We are Exactly Like the People at the Cross
APRIL 8, 2019
You can tell a lot about people by watching how they react to an event of monumental importance...
…and the most significant event of monumental importance was the death of the Son of God, Jesus Christ, hanging spread-eagle on crossbeams on the town garbage heap.
The people who surrounded the cross that day on Golgotha, the hill shaped like a skull, are just like us. They are us. I’m in the crowd and, if you look closely enough, you can see yourself there too.
Simon of Cyrene
Simon of Cyrene was “compelled to bear His [Christ’s] cross” (Matthew 27:32).
Who is Simon? We know that he was the father of Alexander and Rufus (Mark 15:21), members of the Christian community. Whatever happened to Simon that day when he carried Christ’s cross, it affected his children. They became Covenant children and walked with Christ. Then in Acts 13:1, “Simeon who was called Niger” is included in a list of prophets and teachers in the church at Antioch. The name Simeon is a form of Simon, and Niger, like Cyrene, is in northern Africa.
All of that suggests something very important. Simon was a bystander who became a participant not only with his hands, but also in his heart.
Simon was walking down the street, whistling an old Jewish tune, when, suddenly, the next minute, he is carrying a cross for which he never asked. One moment he was an observer; the next moment he was a participant in the greatest event in all of history. Simon felt the weight of Christ’s cross on his shoulders and it literally changed his life.
The principle is this: the providence of God is more often than not invested in those events that you considered unexpected or unimportant. The next minute could change your life. Everything is important. The things you thought were little may be big because, all of a sudden, they are in the shape of a cross.
Have you ever felt the burden of a “cross” on your shoulders? Have you ever gone from bystander to participant in just a moment? That, too, fell under God’s providence–his care, love, and sovereignty.
The soldiers just nailed the Son of God to crossbeams and now they are gambling at the foot of the cross, going about their job as if nothing had happened (Matthew 27:34-35). It is not only inappropriate; it is scandalous.
The whole world is like that. It is not that people don’t think about Jesus; they don’t think about anything. People, in general, never think about meaning, life, and joy. Often people don’t have real feelings, only the conjured feelings from surfing the Internet, watching television, and disconnecting with drugs and drink. All of that is a great tragedy.
Once in a while, though, a light goes on. “So when the centurion and those with him, who were guarding Jesus, saw the earthquake and the things that had happened, they feared greatly, saying, ‘Truly this was the Son of God!’” (Matthew 27:54).
How have you disconnected and disengaged from being present in life? What caused you to stop, turn around, and see the “light”?
The robbers were on either side of Christ: “Even the robbers who were crucified with Him reviled Him with the same thing” (Matthew 27:44). These thieves risked and failed. They lived a life of crime and got caught.
These thieves were dying, yet they joined the crowd in reviling and mocking Jesus. Why? It is simply because people die the way they have lived.
As a pastor, I stood beside a lot of deathbeds as people went into eternity. Do you know what I discovered? The people who were bitter before are bitter when they die. The people who were angry before are angry when they die. The people who were uncommitted before are uncommitted when they die.
The truth is that even a little bit of bitterness, anger, or sin will hurt you and those around you. The little grooves in your mind become trenches and then, when it comes your time to die, you simply cannot pull yourself out of those trenches. The principle is this: God greases the tracks in the direction you have decided to go.
But every once in a while, the truth breaks through. In another account of the crucifixion, one of the thieves mocked Jesus but then changed his mind: “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.” To which Jesus promised, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43).
There are two thieves on crosses next to Jesus–one on the right and one on the left. My friend Rusty said that one is included that you may not despair, no matter how bad; and the other is included that you may not presume.
Which thief do you identify with? How is it in your life that “God greased the tracks in the direction you decided to go”?
“And those who passed by blasphemed Him, wagging their heads and saying, ‘You who destroy the temple and build it in three days, save Yourself! If You are the Son of God, come down from the cross’” (Matthew 27:39-40).
A crowd can be dangerous. For that reason, one of my personal life principles is that if everybody is doing it, it is probably wrong.
As individuals, we lack convictions in our society. As a member of a crowd, something may seem right because, after all, everybody else is doing it. In other words, “if it’s good enough for them, then it’s good enough for me.”
That shouldn’t make any difference though. Occasionally ask yourself, “Why am I doing this?” If you don’t have an answer, chances are you’re doing it only because everybody is doing it.
A majority can be a dangerous thing. There is often a blood thirst in a crowd that we don’t find in an individual. So be careful with politics, religion, and crucifixions.
What does it take and how does it feel for you to be swayed by a crowd? Is there any truth in the observation, “a majority can be a dangerous thing”?
“Likewise the chief priests also, mocking with the scribes and elders, said, ‘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”’”(Matthew 27:41-43).
Can you believe that? The leaders are the one group you would think would stop the crucifixion. After all, they were religious and committed to God. The truth is, there is something about institutional religion that makes you narrow, cynical, negative, and mean. And that is happening here.
Do you find yourself becoming narrow and mean? If so, remember the beginning of your faith. Remember Christ’s love for you, the One who hung on the cross for you.
Notice the women watching from a distance (Matthew 27:55-56). As far as Matthew is concerned, the women are the only ones who know what’s truly going on. They
know the truth, yet they are also the most powerless. The men who could have done something didn’t…because they didn’t understand.
With the exception of three of the women, we don’t even know their names. We don’t know much about them at all. We don’t know how they ministered to Jesus. We don’t know what their gifts were. But we do know one thing. Jesus was in pain and they were there. They understood.
Have you ever felt like the women did, knowing the truth of the situation yet helpless in the pain? Just being there can make a difference.
God has called us to be faithful. And we can trust him to take care of the rest. God has the power and he will work it all out in the end.
And how did this end?
Jesus didn’t stay in the grave. He rose again.
This didn’t end with a crucifixion. It ended with a resurrection.