What Happened Here?

by Steve Terry


I replayed events in my mind over and over and still I am left with only one question: What happened here? I lived in Jerusalem my whole life. Executions are a part of life here. There is nothing unusual about criminals and enemies of the state being left to die on crosses outside the town walls. But for some reason, this execution drew a crowd, and curious, I was swept along with the crowd to see what was going on. I should have stayed home. Everything was so strange, I can't seem to figure it all out.

First there were two petty criminals, thieves I think. That was normal enough. They were forced along by the soldiers, Roman soldiers (how I hate to say that name - Roman). They were cursing the soldiers and the crowd and they were receiving plenty of curses back. It was always the same for the criminals. They all went kicking and screaming to their deaths. Nothing here that should draw a crowd.

Just as I was about to turn away and head back home, I saw Him. The third man. Unlike the others, He was silent. He had obviously been ill treated by the Romans. Blood soaked his clothes. He looked very weary, but in his eyes was a strength of purpose as though He was doing exactly what He was meant to do. As He looked at me I could see there was also sadness in those eyes. Not a sorrow for anything He had done, rather I felt that the sadness was for me, and yet not for me only but for everyone.

I started to weep. I don't know why, I couldn't help myself. As I looked away from those eyes and into the crowd, I could see that He was affecting others who began to cry also. I found I had to follow this One and many others did the same. As we moved through the street toward the gate, He turned and spoke. I remember the words for they are a part of what keeps replaying in my mind. "Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for me, but weep for yourselves, and for your children. For behold the days are coming when they will say, 'Blessed are the barren, those who never gave birth and never nursed a child.' Then they will be saying to the mountains, 'Fall on us,' and to the hills, 'Cover us.' For if they do these things when the tree is green, what will they do when it is withered?"

I do not understand the words. I am trying to but I do know one thing. The voice that spoke was not what you would expect from someone walking to his death - someone who was bloodied and beaten. His words were filled with a love that flowed from a heart that seemed ready to break. His concern was not for himself but for us. We all felt it, and we all were moved to tears even more. I thought it strange that the soldiers let Him speak. They also seemed moved by what He said.

Once again he turned and went out the gate with the two thieves and the guard of soldiers.  When they came to a small hill outside the gate. The soldiers placed Him with the two criminals under guard as they prepared the heavy timbers to support the three bodies. One by one the captain of the guard called for each of them. The thieves struggled to avoid their fate, but they could not overcome the strength of the soldiers to break free. Each in turn was fastened to his cross and the cross raised and placed into its hole with a heavy thud.

Last was the Man we were all watching. First the soldiers removed the robe He was wearing. Later they would joke about it and gamble for it. He did not seem to mind. He quietly allowed himself to be placed on his cross as though there was no other place on earth that He should be. Still it was gruesome to watch as the sergeant drove the heavy spikes through his flesh to fasten him to the timbers. He bled and the blood splattered onto the sergeant and the soldiers who were holding him as sometimes the hammer would miss the head of the spike and crush flesh and bone. This was work that the soldiers were used to. The blood didn't bother them. They even made crude jokes about it. When they realized, though, that this prisoner wasn't resisting them, they grew silent. The silence made the scene even more grim than it already was.

The crowd that followed had not all been moved by what they had seen. Several had come to jeer the victims and they were doing that with gusto. As the last cross was dropped into it's hole and the body of this strange man swung back and forth on the spikes from the force of the impact, many in the crowd cheered. Several threw stones at all three of the victims. When they realized that the soldiers were not going to stop them, they became braver and some came forward and spat on the men as they hung in agony on the cross. I even saw some who demonstrated that they were well versed in every obscene gesture and word common in the bars and brothels of Jerusalem.

The two thieves hurled curses back at the crowd, which only brought more torment down upon them. But the strange man only looked at the crowd with sad eyes. I saw that the soldiers had placed a sign above the head of this Man, and I moved to where I could try to read it. I couldn't make out all the words, but I could make out enough to tell that the Man's name was Yeshua, One who saves. I heard others taunting Him over his name. They said He couldn't even save himself so He wasn't much of a saviour. I couldn't understand it all.

He seemed a kind man, and yet so many in the crowd seemed to hate Him. I asked them what He had done, but they just called me ignorant and asked if I was one of His followers. No one seemed to be able to tell me what great crime this Man had committed to deserve this terrible death. I was beginning to wish that I had not come. Even the weather seemed to be dark and lowering as He hung on the cross looking sadly down at all of us. His tormenters seemed driven beyond reason to make his final hours miserable ones.

I could not bear the pain of the scene before me but I could not turn away. Something about the sadness in that face kept me watching and waiting for...I don't know what. For several hours the life oozed from his body and down the rough wood of the cross onto the parched ground. At times the soldiers would offer an anesthetic and water to the three. The thieves would greedily take all they could get, but He refused. It was as though his death would somehow be meaningless unless he felt all the pain of his ordeal.

Finally, He spoke. A murmur went through the crowd, we were all puzzled by his words. He had asked God why He had forsaken Him. What did He mean by that? It should be no surprise to a criminal that God would turn His back on him. What did He expect? Still, it seemed to crush Him. He was forsaken by everyone. The crowd, the soldiers, even God apparently. I found myself weeping again out of pity for Him.

He seemed to use every ounce of strength He had to ask that last question, for afterwards, He hung limply from the spikes that held Him. Usually, those who die in this manner linger on for several days. The soldiers, who did not believe what they had seen, stabbed Him with a spear. When He did not respond, they knew He was really dead. As the guard gathered below His cross to discuss what to do with Him now, the crowd began to disperse. They had come to watch this Yeshua. Now that He was dead, the show was over. No reason to hang around. I turned away also, troubled by what I had seen.

I don't know how to explain how this has affected me. I can't sleep. I just keep replaying this over and over in my mind. This is the Sabbath. It should be a day of rest, but I can get no rest. I keep seeing His face and eyes. I feel overwhelmed with the sadness in those eyes. What does it all mean? Maybe I will never know.