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The Persecuted Church

 

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AN ANCIENT WITNESS SPEAKS

From Earth I see the Edge of Eternity

   It was the darkest, yet the greatest day in human history. A long stream of travelers flowed steadily into Jerusalem for the ancient Passover, many worshippers became absorbed in vigorous discussion. Even the religious leaders seemed distracted from their annual celebration. The restless atmosphere was like the edge of a storm.

A lonely man slumped in a low state of hopelessness and depression. All consciousness of time was lost as he stared emptily at the wall. Fighting despair, he wondered at the milling crowds. Was he so easily forgotten? It seemed as if not one soul seemed to care whether he lived or died. His breath caught and his chest quivered as he acknowledged the gnawing fear. He worked his sweaty palm together, wondering if he could bear the tension. Startled by footsteps, his heart skipped a beat. Fighting to gain composure, he vainly searched for an exit. "Is there someone to help me? What can I do?" A guard led him to an old rugged beam. Motioning harshly, he "growled", "Pick it up!" His knees felt like Jell-O. Stooping low, his shaking hands reluctantly lifted the timber. His death march had started. Let's listen as this eye witness unveils his account:

"People line the streets as far as the eye can see. I gaze at a sea of faces from every walk of life. It seems like this procession is marching toward the very edge of eternity. We labor hard toward Calvary's mountain to begin the final assent.

Just when I am really gasping for breath, I note that I am walking on a blood sprinkled road. At last we pause. Looking down, I stare at a fresh stain where someone deeply wounded  must have fallen. Weary and dizzy I raise my head to focus on the prisoner ahead. His appearance chills me to the bone! How can this Man stand? For a moment, my own misery is nearly forgotten. I marvel! He carried long thorns forced into the scalp of His beaten frame. His features are not clear. The face looks familiar as if I had seen it before, but it is swollen and bruised beyond recognition. 'So this is Barabbas the revolutionary and murderer I have heard so much about,' I reason. But NO! A priest gloats to the crowd, 'This is Jesus, the lowly carpenter from Nazareth! Does He look like a King to you, he mocks? Well, He is going to die just like all the others!' Now some brutes force a man from Cyrene out of the crowd gathering to bear the cross of the Nazarene. Heavily, we march on climbing up to Golgotha. My face is drawn tight and my stomach churns in terror! How unnerving as we all approach the' place of execution just above us!

Women are weeping. The Nazarene stops. I strain to listen. 'Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for me,' He says, 'but weep for yourselves, and for your children ...' I hear an explosion of cursing from a third prisoner. Someone else boasts loudly how Barabbas is free. My breast burns as my anger turns to rage! Barabbas walking the streets? Why would these fools set him free? Why loose a murderer instead of me? Well then, it seems to add up that this Jesus must bear even greater sin!

We've reached the summit of the place called 'The Skull!' I can see the remains scattered of those who came before us. A blinding frenzy consumes me! Recklessly; I strike out with all my last strength as I battle for my life! The soldiers knock me down to the ground. Their knees crush me into the dirt. The blood nearly freezes in my veins when I see the hammer! Terrified, I shriek for mercy! I nearly faint as my limbs are nailed, anchored to the wood! One at a time, spikes hold me fast to the wood! I groan and sigh in failure, nauseous with pain shooting from my extremities. The agony is unbearable as the cross is lifted from the earth! I understand the death penalty, but not this dreaded crucifixion. Why This! My bones are slipping out of joint. Oh that the earth would swallow me up now , that I would not endure another moment.

The rejection is intolerable; the, humiliation is appalling! I see menacing looks in the eyes of the crowd. Their focus is toward the Nazarene. My heart is strangely stirred. I've never seen such eyes! They appear kind despite his excruciating pain! His sorrow seems to be for others across the face of the hill rather than for Himself! Can this be possible?

A group is gathering at the  cross in between the other thief and myself. The religious leaders gather together exclaiming, 'He saved others; himself he cannot save. If he be the King of Israel, let him now come down from the cross, and we will believe in him.' I join in, mocking and cursing Him vehemently! We challenge Him to perform a miracle to set us free. Oh how I'd love to be set free from this now. Jesus must be a liar. If he is the Son of God why doesn't he get free.  Yet the sign above Him does read, 'THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS.' Jesus must be a lunatic; yet He is silent as they mock and challenge him! Somehow He is not intimidated by the threats. Will He cry out for vengeance like the other thief is? He is naked, suspended above the Roman Guards who are gambling for his clothes at His feet. What will he do? Will He call upon angels? I am shocked as He looks toward Heaven!  A lump forms in my throat as I hear His words cry out. It sounds like a sob drawn from the depths of His soul, 'Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do. He's asking God to forgive the people who have crucified him. I have never heard such compassion!' How admirable! This is no ordinary man, this Jesus is a Man of honor! Something is occurring I don't understand,  It seems to me that I'm witnessing the just interceding for the unjust! Surely, I am a guilty sinner; but could it be this Jesus is really the Lord?

Jesus speaks again. Tenderly He bids farewell to His weeping mother before him! He entrusts her to a caring friend. Absorbed in my own self-pity, I've been numb for so long toward the needs of other people. What compassion! Jesus wants to meet the needs of their grief, even during his pain toward death!

We criminals have different views of the one hanging between us. We both see his torn body.  I can hardly look at it , he's covered with dried blood,  new bright red flowing rivers still coming out and the swelling pools gather beneath his cross! We see His muscles showing as his bare skin was viciously ripped to shreds, much like a victim mauled by lions! Suddenly, a new pain sears my breast! It comes straight from Heaven bringing a keen awareness! Jesus is the Messiah! I recognize Him now; He's the Lord! Who else could he be? No ordinary man acts like this Jesus. Who can forgive others for such a horrendous act? Who is concerned of others when they endure the lat moments of their life?

The man on the far cross mocks, challenging the Christ to save Himself and then us! His only concern is for his own skin! I can hardly breathe now, yet I will force myself  higher upon the nails impaling my limbs. Breathing deeply, I rebuke him with all my might! We must fear God! Our guilt deserves condemnation; but  this Jesus has done nothing wrong! Can't you see this!

I have nothing to offer God to satisfy Him; no good works, no baptism, no lamb, no reputation! I have done nothing he requires. Can God save a sinner like me?   I feel to the  depth of my soul, I can hardly speak now. I choke haltingly and speak with what little strength I have left to Jesus, "Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom!" The King will have a kingdom! He will live! Oh, for God's mercy, have mercy on me! Tears are flowing freely down my face and I cry as I have never cried. I  hear Jesus respond, "Verily, I say unto-thee, Today shalt thou be with-me in paradise!' My body trembles with a new excitement as hope rushes into my soul! Amazing grace! I've been forgiven! He is the Saviour! Peace now floods my soul, despite my knowing that I'm about to die. My skin tingles as the peace of God becomes greater than my fear! Even here in my dying I have joy in living my last moments,  I have grace to die! Imagine! Jesus came to die so I will be able to live! He is categorized with the depraved! He is classified with cursed sinners! He is numbered with the wicked! As my substitute, He bears my sin to set me free! Known criminals, revolutionaries, and murderers have been executed on this mountain. Yet the One who walked earth's shores and never did a dishonorable deed and never committed a sin is here as well! 'Thank You, Lord Jesus! Who am I that You are mindful of me? Thank You!  Lord, I will praise You forever!'

As I turn to further express my gratitude, suddenly the earth is veiled in an eerie darkness. The suffering Son of God is hidden from the eyes of His tormentors. Chaos breaks out across the hill as men call to each other from the darkness that has overtaken them. Then I hear the lonely orphaned cry of the only-begotten Son of God, 'My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me. A horrible thought grips me? Jesus' fellowship with the Father is broken! His sacrifice for my sin is the reason that he suffers alone!

I hear the Lord cry, 'I thirst!' Could it be? The One who made the rivers and seas agonizes without a drop to cool His tongue! It's as if the vengeance of God is upon His Son! A new horror steals into my soul! I feel the battle of the ages is taking place around me! It seems that all of the forces of hell have converged upon the hill we are on! Jesus courageously battles alone. The Holy One is bearing my iniquity! I plead and pray, 'Let Jesus prevail!' No gladiator ever fought so bravely. The world hangs in the balance! As Satan takes his final blow, I hear the cry of the Champion 'It is finished Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit!' As the darkness lifts, my heart is utterly broken! It is a wretched sight that defies words! What have they done? What have we done? Beside me hangs the limp and tortured form of the bravest man I have ever known, no, he is more than that. He is the greatest Man who ever lived! For the first time in my life I have found unconditional love!

All of a sudden an eruption of movement rocks the ground! The earth quakes, heaves and rolls! Great stones are dashed into pieces! People are scrambling for safety! Who will escape the wrath of God but by fleeing to Christ for mercy! God is satisfied with the work of His Son!

I hardly noticed him approaching! An awe-stricken soldier is looking up from the foot of the middle cross. I am encouraged. He testifies , 'Certainly this was a righteous man!' I hang in awful pain, but I am grateful as I overlook the panorama of Jerusalem. This has been a pivotal day! I wonder, will the masses ever identify the real Passover Lamb? Who will tell them how the Lamb of God bore our sin on this Golgotha altar?

I agonize as a fever builds in my brow. I think I see the one who hammered the nails. I hear the other thief pleading, 'Please! Not my legs!' followed by a sickening thud, the howl of pain and breaking bone.

'Oh, Lord! It has been a long day for me! Now I know You are available for every trusting soul! Thank You for meeting this poor old sinner in my hour of despair! Death is now approaching; you intercepted me and showed me that it wasn't too late!  You embraced me as a friend!  I hated You; but You loved me to Yourself! Sin brings death; but You gave-me eternal life! The soldier is coming toward me now "' There is a loud crunch from the blow to my legs. My breath escapes, I'm  gasping, "'You have set me free! Lord Jesus, You suffered alone; so I will never suffer again!   My destiny is in Your precious and battered hands! It's hard to ... breathe. It won't be long now ... all trauma will be over ... I am coming ... to Paradise ... home -- to be with You, Lord Jesus!...

"Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints!" (Ps. 116:15).

Another soldier spears Jesus' already dead body!  Blood and water flow from the broken heart of the Lamb of God!

There were two criminals, one on each side. All of humanity will identify with one of these. You may think  "but I'm no criminal."  But in God's eyes you are. You have broken his law and are guilty and there is nothing you can do to pardon yourself. But there is one solution.   To cry for mercy toward the one who hung on the cross in your place and mine. He will hear you, and He will rescue you. How do I know this? He's done it for everyone who has called out to him, not once has he ever failed.

 

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