Before you say, “I don’t believe.” Chapter 19
Have you considered why Christians make so much of Jesus’ death on the cross?
The symbol of Christianity is the cross – the place of execution. It is seen in churches, on Bibles, in graveyards and around necks as jewellery. And whenever there is Christian preaching which is faithful to the Bible, there will a focus upon the cross of Jesus.
Stories of self-sacrifice grip the imagination. American writer O.Henry has a short story called ‘A retrieved reformation.’ It tells the tale of safebreaker Jimmy Valentine who has been recently released from prison. He goes to the town bank to case it up before robbing it. As he walks to the door he catches the eye of the banker’s beautiful daughter. They immediately fall in love, and Valentine decides to give up his criminal career. He moves into town, taking up the identity of Ralph Spencer, a shoemaker. Just as he is about to leave to give his specialised tools to an old associate, a lawman who recognises him arrives at the bank. Jimmy and his fiancée and her family are at the bank, inspecting a new safe, when a child accidentally gets locked inside the airtight vault. Despite knowing that it will seal his fate, Valentine opens the safe to rescue the child. However, much to Valentine’s surprise, the lawman denies recognising him and lets him go!
It’s a gripping tale on a theme which we love, but the death of Jesus is on a far higher level of sacrifice. It was not just a twist of historical fate that led Jesus to crucifixion. This was something that had been anticipated from almost the beginning of time, and had been prophesied throughout the Old Testament, centuries before Jesus’ coming to earth. 1,000 years before, King David had foretold details of His death (See Psalm 22); 700 years before Jesus’ birth, Isaiah the prophet had described it in detail explaining its significance (Isaiah 52:13-53:12, and others hundreds of years earlier gave detailed insights into so many of the peripheral events surrounding the cross. (See for example, Zechariah 11:12 and Matthew 26:15 & 27:3, or Psalm 34:20 and John 19:33, or Zechariah 12:10 and John 19:34)
Jesus Himself had repeatedly spoken about the death that He would ‘accomplish’ on the cross. These are the words He spoke just after we are told about His encounter with the rich, young ruler: ‘They were on their way up to Jerusalem, with Jesus leading the way, and the disciples were astonished, while those who followed were afraid. Again He took the Twelve aside and told them what was going to happen to Him. “We are going up to Jerusalem,” He said, “and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and teachers of the law. They will condemn Him to death and will hand Him over to the Gentiles, who will mock Him and spit on Him, flog Him and kill Him. Three days later He will rise.” (Mark 10:32-34)
Jesus was deliberately laying down His life for men and women. He could so easily have called for Divine help to rescue Him, and yet in His death He was fulfilling the purpose for His coming. In His death, He was doing something greater than even His feeding the thousands, raising the dead, calming the storm at sea, healing the sick or living His perfect life. Hanging, bleeding, suffering and dying on the cross, Jesus was carrying and paying for the sin of the world. He was the sacrifice for our wrong. Sin, which carries an eternal penalty, would condemn us for ever, but Jesus, the eternal One, paid for our sin in those lonely hours on the cross. God took the sin of the world, from the beginning to the end of time and laid it on His dear Son, Jesus. He was made sin for us, the Righteous dying for us who are unrighteous, so that we might be made righteous through His death and resurrection.
Jesus took our forsakenness from God the Father as He was made sin for us. He was forsaken by His Father so that we could be forgiven, and never be forsaken by Him. Jesus loved us, and gave Himself for us, so that we could be forgiven and reconciled to God. The cross of Jesus is the bridge whereby we can come into the relationship with God for which we were made. And to think that it was the Lord of all who went through the sufferings of the cross for us, it is not surprising that Christians make much of ‘Christ and Him crucified’.
Dublin born Cecil Frances Alexander (1818 – 1895) was the wife of the Archbishop of Armagh. She wrote many children’s hymns including, ‘Once in royal David’s city’, ‘All things bright and beautiful’, and ‘There is a green hill far away.’ In this one she simply explains the great truths that Jesus died as the atonement for sin, and that we are justified (declared right with God) by faith in Jesus.
There is a green hill far away
Outside a city wall,
Where the dear Lord was crucified
Who died to save us all.
We may not know, we cannot tell
What pains He had to bear,
But we believe it was for us
He hung and suffered there.
He died that we might be forgiven,
He died to make us good;
That we might go at last to Heaven,
Saved by His precious blood.
There was no other good enough
To pay the price of sin;
He only, could unlock the gate
Of Heaven, and let us in.
O dearly, dearly has He loved
And we must love Him too,
And trust in His redeeming blood
And try His works to do.
The cross is placed on the ground and the exhausted man is quickly thrown backwards with his shoulders against the wood. The legionnaire feels for the depression at the front of the wrist. He drives a heavy, square wrought-iron nail through the wrist and deep into the wood. Quickly he moves to the other side and repeats the action, being careful not to pull the arms too tightly, but to allow some flex and movement. The cross is then lifted into place.
The left foot is pressed backward against the right foot, and with both feet extended, toes down, a nail is driven through the arch of each, leaving the knees flexed. The victim is now crucified. As he slowly sags down with more weight on the nails in the wrists, excruciating, firey pain shoots along the fingers and up the arms to explode in the brain – the nails in the wrists are putting pressure on the median nerves. As he pushes himself upward to avoid stretching torment, he places the full weight on the nail through his feet. Again he feels the searing agony of the nail tearing through the nerves between the bones of the feet.
As the arms fatigue, cramps sweep through the muscles, knotting them in deep, relentless, throbbing pain. With those cramps comes the inability to push himself upward to breathe. Air can be drawn into the lungs but not exhaled. He fights to raise himself in order to get even one small breath. Finally carbon dioxide builds up in the lungs and in the blood stream, and the cramps partially subside. Spasmodically he is able to push himself upward to exhale and bring in life-giving oxygen.
Then he has to endure hours of limitless pain, cycles of twisting, joint-rending cramps, intermittent partial asphyxiation, searing pain as tissue is torn from his lacerated back as he moves up and down against the rough timber. Then another agony begins: a deep, crushing pain deep in the chest as the pericardium slowly fills with serum and begins to compress the heart.
It is now almost over – the loss of tissue fluids has reached a critical level – the compressed heart is struggling to pump heavy, thick, sluggish blood into the tissues – the tortured lungs are making a frantic effort to gasp in small gulps of air.
He can feel the chill of death creeping through his tissues … finally he can allow his body to die.
( Taken from The Expositer’s Bible Commentary)
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