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The Cross's Commentary on Man

Tom Pennington Matthew 27:33-44


It was on Friday, in the spring, in A.D. 30, that our Lord Jesus Christ was killed. Of course, on Friday of this week we commemorate (what would it be?) the 1976th anniversary of the death of Jesus Christ. What I want us to do today and next Sunday is to examine the record that is recorded for us of those six horrific hours that Jesus spent on the cross, provided in the Gospel of Matthew. That day, gathered just outside the city wall of Jerusalem, there was an odd assortment of men and women. There were Jews. There were Gentiles. They were rich and poor. There were soldiers. And there were the political rulers of the nation as well as its spiritual leaders, a wide spectrum of humanity. There were represented there that day, the criminal dregs of society as well as the blue-blooded aristocrats. There were the utterly secular and the deeply religious.

The people who gathered outside the city wall, the north side of the City of Jerusalem, that day represented a cross section of all humanity from all walks of life. In fact, if you look at them in any detail, as we'll do this morning, you'll find that the people gathered that day were different in almost every way, except one, and that was their utter hatred of Jesus Christ. What makes the crowd that gathered that day unique is that all levels of humanity were represented there. They were there to watch a condemned man die. But make no mistake, that man wasn't on trial that day, they were. Robertson Nicole writes, "All generations have felt that the judged that day was, in fact, the judge. The men were really standing before the bar of Christ and all appear in a terrible distinctness revealed by the light of the world."

That is exactly what Matthew wants us to understand. Let me read for you his account of the crucifixion, Matthew 27, and I'll begin reading in verse 33. Matthew 27 beginning in verse 33,

And when they came to a place called Golgotha, which means Place of a Skull, they gave Him wine to drink mixed with gall; and after tasting it, He was unwilling to drink.

And when they had crucified Him, they divided up His garments among themselves by casting lots. And sitting down, they began to keep watch over Him there. And above His head they put up the charge against Him which read "THIS IS JESUS THE KING OF THE JEWS."

At that time two robbers were crucified with Him, one on the right and one on the left. And those passing by were hurling abuse at Him, wagging their heads and saying, "You who are going to destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save Yourself! If You're the Son of God, come down from the cross." In the same way the chief priests also, along with the scribes and elders, were mocking Him and saying, "He saved others; He cannot save Himself. He is the King of Israel; let Him come down from the cross, and we will believe in Him. He trusts in God; let God rescue Him now, if He delights in Him; for He said, 'I am the Son of God.'" The robbers who had been crucified with Him were also insulting Him with the same words.

When we teach or tell the story of the death of Christ, you and I tend to dwell on the physical suffering of Christ. And the suffering was very great, we'll reflect on a little of that, Lord willing, next Sunday morning. But notice the difference in Matthew's approach, he describes the process of crucifixion in verse 35 in a single Greek word, "they crucified Him."

You see, the gospel writers have a different purpose than pulling on our heart strings or making us feel sorry for Jesus Christ. All four gospel accounts seem to dwell especially, not so much on Christ as on the people who gathered around the cross that day. It's not because of antisemitism, as some would say; all of them except for Luke were, in fact, Jewish. It's not because of anything like that. Instead, it's because the gospel writers wanted us to see a large cross section of people and see how they responded to the death of Christ. Because they want all of their readers to find themselves in that crowd. And we're all there, without exception, every man can see his own face mirrored in the reactions of the people gathered on that first Good Friday. Consider the different groups that were there that day and how they responded to the death of Christ. And as we look, look for yourself in the crowd. You're there. I'm there.

Let's look at these groups together. The first group that was gathered was the distracted. You won't find them in the narrative, Matthew 27, but they were there in Jerusalem that day. You see, at that time in the first century it's estimated that some 80,000 people called Jerusalem home. Very few of them were there to witness the crucifixion of Christ. And in fact, on this particular Friday, the city was literally bursting at its seams. As you know, it was a very special celebration, the celebration of Passover. It was a week before, on Sunday, that Jesus had entered Jerusalem along with huge crowds coming from all over the land of Israel to celebrate the feast to Passover.

Turned back to Matthew 21 and you see Matthew records this account for us. In Matthew 21:8 it says, "Most of the crowd," speaking of what we read in Luke this morning,

Most of the crowd spread their coats in the road, and others were cutting branches from the trees and spreading them in the road. And crowds going ahead of Him, they were shouting,

"Hosanna to the Son of David;
Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord;
Hosanna in the highest!"

And when He had entered Jerusalem, all the city was stirred, saying, "Who is this?" And the crowds were saying, "This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee."

In addition to the 80,000 people who called Jerusalem home, that weekend, according to Alfred Edersheim, the great Jewish historian, it had swelled to a huge population. Josephus records that the population of the city at Passover could come close to three million. Now that's probably an overstatement, Josephus is prone to do that with numbers, but the lowest estimate by the most conservative scholar is that there were an additional 125,000 people there for that great feast, so at least a couple of hundred thousand people. And the whole city had been stirred with His entrance a week before; they all knew that He'd come. That means that only a few of them were at Golgotha. At least 200,000 in Jerusalem were nowhere to be seen around the cross that day.

Why not? Think about it for a moment, not a single event in their entire lives would rival this one, the Son of God crucified, but they were too busy, too busy with their own lives, too busy with their own activities, to be bothered. They were distracted. This is how most people in our world still respond to the death of Jesus Christ, they simply ignore it. You know, I'm reminded of back in Matthew 13, we won't take time to turn there, just a few pages back in Matthew's gospel, Jesus tells the story, the parable of the soils, and those soils represent human hearts. And one of those human hearts is the kind of heart that hears about Christ, that hears the message of the good news, but the seed falls among thorns, and Jesus explains what that means. He says, there are certain people, who hear the gospel, who hear the good news, but the seed of the gospel is choked out by the thorns. And He says the thorns represents several things, "'the worries of the world,'" that is, the worries that encompass our lives here, "'the deceitfulness of riches,'" and Luke adds, "'the pleasures of life.'" That's why many of those people weren't there that day, even those who had heralded Him in the crowds coming into the City of Jerusalem, because they were too busy, too distracted, with all the stuff of life. Jesus doesn't even show up on the radar screen.

This is still true in our world, isn't it? Oh, there will be people who will read a passing report about Good Friday services in the newspaper or hear it on the news, but there are bills to pay, there are deals to do, there is fun to have, there are Easter holiday traditions to keep. And so life goes on, the death of Christ sort of a passing thought if it's known about at all, thought about at all. That day 2,000 years ago the cross spoke volumes against those who had never even bothered to come, to cry, to witness that great event. The cross still stands as an indictment against the distracted masses of our day. If the distracted masses of our day had been there 2,000 years ago in Jerusalem, they would have also been too busy to come, too busy with their own lives to be distracted by the death of Jesus Christ.

So the first group that we find in Jerusalem that day were the distracted, but there's a second group, there are several groups that were there that day. The second group of people that are indicted by the cross are the profane. Notice in Matthew 27:33, "And when they came to a place called Golgotha." Obviously they includes Jesus Christ and the two thieves that would be crucified with Him. But they especially is a reference to the Roman soldiers. Usually, a detail of four seasoned army veterans were assigned the responsibility to oversee crucifixions. These men were probably not Romans, most men in the Roman army that was stationed in Judea in the first century were auxiliary soldiers recruited from the Gentile populations of Samaria, of all places, and Caesarea, but they were career soldiers.

Roman soldiers typically enlisted around the age of 19, and then after 20 years of service, they would be discharged and if they were faithful in their discharge of duty while in the military, they would be granted some land out in one of the frontier colonies of the Roman Empire. It wasn't until the end of the second century that Roman soldiers were allowed to marry. In fact, prior to this, prior to the end of the second century, certainly during the time of Christ, if a man who was married wanted to become a Roman soldier, he had to dissolve his marriage to enter the military. There was no family life. There was nothing to soften and temper the cruelty and coldness that comes with such an occupation. These men were hardened, profane, callous and utterly irreligious.

Just after waking up on this particular day, they had joined the rest of the cohort that was stationed there at the governor's palace in Jerusalem. All those off duty had enjoyed making fun of a 30 something year old Jewish man who had managed to get all of the local politicians stirred up against Him. You see this in verses 27 and following,

the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the Praetorium and gathered the whole Roman cohort around Him. And they stripped Him and put a scarlet robe on Him. And after twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on His head, and a reed in His right hand; and they knelt down before Him and mocked Him, saying, "Hail, King of the Jews!" They spat on Him, and took the reed and began to beat Him on the head. After they had mocked Him, they took the scarlet robe off Him and put His own garments back on Him, and led Him away to crucify Him.

You see, there were four of those men who had been assigned the duty to oversee the actual crucifixion. So off they go with Jesus. Verse 32, "As they were coming out, they found a man of Cyrene named Simon." All we know about this man is really where he's from. Cyrene is on the coast of North Africa. We don't know if he was just there for the feast, or if he had actually come to make Jerusalem his home, but we know he was from the North Coast of Africa. We learn from Mark that Simon's sons, Rufus and Alexander, were apparently known in the early church. In fact, most would say that Simon probably, because of this fateful encounter that day just outside the city wall of Jerusalem, came to faith as he bore the cross of the One who would bear the cross for him.

Verse 33, "they came to a place called Golgotha, which means Place of a Skull." We really have no idea why it was called the Place of a Skull. The two most common explanations, one is that there were skulls littering the ground because it was a place of execution. That's highly unlikely because the Jews insisted on burial. You remember that for a Jewish person to touch a dead body was to become unclean. So that's not likely. The second common explanation is that the hill on which the cross was placed was shaped like a skull, much like the modern version of Gordon's calvary, if you've ever seen it in pictures or in person. But there's no mention in the gospels of a hill. In fact, the phrase Mount Calvary didn't become popular until the 4th century. It's possible there was a hill because there were graves nearby that were apparently dug into a hillside, but we really don't know. We do know that this Place of a Skull was just outside the ancient north wall of the city. And it's probably, was probably very near the current site of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher there in Jerusalem.

Verse 34, "the soldiers gave Jesus wine to drink mixed with gall; and after tasting it, He was unwilling to drink." Gall here doesn't really tell us what the substance was. It's a word that means bitter. It just tells us that that's what it was like. Mark refers to this drink as "wine mixed with myrrh." Most would agree that the purpose of this drink was to serve as a temporary narcotic. It wasn't to reduce the total pain of crucifixion, which was a process that could last for days. This drink was simply to serve as a temporary narcotic to lessen the pain and shock of affixing Jesus' body to the cross. So it wasn't so much an act of mercy as it was a simple tool to help the soldiers get done their grizzly job. But Jesus here refuses to drink it. He wanted nothing to dull His senses in this hour when He would bear our sins.

In verse 35, it simply says, "And they crucified Him." They nailed Him to the cross member and then typically what was done is that crossmember was then hoisted by a rope up to the already standing vertical support and was attached there. "They crucified Him." One perquisite or benefit, the word from which we get the word perk, that came with this duty was, whatever the accused still had in his possession at the point of crucifixion belonged in equal portions to the four soldiers that were involved in crucifying. All Jesus had, of course, at this point were His clothes, and He didn't need those for crucifixion, because the Roman practice, as the ultimate act of shame and degradation, was to leave the crucified prisoner utterly naked. In Jesus' case probably His only covering for those six hours was dried blood, crawling flies, human spit, and His own excrement. It was the ultimate in pain and humiliation.

So the soldiers, since Jesus didn't need His clothes, and that's all He had remaining, they divide them. Verse 35 says, "they divided up His garments among themselves by casting lots." John, by the way, gives us a little more insight into exactly what happened. John 19:23, "the soldiers, when they had crucified Jesus, took His outer garments and made four parts, a part to every soldier." And then they took the tunic, which was the garment worn next to the skin, "now the tunic," that Jesus had, "was seamless, woven in one piece." This would have been a very valuable piece of cloth in Jesus' time, a very valuable garment, undoubtedly made by one of the women who had come to know Him and who worshiped Him as Lord. And so instead of tearing that into four pieces, they decide to sit down, we're told, "'Let us not tear it,'" verse 24, "'but cast lots for it to decide whose it shall be.'" They didn't know it, but

this was to fulfill the Scripture, "They divided my outer garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots." Therefore the soldiers did these things.

Now, if you turn back to Matthew 27 you see in verse 36 that that done, Jesus' goods dispersed among them,

sitting down, they began to keep watch over Him there. And then above His head they put up the charge against Him which was read. "THIS IS JESUS THE KING OF THE JEWS."

If you take the four gospel accounts together, you discover that the charge put above Jesus' head read something like this, "This is Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews." John tells us it was there in three languages, in Hebrew and Latin and Greek, so that all who came by could read.

And once the convicted had been crucified, the soldiers' job was fairly simple, and that was to make sure that He was left alone and that He died, that no one came to rescue Him, and that He actually died. So here sit the soldiers, these profane men, obviously aware of the crucifixion of Christ and obviously aware of the claims that He has made, but they're utterly unmoved. In fact, they continue the mocking that they had enjoyed earlier that morning. Look at Luke 23. Luke tells us, there in Luke 23:36,

The soldiers also mocked Him, coming up to Him, offering Him sour wine, and saying, "If You are the King of the Jews, save Yourself!"

The profane.

You know, there are people all around us who are represented by the soldiers that were there that morning. They're the profane irreligious. They have no time for religion, no time for Christ. That's only for the weak. They live hard, they play hard, they sin hard, and they're absolutely unmoved by the death of Jesus of Nazareth. Like the soldiers that day, the only use they have for Jesus is to use His name in some curse. If they had been there 2,000 years ago, the profane of our day, they would have acted just like those soldiers did. The cross stands as a terrible indictment, not just against the distracted, but also against the profane irreligious.

There was a third group represented that day at Calvary, it's the fickle. Verse 38, "At that time two robbers were crucified with Him, one on the right and one on the left." Now you remember, last year we looked at the case of the robbers in detail, these were vile and wicked men who deserved to die for their crimes. And between them that day, on the cross where Barabbas should have died, dare I say, on the cross where you and I should have died, there was Jesus. Jesus is described for us in the book of Acts in these general terms: He went around healing, and doing good, teaching the law of God. He spoke as one having authority. Even His enemies couldn't come up with a charge against Him that would stick. And there He is on the center cross, this good man, known for doing good, known for healing, between two violent wicked rebels on each side. That makes what comes next even more astonishing.

Look at verse 39, "And those passing by were hurling abuse," not at those two brigands, but "at Jesus, wagging their heads." In other words, their whole being was into this, this isn't something they were just saying with their mouths, this is something their whole body was engaged in. They felt it deeply. Verse 40 explains some of what they said, saying, "'You who are going to destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save Yourself! If You're the Son of God, come down from the cross.'" Now, these passersby knew about the trumped up charge that have been brought against Jesus at the second Jewish trial, just before daybreak at the house of Caiaphas. Remember, two false witnesses had been brought. They had distorted something that Jesus had said three years earlier about His own resurrection, and they distorted that into some sort of a terrorist plot, some sort of a terrorist threat that Jesus had made to destroy the great temple of Herod.

"'Save Yourself! If You're the Son of God, come down from the cross.'" You remember, this charge too had been made just that morning when the high priest had asked Jesus if He was the Son of God, and He had responded that, in fact, He was. So, who are these people that know so much about what has gone on, but are described as just passing by? Well, this crowd was probably primarily a group of Jewish pilgrims who had traveled to Jerusalem for the feast of Passover. Since the city couldn't hold all of those who came, most of the at least 125,000 who swelled the city ranks that week, most of them had to stay outside the city, either in tents and camps that they created for themselves all around the countryside, or in smaller cities with relatives. And each day they came into, came streaming into the city. And most of these pilgrims were from Israel. They were from other parts of Judea. They were from Galilee.

That means most of these people had heard Jesus teach. They had seen His miracles. They had deeply admired Him as a teacher. Some of them had almost certainly been a part of the crowds just a week before, welcoming Him into the city of Jerusalem as King. It's almost certainly true as well that some of these people who had heard Jesus teach, who had seen His miracles and admired Him, who just a week before had welcomed Him into the city of Jerusalem, who had heard Him teach in the temple all week, these same people had just that morning joined with the leaders of Israel calling for His crucifixion. Now instead of attacking the two bandits crucified on each side of Jesus, they focused their full fury on the Son of God.

How could they turn so quickly? They were all for Jesus when they thought that He'd give them what they wanted, bread for their stomachs, healing, and even become a king to kick the Romans out of Palestine. When Jesus was popular and meeting their expectations, they were simply carried along by the crowd, carried along by popular sentiment. But the moment Jesus falls out of favor, or fails to meet their felt needs, they're ready to hurl abuse and they're filled with absolute anger and turn their backs on the Son of God.

You know, this crowd is around the day too. American churches are filled with the fickle crowd. As long as Jesus delivers on their felt needs, He's their hero. But the moment they hear the cost of discipleship, the moment they hear Jesus say, "'If you want to come after Me, deny yourself, take up your cross daily, and follow Me,'" they turn on Him, just like a pack of dogs. John MacArthur, in his commentary on this passage, writes, "Many people are like this fickle crowd today. They have been raised in the church, heard the truths of the gospel many times, and they know that Jesus Christ claimed to be the Son of God. They may have been baptized, made a profession of faith, and attended church regularly for a while, but because Jesus does not fulfill their worldly selfish expectations, they lose interest in the things of God. This world is full of passersby who once praised Jesus, but now ridicule Him." The fickle crowd was represented at the death of Christ that day. And if those who meet that description today had been there, they too would have joined their voices with those passing by and the cross would have indicted them just as it indicted these people that are described in Matthew 27.

There's a fourth group that was there that day, there was also the religious. Verse 41, "In the same way the chief priests also, along with the scribes and elders, were mocking Him." Everybody who was somebody in the religious and political hierarchy of Israel was there that day. The high priest, the scribes, and the elders, that is the threesome that constituted the political and spiritual leadership of the nation. They made up the powerful Sanhedrin, composed of both Sadducees and Pharisees. These three groups mentioned here in verse 41, through a series of three, before dawn, illegal trials, and with only false witnesses, had condemned Jesus to death. And they're all there, politicians, religious leaders, from across both sides of the aisle, united in their common hatred of Jesus Christ.

Unlike the soldiers and the passersby, those religious leaders wouldn't even lower themselves to speak directly to Jesus on the cross. So instead, they talk to each other, and perhaps to the crowd, about Him. Look at what they said, verse 42, "'He saved others,'" probably here a reference to His healing ministry. You know, it's amazing, isn't it? To think that they knew about that, they knew about His healing, they knew about all that He had done, and yet they hated Him. They say, "'He saved others; He cannot save Himself.'" You know, it's amazing how true this was, they would never know it, but it's true. If Jesus was going to save others, then He could not save Himself. He is the King of Israel, you remember that they had tried to talk Pilate into changing the caption above Jesus' head from The King of the Jews to He said He was The King of the Jews. But Pilate, because of all that he had encountered that morning and probably to goad the Jews as well for forcing him into this decision, left it He is the King of the Jews. So now they take that phrase and they turn it into mocking, "'the King of Israel; let him now come down from the cross, and we will believe in Him.'" Listen folks, nothing could be further from the truth.

By the way, here as an argument against using evidences to convince people to believe. These men knew Jesus. They saw His miracles. They heard Him teach. They knew that just a few months before He had actually raised a man, Lazarus by name, from the dead. And yet all they wanted was for this guy to be gone, dead, out of the way. And three days later they would be confronted with the reality of His resurrection. And yet did that persuade them? Did they fall down before Jesus Christ and call Him Lord and God? No. They got into a cover up and a lie to try to deal with the facts.

You know, here I think is one of the most powerful illustrations of the truth of John 6:44, "'No one,'" "'No one is able to come to Me,'" Jesus said, "'unless the Father who sent Me draws him.'" They had seen it all. They had heard it all. And yet their evil hearts were utterly intent on the destruction of this man. Verse 43, they probably didn't intend to quote Psalm 22 here, but they are so familiar with the words of the text that it just comes out through their mouths, "'He trusts in God; let God rescue Him now, if He delights in Him; for He said, "I am the Son of God."'" You can just hear and feel the hostility mounted against Christ from their voices.

You know, the same is still true today. Often the people who are the most hostile to the true biblical Jesus are religious. It's certainly true of Islam. I read just recently in USA Today about a 41 year old Afghan Christian man who is facing the death penalty from the Islamic government of Afghanistan for becoming a follower of Jesus Christ. Several years ago, a good friend of mine had one of his missionary friends beaten and burned to death by a mob of Hindus to whom he was trying to bring the gospel of Christ in a village in Northern India.

It's true of those who don't embrace the Christian faith, but it's also true of those who call themselves Christian. There are many who call themselves with the label Christian who are happy to follow Jesus, as long as it's a Jesus of their own making. The moment His teaching cuts across their views, or their own desires, or their sin, then the biblical Jesus becomes the enemy. And those who hold and embrace Him become the enemy as well. The religious of our day are every bit as hostile and antagonistic to Jesus, as were those gathered at the cross that day, and they were represented there in their hatred of Jesus, and they still hate Him.

The final group there that day is in verse 44, "The robbers who had been crucified with Him." Luke, by the way, simply refers to these two men as criminals, but both Matthew and Mark are more specific, they call them robbers. The Greek word robbers refers to the worst kind of men, plunderers, highway men, bandits. Wherever you find this word robbers used, there's always one common denominator, and that is, it describes someone who is willing to be absolutely ruthless in the use of force in order to get what they want. Not only were these men violent, sadistic bandits, cruel, but they had been judged guilty by the Roman government, probably of sedition or insurrection, because crucifixion was reserved only for that type.

It's even likely that these two robbers were compatriots of Barabbas, who is also called by this same name, a robber. It's likely that he was destined for that center cross before Pilate freed him at the request of the people. And yet these two men, for all their own personal sin, and regardless of the fact that they are in the same condition, turned their hatred on Jesus Christ, the good man being crucified between them. Notice verse 44, "The robbers who had been crucified with Him were also insulting Him with the same words." It's amazing, here is the very bottom of the social ladder, the dregs of society, they're joining their voices with everyone else who was gathered there, and in the case of the distracted not gathered there that morning, and turning their abuse on Jesus Christ.

Now, what does Matthew want us to see from these crowds that have gathered there that day? He really wants us to see three things. First of all, three crucial facts. First of all, he wants us to see that every conceivable category of humanity was represented there that day. Whatever group you fall into, whatever group you fell into before you came to Christ, if you're now a follower of Jesus Christ, it was represented there. Every one of us was in that crowd. We sang a song that I think puts it well, How Deep the Father's Love for Us. And one of the verses says this, "Behold the Man upon a cross, my sin upon His shoulders; ashamed, I hear my mocking voice call out among the scoffers." That's exactly what Matthew wants us to see. But there's a second crucial fact that Matthew wants us to understand, and that is, that every category of humanity that was represented there hated Jesus. Or, at the absolute best, in the case of the distracted, cared nothing for Him at all. And thirdly, Matthew wants us to see that from God's perspective, Jesus was not on trial that day, they were, and we were.

If we had been there, and this is what Matthew wants us to see, if you had been there, if I had been there, we would have joined the group that best represented us in hurling the same sort of abuse at Jesus Christ that they did. It's easy for us to sit in our pews some 2,000 years later and assume the opposite, but that's not what the gospel writers want us to see. They want us to see that apart from the intervening Grace of God, making you a disciple of Jesus Christ, you would have been represented there that morning.

Why is it that, all across those cross sections of humanity, they hated Jesus Christ and rejoiced in His death? That's the question I found myself asking. How could it be? How could there be such a universal agreement on this one thing? Well Jesus told us, and He told us in clear and certain language. Turn to John 15. John 15, notice verse 18, "'If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you.'" Jesus said, listen, I know I'm hated, and I know the world, that is, all of humanity, all of unregenerate humanity, hates the real Me, oh they may like a Jesus of their own making, but the real Jesus they hate. Why? Verse 19, "'If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you.'" Now watch verse 20,

"Remember the word that I said to you, 'A slave is not greater than his master.' If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they kept My word, they will keep yours also. But all these things they will do to you for My name's sake, because they do not know the One who sent Me."

And verse 22 absolutely brings it home, here's the reason everybody there hated Jesus, "'If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have sin,'" that is, they wouldn't have a knowledge of their sin, "'but now they have no excuse for their sin.'" That is absolutely the bedrock reason that people hate Jesus Christ. It's not intellectual. You'll hear some people say, well, I just can't believe in the Jesus of the Bible, there isn't enough record, there isn't enough evidence. It has nothing to do with that. This is exactly why they hate Jesus. Because when they see their wicked lives, when they see their darkness in contrast to the light of the world, they have no place to run, no place to hide.

And folks listen to me, this is truer in post Christian postmodern America than it's ever been before in our lifetime. Just this week I read two powerful examples of it. Let me ask you, why is it that a fictional book about the life of Christ has engendered so much interest as to have book clubs, and now, it's coming out very soon, a movie about it, The Da Vinci Code, which represents Jesus and Mary Magdalene as having become married, as the whole gospel account fabricated. Why is that? It's because man hates the real Jesus and will embrace even fiction to keep from having to believe in the real Jesus.

Or ask yourself why the National Geographic Channel would make a movie out of the ancient gnostic gospel of Judas Iscariot. The theory in the gnostic writing, which wasn't written by Judas Iscariot, but the theory in this gnostic writing puts forth that Judas, instead of betraying Jesus, actually obeyed Jesus, Jesus wanted him to go and hand him over, so that Jesus could be a martyr and be the founder of a great religion. National Geographic would never dream of making a similar movie that attacked Islam or any other faith. But these two are simply blatant modern attempts to discredit Christ and His claims. They show the hatred that still boils out of men's hearts for the real Jesus Christ. What happened at the cross still happens today. It comes down to the words of the Jewish leaders that morning, "'We will not have this man to rule over us.'"

Yet at the cross, while we see this amazing overwhelming hatred, we also see God's amazing grace. Because as you read the rest of the story, as it unfolds in the hours and days to follow, the New Testament records that individuals from each of these groups came to embrace Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. You see God's grace even in the midst of this terrible awful scene. Take, for example, the distracted, all of those who were part of the City of Jerusalem, most of whom weren't there that morning. It's just a couple of months later at Pentecost in Acts 2, others gathered around as well as many inhabitants of Jerusalem and 3,000 hear the message of Peter and come to faith in Jesus Christ; the church in Jerusalem is born.

Take the profane. Next Sunday we'll look in the next verses and we'll see that one of the soldiers, in fact, perhaps all of them, but certainly one of them, the Centurion, I believe came to genuine faith in Jesus Christ, just a few hours after he was hurling insults at the Son of God. What about the fickle? Well again, that fickle crowd, the passersby, the pilgrims, they would have come back for their next pilgrimage at Pentecost. They were there in Acts 2 and we're told there were people from all over who came, same crowd that would have come for the Passover, and some of them were those saved at Pentecost.

What about the religious, these hardened men absolutely opposed to Jesus Christ and everything He stood for. Well, the Book of Acts tells us that in the days of the early church in Jerusalem, "many priests we're believing in Him." And the wicked? Well again, it wouldn't be but just a few hours 'til one of those robbers would turn from insulting Jesus Christ to crying out, "'Lord, remember me when You enter into Your kingdom.'" The amazing grace of God.

Let me ask you this morning, are you a true disciple of the real Jesus Christ, the one presented to us in the pages of the New Testament, who demands that we deny ourselves and take up our cross and follow Him every day in obedience? Or do you fall into one of these other crowds? You can be like the remnant of each of these crowds that within hours or days recognize their true condition and recognize the reality of their hatred and the reality of the beauty and forgiveness of the Son of God, and turn themselves, in repentance and faith, embracing Jesus, the now risen Lord, as their Lord and Savior. That's the message of the gospel of Matthew. Maybe you find yourself in that crowd gathered outside of the City of Jerusalem that day, hurling insults at the real Jesus of Nazareth. There's grace for you at that same cross. Let's pray together.

Our Father, we're ashamed because we have to admit that apart from Your Grace, each of us would find ourselves there that day, part of that mocking, scoffing crowd, because all of humanity is there. But Father, we thank You for the grace You have shown us in Christ. We thank You that even as we mocked, even as we joined our voices with the voices of these others, even as we sitting here have lived similar lives in our time, that Jesus Christ paid the penalty for those sins as He died that day. And because of His death, because You treated Him as if He had lived our sinful life, You can now treat us as if we lived His perfect life. Lord, I thank You and praise You.

And I pray this week, Father, that You would help all of us who know You and who love Your Son, that we would focus our thoughts and our energies on Him, on praising Him and praising You for the grace You have shown us in Him. And Father, for those who don't, what better time to come to the knowledge, the true knowledge of the Son of God. I pray that that would happen even this week. By Your grace open their blind eyes to see who Jesus really is and the obedience they owe Him. I pray it to His great glory, amen.