Friday, March 25, 2016

The Death of Jesus

Looking down at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, built to mark the site of the crucifixion and burial tomb of Jesus
Isaac Watts (1674–1748), was a well-educated, prolific English poet, who composed “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” - a familiar hymn to many Christians - in 1707. It is said that Charles Wesley would have given up all his hymns to have composed this one. It captures the sorrow and compassion of Christ (“did e’er such love and sorrow meet”) and the personal response of the hymn writer to that sacrifice (“demands my soul, my life, my all”).

    When I survey the wondrous cross
    On which the Prince of glory died,
    My richest gain I count but loss,
    And pour contempt on all my pride.

    Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast,
    Save in the death of Christ my God!
    All the vain things that charm me most,
    I sacrifice them to His blood.

    See from His head, His hands, His feet,
    Sorrow and love flow mingled down!
    Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,
    Or thorns compose so rich a crown?

    His dying crimson, like a robe,
    Spreads o’er His body on the tree;
    Then I am dead to all the globe,
    And all the globe is dead to me.

    Were the whole realm of nature mine,
    That were a present far too small;
    Love so amazing, so divine,
    Demands my soul, my life, my all.

It's interesting to juxtapose that final stanza of Watts' hymn ("love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all...") and the crowd's demands in Luke 23:26-49. In Luke 23:21,23 the crowd demanded Jesus’s crucifixion (which we mark this Good Friday), and they cruelly embodied Jesus’s earlier warning that to follow him would mean to “take up the cross” (Luke 9:23; Luke 14:27). A variety of reactions on the way to “the Skull” and at the cross reflect the different ways people have responded to Jesus and his claims within the Gospel.

In crucifixion, the condemned man usually was forced to carry the crossbeam, which would then be fixed to an upright beam already erected at the execution site. A placard stating the crime of which he was convicted was sometimes hung around his neck for the walk to execution, and then it might be attached to the top of the cross. The condemned man was fastened to the cross either by ropes or by nails through the wrists and ankles; John 20:25 shows that the latter, more cruel, method was used for Jesus. Most victims of crucifixion took longer to die than is recorded of Jesus, sometimes several days.

Luke 23:26-49

26 And as they led him away, they seized one Simon of Cyrene, who was coming in from the country, and laid on him the cross, to carry it behind Jesus. 27 And there followed him a great multitude of the people and of women who were mourning and lamenting for him. 28 But turning to them Jesus said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. 29 For behold, the days are coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren and the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’ 30 Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us,’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us.’ 31 For if they do these things when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?” 

32 Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. 33 And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. 34 And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments. 35 And the people stood by, watching, but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!” 36 The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine 37 and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” 38 There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.” 

39 One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” 40 But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43 And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” 

44 It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour, 45 while the sun’s light failed. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. 46 Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last. 47 Now when the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God, saying, “Certainly this man was innocent!” 48 And all the crowds that had assembled for this spectacle, when they saw what had taken place, returned home beating their breasts. 49 And all his acquaintances and the women who had followed him from Galilee stood at a distance watching these things.


It's interesting that Luke says little about the physical aspects of crucifixion. His account focuses instead on the rejection. Repeated echoes of Psalm 22 (dividing clothes and casting lots [Ps. 22:18], mocking [22:6–7], the saving of God’s chosen one [22:8]) establish Jesus’s death as fulfilling the Old Testament role of the righteous sufferer (which underlies also Jesus’s last words, drawn from Ps. 31). The whole event is given theological depth by the supernatural signs of the darkness and the tearing of the temple curtain. Jesus’s suffering is not minimized, but his recorded words focus not on his own agony of abandonment (as in Matt. 27:46; Mark 15:34) but rather on compassion for others (the women and the believing criminal) and confidence in his Father (23:46).

The demands for Jesus' life by the official governing bodies fulfill OT scripture. Pilate, Herod, and the religious bodies all signed off on the legality of the execution - an indictment upon the exceeding sinfulness of humanity. None can plead innocence - including ourselves. Blinded by sin, we would have done nothing essentially different from what they did. 

May God humble us to see ourselves as wholly unjust and the Son of God gloriously just. Through it all, God's justice would be executed upon His Son, in order that we might be freely justified. In this way, God would be both "just and justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus" (Rom. 3:26). 

You should meditate today on how the cross of Jesus both humbles us for our sins and affords us hope for complete forgiveness in Christ. 

Calvary speaks not only of justice but salvation. On the cross, Christ prayed for transgressors and He saved the thief dying next to Him. The temple veil was torn in tow, symbolic that now God has given access to Himself through the blood of Jesus Christ and the everlasting covenant. A Roman centurion too was saved. Thus in the darkest day of history we see the Lord Jesus doing the best works. 

Oh, how the cross reveals the mystery and wonder of God's will!