The King Crucified!
Open your Bibles to Luke 23. Here we find ourselves standing, as it were, at the foot of Calvary and taking in the stunning reality when Jesus was crucified.
Luke 23:32-49 32Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed. 33When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him there, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left. 34Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And they divided up his clothes by casting lots. 35The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is God’s Messiah, the Chosen One.”
36The soldiers also came up and mocked him. They offered him wine vinegar 37and said, “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.” 38There was a written notice above him, which read: this is the king of the jews. 39One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” 40But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? 41We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” 42Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
The Death of Jesus
44It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, 45for the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. 46Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he had said this, he breathed his last. 47The centurion, seeing what had happened, praised God and said, “Surely this was a righteous man.” 48When all the people who had gathered to witness this sight saw what took place, they beat their breasts and went away. 49But all those who knew him, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.
Here, those that are gathered around the cross are mocking, sneering and hurling abuse at Jesus with sarcasm. They’re endeavoring to treat the Son of God with as much dishonor as they can muster, with as much disrespect and disdain and shame as they can possibly generate.
Here is sin at its apex and is blasphemy at its pinnacle. Mocking deity, sneering at the incarnate God, scorning the Creator and the Redeemer, the true King; the true Messiah. Nothing that sinners can do could more offend God than this. Blasphemy can’t be worse than this.
We should be expecting a holy, righteous God to react to this kind of ultimate blasphemy by pouring out wrath and vengeance on those who are perpetrating this on him. Judgment will come 40 years after this in the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans. Many, if not most of these people, gather today who are still alive 40 years later will perish in that judgment. Some will die before that ever comes. Many will receive Jesus after the resurrection. But doesn’t this seem like an undue patience? Just how tolerant is holiness? How patient is righteousness? Just how enduring is divine mercy and grace?
Well in a strange irony, His judgment did come swiftly at the cross, but it didn’t come on the crowd, it came on Jesus on behalf of those who blasphemed him. The Old Testament is clear about blasphemy. It says this in Leviticus 24:16 Anybody who blasphemes my name shall die. It is a capital crime to blaspheme the name of God. They are blasphemers who pronounce curses on Him, heap abuse on Him. That is exactly what they are doing. In a perverted twist, however, they accuse him of being the blasphemer.
Earlier in his ministry Jesus demonstrated the power to forgive sin: Matthew 9:2-3 2Some men brought to him a paralyzed man, lying on a mat. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the man, “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.” 3At this, some of the teachers of the law said to themselves, “This fellow is blaspheming!”
In Matthew 26:64-65 64“You have said so,” Jesus replied. “But I say to all of you: From now on you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.” 65Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, “He has spoken blasphemy! Why do we need any more witnesses? Look, now you have heard the blasphemy. 66What do you think?” “He is worthy of death,” they answered. 67Then they spit in his face and struck him with their fists. Others slapped him 68and said, “Prophesy to us, Messiah. Who hit you?”
They are the blasphemers, but in a perverted twist, they make him into the blasphemer and they are the ones who think they’re upholding righteousness.
John 10:33 “We are not stoning you for any good work,” they replied, “but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God.”
John 10:33 What about the one whom the Father set apart as his very own and sent into the world? Why then do you accuse me of blasphemy because I said, ‘I am God’s Son’?
The whole thing is twisted. Justice should fall on them. It falls on Christ. Judgment should crush them. It crushes Christ. They accuse him of blasphemy, they are the blasphemers. Certainly our Lord had every right to judge them, every right to destroy them on the spot and put them forever into hell.
There’s precedent on the part of the Old Testament prophets. I think about Habakkuk, that prophet who couldn’t understand why God didn’t bring judgment on an apostate Israel. Habakkuk said in Habakkuk 1:2 How long, Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, “Violence!” but you do not save?
Even the saints in the past and in the future and certainly in the present, sometimes wonder at the patience of God. How strange it is that they’re at the event of Calvary when God’s fury should have come down on the crowd and instead came down on Christ for the crowd, on their behalf.
But you know, this is not inconsistent with the character of God and I’ll give you an illustration of it from the Old Testament. Go back to Isaiah. Isaiah is indicting. It is full of pronounced judgment, and it is full of promises of salvation. And you see the heart of God here, a true assessment of the condition of the sinners, a true proclamation of coming to judgment, but at the same time mercy and grace inevitably extended to them.
When you run out of patience, God does not. When you look, at something and think the patience of God must be exhausted because my patience would have been long ago exhausted, God’s is not. The uniqueness of God is this: When He is massively offended, He still comes to the offenders, and warning them of the judgment to come offers them forgiveness and mercy and grace and compassion and makes them His children and takes them to His holy heaven forever.
The stunning contrast at Calvary is the contrast between the merciless insults of the crowd and the merciful intersession of the Christ, and those are the two points I want you to look at.
1. THE MERCILESS CROWD
Luke 23:35 The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is God’s Messiah, the Chosen One.”
The crowd is made up of four groups. There’s the people, the leaders, the soldiers and the thieves and they all have the same response to Jesus. They’re without sympathy, heartless, cruel, brutal.
Luke 23:35 The people stood watching. t just appears from Luke that they’re in some kind of a stupor, like watching some kind of blood sport; just looking on and watching the comedy play out. Now remember the whole thing has been staged by the Jews and the Romans to be comedic. Jesus claims to be a king and that is laughable. So that becomes the trigger point for the whole joke. All the sneering, all the mocking, all the abusive sarcasm is built around this idea that Jesus claimed to be a king.
Remember, it started before this as we’ll see with the soldiers earlier, when they put a robe on him and put a reed in his hand and jammed a crown of thorns on his head. And it continued when they got him to the cross because he was crucified there with two thieves, but they made sure to crucify one thief on one side of him and one thief on the other side of him so it would mirror, in a mocking way, a king with his two most important courtiers, one on his right and one on his left.
They ridiculed him with sarcastic language that if he was a king, maybe he should exercise some of his great power. They taunted him. It is without sympathy. You cannot find sympathy in this crowd at all. Nobody shows him sympathy. It is the most brutally cruel scene imaginable.
We might expect cruelty out of Roman soldiers because they did this all the time. There were executioners by trade who put him on the cross and we might even expect cruelty out of the leaders, the religious leaders, because they had demonstrated how cruel they were by piling heavy burdens on people, which they never did anything to help them carry. They were brutally unkind to sinners and tax collectors and the kinds of people that Jesus received.
We might expect unsympathetic brutality from the criminals because they were criminals by profession. So we’re not surprised at those people. But would we expect that maybe the crowd would be a little more sympathetic? I mean these are the people, probably, who had been healed by Jesus of certain diseases. These might be people who had had experiences of other miracles that Jesus had performed in the area of Judea and Jerusalem. There may have been, and surely were, people in the crowd who were fed among the 5,000 when Jesus made the food.
There were certainly people who knew well those who had been healed, maybe been given their hearing or their sight, or raised up to walk from a state of paralysis. I mean wouldn’t we expect to find something sympathetic out of them and didn’t they hear Jesus teaching, and didn’t they experience the meekness and gentleness of Christ and the love of Christ that was so manifest in the beauty and magnificence of what he taught?
But even the crowd is merciless. These are people who were there to hail him as the potential king on Monday when he came into the city. They were the same people who were there to scream, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” earlier in the day, and now they sort of appear to be exhausted, I guess, sort of blank stares from what Luke tells us. But Matthew and Mark tell us more. Matthew 27:39-41 39Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads 40and saying, “You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God!” 41In the same way the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked him. So it’s the crowd and the leaders.
Mark 15:29-31 29Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, “So! You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, 30come down from the cross and save yourself!” 31In the same way the chief priests and the teachers of the law mocked him among themselves. “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself!
This is the worst possible conduct by the people of Israel. So the merciless crowd.
2. THE MERCILESS RULERS
Luke 23:35 The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is God’s Messiah, the Chosen One.”
Of course they had orchestrated all of it. Then they use to Messianic terms. The specific words, “His Chosen One” comes from Daniel 9. So they mock him for his claim to be the Messiah. They mock him for his claim to be the one chosen by God. They’re sneering at him. It means to push up your nose at him. They blaspheme him. And by the way, would you please notice they don’t speak to Jesus. They never speak to him. They speak to the crowd about him. Their intention is to stir up the crowd, so they never address Jesus.
Matthew 27:42 “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! He’s the king of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him.
They say these things and they just have no idea what they’re saying. It’s prophecy. Psalm 22:7-8 All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads. 8“He trusts in the Lord,” they say, “let the Lord rescue him. Let him deliver him, since he delights in him.” They did exactly what the psalmist predicted.
The thought of someone hanging on a tree as cursed by God. Deuteronomy 21:23 Anyone who is hung on a pole is under God’s curse. Remember, Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1 that a crucified Messiah is to a Jew a stumbling block, and of course to the gentile, foolishness.
Little did they know that Jesus was being cursed by God. That was true. Isaiah 53:4 He was smitten by God and afflicted. Isaiah 53:10 The Lord was pleased to crush him, putting him to death. Paul looks back on that and said he was made a curse for us. But it was all nonsense to the people.
3. THE MERCILESS SOLDIERS
Luke 23:36-37 36The soldiers also came up and mocked him. They offered him wine vinegar 37and said, “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.”
The soldiers don’t know anything about Jewish theology. They just join the game. They taunt, inflicting even more pain on him as he hangs in agony. And in a mock act of service to him as if he were a king, they offer him sour wine.
Now there are a couple of occasions when Christ was crucified in which he was offered something to drink. The first one was when they got him to the place to be crucified, you remember they offered him a drink that had a sedative in it, that would probably be used to sedate the person a little bit so it would be easier to nail him to the cross and he wouldn’t fight. And Jesus refused that.
And then when he comes to the very end of his dying, six hours later, at 3:00 in the afternoon when he’s about to die, he says, “I’m thirsty,” and they lift up to him a drink on a sponge on the end of a stick. This is certainly not their giving him the wine in response to his thirst. They are offering him sour wine and saying at the same time, if you’re the King of the Jews, save yourself. It’s a pretend act of respect, as if they were bringing royal wine to the king. Roman soldiers drank a cheap form of wine. They offered it to him, mimicking the rulers, mimicking the people, spewing out the same taunts. The mockery just reaches ultimate proportions.
Luke 23:38 There was a written notice above him, which read: this is the king of the jews.
This is the King of the Jews. This is the theme that sets the stage for the whole comedy. Where did that sign come from? 19 John tells us. We know historically that when people were crucified, their crime was posted on the pole. Since Jesus committed no crime there could be no crime posted over him. So Pilate decided what was going to go on the sign.
John 19:19 Pilate had a notice prepared and fastened to the cross. It read: jesus of nazareth, the king of the jews. This was Pilate’s thing and this is what it said, “jesus of nazareth, the king of the jews.” If you combine Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, it actually says, “This is Jesus of Nazareth, The King of the Jews.” It was placarded on the cross. It was written in Hebrew, Latin and Greek. The chief priests and the Jews were saying to Pilate, “Do not write the King of the Jews, but that he said, “I am King of the Jews.” Pilate answered, “What I have written I have written.”
Pilate wouldn’t change it because this is Pilate’s way to mock the Jewish leaders. They had mocked Pilate and blackmailed him into a executing a man he knew was innocent. Even his wife said wash your hands of this innocent man. Pilate said multiple times, “I find no fault in him.” Herod found no crime. And Pilate had been made to look like a fool and he wasn’t going to leave it at that, so he wanted to turn the tables and make them look like fools. It was Pilate’s little joke. This is Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews. The leaders said, “Take that down and put up he said he’s the King of the Jews.” Pilate said, “What I have written I have written.” So you have the people mocking Jesus and Pilate mocking the people.
Something else about the soldiers: Luke 23:34 And they divided up his clothes by casting lots. That’s standard procedure. The executioners were given the right to keep the possessions, the final possessions of clothing and things of the people who were executed. That was sort of a small job benefit, a perk. John gives us some insight into exactly what the soldiers did.
John 19:23 When the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took his clothes, dividing them into four shares, one for each of them, with the undergarment remaining. This garment was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom.
There would be four garments that a man would wear in that day. An outer cloak that you kept warm with, like a jacket, and you slept on and used as a blanket. There would be shoes or sandals, a headpiece, a sash or a belt. Four pieces.
We know that there were four Roman soldiers assigned to a crucifixion. In Acts 12:4, you read about a squad of Romans. It’s a quaternion made up of four. In fact a full one was four units of four, so it’s very likely that there were four soldiers in a death squad. That’s why the four garments could be divided one to each of the four. There was also a tunic or undergarment, one piece, so they said let’s not tear it. Let’s cast lots for it to decide whose it shall be. That the scripture might be fulfilled: Psalm 22:18 They divided my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment.
They cast lots, dividing up his garments among them, and then somebody won the inner garment. Now, Jesus has been stripped of all his clothing and he’s naked except for a loincloth. And they’re doing everything they can to strip him of all his dignity. They want to make him such a mockery that there will be no dignity left. He’s hanging there naked.
When Adam and Eve fell into sin they were immediately made conscious that they were naked. Nakedness has been associated with and symbolic of moral guilt, symbolic of shame before God. And they tried to make coverings for themselves, and God moves in and kills an animal to make coverings for them, for that shame and nakedness, that symbol of moral shame and guilt, God Himself made a sacrifice, then a covering.
Here at Calvary, Jesus is made naked in our place. Jesus is in the position of manifesting the symbol of moral guilt and moral shame before God, he’s not covered. He’s judged. He’s cursed by God in that nakedness, which was not his own, but ours. Jesus naked in our place, Jesus naked, the symbol of our moral guilt and our moral shame, is not covered by God. He is judged by God and God pours out the full fury of His wrath on that nakedness. And Jesus, the one made naked for us, becomes our covering. What a divine irony?
4. THE MERCILESS THIEVES
Luke 2:39 One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”
Only one of the thieves is quoted by Luke, but Matthew and Mark tell us the rest of the story. Matthew 27:44 The rebels who were crucified with him also heaped insults on him. All Luke does is record for us what one of the two said, but they were both involved. “Are you not the Christ?” again with scorn and sarcasm, “Save yourself and us.” It’s just all merciless.
5. THE MERCIFUL JESUS
So against this attitude of this merciless insult, we look at the merciful intercession of the Christ. It’s really stunningly opposite. Luke 23:34 Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” This is just shocking. We would expect Jesus to pour out furious denunciations on all of them, to judge them, to make them pay for their outrageous, extreme iniquity immediately on the spot, but he doesn’t. Contrary to that he says, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they’re doing.” He asks God to provide forgiveness for them.
Seven sayings on the Cross.
Now Jesus spoke seven things from the cross.
Father, Forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing. Luke 23:34
He spoke to one of the thieves and said: Luke 23:43 Today you’ll be with me in paradise. Then he spoke to his mother and John and said: Dear woman, here is your son. John 19:26. Jesus gave the care of his mother to the apostle John who were standing far, far away. And then for three hours the whole earth was dark and he spoke not at all. And after the darkness he spoke to God and he said, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
The first thing he said, before any of those was, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” His first words were words seeking divine forgiveness for the world’s most wretched sinners. Certainly this is Jesus, the Father, running to embrace the stinking prodigal, isn’t it?
This is a general prayer for all the world to know that there’s no sin against the son of God that is so severe it cannot be forgiven if one will repent. That’s the message. If there is forgiveness for these people, there is forgiveness for anyone. You can’t get beyond this. But it’s more than just a general prayer, it’s a specific prayer.
Within a few weeks another 8,000 men and more and more and it moves into tens of thousands of people in Jerusalem who embrace the faith of Jesus Christ, and there must have been many of those who came to Christ in those weeks after the resurrection who were there in that crowd, so that it is a general prayer telling the whole world that the sinner who repents and comes to Christ can be forgiven of the worst crime ever committed. But it is also a specific prayer that God knows in His mind from before the foundation of the world, who in that crowd He will truly forgive. A church was born out of these people who stood at the foot of Calvary and mocked the son of God. They became the first church.
Forgiveness came to many people right Jesus Christ was crucified.
One criminal immediately repented looking at Jesus on the cross. Luke 23:42-43 42Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
Luke 23:47 The centurion, seeing what had happened, praised God and said, “Surely this was a righteous man.”
Many others believed with the centurion, Matthew 27:54.
Some in the crowd formed the first church.
There were priests who were standing and watching this who got forgiveness later. Acts 6:7 So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.
The great irony of Calvary is that while all this scorn was being heaped on Christ, he was bearing the curse of God far worse than anything they could put on him. In taking both the curses from men and the curse from God, he provided the very atonement which makes the forgiveness he prayed for possible. The King Crucified. Let’s Pray.