In the last 24 hours, Jesus had suffered both emotionally and physically. In the garden of Gethsemane, He had experienced hemohidrosis, which is a hemorrhaging into the sweat glands. When arrested, all of His friends and followers ran away. Then He was beaten severely by those who were holding Him in custody. And after all this on no sleep, Pilate had Him scourged.
The one who was scourged was stripped and tied to a post, with his arms over his head. He was then whipped with a multi-ended leather whip called a flagellum that had bone, metal, rocks, and iron balls tied into it. After each whipping, the leather would be dragged down the prisoner's back, opening up multiple wounds each time and removing skin. Sr. C. Truman Davis tells us, "the skin of the back is hanging in long ribbons and the entire area is an unrecognizable mass of torn, bleeding tissue." Historians of the day tell us that many people died from the scourging alone.
Remember too that the Roman soldiers fashioned a crown of acacia thorns, being anywhere from 1-4 inches long, shoved it on His head, and drove it in. Now that the scourging is over, Jesus is given the cross to carry about 650 yards. But He can't physically do it.
Matthew, Mark, and Luke all mention the commandeering of Simon of Cyrene to carry Jesus' cross. Coming from Cyrene, what we call Libya today, Simon had probably converted to Judaism and come to Jerusalem for the Passover holiday. But while observing this procession to an execution, a Roman soldier chooses him to carry the cross of this man who isn't going to make it by Himself.
I have to wonder, whatever became of Simon? Did he just go his way, the carrying of the cross just an interruption in an otherwise good day in Jerusalem? I don't believe so, because Mark gives us an interesting detail in his gospel:
Mark 15:21 And they pressed into service a passer-by coming from the country, Simon of Cyrene (the father of Alexander and Rufus), to bear His cross.
Mark says, "Simon, the father of Alexander and Rufus". Why did he mention them? Alexander and Rufus must have been known to the church that Mark was writing to. As we read through the New Testament, we find that in the book of Romans, Paul writes
Rom. 16:13 Greet Rufus, a choice man in the Lord, also his mother and mine.
The implication is that Simon's life was never the same after carrying the cross. We can assume that after he followed Christ, he became a follower of Christ - he and his entire household.
Jesus turns to these women who were mourning and lamenting over His torture and sentence. But Jesus tells them that their weeping should be for themselves, since what is happening to Jesus is going to directly affect their own futures, as well as their nation's. In rejecting and ultimately crucifying their Messiah, they brought severe judgment upon themselves - less than 40 years later, the city was surrounded, over a million were killed, and the nation of Israel was scattered throughout the world for the next 1,900 years.
Jesus was hung between two criminals, fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah that said He...
Isa. 53:12 ...was numbered with the transgressors; Yet He Himself bore the sin of many, and interceded for the transgressors.
This is Jesus - merciful to the end, praying and interceding even for the who hates Him, because everybody needs Him.
When we went through Mark 15, we looked in detail at the medical aspects of the crucifixion. I encourage you if you're interested, and have a strong constitution, pick up the tape. But in brief overview, the victim was laid down on the cross and square spikes about 3/8' wide and 7" long were driven through his wrists and feet.
The cross was then lifted up and dropped into a hole. At the impact, the victim's shoulders and elbows would immediately dislocate, making his arms freakishly long.
In this position, it was impossible to breathe, so the victim would have to lift himself up on the nail through his feet to catch a short breath. As the blood was starved of oxygen, the heart pumped more furiously to supply the body. Fluid built up in the lungs. The pain was so intense that after being tortured for anywhere from minutes to hours, they finally collapsed into unconsciousness and suffocated. This is why when they wanted them dead, they would break their legs with a massive iron bar. With their legs broken, there was no way to lift themselves up to breath, and they would immediately suffocate.
Psalm 22 is a prophecy of Jesus' crucifixion from the first person perspective. Just a short passage,
Ps. 22:14-16 I am poured out like water, And all my bones are out of joint; My heart is like wax; It is melted within me. My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue cleaves to my jaws; And Thou dost lay me in the dust of death. For dogs have surrounded me; A band of evildoers has encompassed me; They pierced my hands and my feet.
Not only is it agonizingly accurate, but was written hundreds of years before crucifixion was even invented! In your own studies, I commend to you the investigation of the medical and prophetical aspects of both the crucifixion and Psalm 22.
In these attempts to breathe, Jesus uttered only 7 short statements, three of which Luke wrote down. He prayed, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they are doing." Nobody is ever so wicked or hateful that they are beyond being prayed for. That's something that amazes me about Jesus - He prays for His enemies, He intercedes for them. And ultimately, that's what this whole crucifixion was about - interceding for His enemies. Paul writing to the Romans said,
Rom. 5:6 ...while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.
Rom. 5:8 ...God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
Rom. 5:10 ...while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son...
If you have trouble with the fact that not being a Christian makes you an enemy of God, ask yourself: How many sins does it take to make a sinner? How many laws must you break to be considered a lawbreaker? How many times must you forsake God before you are ungodly? The answer to all those questions is "just once". Our sin separated us from God. James wrote that
James 2:10 ...whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all.
So all of us at one point were enemies of God, no different than these Roman soldiers who drove in the nails, or the Jews who were shouting "crucify Him!" And yet Jesus prayed, "forgive them." Today, if you're not a Christian, Jesus is interceding for you, that you might come to the free forgiveness that He has for you.
Jesus'outer garments were each split up into four parts, one part of the cloth for each soldier. But His tunic was seamless, woven in one piece. The soldiers decided that it was far more valuable whole than it would be torn in strips, so they decided to roll the dice to see who got it. Again in Psalm 22, we read the prophecy,
Ps. 22:18 They divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots.
The accuracy of prophecy is astounding.
The wickedness of the mob - taunting a dying man! He had proclaimed that He was the only way to the Father in heaven, that He alone was the way of salvation. "Save yourself, then" they shout. They didn't understand that He was making the way of salvation for them.
The sign that Pilate himself wrote was written in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin. The Hebrew read "Y'Shua HaNazarei vMelech HaYehudim" - "Jesus the Nazarei and King of the Jews". The interesting thing about it is that it formed an acrostic, "YHWH" - Yahweh, or Jehovah, the holy name of God. No wonder the Jews were demanding that it be changed! But here was God being put to death.
One of the criminals joined in with the crowd's taunting, maybe hoping to receive mercy by having a common enemy, but more likely because his heart was so hardened from a lifetime of sin that even in the last hours of life, his anger and bitterness overrode decency and reverence.
But the other criminal asked Jesus, "Remember me when You come into your kingdom!" This is all it takes to be saved. Acknowledging Jesus Christ as your King, your Savior. The book of Romans says,
Rom. 10:9 that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved;
It really is amazing how hard people will work to make it to heaven, when the only real way is so simple. Confess with your mouth, believe in your heart.
Truly this was the darkest day in all of history, and darkness covered the land from noon until 3:00. Maybe the clouds rolled in so thick that it appeared to be night. Maybe the hand of God moved in to miraculously show how dark the day truly was. Regardless, Matthew Henry writes, "An extraordinary light gave intelligence of the birth of Christ, and therefore it was proper that an extraordinary darkness should notify His death, for He is the Light of the world."
This veil was the cloth that separated the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies in the temple. It was huge - 60 feet tall, and 30 feet wide. Historians believe that it was somewhere between 10 and 18 inches thick!
On the other side was the Holy of Holies, where the ark of the covenant sat. No one was allowed back there except one man, the high priest, and only once a year, on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. And this was only permitted after a meticulous and lengthy cleansing process. If the priest was not properly cleansed, he would be stricken dead right there in the presence of God.
When the veil was torn in two from top to bottom, God was making a statement: The door to the throne room of God is no longer locked. Everyone is eligible to enter now. In Hebrews 10 we read,
Hebr. 10:19-22 Since therefore, brethren, we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.
On Thursday nights we've been learning that the temple was a model of the things in heaven. The writer of Hebrews says that this veil was the flesh of Christ. When Christ's body was ripped and torn, so was the veil of the temple. It's not just the high priest once a year who can enter into the presence of God now. The death of Jesus Christ means that anyone who is made holy by the blood of Jesus can go in - and go in boldly, without fear!
The centurion saw Christ die and he began praising God - he had a spiritual reaction. The multitudes saw Christ die, then wept and walked away - they had an emotional reaction. The disciples saw Christ die and went into hiding - they had a physical reaction.
Today, we've seen Christ die. What is your reaction going to be? Are you going to be emotionally affected? Are you going to be physically sickened? Or are you going to be spiritually enlightened? You can say, "What a shame that Jesus went through that." You can say, "How disgusting - people can be so cruel." Or you can say, "Jesus, I know that you died for my sins. And I know that the veil has been torn in two so that I can now enter in if I let you make me holy by forgiving me." And you can praise God like the centurion did. It's your choice.