“For dogs have surrounded Me;
The congregation of the wicked has enclosed Me.
They pierced My hands and My feet” Psalm 22:16
Day 6 and 7 of The Week That Changed History.
This all happened between the 6th and 9th hour (12:00 PM and 3:00 PM) on a Friday before the Sabbath began.
As a member of the religious class and a Sadducee, I am allowed to be within feet of the crucifixion. The mother of Jesus, her sister (also named Mary), and the wife of Clopas (a third Mary) (also known at Salome) are restricted as to how near to Jesus they could stand. With them are the only two male disciples (James and John) that had not run away.
As the crowd and the three scheduled for crucifixion stumble to the place where they will die a horrible death, the soldiers began to move people back and proceeded to methodically lay the two criminals on the cross and lift them up for all to see. Then they came to Jesus. Putting him last is designed to make him suffer the thought a little longer and that he will follow a similar fate. It is like watching your family killed before it happens to you.
The soldiers are very rough. They strip off the seamless tunic and his other outer garments. The executioners had been careful to not damage one thread of the tunic because it is a very nice garment. Later, the soldiers would gamble for its ownership. Jesus is striped down to nothing but a small cloth around his mid-section. They want to disgrace him and cause great suffering. He is shoved violently onto the wooden cross. His weakness prohibit his arms from catching Him or breaking his fall. So He falls face down with a thud right on top of the cross. His face is further marred and scratched. He was already bruised and swollen from the merciless beatings. The crown of thorns are embedded in His skin like they were part of his head.
The soldiers rudely and cruelly flip Jesus over quickly. They are surprised when Jesus does not fight them nor curse. Each of them pause as Jesus stretches out his hands and places his palms up at the exact spot where they will nail them to the rough wooden cross! The nail bag tingles with the sound of cold iron as one of the soldiers reaches in to take out the first long spike. He pricks his finger on the sharp tip of one of them and curses as he pulls out the first mini weapon. He feels only a microscopic amount of pain that Jesus feels. Next, the soldier places the spike in the soft fleshy center of his palm. He draws back the heavy wooden mallet and swings hard to the nail head. It is driven through skin, dodging bone and piercing muscle before entering the wood to cut the lovely hands of Jesus used only to bless, heal, and soothe.
The routine is repeated on the other hand. I hear Jesus praying for these men by their names! The look at him in wonder and amazement! But, they shake it off and bring his feet together. An especially long nail is driven through both feet and on to the small platform, which will bear most of the weight of Jesus’ body.
Jesus moans, but does not let out any cry for mercy. The soldiers pick it up from the top part of the cross, where Jesus head rests, and walk it into the hole. it quickly falls to its final resting place with a thud. As it hits bottom, cries from the crowd can be heard. It was as if each person felt the ripping pain.
The women weep and bow their heads! They are then allowed to move closer. They ignore me and look up into the bleeding face of Jesus! How long can He last? What will become of Him, His family, and His followers? At this point no one knows.
The soldiers begin to drink and gamble. It is not long before the alcohol kicks in and Jesus seamless tunic is thrown into the dirt for the prize of casting lots. The other garments are made into four parts before the gambling begins. They are like dogs! So are the religious leaders who are consumed by the spirit of hatred for Jesus. They curse Him and tempt Him.
” “He saved others; Himself He cannot save. If He is the King of Israel, let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe Him. He trusted in God; let Him deliver Him now if He will have Him; for He said, ‘I am the Son of God.’”
The religious leaders are still angry over the fact that Pilate had placed a sign over Jesus’ head in the three languages: Greek, Latin, and Hebrew:
THIS IS JESUS THE KING OF THE JEWS.
Even the robbers are reviling him! Finally, one of them has a change of heart and rebukes the other robber,
“Do you not even fear God, seeing you are under the same condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this Man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said to Jesus, “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.”
I think I actually saw Jesus smile when the thief said this! It was the only encouraging words He has heard all day. Jesus turns, the best He can, and looks at the repentant man who wants to be remembered. Jesus confirms his request. Jesus looks at him and says,
“I say to you today, you will be with Me in Paradise.”
While there seemed no hope, Jesus was promising him on this day of pain and grief that he would be with Jesus in Paradise when He comes into His kingdom. That is the day, when He comes, the thief will experience the gift of eternal life.
There are no more encouraging words for the remainder of the day. Many people walked by and wagged their heads repeating the words of the priests,
“If You are the King of the Jews, save Yourself.”
The wind begins to pick up and the sky starts to turn dark. Jesus appears to be tiring. He is suspended between heaven and earth with no comfort from anyone. It seems the mental anguish of loneliness and the sin of us all is hurting him more than the nails. He is suffering greatly as the sun refuses to shine and the clouds gather as if they planned to attack everyone around the hill. There is a low rumble as the earth begins to shake lightly as first.
Then Jesus cries out for the first time. He says in Hebrew,
“Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?”
The Jews think he was calling for Elijah. But this made no sense. Why would he call for Elijah if He is the Son of God. Would He not call for his heavenly Father? Then, in a pitiful cry he yells out,
“My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”
The soldiers put a sponge on the top of a stick soaked in a mind-numbing liquid to bring some relief, but after He tasted it (He is expecting water), he spits it out and denies it.
The rumble is now louder. We are having a major earthquake. The wind is turning into a massive storm. Jesus cries out something else to the heavens loudly and then he drops his head and dies.
Word has come up from the religious leaders to break the legs of those on the cross to hurry the appointment with death. The Sabbath is about to begin and they don’t want the bodies on the cross. They will need to take them down to avoid defiling its hours. What hypocrisy!
The thieves legs are immediately slammed with a heavy large mallet. Within seconds they die because they can not lift up on their legs to get a breath. So they smoother from their own weight.
When they come to Jesus, one of the soldiers draws back the mallet, but the other says, “Wait! He is already dead!” But, to be sure, one of them brings out a sword and pushes it into the side of Jesus. Out comes water and blood all over the soldier. He stands transfixed and bewildered. He seems to be melting in the liquid that is spilled on him. He bows his head and cries out loud for mercy!
Then I remember! The scripture says that His bones would not be broken and that He would be pierced. Thank God for the prophecies of the Tanakh! They do speak of Jesus!
“Not one of His bones shall be broken.” And again another Scripture says, “They shall look on Him whom they pierced.”
Psalms 34:20, Zechariah 12:10
Now the storm rises even more and the earthquake hits us hard and violently. Many are knocked to the ground. Later, I will hear from the fearful religious leaders that the massive curtain between the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place in the temple has been perfectly torn in half from top to bottom. It is if some unknown powerful hand ripped the curtain, which separated priest and sinner from the presence of God. This room (The Most Holy Place) was visited only once a year on the day of Atonement and only by a high priest. Now, everyone could look into this sacred spot! The Spirit of God has departed!
As I watch all this events, a centurion cries out what I am thinking and feeling in my heart,
“Truly this was the Son of God.”
I race back into Jerusalem, with a choking mixture of emotion (disgust, fear, anger, and a tinge of hope). The city is in an uproar and commotion! Fear is etched on the faces of the people as if they are waiting for judgment and eternal death. The sacrificial animals have all escaped and fled. There are cracks in the rock pavements and the buildings. It is like God is angry. Many of the people begin to pray for mercy thinking they will be destroyed like Sodom.
The most incredible thing I saw were the people who had died and buried walking the streets talking of the love of God and His son Jesus. These people were known for their righteousness and closeness to God. Many of the priests who only hours before had been cursing Jesus were now falling to their knees screaming for forgiveness and mercy.
I have never seen anything like this! I manage to find the disciples who had found each other. They are in a small room gathered in the same fear, I saw in the faces of the people on the streets. They are terrified of many things including the same fate as Jesus. What will we do? Our leader has died! They have killed the Son of God!
When things settled down, I was drawn back to Jesus on the cross. Later as the beginning of the Sabbath drew near, a man named Joseph takes down the body of Jesus from the cross. I help him and feel the lifeless cold body of Jesus as we pry out the nails from the wood and flesh . Pilate has been given him permission to bury Jesus in a tomb owned by Joseph and his family.
We are accompanied by soldiers who will guard the tomb. The unconverted and cold religious leaders know that Jesus promised to rise on the third day. It is ironic, but Jesus followers have forgotten this or simply to refuse to believe it is possible. I feel the same as they do.
As we wrap the body of Jesus in a clean cloth, the women observe the body and decide to rest according to the Sabbath. Anyway, they are tired and it is now dark. They will return when it is light in the morning on the 1st day of the week to prepare his body with burial spices.
That night and the entire next day (Sabbath), there is nothing to report. All his disciples including myself quietly talk about Jesus. They try to bring comfort to each other knowing they will never see Him again. Thomas is not with us. He is so disappointed and discouraged that He goes to his own home to rest and think. He has always been the doubting type and all this seems to confirm his skepticism. He is likely to never be the same.
As I rest my head for the night on the 7th day, I determine to rise early and travel to Emmaus with one of the other disciples called Cleopas. But, before I go, I will change my clothes. The robe I have always worn as a Sadducee no longer seems appropriate for me. I will change into something clean. I no longer desire to be a “religious leader.”