Matthew 27:27-32 ~ "The Godlessness of the World"
Turn with me in your Bibles to Matthew chapter 27:27 - 32. Jeanette said it was hard to read the scripture this morning and that is no doubt the case with what we are going to be looking at over the next several weeks, which is the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. It is an extremely difficult thing to read through as it exposes us for who we truly are and it reveals to us all that God is. As horrible as it is to dwell in the crucifixion, it shows us God's great love for us and that his love transcends the grave. He was willing in fact to go to the grave for you and me.
Let's pause before we jump into the word this morning and ask the Lord to help us and after we have prayed and asked the spirit to illuminate text before us we will get to work. I am ready to get back to work so I hope you are too. Let's bow for word of prayer. Father, we thank you for this word that you have spoken to us. Jesus your word the is the fullest and most complete revelation from your heart to ours, of all that you are and the depths to which you have placed your love upon us and our people. We thank you for your love. We pray God that your spirit would shine on this text this morning. We pray God that your spirit would open our minds to understand and to grasp the depths of all that is here for us on this hill called Golgotha. We pray Lord that you would drive home the truth to us this morning; particularly of the shame and the humiliation that your son went through. We also ask you Lord, that as we reflect upon the Father, if there's any here that still believe that we are entitled to some form of respect or that we are still entitled some form of dignity from this world, I pray God that you'd open our eyes to see that our identity and worth are found only in the cross and not in anything that this world has to offer us. I pray Father that you drive that home to us this morning. In Christ name we pray, Amen.
A number of years ago there was an exhibition at the National Art Gallery in London. In this exhibition of different art pieces was a particular piece, perhaps the most famous religious painting in fact of the 20th century, it was at piece by artist Salvador Dali. The title of the piece was called “Christ of St. John of the cross.” He originally painted it in 1951 and it was put on display in the National Gallery of London in 1995. If you've never seen it I want to try and describe it to you briefly. It is moving, it is disturbing, it is uplifting all at the same time. On this particular canvas you have the cross of Christ in which the base of it stretching out somewhere into the horizon with the top of the cross pointing back out of the painting towards you. It seems to hover over the earth. The top of the cross is shrouded in darkness and of course Christ is depicted as being pinned there as though the weight of the world is pulling him down off of the cross. You can't help but realize that the man pinned upon that torture stick is in incredible agony, that he is suffering, that he is going through torture. Yet, as Salvador Dali captures the image of this cross sort of being suspended over the earth, while you look at the cross in darkness you glanced down to the earth below and there is a body of water; perhaps the Sea of Galilee. There's a fishing vessel and a few people standing around. You recognize that this is an ordinary life with ordinary fishermen in some faraway remote country and as Christ is pinned to this torture stick in darkness, he is bent back down towards the earth. You cannot help but realize that the man up there loves the men below. He is simultaneously defeated and yet reigning victoriously over the earth. It is a moving picture and it came at the end of a long display of different art pieces depicting the cross. Derek Tidball and his book “The Message of the Cross” recounts a Scottish review from 1995 when in the National Gallery of London, men entered the room where there picture was hung and instinctively took off their hats. Crowds of chattering and high-spirited school children were hushed into odd silence when they saw it. As you and I reflect on Salvador Dali's imitation of the cross it's important to remember that we come here to the word of the Lord describing to us the cross. This is the real picture. My hope and my prayer is that as we look at this passage over the weeks to come that we will also be moved to a sense awe and reverence and worship as we consider what it is that Jesus has done for us on the cross.
Today's text has one thing in particular that I want you to see. Namely, that what Jesus does on the cross is that he strips himself and he allows himself to be stripped of all dignity. He is dehumanized, shamed and humiliated. It is the most cruel form of embarrassment possible. Do you still worry about being ridiculed when you share the gospel with your friends? If you are asked to serve as the groomsmen for one of your best friends who happen to be having their marriage officiated over by a heretical teacher, say a Jehovah's Witness or a Mormon, would you dismiss those inconveniences and go ahead and serve as a groomsmen because you do not want to be divisive? Do you find perhaps sometimes that your conscience still nags you because of your carefree lifestyle or the fact that apart from Sunday attendance you don't really live for the Lord? Or perhaps you're on the other end of the spectrum. Perhaps you're here today and you wonder whether or not you're good enough to go to heaven. If any of the questions that I have just posed strike a nerve the answer to your inner spiritual struggle is found here at the cross.
As we look today at what Jesus has done for us on the cross and as we look particularly at these verses 27 to 31, we recognize that there is no way for us to be Christians and to still expect some form of dignity granted to us by the world. They didn't give it to him and they won't give it to us either. I want you to turn with me now and look at verses 27 to 31. It says “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.” Two things here, a battalion is about 600 men. This would've been the entire force surrounding Pontius Pilate and the governor. Every man in the garrison was called out to observe Jesus stripped completely naked. In many of the artistic expressions that you've seen over the years of Christ hanging on the cross, undoubtedly they've all had him up there on the cross wearing some sort of a loincloth or a diaper. It's important to recognize that this particular word here in the Greek is explicit; they stripped him of every shred of clothing. There was nothing on him and he was completely exposed before the whole world, before a cheering crowd of 600 Roman soldiers who were specifically instructed to observe the spectacle that was about to unfold. The next item was the twisting together of the crown of thorns that they put on his head and they put a reed in his right hand. Kneeling before him they mocked him saying “hail, King of the Jews” and they spit on him. They took the reed and struck him on the head and when they had mocked him they stripped him of the robe and they put his own clothes on him and they led him away to crucify him. Now in this particular passage it's not mentioned, but you will find it in Luke's gospel as well as Mark’s, part of the process of crucifixion always involved the preliminary scourging. Now, the question is at what point does the scourging take place? Almost certainly it was just before they put the robe and the crown of thorns on his head. Matthew's text here doesn't mention it, but you will find it in Luke. What would happen is the lictors were given a wet scourge. It would have anywhere from a dozen to 30 different strands hanging off of it and on the end of each strand would be a bit of glass or sharpened bone or nail. They would tie Jesus to a stake and his hands would be chained there as he stood completely naked. They would begin to lash him over and over and over again. Jewish law would stipulate that he couldn't be lashed more than 40 times, but we find in multiple accounts of Roman crucifixions that they didn't really give much regard to the number of lashings it took. They were going for a particular effect prior to impaling on the cross. The first few lashes would have ripped the way his skin and his flash. After three or four of those lashes they would have fairly well ripped apart the top layer of his body and the second layer would begin to tear into the large muscles of his back. After few lashes of that those muscles were shredded they would begin to go even deeper, penetrating into the subcutaneous tissue pulling the bits of muscle and tendon between the ribs and around the spinal column around his backbone. They wanted to induce in their victims a state of hypovolemia (cardiac circulatory shock). Blood flow would have been considerable, but the pain would have been unbearable.
Following this they would have draped him in the robe and put thorns upon his head. The statement here in verse 30 says “And they spit on him and took the reed and struck him on the head.” It's a reed it's not a baseball bat so it is unlikely that they would have concussed him to a point of brain damage, nonetheless they're taking this reed and they are smacking him for all they are worth. This is undoubtedly ripping skin from his head and driving the thorns deeper into his scalp. Again, blood flow would be appreciable as it goes to supply oxygen to your brain. Mind you Jesus has no way of defending himself. He has no way to even throw his arms up in self defence as his is chained to the stake. It says “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. As they went out, they found a man of Cyrene, Simon by name. They compelled this man to carry his cross.” We think that the beating bestowed upon Christ was particularly savage because somebody else had to carry his cross for him to the place of crucifixion. Historical records show that this is actually quite common. It was routine following the scourging for individuals to be so incapacitated and so weakened by what they had just experienced that they were physically incapable of carrying the cross beam. The cross bar is also known as the patibulum and would have weighed anywhere from 200 to 220 pounds. It was a sturdy piece of oak intended to withstand the elements and was used over and over again as crucifixion was a common practice in the first century. Even as we approach this text here I wonder whether or not it's helpful to go into the details of the crucifixion. As we look at the gospel accounts we find the Scripture does not go into all the physiological trauma that Jesus suffered. The Scriptures focus lies elsewhere so I'm tempted to say perhaps it's not even helpful for us to sit here and talk about what would actually happen on the cross, physiologically speaking. But, there is the countervailing argument that the first century would have been intimately involved and aware of what exactly was taking place in crucifixion whereas, by today's 21st-century standards, you and I are largely ignorant of these details. Perhaps the gospel writers did not have to go into detail about what Jesus suffered on the cross because anybody who would have read those letters in the first century would have already known. You and I have sort of embraced this sterilized version. In all of our churches we have the torture stake readily on display, yet you and I have never really observed someone choking and gagging to death on this torture stick. Cicero, the great orator and statesman of Roman life, when talking about the cross says that it is the servitutis extremum summumque supplicium; that is, the greatest penalty. Crucifixion as its express purpose was the elimination of victims from consideration of members of the human race. That's what Cicero said. The point of crucifixion was not that you would look at a neighbour or friend or someone that was a part of your community as a citizen in your town. You wouldn't look upon this individual and think to yourself, there's a man like me dying. You would look upon this individual and you would be forced to conclude that before your eyes was a specimen that was not deserving of humanity. The expressed purpose of everything they did from start to finish was to convince you that the person hanging there on the stake was a beast and in fact something so repellent, something so grotesque something so horrific that it didn't deserve a dignified death.
I have heard preachers who have tried to drive home the point of this to modern audiences by drawing a comparison between the cross and the electric chair. In some ways I think that this is helpful in other ways there is no comparison. They say that if you were to imagine hanging an electric chair on a gold chain around your neck that would sort of be what we as Christians do with the cross. We celebrate an instrument that was utterly despised, that was horrific, and that was shamed so in that sense I do find the comparison helpful. None of us would ever think to take an electric chair or by the 21st-century standards the hospital gurney of lethal injection and hang it on a gold chain around our neck; that would be just silly. And yet, they did this in the first century by embracing the cross. Roman citizens looked at Christians like you and me, who glory in this death trap, in the same way that people would look at us today is morbid abhorrent weirdo’s putting a gurney or an electric chair on a chain around our neck. That's how first century Roman Empire citizens and residents would have regarded Christians who were glorying in the cross.
Of course, while is helpful in that regard to look at the electric chair as an item of comparison to the cross, in many other ways it's not helpful at all. For example, electric chairs were theoretically quick and painless whereas the cross was very slow and torturous. The person electrocuted was permitted the dignity of still wearing his prison jumpsuit or some other article of clothing. Indeed, the standard procedure for electrocution in the early part of the 20th century required that individuals to be executed in that manner would wear a covering over the face so that you would not see the disfigurement the contortions of the facial muscles as they were electrocuted. No such dignity was afforded to those who were pinned to the torture stick known as the cross. As well, all electrocutions took place indoors out of public view. Every Roman crucifixion was done somewhere where people were forced to observe and to partake of the spectacle of humiliating and embarrassing and ridiculing the poor specimen forced to die in that manner. So, in one sense a comparison to an electric chair is helpful but in another sense it doesn't compare and yet it is the cross that provides the answer to so many problems. Have you ever stopped and looked at what the New Testament has to say about the cross? The writers of Scripture as they are writing to the various churches and to the various individuals who are struggling with different spiritual concerns would say to them that it doesn't matter whether you're part of the church in Corinth or whether you're part of the church in Galatia. It doesn't matter whether you're struggling with just this rampant freedom to do whatever you think, whether you've engaged in antinomianism or you've thrown off all of the constraints of the law or you've been saved by what you understand to be true about Jesus dying on the cross and it results in your living life however you want. Whether or not you are on the other side of the spectrum or you remember the church in Galatia and you understand that Jesus did in fact die in the cross; nevertheless, you still somehow suspect that you have to contribute to what he did for the good work of salvation, but that you have to struggle to complete what he started and that the finishing of your salvation still somehow hinges on your efforts. Whether you're in Galatia or whether you're in Corinth the answer to both of those extremes is illustrated by the apostle Paul as he draws in both congregations right back here to this torture stick. With regards to the church in Corinth Paul makes several statements. He refers to them as super spiritual, the Greek word pnev̱matikós. They have thought that just by knowing this and having an intellectual understanding that there was some man named Jesus Christ God who died on the cross, if they could just know that then everything else was fair game. They have thought of themselves as super spiritual. Paul draws this out in a number of places. In first Corinthians 14:37 he says “If anyone thinks that he is a prophet or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things I'm writing to you are a command of the Lord.” In second Corinthians he makes a statement I've been a fool talking to the new guys here in Corinth. I've been a fool sharing the things with you that I've had to share with you, but you force me to it. Paul says I ought to have been commended by you because I was not at all inferior to these super apostles, again referring to this heightened form of spirituality. The Corinthians seemed to think it is nothing more than a matter of head knowledge and these problems are revealed throughout first and second Corinthians. You have a congregation that was abusing the spiritual gifts, that was doing communion wrong, that was even celebrating rampant sexual immorality. Paul makes a statement in first Corinthians 5 that there is a man there sleeping with his stepmother and Paul says shouldn't you be grieving, but you're proud? You're celebrating this? The church in Corinth that was thinking “all we gotta do is know who Jesus is and then everything else is fair game? In response to that, over and over again, Paul draws them back to the cross. He draws their attention to it over and over again and he makes the statement in Corinthians 13 that having addressed it on multiple occasions he shows them what true love is. He shows them that it is found in Jesus Christ and he makes the statement that love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things. There's no way to fully appreciate love and what love is and there is no way to fully appreciate God's love for you if you don't recognize that love first had to go to the cross. In the same way, your choices and your actions are not loving unless there is an element in your love in which you are prepared to sacrificially serve those around you. This totally turns the Corinthians view of salvation on its head. They come to the church of Galatia in which the Galatians are thinking Jesus started something, but I am not sure I am good enough to go to heaven so I have to keep the Mosaic Law and knowledge of the rituals prescribed in the Old Testament. I have to follow through with all of these rights in these practices and Paul continues to confront them. Now as a pastor, if I have an individual in my church worried about whether or not they're good enough to go to heaven I'm going to focus much on trusting God, placing my faith in God and I'm going to focus them on passages like Romans 5 where it says that Abraham, the man of righteousness, had his righteousness accounted to him by faith. I will talk about things like trusting God and placing your faith in God. Paul is keen to do that too, but he's going to steer them right back to the same thing that calls the Corinthians to a lifestyle of repentance by saying that same torture stick should confront the Galatians.
We are called to imitate Christ in his suffering, but we are called to recognize that the man who hung on the cross was God perfect and sinless and that he saves us totally and completely from all of our sins and grants us forgiveness by dying. His statement to the church in Galatia states, I would have you know brothers that the gospel that was preached by me is not man's gospel for I didn't receive it from any man, nor was I taught it. I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.
Whereas in his correspondence to the Corinthians, Paul focuses on the mode of Christ’s death and the fact that he was crucified. In Galatians Paul focuses upon the man who hangs on the cross. I received it by a revelation of Jesus Christ. He goes further yet. We know a person is not justified by any works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. I have been crucified with Christ. The life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the son of God that loved me and gave himself for me. Now if you have a church who wants to work for their salvation do we not think that that is a curious statement to make? The life I live is a life of Christ’s crucifixion. I die every day, but it isn't me who is living. The answer to the dilemma is that Paul identifies Jesus as the one who is living through him over and over again as we work our way through the New Testament. Whatever spiritual issue you have and whatever struggle you are going through, whatever difficulty in which you are encountering and the circumstances of life that you're trying to reconcile, the idea of a loving God in heaven and “How could he do this to me? How could he put me through this? Why is he inflicting me with this? Why is he subjecting me to this?” For them and us to first understand that what you are going through does not even come close to comparing to what he went through and if you want to understand what God is doing in your life you need to stop and more fully appreciate what he's already done by dying for your life. That is the answer of this text here.
As I said, I'm reluctant to go to the depths of the physical suffering that he went through and answering how you actually die hanging on a cross. How does this actually bring about your death? Jesus is unique. Jesus states “No one takes my life from me, but I lay down of my own accord.” Jesus died of his own power. Ordinarily the cross would kill the victim by suffocation. In the text before us this morning it says they found this man named Simon of Cyrene and he had to carry the patibulum. He led Jesus out, or perhaps Jesus led him out, and the two made their way to cavalry; the place of the skull as it is also known. Jesus would've been thrown down roughly upon his back where dirt would have entered into the wounds and the lacerations that he had experienced. They would've taken his hands and they would've nailed them to this cross beam. They would have hoisted up the patibulum into a precut notch in the upward section of the cross. They would have put his feet up under him so his knees were bent and they would've driven a nail through both his feet. Now when you're suspended in that position, hanging from your hands, what is happening is that the diaphragm muscle that causes your lungs to expand and contract is depressed and held in such a way that you're no longer able to exhale. If you exhale you have to push yourself up on the cross by either pulling yourself with your hands or pushing yourself with your feet in order to bring your arms down enough so that your lungs can contract and exhale the air. As you grow weaker and weaker through blood loss and as your body slips further and further into shock, that process becomes more and more difficult and indeed impossible. Over time, anywhere from a day to six days, the victim was slowly suffocated. To date no other form of execution has been devised which is more cruel and more torturous than crucifixion, yet our gospel writers don't point us to the physical barbarity of which is experienced. As you look at Matthew 27 verses 27 to 31 we notice here a Chiasmus, a verb that is well known and well established way of literary expression amongst Jews. You'll notice if you look at verse 28 that it says and they stripped him and they put a scarlet robe on him. Now in a Chiasmus you have a series of statements that are usually of an odd number. The first statement will in some way be connected to or resemble the last statement, the second will in some way be connected to or resemble the second to last statement and so forth and so on until you come to the middle statement which is invariably the odd numbered statement. Those middle statements serve as the point to the passage. Matthew, in choosing this well documented form of literary expression for Jews, is employing this literary structure of a Chiasmus to show that the point of what Jesus went through as horrific of a physical suffering as it was, there was something else that was even more horrific. Verse 28 says they stripped him. If you look down to verse 31 it says “And when they had mocked him, they stripped him.” So we see these statements correspond so they are clearly not the point of the message. Verse 29 says “and twisting together a crown of thorns they put it on his head.” There is a reference to his head and they put a reed in his hand. Come down to verse 30 where it says that they spit on him and they took the reed and they struck him on the head. We see these matching statements which brings us to the centre of the Chiasmus and the point that Matthew was trying to make for us here today. You find it's the second part of verse 29 “And kneeling before him they mocked saying Hail King of the Jews.”
Do you know what's ironic about this? It would be like me telling you my name is Joshua Claycamp and then you stepping back and saying “oh you’re Joshua Claycamp. I'm going to make fun of you for being Joshua Claycamp.” He was and he is the King of the Jews. He was and is king of all of the universe. The creatures that he formed and fashioned with his own hands were rejecting him by refusing to believe in him. They pinned him to a torture stick and mocked and ridiculed him for being exactly who he is. The problem that we are seeing here is that they were ridiculing the true God of the universe for being the true God of the universe. He was the foretold one, He was the promised one, He was the chosen one.
The temple in Jerusalem is heralded as one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. Its fame spread throughout the entire Roman Empire. It didn't matter whether you were a Roman who typically worshiped the Roman pantheon of gods and it didn't matter whether you came from one the far-flung provinces of the Empire, everyone had heard that in Jerusalem there is a temple where allegedly there is a one true God and you can meet with that person. All across the Empire there's been a flourishing of culture and civilization ideas from different parts of the country and they have been allowed to travel all across the world. People knew there was this ritual that takes place in Jerusalem every year. Jews from all over the world travel thousands of miles they go to celebrate Passover, this giving of this lamb that allegedly takes away our sin and makes us right before God. And here we are now in this moment of that day, either you're from Galilee in which it is the day after Passover or if you're from Jerusalem the day of Passover, killing this man who claims to be the Messiah and who has said “I am the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” and your making fun of him for it and for being what he claims to be on the day that God has set aside for the prophet; this coming Messiah. It couldn't be more ironic if you tried. The absurdity of it could not be more blatant if you and I were to sit down with our own imaginations try to think something up.
The gospel writers though they could have pointed to his physiological suffering did not. Luke is a trained physician. We find in multiple different passages throughout the gospel of Luke and of Acts, Luke drawing upon his knowledge as a physician. He routinely utilized terms of anatomy and physiology to describe different things that are happening to the apostle Paul and others. Luke, having carefully gone into great detail investigating all of the events that transpired on the cross could've spent a great deal of time describing from his physicians perspective what physiological processes Jesus went through; yet none of the gospel writers did that. The omniscience of God knowing that 2000 years later you and I would be largely oblivious to the physical horrors of what is taking place on the cross didn’t see fit to record for us any of the details of the physiological suffering. All the scriptures point to one thing and that is the horror of being rejected and shamed and despised, of being stripped naked, being pinned on a cross and being ridiculed for being nothing more than exactly what you are.
This is the cross of Jesus Christ. Jesus, the son of God dies perfect and sinless so that you don't have to be perfect and sinless. He dies to save us all from ourselves. He goes to die the criminal’s death and his crime was nothing more than just being God. He bears the shame, he takes on the indignity of it all to bestow upon you and me a clear dignity; the dignity of being known as sons and daughters of the most high. If you've ever wondered what you can do about this feeling of shame that you feel any time you want to tell people about Jesus because they might make fun of me, they might ostracize me, you need to look no further than the Jesus who is made fun of, ridiculed and ostracized for just being himself. Take your place on the cross and embrace your identity in Christ and proclaim the truth that God loves the world. You will be nothing more than what you are - a child of the most high - and you will bring nothing less than what it brought him. If you still struggle with whether or not it is appropriate to go to a wedding where you are a groomsmen in your best friend’s wedding and ceremony is being officiated over by somebody who is clearly a heretical teacher and you're thinking “if I refrain from doing that and upholding a false gospel people are going to make fun of me, some of the are going to shame me and ridicule me for being divisive,” look no further than the cross. If you are here today thinking that you can live a life of love by living it however you choose without regard for the God of the Bible, I have to say stop. This God shows you love by dying on the cross. True love will inevitably require shame and sacrifice and if you want to live a life of love you will experience the same sacrifice of public shaming that this world offers. If you're here today thinking “man, how will I ever be good enough to go to heaven?” look to the man on the cross. Jesus sets you free. You don't have to do anything to go to heaven other than to claim Christ as your King. Paul makes a statement in second Corinthians 5:16 “From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him this way no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.” The cross says my identity is a new power. I'm no longer my own, I belong to you. If any man makes that commitment, if anyone is in Christ then he is a new creation.
Every sin, every crime, every failure, every shortcoming that you have ever been a part of in your life you know and they incur the judgment of God, but if you would receive the grace that Christ purchased for you on the cross you can be forgiven and freed from all.
As we come to a conclusion here this morning it's important to remember that Jesus saw what was coming. All throughout the Gospel of Matthew as we have preached over these passages for almost six years now, we've seen over and over again Jesus hinting of the fact that the cross is coming and that he was going to the cross and that he was embracing the cross. We like that idea, but as we conclude this morning it's important to remember what Jesus said “if you would come after me deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me.” If anyone would say that if anyone could save his life he would surely lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.
Let's bow church. Father we thank you. As we begin this series of messages on the cross we know it's heavy. We know it weighs upon us. Lord we pray that we would find our salvation in you and you alone. If there are any here today who do not fully appreciate or perhaps do not even understand the depth of your loss and what is necessary to be saved and forgiven, I pray God that your spirit would drive home with them the truth that they need look no further than what you have done for them, to free them voluntarily on the cross, on their behalf. Father if there are any here today who do not have faith, I pray that your spirit will awaken faith in their hearts. I pray Lord that your son is lifted high and that you would draw all men to yourself, that this gospel will reach to the end of the earth and that all your people with gather together. We know you intend to do it Lord and we look forward to your return. It's in Christ name that we pray, Amen.
The Gospel of Matthew is a story about a once and coming King. Jesus of Nazareth is the Son of David, the long awaited for Messiah. He has come once, and Matthew tells the story of His arrival, ministry, sacrificial atoning work on the cross, and His promise to return soon.