Good Friday Reflections
Passage : Matthew 27:27 - 54
Second Passage : Isaiah 53:4 - 5
The full list of readings:
1 Corinthians 1:18-25
Matthew 27:27 – 56
Good Friday Reflections
Matthew 27:27 – 31 – A King Rejected
Geoffrey Chaucer, considered by many to be the greatest English poet of the middle ages, observed in the Canterbury Tales, “A man may say the truth in game and play.” It’s where we get our expression “A true word spoken in jest.”
Now, you’d hardly describe what we’ve just heard read as jest would you, and yet to these soldiers it is a game.
But Chaucer was right, “A man may say the truth in game and play.” These soldiers think this is just a cruel joke, but without knowing it, they speak the truth about who Jesus is.
The governor’s soldiers as Matthew describes them, were non-Jewish soldiers from the regions nearby. And there’s almost certainly anti-semitism at play here.
The philosopher Philo records other instances of this kind of thing happening.
These soldiers get a chance to have some violent fun, at the expense of one called the king of the Jews, the appeal was enough to attract the whole company of soldiers to join in.
It’s the kind of bullying violence we saw coming out of Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, isn’t it? A defenceless victim,
Those in charge enjoying their power trip.
Matthew records 7 parts to their brutal mockery;
1 – They strip Jesus;, Humiliation was part of the punishment.
2 – And then they dress him in a robe. If he’s the king, he needs to look the part, they think, so they give him a robe, probably the short cloak the soldiers themselves would wear.
3 – The dress-ups continue by putting a crown of thorns, on his head, a cruel imitation of the emperor’s radiant crown pictured on Roman coins.
4 – And they put a pretend royal staff in his hand.
5 – Then they worship him;, kneeling in front of him and mocking him.
6 – They spit on him,
7 – and then they beat him with the staff they’ve just thrust into his hand him.
It’s brutal, it’s sustained, and it comes after Jesus has already been flogged, or scourged, immediately before this.
Roman scourging was a brutal process, often done by 2 soldiers, one on each side, wielding a leather whip with lead and bone embedded in the ends.
Scourging could cut so deep into the flesh that the internal organs would be exposed,
And prisoners would sometimes die from it, before they even got to whatever was supposed to come next.
In the previous chapter Jesus had been mocked and beaten by the Jewish religious leaders, now it comes from Gentiles, non-Jews.
We’re supposed to see the universal rejection.
But we’re also supposed to see Jesus’ own words being fulfilled. Back in chapter 20, he’d spoken of being handed over to the religious leaders, who would condemn him to death, and will hand him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day he will be raised to life!”
This is precisely the route that Jesus has committed to, because he knows he’s the servant spoken of in Isaiah 53, those other words we heard read.
Surely he took up our pain
and bore our suffering,
he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.Isaiah 53:4 – 5
Jesus knew this was coming. In fact Jesus drove these events to their completion.
What on earth would possibly convince someone to not just endure but to deliberately choose this path?
Well, what did Isaiah say, all those centuries before?;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him.
Isaiah’s talking about the fact that each one of us is separate from God, and not just neutral towards God, we’re in active rejection of him.
Of course, it doesn’t normally look like the rejection of Jesus at the hands of these soldiers, does it?
We do it in a much nicer, more polite way;,
We put other things;, ourselves, our desires, our family, in the place of God,
We take all the good things he gives us, but we want nothing to do with God.
It’s what the Bible calls “sin.”
And there’s a penalty for sin;, we deserve to be separated from God and his blessings for ever.
But what was God’s promise through Isaiah?
This servant of God would take up our pain,
He’d bear our suffering.
And through his punishment, this mockery and violence here, and the worst which was to follow, we would find peace.
Jesus steps into our place, so we can have peace with God who we’ve rejected.
As we saw, though, the way these soldiers express their rejection of Jesus contains an element of truth, doesn’t it?
He is God’s long-promised king.
He is God come in human flesh, and worthy of worship.
If only they’d done these things without the mocking.
If only they’d seen in him, their creator God come to bring peace.
Lots of people today still reject Jesus, want nothing to do with him, usually very polite, and it hardly ever looks like this. And maybe that’s you today, you’ve just never seen that Jesus is worth your time or attention.
But will you consider what Jesus goes through, to flip that rejection on its head?
He takes it on himself, willingly enduring rejection and false worship, to bring us peace with the God we’ve ignored.
“A man may say the truth in game and play.”
Chaucer was right. These soldiers spoke and acted more truthfully than they realised.
Here is their king,
Here is their God.
Matthew 27:32 – 44 – Jesus’ death is the long-promised rescue
Roman crucifixion was as much public relations messaging as it was punishment.
It was how an oppressive regime warned its people, “See what happens to those who break the rules.
Usually the condemned person was forced to carry the cross-beam on which they were to be hanged, out of the city, to the spot where the crucifixion would take place.
In this case, it seems that Jesus is so weakened by the events of the past 12 hours or so;, that a man named Simon is pressed into service.
He’s the one who carries Jesus’ cross to the place called Golgotha, which as Matthew says, means “the place of the skull.”
The crucifixion itself is recorded so very simply. Literally just, “they crucified him”, only 2 words in Matthew’s original language.
Matthew wants us to look around and take in what everyone else is doing;,
The detail of how things are unfolding.
The soldiers are still there, of course, and their mockery and humiliation of Jesus continues as they offer him wine to drink, mixed with gall.
Instead of some relief, Jesus finds only torment at the hands of those crucifying him.
And even his clothes, seemingly the only things he possessed in the world, are divided up among them.
Then there’s the two rebels, crucified with Jesus. The Romans reserved crucifixion for only the very worst criminals. Commonly these 2 are referred to as “thieves.” Perhaps today we’d call them terrorists.
But notice down in verse 44, even these criminals turn on Jesus, and heaped insults on him
There’s the passers-by, who also hurled insults at him, shaking their heads,
The religious leaders join in too;, the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked him.
Now, they don’t know they’re doing this, but each one of these groups, show Jesus to be God’s promised king, who rescues his people.
For centuries, God had been promising a king, the Messiah, who would suffer,
But even though he’d suffer, he’d be victorious, and he’d open the way for people to come to God.
So places like Psalm 22 in the Old Testament, written a thousand years before Jesus, speak of this king;, his suffering, and his victory.
We find words like this; a pack of villains encircles me;
they pierce my hands and my feet.
All my bones are on display;
people stare and gloat over me.
They divide my clothes among them
and cast lots for my garment.
Ps 22:16 – 18
Or in Psalm 69 we read, They put gall in my food and gave me vinegar for my thirst.
Now, if the Psalm described a crucifixion and the details of Jesus crucifixion just happened to line up, you’d have to say it’s a remarkable coincidence.
But crucifixion wasn’t invented for another 500 years after king David.
No, he’s speaking about an event in the future, when God’s king, suffers at the hands of evil men.
So when the soldiers do this to Jesus, they prove to us “Jesus is this promised king.”
Or consider the rebels who heaped insults on Jesus,
We learn exactly that that sounded like on the lips of those who passed by ; verse 40, You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God!”
Similarly the religious leaders, verse 43, 43 He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him, for he said, ‘I am the Son of God.
Now come back to Psalm 22 again, and what David says this king will endure;
All who see me mock me;
they hurl insults, shaking their heads.
“He trusts in the Lord,” they say,
“let the Lord rescue him.
Let him deliver him, since he delights in him.”
Ps 22:7 – 8
By fulfilling the Psalm, the rebels, the crowds, the religious leader, show us that Jesus is God’s promised king, the Messiah.
And the climax of Psalm 22, promises that because of the salvation won through this suffering, All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the Lord,
and all the families of the nations
will bow down before him,
There’s nowhere in David’s life where that happened. And so we see the Psalm was always intended to speak of Jesus, and the kind of death he would die,
And how he would open up the way for people to come to God.
The dreadful irony of those earlier verses in Matthew 27 is that Jesus really is, a king.
Now, all of those gathered at the cross show us Jesus is, the, king;,
The Messiah, whose death opens the way for people to come to God.
Perhaps more than any other time in our memory, we want to know that things are under control, don’t we?
And seeing what’s happened to our government and our Prime Minister this week, we’re reminded that there’s lots beyond our control;,
Whether we get sick,
Whether we die of this illness,
Whether we get furloughed or lose our job.
We might be tempted to think that Jesus’ death suggests, “everything’s out of control.”
But this historical evidence tells us, Jesus is God’s eternal king, the one who holds everything in his hands,
All the nations will bow down before him, as the Psalm promises,
Even the details of who said and did what around Jesus’ cross, come to pass exactly as God had promised.
Isn’t this what we need in a moment of crisis?
Someone in control, of even the smallest details?
Is that your picture of Jesus?
If God’s care of, and involvement in his world, extends to the level of words and actions worked out in this event, then we have every reason for confidence in God’s care of his world today.
And Psalm 22 teaches us, what Jesus knew; that the way for us to come to God is only open, because he chooses the path of suffering.
Matthew 27:45-56 – Jesus is cut off, so we can be welcomed.
Being Australian, people often compare me to that great Australian philosopher, Mick “Crocodile” Dundee.
Pretty sure the only point of similarity is our nationality!
But besides wrestling crocs and, waving a knife around, Mick Dundee is known for saying, “Jesus and all those disciples were fishermen, just like me.
So, me and God, we’d be mates.”
It’s an appealing sentiment isn’t it?
That we could be mates with God.
That on our own, God would be pretty happy with us.
The problem is, this problem of sin.
Our rejection of God means that can’t possibly be true.
The penalty for sin is death and separation from God.
See how it plays out in this section?
Verse 45, From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over all the land.
In the Bible, light often symbolises God’s presence and blessing.
And darkness is a sign of God’s anger and judgment.
So, as Jesus dies and darkness covers the land, we know that
God is angry,
His judgment is at hand.
Sin, that rebellion against God that expresses itself in hatred, and selfishness, and unkindness and all manner of evil, is being punished.
Over the years, some people have tried to “soften” God a bit, tried to make him more appealing, by telling us God doesn’t really get angry, or punish people.
And on the surface, this can sound like a great idea;
But we don’t actually want that, do we?
I realise it sounds like the height of arrogance for me to tell you the kind of God you want.
But I don’t think any of us want a God who doesn’t get angry at sin and evil.
We get angry when we see people spitting on front-line workers to give them the coronavirus,
We’re offended at the selfishness of shoppers who clear the shelves of food and even toilet paper, with no thought for the needs of others.
You and I believe that there must be justice for those who suffer.
God does too.
A God who gets angry at sin and demands justice is very, very good news.
When darkness came over all the land, we’re assured that God is a God who gets angry at sin.
That evil is being punished, and the due penalty for sin is paid.
But Jesus didn’t have any sin of his own to pay for. Remember those words from Isaiah? he was pierced for our transgressions,
This is our sin being paid for.
Which explains Jesus’ words, spoken in Aramaic;, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).
We’re often captured by the physical agony of the cross. I remember watching that film, The Passion of the Christ, and being almost speechless afterwards as I tried to process the brutality it captured.
But Matthew’s focus is more on the spiritual agony of the crucifixion.
Though clearly Jesus can’t be looking for an actual answer to the question, “why is this happening to me?”
He knows why.
He’d predicted his death,
He promised his resurrection.
But those words, My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?, that’s the opening line, of Psalm 22.
Jesus cries out the first line, so we reflect on the trajectory of the Psalm;
God’s great rescue through the suffering of his chosen king, is at hand.
But let’s not gloss over the cry of abandonment.
The prophet Habakkuk says of God “Your eyes are too pure to look on evil;” (Habakkuk 1:13), and so as Jesus takes our sin on himself, the perfect relationship between Jesus and his Father, is broken.
Jesus didn’t stop being God, but as we sometimes sing, “the father turns his face away”, as Jesus willingly steps into our place, saying “I’ll pay the penalty for sin, so they don’t have to.”
There is a real separation;, the terrible consequence of sin.
And so as Jesus dies, cut off from his Father, verse 51 the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split 52 and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. 53 They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people.
The bit that captures our attention, we’re not given much detail about;,
People coming back to life is a strange thing to happen. But that’s the point!
Since sin leads to death and separation from God, when the price for sin is paid, death is defeated.
This is just a taste;, these people would die again, but it reminds us also that Jesus’ death is sufficient for all people, even those who lived and died before him.
The other event shows our separation from God because of our sin, is undone.
In the temple of God in Jerusalem, was an enormous curtain, that separated people from the central room called the “Holy of Holies” where God’s presence dwelled in a unique way.
It was enormous;, nine metres high and as thick as 2 volumes of a decent dictionary.
This curtain had one purpose; – it was a great big nine-metre-high “Do Not Enter” sign.
It was a reminder that it’s impossible for sinful people like you and I to come into the presence of God.
Sin means separation. We’re not mates with God.
But as Jesus dies, God tears the curtain, the symbol of separation, from top to bottom.
If we trust in Jesus’ death,
If we believe that was what we deserved,
We can now be welcomed by God.
If you wanted, you could even put it in Mick Dundee’s words;, we can be mates with God.
But, this has cost Jesus his life. It looks like he’s been defeated.
There’s an amusing story about a British Admiral named Robert Calder, informing London that the Duke of Wellington had defeated the French forces in Spain.
The message was started with, flag telegraphy, “Wellington defeated, ” but then a fog rapidly descended and the rest of the message was lost.
The story goes that British Parliament was in utter despair until much later in the day when the fog lifted and the rest of the message could be transmitted, “Wellington defeated, the French.”
Jesus our king defeated,
Sin and death