Wisconsin Lutheran Chapel logo

God’s Word for You

Luke 23:32-33 they crucified him

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Friday, June 14, 2019

32 They led out other men with him, two criminals, to be executed.

When were these men tried? Were they held in custody until such time as there were enough men to be crucified that it would be worth the trouble to take them out? Luke doesn’t even mention what their crime was, leaving Theophilus and other readers with the knowledge that they were criminals (kakourgoi, κακοῦργοι), but not describing them as “robbers” (λῃστάς) the way the other Gospels do.

The Gospels don’t dwell on these other men. We don’t know that they carried their own crosses, but we get the distinct impression that if they were at all capable, they carried their crosses. Otherwise, the soldiers would simply have grabbed other bystanders like Simon of Cyrene. The one thing we can be certain about is that Roman soldiers didn’t transport crosses themselves.

33 When they came to the place called Calvary,  they crucified him there along with the criminals, one on his right and the other on his left.

Isaiah had prophesied that the Messiah would be executed between criminals: “He poured out his life unto death, and was counted with the sinners” (Isaiah 53:12). And about this, Jesus had also prophesied: “For I tell you, the scripture that says, ‘And he was counted with the sinners’ must be fulfilled in me. Indeed, what was written about me is being fulfilled.”

Luke calls the place by the Greek nickname Kranion (Κρανίον), the “Cranium” or skull (Latin Calvariae or Calvary). Since Theophilus did not know much Hebrew, Luke doesn’t use the Hebrew term Ha-Gulgoleth (Judges 9:53; 1 Chronicles 10:10). Aramaic does not use a definite article but favors the determinative adfix (a variation of a definite article attached to the end of a word rather than standing before a word the way we use “the”), and so the Aramaic term is spelled Golgotha rather than Ha-Gulgoleth. We can only assume that the place was roughly shaped like the top of a skull at this time, perhaps because of exposed bare rock like a bald pate. To say any more is to speculate.

Criminals are sinners who have broken the Fourth Commandment at the very least, and probably the Seventh (robbing) and Ninth (coveting) as well. Jesus permitted himself to be condemned and executed with these men in part to show that he was atoning for these sins as well as all other sins. He would reach out with the gospel of forgiveness even on this cross to these men. David describes the thoughts of an innocent man condemned in the Sixty-Ninth Psalm. He said, “Those who hate me without reason outnumber the hairs of my head; many are my enemies without cause, those who seek to destroy me. I am forced to restore what I did not steal” (Psalm 69:4).

Notice how brief the text is in the middle of the details we’ve described. Wedged between the name of the place and the guilt of the other men are the simple words that might almost be missed: “They crucified him.” They took his arms and legs and laid him down on the wood, and nailed him to the cross. And here the devil tries to wriggle his sinister head into the story by prompting people to ask, “Did the nails go through his hands or his wrists? Were there ropes? How come the text doesn’t mention ropes? Was there a little platform for him to sit on? Was there a little lectern for his feet?” Get behind us, Satan. Even though we have talked about all those things and talked them to death, today we will notice the importance of the simple words: “They crucified him.”

One of the roles of the Old Testament priest was to offer sacrifices to the Lord at the altar. The priest would assist the worshiper, coaching him as to where to cut the animal’s throat (Leviticus 1:11), catching the blood for him (Leviticus 1:5), sprinkling the blood, and so on. These were details that made sure the sacrifices were done in an orderly way and to prevent arguments and wasted time at the altar. Christ our High Priest offered a kind of sacrifice that was unimagined by the Levitical priests. He offered himself. “He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself” (Hebrews 7:27). He did not enter the Most Holy Place with the blood of an animal, “But he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption” (Hebrews 9:11). Through this act, through these simple words, “They crucified him,” he cleansed our consciences forever and set us free from the burden and the guilt of sin. There in that place, the one nicknamed Calvary, “God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood” (Romans 3:25).

Christ our High Priest made his sacrifice, nailing all accusations against us to the same cross and covering them in his blood. His pain and his death destroyed the power of death over us, crushed the power, authority and head of the serpent, and brought us back into eternal fellowship with God. He saved us by his blood. With his wounds we are healed.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim Smith

About Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.


Browse Devotion Archive