And they compelled a passerby, Simon of Cyrene, who was coming in from the country, the father of Alexander and Rufus, to carry his cross. And they brought him to the place called Golgotha (which means Place of a Skull). And they offered him wine mixed with myrrh, but he did not take it. And they crucified him and divided his garments among them, casting lots for them, to decide what each should take. And it was the third hour when they crucified him. And the inscription of the charge against him read, “The King of the Jews.” And with him they crucified two robbers, one on his right and one on his left. And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads and saying, “Aha! You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself, and come down from the cross!” So also the chief priests with the scribes mocked him to one another, saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross that we may see and believe.” Those who were crucified with him also reviled him.
Understanding And Applying the Text
It was common practice to have criminals carry their cross to the place of execution. They only carried the crossbeam. The upright beam remained in the ground at the place of execution. The cross beam weighted between 40 and 50 pounds.
Soldiers had beaten Jesus in preparation for His crucifixion. The trauma and blood loss weakened Jesus. He body was no longer capable of carrying the cross. They grabbed Simon of Cyrene to carry it. The soldiers were not about to carry it. And it had to get to the execution’s location.
Simon was passing by when they grabbed him. He was from Cyrene. Cyrene was an important city. It was in what today is Libya.
Mark tells us Simon was Alexander’s and Rufus’ father. Some believe Simon’s sons were members of the Christian community to whom Mark wrote. But there is no way to be sure.
The soldiers took Jesus to Golgotha which means “Place of the Skull”. It was north of Jerusalem and right outside the city. The hill protruded much like a skull, giving it its name. The Latin word is calvaria. We derive the English word “Calvary” from it.
This was the place they executed criminals. This heaped greater shame on Christ, an innocent man. God had His Son cast out of the city as unworthy of human interaction. He was cast out so, through His death, we gain admittance into His heavenly kingdom.
It is common to talk about Christ’s physical suffering. Often men will dwell on it trying to communicate what Christ suffered for us. But the physical suffering is not the central theme. He took on the curse we deserve. He was accused for us. He atoned for our sins. Yes, Christ endured great shame and suffering before the world. But His sacrifice was before God and the angels on our behalf.
Before they lifted Christ upon the cross, they offered him a drink of wine mixed with myrrh. This was the custom. Some have claimed this bitter mixture was an added form of torment. Some have claimed it was humane because it dulled the pain.
It was a primitive painkiller. Myrrh was an expensive spice. It was a cosmetic. It was one of the gifts given to Jesus at His birth.
But there was another reason they gave it. Wine and myrrh thin the blood. More than 2 to 4 grams of myrrh cause kidney irritation and the heart to race. The mixture thins the blood and caused the bleeding to be more severe. The more they bleed, the thirstier they were. The thirstier they were the more they drank. The more they drank the more they bleed. This hastened the death. So only in that since you could claim it was humane.
But Christ refused it. He did not refuse it because He did not like the taste. Christ refused it to show He marched to death of His own accord. He obeyed the Father’s command. He did not rush it. He was patient and endured pain.
While Christ hung on the cross, the soldiers cast lots to see who would get what piece of clothing. This too was according to custom. The soldiers received the spoils of their work. They divided up the clothing of condemned men.
They stripped Christ naked. He was stripped so we may be clothed by His sacrifice. We are clothed in His righteousness.
Mark tells us the crucifixion started at the third hour of the day. Measuring time was very different in Jesus’ day. Precise time measurement was not important to them. They measured time with a sundial. So, the timing of Jesus execution is approximate. It took place about 3 hours after sunrise.
That means the entire ordeal with Pilate occurred before that. When Mark says in verse 15:1 “As soon as it was morning” He meant just that. They wasted no time taking Jesus to Pilate. There were only three hours start to end. The chief priests consulted the council. Jesus’ arrival to Pilate. Jesus’ tried, beaten, and executed. Events moved at a fast pace. The Jews wanted Jesus dead! They were not about to allow anything to get in their way.
What was the charge against Jesus? Treason. In God’s providence the Pilate worded the charge to proclaimed the truth. The words above His head may have been the only truth in all the series of events. The words did not say treason. Rather they proclaimed Jesus was the King of the Jews. Pilate wrote it with irony. But, Pilate was an unwitting and unwilling prophet of God.
Along with Jesus were two robbers. Though the Greek word could mean “robber.” It could also mean “insurrectionist” or generally “criminal.” Robbery was not punishable by crucifixion. So the two were either criminals or insurrectionist. Insurrectionist would make more sense. Barabas, imprisoned at the same time, was an insurrectionist.
Pilate executed them along with Jesus. But Jesus was in the middle. The position of greatest prominence. He was the center of attention. He drew the mocking.
Those who passed by Christ mocked Him showing how depraved man is. It shows our need for a Redeemer. All Christ endured was ours. This torment was greater than everything else He suffered. They tormented Him as if He had been cast off and forsaken by God.
The words the crowd uttered were Satan’s words. They had the same meaning as Satan’s words in the wilderness. “If you are the son of God…” “Aha! You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself, and come down from the cross! … He saved others; he cannot save himself.
Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross that we may see and believe.” They were Satan’s mouthpiece.
They put demands on Christ. If you do want we demand, we will believe. They had a predefined definition of the King of Israel. They defined God. Their god was a god of their creation. Their god was an idol in their mind. Their god was a god to whom they could dictate terms.
We see the same today. How many times have you heard, “I could never believe in a God that would…” Finish the sentence. Who are you, a mere man, to demand anything, from God. God commands us to believe. Unbelief is a sin. We are like a child who promises to be good if you give him a cookie.
They indulged in a premature victory. Christ claimed He would rebuild the temple in three days. The temple He referred to was His body. They did not wait three days. It is like the football player who celebrates before he reaches the end zone. Then he fumbles and the other team recovers the ball and runs to the other end of the field to win the game.
They mocked Christ. We mock what we do not understand. Mark tells us both robbers also mocked Christ. He was mocked on every side. Luke tells us one robber rebuked the other. There is no contradiction. Both robbers mocked. Luke does not say only one mocked. He gives us the word of only one. God softened the heart of the other. As a result, he rebuked the first. There is no contradiction. Both mocked. Then one repented.
Christ forgave that robber. Let us end our derision and repent as well.