The Irony of the Crucifixion

The Irony of the Crucifixion
Matthew 27:27-44
“He saved others; He cannot save himself.  He is the King of Israel; Let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe in him.”

The crucifixion of Jesus is a story that most people are familiar with.  From movies to celebrations of Easter, the story has been told and rehearsed even in popular culture.  Many people see the cross as an important symbol of our religious history.  This is evidenced by the number of people who wear the cross as a piece of Jewelry.  Yet, as familiar as we are with the story and the events, we often overlook or minimize the significance of the cross.  Ironically, it is on the lips of the very people that put him on the cross that affirm who Jesus was and why he was on the cross.

First, we have the Roman soldiers.  In preparation for his crucifixion and their mockery, they took off the clothes of a pauper and placed upon him clothing of scarlet and purple (see Mark’s gospel), which were symbols of wealth, power, and royalty.  Furthermore, they put a crown (albeit a crown of thrones) upon his head, bowed before him, and hailed him as the king of the Jews.  These pagan soldiers went out of their way to dress Jesus as a king.  The irony of their actions is that Jesus was a far greater king and possessed greater authority and power than they realized.  Indeed, Jesus was a king, not just a king of Israel, But the king of the whole universe.

Pilate does the second ironic act.  When a person was crucified, it was the common practice to place a placard above their head that specified their crime.  When Pilate ordered his crucifixion, he had the placard read, “This is Jesus the King of the Jews.”  At this, the Jewish leaders protested and demanded that the sign be changed to “He said…” thus disclaiming any affiliation with them.  But Pilate refused to make the change and, in so doing, again gave testimony of the claim of Jesus.  This action, also an act of irony, testified further to who Jesus was.  Jesus was not being crucified for some wrongful act but because he was the king!

But the greatest ironic act comes from the religious leaders themselves.  As Jesus was on the cross, they continued their mockery, stating, “He saved others; He cannot save himself.”  This becomes the greatest irony, for their statement was more accurate than they could ever realize.  First, their statement, “He cannot save himself,” is ironic, for of all the people that ever walked upon this earth, he is the only one who did not need to be saved.  He is the only one who is perfect and thus free from the threat of any judgment.  Furthermore, because he was God, even death could not hold him.  

But even more ironic is their other statements.  In the second statement, they unknowingly pointed to why Jesus went to the cross. They affirmed, “He saved others.”  What they did not realize is that on the cross, Jesus was providing salvation to anyone who would come to him.  The cross, which they thought would end the story of Jesus, became the basis for the life-changing salvation that Jesus would offer the world.  Jesus did not need to save himself, for he came to die to bring salvation to us. The whole reason Jesus when to the cross was to “save others.”  The cross becomes the means of our salvation.

Last, they mocked him with the statement: “Let God rescue him now if He delights in Him.”  This final claim comes from Psalm 22, a messianic Psalm that vividly describes the crucifixion of Christ. In Philippians 2:9-11 we find this is indeed what the Father did, for “God high exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name.”  

On the lips of these mockers came the testimony of the most significant event in history.  Jesus, the King of the universe, came to save us from the judgment of our sins.  He came as the hope for you and me.

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