44. Save Yourself
And even the rulers were sneering at Him, saying, “He saved others; let Him save Himself if this is the Christ of God, His Chosen One.” The soldiers also mocked Him, coming up to Him, offering Him sour wine, and saying, “If You are the King of the Jews, save Yourself!” (Luke 23:35-37)
There is an interesting dichotomy here. Note who the Pharisees were addressing when they said: “He saved others; let Him save Himself”. Certainly they were speaking to one another, and the passers-by, and the bystanders. Although their mocking was about Jesus, it was not directed at Him. We see them playing the crowd. I get the sense they were so over this. They had rendered their verdict in the Sanhedrin; manipulated Pilate to get the sentence they wanted; the sentence had been carried out, and now, “So die already”. They were working the crowd, trying to ensure these witnesses at the crucifixion would not be moved by what they heard, or Who they saw on the cross. But with these kinds of comments, they were able to keep their distance and position—the position of appearing to be above all this.
The soldiers also mocked Jesus, but they chose to talk to Him rather than talk about Him. They offered Him sour wine; then, they specifically addressed Him. Because of this difference, they are closer to discovering Who this Jesus was than the Pharisees were. Indeed the Pharisees et al, had all the evidence they needed, but there was no life, no faith within them. Thus, they chose not to look. But the soldiers, they watched—they mocked—but they watched. They were not distracted by the running diatribe of the religious rulers.
But I don’t want to necessarily exalt one above the other—both had committed atrocious and terrible acts. Both had said and done things that were detestable; and they both essentially said the same thing: Save Yourself.
Save Yourself. One presents the impossibility that He could be: The Christ of God, His Chosen One; the other puts forth: King of the Jews. Neither believed such titles or claims. And that is why they asked for spectacle rather than salvation. Even the unrepentant thief was a little closer to the truth: Are You not the Christ? Save Yourself and us!” But there was no cry for mercy, no pleas for deliverance—they only wanted a show: Save Yourself. Now Christ saving Himself was never part of the plan, indeed it ran counter to it. It only seemed to them that Jesus needed saving. But explicit in their mockings to save Himself was His perceived guilt—of which He had none. Jesus didn’t need to be saved, just everyone around Him. Remember Lazarus?
“Now there was a rich man, and he habitually dressed in purple and fine linen, joyously living in splendor every day. And a poor man named Lazarus was laid at his gate, covered with sores, and longing to be fed with the crumbs which were falling from the rich man’s table; besides, even the dogs were coming and licking his sores. Now the poor man died and was carried away by the angels to Abraham’s bosom; and the rich man also died and was buried. In Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and saw* Abraham far away and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried out and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus so that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool off my tongue, for I am in agony in this flame.’ But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your life you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus bad things; but now he is being comforted here, and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you there is a great chasm fixed, so that those who wish to come over from here to you will not be able, and that none may cross over from there to us.’ And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, that you send him to my father’s house— for I have five brothers—in order that he may warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’ But Abraham said*, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ But he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent!’ But he said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.’” (Luke 16:19-31)
They will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead. Now I realize the Pharisees, the soldiers, and others in the crowd were asking Him to save Himself, which probably meant come down from the cross, bring in your army, etc., etc. But even if He did those things (which He would not) would they have believed? For the Romans it would have just been another King and another campaign, and for the Chief Priests and their associates, just another outsider to endure. Their religion had no room for Messiah, let alone the true Son of God.
One more thing. If Jesus had saved Himself, He wouldn’t have save you and me. There would have been no sacrifice, no atonement, nothing. In the words of the apostle Paul: And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. Graciously and wondrously we know Jesus remained on the cross. He chose to save you and me rather than save Himself.