27 Some of the governor’s soldiers took Jesus into their headquarters and called out the entire regiment. 28 They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him. 29 They wove thorn branches into a crown and put it on his head, and they placed a reed stick in his right hand as a scepter. Then they knelt before him in mockery and taunted, “Hail! King of the Jews!” 30 And they spit on him and grabbed the stick and struck him on the head with it. 31 When they were finally tired of mocking him, they took off the robe and put his own clothes on him again. Then they led him away to be crucified.
32 Along the way, they came across a man named Simon, who was from Cyrene, and the soldiers forced him to carry Jesus’ cross. 33 And they went out to a place called Golgotha (which means “Place of the Skull”). 34 The soldiers gave him wine mixed with bitter gall, but when he had tasted it, he refused to drink it.
35 After they had nailed him to the cross, the soldiers gambled for his clothes by throwing dice. 36 Then they sat around and kept guard as he hung there. 37 A sign was fastened above Jesus’ head, announcing the charge against him. It read: “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.” 38 Two revolutionaries were crucified with him, one on his right and one on his left.
39 The people passing by shouted abuse, shaking their heads in mockery. 40 “Look at you now!” they yelled at him. “You said you were going to destroy the Temple and rebuild it in three days. Well then, if you are the Son of God, save yourself and come down from the cross!”
41 The leading priests, the teachers of religious law, and the elders also mocked Jesus. 42 “He saved others,” they scoffed, “but he can’t save himself! So he is the King of Israel, is he? Let him come down from the cross right now, and we will believe in him! 43 He trusted God, so let God rescue him now if he wants him! For he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’” 44 Even the revolutionaries who were crucified with him ridiculed him in the same way.
When we read the story of Jesus’ death it is natural to ask the question, “why did Jesus have to die?” Throughout the history of the church, various answers have been given, most of them having some basis in the letters by Paul and others that make up much of the New Testament. Whether it is part of a cosmic battle between God and Satan, some form of ransom payment for our sin-bound selves, the ultimate moral example, or the requirement of God’s justice, each of these explanations (often called “atonement theories”) has been the ‘soup of the day’ at various times. The trouble is, each of these explanations are built on oblique references that then get over-narrated at the expense of the actual story we have here that tends to get under-narrated.
Even modern attempts like The Passion of the Christ do not properly narrate Jesus’ death as the the Gospels present it. Unlike Mel Gibson, Matthew does not linger on the gory details. Over narrating those only serves to detract from the story Matthew is telling. All four Gospels are remarkably similar at this point. As much as we may want to ask why, they tell us what happened. We find the same in Acts where this narrative is an essential part of the core Gospel that gets repeatedly shared; not why Jesus died, only that he died. If Matthew offers us any explanation, it would be that Jesus died because he insisted the Temple be a house of prayer. John will tell us that he died because God loves the world so much. But for some reason, those never became the basis of popular theories.
You may have noticed that even at the foot of the cross the religious leaders were still asking for a sign. Still looking for something they could believe in on their own terms. We do the same when our explanations become more determinative than the story of what actually happened. We want to focus on the ‘back story,’ as if the ‘real truth’ lay somewhere behind what Matthew tells us. But that is not the case. Explanations are fine so far as they go, but none of them tell the real story. The real story is right above, just scroll back up.
The New Living Translation (NLT)Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale HousePublishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.