“For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls” (Hebrews 12:3).
Hung on the cross
Let’s go back in time and imagine that we have followed the Savior along the Via Dolorosa on his way to Calvary. When we arrive at the hill, we are startled by the two thieves writhing in agony, already nailed to their crosses. The central cross, the place of greatest infamy, is where the soldiers will raise up Jesus to die. We see the two thieves and shudder. Several days before, James and John, in their prideful ambition, had asked Jesus for the honor to be on his left hand and right hand when he entered into his kingdom. They had no idea what they were asking, just as the Lord had said.
The soldiers strip Jesus of his clothing. The centurion commands the naked Savior to lie down upon the cross. We avert our eyes. We cannot look upon the scene. But then we watch in horror as the soldiers struggle with the ropes to raise up Jesus on the cross. We feel the heavy, shattering thud as the cross settles into the socket. Now the Son of Man is lifted up in shame before all mankind.
A still small voice
Later we shiver as the sun grows dark in the sky. We are confounded by the rock-rending earthquake beneath our feet. Heaven and earth are both undone. But God is not in the earthquake. Neither is he in the darkness of the sun. Yet from the cross, in the midst of the complete upheaval of all things, comes a still, small voice, saying, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
We hear this first word of mercy from the cross, uttered by a man gasping for enough breath to speak. His back is covered in blood from the scourging, his hands and feet all crimsoned from flesh piercing nails, his eyes stinging with blood from his thorn crowned brow. His face is bruised, for to mock him they plucked the hair out his beard. His cheeks are covered with spittle, all to show he was held in contempt. This Lamb of God was led silently to his slaughter. He opened not his mouth, as the prophet foretold. He offered no protest to his own unjust condemnation. But now he pleads in prayer for those who are murdering him.
The priests and nobles gather around his cross to hurl insults at him. They mock his dying prayers. They give him vinegar to drink. But in the distance gathers a small crowd of those who had once been publicans and sinners. They made their way to Golgotha, too. This Royal Rabbi had welcomed them into his company of friends. The Holy One of Israel was unmindful of any reputation to protect, it seems. He was scorned by all the good people as a “friend of sinners.” Today he lays down his life for his friends.
Can it really be that a cross is the fate of the eternal Word of God? The Word that spoke the sun and stars into being? Suddenly the Savior cries out with a great voice, and then, in utter exhaustion, the Word falls silent. It is finished.
How did you die?
How did you die, precious Savior? What eyes the thief must have had to see that you were not a criminal, but a King!
How did you die so that the thief understood that you were not a madman crowned with thorns, but in truth you were entering into a kingdom?
How did you die such that a dying thief could ask you to remember him, and then dare to believe that it really is possible to steal paradise from the jaws of hell?
How did you die such that the centurion who raised the hammer to drive the nails into your flesh now confesses that he has crucified the Son of God?
Cross stretched arms of mercy
Jesus, you made all things in the beginning. And now at the end you are the heir of all things. But coming into the world, you had no crib, so Mary and Joseph placed you in a borrowed manger. Now, in leaving the world, another Joseph and another Mary will see you placed in a borrowed tomb. In eternity you lived among angels. Today you died among thieves. Abandoned by your disciples. Forsaken even by God.
You are cursed by God’s law, hanging on a tree of death. Yet in dying as a curse you bring blessing to the whole world. Your cross, for all who believe, becomes the Tree of Life. Its life giving fruit, the bread and the wine, you offer freely, to all who will believe. By dying, you gave us the bread of life. And by your sorrow, you gave us the wine of joy.
Although you were rich, for our sakes you became poor. But by your poverty, we become rich. By your nakedness, you clothe us in righteousness. You entered our darkness to bring us your light. You took our evil and gave us your good. You took our death and gave us your life. You suffered our hell and gave us your heaven. Your cross stretched out your arms of mercy as far as the east is from the west. Your cross unites heaven and earth. All the ages of time converge at Calvary today. Solomon said there was nothing new under the sun. But today, you made all things new.
“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.” ~Isaac Watts
Dr. Warren A. Gage, Th.M., J.D., Ph.D. is president of The Alexandrian Form, which provides life-changing Biblical teaching. © 2021 The Alexandrian Forum Read more by Dr. Warren A. Gage at goodnewsfl.org/author/dr-warren-gage/