HH Sir Godfrey Gregg D.Div
Luke 23:26-27 and 32-55
As they led him away, they seized Simon from Cyrene, who was on his way in from the country, and put the cross on him and made him carry it behind Jesus. A large number of people followed him, including women who mourned and wailed for him.
Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed. When they came to the place called the Skull, there they crucified him, along with the criminals–one on his right, the other on his left. Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.
The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Christ of God, the Chosen One.” The soldiers also came up and mocked him. They offered him wine vinegar and said, “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.” There was a written notice above him, which read: THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS.
One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”
It was now about the sixth hour, and darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour, for the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he had said this, he breathed his last. The centurion, seeing what had happened, praised God and said, “Surely this was a righteous man.”
When all the people who had gathered to witness this sight saw what took place, they beat their breasts and went away. But all those who knew him, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.
Now there was a man named Joseph, a member of the Council, a good and upright man, who had not consented to their decision and action. He came from the Judean town of Arimathea and he was waiting for the kingdom of God. Going to Pilate, he asked for Jesus’ body. Then he took it down, wrapped it in linen cloth and placed it in a tomb cut in the rock, one in which no one had yet been laid. It was Preparation Day, and the Sabbath was about to begin. The women who had come with Jesus from Galilee followed Joseph and saw the tomb and how his body was laid in it. Then they went home and prepared spices and perfumes. But they rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment.
It was normal in Rome for there to be a gap of two days before a prisoner’s judgement and execution, but in Roman colonies, such as Israel, the sentence was often carried out straight away. The Jews especially wanted the death of Jesus to take place as soon as possible, as the next day was the Sabbath (the Jewish holy day) and the final ceremonial meal of the Passover celebrations was to take place after sunset.
Jesus would have been dressed back in his own clothes for the procession to the place of execution. The procession would have been made up of four top roman soldiers per prisoner and under the charge of a centurion. It was normally led by the centurion with one of the guards walking in front of each prisoner holding up a whiteboard with the crime of the prisoner written on it. The processions normally took the longest route possible through the streets to show the prisoners off to as many people as possible. But Jesus’ procession went quite a short way to get the place of execution because the execution needed to take place as quickly as possible.
The procession left Pilate’s palace and went through the first gate to a busy shopping area of the city. The shops would have been closed for the Passover celebrations, but there still would have been a large crowd watching with sympathy and pity on the condemned prisoners.
Jesus would have been followed in the procession by the two other prisoners who were to be crucified with him. (They had been convicted of theft.) Prisoners were made to carry the cross-piece of their own cross which was tied across their shoulders. (Often their heads were also tied back to make the journey as painful as possible, but there is no evidence that this was done to Jesus.)
Jesus had not eaten, drank, or slept since being arrested the previous evening and had been beaten many times. It was not surprising, therefore, that he was so weak that he collapsed under the weight of his cross piece. However, he did not collapse until he reached the city wall. The Romans would not have wanted him to die before he was executed, so they pulled a man called Simon of Cyrene from the watching crowd to carry the cross. (Simon was probably a Black Jew on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the Passover celebrations and was camping on the road outside the city. It is thought that he became a follower of Jesus and one of the leaders of the early Church.) Jesus was probably carried the rest of the way by two Roman soldiers.
The procession carried on through the outskirts of Jerusalem until it came to a place called Golgotha (which means ‘the skull’ because it is a rocky outcrop that looked like a skull).
When the procession reached Golgotha, the soldiers would have first put the uprights of the crosses into the ground. These would have been about two metres (6 feet) high, just high enough that the prisoners’ feet would not touch the ground. The cross pieces were then laid on the ground and the prisoners were re-tied to them with arms extended, so that the plank went across the shoulder blades, and were tied on at the elbows. Large iron nails were then driven through each wrist nailing the prisoner on the cross piece.
The cross-piece was then connected to a rope and pulley and pulled up onto the upright, guided by soldiers using ladders. (In very large Roman places of execution, there were permanent scaffolds set up, so the prisoners could be raised up very easily. But Golgotha was probably not big enough.) The cross-pieces were then nailed and/or tied onto the upright. A small rough wooden seat was put onto the upright to help support some of the prisoners’ weight. Lastly, the prisoner’s feet were nailed to the upright, either individually or sometimes a huge nail was used that went through both feet, one on top of the other.
Once prisoners were in the crucifix position, they could sometimes take days to die. They either died of exhaustion or more commonly they drowned when their lungs filled up with body fluids and blood.
People watching crucifixions often offered the dying a drink of strong wine and Myrrh (An embalming agent and anaesthetic. It was also one of the three gifts brought to Jesus as a baby by the Magi or Wisemen!), but Jesus only took a small sip and refused the drink as he did not want his senses dulled.
Because Jesus was the main prisoner to be executed, his cross was placed in the centre, and probably the highest, of the three crosses, with each criminal on either side of him. The sign with the crimes of Jesus written on it, that had been carried in the procession, was then nailed to the very top of the upright. It said ‘The King of the Jews’ in Latin (so Romans and educated people could read it), Hebrew/Aramaic (so the Jews could read it) and Greek (so Greeks and other educated pilgrims could read it). This term would have been very insulting to the Jews, and the Romans would have meant it to be so! Because of this, the Jewish Priests called out in very sarcastic jeers, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Christ of God, the Chosen One.”
Jesus’ clothes were then divided among the four soldiers that had escorted him to Golgotha. His clothes would have consisted of, a Jewish prayer head covering, a cloak, a linen girdle/undergarment, his sandals and his main robe. The soldiers would have drawn lots for the first four items, but who would have the main robe, that would have been made of good quality cloth and so was worth quite a lot of money, was decided by gambling with dice. This made an Old Testament prophesy come true, where it says in the book of Psalms 22:18 that: They divide my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing.
Jesus’ prayer “Father forgive them” although primarily directed at the soldiers, also involved the Jewish leaders for killing the Son of God.
The soldiers continued to make fun of Jesus and offered him some cheap wine they were drinking while the gambled at the bottom of the cross upright.
Then one of the other criminals hanging next to Jesus mocked him, sarcastically asking Jesus for help. But the other criminal realised who Jesus was. He knew that he was innocent of any crimes and told the other criminal to keep quiet and said that they really deserved to be there, but that Jesus didn’t. By asking Jesus to remember him when he entered into paradise (or heaven), the criminal would have meant ‘judgment day’ or the end of the world that was talked about in the Jewish scriptures. He would have been very shocked (and so would have all the onlookers) when Jesus said, “Today you will be with me in paradise”. The Jewish onlookers would have understood this to mean that Jesus was claiming the power to judge people and decide who would enter Heaven.
There is a very powerful and moving song telling this part of the Easter story called ‘Thief’ by my favourite Christian rock group called Third Day. It is written from the perspective of the thief who knew who Jesus was.
It was noon when the sky went dark. It was called the Sixth hour because the hours of the Jewish day were measured from sunrise, about 6.00am. By this time, Jesus had been hanging on the cross about two and one half to three hours. Also by this time, John had gone and brought Jesus’ mother Mary and few other women followers of Jesus to the Cross. These were the only disciples of Jesus to be there when was executed. John was the only disciple who had been with Jesus all the time since he had been arrested.
The sky stayed black from noon until 3.00pm. The darkness would have not only been in the sky but also in Jesus’ heart as he experienced all the sin, pain and death, past, present and future that ever existed on earth.
At about this time Jesus died. He cried out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34). This is the first line of Psalm 22 (The Psalms were/are Jewish and Christian songs & poems.). In those times, if you wanted to start a Psalm you didn’t use a number, but the first line. By saying this Jesus brought the onlookers attention to the whole Psalm, which accurately describes His crucifixion and death, although it was written hundreds of years before! But the Psalm doesn’t stop with the death, at the end of it, it talks about God (Jesus) coming to rule over the earth and people praising him!
After this Jesus spoke his words: “It is finished” meaning his work on earth, and “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”. This is a quote from Psalm 31 verse 5, meaning that Jesus gave up his will and life fully to God, trusting in him, even unto death. The words were yelled as in triumph at the end of a battle, not whispered in defeat.
This had a profound effect on the Roman centurion in charge of the crucifixions as he recognised who Jesus was.
As Jesus died, a violent earthquake shook Jerusalem. It tore in two a large curtain that hung in the Temple. The curtain was about one metre thick and made of the heaviest and most expensive cloth. It separated the main part of the inner Temple from the ‘Holy of Holies’, the room at the very centre of the Temple that only one Priest was allowed to go into once a year. It tore from the top to bottom. The curtain represented the separation of God from man, so the curtain being destroyed would have been a very shocking symbol to the Jews and a sign that something powerful had happened – Jesus had opened God to everyone!
Jewish law stated that a dead body could not be on display after sunset, especially not the Sabbath. This would have started at Sunset and remember, it would have been the Passover Sabbath, the most important Sabbath of the year. So the bodies would have been to removed quickly. People being crucified could sometimes take days to die. So to speed up the death, the arms and legs of the prisoners were broken and then they were stabbed through the heart. This would have happened to the other two men being crucified with Jesus, but when the soldiers got to Jesus they found him already dead.
This fulfilled another prophecy which said the Messiah would be like the Passover lamb, i.e. perfect with no broken bones. All that happened to the body of Jesus was that his side was pierced to drain out the body fluids and make the dead body easier to handle. For a crucifixion, Jesus had died very quickly. But he had been beaten several times before he was crucified and was so a lot weaker than a normal crucifixion victim. More importantly, as the Son of God, he is the only person who ever lived who could ‘dismiss his own spirit/soul’ and so die by a word of his command!
Then Joseph of Arimathea who was a Jewish council member and a secret friend of Jesus came to ask the Romans for the body of Jesus. He had not been called to the ‘trials’ of Jesus because Annas and Caiaphas thought he might stop the trials and call them unlawful.
Joseph was a rich landowner and had a tomb ready for a burial nearby. It was probably where he was going to be buried, but he was willing to give it up for Jesus. The Tomb would have been a large cave with two body shaped niches carved into the side walls. Joseph and another council member called Nichodemas (who had also got to know Jesus quite well) took the body of Jesus to the tomb and quickly embalmed the body. Mary and the other women would have also gone to the tomb but would have only watched this initial embalming. They planned to come back on Sunday morning, just after sunrise, to embalm the body properly. This would have been the earliest time under Jewish law that they would have been allowed to return to the tomb after the Passover Sabbath.
The quick embalming consisted of wrapping the body in bandages, like a mummy. The bandages would have been soaked in Myrrh as it has a strong but pleasant smell and covered up the smell of a dead body. (You might remember that Myrrh was one of the gifts given to the baby Jesus by the Wise Men/Magi in the Christmas Story!)
The body would have then been laid in the niche and a very large stone was rolled in front of the tomb entrance. At the request of the Jewish leaders, the Romans put a guard of the best and most highly trained soldiers on the tomb to make sure no one could steal the body.
The disciples then left to mourn and await the sunrise on Sunday, when they could go back to the tomb and embalm the body properly.