Seven Shocking Sins (5)
We have finally arrived at Golgotha where our Lord is nailed to a cross. There “they offered him wine to drink, mixed with gall, but when he tasted it, he would not drink it” (Matthew 27:33-34). This has been interpreted in two different ways.
The traditional view is that it was customary for Jewish women to provide a narcotic drink to those condemned in order to deaden their sensitivity to the pain of crucifixion (see Prov. 31:6-7). If so, then Jesus' unwillingness to drink reflects his determination to endure with complete consciousness the agonies of the cross and the Father's wrath.
Others argue that this was not an act of compassion on the part of the women but an act of cruelty and torment on the part of the soldiers ("they" refers to the soldiers). The mixture was designed to make the wine undrinkable and extremely bitter. Thus the soldiers teased Jesus under the pretense of giving him good wine. Their real purpose was to aggravate his agony and humiliation.
One would think that Jesus had been subjected to enough public humiliation, yet we read in vv. 39-40 that “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’” (see Psalm 22:6-8).
Crucifixion was purposely public in order to deter others and especially to add to the humiliation of the victim by exposing him to the taunts of passersby. With expressions of malicious glee, they sadistically mock him and take delight in his pain.
The second taunt (“if you are the Son of God”) not only reminds us of his trial (Matt. 26:63), but for readers of Matthew's gospel it recalls a striking parallel when Satan tempted Jesus in the wilderness:
“And the tempter came and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread’” (Matt. 4:3). And again, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down [from the pinnacle of the temple], for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone’” (Matt. 4:6).
As D. A. Carson has noted, “through the passersby Satan was still trying to get Jesus to evade the Father's will and avoid further suffering” (576).
“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”’” (Matt. 27:41-43).
Evidently they did not address Jesus directly but spoke among themselves in the sort of whisper that one intends to be overheard by the object of one's scorn.
"He saved others" is probably a reference to his healing ministry. There is a double meaning here. In the sense in which the Jewish leaders meant it, they were obviously wrong. He who healed others and raised the dead could certainly have saved himself. And yet, on the other hand, if he is to accomplish that redemptive work for which he went to the cross, he cannot save himself. He must yield himself up to crucifixion.
Do we not all, at times, measure God's power by what we see? We think that what God does not do, he cannot do. But here we see that he does not save himself, not because he cannot, but simply in order that by not saving himself he might save us.
The challenge to come down from the cross has several levels of meaning: (1) It is yet one more malicious mockery of Jesus' apparent helplessness. (2) It is as if these hypocrites are suggesting that their failure to believe in Jesus is Jesus' fault! "It's your fault; if we don't believe, you've got no one to blame but yourself. Come on down and we will bow before you!" (3) Finally, whereas the taunt implies that Jesus could gain a following by coming down from the cross, in reality he can secure a people for himself only by staying on it! Someone once said, "These men would have believed him if he had come down from the cross. We believe in him precisely because he remained there!"
Not knowing that their taunt (v. 43a) was a fulfillment of Psalm 22:8, these men hurl their final blasphemy. Based on their belief that God must honor and deliver his Messiah, they conclude that Jesus' helplessness is proof that his claims were false and his death was deserved. Of course, God did vindicate and deliver him, but this was not the hour. That glorious confirmation of Christ's deity and messianic identity awaited the resurrection.
And what was his consistent response? He “continued entrusting himself” to God (1 Peter 2:23). The word “himself” is not in the Greek text. Thus, Peter’s point is that “he handed over to God the whole situation including himself and those abusing him and the hurt done and all the factors that made it a horrendous outrage of injustice that the most innocent man who ever lived should suffer so much. He trusted it all into God's hands as the one who would settle the matter justly someday” (Piper).
But what exceeded the abuse and mockery and reviling and suffering at the hands of cruel sinners was the enduring of the Father’s wrath against sin on our behalf! As Peter put it, “he bore our sins in his body on the tree,” which is to say he bore the wrath of God that was required because of our sins and he did it by being nailed to a tree, a cross, where he satisfied the demands of divine justice and endured the eternal penalty that our sin merited. Anything less than this, anything other than the clear biblical concept of penal substitutionary atonement, and we forfeit the gospel.
As we bring this series of studies to a close, I encourage you to think deeply on who it was who endured such shocking indignities at the hands of sinful men.
He who is the eternal and infinitely righteous Judge of all mankind is himself brought before the transient and corrupt judgment of men. . . . “And they all condemned him as deserving death” (Mark 14:64).
He who is the very embodiment of Truth itself, the one by whom alone truth is known to be true, is here declared to be a liar. . . . “For many bore false witness against him” (Mark 14:56).
He whose creative design was for men to use their God-given hands in the service of purity and love is now the object and target of their brutal fists and angry blows. . . . “And some began . . . to strike him. . . . And the guards received him with blows” (Mark 14:65).
He who grants breath and speech to all men is now himself the focus of their slander and mockery. . . . “Prophesy!” (Mark 14:65).
He who graciously gives saliva to our mouths must now experience the humiliation of having it spit back in his face in derision and shame. . . . “And some began to spit on him” (Mark 14:65).
He whose knowledge and discernment are perfect and infinite is here taunted and challenged in a child’s game to identify his assailants. . . . “And some began . . . to cover his face . . . saying to him, ‘Prophesy’!” (Mark 14:65).
Jesus once said, “A servant is not greater than his master. If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:20). We, then, should not expect any better treatment from the world than our Lord received.
You must make a choice. There is no third way. There is no other alternative. There is no middle ground. Either you believe him and trust him and embrace him as Lord and Savior, or you join with those who mistreat him and mock him, spit in his face, and eventually crucify him.
Finally, why would Jesus submit to this indignity? Why would he allow himself to be so horribly slandered and mistreated and mocked by hell-deserving sinners? The answer is simple: he was motivated by his love for the glory of his Father and by his love for you and me!