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“And as they led Him away, they laid hold upon one Simon, a Cyrenian, coming out of the country, and on him they laid the cross, that he might bear it after Jesus. And there followed Him a great company of people, and of women, which also bewailed and lamented Him. But Jesus turning unto them said, Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for Me, but weep for yourselves, and for your children. For, behold, the days are coming, in the which they shall say, Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bare, and the paps which never gave suck. Then shall they begin to say to the mountains, Fall on us; and to the hills, Cover us. For if they do these things in a green tree, what shall be done in the dry? And there were also two other, malefactors, led with Him to be put to death. And when they were come to the place, which is called Calvary, there they crucified Him, and the malefactors, one on the right hand, and the other on the left. Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do. And they parted His raiment, and cast lots. And the people stood beholding. And the rulers also with them derided Him, saying, He saved others; let Him save Himself, if He be Christ, the chosen of God. And the soldiers also mocked Him, coming to Him, and offering Him vinegar, and saying, If Thou be the King of the Jews, save Thyself. And a superscription also was written over Him in letters of Greek, and Latin, and Hebrew, THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS. And one of the malefactors which were hanged railed on Him, saying, If Thou be Christ, save Thyself and us. But the other answering rebuked him, saying, Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this Man hath done nothing amiss. And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when Thou comest into Thy kingdom. And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, today shalt thou be with Me in paradise”—Luke 23:26-43.
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We have followed our Saviour to Pilate’s judgment-hall and witnessed His trial; we observed Pilate’s cowardly conduct, and saw our Lord scourged cruelly and turned over to the soldiers to be put to death. Now we read that they led Him from the judgment-hall to the place which is called Calvary, and then we have the account of His crucifixion. Connected with that is wondrous grace in saving a poor, condemned sinner who hung by His side on one of the other crosses. Notice what is written concerning the journey to Calvary: “They led Him away.” We are told—not in the Bible but in church tradition—that He staggered and fell beneath the weight of His cross. We do not read that in the Scripture; it may be true, but we have no positive evidence of it. At any rate, it is clear that the soldiers must have observed that the cross seemed heavy for Him to carry after all He had suffered the night before and because of the cruel scourgings He had endured; for we are told that “They laid hold upon one Simon, a Cyrenian, coming out of the country, and on him they laid the cross, that he might bear it after Jesus.” What a privilege this black man had! Simon was from Cyrene, a city of North Africa, and therefore he was undoubtedly a man of dark complexion. How honored was this colored man to be permitted to bear the cross of Jesus! There is another church tradition that Simon became one of Jesus’ immediate disciples, and that the Rufus, mentioned in Rom. 16:13 is the same as the brother of Alexander, Simon’s son, referred to in Mark 15:21. It seems to me that every colored person should feel grateful that one of his race had the opportunity of helping the blessed Lord as He went out to die upon that cross of shame.
As they pursued their way, there followed Him a great multitude of people: some in sympathy with Him, and others who were ridiculing and reviling Him. Of the sympathetic group there were a number ,of women who bewailed and lamented Him, but Jesus turned to them and said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for Me, but weep for yourselves, and for your children.” With prophetic eye He beheld Jerusalem surrounded with the Roman army and undergoing awful horrors, when conditions should become so terrible on account of famine that even tender women would devour their own children. This awful cannibalism had been predicted by Moses (Deut. 28:53-57). Our Lord foresaw that all this would come because the people had turned away from God and knew not the time of their visitation. This had been before His mind when He looked upon the city of Jerusalem, saying, “0 Jerusalem, Jerusalem, which killest the prophets, and stonest them that are sent unto thee; how often would I have gathered thy children together, as a hen doth gather her brood under her wings, and ye would not! Behold, your house is left unto you desolate: and verily I say unto you, Ye shall not see Me, until the time come when ye shall say, Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord” (Luke 13:34, 35). It was all this that led Him to say to these women, “Weep not for Me.” He was only carrying out the will of God. This was the express purpose for which He came into the world. “For the Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10). “Weep for yourselves, and for your children,” because of the judgment which they will have to undergo; for “the days are coming, in the which they shall say, Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bare, and the paps which never gave suck.” This would be far better than seeing their children torn from them in death. He added, “Then shall they begin to say to the mountains, Fall on us; and to the hills, Cover us.” He was speaking of Jerusalem. But these same words are used in the Book of Revelation regarding the great day of the wrath of the Lamb yet to come on them that know not God, when “the kings of the earth, and the great men, and the rich men, and the chief captains, and the mighty men, and every bondman, and every free man, (shall hide) themselves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains; (and say) to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of Him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb: for the great day of His wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?” (Rev. 6:15-17.) If men and women refuse the salvation that God offers in Jesus Christ, then they must endure His wrath. And so our Lord warned these people of judgment soon to come upon Jerusalem. He referred to a passage in the Old Testament as He said, “For if they do these things in a green tree, what shall be done in the dry?” In Ezekiel (20:47) the prophet was told to prophesy against the forest of the south, “Hear the word of the Lord; thus saith the Lord God; Behold, I will kindle a fire in thee, and it shall devour every green tree in thee, and every dry tree: the flaming flame shall not be quenched, and all faces from the south to the north shall be burned therein. And all flesh shall see that I the Lord have kindled it: it shall not be quenched.” The blessed Lord Himself was pictured as the green tree: “In Him was life; and the Life was the light of men” (John 1:4). Rejecting Jesus and turning away from God, formal, religious Israel was represented by the dry tree. If they refused the only perfectly holy, sinless Man in all Israel and condemned Him to suffer upon the cross, what would be the doom of those who spurned Him, who were living in their sins and ignoring the salvation that He came to bring?
“And there were also two other, malefactors, led with Him to be put to death.” These were two who, like Barabbas, had been cast into prison for evil. These men were to be crucified with the Lord Jesus: “He was numbered with the transgressors.” “And when they were come to the place, which is called Calvary, there they crucified Him, and the malefactors, one on the right hand, and the other on the left.” We have to go to each of the four Gospels to get the full account of what took place on Calvary; in fact, I probably should not have used that expression, “full account,” for we will never know exactly what took place there until we stand in His presence and look upon His blessed face, and then we shall begin to understand what it really meant for Him, the holy One, to put away our sins. But we have to consult each of the four Gospels to get fuller details of what took place. One writer tells some things; another gives additional details, and if we take them all we have a very comprehensive and graphic account. Here we are told of the prayer of the Lord Jesus as He hung on the cross. Think of Him extended there upon the tree: nails driven into His hands; the thorn-crown pressed upon His brow; the soldiers keeping guard around the cross; the multitude reviling and mocking Him, and blaspheming His name, crying out in ridicule, “If Thou be the King of the Jews, save Thyself.” Matthew also tells us they cried out, “He saved others; Himself He cannot save.” They did not realize the truth of that statement; if He was to save others He could not save Himself; He must endure the suffering in order that we might be delivered from the judgment that our sins deserved. So as He heard them, instead of any resentment in His heart, we hear Him praying, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” In the Old Testament if a man slew his neighbor without intending to kill him, he was to flee to the city of refuge, and there he would be safe from the avenger of blood. For the actual murderer there was to be no escape from death. God said, “Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed” (Gen. 9:6). But He made a distinction between a wilful murderer and one who slew in ignorance. So Jesus by this prayer, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do,” put them on the ground of manslaughter rather than of deliberate murder. After Pentecost Peter declared that “through ignorance ye did it” (Acts 3:17). In speaking of the rulers of the Gentiles, Paul said, “Which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory” (1 Cor. 2:8). They did not understand; they did not know who Jesus was; they did not know what they were doing in delivering Him up to death on the cross. The Lord said, as it were, “Father, open the door to the City of Refuge, and let them flee from the avenger of blood.” And, thank God, all who have fled to Jesus—who is Himself the City of Refuge—have found security from the judgment which sin deserves. Some say the prayer of our Lord was not answered. Yes, it was answered, in this way: God did not treat them as murderers, but He opened up the way of salvation for them. If men deliberately and wilfully spurn the offer of mercy which is through our Lord Jesus Christ, then they put Him to an open shame and crucify the Son of God afresh, and there is no hope for those who persist in rejecting Christ. They are adjudged guilty of the murder of the Son of God. If I am addressing any unsaved ones, any who do not know the Lord Jesus, I plead with you to come now to God through Christ; flee to the City of Refuge which God has provided. Receive Him as your Saviour and thus be assured of a glorious welcome.
The soldiers below the cross “parted His raiment, and cast lots.” This had been prophesied many years before. In Ps. 22:18 we read, “They part My garments among them, and cast lots upon My vesture.” That scripture was fulfilled that day when Jesus died in our stead on Calvary. We read, “The people stood beholding. And the rulers also with them derided Him, saying, He saved others; let Him save Himself, if He be Christ, the chosen of God.” The Roman soldiers joined with His own people in ridiculing and mocking Him, “coming to Him, and offering Him vinegar, and saying, If Thou be the King of the Jews, save Thyself.”
We are told that Pilate caused a superscription to be written and put over His head. In those days when a man was crucified it was customary to write his sentence on a tablet and nail it to his cross. This superscription was written in Greek, the language of culture; in Latin, the language of authority; and Hebrew, the language of religion: “THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS.” All passing might see that He was crucified as an insurrectionist, which Pilate knew was not true. The rulers came to Pilate and said, “Write not, The King of the Jews; but that He said, I am King of the Jews” (John 19:21). By this time Pilate was out of patience with them, and he said, “What I have written I have written;” and he let the tablet stand. The last that those men saw of Jesus was as He hung on the cross with the superscription above Him, proclaiming Him to be King of the Jews: He was God’s King, and God has said in Ps. 2:6, “Yet have I set My King upon My holy hill of Zion.” And in time the Jews will gladly own Him as Lord of lords and King of kings.
We read that “one of the malefactors which were hanged railed on Him.” Both of them railed on Him at first and said, “If Thou be the Christ, save Thyself and us.” But suddenly divine conviction laid hold of one of those men. As he gazed upon the holy Sufferer on that central cross, possibly as he heard Him pray for His enemies, he seemed to realize who it was who was there being crucified. He rebuked his fellow-malefactor saying, “Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this Man hath done nothing amiss.” He seemed to sense the perfect holiness of Jesus, and in vivid contrast he saw the sinfulness and wickedness of his own life and that of his companion. “But this Man hath done nothing amiss!” What a declaration at such a time! Years before Isaiah asked the question, “Who shall declare His generation? for He was cut off out of the land of the living” (Isa. .53:8). Someone has translated that question, “Who shall declare His manner of life?” Think of the declaration coming from a dying thief, hanging by His side: “This Man hath done nothing amiss!” He then turned to Jesus as he recognized in that thorn-crowned Sufferer, the One who is the King of glory, and he said, “Lord, remember me when Thou comest into Thy kingdom.” It was real faith coupled with genuine repentance. So this man hanging there upon that cross was saved. Jesus said, as it were, “You will not have to wait till I come into My kingdom”: “Today shalt thou be with Me in Paradise.” I know there are some who would like to make us believe that what Jesus said was, “Today (not yesterday nor tomorrow) I say unto thee that some day shait thou be with Me in Paradise.” That does violence to the text as we have it both in the original and in the English Bible, and it would imply that our Lord did that thing which He condemns in us—< used idle words. No; what He said was, “Today shalt thou be with Me in Paradise.” And He was; for ere that day closed—according to Jewish reckoning of a day, from sunset to sunset—the Lord Jesus had dismissed His spirit to the Father, and the spirit of the thief had gone to be with Christ in Paradise: the firstfruit of His glorious redemptive work. An old writer has suggested that there is great danger in putting off our salvation until the end of life. In the Bible there is one man who was saved at the last moment. There is one, that none might despair; only one, that none might presume. During a series of meetings years ago, an evangelist saw a young man who looked somewhat concerned. The evangelist went to him and asked if he were ready to die, and the lad replied, “No; I am not ready; I hope to come some day. Remember the dying thief?” The evangelist asked, “Which thief?” The young man looked up startled and said, “Oh, I had forgotten; there were two, weren’t there?” “Yes,” replied the evangelist; “and one went out, so far as we have any record, into eternity closing his heart to the Saviour and was lost forever. The other trusted Him and was saved forever. Which thief are you going to be like?” The young man said, “I’d better come now.” And he closed with Christ that evening. Think of the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ to a dying thief, and remember that salvation is for you if you will fully trust Him.