Today’s Reading: Matthew 27:1-56
In my reading of the New Testament, I often wonder how it is that Paul can honestly claim that he is the “foremost of all sinners” (1 Timothy 3:15). Sometimes I decide it must be a rhetorical flourish that such a righteous man as Saint Paul could say he is the lowest among men. I think that this narrative and that of Jesus’ trial and crucifixion from today’s reading is a chance to get some perspective on the gravity of sin. Paul’s iniquities and faults alone were enough for Him to have died, and so were mine and yours.
Even Judas had an intense conviction by the Holy Spirit for his betrayal (v. 3). How much more will we be conscious of our guilt when we come face-to-face with our most pure Lord someday? We will see His wounds, His glorified scars and feel so clearly that it was us spitting and jeering at Him as He painfully propped Himself up on the cross so He could keep breathing. It was us who took such sadistic pleasure in weaving a crown of thorns for Him, it was us who mocked Him with a sign hung above Him, and it was us leading the crowd shouting, “Crucify him, crucify him!”.
For what price did God hand over His own Son? As we are busy shouting with the frenzied mob? That gaze from the man on the cross, that rip of the curtain in the temple, and that still small voice give us a clear enough answer; it was us.
In fact, every time we sin, we are betraying the same innocent blood that Judas did, as Peter did shortly after him. Every time we rebel against God’s righteous rule, we are transgressing against an infinitely good, infinitely powerful King–and are thus deserving of infinite judgment. We must remember that each sin of ours is what Jesus sacrificed Himself for, and is what hurt Him most when He was on the cross.
Paul knew what it was like to be a part of that crowd. Not literally, of course, but he had a personal vendetta against all Christ-followers, until Jesus came and changed his heart. Because our sin was the weight on Jesus’ shoulders that day, we were a part of the mob too. Sometimes, however, we, like Pilate, attempt to wash our hands, “I am innocent of this man’s blood; see to it yourselves.” (v. 24) But Pilate! That was you in the crowd crying for Barabbas to be released, that was you casting lots for his clothing. That was you, dear reader, and me as well.
“If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities,
O Lord, who could stand?” (Psalms 103:3)
It should be our plea, as we transition from Lent into Easter, that we might leave the mob, as Paul did, and call along with the Roman soldiers, not even a part of God’s chosen people, the Israelites, “Truly this was the Son of God!” (27:54)
Perhaps, in our lives as part of that shouting crowd, we should shove through our fellow mockers to get a better view, so we can see the anguished, compassionate face of our Savior, and understand what each and every one of our sins does to Him. Maybe then would we be able to take our sin seriously, to appreciate the weight of our offenses. In that moment He could see all the sins, our rebellion against His perfect plan, and not even then did He call it all off, and have His angels strike down all the scornful observers and remove Him from the cross.
I would prefer not to end on such a dismal note. But as we near the low point of Holy Week, the crucifixion, it is vital to grasp just how much God cares about our sin, and so how much He must love us in order to take it upon Himself. But that body, hanging on the cross, that bread and wine that we still eat and drink as a Church, those grave-clothes, lying neatly folded in the tomb, all give us hope. God did not forget us; he did not leave us in our pain. Christ is a manifest sign of that. Thus, if He would not forsake us His servants, His prodigal sons, neither will He leave His beloved Son, the true older brother who did not sulk at the prodigal son’s return, but rather laid down His own life as the lamb for the feast. Jesus did not stay on the cross. But it is only this monumental moment that allows us to see the equally great depths of our depravity and heights of God’s love.
Bryce McDonald ’21 is a freshman in Stoughton Hall.