The Scene of the Cross of Calvary - Part 1
John Tinkler, Red Row, Morpeth, England [SEE PROFILE BELOW]
Spurgeon once wrote, ‘A work done in a day and wondered at forever’. Whilst each Gospel writer brings before us different views of the Lord in His birth and life, they must present to us the purpose of His coming. It is a passing scene – only taking place once. It is summarized by a quote I recall, ‘The Gospels give the facts of the Crucifixion with an economy of words’.
The mockery of the trials is over, and Pilate’s decision is that the sentence should be as they, the leaders of the nation, required. Never before or since has heaven or earth witnessed such a scene. With reverence we follow the Lord as He leaves the holy city.
The situation of Calvary
It is John in his Gospel who informs us that ‘the place where Jesus was crucified was nigh to the city’, 19. 20. Luke informs us of the place called Calvary – the only time the word is used in scripture – whilst Mark informs us of Golgotha, both meaning the skull. ‘He bearing his cross went forth’. It was voluntary, no resistance to a place called Calvary. God always had that place in mind, Gen. 22, and the objective of our Lord was that ‘He shall save his people from their sins’.
Simon the Cyrenian
He is mentioned in one verse each of Matthew, Mark and Luke. It would appear the Romans had authority to draft citizens to aid in such situations, hence the word ‘compelled’ or ‘compel’ or ‘laid hold upon’ in the three accounts. Interesting to note that Simon Peter said to the Saviour, ‘Lord, I am ready to go with thee, both into prison, and to death’, Luke 22. 33, but it was another Simon who bore the cross without complaint and without shame. Mark adds that he was the father of Alexander and Rufus. Some feel that the Rufus mentioned by Paul in Romans chapter 16 verse 13 is the same person who Paul states was ‘chosen in the Lord’. We must mention that there is no record in scripture of the Lord being so weak He faltered or stumbled in bearing the cross beam. To the soldiers, it seemed He might not get to Calvary, so they chose a man ‘at random’.
Following from the book of the Acts, it should be noted of Cyrenians, Cyrene being a city in Libya, that. they were hearers, 2. 10. ‘Hear we every man in our own tongue’, v. 8; they were preachers, 11. 19, 20; there was amongst them teachers, Lucius of Cyrene, 13. 1.
Could these fleeting references stem from one man who had such a story to tell when he returned home from Jerusalem? As a witness to the scene of Calvary, it was something which he would never forget.
Scoffers that passed by the Cross
In Mark chapter 15 verses 29 to 32, he informs us of these people. They mocked Him as a prophet, v. 29, John 2. 19, as a Saviour, v. 31, and as King, v. 32.
These were the taunts of the people to His message, His miracles, and His messiahship. This mockery added to the sufferings of the Saviour. They had every opportunity to believe on Him in His life, but He was doing a ‘great work’, Neh. 6. 3. ‘He could not come down’. Sad to think that even today there are scoffers!
Spectators that challenged
Luke informs us of their words, ‘He saved others; let him save himself’, 23. 35. This cosmopolitan crowd or, as Luke records, ‘a great company of people’, 23. 27, was predicted by the psalmist in Psalm 22 verses 6 to 8. If He had saved Himself then nobody else could be saved.
The people reviled Him, Matt. 27. 39.
The rulers derided Him, Luke 23. 35.
The soldiers mocked Him, Luke 23. 36.
The malefactor railed on Him, Luke 23. 39.
How right was the psalmist, Ps. 69. 20! Again, turning to Psalm 22, we have the imagery of animals: bulls, v. 12, lions, v. 13, and dogs, v. 16. When men reject the Saviour they become like animals. These people challenged our Lord’s divinity, ‘If’, Matt. 27. 40.
Sitting near the cross
Matthew makes this observation in chapter 27 verse 36. One wonders what went through their minds? History records that whether crucifixions, or beheadings, or people burnt at the stake, there are always observers. Have we taken time to sit near the cross, as we often sing the lovely hymn, ‘Jesus keep me near the cross’, and not be moved by its sentiments? Some may be content to view; some consider that view, but, praise be to God, some are convicted by the view!
Standing by the cross
What a contrast! John is alone in informing us of the band of women and John at the cross, 19. 25, 26. Revealing to us their devotion to Christ even at His crucifixion, he draws us to this little group in contrast to the others at Calvary. How long they stood at the cross is unknown. The Lord knew they were there as He speaks four words to His mother and three words to John. Calling her ‘woman’ is not a word of disrespect. It was Simeon, Luke 2. 35, who stated prophetically, ‘yea, a sword shall pierce through thy soul also’. In silence the Lord’s mother stands, but one wonders, as she sees the one she brought into the world hanging on the cross, about those words spoken to her about her firstborn.
The superscription they wanted changed
John chapter 19 verses 19 to 22 is where we read that Pilate himself wrote the title. The full title is believed to be: ‘This is Jesus of Nazareth the King of the Jews’. Jesus – His humanity; Nazareth – His humility; the King – His royalty; of the Jews – His nationality. Written in Hebrew, Greek and Latin, it was there for all the world to see. The Jews, however, wanted the wording changed, but here Pilate was strong willed, ‘What I have written I have written’. He was not strong willed earlier! ?
Some imply that this was the first ‘Gospel tract’ written. In this instance, it was the last act of Pilate. In respect of the Saviour, it will remain forever. It has been read by many since as the sight of Calvary has charmed and changed millions.
The scene of darkness
All but John write about the darkness. It is the symbol of judgement that the Lord endured for us. How could a Holy God look with favour on His Son who became sin for us? There is silence from Heaven. For three hours no human eye was to watch God’s intervention in this scene, and upon His Son. Light came from Heaven upon the scene when the Saviour was announced, Luke 2. 9-11, but there was darkness at His death when salvation’s work was being accomplished. The believer acknowledges that the Lord Jesus bore the penalty of our sins in His body on the tree that we may come from darkness to light.
The scriptures and their completion
Matthew, Mark and Luke only mention one scripture being fulfilled at the cross whilst John mentions four. There is no doubt as to the harmony of scripture and all prophecies in relation to His first coming being fulfilled. Interestingly, some men fulfilled scripture without knowing anything of prophecies written previously. Some twenty-four prophecies at least were fulfilled in twenty-four hours. But also in their completion there is a reminder of the future, ‘They shall look on him whom they pierced’.
The Saviour and the condemned
Only Luke records the conversation of the two malefactors, whilst John informs us that Jesus was in the midst. Luke chapter 23 verse 32 has an important comma in the King James Version between ‘other’ and ‘malefactors’ emphasizing ‘others’ of a different kind – the Lord crucified between two thieves. These two had been caught, convicted, and condemned to be crucified. They are unnamed.
Notice should be given to these men who died, that in the final hours of their lives:
- both had equal access to the Lord Jesus
- both could read the superscription
- both could watch and observe
- both could speak
- both could hear
- only one repented
What significance for men and women today. Viewing the scene, they can repent of their sin, but many, sadly, do not.
The sayings from the cross
Before the Lord gave up the ghost we are able to put together, from the Gospel records, seven sayings or, as some indicate, cries, but John alone records, ‘It is finished’, 19. 30. It is a finished work and a debt paid in full. He was in complete control. It stands finished and it will always be. Praise God that our salvation is based on the completed work of one who was willing to die in our place.