Reading Time: 8 Minutes
The title of this article comes from a book by Jurgen Moltmann. I read this book in the 1970s and was captured by Moltmann’s story as much as by the content of the book. Moltmann was in the German air force, during World War II. As a young man in his 20’s, he was shot down over England and spent the remainder of the war as in a British prisoner of war camp.
Moltmann had no previous experience of religion. He carried with him a book of the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. Nietzsche’s concept of the “superman” and other secular views did little to comfort the profoundly discouraged young man, so he quickly stopped reading it.
He was given a pocket copy of the New Testament and Psalms. He said that he would have preferred to have more food over receiving the Bible. However, he began to read the Bible, being especially drawn to the message of hope in the Psalms. One day, Moltmann came to Jesus’ cry of anguish on the cross, “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?” He thought, “Here is someone who understands me.”
Moltmann describes this experience as being found by God, rather than of finding God. God spoke to him with bloodied and parched lips in cries of pain and abandonment. It was there that he began a personal relationship with Jesus and lived a life of love and service to his Savior.
As we read Jesus’ agony on the cross, let’s recall that the cross was and is God’s way to find us. We don’t find God, but in love he finds us to give us hope in the midst of all of our difficulties.
Praying through the Crucifixion
Like we encountered Jesus’ prayer in John 17, I am going to give some brief explanation and include a short suggested prayer.
At the cross
John 19.17-22 – So they took Jesus, 17 and he went out, bearing his own cross, to the place called The Place of a Skull, which in Aramaic is called Golgotha. 18 There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, and Jesus between them.
19 Pilate also wrote an inscription and put it on the cross. It read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” 20 Many of the Jews read this inscription, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and it was written in Aramaic, in Latin, and in Greek.
21 So the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, “Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews,’ but rather, ‘This man said, I am King of the Jews.’”
22 Pilate answered, “What I have written I have written.”
The reason for Jesus’ crucifixion was nailed to the top of his cross. Little did the authorities know that Jesus was the King of all kings. The actions of the authorities were consistent with the words of Psalm 2.
“Why do the nations rage
and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth set themselves,
and the rulers take counsel together,
against the Lord and against his Anointed, saying,
‘Let us burst their bonds apart
and cast away their cords from us.'” (Psalm 2.1-3).
They did not know that their attempt to rid the earth of Jesus, was also an attempt to break free from God’s leadership of their lives.
As we view the events of Jesus’ crucifixion, let’s turn Jesus’ words in Matthew 11.27-30 into a prayer.
Dear Jesus, you are the rightful King over all. I am laboring today and heavy of heart with concern for what is happening in the world. I come to you, my King. I follow your leadership and I choose to learn from you how to live during this time. You have demonstrated your humility on the cross and I choose to follow you today.
Jesus and his mother
John 19.23-27 – When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his garments and divided them into four parts, one part for each soldier; also his tunic. But the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom, 24 so they said to one another, “Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see whose it shall be.” This was to fulfill the Scripture which says,
“They divided my garments among them,
and for my clothing they cast lots.”
So the soldiers did these things, 25 but standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” 27 Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.
The cross was always conducted under the most humiliating and painful circumstances that evil men could devise. The soldiers were gambling for Jesus’ clothes, because clothes were denied a person on the cross.
We can only imagine the horror his mother and his other friends felt as they witnessed Jesus’ pain, humiliation and suffering. In the midst of the utmost crime that has ever been committed against God, Jesus reached out in love to his mother.
Dear Jesus, we are in awe that, while you were giving your life for the salvation of all humanity, you made the effort to care for your mother. Your care and personal attention is for every anxious and troubled mother of all time and in every circumstance. We join you in your continued ministry to the mothers around the world who are caring for children and doing so with few resources. Thank you for the people who are, like John, helping those in need.
The plan of the ages is finished.
John 19.28-29 – After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst.” 29 A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth. 30 When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.
Can you imagine a conversation between the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, prior to the creation of the world and people who live on it? Because God knows the end from the beginning, he knew people would sin and need a redeemer. Before the world was ever created, the Father, Son and Spirit decided to redeem humanity through the cross.
All of the heavenly host knew there would be a time for the salvation process to begin. Paul says that in the fullness of time, Jesus was born (Galatians 4.4). For 33 years, Jesus served the world with love, healing, teaching and deliverance. Then, came the ultimate – the cross! Can you imagine the joy in heaven when Jesus uttered, “It is finished!”
Dear Jesus, before the creation of the first human being, the Father and the Spirit decided with you that the cross would be necessary for the salvation of humanity. You patiently waited until the time was right for your birth. We praise you for your cry from the cross, “It is finished!” Your redemptive plan was completed on the cross, enabling you to find us and to bring us into a relationship with you. We praise you with all we have for your great gift.
The Lamb of God
John 19.31-37 – Since it was the day of Preparation, and so that the bodies would not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), the Jews asked Pilate that their legs might be broken and that they might be taken away.
32 So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first, and of the other who had been crucified with him. 33 But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. 34 But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water.
35 He who saw it has borne witness — his testimony is true, and he knows that he is telling the truth — that you also may believe. 36 For these things took place that the Scripture might be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken.” 37 And again another Scripture says, “They will look on him whom they have pierced.”
On the day Jesus was crucified, the priests in the Temple were also sacrificing the Passover lamb. What the world did not know was that the Lamb of God was being sacrificed on the cross.
Dear Jesus, if people were looking, they would have seen the smoke of sacrificial lambs arising from the Temple. If they had turned their direction to your cross, they would have seen the Lamb of God sacrificed for the sins of the entire world. We join the heavenly host in praising your name.
“Worthy are you . . .
for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation,
10 and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,
and they shall reign on the earth.” (Revelation 5.9-10)