He Seeks No Relief

Matthew 27:32-35 “As they were going out, they met a man from Cyrene, named Simon, and they forced him to carry the cross. They came to a place called Golgotha (which means The Place of the Skull). There they offered him wine to drink mixed with gall; but after tasting it he refused to drink it. When they had crucified him, they divided up his clothes by casting lots. And sitting down, they kept watch over him there.”

            It was a Roman custom to make a condemned man carry his cross to the point of crucifixion, but few such men had suffered as Jesus already had. He had been sleepless for 24 hours. His captors beat him repeatedly. They whipped him in a way that itself took the lives of many men. Now here, somewhere near the edge of the city, Jesus collapsed in total exhaustion. He simply had no strength to carry the cross any farther.

            Did any of his followers jump to his side to lighten his burden for this little part of the way? They had all melted away into hiding long ago. Roman soldiers certainly weren’t going to stoop to carry a cross for a Jewish criminal. Finally, an unfortunate stranger coming into the city from the country had to be forced to carry the cross the rest of the way.

            “If I had been there, I would have carried the cross for my Savior,” we might think. “I would not have been ashamed to ease his burden.” But then, why don’t we do it now? His kingdom today cries out for workers willing to bear the heat of the day. It suffers under the burden of unfinished tasks, messages never delivered, souls never reached. It struggles with offices, positions, and other services no one ever fills. Do we, his present day disciples, find ourselves hiding? Or do we wait to be driven to serve him practically by force?

            When they came to the end of this trip, they arrived at the place Jesus would leave only by death. “They came to a place called Golgotha (which means The Place of the Skull). There they offered him wine to drink mixed with gall; but after tasting it he refused to drink it.” This mixture was intended to stupefy Jesus, to anesthetize him to some degree. If he had taken it, it may have eased the pain, but don’t make these soldiers out to be humanitarians. With most victims of crucifixion, the mixture may well have made the soldiers job easier. The victim struggles less if he can’t feel the nails attaching him to the wood.

            In this case Jesus refused to drink. He was not a defiant man trying to “prove” himself to his enemies, even in torture. He was not trying to teach some last hour lessons on self-discipline, or making a statement about accepting pain.

            This was another demonstration of his wondrous love on the cross. His presence here was not an accident. It brought him to the fulfillment of his purpose.  He intended to suffer the full pain, agony, and punishment our sins deserved. He did not refuse to find relief in the drink because there was something good about the pain itself. He had come to drink another cup, the cup of suffering, to the dregs–that we might never know the pain of ultimate justice ourselves.

            Finally, he chose not to escape the shame of being exposed there for all to see. When people are accused of some terrible crime, when they face their judge or receive their sentence, you rarely see them with chin up, head held high. Usually they try to cover themselves. The sense of shame is intense. All eyes burn in on them. They cover their face with their hands. The pull a jacket over their head. They shield themselves behind other people. They are desperate to conceal their identity.

            There was no hiding for Jesus on the cross. The nails piercing his hands kept his arms outstretched. They stretched his entire body upright as they held him there. Almost every inch of him was exposed to public view as the soldiers took his last earthly possession, his clothes, bloodied as they were, and divided them up among themselves. He was put on display for the world to gawk at.

            In spite of the shame, we, too, need to look. It is good that this shameful scene has not been hidden from our eyes, that we can see him hanging there clearly. Then we can see that the shame Jesus’ bore was not so much his own as it is ours. There hangs the shame of our sins. There hangs the wondrous love that would not seek relief from them.

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