The Place Called Calvary

“And when they were come to the place called Calvary, there they crucified Him, and the malefactors, one on the right hand, and the other on the left” (Luke 23:33).

It is thus that Luke tells the story. John relates it a little differently, though both accounts are in full agreement with each other. He says, “And He bearing His cross went forth unto a place called the place of a skull, which is called in the Hebrew Golgotha: where they crucified Him and two other with Him, on either side one, and Jesus in the midst” (ch. 19:17, 18).

Skull, Calvary, Golgotha, all tell the same story in different languages. The place of His crucifixion was so designated, not because of skeleton parts found there, but because in shape and general contour it resembled a skull. There is only one such eminence in or about Jerusalem today, and that is the skull-shaped hill known as “Gordon’s Calvary,” outside the wall, north-east of the Damascus Gate. Let others, if they will, believe that the hidden rock beneath the bizarre Church of the Holy Sepulchre is the site of the world’s greatest tragedy, I am fully persuaded that the other is the true scene where the Saviour died to redeem a lost world.

Since the days of Helena, the mother of Constantine, who believed she identified the real Golgotha, and built a church over it, millions have accepted that as the veritable place of the crucifixion, and to them the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is perhaps the most sacred place in Christendom. We visited it reverently, realizing that it might prove at last to be the proper location. But the more we saw of it, and the more we pondered the words of Holy Scripture, the more improbable it seemed.

But when we climbed to the top of the north wall just east of the Damascus Gate, and saw the hill rising before us, across the road, with its smooth top, and great caves in its face, we felt at once that we were looking upon something that was in exact accord with the account given in our Bibles. As we conversed with different Christian residents of Jerusalem we learned that evangelicals as a rule accept this as the real Calvary, while sacerdotalists generally cleave to the traditional site inside the walls.

Some have claimed that in ancient times the walls ran very differently to what they do now, and the north wall was once actually south of the church in question. But recently a part of a very old wall has been discovered which, if it be the original northern one, will settle beyond all doubt that Gordon’s Calvary is the right place.

Why is it called Gordon’s Calvary? General (Chinese) Gordon spent some months in Jerusalem and occupied a house looking out over this very hill. As he read his Bible and meditated on the descriptions there given and observed how markedly that hill suggested a skull, he became reasonably sure that it was indeed Golgotha. But he felt if he could find a rich man’s tomb in a garden adjacent to the hill it would be settled unquestionably. Permission was given to do some archaeological work, and, sure enough, the tomb was found on the side of the mound cut into the limestone cliff, with an ancient garden surrounding it. Today the Garden Tomb is under the care of Mr. Clarke, an English Christian gentleman, manager of Barclay’s Bank, and through his kindness we were permitted to enter it and to join with others in a prayer-meeting there, on the Lord’s Day afternoon that we were in the city.

It seemed to us providential that both Calvary and the Tomb had been hidden as it were throughout the centuries of superstition so that no Roman or Greek churches have been built upon or about them. On Calvary itself is a Mohammedan cemetery, off to one side, but otherwise there is nothing to take away one’s attention from the bare skull-like rock upon which in all probability those three crosses once stood.

As we gazed upon it we found our hearts welling up with conflicting emotions. A sense of our own sinfulness and guilt was almost overwhelming! To think that we were so utterly lost and undone that so great a Sacrifice was needed to redeem us! But the realization of the infinite love that gave the Lord Jesus to go to that place of unparalleled woe for us, was such that it was hard indeed to keep back tears of gratitude as we bowed our heads and silently gave thanks for that supreme Sacrifice.

Attention has often been directed to the three crosses that stood on Calvary, but it will not be amiss to dwell upon them again. He who hung upon the central tree was One upon whom death had no claim. He was the sinless, spotless Lamb of God. But He was there for us; “God hath made Him to be sin for us, who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:21). It was because of His sin-lessness that He could take the sinner’s place. And because He was God as well as Man He could endure the wrath that our sins deserved, He had to be who He was to do what He did. No lesser Person could have accomplished our redemption.

As they nailed Him to that cross He had no sins on Him, nor did He have sin in Him. But when the darkness enveloped the scene and God “laid on Him the iniquity of us all,” He hung there with our sins on Him, though still sinless within. On the other side hung the impenitent thief, blaspheming and reviling to the last. Alas, poor wretched man, he was in everything the very contrast to the Man he abused. He had sin in him and sins on him, and he was soon to meet God in judgment because of this.

But the other malefactor, when convicted of his guilt he turned in faith to Jesus and confessed Him as Lord, immediately had all his sins transferred to Christ. True, he still had sin in him, but he had no sins on him. What a sublime faith was his! He recognized in a dying Man, agonizing on that middle cross, God’s anointed King. “Lord, remember me!” he cried, “when Thou comest in Thy Kingdom.” But the Saviour said, as it were, “I will do better for you than that. You will not have to wait for bliss until I return to take My Kingdom. Today shalt thou be with Me in Paradise.” And ere sunset that day, both the saved and the Saviour were together in that place of gladness.

As we contemplated that rock height and these thoughts ran through our minds, we looked down upon the road below. Cars were gliding back and forth. Nearby some sheep-men were buying and selling. Souvenir vendors were hawking their wares. Beggars were crying for buksheesh. Merchants were busy yonder just inside the Damascus Gate. We alone seemed to be interested in “the place called Calvary.” And, we thought, what a picture of the world we saw that day! Men interested in anything and everything pertaining to this life, and so few who have any heart for the Christ of God, His sufferings, and His joys!

When the well-known evangelist, Dwight L. Moody, visited Palestine years ago, he was permitted to hold a most unique open-air meeting on this very hill. Standing on Gordon’s Calvary, he preached to a vast throng the unsearchable riches of Christ—dwelling on the grace of Him who there laid down His life for our salvation. In spirit I stand on that same spot today, and bid you gaze on Him who nineteen hundred years ago “died for our advantage on that bitter cross.”

“Behold, behold the Lamb of God
On the cross;
For us He shed His precious blood
On the cross.
The sun withholds its rays of light,
The heavens are clothed in shades of night, While Jesus wins the dreadful fight

On the cross.”

Say to your soul, “O my soul, it was all for me.” And so find rest of heart and peace of conscience in that finished work wrought out by God’s beloved Son at “the place called Calvary.”

It may never be yours to visit the actual hill of the cross in this life, but faith can take you there in a moment as in penitence you bow low before the Crucified and own Him as Saviour and Lord. Then indeed you can say from the heart:

“Near the cross, a trembling soul,
Love and mercy found me,
There the bright and morning star
Shed its beams around me.

“In the cross, in the cross,
Be my glory ever,
Till my raptured soul shall find
Rest beyond the river.”