Sunday, October 09, 2005

The Crucifixion

[This essay, "Crucifixion," was written for a reference work, but never published. It focuses on the heart of Christian faith. May we never forget the Cross of Christ.]

Crucifixion is the act of public execution by nailing someone to a stake (or cross), which is planted into the ground. This was widely practiced as a form of capital punishment in the Roman Empire at the time of Christ. It was the most painful, slow, and cruel form of punishment imaginable. “The crucifixion” refers to the death of Jesus Christ in approximately 30 AD at Golgotha (the pace of the Skull) outside of Jerusalem. He was crucified between two criminals and before a large crowd of onlookers, both hostile and grieving. Jesus warned his disciples that he would be betrayed, killed, and would rise from the dead (Matthew 16:21; Mark 8:31; Luke 9:22).

The Gospel accounts devote considerable space on the events leading to the crucifixion because of the unparalleled importance of this historical event. After his mock trail, Jesus was severely beaten, then forced to carry his own cross to the place of execution. When his strength failed, Simon carried it the rest of the way (Matthew 27:32; Mark 15:21; Luke 23:26). The Gospel accounts of the crucifixion itself are brief and without detail: “They crucified him” (Matthew 27:35; Mark 15:24; Luke 23:33; John 19:18).

On the cross, Jesus uttered several memorable statements. He committed his mother to the care of his disciple John (John 19:25-27). To the repentant criminal crucified next him, Jesus promised, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). He cried out to the Father, “My God, My God. Why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34) and “Father, forgive them. They don’t know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). Lastly, Jesus prayed to the Father, “Into your hands, I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46). From the sixth to the ninth hour before Jesus’ death, darkness descended on the scene (Matthew 27:45; Mark 15:33; Luke 23:44). After his death, one of the Roman guards thrust a spear into Jesus' side, producing the flow of blood and water, a verification of death (John 19:31-37). The curtain of the temple was also torn in half from top to bottom (Matthew 27:51; Mark 15:38).

The crucifixion is the once-and-for-all event in which Jesus, the Suffering Servant, in love bore the sins of the world, so that his followers would not have to pay the eternal penalty for their sin against an absolutely holy God (John 3:16; Philippians 2:5-11; Hebrews 10). The crucifixion confirmed the Old Testament prophesy that “by his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5). Through the cross of Christ, Christians are reconciled to God (2 Corinthians 5:17-18), their sin is canceled (Colossians 2:14), they are justified and forgiven (Romans 3:26), and declared righteous (Romans 4). Christians are called to take up their crosses and follow Christ (Matthew 10:38; Mark 8:34; Luke 14:27), which includes crucifying sinful tendencies (Galatians 5:24; Ephesians 5:1-18).

Jesus’ crucifixion cannot be separated from his resurrection; both were historical and essential for salvation (1 Corinthians 15:1-8). Christians worship and serve a crucified and risen Lord of the universe (John 11:25-26; Revelation 1:8).

Douglas Groothuis

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