Mark 15:24&25 “And they crucified him. Dividing up his clothes, they cast lots to see what each would get. It was the third hour when they crucified him.”
The actual crucifixion of God the Son is summed up by Mark in a sentence of four words, “And they crucified him” and so we must survey together the wondrous cross on which the Prince of glory died. Surely this scene is holy ground, and how can we approach it reverently and with godly fear? One almost feels that there should be some physical response, that I should ask you to take your shoes off, or request that you to stand up for the duration of this sermon or for parts of it, in awe of Christ’s dying love. We meet today in his name and in the presence of this same living Lord whose crucifixion we are going to consider. I cannot ask for any physical response but rather would depend on the Spirit of Jesus Christ to create the true reaction to his dying love which the cross of Christ requires; “my richest gain I count but loss, and pour contempt on all my pride.” Let me ease my way into this subject by first asking this question;
1. WHEN WAS THE LORD JESUS CHRIST CRUCIFIED?
Mark tells us, “It was the third hour when they crucified him” (v.25), but in John’s gospel Pilate made his definitive decision that he would have Jesus crucified at about the sixth hour (John 19:14). Is Mark’s clock fast or is John’s clock slow? The difference of the times seems to be about four hours. Is this a mistake in the infallible Bible? The answer lies in the fact that Mark and John use different systems for numbering the hours. We do so today.
A daughter will phone us and she’ll say, “When are you leaving for London ?” My wife will say, “7 o’clock,” and later my daughter will talk with me and she’ll ask, “Tell me again at what time you’re leaving for London ,” and I’ll say, “19.00 hours.” Which one of us is correct? We are both correct. So it is with Mark and John; Mark is following a daytime system in which the days runs from sunrise to sunset and is divided into twelve hours. Noon is the sixth hour and 9 a.m. is the third hour. Pilate is working on another system. John tells us that it occurred “early in the morning” (Jn. 18:28) and so when he mentions that it was the sixth hour at which Pilate determined to let Jesus be crucified he is not referring to noon but at 6 a.m. So there is gospel unity and we can conclude that our Saviour was crucified at 9 a.m. on that first Good Friday morning.
2. HOW DID THEY CRUCIFY THE LORD JESUS CHRIST?
We can begin by pointing out that in spite of the battering of his body and mind during the previous 24 hours the Lord Jesus on Golgotha would have been in excellent physical shape. He had eaten and drank to the glory of God all his years. No excess and no addictions had ever marred his life. He never forgot that his body was the temple of the Holy Spirit. Each day it was his joyful spiritual worship to present his body to God as a living sacrifice. As a carpenter by trade, he exercised his body naturally and also he spent much of his ministry travelling on foot across the countryside. Once a week he had a complete day of rest, with all the benefits that that would bring. We judge that his stamina and strength were very well developed, he was at the peak of manhood and so when he was nailed to the cross he would have suffered greatly. He fought with death, and he fought alone with death, without the aid of doctors, drugs or even friends to assist him. How much he suffered: the tortures of the cross were to break a man who was in a good condition.
Crucifixion was invented by the Persians between 300-400 B.C. Sinners have scarcely invented a more painful form of slowly killing a person, in fact the English language derives the word ‘excruciating’ from the word ‘crucifixion.’ This terrible punishment was reserved for slaves, gross criminals like pirates, highway-robbers, terrorists, but not for Roman citizens. The first readers of the gospels knew only too well what crucifixion was, but we don’t. I trust what I shall say will not just harrow your feelings but edify your heart and mind.
What happened? Was Jesus perhaps thrown to the ground, laid out on the cross and nailed to it? Some think he was nailed to it while he stood up, maybe he was made to stand on a trestle which was removed once the nails were in place. The Greek meaning of “hands” includes the wrist, and so some have suggested that the nails went through Jesus’ wrists. They claim that if the nails were driven into the hand, the weight of the arms would cause the nail to rip through the soft flesh. Whereas if nailed through the wrist, the two bones in the lower portion of the arm would support the weight of the body. A huge nail (maybe seven to nine inches long) would have been driven into the limb severing the major nerve to the hand (the median nerve) upon impact. It would cause great pain. They would have used a sledge hammer to drive it firmly into the cross.
As the cross was lifted up, Jesus’ full weight would pull down on the nails and his shoulders and elbows would soon dislocate. In this position, Jesus’ arms would stretch to at least six inches longer than their original length. What of his feet? Was each foot nailed to a little platform, or were his legs bent before they were nailed to the upright? The nails would not rip through the soft tissue of the feet and ankles as would have occurred with the hands. Again, the nails would cause severe nerve damage (they would sever the dorsal pedal artery of the feet) and cause acute pain. Perhaps the nails were driven through the heel onto each side of the cross, but that would be no less painful. Luke 24:39 describes the scene in the Upper Room when the risen Lord showed the twelve his feet as well as his hands, and so we believe that the lower limbs of our Saviour had also to be impaled on the cross, but we lack many of the details of his crucifixion and we do not regret this fact. God has thrown a veil over the naked body of his Son and it is not our prerogative to remove it. Crucifixion was certainly a terrible punishment. The cross of Jesus was not just some symbol of the arms of love outstretched to embrace the world. When he was lifted upon the cross the ensuing torture was extreme.
Klaas Schilder quotes a medical doctor, Dr P. Biesterveld and his view of the cross: “The unnatural, constrained position of the body with its arms spread outwards for so long a time must have been a torture which cannot be described in words. This is especially true because not the slightest movement could be made without causing unbearable pain to the whole body but particularly to the impaled hands and feet and to the back, made raw as it had been by the scourging. The nails had been driven through the body at precisely the places were numerous sensitive nerves ran together. Some of these were excited, and others suppressed, a situation causing the severest pain, and one which must gradually have increased. The irritated parts of the body, gradually exposed to the influence of the air, must slowly have become swollen and bruised. The same result must have taken place in other parts where the liquids of the body were held back by the tremendous tension and consequently were frustrated. Now the pain of the inflammation in these parts could only increase from moment to moment.
“The blood which is carried to all parts of the body through the arteries by the left auricle could not find room enough in these badly inflamed and swollen parts, and consequently would have to flow to the head in greater proportions than usual. It would have to distend and press hard on the arteries there, and thus cause ever increasing headache. However, because of this hindrance in the circulation of the blood the left auricle would be unable to send out all of its blood, and consequently would be unable to receive all of the blood coming to it from the right auricle. There was, therefore, no free circulation of the blood in the lungs. This would cause the heart itself to be oppressed; all the arteries would necessarily feel the added pressure; and an unspeakable sense of oppression had to result.
Dr. Cahleen Shrier, an American professor of Biology and Chemistry, has written about Jesus’ breathing: “Normally, to breathe in, the diaphragm must move down. This enlarges the chest cavity and air automatically moves into the lungs. To exhale, the diaphragm rises up, which compresses the air in the lungs and forces the air out. As Jesus hung on the cross, the weight of his body pulled down on the diaphragm and the air moved into his lungs and remained there. Jesus had to push up on his nailed feet to exhale and that would have caused more pain. In order to speak, air had to pass over the vocal cords during exhalation. He spoke seven times from the cross. It is amazing that despite his pain, he pushed up to say “Forgive them” (Luke 23:34).
“The difficulty surrounding exhalation leads to a slow form of suffocation. Carbon dioxide builds up in the blood, resulting in a high level of carbonic acid in the blood. The body responds instinctively, triggering the desire to breathe. At the same time, the heart beats faster to circulate available oxygen. The decreased oxygen (due to the difficulty in exhaling) causes damage to the tissues, and the capillaries begin leaking watery fluid from the blood into the tissues. This results in a build-up of fluid around the heart and lungs. The collapsing lungs, failing heart, dehydration, and the inability to get sufficient oxygen to the tissues essentially suffocated the victim. The decreased oxygen also damaged the heart itself which lead to cardiac arrest. In severe cases of cardiac stress, the heart can even burst, a process known as cardiac rupture. Christ might have died of a heart attack.”
Dr P. Biesterveld concludes, “Add to these considerations the fact that the person could never turn or adjust himself amid all his pain, inasmuch as the head alone was free. The body was persistently in an unnatural position. This meant that a gradual stiffening of nerves, arteries, and muscles had to result. Fiendishly annoying insects hummed around him, and settled upon the open wounds.” (Klaas Schilder, Christ Crucified, Baker, 1940, p.109). All this could last twelve hours, and sometimes for twenty-four hours.
I’ve not told you all this to make you cry. I am giving you the same information which was readily observable to the first century Christians to help bring your affections to bear on the cost of your redemption. Your redemption was not a theological transaction; it was utterly physical. It was not wrought out in eternity but in time and space in the pain of Golgotha .
There are people to whom the physical sufferings of Christ are everything; they look to paintings and to oratorios and to the eloquence of man to make the sufferings even more real to them, but what have such feelings got to do with godliness? I can preach on the agonies of Christ so that you feel so sorry for him, but he does not seek your pity, and you would be no more godlike as a result. If tears were the mark of the mature Christian then it would mean that people with the tenderest temperaments would be the biggest saints. You know that that is not so, rather the Christian who battles most with sin and is constantly looking to Christ the prophet and king, as well as to the priest, is the mature believer. Heated imaginations and enthusiasms and visions of Christ hanging on a cross are no evidence that you are children of God.
Many will say in the last day, “Lord, Lord, didn’t we see you hanging on the cross in your agony and wept for you?” And the Lord will say, “Yes, and so did some Pharisees and some of the soldiers who crucified me. Depart from me, I never knew you.” There were those who walked to Golgotha and then sniffled and blew their noses when they saw young men hanging on their crosses. Such sadness didn’t mean they were Christ’s disciples. I am not saying it is wrong to have a lump in your throats when you hear what Jesus suffered. I am saying that sorrow at the sufferings of the Redeemer is insufficient evidence of God changing your hearts, and without a new heart you are lost men.
3. WHY MUST THE LORD JESUS CHRIST DIE IN THIS WAY?
Why no other form of punishment? Why wasn’t he stabbed, the blade slipping in and out and swiftly he’s be a dead man? They cut the throat of a lamb why not cut Jesus’ throat? Why wasn’t he pushed off a precipice as his enemies had attempted early in his ministry? John the Baptist was beheaded so why not Christ? Why none of those ways of killing him? Why was God’s determinate counsel and foreknowledge a cross for his beloved Son? I would think we have answers to that question;
i] For the salvation of all the people of God the Lord Christ needed to be lifted up and officially exhibited before the world in his dying. His death was not to be done in a corner – in a dark alley, or in a muffled room in the middle of the night with his body taken away and buried secretly. It was nothing like that at all. He suffered under Pontius Pilate for the broken law. He was legally judged by Roman law and the penalty was crucifixion. The condemned man, guilty of atrocious wickedness, had to be raised up above the ground so that all the peoples could see that he was getting his just deserts. The wages of his sin were crucifixion. Christ was also legally judged by Jewish law which declared that if a man were hung on a tree in punishment for his crimes he was also cursed by God. Jesus could not separate his cross from the law of Moses. He couldn’t say to himself, “Ah, this is Rome condemning me in this way, not my fellow countrymen.” No. Moses’ book of the law couldn’t be pushed aside out of consideration by Rome . As he hung on Golgotha the word of God was charging his conscience, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree.” One wicked hand of Rome held the hammer and another evil hand of Jewry held the nail and together they condemned him and nailed him to that raised up cross, but God was also there in that sinful action, though not in the sin of the action. God was lifting his Son up before the world and placarding him before men and angels, exalting him and drawing men to him. God was saying, “Look unto my Son hanging on a cross, and be saved all the ends of the earth for I am God and there is none else.”
ii] Another reason why Christ must be crucified is because his condemnation had to be a violent death. He couldn’t die of old age in his bed surrounded by his family and friends. His death was the antitype of the Old Testament sin-offering where the lamb was slaughtered, foul with dust and blood, its throat gashed across, its entrails laid open steaming its impurities to the sun. There the lamb lay awaiting the consuming fire which was blazing away furiously on that altar; soon its ashes would be discarded outside the camp. It was a vile sight. No one could watch it without being disgusted. No one could touch it without being defiled. That was the picture which Jehovah insisted must be presented every day before the people as the sign of their sin and of how the great Sin-Bearer would come one day and deal with their guilt. So Christ comes and is whipped, and spat upon, and hit on the head again and again, and crucified, and when the church remembers him we especially are not to forget his broken body and his shed blood, in fact the Lord provides the Lord’s Supper to help our memory of his death until he come.
On the cross Jesus experienced a curse. Jesus experienced a catastrophic curse. Christ exhausted an immeasurable curse. Upon him while on Golgotha were loosed the reality of the seven seals, and the seven trumpets, and the seven thunderings, and the steaming horses drawing the chariots of death, and the four winds – all these convulsions exploded upon him. Little wonder a great earthquake shook the hill and the dead were raised when he died, as though the physical creation were sympathising with its Creator. Such things would have been out of place had Jesus peacefully passed away in a bedroom surrounded by his brothers and sisters. Death and the curse seized him with violence. That is why he was crucified. The full measure of the guilt of a countless number of sinners could not be expiated in a twinkling of an eye. The wrath of a righteous God against all our sins could not be propitiated in a second. All that hellish damnation took many dark hours for the Son of God to deal with.
4. WHY MUST SUCH CONDEMNATION COME UPON CHRIST?
We have a full biblical answer to that question too. It was not a case of hidden identity. It was not that his glory was covered and if it had been revealed the Jews and Romans wouldn’t have laid a finger on him. His entire ministry was one clear and glorious revelation of God in his holiness, mercy, love, power and willingness to save. Then why did they treat him like this?
i] Herman Hoeksema has replied to that question as well as any contemporary preacher; “There can be but one answer: they nail him to the tree because of what he is. He is the Son of God, the only Begotten of the Father, God of God and Light of Light. And this Son of God, by whom also the worlds were made, came as near to us as possible when he assumed our flesh and blood, and appeared in the form of a man. He entered into our world, walked among us in the likeness of sinful flesh, lived our life, spoke our language, and became like unto us in all things, sin excepted. All the thirty-three years of his earthly sojourn, but especially during the three years of his public ministry, he revealed the Father, in the words he spoke, in the works he performed, yea, in his entire person. Always he stood for the cause of God’s righteousness, of his glory, and of his everlasting covenant. In the midst of a world of sin and darkness he never drew back. With the unfruitful works of darkness he never compromised. Always he revealed himself as the light, and there was no darkness in him at all. In him God was manifested in the flesh. This is the deep reason why the world hated him. For men were and are by nature enemies of God. They love the darkness and hate the light” (Herman Hoeksema, “When I survey . . .” Reformed Free Publishing Association, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1977, p.360). Christ was the sinless one among sinners and they hated him. He was the light shining in the darkness and the darkness would have none of it. He was the Son of God tabernacling among men and men said, “This the Son, let us kill him.”
ii] The other reason such condemnation as the death of the cross came upon Jesus was that their hatred of him was commensurate with such a prolonged torturing. In other words, that’s how much they despised him; a swift death was too good for him. They wanted to cause him long agony. They loathed everything about him, the way he was always exposing their ugly little lives and wouldn’t be silent – how intolerable it all was. They hated him and killed him as someone utterly worthless and evil, unworthy of dying a civilised death.
Who were these people who so hated the preacher of the Sermon on the Mount? Who could despise the great Physician so much that they would crucify him? Were they cannibals? No. Head-hunters? No. Illiterate crooks high on drugs? No. Unscrupulous criminals? No. The scum of mankind? No. The very opposite. They were the men who represented the world at its best. The men who nailed Jesus to a cross were the representatives of Roman law and power, proud of their culture and civilisation, boasting of their knowledge and jurisprudence. The other men who nailed the Messiah to the cross were the representatives of the greatest religion in the world, proudly monotheistic, recipients of God’s law, hearers of his prophets, students of his Scriptures. These were the scribes and lawyers, theologians and rabbis, men who made it their business to know the word of God. These men were Pharisees who were renowned as men who walked in the external righteousness of the law, and priests who functioned at the temple, mediators of atonement.
What does this tell us? You cannot attribute the most atrocious sin of the crucifixion of the Son of God to these men’s lack of culture, or history, or education, or religion, or social standing, or wealth. Their attainments abounded in all those things. The crucifixion of Christ was due to sin. They were enemies of God from their hearts. They did not have especially wicked hearts, they had the same heart as you have or I have. In other words, we sinners crucified the Son of God. I am saying that if you were there your voice would have been chanting alongside all of them, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” When I describe to you what sinners did to the Son of God I am holding up a mirror to your heart. Mere men crucified the Lord Jesus Christ. Mere men always crucify him, and so let’s bow our heads in shame before his cross. The death of Christ is our greatest condemnation. When we appear before God let us dismiss our arguments and pleas that we have lived a good life. God will say to you, “Didn’t you crucify my Son?” and every mouth will be stopped.
5. WHAT DOES THE CRUCIFIXION OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST SHOW?
i] Our sins are extremely horrible.
Nothing reveals the horrors of sin like the crucifixion. What put Jesus on the cross? Not the greed of Judas, not the envy of Caiaphas, not the hatred of the Pharisees, not the cowardice of Pilate but my own pride, and greed, and envy, and lust, and hatred.
“Who was the guilty? Who brought this upon Thee?
Alas, my treason, Jesus hath undone Thee.
‘Twas I, Lord Jesus, I it was denied Thee;
I crucified Thee” (Johann Heerman, 1585-1647)
Christ resolved in love to deal with my sins. He voluntarily surrendered himself into their hands. He did not run off into the darkness when the soldiers arrived in Gethsemane . He chose to endure all the reproach and shame my sins heaped upon him. He gave his blessed body to be nailed upon the cross and prayed for those who did it. He was resolute to stay there suspended by the nails, not summoning a legion of angels to deliver him. He would stay suspended by the nails until he could cry, “It is finished.” I cannot understand how anyone can hear about the dying love of Jesus Christ and not be ashamed of his sins. How can you cling to your unbelief and apathy when he died for sins like that? To you they may seem an understandable acceptable viewpoint of a scientific age. All your friends think as you do. Yes. To you they are rational attitudes; how can anyone object to them? I tell you they caused the dying agony of Jesus; they put the Son of God on the cross. They are poisonous killing attitudes. I will show you what they are like – Behold the Lamb of God on Golgotha ! The Jews and Romans pleaded their ‘understandable’ rejection of Christ as the Messiah as the rational explanation he had to die his horrible death. Golgotha is the logic of your rejection of Christ. I tell you that your sin is as serious as this, that the only way God could forgive you was through the incarnation of his Son and his bearing your guilt on the cross.
ii] God’s love is wonderful beyond measure.
Who devised our salvation? Who dreamed up the plan of redemption? Was it a United Council of World Religions attended by all the gurus and bishops of the world who dreamed it up? Did they then plead with the Mighty God to set the whole scheme going by sending his Son? No. The whole scheme was God’s in its conception, in its accomplishment and in its consummation. He devised it all. Salvation is of the Lord from beginning to end; it is of him, and through him, and to him. There is no place for human engineering. It is all divine; it is all of grace; ‘tis mercy all, immense and free. Christ was delivered up to Golgotha by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God. God provided the Lamb; God found the Lamb in his own flock, next to his own heart. God sent the Lamb. Jesus whom he loved became the Lamb – God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son to the cross of Calvary .
He provided him to bear his own wrath against the sin that contradicts and defies all that God is as light, and love, and purity, and truth. God made Christ to be sin for us. The Saviour contracted all our blame; it was all laid on him by God. It was all destroyed for ever – the whole body of our sin – once and for all by Christ. The work he conceived of he completed. “It is finished!” That is what the love of God achieved. We believers don’t get what we deserve, a God of love becoming our pursuer, and finding every one of us . . . maybe when we were in a rave in Goa in India , or on a street in India , or in a gutter in Aberystwyth, or in a lecture room at a college. He showed us our plight and told us how we could be forgiven and could find new life. He gave us a new heart. It was all of his grace – God’s love to the utterly undeserving.
iii] Christ’s salvation is a free gift.
How does the gospel address us? Does it tell us that by cross bearing and pain the death of Christ might now save us? Does God say, “Squeeze a few more tears out of your stony heart first and then I’ll think of it”? Does it ask us to fast and agonize in prayer for weeks? No, it does not. It says to us this; have you considered that Jesus Christ is God’s Redeemer? He has freed us sinners from the guilt and shame of our sin by paying every penny of our redemption. That is why he suffered, that we might not suffer. That is why he died, that we might not die. That is why he was forsaken, that we might not be. The great debt of our liabilities before God has been cleared. There is nothing left to pay. Not a penny. God asks for no contribution at all. We give God nothing except our sin and need. Nothing in our hands we bring, simply to his cross we cling. There is nothing whatever for you to do. By the stripes of Jesus we are healed, and the pain which he endured our salvation has secured. He has left no stripes for us to bear.
“But we must believe in him?” Of course. For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son that whosoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life. Believe upon the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved. Our Saviour is a balm, an ointment, which you can apply to the angry red wound of your sin. A wad of soft lint will keep that ointment resting on the wound to soothe it and finally heal it. By faith we bind the healing of Christ to our wounded souls. It is not the lint that heals, that is the work of the ointment. Faith is merely the lint that holds Christ to our sickness. Don’t look at your faith; don’t boast in your faith; it didn’t die for you; it didn’t rise again for you; your faith didn’t bear the wrath of God against your sins; all that was the work of Jesus Christ. Your faith simply takes the balm of Golgotha and applies it to your broken contrite heart.
“But we must repent,” another says. Of course. Who would claim that the cost of his redemption was covered by Christ and then hurry on to continue a life of wickedness? Once you turn aside to Jesus, life can never be the same again. You can’t keep on walking along the road of self; you live a repenting life. Yet remember this, that it is not your repentance that is the ointment that heals you, it is the blood of Christ. Your repentance did not hang on the cross for you; that was Christ. In fact it is the sight of Jesus’ dying love for us that turns us to his grace. Calvary will deliver us from our love for sin when nothing else can. That was John Newton’s experience. Hear him
1. In evil long I took delight, Unawed by shame or fear,
Till a new object struck my sight, And stopped my wild career.
2 I saw One hanging on a tree, In agonies and blood,
Who fixed his languid eyes on me, As near his cross I stood.
3 Sure never till my latest breath Can I forget that look;
It seemed to charge me with his death, Though not a word he spoke.
4 My conscience felt and owned the guilt, And plunged me in despair;
I saw my sins his blood had spilt, And helped to nail him there.
5. Alas! I knew not what I did, But now my tears are vain:
Where shall my trembling soul be hid For I the Lord have slain!
6. A second look He gave, which said “I freely all forgive;
This blood is for thy ransom paid: I die that thou mayst live.’
7. Thus, while His death my sins displays In all its blackest hue,
Such is the mystery of Grace, It seals my pardon, too.
(John Newton 1725-1807)
That is the message of the cross of Christ. My bleeding Surety has borne my guilt, then how can I possibly ever bear it again? He has dealt with it all. The charge God rightly would bring against me has been dealt with by Christ, then the law has nothing with which to charge me. Before the Lord of God I am innocent. I am discharged from every obligation and threat. I live because he died in my stead. I am acceptable because the work of God was accepted. “How do you know?” someone asks. Because on the third day he rose from the dead according to the Scriptures.
“Because my sinless Saviour died,
My sinful soul is counted free.
For God, the Just, is satisfied
To look on him and pardon me.”
9th October 2005 GEOFF THOMAS