The Old Rugged Cross
Three men, guilty of robbery and, perhaps, other crimes, were scheduled to die on a hillside high above the city of Jerusalem near the road leading to Damascus. It was a very public place where the Romans made examples of those who broke their laws. Yet, one of those men would not die; Barabbas was set free. Jesus became his substitute – not only for his crimes but also for all his sins.
All three men were given wine mingled with myrrh to drink. The drug would serve as a sedative and dull the mind and the pain. Jesus refused to drink the mixture because he wanted to stay in control. He suffered the excruciating pain with dignity and honor. He kept a clear mind as He suffered for you and for me.
About 700 years before this time, the prophet Isaiah wrote these prophetic words, “He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth” (Isa. 53:7, ESV).
At about nine in the morning, they stripped Him of His clothes and nailed Him to the cross. He was placed between two criminals and was raised so that all could see and mock Him. He hung there on public display in agony, naked, humiliated, and embarrassed. Let us not forget that Jesus was as human as we are – He was God and man. What a price He was paying for our sins!
Most of us picture Jesus on the cross with a cloth around Him. However, Scripture does not support this. All four Gospel writers say that the soldiers parted His clothes among them – and cast lots for His garment. The Romans intended to completely humiliate those being crucified so that they might be an example to others. After they had placed Him on the cross, Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do” (Luke 23:34b, NKJV).
It was the custom of the Romans to write the charges against a person and to place a list of those charges over the prison door. Then, when the sentence was carried out, they wrote, “paid in full” over the list of charges.
Let’s look at John’s comments on the charges listed against Jesus. “Now Pilate wrote a title and put it on the cross. And the writing was: JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS. Then many of the Jews read this title, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin. Therefore, the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, ‘Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews,’ but, ‘He said, ‘I am the King of the Jews.’’ Pilate answered, ‘What I have written, I have written’” (John 19:19-22, NKJV).
Let us continue with Luke’s narrative, “And the people stood looking on. But even the rulers with them sneered, saying, ‘He saved others; let Him save Himself if He is the Christ, the chosen of God.’ The soldiers also mocked Him, coming and offering Him sour wine, and saying, ‘If You are the King of the Jews, save Yourself’” (Luke 23:35-37, NKJV)!
After listening to the response of the crowd, one of the men hanging next to Jesus began to participate in the jeering. Let us listen to the conversation.
“Then one of the criminals who were hanged blasphemed Him, saying, ‘If You are the Christ, save Yourself and us.’ But the other, answering, rebuked him, saying, ‘Do you not even fear God, seeing you are under the same condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this Man has done nothing wrong.’ Then he said to Jesus, ‘Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise’” (Luke 23:39-43, NKJV).
Many believe that Jesus was punished in hell for three days after His death, but Jesus said He would be in Paradise today. Where was Paradise? Jesus explained this in the story of Lazarus and the rich man, as recorded in Luke chapter 16. Both men died; Lazarus went to a place called Abraham’s Bosom (Paradise), and the rich man went to a place of torment.
There was a great gulf that separated the two areas. Jesus said that Abraham’s Bosom was a place of comfort and companionship. It was a temporary place where the righteous, who died before Jesus shed His blood on the cross for mankind, rested from their labors. They waited for ultimate release; after their sins had been washed away by Jesus’ shed blood. After Jesus was resurrected and ascended to heaven, He took those who waited in Abraham’s Bosom to Heaven.
One of the criminals was going with Jesus to Abraham’s Bosom that day. Both malefactors probably committed the same crimes, and both were found guilty. What was the difference? The man going to Paradise with Jesus accepted the gift of Jesus’ sacrifice for his sins. The other man did not accept the gift and went to the place of torment where the rich man, in Jesus’ story, had gone.
We will now return to John’s Gospel, where we continue with the sequence of events. “Now there stood by the cross of Jesus His mother, and His mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus therefore saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing by, He said to His mother, ‘Woman, behold your son!’ Then He said to the disciple, ‘Behold your mother!’ And from that hour that disciple took her to his own home” (John 19:25-27, NKJV).
John was the disciple to whom Jesus was speaking. Before Jesus lost his ability to communicate, He committed the care of His earthly mother to John. Tradition has it that John took her home with him and cared for her for the rest of her life.
As the noon hour approached, the hot sun and the suffering of His contorted body began to sap all of His strength. First, he started to sag under His weight as His muscles convulsed from the excruciating pain. Then, as the body slumped with the arms uplifted, the lungs began to fill with fluid, and slowly He began to suffocate. Then, as He would drift into unconsciousness, the agonizing pain would revive Him.
The Psalmist writing a thousand years earlier, in the first person, recorded Jesus’ passion. “Roaring lions that tear their prey open their mouths wide against me. I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart has turned to wax; it has melted within me. My mouth is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; you lay me in the dust of death. Dogs surround me, a pack of villains encircles me; they pierce my hands and my feet. All my bones are on display; people stare and gloat over me. They divide my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment” (Ps. 22:13-18, NIV).
A Veil of Darkness
At noon, God the Father turned out the lights. The Bible says that great darkness came over the area from noon until three in the afternoon. Apparently, in His perfect timing, God created a total solar eclipse. External sources, including the historian, Thallus, reported an eclipse at almost the time of the crucifixion. It also became dark in other Middle Eastern areas during the light hours of the day.
The hour had come for the Father to do business with the Son. This was a private business, and the sneering crowd would not be allowed to watch as the cross became an altar before the Father. The Lamb of God became the sacrifice.
We recall that Pilate placed a sign over the cross with the inscription, “JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS.” God prepared another sign that listed the real reason for Jesus’ death. The apostle Paul writing to the Colossians said that God the Father took all the ordinances against us and nailed them to the cross (Col. 2:13-14). Thus, all of our sins were nailed to the cross.
The Father took the bitter cup, which Jesus agonized over in the Garden of Gethsemane, and turned it up for Jesus to drink. In that cup were the dregs of the cesspools of man’s heart, rebellion against The Sovereign and Holy God, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, strife, jealousy, greed, wrath, and all the other evils of the world. The Lord had laid on Him the “iniquity of us all” (Isa. 53:6b) and had imputed all our sins to His account. As a result, he was “smitten by God, and afflicted” (Isa. 53:4b).
Every cell in Jesus’ body became sin as He was charged with breaking every law in God’s book. At that moment, he had become the worst sinner who ever lived and was the archcriminal of the universe. As he became sin for us, He became an abomination before the Holy character of the Father, and the Father turned His back upon His Beloved Son.
What terror Jesus must have felt as the Father and Son were separated for the first time – the Father abandoning Him and the Holy Spirit withdrawing from Him. Rejected by man and abandoned by God, He was alone and lonely. He had been cast into darkness – both physically and spiritually. Perhaps the physical darkness symbolizes His spiritual separation from God. But the worst was yet to come as He suffered the curse and wrath of the Holy Father in judgment.
God the Father, a loving, compassionate God full of grace and mercy, is also a just God. His justice demands punishment for sin; therefore, He has no choice but to turn the full blast of His fury and wrath upon His only begotten Son.
Scripture does not tell us the form of this fury and wrath; we cannot imagine the horror of this experience. A study of The Revelation may give us more insight. We must remember that the focus of that terrible fury and wrath should have been upon us.
The prophet Isaiah said: “Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand. Out of the anguish of his soul he shall seeand be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities” (Isa. 53:10-11, ESV).
Perhaps, there is another phase of the suffering of Jesus that most of us overlook. As Jesus hung in the darkness, rejected, abandoned, and alone, Satan and his demons moved in. Satan had a claim on Jesus for the first time, and he lost little time in making that claim. No longer did Jesus have the power to resist him.
I am convinced that Satan took the mind of Jesus to the pit of hell, and there, He suffered unimaginable terror at the hands of all the powers of darkness. The very heavenly creatures, who rebelled, and tried to preempt the throne of God, surrounded Jesus. In the war of good and evil, Jesus had been captured by the enemy and was subjected to all the anguish of their cruel torture.
We may recall in Genesis’s chapter three that God said to the serpent: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel” (Gen. 3:15, NKJV).
Satan (the serpent) was bruising the heel of Jesus, but his window of opportunity was very short as Jesus soon regained victory over him. When Jesus died, the wages of sin were fully paid, Satan was defeated, and Jesus was released from His bondage. Yet, by the sovereign will of the Father, Satan has remained free to torture mankind since Jesus’ death on the cross – however, his time is limited.
Matthew and Mark tell us that at about three o’clock in the afternoon, Jesus cried out with a loud voice saying: “‘Eli , Eli, lama sabachthani?’ that is, ‘My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me’” (Matt. 27:46b, NKJV)?
The Psalmist says this: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish? My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, but I find no rest. Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One, the one Israel praises. In you our ancestors put their trust; they trusted and you delivered them. To you they cried out and were saved; in you they trusted and were not put to shame. But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by everyone, despised by the people” (Ps. 22:1-6, NIV).
Now we come to the final moments before he died, and we look to John’s narrative for His last words. “After this, Jesus, knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the Scripture might be fulfilled, said, ‘I thirst!’ Now a vessel full of sour wine was sitting there; and they filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on hyssop, and put it to His mouth. So, when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, ‘It is finished!’ And bowing His head, He gave up His spirit“ (John 19:28-30, NKJV).
It is finished; “Paid in Full” (Tetelestai). Jesus had completely paid for all the sins that mankind has or will ever commit, and God has reconciled all mankind to Himself. No doubt, all the angels of heaven must have celebrated by singing and praising the Beloved Son.
In describing the moment of Jesus’ death, the gospel writers never said that he died. Instead, they use the statements: “He gave up his spirit” or “He breathed His last.” These words were used to stress that Jesus gave up His own life – no one took it from Him.
Matthew tells us that God the Father, in a mighty display of power, shook the area with an earthquake. As a result, the temple’s veil was rented from top to bottom, and some graves were opened. The renting of the temple veil symbolized that fellowship had been restored between God and man. Therefore, there was no longer a need for the Holy of Holies in the temple, which had separated man from God.
Interestingly, the fault line of the earthquake would have had to run east to west in order to rent the veil. When Jesus returns, an earthquake will split the Mount of Olives from east to west.
“On that day his feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem, and the Mount of Olives will be split in two from east to west, forming a great valley, with half of the mountain moving north and half moving south” (Zech. 14:4, NIV).
In his book “Where is Calvary,” Rev. L.T. Pearson gives us some fascinating facts about this earthquake that occurred at the time of the crucifixion. He says, “experts say that the force of that quake did a most unusual thing. Instead of only causing cracks along the weakness of the rock, following the natural seams, a fierce crack had taken place from the top to the bottom.” Most earthquakes open from the bottom to the top below the surface of the earth.
The open graves are also interesting. Mathew tells us about the graves, “Graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; and coming out of the graves after His resurrection, they went into the holy city and appeared to many” (Matt. 27:52-53, NKJV).
The opening of the graves seems to have been caused by the earthquake, which was probably centered in Jerusalem near Calvary. The tombs were probably in the rock walls around the area. The miracle is that many of the people became alive after the resurrection of Jesus, went into the city of Jerusalem, and were seen by many. Since Scripture does not give us the details about these people, this presents a great mystery. We have to assume that they were saints living in Paradise. Did they have a resurrected body like Jesus? How long did they walk the streets?
We are not told what happened to those people, but some Bible teachers believe they received resurrected bodies, while others disagree. They were probably later taken to heaven by Jesus.
We are told that the Jews became concerned about the bodies remaining on the cross after the beginning of the Passover celebration. So, Pilate instructed the soldiers to break the legs of those hanging on the cross, causing them to die quickly.
“Therefore, because it was the Preparation Day, that the bodies should not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), the Jews asked Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away. Then the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first and of the other who was crucified with Him. But when they came to Jesus and saw that He was already dead, they did not break His legs” (John 19:31-33, NKJV).
“But one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately blood and water came out. And he who has seen has testified, and his testimony is true; and he knows that he is telling the truth, so that you may believe. For these things were done that the Scripture should be fulfilled, ‘Not one of His bones shall be broken [Ps. 34:20].’ And again another Scripture says, ‘They shall look on Him whom they pierced [Zech. 12:10]’” (John 19:34-37, NKJV).
Halley’s Bible Handbook gives insights into why blood and water existed. “Some medical authorities have said that in case of heart rupture, and in that case only, the blood collects in the pericardium, the lining around the wall of the heart, and divides into a sort of bloody clot and a watery serum. If this is a fact, the actual immediate physical cause of Jesus’ death was heart rupture. Under intense pain, and the pressure of his wildly raging blood, his heart burst open. It may be that Jesus, literally, died of a heart broken over the sin of the world. It may be that suffering for human sin is more than the human constitution can stand.”
There is little doubt that God got the attention of some of those watching the crucifixion. “So when the centurion and those with him, who were guarding Jesus, saw the earthquake and the things that had happened, they feared greatly, saying, ‘Truly this was the Son of God’” (Matt. 27:54, NKJV)!
Nicodemus also may have watched what was going on. In the third chapter of John, we are told that Nicodemus, a Pharisee and member of the Sanhedrin, approached Jesus at night with questions about the Kingdom of God. Jesus confounded him by telling him that He must be born again. Jesus also said to him that the Son of Man must be lifted up as Moses had lifted up the serpent in the wilderness and that whoever believed in Him would have everlasting life (John 3:14). Many people think that what Nicodemus experienced at the foot of the cross changed his life forever.
Some believe that Joseph of Arimathea, a wealthy man and a member of the Sanhedrin, was also standing nearby. Since he feared the Jews, he was a secret disciple of Jesus. After his experience at the foot of the cross, he went public with his witness.