Matthew 27: 35: And when they had crucified him, they divided his garments among them by casting lots.
It’d be hard to overhype this moment in history. All along, the Big Story of Scripture has been pointing ahead, pointing ahead…to this crucifixion.
You might have noticed before that the four Gospels kinda rush past all the events of Jesus’ public life (barely skimming over the 30 years before that) until they reach the Passion week… then they slow down. This is where we were racing to, they say!
And even considering things apart from the direction of Scripture, historians affirm that the world has never been the same since the crucifixion. Listen to this lengthy quotation from the historian Tom Holland (not Spider Man and not a Christian):
To be a Christian is to believe that God became man and suffered a death as terrible as any mortal has ever suffered. This is why the cross, that ancient implement of torture, remains what it has always been: the fitting symbol of the Christian revolution. It is the audacity of it—the audacity of finding in a twisted and defeated corpse the glory of the creator of the universe—that serves to explain, more surely than anything else, the sheer strangeness of Christianity, and of the civilization to which it gave birth. … All [the world is heir] to the same revolution: a revolution that has, at its molten heart, the image of a god dead on a cross.
So, you can’t overestimate the cross. I’ve heard that the cross and the Superman logo are the two most recognizable symbols in the world.
And yet… when the actual crucifixion finally arrives, we’re surprised at how Matthew – and the rest of the Gospel writers too – give it only a glance.
Just look at our verse: when they had crucified him is just two words in the original language: σταυρωσαντες…αυτον And in fact, the crucifixion doesn’t even make it into the main phrase of the sentence. That phrase being, they divided his garments among them by casting lots.
What’s more, the Gospel writers don’t relay anything about the physical suffering of Christ. They just don’t discuss that at all.
What they do write is written journalistically, dispassionately, as reportage, not playing on the emotions. When Jesus shouts, My God, My God, why did you abandon me, we know there’s suffering behind that cry, but it’s not named suffering.
And it’s not defined, such as, and what Jesus was thinking when he said that was ___________. We’re not let in.
So, to repeat: when it finally arrives, even though it’s the most important thing ever, Matthew gives only a couple of words to the actual crucifixion. The main trunk of our sentence is reporting that, as Jesus slowly lost strength, the crucifiers gambled for his clothes.
Mentioning these calloused gamblers goes along with two concerns of the Gospel writers, especially Matthew. First, fulfilled prophecy.
In Psalm 22, 1000 years before this day, David the Israelite King describes his suffering to God. He says:
Dogs encompass me;
A company of evildoers encircles me;
They have pierced my hands and feet –
I can count all my bones –
They stare and gloat over me;
They divide my garments among them,
And for my clothing they cast lots. (16-18)
As David is down and out, his suffering is exacerbated by having to watch or overhear people deciding who’s going to get which of his clothes once he dies. Like children who are fighting over the details of inheritance before the parent slips away…right in front of the parent – – doesn’t seem right!
In connecting this situation at the cross, and others, with almost perfect parallel events in David’s life, Matthew and the Gospel writers are proving that Jesus is David’s descendant who in many ways fulfills the promise to David and of David. Jesus is that great Son of David whose hand God would set on the sea/his right hand on the waters. That is, by Jesus echoing and even amplifying and filling out the story of David, he is seen to be the promised King of the world.
This is where the Story of David was going all along, Matthew indicates. We can’t overlook Him! Look at the Great King!
So, at the crucifixion, the Gospel writers don’t plumb the inner life and pain of Jesus. But they do want to show Jesus as the fulfillment of the Old Testament Story.
Secondly, they want to detail the various wickedness that surrounded and drove the crucifixion.
Here, in His garments being gambled away as He slowly suffocates, what particular wickedness is on display? INDIFFERENCE.
In the middle of the most important event in the history of the world, the gamblers are unfeeling, their concern is only for themselves.
Rather than outrage at the obvious injustice going down in front of them, rather than mobilizing to free Him, there’s only: Whatever. Though I could use a spare set of clothes…
This according to plan. Here, God directs humanity’s monumental selfishness and apathy toward suffering to keep Christ on the cross unto death. And by that death to condemn in His body that same apathy and selfishness. By our indifference, God so loved the world… and defeated indifference.
Thanks be to God who took on and broke the power of not just the big sins, but the small ones too. Things done and left undone. The sins that Jesus bore in His body on the tree include the small lusts that spring up and, just as fast, dissipate, the me-firstness that ignores the pain that’s happening right in front of us. The small selfishness we hardly even notice anymore. Forgiveness for it all, brothers and sisters!
And since we have died with Christ, and His was a death to sin, tonight let us again resolve to put away the callousness and selfishness that lies so close to our heart. We are living in a world created out of the joy of God. We are living among a people for whom God shed His blood. An earth that has received the precious blood of Christ.
Is all this an environment to live flippantly, to live any longer for ourselves, to spend our free time addled by entertainment, to be heroes at shopping and playing?
Shouldn’t we live soberly, with purpose, maybe even with some intensity? Shouldn’t we serve? Shouldn’t we love?
1 Peter 1: 14-19 – As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.