“And when they were come to the place which is called Calvary, there they crucified Him.”
On the basis of this word of God we confess, in the words of the Apostolic Confession, “I believe He was crucified.” The Heidelberg Catechism, explaining this confession, says that there is more in His being crucified than if He had died some other death. For by His crucifixion “I am assured that He took on himself the curse which lay upon me; for the death of the cross was accursed of God.” He was hanged upon the tree of the cross, making the death of the cross cursed of God. For the law says (Deut. 21:23), “he that is hanged is accursed of God.” Paul refers to this law in his letter to the Galatians when he writes, “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us” (Galatians 3:13). The law curses sin, that is, God by His law curses sin. The crucifixion is God cursing sin; it is the crucifixion of sin. On the cross, God bore His own curse, so that His was the curse, ours the blessing.
THE MEANING. “They crucified Him.” That was the mode of His death. He did not and could not die any other death. He died not by poisoning, drowning, starving, nor by any of the other common ways men die. Both John the Baptist and James Zebedee were beheaded. Stephen was stoned. Capital punishment, according to Israel’s law, was also by burning. It is possible to die by stoning, or by burning, yet no blood be shed. But without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sin. He could not die in any of these other ways, nor by assassination, much less by suicide (for that is sin, and He died for sin, not in sin).
He died solely by crucifixion. After the Jewish Old Testament form of capital punishment by stoning, the dead body would be hanged on a tree. But Jesus was hanged on the cross alive. This was not Jewish, but pagan Roman torture punishment. He was crucified, nailed through hands and feet. This was done by the power of the Roman government under the political pressure of the Jews. For Peter, missionary to the Jews, charged their council, the Sanhedrin, thus: “whom ye slew and hanged on a tree.” For they had actually utilized a heathen form of deadly torture to do away with Jesus. (They were the ones who repeatedly had cried, “Crucify Him!”). The Egyptians in Joseph’s day executed by hanging; so did the Persians in Esther’s day. But the Romans in Jesus’ day used the most inhumane and barbaric form of execution. The Jewish council had passed sentence on Him, had actually in their implacable hatred imprecated His blood upon themselves and on their children to get the deed done. They not only were responsible for His death, but for His dying the most accursed death.
THE FORESHADOWING of the crucifixion is seen in the Old Testament types of patriarchal revelation as exemplified in the coats of skins with which God clothes Adam and Eve. (Animals had to be sacrificed to provide this “covering” or “atonement.”) Abel’s lamb, offered on the altar just outside the garden of Eden, is type of the Lamb of God whose sacrifice of himself opens the way into the heavenly Paradise. Isaac, Abraham’s only son, is type of Gods only begotten Son bearing His cross in our place. Christ made sin for us on the cross is the antitype of the brazen serpent lifted up on a pole in the wilderness, so that there is life for a look at the crucified One! Jesus applied this type to himself as the Antitype. David prophesied of Him in his twenty-second Psalm, “they pierced My hands and My feet.” The wave-offerings with the wave-offerings prefigured the cross. The homes of the Israelites at the Passover had blood on their doors in the form of a cross, the blood marking lintel, doorpost, and threshold. The cross is observable in the layout of the tabernacle, first in the mercy-seat, then in the altar of incense, then opposite each other the lamp stand and the table of showbread and finally the altar of burnt-offering.
The cross also appears, typically, in prophetic revelation. As David had, Zechariah prophesied of the cross in, “They shall look on Me whom they have pierced.” The Jews try to elude the force of these prophecies, but without success. This evasion was not made in Old Testament times, but in the New Testament day, and only after the crucifixion had become history. There was no effort made to explain away these prophecies before the death of Christ. The endeavor to do so after the fact reveals the desperate weakness of the Jewish prophetic interpretation. The historical fulfillment record of the crucifixion as preserved in the inspired Scripture accounts leaves all attempts to undermine these prophecy records ridiculous. The cross on Calvary, the Place of a Skull, is symbol of rationalism condemned and the death of all human wisdom.
According to the New Testament record, Jesus was actually crucified. Judas had betrayed Him for that purpose. “The Son of Man is betrayed to be crucified.” The Jews clamored for His crucifixion, screaming over and over the awful word, crucify! Pilate finally gave in and ordered, “Take ye Him and crucify Him.1” Then the Roman soldiers of the governor “led Him away to be crucified.” At the place called Calvary, “there they crucified Him.”
THE TRUTH by which we must live and die is expressed in all these texts. The great truth the true church here confesses embraces the whole of our theology. “He was crucified” is the very center of the gospel. The glory of the church universal, of the church militant, is not in some denominational form of worship, not in a peculiar emphasis on one sacrament, not in some oddity of doctrine (for example, millennialism), but it shines in the cross. “God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world!”
Passing strange it is then to read in a British special bulletin, a “Mission to England Bulletin,” published by the British Council of Protestant Churches, and printed by the Newtownards Chronicle, that Billy Graham does not emphasize “The Blood” in his ministry as an evangelist. The bulletin states, “In a letter of 29th February, 1968, W.H. Martindale, writing on behalf of the Billy Graham Association, said, ‘There are many aspects of the Christian life that Mr. Graham does not touch upon because he does not believe that they are the duty and responsibility of the evangelist. Mr. Graham believes that we are saved through the blood of Christ; however, this aspect of Christian doctrine he does not emphasize in His message. This is the duty and prerogative of the pastors.”‘ Astounding! But is this practice of Graham’s in harmony with the divine injunction, “Do the work of an evangelist” (II Tim. 4:6)? Is it conceivable that the two New Testament evangelists, Stephen and Philip, did not emphasize the blood of Christ in their messages since that is for pastors and not evangelists to do? Will Scripture bear out such a strange idea? Take any preaching, sermon, or “message” that does not have any emphasis on the blood of Christ: can the content of that discourse be said to be the gospel? or wouldn’t it be “another gospel”? How can one preach, teach, or evangelize and not emphasize the gospel? Doesn’t this “work of the gospel as an evangelist” (Westminster Form of Church Government, XV) require not only a bit of emphasis on the blood of Christ, now and then, but a concentricity to that theme so that the preacher (Graham is a preacher, isn’t he?) never gets away from it?
In this great fundamental, indeed, essential of the Christian Faith, we have the point of unity for all believers. The point of Christian unity is not found in the doctrine of the second coming of Christ; it is not in “prophecy preaching,” nor in what some term “church truth.” We must not allow anything to becloud the issue of the Word of the Cross in Jesus’ blood. We must always get into the clear light of the cross. There the Lord lightens our darkness to see light. There we see the divine law satisfied and its lightning bolts of holy wrath irretrievably imbedded in the cross. It is at the foot of the Crucified One that we learn to pray the publican’s prayer, “God be merciful to me a sinner.” A mercy apart from Jesus’ blood, or apart from an emphasis on His blood, is a mercy outside the cross. But there is no such mercy! Flowing from the blood of the Crucified there is not a drop of “common grace.” What do men of the world have in common? Sin! What do men of the world have which Christian men do not have? Condemnation! (See John 3:36; John 5:24). What do Christian men have which men of the world do not have? Eternal life! Christian unity comes through the same channel, Christ crucified. Every covenant blessing bears the same sacred blood-mark of His atoning sacrifice. The cords of love which bind the sacrifice to the altar of Calvary bind brethren closely together. Their prayers, from whatever race, tongue, tribe, or nation (Rev. 5:9), all meet at the great throne of mercy. There alone is blessed union in Christ.