Do you like to use your imagination? If you build things, you do. If you solve problems, you do. If you are creative, you do. If you provide leadership, you do. If you play competitive sports, you do. If you hunt or fish, you do. There are very few people who do not enjoy using their imagination.

Most of us just took communion. That is a time when we should use our imaginations with gratitude. We are to focus our minds and hearts on Jesus' death. As we eat a piece of the bread, we are to think about the physical body that Jesus surrendered to death for us. As we drink the grape juice, we are to think about the blood he poured out in death for us. It is impossible to do what Jesus asked us to do when we take the Lord's supper unless we use our imagination.

I want you to use your imagination. This morning you and I are a part of the crowd that witnessed Jesus' death. We are there. We see the whole thing from the moment they walk Jesus up to the place of his execution to the moment they take his dead body down. We are in the crowd that sees him die. Who do you choose to be? This morning you must choose to be one of those people. Which one of those persons do you choose to be?

"Well, what choices do I have? Who was there?"

  1. Let's look at the list of the people we know witnessed Jesus' death.
    1. There was a large (probably huge) crowd of people who were the public spectators that any highly emotional, unusual, public event attracts.
      1. The people who lived in Jerusalem had been angrily divided over the identity, the work, and the teachings of Jesus for a long time (John 7:37-44; 9:16).
      2. Often when he came to Jerusalem his presence caused huge public debates.
      3. The week before Passover Jerusalem's population literally overflowed as hundreds of thousands of pilgrims came to the city.
      4. The publicly execution of a controversial man attracted a huge crowd.
      5. In this crowd there were:
        1. People who were delighted that the impostor was being killed.
        2. People who always had been his enemy and opposed him openly.
        3. People who loved him because of what he did for them.
        4. People who expected him to become the next king of Israel.
        5. People who openly were his followers, his disciples.
    2. There were the Roman soldiers who executed Jesus (Matthew 27:35,36; Mark 15:24,25; Luke 23:36; John 19:23,24).
      1. They escorted him to the cross.
      2. They took his clothes off.
      3. They stretched his arms and legs on the cross and nailed him to it.
      4. They mocked him: "If you are the King of Israel, save yourself."
      5. And they sat and watched as he died.
    3. There was the common jeerer, the heckler, the person casting insults (Matthew 27:39,40).
      1. This was the person in the crowd who ridiculed Jesus as he died.
      2. These were the kind of people who are against everything.
        1. That is their role in life--to be against things.
        2. About the only position they ever take is a position against.
        3. They were against his miracles, against his popularity, against his teaching, against what he was doing, against how he did it, and against where he did it.
        4. They were the kind of people who are thrilled when someone influential or someone powerful falls--and, in their eyes, Jesus had fallen.
    4. There were the chief priests, scribes, and elders (Matthew 27:41-43; John 11:47,48).
      1. The chief priests were the priests in charge of the Jewish temple.
        1. They tried to discredit Jesus and engineer his fall for a long time.
        2. They were among Jesus' most determined enemies.
      2. The scribes were the technical experts in the scriptures that we call the Old Testament.
      3. The elders were the recognized men of wisdom and sound judgment.
      4. All these men were confident that they had finally won and said:
        1. "He saved others, but he can't save himself."
        2. "If he is the King of Israel, let him come down, and we will believe."
        3. "He said that he was God's Son; let's see if God wants him."
    5. There was the centurion, the Roman officer in charge of the execution (Matthew 27:54).
      1. As he marched Jesus to the site of execution, he likely thought no more than, "We are executing one more Jewish man who caused problems."
      2. But after the sun stopped shining from noon to 3 p.m. and the earth quaked, in terror he said, "This man must have been the son of God!"
    6. There were the women who followed Jesus (Matthew 27:55; Mark 15:40,41; Luke 23:49).
      1. They included Jesus' mother and his mother's sister.
      2. Mary Magdalene was there.
      3. Many of the women who had followed him to minister to him and the disciples in Galilee were there.
        1. As Jesus and the twelve men who followed him traveled about Galilee, they needed someone to help take care of things like cooking, washing, mending, and likely a multitude of needs that arose as they ministered to all those people.
        2. They certainly could not pull into the nearest McDonald's or take their wash to the cleaners.
        3. Jesus was not embarrassed for these woman be a part of his work and tour--can you imagine what some people said about this unmarried man allowing all these woman to follow him from place to place?
      4. Obviously these ladies loved, admired, and appreciated Jesus and his work.
    7. Though it is not specifically stated, it is my personal opinion that there were many disciples who watched him die.
      1. They could not believe what they were seeing.
      2. They were sure that everything Jesus came to do would never happen.
      3. The man who should have been king was dying.
    8. Then, there were two robbers who were executed to the right and left of Jesus (Luke 23:33, 39-43; John 19:18; Mark 15:38; Matthew 27:41).
      1. It seems that at first that they both ridiculed Jesus--when they were nailed to their crosses, they likely felt a lot of anger as well as a lot of pain.
      2. "If you are the Christ, save yourself and us."
      3. But one of these robbers became convinced, on his cross, that Jesus was the Christ.
        1. He chastised the other for ridiculing Jesus: "Don't you fear God? This man is obviously innocent."
        2. Then he said the most amazing thing to Jesus: "Remember me when you come into your kingdom."
        3. To which Jesus replied, "Today you will be with me in Paradise."

  2. If you had to be at the cross, and you had to choose to be one of these people, who would you choose to be?
    1. Would you be just a person in the crowd who blended in unnoticed?
    2. Would you be one of the soldiers?
      1. Could you hold an arm or a leg against the cross, or drive the spike, or help raise the cross?
      2. Could you sit and jeer as you watched Jesus die?
    3. Would you be one of the people who ridiculed, one of those who is against everything, one of those who finds pleasure in seeing other people fall?
    4. Would you be one of the disciples who thought to himself, "The hope of Israel is dying! How he could have changed the world!"
    5. Would you be one of those who had been healed, who thought, "This is truly a great man being killed! He was such a compassionate, godly person! He was what religion really should be about."
    6. Would you be one of the women who thought, "There has never been anyone like him, and there never will be another like him. He gave us dignity. He was not afraid or ashamed to let us follow him."
    7. Would you be his mother and watch your son die like that?
    8. Would you be Mary Magdalene, one of his closest friends out of whom he cast seven demons, and watch your closest friend die?
    9. Would you be a chief priest, a master religionist, a renowned theologian, and say to yourself, "We finally got rid of this evil man."
    10. Would you be a scribe, a true expert in the scripture, and say to yourself, "We finally got rid of this evil man."
    11. Would you be an elder, a respected religious man of wisdom, and say to yourself, "We finally got rid of this evil man."
    12. Would you be the robber who said, "If you are the Christ, do something!"
    13. Would you be the robber who said, "Remember me when you come into your kingdom."

  3. Of all the people who witnessed the death of Jesus, only one person realized Jesus' mission was not destroyed.
    1. Only one person:
      1. Knew that Jesus would still be king in his kingdom.
      2. Knew death could not destroy or stop Jesus.
    2. Only one person looked at Jesus dying on a cross and saw God.
    3. It was not:
      1. The soldier who used the power of death.
      2. The centurion who was terrified by the dark and the earthquake.
      3. The negative jeerers who were delighted that Jesus could be killed.
      4. The disciples who thought everything was lost.
      5. The people who Jesus helped who were filled with regret.
      6. The wonderful women who were devoted to this unique, compassionate man.
      7. The chief priests who were powerful theologians.
      8. The scribes who were experts in scripture.
      9. The elders who were respected for their wisdom.
    4. The only person who looked at Jesus and saw God was a robber, a thief, a reject, an outcast, a spiritual failure.
      1. Only he saw God in Jesus, only he said, "Remember me when you come into your kingdom."
      2. Only to this thief did Jesus say, "Today, you will be with me, in Paradise."

If you had to be one of those persons who witnessed Jesus' death, would you choose to be the only person who looked at Jesus and saw God?

Once Jesus told some of the religious leaders of the Jewish people, "Truly I say to you, the tax-gathers and harlots will get into the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him; but the tax-gatherers and harlots did believe him; and you, seeing this, did not even feel remorse afterward so as to believe him" (Matthew 21:31,32).

In our words, dishonest people and prostitutes would enter the kingdom before religious leaders would because they heard about Jesus and believed.

A long time has passed since Jesus was crucified. You know and understand things that the robber never knew. You have spiritual advantages that robber never had. What do you see when you look at Jesus? Do you look at Jesus and see God?

What you see matters -- always.
There is not a single aspect of your life in which it doesn't matter. Your life contains great danger if you don't see.

What do you need to understand?

You must look at the Cross and see God.
Many things matter, but nothing is more important than Jesus is the Son of God. All that you seek to be and do must begin with recognition that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. Do you believe that? Do you see God in Jesus? Do you want His cleansing? Are you ready to be baptized into Jesus? Give value, one more time, to the death of Jesus. We invite you to Him. Why keep Jesus waiting?

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 14 December 1997

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