Matthew 27:32-44 March 2009


The death of Jesus Christ is the most significant event that has ever taken place in human history.

I’ll tell you why. Because for the first time in history it became possible for every human being to be set free from the curse of sin and death that has plagued this planet since the first people rebelled against God. If Jesus had not died, taken the punishment for our wrongs – there would absolutely no hope and no future for human beings. There would only be death, judgment and eternal separation from God.

Without the death and resurrection of Jesus there is no hope for anyone to escape the terrible consequences of their sins. The cross is central to the message of the church. Take away the cross and the church has no message of hope to bring to this world.

Ill. Some years ago there was a little church on the coast of England that was blown down in a severe storm. The congregation could not afford to rebuild. One day a representative from the British navy came and asked if they were planning to rebuild. When he discovered they could not afford to he said that the navy would pay for it because the church steeple appeared on all their navigation charts and maps. The cross on the steeple was a land mark by which the ships could steer their course along that dangerous coast. “Without the cross our ships and sailors lives are in grave danger of being destroyed.”

Without the cross every human being faces the terrible danger of being destroyed for time and eternity.

As we come to the cross of Jesus this morning we will see how the various people on the scene responded to His crucifixion.

I mentioned last week that although Jesus had to die if the penalty for our sin was to be paid so that God could forgive us, people were still responsible for His death.

Human beings added to the pain and suffering Jesus went through.

The cross bearer.

Remember that Jesus was brutally flogged with a whip made of leather strips studded with razor sharp iron and bone pieces. He had been punched in the face, beaten around the head with a piece of wood, spat upon and mocked by the soldiers and now He was expected to carry a huge cross bar weighing at least 50 kilos to the place of execution. He was so weakened from the flogging that He couldn’t manage it so the Roman soldiers conscripted a man named Simon of Cyrene to carry the cross for Jesus. A Roman soldier had the power to force anyone in an occupied country to carry things for him for up to a mile.

Simon was a Jew who lived in what is now Lybia in North Africa and he had come to Jerusalem for the Passover. There were a large number of Jews living in Cyrene and we read in Acts two that many of them were gathered with the crowd on the day of Pentecost.

The interesting thing about Simon is that this is encounter with Jesus had a powerful impact on him. Mark speaks of Simon as being the father of Alexander and Rufus, suggesting that they were well known in the early church.

Then many years later we find Rufus in Romans 16 as a member of the church in Rome. It is commonly accepted the Simon of Cyrene literally took up the cross and followed Jesus and it seems He never stopped following Jesus. Initially he was forced to carry the cross and follow Jesus, but for the rest of he did it voluntarily.

The soldiers

The soldiers who escorted Jesus to the place of execution were only doing their job. In Jesus day around 30,000 people were crucified along the main roads of Palestine, so to these soldiers it wasn’t a big deal. They had become very callous and indifferent to the suffering of others.

They always crucified criminals outside the city on a main road so that people passing by would be warned about what happens when you rebel against Roman rule.

They took Jesus to a place called Golgotha which means skull, possible because the rocky outcrop looked like a skull and there they crucified Him. Once again Matthew gives no description of the actual crucifixion.

When they arrived at Golgotha the soldiers offered Jesus a drink of wine mixed with Gall. Gall was a narcotic and it wasn’t a pain killer. It was more of a relaxant to pacify the criminal so that he wouldn’t resist the soldiers, but Jesus wasn’t going to resist the soldiers, so He didn’t take the drink.

The cross beam that Simon had carried was then attached to a the upright stake and Jesus body would have been stretched across the wooden frame upon the ground wile 14 cm nails were hammered through his wrists and feet.

The cross was then lifted from the ground and dropped into a hole with. This would have jarred his already mutilated body and pulled the flesh surrounding the nails. And there He hung naked, humiliated in that very public place while hundreds of people walked by.

As the pain in his hands became unbearable He would try to take the weight off them by lifting Himself up on His feet, then the pain would become so excruciating in his feet and He would sag down again with His hands once again taking all the weight. But when His body sagged His throart would be constricted He would have difficulty breathing and He would need to keep lifting Himself up by his feet to get His breath.

This lifting and sagging movement would go on continuously while the rough timber of the cross would aggravate the wounds in his back cause by the flogging.

As I said before crucifixion was very common under Roman rule and many men had physically suffered this way, but what made Jesus suffering unique was that He was God and here was God in a human body suffering at the hands of the very people He created, but along with that He was carrying the guilt, the shame, the condemnation and the judgment of all mankind.

When the soldiers had crucified Jesus they gambled for His clothing. Every Jewish man had 5 articles of clothing: sandals, head covering, a cloth belt, an long inner shirt and an outer cloak. It seems there were 4 soldiers here because they each took one article of clothing and gambled for the inner shirt which had no seam.

And then they sat down beside the cross to ensure no one came and rescued Jesus. They also nailed a notice above Jesus head and it read “This is Jesus the King of the Jews.”

I just want to draw your attention to this notice. Whenever a criminal was condemned to be crucified by the Romans he would be escorted to the place of execution and a soldier would go ahead of him carrying a notice with his crime or crimes written on it for the public to read. That notice was then nailed to the cross just as it was with Jesus to let everyone know why he was being crucified.

But when they came to write Jesus crime on the notice they couldn’t come up with anything, because He was innocent and so Pilate simply wrote, “This is Jesus, The King of the Jews.” The religious leaders were not happy about this because it didn’t read like a criminal charge, so they said to Pilate, “Change the wording to read, “This man said he was King of the Jews”, but Pilate refused to change the notice.

I think Pilate put those words there because he discovered after questioning Jesus that He would have made a much better king of the Jews than any of those corrupt religious leaders.

But I think there was an even greater reason why there were no criminal charges written on that notice hanging above Jesus head, and we find that in Colossians 2:13-15

“God forgave all our sins. He cancelled the record of the charges against us and took it away by nailing it to the cross.”

The reason there were no moral wrongs written on that notice above Jesus head was that God took the list of the our wrong, those things we have done wrong and placed them on that notice. When God read that notice it said, “This man is condemned for all the crimes and wrongs committed by every person who ever lived.”

Ill. During the 1st world war a man lay dying in the trenches. He turned to the soldier next to him and said, “Dominic, you have lived a life of crime, you have a long list of convictions beside your name, everywhere you are wanted by the police. There are no convictions against me, my name is clear, so here, take my wallet, my papers, my identity, my good name, my life and give me your papers that I may carry all your crimes with me to the grave. And you can start all over again with a clean slate.”

That is what Jesus did for you and me when He died on that cross. He carried all the wrongs we have ever committed with Him to the grave and gave us His unblemished record that declares us not guilty. But in order for that to become ours we need to believe that He died for us, accept His gift of forgiveness and become His followers.

The travellers

As I said before, the Romans crucified criminals outside the city along main roads so that as many people are possible could see. Often the victims hung there for 5 or more days.

So here was Jesus hanging naked from a cross on this very public road exposed to all those travelling to and from Jerusalem. And as the travellers passed by many of them mocked him, insulted Him and dared Him to come down from the cross if he was the Son of God.

Just a week before they hailed Jesus as their Messiah who would deliver them from the Romans and re-establish the ancient kingdom of Israel, but He hadn’t done anything they had hoped He would do and now they just mocked and insulted Him as He hung dying on the cross.

Little did they know that the man they were mocking, insulting and making fun of was actually giving His life for them, paying for their crimes with His own life-blood.

Ill. One day during the 1930’s, a man named John Griffin who controlled a railway drawbridge over the Mississippi river, took his son to work with him. After raising the draw bridge to let a ship pass Griffin was eating his lunch when suddenly he heard the whistle of the Memphis Express coming towards the bridge. He ran to turn on the control switch, but as he did he looked down and his heart stopped! His son had fallen into the gears, trapping his leg in the cogs. Desperately he tried to work out a rescue plan, but there was no time. His son was down there caught in the machinery and there was train heading for the bridge with 400 passengers on board. Griffin knew what he had to do. Burying his face in his arm, he pushed the master switch just in time to lower the draw bridge into place as the train thundered across. Then lifting up head, he looked into the train windows with tear-filled eyes. There were businessmen casually reading the newspaper, ladies sipping coffee and children eating ice cream. Nobody even looked at the control house, or glanced down at the great gearbox. In agony Griffin cried out, “I have just sacrificed my son for you people and you don’t even care.” But as the train rushed by nobody heard the agonising cries of the father. And as Jesus hung dying on that cross while all the people passed by God the Father would be saying, “I sacrificed my son for you people and you don’t even care.”

The religious leaders

It so interesting that these religious leaders acknowledged that Jesus had rescued and delivered other people from death. They knew He had done these amazing miracles and yet they organised His execution and now they said, “He saved others from death, but He cant save Himself.”

The truth is that Jesus could save Himself, but He chose not to. It wasn’t the nails or the soldiers that held Jesus to the cross, it was His commitment to God the Father and his love for you and me that made Him hang in there to the very end.

Then the religious leaders said, “Let Him come down from the cross and we will believe in Him.” What a joke! They wouldn’t believe in Him when they saw Him heal lepers, give sight to the blind, cause the lame to walk and raise the dead. They didn’t believe in Him when they heard His profound moral teaching and observed His faultless life – why would they believe in Him if He came down from the cross.

I have had people say to me, “I’ll believe in Jesus if I see Him perform a miracle or show me a supernatural sign.” These people have no intention of following Jesus and use this as an excuse not to believe. As I have said before there is a vast difference between someone who genuinely wants to believe but is having difficulty and one who does not want to believe and keeps making excuses. To those who don’t really want to believe in Jesus there is nothing God can do to convince them. They would always find another excuse not to believe. But to those who genuinely want to believe in Jesus – He will help them over come their difficulty with honest doubt.

Ill. The man who the epileptic son. “I do believe help my unbelief.”

The religious leaders then said, “He trusts in God. Let God rescue Him now if He wants Him, for He said, “I am the Son of God.”

“Let God rescue Him, if He wants Him.” Jesus came to them offering them God’s love, acceptance and forgiveness and they didn’t want Him and they assumed that because God had allowed Jesus to be crucified, God didn’t want Him.

This morning Jesus is here and He is reaching out to you and saying, “Do you want me?”

There was a time when Jesus said this to His disciples. He had been preaching to a huge crowd and most of them turned their backs on Jesus and walked away and He said to 12 his disciples, “Do you want to leave me as well?” Peter answered, “Lord, to whom would we go? You alone have the words that give eternal life. We believe, and we know you are the Holy One of God.”

Think about it, “Who else in this world can clean up our lives, heal our souls and bring us to God and give us eternal life?”

The criminals

We read here that there were 2 robbers crucified with Jesus, one on His right and the other on His left. The word for robbers means more than just common thieves, it is more like bandits. These men had been regularly involved in attacking and robbing people and in verse 44 we read that they joined with the others in mocking and insulting Jesus.

Isn’t this so typical of depraved and corrupt human nature? Here was a man who was suffering unbearable pain and agony and when people had done all they could to Him physically they kept on attacking Him with their words.

However, right in the middle of this dark, cruel, gruesome drama there was a moment of light and hope. Luke tells us that one of the criminals crucified saw how Jesus responded to the those who wanted Him dead and he knew Jesus was innocent and He believed that Jesus was the Son of God and called to Jesus from, His cross , ‘“Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.” And Jesus replied, “I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

This morning as we have come to the cross of Jesus I guess we have all come with a different attitude. We may be like Simon who was made to get involved against his will and ended up becoming a committed follower of Jesus. Some of you may have been made to come to church or Sunday School by your parents but now you are glad that happened because you now follow Jesus from your heart.

Some of you may be like the soldiers and you have heard the message of the cross so many times that you have become hardened and indifferent to the suffering of Jesus and you need to have your callous hearts softened by the love of God.

Some of you may be like the travellers who pass by the cross, may even make some rude comment but you are not really interested that Jesus gave His life so that you could be forgiven and be saved from the power and fearful consequences of you sin.

Some of you may be like the religious leaders who see Jesus as someone you want to avoid, reject and get rid of because you love your self-centred, godless lifestyle too much and He would want to change things.

Some of you may be like the criminal on the cross who knew Jesus was innocent and realised He was who He claimed to be and asked Jesus if he could be included in His coming Kingdom.

As we come to the communion table this morning – let us come afresh to the cross of Jesus and respond to His death as we believe we need to.