Probably about 9am on a Friday morning in the year AD 30.
A place called Golgotha, also known as Calvary. It means ‘place of the skull’ (Mark 15:22-23). It was in the north of Jerusalem outside the city gate (John 19:17; Hebrews 13:12-13) but near the city wall (John 19:20); near gardens (John 19:41) where there were tombs and close to the road or highway (Matthew 27:39).
Cicero, the Roman writer, declared crucifixion to be the most cruel and shameful of all punishments. It was reserved for the grossest crimes and for slaves. It had the stigma of disgrace attached to it (Galatians 3:13; 5:11; Hebrews 12:2).
Soldiers would have nailed Jesus to the cross, lifted it up and dropped it into a prepared socket. Every bone in Jesus’ body would have jolted and his nerves would have shivered with the excruciating pain. He was then essentially forced to inflict upon himself a very slow death by suffocation. To make matters even worse, as his longing for oxygen became unbearable, his back, which had repeatedly been torn by previous floggings, would scrape against the wooden cross with each breath he took. By now he was so disfigured he was beyond human likeness (Isaiah 52:14); people were astonished and appalled at him. He looked like a thing of horror; like a lump of flesh, unclear whether it was an animal or human. People hid their faces from him (Isaiah 53:3). He was crushed (to pieces), wounded and pierced (Isaiah 53:5)
But the Gospel writers in their accounts of the crucifixion don’t go into detail or dwell on any of this. They are good historians and avoid embellishing any of the details. They simply say ‘and they crucified him’. Their interest is in why he suffered, not how.
The soldiers who crucified him were there. After nailing him to the cross, they sat down and kept watch. They were there on surveillance, to make sure no-one came to rescue those condemned to die. But they didn’t just sit there watching. They had fun at Jesus’ expense. After the exertion of nailing him to the cross, they quaffed the cheap wine of the country to refresh themselves, mockingly drinking to Jesus, saying, ‘He saved others, but he cannot save himself.’ They also callously gambled over his clothes.
The site of crucifixion was near the road so there would have been lots of passers-by. As they walked past, they derided him and wagged their heads. They were full of contempt, saying in effect, ‘So that’s what you get for saying all those things. Not much like a king now are you!’ They looked at him and thought, what a joke! Such a loser! They esteem him as nothing (Isaiah 53:3). Worthless!
The religious leaders were there as well. They hated Jesus and mingled with the crowd trying to incite their jeers. They scoffed and mocked saying, ‘He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Christ of God, his chosen One!’
There were some loyal women there too who were followers of the Lord Jesus. At times during the crucifixion, they stood near the cross (John 19:25-27); at other times they watched from afar (Matt. 27:55; Mark 15:40; Luke 23:49). They wanted to be there because they loved him but were fearful of everything that was going on around them.
Crucified either side of the Lord Jesus were also two criminals, probably terrorists.
The Lord Jesus was on the cross to bring forgiveness. We are all sinners. You may find that offensive, but think about what you are like when you are on your own. What do you naturally do when left to your own devices? Think about how angry, nasty and jealous you get, how gossipy you can be, how dirty your mind is, how shameful some of the things you have done (or would have done given half the chance and could have got away with it). Think about your internet history. Think about your language, your pride, how you look down on others. Think about how lazy you are. But none of this is the worst thing about our sin. Even though sin has messed and tangled up our lives and the lives of others, the real horror and heart of sin is that it is against God.
But when they hammered Jesus on to that cross, he was taking the hammering these sins deserve. On the cross he was saying to God in effect, ‘Don’t punish them, don’t be angry with them, take it all out on me!’ He put on human flesh, became one of us, went to a cross and took on himself all our sin.
So when you look at this crucified Saviour how do you react?
It could be you think it’s a big joke, that it all seems ridiculous. You have no fear or respect for God. You may not display such cruel, callous hatred as the soldiers but you show cruel, callous indifference.
Or maybe, like the passers-by, you look down on it. When you think about the crucifixion, you wag your head in disdain. You can’t believe people still take it seriously, that in the 21st century there are people who still believe all this; anyone who does is to be pitied and looked down on.
Perhaps you are like the religious leaders. You go to church and are very moral, but you hate it when the claims of Jesus Christ cut across your way of life. You get angry and say, ‘How dare you tell me I am a sinner! How dare you tell me I need to come to this Saviour for forgiveness! He is not the Lord of my life. No-one tells me what to do.’
But pray you would be like one of the two criminals who put his faith in Christ right at the end. This man had nothing to offer Jesus but trusted solely in his power to save. He just rested on the Saviour. He was a vile man who had committed terrible crimes. Moments before he had been blaspheming against Christ. He could do nothing to make amends for his past or put things right. This terrorist’s hope was in Christ alone.
Whoever you identify with most, there is hope and forgiveness at this cross. Come in repentance and faith. Jesus doesn’t meet people in an office behind a big desk; the only place he keeps appointments is at his cross.
But I imagine many of you reading this article are like those loyal women. You love the Lord Jesus, but you’re afraid of all that is going on around you at the moment. Take courage and keep trusting him. Despite appearances, the one who hung on that cross is the King of Kings! (Revelation 19:16). He is the Lord of heaven and earth, and not only does he rule over it, but he also created the world and upholds the universe by his power (Colossians 1:17). The mangled one who hung on that cross breathed out light. He built every mountain and rolled out every sea. He made the whole cosmos without lifting a finger! (Psalm 33:6-7, 9). Kings and empires rise and fall at his command (Daniel 5:21). So love him and live for him; stand up and stand out for him until he comes or calls for us.