Death on a Cross
“he humbled himself, becoming obedient even up to death…even death on a cross.”
It is true, people understood the horrors of crucifixion back in the first century better than we understand the horrors of this form of death today. We certainly know all of the technical details of what happens to the body during the process of death, but the first century Christians witnessed the suffering and many personally knew people who had died in that way. Thus, it is often argued that the reasons that the first century Apostles did not describe the crucifixion in all of its gore is because such did not need to be described to them.
Yet, in light of many pastor’s tendency to immerse their congregation in sermon after sermon of the gore of the cross, it still seems a stark contrast to me as to how little the Gospel writers spoke of the details of crucifixion. Many simply say that he was crucified and they leave it at that. Why? I am not convinced that it was because of the intimacy of their knowledge of the experience…truly, the Gospel writers understood that they were writing for future generations to read…future generations that may be blessed perhaps to see crucifixion outlawed in their lands. Indeed, there were other experiences that were described in great detail in scripture — experiences that would have been just as commonplace in the first century.
So why is so little said about the nature of Jesus’ death on the cross? I think that the answer is found in the spiritual nature of Jesus’ death. While little is said of the physical nature of Jesus’ crucifixion, a great deal is said about the spiritual nature of his facing the wrath of God on our behalf — of the Lord of Life becoming sin for we sinners and bearing the weight of the curse upon his shoulders. As horrific as crucifixion may be in the physical sense, it pales in comparison to the horrific weight that Jesus bore in a spiritual sense. Indeed, he chose to be obedient even unto death — death on the cross — a death that bore the weight of the sin of all the elect throughout the ages. May we, as we meditate on the cross, place emphasis where the scriptures place emphasis and make much of what the scriptures make much of. Let us not forget the horror of a physical death on the cross but let us also not get lost in it.
Justice Being Served
“And while they ridiculed him, they took off the cloak and put his own clothes on him and took him to crucify him.”
“And while they ridiculed him, they took off the purple cloak and put his own clothes on him and took him out in order to crucify him.”
“Then they entrusted him to them that he might be crucified. Therefore they took Jesus.”
Thus we arrive at the end of a section; what follows will be the crucifixion and the death of our great and glorious Lord. All that will take place follows directly from this wicked trial. Justice is being served…yes, you read this right, but not in the way that you probably think. Justice is being served not in Jesus’ case and not because of this wicked trial, but because God is bringing us to justice but is substituting his Son in our place. The wrath we deserve will be meted out on the cross — that is justice. God’s Son, though, is on the cross in our place — that is grace.
What strikes me as this section wraps up and as we anticipate the following sections of the Gospel accounts, is how little description that the Gospel writers give on the physical events of the crucifixion…even the events here that speak of Jesus having been whipped and mocked and beaten. Very little physical detail is being given.
Now, granted, the physical event must have been horrifying, but it as if the Gospel writers don’t want us dwelling there…instead they want us dwelling on the innocent man who is making atonement for us as our Great High Priest. They want us to focus on the completed work of the cross and the guilt of all of us who sent Jesus to the cross. As horrid as the event on the cross was, this substitution should be even more scandalous to us…and even more wonderful at the same time. Our guilt being paid for…justice being served, just on the head of another.
Yet, if this is the case, why is it that those who produce films and books about this event spend so much time emphasizing the gore of the cross and so little time emphasizing the wrath of God being poured out or the atonement that is being worked. Perhaps could it be that we “moderns” have become so desensitized to gore that we need to be shocked? Could it be that we moderns have become so desensitized to our own sin that the substitutionary atonement of Christ no longer shocks us? Could it be that the film producers simply want to tell a story and don’t want to offer (or don’t understand themselves) truth? Whatever the reason, in communicating the truth of this event, should we not endeavor to place emphasis where the Scriptures place emphasis and tread lightly where the Scriptures also tread lightly?
Thus, as we close this section, Jesus was entrusted to the Roman soldiers and they took him to crucify him that on the cross of Calvary he might bear the wrath of his Holy Father and pay the penalty for my sins…every single one…that I might be made clean and whole…and not just for me, but for all of the elect through the ages. What a wondrous Savior we have…how can our response be to do anything but worship?
Christians on the Sidelines
“Then he released Barabbas to them and scourging Jesus, he delivered him over that he should be crucified.”
“But Pilate, wanting to make the crowd satisfied, released Barabbas to them, and delivered Jesus to be scourged in order that he should be crucified.”
“And Pilate had come to the decision to grant their request, so he released the one whom during the revolt had been thrown into prison for murder, which was whom they requested, and delivered up Jesus to their will.”
“Then Pilate took Jesus and had him scourged.”
Many of our English translations will render the beating that Jesus received as a scourging in the Synoptic Gospels and as a flogging in the Gospel of John. This is done to reflect the fact that two different words are being used here for these events. At the same time, the words are synonyms and each one can refer to a whipping, a flogging, or a scourging depending on their context, and, as it was the Roman custom to scourge a person before crucifixion to weaken him, this is the word that it seems sensible to choose.
A scourge is a whip with multiple strands coming forth from the handle and often would have little hooks or pieces of metal and stone woven into the ends for the purpose of tearing out hunks of flesh with each beating. In ancient times, these whips with metal ends were figuratively called “scorpions” respecting the amount of pain that they brought to the recipients of the beating. Indeed, such use adds light to the quote of Solomon’s son, Rehoboam, when he said: “my father disciplined you with whips; I will discipline you with scorpions.”
Notice how Luke focuses the attention on the wish of the Jews. Pilate chooses to grant their request, he releases Barabbas, whom they requested, and he delivers Jesus up to their will. Clearly, he is making sure that it is clear that it is the Jewish authorities and the Jewish mob that is figuratively driving the train in this matter. Pilate and Herod are still guilty, but it is the Jewish authorities that are ultimately behind this wicked, wicked event. And thus Pilate seeks to placate the crowd and send Jesus to be crucified.
All through these devotions we have been speaking about peer pressure, mob mentality, and the wicked politics that happen to be taking place here at the prompting of the enemy. But let me again remind you of how often we fall prey to not doing the right thing due to the fear of men. How often we make a choice based on human standards rather than divine ones. How often we are guilty, like this crowd, of following along and not risking doing what is right and true and just. Can you imagine how different our communities would be were we to do what is right and true, not fearing the pressure of the wicked, and seek justice…always. We would transform the culture. We often pray for revival and transformation in the culture, but beloved, it will not come if we satisfy ourselves sitting on the sidelines.
Blood on Their Hands
“And the people replied, saying, ‘His blood is on us and on our children!’”
If ever a people did not understand the eternal ramifications of a statement, here is a prime illustration. How foolish, how wicked, how hateful, how grievous a statement. Having been whipped into a frenzy by the chief priests, these people could say no other thing — they wanted to see Jesus die. How the enemy, the accuser of the brethren, Satan, must have rejoiced at these words, feeling as if over 4,000 years of planning and scheming had finally come to a head and victory was within his grasp. Here are the people of a nation that God had set his blessings on, had given his law, and had given promises of blessing, turning away from all revealed truth and putting to death the greatest gift of mercy handed down by God to men. God’s chosen nation had turned apostate, led by a wicked cadre of priests, and sought to put to death the Prince of Peace — even rejoicing in the prospect of having his blood on their own hands for all of eternity.
Yet, God has always kept a people for himself — a faithful remnant. This remnant we will see as our Lord hangs upon the cross, this remnant is scattered throughout the Holy Land in homes and small gatherings, aching over the wickedness being perpetrated, and this remnant will carefully gather Jesus’ body and place it with dignity into a tomb. And this remnant would see our Lord resurrected. Even later, before God used the Romans to enter Jerusalem and tear it to the ground, God delivered his remnant from that wicked city and set them on a missionary journey throughout the world to tell of the good news that God offers reconciliation between himself and men through his Son, Jesus. And if you who are reading this are trusting in Jesus as your Lord and as your Savior, then you, too, are part of this remnant that God has faithfully preserved through the generations.
In the midst of what he must have considered his greatest triumph, Satan was ultimately destroyed, for the Lord of Life could not remain in death, such is the way of truth. And though we stand at a point in history somewhere between the first and second comings, we stand in the assurance that Satan will never steal this remnant out of our Lord’s hands. We are held secure. But as ones who are held secure, why do we so often act so timid when speaking of Christ to others? Why do we often make so little of him who did so much for us? Loved ones, do not despair, Christ sits enthroned, the worst Satan can do is to steal your flesh, but what is that when God preserves your soul?
“Fear not, little flock, it is the good pleasure of your Father to give you the kingdom.”
“But when Pilate saw that he was accomplishing nothing but it was rather becoming an uproar, he took hold of water and washed his hands against the crowd, saying, ‘I am innocent of this one’s blood; see to it yourself.’”
As I write this, I am grieved by the events that are going on in the nation of Ukraine, where the pro-western protestors and the pro-eastern government have been clashing. Apart from the fact that Ukraine has a special place in my heart, the violence that is taking place there reminds me of the nature of this crowd here in these last hours before our Lord’s crucifixion. The reality is that one does not ever successfully reason or negotiate with a mob — it just does not happen. People become committed to their outcome and their outcome alone and will accept nothing less and no compromise will be given. And it is exactly that principle that the priests who have been inciting this crowd are banking on. Essentially, they are using the people to force Pilate’s hand and Pilate knows it as well.
Pilate has lost and you an almost see the anger in his body language. He thrusts his hands into water and forcefully washes them “against” the people. Literally, the text reads that Pilate “grasps water” with the implication that the grasping was fairly violent. He is mad and he is frustrated and is saying, “enough!” And from that point on, the idea of washing one’s hands from the blood of another has entered into the west’s figures of speech.
It is of course, not that Pilate invented the idiom, the Jewish people would regularly ritually wash their hands to purify them from defilement and even guilt (see Deuteronomy 21:6 and Psalm 26:6). Even so, whether Pilate is mocking the Jewish practice or if he is using it to communicate with an idea with more force, the once rather obscure Jewish practice is no longer obscure or without specific meaning in the Christianized world. For this Pilate will always be remembered.
Yet, much like Lady Macbeth, Pilate must realize that a symbolic gesture cannot remove the guilt of another man’s blood. And wash as he may, Pilate had and rejected the opportunity to see justice done and have Jesus exonerated. Nevertheless, that also was not in the Father’s design for his own Son. Jesus’ suffering and humiliation must be made complete upon the cross as the prophesies had thus stated…killed at the hands of wicked men for a wicked people to show us grace. For we are the wicked ones for whom Jesus endured the cross. We are the ones standing with Pilate and the priests in our guilt and we are the ones who have tried to wash the blood from our own hands by our own works and found ourselves woefully wanting.
Loved ones, never lose sight of that great truth. We stand guilty. And, if we trust in Jesus as our Lord and Savior, that same Jesus who died in our place will wash the blood of guilt from our hands with his own precious blood. What a wonderful gift of grace that came out of this wicked, wicked event played out in Jerusalem all of those years ago. Loved ones, will you turn to Christ? Will you live for him? If he gave all this for you, how ungrateful we are when we do not return our all to him. Do not seek to wash your hands as Pilate has done; it will offer you no eternal solution to the problem of your soul.