So also the chief priests, with the scribes and elders, mocked him, saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down now from the cross and we will believe him. Matthew 27:41-42 (ESV)
As Jesus hung on the cross, obedient to the Father’s will even to the point of death, the crowds and the accusers still mocked him. Matthew goes on to say that the thieves acted this same way. In Luke’s account, one of them even says to him “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself, and us.” I am drawn to that statement “He cannot save himself.” Yes, he could.
The night before, in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed to God the Father. He knew what lie ahead, and he wrestled through blood, sweat and tears as he prayed. Even while he was tempted not to go forward with God’s plan (being tempted is not a sin) he prayed for the Father’s will to be done. Jesus could have saved himself that night, by not waiting for the guards to come and arrest him. He had foretold that Judas would betray him. Jesus knew when and where, and awaited the arrival of the Roman soldiers and his betrayer. He had escaped angry mobs before, but did not this time. Not because he could not, because God did not will it.
At the beginning of his ministry, Jesus was tempted by Satan. In all three instances, what was being offered was an easy way out. Jesus had been fasting, so in his hunger he was tempted to turn stone into bread. He responded with scripture. He was tempted to throw himself from a high place, and thus summon legions of angels. He again quoted scripture, responding with God’s truth. Satan offered Jesus the kingdoms of this world if he would fall down and worship him. All three cases were the easy way out. If he would just accept Satan’s offer, he could reign right now, not years later after hard work and death on the cross. He was offered a short cut, not the long, slow plan that God had designed. He was offered instant gratification, a temptation we Americans know all too well. Jesus, however, took the long, slow, hard way that God had designed to bring salvation to mankind. Remember when Peter drew his sword in the garden, cutting off one man’s ear? Jesus response to “Get behind me Satan!” makes sense when you think about how Peter was offering an easy way out. That was what Satan had offered three times. Taking up the sword, battling their way out of the garden, Jesus could have saved himself. But that was not what he came to do. He came to die.
Jesus could have saved himself and come down from the cross – but it would have cost the lives of every Christian believer that has been since. The Bible clearly teaches that he came into the world to save sinners. He was offering himself as a sacrifice. He came to save us, not himself. He plainly states that no one can take his life, but that he gives it freely. His life was the ransom for many, the price of our redemption. Those same accusers that mocked him with “He cannot save himself,” Jesus was dying to save. He prayed a prayer of intersession for the very people crucifying him that day. “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Christ led by example; he didn’t just tell us to love our enemies, and pray for those who use us. He did it himself with his dying breath.
I can’t stand to be mocked. I’m one of those people that has to always prove that I am right. Jesus example on the cross only illustrates how far each of us fall short of righteousness. He perfectly lived out the commands to love others, to think more of others than of self, to pray for those who use, and to bless those that curse. I could never have been that righteous in those circumstances I’m sure. None of us could. It’s a good thing we don’t have to; Christ did it for us. He is our righteousness.