Seven Shocking Sins (1)1
“Then he released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, delivered him to be crucified. 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. As they went out, they found a man of Cyrene, Simon by name. They compelled this man to carry his cross” (Matthew 27:26-32).
Today is the first day of what is typically called Holy Week. My aim is not to recount the events leading up to our Lord’s arrest, but to portray his suffering that culminated on the cross. I hope you’ll return each day to consider the remarkable sacrifice Jesus made for hell-deserving sinners like you and me.
Here in Matthew 27:26-32 we find a brief, but vivid, portrayal of the brutalization of Jesus at the hands of the Romans. In these few verses are found 7 terse, but poignant, statements that describe his treatment at the hands of his accusers.
Anyone who saw Mel Gibson’s film, The Passion of the Christ, will inevitably read the following portrayal of our Lord’s suffering in a new light. It is difficult, if not impossible, to avoid visualizing what he endured. Some objected to Gibson’s film precisely on those grounds, arguing that we should be content with the verbal description that has come to us by inspiration. Each person must decide for himself/herself.
The first of the seven shocking sins is seen in the scourging of Jesus (v. 26).
William Lane’s description of what happened confirms in large measure the portrayal rendered in Gibson’s film:
"A Roman scourging was a terrifying punishment. The delinquent was stripped, bound to a post or a pillar, or sometimes simply thrown to [the] ground, and was beaten by a number of guards until his flesh hung in bleeding shreds. The instrument indicated by the Marcan text [Mark’s gospel], the dreaded flagellum, was a scourge consisting of leather thongs plaited with several pieces of bone or lead so as to form a chain. No maximum number of strokes was prescribed by Roman law [unlike Jewish law that kept it to 39], and men condemned to flagellation frequently collapsed and died from the flogging. Josephus records that he himself had some of his opponents in Galilee scourged until their entrails were visible . . . while the procurator Albinus had the prophet Jesus bar Hanan scourged until his bones lay visible."
Some have suggested that Pilate's decision to scourge Jesus was an act of mercy. Perhaps he hoped the Jews would take note of the severity of the scourge and consider it sufficient, making it possible for Jesus to avoid death by crucifixion. Or perhaps Pilate hoped Jesus would die from the scourging and thus be spared the horror of crucifixion. Far more likely, however, is that this was an act of calloused cruelty by a sadistic and heartless ruler.
The second shocking sin occurred when they put a scarlet robe on him (vv. 27-28).
This was obviously in mock imitation of the robe which was the insignia of the vassal kings of the day. Whereas some have suggested it was the short red cloak worn by Roman soldiers, it was more likely some shabby rug or faded cloak. Why "scarlet"? Perhaps the answer comes from Isaiah 1:18 – “Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.” Thus, as the soldiers clothed Jesus in a scarlet robe, Jesus clothed himself in the scarlet sins of the world.
This particular sin consists in more than merely “putting” a robe on our Lord. The verb used here (endidusko) occurs elsewhere only in Luke 16:19 and suggests the act of grandly dressing up, thereby heightening the mockery of Jesus. The Roman military was intentionally putting on a show in order to magnify their disdain and contempt for our Lord.
Third, they put a crown of thorns on his head (v. 29).
In the ancient world the crown was a sign of life and fruitfulness. The Roman victor's crown was a bent twig or perhaps two twigs tied together. Often a single wreath of grass or often one made of gentle flowers and leaves was used that it might caress the brow of the one whom it honored. Those who held national office wore crowns as a sign of their dignity and respect. Thus the action of the soldiers was another way in which they reviled him. It was a mocking, scornful imitation of the royal crown worn by the rulers of Rome. Worse still, it was designed to intensify his pain. It was an act of both scorn and sadism.
James Stalker says this of the crown of thorns:
"When Adam and Eve were driven from the garden into the bleak and toilsome world, their doom was that the ground should bring forth to them thorns and thistles. Thorns were the sign of the curse; that is, of their banishment from God's presence and of all the sad and painful consequences following therefrom. . . . In a word, it [the crown of thorns] symbolizes the curse; and as he lifted it on his own head, he took it off the world. He bore our sins and carried our sorrows.”
To be continued . . .