By J.R. Miller
After Pilate had sentenced Jesus, the soldiers crowned Him with thorns, robed Him in purple, and saluted Him in mockery as King of the Jews. Later Jesus, bearing His cross, was led away to be crucified. Faint from suffering and loss of rest, the burden of the cross was too heavy for Him, and the soldiers seized Simon the Cyrenian, who was passing by, and compelled him to bear the cross after Jesus.
Simon was an unwilling cross-bearer. There may have been no tenderness toward Jesus in the hearts of the soldiers when they pressed this young man into the service to help Him when He staggered under His heavy load. Perhaps they wanted only to have Him get along faster. Yet it was a compassionate act, whatever its motive. This was one of the kindnesses shown to Jesus on the day. If Simon afterward became a disciple of Jesus, he never ceased to remember with gratitude what even unwillingly he did that day to give comfort to his Master.
Even amidst the terrible scenes of Calvary, there were gleams of human pity. One we have seen already--the help Simon gave Him in carrying His cross. Here is another: "They gave Him wine to drink mingled with myrrh." The object was to dull His senses somewhat, so that He would not be fully conscious in the terrible agonies of crucifixion; as is now mercifully done by the use of anesthetics when surgical operations are to be performed. We cannot but be grateful, loving Jesus as we do, that there were women with tender hearts who sought thus to mitigate His sufferings. His refusal of the offered kindness meant no disrespect to them. He tasted the wine, showing His appreciation of their kindness. But He declined it, we may suppose, for two reasons. He would not seek to lessen in any way the bitterness of the cup which His Father had given Him to drink. Then He would not cloud His mind in the least degree as He entered the experiences of the last hour. He would not dim the clearness of His communion with the Father by any potion that would dull His senses, and thus impair His full consciousness.
In the fewest words we are told of the crucifixion of Jesus. "They crucified Him." Crucifixion was a terrible mode of punishment. It was reserved for the lowest criminals, and, therefore, set the mark of ignominy on those who were sentenced to endure it. The shame of the cross was the deepest shame that could be put upon any man. But there was a yet darker meaning for Jesus in the crucifixion than that which the world saw. This is a mystery, however, which we cannot fathom. We know only this, that He was the sin-bearing Lamb of God. What this great work of atonement meant to Jesus in those hours when He hung on the cross--we can never understand. It is enough for us to know that from His anguish--comes our joy; from His stripes--comes our healing; from His crowning with thorns--comes our crowning with glory; from his forsakenness--comes our peace.
The custom was for the soldiers in charge of the crucifixion, to divide the sufferer's garments among themselves. In many a home there are garments which we sacredly cherish because some beloved one, now gone, once wore them. We love to think of the garments Jesus had worn. They may have been made by His mother's hands or by the hands of some of the other women who followed Him and ministered unto Him. They were the garments the sick had touched with reverent faith, receiving healing. A peculiar sacredness clings to everything that Jesus ever touched. What desecration it seems to us, then, to see these scoffing Roman soldiers take the garments He had worn in His holy ministry and divide them among themselves as booty! What terrible sacrilege it seems to them throwing dice there under the very cross, while the Savior of the world hangs upon it in agony! Gambling for that seamless robe which trembling hands had touched in faith to find healing!
There is a suggestion in this stripping off of Christ's garments. He hung naked on the cross--that we may stand in the final judgment arrayed in robes of beauty. Those soldiers went about after that day wearing Christ's clothes; if we are saved--we are wearing the robes of righteousness made by His obedience and suffering.
The cross of Jesus was marked that day so that all the world might know it. Over the Sufferer a wide board was nailed, bearing the title, "King of the Jews". It was the custom thus to indicate the name and the crime of the person suffering. There was no crime to write over the head of Jesus, for not even His enemies had been able to find anything against Him. So Pilate wrote the only charge the rulers had made. He was the King of the Jews--the Messiah who had been promised through all the centuries, longed for, prayed for, waited for. He was the King of whom David was the type. He had fulfilled all the Messianic predictions of the Old Testament. He had brought infinite blessing to the nation. Yet this was the way His own people treated Him! Instead of receiving Him with love and honor whom they had been expecting so long--they had rejected Him, and now had nailed Him on the cross! But He is our King, too. How are we honoring Him?
It was strange company in which Jesus died. "With Him they crucified two robbers; one on His right hand, the other on His left." There were three crosses that day, and each has its own special suggestion for us. On the center cross hung the Savior, dying for the sin of the world. We should study long and reverently this death scene. He died, the Just for the unjust, to bring us to God. He bore our sins in His own body on the tree.
Even during those terrible hours there were manifestations of grace and power on that middle cross. There was a prayer for His murderers which showed His spirit of forgiveness. There was His word to John and His mother which showed His thoughtfulness for her. There was His word to the penitent robber, showing His power to save even in His death hour. There was the cry of forsakenness which gives us a hint of the awful blackness which surrounded the Redeemer as He bore our sins.
On one of the other crosses we see dying penitence. Few are the words we hear--but they are enough to show us the proofs of true regeneration in this man who not until the last hour repented and sought mercy. On the other cross we see dying impenitence. This man saw Jesus, heard His prayer, listened to the words of his companion, and yet was lost. So one may be close to the Savior--and yet perish. Men sometimes say, "I will take the chance of the thief on the cross." Yes--but which--for there were two!
A great multitude was gathered that day about the cross--but most of the people were there to mock. Even the chief priests mocked Him. We must remember that it was while He was dying in love for the world--that the world was thus pouring bitterness into His cup. Strange return indeed to get for such infinite love! Yet it shows more and more the depth and wondrousness of that love, that even the treatment He received from men while giving His life for men--did not chill His love! They said, "He saved others; Himself He cannot save." That is just what love must always do--sacrifice itself, that it may save other. Jesus did not save Himself, because He would save the world He loved.
We have a glimpse of the most intense moment of Christ's agony in His cry, "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?" We never can fully understand this cry. We learn here a little more of the infinite cost of our redemption. Then let us never forget that it is because death was so terrible to Him, that we can look upon dying as simply passing through a valley of shadows with divine companionship. He endured death's awful bitterness, that we may die in sweet peace.
The rending of the veil in the temple as Jesus died, tells of the completion of His work of redemption. The way of access to God was now opened to all the world. Heretofore none but the priest could enter the Holy of holies; now all could enter.