Finding Hope from 5 Surprises at the Cross

Rob Green April 4, 2009 Matthew 27:27

 

Introduction

Do you enjoy surprises?  I sure do.  I am not a big basketball fan.  I will watch or go to a game now and then but I am not into it until …

  • March madness ---
  • I love watching the underdogs attempt to knock off the big boys.  It is those last second shots by the underdogs are always enjoyable to watch.    
  • After one of the buzzer beaters everyone goes absolutely nuts.  One team rejoices with jubilation while the other team walks off or lays on the court in disbelief.
  • There is just something about those surprises that are fun and enjoyable.

Sometimes commercials offer us surprises that make them really funny.  Check out this video regarding the German coast guard.

  • German coast guard video (we are sinking)

The surprise is what encourages us to respond.  Sometimes that response will be joy or laughter.  If our team got knocked out of the tournament it might be frustration, anger, or discouragement.  But it is the surprise that encourages us to respond.

Did you know that the Bible is full of surprises? 

  • In Genesis 11 they are going to build a tower to Heaven.  However, they were able to accomplish this to such an extent that the Bible says that God had to come down in order to take a look at it!  The language is surprising.
  • Put Genesis 11:1-5 on the powerpoint.
  • Remember when Nathan confronts David.
  • David, on the whole, is a good king.  He was a military giant, he unified tribes, and he followed the Lord in many ways.
  • However, he gave in to his desires with Bathsheba
  • In due course she communicates that she is pregnant
  • So David, seeking to resolve the matter brings her husband home (assuming that he will sleep with her and the pregnancy will be their little secret)
  • But Uriah does not go for the plan.  He cannot bear the thought of his friends fighting while he is enjoying his wife so he sleeps at David’s doorstep
  • It is David who sends Uriah back to the front with his own death certificate.
  • Put 2 Sam 12:1-9 on the powerpoint
  • David is about ready to go pound the guy that stole a sheep! 
  • There is a great surprise coming when Nathan says to David the King --- “You are that Man”

This year we have been thinking about the subject of Hope in uncertain times.  So it is logical to ask the question, “Rob, what in the world do surprises in the Bible have to do with hope?”

With that in mind I invite you to turn to Matthew 27:27.  That is on page 25 in the back section of the Bible in the chair in front of you.  Read Matthew 27:27-54 – this is the word of the Lord.

We are going to look this morning at “Finding Hope from 5 Surprises at the Cross”. 

  • These surprises in the story are meant to highlight the most significant elements of the story. 
  • It is only our familiarity with the story (having heard it and read it 100 times) that hides these subtle surprises.

Surprise #1:  The One who is Mocked as king, Really is the KING! (vv. 27-31)

It is helpful to remember a bit about Roman legal proceedings as we read this portion of the text.  In the Roman system they were not particularly interested in housing criminals for long periods of time.  In fact, many towns like Philippi would have had a very small prison like this one [picture of prison].

One of the reasons had to do with the way they carried out sentences.  Once a person was arrested there would be a trial --- attorneys were not given weeks or months to prepare as often trials would occur with a day or so of the arrest ---typically early in the morning.

The evidence would be heard, the sentence read, and then sentence was carried out.  Even in the case of flogging, assuming the person survived, he/she would be released [Paul experienced this many times].  Again, there was no reason for long prison terms.  So the process was clear

  • Arrest
  • Trial and Sentence
  • Sentence executed as soon as possible

All three would happen very quickly, especially the final two.  So what we find in vv. 27-31 is very unusual.

We find a group of soldiers who take it upon themselves to carry out their own sentence --- a sentence of torture and humiliation.  Matthew records the events quite simply ---

  1. A roman cohort gathered around him.  If the cohort were at full strength that would be 600 soldiers.  Although it is possible that only a portion of them were on duty at the time.  Either way, all those present were involved.
  2. They stripped off his old clothes and gave him a scarlet or purple robe.  In other words, the soldiers gave Jesus one of their robes.
  3. A group of soldiers went outside and found a thorn bush native to the area (one with long spikes) and made a make-shift crown and crushed it on his head.  No doubt symbolizing the royal wreath that Caesar wore --- and a symbol that would have been inscribed on all their money.
  4. They put a reed in his right hand to symbolize a royal scepter
  5. Some picture of a king --- he has already been flogged which means he would have been a bloody pulp… he is draped with a soldiers garment to make him look official, he is given a crown of thorns, and a reed is put into his hands as a scepter (Some Kingly image!)

As if it were not enough to make a mockery of his appearance they put the finishing touches

  • By kneeling before him
  • Crying out “Hail, King of the Jews” --- you can almost hear their snickers in the background
  • They spat on him
  • Took the reed and hit him on the head with it.
  • Each act --- the scepter, the robe, the crown, and the proclamation was a picture of how Caesar was worshipped (the King in the soldier’s mind).  These very acts were used to mock Jesus.

Verse 31 explains that after they had had their fun they put his old clothes on him and took him to be crucified.

But here is the surprise ---- the soldiers speak better than they know.  They are mocking Jesus as king but God knows, Matthew knows, his readers know, and we know that JESUS IS THE KING! [Matt. 27:11; Coming of Davidic King Is. 7, 9 – He is the son of David; all authority Matt 28:19]

Looking back on the events of the cross, like we can, allows us to see this event from an entirely different perspective.  It is, of course, a scene of humiliation and mockery.  But, looking at as we do, it is a scene of great hope.  Because Matthew has explained many times in his gospel that Jesus is in fact the KING!  As I read it on this side of the cross, the reality that Jesus is the king changes the way I think and it changes the way I live (or at least it should!).

  • We have almost 200,000 soldiers deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Some of those young men will not return home.
  • We have an economy where many folks have lost their jobs. 
  • For the first time in my working lifetime I hear people thankful that they did not have to take a pay cut when the norm was people whining about their raises.  That tells us that times are rough.
  • We have people working later in life because their retirement plans have been so radically affected.  That tells us that times are rough.
  • But is Jesus still the KING in the midst of all these pressures?

Matthew answers that question with a resounding YES, Hebrews (which Pastor Viars just finished) answers that question with a resounding YES.  So, one of the questions before the house this morning is this:

Am I living my life as if Jesus is the King?

  • Young people --- does the way you treat your parents display the fact that you understand and believe that Jesus is King?  [Are you happily keeping your room clean and taking out the trash??]  
  • Does your choice of friends make it obvious that you understand Jesus is King? 
  • Does your choice of music demonstrate to others around you that you really believe that Jesus is King?
  • Not just asking whether it is sin – we are asking whether it is helping you live as if Jesus is King.
  • College students and young adults --- Does the fact that Jesus is the King make a difference in the people who are interested in dating? … Why not look for someone that lives like Jesus is really the king of their life??? 
  • Does it affect the parties that you would or would not go to? 
  • Does it impact the way you do your studies?  Merely to skate by or working heartily for the Lord.
  • Husbands / wives --- Does Jesus being King make a difference in the way you treat your spouse?
  • Would you respond so tersely and short with your spouse if Jesus were there.
  • If you are a parent does Jesus being king impact the way you treat your kids?

Matthew tells us how the soldiers went outside normal protocol to mock Jesus to remind us that Jesus really is the King.

Surprise #2:  The man who is utterly powerless is powerful. (vv. 32-40)

In this section we find three symbols that present Jesus as powerless – humanly speaking.

Symbol #1.  Jesus cannot even carry his own crossbeam

The Romans were very much into public execution.  They believed that one of the ways to keep folks in line was to carry out sentences so as many people as possible could see and hear the events. 

  • Therefore, they would find a public road, like SR 26, and they would prepare by putting posts in the ground.  Those posts were fixed; almost like telephone poles today.
  • They were visible reminders of what it meant to disobey Rome.
  • Crucifixion was not for any reason or for any one.  It was reserved for those who challenged Rome’s authority.

So when it was time for a criminal to be crucified, the criminal would carry the crossbeam to the location of his/her execution.  It would be there that the criminal was nailed and/or tied to the cross beam and hoisted up onto the stationary post where the criminals feet might also be nailed.

Yet v. 32 makes it clear that Jesus is so weak from the scourging (that itself resulted in death at times), the trials, and the torments described in vv. 27-31 that he cannot complete the task himself.  So Simon is given the job of carrying the cross of Jesus to his place of execution.

Symbol #2.  Jesus is exposed to great shame on the cross with no possibility of rescue

The ancient literature on crucifixion emphasizes two basic points. 

  1. Crucifixion is all about a painful death for the convicted.  He or she was supposed to agonize and suffer.  Thus death would be prolonged, as time was available, so that the suffering was severe.  There were times when a person lived for several days on the cross suffering in unspeakable agony.
  2. Crucifixion was all about shame.  It is unlikely that Jesus would have been permitted to keep any clothing at the cross.  After all dead men don’t need clothing.
  3. Even in Roman law only certain crimes and certain people could be crucified.  No roman citizen could be crucified without the written permission of Caesar himself.
  4. It was the way you and I would view Auschwitz today or the treatment of African American slaves 2-3 centuries ago.  It was humanity at its worst.
  5. The cross, from a human perspective, was a place that hope ended!
  6. For Jews this element would be even more significant in light of Deut 21:23 – “Anyone who I s handed on a tree is under God’s curse.”  Jesus is not only suffering as the worst of all criminals but more importantly he is suffering under the disgrace of God!

So the criminal would be fully exposed to those walking by the road.  He, or she, would have been a bloody pulp crying out in agony for all to see.

The text also explains that the Roman guards sat down near him. 

  • Earlier in their history Rome got into the habit of crucifying a person and simply leaving them to die. 
  • However, there are several recorded accounts of family and friends taking a person off a cross and the person lived.  So by this time Rome would station a group of soldiers to oversee the crucifixion.  It may be that Matthew has given us this detail to help us see that Jesus really did die.

So Jesus is on a cross exposed to all the shame and pain that came with the cross and his executioners sit ensuring no rescue.  Above him reads the mocking title “King of the Jews.”  The picture could not be any more helpless than it is.

Symbol  #3.  Jesus cannot keep his word – at least from the crowd’s perspective (v. 40). 

Once Jesus’ ministry began, conflict with the Jewish leadership began almost immediately.  They hated his disregard for the oral traditions, they hated his willingness to heal on a Sabbath day, and they especially hated the references that he made claiming to be divine.  But now they accuse him of being a liar.  He is unable to keep his word.

  • In their minds Jesus is completely crazy thinking that he can rebuild the temple.
  • But that is because they are thinking about it all wrong. 
  • They have in mind the construction business.  You cannot even cut a stone on the temple precincts.  This means that they envisioned Jesus cutting the stone some distance away, transporting the stone, and doing the finish work in 3 days.  That seemed utterly ridiculous. [Epsom construction in 2 weeks]

And thus they argue that there is no way that he can keep his word.

  • Adding insult to injury the crowd now confesses that Jesus cannot possibly be who he says he is.  His credentials are all messed up. 
  • He cannot be the son of God because he cannot come down from that cross.

Yet, in spite of each of these accusations God knows, Matthew knows, and we know that the one who is portrayed as powerless is in fact powerful!

In other words, in a surprising fashion the crowd speaks better than they know. 

  • Yes, he will endure the shame
  • Yes, he will submit to the human authorities sent to crucify him
  • But he will do so because the greatest act of power the world has ever seen is taking place at that moment!

You see God knows, Matthew knows, the readers know, and we know…

  1. He might be too weak to carry his crossbeam, but he is strong enough to bear the weight of the world’s sin on his shoulders.
  2. He might be guarded by a squadron (probably 4) of Roman soldiers, but he could send legions of his angels to eradicate Rome and any other who stood in his way.  
  3. He may not rebuild the physical temple with block and mortar but he will enter the temple not made with hands (Hebrews 9:11-14 on the powerpoint)

Friends, do you function as if Jesus is powerful?

This episode functions at an incredibly practical level because earlier in the book Jesus has explained what real discipleship looks like … take up your cross and follow me.

  • Cross bearing is no joke and yet Jesus says simply if you are not willing to take up your cross daily you cannot be his disciple.

This was no simple message for those in the 1st century who had actually seen a crucifixion.  Today, the horror of such an event does not seem quite so striking.  Yet that is what Christian discipleship looks like. 

  • It looks like denying yourself, it looks like giving up all your “rights”, it looks like being concerned about the interests of others, and it looks like living a life that is concerned about getting something done for Jesus.
  • Sometimes folks do not care about sin…they do not care who they will hurt…quite frankly they are not particularly worried that God might choose to discipline them

 

  • Does the reality that he is the “rewarder of those who diligently seek him” motivate you to faithful service?
  • Passion play this week!
  • CFN tonight and the need to pray together before such an event takes place.
  • We will be presenting, in drama form, the most powerful story ever told!
  • Children’s SS --- do you look at the lesson at breakfast before you come or have you thought through your lesson and tried to help those you’re teaching grasp the greatness of the truth of God’s word?
  • Does the fact that Jesus accomplished his mission, kept his word, and did so tolerating all the human ignorance that surrounds the cross events motivate you to want to please him with your life. 
  • Does the fact that Jesus is powerful encourage you to believe that he has solutions to your challenges?
  • Does the fact that Jesus is powerful motivate you to be a blessing in the life of someone who is hurting?
  • The economic challenges at some companies have provided opportunities for many of us to meet a need that never existed before.  We have an opportunity to help our friends.

Matthew continues the surprises in vv. 41-42.

Surprise #3:  The man who cannot save himself saves others [Matt 27:41-42]

In this short section the mocking continues.

According to v. 41 it is the chief priests, the elders, and the scribes – the ones who have orchestrated this plot from the beginning continue the mocking.  Their confession is nothing short of wicked.

They agree that Jesus was a miracle worker.  They affirm that Jesus was able to rescue many people from the challenges that plagued them.

  • Jesus healed the sick
  • He made the blind to see
  • He made the lame walk

Yet, in spite of his ability to do something wonderful for someone else he is not able to save himself.  This claim, is true in one sense and not true in another. 

It is not true that the Son of God is under the authority of men against his will.  It is not true that the nails and the soldiers are the ones preventing Jesus from such an act.  In fact, Jesus can call his legions of angels and all those who stand against him will perish.  The Son of God is more than able to save himself from the anemic attempts of human beings to control him. 

But it is true in this sense --- Jesus is constrained to remain on the cross because that is the will of his father.  Jesus prayed in the garden, “not my will but yours be done.”  Michael Card in his song “Why?” asks this question, “Why did they nail his feet and hands when his love would have held him there?”  He gets it…the cross was part of the plan of the Father and Jesus is morally constrained to carry out that mission!

In other words, Jesus does not exercise all of his authority to do what he CAN do. 

  • Instead, he is constrained by his morals to do that which he should do – obey his father.
  • Jesus knows that he cannot both save himself and save us too. 
  • It is his willingness to give of himself (not because he is forced to do so) that means you and I can be saved.

Friends --- that is a lesson from the life of Jesus that is crucial for our day and age.

  • One version usually goes something like this, “how far can I go and still not sin?”  That applies to the way they treat their teachers, to the way they treat their parents, to their relationships with the opposite sex.
  • A second version is not much different although it is typically couched in more subtle terminology.  How much time can be wasted at work and it not be a big deal?
  • We need to do what is right because it is God’s will for us to do what is right.

Surprise #4:  The man who cries out in despair trusts in God. [Matt 27:43-50]

In vv. 43-44 the mocking continues...with two additional elements of significance in their sayings.

  • They are wrong that the test of God delighting in him will be his willingness to remove him from the cross.  Isaiah writes that it “pleased the Lord to bruise him.”  He is the Son of God and the Father does delight in him as will be made clear in three short days at the resurrection.
  • They are right that Jesus is facing his most severe test --- rejection of the father.

Beginning in v. 45 darkness falls on the land of Israel.  The darkness was not only a description of the current weather conditions, but more importantly described the spiritual realities of the cross.

The Father has turned his back on Jesus and Jesus, in the words of Paul, became sin for us.  God the father was pouring out his wrath on sin bore by his own son.

Romans 5:8-9  8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  9 Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God's wrath through him!

 

Jesus probably knew at least 3 languages and probably 4 (Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic, and Latin).  In the light of the weight of rejection, the weight of wrath, and the weight of suffering Jesus cries out in the language he learned as a little boy in his home (Aramaic) – ELI, ELI, LAMA SABATHANI?  Which Matthew translates for us My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me?

These words are powerful not only because in his moments of deepest anguish he returns to his mother tongue (much like missionary couples living oversees often retreat to English in the home) but also because of the words themselves.

  • Quotation of Psalm 22 --- notice the end of the Psalm – despite the horror and trauma he resolves to trust in God.
  • Jesus cries in despair and he trusts God in the midst of that despair.
  • Notice their response vv. 48-50 --- they read the whole thing wrong!
  • They think that Jesus has finally understood that he has failed and has turned to Elijah for help. 
  • One seeks to offer a drink (possibly as an aid and possibly to prolong his suffering) while the others simply watch in disbelief.
  • If God has rejected him surely Elijah will not come to his rescue.
  • In reality, they have completely misunderstood Jesus’ message and Jesus’ quotation of Psalm 22.

This is one of the most terrible cries found in the pages of the Scripture or ever recorded in human history.  The son of God – the one who the father says “I am well pleased.” – bears the sin of sinful humanity and suffers rejection from the Father.

While we do not know all the details, the information we have one of the most profound and blessed truths of biblical Christianity. 

Jesus asks “Why was he forsaken”

  • So that you would not have to.
  • That is the power of the cross, that is the hope of the cross.
  • Keith and Kristen Getty sign a song – The power of the Cross [read the words]

O to see the dawn of the darkest day

Christ on the road to Calvary, tried by sinful men

Torn and beaten then, nailed to a cross of wood

 

O to see the pain, written on your face

Bearing the awesome weight of sin

Every bitter thought, every evil deed

Crowning your blood-stained brow

 

[Refrain]

This the power of the cross

Christ became sin for us

Took the blame, bore the wrath

We stand forgiven at the cross

 

  • Jesus cries out “My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me” so that for all eternity Rob Green will not have to.
  • For all you here this morning who have repented of your sin and trusted Christ and your personal Lord and Savior you don’t have to utter that either.

[Give the Gospel]

Some of you here this morning have never reached the place where you have understood your need to Christ.  You have never seen your sin for what it is.  You have never seen the cross as the hope that it is.

  • The picture of the cross is a picture of the horror of the offense, and how God views sin.
  • But the picture of the cross is also a picture of hope.  It is a picture that you can be forgiven.  What Jesus accomplished is available to you.
  • He simply asks you to believe and trust.  You need to be freed from the power and penalty over sin and the foot of the cross is the only place where that can be accomplished.

But those of you who have trusted in Christ; that begs this question:  Do you live and function in light of the power and the hope of the cross?

Their song ends this way…

[Final Verse]

O to see my name; Written in the wounds,

For thru your suffering I am free

Death is crushed to death, life is mine to live

Won through your selfless love

This the power of the cross, son of God slain for us

What a love, what a cost we stand forgiven at the cross

 

  • Are you struggling to forgive?
  • Are you struggling wanting your way in your marriage and you are willing to yell, and fuss, intimidate or manipulate in order to get your way?
  • Are you struggling living for Jesus wondering if it is worth it?

Friends, the power and hope of the cross is that Jesus is worth everything you have. 

  • He is worth your allegiance, he is worth every ounce of energy you give to serve him, he is worth being wronged, being inconvienced, being hurt, he is worth it all. 
  • So whether you are here this morning in youthful vigor he is worth your strength. 
  • Or whether you are here wondering if you have the strength to survive today he is worth everything you have.

That brings us to the final point this morning:

Surprise #5.  The event signifying the end actually starts a whole new beginning

If Jesus were any other man the story would rightly conclude at v. 50.  The Jews and Romans have got their way.  This ‘messianic impersonator’ has finally been taken care of and there is no longer any need to be concerned about him.

In reality – the death of Jesus immediately causes three significant events:

Event #1.  The temple veil was torn in two

This veil signifies a new system not bound in the temple system of the old covenant, but rather centered on Christ.  It is the blood of the new covenant that we celebrate at the communion table.

The temple, the meeting place between God and man, is now none other than the person of Jesus Christ.  1 Tim 2:5 There is one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus.  The veil was torn in two not simply to foreshadow the destruction of the temple decades later, but to demonstrate that the demise of the temple was a theological necessity.

Event #2.  Many were immediately resurrected – setting in motion resurrection doctrine

Next week is Easter – the day we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus.  The death of Jesus and the resurrection of Jesus are inseparably linked with the ushering of the new covenant. 

As yet a further evidence of all that God as doing – several “saints” (possibly known?) rose.  What happened to them?  We don’t know.  But what is clear is that these pieces are connected to show the hope and power of the cross event.

Event #3.  Even the Soldiers recognize that Jesus was no ordinary man

Maybe the greatest irony found in the text is speech of the soldiers.  If nothing else, these soldiers understood one thing --- this execution was different from all the others they had witnessed.

Summary:

Matthew records 5 surprises in the crucifixion story that build hope.

  • Jesus is the King
  • Jesus is powerful
  • Jesus saves others
  • Jesus trusts God
  • Jesus starts a whole beginning 

The Getty’s captured it well

This the power of the cross

Christ became sin for us

Took the blame, bore the wrath

We stand forgiven at the cross

 

The question before the house is this:  In the midst of times that are good and bad will you function as if Jesus really makes a difference.  He loves you --- now the question is how much we are willing to love him back in our actions and our attitudes.

Rob Green

B.S. - Engineering Physics, Ohio State University
M.Div. - Baptist Bible Seminary
Ph.D. - New Testament, Baptist Bible Seminary

Pastor Rob Green and his wife, Stephanie, joined the Faith staff in August, 2005.  Rob’s responsibilities include oversight of the Faith Biblical Counseling Ministry and teaching New Testament at the Faith Bible Seminary. He serves on the council board of the Biblical Counseling Coalition and as a fellow at the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors.

Read Rob Green's Journey to Faith for the full account of how the Lord led Pastor Green to Faith Church.