Luke 23:35-37 “The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, ‘He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Christ of God, the Chosen One.’ The soldiers also came up and mocked him. They offered him wine vinegar and said, ‘If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.’”
The prison doctor and writer Theodore Dalrymple recounts, “Recently I went to a soccer game in my city on behalf of a newspaper; the fans of the opposing teams had to be separated by hundreds of policemen, disposed in military fashion. The police allowed no contact whatever between the opposing factions, shepherding or corralling the visiting fans into their own area of the stadium with more security precautions than the most dangerous of criminals ever faces.
“In the stadium I sat next to a man who appeared perfectly normal and decent, and his eleven-year-old son who seemed a well-behaved little boy. Suddenly, in the middle of the match, the father leaped up and, in unison with thousands of others, began to chant: “Who the expletive do you think you are? Who the expletive do you think you are?” while making, also in common with thousands of others, a threatening gesture – that looked uncommonly like a fascist salute – in the direction of the opposing supporters. Was this the example he wanted to set for his son? Apparently so. The frustrations of poverty could hardly explain his conduct: the cost of the tickets to the game could have fed a family more than adequately for a week” (Theodore Dalrymple, Our Culture, What’s Left of It, Ivan R. Dee Chicago, 2005, 164 & 165).
Our age is characterised at every level and place, by a mean spirit, road rage, taunts and verbal aggression . . . “Who’re you looking at? . . . You’re looking at my girl?” Crowds of yobs on a street in the night chant the name of the team they support and their disdain for any other. In parliament the most educated and wealthy men in the land disdain one another verbally.
The sustained mockery of the crucified Christ on Golgotha is not the first time in the Bible for men of God to be insulted. For example, there was an occasion when the prophet Elisha in a state of ceremonial mourning went up to the town of Bethel. As he approached the city a gang of more than forty youths came along, surrounded him and began to jeer at him, chanting, “Go on up, you baldhead!” (2 Kings 2:23). Bethel was where king Jeroboam had had erected a golden calf to be worshipped, but here was a prophet of Jehovah entering this city. “On your way, baldy!” they were chanting. He was an adult, and a traveller and he should have been treated with respect. He was the prophet of the Lord; his shaved head might have been a sign of his office, a prophet in mourning for the state of the nation, but they chanted out their insults at him as they sauntered towards him menacingly; it was deadly serious; they had no respect for who he was and what he stood for. All they knew was that he was coming to their patch, Bethel, in the name of his God, Jehovah of hosts.
That is one occasion of the mockery of the holy. You may also remember a occasion when David and his men were fleeing from Absalom at the time of his rebellion and a man called Shimei from the same clan as Saul spotted David and began to curse him, “Get out, get out you man of blood, you scoundrel . . . you have come to ruin because you are a man of blood” (2 Sam. 16:7&8). And David’s commander, Abishai, would have gone across to him and killed him, had not David prevented him, “If he is cursing because the Lord said to him, ‘Curse David,’ who can ask, ‘Why do you do this?’” (2 Sam. 16:10). I refer to those incidents to show you that the mockery of the servants of the Lord is nothing new, but with Elisha and David these were brief outbursts which soon brought down the judgment of God.
Here on Golgotha the hatred was prolonged and didn’t end while Christ was still breathing. Elisha and David were sinners, David especially so, but the Christ who hangs on the cross is the incarnate Son of God. The blameless young Saviour has been crucified; he will never be taken down alive. He is a dying man – how sobering – and still they chant their insults. So the Golgotha which we remember in the Lord’s Supper, was not at all like the way we break bread with its pools of silence. Golgotha was a raucous place; it was more like a contemporary soccer game between the bitterest rivals with constant shouting and chanting. On Calvary Christ is being molested by the crowd. The midgets are mocking the Almighty.
1. HOW MANY CLASSES OF PEOPLE TOOK PART IN THE MOCKERY.
You see that particularly in a couple of ways.
i] The fact that the soldiers jeered at him. Luke informs us that even “the soldiers also came up and mocked him” (Lk. 23:36). Not satisfied after their work was done of driving nails through his hands and feet and lifting him up on the cross and then gambling for his robe, they came right up to within a few feet of him snarling their hatred at him. Luke is the evangelist who tells us of the soldier’s hatred, but both Matthew and Mark tell us of three other categories of people who mocked Jesus Christ.
ii] We are told by Mark, “Those who passed by hurled insults at him.” They were out on a shopping expedition to the market and they made fun of him en passant. Those out for a stroll on the holiday weekend did the same; their families who had come to Jerusalem for the Passover joined in the sport; the previous night they had had a full meal together of lamb, vegetables, unleavened bread and wine. Their wives were now preparing the meal for the Friday and they had gone out of the city for a pre-luncheon walk with their sons. Ah! There was something to see, three men being crucified, and so they strolled along the road curious to look at this disgusting sight, naked young men nailed to crosses, dying in agony. They saw them far enough away and heard the sound of shouting, but they didn’t hesitate or go back. They didn’t turn away the face of a young son; “the boy has got to learn what life is all about,” one rough father might have said. These passers in taking a morning constitutional deliberately went right up to the crosses and they hurled their own insults – particularly at Jesus. They remained at that scene of abject pitiful suffering and they shouted abuse at Mary’s son – his mother wasn’t as far as twenty yards away. Then they went home for lunch. Sin! It was the Passover; the people were celebrating the mighty redemption of God from their slavery in Egypt through the death of a lamb. The Lord had taken them out and brought them into this land. “I will be your God and forgive your sins and become your Father,” he had said, but it meant nothing at all to them. These mere passers-by were full of blood lust and hate for the Lamb of God.
iii] Then we are told, “the rulers even sneered at him” (v.35). Here were the sophisticated leaders of the country, members of the Sanhedrin, the Supreme Court of Israel, educated men, the landowners. If there was any culture in Israel these men had it. You wouldn’t have expected men like these to attend a brutal public execution – but they did, like the bourgeoisie who stood around the guillotine. You would not expect the rulers to have stayed on Golgotha for hours watching the pain – but they were glued to the spot. You certainly wouldn’t have expected such men to join in the mockery and chanting – but they shouted out as scornfully as the rest of the mob. You mustn’t think that their abuse of Jesus was more sophisticated than the scorn of the jeering passers-by. Mark tells us that they mocked him “among themselves.” He doesn’t intend us to understand that they scorned him under their breath, muttering to one another. Matthew and Luke make it clear that that was not the case. Mark is saying that their scorn originated amongst themselves; it wasn’t contagious; they didn’t catch it from the others there. He is telling us that they mocked Jesus as a group, as a choir of chanting men spontaneously, they didn’t mix their shouts with the passers-by but they kept up their own tirade of disdain against him hour after hour. In the light and in the darkness their inner hatred fueled their contempt for Christ.
How significant it is that when the writer to the Hebrews describes the office of the high priest he tells us that, “He is able to deal gently with those who are ignorant and are going astray, since he himself is subject to weakness. This is why he has to offer sacrifices for his own sins, as well as for the sins of the people” (Hebs. 5:2&3). It is a wonderful picture of a man of God, conscious of his own frailty, and compassionate to the sins of others, but if you searched Jerusalem with candles during the Passover looking for the high priest do you know where you would find the man of God? He is attending a Roman execution of three Jews. Is he weeping and praying for the men as they hang there, soon to be dead? Is he offering them spiritual comfort, urging them to cast themselves on the mercy of God? No. The chief priests were mocking the Messiah as he was immolated on that cross, and they were supported by the preachers – “the teachers of the law mocked him.” Their calling was to bring the word of God to bear on the various conditions of men and women who stood before them. Here they prostituted their high calling and showed their contempt for the one who is the greatest of all preachers.
iv] Then we are told by Mark that those crucified with him also heaped insults on him. This is how the two thieves began their last hours on the cross. Initially both of them turned on the one who hung between them, and in their wretchedness and pain they belched out their rage at the Lord Jesus. No insult was too mean to hold back, one followed another. Let me ask you whether you know what it’s been like to shout out the word ‘Jesus’? Have you sinners shouted out the word ‘Christ’? Have you blasphemed? Have you laced your wonderfully funny stories with the name of my Saviour Jesus the Son of God? Have you taken his name in vain? Have you done so many times? Are you feeling convicted and as lost as Judas today because now you’re no different from this mob on Calvary disdaining the Son of God? Let me tell you that we certainly are no different, but let me say to you that you can become different. There is mercy offered to you. The men and women here today were once just as foul-mouthed as you have been, but they have been converted; they have been washed; they have been changed; they have been forgiven.
So we see how comprehensive the mockery was first of all in that it came from everyone except Jesus’ family and disciples – the soldiers, the casual passers-by, the chief priests, and also from the two thieves crucified each side of him – they all turned on him for hours and shouted at him. However, there is another aspect to this comprehensive mockery;
2. THE MOCKERY WAS COMPREHENSIVE IN ITS SCOPE.
i] They despised everything about Christ, especially his great divine offices. For example, they hated him as God’s last prophet. The other gospel writers tell us that the crowd mocked Jesus like this, “‘So! You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days.” They dismissed him as a typical fanatical preacher who boasts in future events and what he is going to do. He is going to destroy a huge building single-handed and then rebuild it all by himself in three days. Here is a nut-case, gathering a following of gullible people with his wild words, and his magic, and see where has he ended up? Nailed to a cross. What are the crowds doing? They are trying to scour of their minds all the unforgettable words, phrases and parables of Jesus which had buzzed all over the nation and stuck in people’s minds, phrases which people quoted to one another and which no one could forget, Christ’s warnings, his exhortations, his calls to repentance and faith, his claims to be the Way and the Truth and the Life, his promises to give rest to all who come to him. “Rubbish! It is all rubbish!” they were saying, “they were all the words of a fanatic. The man is crazy. He said he by himself would demolish the massive temple and rebuild it in three days, and look where he is today. He wasn’t a rabbi; he was a nutter.” They despised his work as a prophet
ii] They also despised his work as a priest; they said, “He saved others, let him save himself if he is the Christ of God, the Chosen One” (v.35). No one could deny the fact of the many lives which this ‘nutter’ had transformed. There was a woman with an issue of blood; for twelve years she had spent all her money visiting every doctor in the country but was no better but worse. None of them had been able to save her, but the Lord Jesus had been able, without a word and without a fee. She had only to touch the hem of his garment to be saved! Twelve of them were in a boat in the middle of the Sea of Galilee with him when a fearful storm almost sent the boat to the bottom of the lake. With a word the storm was stilled and Jesus saved them all. None other ‘nutter’ could do what he had done. Nobody could save Jairus’ twelve year old daughter from death, but Jesus had only to say to her, “Little girl, get up,” and the sleep of death ended and she was delivered from the grave. There were thousands and thousands of people all over Galilee whose lives had been saved by Christ. The rulers were certainly right, “He saved others!” But those men who mocked on Calvary didn’t want Jesus to save them. They didn’t want their friends and family to giggle at them, “Are you ‘saved?’ Ho, ho ho! Has Jesus saved you? Are you one of those fanatics who write on walls, ‘Jesus saves.’? No you are not. Glad to hear it. Men don’t want to be saved do they? What a ridiculous thing to be saved. Let’s stay unsaved and perish in our unbelief. Well, if Jesus is so great in saving others how come he can’t even save himself?” So they mocked our Lord in his work as a priest.
iii] They also despised his work as a mighty king; the other evangelists tell us that the mob shouted out, “Let this Christ, this King of Israel, come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe.” Let him prove that he is a king. Do another sign for us and then we will see it with out own eyes and we’ll believe – well, so they said. A wicked and adulterous generation is always itching for signs. The Lord had shown his kingly power over creation by speaking to the winds and waves and they’d obeyed him. He’d shown his kingly power over the devil by dealing with the Gadarene demoniac, the worst case of demon possession the world has ever seen or will see. Jesus Christ restored the man to true humanity and brought him to faith in himself. He had shown his kingly power over disease by healing all manner of sicknesses – without a single failure, not even those in the last stages of terminal illness who came to him had gone away from him as they’d come. He had shown his kingly power over death when he raised Lazarus from his grave, and also the widow of Nain’s son from the coffin, and also Jairus’ daughter from her deathbed. This is the King of love, the King from heaven, the King of all power structures and authorities and thrones and dominions and anything you can think of; Jesus is a Colossus.” All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to him.
Yet the unbeliever is never satisfied with what the New Testament tells us of Christ; “Let him do another miracle! Yes, one more. Do one other! For example, come down from the cross and heal yourself. Then we will follow you.” Sinners always ask for more; Bertrand Russell said that if to his great surprise he met the God he believed did not exist after he died and God asked him why he had not believed in him that Bertrand Russell would reply, “Not enough evidence.” Jesus has preached the Sermon on the Mount but it is not enough. He has lived an utterly blameless life, but it is not enough. He has done such extraordinary works, so that the winds obeyed him and he raised the dead, but all of them have not been enough. He has launched a movement which has long broken out of a middle east ghetto and it is found in every continent on the earth; it has lasted 2,000 years, but that is not enough. Millions or ordinary men and women claim that their lives have been changed by this Saviour, but that is not enough. One more miracle is needed, at their behest. “Do what we ask, just one more miracle now, and we will follow you,” they promise. They believe that their personal unbelief is perfectly understandable; there is lack of evidence, and a paucity of proof. They would love to believe, they claim, but there simply isn’t enough to venture on though they’ve never studied the Bible, and they have never cried to God for any length of time that he would hear them and help them to trust his blessed Son.
They have a problem which they’re not aware of. They imagine that becoming a Christian is an act of man’s free will; they dream that we simply choose to make a decision and then we become Christians. They think they’re not believers because they themselves have not yet made that decision to follow Christ, but they might . . . one day . . . let’s see, but man’s problem is far deeper than his will. Every man has a heart like a stone that disdains Christ; every man loves himself more than he loves God. That’s the problem; men need a new heart to believe. They could see every one of his miracles – as Judas did – and still not believe. They could hear all his sermons – as Judas did – and still not believe. We know that this was the case with these high priests because on the third day Jesus rose from the dead – what a sign of divinity! The Lord Christ greater than death; Jesus is God, but these priests still refused to believe. They invented a fiction rather than focus their hearts and minds on the risen conquering Jesus Christ with all the implications of resurrection! It takes more than miracles for sinners to believe in Jesus Christ. You sinners need a new birth; you need your enmity to be changed; you need God in mercy to give you a new heart, for by grace are we saved through faith and that not of ourselves it is a gift of God. The mob on Golgotha didn’t realise their dire predicament, that they could only be changed by the power of God. They couldn’t save themselves, and signs and wonders alone wouldn’t make them followers of Christ.
They didn’t understand the gospel. They failed to see that Jesus had to stay crucified and die. They thought that they would become believers if he ended the crucifixion, jumping down from the cross, getting the two others thieves to leap down too. They dreamed that the sight of the three of them standing there before the crowd beaming with rude health, every wound healed, would set them all dancing with joy on Golgotha, confessing Jesus to be the Son of God and their Messiah. “That’s what we need. Another great miracle of our devising. Until that happens we won’t believe,” they said. We Christians, of course, believe the very opposite, that he is the divine Saviour and Son of God because he didn’t cut short his obedience to God. He did not terminate the anathema in the darkness before paying a full atonement price for our sin. That is why I love him and serve him, because he stayed on the cross for me, determined to cancel all my debt and finish the work of redemption he had come into the world to do. He loved me and gave himself for me.
They snarled, “He trusted in God that he would deliver him, well, where is the great deliverance? If this is the Son in whom the Father is well-pleased why does he let him hang there on the cross?” This again is the frequent objection men have to God; “I can’t understand it. I have lived a good life and yet I have had all these troubles.” They think that if they live a good life that all their dreams will come true, but if they are suffering then it is proof that God is against them. It is the philosophy of Job’s miserable friends, but transferred here to Golgotha. Jesus cannot be a good man, certainly not the Messiah, because if he were then he would not be suffering the way he is.
They don’t see what every Christian sooner or later sees that the heavenly Father of every Christian will often pick up an instrument of suffering – a cross, the hatred of the world, heartache, unanswered prayer, sickness and loss – to improve his children. Even Jesus was made a perfect and complete Saviour by the things that he suffered. The shouters of Golgotha were utterly ignorant men.
3. THEIR MOCKERY CAME DURING CHRIST’S ANATHEMA.
Of course, mockery was nothing new to Christ. He had seen this as a mark of a true disciple – “blessed are you when people insult you,” he’d told them in the Sermon on the Mount. In the room with the dead child of Jairus the mourners had laughed him to scorn when he told them that she was only sleeping. During Christ’s trial they’d mocked him. They’d set a crown of thorns on his head and a purple robe around his shoulders. They’d bowed in mock worship before him and addressed him as the ‘King.’ Christ, I say, had already been mocked by soldiers, but then he was still in Jerusalem and it was the ending of his trial. Now his trial is over and he’s been thrown out of the city gates. Jesus has now become the scapegoat; he is outside the camp, and he is beginning his sentence; he is now legally paying the penalty for his alleged crimes. God is now making him sin for us. There is the physical pain of the nails, and there is this psychological and emotional pain he’s enduring. There are the earthly powers arraigned against him – both Romans and Jews – he is surrounded by many more people than during either of his trials. New passersby are adding fresh voice to the contempt being hurled at him hour after hour.
There’s also the mockery that comes from hell, from principalities and powers and the rulers of the darkness of this world. God has lifted up the lid of hell and out come the screaming masses. This is the defiance of hell’s storm troopers, spitting out their contempt at their hated Master. This is the diabolical chorus defying him on Golgotha. Hell has come to Calvary and hell is full of noise. That will be the first shock when a sinner enters the pit. The fearful hellish screams will be the greeting with which the demons pull in the damned; then there will be persistent noise for ever as lost souls prey upon another, with no love whatever, no pity whatever, no patience whatever, no joy whatever, all without God and all without hope. Noise, noise, noise, as sinners consume one another for ever and ever. The law of hell that all have to obey is that you shall hate one another for ever and ever. That is a part of what Christ is enduring on Golgotha . Isaiah’s fearful prophecy is being fulfilled in him: “The grave below is all astir to meet you at your coming; it rouses the spirits of the departed to greet you – all those who were leaders in the world; it makes them rise from their thrones – all those who were kings over the nations. They will all respond, they will say to you, ‘You also have become weak, as we are; you have become like us.’ All your pomp has been brought down to the grave, along with the noise of your harps; maggots are spread out beneath you and worms cover you. How you have fallen from heaven, O morning star, son of the dawn! You have been cast down to the earth, you who once laid low the nations! You said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God; I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly, on the utmost heights of the sacred mountain. I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.’ But you are brought down to the grave, to the depths of the pit. Those who see you stare at you, they ponder your fate: ‘Is this the man who shook the earth and made kingdoms tremble?’” (Isa. 14:9-16).
Christ’s sufferings are infinitely heavier than those Isaiah prophesied. Christ on the cross is being baptized into the nails of hell and the spears of hell and the shouts of hell and the frustration of hell, while righteous God is orchestrating it all. The mockery is part of the anathema Christ has to endure. It is part of the burden of God’s justice to sinners, condemning their sin in Christ. Focusing his judgment all on his blessed Son that believing sinners might be pardoned. That is not what the powers of darkness desire. Their purpose is to make Christ sin, to goad him, and provoke him to retaliate, to defend himself, to apologise, but our Saviour will not do so and he dare not do so because he knows he has come to Golgotha to bear our guilt and shame, and this is the punishment meted out to it. It is the just and holy curse of one hanging on a tree which we deserve; great David’s greater Son can repeat what his distinguished royal predecessor said of Shimei, “If he is cursing because the Lord said to him, ‘Curse David,’ who can ask, ‘Why do you do this?” Let the demons from the pit curse him too. Why not? Christ is bearing sins which merit hell’s curse and he knows it.
So the soldiers mocked him, and the passers-by shook their heads in scorn at him, and the chief priests disdained him, and even the crucified criminals cursed him. This was astounding hatred, so irrational, relentless and intense. It was utterly groundless. What possible reasons could there be for it? Obviously there is their masochism; men love to cause pain to others. But let me suggest to you some concrete reasons . . .
i] Envy. Who does he think he is? What right does he have to speak like that? What education has he had? From what college has he graduated? The Pharisees felt all the world was going after him and so they had to nip this movement in the bud then and there and kill him. Their celebrations on Golgotha were caused by the idea that they had succeeded.
ii] Retaliation at his exposure of their wicked hypocrisy and false religion. “Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!” He exposed their evil and cut them to the quick. Nowhere is the wrath of God towards sinners more forcefully expressed than in Jesus’ words to false prophets. The crucifixion was their revenge and their mockery the delight in him being silenced.
iii] Frustration. They had nothing at all with which to condemn him; no charge at all. They could find no crime to pin against him and so they hated him all the more and feared him because men love darkness rather than light, and by his light their deeds were constantly exposed. Their shouts and chants reflected their frustration.
Had you been in the crowd that first Good Friday with an unregenerate sinful nature how would you have responded? Tale a long, hard look at your heart before you answer. Would yours have been the only loving voice on Golgotha, “Lord, remember me when you come in your kingdom!” Would you have been that one, rebuking those who chanted their hatred? Or not? Cry to God for a new heart. Cry to him to help you; “Take my lips that they may be filled with messages from Thee.” Touch my heart and lips with a live coal from the altar of your love. Change me!
20th January 2013 GEOFF THOMAS