Rev. Henry Tavares
You and I have never seen a crucifixion. But centuries back, criminals were sometimes executed by being fastened by nails and ropes to a wooden cross driven into the ground in some public place where all might see. There they hung stripped of their clothing and exposed to the mercy of the elements. As the hours passed, the torture increased with the development of fever and even tetanus from infection in the nail wounds, until the victims finally succumbed exhausted by pain, disease, and starvation. It is said that they really died a thousand deaths.
The Romans considered this form of execution too shameful for a Roman citizen. They reserved it for slaves and aliens, and for the lower classes of men. The Jews did not practice it at all. Yet when they wanted Jesus put to death, they clamored for crucifixion. They wanted Him treated as an imposter and a rebel against the Roman empire. They wanted Him exposed to the utmost contempt not only of the Jews, but also of the Romans, because they hated Him with cruel and malicious hatred.
Yet what was His crime? He had exposed their sins. He had laid bare their hypocrisy. He had called them to repentance, and had preached himself as their only hope of escape from their sin, miseries and shame. This they counted as a crime because it so completely upset their distorted but greatly cherished convictions. He was to them a blasphemer and an imposter, deserving of the deepest shame and disgrace.
Yet they were utterly wrong. Peter had rightly confessed Him as the Christ, the Son of the living God. He was the Anointed of the Lord, endowed with authority and power to exercise the offices of the Redeemer of God's people, and to save a doomed race. He it was who should teach men the truth, declaring the word of God, making known afresh that which men had suppressed by their unwillingness to have God in their knowledge, and disclosing the secrets of God's purposes of grace which eye had not seen nor ear heard, and which human hearts had not imagined. In Him were hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. No man knows the Father as He knew Him, and to Him belonged the decision to reveal Him. . . . And yet they crucified Him!
Not only was He the sovereign of truth and knowledge, but He reigned over all. The demons trembled before Him and obeyed His word. Disease was subject to His control. The seas and the wind obeyed His will, and death itself surrendered to His commands. He was master of every situation, and all creation was under His feet.... And they crucified Him!
He was the Son of the living God. John calls Him God's only begotten Son. John learned this from heaven, for Jesus was twice proclaimed from above as the only begotten of the Father, and the Spirit also had taught him. Jesus as the Son of God was one with the Father and the Spirit. In being and power and glory He was God. The work of creation is ascribed to Him, and by Him all things hold together. When He came into the world He came unto His own. He was the image of the invisible God, and in Him dwelt all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.... And they crucified Him!
It is said of Him that He did no evil, neither was guile found in His mouth. The Father from heaven declared His complete approval of Him and commanded all to hear Him. He himself challenged His enemies to prove Him a sinner. And no man did. He is called in the Scriptures the righteous one. And it is said of Him that He shall judge the world in righteousness. But this even God could not do if He were not righteous (Rom. 3:5-6). He was holy, harmless, and undefiled. Yet He was included among offenders as if He were one of them. He was numbered with the transgressors, He was held up to open shame as a criminal . . . they crucified Him!
Who did it? It was the Roman soldiers who nailed Him to the cross and raised Him up to shame. They did it at the orders of a Roman judge who sat in judgment upon Him and decided for the prosecution, though he admitted he could find no fault with Him and tried hard to release Him. But the Jews were bent on His destruction. A bitterness that had brewed in their souls for years now was poured out in a blind determination to see Him dead. Reason was thrown to the winds; justice lay prostrate trampled under the feet of men thirsty for the blood of the innocent because He had spoken the truth and exposed the blindness of their darkened hearts. Yet the Romans were no mere tools. Pilate crucified Him against his better judgment. How far he saw into the identity of Jesus it would be difficult, if not impossible to us to know. But he knew at least that he was condemning the innocent. When he should have protected Jesus and defended Him against His enemies, he gave Him up to their unbridled passion. Jesus was crucified by the Jews and by the Gentiles.
But we must not forget that God also crucified Jesus. It is most fundamental to the good news of salvation that the Father gave His Son. He delivered Him up. It pleased the Lord to bruise Him and to put Him to grief. He was smitten of God. Human hatred and rejection of Christ reached a climax in the crucifixion. But at that moment the floodgates of divine wrath also were opened and God's judgment engulfed Him. He was rejected of men. But He was forsaken of God. Bitter as was the cup of human hatred and malice-they gave Him vinegar to drink-it was the turning aside of the Father's face that especially drew from His lips the cry "My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?"
Jesus also crucified Himself. Did He not say that no man took His life from Him; He lay it down of Himself? It is said that He gave Himself. Isaiah tells us that He gave His back to the smiters. And at the appointed moment, commending His spirit to the Father, by a sovereign act He gave up the ghost. It is said that He offered Himself a sacrifice. So did He perform the chief function of His priestly office. At once the priest and the lamb, He sacrificed Himself outside the gates of the city, consumed by the fires of divine justice.
Every Christian crucified Jesus, too. He did not suffer as a criminal because He had sinned. He was the just one. He knew no sin. But we all have sinned, we have turned everyone to his own way. We put our hands over the mouth of truth and buried her under an avalanche of our own inventions. Refusing to know God and to honor Him as God, we made us gods after our specifications, cast in our own molds. Dark clouds formed overhead. The lightning flashed and the thunder roared. Yet in wrath God remembered mercy and sent His Son for us. Upon Him he laid the iniquity of us all. He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities. He was cut off out of the land of the living for the transgression of God's people. His soul was made an offering for sin---our sin. He bore our iniquities. His death was a necessity to our salvation-we crucified Him!
When Jesus was crucified on Golgotha, cruel hands laid hold of Him and slew Him. To His enemies the deed was murder-they crucified the Lord of Glory! It was an unspeakable crime. Yet God also sent Him to the cross. But for God it was the demand of justice. Not indeed a debt which Jesus owed to God for Himself, but liability which He had assumed for His people. It was not a debt which He was compelled to pay against His will, but a burden which He received gladly and which He carried voluntarily. For God, it was an act of love for us. For Christ, it was a step of unspeakable condescension that lay bare the riches of His compassion for sinners. For all who rejoice in the mercy of God so abundantly lavished upon the unworthy, the crucifixion must forever speak of the appalling magnitude of the ruin into which we fell through sin, and of the unspeakable havoc that resulted from disobedience. And it binds us to a debt of gratitude which is not paid even by the fullest dedication of all our powers to the praise and service of our Redeemer.
For the unbeliever, the crucifixion lays open a door-the only door of escape from utter ruin. He is invited to enter and find rest in the fellowship of God. Have you come to trust in the crucified Savior as your hope and your Redeemer?
The Rev. Henry Tavares served as pastor of Covenant OPC in Grove City, Pennsylvania. You can learn more about him in Today in OPC History.
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