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Matthew

The Crucifixion

Matthew 27:27-56

Lesson audio

There are many, many ways to examine the Crucifixion. In what follows, we will be guided by a few simple precepts:

The suffering of Christ is a model for us. As we try to be like Him, we will undoubtedly need to know how to suffer as He did. It is inevitable; as the world treated Him this way we certainly cannot claim any exemption from it. We may take heart, however, in knowing that in weakness God’s strength is perfected.

The sufferings of Christ are emblematic of our salvation. By His stripes we are healed; we may look at His suffering and see in it the symbols of the faith.

The sufferings of Christ are a fulfillment of prophecy. The Crucifixion is God’s “Plan A.”

The Soldiers

Mat 27:27-36 NASB Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the Praetorium and gathered the whole Roman cohort around Him. (28) They stripped Him and put a scarlet robe on Him. (29) And after twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on His head, and a reed in His right hand; and they knelt down before Him and mocked Him, saying, "Hail, King of the Jews!" (30) They spat on Him, and took the reed and began to beat Him on the head. (31) After they had mocked Him, they took the scarlet robe off Him and put His own garments back on Him, and led Him away to crucify Him. (32) As they were coming out, they found a man of Cyrene named Simon, whom they pressed into service to bear His cross. (33) And when they came to a place called Golgotha, which means Place of a Skull, (34) they gave Him wine to drink mixed with gall; and after tasting it, He was unwilling to drink. (35) And when they had crucified Him, they divided up His garments among themselves by casting lots. (36) And sitting down, they began to keep watch over Him there.

Symbols

It takes a blind man not to see the symbolism in the solders’ mock coronation. The soldiers take off the things of Christ and clothe Him in the things of this world.

  • There is the scarlet robe, the sins of this world.[1]
  • There is the crown of thorns, by which bears the curse of this world to the Cross, there to lift it from His people.[2]
  • There is the reed, the staff – by which Christ will conquer the old Serpent by swallowing up death in victory.[3]
The soldiers – doing their jobs

You cannot help but notice: the soldiers simply have no concept of what might be happening. To them, this was just one more criminal (or political prisoner); I suppose it provides something to do in the midst of a soldier’s boredom. They thought little of mocking Him; the world likewise will think little of mocking us.[4]

There is one curious incident here: it is the mixture of wine and gall. Such a mixture would be very bitter. Can you see the symbolism in this? Christ tastes the bitterness of death – and rejects it. He also puts a practical point to it. We would see such a death as greatly improved by eliminating the suffering. We believe not only that anesthetics work; we believe they should be used. It is the temptation to false suffering; “How much have you suffered for Jesus’ sake” is usually answered with, “Not much – but I moaned and groaned it into something really big.” If you’re going to suffer, use the proper style.

The soldiers then do what soldiers do best: they sat down and waited. It’s a picture of many in this world; they are waiting to see what happens. They think they’re sitting on the fence practicing “wait and see.” Actually, they’re sitting on a rail road track. And there’s a light approaching.

Simon of Cyrene

If it weren’t for symbolism, we’d be pressed to understand why Matthew told us about Simon. But see it through the eyes opened to understanding:

  • It tells us that man – indeed, one of the Gentiles – can carry the Cross. It was no accident that Christ told us to take up the Cross. We need to bear it on his Via Dolorosa, sharing his sufferings.
  • Not just man; the early church held that this meant that the nations would take up the Cross. It is rejected by the Jews; it is therefore offered to the world.
  • Note, too – he was picked at random by the soldiers. Any one of us may be called to take up the Cross; all of us should be willing to do so.

The Insults

Mat 27:37-44 NASB And above His head they put up the charge against Him which read, "THIS IS JESUS THE KING OF THE JEWS." (38) At that time two robbers *were crucified with Him, one on the right and one on the left. (39) And those passing by were hurling abuse at Him, wagging their heads (40) and saying, "You who are going to destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save Yourself! If You are the Son of God, come down from the cross." (41) In the same way the chief priests also, along with the scribes and elders, were mocking Him and saying, (42) "He saved others; He cannot save Himself. He is the King of Israel; let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe in Him. (43) "HE TRUSTS IN GOD; LET GOD RESCUE Him now, IF HE DELIGHTS IN HIM; for He said, 'I am the Son of God.'" (44) The robbers who had been crucified with Him were also insulting Him with the same words.

“If you are the Son of God”

People want to believe in magic, but not in God. Magic is a tame lion; it jumps through the hoops when you want it to. This explains our love of science; it is the twin of magic. We want a God who will do what we say to prove He exists. But do you not see that such a God cannot exist – and still be God? How is it that God the omnipotent, the ruler of all, now becomes your personal servant?

We forget that God works miracles – for His purposes, not ours. And His purpose here is to pay the price for our sins.

It is also the case that Christ is the Son of Man. He is sharing our pain, that we might some day share His glory. Consider it from a perspective of style: He certainly died like God. He died with forgiveness for those who did it; He died in that maddening refusal to gratify our curiosity. He died with no thought of anger or revenge.

The King of the Jews

In one of those ironic twists of history, Pilate puts this title on the plaque over Jesus’ head. It is satire; Pilate’s last zing into the Jewish leadership over this matter. The plaque normally contained the accusation; the irony is that in this instance the sinless man is rightly accused.

Have you ever considered Jesus as Lord and King? Kings are entitled to obedience from their subjects. One form of disobedience is to pass judgment on the king. If someone today were to refuse to pay taxes because they didn’t like the war in Iraq, we’d still prosecute them for it. And all we have is a president.

King of the Jews: if this is the honor the world gave Him, why do we expect to be treated so much differently?

“And we will believe”

“If only I could see a miracle – just one – then I would truly believe.”

  • “He saved others” – by these words the Jews acknowledge His power, and convict themselves of hypocrisy. If you knew He did that by the power of God, why are you crucifying Him?
  • “Let God rescue Him.” Do you really know the purposes and plans of God Almighty that well? Viewed from the past, the Crucifixion looks like a horrible end to a promising beginning. Viewed from ages past, the plan of God is indeed an awesome completion.
  • If you need the history, remember that the ancestors of these Jews wandered the desert and did not believe, despite the miracles. As Abraham told Dives, even if someone were to come back from the dead, they would not believe.

Death

Mat 27:46-56 NASB About the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, "ELI, ELI, LAMA SABACHTHANI?" that is, "MY GOD, MY GOD, WHY HAVE YOU FORSAKEN ME?" (47) And some of those who were standing there, when they heard it, began saying, "This man is calling for Elijah." (48) Immediately one of them ran, and taking a sponge, he filled it with sour wine and put it on a reed, and gave Him a drink. (49) But the rest of them said, "Let us see whether Elijah will come to save Him." (50) And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit. (51) And behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth shook and the rocks were split. (52) The tombs were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; (53) and coming out of the tombs after His resurrection they entered the holy city and appeared to many. (54) Now the centurion, and those who were with him keeping guard over Jesus, when they saw the earthquake and the things that were happening, became very frightened and said, "Truly this was the Son of God!" (55) Many women were there looking on from a distance, who had followed Jesus from Galilee while ministering to Him. (56) Among them was Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee.

My God, my God

Christ’s cry has been a problem to many. How could the God who is Love reject His own Son? The answer is simple: God is holy; no sin can come near Him. So it is when the Savior took upon Himself the sins of the world, He separated Himself from the Father.

But do you not also see that the very wrenching nature of this cry tells you that Jesus was so closely bonded to the Father? We might ask, “Why me?” But that view depends on our own goodness. To be truly alone from God brings another question: why did God do what seems to be a contradiction in His character.

A man with a sponge

This poor, anonymous man: the last man to be of service to Jesus on earth, and we don’t know his name. But we can see the character of the last servant of Christ:

  • He ran. The servant of the Lord is not a leisurely person. Nor should we be slack in doing what Christ has commanded.
  • He gave him sour wine – the best he had, even if it was none too appetizing. We should not excuse ourselves from service by complaining that our portion is far too small to be of use.
  • He gave it to him on a reed. This day it is the reed of weakness; but God will turn it into the staff of His strength. Our means may be feeble; we should use them none the less.
Reaction

The physics of the thing comes from the reaction.

  • Creation itself – the handiwork of Christ, for whom the stones would cry out – reacts in darkness and quaking.[5]
  • Many of the saints of old rise from the dead; the spiritual world marks the passing of its Creator as well.
  • And one tough old army sergeant – the centurion – is convinced. The man died like a God.

In hindsight we see the plan and power of God.

We see one other thing: that Jesus, the Christ, shared in the experience of death with us. I can find no better words for this than these I wrote several years ago for a devotional:

Have you ever been down to the point where the government had to get someone else to carry your load?  A welfare case?  Simon of Cyrene carried the cross for Him.  He knows how you feel.
Have you ever been down to the point where those around you can think of nothing more to say than, “Buddy, I’ll buy you a drink?”  They offered Jesus drugged wine.  He knows how you feel.
Have you ever been to the point where the world takes away even your clothes?  Have you had to watch total strangers pick through what used to be your clothes?  Bankruptcy and the last garage sale, perhaps?  They gambled for His clothes.  He knows how you feel.
Have you ever been in trouble with the law?  To the point where the criminals around you gave you a hard time about it?  They crucified him between two thieves, and even they insulted Him.  He knows how you feel.
Have you ever been the victim of the insults of the mob?  Just those looking on, laughing at you and calling you names?  “Come down from the cross,” they called to Him.  He knows how you feel.
Have you ever had the “righteous” people insult you, calling you names and letting the world know just how rotten they think you are?  Even the religious leaders insulted Him on the cross.  He knows how you feel.
 
He knows how you feel, for it all happened to Him.  Even though He had lived the sinless life, deserving none of this, that’s how they treated Him.  So when you feel the world coming down on top of you, whether you deserve it or not, remember:  He knows how you feel.
Take your troubles to Him.  Go to Him in prayer and tell Him how it is within the depths of your soul.  There is nothing you can say that He does not understand, for He is human just like us.  There is nothing He cannot comprehend, for He is God.  There is nothing He cannot forgive, for He went to the cross for you, that you might be forgiven.  There is no hurt too deep for the Christ, by whose wounds you are healed.  Love, in its purest form, awaits you.  He knows how you feel.

[1] Mark says it’s purple; the various commentators at this point bubble over into the Greek. I suppose it depends on how many crayons you have in your box.

[2] See Genesis 3:17-18

[3] See Exodus 7:9-13 (Moses, Aaron and Pharaoh’s magicians.)

[4] The people who complain about the “right wing bias” of the press are also dismayed when these Christians don’t understand how trivial Christ is.

[5] Some hold this to be a solar eclipse. This seems unlikely, as Passover was at full moon.

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