Day 37 (Wednesday) - Matthew 27:32-38

Artwork by Kirsten Borne

Artwork by Kirsten Borne

“They say you will be king, but I dream of a King with callouses...

Whatever Kingdom comes to you, child,

May you never forget the weight of the crossbeams on your shoulders, 

And the feel of the carpenter’s nails in your hands.”

- From “Joseph’s Son,” by Jerry Camery-Hoggatt

Cigar smoke curled behind back room doors as Rome and Judea set aside their differences, shook hands, and drew their deal. Jesus would die stretched between the crossbeams of politics and piety.  They’d made sure of it. 

And so the crucifixion scene begins. 

Simon of Cyrene, an unsuspecting passerby, is forced to help Jesus carry his cross; ordinarily, the condemned would carry their own crosses up to Golgotha where they would have been hoisted to their death, but it’s likely that after all of the beatings, Jesus was simply too tired or too weak to finish the journey himself.

On up to Golgotha, the place of the “skull.”  It was a common spot for Roman executions, strategically positioned on the main highway as a warning to everyone else. 

We’ll show them what happens when someone steps out of line.

Crucifixions would have been a sobering reminder to the masses to do as they were told.  And the Romans weren’t the first to use it; Assyrians, Scythians, Celts and Germans all did it too.  It’s been said that after the siege of Tyre, Alexander the Great had nearly 2,000 survivors crucified along the water for all to see.

Be ye warned.

We say our world is going to hell in a hand-basket sometimes, but I’m sure glad I didn’t live in that one.

As if to add insult to injury, the soldiers give Jesus wine mixed with gall, a type of bile, bitter to the taste. Straight wine would have done the trick perhaps, if they were really trying to ease the pain. 

They weren’t. 

And it’s so bitter that Jesus refuses to drink it.  He would go to the cross, his wits intact, and feel it all.

None of the Gospel writers detail for their readers just what a crucifixion was like.  Everyone already knew.  It was a punishment so painful and degrading that Romans refused to impose it on their own citizens. Those who hung on the cross hung lowest on society’s totem pole; death by crucifixion was assigned to only the worst of criminals, the basest kind of bottom dweller.  It was an expression not just of retribution but of total disgust, complete and utter rejection and shame, reserved for a person so reprehensible that he did not deserve another breath, at least not one that wasn’t gasping for air.

Because that’s how a person would die on a cross - gasping for air.  Crosses were low, made of wood and cut in the shape of a T.  The condemned would be tied on - or nailed on, if they wanted to make the punishment especially cruel - and because flesh tears easily under the weight of a body, support would be given by pegs under the knees or feet.  The condemned would die slowly, painfully, suffocating from the position and poisoned lungs.  It was an excruciating way to die.

And in this way, Jesus hung on the cross, dying sick and broken for a world that was sick and broken, dying under the weight of his own body and the weight of everybody.

He died naked too, under the sign that stated his “crime”:

King of the Jews.

The soldiers played games at his feet to barter for his clothing, as if his tunic was a prize to be auctioned on eBay, his clothes to be won at the roll of a dice.  It was a Roman right to play those games.  There was little else to do as they waited around for him to die; crucifixions were too slow to be entertaining.  

And there he was.  Christ crucified.

Christ.  Christ was synonymous with victory.  He was supposed to represent the greatest kind of power, the biggest sort of strength, reigning triumphant for all the world to see.  

Crucified.  It was synonymous with weakness and shame.  The cross was the greatest kind of failure, the biggest sort of defeat, and it was posted in public for all the world to see.  

This was not how anyone would have described the Christ - this broken, dying, desperate man, shunned and shamed on a tree.  This was not what anyone would describe as victory - this death sentence reserved for the lowest of the low.  No wonder this scene was a stumbling block for Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.  It didn't matter who you were - “Christ Crucified” was an oxymoron.  

Except, it appears, for him.

Like the Jews, I’d imagine that from time to time, most of us want a Christ who fits our paradigms of victory, a Christ who does not suffer, a Christ who is beyond it, who can rescue us from pain by his immunity to it so he's not carried away by it too.  But instead we have a Christ who runs into the fire to pull us out of it, comes out scalded, and wouldn’t change a thing.

And so we preach Christ crucified.

Pastor Brynn Harrington

Consider:

As you read about the crucifixion process, how do you respond? What did you feel as you were reading it?

Pray:

And many a sad hour later, He climbed a tree at last,

And there, his great heart breaking,

He hung, a poor outcast.

His love was still unfailing,

His arms opened wide,

And there in love he suffered,

And there in love he died.

Lord, by your cross and resurrection, you have set us free.

You are the Savior of the world.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

Amen

- Anonymous

Embody:

As Jesus dies, we remember his words: “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Today, tell Jesus that you love him and think of one person in your life who you love. Call them up or even better, sit down with them face-to-face and tell them how much they mean to you.

Pastor Aaron Engler


Endnotes:

  1. 1 Cor. 1:22-25