hundred years ago a star poised above a lowly manger in Bethlehem and above the moonlit hills of Judea the angels heralded the beginning of the life of Jesus Christ upon this earth—He who came to teach us the religion of human kindness, brotherly love and salvation through repentance and faith in His shed blood.
No matter what He said or did, the Jews refused to acknowledge His claims as the Messiah. Their enmity finally culminated in the greatest tragedy that the brutality of man ever committed, or the eye of God ever witnessed—the murder of Jesus Christ under false testimony. Jealous of His popularity and rejecting His divinity, they resolved at all hazards to kill Him.
Not having the power of life and of death in their own hands, or tribunals, they renounced Him before Pilate, the Roman governor. To stir up his enmity, they said that He was an impostor, that He had stirred up sedition and that He was an enemy of the government.
Pilate examined these charges made against Him but, being unable to prove Him guilty of any offense worthy of death, proposed that they release Him. But the rabble shrieked and screamed: "No! Away with Him! Give us Barabbas!"
Next to Jesus, Pilate is the scene, and from his lips fall the words I have taken for my text. When they cried, "Barabbas!" he turned to them and said: 'Well, then, what will I do with Jesus which is called the Christ? I got rid of Barabbas at your suggestion, but I still have Jesus on my hands.'
Pilate was very near the line. He tried to reason with them. Then he arose from the throne, took Jesus by the hand, led Him out in front of them and asked, "What shall I do then with Jesus which is called Christ?"
So I lead Him out before this audience tonight and ask you the same question Pilate asked the crowd that surged around the throne that day. Pilate was confronted, my friends, with difficulties. He had many things to encourage him. He had his wife's dream. The story of Mrs.
Pilate is very briefly told in the Bible, in one verse of Scripture. It is no evidence of her worth and character as a woman that God condescended to reveal Himself in a dream to her. He revealed Himself in a dream to Pharaoh, to Nebuchadnezzar. Yet for all we know, Mrs. Pilate might have been a very reverent, devout woman, constantly on the alert to save her husband from the difficulties into which she knew his miserable, pliable temper would lead him. Somehow, while she slept, God worried her by a dream. What He revealed, I do not know. Presumably it was about Jesus and the part her husband was to play in this tragedy. (They couldn't put Him on the cross without the consent of Pilate.)
She sent a messenger to Pilate with the plea: 'Have thou nothing to do with this just man: for I have suffered many things this day in a dream because of him. Have nothing to do with him.'
So we have the personality of Jesus. Never had such a personality appeared before Pilate for sentence. There He stood in His calmness, in His purity, in His power—more beautiful than a dream of Pericles.
I am frank to tell you that if I were on a jury, the personality of the man would have a big drag with me—almost as much as what the man on the witness stand would say. If I were called upon to try a man like Bryan, or Roosevelt, I am frank to tell you that his personality would have a tremendous drag with your Uncle Fuller.
Pilate had the personality of Jesus. He had the miracles of Jesus. I do not know that Pilate had ever witnessed Christ's performing a miracle. I do not know that Pilate had ever seen a man or woman who had been a recipient of the power of Jesus. Positive am I that he knew about the miracles, for they were current conversation. There was no section of the country where he could not find somebody whom Jesus Christ had benefited, either by opening their eyes or curing their lameness.
So while certain things influenced Pilate for Jesus, other things discouraged him. And while God is trying to bring influence to bear toward making you a Christian, the Devil is bringing influence to bear toward keeping you away from Jesus.
So Pilate had these things to consider: first, what would the Jews say? The Jews were at this time under the control of the Romans, who were severe in their exactions; and Pilate was the very triple essence of severity. So harsh was he that some of the influential Jews had gone to Rome to intercede with Caesar to have Pilate recalled and a more kind and humane man placed over them in Jerusalem.
Pilate knew that these Jews had no use for Jesus. He also knew that if they heard that he had thrown his influence on the side of Jesus, it would only increase their enmity and their hatred and they would bring stronger influence to bear. Pilate figured: "These Jews up at Jerusalem have no use for Jesus. They say He is a fraud. If they hear that I say He is not a fraud, then they will have no use for me. But if they hear that I have denounced Him, I will win their friendship, they will withdraw their opposition and I will hold my job."
Pilate was willing to let that gang nail Jesus Christ to the cross in order to keep their friendship and hold his job. All over the land today there are people who are willing to do the same thing for a trifling reason. Pilate, my friends, asked himself: "What would the Jews say about it?"
Pilate should not have yielded to their clamor, but should have been willing to sacrifice his office and his life to avoid convicting Jesus Christ, an innocent Person. It was that Jewish hierarchy that threatened old Pilate as an officeholder.
Pilate was a stand-pat, free-lunch, pie-counter, pliable, plastic, lickspittle, rat-hole, tin-horn, weasel-eyed, wardheeling, grafting politician of his day, pure and simple. Old Pilate was a direct product of the political system of Rome. He was a typical machine politician. And there is no more low-down scoundrel on earth than a mere typical machine politician.
So, "What will the Jews say?"
Listen, "What will Caesar say?" (Caesar's word was law.)
Pilate says: 'If Caesar at Rome hears that I have let Jesus go, and by that act admitted that I believe His claims are just, he won't stand for it; so off will come my head; I will surely lose my job. But if Caesar hears that I say this man Jesus is a fraud and that I let them put Him on the cross,, he will know that I am at my job, working for the interests of Rome. I will win Caesar's favor and keep my job.'
Oh, he was willing to sacrifice Jesus Christ to please old Caesar and to please the gang that had no use for Jesus Christ. I despise a man like that. But, hold on! I don't have to go back to old Pilate—I don't have to go out of this city to find people of the same low-down type as was old Pilate.
Pilate often heard of Jesus; no doubt he was prejudiced against Him, and was longing for the chance to pass sentence against Jesus. I have imagined the look of wonder that must have swept over the face of Pilate as Jesus was ushered into his presence. Pilate turned to Him and said: 'Art thou the Son of God?'
Jesus answered: 'I am.' He was either the Son of God, conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead and buried; or He was a bastard, for He was born out of wedlock.
He was either conceived by the Holy Ghost or He was an illegitimate offspring of a Jewish harlot.
Away with your damnable Unitarian theory that makes Jesus a bastard! My mother taught me that the Good Book didn't lie. And if Jesus Christ wasn't the Son of God, it does lie. My mother taught me that a good man didn't lie. And if Jesus Christ wasn't the Son of God, He was a liar, and all the teachings of the Bible are false.
I have often tried to imagine how different the early history might have been had there been in Jerusalem at that time a great Jewish daily, a string of popular newspapers down through Asia Minor—a Hebrew Lord Northcliffe, or a Jim Keeley of the Chicago Tribune, or a Pulitzer or a Hearst. Just imagine what a hard time those high priests would have had, had there been a syndicate of newspapers playing upon the front page a three-column display headline about the villainy of that little crowd of religious bigots and crooked politicians who were intent on murdering Jesus Christ, the One who stood for the common people as no other man in history had stood and no other man in history ever will stand.
So old Pilate called for a basin of water, walked out before the crowd, washed his hands and said: 'I wash my hands of His blood. I find no fault in Him.'
If he had washed his old black heart at the same time, he would have been a clean man.
There has come from across the seas a book bearing the strange title, Letters From Hell. The introduction was written by George McDonald. In that book Pilate is represented in the lost world bending over a stream of water. (I think the author must have gotten his wires crossed. A stream of water in Hell would be the limit, according to my idea. That is just like the average fool novel writer anyway.) Pilate is represented bending over, dipping his hands in the water. Some one touches him on the shoulder and says: "Will they never be clean?" And with a shriek of agony that rang through the lost world he cried: "Oh, will they never be clean! No!"
Poor Pilate! The blood of Jesus has been on you for nineteen hundred years in Hell. It will be on you through an unending eternity. You had your chance that day in front of the gang in Jerusalem, but you were willing to let them nail Him to the cross rather than stand by the side of Jesus Christ and His truth.
"What shall I do then with Jesus which is called Christ?"
He didn't have the courage of his convictions. He was convinced that Jesus was right. Oh, if Pilate had bared his back and said, "This Man is on the level; you can take me and crucify me, but you can't touch one hair of His head"—he would have taken his stand in the same company with Joseph of Arimathaea and other famous men. We would have been glad to name our children after him. But tonight we speak his name with ignominy and repulsion. He had his chance. He was a miserable, white-livered coward.
Now, when old Pilate heard that Herod was in town he was glad to get rid of Jesus. So he shoved Him over to Herod. Herod thought that Jesus was sort of a sleight-of-hand performer—legerdemain, Chautauqua entertainer and had a bunch of high rollers; so he asked Jesus to come up and perform a few miracles just to entertain the crowd. Jesus answered the old fox never a word.
So they secured Him and sent Him back to old Pilate. Herod had heard John the Baptist preach. John had said: 'It isn't right for you to have your brother Philip's wife.' Herod wanted Jesus and his brother Philip's wife, too; but he could not have both. So he turned down Jesus and kept his brother Philip's wife, which was against the law.
Is William Jennings Bryan a fool? Is he a believer in Jesus Christ as the Son of God? What are you going to do with the Christ of these Christian men?
Was the late William McKinley a fool? When the assassin's bullet struck him down at Buffalo, fondly and reverently did he pray that he would be spared. When they gave him the anesthetic and the doctors bent over him to catch what might have been his last words, he was muttering the Lord's Prayer. We smiled, dried our tears, shook hands and forgot our political differences.
Then the relapse came and we were informed that he was growing worse. They sent for his wife. He looked up and said: "It's God's will. His way, not ours, be done." McKinley started to repeat, "Nearer, My God to Thee, Nearer to Thee," and the lamp of life flickered and went out forever.
Down the streets of Buffalo went the funeral procession and the band played, "Nearer, My God to Thee." The railroad track from Buffalo to Washington was lined with people who stood with bowed, uncovered heads and tear-stained cheeks as they sang, "Nearer, My God to Thee."
I journeyed to Canton that I might be present at the funeral. Five hours I stood on the street corner, opposite the Stark County Courthouse where his body was to lie in state. The booming cannon told us that the funeral train had arrived. Down the funeral procession came, and bands, with muffled drum, played, "Nearer, My God to Thee."
The hearse stopped opposite to where I stood, and the detachment of sailors from the battleship Indiana and soldiers from the regular army drew out the coffin and carried it into the courthouse where it was to lie in state.
Up dashed a carriage. Out leaned that giant of the west, Theodore Roosevelt. By his side was Elihu Root. By his side was Doctor Ritchie. I stood and watched Admiral Croinshield and Admiral Farquhar. Then I saw General Otis, just returned from the Philippines, and General Gillespie, both Roman Catholics, but both earnest, devout Christians who believed in Jesus Christ. By their side walked the finest specimen of manhood I have ever looked upon—Lieutenant General Nelson A. Miles.
Up the steps hobbled my friend, General David B. Henderson, of Dubuque, Iowa, then speaker of the House of Representatives. By his side was William B. Ellison. I stood and gazed upon men from the North and men from the South; Democrats and Republicans of all classes. Then they were given the privilege to walk through, and I was among the first two hundred to go through. When I looked at the dead president's pale, upturned face, my eyes were blinded with tears and I groped my way out of the north door.
I stood there bathed in the perfect sunlight of a perfect September day, and as I stood there I said to myself: "Hail to God! I stand with the best men of this nation when I stand beneath the cross of Jesus Christ, the Son of God."
What are you to do with the Christ when from the north, the south, the east and the west the trumpet of Gabriel sounds and the unsaved dead come out of their graves to the last judgment?
Lost! What will you do then? You can sit out there now and sneer at me. You can damn me, call me crude, and illiterate; but old man, I have you beat.
Now, our acceptance with God is going to depend on what we do with Jesus. The vilest sinner on earth, if he accepts Jesus Christ, will be accepted; and the very moment you accept Jesus Christ your sins are forgiven. If you reject Jesus, God will spurn and reject you.
In the Bank of England is a machine—a marvelous mechanism. It is used to weigh gold sovereigns. The Bank of England never takes gold for its face value, as our banks do. They always weigh gold because gold will wear off by circulation.
I had a friend out in Illinois who had some $45,000 in gold. He sent it to the First National Bank of Chicago for deposit. They weighed it for him and it was $1,500 shy on weight. The Bank of England always weighs gold. A man sits at the machine there, the gold is dropped through a little slit and falls on a pan. If it is standard weight it tips to the right; if it is a fraction short it tips to the left. It never makes a mistake. Never! It saves the Bank of England hundreds of pounds of sterling every year.
That is nothing compared with the scrutiny that we will lave to pass through when we stand before God. We can't muster because of our wealth or intellectual standing. It is because of our acceptance or rejection of Jesus Christ; then our becoming children of God depends on what becomes of Jesus.
There is an insidious heresy: the teaching about the universal Fatherhood of God and brotherhood of man, the teaching that we are all one flesh. But if you are not a child of God, you are a creature of God. We are all creatures of God. (Nobody is a child of God but a Christian.) You are my brother in the flesh; that is, you are human and I am human. But you are not my brother in the spirit unless you are a Christian. God is the Creator of us all, but God is the Father of none but those who believe in Jesus Christ.
There was one way you came into the world—you were born. There is one way you will get into Heaven—you must be born again. You have had a physical birth. You must have a spiritual birth and that must come through Jesus Christ as the Son of God.
Does Jesus Christ lack anything in your esteem? Wherein does He fail to measure up to your ideal? Where could He improve? What could you suggest that would improve Jesus Christ? I would be very glad to know.
A man said: "If you can find me an absolutely flawless character, I will worship Him." I challenge all the infidels on earth or in Hell to find one flaw in the character of Jesus Christ.
Oh, the Rothschilds, Rockefellers, Morgans, Vanderbilts, Armours, Astors are all powerful in the commercial and the financial world.
Kelvin, Agassiz, Newton, Spencer are all prominent in the scientific world.
Caesar, Alexander, Hannibal, Napoleon, Wellington, Washington, Grant, Lee are all powerful in military warfare.
Mightier in England than the king; mightier in Germany than the emperor; mightier in America than Washington or Lincoln or Roosevelt or Bryan or Jefferson is the name of Jesus Christ. That is the name that unhorsed Saul of Tarsus.
That is the name that knocked him blind on the highway. That is the name that knocked Newton to the deck of the ship. That is the name that holds 500,000,000 of the world's population in its magic grip and power.
It is an encouraging name. Go to the cemetery, to the graves and read the epitaphs on the tombstones of the people who used to rule twenty-five or forty years ago. Oh, none so poor as to do them honor today.
Mighty names of earth will perish. All the great-Caesar, Cleopatra, Nero, Charlemagne, Gregory VI, Catherine de Medici, Catherine of Russia, Louis XIV, Louis XV, Louis XVI, Madam du Barry, Madam Pompadour—re gone.
We will perpetuate it in art. There will be other Raphaels, there will be other Michelangelos, there will be other Murillos, there will be other da Vincis, there will be other Rubens, there will be other Corots, other Millets, other Munkacsy's to paint "Christ Before Pilate."
We will perpetuate the name of Jesus in art, in literature and in song.
There will be other Cowpers who will write, "God moves in a mysterious way His wonders to perform: He plants His footsteps in the sea, And rides upon the storm."
There will be other Topladys who will write, "The Rock of Ages." There will be other Blisses who will write, "Almost Persuaded." There will be other Fanny Crosbys who will write, "Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross"; "Pass Me Not, 0 Gentle Saviour"; "Once I Was Blind—Now I Can See." There will be other Charles Wesleys who will write, "Jesus, Lover of My Soul, Let Me to Thy Bosom Fly."
We will perpetuate it in architecture, Catholicism and Protestantism. There will be other St. Pauls; there will be other St. Peters; there will be other St. Johns, St. Johns the Divine; there will be other Kremlins at Moscow; there will be other Cathedrals at Cologne; there will be other Madeleines at Paris.
Oh, you can cut, burn and crucify if you will, but if he who thus dies stands for some immortal truth, his soul will merge from his mutilated casket and go sweeping triumphantly down the halls of time. Look at the love the pure and holy bear Him. See what an object of love He is with them in Heaven.
Look at Him when He got ready to come to this old earth. The angels had to come down to sing to the shepherds, "For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord" (Luke 2:11).
Look at Him in His baptism of John, when God the Father stopped making worlds and leaned over the battlements of Heaven and said: "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased" (Matthew 3:17).
Herschel the astronomer was a Christian. So were Jonathan Edwards, Blackstone, Gladstone, Washington, Lincoln, Lee, Queen Victoria, Grant—honored in his tour around the world as no man has ever been honored before. When Grant reached Jerusalem a feast was proposed for him, and he said: "No, not in this city where my Saviour bled and died. Let me get alone; I want to weep."
Look at the love the pure and holy bear Him.
"What shall I do then with Jesus which is called Christ?"
I am not worshipping a sleeping Christ in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathaea, but a living, ruling reigning Christ, at the right hand of God, the Christ who is coming to judge the quick and the dead.
"What shall I do then with Jesus which is called Christ?" You ought to have to do because of the sacrifice He made for you.
If Shakespeare should enter this tabernacle, we would all stand up and bow. If Jesus Christ should sweep down that aisle, we would all kneel and bow our heads in humility as He swept by in all His regal splendor.
"What shall I do?" In the battle of San Juan Hill, in the Spanish American War, a roughrider was wounded on an eminence. He was supposed dead, when he was seen to wave his bloodstained handkerchief as the Krag-Jorgensen and the Mauser bullets were singing their death song back and forth. One of his friends, a cowboy from Arizona, turned to his colonel and said: "Colonel, I will go and save him . "
"Oh, Jack," the colonel said, "you couldn't live out in that zone. You would be cut to pieces. I guess he is gone."
But presently they saw the wounded American soldier wave his bloodstained handkerchief again. The cowboy said: "Look, he isn't dead! I will go and save him."
He threw down his Krag-Jorgensen, and throwing his arms to his face as if to protect himself from the bullets, he dashed out into the zone. But what protection would flesh and bones have against steel bullets that could go three miles and pierce through thirty-two inches of solid wood?
He ran out, grabbed his comrade and dragged him over the brow of the hill; then a bullet from a Spanish sharpshooter struck him just above the heart. It went through him as if he were made of papier-mâché. He dropped his comrade and a crimson tide spurted from his nose, eyes and lips. He said, "Tom, pard, I'm hit hard. It's all up with me. I wish you well," and he reeled and fell dead.
The man crept back into the ranks to tell the story.
Oh, if Jesus could come down here, I wouldn't let Him get all the way here. I would jump from the platform and go to meet Him. He saved me and my wife and children, and I'll go where He commands me to go, I'll go where He wants me to go. We ought to do that for Him because of the sacrifice He made for us.
Savonarola stood speaking in the square at Florence. The people surged around God's lionhearted preacher who told that gang of ecclesiastical crooks and thugs where to head in. He hurled the anathemas of God at them until they incinerated him to ashes because he dared rebuke their crookedness and their infamy. Savonarola stood preaching. He knew that these were the questions uppermost in the minds of the Italians: What sort of government will emerge from all this? Will it be a Republican form or will it continue the monarchy with the king? The second question was, What will be our religion? Will it be the star and the crescent of the Mohammedan, or will it be the cross of Jesus Christ?
Those were the questions, and as they all surged to hear him, he climbed on top of his pulpit where the great crowd could see him and cried out, "Jesu Christo al nostero sino salvatoro" —Jesus Christ, our King and Saviour.
Down the streets of Florence they surged. Through every building and every alley they met the oncoming crowd, and they caught the spirit. Out into the country they went until it seemed to leap as by magic from mountain peak to mountain peak, until all Italy rang with the cry: "Jesus Christ is our King and Saviour." Tonight the cross of Jesus Christ waves over Italy instead of the star and crescent of the Mohammedan.
Oh, Jesus Christ waits to be your King. What is your answer? Are you ready to crown Him? Are you ready to say, "Christ is ours"? Or will you dip the cross of Jesus into the forces of evil? What is your answer?
Get up and let me look at you. Come on, whoever you are. I don't give a rap where you came from or who you are in the world, come on! Come on!
Don't sit down; come on. You wouldn't sit down if we played the "Star Spangled Banner." Come on! The cross of Jesus Christ is waving over the crowd. Come on, and give me your hand and stand with me.