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Bridge Building on a Rugged Cross

by Stephen Davey Scripture Reference: Matthew 27:33–44; Mark 15:22–32; Luke 23:33

There is nothing we can suffer that Jesus Christ cannot understand. Indeed, everything He suffered was for us. He can fully sympathize with any and every pain, disappointment, and injustice and can minister to our needs as no one else can. 


In our last study, we began to watch as Jesus began His journey along the Via Dolorosa—the way of suffering. He is horribly beaten, exhausted, and bloodied as He now arrives at the place of execution. It is called “Golgotha” in the Gospels, which is Aramaic for “skull” (Matthew 27:33). The Latin name for it is Calvary, which also refers to the skull. This is the place of death.

In Mark 15:23, we read, “They offered him wine mixed with myrrh, but he did not take it.” Compassionate women from the city had taken on this ministry of mercy, providing this particular drink for those who were going to be crucified. Myrrh mixed with wine was a narcotic—a pain-reducing drink. But Jesus is not about to allow any alleviation of His suffering that might muddle His mind. He has ministry to take care of from His cross, as He is going to offer some eternally significant words.

Crucifixion was an invention of the Assyrians and the Persians, who practiced this form of execution a thousand years before the time of Christ. Alexander the Great was fond of this form of execution. He introduced the practice to the Carthaginians, and later, the Romans developed it to produce a slow death with maximum pain and suffering.

To prolong the process of death, they added a block of wood to serve as a crude seat, or sedulum. This sedulum allowed victims to push themselves up to fill their lungs with air. But it also prolonged their agony, with some victims surviving for days before dying from some combination of dehydration, shock, blood loss, or paralysis of the diaphragm—if they were not attacked at night and eaten by wild animals.

A crucifixion victim was nailed to the cross with spikes. Because the spikes would easily tear through the tissue and small bones of the palm of the hand, the practice was to nail the spikes through the wrist, which was considered part of the hand.

Then, the feet would be nailed. The legs would be turned together to the side in a crouching position. The feet would be overlapped so that both ankles could be nailed through with a single spike.

Some years ago, the bones of a young man who had been crucified were uncovered. His wrist bones were punctured, and a spike was still anchored, having been nailed through his ankles.[1]

It goes without saying perhaps, but I want to emphasize that the pain would have been excruciating. In fact, the word excruciating comes from the Latin term that literally means “out of the cross.” This form of death created its own vocabulary for pain and suffering.

Roman citizens were guaranteed that no matter what crimes they committed, they would never need to fear death by crucifixion. Crucifixion was the most terrifying, painful, humiliating way to die.

But has it ever occurred to you that the Gospels never dwell on the physical aspects of the Lord’s crucifixion? Instead of volumes of information, there are just a few verses. They simply tell us, as John 19:18 does, “They crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, and Jesus between them.” Matthew tells us both these men were “robbers” (27:38).

Then we read this detail in John 19:

Pilate also wrote an inscription and put it on the cross. It read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” Many of the Jews read this inscription, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and it was written in Aramaic, in Latin, and in Greek. (verses 19-20)

This leads to the following exchange in verses 21-22:

So the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, “Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews,’ but rather, ‘This man said, I am King of the Jews.’ Pilate answered, “What I have written I have written.”

Pilate knew he had sent an innocent man to death because of the Jewish leaders’ threats. He knew these words would infuriate the Jewish leaders, and he gladly rubbed salt in their wounds.

But imagine, the first gospel tract ever published was by the hand of a pagan ruler—and thousands of Jews would read it in their own Aramaic language! It was also written in Latin, the language of the Roman Empire; and it was written in Greek, the language of the world at large. Although Pilate meant this as an insult to the Jews, it becomes an invitation—the entire world can make Him their King. This inscription was not a record of his crime but an announcement of His royal character—He is the King!

Now verse 23:

When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his garments and divided them into four parts, one part for each soldier; also his tunic. But the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom.

This was overtime pay for these soldiers. The clothing of the criminals would be added to their own wardrobes as payment for this distasteful duty.

Jesus had a seamless inner tunic, or chitōn, which was valuable—evidently the gift of some wealthy individual, or perhaps handsewn by some believing woman. Verse 24 tells us the soldiers do not want to cut it up, so they “cast lots for it”—they essentially throw dice. Little do they know they are actually fulfilling the prophecy of Psalm 22:18: “They divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots.”

By the way, there was one other person in Jerusalem who wore a garment like this. A chitōn was part of the high priest’s garments. Who would be more deserving of such a tunic than our Great High Priest?

The word for priest, in Latin, means, “bridge builder.” The high priest was supposed to build a bridge, as it were, between God and man. But no human high priest could ever do that completely, eternally.

And what is Jesus, our High Priest about to do? He will build a bridge from earth to heaven, a bridge in the form of this old rugged cross.

When you look at this scene, you are struck with the sense of reality. Let’s not sugarcoat anything here. Let’s not sanitize it and try to clean it up. It is brutal, inhuman, undeserved, and it is excruciating.

Jesus’ physical pain is compounded by emotional pain. Even as He is dying, the chief priests and others all mockingly say in Luke 23:35, “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ.” To the very end, they reject the truth of who He truly is. And the truth is, He did not come to save Himself; rather He came to sacrifice Himself in order to save you and me. We don’t like to suffer anything; He voluntarily suffered everything for you and me.

Beloved, there is nothing you can experience that Jesus is not able to understand. Your painful rejections, your deepest disappointments—He understands them fully. He experienced betrayal, denial, injustice, torture, abandonment, thirst, humiliation.

When you come to this scene, you are struck with the sense of reality, but you should leave it with a spirit of rejoicing. This crucifixion scene declares that God is in control of the worst of circumstances. To the world, the life of Jesus is wasted—His cause has failed. But the truth is, God’s divine plan of the ages—down to soldiers throwing dice for the Lord’s tunic—is perfectly completed. In this darkest hour of human history—and every dark hour since—God is completely in control. I like to say that even when it is chaos out there, God is in control of the chaos.

Just make sure, my friend, that you have personally made your way across this bridge built by the Savior’s death on a cross. Make sure you have walked across the living Bridge right into the family of God.

[1] Vassilios Tzaferis, “Crucifixion—The Archaeological Evidence,” Biblical Archaeology Review, January/February, 1985, 44-53.

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