Behold the Man
c. 1874-1892 — At camp meetings and revivals throughout the US East Coast
— Then came Jesus forth, wearing the crown of thorns, and the purple robe. And Pilate said unto them, Behold the man! — John 19:5
I repeat the text “Behold the Man,” and in order to give you an idea of what gave rise to it, it is necessary to read the foregoing chapter.
I now call attention to this man, mentioned in the text, and I wish you all to give special attention, as the constant labor of five months has almost broken me down. But a cry for help came from Macedonia, and here I am in response to that cry. I ask you all to pray. Do pray now as there is hard work to be done. Pray now if ever. Look to Jesus, and not to me; see him by faith as he hands on the cross in the last act of atonement, and get the blessing of Jesus, the man of my text. I think of myself as resembling a horn; as nothing but a horn. You all know what horn is and the uses that are made of it. The horn talks the sentiments of the person blowing it; it may sound the alarm of fire, of murder, or of danger; or it may give the glad sound of invitation to dinner to some half-starved soul who is hungering for the richness of the Master’s table, where all may freely partake of the breath of everlasting life.
I will consider my text from three principal points:
1st. Jesus in his power and might.
2nd. Jesus in his meekness.
3rd. Jesus in his humiliation.
Jesus was the Immaculate Son of God. Look at him as he was before the world was. When the wonders of creation were taking place, Jesus was there. When the Lord divided the waters from the dry land, and gave to the ocean its “metes and bounds,” Jesus was there. When the darkness was driven away, and the glorious light beamed forth upon a new born world, Jesus was there. When the stars and planets were given their positions, and orbits, in the immensity of space, Jesus was there. When God said “Let us make man in, our image, after our likeness,” Jesus was there. When God created the fishes which swim in the mighty ocean, and the beautiful lakes, and the winding rivers, and the mountain streams, Jesus was there. When the beasts of the field were made, and the birds of the air sent forth their first notes of praise, Jesus was there. And dear friends I want you to hear to-day of his atonement for the sins of the world, and his ascension to heaven, where he has prepared a home for all his people. Glory to God for the atonement and for the resurrection.
On the sixth day of creation man was made in the image of God, male and female, and given the injunction to be fruitful, multiply, and replenish the earth. Upon the empty air this earth was well balanced, and with joy Jesus saw the mansion where the sons of men should dwell. Yes, this same Jesus was with the Father at the foundation of the world, and shall be with him until the last, for he is the first and the last. Truly when the morning stars sang together and the sons of God shouted for joy, this great Saviour of mine was there, and he was yet there when God made man, and when man fell from that happy [state] of purity, and was driven from that beautiful garden, he was yet there with man in his unhappy condition, and promised him salvation. And when the angels made the search in heaven to find one that could open the book, and read the contents thereof, this same Jesus came forth as a lamb from under the altar. And when the question was asked “who is worthy to open the book?” Jesus was there, and as the angels listened, and John wept at the revelation, a voice was heard saying “weep not!” and the four and twenty elders sang a new song, saying, “Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seal thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by the blood, out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation.” And thank God, Jesus came, and redeemed us, and he has been with his church ever since, and he fights for her to-day.
Oh! how I do thank the Lord for the gift of his Son, and for the gift of the Holy Ghose, how he taught me to pray, and to read and understand his holy word. And as the poet says,
Grace led my roving feet,
To tread the heavenly road,
And new supplies each hour I meet
While pressing on to God.
Grace found me when I was in my sins,
And I was led to realize, and
Know that the Lord is God alone:
He can create, and He [can] destroy.
He is the foundation of all wisdom, upon the plain of wisdom this world was founded, and by the wisdom of God the sun, and moon, and stars, were made, and keep their regular courses, and do not run one against the other. It is by the wisdom of God that the sun revolves in his place. It is by the wisdom of God that we move and live. Oh! how I do thank him for his grace, and for his wisdom, that he has given unto me. I can say in truth, all glory belongs to him. Wisdom cried aloud. It is the voice of God’s eternal Son. And deserves it no regard? I hear the voice of Jesus saying,
I was my Father’s chief delight,
His everlasting Son,
Before the first of all his works,
Or creation was begun;
Before the flying clouds,
Before the solid land,
Before the fields, before the flood:
I dwelt at his right hand.
When he adorned the skies, and built them when he ordained the time for the sun to rise and set, and when he marshalled every star, I was there.
When he poured out the sea,
And spread the roaring deep,
He gave the flood a firm decree,
And its own bounds to keep.
But I want to speak of Jesus in his meekness.
Driven from Bethlehem by the wrath of a king, expelled from Nazareth by the violence of the people, received at Capernaum at first, only to be rejected at last, denied the protection of the three homes which was his by birth, by residence, and by adoption.
Jesus comes to Jerusalem to be betrayed, and to Calvary to die. Thirty years of retirement, and three years of public ministry, and yet all that the world will endure of its Messiah is not enough to secure him acceptance. It is not enough that he heals the sick, and feeds the hungry, and raises the dead. It is not enough that he speaks as never a man spake, and does the works which never a mand did. It is not enough that he endures the contradiction of sinners with the meekness and majesty of infinite love. He must go down to a still lower depth of humiliation. He must take upon his soul the burden of a great agony, he must give his very life in sacrifice, before the strong walls of prejudice, and hatred, and unbelief will yield, and give him access to the hearts of men. We have something to learn from every step which he takes, s he approaches the great sacrifice of calvary. He had returned to Bethany for the night, the first decisive step towards the great sacrifice had been taken; he had showed himself the object of supreme interest to the multitude: and so had excited the envy and hatred of the customary leaders to the highest degree; he had come once more within their reach, they had already entered upon new plans to destroy him, it will take them yet four days to complete their dark counsel, and then when they demand the victim he will hold himself ready for the sacrifice.
Monday he comes back to the city, and made a still more striking exhibition of the power of his presence over men, by causing all that bought and sold in the temple to leave the holy place and take their tables and merchandise with them. At his command, hardened, selfish and calculating as they were, they could not withstand the authority with which he spake. The blind, the sick, and the lame, were brought to him in great numbers, and he healed them. The populace had been induced by threats or persuasions to hold their peace, but the children in the temple took up the songs and cries of the previous day, and sang [hosannas] to the son of David; When the priests and the scribes demanded his authority for what he did, he put them to shame before all the people by the wisdom of his reply. And when evening was come he went back to Bethany leaving them still more enraged, and intent upon seeking his life.
Tuesday he comes again to the city; This was the third and last successive day of his public teaching. His enemies assailed him in greater numbers, and with greater subtlety than ever before, when one was silenced, another would renew the assault, all alike endeavor to ensnare him in his words, and to draw from him some expression which could be used as an accusation against him, before the magistrate; But all in vain, they only induce him to set before the people by new parables, and in a more awful light, the dreadful doom which they would bring on themselves on the temple, and the holy city, by thus rejecting the Messiah, He pronounced in their hearing the most fearful woes upon the blind and bigoted leaders of the people, and then left them.
This is enough, the priests and scribes will see to it that the dreaded voice of their reprover shall not be heard in the courts of the temple, or in the streets any more. To-night the great councel will meet in secret session, at the palace of their high priest, and the betrayer will be there to bargain for the reward of his iniquity in delivering Jesus into their hands.
On his way out to Bethany Jesus paused before passing the ridge of Olives, and sat down with his disciples over against the temple, to look back upon Jerusalem for the last time. The sun was setting and the whole city, with the surrounding [valleys], and the hill-sides which were covered with camps of pilgrims, lay beneath him. In the evening light, the history of a thousand years, the divine oracles speaking by a thousand voices, the monuments of prophets, patriarchs, and Kings, the visitation of Angels, the [miraculous] interposition in judgement, and in blessing, by the offering of [Isaac], and the building of the temple, was presented to him, as he looked upon Moriah and Zion; and as he heard the murmur, and the evening song of a million people gathered within, and around the walls of the whole city.
Now my hearers, was it possible here on earth to find another scene of such commanding interest, as that which lay [before] the eyes of Jesus, when he turned to look upon Jerusalem for the last time[?] There he sat until the sun went down, and the stars shone, and the already risen moon grows bright over the mountain. There he poured forth in the most solemn and touching words, prophecy, and warning, and [instruction], concerning the desolation of Jerusalem, the depression of the jewish people, the preaching of the gospel to all nations, and his own final coming to judge the world in righteousness. And he closes this the most awful, and sublime of all his discourses with [a] distinct and solemn declaration that after two days he should be betrayed, and crucified. Then he resumes his walk to Bethany, and rested for the night.
The whole of the following day, Wednesday, he spent in retirement, at his chosen and quiet home in Bethany, his public work was done, and while his enemies [were] completing their plans, for his destruction, he would take a little time to gird up his soul for the trial of mockery and scourging, and for the crowning agony of the cross. He would need the repose of two quiet days to prepare himself for the last sleepless night, and for the long tortures of the last dreadful day. When he leaves the quiet village for the last time on Thursday, he goes to be betrayed and crucified. His whole body, and soul, and spirit will be [taxed] with the most exhausting intensity, until he bows his head in death at the ninth hour on Friday afternoon. As the evening of Thursday draws near, Jesus sets forth upon his last walk with his disciples, before his passover. We do not know what words of farewell were spoken when he parted with his beloved friends at Bethany, they fondly hoping to see him return to lodge with them as before, and he well knowing that his next resting place would be the grave. We are not told what he said to his disciples as he walked with them up the same steep, or down the same descent of Olives, where the multitudes hailed his coming with [hosannas], four days before. E do not know whether in silence, or with weeping, or with comfortable words. He passed Gethsemanie, and across the brook Kidron, and climb[ed] up the ascent to what is now called St. Stephen’s gate. And for the moment of his arrival at the upper chamber in the city, where the passover was prepared, we may well imagine that his countenance wore an unwonted tenderness and solemnity, and that the wondering disciples saw the foreshadowing signs of the final agony upon him. The awful history of this last night, and the following day, will be studied with wonder and adoration, by angels and redeemed men forever. We can now only recite its most familiar facts, as a preparation for the lesson of the cross.
I want now to speak of Jesus in his humiliation.
He was just about to complete his earthly humiliation, and to return to the throne of heaven, with all power in his name, and all glory upon his head. Jesus teaches his disciples the greatest lesson of humiliation.
While they were contending with each other for the promise of the highest place in his kingdom, he girded himself as a servant, and washed the feet of them that called him Lord.
He was just about to offer himself, the pure and spotless Lamb of God, in the great and only sacrifice for sin; He finished the sacrifice of four thousand years, and he [ate] the Passover with his [disciples]. This was one of the national festivals which the Jewish people observed from the days of Moses.
Jesus started a new dispensation and instituted a memorial service, to be kept by his followers of every nation, to the end of time. As he looks around upon the chosen company of his disciples, the dark shadow of coming treachery over shadows and troubles his soul, and groaning within himself, he nerves his heart, to make the sad declaration, “Verily, verily, I say unto you that one of you shall betray me.” The disclosure makes the company of the disciples, and the presence of the Master, intolerable to the traitor, and he goes immediately out.
It is night in the streets of blinded and abandoned Jerusalem, night in the councels of the enemies of Jesus, night in the soul of the betrayer, night upon the path which he must tread, for no sooner had the dark shadow of the traitor left the room, than the troubled cloud passed from the face of Jesus, and he turns to his remaining disciples with the light of heaven in his look, and he pours forth his soul in words of love, of counsel, and of prayer, which shall outlive the languish of earth, and shall be sung by happy voices to the music of heaven. He himself joins with his disciples in singing the great Hallelujah song, with which Israel had closed the Passover for a thousand years. Praise the Lord, all ye nations: praise him all ye people; for his merciful kindness is great towards us, his mercy endures forever.
He knows where the betrayer will expect to meet him, at the midnight hour, and there he goes that he may be ready, when the officers and soldiers come with Judas for their guide, to take him once more through their silent streets, and out of their eastern gate, and across the Kidron valley, beneath the shadows of the olive trees which are cast in the full light of the moon. Jesus goes to his place of prayer, the betrayer knows the spot, for Jesus had often been there before with his disciples.
To this day in spirt of all intervening changes, the scene can be identified with reasonable accuracy. And it is the most solemn and affecting of all the holy places in palestine. The aged olive trees, with gnarled and distorted trunks, appearing as if bent and twisted by the [tortures] of centuries, are undoubtedly the most fitting monuments, if any be needed to make the ground sacred.
Whilst waiting for the armed band to appear, Jesus is again troubled in spirit, and his soul is bowed down under the weight of a more awful and mysterious agony than had ever come upon him before. He is overcome with a strange amazement, an inexplicable and shuddering dread, a horror of great darkness, and an exceeding great sorrow, embittered with more than the bitterness of death; the sweat wrung out by the inward torture, falls in blood drops to the g round Thrice he prays in the same words, that the cup may pass from him.
When the armed band appears, and he goes forth to give himself up, his troubled countenance at once assumes so much of its serene and god-like majesty that the hardened soldiers, are struck to the ground with awe, but the delay is only momentary, he offers himself again, and they bind him, and lead him away. It is now past midnight, and from this time forward the course of the events in this awful history, ran swiftly on the closing scene on the cross.
Walking painfully with bound hands amidst the rude and merciless mob, Jesus was hurried up the steep pass, through the city gates to the house of Annas, not for a formal trial did they bring him there, but only that the old father-in-law of the high priest[,] the man whose counsel was of the highest authority in the nation, might have the dreadful satisfaction of seeing Jesus of [Nazareth] a prisoner.
Then out again, into the dark, narrow streets, finding their way, only, by the uncertain light of lanterns and torches, they hurry their unresisting victim, with insult and mockery to the palace of Caiaphas. There he is questioned by the high priest, testified against by false witnesses, smitten by the officers, reviled by the whole assembly, condemned to death by the counsel, and still after the decision kept exposed to every form of [contemptuous] speech, and personal abuse, till the breaking of the say. The morning of Friday breaks, a day to be recognized as the greatest of all the days of time, a day to be remembered as long as redeemed souls can remember the sacrifice which purchased for them a blessed immortality. The sentence of the sanhedrin must now be confirmed and executed by the civil power, or it will be of no effect, and the enemies of Jesus hurry on their dreadful work, with such malignant and impetuous zeal, that the prisoner, who was seized in Gethsemanie, without the city, at midnight, has been led to and fro, through many streets, to four different places of tribunals, has been [arrainged] before the high priest, twice before the Sanhedrin, twice before Pilate, once before Herod, once robed and crowned in mockery, twice scourged, everywhere mocked and condemned, led outside of the city wall, and by nine o’clock, when the sun is looking over the ridge of Oliver, in the deep valley of Kidron, he is already nailed to the cross. In six hours more, the most momentous hours in the world’s history, the awful tragedy is finished, and the Incarnate Son of God bows his head in death. It is all one act, one mysterious and [infinite] passion, from the agony in Gethsemanie, to the last bitter cry upon calvary.
The betrayal, the arrest, the arraignment, the false accusation, the mockery, the denial, the scourging, the final sentence, and its execution, must all unite to make up the meaning of that most sacred and awful mystery, the cross of Christ. The most sorrowful procession that ever moved on this earth, was that in which Jesus was led out of the city, to be crucified, amidst the wails of the daughters of Jerusalem, and the mockery of the multitude who clamored for his death.
Source: Baker, Harriet A., “Behold the Man,” in Daughters of Thunder: Black Women Preachers and Their Sermons, 1850-1979, ed. Bettye Collier-Thomas, (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass), 1998, pp. 77-84.