Based on Mark chapter 15 verses 16 to 47 & Luke chapter 23 verses 39 to 43
What a victory! The religious leaders could hardly believe it was true – Jesus, the One they’d hated – the One who’d been nothing but a … but a pain in the neck since He’d first arrived, showing them up and embarrassing them with all His talk about the Kingdom of God, was finally going to get what He deserved - death!
It was almost too good to be true! This Jesus, who spoke so much about God, was now going to die the most disgraceful death imaginable. He was going to be crucified! Crucified with the scum of society; a death so horrible it was reserved for the most vile villains and murderers! Surely now, everyone would see what a phoney Jesus was because, if He’d been considered even slightly important, then the very least the Romans would have done for Him was give Him a quick death by the sword – but now He’d have to face the disgrace of dying like a common criminal. He was finished, and His teaching could be forgotten along with Him. In fact, it was almost funny! Didn’t the Bible say that anyone hung on a tree was under the curse of God? Now Jesus, who claimed to be the Son of God, was to die nailed to a tree - on a rough wooden cross!
As Jesus was led away after being whipped, the Jewish leaders started celebrating. At long last they’d won, Jesus had lost – it was over! (PAUSE)
After whipping Jesus, the Roman soldiers took Him to their headquarters. They wanted to have a little fun with the condemned man! The charge had been that Jesus was ‘the King of the Jews’, so now the all-conquering Romans - who bowed the knee to no one except their own leaders - would show just what they thought of anyone who claimed to be a king.
Stripping Jesus of His clothes, the soldiers took a purple robe, the kind of thing only rulers and leaders wore, and draped it around His shoulders – laughing at how pathetic He looked. But this wasn’t enough; surely a king deserves a crown? So taking some thin branches covered in long vicious thorns, the soldiers carefully weaved a makeshift crown and rammed it on His head until the blood poured down His face. And as Jesus stood before them, weak from the whipping, a crown of thorns on His head and a purple cloak over His shoulders - they took it in turns to salute their defeated enemy, then spit in His face and beat Him on the head with a stick – on and on until they were bored, bored of the beatings and ready to get on with the execution. So, removing the purple cloak, they put Jesus’ own clothes back on Him, put a cross on His back and forced Him to start the climb to Skull Hill – or as it was known in the local language – Golgotha, where the crucifixion was to take place.
But after His whipping, beating and humiliation, Jesus was too weak to carry His cross very far. (P) A man called Simon, who was from a place called Cyrene, found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time and the soldiers grabbed him and forced him to carry Jesus’ cross the rest of the way to Skull Hill. (P)
The soldiers had executed many people before, they knew how to crucify, they also knew how painful it was and so offered Jesus some drugged wine to ease what was to follow, but Jesus refused to take it. Then, with a shrug of their shoulders, they laid the cross on the ground, put Jesus on top and stretched out His hands, put His feet one on top of the other and nailed His hands and feet in place. Above His head they nailed the charge He’d been found guilty of. It said simply: ‘King of the Jews’. (P) The cross, with Jesus, nailed on, was raised up and secured in place. Then, leaving Jesus for a moment, they laid out two other criminals who were to be crucified that same day and put one up on either side of Him. And then, to pass the time, they divided Jesus’ clothes into four piles, one for each of them, and tried to work out what to do with Jesus’ undergarment. It was a nice piece of clothing, and they didn’t want to rip it up and ruin it, so after some discussion, they decided to cast lots for it, which is like throwing dice, where the one who gets the highest number wins! So they cast lots for His clothes and then waited – because death by crucifixion can be a long, slow process. (PAUSE)
It was nine o’clock in the morning when Jesus was crucified, and Skull Hill was near enough to Jerusalem for many people to pass by and see what was happening. Of course, everyone already knew what had taken place and some just came to gloat over the end of this so-called Holy Man – this person who was supposed to be sent from God and yet ended up being executed under the curse of God! But it was the religious leaders who enjoyed it most, standing by the cross they shouted out for everyone to hear, ‘He SAVED others, but look at Him now! He can’t even save Himself! Let this ‘Messiah’, this ‘King of the Jews’, come down from the cross so that we can all see it with our own eyes! Only then will we believe anything He’s said!’ (P) And then, everyone was hurling insults at Him, even the criminals being executed on each side started mocking Him. At least, one of them did while the other one began to take notice of this special man nailed between them. And reading the charge nailed above Him – ‘King of the Jews’ - he began to wonder – or God began to speak to him even as he was being executed for his many crimes.
But the first criminal hadn’t seen anything special in Jesus, ‘So you’re the ‘Messiah’ are you?’ he mocked. ‘Well come on then!’ he continued, ‘Don’t just stay there, prove it to us all and save yourself! (P) Oh! And while you’re at it, you can save us too!’
At this, the other criminal could take no more. ‘Shut up, will you! Don’t you fear God even when you’re dying? We deserve what’s coming to us for what we’ve done, but this man,’ he nodded in Jesus’ direction. ‘This man hasn’t done anything wrong.’ At this, he turned his head as best he could to look at Jesus. ‘Jesus,’ he called, and Jesus looked his way. ‘When you, come into your Kingdom, please, remember me’. (P)
‘I will tell you something that’s absolutely true,’ Jesus replied as He looked into the eyes of the dying man. ‘Today - you will be with me in paradise.’ (PAUSE)
At 12 midday, it was almost as if the sun could no longer bear to look upon Jesus as He was dying on that cross, and darkness spread across the whole land until 3 in the afternoon. And then, after 6 hours on the cross, Jesus raised His head and called out in a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?’ Which means, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’
Then Jesus let out another loud cry and died. At that moment, the large thick curtain in the temple in Jerusalem, the curtain that separated the people from the Most Holy Place where they could not go because of their sin, was torn in two from top to bottom. And the Roman officer who stood watching Jesus die exclaimed, ‘Truly, this man was the Son of God!’ (PAUSE)
As evening drew near, a member of the high council called Joseph from the town of Arimathea, plucked up the courage to go and see Pilate to ask for Jesus’ body. Pilate was surprised that Jesus had died already and, after calling in the Roman officer to confirm He was dead, Pilate allowed Joseph to take the body. There wasn’t much time before the Sabbath day began because, for Jews, the day starts at sunset and sunset was close at hand. On the Sabbath day, no working could take place. So quickly taking Jesus’ body down from the cross, Joseph wrapped it in a long linen cloth and laid it in a new tomb carved out of the rock. Then he rolled a large stone over the entrance and went sadly away. Meanwhile, Mary Magdalene, one of Jesus’ disciples, saw where the body had been left.