Jesus to Jerusalem: The Son of Man Crucified
Text: Luke 23:26–49 ESV
Death. Many of us who are outside of the medical profession may have only had contact with death at a funeral. A body, cleaned up, dressed nicely, in a pretty coffin. Quiet music playing softly in the background. Peaceful. Sanitary.
The reason why funerals are like this is because those who encounter death regularly—up-close and intimately—know how hard it is. We try to clean it up for everyone. Death brings us face to face with bodies riddled with the consequence of the fall and a sinful world. Death brings us the sadness of a moment that was never meant to happen: Our souls being ripped away from our bodies by death’s sickle, even if it is only temporary. And we have the emotional difficulty of the moment.
Even those of us who are not closely acquainted with death can imagine the emotional rollercoaster death brings when we imagine two extreme examples: young children losing a parent, and a parent losing a young child. For a young child their parent is all knowing, strong beyond anything or anyone. “My dad can beat your dad!” “My mom’s mac and cheese is better!” They are their ultimate provider in every way. Their hero. Death removes those veneers in a way that is tragic and sudden. If they aren’t going to be here for me, who will? If they can be taken, then who is strong enough to stand?
For a parent losing a child there is the problem of innocence. Any parent with a young child will vouch for their sinfulness—screaming tantrums simply to get a grape, refusing to sleep at 2AM because it sounds like much more fun to watch Paw Patrol. Yet compared to those whose lives seem so determined and beset with sin and evil we see kids as full of potential and relatively untarnished. How cruel death seems when it takes those so relatively good.
This is where we find ourselves in Luke this morning. Each gospel speaks of the same story but with different emphasis, and Luke emphasizes the broad group of people around Jesus and his interaction with them at his death. While other gospels focus much more on the other difficulties of his death—Jesus’s thirst, his broken heart, his cries for mercy—Luke seems to focus in on the impact Jesus’s death has, or should have, on people.
Jesus is the Messiah of the lost. He is the very Son of God come in authority and power to empower and save his people through the cross. People matter and are at the core of his mission. Luke presents these people, both on the way to the cross and at the cross, through both narrow and broad vignettes, or pericopes—little scenes and snippets that show us Jesus throughout his death. And what we see are four main points:
First, Jesus’s concern that all know the consequence of rejecting him,
Second, the grotesqueness of sin in light of a Savior on the cross,
We see Jesus’s love up to our very end, and
The death of the Son of God, and its effect on those present.
Consequences of Rejecting Jesus
“And as they led him away, they seized one Simon of Cyrene, who was coming in from the country, and laid on him the cross, to carry it behind Jesus. And there followed him a great multitude of the people and of women who were mourning and lamenting for him. But turning to them Jesus said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For behold, the days are coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren and the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’ Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us,’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us.’ For if they do these things when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?” (Luke 23:26–31 ESV)
We start with small scene, zoomed-in as it were on a moment of Jesus’s journey to the cross. We see Simon of Cyrene, a pilgrim to Jerusalem presumably to celebrate Passover. He is brought in by compulsion, and through him God connects humanity with Jesus in a poignant way. This is not just Jesus’s path, but our path is intertwined with his—like it or not.
Jesus harkens back to our passage last week: his entry in Jerusalem and his lament over Israel’s constant rejection of him. While Luke portrays normal, every-day people as supportive of Jesus, their support is shallow as they desire to see him save them as a ruling King, but not as Lord and Savior of their life.
Here we see women, likely genuinely mourning this moment in Jesus’s life. He has been hauled around by the Sanhedrin (the Jewish court) all night. He has been mocked and beaten by Herod’s court. He has been whipped by Pilate’s court in preparation for crucifixion. He undoubtedly is suffering at this point, so much so that they need Simon to carry his cross. And yet Jesus reminds the women to not mourn for him. He is utterly in control. He is willingly going to the cross. He exhorts them to not miss the consequences of missing his mission.
He paints the picture for them of what will happen to Jerusalem in several short decades, and this picture becomes a picture of what it looks like to fall under God’s wrath for being against him and his Son. Like in Hosea 10:8 when the people are judged for their idolatry, and Revelation 6:16 when the sixth seal is opened and those who are against God and his chosen one are judged, people will cry out or the hills to fall on them. Being under the wrath of God is worse than even death—and they pray for that death.
Jesus reminds them that his death should be the ultimate warning. If God is not opposed to pouring out his wrath on Jesus—the green wood, alive and vibrant—how much worse will it be for those who are “dry”—without relationship and apart from him?
If you do not yet trust in Jesus, please hear this pronouncement of your destiny— as Jesus commanded here—through tears and weeping. Your destruction will be worse than death. Please, come Jesus as your Lord and Savior and love that he has taken God’s wrath for you on this very day.
For those of you who are in Jesus, carry that same attitude. Weep and find no joy in the fact that wrath is coming to many. Let it be part of your motivation: the bitterness behind the sweetness of your salvation. Through tears, weep and pray for those who are missing the very mission of God, and be ready to call to them at any moment!
The Grotesqueness of Sin, The Beauty of a Savior
“Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”” (Luke 23:32–34a ESV)
We start again with a scene that is zoomed in on these last moments of Jesus’s life. He is with criminals, lead away to a place of punishment and placed on an instrument of torture.
There is nothing glamorous about this ending. The more you revile it, the more you probably understand it. Think a dark and dingy basement. A dimly flickering light. Just outside the orange hue stands a blood-stained surgical table. In the shadows, a table littered with instruments of torture and pain. This is the end of our Savior. Ignoble. Torturous. Completely unbefitting a King, let alone the King.
Even here, Jesus calls out to the Father. He cries for him to forgive those all around him, because they are unaware of what they are doing. This is where Luke zooms out, so you can see the greatness of the grotesqueness of the sin all around Jesus in this moment, and marvel at the beauty of the Savior seen on the cross.
Over here, beside the cross, we see some soldiers:
“And they cast lots to divide his garments.” (Luke 22:34b ESV)
What is his life worth? Less than a seamless tunic, because we want to make sure we don’t rip that, yet gamble for our own gain as the Son of God slowly suffocates and dies on this wooden death machine. Over there, we have the people watching and the Jewish rulers.
“And the people stood by, watching, but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!” (Luke 22:35 ESV)
Luke here identifies the people who are standing in wonder, trying to understand what is happening to Jesus, while the rulers openly mock him, just like the Roman soldiers.
The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine and saying,
“If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.” (Luke 22:36–38 ESV)
Both the rulers and the soldiers completely miss the point. This is Jesus who healed lepers, the blind, the sick, and healed an ear cut off a man’s head not hours before. He is not worried nor troubled by nails sticking through his hands! This is Jesus who loosed the pangs of death and the burial shroud of Lazarus. Ropes binding his legs to the wood are not holding him there! Jesus is here, and is exactly who the inscription says he is—The King of the Jews! And it is precisely because he is King, Messiah, the Christ, GOD, that he stays on that cross and does not come down as they suggest. It is for their good at his cost.
It is in light of the cross that we can see exactly how grotesque our sin really is. Jesus holds himself on the cross while God pours out his wrath on him—breaking his heart—while he cries out for mercy on those who are sinning against him.
Perhaps you are openly mocking Jesus like the religious leaders and soldiers. Know that Jesus remains true to his mission and himself precisely for your good, not in spite of your challenges. He dies for your sins that you might come to him and see him for who he really is—God almighty!
Likely you are not mocking him, but are you lost in casting lots? Have you lost sight of your crucified Savior and instead are focused on the seamless tunics that you want to make sure you win. A new car. A new house. A job promotion. A girlfriend, a boyfriend. All of life’s little joys, treasures, and successes become soul killing distraction if we are playing games to win them while forgetting our joy in Christ! We have been brought back into relationship with him, and we have the joy of being on mission with him to spread the good news of salvation through this very cross. Don’t fight for a tunic over todays joy in Jesus!
Love to Our Very End
“One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.”” (Luke 23:39–43 ESV)
Jesus here is in agony. His leg strength is undoubtedly failing, barely able to stand up that he might breath against the weight of his own body crushing his lungs down. And even more so he is feeling the weight of the wrath of his Father being poured out against him as he becomes the sacrificial lamb for the sins of the world—you and me.
While one criminal is scoffing at his predicament, another criminal cries out to Jesus in earnestness. He sees the situation Jesus is in. He rightly identifies that Jesus has no reason to be there. Pilate has said as much, yet the Jews demanded his crucifixion and the release of Barabbas. And even as Jesus’s earthly ministry is ending, this man cries out and Jesus answers:
“Truly, I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
It is never too late in this life! Jesus will lovingly bring you back into relationship with himself, into paradise at your death. Don’t hold out—don’t miss the opportunity afforded to you and all of us today! Be like Simeon, who, when he saw Jesus as a small baby, declared:
““Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.”” (Luke 2:29–32 ESV)
The Death of the Son of God
As Jesus dies on the cross, we see an amazing sight, all of creation mourning:
“It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour, while the sun’s light failed.” (Luke 23:44–45 ESV)
From noon to 3PM there was no light. Creation cannot bear to watch, and the land is covered in darkness. The picture from Old Testament judgements is clear (Amos 8:9; Joel 2:10; 2:30–31; Zeph 1:15), God is present and there. Judgement is coming, though postponed until Jesus’s second coming.
“And the curtain of the temple was torn in two.” (Luke 23:45 ESV)
Again, God is present. Matthew (27:51–53) and Mark (15:38) tell us the curtain rips from top to bottom. How else does the curtain rip in two like this but at the hands of God himself? Not only is the temple’s doom been predicted by Jesus, but now it is unnecessary. The people do not need to come to the temple to worship God (Luke 19:45–20:18; John 4:221–24; Heb 9–10), but rather God has come out to reach out to all in the Son of God, Jesus Christ.
“Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last.” (Luke 23:46 ESV)
God himself, dead. As Luke zooms out, we see the affect Jesus’s death has.
Now when the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God, saying, “Certainly this man was innocent!” And all the crowds that had assembled for this spectacle, when they saw what had taken place, returned home beating their breasts.” (Luke 23:47–48 ESV)
Much like where we started, and more than with any young child’s death, the centurion and the crowds see in Jesus’s death the injustice of the moment. The centurion recognizes an innocent man through his manner of death and composure. The crowds return home, not triumphant, but in mourning, much like the women at the beginning of our passage.
The Disciples Missing Hope
Last, but not least, we see his friends and acquaintances:
“And all his acquaintances and the women who had followed him from Galilee stood at a distance watching these things.” (Luke 23:49 ESV)
The disciples started their long day with Jesus in the upper room. They sat at table, reclined with their friend, and enjoyed fellowship with him. They had walked with him for around three years. They had seen him do miracles, healings, raising people from the dead. They had come to see and know him as the Messiah—the very Son of God who had come in authority and power. Even more than the centurion, they knew how good and innocent Jesus was. There was no deceit in him, no ulterior motives. Why did this man—God—have to die? In his death they are experiencing what a child feels toward a lost parent. If he can die, what hope do I have? And these feeling are right—without next week, without the power of the resurrection we have no hope and no understanding. In Jesus death we have received mercy at the hand of God, but it is only through his resurrection it is secured in our Savior’s reign.
Don’t run past the death of Jesus. Don’t miss Jesus’s mission. See the grotesqueness of our sin in light of a Savior on the cross. Know that Jesus is for you, even to your end. Know that he is innocent in a way you and I never were: that he secured mercy for us through his death. And lastly, come the cross and his death wanting more this week. Realizing that if the story stops here, we have no hope—and looking forward to seeing mercy secured through his resurrection and reign!