Irony In The Gospels

Matthew 27: 27 – 66; John 20: 24 – 31.

A cursory reading of the four Gospels gives us an unusual telescopic perspective of the extraordinary divinely-appointed events that unfolded in the Near East. Quite apart from presenting the historical facts on our Creator’s preordained intervention into human history, the writers injected ironic details of this unique Christological journey in their respective accounts. We will just take two narratives from the Gospels of Matthew and John as an illustration. Matthew delineated the human genealogy of Jesus that traversed the royal Davidic kingship line in his introduction, which curiously led Pilate to subsequently question, “Are You the King of the Jews?” Jesus’ neutral reply, “You said this!” was ironic in itself. A few moments later, the Praetorium guards made Him the butt of their derision; they stripped Him, clothed Him in a royal scarlet robe, placed a twisted crown of thorns on His head, had Him hold a staff as a scepter, knelt before Him mockingly, spat at Him, and struck Him on the head. In a strange way, ‘the king’ in Pilate’s and his soldiers’ thinking was very different from the divinely designated ‘King of Kings and Lord of Lords’ (c.f., Rev 19:16). He was much more than being an earthly King of the Jews, as His appointed authority was not derived from any human agency (Matt 27:37; Matt 28:18; c.f., Isa 9:6-7; Isa 52:13-15). After His resurrection, there was a stark difference in His portrayal of His kingdom: it was certainly not politically inspired to be a kingdom free from Roman hegemony, far from the expectations of His disciples and everyone else. Its focus was on servanthood and dying to self (Matt 20:25-28). In Jesus’ kingdom, the mere possession of power did not entitle one to flaunt or abuse it, as delegated authority is accompanied with a responsibility to serve in the way our Lord did. A Servant-King being put through the human mill as a common criminal turned out to be their Creator (Col 1:15-20).

The crucifixion was a gory interlude. While the two convicts’ shin bones were broken to hasten their asphyxiation and eventual death, Jesus’ bones remained intact as prophesied (Ps 34:20); He had already passed on earlier. Prior to that, onlookers were mocking Him, “You who are going to destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save Yourself! If You are the Son of God, come down from the cross” (Matt 27:38-43). In the Jewish context, any allusions threatening the destruction of the temple was adjudicated to be treasonous and punishable by death (Matt 26: 59-63; John 2:18-22). The ‘temple’ that Jesus cited was His own body, quite different from the perception of the Jewish High Priest and the Jews. Three days after His burial, His resurrection reconciled forgiven humanity back to God (1Cor 12:27; Eph 1:7-14; Col 1:13-14; Col 1:19-20). A helpless Saviour condemned on His cross, who could not save Himself, ironically culminated in saving those who were doomed to eternal damnation (c.f., Matt 1:21; Matt 26:51-56; Luke 23:39-43). No one appreciated it! The torn temple veil before the Holy of Holies was symbolic of the hiddenness of a Holy God being made accessible to forgiven mankind through Jesus’ sacrifice (Matt 27:51). From then on, His Body became ‘the temple,’ viz., the Church (Rom 12:5; 1Cor 12:12; 1Cor 12:27; Col 1:18).

None believed that a dead person could be resurrected; not Jesus’ disciples and His followers, nor the Chief priests and the Pharisees. In fact, the Jewish religious elite believed that the Lord’s body would be stolen soon after His death in a mischievous cover-up for His resurrection (Matt 27:62-66). Despite Jesus’ appearance to over 500 brethren (1Cor 15:4-8; John 20:1-25; Luke 24:13-35) and first-hand testimonies from His inner circle of followers, Thomas’ apparent pragmatism proved impregnable over Jesus’ resurrection. After all, He died. He is history! But on the second Sunday after His initial appearance to His disciples, Jesus appeared again to them, and on this occasion, Thomas was present (John 20:26-29; c.f., Luke 24:36-43). This poignant scenario included our Lord acceding to Thomas’ incredulous request to feel His wounds for himself. Suddenly finding himself standing in the presence of the resurrected Christ, Thomas, in shock, immediately acknowledged, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus replied, “Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed.” Thomas’ reaction is not uncommon. We are certainly not meant to be gullible, but our conditioned rationality can at times become a stumbling block to faith. The outcome of a suspension of faith is an underestimation of God’s sovereign capability in His limitless ways at Self-Expression; like appearing in any form and time He chooses; imagine Him walking through a closed door (John 20:19). We may have experienced the transforming power of salvation, but like Thomas, our humanity sometimes inadvertently relegates God to be finite. The eye of faith trusts God to be God. It remains our responsibility to recognize what Jesus had accomplished on the cross, suffering for our sake to enable us to put all our faith in Him, as He can forgive our sins. That’s what we must have to be reconciled to God, with joy and thankfulness and mystery and adoration and awe, we are able to articulate “My Lord and my God!”