Good Friday. Jesus has stood trial before Roman and religious leaders, fearful of his popularity and suspicious of his motives. Although there had been no grounds for Pilate to punish Jesus, the combination of fabricated evidence and pressure from the crowd meant that Jesus was eventually condemned to death as a false prophet and a potential revolutionary.
Matthew 27 depicts the events between Jesus’ trial and his death. It is a sad and moving chapter, but also one laden with beautiful irony.
1. The one who is mocked as king is the king
“The governor’s soldiers took Jesus into the Praetorium and gathered the whole company of soldiers round him. They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on his head. They put a staff in his right hand. Then they knelt in front of him and mocked him. ‘Hail, king of the Jews!’ they said. They spat on him, and took the staff and struck him on the head again and again.’ (v27-30)
The soldiers actions are not standard practice. This is barracks-humour; deeply humiliating. Around 600 soldiers watch and jeer, as Jesus is stripped and redressed in mock-royal clothes. Then a crown covered in thorns some 15-20 cm long is rammed onto his head, piercing his flesh. They hand him a sceptre, with which they then beat him repeatedly, spitting at him.
As they exclaim “Hail, King of the Jews!” they mean precisely the opposite, for they consider him nothing more than a common criminal. And yet the words they shout in jest express more truth than they know.
Now they bow the knee in mockery. One day they will bow the knee for real. For the one who they mock as king really is the king.
2. The one who is utterly powerless is powerful
Having been beaten and abused, Jesus is now made to carry his own cross; a feat he is too weak to achieve. In many ways, Matthew depicts the powerlessness of Jesus in this dying moment. Someone else has to carry the cross for him (v32); he is crucified naked, whilst soldiers gamble for his clothing (v35); and passers by mock him saying ‘You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself!’ (v40)
Yet all who mocked failed to recognise the true power on display before their eyes. Jesus’ comments about the destruction and rebuilding of the Temple had never been about a physical building, but his own body (John 2:21). So the very thing they thought he was unable to do was the very thing he was in the midst of achieving.
They considered it a sign of powerlessness that he remained on the cross. Yet the fact that the King of Heaven did not come down, despite such agony showed a phenomenal level of self-control.
The one who is utterly powerless is powerful.
3. The one who couldn’t save himself saves others
‘The chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked him. ‘He saved others,’ they said, ‘but he can’t save himself! He’s the king of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him.’’ (v41-42)
Having made a name for himself by healing and saving so many, the religious leaders find it laughable that Jesus cannot save himself. But they do not know what they’re asking. For the irony is that if Jesus had stepped down from the cross – if he had saved himself – he could not have saved others. It was precisely by remaining on the cross that Jesus was giving his ‘life as a ransom for many’ (20:28) and his blood as the new covenant for the forgiveness of sins (26:28).
The one who couldn’t save himself saves others.
4. The one who cries out in despair trusts God
The religious leaders continued mocking Jesus, ‘He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him, for he said, “I am the Son of God.”’ (v43) As far as they saw it, Jesus’ trust was in vain; God had obviously abandoned him!
Not long after, Jesus uttered a cry that seemed to confirm their mockery. ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’’ (v46)
But again, things are not as they seem. This cry of Jesus is a quote from Psalm 22:1, a Psalm full of confidence and trust in God, even in the face of pain and apparent abandonment. Jesus’ cry, whilst sounding despairing, is actually an appeal to the promises of God and a declaration of trust in His unfailing love.
The one who cries out in despair trusts God.
Questions for Reflection
It is so easy to become familiar with the cross and to forget the reality of how Jesus must have felt physically, emotionally and spiritually. How have you seen this passage in a new light today?
Read Psalm 22. How does this Psalm help us to better understand Jesus’ experience on the cross.
Lord Jesus, thank you that you allowed yourself to be humiliated, tortured and killed so that I could receive dignity, forgiveness and life. I acknowledge that you are the true king and the powerful saviour.
Help me today to perceive you as you truly are. May I trust as you trusted, and draw strength, hope and healing from your sacrifice on the cross.
Some of the insights for today’s reading were adapted from a chapter in D.A. Carson’s book Scandalous. If you find yourself with some extra time today, you may want to read some chapters of that book, or read these articles from previous years, Adding Insult to Injury and Who Killed Jesus?
You may also want to listen to some of the talks from our series, The Cross of Christ.
You may want to join us for one of our meetings over the Easter Weekend:
Today: 11.00-12.30. Pimlico Academy, SW1V 3AT
Easter Sunday. 5 April. 11.00-12.30. The Mermaid Theatre, EC4V 3DB
Image by S. Robles, used under CC BY-NC 2.0