Roman soldiers were men of chance.
They knew that each day could be their last. Their business was spilling blood and each one knew that on any day, their own blood may be spilt. So why not gamble on the fine robe of this criminal? It was woven in one piece, woven with care by some woman, no doubt. Amid the blood splatters, the Roman dice were tossed.
Beneath the whips of the soldiers, after hours of abuse, the strength of Jesus was just about gone. A man from Cyrene named Simon was conscripted by the soldiers to carry the cross as they approached Golgotha, the Place of the Skull. They offered Jesus sour wine to dull the pain but He refused. There the business was done: nails in His hands and one nail through His crossed feet. His blood, deemed worthless by the soldiers, left a trail marking His route to the mountain and covered the ground beneath the cross. No one but the Father could see how far that trail of blood would extend—through centuries, across oceans, and beyond all the mountain ranges of the world.
KING OF THE JEWS
Mocking Him, the clever soldiers placed a sign over His head.
“THIS IS JESUS THE KING OF THE JEWS.”
Their little joke has become the Gospel, “to the Jew first” and then to the rest of us. Passers-by, those people entertained by blood and violence, scorned Jesus and hurled His own words back at Him, not in faith, but in derision.
Creation itself recoiled at such evil. Darkness fell for three hours. This was no cloud cover; it was an unnatural shadow that spread, not from the sky, but from the hearts of the people. The darkness muffled but did not silence the noise of the crowd. Suddenly, the voice of Jesus shook the darkened mountain,
“My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”
Someone offered Him sour wine on a stick. Again He refused any comfort from men whose sins were the cause of this.
Clouds began to roll in from all points of the compass accompanied by distant thunder. With a loud voice, Jesus released His body, the one prepared for Him as a tool of Messianic ministry, from suffering and slumped in death. The storm broke. Wind and lightning, rain and hail, pounded the top of Golgotha as the ground itself began to shake. An earthquake, localized to the path of Jesus from the Temple to Golgotha, ripped the ground open. When the quake passed through a cemetery, graves of the righteous dead burst open—a foretaste of glory yet to come. At the Temple, the earthquake reached the veil hiding an empty Holy of Holies. Attending priests scattered for shelter as the heavy veil began to tear from the top to the bottom. The Shekinah of God spilled from that little room, never to return.
As quickly as it started the storm was over. The skies cleared and the sun returned to full strength. The women who never left Jesus wanted to care for His body before the Sabbath. Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the Sanhedrin who condemned Jesus, had prearranged with Pilate to care for Jesus’ body. His men took His body down and laid it in Joseph’s tomb. Joseph’s men rolled a heavy stone over the entrance. Joseph and his men left and only the women remained until they, too, had to leave before the Sabbath.
Now as they came out, they found a man of Cyrene, Simon by name. Him they compelled to bear His cross. And when they had come to a place called Golgotha, that is to say, Place of a Skull, they gave Him sour wine mingled with gall to drink. But when He had tasted it, He would not drink. Then they crucified Him, and divided His garments, casting lots, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet: “They divided My garments among them, And for My clothing they cast lots.” Sitting down, they kept watch over Him there. And they put up over His head the accusation written against Him: THIS IS JESUS THE KING OF THE JEWS. Then two robbers were crucified with Him, one on the right and another on the left. And those who passed by blasphemed Him, wagging their heads and saying, “You who destroy the temple and build it in three days, save Yourself! If You are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” Likewise the chief priests also, mocking with the scribes and elders, said, “He saved others; Himself He cannot save. If He is the King of Israel, let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe Him. He trusted in God; let Him deliver Him now if He will have Him; for He said, ‘I am the Son of God.'” Even the robbers who were crucified with Him reviled Him with the same thing. Now from the sixth hour until the ninth hour there was darkness over all the land. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” that is, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” Some of those who stood there, when they heard that, said, “This Man is calling for Elijah!” Immediately one of them ran and took a sponge, filled it with sour wine and put it on a reed, and offered it to Him to drink. The rest said, “Let Him alone; let us see if Elijah will come to save Him.” And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit. Then, behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth quaked, and the rocks were split, and the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; and coming out of the graves after His resurrection, they went into the holy city and appeared to many. So when the centurion and those with him, who were guarding Jesus, saw the earthquake and the things that had happened, they feared greatly, saying, “Truly this was the Son of God!” And many women who followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to Him, were there looking on from afar, among whom were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joses, and the mother of Zebedee’s sons. Now when evening had come, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who himself had also become a disciple of Jesus. This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate commanded the body to be given to him. When Joseph had taken the body, he wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and laid it in his new tomb which he had hewn out of the rock; and he rolled a large stone against the door of the tomb, and departed. And Mary Magdalene was there, and the other Mary, sitting opposite the tomb.
Lord Jesus, may the image of the cross always break my heart. May the truth of the cross always set me free. In profound innocence, You suffered the punishment for the sins of this whole world. Your blood is my healing. Your wounds are my hiding place. You atonement is my redemption. I will keep Your cross always in my heart, its meaning always in my mind. When I think of Your cross, it will not be an image of You helpless in its grip; that was the moment of atonement. I will see an empty cross, for Your work was done once and for all. Your vacant cross is my standard, my banner of victory. Amen and amen.
When I Survey the Wondrous Cross
Words: Isaac Watts; Music: Lowell Mason
1. When I survey the wondrous cross
on which the Prince of glory died,
my richest gain I count but loss,
and pour contempt on all my pride.
2. Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast
save in the death of Christ, my God!
All the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them through his blood.
3. See, from his head, his hands, his feet,
sorrow and love flow mingled down.
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,
or thorns compose so rich a crown?
4. Were the whole realm of nature mine,
that were a present far too small.
Love so amazing, so divine,
demands my soul, my life, my all.
© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved