All throughout this holy week our elders have been leading us in brief devotionals through the end of Matthew’s gospel. On Monday Pastor Andrew led us through the moment Jesus turned over the tables after the triumphal entry. On Tuesday Sam Knox taught us about Jesus’ rebuke to the Pharisees and chief priests. On Wednesday Dave Treloar spoke about the contrast between Mary’s devotion and Judas’ betrayal. Then yesterday Mike Joas walked us through the events surrounding the Last Supper and Jesus’ arrest. And so for this Good Friday evening we are continuing on in Matthew looking now to chapter 27. But as we approach the events of Good Friday the words of Charles Spurgeon are fitting to remember. “Here we come to the Holy of Holies of our Lord’s life on earth. This is a mystery like that which Moses saw when the bush burned with fire, and was not consumed. No man can rightly expound such a passage as this; it is a subject for prayerful, heart-broken meditation, more than for human language.”

Pray with me as we begin…

A lot happens in the 66 verses that makeup Matthew 27. It begins with a counsel in v1-2 where the chief priests and the elders of the people are discussing how to kill Jesus. And the chapter ends in another counsel in v62-66 where the chief priests and Pilate are discussing how to secure the tomb where Jesus’ dead body lies. Yet in between these counsels we get Matthew’s description of Judas’ death, Jesus’ trial before Pilate, Jesus’ mocking by the soldiers, and most importantly Jesus’ crucifixion. And it is there in v27-50 that I’d like linger on this evening with you.

v27-31, “Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the governor’s headquarters, and they gathered the whole battalion before Him. And they stripped Him and put a scarlet robe on Him, and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on His head and put a reed in His right hand. And kneeling before Him, they mocked Him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” And they spit on Him and took the reed and struck Him on the head. 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.”

I wonder if you notice how this section is laid out? Matthew not only wants us to see details being given here, that Jesus is taken into the Praetorium along with an entire Roman cohort, around 600 men to be beaten and mocked. Matthew does more than this. He lays out this scene in such a way to highlight one prominent thing. This section is what’s called a chiasm, meaning it flows in an ABC-D-CBA type fashion. Let me explain. The outer pair of verses, v27 and the end of v31, Jesus is being led somewhere. The next inner pair of verses, v28 and the beginning of v31, the soldiers are removing and putting clothes on Jesus. The next inner pair of verses is the start of v29 and v30 where the soldiers are hurting Jesus’ head. Then in the middle of all of these pairs of verses stands the end of v29 where we find the centerpiece of the section, Jesus being hailed as King.[1] Yes Jesus is being tortured and mocked here, He’s enduring physical and spiritual anguish here, and yes He will be crucified, but above all this Matthew doesn’t want us to miss this one being mocked as a King is truly the King of heaven and earth. The parody these 600 men are jokingly performing is in reality what every human on earth must do: we all must acknowledge Jesus as King: crown, royal robe, ruling scepter, and all. What these soldiers do out of scorn we must do in worship. We must acknowledge Him as King. But we must do more. We must thank Him for this, because we know why He did this don’t we? He is being prepared for death, like a lamb for slaughter, not because of sins He committed but for sins we committed.

Perhaps we remember what John the Baptist spoke of Him back when Jesus’ ministry first began, “Behold, the lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). In speaking like this, or by calling Jesus the ‘Lamb of God’ John is taking us back to the Old Testament sacrifices. Man the sinner had caused offense and is the guilty party. God was the One offended One who’s wrath needed to be satisfied because God and man cannot be at peace while man and sin are on friendly terms. So God, in great love, made a way for sinners to be temporarily made right with Him in the sacrifice of an unblemished lamb. The priests would lay hands on the spotless lamb, symbolizing the lamb taking on the sins of the people, and they would kill the lamb and let the blood flow in holy sacrifice. Some see this and cry out, ‘How barbaric!’, ‘How brutal! I thank God Christianity is a civilized religion, not a bloody religion like the ancients had.’ But you see, this entirely misses the point. Man is still as sinful today as men were back then. And it is still true that God and man cannot be at peace while man and sin are on friendly terms. We have caused great offense against God in our many sins, we are the guilty party. God is the One offended. God is the One hot in wrath. God is the One who must be appeased. And wonder of wonders, John sees Jesus and says, “Behold, the lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). Teaching us that in love, God has made a way for sinners to be made right with Him once again. But this time there isn’t need to repeat it, this time it isn’t by the blood of goats or bulls, but by the blood of the unblemished Lamb of God, the Lord Jesus Christ. Christianity remains a religion of blood. “He obtained the Church of God with His own blood” (Acts 20:28). The Lord Jesus was “…put forward as a propitiation (atoning sacrifice) by His blood to be received by faith” (Romans 3:25). We once were “…separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who were once far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (Ephesians 2:13-14). “When Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come…He entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of His own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption” (Hebrews 9:12-13).

The reason for all the suffering of Good Friday, that’s beginning here in our text with these mockings and beatings, the reason Jesus is called the ‘Lamb of God’, the reason there is such an emphasis on the ‘blood of Christ’ is not only to bringHis sacrifice into line with the whole teaching of the Old Testament sacrificial system, but to show how His sacrifice is the very fulfillment of the entire Old Testament sacrificial system. Just as those former lambs were the substitute for former sinners, this same language is used of Christ to show that God has put Christ forward as the substitute for our sins. So we gladly boast singing, ‘in our place condemned He stood, sealing our pardon with His blood.’ Or we could sing, ‘There is a fountain filled with blood, drawn from Immanuel’s veins; And sinners plunged beneath that flood, lose all their guilty stains.’ But ask, what sinners? Every sinners? All sinners throughout all history? No, only the sinners who believe in Him. Only the sinners that receive Him, take Him in, by faith and faith alone.

So we must acknowledge what is seemingly shocking in this scene. Christ is being mocked as King while being Himself the true King. And though He is King, we must thank Him for embracing such suffering at the hands of sinful men for sinners like you and I.

Let’s keep on in the text…

v32-38, “As they went out, they found a man of Cyrene, Simon by name. They compelled this man to carry His cross. And when they came to a place called Golgotha (which means Place of a Skull), they offered Him wine to drink, mixed with gall, but when He tasted it, He would not drink it. And when they had crucified Hm, they divided His garments among them by casting lots. Then they sat down and kept watch over Him there. And over His head they put the charge against Him, which read, “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.” Then two robbers were crucified with Him, one on the right and one on the left.”

Here we meet Simon. His name is Jewish but he’s from Cyrene, a Gentile city in north-Africa, present day Libya. Because his name is Jewish it’s likely that he was part of the Jews who were scattered in the diaspora and had come back to Jerusalem on pilgrimage for Passover.[2] And low and behold, it was this Simon who was pulled from the crowd to help the already weak and beaten Jesus carry the cross. Martin Luther pauses here in his writing and sees Simon as an image of all Christians, showing us that following Jesus involves joining Jesus in suffering.[3] And we’d do well to see Simon like this. Christianity gets its name from Christ Himself, and Christ is a crucified King. We tend to forget this today. We wear gold crosses and see the cross as the majestic and wonderful symbol of our faith. Rightly so, for sure. But do we remember that before it was ever a symbol of beauty it was first a symbol of gruesome execution? And as the New Testament letters go on to state that Jesus is the Head of His body, the Church, do we know that the body only goes where the head goes? If the head went through suffering on Good Friday before the Easter morning exaltation, why should we expect a anything else, as if Easter will come for us without Good Friday suffering ever happening? Of course we don’t seek out suffering, no. But by following Jesus we must see that, like Simon, we’re joining Jesus in suffering. And when suffering comes, in whatever form, Peter encourages us in his first letter that it shouldn’t surprise us at all, but we should rejoice that we share in Christ’s sufferings. The whole of our life in this fallen world then, is in a sense, our suffering before the exaltation of the life to come. Theologians of old have spoken of this much saying the crucifixion of Christ gives a cruciform shape to all who believe in Christ.[4] Or perhaps to use language like John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. We all desire by nature to live life in Easyville or Luxury City while Jesus calls those who follow Him to live in Cross Town before we get to the Celestial City.

So off Simon goes to help and they arrive at Golgotha, supposedly called the ‘Place of the Skull’ because the hill itself resembled a skull. But it’s more likely it was called this because this was the place people were put to death.[5] On this hill, the mockeries would continue. They offered Jesus gall, which is thought to be a poison designed to ease the dying process. Whether it was or not, Jesus had to have been thirsty and that gall was mixed with the wine made the wine undrinkable for Jesus which reveals this is yet another way the soldiers are toying with and increasing the suffering of Jesus.[6] Jesus refused to drink it and then in one word Matthew describes the centerpiece of our faith, staurosantes in Greek meaning ‘then they crucified Him.’ Mel Gibson’s film The Passion of the Christ depicts the violence of this scene well. The beatings, the suffering, the hammer, the nails, the blood that flowed. Matthew gives us none of this in his account, but shows the soldiers gambling for His clothes and their continued mocking by placing a sign over Jesus, ‘This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.’

What a contrast. One who claims to be king yet One who is being crucified. To almost all those looking on this was simply the sticky end of a confused man at best, or a crazy man at worse, because clearly He can’t be king if He’s dying! Paul will speak of this later in 1 Corinthians 1:22-23 when he says, “For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles…” To Jews it would’ve been inconceivable for the Son of God Himself to die on a cross. For Gentiles, these Romans, it simply would’ve looked like a foolishness and weakness to claim such power and die like this. Yet Paul continues in the next verse, in 1 Corinthians 1:24 saying that to those who are called, who have eyes to see this scene for what it is, Christ is the very power and wisdom of God. There is much more happening here than meets the eye. One ancient hymn puts it like this, “He who hung the earth hangs there, He who fixed the heavens is fixed there, He who made all things fast is made fast on the tree, the Master has been insulted, God has been murdered…O strange murder, strange crime!”[7] Another hymn speaks of it like this, “Ye who think of sin but lightly, nor suppose the evil great, here may view its nature rightly, here its guilt may estimate. Mark the sacrifice appointed! See who bears this awful load! Tis the Word, the Lord’s Anointed, Son of Man, and Son of God!”[8]And an even older and richer hymn, one inspired by the Holy Spirit Himself, Psalm 22, spoke of this moment long before prophesying that as the soldiers wagged their heads at Him in mockery, they would divide His garments among them, and cast lots for His clothing.

v39-44, “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.” So also the chief priests, with the scribes and elders, mocked Him, saying, “He saved others; He cannot save Himself. He is the King of Israel; let Him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in Him. He trusts in God; let God deliver Him now, if He desires Him. For He said, ‘I am the Son of God.’” And the robbers who were crucified with Him also reviled Him in the same way.”

Still the mocking continues, but this time it doesn’t come from the Gentiles but mainly comes from the Jews present at this scene and those passing by. They called attention to the contradiction of Jesus’ former words and Jesus’ present and apparent ‘powerlessness.’ They heard Jesus teach He would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days. They heard Jesus claim to be the Son of God. They heard Jesus say He could save those who believe in Him. Yet to them Jesus is being destroyed not the temple. To them Jesus could just save Himself if He truly was the Son of God. But they don’t see that it wasn’t the nails that kept Jesus on the cross. What kept Him on the cross? It was simultaneously Jesus’ firm and unwavering commitment to obey the Father’s will and glorify the Father in this way as well as the Father’s love for His people that kept Him on the cross. So contrary to what they thought, by staying on the cross Jesus was destroying the temple once for all. Now all those who believe in Him won’t meet God through a building but through a Person, Christ, and when they come to Christ they themselves will be made into a new spiritual temple filled the Holy Spirit, who will ever burn within them the fire of holy worshipful sacrifice! And Jesus was bringing salvation to God’s people, for in these hours Jesus was drinking down the full cup of the Father’s fury against sin for sinners. Charles Spurgeon described it like this, “The whole punishment of His people was distilled into one cup; no mere mortal lip might give it so much as a solitary sip. When he put it to his own lips, it was so bitter, He will nigh spurned it…but His love for His people was so strong, His commitment to His Father’s will so steadfast, that He took the cup in both hands, and in one tremendous draught of love, He drank damnation dry.” In spite of all the mocking and the misinterpretation of what’s occurring in this moment, Jesus isn’t attempting to make a harvest possible, He’s purchasing and securing a harvest plentiful.

Let’s finish out the text.

v45-50, “Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me?” And some of the bystanders, hearing it, said, “This Man is calling Elijah.” And one of them at once ran and took a sponge, filled it with sour wine, and put it on a reed and gave it to Him to drink. But the others said, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save Him.” And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up His spirit.”

Physical darkness now covers a spiritually dark scene as Jesus cries out to the Father with the opening words of Psalm 22. And for the first time, and the last time, when Jesus cried out nothing happened. This was the same Jesus who with just a word created all things, with just a word healed a little girl, raised the dead, fed the 5,000, stilled the storm, and overthrew demonic powers. But now He cries out and there is only silence as the Father turns His face away. Tonight as we’ve walked through Matthew’s account we’ve seen much of the suffering, the torment, the abuse, and the shame Jesus experienced on the cross. It was terrible for Jesus, but nothing compared with this. He didn’t just feel forsaken by the Father, He was forsaken by the Father.[9] Why? Because the Father had made the Son to be sin, so we could become the very righteousness of God in Him. This is the most solemn moment in history, the cruelest and most vile sin in history. But through it God would bring the brightest dawn that would ever come throughout all history!

How do we conclude after witnessing such gravity, knowing such gladness awaits us soon? Let me say this. We’re living in what we now know to be unprecedented times. The spread of the current pandemic has forced us to lockdown, to stay away from one another. Which has forced all of us to slow down, and from slowing down we’ve been reminded of the great things. The things that matter in life. Perhaps this ‘slow pace’ is exactly what we need on this Good Friday. David Platt is right when he says, “All history revolves around this scene…and all our lives are determined by what we do in response to this scene.”[10]

So I ask, slow down and linger on the events of Good Friday? What do you see in the cross? Do you see something barbaric and bloody? Do you see something foolish and weak? Do you see something inconceivable? Or do you see something else? 

It’s my hope and prayer that in this crucified Christ you not only see but savor the very power and wisdom of God.

[1] Douglas Sean O’Donnell, Matthew: All Authority in Heaven and on Earth – Preaching the Word Commentary (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2013), 850–51.

[2] O’Donnell, 855–56.

[3] Martin Luther, quoted in O’Donnell, 856.

[4] Jason Hood, quoted in O’Donnell, 857.

[5] R. C. Sproul, Matthew – Saint Andrew’s Expositional Commentary (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2013), 800.

[6] Sproul, 800.

[7] From Melito’s Homily on the Passion, quoted in Martin Hengel, Crucifixion in the Ancient World and the Folly of the Message of the Cross (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Fortress, 1977), 21.

[8] Thomas Kelly, Stricken, Smitten, and Afflicted, 1804.

[9] Sproul, Matthew, 805.

[10] David Platt, Exalting Jesus in Matthew – Christ Centered Exposition (Nashville, Tennessee: Broadman & Holman, 2013), 353.

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