Beholding The Crucified Christ
By Arthur W. Pink
“And they crucified Him.... And sitting down they watched Him there” (Matt. 27:35-36).
The reference is to the Roman soldiers, as is clear from John 19:23, confirmed by Matthew 27:54. They were the ones authorized to carry out the death sentence which had been passed by Pilate, and into their hands the governor had delivered the Savior (Matt. 27:26-27). With gross abuse they executed their task. Adding insult to injury, they exposed the Lord Jesus unto the indignities of a mock coronation – robing Him in scarlet, crowning Him with thorns, hailing Him as King of the Jews. Giving full expression to their enmity, they spat upon Him, smote Him with a reed, and mocked Him. Restoring to Him His clothing, they conducted Him to Golgotha and affixed Him to the Cross. Having gambled for His garments, they sat down to watch Him – to frustrate any attempt at rescue which His friends might make, and to wait until life was extinct.
My divisions will be simple: what they saw and what I see.
What They Saw
1. They beheld the most amazing event of all history, the most awe-inspiring spectacle ever set before the eyes of men, the most tragic and yet the most glorious deed ever performed. They beheld God incarnate taken by wicked hands and slain – yet at the same time the Redeemer voluntarily laying down His life for those who have forfeited every claim upon Him. To those soldiers it was an ordinary event – the execution of a criminal. And thus it is with most of those who hear the Gospel – it falls upon their ears as a religious commonplace. To those Roman soldiers, at least for awhile, Christ appeared to them only as a dying Jew. Thus it is with the multitude today – to them the Lamb of God possesses neither form nor loveliness, and when He is set before them in the mirror of the Word, they see in Him no beauty that they should desire Him. His peerless Person has no attraction for them – His righteous claims are disregarded – His scepter is flouted – for His atoning blood, they feel no need.
2. They beheld the incomparable perfections of the crucified One. How immeasurably different the deportment of the suffering Savior from what they had witnessed from others in similar circumstances! No cursing of His lot, no reviling of His enemies, no maledictions upon themselves. The very reverse – His lips are engaged in prayer! “Father,” He says, “forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). How amazed they must have been as they heard that Blessed One on the tree making “intercession for the transgressors” (Isa. 53:12). The two thieves who were crucified with Him mocked the Redeemer (Matt. 27:44), but at the eleventh hour one of them was “granted repentance unto life” (Acts 11:18) and turning to Jesus he said, “Lord, remember me when Thou comest into Thy kingdom” (Luke 23:42). The Lord did not decline his appeal and say he had sinned beyond the reach of mercy but answered, “Verily, I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with Me in paradise” (v. 43). Thus, they witnessed an unparalleled display of sovereign grace unto one of the greatest of sinners.
3. They beheld most mysterious phenomena. They had sat down to “watch Him,” but after a while they were no longer able to do so. At midday, it suddenly became as midnight – “Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land unto the ninth hour” (Matt. 27:45). It was as though the sun refused to shine on such a scene, as though nature itself was mourning over such a sight! During those three hours a transaction took place between Christ and God, which was infinitely too sacred for finite eyes to gaze upon – a mystery which no mortal mind can fully enter into. As soon as the Savior committed His spirit into the hands of the Father, “...Behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent; and the graves were opened!” (Matt. 27:51-52). No ordinary sufferer was this. It was the Creator of heaven and earth expiring – and heaven and earth here expressed their sympathy.
“Now when the centurion, and they that were with him, watching Jesus, saw the earthquake, and those things that were done, they feared greatly, saying, Truly this was the Son of God” (Matt. 27:54).
What I See
1. I perceive here, an unveiling of the character of man. “But all things that are reproved are made manifest by the light” (Eph. 5:13). Now Christ is “the true light” (John 1:9), the essential, divine, all-revealing light; consequently all men and all things stood exposed in His presence. The worst things predicated in Scripture of fallen human nature, were verified and exemplified in the days of Christ. God says that the heart of man is “desperately wicked” (Jer. 17:9), and it was demonstrated to be such by the treatment meted out to His beloved Son. Scarcely was He born into this world than a determined effort was made to slay Him. Though He constantly went about doing good, relieving the distressed and ministering to both the souls and bodies of the needy, yet so little was He appreciated that He had to say, “The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man hath not where to lay His head” (Matt. 8:20). On one occasion, “they besought that He would depart out of their coasts” (Matt. 8:34).
But not only was Christ unwelcome here, men hated Him and that “without a cause” (John 15:25). He gave them every reason to admire and adore Him, but they had an inveterate detestation of Him. The Word of Truth declares, that “the carnal mind is enmity against God” (Rom. 8:7). Men do not believe it. In fact most of them pretend the very opposite. Nevertheless, at Calvary, they gave proof of their hatred of God. Multitudes go through the form of paying homage to God, but it is a “god” of their own imagination. They hate the true and living God, and were it possible, they would rid the universe of His existence. This is clear from their treatment of Christ, for He was none other than “God…manifest in the flesh” (1 Tim. 3:16) and Him they hated and hounded to death, and nothing short of His cruel death by crucifixion would appease them. Here at Calvary the real character of man was revealed and the desperate wickedness of his heart laid bare. There it was shown that he was capable of the blackest of all crimes. Then let us not be surprised that the history of mankind is written in tears and blood.
2. I perceive here, an unveiling of sin. Sin! that “abominable thing” which the Lord hates (Jer. 44:4), but which is regarded so lightly by those who commit it. Sin! which caused our first parents to be banished from Eden and which is responsible for all the want and woe that is in the world. Sin! which produces strife and bloodshed and has turned this “land of the living” into a mammoth cemetery! Sin! that hideous monster we so much dislike hearing about, and which we are so ready to gloss over and excuse. Sin! over which Satan employs all his subtle arts to render attractive, setting it forth in the most appealing colors and winsome garbs.
One of the great designs of the Incarnation was to bring to light the hidden things of darkness. The personal presence here of the Holy One acted like a brilliant light being turned on in a long-neglected room, revealing its squalor and filth. “If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin: but now they have no cloak for their sin” (John 15:22).
In the passage just quoted Christ was speaking comparatively. As evil as man had shown himself all through his history, the coming of Immanuel to this earth brought sin to such a head that all that which had gone before was relatively but a trifling thing when compared with the monstrous wickedness which was done against Love incarnate. In the treatment which the Son of God received at the hands of men, we see sin in its hideous reality, revealed in its true nature as contempt of God, and rebellion against Him. Here at Calvary we behold the climax of sin and the fearful and horrible lengths to which it is capable of going! That which germinated in Eden culminated in the crucifixion!
We see also the fearful wages which sin pays – death, departure from God. Since Christ hung there as the Sin-bearer of all who believe in Him, He received the punishment which was due unto them.
3. I perceive an unveiling of the character of God. The heavens declare His glory and the firmament shows His handiwork, but nowhere are His perfections more solemnly and illustriously displayed than at the Cross.
See here His ineffable holiness. The holiness of God is the delight He has in all that is pure and lovely, and therefore does His nature abominate and burn against whatever is evil. God hates sin wherever it is found and He made no exception of Christ when He beheld it lying by imputation upon His beloved Son. There God had “laid on Him the iniquity of us all” (Isa. 53:6). He dealt with Him accordingly, pouring out His holy wrath upon Him. God is “of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look on iniquity” (Hab. 1:13) and therefore did He turn His back upon the Sin-bearer. “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” the suffering Savior cried, and then answered His own query, “Thou art holy” (Psa. 22:1, 3).
See here God’s inflexible justice. The pronouncement of His Law is, “the soul that sinneth, it shall die” (Ezek. 18:4), and no deviation from it can be made, for Jehovah has expressly declared that He, “will by no means clear the guilty” (Ex. 34:7). But will He not make an exception of that One whom He testifies is the Lamb “without blemish and without spot”? (1 Pet. 1:19). No, for though Christ was sinless both by nature and by action, yet because the sins of His people had been laid upon Him, God “spared not His own Son” (Rom. 8:32). Because sin was transferred to Him, punishment must be visited upon Him, and therefore did God cry, “Awake, O sword, against My Shepherd, against the Man who is My Fellow, says the Lord of hosts, smite the Shepherd” (Zech. 13:7). God would not abate one iota of His righteous demand or allow sentiment to sully the fair face of His government. He claims to be par excellence the Judge who is “without respect of persons” (1 Pet. 1:17) and fully was that demonstrated at Calvary by refusing to exempt the Person of His Beloved, the One in whom His soul delighted (Isa. 42:1), when occupying the place of the guilty.
See here God’s amazing grace. “God commendeth His love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). Had He so pleased, God could have consigned the whole of Adam’s race to everlasting woe. That is what each of us richly deserve. And why should He not do so? By nature we are depraved and corrupt; by practice incorrigible rebels with no love for Him and no concern for His glory. But out of His own goodness and graciousness, He determined to save a people from their sin, to redeem them by Christ, “to the praise of the glory of His grace” (Eph. 1:6). He determined to pluck them as brands from the burning, that they might be the eternal monuments of His mercy. And because it was wholly outside of their power to make atonement for their fearful crimes, He Himself provided an all-sufficient Sacrifice for them. He is “the God of all grace” (1 Pet. 5:10) and innumerable tokens and proofs has He given of this. But nowhere were the “riches of His grace” (Eph. 2:7) so lavishly and so wondrously displayed as at Calvary.
See here God’s manifold wisdom. The Word of Truth declares, “There shall in no wise enter into it any thing that defileth, neither whatsoever worketh abomination” (Rev. 21:27). Then how is it possible that I can ever gain admittance into the heavenly Jerusalem? How can it be that one so completely devoid of righteousness as I am, and so filled with unrighteousness, could ever receive the divine approbation? The Law says, “The soul that sinneth, it shall die” and I have sinned and broken the Law. How then can I escape its penalty? Since I am a spiritual pauper, how can the necessary ransom be procured?
Those are problems that no human intelligence can solve. Nor is the knot to be cut by an appeal to the bare mercy of God, for His mercy is not an attribute which overrides His justice and integrity. But at the Cross, the divine perfections shone out in glorious unity like the blending of the colors in the rainbow. There “mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other” (Psa. 85:10). God’s justice was satisfied by Christ and therefore His mercy flows freely to all who repent and believe. God’s grace reigns “through righteousness” (Rom. 5:21), and Christ’s blood can cleanse the foulest. The wisdom of God appears in Creation and Providence, but nowhere so grandly as at the Cross.
In the Person of Christ I stand approved before God, for I am clothed with His meritorious perfections (Isa. 61:10). The whole ransomed church of God can say of Christ, “He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities” (Isa. 53:5), “Who His own self bare our sins in His own body on the tree” (1 Pet. 2:24). And faith individualizes it and declares, “I am crucified with Christ…who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Gal. 2:20). Hallelujah! What a Savior!
– www.gracegems.org. Condensed from a sermon.
Arthur W. Pink (1886 – 1952) was an English independent Baptist pastor and teacher who pastored churches in America and Australia before returning to England and then to Scotland where he focused on w