Contemplating the various Good Friday observances—or lack thereof—taking place today, I found myself recalling a conversation I had fifteen years ago while living in Virginia Beach. I had the privilege of performing the role of High Priest in the tenth anniversary season of The Man Called Jesus, a top-shelf passion play that, with changes of name and venue but the same core personnel and message, is celebrating it’s twenty-fifth season this week.
My remembrance is a conversation with Robert Klein, an outstanding actor who had performed in the role of Jesus for five years at the time (and is performing his twentieth season in the role this week). Working with Robert was a remarkable experience. His grasp of character and focused portrayal was so intense that, as High Priest, it was all I could do to not fall on my face and repent. Talking with him one day during rehearsal, I asked him about his experience developing the character. Preparing the character for the first time changed his life forever, because he had to focus on seeing things as Jesus would see them. After five years, he believed preparing for that role was the greatest spiritual growth exercise in his life.
Think about it. Jesus knew exactly what would happen. He knew the mission he had to accomplish. He knew that every road he traveled led to an agonizing death on a cruel Roman cross. With that knowledge, every photon that entered his eyes took on greater meaning and intensity. Given his deeper knowledge, what did Jesus see as from his unique vantage point on the Cross?
The eyes of Jesus’ body had an excellent view of the strange mix of people that had gathered to witness his execution. Beneath his feet, Roman soldiers rolled the dice, dividing His clothing among them. To one side a group of women wept, mourning the one that they had loved and followed. On the other side, Jewish elders hurled insults and challenged His claim to be the Christ, saying: “He saved others, but he cannot save himself.”
Jesus’ disciples were there. Scattered. Dazed. Confused by their great leader’s apparent surrender. Jesus’ mother stood among them and wept, releasing thirty-three years of pent-up motherly angst. Before her pregnancy became visible to the gossips and judgmental neighbors who assumed her to be a sinner, she knew the boy in her belly was the Son of God. She had always known this day would come. The sight of the sharp swords of the Roman soldiers must have triggered memories of the day when she dedicated her eight-day old firstborn son to the Lord—the day when Simeon, the old man who prophesied over her baby, looked into her eyes and warned her of the heartache that would accompany her calling, saying: “A sword will pierce your very soul.”
Surrounding all these main players, a sea of spectators gathered at Golgotha because it was the trendy place to be at the moment. The same fickle crowd had hailed Jesus as King of the Jews just a week before. Earlier on that day of execution they had chanted, “Crucify Him!” and demanded the release of a known criminal named Barabbas rather than the one they once praised.
The eyes of Jesus’ soul didn’t see the crowd. He saw each person as a unique individual. He saw their needs, their hurts, their misunderstanding. He saw Mary, his mother, and felt her heartache at watching her son die a slow, miserable death. Jesus commissioned the disciple John to care for Mary, to take her in as he would his own mother, a loving act of compassion that not only served his mother’s needs, but met the unspoken need of John to love and serve his dying Lord.
The clueless mob of bloodthirsty onlookers must have caused Jesus’ tender heart to break. They didn’t even begin to comprehend the redemptive scene they witnessed. Yet Jesus felt no anger or bitterness, as you or I might. He looked through eyes full of compassion, longing for them to accept the sacrifice he offered on their behalf. He prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t even know what they’re doing.”
Jesus’ disciples—the men whom He had walked beside, trained and lived with for three years—had no more insight than the ignorant mob. He saw their confusion, their heartache, their utter cluelessness. Only one man on that gruesome hilltop understood the events taking place that day, but Jesus knew his disciples’ mourning would soon turn into laughter, their tears into shouts of joy, their discouragement into vision and purpose.
The eyes of Jesus’ Spirit saw what only the Son of God could comprehend. For the first time in all eternity, Jesus experienced isolation from his Father and understood the depth of human depravity and sin. Demons danced around him with delight, celebrating their supposed victory—but with eyes not limited in time and space, Jesus also saw those demons cowering in darkened corners three days later. He saw an eternal bridge, christened with his blood, that would allow mankind the same intimate, personal relationship with God that Adam and Eve enjoyed in Eden before they sinned—the relationship they were meant to have with their maker. When others saw only defeat, Jesus saw the coming victory.
The dying Messiah looked beyond that momentary pain and saw the results of his sacrifice through history. 3000 people received His salvation on the day of Pentecost as cowardly Peter, who had denied Him three times, boldly preached under the empowerment of the Holy Spirit. Jesus saw Saul of Tarsus, a vicious enemy of the Gospel, accept the free gift of grace and become one of the early church’s greatest leaders. He saw an Ethiopian eunuch baptized by Phillip in a roadside pool taking the good news to his homeland.
Countless generations of mankind passed before Jesus’ eyes, generations for whom His sacrifice made possible salvation by grace through faith. Some accepted, some refused, but all made their choice between the free gift of eternal life and the self-chosen curse of eternal death. Billions made their decisions as he watched, not a massive crowd but solitary individuals making their own personal choice between condemnation and grace, death and life. Al Capone. D.L. Moody. Adolf Hitler. Billy Graham. Each made their own personal, eternal choice.
Then, as He looked down that eternal timeline, Jesus saw you. He saw you in your moment of decision, and He knew your name.
Even then, Jesus could have stopped his suffering. He had the authority to call a legion of angels to set Him free.
Instead, He cried out, “Father, into your hands I commit my Spirit.”
Then, He bowed His head—and He died.
Because He thought you were worth it.