33 When they came to the place called The Skull, there they crucified Him and the criminals, one on the right and the other on the left. 34 But Jesus was saying, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” And they cast lots, dividing up His garments among themselves. 35 And the people stood by, looking on. And even the rulers were sneering at Him, saying, “He saved others; let Him save Himself if this is the Christ of God, His Chosen One.” 36 The soldiers also mocked Him, coming up to Him, offering Him sour wine, 37 and saying, “If You are the King of the Jews, save Yourself!” 38 Now there was also an inscription above Him, “THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS.”
The condemned man was stripped naked. He would be forced to lie down, His bloody back in the dirt and against the rough wood. His hands would be stretched out, perhaps secured with a rope. Sometimes they just left them like this: tied to the cross. Today, they have nails. They place the nail against his hand or wrist just below the hand and strike with a hammer until they’re sure the hand is stuck in place. The soldiers repeat the process with the other hand.
The Man is lifted up from the ground and suspended against the upright stake. The crossbar settles onto of the stake into a groove made for it with a sharp jolt. The Victim’s feet are tied in place positioned together and a third nail is brought out. This nail is hammered through both legs affixing the feet into place.
Death on a cross could take many forms: heart failure, shock, sepsis, asphyxiation, embolisms, dehydration, blood loss, or animals finding an easy and helpless meal.
It was a long, painful sort of death. And it was a particularly public and gruesome one. Rome made it a point to let people know that they could expect this if they were to challenge the State’s authority.
It’s difficult to imagine the agony that Jesus was in at this point.
This was quite possibly the worst death imaginable. Condemned, alone, betrayed, forsaken, naked, bleeding, in agony, with the prospect of days of pain and misery ahead of Him.
The first words He utters from the cross in this state? “Father, forgive them. They don’t know what they’re doing.”
It’s like a gut punch isn’t it?
All the abuse, all the wrongs heaped upon Him, all the suffering mankind has put Him through and His thoughts are about us. About how we’re like sheep wandering around without a shepherd. About how lost, lonely, and in pain we are. About how we have no idea what we’re doing and praying that God would forgive us of our monstrous crimes.
That’s not the God I’m used to hearing about. I’m used to hearing about vengeful angry God. Old Testament, if you make me mad, I’m going to bring the pain God. That’s not what this is. This is something different. And someone close to Jesus realizes it.
What can change the nature of a man?
This kind of love.
39 One of the criminals who were hanged there was hurling abuse at Him, saying, “Are You not the Christ? Save Yourself and us!” 40 But the other answered, and rebuking him said, “Do you not even fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 And he was saying, “Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!” 43 And He said to him, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.”
The other condemned man sees it finally. This Man, He doesn’t think of Himself. He thinks of us. He loves us. He can look about the men who betrayed and murdered Him with compassion. He is Love. And He is the Word of God.
The thief gets it. He realizes that maybe despite everything he has done, despite the wasteful, selfish life he has lived taking from others, that maybe… maybe God loves him too. So when his fellow thief mocks Jesus, he sticks up for him. Shut up. We’re guilty. We deserve this, but this Man… He is something different.
If they had more time on this Earth, he would follow Jesus anywhere. So Jesus tells him that when they get to the other side, He’ll be there waiting for him in the Kingdom of God.
Do you feel loved? You should. He sees us the same way. No matter how we’ve lived our lives to this point, He still loves us. He still welcomes us. He still bids us to come and follow Him. He still accepts us into His kingdom.
Unlike the thief, though, most of us do have the luxury of time. We can follow Jesus in this world. We can follow His example. We can love our neighbors. We can serve one another. We can serve our communities. We can continue His work.