Christ’s Death in the City
March 27th, 1964 @ 12:00 PM
CHRIST’S DEATH IN THE CITY
Dr. W. A. Criswell
3-24-64 12:00 p.m.
The theme for this year, the forty-fifth that these services have been conducted, Dr. Truett my illustrious predecessor conducted them twenty-five years and this is my twentieth, making forty-five. The theme for this forty-fifth year has been "Christ and the City." Monday was the theme message, Christ and the City; Tuesday, Christ and the City Citizen; Wednesday, Christ and the City Church; Thursday, yesterday, Christ and the City of God; and today, Christ’s Death in the City.
And while I speak, all of us realize this is a busy lunch hour, and I may speak a few moments longer today than any other previous convocation, and if you have to leave for an assignment of the work in the office or the home, be at liberty to do so. We all understand. Right in the middle of a sentence or two minutes before the benediction, we are not disturbed, least of all I, in your having to return to a previous work.
Christ in the city, Christ dying in Jerusalem. Luke begins the story. "And Jesus steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem" [Luke 9:51]. And when John writes of the title, the superscription above His head, he says this title read many, because the place where Jesus was crucified was nigh to the city [John 19:20]. It was God’s purpose; it was His sovereign will that the Passion of our Lord should be openly and publicly displayed. Our Lord was lifted up by the side of the great highway that led into the city just outside the main gate.
The historian Flavius Josephus tells us that there are times in the Passover season at Jerusalem when there are more than three million pilgrims present from Palestine, and from the Diaspora, throughout the Greco-Roman world, an open, public display. All four Gospels are careful to point out that our Lord was not crucified alone. There were three crosses raised up, and on either side of the Savior was hanged a malefactor, a seditionist, an insurrectionist, a murderer. Isaiah had prophesied seven hundred years before that He would be numbered with the transgressors [Isaiah 53:12]. And history and prophecy met on Calvary.
He was executed by crucifixion [Matthew 27:32-50], the most horrible and tragic of all of the agonies known to mankind. Crucifixion was invented by the Romans for slaves and felons. Out of a population of one hundred million in the Roman Empire, more than forty million of them were slaves. And in order to suppress so vast an institution, keeping them in bondage, the Romans invented crucifixion as a means of horrible prospect for the slave who might disobey or run away.
Crucifixion carried with it terrible physical agony and moral disgrace. The physical agony of being nailed and held by the tendons in the hands and the feet, gangrene and rot and putrefaction, the wounds that bled, the feverish thirst and the scourging that preceded the crucifixion, that led to extreme exhaustion. There is no execution known to man as agonizing, as horrible as crucifixion.
It carried with it a moral disgrace, doubly so for the Jew. The manner of execution of the Jew was by stoning, and the Deuteronomic, the Mosaic law read, "Cursed is every man that is hanged on a tree" [Deuteronomy 21:23]. And the contrast between the purity and holiness of the Son of God and the ignominy and the shame of His death made it doubly disgraceful.
When Jesus came to Golgotha they hanged Him on a tree.
They drove great nails through hands and feet, and made a Calvary.
They crowned Him with a crown of thorns; red were His wounds and deep,
For those were crude and cruel days and human flesh was cheap.
[When Jesus Came to Birmingham," by G. A. Studdert-Kennedy]
And it seems that at the cross, in the crowd at the cross, all mankind of all age and of all time was represented. After they raised Him up and the malefactor on either side, below Him, below Him those that passed by wagged their heads, saying, "Ha! Ha! Thou that destroyest the temple, and raiseth it up again in three days, come down from the cross!" And the scribes, and the chief priests, and the Pharisees, and the Sadducees reviling Him said, "Ha! He saved others; but Himself He cannot save" [Mark 15:29-31].
And the quaternion of brutal Roman soldiers, who nailed Him to the tree, gambled at the foot of the cross for the fifth of the five pieces of His garments. In the quaternion, one soldier took His headdress, one soldier took His sandals, one soldier took His girdle, one soldier took His tunic, but the inner garment was woven without seam, and rather than divide it, they gambled for it at the foot of the cross [John 19:23-24].
And as Jesus heard the blasphemies and the revilings and looked upon the brutality and the indifference of the Romans gambling for the last piece of His clothing, He prayed the first prayer and said the first word, "Father, Father, they do not know what they do. Forgive them; they know not what they do" [Luke 23:34].
And in the reviling and railing one of the malefactors raised with Him, cast the same into his face, "Ha! Ha! You, the Christ, save Thyself and us. Deliver us if You are the Christ." But the other, but the other said, "Dost thou not fear God, seeing thou are in the same condemnation? And we justly; for we receive the due recompense and reward of our deeds: but this Man hath done nothing amiss." And turning to the center cross, he said, in a faith that is indescribable, "Lord," calling Him Lord, "Lord, when Thou comest into Thy kingdom do not forget me, remember me" [Luke 23:39-42].
And in answer to so great a persuasion, the Lord uttered the second word, "Verily, verily, truly, truly I say unto thee, Today, semeron, this day, today shall thou be with Me in Paradise" [Luke 23:43]. When our Lord entered the gates of glory He walked arm in arm with a redeemed sinner.
Now there stood by the cross of Jesus, His mother [John 19:25], leaning on the arm of the beloved apostle John. Where was James, the Lord’s brother? Where was Simon? Where was Judah? Jude, we call him in the Bible. Where was Joseph? John says, the apostle John says, "Neither did His brethren believe on Him" [John 7:5]. And at the cross Mary the holy mother leaned on the arm of the apostle John and wept on his shoulder. And as the Lord looked upon His mother, He said to her, "Behold thy son" and then to the beloved apostle, "Behold thy mother" [John 19:25-27]. And from that hour, from that moment, John took her away and to his own house that she might not have to bear the hurt and the agony of seeing her Son die on the cross.
Then at high noon a darkness covered the earth [Matthew 27:45], a strange and an uncanny and a weird shadow, deep as the blackness of night. This is no ordinary execution. "It pleased God to bruise Him; to make His soul an offering for our sins" [Isaiah 53:10]. Our transgressions are upon Him, bruised for our iniquities, by His stripes our healing [Isaiah 53:5].
We will make the sun in darkness hide
And shut His glories in
When Christ the mighty Maker died
For man the creature’s sin.
["At the Cross," by Isaac Watts]
And in the darkness of that awful hour, He lifted up His voice and cried the fourth word: "Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani" [Matthew 27:46]. The Hebrew word for God is El. The suffix my, Eli, Eli. When Mark writes it, Mark tries to copy into the Greek language the Aramaic that Jesus said, Eloi, it sounded to the Greek ear, Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani [Mark 15:34]. And there were at the cross Hellenistic Jews, Greek speaking Jews, unacquainted with their native Hebrew that Matthew quotes, twenty-second Psalm, the first verse [Psalm 22:1], or the Aramaic that Mark tried to transliterate into the Greek language. And to their ears, to the ears of the Hellenistic Jew of the Diaspora, speaking Greek, to them it sounded as though He were crying for Elijah. And one said to the other, "Listen, He cries for Elijah!" [Mark 15:35].
And another listening, hearing that awful appeal, took a sedative, dipped a sponge in it, on a reed, lifted up to His lips. And another said, "Let it be, let it be, let it be for Elijah is to come" [Mark 15:36]. The promise is that Elijah should precede the Messiah [Malachi 4:5]. To this day at the Passover table there is a chair for Elijah. And the Hellenistic Jew, misunderstanding the Aramaic, thought the Lord was calling for Elijah. And in the darkness of that awful hour, and in the weirdness of that moment, and in the indescribable, uncanniness of that awful day, he thought, "It may be Elijah is coming." Let it be. Let it be," to the Hellenistic Jew. "Let it be. It may be Elijah is coming to take Him down from the cross."
In that hour, in that moment, in the awfulness of that dark night at midday, anything seemed possible, anything. Then, as the three hours came to that awful conclusion, burning with fever and dying of thirst, He said, "I thirst" [John 19:28]. Then He said, "It is finished" [John 19:30]. Then He bowed His head and prayed the last prayer, "Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit," and gave up the ghost [Luke 23:46]. And the veil of the temple was rent in twain, and the whole earth convulsed, and the mountains quaked, and the rocks were ripped, and the tombs were opened [Matthew 2:51-52], when Christ bowed His head and cried, "It is finished," and gave up the ghost [John 19:30].
A few months ago in our church an evangelist concluded a sermon with one of the most eloquent perorations I have ever listened to in my life. I have never heard such a thing before as he described. He said, he said that on the high Day of Atonement, known to us as Yom Kippur, on the high Day of Atonement, with a bowl of blood, blood of expiation, the high priest entered into the Holy of Holies. With blood of atonement and expiation, he entered the Holy of Holies, beyond the veil, at twelve noon, and stayed in the impenetrable darkness for three hours. And at the end of three hours, after expiation and atonement was made, he came out of the darkness and before the people and raised his hands high and shouted, "It is finished, it is finished!"
And the Lord God bowed His head and shouted, "It is finished. It is finished." And the blood fell down from the cross to the dust of the ground and whispered, "It is finished." And the dust of the ground whispered to the grass around the cross, "It is finished." And the grass whispered to the shrubs and to the herbs, "It is finished." And the herbs whispered to the trees, "It is finished." And the trees whispered to the birds on the branches, "It is finished." And the birds spiraling upwards to the clouds whispered, "It is finished." And the clouds whispered to the stars, "It is finished." And the stars whispered to the angels in glory, "It is finished."
And the angels in heaven whispered as they passed down the golden streets in Jerusalem, "It is done, it is done, atonement is made, forgiveness is wrought, expiation is completed. It is finished!"
And Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea went to Pontius Pilate, the Roman procurator, and asked for His body. And Pilate was astonished that He was so soon dead. And he sent the centurion to ascertain the fact. And the Roman centurion in charge of the execution, to be doubly sure, assigned to the quaternion of soldiers the task of breaking the legs of the malefactors on either side. But when they came to Jesus, His eyes glazed, so certainly dead, they break not His legs, according to the prophecy of the Word of God. But one of the soldiers took his spear and thrust it through His side into His heart. And when he withdrew it, blood and water flowed out and spilled on the ground [John 19:31-34].
Carefully taking the body down, they wrapped it in a linen winding sheet with spices, laid it in a new tomb Joseph had prepared for himself [John 19:38-40]. "Low in the grave He lay, Jesus my Savior" ["He Arose," Robert Lowry].
And the women to weep, and the eleven disciples to crawl into eleven shadows, and the end of the world had come. Who did that? Who did that? Judas did it. Judas did it! He sold Him for thirty pieces of silver [Matthew 26:14-16]. He betrayed Him. Judas did it. The Jewish leaders did it! [Matthew 27:20]. The Pharisees and the Sadducees did it. Pontius Pilate did it, vacillating. Pontius Pilate crucified Him [Matthew 26:22-26]. The Roman soldiers did it [Matthew 26:27-35]. Those brutal, brutal Gentiles, they did it. It must have been; we all had a part. Our sins pressed upon His brow the crown of thorns. Our sins nailed Him to the cross. Our sins laid Him in the tomb. In His own body He bear our sins on the tree, "For 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 Corinthians 5:21].
"Unto Him who loved us, and washed us from our sins in His own blood" [Revelation 1:5], He did it, for me, for me, and the sins that crucified Him are my sins; they are mine. I did it. I did it.
Jesus, keep me near the cross
There a precious fountain,
Free to all, a healing stream,
Flows from Calvary’s mountain.
Near the cross! O Lamb of God,
Bring its scenes before me;
Help me live from day to day
With its shadow o’er me.
In the cross, in the cross,
Be my glory ever;
Till my raptured soul shall find
Rest beyond the river.
["In the Cross," by Fanny Crosby]
Christ’s death in the city.
And our Lord, hushed, humbled, that the Son of God should pay so great a price for our redemption. O God, who could but bow, that the Lord in heaven should so love us, give Himself for us, not our own, bought with a price [1 Corinthians 6:20]. Our sins, Lord, forgive. Our sins, Lord, save. May we love Thee more. Draw us closer to Thee. Bow in Thy presence. Avow every day our love for Thee.
And may the grace and mercy of Jesus, seen in His sobs, and His tears, and His agony, and His blood, be our eloquent expiation and the forgiveness of our sins, both now and in the day when we stand at the judgment seat of Christ [2 Corinthians 5:10]. Save, Lord, Thy people. And as we turn from this holy hour to the tasks of the day, may we have the Lord in our souls, His blessing in our lives, and the praises of our precious Savior on our lips, in His wonderful, wonderful name, amen.
CHRIST’S DEATH IN THE CITY
Dr. W. A. Criswell
A. The sovereign purpose of God that the death of His Son be open, public (Luke 9:51, John 19:20)
B. He was numbered with transgressors (Isaiah 53:12)
C. Crucifixion invented by the Romans for slaves and felons
1. Physical agony and moral disgrace (Deuteronomy 21:23, Galatians 3:13)
II. The whole world represented – the crowd at the cross
A. The reviling crowd (Mark 15:29-31, John 19:23-24)
1. "Father forgive themâ€¦" (Luke 23:34)
B. The two criminals (Luke 23:39-41)
1. "Today thou shalt be with Meâ€¦" (Luke 23:42-43)
C. His mother (John 7:5)
1. His word to Mary and to John (John 19:25-27)
III. The darkness
A. No ordinary execution (Isaiah 53:5, 10)
B. "Eli, Eli, lama sabachthaniâ€¦" (Matthew 27:46)
C. Hellenistic Jews thought He called for Elijah (Mark 15:34-36, Psalm 22:1)
IV. In the agony of death
A. "I thirst." (John 19:28)
B. "It is finished." (John 19:30)
C. "Father, into Thy handsâ€¦" (Luke 23:46)
1. Veil of the temple torn; a great earthquake (Matthew 27:51-52)
D. They brake not His legs, but pierced His heart (John 19:31-34)
1. Laid Him in a new tomb (Matthew 26:57-60)
V. Who did it?