“And he bearing his cross went forth into a place called the place of the skull, which is called in the Hebrew Golgotha: where they crucified him, and two other with him, on either side one, and Jesus in the midst.”
How simple is the gospel record concerning the crucifixion of our Saviour!
No description is given of the cross to which He was nailed. Nor are we told how they nailed Him to the cross. Nor is anything said of His physical reaction to the torture He must have endured as the nails were driven into His blessed hands and feet.
Very simply the Word of God informs us that, having borne His cross to the place of the skull, there they crucified Him with the two others, and Jesus in the midst.
Yet from these three crosses set on the hill of the skull, and especially from the one in the midst, proceeds a Word of God that is laden with saving truth to which we do well to listen, and to embrace with a true and living faith.
This Word of God speaks to us, first of all, of the common curse!
Notably, the very place where the crucifixion was accomplished spoke of the curse. We refer not so much to the name of the place, as to the place itself. The site was called the place of the skull, which is called in the Hebrew Golgotha. Several are the explanations given which are intended to interpret the meaning of the expression, the most acceptable of which to us is that which informs us that the place was an elevation, which from a distance appeared to the passers-by in the shape of a human cranium. Slightly off the beaten road going north of the city of Jerusalem, there the crucifixion took place. Significant here, however, is not the name of the place, but the fact that the place was without the city. Reflecting on this fact, the writer to the Hebrews in his epistle tells us, “For the bodies of those beasts whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest for sin, are burned without the camp. Wherefore Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered without the gate.” (Heb. 13:11, 12). The reference is, of course, to the law of the sin offering, which stipulated that the blood of the sacrificial beast should be sprinkled on the horns of the altar in the sanctuary, but the body of the beast should be taken outside the camp and burned. That it was considered an accursed thing is indicated in the fact that those engaged in getting rid of the body of the beast were considered unclean until the evening. Jesus, therefore, that He might be the fulfillment of the type, suffered without the gate. He is cast out of the city as an unholy and accursed thing. Consequently, the hill of the skull became the place of the curse.
Moreover, also the crucifixion, the form of execution, speaks of the curse. Of this we read inDeuteronomy 21:22, 23, “And if a man have committed a sin worthy of death and he be put to death, and thou hang him on a tree: his body shall not remain all night upon the tree, but thou shalt in any wise bury him that day; (for he that is hanged is accursed of God;) that thy land be not defiled, which the Lord thy God giveth thee for an inheritance.” On this the apostle Paul reflects when he writes in Galatians 3:13, “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree.” Nor can we in this connection neglect to mention what this same apostle writes in II Corinthians 5:21, “For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.”
There can be no question then that all this tells us plainly that the very form of execution speaks of the curse. This is truth to which Christ also later gave expression when actually He passed under the vials of God’s holy wrath, and He cries out that awful fourth word of the cross: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” In the reconciling hour He became the very accursed of God, and at the same time accursed of men. Lifted up, as it were, between heaven and the earth, men cried: “Away with Him, crucify Him,” while God also says unto Him: “Accursed art Thou, as the sin-bearer of my people.”
But there is more . . . !
There are three crosses on Calvary, and the cross of Jesus is in the midst!
In the midst of the malefactors who were dying for their misdeeds, and making separation between them; but also noticeably numbered among them!
It is Mark in his gospel who gives special significance to this, for he writes: “And with him they crucify two thieves; the one on his right hand, and the other on his left: And the Scripture was fulfilled, which saith, And he was numbered with the transgressors.” We are aware that the Revised Version omits this verse, but we can see no reason for its omission. It reminds us of those Scriptures He came to fulfill, and this was one of them, that He must be numbered among the transgressors. No more plainly was this demonstrated than when He was crucified in the midst of the thieves. Indeed, the cross of Christ speaks of the common curse.
Notice, in the second place, that Jesus in the midst speaks of the mighty cursebearer!
This is plain from the distinction between Christ and the malefactors in the superscriptions that appeared above their heads. Customary it was that those who were sentenced to be crucified bore a sign which signified who they were, and the crime for which they were to die. And when they had been affixed to their crosses the signs were tacked to the upright which extended above the cross-beam, so that all present at the crucifixion could read them. Though we are not told in so many words how the sign read above the heads of the malefactors, we may conjecture that it told in no uncertain language that these men were thieves and murderers who were paying the penalty of their crimes.
As to the superscription above Jesus’ head, John tells us in the verse that follows our text, “Jesus of Nazareth the King of the Jews.”
Shall we hear the Word of God here, which unwittingly was intended by the Roman authority, Pilate, to be a slanderous and defaming designation, we must hear God speak in this sign of the curse-bearer. Every word in that superscription is most significant.
Jesus! That is, Jehovah is salvation, or, Jehovah saves!
This is the name given Him through the angel of God even before His birth. And when that name was given from heaven, it was also explained. “For He shall save His people from their sins.” He is Jesus, Jehovah-God, Who will save His people from their sins. But to save them from their sins, He must become accursed in their stead. He must bear the curse for them, and bear it all away. That is the speech of God in respect to Him Who hangs in the midst.
Matthew in his gospel, (Matt. 2:23), tells us that when Jesus as a child was brought from Egypt to the land of Israel, He was taken to the city of Nazareth: “that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, He shall be called a Nazarene.” Now one looks in vain in the writings of the prophets to determine precisely who prophesied this. In fact the term Nazareth or Nazarene does not even appear in the bid Testament to our best knowledge. So the question arises, What can possibly be the explanation for this notice in Matthew’s gospel? And at the same time, What is the significance of the term Nazareth in the superscription? And how does this term serve to designate Jesus as the curse-bearer?
As far as the text in Matthew is concerned, two possibilities present themselves. The one is that the term Nazareth comes from the Hebrew NAZAR, meaning: off-shoot, root, rod, branch. And concerning the promised Messiah the prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Zechariah all speak of Him as the rod, the shoot out of the dry ground, and as the Branch. (See Isa. 11:1; Is. 53:2; Jer. 23:5; Zech. 6:12). Significantly Isaiah (Is. 53:2) says, “For he shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground: he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him.” The entire chapter in which this notice is found describes in detail the suffering Servant of Jehovah, Who, bearing our griefs, and carrying our sorrows, is stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. In this light, He is seen as the curse-bearer. The other possibility is, that the term Nazareth, or Nazarene, among the Jews was a reproach. Even one of the disciples, Nathaniel by name, when told by Philip “we have found him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph,” retorted, “Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth?” In one word, among the Jews, anyone or anything that came out of Nazareth was to be rejected and despised as an accursed thing. And of this rejection of the Messiah who comes out of Nazareth, all the prophets did write. (See Psalm 22:6;Is. 53:3; and many other places). Seen in this light, it is not difficult to see how Matthew could write that He was taken to Nazareth “‘that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, He shall be called a Nazarene.”
But if you ask: What is the significance of the term Nazareth in the superscription? Then we answer, first of all, that Pilate and the Jews would certainly designate Jesus thus, because they hated, despised, and totally rejected Him. Later the disciples of Jesus were also despised as .belonging to “the sect of the Nazarene.” (Acts 24:5). So that from the point of view of men, the title “Jesus of Nazareth” was intended to be a slanderous name, and Jesus was considered a man of ill-fame. However, if you would hear the Word of God at Calvary, and understand that God speaks through that little Bible above Jesus’ head, then you must hear Him say: Jesus, Jehovah is salvation, is My NAZAR. He is come unto you as a root out of a dry ground, in Whom there appears no outward comeliness, because I have laid upon Him all my curse that was due to you.
Thus He appears also on the cross as the curse-bearer!
King of the Jews! That is, the eternally foreordained King, Who is born of the Jews, for the royal seed of the covenant of God ran through that people, and none other. He is the one Who shall come to His kingdom through the way of suffering and death, Who shall battle with all the powers of sin and darkness, and overcome them, thus leading the subjects of that kingdom on to everlasting glory. God’s King, born out of the Jews, establishing in His own blood the foundations of righteousness upon which His everlasting kingdom shall rest. This is the speech of God, spoken loudly from the cross, and from Jesus in the midst!
In the third place, Jesus in the midst speaks of sovereign predestination!
O, indeed, He is the mighty curse-bearer, but He bears not the curse for all!
Jesus in the midst makes also separation. On either side of Him were sinners, but not for both does He bear their sin and curse. To the one, the Word of the cross which God is speaking, is pure foolishness, and he goes on to his eternal desolation in the way of his sin. To the other, who was being saved, that central Word of the cross was the power of God. That very day he would enter with the King into the kingdom.
And Jesus crucified in the midst is the cause whereby the thoughts of many hearts are revealed, thoughts of sin and grace, unbelief and faith. And this distinction and separation flows from the eternal, sovereign good pleasure of God, according to which He has chosen some unto eternal life in Christ, and reprobated others to their everlasting desolation in the way of their sin.
And Jesus in the midst speaks of this power and wisdom of God!
Hear it, and believe!
This is the Word of God that saves, and gives unto you the only comfort in life and in death!