The Shame of the Cross (Mt. 27:26-44)
One of the most embarrassing moments of my childhood was when I went clothes shopping with my mom and older brother. I didn’t care much for shopping or picking out my own clothes. I pretty much was just there to try things on that my mom picked out for me. My brother, on the other hand, enjoyed taking his time. He wanted to look at every item in his size and try them all on. After much long-suffering, my Mom quieted my exasperation by handing me some candy. She told me to give some to my brother as well.
So I went to his dressing room which had an opening underneath the door. I noticed he was in the middle of changing. His pants were crumpled in a pile next to his shoes. Rather than patiently waiting for him to finish, I stuck my hand under the door and began offering him the candy.
“Matt! Here. Mom gave us some candy! Take it!” Shockingly, he didn’t immediately take it. I was mortified when a voice, not my brother’s, responded, “I’m not Matt.” I immediately ran off to find a circle of shirts to crawl between.
As embarrassing as that moment was, I never felt any shame about it. The difference between embarrassment and shame is the moral component.
I was embarrassed to the point that I wanted to hide, but there was nothing inherently wrong with what I did. I had no malicious intent. I had simply mistaken another man’s feet for my brother’s. I might have apologized for the mistake, but it wasn’t going to keep me up at night with a sense of guilt.
Shame, on the other hand, is how we respond when we know that we have done something morally wrong. It is the natural response of a human who has sinned—transgressed the law of God.
Since we have been created in the image of God (Gen. 1:27), and we have the law of God written on our hearts (Rom. 2:15), we experience shame whenever we sin. As long as we continue to sin, we will continue to experience shame.
Unfortunately, the world minimizes or excuses sinful action in order to reduce our experience of shame. In fact, the word “shame” likely comes from the verb “to cover”. The biblical word we use for that is “to atone”. In order to psychologically deal with our guilty conscience, we try to cover it with shame. The greater the intensity of our shame, the more we think our guilt is covered. But shame never truly covers our sin. And minimizing or excusing our sin never works for long.
Although we will always experience shame in this present life, there is a way to have the condemnation of that shame removed so that we might enjoy a shame-free eternity! That is what this passage is ultimately all about.
Pray and read Matthew 27:26-44.
I. Mocked By Romans (26-37)
Matthew’s older readers could’ve been in the crowd when Jesus was crucified. Imagine reflecting back upon that fateful day and remembering your own participation in the chanting. Remember the escalation of excitement as Pilate concedes to the demands to crucify Jesus. Recall Barabbas, the murderer, walking out of prison free. Finally, remember as Jesus was scourged in front of everyone. What were they thinking now that they understood who Jesus was? Maybe they felt the shame of taking part in crucifying the Son of God.
The physical pain that Jesus experienced began in earnest at his scourging (26). A soldier held a whip with multiple knotted strands (AKA: cat of nine tails) upon which broken pieces of bone and shards of metal were often tied. The purpose was to shred open the skin on a person’s back. The soldier would whip the convicted criminal 39x because it was thought that 40x would kill him. In fact, many died from scourging.
Immediately following his scourging, Jesus was ushered into the governor’s headquarters surrounded by hundreds of soldiers who have nothing better to do, than make sport of another criminal (27). They stripped Jesus and dressed him up as a faux king with a scarlet robe, a crown of thorns, and a reed for a staff (28-29). While some called out “Hail, King of the Jews” others spit upon him and struck him with the reed (30). When they were finished they stripped him again and sent him on to his crucifixion (31).
Normally, those condemned to crucifixion were made to carry their own crossbeam. But apparently, Jesus was too exhausted to carry it, so they conscripted Simon to carry it for him (32). Upon arriving at the scene of the crucifixion (33) the upright beam would already be in place.
Nails in the wrists and feet were used to increase the cruelty. As breathing became labored the victim would have to lift his body up, placing more of his weight upon his feet, in order to raise his chest and take a breath. Sometimes the cross was fitted with footrests and seats, not for relief, but in order to prolong the agony. It was often slow, lasting days before the victim suffocated.
Jesus was then offered wine “mixed with gall” (34). Some have suggested that this was a painkiller, but why would these brutal soldiers show compassion now? More likely the mixture fulfills Psalm 69:21, which refers to “poison” as food and “sour wine” for a drink. That would imply that the concoction was used to increase Christ’s humiliation rather than provide relief.
The final aspects of mockery at the hand of the Romans are when they crucified him, gambled to divide his garments—leaving him naked (35), and nailed the sign above his head that read, “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews” (37). But all of this visible shame was not the end of his humiliation.
Jesus was also verbally…
II. Mocked By Jews (38-44)
The robbers who were crucified with him were probably insurrectionists associated with Barabbas (Mk 15:7). Either way, they were likely violent criminals which would have explained their being crucified.
Jews who passed by wagged their heads and added their own mockery (39-40). The chief priests, scribes, and elders were unified in their rejection and mockery of Jesus (41-43). Although both robbers mocked Jesus initially (44), one eventually repented (Lk. 23:40-43).
In all of this visible and verbal mockery of Jesus, the truth of their words is apparent to believers. The whole scene is ironic, as the King of kings is mocked by Jews and Gentiles. Matthew is hammering home the point that Jesus was despised and rejected by the world he came to save.
Morris Their outlook was wrong. They said they would have believed He was the Son of God had He come down from the cross. We believe He was the Son of God because He stayed up.
Mounce It was the power of love, not nails, that kept him there.
In Acts, Peter accused the Jews of crucifying Christ, and yet he also acknowledged that it happened “according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:23).
- Isaiah prophesied that Jesus would be scourged and mocked (Isa. 50:6) and crucified among transgressors (Isa. 53:12).
- The psalmists mention the offer of sour wine (Ps. 69:21), gambling for his clothing (Ps. 22:18), and his mockery from Jews (Ps. 22:7-8; 109:25).
Jesus himself had already warned his disciples that this would happen (Mt 20:17-19; Mk 9:31; 10:33). That is why he was passive through it all. He allowed them to lead him from one group to the next, from one mistreatment to another. And we know He allowed them to do this because He had already confirmed in the garden of Gethsemane that He would drink every last bit of the cup of God’s wrath.
All of this means we cannot simply shame those who were present on the day of his crucifixion. The blame for Christ’s death cannot simply fall upon those who participated in the visible and verbal mockery on that day.
The point of this for every reader is to show that Jesus was ultimately…
III. Mocked By Sin
Last week we sang “It was my sin that held him there until it was accomplished” (Townend). Do you believe that? Jeremiah Burroughs writes:
You wrong Christ in the work of redemption. Because the least sin you commit (if ever it is pardoned) is that which stabbed Jesus Christ to the very heart. I say, your sin was that which pierced Christ and brought forth blood and water from Him. It was that which whipped Christ; it was that which put Christ to death, which shed the blood of Christ, which crucified Christ.
Why did Jesus have to die? Because the same sin that brings shame into our lives, also brought separation between us and God. God is a just judge who must punish sin. Only the perfect sacrifice of a sinless Savior could have satisfied divine justice. The sacrificial death of our Lord provided an eternal covering/atonement for the sins of all who place their faith in Him.
Sinful men tried Jesus. Sinful men scourged Jesus. Sinful men beat Jesus. Sinful men mocked Jesus. And sinful men crucified Jesus. But the reality is that their sins were no more worthy of damnation than any of our sins.
Still, for the joy that was set before him, Jesus Christ endured the cross, despising the shame (Heb. 12:2). He did this so that sinners might be reconciled to a holy God. There will not be any shame for those who place their faith in Christ (Rom. 10:11). And that is because Christ took their shame upon himself. At the cross, the condemnation of our shame was fully defeated.
When you see your sin, confess it, and believe in Christ and his substitutionary death on the cross for you, the same joy that was set before Him is promised to you! If God turned the shame of the cross for his glory, He can certainly turn your shame into everlasting joy.