They have been trained to torture, they have been trained to kill, and they express the wickedness of the human heart in a definitive portrait of wickedness that is ignorant.
They really reflect their father the devil who is a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour. They find their great joy in increasing the pain that Jesus Christ endures. Welcome to Grace to You with John MacArthur, Chancellor of the Masters University and Seminary, and on today's broadcast, John looks at, well, the turning point of all human history as he begins a study on how Christ humbly endured the horrors of the cross. It's titled The Murder of Jesus.
Today begins the first of two studies that will cover every aspect of the first Easter, from the unjust trial of Jesus to the joy of his resurrection. And with that said, John, talk about how believers should respond to this holiday. Should there be rejoicing because of the resurrection or sobering reflection as we think about the agony Christ endured? Well, I think the answer to that is yes. Yes, yes. Should there be rejoicing because of the resurrection?
Absolutely. Jesus said, because I live, you shall live also. Jesus said, whoever believes in me shall live, even if he dies. Because he rose again, we literally have the promise of eternal life. There's a sense in which spiritually we died in him and we rise in his resurrection to newness of life.
Absolutely a time of joy. But of course, again, it's Good Friday that we have to celebrate as well, and we have to think deeply about the sobering realities of the agonies of Christ. Not so much the physical pain, not so much that, but the whole suffering, the whole enduring suffering that went on leading up to that, that caused him to literally burst the capillaries in his body so that blood came out through his sweat glands in the garden.
The agony of, my God, my God, why have you forsaken me? And all that he endured on our behalf as he took the full wrath of God upon himself or all who would ever believe. I want to let you know about two studies that I think will be really wonderful for us as we approach Easter. The first is on the murder of Jesus. We're going to trace the painful path that Jesus followed and see that his death was not a random event or an event planned by men, but a sovereign work of God.
And then we're going to turn to the joy side. The empty tomb will be our theme as we look at Luke's riveting account of what happened on Resurrection Sunday. Don't allow Easter to come and go without making sure you understand the significance of the murder of Jesus and the empty tomb, and we'll help you with both.
Yes, we will. And friend, even more important than acknowledging the physical brutality that Jesus endured is understanding that there was infinitely more to his agony on that Friday 2,000 years ago, and you'll see that as John's study unfolds. So to begin his look at the murder of Jesus, here's John MacArthur.
We turn in our Bibles to the 27th chapter of Matthew. We come to a section from verse 27 through 44 as we examine the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus Christ. The crucifixion of Christ, we know, is the climax of redemptive history.
We know that. It is the focal point of God's purpose for salvation. Everything culminates in the cross where the Lord bears the sins of the world and therefore provides salvation to all who believe. And in a sense, the cross then is the climax of the plan of God, and it demonstrates the grace and the mercy and the goodness and the kindness and the love of God like no other event in history ever can. The single greatest manifestation of God's love and grace is seen on the cross. And so we could go to a text about the cross and spend an entire focus on God's self-revelation of love and grace in the cross. It seems to me that that is, for the most part, the intention of the gospel of John. As John writes about the cross, it is always from the viewpoint of God.
He shows that it is a fulfillment of prophecy, that it is God's plan on track and God's plan on schedule. And we look at the gospel of John and we read the record of the crucifixion and we are in awe of the wonder of God's glory and grace and love in the death of Jesus Christ. But that is not Matthew's purpose. Matthew approaches the cross from the very opposite viewpoint. Matthew describes the crucifixion not from the standpoint of the goodness of God, but from the standpoint of the wickedness of men. And the focus of Matthew is on how evil men are and how much the death of Jesus Christ demonstrates the wickedness of the human heart. And I would say that as the death of Jesus Christ on the one hand is the single greatest revelation of the love and grace of God, on the other hand it is the single greatest and supreme revelation of the defilement and wickedness of the human heart.
So you have two actually opposite truths monumentally revealed in this one event. And so it is that in Acts chapter 2 when Peter preaches at Pentecost, he says, God has ordained this, but you by wicked hands have brought it to pass. And as we look then at Matthew's gospel, we will see not so much the crucifixion from the side of God's grace and love as we see it from the side of man's defilement and wickedness. It is wickedness unmatched.
And if ever there is a place where the prophecy on the statement of Jeremiah 17, 9 is seen where he said, The heart of man is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked, it is here at this place that is the single greatest proof of the truth of that statement. Now it is not as if wickedness has not appeared in the life of Christ before this, for it has. Wickedness tried to kill Him at birth. It tried to discredit His teaching.
It tried to stop His miracles. Finally wickedness secured His condemnation to death by violating every standard of justice in the Jewish and Gentile world. Now Matthew's intent then is to present to us the wickedness of man in the scene of the cross. And to do that, from verses 27 through 44, we see four groups of the wicked around the cross. The ignorant wicked, the knowing wicked, the fickle wicked, and the religious wicked. The ignorant wicked are illustrated to us by the callous soldiers in verses 27 through 37. Notice verse 27, Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the praetorium and gathered unto Him the whole band.
We'll stop at that point. Pilate is the governor. Pilate has already sinned against justice. He has sinned against conscience. He has sinned against conviction. He has sinned against truth. He has sinned against integrity. He has sinned against character. He has sold His soul for popularity and security.
He is a miserable man. He is cornered by the Jewish population. He is threatened as to the security of His position.
Fearful that another insurrection, uprising, another troublesome time with the Jews there will result in the loss of His job and reputation. He is forced to do things to Jesus He knows justice do not require. Rather than releasing Jesus whom He has pronounced repeatedly as innocent, He desires to try to satisfy the Jews or satiate their thirst for blood by scourging Jesus, mocking Jesus, bringing Him back out, showing Him to the Jews as a helpless man, a pathetic individual who is no threat to Rome or Israel for that matter and hopefully that will satisfy their thirst for blood and they will stop short of forcing Him to execute an innocent man. So as our passage opens, Jesus has already endured the scourging mentioned in verse 26.
He has been tied to a post by His hands, His feet suspended off the ground so that His body is taut. Two men, one on each side, Roman soldiers have wooden handles in their hand to which are attached leather thongs, the end of which are filled with bits of rock and bone and metal filed down to a knife edge and they proceed to lacerate the body of Jesus Christ extensively until blood is oozing out all over His body and His inner parts are made visible. This is the first effort to satisfy the bloodthirsty mob. This is carried on by the soldiers following the scourging and before the crucifixion which is mentioned just in a summary form in verse 26. But following the scourging, the scene then takes place in verse 27. And the soldiers take Jesus to the common hall and gather around the whole band. Spira in the Greek, cohort, which is to say a group of 600 soldiers.
Now we don't know that all 600 were there but all that were there of the band in that place came to attend this particular gathering. The soldiers are Roman legionnaires. They belong to the legions of Caesar. They are not for the most part Italian, although it is mentioned in Acts chapter 10 that Cornelius was of the Italian band.
That would be the abnormal. For the most part Rome conscripted soldiers out of the countries it occupied and frequently in the land of Israel they had brought in soldiers that they had taken from Syria. They used Syrian soldiers who were working for the Roman military power there because the Syrians could speak Aramaic, which was the common conversational language of Israel. And so you have soldiers that aren't necessarily Roman in the sense of coming from Rome or Italy but they are Roman in the sense of reflecting the Roman military power and presence and they have made their allegiance to Rome. They were not Jews because Jews were exempted from any service in the Roman military and would not at all desire to do that.
Furthermore, this particular band or spira or cohort probably was associated with Pilate whose headquarters was at Caesarea on the sea coast about 60 miles to the west from Jerusalem. Because of that they were not really familiar with Jerusalem and all of its theology and all of its issues and didn't understand much about Jesus at all. In fact, we have no reason to believe they understood anything about Jesus. He was just a prisoner to them and a very curious one at that because they didn't often meet prisoners who claimed to be king, not so pathetic as this particular man anyway. And since they had been brought no doubt with Pilate from Caesarea, they were not really in the know as to all of the things that were true about Jesus and that he claimed. So what they did, they did in ignorance. They then represent the ignorant wicked who are seen around the cross.
They see Jesus no doubt as a strange and pathetic figure. By the time he gets to this moment, he is a tragedy to look at. His face has been slapped repeatedly. It has been punched until it is swollen and bruised. It has been spit on until his face is covered with spit.
His body now is lacerated and he bleeds profusely from the shoulders down. They know that he is supposedly a king because the people are screaming about his claim to be that. They know the people want him dead. They see him as a rather pathetic fake and fraud, perhaps mentally deranged and worthy only of their mockery. And when all through this entire encounter with them he never says a single thing, they no doubt question his intelligence and perhaps even his sanity. They play him like a clown as they would with an idiot boy in the street.
They are cold, they are indifferent and they are ignorant. And this mentally deficient faker is nothing more than the butt of their jokes. And so under the tutelage of Pilate, they mock Jesus' claim to be a king because that is part of Pilate's plan. Now the soldiers, I do not believe, did this independent of Pilate. I think they did it under his watchful eye. For when John's gospel tells us that Jesus later was brought out to the crowd after scourging and in this garb of the king with which they dress him, it says that when they brought Jesus out, Pilate came out also.
So Pilate must have been back in the Praetorium aware at least of what was going on and looking on it with some favor and wanting Jesus under the conditions of appearing as a mock king to be brought before the Jews so that they would see how foolish, how stupid, how silly their claim was that this man was a threat either to Rome or Israel. Already bleeding from the scourging which opened up his flesh, blood flowing out all over his body, agony in every nerve, his whole body quivering in tortuous pain, he becomes the object of the soldier's ridicule as they all gather around him and begin their little game. The first thing they did was strip him.
They stripped him. They love to do this. They don't do this reluctantly. They don't like the Jews. In fact, they hate the Jews.
They've had a lot of problems with them. In any way they can mock them, they can enjoy thoroughly. And so there's a certain kind of glee in what they do. And there are, by the way, no Jews in the Praetorium. The Bible tells us they wouldn't come in there lest they would be defiled and thus be unable to celebrate the Passover by entering into a defiling Gentile place.
So here all these soldiers are. They don't have anybody around to whom they're accountable of a Jewish nature. They do just exactly what they want to this individual. They don't really know him. They don't know who he is. He has never been cross purposes with theirs. He has never violated their goals or objectives or motives. He has never demonstrated prejudice against them. They have no idea who he is and yet there is no interest in alleviating his agony.
There is none of the quote unquote milk of human kindness. There is no concern for his suffering. There is no interest in healing his wounds.
There is no sense of justice. They are bent only on the fun of aggravating his agony. They have been trained to torture. They have been trained to kill. They are thirsty for blood, for evil. And they express the wickedness of the human heart in a definitive portrait of wickedness that is ignorant. They really reflect their father, the devil, who is a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour. They find their great joy in increasing the pain that Jesus Christ endures.
They are without kindness and without sympathy. Now when Jesus was scourged, obviously He was naked. And after the scourging was over, they put back on His inner seamless garment, His inner robe, and only can be imagined the pain that that would cause Him, a rough cloth put over open wounds. And that has remained on Him for a time as He has brought back into the Praetorium. And now it's time for their little game, so no doubt heartlessly they rip that robe off over His head, exposing again His wounds. They make Him naked.
Ekduo means to undress. And then it says in verse 27, they put on Him a scarlet robe. Somewhere lying around on the pavement, the Gabbatha, in Pilate's Praetorium is a discarded scarlet robe, a robe that one of the soldiers would wear as an outer garment, a rough cloth, a heavy cloth that would be used to keep Him warm. Matthew says it was a scarlet color. John tells us it was purple.
The difference between scarlet and purple isn't great. And a robe like that in the sun and very old would maybe fade in certain places, maybe overall so that it sort of lost its true color. But on the other hand, it was scarlet at least to Matthew, but it was purple to John and there must be a reason for that.
It may have been just in the perception of the color. It may further have been that in the mind of John, he knew it was intended to represent a purple robe because purple was the color of majesty and they were mocking him as a king. Matthew, to him it's just a scarlet robe, but to John it becomes a purple robe, for that is its intent to be used as that to represent him as some kind of king. And so they place upon him the scarlet robe that is intended to represent the purple robe to mock him as if he were some king. I don't know if you've ever thought about it, but it tells us in Isaiah 1.18 that though your sins be as scarlet, and it seems to me that I can see in the scarlet robe draped over the flesh of Jesus the symbol of the bearing of our scarlet sins.
Can you see that? He bore our sins. He became sin for us who knew no sin, a mock imitation of his royalty. Then in verse 29 it says, when they had braided a crown, a stefanos of thorns, a cantha. We don't know what plant that is. We just know they were thorns and there are many, many possible plants in Palestine at that time and even today that would have great thorns on them. This was intended to be a cheap and painful imitation of the royal wreath that was on every coin with the image of Tiberius Caesar. On every one of his coins where his face was, he had that wreath on and here was their way to mock Jesus to put on him a royal wreath, but it was not a wreath like the one Caesar wore. It was a wreath of thorns.
We have really no idea what kind of bush they used, but we do know it had those thorns. And it says they put it, epithema, around his head and crushed it down, no doubt, wrapping it around his head, the thorns piercing his brow and little streams of blood running down to mingle with the rest of the blood on his body. And, of course, I am reminded of Genesis 3 18 where after the sin of Adam and Eve, God curses the earth and says, Thorns and thistles shall you bring forth. And as much as I see the purple robe symbolic of his bearing sin, I see the crown symbolic of his bearing the curse of the world. For on the cross Jesus not only took away sin, but he removed the curse of the whole earth.
Did he not? And is it not true that Romans 8 says the whole creation waits for the glorious manifestation of the sons of God when it too shall be liberated from the curse? And here is Jesus in symbol bearing the sins of the world as scarlet and the curse of the earth as thorns which he himself in his glorious death and resurrection will reverse. But all of this makes Jesus look ridiculous. He is a joke. He is bloody from head to foot. His face is now unrecognizable.
He is hardly human. His face is distorted by the pain of emotion. It is distorted by spiritual anguish. It is distorted by the feeling of sin bearing and the very bearing of sin.
It is distorted by bruises and swollenness and spittle mixed with blood and the dust and dirt of the day. And he is a scene of ugliness of which the prophet Isaiah says there is no beauty that we should desire him and they're not through. Verse 29 says, They put a reed in his right hand. The right hand was the hand of authority and the reed was the symbol of a scepter. And in those days the kings would hold a scepter often of ivory and gold and this was to be his scepter.
It was made out of a reed, just a common stalk. They put it in his hand to depict his authority. His sovereignty for Tiberius on his coins also was shown with a scepter in his hand and if this was going to be a king, he had to have a scepter. And there he is with a crown of thorns and a robe of scarlet and a scepter of a reed and they carry on their little mockery. They bowed the knee before him. As if he were king they gave him homage and they mocked him saying, Hail King of the Jews.
There was no sincerity in that. It was just mockery, sarcasm, cynicism, ridicule, scorn. You remember in chapter 26 verse 68 the Jews mocked him for being a prophet and here they mock him for claiming to be a king. And so they bow the knee, all this great band of ignorant, wicked Roman soldiers, they bow the knee and as they rise from their knees, verse 30, they spit on him. Down on the knees, Hail King of the Jews, and on the way up they spit in his face the ultimate human indignity to spit on someone. The Jews had done it, chapter 26 verse 67, and now the Romans are doing it as well. The whole world, it seems, has gathered to spit on the Son of God if they only knew who they were spitting on, if they only knew who they were mocking, if they only had known who it was upon whom they placed a crown of thorns and a scarlet robe, if they had any idea. Oh, can you imagine what hell is like today for those people who that day spit on Jesus?
Can you imagine what must be their thoughts as they remember that one day when it all seemed like so much fun in the judgment hall of Pilate? And so they carried on their little game further in verse 30 by taking the reed out of his right hand and the Greek text says, Repeatedly struck him on the head. More blows, slaps already, punches with the fist already, spit, and now hitting him repeatedly in the head with this reed. Why were they doing that?
Not particularly to crush the thorns deeper into his brow, although it certainly had that effect. They did this primarily to show what a joke his authority was. What kind of a king are you? We can rip the very scepter out of your hand and beat on your head with it. Your sovereignty is a laugh. Your kingliness is a joke. Anybody who can spit on a king and hit him in the head with his own scepter and have nothing happen in retaliation is some kind of king.
You're a farce. In John chapter 19 verse 3, John adds in the same scene, They kept punching him. It's an unbelievable scene of human evil. And it isn't that they have anything against him.
They don't even know him. It is the depravity of the human heart given the opportunity to do whatever it wants. It does this. Inconceivable.
It is a brutal amusement. Though he endures it all, he says nothing. He offers no resistance.
He says nothing. He is willing to suffer for sinners, to suffer not only the death on the cross but everything that came along with it. He will fulfill his calling. He endured such contradiction of sinners, it says in Hebrews 12-3. He endured it all and he knew it was going to come.
In chapter 20, do you remember what he said? In chapter 20 he told his disciples in verse 18, we go to Jerusalem, the Son of Man will be betrayed, the chief priests and the scribes, and they'll condemn him to death. And in verse 19, and they'll deliver him to the Gentiles to mock and to scourge and to crucify.
And the third day he'll rise again. He was right on schedule. He'd been to the Jews. Now he was with the Gentiles and they would mock him and then they would crucify him.
He was right on schedule. Silently he endured it all. Humiliation, agony, pain beyond belief. After Jesus is decked out like this king, Pilate then comes out with him before the Jewish crowd. John 19, 5-16 describes the whole scene. And he says, Behold the man.
As if to say, isn't that enough? And they all began to scream, crucify him, crucify him, crucify him. And Pilate doesn't want to do this. So he says, you take him and crucify him and they won't do it.
They want this thing done legally. And they force Pilate and they say to him, if you don't do it, you're no friend of Caesar. As if to say, we'll report you to Caesar again if you do this and you're going to be in trouble with him for not being able to control the people you're put in power over. And then Pilate says, shall I crucify your king? And they say, we have no king but Caesar. And in that one statement we find the culmination of the apostasy of the nation Israel. They had no God. Their king was Caesar. They said it.
It's in their own mouth. The apostasy of the nation Israel. So Pilate was stuck with Jesus. And he determined then that he had no choice but to crucify him. So verse 31 says, after they had mocked him, they took the robe off him. And remember now, Matthew skips over the portion that John covers. Matthew's just summarizing. They took the robe off, took all that off, that robe, that scarlet heavy robe, took the reed out of his hands. We don't know whether they left the crown on or not. The Scripture doesn't say. And they put his own raiment back on him again. And now they led him out of the praetorium to be crucified.
The most terrible way to die. This is Grace to You with John MacArthur. Thanks for being with us. Today's lesson is part of John's current study titled The Murder of Jesus.
Now, while this study fits the Easter season, its impact is not limited to this time of year. To review this material at your own pace or to direct a friend to it, it's available for free download. The audio files and the transcripts at the Grace to You website.
Get in touch today. Our web address, gty.org. And again, if you'd like to listen to all of the messages in John's study called The Murder of Jesus, you can download this study for free at our website, gty.org.
You'll also find a number of Easter-themed series to encourage you, like the Crucifixion Chronicle, Easter Through the Eyes of God, or Exalting the Crucified Christ, and The Empty Tomb, along with numerous stand-alone messages on the crucifixion and the resurrection. Just go to gty.org. And if John's verse-by-verse teaching is encouraging you, equipping you to tell others about Christ, or helping you serve in your church, remember, this broadcast is available in your area because of the faithful support of listeners just like you. To partner with Grace to You, mail your tax-deductible donation to Grace to You, Box 4000, Panorama City, California, 91412. You can also donate online at gty.org, or you can call us toll-free, 855-GRACE. Now for John MacArthur and the entire Grace to You staff, I'm Phil Johnson, inviting you back when John looks at how Christ trusted and honored God on His way to the cross. It's another 30 minutes of unleashing God's truth one verse at a time, on Grace to You.
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