First Three Hours on the Cross
Three wooden crosses were starkly outlined against the clear morning sky as they cast harsh shadows of the men nailed to them onto the ground. But the weather was rapidly changing into something increasingly threatening. The Temples golden crown was almost obscured by a strange and ominous cloud coming from the west like a dark shroud. An occasional rumble of distant thunder was heard, as if a storm was in the making. Soon almost the entire city was cloaked in semidarkness.
Now, from 9 a.m. until noon, the first three hours on the cross began. After Jesus had been nailed to his cross, most of the soldiers work was completed until his death. During this interval, the four who were guarding him divided his clothes among themselves. The Saviors earthly possessions consisted only of the poor blood-stained clothes on his body. Even those did not go to his family. Roman law gave them to the executioners.
The guards sat in a circle at the foot of Christs cross with his clothes in the middle. First they set aside the tunic. The rest of his garments, nearly equal in value, were divided into four parts, one for each soldier. Headgear, outer cloak-like garment, girdle, and sandals would differ little in cost. But the tunic, a seamless inner garment that was woven in one piece throughout, was by far the most valuable. It could not be partitioned without being destroyed, so they said, Lets not tear it, but throw dice to see who gets it. Even in this act, there was fulfillment of the ancient prophecy that said, They divided my clothes among themselves and threw dice for my robe.
Believers who were brave enough to witness the crucifixion cried tears of sorrow for the figure on the center cross as they watched the soldiers divide up his clothes.
Unbelievers who passed by shouted abusively, So you are the man who was to pull down the Temple and rebuild it in three days. If you really are the Son of God, save yourself and come down from the cross!
Soldiers standing beneath his cross shouted, If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!
Leading priests, teachers of religious law, and other leaders on the hill began to mock Jesus. He saved others, they scoffed, but he cannot save himself! He is the King of Israel, is he? Let him come down from the cross now, and we will believe in him! He trusted Godlet God show his approval by delivering him! For he said, I am the Son of God.
Christ gazed into the eyes of those who had just spoken and were ultimately responsible. Despite his pain he said, Father, forgive these people, because they do not know what they are doing. In the moment of deepest abasement of the Redeemers human nature, the divine burst forth most brightly.
Jotham, the criminal on the cross at Jesus left hand, took up the jeer of the Sanhedrin, So youre the Messiah, are you? Prove it by saving yourselfand us too!
Benaiah, the criminal at the Lords right hand, rebuked his fellow sufferer, Dont you fear Godeven when you are dying? You are under the same sentence as he is. In our case it is plain justice; we are paying the price for our misdeeds. But this man has done nothing wrong.
One thing stood out in the mind of Benaiah. The Man on the center cross was innocent. The inscription above Christs cross acquired new meaning for him who feared God in that hour; and he said to Jesus, Remember me when you come into your kingdom. In all humility and in the weakness of fragmentary knowledge, the dying man recognized his Savior. Benaiah did not ask for a place of supremacy in heaven which the disciples had argued about earlier. This man only asked to be remembered, knowing that if the saving Christ would remember him, he would not fear for his soul.
Jesus comforted the dying man with these words, I promise you, today you will be with me in paradise. He would not allow his suffering to take away his compassion.
Before the Son of God entered the agony of separation from the Father, he made provision for the security of his mother. A more delicate, tender, loving service could not have been rendered than this. Looking into that face he first saw when he entered the world, he said, Woman, here is your son. And to John he said, She is your mother.
From then on, John became her son, and that disciple took her unto his own safekeeping. He would provide for her for the rest of her life. With those words, Jesus severed his earthly relationship with his two most beloved. He was now their Messiah, Lord, and Savior. Mary finally understood Simeons prophesy in the Temple long ago, This child is destined to be a sign that will be rejected; and you too will be pierced to the heart.
Now at last, all that concerned the earthly aspect of the Redeemers missionso far as what had to be done on the crosswas ended.
The multitude began to drift away leaving only a few witnesses, Jewish leaders and Roman soldiers whose task it was to watch until the three condemned men were dead. But the Lords group of followers faithfully remained at the cross.
The first three hours, from 9 am to noon, had passed. Now, from noon to 3 pm, three hours of strange darkness from the ominous cloud fell over the entire land and the suns light could not be seen. It was as though it were night and unsettling thunder rolled all around.
The black emptiness was not only physical for Jesus; he entered into it: body, soul and spirit. It was of the body; yet not the body only, but of physical life. It was of the soul and spirit, and their conscious relation to man and God. In this, the Perfect Man reached its highest degree: the sense of human forsakenness and his own isolation from man; the intense sense of god forsakenness and absolute silence and withdrawal of God.
Three hours of darknesssix hours on the crossnow came to an end. At about 3 pm, the high point of his agony, Jesus cried out with a loud voice, My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Truly, the sin of the whole world was upon his shoulders. He had been separated from the Father for three hours and could no longer bear it. Somehow, in some way in which our human minds could never understand, he had taken on the collective sin of the whole world: past, present and future; and while separated from the Father, had offered up himself in our place as a Sacrifice for sin, redeeming humankind from the power of sin and deathonce and for all time.
Presently the Sufferer emerged on the other side. The terrible aspect of sin bearing and God forsakenness was finally past. Once again, Jesus was reunited with his Father, and the Light of Life once again pierced the darkness and emerged triumphant in the final contest between the Kingdom of God and the prince of this world.
Now that the redemption was finished, Christ turned to words of merely human suffering, I am thirsty. A jar of sour wine was sitting there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put it on a hyssop branch, and held it up to his lips. By accepting the physical refreshment offered him, the Lord once more indicated the completion of the work of his Passion.
After he tasted it, he proclaimed the real spiritual victory he had won, It is accomplished! Father, I entrust my spirit into your hands! He bowed his head, gave up his spirit, and died by his own will.