The Gathering at the Cross by Andy Erwin

Once again I ask that you ascend to Calvary’s summit with me.  Let us stand even at the foot of the cross, this time to survey the groups which are gathered around it.

     The place of our Lord’s crucifixion is known by two names in the New Testament.  The name which the Hebrew gives it is rendered “Golgotha” in English.  The name which the Latin gives it is rendered “Calvary” in English.

     Golgotha means “the place of the skull.”  Most likely, the name comes from the fact that this was the gruesome site of public executions.

     Scripture tells us that Calvary was outside of the city gates of Jerusalem (Hebrews 13:12), yet near to the city (John 19:20).  A road passed along its base, making the scene one of public spectacle (Matthew 27:39).

     Archaeology tells us that no dwellings were near it.  Moreover, this place was once a quarry for meleke (royal) stone.  The pit of the quarry was filled and turned into a garden by the time of Christ.  The remains of the quarry were the stone walls which lined the outer edges of the garden and were used as tombs. The tomb belonging to Joseph of Arimathea was one of these tombs “nigh at hand” (John 19:42).

     Now stand with me at the base of the cross and let us see these surroundings as Jesus saw them.  We are outside of the city, isolated from all the warmth of human residential activity.  We are among the tombs, and our Savior is being made a gazing stock and reproach by the passers-by on the road below.

    A small army of at least one hundred Roman soldiers[1]  has made a perimeter, barricading Calvary.  Those who love Jesus most can do nothing but watch from a distance.  Those who hate Him most are making their jeers heard.  Those who are indifferent pass the time with games such as gambling for His clothes, the only possessions He has on earth.

     Thus we see three groups gathered around the cross – the apathetic, the antipathetic, and the sympathetic.

The Apathetic

     Those who are indifferent to Christ include Simon from Cyrene.  He is a Jew who has come from his home in what is modern-day Libya, presumably with his two sons – Alexander and Rufus.  Being a devout Jew, he has come to keep the Passover in Jerusalem.  He was simply a bystander when he was forced to carry the cross of Jesus.  Perhaps he stumbled upon the happenings of this day.  It could be that he was merely caught in the crowd which gathered as Pilate presented the option of releasing the murderer Barabbas or the guiltless Son of God.

     It must have been quite a scene.  The whole city was captivated.  I wonder how Simon felt as he saw our Lord being scourged.  Perhaps his apathy was turned to sympathy as he saw Jesus fall beneath the load of His cross.

     Also included in this number are the Roman soldiers who are merely doing their job, albeit in a most cruel and sadistic manner.  They view Jesus as just another criminal.  Neither His guilt nor innocence matters to them.  They have been cold and ruthless in following their orders to scourge Him.  They seem to relish the opportunity to mock Him.  They neither know nor care that they have had a hand in fulfilling the prophecies concerning the Messiah.

     As our Savior droops lifelessly between the twilight of two worlds, one of these apathetic souls reaches for a spear and shoves it into His side, from which blood and water does overflow. As our Father in heaven makes His presence known by darkening the skies and shaking the earth, another one of these soldiers comes to the conclusion that “Truly this was the Son of God.”

The Antipathetic

     Next, we turn our attention to those who hate Christ.  Truly they “hated Him without a cause.”   They are heartless and most cruel to Jesus.  This number includes the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders standing by, adding insult to injury by mocking Jesus (Matthew 27:41-43).  They are the religious leaders of the day.

     As the people pass by on the street below, they follow the lead of their leaders saying, “You who destroy the temple and build it in three days, save Yourself!  If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross” (Matthew 27:39).

     One of the criminals even takes this opportunity to blaspheme Jesus saying, “If You are the Christ, save Yourself and us” (Luke 23:39).

     We cannot help but wonder why they have such intense hatred for Jesus.  Why would a true and sincere leader of God’s people reject and crucify God’s only begotten Son?  Could it be that they are not “true and sincere” leaders of God’s people?  Could it be that they are guilty of all the hypocrisy for which our Lord has rebuked them?  As they wag their heads and insult Christ, the Savior prays, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).

The Sympathetic

     Now we must turn our gaze toward the sad sight of those who love Jesus more than anyone else in the world.  This gathering includes “all His acquaintances, and the women who followed Him from Galilee” (Luke 23:49). 

     We see Mary Magdalene, Mary (the Lord’s mother), Mary the wife of Clopas, Salome, and John.  Our hearts break as we hear their cries and behold their tears.  Yet, there is nothing we can do for them.  The righteous always seem to be outnumbered by the wicked.

     Jesus speaks a word of compassion to this group as He says to Mary and to John, “Behold your son.  Behold your mother.”    

     We also hear the pleading voice of the other thief as he addresses our Lord, humbly asking for Jesus to remember Him in His kingdom.  What faith!  What wisdom!  As he is dying he takes the opportunity to ask and receive a blessing from the Savior.  Our Lord responds graciously, “Today you shall be with Me in paradise.”

Application and Conclusion

     Now that we have viewed these three groups, let us collect what lessons we can from what we have observed.  Concerning the apathetic, you will observe that one cannot remain indifferent forever.  The time will come when the apathetic soul must come face-to-face with Jesus.

     For the centurion, it was as he viewed the darkened skies at midday and possibly beheld the dead come from their tombs to walk the streets of Jerusalem.  God will again make His presence known at the return of our Savior.  The skies will split open and every eye shall behold the Son of God coming in glory with His mighty angles.  All indifference will disappear that day!

     For Simon, it was when he was called to carry the cross of our Savior.  The surest way to overcome apathy in this life is to come in contact with the cross.  Take hold of it.  Consider it carefully.  Recognize what happened that day happened for you.

     You will also observe that the one who pierced the Savior’s side with his spear was of this number.  Every moment we spend abiding in apathy and indifference to the cross of Christ we spend piercing our own spears into His side!  Our apathy does nothing more than to crucify Him afresh and put Him to an open shame (Hebrews 6:6).

     A number of lessons can also be learned from the antipathetic.  “Weep for them you daughters of Jerusalem!”  They hated Christ, and they hated Him without a cause.  But who had the last word?

     It may seem strange to us that someone would hate our Savior.  How could one ever be found in such a gathering?  The world hated Christ because He was not of the world.  And, the world will hate us for the same reason (John 15:18-19).

     People become haters of God when they allow their hearts to be filled with unrighteousness (cf. Romans 1:30).  And, as Christians, we can come to hate Jesus if we hate our brethren.  One cannot say he loves God while hating his brother.  If he attempts to say such, he is a liar (1 John 4:20).  Like the apathetic, the only hope for this number is for them to repent of their hatred, love the Lord, and keep His commandments.  We see such penitence in the example of Saul of Tarsus, who of course became the apostle Paul.

     We should also recognize a number of lessons should be gleaned from those sympathetic souls gathered beneath the shadow of the cross.  We see included in this number the rich and the poor, people from Judea, Galilee, and wherever Jesus had been, sinners and saints, Pharisees and fishermen.  They were sympathetic to Christ because they knew Him truly.

     You will also see that these sympathetic souls were the ones God would use to bring the message of Christ to the world.  God took the weak from that day and made them strong.

     To make that kind of difference for Christ’s sake in this world, one must first come to have sympathy for the cross.  To have sympathy for the cross, you must come to love Jesus truly.

     You would not want to see a dearly beloved friend or relative treated that way.  You would have great sympathy for that person.  Your heart would break knowing that had happened to them.

     When we come to love Jesus like that, when He becomes dearly beloved to us, our heart will break within us too because of the cross. When we couple that kind of sympathy with an understanding of why His crucifixion had to happen, we will have the message which the world needs to hear and a heart compelled to share it.

     Let us conclude by asking: in which gathering are you to be found?  Even now we are all gathered around the cross.  It will be this way until our Lord comes again for His great and terrible judgment day.  Even now all humanity is gathered around the cross.  Some are indifferent.  Some hate the thought of it.  And some are broken hearted and determined to live righteously because of it.

     In which gathering are you to be found?

[1] We know this because a centurion was present that day (cf. Matthew 27:54).