If I were to ask you, “What is the greatest love story ever passed down?” …. Some would say Sleeping Beauty; some would say Snow White; and others would say Princess Bride. More sophisticated people might say Romeo and Juliette, Cyrano de Bergeroc or Gone with the Wind. There are so many love stories out there – not only about a man and a woman, but also between friends. There are also the love stories between a man and his pet. And there is much out there about the love of a parent for a child. It has inspired the best of writers.
There was a Korean woman who had been caught in a blizzard. She was trying to make it into town with her infant. But the storm was raging and the snow was falling faster. Realizing she couldn’t make it, to save the life of her little one, she took off her heavy coat and her heavy sweater and wrapped them around the baby. The next morning, she was found a mile from town. She was dead; but, from the bundle of clothes, a cry is heard. Her son was safe and warm. That, alone, makes it a beautiful story.
But now the son grows up. And each week, he is reminded of what his mum has done. “This is the sacrifice you mum has made!” I’m not sure the son really understands what sacrifice his mum made on his behalf. But then, on a cold winter day, he is seen kneeling by the stone at his mother’s grave. He is without a shirt or a coat. Over and over he keeps asking, “Mum, is this how cold you were for my sake?”
Great story, isn’t it? Stories like this one touch our hearts and almost bring us to tears. Oh the wonderful love of a mate for a mate, of a friend for a friend or of a parent for a child. But nothing compares to the love story we approach today. Greatest love lines ever penned have to do with Jesus on the cross. Turn if you would to John 19:15-18. “…..”
Now it’s hard to understand all that was going on then, reading the crucifixion story 2,000 years later. The first thing you should understand is that when they took Jesus, it meant a long, tiring walk for the Savior.
1. The Walk
The walk was to Golgotha because it was unclean for a man to be put to death in Jerusalem. The walk was to shame the criminal and to warn all men. It was also the last chance to absolve a criminal. In order to do that, there were four soldiers walking with the criminal. There was one soldier at the front with a sign that would later be nailed to the cross. For Jesus, the sign read, “King of the Jews”. John 19:19-22. Pilate was getting even with Jesus for being the cause of him having to back down to the Jews. Ironically, now Pilate was standing firm for something trivial where, before, he had shown weakness regarding something essential. Pilate is like many of us, giving up on battles that need to be thought through and fighting in places where we need to let go. In this way, we are no better than Pilate. So under these charges the Bible says that Jesus is nailed to the cross.
Jesus is hung between two thieves. He is worthy of an escort of archangels, but it is criminals who will escort Him into the afterlife. And they are angry.
A crucifixion is a terrible death. The cross is not just a means of execution. It is also a means of ultimate humiliation and ultimate pain infliction. It is done in the most public place and the man is humiliated by being crucified naked. The sight is disgusting as birds and bugs are drawn to the spilled blood. The pain is excruciating as the long nails are driven through the hands into the wooden cross. As he was raised up on the cross, He suffered from asphyxia and the wounds on his back were reopened and scraped across the rough wood of the cross. But our Lord did not open his mouth. Isa. 53:7. The two criminals on either side of Jesus pled, begged, cursed and spat! But Jesus was silent as a lamb taken to the slaughter. He was innocent. He had never hurt anyone. The heavens, themselves, are shaken by the cruelty of it all.
And, as if it wasn’t enough, the soldiers, like scavengers, are already dividing Jesus’ clothes. Ironically, a few days earlier, people were throwing their garment at Jesus’ feet as He entered the city. Now they are casting lots for Jesus tunic (probably woven by His mum, as was the custom). Will the crowd protest? Will they speak for the Son of God? Will they rebuke this cold-hearted attitude in front, even, of a broken-hearted mum? Don’t count on it!
4. Crowd Making Fun
The crowd was having a ball! Even the thieves were ridiculing our Lord. Matt. 27:39-44. “…..” I don’t know about you, but I would have taken issue with the meanness of the crowds. I would have said, “You have had what you want, now leave me alone. Go home! Do you really have no better way to spend your time? God is watching you….. May your kids never take after you!” Maybe I would not have cussed people out, but I would have said a few truths! After all, don’t they deserve it? Don’t they need to come to their senses? Isn’t it against God’s will what they are doing? Doesn’t He want them to grow up and learn? But not Jesus.
5. “Forgive Them”
Please look at Luke 23:34. “….” Surely this is not right. The crowds are hollering; the soldiers are casting lots; and Jesus says, “Father, forgive.” Is that really the way to handle it? Can prayer really make a difference? Let’s look at Luke 23:39-43. “…..” Something changes. The love of a Savior changes the heart of a criminal. One of His closest enemies is brought to his knees. The prayerful attitude of Jesus has revealed God and, now, His enemy says, “Please remember me in your rule.” Then the centurion follows in v. 47. And in v. 48, the crowds, having seen all the things that were done, smote their breasts and returned. So, it was not all vinegar at the crucifixion.
6. Darkness for 3 Hours
Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani? My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why? Because sin separates from God and, at that moment, II Cor. 5:21 says, “God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us!” So, He was bearing our penalty. It must have been an awesome sight – a frightening sight.
7. John 19:30
It is finished. “Tetelestai” means all is accomplished. It’s over. Don’t be confused. These may seem to be the words of defeat; but, these words are of a great victory. “Tetelestai” is an expression that was often used by farmers when an animal was born and inspected. If the animal was found perfect, the farmer exclaimed, “Tetelestai!” This expression was also used by artists. Now why was Jesus victorious?
Jesus was victorious because of perfect obedience which glorified God. A child always brings honor to parents when he obeys them. For Jesus to have stopped short of the cross would have left the task unfinished. The primary reason for coming was to show the world the extent of God’s love. If He had stopped short, it would have been like saying, “God loves you, but only this much.” Now by going to the cross, Jesus showed, “There is nothing the love of God isn’t prepared to do and suffer for you and me! There is literally no limit to it.”
There is a famous painting that illustrates the point, somewhat. It shows an engineer, during W.W.I., trying to fix a phone line because an important message needed to be delivered. He just completed the task and he was shot. Under the picture is this line, “Through!” He has given his life so that the message may pass. Jesus also has given His life so that the message of God’s great love can be passed to you and me.
For Him, the cross was the way back to the glory he held earlier. He was like a knight who left the court of the king with a great task. He did away with the law. Col. 2:16. He redeemed mankind. Rev. 5:3. This was His gateway to glory.