Rex D. Edwards is a former vice president for religious studies at Griggs University.


“They brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha (which means ‘the place of the skull’).”—Mark 15:22

The four Gospels are not like ordinary biographies. Strangely, they have often been likened to tadpoles with large heads and long, thin tails. That is to say that the Passion Narrative is the great emphasis of the Gospels. Of the rest of our Lord’s life, only one day out of 350 is even referred to in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. But His last seven days, the days of His Passion— the days of atonement—take up almost one-third of the Gospel record.

Why is the cross made so prominent? Because it is the clearest depiction of all the realities of the universe; the heart and the mind of God; and of the facts of holiness, law, and righteousness, of mercy, forgiveness, peace, and love. It is the cross that tells us about humanity and God, about earth and heaven. It interprets the past, present, and future. It is at Calvary that we learn what true religion is all about.

Consider these three facts about Calvary.


Let’s look at the “where” of Calvary. According to Ezekiel, what we call modern Israel was, for ancient Palestine, the center of the world (5:5). It is a land bridge between the three continents of Europe, Asia, and Africa. In the center was Jerusalem, and in the heart of Jerusalem was the temple. Our Lord was crucified just outside the temple.

Golgotha is a word that in Hebrew and Aramaic means “cranium” or “skull.” (Calvary is the Latin term for the same thing.) It occurs twice in the Old Testament—once when Jael pierced the head of Sisera with a nail.

At Calvary the handwriting that was against us—the record of our sins—was pierced through by the nails that crucified our Lord. Our Sisera, our great enemy—Satan—was overcome by the nails of the cross.

The cross is an inverted sword. God’s hand is on the hilt. The sword pierces not only the Lamb of God, but the Great Serpent, the accuser of the brethren. When we know the meaning of the cross, he can accuse us no longer. The handwriting of our indebtedness has been pierced through, and with it the skull of the great accuser.


Now, let us consider the “when.” “But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law” (Gal 4:4). “When the set time had fully come”—when was that time? Humanity had come to an end sociologically, philosophically, and religiously when Christ came.

It was the midnight of the world when our Lord died—the darkest hour. Pliny the philosopher writes, “There is nothing certain save that nothing is certain. There is no more wretched yet more arrogant being than man. The best thing that has been given to man amid the many torments of this life is that he can take his own life.” The world of the first century was very much like our own world. It was an age of hopelessness, despair, cruelty, and licentiousness.

Here are more epitaphs from that century:

“Child be not overly distressed. No man is immortal.”

“I was not. I lived. I am not. That’s all.”

“All we are kept for death, fed like a herd of swine that are butchered without rhyme or reason.”

“Here lie I, Dionysius of Tarsus, sixty years old, unwed. Would that my father had been the same.”

It was spring time when our Lord died. Emily Bronte writes in her diary, “When I woke this morning the whole world was singing, ‘Spring time.’ ‘Springtime.’” Springtime, representing new life, resurrection, hope, and joy! And that springtime in Israel was Passover. For fifteen centuries, on the fourteenth day of the first month, at about 3:00 p.m., Israel had slain her Passover lambs. The Passover lamb had saved the firstborn. Now the Firstborn of heaven had become the Passover Lamb. The lamb had first been slain when the Israelites had still been in Egypt. Christ died for our sins while we were yet sinners, without strength, yet still God’s enemies.


Finally, let’s ponder the meaning of Christ’s death—the manner, and its symbolism.

The cross is a symbol of contradiction, and thus a symbol of life, for in life we know contradiction. There is light and darkness, good and evil, pleasure and pain, health and sickness. The cross represents the limitations of life, the pain of life, the difficulties of life. God wants us to be honest about the realities of existence. Have you noticed that it is both joyful and painful to live?

Isn’t it strange that in matters of education and science we stand on the shoulders of our predecessors? We inherit knowledge. But we don’t like that emotionally. We can accept the rules of arithmetic, the logarithm tables, the principles of business, and how to make a house. But the lessons about pride and passion and temper—these we learn by our own pain.

Isn’t it strange that when we look at other people, we envy the good things they have, without realizing the bad things that go with them? “I wish I were the boss,” people say, without knowing the burden of that position. The king of Samaria had sackcloth under his royal garb, and many a man and woman we see on the silver screen or television also wears sackcloth. There is no crown without thorns, no Eden with a serpent, no family without cares, no child without problems, no heart without sin and sadness.

So the cross (and the mini-cross of the crown of thorns) tells us how to deal with pain. Yet it seems so passive. Jesus just hung there. He was not wielding a sword, not climbing a hill, not scaling the heights; He was just passive. So how did He handle His pain? Passivity!


In 1519, two years after Martin Luther nailed his ninety-five theses to a church door, Charles V of Spain became Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. In 1550, bankrupt after the wars against France and the Ottoman Empire, he was loaned a vast sum of money by a merchant in Antwerpe. The note was due but the king was unable to pay. The merchant gave a great banquet for the king. When all the guests were seated and before the food was brought in, the merchant had a large platter placed on the table and a fire lit under it. Then, taking the note out of his pocket, he held it in the flames until it was burned to ashes. The king’s debt was voided.

We were all mortgaged to God. The debt was due but we were unable to pay. At Golgotha God invited the world to the gospel feast, and on Calvary God held our sins in the fires of His insufferable pain until every last vestige of our guilt was consumed. Will you trust Him to incinerate the thorns of your debt of sin?

Rex D. Edwards is a former vice president for religious studies at Griggs University.