FACES IN THE CROWD
A Roman crucifixion was a public spectacle. Unlike a modern day execution held behind closed doors with only a handful of witnesses, the Romans choose to enforce capital punishment sentences as publicly as possible. Scourging’s were often held in the view of a gawking crowd and death sentences were carried out in a way to serve as an extremely visual deterrent to crime.
While there were a variety of ways to enforce the death penalty in this era, the Roman’s preferred method of execution was death by crucifixion. Not only did this method provide an effective means to the desired end of death for the convicted criminal, it also provided a compelling object lesson on Roman authority for all those who witnessed the gruesome scene.
A death by crucifixion often took 18-24 hours, and would eventually result only when the unfortunate victim suffocated as their lungs slowly filled with fluid. The knees of the victim were bent when they were nailed to the cross so that they would involuntarily push up on their feet, despite the incredible pain, to grasp another breath. If the cruel suffering of the condemned was taking too long, the soldiers would just use a sledge hammer to break the legs of the one on the cross to keep them from pushing up to get another breath.
As Jesus took on the sins of the world, God the Father had to turn away and ignore the agony of the scene. He could have no fellowship with sin, therefore He could not respond to the cries of His Son when He screamed, “My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me?”
Sports Illustrated has long had a feature in their magazine called “FACES IN THE CROWD”. This feature doesn’t highlight the famous athletes or the movers and shakers in the world of sports. Rather, it gives us a glimpse of some of the “regular” people like you and I who are participating in one way or another in a sport. They are just a few of the “faces in the crowd” that make up overall scene of sports by the non-professional athlete.
On a hill called Golgatha on the day the Jesus Christ was crucified there were a lot of other “faces in the crowd” watching Jesus die on that cross. Each of these individuals or groups saw the events that were transpiring in a different way. For some it was routine; for others it was retribution; for still others it was a nightmare. Their point of reference determined how they viewed the events surrounding this crucifixion.
The Roman soldiers looked on with the face of APATHY. They were just doing their job, moving prisoners back and forth, keeping control of the spectacle. Their task was to carry out the execution – it was tough duty. For the most part it didn’t matter to them what the prisoner had done – they just wanted to get it over with so they could go home.
The family and the disciples gathered around the cross took in the scene with a face of SORROW. The watched the events unfold in shocked disbelief. Less than a week earlier Jesus had come into the city to the shouts of “Hosanna in the highest”. How could the situation have deteriorated so quickly?
It was the face of SELF-RIGHTEOUSNESS that dominated the crowd of Pharisees and other Jewish religious leaders. They had gotten their way, convincing the Roman Governor to sentence Jesus to death. Their smug expressions and snide remarks were intended to add insult to injury.
The faces of the two thieves that shared Jesus’ fate on the cross were ones of DESPERATION. Though they were rightfully being punished for what they had done, the horrible reality of death by crucifixion was worse than even they had anticipated. Both were in agony. One hurled insults at Jesus, but the other sought hope in the act of repentance.
Standing nearby there was a Roman Centurion. His was a face of COMPREHENSION. Though he may not have known what this day would hold for him, as he witnessed the events he came to the stark conclusion that “this man was the son of God.” Though his moment of insight didn’t change the outcome of the events, he went home that day a changed man!
I wonder, what would’ve shown on my face if I had been one of those standing on that lonely Jerusalem hillside that Friday afternoon? What would my perspective have been? What is it now? Perhaps we should all take some time to further examine some of those “faces in the crowd”. What we see in them may help us reconsider how we view the cross and the One who willingly gave His life for our salvation.