Then They Spit in His Face: A Good Friday Reflection
A young Christian in East Africa was walking home from the countryside where he was sharing the gospel with his family. Suddenly he was greeted by two men, and as one spoke to him in friendly conversation, the other hit him blindside in the stomach, knocking him unconscious. When he awoke both his hands had been bound and his shirt taken off. The two men proceeded to treat him shamefully, including spitting on him. The young man did not fight back, but eventually was given the strength to break his bounds and run away from his persecutors.
What is it about humanity that when seeking to treat someone shamefully who has no means of fighting back, the natural inclination is to spit upon the person? To take a form of one’s human bodily liquid, and put it onto someone else. Certainly we are familiar with such an act, which is why we describe showing extreme contempt for someone as “spitting in their face”. But to literally do so, is a tangible way of demonstrating that we find someone only worthy of one thing: to be hated.
And indeed did humanity demonstrate this very thing on Good Friday. We read in the eighteenth chapter of Luke’s Gospel,
And taking the twelve, he said to them, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For he will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise.” But they understood none of these things. This saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said. Luke 18:31-34
The Lord Jesus knew full well how his body would be violated on Good Friday. And this included down to the detail of being spit upon. How did he know? Was it his familiarity with the ways of sinful humanity? Was it his divine knowledge of all things? Perhaps it was simpler than that. Jesus was a man of the Scriptures. And knowing them well, he had near to heart the words of Isaiah 50:
The Lord God has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious; I turned not backward. I gave my back to those who strike, and my cheeks to those who pull out the beard; I hid not my face from disgrace and spitting. Isaiah 50:5-6
This prophecy sealed in Jesus’ mind the contempt that was to be poured upon him. It also set him firm as a flint that he would not hide his face from it. Four times in the Gospels we are told that they spit upon him. Both Jews and Gentiles joined in the act. And Matthew’s Gospel includes the fact—probably the point from which we developed our idiom, that "then they spit in his face" (Matthew 26:67).
This was in the hall of the high priest, and was the first act of physical violence that his own countrymen laid upon him once their death sentence was rendered. Why this? Two observations. First,
To Show the Depths of our Sin
If Jesus Christ is God in the flesh, then to spit in his face could only be the act of total depravity. The great preacher Charles Spurgeon grieves it in this way:
Why couldst thou not spit upon earthly splendors? Why must heaven be thy scorn? Or if heaven, why not spit on angels! Was there no place for thy spittle but His face? His face! Woe is me! His face! Should such loveliness receive such shame as this? I could wish that man had never been created, or that being created, he had been swept into nothingness rather than have lived to commit such horror.
And yet we did commit it. You might say, “I was not there, I would never have done it.” And yet this human inclination has been proven to dwell in the hearts of all people. Spurgeon traces this not firstly to the beginning of the passion, but all the way back to the beginning of the Bible. He says,
When our parents broke the command of their Maker, obeying the advice of the devil rather than the Word of God, and preferring a poor apple to the divine favor, they did as it were spit into the face of God; and every sin committed since has been a repetition of the same contempt of the Eternal One.
When we fall short of the love of God and of neighbor a thousand times in the course of our daily life, it rarely appears as so great an offense to us whose hearts are desensitized by sin. And yet when we see ourselves in the men and women who literally spit in the face of God, we know the depths of our sin.
And knowing the depths of our sin prepares us for the second observation as to why we spit upon him.
To Show the Heights of His Grace
Spurgeon helps us to how the first observation flows into the second:
Now, of all the things that ever existed, sin is the most shameful thing that can be. It deserves to be scourged, it deserves to be spit upon, it deserves to be crucified…If you want to see what God thinks of sin, see His only Son spat upon when He was made sin for us.
It is the height of grace that we who deserve to be spit upon instead became the ones who did the spitting—and Jesus took it! Do you know the only way you can repeatedly spit in someone’s face? If they hold their face steady and do not resist. This is what Isaiah told us, that he would not hide his face from spitting. Marvel at this thought with Spurgeon:
He who covers the heavens with blackness, yet did not cover His own face, and He who binds up the universe with the girdle which holds it in one, yet was bound and blindfolded by the men He had Himself made; He whose face is as the brightness of the sun that shineth in its strength was once spit upon.
Why? To show that God was once and for all punishing our sin, paying its price in full measure, satisfying his contempt for it—all upon his own body instead of ours. Do you see the grace of Good Friday? That the most precious of human bodily liquid would flow from Jesus’ body; that his blood would be poured out on the cross to be put upon you, so that your sins could be forgiven, and your contempt for God could become affection, and a willingness for this world to spit upon you in order that it might too know Christ.
And if you do not yet love and marvel at him, then I leave you with this message from the preacher:
Dear friends, this is especially the sin of those who have heard the gospel and yet reject the Saviour, for in their case the Lord has come to them in the most gracious form, and yet they have refused Him.
Dear friends, turn to him today!