John 19:17-22 (NIV)
Carrying his own cross, he went out to the place of the Skull (which in Aramaic is called Golgotha). Here they crucified him, and with him two others–one on each side and Jesus in the middle.
Pilate had a notice prepared and fastened to the cross. It read: JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS. Many of the Jews read this sign, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and the sign was written in Aramaic, Latin and Greek. The chief priests of the Jews protested to Pilate, “Do not write ‘The King of the Jews,’ but that this man claimed to be king of the Jews.”
Pilate answered, “What I have written, I have written.”
Now that Pilate had condemned Jesus to death by crucifixion (while at the same time casting himself, the most powerful Roman in Jerusalem, as a victim of the mob), all that remained was for the soldiers to carry out the sentence. They marched Jesus and the two others scheduled for execution that day (Matthew and Mark identify them as robbers – Matthew 27:38, Mark 15:27), out of the city gate to a place poetically known as Golgotha, Aramaic for “place of the skull”. In Latin, the same word is translated Calvariæ Locus, the source of the English term “Calvary.” This place was right next to the main road into the city and was chosen for the execution place of in order to maximize the visibility, and thus the deterrent effect.
Crucifixion was a nasty business, and none of the gospel writers included any detailed description in their writings. The one condemned carried the heavy crossbeam of his or her cross bound by rope to their outstretched arms, to the execution site, where the upright beams awaited, planted deep in the ground. When they arrived, the criminal was stripped naked, and then thrown on his back to the ground, where his arms were pulled outward, and spikes driven quickly through his wrists. The crossbeam was then lifted to the top of the upright, where it was dropped into place, the jolt often dislocating elbows and shoulders. The feet were pushed up, bending the knees slightly. A spike was then driven quickly through the heels or ankles into the wood of the upright. The process only took a few minutes, and then the person was simply left hanging there to die.
Before the criminal was paraded through the streets to the execution place, a placard was made with the name of the person and the crimes of which they had been condemned, written in Latin (the language of Roman government), Greek (the trade language, commonly known among the people), and Aramaic (the local language). This placard was carried before the condemned person in order to communicate clearly that this is what happens to those who commit the crime, as a deterrent to those who might be contemplating doing the same thing.
Jesus’ placard said, “Jesus of Nazareth, the king of the Jews.” (The other three gospels give abbreviated versions of the inscription.) This greatly displeased the religious leaders who had rejected Jesus as the Messiah, so they demanded that Pilate change it to “He CLAIMED to be the king of the Jews.” But Pilate, in a final slap back at these men whom he felt had forced his hand, refused: What I have written, I have written.” End of discussion.
Father, our version of crucifixion has often been so sanitized that we are only able to contemplate a small fraction of the agony and torture that Jesus suffered for our sake. The early Christians had seen crucifixion up close and shuddered when they thought of Jesu willingly submitting Himself to that gruesome process on their behalf. Lord, help me to never forget the horrible price that was paid, the horrible suffering that Jesus went through so that I didn’t have to, the shame and disgrace that He subjected Himself to so that I could gain eternal life. Thank you! Amen.
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