Gospel of Matthew

Matthew - Lesson 27D

Chapter 27:32-36

Next lesson

  • Today we move another step ahead in the story of Jesus’ death on the cross on Passover

    • Jesus has been condemned by Pilate in the Antonian Fortress, and in short order, Jesus will be nailed to a wooden cross

      • Matthew’s account moves extremely quickly through these events often giving just a single verse to a significant moment

      • The other Gospel writers fill in the gaps, of course, and we will venture outside Matthew here and there as needed

      • But I want to remain true to the Gospel we’re studying, so we will largely stick with the text of Matthew

    • I also want to remind you of the three areas of focus for our study of Jesus’ suffering and death

      • First, we want to understand as best we can what Jesus experienced on our behalf 

      • Secondly, we want to understand the purpose and meaning of these events…that is, why did they happen this way?

      • Finally, we want to pay close attention to the timeline of events so we can dispel any myths or incorrect understanding 

    • Today we pick up at v.32, and immediately you’ll notice right away how much Matthew packs into a single verse

Matt. 27:32  As they were coming out, they found a man of Cyrene named Simon, whom they pressed into service to bear His cross.
  • Matthew moves directly from Pilate’s condemnation of Jesus to Jesus with His cross headed to his execution site outside the city walls

    • This is the only verse Matthew devotes to that entire journey, and because he jumps so quickly, I want to slow down just a bit

      • First, let’s get oriented…Jesus is leaving the Antonian Fotress where Pilate condemned Him before the crowds

      • The fortress is located inside the city walls on the northern end of the Temple

      • The crucifixion site sat on a small hill just outside the walls to the west/northwest of the city

    • The historical path Jesus took doesn’t exist any longer since the city has been destroyed and rebuilt several times since Jesus

      • But today there is a memorial path called the Via Dolorosa (Way of Suffering in Latin) that roughly retraces Jesus’ path 

      • Except if you walk the Via Dolorosa today you’ll notice that it begins and ends inside the city walls

      • Naturally, this confuses some people because we know that Jesus was crucified outside the city walls 

    • The current path lies entirely inside the city because the current walls around the old city of Jerusalem are not the original walls

      • The walls of Jesus’ day enclosed a smaller area that placed Jesus’ burial site outside the city just to the west

      • A decade or so after Jesus died, the walls were greatly expanded by King Agrippa to encompass Jesus’ burial site into the city

    • The Romans destroyed the city walls in the revolt of AD 70 and centuries later the Ottomans rebuilt walls in the 1500s

      • The Ottoman walls enclose a smaller area than the Roman walls, but they still encompass Jesus’ burial site 

      • So now Jesus’ burial site is inside the city walls and is marked by a magnificent church built by Constantine in the 4th century

  • The actual distance from the Fortress to the crucifixion site is about 500 meters or so, which is about a quarter mile

    • An average person can make a walk that distance in about 15 min

      • But given Jesus’ debilitated state following the beatings and a scourging, He would have found this walk to be an ordeal

      • And adding to that difficulty considerably, Romans forced the condemned to carry their cross to the crucifixion site 

    • The Romans used any one of four different cross designs for crucifixion so we can’t be sure the type of cross used in Jesus’ day

      • Based on certain details in the story, the traditional “t-shaped” cross was likely the one used for Jesus

      • And if so, then Jesus would have carried only the horizontal  cross beam to the crucifixion site

    • The beam would be placed across the person’s shoulders and tied to his arms for the walk

      • The beam wasn’t especially large or heavy…just large enough to support the person’s weight 

      • But Jesus was in no condition to carry anything, so this task was quite difficult and we see the evidence in v.32 

  • In v.32 we’re told that as soon as Jesus picks up His cross and begins to the walk, He falls

    • Right away the Roman guards realize Jesus can’t make it to the crucifixion site on His own, so they conscript a nearby passerby to help

      • Matthew says they chose a man named Simon from Cyrene, a place in northern Africa, who was in Jerusalem for the Passover

      • Like the rest of the crowd, Simon was likely there to see the national Passover Lamb sacrificed in the temple at 9 AM

    • But now he is required by the guards to follow Jesus for the entire walk to the crucifixion site carrying the wooden beam

      • Here’s another opportunity for us to correct a common misconception about Jesus’ death

      • Jesus didn’t carry His own cross except for a brief moment at the very start of the journey 

      • For the most part, Jesus walked to His death carrying nothing because he could barely manage the walk at all

    • And for Simon, being forced to carry Jesus’ cross was much more than an inconvenience; he was now a participant in the horrors of crucifixion 

      • Though Simon wasn’t nailed to the cross, he shared in the abuse that Jesus endured on the way there

      • As an accused walked to his execution site, he traveled through densely packed crowds in narrow city streets

      • These crowds pressed in on the man jeering at him, hurling abuse, spitting on him, throwing objects and even beating him

    • In such tight and chaotic quarters, anyone near Jesus would have found themselves in the crossfire

      • Although the abuse wasn’t intended for Simon, those misdirected rocks, spit and punches still landed with a sting 

      • And the closer Simon walked with Jesus, the more of the abuse came his way

  • At the same time, Simon’s role also gained him the benefit of a front row seat to witness Jesus’ personal suffering 

    • Matthew doesn’t record any details from the journey to the cross, but the other Gospel writers record one notable moment

      • John and Luke tells us that following Jesus were women wailing loudly over His predicament

      • But these women were not truly lamenting Jesus’ fate, and in fact, they probably didn’t even know Jesus

    • These women were professional mourners who wailed and lamented for income

      • In Jewish culture it was considered dishonorable for someone to die without someone expressing sorrow for them 

      • This expectation gave rise to professional mourners, who wailed for those who lacked enough friends or family to mourn them

      • Family members of the deceased would compensate them for their work in honoring their relative 

    • When Jesus sees these women mourning for Him, He knows no one will pay them, so He offers them compensation in the form or advice:

Luke 23:27 And following Him was a large crowd of the people, and of women who were mourning and lamenting Him.
Luke 23:28 But Jesus turning to them said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, stop weeping for Me, but weep for yourselves and for your children.
Luke 23:29 “For behold, the days are coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bore, and the breasts that never nursed.’
Luke 23:30 “Then they will begin TO SAY TO THE MOUNTAINS, ‘FALL ON US,’ AND TO THE HILLS, ‘COVER US.’
  • Jesus offers these women a warning prophecy concerning the coming judgment on Jerusalem 

    • He tells them to save their crying for their own children at the time of the future destruction of their city

    • This judgment came against Jerusalem for their rejection of Jesus, and it came to pass as promised in AD 70

  • So as Simon followed closely behind Jesus, he experienced moments like this and perhaps others that aren’t recorded in the Gospels

    • At the very least, Simon witnessed the way Jesus handled these unbearable circumstances, including noticing what Jesus was not doing

      • Normally, a convicted criminal headed to the cross was in no mood to be pleasant or kind with the abusive crowd 

      • So as the crowd hurled insults and rocks, the condemned man would return the favor by screaming obscenities at the crowd

    • Jesus responded so differently, even showing concern for women who pretended to mourn Him, that it must have puzzled Simon greatly

      • Jesus never uttering an insult against anyone involved in His death, no cursing, no crying even

      • Jesus accepted the abuse willingly, as we studied earlier, and certainly it would have made an impression on Simon

    • So if Simon walked closely with Jesus, he saw and heard remarkable things but staying close to Jesus also meant enduring more abuse too

      • On the other hand, if Simon dropped back to leave space between himself and Jesus, he lessened the abuse he received

      • But if he did that, Simon also experienced less of Jesus, heard less of Jesus’ word and witnessed less of Jesus’ behavior

      • And I wonder what mattered most to Simon in that moment? 

  • I think the Lord arranged for Simon to walk with Jesus so we would have an example of how our walk with Jesus brings both sacrifice and blessing

    • The closer we walk with Jesus, the more we will suffer as He did, because as Jesus said, they hated Him first, so they will hate us too 

John 15:18 “If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you.
John 15:19 “If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you.
  • The world loves its own, and for the same reason the world hates God because God convicts the world for ungodliness

  • And if the world hates God, then it will also hate anything or anyone who represents God

  • And since we have been chosen by God to be His ambassadors, then Jesus says we have become enemies of the world

    • Therefore, the closer we walk with Jesus, the more we look and sound like Jesus to the world, so the more the world will hate us

    • We’re like Simon walking closely with Jesus, carrying our cross as Jesus told us to do

  • As we walk we will be subject to the same hatred and abuse directed against Jesus

    • But when that happens, they aren’t hating us…they’re hating Jesus and God…we’re just collateral damage

    • Also like Simon, we can lessen the abuse if we distance ourselves from Jesus, fading back in our walk, blending into the crowd, etc.

  • But of course, if we do that we also lose the experience of walking with Jesus, watching Him at work and hearing His word

    • We can’t have it both ways…we can’t walk closely with Jesus and avoid the negative consequences that naturally follow

    • Christians can’t be friends with Jesus and friends with the world 

James 4:4 You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.
  • So this man was enlisted into the story of Jesus’ death to remind us that Christ desires followers who are willing to be identified with Jesus

    • Interestingly this man is named Simon, the same name as Jesus’ chief disciple Peter, whose original name was Simon

      • We have one Simon present that day following Jesus to the cross, while the other Simon, the rock, was notably absent

      • I wonder what if Peter had been present that day, might he have carried the cross instead of Simon of Cyrene?

    • After all, Jesus assigned Simon Peter the responsibility for leading the early church and for setting the example for everyone else

      • Peter was the rock upon which Jesus would start building His Church, and yet where was Simon Peter now?

      • That Simon was hiding somewhere trying to avoid the abuse that was falling on Jesus, while this Simon took his place 

    • Which is a reminder that if we won’t walk with Jesus and serve Him, Jesus will find someone else who will

      • When we fail to walk with Jesus, He doesn’t lose out…but we do

      • There are marvelous, amazing and sometimes challenging things you will experience following Jesus…

      • And I’m not just talking about coming to faith in Jesus…I’m talking to the believer who has faith but is following at a distance

      • You don’t know what you’re missing

    • And one final thought…Simon followed Jesus, suffering along the way, but he didn’t suffer the death that Jesus did

      • Once he made his way to the cross, Simon was free to go…he just walked away

      • Jesus stayed behind to die that day, which reminds us that even as we follow Jesus, He still takes our place when it matters most 

      • Jesus took the death Simon deserved and that we deserve

    • And that’s why our walk with Him will never bring us to a place where we have to pay for our own sins…that payment was made once for all

      • Yes, we are called to bear a cross of service to Jesus, of identity with Jesus and of suffering for Jesus

      • But He bears the marks of the cross and suffered for us so that we won’t have to suffer in eternity 

  • So Jesus makes His way to the execution site with Simon following…

Matt. 27:33 And when they came to a place called Golgotha, which means Place of a Skull,
  • As Jesus exits the city gate He quickly reaches a rocky outcrop called Golgotha located only a few meters outside the walls  

    • The name is an Aramaic word that Matthew translates for us as “place of a skull”  which refers to the fact that Romans executed many people here

      • Prisoners carried the horizontal beam of the cross to this point, and then their crucifixion would begin

      • In typical Roman fashion, the process happened very quickly and very brutally

    • First, the condemned was forced to lie down with arms outstretched on the horizontal beam and thick iron nails were driven through the wrist

      • In John’s Gospel, we are told Jesus had wounds in His “hands” but in the ancient world the word “hand" also referred to the wrist

      • Since we know the palm is not strong enough to support the weight of the person, the nail must have gone through the wrist 

    • As the nails penetrated the wrist, it severed ligaments and nerves, causing shooting pains and involuntary contractions of the fingers 

      • Then the horizontal beam was raised with a hoist or ropes and the person was lifted by their outstretched arms

      • As the body weight hung from the outstretched arms, one or both shoulders were likely dislocated 

      • A dislocated shoulder is an intense pain all by itself, made worse by the pain of the body pulling against the nail in the wrist

    • The horizontal beam is then nailed to the vertical beam, and the man’s feet are nailed one on top of the other to the vertical beam

      • The feet are positioned so that the knees are bent, which was another Roman innovation to extend the suffering of crucifixion 

      • While hanging in this position, the man’s diaphragm can’t expand the chest cavity, so the person can’t breathe

      • Leon Morris describes the experience this way:

To breathe, it was necessary to push with the legs and pull with the arms to keep the chest cavity open and functioning. Terrible muscle spasms wracked the entire body; but since collapse meant asphyxiation, the strain went on and on. This is also why the sedecula [a piece of wood that served as a small seat in some cases] . . . prolonged life and agony: it partially supported the body's weight, and therefore encouraged the victim to fight on. 
  • According to Mark, Jesus is placed on the cross on the third Roman hour of the day, which is 9 AM on our clock

    • This began the first of three divisions of time on that day, and the first division runs from 9 AM to noon (12 PM)

      • From 9 AM until noon, Jesus is suffering from the actions of mankind

      • Sinful men put Jesus on a cross that day, and sinful men are tormenting Jesus as He hangs

      • This three-hour period serves the purpose of Jesus experiencing the consequences of sin, not His own but of ours

    • Spiritually speaking, each of us put Jesus on the cross that day, and if you think you would have done better in that day, think again

      • There is nothing fundamentally different between us and the people who mocked and tormented Jesus that day

      • They are sinners, we are sinners; they hated God, and apart from the grace of God, so would we

      • I assure you that had you been a first century Jew in Jerusalem that day, you would have spit on Jesus too

  • Jesus will now hang until He dies, and the typical cause of death in crucifixion was asphyxiation or shock from exposure

    • The prisoner would weaken over time and eventually lose the strength to push themselves up for a breath, and the process could take days

      • Here again, the Romans wanted to prolong the agony, so they offered the prisoner vinegar to drink throughout the ordeal

      • Near the end Jesus will say He was thirsty and He will drink a little then

    • But the Romans did make concession to mercy: they offered a prisoner the chance to drink a potion to help with the pain

Matt. 27:34 they gave Him wine to drink mixed with gall; and after tasting it, He was unwilling to drink.
  • This combination of gall with wine potion had a slightly anesthetic effect which helped cut the pain of the experience somewhat   

    • But notice Jesus refuses this drink, and He does so because He was not supposed to avoid the pain of the cross

    • Quite the contrary, the point of this experience as we learned earlier was for Jesus to experience suffering full force

    • He was there to suffer for our sake, and so He refuses to take anything that might decrease His suffering

  • Finally, as Jesus hangs Matthew tells us that the Roman guards assigned to watch the prisoners that day begins profiting from the work that day

Matt. 27:35 And when they had crucified Him, they divided up His garments among themselves by casting lots.
Matt. 27:36 And sitting down, they began to keep watch over Him there.
  • Roman soldiers were often paid in spoil, either from conquests in war or from prisoners they oversaw

    • Prisoners were crucified completely naked as a further act of shame, so their clothing was left for others to take

      • There were multiple guards assigned to the duty that day, and each would receive something 

      • Typically, a person in that day wore an outer garment, inner garment, head covering, sandals and a heavier outer coat

    • These items had varying value, and the coat fabric, which was the most useful, was often torn into pieces and shared among the men

      • But Jesus’ tunic was seamless, according to John, which means it was a more expensive robe usually worn by the upper class

      • Jesus probably received it as a sacrificial gift from some follower, and these Romans don’t want to ruin it by dividing it

      • So they throw lots or dice to see who will get it

    • Why is that little detail included in the Gospels? Primarily for the same reason many other such details were included…

      • Because they all are fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy

      • For example, listen to this description of the crucifixion in the Psalms 

Psa. 22:11  Be not far from me, for trouble is near; 
For there is none to help.
Psa. 22:12  Many bulls have surrounded me; 
Strong bulls of Bashan have encircled me.
Psa. 22:13  They open wide their mouth at me, 
As a ravening and a roaring lion.
Psa. 22:14  I am poured out like water, 
And all my bones are out of joint; 
My heart is like wax; 
It is melted within me.
Psa. 22:15  My strength is dried up like a potsherd, 
And my tongue cleaves to my jaws; 
And You lay me in the dust of death.
Psa. 22:16  For dogs have surrounded me; 
A band of evildoers has encompassed me; 
They pierced my hands and my feet.
Psa. 22:17  I can count all my bones. 
They look, they stare at me;
Psa. 22:18  They divide my garments among them, 
And for my clothing they cast lots.
  • David describes the experience of Jesus on the cross, though David knew nothing of what that experience would be like

    • When David wrote that psalm, crucifixion wasn’t known…it wasn’t invented until the Persian empire centuries later

      • This is God giving David and us a preview of what was coming for Jesus and doing it in a way that validated Jesus’ ministry

      • Starting in v.11 he says there was none to help, and as we know Jesus had no allies present apart from a few women and John

    • Then in v.12 many bulls of Bashan surrounded Him referring to the Roman soldiers

      • A Bashan bull often pictures the most powerful of warriors or enemies in Scripture which is an apt description of Rome 

      • Next he says the people opened their mouths at Jesus roaring at Him with insults and jeers like lions

      • And Jesus felt as if His life was being poured out of His body as He was scourged and beaten and nailed to the cross

    • Next in v.14 He says His bones are out of joint, referring to His shoulders separating from hanging on the nails

      • And His heart is like wax melting in the sense that He can feel His heart weakening and fading under the stress and loss of blood 

      • His strength is sapped, His mouth is dry and His tongue sticks to His mouth

      • All these symptoms perfectly match a crucifixion experience 

    • And then Jesus says dogs surround Him, and dog was the Jewish preferred term to describe a Gentile…another reference to Romans

      • This band of evildoers has surrounded Jesus at His feet as He hangs above them, referring again to Roman soldiers

      • And then notice in v.16 these same ones are responsible for piercing His hands and feet…just as the Romans did 

      • How do we explain a reference to piercing hands and feet centuries before crucifixion was invented except by God

    • Finally, vs.17-18 say none of Jesus’ bones were broken, and that too will be confirmed in the Gospel account

      • And that they (the dogs) cast lots for His clothing, dividing them among themselves just as we studied

      • These little details are included in the Gospel story to point us back to these prophecies so we will know Jesus is the Messiah

  • That’s how God reveals Himself to people…by giving us details to connect Scripture in such a way that we find the answers God has hidden for us

    • Think back one more time to Simon the Cyrene…

      • Mark writes in his Gospel that Simon was the father of Rufus

      • He gives his Roman readers that detail as if Mark expected them to recognize the name and understand the connection

      • Later in Paul’s letter to the church in Rome, he also mentions a Rufus, who was a believer living in that city

    • So perhaps Mark wanted us to connect Simon’s experience with Jesus to the faith of Simon’s son, Rufus, to show us the impact of that moment

      • Specifically, it seems Simon’s experience that day changed him, brining him to faith in Jesus and he passed that along to his sons

      • I wonder if Simon saw and heard things that day that reminded him of Scripture like Psalm 22

    • Somehow in that moment Simon came to realize that this wasn’t an ordinary man dying that day but the Promised One of Israel

      • That’s why details in Scripture matter, it’s why we study it the way we do, so that faith may come to those who hear the word

      • And that for those of us following behind Jesus, our confidence and trust in the word of God may grow