Yet it was our weaknesses he carried; it was our sorrows that weighed him down. And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God, a punishment for his own sins! But he was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins. He was beaten so we could be whole. He was whipped so we could be healed. Isaiah 53: 4-5 NLT
As we celebrate Holy Week together we are reminded today that the greatest hope and healing was provided by Jesus Christ on the cross. The healing provided for us by Jesus was not a temporary fix or simply an event to help you get through hard times. On a Friday afternoon 2,000 years ago on a hill called Calvary all of the griefs, sorrows, corruption and failures of mankind collided with the grace, mercy and unconditional love of God. Isaiah wrote these verses 600 years before the birth of Christ and yet his description of the cross event in chapter 53 could have been recorded by an eye witness. Isaiah says that Jesus bore our griefs and carried our sorrows. He was “wounded” and “bruised” and “Chastised” and “Striped” all because of OUR iniquities, OUR transgressions. Isaiah would later say in verse 10 that “it pleased the Lord to bruise Him and put him through grief” and in verse 11, “When he sees all that is accomplished by his anguish, he will be satisfied. And because of his experience, my righteous servant will make it possible for many to be counted righteous, for he will bear all their sins.”
In Luke’s account of the crucifixion of Jesus we find 3 unlikely people who were profoundly touched by the power of the cross.
Luke 23: 26-47
The Cyrenian- A Person on a Religious Journey. V. 26. As Jesus begins the “Via Dolorosa”, he was already in a place of great physical weakness. He had spent a night contemplating divine wrath to which Mark records, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death”. In front of Caiaphas, he would be struck time again, blindfolded and mocked, scourged with the flagellum whip to which his skin would have been flayed open. As he began the walk from Pilate’s court to Golgatha upon his shoulders was thrust a patibulum, the 100 pound cross beam, his strength left him and he fell. The beam landed beside the feet of a very surprised North African man named Simon from Cyrene. The scripture informs us that “they laid hold of a certain man named Simon who was on his way from the country, and put the cross on him and made him carry it behind Jesus.” Matthew, Mark and Luke all mention Simon’s roll in this drama for a distinct purpose. Simon, in many ways, reveals to us the expectation for every person who calls themselves a disciple of Christ. We too are called to “take up our cross and follow him”.
If today you don’t feel the weight of the cross on your soul, if there is no sacrifice then you aren’t properly following him. Charles Spurgeon said, “There are no crown wearers in heaven who were not first cross bearers on earth.”
Simon was a man on a religious journey. He came to Jerusalem from North Africa to celebrate the Jewish Passover. He had likely brought his family to the Holy city, like most sojourners he would have purchased a Passover lamb at the market and was in preparation for finding a place for his family to lodge and celebrate. The Bible says he was “Coming in from the country” directly to the spot where Jesus fell that day. Simon trudged the way of sorrows with the blood of Jesus likely dripping from the cross beam onto his body. He arrived at Golgatha and dropped the beam. On that beam they placed Jesus and I can imagine Simon watching the events that followed. His heart was moved by what he saw and his religious journey found its destination. In the Gospel of Mark, Simon of Cyrene is listed as “the father of Rufus and Alexander” (15:21). Mark named Simon’s sons likely because Simon and his family were known to the Christian community to which his gospel was written. Most scholars agree that Simon left that day forever changed. Simon, a man on a religious journey found more than a religious experience, he encountered the ultimate lover of his soul and committed his life to him.
There are many who are on a religious journey looking for hope. Their religious journeys have only yielded experiences, rituals and promises of hope. Yet when you meet Jesus and encounter the cross your religious journey gives way to a life changing relationship with the living God. People on religious journeys are seeking ways to get to God, yet the Bible reveals that God sent his son so that he could seek us.
The Criminal – A Person who needed Hope. V.39-43. There were two criminals crucified with Jesus, one on either side. Ironically, it was customary that the center cross was reserved for the criminal with the worst of crimes and on this day a perfect man was placed upon it. It is possible that the two criminals were a part of the band of robbers and insurrectionist that ran with Barabbas. Mark informs us that BOTH criminals joined the soldiers and throngs of people and hurled insults toward the center cross (Mark 15:32). On top of the immense pain of the cross, Jesus was being insulted by the Romans soldiers at his feet, the hundreds amassed below in the crowd and to add to his grief, now even the men on either side of him joined the tongue lashing. In Luke’s account we learn that after a while one of the criminals fell silent while the other continued to mock him. “One of the criminals hanging beside him scoffed, “So you are the Messiah, are you? Prove it by saving yourself and us, too, while you are at it!” A man at the point of death hung beside the one who would eventually overthrow death. The criminal shared no words of regrets, no remorse, no repentance or guilt, no concern for Jesus. And Jesus in turn, offered him no words, only silence.
The other criminal stopped speaking and now only listened to the words of Jesus from the cross. He spoke up and in a stunning turn of events, “Don’t you fear God when you are dying? We deserve to die for our evil deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” And then turning to Jesus with a humble heart asked, “Jesus, remember me, when you come into your Kingdom.” And in reply the words of Christ, “I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
A man with a death sentence found life. A guilty man would soon stand in the presence of God with no guilt. Though his body was bound by the nails of the cross, his soul found freedom. Though his lungs struggled for air, his soul was nourished with the life giving power of Jesus Christ.
With Christ there is no such thing as a hopeless situation. For those who feel their mistakes are too big and beyond forgiveness the criminal on the cross forever stands as a lasting image that “anyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved”. Romans 10:13. Even though our sins are great, even though our sins and failures are glaring and perpetual, when faced with the glory and grace of Calvary our sins become white as snow.
The Centurion- An unlikely Worshiper. V. 47. A Centurion is a Roman officer in charge of 100 soldiers, thus the title Centurion. Crucifixions were carried out by the Romans, and the local regiment stationed in Jerusalem were obviously in charge of such executions. While there is no way of knowing for sure we can assume that this centurion had seen and led many such crucifixions, and likely had become hardened to the whole experience. It would likely had been him who stood by supervising the flogging of Christ and allowed his soldiers to place a robe and crown of thorns on Jesus before presenting him to the crowd. As a hardened war man he was probably not religious and had heard stories about Jesus, he was certainly no fan of the Jews and no follower of Christ. He stood by as his soldiers gambled for the clothes of Jesus, he was silent as the criminals hurled insults at the center cross and he would eventually be the one to thrust his sword into the side of Jesus to confirm his death.
He was, in the greatest sense, the least likely person to be spiritually moved on that day. His persona was cold, his heart hardened, his hands had killed many men in his lifetime. Yet, on this day, at this time this unlikely worshiper glorified God. All of the synoptic gospels record his response at the climax of the event. Both Matthew and Mark record his words as “Surely this man was the Son of God.” While Luke adds that he Glorified God or worshiped God and proclaimed that this man was “righteous or innocent.” When you combine the three narratives you get one powerful picture of a war hardened executioner broken at the foot of the cross.
He had stood by as his soldiers beat, mocked, shamed, spat upon, flayed the skin off of Jesus and nailed him to a cross. And yet he heard Jesus say, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” He felt the earthquake and heard the rending of the Temple. He saw the sky darkened and heard Jesus say, “It is finished.” His response was proclamation and glorification.
Three men, all from different backgrounds, different stories. One was on a Religious journey, one was dying desperately in need of hope and one was working, yet all were immeasurably changed by Jesus Christ. All three participated, all three were impacted by the cross. That brings me to this question, how has the cross of Jesus Christ impacted YOU?
“But he was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins. He was beaten so we could be whole. He was whipped so we could be healed.”