“And they brought him to the place called Golgotha (which means Place of a Skull). And they offered him wine mixed with fmyrrh, but he did not take it. And they crucified him and gdivided his garments among them, casting lots for them, to decide what each should take. And hit was the third hour4 when they crucified him. And the inscription of the charge against him read, i“The King of the Jews.” And with him they crucified two jrobbers, kone on his right and one on his left” (Mk. 15:22-27).
This is the account of the crucifixion of Jesus, and I want to point out three things about this text and apply them to what we are doing here today in honor and memory of our brother and friend Bob Latham.
The first is to point out where Jesus was crucified it was at a place called Golgotha which means “place of a skull.” The same place is also called “Calvary” which means the same thing in Latin. While there is some debate over the exact location of this hill, it seems likely that this place was commonly used for executions. It reminds us of God’s promise in the Garden of Eden on another hill, thousands of years earlier. After Adam and Eve sinned, God cursed the serpent, the Devil, and promised that the seed of the woman, a descendant of Eve would crush His head. It’s fitting that Jesus died to crush the serpent’s head on a hill called place of the skull.
The second thing to note is that right before they actually crucified Him, they offered Him wine mixed with myrrh. That is, they offered Him pain killer, anesthesia. But Jesus did not take it. Jesus refused to have the pain dulled. And it’s worth asking why. Couldn’t Jesus just go through the death and that be good enough? The answer is no because He was determined to suffer for our sin. Isaiah 53 says, “He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our peace fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed.”
Christ had to suffer because our sin has caused great suffering. We have harmed ourselves and those around us with our thoughts, our words, and our actions. Christ did not do any sin. He never did anything wrong. He never harmed anyone. It wasn’t His sin that put Him on the cross, and therefore it wasn’t His pain to bear. But in His great love, He claimed it. He stood in our place. And when therefore, they offered Him wine, He refused.
Finally, I want to underline what the text says: they crucified Jesus with two robbers, one on his right and one on his left. Jesus, the Son of God, the Righteous One, died with criminals on either side. In another account, one of the robbers starts mocking Jesus, and the other rebukes him, saying that they are receiving the punishment that they deserve, but Jesus did not deserve to be there. Then that criminal asked Jesus to remember him, and Jesus said, today you will be with me in Paradise. In that moment, you have a picture of the whole mission of Jesus, the reason why He came, why He lived, and why He died.
In a sense, this whole world has become the place of a skull. Because of Adam’s sin and because of all of our sin, the world is full of suffering and sadness. But God promised that one of Eve’s descendants would come and break that curse. And so He did. He came and died the death that every sinner deserves. And so He crushed the serpent’s head. He crushed the Accusers head. This is the power of the Devil: accusation. He brings the list of our sins and all the harm we have done. Most people try to plug their ears and pretend they can’t hear. They try to ignore the guilt and shame and regret, and they use everything they can find to dull the pain: movies, sex, alcohol, drugs, but the guilt is always there in the morning. The accusations are still there. But Jesus died on Calvary without any pain killers so that we might be free from every accusation. He stood with us, criminals all, so that we might be with Him in Paradise.
Bob knew this Jesus. Bob wrote in one of his letters to the church: “There were times I wanted to just stop and cry. Then I remembered how much Jesus suffered on the Cross for me. He loves me enough to do that. Which means that I need to love Him enough that I trust Him on this journey I’m on. Sure, things may be rough now, but He’s leading me somewhere good. Instead of tears I need an attitude of obedience. This is where I’m supposed to be.”
So as we honor our brother Bob today, I do not doubt that he would want to say something similar to all of us even now. There are hard times, and it can be tempting to just give up and cry. But remember Jesus who suffered on the cross for you. He loved you enough to do that for you. How can you be indifferent to that? So let me ask you: what will you do with that? What will you do with that great love? Bob would say: Trust Him, follow Him, and obey Him.
I think it’s a pretty wonderful testimony that even while Bob endured significant pain and agony in his final months, the very last message he sent out to the whole church closed by asking people to thank God for the hospice woman who was coordinating visits for him. His last thought that he shared with his church family was, “Please say a prayer thanking God for her.”
In some ways, you might look at Bob’s short life and the suffering at the end of it as just sad. But Bob had more freedom than many enjoy over the course of 80 or 90 years. How do I know that? Because at the end of his life he was full of gratitude. He was thanking God for his hospice nurse, and he was telling everyone around him to do the same.
You see, when you are bound by sin and death, all you can think about is yourself. You’re self-seeking, self-obsessed, turned inward on yourself, full of bitterness and complaining. But when you are set free by Christ, when you are healed of your sin by His suffering, you are set free to see how good God is, how kind He is, and to see His blessings everywhere. Gratitude fills everything. And that is real freedom.
In one of Bob’s notes to the church, he made mention of one of my books that he was reading, and while he admitted that I hadn’t paid him to endorse it, he said he wouldn’t complain if I visited him and brought “a box of orange creamsicle ice cream bars.” I didn’t get a chance to bring him those ice cream bars, but I trust that he’s enjoying something far better now. And at the last day: resurrection and life forever more.
In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen.