Light of the World



Booklet 23


Calvary

"He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. . . . Yet it was the LORD's will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the LORD makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand" (Isaiah 53:3, 10).

We come now to the last scenes of Jesus' life—His final suffering and death by crucifixion. When Cecil Rhodes, the great empire builder of South Africa, lay dying, he said, "So much to do; so little done!" He could not say, as Jesus did when, with arms outstretched and nailed to the cross, He breathed his final prayer, dropped His noble head upon His chest, and exclaimed, "It is finished" (John 19:30).

Christ came to earth to die as mankind's sacrifice, and on the cross He knew that His mission had been accomplished. From the years of His youth, He had understood that He was to be "the Lamb of God" (John 1:29). Now, His blood was being shed as a sacrifice for the world's sin—for your sin and mine. True, the world did not love Him, but He loved the world and gave Himself for it. "He humbled himself," and on Calvary was "obedient to death—even death on a cross!" (Philippians 2:8). By His crucifixion, Jesus fulfilled the highest destiny ever given to man.

In Christ's time, only the vilest criminals were crucified. Cicero called this method of execution "the cruelest and foulest punishment." A certain Roman is reported to have ridiculed Christianity because its leader was crucified on a cross. "This system cannot stand," he said, "because it is founded upon a cross, upon the death of its leader, upon a catastrophe. It cannot stand." But Christians know that the fact that Christianity is founded upon a cross—a cross of sacrifice—is the very reason why it has stood through the centuries and why it will finally triumph.

A glorious light now gathers about the cross, for there the heart of infinite Love paid the price for our redemption and freed the human race from the wages of sin, which is eternal death and separation from God. To the Christian, the cross of Christ is not foolishness (see 1 Corinthians 1:23, 24). Light pierces the darkness and the clouds hovering about the cross, and its message of love is appreciated. But to the carnal mind, the cross is a symbol of defeat.

Today, we will thrill to the story of Calvary and the Christ of Calvary. As we follow Jesus into the powerful scenes of His tragic suffering and death, let's pray that we will understand and accept the meaning of His great sacrifice for us personally.

In the cross of Christ I glory,
Towering o'er the wrecks of time;
All the light of sacred story
Gathers round its head sublime.
-- John Bowring

WHY WAS JESUS CONDEMNED TO DEATH?
In the court of Pontius Pilate, Jesus had been judged an innocent man. Why, then, was He condemned to death by crucifixion? There is only one answer—the priests were envious of Him. For that reason they had set their hearts upon His death and clamored for His execution—and Pilate lacked the courage to release Him (see Luke 23:4, 23-25).

Pilate "knew it was out of envy that they had handed Jesus over to him" (Matthew 27:18).

Caiaphas, the high priest, had regarded Jesus as his rival. That very morning, Christ had stood before him on trial. The self-centered religious leader must have wondered at the divine composure that marked the countenance of our Lord. How could any mortal man have seen the face of the suffering Savior, still marred by the blood stains of Gethsemane, without feeling the impulse of wonder—even admiration! But Caiaphas, proud, envious, and cruel, could not endure the thought that the attention of all Israel was being diverted from him, the high priest, to this lowly Galilean. Christ must be eliminated. He must be destroyed. And this Caiaphas resolved to do. While the Savior stood before him in the throne room of the high priest, Caiaphas demanded that Christ swear under oath to answer the following charge:

" 'I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.' 'Yes, it is as you say,' Jesus replied. 'But I say to all of you: In the future you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven' " (Matthew 26:63, 64).

Christ did not refuse to testify under oath. He admitted that He was the Son of God, and He explained that the time would come when the positions of judge and defendant would be reversed. At that moment of agony, He was on trial before the high priest, but the time would come when the high priest would be on trial before Him, the King of kings and Lord of lords. "In the future you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven," he said with deep solemnity (Matthew 26:64).

As Jesus spoke, the scenes of the judgment appeared before the terrified priest. He saw himself condemned for his rejection of the Messiah. In a supreme effort to stifle conviction, he arose from his pontifical chair, tore his garment, and said:

" 'He has spoken blasphemy! Why do we need any more witnesses? Look, now you have heard the blasphemy. What do you think?' 'He is worthy of death,' they answered. Then they spit in his face and struck him with their fists" (Matthew 26:65-67).

Now that the Sanhedrin had officially approved the death penalty for Christ, He must be taken to Pilate to obtain the consent of the Roman court. There the governor took one searching look at Christ and knew at once that He was innocent. The wily priests had not deceived him. He could see that the charges against this man were wholly false. A private interview with Jesus only confirmed his conviction (see John 18:33-38), and he said, "I find no basis for a charge against this man" (Luke 23:4).

Pilate saw that Christ was innocent, and he knew that it was his duty to release Him, but he dreaded the ill will of the people. To escape responsibility, he sent Jesus to the court of Herod, the ruler of Galilee, the province from which Jesus came, for it so happened that Herod was visiting in Jerusalem at that time. Pilate and Herod were enemies, but "that day . . . [they] became friends" (Luke 23:12). Yet Herod did not free Christ. Neither did he condemn Him, but returned Him to Pilate for final judgment.

In His mercy, God then sent a message to the troubled governor to bring him to a point of decision in favor of Christ.

"While Pilate was sitting on the judge's seat, his wife sent him this message: 'Don't have anything to do with that innocent man, for I have suffered a great deal today in a dream because of him' " (Matthew 27:19).

Pilate was terrified. He did not know that the One who stood before him was the Son of God. He had not condemned Him, but neither had he released Him. What would Pilate do next?

WHO WAS RELEASED INSTEAD OF CHRIST?
Thinking that he might divert the people's hatred from Christ to Barabbas, a truly hardened criminal, Pilate brought the two prisoners out into the full view of the multitude and asked which they would have him release.

"Now it was the governor's custom at the feast to release a prisoner chosen by the crowd. At that time they had a notorious prisoner, called Barabbas. So when the crowd had gathered, Pilate asked them, 'Which one do you want me to release to you: Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?' " (Matthew 27:15-17).

Pilate hoped that the contrast between the innocent Son of God and the hardened seditionist and murderer, Barabbas, would inspire feelings of sympathy and human compassion, but he underestimated the bitterness and hatred of the priests and the mob. The chief priests and elders persuaded the multitude to ask for Barabbas—and that Jesus be put to death.

" 'Which of the two do you want me to release to you?' asked the governor. 'Barabbas,' they answered. 'What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called Christ?' Pilate asked. They all answered, 'Crucify him!' " (Matthew 27:21-23).

Pilate, seeing that "he was getting nowhere" (Matthew 27:24), washed his hands before the multitude and said:

" 'I am innocent of this man's blood, . . . . It is your responsibility!' All the people answered, 'Let his blood be on us and on our children!' Then he released Barabbas to them. But he had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified" (Matthew 27:24-26).

Pilate made the mistake that many make today—the mistake of knowing what is right but failing to do it. And because Pilate wavered, Jesus was crucified.

Then the governor's soldiers took Jesus into the Praetorium, where the band of professional legionnaires gathered to mock Him. Here is the record of the cruel treatment that He received:

"They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on his head. They put a staff in his right hand and knelt in front of him and mocked him. 'Hail, king of the Jews!' they said. They spit on him, and took the staff and struck him on the head again and again. After they had mocked him, they took off the robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him away to crucify him" (Matthew 27:28-31).

Jesus was whipped and tortured. Barabbas deserved this punishment—and death as well—but he went free. Christ did not deserve such treatment, but He suffered and died. Why? He died in place of Barabbas. He died in the place of sinners like you and me. We deserve the death penalty for our sins, but God permitted the penalty for sin to rest upon His only begotten Son in order that we "shall not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16). Oh, what a wonderful Savior!

SIMON BEARS CHRIST'S CROSS
As the innocent Savior left the governor's court, a heavy cross was placed upon His shoulders, but He was too weak to carry it, because He had been scourged and beaten and had had no food since the day before (see Matthew 27:26-31). Many sorrows rested upon Him. His heart was heavy with the memory of His betrayal by Judas. Peter had denied Him with cursing and swearing (see Matthew 26:74), and all the disciples had forsaken Him and fled. Poor, suffering Savior! He had no strength to carry the humiliating burden of the cross. So "they seized Simon from Cyrene, who was on his way in from the country, and put the cross on him and made him carry it behind Jesus" (Luke 23:26).

As the procession marches away to Calvary, a great multitude follow the Savior. Let's join the crowd and observe the awesome events of this fateful day. The multitude includes those who at the time of Christ's triumphal entry into Jerusalem just a little while earlier, had shouted, "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!" (Matthew 21:9). But now, these same people join with those whose coarse voices shout out their accusations against Him. There is a fearful discord of jeering, raucous cries.

Lining the streets of the city are many women, doubtless some who have been healed by Jesus and others whose children have been restored by Him. These weep bitterly. But their tears are only tears of human sympathy. They do not lament the suffering Christ as One who is dying for their sins. Yet Jesus understands their anguish of soul and says:

"Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children. For the time will come when you will say, 'Blessed are the barren women, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!' Then 'they will say to the mountains, "Fall on us!" and to the hills, "Cover us!" ' For if men do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?" (Luke 23:28-31).

By these words Christ represents two scenes—first, what was now about to take place when wicked men would seize him, a green tree, innocent and pure, and crucify him; and second, that awful hour so soon to come (A.D. 70) when Jerusalem would be destroyed. The dry tree represents those who now tormented him, many of whom would die a dreadful death in the siege of the city by the Romans. And in the final day of judgment, the calloused and indifferent will be judged worthy of destruction when Christ comes to punish the wicked.

Slowly the mournful procession moves on over the streets of old Jerusalem to Golgotha, the hill—or place—of a skull, just outside the gate, and there He is crucified (see Mark 15:22-24). In modern Jerusalem, the route of the last journey of Jesus is marked out by the various stations of the cross and the Via Dolorosa—the street of grief and sorrow.

WHO ARE CRUCIFIED WITH JESUS?
Two criminals are nailed to crosses next to Jesus—one on the right hand and the other on the left. No doubt, these hardened men struggle with their tormentors, but not so Christ. Patiently, submissively, as a lamb dumb before the slaughterer, He permits the soldiers to place His hands and feet upon the cross and drive the cruel nails into His tender flesh. The rough wooden cross is dropped into the hole that has been dug for it, causing the most intense agony to the Son of God. But there is no word of bitterness on His lips, no reproach—neither of God nor of man—only a prayer, a prayer of forgiveness. He prays that His persecutors may be pardoned for their fearful crime.

"Jesus said, 'Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.' And they divided up his clothes by casting lots. The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, 'He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Christ of God, the Chosen One' " (Luke 23:34, 35).

But Jesus could not save Himself and at the same time save humanity. He could have come down from the cross, but He was determined to pay the penalty for our sins, which is death (see Romans 6:23). Only the shedding of blood could provide remission for sins (see Hebrews 9:22). If Christ had saved Himself, we would have had no Savior. In that dramatic hour of his passion, the wrath of God against sin was poured out. The penalty was removed from us and placed upon the head of our Redeemer in His atoning sacrifice upon the cross.

"God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Corinthians 5:21).

"Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: 'Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree' " (Galatians 3:13).

In view of His crucifixion, we may say, as did Peter:

"For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect" (1 Peter 1:18, 19).

Now, who in that rabble crowd senses that his only hope of salvation is in that dying Man? The record is that the pagan soldiers mocked Jesus. The priests hurled vile epithets in His face. Jesus' mother and other women were there. So were the disciples—all except Judas, who had gone away and hanged himself. But the hearts of the eleven were broken, and their faith was almost gone. Only one voice expressed confidence. Here is the record:

"One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: 'Aren't you the Christ? Save yourself and us!' But the other criminal rebuked him, 'Don't you fear God,' he said, 'since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.' Then he said, 'Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.' Jesus answered him, 'I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise' " (Luke 23:39-43).

The dying thief turned to Jesus for salvation. But the criminal on the other cross rejected Him. One was a cross of reception; the other a cross of rejection. Christ's cross was the cross of salvation. One of these thieves will be saved in God's Paradise; the other will be lost forever. If we look to the Christ of the cross, as did the dying thief, and repent, we, too, will be saved (see Hebrews 12:2).

LIGHT AND DARKNESS AT CALVARY
Before Jesus died, He entrusted the care of His mother to His beloved disciple John and requested her to go to John's home and share his hospitality. John accepted this sacred trust (see John 19:26, 27). Even in His dying moments, the blessed Savior had a tender regard for His mother. What an example to those who would shun their responsibility to their parents!

Christ was crucified at the third hour—in the middle of the morning. The day began at six in the morning, so the third hour would be about nine o'clock. At the sixth hour—noon—darkness covered the cross and continued until the ninth hour, or three o'clock in the afternoon (see Luke 23:44, 45). Finally, in mid afternoon . . .

"Jesus called out with a loud voice, 'Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.' When he had said this, he breathed his last" (Luke 23:46).

An earthquake accompanied this awful hour of anguish when the world's Redeemer died. The earth trembled, and so did the hearts of the multitude. And now what do we see?

"When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, 'Surely he was the Son of God!' " (Matthew 27:54).

This Roman soldier, touched by Jesus' noble bearing and sacrifice, recognized Him as the Son of God, and his convictions overflowed in a dramatic confession of his belief. But the unbelieving priests and rabble were terrified and depressed, for they did not have the comfort which faith brings.

"When all the people who had gathered to witness this sight saw what took place, they beat their breasts and went away" (Luke 23:48).

On that awful day there was both light and darkness at Calvary—light for those who believed, and darkness for those who shunned the Savior's love and sacrifice. What does Calvary mean to you and me—light or darkness?

And now "one of the soldiers pierced Jesus' side with a spear" (John 19:34) in order to hasten His death. But, He was dead already! The physical agony of the crucifixion had not taken His life. Jesus died of a broken heart. The weight of our sins crushed out that holy life, and from His pierced side flowed "blood and water" (John 19:34). Our Savior's legs were not broken as were those of the thieves who were crucified with Him. This fulfilled Scripture, as did every act in the awful drama (see John 19:35-57).

As you contemplate Calvary, you will see that Christ suffered there for our sins and paid the price of death in order that we might live. He suffered in our place. He died as our substitute in order that we might escape the second death and live forever. He took the sin which was ours and died to pay the price of transgression so that we might take the righteousness that was His and live forever!

Right now, will you quietly pray that Christ may not have died for you in vain? Look to the uplifted Savior and receive Him into your heart by faith.

There's life in a look at the sacred cross,
Jesus has said, "Look unto me;"
Earth with its riches is only dross,
Bright treasures beyond in the cross I see.
-- F. E. Belden

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Original manuscript author: Beatrice S. Neall
Editors revised edition: Barbara Shelley, Sue Robinson
Design and Layout: DEC Designs, Morisset, New South Wales Australia.
Used by permission of Discovery Centre, Wahroonga, New South Wales, Australia.
Graphics: Still images taken from Matthew video, copyright © 1997, 2004 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of International Bible Society.
Scripture: Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION ®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society.
Cover Picture: "The Light of the World" by Nathan Green, ©2004 All Rights Reserved.
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Copyright © 2007 revised edition, Voice of Prophecy, California.