Summary: Stations of the Cross, Pt. 3
THE WOUNDS OF LOVE (JOHN 19:17)
Carrying his own cross, he went out to the place of the Skull (which in Aramaic is called Golgotha). (John 19:17)
The parents of a ten-year old public school boy who was failing fifth grade math decided to enroll their son in a private Catholic school after exhausting all methods. The youngster stormed home the first day of school, walked right past them, charged straight to his room and locked the door. Two hours later, he emerged for a quick meal, announced that he was studying and poured through the books until bedtime.
This pattern continued until the end of the first quarter. After school, the boy walked home with his report card, dropped the envelope on the family dinner table and went straight to his room. His parents cautiously opened the letter, saw a bright red “A” under the subject “MATH,” and rushed excitedly into their son’s room!
“Was it the nuns?” the father asked. The boy only shook his head and said, “No.” “Was it the one-on-one tutoring? Peer-mentoring?” asked the mother. Again, the boy shrugged, “No.” “The textbooks? The teacher? The curriculum?” asked the father. “No, no, no,” the son replied, and finally spoke up: “From the very first day of school, I knew that these folks were serious about math. When I walked into the lobby and saw a guy nailed to the PLUS sign, I knew they meant business!”
Calvin Miller said, “One cannot even begin to understand the life of Christ without understanding His death.”
Jesus, the original cross-bearer, was a model of humility and obedience in the face of death (Phil 2:8-9). He endured the cross, scorning its shame, enduring such opposition from sinful men, so that we will not grow weary and lose heart (Heb 12:2-3).
John 19:17 has been a thorn for skeptics who argue that the Bible contradicted itself. The synoptic gospels -– Matthew, Mark, and Luke – record that Simon the Cyrene carried Jesus’ cross, but John asserts that Jesus Himself was the cross-bearer. The complication can be easily solved. The traditional theory was that Jesus carried the cross to the country, and Simon took over from there to Golgotha. A student from my Sunday school class cleverly suggested that Simon might have held the lower end of the long cross that the Lord was carrying!
What kind of suffering did Jesus endure? What did He accomplish on the cross? Why did a blameless man submit himself to such a horrible death?
The Cross is a Long and Lonely Endurance of Shame
The “cross” is essentially and enduringly associated with Jesus Christ. It is the cross of Jesus (John 19:25), the cross of Christ (1 Cor 1:17, Gal 6:12, Phil 3:18) and the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ (Gal 6:14).
A pastor shared his experience of witnessing to a Jewish man. When the minister attempted to share about the death of Jesus on a cross, the man rebuffed him with these words: “Why do I want to believe in someone who is cursed by hanging on a tree?”
The suffering at the cross was a long and lonely endurance of shame for our Savior. Cicero, the great Roman statesman, lawyer, scholar and writer who lived from 106 BC to 43 BC, had a strong opinion about the crucifixion: “It was the most cruel and shameful of all punishments. Let it never come near the body of a Roman citizen.”
Jesus, as a Jew, suffered the worst humiliation possible. He carried on our behalf the stigma and the sentence of a curse. The Mosaic law said, “Anyone who is hung on a tree is under God’s curse” (Deut 21:23). It was not just the ridicule, the laughter and the torment He endured, but the curse of the law, suffering religious, ceremonial and social exclusion and discrimination.
All through his three short years of public ministry, from the moment Jesus preached about the sin of man, the need for repentance and the forgiveness of God, he was prepared himself for a life of infamy, rejection and anguish. The cross was an offense (Gal 5:11); it meant persecution (Gal 5:11, 6:12), shame and opposition (Heb 12:2-3). John, in a terse, uneasy and overlooked verse, recorded Jesus’ failed attempt to carry the cross by himself. No wonder Matthew (27:32-34), Mark (15:21-23) and Luke (23:26-32) presented the longer version, featuring a healthier, fitter and stronger Simon the Cyrene as assistant.
Jesus endured the spectacle from the Jerusalem to Golgotha, commonly known as the place of the skull. The nearest city, Bethany, was less than two miles from Jerusalem (John 11:18). Since Jesus carried the cross from Jerusalem to its boundaries, where he met Simon the Cyrene coming in from the country (Mark 15:21, Luke 23:26), a safe estimate of the lonely march would be about a mile. It was the longest mile, the bleakest day and the harshest experience of our Lord. His disciples had abandoned him, his mother was grieving him and his enemies, the skeptics and religious leaders were taunting and ridiculing him.