Born into a Christian home in December 1843, Albert Benjamin Simpson became a pastor, theologian, author and hymn-writer. At the age of 30, he left his homeland, Canada, taking up leadership in a large Presbyterian church in Louisville, Kentucky, USA. Despite great success, Albert became disillusioned with his church members’ hesitancy in accepting the great commission of the church to the evangelistic endeavour. Unable to change the church culture he departed for New York resolute in ministering to the influx of new immigrants flooding the city. Albert’s passion for sharing the good news of the Gospel did not end at the shores of the Hudson River but traversed the Atlantic, publishing a missionary journal named, ‘The Gospel in All Lands’. Jesus’ cause dominated Simpson’s life and the 120 hymns penned in his lifetime carried that passion. One such hymn asks the most important question in all history. A question asked by Pilate in our reading of Matthew’s gospel today. A question that drove Albert Simpson to ask it everywhere he went and asked in the opening verse of his hymn inspired by events in our reading today.
Jesus is standing in Pilate’s hall—
Friendless, forsaken, betrayed by all:
Harken! what meaneth the sudden call?
What will you do with Jesus?
Pilate knew exactly what he should do with Jesus but, continually avoids making an explicit judgement regarding him. He tries to return Jesus to the Sanhedrin (John 18:29-31). Discovering Jesus was from Galilee, he endeavours to give the responsibility to the tetrarch Herod Antipas with no joy. He suggests Jesus be tortured and released which in turn was rejected. Seemingly trapped by the Pharisees, Pilate plays his wild card. During a festival, such as Passover, it was tradition for the Jews to pick a prisoner to be released. Pilate offers a choice. An option between sinless Jesus and the notorious convicted and condemned Barabbas. Surely Jesus would be chosen before Barabbas and Pilate would escape his no-win dilemma. But, his plan was derailed by the cries of hate from the incited and manipulated crowd. Many who recently greeted Jesus with shouts of Hosanna, now shouted loudly and definitively, for Barabbas!
Finally, Pilate asks the ultimate question of the envy filled religious leaders and their manipulated and angry crowd; ‘What shall I do with Jesus, who is called Christ?’ Somehow even in his question, Pilate is prompting the crowd to think carefully, reminding them Jesus is called Christ, The Anointed One, The Messiah. Pilate received the hideous verdict of those gathered, crucify him! That day sinless Jesus took the place of the notorious Barabbas and, as the crowds’ sentence was carried out, he took our place, becoming our substitute, our sacrifice, our saviour and our righteousness.
Albert Simpson knew the central question for all humanity is; ‘What will you do with Jesus?’ Asking the question and sharing the good news of the Gospel became the driving force of his life and as he saw it the core purpose of The Church. In his book, A Larger Christian Life, written in 1890, Simpson declared his vision of the church which still stands true over 130 years later:
‘He [Jesus] is showing us the plan for a Christian Church that is much more than an association of congenial friends to listen once a week to an intellectual discourse and musical entertainment and carry on by proxy a mechanism of Christian work; but rather a Church that can be at once the mother and home of every form of help and blessing which Jesus came to give to lost and suffering men, the birthplace and the home of souls, the fountain of healing and cleansing, the sheltering home for the orphan and distressed, the school for the culture and training of God’s children, the armoury where they are equipped for the battle of the Lord and the army which fights those battles in His name. Such a centre of population in this sad and sinful world!’
The final verse of Albert’s hymn carries his simple answer to Pilate’s question:
Jesus, I give Thee my heart today!
Jesus, I’ll follow Thee all the way,
Gladly obeying Thee!” will you say:
“This will I do with Jesus!”
Prayerfully consider Albert Benjamin Simpson’s hymn ‘The Missionary Cry’:
The Master’s coming draweth near.
The Son of Man will soon appear,
His Kingdom is at hand.
But ere that glorious day can be,
The Gospel of the Kingdom, we
Must preach in every land.
And simply pray: Lord send me!
More From This Series
View the other Devotionals in our “For the Joy” series