The Gospel of Luke - Part 100
The Crucifixion — Luke 23:23-25

December 16, 2007
(These notes are based on lesson notes prepared by Rob Mahon for connection class leaders at Hoffmantown Church.)


In the last two lessons, we studied the trials before the High Priests and the Sanhedrin and then before Pilate, then Herod and then back to Pilate. Since they did not really have the due process of what we call a trial, I prefer to refer to these encounters as interrogations, not trials, but that is just quibbling.

The last lesson is the first time I have been able to sort of grasp who Pilate was and who Herod was, including which Herod Jesus appeared before and how the two of them related to each other in the hierarchy. I hope some of you gained that understanding as well.

We saw that although the Jewish leaders were bent out of shape over Jesus’ claim to be the Son of God, which challenged their power and authority, they make political accusations against Jesus to get the Roman powers to kill him. Of course neither Pilate nor Herod found any reason to kill Jesus, but Pilate was afraid of the crowd and gave in to their demand to trade Barabbas for Jesus as the one to be hung on the cross.

We ended the last lesson by focusing on the fact that Jesus was not simply a victim of circumstances. Jesus died according to the will of God, not the will of people. God and Jesus were in charge of the events. The Jewish leaders thought they were. Pilate and Herod thought they were. But none of them were in control.

As I make the point at the end of that lesson, though God’s purposes were at work here, each person is responsible for their responses to Jesus. Pilate, Herod, Barabbas, the religious leaders - they all had the opportunity to believe in Jesus if they so chose. Herod didn’t listen to anyone. Pilate chose to listen to the crowd rather than listen to Jesus. He didn’t even listen to his wife, did he?

This morning we transition from the trial of Jesus to His crucifixion. This period is covered in great deal in the Gospels. We could spend weeks just on this, but instead, I am going to focus on just what Luke records. I am sure each of us has studied this many times in our course of Bible study, so I am going to narrow it to Luke.

I also want to suggest that we not let this section of the study get bogged down on a lot of technical issues about crucifixion. The goal of this section of our study is to gain a deeper appreciation of Jesus and what he went through. Our goal is not just information, but devotion. If our appreciation of Jesus and our faith in Jesus and our devotion to Jesus is not enhanced, then we have failed to see why we are studying it.

As we read through this section, we need to pray for Holy Spirit to give us tender hearts and a fresh appreciation of what is recorded here. There are many truths that are highlighted through this event:

The Love of God:

Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends. —John 15:13
More than any other event in history, the crucifixion shows us the measureless depths of God’s love for us.
I have loved you with an everlasting love. —Jeremiah 31:3
Here in Luke 23, God proves it.

The Awfulness of Sin: — The fact that Jesus had to die on the cross to pay the penalty for our sins shows the awfulness of our sin to God. We see sin from the perspective of sinners. But God is holy and pure. He sees the seriousness of sin, the wickedness of sin.

The Worth of People to God: — The cross shows us how precious people are to God. The worth of something is shown by what you are willing to pay for it. Our worth is shown by what God “paid” to save us.

The Obedience of Jesus: — Jesus obeyed His Father no matter what the cost, no matter what He was told to do, no matter how painful or distasteful the task might be. Here’s how it is expressed in The Message paraphrase:

He didn't claim special privileges. Instead, He lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death — and the worst kind of death at that: a crucifixion”. —Philippians 2:8

A Suggested Sequence of Events at Jesus' Crucifixion
(Passages from Luke’s Gospel are highlighted)

  1. Jesus arrived at Golgotha. (Matt. 27:33; Mark 15:22; Luke 23:33; John 19:17)
  2. He refused the offer of wine mixed with myrrh. (Matt. 27:34; Mark 15:23).
  3. He was nailed to the cross between the two thieves. (Matt. 27:35-38; Mark 15:24-28; Luke 23:33-38; John 19:18).
  4. His first statement: "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing". (Luke 23:34)
  5. The soldiers took Jesus' garments and gambled for them. (Matt. 27:35; Mark 15:24; Luke 23:34; John 19:23)
  6. The Jews and soldiers mocked Jesus. (Matt. 27:39-43; Mark 15:29-32; Luke 23:35-37)
  7. Sign is placed above His head on the cross, “This is the King of the Jews”. (Matt. 27:37; Mark 15:26; Luke 23:38; John 19:19)
  8. He conversed with the two criminals crucified with Him. (Matt. 27:34; Luke 23:39-43)
  9. His second statement: "I tell you the truth; today you will be with Me in paradise”. (Luke 23:43)
  10. His third statement: "Woman, here is your son". (John 19:26-27)
  11. Darkness came from noon to 3:00pm. (Matt. 27:45; Mark 15:33; Luke 23:44)
  12. His fourth statement: "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?". (Matt. 27:46-47; Mark 15:35-36)
  13. His fifth statement: "I am thirsty". (John 19:28)
  14. He drank sour wine. (Matt. 27:48; Mark 15:36; Luke 23:36; John 19:29-30)
  15. His sixth statement: "It is finished". (John 19:30)
  16. His seventh (final) statement: "Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit". (Luke 23:46)
  17. He dismissed His spirit by an act of His own will. (Matt. 27:50; Mark 15:37; Luke 23:46; John 19:30)
  18. Earthquake at time of his death; dead saints rise. (Matt. 27:51-54)
  19. The temple curtain was torn in two. (Matt. 27:51; Mark 15:38; Luke 23:45)
  20. Roman soldier declared, "Surely He was the Son of God". (Matt. 27:54; Mark 15:39; Luke 23:47)
We don’t have time to examine all the events related to Jesus’ crucifixion. Instead we are going to focus on the ones that God led Luke to include in His Gospel. In particular, we’re going to consider the people that Luke mentions. We pick up the story in Luke after Pilate allowed the crowd to trade Barabbas for Jesus.
But they were urgent, demanding with loud cries that he should be crucified. And their voices prevailed. 24 So Pilate decided that their demand should be granted. —Luke 23:23
This begins our study of the crucifixion of Jesus. This is the central event in the Christian faith. The world loves to celebrate Jesus’ birth but Christians know the importance of celebrating His death and resurrection.

How do we study the crucifixion of Christ in just 2-3 weeks? Hundreds of songs and tens of thousands of messages have been written through the years on this one subject.

Charles Spurgeon called the cross, “the hinge of history.” … it was the turning point for the whole human race.

Ken Osbeck in his book, Amazing Grace , says:

In 1894, William Newell was a young Bible teacher, not yet 30, at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. One day on his way to teach a class, he was reflecting on Christ’s sufferings at Calvary and all that it meant to him personally. As he meditated on Jesus’ crucifixion, his thoughts seem to form the lyrics of a song. So he stepped into an empty classroom and quickly jotted down the lyrics that came to mind. A few minutes later he met a friend and fellow teacher, Daniel Towner, who was music director for Moody. He showed Towner the lyrics he’d written down and asked him to write music for them. An hour later, after Newell finished teaching his class, Towner met him with the melody already completed. They found a piano and together sang this familiar hymn for the very first time (here are the 1st & 4th stanzas & chorus):

Years I spent in vanity and pride, caring not my Lord was crucified,
    Knowing not it was for me He died, on Calvary.
O the love that drew salvation’s plan! O the grace that brought it down to man!
    O the mighty gulf that God did span, at Calvary!

Mercy there was great, and grace was free;
    Pardon there was multiplied to me.
There my burdened soul found liberty —
    At Calvary!

Do you know where the term “Calvary” comes from? We all know that Calvary refers to the place where Jesus was crucified. But the word “Calvary” is never used in the Bible! In the Scriptures, we’re told Jesus was crucified at a place called “the Skull.” When the Bible was translated into Latin, the Latin word for skull was “calvaria”. Our English word “Calvary” comes from this Latin root word.

Someone by the name of "Unknown" wrote:

If you were to look at Rembrandt's painting of Jesus’ crucifixion called “The Three Crosses”, your attention would be drawn first to the center cross on which Jesus died. Then, as you would look at the crowd gathered around the foot of that cross, you'd be impressed by the various facial expressions and actions of the people involved in the awful crime of crucifying the Son of God. Finally, your eyes would drift to the edge of the painting and catch sight of another figure, almost hidden in the shadows. Art critics say this is a representation of Rembrandt himself, for he recognized that by his sins he helped nail Jesus to the cross. (Author Unknown)

The Three Crosses, by Rembrandt

The Bible Knowledge Commentary tells us:
Crucifixion was a common method of carrying out the death sentence in the Roman Empire. It was probably the most cruel and painful method of death the Romans knew. Crucifixion was reserved for the worst criminals; by law a Roman citizen could not be crucified. Crucifixion was usually a long, slow process.
The Holman Bible Dictionary tells us:
It’s difficult to overstate the physical suffering that Jesus endured: being up all night, moved from one inquisition to the next, beaten severely, and then crucified. But before we study this passage, it might be helpful to understand something about the process of crucifixion itself. The following is an article explaining what is known about crucifixion:

Crucifixion was the method the Romans used to execute Jesus Christ. It was the most painful and degrading form of capital punishment in the ancient world. The cross was also the means by which Jesus became the atoning sacrifice for the sins of all mankind.

A person crucified in Jesus’ day was first of all scourged (beaten with a whip consisting of thongs with pieces of metal or bone attached to the end) or at least flogged until the blood flowed. This was not just done out of cruelty but was designed to hasten death and lessen the terrible ordeal.

After the beating, the victim was forced to bear the crossbeam to the execution site in order to signify that life was already over and to break the will to live. A tablet detailing the crime(s) was often placed around the criminal’s neck and then fastened to the cross.

At the site the prisoner was often tied (the normal method) or nailed (if a quicker death was desired) to the crossbeam. The nail would be driven through the wrist rather than the palm, since the smaller bones of the hand could not support the weight of the body. The beam with the body was then lifted and tied to the already affixed upright pole. Pins or a small wooden block were placed halfway up to provide a seat for the body lest the nails tear open the wounds or the ropes force the arms from their sockets.

Finally the feet were tied or nailed to the post. Death was caused by the loss of blood circulation and coronary failure. Especially if the victims were tied, it could take days of hideous pain as the extremities turned slowly gangrenous; so often the soldiers would break the victim’s legs with a club, causing massive shock and a quick death. Such deaths were usually done in public places, and the body was left to rot for days, with carrion birds allowed to degrade the corpse further.

Specifically about The Crucifixion of Jesus it says:

Jesus predicted His coming crucifixion many times. The Synoptic Gospels list at least three while John records three others. Several aspects of Jesus’ passion are predicted; 1) it occurred by divine necessity ; 2) both Jews (“delivered”) and Romans (“killed”) were guilty; 3) Jesus would be vindicated by being raised from the dead; 4) the death itself entailed glory (seen in the “lifted up” sayings which imply exaltation in John

The narration of Jesus’ crucifixion in the Gospels emphasized Jewish guilt, but all four carefully separated the leaders from the common people, who supported Jesus all along and were led astray by the leaders at the last. Yet Roman guilt is also obvious. The Sanhedrin was no longer allowed to initiate capital punishment; only the Romans could do so. Furthermore, only Roman soldiers could carry it out. Roman customs were followed in the scourging, mock enthronement, bearing the crossbeam, and the crucifixion itself. The site on a hill and the size of the cross (the use of the hyssop reed shows it was seven to nine feet high) showed their desire for a public display of a “criminal.” The Jewish elements in the crucifixion of Jesus were the wine mixed with myrrh (Mark 15:23), the hyssop reed with vinegar (Mark 15:36), and the removal of Jesus’ body from the cross before sunset (John 19:31).

The four Gospels look at Jesus’ crucifixion from four different vantage points and highlight diverse aspects of the significance of His death. Mark and Matthew centered upon the horror of putting the Son of God Himself to death. Mark emphasized the messianic meaning, using the taunts of the crowds to “save yourself” (15:30-31) as an unconscious prophecy pointing to the resurrection. Matthew took Mark even further, pointing to Jesus as the royal Messiah who faced His destiny in complete control of the situation. Jesus’ vindication was found not only in the rending of the veil and the centurion’s testimony (Matt. 27:51,54 paralleling Mark) but in the remarkable raising of the Old Testament saints (vv. 52-53-53) which links the cross and the open tomb. For Matthew the cross inaugurated the last days when the power of death is broken, and salvation is poured out upon all people.

Luke has perhaps the most unique portrayal, with two emphases: Jesus as the archetypal righteous Martyr who forgave His enemies and the crucifixion as an awesome scene of reverence and worship . . . Luke included three sayings of Jesus which relate to prayer (found only in Luke): “Father, forgive them” (v. 34, contrasted with the mockery); “today you will be with me in paradise” (v. 43, in response to the criminal’s prayer); and “Father into thy hands I commend my spirit” (v. 46). A wondrous sense of stillness and worship color Luke’s portrayal.

John’s narration is perhaps the most dramatic. Even more so than Luke, all the negative elements disappear (the darkness and taunts as well as those missing also in Luke), and an atmosphere of calm characterizes the scene. At the core is Jesus’ sovereign control of the whole scene. The cross becomes His throne. John noted that the inscription on the cross (“JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS”) was written in Aramaic, Latin, and Greek (19:19-20), thereby changing it into a universal proclamation of Jesus’ royal status. Throughout the account to the final cry, “It is finished” (v. 30), Jesus was in complete control.

One cannot understand Jesus’ crucifixion until all four Gospels are taken into account. All the emphases--the messianic thrust, Jesus as Son of God and as the righteous Martyr, the sacrificial nature of His death, the cross as His throne — are necessary emphases of the total picture of the significance of His crucifixion. (The Holman Bible Dictionary)

Here’s another description of the crucifixion of Jesus:  In the book The Life of Christ, this is how Frederick Farrar describes crucifixion:
A death by crucifixion seems to include all that pain and death can have of the horrible and ghastly—dizziness, cramps, thirst, starvation, sleeplessness, traumatic fever, shame, publicity of shame, long continuance of torment, horror of anticipation, mortification of intended wounds—all intensified just up to the point at which they can be endured at all, but all stopping just short of the point which would give to the sufferer the relief of unconsciousness.

The unnatural position made every movement painful…and while each variety of misery went on gradually increasing, there was added to them the intolerable pang of burning and raging thirst. One thing is clear. The 1st century executions were not like the modern ones, for they did not seek a quick painless death nor the preservation of any measure of dignity for the criminal. On the contrary, they sought an agonizing torture that completely humiliated him. It is important that we understand this, for it helps us realize the agony of Christ's death.

Here is what The Expositor’s Bible Commentary says a physician says about crucifixion:

A Physician Considers Crucifixion

Consider: A medical doctor provides a physical description of Christ’s crucifixion: The cross is placed on the ground and the exhausted man is quickly thrown backwards with his shoulders against the wood. The legionnaire feels for the depression at the front of the wrist. He drives a heavy, square wrought-iron nail through the wrist and deep into the wood. Quickly he moves to the other side and repeats the action, being careful not to pull the arms too tightly, but to allow some flex and movement. The cross is then lifted into place. The left foot is pressed backward against the right foot, and with both feet extended, toes down, a nail is driven through the arch of each, leaving the knees flexed. The victim is now crucified. As he slowly sags down with more weight on the nails in the wrists, excruciating, fiery pain shoots along the fingers and up the arms to explode in the brain — the nails in the wrists are putting pressure on the median nerves. As he pushes himself upward to avoid this stretching torment, he places the full weight on the nail through his feet. Again he feels the searing agony of the nail tearing through the nerves between the bones of his feet. As the arms fatigue, cramps sweep through the muscles, knotting them in deep, relentless, throbbing pain. With these cramps comes the inability to push himself upward to breathe. Air can be drawn into the lungs but not exhaled. He fights to raise himself in order to get even one small breath. Finally carbon dioxide builds up in the lungs and in the blood stream, and the cramps partially subside. Spasmodically he is able to push himself upward to exhale and bring in life-giving oxygen. Hours of this limitless pain, cycles of twisting, joint-rending cramps, intermittent partial asphyxiation, searing pain as tissue is torn from his lacerated back as he moves up and down against the rough timber. Then another agony begins: a deep, crushing pain deep in the chest as the pericardium slowly fills with serum and begins to compress the heart. It is now almost over — the loss of tissue fluids has reached a critical level — the compressed heart is struggling to pump heavy, thick, sluggish blood into the tissues—the tortured lungs are making a frantic effort to gasp in small gulps of air. He can feel the chill of death creeping through is tissues. ... Finally he can allow his body to die.
All this the Bible records with the simple words, “And they crucified Him.” (Mark 15:24).

What wondrous love is this?