All human history and the balance of the entire universe shifted some two thousand years ago through one cruel and common act on the outskirts of a dusty town in a corner of the Roman Empire.
This was a common practice. In 40 BC, two thousand people were executed by the cross in one day. Some historians estimate, in AD 70 alone, two hundred people were killed each day throughout the year by crucifixion. On the surface, one more day of executions did not stand out as anything particularly special.
It was common. It was cruel. It was shameful. The act was so base, so offensive and so shameful that the Romans would be careful to avoid using the word “cross” in their everyday language. To utter the word crux was considered rude; to say that someone deserved the cross was a deeply insulting statement. The cross was, even then, politically incorrect.
The image of the cross predates the Romans. Originally, it was a short cross with equal length vertical and horizontal bars. Early on, it didn’t point to death, but symbolized the intersection of heaven and earth. On that Friday, on that day of redemption, heaven and earth intersected in a way as never before as the God-Man faced his death. The Lord God chose one of the most common, cruel and shameful ways to demonstrate his love for us and his hatred toward our sin. It was a cruel death because it was wrath toward sin. The Cross is cruel because our sin is severe.
Cruel and common.
Christ was born in a lowly, common place because there was no room for him, and he died in a shameful place, outside the city, in the common way of many before and after him. Some Roman did his duty by hammering a few nails into the bodies of the condemned, and when I think of that nameless soldier, in my mind I always give him a name. I give him my own name; my sins nailed the Savior to his Cross…my cross.
But Jesus was not alone in his death that day, two nameless rebels were beside him, dying for their sins against the state. One of them, having insulted Jesus shortly before (Matthew 27:44), came under conviction and asked for mercy.
One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:39-43)
In my imagination, I wonder if that repentant rebel, after his death, ever thought, “What if I had died on another day?”
That criminal could not have known, as he waited on that Thursday night, the pain his tomorrow would bring. He could not have known what carrying his own cross would feel like. On any other day, at any other execution, assuming his heart remained hardened, his last ragged breath on earth would have marked his bitter reception into Hell. The pain that would wrack his body through sharp nails and rough wood, crushed nerves and muscle spasms, would be nothing compared to eternal torment.
But that rebel didn’t die on just any Friday. It was a special and specific day. Hoisted up next to the God-Man himself, he joined the other thief in cursing. Mocking. Jeering. Somehow the hatred of holiness overrode the pain of crucifixion. Jesus felt that weight too.
That thief could not have known that eternal justice would be settled and salvation found at the top of that hill well-marked with the promise and presence of death. What if he had died on any other day? God had another day – this day – in mind.
The thief would die to self before dying as flesh and blood. His curses fell silent. His sin was exposed. His heart softened.
“Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
“You will be with me in Paradise.”
Paradise promised at the eleventh hour. The man who had taken from others what he did not earn would now be given what he did not deserve. He was in good company. The One who would take the penalty for all theft would become the ultimate robber himself and snatch Hell’s prize from its awaiting grasp.
That meeting on that hill was orchestrated before the dawn of time. Before any “Let there be’s” echoed through the universe, the trajectory of that rebel’s broken existence had been plotted for a divine intersection just as surely as the crossing of those two beams of harsh wood holding the Eternal One. The thief was a part of a perfect master plan, the culmination of which was unfolding only a few feet away. It makes one stop and consider, if God can time the crucifixion of a rebel, put him in earshot of the Son of Man and mercifully alter his eternity, can we not trust him with our pain?
The God-Man, stretched between heaven and earth, cried out. His heart, full of grace, thumped one last rivulet of redemption to mingle with the dust from which humanity was fashioned. His body went slack. His head pitched forward.
The thief would soon follow. At the moment of his last breath, the rebel would be more alive than ever before because of the death of Christ.
In that cruel and common act of crucifixion, all things changed. The symbol of the cross took on new meaning. An instrument of execution more unsettling and cruel than any gas chamber, electric chair or hangman’s noose became the ultimate emblem of grace, mercy and love. And that is why it was a scandal to the Jews and utter foolishness to the Romans to hear that only through the Cross could one know God (1 Corinthians 1:23). Not only do we depend upon the Cross, we glory in it, praise it and love it for its beauty.
But God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world (Galatians 6:14).
Commentators tell us that there isn’t a word that corresponds exactly to the word we translate as “boast” in this passage. It’s more than to “brag on” the Cross. It means to “boast in, glory in, trust in, rejoice in, revel in, and live for” all rolled into one. You can’t talk about anything in Christianity without ultimately coming back to the Cross.
And you can’t view the Cross as being active in your life now without being confronted to live a life crucified, in body and will, to the Holy One. “If you love me, you will keep my commandments,” says Jesus (John 14:15). When I willfully choose to disobey him, I am saying, quite directly, “Jesus, I don’t love You.”
Three Roman nails were not enough to hold the all-powerful, King of the Universe to two pieces of wood connected by sinful humans; his own choice to love us kept him on the Cross that Friday.
The choice to love him will keep us busy crucifying ourselves daily.
What if we miss what Jesus is doing now in our lives?
What if we don’t die to self today?
What if we don’t take up our cross and climb that hill today?
What if we miss a resurrection because we are avoiding our cross?
Since he sacrificed everything for us, how could we rightly withhold anything from him?
After all, the cross is not only a reflection of the mercy of God, but the depth of our sin.
I prod Him toward the Cross.
I lift Him up.
“Get up,” I murmur. “Move along.”
I watch this Man.
Staggering under the weight of the wood upon His shoulders.
Staggering under things heavier still.
A fall is not enough for the fallen.
I must do my job,
As must He.
I help drag Him to that place rightly mine.
I hold His feet.
Feet that walked the Judean wilderness.
Feet that grazed the crests of storm-churned waves.
Feet bathed with tears and dried with hair.
Now feet held in place by a Roman hand…by every hand.
The hammer swings high, and each rhythmic blow echoes…
The cross lifted.
My shoulder against it hard.
My hand still around His feet.
Pushing Him toward His death.
All the weight heavy on my shoulder.
All of me now behind Him.
My effort placing Him there.
My hands’ work.
My heart’s desires.
Rising higher, He sinks lower.
Lower into my sin.
The darkness of it.
The cross hits bottom, jarring Him.
He cries out.
My hands slip free, spattered and smeared.
He holds Himself there now.
And I watch.
He looks at me…
I at him.
One last breath.
And, on my behalf,
My hands, blood-washed,
Stained still today,
By the God-ordained sacrifice for the world.
A reminder of that day.
These hands, free now to worship Him.
His hands, scarred,
Lasting wounds still today.
The only human-made things in Heaven.
Reminders of that day.
Those hands freely welcome us.
What’s so good about Good Friday? Click here.
2 thoughts on “Any Other Friday”
I think one of the hardest things for the human mind to grasp is all of this, everything in our on lives was set before the world was even made. The thief who repented, Peter who denied, the martyrs since, the evil since, the good, the bad and the ugly. This was the plan all along. We cannot comprehend this, we don’t like it and in our feeble brains we scream why.
Peace is found, Joy is found when we rest in the cross. When we rest in the fact that God has never taken a nap. He has never been surprised and this world, that He created is never out of control. If you are troubled today, rest in that. If you know someone is hurting today, Romans 12:15. No cliches, no pontification just sit with them knowing it has been God’s plan all along. Ephesians 6:10, we were never meant to do this alone.
The thief did not die alone. When Peter was executed he was not alone. In our lives we have friends that are closer than a brother. The whole rugged individual thing is a myth. When you read Dustin’s article see that we are meant to be in the company of believers, we are meant to go into the streets and hedgerows sharing this news. Be the hands and feet of Christ becasue that is all that really matters.
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Thank you so very much. I was thinking of this this morning and when you had it on screen at church. It is my favorite !!!!
Love you much
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