And the people stood by, watching, but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!” The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.” One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” -Luke 23:35-39
Three distinct movements. Three different sets of people. Three different mocking accusations. One angry command. One gracious response.
He was who they said he was
The rulers "scoffed."
The soldiers "mocked."
The criminal "railed."
The venom poured out in every word that was spoken. They hissed as they accused him, challenging all that was said about him and all that he had done. They threw the titles out there, wholeheartedly believing that he was not who they said he was.
"If he is the Christ of God, His Chosen One..."
"If you are the King of the Jews..."
"Are you not the Christ?"
Come on, Jesus, if you are who we say you are, then prove it!
"He saved others
let him save himself.
They knew he wouldn't do it. They knew he couldn't do it. They thought they knew why. They thought it was because he wasn't who they said he was. But their "why" was wrong. He was exactly who they said he was. And more.
We try to save ourselves, but can't
How much are we like the rulers, the soldiers, the criminals? Probably a lot more than we are willing to admit. How often do we hurl up thoughts and prayers that are based on our notion of who Jesus is, a notion that is mixed with both truth and lie. We might get the phrases right, some of the theological foundation may be correct, but as we shout our words to God, they come off as accusations. We cry out "prove yourself to me!" I have had countless conversations with non-believers about this very thing. It boils down to God not doing what they want him to do. They then conclude that he does not exist. The doubting, unbelieving heart wants Jesus to come down off the Cross. And if he did, however miraculous an event it would have been, he would not have been who they said he was. The Christ had to suffer and die (Lk 24:26, 46; Acts 3:8; 17:3).
In our doubts and unbelief we do not want Jesus to be God. We want to be gods. We want to be like him. We want the power to save ourselves. We want to prove that we are worthy of the greatest titles of the world -- even if it's our own little world.
"Best dad ever."
"World's greatest preacher."
"Entertainer of the century."
"Most humble person on the face of the earth."
"Savior of the world."
We desperately try to save ourselves, but can't.
He could have saved himself, but didn't try
He was exactly who they said he was. He had the power to save others and he did. He had the power to save himself and he didn't. I am blown away by this. The thought is not profound, but Jesus' action, or rather inaction, is. By his unwillingness to save himself, I am saved. To put it positively, by his willingness to die, I am alive. The criminal's words echo through my head: "Save yourself and us." Little did he know that if Jesus had, all would be destroyed. Jesus proved himself to be exactly who they said he was not by succumbing to their spiteful commands, but by remaining silent, fulfilling the will of His Father.
He could have saved himself, but didn't try. Now, by his grace, I don't have to either.
By His Grace.
Andrew Lisi is a graduate student at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, church planter in Chicago (The Line), and regular blogger at By His Grace. For His Glory.