Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Wednesday in Judica - The Fifth Week of Lent


The Passion History – Part 5: Calvary


In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

After eating His Last Supper with His disciples in the late hours of Thursday, Jesus went to pray in the Garden of Gethsemane, as was His custom. In the early morning hours of Friday, Jesus was betrayed by Judas, arrested, and then tried before Annas and Caiaphas in the palace of the high priest, likely between the hours of 4:00 AM and 6:00 AM. After that, Jesus was sent to Pilate, then to Herod, and then back to Pilate, likely between the hours of 6:00 AM and 8:00 AM. After numerous attempts to release Jesus, Pilate finally succumbed to the pressure of the chief priests and the crowds they had incited against Him and handed Jesus over to be crucified.

Jesus was made to carry His own cross along the way known today as the Via Dolorosa, the Way of Sorrows. Having been savagely scourged so that His flesh was torn and mangled and His loss of blood was critical, Simon of Cyrene was chosen from the crowd and made to follow behind Jesus carrying His cross. The slow march to Golgotha, the “Place of a Skull,” likely took between 30 to 45 minutes as Jesus made His way through the crowd-lined streets of Jerusalem. Women bewailed and lamented Him, and mockers derided Him. When He finally arrived at Calvary, Latin for skull, there they crucified Him. It was about the third hour, 9:00 AM.

At first hearing there appears to be a time discrepancy between the accounts of Matthew, Mark, and Luke (the Synoptics) and the account of John. With a little cultural understanding, however, it is clear that there is no discrepancy: The Synoptics are using the Hebrew reckoning of time, the first hour of the day beginning at 6:00 AM, whereas John is using the Roman reckoning of time, the first hour beginning at 12:00 AM. Thus, all four Gospel accounts agree that Jesus was crucified at 9:00 AM, that the sky was darkened for three hours from 12:00pm to 3:00pm, and that Jesus died at 3:00 PM. And so, Jesus’ time upon the cross from crucifixion to death was six hours – which, while horribly long enough, was actually an incredibly short period of time by the standards of crucifixion.

Crucifixion was literally excruciating, a word that literally means “out of crucifying.” Crucifixion was a uniquely Roman punishment usually reserved for slaves, foreigners, insurrectionists, and those guilty of the vilest of crimes. That is why Pilate sought to release Jesus. Pilate could not find that Jesus was guilty of anything that warranted crucifixion under Roman law. The chief priests tried their best, notwithstanding. By falsely claiming that He forbid the people to pay taxes to Caesar and that He was a king in place of Caesar, they were charging Him with insurrection. They threatened Pilate saying, “If you release this man, you are not Caesar’s friend. Everyone who makes himself a king opposes Caesar.”

Crucifixion was designed not only to kill but to dissuade others from criminal actions. Victims of crucifixion were to be humiliated, often left to hang completely naked. Crucifixion was an “excruciating” way to die because it was a very slow and painful means to death. Depending on the circumstance, some people could live for days after being nailed to a cross. That is why, as sunset was approaching and the Sabbath was about to begin, there was a rush to get the whole thing over with. Thus, soldiers were ordered to break the legs of the crucified so that they would die quickly. Death by crucifixion was not typically due to blood loss, pain, or other means as you might suppose, but the crucified died of asphyxiation as their strength wore down and they could no longer raise up their bodies on the cross. If the legs were broken, then there was no longer any way to push oneself up, and the body collapsed, compacting the diaphragm, making it impossible to breathe. Death then came quickly. The centurion was surprised when he saw that Jesus was already dead. There was no need to break His legs as He had already died, and so the Scripture of Psalm 34 was fulfilled, “Not one of his bones shall be broken.”

I think that when we consider Jesus’ Passion there is a temptation to pity Him. Jesus said to the women who bewailed and lamented His suffering, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children.” What we see in Jesus’ suffering and death is what we truly deserve to suffer. Jesus didn’t suffer and die for His own transgressions, but for yours and mine and for all men. Further, He wasn’t taken by force or one minute earlier than He willed, but He suffered willingly out of love and obedience to His Father and out of love for you whom God loves so much that He gave His only begotten Son over unto death that you might live with Him forever. Jesus knows the Scriptures and He fulfills them willingly and intentionally.

From 12:00 PM to 3:00 PM there was darkness over the whole land. St. Luke tells us that it wasn’t merely overcast, but that the sun literally failed to shine. About the ninth hour, that is 3:00 PM, Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” After this, knowing that all things were accomplished, Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, “It is finished. Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” Then He bowed His head and gave up His spirit.

It is finished means it is completed, fulfilled, that there is nothing left that needs to be done. Absolutely everything that was necessary to restore man’s relationship to God was accomplished, fulfilled, and completed. The proof of this is manifold: At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. No longer was there a separation between God and man, nor was there a need for the sacrificial system, but we have access to God the Father through Jesus Christ and can bring our petitions and living sacrifices to Him directly without fear. The earth shook and the rocks split. The earth trembled and shook at the death of its Creator and also in response to the New Creation He ushered in. The tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs, and after Jesus’ resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many people. Perhaps most astonishing of all there was an immediate resurrection of many saints, for death had been defeated in Jesus’ death and the grave can hold us no longer. Those who die in the Lord face death as gentle sleep from which they know that they will awaken at the resurrection on the Last Day to life that cannot die. Even a Roman centurion, a Gentile, had to confess, “Truly this man was the Son of God.”

It was the Day of Preparation for the Passover. The lambs that would be eaten that night at the Passover feast were slaughtered at the very hour Jesus died on the cross. This was Jesus’ Day that Abraham saw when he was provided a ram to sacrifice in place of his son Isaac. “God will provide for Himself a lamb for the sacrifice.” As John the Baptist bore witness, Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Golgotha, the place of a skull, where Christ was crucified was Mount Moriah, the very place where Isaac’s life was spared as a God-provided ram was sacrificed in his place. Now God has provided the sacrificial lamb of His only begotten Son, fulfilling all the sacrificial victims that came before. Jesus is the Passover Lamb of God, the end of sacrifice, the end of the Passover observances, who has left us the New Covenant in His blood which we receive and remember in the Lord’s Supper, proclaiming His death until He comes.

Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for Jesus’ body that he might begin the preparations for burial. Together, Joseph and Nicodemus anointed Jesus’ body with a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds, and wrapped His body in fine linen cloths as is the burial custom of the Jews. Joseph took Jesus’ body and laid it in his own new tomb hewn out of the rock. He rolled a great stone to the door of the tomb and departed. The burial was done in haste as the sun was setting and the Sabbath was about to begin. Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses were nearby. They saw where the tomb was and the haste in which Jesus’ body was prepared. They went home and prepared more anointing spices and ointments that they might return to the tomb early Sunday morning. Then they and all the world rested as Jesus fulfilled even the Sabbath.

However, the chief priests and the Pharisees were not resting. They went to Pilate and said to him, “Sir, we remember what that imposter said, while he was still alive, ‘After three days I will rise again.’ Therefore, command that the sepulcher be made secure until the third day to stop his disciples from coming and stealing him and saying to the people, ‘He has risen from the dead,’ making the final deception worse than the first.” Still, they feared their power being taken away and so they used lies and deceit to achieve their goals. Pilate said to them, “You have a guard of soldiers. Go and make it as secure as you know how.” Perhaps unwittingly, Pilate prophesied that nothing would be able to keep Jesus in His tomb – not a band of guards, not the chief priests, not Pilate, not even death or the devil himself.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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