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CHAPTER XX.

THE GREAT TRAGEDY.”

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The crucifixion is the third and closing scene in the heartless tragedy. There is no time now to question about the guilt or innocence of the thrice condemned victim.

The sentence of death has been passed, and the law must be speedily executed. Lamb He is led to the slaughter, so was Christ led froin the garden of Gethsemane; and as a sheep before its shearers is dumb, so stood He in the hall of Caiaphas and at the bar of Pilate; and now on the hill of Calvary He is lifted up upon the cross, and there endures the sentence, not of Pilate, but of a greater Judge passed upon Him as our surety.

The soldiers stripped the scarlet robe, stained with innocent blood, from the royal Redeemer, and they clothed Him in His own artless apparel. They prepared the huge cross, and laid it, in part at least, upon His shuddering shoulder. The centurion marched the Paschal Lamb out, in company with two malefactors, amid myriads of spectators, coldly inquisitive, or furiously hostile, and the sad procession moved on towards the place of a skull.

This was, indeed, a sad procession, but the most memorable that ever moved upon the earth. It was more significant than any triumphal march, and far more sorrowful than any funeral cortege the world has ever known.

See “ The Man of sorrows on His way to death! Sadly, silently, sorrowfully He moves toward Golgotha, with the cross, the dread instrument, resting on His lacerated back. The air was rent with taunts, and insults, and blasphemies, as He dragged His weary, aching limbs toward Calvary, to die, that His vile tormentors might live. But on the way to the place of execution the Son of Man fainted, and fell under the heavy burden; and the cross was laid on one Simon, a Cyrenean. They hurry Him on, in His weakness, to the agonies of Calvary.

Let us take our stand upon the neighboring hill and view the awful tragedy. Three crosses rise high above the heads of a maddened populace. The Roman soldiers have pitched guard,

and with measured step, uplifted spear, and flashing helmets pace the arena of death. Standing by the cross is a group of women, the Mother of Jesus, the wife of Cleopas, and Mary Magdalene.

The place where the Saviour died is the most sacred spot on earth. Men may revere the memory of their illustrious dead. They may rear monuments in honor of the Patriot, the Statesman, and the Philanthropist; but in all the archives of history there is no name like that of Jesus, and no shrine of devotion before which men bow, to be compared with the cross of Calvary.

The cross of Christ is the central point in human history, the boundary line between earth and heaven. We love to contemplate the Saviour in His life-work on earth; for each act has its place in the divine plan, and

every achievement its lesson of love for suffering and sinning humanity.

But we love most to view Him in His selfsacrificing love and devotion to the human race, because the lessons associated with the most precious memories of Christ cluster around the cross, and lift us nearer to heaven. We delight to revel amid the serene, sublime virtues of the life of Jesus; but it derives pleasures infinitely deeper and purer, beneath the shadows of His crimson cross, and the gloom and glory of His new sepulchre, left empty on the morning of the third day. But the hour had fully come for the offering up of the great sacrifice, and the Voluntary Victim was ready to die.

The curtain rises at nine o'clock in the morning, and the last scene in the divine tragedy begins. The meek and lowly Jesus stands face to face with the king of terrors, but shudders not during all the lingering agonies of His most dreadful death.

The rude soldierly placed Him upon the rugged cross, exposed His lacerated flesh and bleeding wounds to the gaze of the vast multitude of spectators. And with deadening blows they drove the huge spikes through His tender hands, hands that had been lifted and dropped benedictions upon the poor and the needy.

They, also, with relentless stroke drove nails through His feet; feet which had always run upon willing errands of love and mercy for suffering humanity. Now the crimson, gory cross, with its living burden hanging helpless upon it, was lifted up, and with cruel force dropped into its place, causing the most excruciating pains and agonizing groans. Then there was placed over the head of the Nazarene an inscription, written in three languages, “ Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews."

So the chief priests sent and besought the Governor to change the timely title, which he had given to the crucified Nazarene. But it was all in vain. “What I have written, I have written, it is true, and changes not,” was the reply which Pilate made.

So the dying King, the truest, the greatest, and the noblest of the race, still reigned, though His throne was but a rugged cross, and His crown a bloody wreath of piercing thorns.

It was probably at this moment of inconceivable horror that the voice of the Son of Man was heard, calmly praying in divine compassion for His brutal and pitiless murderers, and for all who in their sinful ignorance crucify Him afresh, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."

The Saviour, Who knew no sin, was numbered with the transgressors.

On either side was placed a thief, as if to make His humiliation

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