Matthew: Jesus Mocked

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on January 11, 2000

Matthew 27:27-32

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Would you please turn with me in your Bibles to Matthew 27:27-32. We’ll continue our exposition of the gospel of Matthew, especially of this passage dealing with his passion. We Presbyterians don’t often focus upon the physical sufferings of Christ. There is a variety of reasons for that. But it’s important for us to see those sufferings as they are displayed very clearly here by Matthew. Matthew wants us to take account of the reality of those sufferings. There have always been those in the Christian tradition which tended to downplay the bodily suffering of our Lord Jesus Christ, and even some who denied it. And Matthew makes short work of that in this description of what Jesus endured. But more than this, Matthew knows that Jesus’ physical sufferings are a fulfillment of the Old Testament prophesies and are a key to our understanding the nature of His death on our behalf. The physical sufferings are a window or a pointer to the totality of the suffering which He experienced as He became a curse for us. And so, let us hear God’s holy and inspired word here in Matthew 27:27-32, as we see the soldiers’ cruel mockery and physical abuse of Jesus before His crucifixion. This is God’s word.

“Then 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 weaving a crown of thorns, they put it on His head, and a reed in His right hand; and they kneeled down before Him and mocked Him, saying, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’ And they spat on Him, and took the reed and began to beat Him on the head. And after they had mocked Him, they took His robe off and put His garments on Him, and led Him away to crucify Him. And as they were coming out, they found a man of Cyrene, named Simon, whom they pressed into service to bear his cross.”

Thus ends this reading of God’s holy, inspired and inerrant word. May He add His blessing to it. Let’s pray.

Our Lord this is Your word, and we ask now that in it by the spirit, You would show us the passion of our Savior, the meaning of His death, and that we would embrace Him by faith, who is the only Savior of mankind. We ask it in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Normally, we break passages into parts and try and see specific points being taught by Matthew in specific sections of the passage. But today I want to traverse the whole ground of this passage twice, looking at it from two different perspectives. When we first work through the passage, I want you to see the reality of Christ’s sufferings as Matthew sets them forth. Then I’d like to come back to the same points again and see the vicarious nature of His sufferings. Matthew is showing us here, even as he records specifically the torture which Christ endured before the crucifixion, he is recording these things for us that we might understand that they are fulfillment, not only of the Old Testament, but of what Jesus had predicted about His death, and they show the nature of His death; how His death functioned on our behalf. After Pilate had released Barabbas, Jesus was turned over to the Roman soldiers to be prepared for crucifixion. And we’ll begin to consider next week the horror of that particular method of death. But you can see today just from what we’ve already read that the preliminaries were brutal and ruthless and inhumane in and of themselves.

Now we are so familiar with this description that it is easy for us to read what Jesus endured and not have it penetrate our hearts and grip us. And I want to suggest to you an imaginary event. It may even be a little bit anachronistic, but I think perhaps it will help you grasp a little more intensely what Jesus went through. We know in Matthew’s time, and especially a little bit after it, there grew up a teaching which even affected and infected Christians which basically said that Jesus did not have a real human body. And others said it like this. Well, He had a human body, but when the time came for His torture and suffering and crucifixion, He actually left that body and someone was substituted for Him. Do you know that the Muslims teach that about Jesus; that He did not die on the cross, that someone was substituted for Him in body? It’s a form of a very old heresy. At any rate, the Gnostics often taught something like that. Well, let’s suppose a young Christian disciple coming to an aged Matthew, having heard some such teacher who denied the sufferings and the bodily afflictions of our Lord, and let’s imagine the blood rising to the ears and head of aged Matthew, and saying son, let me tell you what my Master suffered for you. And so Matthew begins to give this detailed account of the sufferings of Christ. In fact, Matthew is more detailed than any of the other gospels writers in his descriptions of what happened to our Lord prior to His crucifixion. He gives us a seven-step description of what these soldiers did to Jesus.

First of all in verse 28, you see that they disrobed Him. Now that was a very shameful thing. The Jew of Jesus day could not have conceived of something more embarrassing, more shaming, than being publicly naked. Think of it. In the Old Testament, in the first five books of the scripture, when Moses wants to come up with a way to say delicately, the most vile and debasing sexual acts possible, what phrase will he use? And he looked upon his nakedness. He looked upon her nakedness. The concept of public nakedness and the connection of it was shamed since the fall was penetrated into the being of the Jew. And so here Jesus is disrobed and make naked. But more than that, let’s think of the pain that would have been involved in that. This man had already been scourged. The flesh was hanging from His back, and to take the robe, the clothes off the Lord Jesus would have caused excruciating pain. If you have ever gone through surgery and had the bandages moved for cleaning, you understand something of the pain that often attends the removal of the bandages, even for cleaning. And our Lord Jesus Christ’s back was a bloody mess, and now His robes are taken off. Think of the pain of it.

And then in verse 28 they robe Him again, now with a faded soldier’s robe. One of the red robes worn by the Roman troopers, they put it around Him. Why? To mock Him. The kings in the near east would have worn purple robes as a symbol of their royalty and now in preparation for the taunting of Jesus, They put one of these faded Roman troopers’ garments around him. And then they crown Him with thorns. In verse 29, a thorny reef is made from some such plant in Palestine, and it’s placed on His head as a mock crown. The rulers of the near east would have worn crowns with spikes heading out as if they were the spikes of the light of the sun, and this crown is pressed down upon His head, and you can think of the pain and the flow of the blood, and then again in verse 29 they give him a scepter. They scepter Him with this cane, a stick, or a reed or a cane. We know that the Roman soldiers often used something like a bamboo cane to administer beatings. And they stick one of these canes, one of these sticks, one of these reeds in Jesus’ hand. The king needs a scepter after all. And they are preparing to mock Him as a king, and so they place it into His hand.

And then again in verse 29 they began to prostrate themselves before Him, mocking Him, mocking homage. They speak to Him as if they would have spoken to Caesar in the triumphal processions, the crowds and the soldiers would have greeted Caesar with a cry, “Ave Caesar”. And so they fall down before Jesus and they say, “King of the Jesus.” These soldiers, though they were Roman soldiers, probably came from the district of Syria. They were conscripts, and they would have grown up alongside the Jews and probably had an intense hatred for the Jewish people. And they loved this opportunity they now had to mock this man who was said by some to be the King of the Jews. So they did mocking homage to Him. And then as they stood up after each of these soldiers had bowed before the Lord Jesus, each one of them stood up and spat in His face. Spitting in the face of the one who was the only begotten Son. We know that in those times, as now, spitting was one of the most grievous insults that you could give, short of physical violence against a person. And we also know that Jews considered this spittle of non-Jews, of Gentiles, to be especially unclean and hear is the Lord of Glory being spat upon by these pagan soldiers.

And then as they stood up, they took the reed, and they took their hands, and the back of their hands and they beat Him, and they slapped Him, and they struck Him on the head with a cane, driving the spikes of the thorns deeper into His flesh. William Hendrickson sums up this picture like this: “The soldiers, having stripped Jesus of His outer garments, throw a ‘royal’ robe around him. Since a king must wield a scepter, they thrust a stick into his right hand. Then, one by one, they kneel down in front of him in mock adoration, saying, ‘Hail, king of the Jews.’ They spit on Him and hit Him on the head with His own ‘scepter.’” This is the scene of the torture and the mocking of your Savior.

And after this brutal treatment and after He has been reclothed, John, in John 19, verses 4 and following, tells us that Pilate takes Jesus in this weakened and abused physical condition, and he takes Him out to the crowd, perhaps hoping that after they see the physical duress that He is under, that perhaps they will relent, perhaps they will not demand that He would be crucified. And Pilate takes Him out before the crowd, and He says “Ecce homo.” Behold the Man, hoping that someone in the crowd will show mercy on Him, and yet all he hears is this: “Pilate, if you show mercy to this man you are no friend of Caesar.” And so Pilate sends Jesus on to His crucifixion. The execution, according to custom and law was done outside of the city gates, probably about a thousand paces north of Herod’s palace. And Jesus begins to carry His own cross.

This was a way that the Romans broke the will of those who suffered in crucifixion. It’s like digging your own grave. To carry the instrument on which you will be crucified and on which you will die the most horrendous death. But Jesus didn’t go very far. By the time He got to the city gates He crumbled under the weight of that cross-beam. And so the Roman soldiers looked into the crowd and they conscript someone to come and bear the cross-beam for the Lord Jesus. Roman soldiers would never, ever have carried it themselves. It was a sign of shame, and they were not doing a mercy to the Lord Jesus Christ. These blood-thirsty men wanted to make sure this Man died on the cross, not on the way there. And so they find this man, Simon of Cyrene, a Jew from Cyrene, the area of Libya, and they conscript him from the crowds. They force Him into service to carry this cross-beam. I wonder if Matthew is, in a very subtle way, saying surely, surely shouldn’t one of His disciples have been there for Him to carry that cross-beam? Yet He’s alone as He goes to that cross and a stranger is pulled from the multitude, but the glory of our Lord is seen even in that.

If you’ll turn with me to Mark, chapter 15, Mark tells us something wonderful about Simon. In Mark, chapter 15, he says, “They pressed into a service a passer by coming from the country, Simon of Cyrene, the father of Alexander and Rufus.” Now Mark tells us that like we know who Alexander and Rufus are. What good does that do to tell me he’s the father of Alexander and Rufus, if I don’t know who – Mark is saying to the people to whom he first wrote this book, you know Alexander and Rufus. They’re Christians. They’re one of us. Even in His death, He’s the Savior of the world, and this man from Cyrene is saved as he’s conscripted to bear His cross. Jesus can’t carry His cross because of the sheer physical exhaustion.

Consider what He had already gone through. Again Hendrickson describes it: “Consider what he had already endured with the last fifteen hours; the tense atmosphere of the Upper Room, the betrayal by Judas, the agonies of Gethsemane, the desertion by His disciples, the totally hypocritical trial before the Sanhedrin, the mockery in the palace of Caiaphas, the denial of His most prominent disciple, the trial before an unjust judge, the terrible ordeal of being scourged, the pronunciation of a death sentence upon him, and the seven-itemed abuse by the soldiers in the praetorium. Humanly speaking, it’s a wonder at all that He was able to carry the cross any distance at all?” The scourging which Jesus had already endured often killed people.

And so Simon carries the cross the rest of the way so that Jesus can suffer the physical death of the cross. Friends, we must not overlook the enormity of Jesus’ physical sufferings. These earthly pains are only a small part of the totality of what He suffered on our behalf.

J.C. Ryle says it this way: “Never let it be forgotten that He had a real human body, a body exactly like our own, just as sensitive, just as vulnerable, just as capable of feeling intense pain.” If you have ever been numbered amongst those who have been persecuted or oppressed, then you have a Savior who has experienced the same and more. If you have not, you have cause to praise for the Savior who has interceded.
But that’s not all. This passage not only points to the reality of the physical sufferings that Jesus underwent before the cross, it points to the vicarious nature of those sufferings for the young people who are here today. Vicarious is just one big word that means that Jesus suffered for us. He suffered on behalf of us. He suffered in our place. When we say His sufferings were vicarious, we mean that His sufferings were done instead of us. And Matthew’s highlighting that. Our Savior’s experienced sufferings on the way to the cross were deliberately and emphatically for us. It’s not enough for us to contemplate the excruciating nature of His suffering. We must understand that that suffering was for us.

And let’s review again then Jesus’ treatment in this passage and see how it fulfills Scripture and how it fulfilled Jesus’ own predictions, and how it points to His vicarious sacrifice. Jesus was disrobed we saw in verse 28. And we said that that points to the shame of His nakedness. But you know we think of those passages where Paul speaks of us in the last day not naked before the Lord, but clothed with bodies, glorified bodies. And more than that clothed with the righteous of Christ. And you can’t help but think that Matthew is reminding us that the Savior who was shamed and naked has provided us a cloak of righteousness. They robed Him with this mock king’s robe. It was a way of taunting Him, you remember, and they thought this was very cute, very ironic. This man, some said, was a king. So they would pretend He was a king.

But you see the irony is not on Jesus, it’s on them, for He was king. The man that they were mocking as a king – notice how Matthew throughout this passage even in the words of those who mock Christ, He puts truth, more truth than they knew. They bowed before Him, they prostrated themselves. They said, “Hail, King of the Jews.” He was. They sceptered Him with a cane. They mocked Him that we might be honored and blessed. They spat on Him. Listen to what Calvin says about that. “Christ, to make us stand in the sight of the Father, pure and unstained, was willing to be spat upon Himself and befouled with all insults.” They hit Him, they beat Him, they slapped Him, they hit Him with a cane to fulfill Isaiah’s words in Isaiah 50, verse 6: “I gave My back to those who strike me. And My cheeks to those who pluck out the beard. I did not cover My face from humiliation and spitting.”

And then they let him outside of the city gate and Hebrews 13, verse 12 comments on that very thing where we learn, “Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people through His own blood suffered outside the city gate.” And then the cross-beam is carried to Golgotha by Simon of Cyrene. And you notice how Matthew goes out of his way to tell the nationalities of so many of the Gentiles or others from outside Palestine who come to a saving knowledge of Christ.

Now think of it, in just a few verses Matthew is going to record that Jesus gives a great commission; a commission to His disciples to go to all nations and make them disciples. But what we see in Matthew, before Jesus ever gives that commission, is that Jesus is doing that Himself. Simon, and his family brought to Christ even in the hour of Jesus’ sufferings. We see a glimpse of the great commission working even before the cross.

And the point of all this, Matthew wants us to know, is that not one drop of Jesus’ blood is wasted. He gives Himself willingly and intentionally for your sins in your place, and when we see Him doing this, we ought to consider what our sins deserve, and we ought to loathe the sin that pressed our Savior to the tree, and we ought to “learn that Christ’s kingdom is not to be reckoned by the fleshly sense but by the judgment of faith and the spirit,” Calvin said. That is when we see Christ on the way to the cross, we understand that the power of His kingdom is totally unlike the power exercised by men. The power of His kingdom is the power of a suffering servant. The sovereign one who humbles Himself, and is humiliated in our place that we might share in His benefits forever.

We must not have a vague, general understanding of His vicarious suffering. We need to understand specifically every step of the way He suffers in our place, on our behalf that we might worship Him aright.

As we come to His table today, let’s remember the reality of His sufferings, and let’s remember that those sufferings were for us. Let us pray.

Our Lord and our God, we cannot do justice to Your word, and yet You use Your word in our hearts to grow our faith. For those of us who come this day believing, we pray that You would strengthen our faith by the sight of the suffering Savior. For those who know Him not, draw them to Him, as they see His self-giving, redeeming love. We ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.

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