If you haven’t seen a crucifixion, they are long, ugly and tiring. Like a prison sentence where the goal is simply to ‘do the time,’ the responsibility of a crucified man is both to ‘do the time’ and ‘bear the pain.’ I hate the idea of doing both.
In addition, though it was mid afternoon, this crucifixion took place in the dark. Soon after the Harassees lit their fire, the heavenly lights went out and the only source of light and warmth was those quickly quenching flames. Needless to say, with no light, nothing to do, and little to talk about, we all fell asleep.
Some time later, we awoke. The fire had long gone out, the game of dice had ended because of the darkness, and those Harassees had gone. Others had come to take their place, but only a few people still remained.
As we leaned against each other, talking, rubbing our hands together to keep warm, nodding in and out of sleep, none of us were thinking about work. We were all thinking about how an innocent man could receive a sentence he did not deserve. Judas, Matt or myself would have been ideal candidates, but this man? I know I am supposed to be a cold blooded, hardened criminal, but in spite of the cold around me, I began to sense warmth that I had never felt before, and somehow it seemed to come from this quiet one.
He remained that way for hours, refusing to answer the ridicules he received from all sides. But if someone mentioned something important, he did his best to answer their comments. For instance, at about two o’clock, one of the criminals asked:
Right criminal – “What are you doing here? I’m here for a good reason. I stole, killed, molested. But you? You just gave. Please remember me when you enter your kingdom. I’ll always remember you.”
Than I heard him speak for the first time.
Jesus – “Don’t worry. You’ll do more than remember me. You’ll be with me.”
How can he be so comforting when he is so uncomfortable? Does he know something that no one else knows? I guess he really must have friends in high places. And what was that about a ‘kingdom’? Really? You mean this title ‘King of the Jews” is more than just a cruel joke?
Though we continued to sit with our backs to each other, me watching the cross, and my friends watching the many passers by along the road, my friends began to be more and more interested whenever the quiet one spoke. The criminals, however, were constantly talking, making verbal jabs at each other, the passers by, and especially at him.
Right criminal - “Who do you think you are? If you are the Son of God, do something Godly. Dying on a cross certainly isn’t Godly!”
Left criminal - “So, you are the King of the Jews, are you. Well, I’m a Jew, and you are definitely not my king.”
Even the Harassees acted like children, making faces ridiculing this helpless man and chanting: “Nah, Nah Nah Boo Boo, you can’t catch me!”
But the quiet one was the man of the hour. He just took it. And some how he let their comments slide like water off a duck’s back. His mind was truly in another place, and nothing could be said or done to bring it back.
As time passed, the criminals became more and more anxious and, if you can believe it, he became more and more ‘comfortable’. The clincher for me was hearing him say
Jesus – “God, forgive them, they just don’t get it.”
Though I haven’t experienced it, I can imagine that time passes even more slowly when you are the one under pressure, or in this case, under pain. The next time he spoke, it was almost three, and he was obviously reaching the end of his endurance.
Jesus – “God! God!” he shouted, “Where are you? Why have you left me?”
And minutes later, he gave one last gasp, and said:
Jesus – “God, please take my spirit. It’s done!”
And with that, bowing his head, he died.
Immediately after his words, an earth quake that no one in Jerusalem has ever felt before or since shook the ground violently. The criminals on the crosses convulsed, while claps of thunder sounded and forks of lightening could be seen from one horizon to the other. I immediately leaned forward, bringing my knees to my chest burying my nails into my legs, closed my eyes as tight as I could, and shouted a prayer of some sort. I have no idea what I said. We were all crying out of fear.
Once the earth quake and the freak storm subsided, I heard someone close by say, “He surely must have been the son of God!”
Though you may have thought the earth quake was enough to kill them, the other criminals stayed alive until the guards broke their legs, bringing death to a quick completion. And until then, they had no one to poke fun at anymore.
Finally, the sky began to lighten. It was now just past three in the afternoon and I could make out the faces of my companions. Judas’ mouth gaped open as he stared at the dead man, still hanging from the middle cross.
Judas – “Wow, What a death! I’m glad we got to watch that one!”
Matt shrugged and began to walk away, “there will be more of those. I just hope it’s not my crucifixion people watch. If this man was Yahweh’s son, he surely could have done something to prevent it.”
Me? I was just perplexed. Speechless and in awe of this man who had more guts than I ever could. As hard as I tried, I couldn’t stop myself from weeping, because of grief, thankfulness and exhaustion. I hadn’t cried in many years and though, on previous occasions, I would have worked hard not to be emotional in front of my friends, I had no concern about what they may think of me at this particular moment. It was just me and this man. He was my only thought. What could I possibly do to thank him? Even though I didn’t know him, how could I honor his memory?
These were some of the questions I asked myself over the next few days, months, and years. These were the questions I had about this man, “The quiet Christ”
Truly He taught us to love one another,
His law is love and His gospel is peace.
Chains he shall break, for the slave is our brother.
And in his name all oppression shall cease.
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
With all our hearts we praise His holy name.
Christ is the Lord! Then ever, ever praise we,
His power and glory ever more proclaim!
His power and glory ever more proclaim!