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The Murder of the King

Tom Pennington Matthew 27:27-37


As believers, the passion week that we begin to celebrate today is really the center of everything for us. You understand that it is the center of human history. If the world as we know it should continue for another 10,000 years in the mind of God, it would be that week that would continue to be the center of all human history. It is the center of God's great eternal redemptive plan. And so, as we prepare our hearts to commemorate our Lord's death this week, I thought it would be good for us to step away from our study in Matthew's gospel and the Sermon on the Mount and to reflect on the crucifixion itself. Jesus was crucified either in 30 AD or 33 AD; we can't be absolutely certain. If it was the year 30 AD, as I tend to believe that it was, then the date was April 7th, 30 AD.

Matthew describes for us the events that unfolded on that awful morning, and I invite you to turn with me to Matthew's account of the crucifixion. Matthew 27, and I'll begin in verse 27,

Then the soldiers of the Governor took Jesus into the Praetorium and gathered the whole Roman cohort around Him. 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 [they] 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.

As they were coming out, they found a man of Cyrene named Simon whom they pressed into service to bear His cross. 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."

Matthew wrote his gospel to the Jews. He presents Jesus in his gospel as King. Not only as King of the Jews as we find in this text but as King of everything. That theme clearly comes out in the paragraph we've just read together. In fact, there are two sections in this paragraph and both of those sections are punctuated by a statement of Jesus being the King of the Jews. Section one begins at verse 27 and runs down through verse 31, and you'll see in verse 29, we find these words in the mouths of the soldiers. "Hail, King of the Jews." The second section runs from verse 32 down to verse 37, and we find this at the very end of that section in verse 37. "They put the charge above His head which read, 'THIS IS JESUS THE KING OF THE JEWS.'"

In the first section of this paragraph we see the King rejected by His subjects. In the second section we see the King crucified for His subjects. So, let's look first at the King rejected by His subjects. In Matthew's account it has already become clear that the Jews, as a whole, had rejected Jesus as their Messiah. You can see this back in verse 19 when Pilate, at the trial, tries to convince the Jews to accept Jesus in place of Barabbas, but instead we read that verse 20, "The chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and to put Jesus to death." Again, Pilate says well what do you want me to do with Jesus Who is called the Messiah and "They all said ..." verse 22 "... Crucify Him!" Pilate says, "Why, what evil has He done?" This man is innocent of any charges worthy of death.

But they kept shouting all the more, saying Crucify Him!"

When Pilate saw that he was accomplishing nothing, but rather that a riot was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd saying, "I am innocent of this man's blood…."

Pilate was saying look, this man is innocent of any capital offense. If you're going to insist that He be put to death, then you bear the responsibility for that. Verse 25, "And all the" [Jewish people, the leaders and the] people [of the Jews were gathered] said, "His blood shall be on us and on our children!" And then Pilate hands Him over, knowing He's an innocent man to be crucified so He was rejected by the Jews. By the way, that same spirit of rejection continues even while Jesus is on the cross. Look down in verse 41,

In the same way the chief priests also, along with the scribes and elders were mocking Him...." [These are all the leaders of the nation; they are standing there mocking the crucified King of Israel.] He saved others He cannot save Himself. He's the King of Israel. Let Him come down now 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."

Clearly the Jews rejected their Messiah. But it wasn't just the Jews who rejected Jesus that day. He was also rejected by the Gentiles and that is the point of the paragraph that follows beginning in verse 27. Back in verse 24, as we just read, Pilate rendered his final verdict. Pilate's verdict was this man is completely innocent of all accusations and charges. But then in one of the greatest, in fact the greatest display of pragmatism in the history of the world, Pilate, in order to save himself and ostensibly the nation, condemns an innocent man to the death of crucifixion.

You understand don't you that Jesus' crucifixion was a complete travesty of justice? It was nothing less than judicial murder. It was the murder of the King. That execution order, by the way, came, we're told, in another gospel at around 6 am. Mark tells us that it was 9 am when Jesus was crucified. So, during those three hours between the order of execution and the actual execution several things happened.

Just after the verdict was rendered, the innocent verdict that's going to ultimately bring His crucifixion, Jesus received the traditional Roman scourging that almost always accompanied crucifixion. The Roman scourge was a short wooden handle with several leather straps attached to it. And at the end of those leather straps were woven into it bits of brass and lead or bits of sharp stone. Typically, two Roman soldiers would participate one on each side of the victim swinging in rhythm with one another. Often the scourging with those bits of metal and bone so lacerated the back that the deep veins and arteries of the back were exposed, and sometimes even the internal organs were exposed historians tell us. It was so brutal that it was not uncommon for victims of scourging to die from that alone.

After the verdict and after the scourging the responsibility for Jesus lies entirely with the soldiers of the governor. And they decided, while the preparations were made for crucifixion, to have some fun. Verse 27, "Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the Praetorium and gathered the whole Roman cohort around Him." These men were on special detail to the governor. They probably stayed with him normally on his seaside home up in Caesarea, but when he came to Jerusalem on special occasions, as he did here, they accompanied him, and so now they find themselves at the governor's palace.

They were not Italians, probably, because most of the men and the Roman army that was stationed in Judea in the first century were auxiliary soldiers that had been recruited from the Gentile nations around Israel. These men were probably from Syria. They took Jesus inside the governor's palace, the palace built by Herod the great and used as Pilate's official residence when he came to Jerusalem on special occasions as this was for the feast of Passover.

They took Him into the area apparently where they themselves were stationed into the courtyard or barracks where the soldiers stayed, and they gathered the whole Roman cohort around Him. A full cohort is technically one tenth of a legion or 600 men. But the term was sometimes used for a portion of a cohort. Most scholars agree that at least 200 soldiers were involved in this incident we read about here. For these non-Jewish Roman soldiers from nations nearby to have a chance to abuse a Jewish man who claimed to be Israel's King was just too rich an opportunity to pass up. He thinks He's a King. Fine. Let's treat Him like a King! Verse 28, "They stripped Him and put a scarlet robe on Him."

After the scourging they had put Jesus's own clothes back on Him. Sadly, the blood had probably just had time to seal, and the clothes were now attached to those open wounds, and they ripped those off of the wounds and put on Him this old, faded soldier's mantle. The Greek word that's used describes the short red cloak that Romans soldiers wore. It was a cheap substitute for the royal rich purple that kings normally wore. King. He also needs a crown. And He needs a scepter; so, they provide them. Verse 29,

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!"

There are a number of plants in Palestine that might have been used to create the crown of thorns. Regardless of the kind, clearly it was made to resemble the wreath that Caesar himself wore. He's a king. Let's make sure He looks like a king. But they made it of thorns, and undoubtedly as they put it upon His head, they pressed it down into His scalp, and fresh streams of blood began to pour down His face and His head. The reed that they placed in His right hand would have been something less than a wooden staff but more than what we normally think of as a reed. It probably would have resembled something like our bamboo. What do they do with Jesus?

Well, the wording in another of the gospels paints the scene clearly for us in the verb tenses that it uses. Let me describe it for you. In the picture that's presented by the gospels once they get Jesus regaled as a king, one soldier after another one at a time approaches Jesus, kneels down before Him, as is appropriate before a king and then mocked Him by saying, "Hail, King of the Jews!" The word hail was the same word used in the greeting of Caesar himself. Hail, Caesar. J.B. Phillips in his translation renders this "Hail Your majesty. King of the Jews!" Then another soldier would take his turn.

But after each soldier pretended to humble himself before Jesus as King, he would stand up and before he moved on his own way and another took his place, he would spit into the face of Jesus Christ. Verse 30 says, "They spat on Him. And they took the reed and began to beat Him on the head." Imagine these soldiers each mocking Jesus by falling before Him on his knees and then getting up from his knees and getting close to the accused and spitting in His face, the face of the Son of God. After spitting, each soldier would grab the reed from Jesus' right hand and strike His head. No doubt many of them drove the crown of thorns deeper into His brow.

Do you understand what the grabbing of the reed was about? That reed represented His power. It was His scepter. And a king's scepter is always a symbol of his power. This was their way to utterly deride the weakness of this King. "Let me show you how strong you are. Give me your scepter, and I will beat you with it. And you are so weak and so powerless you can't do anything to respond." It was the ultimate act of derision to a king. John adds that many of the soldiers also struck Him with their fists. At least dozens of soldiers carried out this mockery one after another in front of our Lord and perhaps hundreds.

There is incredible irony here in what Matthew describes, and he intends for us to see it that way. The One they mocked as the King of the Jews really was! And He was so much more. He was the King of kings and the Lord of lords. He was their rightful King. He was Caesar's King. He was the Sovereign and the Creator of the entire universe.

Can you imagine what it would have been like to be our Lord that morning? Just 33 years before, before you left the glory of heaven, He was the center, an object of the adoration and worship of those powerful beings we call angels. Some of them so holy, and yet He's so holy that they wouldn't even look at Him, and yet they praised Him and were there to do His bidding. Whatever He wanted they moved at His command. And here He's mocked as a fraud. Verse 31, "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." When they'd all had their turn, and when they'd all finally grown tired of their sport, when the preparations for crucifixion were finally complete, they put Jesus' own garments back on Him, and they led Him away to be crucified.

You notice the comparison between the amount of space and time Matthew gives the mockery of the soldiers versus the time he gives the actual crucifixion? The crucifixion is in one word. And here's a whole paragraph about the mockery of the soldiers. Why? Why does he include the mockery of the soldiers in such detail? Well, as I've already shown you the Jews mocked, and here you have this paragraph that serves as a counter part to the mocking of the Jews. It is to show that all humanity, Jew and Gentile, rejected their rightful King.

And by the way, the disciples understood this. In the early sermons of Acts they come back to this theme. In their prayer in Acts 4, listen to Acts 4:27, "For truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel…." Both Jew and Gentile were responsible for Jesus' death. In other words, all humanity. No wonder that 750 years before Jesus' crucifixion Isaiah the prophet wrote, "He was despised and forsaken of men."

Do you understand what's happening here? Matthew is helping us understand that just as Adam was our representative, in the garden the Jews and Gentiles there that day were also our representatives. If we had been there, we would have joined in. We would have done the same thing. We sing that song "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 the point. I was in that crowd. You were in that crowd. We rejected Jesus as they rejected Jesus as our representatives. But here's the good news. Not only did the Jews and Gentiles represent us that day but Jesus was our representative as well and that brings us to the second section of this great story. The King crucified for His subjects. Rejected by His subjects, yes. And now crucified for His subjects.

Jesus was completely innocent of all charges, and yet He has to die. That's because His death is not for Him but for His subjects, for us. In God's amazing providence, as Jesus makes His way from the Praetorium out to the site of crucifixion, God provides us with a graphic picture of Jesus' substitution. Look at verse 32, "As they were coming out, they found a man of Cyrene named Simon, whom they pressed into service to bear His cross." It was both the custom and Jewish law for executions to be held outside the city walls. And so that's where Jesus has to go.

According to John 19:17 Jesus initially carried His own cross. It was probably just a cross member to which He was to be nailed but it's possible it was the entire cross. As they were coming out of the city gate, making their way outside the wall to the site of execution, just as they were coming out the gate, the language seems to hint, Jesus' physical exhaustion caused by a lack of a sleep from that night's entire loss of sleep and by the extreme physical torture that He has already endured, made it absolutely impossible for Jesus to go on. Either He collapsed under the weight of that wooden cross member, or He was simply unable to move fast enough for the soldiers. Regardless, they step in and use their legal authority to conscript, I should say, forced labor.

Verse 32 says, "They found a man of Cyrene named Simon." We don't know if he was just the first person they saw, or if somehow, he stood head and shoulders as a strong man that would be able to carry the cross. We really don't know but they find him, and he is to play an important role in this story. Simon by name, Simon was a common Jewish name. This is a Jewish man. We're told he was from Cyrene. Cyrene's on the coast of north Africa in what is modern day Libya. We don't know why he was in Jerusalem. It's possible that he was there to celebrate the Passover. It's also possible that he had settled in Jerusalem. In fact, Acts 6 tells us that in the synagogue in Jerusalem there were a number of Jews from Cyrene.

But regardless of why he was there, as the crucifixion detail left the city gate, and Jesus collapsed under the load, Simon happened to be coming into the city that morning, Mark tells us, from the country. Simon, a Jewish man, apparently coming into the city that day to celebrate Passover ends up carrying Jesus' cross to Golgotha. And there Simon apparently witnessed all that happened. Jesus' actions and His words from the cross so impacted Simon that he became a Christian. That's probably why his name is here. It's very unusual for a passing figure in a story to be mentioned by name. It's very likely that he came to be a genuine follower of Jesus Christ.

Moreover, we learn from Mark's gospel that Simon's sons, Rufus and Alexander, were known in the early church in Rome. So apparently, Simon and then Simon's sons became genuine followers of Jesus Christ through Simon's influence and through the impact that this event had in Simon's life that day.

Think about the irony of Simon. Simon bore the cross for the One Who was bearing the cross for him. There is a powerful picture in this story of Simon. It is a picture of substitution. In a very real sense that cross should have been Simon's cross. And we get a glimpse of that as God in His providence causes him to be forced to carry it. And yet, Simon doesn't die. Jesus dies. Simon carried the cross just long enough to remind him and us that the cross and its death were really ours. Simon didn't have to suffer. And he didn't have to die that day because Jesus bore the cross, and He died the death that Simon deserved as his substitute. And the same is true for us. God sovereignly arranged in what seemed to be a chance encounter a graphic picture of what the cross was really all about. Instead of our having to carry the cross that we deserve to die the death that we deserved, Jesus dies it in our place. So, in Simon we have a picture of substitution.

But Matthew continues with the brutal description of Jesus's substitution. Verse 33, "And when they came to a place called Golgotha which means Place of a Skull." Now obviously "they" here has to mean Jesus and the two thieves who were with Him to be crucified, but primarily the "they" of verse 33 refers to the Roman soldiers. "They" are, the antecedent of they has to be the soldiers who initiated this detail who picked Simon. These soldiers play a crucial role in the story. Usually the role of execution, the assigning in duty to oversee executions fell to a detail of four seasoned army veterans.

Just after waking up that morning early these four had joined the rest of the cohort because Pilate was having trouble with a crowd. An impromptu trial gathered just outside the Praetorium, and they were awakened to control the crowd. Shortly thereafter they had joined with the rest of the cohort in their private quarters in mocking this man Who is to be crucified as King of the Jews. Now these four have been assigned to actually oversee the crucifixion. They took Jesus outside the city walls to a place that in Aramaic is called Golgotha. Matthew translates that for us. He says it's Place of a Skull. By the way the Latin word for skull is "calvaria" from which we get the word Calvary. That's why you sometimes hear that word. It means skull or Place of a Skull. We really have no idea why this place was called that. There are some common ideas about it that may be true.

The most popular explanations of this are that there were skulls littering the ground because it was a site of execution. That one is highly unlikely because the Jews insisted on burial because to touch any part of a dead body was to render yourself ceremonially unclean. And so, they always insisted that bodies be buried.

The second common explanation is more likely. And that is that the hill or the outcropping where the crucifixion took place was shaped like a skull much like Gordon's Calvary if you've ever been to Israel. This area just outside the city wall was a quarry where stones were quarried to help build the city of Jerusalem and its walls. And so there may have been outcroppings of the stones sticking up above the others. And that may be where this came from. There's no mention in the gospels there was a hill, and the name Mount Calvary didn't become popular until the fourth century. But it's very possible this was the idea because of that quarry and sites that were raised above others in the middle of that quarry where there was execution carried out. We do know that it was just outside the ancient north wall of the city, and it was probably near where the Church of the Holy Sepulcher stands today. "When they arrived ..." verse 34 says, "... they gave Him wine to drink mixed with gall. And after tasting it He was unwilling to drink."

The word gall doesn't tell us what the substance was; the word simply means "bitter". It was wine mixed with something bitter. Mark tells us however he tells us it was wine mixed with myrrh. Myrrh was used for a number of things, but one of the things it was used for was a narcotic. And so apparently this wine laced with a mild narcotic was offered to Jesus. The Jewish writings tell us that the noble women of Jerusalem often offered this drink at their own expense to those who were being crucified. But this wasn't intended to lessen the total pain of crucifixion. Crucifixion went on for hours and days and no more of these drinks were offered.

Scholars conjecture that this was a temporary narcotic given to lessen the pain and shock of actually securing the body to the cross. So, from the Roman's perspective this wasn't so much an act of mercy as it was a tool to help them get their grizzly job done and done with a minimum amount of trouble and argument from the prisoner. But when they offered this drink to Jesus, notice what it says. "After tasting it, He was unwilling to drink it." That verse alone is worth hours of meditations this week.

You know what's going on here? Jesus wanted absolutely nothing to dull His senses in this hour when He would bear our sins. He wanted to be fully conscious as He endured the suffering that we deserved, and He endured it in our place. He had told the Father the night before that He asked Him if the cup could be removed, but He said Father not My will but Yours. If You want Me to drink the cup, I will drink it, and I will drink it entirely. And that's what He does here. One commentator writes, "Jesus refused to take the drug after tasting because it was as a fully conscious victim that He desired to make His supreme sacrifice. He offered Himself completely and with His faculties unimpaired."

He wanted to know what He was doing and what He was suffering for those who would be His. Verse 35, "And when they had crucified Him...." Truly an amazing statement. Matthew describes the process of fastening Jesus body to the tree with a single Greek word translated "they crucified Him". It's not even the main verb of the sentence. It's a participle. Why? Well, it's probably because those who read this gospel in the first century were already very familiar with the process of crucifixion. He didn't need to explain its horrors to them. Many of them, probably most of them, had actually seen a crucifixion. Palestine was filled with them in those days. But we aren't as familiar, so let me briefly describe for you the process.

Once they arrived at the site of crucifixion, they nailed Him to the cross member that He had initially carried from the Praetorium, and that Simon had carried the rest of the way. Then that cross member, with Jesus already attached, was probably hoisted by rope up to the already standing vertical support, and He was attached there. It's possible He carried the whole cross that He was nailed to, and then the entire cross was dropped in a prepared hole. One of those two methods.

Roman crosses were various shapes, but because Matthew says that the sign with the charge against Jesus was fastened above His head it's almost certain that the cross on which Jesus was crucified was the traditional T shaped, lower case T shape that we are most familiar with. Sometimes the victim was secured with cords and ropes, but most frequently He was nailed to the cross. We know that's true in Jesus' case because in John 20:25 when Thomas refers to Jesus' wounds, he refers to the wounds left by the nails. So, the four soldiers then hold Jesus, and they drove the iron nails between the bones in each of Jesus' wrists.

Most often when crucifixion is pictured in paintings you've seen the nails are through the hands. But the hand will not support the weight of the body. The nail would simply rip through the flesh and out the end of the hand. And so, crucifixion victims were typically secured by a nail through the lower wrist between the bones of the wrists. So, they drove those nails through His wrists, and then they would have nailed His feet to the cross as well. There were two ways this was done. Sometimes it was done in the way that it's traditionally pictured. The knees were slightly bent, both soles of the feet were placed against the wood of the cross and either one nail through both feet, or a single nail through each would secure the feet to the cross.

There was another way though. In 1968 archeologists discovered the remains of a man who had been crucified during the first century. His wrists were nailed to the cross as I've described it to you, and His legs were bent at the knee twisted to one side and a single nail was driven through both heels. It's possible that's how He was secured; we really don't know. But He was nailed hand and feet to the cross.

Death by crucifixion took many hours and often days. It was a slow torturous frightening death. In the end for most, not for Jesus, but for most it was a slow death of suffocation. With much of the weight of the body hanging against the arms, it became increasingly difficult to get oxygen into the lungs. And so, there was a small projection that was often placed for the crucified person to straddle or to sit on. Really an inadequate seat but something that enabled him just to keep a little weight off his arms and his feet. But eventually, the weight of the body hanging against those wounds and those arms needed a deeper breath and more oxygen.

And so, the victim would push himself up against the wounds in his feet, pull himself up against the nails in his wrists in order to breathe, to get a gasp of oxygen. But in a short period of time of course, the wrenching pain in the wounds in the hands and feet would require him to once again slump down onto that small projection to support his weight. This terrible process of sliding up and down that beam to catch breath and then lungs almost bursting to catch a breath again; this process continued minute after minute hour after hour, sometimes for days.

This is what the soldiers did to our Lord. Once their grizzly job of crucifixion was completed, verse 35 goes on to say, "They divided up His garments among themselves by casting lots." There was one perk really, one benefit that came with this grizzly duty. It was whatever the prisoner still had in his possession at crucifixion belonged in equal portion to the four soldiers who carried out the crucifixion. All Jesus had were His clothes, and He didn't need those for crucifixion. The normal Roman practice as the ultimate act of shame and degradation was to leave the crucified prisoner hanging absolutely naked before the gawking eyes of all. Undoubtedly, that was true of our Lord.

So, in Jesus' case for those six hours that He hung on the cross the One Who was once clothed in the divine glory of God Himself, finds His only covering human spittle, dried blood and crawling flies. So, the soldiers divided His clothes. John gives us just a little more insight into exactly what happens in John 19. You can read it for yourself. Basically, we know that Jesus would have had as a Jewish male in the first century, five pieces of clothing. He would have had a head dress, he would have had sandals, he would have had an outer garment, a belt to secure that outer garment, a sash if you will, and then He would have had an inner garment as well.

They divided the first four pieces among themselves one for each. But when it came to the inner garment, that fifth piece it was a seamless tunic, John tells us, woven in one piece from top to bottom. It was very expensive, undoubtedly the gift of love from one of those who had come to be a disciple of Jesus Christ given to Him as an expression of their love and care. And so rather than take that fifth piece and divide it equally among them, they decide to cast lots for it probably by throwing dice. This was in keeping with the prophecy of Psalm 22:18, "They divide My garments among them. And for my clothing they cast lots."

Now, it's all done. All they need is to guard their prisoner. So, verse 36 says, "And sitting down they began to keep watch over Him there." Once the convicted prisoner had been crucified, the soldier's job was simply two things. One, to make sure that he remained there, that no one came to rescue him. And number two to make sure that he actually died. That figures very importantly in the story when it comes to the resurrection. And so, they carry out their duty.

Matthew adds one more detail in verse 37, "And above His head they put up the charge against Him which read, 'THIS IS JESUS KING OF THE JEWS.'" At least one purpose of public crucifixion was to serve as a deterrent to other criminals. And so, it was customary then to write the crimes this person had committed and to post them above His head as a deterrent to other criminals who would commit the same. It's likely that Jesus wore this sign or placard around His neck as He traveled from the Praetorium to the site of crucifixion, or it's possible it was carried in front of Him. But once He was crucified the gospel writers tell us it was attached to the cross above His head. In Jesus' case Pilate, the governor himself, stipulated what the wording of the sign would say John 19 tells us.

If you take the four accounts together the charge read something like this: This is Jesus of Nazareth the King of the Jews. John tells us it was written in three languages: in Latin, Hebrew and Greek. That meant that on that public byway just outside the north wall of Jerusalem that day every single person who passed it could read it. Again, there is great irony in this placard that's placed above the head of Christ because, as you've sensed, it can be read in two ways. It can be read as an accusation like this: This man is being executed for falsely claiming to be Israel's King. But it can also be read as a title: This man is Jesus, Israel's rightful King. In fact, it was so ambiguous that the Jewish leaders asked Pilate to change it. You remember in John 19:21,

… the chief priests of the Jews were saying to Pilate, "Do not write, 'The King of the Jews'; but that He said, 'I am the King of the Jews.'" Pilate answered, 'What I have written I have written.'"

I think it was Pilate's way to say this man is innocent of any true charge deserving execution, and perhaps because of the dream his wife had, perhaps because of his own guilty conscience. But regardless, it ended up being the providence of God because everybody who passed that day knew who Jesus was. That's the suffering and death of our Lord.

The Old Testament prophesied that Messiah had to suffer and die. You remember Jesus just a week later on the road, actually just three days later after this on the road to Emmaus with the two disciples He tells them

"Was it not necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and enter into His glory? Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures."

The Old Testament said this would have to happen. Jesus said this would have to happen. Jesus predicted this would happen. Go back to chapter 20 of Matthew. Chapter 20, in verse 18. As Jesus was about to head up to Jerusalem for this last time, He says, verse 18,

"Behold we are going up to Jerusalem; and the Son of Man will be delivered to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn Him to death, and will hand Him over to the Gentiles to mock and scourge and crucify Him, and on the third day He will be raised up."

In the passage we have looked at this morning, every single one of those predictions was fulfilled except the resurrection and that comes in three days. Jesus said this would happen and it happened just like He said it would happen. Just like the Old Testament said it would happen. The question is why? Why did the Messiah have to suffer like this and die? Well, Jesus didn't leave us in the dark. Look in Matthew 20:28 as He's correcting the disciples about their argument as to who's the greatest. He says, "The Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve...." The Son of Man came "... to give His life a ransom ..." (that is, to make a payment to redeem someone) and then He says, the Greek word is literally in the place of "... many." He says I came to die as a substitute. That was the reason Jesus died.

You see it over in chapter 26. Matthew wants to be clear about why Jesus had to suffer and die. Matthew 26 at the Lord's Supper initiation, He says as He takes the cup in verse 28, "This is My blood of the covenant which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins." I have to die to so that you can be forgiven and according to chapter 20 that requires Me to die in your place. That was the reason. The reason was substitution.

As we finish our time together this morning, I want you to look at Isaiah 53. This is really what Jesus was saying. Isaiah 53:5, "He was pierced through for our transgressions...." That word "transgressions" has to do with our acts of rebellion against God's law. Every time we have knowingly violated God's law "He was pierced through for our transgressions. He was crushed for our iniquities ..." [for our moral perversion, for our moral twistedness, for how crooked we are in our moral lives.] "... the chastening for our well-being" (for our shalom) "fell upon Him..." [for our peace]. "And by His scourging we are healed." [You understand that not only were the scourging and the nails and the beatings that Jesus endured violent and brutal, but they were vicarious? They were in your place, believer.]

But how exactly how did Jesus substitute? Look down in verse 6. "All of us like sheep have gone astray...." That's every human being. Each of us individually has turned to his own way; we've left the way prescribed by God, and we've decided to live life our own way and to do what we want. "... but the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all ..." [and the Hebrew says,] "to strike Him". You understand that on the cross God the Father took every sin that every believer would ever commit, and He credited that to Jesus. He reckoned that to Jesus, and then for those hours when Jesus suffered and died, God treated Jesus as if He had committed those sins that you've committed and that I've committed. He caused the iniquity of us all to strike Him. That's why He had to suffer.

There's a better picture I think even than that down in verse 10. It says the Lord was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief, and here's why: He rendered Himself a what? A guilt offering. He was a guilt sacrifice. He was treated as though He were guilty in the place of the guilty one. And it was fully paid for. Jesus endured the physical suffering and death of the cross because somebody had to die to satisfy the wrath of God for every sin that every believer would ever commit. So, Jesus gave Himself soul and body as a guilt offering for sin. There's no better way, I think, to encapsulate it than the words of the apostle Peter in 1 Peter 2:24, "… He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were [spiritually] healed."

This week as you contemplate the death of our Lord and His suffering, don't lose sight of why it was all necessary. He had to die as your guilt offering. And on the cross if you are in Jesus Christ, or if you're willing this morning to put your faith in Jesus Christ on the cross, God credited every single sin you have ever committed, committed this last week, ever will commit onto Jesus Christ. And for those six hours He poured out the wrath and fury and separation that those sins deserve from God. He treated Jesus as if He had lived your life. That's why He had to suffer and to die. He Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree.

Let's pray together.

Our Father, we are ashamed to read these words to study this account. Lord, we realize that we were there, that we rejected Your Son. We live many years of our own lives rejecting Your Son. But Father, we thank You that in an amazing act of Your love and grace, You allowed Your Son to suffer and to die as a guilt offering for our sins. Thank you, oh God, that He bore our sins in His own body on the tree.

Father, help us this week who know and love Jesus Christ to love Him more, to be more devoted to Him; not to live any longer for ourselves but for Him who loved us and gave Himself for us.

And Father, I pray for those who are undoubtedly here this morning who have never come to benefit from the death of Jesus Christ. Lord, help them to see that somebody's going to pay for their sin; that it will either be them forever in eternal torment away from Your presence, or if they will put their faith in Your Son, it will be Christ in their place. Father, may this be the day when they come to trust in Him.

We pray it in Jesus Name. Amen.