Reformed theologians often describe Christ’s work in terms of His active and passive obedience. The active obedience of Christ is His doing the Father’s will, taking specific actions — teaching, miracle-working, obeying the Law — to “fulfill all righteousness” (Matt. 3:15). The passive obedience of Christ encapsulates His submission to death. We cannot absolutely separate Christ’s active and passive obedience, for Jesus must actively set His mind on the Father’s plan if He is to endure the cross. Still, passive obedience is an appropriate description of Jesus’ nonviolent resistance to suffering (1 Peter 2:23).
This passive obedience includes Jesus’ arrest, trial, and scourging (Matt. 26:47–27:31). Jesus is scourged with a flagellum, a whip made of several leather straps embedded with bone and metal. Flogging is the first part of Roman crucifixion, and the number of lashes, though unknown to us, is limited only by the extent of the flogger’s sadism. Our Savior is an innocent victim, and the Father does not approve of Pilate’s sentence or the soldiers’ deeds in themselves. However, God is providentially using their sins to bring judgment upon David’s line for leading Israel astray (2 Sam. 7:1–17). In so doing, the Father also begins to condemn the sin of every repentant descendant of Adam (Rom. 5:12–21).
Christ’s passive obedience is also on display as He is mocked in the governor’s headquarters (Matt. 27:27–31). Jesus’ prediction in Matthew 20:17–19 comes true as the Roman soldiers (as many as six hundred if the whole legion is in town) dress Him up as the caesar and then make fun of Him, spitting in His face. Roman soldiers customarily make fun of those sentenced to death, but given the anti-Jewish sentiment that is part of Pilate’s rule, these bigoted men probably abuse Jesus with particular delight.
Our merciful Father pours on His Son the wrath we deserve in order to give us the blessings Jesus has merited. John Calvin writes, “Our filthiness deserves that God should hold it in abhorrence, and that all the angels should spit upon us; but Christ…to present us pure and unspotted in [the] presence of the Father, resolved to be spat upon, and to be dishonored by every kind of reproach.”
The Christian faith is derided in many circles, and many professing believers throughout history have been tempted to play down the offense of the gospel or work hard to show the world that Christians are not as “uncool” as they seem. But while we must take care not to offend others with rude demeanors, we must also not accommodate ourselves to the world’s values. If Christ was beaten and killed, can we not, by His Spirit, endure the mocking of the world?
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