Matthew 27:32-37 NLTse Along the way, they came across a man named Simon, who was from Cyrene, and the soldiers forced him to carry Jesus’ cross. (33) And they went out to a place called Golgotha (which means “Place of the Skull”). (34) The soldiers gave him wine mixed with bitter gall, but when he had tasted it, he refused to drink it. (35) After they had nailed him to the cross, the soldiers gambled for his clothes by throwing dice. (36) Then they sat around and kept guard as he hung there. (37) A sign was fastened to the cross above Jesus’ head, announcing the charge against him. It read: “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.”
Jesus’ trial seemed short. It was a battle between the Pilate and Caiaphas, each trying to discredit the other by attempting to cast the blame for Jesus’ death on one another. Pilate knew he was a pawn in Caiaphas’ plot. By washing his hands of the matter he tried to placed the responsibility back on Caiaphas’ shoulders. In Caiaphas’ mind he earned the victory by manipulating Pilate, using him to do away with the One who threaten his security and livelihood. At the end of the trial both had doubts about their actions, but quickly squelched any ill feeling by burying themselves in a false celebration of victory.
After the trial Jesus faced a tempest of torture and torment at the hands of the Roman soldiers. He was stripped, whipped, dressed in a purple robe, mocked, spit upon, and fitted with a crown of thorns. Satan’s devils spun the soldiers into a fit of rage against the Son of God. Angels watched as demons showed how far they will go when not restrained. As the angels watched their Leader suffering at the hands of the Roman soldiers, they understood how important their role was to stand between fragile men, women, and children, and the uninterrupted rage of the demons around them. As the torment reached a climax appearing all would be lost, God ordered His angels to cut the event short. Released from the grip of the demons, the Roman soldiers stood looking at the beaten and battered body of Jesus. The soldiers who witnessed the trial returned to the room to state, “Pilate proclaimed Him an innocent man, condemned to die at the hands of the Jews.” The news immediately stopped the soldiers. Hearing He was condemned by the Jews confused them for a moment. They stood there wondering what to do. Wondering if they had gone too far by making sport of the situation. To hear Pilate proclaimed Him innocent filled them with a sense of fear. Seeing Jesus beaten beyond recognition to a point He may not live to see the cross, the soldiers decided to quickly form a procession and get on with the execution. What would happen to them if Pilate changed his mine and Jesus died from the beating He received? It was a chance they could not take. They took off the purple rode, dressed Jesus in His clothes, placed the cross on His shoulders and set to complete the execution.
As Jesus struggled with His cross the soldiers began to regret beating Him with such furry. Thinking every second mattered they chose a man from the crowd and forced him to carry Jesus’ cross. At first the man resisted. Thinking contact with the cross would render him unclean for the Passover, the man considered fleeing, but the crowd pressed in around him making escape impossible. It was as if everyone in the crowd possessed a fear of carrying the cross. It was better this stranger bear the cross them one of them. Knowing the crowd had no compassion for him, the man kneeled down. Lifting the heavy wooden cross at one end he placed it on his shoulder and continued onto Golgotha.
Noticing they had forgotten to bring wine, one of the soldiers ran back to the barracks to retrieve it. Guarding prisoners on the hill was a job every Roman soldier hated. Standing there watching people slowly die was not an honorable task. To dull their feelings the Roman soldiers drank plenty of wine. They had little fear of suffering the consequences for being drunk on duty. Years of crucifixions taught them no one visited the execution site. Occasionally a weeping mother or wife would come for a time, but no one wanted to view the grotesque scene. When the occasional family member arrived, they could be easily chased away. Watching people die on the cross was a menial task no Roman soldier wanted, but they took advantage of the solitude by sitting around and drinking to ease their dull their senses. They tried to convince themselves it was a sort of vacation, sitting on the hill, getting drunk and outdoing one another by telling tales of victories and adventure. This execution was different.
Returning with the wine the soldier was greeted by an unusual site. It appeared the entire city turned out to witness the long drawn out execution. As he pushed his way to the front of he crowd, he saw the contingency of priests, scribes, and Pharisees. The young soldier paused as he turned around to look at the people covering the hill. They had been put on high alert, having been warned Jerusalem would be crowded during the Passover, but no one expected Golgotha to be a center of attention.
Albus joined the other soldiers on the hill. No one spoke a word. They scanned the groups of people looking for any sign of trouble, just as they had been trained. Each soldier made a mental note of every group noting size and possibility of a threat. Some groups sat in the ground weeping. To the soldiers these groups were question marks. Family members, relatives and supporters grouping together may attempt to over power them and free the prisoners. The priests were no threat in public, but would have to be watched, making certain they were not rallying others to carry out their deeds. Other small groups shouted out insults at both the prisoners and soldiers. They didn’t worry much about those people. Voicing their opinion was usually more than enough for them.
Albus turned to the other with the wine skins in his hands. “What are we going to do with these now? We can’t drink up here with half the city watching us. This gathering is sure to draw attention and they are sure to send others up here to investigate and reinforce us.” The others agreed. One of the soldiers suggested they give the wine to the prisoners, sort of a farewell celebration. Another took the wine, poured it in a bowl and mixed in bitter gall. “Let them drink this.” Forgetting for a moment they were under close observation the soldiers continued taunting the prisoners. They took the wine mixed with gall and began forcing it on the condemned men. When Jesus tasted the mixture He refused to drink. One of the soldiers commented, “our wine is not good enough for Him.” They threw Jesus on the cross, lashed down His arms and legs and drove nails through His hands and feet. As the Roman guard drove in the nails he looked at Jesus’ face. The expression on his face showed the pain, but He did not cry out. The soldier watched as the others hoisted the cross into position and dropped it into the socket, pounding in wedges to secure it. In the back ground he could hear the other prisoners. One was cursing, the other pleading for his life. The soldier turned, faced the other condemned men wondering which would be easier to nail next. As he held the nail in position he looked back up at Jesus. For the first time something made him hesitate. He thought it would be easier to begin with the man hurling insults, but something inside made him wait. “What are you waiting for? Let’s get the show going,” he heard another soldier shout. He looked back at the nail and drove it in as he had been taught.
Once the three crosses were in place the soldiers gathered in a group to divide up the clothes. They saved the best for last. One soldier held up Jesus’ robe, “well this is the best we have seen in a long time. At least the afternoon will not be a total waste.“ He began to wrap Jesus’ robe in a ball for himself since the others divided up the other clothing and the other guards seemed uninterested. “Not so fast,” another soldier shouted, “I didn’t receive a cut.” Another asked, “can we divide it?” A forth decided he wanted a share. The soldier held up the robe, took out his sword, then felt a hand grad his arm from behind. “I say we play for it. Winner takes all.” He had a pair of dice in his hand. He threw the robe on the ground while the five soldiers crouched down in front of the cross to gamble for the robe.
As suspected another small group of soldiers arrived. One of them carried a wooden sign. Pilate decided to send a final message on the matter to Caiaphas. The soldiers positioned the ladder they brought and held it in place while one of the soldiers climbed to the top of the cross to nail in the sign reading, “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.”
Knowing Pilate was up to something, Caiaphas walked to the foot of the cross to read the sign. Looking up to read it he could not help but look at Jesus’ face. Blood covered His body, drying in the hot sun. Fresh blood dripping from the wounds in His head from the crown of thorns. Caiaphas never saw a man beaten so badly before being transported to Golgotha. He convinced himself this was to show the sins Jesus carried to the cross. The other priests gathered in close behind him. As he read the sign people could almost hear the disgust in the high priest. He turned in a rage and headed back to Pilate’s palace.