Silent Before Herod

(Taken from James Stalker's classic The Trial and Death of Jesus Christ))

"Herod at last exhausted himself, and then he waited for Christ to speak. But Jesus uttered not a word. The silence lasted till the pause grew awkward and painful, and till Herod grew red and angry; but Jesus would not break it with a single syllable.

For one thing, the entire proceedings were irrelevant. Jesus had been sent to Herod to be tried; but this had never been touched upon. Had Jesus, indeed, desired to deliver Himself at all hazards, this was a rare opportunity; because, if He had yielded to Herod's wishes and wrought a miracle for his gratification, no doubt He would have been acquitted and sent back loaded with gifts. But we cannot believe that such an expedient was even a temptation to Him. Never had He wrought a miracle for His own behoof, and it is inconceivable that He should have stooped to offer any justification of the estimate of Himself which this man had formed. Jesus was Herod's subject; but it was impossible for Him to look upon him with respect. How could He help feeling disdain for one who thought of Himself so basely and treated this great crisis so frivolously? To one who knew Herod's history, how loathsome must it have been to hear religious talk from his lips! There was no manliness or earnestness in the man. Religion was a mere diversion to him.

To such Christ will always be silent. Herod is the representative of those for whom there is no seriousness in life, but who live only for pleasure. There are many such. Not only has religion, in any high and serious sense, no attraction for them, but they dislike everything like deep thought or earnest work in any sphere. As soon as they are released from the claims of business, they rush off to be excited and amused; and the one thing they dread is solitude, in which they might have to face themselves. In certain classes of society, where work is not necessary to obtain a livelihood, this spirit is the predominant one: life is all a scene of gaiety; one amusement follows another; and the utmost care is taken to avoid any intervals where reflection might come in.

Religion itself may be dragged into this circle of dissipation. It is possible to go to church with substantially the same object with which one goes to a place of amusement--in the hope of being excited, of having the feelings stirred and the aesthetic sense gratified or, at the least, consuming an hour which might otherwise lie heavy on the hands. With shame be it said, there are churches enough and preachers enough ready to meet this state of mind half-way. With the fireworks of rhetoric or the witchery of music or the pomp of ritual the performance is seasoned up to the due pitch; and the audience depart with precisely the same kind of feeling with which they might leave a concert or a theatre. Very likely it is accounted a great success; but Christ has not spoken: He is resolutely mute to those who follow religion in this spirit.

Sometimes the same spirit takes another direction; it becomes speculative and sceptical and, like Herod, "questions in many words." When I have heard some people propounding religious difficulties, the answer which has risen to my lips has been, Why should you be able to believe in Christ? what have you ever done to render yourselves worthy of such a privilege? you are thinking of faith as a compliment to be paid to Christ; in reality the power to believe in Him and His words is a great privilege and honour, that requires to be purchased with thought, humility and self-denial.

We do not owe an answer to the religious objections of everyone. Religion is, indeed, a subject on which everyone takes the liberty of speaking; the most unholy and evil-living talk and write of it nothing doubting; but in reality it is a subject on which very few are entitled to be heard. We may know beforehand, from their lives, what the opinions of many must be about it; and we know what their opinions are worth.

It may be thought that Jesus ought to have spoken to Herod--that He missed an opportunity. Ought He not to have appealed to his conscience and attempted to rouse him to a sense of his sin? To this I answer that His silence was itself this appeal. Had there been a spark of conscience left in Herod, those Eyes looking him through and through, and that divine dignity measuring and weighing him, would have caused his sins to rise up out of the grave and overwhelm him. Jesus was silent, that the voice of the dead Baptist might be heard.

If we understood it, the silence of Christ is the most eloquent of all appeals. Can you remember when you used to hear Him--when the words of the Book and the preacher used to move you in church, when the singing awoke aspiration, when the Sabbath was holy ground, when the Spirit of God strove with you? And is that all passed or passing away? Does Christ speak no more? If a man is lying ill, and perceives day by day everything about him becoming silent--his wife avoiding speech, visitors sinking their voices to a whisper, footsteps falling and doors shutting noiselessly--he knows that his illness is becoming critical. When the traveller, battling with the snow-storm, sinks down at last to rest, he feels cold and painful and miserable; but, if there steals over him a soft, sweet sense of slumber and silence, then is the moment to rouse himself and fight off his peace, if he is ever to stir again. There is such a spiritual insensibility. It means that the Spirit is ceasing to strive, and Christ to call. If it is creeping over you, it is time to be anxious; for it is for your life."

(Artwork by Albrecht Durer)


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