15 21A certain man from Cyrene, Simon, the father of Alexander and Rufus, was passing by on his way in from the country, and they forced him to carry the cross. 22They brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha (which means The Place of the Skull). 23Then they offered him wine mixed with myrrh, but he did not take it. 24And they crucified him. Dividing up his clothes, they cast lots to see what each would get.
Notice how the indirect detail gives more power to the narrative than would a long direct description of Christ’s condition. By the fact that Simon is pressed into carrying Christ’s cross we infer the depth of His wounds and exhaustion. All through this account it’s amazing how little specific detail is imparted concerning the condition and treatment of Jesus. And yet, the cumulative power is overwhelming as we witness these events unfold through the lens of the indirect detail, the unexpected response, the savage cruelty. It’s as if Christ has become a mirror that reflects the inner reality of each person that crosses His path. The souls that He has come to save are laid bare in the reflection off of his Holiness.
25It was the third hour when they crucified him. 26The written notice of the charge against him read: THE KING OF THE JEWS. 27They crucified two robbers with him, one on his right and one on his left. 29Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, “So! You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, 30come down from the cross and save yourself!”
But, of course, Christ chose to stay up on the cross so that they could be saved! Is it too much to hope that some of these poor wretched souls were among the three thousand who were saved on the Day of Pentecost?
“Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.” When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.” With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day. (Acts 2:36-41)
31In the same way the chief priests and the teachers of the law mocked him among themselves. “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! 32Let this Christ, this King of Israel, come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe.” Those crucified with him also heaped insults on him.
The mockery continues. With the chief priests the phrase “among themselves” is noteworthy. It elicits the sense of nervous mutual support. They had set this chain of events in motion, and now they had achieved their goal. However, isn’t it possible, even likely, given what they knew about Jesus combined with the manner in which He went to His cross, that they recognized the Holy and felt inner doubt at what they had done?
With the other two condemned men the mockery highlights in a particularly stark manner a general principle of our fallen-ness. We all too often look for someone to look down on as a means of enhancing our self-esteem. With these pitiful souls to the left and right of Christ, that desire to find someone lower continued all the way to their crucifixion.
One of them, perhaps observing the manner of Christ’s suffering, was touched by the healing Spirit of Holiness. For in Luke we read:
One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:39-43)
Some recoil at the thought of such extravagant love and forgiveness. My response is that it is only this extravagance that gives me confidence when I look upon the depth and stubbornness of my sin.