Observing the Cross

In our service, are we participants or spectators? We don’t typically say, “We saw a good service this morning?” We can understand and apply the lessons of the Bible if we actively engage in our service, but in this lesson, we’re going to look at some individuals who did not engage with Jesus. They merely spectated.

Matthew 27:35-36 records some who, in the midst of the crucifixion, sat down, cast lots for Jesus’ garments, and simply watched Him. We read of the crowds surrounding the crucifixion, the leaders involved in the trial and accusations, the women gathering around the cross, the scattering apostles, and the soldiers attacking Jesus. What do these people see in Jesus? What do we see?

What Did They See?

What do the soldiers see? Matthew 27:27-31 describes some of the cruelties Jesus endured prior to His execution. What do those soldiers see during these indignities? They see a spectacle they enjoyed. These cruelties were not unique to Jesus. To them, He is just another prisoner, and they took joy in their job. They care nothing for Jesus’ identity, His claims, or the charges surrounding Him. They are merely caught up in their jobs.

What do the religious and governmental leaders see? We know Jesus had some supporters among the leaders, but even those often held their peace, for the majority of their peers are set against the Christ. Most of those religious and political leaders see victory in Jesus’ death. They continuously plotted His death while He was teaching and preaching, seeing Jesus as a threat to their positions and their way of life.

What do the criminals see? One sees a miscarriage of justice while one sees a figure to mock. In Luke 23:39, one figure hanging on the crosses joins in the jeers against Him. He takes up the chant persisted by the crowds. “Save yourself.” In contrast, the other recognizes that they will die alongside Him – them deserving, Him undeserving. This second thief started out mocking Jesus, but, while they are on those crosses, this thief sees Christ as something different.

What did the apostles see? Matthew 26:55 tells how the disciples flee. Some observe from a distance. Some hide behind locked doors. What do they see? They see their hopes crumble. In Luke 24:18, we see how despondent two of Jesus’ disciples are in their conversation. For them, their work for the past three years has become pointless. All of their work is for nothing.

What do the women see? Matthew 27:55 describes those women who had received kindness from Jesus, and they, in turn, had shown hospitality to Him. They had helped feed Him and His disciples, giving them room and board. When Jesus dies, these women see the death of a friend.

What do We See?

What do we see in the death of Jesus? Do we focus on the violence? Do we see it as an excuse for racial hatred – showing no interest in emulating Christ but rather feeding a grudge? Do we simply see an interesting point of Roman history? Do we see a mere man who dies for His principles? What do we see when we are faced with Jesus and the cross?

  • We should see the wickedness of man. Acts 2:22-23 describes how hatred and sin put Jesus on the cross, and our animosity, rebellion, and sin did just as much to crucify Him as those shouting, “Crucify Him!”
  • We should see the inadequacy of the Old Law. Hebrews 10:1-4 describes the impossibility of animal sacrifices truly atoning for sin. It took a perfect sacrifice to fulfill the requirements of sin.
  • We should see the seriousness of sin. Isaiah 59:1-2 describes the separation sin creates between us and God. It creates a rift the took Jesus’ sacrifice to bridge.
  • We should see the majesty of God’s justice. Romans 3:23 describes that all fall short of God’s glory, but the point comes in verses 24-26, showing that God through Christ justifies us in mercy. He pays the penalty for sin.
  • We should see the extent of God’s love. John 3:16, I John 4:8-10, Romans 5:10 – these verses and more describe the love God has in His sacrifice for us and the love that should be reflected in our lives.
  • We should see the trauma of conversion. In Romans 6:6, Paul describes our life-changing conversion as a crucifixion. We put our sinful self to death the same way Christ was put to death.

We should see more than in Christ’s death than an act that occurred to someone else. Those baptized to Christ are baptized into His death, being raised to walk in newness of life. When we look at the cross, we should see the dedication and commitment it takes to be a follower of Christ. It is more than a name we wear on Sundays. It is more than a label. It is a transformation to a new being, set apart and sanctified by the sacrifice of Jesus on that cross.

lesson by Tim Smelser