THE FAITHFUL FACE THE CROSS
Dr. Chuck DeVane, Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
June 16, 2019
26 And as they led him away, they seized one Simon of Cyrene, who was coming in from the country, and laid on him the cross, to carry it behind Jesus.
27 And there followed him a great multitude of the people and of women who were mourning and lamenting for him. 28 But turning to them Jesus said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. 29 For behold, the days are coming when they will say, Blessed are the barren and the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’ 30 Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us,’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us.’ 31 For if they do these things when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?”
32 Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. 33 And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. 34 And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments. 35 And the people stood by, watching, but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!” 36 The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine 37 and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” 38 There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.” 39 One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” 40 But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43 And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
44 It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour, 45 while the sun's light failed. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. 46 Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last. 47 Now when the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God, saying, “Certainly this man was innocent!” 48 And all the crowds that had assembled for this spectacle, when they saw what had taken place, returned home beating their breasts. 49 And all his acquaintances and the women who had followed him from Galilee stood at a distance watching these things.
50 Now there was a man named Joseph, from the Jewish town of Arimathea. He was a member of the council, a good and righteous man, 51 who had not consented to their decision and action; and he was looking for the kingdom of God. 52 This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. 53 Then he took it down and wrapped it in a linen shroud and laid him in a tomb cut in stone, where no one had ever yet been laid.
54 It was the day of Preparation, and the Sabbath was beginning. 55 The women who had come with him from Galilee followed and saw the tomb and how his body was laid. 56 Then they returned and prepared spices and ointments. On the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment.
— Luke 23:26-56, ESV
Jesus’ path from the garden to the gallows was paved with faithless people. There were sleeping disciples, a terrible traitor, a cowardly denier, and many corrupt religious and political leaders. Together they helped seal the Lord's fate of a final sentence to die on a cross.
As the final steps were taken down the “Via Delarosa," or “way of suffering,” Jesus saw many more faces. The majority of them were faithless, too. However, there were a few faithful faces in the crowd. They have become a good part of the good news of Jesus’ atoning death, temporary burial, and bodily resurrection. Let’s look at them, face to face, as the faithful face the cross of Christ.
Simon of Cyrene
Death row prisoners were required to carry the horizontal beam of their own cross to where the vertical beam marked the spot of their public hanging. From the outset it was obvious that the man Christ Jesus could not carry His own cross due to the physical, mental, and spiritual stress He was under. This was not weakness, but meekness, and there is a world of difference. Since Roman soldiers and citizens could not touch a cross, a scapegoat had to be secured. A man from Africa was chosen, by man and by God.
“Simon of Cyrene” had the dubious distinction of carrying Christ’s cross. He is one of two Lucan characters who turned from African tribalism to Old Covenant Judaism to New Testament Christianity, the other being the Ethiopian eunuch of Acts 8. Simon apparently made the annual pilgrimage to Passover and perhaps was meeting Jesus for the first time. It would not be the last, for him nor his house.
The Gospel writer Mark was also familiar with Simon and the Apostle Paul knew his son, Rufus (ref. Mark 15:21; Romans 16:13). Faith is the most important part of any family tree. Seeing and savoring the suffering of Jesus changed Simon, and subsequently his family, forever. He was one of the faithful facing the cross, for himself and for future generations.
The Judaean Women
The next faces Jesus sees along the way are the “daughters of Jerusalem.” They see Jesus’ face, too, and burst into tears. They had called for His crucifixion, but now can see an innocent Jew betrayed by His fellow Hebrews and belittled by His Roman overlords. It was enough to make any Israelite or Christian weep, and I pray that one became the other.
Jesus warned them, while still telling parables on the way to His execution, that if the Romans would kill the King of the Jews, the day would come when they would kill every Jew in Jerusalem they could get their hands on. They would, and they did, in AD 70.
What is the meaning of Jesus’ message? What is the meaning of all of Jesus’ sermons? We are all sinners, living in a sinful world, where sinful men and sinful kingdoms exist until the end of time. Put not your faith in yourself, in politicians and rulers, but in the Lord your God. As the women were weeping, as they were hearing these words, they were staring at God right in the face.
All of the first Christians were Jewish. So many of them were women. I speculate that these women, after seeing the suffering and sacrificial face of Jesus, became part of the faithful who faced the cross.
From African converts to Jewish loyalists, we now come face to face with perhaps the most radical representative of them all, the thief (one of two) on the cross.
Two criminals faced Jesus on the cross. Their faces and bodies were nailed to crosses, two, one on either side of Christ. At the beginning of Jesus’ six hour struggle with death, they joined the crowd at their own crucifixion by hurling insults at the Lord. Then the two heard Jesus say these words, “Father, forgive.” One hardened like clay. The other melted like wax. Such is the paradoxical power of sovereign grace.
If you do not see yourself as a sinner you will never taste grace. One culprit must have justified his sins, his crimes, even the killing that earned the sentence of death. The other must have looked over his life, wasting away as it was, and recognized the wrong paths, bad decisions, selfish ambitions, and terrible sins he had committed. He was so sorry, so ashamed, so repentant of what he had done to people and against God’s word. He wanted a do-over, but that could not be done. Perhaps he could get some of that forgiveness Jesus was talking about, so he faced Jesus and asked.
Jesus answered quickly, since neither one had much time left, by giving him the bottom line from the top. “Paradise,” the entryway of Heaven, the place of eternal life with God in glory, is given by grace to those who face Jesus with faith. The thief died in peace with God. But shortly before he rested in peace, God died in his place to give him that peace.
As Jesus breathed His last in order to open up a direct way to God, not through the ritual of religion but by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, a final commentary was offered by a heretofore hardened, unfaithful face. A Roman centurion, a captain of the guards who carried out the killing of Jesus, affirmed the Lord’s human perfection and divine personality.
He did so because he “saw what had taken place.” I take it this was not his first rodeo, first crucifixion, first Passover, first encounter with controversy over the Messiah. He looked at Jesus’ face. He listened to Jesus’ words. He acknowledged Jesus’ innocence and deity.
Like a few other Roman centurions in the first few centuries of Christianity, this faithful man faced the cross, confessed his sins, and trusted Christ. There are other ways to advance your career, other ways to make money, other ways to find happiness and success. But the only way to be saved is to confess Jesus as Lord and Savior and trust in Him completely.
Joseph of Arimathea
We’ve seen the faces of the faithful on the way to Calvary, Simon and the women. We’ve seen the faces of the faithful at the cross, the good thief and the Roman centurion. Now look at a few faithful faces after the cross.
“Joseph of Arimathea” had been a believer for quite a while, although not boldly. He was a rich member of the ruling class in Jerusalem. However, as he faced the cross of Christ and watched the Lord breath His last breath, Joseph determined to use his position and power for good, for God.
Jews did not want to touch the bodies of condemned criminals, so the Romans normally dumped them in unmarked graves. Joseph knew Jesus deserved better. So he wielded his authority and used his own wealth to provide a proper burial for the Lord. He did not understand at the time how temporary that burial would be. But this is how the faithful face the cross, by using everything in their disposal to further the cause of Christ.
The Galilean Women
Then there were “the women who had come with [Jesus] from Galilee.” Unlike the Judaeans, they persevered instead of persecuted. After the death of Christ, they watched Joseph and Nicodemus hurriedly bury Jesus before the sundown to start the Sabbath. They thought they had not done an adequate job, for anything a man can do, a woman can do better. They also knew that as devout Jews they could not do funeral work on the Sabbath, so they set their preparations aside and waited until the light of the first day of the week. Like Joseph, they did not yet know how dramatic that first day would be.
But the fact is they faced the cross, they watched Jesus die, and somehow, someway they never gave up. They never gave up loving Jesus, they never gave up following Jesus, they never gave up on the kingdom Jesus promised. The faithful face the cross, with love and obedience, withe perseverance and proof, and never give up.
One face remains.
The Lord Jesus Christ
The most faithful face at the cross belongs to the One who died there, the Lord Jesus Christ.
He looked in Simon’s face and thanked him for carrying the cross, and now He looks at you. He looked into the Jerusalem women’s faces and told them to look past Old Covenant religion and look for a New Covenant relationship with Him, and now He looks at you. He looked at the repentant thief on the cross and promised him Paradise, and now He looks at you. He looked down at that Roman centurion, breathed His last and breathed faith into that hardened sinner’s heart, and now He looks at you. He looked at the loving hands of Joseph and Nicodemus and knew one day it would be His hands laying their bodies in the cold, cold ground, and now He looks at you. He looked at the loving eyes of the women and the tomb, thinking about the third day when He could greet them with the good news, and now He looks at you.
Jesus Christ is the faithful face who faced the cross for our sins. Now, His face looks at you. Look to Him. Never look back. You will find grace, faith, forgiveness, and eternal life.
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Dr. Charles F. "Chuck" DeVane, Jr., is the Pastor of Lake Hamilton Baptist Church in Hot Springs, Arkansas. His weekly sermon article, "The Gospel Truth," has been published in newspapers in Arkansas and Georgia. Dr. DeVane is a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and has served in the pastorate for over 20 years. Contact Pastor Chuck at PastorChuck@lakehamiltonbaptistchurch.org