November 21 “Golgotha”

Golgotha

John continues his narrative in sparse but well-chosen words:

And He, bearing His cross, went out to a place called the Place of a Skull,
which is called in Hebrew, Golgotha, where they crucified Him, and two others with Him,
one on either side, and Jesus in the center.

For the soldiers it was all just another day’s duty. They were hardened to the sight of blood and unmoved by the suffering of the guilty. Guilt and innocence were not their business; their job was killing those whom others judged worthy of death. Some of the soldiers had seen Jesus in action teaching, working miracles, and healing sick people with a touch. Those soldiers decided not to trouble themselves about how such a man as He should end up here at the Place of the Skull.

Pilate
Pilate hated what he had done as much as he hated the Jews. In what can be seen as a passive aggressive protest, Pilate ordered a sign to posted on the cross above Jesus’ head:

JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS

When the leaders who incited this injustice read this sign, they protested to Pilate but it was a useless protest.

“Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews,’ but, ‘He said, “I am the King of the Jews.”

Pilate had had enough of them and would not allow the subject to be opened.

“What I have written, I have written.”

Unable to stop the shameful treatment of an innocent man, Pilate watched as the soldiers drove Jesus with whips and threatening swords, bearing His cross to the place of execution. This ominous rock formation resembling a human skull was to be scene of the demise of three men, two guilty and one innocent. Unable to reconcile these things, we learn from other sources that Pilate washed his hands of the matter and retreated into his chamber.

Crucifixion
The skillful, practiced soldiers made quick work of the three crucifixions at that horrible place and soon three bleeding men were lifted to the sky to pay for sins; two of them paying for their own deeds and one of them paying for yours and mine.

Their duty done, these wards of Rome took the clothes of the crucified ones as prizes rightly theirs. They separated their spoils into four equal piles except for the seamless robe of Jesus. It would have been a shame to tear such a fine robe.

“They said therefore among themselves, “Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it, whose it shall be…”

Tossing dice to see who might take it home as a memento of this duty, they gambled for its possession. This fulfilled an ancient prophecy:

“They divided My garments among them, And for My clothing they cast lots.”

John does not tell us if any of the elders or disciples who must have known this prophecy took note of this event. The soldier who won the game took the robe Jesus had worn and closely inspected it. This was the outer garment of the miracle worker who fell just one miracle short. It was stained with blood from the scourge but those stains would wash away. He felt richer for this prize and won the envy of his fellows.

The soldiers waited for the crucified ones to suffer enough for them to finish the job with clubs and spears. It was all so routine for them. There was no indication that these crucifixions would be memorable in any way.

Scriptures:
John 19:17-24

And He, bearing His cross, went out to a place called the Place of a Skull, which is called in Hebrew, Golgotha, where they crucified Him, and two others with Him, one on either side, and Jesus in the center. Now Pilate wrote a title and put it on the cross. And the writing was: JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS. Then many of the Jews read this title, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin. Therefore the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, “Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews,’ but, ‘He said, “I am the King of the Jews.”‘” Pilate answered, “What I have written, I have written.” Then the soldiers, when they had crucified Jesus, took His garments and made four parts, to each soldier a part, and also the tunic. Now the tunic was without seam, woven from the top in one piece. They said therefore among themselves, “Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it, whose it shall be,” that the Scripture might be fulfilled which says: “They divided My garments among them, And for My clothing they cast lots.” Therefore the soldiers did these things.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, You were faithful to the end of that mockery of a trial. You will judge all someday but on that morning You submitted to the judgement of Pilate. There was so much at stake! Redemption for sinners, victory for those embattled, healing for those who are sick or injured, and eternal life for those sentenced to eternal death. I rejoice that Your story did not end on that hill. You gave Your life for me and, by the power of the Holy Spirit, You took it up again, no longer reduced to a human life, but expanded back to a divine one. Such a story! Such a truth! Thank You, Lord. Amen.

Song:
Calvary Proves His Love for Me

Words and Music: Steve and J. D. Phifer

1. There are times when I just cannot feel
God’s love way down inside.
So I run to the Book and there I read
How Jesus, my Lord, was crucified.

Refrain:
And Calvary proves His love for me.
Why should I ever doubt Him?
I will place my trust in Christ, you see,
For Calvary proves His love for me.

2. Who can say what tomorrow may bring?
Our eyes may flood with tears.
Let us look to the Christ of Calvary.
His love will cast out our every fear.

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

May 30 “Calvary”

Calvary

Roman soldiers were men of chance.
They knew that each day could be their last. Their business was spilling blood and each one knew that on any day, their own blood may be spilt. So why not gamble on the fine robe of this criminal? It was woven in one piece, woven with care by some woman, no doubt. Amid the blood splatters, the Roman dice were tossed.

Golgotha
Beneath the whips of the soldiers, after hours of abuse, the strength of Jesus was just about gone. A man from Cyrene named Simon was conscripted by the soldiers to carry the cross as they approached Golgotha, the Place of the Skull. They offered Jesus sour wine to dull the pain but He refused. There the business was done: nails in His hands and one nail through His crossed feet. His blood, deemed worthless by the soldiers, left a trail marking His route to the mountain and covered the ground beneath the cross. No one but the Father could see how far that trail of blood would extend—through centuries, across oceans, and beyond all the mountain ranges of the world.

KING OF THE JEWS
Mocking Him, the clever soldiers placed a sign over His head.

“THIS IS JESUS THE KING OF THE JEWS.”

Their little joke has become the Gospel, “to the Jew first” and then to the rest of us. Passers-by, those people entertained by blood and violence, scorned Jesus and hurled His own words back at Him, not in faith, but in derision.

Darkness
Creation itself recoiled at such evil. Darkness fell for three hours. This was no cloud cover; it was an unnatural shadow that spread, not from the sky, but from the hearts of the people. The darkness muffled but did not silence the noise of the crowd. Suddenly, the voice of Jesus shook the darkened mountain,

“My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”

Someone offered Him sour wine on a stick. Again He refused any comfort from men whose sins were the cause of this.

The Storm
Clouds began to roll in from all points of the compass accompanied by distant thunder. With a loud voice, Jesus released His body, the one prepared for Him as a tool of Messianic ministry, from suffering and slumped in death. The storm broke. Wind and lightning, rain and hail, pounded the top of Golgotha as the ground itself began to shake. An earthquake, localized to the path of Jesus from the Temple to Golgotha, ripped the ground open. When the quake passed through a cemetery, graves of the righteous dead burst open—a foretaste of glory yet to come. At the Temple, the earthquake reached the veil hiding an empty Holy of Holies. Attending priests scattered for shelter as the heavy veil began to tear from the top to the bottom. The Shekinah of God spilled from that little room, never to return.

The Tomb
As quickly as it started the storm was over. The skies cleared and the sun returned to full strength. The women who never left Jesus wanted to care for His body before the Sabbath. Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the Sanhedrin who condemned Jesus, had prearranged with Pilate to care for Jesus’ body. His men took His body down and laid it in Joseph’s tomb. Joseph’s men rolled a heavy stone over the entrance. Joseph and his men left and only the women remained until they, too, had to leave before the Sabbath.

Scriptures:
Matthew 27:32-61

Now as they came out, they found a man of Cyrene, Simon by name. Him they compelled to bear His cross. And when they had come to a place called Golgotha, that is to say, Place of a Skull, they gave Him sour wine mingled with gall to drink. But when He had tasted it, He would not drink. Then they crucified Him, and divided His garments, casting lots, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet: “They divided My garments among them, And for My clothing they cast lots.” Sitting down, they kept watch over Him there. And they put up over His head the accusation written against Him: THIS IS JESUS THE KING OF THE JEWS. Then two robbers were crucified with Him, one on the right and another on the left. And those who passed by blasphemed Him, wagging their heads and saying, “You who destroy the temple and build it in three days, save Yourself! If You are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” Likewise the chief priests also, mocking with the scribes and elders, said, “He saved others; Himself He cannot save. If He is the King of Israel, let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe Him. He trusted in God; let Him deliver Him now if He will have Him; for He said, ‘I am the Son of God.'” Even the robbers who were crucified with Him reviled Him with the same thing. Now from the sixth hour until the ninth hour there was darkness over all the land. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” that is, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” Some of those who stood there, when they heard that, said, “This Man is calling for Elijah!” Immediately one of them ran and took a sponge, filled it with sour wine and put it on a reed, and offered it to Him to drink. The rest said, “Let Him alone; let us see if Elijah will come to save Him.” And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit. Then, behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth quaked, and the rocks were split, and the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; and coming out of the graves after His resurrection, they went into the holy city and appeared to many. So when the centurion and those with him, who were guarding Jesus, saw the earthquake and the things that had happened, they feared greatly, saying, “Truly this was the Son of God!” And many women who followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to Him, were there looking on from afar, among whom were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joses, and the mother of Zebedee’s sons. Now when evening had come, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who himself had also become a disciple of Jesus. This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate commanded the body to be given to him. When Joseph had taken the body, he wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and laid it in his new tomb which he had hewn out of the rock; and he rolled a large stone against the door of the tomb, and departed. And Mary Magdalene was there, and the other Mary, sitting opposite the tomb.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, may the image of the cross always break my heart. May the truth of the cross always set me free. In profound innocence, You suffered the punishment for the sins of this whole world. Your blood is my healing. Your wounds are my hiding place. You atonement is my redemption. I will keep Your cross always in my heart, its meaning always in my mind. When I think of Your cross, it will not be an image of You helpless in its grip; that was the moment of atonement. I will see an empty cross, for Your work was done once and for all. Your vacant cross is my standard, my banner of victory. Amen and amen.

Song:
When I Survey the Wondrous Cross
Words: Isaac Watts; Music: Lowell Mason

1. When I survey the wondrous cross
on which the Prince of glory died,
my richest gain I count but loss,
and pour contempt on all my pride.

2. Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast
save in the death of Christ, my God!
All the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them through his blood.

3. See, from his head, his hands, his feet,
sorrow and love flow mingled down.
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,
or thorns compose so rich a crown?

4. Were the whole realm of nature mine,
that were a present far too small.
Love so amazing, so divine,
demands my soul, my life, my all.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

February 26 “Calvary”

Calvary

Due to its remarkable shape, Golgotha was called the place of the skull.
It was a place where lives were ended in blood and shame. On this day it would live up to its image and name.

Roman soldiers paraded Jesus through the city streets and out of the city gates with whips and curses to the delight of the mob. Perhaps growing weary of the excessive time this duty was wasting, they conscripted a man, Simon from Cyrene, to help Jesus bear the cross. Arriving at the place of execution they offered Jesus a sedative to dull the pain. He refused it. With practiced efficiency the soldiers nailed Jesus to the wooden beams by His hands and feet and lifted Him to the sky. Criminals received the same, one on either side of Him, fulfilling an ancient prophecy.

“And He was numbered with the transgressors.”

The soldiers also nailed the indictment made against Jesus to the top of the cross. It read:

THE KING OF THE JEWS.

The crowd, enraged by this proclamation, began to revile Him, taunting Him with cruel words designed to pierce His heart just as the nails pierced his body:

“Aha! You who destroy the temple and build it in three days, save Yourself,
and come down from the cross!”
“He saved others; Himself He cannot save. Let the Christ, the King of Israel,
descend now from the cross, that we may see and believe.”

The soldiers gambled for what was left of His clothes. It was the third hour of the day.

Six hours later, Jesus replied, not to His tormentors, but to His father:

“…Why have you forsaken me?

Someone soaked a sponge in sour wine and, using a stick, raised to His mouth. He did not drink it. He cried out again with a loud voice and it was over. From other sources we know that all of creation cried out at His death in storms and darkness and earthquakes. Struggling to keep his footing upon the shaking soil and in the driving wind, a Roman soldier realized that this was no criminal.

“Truly this Man was the Son of God!”

Meanwhile, at the Temple
Far away from Golgotha, deep in the heart of the Temple, a heavy veil designed to isolate the Holy Presence of God from an unholy world, trembled and tore from the top to the bottom. The Old Covenant with a loving God held hostage in the Holy of Holies by the sins of mankind, broke out of this confinement. A New Covenant was now in force made secure by the innocent blood of Jesus shed at Calvary. Now the New Temple of God, His dwelling place on earth, would not be in houses of stone, but in hearts of flesh, redeemed human hearts! The church would be His dwelling place in the earth by His Spirit.

At Calvary the women who followed Him, looked on as His body was taken down. Unknown to them, a friend on the council, Joseph of Arimathea, arranged with Pilate to have the body of Jesus placed in His tomb. The women rushed to do what they could before the Sabbath began.

Scripture:
Mark 15: 21-41
Then they compelled a certain man, Simon a Cyrenian, the father of Alexander and Rufus, as he was coming out of the country and passing by, to bear His cross. And they brought Him to the place Golgotha, which is translated, Place of a Skull. Then they gave Him wine mingled with myrrh to drink, but He did not take it. And when they crucified Him, they divided His garments, casting lots for them to determine what every man should take. Now it was the third hour, and they crucified Him. And the inscription of His accusation was written above:
THE KING OF THE JEWS. With Him they also crucified two robbers, one on His right and the other on His left. So the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “And He was numbered with the transgressors.” And those who passed by blasphemed Him, wagging their heads and saying, “Aha! You who destroy the temple and build it in three days, save Yourself, and come down from the cross!” Likewise the chief priests also, mocking among themselves with the scribes, said, “He saved others; Himself He cannot save. Let the Christ, the King of Israel, descend now from the cross, that we may see and believe.” Even those who were crucified with Him reviled Him. Now when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” which is translated, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” Some of those who stood by, when they heard that, said, “Look, He is calling for Elijah!” Then someone ran and filled a sponge full of sour wine, put it on a reed, and offered it to Him to drink, saying, “Let Him alone; let us see if Elijah will come to take Him down.” And Jesus cried out with a loud voice, and breathed His last. Then the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. So when the centurion, who stood opposite Him, saw that He cried out like this and breathed His last, he said, “Truly this Man was the Son of God!” There were also women looking on from afar, among whom were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the Less and of Joses, and Salome, who also followed Him and ministered to Him when He was in Galilee, and many other women who came up with Him to Jerusalem. Now when evening had come, because it was the Preparation Day, that is, the day before the Sabbath, Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent council member, who was himself waiting for the kingdom of God, coming and taking courage, went in to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Pilate marveled that He was already dead; and summoning the centurion, he asked him if He had been dead for some time. So when he found out from the centurion, he granted the body to Joseph. Then he bought fine linen, took Him down, and wrapped Him in the linen. And he laid Him in a tomb which had been hewn out of the rock, and rolled a stone against the door of the tomb. And Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses observed where He was laid.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, may I never forget that day, the day You paid the full price for all my sins and those of everyone everywhere. With every voice of thunder I hear, may I remember that storm that day as all creation—Your handiwork!—shook in protest to Your death. Help me remember that when You said “It is finished!” it really was. There is nothing I can do to earn my salvation. As the song says, “Jesus paid it all. All to Him I owe.” Thank You, Lord! Amen and Amen.

Song:
He Could Have Called Ten Thousand Angels
Words and Music: Ray Overholt

1. They bound the hands of Jesus in the Garden where He prayed.
They led Him through the streets in shame.
They spat upon on the Savior so pure and free from sin.
They said “Crucify Him. He’s to blame.”

Refrain:
He could have called ten thousand angels
To destroy the world and set Him free.
He could have called ten thousand angels
But He died alone for You and me.

2. Upon His precious head they place a crown of thorns
They laughed and said, “Behold, the King.”
They struck Him and they cursed Him
And mocked His holy name.
All alone He suffered everything.

3. When they nailed Him to the cross
His mother stood nearby.
He said, “Woman, behold thy son!
He cried, “I thirst for water.”
They gave Him none to drink.
Then the sinful work of man was done.

4. To the howling mob He yielded He did not for mercy cry.
And when He cried, “It’s finished,”
He gave Himself to die.
Salvation’s wondrous plan was done.

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved