The whipping was the first deed of the soldiers.
The crucifixion was the third. (No, I didn’t skip the second. We’ll get to that in a moment.) Though his back was ribboned with wounds, the soldiers loaded the crossbeam on Jesus’ shoulders and marched him to the Place of a Skull and executed him.
We don’t fault the soldiers for these two actions. After all, they were just following orders. But what’s hard to understand is what they did in between. Here is Matthew’s description:
Jesus was beaten with whips and handed over to the soldiers to be crucified. The governor’s soldiers took Jesus into the governor’s palace, and they all gathered around him. They took off his clothes and put a red robe on him. Using thorny branches, they made a crown, put it on his head, and put a stick in his right hand. Then the soldiers bowed before Jesus and made fun of him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” They spat on Jesus. Then they took his stick and began to beat him on the head. After they finished, the soldiers took off the robe and put his own clothes on him again. Then they led him away to be crucified. (Matt. 27:26–31 NCV)
The soldiers’ assignment was simple: Take the Nazarene to the hill and kill him. But they had another idea. They wanted to have some fun first. Strong, rested, armed soldiers encircled an exhausted, nearly dead, Galilean carpenter and beat up on him. The scourging was commanded. The crucifixion was ordered. But who would draw pleasure out of spitting on a half-dead man?
Spitting isn’t intended to hurt the body—it can’t. Spitting is intended to degrade the soul, and it does. What were the soldiers doing? Were they not elevating themselves at the expense of another? They felt big by making Christ look small.
Allow the spit of the soldiers to symbolize the filth in our hearts. And then observe what Jesus does with our filth. He carries it to the cross.
Through the prophet he said, “I did not hide my face from mocking and spitting” (Isa. 50:6 NIV). Mingled with his blood and sweat was the essence of our sin.
God could have deemed otherwise. In God’s plan, Jesus was offered wine for his throat, so why not a towel for his face? Simon carried the cross of Jesus, but he didn’t mop the cheek of Jesus. Angels were a prayer away. Couldn’t they have taken the spittle away?
They could have, but Jesus never commanded them to. For some reason, the One who chose the nails also chose the saliva. Along with the spear and the sponge of man, he bore the spit of man.
The sinless One took on the face of a sinner so that we sinners could take on the face of a saint.
From He Chose the Nails: What God Did To Win Your Heart
Copyright (Thomas Nelson, 2000) Max Lucado