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When the King Came by  George Hodges


 

 

CRUCIFIED, DEAD, AND BURIED

[361] THE death sentence was pronounced a little before nine o'clock. Since there was danger of disturbance when the pilgrims from Galilee should hear that the prophet of Nazareth was to be crucified, it was decided to proceed without delay. Our Lord's clothes having been put again upon his back, covering the wounds made by the scourge, he was led out on the way to the place of execution.


[Illustration]

JESUS LEAVING THE PRAETORIUM

Pilate's soldiers marched before and behind him. Two thieves who had been brought out of prison, having a like sentence, went the one on the right hand and the other on the left. And a crowd followed, made up partly of clergymen, partly of pitying women, and partly of idlers from the corners of the streets. Afar off came a few friends, the apostle John, and his mother,—who, as you remember, was our Lord's aunt,—and Mary Magdalene, and another Mary, mother of James the Little, [362] and with her the mother of our Lord himself.

Thus the forlorn procession passed along the streets, and out of the gate of the city to the place of execution. Our Lord, like the two thieves, carried his cross upon his back. One of the soldiers had a hammer and some stout nails. Another who walked in front had a board which bore an inscription. The board was to be nailed over our Lord's head upon the cross. "The King of the Jews," it said, showing who he was and for what crime he suffered:—"Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews." The priests had entreated Pilate to change it, so that it should read, "I am the King of the Jews," meaning that this was a false claim which he made. But Pilate would not change a word.

The cross was heavy and our Lord was very weary. All night he had had no sleep; since the supper in the upper room he had eaten nothing. And he had suffered much; the agony in the garden, the pain of betrayal by Judas and of denial by Peter, the shame [363] of condemnation by Caiaphas and by Pilate, the distress of the scourging; besides, he had been on his feet since midnight. It was too much. He stumbled and fell beside the city gate.

Now at that moment there was coming in out of the country a strong-armed person named Simon of Cyrene. Simon was the father of two sons who were afterwards numbered among the disciples. They may have been with him that morning; two boys, one named Alexander and one named Rufus, each holding a hand. The soldiers stopped this country-man, and taking the cross from the shoulders of our Lord put it on the broad shoulders of Simon, and the procession moved again; the little boys, if they were there, coming on behind their father, very scared and silent.

The women bewailed and lamented, seeing that our Lord could not carry the cross. But he turned to them and said, "Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me. Weep for yourselves and for your children, for the city which thus crucifies the innocent shall be [364] surely punished." Indeed, the day came when the Romans set up hundreds of crosses along that same road, and on them crucified the chief citizens of Jerusalem, and the city, as our Lord had said, was laid level with the ground.

At last they came to the hill called Golgotha. The crosses were laid upon the ground. They who were to be crucified were fastened to them by nails driven through the hands and through the feet. The crosses were lifted up, and thrust heavily into the earth, into holes dug to receive them. All this time our Lord had said no word. No cry had come from his lips when the nails pierced his hands and his feet. Now he spoke, praying for those who had done this thing: "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."


[Illustration]

GOLGOTHA

An opiate was offered him, as was the custom in crucifixion, to deaden the pain, wine mingled with myrrh; but when he had tasted it and knew what it was, he would not drink it. He would meet death with a clear mind. Then the soldiers, when they had crucified [365] Jesus, took his garments, and made four parts, to every soldier a part; for the soldiers had the clothes of those who were crucified. But his coat was without seam, woven from the top throughout. They said, therefore, among themselves, "Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it, whose it shall be." So they cast lots. And the rulers derided him, saying, "He saved others; let him save himself, if he be Christ, the chosen of God." And the soldiers, each with his share of our Lord's garments under his arm, cried, "If thou be the King of Israel, save thyself." Even the thieves joined in this cry of derision, saving, "If thou be Christ, save thyself and us." Thus from all sides came this noise of hatred: "He saved others, himself he cannot save. Let Christ, the King of Israel, descend now from the cross, that we may see and believe."

But one of the thieves joined but faintly in this uproar, and presently rebuked the other. "Dost not thou fear God," he said, "and you in the hour of death? We, indeed, [366] are punished justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this man hath done nothing amiss." And he turned to Jesus, in the face of the soldiers and the deriding priests, and said, "Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom." And Jesus said unto him, "Verily, I say unto thee, to-day shalt thou be with me in paradise."

Then our Lord saw his mother standing by the cross, and with her the apostle John, whom he loved the best of all. And he said to his mother, "Behold thy son!" meaning that John was now to be a son to her. And to John he said, "Behold thy mother!" And from that hour that disciple took her unto his own home.

So the painful moments passed, and noon-day came, and black clouds rose up and covered the sky and hid the face of the sun, as if the world itself were going into mourning for this death. And darkness deepened in the soul of Jesus. "Eloi, eloi,"  he cried, lama sabachthani?"  The very words have been remembered, as if his voice had given them a [367] meaning which could not be translated. "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" This was the first sentence of a psalm which was written by one who, thinking that God had deserted him, found that after all God loved him, through all his suffering, with an unfailing love. They who stood by, faintly hearing what he said, mistook the meaning. "Eloi" sounded like "Elias." "Behold," they said, "he calleth for Elijah. Let alone; let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down." Even then, they thought, some miracle might happen. There might be a sudden shining in the black sky, and down might come the prophet of the old time, riding in his chariot of fire. And as Jesus said "I thirst," they filled a sponge with vinegar and put it on a reed and lifted it to his mouth, partly in pity, partly in awe. Jesus then cried with a loud voice, "It is finished," adding a word of faith and prayer, "Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit," and so died.

It was then three o'clock, and the next day was the sabbath; and the sabbath, according [368] to their custom, began at sundown on the day before. The priests accordingly asked Pilate for leave to put the thieves out of their misery, so that all the bodies might be removed before the holy day. And Pilate gave permission. Then came the soldiers and brake the legs of the two thieves and killed them, but Jesus, they found, was dead already; to make sure, one of the soldiers with a spear pierced his side.

Then came forward two members of the council, men of eminence, who had been disciples of Jesus in secret for fear of their neighbors. He was now dead, indeed, and it way too late, as it seemed, to do anything for him; but remorse made them bold. Joseph of Arimathea went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Nicodemus brought myrrh and aloes to embalm it. They took the body from the cross, and laid it in a cave in Joseph's garden. Then, because the hour was late, leaving the embalming unfinished, they rolled a great stone to the mouth of the cave, putting their shoulders to it, and departed. When the moon arose there remained only a group of soldiers, placed on guard, pacing up and down before the tomb of him who had claimed to be the King of Glory and the Son of God.


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