By Guy N. Woods
Human nature remains much the same through the years. It is significant that one may find, among the characters of the Bible, representatives of all the various types of people among us today. Such is true of those whose lives in some fashion touched the life of our Blessed Lord. One may indeed discover among those who participated in the crucifixion individuals possessing the same attributes and characteristics, and reacting in the same manner we react today. Humanity in outline, gathered at the foot of the cross! “And they sat and watched him there” (Matt. 27:36).
It was an amazingly strange and heterogenous group that surrounded our Lord during his last earthly hours. A variety of motives prompted their presence. Some were there by command, duty demanding their participation. Of this number was the Centurion, the Roman officer officially in charge, empowered with the responsibility of executing the infamous decree of the court that condemned Him (Matt. 27:54). Others were there by chance, devout pilgrims from distant places, en route to Jerusalem to keep the Passover Feast, and through a chain of fortuitous circumstances, were made unwilling participants. Simon of Cyrene, whom “they compelled to bear his cross” (Matt. 27:32), was of this number. Some were there through curiosity, influenced by that morbidity which draws an idle crowd to the scene of disaster (Luke 23:48). There were those present, as always, to criticize, to find fault, to ridicule, to vent their spleen against One whom they despised: “And they that passed by reviled him, wagging their heads, and saying, Thou that destroyest the temple, and buildest it in three days, save thyself. If thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross. Likewise also the chief priests mocking him, with the scribes and elders, said, he saved others; himself he cannot save” (Matt. 27:39-41). Others were there, God be thanked, in genuine sympathy, full of compassion, ready to render any possible aid (Matt. 27:55-56).
What would have been our attitude had we been there? We boil with righteous indignation as we contemplate the shameful indignities they heaped upon our Lord in those bleak hours immediately preceding His death. It is possible that we may have sometimes felt as did the Prussian General who, on hearing for the first time the story of the Crucifixion, his eyes flashing fire, drew his sword, stood at attention, and said, “If I had been there with my army they would not have crucified my Lord!”
As a matter of fact, we were there ‘ representatively! Somebody represented you; somebody represented me on that fateful occasion. For this reason it is possible to see ourselves mirrored in the conducts of those participating. We shall see that there are modern pictures that fit well into that ancient setting – among them our very own!
Representatives Of Organized Religion
Present were the Pharisees and Scribes, Priests and Levites, acknowledged representatives of the organized religion of the day. Was their attitude one of genuine sympathy, tender compassion and sincere grief? On the contrary. There were, in fact, the chief instigators of His death. Why? Had they discovered that our Lord was an imposter and deceiver, and they thus felt it their solemn duty to protect the people of whom they were the acknowledged leaders and representatives? No such motives influenced them. Had they been deprived by him of something rightfully theirs, or made to suffer unjustly at his hands? Indeed not. Why then, was he so odious to them, and why did they regard him with such unmingled feelings of malice and hate? He had uncovered their hypocrisy, laid bare the corruptions of their worship, and exposed them to the world as rapacious wolves, feeding on the poverty of widows and orphans. They entertained no illusions whatsoever. They were well aware of the fact that if his influence were not speedily checked and effectively destroyed, they would eventually lose their control over the people and be deprived of their positions of preference. Thus with gratified malice and lively hatred they watched him die, rejoicing that no longer would they be exposed to his penetrating and illuminating analysis, or made to squirm under his biting rebukes.
All about us there are those who affect to believe and who do preach that honesty and sincerity of purpose are the only conditions of salvation. Those who thus preach concede our honesty and sincerity; hence, give us as good chance for heaven as they claim for themselves. But, are they present in our meetings, and do they cooperate with us in our efforts to spread the primitively pure gospel among the people of the earth9 On the contrary, they are conspicuously absent, and their influence is uniformly against us. Why? Is it that they are convinced that ours is a position that deceives and destroys? They are quick to deny this. Do they believe that our position is untenable? Except in isolated instances, they have abandoned all efforts along this line. Why then, is their influence against us? They have learned long since that Primitive Christianity and Denominationalism are inveterate enemies, unable to be at peace in the same community. From bitter experience they have found that when one waxes, the other wanes, and in exactly the same ratio! The Religionists of our Savior’s day the Pharisees and Scribes, Priests and Levites -because they loved tradition better than the truth, did not scorn to condemn an innocent man. They have a modern counterpart in the religious leaders of the present age, who with jealous vigilance guard their unauthorized systems lest the people learn the truth and forevermore abandon them. Every community in the land has in it men who have dedicated their lives to the infamous purpose of keeping people out of the kingdom of God, by leading them to believe that one does not have to do what our Lord made essential to salvation (Mark 16:15,16; Acts 2:38; Rom. 6:3,4; Acts 22:16; 1 Peter 3:21). The portraiture of the denominational preacher of the present day fits well into the ancient setting of the Pharisee and Scribe, the Priest and Levite!
Next, there was the blood-thirsty mob that milled and surged at his feet. Have you ever pondered the sudden and abrupt change which characterized the people during the last days of our Lord’s earthly life? Four days – four days, mind you – before his condemnation and death, these people, on the occasion of his Triumphant Entry into Jerusalem, ranged themselves as interested and adoring spectators along the way, spread branches in his path, and shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David: Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest” (Matt. 21:1-10). Within the week, these same people were turned into a milling and surging mob, every semblance of sanity gone, shouting madly, “Let him be crucified . . . his blood be upon us, and on our children” (Matt. 27:20-25). How shall we account for this abrupt and sudden change in attitude? Had the people discovered matters not hitherto known to them prompting them to revise their estimate of Jesus? No. What is the explanation? Their designing leaders, by a shrewd application of mob psychology, to accomplish their evil end, by untruths and deception, turned the people against him.
There are multiplied by thousands all about us who will never be saved; indeed, will never hear a gospel sermon, because their religious guides by misrepresentation and deliberate falsehood have instilled prejudice in their hearts against the truth. The mob therefore, is representative of the masses today who are ever ready to follow in blindness the leadership and direction of others; and who will not think nor investigate for themselves, but who allow others to establish their opinions and form their prejudices!
Present also were the four Roman soldiers who actually nailed him to the cross: “then the soldiers, when they had crucified Jesus, took his garments, and made four parts, to every soldier a part. . . ” (John 19:23). Were they men, currently stationed in Palestine, Jewish sympathizers, desirous of aiding the Priests and rulers in protecting their cherished traditions? Far from it. They were not more favorably disposed toward the Jewish leaders who, through force of circumstances, they happened to be assisting, than they were toward Jesus. As a matter of fact, the Romans were coldly contemptuous of the whole of the Jewish religion; and they doubtless regarded Jesus with the same cynicism and contempt they felt for all others of his race. Disgusted with the superciliousness and hypocrisy of the heads of the Jewish party, they made little effort to distinguish between them, feeling that all were of the same nature. These men were the cynics and agnostics of our Savior’s day. As such, they are representative of a constantly growing class of individuals among us today who have become disgusted with the religion to which they have formerly adhered, or with which they are most familiar and having repudiated it, fancy themselves as opposed to all religion, unaware of the fact that that which they have repudiated is a false religion, and that they have never known the true.
A major reason for the godlessness and atheism of modern Russia is the fact that the people of the nation were for centuries impoverished and enslaved by the greed and tyranny of Greek Catholicism. At length able to repudiate it, and to throw off its yoke, they regard themselves as anti-Christian; when, in reality, they are simply anti-Catholic, not knowing that there is the difference of the poles between Catholicism and Christianity. Led to believe that Christianity and Catholicism are synonymous, with the memory of their former state fresh in their minds, when they think of Christianity, they recall the suffering and deprivation they underwent, and they want no more of it. Not infrequently we contact those in this country who, having become disgusted with the emptiness and worthlessness of decadent denominationalism, fancy themselves to be anti-religious, not knowing that that which they have rejected is nothing more than a pitiable substitute and counterfeit of genuine Christianity. These need to be informed of what the True Religion is, unmixed and unadulterated with the doctrines and commandments of men. Thus, the Roman soldiers, coldly cynical and bitterly contemptuous toward all religion, are typical of an ever-increasing class of cynical, misanthropic and pessimistic individuals among us today.
There, too was the Centurion, officially in charge of the Crucifixion, the one responsible for the execution of the court’s decree. As the title suggests, he was an officer of a group of men, originally comprising one hundred, though the number was often actually less, subject to his command. The events of that fateful day on which Jesus died exercised a tremendous influence upon him. When our Lord died, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom (Matt. 27:5 1). This was the great curtain which hung suspended before the entrance of the Most Holy Place, separating it from the first compartment. It was an exceedingly sumptuous affair, made of fine linen, embroidered in purple, and blue and scarlet, with a covering of goat’s hair, four inches thick and seventy feet high. Suddenly, before the eyes of the amazed spectators, it began ripping downward – not from the bottom to the top, as if some man might have done it .- but from the top to the bottom, indicative of divine intervention. The earth violently quivered from an earthquake, the rocks were rent, and graves of the dead burst open (Matt. 27:51,52). “Now when the centurion, and they that were with him, watching Jesus, saw the earthquake, and those things that were done, they feared greatly, saying, ‘Truly this was the Son of God’ (Matt. 27:54). That it was the centurion who actually uttered these words, will be seen from the parallel passages of Mark and Luke (Mk. 15:39; Lk. 23:47). More dispassionate than the others, calmer, more capable of reasoning than those whose minds were inflamed by the vicious and lying propaganda of the designing Jewish leaders, the incidents of the cross brought conviction to the heart of the Roman Officer. As he pondered the strange course of events attending the death of Jesus, belief surged through him, possessed him, led him to confess, “Truly this man was the Son of God” (Mk. 15:39). But, despite the fact that he confessed the truth, he did not do anything about it!
There are those who say to every gospel preacher, “I believe that if anybody is right, the church of Christ is right; and, if I am ever anything, that is what I expect to be.” But, like the centurion, notwithstanding the fact that they accede to the correctness of our position, they do nothing about it! If it is possible to do so, those of this type sin more grievously than those who, because of biased and prejudiced minds reject the truth: theirs is an attitude of rebellion; in addition, they pursue a course contrary to their own conception of what is proper and right. They have not only the condemnation of the Lord upon them; they are condemned by their own consciences as well! Thus, the Roman Centurion is representative of those who acknowledge the truth but will not obey it.
Simon of Cyrene
Present was Simon, a man of Cyrene, forced from circumstances over which he had no control, to be an unwilling participant in the death of Jesus: “And as they came out, they found a man of Cyrene, Simon by name: him they compelled to bear this cross” (Matt. 27:32). En route to Golgotha, the place of crucifixion, Jesus was made to carry the cross on which he was to die. Exhausted by scourging, there is evidence that he sank under its weight; and Simon of Cyrene, who chanced to be passing, was forced to seize the “after” portion, the lighter end which had been dragging on the ground (Lk. 23:26). Simon was “compelled” to bear the cross. In the light of the subsequent events, it is difficult for us to appreciate the feeling of bitterness and utter frustration that must have possessed this man. From far-off Africa he had come, a pilgrim to the Great Passover Feast, in all probability, the most eventful and important journey in his life. The savings of a life-time may have gone into the trip; at any rate, he had looked forward to it for years with fond anticipation; and now, on the threshold of his cherished desire to worship once during his life in the sacred precincts of the Temple, suddenly and forevermore for him, his hopes are blasted: to touch the accursed tree of the cross was to render himself ceremonially unclean, and hence, unfitted for worship in the Temple.
How bitterness must have surged through his heart as he saw himself robbed of the dearest wish of his life. But would we have borne the cross of Jesus with any less resentment? With our present perspective, we may perhaps think so; but, do we bear it willingly today? Do we chafe under the burdens it imposes, complain at the restraint it demands? The “offense of the cross” has not ceased (Gal. 5:11). Because Paul dared to present plainly, clearly and uncompromisingly the testimony of the cross, he suffered greatly. This testimony is as offensive today. If you are disposed to disagree; if you are one of those who allege that the world is becoming more tolerant of the testimony of Christ than formerly, try presenting the Plan of Salvation at your next social gathering, before your neighborhood club, at your next luncheon, or in the homes of the elite. Do you answer that such is not considered socially correct? Indeed so; and this establishes our contention that the testimony of the cross has been quietly legislated out of polite society.
When his enemies blaspheme his cause, and ridicule his followers do you remain silent, or perhaps join the fun? Do you allow his name to be profaned without protest in your presence? When men assail his word and corrupt his teachings, do you spring to his defense? Or, do you permit the Son of God to be crucified afresh, and before you put to open shame?
Simeon of Cyrene was not the last to offer an unwilling type of service to the Lord. His imitators are legion. All however, do not experience the change characteristics of Simon. Forced from circumstances over which he had no control to turn away from God’s Temple, unfitted to enter, he lived to boast with brimming eyes of the glorious deed done on that day! To the cause he at first served so unwillingly, he gave two useful and faithful sons (Mk. 15:21), and if we may rely on tradition, himself became a power in the early church, serving His Lord henceforth with great honor and fidelity.
“Simon of Cyrene bore
The cross of Jesus – nothing more.
His name is never heard again,
Nor honored by historic pen;
Nor on the pedestal of fame
His image courts the loud acclaim:
Simon of Cyrene bore
The cross of Jesus, nothing more.
“And yet, when all our work is done,
And golden beams the western sun
Upon a life of wealth and fame:
A thousand echoes ring our name;
Perhaps our hearts will humbly pray
“Good Master, let my record say
Upon the page divine: ‘he bore
The Cross of Jesus,’ nothing more.”
We may see our own selves ofttimes mirrored in the conduct of his disciples, during the last hours of the earthly life of our Lord. As long as all was well, while the sea was glassy smooth, and no storm threatened, the disciples were much in evidence. During the years of his popularity, when the multitudes flocked out to hear him, and the interest was exceedingly great, they were ever on hand, basking in reflected glory. But as his popularity waned, as opposition grew and sinister forces marshaled for the final battle, the disciples, with the exception of John, forsook him in his hour of greatest need, and fled. Every cause has its hangers-on, superficial sycophants, interested only in furthering their own well-being. When clouds, ominous and heavy, appear on their horizon, and obstacles seemingly insurmountable block their way such individuals quickly fall away.
Peter, particularly, is representative of a large class among us today. He followed “afar off” (Matt. 26:56-75). This was by no means undesigned on the part of the disciple Peter. He purposed to be far enough back so as not to be held responsible for the cause from which he had fled, but nevertheless close enough up, that if anything happened, he would be on hand to enjoy it! Many among us are unwilling to bear the burdens incident to the maintenance of the cause, and did it depend on such for its existence, it would speedily fail. Those of this type, like Peter, follow “afar off.” They have only enough religion to be evermore miserable. They do not enjoy themselves in the church, because their hearts yearn for the world; but neither can they enjoy themselves fully in the world because of the goading of a slightly awakened conscience. Like the Laodiceans, they are neither hot nor cold; hence, lukewarm, and therefore nauseating and disgusting to the Lord!
Finally, there were the godly women who had followed him from Galilee, to minister and who, oblivious of personal danger, remained near by to do what they could (John 19:25).
Not she with traitorous kiss her Savior stung
Not she denied him with unholy tongue
But she, while apostles shrank did dangers brave,
Last at the cross, and first at the grave!
These women represent those in the church today – and may their tribe increase! – who put the kingdom of God first in their hearts and lives and make all else subservient thereto!
Yes, you and I were there, “when they crucified my Lord.”
Somebody represented you; somebody represented me. Who, friends, represented you?
(Used by permission from brother Woods. Due to the length of the article and the limitation of space, some of the introduction has been omitted. Sub-headings have been added.)
Guardian of Truth XXXI: 20, pp. 620-623
October 15, 1987