“King of the Jews?”

Matthew 27:26-34

The religious leaders have won. Jesus was handed over to Pontius Pilate and he did not disappoint them. Although he knew that Jesus was innocent he followed the crowd. “Crucify Him!” was their demand. Thinking he had washed his hands of the matter, Pontius Pilate ordered the beginning of what it meant to be crucified. He had Jesus scourged. 

Not exactly a common word in today’s language. Rather barbaric at best. It meant that Jesus was administered blows from a whip with many leather strands, each having sharp pieces of bone or metal at the ends. By the end of this procedure the back of the criminal would be completely raw flesh. In fact, it was not unusual for one to die from scourging and never make it to the crucifixion.

This was a legal Roman preliminary to each execution, only women and Roman senators or soldiers, unless they were convicted of desertion, were exempt. The purpose of the scourging was to make the victim close to collapse or death to make the execution successful. This is how Edwards describes the process:

“As the Roman soldiers repeatedly struck the victim’s back with full force, the iron balls would cause deep contusions, and the leather thongs and sheep bones would cut into the skin and subcutaneous tissues. Then, as the flogging continued, the lacerations would tear into the underlying skeletal muscles and produce quivering ribbons of bleeding flesh. Pain and blood loss generally set the stage for circulatory shock. The extent of blood loss may well have determined how long the victim would survive the cross.”

At this point, Jesus was most likely in a pre-shock state. Remember, He hasn’t eaten since the Last Supper with His disciples, He hasn’t slept, He hasn’t had a drink of water and He has been physically and mentally abused. Even before the actual crucifixion, Jesus was in a seriously critical condition.  Commonly the blows would lessen should the criminal confess. Jesus had no crimes to confess and He remained silent. Thus the blows continued in full force. 

The governor has since gone home and left the dirty work to his soldiers. It only took four soldiers to carry out an execution. The entire garrison of Pilate chose to participate in this crucifixion. They decided to take Jesus to a nearby courtroom or meeting place where they stripped Him naked. This was usually done at the time of being nailed to the cross to humiliate the one being crucified. 

Jesus’ humiliation began in front of this group of soldiers. With cruel irony they covered Him up with a scarlet robe. Kings wore scarlet because they could afford the expense of the dye needed to make the color. Kings wear crowns, so someone created a crown made of thorns. The thorns that grew in Jerusalem were long and sharp. This crown cut, pierced and bloodied the head of the person who wore it. Kings also carried scepters, ornate and covered with jewels, to demonstrate their power and strength. The soldiers found a limp reed and placed it in Jesus’ hand. What a sight to see! Then to top it all off, the soldiers did what most people do for a king, they bowed before Jesus mocking Him by saying, “Hail, to the King of the Jews.’’ As if to say, “Is this the best king you Jews can create?”

Their mockery quickly turned to cruelty. We read that they “spat” on Jesus, took the reed and hit Him over the head with it, repeatedly according to the tense of the Greek verb. If you haven’t started cringing yet, here is where it becomes unbearable. They took the robe off His back. Now mind you, the back of Jesus was raw flesh, no skin. The cloth of the robe would have soaked into His flesh and would have ripped on it as it was removed. Ouch! 

Next, they put His own clothes back on, yow! 

Then led Him away to be crucified. 

The Romans chose crucifixion not only as a means to kill a criminal, they also used it as a deterrent. The criminal was led by a centurion on horseback and a herald would shout the crime of the condemned. They also chose the longest route possible in order to make sure as many people as possible would see them. 

Like most criminals, Jesus was forced to carry the wood He would hang upon. The weight of the entire cross was typically 300 pounds. The victim would carry only the crossbar. Jesus was again stripped naked with His hands tied to the wood. The upright beams of the cross were left permanently fixed in a visible place outside of the city walls for all to see as they passed by, as a visual reminder. It is possible that Jesus had passed by the very upright He would hang upon. 

When Jesus told His disciples that in order to follow Him they would have to deny themselves and take up their cross and follow Jesus, this is the scene He had in mind. The cross isn’t a pain or struggle we are called to “endure.” It is equated with death, and only death. For those in the first century, under Roman rule, the cross wasn’t about an emotion or traditional spiritual feeling. The cross was a way to execute people. 

It was a one way trip, no turning back. Today Jesus might have said, “Walk down death row and follow Me.  Be committed to Me in such a way that you will turn back.”

Where were they going? Golgotha, in Latin, Calvary.

Jesus was not capable of carrying the crossbar which would have weighed about 75-125 pounds. So the Roman guards pick out Simon from Cyrene who just happened to be in the crowd. Most likely Simon stood out because he was a black man from North Africa, some 800 miles away. It’s not like Simon had a choice in the matter, however we have reason to believe his sons became leaders among the early church from both the book of Mark (15:21) and Romans (16:13). One never knows what will happen while standing in a crowd.  

They were headed for the place called Golgotha, the “Place of the Skull.” This was an established place where criminals were crucified, outside the city walls. 

They arrived and offered Jesus a sour wine mixture with gall to drink. It was customary to give a pain-numbing and mind-numbing drink to lessen the pain. How nice! But Jesus refused. He chose to face the spiritual and physical terror with His senses awake. 

Are your senses awake? 

Have you been listening? 

This is a horrific scene. 

Somehow we often come to the table to drink the wine and eat the bread and forget exactly what happened to make this remembrance memorable. 

I am horrified. 

If it were on a movie screen, Val can confirm, I would close my eyes. I wouldn’t watch. I wouldn’t even peek. 

I would wait until the music changed. 

But this isn’t a movie scene. 

This is reality. 

It is so real, we come every first Sunday of the month to remember it. Because it makes a difference in our daily lives. The message Jesus brought was upside-down from the message the religious leaders had been spreading. Because of this horrific scene, we have hope. 

Lord’s Supper.