“And when they were come unto a place called Golgotha, that is to say, a place of a skull, They gave him vinegar to drink mingled with gall: and when he had tasted thereof, he would not drink. And they crucified him, and parted his garments, casting lots: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, They parted my garments among them, and upon my vesture did they cast lots. And sitting down they watched him there; And set up over his head his accusation written, THIS IS JESUS THE KING OF THE JEWS. Then were there two thieves crucified with him, one on the right hand, and another on the left. And they that passed by reviled him, wagging their heads, And saying, Thou that destroyest the temple, and buildest it in three days, save thyself. If thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross. Likewise also the chief priests mocking him, with the scribes and elders, said, He saved others; himself he cannot save. If he be the King of Israel, let him now come down from the cross, and we will believe him. He trusted in God; let him deliver him now, if he will have him: for he said, I am the Son of God. The thieves also, which were crucified with him, cast the same in his teeth.” (Matthew 27:33-44)
These verses describe the sufferings of our Lord Jesus Christ when he was made to be sin for us and hanged upon the cursed tree. It is an amazing, marvelous record. It is amazing and marvelous in our eyes when we realize who suffered these things. It was the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Lamb of God, the only truly holy and good man ever to live in this world. It is amazing and marvelous in our eyes when we are made to know for whom he suffered. "For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us”(Rom. 5:6-8). It is amazing and marvelous in our eyes when we remember why he suffered. The cause of his great sorrow and agony of body, soul, and spirit was the fact that the Son of God suffered for sin, as the sin-bearer. “Christ died for our sins!”
We have seen our Savior’s sorrow in Gethsemane when he prayed three times, “O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.” Such was the shock of his holy soul at the thought and prospect of being made sin that our Redeemer broke out into a sweat of blood. Luke describes it in these words: "Being in an agony he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground" (Luke 22:44).
We have seen the scourging of Pilate’s judgment hall, too. There our Lord was condemned in a mockery of justice (John 19:13). There he was delivered into the hands of cruel, barbaric Roman soldiers to be scourged. They took him into the common judgment hall where they gathered an entire band of soldiers, between five and twelve hundred of them, to scourge our Savior. They stripped him. They mercilessly whipped him with a Roman scourge. They mocked him. And they spit upon him! “Then they led him away to crucify him.”
"And when they were come unto a place called Golgotha, that is to say, a place of a skull" (v.33). Calvary, the place chosen for the slaughter of God’s dear Son, is called by Matthew, “Golgotha.” “Golgotha” means “place of a skull.” It was called Golgotha because in this place of slaughter, people who were stoned to death or crucified were simply covered over with a little dirt. Consequently, in a matter of time skulls and bones were seen everywhere.
Our blessed Savior was slaughtered in this hideous place of infamy where the carcasses of dead bodies were exposed as dung upon the earth as things abhorred both of God and men. God’s prophet, speaking of one cursed of God, said concerning him, “They shall not lament for him, saying, Ah my brother! or, Ah sister! they shall not lament for him, saying, Ah lord! or, Ah his glory! He shall be buried with the burial of an ass, drawn and cast forth beyond the gates of Jerusalem” (Jer. 22:18-19).
Therefore, when our Savior came to redeem us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us, he put himself in the place of one cursed of God. “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” (Gal. 3:13). He took our curse and was made a curse for us, that he might redeem us from it.
In this scene of slaughter at Golgotha the Holy Spirit shows us a tremendous display of God’s glorious sovereignty in three things. First, we see God’s sovereignty displayed in the fulfillment of Holy Scripture by men who had no regard for the Scriptures. These soldiers had no more regard for the Scriptures than hogs have for diamonds. Yet they did exactly what God ordained that they would do and said that they would do (Acts 4:27-28; 13:27-29). Thus, the Lord God makes even his Son’s murderers to be his witnesses!
"They gave him vinegar to drink mingled with gall: and when he had tasted thereof, he would not drink" (v. 34). This mixture of vinegar (flat wine that had gone sour and bitter) mixed with gall was thought to be a mixture that would prolong one’s life. It was given by the soldiers because they must, according to God’s decree, fulfill the prophecy of Psalm 69:21. "They gave me also gall for my meat; and in my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink." John Gill wrote, “This potion of vinegar with gall was an aggravating circumstance in our Lord's sufferings, being given to him when he had a violent thirst upon him; and was an emblem of the bitter cup of God's wrath he had already tasted of in the garden, and was about to drink up”
“When he had tasted thereof, he would not drink." Our Lord refused to drink of this mixture because he was determined to suffer the wrath of God for us without any distraction or intoxication of mind. And he refused to drink of it because he would make all to know that he would do nothing to prolong his life, but was willing to die now that his hour had come. The fullness of time had come, and he would now lay down his life.
"And they crucified him, and parted his garments, casting lots: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, They parted my garments among them, and upon my vesture did they cast lots” (v. 35). Again, we are reminded that the Lord God was in total control on this day of infamy. The barbaric soldiers did nothing except what God had long before said they would do. This parting of our Lord’s garments was a fulfillment of Psalm 22:18. "They part my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture."
"And sitting down they watched him there" (v. 36). After they had scourged him, mocked him, beat him, and crucified him, these hardened men sat down to watch the Lamb of God die. Like little boys cruelly throw a worm into a fire just to watch it wiggle, squirm, and die, they watched the Son of God; but to their utter astonishment, there was no wiggling, no squirming, and no dying until he gave up the ghost by his own sovereign will!
Second, we see a display of God’s sovereign, distinguishing grace in the two thieves crucified with our Lord. " Then were there two thieves crucified with him, one on the right hand, and another on the left" (v. 38). Our Lord Jesus was crucified between two thieves, just as the prophet Isaiah declared he must be. “He was numbered with the transgressors” (Isa. 53:12).
You do not need me to remind you that one of these thieves was plucked as a firebrand from the burning out of the very jaws of hell by God’s sovereign grace, while the other was left to suffer the just consequences of his sin. Let it never be forgotten by us that if we are saved, we are saved because God did it. The only distinction between you and me and the damned in hell is the distinction that grace has made (1 Cor. 4:7; 15:10; Rom. 9:16).
Third, we see in these verses a great display of God’s sovereignty in causing reprobate, unbelieving men to declare his truth, to declare the very essence of the gospel, though they never knew it themselves. We do not know for certain, but it may be that it was the testimony of spineless Pilate, the testimony of these wicked, taunting, jeering Jews, and the testimony of the mocking chief priests, scribes, and elders that became the instruments by which God taught that elect thief the gospel and brought him to faith in Christ.
Pilate declared, “THIS IS JESUS THE KING OF THE JEWS” (v. 37). Pilate, by the order of divine providence, announced that the crucified Christ is the King of the Jews, and refused to alter it, though urged to do so. This proclamation was made in Hebrew, the language of religion, in Greek, the language of philosophy, and in Latin, the language of science. That was no accident. There is no true religion, no true philosophy, and no true science that does not begin with the acknowledgment and confession that Jesus Christ is King.
The priests, scribes, elders, and people, danced in a drunken, hellish party around Immanuel’s cross, and in their blasphemy spoke the truth of God as distinctly as inspired apostles. In verse 40 they jeered, “Thou that destroyest the temple and buildest it in three days.” Though they knew it not, these religious ritualists here proclaimed the fact of our Lord’s death and resurrection. He destroyed the temple of his body in death and raised it up again in three days.
Again, they mocked the Lord of Glory, saying, “He saved others; himself he cannot save” (v. 42). That is the very essence of the gospel! The Son of God died as our Substitute. If he would save us, he could not save himself. Those "fools and blind" did not know that they were proclaiming that which is Immanuel’s greatest glory. It was because he saved others that he could not save himself. Were he willing to let chosen sinners perish, he could have easily saved himself. But he bore, not only the cruel nails and spear, but their more cruel mockeries, rather than give up his self-imposed task of saving his people by the sacrifice of himself
“He trusted in God” (v.43). Our Lord Jesus Christ, as a man, lived by faith, in all things trusting God his Father. Thus he taught us that the only way we can honor, obey, and live for God in this world is by faith. And by his faith, consummating in his obedience unto death, as God the Holy Spirit declares in Galatians 3:22-26, we were justified. It is not our believing that fulfilled God’s covenant promise and brought in that blessed righteousness by which we now stand before him in life. The promise is given to all who believe. But the promise was fulfilled and comes to us “by faith of Jesus Christ.” It was Christ to whom the promise was made as our Surety in the everlasting covenant upon condition of his obedience unto death as our Substitute. And it is Christ who obtained the promise by his faithful fulfillment of his covenant engagements as our Surety (Heb. 10:5-14).
It is this, “the faith of Jesus Christ,” that is revealed to us by the gospel. We are shut up to Christ, who is the faith that is now revealed in the gospel. Our faith in Christ is not revealed to us; it is given to us and worked in us by the mighty operations of God the Holy Spirit (Eph. 1:19-20; 2:8-9; Col. 1:12). It is Christ (“the faith of Christ”) who is revealed.
When God the Holy Spirit comes to chosen, redeemed sinners in the saving power of his omnipotent grace, he convinces them of all that Christ accomplished by his faithful obedience as our Substitute. When he reveals Christ in a person, he convinces him that his sin has been put away by Christ’s atonement, that righteousness has been brought in by Christ’s obedience, and that justice has been satisfied by Christ’s blood (John 16:8-11). And the sinner, being convinced of these things, trusts Christ.
Again they taunted our Redeemer, saying, “He said, I am the Son of God” (v 43). Modern infidels choose to ignore it; but these people heard his doctrine plainly. Jesus Christ of Nazareth openly, publicly declared himself to be the Son of God. And that is who he is! He is God and man in one glorious Person the Godman, our Mediator. He was the Godman in Mary’s womb, while he lived on earth in obedience to the Father’s will for us, and when he died as our Substitute upon the cursed tree. And he is now, and forever the Godman, exalted to save his redeemed!
The Sufferings of our Savior
When we think about the crucifixion and death of our Lord Jesus Christ, we ought always to bear in mind, to the best of our ability, the extent and reality of his sufferings. Our Lord Jesus endured all the hell of God’s wrath for us when he bore our sins in his body on the cross. He suffered all the wrath of God that we deserved in his body, in his soul, and in his spirit. The bare listing of his agonies is torturous to read. What must it have been to experience! The most savage barbarians in history have not been able to equal the tortures heaped upon the Son of God by the Jews and the Romans who crucified him. J. C. Ryle wrote, “Never let it be forgotten that he had a real human body, a body exactly like our own, just as sensitive, just as vulnerable, just as capable of feeling intense pain.”
Without question, many place too much emphasis upon the physical, bodily sufferings of Christ, trying to get people to feel sorry for “poor, helpless Jesus.” That is not my object. Jesus Christ did not die as the helpless victim of circumstances. He is the God of circumstances. Let us weep for the sins that made his death necessary. But he does not need or desire our pity. In fact, he plainly said, “Weep not for me, but for yourselves, and for your children.”
Yet, many seem to think our Lord’s bodily sufferings were of little importance. The Word of God records the physical, bodily sufferings of Christ in great detail in all four gospel narratives, in several of the Psalms, and in Isaiah 53, as well as in numerous other passages of the Old and New Testaments. Isaiah describes in considerable detail what our Savior suffered for us. In Psalm 22 David tells us what he said as he suffered the wrath of God for us. These things are recorded by divine inspiration for our learning and edification, because it is important for us to know what the Son of God suffered for us at Calvary.
Crucifixion was the most indescribably horrid form of execution ever forced upon a human being. The person crucified was stretched out on his back on a piece of timber. His hands were stretched out on the cross piece, and nailed through the wrists to the wood with huge spikes. His feet were crossed one on top of the other and nailed together with a huge mallet driving the spike through them both and fastening them to the wood. Then the Lord Jesus was picked up on the cross, and it was dropped into a socket three or four feet deep with his body attached to it! There he hung, not dying suddenly (No vital organ was touched!), in excruciating pain for six long hours. There he hung, naked, shamed, covered from head to foot with the excrement of other men’s foul throats and his own holy blood. His head, his hands, his feet oozing with blood, throbbing in pain, the Lord of glory hung there for six indescribable hours of hell.
Yet, his agony of soul was infinitely more excruciating to him than that of his body. I understand the biblical doctrine of the atonement. I know that “without the shedding of blood is no remission,” not because God is vengeful and cruel, but because he is good, righteous, holy, and just. I understand the agony of our Savior’s tormented body. I can even understand the torments of his broken heart to some degree. But the sufferings of our Savior’s holy soul, I simply cannot comprehend
“Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in his hand. He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities. Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he hath poured out his soul unto death: and he was numbered with the transgressors; and he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.” (Isa. 53:10-11).
“Much we talk of Jesus’ blood,
But how little’s understood!
Of His sufferings so intense
Angels have no perfect sense.
Who can rightly comprehend
Their beginning or their end?
‘Tis to God and God alone
That their weight is fully known.
See the suffering Son of God-
Panting, groaning, sweating blood!
Boundless depths of love divine!
Jesus, what a love was Thine!”
The Son of God was made sin for us! Our sins were imputed to the Son of God! That fact in itself is overwhelming. But I am certain that there is more to the sufferings of our Lord for us than the mere legal, or forensic term “imputation” implies. His heart was not broken simply because he was made to be legally responsible for the debt of our sins. Our sins were not pasted on him, or merely placed to his account. The Lord Jesus Christ was “made sin for us!” He was not merely made legally responsible for sin, or merely made to be a sin-offering. The language of Holy Scripture is crystal clear “He hath made him sin for us” (2 Cor. 5:21).
When he was made sin for us, the Lord God made his soul an offering for sin. Then, when our Savior was most perfectly obedient to God as our Representative, his Father forsook him. Martin Luther was exactly right, when he declared, “God forsaken of God, my God, no man can understand that!” The Lamb of God was made sin for us. He was forsaken by his Father. And he was slain by the sword of his own holy justice. Robert Hawker’s comments on this portion of Matthew’s Gospel are as instructive as they are precious...
“Here let us pause over the solemn subject; and again look up by faith, and ‘behold the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world!’ Methinks we may, as we look up and behold that wondrous sight, contemplate Jesus as thus with arms extended, inviting his redeemed to come to him, as his arms are stretched forth to embrace them. And while his arms are thus open to receive, his feet are waiting for their coming. And with his head reclining, he looks down with his eyes of love, as welcoming their approach. And what a thought is it for every true believer in Christ to cherish, and never to lose sight of: Jesus in all this, hung on the cross not as a private person, but as the public head of his body the Church. For as certain as that you and I, were both in the loins of Adam, when he transgressed in the garden, and were alike implicated in his guilt and punishment; so equally are all the seed of Christ crucified with Christ, and interested in his salvation. For so the charter both of justice and of grace runs: ‘In the Lord shall all the seed of Israel be justified and shall glory’ (Isaiah 45:25).”
How Christ Died
When we think about the crucifixion and death of our Lord Jesus Christ, we ought always to remember with deep reverence, gratitude, and praise “how that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:3). The gospel is much more than the mere declaration of the fact that Christ died. The gospel is the declaration of “how” he died. The gospel has not been preached until it has been told, “how that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures.” It can be summarize in three words.
Voluntarily Our Lord Jesus Christ died as a voluntary victim. He was made sin; but his own hand laid our sins upon him. He was slain by the sword of justice; but his own hand held the sword (John 10:14-18).
Vicariously All our Lord’s sufferings were vicarious. He suffered not for his own sins, but for ours. He died as a Substitute in the room and stead of chosen sinners (Isa. 53:5-6, 8-10; Matt. 1:21; 2 Cor. 5:21; Gal. 3:13; Heb. 9:28; 1 Pet. 2:22; 24; 3:18). Do not allow yourself to be satisfied with vague, general ideas about substitution and atonement. Everything our Savior did and endured as a man was for us, as our vicarious Sacrifice. Was he scourged? “With his stripes we are healed.” Was he stripped? It was that we might be clothed. Was he condemned? It was that we might go free. Was he mocked? It was that we might be blessed. Was he numbered with the transgressors? It was that we might be numbered with the sons of God. Was he unable to save himself? It was that he might save us. Was he made sin? It was that we might be made the righteousness of God in him. Did he die? It was that we might live through him. As John Newton wrote…
“In evil long I took delight,
Unawed by shame or fear,
‘Til a new object struck my sight,
And stopped my wild career.
I saw One hanging on a tree
In agonies and blood
Who fixed His languid eyes on me,
As near His cross I stood.
Sure never till my latest breath
Can I forget that look.
It seemed to charge me with His death,
Though not a word He spoke.
A second look He gave, which said,
‘I freely all forgive.
This blood is for thy ransom paid.
I die that thou mayest live.”
Thus, while His death my sin displays
In all its blackest hue,
(Such is the mystery of His grace),
It seals my pardon too.
With pleasing grief and mournful joy
My spirit now is filled,
That I should such a life destroy,
Yet live by Him I killed.”
Victoriously When the Word of God asserts that the Lord Jesus Christ was and is triumphant and victorious in his death, the meaning is just this: He shall have that for which he died. His people shall be saved. His Father shall be glorified. He shall be exalted forever (Isa. 53:10-12; Heb. 10:10-14).
“There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh…Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us” (Rom. 8:1-3, 33-34).