Open your Bible with me to Matthew chapter 27. We’re going to be looking again at a portion of Scripture we began to examine last Lord’s Day in Matthew 27. It’s verses 27 through 44. It portrays for us the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus Christ. By way of introduction, may I remind you that Jesus said in Matthew 16:4 that His generation was a wicked generation. He said the leaders of Israel, in Luke 11:39, were full of wickedness. When they approached Him in Matthew 22:18, He perceived their wickedness. And Paul, identifying unbelieving Christ-rejecters in general, says that basically they are filled with all wickedness, Romans 1:29. All of this is true because of what Jeremiah identified as the heart of man being desperately wicked.
One thing is made abundantly clear throughout the pages of Holy Scripture and that is that man is wicked, that he is sinful, and given over to his own devices unrestrained will perpetrate crimes beyond imagination. Now the wickedness of man is no more clearly seen nor does it reach a higher apex than it does in the execution of Jesus Christ. The crucifixion of the Savior is the greatest expression of human evil in history, the epitome of demonstration of the depth and comprehensiveness of the sinfulness of human nature.
And as I noted to you last time, it seems to me that this is Matthew’s particular concern. While John seems to want to describe the crucifixion from the standpoint of fulfilled Scripture and God’s viewpoint, Matthew says nothing about the fulfillment of Scripture and seems to approach the crucifixion from the standpoint of the wickedness of men. Yes, the crucifixion was the greatest act of love on the part of God, and that seems to be John’s focus and even more the emphasis of Mark and Luke, but it was also the greatest expression of human evil which seems to be Matthew’s particular interest under the direction of the Spirit as he writes.
So as we go through the passage in Matthew that describes the crucifixion, we see just unrelenting evil. David Thomas wrote, “For thousands of years wickedness had been growing. It had wrought deeds of impiety and crime that had rung the ages with agony and often roused the justice of the universe to roll her fiery thunderbolts of retribution through the world. But now it had grown to full maturity. It stands around the cross in such gigantic proportions as had never been seen before. It works an enormity before which the mightiest of its past exploits dwindle into insignificance and pale into dimness. Wickedness crucifies the Lord of life and glory.”
And as we have seen in this passage and the ones prior, wickedness is not content just to execute Jesus Christ. It must torment Him also in the process. It must taunt Him in the process. It must heap on Him all imaginable evil. It cannot just kill Him, it must slap Him and punch Him and stab Him and spit on Him and defame Him and blaspheme Him and keep that up all the time He is dying. Inconceivable. But such is the cruelty of the human heart when fully exposed. Now we should not be shocked at this. Sorrow, which our Savior bore because He was indeed a man of sorrows, as we read in Isaiah 53, that was the mark of His life. His sufferings were great. They were too great even for us to fully understand or comprehend. I suppose to get some kind of a grasp on it we could say that He suffered more sorrow than any man who ever lived. Yes, He suffered more sorrow than all man who have ever lived combined.
You say, how so? Because according to Isaiah 53:4, He carried our griefs and He carried and bore our sorrows and in addition to that His own sorrow in being alienated and separated from His Father. So He not only suffered more than any man has suffered, but He suffered more than all men together have ever suffered. The prophet Isaiah says He was acquainted with grief. 0h, how intimately was He acquainted with grief. In fact, He experienced little else. Grief was His constant companion. He wept on several occasions, Scripture says, but never does it say He laughed. He seems to have had no acquaintance at all with laughter. But deep and profound acquaintance with grief, all the way to the cross. Years ago Greek Christians used to beg God to give them mercy for the unknown sufferings they might have caused Jesus Christ. And they realized that they themselves could not even conceive of all the suffering that He endured.
How did He suffer? Let me suggest several ways. He suffered from temptation. He was in all points tempted like as we are. He suffered, says the writer in Hebrews, in that He was tempted. He was constantly being assaulted by temptation. He suffered in self‑denial. By the way, His temptation was a real temptation and His wrestling with temptation, a real wrestling even though He never sinned. He suffered also in self‑denial. He refused to have those things which we would assume to be the normal comforts of life. He deprived Himself. As the hymn writer says, “Out of the ivory palaces into a world of woe.” As Paul says in Philippians 2, “He thought it not something to hold onto to be equal with God, but stripped Himself of that and took upon Himself the form of a servant, was humbled, found in fashion as a man and obedient even to death.” He was born in a manger in a stable. He lived a life of deprivation. He knew no personal possessions. He knew hunger and thirst and weariness and the absence of all worldly comforts. And so He suffered just in the area of self‑denial. And He suffered rejection as well. He was hated, despised, mocked, maligned, reviled, rebuked, blasphemed, reproached, falsely accused all His life long. And now reaching a culmination of fury in the events around His cross.
And may I add this, and listen careful to what I say, He suffered from sin also. Though He was sinless, in the cross He suffered from sin. In fact so much so that Paul writing to the Corinthians says He became – what? – sin for us. He suffered the weight of sin. And no doubt because of His omniscience, He had suffered all the things that He was yet to suffer in anticipation of them. And then He suffered from Satan. Satan, who was forever plaguing Him, forever stalking Him from the very time of His birth when he would have had Him eliminated by Herod’s decree, all the way to the time of the garden where he comes in three great waves of temptation to distract Christ away from the cross. He is ever and always in a conflict with Satan. And Satan threw at Him the fury that all hell could break loose upon His head and yet, according to Genesis, could only bruise His heel. But He knew the tremendous suffering that comes to one in conflict with Satan.
Even Peter was once Satan to Him and He had to say, “Get thee behind Me, Satan.” And Judas, the devil entered into him and he betrayed his own friend. And so the Lord suffered from temptation and self‑denial and rejection and sin and Satan. And then beyond that, monumental category of suffering is the fact that He suffered at the wrath of God. Because on the cross when He became sin, God then had to pour out all of heaven’s fury against all of earth’s sin, and it all came on Jesus Christ. So He suffered the unmitigated wrath of God.
Now as we come to the scene before us in verses 27 to 44, we see His suffering at the hands of wicked men. We see His suffering due to the evil rage of Satan. We see, also, His suffering because of the wrath of God against the sin that He will bear. And it all reaches its high point. And this seems to be Matthew’s high point. For a long time now in Matthew’s gospel, he’s been emphasizing the rejection of the King, hasn’t he? It’s been mounting and mounting and mounting, and now it reaches its epitome as he presents the crucifixion.
To help us see the wickedness of the scene, I want to draw to your attention four different groups that appear in the scene. Let’s call them the ignorant wicked, the knowing wicked, the fickle wicked, and the religious wicked. And I want to suggest to you that every person in the world who does not come to faith in Jesus Christ, every Christ-rejecting person fits into these groups. They are constant. They were there at the cross. They’re around today. And everybody fits somewhere in these four groups.
Now last time we looked at the ignorant wicked who were illustrated to us by the callous soldiers in verses 37 through – pardon me, verse 27 through 37. And we looked at that portion of the Scripture. We saw that the callous soldiers basically were Roman legionnaires stationed in Caesarea, no doubt, with Pilate. They didn’t really have first-hand information about Jesus. They were not very well apprised of who He was. They may have had a very limited smattering of information. They basically are ignorant. To them Jesus is another criminal and a somewhat deranged one at that. There seems to be no legitimate criminal act that He has done. He seems to be more a maniac who thinks Himself to be a king, but by any definition they know of a king is not a king at all. They no doubt think Him to be somewhat deficient intellectually and mentally, and through all the tortures that they bring upon Him, He never says a word, which probably confirms their suspicion.
They are the ones who have Him as we come to verse 27. They have scourged Him, that is they’ve tied His wrists to a post, His feet suspended from the ground, His body taut and they have taken leather thongs attached to a piece of wood and in the end of the leather thongs are bits of stone and bone and metal and they have lashed Him until His flesh is ripped off and His internal organs are laid bare and exposed and blood rushes from out of His body. They have then clothed Him again. They brought Him back into Pilate’s hall and they start a little game under the watchful supervision of Pilate. And that little game is to make Jesus to appear as a king.
And you’ll notice what happens in verse 28. They stripped Him. They took off His own robe which had been placed over His open wounds, and they put on Him a scarlet robe, that’s the heavy outer robe worn by a Roman soldier, no doubt causing excruciating pain to those open wounds, a mock royal robe. And then they braided a crown of thorns and put it around His head. Put a reed in His right hand representative of a crown and a scepter. They bowed their knees before Him and mocked Him saying, “Hail, King of the Jews.” And as they rose from the ground they spit in His face. Then they took the reed out of His hand in a mocking gesture of snatching away His pitiful sovereignty and smashed Him in the head with His own scepter. In John 19:3 it says they kept on punching Him. He is a fool. He is a clown. He’s a buffoon. He is an object of mockery. This one who claims to be a king, what a farce, what a joke, how ridiculous. And the soldiers, with joy and glee, trained in the art of killing and maiming people, enjoy to the very fullest their leisure expression on Jesus Christ at His expense.
By the way, this is the second time He has been punched and spit on. The Jewish leaders did it back in chapter 26 verses 67 and 68. There they spit on Him because He claimed to be a prophet. Here they spit on Him because He claimed to be a king. Little did they know the King that He was and long will they know it in hell in eternity. Little did they know that indeed He was a King, and indeed He will wear a robe and a blood‑spattered robe at that. In Revelation chapter 19 in verse 13 it shows Jesus Christ coming in second coming glory out of heaven, and He is indeed wearing a robe of royalty and it is a robe spotted with blood but it is not, at that time, His own blood but rather the blood of His enemies. And indeed some day He will wear a royal crown. It will be far different from this crown, not a stephanos, not a crown made of some earthly thing but a diadēma, a diadem, a royal regal crown. Yes, Revelation 19:12 says He will wear many crowns for He will not only have His own, but He will wear the crown that once belonged to every other sovereign in the world for He alone will be King. And some day He will wield a scepter and it will be no reed. It will be according to Revelation 19:15, a rod of iron with which He will bring instant judgment on the unbelieving world.
And then it will be no joke. Then it will be no laughing matter. In fact the tables will be turned and according to Psalm 2 it says, “God shall laugh at them and hold them in derision.” But for now in humiliation, Jesus is the laughing-stock. His face is swollen beyond recognition from the many slaps and punches that He has taken to the face. It is covered with spittle mixed with blood that is running down from the thorns that pierce His brow. The blows from the reed which was heavy enough to cause a painful blow to the head are added and more bumps and bruises appear. His body is dripping with blood, oozing from His pores. A lack of sleep, the anguish of sin has contorted and twisted His face so that He is hardly recognizable as human, let alone as Jesus of Nazareth. And He is thought to be nothing more than a fool.
Dressed as a mock king, Pilate then, according to John 19, takes Him back out to the Jewish crowd and says, “Isn’t this enough? Haven’t you had enough?” He has already stated on several occasions that Jesus is innocent. He has given the findings of the court when he said, “I find no fault in this man.” He really doesn’t want to execute a man he knows to be innocent. His wife has warned him against that and his own conscience has done the same. But he is being blackmailed into a corner by the Jews, and he thinks maybe he can satiate their thirst for blood by showing Jesus to be such a foolish, foolish looking person that they will understand Him to be little threat to Rome or to Israel. And so he brings Jesus out and says, “Behold the man.” And the scream the more for His blood and say, “If you don’t kill, Him we’ll report you to Caesar.” And trapped for the fear of the loss of his position, he indicates that Jesus is to be crucified. And so it is determined.
Then verse 31 then, after they had finished their mockery, they take the robe off Him. They put back on His own garment. And they lead Him away to crucify Him. As they leave the city in verse 32, they conscript a man by the name of Simon who is from Cyrene. And this man, as we saw last time, is to carry the cross of Christ. They then, verse 33, come to a place called Golgotha, meaning skull place, named for the shape of the hill. They give Him vinegar to drink, actually wine, oinos in the better texts. They give Him wine to drink and mingled with bitter herbs. That’s a general term. Mark tells us the bitter herbs were in fact myrrh. And myrrh would act like a sedative. This was provided by Jerusalem women. There was an association of woman who provided this for people who were to be crucified as an expression of the fulfillment of Proverbs 31 where it says that strong drink is for those who face death. These women did it out of kindness. The soldiers appreciated it, not because they wanted to show kindness, but because it was easier to crucify a drugged victim. So it accommodated them as well. He tasted it and wouldn’t drink it because He wanted to go to the cross with all of His senses acute and alert.
And so they crucified Him. As you know, they parted His garments by casting lots. The rest of that verse which does appear in the Authorized Version really is not in the better manuscripts and has been taken from John’s gospel and found its way into Matthew’s. But Matthew really doesn’t have any relationship here to prophetic Scripture in his original intention. As I said, his is not to focus on scriptural fulfillment or God’s viewpoint, but rather on the wickedness of men. And so they crucify Christ. Rather coldly gambling to see who gets the elements of His clothing. Each of the four soldiers in a quaternion would take one of the five pieces. They would gamble then for the seamless inner robe that He wore. And verse 36 says, “Sitting down they guarded Him there.” They just sat down and watched Him so that no one would come along and try to relieve His pain, or no one would come along and try to do anything that was not to be done. They were on guard.
And as I said to you last time, I’m so amazed at the fact that the crucifixion itself is passed over with such brevity. In fact, as I told you, in the Greek text it actually says, “The having crucified Him ones parted His garments.” It almost throws away the crucifixion in the original text. And we really don’t have anything given to us about the details of it so we need to kind of fill in just for a moment. The cross would be lying on the ground, the victim would be placed down on the cross and first His feet would be extended, His toes pulled down and then a large nail would be driven through the arch of one foot and then the arch of another foot. And then His hands would be extended allowing His knees to flex a little bit and there would be great nails driven through His wrists just below the bottom part of His hand, the heel of His hand because there is the place where it would hold. In the middle of the hand it wouldn’t hold, it would pull through the fingers.
Once the victim was nailed there, the cross would be picked up and dropped into a hole. And when it hit the bottom of the socket, of course, it would rip and tear the flesh and send the nerve impulses to make explosions in the brain in regard to pain. The victim is now crucified. Slowly He would begin to sag down, more and more the weight being placed upon the nails running through His wrists, excruciating fiery pain would shoot up the arms and into the mind. Pressure put on the median nerves would be beyond almost the ability to endure. The Lord then would try to push to relieve the pain and so He would push with His feet and be pushing on the two wounds in His feet. And the same thing would happen. And hour after hour this wrenching twisting torment of the body back and forth, trying to relieve one and then the other, the hands and the feet, it would become very impossible after a while to do any pushing upward because of the pain and the sagging would put the greatest weight upon the hands.
Dr. Truman Davis writes, “At this point, another phenomenon occurred as the arms fatigued, great waves of cramps sweep over the muscles nodding them in deep relentless throbbing pain. With these cramps comes the inability to push Himself upward. Hanging by His arms, the pectoral muscles are paralyzed and the inner costal muscles are unable to act. Air can be drawn into the lungs but it can’t be exhaled. Jesus fights to raise Himself to get even one short breath. Finally carbon dioxide builds up in the lungs and in the blood stream and the cramps subside. He would grasps short breaths of air, hours of limitless pain, cycles of twisting joint‑rending cramps, intermittent partial asphyxiation, searing pain as tissue is torn from His lacerated back as He Moves up and down the rough timber. A deep crushing pain in the chest as the pericardium slowly fills with scorum and begins to compress the heart.” And this leads to death.
What agony. And the callous soldiers, they sit there and watch. They’ve seen it over and over and over and over. Do they know who He is? No. There’s a sign in verse 37. They set over His head an accusation, because it was required that a man who was crucified be crucified for some criminal reason. And there was no legitimate criminal reason to crucify Christ. Pilate, wanting to make his statement of the innocence of Christ and also wanting to affirm his despising of the Jews, puts over the head of Jesus, “This Is Jesus,” the other writers tell us he put, “This Is Jesus of Nazareth, The King Of The Jews.” And in all three languages of the times so everyone could read it. And the Jews protested and said, “We don’t want that up there, we want, “He said He is king of the Jews.’” And Pilate said, “What I have written, I have written.” And thus in cynical sarcastic words he mocked the Jews by saying to the whole world, “There’s your king. There’s your king. You despicable people. You deserve such a king.”
Pilate’s mockery spoke the truth. He was the King. But the soldiers were ignorant of that. If they knew anything, they knew very little. Now they demonstrate many people in all times and all periods of history who were really ignorant of who Jesus Christ is. He may be someone but they’re not too sure who He is. And they really aren’t too interested in who He is. Frankly, it’s an unnecessary ignorance because Christ is the light that lights every man that comes into the world, John 1:9 says. And for all who seek, God will reveal the reality of His saving Son. But they have no interest in that. They are the ignorant wicked. And the world is still full of them. The world is still full of people who reject Jesus Christ out of ignorance. It is a willful ignorance, it is an unnecessary ignorance but it is nonetheless that they are ignorant. They just don’t know. And many don’t seek to find out, don’t care to know.
But there’s a more wicked group than that group and that’s the one we come to in verse 38. Let’s call these the knowing wicked. They’re not ignorant. They know. Now they don’t know everything but they do know something. “Then were there two robbers crucified with Him, one on the right hand and another on the left.” Now of course, this is another way to dishonor Christ, to defame Him, to put Him in the middle of a couple of robbers, a couple of, as Luke calls them, malefactors, which means evil doers, criminals. Put Him up there and thus dishonor Him and shame Him by His association with them. So He is with the wicked in His death.
So, there He hangs with these two, the Greek word is lēstai. There are a couple of words in the Greek language that have to do with stealing. One is lēstai and the other is kleptai. Kleptai is a word from which we get klepto, kleptomaniac, someone who is a petty thief who snatches things, who grabs things. But lēstai is a different word. It is the word used here, and basically it means a bandit or a plundering robber, a brigand to use an old word, not a petty thief. These are robbers who kill, who are serious about what they do. They don’t sneak in and walk away with something. They come thundering through the door, guns blazing, if you will, the worst of criminals. And very likely they were associates of Barabbas who was intended for that middle cross before the crowd wanted Barabbas and Jesus crucified in his place.
They knew something of the claims of Jesus. They knew something about it as is evidenced by the future record of what they say. We find that in verse 44. “The lēstai – the robbers also who were crucified with Him,” and the Authorized says, “cast the same in His teeth.” Actually, what the text says is “heaped insults at Him.” They heaped the same insults at Him. The same insults they were hearing from the Jewish leaders who were saying, “If You’re the king of Israel, come down. You say You trust in God, let God deliver You. You said You were the Son of God,” so forth. So they knew some of the claims of Jesus.
They were familiar because they were a part of the Jewish society with perhaps the work of Jesus Christ, may have been familiar with His person, may on occasion have heard Him in a crowd. We don’t know that. But obviously they knew something about Him, something more than the Roman legionnaires would have known, who had nothing to do with life in that part of the world even if they were Syrian legionnaires, which is an area from which the Romans recruited many of their soldiers, because they wanted them to speak Aramaic in occupied Palestine. They still would have not been as familiar as these men were with Jesus who moved about their country. They know.
But they’re also wicked. They heap insults at Jesus. They revile Jesus. They rebuke Jesus just like the soldiers did. And they do so with more knowledge than the soldiers had. It isn’t only the ignorant pagans who reject Jesus Christ, who have pleasure at His execution. But also these crass materialistic bandits, for them life revolves around possessions, materialism, loot. They have no thought about righteousness, truth, justice, honor, godliness. They have no concern for morality. They have no concern for Messiahs and kingdoms. They’re just out for the loot.
There are still people like them. They know about Jesus. They may not know much, but they know a little, but for them life is all revolved around the loot. Life is all concerned with material things. They have little regard for righteousness, little regard for truth. They live for self‑indulgence and they pay a great price for it. And to show you how deeply committed they were to their life style, here they are hanging on a cross in the hours of their own death, and they’re still firing insults to one who claims to be the Son of God. They’re blasphemers of another sort who mock Jesus because they have a greater love for the things of the world than they do for the things of God.
But even they are not the severest of rejecters because there’s another group. We see them in verses 39 and 40. I like to call those the fickle wicked. I suppose there are a lot of different terms we could use, but they are illustrated by the careless passersby. The ignorant wicked – the callous soldiers. The knowing wicked are illustrated by what we saw in verse 38, the thieves who I guess we could say are the crass thieves. They’re just into the world and that’s the sphere of their concern. And now we find the careless crowd who represent to us the people who for a while hear about Christ, understand about Christ, and even make some kind of overture to Christ, even invite Christ to be a part of their life to some extent, but eventually turn apostate or turn away from Him.
Verse 39 says, “And they that passed by.” Now we can’t read a whole lot into that phrase, “they that passed by,” but we can identify the fact that that would be a very common situation since people were crucified along a highway and this would be right outside the wall of Jerusalem. So, it would be a road to the north of the city which would be very traveled and people busily going in and out, back and forth, because it was the day of the Passover, taking care of all of the things that needed to be done. Pilgrims swelled the city. They were inside and outside, all the things were being prepared for Passover because many of them would eat the Passover that evening. And with all of this traffic and the population swelled beyond its normal size, it would be a very busy place.
And so, here were these Jews moving about, the same crowd that had cried “Crucify Him.” The same crowd on Monday had hailed Him with their hosannas, “Blessed is He that comes in the name of the Lord. The son of David.” Hailing them as their Messiah, the Savior, the one who would deliver them from Rome’s oppression. This is the same fickle crowd. They had a place for Jesus. They wanted His miracles. They wanted His signs and wonders. They listened to His teaching. The crowd was fascinated by Jesus, to some extent. And they knew full well who He claimed to be and they knew there was a demonstration of the veracity of those claims. But now He is just a victim of a Roman crucifixion. He is rejected by them. And as they pass by, they reviled Him, it says. Actually, they kept on reviling Him. It’s an imperfect tense, continual defamation, continual blasphemy. And did it with the wagging of their heads in a taunting kind of mocking form. Psalm 22 predicted this is exactly what they would do. It says in verse 7 of Psalm 22, “All they who see Me, laugh Me to scorn. They shoot out the lip, they shake the head, and they say He trusted in God,” and so forth and so on. “Let Him deliver Him.”
So they fulfill exactly what the psalmist said they would. It isn’t that they are trying to fulfill Scripture. They don’t even take any consideration towards Scripture. It is that Scripture knew exactly what they would do because the author is the Holy Spirit. And so they mock Jesus. And they say this, “Thou that destroyest the temple and buildest it in three days, save thyself. If Thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross.” Now why did they say that? Because those were the two things that came out of the trial of Christ before Annas and Caiaphas. You remember back in chapter 26 verse 61, they got some false witnesses into that Jewish trial who said, “This fellow” – that is Jesus – “said I am able to destroy the temple of God and build it in three days.” In other words, they were trying to come up with a crime. They wanted to kill Jesus. They knew what the verdict was; they just didn’t have a crime. So they were trying to come up with a crime and so they brought false witnesses in who were bribed, and they had these false witnesses say, “He said He was going to destroy the temple.” Well this had been a long time prior to this that He had referred to the destruction of the temple. In fact, nearly three years earlier when He had first come to Jerusalem. And at that time when He said that He meant the temple of His body, didn’t He?
So they’re twisting and perverting and pulling something out of the past to use against Jesus as if He was going to actually destroy their physical temple. And then over in verse 63, Caiaphas says to Him, “I adjure You by the living God that You tell us whether You be the Christ, the Son of God.” And Jesus said to him, “You said it. I am.” So they sort of capture these two things: the accusation that Jesus was going to destroy the temple and the claim that He was the Son of God.
Now you remember when the crowd gathered that morning, the chief priests, the elders, and the scribes wanted Jesus crucified. Pilate thought the crowd might be on Jesus’ side. Pilate was ready to offer Jesus to the crowd. But at the moment that he was about to offer Jesus to the crowd – and the crowd might have been willing to let Jesus go, because He was somewhat popular with them – at that very moment Pilate’s wife sent a messenger and said, “I got to tell you something.” And in the interlude, when Pilate was getting the messenger from his wife, the chief priests, elders, and scribes moved through the crowd and stirred the crowd up against Jesus. So by the time Pilate turned away from his little interlude, the whole crowd was screaming, “Crucify Him. Crucify Him. Crucify Him and release unto us Barabbas.” And the things that they sowed in that crowd to call for the crucifixion of Christ was the claim that had been brought up in His trial that He would destroy the temple. And secondly, that He was the Son the God, which they said was blasphemy.
So as the crowd comes by again, the same crowd that heard those accusations, walking along the road, and they see Jesus hanging there, they wag their heads back and forth and go on blasphemously reviling and defaming Jesus by mocking Him with words. “You said You’re going to destroy the temple, did You? And build it in three days. Well, let’s see You show that kind of power by getting off that cross.” And they laugh. “Oh, You’re the Son of God, are You? Well, if You’re the Son of God, then come down from the cross.” And they mock. It isn’t enough that He dies. They have to taunt Him in the process. The mindless, stupid, unthinking, fickle crowd that was throwing palm branches at His feet and hailing Him as the Messiah, and now is mocking and blaspheming His name on Friday.
They are reminiscent of evil people today – the fickle people. So many people that you know have been to church, they’ve attended the church, maybe they’ve been raised in the church, they know the message. Maybe they had Christian parents. Maybe they’ve had Christian training. They maybe have made a profession of faith at some point along the line. They’ve been baptized. They’ve gone to the church. But that’s all in the past. They’re not interested in that anymore. They’ve gone on to other things. Jesus didn’t fulfill their expectation. In fact, when Jesus rode in, they thought He would attack the Romans. He came back into town and attacked the Jews by wiping out the temple buying and selling. And that was not in His favor. They thought He ought to attack Rome, not them. And now how could this be the Messiah? All week long and He’s done nothing. He’s been here all week and now look at Him, He’s hanging on a cross, put there by the Romans. He is a victim. This is not our Messiah.
And even the affirmation of Pilate that He was innocent would have been somewhat convincing to the Jews because if Pilate found Jesus to be guilty of nothing against Rome, then He certainly wouldn’t be the Messiah. Because they assumed the Messiah would come in a military triumph over Rome and all the other nations. It all was coming to pieces and they had forgotten their hallelujahs and hosannas, and now in their disappointment over Jesus’ failure to give them what they wanted when they wanted it, they had turned against Him and were blaspheming His name. So fickle.
The world is full of people like that even today. People whose only interest in Jesus is an immediate satisfaction, and an immediate self-indulgence. And if He doesn’t deliver what they want when they want it, it’s over with. And I grieve about that. There’s a tremendous amount of responsibility for someone who knows Jesus, knows His claims, knows His power, knows His person, understands the truth and walks away from that. There is a tremendous amount of responsibility for that. A mother came to me recently and said, “My son was raised in a Christian family, raised in our home, raised in the church and the things of the Lord and has decided he doesn’t want a thing to do with it. He wants to live as a homosexual.” What a tragedy. That’s the fickle crowd. Find something they want more than they want Jesus Christ. At one time in their life they sing the songs and hail Him, and then another time in their life they blaspheme His name. And the world is full of passersby who taunt Jesus, who once hailed Him. Oh, it was never really salvation. But they knew the truth about Him and now they reject it. The fickle wicked, in a sense, are traitors.
But they’re not the worse group. The worse group is yet to come in verses 41 to 43, the religious wicked. They are illustrated to us by the canting – and that word basically means insincere and hypocritical – the canting leaders, insincere, hypocritical, the lowest level of blasphemers, religious hypocrites who parade their piosity, who want to appear to represent God and know the truth and be pure and godly and virtuous and represent the Word of God. And the truth of it is, they’re filled with hate and vilification toward the very Christ of God Himself. In verse 41 we meet them. It wasn’t just a fickle crowd, likewise also the chief priests. All those various orders of priests that operated within the temple ministries were mocking Him along with the scribes, who were the authorities on the law, and the elders, who were supposed to be the revered and renowned men of maturity and wisdom in the land. They constitute the Sanhedrin, the ruling body of Israel.
So all of these leaders who are supposedly the religious elite, are supposed to know everything there is to know about the truth of God and the Word of God and the mind of God and the heart of God, who pretend to love God and revere His Word and hold up His name, they come along and what did they say? And notice, please, that the crowd talked to Jesus. The leaders don’t talk to Christ. They hate Him. He is so despised by them they will not talk to Him, they only talk about Him. So they talk to each other about Him. Verse 42, “He saved others.” And they mean by that His healing ministry, His deliverance from demons. “He did it for others. Himself He cannot save.” They never denied, ever in the New Testament, the miracles of Jesus – never. It was impossible to do that. There is never an indication that the religious leaders of Israel denied His miracles. They said they were by Satan done, by Satan accomplished, but they never denied them. They said He does what He does by the power of Beelzebub, but they never denied them.
And now to see Jesus hanging on the cross unable to come down will affirm in their minds that indeed He did have power, but it was Satan’s power. So wet, when we put Him on the cross, we can be sure He’ll stay there because God is on our side. Look, the fact that He is there shows that His power is not as great as ours. His is Satan’s, ours is God. God’s with us. They’re mocking His power. If He is the king of Israel, let Him now come down from the cross, and we’ll believe Him. If He has such sovereignty and such authority and such power, let us see it now. They put in the word now – right now. They were forever and always asking for a sign. The truth of the matter is even if He had come down from the cross, they wouldn’t have believed, their hearts were so evil.
But whatever power You have, show it to us, demonstrate it. They don’t say that in sincerity. They’re not saying, “Please, come down and show us so we can believe.” They’re mocking. They’re scorning. They’re laughing. They’re ridiculing. They don’t know why He’s there. They think the only thing that anyone would want to do in a situation like that, if he had the power to do it, was get out of it. The only kind of power they know is used in behalf of self-interest. They don’t understand sacrificial dying for someone else. That’s foreign to them. So come down, they say, and we’ll believe. They attack His power.
Then in verse 43 they attack His person. And they say here exactly what Psalm 22:8 said they would say. Now they’re not quoting Psalm 22:8 by any means. They’re saying what the prophet through the Psalms said they would say. Scripture is being held up here, not their knowledge of Scripture but the truthfulness of the prophetic Word. “He trusted in God. Let Him deliver Him now if He will have Him. For He said, ‘I am the Son of God.’” So now they attack His person. “Oh, You’re the Son of God, are You? Oh, You trust in God, do You? Then let’s see God deliver You.” He had claimed to be the Son of God on many occasions. And they throw that in His face. He had recently claimed it in response to Caiaphas’ question in 26:63 and so they taunt Him with that – the religious wicked. They have all there is to have of religion and nothing to do with God – blind leaders, apostates, false teachers, false prophets, hypocrites, wolves in sheep’s clothing, doomed to the hottest hell.
So there’s the scene. And everybody’s there somewhere who’s an unbeliever. I mean, you’re either an ignorant unbeliever, or you’re a knowledgeable unbeliever, or you’re a fickle unbeliever who once knew and even affirmed the truthfulness of it and now you’ve turned away from it, or else you’re a religious unbeliever who parades a certain kind of religiosity that has no reality. But everybody who’s an unbeliever is in there somewhere. And let me tell you something. Everybody who is unbelieving in any period of time is as guilty as the crowd there. I mean, do you realize in Zechariah 12:10 it says some day Israel will look on Him whom they have pierced and mourn for Him as an only Son? And do you know that the people who are alive at that time and do that will not be the same people who actually put Christ on the cross, but they are as guilty by their unbelief?
And you know, of course, that Hebrews 6 says that anyone who rejects Christ is guilty of crucifying the Son of God and putting Him to open shame. You either stand with those who believer or you stand with those who crucify. And maybe you’re a part of the ignorant wicked, maybe the knowing wicked, maybe the fickle wicked, maybe the religious wicked. But all unbelievers are there somewhere.
Now listen carefully to what I’m going to say. The thing that sticks in my mind so much about Christ dying on the cross are His words, “Father” – what? What does it say? “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” We see on the cross of Christ the friend of sinners, who is actually on the cross not because He could not come down but because He would not come down. Notice verse 54 of Matthew 27, verse 54, “Now when the centurion and they that were with him watching” – or guarding – “Jesus.” Who is that? Well we just go back to verse 36 and it tells us. It was the Roman soldiers who put Him there. They sat down and watched Him. Now we see the same group, the ones that were watching Him along with their leader, a centurion was over a hundred men. “When they saw the earthquake and the things that were done, they feared greatly saying, ‘Truly this was the Son of God.’”
And in Luke’s gospel – it’s so marvelous – Luke says the centurion glorified God and said, “Truly this is a righteous man.” And I believe the expression of Scripture indicates to me that there was a centurion at the foot of the cross that day who came to embrace Jesus Christ as Savior. By the sovereign saving grace of God, that soldier and perhaps some of his companions were plucked out of the group of ignorant wicked to embrace the Savior they had crucified. Now that’s a God of grace. That is a God of grace.
Look at Luke 23 and verse 39. “And one of the malefactors” – one of the evil doers that were hanged, actually suspended, crucified with Christ – “railed at Him saying, ‘If You are the Christ, save Yourself and us.’ And the other one answering, rebuked him saying, ‘Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds, but this man has done nothing amiss.’” And then he turned to Jesus and said, “‘Lord’ – oh, what a word, ‘remember me when Thou comest into Thy Kingdom.’ And Jesus said unto him, ‘Verily I say unto thee, today shalt thou be with Me in paradise.’” Now here you have the knowing wicked – the callous, crass, worldly, materialistic, self‑indulgent thief who in one minute is heaping insults of blasphemy on Jesus Christ and in another moment is crying out for mercy to the only one who can save him. And right there on the cross Jesus rescues one of those knowing wicked and embraces him to His heart and meets him that very day in paradise. That is the friend of sinners. Is it not?
And then I want you to look at Acts chapter 2. In verse 14, Peter stands up to preach and he preaches to the whole populace that are gathered there on the day of Pentecost. And he says, “Ye men of Judea and all ye that dwell at Jerusalem, be this known unto you, and hearken to my words,” and he launches into a great sermon about Christ in which he indicts them for the wicked crucifixion of Christ. In verse 23 he talks about the resurrection of the Lord. He comes to a climax in verse 36 when he says that God has made the same Jesus whom you have crucified Lord and Christ. And what happens? “When they heard this” – who’s they? The people of the city. The same people who said, “Hosanna.” The same people who screamed, “Crucify Him.” The same people who walked by wagging their heads and taunting Him. Now they’ve heard a sermon and they’re pricked in their hearts, and they say to Peter and the rest of the Apostles, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” And Peter said unto them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
And verse 41 says, “They that gladly received his word were baptized and the same day there were added unto them” – how many? – “three thousand souls.” Listen to me. That is the fickle wicked. Out of the crowd of Christ rejecters, out of the crowd that screamed, “Crucify Him,” out of the crowd that wagged their heads and reviled Jesus on the cross, God by sovereign grace took three thousand souls. And it says in verse 47 more were added every single day. Is not Jesus the friend of sinners? Even the sinners that crucify Him?
And then finally in Acts chapter 6 and verse 7, the church begins to flourish and grow and more and more of the people of that city are brought to the Savior. Grace is extended to those who hated Jesus Christ. And the capstone of it all comes in verse 7 of Acts 6, “The Word of God increased. The number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly” – and follow this – “and a great company of” – what? – “the priests were obedient to the faith.” I’m quite confident that right out of those religious leaders that mocked and blasphemed the name of Jesus Christ, God by sovereign grace took some to be His own. He is indeed the friend of sinners. He is eager to forgive. He is ready to forgive.
I don’t know where you are today. He longs to embrace you into His arms, to give you the salvation He so freely offered. He stayed on the cross not because He couldn’t come down, He stayed on the cross because He wouldn’t come down. And I believe that the Savior shed tears for those who shed His very blood. Such is the compassion of God and the gift of salvation. Let’s bow in prayer.
Thank You, Father, for the scene that we have viewed today from Your holy Word. Thank You for the friend of sinners who died for the very ones who crucified Him in all generations. Thank You that His arms are open to all who come. Oh Father, may we be grateful enough, thankful enough not only to receive the Lord Jesus Christ, but to live our lives totally in obedience to Him.
While your heads are bowed for a closing moment, if you don’t know the Lord Jesus Christ, we call you today to come to Christ, receive the Savior. His arms are open wide, even as they were stretched out on a cross, a fitting demonstration of His open arms to receive the sinner no matter how severe the sin.
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