Why Did Jesus Have to Die? – April 3, 33 AD at 3:00 PM

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Why did Jesus have to die?

When God allowed His Son to take our place, something fatal happened. Someone died. Jesus died. Matthew 27:50 says, “And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit.”

But what did Jesus cry out? Luke tells us that Jesus cried out, “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit” (Luke 23:46). John tells us that Jesus’ last words were “It is finished!” (John 19:30).[i]

But what did Jesus mean when He said, “It is finished”? That His earthly ministry was finished? That His mortal life was finished? That His suffering was finished? There was more to it than that. His mission was finished. He had completed everything His Father had asked Him to do. He had made a way for us to be reconnected with God.

But why something fatal? Why did Jesus have to die?

There are four words which explain what Christ’s death accomplished. It’s like spinning the cross around and looking at it from four different perspectives. These four words force us to see just how severe our situation was and help us see why it took something fatal to secure our salvation.

“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). We were in critical condition and Jesus provides the solution. We are “justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood … When we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son” (Romans 3:24-25, 5:10, NIV).

The first word is JUSTIFICATION. It is a legal term. The context is a courtroom. Our situation was so severe that we were dragged into court and accused of the worst possible crime. We stood before God our Judge as violators of His law. As we awaited our deserved sentence, something incredible happened. Jesus stood as our advocate. With Jesus, the Scripture says, “We have one who speaks to the Father in our defense” (1 John 2:1, NIV). And because of His defense, we who were guilty were acquitted; declared “not guilty,” pardoned, and granted amnesty. To be justified before God is to be treated as if we had never done anything wrong.

A second word is REDEMPTION. It is a commercial term. The context is a marketplace for slaves. Our situation was so severe that it was compared to slavery. The Bible says we were “slaves to sin” (Romans 6:17). One picture of redemption is the payment to free a slave. Another picture is the payment of ransom to free one who has been kidnapped. God was willing to pay such a ransom and that ransom was Jesus. That’s why Jesus is called our Redeemer.[ii] We were freed from bondage because God was willing to give up one son for another son. Amazingly, God sacrificed the good son (Jesus) for the release of the bad son (us).

The third word is ATONEMENT. Atonement, and its rare synonym propitiation, refers to appeasement. Again, our situation was so severe that we were targets for God’s wrath. Without Christ, we were “children of wrath” (Ephesians 2:3). In pagan cultures, people would offer extravagant sacrifices in hope of calming their ill-tempered gods. Our God is not ill-tempered, but He is holy. And because He is, the Bible insists, “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (Hebrews 9:22). Yet instead of us paying with our own blood, it was paid “by (Jesus’) own blood” (Hebrews 9:12).[iii] Jesus became our sacrifice, satisfying God’s holiness and cooling God’s wrath.[iv]

A fourth word is RECONCILIATION. The context for this word is the battlefield. The Bible says we were “enemies of God” (Romans 5:10). Our situation was so severe it’s as if we were standing across the battlefield from God, poised as His enemies! Yet Jesus changes that. The Bible says, “For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5). “While we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son” (Romans 5:10). The word “reconcile” means to exchange. Hostility, adversity, and enmity were all replaced with peace.[v] Through Jesus, God is willing to treat us as allies, as friends, and even as His own children.

Do you see it? Do you see how severe our condition? It took something fatal to accomplish our salvation. Someone had to die! And this is what Jesus’ death accomplished and this is what Jesus meant when He said, “It is finished.”

Luke adds an interesting detail in his description of the scene at the cross. “All His acquaintances … were standing at a distance, seeing these things” (Luke 23:49).

We’re standing at a distance too. There is the distance of 2,000 years between us and the cross. And too often, that distance numbs us to the reality of the cross. We forget that something radical happened, that something fatal took place, and it just doesn’t seem as phenomenal anymore. What can we do about that? We can go back to the cross.

In your imagination, walk toward the cross. Approach the cross, and imagine yourself kneeling before it. Feel the weight of God’s justice. Let it humble you. Agree with God that you were bad enough. Grieve there, weep there, mourn there. See Jesus absorb all your sin as He hangs there.

As you imagine yourself kneeling there, gaze at the cross. Feel the relief of God’s love, of God’s forgiveness. Let it cleanse you. Agree with God that while you were unworthy you were not worthless. Give thanks. Thank Jesus for making it possible.

Now imagine raising your hands to Christ on the cross. Feel the joy of God’s promise. Let it fill you, let it thrill you. Agree with God that right now you have access to the Father. Worship there. Show reverence.


[i].       The phrase itself was used in Greek language in reference to completing a race, to paying off a debt, and to giving birth.

[ii].      Jesus came to “give His life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45, NIV). So, to whom did God pay this ransom? To Satan? Did God have to pay Satan to get us out of hoc? Is that the way it worked? No! Do you know who God paid this ransom? Himself! Who demanded the payment for sin? God did. And who paid for it? God did.

[iii].     Jesus “is the atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 2:2, NIV).

[iv].     As Philip Yancey writes, “It took the most unfair act in history, the execution of Jesus the Christ, to satisfy divine justice.” [Philip Yancey, “God Isn’t Fair (and I’m Glad He Isn’t),” Christianity Today, November 20, 1987, page 72.]

[v].      W. E. Vine explains that to reconcile is to “to change from enmity to friendship.” [W. E. Vine, An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words (Old Tappan, NJ: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1940, 1966), page 260.]

 

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Crucifixion – April 3, 33 AD at 3:00 PM

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At 9:00 that morning, as the first nail was hammered through Jesus’ hand, God exercised His holy justice against the sin of the world. Around 12:00 noon, as Jesus was crucified with two thieves, God offered His surprising grace to two criminals who absolutely did not deserve it. And at 3:00 in the afternoon, as Jesus breathed His last breath, God allowed His Son to take our place so that we might be reconnected with God!

“From the sixth hour darkness fell upon all the land until the ninth hour” (Matthew 27:45). The Jewish day began at 6:00 am, so the “ninth hour” would have been 3:00 in the afternoon. That’s when Jesus gave up His spirit and died.

When God allowed His Son to take our place, something radical happened. And something radical was said. After hanging on the cross for six hours, Jesus cried out with a loud voice and said, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” that is, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Matthew 27:46). Jesus was abandoned by His Father. Historian Alfred Edersheim referred to this moment as “the withdrawal of God.”[i]

What was going on at that moment between Father and Son is beyond our understanding. Even those who were there did not understand. Verse 47 tells that they thought He was calling for Elijah. They did not understand that what was happening was a fulfillment of a prophecy made in Psalm 22.

“My God, my God, why have You forsaken me? … O my God, I cry by day, but You do not answer … In You our fathers trusted; they trusted and You delivered them … Be not far from me … I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within me. My strength is dried up … and my tongue cleaves to my jaws; and You lay me in the dust of death … they pierced my hands and my feet … They look, they stare at me;  they divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots. But You, O Lord, be not far off; O You my help, hasten to my assistance …” (Psalm 22).

But the Father did not help. The Father abandoned the Son. But why?

By going to the cross, Jesus did not merely carry our sin and nail it to the cross. He became our sin and nailed Himself to the cross. Jesus absorbed our sin and became what we were. He became our substitute and died in our place.

  • “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)
  • “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf.” (2 Corinthians 5:21)
  • “(He) became a curse for us.” (Galatians 3:13)
  • “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross.” (1 Peter 2:24)
  • “Surely our griefs He Himself bore, and our sorrows He carried; … But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed. All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; but the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him.” (Isaiah 53:4-6)

Because Jesus became all that – all that we were – His holy Father turned away!

This radical moment is understood only by understanding just how offended God really is. His “eyes are too pure to look on evil” and He cannot “tolerate wrong” (Habakkuk 1:13, NIV). God is holy.[ii] And because He is, He turned away!

Sin is not merely some misdemeanor. It’s not just getting caught with a hand in the cookie jar. It is something far worse. “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). That is the penalty attached to sin. The Bible says that those who sin against God and who live with no regard for God are “worthy of death” (Romans 1:32).[iii] What a chilling indictment! “Worthy of death!” This is so difficult to accept because most of us do not think we have done anything that bad. But we have.

Oh sure, we’re good people. We love our families, we pay our taxes, and we don’t cheat our boss. We know we’re not perfect, but the worst we’ve done is cut someone off in traffic or nod off in church. Compared to the guy next door, we’re doing pretty good. And yet the cross tells us something totally different about ourselves.

In his book Authentic Faith, Gary Thomas dares to say something that at first read offends. He writes, “The clear teaching of Scripture is that all of us deserve ‘capital punishment.’ … The fact that anyone will be saved is an act of sheer mercy and compassion on God’s part. We all deserve a spot on death row, spiritually speaking.”[iv]

That’s radical, even offensive and insulting. But Gary Thomas is theologically right. We do deserve the death penalty. Romans 1:32 says, we are “worthy of death.” Until we realize this, we will always under-appreciate grace. In the eyes of God, what I have done and what you have done does! Is this overstating the case? If so, then surely God overreacted and Jesus died for nothing.

We must understand that something radical happened at the cross. And we must come to the place where we agree with God and agree with Romans 1:32. Yes, we are “worthy of death.”

What does the cross say to us? What does the Father’s abandonment of His Son say to us?

John Stott answers, “Our sin must be extremely horrible. Nothing reveals the gravity of sin like the cross … It is impossible for us to face Christ’s cross with integrity and not to feel ashamed of ourselves.”[v]

Think about it this way. An aggressive, fast-spreading cancer calls for an aggressive, fast-acting treatment. No chemo or radiation or even experimental medicine is withheld. Why? Because that’s what you do when life is at stake. So it is with the cross. A severe, life-threatening, radical problem exists within humankind which calls for a severe, life-sacrificing, radical solution. Why? Again, because that’s what you do when life is at stake.


 

[i].       Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, originally 1883, reprinted), Book 2, page 607.

[ii].      Around 700 BC, the prophet Isaiah was allowed a peek into heaven and what he saw and what he heard was fabulous. He heard the angels of heaven singing, “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of hosts, the whole earth is full of His glory” (Isaiah 6:3). And some 800 years later, the Apostle John is allowed a similar peek. And he too sees and hears angels singing, “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and who is and who is to come” (Revelation 4:8). God was holy in Isaiah’s day, God was holy in John’s day, and God was holy on April 3, 33 AD.

[iii].     This is not just physical death; it is spiritual death, spiritual separation from God.

[iv].     Gary Thomas, Authentic Faith: The Power of a Fire-Tested Life (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002), page 244.

[v].      Stott, The Cross of Christ (Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1986), page 83.
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Crucifixion – April 3, 33 AD at Noon

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There are so many important days and dates in our personal lives. The day we graduate, the day we marry, the day our children are born, and of course, the day we accept Christ. And arguably, the most significant date in history was April 3, 33 AD – the day Jesus Christ was crucified on the cross. Because of our faith in what happened on that date, our “forever” has been determined.

Just before noon on April 3, 33 AD, a fascinating conversation took place at the cross between Jesus and two thieves who were crucified with Him. Perched upon their crosses, two thieves made two very different choices that day. Both faced death, but oh how differently they died. Both looked at the man in the middle, but oh how differently they viewed Jesus. And because of how each viewed Him, that day their eternal destinies were decided. Their “forever” was determined.

There are so many thrilling moments in history I wish I could have witnessed. But when it comes to the cross, I’m not really sure I wish I could have been there. Yet one of the things that makes the cross so captivating is the dialogue that we hear.

Jesus was crucified with two other men. This detail was prophesied by Isaiah 700 years earlier, that the Messiah would be “numbered with the transgressors” (Isaiah 53:12).

We do not know their names or their crimes. We simply know they were criminals, robbers.[i] They must have been among the worst, because no one was crucified for petty theft. They were brutal men who used violence to take whatever they wanted. They were guilty and they knew it. One even admitted, “We are receiving what we deserve” (Luke 23:41). Their crime was so heinous it called for capital execution. They were not just condemned to die, they were dying! And in spite of that, they insulted Jesus too. They chimed in and hurled insults just like everyone else.[ii] And yet, God’s grace was offered to two men who absolutely did not deserve it.

The first thief finished life as he lived it – calloused and scoffing. “Are You not the Christ? Save Yourself and us!” (Luke 23:39). Being nailed to a cross must not tame the tongue. His speech was just as abusive and slanderous as those on the ground. To the bitter end, he was hard and tough, and died a skeptic and a cynic. Sadly, he was so close to the cross, but so far from Christ.[iii] He missed it. He failed to see what was right there in front of him.

The second thief saw it. He began to look at Jesus. He studied Him. Something in Jesus’ eyes touched something in his heart. One author writes, “Slowly the thief’s curiosity offsets the pain in his body. He momentarily forgets the nails rubbing against the raw bones of his wrists and the cramps in his calves. He begins to feel a peculiar warmth in his heart.”[iv] His heart was softening. He was humbled, even repentant.

He was so moved that he could not stand the ridicule of the first thief. He couldn’t take it anymore. Pinned to a cross, this second thief defended Jesus. Crucifying this man in the middle just didn’t make sense. Perhaps He was the Christ.

He managed to argue through his pain, “Do you not even fear God?” (Luke 23:40). Oh he hadn’t most of his life. His entire life was a waste. But as the minutes ticked away, facing his Maker was about to become a reality. So he had to admit, “We are receiving what we deserve” (Luke 23:41). This was his first step of faith. He admitted his sin. That’s always the first step of faith. This thief took responsibility for his pathetic life. He knew whose fault it was – his! He knew he was getting what he deserved.

But as for Jesus, “This man has done nothing wrong!” (Luke 23:41). You would have expected Peter or James or John to come to Jesus’ defense, but this thief? What a statement of faith from a convicted criminal! With his dying breath, he acknowledged his faith. He could see the purity and holiness of Jesus. It became so very clear. Jesus was sinless. He witnessed what Paul would later explain. Jesus “knew no sin” but became sin “on our behalf” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

Then this thief dared to wonder, “Oh should I ask Him?” “Would He if I asked?” The thief whispered the name. “Jesus.” “Jesus, remember me.” Perhaps he begged between painful gasps for breath. Perhaps tears rolled down his grimy face. But surely he asked with total trust in those eyes of Jesus. He dared to ask, “Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!” (Luke 23:42). “In spite of what I’ve done, in spite of what you see, is there any way you could remember me?”[v]

Then the most amazing words come from the cross. With one sentence, eternal destiny was altered. Jesus said, “Truly I say to you” – or in other words, “I promise you with all My heart” –  “today, you shall be with Me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43).

When? “Today!” Where? “Paradise!” With You? “That’s right, with Me.” Can you believe it? Jesus promised this man, with his last-minute faith, Paradise. He promised heaven. What a moment! The greatest moment in that poor thief’s life came at the last moment.

With simple faith, that thief’s eternity was settled. And through simple faith, yours can be too.

Some people try to delay it. Others try to ignore it altogether. But eventually a decision has to be made. At the cross, each of us faces a personal choice. You have a choice. You have a decision to make. Perhaps you’re still thinking about it. That’s great. Keep grappling with your faith issues. As you do, know that God loves you more than you can imagine and He can’t wait for you to decide. As you think about it, is there any reason why you wouldn’t accept Christ today?

One thief was so close to the cross, but so far from Christ. He missed what was right there in front of him. Don’t let that be you! You are so close. Salvation is right here in front of you. Don’t miss it. This could be your moment. This could be the day when your eternal destiny is decided.


[i].       See Matthew 27:38.

[ii].      “The robbers who had been crucified with Him were also insulting Him” (Matthew 27:44).

[iii].     Max Lucado, No Wonder They Call Him the Savior (Portland, OR: Multnomah Press, 1986), page 125.

[iv].     Max Lucado, Six Hours One Friday (Portland, OR: Multnomah Press, 1989) pages 124-125.

[v].      Ibid., page 196.

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His Love – April 3, 33 AD at 9:00 AM

Cross-Celtic Silver

Why did He do it? Why did Jesus volunteer to suffer such an agonizing and painful death? Because of His love.

On April 3, 33 AD, at 9:00 in the morning, as the hammer was raised to strike that nail, He could have stopped everything. But He didn’t. He didn’t because of what He felt for us. The love of God is no more apparent than at the cross.

  • “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son …” (John 3:16)
  • “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13)
  • “For God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)
  • “We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us.” (1 John 3:16)

As Jesus’ body was stretched on that crossbeam, anticipating the first blow to that nail, perhaps He rolled His head to the side and looked. What do you think Jesus saw? The hammer? The nail? A spiteful soldier? Or, perhaps He simply saw a man. A person just like you and me who desperately needed Him to go through with it. Perhaps Jesus looked at the man who hammered that first nail and decided not to flinch.

Does that thought ever stop you in your tracks? At any moment along the way, Jesus could have stopped everything. But at that moment, He did not resist. He did not abort. I believe He decided to go through with it for me and I believe He decided to go through with it for you.[i]

Max Lucado beautifully writes, “Since He couldn’t bear the thought of eternity without you, He chose the nails.”[ii]

Why should we go back to the cross? We are people of the resurrection. His cross is vacant and His tomb is empty. Jesus overcame the cross and defeated death, and through faith so shall we. But we can never fully appreciate resurrection unless we fully appreciate crucifixion. It is right for us to go back to the cross and worship there. Because where there is loss of reality there is also loss of reverence.

What would it be like if somehow we could go back to the cross and engage our five senses? We would be able to hear the taunts, the cursing, the groaning. We would be able to taste the dust blowing through air. We would be able to smell the stench of human blood. We would be able to touch that rugged cross and touch His human flesh. It would be that real. We would see Jesus and we would be overwhelmed with a sense of reverence for “what God did to win (our) heart.”[iii]

The Apostle John had the privilege of previewing heaven’s worship. He heard millions and millions of angels singing around the throne, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain … To Him who sits on the throne … be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever” (Revelation 5:11-13). There will come a day, and as believers we will see that day, when Jesus Christ will take center stage. All the eyes of heaven and earth will be on Him. All honor will be directed toward Him. All else will fade, pale, and wither in light of Him. And He will have His rightful worship.

All because of what happened … on a certain date on the calendar and at a certain time on the clock.


 

[i].       As Jesus was hoisted in the air, erected for all to see, He said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). Nothing reveals the heart of Jesus more than this moment. In spite of the pain, in spite of the shame, in spite of the agony, Jesus had us on His mind. He prayed for us. He actually prayed for us. “Father, forgive them.”

[ii].      Lucado, He Choose the Nails (Nashville, TN: Word Publishing, 2000), page 34.

[iii].     Ibid., back cover.

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His Suffering – April 3, 33 AD at 9:00 AM

Cross-Celtic Silver

To understand it all, we must look at the physical agony of the cross. At the cross, we see His suffering, and wonder, “What did Jesus feel physically?”

According to crucifixion history, the mode varied at the whim of the executioner. It was never the same, but it was always barbaric.[i] It was so horrible that Roman citizens were exempt from it. Crucifixion was reserved for the worst offenders of society, for those committing acts of treason or brutality.

The cross was a visual deterrent to crime. Crosses lined the busiest roads coming into Jerusalem as a visual threat of what would happen to those who broke the law.[ii] In Rome, Nero enjoyed strolling around his garden patio in the evening lit by torching crucified bodies planted around the garden.[iii] One popular Greek play included a mock crucifixion scene. Performed over and over, the play became boring. So Domitian ordered that a real crucifixion be included to make the play more exciting.[iv] When the Romans destroyed Jerusalem in 70 AD, those who fled were captured and crucified. Jewish historian Josephus tells us that the Roman general Titus ordered so many crucifixions that there were “not enough crosses for the bodies.”[v]

Are you starting to see why the call to take up one’s cross was considered insanity by some? Nothing could have been more repulsive or more frightening than the cross. The call to Christianity was not very attractive in the first century. It was asking a person to embrace the unthinkable, to embrace what a person feared most.

For Jesus, it happened at 9:00 on a Friday morning. Before Pilate sent Jesus away to be crucified, he had Him “scourged” (Matthew 27:26). Jesus was tied to a whipping post and the torture commenced by men called lictors. These lictors alternated strokes by flogging Jesus with a short whip called a flagrum. It was a cat-o’-nine-tails with braided leather strips that were tipped with pieces of metal or bone. Each stroke lacerated Jesus’ flesh – His back, His buttocks, His legs. The wounds were deep. The pain was searing. The blood was flying.

And the Scripture says, “By His scourging we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5).

Jesus was also mocked. “The soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the Praetorium and gathered the whole Roman cohort around Him” (Matthew 27:27). An intimidating ruthless mob of up to 600 soldiers gathered around Jesus for entertainment. Their sport was sadistic. “They stripped Him” (Matthew 27:28). Jesus was naked. God was naked, exposed, humiliated.

They “put a scarlet robe on Him. And after twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on His head, and a reed in His right hand; and they knelt down before Him and mocked Him, saying, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’” (Matthew 27:28-29). The robe, the crown, and the reed were all meant to mock His claim to royalty. These soldiers took their cues from Pilate who sarcastically declared, “Behold your king!” (John 19:14). So they chimed in. “You, a king? What a joke! Where is your power? Where is your army?”

“They spat on Him, and took the reed and began to beat Him on the head” (Matthew 27:30). After beating a man, why would you want to spit on him? It doesn’t hurt, but it does degrade. As Max Lucado writes, “They felt big by making Christ look small.”[vi] Oh how the soldiers mocked Him. But there were others too. Verse 39 says, “Those passing by were hurling abuse at Him, wagging their heads” (Matthew 27:39). It just kept coming. There was no end to this verbal stoning. They were relentless in their contempt. They hated Jesus. “After they had mocked Him, they … led Him away to crucify Him” (Matthew 27:31).

It was around 9:00 in the morning when the first nail was struck. Archaeological evidence of a first century crucifixion indicates that the nails were tapered spikes five to seven inches long.[vii] These spikes were driven through the wrist, and not through the hand, to better support the weight of a human body.

Historian Frederick Farrar imagines what Jesus must have felt. “Death by crucifixion seems to include all that pain and death can have (that is) horrible and ghastly – dizziness, cramp, thirst, starvation, sleeplessness, traumatic fever … publicity of shame, long continuance of torment.”[viii] All that pain Farrar writes, “intensified just up to the point at which (it) can be endured at all, but all stopping just short of the point … (of the) relief of unconsciousness.”[ix] “Every movement painful … lacerated veins … crushed tendons … incessant anguish.”[x] “Each variety of misery went on gradually increasing.”[xi]

According to Seneca, crucifixion was a “long-drawn-out agony.”[xii] Victims could live for several days. And once they were dead, the crucified corpse was left for the birds and the dogs to devour.

All this, Jesus suffered. For six hours, He ached and throbbed and groaned. For six hours, He struggled to hold Himself up with pierced hands. For six hours, He labored for every breath. And after six hours, when He could no longer do it, He breathed His last.[xiii]

And the Bible says, “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed” (1 Peter 2:24).[xiv]

All this took place on a certain date on the calendar, at a certain time on the clock, and at a certain place called “Golgotha,” the “Place of a Skull” (Matthew 27:33).


 

[i].       Martin Hengel, Crucifixion (Philadelphia, PA: Fortress Press, 1977), page 25.

[ii].      Ibid., page 50.

[iii].     Ibid., page 26.

[iv].     Ibid., page 35.

[v].      Ibid., pages 25-26. See also Stott, The Cross of Christ, page 24. [The Works of Josephus, translated by William Whitson (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1989) The Wars of the Jews, Chapter 11, paragraph 1, page 720.]

[vi].     Max Lucado, He Choose the Nails: What God Did to Win Your Heart (Nashville, TN: Word Publishing, 2000), page 17.

[vii].    William D. Edwards, MD; Wesley J. Gabel, MDiv; and Floyd E. Hosmer, MS, AMI; “On the Physical Death of Jesus Christ,” Journal of American Medical Association, March 21, 1986, Volume 255, page 1459.

[viii].   Josh McDowell, Evidence That Demands A Verdict (San Bernardino, CA: Here’s Life Publishers, Inc., 1972, 1979), quoting Frederick W. Farrar, page 197.

[ix].     Ibid.

[x].      Ibid.

[xi].     Ibid.

[xii].    Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1994), page 572.

[xiii].   See Mark 15:37.

[xiv].   The Greek word refers to a bruise, a wound from a beating, a striping. Literally, “stripes” (KJV).

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Crucifixion – April 3, 33 AD at 9:00 AM

Cross-Celtic Silver

The cross of Jesus Christ has been the subject of Renaissance masterpieces and urban graffiti. The cross hangs in art galleries and hangs around our necks as jewelry. It adorns our architecture and dots our cemeteries. Countless are those who have written about it, who have preached about it, and who have sung about it. Countless are those who have tried to capture it and to interpret it, to convey its horror and its wonder. The cross is an unmistakable image and a sacred symbol for all who follow Jesus Christ. The cross is the comprehensive symbol of our faith. It not only tells the story of what happened to Jesus, it tells the story of what happened to each of us.

It is odd, and yet it is right, that this tool for execution has become the symbol of our faith, a symbol of pride for generations upon generations of believers. We gladly identify ourselves with this symbol of death. We gladly display it, wear it, and decorate with it. For in the cross is our salvation, our victory, our life. So we, like Paul, do well to boast in the cross. Repeatedly he said: “May it never be that I would boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Galatians 6:14) … “We preach Christ crucified” (1 Corinthians 1:23) … “For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2).

Yet Paul realized, “The word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing” (1 Corinthians 1:18). To the earliest critics, Christianity was considered foolishness, madness, and insanity.  It was declared a “crazy superstition” believed only by those filled with “sick delusions.”[i] Christians were lampooned for worshiping a crucified criminal, a dead deity.[ii] On the wall of a Roman school for children of privilege, a crucified figure was painted with a donkey’s head.[iii] Children were taught to despise and taunt the cross.

“For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved,” Paul said, “it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18). Paul did not conceal it or dilute it. More than 20 years after the event, Paul was still boasting in the cross. For Paul, the cross was not just some theological abstraction.[iv] It was a real event. A real man died a real death.

But ours is a post-resurrection faith, so why go back to the cross? German theologian Martin Hengel answers that question in his definitive work on the crucifixion. Hengel insists that we must reflect on “the harsh reality of crucifixion” in order to “overcome the acute loss of reality.”[v] Where there is loss of reality there is also loss of reverence!

What happened on the cross was real and it happened on April 3, 33 AD. Why this date? Without going into massive detail, based upon biblical history, secular history, astronomy, prophecy, and the Bible itself, the best calculated date for the crucifixion of Jesus Christ is April 3, 33 AD.[vi] Of course some scholars disagree and other dates are offered. And of course, it’s not necessary to be dogmatic about a specific date. Knowing the date is not that important, but knowing there was a date is. The crucifixion was not a myth, fable, or fairy tale. It really happened.

Matthew 27 records what happened at the cross for six hours one Friday.[vii] As you reflect on those six hours, hopefully, your sense of reverence for your Lord Jesus Christ will be aroused. The historian Octavius was correct. “We do not reverence the cross, nor do we worship it.”[viii] We do, however, worship the Christ who endured it.

According to the gospel of Mark, “It was the third hour when they crucified Him” (Mark 15:25).[ix] The Jewish day began at 6:00 am, so the third hour was 9:00 in the morning. On April 3, 33 AD, around 9:00 in the morning, the first nail was struck and Jesus was crucified.

On a certain date on the calendar and at a certain time on the clock, something happened that changed everything. On a certain date on the calendar and at a certain time on the clock, God showed us just how much He loves us.


[i].     John R. W. Stott, The Cross of Christ (Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1986), page 20.

[ii].      Ibid.

[iii].     Ibid., page 21.

[iv].     Philip Yancey quotes C. S. Lewis who once mused, “The crucifixion did not become common in art until all who had seen a real one died off!” [Philip Yancey, The Jesus I Never Knew (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1995), page 203.]

[v].     Martin Hengel, Crucifixion (Philadelphia, PA: Fortress Press, 1977), page 3.

[vi].    Ibid., page 5.

[vii].   Ibid., page 19; also see Stott, page 25.

[viii].     Ibid., page 20.

[ix].      Ibid., page 90.

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What Mary Did Right

Woman reading Bible

So, what did Mary right? What did she do better than Martha? “All she did was sit,” Ken Gire writes, and “it is where she sat that made the difference.”

Mary was “seated at the Lord’s feet, listening to His word” (Luke 10:39). Every time Mary of Bethany is mentioned in the Bible she is always at Jesus’ feet. Just before Jesus miraculously raised her brother Lazarus from the dead, the Bible says Mary “fell at His feet” (John 11:32). On another occasion Mary anointed Jesus’ feet with expensive perfume and even “wiped His feet with her hair” (John 12:3). We often read of Mary being at Jesus’ feet. Why? Because she adored Him.

Do you adore Jesus? Do you passionately love Him? I hope you do. But do you love Him like Mary or like Martha? I believe Martha loved Jesus just as much as Mary did. But Martha was too distracted. Mary, on the other hand, made the better choice because she chose to sit at Jesus’ feet.

Call it spiritual devotions or spiritual disciplines or a quiet time. It doesn’t matter what you call it. The point is that to experience a personal, intimate, day by day, moment by moment relationship with Jesus you have to spend time with Him. You’ve got to spend time sitting at His feet. And it’s not about doing something; it’s about being with someone. When I talk about having a quiet time, I’m talking about spending time with God, listening to Him speak to you from His Word, and pouring out your heart to Him. You’ve got to understand that or what I’m about to show you will come across as mechanical. It’s not about doing something; it’s about being with someone.

The classic list of spiritual practices includes reading, studying, meditating, and memorizing the Word of God. The list of spiritual practices also includes prayer, fasting, and solitude. It includes adoration and worship, confession and repentance, serving and giving, thanksgiving and community. These are the classic personal and corporate practices that realign our lives with God.

I want to show you how I have a quiet time, and hopefully this will be helpful to you. I know this simple, but it has worked for me for over 30 years. And the reason it works is because I do it. And it will work for you too, if you just do it.

First is the Bible part. The Bible is God speaking to us. So, reading and meditating on the Bible is our way of listening to the voice of God. There are three simple questions you can ask as you read and meditate on any verse in the Bible.

  • Observation – What do I see? What stands out? What is emphasized? What are the details?
  • Interpretation – What does it mean? What is the principle? What is the lesson God wants you to learn?
  • Application – What am I to do? “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says” (James 1:22, NIV). I also ask, what do I need to know, what do I need to become, and what do I need to do?

Time in the Word should be a time of personal discovery. To discover who God is. To discover how He is molding you. To discover His purpose for your life. And it should be a time of meditation. Don’t let it be just a Bible study. Don’t let it be about acquiring knowledge. Meditation is like savoring a meal. It’s enjoying time with God. It’s contemplating what God is saying to you.

Why is this so important and essential to your faith? Well, how often to do face temptation or have problems? Every day? Then you need to read your Bible every day. David said, “How can a young man keep his way pure? By keeping it according to Your word … Your word I have treasured in my heart, that I may not sin against You” (Psalm 119:9-11, NAS).

Second is the prayer part. Again, for over thirty years, I’ve used the ACTS approach to daily prayer because it’s simple and it works.

  • Adoration – Humble yourself in the presence of God and praise Him for who He is. That’s how Jesus taught His disciples to pray. “Our Father who is in heaven, hallowed be Your name” (Matthew 6:9).
  • Confession – And in the presence of a holy God, admit your sins. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
  • Thanksgiving – And before you ask anything from Him, thank God for what He has already done. “In everything give thanks” (1 Thessalonians 5:18).
  • Supplication – And then tell Him what you need. “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:6).

One of my favorite verses on prayer is Psalm 62:8. “Pour out your heart to God.” I love that verse because it gives us permission to be honest and real with God.

In my quiet time, I remember His attributes to stimulate adoration and humility in me. It’s the step of bowing myself before Him. I ask God questions and listen for His answers. I tell God my problems and ask Him for help. I let Him comfort me and I let Him confront me. I discuss His Word with Him and talk through the Bible – “Lord, what does this mean?” or “Father, what do You want me to do with this?” And as honestly as I can, I surrender myself to Him as Lord of my life and vow to follow His lead.

But let me say it again. It’s not about doing something; it’s about being with someone. That’s why Mary made the better choice.

Most of us live crazy, busy lives. And that’s why we’re stressed, frustrated, and overwhelmed. And living that way leaves us spiritually depleted. “How busy we have become,” Chuck Swindoll says, “and as a result, how empty!” If you want to avoid that emptiness, if you want your life to look differently from everyone else, if you want to experience a personal, intimate, day by day, moment by moment relationship with Jesus, then you’ve got to spend time sitting at His feet.

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