A number of years ago, I saw a sign on a church marquee which read “Salvation is free, because God paid so dearly for it.” This central truth, although believed by all Christians, is one which we all too often take for granted. When you think of the Cross, what comes to your mind? In our contemporary society, this most sacred symbol is often regarded as a trinket or a good luck charm. Even much of our great Christian art paints a very “sterilized” picture of what Jesus went through for us.
In this study, I would like for us to examine the events of Jesus’ sacrifice for us, including a detailed look at His crucifixion. I warn you that what you are about to read is very graphic, even gory. However, once you have finished reading it, I hope that you will be able to say along with the Apostle Paul: “…God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Galatians 6:14).
Everything about Jesus’ death was very deliberate. He did not die as a victim. No one took His life, He voluntarily laid it down (John 10:17-18). Although legions of angels were standing by to rescue Him (Matthew 26:53), He would not fail to complete His mission, which was to freely give His life as a ransom for the sins of all people (Matthew 20:28;1 Timothy 2:6) .
Historians estimate the date of this history-altering event as being around Friday, April 7th, A.D. 30 (1). What was unfolding was a plan which God had ordained before the very foundation of the world (Revelation 13:8). From the earthly viewpoint, the religious leaders of the day, jealous of Jesus’ influence and popularity, had turned him over to the Roman government to be tried for false charges of sedition. Although the occupying Roman Empire gave the Jews a great deal of freedom in conducting their legal affairs, Roman approval was required for an execution. In order to avoid a riot, and thus preserve his standing with the Emperor, Governor Pontius Pilate reluctantly consented to the crowd’s demands to have Jesus crucified (Matthew 27:22-24).
The first step in this horrible process was a brutal beating with a leather whip, which was called scourging (Matthew 27:26). The whip was what we would today call a “cat-o-nine-tails.” Jewish civil law limited the beating to forty lashes (Deuteronomy 25:3). However, the Romans recognized no such law, and thus were at liberty to beat the person as viciously as they pleased. They violently yanked out His beard (Isaiah 50:6), and His face was marred and disfigured unlike any other person who had ever lived (Isaiah 52:14). The beating itself was often fatal. Geikie’s “Life of Christ” tells us that:
Victims condemned to the cross first underwent the hideous torture of the scourge, and this was immediately inflicted on Jesus…He was beaten at the pleasure of the soldiers, with knots of rope, or plaited leather thongs, armed at the ends with acorn shaped drops of lead, or small sharp pointed bones. In many cases not only was the back of the person scourged cut open in all directions, but even the eyes, the face, and the breast were torn…Under the fury of the countless stripes, the victims sometimes sank-amidst screams, convulsive leaps, and distortions-into a senseless heap; sometimes died on the spot; sometimes were taken away, an unrecognizable mass of bleeding flesh, to find deliverance in death, from the inflammation and fever, sickness and shame. (2)
Eusebius, the early church historian, describes a Roman scourging of some martyrs thus: “All around were horrified to see them so torn with the scourges that their very veins were laid bare, and the inner muscles and sinews, and even their very bowels were exposed.” (3)
After the scourging, it was off to the hill known as “The Skull,” (“Golgotha” in Aramaic, “Calverius” in Latin). (4) This was the designated place where local executions took place, some by stoning, others by crucifixion.
According to Unger’s Bible Dictionary, crucifixion was used by a number of ancient civilizations, including the Egyptians (Genesis 40:19), and the Persians (Esther 7:10). It was used by the Romans from the very beginning of their history, until it was eventually abolished by Emperor Constantine. For a devout Jew, it was even worse because according to the Old Testament Law, a person who was hanged on a tree was cursed of God (Deuteronomy 21:23). In any scenario, it was reserved for slaves and for the worst kind of criminals. (5)
Scholar and historian Alfred Edersheim tells us that “Three kinds of Cross were in use: the so-called St. Andrew’s Cross (x, the Crux decussata), the Cross in the form of a T (Crux Commissa), and the ordinary Latin Cross (+, Crux immissa). We believe that Jesus bore the last of these. This would also most readily admit of affixing the board with the threefold inscription, which we know His Cross bore.” (6, see Matthew 27:37).
Large, rusty spikes were driven into the wrists (considered in Jewish thought to be part of the hand) as well as into the feet. The cross was then erected, with the person’s body suspended about four feet above the ground. What followed was a long, excruciating death so horrible that mere words cannot begin to do it justice. Medical Doctor Gerald H. Bradley gives us a look:
This was the most agonizing death man could face…He had to support Himself in order to breathe…the flaming pain caused by the spikes hitting the median nerve in the wrists explodes up His arms, into His brain and down His spine. The spike burning through the nerves between the metatarsal bones of the feet jerks His body erect, then the leg muscles convulse and drive His body downward…beating Him against the cross. Air is sucked in, but cannot be exhaled until the buildup carbon dioxide in the lungs and blood stream stimulates breathing to relieve the cramps. Exhaustion, shock, dehydration and paralysis destroy the victim. The heart is barely able to pump the thick blood as each of His billions of cells die one at a time. Prior to His death in all His agony, Jesus is in full control of His mind. He asks the heavenly Father to “Forgive them; for they know not what they do.” And the dear Lamb of God was sacrificed for you… (7)
At least thirty Old Testament prophecies were fulfilled in Jesus’ death (8). The guard thrust his spear into Jesus’ side, and blood and water came out (John 19:34). Medically, this showed that the ultimate cause of death was heart failure due to shock and constriction of the heart by fluid in the sac around the heart. Think about that for a moment: Because of our sins, He literally died of a broken heart (9).
However, I believe Jesus’ agony started before the first nail was ever driven. As horrible as His physical death on the cross was, the spiritual aspect of His suffering was millions of times worse. When Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, He faced the reality of becoming sin, something that was totally foreign to His holy nature (2 Corinthians 5:21). This culminated when, for the only time in history, God the Father turned His back on His Son, resulting in Jesus’ heart wrenching cry “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34)
This statement is largely a mystery to us, as our finite minds cannot come anywhere near comprehending the unspeakable torment Jesus was facing, spirit, soul and body. In order for us to enjoy Heaven, He faced the fiery torments of Hell.
Although the notion of Jesus descending into Hell is spurned by some in the Christian community, it is well documented by both Scripture (Psalm 16:10; Acts 2:27; Ephesians 4:7-10; 1 Peter 3:19), and by church history. In fact, it was almost universally accepted among the early church fathers (10). As the great French reformer John Calvin put it:
If Christ had died only a bodily death, it would have been ineffectual. No – it was expedient at the same time for him to undergo the severity of God’s vengeance, to appease his wrath and satisfy his just judgment. For this reason, he must also grapple hand to hand with the armies of hell and the dread of everlasting death (11).
The legendary evangelist Billy Graham echoes this theme:
Jesus’ cry, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34) has puzzled many. Jesus is actually quoting the opening line of Psalm 22 and using it to express His deep agony on the cross. He is suffering the penalty for our sin in our place. The penalty for sin is death (Romans 6:23). Death includes two dimensions — physical and spiritual. Physical death is the separation o the spirit from the body. Spiritual death is the separation of the spirit from God. Since Jesus was dying for our sin as our substitute, He was experiencing the agony of separation from His Father. It was the agony of hell (12).
In order to understand this principle, we must understand the concepts of substitution and identification. In order to redeem us from sin, Jesus had to taste of the full penalty of that sin. His death bought back everything that the curse of sin had stolen from us. He was cursed, so that we could be blessed (Galatians 3:13-14). He was made sin, so that we could be made righteous. (2 Corinthians 5:21). He was wounded, so that we could be healed. (Isaiah 53:5; 1 Peter 2:24). He was made poor, so that we could be made rich (2 Corinthians 8:9). He died, so that we could live (John 3:16, Hebrews 2:14-15).
However, the cycle was not yet complete. As important as Jesus’ death was, it would have ultimately been meaningless were it not for the event that followed: His bodily resurrection from the dead. Throughout Jesus’ earthly ministry, His followers were perplexed by His mysterious prophecies that He must be rejected and killed, then rise again on the third day (Matthew 17:22-23; Mark 9:31; Luke 9:18-22). One can only imagine what it was like in that room when He actually stood before them, showing them the wounds in His hands and in His side (John 20:19-29).
In the forty days following His resurrection, Jesus made numerous other appearances to His disciples, as well as to many others. In all, He was physically seen by over 500 people (1 Corinthians 15:6)!
Jesus’ resurrection, which is a fully verifiable historical fact (13), irrefutably proved who He was (John 10:17-18; Romans 1:4), and that God’s Word is true (Psalm 16:10; Luke 24: 44-47; Acts 2: 25-31). It established Him as the head of His church (Ephesians 1:19-23), and showed His ultimate victory over the powers of darkness (see John 12:31; 16: 8-11). In the words of Colossians 2:15, Jesus “spoiled principalities and powers, he made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in it.” This is military terminology. The image being drawn is that of an army overthrowing a rival kingdom, stripping its ruler naked and parading him down the streets in humiliation. This is exactly what Jesus did to Satan. Had the forces of darkness known this, they would not have crucified Him (1 Corinthians 2:8). Jesus died as the sacrificial lamb, and was raised as the conquering warrior. As He majestically declares in Revelation 1:18: “I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death.”
Friend, the price has been paid in full. The free gift of eternal life is being offered to you now, bought and paid for by Jesus’ own blood. You can reject Him, die in your sins, and be eternally lost, or you can accept His payment for your sins, embrace Him as Lord of your life, and live with Him forever. Romans 10:13 tells us that “whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” You can call on Him right now, right where you are.
If you already know the Lord, then I hope this message will serve as a fresh reminder of just how much He loves us, and how that love should inspire us to serve Him with our whole hearts. As the Apostle Paul so beautifully puts it:
I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)
NOTES & BIBLIOGRAPHY:
1-Pollock, John. <i>The Master: A Life of Jesus.</i>1984 (British edition), 1985 (U.S. edition). Victor Books, Wheaton, Illinois. p. 205-207
2-From Geikie’s “Life of Christ.” Quoted in “Bodily Healing and the Atonement” by Dr. T.J. McCrossan, re edited by Roy H. Hicks, D.D. and Kenneth E. Hagin, D.D. 1982. Rhema Bible Church/Kenneth Hagin Ministries. Tulsa, Oklahoma. p 27
3-McCrossan, p 28
4-Pollock, p 207
5-Unger, Merrill. “Crucifixion” from Unger’s Bible Dictionary. 1957, 1961, 1966. Moody Bible Institute, Chicago, Illinois. p. 229.
6-Edersheim, Alfred. “Crucified, Dead and Buried” from The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. Public Domain. http://www.ccel.org/e/edersheim/lifetimes/htm/x.xv.htm#x.xv . 9 July, 2003.
7-Bradley, Gerald H. M.D. “A Medical View of His Suffering,” quoted in The Gift by Jack Chick. 2002, Chick Publications, Ontario, California. Page 29.
8-See “The Crucifixion of the Messiah” from “Messiah Revealed.”
9- Chick, Page 30.
10-See Bloesch, C.G. “Descent Into Hell (Hades)” from “The Concise Evangelical Dictionary of Theology” ,edited by Walter A.Elwell. p136-137. Copywrite 1991 by Baker Book House, Grand Rapids Michigan.
11-Calvin, John. “Christ Descended Into Hell,” Excerpted from Institutes of the Christian Religion. Edited by John T. McNiell. Translated and indexed by Ford Lewis Battles. Publishing date unknown. http://reformed.org/documents/Christ_in_hell/#439. 7 July, 2003.
12-Graham, Billy. “Did God really forsake Jesus when He was dying on the cross?” Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. Publishing date unknown. . 7 July, 2003.
13-See “Evidence for the Resurrection” by Josh McDowell. http://www.leaderu.com/everystudent/easter/articles/josh2.html Also, see McDowell’s book “The Resurrection Factor,” as well as “The Testimony of the Evangelists” by Simon Greenleaf.
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