When Jesus walked the earth, the infamous Roman Empire embraced the cruelties of crucifixion for capital punishment. Crucifixions intrigued Appius, a platoon leader in the Roman guard, so he applied for, and received, a permanent appointment at those torture events.
With sadism his guiding force, Appius watched how condemned criminals responded to the mental agony of crucifixion.
This included understanding they’d be scourged, and then drag the cumbersome crossbar to outside the city gates where crucifixions took place.
This included understanding when they reached that site they’d be stripped and laid on a cross. An executioner nailed their hands and feet to the wooden beams.
This included understanding that guards would stand their cross upright and put it into a pre-dug hole, where they’d hang until they died.
This included understanding they may hang and bake in the desert sun for two or three days before death brought relief.
With each doomed criminal, Appius outlined their response to the brutality. Later, he charted these observations and categorized them into different styles of dying on a cross.
Purposely, Appius watched Jesus’ rite of passage from conviction to crucifixion. Jesus’ claim of being the Son of God fascinated Appius, and he wanted to watch His death. When Jesus died, however, Appius realized Jesus didn’t fit any pattern he’d seen before.
Calm, under control, spewing no hate and venom, Jesus projected an aura of compassion that overshadowed the ruthlessness of Calvary. Appius felt Jesus understood details about His crucifixion that others, including him, didn’t.
After Jesus died, Appius lingered at Calvary to see what happened. He didn’t wait long until some people arrived and huddled around Jesus’ cross.
As the group talked and gestured toward the death beams, Appius assumed they were followers of Jesus discussing how to get Him down.
After a few minutes, they lifted the cross out of the ground and gently laid it down, as if to not jostle Him. They tenderly pried his hands and feet from the beams, as if not to further bruise His battered body. They meticulously wrapped Him in a cloth and tucked it in around His head and feet, as if neatness mattered.
The group lovingly carried the bundle away, as if it held a precious commodity,
Appius watched the scenario in disbelief. He wanted to ask why the attitude of worship for a dead person most called a madman. He didn’t, but observing the impromptu ceremony energized his introspection.
The crucifixion site now devoid of cruelty and its aftermath, Appius went home. He poured a cup of wine and sat at his writing table. His scroll stared at him like a puppy dog waiting for a bone.
But the scroll remained blank because his mind couldn’t construct words to reveal the roots of something he didn’t understand.
What was it about Jesus that cheated him out of adding to his gallery of gory crucifixions? Why couldn’t he forget two of the statements Jesus made from the cross?
He sipped his cup of wine and licked around its rim. From his mind, he summoned the stench of Calvary and scoured it for clues. He watched the naked criminals being laid on top of the beams. He heard the mallets strike the spikes and the screams of anguish. He smelled the sweat of death caused by the barbarity crammed into that station of despair.
He believed those two statements Jesus made had a common core. But, how did he find the essential quality?
When his mind and the words to write were one again, he exposed the thought his mind sought to process. He penned that Jesus and His cross seemed to loom defiantly into the heavens. He felt the defiance forecast a victory.
What did Jesus triumph over? The thought saturated his mind as if a cloud hung above it and dripped its contents.
He wrote about how Jesus’ crown of thorns pierced His head. He wrote how blood trickled down His forehead and dripped from His nose and beard. He wrote about Jesus’ eyes meeting spectator’s eyes, and how the spectators would either look away or sneer.
He wrote how the Roman guards, hardened by these carnivals of savagery, ignored Him.
He wrote about his confusion when Jesus said, “Father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.”
“Why does ignorance need forgiveness?” He blurted in a house having no ears except his own.
Gulping the wine in his cup he felt like taking a break. Maybe a late night stroll along the streets of Jerusalem would crystallize the thoughts that ricocheted inside his head.
Along with Jesus’ first statement, Appius wanted to dissemble, inspect, and reassemble Jesus second statement from the cross. To one of the thieves He said, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be in Paradise with me.”
Why did spectators and guards need forgiveness while the thief went to Paradise?
He walked outside into the still and heavy air; he deposited Jesus’ two statements on the thought processor that traveled through his mind. He hoped to secure the frayed ends of the day and find more space in his comprehension tank.
In a methodical way, one foot followed the other on his trek for knowledge and discernment.
Along the way, Appius decided the key to unlock the door to Jesus came with believing He’s the Son of God. He surmised that when the thief asked Jesus to remember him, the thief believed Jesus had that power and authority.
Whereas with the spectators and the guards, certainly they heard Jesus speak in the synagogue or market place. Certainly they’d heard His Son of God claim. But they just didn’t believe. Jesus asked forgiveness for their sin of unbelief, but didn’t mention Paradise like He did with the thief.
Appius’ walk allowed his thought processor to eliminate the unbelieving junk in his tank of comprehension. Once the muck dissolved, Appius could see the luster of the key to Paradise, which is the belief that Jesus is the Son of God.
Like an eternal brake, that insight caused Appius to stop, turn around, and go home. He had a scroll to fill with good news. He knew why Jesus and His cross loomed defiantly into the heavens. Yes, the cross won the battle of death in the world, but Jesus, as the Son of God, defied that death by going to Paradise for eternity.
The victory: To those who believe that Jesus is the Son of God, death, no matter how or when it comes, loses to Paradise. Death is victory because a believer must die before spending eternity in Paradise with Jesus, the Son of God.
That’s an unbeatable trade off.
All scripture is from the NASB translation of the Holy Bible