Have you ever been stuck in traffic during rush hour? You have places to go and people to meet and you find yourself going nowhere! You know the feeling. Life slows to a crawl. Minutes seem like hours.
Have you ever been stuck in an elevator that’s not moving for just a short time? A lot begins to go through your mind. Have you ever been stuck with a dinner bill that you were going to pay for invited guests only to find that when you reach for your wallet it’s not there?
We’ve all been stuck at times. We survive these momentary inconveniences and move on. But there’s a far more serious matter of being stuck that has the power to dramatically change one’s life forever.
The word “stuck,” the past or past participle of “stick,” is an interesting term. It can mean to be stabbed or pierced—physically or emotionally. It can also mean to be affixed or restrained somewhere or in some situation, unable to proceed or move freely.
Keep this in mind as we proceed to what is essential to grasp if we are to heed Christ’s call of “Follow Me.”
The great question demanding an answer
The great question asked by Jesus of every disciple is a simple yet demanding inquiry: “Who do you say that I am?” (Matthew 16:15). Humanity in general has either ignored or been stuck on that question ever since.
Even so, He seeks your answer and not someone else’s—your answer alone! For His disciples, it’s a question that begs our answer not once but repeatedly in life, as we grow in faith and understanding of the Son of God and His vital, personal role in each and all of our lives. And we begin to become unstuck by comprehending what was stuck on a knoll outside Jerusalem on the day of Passover almost 2,000 years ago.
It’s here at this spot called Golgotha (or “Place of a Skull”—John 19:17) that our eyes open wide to the horrific sight of three crucified men. Crucifixion was intended to bring not immediate death, but an agonizingly slow and gruesome demise to any who dared challenge Rome.
Stuck in the fellowship of death
It’s here, then, we are stuck in view of three men stuck by nails to wooden beams and stuck together suspended above the ground. They are stuck together in this unique fellowship of death—up close and personal.
We zero in on the man in the middle, the target of the taunting insults of the religious authorities in the gathered crowd. It’s Jesus of Nazareth, crucified between two criminals (Luke 23:33).
Even here in His last human moments, through bloodied sweat and tears of pain, Jesus allows us to overhear a conversation among these unlikely comrades stuck in this fellowship of death. Why? It will reveal something special about Him central to our ability to heed His invitation of “Follow Me.” Let’s listen in.
“Then one of the criminals who were hanged blasphemed Him saying, ‘If you are the Christ, save Yourself and us.’ But the other, answering, rebuked him, saying, ‘Do you not even fear God, seeing you are under the same condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds, but this Man has done nothing wrong.’ Then he said to Jesus, ‘Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.’ And Jesus said to him, “Assuredly, I say to you, today [that is, ‘Be sure of what I’m telling you today’] you will be with Me in Paradise” (Luke 23:39-43).
Here Christ was stuck between two contrasting messages. In one ear came a message of self-preservation tinged with mocking skepticism. It followed the jeering condemnation of the crowd. In the other ear came clear-headed words of truth and understanding. What contrast! And from such an unlikely source.
This man was honest about his own life and what he and his companion in crime deserved as punishment. He was stuck with realization of His own crime and its consequences. Moreover, he understood that this Man next to him had done nothing worthy of death, even recognizing that, somehow, Jesus would yet reign as King. Perhaps he had overheard Jesus say under labored breath, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do” (verse 34).
The righteous King of Israel didn’t deserve this fate. Yet here He was stuck between them. Why such innocence between such bookends of guilt? The Spirit of God had guided the prophet Isaiah 700 years before to write, “He poured out His soul unto death, and He was numbered with the transgressors [or lawbreakers]” (Isaiah 53:12).
The great awakening
Something was happening here! An awakening was occurring even as this man’s life was ebbing. He was stuck on a singular truth, that Christ didn’t belong there while he himself did and that there was something beyond this moment Christ might beckon him towards—His Kingdom!
His sincere gut instinct about this Man wearing a crown of thorns is given illustration in the words of Dorothy Sayers in The Greatest Drama Ever Staged (1938): “He had ‘a daily beauty in His life that made us ugly’ . . .” Many found this unbearable, Sayers continuing, “. . . and officialdom felt that the established order of things would be more secure without Him. So they did away with God in the name of peace and quietness.”
Just imagine the encouragement this man with a checkered past brought to Jesus at this juncture. We often center on Simon of Cyrene being a fellow cross-bearer to lift the weighty burden from Christ’s gruesome march to death (Luke 23:26). But here in this moment we are stuck with one more human note of encouragement from an unlikely vessel to the dying Son of Man—reassurance that someone “gets it”!
What did that mean to Christ? I would suggest everything! Here was a person succinctly communicating to Jesus, who as a human being would desire vindication, that He didn’t deserve to be there. These short remarks expressed the truth of Isaiah 53:8 about the Messiah suffering injustice in being sentenced to death.
The thief declared a great truth—that Jesus was innocent and that He would yet reign! And in turn, Jesus saw something special below the bloody grime and sins of one man. He saw a heart that could be worked with in His timing and way on the other side of death. At the lowest ebb of life, He gave assurance of the opportunity extended in His call of “Follow Me.” Essentially, Follow Me into death and I will meet you in life—a new, resurrected life in a future paradise.
To know Him!
Having shared this account, why should you consider spending time stuck with Christ on Golgotha? Why is this so vital to accepting Jesus’ invitation of “Follow Me”?
The apostle Paul puts it this way in sharing his sincerest hopes to “be found in Him [Christ] . . . that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death . . .” (Philippians 3:9-10).
To know Him, as stated here, is to know that He was not dragged into Jerusalem to be crucified, but that He willingly walked into Jerusalem for you and me (Matthew 16:21; John 10:17-18).
To know Him is to know that religiosity alone is no sure cure leading to salvation! (see Matthew 7:21-23; Matthew 7:23-28). Just think of so many religious people of that day belittling Him as He hung there dying. No! It begins with a personal relationship with our Heavenly Father through Jesus Christ in responding to the calling from above (John 6:44).
To know Him is to know that “with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26) and that it’s never too late in one’s life to acknowledge His presence and ask for His strength to see us through. It’s never too late to start that conversation. Just ask Samson. Just ask this criminal.
To know Him is to know that Christ enters at our low points in life’s chapters more so than the mountain peaks. After all, He plainly stated, “The Son of Man has come to seek and save the lost” (Luke 19:10).
To know Him in being stuck with Him on Golgotha is to grasp the proper verdict regarding oneself and essentially admit like the nameless criminal: “I’m guilty—and He is not! I deserve all that has been thrown at me that I’ve tried to duck all my life.”
To know Him is to echo King David’s confession: “Against You, You only, have I sinned” (Psalm 51:4). And sin I did! (Romans 3:23; 1 John 1:8-10).
To know Him in the greatest sense is to be stuck with Christ on Golgotha and know deep down in our heart that God “made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us” (2 Corinthians 5:21).
To know Him is to know that He didn’t come to make good men better, but to make dying men live for the first time. Even the apostle Peter had to come to see this about himself, as must we all. Remember that Peter also locked eyes with Christ and came to fully grasp what he had done just as the cock crowed the third time (Luke 22:61).
To know Him is to know there is not enough money in the whole world to pay for His sacrifice or purchase His blood. That’s why God says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8).
To know Him is to know God always knows where you are and knows your name even if no one else knows you exist. Just ask the nameless man who shared time and heart as he was stuck on Golgotha with Christ.
To know Him is to know that our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ see things as if they already are (see Romans 4:17). Before Jesus died that afternoon, He made a promise to a man stuck on Golgotha with Him. He is the same One who declares the end from the beginning and emphatically states, “I will do all My pleasure” (Isaiah 46:10).
Perhaps it’s time to get unstuck from this restless world around us and the restless life inside you and get stuck on a basic principle found in Psalm 46:10: “Be still, and know that I am God.”
It is in such stillness in which we have nowhere to go and no one to turn to that we can contemplate what it means to be stuck with Christ on Golgotha!