Nails…nails…nails…have we ever really looked at a nail? There’s nothing pretty or subtle about a nail. A nail cannot be misunderstood as something else…when used as a noun it is what it is: “a small metal spike with a broadened flat head, driven typically into wood with a hammer to join things together or to serve as a peg or hook.”
Nails are for driving, for nailing, for joining objects together. We nail boards, sheetrock, shingles and countless other objects. Nails are ancient…but they remain quick, efficient and relatively painless. Unless of course in the act of nailing you happen to hit your own finger. In which case pain becomes an integral part of the process.
Crucifixion involved nailing…in this case the nailing of a human limb to wood with the use of a larger nail or spike. Crucifixion was about inflicting pain — the Romans knew just what size nail to use and where to use it in order to inflict pain without the victim rapidly bleeding to death. The Romans were experts in a number of matters, most involving violence and pain. Crucifixion was among those of which the Romans were the best. One has said of the Romans, “They ran out of wood for crosses; they ran out of places for crosses; but they never ran out of persons for crosses.”
Nails…there is nothing intrinsically good or bad about a nail. A nail can be used to build or it can be used to inflict pain…a nail can save or a nail can destroy. A nail is nothing more than a tool in the hand of a person: a carpenter, a laborer, or a soldier. What we do with a nail…ah, there’s the rub. For ultimately what we do with a nail says more about us than it does about the nail.
So, the question confronts, no, it haunts us this evening: How do we as humans primarily use the nails of our lives? Do we use these nails to build — or to destroy? If we were to look back over our lives, have we built up more than we have destroyed? Have we used the nails, the tools which God has provided for us, to help or to hinder…to provide hope or to hurt another?
These soldiers who crucified Jesus and the two thieves had the option to use the tools in their hands, the hammer and nails, to create something useful or beautiful — or to destroy what God has created. They chose the latter — and in so doing demonstrated for all time how they understood human existence: life is about following orders, doing things the “right way” and if one does not, then one will pay the price.
The reality is that in our sin we each and all nail Jesus to the cross — and in our sin we do it time and again. When we hurt another, reject another, shame another — are we not just driving more nails into the cross? When we despise, de-humanize and degrade another, are we not just driving more nails into the cross? Yes, we nail Jesus to the cross…again and again and again…nails.
Luke tells us that as Jesus was being crucified, i.e., nailed to the cross, he uttered these words: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” At our worst…when we were driving nails through the very Son of God, even in that moment he prays for our forgiveness.
Paul saw Jesus as doing something else with these nails — transforming them from the worst that we could do into the best that God could do: And when you were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive together with him, when he forgave us all our trespasses, erasing the record that stood against us with its legal demands. He set this aside, nailing it to the cross. Nails…nails…nails.
And so, as we hold these nails in our hands, we hold that which revealed most deeply & fully our heart and the heart of God. It is only in God’s heart that our heart is remade, refashioned, i.e., redeemed. It is only in God’s heart that our worst becomes God’s best. It is only in God that our nails are transformed from instruments of death into instruments of life.
Nails…nails…nails…thanks be to God for nails.