I’ve been reading through the book of Matthew and in the below passage, I was struck by the contrast between how man viewed the cross and what was actually happening there. Here’s the passage:
Matthew 27:37–44 (ESV)
37 And over his head they put the charge against him, which read, “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.” 38 Then two robbers were crucified with him, one on the right and one on the left. 39 And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads 40 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.” 41 So also the chief priests, with the scribes and elders, mocked him, saying, 42 “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. 43 He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he desires him. For he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’ ” 44 And the robbers who were crucified with him also reviled him in the same way.
First, we see man’s perspective through five ridiculing statements made about Jesus Christ.
The first ridicule we see in verse 40 comes from those passing by. They say:“the one who would destroy the temple and build it up in three days, save yourself”. In other words, Jesus said He could do this amazing thing and now look at Him. He said He could destroy and rebuild the temple…and he can’t even save Himself.
The second taunt comes from these same passers-by at the end of verse 40:“If you are the Son of God, come down now from the cross”. Note: these people passing by understood who Jesus claimed to be: the Son of God. And they realized that the Son of God was more than just a man; He was someone who could do miraculous things, like come down from a cross. By mocking him, they were in essence saying, ‘You are not the Son of God because You cannot come down from the cross’.
We hear the third ridicule from the chief priests, elders, and scribes in verse 42. While the passers-by directed their comments at Jesus, saying “you”, these religious leaders direct their comments to the crowd about Jesus, saying “he”. They say in verse 42,“He saved others, but He cannot save Himself”. The chief priests were the ones who heard that Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead (John 12:9-11), the scribes were there when Jesus made a paralytic walk (Matt 9:1-8), and yet, here they are, mocking the one who saved others, because he was not saving Himself.
The fourth taunt comes from these same people in verse 42. They say:“He is the King of Israel; Let Him come down now from the cross and we will believe in Him.”Here, these religious leaders convey confidently that they know what the King of Israel—the Messiah—would be like and that He surely would not die on a cross, but would save Himself instead. They are saying, “you are not the king of Israel because you can’t come down from the cross”.
The fifth and final taunt comes again from these leaders in verse 43.“He trusted in God, then let God deliver Him now, if God wants Him. For He said, I am the Son of God.” Now, this insult is different from the rest because while the other ridicules were telling Jesus to save Himself, this one turns to address God. What’s being ridiculed here is not Jesus’ claim to destroy a temple or to be the Son of God or to be the King of Israel, but rather God’s desire and will to save His Son. They’re saying, “You’re not the Son of God because, if you were, God would be saving you right now.” And in like manner, verse 44 tells us the criminals crucified beside Jesus mocked him.Man’s perspective of what was happening on the cross that day comes across clear. From the lowly criminal to the leaders of Israel, they all looked at the cross and declared, “Foolish!” But in reality — what was happening on the cross that day? Here are five realities.
The passers-by mocked Jesus’ claim to destroy the temple and re-build it in three days as if it couldn’t happen. But in reality — right before their eyes, that is precisely what was happening. The temple of Jesus’ body was being destroyed and in three days He would rebuild it and raise it from the dead.
The chief priests ridiculed Jesus for not coming down from the cross, for not saving himself. They declared that He saved others and could not save Himself. But in reality — in order to save others, Jesus did not save Himself. In order to save others, Jesus stayed on the cross. In order to save every person who has and would ever trust in Christ for their sin and from an eternity in hell, He did not save Himself.
Reality 3 and 4
They mocked Him, saying he was not the Son of God (ridicule 2) and not the King of Israel (ridicule 4) because He could not come down from the cross. The King of Israel—the Son of God—would surely not die on a cross, they said. But in reality — this is precisely what the Son of God, the King of Israel, the King of Kings did; He died on a cross and took the wrath of every person that would ever believe in Him.
And finally, they said God did not desire Jesus because He did not save Him. But in reality, God loves His Son. We saw that clearly at Jesus’ baptism and transfiguration. God said,“This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matt 3:17; Matt 17:5)and three days later, God raised Him from the dead.The crowd saw Jesus’ death on the cross as foolish, but in reality, this is how God saves sinners. The king of Kings, the Son of God, came down to this earth and died on a cross. He did not save Himself so that He could save others.How do you see the cross of Christ? Do you see the reality of the Son of God hanging on the cross and taking the wrath of God and saving sinners? Or do you–like the leaders of Israel and the criminals next to Him–see the cross as foolish?If you have never trusted Jesus, please listen to 1 Corinthians 1:18,“The Word of the Cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God.” Right now, you are perishing. But you can trust in Jesus and be saved. See the realities of Who was on the cross. See the realities of what Jesus did there. He did not save himself, so He could save others from their sin.And Believer, why don’t you see the cross as foolish anymore? Remember God’s mercy in your life. Your Savior and mine endured all of these taunts and ridicules for our salvation.But that was not the worst part.The worst part was him being made our sin and taking our punishment. These taunts were nothing compared to that amazing reality. Praise God that we can see the cross no longer as foolish, but as the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes. NOTE: A few Sundays ago, I lead communion at our church on this. You can also listen to the audio here.