THE CRUCIFIXION OF JESUS
Matthew 27:1-56, Key verse 46
“About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?’ (which means ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’)”
In the last passage, we learned that Jesus is pretty awesome, sharing his humanity with his disciples; sorrowful and troubled heart, yet overcoming himself through prayer not once but three times until he is ready to face the trials, being deserted by his beloved disciples, left all alone, being falsely accused, and ultimately taking the sin of the world. Jesus revealed the principles of God’s kingdom when he was arrested and before the kangaroo court.
In today’s passage, Jesus reveals the characteristics of the kingdom of God again in the midst of terrible sinners. In order to bring the kingdom of God on earth, Jesus had to be betrayed, rejected by his people, beaten by the gentiles, mocked, spit on, and finally crucified for the sin of the world. Most of all, Jesus had to be forsaken by God and taste the power of death in order to take away the punishment of sin with him in the grave.
I. People who Crucified Jesus (1-31).
Look at verses 1-2. “Early in the morning, all the chief priests and the elders of the people made their plans how to have Jesus executed. 2 So they bound him, led him away and handed him over to Pilate the governor.” The chief priests and the elders of the people originally had a plan to arrest Jesus and execute him after the Passover. With the help of Judas, they got Jesus. They brought false witnesses and the high priest condemned Jesus for blasphemy when Jesus claimed his deity as the Son of God. Yet, there was a problem with executing Jesus. They did not have power and authority to kill Jesus legally. They made an evil plan, though they knew that Jesus was innocent. Their plan was to hand Jesus over to Pilate, the governor, who was able to sentence Jesus to death legally.
In the meantime, Matthew mentioned Judas who betrayed Jesus extensively. Look at verses 3-4. “When Judas, who had betrayed him, saw that Jesus was condemned, he was seized with remorse and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders. 4 ‘I have sinned,’ he said, ‘for I have betrayed innocent blood.’ ‘What is that to us?’ they replied. ‘That’s your responsibility.’ 5 So Judas threw the money into the temple and left. Then he went away and hanged himself.” Judas came back to his senses when he saw Jesus being tried with integrity. He realized that Jesus was innocent. He regretted what he had done to Jesus; he had betrayed his teacher and sold him for 30 silver coins. He was seized with remorse. So he returned the coins to the chief priests and the elders, who would not accept the money back and told him that it was his responsibility. So he threw the coins into the temple and left with unbearable self-condemnation. He was an instrument of the devil and now became a prey of the devil, who condemned him to hang himself.
Matthew arranged the consequences of Judas’ betrayal right after Peter’s denial, contrasting two similar events having different results. In fact, Jesus told both Judas and Peter what they were going to do: Judas’ betrayal and Peter’s denial. Peter did deny Jesus not only once but also three times. But when he remembered Jesus’ word, he wept bitterly. Peter was restored in his relationship with Jesus, returning to God and Jesus’ love in Galilee, while Judas was not. Did he remember the word of Jesus like Peter? If he did, he may not have condemned himself to death.
Yet, this is not all, Matthew brought a deeper investigation of Judas’ events. Look at verses 6-10. “The chief priests picked up the coins and said, “It is against the law to put this into the treasury, since it is blood money.” 7 So they decided to use the money to buy the potter’s field as a burial place for foreigners. 8 That is why it has been called the Field of Blood to this day. 9 Then what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled: “They took the thirty pieces of silver, the price set on him by the people of Israel, 10 and they used them to buy the potter’s field, as the Lord commanded me.” Peter’s example gives hope and courage for the weak, but Judas’ example, discouragement and condemnation to the lapsed. Verses 6-10 is the author’s comment on what happened later, seeing it from God’s perspective. The chief priests used the money Judas threw into the temple and bought the potter’s field as a burial place for foreigners. Yet, Matthew saw this event through the Scriptures from the book of Jeremiah. What does Matthew want the reader to take here? Even in this tragic event, the Scripture is being fulfilled. Even in the midst of evil twists and turns, God’s plan is being fulfilled. Though the sinful and the wicked are bringing storms in life, we need to see it from God’s perspective, fulfilling God’s will, whether they know it or not. God is the author of history and orchestrates the world even in the midst of terrible events in this world. With this faith and perspective, we may be able to continue to serve Christ and His kingdom no matter what happens.
Look at verses 11-14. The governor’s name is Pilate. Pilate asked the question, “Are you the king of the Jews?” Did he know the meaning of the name? Where did he get this question? It is what the chief priests and elders accused Jesus of, saying that Caesar was the only king. In fact, Herod was known as the king in the Jewish region. So it was a dangerous question. If Jesus answers yes, he can be accused of treason. Jesus answered plainly, even though it was risky. He claimed who he is. He had a clear identity as the Messiah, the king of the Jews. He did not hide it under pressure, yet gave no answer to the false accusations.
To Pilate, Jesus was very amazing. Pilate knew that the religious leaders planned to get rid of Jesus for envy, falsely accusing him. Most people would earnestly defend themselves against the false charges, doing their best to prove their innocence. When they cannot prove their innocence, they react crazily in their frustration. Even if people are accused for their wrongdoings, they try to dodge or give a good excuse or accuse back. But Jesus was totally different from them. He did not defend himself at all, not even for a single charge. Why not? Pilate did not know that Jesus is also fulfilling Isaiah’s prophesy. As prophesied, Jesus became like the lamb to the slaughter. As a sheep before its sharers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. (Isaiah 53:7)
Since he knew that Jesus was innocent, he made a plan to release Jesus. How? Look at verses 15-18. “Now it was the governor’s custom at the festival to release a prisoner chosen by the crowd. 16 At that time they had a well-known prisoner whose name was Jesus Barabbas. 17 So when the crowd had gathered, Pilate asked them, “Which one do you want me to release to you: Jesus Barabbas, or Jesus who is called the Messiah?” 18 For he knew it was out of self-interest that they had handed Jesus over to him.” It was a brilliant idea, appeasing the religious leaders, not turning down their request to judge the case, and satisfying the crowd of people who received much grace through Jesus’ teaching and miracles at the same time. It was the governor’s custom at the festival. He could release a prisoner chosen by the crowd. He also picked Barabbas, the worst one compared to Jesus, so that the crowd would pick Jesus unanimously. Maybe he was thinking of himself, “What a great politician I am!”
But he was too naïve, not knowing what the evil people were doing behind the scenes. The chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus executed. When Pilate asked the crowd a question, “Which of the two do you pick?” To his surprise, they picked not Jesus but Barabbas, the notorious murderer. Then he asked a question, “What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called the Messiah?” The crowd answered, “Crucify him!” What? In his frustration, he asked, “Why? What crime has he committed?” But the crowd shouted all the louder, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” Pilate realized that his plan did not work. He was getting nowhere, but an uproar was starting. So he moved to plan B, getting out of the responsibility and putting it on others. So he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. “I am innocent of this man’s blood,” he said. “It is your responsibility!” All the people answered, “His blood is on us and on our children!” Then he released Barabbas to them. But he had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified.
It seems that Pilate was not an evil governor. He did his best to release an innocent person, but was pushed to condemn Jesus to death by the crowd and the evil religious leaders. In his defense, it is hard to stand on the truth when your position is at stake. Yet he is not free from the negligence of his position as the governor. He was the judge, so he had the power to release the innocent. In his political game plan, however, he lost his identity as a governor who had the power of judge. He became a spineless people pleaser. He was fearful of losing his position, and caved in to the demand of the crowd. He was not a judge but being judged. Though he excused himself from his responsibility, history has judged him as the one who condemned the Messiah to death. In addition, he did not listen to his wife who told him not to be involved in condemning an innocent man.
While on earth, we constantly face the time of making a choice. And each person has power to choose what to do. We cannot make an excuse when we make a wrong choice. In this generation, many Christians want to be politically correct and have no courage to defend the gospel. They are fearful to share the gospel, while LGBTQ+ are insisting their agenda loud and clear. While they are coming out of closet, some Christians are going into it, hiding their identity and failing to defend Jesus, the truth and the life. Such polite Christians become like Pilate.
What happened to Jesus? Look at verses 27-31. Taking Jesus to the Praetorium, the soldiers were doing beyond their duty. The whole company of soldiers gathered around Jesus, putting a scarlet robe and a crown of thorns on his head, and mocking him, “Hail, king of the Jews!” They spit on him and took the staff and struck him on the head again and again. How cruel and depraved the soldiers were! To them, others’ misery was their happiness. It was sadistic joy. Even after crucifying Jesus, they were dividing the clothes of Jesus by casting lots, not concerned about the innocent person dying. Those who do not know the love of Christ and live in a war zone, where people are being killed left and right, how easy for them to be heartless. This depicts depraved sinful human nature without compassion for the innocent.
II. The Crucifixion of Jesus (32-56).
Look at verse 32-33, “As they were going out, they met a man from Cyrene, named Simon, and they forced him to carry the cross. 33 They came to a place called Golgotha (which means ‘the place of the skull’).” Simon from Cyrene was forced to carry the cross of Jesus, yet he was blessed to be a part of God’s world salvation work. Sometimes, you may carry the cross of Jesus by force from others, not voluntarily. When you are forced to do so, please, remember this man Simon from Cyrene who was blessed to be a part of world salvation work, though not voluntarily.
Before the crucifixion, the soldiers offered Jesus wine to drink, mixed with gall, which would help him to reduce his pain; but after tasting it, Jesus refused to drink it. Jesus refused to reduce the pain and suffering he had to take for the sin of the world. Then, they nailed Jesus on the cross. The nails were going through his hands and feet, through skin and veins, splashing the blood and crushing bones. Lifting Jesus nailed on the cross, the soldiers put it into the socket, bringing such excruciating pain and sudden flow of blood, as the body of Jesus was lifted and tearing down the nail pierced parts from his hands and feet.
Above his head the soldiers placed the written charge against Jesus: this is Jesus, the king of the Jews. It was written by Pilate in three languages, Aramaic, Latin and Greek. In John’s gospel, the chief priests protested to change it to, “the one who claimed to be the king of the Jews,” but Pilate refused to do so. We do not know whether Pilate knew the meaning of the title, but Jesus was crucified as the king of the Jews, taking the sin of the world as the Messiah.
Look at verses 38-44. Somehow, the soldiers put Jesus in the middle of two criminals, thus making Jesus look like the worst criminal of all. Moreover, Jesus was tempted when he was the most weak and vulnerable. Jesus was insulted by the passers-by, saying, “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!” The chief priest, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked him in the same way, saying, “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! He’s 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 rescue him now if he wants him, for he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’” Even the criminals insulted Jesus.
But this was the work of the devil. It is the last temptation the devil is putting on Jesus. esus was tempted to save himself by coming down from the cross. It is the same temptation as the first one, using his power to make stones into bread in order to save himself. Jesus is the Son of God and thus has power to save himself, calling angels to destroy the enemies of God all at once. But he did not save himself but died so that all sinners may be saved. He remained obedient unto death, death on the cross. Thus he defeated the last temptation by not saving himself but staying on the cross, taking the pain and sorrow, mocking and insults to the end.
The devil is also tempting us today in the same way. He tempts us not to take the cross but to save ourselves first. When we have power to save, it is the greatest temptation. In fact, we have the power since God gave us freedom. So we can choose to stay on the cross, even though it may be painful. We have power to save ourselves from the pain of taking the cross. God has given me many crosses to take as a father, husband, worker, Bible teacher, shepherd, evangelist, and messenger. First of all, I thank God for our coworkers who share the crosses together, but there are crosses only I have to take. Though some of the crosses are pretty obvious when I do not take it right, most of the time I can hide myself, and no one knows whether I am taking it as God wants or not. Sometimes I neglect following up with Bible students, and some weeks, I do not go to the campus. Often, the devil does not tempt me, saying, “Do not go to campus today but have fun!” but just makes me busy or busy minded with other things so that I am distracted from doing what God wants me to do. Overcoming temptations, there is joy of sharing the gospel on campus even in the midst of rejections. As I am taking more responsibilities as a chair person for International Christian Statisticians, may God help me to pray so that I may not fall into temptation with a busy mind but serve according to God’s leading though it may take time and humility to ask favor of others who can serve.
Look at verses 45-46, “From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over all the land. 46 About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?’ (which means ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?)’.” It was the darkest time on earth. The Son of God was being condemned to death. During the brightest time of the day, even nature was gloomy. On the cross, Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Let’s think why Jesus cried out in this way. First, it is to fulfill the prophesy. Even on the cross, Jesus is fulfilling the prophesy, written in Psalm 22:1. Even in the midst of excruciating pain, Jesus is thinking to serve God with his last strength left in his body. In verse 48, Jesus drank the wine vinegar, not to reduce the pain but fully take all to the end, again fulfilling the prophesy.
Secondly, Jesus was forsaken by God for our sins, so that we are not forsaken. Sin separates us from God. Therefore, all sinners should be forsaken for their sins. But Jesus came to take the sin of the world. He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities. His physical body was taking all the pain and sufferings, shame and guilt, going through such inner and outer pain. Most of all, he had to be forsaken by God as a sinner. Thus, God had to turn his face against his own Son because he laid on him the iniquity of all sinners. God forsook Jesus and made him sin, so that we are made righteous to God through faith in him. 2 Corinthians 5:21 says, “God made him sin who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” The punishment Jesus received brought peace between God and us. We are freed from eternal condemnation and enter into the kingdom of God.
Thirdly, the humanity of Jesus. Jesus cried out in a loud voice, expressing the pain of being forsaken by God. Even though it is for the sin of the world and fulfilling God’s world salvation plan, it was so painful. Jesus’ humanity enables us to know what to do when we also feel forsaken. It is the same cry that King David cried out to God many times when he felt God was far away from him. Just as Jesus’ cry was another expression of his obedience and trust in God the Father, our faith truly grows at the time of feeling that God is distant. Truly, by his wounds we are healed. Yet, people could not understand what Jesus said, thinking he was calling Elijah to save him. Though the crowd of people received much God’s word and miracles, they did not know who Jesus is and why Jesus came to this world.
Look at verses 50-56. In fact, Jesus was not killed. He gave up his life, so that he could take it up again. At the time of Jesus’ death, many spiritually significant miracles were done. First of all, the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The length of the curtain was more than 12 meters, so that one or two persons could not tear it into two at once. The curtain was the division of the most holy place where only the chosen priest could go in and pray for the nations, meeting God personally. No priest could go in without consecration; otherwise, he would die for entering contemptuously. But at the death of Jesus, the curtain was torn in two. This means that the most holy place is open to everyone because the blood of Jesus consecrated all sinners to enter it and meet God very personally. Amen! Through the resurrected holy people, God also gave us a glimpse of his resurrection and second coming. The centurion’s testimony revealed how Jesus died and who Jesus was, even through his death. Then women disciples were truly faithful, while all men disciples ran away. A person’s true color is shown when they go through time of trials. Faithful people can stand up at the worst time.
Through today’s passage, we learned how God’s word is being fulfilled in the midst of evil twists and turns. God gave us freedom, so we have to bear the consequences of our choice. Yet, we are like sheep who have gone astray and made many wrong choices; betrayed Jesus like Judas, condemned Jesus through peer pressure, made all kinds of excuses, even mocked and killed Jesus heartlessly. Yet, all these evil things did not change God’s plan and Jesus’ obedience to death, even death on the cross. Even though the pain was excruciating physically and spiritually, being forsaken by his father and crying out to him, he did not save himself but stayed on the cross to the end, so that all sinners are saved and even enter into God’s throne room through his blood. Thank and praise Jesus, who was forsaken so that in him we may not be forsaken for our sins!