Today, we arrive at the cross.
Over the past few days, the journey to cross has gone through Jerusalem to Bethany, enjoyed a Passover meal, saw Jesus arrested, and marked for execution by Pilate with the help of the religious leaders.
The Romans were famous for their floggings and their crucifixions. Their philosophy was we will beat and flog you within an inch of your life, and then we will drag you to a public place, nail you to a cross, and let you die an excruciating death.
And if all goes well, the dead man walking will be dead within a few hours.
Dead Man Walking
Once Pilate had pronounced the death sentence with the religious leaders' help, he was led from Pilate’s headquarters to bear His cross.
It wasn’t enough that Jesus was going to be crucified like a common criminal, but they strapped the cross to Him, and He proceeded through town towards a place called Golgotha.
Golgotha was called the place of the skull.
I can only imagine that Jesus was moving slowly after being brutally flogged, and carrying the crossbeam for his cross1 would have been pushing him closer to the ground with each passing step.
At this point, the soldiers pulled a man named Simon of Cyrene from the crowd, strapped the crossbeam to him, and forced him to walk behind Jesus.
In Mark’s gospel, it says,
“A passerby named Simon, who was from Cyrene, was coming in from the countryside just then, and the soldiers forced him to carry Jesus’ cross. (Simon was the father of Alexander and Rufus.)”
Why does Mark add this extra little detail about Simon?
“(Simon was the father of Alexander and Rufus.)”
Scholars believe this detail means that Alexander and Rufus were known to the church.2
If we have learned anything from our journey to the cross, God uses the most unlikely characters to play pivotal moments in the redemptive story.
Let’s look at the small, almost overlooked detail in Mark’s account,
“A passerby named Simon, who was from Cyrene, was coming in from the countryside just then”
Was Simon coming in because his work was complete, or did he hear people shouting and came to see what was going on?
Of all the people surrounding Jesus and the soldiers, why was Simon plucked from the crowd that day?
There must have been other strong men in the crowd that day who had followed Jesus from Pilate’s headquarters.
Could it be that Simon might have been one person that was not shouting and mocking Jesus, or was he just the guy at that moment? I’m not sure we will know this side of heaven, but God’s plan to save the world went through the unlikeliest of characters.
I would assume Simon knew who Jesus was since his sons were acquainted with the church. Simon himself may have heard Jesus speak.
Can’t you imagine as Jesus was on the ground, and the crossbeam was being transferred from Him to Simon that their eyes met, and Jesus conveyed a hint of sadness.
Symbolically, Jesus was carrying the sins of the people on His back as He walked to execution.
I wonder as He walked if His life and ministry flashed before Him. He might have remembered His birth and scaring his parents have to death by hanging back at the temple when he was just a boy.
Or maybe it was His baptism by John or turning water into wine at the wedding feast. Maybe it was the many healings he performed – giving sight to the blind, hearing for those who had not heard before, making the lame to walk, and raising Lazurus from the dead.
Maybe it was seeing the little children come to Him or opening the eyes of the woman at the well or giving hope to the woman caught in adultery or helping give his disciples faith, especially when He walked to them on the water.
Scripture is not clear on what He thought about during this walk to His death, but His physical body was at its limit.
Jesus seemed to always have time for people, even when He was walking to His death. Luke says,
“A large crowd trailed behind, including many grief-stricken women.” (Luke 23:27)
He took time to tell them not to cry and weep but rather cry for their own people.3
Jesus was not the only one traversing the death road; two criminals were joining Him – Jesus was just the more famous of them.
The Skull, Sometimes Called Calvary
Luke says in 23:33,
“When they came to a place called The Skull, they nailed him to the cross. And the criminals were also crucified—one on his right and one on his left.”
Jesus was broken physically and emotionally. Simon had brought his crossbeam to “Calvary,” and they formed the cross. They laid him on it and nailed him to the cross.
Imagine the sound of a hammer hitting the nail as it tore through the skin and the person being nailed cried out in agony. With each hit of the nailhead, the cries grew louder.
First on the hands or wrists, and then as laid your feet one over the other, pounded the nail through one foot and the one below it. Maybe it took a couple of pounds of the nailhead to drive through both feet; I’m not sure.
Once they had finished nailing Jesus and the other criminals to the cross, they raised the cross. Most scholars believe the Romans dug a slight hole for the cross, and they pulled the cross into place and dropped it in the hole.
This would have jolted those hanging on the cross for sure and torn even more skin from the newly pounded nails.
Over the course of the day, many people passed by to see Jesus and the others hanging on the cross.
“‘Look at you now!’ You said you were going to destroy the Temple and rebuild it in three days. Well then, if you are the Son go fGod, save yourself and come down from the cross!’” (Matthew 27:40)
The religious leaders were front and center shouting insults and mocking Jesus. They yelled,
“‘He saved others,’ ‘but he can’t save himself! So he is the King of Israel, is he? Let him come down from the cross right now, and we will believe in Him!’” (Matthew 27:42)
Oh…it must have broken Jesus’ heart to hear the words shouted at him, knowing full well, He could come off the cross, but He was up there for our sins.
The one phrase that hits me is the religious leaders said,
“Let him come down from the cross right now, and we will believe in Him!”
The religious leaders needed to see Jesus do something to believe, but we believe because we have faith, not just sight.
The Time Had Come
Around noon it started to get spooky. The sky turned dark and angry, and around three o’clock, and Jesus cried out,
“Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34)
Even on the cross, one criminal hanging beside him was repentant, and Jesus welcomed him into the Kingdom of Heaven when he died later that day.
A little while later, He said,
“My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” (Matthew 27:46)
The pain must have been excruciating, but the abandonment of His Father must have felt like a dagger to his heart. The Lord had to turn away from His Son because He was filled with all of our sins (past, present, and future) – He was the sacrificial lamb at that moment.4
Then things got really crazy – the ground shook, “rocks split apart, tombs opened,” and the Temple curtain was torn in two from top to bottom.5
It was at this moment that Jesus released His spirit, and He died. The soldiers hastened the criminals' death beside Him by breaking their bones, but when they came to Jesus, they saw he was already dead. So they pierced his side, and a mix of blood and water flowed out.6
Once Jesus was removed from the cross, His body was taken to a tomb provided by Joseph of Arimathea after a request to Pilate.
Joseph was on the high priest’s council but did not agree with the other religious leaders on many actions. He was looking and waiting for his Messiah.
Jesus’ body was prepared for burial per the customs of the day. This action was hastened because the Sabbath was rapidly approaching, and they could not work on the Sabbath.
A large stone was rolled in front of the tomb because the religious leaders feared Jesus’ disciples would remove the body and claim Jesus had risen from the dead. As an extra layer of security, two Roman guards were posted outside of Jesus’ tomb to prevent entry.7
So…What’s So Good About Good Friday?
You might be thinking to yourself; I did not hear anything good about the account of Jesus’ death. So, what’s so good about Good Friday?
Here are a few things that are good about Good Friday:
- Jesus comforts the passerby’s as He walked to Calvary
- Two criminals were crucified next to Jesus, and one joined Jesus in eternity that day
- Joseph of Arimathea saw his Messiah and prepared His body for death
However, the best thing about Good Friday is Jesus died on the cross for you and me. He hung on the cross, faced abandonment from His Father so that we could live in eternity with Christ.
He became the sacrificial lamb for all of Israel, the Gentiles, and the whole of the earth. Once Jesus died on the cross, He ushered in a new covenant – Israel no longer had to sacrifice a lamb for their sins.
When the temple curtain split in two from top to bottom, it represented the death of the old covenant and the birth of the new covenant that would be for all people.
Jesus paid the ultimate sacrifice for us, and it was painful, but He did it out of love for His creation.
That’s what’s so good about Good Friday. If Christ never died, we could never fully live, and there would be no hope for redemption.
Christ offers hope and redemption for your sins – past, present, and future. He was sinless, who took on all the sins of the people – past, present, and future, so we did not have to.
Think about this for a minute. There are a little over 6 billion people living today, and each of us sins multiple times per day. That’s at a minimum of 6 billion sins per day.
Jesus died for every sin that has, had, and will be committed. That number is too numerous to count. That’s what He took on the cross.
To the world, they saw a man executed – hanging on a cross and then die. The people of that day had their Messiah right there in front of them, and most of them missed Him.
Christ did not have to die for our sins, He could have let us wallow in our sins, but God the Father sent a rescue plan put in motion when Adam & Eve sinned in the Garden.
Jesus was the rescue plan, and it involved dying on the cross for our sins. This rescue plan is what is so good about Good Friday.
Today, if you know Jesus, reflect on what Jesus did for you on the cross. Thank Him for saving you.
If you do not know Jesus and would like to know Him, you can invite Him into your life this day. He has already borne your sins – past, present, and future, but you must invite Him into your heart and life, to transform you and make you a new creation.
If you would like to pray this prayer of redemption, you can pray this prayer along with me – it doesn’t have special powers, but it’s your words and your heart that accepts Jesus and invites Him to change your life for all eternity.
Lord, I see what you did on the cross at Calvary for me. I want you to come into my life, wipe away all my sins, and make me a new creation. Please forgive me of my sins, and come into my heart. Amen!
If you prayed that prayer today, welcome to the family of God. Scripture says there is a party going on in heaven right now as the angels rejoice over you joining the family of God. Your Good Friday has an extra special meaning from here on out.
Maybe, you aren’t quite ready to invite Jesus into your heart, no worries. God is a pursuer. He lovingly pursues you because He wants you to join His family. Each of our journeys to salvation is different, and yours is still unfolding.
On this Good Friday, remember one thing – Jesus loves you!
Lord, thank you for your sacrifice on Calvary’s cross so we can live with you in eternity. I ask that you would relentlessly pursue us to join your family. Please give encouragement to those who have joined your family, and give grace to the wanders, and point them to people who can help guide them to You. Thank you for your love, forgiveness, grace, and mercy – we don’t deserve it, but we greatly appreciate it. Amen!
- The crowd had their way. Jesus trudged toward the hill of execution, the crossbeam on his shoulder. Roman soldiers accompanying him apparently saw Jesus had become too weak to carry a heavy Roman crossbeam, so they forced a man from the crowd to carry Christ’s cross. Butler, T. C. (2000). Luke (Vol. 3, p. 391). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers. ↩
- Mark 15:21 notes that Simon was the father of Rufus and Alexander, apparently Christians known to the church. Butler, T. C. (2000). Luke (Vol. 3, p. 391). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers. ↩
- Always attentive to the needs of others, Jesus noticed the women and probably recognized some of them. He tried to change the direction of their grief. He was not the one who needed to be mourned. Later he would confess that he was in the Father’s hands. They needed to turn attention inward. They faced the tragedy of the fall of Jerusalem and all the suffering connected with that. Jesus had already wept over the city and the fate of its inhabitants (19:41). These mourners needed to save their tears for their own disastrous future. Butler, T. C. (2000). Luke (Vol. 3, p. 391). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers. ↩
- This three-hour period was so black that creation itself became dark as well. From noon to 3 P.M., normally the brightest and hottest time of day, darkness covered the land. Creation mourned its Creator’s spiritual death (separation from his Father) and turned its back on the One the Father now turned away from because of the sin he became. Weber, S. K. (2000). Matthew (Vol. 1, p. 465). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers. ↩
- Matthew 27:51-52 ↩︎
- John 19:31-37 ↩︎
- Luke 23:50-56, Matthew 27:57-60, Matthew 27:62-65 ↩︎
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