Christianity 201

October 28, 2016

The Cross: Death and Disfigurement

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
Tags: , , ,

Regular readers here are accustomed to devotions and studies beginning with the words, “Today we return to the blog of ______ …” and know we often catch up with writers we’ve used in the same month, but previous years. Sometimes it’s a rewarding rediscovery. I’m taking the liberty of running two posts, today and tomorrow, from BJ Richardson at The River Walk. Click the titles to see these at source; there is also a daily music video in the Respond section that you only see there. Also, click the “Merch” link to find out about owning copies of his studies in John’s gospel.

The Shame of the Cross

It was the day of preparation, and the Jewish leaders didn’t want the bodies hanging there the next day, which was the Sabbath (and a very special Sabbath, because it was Passover week). So they asked Pilate to hasten their deaths by ordering that their legs be broken. Then their bodies could be taken down. So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the two men crucified with Jesus. But when they came to Jesus, they saw that he was already dead, so they didn’t break his legs. (John 19:31-33)

Read: Hosea 10:1-14:9, Jude 1:1-25, Psalm 127:1-5, Proverbs 29:15-17

Relate: The greatest strength of a Roman crucifixion was as a deterrent. There were other forms of execution that were far more efficient. As horrendously painful as the cross was, there were other ways to exact pain just as well if not better. What made the cross such a favorite method was how public it was. When Spartacus lost in his rebellion, six thousand rebel slaves were crucified along the Appian Way between Rome and Capua. This was the most highly trafficked part of the busiest road in Italy if not the entire world. They were sending a very public message: “Don’t try this ever again.” Part of what made it such a great message was how grotesque it would look. I have mentioned earlier how crucifixion would kill someone, but I did not point out there what the cross did to its victim’s arms. Because of the stretching and the unnatural placement of the weight, eventually the shoulders would be pulled out of joint. Then later the elbows. A victim who has managed to live well into the second day would have unnatural looking arms that were more than six inches longer than they had been just three days earlier.

The problem was, this deterrent would not have been much of a deterrent of those three men were still on their crosses once Jews started pouring into the city by the thousands. For the religious Jew, seeing those men still hanging on the cross would simply stir up anger and hatred for the Roman occupiers who deliberately flouted Jewish law and custom that demanded no criminal could remain hanging overnight. (Deut 21:23) If Rome allowed those crosses to stay where they were, they would very soon be needing a whole lot more crosses. Pilate wasn’t so much caving to those Jewish leaders demands as he was pragmatically avoiding a mistake he had already made before in not taking the local religious customs seriously.

React: Honestly, this fact about the arms was not something I knew much about. I came across the information when fact checking what I thought I knew about leg breaking. I had heard about the shoulders sometimes being pulled out of joint but the how and the gruesome details behind it are new information to me. I have done my best to keep it fairly pg rated above but what I was reading made me want to cringe, and vomit, and cry all at once. It brought home in one more way exactly what is referred to with phrases like “the shame of the cross” (Heb 12:2) and “in humiliation His justice was taken away” (Acts 8:33). No one can fully know all that He suffered on the cross but every time I think I have a grip at least on the concept of what it must have been like, it just gets worse.

My only right reaction to this is to cry out, “God I am so sorry.” Every time my mind comes back to this cross, I cannot escape the horror of the truth that it was my sin that held Him there. It was for my rebellion against Him that He suffered the fate of traitors. It brings home once again the truth that no sin is small and His grace, while free, is most certainly not cheap.

Respond:

Dear God,
I am so thankful for the cross. Even as I am revolted by it, that only causes my gratitude to be deeper and richer. There is no measure to the depth of Your love or the riches of Your grace. Thank You. Thank You. A thousand times thank You for taking on Yourself the punishment that should have been mine.
Amen

 

March 25, 2016

The Theme of the Day

But He was wounded for our transgressions,
He was bruised for our iniquities;
The chastisement for our peace was upon Him,
And by His stripes we are healed.

But he was pierced for our rebellion,
    crushed for our sins.
He was beaten so we could be whole.
  He was whipped so we could be healed.

Isaiah 53:5, NKJV and NLT

Note: The story in the opening section of this first appeared here at Christianity 201 five years ago.

Three Crosses

In the little town east of Toronto, Canada where we find ourselves, the local churches come together for a Good Friday service that has grown to the point where it’s now held in the ballroom of a local hotel, and even at that we have to split into multiple service times.

I never miss this event.

It’s distracting however that we all come together. The “Christian unity” theme tends to interfere. Sometimes, it’s apparently rather difficult for worship leaders to choose pieces that stay tightly focused on the theme of Good Friday, especially when most of our best worship choruses are based on the resurrection we will celebrate on Sunday.

So although absolutely nobody heard me, as the soloist was singing his second song after the message, I put my head in my hands and internally screamed out loud:

God, what are we supposed to be thinking of today?

And that’s when it hit me: Sin. We’re supposed to be thinking about our sin. Our propensity to sin. Our sin condition. Our individual sins. The sin that necessitated the cross. Yes, we should think about the price that was paid for our redemption, but we should also think in terms of how we must appear in contrast to a holy God; mindful of our sin nature

…Usually our Good Friday services are rather somber. I’ve always felt that was appropriate, but on Thursday, I drove home listening to a Christian radio station where the announcer was proposing that Good Friday can be just as celebratory as Easter Sunday. He said that we can be ecstatic about all that Christ accomplished there that day, and then quoted a hymn lyric:

My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more

For him this was a cause for rejoicing and I certainly sense the triumph and the power of that lyric. But not all callers agreed with him. One woman suggested something to the effect that we need to own our sin. I believe this is the perspective of most Christian writers down through the centuries: We need to remember the pain and suffering that Christ endured because of our trespasses. We recognize that this was the completion of God’s plan; that the crucifixion of Christ is the central element in the incarnation; that this is why Christ came; but we don’t minimize the agony of the cross even if our minds sometimes fast-forward to Resurrection Sunday.

It was our sin and guilt that put Him there.

That’s another song lyric, taken from the previous chapter in Isaiah to our opening verses,

How lovely on the mountains
Are the feet of him who brings good news,
Who announces peace
And brings good news of happiness,
Who announces salvation,
And says to Zion, “Your God reigns!

Isaiah 52:7 NASB

and one that is repeated in the New Testament:

14 How can people have faith in the Lord and ask him to save them, if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear, unless someone tells them? 15 And how can anyone tell them without being sent by the Lord? The Scriptures say it is a beautiful sight to see even the feet of someone coming to preach the good news.

Romans 10:15 CEV

So also says a line from the classic worship chorus “Our God Reigns” reproduced in full below.

How lovely on the mountains are the feet of him,
Who brings good news, good news;
Announcing peace, proclaiming news of happiness.
Our God Reigns! Our God Reigns!

Our God reigns! Our God reigns!…

He had no stately form, He had no majesty
That we should be drawn to Him.
He was despised and we took no account of Him.
Yet now He reigns, with the Most High.

Our God reigns! Our God reigns!…

It was our sin and guilt that bruised and wounded Him.
It was our sin that brought Him down.
When we like sheep had gone astray our Shepherd came,
And on His shoulders He bore our shame.

Our God reigns! Our God reigns!…

Meek as a lamb, that’s led out to the slaughterhouse,
Dumb as a sheep, before it’s shearer;
His life ran down upon the ground like pouring rain,
That we might be born-again!

Our God reigns! Our God reigns!…

Out from the tomb He came with grace and majesty;
He is alive, He is alive!
God loves us so, see here His hands, His feet, His side;
And yes, we know, He is alive!

Our God reigns! Our God reigns!

I hesitated to post the last verse because again, it takes us into Easter Sunday when I feel we need to spend a few more moments with the women and friends who stayed at the cross. (Luke 23:49)

I do recognize however that the full message of the cross is God’s triumph over sin and death. So I couldn’t post the lyrics to Our God Reigns without posting the alternative set of lyrics from Isaiah which are also available. The first verse of both versions is the same. Here is a song that takes us more to the element of celebration that perhaps my radio announcer on Thursday was envisioning. In the end, both elements are part of the big story.

How lovely on the mountains are the feet of Him
Who brings good news, good news
Proclaiming peace, announcing news of happiness
Our God reigns, our God reigns

Our God reigns, our God reigns…

You watchmen lift your voices joyfully as one
Shout for your King, your King
See eye to eye the Lord restoring Zion
Your God reigns, your God reigns!

Our God reigns, our God reigns…

Waste places of Jerusalem break forth with joy
We are redeemed, redeemed
The Lord has saved and comforted His people
Your God reigns, your God reigns!

Our God reigns, our God reigns…

Ends of the earth, see the salvation of your God
Jesus is Lord, is Lord
Before the nations He has bared His holy arm
Your God reigns, your God reigns!

Our God reigns, our God reigns…


For more Easter-themed reading, check out Delivered From Death at Thinking Out Loud

January 4, 2015

Contrasts of the Cross

Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. He loved us and offered himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God.
Ephesians 5:2 NLT

For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died;
2 Cor. 5:14 NASB

God made the one who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that in him we would become the righteousness of God.
 2 Cor: 5:21 NET

Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
 John 15:13 NIV

 

I tried to find this online or some other information about it, but was unsuccessful. My beloved wife agreed to type this out manually. The copy we have attributes it to T. G. Low. As you study this, you might think of some key scriptures that come to mind beyond the four we’ve started with above.

Contrasts of the Cross

Contrasts of the Cross

We see the son of God, who created all things, hanging between the heaven and the earth which he created;

We see a man who loved the whole world, but was hated by his own people;

We see the light of the world, but he is dying in total darkness;

We see the Messiah, or the Christ, the anointed of God, wearing a crown of thorns;

We see the king of Kings and the Lord of Lords as a common criminal;

We see the healer of the sick the lame, the deaf and the blind suffering Himself in deepest agony;

We see the one who is served by millions of angels dying all alone;

We see the one who saved others with infinite power now weak in his own body;

We see the only person who lived without sin hanging between two thieves;

We see hands and feet that only brought blessing nailed to an old rugged cross;

We see He who set men free as a prisoner himself;

We see the king of the Jews treated by the Romans as a slave;

We see the innocent, holy, blameless lamb of God shedding His own blood to fulfill the will and purpose of God;

We see God, very God in Jesus Christ, crucified for his own creation;

We see the One who ordered the total universe dying amid great confusion near Jerusalem;

In the cross God sees life, but we see death;

In the cross God sees the healing of the nations but we see great suffering;

With human eyes we see the greatest tragedy of all time, but God in the cross sees the greatest victory that has taken place in heaven or on earth.

T. G. Low