The Crucified Christ Utterly Rejected and Despised
There they crucified him. (v. 33) The rulers even sneered at him. (v. 35) The soldiers also came up and mocked him. (v. 36)Lucas 23
Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads. (v. 38) In the same way the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked him. (v. 41) In the same way the robbers who were crucified with him heaped insults on him. (v. 44)Matthew 27
But all those who knew him stood at a distance watching these things.Luke 23:49
Try to form a mental picture of this entire scene and history. Recall the course of events with Jesus — no sleep at all during the previous night, after the opposite of rest in the awful experience in Gethsemane. The disciples had forsaken him. Then there followed the dishonest trial and condemnation. Men spit in his face, which must already have been partly covered with the dried blood of Gethsemane; they slapped him, whipped His bare back and pressed down the thorny crown upon His head. He was mocked by the soldiers. Then at Calvary they pounded their big crude nails through His hands and feet. (Compare that with the prick of a hypodermic needle which even frightens some people.)
The worst of the experience we can't see, the spiritual suffering of the soul of the Son of God. If we could see it, or even imagine it, our words would be inadequate to begin to describe it. Jesus was indeed "the Man of Sorrows," "acquainted with grief" and "rejected of men." Isaiah (ch. 53) says further that "there was no beauty that we should desire him" when we see him, which might suggest that at this stage people didn't even recognize Him.
The Scriptures cited above describe the reactions of the people. We notice at least four groups of them.
Some wagged their heads, meaning that they were convinced that He was not the Messiah, but an imposter, a fraud. Others threw back at Him His own words regarding the building of the temple, not understanding the Lord at all and distorting everything that He had said. When people twist your words, that hurts. He had claimed that He trusted in God. They argued that He really did not, because if He did, God would help and deliver Him. He had claimed that He was the Son of God. That too, they argued, was plainly a lie, because if He were the Son He would come down from the cross. Ridicule and hatred were heaped upon Him. What king was this, hanging on a cross? What kind of Savior was He, claiming to be the Messiah and unable even to deliver Himself?
Did no one "take sides" with Him? All we see is some acquaintances who stood afar off, watching what was happening. They loved Him enough to want to see what happened, but were too ashamed and afraid to come near Him.
Consider what men, mere human beings, were doing to God, the Creator of the world, come in the flesh. Mankind didn't want Him. "He came unto his own, but his own received him not," said John.
Would people of our twentieth century have reacted differently if He had come in this way into the world of our time? Considering the number of people who celebrate Christmas, we might expect Him to receive a royal welcome. But would He have been welcomed? The Scriptures teach us that He would not. Man by nature hates God. Jesus had said that the world had hated Him and that it would also hate His people. God, in His love, had come into the world to save sinners. He had come to man, doomed because of his own sin, to be to him "the Way, the Truth and the Life." But man, characteristically, as we read in this story, rejected — and rejects Him.
After such inexcusable conduct on the part of men, we might expect either of two things to happen: Either the day of judgment might immediately come, or Jesus might give up the whole program of salvation. Who would want to save this kind of people? Neither of these two happened. Why not? There is only one answer — the love of God was so great and deep that He would save such sinful people.
Christ's course as Savior required indescribable suffering of body and soul. We little understand His incarnation. Human language is inadequate to describe and explain this miracle of all miracles. The inadequacy of the human understanding and human language becomes greater when we get a glimpse of the suffering of Him who was God come in the flesh. Our pictures can't portray it; our words can't describe it; our minds can't comprehend it. One of the old Dutch psalms says, "Wij zien het maar doorgronden't niet" (translated, "We see it, but don't comprehend it").
Wasn't the sin of these people much worse than that of Korah, Dathan and Abiram? Wouldn't we therefore expect the earth to open and swallow them, as it had those earlier offenders? No! This is not the judgment day. This is the day and work of the great atonement. Christ, ridiculed, abused, condemned and crucified, was silent. "As a sheep that is led to the slaughter, He opened not His mouth" (Isaiah 53). What Christ suffered was the suffering of hell in the place of His people. He suffered as the "Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world." Why did Christ do it? Because we and these people are so lovable and attractive in God's sight? Certainly not! God loves His people even while they are sinners. Why? We do not know. God revealed an infinite love that was so deep and persistent that He sent His only Son to be despised, hated, rejected, to suffer and die for us. And if He so loved us at this time, will He not freely give us all things with Him (Romans 8:32)? If the love of God was shown to be so great at this time, will it ever weaken, or disappear? Never. He will and does love His own until the end of their lives and until the end of time. Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ, Paul assures us. That is our comfort. One purpose of observing the Lenten season is to encourage us to grow in the knowledge of the love of Christ and to enjoy its comfort.
God also wants us to love Him in response. We know how much He wants us to love Him. We are reminded of that when we hear the law read every Sunday. As He in His infinite love gave all for us, He wants us, in response, to give our all, the all of mere mortal beings, but now saved sinners and new creatures in Christ...
When we recall what people did to the very Son of God, and how He, our Savior, persisted in His love to go the way to Calvary, we sense more deeply the meaning of the question;
Alas and did my Savior bleed,
And did my Sovereign die?
Would He devote that sacred head
For such a worm as I?
The answer to the hymn's question is that He did. What a God, what a Savior and what a love!