26 And when they led him away, they laid hold upon one Simon of Cyrene, coming from the country, and laid on him the cross, to bear it after Jesus.
27 And there followed him a great multitude of the people, and of women who bewailed and lamented him.28 But Jesus turning unto them said, Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for me, but weep for yourselves, and for your children.29 For behold, the days are coming, in which they shall say, Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bare, and the breasts that never gave suck.30 Then shall they begin to say to the mountains, Fall on us; and to the hills, Cover us.31 For if they do these things in the green tree, what shall be done in the dry?
32 And there were also two others, malefactors, led with him to be put to death.
33 And when they came unto the place which is called The skull, there they crucified him, and the malefactors, one on the right hand and the other on the left.34 And Jesus said, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do. And parting his garments among them, they cast lots.35 And the people stood beholding. And the rulers also scoffed at him, saying, He saved others; let him save himself, if this is the Christ of God, his chosen.36 And the soldiers also mocked him, coming to him, offering him vinegar, 37 and saying, If thou art the King of the Jews, save thyself.38 And there was also a superscription over him, THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS.
The Gospel narratives spare us the distressing details of the crucifixion; this was the most cruel and agonizing form of death; but the facts are written with surprising delicacy and reserve. As Jesus was being led from the city a certain Simon of Cyrene was pressed into the service of bearing his cross. The cause of this action is purely a matter of conjecture. Its result was to give Simon immortal fame and apparently to secure for him eternal salvation; for it seems that this experience, and the knowledge of Christ gained at Calvary, resulted in the conversion of Simon and his household, Mark 15:21; Rom.16:13. In a figure, he was the first of that long line of men and women who have taken up the cross and followed Christ. Of course this is a mere symbol, and the actual contrasts are vital. In reality no one can share the burden of the cross which our Saviour bore. His sufferings, and his alone, made atonement for sin. Then again no one can be compelled to take up the cross. There are burdens in life which cannot be evaded but one can refuse the cross. It is a type of the voluntary suffering endured for the sake of Christ; it is a symbol of the complete sacrifice of self and the complete submission to his will which is necessary for all who share in the redeeming benefits of his death.
Luke alone records the incident of the women who, wailing and lamenting, followed Jesus out of the city. It is quite fitting that in this Gospel, in which womanhood is so exalted, a place should be found for this picture. It is not to be supposed that these were the loyal friends who had followed Jesus on his journeys and helped to supply his needs; these were rather residents of Jerusalem whose hearts were bleeding with sorrow for the loving Prophet who was being led forth to an agonizing death. Our Lord turned to these women with a message of sympathy and told them that they were not to weep for him but for themselves and their children. He was not rebuking them for their compassion; he rather meant to indicate that while his sufferings were pitiful, their own were more worthy of tears, for they were to be even more intense. He had in mind the destruction of the city due to its impenitence and made certain by its rejection of the Redeemer. Jesus declared that the days would come when childlessness would be a ground for congratulation because of the universal distress. He predicted that the horror would be so great that men would call upon the mountains to fall on them and the hills to cover them, preferring such forms of death to the torments which threatened from the armies of Rome. Jesus added a proverb, the force of which is evident even though its exact application may not be clear: |For if they do these things in the green tree, what shall be done in the dry?| In other words, if the sufferings of Christ were so great, what would be the sufferings of the Jews! If the Romans were putting to death him whom they regarded as innocent, what would they do to the inhabitants of the rebellious and hated city? It is quite in accordance with the character of Luke to note how Jesus, in this very hour of his anguish, thought rather of others than of himself and pronounced this prophesy, not in resentment, but in infinite tenderness and pity.
While the actual sufferings of the crucifixion are not described, Luke tells us of the cruel mockery to which Jesus was subjected. He states that two malefactors were crucified with Jesus, |one on the right hand and the other on the left.| This was evidently designed to add to the disgrace and humiliation of his cruel death. The place of the crucifixion was called |The skull,| probably because it was a bare, rounded hill located outside the city gates.
Of the seven words spoken by Jesus on the cross, Luke records three, all of them characterized by love and trust. The first is found in no other Gospel. As Jesus tasted the first bitterness of his anguish he was heard to pray, |Father forgive them; for they know not what they do.| He did not have in mind simply the soldiers who were involuntary instruments of his death, but rather the Jews who had not fully recognized the enormity of their crime. For them Jesus felt no hatred in his heart. He yearned for their repentance and their salvation. This prayer was a revelation of the matchless grace and mercy of this ideal Man. Luke adds the details of the mockery to which the other evangelists likewise refer. The crowds stood gazing upon the Sufferer but the rulers and the soldiers cruelly mocked him; the former scoffed at him saying, |He saved others; let him save himself.| In reality, had he saved himself, he never could have saved others. He died for the very men who were deriding him, to make possible their salvation. The soldiers made sport of him by casting lots for his garments and by offering him drink and hailing him as |King of the Jews.| This last title had been placed on the cross above the head of Jesus. It was put there by Pilate in bitter irony. It was his way of taking revenge upon the rulers who, contrary to his conscience, had compelled him to put to death an innocent Man. In place of this superscription the eye of faith sees another, |Behold, the Lamb of God, that taketh away the sin of the world!|