And they compelled a passerby, Simon of Cyrene, who was coming in from the country, the father of Alexander and Rufus, to carry His cross. And they brought Him to the place called Golgotha (which means Place of a Skull). And they offered Him wine mixed with myrrh, but He did not take it. And they crucified Him and divided His garments among them, casting lots for them, to decide what each should take. And it was the third hour when they crucified Him. And the inscription of the charge against Him read, “The King of the Jews.” And with Him they crucified two robbers, one on His right and one on His left. And those who passed by derided Him, wagging their heads and saying, “Aha! You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself, and come down from the cross!” So also the chief priests with the scribes mocked Him to one another, saying, “He saved others; He cannot save Himself. Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross that we may see and believe.” Those who were crucified with Him also reviled him.
And when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me?” And some of the bystanders hearing it said, “Behold, He is calling Elijah.” And someone ran and filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a reed and gave it to Him to drink, saying, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take Him down.” And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And when the centurion, who stood facing Him, saw that in this way He breathed His last, he said, “Truly this man was the Son of God!”
The city had exploded. Filled to overflowing with Passover pilgrims, twitchy Roman soldiers and no small number of hucksters and hangers-on, Jerusalem was tight and tense. The smells and sounds were overwhelming. Foreign foods hawked by street vendors mixed and mingled with the soon-to-be-sacrificed sheep and goats and doves. Dust of the desert hung in the air with the din of Hebrew, Greek, Aramaic and Latin. And in the whispered exchanges of families and friends, there was talk of revolution. Maybe this would be the year!
He had arrived at the beginning of the week. Everyone knew who He was, and most had hopes of who He would become. The miracle working healer from Galilee had ridden into town. But He wasn't on a steed or a camel-He rode in on a donkey, and a small one at that. And the crowd had gone crazy. He was here! At last! "Hosanna!" they shouted. "Hail to the King of the Jews!" they cried. And in the super-charged atmosphere of the Holy City of Zion, it was as if heat- lighting had struck the stubble of desiccated dreams and burst into flame.
Rome was ready. Rome was practiced. More than a century before in the same region of the world, Rome had snuffed out the Maccabeans and their foolish notions of independence. The Sanhedrin and priests were ready. There would be no backwater, no-name Messiah from the wrong part of the land. They were in no mood for another pretender, another "peoples' choice" priest. And mostly, there would be no disruption of the status quo. The whole idea was preposterous. This itinerant, homeless hack with no training or pedigree would not be allowed to undermine the autonomy that Rome had finally granted. Passover would see a sacrifice all right; but it would be a sacrifice to the idols of Pax Romana and the illusion of power.
So the deal was struck. It was expensive, maybe even over-priced, but worth thirty pieces to guarantee they got the right man. An inside job from a sensible traitor who could be bought, it proved to be just as easy as it was costly. And the plan was perfect. With some help from the garrison, away from the crowds, surrounded only by his rag-tag band of idiot fishermen, the would-be Messiah would be grabbed. If Herod needed peace and the priests needed quiet, if the crowd wanted spectacle and the Passover called for blood, when darkness fell, so would He.
The plan worked like a charm. Or more truthfully, like a charmer was behind the plan. Soon He would feel the lashes and the spittle, the thorns and the spikes. Soon He would hang, stripped and bloodied, lifted up for all to see. Soon He would look into his mother's eyes for the last time. There was no escape now for this brazen pretender.
Then the once adoring crowd mocked Him. Will you? When the pressure to conform presses you to deny?
Then the soldiers of Rome mocked Him. Will you? When you can get a laugh or advance a career?
Then the passers-by mocked Him. Will you? When your demands of God are thwarted and unmet?
Then the religious leaders mocked Him. Will you? When your self-righteousness is shown to be rags?
Then the dying criminal mocked Him. Will you? When the pretense of your life is at last stripped away?
He cried out to God, this God-forsaken King. And then He said clearly, with strength and resolve, "It is finished." Then He bowed his head and died.
Who has believed what he has heard from us? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? For He grew up before Him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; He had no form or majesty that we should look at Him, and no beauty that we should desire Him. He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces. He was despised, and we esteemed Him not. Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But He was pierced for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with His wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned-every one-to his own way; and the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so He opened not his mouth. By oppression and judgment He was taken away; and as for His generation, who considered that He was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people? And they made His grave with the wicked and with a rich man in His death, although He had done no violence, and there was no deceit in His mouth.
-Isaiah 53: 1-9
Solus Christus. Amen.