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The Character of Your King

Date: Jan. 22, 2017

Author: Bob Henkins

Matthew 27:27-44

Key Verse: Matthew 27:42

““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.”

I remember one summer day, I was working on a control system for a project that I was doing for a company called Criterion Catalysts in Michigan City Indiana. All my design work was finished and now I was in the implementation phase. And since Michigan City is just over an hour away from my house I would drive back and forth. And I remember on that summer morning as I was driving down Route 12 heading to the plant I saw something in the distance ahead on the side of the road. And as I got closer to it I realized that I was going to have to move into the other a bit because whatever it was wasn’t on the shoulder but in the road. And as I came up to it I could see that it was a man who was carrying a big wooden cross on his shoulder. Now on that section of Route 12 there isn’t much there, just a two lane road, no houses, no cross roads, just a guys and his cross. And as I passed him I wondered what the heck was he doing way out here, and where was he going? It looked pretty heavy because it was pretty big, why wasn’t he using a car to move it? It was a image that has stuck in my mind all these years. And that’s shocking because I forget so many things. I’ve always wondered what he was doing. I didn’t see him on my way back, I sure hope he was ok.

That brings me to the topic of our story today. It’s the story of Jesus and the cross. In our day and age the cross is a piece of jewelry, a fashion statement, or simply a statement. But in Jesus’ day the cross was very different. We as modern Christians should remember what the cross represented before Jesus transformed it. Last week Mike talked about the Roman orator Cicero, so I will too. Cicero declared that “the very name of the cross should never come near the body of a Roman citizen, nor even enter into his thoughts, his sight, his hearing.” Nothing was more heinous to a Roman than crucifixion.” A Swiss Theologian wrote, “The cross of Jesus was bound to strike an educated Greek as barbaric folly, a Roman citizen as sheer disgrace, and a devout Jew as God’s curse.” (Dt 21:23) But that amazing thing is Jesus transformed it into victory. In today’s passage, we are going to take a look at Matthew’s account of the crucifixion of Jesus. Jesus could have died many other ways, hanging, by the sword, or stoning, why did he have to die specifically on the cross, in the most brutal way known to man at the time? In fact, as I wrote this message it was difficult for me to stay in this text, I wanted to move on.

Let’s get started with verses 27-31. “Then the governor’s soldiers took Jesus into the Praetorium and gathered the whole company of soldiers around him. 28 They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, 29 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. 30 They spit on him, and took the staff and struck him on the head again and again.31 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.” What we find in these verses is the fulfillment of Jesus’ prophetic statement in 20:19 has begun. In the book of Matthew, four times Jesus predicted that he was going to die and in this particular incident Jesus said, “They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day he will be raised to life!” So as the soldiers took charge of Jesus, it was no surprise to him. He knew full well what was coming. And it wasn’t going to be pretty.

The soldiers took Jesus into the Praetorium. This the official residence of the Roman ruler, which also sometimes housed the soldiers’ barracks. And it says that the whole “company” gathered around him. A company was, one tenth of a legion, if the troops were at complete strength that would mean 6000 men so a company was about 600. Now imagine being taken into a private place surrounded by 600 men whose sole job is to kill you. That’s a pretty scary scene. Jesus was alone and outnumbered. You don’t have to have a PhD to know what’s going to happen when you go in there. [when I was in 7th grade, my family lived in Arizona, and I got on the wrong side of a fight, they wanted me to go in the bath room – I said, uh naa, no way –]  but Jesus had no choice, he had to go with them. Wait, let’s stop right there. Was that true, Jesus had no choice? Humanly it may look like Jesus didn’t have a choice but he did. Jesus is God, nothing happens unless he allows it to happen. Earlier in his ministry Jesus speaking about his life said, “No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”” (Jn 10:18) Jesus made a choice to go into that building, knowing full well what was about to occur.

The soldiers mock Jesus’ alleged kingship. They clothe him with a loose reddish purple outer garment worn by soldiers (Mk 15:17) and pretend he is a royal warrior (v. 28). They press what probably was a thorny branch bent into a circle, mimicking a crown (v. 29a). They place a rod in his right hand to look like a scepter, and the soldiers then mockingly worship him with feigned adulation as they cry, Greetings (“hail”), “king of the Jews,” echoing the words of Pilate’s question in v. 11 (v. 29b). Then they turn to more direct insults and overt abuse by spitting in his face (26:67) and beating him on the head with the rod (v. 30) jamming the thorns deep into his skull causing him to bleed. Put yourself in his place for a moment. They stripped him naked in front of 600 angry shouting warriors. Imagine the shame and humiliation he went through. And then they mocked him, they mocked his who he was, imagine the restraint he had to go through knowing that at any moment he could call upon his Father and he would send 72K angels to help him. (Mt 26:53) But no, Jesus made the choice to take it all without fighting back.

The soldiers had beaten Jesus so bad that we see in verse 32 he was too weak to carry his. I heard a story about some German paintings that were exhibited in London after World War II. There was a painting that attracted a great deal of attention was by an artist named Gruenwald. It depicted a man horribly beaten, eyes swollen, cheek torn; he was obviously near death. British viewers immediately thought of the Gestapo and concentration camps and grieved again for the victims of Nazis. However it came as a shock to them when they discovered that this was Gruenwald’s conception of what Jesus looked like after He had fallen into the hands of the soldiers.

A convicted criminal was usually expected to carry the horizontal beam for his own cross to the site of his execution, where the vertical beam would already have been put in the ground. But as I said earlier Jesus was too weak and injured from his flogging to go very far along the road. So they “met a man from Cyrene, named Simon, and they forced him to carry the cross. 33 They came to a place called Golgotha (which means “the place of the skull”). 34 There they offered Jesus wine to drink, mixed with gall; but after tasting it, he refused to drink it.” (v32-34) Wine mixed with gall was probably a pain-killing narcotic although some think that it was possibly a poison. So that he would die sooner. Either way, the potion was probably intended to ease Jesus’ misery, though some have seen it as additional torture. But the thing to note here is that Jesus refuses to decrease his suffering or to lose consciousness of his surroundings. Again here we see Jesus making another choice, he chooses to refuse the pain killer because he wants to experience the full measure of pain. Earlier this week, I had a tooth pulled, no biggie I’ve had it done before, but it hasn’t gotten any better. Yesterday it was hurting real bad from my cheek to my forehead so I took 3 ibuprofen and 2 tylenol. That made it bearable. But it wore off during the night and the aching was terrible. I can’t imagine what Jesus went through and then fact that he experienced the full measure of pain is incomprehendible to me.

Verses 35-37 tell us, “When they had crucified him, they divided up his clothes by casting lots. 36 And sitting down, they kept watch over him there. 37 Above his head they placed the written charge against him: this is jesus, the king of the jews.” I find it interesting that Matthew describes very little of Jesus’ own experience on the cross. He simply says, “when they had crucified him” However crucifixion was undoubtedly one of the most gruesome forms of torture and death humans have ever invented. It involved driving a huge iron spike into his feet to hold them together at his ankles at the bottom of a vertical pole, in addition his hands were nailed at the wrists to either end of the crossbeam. Then they would be left to suffer. This prolonged suffering for up to several days. The final cause of death was usually asphyxiation, since the victim finally became too weak to lift his head far enough off his chest to gasp for air.

Instead going in depth into Jesus’ experience on the cross, Matthew emphasizes how other people experienced the crucifixion: Simon, the soldiers, the passers-by, the Jewish leaders, and the two criminals on the crosses on either side of Christ. In so doing, Matthew stresses the nearly universal rejection of our Lord. Take a look at verses 38-44. “Two rebels were crucified with him, one on his right and one on his left.39 Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads 40 and saying, “You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God!”41 In the same way the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked him. 42 “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. 43 He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him, for he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’” 44 In the same way the rebels who were crucified with him also heaped insults on him.” The Romans usually crucified criminals alongside well-traveled roads to remind as many people as possible of the high cost of crime, particularly treason against the empire. Those who see Jesus as they pass by begin to echo the charge against him posted upon his head. The criminals on either side of Jesus join in the mocking and before long the torment starts to come from all sides. They taunt Jesus’ impotence by “hurling insults” and “shaking their heads.” The Jewish leaders and all those who were involved in sending Jesus to the cross come out to see their handiwork. They seem pleased with the outcome as they all join in the fun of mocking a person withering in pain on his way to death. They are a sadistic bunch to say the least. They echo the taunts of the crowd and remember his miracles but mock his inability to repeat them now (v41–42)

I think Matthew is the only gospel writer that adds, “If you are the Son of God,” an exact reproduction of Satan’s temptation back in chapter 4:3. And finally, here comes the last and truly greatest temptation of Christ: they said in verse 42, “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.” This is it, what would Jesus do? This was Satan last chance to stop Jesus. Jesus could have come down from the cross, remember he could have called upon 72K angels to come to his aid, he could easily come down from the cross. Then the music would suddenly change from downcast to upbeat – like in Rocky - maybe shooting the spikes from his hands aiming them at the high priest’s head, maybe he could have soared into the sky like Neo did at the end of the Matrix – It would have been a suitable epic comeback battle for any action movie in which the hero stages his return and wins the victory! But none of that happens. Instead Jesus hung there on the cross taking all the abuse and humiliation. And once again Jesus CHOOSES to stay on the cross to the end.

The ironic part is, if Jesus saved himself all humanity would have been condemned. He would have forfeited his divinely ordained role as the lamb of God. But for the sake of our eternal salvation, we praise God that he chose to remain faithful despite this unspeakable and excruciating agony. He thus perfectly illustrated the principle of  “whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it” (Mt16:25), which applies to all people.

I heard a story about a swami in India who had been baptized and became a fervent disciple of Jesus. One day he was talking with a group of Hindu lawyers, he took offense when one of them referred to Jesus as the illegitimate son of Mary. In his anger the swami, a huge man, took off his shoe and struck the lawyer several times on his shoulder. Then he stormed away, proud that he had defended his Lord. However that night as the swami lay thinking about what happened, he saw Jesus come to him. His Lord spoke no word, but quietly removed the robe from His shoulder and showed him the marks of his shoe upon His own skin. Jesus’ way is not the way of vengeance. “He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed” (Isa 53:5). Jesus was helpless because he chose to be, for our sake. If he rose to defend himself, he would become just like the world that was killing Him. His willingness to submit to the worst the world could do to Him, revealed the nature of its hatred and also of God’s redeeming love. And someone rightly observed, “It was the power of love, not nails, that kept him on the cross.” 

Why did Jesus have to go to the cross, because the cross was the Roman way, it was the most brutal way, it is the way of the cursed? Jesus took the curse that was meant for us because of our sin upon himself. We don’t think our sin is that bad, but the brutalness of the cross reveals just how terrible our sin is, what it causes us to do. The cross reveals our sin to us, that we could kill the Son of God. The cross is the central part of God’s work, it’s where our sin and salvation meet. I titled today’s message, “The Character of Your King” because I want you to know what your king has done for you. Philippians 2:8 says, “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death — even death on a cross!” This weekend America witnessed a new President being sworn in, although everyone has their opinion, it has yet to be determined what kind of president he will be. But one thing is clear, he will never be like our King Jesus. Because our King chose to take all the physical and mental punishment, the mocking, the shame and humiliation and the pain for us. That is his character, that is what he has done for you. Jesus foresaw it, he made the choice to accept it, and he took the action to go through it all for you. Now that is a king that I can trust. What about you?

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