Saturday, June 13, 2015
Defiant: Jesus and His Cross Loomed into the Heavens
When Jesus walked the earth, the infamous Roman Empire embraced the cruelties of crucifixion for capital punishment. Crucifixions intrigued Appius, a platoon leader in the Roman guard, so he requested a permanent appointment to those tortuous events.
physical agonies of crucifixion.
They knew of their upcoming scourging, which would leave their backs and shoulders a bloody mass of torn flesh. Lying over their gruesome wounds, they knew they’d carry the heavy and coarse top bar to their cross to Calvary where crucifixions took place.
They knew they'd be stripped and laid on the cross, and the executioner would nail their hands and feet to the wooden beams.
They knew guards would stick that cross into a pre-dug hole, and they’d hang there until they died.
They knew they may hang and bake in the desert sun for two or three days before death brought relief from the brutality.
For each doomed criminal, Appius outlined their response to the ruthlessness. Later, he charted and categorized what he saw into different ways to die on a cross.
With special interest, from conviction to crucifixion, Appius noted every detail of Jesus' rite of passage. Jesus' claim of being the Son of God intrigued him, and he wanted to watch Him die.
But, after Jesus’ death, he realized He didn't fit any pattern of dying he had in his scrolls of death.
Calm, under control, spewing no hate or hostility, Jesus projected an aura of compassion that overshadowed the ruthlessness of Calvary. Appius felt Jesus understood things about His crucifixion others didn't.
After Jesus died, Appius lingered to see if anything would disturb the silence that outlined the three crosses at Calvary.
Though darkness would soon embalm the site, some people arrived and huddled around Jesus' cross. As they talked, they gestured toward the beams of death. Appius determined they were discussing how to get Jesus off the cross.
Then, as if not to jostle Him, they lifted the beam from the hole and gently laid it down.
Next, as if to not further bruise His battered body, they gingerly pried the nails from His hands and feet and freed Him from the cross.
In a meticulous manner, as if neatness mattered, they wrapped His body in a cloth and tucked it around His head and feet.
Finally, as if they held a precious commodity, they cradled the bundle in their arms and carried Him away.
Motionless, Appius watched the scenario. He wondered why they worshipped a dead madman. Nevertheless, observing the impromptu ceremony energized his desire to know more.
Shrugging off the stench of savagery that permeated the crucifixion site, and its aftermath, he trudged home. He poured a cup of wine and sat down at his writing table. His scroll stared back at him like a puppy waiting for a bone. But it remained blank because his mind couldn't construct the words to reveal the roots of something he didn't understand.
What was it about Jesus that cheated Appius out of adding to his gallery of gore? Why couldn't he forget those two statements Jesus made from the cross?
He sipped his cup of wine and licked the rim. He summoned up the stench of Calvary and scoured it for clues. He watched the guards lay the naked criminals on the wooden crossbeams. He heard the screams of anguish as hammers struck the nails.
He smelled the sweat of death caused by the barbarity crammed into that station of despair. He believed Jesus’ statements had a common core. But, where would he find that essential quantity?
At last, words began to merge in his mind and expose his thoughts. He penned that Jesus and His cross loomed defiantly into the heavens. Appius felt that defiance forecast a victory.
But, what was the victory? Like moisture dripping from a cloud the thought saturated his mind.
He wrote how Jesus' crown of thorns pierced His head. How blood trickled down His forehead and dripped from His nose and beard.
He wrote how Jesus' eyes met those of the spectator's. How the spectators would either look away or sneer at Him.
He wrote how the Roman guards, hardened by these carnivals of savagery, ignored it all.
He wrote that he didn’t know why Jesus said, "Father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing."
"Why should their ignorance need forgiveness?" He blurted to a house with no ears.
Gulping the remaining wine in his cup he needed a break. Maybe a late night stroll along the streets of Jerusalem would crystallize the thoughts that ricocheted inside his head.
Along with the first one, Appius wanted to dissemble, inspect, and reassemble the second statement Jesus made from the cross. To one of the thieves He said, "Truly I say to you, today you shall be in Paradise with me."
His mind groped at nothingness, “Why did spectators and guards need forgiveness, but the thief went to Paradise?”
He walked outside into the still and heavy air; he deposited Jesus' two statements on the thought processor that traveled through his mind. He hoped to secure the frayed ends of the day and find more space in his tank of comprehension.
Methodically, one foot followed the other on his trek for knowledge and discernment.
As he walked, for how many times he wasn’t sure, Appius relived the crucifixion. But, this time he stopped because what went through his mind demanded he stop. “Is it possible,” he said out loud, “the key to unlock the door to Jesus comes with believing He's the Son of God?”
He remembered one of the thieves asked Jesus to remember him in paradise and Jesus told him He would. “To say that,” he said, “the thief believed Jesus had that power and authority, and Jesus’ affirmation proved He did.”
Now streaking, Appius’ naked thoughts ran on.
The spectators and the guards; certainly they'd heard Jesus speak in the synagogue or market place. Certainly they'd heard His “I’m the Son of God” claim, but they didn't believe. So, when He prayed for them, He didn’t mention anything about Paradise because they didn’t believe He’s the Son of God.
But, to the thief who believed Jesus mentioned Paradise.
Through this walk and, again, reliving the scene at Calvary, Appius allowed his thought processor to eliminate the unbelief in his tank of comprehension. Once the muck dissolved, Appius saw brilliance radiate from the key to Paradise.
He now understood that Jesus is the Son of God.
Like an internal brake, that insight pulled the reins on Appius’ galloping mind. He turned around to go home; no need to walk anymore because he had the answer. It was time to fill his scroll with the good news about Jesus Christ.
He understood why Jesus and His cross loomed defiantly into the heavens.
In the world, death is victorious over life; in the world there’s finality in death. But, after the cross, as the Son of God, Jesus defeated death by going to Paradise for eternity. He lives on
Thus, to those who believe that Jesus is the Son of God, death, no matter how or when it comes, loses to Paradise where they’ll spend eternity with Jesus.
All scripture is from the NASB translation of the Holy Bible