Taming the Beast Within

Matthew 27:26-31

26 Then he released Barabbas to them. But he had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified.

27 Then the governor’s soldiers took Jesus into the Praetorium and gathered the whole company of soldiers around him. 28 They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, 29and then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on his head. They put a staff in his right hand. Then they knelt in front of him and mocked him. “Hail, king of the Jews!” they said. 30 They spit on him, and took the staff and struck him on the head again and again. 31 After they had mocked him, they took off the robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him away to crucify him.

Dear Friends in Christ,

I thought I’d begin my sermon this morning with a little trivia quiz for all you movie buffs.  See if you can guess the name of this movie.  It came out in 1991 which means that it is celebrating its 25th birthday this year.  It was produced by Walt Disney and became a box office success, grossing $425 million worldwide which was quite a haul for a movie a quarter of a century ago, especially an animated movie.  But there’s more.  It won the Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy and became the first animated film to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture. It won the Academy Award for Best Original Score and Best Original Song for its title song.  And the title of the movie was…? Beauty and the Beast.  If you’ve never seen it, I would highly recommend you do so because unlike a lot of movies today, it actually has some socially redeeming value and some great application to our spiritual lives.

Most of you are probably somewhat familiar with the story – how a handsome prince is changed into an ugly beast for refusing to show kindness to an old woman who shows up at his palace.  And the only way he can be changed back to his original self is if he can not only show love to another person in his now beastly state, but also get that person to love him.

Well, through a series of events that I don’t have time to get into this morning, a beautiful maiden comes to the beast’s palace.  At first she wants nothing to do with the beast, and who could really blame her?  After all, he was such a…well, such a beast.  Hairy.  Drooling.  Loud. Angry.  Defiant.  Ill-mannered. And she was just the opposite: stunningly beautiful, contagiously kind, a real prize for anyone who could win her affection.  And over the course of time, her positive qualities begin to rub off onto the beast, and because of the love that she finally shows him, the beast is delivered from his curse and made into a handsome prince again.

Now remember I said before that this movie had some great application to our spiritual lives.  And that application is not that hard to figure out, is it?  For isn’t that really our story?  Isn’t there a beast within each one of us?  Granted, it wasn’t always that way.  There was a time when humanity’s face was beautiful and the palace, or maybe I should say the garden, was pleasant.  But that was before the curse.  That was before the shadow of sin fell across the heart of Adam and Eve.  And ever since then, we’ve lost our original beauty that reflected the very image of our Creator.  Now we are beastly, defiant, stubborn, angry.  We do things we know we shouldn’t do and then we wonder why we did them.

It happens to the best of us, even Christian author Max Lucado who, in one of his book describes a time when his beastly side reared its ugly head one night.  He says:

I was driving on a 2-lane road that was about to become a single lane.  A woman in a car beside me was in the lane that continued.  I was in the one that stopped.  I felt I needed to be ahead of her for my schedule was, no doubt, more important than hers.  After all, am I not a man of the cloth?  Am I not a courier of compassion?  An ambassador of peace?  So I floored it.

   Guess what?  She did, too.  When my lane ended, she was a fender ahead of me…Over her shoulder she gave me a sweet little bye-bye wave.  Grrr.

   I started to dim my headlights, he continues.  Then I paused.  The sinister part of me said, “Wait a minute.”  Am I not called to shed light on dark places?  To illuminate the shadows?  So I put a little high beam in her rearview mirror.

   She retaliated by slowing down.  To a crawl…And like 2 stubborn donkeys, she kept it slow and I kept it bright.  After more unkind thoughts than I dare to confess, the road widened and I started to pass.  Wouldn’t you know it?  A red light left the 2 of us side by side at an intersection.  What happened next contains both good news and bad news.  The good news is, she waved at me.  The bad news is, her wave was rated R.


Have you ever done something like that that left you wondering later on, “What in the world got in to me?  Normally I’m a pretty calm and mild-mannered person, but for a few brief moments there I was a real beast.”  Well, if it’s any consolation to you, the Apostle Paul, as great a man of God as he was, had similar struggles.  We heard it before in our Epistle reading.  In Rom. 7:19 he writes:  “For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do–this I keep on doing.”

And Paul isn’t the only person in the Bible who wrestled with the beast within.  In fact, it’s hard to find a page in Scripture where this beastly side of humanity doesn’t show up.  Picture Cain killing Abel, Jacob deceiving his own father and stealing his brother Esau’s birthright, Joseph’s brothers plotting against him, King Saul trying to pin David to the wall with a spear, David lusting after and committing adultery with Bathsheba, David’s son Absalom rebelling against his father and trying to steal the kingdom away from him, Herod having the babies in Bethlehem killed in a vain attempt to get rid of the baby Jesus.  My friends, when the Bible is called the Good Book, I guarantee it’s not because the people in it are good.

But there was no greater time in history when the beast reared its ugly head more than on the day that Jesus died.  There are many characters who show up in the story of Christ’s Passion.  There are the disciples who in the Garden of Gethsemane were fast asleep when Jesus prayed and then fast afoot when he was arrested.  There was Caiaphas the high priest who wanted a quick conviction of Jesus, Herod who wanted a show, and Pilate who just wanted out of this mess.

And then there were the soldiers who wanted blood.  Their 1st deed was to scourge Jesus.  This brutal form of punishment made use of a whip that was made of leather straps with balls of lead and sharp pieces of metal and sheep bone attached to the straps.  The goal of the soldier was to beat the accused to within an inch of his life and stop.

The 3rd deed the soldiers were to carry out that day was the crucifixion (and no, I didn’t forget the 2nd one – I’ll get to that in a moment).  Though the flesh on Jesus’ back was shredded and bloodied from the scourging, the soldiers loaded the heavy crossbeam on his shoulders and marched him out to the hill called Golgotha which means the Place of the Skull.  And there they executed him.

Now we can’t really fault the soldiers for carrying out these 2 actions because they were just following the orders that had been given to them.  But what we can fault them for and what’s hard to understand is what they did in between.  Our text describes in graphic detail the scene that unfolded after they scourged Jesus:  the crown of thorns they placed on his head and drove deep into his scalp, the staff they put in his right hand, the mock reverence they ascribed to him as they knelt before him and hailed him as the king of the Jews.

But amidst all of that mockery and cruelty we read these 4 pitiful words:  “They spit on him.”  The scourging was commanded.  The crucifixion was ordered.  But why the spitting?  I mean spitting can’t hurt the body, can it?  You can’t spit with enough force to cause physical injury.  But spitting can hurt the soul.  It can degrade a person.  It can humiliate them.  It can strip them of their dignity.  And I’m sure that is exactly why the Roman soldiers did that to Jesus.  They wanted to elevate themselves at the expense of another.  They wanted to make themselves look big by making Jesus look small.

Have you ever done that, my friends?  Oh, you’ve probably never spit on anybody, at least I hope you haven’t, but have you ever used your mouth to gossip about someone and slandered their good name?  Have you ever raised your hand or your voice in anger or rolled your eyes in arrogance or disgust?  Have you ever blasted your high beams in someone’s rearview mirror?  Have you ever made someone look bad so that you would look good?

That’s what the soldiers did to Jesus, something we would never dream of doing to him, right?  But wait a minute.  What was it that Jesus once said? “Whatever you did to one of the least of these brothers of mine, you do it to me.”  Please understand, my friends, that that includes not just the good things we do for others, but the bad things too.

Now maybe you don’t want to hear that.  Maybe you don’t want to think about that.  But we must.  We must face the fact that there is something beastly within each and every one of us.  The Bible has a 3-letter word for it.  It’s spelled S-I-N.  Rom. 3 puts it this way: “There is no one righteous, not even one…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”  The technical theological term that we use for this condition of man is total depravity.  Though man is noble and valued in God’s eyes, he is a fallen creature.  He is corrupt.  He is at the very heart and core of his being depraved.

Now some would disagree with such strong words.  They would say, “Yeah, maybe I am a sinner, but at least I’m not as bad as so-and-so.”  You know a pig would say the same thing.  He might look at his fellow pigs at the trough and say, “You know, compared to them, I smell pretty good and I look pretty good.”  The problem though with that way of thinking is that the standard is not the pig trough, but the throne.  And compared to the One who sits on the throne, namely, God himself, even the best of persons needs to be cleaned up.

So how do we do that?  Well, this morning I want you to allow the spit of the soldiers to symbolize, to represent the beast within us – all the dirt, filth, corruption, depravity, perversity, and sin that is a part of us.  All of that was placed upon Jesus.  And then I want you to notice what Jesus did with it.  He carried it to the cross.  I tried my best, but I could not find a single verse in the Gospels that says somebody came along and wiped the spit from Jesus’ face.  So I believe he carried it to the cross.  And there he died as your heaven-sent, God-appointed, spit-bearing, sin-paying Substitute.  Perhaps we could summarize it with these words:  Our sin (represented by the spit of the soldiers) was put on him so that his grace could be put on us.

And this is where the correlation with the Beauty and the Beast fable comes to an end.  For in the story, the beauty merely lives with the beast and ultimately kisses the beast.  But in the Bible, the Beauty, Jesus, does much more.  He actually becomes the beast so the beast can become beautiful.  That’s what Paul is speaking of when he writes in 2 Cor. 5:21:  “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”Let me try my hand at paraphrasing that for our purposes this morning:  “God made him who was beautiful and perfect to be ugly with sin so that we who are ugly with sin might receive his beauty and perfection.”

Have you done that, my friends?  Have you through the power of the Holy Spirit reached out with the hand of faith to receive that which you did not deserve, but which the beautiful One of heaven earned for you?  If you have, then I rejoice with you and give thanks to God for bringing you to that point.  But if you haven’t, might I suggest that there is no better time than the present to take care of that eternally and all-important matter.  For life can be so fragile and so uncertain.  And none of us is guaranteed tomorrow.  So don’t delay.  Don’t put off your relationship with Christ any longer.  Let’s pray:

Father, we confess to you our beastly side this day.  You already know it all too well because we’ve displayed it all too often.  With Paul we must say that the good we want to do we don’t do, but the very evil we don’t want to do, that we find ourselves doing.  Forgive us, Lord, not because we deserve it, but for Jesus’ sake.  Wrap us in his beauty.  Robe us in his righteousness.  Clothe us in his perfection.  And if there are any here today who have not yet trusted Jesus as their Savior, if there are any here who have not yet received his beauty by faith, through your Holy Spirit bring them to that point so that they might know the joy and privilege of having their beastly nature covered over with the incomparable and exquisite beauty of Christ, in whose name we pray.