They Crucify Him
Carrying his own cross, [Jesus] went out to the place of the Skull (which in Aramaic is called Golgotha). There they crucified him, and with him two others—one on each side and Jesus in the middle. (John 19:17-18)
But he was pierced for our transgressions . . . and was numbered with the transgressors. (Isaiah 53:5, 12)
We cannot know whether Jesus’ executioners gave much thought to planting his cross between the crosses of two robbers on Good Friday. But right in the middle was just the right spot. Even if it was just one more humiliation on that horrible, blessed day—demotion to status as a common criminal or an ironic place of honor, more mocking homage to a pretend king, just more cruel humor added to the slow, public torture—Jesus would die where he belonged, among sinners.
Not that Pontius Pilate’s verdict had been right. Roman justice had failed utterly. On that cross hung a sinless man who had never done anything wrong, let alone anything criminal.
Yet Jesus was where he belonged, exactly where seven centuries earlier Isaiah had prophesied he would be: “pierced for our transgressions” and “numbered with the transgressors.” Decades beyond the place of the Skull, the apostle Paul wrote that God had “made him who had no sin to be sin for us.” The sinless God-man became sin itself. Appalling human injustice would bring divine justice. Jesus would be punished for all humanity’s sins, so that—Paul’s words again—“in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Our sins, our guilt—yours and mine—for Jesus’ perfect righteousness. God was making his great exchange.
How that must have hurt both Father and Son. As darkness swallowed a midday sun, God put awful distance, infinite separation, between himself and Jesus. He withdrew his love. As he did, Jesus cried, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” That’s hell distilled into a question.
Its answer is at the cross in the middle. Why? Law. Because God punishes sin and sinners with hell, that total separation, and Jesus had become sin itself, all sin of all people of all time. Why? Love. Because God so loved the world that he sent his Son to that cross. Because it wasn’t the soldiers’ nails that kept Jesus pinned to that tree. It was his love for you.
On Good Friday we see Jesus, our Savior, alongside sinners, on that cross in the middle. We see him right where we needed him to be.
Dear Jesus, thank you for giving yourself to be “numbered with the transgressors” so that I, redeemed and forgiven, can be numbered with the children of God. Amen.
Rev. Daniel Balge serves Martin Luther College as a professor of Greek and German.