Thirty three years back, the rising star of Jesus, ‘king of the Jews’ attracted the astrologers to Bethlehem (Matthew 2:2), but had Herod running scared. Now darkness descends over ‘Jesus, the Galilean’ from Nazareth (26:69, 71) who the soldiers, in mockery, have crowned with thorns.
Crowned? What sort of king is this?
The morning light of day starts off badly for Jesus. He is taken, bound, to Pilate. Much worse is to follow. Darkness enshrouds it, until around 3pm Jesus cries out: ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ (verse 46). The chapter ends with Jesus’ body entombed. What sort of Anointed One (Messiah) was this?
From cradle to grave, Matthew highlights the issue of Jesus’ kingship. Chapter 27 brings this to a climax—a climax of Jewish rejection and Roman execution. ‘Are you the King of the Jews?’ asks Pilate. ‘Hail, king of the Jews!’ mock the soldiers. ‘This is Jesus, the king of the Jews’ reads the placard above His head. ‘He’s the king of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him’ the leading priests, the scribes and the elders shout out for all to hear.
Jesus dies a brutal death, His claims and mission an evident public failure.
Watching this final scene at a distance were those who loved him and didn’t run away. The women from Galilee. Matthew mentions three of them—Mary Magdalene, Mary mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of James and John. These extraordinary Galilean women are key eyewitnesses, as we discover from reading all four Gospels. We rely on their testimony for the sequence of Jesus’ death, entombment and resurrection. But more than that, they model what it means to follow Jesus when the men go missing and deep sorrow has settled over them all.
However, there is one good man willing to take a risk—‘a respected member of the council’, ‘Joseph, who also was a disciple of Jesus’, just executed for sedition along with two others.
We can never experience the emotional impact on those women, including His mother Mary, of seeing Jesus dragged away, mocked and done to death.
But from far away in time and distance, in reading this scene, we are gazing on the battered human face of God, our Saviour.