The Crucifixion of Jesus – Matthew 27:32-56

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Faith Bible Church, NY

August 20, 1995

The Crucifixion of Jesus

Matthew 27:32-56

This morning we come to one of the most heart-rending texts in Scripture. The crucifixion of the Lord Jesus Christ. It would be easy to play this up and everyone here weeping, except perhaps the most hardened sinner. I want to let you know from the outset that I will not be doing that. Instead I am going to concentrate on the theological aspects of what will be occurring. Why do that?

Simply because the goal of the scriptures is to change your life, and true change in life comes by clear thinking and understanding, not by emotional experiences. We are to be changed by the “renewing of our minds” (Rom. 12:2), not the “wiping of the eyes.” I am not saying in the least that it is wrong to be emotionally touched and to display those emotions. Many of you may find yourself crying or at least tearful. I may be that way myself. I am saying that when you leave here today I want the Holy Spirit to have touched your mind as well as your heart.

There are many today who are emotionally touched by Jesus’ death, but their minds remain blinded by Satan. They are emotionally moved because they see a wonderful teacherand a loving man caught up in a great tragedy, and though he is innocent, he is murdered by a jealous conspiracy. They do not understand and so are not moved by any aspect of what Jesus accomplished on the cross for sinful man. We must begin our study from a solid understanding that the crucifixion of Jesus Christ was not a tragedy. He was not a victim.

In our study of the gospel according to Matthew, we saw early on the purpose of Jesus leaving Heaven to become a man. The angel told Joseph in 1:21 that Jesus was “He who will save His people from their sins.” The attempts to kill Jesus began soon after He was born as Herod in his jealousy killed all the babies in the area of Bethlehem he could find, but God had already warned Joseph to flee. Other attempts would be made on Jesus life, but as John 7:30 and other passages state, “His hour was not yet come.” Since Matthew 16, when Jesus began His long journey from Galilee to Jerusalem He had been telling His disciples exactly what would happen when they arrived. He would “suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be billed, and be raised up on the third day.” Even now, though the chief priests and other religious leaders are joyful because they think they have triumphed over Jesus, this was not their timing. Matthew 26:3-5 directly points out that though they were plotting to kill Jesus, it would not be during the festival because they feared the people would riot. It is now the high day of the festival and they opposite of what they had planned is taking place.

Jesus is not a victim of a tragedy. The events that are taking place are not in the control of men. It is being done, as Peter says in Acts 2:43, by the “predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God.” Jesus Himself had said in John 10:18 that no one could take His life from Him, but that He would lay it down on His own initiative. It was now the day of Passover and Jesus would die as the perfect Passover lamb of God.

In our study last week we ended as Pilate proved to be a coward and caved into the demands of the hypocritical religious leaders (See: Jesus on Trial). Pilate had examined Jesus and found Him to be innocent of all allegations. Pilate should have freed Jesus, but Pilate was more afraid of losing his position as governor than in carrying out justice, the duty of a governor. Pilate the feared that the Jews would make trouble for him if he did not somehow pacify their demands, and though he did try other ways to do that, the only thing that would satisfy this mob was the blood of Jesus.

After Pilate had “washed his hands” of the affair, he was still responsible before God, though he was now uninvolved in what would happen to Jesus. As we pointed out last week, Pilate let the normal course of events take place. Jesus was severely scourged, then mocked by his soldiers. Finally, they “led Him away to crucify.”

Our text for this morning picks up at Matt. 27:32

And as they were coming out, they found a man of Cyrene named Simon, whom they pressed into service to bear His cross. A man condemned to be crucified had to carry their own cross, or at least the cross beam, to the place of crucifixion. John 19:7 says that Jesus started out “bearing His own cross.” But after all Jesus had been through the day and night before and the severe scourging He had just received, He was apparently unable to continue. Simon of Cyrene, a passerby, was pressed into service to bear the cross for Jesus. In a non-biblical letter from Mark to Rome, this same Simon is mentioned as being a Christian. Later, Paul sends greetings to Simon’s wife and son, Rufus, in Romans 16:13. Simon’s forced service on the Lord’s behalf apparently led to his salvation.

33 And when they had come to a place called Golgotha, which means Place of a Skull, 34 they gave Him wine to drink mingled with gall; and after tasting [it,] He was unwilling to drink. Gall was a term used for things that were bitter. In this case it was wine mixed with myrrh, sour wine. The myrrh was added as an intoxicant. Proverbs 31:6 says, “Give strong drink to him who is perishing, and wine to him whose life is bitter.” Extra-biblical sources speak of some wealthy Jewish women who would, in keeping with the Proverb, give wine mixed with myrrh to those being crucified to ease their pain. When this was offered to Jesus it fulfilled the prophecy of Psalm 69:21, but Jesus was unwilling to drink. Jesus had already prepared Himself for this. He did not need or want anything that would stupefy him to ease the pain. He would go through this with His faculties fully intact. He would be fully aware of all that occurred to Him and around Him.

The soldiers did not care how much pain the condemned felt but they allowed the wine and myrrh to be given because it would inebriate the prisoner and make them easier to attach to the cross. The condemned would be stripped, laid on top of the cross while it was on the ground. Then they would be either tied or nailed to the cross. It is only from Thomas’ remarks after the resurrection that we know that Jesus was nailed to the cross. Jesus willingly laid down on top of the cross and held out his arms and feet while the spikes were driven through them nailing Him to the cross. The cross would then be lifted up and slid into a post hole dug to receive it. It would settle in with a thud, the shock from that would tear even more at the flesh around the spikes, and then the long process of death by crucifixion would begin.

Our text tells us of the soldier’s activities after Jesus was set up to be crucified. 35 And when they had crucified Him, they divided up His garments among themselves, casting lots; 36 and sitting down, they [began] to keep watch over Him there.

The clothing of the condemned wou ld become the property of the soldiers assigned to perform the crucifixion. It was extra pay for them, but it also fulfilled another prophecy. Psalm 22:18 said that they would “divide My outer garments among them, and for My clothing they cast lots.” John tells us that Jesus outer garments were divided into four parts, but that they did not want to destroy Jesus’ tunic since it was seamless, so they cast lots for it. After this the soldier sat down to watch and wait.

Crucifixion was designed to be a cruel method of death. It would bring its victims to the edge of maximum endurance of physical pain, but short of the point that would bring unconsciousness, and it was extended over a long period of time. It usually took a day or two for the condemned to die, but on occasion there would be those who might last three days, and there would be much physical agony the whole time.

There would be the pain from where the spikes had been driven through the feet and hands, actually the wrist area where the bone structure would support the weight. There would be pain from the scourging and the raw flesh from the scraping against the rough wood as well as the splinters that would work their way deeper into the flesh. But there was also pain from thirst, hunger, cramping, dizziness, fever, and sleeplessness.

Crucifixion brings death through suffocation. Breathing is difficult and accomplished by raising oneself up. Soon, the muscles begin to cramp, but as the carbon dioxide builds up the cramps partially subside. A few breaths are taken and the cramping returns. Cycles of partial suffocation and cramping continues until exhaustion takes over and the person can no longer lift themselves to breathe. Such is a brief description of the agony of the cross. But Matthew does not dwell on the physical suffering. He concentrates on how the people responded to Jesus.

Pilate had bowed to the Jews demand to crucify Jesus, but in antagonism to them he did one more thing. 37 And they put up above His head the charge against Him which read, “THIS IS JESUS THE KING OF THE JEWS.” Crucifixions were done along well traveled roads as a deterrent to crime. The charges were usually posted above the person being crucified so all would know what they did and that they should not do likewise. It would be written in whatever the common languages were of that area. In Jesus’ case it was written in Hebrew, Latin, and Greek. The Jews did not like what Pilate wrote, but Pilate stood by his verdict this time.

Most of the people present responded to Jesus with scorn and ridicule. 38 At that time two robbers ^were crucified with Him, one on the right and one on the left. 39 And those passing by were hurling abuse at Him, wagging their heads, 40 and saying, “You who [are going to] destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save Yourself! If You are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” 41 In the same way the chief priests also, along with the scribes and elders, were mocking [Him,] and saying, 42 “He saved others; He cannot save Himself. He is the King of Israel; let Him now come down from the cross, and we shall believe in Him. 43 “He trusts in God; let Him deliver [Him] now, if He takes pleasure in Him; for He said, ‘I am the Son of God.'” 44 And the robbers also who had been crucified with Him were casting the same insult at Him.

How quickly people can turn. Matthew points out that Jesus is one of three men being crucified that day, but the people who were passing by on their way to somewhere else focus their attention on Him. Less than a week earlier, some of these same people would have been those who had joined the crowds in proclaiming “Hosanna” to Jesus. Now they mocked Him. They repeat the slander used against Jesus during His trial and accept as truth. Jesus had never said He would destroy the temple. He had said they would and was referring to them killing Him, which they were in fact now doing.

The chief priests, scribes and elders, these men who were supposed to lead the nation to God were instead mocking Him. There is no reason to think that they would have believed Jesus even if He had come down off the cross. They did not believe Jesus despite all the miracles and teaching that Jesus had performed in front of them. The natural man does not understand spiritual things because he is dead in trespasses and sin and Satan has blinded him to the truth (1 Cor. 2:14; Eph. 2:1; 2 Cor. 4:4). God was taking pleasure in Jesus His son, but it was now according to Isaiah 53:10 “But the Lord was pleased To crush Him, putting [Him] to grief; If He would render Himself [as] a guilt offering…”

Initially both criminals on either side of Jesus also joined in the mocking. Jesus was attacked from all sides, yet He remained silent to them and did not revile back. Peter comments on this in 1 Peter 2:23,24 saying, “and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously.

Luke records that one of the robbers eventually changed his mind. As he watched Jesus’ reaction to all that was going on he came to believe that Jesus was who the people were mocking him to be. In simple faith he said, “Jesus, remember me when You come into your kingdom.” Jesus did not respond to those who mocked Him, but He did respond to this man’s faith with a promise that very day he would be with Jesus in paradise. Jesus continued to bring comfort to people even while dying on the cross.

45 Now from the sixth hour darkness fell upon all the land until the ninth hour. The sun would have risen just before 6 a.m. that day. We do not know how long it took for Jesus to go through the Roman trial and the scourging. Certainly the crucifixion of Jesus began sometime that morning, but at the sixth hour (noon) an unusual event took place. Darkness fell on all the land. What a contrast to all the light given on the night Jesus was born!

What caused the darkness? It could not have been a solar eclipse because Passover occurs at full moon, and it lasted at least three hours. A local cloud cover would not have been notable like this and a dust cloud from a desert Sirocco would not have been extensive enough. There are extra-biblical sources such as Origen as Tertullian and that indicate that the darkness was beyond just Palestine and encompassed at least the Mediterranean region. God caused the darkness. How He did it is up to Him. He had done it in the past in His judgements upon Egypt (Exodus 11) and He will do it again in the future in judgement of evil men (Rev. 6:12).

Darkness is consistently used in the Scriptures as a symbol of God’s judgement on sin. So we find it fitting here that as Jesus bore the sins of the world, there would be a symbol of God’s judgement upon that sin. About three in the afternoon, Jesus felt the full weight of the sins of mankind. He who knew no sin became sin for us that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him (2 Cor. 5:21)

46 And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” that is, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?”

What Jesus says here is a quote from Psalm 22, the prophetic Psalm concerning the crucifixion of the Messiah. What exactly happened at this moment has been debated by theologians for centuries. In some sense, Jesus was forsaken by the Father, but in exactly what sense is not known. There was no breakup of the trinity. There was no separation of Jesus’ humanity from His deity. The separation could not have been one of nature, essence, or substance. Yet, in some way the Father separated Himself from the Son at the point in time when the iniquity of us all was laid on Him (Isa. 53:5). The agony of this loss of fellowship with the Father was greater than all the physical suffering Jesus had already experienced.

The purpose of the incarnation was nearly complete. Jesus was now the sin bearer, but the mockery did not stop. Perhaps there were those who misunderstood “Eli” to be some shortened form of “Elijah” said by a man who had last his mind, but the Jews standing around had been taunting Him throughout the crucifixion to call on God to save Him. Now they were supposing Jesus was calling on Elijah to do so.

John 19 records that after this “Jesus, knowing that all things had already been accomplished, in order that the Scripture might be fulfilled, said, “I am thirsty.” Matthew picks it up in verse 47. And some of those who were standing there, when they heard it, began saying, “This man is calling for Elijah.” 48 And immediately one of them ran, and taking a sponge, he filled it with sour wine, and put it on a reed, and gave Him a drink. 49 But the rest [of them] said, “Let us see whether Elijah will come to save Him.”

One bystander, possibly a soldier, answered Jesus’ cry and sought to relieve it with the cheap wine used to quench the thirst of laborers, and possibly the soldiers here. Was it an act of mercy or an effort to prolong the crucifixion? We do not know, but the rest of the people continued their mocking until suddenly the end came.

50 And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up [His] spirit. John records that Jesus said, “It is finished.” Luke records that He then said, “Father, into Thy hands I commit My spirit.”

In some way the Father had forsaken Jesus as the sin of mankind was placed upon Him, but immediately after the sin bearing the Father would be there to receive the Son. Jesus did not die because of the efforts of men to kill Him. He died willingly in the manner and at the time the Father had previously determined. Jesus died when He gave up His spirit, not because of what men had done to Him. Jesus died because He loved sinful man enough to take the penalty of man’s sin upon Himself (John 3:16; Rom 5:8).

After Jesus gave up His spirit, some more amazing things happened that demonstrate that this was no ordinary man. 51 And behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom, and the earth shook; and the rocks were split, 52 and the tombs were opened; and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; 53 and coming out of the tombs after His resurrection they entered the holy city and appeared to many.

The first sign mentioned signified the change in God’s relationship with man. The veil in the Temple excluded man from the Holy of Holies. Only the High Priest could enter there and then only once a year on the Day of Atonement. The perfect sacrifice of atonement had been made and the Levitical priesthood was now being scrapped. Jesus Himself would become the perfect High Priest for every believer (Heb. 10). Through the blood of Jesus Christ everyone that trusts in Him and His sacrifice can enter directly into God’s presence (Heb. 10:19).

Matthew presents the tearing of the veil first indicating that it tore before the earthquake. It also tore from the top to the bottom. It did not tear from being worn or age, but because God did so and He did it while the Temple would have been full of priests and worshipers making their Passover sacrifices. Because of Christ’s sacrifice we can now “draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and may find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16).

The second sign after Jesus death was a great earthquake. God often marked important events with earthquakes. Mount Sinai quaked when Moses met God there. The ground quaked when God met Elijah in the cave. Isaiah speaks of the Lord punishing his people through “thunder and earthquake and loud noise (Isa. 29:6). And Revelation talks of an earthquake so strong that the mountains and islands will flee (Rev. 6:13-14). The earthquake that split stones let people know that God was at work.

The third sign was the tombs being opened by the earthquake, and some of the bodies of the saints were raised up. After Jesus’ resurrection they came out of the tombs and appeared in the city. That may sound like something from a horror film, but it is in reality a wonderful foretaste of the resurrection of all the saints. These select individuals were able to experience early the hope of all those who trust Christ for salvation: resurrection and glorification.

While the religious leaders continued to ignore the obvious message of all these supernatural signs, the soldiers did not. 54 Now the centurion, and those who were with him keeping guard over Jesus, when they saw the earthquake and the things that were happening, became very frightened and said, “Truly this was the Son of God!” The centurion spoke for the rest of the group. They had heard the testimony about Jesus earlier. They had heard Pilate’s verdict. They had watched Jesus on the cross. He did not revile, but offered words of hope to the dying thief. And now they experienced all these supernatural wonders. They were now convinced that Jesus was who the chief priests and elders had been mocking Him to be, the Son of God. It is very possible they understood this in its fullest sense since that is a confession that only God could really put in their hearts. Luke also records that he was also “praising God, saying, ‘Certainly this man was innocent.”

There were also a few of Jesus followers there at the cross. 55 And many women were there looking on from a distance, who had followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to Him, 56 among whom was Mary Magdalene, [along with] Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee. John’s gospel account also indicates that he was there too and that Jesus had entrusted the care of Mary, his mother, to John.

Only a few from all His followers were there at the cross, and all except John were women. That in itself says a lot about the fearless faith of these women. They were not afraid to be identified with Jesus. Their hearts are now filled with sorrow, what were they to do now? We shall see in the next two weeks that they will do what they had been doing all along. They will minister to Him. They will tenderly prepare His body for burial. It was Friday, and they did not know what would await them on Sunday.

But what about you? What will you do with Jesus? Was His death a tragedy of an innocent man condemned and crucified? Or was it as Scripture tells us the plan of God by which the penalty of our sins would be paid and our sins could be forgiven.

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