Tired and weary, a father and husband comes home from a long hard day at work. He walks in the door and his son comes up to him, glad to see him as always, “Daddy, is that a new coat?” “Yes, Marcus, that’s a new coat.” “Okay, Daddy.”
The father then goes into the kitchen and his wife is busy preparing the evening meal. She turns to greet him with a glance and then turns back again and says, “Honey, isn’t that a new coat?” “Yeah, it’s a new coat.”
“Well, I’m a little surprised you bought a new coat. Things are a little tough financially right now, and that doesn’t look like the best coat. It looks fairly soiled. You’ve got a new coat?”
“Yeah, I have a new coat, but I didn’t exactly buy it. You see, I had crucifixion duty today.”
“Will you sit down just a minute? The meal can wait. I’ve got to tell somebody. Something happened today. I saw things I’ve never seen before. We crucified three, but one was different. When they led Him to me and my men, He looked awful with spittle all over His face. They had plucked out huge chunks of His beard and had rammed a crown made of thorns on His head. I’ve seen many men beaten and scourged and I know what that scourging whip can do. It can tear out hunks of flesh, even knock out teeth and gouge out eyes. I’ve seen very few beaten as severely as was he. He was almost dead before they brought Him to us.”
“Then we loaded upon His back the 100 pound cross beam of the cross and led Him through the streets. He fell once, fell twice, and fell again. Finally we grabbed a fellow standing on the side of the road and said, ‘Here you take it, I don’t believe he’s going to make it.’ The man, a black man, carried His cross. Some of the people, as He went along the way, cried, some cheered, and some taunted him. That wasn’t too unusual, but when we got to the place of the skull, it was different. When we begin to nail the spikes through the wrist and feet, I’ve seen men scream with fear and panic. I’ve seen the horror in their eyes. With some it has taken six of us to get one still long enough so we could nail Him to the cross, but not this man.”
“He kept saying something over and over again. He resisted not in any way whatsoever. Finally, I got close to Him to hear what He was saying. He was saying something like, ‘Father, forgive them, they don’t know what they’re doing. Father, forgive them.’ He was saying that over and over again. As I got closer, it was then that I looked into those eyes. Once I looked into those eyes I saw something I had never seen in any man’s eyes before. Even though He was tortured and half dead, those eyes seemed not to have any hatred.”
“I’ve never seen such an unruly crowd. Those Jews are hot headed I know, but they were really stirred up this time. They would just come by in front of Him and spit upon Him and curse at him. And some mocked, ‘Save yourself.’ Then one of the other condemned men started to taunt Him as well. The third man started to argue with Him and said to Jesus, ‘Remember me, Jesus, remember me.'”
“A group of women were there standing around the foot of the cross. He spoke to them one time. There was an older woman and she seemed very emotionally distraught. It might have been His aunt or grandmother or mother. I don’t know who she was, but He talked to her. Then you know in a relatively short period of time He died. Six or seven hours. I’ve seen men stay on that cross a week before they died. I guess they just beat Him half to death before He ever got there, but when He died something else happened.”
“The sky became dark. Some people said there were earthquakes. Rumors started flying everywhere. Someone said they saw ghosts in the city. I have never seen anything like that in all of my life. And when He died I just screamed out. I’d had enough! I screamed out, ‘This man surely was the Son of God.’ Then I looked around and I was afraid some of my officers heard me and then I said, ‘Well, I don’t care! I don’t care whether they heard me or not.'”
“What I saw today, I’ve never seen before in all of my life. On the way home I just couldn’t get it out of my mind, those prayers, and oh, those eyes.” The wife said, “It’s a shame someone like that has to die.” He said, “You know, I can’t explain it, it’s almost as if His life was not taken from him, it was almost as if in some strange, weird way He gave His life.”
Why would He go through all of that? Why would He suffer the horror and humiliation of the cross? John Boyle was one of my professors at Southern Seminary. He told the true story of a young chaplain who was about to conduct his first communion service. In the small chapel there, inhabited by the patients of the mental hospital, he started into the liturgy of the communion service. He had gotten through a few sentences when all of a sudden a patient in the little chapel stood up and began to scream. Please allow me to quote the patient directly. The patient said, “Go to hell!”
The young chaplain was flabbergasted, panic stricken, taken aback so that he could not say a single word. An eerie silence circulated in and through the little chapel. The silence was broken by another patient when he said, “He did. He came here.’
“Alas and did my Savior bleed, And did my Sovereign die? Would He devote that sacred head for sinners such as I.” “But God commended His love toward us that in while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (
Christ died for us. His life was not taken. It was given willingly, openly, without hesitation for us. Christ died for us even while we were yet sinners. Because there are certain things Christ knew we could not do for ourselves, He took the cross that He might do them for us. He knew we could not live without dignity. He died to allow us to have dignity and worth.
Forrest Carter has written a beautiful book entitled The Education of Little Tree. It is the story of a small Indian boy reared by his grandparents, his parents having died. He tells the story of Coon Jack. Little Tree and his grandpa went to the small church that they attended to a testimony meeting. Coon Jack stood in the testimony meeting and said something like this, “Now, I know there are a lot of people here who are jealous of me — jealous of me ever since the deacon board gave me the key to the song book box. I’m tired of it! I’m tired of you talking about me.” With that he pulled back his coat and there was exposed the handle of a pistol. A deacon in the church got up and said, “Coon Jack, if you have been offended by any person in this room, we’re sorry.” With that he sat down and Coon Jack was happy.
On the way home Little Tree ask his grandpa, “Grandpa, why did those men let Coon Jack talk to them that way? He said, “Well, Little Tree, it’s like this. Coon Jack is just an old Cherokee Indian. When they took his land away from Him he hid in the hills and fought to get his land back, but he lost. When the War Between the States broke out, he fought again to get his land back and he lost. Now he’s just old and tired of fighting. He has nothing left to fight for. All Coon Jack has is the key to the song book box.” Little Tree said, “That night I cried for Coon Jack.” The key, just a key, the key to the song book box at the church that’s all he had. But it was the key that gave that old tired Indian something with which to hold up his head and say, “You’re jealous of me.”
That’s what the cross means. It means that Christ died for us in order that grace can treat us far better than we deserve — even when we’re old and tired and there is nothing left for which to fight.
They elected him “Man of the Year,” second year in a row. Big banquet given by the city fathers. Made mention of all his accomplishments that he had made to the city and to various civic organizations. He went home with his certificate. He had just a little too much to drink as was his habit. He went to his home where no secrets were hidden, where they knew him as he was, not as he appeared in public. To hide the emptiness within his life, he again took to the bottle. Later in the night his only daughter, shaking in fear, hid in the closet as she heard those all too familiar sounds of him slapping her mother. Did Christ die for him? Did Christ Die for Him?
A young lady came to visit Keith Miller once. She had on a halter top and short shorts carrying a little girl dressed about the same way. “Mr. Miller, I’ve heard you speak on several occasions about the love of God. You’ve said that God accepts and loves everyone. Is that true?” He said, “Yes.” She said, “Your church accepts and loves everyone, is that true?” He said, “That’s right.” She said, “I’m committing adultery every Thursday afternoon. Now what do you say?” Did Christ die for her? Did Christ Die for Her?
Does Jesus’ death on the cross mean what the Bible says it does, that Jesus does give to us far better than we deserve. Just a key. A key to the song book box down at the little church gives dignity to a tired and defeated life. How much more does the love of God in Christ Jesus portray to us the sense of self-worth. He gives us dignity.
Christ died because He knew that we could not live without hope. We can’t live without hope. Life becomes a bed of despair and a quick sand of frustration without hope. We cannot live without hope.
In the concentration camps of World War II, the women were taken every day to work. Their wheelbarrows were their skirts, and their shovels were their fingernails. At dawn they left with cardboard shoes walking on frozen ground to work. One such survivor was asked, “How did you ever make it? How did you ever live through that?” She said, “Really I don’t know. I do remember, however, on one occasion as I was walking to the place where we were to work, I noticed a house which had a flower box. I noticed in the flower box there was a tulip blooming. I thought all day long maybe on the way back to the barracks I might get to see the tulip blooming. A tulip! A little flower? A tulip blooming? That is enough to sustain one? Hope can exist on such a meager diet, but we cannot live without it.
Christ died to give us hope, to give us dignity. When our lives are so crowded with frustration, anxiety and worry; when there seems to be no hope whatsoever; when the sky looks so black and dark and we can’t see the light at the end of the way — He died to give us hope, even when there seems to be no hope.
You’ve heard of the “Trail of Tears.” For many years on the land upon which you sit today, the Cherokee Indians lived, tilled the soil, hunted the game, worshipped their god and lived according to “The Way.” The “white man” came and said we want your land. We will ask you to sign these papers and if you sign these papers, everything will be fine. The “red man” signed the “white man’s” papers, but over the years the words on the papers changed. They didn’t mean what they meant when the “red man” first signed them especially after they found gold on the land. So the “white man” rounded up the “red man.”
In 1838 and 1839, the Indians left this area led by a man by the name of John Ross. They were led away by the soldiers on all sides, front and back, to the land that the “white man” didn’t want. They called it the Trail of Tears. The “red man” walked with his head up and with his eyes focused straight ahead. He looked not to the side as the people would line up along the trail and make fun and laugh at the “red man.” But the “red man” did not laugh. The “red man” kept his eyes straight ahead. They brought wagons behind them, but the wagons were empty. The “red man” refused to ride in the wagons. No, he would walk.
As he walked and walked, he began to die. The sickly, the old, and the lame began to die. And for a while the soldiers let them bury their dead every-day. Then they said that’s taking too much time. We can’t piddle around with all of this. We will just bury the dead every three days. So when a child died he was carried by his mother for days, When a wife died she was carried by her husband for days. The people along the way stopped laughing. They people along the way started crying. But the Indian never cried. The “red man” never cried and he never rode in the “white man’s” wagons. He kept his chin up and his eyes straight ahead.
You can take away a man’s land, but you cannot take away his dignity. You cannot take away his hope, you cannot take away his soul, and you cannot take away his tears — not by force you can’t. That cannot be taken. That only comes through love. “But God commended His love toward us that in while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.”