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The King on a Cross

Matthew 27

Then I said to them, “If it seems good to you, give me my wages; but if not, keep them.” And they weighed out as my wages thirty pieces of silver. Then the Lord said to me, “Throw it to the potter”—the lordly price at which I was priced by them. So I took the thirty pieces of silver and threw them into the house of the Lord, to the potter. Zechariah 11:12-13

Dear Christian,

At the end of the last chapter, we see that all of the disciples, including Peter, have now left Jesus. The religious leaders have brought forward false witnesses and condemned Him.

When morning came, all the chief priests and the elders of the people took counsel against Jesus to put him to death. And they bound him and led him away and delivered him over to Pilate the governor. Matthew 27:1-2

The only answer that Jesus has given to those who would betray and accuse Him is, "You have said so." He first answered this to Judas when the traitorous disciple asked Him if he would be the one to betray Him. Later during Jesus' trial before the Sanhedrin, He is asked if He is the Christ, the Son of God. The reason I want you to keep this phrase in mind is that Jesus is going to answer another question this way in this chapter also. But first, we find out the sad fate of Judas Iscariot.

Then when Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned, he changed his mind and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders, saying, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” They said, “What is that to us? See to it yourself.” And throwing down the pieces of silver into the temple, he departed, and he went and hanged himself. But the chief priests, taking the pieces of silver, said, “It is not lawful to put them into the treasury, since it is blood money.” So they took counsel and bought with them the potter's field as a burial place for strangers. Therefore that field has been called the Field of Blood to this day. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken by the prophet Jeremiah, saying, “And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of him on whom a price had been set by some of the sons of Israel, and they gave them for the potter's field, as the Lord directed me.” Matthew 27:3-10

We had brushed on this before in the last chapter and you may notice as we read this section today that Matthew's account does not specifically say that they bought the field where Judas hanged himself. Nor does it actually say where that happened. Matthew is also the only one of the Gospels that tell us about the fate of Judas, so for full transparency, I wanted you to be aware that I was mistaken on that point. I probably conflated that imagery from one of the many films about Jesus' life. However, I don't think that changes the connection of Judas to the Field of Blood and the comparison I made with the story of Cain and Abel.

One important thing I do want to highlight here is this interesting relationship between the fulfillment of Scripture and the accountability of Judas and the religious leaders for their actions. While everything occurs according to how God's Word said it would occur, this does not seem to take away from the agency that either Judas or the religious leaders have in making these decisions. Because they have agency they also have responsibility. We should take the actions and consequences of these people as a warning for our own lives. Judas spent just as much time learning from Jesus and seeing the miracles He performed as the other disciples had. Just like the other disciples he had left his home and life to follow Jesus. He even went out with the other twelve disciples to teach the Gospel and heal as they had been instructed. I think this leaves us with the question, where did it go wrong for Judas? As well as, what makes the other disciples or any of us any different than Judas?

The answer is perhaps simpler than you might think: works are not what save us only faith. When we are saved producing good fruit is an indicator of our inner transformation, however, even atheists can do good works. We should always be cautious in assuming that we know the condition of another person's soul by external indicators. God looks at the heart and He is the final Judge.

Finally, we see that not just Judas' betrayal of Jesus but also his response to Jesus' condemnation were foretold by the prophets and fulfilled at this time. This is another one of those quotes that is attributed to Jeremiah but also contains a prophecy of another prophet: Zechariah. The explanation I was able to find on this is that it wasn't uncommon in that day or even in scripture when talking about prophecy to only list the Major Prophet. There are a few other explanations I found listed by Pastor David Guzik on Blue Letter Bible: it could be a copyist's error, it could be that the word was spoken by Jeremiah but recorded by Zecharaiah, or he was referring to the Scroll Jeremiah which apparently included what we now call the book of Zechariah. Bible Reference also directs us to Jeremiah 19:1-13 for its thematic comparison with the Potter's Field prophecy. I genuinely think that's stretching it a bit in searching for the answer but it does point us again to Jesus' prophecy of Woes against the religious leaders and the coming destruction of the Temple. Personally, I think the best explanation is the fact that Zecharaiah was a part of the scroll of Jeremiah, but you're free to explore this quandary more fully and find a better answer if you can! Please, share it with all of us if you do!

Now the scene shifts to Jesus' second trial this time before the Roman Governor Pontus Pilate. There is a third trial recorded in Luke before King Herod, but Matthew's account for whatever reason does not include it.

Now Jesus stood before the governor, and the governor asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus said, “You have said so.” But when he was accused by the chief priests and elders, he gave no answer. Then Pilate said to him, “Do you not hear how many things they testify against you?” But he gave him no answer, not even to a single charge, so that the governor was greatly amazed. Matthew 27:11-14

There is that phrase again, "You have said so."

Judas about his betrayal - "Is it I, Rabbi?"

Jesus - "You have said so."

The High Priest Caiaphas - "I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God."

Jesus - "You have said so."

Roman Governor Pontius Pilate - "Are you the King of the Jews?"

Jesus - "You have said so."

In all these cases, Jesus' answer clearly means yes. Notice that Judas knew the answer to the question before he ever asked, I would argue that so did Caiaphas. It might be harder to see how Pilate also knew the answer to his question before he asked it but we get more context for that possibility from Luke and John's accounts.

Then the whole company of them arose and brought him before Pilate. And they began to accuse him, saying, “We found this man misleading our nation and forbidding us to give tribute to Caesar, and saying that he himself is Christ, a king.” And Pilate asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” And he answered him, “You have said so.” Then Pilate said to the chief priests and the crowds, “I find no guilt in this man.” Luke 23:1-4

Even after Jesus clearly acknowledges that He is the King of the Jews, Pilate finds no fault in Him. Why would this be, if Pilate didn't have some understanding that this did not make Jesus in position or authority a threat to Rome?

Then they led Jesus from the house of Caiaphas to the governor's headquarters. It was early morning. They themselves did not enter the governor's headquarters, so that they would not be defiled, but could eat the Passover. So Pilate went outside to them and said, “What accusation do you bring against this man?” They answered him, “If this man were not doing evil, we would not have delivered him over to you.” Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law.” The Jews said to him, “It is not lawful for us to put anyone to death.” This was to fulfill the word that Jesus had spoken to show by what kind of death he was going to die. So Pilate entered his headquarters again and called Jesus and said to him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?” Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered you over to me. What have you done?” Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” Pilate said to him, “What is truth?” After he had said this, he went back outside to the Jews and told them, “I find no guilt in him. John 18:28-38

In John's account, Jesus lays it out clearly for Pilate that He is a King but His Kingdom is one of this world. In other words, Jesus' Kingship is not a political threat to Rome. By the time Pilate flat out asks the question, "So you are a King?" and Jesus' response is, "You say that I am a king." Pilate does know the answer to his question already.

One more interesting thing I will bring to your attention about these three answers. They are given to the main groups of people who have been the focal point of Jesus' ministry on earth: one of His disciples; the Jews represented by their religious leaders; and the Gentiles represented by Rome's Governor of Palestine. The responses of these three groups to Jesus' condemnation is also interesting: Judas regrets his choice, returns the money, and hangs himself; the religious leaders double down and whip the mob into a frenzy; Pilate does his best to release Jesus or at least absolve himself of the execution.

Now at the feast the governor was accustomed to release for the crowd any one prisoner whom they wanted. And they had then a notorious prisoner called Barabbas. So when they had gathered, Pilate said to them, “Whom do you want me to release for you: Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?” For he knew that it was out of envy that they had delivered him up. Matthew 27:15-18

At this point, Pilate has sat down on the Judgment Seat to hand out the verdict for criminals to be executed including Jesus who had been delivered to him by the Sanhedrin. His first strategy is to offer to the crowd a notorious murderer, which logically no citizen should have wanted free. Besides this, we learn that Pilate's wife has sent word to him that he should have nothing to do with the condemnation of Jesus. John's account describes Pilate as becoming increasingly afraid of the crowd beginning to riot and equally frantic to stop this obviously unjust execution.

Besides, while he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent word to him, “Have nothing to do with that righteous man, for I have suffered much because of him today in a dream.” Matthew 27:19

In the end, Pilate's attempts to appease the people are thwarted by the religious leaders continuing to stir up the crowd.

Now the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and destroy Jesus. The governor again said to them, “Which of the two do you want me to release for you?” And they said, “Barabbas.” Pilate said to them, “Then what shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?” They all said, “Let him be crucified!” And he said, “Why? What evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Let him be crucified!” Matthew 27:20-23

Pilate is left with the choice to refuse the mob's demands and guarantee Rome's destruction of the province and probably his own political execution or to give the mob what it wanted.

So when Pilate saw that he was gaining nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this man's blood; see to it yourselves.” And all the people answered, “His blood be on us and on our children!” Then he released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, delivered him to be crucified. Matthew 27:24-26

What an astounding answer from the crowd, "His blood be on us and on our children!" Their hatred and rejection of Jesus were so great at that moment that they were willing to take the curse of shedding innocent blood upon themselves and future generations. Consider that if you are someone who has yet to accept Jesus for yourself and are still living as one who has rejected Him.

The brutality of Jesus' death and the venom of those participating in it is difficult to read and contemplate, but it is oh so important for remembering just how much our King was willing to go through for our redemption!

Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the governor's headquarters, and they gathered the whole battalion before him. And they stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on his head and put a reed in his right hand. And kneeling before him, they mocked him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” And they spit on him and took the reed and struck him on the head. And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes on him and led him away to crucify him. Matthew 27:27-31

In Christian history, some have used the clear corruption and involvement of Jewish religious leaders in the murder of Christ to be grounds for hatred of all Jews. This is very clearly not Biblical and fails to take into account here the Gentiles' participation in the brutality of His death. Pilate may have tried his best to get out of it, but in the end, he still gave the order and oversaw everything that happened afterward. This wasn't a small group of men participating in these acts, a battalion at that time would have been around 600 men. By the time they completed the flogging and mocking He would have been barely recognizable as human.

As they went out, they found a man of Cyrene, Simon by name. They compelled this man to carry his cross. And when they came to a place called Golgotha (which means Place of a Skull), they offered him wine to drink, mixed with gall, but when he tasted it, he would not drink it. And when they had crucified him, they divided his garments among them by casting lots. Then they sat down and kept watch over him there. And over his head they put the charge against him, which read, “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.” Then two robbers were crucified with him, one on the right and one on the left. And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads and saying, “You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” So also the chief priests, with the scribes and elders, mocked him, saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he desires him. For he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’” And the robbers who were crucified with him also reviled him in the same way. Matthew 27:32-44

Perhaps one of the most difficult things for us to stomach today as we contemplate the crucifixion is that it was God's will. Yet Jesus tells Pilate plainly in John's account that if He did not will these things to happen, Pilate would have no authority over Him.

Then Pilate took Jesus and flogged him. And the soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head and arrayed him in a purple robe. They came up to him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” and struck him with their hands. Pilate went out again and said to them, “See, I am bringing him out to you that you may know that I find no guilt in him.” So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, “Behold the man!” When the chief priests and the officers saw him, they cried out, “Crucify him, crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and crucify him, for I find no guilt in him.” The Jews answered him, “We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has made himself the Son of God.” When Pilate heard this statement, he was even more afraid. He entered his headquarters again and said to Jesus, “Where are you from?” But Jesus gave him no answer. So Pilate said to him, “You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?” Jesus answered him, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above. Therefore he who delivered me over to you has the greater sin.” John 19:1-11

On a side note you may notice the difference in the color of the robe they put on Jesus in these two accounts, whether the robe was scarlet or purple both of these colors were symbols of royal status. The common people would not have been able to afford these fabrics because the dye used for them was more difficult to come by in the ancient world.

That also leaves us to wonder why God would leave His Son to suffer like this up on the cross when He could very easily have delivered Him in an instant. We find the answer in Paul's letter to the Romans.

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. Romans 5:6-11

The only way for human beings to be reconciled to God, to escape His just wrath against our sin was for Christ to give His life on our behalf. If He had shown His power by coming down from the cross and saving Himself, then we would have been lost. It was not some type of cosmic nihilism or abuse that caused Jesus to be violently murdered when He didn't have to. It was an overwhelming love for the men and women He had created and desired more than anything to restore to Himself!

Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” And some of the bystanders, hearing it, said, “This man is calling Elijah.” And one of them at once ran and took a sponge, filled it with sour wine, and put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink. But the others said, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save him. And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit. Matthew 27:45-50

By now it was early afternoon, but the land was dark. In the late after Jesus spoke for the last time before yielding up His spirit. This is such an interesting way to phrase that He had died because death for the rest of humanity is passive, it will happen whether we like it or not. Even if we take our own lives, there is no action we can take in our spirits to leave this mortal life. Jesus intentionally yields His spirit and breaths His last, as if He never yielded His life would have continued however miserable it might have been.

His last words also point us to the incredible promises of Psalm 22, which He was fulfilling even as He breathed His last.

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? Psalm 22:1

They mocked Him.

But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by mankind and despised by the people. All who see me mock me; they make mouths at me; they wag their heads; “He trusts in the Lord; let him deliver him; let him rescue him, for he delights in him!” Psalm 22:6-8

From His mother's womb, He had belonged to the Lord and was innocent of any wrong.

Yet you are he who took me from the womb; you made me trust you at my mother's breasts. On you was I cast from my birth, and from my mother's womb you have been my God. Psalm 22:9-10

They tortured Him, nailing His hands and feet to the cross, they divided His garments amongst themselves by casting lots.

I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast; my strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death. For dogs encompass me; a company of evildoers encircles me; they have pierced my hands and feet— I can count all my bones— they stare and gloat over me; they divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots. Psalm 22:14-18

In between these terrifying and heartbreaking predictions, the Psalmist glorifies God for His mercy and grace. He praises God because He is able to deliver!

When Jesus died wild things happened across the city, it's as if the whole world was shaking at the death of its Creator.

And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many. When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe and said, “Truly this was the Son of God!” Matthew 27:51-54

The curtain in the temple was the one separating the Holy of Holies from the rest of the inner court. The earth-shaking splitting rocks, opening tombs and raising the dead, even a centurion who had participated in His murder declaring that He must have been who He said. Though this was a dark day, on behalf of humanity it was the first day of truly good news that the Savior had truly come, He had truly endured His death even on a cross, and there was still hope in the midst of that darkness that the dead could rise!

We don't know when they had arrived but by the time Jesus died, he was no longer alone. Some of the women who followed Him along with at least one disciple were nearby as witness to His death. We hear more about them in some of the other Gospel accounts.

There were also many women there, looking on from a distance, who had followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to him, among whom were Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Joseph and the mother of the sons of Zebedee. Matthew 27:55-56

After all this, it would have been custom for the soldiers to break the legs of the men up on the crosses to ensure that they were really dead. Then they would have been disposed of in a mass grave. John gives us more of the details of what happened to Jesus instead and why it had to take place that way.

Since it was the day of Preparation, and so that the bodies would not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), the Jews asked Pilate that their legs might be broken and that they might be taken away. So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first, and of the other who had been crucified with him. But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water. He who saw it has borne witness—his testimony is true, and he knows that he is telling the truth—that you also may believe. For these things took place that the Scripture might be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken.” And again another Scripture says, “They will look on him whom they have pierced.” John 19:31-37

The first prophecy is found in prophetic imagery of the spotless Passover Lamb who was supposed to be unblemished and its bones remain unbroken.

Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male a year old. You may take it from the sheep or from the goats,... It shall be eaten in one house; you shall not take any of the flesh outside the house, and you shall not break any of its bones. Exodus 12:5,46

Paul will point us back to this moment in both his letter to the Corinthians.

Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. 1 Corinthians 5:7

The second prophecy takes us back to the prophet Zechariah.

“And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy, so that, when they look on me, on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn. Zechariah 12:10

Instead, of being buried in a mass grave. One of Jesus' disciples comes to request the body from Pilate. In Matthew's account, we're only really given his name, Joseph of Arimathea. John's account lets us know that he did so secretly because he feared the religious leaders. Luke goes even further telling us that Joseph was actually a member of the council of religious leaders but had not consented to what they did.

Now there was a man named Joseph, from the Jewish town of Arimathea. He was a member of the council, a good and righteous man, who had not consented to their decision and action; and he was looking for the kingdom of God. Luke 23:50-51

Pilate grants his permission so Joseph and the others who had been standing by to take Jesus' body to be buried.

When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who also was a disciple of Jesus. He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate ordered it to be given to him. And Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen shroud and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had cut in the rock. And he rolled a great stone to the entrance of the tomb and went away. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb. Matthew 27:57-61

The manner of Jesus' burial fulfilled yet another prophecy from the Prophet Isaiah chapter 53, there is too much to include it all here, but I encourage you to go read the full chapter. Isaiah describes perfectly what occurred on the cross hundreds of years before it took place.

And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth. Isaiah 53:9

While Jesus' disciples are heartbroken and afraid for their own lives, the religious leaders are still not satisfied that they have stomped out the movement of this "would-be" Messiah. Upon discovering that Jesus had been buried, they go to Pilate with a request of their own.

The next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate and said, “Sir, we remember how that impostor said, while he was still alive, ‘After three days I will rise.’ Therefore order the tomb to be made secure until the third day, lest his disciples go and steal him away and tell the people, ‘He has risen from the dead,’ and the last fraud will be worse than the first.” Pilate said to them, “You have a guard of soldiers. Go, make it as secure as you can.” So they went and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone and setting a guard. Matthew 27:62-66

In any other book, this would be the end of the story. The hero has died a tragic death and has been buried. Aren't we glad this isn't an ordinary story?! Let's finish out this chapter on a hopeful by looking at what the end of Psalm 22 promises.

All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord, and all the families of the nations shall worship before you. For kingship belongs to the Lord, and he rules over the nations. All the prosperous of the earth eat and worship; before him shall bow all who go down to the dust, even the one who could not keep himself alive. Posterity shall serve him; it shall be told of the Lord to the coming generation; they shall come and proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn, that he has done it. Psalm 22:27-31

From generation to generation in all the earth it has been remembered what Christ has done for us upon the cross. All we have to do is repent and believe! Have you made that decision yet? If not, what are you waiting for?

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