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The Sounds of Lent: Flogging, Mocking, and Spitting
Matthew 27:26-30


Pastor Kevin Vogts
Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Dakota Dunes, South Dakota
Lent Service III—March 3, 2010

“The Sounds of Lent: Flogging”

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

Perhaps the most sickening sound in the passion story is the sound of flogging: “Pilate had Jesus flogged and handed him over to be crucified.”

This is a modern reproduction of the instrument of torture known as a scourging whip, which was used by the Romans for flogging their victims.  It had several leather thongs, braided with iron balls, as in this example, or bits of sharp, broken pottery or bone.

Flogging with such a scouring whip was used by the Romans as a form of punishment in itself.  The book of Acts reports the first Apostles, and later Paul and Silas, being flogged by the authorities because of their preaching about Christ.

The flogging Jesus endured was a particularly severe flogging that was usually administered by the Romans just before crucifixion.  It seems hard to believe, but a healthy crucifixion victim could linger on the cross three or four days before finally dying.  So, to speed up the process, they were first flogged almost to point of death.  Crucifixion actually publicly completed the execution which really began with their flogging.


Photo by Rev. Kevin D. Vogts

Excavations at Jerusalem have uncovered what we believe to be the high priest’s palace where Jesus was taken after he was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane.  In the basement, or really it was the dungeon, is this prison cell.  If this actually is the high priest’s palace from that era, as many archaeologists agree it is, it could be Jesus that was held in this very prison cell while awaiting trial.  This door was added later by archaeologists.


Photo by Rev. Kevin D. Vogts

Jesus would have actually been lowered into the cell through this hole in the ceiling. 


Photo by Rev. Kevin D. Vogts

Jesus was not flogged here, but later, by Pontius Pilate.  However, in this cell there is a whipping post from that era, which was used to flog prisoners.  Jesus would have been tied around such a post with his back exposed.  Ironically, considering the torture they were administering, this whipping post has a small depression for the victim’s nose.


Photo by Rev. Kevin D. Vogts

Carved into the floor is a bowl, used to hold saltwater, into which the whip was dipped to increase the pain. 

We deserved this torture which Jesus endured on account of our sin.  As a Lenten hymn says, “Who is it Lord, that bruised you?  Who has so sore abused you, and caused you all this woe?  We all must make confession of sin and dark transgression. . .  I caused your grief and sighing . . .   ’Tis I who should be smitten.”

Amen.

[Hymn Interlude]

“The Sounds of Lent: Mocking”

It is very ironic that the earliest known depiction of Christ upon the cross is not a work of Christian art, glorifying Christ, but rather this mocking piece of graffiti.  It was discovered in 1857, carved into the floor of an ancient army barracks at Rome.  It seems one of the soldiers there, named Alexamenos, was a Christian.  The graffiti shows this faithful soldier kneeling before a cross.  On the cross hangs a naked man with a donkey’s head.  The sarcastic inscription says, “Alexamenos worships his god.”

It was about 150 years before that graffiti was drawn that Roman soldiers in another barracks at Jerusalem gathered around to savagely mock Christ himself: “Then the governor’s soldiers took Jesus into their headquarters and gathered the whole company of soldiers around him.

“They stripped him and put a purple robe on him, and then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on his head. They put a staff in his right hand and knelt in front of him and mocked him. ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’ they said.”

The Roman Empire had recently taken away from local authorities the power to carry out executions, and restricted the right of capital punishment to their own representatives, such as Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of the province of Palestine. So, if Jesus’ enemies wanted him put to death, they had to find some crime that would be a violation of Roman law, weighty enough to warrant the death penalty.

“And they began to accuse him, saying, ‘We found this man subverting our nation. He opposes payment of taxes to Caesar, and claims to be Christ, a king.’”  They hit three of the biggest possible crimes in the Roman Empire: subversion, advocating non-payment of taxes, and, most seriously, claiming to be a king, in opposition to Caesar.  Pilate interviewed Jesus on this last, most serious charge, and he realized that Jesus was not talking about an earthly kingdom, but a spiritual kingdom: “‘Are you the king of the Jews?’ . . . ‘Yes, it is as you say,’ Jesus replied. . . . ‘But my kingdom is not of this world’ . . .  From then on, Pilate tried to set Jesus free, but the Jews kept shouting, ‘If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar. Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar.’”

No Roman governor wanted to be accused of being soft on treason against Caesar, and so, even though Pilate knew Jesus was innocent, he allowed Jesus to be crucified for this supposed crime of proclaiming himself an earthly king in opposition to Caesar. 

That is why the sign which was posted above Christ on the cross, to announced the crime for which technically he was being crucified, said, “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.”  In Latin that is, “Jesus Nazarenus Rex Judaeorum,” and abbreviated in Christian art as “INRI.”

That is why the soldiers mock Jesus the way they do.  The purple robe, reserved only for nobility in the Roman Empire; the crown of thorns; the staff like a king’s scepter; and bowing before him, not sincerely, but in scornful, sarcastic, mocking tribute, “Hail, King of the Jews.”

Jesus knew in advance exactly what would happen to him, the humiliations he would endure.  He told his disciples, “We are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled.  He will be handed over to the Gentiles. They will mock him, insult him, spit on him, flog him and kill him.”

So why did Jesus allow it to happen?  As he hung dying, the crowd around the cross continued to mock him: “Save yourself! Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God!”  And Jesus could have done that; he could have saved himself; he could have spared himself all these humiliations. 

As he said in the Garden of Gethsemane, “Do you not know I can call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?  But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?”  As Psalm 22, which we read earlier, prophesied, “I am a worm and not a man, scorned by men and despised by the people.  All who see me mock me and hurl insults.”

Why did He submit to these shameful humiliations?  He was suffering the disgrace, the contempt, the shame that you deserve because of your sins.  Jesus willingly endured all this mocking and humiliation for you, to earn the salvation of your soul. 

Humble yourself before the Lord.  Confess to him your sins, your guilt.  Because of his humiliation, because of his death on the cross, because of his resurrection, your sins are all forgiven, your guilt is all canceled.

Blindfolded, slapped, beaten, ridiculed, mocked, sarcastically robed and crowned and hailed as the King of the Jews, sneered at, insulted, exposed naked on a cross.  All of it endured for you.  As Paul says in Philippians, “He humbled Himself and became obedient unto death—even death on a cross!”  He humbled himself for you.

Amen.

[Hymn Interlude]

“The Sounds of Lent: Spitting”

There are certain words which are onomatopoetic, which means that the word comes from imitating a sound.  There are dozens of onomatopoetic in English, such as buzz, meow, hiccup, and hum.  And there are several onomatopoetic words in the story of Jesus’ suffering and death: whip, slap, sneer, and spit.

Since ancient times, spitting at someone, especially in the face, has been considered the worst possible insult.  Both groups of soldiers who guarded Jesus, the Hebrew temple guards and the Roman soldiers, shamefully treated him in this worst possible way: “Then they spit in his face and struck him with their fists . . .  Again and again they struck him on the head with a staff and spit on him.”

Isaiah prophesied this degrading treatment which our Lord would endure: “I offered my back to those who beat me . . . I did not hide my face from mocking and spitting.”

How would you react if someone treated you as they did Jesus, mocking, slapping, spitting in your face?  Perhaps you won’t literally receive that kind of treatment physically, but you do often endure that kind of treatment emotionally. 

Jesus told his followers, “I say to you . . .  love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who mistreat you.  If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also.” And he taught his followers to pray, “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” 

Jesus himself practiced what he preached.  For, even as he was being nailed to the cross, he cried out, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” 

Paul says in Colossians, “As God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.  Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”

Learn from Jesus, who cried out for forgiveness even for those who mercilessly mocked him and slapped him and spit in his face, to be patient in suffering, affliction, and persecution, to pray for your enemies, and to forgive even those who grievously trespass against you.

Amen.

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