A long, long time ago a strange man was found in the forest.
A long, long time ago a strange man was found in the forest. He was clearly a man, but he behaved like a wild animal. His eyes showed a wildness, a fear, and an intense focus on whatever he was scavenging for. His hair and beard were long and matted, dirty and shaggy. His nails looked like claws and nearly black from digging. His clothes were torn, and ragged, threadbare and filthy. They barely covered his nakedness, but, even then he didn’t seem to be aware of such things. His skin was smeared with dirt and sweat and he stank of awful body odor. His movement was a gallop on all fours, which was very awkward looking since he was a man made to walk on two legs. He sat hunched like a racoon gnawing at some root or leaf or fruit he found to eat. He didn’t talk. He grunted and shrieked and bellowed and acted in every way like one of the beasts God made to roamed the earth.
But this wasn’t a beast. This was a man. And this was not just any man. Not too long before, this pathetic looking creature was the most powerful man on the face of the planet. His name was Nebuchadnezzar, and he was the king of the mighty golden kingdom of Babylon – the unchallenged superpower of the world. You can read Daniel 4 to learn more about this story.
But it is an incredible thing to see a man go from being the highest man on earth to literally the lowest man on earth – to see him soar like a kingly eagle over the land and then see him roaming like a filthy wild pig along the countryside.
The purpose of my story is to emphasize the spectacular distance between the great position a man held and the humiliatingly low position he ends up at. And in this way, Nebachudnezzar’s career of glory down to humiliation back to glory introduces us to the career of Jesus. As spectacular as Nebachudnezzar’s descent, and perhaps no man in history ever has equalled it, still Nebachudnezzar’s is microscopic when compared to the descent of Jesus. Jesus came down from His supreme divine glory in heaven to the the most humiliating, grotesque place on earth: a cross. “And being found in appearance as a man”, Philippians 2:8 says, “Jesus humbled himself and became obedient to death. Even death on a cross.”
“Even death on a cross.” Everyone who read those words in that day understood the words “even death on a cross.” It was stunning to think of who Jesus was as “equal with God” being crucified. The cross is a place for the worst and most vile criminals (“he was numbered among the transgressors”). It was the form of execution reserved for those who not only needed to be put to death, but, because of their crimes, needed to die with maximum pain and humiliation. The cross took its time with its victims, extracting the most anguish and the most shame possible for as long as possible. Oftentimes for days.
Anyone with dreams of dying gloriously would find the cross their worst nightmare. It was the furthest thing from a dignified death. As a sample, go look up the ancient cave pictures of a crucified donkey intending to mock Jesus and His followers. A man could not get any lower on earth than when he was lifted up on a cross.
It is to this kind of death that Philippians says with such astonishment, that the glorious Son of God, Jesus “humbled himself and became obedient”.
Let’s work our way through the events.
Pilate caves to the mob and sentences Jesus to be crucified. Standard procedure is to scourge the condemned man. John MacArthur gives a summary description of a standard flogging, like what Jesus would have endured (244): “….”
Jesus survives, but, barely. His body is literally shredded. He is severely weak. But suffering is only just beginning. After the scourging is the abuse from the soldiers. Read 16-20.
The crown of thorns piercing like nails into his head. The clubbing him repeatedly on the head causing the thorns to pierce farther into his head. They draped him in a mock royal robe but then ripped it off. The blood would have clotted and stuck to the robe and ripping it off would have been excruciating. Bleeding severely. Agonizing pain all over. Their spit covering his face and head. There is zero sympathy. Zero mercy. Just pure, demonic pleasure in Jesus’ anguish and humiliation. They had no idea who he is. Everyone of those soldiers is dead now, and I guarantee you they found out who he is after they died. Everyone of them will bow down to Him in terror. Seeing Him seated on His heavenly throne, not curled up against a wall weak. Crowned with the gold of heaven, not with piercing thorns. Holding an iron scepter, not a reed staff. Covered in glory, not blood. As King, not as a criminal.
CARRYING the CROSS (21)
After the scourging and the soldiers’ abuse we come to Simon. Read verse 21. Jesus was too weak to carry the 100-200lbs cross. Simon was probably a Jew from Cyrene, which was in North Africa. It was a large port city, and there was a large Jewish population there. Jews living abroad were required to attend the festivals, which explains Simon’s presence in Jerusalem. Simon was a dad with two sons, Alexander and Rufus. Mark may have mentioned them because these two may have been known to believers in the early church. Paul mentions a “Rufus” in Romans 16.
Why did they pick Simon? Well, you don’t pick the small guy with a pocket protector and calculator to carry the enormous cross. You find the guy in the crowd who physically stands out – someone who is tall and big and strong looking. Then you put a sword to his neck and tell him to pick it up. There’s an irony here: while Simon carried Jesus’ cross, Jesus was going to carry Simon’s sins on that cross. Simon is also a picture of Jesus’ discipleship ethic of “Deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me.” Any true disciple of Jesus will carry a cross like Jesus, carry the same shame, receive the same condemnation from this world. Hebrews says “The world is not worthy” of such people.
Finally the group arrives to their destination: Golgotha. Golgotha is the Hebrew/Aramaic word meaning “Place of the Skull”. In the Greek the word for skull is “kranion”. Our word “Calvary” comes from the latin word meaning “skull”. We sing a song by the Newsboys called, “Hallelujah For The Cross” that says,
Up to the hill of Calvary [the skull]
My Savior went courageously
And there he bled and died for me
Hallelujah for the cross
It all began in a manger. It would all end here at Calvary. There was no more walking the shores of the Sea of Galilee. No more dining in people’s homes. No more teaching in the Temple courts. No more hillside sayings. No more walking the roads instructing His disciples. So many times Death’s hand was stayed, and we read “His hour had not yet come”. But now His hour came. Literally he had mere hours to go.
The stripped him naked. Remember, maximum humiliation. Display the utter weakness and defenselessness of the condemned. Plus this was the fulfillment of Psalm 22:18 when they gambled for his clothes.
Upon arriving Simon would have thrown down the cross. Or the cross beam, which the soldiers would quickly have attached to the main beam. Sources outside the Bible say that Jewish women typically followed the condemned to Golgotha and offered a drink of wine mixed with myrrh. The drink would dull the senses and was meant to give at least a slight relief of the pain they were about to endure.
But Mark says in verse 23, “…he did not take it.” Remember Jesus came willingly to the cross. He knew full well the horror He was facing – He knew it since He sweat droplets of blood during His Garden prayer the night before (Lk 22:44). No, Jesus was committed to drinking every drop in the cup the Father had given Him (14:36).
After the cross was made ready and laid out on the ground, Jesus and the other 2 criminals would have been laid on their backs on top of the crosses. Their arms would have been stretched, and then long iron nails driven through the wrists and into the wood. Then the feet would have been positioned and nails driven through them as well.
Amid the sound clanging of hammers Luke’s Gospel says Jesus’ voice could be heard: “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing!” It was at this moment in the Passion of the Christ where everything inside of me was screaming: “No, No, No!” I saw the brutality, yes. But more powerfully affecting me than the brutality was Jesus. “How can you pray for them? How can you not fight against them in that final moment?” But, quickly that reaction was followed with this thought, “You really are willingly dying for me. I am nothing like you. You are so much better than me.”
Luke doesn’t specify that it was in this moment, but, whether he said it while they were nailing him, or, a few moments later when they stood the cross up, Jesus was asking His Father to forgive His executioners. Forgive them, they don’t know what they’re doing. Who was standing around Him? Not just the soldiers, but, the chief priests, Pharisees and elders and teachers of the law. Jesus was praying for them too.
At the 3rd hour, which would have been 9am in the morning, they stood the cross up in its place with Jesus nailed to it. He now enters the excruciating pinnacle of all His assigned suffering. For the next 6 hours his body would hang there, enduring the worst pain imaginable without any break or relief. Listen to Dr Truman Davis describe our Savior’s suffering (MacArthur, Matthew 24-28, pg 255)…….
If the physical torture of Jesus wasn’t enough, there is the psychological torture He was enduring this whole time too: the mocking. Read verses 29-32. The Glorious Son of God was mocked, scorned, belittled, shamed, repeatedly. From the moment the Jews said he deserves death they followed him every step of the way mocking him. We read the Roman soldiers mocking him. But the Jews were not about to let up even while He was on the cross. While his body was filled with pain they wanted his ears filled with their insults. They wanted the last thing he heard before He died to be their mocking jeers. This was their victory. This was their triumph over this trouble-making blasphemer. They had won. All their envy and rage from all their public humiliation they suffered from his ministry had been stored up and was now given full vent. “Many bulls surround me” Psalm 22 says, “Strong bulls encircle me; roaring lions tearing their prey open their mouths wide against me.”
And I am afraid to tell someone about our Jesus.
“Come off the cross” they taunted Him. Why didn’t he? he could have called on legions of angels. They were there when He was born, when he was tempted in the wilderness, and they were available to him at his arrest. So why didn’t He avail himself to their deliverance? Simple. If he saved Himself we would not be saved. “He was pierced for OUR transgressions” Isaiah 53 said. “The punishment that was upon Him has brought us peace. By His wounds we are healed.” Jesus refused to save Himself in order to save us.
CONCLUSION: MAXIMILLIAN KOLBE
Maximilian Kolbe was a Polish priest sent to Auschwitz in 1941. The Nazis kept the prisoners just barely above starvation. Each morning a cup of imitation coffee was given to the prisoners, then after the work day some soup and bread were provided. Kolbe would wait until everyone else went through the line, often meaning not enough was left over for him. One of the Nazi’s rules was if anyone tried to escape then 10 other prisoners would be executed. A prisoner from Kolbe’s bunker escaped and 10 men were chosen to be starved to death. One of the men cried out “My wife! My children!”. Kolbe asked the commandant for permission to take his place, “I am a Catholic priest. I am old. He is young and has a wife and children.” Permission was granted, and they started starving him that day. Two weeks later Kolbe was the only man still alive. The Nazi’s were through waiting and gave him an injection of carbolic acid. Kolbe, calmly raised his arm for the injection and in a few moments was gone.
Someone has taken your place. Someone has taken the injection of God’s judgment that was meant for you.