Today, we honor the symbol of the cross. People wear t-shirts, earrings, and necklaces with cross designs. They commemorate those killed in war or mark a dangerous curve where they died. It's a recognized symbol of comfort and faith. But it wasn’t always that way.
In Jesus’ day, the cross was the ultimate vehicle of torture and humiliation. Crucifixion was reserved for the vilest criminal or prisoner of war. It was a slow, agonizing death that went on for hours, sometimes days. It’s hard to imagine anyone wanting to be present at such a gruesome display, yet when Christ was crucified there were four groups who just had to be there.
As you read, see if you are one of them.
The thieves, who died on either side of Jesus, had to be there because they were guilty. In Luke’s account he says, “Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed… they crucified him there, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left” (Luke 23:32-33).
All of us have sinned. We are guilty of breaking God’s laws and hurting our fellow man. Christ died to pay the penalty we deserve. We’re already there and we have a choice to make. Will we choose to accept Jesus’ gift, as one thief did, or will we turn away from Him, like the other? Both had to be there, but only one was forgiven and is in heaven with Jesus (Luke 23:39-43).
Just Doing His Job:
The second individual who had to be at the cross was the centurion. Scripture doesn’t tell us whether he enjoyed watching scores of men die this way, but it was his job, so he did it. However, this time he saw something he had never seen before – God in the flesh.
“It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, for the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Jesus called out with a loud voice, ‘Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.’ When he had said this, he breathed his last. The centurion, seeing what had happened, praised God and said, ‘Surely this was a righteous man’ ” (Luke 23:44-47). Or as Matthew 27:54 says, “ ‘Surely he was the Son of God!’ ”
Easter can be a lot of work for pastors and Christians involved at church. We might find ourselves “at the cross” just because we have to be there – working, serving, showing up - because it’s what we do. Do we pause to recognize the Son of God?
It’s hard to imagine, but a number of people attended crucifixions for the thrill of it. It was entertainment. They just had to be there to see their enemies suffer, feast their eyes on blood. To compare it to the last one; rate it on a scale of 1-10 of how thoroughly the soldiers did their job, or how stoically the crucified died. To cheer and clap when they cried like babies.
The crowd that gathered that day had the added pleasure of hearing Jesus degraded by the Jewish leaders. “The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, ‘He saved others; let him save himself if he is God’s Messiah, the Chosen One’ ” (Luke 23:35). But the show didn’t satisfy as usual. “When all the people who had gathered to witness this sight saw what took place, they beat their breasts and went away” (verse 48).
We may think our entertainment is much more sophisticated, but we’re not so different. Movies, television shows, video games, books, and music become more violent and explicit every year. And we hunger for more. Even at Easter, we focus on the gory details of Christ’s suffering, but only glance at the victory of His resurrection. Are we there for the show?
The final group at the cross was there because of love. They didn’t want to see their Master and Lord suffer an excruciating death, but they had to be there, because they couldn’t leave Jesus alone. They were devoted to Him. “All those who knew him, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things” (Luke 23:49).
Are you at the cross because you love Him? You just have to be there because you want to be near Him and share in His suffering? If so, it’s the best place to be, because His story doesn’t end there. The cross conquered sin and death forever. And because of Easter morning, we can live with Him.
If you’re at the cross today, I pray you will bow your knee and call Jesus Lord. It's the best place to be.
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