Christ In His Suffering, Trial, and Crucified by Klaas Schilder: Schilder, Klaas - Vol 3 - Christ Crucified: 04. Chapter 4: Christ on Golgotha

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Christ In His Suffering, Trial, and Crucified by Klaas Schilder: Schilder, Klaas - Vol 3 - Christ Crucified: 04. Chapter 4: Christ on Golgotha



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SUBJECT: 04. Chapter 4: Christ on Golgotha

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C H A P T E R F O U R

Christ on Golgotha

And they bring him unto the place Golgotha, which is, being interpreted, The place of a skull.

—Mar_15:22.

THEN the procession arrived at the hill of Golgotha. That is where the sacrifice which is to take away the sin of the world was brought. Men’s imaginations throughout the centuries have, in spite of the fact that God did not want to point out the place specifically, nevertheless persisted in trying to designate it exactly. They found it too terrible to believe that the statement of Psalms 103 could be applicable to the Christ: And the place thereof shall know it no more.

In this respect, too, however, we shall have to be guided by the will of God. The fact is that no one has ever been able to designate exactly where Golgotha was, and that he who would look for the soul of his Lord among the dead, and among the tombs of the dead, will have to walk around in the old Jerusalem without arriving at any certainty.

It is not surprising that a legend-weaving tendency should have busied itself with Golgotha. Some say — we shall only allude to a few of the guesses — that it was the very place in which Abraham offered up Isaac. It is said that Golgotha is the exact center of the world; that the skull of Adam was buried there; and that the blood of Zechariah as well as the blood of Jesus left its indelible stain there. There are many legends besides. In recent times the so-called religion-historical school has also presented its opinion about Golgotha. These maintain that the name “Golgotha” is derived from a root which means “roundness,” and was a reference to the point at which the sun stands still. You see that this is again relating a Biblical reference to mythological data derived from astronomy.

We prefer to abandon these considerations at once. Those who cling to the strictly historical interpretation as well as those who look only for symbolical significance in the historical date must feel ashamed by these attempts to cover the grave of Jesus and the death-scene of Christ with the poetic creations of human fancy. We shall not judge those Christians of the ancient day who, we are told, would at given times come together upon the hill of Golgotha to weep. “Even as the Jews still weep and wail at the wall of the temple, so the first Christians wept at the foot of the rock on which the cross stood. In the fourth century, and afterwards also, the congregation would stand there from twelve o’clock until the hour of Jesus’ death, that is, until three o’clock, and would listen to the accounts of the gospel concerning the death of the Saviour, and to the prophetic utterances of the Old Testament.”[1] No, we repeat, we shall not judge these people, for as long as the place of the hill of Golgotha was definitely known, people could stand there and could weep there prompted by the Spirit of Christ. The childish piety which would seek out the place of Golgotha could become a hampering demand on God only after God Himself had covered it with the grass, and sods, and dust, of many centuries.

[1] Nathan Soderblom, Het lijden en sterven van onzen Heere Jesus Christus, Translated into the Dutch from the Swedish by J. Henzel, N.V. G.J.A. Roys’ U. M. Zeist, 1930, p. 291.

Unfortunately, that is just what happened. God Himself has in the succeeding centuries removed the traces of Christ’s way of the cross. We must bow to the counsel of God, and must give the hint narrated in Psalms 77 its appropriate meaning. In that psalm we read (the reference is to the Red Sea): Thy footsteps are not known. The water has completely removed the traces of the advance of God Himself, of His camp, and of Moses. In the same sense, we now say to the Lord God, who leads His people in the person of a Greater than Moses, but this time in reference to Golgotha: Thy footsteps are not known. The dust has removed every trace of Thy steps. Shall we lament this fact? To do so is to identify ourselves with the poet of legends to whom we have just alluded, who from this negative attitude passed over quickly to the positive one: Thou leddest Thy people like a flock. He who sings that of Golgotha, who sings it in sincerity of heart, can be said to have been upon the hill of Golgotha in spirit.

We shall not burden the reader with a summary of what has been said about the hill of Golgotha as such. We wish to say simply that an identification of the hill of Golgotha with the hill of Goat, which in the opinions of some is called the hill-of-dying, is unwarranted. Those who so identify the two argue that the word “Goat” can in one way or another be derived from a root which means “to die.” This fantasy must give way to the plain statement of the Bible itself, which says that the word “Golgotha” is related in one way or another to the concept of a skull. The connection between the Aramaic word for “skull” and the name “Golgotha” does not consist of the fact that according to custom the skulls of those condemned there were buried there also — a custom which some wrongly suppose is indisputable. The connection can very likely be ascribed to the fact that the hill resembles the formation of a skull. This interpretation also makes it highly probable that the hill must not be regarded as a mountain proper. On the contrary, we must think of it as a small rise of the ground, small, but large enough to make it easy for those who passed the spectacle to see plainly. This is in agreement with the custom of that day to choose for purposes of execution a place which was near a prominent thoroughfare, and one which because of its conspicuousness attracted the attention of all those who came along the highway. To this extent, therefore, the name “skull,” or “place of a skull,” suggests the Biblical thought that Christ had to be publicly lifted up. Golgotha was not a secluded spot, but a public place near the city. There the Lamb of God (according to the law of God) had to be brought This consideration leads our thoughts to what Jesus Himself once said when He referred to His dying as a “being lifted up.” Such considerations lead us in the right direction. Golgotha to us is not this or that place of topographical significance, but it is the stage and the work-room of the power and of the Word of the Lord.

Our only duty, consequently, is to determine the significance of Golgotha by means of the Word of the Lord. For Golgotha, which was Jerusalem’s place of execution, responded fully to the needs of Christ’s own prophecy.

In our previous volume we mentioned the fact that, according to Christ’s own word, His crucifixion definitely had to be an exaltation.[1] Before this time He had consciously and periodically and purposely avoided the threatening death which He now willingly assumes. Again and again we read the line: “His hour was not yet come” By way of analogy that statement might also read: His place had not yet been reached. Now His place, the place of Christ, the place of His death, is not a secluded one; it is not found in the inner chamber; it cannot be seen in the desert. Neither is the place distinguished by earmarks very different from those which characterize other places in the world. Like Himself in His revelation, the place of Jesus is very ordinary. If the cross had been erected upon Mount Gerizim or Ebal, or over the Forum of Rome, say, or the Acropolis of Athens, then the determination of the place of Jesus’ death would have occurred by means of a different logic from that which characterized the whole of Jesus’ life on earth. Everything which Christ as a human being living on earth has, and wants, and finds, and takes as His own, is serviceable only to the purpose of revelation. We noticed before[2] that the Son of God took the given name of Joshua — a very ordinary name. He lived in a city which was typically human. In all of His life and His work He never established a memorial for Himself unless everything which should remind men of Jesus in the future would send their thought up to His God and serve as a remembrance of Him.[3] Now, according to that same law of revelation, the hill of Golgotha was not placed where men might place their monasteries or Colosseum or monuments. The choice of this hill — and was it really a “hill”? — was determined simply by these two considerations: first, the place is public, and all who pass may see that Christ is being lifted up on the cross; second, the place is ordinary, so ordinary that He wholooks for it or finds it, will not even see it nor understand it if he does not believe. And on the other hand, all who do believe cannot fail, in spite of all the particulars of the place, to ponder the great significance of what happened there.

[1] Christ on Trial, chapter 15, especially p. 297.

[2] Christ on Trial, chapter 24, p. 464 f.

[3] Christ in His Suffering, chapter 14, p. 231 ff.

These two requisites Golgotha fully satisfied. It is a part of the Old Testament that large, or at least conspicuous mountains, such as Zion, Horeb, Moriah, and Carmel, should attract the attention, and that historical events are given definite places which are conspicuously marked by monuments of one kind or another. In the Old Testament each new essence tries to attract attention to itself by a new form, by that which is obvious to the eye, by that which appeals to the senses. But in the New Testament the external form gradually is given less emphasis, the sensuous presentation is abandoned more and more, and the direct thought which God writes upon the hearts of men by His Spirit moves them so convincingly that the spiritual eye can see it, even though the physical eye is given no tower or promontory to assist it in discovery. Golgotha is but a very ordinary mound, a slight incline; it is no more than that. And this is in keeping with the incarnate Son of God. No rock offering itself to Him for an inscription; the Word, that is His epitaph. He does not plant His cross on an Acropolis; the whole thing is quickly achieved in the presence of the people on a very ordinary rise of the ground, the very same mound that was used for all executions. This sufficed for God. That which He plants on the Acropolis is the banner of the Word. He affixes no monumental tablet to the Forum of Rome, but, traveling along the many ways of the Spirit, He earns the rent for a room in which Paul can speak with the Jews of Rome unhampered. Thus the topography of Golgotha fully satisfies the law of divine ideas as these were manifested throughout the course of special revelation. It was this law of revelation which more and more separated and abstracted the inner essence, the spiritual life, the Word-content, from the forms of the external things, in order that the church of the future might not be bound to those places, nor have to say some time: The Antichrist has cut off access to our monuments, and now we cannot remember the death of the Lord any longer. For the church can remember the death of Jesus through the Spirit — if necessary without a linen cloth — and with bread, a cup, and a prayerful heart. If necessary, the church can remember the death of the Lord solely through the Word. Yes, if necessary, even without the preaching of the Word, but then by the universal, regenerating Spirit of God. He who has celebrated the Holy Supper no longer requires the conduct of a guide to direct him to Golgotha. He has climbed Zion, has seen Gehenna, and has embraced the cross on Golgotha; he has been in the garden of the Passover — and has been seated in the heavenly places. “From thence He shall come to judge the living and the dead,” to a place at which He is not expected.

Hence it was not a loss which we can ascribe to heaven, or heaven to our apathy, that Golgotha was not more plainly marked. The old Christian church, and even the earliest church has not done anything by way of pointing the holy place out to its children or grandchildren. As we see it, that was better than what was done later when the church became corrupt and began to look for material out of which to build a Biblical geography.

This was a geography to which Saracens might also have contributed if they had wanted to; a geography which had no need of faith. God designated no wailing wall for the Jews, and no hill of lamentation for the Christians. The wailing wall of the Jews is a silent protest against Jesus Christ, quite in the manner, we might say, of the emphasis of Akeldama.[1] It is a camouflaging of the one great accusation which God has against the wailing Jews; accordingly the Jews, so far from wailing too much, wail far too little. At the wailing wall, they do not lament because of their sin but they weep in order to conceal the death of Jesus. Now a hill of lamentation would have been a similar protest on the part of Christendom against the resurrection and the ascension, and a suppression of the need of the prayer with which the Bible ends: Come, Lord Jesus; yea come quickly. When I read that prayer, I can understand why Golgotha is such a very common place, and why God did not give it any prominent earmarks by which it might be noticed in the future. The Spirit and the Bride say, Come — and they sing no special prelude for those living in the neighborhood of Jerusalem.

[1] Christ on Trial, chapter 13, especially p. 267 ff.

Accordingly we must not look upon the topography of Jerusalem and its vicinity as a restriction upon the Spirit, for it is precisely the Spirit which limits nature, also the nature represented by this city and its neighborhood. These the Spirit limits by means of the Word and the mind of God. Dust does not control the Spirit, but the Spirit controls the dust. True, the Spirit impresses its traces upon the ground, molds nature in the shape of its well-selected symbolism, but the Spirit never allows itself to be bound or restricted by it.

Therefore we can say that in the last analysis there is a symbolism here which we may embrace. There are three well known places in Jerusalem: Mount Zion, the Dale of Hinnom (Ge-hinnom), and — Golgotha.

Zion is the place of fellowship with God, the mount upon which He makes His dazzling appearances. This is the place of the descent from heaven, and the starting point of that union by which God wishes to unite Himself with His people in all eternity. Ge-hinnom is situated on the other side of Zion. It is the dunghill, the place of filth, a symbol of hell, and typical of the place of outer darkness.[1] Zion also represents a fellowship; Ge-hinnom a thrusting away. Zion means union, Ge-hinnom schism. Zion sends out its fragrant sacrifices, and Ge-hinnom gives us a taste of what Isaiah 66 states in conclusion: The abhorrent stench of carcasses, the vapors which are an unquenchable fire.

[1] Chapter 1, page 32.

Golgotha is situated between these two. Bear in mind that the word “between” is not a geographical designation. We are looking for the topography of the Spirit. We know that the Spirit as it goes about the classification and arranging of the various places in the city of Jerusalem follows the course outlined in the Word of God.

This work of arranging, the Spirit does very quietly, very unobtrusively today. The Spirit raised some clamor in connection with Zion and with Ge-hinnom: remember the “necessary circumlocution.” But He has told us nothing further about Golgotha. From that place He has gradually enticed all His good Christians with Him into the abundant life. He said: There you must worship the Crucified One in spirit and in truth. Let the Samaritans have their church — the motley people their Gerizim, but do you pray here.

Golgotha, the unknown place. Paul does not use the word. You cannot find it in the letters. The Revelation of St. John mentions Zion, Jerusalem, the court of the heathen, the seven hills of Rome, the cities of Asia Minor, and the temple of Aesculapius, but never once mentions Golgotha. Not a word is breathed about Golgotha as a place, because as a place it is, on the one hand, the culmination of God’s long course of altars, and, on the other hand, it is the starting point of Christ’s return to judgment. Now God, who is ever hasting, did not adorn that place with a monument. He did not put a marker at the place on the red highway where the blood of sacrifices and of altars ceased to flow, but hastened on and impelled His letter-writers, as well as St. John, His great writer of the apocalypse, not to look for a particular spot, but to spread their hands abroad, and to point in two directions: the way of the Old, and the way of the New Covenant. God points out directions, not specific points. The God of the Word does not mark the point at which the vicious circle was broken, but establishes and commemorates the fact that it was broken. God is great in making us remember. He is just as great in making us forget. His footsteps cannot be found; but the meek can learn the way of Him.

Now that I know this, now I return to Golgotha. I see it lying “between Zion and Ge-hinnom.” Yes, in very fact, there is a road which reaches from Zion to Golgotha, and a road which reaches from Golgotha to Gehinnom.

For Golgotha brings both curse and blessing, union and schism. It has given us the adoption of children through the sovereign good pleasure of God, and it will supply a deeper and profounder basis for judgment, inasmuch as from this time on that grace entered in which will not ever recede again. Golgotha represents blessing and curse alike; represents both election and reprobation. The restless soul which is being driven to and fro between Zion and Gehinnom, and which cannot find Golgotha, can find the Word, the Holy Scriptures of God, written by the Spirit. That word outlines its own topography, a science unknown to Samaritans and Saracens. It presents its own symbols, geographical symbols, too, but it warns us against an accentuation of these at the expense of the Word. The Word lays down a spiritual bond which unites our souls with Golgotha — Golgotha, a little hill. The Spirit of God teaches us to ask the mountains, mighty in size, why they exalt themselves against this tiny mound, this ripple in the earth, this insignificant place of which no one can say: There it is; see, over there! Why do the mountains proudly leap? God Himself desired this place, not for a dwelling place, no, for Golgotha points to Zion and to all other points as dwelling places. But God desired this place as a place of conquest, in order that He, being honored here, might from this point forth manifest His glory. The Lord who keeps His faith eternally would dwell in us forever.

Golgotha, the forgotten place. One can hardly find it any more. Pompeii is laid bare, but Golgotha has gradually been thickly overgrown. No, it is not God’s fault if my thoughts wander. Golgotha and the “forgetting grass” belong together.

The water goes up and goes down,

the water goes in and goes out;

a child throws a stone in the water,

and the water goes in and goes out.

The earth went up and went down,

the earth went open and shut;

when, higher than other men’s graves,

they made Him a grave, saying, There.

The earth sank gradually down,

the earth subsided again;

and groping fingers of grass reached out,

of grass forgetting and growing.

And the earth went up and went down,

the earth went open and shut;

till soon it was all as level and green as level as all things alive.

(Freely translated from Guido Gezelle.)

We thank Thee, Lord. Grass has grown over Golgotha. Hallelujah! Thou hearest prayer. All flesh can come toThee. Thou dost not lead us into erotic temptation. Grass grew over Golgotha, but now a voice can be heard above the place that can be found no more. It is the voice of the Word:

Oh voice of the bare wooden Cross,

Oh voice of the plain wooden Cross,

I pleaded so often, so often, and prayed

And...the answer was always: the Cross.

The place of His dying is known no more; but the Word of the Lord endureth forever.