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Love on a Tree

References: Matthew 27:27-66; Luke 23:26-49; The Desire of Ages, chap. 78, pp. 741-757; chap. 79, pp. 758-764; The Bible Story (1994), vol. 9, pp. 105-117; Our Beliefs no. 10, 9, 4

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“When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, ‘Surely he was the Son of God!’ ” (Matthew 27:54).

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Like Jesus, we can share God’s love with anyone, anywhere.

Have you ever been in pain? You just wanted to be left alone, didn’t you? What would it take for you to be able to reach out to someone else while you are in pain?

Jesus’ followers wanted to forget the horror of Pilate’s court. Jesus had been beaten, and the soldiers had mocked and insulted Him. People had even spit in Jesus’ face. Now He was going to die on a cross. The people following Jesus, many of whom He had healed, couldn’t believe what He had gone through. And yet He had not shown any resistance.

Finally, the group reached the top of Golgotha, the Place of the Skull. The surprised followers saw a large crowd gathered on the hill. Many people who had followed Jesus had come to see Him one last time. They were wailing in grief. But others were mocking Him. Two other prisoners, convicted thieves, already lay on crosses on the ground.

The soldiers roughly took Jesus’ cross and threw it on the ground. They stripped Jesus of His cloak and pushed Him onto the cross. As Jesus’ weakened frame lay on the rough wood of the cross, the crown of thorns sank deeper into His head. Fresh blood flowed onto His already bruised, battered, and bloody face. Yet Jesus was still, waiting for the Roman soldiers to finish their cruel work.

Two of the soldiers knelt on either side of Jesus’ arms. Each held a thick metal spike in his hand. The soldiers positioned the spikes over Jesus’ wrists. Together they raised their hammers into the air and then brought them down to make contact with the spikes. Jesus’ followers turned away, but they couldn’t escape the sound. Clang. Clang. Clang. As the hammers beat against the spikes, the sound reverberated across the hilltop. The soldiers moved to Jesus’ feet, placing one on top of the other. One soldier held a spike as the other raised the hammer. Again Jesus’ followers looked away. Again the sound penetrated to their core. Clang. Clang. Clang. The followers marveled that Jesus never said a word as the soldiers drove the thick spikes into His flesh. When the echo of the hammers and spikes had subsided, those close to the scene heard Jesus speak.

“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). His followers drew in their breath, and tears sprang to their eyes as they witnessed Jesus’ words of forgiveness.

As the soldiers roughly lifted the crosses with their human burdens upright, one could see Jesus’ back. It was all torn from the whips the soldiers had used on Him. His raw flesh ached profoundly as it came in contact with the rough wood of the cross. Still He said nothing.

One thief, who had been struggling, screamed at the soldiers and at the crowd. He was angry and wasn’t going to die without everyone else knowing about it. Suddenly he turned to Jesus.

The thief tried to provoke Jesus to speak. The crowd watched as, turning His head slowly, Jesus forced open His swollen eyes. Without responding, He looked at the thief with pity.

“Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” sneered the thief.

Twisting in pain, the other thief started to reprove him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”

He painfully turned his head and focused his eyes on Jesus, saying, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus struggled to open His eyes again. He raised Himself on His feet and hands as He tried to get enough breath to speak through His pain, “Truly I tell you today, you will be with me in paradise” (see verses 39-43).

Jesus’ followers stood in awe as they watched this exchange. Although it was terribly painful for Him to speak, Jesus still offered words of loving comfort, serving others even as He hung dying on the cross.