Soldiers--Profile of Cruel Indifference
Dear heavenly Father, as we enter Your presence this Lenten Season, fill our hearts with thankfulness and our lips with praise in view of Your grace and the redemption wrought by Your dear Son and our Savior, Jesus Christ! May we be blessed by our worship this day, and may we prove faithful to You every day! Amen.
Text: John 19:1-3, 23-24
So then Pilate took Jesus and scourged Him. And the soldiers twisted a crown of thorns and put it on His head, and they put on Him a purple robe. Then they said, “Hail, King of the Jews!” And they struck Him with their hands…. Then the soldiers, when they had crucified Jesus, took His garments and made four parts, to each soldier a part, and also the tunic. Now the tunic was without seam, woven from the top in one piece. They said therefore among themselves, “Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it, whose it shall be,” that the Scripture might be fulfilled which says: “They divided My garments among them, And for My clothing they cast lots.” Therefore the soldiers did these things.
In Christ Jesus, who endured the pain and shame of crucifixion in our place, dear fellow redeemed:
We are considering PASSION PROFILES of participants in the history surrounding the sufferings and death of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. This evening we consider the common profile of a group of men—the Roman soldiers who participated in our Savior’s crucifixion. It is a PROFILE OF CRUEL INDIFFERENCE! While it is relatively easy for us today to sit in judgment of these particular men, let us rather consider how their actions can and so easily do often reflect the callous attitudes of all of humanity including ourselves to the needs and suffering of our fellow human beings. If we approach our subject this evening in such a way, it ought to lead us to sincere repentance and to an even more fervent faith in and love for our dear Savior, Jesus Christ.
It really ought not to surprise us—the cruel indifference of man! War, natural disasters, abject poverty, and a host of other things all combine with fear and our natural desire to survive to breed indifference to the sufferings of others. Soldiers accustomed to enduring hardships, to inflicting pain even to the point of taking lives, as well as to simply following orders can easily become subject to cruel indifference. To acknowledge such a fact is not to excuse it. To recognize the sinful nature of mankind helps to explain it. One can only pray we do not become hardened and indifferent ourselves in the face of it!
The Roman soldiers gave evidence of their penchant for cruelty and their indifference to human suffering while in Pilate’s Praetorium. Our text tells us that Pilate ordered them to scourge Jesus—a process of whipping in which the victim was stripped and tied in a bent position to a pillar. Repeated blows were then laid on the victim’s naked back with leathern thongs, weighted with jagged edges of bone and lead. Scourging as practiced by the Romans was so merciless and fierce that the victim generally fainted and often died even before the actual crucifixion. Several years ago Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ very accurately described this portion of the passion history. That scene in the movie was extremely graphic in its portrayal of the violence of scourging. One of my children purchased the DVD of that movie for me the following Christmas. I must confess that I have yet to watch the video, because after seeing that particular scene depicted on the large screen, I have not chosen to witness it again. The reason why Pilate tolerated this torture before his final word of judgment may have been that he was still hoping to save Jesus. Perhaps he thought that by causing Jesus to undergo such suffering, the pity of the furious mob would be aroused and they would permit His release. But if these were Pilate’s hopes, they were as futile as his measures were heartless and unjust.
The soldiers, however, did not stop with a scourging as our text indicates. They went on to mock Jesus’ claim to be a King by placing a purple robe upon Him and then placing upon His head a crown of thorns. They bowed down before Him and with bitter sarcasm offered Him their feigned allegiance: “Hail, King of the Jews!” They blind-folded His eyes, and then hit Him with rods, mockingly urging Him to identify His tormenters. Bloodied and beaten, He was then paraded back into the presence of the Jewish mob only to have His ultimate fate announced—death by crucifixion…the fate of common criminals!
A group of four soldiers were then placed in charge of the crucifixion. They nailed His hands and His feet to the cross and hung Him up for public display. Death by crucifixion was a gruesome and agonizing thing that ended with asphyxiation. In some cases it took as long as four days to complete. It was intended to be so by the Romans, for they wanted all of their subject people to live in fear of their cruel power. When the deed was done, the soldiers’ cruel entertainment dissolved into a monotonous wait for death. They sat down with cruel indifference to the sufferings Jesus—listening to the ribald laughter and sarcasm of the priestly passersby and upon occasion joining in on the fun! Then they divided Jesus’ earthly belongings as part of what they considered their just reward of service. His earthly belongings were divided into four parts—the head-gear, the outer garment, the girdle, and the sandals—one given to each man according to custom. Jesus’ tunic, however, the "chiton" was “woven from the top in one piece,” It was a finer bit of cloth. In order not to ruin it, the soldiers decided to cast lots for it and thereby fulfill a prophecy of David: “They divided My garments among them, and for My clothing they cast lots” (Psalm 22:18). A PROFILE OF CRUEL INDIFFERENCE—a description of the sinful choices of a group of Roman soldiers…the inevitable result of the fallen nature common to all men!
As we consider this profile of cruel indifference, may we be led to examine our own hearts and our own lives! I would hope that none of us would be guilty of perpetrating outright cruelty—indifferent or not—towards our fellow men, and yet the sad fact of the matter is that both physical and verbal violence does take place within homes and among families that bear the name of Christ. Outright cruelty is at times perpetrated by individuals who claim to be Christians. Such individuals, however, falsely call themselves Christians and children of God. Let us heed the words of the apostle John, who writes in his First Epistle: “If we say that we have fellowship with Him (that is, with God), and walk in darkness (and perpetrating cruelty against a fellow human being is darkness), we lie and do not practice the truth” (1:6). If for any reason any of us have lost control and hurt or harm our neighbor, let us repent of that grievous sin and seek God’s divine forgiveness. Jesus died for all sins, and as the same apostle John assures us: “If we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 Jn. 1:7).
But cruel indifference is different from outright cruelty. The Romans soldiers were cruel in the Praetorium, but cruelly indifferent during those hours Jesus hung on the cross. Who has God placed in our lives, as if by chance, towards whom we have failed to show compassion and have consequently demonstrated cruel indifference? Have we shown a calloused and deaf ear to a husband or wife who is calling out for our help in some matter? Have we ignored the needs of our children or our aging parents, as we have pursued our own goals and desires? Do we simply cast aside all charitable appeals, simply saying: “We can’t afford to help,” and then forget about the legitimate needs of others? Do people knock at our doors asking for our assistance simply and routinely to be turned away? Now, I know that there is only so much that any one of us can do by ourselves, and I also realize that we cannot neglect the legitimate needs of our families in order to meet every appeal. However, the apostle Paul was moved by the Holy Spirit to write: “Let no one seek his own, but each one the other’s well-being” (1 Cor. 10:24).
This is what Jesus did when He allowed Himself to be cruelly abused by the Roman soldiers. When they struck Him with rods and mockingly asked Him to identity His tormentor, He not only could have done that, but He could have paralyzed their arms in mid-stroke. He could have come down from the cross when taunted, and for that matter He could have placed all of those mocking Him upon their own crosses. But He did not do so, because His compassion for our souls moved Him to stay and to endure the cross and the shame in order to ransom us and redeem our souls from everlasting destruction. Jesus was not indifferent to our needs, and He calls upon us by the power of His cross to be His hands and lips and thereby meet the legitimate needs of others. My dear friends, may we never be guilty either of gross cruelty towards others, for such cruelty denies our Christian faith. But let us also never become cruelly indifferent to those in need around us. Rather, may we in love respond to others, even as Jesus has responded and continues to respond to us—meeting our every need of body and soul, both now in time and we pray also throughout eternity. Amen.
—Pastor Paul D. Nolting
To God alone be the glory!