Summary: A look at the cruel soldiers, the compelled substitute and the crucified Son as they go to Golgotha.
(Jere. 17:9) "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked." It is from this viewpoint of the wickedness of man that Matthew approaches this part of the Gospel. He could have written about the love of God which sent His only Son to save us from our sin. But here Matthew gives us a stark, vivid picture of the absolute corruption of mankind apart from God. Seeing man so clearly for what he really is, we can only give God more glory for the greatness of His redeeming work.
A. The Sinners: The Cruel Soldiers. (27-31)
(27) As we left Pilate and Jesus in our last message, Pilate had Jesus scourged. A most hideous form of punishment which leaves the back flayed and open. He has attempted to satisfy the Jewish lust for blood. So Pilate brings out Jesus as a pathetic, helpless individual who cannot possibly be a threat to Rome or the Jews.
Failing in his attempt to mollify the crowd who still yelled ’Crucify Him’, Pilate now turns Jesus over to the soldiers. Most Roman armies are made up of non-Romans. These were most likely Syrian, since they were natural enemies of the Jews and spoke Aramaic, the common language of the Jews.
(28) Crucifixion is all about humiliation. It is not enough to kill the enemies of Rome. They must be made an example so others might see the uselessness of opposing Roman might.
But the true example displayed in these acts is the utter wickedness of men as represented by the soldiers. They did not know Jesus, He was just another Jew. And they had no personal reason to torture or humiliate Him, but they went far beyond any command from Pilate. He became a plaything for their brutality. They stripped Jesus of His own clothes and replaced them with an old soldiers cloak which they draped around Him like a royal robe.
We can look at these soldiers today and think of how horrible it is and how we would never do something like that. But unless a person acknowledges Jesus as Lord and Savior and accepts the finished work of the Cross for salvation, God looks at him the same as He does these soldiers.
Big sinners like these soldiers or little sinners as you may view yourself have nothing to do with salvation. You can be a good person, wonderful husband or wife, great neighbor, give to charity or do other good deeds but apart from faith in Christ all God sees is filthy rags. Without Christ, you and these cruel soldiers are in the same situation. Lost without hope unless Christ comes into your heart.
(29) (Gen. 3:18) tells us these same thorns were a result of the curse of the whole earth brought about by the fall of Adam. How symbolic this seems that our Christ bore that curse upon His precious head.
And the cruel soldiers gave Jesus a reed to act as a scepter. They went through the pretense of paying homage to the ’king of the Jews’. One day they will meet this same Jesus as king and judge.
(30) The ultimate indignity is to be spit upon. The very God of heaven is abused by the filthiest of earth’s beings. Oh what love God must have for us to endure this.
They continued to hit him repeatedly. (Isa 52:14) "..so his visage was marred more than any other man..."
(31) Crucifixion did not originate with the Romans. The Romans were borrowers in that very little of their culture was their own. But when they saw something they like they used it. The Persians first used crucifixion as a form of capital punishment for religious reasons. They considered the ground or earth sacred and thought that killing someone in contact with the earth would defile it. So they devised a method which would lift the condemned off the earth.
The Romans did not care about the religious aspects, but they sure liked the results. By the time of Jesus’ crucifixion, the Romans had nailed about 30,000 other Jews to crosses. They especially liked to line the highways with crosses as a warning against foolishly opposing Rome.
B. The Saved: The Compelled Substitute. (32)
In the middle of this gruesome ordeal is a ray of light. He is the one whom God sent to carry the cross of Jesus. His name is Simon. He is from Cyrene in North Africa. Some think he is a black man. Maybe so. If he is he is a proselyte because he has a Jewish name.
Jesus, physically weakened from His torture, is carrying His cross of about 200 lbs. Surrounded by 4 soldiers with others behind along with a large following crowd, Jesus is paraded through the mainstreets of Jerusalem through the gate to a place outside the city. Around the neck of Jesus, He carries a placard with His indictment of treason. As Simon is entering Jerusalem from the countryside, he encounters this huge procession. As Jesus stumbles under the burden of the cross, Simon is conscripted to carry it in His place.