First light. A new day is just beginning. But for the Son of God, it will be his last day of natural life on this earth.
He sighs. He has been through so much in just the past few hours. Betrayal by a friend; betrayal with a kiss. Arrest. Mocking. The sham of a trial. False accusers and false charges. Utter rejection and feigned horror at the truth He spoke. “Blasphemy!” Now, he has been brought to the Roman governor, to face yet another inquisition, to be charged and found guilty for speaking God’s own truth.
He can hear the city beginning to stir. This is a big day. Passover. In the Temple morning worship is beginning. Incense and prayers and songs. Right now the morning sacrifice is being prepared to be slain, made ready to be offered up to God. An innocent lamb. Right now the eternal sacrifice is being prepared to be crucified, made ready to be offered to God for the people. The Lamb of God.
It has been a brutal few hours. Repeated interrogations by Pilate. The self-serving civil servant who understands nothing. More accusations. More mocking. The guilty being released. Barabbas: “Son of the father.” Such irony.
False words from false hearts. “We have no king but Caesar!” How it pains Jesus to hear these words. Their loving and compassionate sovereign has been rejected in favor of the devil’s despot. But, so it must be.
“Let him be crucified!” The words rang painfully in His ears. He knew it was coming. He knew those words would be said. But still it struck Him like a thunderbolt. This is the cup He prayed would be taken away. But the Father said, “No.”
The scourging. Such incredible pain. Pain that made Him wonder if He could endure it. But He could. He would. He knew He had to. There was no other way. Ah, the horror of this beating… more than a beating. Cruelty displayed and acted on. Cruelty beyond understanding.
How does a man, any man, deal with seeing your own flesh ripped from your body… piece by piece? To see your own blood gushing from gaping wounds, streaming from your back and shoulders and sides down your arms and legs, spilling onto your feet. To watch your own flesh being slowly, torturously destroyed. Being treated like a criminal, a slave, the refuse of humanity. Being treated worse than a dog.
Cast down. Mocked and scorned. Beaten again and again. Thorns pressed into his scalp. A wooden staff striking his head, his neck, his face. “Prophesy, O king!” Dragged back to be gaped at and then discarded by His own people, the nation that He has loved and guided and watched over for centuries. “Behold the man!” But they don’t see a man. They see a threat. They see conviction of their sins and exposure of their own guilt. They recoil from the sight. “I am a worm and no man,” He thinks, echoing the words of the Psalmist.
And now… now the final journey begins. Rough hands throw Him on the ground. A large, crudely-crafted wooden beam is lifted atop him, lowered onto his shoulder. They rudely jerk his hands over his head and wrap them around one end of the beam. They tie his hands in place, tie them to the cross-beam. This rugged wood will be his only true companion this day.
The Lamb of God is pulled to his feet. Orders are shouted. “Move along. Get going!” He painfully begins to walk, dragging His cross. But He is too weak, too devastated. He stumbles and falls. Uncaring hands grab Him and wrench Him upward. He is forced to shuffle along—each step a pain, each footfall an agony. He makes it only a short distance… and then He is completely overcome with fatigue, loss of blood, loss of stamina. He falls. Soldiers whip Him unmercifully in a vain attempt to rouse Him again. It is no use. It is humanly impossible.
Curses and anger fill the air. The soldiers grab a bystander, a man from Africa. They will force him to carry the cross beam. Jesus? He is too weak to even stand. With irritation and indignation they pick Him up and carry Him to Golgotha. They don’t realize they are carrying the most precious thing in the entire universe. They only know that this Jew is too much trouble. He only causes them more work.
It is the time of morning prayer. The sounds of praise and prayer and adulation that arise from the Temple mount are carelessly mixed with the groans of the condemned on Mount Calvary.
The cross beam is taken from Simon of Cyrene and laid on the ground. Jesus is cast on top of it. His mutilated back scrapes against the rough wood. His clothes are jerked off Him. His arms are stretched over the beam. He lies there on the ground, arms spread out, His body stretched out—it’s as if His pale, bloodied form now imitates the completed cross that He is about to endure.
A soldier squats down on His right side. He kneels, pressing the weight of his body onto Jesus’ forearm. Have to do this right, he thinks. Don’t want the condemned to jerk his arm and mess up the job.
The first nail. Seven inches of cold, hard, uncaring iron. The soldier positions it over the wrist of God’s Son. He strikes. Whack. The nail pierces the flesh. Blood spurts out. Jesus gasps. Whack. The nail tears through nerves and muscles and veins. The Prince of Peace screams in agonized torture. It is automatic. What else could He do? Thunk. The nail moves through his arm and into the wood. The Lord of glory weeps in indescribable pain. Thud. The nail is now fixed in the wood. The Messiah’s chest heaves as He weeps in anguish. The soldier calmly winds a rope around his upper arm, pulls each end tight, and secures Him to the cross. It only takes a moment for this tormenting exercise to be repeated with Christ’s other arm.
Several more soldiers now join the first. They grab the ends of the cross beam and hoist it upward. God’s precious Son is lifted from the earth. The cross beam is raised higher still. Jesus feet no longer touch the ground. He is suspended by nothing more than nails and rope. The cross beam is expertly positioned on the upright pole that juts from Golgotha’s brow, and then it is fastened into place.
A soldier seizes Christ’s feet and twists them to one side. The Bread of Life trembles from the wrenching pain that shoots from his arms. A third and last nail is brought. As the Lord’s feet are held in place, this single spike is pounded through the flesh of one heel, then the other, and then into the wood. The act of crucifying is complete. The Creator of the cosmos is nailed to His own creation.
It’s has been three hours. It seems like eternity. Such pain! Pain that is truly and literally excruciating—that is, from the cross. The Lamb of God suffers on this altar of sacrifice, an altar fashioned by human sinfulness. His limbs are pulled from the sockets. Cramps seize the muscles of His arms and legs. His body contorts in fantastic spasms of agony. Each breath He breathes is a miniature hell—for He can only gasp for air by pulling Himself upward on those nails in his hands, thus giving His lungs a brief moment of freedom to inhale. Nothing is more cruel than a cross.
Yet, in His heart there is only love. He forgives His executioners. He makes provision for His mother. He forgives a fellow sufferer. He exposes the heart of God for all to see.
Darkness creeps across the sky, covers the land. Darkness that is more than failing light. Darkness that reveals the judgment of God. Darkness that mirrors the absence of light in the hearts of men. The sun hides its glory because mankind has crucified its Maker. The sky turns cold and forbidding because it cannot bear to illumine so horrible a scene. It seems as if God must be looking the other way—He can’t bear to see the Light of the World nailed to a tree.
The horror increases.
His body is dehydrated from sweating for hours on end. “I thirst.” A natural cry. But is there more? Could it more than just physical thirst? Could this thirst be His soul feeling the fiery wrath of God’s judgment? For God’s anger is being poured out on the Son of Man because He has taken on Himself the sins of mankind. My sins. Your sins. But not one of His own.
“Eli, Eli, lama sabachtani?” Have more poignant words ever been uttered? Such desolate sadness. The cry of the anguished and the damned. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” What was Jesus feeling in that moment? Only heaven knows… and hell.
Now it is time for the end. The pure, the innocent, the guiltless One releases His life into the hands of a Father who He knows loves Him with an eternal love.
It is enough. No more pain, no more punishment, no more sacrifice is needed. He has paid the price required of His holy and just Father. He has satisfied the demands of God’s righteousness. The Father is pleased. Jesus knows He has done what was necessary.
He pulls Himself upward for one last time. His chest heaves as he draws in one last breath. Then the Victorious One cries out in a voice that rings with triumph and exultation. “Tetelestai!” It is finished. It is done. Paid in full. Salvation has been won.
His head drops as the last gasp of air leaves his torn, wrecked, bleeding, exhausted body. The Lamb of God has been slain for the sin of the world.
What a joy to experience the forgiveness of God! Yet, we must never forget that our forgiveness came at such a high price. We often think that we are forgiven because of the love of God. But this is not true. It is a false idea, and it betrays our lack of a proper understanding of God’s nature. We forget that God is so good, so pure, so holy, so just that He cannot just arbitrarily forgive sin. This is beyond even the power of God. The righteousness of God demands that sin must be punished. This is His essential nature.
But it is also God’s nature to love. And though His love could not just freely forgive us, it could provide the means for forgiveness. And that is exactly what God’s love did. And that is what the Cross is all about.
Oswald Chambers explains this fact so well:
“Beware of the pleasant view of the Fatherhood of God—God is so kind and loving that of course He will forgive us. That sentiment has no place whatever in the New Testament. The only ground on which God can forgive us is the tremendous tragedy of the Cross of Christ; to put forgiveness on any other ground is unconscious blasphemy… Forgiveness, which is so easy for us to accept, cost the agony of Calvary.”
With this thought in mind, we must ask ourselves—what do we do now, on this Good Friday? When we consider the Cross of Jesus, and the immensity of God’s love for us, what is our response to be? It can only be one thing. To love Him in return. To give our lives to the One who gave His life for us. To serve Him unconditionally who for our sakes suffered the death of a common slave. To totally and completely give our lives to Him is the only appropriate answer.
As Oswald Chambers concluded: “When you realize all that it cost God to forgive you, you will be held as in a vice, constrained by the love of God.”