Pilate addressed them once more, desiring to release Jesus, but they kept shouting, "Crucify, crucify him!"
How on earth do you explain what God in heaven did for us on the cross? How do you put that into words, and not just words where you understand intellectually, but to where you feel it and all you can say is… ‘Wow! He did that for me!’
In the church, we can’t be influenced by a culture of comparison: I’m not as bad as *fill in the blank,* I’m alright. My brother was in the same class as this other kid George since nursery. George always got into trouble so he was nicknamed naughty George by Jonnie when he was 4 and now he’s 17 we still refer to him as 'naughty George'! We all know of a naughty George in our lives. It can be so easy to think ‘thank goodness I’m not like that.’ But in the Bible we see that sin is a universal human condition. There’s no sliding scale- we are either in sin or in Christ. And this is what we see revealed in the cross. At the cross, the true nature of the human heart is laid bare.
Sin is a self-centredness that breaks the foundational relationship of human life- our relationship with God- and this brokenness shows up in our other relationships. In Luke, the selfishness is seen as Judas betrays his teacher and friend for 30 pieces of silver. That was the same price as a slave. The people calling for Jesus to be crucified show their selfish hearts as Jesus failed to fulfil their expectations of the political Messiah, defeating Rome. In the abandonment of the disciples, we see their selfishness as they would rather hide and deny knowing Jesus than risk the consequences of being associated with this controversial figure.
Jesus was mocked, rejected and scorned to the point of being nailed to the cross. There cannot be an acceptable representation of the meaning of the crucifixion without a deep personal response to the problem of sin. Because it is not only in Scripture that we see Christ scorned by the ones he came to save.
Many think that humanity has improved through history. We like to think that if Christ came back today we would give him a glorious welcome rather than a crucifixion. But Christ does come to us, every day. He’s in the Bibles we don’t read. He’s in the passages of Scripture we reject. He’s there amongst the church family when we don’t attend, when we put other things above meeting with him. And he’s there with our neighbour begging in the street. He’s there with the children in sweat shops risking their lives so that we can have the latest fashion. Sin has not improved. In our age of tolerance and political correctness, think Jesus might be crucified more quickly today that 2,000 years ago.
And do you know what God’s response is to the sin of humanity? He is angry. The response to sin is the wrath of God, and often we don’t like to talk about God’s wrath. We prefer to say God is love and skim over the bits about his anger, but true love is often angry. Any parent-child relationship reveals this as the parents become angry out of love for their children. God our heavenly Father becomes angry at our sin because it separates us from Him, He becomes angry because He loves us.
In Jesus’ prayer in Gethsemane, he prays for the cup to be removed from him. What does the cup represent in Scripture? If you think to the final book of the Bible, Revelation, John sees 7 cups of God’s wrath being poured out on earth. Jesus asks his Father, if it is possible, to remove His wrath from him, but then submits himself as the sin offering to satisfy the wrath of God.
This may sound like strange language, sin offering, satisfaction. To understand what the crucifixion meant to God, we have to look at Leviticus 16 and the Day of Atonement. Passages such as Ezekiel 18:20 say ‘The one who sins is the one who will die,’ and Romans 6:23, ‘For the wages of sin is death.’ There cannot be forgiveness without our debt being paid. On the Day of Atonement a goat was sacrificed as a sin offering, and it’s blood is sprinkled on the ark of the covenant to ‘kipper,’ to atone, or to cover or wipe away. So with the blood of the goat, the sins of the people that make God angry are covered or washed away, bringing reconciliation between God and his people. But this Day of Atonement was a yearly event, the blood of the sacrifice only provided temporary atonement.
When Jesus died we see his blood flowing from his veins. This message of bloodshed can be gruesome, but it is this blood which is the ultimate kipper, covering and wiping away our sins for all time. The goat was simply a substitute for humanity, but as Jesus the human Messiah bled on that cross, his blood satisfies the wrath of God once and for all so that we do not have to die. He became our sin. God in his holiness turned his face away from sin, as his wrath was poured out on His Son.
And it is in this picture of darkness, despair, suffering, as Jesus cries out ‘My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?’ that we see the depth of God’s love in the gift he gives us.
In the garden of Gethsemane, we see that Jesus knows what is going to happen. And it’s not just a simple submission, not will but yours be done, we see him begging his Father to take away the cup, we see Jesus sweating blood. This is an actual condition seen in extreme cases of mental anxiety and stress called hematidrosis. Jesus was in such anguish about what was going to happen that he sweat blood and begged his Father not to have to go through with it. You can just imagine the Father, seeing His Son in such distress- it would break any parent’s heart. But the Father sent an angel to strengthen him and Christ submits to the Father’s will.
He not only sweat blood and experienced extreme anxiety, but he endured illegal, rigged trials. He endured being flogged with whips that had pieces of bone tied all the way down so that the flogging would tear his back, through his flesh to the bone, and with that shredded back, he carried the wood for his cross to Golgotha and he had nails hammered through his wrists and ankles. He endured crucifixion which was the longest, most gruesome and humiliating death, often taking between 2 and 7 days. He would have died of suffocation, forced to push himself up by his feet to take a breath and then slump and hang from his wrists when he ran out of strength. But the pressure on his lungs when he hung meant he could not breath, so as he lost strength to push up, he would have suffocated. He didn’t want to do this. But he did the Father’s will for our sake. He was doing it because God loved you so much that this was the only way to bring you back into relationship with God. God loved the world so much that he watched his Son go through this suffering; Jesus loved us so much that he was willing to go through this suffering to reconcile us to himself.
Romans 5:6-8 says ‘For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person- though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. But God proves his love for us that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.'
That’s why we don’t ever dare to casually thank God.
That’s why we don’t dare to casually add on a bit of Christianity to our lives.
That’s why we don’t dare to take the bread and the cup in an unworthy manner, without thinking.
Instead, we remember just what Jesus went through. For you. For me. For us.
Instead, we look to God who created us and we submit our lives to him because no one has ever loved us like that.
The heel bone and nail of a crucified man