Images of the Savior (47 â€“ His Trials and Scourging)
From the days of righteous Abel, unto whose blood sacrifice the Lord had respect, how many millions of sacrificial lambs had been led to the foot of the altar and there slain? And of them all, how many had lifted up their voice in protest, demanding that they who had done the crimes should receive their own just reward? In the same way it was fitting that our true and final sacrificial Lamb, whose blood really did take away sin, should be like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, not opening his mouth before his accusers (Isaiah 53:7). Oh, let us tremble in wonder as we see the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, meek and silent before his oppressors, led away without protest to the bitter scourge and the cruel tree! For it was because of our iniquities, which the Lord had laid upon him, that he was so fiercely reproached and beaten and slain; and the stripes which bloodied his back flowed forth red in healing and peace for us all (Isaiah 53:5-6). Oh, how can our hearts not melt in everlasting worship as we see our Savior condemned against justice so that we who ought to have been condemned might be acquitted indeed? To this account we now turn; and every step we take, from here to the cross, we are treading upon holy ground, and entering into the mysteries of the Godhead; let us do so in fear and with trembling joy!
We must notice immediately that this man Jesus was a righteous man, and was not condemned for any wrong that he had done; and it was necessary that this should be the case, for if he were to be qualified to take our punishment, it is at once manifest that he should deserve no punishment of his own. If Jesus had anything of which to be accused, then he had only his own sin to bear, and could not at all have borne ours. Therefore, in order that we might have a firm testimony that this chastisement truly was for our peace and forgiveness, the Father made it beyond cavil, both by his own words, â€œThis is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleasedâ€ (Matthew 3:17); and also, by the verdict of every court in the land, that Jesus was going to his cross as a righteous man. Consider: Pilate, the Roman governor, declared him innocent, and went to great lengths to have him released, and when the envy of the Jews and the fear of public disturbance prevailed upon him to deliver him up, he washed his hands of the deed, testifying once again before all that Jesus was righteous (John 18:28-19:16; Matthew 27:24). Moreover, King Herod, although a wicked and vile man, found no wrong in Jesus, and sent him back to Pilate with his opinion that he should be released (Luke 23:6-16). And furthermore, even Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him, cast his silver at the feet of the Jews, confessing before them that he had betrayed innocent blood (Matthew 27:3-5). In all these ways we see that Jesus was righteous, and was delivered up for no wrong that he had done.
Why then was he finally condemned? As Pilate noted (Matthew 27:18), it was because of the envy of the Jewish leaders, who hated him, in the spirit of Cain (I John 3:12), for no other reason than that he was righteous and they were not. And to such depths of perversity were these religious leaders driven, that they were willing to violate their own law in countless ways, conducting trials against all justice, suborning perjurers who could not even agree among themselves, and finally accusing him on the basis of a statement most manifestly wrested from its context and imbued with an altogether alien meaning (Matthew 26:57-68). Let us note: Jesus the just was condemned because of the injustice of his accusers; and is that not the gospel in a figure? Was not the Just One condemned for our injustice? Is that not the sole reason he submitted to the cross â€“ that we were unjust, and he, who is just indeed, was willing to perish for our own injustice? Oh, let us bow down and praise!
Let us observe now how Jesus responds to these wicked cavils: for his answers to their questions are simple and true, and leave them no cause to condemn him; and to their false accusations he answers not a word, submitting to their charges in silence, as a lamb before its shearers (Matthew 26:62-64; John 19:9-11). He is led to the cross not by constraint, and not by the authority or trickery of his accusers, but willingly, offering himself up in all meekness as our substitute. The wild raging of the enemy but accomplishes his own predetermined will, as through their malice he works his eternal plan to purchase back to God a multitude redeemed by his own precious blood.
And so to the slaughter as an innocent lamb he goes: but let us observe what a bloody slaughter it is! See what shame and mockery are heaped upon him, as cruel men spit upon his face, blindfold and buffet him, crown him with cruel thorns, and deride and abuse him in callous sadistry (Matthew 26:67-68; 27:27-31)? And see what fearsome wounds are laid upon him, as spreading him out naked before the jeering crowd the Roman soldiers lay stripe after bloody stripe upon his innocent body, the very stripes which we deserve from the hand of the Almighty (John 19:1)? Let us be sure that this was no normal trial, and no normal scourging. The age-old hatred of the serpent was energizing the hands of the soldiers, he was whispering his hate-filled deceptions in their ears, stirring them up to such a show of cruelty and derision as the world had never before seen; for this was his arch-enemy, the seed of the woman whom it had been prophesied should crush his own head. Behind the bloody events of this night is the raging of the venomous serpent, who was stirred up into such a state of hatred as would never again be displayed in the history of the world. This was his hour, and his bitter opposition was heaped up from all the ages before and after, and spewed out in immense and terrible fury on this very night.
But let us not suppose that the devil is ultimately the source of this cruel abuse. Satan himself is constrained by the will of God, and his wickedness is always used at God's good pleasure, to accomplish his own perfect ends. Whose wrath lay upon our Savior that night? Oh, the mystery of the ages and the wonder of the gospel â€“ it was the wrath of the Father himself! God put his Son to a cruel death, the Lord Almighty was pleased to crush him who had known no sin, who had done no wrong, who had ever been pleasing to the Most High, who had won his eternal delight (Isaiah 53:10). How could this be? O sinner, God was pleased to crush the Savior so that he might embrace us who deserved to be crushed! He dealt him a cruel death so that we might be given eternal life. He traded the wrath we had treasured up in immense store for the reward of glory that our spotless Savior had earned, and giving us heaven and every spiritual blessing, he gave the Son wrath and punishment. Has such love ever been known? It may be plummeted for all eternity, and still its height and length and depth and width will never be sounded out. Oh, what a God! Oh, what a Savior!
Finally, let us notice some of the ways in which the Father displayed the true nature of this cruel judgment: First, we remember that unwitting prophecy of the high priest, â€œYou know nothing, nor do you consider that it is profitable for you that one man should die, so that the whole nation might not perishâ€ (see John 11:49-53); what words of wisdom God then wrested from the unbelieving lips of the infidel! Second, we take note of the significant circumstance that Jesus was condemned to be crucified so that Barabbas, a notable murderer and a thief, might be released (Matthew 27:15-26). In the same way, we famous and hardened sinners are sent away free because Jesus went to the cross in our stead. Third, we remember Pilate's cutting words of mockery to the Jewish people, â€œShall I crucify your king?â€ (John 19:15), which were another unwitting prophecy of truth. Fourth, we notice how the Roman soldiers placed upon him a crimson robe, crowned him with thorns, and mockingly worshiped him; but in this, were they not unknowingly testifying to the truth that Jesus indeed won his eternal kingship and everlasting worship by his very bloody death (Matthew 27:27-31)? The thorns from which the blood gushed down became a crown indeed, and the Lamb who was slain won upon the cross an everlasting victory, and the worship of the nations. Finally, we read that accusation above his head on the cross, which Pilate stubbornly refused to change, â€œJesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jewsâ€ (John 19:19-22). This is properly the legal reason for which he died; and so we see that, in a divine parable, the very leaders who put Jesus to death did so in order that he might be King of the Jews, that is, the Lord of all his people; and also, that his kingship might be proclaimed among all the peoples, just as it was written that day in the most important languages of the world.
We have come now to the foot of the cross; very soon we will see the Son of Man lifted up on the tree, made a curse and a likeness of sin, as the serpent in the wilderness; but here is the paradox: the Son of Man was hereby not only lifted up in death, but lifted up in glory, and exalted above the universe (John 3:14-15; 12:27-36). Through death he slew death and him that has the power of death, and delivered his captives so that they might live forevermore (Hebrews 2:14-15). Oh let us worship this King of glory, smitten with the chastisement that brought us peace and life indeed! This is the wonder of the ages, the reason for history, the greatest self-revelation of the all-glorious God, the final and consummative victory. This is our King.