When I was new to my faith, I had so many questions…and as I’ve grown in my faith over the last several years…my list of questions has as well. One question that always jumped out at me was about the death of Jesus. I always wondered why it happened…or rather why it had to happen. It has always been my understanding that God is all-powerful, and that ultimately, He’s “in control.” If that is the case, then why did He create a system of existence in which He (in the Person of Jesus) had to die?
This made me delve much deeper into a study of crucifixion and what took place with victims of the cross…and I discovered some horrendous things. I discovered that it may well have been the most agonizing form of execution in history…at least the worst one that I’ve learned about. I also learned that it was a very long death, sometimes taking days to suffer and die. The pain was so severe that a new word was created to describe it: “excruciating.” This word literally means, “out of the cross.” The body would be torn to pieces in preparation for this execution by flogging. This beating was so intense that usually the spine was visibly exposed and muscle and nerve hanging loose from the body. Essentially, the victim was beaten beyond human recognition, and then crucified. The death on the cross happened due to asphyxiation. In the crucified position, the arms being placed above the chest and head somewhat, eventually made it to where in order to breathe the victim had to lift themselves up on their nail pierced feet to exhale. The nail would tear through the tissue and small bones of the feet until it found purchase against the ankle, where the victim would grind it over and over in order to continue this excruciating breathing process. The nails that went through the wrist area crushed the nerve in the wrist and the shoulders were dislocated several inches. The shredded skin of the victim’s back would rub against the rugged, splintery wood of the cross as they repetitively moved up and down in order to breathe. The body went through severe cramping as it became more and more difficult to breathe, and commonly the victims defecated while hanging there…totally naked and exposed.
After I studied this…a thought hit me…and that thought was: “THIS is what happened to Jesus?” As I pondered that thought…my favorite question popped back up…”why?” Why did He have to die, but moreover, why did He have to suffer so tragically? Why did He have to be so humiliated and dehumanized? HOW could this be a part of God’s plan? These questions baffled me. They made me really think very seriously about the crucifixion of Jesus and why God would have ever planned such an event.
I don’t totally understand God’s thinking in terms of the way He designed our existence…He didn’t consult me and ask for any input…so therefore there are some of those questions that will have to go unanswered for now…maybe for eternity. But He did speak in the Scriptures and about the necessity for us to understand the seriousness of sin and the consequences it brings. He said that without the shedding of life’s blood, there is no remission of sin (the guilt of it) (Leviticus 17:10-11, Hebrews 9:22). The Scripture’s are plain about the fact that sin brings death…beginning in Genesis 2:17 and following all the way through. This doesn’t mean that every act of sin will bring death but that when sin enters in (which is rebellion) we will begin to experience separation from the Life-Giver and Sustainer…and therefore death and/or decay will enter in to our cycle. Therefore, if I die as a penalty for my sin, my separation is eternal, because that would be justice…because I would be getting what I deserved. I would be separate due to my rebellion. I would exist in eternal separation from Him…unless a sacrifice could be made…from the family of humanity…that didn’t deserve to die…essentially…a perfect life…sinless…innocent.
Now Jesus enters the scene. One of my favorite passages…if not my favorite…is 2 Corinthians 5:21: “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” This verse says that Jesus was innocent of sin…yet He became the literal embodiment of all the sin of all mankind in all of history, in order that we could swap places and take on His innocence and perfection before a holy and just God. This is the most incredible truth in all of time…this is the essence of mercy…this is the essence of grace…this is the love of God.
So…I still have one lingering…nagging question: Why did it have to be so brutal? Why did it have to be so grotesque? Why did it have to be so dark? Couldn’t He just have been poisoned or even hanged? Couldn’t there have been a “cleaner” way to carry all of this out?
No. Because sin is brutal. Sin is grotesque. Sin is dark and it is dirty. It had to be dealt with for what it was. It had to be shown for its disgusting character. It had to be seen and reviled. His beating and crucifixion illustrated what the heart of humanity looks like due to depravity. His suffering shows the vile nature within man that He died on behalf of. He became the literal embodiment of all of the nastiness and vileness of the actions of my hands and the thoughts of my heart. My brutal, grotesque, dark, dirty self was crucified that day, and because it was, I am clean. I am not simply an old rotten sinner. I am an heir of the Kingdom of God. I am clean, pure, and holy. Now, because of the exchange of identities, I’m worthy of being in the presence of a holy God.
Yes, that day was terrible…considering what humanity…we…did to the sinless perfect One…as we flogged Him, pulled out His beard, cursed Him, spat in His face…then nailed Him to the cross…to suffer an EXCRUCIATING death…between two criminals…naked and exposed…beaten beyond recognition.
YES that day was wonderful. That was the day that our debt was paid. That was the day that our account was settled. That was the day that our guilt was done away with. That was the day…of the putting away of God’s wrath against sin…and the beginning of a new day…a day of life…a day of reconciliation…moreover…a day of RESURRECTION.
Amen…I can’t wait to see what He does next…