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“The Sounds of Lent: Slapping, Beating, and Taunting”
Matthew 26:63-68


Pastor Kevin Vogts
Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Dakota Dunes, South Dakota
Lent Service II—February 24, 2010

“The Sounds of Lent: Slapping”

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

We continue our Lenten sermon series on “The Sounds of Lent” with the sickening sounds of the slapping, beating, and taunting which Jesus endured:  “They spit in his face and struck him with their fists. Others slapped him and said, ‘Prophesy to us, Christ. Who hit you?’”

In the Parable of the Wicked Tenants, when Jesus describes how the tenants in the parable treat the emissary who is sent to them by the owner of the vineyard, he is also prophesying what he himself would be subjected to: “They beat him and treated him shamefully.”

A slap in the face is much more than just a physical act.  For us still today, a slap in the face is a shameful treatment, the ultimate insult, and a sign of rejection. 

It was actually the temple guards, his own fellow Hebrews, who are reported slapping Jesus.  This symbolizes the insulting rejection of him as the Messiah.  As Jesus told his disciples, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and he must be killed, and on the third day be raised to life.”

Pilate later asked them, “Do you want me to release to you the King of the Jews?”  “No, not him!” they shouted back.  “Take him away! Crucify him!” The Gospel of John puts it this way, “He came unto his own, and his own received him not.”

The slapping of Jesus in the face is also symbolic of us, and our unfaithfulness.  Paul says in Ephesians, “I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.”  But, when we do not live lives worthy of our calling as his followers, when we bring dishonor to the name Christian, it is as if we too are slapping Jesus in the face.

Amen.

[Hymn Interlude]

“The Sounds of Lent: Beating”

Several years ago the movie “The Passion of the Christ” depicted the soldiers who guarded Jesus torturing him with extreme violence.  That aspect of the movie was probably fairly accurate. 

Prohibitions against “police brutality” is a modern concept.  Until very recently, and still today in many parts of the world, the police were expected, even encouraged, to be brutal. Fear of such brutality was considered a deterrent, which helped keep order in society.  Everyone knew you didn’t want to get mixed up with the police.  And, if some innocent people were unfairly roughed up along the way, that was thought to be worth the deterrent effect and maintaining order.

So, that partly explains why two groups of soldiers treated Jesus so brutally.  But, they each also had their own reasons for such hatred towards him. 

The soldiers who arrested Jesus were the temple guards, and so the first beating that Jesus endured was actually from his own fellow Hebrews, and even more perversely in the palace of the high priest.  Luke reports, “The men who were guarding Jesus began mocking and beating him. They blindfolded him and demanded, ‘Prophesy! Who hit you?’  And they said many other insulting things to him.”

It is estimated that the population of Jerusalem in Jesus’ day was about 50,000, and the Jewish historian Josephus tells us that 10,000 of those worked at the Temple.  If you include the spouses and dependents of those Temple workers, it was truly a company town, with nearly everyone dependent on the activities of the Temple for their livelihood. 

Now consider that Jesus has just been falsely accused of planning to destroy the Temple.  As Mark reports, “Some stood up and gave this false testimony against him: ‘We heard him say, “I will destroy this man-made temple . . .”’”

Without a Temple, there would obviously be no need for temple guards.  So, even though the accusation that he was going to destroy the Temple was false, for this first group, of Hebrew soldiers, Jesus was considered a threat to their own jobs.  And when they got the chance, they took out on him their scornful and savage revenge.

Later, Jesus was put in custody of the Roman soldiers who would crucify him, and they too savagely beat him.  Mark reports, “Again and again they struck him on the head with a club.”  For the Roman soldiers, this Jewish rabbi represented two things which they despised: the Jewish people, and the Jewish religion.  So, they took out their anti-Semitic hatred on Rabbi Jesus.  “They put a purple robe on him, then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on him. And they began to call out to him, ‘Hail, king of the Jews!’”

The beatings which Jesus received also have a deeper significance.  In the Parable of the Faithful and Wise Servant, Jesus says, “That servant who . . . does not do what his master wants will be beaten with many blows.”  That is what we all deserve on account of our sins, to “be beaten with many blows.”  The blows that Jesus suffered were really meant for you and me, he suffered them for us, in our place.  As Peter says, “Christ suffered for us in his body.”

Amen.

[Hymn Interlude]

“The Sounds of Lent: Taunting”

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.”  Many old adages like that contain a lot of wisdom.  In fact, a lot of them are actually drawn from Scripture. But, that particular old adage is completely wrong.  Verbal abuse is very real, and it can be just as, or even more, devastating than physical abuse.  Words can hurt, just as much as sticks and stones. 

The book of Proverbs says, “Thoughtless words pierce like a sword . . .  Like a club, or a spear, or a sharp arrow.”  The book of Psalms says, “They aim bitter words like deadly arrows.”

Our Lord endured great physical abuse, beating, whipping, slapping, spitting, and finally crucifixion, the most horrible form of physical torment.  But, in his passion he also endure verbal abuse.  Sarcastic taunting by the soldiers: “They spit in his face and struck him with their fists. Others slapped him and said, ‘Prophesy to us, Christ. Who hit you?’”

Sarcastic taunting by the crowd around the cross: “Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, ‘You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God!’  In the same way the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked him.  ‘He saved others,’ they said, ‘but he cannot save himself! He’s the King of Israel? Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him.  He trusts in God.  Let God rescue him now—if he wants him.’”

Sarcastic taunting even by one of the criminals crucified with him: “One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: ‘If you are the Christ save yourself—and us!’”

Psalm 22 prophesied this taunting of our Lord: “I am a worm and not a man, scorned by men and despised by the people. All who see me ridicule me and hurl insults.”

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can also hurt me.”  In the agony of his passion, our Lord experienced not only the pain of physical abuse, but also the very real pain which is inflicted by verbal abuse.

Peter says, “Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. . .  When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate. . . He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.”

Your sins are all forgiven because he himself bore your sins in his body on the cross.  And part of his suffering for your salvation was the taunting which Jesus which endured.  His wounds by which you have been healed include the very real wounds cause by words.

As a follower of Christ, you will not inflict upon others verbal abuse as was inflicted on your Lord.  As Paul says in Ephesians, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. . .  Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger. . .  Be kind and compassionate to one another.”  And Peter says, “All of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, tenderhearted, compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called.”

Amen.

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