And when they came to a place called Golgotha (which means Place of a Skull), they offered him wine to drink, mixed with gall, but when he tasted it, he would not drink it. And when they had crucified him, they divided his garments among them by casting lots. Then they sat down and kept watch over him there. And over his head they put the charge against him, which read, “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.” Then two robbers were crucified with him, one on the right and one on the left. And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads and saying, “You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” So also the chief priests, with the scribes and elders, mocked him, saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he desires him. For he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’” And the robbers who were crucified with him also reviled him in the same way.
Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land[b] until the ninth hour. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” And some of the bystanders, hearing it, said, “This man is calling Elijah.” And one of them at once ran and took a sponge, filled it with sour wine, and put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink. But the others said, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save him.” And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit.
And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many. When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe and said, “Truly this was the Son of God!”
There were also many women there, looking on from a distance, who had followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to him, among whom were Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Joseph and the mother of the sons of Zebedee.
Have you ever had the experience of learning something new about something you never really thought about, but live with daily on a close, comfortable basis? For example, I (Jason Alexander) love Coca-Cola. I can scarcely imagine a more delicious soft drink; especially when consumed with pizza! I used to think that it couldn’t be bad for you. After all, Michael Jordan drinks it. Well, it turns out that Coke is not the healthiest choice. It’s delicious, but it’s not necessarily good for the human body. At least, not on a regular basis.
I remember a few years ago seeing display that showed how much sugar was in a single bottle of Coca-Cola. I was horrified. I had no idea that with each bottle I was taking in that much sugar! Needless to say, I cut back my Coke-drinking considerably. At this point in my life I don’t even drink soda. Or, if I do, it is a rare occasion.
A more sobering example might be the comfort we enjoy in the modern West. Here in the United States of America we live daily with a level of stability that most of the world has never known. You may have heard of the gas attacks in Syria last week. Some of you may have even seen the footage. It is utterly appalling to witness what some people in our world go through. And that is happening simultaneous to our comfort. We live in the same world at the same time, yet we rarely even notice it.
My point here is that we can, and often do, live in ignorance. It is so easy to not think about the truth. Reality is not always pleasant, and since that is the case, if we can, we are eager to have to not think about it. We’d rather not know how bad Coke is for us. We’d rather not think about the suffering in our world.
Never is this ignorance more dangerous than when it comes to the cross. We live daily with the cross. Many of us wear them on around our necks, some of us even have tattoos of the cross. And because we are so used to seeing the cross everywhere in our society, it is easy to live with a sanitized, comfortable view of this horrifying symbol. Now, because of Christ’s resurrection, the cross is for us as Christians an image of comfort, but this can only be true comfort if we’ve understood what the cross meant in Jesus’s day.
Rome almost made an art form of crucifixion. Those who had been found guilty of disobeying Rome were hung on a cross. And, yes, crucifixion was designed to inflict a slow, painful death, but its real power was in its ability to inflict shame. The cross humiliated its victims. To die on a cross was to become undignified beyond a point of return. The word “cross” was a word of terror in the Greco-Roman world. It kept people afraid. Afraid of stepping out line. Afraid of rebelling against the Empire. It created a general climate of fear. No one wanted to be crucified.
N.T. Wright describes crucifixion in helpful terms:
“The point is often made but it bears repetition: we in the modern West, who wear jeweled crosses around our necks, stamp them on Bibles and prayer books, and carry them in cheerful processions, need regularly to be reminded that the very word ‘cross’ was word you would most likely not utter in polite society. The thought of it would not only put you off your dinner; it could give you sleepless nights. And if you had actually seen a crucifixion or two, as many in the Roman world would have, your sleep itself would have been invaded by nightmares as the memories came flooding back unbidden, memories of humans half alive and half dead, lingering on perhaps for days on end, covered in blood and flies, nibbled by rats, pecked at by crows, with weeping but helpless relatives still keeping watch, and with hostile or mocking crowds adding their insults to the terrible injuries.”
There is not a lot of literature about crucifixion from the ancient world. Martin Hengel says that this is because “[n]o ancient writer wanted to dwell too long on this cruel procedure.” The Gospels in the New Testament are the most detailed descriptions of crucifixion available. So it is difficult to say exactly what crucifixion involved. Hengel says:
“The form of execution could vary considerably: crucifixion was a form of punishment in which the caprice and sadism of the executioners were given full rein. All attempts to give a perfect description of the crucifixion in archaeological terms are therefore in vain; there were too many different possibilities for the executioner.”
In other words, what a victim went through depended somewhat on the cruelty of the executioner’s heart at that moment. Tell me this isn’t unpleasant to imagine. Quite honestly, it disgusts me. But yet, we see crosses everyday. We talk about it every Sunday. But have we considered what it meant for our Lord to be crucified?
Finally, let me say a few words about our text for the day. In Matthew 27:33-56 we read of Jesus’s crucifixion. Matthew has told this story from the perspective of the 22nd Psalm (which, if you have the time, I encourage you to read). And he describes Jesus in royal terms. This is the King! And we should all be thinking: Wait, the King was crucified?! Surely, you can’t be serious!
In his letter to the church(es) in Corinth (1 Corinthians 1:17-24), the Apostle Paul says that the is cross offensive to all. No one knowing anything about crucifixion can accept that God would die on a cross. Yet this is precisely the message we preach. Jesus died on a Roman cross! However, because of the resurrection, the cross lost a great battle that day!
Obviously, there is much more to say here. This passage is loaded with meaning, but for now let’s just try to take in what it meant to be crucified in Jesus’s day. Sit with this for a moment.
Jesus was crucified! What does that mean to you? Does it affect you?
Prayer for Today
The world is evil, Lord. We live in a world with crosses, wars, hatred, racism, and all other kinds of evil, but You, Lord, have given Yourself over to the powers of the world, and You have triumphed over them. We are in awe. You were crucified, yet you live! Every knee shall bend before you, Lord. Strengthen our resolve in the face of trial and temptation. You faced the worst sort of death, and won. So surely our struggles are as nothing before you. Clear a path for us to share the message of the cross. Help us to share from the heart with joy. Help us to not be ashamed of Your death.
 N.T. Wright, The Day the Revolution Began: Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus’s Crucifixion (San Francisco: Harper One, 2016), 54.
 Martin Hengel, Crucifixion (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1977), 25.
 Martin Hengel, Crucifixion (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1977), 25.