Trees are so useful! They are kings in the plant world.
Trees provide the wood for houses and fuel for the fires inside. Some provide food to eat at tables made of wood while others offer shade from the burning sun. Romans found trees useful as implements of execution.
The Via Dolorosa, the Way of Suffering
Roman soldiers drove the Lord through the streets with whips across His back already bleeding from the scourging in the court of Pilate. When He fell beneath the cross, an innocent bystander, Simon, a Cyrenian, was conscripted to carry the wooden crosspiece. As he has always done, Jesus attracted a multitude, some grieving for Him and others taking delight in taunting Him. With Simon carrying the cross, Jesus addressed the grieving women.
“Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for Me, but weep for yourselves and for your children.”
In the midst of His undeserved suffering, He was still teaching those who would listen. These events signaled even more wickedness to come. Be prepared!
No Honor among Thieves
In the name of Roman efficiency, two thieves bore their own wooden beams. Arriving at Calvary, the Place of the Skull, the soldiers went to work. They put Jesus in the center between the two convicted criminals. While both were guilty, they were not the same.
Nails and Prayers
After attaching the thieves to their crosses, the soldiers began driving the nails into Jesus. There was no spiritual insulation; the nails hurt Jesus just as they would hurt you and me. When the pain was too great to hide, Jesus lifted His voice, not to curse or condemn but to forgive.
“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.”
The soldiers paid no mind. Their professional ears had grown deaf to the cries of the crucified. The deed done, they gambled for that fine one-piece robe of Jesus. Most of the crowd turned against the crucified One hurling insults toward His cross. Their abuse was summarized by a mocking sign nailed to the top piece:
“THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS.”
One of the thieves joined the crowd of haters. The other thief must have witnessed ministry of Jesus for somehow he knew that Jesus did not deserve this. Perhaps he remembered his childhood lessons about the Suffering Servant. He called out to Jesus for mercy. Jesus promised heaven to him that very day.
The Sixth Hour
An unnatural darkness crept over Calvary, plunging all into an eerie shadowland. From within the darkness came storm clouds and winds with lightning stabbing the darkness and thunder shaking the Place of the Skull.
Jesus cried out with a loud voice:
“Father, ‘into Your hands I commit My spirit.’
The earth began to tremble from Golgotha, through the old city, and all the way to the Temple. In the Holy of Holies, the heavy veil designed to separate the Shekinah of God from sinful mankind, ripped in two from the top to the bottom. As the ground around the cross shook and winds and rain pelted them, the jaded soldiers all knew this was no routine execution. One of them spoke what many were thinking:
“Certainly this was a righteous Man!”
The storm subsided and the earth grew still. Those who loved Him continued to mourn and those who hated Him continued to scorn. Had anything changed with these strange events? Only time would tell.
Now as they led Him away, they laid hold of a certain man, Simon a Cyrenian, who was coming from the country, and on him they laid the cross that he might bear it after Jesus.
And a great multitude of the people followed Him, and women who also mourned and lamented Him. But Jesus, turning to them, said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for Me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For indeed the days are coming in which they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren, wombs that never bore, and breasts which never nursed!’ Then they will begin ‘to say to the mountains, “Fall on us!” and to the hills, “Cover us!”‘ For if they do these things in the green wood, what will be done in the dry?” There were also two others, criminals, led with Him to be put to death. And when they had come to the place called Calvary, there they crucified Him, and the criminals, one on the right hand and the other on the left. Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” And they divided His garments and cast lots. And the people stood looking on. But even the rulers with them sneered, saying, “He saved others; let Him save Himself if He is the Christ, the chosen of God.” The soldiers also mocked Him, coming and offering Him sour wine, and saying, “If You are the King of the Jews, save Yourself.” And an inscription also was written over Him in letters of Greek, Latin, and Hebrew: THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS. Then one of the criminals who were hanged blasphemed Him, saying, “If You are the Christ, save Yourself and us.” But the other, answering, rebuked him, saying, “Do you not even fear God, seeing you are under the same condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this Man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said to Jesus, “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.” And Jesus said to him, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.” Now it was about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over all the earth until the ninth hour. Then the sun was darkened, and the veil of the temple was torn in two. And when Jesus had cried out with a loud voice, He said, “Father, ‘into Your hands I commit My spirit.'” Having said this, He breathed His last. So when the centurion saw what had happened, he glorified God, saying, “Certainly this was a righteous Man!” And the whole crowd who came together to that sight, seeing what had been done, beat their breasts and returned. But all His acquaintances, and the women who followed Him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.
Lord Jesus, Calvary amazes me. I cannot read the account, I cannot contemplate the events, I cannot sing of Your suffering without tears. Truly, the scene of You, the King of Glory, pinned helplessly to a Roman cross deserves its place in the heart of our worship, our remembrance of You. While it was not the end of the story, it is good that we do not hurry on to the resurrection. It benefits us to “survey the wondrous cross.” Here we see both the sin of mankind and the love of God. May I never become friends with sin in my life! May Your wounds always draw me back to grace and all its wonders. 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