The Three Crosses - Poem by Nathan Thompson
We sat chatting in the back of the cab on our way home from our mens-night-out at the theater. Next to me sat Chuck, a friend from the office. The others, Matt and Stephen took a different cab home in the opposite direction. Chuck and I had spoken numerous times at work, during lunch break, about a variety of topics. We were night and day difference of opinion on politics, but I always enjoyed his 'take on the world'. Chuck voted Liberal. I always voted Conservative. Before I worked at this job, I used to have my own business, and I had worked for myself every since my first paper route at age 11. I ended up starting a business in my garage, which I built into a very successful store located at the corner of two prominent streets in my home town. Then, a decade ago, the 'big boys' bought me out, and I moved to Colorado and started all over again, building a different business. It wasn't easy starting over from scratch in a foreign city and not knowing anyone. But my wife and I built that business into one we could be proud of. The depressed economy finally took it's toll two years ago. Between sky-high fuel, materials, and heath-care costs, and the fact that none of our customers had any money anymore, we finally closed our doors. I discussed my story with Chuck and told him I hold the current administration responsible for ruining the economy and 'killing the golden goose' of mom and pop businesses in America. Chuck disagreed. He thought we should have managed our finances better, and if we had, we could have survived the downturn. But Chuck never ran a business before, so he really doesn't know what entrepreneurs face these days. All I know is, my costs doubled and my revenues dropped in half. I wasn't the only one that closed: most of our small business clients folded the same year, and all their employees are still unemployed and on government assistance.
After that, we rented an apartment in Denver, and I found work as an analyst. The place I work, interestingly enough, only seems to hire people my age. They crave our experience learned by 'the school of hard knocks'. Chuck is a whiz at computers and numbers. He has no business experience, but he is good at what he does. About a year ago, the subject of religion came up between us. We're not allowed to discuss Christianity at work (although if we wanted to discuss the benefits of Islam or of paganism, that would be quite acceptable) . There had been a clash of protesters in Dearborn, Michigan in which a group of Christians had been assaulted by a crowd of unruly Muslim youth, and injuries had resulted from stones being hurled. Chuck seemed to think the Christian group deserved the 'stoning' for parading around with crosses during the 'Arab Fest' weekend. I disagreed, and reminded Chuck that at one time, the freedom of religion guaranteed by the First Amendment to the Constitution, gave different religions the right to inhabit 'the public square' freely without threat. Of course, Chuck knows that I am a Christian, because I have told him so, and I have told him why I hold the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in such high esteem. One time he called me a bigot, because I refused to endorse the gay marriage law enacted by Executive Order of the President (against the will of most of the Congress, and against most state statutes) . Another time, he berated me for not taking a party to court to try to get my money that was owed. I told him that my primary mission on this Earth is to model the mercy of Christ to others.
I've been married to the same spouse my whole life. Chuck has been divorced four times, and has kids he hasn't talked to in years, and he has a host of bad habits from smoking to drinking to gambling and sleeping around. However, Chuck sees himself as superior to me. I've never condemned him for his lifestyle choices, but I often wonder why he doesn't recognize the way the Lord has blessed my life and ever say to himself 'maybe there is a blessing from God that comes from obeying his commandments'.
Anyway, tonight on the way home in the cab, I decided to ask Chuck, point blank, a question. The eternal question. I said, 'Chuck, why do you reject Christ? '. 'What, who, me? I never said I rejected Christ! I just don't see that Christianity is the only way to heaven, if there really is one. No, I don't enjoy going to church, where the first thing they do is judge me. Not that I haven't tried. Well, not lately. Not in several decades actually. Besides, what about all that hooey about the Earth being created in only 6 days, and that Adam and Eve stuff. Everyone knows man evolved from apes over millions of years. I don't necessarily think Jesus was bad or anything. He did some good things. But that whole heaven and hell thing just doesn't jive with me. I think we will all end up in heaven if we live a good life and try our best to, you know: 'do unto others'.'
'I see your point Chuck', I replied 'but still, it seems to me that every position you take in life seems to contradict the Bible and the teachings of Christ. I see you spending every dime you make going to pay off gambling debts, but the next thing I know, you are off to Vegas again. I see you stumble into the office on Monday morning with an obvious hangover. You admitted to me that you took the law into your own hands and vandalized a car owned by someone that stiffed you on a deal once. You support the whole liberal agenda of the current political regime, even though the topics of homosexuality, child-murder (abortion) , and covetousness and theft of other people's money (socialism) are preached unabashedly, in spite of the warnings in the Bible. Chuck, you say that you don't reject Christ, but in actual practice, you do reject him. Chuck, you know, someday you'll have to stand before God Almighty and give an account of your life. If your name is not written in The Book of Life, then you will reap the same punishment that Christ came to save you from. Christ already paid the penalty for you. You need to repent of your past, and ask Christ's forgiveness. If you will do that, you will stop rejecting Christ, and will pass from Death into Life, for eternity. Chuck, please think about what I have said. It is important. I think you are on a path of destruction in your life. Christ wants you to join his team. He is asking you to give up your current failed life, and take up his cross and follow him.'
Chuck was a little taken aback by my direct appeal, but I could tell, he didn't just blow me off either. 'Look Nathan, I see what you are saying, and I know I haven't been the perfect husband and father. I just don't want to do the 'Churchianity' thing right now. You're right, I can feel Christ knocking on my door, but I'm just not ready to open it right now'.
Just then, the cab swerved sharply to the left, and then back again to the right. Our driver, a middle eastern man wearing a turban-style head covering, looked white as a sheet all of a sudden. He began shouting loudly in an Arabic language. I looked behind, out the rear window, and I saw a dark car following closely behind, swerving in and out of traffic. Then, as I focused on the car, I saw a gunman leaning out the front passenger window, with an automatic weapon. He began firing the gun at us, with a fast volley of gunfire. Our driver sped up to what seemed like a hundred miles an hour. I saw the flashes of light, heard a terrible crashing sound, and felt myself being hurled around like a rag-doll. Glass shattered all around. The cab finally came to a stop, and I was starting to lose consciousness. I felt warm blood rolling down my neck. I held out my hand and uttered 'Chuck? ' but I couldn't feel him sitting next to me. Someone outside the cab ran up and I heard them say 'Call 911! I think the driver is dead! '. After that everything went blank.
Somewhere out of the dark fog that surrounded me, I became aware of sunlight up ahead. I was trying to walk up a small bluff, and all around me there were stones and small rocks laying on the ground. My injuries hurt. Hurt badly. I wanted to stop. I wanted to take a drink of cool water. But I became aware of a man behind me yelling at me in a strange language. A large weight was pressing down on me. Somehow, I was carrying a large log that was very heavy. The man behind me wouldn't let me stop. He cracked a whip across my back, and the pain seared through to my soul. I obeyed his taunting and continued limping up the hill. I looked to my right, and saw that Chuck was also stumbling up the bluff, carrying his own large heavy log, and I could see that he was badly injured. 'Chuck' I uttered weakly, but could barely speak with my parched tongue. I glanced to the left, and I saw the middle eastern man, our driver I think, also badly injured and carrying his own heavy wooden pole. What is this? , I thought. My head hurt. The light was so bright, I could scarcely look into it. I stumbled under the weight, and 'crack! ' another lashing from the taskmaster behind. The others passed me and continued up the hill. I seemed to be naked except for a small sheet of cloth tied around my waist. My whole body was soaked with blood mixed with dirt. Just then, I heard a chilling sound. It was the sound of a metal hammer driving a metal stake. I have heard this sound before, somewhere. The sound jarred me to my senses. I made my way back to my feet, which were barefoot and bloody, and I continued on.
I finally crested the top of the knoll. I became aware of a crowd of people surrounding us. They seemed to be taunting and heckling us, in a foreign language. They spit on us, and threw small stones at us. The heat of the day came bearing down upon me, and my tongue longed for cool water. Then, another spike: metal on metal sound. I looked down and what I saw shook me to the core. Chuck was laid out on the ground to my right, with his arms stretched out along the thick wooden pole. Men wearing ancient armor and breastplates were surrounding him. They were nailing his wrists to the wooden pole using the metal spikes! Chuck cried out in pain. The crowd seemed to shriek with delight. After his wrists were securely fastened to the wood, the soldiers tied ropes around each end of the pole, and slowly hoisted the pole up into the air. The pole was rested onto an upright wooden pole, and more spikes were nailed to fasten it into place. Chuck moaned in agony as the weight of his body tore at the bones in his wrists.
Another spike: metal on metal! I looked to my left, and the driver was also laid out on his pole, and the soldiers were nailing his wrists as well. He was hoisted up in the same fashion, and the pole was fastened to an upright. He shrieked in pain, and seemed to curse in a language I don't know. The throng of onlookers grew by the minute. Everywhere around me people dressed in simple gowns and garments taunted me and the two men hanging on the poles.
Then, the soldiers came for me. I was yanked to the ground and set upon my pole with my arms outstretched. I felt something sharp poking into my left wrist. I tried to steel my mind against the pain I knew was surely coming. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath, and said a small three-word prayer. 'Lord come quickly' I said, as a tear dripped down my ashen face. I waited for the blow I knew would send searing pain through my wrist. I exhaled slowly, and took another deep breath. Just then, time seemed to stand still. The din of the crowd seemed to silence. The air became still. The hot sun, beating unmercifully down on me, seemed to soften, as if darkened by a cloud. Then, I felt a warm hand grasping my right hand. A firm grip seemed to stand me upright in an instant. I opened my eyes. What I saw made my soul quake with relief, as if a condemned man was suddenly set free. I looked into his eyes. Those eyes filled with love and mercy. He looked upon me with only love in his gaze, and his only concern was for my safety.
He also was dirty and bloody, just like me. His only garment was a tunic tied around his waist. His forehead bled brown-red blood: he had a head covering made of thickets. He stood there for a moment in the stillness and the silence, still grasping my right hand. Then he uttered three words of his own. Three simple words spoken so softly that I could scarce hear them. 'I got this'
Just then the sounds and the noisy din of the crowd returned and I felt myself jostled out of his grip, as the soldiers grabbed him and tossed him onto my pole. I could barely watch as they nailed his wrists to the pole. Another spike: metal on metal! The sound sickened me, and I vomited acid from my empty stomach. They hoisted him onto the upright pole, and nailed the poles firmly together. Then they nailed his feet to the upright pole. Another spike: metal on metal! With each blow, my heart came through my mouth. I felt like I was being torn from the inside out. I stood there watching the whole scene unfold, powerless to take any action against it. With each blow, I felt the weight of my sin pressing down upon me. In my soul, I knew that I deserved this fate, not him. Why did he take my place?
The soldiers taunted he who hung on the middle poles. I heard him say 'Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do'. The soldiers gambled amongst themselves for his garment, which had been given to him by a king. Another soldier came up and presented them with a parchment prepared by the highest Governor of the land. They were ordered to attach the parchment to the pole. The parchment was written in a language I did not know, but somehow I understood it to read: 'King of the Jews'. The crowd was full of disdain after the parchment was installed, and began taunting and jeering even louder. Just then, the driver, writhing in agony on the pole to the left, began to speak. The crowd quieted down to hear him. I didn't know his language, but somehow understood the meaning of his words, and I could feel the hostility he felt for the man on the middle cross of poles. 'If you really are the Christ, then save yourself, and us with you! ' The crowd went crazy, and they all began to chant 'Save yourself, come off that cross! ' After a few minutes, Chuck, hanging on the cross to my right, tried to speak. The crowd quieted down to hear him. Chuck responded to the words of the driver 'We deserve punishment for our sins, but this man has done no wrong! ' Then, with a sincerity I have never seen from Chuck before this moment, he asked 'Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom'. Then, something I'll never forget happened. The Christ looked beyond the pain and the suffering he was going through, and his eyes looked into the soul of Chuck, with a love and mercy I will never forget. He replied 'Surely this day, you will be with me in Paradise! '
My heart leaped for joy in that moment. Every word I ever spoke to Chuck about Jesus, the Christ: it all sunk in. The scene I watched as it all unfolded in front of me seemed so surreal, but so familiar. Suddenly, my mind grasped the meaning, and I understood the ancient struggle between good and evil. The three Crosses stood before me, as they had always stood, since before the beginning of time. God sent His Son into our world, and from this Cross he offers forgiveness to all who will accept His grace. I accepted His grace, and I escaped. Jesus took the punishment in my place. The man hanging on the left cross chose to reject Christ until the very end, even in the face of certain and eternal death. The man on the right cross begged the mercy of Christ, and called upon the name of the Lord. And he was saved.
Mercy to one, Judgment to the other.
Just then I heard Jesus say 'It is finished! '. And the sun was darkened and the ground began to shake. The people ran away in fear of their lives. A soldier fell repentently to his knees in front of the cross and in the presence of his peers, and with tears in his eyes exclaimed 'Surely this WAS the Christ, whom we have crucified! ' The body of Christ hung lifeless on the cross.
Scenes passed through my mind: his death, his burial in the tomb, and his resurrection on the third day. I heard the Angel proclaim to the women 'Why do you seek the Living among the dead? He is Risen! ' Suddenly I sensed my own resurrection, as the pain and my blood-stained body seemed to melt away. I had become a new being. The old had passed away, and all things became new. Then I saw Him. It was He who took my place on the cross. It was He of whom the parchment had proclaimed 'King of the Jews'. But He was no longer bloody and dirty. His resurrected body shown bright and white, like the brightness of the sun. His wrists still bore the scars where they had nailed him to the tree. Chuck was standing with me, looking better and happier than I had ever seen him before. He gave me a deep hug, and said 'Thank you. Thank you! ' Then Christ addressed each of us, standing there with him. He looked into my soul. He said 'Well done, good and faithful servant! I have trusted you with a few things. Now I will make you Ruler over many cities! ' Then, He whispered something into my ear. He gave me a new name, and a new assignment. Christ gave me a new body, a new name and new assignment! As I looked around, I became surrounded by people I know and love. My wife, all my kids, my dad, my sister, my nephew, my mother and father-in-law, and people I grew up with at church. And there were many I never thought I'd see again, and I was so happy that they had found repentance before it was too late. We laughed, we cried, we marveled at His grace shown upon us, and we loved. We loved, not as a man loves, but as He loves. The Awesomeness of His Kingdom humbled me, and I fell to my knees.
Christ stood at the right hand of the Father in Heaven, and the 24 elders tossed their crowns at His feet. The great multitude of men and Angels surrounding the alter sang the praises of He who had been pierced. After that, seven seals were opened, seven trumpets were sounded, and seven bowls were poured out, in judgment upon the Earth. Then, Christ mounted a White Horse, shining brightly as the sun, and rode back into history upon the Earth. With a word, he defeated the armies of Satan, and set His foot upon the Mount of Olives once again. When He came the first time, He came as a servant, and as a sacrificial lamb. This time, He arrived as King of Kings and Lord of Lords, to set up His Kingdom on Earth for a Thousand Years. And we all came back with Him, to help Him rule and reign over the Earth.
And I watched as every knee bowed and every tongue confessed that He is Lord.
And I am so very proud of Him, my Savior, Lord, and King.
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