Jesus is turned over to the soldiers for the execution of the sentence. His own garments are replaced, and once more He is the central figure in a street procession, this time carrying the cross to which He has been condemned. His physical strength seems in danger of giving way under the load, after the terrible strain of that long night. The soldiers seize a man from the country passing by and force him to carry the cross. As they move along, the crowd swells to a great multitude, including many women. These give expression to their pitying regard for Jesus.
Turning about, Jesus speaks to them in words that reveal the same clear mind and masterly control as ever. |Daughters of Jerusalem, be weeping for yourselves and your babes, rather than for Me. The days are coming when it shall be said, 'Blessed are the barren, and the womb that never bare, and the breasts that never gave suck.' If they have done these things while the sap of national life still flows, what will be done to them when the dried-up, withered stage of their national life is reached!|
Now the chosen place is reached, outside the city wall, probably a rise of ground, like a mound or small hill. And the soldiers settle down to their work. There are to be two others crucified at the same time. A drink of stuff meant to stupefy and so ease the pain of torture was offered Jesus, but refused. And now the cross is gotten ready. The upright beam is laid upon the ground handy to the hole in which the end of it will slip, and the cross-piece is nailed in place. Jesus is stripped and laid upon the cross with His arms, outstretched on the cross-piece. A sharp-pointed spike is driven through the palm of each hand and through the feet. The hands are also tied with ropes as additional security. There is a small piece half-way up the upright where some of the body's weight may be supported.
As the soldiers drive the nails, Jesus' voice is heard in prayer, |Father, forgive them; they know not what they do.| Then strong arms seize the upper end, and, lifting, shift the end of the cross into the hole, and so steady it into an upright position. It is nine o'clock, and the deed has been done. The soldiers, having finished their task, now go after their pay. Jesus' garments are divided up among them, but when the outer coat is reached it is found to be an unusually good garment, woven in one piece. It was the love gift of some friend likely. So they pitch dice, and in a few moments one of them is clutching it greedily as his own.
As quickly as the cross is in position the crowds are reading the inscription which has been nailed to the top to indicate the charge against the man. It was in three languages, Latin the official tongue, Greek the world tongue, and Aramaic the native tongue. Every man there read in one or other of these tongues, |The King of the Jews.| Instantly the Jewish leaders object, but Pilate contemptuously dismisses their objection. This inscription was his last fling at them. And so Jesus was crucified as a King. There He is up above them all, while the great multitude stands gazing.
Now begins the last, coarse, derisive jeering. Some of the crowd call out to Jesus, |Thou that destroyest the temple, and buildest it in three days, save Thyself; if Thou art the Son of God, come down from the cross.| The chief priests have dignified the occasion with their presence. Now they mockingly sneer out their taunts, |He saved others; but He can't save Himself. He is the King of Israel. Let Him come down from the cross and we will believe on Him.| The two others hanging by His side, in their pain and distress, join in the taunting cries, and the soldiers add their jibes.
But through it all Jesus is silent. There He hangs with those eyes watching the people to whom His great heart was going out, for whom His great life was going out, calm, majestic, masterful, tender. The sight affects at least one of those before unfriendly. The man hanging by His side is caught by this face and spirit. He rebukes the other criminal, reminding him that they were getting their just deserts, but |This Man hath done nothing amiss.| Then turning so far as he could to Jesus, he said, with a simplicity of faith that must have been so grateful to Jesus, |Jesus, remember me when Thou comest in Thy kingdom.| Instantly comes the reply, |Verily, I say unto thee, to-day shalt thou be with Me in Paradise.|
In the crowds were many of Jesus' personal acquaintances, including women from Galilee. Close by the cross stood His mother and aunt and faithful John and a few others of those dear to Him. Most likely John is supporting Jesus' mother with his arms. Turning His eyes toward the group, Jesus speaks to His mother in tones revealing His love, |Woman, behold thy son;| and then to John, |Behold thy mother.| So He gives His mother a son to take His own place in caring for her, and to His friend John this heritage of love. John understands, and from that hour the ties between these two were of the closest and tenderest sort.
So the hours drag along until noon. And now a strange thing occurs that must have had a startling effect. At the time of day when the sunlight is brightest a strange darkness came over all the scene, the sun's light being obscured or failing wholly. And for three hours this strange, weird spectacle continues. Then the hushed silence is broken by an agonizing cry from the lips of Jesus, |My God -- My God -- why -- didst -- Thou -- forsake -- Me?| One of the bewildered bystanders thinks He is calling for Elijah, and another wonders if something startling will yet occur.
Jesus speaks again -- |I -- thirst| and some one near by with sponge and stick reaches up to moisten His lips. Then a shout, a loud cry of victory bursts in one word from those lips, |It is finished.| Then softly breathing out the last words, |Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit,| and bowing His head, Jesus, masterful, kingly to the last, yielded up His spirit.