And when they had mocked him, they took off the purple from him, and put his own clothes on him, and led him out to crucify him.
1. What was crucifixion? To the devout Christian every item of information he can gain concerning that dread scene at Calvary is of the utmost value.
1. It was foreign in every sense in its infliction upon our Lord. This kind of capital punishment was Roman, and not Jewish.
2. It was excessively cruel in its details. The word which it has given to our English language indicates its severity. To be "excruciated" simply means to be in suffering like that of crucifixion; it signifies the extreme anguish to which human sensibility can go.
3. It was long and lingering in its operation. Severe as these wounds were, they could never be very dangerous. Hardly more than a few drops of blood fell from them. It would have been too much of a merciful indulgence for this mode of execution to make any of its agonizing strokes immediately fatal. Death did not ensue sometimes until after several days of torture. Even then it was brought on by weakness and starvation, coupled with the low fever which the inflammation from the wounds sooner or later produced. The great suffering was caused by the constrained posture on the cross, the soreness of the members from the nails, and of the back from the welts raised by the whips in the scourging. Every motion brought with it only anguish without relief. Thus the poor body was permitted to hang with no respite and no hope, through the night and through the day, in the chillness of the evening, in the heat of the noon, until death lint an end to consciousness add to life.
4. Such a punishment powerfully arrested the popular imagination as a spectacle. Sometimes the military men put on guard were compelled to accelerate the final agony by brutally beating the legs of the victims with bludgeons till the bones were crushed and the sudden shocks produced collapse. No wonder people called this "the most cruel, the worst possible fate." It is on record that a soldier once said that, of all the awful sounds human ears could be forced to listen to, the most terrible out of hell were those pitiable cries, in the solemn silence of the midnight, from the lonely hill where crucified men were hanging in agonies out of which they could not even die while a breath to suffer with remained.
5. So we see whence came the suggestion of a crucifix as a symbol of faith and penitence. It is not likely that the physical pains of our Lord were the severest He had to bear; but they certainly have availed from the earliest time to move the hearts of the simpleminded common people. Nor is this all: there are moments of deep spiritual feeling when even the most cultivated penitent will find an argument in the "agony and bloody sweat" as well as in the "cross and passion" of the Divine Redeemer. The popular mind is moved by such a picture; but the mistake might easily be made of trusting a crucifix in an impulse of superstition, instead of Christ on a principle of faith.
II. So much, then, as to the manner of our Lord's crucifixion; now comes up for our study a far more interesting question concerning its meaning.
1. Considered merely as a matter of historic incident, the death of Jesus Christ is of little, if any, spiritual value. Doubtless there were other executions at Golgotha before and after this one, equally painful and equally iniquitous — for the Roman government in Palestine was never free from charges of injustice. We do not care, however, to remember the sufferers' names. And Christ's crucifixion is but one more wail of abused humanity, if we contemplate it alone.
2. We must consider this event as a matter of theological doctrine. When history is so momentous and so mysterious as this, we are compelled to read below the surface and between the lines. He was "delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God" in order that He should suffer precisely as He did (Acts 2:23). Men wreaked their violent passions upon Him, and it was by wicked and responsible hands He was crucified and slain. Messiah was "cut off, but not for Himself" (Daniel 9:26). The wisdom of God overruled the wrath of His murderers to the Divine glory and the salvation of men. One of the ancient commentators springs up almost out of sober exposition into the realm of song, as he exclaims; "In their frantic anger they pluck to pieces the Rose of Sharon; but by so doing they only display the brilliance of every petal. In their fury they break a diamond into fragments; by which they only cause it to show its genuineness by its sparkling splinters. They are anxious to tear from Immanuel's head the last remnant of a crown; but they only lift the veil from the forehead of His majesty!"
3. More than anything else we must also consider the crucifixion of Jesus as a matter of vicarious atonement. There is something very fine in the quiet simplicity with which one of the apostles explains this entire scene at Calvary: "All have sinned." Christ died to be "a propitiation through faith in His blood" (Romans 3:23-26). Pilate wrote an inscription to be put over the head of the Saviour; according to a Roman custom, this was designed to explain the transaction to all who stood by. The true inscription on the cross would be "Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners." These are the words which would give to the scene at Calvary its eternal interpretation before the Church and the ages. The very voice of Immanuel Himself as He seems to speak out of the midst of His suffering, is: "See! I have taken away the handwriting that was against you, and have nailed it to My cross" (Colossians 2:13, 14). The one word which describes the whole gospel plan of salvation is substitution. Christ was sinless, yet He suffered: we are sinful, yet we go free (2 Corinthians 5:21).
4. This will lead at last to our consideration of the crucifixion as a matter of personal experience. Believers all glory in the cross. Many a death bed has been illumined by its light. Many a sorrowful and lonely heart has been encouraged by the remembrance of it. There have been old men, just trembling on the verge of the tomb, whose eyes filled with the tears of grateful gladness as they died thinking of it. There have arisen voices from around the stake in the midst of the martyr's flames, singing praise to Him who hung upon it. Many a bowed sinner has come forth into freedom as he laid his burden at the foot of the cross. This personal experience begins with self-renunciation. Every other reliance must absolutely be surrendered, and each soul must become content to owe its salvation to Jesus Christ's merits, not to its own. So this personal experience continues to the end with a deep solicitude against lapsing into sin again.
(C. S. Robinson, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And when they had mocked him, they took off the purple from him, and put his own clothes on him, and led him out to crucify him.