Jesus on the Crossby Jesse Lyman Hurlbut
IT WAS the custom of the Romans when they put to death any man upon the cross, to place on the cross above his head a writing, telling what the man's crime was. Pilate commanded that the writing above the head of Jesus should be
THIS IS JESUS OF NAZARETH THE KING OF THE JEWS.
It was written in the language of three different peoples; in Hebrew, the tongue spoken by the Jews; in Latin, the language of the Romans; and in Greek, the language spoken by all in that part of the world who were not Jews.
These words told a great truth, that Jesus was a king, and they told it to all the earth, although very few people believed it then. Now, all over the world are millions upon millions of people who serve Jesus as Lord and King.
When the priests and rulers of the Jews read this writing upon the cross they were greatly displeased, for they did not like to have Jesus called a king. The priests went to Pilate in his palace and said to him:
"Will you not change the writing upon the cross of that man? Let it not be, n'The King of the Jews.' Please change it to, 'He said, "I am King of the Jews."'"
But Pilate answered them, "What I have written, I have written." He meant that whatever he had placed upon the cross must stand there unchanged.
It was also the custom of the Romans when a man was crucified to give his clothes to the soldiers who fixed him on the cross. Four soldiers were in charge of the cross.
These men divided the clothes of Jesus among them, each taking one garment. But one garment was left over, the shirt of Jesus. This was all woven in one piece, not sewed together; so the soldiers said:
"Let us not tear it, but cast lots to settle whose it shall be."
They threw upon the ground little square pieces of ivory having spots upon them. These squares were called dice. Each soldier threw one ivory piece; and they counted the spots on the side that was uppermost. The soldier whose piece showed the highest number took the shirt of Jesus as his own.
One of the disciples of Jesus was standing near, and saw the soldiers dividing the clothes of Jesus, and he thought of the words in the twenty-second psalm, as a prophecy or foretelling of what should happen to Christ. These were the words of the psalm, written many hundred years before:
"They shared my garments among them, And over my clothing they cast lots."
The soldiers having done their work, sat down around the cross to watch it.
A great crowd of the priests and scribes and people stood around the cross, looking at Jesus hanging there. Some of them spoke spitefully to Jesus, shaking their heads at him, saying such words as these:
"Ah! you would destroy the Temple and build it again in three days, would you? Then come down from the cross and save yourself if you can!"
And some of the priests and scribes called out, "He saved others; but he can not save himself! If he is, as he said, 'Christ, the King of Israel,' let him now come down from the cross in our sight. Then we will believe on him."
"He trusts in God," said others; "now let God help him, if he chooses; for he said, 'I am the Son of God.'"
One of the two robbers who were hanging on the crosses beside Jesus called out to him, joining in the abuse:
"Are you not the Christ, the King of Israel? If you are, why don't you save yourself and save us with you?"
But the crucified man on the other side of Jesus rebuked him:
"Have you no fear of a just God?" he said. "You are suffering the same sentence as this man. And you and I are suffering only what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong."
Then this man from his cross said to Jesus, "Jesus, do not forget me when you come into your kingdom."
And Jesus answered him, "I tell you truly, this very day you shall be with me in the heavenly land."
At this time, near the cross of Jesus, was standing John, his disciple, the one disciple that Jesus loved, and with him was Mary, the mother of Jesus, also her sister and two other women named Mary--Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene, or Mary of Magdala.
When Jesus saw his mother, and beside her the disciple whom he loved, he spoke from the cross to her:
"Woman, there is your son."
Then he said to John:
"Son, there is your mother."
And from that time Mary, the mother of Jesus, lived with the disciple John, as though he was her own son.
It was now noon, and Jesus had been upon the cross three long, terrible hours; the sun beating with its rays upon his head. Just at noon a sudden darkness came over the sky and the earth, and the darkness did not pass away until three o'clock.
This darkness alarmed the people, and those who had been speaking to Jesus words of contempt, now stood still, full of fear.
At about three o'clock, Jesus called out with a loud voice these words:
"My God! My God! Why hast thou forsaken me?"
These are the opening words of the twenty-second psalm, written many hundred years before as a prophecy of what Christ should suffer.
It may be that Jesus spoke those words to show that all his suffering had been foretold long before.
Jesus in speaking those words used the old Hebrew tongue, the language in which the psalm was written. In the old Hebrew the words, "My God! My God!" were "Eloi! Eloi!" But the language had changed so greatly since the psalms were written that the people who heard him did not understand the words. Some said, "He is calling upon Elijah the prophet to help him!"
Then Jesus spoke again and said:
"I am thirsty."
There was standing by a jar full of vinegar. One of the men took a sponge, soaked it in the vinegar, fastened it on the end of a stick, and placed it on the lips of Jesus. This also had been foretold in the sixty-ninth psalm, in the words,
"In my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink."
As soon as Jesus tasted the vinegar, he said:
"All is finished."
Then, after a moment's pause, he spoke with a loud voice to God:
"Father, into thy hands I give up my spirit!"
And with those words his head dropped forward, and Jesus was hanging dead upon his cross.
Just at the moment when Jesus died, suddenly there was an earthquake; the ground was shaken, the rocks were torn apart, and many of the tombs around Jerusalem were opened.
In the Temple on Mount Moriah, a wonderful event was seen. The great veil that hung between the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place was suddenly torn from the top to the bottom, as if by a mighty unseen hand, so that the priests in the Temple could see what none of them, except the high priest, had ever seen before, the inside of the Holy of Holies.
The people who were standing on Mount Calvary, looking at the dying Jesus, were filled with fear. They beat upon their breasts with their hands, and went back to the city in terror at the darkness and the earthquake. The Roman captain, who was in charge of the soldiers around the cross, said:
"Surely this was a good man, a son of God!"
You know that the Sabbath among the Jews was kept on the seventh day of the week and that it always began at sunset on the evening before.
It was on Friday that Jesus was crucified, and three o'clock on that afternoon. The Jews did not wish to have the men upon the three crosses hanging there upon the Sabbath, for that day, the Passover Sabbath, was kept especially holy.
The Jewish rulers came to Pilate and asked him that the men should not be left upon the cross over the Sabbath, but that they should be killed and their bodies taken away. They did not know at that time that Jesus was already dead.
Pilate gave orders to the soldiers to have the men killed. This they did by breaking their legs, as they hung upon the crosses.
As they saw that Jesus was no longer alive, they did not break his legs. But one of the soldiers, to be sure of his death, drove his spear into the side of Jesus, to strike his heart.
John the disciple was still standing there watching beside the cross to the very last, and he wrote in his gospel many years afterward that he saw both water and blood pour forth from the side of Jesus, out of the wound made by the spear.