The Mess on Golgotha Hill

The hill called Golgotha was a mess! Three blood-stained crosses lay on the ground and piles of dirt and wooden wedges indicated the places where they had been standing. The ground was well trampled and it was obvious to anyone who happened by, that the crowds who had watched the spectacle left in a hurry, leaving trash and remnants of food strewn all over the ground.

The crucifixion would normally have lasted longer, but an earthquake and a solar eclipse of three hours length caused most of the people to return to their homes. As evening approached, there was another reason to bring an early ending to the ugly scene. In Israel, days began at sundown and the day following the crucifixion was a festive Sabbath. Religious leaders had no qualms about crucifying a perfectly innocent man – the Son of God and promised Messiah; but they were extremely careful to keep their Sabbath laws.

It was urgent that the bodies be buried before sundown. The order was given to break the legs of those who had been executed in order to speed up the torturous process of dying. This caused the entire body’s weight to shift to the arms and chest, causing the victim to writhe with intense pain and gasp for air as the lungs gradually collapsed.

Soldiers broke the legs of two of the criminals but there was no need to break the legs of Jesus of Nazareth, for he was already dead. When soldiers pierced his side with a lance, blood mingled with water poured from the wound, a clear indication of intense mental anguish in addition to the physical torture endured by his body.

The Day of Preparation
It was no accident that the crucifixion took place on the Day of Preparation. The Passover Lamb was traditionally slain on this day, and God’s Word demanded a perfect lamb without blemish. When Adam and Eve disobeyed God, all creation came under the curse of sin. Of all those thousands of animals that were sacrificed, none was entirely without blemish. They could only be symbolic of the future sacrifice of that perfect Lamb of God, who would come into the world for that very purpose! The Lamb of God was slain for the sins of all mankind!

Daylight was beginning to fade and the beginning of the Sabbath was rapidly approaching. Two victims of the crucifixion were hastily buried by soldiers in a plot reserved for criminals. A wealthy merchant, Joseph of Arimathaea, requested and was granted permission from Pontius Pilate to place the body of Jesus in his own tomb. Nicodemus, a member of the Sanhedrin who had secretly become a disciple of Jesus, joined Joseph in preparing the body for burial. There was no time to lose because daylight was waning.

The Feast
Homes had been meticulously searched and even the most minute remnant of leaven had to be removed prior to the Day of Preparation. Much work was involved in preparing for the great feast of the Passover. All pots and vessels used at the feast had to be ceremoniously cleansed before they could be used for preparation or eating. The house had to be spotless and all family members properly attired for the great celebration. All work had to be finished by Sundown.

At sundown, the candles were lit and soon, family members were in their appointed places at the table. The meal lasted for several hours. For Jews, the Passover was the absolute highlight of the year, and the Passover Feast was the high point of the week.

Caiaphas, the high priest, also sat down to partake of a great feast in his home, but he felt uneasy. He and the Sanhedrin had been successful in eliminating their greatest enemy, but for some reason, he had no appetite. As his trusted servant offered him a plate of deliciously prepared lamb, Caiaphas held up his hand in negation. “I am not hungry now… but tell me Malchus, is it really true that one of those men cut off your ear… and Jesus healed it?”

In the evening darkness, while most Jews were seated at their tables and enjoying the Feast, an eerie quietness prevailed over Golgotha Hill. The place was still a mess, for no one was permitted to work on the Sabbath. In the light of the moon, a couple of figures could be seen ascending the hill. A woman with tear-filled eyes had returned, insisting that she take one more look at the place. A man supported her on his arm. After a few minutes, the man said softly, “Come Mary, we have seen enough this day. I must take you to my house.” She obligingly turned to go, but suddenly stopped. “Look John,” she said, “There is the sign - the one that was nailed to his cross!” Slowly, she reached down, picked it up and wiped it off. “It is the sign that was attached to his cross,” she repeated. Slowly and softly, she read the words on the sign. “JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS.”

Mary turned to John and exclaimed with a quiver in her voice, “That is what Gabriel said! He told me that I would have a son named Jesus. He said that God would give him the throne of David! He said that he would reign eternally!”

John looked at her speechless for several moments and then, with hesitation, he asked almost accusingly, “And where is he now?”

Mary remained silent as she pondered the question. Clutching the sign, she took John’s arm and walked towards the path that led down Golgotha Hill. In the darkness, a rat that had been scavenging crumbs scrambled for cover. As they descended the hill, Mary finally spoke again. “Simeon said that Jesus would be a light to the Gentiles, and the glory of Israel.” They took several more steps and Mary again stopped. She recalled another prophecy of Simeon. “Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also.” She looked up towards heaven and said, “I don’t know where Jesus is, but one of Simeon’s prophecies was just fulfilled. Why shouldn’t his other prophecies also come to pass? And Gabriel’s too!”

The Great Sabbath
This year it was a “great Sabbath,” meaning a weekly Sabbath either preceded or followed the festive Sabbath. It is difficult to imagine the extent to which housewives would go in order to get through one Sabbath without working, but when it lasted two days, it must have been difficult to maintain a festive atmosphere in the home. But special services and events took place in the temple and less time was spent in the home. The unwashed vessels and cooking implements could be ignored and who would notice crumbs on the floor… perhaps a mouse? Most homes were a mess after the feast.

Ralph V. Harvey
March 28, 2017