By the Way of the Cross

Isaiah 53: 4-5,12  “Surely He took up our pain and bore our sufferingBut He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities...He poured out His life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For He bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors”

My name you do not know.  Throughout history, I have only been known as the thief on the cross.  My name is not important.  My story is.  My life began about 2000 years ago.  I was born into a respectable Jewish family.  We attended the synagogue and celebrated all the festivals and celebrations just like all the other families, for this was the custom of our day.  My Mother and Father did the best they could with me.  They did all the right things raising their son.  But as I grew, I became involved with a group of young men who loved to have a “good” time.  We did harmless things at first, stealing the old man’s fruit from his courtyard.  It didn’t seem to matter at the time, but looking back I realized this was the beginning of my troubles.  My parents’ approval seemed much less important than the opinion of my friends.
Soon I became involved in more serious “adventures” with my friends.  I robbed the tax collector.  Most of our people considered these men criminals.  How dare they work for the Romans and turn against our people.  I was considered a hero by many. We managed to “get-away” with every crime. Stealing became easy and I became confident in what I was doing.  The little voice within stopped telling me I was doing wrong.  It had remained silent for a long time. Robbery led to more robbery and soon the day came when in anger I committed murder in order to keep a man from yelling out my name.

I was arrested and sentenced to death by the Romans.  I was then placed in prison until my death sentence by crucifixion could be carried out.  The day of my execution would be the day before the Passover Sabbath.

The streets of Jerusalem were now crowded with many people coming to attend the Passover celebration that began at 6:00 pm on Friday the Sabbath.   Many would be traveling into the city and would witness the crucifixion of all criminals.  It was a way the Romans could show the Jews they were in charge of life and death. I did not care.  I knew I was guilty of murder.  I knew I deserved to die.

As I waited, I sat in a dark, dirty prison cell.  A bloodied and beaten man had been thrown into a cell not too far from me.  The man said not a word, He only groaned in pain.  I overheard the jailer and several guards talking about this man who’s name was Jesus. They were laughing and mocking as they repeated some of what they had heard about Him. One man said Jesus was thought to be the long awaited Messiah sought by the Jews.  Another called Him a fake prophet and zealot bent on overthrowing Rome. The guards laughed and scoffed hurling insult after insult. They even said He thought He was going to be King so the Roman soldiers decided to made a crown of thorns and had placed it on His head along with a purple robe around His shoulders.   They scourged Him until He was beaten almost to death.  What fun they had mocking and spitting and beating Him!

The Romans were right, we had been looking for the Messiah for many many years for he would be a king to save us from bondage and set us free.  When I saw this man named Jesus, He did not look like a king, in fact the way He looked now was as if the next breath would be His last.  How could He be the promised Messiah?

I listened closely to some of the prisoners talking about Jesus. Some called Him a prophet, John the Baptist had called Him the “Lamb of God” come to take away the sins of the world and others called Him a blasphemer because He had claimed to be God.  Some had seen Him perform miracles.  One of them even saw Him raise Lazarus from the dead.  How could that be?  I wondered.  But truthfully, I didn’t know who He was. Little did I realize that I would soon have an encounter with Jesus and have to decide for myself.

The time came for our execution.  There were three of us in the procession to Golgotha-myself, another criminal and Jesus.  We were surrounded by a crowd of mockers who were laughing, throwing sticks and spitting on us. We carried the heavy cross bar on our shoulders but Jesus was so weak from the beating that someone else had to carry His cross part of the way.  We drudged on to this place of crucifixion outside the city where we would be lifted up on a beam to die.  The crosses were placed high enough for all to see. All those entering Jerusalem would see our shame.  The Romans seemed to enjoy executing Jews on a cross. It was their way of showing us to stay in our place.

We reached Golgotha and the Roman soldiers nailed us to the cross bar we had carried and then lifted us up onto the beam.  I can remember screaming with pain.  Severe pain, more than I had ever known. The pain of the cross was excruciating.  I couldn’t breathe.  Every time I moved the pain would extend to every part of my body.  The sun caused unbearable thirst and the flies and insects burrowed deep into my open wounds. Death could not come soon enough.

As I was dwelling on my own torment, I could still hear the angry crowd screaming at the man on the cross next to me. I had witnessed many executions but I could not remember a time when the crowd was this angry. “You saved others, save yourself!”  The crowd grew louder and louder as they yelled, “Blasphemer! Blasphemer!” They were yelling, screaming and spitting at Him.

I then heard Him say, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” How could He say such a thing? I was angry and felt nothing but hatred for these people and here He was praying they would be forgiven.

Was this man truly the Son of God like He said He was? I suddenly remembered the words of those who believed in Him.  He had come to save sinners.  He was the Son of God.  This was the Messiah come to save the sinners of the world.  He had come to save me.

As I turned to look at Him, He looked into my eyes.  What I saw in His eyes that day was a look of love for me that I cannot explain.  All of a sudden, I saw the sin that had condemned me.  Jesus was the Lamb of God without sin. This was the Messiah come to save me.  The prophet Isaiah had said that the Messiah would pour out Himself to death and be numbered with the transgressors and yet He himself would bare the sin of many and intercede for the transgressors.  I was that transgressor. I was that sinner.

At that moment, the  criminal on the other cross said to Jesus, “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!”  Anger rose up within me.  “Don’t you fear God since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”

Then I turned to Him and said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And to my surprise, He replied, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in Paradise.” What comfort I had in my last hours.  I heard the voice of Jesus ringing in my ears until my last breath.  I knew my sins were forgiven and I knew I would see Him again in Paradise this day.

Now, as I stand before the throne of God, I fully understand what the cross of Jesus really meant and what Jesus did for me.  God’s only Son suffered and died that I might have eternal life.  Had it not been for His death on the cross, sin and death would not have been conquered.  I would have been condemned to hell.  But instead, I now stand before God the Father and truthfully can say, “It is nothing I have done, it’s the suffering of Your Son.  I have come by the way of the cross.”  Praise God!

 

And now I ask you, my friend, when you stand before the throne of God, will you be able to say…I have come by the way of the cross?

Sandra Hardage