“Save yourself, and come down from the cross!”
A meditation on Good Friday
Psalm 109:22-29 (text); Mark 15:25-32
March 25 2016 * Download this meditation (PDF)
The Gospel accounts of the events on Good Friday tell of all the mocking and reviling that our Lord Jesus Christ suffered from the time he was taken to the high priest Caiaphas all the way to his death on the cross.
Our text in Mark 15:25-32 tells us of the reviling that was hurled against him by the Jews and the Roman soldiers. The Romans placed an inscription on the cross that read, “The King of the Jews.” Obviously, all his enemies did not believe that he really was the king of the Jews, but was mocking him. And he never claimed that he came to be their king. When Pilate asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”, Jesus answered, “You have said so.” He was not claiming to be the king, but he was deflecting the responsibility of answering the question back to Pilate. In fact, he said to Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36).
After Pilate delivered Jesus to the Roman soldiers, they clothed him an old cloak of purple, the royal color. Then they crowned the “king of the Jews” with a crown of thorns on his head. “Hail, king of the Jews!” they mocked. But then they spat on his face and knelt down in homage to him. How our innocent, meek, pure Son of God, the King of the Universe, was reviled! Throughout all of these, he was silent and meek, fulfilling Isaiah 53:7, “He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth.”
“He was numbered with the transgressors”
The reviling is also seen in placing him between two robbers, evil men. Even the two robbers also mocked him, although later, one of them would believe in Jesus as his only Savior. As Isaiah says, “He was numbered with the transgressors” (Isa 53:11). He was judged and counted by the Jews as a sinner. So the Apostle Paul says, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor 5:21). Though sinless, God counted all the sins of all his people on him, so we may become righteous in his sight.
“they wag their heads”
All the onlookers also mocked him, shaking their heads, saying, “Aha! You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself, and come down from the cross!” They remember Jesus telling them about the temple, not understanding that he was referring exactly to the events of that Good Friday through Sunday. The temple is his body, destroyed by his enemies, but on the third day, would rise gloriously from the grave. His enemies did not know that they were fulfilling Christ’s words in Psalm 109:25, “I am an object of scorn to my accusers; when they see me, they wag their heads”; and Psalm 22:7, “All who see me mock me; they make mouths at me; they wag their heads.”
“the king of the Jews”
Jesus’ enemies were unknowingly fulfilling Jesus’ mission. He is the heir to the throne of Israel because he is the rightful descendant of King David. Even at his birth, he was already called by the three wise men as one “who has been born king of the Jews.”
But Jesus was saying the truth when he said that he has a kingdom: not an earthly kingdom, but the Kingdom of God, the Kingdom of Christ, the Kingdom of Heaven. He is the King of kings and Lord of lords. After he ascended into heaven, Jesus sat on his throne at the right hand of his Father. When he returns from heaven, he would be riding on a white horse of a Conquering Warrior-King. On his head is a crown of many crowns, and his robe is purple dipped in the blood of his enemies. On his robe and his thigh is a name written, “King of kings and Lord of lords!” This time, the title is not a mockery, but the title of His Eternal Majesty.
And this time, no enemy will mock him, because he will strike down the nations with a sharp sword. He will rule them with a rod of iron. And “he will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty” against his mocking enemies, the winepress of hell.
“he cannot save himself”
When his enemies mocked him, “save yourself, and come down from the cross!”, they were also acting out Satan when he tempted Jesus in the wilderness: “Because you are the Son of God, turn these stones into bread. Fall from this cliff, and call on the angels to save you.” The Jews, like Satan, said to one another, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross that we may see and believe.”
Again unknowingly, this mockery was actually reality. Jesus is the only Savior of sinners from sin and death. By his sufferings, torture, and death on the cross, he has saved everyone whom his Father has given him. When he came down from heaven 2,000 years ago, his mission was not to save himself from suffering and death. Rather, his mission was to save you and me and all who would believe, from God’s eternal wrath in hell.
“Save me according to your steadfast love!”
Our text in Psalm 109 is David’s plea to God for help in the midst of wicked enemies who want to destroy him. He says he is “poor and needy” and his “heart is stricken.” He pleads, “Save me according to your steadfast love!” But David is also confident of God’s mercy and sovereignty, “Let them know that this is your hand; you, O Lord, have done it!” God is in control of his sufferings. But he will also save him, as he has saved all his own chosen people.
Dear friends in Christ, as our Lord suffered under the evil hands of men, we also suffer the same way. Without God’s grace and mercy, we too would be like the Jews and Romans, and many people today, who mock our Lord. Without God’s love, we too would also be unconcerned if Jesus was crucified. We would not care whether or not he was the king of the Jews, or the Savior of the world.
When people mock you for believing in Jesus, he encourages you, “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven” (Matt 5:11-12); and, “If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:20). Paul says, “For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too” (2 Cor 1:5). So Peter also says, “If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you” (1 Pet 4:14).
May we endure and be steadfast in the midst of reviling from mockers of our Lord and of our faith in him. May we have confidence that he will save us to the utmost. May we also pray for the salvation of mockers, for who knows if they also are sinners for which our Lord Jesus Christ was mocked, tortured and killed on that first Good Friday.