The Rejection of Israel's Messiah - Part III (Luke 23:26-49)
Luke 23:26-32 As they led him away, they seized Simon from Cyrene, who was on his way in from the country, and put the cross on him and made him carry it behind Jesus. 27 A large number of people followed him, including women who mourned and wailed for him. 28 Jesus turned and said to them, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children. 29 For the time will come when you will say, ‘Blessed are the barren women, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’ 30 Then “‘they will say to the mountains, “Fall on us!” and to the hills, “Cover us!” ‘ 31 For if men do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?” 32 Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed.
The Crucifixion of Christ
33 When they came to the place called the Skull, there they crucified him, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left. 34 Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And they divided up his clothes by casting lots. 35 The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Christ of God, the Chosen One.” 36 The soldiers also came up and mocked him. They offered him wine vinegar 37 and said, “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.” 38 There was a written notice above him, which read: This is the King of the Jews. 39 One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!” 40 But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? 41 We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43 Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.” 44 It was now about the sixth hour, and darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour, 45 for the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. 46 Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he had said this, he breathed his last. 47 The centurion, seeing what had happened, praised God and said, “Surely this was a righteous man.” 48 When all the people who had gathered to witness this sight saw what took place, they beat their breasts and went away. 49 But all those who knew him, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.
People never cease to amaze me. One area of fascination, to me at least, is the way in which people view themselves and God. There are those (few) who say there is no God, but these are few I think. The majority of folks believe there is a God, and yet find a way to avoid Jesus Christ as either Savior or Lord. If some of these folks were honest, they would say they have rejected the claims of Christ, not because He claimed to be God and not because He was not God. Their reason, I think, would be because they believe that man is not nearly as bad as God’s Word says, nor is God is not nearly as good as His Word says. Put even more crassly, they would say that man is kind, compassionate, and good, while God is cruel and evil.
While few would be so blunt, many really believe this. The goodness of man is a “doctrine” taught in every corner. It is taught in the liberal seminaries and institutions of higher learning. It is popularly (and how popular it is) taught in the media. It is said that man may, from time to time, deviate from his intrinsic goodness, but this may be explained by a bad background, or a bad environment, and certainly by bad institutions. God, on the other hand, has a lot of explaining to do. If God is both good, and powerful, and all-knowing, then why is there so much suffering to be seen, and much of it happening to the innocent? What of the heathen in Africa who are destined to hell, yet have never heard the name of Christ or of Christianity? What of the children who die cruelly at the hand of disease, war, or abuse?
No, many will have nothing to do with a God who fails to “rise” to the level of their expectations and demands. “If that is the kind of God who is there,” they would tell us, “then I don’t want anything to do with Him.” They would rather eternally protest in hell, with other good folks, than to live in heaven with God, and with hypocritical saints.
This kind of thinking is not only popular—whenever men are honest enough to admit to it—but it is also dead wrong. When we come to the crucifixion of our Lord, all would have to admit that this is, without question, the worst moment in the life of our Lord. We all justify our own unacceptable actions by saying that, “it was a bad time for me” or something similar. Surely, if there was ever a “bad time” for Jesus, when acting out of character would have been understandable, it would have been at this point in His life. And yet what we will find is that even at this moment, Jesus continued to act fully “in character.” This incident, on the road to Calvary, and then at the sight of the crucifixion itself, reveals both God and man as they truly are. It exposes man as incredibly cruel, and God as amazingly kind and compassionate. It is man who is evil, and God who is good, not only in this text but everywhere in the Bible, and throughout all of life as well. Let us look at our text with this in focus.
The Structure of our Text
The events surrounding the death of our Lord, as described by Luke, fall into several distinct sections. The first of these is the via dolorosa, the way to the cross, described in verses 26-32. The second is the actual crucifixion scene, the events surrounding the execution of our Lord, taking place on Calvary, in verses 33-43. The final section, in verses 44-49, is the account of the death of our Lord, along with Luke’s description of the impact of these events on some of those who witnessed it—namely, the centurion, the crowd, and the women who had accompanied Jesus from Galilee.
The approach of this lesson will be to consider the crucifixion of Christ, as described by Luke, in more than one lesson. In this lesson, we will consider verses 26-43, with a focus on the cruelty of men and on the kindness of God in the person of our Lord Jesus Christ. In our next lesson, we will study verses 33-49, with the focus on the change which Calvary brought in the lives of many of those who witnessed this incredible event. The lives of all who were present would never be the same from this point onward.
Characteristics of Luke’s
Account of the Crucifixion
Before we begin our study of some of the particulars of the passage, let us take a step backward, characterizing the account as a whole, particularly in comparison to the parallel accounts found in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and John.
First, Luke’s account is one that is obtained second-hand, from witnesses who personally saw what took place. From all that we know, Luke was not a personal disciple of Jesus, and not an “apostle” in any sense that the 12 were. Luke was a man who traveled with Paul (cf. the “we” passages in Acts 16:10-17; 20:5-16; 21:1-18; 27:1—28:16), and who was probably greatly impacted by his life and ministry. It would seem that Luke had a fair bit of contact with the personal witnesses to these events in the life of our Lord, and that his account in Luke is the result of research he did over a period of time. He may well have recognized the need for a gospel account that was geared to Gentile saints during his ministry with Paul, and set his hand to the task, inspired by the Holy Spirit as he did so. Having said all this, we should realize that Matthew and John were witnesses (John alone stayed close to the Lord, to provide the great detail of Christ’s trials and crucifixion), and Mark’s account may be largely gained through Peter.
Second, Luke’s account is selective. Luke’s account of the trials, crucifixion, and death of Jesus leaves out much that has been reported elsewhere, in the parallel accounts. Luke, unlike the other gospel writers, does not often seek to emphasize the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies,119 simply because, I believe, these were not well-known to the Gentile audience that he was addressing.
Third, Luke’s account is unique, making contributions omitted in the other accounts. In this study and the next, we will be looking at three incidents which are not reported elsewhere in the gospels:
(1) The account of the words of Jesus to the “Women of Jerusalem,” vv. 27-31.
(2) The account of the conversion of the thief on the cross, vv. 38-43.
(3) The words of our Lord, “Father, forgive them, … in verse 34.
As we study the account of our Lord’s death according to Luke’s gospel, we shall endeavor to be aware of what other gospel writers have written, and yet to focus on that which Luke has recorded, and on the unique message which the Spirit of God intended to communicate through this book.
The Via Dolorosa:
On the Way to the Cross
26 As they led him away, they seized Simon from Cyrene, who was on his way in from the country, and put the cross on him and made him carry it behind Jesus. 27 A large number of people followed him, including women who mourned and wailed for him. 28 Jesus turned and said to them, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children. 29 For the time will come when you will say, ‘Blessed are the barren women, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’ 30 Then “‘they will say to the mountains, “Fall on us!” and to the hills, “Cover us!” ‘ 31 For if men do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?” 32 Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed.
There are two major incidents described in Luke’s gospel, both of which occurred on the way to Calvary.120 The first was the commandeering of Simon of Cyrene. The second was Jesus’ response to the wailing “women of Jerusalem,” with regard to the danger which lay ahead for them as a part of the generation which rejected Him. The incidents, at first glance, seem unrelated, but they are not. These two incidents are both prophetic of the unpleasant “things to come” for the nation Israel, and specifically for those who lived in Jerusalem.
A very large crowd followed Jesus out of the city of Jerusalem, as He made His way to “Calvary,” the place of His execution. While we do not know for certain where Calvary was, we would at least be safe in concluding that it was outside the city. Thus, Jesus, followed by a large crowd, a crowd no smaller than that which is described as being in Jerusalem at Pentecost, after our Lord’s death and resurrection:
Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven … Parthians, Medes and Elamites; resident of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Lybya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs … (Acts 2:5, 9-11a).
Thus, it is not far from the facts to say that this crowd must have, to a fair degree, represented the whole world.
As Jesus, bearing His cross, and the large crowd which followed, made their way out of the city of Jerusalem, there was at least one man going in the opposite direction. Simon was coming into the city from the country, Luke tells us, and thus he may have passed by Jesus just at the time when He collapsed beneath the burden of His cross. He was greatly weakened by His agonizing hours in the garden at Gethsemane (where he sweat, as it were, great drops of blood), and by His numerous beatings, handed out during the night of His arrest (Luke 22:63-65), at the palace of Herod (23:11), and by Pilate, at least once (Luke 23:16,22; cf. Matthew 27:27-31; Mark 15:16-20).
We do not know a great deal about Simon. He was from Cyrene, a city in Africa (cf. Acts 2:10; 6:9) founded by the Greeks, but with a fairly large Jewish population. He was, according to Mark’s account, the father of Alexander and Rufus (15:21). By inference, we might conclude that this man, along with his sons, came to faith in Christ, perhaps as a direct result of this incident described by Luke. But this is not the point which Luke wants to get across. Luke’s words tell us very little, but they tell us enough to prove his point. Simon was an “innocent by-stander,” so far as the rejection and crucifixion of Christ was concerned. He was a man from another place, a faraway place, and he was not in Jerusalem; he was heading to it, from the country. He was as removed from the rejection of Jesus as was possible. And yet this man was the one who was made to carry the cross of our Lord the rest of the way to Calvary. Suffice it to say, at this point, that it was the Roman soldiers who commandeered this man, Simon, and who forced him to go in the opposite direction, with his burden being the cross of another man, a man whom he may never have seen before. The primary reason for the inclusion of this story is yet to be seen.
The second incident on the way to the cross involved a large crowd of people who followed Jesus to His place of execution. It is not, however, the large crowd that is in focus. Our Lord looked not at the over-all crowd, but to a small segment of it—those women from Jerusalem (not the Galilean women who had followed Him to Jerusalem, cf. 23:49) who came along, wailing and mourning for Jesus. Had Barabbas been crucified that day, as he should have been, there would have been a very small party of mourners indeed. Most of Jerusalem would have celebrated his death—good riddance. Only his mother, and perhaps a very few other family members would have mourned that man’s death. But with Jesus there were many more mourners. The reason for their mourning seems to be their knowledge that Jesus was to die, but that He was innocent, indeed, righteous.
Jesus turned to these mourning women with words that must have caught them off guard. He told them not to weep for Him, but for themselves and for their children. The tragedy to which Jesus was referring was that which had caused Him to weep as He had entered Jerusalem at His “triumphal entry”:
As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes. The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you” (Luke 19:41-44).
The future destruction of Jerusalem, which caused Jesus to weep as He entered that city, was the same destruction over which the women of Jerusalem were now told to weep. These women should not mourn so much over Jesus’ death (after all, it would be the cause of their salvation), but they should mourn over that destruction which would take such a terrible toll on them and on their children. Looking back, we know that the destruction was that brought on the city and its inhabitants by Titus, the commander of the Roman army which sacked the city and executed thousands (or more) of the people.
At the time of the writing of this gospel, Luke himself did not know the particulars because this was, in his day, still prophecy. The gospel of Luke was written approximately ten years before the destruction of Jerusalem by Titus and his Roman army. In the providence of God, these words were recorded, words which spoke of the coming destruction of Jerusalem several years ahead of the event. These words of Jesus, pertaining to the downfall of Jerusalem, were prophetic, even from Luke’s point of view, at the time of his writing. Luke had not yet seen these words fulfilled. He did not know exactly how God would bring their fulfillment to pass. But they were a prophecy, given to the Gentiles, pertaining to God’s use of a Gentile army to punish this wicked generation for rejecting the Messiah. The impact of Luke’s gospel may well have been intensified by the fulfillment of Jesus’ words here. The Gentile readers should have been humbled by the realization that the sovereign God of the Bible, the God of Israel, could use a disobedient and wicked Gentile world power to accomplish His purpose, as a divine chastening rod, though not for the first time, mind you (cf. Habakkuk 1).
What then was Jesus telling these women, and why did Luke include this episode when no other gospel writer chose to do so? In order to grasp what Jesus was saying, we must understand the change in the pronouns as the text develops. Look at the text again, giving special attention to the underscored words:
27 A large number of people followed him, including women who mourned and wailed for him. 28 Jesus turned and said to them, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children. 29 For the time will come when [they]121 will say, ‘Blessed are the barren women, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’ 30 Then “‘they will say to the mountains, “Fall on us!” and to the hills, “Cover us!” ‘122 31 For if men do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?”
The first group Jesus referred to in verses 27-28 is the “you group.” Jesus spoke to the “women of Jerusalem” as “you.” They were not to weep for Him, but for themselves and for their children. The tragedy is not that which Jesus was experiencing, but that which these women and their children were yet to undergo. The next group is the “they group,” referred to in verses 29-30. This is a reference to men more generally, especially those who would be living in Jerusalem at the time of the tragedy. Things will be so bad that child-bearing, normally a blessing to women (with barrenness being a curse), will be considered a curse. Better not to be a mother, than to be a mother at this future time, Jesus said.
The last group, referred to in verse 31, is “another ‘they’ group,” which this translation renders “men.” The reference to this group is the key to understanding this entire section. The “men” to whom Jesus was referring is clearly (in my opinion) the Roman army which is to come to Jerusalem, to sack it, and to bring great suffering to the city, especially to the women and children.
Jesus’ reference to the two trees in verse 31, the “green tree” and the “dry tree” is puzzling to some. I do not see this as a technical reference to the terminology of the Old Testament, such as Ezekiel 17:24. The Gentile audience to whom Luke is writing would not be familiar, I suspect, with such “in house” terminology of the Old Testament saint or the Jew of that day. I believe we will understand Jesus’ words once we have decided on the identity of the “men” to whom He refers, on what these “men” do, and on what the difference is between a green tree and a dry one.
The analogy is a simple one, I believe. The “men” are the Roman soldiers. Jesus is saying, in context, “If the Roman army will deal with me in this way now, what will they do to you, then?” That which the Roman army is doing is unjustly and cruelly killing an innocent (indeed, a righteous) man. If they will crucify a righteous man now, what will they do then? What s the difference between “now” and “then”? It is the difference between “greenness” and “dryness.” A tree is alive and vital when it has life; when that life is absent, the tree is dead. A growing tree (especially in some parts of the world, including Israel) is something of great value, something which is treated tenderly. A dead, lifeless, “dry” tree is not prized, but is used for fuel—it is fit only for the fire. Jerusalem’s “greenness” is the presence of her God. Her “dryness” is the absence of God. Jesus is therefore saying, “If, when the Messiah, the very Son of God, is in your fair city, and the Roman army deals with Me as such, what do you think your destiny will be in My absence, when Jerusalem is abandoned by God, and fit only for the fire of destruction?”
It is now time to go back to verse 26, for here is where the thought of our Lord (and Luke) originates. Who was it that commandeered Simon of Cyrene to stop his journey, to forsake his plans, to take up Jesus’ cross,123 and to go in the opposite direction. It was the Roman army which compelled Simon to do so. It was an act of cruelty.124 This was but a small taste of what was to come. While crucifixion was not a Jewish means of executing men, nor was it all that common at the time of our Lord’s death, crucifixion would be the rule of the day when the Romans came to sack the city of Jerusalem. It is said that thousands were crucified, at least, and that there was a shortage of crosses and of wood to build them, due to the demand. What was happening to Jesus was, indeed, the tip of the iceberg.
And then, there were the women of Jerusalem. Would they weep because the Roman army had been persuaded to condemn the Christ and to crucify Him? This was nothing, comparatively speaking (from their point of view), to what the Roman army was going to do in the days to come. This army, fed up with the rebellion of this nation, was going to take out its frustration and vengeance on the people. Those who would be especially victimized would be the women and children—as is always the case in a time of war.
I think the words of Jesus do much to explain what is said to the Jews in Acts pertaining to repentance, believing in Jesus as the Christ, and being baptized as a public testimony to their faith. Peter’s preaching at Pentecost called upon his Jewish audience to be saved “from this perverse generation” (cf. Acts 2:40). That generation of Israelites who lived in Israel at the time of Jesus, and especially those who lived in Jerusalem, had a particular privilege in seeing and hearing Messiah. They also had a greater guilt for having rejected Him. The sacking of Jerusalem was to be a special judgment of God on that generation and on that city for their rejection of Jesus as God’s Messiah. We will never understand the preaching of the apostles to the people of Jerusalem at and after Pentecost until we have understood the peculiar guilt and doom which will come upon this city.
Back, however, to the point which Luke is trying to make here. There is a distinct emphasis here, which I believe the Holy Spirit was conveying through Luke’s words. Luke has been constructing this text in a way that would highlight the contrast between the cruelty of men (specifically the Roman army—in the commandeering of Simon, and, in the future “rape” of the city of Jerusalem) and the compassion of the Lord Jesus, Who thinks not of His own suffering, but of those who follow after Him, mourning. It is unbelieving men who are cruel, and it is God Who is kind, contrary to many popular misconceptions of God and man. This contrast is to be heightened in the next section, for in the events which took place at the crucifixion of our Lord the cruelty of man is emphatic and repeated, and the kindness and compassion of our Lord is so awesome, some think the very text which describes it is not a part of the original text.125
The Cross, Man’s
Cruelty, and God’s Compassion
33 When they came to the place called the Skull, there they crucified him, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left. 34 Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And they divided up his clothes by casting lots. 35 The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Christ of God, the Chosen One.” 36 The soldiers also came up and mocked him. They offered him wine vinegar 37 and said, “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.” 38 There was a written notice above him, which read: This is the King of the Jews. 39 One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!” 40 But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? 41 We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43 Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”
It is my intention in the remainder of this exposition to focus on two topics, both underscored (and contrasted) in the verses above. The first is the compassion and kindness of God, and the second is the cruelty of man. Notice that Luke begins with the compassion of Christ:
Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (verse 34).
There were many things spoken by dying men, hanging from their own cross, but these words were new, unheard of before. The name of God was, perhaps, frequently to be heard, but only in the form of profanity, or, at best, in a cry for help or mercy. But Jesus prayed for the forgiveness of those who were taking His life.
What was Jesus praying for here, and why was He doing so? First and foremost, I believe we should understand Jesus’ words to have a specific reference. While He had come to die for the sins of the world, so that the sins of men would be forgiven, Jesus is here praying for a specific forgiveness, as I understand it. He is praying that the sin of these people be forgiven. That is, He is praying that those who were participants in His rejection and death be forgiven of this specific sin, the sin of crucifying the very Son of God. The reason, Jesus said, was because of their ignorance. Their ignorance was also specific. It was the ignorance of who He was. They knew that He claimed to be the Messiah, the Son of God, but they did not believe Him. Had they known that this One was the only begotten Son of God, they would surely not have put Him to death, nor would they have mocked Him. They would have rejected Him, but not ridiculed Him.
I believe that Jesus’ prayer conveyed several things. Among other things, it conveyed the heart of the Son, and of the Father. It revealed the compassion of our Lord, who came to seek and to save sinners, and the Father, who sent Him. But perhaps most of all, the prayer of our Lord may have spared the city of Jerusalem from immediate destruction. We tend to focus on our Lord, and on the taunting of the people that He prove His deity by coming down from the cross. But think of the restraint of the Father. How would you feel toward this city, this people, if they were treating your son in this way? The Holy Father, to whom Jesus was praying, is the One who said to Moses on Mt. Sinai, at the sin of Israel in worshipping the golden calf,
“I have seen these people,” the LORD said to Moses, “and they are a stiff-necked people. Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them. Then I will make you into a great nation” (Exodus 32:9-10).
If God the Father wished to destroy the nation Israel for their idolatry while Moses was on Mt. Sinai, what do you think God the Father would liked to have done to these stiff-necked Israelites (and Gentiles) who were mocking His Son and who were putting Him to death? I think Jesus’ prayer spared the lives of these people and delayed the wrath of God until after His resurrection, and after the gospel was preached to them so that they would no longer be ignorant of His identity, and so that they might repent and be saved from the destruction of their own generation. The prayer of our Lord was thus answered in the salvation of many (e.g. Pentecost, Acts 2) and in the delay of God’s wrath for the rest, so that they had ample opportunity to repent and be saved.
If Luke has underscored the compassion of our Lord as evidenced by this, His statement, from the cross, he has also informed us of the incredible cruelty, which is also seen at the cross. First, we find the cruelty of the soldiers:
And they divided up his clothes by casting lots (verse 34b).
The soldiers, as can happen in such tasks, became hardened to their task and to the suffering it caused. There Jesus was, the innocent, righteous Son of God, hanging from a cross, His blood being shed for our sins. And there they were, on the ground below, rolling the dice to see who got what. They were only interested in the material gain they would receive from Jesus’ death, but they were not interested in His suffering and sorrow. They were aloof, while He was in agony. They were seeking a little gain, while He was giving up His life. How cruel!
And this was not the only cruelty of the soldiers.126 Later, they would mock Jesus by offering Him wine vinegar:
The soldiers also came up and mocked him. They offered him wine vinegar 37 and said, “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself” (verses 36-37).
Kings were offered wine, but only the finest. That which was offered to Jesus was the “dregs,” the cheapest form possible. It was thus an act of mockery as the text indicates. Jesus, in the process of His mocking by the people, was given a mock scepter (a reed), a mock royal robe, a mock crown (of thorns), and a mock submission and worship. How appropriate (or at least consistent) that He should likewise be given a mock toast.
And then there were the people. Some would suggest that the people were only by-standers, and that it was only their leaders who reviled Jesus. This may be so, technically, but I am convinced the people’s idle curiosity was culpable. The word “even” in verse 35 seems to link, in some way, the sins of the people with those of their leaders. These people, by their presence, were participating in this cruel and evil execution of Christ. They were as cruel in their curiosity as the “rubber-neckers” are as they pass by an accident, looking to see how great the damages or injuries were.
Then there was the exceeding cruelty of the religious leaders (verse 35). How “out of character” they were, railing at Jesus, mocking Him, and daring Him to come down. Nearly always, at executions, the clergy is present, but with a view to ministering to the one being put to death. Not so here. They were adding to His suffering, not seeking to minister to him.
Even Pilate, in absentia, was adding to the cruelty of the moment. He had not only found this innocent man guilty and beaten Him, He had sanctioned His execution. He may not have been present, but none of this could have happened without his permission, and thus, his participation. Pilate’s participation and his cruelty were symbolized by the sign which hung above the head of Jesus, which, in mockery, titled Him, “King of the Jews.”
There were many forms which the rejection of Jesus took, as seen there at the cross of Christ, but all of them were cruel. They all had this in common. And they had other elements in common as well. They all rejected Christ as what He Himself claimed to be, the “King of the Jews,” the “Messiah,” the “Son of God.” They rejected Jesus as what He claimed to be. And this rejection was not based on the fact that Jesus was guilty of any sin, or even of any crime, but rather of failing to meet men’s expectations of how Messiah, should—indeed, how Messiah must—perform in order to be accepted. All of those present at the cross who rejected Jesus insisted that if He were the Messiah, He should first of all save Himself. What they failed to grasp was that the only way He could save others was not by saving Himself, but by giving up His life, as the once-for-all sacrifice for the sins of men. He was innocent, but He died in the sinner’s place, so that the sinner might be forgiven. Jesus may not have acted in accordance with men’s expectations or demands, but He did act in the only way possible to save sinners, by His substitutionary death, in the place of the sinner, bearing his, or her, punishment.
Of what then was Christ guilty? He was not guilty of cruelty; the people were guilty of this. Jesus was “guilty” of compassion. He was guilty of being both God and God-like. Cruel men, who regard themselves to be good, must likewise regard kindness to be evil. From the very outset of Jesus’ ministry, one of the first and strongest protests against His practice and preaching was that it was marked by compassion. He came to seek and to save sinners, and the “righteous” did not like it at all. He associated with the unworthy, and the “worthy” did not appreciate it. In the final analysis, men reject Jesus because He is good, because He is kind and compassionate, and because we are evil and cruel. If the cross of Christ revealed anything about man and about God it was this: Men are incredibly cruel; God is unfathomably compassionate.
What then of those who say they reject God and His salvation, because God is really cruel, while man is really kind? They are ignorant. More than this, they are blinded—blinded by Satan, who keeps men from seeing things as they are, and thus justifying their own sin, they pave the way for their own destruction (cf. 2 Corinthians 4:4). It is only as the Spirit of God enlightens the minds of lost men, and as He quickens them to repent of their sin and to believe on the sinless Son of God and to accept His compassion, that men can be saved. Have you acknowledged your cruelty, your sin—and His kindness? I urgently must tell you that the kindness of God has limits. It is limited to a period of time in which men are given the opportunity to repent and to believe. And then, it will consummate in the wrath of God, such as that of which Jesus spoke to the women of Jerusalem, such as that which God brought on Jerusalem through the wrath of the sinful Roman army. The final outpouring of God’s wrath is yet to come, and it will be experienced by men for all eternity, if they reject the salvation which Christ made possible on the cross of Calvary. May you receive it today.
119 For example, in Luke 23:34, the NASB renders the following words, all in caps: “AND THEY CAST LOTS, DIVIDING UP HIS GARMENTS AMONG THEMSELVES.” In John 19:24, the same reference is found, but introduced with the words, “that the Scripture might be fulfilled, … ”
John sought to show that what happened was the fulfillment of prophecy. While Luke may intend for those who are aware of the prophecy to be aware of its fulfillment, I believe his principle purpose is to focus on this event as an evidence of the cruelty and lack of compassion on the part of the soldiers.
121 Unfortunately, the translators of the NIV departed from the original text, which clearly indicates that the rendering here should not be “you” (NIV), but “they” (NASB, King James Version, Amplified). The Jerusalem Bible perhaps best catches the sense by rendering it “people”:
“For the days will surely come when people will say, ‘Happy are those who are barren, the wombs that have never borne, the breasts that have never suckled!”
123 It is utterly incredible to me that some commentators would refer to Simon of Cyrene as a “model of discipleship.” Jesus urged men to take up their own cross voluntarily, and to follow Him. Simon was no volunteer, and the cross was not Simon’s, but that of our Lord. He may have become a believer, and a disciple, but at the beginning he is a mock-disciple, the opposite of what our Lord advocated.
124 Those who would look on Simon as a “model disciple” have to water down the words which speak of his being forced into labor, which undermines the very point which Luke and our Lord were attempting to emphasize.
125 Liberal scholars are inclined to reject the originality of verse 34 on the basis of the fact that it is not recorded in the parallel accounts, and because some texts omit it. The fact that some texts omit these words, and that some scholars reject them is but a testimony to the fact that God’s thoughts and ways are vastly beyond our own, so that what Jesus does sounds so foreign to man’s ears we are tempted to reject it as non-authentic. What a commentary on both man and on God.
126 I am not certain that the “soldiers” mentioned in verse 34 are the same “soldiers” mentioned in verse 36. There were four soldiers actually carrying out the execution of the Lord Jesus, and these were those dividing the clothing of our Lord. But there would have been many other soldiers present, at least to keep order at such a potentially explosive occasion. Thus, the second group of soldiers, who offered Jesus the vinegar-wine, could have been a different group, but not necessarily so.