Gleanings in the Godhead
by A.W. Pink
Revised: February 14, 2005
Part 2: Excellencies Which
Pertain to God the Son as Christ
34. The Crucifixion of Christ
"They Crucified Him . . . and sitting down they watched Him there" (Matthew 27:35-36). The reference is to Roman soldiers, as is clear from John 19:23, and confirmed by Matthew 27:54. They were authorized to carry out the death sentence passed by Pilate, and into their hands the governor had delivered the Savior (vv. 26-27). With coarse scurrility they executed the task. Adding insult to injury, they exposed the Lord Jesus to the indignities of a mock coronation: robing Him in scarlet, crowning Him with thorns, hailing Him as King of the Jews. Giving full expression to their enmity, they spat upon Him, smote Him with a reed, and mocked Him. Restoring to Him His raiment, they conducted Him to Golgotha and affixed Him to the cross. Having gambled for His garments, they sat down to watch Him to frustrate any attempt at rescue His friends might make, and to wait until life was extinct. Let us note three things:
First, the circumstances. The religious leaders of Israel had taken the initiative, for there "assembled together the chief priests, and the scribes, and the elders of the people, unto the palace of the high priest, who was called Caiaphas. And consulted that they might take Jesus by subtilty, and kill him" (Matthew 26:3-4). How many of the foulest crimes which have blackened the pages of history were perpetrated by ecclesiastical dignitaries. Yet the common people were in full accord with their leaders, for "the multitude" (Mark 15:8) requested Pilate to adhere to his custom of releasing a prisoner to them. When he gave them the choice between Christ and Barabbas, they preferred the latter; and when the governor asked what was their pleasure concerning the former, they cried, "Crucify him" (Mark 15:13). It was to "content the people" that Pilate released Barabbas (v. 15). When Pilate reasoned with them "all the people said, his blood be on us and on our children" (Matthew 27:25). And Pilate, the administrator of the Roman law, which boasted of justice, acceded to their unjust demands.
Second, the scene. It was the outskirts of Jerusalem, a city more memorable than either Rome, London, or New York; the residence of David, the royal city, the seat of Israel’s kings. The city witnessed the magnificence of Solomon’s reign, and here the temple stood. Here the Lord Jesus had taught and wrought miracles, and into this city He had ridden a few days earlier seated upon an ass as the multitudes cried, "Hosanna to the son of David: Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest" (Matthew 21:9)—so fickle is human nature. Israel had rejected their King and therefore He was conducted beyond the bounds of the city, so that He "suffered without the gate" (Heb. 13:12). The actual place of the crucifixion was Golgotha, signifying "the place of a skull." Nature had anticipated the awful deed, since the contour of the ground resembled a death’s head. Luke gives the Gentile name "Calvary" (Luke 23:33), for the guilt of that death rested on both Jew and Gentile.
Third, the time. This was as significant and suggestive as the historical and topographical associations of the place itself. Christ was crucified on the fourteenth of Nisan, or about the beginning of April. It was the first of Israel’s great national feasts, the most important season in the Jewish year. It was the Passover, a solemn celebration of that night when all the firstborn sons of the Hebrews were spared from the angel of death in the land of Egypt. At this season great multitudes thronged Jerusalem, for it was one of the three annual occasions when every male Israelite was commanded to appear before Jehovah in the temple (Deut. 16:16). Thus, huge crowds had journeyed there from all parts of the land. It was in no obscure corner nor in secret that the Great Sacrifice was offered up to God. And the fourteenth of Nisan was the day appointed for it, for the Lord Jesus was the antitypical Lamb. "Christ our passover is sacrificed for us" (1 Cor. 5:7). On no other day could He be slain. At an earlier date they "sought to take him: but no man laid hands on him, because his hour was not yet come" (John 7:30)."They crucified him . . . and sitting down they watched him there." My divisions are simple: what they saw; what I see; what do you see?
What They Saw
They behold the most amazing event of all history, the most awe-inspiring spectacle men ever saw, the most tragic and yet the most glorious deed ever performed. They beheld God incarnate taken by wicked hands and slain—and at the same time the Redeemer voluntarily laying down His life for those who have forfeited every claim upon Him. To the soldiers it was an ordinary event, the execution of a criminal; and thus it is with most who hear the Gospel. It falls on their ears as a religious commonplace. To the Roman soldiers, at least for a while, Christ appeared only as a dying Jew; thus it is with the multitude today.
They beheld the incomparable perfections of the Crucified One . How immeasurably different the mien of the suffering Savior from what they had witnessed from others in similar circumstances! No cursing of His lot, no reviling of His enemies, no maledictions upon themselves. The very reverse. His lips are engaged in prayer. "Father", He says, "forgive them; for they know not what they do" (Luke 23:34). How amazed they must have been as they heard the Blessed One on the tree making "intercession for the transgressors" (Isa. 53:12). The two thieves crucified with Him mocked the Redeemer (Matthew 27:44); but at the eleventh hour one of them was "granted repentance unto life" (Acts 11:18). Turning to Jesus, he said, "Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom" (Luke 23:42). The Lord did not decline his appeal and say, "you have sinned beyond the reach of mercy"; but answered, ‘Verily, I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise" (v. 43). They witnessed an unparalleled display of sovereign grace to one of the greatest of sinners.
They beheld most mysterious phenomena . They sat down to "watch Him," but after a while they were no longer able to do so. At midday it suddenly became midnight. "From the sixth hour [after sunrise] there was darkness over all the land unto the ninth hour" (Matthew 27:45). It was as though the sun refused to shine on such a scene, as though nature itself mourned over such a sight. During those three hours a transaction took place between Christ and God which was infinitely too sacred for finite eyes to gaze upon, a mystery which no mortal mind can fully enter. As soon as the Savior committed His spirit into the hands of the Father, "Behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom, and the earth did quake and the rocks rent; and the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose" (Matthew 27:51-52). This was no ordinary sufferer; it was the Creator of heaven and earth, and heaven and earth expressed their sympathy.
They beheld and heard what was blessed to their conviction and conversion . Pharaoh witnessed a
most remarkable display of God’s power in the plagues which He sent upon Egypt, but far from
inclining him to repentance he continued to harden his heart. Thus it always is with the unregenerate
while they are left to themselves; neither the most astonishing tokens of God’s goodness nor the most
awe-inspiring of judgments melt them. But God was pleased to soften the callous hearts of these
Roman soldiers and illumine their heathen minds. "Now when the centurion, and they that were with
him, watching Jesus, saw the earthquake, and those things that were done, they feared greatly, saying,
Truly this was the Son of God" (Matthew 27:54).
We regard this as another of the miracles at Calvary—a miracle of amazing grace. And we expect to meet in heaven the man who hammered the nails into the Savior’s hands and thrust the spear into His side—God’s answer to Christ’s prayer, "Father, forgive them." So there is hope for the vilest sinner if he will surrender to the Lordship of Christ and trust in His blood.
I see an unveiling of the character of man . "Now all things that are discovered [margin] are made manifest by the light: for whatsoever doth make manifest is light" (Eph. 5:13). Christ is "the true light" (John 1:9)—the essential, divine, all-revealing light; consequently all men and all things stood exposed in His presence. The worst things predicated in Scripture of fallen human nature were exemplified in the days of Christ. God says that the heart of man is "desperately wicked" (Jer. 17:9), and it was so demonstrated by the treatment of His beloved Son. Scarcely was He born into this world than men made a determined effort to slay Him. Though He constantly went about doing good, relieving the distressed, and ministering to the souls and bodies of the needy, He was so little appreciated that He had to say, "The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head" (Matthew 8:20). On one occasion "they besought him that he would depart out of their coasts" (Matthew 8:34).
Not only was Christ unwelcome here, but also men hated Him "without a cause" (John 15:25). He gave them every reason to admire Him, but they had an inveterate aversion for Him. The Word declares, "the carnal mind is enmity against God" (Rom. 8:7). Multitudes go through the form of paying homage to God, but of a "god" of their own imagination. They hate the living God, and were it possible would rid the universe of Him. This is clear from their treatment of Christ, for He was none other than "God manifest in flesh" (1 Tim. 3:16). They hated and hounded Him to death, and nothing short of death by crucifixion would appease them. At Calvary the real character of man was revealed, and the desperate wickedness of his heart laid bare.
I see an unveiling of sin . Sin! That "abominable thing," which the Lord hates (Jer. 44:4), is regarded so lightly by those who commit it. Sin! It caused our first parents to be banished from Eden and is responsible for all the woe in the world. Sin! It produces strife and bloodshed and has turned this "land of the living" into a mammoth cemetery. Sin! A hideous monster we so much dislike hearing about and which we are so ready to excuse. Sin ! Satan employs all his subtle arts to render it attractive, and sets it forth in the most appealing colors. One of the great designs of the incarnation was to bring to light the hidden things of darkness. The presence here of the Holy One served as a brilliant light in a long-neglected room, revealing its squalor and filth. "If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin: but now they have no cloke for their sin" (John 15:22).
Christ here spoke comparatively. Evil as man had shown himself through history, the coming of Immanuel to earth brought sin to a head. All that had gone before was a trifling thing when compared to the monstrous wickedness done against Love incarnate. In the treatment the Son of God received at the hands of men we see sin in its true colors, stripped of all disguise, exposed in all its hideous reality, in its true nature as rebellion against God. At Calvary we behold the climax of sin, the fearful, horrible lengths to which it is capable of going. What germinated in Eden culminated in the crucifixion. The first sin occasioned spiritual suicide, the second fratricide (Cain murdered his brother): but here at Calvary it resulted in Deicide, the slaying of the Lord of glory. We also see the fearful wages of sin—death and separation from God. Since Christ hung there as the Sinbearer, He received the punishment due to them.
I see an unveiling of the character of God . The heavens declare His glory and the firmament shows His handiwork, but nowhere are His perfections more prominently displayed than at the cross. Here is His ineffable holiness. The holiness of God is the delight He has in all that is pure and lovely; therefore His nature burns against whatever is evil. God hates sin wherever it is found and He made no exception of Christ when He saw it imputed on His beloved Son. There God "laid on him the iniquity of us all" (Isa. 53:6). He dealt with Him accordingly, pouring out His holy wrath upon Him. God is "of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look on iniquity" (Hab. 1:13); therefore He turned His back on the Sinbearer. "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" the suffering Savior cried, then answered His own query, "Thou art holy" (Ps. 22:1, 3).
I see God ’s inflexible justice. The pronouncement of His Law is, "the soul that sinneth it shall die." No deviation from it can be made, for Jehovah has expressly declared He "will by no means clear the guilty" (Ex. 34:7). But will He not make an exception of the One whom He testifies is the Lamb "without blemish and without spot" (1 Pet. 1:19)? No! For though Christ was sinless both by nature and action, because the sins of His people had been laid upon Him, God "spared not his own Son" (Rom. 8:32). Because sin was transferred to Him, punishment must be visited upon Him. Therefore, God cried, "Awake O sword, against my shepherd, and against the man that is my fellow, saith the LORD of hosts: smite the shepherd" (Zech. 13:7). God would not abate one iota of His righteous demand or allow sentiment to sully the fair face of His government. He claims to be par excellence the Judge who is "without respect of persons." How fully that was demonstrated at Calvary by His refusal to exempt the person of His Beloved, the One in whom His soul delighted (Isa. 42:1), when He occupied the place of the guilty.
I see God ’s amazing grace. "God commendeth his love toward us [His people], in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" (Rom. 5:8). Had He so pleased, God could have consigned the whole of Adam’s race to everlasting woe. That is what each of us richly deserves. And why should He not do so? By nature we are depraved and corrupt; by practice incorrigible rebels, with no love for Him nor concern for His glory. But out of His own goodness He determined to save a people from their sins, to redeem them by Christ "to the praise of the glory of his grace" (Eph. 1:6). He determined to pluck them as brands from the burning so they might be the eternal monuments of His mercy. Because it was wholly outside their power to make atonement for their fearful crimes, He Himself provided an all-sufficient sacrifice for them. He is "the God of all grace" (1 Pet. 5:10) and He has given innumerable tokens of this. But nowhere were the "riches of His grace" so lavishly and wondrously displayed as at Calvary.
See here God’s manifold wisdom. The Word declares, "There shall in no wise enter into it any thing that defileth, neither whatsoever worketh abomination" (Rev. 21:27); then how is it possible that I can ever gain admittance into the heavenly Jerusalem? How can it be that one so completely devoid of righteousness could ever receive divine approbation? The Law says, "The soul that sinneth it shall die." I have sinned and broken the Law, how then can I escape its penalty? Since I am a spiritual pauper how can the necessary ransom be procured? These are problems that no human intelligence can solve. Nor is the knot to be cut by an appeal to the bare mercy of God, for His mercy is not an attribute which overrides His justice and integrity. But at the Cross the divine perfections shone out in glorious unity like the blending of the colors in the rainbow. There "Mercy and truth met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other" (Ps. 85:10). God’s justice was satisfied by Christ and therefore His mercy flows freely to all who repent and believe. The wisdom of God appears in creation and providence, but nowhere so grandly as at the cross.
I see myself . What? Yes, as I turn my gaze to the cross I behold myself, and so does everyone who looks with the eye of faith. Christ hung there as the Surety of His people, and there cannot be representation without identification. Christ identified with those whose sins He bears, believers identified with Him. In the sight of God they are one. Christ took my place, and faith appropriates that fact. In the person of my Substitute I satisfied every requirement of God’s Law. In the person of Christ I paid the full price which divine justice demanded. In the person of Christ I stand approved before God, for I am clothed with His meritorious perfections (Isa. 61:10). The whole ransomed Church of God can say of Christ, "He was wounded for our transgressions and bruised for our iniquities" (Isa. 53:4), "Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree" (1 Pet. 2:24). And faith individualizes it and declares, "I am crucified with Christ . . . who loved me, and gave himself for me" (Gal. 2:20). Hallelujah! What a Savior.What Do You See?
You behold One whom you despise and reject , if you are unsaved. Perhaps you deny it, saying my attitude is merely negative. You err. If you are not the friend of Christ you are His enemy. There is no third class. "He that is not with me is against me" (Matthew 12:30) is His own verdict, and from that there is no appeal. You have despised His authority, flouted His laws, treated His claims with contempt. You reject His yoke and scepter and refuse to be ruled by Him; thus you unite with those who cast Him out and hounded Him to death.
You behold One who is presented as Savior . Yes, despite your wicked treatment of Him hitherto, He is set before you in the Gospel as One willing and able to heal the wounds sin has made and to save your souls from eternal death. If you will throw down the weapons of your warfare against Him, surrender to His Lordship, and trust in His redeeming blood, He will accept you now. "Him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out" (John 6:37).
You behold the One who is to be your Judge if you refuse to accept Him as Savior. Come to Him now as a repentant sinner, as a spiritual pauper, casting yourself upon His grace, and He will pardon your iniquities and give you a royal welcome. "Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest" (Matthew 11:28) is His own invitation with promise. But continue to turn your back upon Him and one day He will say to you, "Depart from me, ye cursed into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels" (Matthew 25:41).