VERSE DISCOVERY: Luke 23:33-46; John 3:16 (KJV, Public Domain)
At twilight, at six o’clock that evening (being the time the Jewish day started), the celebration of Passover would begin, and the lamb of the Last Supper would have been killed for the feast (compare Matthew 26:17-19; Mark 14:12-16; Luke 22: 7-13). Before twenty-four hours would pass, before this very time the next day, Jesus Christ would hang on the cross and be sacrificed as the Passover Lamb once and for all: “And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2).
Many things have happened between Jesus’ last Passover with His disciples and His journey to the cross. Following Luke’s account, not long after that Last Supper, after exposing there is a betrayer among them and squashing arguments of who is the greatest (Luke 22:24), Jesus soon found Himself on the Mount of Olives, in that garden called Gethsemane, where He battled in prayer (Luke 22:39-46).
Soon after, the betrayer arrived in the garden with “a band of men and officers from the chief priests and Pharisees” (John 18:3). The price had been paid, and Judas Iscariot would fully follow through on his part as an informant for the enemy, double-crossing Jesus with a kiss (Luke 22:47-48).
After His arrest and the desertion of His disciples (Matthew 26:56), and the denial of Peter (Luke 22:54-62), Jesus stood before Pilate, a man condemned, and yet not condemned. Not condemned, because there was no sin attached to Jesus or in Jesus that would condemn Him (Hebrews 4:15; 1 Peter 2:22; 1 John 3:5). Even Pilate’s own mouth voiced His innocence with these words: “Ye have brought this man unto me, as one that perverteth the people: and, behold, I, having examined him before you, have found no fault in this man touching those things whereof ye accuse him: No, nor yet Herod: for I sent you to him; and, lo, nothing worthy of death is done unto him” (Luke 23:14-15).
Yet, the Bible tells us, “For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him” (2 Corinthians 5:21). For that to happen, the Passover Lamb had to be crucified.
Pilate passed his sentence and condemned to death (Luke 23:24) He that came to bring life (John 10:10).
Stripped and beaten, crowned with thorns and spit upon, scourged and mocked (Matthew 27:27-31; Mark 15:16-20; John 19:1), he “Then delivered he him therefore unto them to be crucified. And they took Jesus, and led him away. And he bearing his cross went forth into a place called the place of a skull, which is called in the Hebrew Golgotha” (John 19:16-17).
Jesus and the Cross
Luke 23:33-38 “And when they were come to the place, which is called Calvary, there they crucified him, and the malefactors, one on the right hand, and the other on the left. Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do. And they parted his raiment, and cast lots. And the people stood beholding. And the rulers also with them derided him, saying, He saved others; let him save himself, if he be Christ, the chosen of God. And the soldiers also mocked him, coming to him, and offering him vinegar, And saying, If thou be the king of the Jews, save thyself. And a superscription also was written over him in letters of Greek, and Latin, and Hebrew, This Is The King Of The Jews.”
This was His destiny if we want to call it that. This was the appointed time for Jesus to arrive at this place, this place called “Calvary”, this place in history.
“Calvary” was more than a lovely thought in the hymns we sing and the story we pass down, it was a real place, where real pain and sacrifice were experienced. It was a real place where love would win the ultimate victory.
Before He left heaven, this place, carrying out this plan of salvation was already determined: “But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot: Who verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world…” (1 Peter 1:19-20; see also Acts 2:23; Hebrews 9:26; Revelation 13:8). The very details of His crucifixion were recorded in Psalm 22 many years before it happened.
Calvary would be the place where God would satisfy the greatest need humanity has ever known: salvation. Calvary is the place where “they crucified him,” where Jesus laid down His life on the cross (John 10:18).
Submitting to the Father’s will on the cross would mean things would forever be different. He had done more than come to change the world, He had come to change the hearts and lives of men. He had come to “seek and save that which was lost” (Luke 19:40). He had come to reconcile broken humanity back to the Father (Colossians 1:20; 2 Corinthians 5:18). The cross made the way for that to happen.
With that, the act of crucifixion commenced. As His body was forced to lie on that rugged beam, being held in place, the nails were driven in His flesh to secure Him, to punish Him, to kill Him. Being lifted high, with the weight of His body pulling and being jarred against the tearing of flesh and the pain of the wound of the scourging, He was hung between two “malefactors, one on the right hand, and the other on the left” (we will talk more on them later).
This symbol of our Lord’s cross, posted between two others, is another real symbol in history testifying to the realness this moment demanded. Our Lord’s death is not a fairy tale or a wonderful read of something lovely someone did for us. His story is real, with incredibly real details that support the account of what He did for you and me.
Hanging there, Jesus wastes no time in speaking His first words from the cross: “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” Jesus refuses to let pain speak for Him. He refuses to let resentment, bitterness, or anger have a word here. Instead, love speaks. The same love that drove Him to the cross (John 15:13) is the same love that is pleading for their forgiveness. When the course of these events is over and Jesus ascends back to the Father, all who believe in Him will find life and forgiveness (John 14:6; 3:16; Acts 3:19; 2:38).
Earlier, Jesus prayed for His disciples (John 17), and here He prays for the executioners, the nailers, the mockers, the whippers, and for them who yelled, “Crucify Him!” (Luke 23:21).
In an article I previously published titled, Focus Shift, I wrote:
“Instead of ranting and raving, Jesus, in His agony and pain sought the betterment of the very ones who were killing Him. He knew He would die. He knew the pain would not cease until He did. This plan was going to go forth. Yet, He focused on the needs of others rather than Himself.
How awesome is that? Often, we hear these words during a Seven Last Words service on Good Friday, but can we even begin to imagine the strength and willpower it took for Jesus not to focus on Himself during that time? For Him to look beyond what He was currently going through to care for and about others? I don’t think we have a clue. He immediately pleaded with the Father for their forgiveness.” (©WordforLifeSays)
So, thus, He prayed.
As they “cast lots” for His garment, fulfilling even more prophecies (Psalm 22:18), the response of the very people Jesus just prayed for while in agony was startling. They “derided him, saying, He saved others; let him save himself, if he be Christ, the chosen of God.”
The “soldiers” too “mocked him, coming to him, and offering him vinegar.” That old phrase, “rubbing salt into an open wound,” comes to mind when I read these words.
Love lays down on the cross. Love prays for His transgressors. Love bleeds in the place of man. Yet, love is scorned and mocked with wagging heads (Matthew 27:39; compare Psalm 22:7-8), tormenting Jesus with more than the nails in His flesh. The hurting words of the people must have pierced His heart in a way a sword never could.
Yet, He refused their taunts. He refused the temptation to leave this appointed place. He refused to save Himself from this hour (John 12:27). Remember what He said in the garden? “Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then shall the scriptures be fulfilled, that thus it must be?” (Matthew 26:53-54).
Therefore, He hung, with Pilate’s “superscription. . . over him”, written in “Greek, and Latin, and Hebrew, THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS.”
Why was Pilate so adamant about keeping his superscription as it was? The Jewish leaders insisted that he revise the wording by saying, “Write not, The King of the Jews; but that he said, I am King of the Jews” (John 19:21). But Pilate refused and stated, “What I have written I have written” (John 19:22). What was meant to be a written charge of the condemned became a written testimony for all to see.
Pilate knew they handed Jesus over by unjust means (Matthew 27:18), and they had no real evidence to condemn Him. Even more startling was his wife’s interruption of the proceedings to send a private message to him, straightly telling him, “Have thou nothing to do with that just man: for I have suffered many things this day in a dream because of him” (Matthew 27:19).
He spoke twice in Luke, “I find no fault in him” (Luke 23:4, 14). Was his conscience bothering him? That, mixed with the warning from his wife, could have stirred something inside of him, but not enough to totally release Jesus from this fate.
Was he making a point? Who really knows his thoughts behind the process, but the words of the superscription, written in the three main languages of the day and region, would stand to proclaim, “THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS.”
Jesus and the Thief
Luke 23:39-43 “And one of the malefactors which were hanged railed on him, saying, If thou be Christ, save thyself and us. But the other answering rebuked him, saying, Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss. And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom. And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise.”
So, there Jesus hung in between the two thieves (Mark 15:27), fulfilling scripture once again, being “numbered with the transgressors” (Mark 15:28; Isaiah 53:12).
Originally, both thieves had a thing or two to speak out against and challenged our Lord, and “reviled him” (Matthew 27:44; Mark 15:32). Jesus was truly taking a battering on the cross. There would not even be a camaraderie with His fellow condemned. As His body bled and writhed in agony, would He be forsaken by all?
The challenge picked up in intensity as the pain and feeling of hopelessness crept in for one of the thieves. He “railed. . . If thou be Christ, save thyself and us.” In his railing against the Lord, he probably wasn’t as much concerned with Jesus and His claim to deity, and saving Himself, as he was for his own life being spared. Out of fear for his life and his own pain, he made this selfish request.
But, challenging his challenge, the other thief spoke up, “Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation?” Being this close to the end of his life may have awakened a reality in this man that the other seemed to miss. None of them would leave these crosses alive. The Roman soldiers would make sure of that (John 19:31-34). All of them faced the same outcome. Or did they?
Was there no fear of God in the first thief, even in this late hour of life?
As the prodigal son did in the pigpen (Luke 15:17), had this second thief finally come to himself and realize the wrongs that undid his life? Did he question the choices he made that led him to Calvary as well? Did he see something in Jesus, even in this late hour of his own life – the man who speaks forgiveness from the place of pain, that he wanted for his own life, what little of it was left?
We don’t have all the answers to the questions or thoughts this man was struggling with on the cross, but we do know that he recognized two things. First, he recognized his own undone state, that he “justly” was suffering for his “deeds.” Recognizing personal sin is the first step to true repentance. Jesus may have been nailed next to him, but he knew what Pilate and Herod already knew: “this man hath done nothing amiss.”
I don’t know how much of Jesus this thief could see physically with his eyes, but with his heart, it appears he had seen enough to believe that even now something better can come from his wasted life. “And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom.”
Others were jeering, mocking, and cursing Him, but this dying thief recognized Jesus by what others missed, addressing Him as “Lord.” He would die as a consequence of his actions, of this, he was sure, and he accepted that. At the same time, he also accepted that the One who hung next to him was “Lord.”
To the “Lord” he prayed, “remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom.” He didn’t rile. He didn’t even suggest to Jesus to be released from his cross. But when his story was done on this earth, he wanted to be where Jesus was, in His “kingdom.” As the minutes passed, and the struggle to breathe and endure the pain and humiliation of the cross were getting extremely harder, this thief was looking ahead, with hope, for something better.
His late hour faith in Christ was rewarded with these words from our dying Lord: “Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise.” Today, Jesus promised him, this will all be over. Today, this man would be saved once and for all. Today, Jesus would carry this precious soul to heaven with Him.
Jesus and the Father
Luke 23:44-46 “And it was about the sixth hour, and there was a darkness over all the earth until the ninth hour. And the sun was darkened, and the veil of the temple was rent in the midst. And when Jesus had cried with a loud voice, he said, Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit: and having said thus, he gave up the ghost.”
Earth responded to the Lord being crucified. From noon, “the sixth hour”, to three o’clock in the afternoon, “the ninth hour”, “darkness” covered the “earth” (see Amos 8:9).
At this “ninth hour” Jesus cried out from the cross, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). The nails, the taunts, the pain were incomparable to this feeling of separation between Himself and the Father, a feeling He had never experienced before. These very words were prophesied to be voiced at this time (Psalm 22:1), as the sin of the world laid literally on the shoulders of Jesus.
Heaven also responded to the crucifixion of our Lord when “the veil of the temple was rent in the midst.” The need for further sacrifices was no longer there. Through Jesus Christ, God was making a new way for believing souls to gain access to Him.
Before the cross, Jesus taught that He was the “way” (John 14:6) and the “door of the sheep” (John 10:7). In John 10:9, Jesus says, “I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture.” There was no longer the need for “the veil of the temple.” The Good Shepherd gave His life for the sheep (John 10:11), and heaven tore the “veil” because the way has been made:
“God made a way through the life and death of our Lord Jesus Christ. To the life that will turn their heart and soul over to Him, He made a way. “Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me,” (John 14:6). He is our access key. He is the one who paved the pathway for us in righteousness and through His blood provided a space for us in His heavenly realm. If we are His and have turned to Him, there is a place with your name on it in heaven. A place waiting and wanting to be filled by you, but you must come through Jesus Christ only.” (God Made a Way/WordforLifeSays.com)
Seeing that all was done, every prophecy and command fulfilled, Jesus, spoke, “It is finished” (John 19:30). Then, to the Father, Jesus cried out, echoing the words of Psalm 31:5, “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.” There was nothing left for Him to do. This portion of His story was written, and written perfectly well, and now it was time for the ending. The work of the cross was finished. The Passover Lamb had been crucified. The price for sin has been paid (Romans 5:8; 6:23; Hebrews 9:12; 1 Peter 1:18-19).
Jesus and the World
John 3:16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
John 3:16 isn’t just a wonderful sentiment. It’s more than a good word spoken to a seeking man by the name of Nicodemus. John 3:16 was the expressed saving power of God on display in one verse, and Jesus knew that when He died on the cross, when He was lifted “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness” (John 3:14), through His sacrifice, those who believe will find “eternal life” (John 3:15) in Him. “For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved” (John 3:17).
Why? Because, “God so loved the world.”
Love is God’s great motivation for everything. From the calling of everything into existence to His moving through history, in all of it, God has operated in the sphere of love.
There is a popular quote that you may have heard before touting, “Love makes people do strange things.” While love, or man’s idea of love, may have tripped people up and caused confusion over what love really is or how to respond to it, God never had any misgivings. Anything and everything He did for love was an on-purpose act with a direct point of what He wanted to accomplish, even the death of Christ on the cross.
Love doesn’t make God do strange things. God’s love does impossible things that only His perfect heart can do. Although some may not understand the act of sacrificing Your perfect Son for the most unworthy of people, and they may view it through the eyes of limited human knowledge, thinking it strange, God sees it as the only way out for mankind to have a renewed relationship with Him. God knows that for any man, woman, or child to be redeemed, they need to be reconciled to Him. Only what Jesus did through the cross, as our Passover Lamb, can do this. Only God’s love put Jesus there for us, for the “world”, to hang on Calvary’s tree: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life,” (John 3:16; emphasis mine).
Because of what Jesus Christ has done, we now have “access by faith into this grace,” and we have a reason to “rejoice in hope of the glory of God” (Romans 5:2). Through His sacrifice of blood, He bought the key that would give us an open door to our heavenly Father. And with everything we face in this life, our promise through Christ stands, and we who “believeth in him” shall have “everlasting life.”
Thank God for the Lamb!
“Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord.” Acts 3:19
“Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed.” 1 Peter 2:24
“Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us” 1 Corinthians 5:7
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