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Part 1 of A Kid at the Crucifixion
There were many zealots in Jerusalem and throughout Judea who hoped to find freedom from Roman rule. There were revolts, but none of them succeeded. People held on to hope that things could change. Maybe a leader would come to finally free them to possess their own kingdom once and for all. In this story, a young boy encounters Christ during the crucifixion and had a change of heart. He must turn away from everything he was raised to believe about the Romans in order to imitate Jesus. The question is whether he has the courage to take up his own cross and follow him.
The crucifixion was violent and, therefore, the details of this story may not be suitable for younger ages.
The worst part about getting beaten up is not what you think. It isn’t the pain–the pain on the outside anyway. The worst part is the hurt on the inside. It is the way people look at you when you are down on the ground that hurts the most.
I’ve never felt so alone than I did after I got the worst beating of my life. It’s my own fault, I guess. I picked the fight with a soldier’s son. He’s half-Roman and my parents taught me to hate the Romans. We don’t want them here anymore and my mom and dad think it is time someone did something about it. They raised me and my brothers to be tough so we could stand up to these guys.
I try to be tough like my brothers, but the truth is I get pushed around a lot. I’m not that big and strong like them. I wish I was, but I’m not. If they found out about the beating I received from that half-Roman jerk, then things would only get worse. First, they would go after the kid and beat him up. Then, they would come find me and give me another beating for getting beaten up in the first place. I know, it doesn’t make sense but that’s the way they are.
My mom and dad named us all after the Maccabees brothers. Those guys started a rebellion and that’s what my parents hope we will do. I’m Jonathan and my brothers are named Judas, Eleazar, Simon, and Mattathias. The Maccabees were tough. They were warriors. They were fighters. They were a lot like my brothers, but not a lot like me. I don’t like the fighting, maybe because I lose all the time.
But when that half-Roman kid called me a name this morning, I had enough. I was going to prove to my brothers and my parents that I can stand up for myself and my people.
He called me a “god-hater,” because we won’t worship the Roman gods. The kid is only half-Roman and he’s the one that hates God, not me. He’s the one that worships the false gods, not me.
Anyway, I couldn’t handle it anymore, so I punched him in the gut. I thought it was a pretty good punch, too, but it wasn’t enough to stop him from hitting me back. Before I could move again the kid pummeled me. He punched what felt like every part of my body, then he kicked me in the gut so hard that I threw up a little bit. He spit on me and walked away.
Like I said before, the worst part happened next. All those kids standing around me gawking at me. There weren’t any adults. There was hardly anyone around besides these kids, which was strange for this time of day.
After awhile I stood up. The kids were gone. No one came to help me. Everything hurt. I could see blood everywhere. I couldn’t go home like this. My parents would kill me.
“Are you OK?”
It was another Jewish kid. I didn’t know him well, but I had seen him before. He was older than me and I’m pretty sure he knew my brothers.
“Yeah, I’m fine,” I said.
“Do you need help?” said the boy.
“No, really, I’m fine. I just need to get cleaned up,” I said.
“Well hurry because you’re going to miss something big,” he said.
“What are you talking about?” I asked.
“Haven’t you heard? It’s the rebellion. It’s starting. It’s some man from Galilee who came down here to get us to stand up to the Romans. He has been arrested. They are bringing him before Pilate right now.” The boy was off and running before I could ask any more questions.
My parents would be there and my brothers, too. This was even worse than going home. If I didn’t show up there with them, they would hate me for it. They would call me a coward.
But maybe this is a good thing. Maybe the fight will break out before I get there and then I’ll just blend in with all the other people fighting. Maybe I can convince mom and dad and my brothers that I was already fighting in the rebellion.
I had to go see what this man from Galilee was going to do to get us to take down the Romans. I brushed myself off and slowly made my way to the Roman governor’s house, the praetorium.
Things were already pretty bad when I got there. People were shouting at each other and at the governor. My people were everywhere and you could feel the tension in the air.
At the front of the crowd stood some of the chief priests and the elders of our people. I shouldn’t say “our people” because my mom and dad don’t like them. They don’t think they have what it takes to stand up to the Romans. My parents think they are just as bad as the false king Herod.
I was in the back of the crowd, so it was hard to hear what these priests were saying. I heard something about taxes. Then the governor addressed the prisoner, but I couldn’t hear what they said to each other.
Pilate stood up and said to the crowd standing there, “I find this man not guilty.”
There was an uproar of anger. Then, the chief priests shouted, “He is inciting the people with his teaching!”
Pilate spoke again to the prisoner but the man did not answer him. This seemed to amaze the governor. He turned and gave some of his guards an order. These men went away quickly.
Pilate turned to the crowds again and said, “You have brought this man to me and accused him of inciting a revolt. I have not found this man guilty of the charges you have brought against him. But I will have him flogged.”
Just then the soldiers returned with another prisoner. I recognized him. He was a friend of my parents. His name was Barabbas and he was arrested for gathering a group of people to fight against the Romans. He didn’t get enough people behind him, though, and he was stopped pretty easily. They put him in prison some time ago.
Pilate announced, “Since we are in the midst of one of your great festivals, I have a proposition for you. I will release one prisoner today, whichever one you wish.”
There was a murmur in the crowd. It looked like they recognized Barabbas, too.
The governor went on, “So, which one do you want me to release to you, Barabbas or Jesus called the Messiah?”
I was shocked and I’m not sure what surprised me the most. Barabbas was certainly going to be executed. Releasing him would only mean giving back one our revolutionary leaders. But what about this other man? What about this Jesus? What if he was the one who could lead us in a true revolt–a successful revolt? What if . . . what if this Jesus truly was the Messiah? Certainly the Messiah would be the one to lead the battle against the Romans. He couldn’t be captured or killed like this before he freed us.
The chief priests and elders turned to us and started to talk. They wanted us to call for Barabbas to go free, not Jesus who Pilate called the Messiah.
After some time the governor shouted, “Which of the two do you want me to release to you?”
“Barabbas!” came the shouts from the crowd.
I didn’t answer. I didn’t know what to think. I know what my parents were saying, wherever they were. I know they wanted to get their friend back. They probably thought Jesus was weak for staying silent all this time. That’s definitely not something Barabbas would do. He hates the Romans.
“Then what shall I do with Jesus called the Messiah?” Pilate asked the crowd.
I couldn’t believe what I heard next. The horror of it all. How could we be so cruel? “Crucify him! Crucify him!” came the shouts all around me.
The crowd became very angry. It was like they were possessed. They weren’t acting like themselves. There were more shouts and people were turning on one another in anger.
Pilate washed his hands and released Barabbas to the crowd. They welcomed him with cheers as if a hero had been given back to them.
Jesus was picked up by Roman soldiers and led back towards the praetorium.
I’m not sure why I did it, but I followed them.
Before they entered the praetorium, the soldiers tied Jesus to a pillar outside the door. One of the soldiers brought out an awful-looking whip. It had several thin ropes with knots and rocks tied to the end.
I could barely watch. It was so awful. It made me cringe with pain and reminded me of how much I was still hurting from my beating earlier that morning. My pain was nothing compared to this. I can’t imagine how much Jesus was hurting.
But it was the next part that felt much worse. Like I said at the beginning, the pain on the outside is nothing compared to the pain on the inside.
The soldiers untied Jesus and took him into the praetorium. We’re not supposed to go inside Roman buildings like this on a festival day, so I watched through the door with a bunch of other people to see what was happening.
It was just awful. There were so many soldiers gathered around him that it was hard to see. First, they stripped off his clothes and they put on a purple cloak instead. Some of the soldiers had woven together a crown out of thorns and they put it on his head. You could see the pain in Jesus’ face when they shoved it on his head tightly. Finally, they put a reed in his right hand. They were mocking him.
The soldiers were laughing. They knelt down before Jesus while they laughed and said, “Hail, King of the Jews!”
Then they started to beat him some more. They spit on him and called him so many awful names it was unbearable. Then they took his cloak and put his own clothes back on.
They picked him up and led him out of the praetorium to be crucified.
I never hated the Roman soldiers so much in my life.
If my parents had instilled in me a hatred for the Romans before, now I was furious. These soldiers were ruthless. They were awful. How could they be so cruel?
As I followed them out of the praetorium all I could think of was the way Jesus just sat there. He didn’t try to stop them. He didn’t fight back. He didn’t even cry or ask for mercy. He just took the beating. He just let them insult him.
“The King of the Jews” they said in mockery of him. If only we had a king to lead us in a fight against these Romans. Then things like this wouldn’t happen anymore.
My parents would get mad if they knew I was following the man Pilate called Jesus the Messiah, but I had to find out what he was going to do. Surely, he would fight back eventually or break down in tears like I did this morning when I got beaten up.
Then he took up his cross. The soldiers placed it on his shoulders and forced him to carry it. They yelled at him and told him to move faster. Again, Jesus said nothing. He didn’t fight back. He didn’t do anything to stop it. I can’t even imagine what this must have been like. If Pilate was right and this Jesus was innocent, then Jesus should plead for his life. He should ask for mercy from the soldiers. Instead he just continued on walking as hard as he could.
Then he fell for the first time. He must have been in such awful pain. After the whipping he received and the additional beating from the soldiers, I didn’t think he could make it. Yet, he got up again. He picked up his cross and started to walk.
A woman came to his side. She was in tears. She clearly knew him well. I wondered if it was his mother. She was certainly old enough, though still looked pretty young. The way he looked at her made me sure that he loved her. It was amazing to see. It broke my heart just thinking about the loss that woman must have felt. They shared just a moment before Jesus continued on his way.
I thought for sure this was as far as he could go. The soldiers seemed to think this, too, so they pulled a man from the crowd and said, “What’s your name?”
“Simon,” he said.
“Simon,” said a solider, “take up this cross and carry it.”
He didn’t even fight back. He didn’t object. He actually took up the cross. He seemed pleased to do it. Jesus was able to walk again and Simon followed behind.
At this point, Jesus’ face was so mangled and bloody from the beating and that crown of thorns that he was having a hard time seeing. There was blood everywhere. A woman came up to him with a cloth. She wiped his face clean of the blood. Jesus could see again and she could see his face. She was brought to tears and she bowed down–not like the Romans did in mockery of him–but to truly honor him.
This seemed to give Jesus a renewed strength. He pressed on again along the way. The soldiers had taken the cross from Simon and given it back to Jesus. He walked but soon fell a second time. I thought for sure that this time would be the last time he fell. I thought he might die right there without ever reaching it to the hill to be crucified.
Women all around him were in tears. They must have been some of his followers. They were heartbroken for him. “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and your children.” This was the first time I had seen Jesus speak to anyone since Pilate. He didn’t comfort them. This surprised me. I thought he was weak, but he didn’t sound weak at all.
“People will say to the mountains, ‘Fall upon us!’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us!’ for if these things are done when the wood is green what will happen when it is dry?”
I had no idea what that meant and neither, it seemed, did the women. But they stopped crying and instead took on that same determination that Jesus had. They followed him along the way.
It seemed like such a long way to go, but Jesus carried the cross the rest of the way. He arrived at the foot of the hill called Golgatha. We never went there. It is known as “the place of the skull.” This is where they were going to crucify him. Then, Jesus fell for a third and final time.
The soldiers took it from there. They carried him up the hill and stripped him of his clothes. They divided his garments among them. I’m sure they planned to make a little extra money off the people there by selling them later on.
They laid the cross down on the ground, then they laid Jesus on top of it. Two soldiers came up to them, one with a hammer and the other with nails. They held down Jesus’ arms and his legs and struck the nails through his hands and feet. I shuddered with each strike of the hammer. All this time those awful men just laughed or spit on him in anger.
And what did Jesus do? Nothing. He still refused to struggle. He still refused to fight back.
One soldier–either out of pity or just to tempt him–offered him some wine to drink to take away the pain. Jesus refused even this from the soldiers.
Then they raised him up. That’s when I saw for the first time a sign that the soldiers had brought with them. They nailed the sign above his head after they had nailed him to the cross. The sign read:
“Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews”
“Take down that sign!” shouted some of the priests who had come to see him crucified. “It should say that he said, ‘I am the King of the Jews.’ He is not our king.”
The soldiers did nothing. They said they had their orders from Pilate to keep the sign up for everyone to see.
On each side of Jesus were men I had seen before. They were among the men following Barabbas in his revolt. I recognized them. They were friends with my parents. I moved closer to hear what they were saying to Jesus.
One of them was insulting him just like the soldiers and the priests. I wasn’t surprised. He was fighting back against the soldiers the whole time. He hated the Romans but he must have hated Jesus even more for putting up with their abuse.
“Are you not the Messiah?” he said mocking him. “Save yourself and us.”
Jesus said nothing in response, but the other revolutionary spoke up for him. “Have you no fear of God, for you are subject to the same condemnation? We have been condemned justly, for the sentence we received corresponds to our crimes, but this man has done nothing criminal.”
He was right. Jesus was clearly innocent, but I still didn’t understand. Why didn’t he fight back? And why was this revolutionary all of the sudden on his side?
Jesus finally spoke, “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
It was about the middle of the day now. It was getting darker all around us. Not much happened there for awhile. The woman who I thought looked like Jesus’ mother came to stand nearby. With her was another young man and a couple of other women.
Jesus spoke to his mother saying, “Woman, behold your son.”
Then he turned to the young man and said, “Behold, your mother.” Upon hearing this, the young man wrapped his arm around the woman and comforted her.
Hours passed and Jesus looked worse and worse. The revolutionaries at his side had already died. It was just Jesus who was left. Then, suddenly he cried out in a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit!”
It was his last breath.
The earth shook at that very moment. This man truly was someone great.
I couldn’t decide if I was angry or sad. Maybe a little of both. I did know one thing: I hated the Romans more than ever for doing this. I wanted every one of them to pay for what they had done to him. It was as if they took pleasure inflicting all this pain. Now I knew why my parents hated them. I wanted revenge now on them and on that half-Roman kid who beat me up this morning. I was going to be a fighter like my brothers. If Jesus couldn’t stand up to them, then I would.
That is what I was thinking at the time, but things were about to change. I didn’t know it yet, but Jesus had changed my heart and set an example for a new way of living. It turns out I wasn’t the only one who changed.
The Roman centurion was the first person to speak after Jesus’ death and what he said started to change me.
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