Sounds of the Passion – Pounding Hammer

John 19:17-18 Carrying his own cross, he went out to the place of the Skull (which in Aramaic is called Golgotha). 18 Here they crucified him, and with him two others-- one on each side and Jesus in the middle.
We’ve heard many sounds this Lent. We’ve heard the ripping of cloth, we’ve listened to the sound of soldiers’ tramping feet. We heard money jingling in Judas’s pocket and the crowing of a rooster that reminded Peter of his sin. We’ve heard the sounds of tears and an angry mob. Last night, we heard the sound of water pouring into a basin as Jesus washed his disciples’ feet and bid them — and us — to do the same for each other.
Tonight the sounds culminate in one heavy, sad sound – the noise of pounding hammers.
The soldiers led Jesus out of the city of Jerusalem. They led Him past the crying mobs, through the city gates, to a lonely hill. The residents called it “Golgotha,” which means “the place of the skull.” The reasoning was simple: it was a place of death and fatality. What better name to give a hill where people died than a symbol of death itself?
Coming to the hill, the soldiers removed Jesus’ clothes for the last time. They laid Him down on the cross and stretched out His arms. A soldier came over with a leather bag filled with heavy spikes. Three will do the job —one for each wrist and one for the feet.
Laying a heavy knee on Jesus’ forearm, the Roman soldier placed the five-inch spike in the middle of Jesus’ wrist. He lifted the heavy hammer and drove in the nail. Pound. The spike went through the flesh and into the wood of the cross. The sound echoed around the hill of death. Jesus cried out in agony — the pain was excruciating.
Satisfied with the job, the soldier did the same with the other arm. Pound. The sound echoed among all those gathered to watch.
Then it was time to nail the feet. Setting one foot on top of the other, the soldier bent the knees up and placed the bottom foot flat against the wood. He placed the spike against the top foot; right about the middle. Again, the hammer came down. Pound. The sound echoed up to heaven. Again came the physical pain to the body of our Savior. Jesus’ breath began to come in rapid gasps. But the only words to come from His lips were words of grace: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”
The pounding stopped. The feet were secure. The soldier tossed the hammer into a pile with his other tools.
The foot of the cross was placed next to the hole that had been dug to hold it. Ropes were tied to the cross, and soldiers began to pull the cross upright. Behind the cross, other soldiers began to lift it up until it dropped into the hole. Some men held the cross steady, and others rushed in with shims to wedge it in position. Jesus was nailed firmly to the cross. The cross was firmly in the ground. Jesus would surely die.
But it was not the nails that kept Jesus on the cross. Nor was it the physical pain and agony that Jesus felt that caused His death. There was much more here than heavy spikes pounded into flesh and wood. At any time He chose, Jesus could jump down from the cross, totally healed of all wounds. He was, after all, God Himself in the flesh. What were mere pieces of metal and wood to the God who created the rocks and trees from which the nails and cross were formed?
Jesus was held on the cross by love. No one could see it, but love held Him fast. His love for His disciples. His love for His parents and siblings. His love even for the chief priests and the Roman soldiers. Yes, even His love for you and me.
Jesus was on the cross because He permitted it. Before He went up to Jerusalem, Jesus said, “No one takes [my life] from me, but I lay it down of my own accord” (John 10:18). At any time, at any place, Jesus could have stopped the whole passion, but He did not. Jesus was on that cross because it was His Father’s will from eternity. In the Garden, Jesus prayed, “Not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42). And He would see it through to the end. Yes, it would cost Him His life, but our salvation was worth it to Him.
Jesus couldn’t bear to see His beloved creatures lost in the despair of hell. So He was born in a stable in Bethlehem so He might die on a cross outside Jerusalem. He was born in darkness so He might die in the darkness. All of heaven rejoiced at His birth, but heaven was silent at His death. All that could be heard was the pounding of the hammer.
The agony Jesus felt that day was not merely because of the nails in His hands and feet. Oh, yes, there was a great deal of physical pain and suffering. In the entire history of the world, there has been no method of torture that kills like crucifixion. One dies slowly, from pain and suffocation.
But for Jesus, the suffering wasn’t simply physical. There were other kinds of pain as well. There was a psychological pain as the chief priests and Pharisees stood mocking Him. They pointed at Jesus and laughed. “Let him come down from the cross, and then we’ll believe him! He saved others, but he can’t save himself. Let God deliver him if God wants him, for he claimed to be the Son of God!” (Matthew 27:42–43). But the greatest agony of all was not physical, nor psychological — it was spiritual. It was the wrath of God. The sun darkened and the sky turned black as a sign of God’s judgment on all of humanity. God was pouring out His divine wrath for countless generations of sinners upon His holy Son. At that moment Jesus was covered with sin; more than that, Jesus Himself became sin. “He who knew no sin became sin for us” (2 Corinthians 5:21). All of the sin that had ever existed in the world was laid on Jesus’ scourged back.
Jesus took it all in. Each bit of anger. Each fragment of wrath. Every particle of God’s hatred of sin. Jesus lived with it all. Jesus found Himself alone – afflicted by enemies, forgotten by friends and forsaken by God. Jesus was enduring an eternity of hell during those hours on cross. He was separated from His heavenly Father. So He was in hell — the place where demons and unbelievers are separated from God. In His pain and agony, Jesus cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46).
Then … silence.
A peace came over Jesus. For despite the pain and agony from the nails holding Him fast, Jesus knew that He had won. The punishment of sin and death had been paid. Forgiveness had been won. The ancient serpent’s head had been crushed. God’s wrath had been atoned for. Reconciliation with God had been restored. After taking a drink of wine, Jesus called out in a loud voice, “It is finished” (John 19:30). Countless generations of sin had been paid for. “There [was] now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).
This afternoon, as you walk out of worship, you are invited to “pound” a nail into the cross in the back of church. That nail represents your sins that were placed on Jesus. As you push in the nail, listen closely for the sound of the pounding hammer that has echoed through the ages. A pounding that signifies that your sins are now on Jesus.  Because Jesus was on that Roman cross, you are loved. You are forgiven. You are saved. It is finished. Amen. 


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