Throughout the world, in nearly every Easter message, you will hear the words Calvary and crucified. You will probably also hear the words “cross, Jesus of Nazareth, thieves, Pilate, resurrection,” and several others. I will be using some of those terms today.
ONE VERY EVIL MAN
Esther 7:9-10 “Then Harbonah, one of the eunuchs who were before the king said, ‘Behold indeed, the gallows standing at Haman’s house fifty cubits high, which Haman made for Mordecai who spoke good on behalf of the king,’ and the king said, ‘Hang him on it,’ so they hanged Haman on the gallows which he had prepared for Mordecai, and the king’s anger subsided.”
Haman schemed to destroy all the Jews. He was a man inspired by Satan, for the destruction of the Jews meant the Redeemer would not be born. However, Haman was hanged on the very gallows he had prepared for the one he made his enemy. In the Old Testament, there were no crucifixions, for it was a Roman form of execution. However, there were a number of references to “hanged.”
Crucifixion was a cruel method of execution. Here is a quote taken from the BIBLICAL ARCHAEOLOGY SOCIETY: “Death by crucifixion was the result of the manner in which the condemned man hung from the cross and not the traumatic injury caused by nailing. Hanging from the cross resulted in a painful process of asphyxiation, in which the two sets of muscles used for breathing, the intercostal [chest] muscles and the diaphragm, became progressively weakened. In time, the condemned man expired due to the inability to continue breathing properly.”
THAT DAY AT CALVARY
Now and again, we hear from certain sections of Christianity that Jesus was powerless to stop the crucifixion, but that is so wrong. This one verse puts that lie to rest forever – John 10:17-18 “For this reason the Father loves Me because I lay down My life that I may take it again. No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative. I HAVE AUTHORITY TO LAY IT DOWN, and I have authority to take it up again. This commandment I received from My Father.”
How could you not believe? There is something very ghoulish in the unconverted man that delights in seeing the suffering in others. Why do you think the spectators in the Roman arenas gathered in large numbers to see death and torture, with people killing one another, others burnt alive, and others mauled and eaten by wild animals? It is because the dead nature of sinners loves to feast on death and cheer death on.
I dare say some of those at the cross that day were there for that very reason, just like people gathered at the guillotine in Paris in the French Revolution who cheered as people’s heads were severed. Death embraces death. Death cannot know life. Those who are dead to God live in a world of death. The question was asked why they could not believe, considering what was happening. Those at the cross, for whatever reason, were confronted with many “supernatural signs,” such as the three hours of unexplained darkness and the earthquake. That was not natural. Neither was the Lord. They should have repented and cried out for their sins, but their black hearts would not allow it. They watched, left, and death walked out into the darkness of death.
One was there, though (maybe more), whose honest appraisal, I believe, made him a believer. It is recorded this way – Matthew 27:54 “Now the centurion and those who were with him keeping guard over Jesus, when they saw the earthquake and the things that were happening, became very frightened and said, ‘Truly this was the Son of God!'” This man saw and believed, but what does God say about those who have not seen but still believe – John 20:29 “Jesus said to him, ‘Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed.'”
NOW, WHO WERE THE FOUR CRUCIFIED AT CALVARY?
. THE UNREPENTANT THIEF
On either side of Jesus at Calvary, a criminal was crucified also. Matthew records this – Matthew 27:38 “At that time two robbers were crucified with Him, one on the right and one on the left.” These two men stole, and it must have been fairly serious for them to be crucified. Today there is a term “Robbery with violence,” and perhaps it was that sort of thing.
Matthew says one other thing in this matter – Matthew 27:44 “The robbers also who had been crucified with Him were casting the same insult at Him.” This “same insult” is described in the verses preceding; “if He is truly King, let Him come down from the cross” and “let God deliver Him.”
There is an expression that there are no atheists on the battlefield. You might think that men and women, when facing death, might reach out to God. Some do, but the human heart is such an enemy of the Creator that sin holds the person in a vice-like grip. May the grace of the Lord reach out to these people in their extremity and save them even in the last hours of life. I wonder how many on the Titanic in those last hours called on the Saviour.
Mark says they brought Him to the place Golgotha, which is translated as Place of a Skull, and he includes this in his account – Mark 15:27 “and they crucified two robbers with Him, one on His right and one on His left.” Mark 15:28 [And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, ‘And He was numbered with transgressors.'”] Verse 28, which may not have been in the original, refers to the Old Testament scripture Isaiah 53:12 “Therefore, I will allot Him a portion with the great, and He will divide the booty with the strong because He poured out Himself to death, and was numbered with the transgressors. Yet He Himself bore the sin of many, and interceded for the transgressors.”
Luke records the event at Calvary as Luke 23:32-33 “Two others also who were criminals were being led away to be put to death with Him, and when they came to the place called The Skull, there they crucified Him and the criminals, one on the right and the other on the left.” We will come back to Luke’s gospel in a moment or so.
John records the same event simply this way – John 19:18 “There they crucified Him, and with Him two other men, one on either side, and Jesus in between.”
. THE REPENTANT THIEF
Luke is the only evangelist who clarifies the matter of the two robbers who were crucified with Christ. We look at the account here – Luke 23:39-43 “One of the criminals who was hanged there was hurling abuse at Him, saying, ‘Are You not the Christ? Save Yourself and us.’ But the other answered, and rebuking him said, ‘Do you not even fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.’ And he was saying, ‘Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!’ And He said to him, ‘Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.'”
This is a most remarkable result. We have the strong contrast between the two criminals. One rejected Christ; the other accepted Him. One hurled abuse; the other turned to Jesus for salvation. One went to an eternal loss; the other went to Paradise. One found despair in death; the other found expectant joy in death.
The repentant thief realized Jesus was the sinless King and desired to be part of the kingdom. Jesus promised Paradise, the place where all the righteous ones pre-cross went to at death. It was only at the ascension about 40 days later that all of Paradise was taken to heaven – Ephesians 4:8 “Therefore it says, ‘When He ascended on high, He led captive a host of captives, and He gave gifts to men.'” Those held captive were waiting for the Lamb of God to put away sin forever before they were fit for heaven.
Jesus entered Paradise not long before the forgiven robber, and I am certain the Lord was waiting there to receive him personally. I also believe the Lord does that today personally for each of us when we enter heaven.
. JESUS THE CRUCIFIED
I am not going to consider the Passover, the arrest, the trial, etc. I wish to look at the crucifixion. Part of a beautiful hymn contains this stanza –
There was none other good enough
To pay the price of sin.
He only could unlock the gate of heaven
And let us in.
That is what Calvary is all about. It is about the spotless, righteous Son of God becoming Man, and at the appropriate time, laying down His own life to bring salvation to all those who will believe, and clothing them in His very own righteousness.
There was no other way. For the interim period, the blood of sacrificed bulls and goats could cover over sins, but the blood of the Lamb eradicated the covered-over-sin account forever. Hebrews 10:4 “It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.” Hebrews 10:11-12 “Every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices which can never take away sins, but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, sat down at the right hand of God.”
Sometimes I wonder why Jesus was in the middle of the three crosses. I don’t think the Roman soldiers were trying to frame Jesus in the middle. Maybe it was the Father who planned it would be that way. Jesus “IN THE MIDST” is a beautiful concept right through scripture.
Jesus’ presence was in the midst of Israel in the Holy of Holies in all the shekinah glory of His presence with the Ark of the Covenant and Mercy Seat. He is the glorious One in the midst. Jesus sat in the temple, in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them and asking them questions. He is the glorious Teacher in the midst.
Do you remember this incident from Daniel? Daniel 3:24-25 “Then Nebuchadnezzar the king was astounded and stood up in haste. He responded and said to his high officials, ‘Was it not three men we cast bound into the midst of the fire?’ They answered and said to the king, ‘Certainly, O king.’ He answered and said, ‘Look! I see four men loosed and walking about IN THE MIDST of the fire without harm, and the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods!'”
Jesus was in the midst of those three condemned men in the furnace whose faithful trust in God could not be shaken. He is the comforting Shepherd in the midst. We could cite so many more, such as Jesus with His disciples in the midst of the storm on the sea, but just one more I will do. It is taken from this verse – Matthew 18:20 “for where two or three have gathered together in My name, there I am in their midst.” This is the beautiful Lord of fellowship. Some of us, like myself, might be part of a very small church fellowship, and I am talking of numbers under 20 when I mention small church fellowships. We might have strained resources or a frailer, older congregation as mine is, but we take enormous heart from the fact that it is JESUS IN THE MIDST.
Getting back to Calvary, it is Jesus who is set apart there as the centerpiece, as the world might say, set apart as the suffering Saviour; as the God-Man made sin for us; as a Light set on a hill, the Light of the world. He died for the sins of His creation, rebellious men and women who turned their faces away from Him. He died for me. He died for you. He took my deserved place. He took your place.
There is salvation in none other. He is the Lamb of God, the same Lamb IN THE MIDST, worthy to take the scroll (Revelation 5). Christian, no matter what your trouble, Jesus is in the midst. As He brought salvation and life to the repentant thief on the day of death, so He has brought salvation to each of us, we who have surrendered our lives to the Man of Calvary.
This Easter time again is a time to reflect on the seriousness of your salvation, bought by the Man of Sorrows at the greatest cost. For any who might read this and have never turned to the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation, consider what God says to you, “How shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation.”
. THE FOURTH MAN CRUCIFIED
You will be wondering who the fourth one crucified is. It is no mystery and no surprise. This verse puts the finger on the answer – Galatians 2:20 “I HAVE BEEN CRUCIFIED with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and delivered Himself up for me.”
When a person gets converted, a great transaction takes place. Sons of darkness become sons of light. The old sinful nature finds itself confronted by a new spiritual nature from above. The world outlook becomes a heavenly outlook. Children of darkness become children of light. Enemies of God have that middle wall of hostility broken down to become the redeemed of God, friends of the Lord. Our ownership is no longer the devil’s; it is God’s.
Let us consider that most important verse Paul gives us from Galatians. My first question to you is, “Does this verse apply to you?” You will notice Paul said, “I have been crucified with Christ,” and not “WE have been crucified with Christ.” There is a difference here, I believe.
There are a lot of Christians who say they follow Christ, but they have not really taken up their crosses and followed Him. Matthew 16:24 “Then Jesus said to His disciples, ‘If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross, and follow Me'” What did it mean to take up your cross? It meant you were going to a place of execution – for yourself. You cannot be half-executed. It is all or nothing. True crucifixion, or true surrender if you like, is foreign to a lot who claim to be Christian. The true followers of Jesus take up the cross, and it means complete surrender to the Saviour, even unto death.
Come on a journey back 1,993/1,994 years, and stand there with the crowd around the three crosses at Calvary. Your eyes are fixed on the scene, that awful crucifixion scene, but unlike all the others gathered there, you know what is going on. You realize that the One on that middle cross was hanging there by default; in other words, he took your place. You were the one consigned to be there, but Jesus, the Lamb of God, gently set you aside and died in your place. Well, let’s just say His eyes rest on you for a moment.
How do you feel? Well, conviction and godly conversion will cause you to claim Christ’s death as your own so you can then say, “I am crucified with Christ.” You then can rightly take the cross of Christ as yours, dying to the old YOU, to the old self, dead to all that mattered and was false and evil. It is all put into the grave, buried and forever gone. Then you can get off your knees and walk in newness of life. Dead to the old life and alive in the new life, having passed from death unto life.
That is what proper Christian baptism teaches. When a person goes under the water, it is symbolic of what has happened. We have died to the old life; it is buried; we rise up symbolically from the grave to have a new life in Christ. Whatever term you use – born again, converted, redeemed, reconciled, saved… they all mean a new life in Christ.
However, I think there are selfish Christians who like to hang around the fringes but are not totally committed to the Lord. You need to return to Calvary and be crucified with Christ in a full and total surrender.
Paul said, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and delivered Himself up for me.” The proof of your crucifixion is the way you are living in the flesh. That is by faith in the Son of God, an enduring, committed, and loyal faith in the Saviour.
He loved you and delivered Himself up for you. At Calvary that day, He was delivered up – in your place – died for your sin, and was raised for your justification.
Yes, you were crucified at Calvary as the fourth person, as were all of us (or as all of us should be)! The great word for it is SUBSTITUTION. He took MY place. He took YOUR place! Wonder of wonders.
Is it no contest that (as a result of all the Lord did for you) Paul would write these words – Romans 12:1-2 “I urge you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to PRESENT YOUR BODIES A LIVING AND HOLY SACRIFICE acceptable to God which is your spiritual service of worship, and do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”
Let us close with the words that preceded that great chapter 12 pleading of the Apostle –
Romans 11:36 “From Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.”
SOMETHING ADDITIONAL – TWO THINGS
*** The date of the crucifixion. The traditional date was considered to be 33 A.D., but Pope Gregory was 4 years out in his Gregorian calendar. Jesus was born in 4 B.C. or maybe 5 B.C. That would make the date of Calvary 29 B.C. + or – one year. That places it 1,993/1,994 years ago (from 2023 A.D.). (I see it that way. I don’t want a debate to detract from the message. If you disagree with the date, that is okay.
*** I want to add a poem of mine that suits this message very well.
GOLGOTHA – WITH JESUS IN THE MIDST
Three crosses stood on Golgotha’s hill,
With Jesus in the midst.
Three men rejected by the Romans,
And no one to assist.
A lonely display of misery;
Just soldiers placed on guard.
Some morbid people stood to view those,
Destined for the graveyard.
Some sympathizers there would gather
Just to show their pity,
And then depart from that woeful scene,
And back to their city.
Now count how many would really care
What happens to others.
Most people turn away from horror,
Their feelings, pain smothers.
On barren rock, there stood three crosses;
Three men were crucified.
Two thieves were to have their lives ended,
But Jesus also died.
On His cross, one thief could only mock;
Scorned the Saviour that day.
The other thief turned in repentance –
Asked with the Lord to stay.
All three died and went to “sheol” hell.
One had died in his sin.
But the one saved went to Paradise
Where Jesus welcomed him.
What a contrast in hell: joy or grief
But that’s what the two chose;
Joy through repentance; grief –rejection:
Two paths of joys and woes.
They killed the Lord on Calvary’s hill,
Forsaken and alone.
He suffered for the sins of the world,
So His blood would atone.
They placed the Lord on a shameful cross,
And he was IN THE MIDST;
And at Golgotha, He was punished,
When love and justice kissed.
R E Ferguson 4-5 April 2022 Metre 9-6 throughout ABCBDEFE
Free to use the poem in Christian ministry.