(Inspired by John 19:17-30)
After Pilate had given the order to crucify Jesus, two other condemned criminals who were thieves were brought out to join Him. A large wooden beam was placed across the shoulders of each, and their arms were tied to it. When the heavy, rough wood was dropped on Jesus’s severely lacerated back, intense pain shot through his body.
As all of this was taking place, Pilate had gone back into the Roman headquarters and called a scribe. “Take a piece of parchment,” the governor ordered, “and write on it in large letters, ‘JESUS THE NAZARENE, THE KING OF THE JEWS.’ I want everyone to be able to read it, so write it in Greek, Latin, and Hebrew, or whatever it is the Jews speak.”
“They speak Jewish Aramaic, Excellency,” the sleepy scribe returned humbly.
“Well, write it in that!” Pilate snapped.
“The King of the Jews?” the captain who was standing near the governor questioned.
Pilate was still seething at having been forced by the Jews to condemn an innocent man when he turned to face the Roman officer. “The teacher is the only righteous person in this whole circus!” the governor barked. “That snake Caiaphas and his nest of serpents forced my hand to condemn someone they were jealous of. Did you hear them? They were going to report me to Caesar if I didn’t because the Nazarene says he’s a king.”
“Well?” the captained asked, not seeing the governor’s point.
“Listen, when I interrogated him, Jesus said his kingdom isn’t on the earth,” Pilate explained. “He says it’s in heaven, of all things. You can’t kill a man simply because he’s delusional! They want him dead because they hate him, and they made me do their dirty work. So I’m giving the teacher his title.”
“But ‘The King of the Jews’?” the captain questioned again. “You know Caiaphas is gonna’ be furious!”
“Exactly!” Pilate gloated. “This sign is going to declare to the world that the great king, who all the Jews have been waiting centuries for, was murdered by Caiaphas and his bunch.
“Oh, he’ll come storming in here pitching one of his royal fits,” Pilate continued with a laugh, “demanding that I change the sign to say the teacher SAID that he was the king of the Jews.”
“So what will you do?” the captain asked.
“What will I do? Nothing! I’ve done all they’ve asked. They’ve got nothing to say to Caesar now. I will look Caiaphas in his snaky little eyes and say, ‘I have written what I have written.’ And he can do nothing about it. At least I will get the last jab in!”
“Here is your sign, Excellency,” the scribe said, bringing the governor the parchment.
Handing the paper to the captain, Pilate said, “After you crucify him, nail it over his head.”
The door of Nicodemus’s house in the upper city was suddenly assaulted with incessant, violent pounding. When a servant opened it, a distraught Joseph of Arimathea rushed in, shouting for his friend. In a few moments he saw the older scholar hastening anxiously down the steps from his bedroom, tying on his robe. “Why are you so upset?”
Joseph quickly explained what was happening to the Teacher.
“If this was done by the Sanhedrin, why weren’t we called?” Nicodemus demanded.
“Because they knew we wouldn’t agree to it!” Joseph returned. “The only reason I know about it is because one of my servants went out early to get some bread for breakfast this morning and heard the talk in the market. Apparently the Teacher is being led out to be killed right now!”
The two friends rushed out the door and hurried to the place of execution. They gasped in shock when they arrived and saw the Roman soldiers preparing to crucify the Man they had hoped to be Israel’s Messiah.
Scaffolding had been erected just outside the city at Golgatha, or the Place of the Skull, to accommodate the victims of Rome’s harsh justice. Before the horrible process started, the condemned were offered a cup of wine to dull the pain. But the cruel Romans had even made this act of compassion a part of the torture. They had mixed bitter gall with the wine. The two thieves gagged repeatedly as they choked down the vile drink. When it was offered to Jesus, He tasted it but refused to drink any more.
The three prisoners were then stripped of their clothes and laid on top of the beams they had carried. Before the spikes were driven into the wrists, the victim’s arms were painfully stretched until the joints dislocated. Only then were they affixed to the beam with the nails. Ropes were used to lift the beam and the prisoner up onto the scaffolding. When the beam was firmly attached, the prisoner’s legs were bent, and his feet were nailed to the vertical post.
Joseph tore his clothes and began weeping, but Nicodemus just stared at all that was being done to the Teacher. Suddenly a look of amazement came across his face. “Joseph!” he said excitedly as he grabbed his friend’s arm, “do you remember when I went to talk to the Teacher?”
“Yes,” he answered, gaining control. “It was at night close to three years ago.”
“Do you remember what He said to me?”
“It’s been so long, Nicodemus,” Joseph answered, still distressed. “It was something about being born a second time, I think.”
“No, the other thing!” Nicodemus answered. “He said that just as Moses lifted up the bronze serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up. See, Joseph, He’s being lifted up…just like He said!”
“But why?” Joseph cried.
“OH, JOSEPH!” the older scholar gasped as a new and unique thought rushed into his mind. “I SEE IT! I UNDERSTAND WHAT HE WAS SAYING! THIS IS…AMAZING!
“What?” his friend asked eagerly. “What is it?”
“The Teacher said,” Nicodemus began, “that He would be lifted up so that whoever believed in Him may have eternal life! He’s giving us eternal life, Joseph! Right now! He said that God loves the world so much that He gave His Son for that purpose. And do you remember what John the Baptizer used to say about the Teacher? Whenever he would see Jesus, John would say, ‘Behold the lamb of God, Who takes away the sins of the world.’”
“What are you saying?” Joseph asked in confusion.
“What day is it, Joseph?” Nicodemus asked excitedly. “It’s Passover! It started at six last evening, and it won’t be over until six this evening. It’s still Passover, and hanging on that cross is God’s Passover lamb. He IS the Messiah, Joseph! Jesus is God’s perfect sacrifice for all of us! As terrible as it all is, this is happening as God planned it to happen.”
“How can you say that?” Joseph asked with a look of shock.
“Look at the Roman guards,” Nicodemus returned excitedly. “They tore Jesus’s clothes into four parts so they could each have a rag, but they are casting lots for his nice robe!”
“That was prophesied!” Nicodemus returned excitedly. “David wrote in the Psalms, ‘They divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots.’”
“Yes,” Joseph said with growing interest. “Yes, I remember that verse, but I never knew what it meant!”
“There are many other prophecies,” the older scholar continued. “Do you remember what Isaiah said about the suffering servant of God?”
As this conversation was taking place, the dying Jesus looked down and saw His grieving mother, her sister, young John, and Mary of Magdala standing in the front of the crowd. Painfully pushing Himself up on the nail in his feet, Jesus took the tension off his chest muscles so He could breath. “Woman, there is your son,” Jesus said through clenched teeth, nodding toward John.
Looking at John, Jesus said, “Son, she is now your mother.”
With tears streaming down his face, the young disciple nodded his acceptance of the responsibility Jesus had given him and stepped beside Mary, putting his arm around her shoulder. Mary buried her head into John’s chest and sobbed.
A few moments later Nicodemus again urgently grabbed Joseph’s shoulder. “LOOK! DO YOU SEE?”
“What?” Joseph asked now with keen interest.
“Jesus just asked for a drink.”
“You know how the Romans treat the condemned, Nicodemus,” Joseph shot back. “They only give them vinegar to add to the torture.”
The soldiers soaked a sponge in the sour wine, stuck it on a stick, and held it up for Jesus to suck on.
“Another prophecy fulfilled!” Nicodemus said with fire in his eyes. “David wrote in the Psalms, ‘They also gave me gall for my food, and for my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.’ He wrote that almost a thousand years ago.”
“Jesus didn’t drink the wine mixed with gall,” Joseph said.
“But He tasted it!” the older scholar explained. “You see, my friend, Jesus is God’s lamb, God’s perfect sacrifice for the sins of the people.”
“Yes!” Nicodemus returned. “’God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life!’ ETERNAL LIFE, Joseph! There will never be a need for another sacrifice after this one because this one lasts for eternity!”
“He will surely not forgive every sin,” Joseph said, struggling with the concept.
“Yes, Joseph, EVERY SIN!” Nicodemus answered excitedly. “That’s why He tasted the wine mixed with gall but wouldn’t drink it. If there were sins that Jesus was not willing to forgive, He would have drunk all the wine to dull some of the pain. But because He wanted to be the sacrifice for ALL of our sins, He sipped the drink to get the bitter gall taste as part of the punishment for sin, but He wouldn’t drink the wine to lessen any of His suffering. Don’t you see? This is God’s amazing work! He sent His Son, His Holy Son, for the expressed purpose of dying for all of our sins so that those who believe in the Son of God can have eternal life!”
“Yes,” Joseph nodded, looking in awe at the dying Lamb of God. “I do see.”
From the cross they heard Jesus cry out, “IT…IS…FINSIHED!”
On hearing these words of victory, as Jesus willingly gave up His life, both of the new believers bowed their heads in worship and thanksgiving.
By Alan W. Harris