In this editorial and the next we shall consider the final episode in the life of our Lord: we shall contemplate what was required to “fulfil all righteousness” (Matt 3:15), so that he might be “the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). Our Lord’s submission to his Father’s will, his “obedience unto death, even the death of the cross” (Phil 2:8), has both opened the way to eternal life for believers and also provided a pattern for them to follow. As Peter puts it, “Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps: Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously” (1 Pet 2:21–23).

The road to Calvary

Pilate delivered Jesus to the chief priests, “to their will” (Luke 23:25), to be cruci_ ed. Jesus, “bearing his cross [RV bearing the cross for himself]” went forth into a place called the place of a skull, which is called in the Hebrew Golgotha” (John 19:17). It was an ominous name. Some have suggested it was so named because the contours of the rocks resemble a skull. Significantly, it was where Abram had offered his beloved son (Gen 22:2) and where the victorious David had hung the head of Goliath, the epitome of human might and arrogance. However, most importantly, it would be the place where all the foreshadowings of the past would and their true expression: there the head of the serpent, the diabolos, the thinking of the mind of the flesh would be crushed and the Father glorified.

Jesus was so weakened by the sufferings, the scourging, and the events of the past 24 hours that he was unable to bear the cross all the way. Simon, a Cyrenian, “coming out of the country” was compelled to bear his cross. That he and his sons, Alexander and Rufus are mentioned by name (Mark 15:21), suggests that this incident had a profound effect on the family and that they, too, ‘took up their crosses’ and followed the Christ (Mark 8:34; 10:21).

A great company followed Jesus which included many ardent, faithful women who “bewailed and lamented him”. Turning to them he said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for me, but weep for yourselves, and for your children” (Luke 23:27–28). Remarkably, his mind, rising above his own sufferings, turned to theirs, and filled with the Word of God he forewarned, “For, behold, the days are coming, in the which they shall say, Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bare, and the paps which never gave suck. Then shall they begin to say to the mountains, Fall on us; and to the hills, Cover us [Hosea 10:8]. For if they do these things in a green tree, what shall be done in the dry?” (Luke 23:29–31; 21:23). In a miracle which was also an enacted parable, he had declared the fate of the fruitless fig tree of Israel (Mark 11:13,20). If the rulers could crucify an innocent man, what would they perpetrate in the distress soon to engulf the nation? The factional infighting during the Roman siege of Jerusalem and the atrocities induced by the prevailing famine, followed by the massacre of a million souls upon the breach of the walls, bear tragic witness to the truth of his words.

At Calvary (Golgotha) – crucifixion

Prior to his crucifixion and according to the custom, he was offered wine mingled with gall (Matt 27:34; Mark 15:23; Psa 69:21) to deaden the pain: there were guilds of women in Jerusalem who showed mercy on those about to be crucified. But after tasting it, Jesus did not receive it; he would accept no amelioration of the sufferings but would drink his Father’s cup to the dregs. He needed to be alert to all that was about to happen and to utter his words of amazing grace.

The description of the crucifixion is condensed in the gospels in a few words: “And when they had crucified him” (Mark 15:24). It was the third hour or 9am (v25). But let us contemplate what was involved. When the procession arrived, the crosses were lowered and soon the dreadful moment came. The bodies were approximated to the stake, followed by the searing pain of the large nails (15 centimetres long) driven through hands and feet (Psa 22:16) as well as the wooden stake. Significantly, there was no resistance, no struggle from the one who would “lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). Then there was the jolt as the uprights were dropped into their appointed holes. Can youimagine the excruciating pain as the body’s weight sagged, the torture of every movement and the thirst becoming more intense with time?

His garments

Jesus had been stripped of his garments: he was crucified naked. How humiliating, for in hanging hour after hour, the body had to fulfil its natural needs in public. The gospels draw a veil of delicacy over this, but the Psalm of the moment, Psalm 22, had predicted: “I may tell [count] all my bones: they look and stare upon me” (v17).

John tells us that after the soldiers crucified Jesus, they “took his garments, and made four parts, to every soldier a part” (John 19:23). However, their attention was taken by his coat, which was “without seam, woven from the top throughout”; it was a remarkable garment and no doubt woven by one of his female worshippers. It was a job well done: but why? Observing the quality, the soldiers decided not to rend it but cast lots for it. In so doing, the precise requirements of Scripture were upheld: “They part my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture” (Psa 22:18). John adds, “These things therefore the soldiers did” (John 19:24)!

The Word of God was controlling events down to the last and finest details. On the surface of it, Scripture was never so close to being falsified! This all took place beneath the Lord, in his sight and hearing. With his perfect knowledge of Scripture he would have found solace in the knowledge that his Father was in complete control: his prayer was answered: “Be not thou far from me, O LORD: O my strength, haste thee to help me” (Psa 22:19).

His title – The King of the Jews

At the head of the cross, the condemned bore a title describing his crime. Mark seizes on the essentials, leaving out Jesus’ name, saying, “THE KING OF THE JEWS” (Mark 15:26). It was read by many of the Jews, because as John says, “the place where Jesus was crucified was nigh to the city” (John 19:20). This is a telling allusion to Deuteronomy 21:3, where the elders of the city nearest to the place where murder had taken place had to make an offering, wash their hands and declare, “Our hands have not shed this blood, neither have our eyes seen it” (v6–7)! In this case, the Jews had already declared their guilt: “His blood be on us, and on our children” (Matt 27:25)!

Notably, the title was written in three languages, “Hebrew, and Greek, and Latin”, so all could read it, preparing the way for the Gospel to be preached to all nations (Mark 16:15–16).

Rankling from the insult, the Jews sought to alter the title, making it clear that he was but another Messianic pretender: “Write not, the King of the Jews; but that he said, I am the King of the Jews” (John 19:21). But Pilate, with belated firmness, had recovered from his fears (his consent to Jesus’ crucifixion being given against his better judgment) and dismissed them. Like Caiaphas earlier (John 11:49–52), Pilate became the unwitting witness of a great and essential truth!

Two malefactors, thieves, had been led with Jesus to be put to death. The Gospels emphasise that Jesus was crucified with them, “the one on his right hand, and the other on his left” (Mark 15:27), thereby fulfilling the Scripture, “he was numbered with the transgressors” (v28; Isa 53:12,9).

“He was reviled”

Wave after wave of sin and hatred flowed up to Jesus while on the cross, beginning with the passers-by. Wagging their heads, they railed on him, “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” (Matt 27:40; Mark 15:29–30; Psa 22:7; 35:21). It was a garbled version of what he had said in his early Judean ministry: “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19). He was telling them what they would do, not what he would do! In tragic irony they were fulfilling his words! And not only this; by submitting to the death of the cross, he was, in fact, saving himself: in this way he would raise up “the temple of his body” (v21; Phil 2:8–9)! Asking him to prove himself to be the Son of God were words he had last heard from the diabolos during the temptation at the beginning of his ministry (Matt 4:3,6).

Next, the chief priests came to relish their malicious triumph over the one who had caused them so much consternation. They now believed he was safely out of the way: “Likewise also the chief priests mocking said among themselves with the scribes, He saved others; himself he cannot save. Let Christ the King of Israel descend now from the cross, that we may see and believe” (Mark 15:31–32). It was a cruel taunt in his helplessness. Did they desire to believe? Rather they spoke in the exact spirit of Psalm 42:10: “As with a sword in my bones, mine enemies reproach me; while they say daily unto me, Where is thy God?”

Even the thieves crucified with him chimed in and “cast the same in his teeth” (Matt 27:44). Perhaps they considered they were suffering more because of the crowd that came to mock Jesus? It was the terrible language of fear and agony.

In his Gospel, Luke tells us that the soldiers also mocked Jesus, offering him vinegar, and saying, “If thou be the king of the Jews, save thyself” (Luke 23:36–37).

Conclusion

We can see that Jesus’ sufferings were both physical and mental. There was no attempt to respond to the abuse and reviling that he faced on the cross: “when he was reviled, [he] reviled not again” (1 Pet 2:23). In so doing, he provides us with an example to follow. He subjected his will to his Father’s; he committed himself to Him that judgeth righteously. The evidence of his Father’s word being fulfilled in its exactitude would have provided him with encouragement, as the same Psalms (eg 22 and 69) and prophets (eg Isaiah 50 and 53) also spoke of his salvation and glory.

Realising that our Lord’s death was a crucial element in our hope of salvation fills us with gratitude and the desire to serve the one who gave all.

“For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead: And that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again” (2 Cor 5:14–15).

And finally, as poignantly expressed in our wonderful hymn (no 222):

“When my love for man grows weak, When for stronger faith I seek, Hill of Calvary! I go To thy scenes of pain and woe. There behold his agony Suffered on the bitter tree; See his anguish, see his faith, Love triumphant still in death! Then to life I turn again, Learning all the worth of pain, Learning all the might that lies In a full self-sacrifice.”