Greetings everyone — I pray you’re doing well and that on this day of days, the day we call Good Friday, you find yourself meditating on the great work of salvation wrought by our Lord Jesus for you and for me and for all the world. Today we’ll be spending the few minutes we have together not on the crucifixion itself, but on the events immediately preceding it. I’m hopeful that it will help to set a contemplative, worshipful tone for your day. Thanks for being here; let’s pray and begin.
Heavenly Father, thank you for this day and the many blessings that have come with it…chiefly the blessing of the knowledge of Christ and His saving work. Please draw close to us as we open your Word. In Jesus’ precious name, amen.
On this Good Friday, we’re once again in the book of Matthew to follow the last hours of Jesus’ earthly life. In the passage before us, Pontius Pilate releases Barabbas to the crowd, but delivers Jesus to be crucified. Our focus: This is our King.
26 Then he released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, delivered him to be crucified. 27 Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the governor's headquarters, and they gathered the whole battalion before him. 28 And they stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, 29 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!” 30 And they spit on him and took the reed and struck him on the head. 31 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. 32 As they went out, they found a man of Cyrene, Simon by name. They compelled this man to carry his cross. 33 And when they came to a place called Golgotha (which means Place of a Skull), 34 they offered him wine to drink, mixed with gall, but when he tasted it, he would not drink it.
Here in the United States, we do not have coronations, but rather, inaugurations. Our leaders are not royalty; they’re just regular folks, or at least that’s what they’d like you to think. And though American citizens who hold high office are certainly given the honor and respect appropriate to their titles, their constituents are always going to balance that honor and respect with a healthy dose of skepticism and accountability. Where royalty is concerned, however, things are little bit different. They are given great honor and respect not because of what they do or don’t do, but because of who they are. And more often than not, one is not elected to royalty; one is born into royalty.
In today’s reading, the King of kings and Lord of lords undergoes a coronation of sorts Himself…but it is one of cruel mockery. He is dressed in a royal robe and He is crowned, and He is even venerated – but it is all done with leering, laughing eyes and hateful hearts, and mixed in with the proceedings is physical and mental torture of almost unspeakable proportions.
After handing Barabbas over to the people as they have demanded, Pilate now hands Jesus over to be crucified. The first thing that happens in this process is that Jesus is scourged by the Roman soldiers. We’re all familiar with the concept of 40 lashes minus one, which is what Jewish law prescribed. The whip, made of strips of leather with bone and lead embedded in the ends, was a terrible instrument of torture. What people are not as familiar with is that under Roman law, there was no prescribed limit to the number of lashes a person could receive, and in truth, the beatings were so horrific that oftentimes people died from them before the soldiers could commence with the crucifixion. This is what Jesus endures here.
Following His scourging, we see next that Jesus is led away to the governor’s headquarters, or the Praetorium, where all of the Roman soldiers in the area are quartered. There, they have their fun with our Lord. A purple robe, probably an old, worn out military cloak, is put on Jesus’ bloody body. Purple is the color of royalty, and they snicker at their prisoner over His claim of kingship. Next, they fashion a crown of thorns and force it down onto His head. Judging His outfit complete, they begin to call out to Him, “Hail, King of the Jews!” This is an irreverent, mocking knockoff of the Roman salutation “Hail, Caesar!”
At this point, the soldiers begin to beat Jesus. Striking Him in the head with a wooden staff, spitting on Him, and falling to their knees in a disrespectful show of false homage, the whole company of Roman troops enjoys a grand afternoon of vulgar entertainment at the expense of the one who is going to the cross on their own behalf. It’s brutal behavior, but it’s also typical behavior for Roman soldiers preparing to crucify someone. The cruelty and mockery, the sickening sport, is all in a day’s work. They truly have no idea of the significance of their actions.
When they get tired of their taunting, like a cat tires of playing with a mouse, it’s time to go in for the kill. Ripping the robe off Jesus’ body, which reopens the wounds from His scourging and causes Him to begin losing more blood, they now put His own clothes back on Him and lead Him out to be crucified.
Many of you know that in accordance with custom for those condemned to die in this manner, Jesus at this juncture is forced to carry the beam of His cross to the place of His crucifixion. But due to the severity of His beatings, His loss of blood, His probable lack of sleep, and His body’s state of shock, He’s simply too weak to go the distance. Instead, our Bible tells us that Simon of Cyrene (which is a city in North Africa) is pressed into service to finish the task. Simon is probably in Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover, and like any other person in the city, he is subject to the command of any Roman soldier. Given this order to carry the Lord’s cross, he has no choice but to obey.
Finally, arriving at Golgotha, the place called The Skull, they make things ready for the act of crucifixion. We don’t really know why this spot is named Golgotha. It may be because of the geological shape or feature of the area, or it may be because this is the traditional place for carrying out death sentences. Either way, it’s an appropriate name. In preparation for what is to come, the soldiers, in an uncharacteristic, too-little-too-late display of mercy, offer Jesus wine mixed with myrrh, which is essentially a pain killer that helps to deaden the nerves. Fiercely determined to pay the price for your sin and my sin with His faculties fully engaged, however, Jesus refuses the drink. He is now ready for the final chapter.
As we wrap things up for the day, we might take a moment to remember that though Jesus was mocked for claiming to be royalty, and though He was crowned in a spurious, unholy manner by the soldiers who had taken charge of Him, in reality Jesus is the very definition of royalty. That’s why Scripture calls Him the King of kings. All are subject to Him. All will bow before Him. And though He is certainly royalty because of who He is and where He comes from and is to be worshipped and magnified because of it, Jesus is also the rarest of royalty who is to be honored not simply for who He is, but also for what He has done. Forgiveness has been won. Death is a defeated foe. And your eternal dwelling place in the presence of Almighty God has been made secure…all because Jesus did what He came to do. Think about that as you go through your day, and may your joy in Him be full as a result. A most blessed Good Friday to you and yours, everyone — and may your upcoming celebration of the Resurrection be one that truly knows no bounds. Take care, and I’ll see you soon.