apr 1 // Day 38
Jesus, along with 2 other criminals, continue their gruelling procession to the Place of the Skull (in Aramaic-Golgotha; in Latin-Calvaria). Scholars suggest it may have been given this name due to it being a popular execution spot, or perhaps a skull-shaped hill.
Then, Jesus is crucified. Heavy nails are driven through His wrists and feet, He is hung on the cross, His exposed and broken body for all to see. It was a brutal and disgraceful way to die, normally reserved for the lowest, worst of criminals. Dying like this would normally have been drawn out for 2-3 days, a prolonged torture; but Luke does not focus on horrible descriptions, rather on the meaning of Jesus’ death.
Again we see the upside-down nature of the Kingdom of God – King Jesus, friend of tax collectors and sinners, Prince of Peace, King of the Universe – hanging on a cross to die with the lowest of the low. NT Wright says this – “Now He is hailed as king at last, but in mockery. Here comes His royal cupbearer, only it’s a Roman soldier offering Him the sour wine that poor people drank. Here is His royal placard, announcing His Kingship to the world, but it is in fact the criminal charge which explains His cruel death.” (NT Wright, Luke for Everyone)
Luke is the only gospel writer to record Jesus’ prayer for the Jewish people and Roman soldiers – “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing”. (v34) Luke is also the only gospel to mention the dialogue between Jesus and the repentant thief crucified beside Him. Jesus reminds us here of His present mission, He has come to bring salvation to souls, to welcome the lost into His Kingdom. He also shows confidence here in what is ahead for Him – death is not the end. He provides the thief not only with the hope of life after death, but his forgiveness in the Kingdom of God.
Without clocks and watches times could only be approximate. According to Mark 15v25, Jesus was crucified at the third hour, probably around 9am. Here we are told that between the sixth and ninth hour (12pm-3pm), the city was plunged into darkness, a fitting scene for such a dark spiritual moment. During this period of darkness the Temple veil is torn in two. This veil separated the sanctuary, the Most Holy Place, from the body of the Temple, and as the Old Testament (and Hebrews 9v7) tells us, the high priest entered the Most Holy Place only once a year on the Day of Atonement to offer sacrifices on behalf of the nation. The veil was a physical barrier representing the separation of the people from the holy presence of God. Though the tearing of the Temple curtain is mentioned in Matthew, Mark and Luke, none of them stop to explain why it happened. Perhaps the significance was clear, and it is as explained in Hebrews 10v19-22. All have direct access to God now, there is no more intermediary. Praise God! The torn curtain also symbolized the judgement to come on the Jewish system for rejecting the Kingdom that Jesus has been proclaiming.
Then, out of the darkness, Jesus surrenders His body and spirit to His Father. (v46) With that, He bows His head and dies. The crowds look on. His closest friends and family are filled with deep despair and sorrow.
Luke very clearly wants us to know that these events he has recorded are factual. (remember how he starts the gospel, telling Theophilus that he can rely on these facts in his book.) We see this through several observations – the Roman centurion’s comment that this was a ‘righteous man’ (v47); the record of the crowd as they leave ‘beating their breasts’ (v48) in grief and anguish; the women watching it all happen from a distance. There were plenty of witnesses to these events. He really was an innocent man, in no way deserving of death, let alone a death like this.
Luke also explains the details of Jesus’ burial for the reader. Tombs at this time were caves, and this one in particular was man-made. The reason for the spices and perfumes was to mask the smell of rotting flesh, as the tomb would be used to lay several bodies in it over time. Luke points out that Jesus’ body was the first one to be placed in the tomb, to assure the readers there would have been no chance of mistaken identity. If we remember that Jesus died at approximately 3pm (the ninth hour), and Sabbath started that evening at 6pm, the burial would have been hurried to keep with Jewish law. This is why the women waited to return after Sabbath to anoint Jesus’ body with perfumes and spices. It had to be enough for them to see where their Lord was laid. Again, Luke draws our attention to the witnesses, leaving little room for rumour and speculation.
Thanks for joining us today! Remember you can use the tools we’ve provided in the Reading Plan to help you engage with each passage of scripture.