Behind The Scenes: What Happened on the Day Christ Died - Luke 23

Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.
Heb. 12:2

“Now is my soul troubled; and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour: but for this cause came I unto this hour.” John 12:27

It has often been said that “God moves behind the scenes and moves the scenes that He is behind”. How true this is! Man may think that he is an independent agent in this world, but behind all his machinations is the Sovereign Architect of the Universe who “worketh all things after the counsel of His own will” regardless of what man may say or do. (Eph. 1:11) Scripture reminds us that “the preparations of the heart [are] in man and the answer of the tongue is from the LORD.” (Prov. 16:1). No matter what is in the heart of man, God has the final word. He rules and overrules in the kingdom of men, whether sinful man acknowledges His presence or not. At no time in history was this more evident than at the place called Calvary. There we witness a vicious humanity surrounding the infinitely Holy One. Though He was harmless, undefiled and separate from sinners, they collectively called for His execution. But God was using the wrath of man to praise Him (Psalm 76:10) and steering the shameful events of Calvary to make a sacrifice for sin and to provide the way of salvation for the very ones who put Him there. It is a clear example of God at work accomplishing His eternal purpose while the devil and sinful man were also at work attempting to counter that purpose. But God always has the final word used the hatred of man to His glory.

As is often the case, there is always “more than meets the eye” in the unfolding of a great event, far more than the casual observer would realize. This was certainly the case in the events that occurred at the Cross. To the unregenerate man, it might have appeared that the crucifixion was simply the tragic outcome of a good man dying for what he believed was right. But to those who have come to know Him by faith, it is much different. Among other things, it presents a loving Father offering up the Son of His love as a ransom for sin so that a marred creation can become a new creation, and the children of wrath become the children of God, and the spiritually bankrupt can become heirs of the kingdom, delivered from the power of darkness and translated in the kingdom of His dear Son. (Col. 1:13) Through that one event a myriad of blessings have resulted demonstrating the multidimensional aspect of this great work. What is the significance of some of the events that occurred at the Cross — things made known only to God’s elect and especially to those who gaze more intently with the eye of faith upon that horrific scene?

The Plan of Salvation was Wonderfully Completed

First of all, the work of salvation was wonderfully completed. When the Lord Jesus uttered the triumphant words “It is finished” as He yielded up His spirit, He declared that God’s work of salvation was forever done. When those words spoken, it was a divine declaration that God’s plan of redemption for mankind had been accomplished making the way possible for man’s reconciliation to God. “Done is the work that saves, once and forever done, finished the righteousness, that clothes the Immortal one” He completed the work He said He would do when He declared to His disciples: “My meat is to do the will of Him that sent Me, and to finish His work.” (John 4:34) It was the conclusion of a three and a half year journey that began in the Galilee and that terminated triumphantly in Jerusalem on a Roman gibbet.
Even though God had “rested” after the work of creation, His statement to the Jews “My Father worketh hitherto, and I work.” (John 5:17) showed that He resumed with the Father the “work” to restore man after sin was introduced into the human race through Adam and Eve. It was the fulfillment of many prophecies including Isaiah’s who spoke of Him who “would not fail nor be discouraged” though He gave His “back to the smiters” and His “cheeks to them that plucked off the hair”. (Isa. 42; 50) Instead He set His face as a flint to steadfastly go to Jerusalem and was neither deterred nor distracted from the purpose of finishing transgression and to make an end of sins. (Dan. 9:24) His death at Calvary was the final sacrifice for sins forever (Heb. 10:12). And as the blood flowed from His side, it was proof that as Kinsman-Redeemer, He was paving the way for a future time when He would show that He had paid the price to redeem fallen humanity with His blood demonstrating that He was heir and worthy to open to the title deed of the earth and claim His property. (Rev. 4-5)

The Ploy of the Devil was Wholly Defeated

Not only was the plan of salvation wonderfully completed, but also the ploy of the devil was wholly defeated. At the same time that God’s Son was suffering for the sin of the world—even those who put Him on the Cross—there was a Satanic solicitation to come down from the Cross through those who were gathered around the Savior. Their cruel mockings and derisive jeers were the devil’s tactics to persuade the Lord to act independently of the Father and to interrupt the plan of salvation. The devil had tried on numerous occasions to sidetrack the Lord in his earthly ministry but each time he was unsuccessful. Early in the Lord’s ministry, the devil tempted Him to jump from the pinnacle of the Temple to demonstrate to the people that He indeed was the Messiah who had angels at His beck and call - a clever but unsuccessful ploy to bypass the Cross. Later, the Lord was encouraged by the fickle crowd to present Himself as the “people’s choice” and to throw off the yoke of Roman rule. It was an alluring temptation, but contrary to the plan of salvation. In many ways, the words of Nehemiah prefigure the events at Calvary when after being enticed by his enemies to leave the work of building the walls of Jerusalem Nehemiah replied: “I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down. Why should I leave it and come down unto you?" (Neh. 6:3) It was the crushing blow to the serpent’s head, prophesied back in the Garden of Eden at the dawn of human history. (Gen. 3:15) With this as a backdrop, the words “He endured the Cross despising the shame…” take on a richer, deeper meaning and remind us more was happening at the Cross than we realize.

A Place of Refuge was Instantly Created

Another event occurring “behind the scenes” at Calvary was the establishment of a new City of Refuge. In the OT, cities of refuge were strategically established to protect the “manslayer” from an enraged relative of a person that he accidentally killed. Three were established in the wilderness on the east side of the Jordan by Moses (Num. 35) and three were established on the west side of the Jordan by Joshua (Josh. 20) for a total of six cities in all. As long as the manslayer fled to one of these cities quickly before the “avenger of blood” exacted vengeance, (and as long as it was proven that his actions were not deliberate) the manslayer would enjoy the protection that these cities afforded. When the Lord Jesus cried out: “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do,” He was saying in effect: “Father, open the gate to a new City of Refuge for all who would come in without delay who sense their need of protection from the judgment that their sins deserve.” As the seventh City of Refuge, His is the final one and the only one now that really matters. Similar to the OT cities of refuge, the way has been prepared (Deut. 19:4) but in contrast, He is much “closer” than any of those cities since salvation is as near as faith in Him. When Peter said to nation of Israel “And now, brethren, I [know] that through ignorance ye did it, as did also your rulers (Acts 3:17), he was acknowledging their ignorance in crucifying the Lord and in essence equating that ignorance with the “unintentional” killing of the Son of God whose Father has every right to exact His vengeance. Likewise, when Paul said to the Corinthians that if “the princes of this world knew, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory” (1 Cor. 2:8) he too attributed their actions to ignorance thus showing their qualification for this new City of Refuge—Christ Himself, a fact he personally acknowledged when he declared that his persecutions against Christ were done “ignorantly in unbelief.” (1 Tim. 1:13)

The Promise of Life was Clearly Repeated

Without question the promise of Life was repeated. When the Lord spoke to the repentant thief in the presence of all the people, He was showing that the promise of eternal Life through faith in Him was clearly repeated — a message He preached continually wherever He went. This thief demonstrated by his simple faith that salvation is through faith alone and that it was available despite a previous record of guilt and shame. Although this thief had reviled the Lord with the other thief at first (Matt. 27:44) he softened his heart and turned in faith to the Savior, no doubt a dramatic and heartening scene to the onlookers below who stood at the foot of the Cross. It could have been an additional factor that moved the heart of the centurion who proclaimed: “Certainly, this was a righteous Man!” And to all the crowd at Calvary, representative of all humanity through the ages, the promise of Life in Christ Jesus was repeated and heralded by example and heaven was available to the vilest of sinners who simply believed. The ones who angrily said: “His blood be on us, and on our children” would soon hear repeated this same promise of Life from the lips of the Apostle Peter when he said: “For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off…” (Acts 2:39)

Doubtless, there are many more things that occurred at the Cross than we may think. But to the careful student of Scripture, we have the promise that some of the secret things that belong to God will be made be made known to those that fear Him. (Psalm 25:14) May the Lord give us that desire to study His Word and like the Emmaus disciples have our eyes opened that we grow in our love and appreciation for Him.

“If now, with eyes defiled and dim, we see the signs but see not Him,
O, may His love the scales displace, and bid us see Him face to face.”
- Spurgeon