April 3, 2011

Adding Insult To Injury

Preacher: Randy Smith Series: Matthew Scripture: Matthew 27:33–44


Adding Insult To Injury

Matthew 27:33-44
Sunday, April 3, 2011
Pastor Randy Smith

As we find ourselves in the heart of Matthew 27 we are receiving a play-by-play look at the crucifixion. We have to ask why all four Gospel writers would be inspired to devote so much time and detail to the apparently shameful and agreeably gruesome events surrounding the death of Jesus Christ. Why does the hero of the story die as a common criminal and the object of everybody's ridicule? The cross was an ignoble instrument of torture. It doesn't make sense.

Moreover, it doesn't make sense to compound the issue and actually use the cross as the primary symbol of our faith. Shouldn't we find the cross where Jesus was murdered offensive? After all, every other religion in the world does!

Newsweek religion editor Kenneth L. Woodward writes: "Clearly, the cross is what separates the Christ of Christianity from every other Jesus. In Judaism there is no precedent for a Messiah who dies, much less as a criminal as Jesus did. In Islam, the story of Jesus' death is rejected as an affront to Allah himself. Hindus can accept only a Jesus who passes into peaceful samadhi, a yogi who escapes the degradation of death. The figure of the crucified Christ, says Buddhist Thich Nhat Hanh, 'is a very painful image to me. It does not contain joy or peace, and this does not do justice to Jesus.' There is, in short, no room in other religions for a Christ who experiences the full burden of mortal existence-and hence there is no reason to believe in Him as the divine Son whom the Father resurrects from the dead" (Kenneth L. Woodward, The Other Jesus, Newsweek, 3-27-00, p. 50).

This morning as we prepare for the Lord's Supper we will continue our study of the crucifixion (the heart of our Christian faith) and seek to answer the important questions as to why the Father permitted the Son to be crucified and how His crucifixion applies specifically to us today.


"The Messiah is Murdered," point number one.

At this point we already learned that Jesus was volleyed back and forth to the Jewish religious leaders in their bogus attempt to find some wrongdoing. He had been to Pilate at least twice to which the governor found nothing worthy of punishment. His friends betrayed, denied or abandoned Him. He was beaten and mocked by the Jewish authorities. He was beaten and mocked by the Roman authorities. He was severely flogged. And now, after being up all night, He is led to His place of execution still without a single charge of any misconduct.

Verse 33 informs us this place is called "Golgotha." Matthew translates the Aramaic telling us the word means "skull." In Greek the word was "kranion," which also means skull and from where we get the English word "cranium" or the translation, "Calvary." In all likelihood, this outcropping of rocks where Jesus was crucified had the appearance of a skull.

In verse 34 Jesus was given wine mixed with gall. Most likely this was wine and myrrh (Mk. 15:23) producing a very bitter taste, a further attempt of the soldiers to torment Jesus. Jesus refused the drink after tasting it. Possibly it was because it was awful to the taste, or as some argue, it was a sedative, and Jesus wanted to be in full control of His senses.

Verse 35, the soldiers divided up His garments. Each of the four probably took one part: a belt, the scandals, a headpiece and the outer garment. John tells us they cast lots for the inner seamless garment commonly called the tunic (Jn 19: 23-24).

Verse 36, "And sitting down, they began to keep watch over Him there." This was to ensure the certainty of the victim's death. It also deterred others from helping the prisoner either by rescue or attempts to quicken his death and alleviate the suffering.

Are all of these points mere historical facts? Why conduct the crucifixion at Golgotha and not inside the city of Jerusalem? According to Exodus 29, all sin offering are to be burned outside the city (Ex. 29:14). The writer to the Hebrews in the New Testament picked up on this: "Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people through His own blood, suffered outside the gate" (Heb. 13:12). Why was the bitter drink mentioned? Any significance? All the way back in Psalm 69, a Messianic prophecy: "Reproach has broken my heart and I am so sick. And I looked for sympathy, but there was none, and for comforters, but I found none. They also gave me gall for my food and for my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink" (Psm. 69:20-21). Dividing up His clothes, why was that bit of detail included? Back in the Old Testament we read another prophecy, "They divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots" (Psm. 22:18).

We must remember that Matthew was writing to the Jews, people well educated in the Old Testament Scriptures. Matthew is going out of his way to prove that Jesus was indeed the long awaited, prophesied Messiah. But this is only a foretaste. The climax comes when we read of His crucifixion in verse 35.

It was about 9:00 in the morning when Jesus made it to Golgotha (Mk. 15:25) with Simon carrying His cross (Mt. 27:32). His clothes were ripped from His body. Spikes were driven through His hands or wrists and the horizontal beam was hoisted upright. His feet were then nailed to a wooden base below. He was suspended a few feet above the ground and left to suffer an incredibly long and painful death.

From a modern medical perspective: "As He slowly sags down with more weight on the nails in the wrists, excruciating, fiery pain shoots along the fingers and up the arms to explode in the brain - the nails in the wrists are putting pressure on the median nerves. As He pushes Himself upward to avoid this stretching torment, He places His full weight on the nail through His feet. Again there is the searing agony of the nail tearing through the nerves between the metatarsal bones of the feet. At this point, another phenomenon occurs. As the arms fatigue, great waves of cramps sweep over the muscles, knotting them in deep, relentless, throbbing pain. With these cramps comes the inability to push Himself upward... Air can be drawn into the lungs, but cannot be exhaled. Jesus fights to raise Himself in order to get even one small breath. Finally carbon dioxide builds up in the lungs and in the blood stream and the cramps partially subside. Spasmodically He is able to push Himself upward to exhale and bring in the life-giving oxygen... Hours of this 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 against the rough timber. Then another agony begins. A deep crushing pain deep in the chest as the pericardium slowly fills with serum and begins to compress the heart....

It is now almost over - the loss of tissue fluids has reached a critical level the compressed heart is struggling to pump heavy, thick, sluggish blood into the tissues - the tortured lungs are making a frantic effort to gasp in small gulps of air... The body of Jesus is now in extremis and He can feel the chill of death creeping through His tissues" (C. Truman Davis, The Crucifixion of Jesus, Arizona Medicine v. 22, Mar. 1965, p. 183-187).

Why so much agony for the sinless Son of God? Why did He willingly endure it? Why did the Father ordain it in such a way? The only answer is because the depth and ugliness of our sin required such a payment that His love was willing to endure. For Jesus to take our place and be our substitute He needed to be subjected to the hell we deserved. As the Old Testament again predicted, He needed to be accursed by God by being hung on a tree (Dt. 21:22-23; cf. Gal. 3:13). He needed to be "smitten of God and afflicted" (Isa. 53:4). He [needed to be] pierced through for our transgressions [and] crushed for our iniquities" (Isa. 53:5).

It was the innocent suffering for the guilty so that a great exchange could take place. Think of it this way: He wore the crown of thorns so that we might wear a crown of glory. He was condemned so that we might be declared innocent. He was stripped of His clothing so that we might be clothed in His righteousness. He died a painful death in order that we might be exalted to the highest glory (adapted from J.C. Ryle, Matthew Commentary, ch. 27).

An inscription was placed above the criminal's head to indicate his crime. According to verse 37 the charge read, "This is Jesus the King of the Jews." No doubt Pilate wrote this to offend the Jews (Jn. 19:19-22), but his choice of words expressed more truth than he cared to understand. We are given at this point a beautiful portrait of the Messiah. In this painting we see both prophetic elements interwoven: the reigning king and the suffering servant.


So as we move to the second point we now see the Messiah, as He predicted Himself, lifted up on the cross (Jn. 3:14) prepared to receive the final outpouring of the Father's wrath that as the Lord permits we will cover next week. Yet while He was agonizing on the cross several groups took advantage of the opportunity to cast further verbal insult upon Him.

Travelers (verses 39-40)

First were the travelers. Victims were crucified in central locations on the crossroads to serve as a deterrent for those who would consider similar offenses against Rome. Because it was the Passover, the area was swarming with people. Verse 39-40, "And those passing by were hurling abuse at Him, wagging their heads and saying, 'You who are going to destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save Yourself! If You are the Son of God, come down from the cross.'"

Here we see the arrogance and ignorance of man. So similar to what we still see today as a response toward Jesus. "Hurling abuse," the Greek word is "blasphemo" where we get "blasphemy." "Wagging their heads," an action expressing contempt. They deemed Jesus a fool. They mocked Him. And their accusation against Him was the same one concocted by the false witness at Jesus' trial (Mt. 26:60-61) completely misinterpreting His words spoken almost three years earlier (Jn. 2:19). They taunted Him to prove Himself. "Come down from the cross!"

As he tried in the wilderness (Mt. 4:1-11), Satan, if he understood the purpose of the cross would have loved to see Jesus come down and disregard the will of the Father. If the physical pain were not enough, now the very humans for whom He is suffering mock and ridicule His act of sacrificial love on their behalf. How fierce must have been this temptation to throw in the towel.

Religious leaders (verses 41-43)

Another group hurling insults is the religious leaders. Verses 41-43, "In the same way the chief priests also, along with the scribes and elders, were mocking Him and saying, 'He saved others; He cannot save Himself. He is the King of Israel; let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe in Him. He trusts in God; let God rescue Him now, if He delights in Him; for He said, 'I am the Son of God.''"

The elite religious people of the land also get their shots in as well. Jesus was being executed. They got what they wanted. But His suffering and death is not enough. They take advantage of His weakness to verbalize their hatred through mockery and taunting and false promises. In their opinion, Messiahs are not crucified. And the apparent unconcern from God the Father during this time only further proved in their opinion that Jesus was not the Son of God.

Fulfilled prophecy written a hundred years earlier is brought to the reader's mind: Psalm 22:7-8, "All who see me sneer at me; they separate with the lip, they wag the head, saying, 'Commit yourself to the Lord'; let Him deliver him; Let Him rescue him, because He delights in him.'"

The ridicule was for Jesus to save Himself. Obviously He could have, but salvation for Himself in this situation would have canceled out salvation for the world. Had Jesus listened to these fools, the promises in Scripture we hold so dear would be erased because His work of atonement would never have been completed. 1 Peter 3:18, "For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God." 2 Corinthians 5:21, "He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him." Galatians 3:13, "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us." Hebrews 9:28, "Christ…having been offered once to bear the sins of many." And the list continues…

Despite their claims of Christ's hopelessness, our Lord was dying to provide the ultimate hope we need, the ability to be forgiven of all our sins and reconciled with God in perfect fellowship. Salvation was His mission, stated all the way back in chapter 1, "She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins" (Mt. 1:21). And despite their assumption that the Father had abandoned the Son, we know His death was predestined (Ac. 4:27-28) and will be vindicated (Rom. 1:3-4). Jesus will be resurrected and raised to the right hand in glory. In that sense the temple of His body would be destroyed and rebuilt in three days (Mt. 27:40; cf. Jn. 2:19).

Robbers (verses 38, 44)

Lastly there were the two "robbers" (Luke also records the Roman soldiers mocking Jesus - Luke 23:36-37). Verse 38 says, "At that time two robbers were crucified with Him, one on the right and one on the left" (cf. Jn. 19:18). Isaiah said Jesus would be "numbered with the transgressors" (Isa. 53:18). Both of these men were cruel bandits, probably associates with Barabbas who was originally destined to be placed on that middle cross (Mt. 27:16). Yet as we know in his place was Jesus, the sinless One, crucified in-between two heinous criminals.

They too, even while gasping for breath took advantage of the situation to despise Jesus. Verse 44, "The robbers who had been crucified with Him were also insulting Him with the same words." Was it because they were living in darkness and offended by His righteousness? Was it because they witnessed His miracles and couldn't understand why He wasn't coming to both His and their rescue (Lk. 23:39)? They were confused. After all the abuse all Jesus could say is, "Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing" (Lk. 23:34).

The attack coming from every front, yet something remarkable in the course of that historic day took place. Luke informs us in his Gospel that one of those robbers repented. His jeering turned to pleading. His foolishness turned to wisdom. First he defended Jesus: "And we indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong" (Lk. 23:41). Then he cried out to the Savior for salvation: "Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!" (Lk. 23:42). Our Lord replied with those memorable words: "Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise" (Lk. 23:43).

The Bible paints only two sides. Does understanding the sacrifice of the Son make you want to join the crowds in His rejection or join the blessed few who cry out to Him for salvation? Are you on the world's side that views the cross as a symbol of your rejection of Christ or are you on God's side that views the cross as a symbol of your forgiveness? Do you believe the cross of Jesus is only about an innocent man and meaningless suffering or do you believe that Jesus willingly laid down His life as the Scriptures foretold to pay the penalty for your sins? Have you trusted Him completely for salvation? Are you living in light of the grace He provides? Is your love and obedience to Him in proportion to His love and obedience?

other sermons in this series

May 1


The Great Conclusion

Preacher: Randy Smith Scripture: Matthew 28:16–20 Series: Matthew

Apr 24


Resurrecting Hope (2)

Preacher: Randy Smith Scripture: Matthew 28:1–15 Series: Matthew

Apr 17


The First Prerequisite To Resurrection

Preacher: Randy Smith Scripture: Matthew 27:57–66 Series: Matthew