Bible Study from Calvary Chapel Newberg
with Tom Fuller
Why the Cross Matters
The death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the single most important event in human history. That’s a pretty bold statement to make but I and millions, perhaps billions of others feel exactly the same way. The question immediately comes: why? Why does this obscure event that occurred so long ago rank so highly? And for those of you who know it’s important but don’t know exactly why, let’s delve into what is known as the “crucifixion event” to discover its significance.
We’re going to look this time at Luke 23:32 – 49. But to understand this account, we have to see how the Father planted the seeds of the cross long before. So let’s first turn to two prophecies: Isaiah 53, and Psalm 22. Let’s start with Isaiah – written in the 8th century B.C.
Isaiah 53 is really the “what” of the cross—what was accomplished. And I want to point out some landmarks in the chapter.
- Verse 3, verse 8b (“cut off”) and verse 12b (“counted among rebels”) shows us that the Messiah was to be rejected by men and though innocent He was treated as a criminal. We saw last time as both Israel and Rome desired Him to be put to death. We also see that part of the rejection was physical violence so severe that people turned away from Him in horror.
- Verses 4 – 6 and verse 8 show that the purpose of the punishment was to put our failures and sins and rebellion onto this innocent Man. The Father made His Son guilty of our sins and punished Him with His full wrath on the cross.
- Verses 7 and 8a show us why Jesus did not offer a defense to Pilot, Herod, or the religious leaders—because He was meant to be a sacrifice, a payment for our sin.
- We see that the offering was a “restitution” in verses 10 and following. What I want to point out here are two things. One is that God was “pleased” to do this. This is not out of the pleasure of seeing His Own Son suffer but because of what it would accomplish. Secondly notice that even in the anguish of the cross, Jesus sees the benefits of enduring the suffering—that He will “justify many” (vs 11); we will be a spoil of victory for Jesus (vs 12).
- Lastly notice in verse 12 that even though He Himself was counted among rebels, He interceded and bore the sins of the real rebels—humanity in rebellion against God. This is also a prophecy about who Jesus was crucified with, which we’ll see in a moment.
Now let’s turn to Psalm 22 (written about 1,000 B.C.), which is known as the crucifixion psalm and focuses on the “how” of the cross and its impact on the Lord Jesus. For today, we’ll just focus on verses 1 through 24.
The description of the cross is so strong here that it is hard to imagine anyone reading this and not think about what took place on that day in Jerusalem. We have:
- The rejection of Jesus by the Father and Jesus calling out to God about that rejection (verses 1 – 5).
- The rejection by man and the violence and mocking perpetrated against Jesus (verses 6 – 13)
- The physical suffering of the cross (verses 14 – 17)
- The detail of the behavior of the soldiers crucifying Him (verse 18 and seen in Luke 23:34 and more detail in John 19:23-35)
- Then in verses 19 – 24 we see the result of the cross. After Jesus bore the sins of the world and suffered the rejection of man and God—He was rescued from death.
So now let’s go to Luke’s account of the cross and see how Isaiah 53 and Psalm 22 play out.
32 – 34
The other two crucifixions were likely scheduled for that day, so Jesus is added to their number as they approach a place called “The Skull”. In Aramaic it is Golgotha and in Latin: Calvary. It was public and just outside of Jerusalem. No one knows exactly where it was, but there is a place with a cliff that is now a bus station that resembles a skull face so some have surmised it might be Calvary. Lately that may have proved inaccurate.
There is tremendous significance to the two others crucified on either side of Jesus, which we’ll get to starting in verse 39.
Jesus’ words of forgiveness do not appear in many manuscripts of Luke’s gospel and interestingly, this is the only gospel which includes these words. It certainly is in keeping with the character of Jesus though when He said to pray for one’s enemies (Luke 6:29, 35).
The dividing of His clothing goes back to Psalm 22:18 as we read. The soldiers divided up His garments but cast lots for the tunic because it was woven of one piece (John 29:23-24). I think the significance of this is several fold: It is an important historic detail that adds realism to the account; it shows that Jesus was not coming back from this—He was going from here to death; and the removal of clothing was very humiliating to a Jew.
In 2 Samuel 10, David sent emissaries to the King of the Ammonites. They accused them of being spies and part of their punishment was to have their clothes cut off halfway at their wastes. This was a tremendous shame—so too the crucifixion was a humiliation, a laying bare so that though Jesus was shamed, we could experience relief from our shame and guilt of sin.
35 – 38
I find this fascinating. Luke describes three onlookers to the crucifixion in addition to the criminals on either side of Him and His disciples. The people watched, the leaders scoffed and the soldiers mocked. Is this not the range of humanity’s reaction to the cross of Jesus? Some just observe the gospel but take no action. They think they are remaining neutral, but in this case, no action is negative action that I call “passive disbelief”. As Jesus said in Luke 11:23 “He who is not with Me is against Me.” The second reaction is to scoff—which is active disbelief. They jeer at Him that if He really is the Messiah He’s a pretty powerless one. We saw this in Psalm 22:7-8 with the mocking and sneering and saying “He relies on the Lord, let Him rescue him”. Then the soldiers mocking Him with similar words and offering Him sour wine. This was the wine of the poor. Jesus will not accept it as He will feel the full force of bearing the sins even of these mockers. Mocking is really making fun of Jesus. We see this today as well.
Pilate had the inscription placed on a placard above the cross in Hebrew, Latin, and Greek. It was meant as a charge—remember it was the accusation that He was the king that Pilate took up, though he acquitted Him of it. In reality I think it was a way for Pilate to make fun at the Jews and show that Rome was more powerful than their King.
39 – 43
The focus now turns to the three men on three crosses. And this stands as a perfect picture of the plight of all mankind. We are all destined to die and are guilty of violating God’s law. One man blasphemes against Jesus and apparently is only interested in getting out of the punishment, taking no responsibility for his guilt. The other also stands guilty but notice the difference. This man acknowledges his guilt and acknowledges Jesus as the innocent King. Then he places himself under the authority of this King and basically asks to be a part of His kingdom.
Jesus tells the man that that very day he will be with Jesus in paradise (which means life after the grave). So which criminal are you?
44 – 46
The darkness represented judgment against sin, which Jesus had become on the cross (2 Corinthians 5:21). Matthew 27:51 tells us that the curtain between the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies in the Temple was torn in two from top to bottom in a large earthquake. There are two significant things about this: 1) it is a judgment against the Jewish religion and 2) it opens the way to God. No more do we have to go through animal sacrifices and the Aaronic priesthood. Now the sacrifice and priesthood of Jesus is enough.
Jesus quotes Psalm 31:5 as His mission is done. He can now release Himself and He dies. He was put on the cross at 9:00am and died six hours later. This is very fast by crucifixion standards. Sometimes people lingered for days.
47 – 49
Jesus’ quick death caught the attention of the professional executioner in charge. Matthew and Mark both tell us that not only did the centurion proclaim Jesus’ innocence (as Pilate and Herod had done) but also declared Him to be the Son of God. This solider, anyway, went from mocking Jesus to being amazed by Him. Acts and even the gospels show us that many centurions came to faith. When you consider the cross of Christ, how does it impact you?
With the show over, the crowds go home. Luke notes that they were “striking their chests”. This could either be a sign of grief or contrition. With the sky darkening and Jesus being totally in charge of when He died may have led them to reconsider what they had demanded of Pilate. This could have prepared their hearts for Peter’s speech some 40 days later.
Also at a distance, the disciples. They grieved, they cried, and they wondered what would happen next.
Let me try to explain the 15 things you need to know about the cross:
- There is a God. He created the universe, owns it, and sets the rules for how it operates
- God is completely good and pure.
- God is totally fair and just.
- Anything that is not completely good and pure violates the law in God’s kingdom.
- The penalty for such violations is death.
- Humans both as a race and as individuals violate God’s law on a regular basis. It’s a terminal illness that everyone has.
- As such we are all under a death sentence.
- The only way to avoid death is to have the penalty paid, but we can’t pay it ourselves because we are imperfect.
- So God needed a perfect human to pay the penalty.
- That’s where the cross comes into play.
- God set it up so that if a person is hung on a tree, they are cursed (Deut 21:23).
- Jesus hanging on a tree allowed God to curse Him, even though He was innocent.
- Not only that, God laid on Him the penalty for all of our guilt through His death and burial
- Because He was pure, the Father could raise Him up, having paid the penalty for us
- We become pure by tying ourselves to Jesus—agreeing with God on our guilt, and submitting ourselves to the eternal lordship of Jesus.