I. Jesus Led Out Of The City, Carrying His Own Cross
A. Isaac Carries Wood Himself
In the 22nd chapter of Genesis, we read that when God commanded Abraham to sacrifice his only, beloved son, Isaac, on Mt. Moriah, as an offering for sin, Abraham collected the wood for the fire and made Isaac carry it himself.
That Isaac would be made to carry the wood for his own sacrifice was God’s way of showing us how Jesus, whom Isaac foreshadows, would also carry the wood for His sacrifice Himself. And not only does Jesus look a lot like Isaac as He carries His cross, but the divine drama is actually carried out in the same location. Mt. Moriah is the place where the Temple was later built in Jerusalem. Just as Isaac had carried his sacrificial wood up Mt. Moriah, now Jesus carries His sacrificial wood down Mt. Moriah to the place called Golgotha.
B. Jesus Carries the Kingdom
This is most certainly more than coincidence. If nothing else, here we see plainly that the whole of the Old Testament points to Jesus Christ.
On Palm Sunday, Jesus was loudly acclaimed to be the King, as He entered Jerusalem on a donkey, carrying His kingdom on his shoulders. “For unto us a child is born and the government shall be upon his shoulders…” (Is.9:6).
Now, we see our King carrying on His shoulders the heavy price He will pay to purchase citizens for His Kingdom – a Kingdom that He will rule, not by power or might, but in weakness and humiliation and shame. This King rules His kingdom with mercy and forgiveness for all who will be ruled by Him.
Consider the burden our King carries here. Certainly the weight of the beam was heavy, even more so since He had not slept in two days, nor been given anything to eat or drink in that time, and that he had been beaten without mercy.
But consider especially that weight even greater than the heavy beam. Consider the weight of the sins of the whole world that He is bearing on His shoulders.
This was the weight that Simon of Cyrene could not help Jesus carry, nor could any of the angels who had ministered to Him in the desert. This is the burden that Christ alone can carry and must carry by Himself.
It is the burden that He alone is able to carry because He alone is the Son of God. And because He HAS carried its full weight, He is able to invite all who are weary of carrying their heavy burdens, to release those burdens to Him, which He has already taken from us. “He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows.” (Is.53:4).
The daily struggle for the citizens of His Kingdom is to live under His rule over our lives. And the irony of our struggle this, it is NOT that His rule is too hard and demanding, but that it is too gracious and loving – more grace and love than we know what to do with or how to handle. And so it’s a daily struggle to simply believe it, and stop carrying what our Lord has already taken from us and carried for us.
II. Jesus Crucified At Golgatha Between Two Criminals
A. The Place of the Skull
In the 37th chapter of Ezekiel, the prophet is shown a valley filled with skeletons. They are dry bones that have absolutely no life in them. Ezekiel is asked a most amazing question by the Spirit of the Lord. “Can these bones live?” (Ezekiel 37:3).
Perplexed and dumbfounded as to how to answer a question like this, Ezekiel replies the way a good prophet answers when he hasn’t the slightest idea how the impossible might actually happen, “O Lord God, you know.”
We have heard St. Mark tell us that, ‘they brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha.” For all who do not know Aramaic, Mark kindly translates the word ‘Golgotha” saying, “which means Place of a Skull.” It is called “the skull place” because there were many human skeletons and skulls lying around on the ground – the remains from previous crucifixions. Here then is the place where Jesus was steadfast to come. He had “set his face” to come here, to this valley of dry bones.
He has come here to set up His cross among the dead, in whom there is no life. And as His blood spills out from His cross onto this place of death, the dead are made alive – more completely and accomplished than anything Ezekiel could have imagined.
As the blood of Christ drips from His cross onto this valley of dry bones, it is important for us to recognize our own skeletons in that ‘killing field.’ It is on you and me that Christ’s holy and precious blood drips from His cross, and we who were dead in our sins and transgression are made alive in Christ and rise from the ground to sing and dance in the company of the angels, archangels and all those other dry boned skeletons revived by the blood of Christ.
B. Clothes Taken
Just before He is nailed to the wood, Christ is stripped of his clothing. The soldiers divide his garments between them, one of the small perks for such a wretched assignment.
We might wonder why such a mundane detail as this need be included in the gospel account at all. After all, the account of the actual nailing of the nails through His hands and feet is noted only by the incredibly understated, “and they crucified him.” How do His clothing and nakedness rank even a mention next to this?
Our first parents, Adam and Eve were both naked in the Garden of Eden, and they felt no shame. They’re only clothing was the innocence and righteousness of the holy image of God their maker. But along came the serpent who stripped them of these pure and beautiful garments. No longer clothed in the innocence and righteousness of the holy God, now they are clothed in their own guilt and shame, which they tried to cover with garments made of leaves. They wanted to hide their guilt and shame from God and from each other, and even themselves.
Now, this 2nd Adam hangs exposed before God and others and Himself. There is nothing to cover the guilt and shame which He is bearing. God does NOT provide Him with clothing made from the skins of innocent animals as He did Adam and Eve.
Here is what our guilt and shame looks like apart from the clothing that God Himself provides when He covers us in the innocence and righteousness of the Lamb of God. In His nakedness, we now see God’s attitude towards all who will not be covered with the covering for guilt and sin that He has given. On the cross, Jesus hangs naked before God and receives the just punishment for Adam’s sin and ours.
The prophet Isaiah declares the good news of the ‘blessed exchange’ that Christ accomplishes for us by His nakedness on the cross. “I will greatly rejoice in the Lord; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness…” (Is. 61:10).
C. Between Two Thieves
Mark writes, “And with Him they crucified two robbers, one on his right and one on his left.” These two men had committed real crimes and were truly guilty. And maybe the soldiers put the Christ between these two as their way of even further humiliating him who claimed to be a king. “Behold the citizens of your kingdom O King!”
Whatever the reason they positioned Him as they did they unwittingly served to fulfill what the Scriptures had long foretold through the prophet Isaiah, “he was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sins of many and made intercession for the transgressors.” (Is.53:12).
It is here that we are to also find ourselves in this terrible picture. For all of us are truly guilty of countless crimes against God and His holy Law. And we all deserve to be “crucified with Christ.”
But it is also right here, in this terrible picture, that we see more clearly than in the beautiful pictures that we would much rather gaze on, that our Lord, Jesus Christ comes to us and places Himself right in the middle of sinful and fallen humanity. He has come right into the middle of us to reach out His arms to the right and to the left, to the Jew and the Gentile, rich and the poor, the unbeliever who mocks Him and the believer who puts his hope in Him. He spreads out His hands to the east and to the west, to draw us to Himself and into His forgiveness and love.
III. It Is Finished
In Genesis chapter 2, we read that on the 7th day of the history of the world, God rested because His work was complete. “Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done.” (Gen.2:1-2).
That word, “finished,” which Moses is careful to repeat two times just to be sure that we hear it, means ‘completed.’ ‘Completed’ to the degree that it is perfect just the way that it is – nothing more need be added to it. And in fact, if you try to add any more to it – you’ll ruin the whole thing.
As Jesus hangs from the cross, and seeing that all has now been accomplished, He announces that the work He was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary to accomplish IS FINISHED. “It is finished.”
He speaks the same word here as He spoke in the beginning. His perfect sacrifice on the cross for a sinful and fallen world has accomplished. Our redemption and reconciliation with God “is finished” – perfectly – fully – completely.
Our redemption is perfect, just the way it is, and we can add nothing to it. We dare not try to add our good works or our best intentions or ever our faith, lest we ruin and lose the whole thing. He has done it all – for us – and without us.
He carried our sins all the way to the place of death.
He was stripped that we may be clothed.
He dripped His blood down upon our dead skulls so that we who are dead might live.
He has come into the midst of sinners and reached out His sinless arms and hands inviting us into His forgiveness and love.
He has done all of this for you and it is finished.