And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him.
In isolation, this – from Luke in the third gospel – is a straightforward, almost matter-of-fact sentence. Who knows how many people had been crucified that year? There were certainly two others that day.
But it would be hard to imagine a more dramatic act than that described in this straightforward, matter of fact statement.
For this was the execution of the Son of God.
In our era of polished crosses – silver to go around our necks and wood to stand in our churches – we must not forget that first century crucifixion was designed not just to kill but to torture. It was, as Tim Keller puts it, ‘the most humiliating and gruesome method of execution.’
Luke’s telling of the event (Luke 23) points to these three aspects of Jesus’ death.
- Jesus was innocent, but took the place of the guilty. There is a great deal of emphasis in the account on Jesus’ innocence. Yet a revolutionary – Barabbas – is freed while Jesus is sent for execution. The innocent dies while the guilty goes free. Still forgiveness is to be found in this man’s condemnation.
- Jesus didn’t save himself, but provided salvation for others. Three times in vv.35-39 someone challenges Jesus to save himself. It would demonstrate who he was. But had he done that, his mission would never have been accomplished.
- Jesus was rejected by many, but acknowledged by some. Many of the figures in the crucifixion story are hostile to Jesus. But in contrast to most of the Roman soldiers, there was the centurion who acknowledged Jesus’ righteousness. In contrast to the rest of the ruling council, there was Joseph of Arimathea who dissented from their decision. And in contrast to his colleague there was the criminal who asked for salvation.