Sunday, August 9, 2009

August 9 -- How do we respond to the Crucifixion?

Luke 23:39-56

39 Then one of the criminals who were hanged blasphemed Him, saying, “If You are the Christ, save Yourself and us.” 40 But the other, answering, rebuked him, saying, “Do you not even fear God, seeing you are under the same condemnation? 41 And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this Man has done nothing wrong.” 42 Then he said to Jesus, “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.” 43 And Jesus said to him, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.”
44 Now it was about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over all the earth until the ninth hour. 45 Then the sun was darkened, and the veil of the temple was torn in two. 46 And when Jesus had cried out with a loud voice, He said, “Father, ‘into Your hands I commit My spirit.’” Having said this, He breathed His last. 47 So when the centurion saw what had happened, he glorified God, saying, “Certainly this was a righteous Man!” 48 And the whole crowd who came together to that sight, seeing what had been done, beat their breasts and returned. 49 But all His acquaintances, and the women who followed Him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.
50 Now behold, there was a man named Joseph, a council member, a good and just man. 51 He had not consented to their decision and deed. He was from Arimathea, a city of the Jews, who himself was also waiting for the kingdom of God. 52 This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. 53 Then he took it down, wrapped it in linen, and laid it in a tomb that was hewn out of the rock, where no one had ever lain before. 54 That day was the Preparation, and the Sabbath drew near. 55 And the women who had come with Him from Galilee followed after, and they observed the tomb and how His body was laid. 56 Then they returned and prepared spices and fragrant oils. And they rested on the Sabbath according to the commandment.

The crucifixion of Christ raises several different responses as I read this passage. There's anger, compassion, hurt, relief (that it wasn't me), appreciation and sorrow. This passage shows us 3 different people who were there that had different responses to the crucifixion that we should keep in mind today.

1. Recognize who Jesus really is.

This wasn't a great day. There wasn't a lot of applause and praise for Jesus. Even those who had been the closest to him were silent. John was there. Mary was there. But there's not much recorded that they said.

Here, starting in verse 39, we do have recorded what a condemned criminal had to say. In response to the mocking of another condemned robber, the man we've come to know as The Thief on the Cross acknowledged who Jesus really was. He confessed Christ's purity and divinity and asked His forgiveness. Hanging on a cross close to death with the background as a criminal, there wasn't much he could do for the Kingdom of Heaven. Still, his confession of Christ was sufficient for him to receive the promise of eternity with God. If this doesn't refute a "works theology" I don't know what can.

2. Recognize our wrongs.

Check out those Roman soldiers. They're gambling for the clothes of Christ, mocking him, even going to far as to taunt a dying man with vinegar as he asks for a drink. Hard-hearted lot those guys. But in this passage, we see them come face to face with their own sins as men. They could be big shots while Jesus was dying. However, when He died and Heaven and Earth reacted, they changed their tune.

You see, they saw the world go dark for 3 hours. (Luke 23:44-45a) This could not be explained by an eclipse as it was during the Passover's full moon. They felt the earth shake. (Matthew 27:51b) People who had been dead came out of their graves and started running around town! (Matthew 27:52-53) That one doesn't get mentioned as much, but ought to. What would you be thinking if you started seeing dead people walking around town? "Let's see.....last time we heard about this was when Jesus raised that Lazarus fellow. Jesus is dead, but somehow He's got to be behind this."

Anyway, the Roman soldiers saw all this. They'd probably also heard the stories of the miracles and the loving way this man had with people around. It actually brought about 2 reactions in them. They realized Jesus' divinity, but they also realized their sins and wrongs. They started beating their chests, which was a sign of deep anguish. I'm sure for that centurion a picture of all that he'd been a part of these last few hours flooded his mind and he was deeply sorry for what he'd done. We don't know, but I have a feeling this was more a godly sorrow leading to repentance than a worldly sorrow leading to nothing but death. (2 Corinthians 7:10)

3. Recognize that anything you risk for Christ is worth it.

As we go on in the passage, we see a man named Joseph from Arimathea come forward to claim the body of Christ and direct it be put in his tomb. That's a nice gesture. I suppose Joseph's probably got enough time to get another tomb (although Jesus needed that tomb for just 1 weekend).

No, it was more than that. Joseph was a member of the Council of the Sanhedrin. He was one of the upper crust of the Pharisees. Remember in high school how a cheerleader would be ostracized by the other cheerleaders and popular people if she would deign to date a nerd? Multiply that by 1000 to see how Joseph stepped out. He had great position and a fortune based on that position. To step out and name himself as a follower of Christ risked all that.

He wasn't alone. John 19 records that Nicodemas came, too. Nicodemas was the fellow that originally came to Jesus by night because he didn't want the Sanhedrin to know what he was doing. Now, Nicodemas and Joseph came boldly in broad daylight at a time when the Pharisees think they've won. Again, we don't see what happened with Nicodemas and Joseph after this. Undoubtedly they were cast out of the Sanhedrin before they could formally resign. Assuredly they were mocked. Most likely they lost much of the wealth they had. I wonder if their families disowned them because they couldn't understand what would make them risk everything they had.

They knew what they were doing. They'd surely heard Jesus talk about counting the cost. (Luke 14:25-33) They'd already done the math. They were not fools to give what they couldn't keep to gain what they couldn't lose.

How about us.

A reaction to the crucifixion of Christ isn't limited to people who were there. It's also not limited to just a decision about where we spend eternity. Just because we're not seeing dead people walking around doesn't mean we don't have a reaction.

There's always the "Sunday reaction" of eternal life. Jesus came for much more than that. What's your reaction to the crucifixion when you get cut off in traffic? When the waiter gets your order wrong? When you sense your co-workers gossipping about you? When you're lonely?

Remember, Jesus came (and died) that you may have life, and have it more abundantly. I would suggest that no matter what day of the week and no matter what is going on, you should watch the lamb.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

August 2 -- Crucifixion

John 19

In this passage, we see the savagery of what those few hours held for Christ.

1. Jesus was humiliated

Everything that was done to Christ during the crucifixion was done to belittle Him. He called himself a king, so the soldiers mocked him with a purple robe and a crown of thorns. They spit at him. They blindfolded him and took turns hitting at him. I've never seen an execution today, but from what we hear, it's taken seriously and solemnly. There aren't any mind games played with the condemned.

We also get a somewhat sanitized version of the crucifixion. Jesus, who was pure and holy, was probably placed naked on the cross in full view of men, women and children. Fortunately, artists over the generations have seen fit to give Him a tattered loincloth. Satan didn't. Satan wanted to try to break and humiliate Jesus to the point that He'd give in.

The final humiliation was sin. Jesus was the only man who ever lived that knew no sin. However, in those last few moments all the weight of all the shame of all the sin in the world -- past, present and future -- all came on this one man. In asking His Father why He was forsaken, we know that Jesus felt that shame.

2. Jesus was tortured.

This is fairly obvious, especially if you went to Mel Gibson's "Passion of the Christ" movie. Crucifixion doesn't kill by pain or loss of blood or trauma. Crucifixion puts the body in a position that the lungs can't fill with air and the victim suffocates. Slowly. The only way the body can get air is to try to raise up from that position by standing taller or lifting themselves up by the arms. Those tricky little Romans made that more difficult by driving nails through the hands and feet so that the subject faced the choice of intense pain in the hands and feet or the inability to get air. The idea was that finally the loss of air would make the person too weak to raise up any more and they'd eventually die.

That wasn't all Jesus went through. There were the whips, the weight of the cross, and so forth. I don't usually like to dwell on the barbarity of the event, but it cannot be overlooked.

3. Jesus died.

Of course He did. However, that shouldn't be overlooked either. Jesus, who just a few years before this had been living through eternity as God and came to Earth as a man, now died as a man. I can't comprehend all of what happened from Friday afternoon through Sunday morning. But I do know this: Jesus' body stopped working and died just like everyone else's had.

Jesus wasn't dead long. There's a Southern Gospel song (I can't find it) called "Weekend" that goes something like:

Jesus needed that tomb for just one weekend

He didn't stay there long

He didn't. And on Saturday, the Bible says He was busy in Sheol (what the Jews of the day understood as the place of the dead) preaching the gospel of salvation to everyone who'd gone before Him so that they had the chance to respond and receive salvation.

Jesus didn't enjoy that Passover. When thinking about the crucifixion, I'm always taken to Hebrews 12:1-2 which says "Therefore, we also, because we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has set down at the right hand of the throne of God."

Jesus hated what was happening to Him. And He did it anyway. How? He looked through His circumstances and saw what waited ahead. He didn't hear the insults. Instead, He looked ahead and heard His Father tell Him how proud He was. When Jesus felt the nails, He looked ahead to the Second Coming and saw the saints rising out of their graves. When Jesus was gasping His last, He looked ahead to the day when all God's children were gathered before him in Heaven.

This makes me think of a very simple mathematical equation:

Jesus > Humiliation + Torture + Death.

For those that haven't had math in a while, here it is in English: Jesus is greater than the combination of humiliation, torture and death. And He still is.