Crucifixion of Christ

TEXT: MATTHEW 27:32-56

The crucifixion of Jesus is the end of the plot hatched by the Jewish religious leaders (REFERENCE: Matthew 26:1-5), and now they follow Jesus to His death on the Cross.

As the trek begins, Roman soldiers taking Jesus to Golgotha (the place of a skull) - press into service a hapless man, Simon of Cyrene - who was forced to carry Jesus' cross to Golgotha. Luke says of Simon, of Cyrene "and on him  they laid the cross, that he might bear it after Jesus.

SIMON OF CYRENE

Who was Simon of Cyrene? We are tempted to just view him as a minor player in the crucifixion story, but let's stop to see his humanity for a moment.

Mark says that Simon of Cyrene was just passing by at the time the Roman procession was on the way to the crucifixion, and that he was just coming into the city from out of the country. Simon also had two sons, Alexander and Rufus.

As surely as Judas Iscariot was destined to betray Jesus, Simon the Cyrene was destined to be remembered as the one who would carry the cross of Jesus. He was, apparently, just a simple family man who "happened" to pass by when Jesus walked down the street.

Simon's encounter with Jesus was, in fact, a divine appointment. It is not known what he thought about as he followed the bloodied Jesus along the "Way of the Cross" (Via Delarosa) in downtown Jerusalem on the way to Calvary, or if he stayed to watch as Jesus was nailed to the cross that he, Simon, had carried for Christ. Or even if he knew who Jesus was.

But Christians can see a bit of themselves in Simon of Cyrene. Although not forced to carry Christ's cross (only He could do that), Christians are REQUIRED to daily bear their own cross as, like Simon, they follow Jesus (REFERENCE: Luke 9:23), as Jesus commanded And we thereby follow Jesus - not into His death, but into our everlasting life through His death on the cross that Simon of Cyrene carried to Golgotha.

Thus, carrying our cross has been OUR role in the story of Calvary throughout the age.

BITTERNESS, DRUGS REFUSED

As soon as Jesus got to his crucifixion site, he was offered something to drink. We see the words vinegar (which is sour wine), gall (liver bile, a bitter narcotic) and myrrh (a flavor enhancer), and was also offered a drink near the end of his life on the Cross.

Gall is bile secreted by the liver. Biblically, it is used to denote bitterness of spirit (Acts 8:23Lam. 3:19). Myrrh is an aromatic gum that grows in Arabia, Abyssinia, and India. It was used to sweeten the smell and taste of various foods. It was also used in embalming (John 19:39).

Jesus did not drink what Matthew described as "vinegar mingled with gall" in Matthew 27:34, and does not say if Jesus later took comfort from a sponge filled with vinegar in Matthew 27:48.

Regardless of whether the drink was a bitter narcotic or smelled good, Jesus refused to compromise with his goal of laying down His life for our sins. And, in fact, He himself refused to be bitter or to allow anything to blunt any of God's wrath that was soon to be poured out on him for our sakes.

He took all we had coming to us with a clear head and meek spirit.

GARMENTS PARTED

To the Romans, Jesus' crucifixion was just "another day at the office." Crucifixion was the common death penalty for capital crimes committed in those days and, to the soldiers, it was a chance to make some money "on the side" by gambling for Jesus' garments.

But this was no ordinary day. The supernatural, which sometimes shows up when we least expect it, showed up on this day. As the soldiers sat down and watched Jesus, little did they know that the One who created their world, the very Son of God, was just feet away - an emperor greater than their own Caesar.

Among Jesus' garments taken by the Roman soldiers was a "coat" (robe, overcoat), and not a cheap one, either. Those who believe Jesus wore shabby clothes should note that his coat was seamless - meaning that the seam was on the inside of the garment from top to bottom (REFERENCE: John 19:23). That meant that you couldn't see any seam at all when looking at the outside of the garment - a very trendy fashion in those days. (Read more about the robe here).

IT IS 'WRITTEN'

Under Roman custom, each prisoner who was crucified had the accusations against them inscribed on a paper, which was then nailed to the cross above the heads of those criminals (called malefactors in those times) for all who passed by to read.

The inscription's content had been, in this case, decided by Pilate.

In Matthew, we see that the inscription above Jesus read, "This is Jesus the King of the Jews." Mark writes that it said, "The King of the Jews." Luke says it was, "This is the King of the Jews," and that it was written in Greek, Latin (used by the Romans) and Hebrew.

In John, the inscription was worded differently, as well. And John has provided a background story about how what was written came about. Pilate had written, "Jesus of Nazareth the King of the Jews" (John 19:20). Of course, the Jews' chief priests wanted Pilate to change it to, "He said I am King of the Jews" (John 19:21). But Pilate said that he wouldn't change it (John 19:22).

Finally, we see Pilate standing up to the Jews. But it was only on paper.

MENTAL TORMENTS

Not only did Jesus have to take physical torment, He also had to endure mental torments generated by passersby, the thieves on either side of him on their own crosses and from the scribes and elders of his own "church" (the Temple). AND you can also bet that the Evil One had something going, too.

So, we see an innocent, blameless Christ crucified alongside the guilty - put there by religion and scorned by both religious leaders and their passersby "congregants." In the end, though, we see: "He was, at his death, numbered among the transgressors, that we, at our death, might be numbered among the saints." (Matthew Henry commentary of the Bible)

DARKNESS DESCENDS FROM ABOVE

"Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land (REFERENCE: Matthew 27:45) unto the ninth hour." That's 3 hours of darkness, beginning at noon and lasting until 3 p.m.

What exactly was this darkness?

It was the visible evidence of the presence of God the Father, and it hovered for three hours over His Son above the cross on Golgotha. Why was it darkness? It could be the darkness was there to not only symbolize God's wrath, but to also protect men from actually seeing God - which no man has been able to do ... and live. Think of it as God's "cloak."

Let's look at this historically. God had previously appeared to Israel as a dark, holy presence. It was in Exodus Chapter 20, on Mount Sinai - the place where God gave Moses the 10 commandments. God's reason for His decision to appear that way appears in Exodus 19:9, "And the Lord said  unto Moses, Lo, I come unto thee in a thick [ NIV: dense ] cloud, that the people may hear when I speak with thee, and believe thee for ever [ NIV: always put their trust in you ] ..."

Note too, in Exodus 20:21, that the cloud was described as "thick darkness where God was."

It is important to note here that the darkness we'e talking about that surrounded the presence of God on Mount Sinai and at the Cross does not mean that God dwells in darkness (see I John 1:5). Likely, the darkness was there to protect us, and to symbolize that God Himself was present at both events. If man had actually seen God, as we have previously noted, likely the ground at both sites would have been littered with corpses. That would have meant that no one would have survived to serve as witnesses as to what had happened on those two sacred spots.

In the Gospels, we see God the Father in the same holy darkness passing judgment on Jesus, who is the fulfillment of those commandments. That judgment occurs on a hill known as the "place of the skull," where Jewish rabbinical tradition says is thought to be the place where David buried Goliath's head (ref: Joseph Prince).

So, we see God's presence hovering over a holy mountain (Mount Sinai) and then hovering over the "place of a skull" and the crucified body of His Son. On Mount Sinai, he passed down 10 commandments to mankind. On Mount Calvary, those commandments were fulfilled in the death of Jesus.

The Law was designed to show how sinful we are and to act as a "schoolmaster" to bring us to faith in Christ (REFERENCE: Galatians 3:24). Christ's fulfillment of that law on Calvary shows us how forgiven we are if we, in faith, confess, believe and receive that Christ of Calvary into our own hearts.

BLIND IN THE DARKNESS

And there's more: God visited His chosen people at Jesus' crucifixion, in the same manner as he had on Mount Sinai - as a holy darkness.

The difference between the two events?

In Exodus, Israel knew that God was in the holy darkness on the mount as He spoke with Moses. But at Jesus' crucifixion, His people didn't react to that holy darkness in fear or reverence; indeed they did not react at all. It is a sad thing that they did not even know God was even there - nor that  the "darkness over all of the land" was God the Father pouring out His wrath on God the Son.

Ironically, all of this history-making stuff was going on in the spiritual world above Calvary, but all anyone in the "natural" world of God's Creation ever saw - including the scribes and pharisees present on that day - was "darkness over the land." Truly, we are all blind and our understanding dulled without the illumination of the Holy Spirit (REFERENCE: Matthew 16:17).

And here, we also see God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit all at the same event ... and it would not be a stretch to say they were also there on Mount Sinai, as well, in different forms.

NOT  ONLY SIN WAS JUDGED

But there is more to the darkness at this crucifixion site. God not only judged our sins that were taken by Jesus on our behalf - He also judged Israel from that same holy darkness in which He was hovering. Note that the darkness was "over all the land" of Israel (Matthew 27:45).

Amos 8:9-13 puts this judgment in perspective.

Just why this judgment fell on Israel is in Amos 8:1-8, and you are free to read it, and also the sequel in Amos Chapter 9.

LAST WORDS OF JESUS

It was in the ninth hour (3 p.m.) that Jesus is said to have died. That is also when the darkness ended above Golgotha.

Looking at the Four Gospels, we have the words of Jesus recorded as three different sets of "last words." In Matthew and Mark, His last words are recorded as, "My God, my God hy hast thou forsaken me?"

In Luke, the recorded words were, first, to God: "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do." Secondly, his words to one of the criminals crucified with him were: "Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise."  His last words on the cross, Luke said, are "Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit."

In John, we see Jesus' words to His mother: "Woman, behold thy son!" His second saying was to John: "Behold thy mother!" Jesus' final words on the cross, John wrote, were "I thirst" and "It is finished."

Some theologians have suggested that the sayings recorded by the four disciples were different from each other due to the disciples' distances from Jesus' cross. If this is so, it would explain why what Jesus is quoted as having said was not included in all of the Gospels.

POST-CRUCIFIXION EVENTS

A number of things are said to have happened when Jesus died, and again, the Gospels do not agree in every detail.

MATTHEW (Matthew 27:51-53)

  • The veil in the Temple was torn was torn in two, from top to bottom.
  • There was an earthquake, and rocks  were broken apart
  • Graves were opened; and many bodies of dead saints arose from their graves. These same saints - after Jesus' resurrection - went into Jerusalem and appeared to city folk

Matthew also records the centurion saying, "Truly this was the Son of God." He also mentions who had been following Jesus from afar off and had ministered him since he had left Galilee (Matthew 27:54-56).

MARK (Mark 28-41)

  • The veil in the temple is torn in two, from top to bottom
  • The centurion said, "Truly this man was the Son of God."
  • A list of those who had followed, and ministered to, Jesus since He left Galilee

LUKE (Luke 23:47-49)

  • The centurion said, "Certainly this was a righteous man"
  • Unnamed people who came to Jesus' cross ," smote their breasts" and then left
  • Jesus' "acquaintance" and "women" who had followed Jesus since Galilee had been watching the crucifixion of Jesus

JOHN: None of the post-crucifixion events written about in the other three Gospels are recorded.