The world is full of people to as the resurrection Sunday approaches. Today on Grace To You, John MacArthur helps you understand just how history changing the crucifixion was. As John continues the study, he calls, The Murder of Jesus. So, here's John now, starting with some background on the origins of crucifixion.
Christ. Crucifixion originated in Persia and it originated from the strangest circumstance. The Persians had a deity by the name of Ormuzd, O-r-m-u-z-d, and Ormuzd was the god who considered the earth to be sacred. And so anyone who was executed had to be lifted up above the earth lest that person being executed by virtue of his evil would defile the sacredness of the earth. And so the Persians devised a crucifixion as a way to suspend a person above the earth in execution.
It passed from the Persians to the Carthaginians and somehow the Romans took it from those in Carthage and used it, and I mean the Romans used it extensively. From the best we can ascertain at the time of Christ and around the era of Roman occupation of Israel, the Romans crucified at least 30,000 Jews. And they did it all over the highways in order to warn people what happens to someone who violates Roman law. Vivid illustrations of the foolishness of going against Rome. And so they were going to lead another victim to crucifixion.
They followed the normal procedure. Verse 32 just says, "...and as they came out..." And again, Matthew sort of skips over some things. When Matthew says, "...as they came out," he's referring to out of the city because execution always had to be out of the city.
The Jews would never tolerate it in their city. That was a part of Levitical law. Execution always had to be outside the city. And that's, of course, why it says in Hebrews 13, 12 and 13 that Jesus suffered the reproach and died outside the gate. Because execution took place outside the city. And so He went forth out of the city.
And they found a man, and we stop there a minute. That man, Simon of Cyrene, then took His cross. Matthew doesn't tell us what went on before they went out of the city.
He just skips the part from leaving the Praetorium to leaving the city. We want to understand that. And so to understand that, we compare some of the other texts of the gospel writers. John 19, 16, "...then delivered He him therefore unto them to be crucified." And they took Jesus and led Him away. "...and He bearing His cross went forth." So we know from John 19, 17 that to begin with, Jesus carried His cross. And by the way, it was during that procession that Jesus gave His last public message.
The last public sermon He ever gave was a very brief one. It's recorded in Luke 23 as He was walking in that procession. It says in Luke 23, verse 27, "...there followed Him a great company of people, and of women who also bewailed and lamented."
They wept and cried at what was happening. "...But Jesus turning unto them said," and here came His last message, "...daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for Me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For behold, the days are coming in which they shall say, Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bore, and the breasts which never nursed." Now that is something that no Jewish mother could ever imagine being said. Jesus says you better weep for yourselves and your children because the day is coming when you will wish you had no children. In fact, verse 30, "...you'll begin to say to the mountains, Fall on us and to the hills, Cover us." You're going to have such terrifying judgment. You'll wish you had no children to be slaughtered before your very eyes. And then He gives a little proverb in verse 31, "...for if they do these things in a green tree, what will be done in the dry?"
What does He mean by that? He is the green tree and the populace of Jerusalem is the dry tree. If the Romans will do this to Him who is innocent, what will they do to the Jews who are guilty? He is a green tree. He doesn't even fit the burning process. You don't even use Him to burn. The Jews are a dry tree. They should be burned. That's His implication.
You burn dry wood, not green wood. What He is saying is if the Romans will burn a green tree, that is an innocent one, one not fit to be burned, what will they do to you who are guilty, who have been having insurrections after insurrections against them? When the time for your judgment comes, you watch and see what they'll do to you.
If they would do this to me as an innocent man, what are they going to do to you as guilty ones? And we all know He's referring to the destruction of 70 A.D., which was precipitated by their hostilities against Rome. Jesus' last message to them on the way to His cross was a message of coming judgment, and it was coming very fast within the lifetime of many of those people there, the holocaust of 70 A.D. from which the land of Israel has yet to recover. And so, verse 32, we find, then they came out of the city. They came out the gate because there was always a crucifixion outside the city and always along a main highway. And no doubt they came out a northern gate in the city, may well have been the Damascus Gate, the northern part of the city. They came out, and there they found a main highway, and that would be the place where the execution would occur so that everyone would see it, everyone would know, an agonizing testimony of the foolishness of crimes against Rome. The Jews didn't crucify people. They stoned people.
The Romans did that. But when they had just come out of the city, it was apparent that Jesus, even though I believe He was the strongest man that ever lived because He was without sin and there was no decay or defilement in His body, His body would have been all that God ever intended a body undefiled by sin to be. He would have been all that Adam was and more before he fell. And so even Jesus, in all of the strength that human kind could ever have, has run out. His blood has drained. The agony is beyond belief, a full week, a late Passover, no sleep, the betrayal of Judas, the defection of the disciples, the trials, the injustice, the beatings, the scourgings. It's dissipated all of His strength and there aren't any angels now to help Him.
There are no angels to strengthen Him as after the days of 40...after the 40 days of fasting and temptation in the wilderness. And so He comes out and they find a man from Cyrene, Simon by name, and they compelled Him to bear the cross. Cyrene was a Greek settlement. It was located west of Alexandria and directly south of Greece on the North African coast, about ten miles inland.
I suppose today it would be located in Libya. There were many Jews there because it was a trade center. Simon was a Jew from that Greek settlement on the north coast of Africa who no doubt was in Jerusalem because it was Passover. We do know from the book of Acts that there was in fact a Jewish synagogue for Cyrenians in Jerusalem.
So he was there to worship at the season. His name is interesting. It is a Jewish name, Simon.
So we believe Him to be a Jewish man. Now we don't know a whole lot about Him, but there are some very interesting insights. Mark chapter 15 tells us in verse 21 that they compelled Simon of Cyrene who passed by coming out of the country.
This is most interesting. He's just walking along. Jesus comes out of the city.
Simon comes out of the country. Jesus is leaving Jerusalem. Simon's coming into Jerusalem. He's been out in the country, perhaps seeing someone that he knew, perhaps just taking a walk, perhaps securing some things for the preparation of his own Passover that day. And some have suggested that he shouldn't have been doing that because it was a holy day, but you must remember the Sabbath law did not apply on the feast day necessarily. It applied on the Sabbath day. This is Friday, the feast day, and so it would not have been wrong for him to be walking.
So here is a devout Jew come to the Passover. Simply passing along runs into this procession coming out of the city and for whatever reason he is conscripted by the crowd of Roman soldiers to carry the cross of Jesus. No Roman would carry a criminal's cross, certainly not a Jewish criminal, certainly not such a criminal as this strange and bizarre character. And so they get Simon. And then it tells us most interestingly in Mark 15, 21 that he was the father of Alexander and Rufus.
Now at first we think that may not have importance. We know that that's an interesting designation, Alexander and Rufus, Greek names. He gave his son Greek names. That's not unusual, very common, especially if he lived in a region other than Israel as he did on the north coast in a Greek settlement. But who are these two and why are they identified?
Well, you have to remember this. Mark wrote his gospel most likely from Rome and the first readers may well have been Romans and here may well have been two that the Romans knew. And so he simply identifies Simon further as the father of two that they know, Alexander and Rufus. This is further developed in Romans 16, 13 where Paul writing to the Romans says, Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord. Now here then you have Paul referring to someone named Rufus and Paul is writing to the Romans. You have Mark referring to someone named Rufus who seems to be commonly known by the Christians and Mark is also writing in Rome. So in Rome there was an Alexander and a Rufus. Here we find Rufus identified as one chosen in the Lord and his mother and mine. Now who would the mother of Rufus be?
The wife of Simon. It's not too difficult then to realize that it may well be that Simon, though inadvertently passing by and made to carry the cross of Jesus Christ, through that experience came to faith in Jesus Christ, raised two sons who became strong stalwarts in the church at Rome, his wife herself becoming like a mother to the Apostle Paul. So what started out as an enforced act became the means of his conversion. And I like to think that that is indeed the scenario and then when we get to heaven we're going to meet Simon of Cyrene along with his wife and his children.
Wouldn't that be a fitting way for the Lord to reverse things? In verse 33, Simon now carrying the heavy cross, Jesus alongside surrounded by the four soldiers and all the rest before and behind, and they come unto a place called Golgotha. That is an Aramaic term transliterated really into Greek and then into English. It means skull place, skull place, the place of a skull. In Luke 23, 33, Luke calls it a skull and uses the word cranium from which we get cranium. And the Latin Vulgate translated that calvary which was the Latin term for cranium.
So we get calvary out of it because of the Latin Vulgate translation of the Greek word cranium or crania. We conclude then that this is a place not as some have suggested where skulls are lying all over everywhere. It would have been called the place of the skulls, plural.
Furthermore, you know this for sure that Jews weren't going to have any place where a whole lot of bones were lying around above the ground, which was the antithesis of their toleration. So it was called the place of a skull or skull place because it was shaped like that. There is a place today, and I've been there on several occasions and some of you have been there as well, that is believed to be the place of a skull.
It still looks like a skull, very much like a skull. It is right outside the north part of the city of Jerusalem. It is along a main highway. In fact, below it is an Arab bus station literally crammed with buses spewing out fumes that run and belch up against that very hill of calvary. You can stand in the garden where the garden tomb is and throw a rock to the top of the hill. It's not far at all. It looks like a skull, and I believe it's an accurate indication of where Christ was crucified.
Not so much on top of it as in front of it right along the road as everybody walking by would be able to see. And so when they came to Golgotha, the place of a skull, they began the procedure which started with giving him vinegar to drink. Actually the text in the Greek says wine, oinos, they gave him wine to drink, mingled with gall. Now gall is simply a general term referring to something that is bitter. And if you were to read Mark's gospel, Mark says the bitter that they gave him was myrrh. And myrrh is a sort of a vegetable narcotic that was put into the wine as a way to calm the person down. This is reminiscent of Psalm 69 21 in which the psalmist says they gave me also some gall. So here was a drugged wine.
Mark tells us the drug they used was myrrh. It was supposed to stupefy the victim. And from the vantage point of the soldiers, no doubt that the stupefication wasn't on their part an act of mercy. They really didn't care whether the victim suffered or not.
I mean, they weren't trying to treat this person with kindness or they were in the wrong business to start with. It accommodated them because it might have been very difficult otherwise to try to hammer four nails through someone's limbs if they weren't stupefied to some degree. Consequently, at that very time it would be propitious for them to have some way to stupefy the patient. Now that's from their standpoint, but watch this.
Here's the most fascinating thing. While from the soldiers viewpoint it was simply an accommodation to the process of crucifixion, we know from history that it was done by an association of wealthy women in Jerusalem. They provided this from their viewpoint to ease the pain. And they did it in a direct connection according to what we know from ancient Jewish teaching, a direct reflection of Proverbs 31, wanting to fulfill what it says in Proverbs 31, 6, give strong drink to him that is ready to perish and wine to those that are of heavy hearts. They were wanting I suppose in a sense to be Proverbs 31 women and out of the kindness of their heart to render that service required in Proverbs 31, 6 to a victim who was in this direst of all situations.
And so the wealthy women come out. The wealthy women try to give Jesus this in order that His pain might be alleviated. It says, when He tasted it, He would not drink. He tasted it and He wouldn't drink it. They put it to His mouth. He wouldn't drink it. He spit it back. And the reason is, He Himself had said in John 18 and 11, shall I not drink the cup My Father gives Me? He was not going to drink this.
He was not going to have any of His senses dulled. He was going to the cross to endure the full pain of everything. And then it happened. Verse 35, and they crucified Him and parted His garments casting lots.
And I read that again this week and I said, boy, they went over that fast. I mean, there was no dramatics, there was no fanfare, no hammer this nail and hammer the next nail. There's no adjectives here, no descriptives, no nothing, no cries of pain. It doesn't say a thing. They crucified Him. And I thought, well, maybe the English has missed something that's in the Greek. So I went to the Greek text and you know what the Greek text says?
It was actually even less significant. The Greek rendering literally is this, the having crucified Him ones parted His garments. The having crucified Him ones parted His garments. Which even makes the crucifixion more insignificant because it only refers to it offhandedly as a way to describe the ones who parted His garments. It's as if He just runs right by that.
Why? Because the issue for Matthew is the wickedness of the men. And you could say it this way, and the crucifiers parted His garments and casting lots and there isn't even a reference to the actual crucifixion. The Bible is not preoccupied with the physical events of the cross. It is preoccupied with the wickedness of men. It never describes the agony of Jesus. Do you know that?
It never does. It only describes what men did to Him. It doesn't describe His own feeling outside the garden. We know nothing of the agony and outside the sayings on the cross which themselves do not express His agony except in separation from God. The physical agony of Jesus is not the issue. They crucified Him and parted His garments casting lots. Now in the Authorized Version in verse 35, there's a prophecy given after that, that it might be fulfilled which is spoken by the prophet and it quotes out of Psalm 22 18. I must tell you that that doesn't belong in Matthew chapter 27. That was borrowed from John 19. So how do you know that? Because we find it in some manuscripts of Matthew. Then we find older manuscripts and it isn't there. It is in John 19, but it isn't here in the older manuscripts. You say, well, how did it get in?
I'll tell you how. The scribe is copying Matthew. He's copying Matthew. And he remembers John 19 23 and 24 and he remembers how that fits so beautifully right here. And so he adds it in the margin. Just like you have in a marginal Bible or an annotated Bible, you have verses in the margin, verses in the middle, verses down below, explanation thoughts, so forth. So a scribe adds that verse over here. Later on a scribe, recopying, thinks that's good enough over there, it ought to be right in here and he brings it right in. And that's how in the gospel record sometimes things which started out as a marginal or comparative reading wind up in the actual text. Now when we find the oldest manuscripts and get behind the guy who put it in the text and behind the writing who put it in the margin, we find the pure text, we know it wasn't there.
So it was added later on. It's true, it is a fulfillment, but listen to this. John is always putting in the fulfillments because John is looking at the cross from Hugh's viewpoint, from God's. Matthew leaves them out because all he's concerned about is the wickedness of men. And so all Matthew says is that the having crucified Him ones parted His garments, that is they divided them up and every Jew had five pieces of clothing.
He had his shoes, obviously. He had his inner cloak, he had his headpiece, he had his belt and he had his outer cloak. And they split up the first four and what was remaining, according to John's gospel, was that inner garment, that inner cloak. John 19, 23, that inner garment is called a seamless garment.
It went with holes for the arms and the head just over the body. Well, they've each gotten one piece, but you remember you've got four soldiers. They each take one of the first four and it remains that they should decide who gets the inner garment and they gamble for it. They cast lots, they draw straws. This indeed is a fulfillment exactly of what I read earlier, John 22, 18, but Matthew doesn't comment on that. All he wants us to see is they're so indifferent, here they are just gambling to get everything they can get from Jesus, even His last garment. And then verse 36, sitting down they watched Him there. Sitting down they watched Him there.
Why? It was their job. They were on guard, lest somebody be unduly savaged to Christ or lest somebody try to rescue Him. They had to stay on guard with cruel mockery and morbid sensation.
They stayed on their guard to make sure nothing happened beyond what had already happened. And then a final note in verse 37, and they said over His head His accusation. This is Jesus the King of the Jews. Matthew doesn't give us the whole thing. Compare Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, pull it all together, you'll get the whole statement. This is Jesus of Nazareth the King of the Jews.
That was the whole sign. Matthew just emphasizes again, this is Jesus the King of the Jews. The Jews didn't like that. Remember that in John 19? They said, get that down, get that down. And Pilate said, no, that's going to stay the way it is.
What I have written I have written. It was mockery. He wanted everybody going by to look and say, this is the King of the Jews.
This is Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews. What a laugh. It was mockery. And He put it in Aramaic and Greek and Latin. Greek, the universal language. Aramaic, the language of the area.
Latin, spoken by the Romans. It was there for everybody to read, this is the King of the Jews. What a joke. And the Jews hated that, but Pilate would not change it. They had screamed, we will not have this man to reign over us, Luke 19 and 14, but Pilate put it up there anyway. Sarcasm to the very end.
The soldiers put the sign up, put him there. Wicked, but ignorant wicked. The ignorant wicked, the callous soldiers. The world is full of people like that.
It really is. I mean, it's full of people who just laugh at Jesus. The whole thing seems so silly, such a joke, so ridiculous, and they're so ignorant. The world is full of ignorant people who are callous toward Jesus Christ. They don't know who they're talking about. They don't know who they have on their hands and unless they awaken to it, they'll spend an eternity in the same kind of remorse these soldiers are spending right now...right now.
It's frightening. It's a beautiful ending to this. Do you see verse 54 of chapter 27?
Can I have you go ahead and close with this? Now, when the centurion...it's the commander of a hundred soldiers...and they that were with him watching Jesus...now this is one of those soldiers there who was watching on guard...when he saw the earthquake and the things that were done, they feared greatly saying truly, this was the Son of God. Oh, what a wonderful thought. And Luke says, the centurion glorified God and said, this is a righteous man. I don't think you have to stretch your thought too far to realize that out of that group of soldiers that day, there was at least one of them that came to true faith in Christ, right?
I say that to say this. Jesus was dying on the cross, put there by ignorantly wicked men, and offering those very same men the salvation that he was procuring. Is he not the friend of sinners?
You're listening to Grace to You with John MacArthur, chancellor of the Masters University and Seminary in Southern California. Today's lesson looked at Matthew's account of Christ's crucifixion, and the title of this study is The Murder of Jesus. Well, it's become something of an Easter tradition, the TV programs and the various articles produced this time of year that focus on the crucifixion and resurrection. And obviously, John, all kinds of people, even non-religious people, are fascinated by the death of Christ.
What do you make of that? Well, the first thing I have to say, because it's the honest truth, if any magazine or any television channel is going to trash Christianity, attack Christianity, bring out a skeptical understanding of Christianity, they will surely pick this time of year to do it. Every misrepresentation of the person of Christ, of the life of Christ, the death of Christ, every skeptical approach to the resurrection of Christ, foolish things that come out of the gnostic gospel environment seem always to erupt during the time that we celebrate his death and resurrection. One thing about Grace to You, we're going to use the Bible, we believe the Bible, and we're going to give it to you just as the Bible reveals the truth.
Let me help you. I've written a book called The Murder of Jesus. This is a powerful, powerful book. I think every Christian ought to read every detail of the death of Christ. The book, The Murder of Jesus, deep into the whole experience of his being brought to the cross.
That book, timely for this season, but for any time. Great to give a non-believer, to read yourself using a Bible study. Available from Grace to You. Contact us right away and get a copy of the book, The Murder of Jesus.
That's right, friend. In the face of misrepresentations, make sure you know the biblical truth about the crucifixion of Jesus. And to help you dig deep into all that God's Word says about this topic, get a copy of this book, The Murder of Jesus, when you contact us today. Call us at 800-55-GRACE or go to our website, gty.org.
The Murder of Jesus looks at both the physical side of Christ's crucifixion and the spiritual, supernatural, redemptive side as well. It will help you better understand the power of the cross, the cross you know is the greatest demonstration of love the world will ever know. To pick up a copy of this book for yourself, call 800-55-GRACE or go to gty.org.
That's our website, gty.org. And while you're there, take a note of the messages from our recent Truth Matters Conference. John and several other well-known teachers spoke at the Answers in Genesis Conference Center right next to the Ark Encounter. The conference theme was Recovering a Biblical Worldview, and you are going to hear teaching on critical race theory, social justice, gender and sexuality, postmodernism, and other crucial topics. To listen to those messages or any of John's sermons from the past 54 years, go to gty.org. Now for John MacArthur, I'm Phil Johnson. Thanks for making this broadcast part of your day and be here at the same time tomorrow when John looks at how different groups responded to the crucifixion and how you should respond. That's another half hour of unleashing God's truth, one verse at a time, on Grace to You.
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