Betrayed, tried and wrongly condemned to death, Jesus is handed over to the soldiers to be brutally tortured and crucified.
‘The soldiers stripped Jesus 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 spit on him, and took the staff and struck him on the head again and again. After they had mocked him, they took off the robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him away to crucify him […]Above his head they placed the written charge against him: “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews” […] About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”) […] And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit.’ (Matt 27:28-31, 37, 50)
As if an unwarranted death sentence was not enough, Jesus is beaten, mocked, and abused by his captors. The whole battalion – around 600 Roman soldiers – gathered to watch Jesus be dressed like a king, and then beaten with the staff that was meant to symbolise power and authority. The God who spoke Creation into existence, reduced to nothing at the hands of cruel men.
The mockery didn’t stop with the torturing. People cried out “If you are the Son of God, come down!” (v40) and “He saved others, but he can’t save himself!” (v42) Even the rebels who were crucified next to him heaped insults upon him (v44).
But little did they know that beneath all of their mockery and scorn was a prophetic reality. Jesus was the King, though they couldn’t perceive it. He was the Son of God, and the resurrection would soon prove it (cf. Rom 1:4). And although Jesus could have saved himself, the fact that he didn’t was the way by which all mankind could be saved!
Then the most agonising moment of all, when Jesus cried out “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”(v46). This is a direct quote from Psalm 22, an incredibly prophetic Psalm which predicted not only the manner of Jesus’ death, but also the reaction of the crowds, and something of the anguish that Jesus must have experienced. Thirsty, mocked by all, bones out of joint, clothes divided amongst his killers, hands and feet pierced by nails, and ultimately separated from God.
Even within Psalm 22 there is a glimmer of hope. God has always been faithful to His people (v3-5), he hears the cry of the suffering (v24) and He promises that His name will be made known in all the Earth (v27-31). This combination of deep anguish and yet surprising hope is remarkable. As we reflect upon the cross, we cannot help but be amazed at the exchange that took place. Jesus, the only sinless being ever to have lived, died in our place, taking our pain and brokenness upon himself, so that we could be set free. ‘God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God’ (2 Cor 5:21).
This Good Friday, take a moment to reflect on the wonderful exchange of the cross:
- He was lead outside the city, so that we could be brought into the city of God.
- He was stripped naked, so that we could be clothed in righteousness.
- His body was broken, so that we could be made whole.
- He was forsaken by God, so that we could be accepted.
- He was put to death, so that we could be made alive.
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?
- How can we learn to see hope in dark places, in your own life and in the lives of those you love? How can we learn to trust in God as Jesus and the Psalmist did, even at the points of greatest agony?
Why not use the following to help you to pray today:
Lord Jesus, thank you that you allowed yourself to be humiliated, tortured and killed so that I could receive dignity, forgiveness and life. Help me never to take your sacrifice for granted, but to recognise and worship you as the true King who gave himself for me. Help me to find hope in dark places, and to trust that you are in control, even when life is at its most difficult. Amen
If you find yourself with some extra time today, read and reflect on Psalms 22 and 69 and Isaiah 53, and consider how they pre-empt and predict Jesus’ experience at the cross.
You may also want to read this article by Liam Thatcher on The Darkness.
Don’t forget to join us for our Good Friday meeting today, as we worship, share communion and reflect on the significance of the cross.
Venue: 79 Endell Street, WC2H 9DY
Image: barb wire by Nuno Martins, used under CC