“Those who passed by were yelling insults at him, shaking their heads, and saying, ‘Ha! The one who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself by coming down from the cross!’ In the same way, the chief priests with the scribes were mocking him among themselves and saying, ‘He saved others, but he cannot save himself! Let the Messiah, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross, so that we may see and believe.’ Even those who were crucified with him taunted him.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
Have you ever made somebody’s bad day worse? There aren’t many things that can make you feel smaller than that. It often happens in a moment when, at first, we don’t even realize what’s happening. The other person is dealing with some awful bit of bad news, and in a moment of weakness offends us somehow. For our part, instead of responding graciously, we snap right back and then double down on our retort, adding insult to the injury she’s already suffering. Then we learn the truth. Or perhaps you’ve been a victim of this kind of thing. You were having a terrible day for some reason and somebody else came along and started dumping their junk all over you, making you feel even worse than you already did. That’s an awful place to be. It’s also a place Jesus understands with intimate familiarity. Let’s talk about it.
If only they understood. At some point, that thought had to filter through Jesus’ mind. If only they understood what they were saying. He knew they didn’t. His plea for His Father to forgive them was rooted in this awareness. Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing. Knowing that, though, surely didn’t make the barbs any easier to bear. Jesus had endured more than any person should have to go through. He had been beaten beyond recognition, forced to lug a heavy cross beam through town and up a hill (He wound up getting help with that, but that only took a bit of the sting away), nailed to a cross, and was hanging there painfully dying. Now the crowds gathered to watch the show were mocking Him. The people whose hearts and minds the chief priests had turned in their efforts to force Pilate’s hand as well as the chief priests themselves were openly making fun of Jesus as He hung there dying for them. Let’s just call this what it was: Satan’s final attack.
I remember an Easter pageant my church did one time growing up. I remember it because my dad played Satan in it. It was a cameo part, but an important one. When the people were gathered before Pilate, he came in from the back and started whispering in their ears. The more he whispered, the more riled up against Jesus they all became. After a few moments they all began to shout, “Crucify Him!”
Now, that scene in the pageant happened earlier in the story than what we are seeing here, but the same sort of thing was happening. When Jesus rode into town a week earlier, the whole of Jerusalem greeted Him with shouts of, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” Now they were mocking Him as He was hanging there dying. Why the sudden shift?
I think a big part of this change was from disillusionment. Jesus rode into town like someone who was claiming to be the Messiah. Now He was hanging there dying. As we have talked about before, in a day when hopes for a Messiah were so potent, people jumped on and celebrated even the most fleeting clue. When something looked even slightly promising, they were on board, ready to receive God’s plan for their salvation. When it didn’t pan out, they turned quickly, angry they’d been taken in again by a pretender. And the way you knew a Messiah claimant was a pretender was that Rome did to him just what they were now doing to Jesus.
Just think about the critiques being leveled against Jesus here. One of them was from one of the charges made against Him during His trial. Some three years earlier when He was facing off against the religious leaders after making a scene in the temple of driving out the moneychangers and merchants, Jesus responded to their demand for a sign of the authority on which He did this by saying, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it up in three days.” Through the lens of the cross and the resurrection, the disciples later understood what He meant, but no one did at the time, and it was an easy statement to twist into something entirely more sinister-sounding for Jesus’ trial. Now the crowds were using the charge against Him. If He had the power to tear down the temple which took 46 years to build, and rebuild it in 3 days, then surely He had the power to get Himself down from the cross. That He was still hanging there was obviously an indicator that He had no such power.
The chief priests were dignified enough they weren’t mocking Him openly, but even they commented to themselves derisively against Him. If He was really the Messiah, He could save Himself. Sure, He could save others, but if He can’t even save Himself from this, then He’s obviously not the real guy.
This, of course, brings us face to face with the painful irony of this mocking. The simple truth is that Jesus could have taken Himself off the cross if He had wanted to do so. He could have used His divine powers for His own benefit and stepped away from the agony He was experiencing. He could have called down legions of angels to fight on His behalf and lay waste to all those who were putting Him through this terrible ordeal.
Satan’s turning of the crowds here was likely an attack aimed at engineering just such a set of circumstances. He was tempting Jesus by all this to use His powers for His own benefit just like He had done so three years before in the wilderness. That was what the three temptations in the wilderness all had in common. They were all about Jesus’ using His powers for Himself instead of limiting their application only for the benefit of the people around Him, and then only as directed by the Father. Jesus refused then and He refused now. It was love that led Him to the cross and love that kept Him on it. Those nails meant nothing. Love kept Him from stepping away from the pain and torment. His love for us was so great that He stayed and died so that we might live. What an amazing Savior we serve! In fact, I think that’s a pretty good place to stop today. Go and worship this great Savior for His amazing love for you, that kept Him on the cross for sin when nothing else would do.