And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads and saying, “You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” Matthew 27:39-40
It was King David’s son, Solomon, who built a temple for the Lord. It was a massive undertaking, requiring tens of thousands of workers. With its great stone and its handcrafted wood and its gilded gold, the construction of the temple took only an amazing ten years. After Judah had been carried into exile in Babylon and finally allowed to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple that had been destroyed under the leadership of Ezra and Nehemiah, this undertaking was completed in twenty-three years. There were more wars, and the temple was destroyed again. King Herod the Great began repairing the temple approximately fourteen years before Jesus was born and the work would not be completed until some twenty-five years after his ascension. So when Jesus drives out the money changers from the temple, it is just the mid-way point in a more than eighty year project. As Jesus is chasing them from the temple, He makes the ridiculous statement, “Destroy this temple and I will rebuild it again in three days.”
Jesus’ last words in Matthew’s Gospel include the pronouncement, “All authority in heaven and on earth is given to me.” When Jesus speaks of His return, He talks about coming in power and great glory. John the Baptist proclaims that the Messiah who comes after Him is One more powerful. But the reality is that when the chief priests and the teachers of the Law mock Jesus, there is nothing powerful about Him at all. He, who couldn’t bear the weight of His own cross, now hangs in weakness and humility and shame. There is nothing powerful or glorious about Him at all. But isn’t that how Jesus came into the world – in weakness, in humility and shame. The man who hangs on the cross is naked and powerless. But this isn’t the first time, we find Jesus like this. Luke writes, “And she brought forth Her firstborn son, wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger.” There he was naked in a cattle stall. He didn’t come into the world in power and great glory. He came into the world in weakness, in humility, in shame. Consider the lengths that God went to save and redeem His people – His own Son, put on shameful, frail flesh. When Jesus talks of power and great glory, when He talks of rebuilding the temple, that even then was not completed, the people laugh and jeer and mock Him. He’s not powerful at all. So here He hangs on the cross, guarded by the soldiers of the most powerful Army in the history of the world. There is no stopping what is about to happen. He is going to die. And he is powerless to prevent it.
But here is the ultimate irony – for Jesus to be truly all powerful, He had to become powerless. He had to die. The last enemy to be defeated is death. Jesus had to die to be able to defeat death. Death has no dominion over Jesus because He defeated it. But the only way that He could defeat death was that He first had to die. Therefore, Jesus has conquered death, it has been swallowed up in victory and because Christ has risen from the grave so shall we. To be all powerful, Jesus had to become powerless. In such a curious and ironic way, the mockers were exactly right.
Fraternally in Christ,
President Lee Hagan
This meditation is inspired by D.A. Carson’s “Ironies of the Cross” found in his book Scandalous: The Cross and Resurrection of Jesus.”