They Watched Him There

Matthew 27:27-56

For some people, Good Friday and Easter have simply become words that describe two “Christian” holidays that may bring family members together, or perhaps an extra holiday for workers and students and, of course, special activities in churches. Naturally, this is for those who do not know and understand the real meaning of Good Friday and Easter.

However, to the true believer, Good Friday is a reminder of the cruel death of Jesus Christ and Easter or, more accurately, Resurrection Sunday is a reminder of His resurrection.

Before we get to the cross, let us take a quick look at the preceding events:

•  The Passover, the Lord’s table, the betrayal

•  The mock trial

•  Pilate handing Jesus over to be crucified

•  Jesus’ crucifixion

In verse 36, we read, “And sitting down, they kept watch over Him there.” Let’s observe these soldiers who were near the cross.

They watched complacently in the hour of the crucifixion. These soldiers had witnessed many crucifixions before. King Darius crucified 200 when conquering Babylon. Alexander crucified 2,000 when conquering Tyre.

It was common for Romans to crucify as a means of capital punishment. To the soldiers, it was simply another execution. This may be why the cross means so little to many people today.

They flogged Jesus. Roman floggings were so brutal that sometimes the victim died even before being crucified.

They struck Jesus again and again on the head with a cane.

They spit on Jesus and mocked him. The soldiers did not believe Jesus and rejected His deity. They did not accept His miracles. To them, Jesus was just another man.

But who was this man dying on the cross? He was the One of whom the prophets had spoken (Isaiah 50:6, 53). He was the One miraculously born (Isaiah 7:14; Luke 2:1-14). He was the One who could open blind eyes and even raise people from the dead. If they could only see who was dying there – I mean who He really was – they would never have been the same again.

They watched calmly in the hour of the world’s greatest crisis! Just stop and think for a moment: If Jesus was who He claimed to be (and we know He was and is), then this was the hour of the ages, and these people were not moved at all. Only when the darkness came and the earth shook, were they finally shaken. One soldier exclaimed: “Surely He was the Son of God!” (vs. 54)

These people were just observers as the scene unfolded before them. I am sure they discovered many things, but let me mention a few of them:

•  They saw the priests who mocked and insulted Jesus.

•  They saw two thieves crucified with Him, one on His right and one on His left.

•  They saw the disciples who stood afar off, in tears.

•  They saw the small group of faithful followers near the cross.

But could they really see who this simple-looking man on the cross was? If only they could see the forces of heaven and earth standing still, ready for His command to act! Jesus could have called ten thousand angels to help Him. The earth stood still, wondering whether it was the hour of its destruction or deliverance. And yet, although it was an hour of crisis, many were unmoved.

They watched carelessly in the hour of God’s greatest example of love. They had gambled for His garments by casting lots. Even today, people go to Jesus only for what they can get out of Him.

They heard Jesus’ last words from the cross:

•  Father, forgive them… (Luke 23:34)

•  Today you will be with me in Paradise (Luke 23:43)

•  Dear woman, here is your son… (John 19:30)

•  My God, My God, why have You forsaken me? (Matthew 27:46)

•  I am thirsty… (John 19:28)

•  It is finished… (John 19:30)

•  Father, into Your hands I commit my Spirit… (Luke 23:46)

Just a week earlier, the people in Jerusalem had been proclaiming that Jesus was their king, but now He was dead on a cross. They saw it all, but they did not respond. They only carelessly watched.

I don’t think it is a coincidence that there were two thieves next to Jesus. They represent the human race: Those who reject Him are lost. Those who receive Him are saved.

Have you responded to God’s love? Have you responded to His invitation? What does the death of Christ mean to you? How does His death affect your life?

Pastor Joseph Hovsepian