We are joining Jesus as He physically walks the road to Golgotha. There He will willingly lays His life down. He will submit to all the brutality that is involved in crucifixion, without the slightest hint of resistance. He will be displayed for all to see and continue to be subject to humiliation and mocking from the very people He came to save.
The Roman soldiers are finished with their mocking of Jesus. I’m not certain if they had to stop because it was time for the three condemned men to make their journey or if the time for the journey was determined by when they decided they had had enough sport. I believe they stopped mocking Him because Jesus wasn’t giving them the reaction they were seeking. I don’t know whether there was any down time between the end of the mocking and the starting of the final journey.
Jesus, two condemned thieves, and the Roman soldiers started down the road; the Via Dolorosa. Both sides of the road are lined with spectators. Jesus and each of the other prisoners are carrying their horizontal crossbeams, which will be lifted up and attached to the permanent vertical poles upon reaching Golgotha; the place of the skull. Many were shouting curses at the prisoners as they passed by. Some stood silent, afraid to speak out for fear of being taken into custody themselves. A few openly cried and pleaded for Jesus’ life or at least some respect from their fellow observers. “How can you say such vile things about Jesus? He healed so many. Don’t you remember?”
Jesus, unable to bare His cross any longer due to the torture He has suffered, falls to the ground. The soldiers order Him to get up. When He can’t they begin striking Him. Jesus attempts to stand but falls again with each effort. Finally one of the soldiers looks out into the crowd as sees a strong looking man. He doesn’t know this man but he looks strong enough to do the job. The soldier orders the man to come over to him. The man is hesitant, but the Roman soldier is not willing to take no for an answer. The man is seized by the arm and thrown to the ground beside Jesus. The soldier yells for the man to pick up Jesus’ cross, which is lying on the ground beside them. Jesus looks into the face of His new helper. The look in Jesus’ eyes, more than the words of the soldier or his sword, compels the man into action. Our helper picks himself up off the ground and reaches a hand out to Jesus and quietly says, “I’m Simon.” Jesus takes Simon’s hand and is gently pulled to His feet. Simon releases Jesus’ hand, bends down and retrieves Jesus’ crossbeam from the ground. The soldier standing closest to Jesus yells for them to “get moving.” Though the crossbeam is heavy and cumbersome, Simon is determined to carry it for Jesus. Simon also offers Jesus his other shoulder to hold to as they complete the remainder of the journey. A look of thanks passes from Jesus to Simon as they proceed, with Jesus occasionally availing Himself of the support Simon has offered.
As the procession reaches their destination the soldiers take Jesus cross from Simon. Standing unburdened physically for the first time since encountering Jesus, Simon stands there not knowing what to do. Simon has heard the cries of the crowd as the two of them walked. He has also seen in Jesus’ eyes something completely unexpected under these circumstances. He has seen love. Love for Simon, love for the people cursing Him from the sidelines, even love for the Roman soldiers. There is no anger or hatred in Jesus’ eyes. The Roman soldier shove Simon out of the way, jarring him from his thinking. He moves back to where other people have gathered to observe the proceedings; physically unburdened but emotionally crushed under the weight of the coming proceedings.
Jesus’ robe is snatched from his shoulders and His bloody tunic torn from His body. He is completely stripped and left totally exposed when the closest soldier shoves Him towards His waiting cross. A servant moved from prisoner to prisoner offering them a wine mixed with gall to drink before the process of driving the nails begins. This was actually a gift of mercy to the condemned, as it clouded the mind and dulled the senses. As soon as the drink touched Jesus’ lips, He recognized it and knew of its actions. Jesus refused to drink the mixture, choosing instead to endure to the fullest the process of the cross. Jesus wanted a clear mind during His ordeal. The other two prisoners drank freely and deeply of this gift.
It is time. Once the wine is refused, the soldier tells Jesus to lie down. The soldiers are used to prisoners resisting, especially at this point, and have three additional soldiers ready to restrain Jesus. Surprisingly Jesus lies down when instructed and places his arms in position for the nails. Not willing to be caught off guard by such apparent cooperation, the additional soldiers kneel down and place their hands on Jesus’ arms and chest to ensure continued cooperation. The first nail is held against the skin and the hammer drawn back above the head. Jesus takes a breath and holds it. The sound of metal against metal is heard as the first blow is struck. Jesus doesn’t cry out or pull away as the nail pierces His body and embeds into the wooden beam. A second and third strike secure Jesus’ right hand firmly to the crossbeam. Jesus lies still. Sweat pouring off His bloody brow as He endures the pain in silence. The process is repeated with Jesus’ left hand, still without resistance or an utterance from Jesus.
Just off to Jesus’ left and right His fellow condemned prisoners are being affixed to their own crossbeams. Screams of pain and harsh words are heard. Both these men drank freely of the merciful wine, but that does not alleviate all their pain. The soldiers assigned to these men hold them fast as they struggle to free themselves from the painful process taking place.
Ropes are attached to the crossbeam and threaded through pulleys at the top of the horizontal beam. Two of the soldiers grab the beam, one on either end, on which Jesus’ arms are affixed and begin lifting it into place while another soldier raises the heavy beam through the aid of the rope. Another soldier holds Jesus body and maneuvers Him into position for the final nail to be driven. Once the crossbeam reached its final height, it is secured in place by resting in the waiting notch just above two angled supports nailed to each side. The soldier holding the ropes secures them to a stake behind the cross driven into the ground. The two soldiers now bend Jesus’ knees, place a block below His feet and hold Him in this position while the third soldier drives a nail into the block then another into Jesus’ feet, securing Him in position. Throughout all this Jesus is silent and compliant.
Jesus’ fellow prisoners are also raised and secured in place. Screams and curses continue to emanate from both men throughout the process. After they are secured in place the effects of the wine helps decrease the constant pain and the two men fall silent.
The soldiers all step back and examine their work. The officer over each small detachment examines the ropes and nails to ensure they are secure and the prisoners will remain suspended throughout their punishment. The officers then instruct the scribe to bring the sign bearing each man’s charges to them. The officer over Jesus’ detachment wants to personally affix his to the cross above Jesus’ head. A ladder is brought and propped against the cross which bears Jesus. The officer climbs the ladder and reaches past Jesus’ arms and nails the inscription Pilate himself prepared directly above Jesus. Once he is finished nailing he begins to descend. In the process, his eyes meet Jesus’ eyes. This meeting lasts only for a moment but what he sees in Jesus’ eyes surprises him. There is no hate or anger in Jesus’ eyes, only sadness.
After the charges are posted nothing is left to do but wait. Each group of soldiers sits down to wait. Crucifixion is a long process, so the soldiers settle in. The soldiers assigned to Jesus sit near the pile of Jesus’ discarded clothing. One of the soldiers assigned to Jesus’ detachment notices the quality of the fabric used in Jesus’ clothing. “This is some nice stuff. With a good cleaning it could fetch a nice price.” His fellow soldiers agree with him and decide to split the articles and fabric into equal pieces for each of them. But Jesus’ robe is even finer than His other pieces and is made of a single piece of woven cloth. “This is too nice to simply tear into pieces. Let’s draw for it.” This is how the soldiers passed the first hour of the watch.
There are small knots of people watching. Some come for a short time, then leave. Others have been here for hours. None of the prisoners draws as much attention as Jesus. People from every station have come to watch Him. People also simply passed by on their way into the city. So many of them hurled insults at Him or mocked Him. “If You are the Son of God, come down from the cross!” “You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself!” Caiaphas himself is heard to say, “He saved others, let Him save Himself! If He is truly the King of Israel, let Him come down now from the cross and we will believe in Him. He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if He wants to.” Comments like these flowed from those passing by, from many of the small groups who waited, the religious leaders, and even one of His fellow prisoner.
One group, who had been there from the beginning, remained silent. This group quietly watched and wept. This group held Jesus’ mother, Mary of Magdalene, Mary of Clopas, John, and Salome. Joseph of Arimathea, and Nicodemus stood a little way away from this group. Simon stood near Joseph and Nicodemus’ group after being pushed aside by the Roman soldier. Each time insults were hurled at Jesus, fresh tears flowed. There was nothing more any of them could do at this time but wait and be near enough to Jesus that He could see them and sense their support. They stood silent witness to all of Jesus’ pain. Simon and the others stayed to watch the Lamb.
Lord Jesus, You could have called 10,000 angels to set You free and strike Your tormentors dead. But You stayed on the cross instead. Caiaphas’ words of belief didn’t even tempt You to end Your suffering. You knew that they were just words and that nothing short of completing everything God had prescribed would accomplish the work You came to do. So naked, beaten bloody, and with nothing to dull the pain You endured the full measure of the cross. Which hurt more, the insults or the nails? These men were certainly killing Your body, but they could not touch Your soul. But I’m sure their words still hurt. Yet still, You stayed.
This day breaks my heart, yet it also sets it free. You did all this for me. I deserve NONE of it and I don’t pretend to claim exclusivity to Your work, but I am included in everything You bought that day on Calvary. And also for EVERYONE else who will willing accept the truth. The truth of Who You were, are, and always will be. The truth of the price You paid to set us free. The truth about the power of Your blood that cleanses all sin for those who surrender to You completely. Thank You for paying my debt.