Mom and Dad took pride that they had raised a happy kid. She was ten years
old now and growing into a decent young lady. It was during her fifth-grade year,
though, that her parents began to notice a change in personality. The youthful
exuberance, her joy for life, and the permanent smile on her face gave way to
sullenness. During that school year she grew increasingly distant. Her parents
approached her. They took an interest; they asked, “What’s wrong?” and said,
“It’s okay to talk about it.” The behavior continued. It wasn’t until the bruises
started showing up that they called a meeting with the school principal. Only after
hours of prodding did their daughter break down crying, admitting that she was
being bullied by a group of mean girls in school.
Bullying is such a widespread and real problem that our government has set up
a website, www.stopbullying.gov. It happens in our classrooms, it happens
between spouses in our homes, in the workplace, on the subway. The site
describes bullying “as a pattern of behavior that is used to leverage power or
control over another.”
It identifies three types of bullying.
*Verbal bullying involves name calling and threats of violence.
*Social bullying happens when a person is deliberately excluded or ostracized
from a group, or others are encouraged not to befriend someone.
*Physical bullying occurs when property is damaged as a threat of further
violence, or when you actually lay your hands on someone else by pushing,
kicking, tripping, or using your fists to fight.
If you accept the website’s description as accurate, then you’d have to admit
that Jesus was the victim of all three types of bullying during his time on earth.
*His enemies, primarily religious enemies like the Pharisees and Sadducees,
routinely engaged in patterns of verbal bullying. Their regular attempts to
catch Jesus with a “gotcha” question is just one example.
*There was also the social bullying. Jewish leaders discouraged people from
following Jesus, spread rumors about him, and tried to embarrass him
*After reading Matthew’s words, Jesus’ physical bullying is unmistakable.
What happened at the Praetorium goes way beyond bullying to utter contempt
and outright assault.
It’s one thing for a socially awkward teenager to leverage a growth spurt to
steal an underclassman’s lunch money, or for a jealous fifth grader to bully the
teacher’s pet. It is entirely another thing to bludgeon a man nearly to death for the
heinous crime of preaching forgiveness of sins and eternal life. Throughout his
ministry Jesus was bullied verbally and socially. Beginning late Holy Thursday
evening the physical violence escalated. As we continue our Lenten series The
Hands of the Passion we see Jesus suffer the soldiers’ ...
“Hands of Brutality”
What Matthew records for us is actually the second instance of the hands of
brutality in the Passion History. Jesus was now in the custody of the Roman
governor, but in the early darkness of Friday morning, the Jewish leaders had
conducted their own kangaroo court where they abused him similarly. At their
illegal meeting, the Jews were trying to manufacture evidence to sentence Jesus to
death but couldn’t make anything stick. In their volatile zealotry, they stopped
trying to pin blame on him and just mocked him mercilessly. These church leaders
blindfolded Jesus, slapped him across the face, and demanded he identify the man
who hit him. They blasphemed against him, spit in his face, and sent him on to
Pilate interviewed Jesus and was determined to set him free. But Pilate was a
politician first and a humanitarian second. The angry mob of Jews screaming that
Jesus be crucified pressured Pilate into taking this action. Perhaps if Jesus were
brutalized the Roman way, the Jews’ blind rage would be placated and Pilate could
release an innocent man. So he handed him over to his whole company of
soldiers—an estimated 600 men—to do their worst (v. 27).
The first thing the soldiers did was to whip Jesus’ naked back. This lead-tipped
whip was called a flagrum, and it was designed to break open the skin, cause
massive bleeding and internal injury, and weaken the person so he couldn’t resist
any further punishment. This scourging was so violent that the Jews limited the
number of lashes a person could receive. But Jesus was in the hands of the
Romans now, and they had no such limit. A cruel piece of irony, this treatment
was so tortuous that many considered it to be an act of mercy. You were so
weakened by the beatings that you’d die more quickly when crucified.
For a Roman solider, being stationed in Judea was like being sent to the end of
the world. There was nothing to do. Putting up with the Jews was a pain. Their
constant religious infighting was enough to make a soldier quit. They had to get
their entertainment somehow, and Jesus served that purpose. After his brutal
whipping, the soldiers turned to ridicule. The Jews’ whole case against Jesus
revolved around his claim to be a king. Playing to an approving Jewish crowd, the
Romans threw a scarlet robe on him—probably a soldier’s coat. They twisted
together a bramble of thorns and pressed it into his skull as though it were a crown.
They placed a stick of some kind into his weakened hands, and “they knelt in
front of him, and mocked him by saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” (v. 29). The
company of soldiers took turns spitting on him and beating him over the head
again and again. And with every blow of the flagrum, with every spray of spit,
with every taunt and jeer Jesus fulfilled what Isaiah prophesied in God’s Word. “I
offered my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who pulled out my
beard; I did not hide my face from mocking and spitting” (50:6).
There are a lot of aggressive fathers—and more than a few mothers too—who
argue that the way to handle a bully is to fight back. Punch the bully in the mouth!
Jesus did no such thing. The same man who taught his followers to turn the other
cheek (Mt 5:39), love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you (Mt
5:44), and do unto others as you would have them do unto you (Mt 7:12) is now
the man under the microscope. Would he practice what he preached? He did more
than that; he fulfilled Scripture in Isaiah, chapter 53: “He was oppressed and
afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth, he was led like a lamb to the
slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his
To us, here’s what’s mind-boggling. Jesus let himself be brutalized. He offered
his back. He didn’t object to his oppressors, because he was the King of the Jews.
He was the King of the Gentiles! He’s King of kings and Lord of lords (Rev
19:16), his name is above every name and to him every knee will bow (Php
2:9,10). So, this offers the question: Why would our almighty King let himself be
brutalized? Why doesn’t he stand up and punch those bullies in the mouth? The
answer is: He did it for you. Jesus let himself be treated that way for you. Jesus
knew it ahead of time; this was the cup of suffering Jesus asked God to take away!
But God wouldn’t take it away; he made Jesus drink every last drop. Once again
we hear the prophesy from Isaiah: “It was the LORD’s will to crush him and
cause him to suffer” (53:10). Christ was brutalized for you as your perfect
substitute. If Jesus hadn’t endured this shame, if he had avoided the indignity, if
he had retreated from the cross or refused to drink even a drop of suffering, then
there is no forgiveness of sins and God’s wrath on you is still in play. And you
better believe that God will do to you much worse than any Roman soldier could.
Listen to Matthew’s words and hear how much Christ sacrificed for you. Look
how thoroughly he was brutalized. That’s how thoroughly you are forgiven!
A bully tries to leverage power and control over you. When you’re the victim
of bullying, you feel alone and powerless, as though you have to obey the bully.
Sin is a bully; it tries to coerce us into crimes against the commandments. The
devil is a bully; Satan browbeats us into bad behavior. Our brother Jesus was
bullied in our place and was brutalized, for all, and we belong to Christ. Now our
spiritual bullies can’t demand our milk money and have no say in our morality.
The Apostle Paul wrote: “Sin shall no longer be your master, because you are
not under the law, but under grace” (Ro 6:14). Since the forgiving love of
Christ lives in our hearts, we happily submit to his gracious rule rather than to the
empty threats of any evil bully. We’re told in God’s Word: “Submit yourselves,
then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (Jas 4:7).
Freedom from sin and Satan is reason enough to rejoice! But as we join Jesus
in his gracious rule, we really begin to see what liberty looks like. Peter wrote:
“Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the
same attitude, because whoever suffers in the body is done with sin. As a
result, they do not live the rest of their earthly lives for evil human desires, but
rather for the will of God” (1 Pe 4:1,2). Taking on Jesus’ attitude enables us to
turn the other cheek, pray for our enemies and persecutors, and do unto others as
we’d have them do to us. Because Jesus made peace with us through the brutal
suffering in his body, in him we are able to live peaceably with all people (Ro
It’s no wonder why the world is so unhappy. So many people are still living
without Christ. They’re being bullied by sin and Satan. They feel alone and
powerless as the bullies dictate their lives. How much better is it to have God as
your Father? He raises happy kids! Our brother, Jesus, suffered under the
soldiers’ hands of brutality, and as a result we will never have to suffer God’s
wrath. And, as happy kids in God’s family, we delight to bring our brother’s peace
to people who are still being bullied. Amen.