Have you ever formed an opinion about someone without meeting them? Or a friend tells you someone hurt them, and you find yourself unable to make eye contact with that person who hurt your friend? I am not talking about Godly discernment concerning good and evil, or information shared to protect another. But I am speaking of hurts, disappointments, or perceptions we experience “at the hands” of another, and we share it in an effort to gain sympathy for ourselves, but ultimately turn people against one another.
Our willingness to befriend or grow in relationship with people can be clouded by simple observations or experiences of others. How sad it is when we do not take God’s Word seriously about bearing false witness and slander. When we share negative reports about other people we hurt God, ourselves, the person we speak about, and hamper all potential relationships that person might have enjoyed. Rumors play a vital role in spoiling reputations and relationships. In the case of Jesus on the cross, rumors caused people to hate and revile Him, even if they had never met Him.
In Matthew 27:39-40,44 we see a vivid picture of the damage “hearsay” can have, causing people to harbor hatred towards others whom they do not even know. “And those who passed by blasphemed Him, wagging their heads and saying, ‘You who destroy the temple and build it in three days, save Yourself! If You are the Son of God, come down from the cross.’ …Even the robbers who were crucified with Him reviled Him with the same thing.” Also Mark 15:29 “And those who passed by blasphemed Him, wagging their heads and saying, ‘Aha! You who destroy the temple and build it in three days, save Yourself, and come down from the cross!’”
First of all, let us make sure we understand the circumstances. Jesus is hanging on a cross between two robbers. Jesus had committed no crime so justly should not even been hanging. The fact He is between them demonstrates further humiliation and dishonor because the center cross was for the chief sinner or lawbreaker. Not to mention as these two men were dying, Jesus would have been in the position of hearing both of their cries, shrieks of pain, and even worse, their reviling of Him. Everything was contrived to make Jesus, who was guilty of nothing, as miserable as possible.
Next we see people “passed by” and blasphemed “Him”. They were common people, probably travelers along the road leading from Jerusalem to Gibeon who chose to temporarily detour in order to blaspheme Him. Notice they did not revile the two robbers, only Jesus. Would it not be reasonable for them to be angry with robbers, men who had stolen and hurt their fellow men? But instead, all of their anger and animosity was towards Jesus. In all likelihood they had never met Him and definitely had never been hurt by Him. On top of that, He is already hanging on a cross dying. Is that not enough punishment? Why must He suffer even more through these false accusations of people passing by “as” He is dying? Not one of His friends who had cried out “Hosanna” a few days earlier was there to defend Him and put an end to the wrangling of these people passing by. We know it was all done to complete the humiliation Christ would suffer on the cross bearing all our iniquity. But that should not make it any easier for us comprehend the cruelty and degradation Jesus endured on our behalf.
Let us not miss how these “passersby” came and felt the need to taunt, goad, and jeer at Jesus. They had listened to “hearsay”, probably through the priests, elders, and scribes. Jesus simply went around doing good works, not proclaiming Who He was to people. Most often we see Jesus telling people “NOT” to tell others what He had done or Who He was until His time had come. In fact, His answer to Pilate’s question “Are You the King of the Jews” was “It is as you say.” Jesus declared Himself to be the Son of God, but not as a king, even though He was King! Therefore the opinion of those who passed by blaspheming Jesus could only have come from the accusations of others, chiefly the religious leaders. We see how difficult it is to have a good opinion about someone if we have only heard negative things, no matter how true or untrue they are. It is nearly impossible to be open-minded about the goodness in a person if we have heard only unconstructive things about them.
Non-verbal communication adds a great deal to the meaning behind our words. The fact these people “wagged their heads”, literally shaking them in disgust, in addition to their blasphemy, demonstrates the magnitude of their contempt. Their language was offensive, insulting, and demeaning as they cried out “Aha!” Aha is an interjection used to express triumphant satisfaction or excitement when something has been discovered. These people had discovered the person (Jesus) they had heard about, allowing the lies of others to form a distorted opinion of Him, thus producing a hatred they vomited out through blasphemy onto the Savior of the world.
They had “heard” Jesus said He would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days. (John 2:19-22) Unfortunately for them, they received a regurgitated, misinterpreted explanation from the priests concerning this statement. The leaders knew Jesus did not mean He was going to literally destroy “their” temple. But they did not fully comprehend His reference to Himself as the temple, and indeed, He would come back in three days so they let the misunderstanding continue. Rather than letting it be known to the people Jesus was not going to destroy their temple, the leaders tried to save their own reputation by propagating rumors enabling people to continue to mock and poke fun at Jesus in regards to their temple. These people “passing by” used this rumor in challenging Jesus to save Himself as He hung dying on the cross. ‘You who destroy the temple and build it in three days, save Yourself! In other words, if He could rebuild a temple, surely He could remove Himself from a wooden cross.
The last thing we hear these people saying is “If You are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” Does that remind you of anything Jesus had confronted earlier in His life on earth? These people who were simply “passing by” let the devil use them as his mouthpiece. It is eerily similar to what Satan said to Jesus in Matthew 4:3 “Now when the tempter came to Him, he said, “If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.” 4:6 “… If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down. For it is written: ‘He shall give His angels charge over you, and in their hands they shall bear you up, lest you dash your foot against a stone.’”
What kind of audacity does it take to challenge someone who is so obviously in a great deal of physical pain on a cross? They were eyewitnesses of nothing, yet had the nerve to challenge Jesus on what they had “heard”. They were daring Jesus to “prove” Who He was! Wow! The irony is He has already proved Who He was in a brief three years of ministry through His miracles including raising of the dead. But these people were unwilling to wait and see the completed proof through His own resurrection. Why? Because they believed the slander, rumors, and hearsay of others. They did not believe the great things about Jesus – just the negative things. That is a warning for us in life: We are apt to believe negative things about people but hesitant if not resistant to believing good things about people. Hmm..
Friends – Let us commit to being different than these people who were passing by Jesus and passing judgment on Jesus! Let us be very careful to rely on Holy Spirit to reveal truth not base our attitudes and actions on hearsay. And remember: It is very difficult to change an attitude once it has taken root especially negative ones. Be careful how you hear! If these people would have judged Jesus based on what He had done, not on what they had “heard” He had done, they would have patiently waited for Him to fulfill His Word.
Father God, set a guard over our ears, eyes, and mouths. Let us be people who see You for Who You are, not Who we have made You to be! Let us be people who are careful to share only truth, not opinion or hearsay. Examine our hearts Oh God! Jesus, thank You for enduring all the blasphemy, insults, and ridicule as you hung dying on the cross for all our iniquity! Let us ponder the cruelty behind those words spoken to You as you endured the physical and spiritual pain on the cross, so that we might be sober and alert today to the cruelty of our words spoken in haste against others in the Body, thus in effect speaking against You over and over again. Forgive us Lord! Jesus, we choose not to crucify You daily, but commit to crucify our flesh daily! We love You, Jesus! And it is in Your Name we pray, Amen!