Our lesson this week is our Palm Sunday, Sunday School lesson. This is my favorite Sunday of the year so I am glad that you stopped by to read or listen to the commentary of this week’s lesson. Our lesson this week is the second lesson within the second unit of lessons which is titled – By His Sacrifice. In our lesson this week, we take a look at Jesus hanging on the cross and becoming our propitiation.
Jesus on the Cross
Our lesson opens with Jesus, after being judged by the religious leaders and Pilate, being crucified between two robbers (v.38). The fact that Jesus was hanging between two common thieves shows us what the people thought of Jesus. As we saw in our lesson a couple of weeks ago, the religious leaders desired to kill Jesus (John 5:18). In their hate, the religious leaders went to the Romans and stirred up other Jews to join them in their cause to kill Jesus.
Crucifixion of Jesus
Their accusation against Jesus was that He was a blasphemer that claimed to be the Son of God and the king of the Jews. By the law, blasphemers were to be taken outside the camp and stoned to death (Lev. 24:13-14). I would certainly say that public stoning was a harsh penalty for an innocent person.
Now, I don’t necessarily want to compare stoning to crucifixion so don’t take what I share with you next in that manner. The Romans intended for crucifixion to be the most excruciating death in that those that hung on the cross would suffer long and painful deaths. The Romans intended for crucifixion to also be the most embarrassing death that one could suffer to prevent any sort of uprising against Rome. For Jesus, He was beaten, whipped, and made to carry His cross through the streets and up Golgotha to the place where He was crucified.
To make the crucifixion more humiliating, there were several people to come by to look at and mock Jesus while He hung on the cross. Scripture tells us that some passed by and blasphemed Jesus, wagging their heads (v.39). They then sarcastically mocked Jesus saying that He should save Himself if He really is the Son of God (v.40). What a difference we see here from when Jesus entered Jerusalem and was celebrated by the people (Matt. 21:1-9), but now the people were mocking Him.
Not only were some of the people mocking Jesus, the same religious leaders that despised Jesus, were at the cross to mock Him (vss.41-43). They were also saying that Jesus should prove that He was divine and come down from the cross (v.42).”
Something I referenced in a recent sermon in my series of sermons – God is Love – is the fact that Satan had been working to prevent the offering up of Christ to be our propitiation. I would say that in these moments where the people were suggesting Jesus should “save Himself”, we are still seeing the devil at work.
Thankfully, Christ did not come off the cross. As we saw in our lesson last week, this was all a bitter cup for Jesus to drink but thankfully Jesus committed Himself to drink from the cup and carry out the Father’s will. As I said last week, had Jesus chosen not to drink from the cup, we would be in a world of trouble. Had Jesus not offered Himself up, we would not be living under the mercy and grace that we have today.
Crucified for sinners
As you often hear me say about the crucifixion of Jesus is that Jesus was crucified for us; He was crucified for sinners.
As John said in his first epistle, Jesus is the propitiation for our sins (1 John 2:2); this is to say that Jesus is the atonement offering for all of those who believe. This is a comparison that I draw to the Day of Atonement when the blood of bulls, lambs, and goats were offered up to atone for the sin of the children of Israel. On one of the goats, all the sins of the congregation were laid and it became the scapegoat.
Now, as they mocked Jesus, we are told that from the sixth hour until the ninth hour (by Jewish tradition), darkness fell over the land (v.45). The sixth hour to the ninth, by our clocks, means from noon to 3pm, darkness fell over the land. In Luke’s gospel, Luke stated that the sun was darkened.
Jesus actually hung on the cross for about 6 hours. In Mark’s gospel, Mark states that it was the third hour that they crucified Jesus (Mark 15:25), which means His crucifixion began at 9am. During the first three hours, there was physical light in the world as they hung and mocked Jesus. Though there was physical light, spiritual darkness completely surrounded Jesus. In the final three hours, it became physically dark while spiritually speaking, God’s light was beginning to shine for us.
Scripture tells us around the ninth hour, Jesus cried out, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me (v.46)?” To be clear, Jesus was crying out to the Father. Now, some may wonder did the Father forsaken Christ and if so, why?
To forsake means to renounce or to turn away from entirely; to abandon. Many people see the cross as a physical battle where death is certain. Yet, what I will always point out about the cross is what was taking place spiritually. As I mentioned about the scapegoat, Jesus was becoming the world’s scapegoat as He was taking on all the sins of mankind.
Jesus, who was holy and righteous, without sin, was becoming the very thing that separated mankind from the Lord; He was becoming sin. So, did the Father forsake the Son while He was on the cross. Yes. However, at the same time, because Jesus was becoming sin, I would also turn around and say that He was forsaking the Father as well.
You see, the sinner is one who is not obedient to God’s way but has forsaken it. This is why those that come to the Lord must repent (turn) from their ways of wickedness and turn to the Lord. When you and I repented from our sins, we came to realize that it wasn’t that God had forsaken us but that we had forsaken the Lord in the manner that we walked in (lived).
When the people heard Jesus cry out, some of them thought that He was calling on Elijah (v.47). This is because in Hebrew, Jesus cried out, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani.” Aside from Jesus saying, “Eli, Eli,” I have always found it fascinating that the people recognized Elijah. I am going to assume that if any of the religious leaders were still hanging around at that time, one of them may have made this statement.
One of the soldiers went to get Jesus some sour wine and offer it to Him to drink (v.48). Now, some have often just glanced at this scripture and thought this soldier was being sympathetic to Jesus, but he wasn’t. Crucifixion was meant to dehydrate the body with the long periods that people would typically hang on the cross. When it took people a really long time to die on the cross, the Romans would begin to break bones or offer bitter wine to either numb the pain, or in this case, mock “the King”.
When the soldier offered the wine to Jesus, we will see that the people were still watching this as if it was theater; the Romans certainly viewed crucifixion as entertainment. They said to the soldier, “Let Him alone; let us see if Elijah will come to save Him (v.49).” Some of the last things Jesus witnessed through His physical eyes were people, in need of saving, mocking Him. At the moment, Jesus yielded up His spirit (v.50).
Luke, in his gospel, wrote that Jesus cried with a loud voice and said, “Father, ‘into Your hands I commit My spirit (Luke 23:46).’” Jesus’ death was, yes, very harsh. Yet, at the same time, we find that Jesus wasn’t gasping for air when He drew His last breath. In fact, I would tell you that Jesus voluntarily gave up the ghost, as it is stated in the King James Version – the battle was over and the Lord had won.
After yielding His spirit, there were all sorts of, let’s say, supernatural things to occur. We are told that the veil of the temple was torn in two, the earth quaked, the rocks began to split, and the graves opened! There is no way you could have been standing there and witnessing all of this and think to yourself, ‘this is normal’.
On top of all of this, bodies of dead saints that had died, were resurrected after His resurrection and they went into Jerusalem and appeared to many (vss.51-53)! Again, I say to you, there is no way you would have been there and witnessed all of this and thought to yourself, ‘this is also normal’. None of this was natural!
Both Peter and Paul wrote about how after Jesus died on the cross, He went to Hades, proclaimed victory, and freed the Old Testament saints (Eph. 4:7-9; 1 Pet. 3:18-19). The resurrection of the Old Testament saints after Jesus’ resurrection would confirm this thought. When the centurion and those who were with them witnessed all that happened, all he could say was this: “Truly this was the Son of God!” A gentile became a believer that day.
Now, I’d like to imagine that many began to think differently after that day. In fact, quite a few religious leaders ended up becoming those that would walk in the way of Christ after His death and resurrection. Though the crucifixion of Christ is sad, we ought not be sad that Jesus died. Let us remember, the reason Jesus was manifested in this world was so that He could be crucified for sinners. Jesus’ death is the reason why we have the opportunity today to inherit the kingdom of God and join in fellowship with Him.