Summary: What varied thoughts and feelings moved the hearts of those who stood that day beholding the cross of Calvary! A classic sermon by A. B. Simpson (1843-1919).
What varied thoughts and feelings moved the hearts of those who stood that day beholding the cross of Calvary! We can perceive the cruel heartlessness with which the Roman soldiers drove the nails and reared the cross, interested only in getting their share of the petty spoil for which they cast lots. We can conceive of the fiendish ferocity with which the rulers and chief priests gloated over the agony of their victim and felt themselves at last avenged. We can comprehend the heartbreak with which those loving women looked upon the helpless anguish of the One in whom they had so much believed. We can realize something of that mother’s grief as she recalled the words of Simeon thirty years before, "Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also." We can imagine that Peter, gazing from afar upon the tragedy, would have given worlds to have taken back that last dart with which he had pierced his Master’s heart, but realized that now he should see Him no more. And we know something from the narrative of the awe and veneration with which the Roman centurion gazed upon the preternatural signs which accompanied His death and exclaimed, "Truly this was the Son of God."
And so they stood beholding. And all through the ages generations after generations have turned their eyes to that central cross as it has loomed larger and loftier above all other spectacles in the vision of the human race. Once more Christ is set forth before us, crucified among us, and faith and love once more stand beholding. As we gaze upon that scene so old and yet so ever new, it seems as if that cross appears like some vision in a kaleidoscope. With every turn that holy Scriptures as they present to us some of these varied phases of the cross of Jesus.
A Death Scene
Death is always an impressive spectacle, but this was no ordinary death. Here was a man who did not need to die, but One who chose to die, One who came to die, One whose supreme mission was to die, One over whose cross each of us can write, "He died for me."
This is more than an ordinary death scene for He "became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross." Crucifixion was adopted by the Romans as the severest form of capital punishment. It was the most agonizing and it was the most shameful of all deaths. What agony was endured as every muscle was strained to its utmost tension, as the helpless body hung by its own weight from lacerated flesh and bones, slowly dying from sheer anguish with no vital organ wounded, and as the crucible of pain burned up by slow degrees life’s last powers of endurance. How pitiful was the cry of the crucified Saviour as it was foreshadowed in the prophetic Psalm: "I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint: my heart is like wax; it is melted in the midst of my bowels. My strength is dried up like a potsherd; and my tongue cleaveth to my jaws; and thou hast brought me into the dust of death" (Psalm 22:14,15).
And what shame was suffered as He hung there, crucified between two thieves. He was treated not only as one of them, but worse than either. His very name was blotted out of the family records at Bethlehem, and He was looked upon by men and even treated by His own Father as if He were the worst and vilest criminal that ever lived or died.
"Him ... ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain." "Whom ye have delivered up, and denied him in the presence of Pilate, when he was determined to let him go" (Acts 2:23; 3:13). It was a judicial assassination. He was God’s martyred Lamb, and our martyred Master.
A Voluntary Sacrifice
Jesus said of His own death, "The good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep." "I lay down my life for the sheep .... I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again." He gave Himself for us. "No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself" (John 10:14,15,18). As He hung upon that cross, even death could not come till He said, "It is finished," and bowed His head, as if beckoning death to come, and "gave up the ghost." Was there ever a death like this? Human nature flees from death as the worst of all evils. But here was a Man who from the beginning to the end of His life had one supreme object--to lay down His own life for the sake of others.