By J.R. Miller
An old legend said that Calvary was at the center of the earth. So it was, really, for the cross was the meeting place of two eternities--a past eternity of grace and hope, and a future eternity of faith, gratitude, love and devotion. It is the center of the earth, too, because toward it the eyes of all believers turn for pardon, comfort, light, joy, hope. As from all sections of the ancient camp, the bitten people looked toward the brazen serpent on the pole at the center of the camp--so from all lands sin-stricken ones look in their penitence, and sorrow-stricken ones in their grief, toward the cross.
"Carrying his own cross, he went out to the place of the Skull (which in Aramaic is called Golgotha)." The first picture we see is Jesus leaving Pilate's judgment hall bearing His cross. The custom was that a criminal should carry to the place of execution, the cross, on which he should be fastened. The cross was heavy. Yet, as heavy as it was, the wooden cross was not all the load Jesus carried that day. We know there was another still heavier, for He bore the burden of the world's sin. The old prophet said, "All we like sheep have gone astray ... and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all" (Isaiah 53:6). It would seem that none of the apostles were with Jesus as He went out to Calvary. John was caring for Mary, whom Jesus had committed to His care. She, with John and other friends, were presently watching by the cross. Certain other women were in the crowd, lamenting with Jesus. These He comforted even in His own great-sorrow.
When He staggered under His cross, a passer-by was seized and compelled to carry His load. It would have indeed been a strange irony--had the man who carried the cross missed the salvation whereof it is the instrument and the symbol.
The next picture shows us Jesus being nailed upon the cross. He was not alone, for two others were crucified with Him, although this was contrary to Jewish law. These were criminals, men suffering justly for their sin. Thus He was "numbered with the transgressors" (Mark 15:28, cf. Is. 53:12). They put Jesus on the middle cross, as if He had been the greatest of the criminals. This was the place of the deepest dishonor. As He hung there, He was at the lowest point of shame in the world, in the place of the worst sinner. This tells us that there is no known stage of sin or guilt possible on earth, down to which Jesus cannot, will not, go as Savior.
One of the criminals beside Him was saved that day, lifted up by Him out of his guilt and sin, and borne in His arms to Paradise. This shows us that no sinner is so low in degradation or condemnation, that Jesus cannot lift him up to glory.
But while we are looking at this one sinner who was saved that Good Friday, we must not fail to glance in sadness at his companion. He had the same opportunity for salvation that the other had, for he was equally close to Jesus, could hear His gracious words, see the blood dropping from His wounds, and behold His patience and compassion. Yet this man was not saved. He remained impenitent, though so close to the dying Redeemer. When people say they will take the chance of the dying thief on the cross, repenting at the last hour, they must remember that there were two dying thieves, equally close to Christ's cross, and that one of them was lost.
The next picture we see shows us Jesus Christ on His cross. "Pilate had a notice prepared and fastened to the cross. It read: JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS." Jesus was indeed the King of the Jews, their own Messiah. He was also the King of the world. After He arose, He said that all authority was given unto Him in heaven and on earth. In the visions of the Apocalypse we see Him in glory as King of kings. He did not seem kingly that hour on the cross. It was a strange throne for a king to occupy. Yet it was His throne, and the crucifixion was the point of His highest earthly honor. There His glory streamed out as at no other time in all His life. The love of God shone from the cross. It is the power of the cross that is changing the world today and drawing lives to the Savior!
The rulers asked Pilate to change the title he had put over the cross. They wanted him to write only that Jesus said He was King of the Jews. They did not themselves wish to have it suggested that He was indeed in any sense their king. But Pilate refused to make any change in the superscription. "What I have written I have written," he declared. He spoke a deeper truth than he knew. He was making a record which would stand forever, and which in spite of all the injustice and dishonor of the day was true.
Just so--we are all writing, all the while, ineffaceably. What we have written, we have written. Every act we perform, every word we speak, every thought we think and every influence we give out--goes down to stay on the page. This is well when the things we do are good, right and beautiful things; but it is just as true when they are sinful and unholy things. We should lay this truth to heart and should live so that we shall write down in the inexpungeable record of our lives--only things we shall be glad to meet a thousand years hence. We never have the opportunity to go over our records--to correct the mistakes we have made. As we write the words, so will they stand.
The next picture we see shows us the soldiers dividing the garments of Jesus among themselves. We can think of these men going about at their duty after that day, wearing the garments which Jesus had worn during His beautiful and holy life. We may carry the illustration farther, and think of ourselves and all redeemed ones--as wearing the garments which Jesus prepared for us that day on the cross.
The scene of the soldiers gambling for the scant possessions of Jesus, while the most stupendous event of all time was being enacted above their heads, suggests to us how indifferent the world is to the glory of God and the glorious things that God does. Men are irreverent and are unmoved by even the holiest things!
The next picture shows us a little group of the dearest friends of Jesus, standing near the cross, while He was enduring His unfathomable sorrows. His mother was there, and John, the beloved disciple. When Jesus saw His mother, His heart was touched with compassion for her, and He commended her to the beloved disciple, who from that time became as a son to her, taking her to his own home. In this scene we have a beautiful commentary on the Fifth Commandment.
Even on His cross, in the midst of the anguish of this terrible hour, He did not forget her who had borne Him, who had blessed His tender infancy and defenseless childhood with her rich, self-forgetful love. Every young person, or older one with parents living, who reads this fragment of the story of the cross, should remember the lesson and pay love's highest honor to the father or the mother to whom he owes so much.
The next picture shows us Jesus in His anguish of thirst. In response to His cry, "I am thirsty!" one of the soldiers dipped a sponge in the sour wine that was provided for the watchers and held it up on a reed, that it might moisten His lips. This is the only one of the seven sayings on the cross in which Jesus referred to His own suffering. It is pleasant to think that one of the soldiers gave a kindly response to His cry. This is the only gleam of humanity in all the dark story of cruelty and hardness enacted around the cross. It is a comfort to us to know that even so small a kindness was wrought for Him who has filled the world with the fragrance of His love, blessing so many millions of suffering ones.
For us the lesson is that we should train ourselves to deeds of thoughtful gentleness to all who are in distress. We remember that beautiful word of our Lord, that the giving of even a cup of cold water to a disciple in His name will not go unrewarded (see Matthew 10:42). There are thirsty ones coming to us continually, and countless are the opportunities of doing good to them in Christ's name. We should not fail to put the cup to lips that are burning with life's fever. Since Jesus thirsted on the cross and was refreshed, if only by so much as the moisture of a sponge filled with sour wine, He is quick to recognize and reward any kindness to one of His that thirsts.
The last picture shows us Jesus dying. He said, "It is finished!" Then He bowed His head and gave up His spirit. It was a cry of victory which fell from His lips. His work was finished. He had done each day the work given Him to do that day, and when the last hour of the day came there was nothing that He had left undone. We should learn the lesson--and live as He lived, so as to have every part of our work finished when our end comes.
But what was it that was finished when Jesus bowed His head on the cross? A famous picture represents Christ lifted up, and beneath Him an innumerable procession of the saints, advancing out of the darkness and coming into the light of His cross. There can be no doubt that He had such a vision of redemption while He hung there, for we are told that He endured the cross, despising the shame, because of the joy set before Him. "It is finished!" was therefore a shout of victory as He completed the work of suffering and sacrificing that the world might be saved.