They took Jesus therefore, and He went out, bearing His own cross, to the place called the Place of a Skull, which is called in Hebrew, Golgotha. There they crucified Him, and with Him two other men, one on either side, and Jesus in between. And Pilate wrote an inscription also, and put it on the cross. And it was written, "JESUS THE NAZARENE, THE KING OF THE JEWS." Therefore this inscription many of the Jews read, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, Latin, and in Greek. And so the chief priests of the Jews were saying to Pilate, "Do not write, 'The King of the Jews'; but that He said, 'I am King of the Jews.'" Pilate answered, "What I have written I have written." The soldiers therefore, when they had crucified Jesus, took His outer garments and made four parts, a part to every soldier and also the tunic; now the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece. They said therefore to one another, "Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it, to decide whose it shall be"; that the Scripture might be fulfilled, "They divided My outer garments among them, and for My clothing they cast lots." Therefore the soldiers did these things. But there were standing by the cross of Jesus His mother, and His mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus therefore saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing nearby, He said to His mother, "Woman, behold, your son!" Then He said to the disciple, "Behold, your mother!" And from that hour the disciple took her into his own household.Jesus has been arrested, interrogated, charged, tried, convicted, and sentenced to death, all in one long night. Now the sentence is carried out. They took Jesus then, and he went out bearing his own cross to the place of the Skull, also known as Golgotha. It must have been a heavy burden for one so recently dealt the forty strokes less one. But that load could hardly compare to the load of guilt he carried. For before God, this righteous one stood condemned for the sins of the world. Our guilt lay on him. Though no sin was found in him, he became sin for us. As a penitent he went out, carrying his own cross, which is really our cross, and gave himself up to be crucified.
How that guilt weighed on him we can hardly even imagine. Even the physical pain of the cross, indisputably one of the most horrible ways to die man has devised, even that could not compare with the anguish of heart and soul that came of being the sin-bearer. The other Gospels tell us, for instance, that in his agony in the garden he sweated drops of blood. Even while living he tasted death; his soul was troubled to the point of death. And now to death he goes, to have a sentence carried out—the sentence of man: “Away with him, crucify!”—and the sentence of God: “The soul that sins shall die.”
The sign above his head indicated what crime he was convicted of, what cause of death had been found in him. To irritate of the Jewish leaders, Pilate had written there: “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” Not, “He said, ‘I am the King of the Jews,’” but just, “King of the Jews.” For Pilate this was a chance to get a little of his own back, after being manipulated and pestered into doing what the Jews wanted. When they complained he said, “What I have written, I have written.” He meant, “Leave me alone. I’ve had about enough of your hatchet-faced intransigence, you never give me a break. Well, I’m done with you for today. Go eat your Passover and be happy. I crucified your King, as you wished.”
But Pilate had stumbled upon a truth. The sentence of death was carried out because Jesus is King of the Jews. He’d been in peril of death since the Magi had come from the East, looking for the newborn King of the Jews so they could worship Him. It was no wonder they brought Him myrrh, the perfume used in his burial. He was marked for death from the beginning, because He is King of the Jews. From Herod’s and Pilate’s standpoint, that made him a threat to the state. From the Jews’ standpoint, he threatened religious traditions and institutions, especially having to do with the religion of works and law, as well as their expectations of a this-worldly deliverer. But from God’s standpoint, this King of the Jews must bear the sin of the Jews, and of all mankind, in his body. For all these reasons, the King of the Jews must die. So they crucified Him, and with more truth than anyone knew, the cause of his death was listed as “the King of the Jews.”
I don’t wish to turn your stomach, so I won’t describe in clinical detail the process of dying by crucifixion. You’ve heard it before. It’s enough to know it involved nails through the hands, raw skin against raw wood, thirst and cold, slow suffocation and the buildup of waste in the blood. Bones pulled out of joint, limbs stretched. Add the humiliation of watching the soldiers divide up the clothing and cast lots for a seamless tunic. Small comfort that this indignity happened in fulfillment of Scripture. Add again the sorrow reflected in the faces of his mother, the other women, and his favorite disciple, standing amid the jeering throng to watch him die. In spite of every other burden and cause of suffering, he was anxious for his mother and gathered strength to say to her, “Woman, behold your son,” and to John, “Behold your mother”—so she would be cared for after he was taken up.
But most awful was the guilt he carried, since he had taken our guilt on himself. He was punished for our iniquity. He came before the Father to take responsibility for wrongs not He, but we had done. So it is Jesus who says in Psalm 38: “O Lord, rebuke me not in Thy wrath; chasten me not in Thy burning anger. Thine arrows have sunk deep into me, and Thy hand has pressed down on me. There is no soundness in my flesh because of Thine indignation; there is no health in my bones because of my sin. My iniquities have gone over my head; as a heavy burden they overwhelm me. My wounds stink and fester because of my folly, I am bent over and bowed down, I go mourning all day long. I am benumbed and crushed; I groan because of the agitation of my heart. My heart throbs, my strength fails; the light of my eyes has gone from me. My loved ones and friends stand aloof from my plague; my kinsmen stand afar off… I confess my iniquity, I am full of anxiety because of my sin. My enemies are vigorous and strong; many are those who hate me wrongfully, and those who repay evil for good oppose me because I follow what is good.”
That is Jesus talking in Psalm 38, just as Jesus suffered on the cross for sins not his own. While you cannot imagine that burden, you might have some idea what it’s like. Have you ever had to take responsibility for something you didn’t do? Ever had to apologize or suffer punishment for someone else’s misdeed? Was it ever just easier to confess and get it over with, even though you didn’t do it? Maybe you know how painful it is to humble yourself when you feel righteous, how hard it is to condemn yourself when you’re innocent. Or have you had to say you’re sorry when you don’t think what you did was wrong? Have you had to accept defeat when you knew you deserved victory? Have you had to be the one to apologize and make up when the other person was in the wrong? It’s galling, isn’t it!
Now behold Jesus, having the chastisement of our peace laid on Him. He is the penitent who comes to God on his knees, sorrowing over our sins, accepting the Father’s chastening rod. He is the victim punished for our wrongs, humbled for our missteps, forced to make amends for what we did, to make peace after we started the war. In Christ God bore God’s punishment for us, so we need not be destroyed. Galling? To say the least. Humiliating? Certainly. Frightening, dreadful, painful? Beyond your wildest imagination! But did he let his sense of righteousness or innocence deter him from the task? Not for an instant. Did his fear of pain or death lead him to complain? Not even once. Because he loves you, he unflinchingly did all this for one purpose: your redemption from sin, death, and hell. Without hesitation he paid once and for all what we couldn’t have paid by an eternity in hell. The sentence had to be carried out, one way or another. One way was for God to destroy all he had created, to turn over those he loved to utter destruction. But the way God chose in Christ, was to substitute Himself for us, have the sentence carried out on Himself.
The title read, “King of the Jews.” That was the cause of his death. He is the King who bears the guilt of his people. He is the judge who places his own neck on the block and accepts the very sentence of death He himself decreed on sin. He who is life was deprived of life. But just as the soldiers when dividing up his clothes would not tear the seamless tunic, in the same way Christ’s body and soul, though torn asunder by death, could not stay apart; there is one Christ who cannot be divided. And just as Mary and John found in each other a son and a mother beneath Jesus’ cross, in the same way the merit of Jesus’ death unites us all together in one body, the Church. We have her for a mother and she has us as sons, since Jesus made us God’s children and the Church his bride by giving his life for her, for us.
So the author of life is not destroyed, but his righteousness is proved when he bears the sentence of death for us. And though He dies, He cannot stay dead. His death redeems us from death; his rising again foreshows how you will rise from the dead. And since Jesus has taken away our sins and the indictment against us, since He has nailed it to the cross, we in exchange partake of his righteousness. Your sins are forgiven. You have indestructable life in Christ. You are part of a new family, not by blood descent, but by adoption. All because Jesus bore the guilt of our sins and endured the death sentence in our stead. Thus it is written in the God-breathed Scriptures, and what God has written cannot be altered.