Sometimes, sometimes I wish he would have saved himself. I think about what that would’ve been like if he had, as those soldiers mocked and abused him, called a legion of angels to his defense – that would have showed them! Or if he had come off that cross in front of everyone and revealed all his glory, wouldn’t that have been something to see as the faces of all those mockers turned to shock and then fear as they realized whom they just tried to kill. He had the ability to do it. He was God! So, why didn’t he? Why didn’t he “who saved others” not “save himself?”
I mean you think about it. You think of those soldiers and all Jesus went through as he stood in that Praetorium…he was pummeled. Spit on. Have you ever seen or watched someone be treated like that? Being beaten without remorse, unable to defend against the blows and the hits? It’s different than what you see in the movies. Maybe you’ve seen a video of a real fight on the news or on a website. It’s sadistic to see how a real human being could treat another human being. It’s wrong, horrifying, unimaginable, but that’s what Jesus underwent as he stood there in front of a company of soldiers. But it didn’t end there, no, what do we read. Verse 20, “Then they led him out to crucify him.” And Jesus, Jesus did nothing. He said nothing.
And so there he is walking after all this, and you think about that too. What was that like, that walk to Golgotha? You can almost hear his ragged breath, rattling with every step. The sobs and waling of those who followed knowing what would soon happen to this innocent man. The jeers and mockery of those who came to see who’d be put to death today, as if it were the daily entertainment.
He stumbles, he falls…when the actor Bruce Marchiano, played the role of Jesus in the film The Gospel according to Matthew, he staggered toward the vacant cross lying on the ground. But in his exhaustion from a day of filming he stumbled and landed facedown in the stones not quite close enough to the cross. That wasn’t planned and no longer on script he looked at that wooden cross just out of reach. He lunged for it and having it tightly in his grip he held on to it. Like it was a prize never to be let go.
There is no reason to think that actually happened as Jesus stumbled on his lonely walk to death, but the spirit of it is true. Jesus wanted to carry that cross, he had to, but his human body gave out and we are told a man named Simon bore its weight as the Son of Man, exhausted, continued on until he reached the place of the Skull, Golgotha.
Before long his torn back is laid on the wood that he could not carry. A soldier holds a fistful of nails, while sitting on his chest. He’s offered a cup, some “wine mixed with myrrh” Mark tells us. It would dull his senses. Try to picture this moment. The spikes are about to be driven in. Jesus takes a sip of the offered cup…and he spits it out. He turns his head away. He can’t let anything take the edge off. He can’t let anything keep him from missing what he came to do. He must drink the cup his Father has given to him.
Let that image burn in your mind. Let’s not miss it. Your Savior turning his head from the cup of relief, so he could drink fully his cup of suffering. See him drink it deep, all the sin of each of us. See him drink it willingly and hear these words, verse 24, “and they crucified him.” Let’s not pass this over.
Because you see on that day many missed it; many didn’t notice what was going on. Like those soldiers who sat their casting lots, more interested in clothes than what hung behind them. Or those passer-byers who assumed the punishment deserved as they hurled insults at the one who came for them. And let’s not forget those leaders who had waited for this moment and finally got what they wanted, Jesus, a thorn, an annoyance, now removed. “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! Let this Christ, this King of Israel, come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe.” So why didn’t he, why didn’t Jesus, come down? Why didn’t he show them, make them believe?
The answer sits in this room today. It isn’t a mystery to us why Jesus remained on that cross. It isn’t a question that remains to be answered. Jesus hung there until he breathed his last because that is what had to happen for our salvation, and this, this, was the hour of that salvation.
Yet, down the face of the Son of God a trickle of red – Jesus now so small, hurt, defeated. He stayed there on that cross because he knew. He knew the pain sin had wrought in his Father’s once perfect creation. He saw it in all the sick whom he healed. He witnessed it in the greed of a close friend – greed which led to his betrayal and arrest. He wept over it at the death of Lazarus. He knew. He understood sin better than we ever will.
Every struggle we endure today. Every temptation that draws us from God’s loving arms. Every doubt that leads us to question our faith, our salvation. Every word said in anger. Every thought of desire. Every action of pride and selfishness. He saw its’ root cause, it’s you and me. There is no one else to blame. There is no other cause. It is us and that sinful nature inside of us. We stand before God as an enemy. We deserve his wrath. I tremble to think of my sins and what I know they deserve. I weep when I fall into those sins again and again even as I, at times, embrace and enjoy them But listen! Hear Jesus’ next words, verse 34, “My God My God why have you forsaken me?”
Jesus knew the answer to his question. He was forsaken by God for them, those soldiers gambling over his clothes. Jesus was forsaken for them, those passer-byers who mocked and heaped scorn upon him. He was forsaken for them, the leaders who wanted him dead, an innocent man, simple because they were too scared of the truth of who he was. And he was also forsaken for you. There on that cross he suffered the penalty of sin, death, and hell, for all people of all time. He loved them. He loved us. No, let’s get it right, he loves, present tense, us. And here is the proof. The hour of our salvation.
“Surely this was the Son of God!” that was the reaction from one of the soldiers present that day. May it be our reaction today as we reflect on our Savior hanging there on the cross. This was the Son of God and he walked this lonely road for me. To pay a price I could not pay to buy me back from a sinful debt that would have left me damned for all eternity. Forgiveness was won this day. Forgiveness that is freely mine through faith in that man who breathed his last.
Do I still tremble at the thought of hell? Do I still weep over my sin? How can I not? But that trembling and weeping leads me here to the cross. To it I cling knowing what is now mine through Christ. His arms lift me up, I am saved.
“He who saved others” was the jab. “Let him save himself” was the insult and yet in my heart I rejoice that he who saved others, wasn’t done yet. That his desire, his love for a world lost in sin included me. Sure, it would’ve been pretty cool if a legion of angels would have come forth and protected their king. Yeah, it would’ve been something to see the looks on those chief priests’ faces if Jesus had come off that cross. But as I hear and see what Jesus did for me, as I watch from a distance with those women in verse 40, I realize that what took place here on Golgotha had to be, because this was the hour of our salvation.
So let’s stand here a little longer. Let’s take it all in, the suffering, the mocking, the crucifixion, my Savior’s last breath. He who saved others now dead. What does it all mean? Was likely the question running through the mind of Joseph of Arimathea in verse 46 as he took Jesus’ cold, lifeless body off the cross. What’s next? As he wrapped his body in linen and placed it in a tomb cut out of rock. Joseph had to wait to find out, but we, we can remember the words Jesus spoke before this all came about, hear them now and believe “Because I live, you also will live.”