Matthew 27:39-44 (NIV) Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, “You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God!”
In the same way the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked him. “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! He’s the King of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him, for he said, ‘I am the Son of God.'” In the same way the robbers who were crucified with him also heaped insults on him.
Now that Jesus was hanging defenseless on the cross, His enemies were emboldened to taunt Him. These included the chief priests, the teachers of the law, and the elders. This was exactly what they had wanted to see, and they were now reveling in what they saw as an unqualified victory.
In their minds, blinded as they were by cold hatred, Jesus had seen Himself as so high and mighty, and had now been put in His place. They taunted the caged lion, because they believed Him to be without any power to hurt them.
And Jesus did look entirely helpless. Surely, if He did have any kind of power, He would have used it to keep Himself from being nailed to the cross. Or He would have used it to smash them before He ever got to Pilate’s house. And surely, if He really was the Messiah, God would have acted to prevent this assassination. To them, and to their earthbound reasoning, the crucifixion put the lie to everything Jesus ever said or did.
But, like much earth-bound reasoning, it missed much while believing that it sees all. These men could only see the ragged frame of a man slowly dying. They could not see the mighty Son of God hanging there, obedient to the Father’s plan. They could only see the itinerant preacher and teacher, whose disciples had fled and left all alone. They could not see the Lamb of God hanging there, His blood being spilled to pay the cost for their own sins. They could only see the theologian who had silenced and shamed them in debate. They could not see the Word of God surrendered to God’s will in spite of the pain, and the shame, and the disgrace.
And they had no inkling that they were fulfilling the prophecies of Psalm 22, echoing the very words David had put into the mouths of his own persecutors 1000 years before. Their jeering had been seen by Jesus for a millennium before it every happened. So the barbs were not discouraging for Him, they only saddened His heart more, because these men, the leaders of God’s people, really were blind guides, who were leading not only themselves, but many others astray.
Father, these men are pitiful. Not only were they deceiving themselves that they had somehow defeated Jesus, they show here every sign of being bullies, shooting at their victim when He is finally incapable of defending Himself. But we know that, far from being Jesus’ moment of defeat, this would prove to be His finest hour. Help me to remember that whenever I am persecuted for righteousness. Amen.