Hail, King of the Jews!
When you think of a martyr’s death, you might picture dignified suffering, noble sacrifice, perhaps a reluctantly admiring crowd, some final, well chosen words of grace and wisdom. We often imagine a certain glory to martyrdom. But that only goes to show we don’t know what we’re talking about.
Richard Wurmbrand wrote “Tortured for Christ”, a stunning, first-person account of the persecution of the Romanian Church under Communist Rule. He remarks at one stage that the most effective way for the government to kill off a pastor was to spread a false rumour among the village that he was a vile sex offender. A mob of local vigilantes would do the rest. Such a man does not die as a hero, he dies as a paedophile – at least in the world’s eyes.
Many people imagine an applauding crowd lining the way to martyrdom. But Wurmbrand writes of the reality – those who die for Jesus are rarely known to be dying for Jesus. They are considered the scum of the earth and those who kill them feel entirely justified in ridding the world of their presence. Those put to death are treated as worthy of death. There is no glory, no dignity, no earthly vindication.
But even in this shame, martyrs for Christ share a deep fellowship with their Lord. For His death was the ultimate in shameful degradation. In fact the shame was a key part of His sufferings.
As He looked ahead to His passion, the mockery of the Son of Man was central:
And they shall mock him, and shall scourge him, and shall spit upon him, and shall kill him: and the third day he shall rise again. (Mark 10:34)
Jesus will not merely die for His creatures. Such sacrifice is astonishing enough. But we could almost imagine Him laying on some altar as fearful and reverent priests shed His blood for the sins of the world. We could picture Him reassuring His hesitant executioners, “Friend, let it be so, I do this for you.”
But in reality Jesus stoops infinitely beneath such a death. He’s not just murdered but mocked also:
Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the common hall, and gathered unto him the whole band of soldiers. And they stripped him, and put on him a scarlet robe. And when they had platted a crown of thorns, they put it upon his head, and a reed in his right hand: and they bowed the knee before him, and mocked him, saying, Hail, King of the Jews! And they spit upon him, and took the reed, and smote him on the head. And after that they had mocked him, they took the robe off from him, and put his own raiment on him, and led him away to crucify him. (Matthew 27:27-31)
It’s an anti-coronation service. In the palace they robe Him, crown Him and proclaim Him King. At the same time they mock Him, spit on Him and punch Him in the face. If this were a mere man it would be shameful. If he were an earthly king it would be treason. But what is it to treat the Lord of Glory like this?
And what kind of Lord subjects Himself to such treatment? Not just to death – but to this kind of death. He doesn’t simply die. He is dissected before a hateful crowd. Stripped naked, teased and spat on by His killers. Punched, and punched and punched again.
Here is a God who cares nothing for appearances. Here is a God who cares nothing for earthly glory. Literally nothing is beneath His dignity. There are no depths which He will not plumb in His mission to save.
Therefore this mock worship is intimately tied to a right honouring of Jesus. Not only will these soldiers one day bow before the vindicated Lord Jesus in true worship. Actually it’s Christ’s willingness to endure such mockery which makes Him worthy of all praise and glory:
5Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: 6Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: 7But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: 8And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. 9Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: 10That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; 11And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:5-11)