Not only do I feel inadequate for our subject this morning, I know full-well that I am. I am a child of God because of the grace of God and what took place in the verses we have just read. But there are mysteries here which I doubt that I will ever fully comprehend. Not only that, but I worry that our consideration – my consideration – will fall into a mere intellectual or academic exercise – “the soldiers did this, the Jews did that…..” But this is not JUST an important historical event – it is the pinnacle of the eternal decree of God. This is a major part of the very purpose of creation itself. There never has been anything so high or holy as the event we are considering here today. And to be honest, I don’t know the best way to approach it. But this is the path that I have chosen – right or wrong….. This morning we will simply skim the surface – we will fly over like a jet plane at 35,000 feet. In later messages we will be a little more specific and detailed about some of these points. May God bless us, and may God save souls.
It appears to me that there are seven characters or groups of people participating in the crucifixion.
First, there were the JEWS.
Last week I quoted a few verses from John 1, beginning with verse 1 – “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God.” That “Word” is speaking of the eternal Son of God. “All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.” He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. He came unto his own, and his own received him not.” The experts are divided on who John meant by the words “his own.” Some point to the preceding thought – “the world was made by him, and the world knew him not.” And then to verse 12 – “but as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name” Verse 12 certainly applies to Gentile people like you and me – heathen believers. On the other hand, many, like John Gill, say that this is speaking about Israel – the Jewish nation. “He came unto his own (nation; his own chosen people) and his own received him not.”
There is no doubt but that Christ was crucified because the leadership of the JEWS hated Him and demanded that Pilate execute him. If they had not been so adamant, Pilate would have released Christ and executed Barabbas. It is hard to say who was more guilty – Pilate or Caiaphas, but the high priest was certainly culpable. As a result, there are people, and I sincerely hope that you are not among them, who condemn all Jews, even those of today, because 2,000 years ago a few of them demanded the death of our Saviour. That kind of anti-Semitism is foolish, irresponsible and evil. Nevertheless, the leadership of Israel was undoubtedly guilty in the crucifixion.
And as He hung there that afternoon, they continued in their wretched treatment of the Lord Jesus. “And they that passed by reviled him, wagging their heads, and saying, Thou that destroyest the temple, and buildest it in three days, save thyself. If thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross. Likewise also the chief priests mocking him, with the scribes and elders, said, He saved others; himself he cannot save. If he be the King of Israel, let him now come down from the cross, and we will believe him. He trusted in God; let him deliver him now, if he will have him: for he said, I am the Son of God.” These statements reveal as much about the Jews as they do about the Saviour. They heard what Jesus said, and they saw what he did, whether they understood them or not. Yes, Christ Jesus did save others – both physically and spiritually. And they clearly heard Jesus declare that He is the Son of God. These and many other things should have demanded their attention, their meditation, their acceptance. But “He came unto his own, and his own received him not.”
In all fairness, however, as the afternoon wore on, and the emotions of the people wore down, some of them “that came together to that sight, beholding the things which were done, smote their breasts and returned” to their homes and other responsibilities.
Another major participant in the crucifixion was ROME – the Roman government and its representatives.
Of course, there was Pilate who put himself into the hands of the high priests. And we’ve already considered the band of soldiers who mocked and abused Christ back in the Praetorium. Now we see them carrying out their barbarous orders. After bringing Him to Golgotha, they offer to drug Christ with sour wine and something called “gall.” This mixture was designed to deaden the pain, making it easier for the person being crucified. But I wonder if it wasn’t also for the four men who crucified these men – making it easier for the men with the hammers to hold their victim and drive in the spikes.
Among my notes, I jotted down a potential message on drug abuse. I will touch on this matter this evening, but I have yet to decide on a more in-depth message. Matthew tells us “They gave him vinegar to drink mingled with gall.” Mark says, “they gave him to drink wine mingled with myrrh, but he received it not.” Although there is no Biblical definition of this, it is believed by some that the “gall” was some form of opiate. Often, there is good reason for pain-management, but our Lord Jesus refused it. Because in His case, He is enduring these things for our redemption – our salvation. It might be argued that it was necessary that He fully bear every aspect of this punishment. Earlier He had said that He was willing to drink of the cup which the Father gave to Him.
Another way in which the Romans participated in the crucifixion was with the accusation written and afixed over Jesus’ head – “This is Jesus the King of the Jews.” From what I understand it was common practice or perhaps even a requirement that the reason for each crucifixion to be published. In this case they wrote, “He claimed to be the King of the Jews,” when Pilate knew full-well that in Jesus there was no threat to his bosses in Rome.
Something else that the Roman soldiers did was to take away the clothing of their victim. John 19: 23 – “Then the soldiers, when they had crucified Jesus, took his garments, and made four parts, to every soldier a part; and also his coat: now the coat was without seam, woven from the top throughout.” As I picture it, there were four men involved in each crucifixion, two holding the victim in place, another grasping the wrist or perhaps the nail, and a fourth driving down the hammer. To these four men was given the privilege of claiming the victim’s clothing. Whether all or just some of the clothing I don’t know for sure and don’t want to even imagine. But there was at least shoes, cloak, shirt, tunic or robe and perhaps other items as well. These things were divided up as evenly as possible among the crucifiers. But in Jesus case there was “the coat was without seam, woven from the top throughout. They said therefore among themselves, Let us not rend it, but cast lots for it, whose it shall be.” And in carrying out this somewhat innocent act, they were unwittingly fulfilling ancient Bible prophecy. “that the scripture might be fulfilled, which saith, They parted my raiment among them, and for my vesture they did cast lots.” We may, before we are finished, study some of the Old Testament prophecies about the crucifixion. There are some in Isaiah, and there are others in the Psalms. Psalm 22 is quite explicit and verse 18 specifically says, “They part my garment among them, and cast lots upon my vesture.”
When the nails were driven, the garments divided, and after the soldiers had somehow raised the now heavy cross, dropping it into the slot in the ground between the rocks, “sitting down they watched him there.” Consider how pointed those words are – “they watched him there.” Were they focused entirely upon Christ Jesus, or were they watching all three crosses? Were they anticipating or hoping for something miraculous to come from that central cross?
Of course they were not alone – there were probably other soldiers involved – perhaps some crowd control. And there was at least one officer overseeing it all. I will come back to the centurion this evening. “Truly this was the Son of God” – What an astounding statement. But in what way was it intended? Was this another miraculous centurion conversion?
Jesus’ FELLOW SUFFERERS must also be considered in all of this.
As I said a couple of weeks ago, they may have been confederates of Barabbas. They were undoubtedly worthy of execution, even as one of them confesses. Luke 23:39 – “And one of the malefactors which were hanged railed on him, saying, if thou be Christ, save thyself and us. But the other answering rebuked him, saying, Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this man hath done nothing amiss. And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom. And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in Paradise.”
The second man was undoubtedly saved by the grace of God – “to day shalt thou be with me in Paradise.” If the Lord directs, and we return to him, I’ll try to point out the sovereignty of God in that man’s salvation. But the first man reminds me of the average American – sometimes religious, but not overly so. He is a wicked man, who wants Christ to overlook his treason and murder and to rescue him. He doesn’t believe that Jesus is the Son of God, but he has heard Bible stories about that. “If thou be Christ, save thyself and us.”
JESUS’ DISCIPLES must also be considered in this crucifixion equation.
“Now there stood by the cross of Jesus his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus therefore saw his mother, and the disciple standing by, whom he loved, he saith unto his mother, Woman, behold thy son! Then saith he to the disciple, Behold thy mother! And from that hour that disciple took her unto his own home.”
I mentioned last week that women are often more emotionally driven than men. It is a generalized statement for which there are lots of exceptions on both sides of the equation. In this case it appears that the HEARTS of these women DEMANDED that they appear at Golgotha. Logic might have suggested that it was going to be painful and bitter, but their love for Christ would not let them go – elsewhere.
But where was boastful Peter, who puffed up like a tom turkey and declared he would never forsake Christ? The man had even been humbled there in the courtyard of the high priest, but did he follow Christ all the way to the cross? We certainly don’t read of him there in any of the gospels. Many of the other disciples repeated Peter’s declaration of faithfulness, but we don’t find them here?
The only exception is John, which does square with what we know about this man’s character. Still, I picture him in the shadows, so to speak, in a place where there were no shadows at all. Where would you have been?
Another participant in all of this was GOD THE FATHER.
Of course the God-head – the divine Trinity – the Tri-unity – had ordained and coordinated every aspect of this event before the creation of the first man. Not far from Golgotha, about two millennia, earlier, Abraham took his son to the Temple Mount – Moriah. God had ordered Abraham to present his son as a sacrifice, just as Jehovah was doing at this moment. But as Abraham raised his knife to present the blood, God, through His angel, stopped him, and pointed toward a substitute which He had previously prepared – a ram caught by his horns in a nearby thicket. Just as the ram was foreordained and prepared as a substitute for Isaac, the sacrifice of the Lamb of God was eternally foreordained and prepared. Yes, Jehovah was fully involved in all of this. And even though I can’t specifically say, “look at the roll the Holy Spirit is playing,” He too was involved.
At the moment of the Saviour’s death, there will be a major earthquake. Some might suggest that the creation groaned at the death of the Creator. Others will say that it was the work of God to shake the people of Jerusalem. How widespread was that earthquake? Was it world-wide? Some boldly say that it was. As severe as it was, it had nothing to do with the rending of the veil separating the Holy of Holies from the Holy Place within the Temple. When the veil tore, from the top down, it defies most of the natural laws of physics. It was miraculous. And undeniably at the same time there was the opening of graves and the appearance of some dead. No, they were not zombies or some other Hollywood mythological creatures. Several dead saints of God were restored to life. One can only imagine what stories they had to tell, if they were permitted to tell them. Yes, God had a part to play in all of this.
But perhaps the most obvious was the darkness. All three Synoptic Gospels repeat what Matthew 27:45 says – “Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land unto the ninth hour.” From the sixth hour of the day, that is, from noon, until three, the sky was dark. This Greek word is translated in only one way – more than thirty times – “darkness.” There was not an eclipse that day, because they don’t last this long. Nor was the sky so filled with forest-fire smoke that the sun was blotted out. This darkness was not from a cloud, because that wouldn’t make the news. This was supernatural – it was miraculous – it was from the hand of God.
But I cannot tell you WHY it happened. The poetic explanation is that the Father couldn’t bear to witness His son bearing the sins of His elect. Another poet might suggest once again that the creation could not bear to look on its creator in this way. There might be a Satanic explanation, or perhaps it involved the angels of God in some way. Was it symbolic? Perhaps so, but who knows for sure. As I said when we began, I am not qualified to speak with authority on a lot of this.
And that is most particularly true when it comes to CHRIST JESUS HIMSELF.
And yet I have more scriptures in reference to Him than I do with any of the other participants. Jesus refused the pain-killers and I’m sure it didn’t take four men to actually spike Him to the cross. “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” Christ willingly offered Himself for our sins – for my sins. I picture Jesus laying down on top of that cross, holding His arms out, waiting for the nails. I know it may be a silly thought in this way, but “lay down his life for his friends.” He “hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling savor.” But Christ’s gift was with the full agreement of the God-head. He “gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from this present evil world, according to the will of God our Father.”
Christ Jesus is the called “the Lamb of God” for a good reason, and we see it all at Calvary. “He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; he is brought as lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth.” At Golgotha we see “Christ our Passover (being) sacrificed for us.” Sinners are redeemed “with the precious blood of Christ as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.”
Not only is Christ the Lamb, but He is also the Shepherd and the priest who offers the sacrifice. As in Spurgeon’s quote in last week’s bulletin: “The Lord Jesus is everything in the redemption, for His is both the Buyer and the Price.” He said, “I am the good shepherd, the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep.” He is the corn of wheat falling into the ground to die, so that in His death much fruit might be produced.
Without a doubt the most prominent and important character in the crucifixion is Christ Jesus.
One additional participant, or potential participant to be considered is YOU.
The soldiers finished their task and sat down to watch Him. The Jews laughed and mocked, at least initially, until the human gravity began to sink in. And the disciples were either not present or standing on the side-lines. Where would you have been in all of this?
Where are you now? The man who hates the Jew for his participation in the crucifixion of Christ, should also hate the Romans. Furthermore, he should hate himself. Christ died to save sinners, and we are all sinners. We are all sinners who deserve what Jesus Christ experienced. And without the blood sacrifice which Jesus made, there will never be an atonement for us in our sin.
We may look on the crucifixion as an historical event, but that would be a waste of time. We may look on the cross as a religious event, but that would be an even worse response. You must consider it as if the Son of God went to the cross specifically to save your soul – to deliver you from your sin. You must realize that Christ died, shedding His blood as an atonement for you – for you alone. Until you repent before God – something we don’t see in any of the people there at Golgotha….. Until you humbly repent, acknowledging your need of a Saviour and the blood of the Lamb…. Until you by faith put your hands on the head of this sacrifice, you will be nothing more than soldiers watching Jesus die. Repent before God, believe on the Lord Jesus Christ who is pouring out His blood for your redemption.