The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is God’s Messiah, the Chosen One.” The soldiers also came up and mocked him. They offered him wine vinegar and said, “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.” There was a written notice above him, which read: this is the king of the Jews.
Luke’s lens now turns to the watching crowd, amongst whom many of the leaders of the people stood sneering. “He saved others; let him save himself if he is God’s Messiah.” Yes, Jesus had delivered many people of disease during his short life. But how could he be God’s Messiah, the one who would deliver the nation, if he was now helplessly nailed to a cross, unable to save himself? The notion of him being Messiah was simply ridiculous.
The mockery was catching. Soon the soldiers were offering him wine vinegar to drink and calling out, “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.” They didn’t know anything about Jesus being Messiah so they simply focussed on the claim that this man was the King of the Jews. Once again the idea was ridiculous. A king who couldn’t save himself wasn’t a real king. To underline the absurdity of it all, they nailed an inscription on the cross: “This is the King of the Jews” – or perhaps better, “The King of the Jews this.”
One day, as Jesus had already taught his disciples, the world will discover that Jesus is indeed the true King. He will return with an outward display of power and glory that the world has not yet witnessed. But we should stay with Luke’s description of the mockery for a moment longer for it serves to underline that on his first coming into our world Jesus had never any intention of setting up an outward, political kingdom in competition with the kingdoms of Herod, Pilate or Caesar. They were mocking him for something he had never claimed to have come to do.
Why then had he come? He had come to die. He had come to lay down his life, at Passover time in Jerusalem, as the true Passover Lamb: God’s provision for the sin of the world.
Any attempt to turn Christianity or the Christian church into an earthly, political kingdom to rival other political kingdoms is completely and tragically misplaced. It reveals a basic misunderstanding of our most urgent need. It is in the end a ludicrous response because it simply doesn’t answer the question of what fundamentally is wrong with the human condition.
Certainly all could do with better governance, improved health and welfare provision, more reliable infrastructure, better education available for all, proper management of the environment, safer communities, economic fairness and stability and much more. And it is important both to work towards these things and to support those who are doing so. But there is a much deeper issue and that is the problem of the human heart in its rebellion against the Creator.
We live in a moral universe. We have rebelled against God. In doing so we have denied his rights as Creator and have also denied the very grounds of our own existence and our own humanity. We have lived a lie, that the universe somehow created us and that it is up to us to define ourselves and create our own meaning. This rebellion had inevitably brought enormous damage upon ourselves and upon our environment because we were never designed to live the way we are living. To walk away from the light is to walk into the dark. In addition, in our moral universe sin incurs guilt. We have brought upon ourselves the righteous wrath of God.
To mock Jesus as the soldiers and the leaders did, and as many still do, for not being able to save either his nation or himself from his enemies is completely misplaced. He did not come to save himself. He came to save us. He did not come to deliver Israel politically, overthrow the Romans and set up his own political empire. He came to lay down his life as a sacrifice for our sin, to deliver us from guilt and the wrath of God. Christ’s death makes forgiveness possible and real.
How can that forgiveness be made real to us? Tomorrow’s reading will provide some answers.