The passage can be read here.
“When they had crucified him” (Matthew 27:35)
“And they crucified him” (Mark 15:24)
“There they crucified him” (Luke 23:33)
“Here they crucified him” (John 19:18)
As I write, it’s the evening of Good Friday. Thoughts of the cross have filled the minds of Christians across the world. We have sung about it, prayed prayers of thanks and preached it. Some have been eloquent, some melodic and many have been tearful but Holy Scripture repeats those three simple words; they crucified him.
Luke’s readers would have been familiar with crucifixion. The practice was often carried out beside busy roads so that as many as possible would see. In a way that was the point, the victim was publically humiliated as an example to others. When Jesus spoke of believers taking up the cross (9:23, 16:26), his hearers knew about condemned men carrying crosses. To look at one would be to look into the eyes of a dead man walking. There was nothing pretty or elegant about this form of execution. There was no dignity or compassion in death. It was a nasty, cruel, and messy way to die. They crucified him.
That a man was crucified is unremarkable, even as Jesus died two other men died the same way beside him. What makes the death of Jesus the single most important event in history, is not only what happened to him, but who he was. John, in his Gospel begins, not with the birth of Jesus at Bethlehem, but by explaining that Jesus is the Word, he who was there at the beginning and is himself God. The Bible states several times that the universe was made through him. He is the King of kings and the Lord of lords, the beginning and the end. He is Immanuel – God with us, the Messiah, the Lamb of God and the friend of sinners. They crucified him.
For the Jewish leaders it was satisfying to watch Jesus die. It is possible to totally disagree with someone and still respect them as a person but there was none of that here, they hated him. They sneered at him and mocked him as he died. For Pilate, he may not have wanted to see Jesus crucified, but he was willing to use it to mock the Jews. It was customary to have a written notice above the person listing their crimes, Pilate used the opportunity to write ‘This is the King of the Jews’ (John 19:19-22). The message was clear, if this is your king, what does that say about you? The soldiers, hardened and immune to the suffering before them, mocked him as well. In a fulfilment of a prophecy made 1,000 years before;
“They divide my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing.” (Psalm 22:18)
They stoop to cast lots when above their heads is the most momentous sight ever seen by human eyes. Even one of the criminals, in a last desperate attempt to be accepted joins in and mocks him too. They crucified him.
Words are cheap in our culture. Promises made are seen as aspirations, this is what we hope, rather than, I will be bound by my word. Words from the cross were not cheap; the victim had to fight for every breath before eventually becoming exhausted and dying of suffocation. Jesus had refused to drink the mix of wine and gall to deaden the senses (Matthew 27:34), he had things to say. Jesus spoke seven times from the cross and each one is deeply significant and was costly for him. Of those seven statements, three are recorded by Luke and two are in today’s passage. Jesus had taught; ‘Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you’, we see at the cross, Jesus not only preached it, he lived it and died by it;
“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (v34)
Yet more prophecy is fulfilled;
“For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors” (Isaiah 53:12)
Both Matthew and Mark tell us that initially, both criminals mocked Jesus. One continued and Luke records his sarcastic words; ‘Aren’t you the Christ?’ The other criminal’s mind was changed in those hours on the cross. He saw his own sin and that he would soon face God. We know from his plea to Jesus, he saw something else as well. ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ At some point he came to see that Jesus was not an imposter, he was the King, he had a kingdom and he had the power to help. It’s a strange thing to see in a dying man but he was right. He had looked upon the crucified Christ and was changed. Jesus responded in some of the most wonderful words in all of Scripture;
“I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”
These were not cheap words; they were immensely costly, in short sentences as he fought for breath. He was dying to make it possible. It’s the reason he didn’t save himself as the mockers called him to do (v35, 37, 39), he hung there to save a criminal who had been insulting him and he hung there to save a broken sinner like me. They crucified him.
“I have placed all my hope in a crucified man
In the wounds in his side, his feet and his hands
I have traded my pride for a share in his shame
And the glory that one-day will burst from his pain
I’ve abandoned my trust in the wise and the proud
For this fragile, mysterious weakness of God
And I dare to believe in his scandalous claim
That his blood cleanses sin for who ever
Will call on his name
Live or die here I stand
I’ve placed my hope in a crucified man” (A Crucified Man – Graham Kendrick)