Dear radio friends,
When sentence was given for Jesus Christ to be crucified, everything was done in great haste. Delay was intolerable. Normally, a period of time is placed between sentencing and execution. Roman law, signed by Augustus Caesar himself, called for ten days’ reprieve between the sentencing and the carrying out of the sentence. But our Savior was given no postponement. Pilate is afraid and he wants to be done with it. The Jews have insinuated to Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor, that they would tell Caesar that Pontius Pilate is not loyal to Caesar. We read in John 19:12 that the Jews said, “If thou let this man go, thou art not Caesar’s friend: whosoever maketh himself a king speaketh against Caesar.”
Still more. Pontius Pilate was afraid of Christ. In his bones he felt that fear. It was Jesus, standing before him, who was judging him – the Son of God had exposed Pilate as a self-seeking and a cowardly sinner. He wanted Jesus to go away.
The Jews were intent that the sentence be executed immediately. They hated our Lord. They had cried that day, “Away with Him, away with Him, crucify Him!” They could not endure another moment of reprieve. They hate him because, as the spotless Light of God, He had exposed also their sins of self-righteousness and ugly pride before God. He had told them already in John 3:20, “For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved.” They could not bear the light of Jesus Christ, which pierced through their vanities and made their inward heart and being naked before God. They wanted to be done with Him, to have Him out of the way.
So immediately after Pontius Pilate gave sentence that Jesus was to be crucified, they took Him and led Him away – most likely by a rope around His neck, yanking Him along as they forced Him to carry the heavy cross upon His shoulders even though His back was already torn by many gaping wounds.
Do we hear the crack of a whip, the lashing of His legs, forcing Him on until at last His strength is spent, He is exhausted and can go no further and another is found to carry the cross for Him? The scene was horrible. Through the city of Jerusalem, along its streets, from house to house, out the gates of the city, with a crowd following, howling, taunting, jeering; the chief priests and the scribes, the leaders of the people, giving expression to their contempt, frustrated that they could not do worse; the people whipped up into a frenzy. And He is silent – knowing that the hour for which the Father had sent Him into the world had come, and that He had willingly come to lay down His life for us.
They led Him to a place called Golgotha, outside of the city of Jerusalem, near a major intersection of roads. And it was there, on Golgotha, that they crucified Him.
But wait. This is no mere man. This is not just another scene of human cruelty. This is God’s Son. God’s Son is being given over, not just to the ugly cruelty and the black hatred of men. He is not simply being led by a rope around His neck and bound merely by cords. He is not simply being nailed to a cross by metal nails. But the Father, the Almighty God, is giving Him over, not sparing His own Son, but placing upon Jesus Christ all the sin and the punishment which is due to His people, to me. We brought this upon Him. He is being covered with the sins of God’s church. He goes forth to a place where our eternal hell is to be poured upon Him – Golgotha, the place of a skull, where God entered into judgment with our sins and offered His Son to bear their penalty so that we might go free. This is the place where we come to mourn our sins, and the place where we come to praise the love of God.
Golgotha. What happened there?
We read in the Scriptures that it was there that they crucified Him. We read that, although they led Him forth to that place, Jesus went forth, words which express a voluntary action, words which express the love of Christ for us, a love stronger than death, a love of eternal courage. Our Lord Jesus Christ knew all that was before Him — not just the physical horrors and cruelty. Already they had beaten and bloodied Him. But He knew all that was ahead of Him – the awful sufferings under the judgment of God. Yet He went forth, voluntarily and willingly. He had earlier that night declined the legions of angels to rescue Him. He had told Peter to put up his sword. He would go to the cross because the Son of God loved His own even unto the end.
He came to the place which is called Golgotha, a place of the skull. Most likely the ground where they crucified Him was shaped as a human skull. But Golgotha, we do know, was outside of the city of Jerusalem. Just as the bodies of the beasts which were offered in the Old Testament at the temple would be taken outside of the camp and burned as accursed of God, so Jesus Christ goes out of the city to be crucified at Golgotha as the one on whom is placed the body of our sins. And now, for those sin, He will be consumed. They crucified Him there, outside of Jerusalem, at the place of a skull.
The soldiers took along what was required for the crucifixion. It did not require much preparation: a spade, nails, a hammer, a jug of myrrh (wine with a sedative), and a cross (two beams strong enough to bear the weight of a man tied together forming a cross). They crucified Him. A hole was dug. The cross was laid on the ground. And Jesus was stretched over the cross. There was a rough offer to have a drink of the gall to deaden the pain (which Christ refused). Then the nails were pounded through His hands and feet. Then the cross was lifted up. The weight of His body hung upon the nails resulting in the natural urge to stand up, which would only push His feet down upon the nails piercing His feet, resulting in writhing agony, inescapable and searing pain. They hung Him on a cross on top of Golgotha.
The priests and scribes sit down before the cross and begin to taunt. It is as if the glee of hell has broken forth that day. They taunt Him. God’s Son, born in our flesh of the virgin Mary, was nailed to a cross and made to hang there under the noonday sun while all mocked and no one showed pity.
But do not think that that was all of it. Do not think that what truly happened there could be caught just with the human eye. Those who saw all of this before their very eyes saw but a small part of what was really taking place. There was at Golgotha so much more taking place than could be observed with the human eye. Things in a far higher and deeper sense were transpiring, things just as real. Do you see them?
Only by a work of the grace of God in your heart can you see these things. Only by a wonder which the Bible calls faith can you understand what really happened at that moment. Already the centurion saw more than the soldiers under him saw. The soldiers under him saw some Jew, some religious prophet of the Jews. They coveted His coat and cast lots over it. That is all that they saw. But the centurion, witnessing these same events, by the grace of God saw much more. For we read, “Now when the centurion saw what was done, he glorified God saying, ‘Truly this was a righteous man. Truly this was the Son of God.'”
What really happened? Without fear of any contradiction, the Bible declares that all that the Old Testament Scriptures had foretold and promised of the Messiah who would come from God to ransom His people from the bondage of hell and sin now takes place. Every gospel narrative is at pains to show that all that happens to Jesus Christ in that night and morning takes place according to what God had revealed in the Scriptures.
What happened? All that was foretold of the sufferings of the Messiah now take place. But what happened? This is what happened: the Son of God, for all of His own, now goes under the blackness of eternal death. The Son of God makes His soul an offering for sin. No creature, man or angel, has ever comprehended the fathomless depth of that statement: “He made His soul an offering for sin.” Do not ever say that you have comprehended that, that you have fully understood what happened at Golgotha. By faith we surmise something of it. In love to our Savior, we know that He bore what we could not – that He tasted and drank that which would have burned us in the flames of hell. But exactly what it meant for Him to make His soul an offering for our sin, to receive the undiluted punishment that our sins deserve, exactly what that meant we will never know. He alone understood.
What happened at Golgotha? He bore our sins upon the tree so that we would bear them no more.
Why did that happen? Was it something unintentional? Should we say that God never intended this to happen – that God saw that things got out of hand? Oh, no! This happened exactly according to the intention of God. God had thought about this from eternity. God, as a loving Father, had arranged every detail that transpired. Jesus knew that, and that night He said to His disciples, “Truly the Son of man goeth as it was determined of him.” The apostles preached. On the day of Pentecost they declared that Christ was delivered by the determinate counsel and the foreknowledge of God. Do not say that the reason Jesus was led to Golgotha and crucified was simply the enmity of the Jews. Do not say that it all happened because of the cowardice of that Roman governor, Pontius Pilate. Do not say that this was unforeseen and a tragic misunderstanding of His message – a regrettable and unavoidable clash of opposing ideologies, the Pharisees and Christ. Do not say that! And do not say that if Jesus walked on the earth today, our society, with its freedom of religion and Supreme Court of justice, would never allow such a thing to happen. Do not say that! And do not say, “Well, maybe two thousand years ago, in the backwaters of Judea, under a gutless Roman governor, such things could happen, but today such things would never happen.” Do not ever say that. Do not say, “We would never do this.”
Oh, yes we would. That is exactly what your and my sin is. It is the cry, “Away with Him! Crucify Him. We have no king but Caesar.” We did do this. Yes, we did. We brought this upon Him.
Why is He on the cross? Because there is no other way to pay for the sins that we have committed. Golgotha happened because it was the only way to remove forever the sins of God’s elect. That is why sin is something awful, something horrible, something vile and evil. The only way to wipe away sin and to pay its debt and to lift the damnation that it deserves is for God’s Son to take on Himself the punishment it is owed and to bear it in our place. The only way to the Father’s house is for Christ to bear everything that our sins deserved. That is why Jesus’ cross stood between those two other crosses. We read in the gospel narratives that they crucified Him with two others, one on the one side and the other on the other side. Jesus was in between. That was no accident either. God determined that, too. For the Scriptures had declared in Isaiah 53 that He would be numbered with the transgressors, He would bear the sin of many and make intercession for the transgressors. Did Pilate, the Jews, the soldiers number Him, account Him to be with the transgressors that day? Oh, yes. They counted Him to be in the company of riff-raff and all the rest. But God did that. God, in His infinite grace, God put Him in the place of the sinner. God looked and counted His Son to stand in our place. And God placed upon Him what we deserved.
Never was Jesus so much in the midst of the transgressors as when He hung upon the cross. Not just from the human point of view. On the cross Christ stood in the midst of a multitude of sinners – all the sinners of God’s election – forgiving every one of them. Adam and Abel, Abraham and Isaac, Jacob and David, Solomon and Samson, Paul and Peter, John and … me – every child of God. And Jesus said, “As I stand in the midst of the church, that church chosen purely of grace from eternity, I am now in the midst of them. They are all around Me. I bear them all.” Jesus said, as He stood in the midst, “Father, pour on Me all that their sins deserve. All the sufferings that their sins deserve, give now to me.” God’s great Son bore the infinite and the inexpressible torments of sin for our souls. Remember that! That is what took place, and that is why it took place – because there is no other way to the Father’s presence except in the way of forgiveness and atonement.
It took place because of the love of Jesus. That is beyond our ability to comprehend, too. We cannot fathom the depths of God’s heart. How much has God loved us? Deeper than you can understand. God gave His Son to be cursed for us. God spared not His own Son but delivered Him up for us all. If you would measure the love of God, you have to go to the cross. And there you find that you cannot measure it. You cannot find out its end, its depth, its extent, its origin. You cannot. Our souls will exist throughout all eternity for one reason: the Son of God loved us and gave Himself for us.
Why did Jesus hang upon the cross? Was it the nails which kept Him there – the nails bent over His palms, pinning Him to the tree? Was that why He hung on the cross? Was it, perhaps, the soldiers? He could not come down because they would have nailed Him back up? They dared Him, you know. The chief priests and the scribes dared Him: Come down and we will believe in you. What held Him to the cross? The love of God held Him to the cross. He loved His Father and He loved us, whom His Father had given to Him. There is nothing stronger than the love of Jesus. There is nothing that can pull it apart. There is nothing that can sever or cut it. There is nothing that can break it.
What does it mean for you? We cannot answer that question, either. We are going to spend all eternity counting it all up and saying, I have counted it, yet I need more time. What does it mean? It means forgiveness of sins, complete and entire; righteousness full and perfect; inheritance rich and beautiful. In one word, it means salvation, perfect salvation. Nothing needing yet to be done. Nothing which can yet be done. The treasure of eternal life, redemption, life everlasting, and eternity of living with God. Can you add it up? The psalmist says, “If I should count them they are more in number than the sand. When I awake, I am still with thee.” Do you know that? Do you know that personally? Do you know what Good Friday is? And do you know what the Christian gospel is? I can assume that everyone who is listening, by the very fact that you are listening to this program, has some acquaintance with the Christian gospel. Do you know this personally? Do you understand what happened at Golgotha? Do you know why it happened? Do you know what it means for you? Does the Holy Spirit reveal it even unto your heart in that personal way? Do you know that the Son of God paid for all of your sins at Golgotha?
One could, perhaps, go to the place of Golgotha today. One can read the Scriptures and try to visualize it with his mind’s eye. That is open to all. Even the world this week is going to be talking about it. They cannot ignore it, either. Although the world knows what happened and can tell you what happened, and maybe even have a TV camera to videotape and to show you where they think Christ was crucified, nevertheless, the world has never been there. They really do not know anything about it at all – because the way to Golgotha is the personal work of Jesus Christ in your heart, giving you to mourn your sins. You have to be led there by Christ. You have to be led to the cross through the depths, through the knowledge of your own heart which only He can give to you, through the accusation of your own conscience concerning your sinful existence. It is when the Spirit gives you to sink away in the depths of your sin, then, by the grace of God, you come to know the wonder that God laid the burden of your sin upon the Savior. At Golgotha Jesus suffered something other than just the piercing of His hands and feet. He suffered the piercing of His soul, a wounding which not the soldiers but I and all the saints have inflicted.
He was wounded for our transgressions. He was bruised for our iniquity. The chastisement of our peace was upon Him. And with His stripes we are healed.
Let us pray.
Father in heaven, all praise be to Thee. Amen.