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Good Friday: A Roman’s Perspective

Good Friday: A Roman’s Perspective

Joe White imaginatively illustrates the events surrounding the crucifixion of Christ as he takes on the persona of a Roman craftsman tasked with building the cross that will be used for the execution.
Original Air Date: April 10, 2009

(Sounds of spikes being nailed into wood and thunder)

John Fuller: The sound of a hammer striking spikes and driving them deep into the wood. It’s a sound that conjures up a grueling image of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross.

Jim Daly: John, those sounds make me really uncomfortable, because today is Good Friday and we, along with millions of Christians around the world, are remembering what Jesus did for us by taking our sins upon Himself and dying as a Sacrificial Lamb for all of us.
John: And anticipating the joy of Easter as we remember Christ’s death on that cross. We have a very unusual Focus on the Family broadcast for you that you won’t forget.

This is a very creative look at Good Friday, John. You know, it’s natural for us to look forward to Easter and enjoy that proclamation, “Christ is risen!” But how can we truly value the gift of eternal life if we don’t understand the enormity of the sacrifice that He made for us? So, it’s important for us today to reflect upon Jesus Christ’s death on the cross for each one of us. And we’re going to hear from a good friend, Joe White. He runs Kanakuk Kamps in Branson, Missouri. My son Troy has been there. In this message, he’s putting on the character of a Roman citizen back in the first century, whose trade was making heavy, wooden crosses used for executions. And he is building the cross which will hold Jesus Christ. As you’ll hear, Joe is in a large arena in Houston, Texas and as we begin, he’s coming down the center aisle, dragging an enormous piece of timber. It’s a beam about 14 feet long, which is the stake of the cross that he will build on stage as he speaks.

John: It’s really remarkable and here now is Joe White, sharing a Roman’s perspective of the crucifixion, at a conference called Men at the Cross, on today’s episode of Focus on the Family.

Joe White: Make another one in a hurry they said. Gotta have it today. He goes up with the two thieves from Hebron. (Breathing heavily) Barbarians they are, scum of the earth Barbarians. The live citizens in their smelly dungeons’d be better than this torturous death.

I’ve been buildin’ these “death trees” for 20 years now. And they must like the way I build a Roman cross, ‘cause they keep asking for them by the – by the hundreds, they do. I swear by Julius Caesar, there ain’t a worse way to die.

Jesus, they call this man. (Breathing heavily) Everything’s been different since He stepped into this country, two, maybe three years back. And now they’re nailing Him to a – a Roman cross. And even this has to be different. God. He claims to be God. That is a mouthful, when a man makes Himself out to be God.

We have no God in my homeland of Rome, but Tiberius Caesar. And everybody but him knows that he ain’t no God. (Groaning, sound of pounding) Jesus, they call Him. I will never forget the look on my (Sound of pounding) sister’s face the day (Sound of pounding) she went to hear (Sound of pounding) this man Jesus (Sound of pounding) speak up by the Sea of Tiberius, maybe a two, three-day walk to the north.

And I will never forget the look in her eye (Sound of pounding throughout) when she returned from watching Him teach. You’d a thought she’d seen God. And the words that she told me that He spoke. He spoke words like no other man. He spoke words like a man under authority. He spoke words like a man – like a man who believed He was God. And those words that she told me that He spoke, I will never forget as long as I live. He said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Wherever, whatever heaven is supposed to be. (Breathing heavily)

He said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons of God.” And I don’t even know my own father; how can I possibly know what it means to be the son of a God?

I’m not a Jew. I’m not a Hebrew, but I’ve watched these remarkable people for the last 20 years. I’ve watched these people. And according to their belief system, the Hebrew believe there is a God. And every year, every year this same week, they bring their lambs through that gate and across this city into their Temple, where their lambs are examined by their High Priests.

And if the High Priest finds those lambs to be spotless and unblemished, that High Priest sacrifices those lambs and the blood of those lambs will forgive their sins for a whole year. This man Jesus, He claims to be “the Lamb of God,” the human Lamb of God, sacrificed Himself, He says, for the sins of the whole entire world.

Do I believe that? Do I believe that He’s a sacrifice for the sins of the whole world? I don’t know. I don’t know if I believe that. I’d like to believe that, because if it’s not true and there is a God and He is the holy God that the Jews say that He is, then out of the gutter of Rome that I live, I would be headed straight for hell. But if it is true, if what this man claims to be about Himself is true, then maybe you and I – maybe even a Roman cross builder, maybe even I have hope.

I’ll tell you this. If you promise not to laugh or tell anybody that I told you so, but this man Jesus, He claims in three days that He will be alive after dying on this cross. And I will tell you, that no man survives a Roman cross. It is painful and it is slow, but it is sure death.

According to Roman law, two Roman coroners will examine His lifeless body after He’s dragged down off this hedonous cross. And they will sign His death certificate. But Friday and Saturday and Sunday, this man claims that He’ll be alive on Sunday. And if it’s not true and He’s not alive, you’ll never hear His story again. He will be scrubbed from history. But if it is true, if He’s alive on Sunday, then this will be a story that this world will never forget.

So, I don’t know about you, but I’m gonna be around on Sunday, ‘cause I’m gonna watch with my eyes to see if He’s real or He’s a fraud, like all the rest. So, I’ll be around on Sunday. I will be around on Sunday. (sets down hammer)

Well, end of drama, but not end of story. And you would think in your rational mind, 2,100 or so years later, after goin’ through a Roman crucifixion, after having a crown of thorns stuffed in a man’s head and the mockery of one of the many trials that Man went through, being stripped to the waist and put across the – the stake for the Roman flogging – the most feared torture in the history of all man’s inhumanity to man, somehow surviving the Roman flogging with the cat o’ nine tails, that would literally peal the skin off a man’s back and chest and disfigure a face, so bad eye witnesses would say, you couldn’t recognize the man after the flogging.

And then to carry a cross up the hill so awful. The hill itself was called “The Skull.” And then to be completely stripped in all humiliation and to have two Roman blacksmith spikes driven one in each of His wrists and one down in His feet and hung for vultures. You would think that, that would have been the end of the Jesus of Nazareth, the carpenter’s Son. You would think, wouldn’t you?

But frankly, you man – of surprise and honestly, the utter disappointment of the tens of thousands of cynics and critics who sought to bury this man since that day and everything He continued to say in the following, that followed Him since that day – the Nietzsches, the Voltaires and the Darwins, the Lenins, the Marx, the Stalins, the Mayos, the Osama Bin Laden, you name around the world those who’ve given their whole lives to cancel that Man from history. It was not the end.

In fact, His story is throughout all the generations and through all religions, societies would agree, whether believers or not, that, that one single day was the most watershed, the most earth-changing day in all of human history. It wasn’t the end; it was the beginning. (Applause) It was only the beginning.

In fact, our missionary friends around the world, men tell us today that every single day, every single day around this world, over 176,000 new converts to follow this Man named Jesus, Who was nailed up 2,000 or so years ago. Every day in Russia, over 26,000. Every day in China, over 24,000. Every day in Africa, over 20,000, Central, Latin, South America, every day, over 22,000, baptized in some pool, some pond, some lake, some river, some church around this world. It certainly wasn’t the end. It was the beginning.

John: You’re listening to a special Good Friday edition of Focus on the Family featuring Joe White speaking to a stadium filled with men as he considers the impact of Jesus Christ’s death on the cross which we commemorate today.

Jim: John, it’s astounding to consider the effect that the life and death of Jesus had on human history. His birth became the epicenter of our calendar – the years B.C. and A.D. And then think of the millions of people who have received His free gift of eternal life. And I’ll tell you what, for every non-believer that might be listening, this is it. This is the good news of Christ that He died for each one of us. And I hope you will consider that today. Now is a great time and if you’d like to learn more about accepting Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, we have a booklet online that will tell you all about it.

John: It’s call Coming Home: An Invitation to Join God’s Family. Tens of thousands of people have read this. It’s made an eternal difference in their lives. We want to invite you to look for it on our radio page

Jim: John, let’s go back to Joe’s talk. We’ve skipped ahead to a point where he turns a corner and reflects on how his perception of Christ’s death on the cross has changed over the years. And he still has that 14-foot, wooden cross on stage. And in a little bit, you’ll hear Joe continue to work on it.

Joe: So, I don’t know how you’re doin’, but I didn’t get it. I didn’t get it. I don’t think I even began to get it until I was a daddy (groans) and I had a little boy that called me “Daddy.” And I started learnin’ just a little bit about how much a daddy can love a boy.

And all of a sudden, I saw the Man on that cross through eyes I’d never seen before, because I didn’t see just a Lord and God and King, although that was certainly enough. But I saw a Dad on that cross. I saw a Dad who’s heart was breaking for every boy and every girl in this world that He had created, wanting them to be in His family, knowin’ that they couldn’t do one thing about gaining a holy God in their own efforts.

And so, I saw a Daddy on that cross, stretching it out and giving every drop of blood He had to bring this man, even the man in this arena who’s thought he would be far too far gone for a Savior to love, a fatherless guy in this arena, who never thought there’s be a daddy in his life who would say that he was proud of you.

And so, He ju – He hangs it up there for you and – and Scripture says in that moment He thinks of you, because certainly, as Creator, He created ya. Psalms 139 says, even in your mommy’s womb, He created ya, longing for that relationship. And He cries for you and He – as they nail the nails into His hands and feet, He cries, “Father! Forgive that man, for he knows not what he’s doing.”

And then Scripture says, there’s a man crucified next to Him. All we know he’s called a thief, probably some fatherless guy, like so many of us in this arena, a guy looking his whole life for his daddy’s love and acceptance, but he’d never found it, now he’s peddling his life in crime in the streets. And now dying in a pool of his own failure, he places one tiny seed of faith in the heart of the only One he believes could save him. And the thief cries out before he dies, “Jesus!” He says, “Could You remember me when You come into Your kingdom. Jesus, could you remember even somebody as low as me?” And Jesus’ big daddy’s heart breaks for the guy, eyewitness accounts say. And Christ adopts him in His heart. He says, “Yes.” He says, “Today you’ll be with Me in paradise. (Applause) You’re My son now. Tonight, you’re going home with Me. (Applause) Tonight you’re spending the night in My Daddy’s house.”

And then Isaiah the prophet 700 years before it ever happened, prophesied that on this day that Christ would literally become the sin offering. Galatians 3 even says that – that, “On that day He becomes the curse,” if you can imagine the purity of the Savior taking the curse. And now He looks up to His Father, Who He’s been with from time – before time began and He looks to find His Father’s love and face, but He sees His Father turning His back, ‘cause now Jesus has now become sin. And He cries to His father “Dad! My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” Like so many of us have for so many years, “Where’s my daddy?”

And before He dies, Scripture says, 29:28 He does one more incredibly kind thing. Because He knows that each of us has a legal issue between ourselves and a Holy God. And so Colossians, in the second chapter, in the 12th and 13th and 14th verse, it says that He forgives our transgressions, having cancelled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us and which was hostile to us, He has taken it out of our way, having nailed it to the cross, taken according to the law of that day, the certificate of debt, and our certificate of debt – probably mine mounting up volumes of shame and things that I regret, and would disqualify me for eternity with God. And every creepy crawly thing, you know, that I’ve ever done up against a holy God.

Scripture says, for all of you who, like me, have struggled with failure and guilt throughout your lifetime, it says that He takes your certificate of debt in the blood of His hands, as they bleed for you. And it says He takes that debt – all of it – and He nails it to the cross (nailing sounds). That’s why before He dies, He screams to His Dad in one final act of victory, He cries, “Tetelestai” which in the language of that day means “It’s paid in full!” Your debt is paid in full. (Cheers) It is finished. (Applause) You’re done; it’s finished. (Applause)

And as awesome as that is, I – it probably meant a lot, as it probably means a lot to you, but honestly men, it never meant everything to me; it just meant a lot. But seven summers ago, it started meaning everything to me and I’m ashamed that it took me that long. But I’m up on the football field training my son with the other high school kids I was working with. My son was on his way to play college ball. He had asked me to be his personal trainer.

And I’m up there just having the time of my life running 40’s with that boy. And we’d run 40, 40’s that day. And I’m bruising all over my backs of my legs. And I don’t know why I had taken a blood test a couple of days before, fearing my capillaries were all breaking down. And the doctor walks up on the football field as Cooper packs his car for college and he’s got my blood test. And he – he’s a buddy of mine. He’s a cancer doctor from Mississippi.

And – and Buddy asked me to go down to his car and I said, “Buddy, what’s the deal with that piece of paper in your hand?” And he just – he can’t even speak, he goes – he goes “Joe, you…” He said, “You’ve got leukemia; you’ve got cancer in your bone marrow.” And I said, “Buddy, how – how far along is it?” And he just goes, “It’s not good.”

And I ran for Cooper, I just – our family hugs a lot and Coop would always hug me when he’d come off the field after his ball games and – and I’d wait in the end zone back there in the dark of the trees and he’d always come throw his arms around me and I’d always hug him and now man, I need a hug. I need my boy and I run to Cooper and I throw my arms around the boy and I just said, “Cooper, uh, I’ve got leukemia.”

And he kinda pushes back and he goes, “Dad, what are you talkin’ about?” And I said, “I don’t know.” And he goes, “Dad, are you gonna be at my ball games, you know? Are you gonna be in my wedding? You gonna be there when my kids are born?” And he goes, “Daddy, have you told Mom?” And I said, “Coop, I can’t tell Debbie Jo.” I’ve been humbly married to my little Homecoming Queen for 34 years and I adore this girl more than – than I’ve ever adored her. Every year of our life, it’s like she becomes more and more like Jesus to me all the time. I’m just – she’s my hero. And now Coop is asking me to go tell her, like I’m quitting. She’d already lost her dad and her step-dad. And I said, “Doggone it, Coop.”

So, I go find Debbie Jo and I just kinda crumpled on the floor in our little house with her and I just said, “Baby I’m sorry.” And so, we go up to Mayo Clinic and this great Ethiopian doctor, this wonderful man from Ethiopia, who’s just brilliant, he just goes, “You need to go write your will. You need to go get your house in order.”

So, I went, uh, across the street that night in the little hotel and I kinda tucked Debbie Jo in bed and we prayed and then I just slipped off the bed on my knees and I looked up in the darkness of that hotel room and – and I just said, “God will You be there?” You know, I don’t know what you’re gonna say at the end, but I just wanted to know that somebody was gonna be there because it was so dark, and it was so lonesome in that moment.

And I just said, “God, will You be there?” And you guys, I closed my eyes and I promise you, this – this beautiful Savior just slips up behind me, it was like I’d become a little 5-year-old and I was runnin’ down that old football field and I’d tripped and fallen on about the 5-yard-line and scraped my knees and I couldn’t get into the end zone. I just couldn’t cross that goal line.

I remember the first time that I got to play in the Astro Dome running down that field and I just felt like I was trying to get in that end zone the way it was against Oklahoma University that night in that Bowl game, but I couldn’t score. I couldn’t get in. And – and Jesus just comes up behind me and scoops me up and He puts my head in His shoulder and He just walks me into the end zone. He goes, “Joe I will carry you across the end zone.” And He goes, “I’m your Daddy, I’ll carry you in.”

I believe on this cross, that God, who wants to be a Daddy to every man who would give Him our heart completely. I believe that God ran the most grueling race of His life to get – to get you across the goal line, because that’s what good daddies want their boy to do. And God wants you to finish the greatest race of all, the race of eternity.

John: What a wonderful way to end this broadcast with a vivid picture of what the Lord Jesus Christ extends to each one of us – men and women. That offer of eternal life and a way clear for us to get to heaven. And our thanks to Joe White for that profound presentation on a special Good Friday Edition of Focus on the Family.

Jim: John, just to remind everybody, Joe is speaking to a male audience there. And, of course, the Gospel is for both men and women, but that’s the context in which he was speaking. You know, as I think of his comment about his diagnosis, there is nothing quite like a negative medical diagnosis to help us face the fact that we have no guarantee of tomorrow, except that promise of eternal life through Jesus. And Joe admitted there, while Jesus’ death upon a cross meant a lot to him, it didn’t mean everything to him until he got that diagnosis of leukemia.

John: And he has always been so athletic. Um, he’s a former college football player and coach. Very, very energetic. That diagnosis was really a shock to Joe and his family.

Jim: Yeah. And he’s been fighting back for many years now, and just recently had to have his leg amputated because of circulation issues that caused an infection. And he’s asked us to pray for continued healing in that regard. Um, let’s also pray for Joe’s wife, Debbie Jo, and the rest of the family.

John: Yeah. It’s a difficult time. I spoke to him not too long ago and he remains very upbeat.

Jim: Oh, that’s him.

John: And, um, he has four adult children. He and Debbie Jo have about a dozen grandkids, and Joe has been a terrific friend to this ministry for so many years. So, we are praying for his hope and healing. And I so appreciate his creative approach to the events of Good Friday. Uh, he has such a way with words, as we heard today.

Jim: He does and as a man who grew up without a father, I can really relate to the second part of his talk, where he spoke to the men in the audience who grew up like I did. We simply didn’t have anyone to fill that hole in our hearts. But as Joe said, Jesus wants to be that kind, loving Father for you – He wants to be your Savior, and in fact, Jesus tells us in Scripture to call Him “Abba Father.” It’s like saying, “Daddy.” It’s so intimate. And if you think about it, what’s more intimate than dying for someone? I mean, that’s what Jesus did for us on Good Friday. Let me remind you that Jesus Christ wants to wrap His arms around you, no matter what you’re going through. It could be a medical diagnosis. Maybe the loss of a spouse or perhaps a wayward child. The Lord wants to be there with you and encourage you even in those dark times. Maybe, especially, in those dark times. And if you want to learn more about how the Lord, um, hugs you in that time, let me highly recommend a new book that Joe White has written, and Focus on the Family helped publish, called Irresistible Love: A Journey to the Heart of Jesus. It’s full of fascinating stories of people finding the love of God and learning what it means to grow closer to Him through hardship. There is Scripture I want to end with here. Because it touches on this act that the Lord has done for us. It’s out of Isaiah 53, speaking of Jesus and what He was going to do for all of humanity. It says there in verse 4, “Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But He was pierced for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with His wounds we are healed.” And that is the powerful message of Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday.

John: It sure is. And if you’d like to get a copy of that book by Joe White request it online today at or write our number down and give us a call on Monday. 800, the letter A, and the word FAMILY. On behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, thanks for joining us today for Focus on the Family. I’m John Fuller inviting you back as we once more help you and your family thrive in Christ.

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