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Passion 4 Matthew 27v27-61 “A Saviour who Suffers”
Do you hate Jesus? Of course not. Does anyone you know hate Jesus? I don’t know a single person who would say they hate Jesus. But here is the problem, there just aren’t that many people around who say they love Jesus and in whose lives it is obvious that it is true – they do love Jesus. Sadly, in our culture, most people both inside and outside the church have quite a weak response to Jesus. And perhaps part of the reason for that is that often the real Jesus Christ is not proclaimed but a sort of diluted version is preached instead.
And when something is really diluted it loses its flavour and its power – when I was growing up tea and buns were a very big part of the local church’s life together. Any excuse for a big pot of tea and a spread of cakes and buns and sausage rolls (traybakes!). It was mostly the ladies who put these things on and whilst they were amazing at baking they were terrible at making orange squash. Nobody wants to drink something that has the colour of orange juice but the taste of slightly stale water. Yuck.
When we read the account of Jesus’ crucifixion, there is absolutely no excuse for a preacher who leaves people with the idea of a diluted, weak Jesus. A Jesus who nobody would really love or hate, a Jesus who might colour our lives a bit but not have any powerful impact, a Jesus that can more or less be ignored. Jesus suffered terribly, he was hated by many, and he was forsaken by his Father for you. So that he could save you, change you, and offer you new life that lasts forever.
1) The hated saviour (v27-44)
Jesus is the hated saviour and that is so clear in the first half of our reading, verses 27-44. He was hated by the Roman soldiers who always treated condemned prisoners terribly but who in Jesus’ case particularly excelled. They humiliated him with a scarlet robe, tortured him with a hideous thorn crown forced into his head, they knelt in mockery, and spat on him, before beating him savagely round the head again and again with the staff. Utter hatred being poured out by cowardly creatures straight at their creator –God in flesh is being hit round the head with a stick, God in flesh is getting covered in his own blood and these men’s spittle. Men who ended up coldly gambling for his clothes as he hung battered and dying above them.
Jesus was hated by the passers-by, in verse 39; “Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying ‘you who were 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’.” He is already dying, he is absolutely humiliated and helpless in their eyes, they are simply passers-by and yet they can’t help but join in the hatred. Their hatred is fuelled by the claims Jesus made about the temple – Jesus again and again pointed to himself as the ultimate hope of salvation rather than the temple and the religious system and these simple passers-by are full of offense and hatred as a result.
And so much more so the men who made this crucifixion happen, the schemers who plotted and bribed and trampled all over their own law and all over justice to see Jesus on the cross. Jesus was hated by the religious leaders who “mocked him” – “he saved others but he can’t save himself”, “he’s the king of Israel, if he comes down we will believe in him”, “he trusts in God, Let God recue him now if he wants to.” Their mockery is so close and yet so far away from the truth each time – the reality is that ‘to save others he couldn’t save himself’, ‘he is the King of Israel, the King of the Universe, and for the good of all who will believe in him he must stay up on the cross’, ‘he does trust in God and as a result knows that he cannot be saved now from drinking this cup – “not my will but yours be done.”’ Such hatred from those who stood to lose most from the fact that Jesus is indeed the way and the truth and the life, and there is no other way to the father except through him.
The soldiers, the passers-by, and the religious leaders were all full of hatred for the saviour but the hatred that always most takes my breath away is described briefly in verse 44; “In the same way, the rebels who were crucified with him also heaped insults upon him.” The rebels pinned to and dying on their own crosses hated Jesus. How can this be? Of all the details about the passion and the crucifixion of Jesus in the 4 gospel accounts, it is this detail that shows so starkly the real response of the sinful heart towards Jesus. These men should have pitied Jesus, they should have been on the same side as Jesus – surely they should have directed their hate at the soldiers who had driven nails through their hands and feet.
Why did they pour their hatred out on Jesus? Roman soldiers, religious leaders, passers-by, fellow sufferers. Why did so many hate him? The only satisfactory answer is that this is what the saviour provokes in the people he came to save. Sin so rots all of our hearts that when we are confronted with a non-diluted Jesus we hate him because he shows us that we need saved, he shows us that we need to benefit from the filthiness of the cross, he shows us that we are so offensive in God’s sight that God himself had to die to change us. It is actually very strange to live in a nation and amongst a people who think they are ambivalent to Jesus. In so many places in the world right now, Christians who love the name of Jesus, who live for the name of Jesus and refuse to stop preaching the name of Jesus, are suffering terribly as a result. Since Jesus provokes hate, his followers are hated as well. Jesus is the hated Saviour.
2) The forsaken saviour (v45-50)
However, there is something worse than being hated by men and women. And that is, being forsaken by God. In verses 45-50 Jesus is the forsaken saviour. In verse 45 we see that from noon until 3, “darkness came over all the land.” Whatever suffering Jesus has endured already, terrible though it has been, is nothing to the suffering that these 3 hours brought.
Darkness goes with judgement right throughout the bible, there are many examples of this, but the most helpful one at this point is right the way back in Exodus 11 when God was rescuing his people from captivity in Egypt. The very last plague before the killing of the firstborn was the plague of darkness – a terrible darkness over the land of Egypt, a darkness that is described as ‘being able to be felt’. God was both judging that nation for refusing to obey him and He was preparing to rescue and release his people from their slavery and desperation.
That is exactly what is happening in these 3 hours as Jesus bled and suffered upon that cross. The darkness descends because God is judging sin – all the righteous anger that the Holy God has to pour out on sin from the beginning of creation until the end, is being poured out right then – and it is being poured out upon Jesus Christ, the Son of God, God in flesh. The darkness descends because God is rescuing his people from the captivity of sin and the eternal judgement of hell that it brings, the father is expending his right anger upon his Son – and as the Son becomes sin for us, as he becomes a curse on our behalf, the Father turns his face away. There is no comfort at all for the suffering Jesus during that time – all comfort comes from the goodness of God and Jesus is cut off from it. “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”
That is the most heart-rending question ever asked in the history of our planet – and the answer to it should change the way every one of us relates to God. Jesus was forsaken so that you and I could be forgiven and saved.
To be able to mostly ignore the depth of suffering that Jesus went through for us, a depth we simply cannot imagine, to somehow go about our lives mostly unaffected by this, shows just why it was so necessary. If Jesus just colours our lives a bit but doesn’t powerfully affect them, then that is not because he isn’t infinitely powerful, that is not because the cross of Jesus Christ wasn’t effective in dealing with our sin and God’s judgement, it is all to do with the hardness of our sin-soaked hearts. I am not talking about a simply emotional response (some of us are much more emotional than others), no I am talking about a transformed life lived with Jesus at the very centre. If the cross of Christ is not producing that in us then that is all to do with us being dead in our sins and it warns us that we face God turning his face away from us as well.
That’s what sin does – it leads to death, it means we are spiritual corpses when it comes to God. From the very beginning of creation, God had warned people that to sin was to die. V50 “And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit.” Jesus became sin for us, and so Jesus himself died. Jesus is the hated saviour, hated by people because of our sin. Jesus is the forsaken saviour, forsaken by God so that we can be forgiven.
3) The life-giving saviour (v51-61)
The death of Jesus Christ is at the very centre of the Christian faith because it is at this lowest point in human history where eternity changing hope is immediately seen. We don’t have to wait in this account for Easter Sunday and the resurrection of Jesus to see that he is the life-giving saviour v51-61.
Immediately following Jesus giving up his spirit and dying in verse 50, life begins to break out.
The curtain is torn in verse 51 - it is at that moment that the temple curtain, this thick barrier keeping people away from God’s presence, gets ripped from top to bottom signifying that finally, something has happened to change not our outward appearances or surface behaviours but to change our hard, dead hearts towards God.
The tombs break open in verse 52 and 53 and many who belonged to God (Holy people) and were dead received life and were witnessed by many people in the city.
The centurion and presumably the soldiers with him are changed in verse 54. They go from brutal haters organising Jesus’ torture, humiliation and death to declaring “Surely he was the Son of God.” Why? Because they have watched all that has happened and have no other conclusion to come to – life has sprung up in the most unlikely of dead places.
The women are then mentioned and commended in verses 55&56. They are still there, watching from a distance, and their loyalty to Jesus and care of Jesus is spoken about in the passage. Is this significant? Yes, partly because it matters that they are there and so aren’t going to make a mistake regarding where Jesus’ body gets buried, but also because Jesus brought purpose and meaning to them and his death hasn’t changed that at all – the death of any simply human leader would have done that, but this death was different, it didn’t end life, it began new life for many, including these women.
And finally in v57-61 as Jesus’ dead body is buried, new life is still in evidence. Who goes to Pilate to ask for the body? Joseph of Arimathea. We know from Mark’s gospel (15v43) that Joseph was a prominent member of the council – he is one of the religious leaders who as a group so hated Jesus, and yet he had become a disciple of Jesus, so committed as to go to Pilate and ask for the body. And we know from John’s gospel that Joseph was accompanied by Nicodemus, a Pharisee and another member of the ruling council, who had gone to Jesus at night out of fear and there had been told that he needed to be born again, he needed the new life Jesus had to offer. Both of these men, amongst the deadness and darkness and hate of the rest of the religious leaders, received the new eternal life that Jesus had come to give by dying on the cross.
Life, life, life wherever you look in the shadow of the cross, beneath the blood of the suffering saviour. The hated saviour offers this new life to soldiers and passers-by and religious leaders and even to the thief on a cross beside him pouring abuse. The forsaken saviour is judged by God, the father turns his face away from his son so that he does not need to turn his face away from any who would come to the Son for life. Curtains are torn, tombs are opened, death is defeated, enemies are made friends because the hated, forsaken, suffering saviour brings life forever. Come to him for the first time today or come to him for the thousandth, receive the life that he has to offer and then go and live for his glory forever.
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