(This narrative on Christ’s crucifixion is based on the gospel of Matthew, chapter 27, verses 27-54)
I remember asking myself, who is this Jesus they call the Christ? Who is this man they say is God’s own Son? Is he truly divine, or merely deranged? Is Jesus the Lord or a lunatic? Maniac or, the Messiah?
I know this man we’ve crucified; if not by introduction, at least by reputation. They say he was the son of a carpenter. Of all things, their king a carpenter? He was a good man; yes, a moral, upstanding citizen.
Some say that he never once transgressed the law of the Hebrew God. I find that hard to believe. Not that I have any basis for doubt, but somehow it seems impossible that a mere man could be perfect. Why even the Greek Gods of our forefathers made mistakes. Never to have sinned? That’s absurd; quite impossible.
Yet this was an odd man. Peculiarly compassionate; remarkably wise.
I’ve noticed that most of the religious people of his sect are so intolerant and judgmental. Now don’t misunderstand me, I do admire these Hebrews. More than any other people I’ve observed, the Jews excel at holding to sacred ceremony and religious tradition. But for all the diligence paid to their pomp and circumstance, they appear to be no different than I. For the most part their countenance proclaims righteousness, but their hearts reek of hypocrisy.
Not so this Jesus. No, he seemed to stand much less for religious tradition than for genuine compassion, if you will. Here was a man who spoke from his heart, whose attitudes and actions reflected his teachings. The message and the man were the same; in fact, inseparable.
You should have seen him with the children, the widows and orphans, persons impoverished and debilitated. Why, he would sup with publicans and sinners; befriend prostitutes and tax collectors; lovingly affirm the infirm, unclean and oppressed. Seems a peculiar way for a king to behave, but somehow, I find that admirable.
He seemed to be saying over and over and over again that people … PEOPLE … are more sacred than religious tradition. I agree with his stance, but the Son of God?
There were some inexplicable happenings though that would have one stop and ponder as to this man’s claims of divinity. Miracles they called them.
Now I never was an eyewitness to any of these phenomena, but I’ve heard the reports from enough reliable sources to verify the validity. I understand this man could walk on water. He commanded the forces of nature with the mere words, “peace, be still”. He would heal the blind, the lame and the leprous; and feed thousands with supply but for a few. He has even raised the dead from death unto new life!
Why, these are tricks unrivaled by the most renowned sorcerers of our time. Yet he performed them not with sorcery, magic or sleight of hand, but by power, and authority, and by faith he said.
Funny thing, he never sought public recognition for the things that he did, but with humility, unparalleled humility, he attributed all glory to what he called, “my Father in Heaven”.
As a centurion in Caesar’s army, I know full well the privilege that comes with high positions of authority. With a hundred men at my beck and call, and a wage far superior to that of the common soldier, I can come and go and do as I please. It’s a comfortable position I’ve attained.
I’m confused why this Jesus, with the following he had, allowed himself to be abused and humiliated as he did? Why, if I had the charisma and savvy of that man, no one would stand in my way. All would bow at my very presence, if I were like him.
But this Jesus, who by the power of his words alone could dispel demons, never uttered one in his own defense. Someone said it was like a lamb being led to the slaughter. Now I don’t fully understand that statement, and all these Hebrew rituals of blood sacrifice and fulfillment of prophesy, but one thing I do know, this innocent man was sentenced to die for some trumped up charges, yet never once resisted the fate he beheld.
It was as though this damnable death was divinely destined.
We made a mockery of that man. The crowd clamored for his blood, and we gave it to them. We scourged him, unmercifully, thirty-nine times lashed until his flesh lay lacerated as raw and oozing stripes upon his back.
My men unleashed their pent-up hostility, stripped the man naked, draped a scarlet robe across his slashed shoulders, and fashioned a crown of dagger-like thorns thrust into his head. Placing a reed in his hand they bowed down in mocked adoration, taunting in laughter, “Hail, hail, King of the Jews”. Then striking him with the mock scepter, they continued to flail insults, all the while jeering, sneering, and spitting at this poor, innocent martyr.
We demanded Jesus lift the cross and lug the lumbering burden to Golgotha for crucifixion. The men speared him to the tree with iron spikes hammered mercilessly through his hands and feet. His excruciation was insufferable as they lifted the cross, his body affixed, and dropped it thudding into the shallow hole.
Crucifixion is ordinarily an execution reserved for the most hardened, heinous of criminals, because it is so slow, agonizing and humiliating. Typically, the criminals die of suffocation; as their shoulders fatigue, they press up upon their feet to breathe, and finally their legs give way also. At times we break the legs to expedite their dying, but in Jesus’ case this was not necessary.
As we reveled in the torture inflicted, we fully expected to hear the man return our cursing, but instead we heard him plead with God for mercy, saying “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And I paused, wondering in my heart, “Could this Jesus be the Messiah prophesied?”
The men divided up Jesus’ clothing among themselves. He had a particularly nice, seamless cloak that the men cast lots to see who would keep it. We nailed Pilate’s sign above the man’s head that read, “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews”. Many stood jeering the dying man, but I noticed some in the crowd were weeping.
And in a moment of unimaginable anguish Jesus shrieked, “My God! My God! Why hast thou forsaken me?” Some say Jesus was delirious; others that he was calling for Elijah to rescue him; but others say at that moment he bore the judgment for all the sins, of all mankind, for all eternity.
Jesus became thirsty and someone offered a sponge of sweet vinegar to refresh him. Soon thereafter, crying out to God again, we heard him declare, “It is finished. Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit.”
And he died.
At that very moment the earth began to heave and quake about me, such that I could scarce remain standing. Large rock boulders splintered to pieces as if fashioned of pottery. The daylight darkened to pitch for hours, and some tombs of their ancient ones broke open, awakening those who slept within.
And great trepidation arose as the thick curtain in the Hebrew temple, the veil erected to keep God sequestered separate from man, was rent in twain from the top to the bottom. Mankind summoned to God; God’s presence now released, unconstrained to dwell with man.
And as I stood there gripped in awe, trembling with foreboding fear, observing this cataclysm erupting about me, I confessed to my soldiers: “Truly, truly, this was the Son of God.”
To all my Wilmington News Journal friends, please celebrate Jesus’ resurrection in church this Sunday for Easter. Our community is blessed to have many fine church assemblies, where you can gather to hear more about how Jesus, though crucified, dead and buried, was raised back to life. He is risen indeed.
Pastor Emeritus, Dove Church Wilmington