Save us?! He couldn’t even save Himself

March 29, 2024

Matthew 27:32–44 (ESV)

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.

The crowd had been crying “Hosanna!” Five days ago, in the streets of the city, their voices drowning out the hooves of the borrowed donkey He had ridden in on – they had been crying Hosanna. Save us. That’s what it meant. That’s what they wanted. That’s who they expected. A king, coming from God, sent to restore everything to the way it was supposed to be. To free them from their captors. To end their enslavement. To finish what their Heavenly Father had promised them would happen through those prophets so long ago. They wanted a savior, and they thought it would be Him. How had it all gone wrong in just five days?

After Gethsemane, He had disappeared. Taken first to Caiaphas’ chambers, then to Herod, and lastly standing at the side of Pontious Pilate, tired and weary – reticent and resigned. He hadn’t even opened His mouth to speak. Surely, if He had said something, they could have seen. Seen who He was, what He was capable of, how God was working through Him – just a few hours ago, He had picked up that soldiers ear and placed it back onto His head, healed and whole. There was no denying He was different, and yet, He would not raise a defense, would not say a word, would not make a sound. He just stood there and took it all – unfair and unjust though it may be. 

There was no warrant, no grounds for arrest, no formal crime had been committed – and yet, they had taken Him. There weren’t supposed to be trials by night, or on the Sabbath, or during Passover – and that was just the beginning. Trials which could lead to death were required to take more than one day, they were supposed to have impartial judges, the accused was supposed to be able to make a defense – none of that had happened – not by a long long shot. Even worse, when they brought Him before Pilate, they had switched the charges completely. Somehow, though arrested for blasphemy, when He stood before the Roman governor, the charge became treason. How could He commit a crime against a nation and kingdom to which He never belonged? Nothing about it made any sense, and yet the crowd now cried out; 

“Crucify Him. Crucify Him. Crucify!”

Pilate had done his best to rid himself of the entire situation. He called for a loophole law to be enforced, wherein a prisoner could be released to the people because of Passover.  An act of goodwill from Rome to their citizens. As if to give the people no choice, he chose the worst of the worst as the proposed other choice. Barabbas – insurrectionist and murderer; notorious and evil. Surely the crowd would chose the prophet in whom he could find no fault; but their voices rang out in one accord 

“Barabbas. Away with Jesus. Not Him. We want Barabbas. Give us Barabbas.” 

And so, Pilate, having done all he could, declared himself innocent of whatever came next. He turned and washed his hands and spoke out above their screams; 

“I find no fault in this man. I am innocent of His blood. What you do to Him, you do yourselves.” 

And their voices rang out with a haunting truth. 

“May His blood be on our hands, and on our children.”

With no other choice left to him, Pilate sent Him off to be scourged, and crucified on a criminal’s cross. The soldiers placed a crown of thorns upon His head, they spit on Him and chided Him with their words; 

“Hail King of the Jews!” 

The same words had been spoken five days ago with palm branches and parades; yet today they carried a completely different tone. At the top of the hill called Golgotha (the place of the skull), they stripped Him of His robe, and with three nails; they hung Him from the tree. Above His head a sign, with a title now more mocking than majestic; 

This is Jesus. The King of the Jews

Five days ago He had been their coming conqueror, now next to Him on other side, a criminal was raised. Jesus, who had been their hope and their healer, now hanging there in shame for all the world to see. His followers all gone except the one who held His mother as she wept. His Kingdom now an afterthought, mere amusement to those who couldn’t help themselves as they wandered by. 

“You said you would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days. Save yourself!” 

“If you are the Son of God, come down from there!” 

The priests and pious could not hold their tongues either; ridiculing Him as they stood and stared with satisfaction. 

“He is the King. Let Him come down, then we will believe Him! He trusts in God, let God save Him now!” 

Even one next to Him, would not give Him grace. 

“Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself, and us.” 

And then, with all the strength that He could muster, He cried out to God and hung His head. The earth shook and the sky went dark. A hush came over the crowd that remained. And as the soldiers lowered His lifeless body from the cross, just beneath the weeping and wailing of His mother and His closest friends, you could hear the judging whispers of those amidst the masses. 

“They said He came to save us.” 

“Save us?!”

“He couldn’t even save Himself.” 

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