Sunday, December 4, 2011

"Who is Nailed to the Cross"

       It is really hot under this metal helmet and this place smells of death. That's why I hate this part of the job! But I'm a centurion, and standing guard at executions is part of the duty.

     Listen! Can you hear the sound of the hammer driving those huge iron spikes Clack! Clack! Thomp!  Did you notice how the sound changed when it finally went through the hands and into the wood?  I'll never get used to that!

     Hmm ... Only three crosses today! ... business is a little slow. But there's still a lot of screams. Not just from the crucified but also from the crowd. Mothers, fathers, wives, children.

    Even thieves and murders have loved ones; tears are flowing like blood ... and blood is flowing like tears. Everything ... everybody is in motion.  The crowd is milling around trying to get closer to the crosses ... trying to get away from the crosses. It's a human swarm of the curious trying to see who is on the center cross. It's hard to look ... It's hard to look away!

     Who IS that on that cross? "The king of the Jews" That's what the sign over his head reads.   Oh yeah! Our Caesar and his governors would love to believe that!  What a show of power to nail the Jew's king to the cross.

     Rome has had nothing but trouble since we conquered this little hunk of "paradise" Hang their king on a cross ... yeah, that should break their rebellious spirit!  Bunch of trouble makers. If it weren't for them, I could be back in Rome with my family.

    This guy had a family too. I've kinda gotten to know some of His story.  He was a carpenter like His father. A guy named Joseph. I don't know much about the father.  But His mother is named Mary.  Some say she followed Him everywhere.  That's her at the foot of the cross with one of His disciples.

     His disciples didn't call Him a carpenter. They called Him Rabbi ... teacher.  He was called teacher many times by many people (even some of the religious leaders!).

     I remember hearing Him teaching on the mountain. He taught the law and the prophets with an authority!  I heard Him again by the seaside.  (He was attracting such large crowds that some of us centurions were detailed to keep an eye on Him.)  You couldn't help but listen. He made things so easy to understand. All His talk of sheep and shepherds and sewing seed and masters and slaves ... even a soldier like me could understand that he was speaking of our relationship to each other and to God. What a teacher!

     Some say He was more than a teacher.  That He was a prophet.  You know, He did speak a lot about future events.  About the coming "Kingdom of God" and how to prepare for it.  About a place prepared for His followers in the afterlife and what it was going to be like.   Mostly though He spoke a lot about today ... about His betrayal, His trial, His beating and His death. Yes, I guess He was a prophet too.

     But why would a teacher and a prophet be nailed to a cross?  If He had just stuck with teaching and prophesying, He'd have been all right ... I think.  But He was an outlaw and a trouble maker. He made a real mess awhile ago in the temple courtyard, turning over tables and chasing money-changers and merchants away.  Calling them thieves in His Father's house.

    He broke many of the Rabbinical Laws (although He said that those were just human precepts -- not the Law of God). His disciples worked on the Sabbath! As did He Himself. A big Jewish no - no! He was even known to have healed people on the Lord's Day!

     Oh yes, He was a healer.  He would lay hands on people and cure them!  Even touched lepers!  That gives me the creeps to think about.  Made the blind to see and the lame to walk.  He even healed non-Jews! Can you believe that?  Isn't it considered consorting with the enemy when you heal a Roman Centurion's slave?  (They are friends of mine, the centurion and his wife, and that slave is almost like one of the family.)  And this guy healed him without even going to the house.  Now that's some powerful healing!

     And He healed people's lives not just their bodies. He called demons and evil spirits from people so that folks could return to a normal life.  Even that guy wrapped in chains that lived among the tombs.

     Oh yeah ... speaking of the tombs.  Now this is hard to believe ... they say He raised the dead ... on more than one occasion!  One guy, Lazarus, had even been buried for several days!  Now I'd call that not just a doctor ... I'd call Him a GREAT physician.

     It's when He healed their souls that really got Him in trouble.  He forgave people of their SINS!  Did you hear the conversation he had with those other two on the crosses?  He promised the one that he'd be in paradise.  And he even asked his father to forgive US. Saying that we didn't know what we were doing.

     But I'm beginning to suspect!  (Now I heard it explained something like this: If I step on your toes, YOU can forgive me.  No one else can forgive me because it wasn't THEIR toes!  So ... if I sin, that's a sin against God and nobody but God can forgive me).  Yet, He did! It was like He was claiming to BE God!

     That is what really angered the religious establishment most of all!  He claimed to have power greater than theirs.  He did a lot of miracles that demonstrated his divine power.  Walking on water, calming storms, turning water to wine and feeding 5,000 people on some little boy's lunch!

     That's the real reason He's hanging on that cross.  Or maybe it isn't the REASON.  Maybe that's just the EXCUSE.  I'm sure you may remember John. Yeah the guy in the hair coat that Herod had beheaded.  I think they called him the baptizer or something.

    Anyway, this guy on the cross went to see John at the Jordon River and to be baptized.  John sees Him coming and yells out, "Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world."

     If you ask me, that's who is hanging on the cross. The sacrificial lamb.  The lamb without spot or blemish.  That's what the Jews have to sacrifice every year to be forgiven for their sins.

     Well this is the perfect man who knew no sin and yet has taken everyone's sin ... your sin ... even my sin (even though I'm not even a Jew) ... all of the world's sin ... and nailed them to the cross in his own body.

     Listen!  He's saying something ... I've picked up a little of their Aramaic language while I've been stationed here. ... It' as if He's feeling abandoned as if the sins of the whole world and for all times were weighing on him.

     Now he's committing His life into His Father's hands and giving up His life.

     Did you get that?  Giving up His life.  Showing us that we couldn't TAKE it. But He is willingly giving it in our place.

     Look! The sky is darking and the earth quakes at his passing.  Truly this man was God's Son!

This story is inspired by the reading of Mathew 27:46-57 which I've included here. (Scripture quoted from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible

And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? 

Some of them that stood there, when they heard that, said, This man calleth for Elias. And straightway one of them ran, and took a sponge, and filled it with vinegar, and put it on a reed, and gave him to drink. The rest said, Let be, let us see whether Elias will come to save him.
Jesus, when he had cried again with a loud voice, yielded up the ghost.
And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent; And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose, And came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many.
Now when the centurion, and they that were with him, watching Jesus, saw the earthquake, and those things that were done, they feared greatly, saying, Truly this was the Son of God

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