As the soldiers led Jesus away, they grabbed a man named Simon, who was from the city of Cyrene. Simon was coming into Jerusalem. They laid the cross on him and made him carry it behind Jesus.
A large crowd followed Jesus. The women in the crowd cried and sang funeral songs for Him. Jesus turned to them and said, “You women of Jerusalem, do not cry for Me! Rather, cry for yourselves and your children! The time is coming when people will say, ‘Blessed are the women who could not get pregnant, who could not give birth, and who could not nurse a child.’ Then people will say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us!’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us!’ If people do this to a green tree, what will happen to a dry one?”
Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be executed with Him.
When they came to the place called The Skull, they crucified Him. The criminals were also crucified, one on His right and the other on His left. – Luke 23:26-33
A nail is a common thing. A single nail is almost an insignificant thing. There are thousands and thousands of nails in this building. The nails hold this building together. If you pulled out a single nail probably nothing would happen. Even two or three would not make much difference. You would probably have to pull out quite a few nails before anything significant would come undone. Yet, under peculiar circumstances, even a single nail can make a dramatic difference. It takes only 1 nail to cause a flat tire. You may have heard this old poem about a nail:
For want of a nail the shoe was lost,
For want of a shoe the horse was lost,
For want of a horse the rider was lost,
For want of a rider the battle was lost,
For want of a battle the war was lost,
For want of a war the cause was lost,
The cause was lost and all for the want of a nail!
Under the right circumstances, a single nail, or even a few nails, can be terribly important. Such is the case in the text for today. In the text, Jesus is nailed to the cross. The nails used in His crucifixion were important and the whole nailing process is probably one of the most dramatic points in the history of our Lord’s suffering.
Just the thought of nails being driven through human flesh is enough to send chills running up and down a person’s spine. Take your nail for a moment – Press the point into your palm (do not break the skin) pressing it hard to make it hurt. Feel the pain which the nail causes. Now pull the nail away and gratefully you feel the pain go away.
For Jesus, though the pain did not go away. The nails pierced His flesh. Records from history tell us that the nails used for crucifying were about the size of railroad spikes, and they were probably pounded through the tender flesh with a wooden mallet. The nails of Jesus’ crucifixion must have caused terrible pain. Crucifixion was a brutal way to die.
And yet as important as the nails were, it is interesting that the Gospel writer Luke says nothing about them in his account of the crucifixion. As a matter of fact, Luke says very little about any of the actual agonies a person goes through as they die on a cross. And Luke is not alone in this regard. Matthew, Mark, and John do not devote significant space either describing the agonies and pains of the Crucifixion. Instead, these Gospel writers are all concerned with WHY Jesus died. Jesus did not die because He was a masochist who loved pain. Neither did Jesus end up on the Cross because He was overpowered by the Roman soldiers. Jesus died because He permitted the soldiers to nail Him in the crucifixion. Jesus was God in human form and it was only His permission which allowed the crucifixion to happen. Jesus was committed to us and He knew that He must suffer the pain of the crucifixion to pay the price of our sin. Jesus died so that we may have forgiveness of sins and peace with God the Father, Jesus died on the Cross and He died there for you and He died there for me.
There is a story about Abraham Lincoln – after his death. Lincoln was assassinated shortly after the Civil War ended by a southern sympathizer named John Wilkes Booth. After the state funeral in Washington D.C., his casket was loaded on a special train which would take it to Springfield, Illinois for burial. The funeral train made many stops along the way and mourners were permitted to board the train, file past the casket, and take one last view of the body. At one small Ohio town a black mother came aboard the train with her young son. As they gazed upon the face of the Great Emancipator, she said to the boy, “Take a good look child. That man died for you.”
This, too, is the way we need to look at the Crucifixion. You and I need to take a good look at Jesus Christ because He is the man that died for us. Tonight as we look at the Crucifixion, we pay special attention to the nails. Even though Luke does not specifically mention them, those nails used to pin Jesus to the cross can symbolize something for us – that something is COMMITMENT. For Jesus, the nails represented commitment to a task which would not be pleasant, but a task which He would have to do. When those nails were pounded through His flesh, there was no turning back for our Lord.
Jesus may have wished for a different way to save mankind from sin. In the Garden of Gethsemane, He had prayed, MY FATHER, IF IT IS POSSIBLE, MAY THIS CUP BE TAKEN FROM ME (Matthew 26:39). And yet, even as He prayed those words, Jesus also prayed, YET NOT AS I WILL, BUT AS YOU WILL. Jesus was committed to do the will of His Father. He was committed to restoring peace between sinful man and the righteous God.
This commitment showed again when Jesus was arrested. The disciples would have fought to keep Jesus free, but He would not let them. Jesus told them that if He wanted to He could have called out twelve legions of angels to help Him escape, but He did not. Jesus submitted to arrest, to trial, to sentencing, and in our text we see Him willingly lay on his back, arms outstretched, as one by one, blow by blow, the mallet drives the nails through His flesh. Jesus was committed – committed to saving us.
Nails remind us of commitment. Nails hold things together. There are thousands of nails in this building and we expect each one to be committed to holding its part of this building together. That is like the commitment God wants from us. Just as Jesus was committed to the task of dying for us, so also God wants us committed now to the task of living for Him. God wants our will to be nailed to His will. God does not want us to have a rubber cement commitment which lets us peel off from time to time and then repositioned. God wants us nailed to Him and to His will.
In the Old Testament lesson today, we heard a story of this kind of commitment. Elisha was out in the field plowing. Elijah came up to him and throw around his shoulders a cloak which signaled that God wanted Elisha to be His prophet. And what did Elisha do? Not only did he quit plowing, but he killed his oxen and burned up their yokes to cook the meat for a farewell feast. For Elisha, there was no turning back. He kissed his parents good-bye and from that day on was committed to serving the Lord. (I Kings 19:19-21)
Recall also the story of Jesus calling Peter, Andrew, James, and John. Jesus said, “COME, FOLLOW ME,” and these men left their families, their business, their fishing boats and their nets, and they followed Jesus (Mark 1:16-20). These men made a total and immediate commitment. By the power of the Holy Spirit, they were nailed to Jesus and the work He had for them to do.
This same Jesus calls us to the same kind of commitment. Not just a commitment for Wednesday evening and Sunday morning; not just a commitment when things are going well or when it is convenient. Jesus calls us to a commitment that affects every aspect and every word and every deed cranny of our lives. Jesus wants our commitment to Him to be even stronger than our commitment to our family, for He says in Matthew, ANYONE WHO LOVES HIS FATHER OR MOTHER MORE THAN ME IS NOT WORTHY OF ME; ANYONE WHO LOVES HIS SON OR DAUGHTER MORE THAN ME IS NOT WORTHY OF ME. (Matthew 10:39)
Let that nail we take home today be a reminder. Let it be a reminder that during Lent we want to take a long, hard look at our lives. We want to ask ourselves, “How strong is my commitment to the Lord?” If our commitment is strong we are not going to be shoving the things of God aside in our life because something else seems more important to us. If we are nailed hard and fast to Jesus, we are going to try to give a bold witness of our faith wherever we go. If we are committed to serving Jesus, every word out of our mouths will show it. If we are committed to serving Jesus, we will want every thought from our hearts and our every physical action to be in accord with His will.
There is a story about a preacher of the 1800’s. It seems he went to buy a horse. He found one and the owner was telling him, “This is a good horse. It is gentle and well-behaved. It stands anywhere without complaining. He does anything you ask him – Never kicks or bucks. He always listens carefully to everything you say.”
“Ah!” said the preacher, “If only that horse were a member of my congregation.”
That preacher found a good horse. Jesus is looking for good disciples – disciples committed to following Him – disciples willing to stand up for Him, waiting patiently, behaving, paying attention, and obeying Him.
Tonight, or tomorrow, as you pound your nail into the base of your CROSS/PEACE display, remember Jesus. Remember Him laying there with His arms outstretched. Remember Jesus, committed to dying for us that we might have forgiveness of sins and everlasting peace with God. Remember Jesus, and ask yourself, “Am I committed? Am I nailed to Him?”
In the name of Jesus, who by the nails of the cross won for us peace, Amen.