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The Crucifixion

Tom Pennington • Mark 15:21-26

  • 2013-04-14 PM
  • The Memoirs of Peter
  • Sermons


Well, tonight we come in our study of Mark's Gospel to the crucifixion of our Lord. Crucifixion is really a difficult thing for us, in the 21st century, to understand. You see, crucifixion was not merely a tortuous means of capital punishment and execution. Crucifixion instead, was also intended to place an indelible stigma on its victim. Every step in the process of crucifixion was designed to produce greater humiliation and greater loss of objective honor, of reputation and standing in the community.

Martin Hengel, in his groundbreaking book Crucifixion in the Ancient World and The Folly of the Message of the Cross, documents the process of designed humiliation. It began with a public trial in order to degrade the status of the accused and label him as a shameful person. The sentence was followed by flogging, torture, and especially the shedding of blood because that also was a degrading thing. The victims were usually completely naked, and, in the lengthy course of dying, they often fouled themselves with urine and excrement. They were forced to carry their own crossbeam to the place of execution. Their personal property, like their clothing, was confiscated.

Executions were actually a crude form of public entertainment, where crowds gathered and ridiculed and mocked the victims. The victims, by the Romans, were sometimes fastened to their crosses in a distorted or whimsical way to make them look ridiculous. In many cases, the victims were denied honorable burial. Their corpses were left on display and devoured by carrion birds and wild animals. Because everything about crucifixion was designed to bring public shame, the Romans often referred to the cross as "The Tree of Shame." In fact, Cicero said, "Even the mere word 'cross' must remain far, not only from the lips of the citizens of Rome, but also from their thoughts, their eyes, and their ears." It was a necessary evil in Roman society, but those at the top echelons of Roman culture were not supposed to even engage in speaking the word because it was a public shame. Most followed Cicero's advice.

In spite of the hundreds of thousands of executions and crucifixions in Rome, the fullest accounts that we have in writing are the ones that occur in the gospel record. You see, the gospel of Jesus Christ is nothing but the story of a publicly humiliated and shamed man. And yet, it was exactly in God's wisdom through such a despicable act of public shaming that He would accomplish our redemption. Specifically, through the worst form of capital punishment the Romans ever used, crucifixion. And tonight, Mark describes for us our Lord's crucifixion. Let's read the text together. Mark 15, beginning in verse 20,

After [the soldiers, the cohort there in the Praetorium,] had mocked … [Jesus]; they took the purple robe off Him and put His own garments on Him. And they led Him out to crucify Him. They pressed into service a passer-by coming from the country, Simon of Cyrene, (the father of Alexander and Rufus), to bear His cross. Then they brought Him to the place Golgotha, which is translated Place of a Skull. They tried to give Him wine mixed with myrrh; but He did not take it. And they crucified Him, And [they] divided … His garments among themselves, casting lots for them to decide what each man should take. It was the third hour when they crucified Him. The inscription of the charge against Him read, THE KING OF THE JEWS.

The center of human history and the center of God's eternal plan of redemption is also the center of this text because, in verse 24, Mark records for us in just three Greek words, the historical event that stands at the center of our faith: the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth. I want us to work our way through this text, and we begin by looking at the reality of the journey itself, the journey to crucifixion. The traditional journey to the cross is a route marked through the city of Jerusalem called the Via Dolorosa. If you have been to Jerusalem, perhaps you have taken that path from the Fortress Antonia to the outside of the outer wall there of the ancient city.

However, it is highly unlikely that that is the route Jesus took, because the Via Dolorosa is based on the trial taking place at the Fortress Antonia, there on the edge of the Temple Mount. But if, as is likely, the Praetorium was instead Herod's palace, as we have been looking at, on the upper west side of the city of Jerusalem, then the route would have looked quite different. Here is the city of Jerusalem in Jesus' time. You can see on the left side, in yellow, the palace of Herod and this is the route that they would have taken. Outside the second city wall, it's not very far. It's not a lengthy route at all, but it's only about 350 yards, in fact, in total, although they may have woven through the streets and not taken a direct route.

Here is a model of the city of Jerusalem in Jesus' time. We're looking from the south. You can see on the right-hand side, the Temple Mount, the Mount of Olives to the far right. The Fortress Antonia is pointed to there, just on the edge of the Temple Mount. Golgotha is at the top left, and you can see that that would have been just outside the city wall. The red-roofed buildings represent the upper city, the nicer area, and it's at the very top of that where Herod's palace was. Here is where we have been talking about. This is, again, a model of Herod's palace. Those two buildings in the foreground are identical wings, massive wings. Each one supposedly, according to Josephus, held a hundred bedrooms. The courtyard in the middle is likely where Jesus was scourged, and where Pilate would bring Him back in for the private interview. But then, just outside of those walls, within the red circle there on the screen, to the upper side of this slide, you see that courtyard. That would have been an open market. That's probably where the Bema Seat of Pilate was. That's probably where the trial itself actually occurred.

So, when they finished mocking Jesus, somewhere inside the courtyard there between those two wings of Herod's palace, they would have then proceeded out the gate and through the city. They would have weaved their way through the city and out the left side of this slide to Golgotha. A route something like that, although, of course, not straight. It would have had to weave through the city streets.

Here is, on that model, you see Herod's palace on the right-hand side, and you see the site of the crucifixion and tomb there in the red circle on the left-hand side. Here's a close-up of that model. It was a quarry just before the time of Christ. That is the site today of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. And, you can see, even within the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, there is part of an outcropping of rock that may have been in some way connected to this area. So, the entire route, then, would have been about 350 yards from that Praetorium out to the site of the crucifixion.

Now notice verse 20, "After they had mocked Him, they took the purple robe off Him and put His own garments on Him. And they led Him out to crucify Him." As we saw last time, each of the soldiers, perhaps as many as 200 of them, each took his own turn insulting and brutalizing Jesus. When they were done with that brutal game, they took that faded and discarded Roman soldier's cape off of Jesus. Think about what had happened during that time period. In the course of their brutal game, that robe had had time to adhere to the clotting blood on his back. And now, as they tore it off of Him, He was wracked by a fresh wave of pain as the wounds were reopened. And Mark says then they put His own garments on Him. This was a bit unusual, actually, in Roman life. This was probably a concession to the Jews' sense of modesty because in most of the empire, the condemned man would have been led naked through the streets to His execution; but it's Jerusalem, and it's Passover. So, they put His own garments back on Him, and Mark says they led Him out to crucify Him.

The "they" there is, of course, the Roman soldiers. Usually, a detail of four seasoned army veterans were assigned the responsibility to oversee crucifixions, overseen by a Centurion, a commander of a hundred men. Except for the Centurion, the rest of the men in this execution detail were probably not Romans. Most of the people in the Roman army that were stationed in Judea in the first century were actually auxiliary soldiers, recruited from Gentile populations of surrounding countries like Syria, Samaria, and even from the seaside town of Caesarea. But they would have been career soldiers. Roman soldiers typically enlisted around the age of 19. After 20 years of service, they were discharged and granted land out on one of the frontier territories. Until the end of the second century A.D., Roman soldiers were not allowed to marry.

In fact, if a married man joined the Roman army, he had to dissolve his marriage. There was no family life, there was nothing to soften and temper their cruelty and coldness that comes with such an occupation. These men would have been hardened, profane, callous, and utterly pagan. It's likely that they had been part of the detail that had arrested Jesus in Gethsemane a few hours before. After waking up that morning, they learned that Jesus had been brought to Pilate's residence, and they joined the rest of the cohort stationed there at the Governor's official residence. All of those off duty, making fun of this 30-something-year-old Jewish man who had managed to turn all of the local authorities against Him. And now, these four have been assigned the grisly task of Jesus' crucifixion, a task that they had, no doubt, managed scores of times before. So, these four men are now responsible to lead Jesus, along with the two others to be crucified with Him (apparently, they were followers of Barabbas, and Jesus is dying on Barabbas' cross), to lead these three out to the site of crucifixion.

Normally each of them, as condemned men, would have been forced to carry the crossbeam of the cross to the site of execution. Plutarch writes, "Every criminal condemned to death bears his cross on his back." John tells us that it was no different in Jesus' case. In fact, in John 19:17, we read, "They took Jesus therefore, and He went out, bearing His own cross to the place called The Place of the Skull (which is called in Hebrew, Golgotha)." In Latin, that crossbar that Jesus would have carried, called the "patibulum", typically weighed between 75 and 125 pounds. The soldiers would normally, if they acted in this case as Roman soldiers normally did on execution detail, they would have normally placed that cross member balanced across both of Jesus' shoulders, and then they would have stretched out His arms and they would have tied His arms to that crossbar. And this is how He would have made His way through the city of Jerusalem. Only Luke tells us that there was an episode that happened as Jesus was making His way through the city and out to the place of execution. There were a group of women mourning Him, and Luke 23 says that Jesus turned to them, and He made the prophecy of Jerusalem's coming destruction. And He says, "Don't weep for me, but weep for your children." Because of all that Jesus had suffered over the last 12 hours, He was physically unable to carry that 75-125 pound cross all the way to the site of execution. At some point, He stumbled under its weight, and He collapsed. Matthew tells us roughly when this happened. Matthew 27:32 says it happened "as they were coming out." And that probably means as they were coming out of the gate of the city. So, Jesus had made it through the narrow streets of the city of Jerusalem and to the gate that went out there by Herod's palace to Golgotha. But then He collapsed under the load.

Now notice verse 21, [As a result of that] "They pressed into service a passer-by coming from the country, Simon of Cyrene, (the father of Alexander and Rufus), to bear His cross." When the soldiers saw that Jesus had collapsed and that no amount of flogging was going to enable Him to get up and carry the load Himself again, they decided to conscript someone randomly from the crowd.

The Greek word there in verse 21 that is translated "pressed into service" is actually an old Persian word that described the right of Persian government officials delivering the mail to conscript anyone's animals to make sure the mail was delivered. The Romans adopted the same idea. In fact, it still exists to some extent, even in our culture: a police officer who is in the middle of apprehending a criminal. But it was certainly true in Rome. Roman soldiers and other government officials could demand assistance from anyone nearby. In this case, it was someone just passing by. Notice Mark says, "They pressed into service a passer-by coming from the country, Simon of Cyrene, (the father of Alexander and Rufus), to bear His cross."

Here is all we know about this man. His name is Simon. That's a Jewish name, so it is likely that this man was Jewish. He was originally from Cyrene. That's a city on a plateau about 10 miles from the coast of North Africa, in modern-day Libya. We know that there was a large Jewish population in Cyrene in the first century. There was also a large Jewish population from Cyrene living in Jerusalem in the first century. In fact, there was even a synagogue in Jerusalem that was made up of Jews just from Cyrene according to Acts 6:9. We know, also, that Simon was entering the city of Jerusalem, entering that gate there by Herod's palace about 9 am, somewhere before 9 am, on the morning of Passover. But we don't know why he was coming into the city. There are two possibilities.

It's possible that Simon was a faithful believer in the God of Israel and that he had traveled from somewhere else in the Roman Empire to Jerusalem, solely to celebrate the Passover, the great festival of his nation. It's also possible that, along with many other people from Cyrene, Simon had actually moved to Jerusalem and now called it his home. In fact, it's possible that he actually owned a nice home in what we would today call the suburbs, and he was coming into the city for Passover that morning.

Now, it's extremely unusual for Mark to mention Simon's sons by name, Rufus and Alexander, because it adds nothing to the story. The only reasonable explanation for that (one that commentators have often come to) is that Rufus and Alexander were actually known to the Christians in Rome, to whom Mark wrote this gospel, and to the rest of the early church. So apparently, and many believe this to be true (I personally think this is true), we can't be absolutely sure, that both Simon and his sons became true followers of Jesus and members of the early church.

In fact, it's interesting that when Paul writes the letter to Rome, he ends it in Romans 16:13 by saying this, "Greet Rufus, a choice man in the Lord, also his mother and mine," meaning that Simon's wife, Rufus's mother, had also become a believer and had rendered some service, motherly service, to Paul. Again, we can't be absolutely sure that's the reference, but there is reason to suspect that might be true. It's also possible that Rufus and Alexander were actually with Simon that morning, because Passover was a family affair. We don't know.

But, regardless, we do know this: This is not how Simon wanted to celebrate Passover. He didn't know this criminal who was worthy of execution, and he had no interest in knowing Him; but now he is forced, just as a passer-by, to carry His cross. When Simon arrived at the place of execution, he undoubtedly had the same response that you or I would have had. He threw that wretched cross member to the ground and tried to wipe the defilement from his hands. After all, now it would be impossible for him to celebrate Passover. He couldn't go to the temple. He was unclean. And so, he did all that was left for him to do probably. He stayed to watch this man, whose cross he had just carried, die.

It's likely that because of what happened on that day, Simon came to genuine faith in Jesus. Think of the irony of that. The Scripture amazes me in how God weaves His providence together. Here, Simon bore the cross for the one who would bear the cross for him. Just as we saw with Barabbas, here is another illustration of the divine reason for the crucifixion—and that is substitution. In Barabbas, we see a picture of Jesus substituting for the lowest and the worst of men. In Simon, we see Jesus dying as a substitute for the best and most religious of men. For the Roman Christians reading this letter, and for us as well, there is also a powerful lesson behind Simon's carrying the cross. You remember, Jesus' words back in 8:34, when He said, … "If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me." Simon would never forget that lesson.

Look at verse 22, "Then they brought him to the place Golgotha which is translated Place of a Skull. Both Jewish and Roman custom, and even Jewish law, call for the execution of criminals to occur outside the city gate. In fact, Leviticus 24:14 says, "Bring the one who has cursed outside the camp, and let all who heard him lay their hands on his head; then, [and there, outside the camp,] let all the congregation stone him." In this case, the place was simply in Aramaic called "Golgotha". Transliterated into Greek, and then into English, it has become "Golgotha". The name simply means, as Mark translates it for us, "The Place of a Skull". When Jerome translated the Scripture into the Latin Vulgate, into Latin, the Latin word for skull, which is "calvaria", gave us the word Calvary that we sometimes refer to this place. Now why was it called "The Place of a Skull"?

Well, the two most popular explanations for that is, one is that it was a place of execution, and so, there were skulls littering the ground. That is highly unlikely. The Jews insisted on burial because to touch any part of a dead body was to become unclean, so it is very unlikely that this is true.

The second possibility (and a common explanation) is that the hill itself was shaped in some way like a skull. By the way, there is no mention specifically in the gospels of a hill, and the name Mount Calvary didn't become popular until the fourth century. However, it is likely that it was located on a small rise or a small knoll or hill. We know this because--remember the nearby graves? They were dug into a hillside, and there was enough of a hill that a stone was rolled in front of the grave in order to close it. So, it is very possible that, just outside the city walls of Jerusalem, in what was probably an ancient quarry where stones were taken from for building the city, that there was a small rise in the ground or a smooth knoll without any vegetation that had the appearance of the smooth top of a skull. In fact, archaeologists have discovered that that rock that's buried beneath the Church of the Holy Sepulcher was probably about 39 feet high. So, it's possible there was this knoll—smooth, without vegetation—on which the crucifixion occurred or near which the crucifixion occurred.

We know that it was just outside the ancient north wall of the city. John 19:20 says, "The place where Jesus was crucified was NEAR the city". It wasn't in the city, but it was near the city. It was close enough to a public road that those who passed by could see and ridicule Jesus. We'll see that when we get to the mocking of the crowd, the next time we study this text together. It's interesting, by the way, to note that the excavations have revealed that the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, as it's called, successfully meets all the qualifications that the Scripture lays down. It's also interesting that in 335 A.D. when Constantine's mother, Helena, went to the Holy Land and built a church commemorating the site of the crucifixion and resurrection, there was already an ancient tradition in 335 surrounding that spot as the site of Jesus' crucifixion, burial, and resurrection. I think it's very likely that Jesus was crucified and buried where the Church of the Holy Sepulcher stands today. So, those verses that we've just looked at together, verses 20 - 22, trace the journey from Herod's palace out to Golgotha.

That brings us, secondly, to what, in just one verse, Mark tells us about the preparations for crucifixion. Look at verse 23, "They tried to give Him wine mixed with myrrh, but He did not take it." It's a fascinating verse stuck into the story of the crucifixion. It's because, in the first century, myrrh (which is kind of a resin or gum-type substance) was used for perfume. It was used for flavoring, and it was used for embalming. But it was also considered an anesthetic. The purpose of giving this wine laced with myrrh, with an anesthetic, to Jesus really depends on who was giving it to him. You'll notice the text isn't crystal clear, and there is some debate about who gave Jesus (or attempted to give Jesus) this. The Babylonian Talmud tells us that it was the standard practice of the Jewish women of Jerusalem, the wealthy women of Jerusalem, to offer wine laced with a narcotic to those who were crucified. This group of wealthy women had been motivated by Proverbs 31:6.

Give strong drink to him who is perishing and wine to him whose life is bitter. Let him drink and forget his poverty and remember his trouble no more.

It's possible that this was an act of mercy from the wealthy women of Jerusalem, the women that were following Him and to whom Jesus spoke in Luke 23 when He said, "Don't weep for Me, weep for your children."

It's possible that it was the Roman soldiers who offered this to Jesus. If it was the Roman soldiers, then the purpose of the drink was not to lessen the total pain of crucifixion. Remember, crucifixion went on for days (as much as 36 hours) without anything else to drink. More likely, if the soldiers gave this to Jesus, then it was given to Him as just a temporary narcotic in order to lessen the pain and shock of securing His body to the cross. So, it wasn't so much an act of mercy as it was a tool to help them get their grisly job done with the least amount of trouble. Whether it came from the women of Jerusalem as an act of mercy, or whether it came from the soldiers as an attempt to get their job done, Jesus refused to drink it. There is much grace and love in that expression. You know why He refused to drink it? Because Jesus wanted absolutely nothing to dull His senses in this hour when He would bear your sin and mine on the cross. So those were the preparations for crucifixion.

But I want you to notice, thirdly, the act of crucifixion itself. Verse 24 says, "And they crucified Him." Josephus, the Jewish historian, who witnessed countless crucifixions at the siege of Jerusalem in 70 ... called it "the most wretched of deaths." Remember, Josephus, before he became a historian, was also a military officer. He said, "It's the most wretched of deaths." The practice of crucifixion began many years before this with forcibly impaling the body of a criminal, whether dead or living, down onto a pointed stake.

But most historians believe crucifixion, as we consider it, probably began among the Persians. Alexander the Great borrowed the practice from them. In fact, after his siege of the city of Tyre, Alexander crucified 2,000 of his enemies on crosses along a huge stretch of the shore. It was Alexander who introduced crucifixion to Egypt, and later to Carthage. The Romans apparently learned it from Carthage who had learned it from Alexander. The Romans continued crucifixion until Constantine outlawed it in the 300s AD as an insult to Christianity.

So, the Romans didn't invent crucifixion, but they certainly perfected it. It was a form of capital punishment designed to produce a slow death with the maximum of pain and suffering and humiliation. It was usually reserved for slaves, for foreigners, for revolutionaries, for violent criminals, and for prisoners of war. In fact, after the slave uprising under Spartacus, you remember the story was squashed in 71 B.C., Crassus had 6,000 slaves crucified along one of the major Roman roads, the Via Apia. Roman law actually protected its citizens from crucifixion, except in extreme cases like desertion or high treason.

None of the gospel writers describe in detail the process of crucifixion, and the reason for that is obvious. Everyone who read the gospels they wrote in the first century had lived in the Roman Empire and had, undoubtedly, witnessed crucifixions firsthand. They didn't need it to be described. They had lived it. They had seen it. At a guttural level, they had experienced the wretchedness of dying in this way. None of us have witnessed this horrific form of execution, so without becoming sensational, let me take a moment to describe what it was like.

There were three variations of the cross. Some were formed in the shape of the letter "X". Some were built in the shape of a capital "T", and still others were in the shape of a lower case "t"—the one we're more familiar with—and that's called the Latin cross. Based on the fact that the gospels tell us that the sign with the charges against Jesus was nailed above Jesus' head, we know that He was crucified on this third form, the Latin cross, the lower case "t".

Typically, the vertical beam of the cross, the crux simplex as it was called, was left buried in the ground at the site of the execution. Since the weight of the entire cross would have been well over 300 pounds, the prisoner couldn't manage to carry it to the site of execution, so the beam itself, the vertical beam, was left buried in the earth usually. So, Jesus likely (as many had done), carried only the crossbar from the Praetorium to Golgotha. And once they arrived at the site of the execution, the soldiers would have thrown Him on the ground on His back. Remember now, normally He would have had that beam with His hands tied out to it, and He would have carried it to the site; except, in his case, Simon had carried it the last part of the way. They would have put the beam on the ground, put Jesus on that beam. They would have stretched out His hands along the patibulum, secured his hands, and then would have driven the nails, one at a time, one hand and then the other. Sometimes they only tied the hands of the prisoner to the crossbar, but most of the time the Romans preferred using nails.

In Israel in 1968, a team of archaeologists discovered in northeastern Jerusalem, the remains of a crucified body dating from the time of Christ. It was the first authenticated evidence of the crucifixion from antiquity. What they discovered was that the nails that were used to secure the body were about 5 ½ (in one case) to 7 inches long, with a square shaft. And near the head of the nail, the shaft was about 3/8 inches across. The nails were not driven through the hands as it's popularly pictured. Instead, they were driven through the wrist.

Here is an article from the Journal of the American Medical Association in which the diagram is drawn. This is how it would have happened. In Jesus' case, we know they used nails because He refers, after the crucifixion, to the scars from the nails in His hands and the scars in His feet. After the soldiers had nailed both wrists to that crossbar, then they would have lifted that crossbar, or the patibulum, with Jesus attached, up to the vertical post and secured it. Probably the vertical and horizontal pieces were notched so that they could fit together and be easily secured. Often somewhere midway up on the cross, on that beam, the upright beam, there was a wood block nailed, that provided just slight support for the weight of the body so that the wrists themselves wouldn't be ripped free.

The last part of the ordeal, once the patibulum had been secured to that upright beam, was securing the feet, either by nail or by ropes. Again, archaeology confirms that the Romans preferred method was with nails. Usually, the feet were nailed directly to the front of the vertical beam with a single nail. Sometimes the feet were flexed and the nail was driven through the arches of both feet. Other times, the knees and the legs were actually rotated almost 90 degrees; and, in one case, we have, from archaeology, a victim who was found with the nail driven through his heel bones into the cross, where the body would have been strangely contorted.

The slow, suffering death of crucifixion was described, I think, best from a medical perspective in an article written in March of 1965 by a medical doctor named Truman Davis. Listen to how Davis describes the death of crucifixion. "As the arms fatigue, great waves of cramps sweep over the muscles, knotting them in deep, relentless, throbbing pain. With these cramps, comes the inability to push himself upward. Hanging by his arms, the pectoral muscles are paralyzed, and the intercostal muscles are unable to act. Air can be drawn into the lungs but cannot be exhaled." So, Jesus fights to raise Himself in order to get even one short breath. "Finally, carbon dioxide builds up in the lungs and in the bloodstream, and the cramps partially subside. Spasmodically, He is able to push Himself upward to exhale and to bring in the life-giving oxygen. Hours of this limitless pain, cycles of twisting, joint-rending cramps, intermittent partial asphyxiation, searing pain as tissue is torn from His lacerated back as He moves up and down against the rough timber.

Then another agony begins—a deep, crushing pain in the chest as the pericardium slowly fills with serum and begins to compress the heart. It is now almost over. The loss of tissue fluid has reached a critical level. The compressed heart is struggling to pump heavy, thick, sluggish blood into the tissues. Tortured lungs are making a frantic effort to gasp small gulp of air, and the markedly dehydrated tissues send their flood of stimuli to the brain. This is the death of crucifixion.

It ended, usually, with asphyxiation. As the victim was unable anymore against the pain of the nails in the hands and the feet and the unrelenting cramps of the body to pull himself up, he was unable to get sufficient air; and so, slowly, painfully, over many hours, he suffocated to death."

The ordeal of crucifixion was so horrific, that one of our most poignant English words for suffering is taken from the ordeal. Think of the last time you used the word "excruciating". It literally means "out of the cross" or "out of crucifixion". So, Mark tells us that the four Roman soldiers, the execution detail, crucified Jesus.

Now look at verse 24 again, "And they crucified him." And then it says, "And they divided up His garments among themselves and casting lots for them to decide what each man should take." Once they arrived at the site of execution, obviously the soldiers, once again, removed Jesus' garments. It was Roman practice to crucify the victim naked. This was another part of His open, public shaming and humiliation. It's possible that because of Jewish standards of modesty, Jesus was still, at this point, clothed in some sort of loincloth; but it is, frankly, unlikely. Roman law allowed the execution squad to divide whatever minor possessions the victim still had on His person. In Jesus' case, this was only His clothing. Now John gives us greater detail about this, and I want you to turn over to John 19. John 19, and notice verse 23.

Then the soldiers, when they had crucified Jesus, took His outer garments and made four parts, a part to every soldier, and also the tunic. Now the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece, so they said to one another, "Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it, to decide whose it shall be".

Here in this text, we learn that Jesus, like most Jewish men of the first century, probably had five pieces of clothing. There would have been an inner garment, there would have been an outer garment or cloak, there would have been a belt or sash, some sort of head covering or headdress, and there would have been sandals—five pieces. John, here, seems to clearly imply that each of the soldiers chose one piece of the clothing. But there were four soldiers, and there were five pieces of clothing. Under normal circumstances, they probably would have just torn that inner garment into four pieces and divided it evenly among themselves. But notice John says this inner garment that Jesus wore "was seamless, woven in one piece." Literally, the Greek text says, "… woven from the top throughout." It was a seamless, one-piece garment. In other words, it was very high quality, and it was very costly, probably a gift from one of His disciples and followers as an expression of their love.

And so, the soldiers decided that, rather than tearing it, they would cast lots to see who would get it. They used the dice that they had brought along to pass the many hours of waiting while these criminals died. And notice John says specifically, explicitly, in verse 24 that "this was to fulfill the Scripture," specifically Psalm 22:18, "They divided My outer garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots" --another evidence of the amazing prophecies. Psalm 22 written a thousand years before Jesus, before his crucifixion, and yet again another prophecy fulfilled.

Verse 25 says, "It was the third hour…." Back in Mark 15:25, "It was the third hour when they crucified Him." Now putting the times of the gospels together, John typically prefers Roman time—numbering from midnight. He tells us, in John 19:14, that it was "… about the sixth hour." Roman time, or about 6 am, when the Roman trials ended. Mark, here, tells us by Jewish reckoning, it was "… the third hour." or about 9 am, when Jesus was crucified. That allows us to put the time frame together, and we will do that more as we work our way through the rest of this account. But I want you to see in verse 26 the reason for the crucifixion. Verse 26 says, "The inscription of the charge against him read, 'The King of the Jews.'"

Understand that crucifixion was intended, not only to execute the criminal, but it was also supposed to serve as a deterrent. Quintilian writes, "Whenever we crucify the guilty, the most crowded roads are chosen, where the people can see and be moved with fear." So, when the Romans crucified someone, they wanted to make sure that everyone knew why. Typically, the crucifixion detail would take a board; they would whiten that board with chalk; and then they would write, either in red or black letters, the crime for which they had been convicted. That board was then either hung around the victim's neck as he made his way out to the site of execution, or one of the soldiers would carry the board in front of the person as he bore that cross member out to the site of execution.

Once the victim had been attached to the cross, that board, with its accusation, was either hung around his neck or it was nailed over his head. With Jesus, Matthew tells us in Matthew 27:37, they put it up "… above His head…." They nailed it over His head. John tells us in John 19:20, that "… many of the Jews read this inscription; for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and Pilate had it written in Hebrew, Latin, and in Greek."; in Aramaic, Latin, and Greek—the three common languages that would have been spoken. In other words, everybody passing by would have been able to read it.

Now what did the placard say? What was the charge? Well, if you piece the four gospel records together, you end up with this, "This is Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews." This is Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews. Now you remember, of course, the Jewish leaders were upset about this wording. They wanted Pilate to change it. They wanted it to say, "He claimed to be the King of the Jews." But Pilate refused to change the wording. Why was that? Because if he went along with their suggestion, he would be agreeing that Jesus was guilty of insurrection. The very thing he had, on four separate occasions that morning, said Jesus was not guilty of.

But I also think that Pilate relished this opportunity to get in a less than subtle jab at the Jewish leaders. He hated the Jews, even though he was responsible to rule over them; and here is an occasion to get at them. Here is your King, and you are worthy of Him. But there is another reason Pilate didn't change the wording. It wasn't just his pettiness. It wasn't just his trying to excuse the condemnation of an innocent man. It's because God Himself wanted this charge on the cross. God Himself wanted everyone who saw it, and everyone since who has read it, including us sitting here tonight, to know that this person dying on this cross (1) was guilty of no crime, and (2) was, in fact, and is The King of Kings and the Lord of Lords. This is Jesus, and He is the King of the Jews.

I want us to finally consider the theological significance of the crucifixion. You see, it wasn't crucifixion that made Jesus' death unusual. You thought about this? Tens of thousands of people were crucified by Rome. In 40 B.C., 2,000 people were crucified in Rome on a single day for the entertainment of Quintilius Varus. In 70 A.D., the Romans crucified so many Jews (around 500 a day) in Jerusalem, that Josephus says they ran out of trees and wood. What distinguished Jesus' crucifixion wasn't the physical suffering. A lot of people died on Roman crosses, suffering as He suffered. What made His death unique was the reality that He was dying in crucifixion as a divine judgment upon sin. In Genesis 3:15 we are told that a person would come to deal with sin. And throughout the Old Testament, we learn more about who that person will be. But we are never told how He's going to deal with sin until 700 years before he came, in the prophecy of Isaiah. Look back at Isaiah 53. Here's where we learn how the coming one would put an end to sin. Isaiah 53:4,

Surely our griefs He Himself bore, And our sorrows He carried; Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, Smitten of God and afflicted. But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, And by His scourging we are healed. All of us, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; But the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to … [crush Him, to strike] Him.

Notice verse 8. The end of the verse says, "… He was cut off out of the land of the living…." He died. Why? "For the transgression of My people to whom the stroke was due." Verse 10--God is the one who crushed him, not the Roman soldiers. And it was to make him a guilt offering. That's the reason for his death. Notice verse 11, "He will bear their iniquities" in his death. And verse 12 says, "… He himself bore the sin of many, And interceded for the transgressors.…" This is why the Messiah had to die. This was the Old Testament's explanation for His death.

What about Mark's explanation for Jesus' death? It comes in Mark 10. Three times before this, Jesus has said, "It is necessary for the Son of Man to suffer and to die." It is necessary for the Son of Man to suffer and to die. Why? In Mark 10:45, Mark finally tells us. "… The Son of Man …" Jesus says, "… did not come to be served, but [He] came to serve, and …" -- here's the heart of it -- "… to give His life as a ransom … [in the place of] many." It was about substitution. That's why He had to die. Or, as Paul puts it to the Ephesians, in Ephesians 5:2, "… Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma." This is what was happening on the cross.

But here's the question. All of those references tell us why Jesus had to die, but why on the cross? Why a Roman cross? There was a reason. It wasn't simply because the Romans were in charge, and that's how they put people to death. There was another reason, a biblical reason, that He had to die, and He had to die on a cross. Paul explains it. You see, Jewish law prescribed that after idolaters and blasphemers were executed by stoning, they were to take their bodies, and they were to hang them on a tree. And the purpose for that was to demonstrate that they had been cursed by God. But even those corpses were not to be left on the tree overnight. Listen to Deuteronomy 21:22 and 23,

If a man has committed a sin worthy of death, and he is put to death and you hang him on a tree, his corpse shall not hang all night on the tree, but you shall surely bury him on the same day, (for he who is hanged on a tree is cursed of God), so that you do not defile your land which the Lord God gives you as an inheritance.

These words were equally applied to the person who was crucified. Do you understand that when the chief priests and the crowd demanded that Jesus die by crucifixion, they were expressing the conviction that this person, Jesus of Nazareth, must take His last breath as a man cursed by God? Paul explains it for us in Galatians 3. Turn there with me, Galatians 3. Here's why Jesus not only had to die but had to die hanging on a tree. Galatians 3:10, "For as many as are of the works of the law are under a curse. For it is written, 'CURSED IS EVERYONE WHO DOES NOT ABIDE BY ALL THE THINGS WRITTEN IN THE BOOK OF THE LAW TO PERFORM THEM.'"

Listen, if you don't perfectly obey everything God has commanded, you are rightfully under God's curse. You're under His curse. "Now that no one is justified by the law before God is evident for, 'The righteous man shall live by faith.'" He quotes Habakkuk. "However, the law is not of faith; on the contrary, what the law says is, 'if you keep the law, then you live.'" Now notice verse 13, "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law." What's the curse of the law? It's the curse that God had pronounced on you and on me for not keeping His law. God cursed us. But Christ redeemed us from that curse. How? "Having become a curse for us," in our place. "For it is written:" and here he quotes Deuteronomy 21, "Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree."

Jesus had to die, but He also had to die hanging on a tree. Why? Because you and I were cursed by God for our blasphemy, for our rebellion, for our sin against Him. And Jesus redeemed us from the curse by becoming a curse in our place, by dying as a cursed man, a man cursed by God, hanging on a tree, a way that defiled the land, even, of Israel. When you think about Jesus dying on that cross, crucified, don't ever forget He was taking your curse. No longer are you cursed by God. Because He was cursed by God, you now enjoy God's blessing. "And they crucified Him."

Let's pray together.

Our Father, our hearts are conflicted as we study this together. On the one hand we are filled with grief and our souls are weighted down by the horrific nature of what our Lord endured for us.

But Father, on the other hand our hearts are filled with great joy that He became a curse for us, that He took the curse You had pronounced on us for our failure to keep Your law. And He redeemed us from that curse because cursed is everyone who hangs upon a tree. Father, we bless You and thank You for what You have done for us in Christ. That now, instead of Your curse, we enjoy Your favor and Your blessing.

Help us to live in light of the cross. Help us to live in joy and rejoicing and thanksgiving. Help us to live in holiness. Help us to live in love as a result of the love You displayed for us, and our Lord displayed for us on the cross. Father, how can we ever thank You for what You did at Calvary?

And Father, I pray as well for those that I know are here tonight who sit here under Your curse because they have not kept everything that is written in Your Word; and yet, they have not accepted the one who redeems from the curse. Lord, may this be the night. Before they put their head on their pillow tonight, may they find a quiet place and throw themselves upon Your mercy, cry out for You to change them and to give them a new heart. Take out their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh. May they come to know the one who removed the curse by becoming a curse for us.

I pray in Jesus' name. Amen.

The Memoirs of Peter