Summary: #1 in series, about religious leaders who followed the Law but did it without love.
Matthew 27:32-43 – Were You There? #1 – Lacking Love (Religious Leaders)
This morning, as a build-up to Resurrection Day on April 24, I am beginning a series called Were You There? These messages will cause us to look at the witnesses of Jesus’ crucifixion, and hopefully see ourselves in their places. Some of these spectators did good, others did evil, others did nothing. I hope that we will see ourselves, even in the evil-doers, so that we can see where we need to allow for change in our own lives. Today we look at the religious leaders. Join me in Matthew 27:32-43.
And so it has come down to this. 3-1/2 years ago, this man appeared in the area. He started off harmless enough, with only the occasional instance of offending the powers-that-be, like that time 3 years ago when He upset the tables in the temple. Sure, He attracted crowds with His teachings, but people are fickle, and the followers wouldn’t stay with Him.
Then He started criticizing the leaders. He said their righteousness was no good. He said they were blind, leading people to blindness with them. He said they were snakes and graves and children of hell. And even though the man started losing followers because of His hard teachings, His criticism of the religious leaders continued, and they began to feel their spiritual influence crumbling away. And their thoughts, on more than 1 occasion, turned murderous.
The situation reached fever pitch when several days before, Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, of all things, and the throngs of people worshipped Him, and believed Him to be sent of God. Clearly, it was time to take Him out of the picture. The opportunity arose when one of His own agreed to serve as a legal witness for His arrest. As subjects to the Romans, the Jews had no authority to carry out the death penalty, so the man would have to be tried first.
During the man’s trial before Caiaphas, the high priest, He was asked if He was the One sent from God, if He was the Christ, the Messiah, the Saviour, God’s Son. He said He was, to the point where He applied God’s holy name from Exodus 3, “I AM”, to Himself. The man made the outrageous claim that He was God.
This is an instance of what is called blasphemy – claiming God’s attributes to yourself, calling yourself God. To the Jews, this was a great crime, punishable by death. Leviticus 24 tells a story about a man who blasphemed God and was killed for it. Blasphemy was a capital offence. So, in a sense, the Jewish leaders were justified in wanting Jesus dead.
But only in a sense. God is allowed to call Himself God. If any old person calls themselves God, they are blaspheming. But God certainly has the right to call Himself God. Because they considered Jesus only a man, what He said was blasphemy. But because He was Himself God, it wasn’t actually blasphemy – it was the truth. The leaders’ perceptions of Jesus blinded them to the truth, and they didn’t see Jesus for Who He really was, and they killed Him. They claimed to represent Moses, but Jesus said they didn’t really believe Moses – John 5.
But what is important to remember is that, according to their beliefs, they were just following the Law. They were just doing what was required. Kill the blasphemer – it’s what the Bible says to do. I’m not saying they were correct in what they did, but I am saying that they simply carrying out what they thought the Bible said to do.
No, even though what they did is sad, how they did it is even sadder. Listen to the words of Matthew 26:67-68:
“Then they spit in his face and struck him with their fists. Others slapped him and said, "Prophesy to us, Christ. Who hit you?"
This is not their beliefs in the OT showing through; this is their sinful hearts making an appearance. This isn’t Leviticus 24 being displayed; this is pure hatred. Our passage today from Matthew 27 shows this same mocking attitude.
In the same way the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked him. "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. He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him, for he said, `I am the Son of God.’ "
This isn’t God’s justice being meted out on a blasphemer. This is hatred. Pure, simple hatred. And God’s word never tolerates our hatred for one another. They had read in Leviticus 19 where God had said, “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD.” They had read that whole chapter where time and time again, we are told by God to treat others well because God is the Lord. Because of who He is, and who we are, we are to love others.