Crucifixion (with hints of Resurrection)

I often threaten to post ‘works in progress’, and yet rarely do so. This isn’t exactly a ‘work in progress’, but it isn’t particularly logical. It’s all stuff I’ve been wanting to say, and it’s all sort of related to the same theme, but it doesn’t really lay out a logical argument. Here goes anyway, make of it what you will...

I think a lot of us, me included, often have a wrong-headed view of God's love. It's very easy to have a guilty conscience and to expect God to be vengeful and angry. What we have to do though, is to recognise that the game changed out of all recognition when Jesus died on the cross.

Take a moment to think about the crucifixion.

Think about the people you know and love. Which of them would you, when push came to shove, actually be prepared to die for - if any? And yet that is specifically what Jesus came to earth and became a human to do. It was a deliberate, pre-meditated, act. The personal cost was enormous - consider His mental wrestling match in the Garden of Gethsemane.

They went to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” He took Peter, James and John along with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled. “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” he said to them. “Stay here and keep watch.”

Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him. “Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” Mark 14: 32-36

God loves us; that's why he died for us. He took all the punishment; made all the sacrifice necessary. God died to fulfil any and/or all the conditions necessary for the whole world to be reconciled to Him, and for our relationship with Him to be restored.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. John 3: 16-17

Why then do we still imagine that God wants to punish us?

Nothing could, actually, be further from the truth!

Despite our feeling that God ‘ought’ to want to punish us; despite all our objections; all our ‘need’ for a ‘transaction’ (that feeling that we have to do something to earn it, or repay the cost); it is the perfect gift - given freely by the Giver. There is no payment to make, nothing left to do, except for one thing:

Showing gratitude for grace.

And I think we do that by loving everyone around us...

When Jesus was asked, “What is the greatest commandment?” he responded with “Love.”

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: “Love your neighbour as yourself.” (Matt. 22:37–40)

The timing of Jesus’ crucifixion gives me pause for thought. We often think of Jesus’ death as being about ‘substitutionary atonement’ - i.e. Jesus dying on the cross in our stead, for our sins. This is, undoubtedly, part of the story, but I don’t think it’s the whole story, by any means. The timing is one clue. If that’s all it was about, then surely Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, would have been a much more fitting occasion?

As it is though, Jesus dies at Pesach, Passover. That makes him the Passover lamb, rather than the young male goat which was sacrificed for Israel’s sin on the Day of Atonement. And the crucifixion then presumably becomes much more about a liberation from oppression and exile, and the start of a return to the Promised Land than being a sin offering? Maybe this is obvious to you, dear reader, but it’s never occurred to me before!

There are some ‘interesting’ things about Jesus’ crucifixion. Under Roman rule, crucifixion was the most awful punishment imaginable; it was usually reserved for slaves and other non-citizens who had committed the most heinous crimes. Crucifixion was intended to provide a death which was very slow, painful, gruesome, and public. Methods of crucifixion varied quite a bit, depending on circumstances and available materials.

Crucifixion, as well as a method of execution, had other aims too. Primarily, I think, it was intended to be humiliating. Artists usually depict the figure on the cross wearing a loincloth, but in reality, the person being crucified was usually stripped naked. The Roman orator Cicero said: “…the executioner, the veiling of heads, and the very word “cross,” let them all be far removed from not only the bodies of Roman citizens but even from their thoughts, their eyes, and their ears. The results and suffering from these doings as well as the situation, even anticipation, of their enablement, and, in the end, the mere mention of them are unworthy of a Roman citizen and a free man.” (Pro Rabirio Perduellionis Reo, Ch.5, 16)

So God lowers Himself to become the very lowest of the low, and suffers the death reserved for the absolute worst dregs of society, undergoing a punishment which ought not even to be thought of, let alone mentioned, in polite society. It can’t get any worse! And yet He is absolutely innocent of any charge. This has to be one of the worst injustices ever perpetrated… Followed by one of the worst executions ever devised.

If that isn’t love, I don’t know what is.

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5: 6-8

I was sitting contemplating this, sitting on a bench by the canal on a brilliantly sunny late autumn afternoon, dazzled occasionally by flashes of brilliant blue and orange as kingfishers hurtled by, and my thoughts gradually turned to the impact of the crucifixion on my life, and things which have happened as a result.

From thereI drifted into thinking about my emotional healing and all which has followed from that. I still don’t really believe it; I can’t grasp the enormity of it; I’m still expecting to awaken from the dream. Things which seemed impossible, for me in this life, have come to pass. The trauma of my early life happened, in effect, to someone else:

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 2 Corinthians 5:17

Indeed, I am beginning to ‘find’ good memories from those early years, hidden away in my memory where they’d been buried all those years beneath the horrid stuff. So I feel a new sense of freedom, and of renewal:

And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. 2 Corinthians 3:18

And, associated with all that healing stuff, I have reconnected with my friend, Izzy. That’s really, really, good… But, in a strange way, despite being the most tangible (I’ve been in her house, talked to her, eaten with her, been hugged by her), it feels most unreal; of all that has happened recently it feels most like a dream.

God is so very good to me. I suppose that, to Him, alongside things like the crucifixion and resurrection, these things are fairly insignificant… But to me they’re huge - too big to take in, to large to comprehend - hence, I suppose, the feeling of unreality, of being in a dream.

Copyright Phil Hendry, 2020