Over the past few Sundays leading up to Good Friday and Easter (April 18 and 20 this year) we are doing a series of meditations centered on the suffering and death of Jesus Christ. During this special season of reflection on the passion and victory of our Savior we are using as our source the little book Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross: Experiencing the Passion and Power of Easter, a wonderful collection of sermons and writings edited by Nancy Guthrie (Crossway, 2009).
Chapter seven (7) of this work contains a precious sermon of Charles H. Spurgeon, “Then Did They Spit in His Face”, based on Matthew 26:67. This verse reads (in the KJV): “Then did they spit in his face, and buffeted him; and others smote him with the palms of their hands.” This refers, of course, to that part of Jesus’ suffering when he was being tried by Caiaphas and the leaders of the Jews.
I have to remark here that I don’t believe I have ever heard (or read) a sermon specifically on this passage or on this part of our Lord’s suffering. Spurgeon’s treatment of this verse is powerful, pointing us both to the wickedness of man and the mercy of the Savior. I can only quote a portion of his sermon, but I choose that part where Spurgeon calls attention to the power of sin as it lies in our hearts and works in our own lives.
There are two or three thoughts that come to mind when I think that these wicked men did actually spit in Christ’s face – in that face which is the light of heaven, the joy of angels, the bliss of saints, and the very brightness of the Father’s glory. This spitting shows us, first, how far sin will go. If we want proof of the depravity of the heart of man, I will not point you to the stews of Sodom and Gomorrah, nor will I take you to the places where blood is shed in streams by wretches like to Herod and men of that sort.
No, the clearest proof that man is utterly fallen, and that the natural heart is enmity against God, is seen in the fact that they did spit in Christ’s face, did falsely accuse him, and condemn him, and lead him out as a malefactor, and hang him up as a felon that he might die upon the cross. Why, what evil had he done? What was there in his whole life that should give them occasion to spit in his face? Even at that moment, did his face flash with indignation against them? Did he look with contempt upon them?
Not he; for he was all gentleness and tenderness even toward these his enemies, and their hearts must have been hard and brutal indeed that ‘then did they spit in his face.’ He had healed their sick, he had fed their hungry, he had been among them a very fountain of blessing up and down Judaea and Samaria; and yet, ‘then did they spit in his face.’ Humanity stands condemned of the blackest iniquity now that it has gone as far as to spit in Christ’s face.
O my brothers, let us hate sin; O my sisters, let us loathe sin, not only because it pierced those blessed hands and feet of our dear Redeemer, but because it dared even to spit in his face! No one can ever know all the shame the Lord of glory suffered when they did spit in his face. These words glide over my tongue all too smoothly; perhaps even I do not feel them as they ought to be felt, though I would do so if I could.
But could I feel as I ought to feel in sympathy with the terrible shame of Christ, and then could I interpret those feelings by any language known to mortal man, surely you would bow your heads and blush, and you would feel rising within your spirits a burning indignation against the sin that dared to put the Christ of God to such shame as this. I want to kiss his feet when I think that they did spit in his face (pp.44-46).
May these thoughts humble us to the dust and lead us to godly repentance for our own spitting on Jesus’ face in so many ways (as Spurgeon also points out in the sermon). And may it drive us to the merciful Savior Who shed His blood for such sin-spitting sinners.