And they that passed by reviled him, wagging their heads, and saying, Thou that destroyest the temple, and buildest it in three days, save thyself. If thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross.
Likewise also the chief priests mocking him, with the scribes and eiders said,
He saved others; himself he cannot save. If he be the king of Israel, let him now come down from the cross, and we will believe in him.
He trusted in God; let him deliver him now; if he will have him; for he said, I am the Son of God. Matt. 27:39-43
And they reviled Him, they that passed by. The motley crowd, blind followers of the leaders in all likelihood who repeat what they have heard when they say, Thou that destroyest the temple. What He had said
is, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up. Thus He spake at the beginning of His public ministry in the temple that He had cleansed. And the Jews, those whose ire He had aroused by His amazing courage, the leaders of the people, the scribes and the elders, the priests and the Pharisees, had picked up this saying and distorted it and as distorted, repeated it, so that He soon had become known as one who boasted of a power capable of destroying the temple in three days. And they had all along held this statement, as distorted, against Him as indicative of some sinister ambition. Now they have Him affixed to the cross. And the rabble, passing by, revile Him. It is of little concern to them whether what they say to Him is true. Hating Him they are bent on piercing Him through with their words. So they catch hold of any damaging saying of Him in circulation and fling it in His teeth, now that He hangs, apparently helpless, to the cursed tree.
How they, the ones passing by, despise Him! About midway in His career, the day following His feeding the five thousand with a few loaves, He had blasted their false Messianic hopes. Having witnessed the miracle He had performed, they began seeking Him for the bread that perisheth. Facing them, He said to them, Labor not for the meat that perisheth, but for the meat which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of Man shall give unto you.
The chief priests, the scribes and rulers are also there to mock Him. The chief priests! Horrible inconsistency! These priests by the service they performed proclaimed the very Christ they now turn away from as from one accursed. And the scribes are the teachers of a law and a prophecy that turn solely on Him. Thus under the impulse of a fierce spite they crucify the very one they preach. The very truth they deciare they revile; for He whom they mock is the truth. Think this not strange. Consider that the truth in Christ had taken on a voice and had cried out against their hypocrisy, denounced their sham piety, scattered their false hopes, condemned their worldly-mindedness, ordered them, the shadow, to disappear now that He who is the way, the truth and the life had come, counseled them to hide themselves in Him and to seek His heavenly kingdom, would they live. For this they hated Him and thus showed themselves up as having no affinity with the truth which they proclaimed through the service they performed. Being carnal, they understood not the meaning of this service, of the type, the shadows of which He was the body. The construction they placed upon it was of their own devising. The kingdom they proclaimed was of this earth. The God they preached was a being with whom there is respect of persons and they were the persons respected. They had no knowledge of their misery, and thus no need of the blood that cleanses from sin. They judged not themselves but others and refused to realize that in judging another they condemned themselves in that they did the same things. But He who is the truth came. And He judged them. He spared them not. He called them blind guides who strained at a gnat, and swallowed a camel; hypocrites, who cleaned the outside of the cup and of the platter but within were full of extortions and excesses. This was more than they could hear. For they were men destitute of grace. So they plotted against His life. Finally they have Him in their power and affix Him, the Lord of glory, to the cross. And all because He had fearlessly and undauntedly spoken to them the truth.
But do they not realize that of their slaughter of their victim the sacrifice they daily bring in the court of the temple is the depiction; that the very prophets by whose word they sware and whose graves they build called for the very scene they here enact on the brow of this hill? Isaiah had spoken plainly enough: “Surely he hath borne our griefs. . . . But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. . . .” The Psalmist even supplied the details: “For dogs have encompassed me; the assembly of the wicked have enclosed me: they pierce my hands and my feet. . . . They part my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture.” The Holy Ghost had even penned down the very words that the crucifiers were to take upon their lips: “They shake their head, saying, He trusted in the Lord that he would deliver him: let him deliver him, seeing he delighteth in him,” Ps. 22. Are these scribes, who know the Scriptures, without understanding? Does it not occur to them that they fulfill the counsel of God and thus function as His agents? They are blind with a blindness that springs from a fierce malice. So they open their mouth against him, as a ravening and a roaring lion.
Thou that destroyest the temple and buildest it in three days. . . . thou on the cross? A man of such power, a crucified one, incapable of saving himself? Preposterous! Thy present plight is the incontrovertible proof that the power thou ascribed to thyself is not thine, that thou art a pretender with a mind that, as warped by a colossal egoism, imagined vain things about thyself. If not, thou wouldst certainly save thyself. Is it because thy plight is a pleasant one that thou refusest to leave thy cross?
Then, too, thou saith that thou art the Son of God. If so come down from the cross. God’s Son on the cross? So did those that passed by revile Him. So unutterably foolish, so unspeakably absurd do His sayings about Himself appear to them, now that He hangs, apparently helpless from a cross, that words fail them and they pass on wagging their heads.
The priests, the scribes and the elders mock, too. They say, He saved others. This they could not very well deny. The evidences of His wonder-working power were too plentiful. He had made the blind to see, the deaf to hear. He had cured the lame and the halt; cast out devils, raised the dead. What manner of disease was there, that He had not cured? Verily He had saved others. Himself He cannot save. His power was Satan’s. And Satan now leaves Him in the lurch, or is either powerless to help now that the hour of divine vengeance has struck. So they must have reasoned among themselves.
They have still other words wherewith to pierce Him. It occurred to them also that He has said that He was Israel’s king. They did not deny that Israel was to have a king. They knew the promise. Unto them a child would be born and a son given. Upon his shoulders the government was to be. And his name was to be called, Wonderful, Counsellor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the prince of peace. Of His government and peace there would be no end. He, hanging from the cross, Israel’s king? If so, now hath He opportunity to make good His claim. Let Him come down from the cross, and we will believe Him.
One more shaft they have. He trusted in God; let Him deliver Him now, if He will have Him. They do not say that it is vain to trust in God. They are called Jews and rest in the law and make their boast in God, know His will. They mean not to say, ‘the fool trusted in God thinking that He would stand by him in the crisis and thus knew not that he who puts his confidence in God is invariably but to shame.’ Such is not the insinuation of these mockers. To the contrary, one of the articles of their faith is, I believe in God the Father, who without respect of persons judgeth according to every man’s work. They know that the steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord, that though he fail, he shall not be utterly cast down as the Lord upholdeth him with His hand. They confess that the saints are not forsaken by Him, but are preserved forever; that the seed of the wicked is cut off. Upon this conception as upon a floor they now take their stand and again begin stabbing at His heart.
He trusted in God! How well they know it. Trust He had imparted to all His discourses. His person and very being animated perfect confidence in God. Therefore they hated Him all the more. Well did they understand that His implicit and unshaken confidence sprang from His fast and abiding conviction that He worked the works of God always, that thus God took a delight in Him and in all He had done and spoken. To this conviction He had often given expression: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, The Son can do nothing if himself, but what he seeth the Father do: for what things soever He doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise. . . . My Father worketh hitherto, and I work. I can of myself do nothing: as I hear I judge: and my judgment is just because I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent me.” If these His convictions are true, they are doomed. For He has judged them: “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because ye build the tombs of the prophets and garnish the sepulchres of the righteous, and say, If we had been in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets. Fill ye up then the measure of your fathers. Ye serpents, ye generations of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell? ” So He had spoken. Was this reproof of God? There was not a shadow of a doubt in His mind that it was. He believed that all along He had warred the warfare of Jehovah.
Is His conviction genuine? Is God for Him? If so. He must now come to His aid, for He hangs helpless from a cross. Would God forsake the righteous? Would He deny His own Son? It cannot be. How apparent now, such is their reasoning, that they had not misjudged Him and that their appraisal of Him was true and that His appraisal of them was wrong. Thus do they justify themselves and condemn Him.
Apparently His present plight fully justifies their judgment. For greater paradox then the cross there is not.
The Son of God on the cross. He, by whom all things were created, the omnipresent God, who measured the waters in the hollow of His hand, meted out heaven with a span, comprehended the dust of the earth in measure, weighed the mountains in scales and the hills in a balance, he before whom the nations are nothing, He, the incomparable God, who bringeth the princes to nothing—hanging apparently helpless from a cross? How can this be?
He, who saved others, now seemingly unable to save self.
Israel’s king, of whom it has been predicted by the prophet that He will break the heathen with a rod of iron, and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel, apparently the victim of mob force?
He that trusted in God, forsaken by God! How strange, how perplexing, how awful! If ever a man trusted in God, it was Him. Never had He taken thought for His life, what He should eat, or what He should drink. For He trusted that His heavenly Father would care for Him. Fearlessly He had declared the name of His Father unto men; for He believed that not a hair could fall from His head without the will of His heavenly Father. When He was reviled, He reviled not again; when He suffered, He threatened not; but committed His case to Him who judgeth righteously.
His trust in God rooted in the confidence that God was for Him. And this confidence in turn was His because He walked as a child of the light, fought the good fight, confessed the name of His Father before men, made the doing of the will of His Father His meat and drink. And the Father loved Him; for His hands were clean and His heart pure. Thus His confidence that He was the beloved of the Father was not a vain imagination. He was righteous. He thought God’s thoughts, willed God’s will. His delight was in the law of the Lord. His mouth was full of praise. When He spake, words of life flowed from His blessed lips. His feet were always swift to do the bidding of the Father. And He was conscious of His integrity. With the greatest confidence, He invited His enemies to convict Him of sin. They could not. He was sentenced to die because He spake the truth about Himself. If ever a man walked with God, it was He. Surely He had reason to believe that God would help Him.
And yet, He hangs, seemingly helpless, from a cross, forsaken by the Father, encompassed by doss, enclosed by the wicked. Upon His head, they empty they vials of their bitter scorn. They deny His Sonship, mock with His Kingship, deny His power, insist that He is one accursed. What have they not already done to Him? They smote Him. They pounded Him with their fists, spitted in His face, pressed a crown of thorns upon His brow so that the blood trickled down His face. They ploughed upon His back with a scourge and finally laid a cross upon His back to which they now have Him affixed. And still they cannot refrain from reviling Him.
Let God deliver Him now, if He will have Him. But God does not come to deliver. Ha! the Most High will not have Him. He dies on the cross. The leaders of Israel return to their altars. Hell seemingly triumphs.
Do the forces of darkness here gain a victory? Nay, the cross spells the triumph of God. The dreadful paradox at bottom is beautiful harmony. For He hanging from that cross is a righteous man to be sure.
But if this is all that could be said of Him, the cross would call for weeping. For then it merely served as the instrument for drawing out of fallen man all the corruption lurking in his bosom, as the means for showing him up as a creature capable of slaying holiness itself.
But we know that He who died upon the cross was the Son of God in truth, one capable of building the temple in three days, One who saved others, One who trusted in God.
Son is He, in the flesh, who in His flesh was wounded for our transgressions and bruised for our iniquities. Thus did He make His soul an offering for sin and saw His seed. Who could the Lord bruise for our sin but Him? Not a mere righteous man. For the soul that sinneth shall die. An angel, not being of our race, could not have atoned for sin. So God gave His Son, Son of God as God. Say therefore that God Himself, in the human nature He assumed, redeemed us from all our transgressions. This was the work that the Father had given Him to do. Therefore He remained upon the cross until He could declare that it was finished.
Because He is the Son, He has power to build in three days the temple that they as the agents of God destroyed. And that temple is His body.
Being the Son, He during His sojourn among us had saved others indeed. Thus when all was finished, He also saved Himself, swallowed up death unto victory. And He shall divide the spoil with the strong. For trusting in God, He was delivered.
What love! It was of this love and its fruits that the apostle was thinking when he wrote: “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him.”