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The Matthew Series - The Crucifixion (Part 1)

Matthew 27:27-44 New International Version (NIV)

The Soldiers Mock Jesus

27 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.

The Crucifixion of Jesus

32 As they were going out, 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. 35 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.

38 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.

Over the next two weeks we will be looking at the crucifixion as described by Matthew’s gospel. We have to break this apart because of all that Matthew crams into these few verses. Matthew paints this first part of his depiction of the crucifixions with bitter ironies. This is a common expression used when interpreting this section of Matthew. Many scholars and bible interpreters have noted this throughout the years.

What I want to show you tonight (hopefully) is that these ironies expose our own ironic views of God.

One of my pastors used to say; “No one has ever been disappointed with God, many have been disappointed with the god they make up.” It was John Calvin, the Reformer who said it so well. “The human heart is a factory for idols” we are constantly bowing down to things to save us, build our lives and give us meaning.

The problem is that we are made for God and only he will satisfy, therefore all our idol making is only going to corrupt us and leave us hopeless, empty, bitter and cruel. We need God. We need God as He has truly revealed Himself and as Hewbrews said ‘in these latter days God has revealed Himself through his Son.’

So, in this depiction of the cross tonight we see two ironies that expose our hidden needs and then we will look at why this is important. So let’s dive in.

Firstly, we see…

  1. The king who is insulted

Throughout this passage we read of the mockery and insults that Jesus endures. He endures the spiteful words of the soldiers, the thieves crucified with him, the people who witnessed his death and the chief priests. The Mockery of his king-ship is throughout this passage.

This is seen most graphically when the soldiers take Jesus and make a crown of thrones for his head and a reed for his staff and mock him by bowing down to Him and then beat Him with the reed. The mockingly say, “Hail, King of the Jews” And Jesus just takes it.

Note the irony, He is the King of the Jews. That statement, taking in light of the prophecies of the Old Testament meant that He is the true king of the earth. And yet He is letting his creatures mock him and insult him.

Kings don’t do this. King’s don’t take insults. Kings give commands and direct armies. Kings Rule with power.

Jesus did not need to defend himself, He chose, rather, to humble Himself for our sakes. At any point Jesus could have taken up His power as King of the universe. He could have commanded legions of angels to assist Him. He could have simply commanded the men who insulted Him to cease to exist. He is the one whom all things were created by and for (Col 1:16-17) and he holds all things together with His word (Heb 1:1-4). He does not, therefor, show his power because he did not need to show his power.

You see; we long for power in the guise of popularity, influence or other because we think that by it we will be secure. We lie to ourselves about our reality. We are not secure and can never be (in this life) Tim Keller puts it like this:

“…human beings have a deep fear of powerlessness stemming from their alienation from God...”[1]

Our insecurity and lust for power is because we are deep down aware of our frailty and insecurity. Jesus never had that. Even in the face of death. Nothing could shake who he was; which was King of the world. Yet He faced our loss.

You see the Soldiers wrapping a crown of thorns would have been a mocking Laurel wreath; A winners crown however made of thorns. This mocking crown, is actually ours. That is what we deserve, we are the kings of our mess, yet Jesus took upon our loss he faced our mess– even though he is the true King and did not deserve it.

The next irony we see is;

  1. The sinless who is counted among sinners

Jesus is crucified between two thieves. These were bad guys. Again, Matthew is ensuring that we see the irony here. Everyone here has a need for justice. We (almost in a cathartic sense) need to see people get what they deserve.

But Matthew shows us here, in ironic display, is a perfect man being put among thieves. Pilot knows that Jesus is here because the Chief priest are jealous of Him. He announces Him innocent. The testimony of Jesus life is that he is sinless.

James, Jesus’ brother later attests to Jesus’ sinlessness. Now, one thing you can be sure of is a brother would know if someone is sinful or not. Yet in all this here is crucified a sinless man among sinners.

Now, justice or fairness is a human need. We have a deep, almost instinctual knowledge of this. Small children know fairness and justice. Give one kid two sweets and another three and you will hear; that’s not fair.

If some once cheats you cry out; that’s not fair. Let someone wrong you and there is a deep need for you to have that wrong made right.

Well, what would cosmic fairness look like? What would true justice look like. The justice of a God who is absolutely good? What would that be like? It would have to be perfect, because God is perfect. Justice has to be absolutely impartial if it is to remain just.

One of the struggles of being human is that we have this innate need and desire for justice, yet every one of us is a hypocrite about implementing it. I could go through hundreds of examples where we demand absolute justice for some and absolute leniency for others.

For example; we hate being lied to, however, will easily let a lie slip out when our reputation etc is on the line. Or we hate stealing, yet illegal software and pirated movies is fine. How about, how angry we get with the lawlessness on our roads, but it is us who speed, some of us even pay bribes etc. We say we want justice, but in reality all we want is justice for others. Please have mercy on me.

The irony Matthew is showing here in this irony or the paradox of the entire bible. God is a good God, who rules with justice. He, however, has mercy on his people.

In the whole of the Old Testament there are two paradoxical characteristics about God that are increasingly fleshed out as you go through it. on the one had you have a just God who is wrathful against sin and perfect in His judgments.

As he says in Exodus 33:7

“he [The Lord] does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.”

Yet paradoxically He is gracious, in the same verse just above this statement in Exodus 33 we read;

“The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, 7 maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.

Both of these characteristics are fleshed out in the Old Testament to perfect standards. God is depicted as both perfectly merciful and loving (the theological word is omnibenevolent – without limitation of love) and he is perfectly just (omnipotent – without limit of his power).

With these two characteristics we have a crisis. The Greek philosopher Epicurus was then correct in what has been terms the Epicurean Trilemma where he states;

  1. Either God is all good, in which case he cannot be powerful as evil still exists.

  2. Or He is all power, in which case He is evil as he does not stop evil

  3. If he is both all power and all good, then why does evil exist?

In a world full of evil this is a problem – How does a good God deal with the evil in His world. It becomes even more difficult in the fact that If God was just perfectly just we would all be on the wrong side of his justice.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, a famous author who wrote against the evils of soviet Russia said it so brilliantly when he said;

“But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”

Here this stops being a paradox and starts becoming a true contradiction. And would be unless for the “irony” of the cross.

It is upon the cross that the true righteousness – the full justice – of God is pour out upon Jesus. This is done so that the full goodness – His love and favour – could be poured out upon us.

This leads us to the third point and the focus of the passage tonight which is

  1. The wonderful exchange

Martin Luther the 16th century reformer famously wrote;

“That is the mystery which is rich in divine grace to sinners: wherein by a wonderful exchange our sins are no longer ours but Christ’s and the righteousness of Christ not Christ’s but ours. He has emptied Himself of His righteousness that He might clothe us with it, and fill us with it. And He has taken our evils upon Himself that He might deliver us from them… in the same manner as He grieved and suffered in our sins, and was confounded, in the same manner we rejoice and glory in His righteousness.”[2]

The cross is not a wishful waving away of our problems and sins. It is a wonderful exchange. It is the dealing with our sins once and for all time. It is not simply forgiveness, it is atonement. Our sins have been dealt with; the price has been paid, atonement has been made.

“Therefore”, as Paul writes in Romans 8:1, “There is now no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus.” There cannot be. Our sins have been crucified upon the cross and stand condemned for all time. The price has been paid. The atonement has been made. And we in a mysterious but wonderful turn of events, are see as Christ should be seen. We are free, we are righteous. We are innocent in the eyes of God

All because the reward that was rightfully Jesus, through the cross, is ironically ours. Living this out is a sermon for another day. But the Christian life is the journey of living out the reality of who you are in Christ Jesus. Of taking this idea that you are the righteousness of God, you are seen as a Child of God, you are seen as justified in Christ – now learn to live as if that is true.

By faith in Christ we are saved. Because He paid it all; He did it all. This is the good news, this is our hope.

Let’s pray.

[1] Counterfeit gods (Hodder & Stoughton, London) p.111

[2] Accessed 23 Jan 2020 available online

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