John the Apostle was a masterful writer. He employs a vocabulary suitable for an elementary school child, but a depth of thought to challenge any intellect. He presents truth in the simplest of terms but with the deepest of meanings. He paints pictures by using hours of the day, times of the day, weather conditions, and the location of miracles, and teaching. He places one incident in contrast with another to enhance and enlighten. He places individuals in juxtaposition to reveal subtle differences of importance. He was, as I said, a masterful writer.
Two groups that he places side by side are found in John 19. There is a group of four soldiers standing at the foot of the cross; there is a small band of four faithful women standing at the foot of that same cross. The four soldiers saw the Lord Jesus Christ; the four women saw the Lord Jesus Christ. Each looked with different eyes, through different lenses, and with different hearts.
The four soldiers saw a condemned and forsaken Jew being crucified for claiming to be a king. As part of their “take,” they were permitted to divide up the remaining articles of clothing. The four garments were divided between the four; the seamless coat was gambled off to one of them. As they looked upon Christ, they saw merely another criminal and another opportunity to enrich themselves even if the booty was meager.
But four women looked on and saw the Lord. They saw something entirely different. A mother watched with a “sword piercing her heart.” The words of aged Simeon no doubt rang in her ears. It is untold, unimaginable grief for any mother to watch a son suffer. But this scene was beyond what was natural. Such was her grief that the Lord instructed John to remove her from the scene, taking her away so as not to view the intensity of His suffering.
His aunt was there, the mother of James and John. She has recently requested that her two sons sit by the side of the Lord in His kingdom. What must her thoughts have been as she saw the One destined for glory hanging in shame upon the cross? She had watched Him grow; no doubt there were visits between the sisters and their families. She knew sorrow but she also knew confusion and wonder. How could the One Who was to reign be here? At Calvary?
We know little or nothing about Mary the wife of Cleophas, but to her eternal credit and honor, she was there looking on as well. Then there is Mary Magdalene. We need not conjecture about her past and how the seven demons controlled her. What we do know is that something stronger, more beautiful, and more wonderful controlled her from the moment of conversion: it was love for her Savior. She is there looking on. Love kept its vigil even during the dark night of the soul’s experience. Nothing seemed to fit; nothing made “sense.” Yet here, as well as in the garden (John 20), love maintained its constancy. Many waters could not quench her love.
Four soldiers could tell their children and their grandchildren years later, about what “they saw” that day. Veterans of crucifixions, the manner in which the Lord dismissed His spirit, the supernatural darkness, the events surrounding his death all must have made some impression on them.
Four women also would be able to say, “I saw.” But their eyes beheld what the eyes of soldiers never appreciated. They could look beyond what Rome had done, beyond what the nation had insisted upon, beyond the perfidy of Judas; they could look beyond it all and see a Savior Who gave Himself for us all.
They could see that above and beyond the machinations of evil men, the fury of Satan against the Son of God, the blindness of the nation, and the spineless capitulation of Pilate, above all of that: “God so loved the world that He gave His only
They saw above the injustice done by men, and they also saw beyond what the soldiers saw. The soldiers saw a man whose life was being taken from Him and whose history was ending abruptly. The women ultimately saw beyond the cross, beyond the tomb, and beyond the heavens. They saw one Whom the heavens received and Who will return to reign in triumph and glory.
From that moment on, they would be able to view all of life’s events, its tragedies and perplexities, its dark tunnels, and its hidden valleys, with an understanding of what they saw that day at Calvary. They could say with the apostle, “He that spared not His own Son but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him freely give us all things” (Rom 8:32). Calvary answers every question, sheds its spotlight on every perplexity, and unravels every mystery. Its light has never been extinguished or lessened and still shines brightly for us in 2020.
J. M. Davies, a missionary to India of a bygone day, visited a brother who had been confined to bed for many years due to a stroke. He had been visited by some people from a sect which insists on keeping the Sabbath They suggested that he had suffered the stroke because he was not observing the Sabbath. He told them, “I do not read of the love of God in circumstances. God has erected one monument to His love. That was Calvary … That is enough for me.”