And there followed him a great multitude of people and of women who were mourning and lamenting for him.
Crucifixion took place in a public environment to maximize the shame that the convicted would endure. They were also stripped naked and often forced to carry the cross-beam through the streets on their way to their death. The humiliation was a part of the punishment, and part of the deterrent.
And there were a lot of people that would witness it all. Of course, there were the passersby, the people who lived in Jerusalem and saw convicted criminals crucified on a regular basis. There were of course the travelers who had come to Jerusalem for the festival of the passover. There were soldiers who watched over the procedure, and those who actually executed the condemned. And for Jesus, his followers and family were also present to see his bare execution. Witnesses abounded.
Still, something profound happened when Jesus died in front of all those people, something unexpected, and even glorious. The person of God was revealed on the cross of Jesus. Jesus’ death on the cross is well-known to us as a saving act. But it was also a revelatory act.
When Jesus died, it showed the heart of God for his people. It showed the lengths that God would go to to win back his people and save them from their sin. It showed that God would maintain his righteousness, but instead of visiting our just desserts on us, he would bear the penalty himself. The death of Jesus on the cross revealed God’s perfect justice alongside his perfect mercy. In the cross of Christ was revealed the love of God.
There were probably more witnesses to the death of Jesus than any other crucifixion in recent memory. But even though the spectacle of shame looked like a victory for the religious leaders and the taunting crowds, God was busy subverting their evil intentions. Because instead of multiplying the shame of Jesus, they were in fact being made witnesses to the glory of God revealed in the death of the Messiah.
At least one witness grasped this in the moment. As he watched Jesus take his last breath, he looked up and said, “Truly, this man was the Son of God!” (Mark 15:39).
Father, we don’t always understand your work, especially in the moment. Please help us to trust in you through the middle of this crisis, where so many things don’t make sense. And please, please use all of this to reveal yourself to us. Show us your glory, Lord, that we might worship. Comfort us and bring us peace.