Date: April 14, 2019
Speaker: Erik Raymond
Scripture: Matthew 27:27–27:49
Things are not always as they first appear, are they? Sometimes, when we take another look, we see things differently.
Here in the gospel according to Matthew, we have seen that also.
Judas comes to Jesus in the Garden. At first glance, one might conclude that he loves Jesus. After all, he greeted him with the cultural expression of friendship at that time, a kiss. After a further look, we learned that it was actually this greeting, that was the prearranged signal for how Judas would identify Jesus for the bloodthirsty mob. What may appear as loyalty was actually betrayal.
We’ve been trained already to take another look because things aren’t alway as they first appear. When we look at Jesus suffering, what first seems like weakness actually shows his strength.
In showing this Matthew deploys the literary device known as irony. There are different types of irony in literature.
There is verbal irony, when someone’s intention is the opposite to what they are saying. In the middle of a snowstorm in April we say, “Beautiful weather.”
Then there’s dramatic irony. This happens when the author discloses things to the reader that the characters in the story don’t see. This is why we are yelling at the characters in our books or movies from our seats.
Then there's situational irony, which is what Matthew is using here in our passage. In this type of irony, the actual result of a situation is the opposite from what you would naturally expect.
It uses language that normally signifies the opposite in order to bring something into sharp focus. The surprise we feel in the narrative gives us a sense of depth and texture that would otherwise be missing.
Matthew uses irony because he wants us to see something.
What does he want us to see?
That when we look at Jesus suffering, what first seems like a weakness, is actually showing his strength.
To see this in our text we’ll look at verses 27-49 of chapter 27 and see Matthew’s point painted on four headers.
The scene we find ourselves in is already in progress.
It is the day of Jesus’ crucifixion. He has been betrayed, arrested, publicly examined, and then flogged twice.
We understand that Jesus would be suffering from intense physical pain. His back would be peeling from the vicious whipping and abuse.
This torture he endured involved being beaten with a whip for however long the soldiers desired, with “a whip embedded with bits of metal or bone on its end, tore the flesh and left searing wounds sufficient to kill some who were thus tortured, even without further punishment. Jesus would have been very weak after he was flogged.” (NIVSB) And now he is being carted off into a private area for further abuse.
What we see here is the private abuse by the military leaders. In verses 27-31 we see the crowd gathered together in the headquarters.
This was Pilate’s headquarters and the crowd of soldiers there was likely around 200 men. This is a substantially sized group. And they are going to exhibit their depravity by getting twisted gratification through the mocking of the best man who ever lived.
The whole scene depicts the shaming mockery of Jesus by the soldiers. They are getting their kicks by mocking Jesus. Each description is an intensifying display of scorn and dishonor.
You’ll benefit from looking with me at your Bibles with me as we walk through. And as you are reading this and considering it, remember who Jesus is.
He is the eternal God who has come to save a ruined and wrecked people.
He is worthy of infinite honor yet he seems to be crowned with infinite disgrace.
See in verse 28, Jesus is stripped of his clothes. He’s naked.
But, not soon, he’s dressed in a scarlet robe by the soldiers. The soldiers have props for their depraved theater. They were famous for this type of mockery. They put a robe upon him as if he is a king. You sense the mocking jeers, don’t you? “Oh, your majesty, let me dress you. Your robe, sir.”
But further, they find a crown for him. But not a regular crown, instead of a specially designed crown. It’s a crown of thorns, as we read in verse 29. This would have been familiar to the people because it would be similar to the wreath that Caesar would have worn and was on their coins. But this crown would have had thorns that were several inches long. This wreath mocked the crown of Caesar. And they forcefully put it upon his head. And in so doing would have torn into his head. So no as they push the crown upon his head blood would be flowing down his face along with his from his back. He is being bloodied with mocking shame.
But, they are not yet done.
They put a reed in his hand. This is a fake staff to emulate the king. He now has his crown, his robe, and his staff. And then we read in verse 29 that they go about kneeling before him, mocking him, “hail king of the Jews.”
Still not satisfied with their abuse, they continue, (v.30) “And they spit on him and took the reed and struck him on the head.”
There is not much more directly insulting than to spit in someone’s face. Yet, this is what they are doing to the Son of God. In addition, they take the reed and repeatedly bash it into Jesus’ face, pummeling him with the props of their perverse mockery.
Finally, they are through. For now they have sufficiently mocked Jesus and so, verse 31,
““And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes on him and led him away to crucify him.”
Coming out of this scene we have Jesus staggering under the weight of physical suffering.
A man, Simon, takes up his cross and carries it.
And they come, verse 33 to Calvary, or Golgotha, the place of the skull.
It is here that they crucified him. Crucifixion was the Romans’ favorite method of execution. They loved to make a public spectacle of anyone who defied them. They would have nailed Jesus to a wooden cross as he laid down upon it, with his lacerated back flush against the wood. The nails were long, tapered iron spikes, similar to modern railroad spikes, but much sharper. They would have driven the nails through the wrists and the feet. The pain would have been so severe that shooting, persistent pain would have shot up and down the arms and legs. These wounds would not be fatal, but they would be intense and increasingly painful as the crucifixion wore on. They offered him wine to drink, no doubt to dull the pain, but he refused it.
The guards kept watch and then put the sign above him, with their work finished, according to verse 37, “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.”
The soldiers think they are being ironic. This is some king, they thought. And, at first glance, we might be tempted to agree.
But Matthew would have us take another look. After all, he has been building this theme of king for some time through this book.
Do you remember how this book started out? Turn back to Matthew 1:1,
“The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.”
This is a book about Jesus, who is the King. What kind of king would he be? He would be a king who would give his life, suffer, and die for his people.
Turn ahead to chapter 20.
“But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”” (Matthew 20:25–28)
We know following this death, that he will rise on the third day. Upon his resurrection, we see Jesus as the conquering King.
“And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” (Matthew 28:18)
Matthew wants you to take another look. He is mocked as king but really is the King.
He appears to be weak, but in this supposed weakness we see his glorious strength.
The stage is set to display his apparent lack of power.
Jesus, convicted as an enemy of the state and a blasphemer of Israel, is hanging on a cross. He is hoisted upon the cross beams, the tortuous instrument of death and punishment. And he is hanging there between two criminals. Matthew tells us they are two robbers in verse 38. Jesus and these robbers are suspended in mid air between earth and heaven. To all who pass by, these men are spectacles of weakness and shame.
They are powerless. Trophies of Roman power and justice. We can see this by what they say.
Look with me, if you would at verses 39-40.
They’re deriding him. This is literally blaspheming him. They are slandering him publicly by speaking against him. They are doing it while wagging their heads.
You can sense the mocking, condescension of the whole scene. “And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads and saying, “You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.”” (Matthew 27:39–40)
They see him hanging on the cross and they are reciting back the popular word on the street, this Jesus said he could rebuild the temple. They are laughing at his lack of power.
Think about this for a second.
How long would it take someone to demo and rebuild our church building? I am not sure what a reasonable estimate would be, but certainly we could agree that it would be conservative to suggest that it would take more than three days. It’s not something we could knock out on a three day weekend—even with a well-trained, experienced team. But imagine saying you could do it in three days, all by yourself?! To say so would be a statement of unrivaled power. Wouldn’t it? I suppose to say you could do this would be on the level of a miracle, like raising the dead, don’t you think?
But what Matthew knows in writing this, and what Jesus knows while enduring the mocking, is that he actually is powerful. He is powerful.
Do you remember what one of the charges was at Jesus’ trial? Flip back a page to chapter 26. In verse 60 we read that two witnesses finally came forward and said, “This man said, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God, and to rebuild it in three days.”’
Where did they get this?
Well, they got if from Jesus. Turn to John, chapter 2. There we read, “19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” 20 The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” 21 But he was speaking about the temple of his body. 22 When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.” (John 2:19-22)
You see the profound irony, don’t you?
They think it’s preposterous that Jesus would claim to have such power as this, to destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days.
That would take unfathomable power. Power is something he evidently lacks—as evidenced by him being affixed to the cross, suffering and dying.
But yet, as they say this, Jesus is doing something even greater.
He is, dying for sin and he will in three days rise from the dead.
He will destroy this temple (his body) and rebuild it (resurrection). Their mocking words drip with irony. They say, “if you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” It is precisely because he is the Son of God that he is staying on the cross! He who appears powerless is actually exceedingly powerful.
I’m telling you, take another look at Jesus. Don’t miss this, when you look at Jesus suffering, what first seems like weakness, actually shows his strength.
Matthew continues to bring things into sharp focus with more irony. We have seen him as king, as powerful, and now as Savior.
In verses 41-42, the religious leaders get in on the action decrying Jesus’ apparent inability to save himself, much less anyone else. Look at what they say here, “He saved others he cannot save himself.”
They are looking at what is happening and they conclude that he who saved others can’t save himself.
How did Jesus save people? Throughout his ministry, Jesus saved or delivered people from all kinds of difficulty and affliction. He healed the lame, gave sight to the blind, exorcized demons, and even raised the dead. But now, look at him, on the cross, this same Jesus can’t save himself from death.
This concept of saving is really important.
Do you remember when Jesus’ birth was announced, way back in the first chapter of Matthew? How did the angel communicate it to Joseph? Look back at chapter 1:21, if you would. “21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”
This Jesus will be a Savior. Even his name, Jesus, means, “God saves.” From the very beginning of this book Jesus has been described as the King who saves.
How will Jesus save people from their sins? How will he do this?
Jesus says he will save people by giving his life as a ransom for many (Mt. 20:28).
That is he will offer his life as a payment for the sins of many, his people. Jesus’ death on the cross is a substitionary death. He dies in the place of sinners like you and me who deserve to die. He dies in our place.
3 He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. 4 Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. 5 But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. 6 All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. 7 He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth. (Isaiah 53:3–7)
Bearing shame and scoffing rude,
In my place condemned He stood;
Sealed my pardon with His blood.
Hallelujah! What a Savior!
Think again about heir words, “He saved others, he cannot save himself.” They are not wrong here, are they?
No, they, are right on a far more profound way than they can even imagine!
It’s ironic because the actual result of a situation is the opposite of what you would naturally expect.
“Let him come down from the cross and we will believe in him.” No, it is precisely him staying upon the cross that provides the occasion and opportunity for us to believe in him. Hallelujah! What a Savior!
Once again, Matthew shows with intense irony, that this crucifixion shows something that we might miss at first glance. What first appears as weakness is actually his strength.
We see the mocking continues. And so does Matthew’s careful penetration below the surface to show us a deeper theological truth.
Darkness has enveloped the scene. Biblically, darkness often accompanies judgment. Think about the plagues in Egypt. This is the image that Matthew is capturing. The cross is a place of judgment. We’ll talk about this more on Good Friday, as we consider what is happening at this scene.
Jesus cries out a cry of desolation. He says, in verse 46, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
They conclude listening to this that he is abandoned and forsaken by God. Some people think he is calling for Elijah (because the words sound similar). So they mock and laugh, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save him.” (v.49) They conclude, looking at and hearing Jesus cry out, that he is abandoned by God.
Once again they are right, but on a far more deep level than they can possibly imagine.
What does it mean that Jesus is forsaken here? The Bible teaches us that God is too pure to behold iniquity. His holiness is utterly intolerant of any imperfection. It’s his goodness that demands sin be punished. Therefore, if Jesus is to be our substitute, then he is must bear the debt that we deserve. He must pay the penalty for our sins. We know that the Bible teaches that the wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23). Jesus here, shrouded in darkness, nailed to the cross, in the echoing cries of abandonment, is bearing the judgment of God in the place of sinners.
They see Jesus as forsaken because he is cursed by God. And this is entirely true.
But the reason for his forsaking is not because he is unrighteous or sinful in himself, but because he is being made sin, or counted sin on our behalf, that is in our place.
They esteem him cursed by God and he is. Because he is in our place.
But they are wrong about something.
They think he is failing to trust in God. They think he is calling upon Elijah. I assure you, he is not. We know that he is quoting the 22nd Psalm. This is a Psalm of David that speaks to his deep and abiding confidence in God. It’s a song of trust, even when things are very poorly. In fact, turn back to the 22nd Psalm.
We see right away in verse 1, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?”
But then watch what happens in the following verses,
3 Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel. 4 In you our fathers trusted; they trusted, and you delivered them. 5 To you they cried and were rescued; in you they trusted and were not put to shame. 6 But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by mankind and despised by the people. 7 All who see me mock me; they make mouths at me; they wag their heads; 8 “He trusts in the Lord; let him deliver him; let him rescue him, for he delights in him!” Ps 22:3–8
14 I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast; 15 my strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death. 16 For dogs encompass me; a company of evildoers encircles me; they have pierced my hands and feet— 17 I can count all my bones— they stare and gloat over me; 18 they divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots. Ps 22:14-18
This is a Psalm of trust as he drinks the cup of divine wrath.
22 He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 23 When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. 24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. 25 For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. 1 Peter 2:22–25
Matthew is wanting us to see, that the cross shows something that we might miss at first glance.
What first appears as weakness is actually his strength.
His abandonment shows his utter, unflinching trust.
What do you do with this? What help is this to you?
This is an explanation of Christianity. This is who Christianity began. It is a story of a loving God who identified with us in our weakness and came to suffer, sympathizes with and dies for us. The story of the gospel is a compelling and attractive story.
This provides an example of how a Christian should live. When we look at Jesus we see the type of life he calls us to live. The one who lived a life of loving self-sacrifice, self-denial, cross-bearing obedience calls us to do the same. Think of the first century Christians who would’ve originally read this
1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. Hebrews 12:1–3
This entreats us to gratefully delight in Christ. If he is the all-powerful King, then what kept him on that Cross? What kept him suffering? It was love. Love for sinners like you and me. Treasuring Christ above all. Marvel in his unflinching trust in God and love for sinners like me and you.
Take another look at him, and I trust you will see glory disguised as a weakness.