Friday, April 03, 2009

Celebrate Jesus...He Died For Our Sins

In John 19:16 we see one phrase…“So then he handed Him over to them to be crucified.” To the Jewish people living in Jerusalem during Jesus’ day, that statement produced far more emotion that it does to us living in Lancaster County today. Throughout the centuries, mankind has devised hundreds of ways to kill a man, but none of them rivaled crucifixion. The ancient orator, Cicero, described crucifixion as “the worst extremes of tortures inflicted upon slaves.” Tacticus called it a “despicable death.”

The Persians invented the practice after experimenting with other forms of slow death (stoning, drowning, burning, boiling in oil, strangulation; flaying). They began by executing people by impaling them on stakes. Crucifixion became a tool of Alexander the Great and finally of the Carthaginians where the Romans learned it. The Greeks and early Romans reserved crucifixion for rebels, runaway slaves, deserting soldiers, and the worst form of criminals…people they considered lesser creatures. They abhorred the thought of crucifying a civilized person. Cicero wrote, “To bind a Roman citizen is a crime, to flog him is an abomination, to slay him is almost an act of murder, but to crucify him? There is not fitting word that can describe so horrible a dead.” Crucifixion brought together four qualities the Romans prized in an execution…unrelenting agony; prolonged death; public spectacle; and utter humiliation.

Isaiah wrote of Christ’s death saying. “I gave My back to those who strike Me, and My cheeks to those who pluck out the beard; I did not cover my face from humiliation and spitting” (Isaiah 50:5). The death of the Messiah would involve physical humiliation such as scourging and smiting, as well as personal humiliation like shame and spitting. Isaiah went on to say, “Just as many were astonished at you, so His appearance was marred more than any man and His form more than the sons of men” (Isaiah 52:14). The viciousness of the crucifixion of the Messiah is evidenced in that the people witnessing it were astonished…a strong word meaning “awestruck” or “appalled.” When looking at Christ on the cross, the onlookers could not recognize who or what He was. Harold Wilmington wrote, “If taken at face value, this verse means that Christ suffered more on the cross than any other human being ever suffered anywhere, anytime.”

Isaiah also described the death of the Messiah by saying, “But he was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities” (Isaiah 53:5). “Pierced through” describes the process of crucifixion while “crushed” is an agricultural word describing the stomping of grapes into wine. These are the strongest two terms in the Hebrew language that can be used to describe a violent and agonizing death. But what is even more amazing is the fact that the death of Jesus was substitutionary. He died as our substitute. Isaiah taught this through the many usages of the words “our,” “we” and “us” in Isaiah 53:4-6. Paul wrote it this way…“But God demonstrates His own love toward us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Paul went on to write, “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures.” (1 Corinthians 15:2-3).

No comments: