Skip Heitzig - Luke 23
Well, I've always loved mountains and one of the sites that I still love, it's a memory in my mind, is where I grew up you could be in the wintertime at the Pacific Ocean and look through the palm trees inland toward the distance and see mountains covered with snow. And it was just weird to be at 75 degrees, seeing snow in the mountains, but they jetted up, and whether it was up in Wrightwood or Big Bear or Mount San Gorgonio, those are just vivid, delightful memories. I've always, I've always loved mountains. And when I moved here, I loved seeing this huge mountain to the east of us, Sandia, at 10,600 feet, almost 11,000 feet high. Incredible! I fell in love. I loved the mountain.
So we here in the western part of the United States, we here in the United States, when we think of "mountain," we know what a mountain is. And, yet, if you read the Bible and then you visit some of the mountains that the Bible speaks about, well, you could get really disappointed. When I take our people around Galilee and we talk about the Sermon on the Mount, and I show them it's really a sermon on a knoll, a raised bump. Let's go through the Sermon on the Raised Bump. Or you show them the Mount of Olives or the Temple Mount. And the psalmist declares, "As the mountains surround Jerusalem, the Lord surrounds his people." But those mountains are vastly different from the mountains we know in the western United States.
There is a significant mountain in the Middle East, and that is, Mount Hermon, in that part of the world, northern Israel, southern Lebanon. But that truth aside, that letdown aside, there is a mountain that is highly significant, a mount, an area, and this is the place that Jesus is moving toward in this chapter, and where the chapter will end for us at this mount. It is the holy mount. It is Mount Moriah or the Temple Mount or Mount Zion. It goes by several names, this area. It has significance throughout the Bible. For Abraham, God told him, "Go to the land of Moriah to a mount that I will show you, and there you will sacrifice your son." That became a very significant place to the Jews, because later on in that area the temple will be built.
It will be David who will approach a man named Araunah who has a threshing floor on part of this mount, and he seeks to buy it, because he wants to build a temple for the Lord there. Solomon will build the temple in that area on that mount. But it's also a mount where the Romans executed people, a place of crucifixion, a place of public shame and execution. Now, it is interesting, if you know much about topography and you stand on the Mount of Olives and you look out at the Temple Mount, and the Temple Mount itself, this large thirty-six acre flattened complex upon once which stood a temple, that that Temple Mount is 740 meters above sea level. But as you're looking at the Temple Mount from the Mount of Olives, you notice that the mountain itself, the topography rises to the north.
It's flat and that is the Temple Mount, that is Mount Moriah, but it's not the top of Mount Moriah. If you look toward the right, toward the north from the Mount of Olives, you see that it rises up higher. And it rises up higher at a place that many believe was Golgotha, Calvary, the place of execution. And, interestingly, get these measurements, Golgotha, the tip, the top of this mountain of Moriah is seven, seven, seven meters above sea level, just as an interesting side note. Just thought you'd like that for kicks. I'll just throw that in for free, but I found it interesting, 777 meters. Well, way before there was a city of Jerusalem when Abraham brought his son to sacrifice his son on Mount Moriah, he probably wouldn't have chosen the area of the Temple Mount.
He would have gone to the north. Why? Because that would be the top of the mountain. And as he was about to sacrifice his son, and the Lord said, "Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love." Just stop right there and think about that. Abraham at that time had not one, but two sons. But the one that was recognized, the son of promise, was Isaac. "Take now your son, your only son, whom you love." Now that's significant, because it is the very first time in all of Holy Scripture that the word "love" shows up. And please frame this in your memory: the first time love is mentioned in the Bible, it is mentioned of a father sacrificing his only son on Mount Moriah. Interesting, isn't it? Fast-forward to the time of the New Testament. The Romans executed people outside the city walls.
Today the top of that ridge called Moriah, 777 feet above sea level, is the site of a cemetery and it dates back. It's an ancient cemetery. But there's an interesting formation on that mountain you see from the Damascus Gate of the city of Jerusalem. You look out over the city toward the north, and you see what looks like a skull in the rock. Now, if you put it all together, Jesus Christ the only begotten Son of the Father sacrificed on the place where Isaac was almost sacrificed, at the place not far where David built a temple to the Lord, or Solomon built it with David's supplies and money, and Jesus said, "Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up." He spoke of the temple of his body. Jesus, sacrificed on that place. That is the mountain that we are moving to in chapter 23.
Now we only read one verse last week, so we're going to beginning in verse 1 this week. As you approach verse 1 of chapter 23, you are entering into phase two of the trials of Jesus. We're entering into the secular phase, the civil phase, the Roman phase of his trials. Remember I told you Jesus had six separate trials. He was on trial six separate times: Annas the high priest, Caiaphas the high priest, the entire Sanhedrin. That took place early in the morning. Then after that, or two at night, one in the morning. Then they brought Jesus to Pontius Pilate. That's chapter 23, verse 1. And then we have trial number four, before Pontius Pilate; trial number five, before Herod Antipas, because Jesus is Galilean; trial number six, back before Pontius Pilate who gives the orders of execution.
So we are back, or we are now in that phase, the secular phase. So early in the morning, and I mentioned last week probably around 6:00 a.m., the Jewish council, the Sanhedrin brings the prisoner, the bound prisoner who's been unjustly and illegally tried, who's been already beaten up, and they bring him before Pontius Pilate at his residence. And his residence was on the northwest portion of the temple area in what is called Antonia Fortress, the huge kind of a castle-like residence very fortified where the procurator, the governor lived. "Then the whole multitude of them arose and led him to Pilate. And they began to accuse him, saying, 'We have found this fellow perverting the nation.'" The New International Version, I like that translation of this verse better, "subverting the nation."
That's a better thought. He was subverting the nation; that's the charge against him. "'And forbidding to pay taxes to Caesar, saying that he himself is Christ, a King.'" Luke is the only one of the gospel writers that actually specifies the charges that they bring to Pilate concerning Jesus. They are threefold. Accusation number one: "This fellow is subverting the nation." Is that a true or a false charge? It's a false charge. Jesus wasn't a reactionary. He wasn't a revolutionary. He wasn't trying to overthrow the government. He wasn't trying to institute a theocratic kingdom at that time. None of that was true. He said, "Don't think that I have come to overturn the Law or the Prophets. I didn't come to destroy the Law or the Prophets, but to fulfill the Law and the Prophets."
Second accusation: "He is forbidding people to pay taxes." Now a lot of people would actually like it if Jesus did forbid people to pay taxes. I know some Christians who have told me that they have a mandate from God not to pay taxes. Really, they've told me that. We have a name for these people, prisoners. They typically will get arrested by the government. Not good form to follow. Is this a true charge or a false charge? False charge. Jesus said, "Render to Caesar the things that are Caesars, and render to God the things that are God's," so it's a false charge. Ah, but the third charge, now this one is true, this one is right: "saying that he himself is Christ." That's the English word of the Greek Christos, which is the translation of the Hebrew maschiach, which means the Anointed One or the Messiah.
"This guy claims he is the Messiah, a King." And he did. They asked him, "Are you then a King?" And Pilate will ask him that. And he will say, "You have said rightly, I am a king." But he will also say, and it's recorded in John 18, "My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would fight, and deliver me from the hand and the accusation of the Jews, but my kingdom is not of this world." Pilate didn't get it, but Jesus did claim to be a King. He is King over the hearts of men. The kingdom of God right now does not come by outward observation. It will one day, however. There are two parts of it. There's two phases of it, sort of this stealth, secret, spiritual, in-the-heart-of-man-and-woman kingdom; but later on it will be an overt, observable, literal, physical on the earth kingdom of God.
It has two phases then. But he is indeed a King. "And Pilate asked him, saying, 'Are you the King of the Jews?'" Now you see that question? That question is recorded in not one gospel, not two gospels, not three, the Synoptics, but all four gospels, the three Synoptic Gospels and the gospel of John. Question is recorded in all four and in each one the "you" is emphatic. So let me give you a better rendering of this. Jesus is brought before Pilate, the accusations are given, and Pilate says, "You, are you the King of the Jews?" You see the emphasis? In other words, "I am looking down at somebody in peasant rags tattered with the blood of Gethsemane, somebody who does not look threatening or powerful or like he's going to take over. You, are you the king of the Jews?"
Pilate was Roman. Caesar was king. The kingdom was the Roman Empire. Rome ruled by force, the iron first of Rome. "This guy claims to be a king? They're worried about him being a threat?" That's the implication. He sees no threat at all in terms of that kind of a kingdom. "And he answered and said to him, 'It is as you say.' So Pilate said to the chief priests and the crowd, 'I find no fault in this Man.' But they were the more fierce, saying, 'He stirs up the people, teaching throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee to this place'" ; that is, Jerusalem. All the way from the north to the south "He stirs up the people." When I read this phrase last week and this week, a big smile hit my face. I read that, "He stirs up the people," and I thought, "Some people need stirring up."
"He stirs up the people", good for Jesus. Go Jesus, stir 'em up. I need to be stirred up. You need to be stirred up. We get very, very lethargic. We get very, very used to our kind of routine and our life, and we often just sort of settle down, and we need to get stirred up. Jesus stirred up the people, as will Peter, as will John, as will the others. "When Pilate heard of Galilee, he asked if the Man were a Galilean." Pilate knew right away this is a religious squabble. He doesn't want to get caught in the middle of a religious squabble. He's already gotten in trouble with Tiberius Caesar for mishandling two religious squabbles of the Jews in past history. He doesn't want another one. So he's looking for an out. He says, "This guy's free. He's faultless. He, these charges can't be sustained. I find no fault in him."
And so they go, "Well, he's stirring up the people from Galilee down south." He goes, "Galilee? He's from Galilee?" Now watch what he does. "And as soon as he knew that he belonged to Herod's jurisdiction", that's Galilee. Herod Antipas was the tetrarch of Galilee. , "he sent him to Herod, who was also in Jerusalem at the time. Now when Herod saw Jesus, he was exceedingly glad." So you see what Pilate is doing, right? He's looking for an out. He's looking to pass the buck, to pass the responsibility of making this call to someone who knows far better than he does. He's secular. He's Roman. He doesn't know Judaism. He hates Judaism. He hates Judea.
Herod Antipas from the Herod family is more Jewish than he is. Interesting, you need to know this, you will find Herod sympathetic in the Bible toward Jewish causes. Now, the Jews hated him, but it was Herod who, Herod the Great, this guy's dad, who built the temple for them even though he wasn't Jewish. He was Idumean. And that means he was from the area east of the Dead Sea, modern-day Jordan, Southern Jordan, Idumean. Josephus believes that he was a relative of his ancestor Esau and that his mother was an Arab; Herod the Great's mother was an Arab. So he was sympathetic toward Jewish causes and had some kind of relationship toward Judaism, but he was very immoral. He was a scoundrel. He helped the Jews out, but he really used the Jewish nation to line his pocket, so he was hated.
But Pilate goes, "He knows more about Judaism than I do, so I'm going to send him over to him." "Now when Herod saw Jesus, he was exceedingly glad." I know you're getting your hopes up for this guy, right? "Oh, good, evangelic moment, Jesus is in his presence. I can't wait to see Jesus." Oh, sounds good, right? Maybe he'll get converted. Um, keep reading. "For he had desired for a long time to see him, because he had heard many things about him, and he hoped to see some miracle done by him." Ah, okay, now we know why he wants to see Jesus, not for his message, but for his tricks, his pure entertainment value. It's not because of the message of salvation, the message of repentance, but for the miracles. He was seeking to see a miracle. He had heard he was a miracle worker.
Also, he had heard about Jesus and the rumor was, "This is John the Baptist raised from the dead." That always bugged him, because he was the guy who had his head chopped off, so that haunted him. So he wanted to see Jesus. And what I find interesting is this is the only time Jesus ever meets Herod. He skirted the area of Tiberias. There's never a record in the Bible of him going to Tiberias where he would have been, where Herod Antipas would have lived. He wasn't there at all; Jesus never went there. In fact, when somebody came to him and said, "Herod has been asking about you," he said, "Go tell that fox that I'm busy. We gotta work a few days," and so forth. But he never went to see him and now he sees him.
And this is only one, this is the only one in the account of being tried and this adjudication process where Jesus says nothing to. He doesn't say is a word to him. "Then he questioned him," verse 9, "with many words, but he answered him nothing." I know, you're thinking, "Epic fail, Jesus. This is Herod. You could do something. You could perform a miracle. You could even preach a sermon to him. This is Herod Antipas. Boy, if Herod got saved, maybe everybody else could turn." That's how we think. Jesus had nothing to say to him because John had already preached to him on many occasions. Herod heard the message through John, the stern, austere message of repentance, the message leveled at him because he had taken his brother's wife unlawfully, was living in sin. And he did not change with that message.
And if you won't respond to a lower light, a lesser light, then there's no light. You get no more, until you respond to that, you get nothing else. "I've got nothing to say to you." He doesn't say one single word. "And the chief priests and the scribes," those were those that were with Herod at the time, "stood and vehemently accused him. Then Herod, with his men of war," that's his security detail, his handlers, "treated him with contempt and mocked him, arrayed him in a gorgeous robe, and sent him back to Pilate. That very day Pilate and Herod became friends with each other, for previously they had been at enmity with each other." Ponder that for a moment. You got two guys who don't like each other, but there's this guy named Jesus that they both really don't like.
Come to find out, these men who were once enemies can agree on one thing; and that is, "We don't like this guy." And over that issue, they become friends. That's not a good basis for a friendship, is it? "Oh, you reject Jesus? Oh well so do I. Let's be buddies. Let's go to hell together, shall we?" Now, let me take this to another principle. And I've seen this in the church, what we just read, two people in the church who may not necessarily have liked each other in the past. They really didn't talk much to each other, didn't really get along, or say, "Well, that's just not my kind of person to hang with." But they both have dirt on somebody, gossip on somebody, and one will share it and the other will go, "Yeah, I kind of feel that way about him or her."
And they, over a while, become friends over the dislike that they have in talking gossip about someone else. I have seen this time and time again, and it is dangerous, and it will come back to bite you. The same principle, they "became friends." "Then Pilate, when he had called together the chief priests, the rulers, and the people, said to them, 'You have brought this man to me, as one who misleads the people. And indeed, having examined him in your presence, I have found no fault in this man concerning those things of which you accuse him; no, neither did Herod, for I sent you back to him; and indeed nothing deserving of death has been done by him,'" this prisoner. "'I will therefore chastise him and release him' (for it was necessary for him to release one to them at the feast)."
So he goes from Pilate, trial number four; Herod, trial number five; back to Pilate. This is the final call on what's going to happen with Jesus. Pilate twice now says, "This dude is innocent. He hasn't done anything deserving of death. He should go free." But he wants to placate the Jewish leaders, who obviously hate Jesus, so he decides to have the victim victimized, to have him chastised, to have him whipped, the other gospels tell us. So you are familiar with the story. If you grew up in a religious home, you know all about the beatings of Christ. You know if you saw the Mel Gibson movie or any of the Jesus movies, you know what this is about; he was chastised. However, here's something you may not know: there were three levels of being flogged.
Now, first of all, a flagellum is what they used. And it was a wooden handle with leather strips, pieces of bone, or metal tied to the end of it, so that when the lictor, he's called, the lictor is the guy who holds the whip and whips the prisoners. One would be on each side of the prisoner. The prisoner's arms would be stretched overhead so his back was taut like a drum, or over a pillar so he would be kind of lurched over it. Both ways were used. And the lictors, one on either side, would deliver diagonal blows to the victim, diagonal blows. The flagellum, because it has bits of metal and glass, would not bounce off his skin, but grab. So the whip went down and it stuck into the sk, into the flesh, and then the lictor would pull back on it to release.
And there were three levels of this, and the Romans had names for this. It was a specially prescribed kind of a punishment. Level number one was called fustigatio. Fustigatio was sort of a light beating. You get a few of these things and then you're done. It's sort of a warning. Level number two was flagellatio, named after the flagellum. This was a little more severe. This is if you have committed some notorious crime, and Rome wants to send a strong message. That's where the person was brutalized. The third level was called the verberatio. The verberatio was the most vicious charge of all, and it was usually reserved for those who would also receive capital punishment for their crime. If they were going to die, they would go through the verberatio.
And that is where typically the Roman lictors would keep going until either they are too exhausted to whip anymore, or they are told to stop by the person in charge. The supervisor would just say stop. Now, according to the records that we have in history, all of these were bad, but some victims, especially of the second and third, died in the process. They never even made it to the execution. They died right there on the spot. And that is because, and you can see why, if you have an implement that grabs the flesh and tears, and grabs the flesh and tears, you tear through the skin, you tear through the subcutaneous tissue, you tear through muscle. You can, according to Eusebius the church historian, you could sometimes see into the kidneys of a victim. They would take that much flesh out in these beatings.
It was a brutal beating that Jesus went through. That's the idea of he was chastised. But notice verse 17, "It was necessary for him to release one to them at the feast." Now he's thinking it's going to be Jesus. He's going to chastise him. Twice he said, "He's without fault." So after the beating, he's going bring him back. He's letting him go. That's in his mind. "And they all cried out at once, saying, 'Away with this Man, and release to us Barabbas', who had been thrown into prison for a certain rebellion made in the city, and for murder." He deserved to die on a cross, and crucifixion was reserved for (a) non-Romans, and (b) those who were guilty of insurrection or murder. Well, you know the story, Barabbas gets released and Jesus goes to the cross. Jesus literally dies in the place of Barabbas.
If ever one person on earth could say "Jesus died for me. Jesus died in my place," it was Barabbas. But, let me tell you about Barabbas. One of the church historians by the name of Origen, have you heard that name, Origen? It's not like where something originates, it's O R I G E N. Origen lived in the third century. He was from North Africa. Origen gives us a little bit of the history of Barabbas. He said his name, his full name was Jesus Barabbas. So you have Jesus Barabbas or Jesus called the Christ. The word Barabbas means "son of a father." So you see what the choice is for the crowd? "Shall I release Jesus, son of a father, or Jesus, Son of the Father?" And Origen points this out to say this is always the choice every generation has to make. Are you going to vote for the kingdom of God or the kingdom of men?
Do you want the Son of the Father or the son of a father? And he says without fail every generation in their carnality chooses Jesus, son of a father rather than Jesus, Son of the Father. That's humanity. That's humanism. Verse 20, "Pilate, therefore, wishing to release Jesus, again called out to them. But they shouted, saying, 'Crucify him, crucify him!' And then he said to them the third time", he really wants to get Jesus released it sounds like. "'Why, what evil has he done? I have found no reason for death in him. I will therefore chastise him and let him go.' But they were insistent, demanding with loud voices that he be crucified. And the voices of these men and of the chief priests prevailed." It's one of the saddest texts in all of Scripture.
The voices of the crowd prevailed. Prevailed over what? Prevailed over all the other voices. You see, Pilate has heard many, many voices that day. First of all, he heard the voice of his wife, according to Matthew's gospel. His wife came to him as Jesus was brought to him and said to him, "Honey", I don't know if she actually said "honey," but "Pilate, have nothing to do with this righteous man. I've been troubled this day by dreams about him." It's the voice of his wife: "Have nothing to do with him. Let him go." The second was the voice of his own conscience saying, "He's innocent. He's innocent. He's innocent." Three times he tried to let him go. So, we have the voice of his wife; he had his own conscience telling him he's innocent; third, he had the voice Jesus.
You put all the Gospels together, Jesus tells him of a kingdom, tells him of truth, that he can know truth, that there's a kingdom beyond the kingdom of Rome. So he has the voice of his wife, the voice of his conscience, and the voice of Christ. But the voices of the people prevailed. That's a sad story that unfortunately is told every day. The voices of the crowd telling you, "This is more popular. Go our way. Don't follow Jesus and read your Bible and be so narrow-minded and keep going to church. We're your friends, hang out with us. Loosen up." There are so many prevailing voices in this world that can drown out the voice of good counsel like a husband or wife or godly friend, the voice of our conscience telling us, "I know it's right," and the voice of God speaking in his Word. The voices of the people prevailed.
But here's what you got to ask yourself. If you're ever tempted to go along with the crowd because of the pressure, and you want the popularity of the crowd rather than doing what's right, "cause everybody's doing that, so I should do that, because I want to be popular with them", just ask yourself this question: Where is that crowd that I am so anxious to please and so anxious to conform to, where are they going? Is that crowd going to heaven? Are those television commercials or shows that give me those values, that tell me not to be so this, but should be more that, where are they going? Isn't that the most important question? Didn't Jesus say on the Sermon on the Bump, "Enter into the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter therein.
"But narrow is the gate, and difficult is the way that leads to eternal life, and few find it." "The voices of these men and of the chief priests prevailed. And he released to them the one they requested, who for rebellion and murder had been thrown into prison; but he delivered Jesus to their will. Now as they led him away, they laid hold of a certain man, Simon a Cyrenian." You know where Cyrene is? North Africa, Libya. It's been in the news the last few years, hasn't it, Benghazi, Libya? He was from North Africa. He's a bystander. He's part of the Jewish Diaspora, they are called, scattered Jews around the world. He has come a long distance, because it is the hope of every Jew around the world at least once to celebrate Passover in Jerusalem. He's there.
He's there for the feast and suddenly he's conscripted by the Romans to carry the upper part of the cross that the victim carried I told you about Sunday, the patibulum, seventy-five-pound crossbeam. He was chosen to pick that. "Simon a Cyrenian, who was coming from the country, and on him they laid the cross that he might bear it after Jesus. And a great multitude of the people followed him, and women who also mourned and lamented him. Jesus, turning to them, said", and, again, Luke is the only one that records this meeting, "'Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children.'" Now who are these women? I don't know. That's the honest answer. I have no idea. We're not told. Some suggest they are disciples. Possible, not told that.
One other possibility, they could be professional mourners. I've told you before that at funerals or at death sentences they would often hire people. That was their job, to go out there and wail, and because then people would be notified. "Now there's a lot of wailing going on in this crowd. Something's up. Somebody died or is dying." So it could be just professional mourners, or it could be just people in Jerusalem who saw what Jesus did. They heard the buzz going around town and they're highly concerned and agitated over this and emotional seeing this crucifixion scene. "Jesus says, 'Don't weep for me, but for yourselves and your children. For indeed the days are coming when they will say, "Blessed are the barren, wounds that never bore, and breasts which have never nursed!"
And they will begin "to say to the mountains, 'Fall on us!' and to the hills, 'Cover us!'" For if they do these things in the green wood, what will be done in the dry?'" That seems to have been a common proverb. Because we read this and we go, "Huh? I don't quite know what that means." But obviously they did. It was a common proverb. And if I'm going to venture an interpretation, here's what I think it means: "If they, the Romans, the unbelieving world can do this to me, Christ, the giver of life, the green twig, imagine what they can do and will do to this nation which is like a dried twig, ripe and ready for judgment." That's the idea, I believe. And that will happen 70 AD, the Romans will come in, destroy the city, absolutely decimate it. Jesus is anticipating that, and he talks about asking the hills to cover them.
"You're going to go through a very difficult period of suffering locally," he says. "It's going to be so bad you're going to wish you never had children. You're going to wish that mountains would fall on you." Interestingly, in the tribulation period yet to come people will say that during that fierce period of judgment. "And when they had come to the place called Calvary, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on the right hand and the other on the left. And Jesus said", and this is the passage we read this last weekend, "'Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.' And they divided his garments and cast lots. And the people stood looking on. But even the rulers with them sneered, saying, 'He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Christ, the chosen of God.'
"The soldiers also mocked him, coming and offering him sour wine, and saying, 'If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself.' And an inscription was written over him in the letters of Greek, Latin, and Hebrew: THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS." Jesus was brought to Calvary, the place of execution, Mount Moriah, part of the Temple Mount. Now, I will say in all fairness, there's a dispute as to where the original place of execution was and the tomb of Jesus. There's a traditional Catholic site called the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Then there's one outside the modern city walls known as Gordon's Calvary that does resemble a skull. That is the one that is the top of the mountain, 777 feet above sea level. But here's something interesting: either of those sites is north of the Temple Mount; its north.
Now let me just throw something out at you and I'll let you chase it down on your own. In Leviticus, chapter 1, when the Lord gives the instructions to the priests of offering sacrifices and they're to take a lamb and offer it, he says, "You will offer the lamb on the north side of the altar"; that is, they were to move around and have their body stationed facing the entrance of the Holy Place. So they were to move toward the north and sacrifice the animal on the northern part of that altar. Because remember the tabernacle faces east, so they were to move toward the north. So the sacrifice of the lamb was offered on the north part of the altar. And it's interesting, when Jesus died, he died north of the Temple Mount at a place called, again, Calvary.
I just want to underline from Sunday, it's not cavalry. "Oh, you go to that church Cavalry." And like I said Sunday, "No. We are not a mounted horse regiment with swords, that's a cavalry." Calvary is named after this. Calvary is short for the Latin calvarium which means a skull. It's the "Place of a Skull." Why is it called the Place of a Skull? Well, a couple of reasons. Number one, it could be the place where skulls accumulated. In other words, a lot of people died, they were executed there. It was a place of public execution, the Place of the Skull. A second suggestion, and I'm only suggesting it, I'm not dogmatic about this.
In 1867 General Charles Gordon stood on top of the walls at the Damascus Gate and looked toward the north and saw in the mountain an unmistakable, in the rock itself, formation of eye sockets, bridge of a nose, kind of a hardened, toothlike smile. It looked like a, well, you're seeing it. It's a photograph I took, the Place of a Skull. Now, I didn't show you the top of the hill. It's just cut off, but it's just a meter, three feet above that, the top of the picture. And I didn't show you what's below it. That's an Arab bus station today parked right at Golgotha. Well, there it is. Look at that. My video crew is really on it. You know what? Way to go, you guys. Thank you for all your hard work. Okay, so you're looking at the hill of Calvary and you're thinking, "So Jesus was crucified way up there?"
Do you know there is no record in all of the New Testament that Jesus was crucified on top of a hill? You go, "Wait a, now wait a minute, wait a minute. Dude, you just shook me. You're just messing with my head, because I've always believed that. All the pictures show that, all the holy cards, all the renderings." You know, three crosses on a hill, and, you know, the whole bit. But there is no record in the Bible that Jesus was crucified on top of a hill. That comes through artists, and that comes through hymnwriters, songwriters, etcetera. It does not come from biblical exposition. This is why we need the Bible, otherwise we think there's three kings and on and on and on. I believe if that is the place of execution, that Jesus was crucified at the base of that hill, not on top of the hill.
And here's why: because that is the where the main road would be, and the Romans did stuff for display. They wanted people to see those corpses in front of them at the roadside to show them this is what happens to the people who cross the great kingdom of Rome. So my opinion is that and I'll just leave it at that and we'll go on. So, an inscription. And Matthew, Mark, verse 38, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John all talk about this inscription at the cross. Now this is funny. I love skeptics, because skeptics come along and they read this and go, "You see, this is the problem with the Synoptic Gospels and the gospel of John, because none of them agree. They all write down what was on that sign and they all write different things."
You know, Luke says, "THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS." It's not what Matthew says. Matthew says the sign said, "THIS IS JESUS THE KING OF THE JEWS." That's not what Mark has. Mark has, "THE KING OF THE JEWS." John has something different: "THIS IS JESUS OF NAZARETH", or, no, "JESUS OF NAZARETH, KING OF THE JEWS." And, see, they come along and say, "So we don't know what it said, because none of them could disagree." And, see, this is numbheadedness of such bad scholarship, because it actually lends to the authenticity of Scripture when you have four different camera angles recording for the purpose of their audience these four different things. What did the sign say? Put it all together and you will know. "THIS IS JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS."
Just because one selected a portion of it like they do with all of the stories that they record, similar stories, but they have different elements, so would any newscaster. You would get a news story on CNN or on FOX News, it's the same truth, but you're interviewing two different people or getting a different angle or a different camera sight or whatever. So it actually lends to the authenticity of the Scripture showing that it is valid, not invalid. "Then one of the criminals who was hanged blasphemed him, saying, 'If you are the Christ, save yourself and us.' But the other, answering, rebuked him, saying, 'Do you not even fear God, seeing that you are under the same condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we received the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.'
"And then he said to Jesus, 'Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom.' And Jesus said is to him, 'Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.'" Because we're going to cover that this weekend, I'm not even going to comment on that. I'll save that for the weekend for what I think are important reasons; one is time. Now Jesus, when he was hung on the cross, I mentioned this last weekend, he was put on the cross at nine in the morning; he died around three in the afternoon. While he was on the cross, he uttered seven statements, seven sayings of Christ, the seven words there, they used to be called. So Jesus was put on at nine in the morning and then he said three things before twelve noon. His first statement recorded here: "Father, forgive them, they don't know what they do."
Second statement: "Today you will be with me in paradise." Third statement was to his mother: "Mother, receive your son!" or "This is your son." "Son, behold your mother!" to John. Those three sayings were from nine to twelve. From twelve noon to three o'clock darkness went over all the land. When the darkness broke, Jesus gave three sayings one after another and then he died. He said, "I thirst." "It is finished," one word in Greek, "Tetelestai!" And then, finally, "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit." Um , oh, the fourth saying, I missed that. As soon as the darkness broke he cried, "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?" "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?" I thought, I just kind of, that's only six, but that's with the seventh. So put that one before the three that I just gave you and you've got the lineup.
"Now it was about," verse 44, "the sixth hour, and there was darkness over all the earth until the ninth hour. The sun was darkened, and the veil in the temple was torn in two." When Jesus was born, the sky was lit with the glory of God. The glory of the Lord shone around them. When Jesus died, it was darkness. Very different from his birth. Why the darkness? First of all, it was a darkness of secrecy. Jesus lived out in the public. His ministry for three years was public. But his ministry for three hours was private. The transaction between heaven and earth was done privately behind closed doors, just Jesus and the Father making that holy transaction. Second, it was a darkness of wickedness. They were trying to extinguish the Light of the World. It grew very dark.
Third, I suggest that it was a darkness of judgment. So often we see that in the Bible, do we not? The ninth plague of Egypt was a plague of darkness for three days on the land. According to the Jewish Talmud darkness is a judgment reserved by God for unusual wickedness. So those Jewish scholars knowing that this was, this darkness was pregnant with meaning: darkness of secrecy, darkness of wickedness, a darkness of judgment. "The veil of the temple was torn in two." I want to move through this quickly. The veil was sixty feet tall, thirty feet wide, and the thickness of a man's palm. Another gospel tells us it was ripped in two from top to bottom, not from bottom to top. No man could reach up there. It took three hundred priests to hang it.
So it was torn from top to bottom. God was making this statement. The statement is: Up till this point you had to go through priests. You had to go through mediators. You've had to go through a system. The message was "Keep out, keep out, keep out," right? There were courts of the Gentiles, courts of the women, courts of men. If you were a woman, you couldn't go into the court of men. If you were a Gentile, you couldn't go into the court of the women or the court of the men. It was all sectioned off. The message is, "Don't come any closer. Keep out." But now Jesus died. He paid the price for our sins. God ripped the veil. You know what he's saying? "Come in. Come in. Don't stay out. Now you can come in no matter who you are. You can come all the way into the Holy of Holies."
On your own, don't have enough time, read Hebrews, chapter 10, around verse 19, 20, 21, 22. We'll apply all this. "And when Jesus cried out," verse 46, "with a loud voice," he gives the seventh saying on the cross, "'Father, "into your hands I commit my spirit. "'Having said this, he breathed his last." "Father, I commit myself into your hands." Think of what that means. For the last twelve hours he has been in the hands of sinners, the hands of enemies, the hands of people who were malicious toward him. Jesus said, "The Son of Man will be betrayed into sinful hands," and those hands abused him, beat him, put crown of thorns on him, nailed him to a cross. That's what happens when Jesus is in human hands, but now that's over.
"Father, I'm coming home, into your hands I commit my spirit." Three days later he'll rise from the dead. Forty days after that he will ascend to the right hand of the throne of glory. "So when the centurion saw what had happened, he glorified God, saying, 'Certainly this was a righteous man!'" I wish I had the time to talk a little bit about how important centurions were, and their meaning in the Scripture, but I have sixty seconds left and I want to finish the chapter, so I won't do that, but I've done it before. "And the whole crowd who came together to that sight, seeing what had been done, beating their breasts and returned. But all his acquaintances, and the women who followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things. And behold, there was a man named Joseph, a council member, a good and just man."
This is Joseph of Arimathea. "He had not consented to their decision and deed." Oh, here it is, "He was from Arimathea, a city of the Jews, who himself was also waiting for the kingdom of God. This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. And he took it down, wrapped it in linen, laid it in a tomb that was hewn out of the rock, where no one had ever lain. And the day was the Preparation, and the Sabbath drew near." According to Matthew, Joseph of Arimathea was a disciple. According to John, Joseph of Arimathea was a secret disciple. And according to Luke, he was a righteous or a just man. And the Bible doesn't hand out that title to anybody. So here you have somebody who was of the ruling order of the Sanhedrin, a prominent member of the council of the Jews, who believed in Jesus secretly.
But now the fruit of his faith comes from the root of his faith. Or the root of his faith has produced the fruit of faith, which is, "I'm going to go get this body taken off and handle correctly." He had faith. He believed in him. He was getting ready for a three-day return. "And the women who had come with him from Galilee followed after, and they observed the tomb and how the body was laid. And they returned and prepared spices and fragrant oils. And they rested on the Sabbath according to the commandment." So taking the body off the cross and burying it defiles a person. You know that touching a dead person defiles a person. And it is Passover and the Sabbath is coming up. And so in handling the body of Jesus, they would have been ceremonially defiled. Do you think they cared? I don't.
This is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, whatever defilement they had, "Forget the defilement. I found the Lamb of God who takes away my sin." And they took Jesus and they handled him with love and handled him with beautiful honor and placed him in a tomb. That is the crucifixion chapter. That is the cross. We just celebrated Easter, but you know what I found? People love Easter, but they want to celebrate Easter without the crucifixion. You can't do that. There has to be a cross before there's an empty tomb. And if you personally don't know the Lord's work for you on your behalf, I encourage you to ask the Lord Jesus to forgive you of your sin. And every one of us have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.
That's why Jesus did what we read tonight, to forgive us, to save us, to be the ultimate sacrifice just like Jesus, son of a Father, Barabbas, Jesus, Son of the Father died in his place. And guess what? He died in your place. He died in your place, so you don't have to perish eternally. You can live forever. How do you do that? You gotta join a church and give a lot of money and go through rituals and ceremonies? No. You put your trust in the One who did the work. You put your truth in him.
Heavenly Father, we are so grateful, so thankful for the gospel. Truly it is good news. And our hearts break because many over the years have doused the good news and made it sound more like bad news. And yet the truth is we have to be aware of the bad news before we can ever accept the good news. The bad news is we have all sinned. The bad news is we are all under judgment. The bad news is there will be a day of reckoning. The bad news is we all deserve eternal damnation. That's truth. That's bad news. The good news is we don't have to do that. We can turn from sin, that's repentance, and turn to Jesus, that's faith, and that's good news. I pray for anyone here who hasn't done that yet or who needs to come running back home to Jesus Christ as Savior.
As our heads are bowed and our eyes are closed, we're about to dismiss, we're going to sing a song, and we're all going to go from this place. I would be remiss if I didn't give you an opportunity to get right with God, to give your life to the One who gave his life for you. Are you going to heaven? Are you sure? If you were to die tonight, do you know your sins are forgiven? Do you know that the Lamb of God has washed away your guilt? If you have any doubt at all, then you need to give your life to Christ. You say, "Oh, I did something like that years ago." Have you been walking with the Lord? Have you been living a life in obedience to him? Again, if you have any doubts, this is the night to get right with him. I'd love to pray for you, if you want to do that, but I'd like to know who you are.
So as our heads are bowed and our eyes are closed, mine will be open. And I'm asking you, if you want to do this, you raise your hand up in the air, so I can identify you and pray for you as we close this service. Raise it up so I can see it. God bless you, sir. And you right up here. And you, ma'am, to my left. Who else? Anybody else? A couple of you right there in the middle to my left. Awesome. Beautiful. Who else? Anyone else? I see your hand. A few of you, yes, ma'am, I see your hand.
Thank you for these, Lord. I pray that this decision, Lord, would be real. I pray you'd give them the courage and the strength to leave the old life and to step into new life that you give, to turn from sin and to turn to Jesus, and to experience the absolute peace and joy that they could find nowhere else, to understand the meaning of life that they could find nowhere else than through Jesus. Strengthen them, in Jesus' name, amen.
Would you stand to your feet. I'm going to ask you to do one final thing as we close here tonight. We're going to close in a song. If you raised your hand, I saw hands go up around the auditorium, get up from where you're standing, find the nearest aisle, walk toward me, and stand up right up here in the front where I'm going to pray with you to give your life to Christ. We're going to make this the, we're going to seal the deal right here, right now. You come. Yes! I think God's people should be pretty excited about this. That's what I think. If you're in the far corner, or in the balcony, or the family room, even if you didn't raise your hand, you seize this opportunity.
You say yes to the Savior who will say to you, "I will give you entrance into heaven. I will give you everlasting life. But you need to come my way." You come his way. You acknowledge that you need him, you acknowledge that you're a sinner, and that you acknowledge him as your Savior. That's what all of this is about. This isn't about joining a church or becoming religious; this is a relationship with the living God through his Son. God bless you. Anyone else? Come quickly. Come quickly. Awesome! Awesome!
Those of you who have come forward, I'm going pray with you quickly. I'm going to say a prayer. I'm going to ask you to pray this prayer out loud, out loud after me. Say these words from your heart. Say them to the Lord himself. This is you praying, this is you talking to God, this is you giving your life to the One who gave you life, and is giving you everlasting life right now. So let's pray together. Say:
Lord, I give you my life. I know that I am a sinner. Please forgive me. I believe in Jesus Christ. I believe that he died on a cross. I believe he shed his blood. I believe he did it for me. And I believe he rose from the grave. I turn from my past and I turn to Jesus as my Savior. I repent of my sins and I ask you for help to live for you, in Jesus' name, amen.