JESUS IS NAILED TO A TORTURE STAKE
THE SIGN OVER JESUS’ HEAD PROVOKES MOCKERY
JESUS OFFERS HOPE OF LIFE IN PARADISE ON EARTH
Jesus is led to a location not far from the city where he and two robbers are to be executed. The place is called Golgotha, or Skull Place, and is a spot that is visible “from a distance.”
The three condemned men are stripped of their garments. Then wine drugged with myrrh and bitter gall is provided. Apparently, women of Jerusalem have prepared the mixture, and the Romans do not deny this pain-dulling potion to those being put to death. Upon tasting it, though, Jesus refuses to drink any. Why? He wants to have full possession of all his senses during this major test; he wants to be conscious and faithful to death.
Jesus is stretched out on the stake. (Mark 15:25) The soldiers pound nails into his hands and his feet, piercing flesh and ligaments, causing intense pain. As the stake is swung upright, the pain is even more excruciating as the weight of Jesus’ body tears at his wounds. Yet, Jesus does not berate the soldiers. He prays: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”
The Romans customarily post a sign stating the crime of the condemned criminal. This time, Pilate has posted a sign that reads: “Jesus the Nazarene the King of the Jews.” It is written in Hebrew, Latin, and Greek, so most everyone can read it. Pilate’s act reflects his disdain for the Jews who insisted on Jesus’ death. The dismayed chief priests protest: “Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews,’ but that he said, ‘I am King of the Jews.’” However, not wanting to be their pawn once again, Pilate answers: “What I have written, I have written.”
The enraged priests repeat the false testimony that was given earlier at the Sanhedrin trials. Not surprisingly, passersby wag their heads in mockery and say abusively: “Ha! You who would throw down the temple and build it in three days, save yourself by coming down off the torture stake.” Similarly, the chief priests and scribes say to one another: “Let the Christ, the King of Israel, now come down off the torture stake, so that we may see and believe.” (Mark 15:29-32) Even the condemned robbers on Jesus’ left and right reproach him, though he is the only one truly innocent.
The four Roman soldiers also make fun of Jesus. They may have been drinking sour wine, so now in mockery they apparently hold some of it before Jesus, who obviously cannot reach out and take any. The Romans tauntingly allude to the sign above Jesus’ head and say: “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself.” (Luke 23:36, 37) Think of it! The man who has proved to be the way, the truth, and the life is now being subjected to undeserved abuse and ridicule. Yet he resolutely suffers it all, without reproaching the Jews who are watching, the Roman soldiers mocking him, or the two condemned criminals hanging on stakes alongside him.
The four soldiers have taken Jesus’ outer garments and divided them into four parts. They cast lots to see who gets which piece. Jesus’ inner garment, though, is of superior quality, “without a seam, being woven from top to bottom.” The soldiers reason: “Let us not tear it, but let us cast lots over it to decide whose it will be.” They thus fulfill the scripture that says: “They divided my garments among themselves, and they cast lots for my clothing.”
In time, one of the criminals realizes that Jesus truly must be a king. He rebukes his companion with the words: “Do you not fear God at all, now that you have received the same judgment? And we rightly so, for we are getting back what we deserve for the things we did; but this man did nothing wrong.” Then he beseeches Jesus: “Remember me when you get into your Kingdom.”
Jesus replies: “Truly I tell you today, you will be with me,” not in the Kingdom, but “in Paradise.” (Luke 23:43) This promise differs from what Jesus has told his apostles, namely, that they would sit on thrones with him in the Kingdom. (Matthew 19:28; Luke 22:29, 30) However, this Jewish criminal may have heard about the earthly Paradise that Jehovah had originally provided as a home for Adam, Eve, and their descendants. Now this robber can die with that hope before him.
Many people view the cross as a symbol of Christianity. Should we use it in worship?