What a Shameful Way to Die

Today I reflect upon the price my sin has cost my Savior, Jesus Christ. No, I’ve not made headlines as a slayer, a swindler, or a sinister person to avoid.

My sins are sins that make me guilty in God’s eyes, damning me, but they’ve not been those that make newspaper headlines or the teaser for the nightly news broadcasts. Still, in God’s court, I deserve the sinner’s death.

Would God keep me from heaven for judging too quickly? What about when I ignore an injustice while hoping it will correct without my involvement? Sometimes I bite my tongue when it should be loosed and sometimes it’s loosed when I should have kept silent. I know the correlation between words and murder in Jesus’ eyes. And there’s the fact that sometimes I discover I’ve offended someone without intention because I didn’t do the hard work of communication. How about the fact that I treasure my family and friends, but what I said or did, or what I didn’t say or do, implied I’ve valued them too little? And on and on the sin list goes, reminding me of things that prove I’m far from perfect. So, in Holy God’s system of pure justice, I’m condemned because I fail to perfectly glorify God in all areas of my life. Woe would I be if that were the end of the story.

In a fear-charged atmosphere among Jerusalem’s religious and civil leaders almost two thousand years ago, an abused man from Nazareth stood quietly awaiting the final verdict. He was a pitiful sight. He’d been kept up all night, jostled between ruthless guards assigned to bring Him in for questioning. He’d held His tongue through most of the mock trial. False witnesses tried to pitch a story that would stick, perhaps paid to speak against the Galilean. He’d been whipped thirty-nine times with a cat of nine tails, glass and metal ripping into His flesh. Forty lashes would have killed most, but the religious crowd wanted Jesus permanently silenced. He was stripped, mocked while a more kingly robe soaked up his blood and from a crown of twisted thorn, rivulets of blood streaked down His face. The chief priests wanted Him crucified and forgotten. Why? He’d shook up their methodical thinking. He’d challenged their understanding of God, making God too loving perhaps. He elevated the status of the poor, the downtrodden, the women and children, and the common man. He messed with Sabbaths and laws and status quo and He had to go.

Pilate found Jesus too innocent to condemn. His wife, whose dream disturbed her so profoundly that she sent word during the hearing, warned Pilate to have nothing more to do with condemning the innocent man. I think about her – she had little power but she was married to the man who could try to prevent a perversion of justice. I wonder what she and Pilate talked about in the days following Pilate’s washing of his hands. I may explore that on another day, but on this day in that week, Pilate heard the mob and he felt small and weak and fearfully pinned against the wall. What would Rome do to him if he lost control in Jerusalem? Actions had consequences, so he sent Jesus on to be crucified and walked away to think of other things.

Crucifixion had been practiced as a horrific means of killing a criminal. The sight of “justice” and “order” would surely intimidate those struggling with a rebellious attitude. Perhaps fathers and mothers who had been unable to shield their children’s eyes from the bloodied victims gasping for breath or cringed with their children at the cries of those whose hands and feet were being hammered to the wood beams or the shrieks and pleas for death when merciless fowl pecked at and pulled strips from living carcasses, perhaps those fearful parents would raise an eyebrow and cock their head to warn their child, “You shape up now, hear? Just remember what happens to rebellious people, understand? I don’t want to ever have you hanging naked on some cross because you didn’t learn how to be a decent human being. You’d bring shame to yourself and to our family.”

Crucifixion was for the worst human beings. Petty crimes had petty consequences, but crucifixion was a shameful way to die.

We read the word “crucified” dropped in among other words in the Gospel accounts. Matthew and Mark similarly say, “…and when they had crucified him, they divided his garments among them by casting lots” (Matthew 27:35; Mark 15:24ESV). Luke states, “And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one of his right and one on his left.”(23:33) John, too, gives at least equal space to the seamless garment the soldiers gamble for, though he gives more details as the scene unfolds.

Crucifixion was a horrid way to die. The victim comes to the moments when pressing his weight against the nail that has been driven into his feet is not only too painful, it is impossible. Strength has been drained. The victim’s arms try to lift up the body’s weight for one more sucking in of air, but it can’t rise. Crucifixion victims eventually suffocate naturally.

Of course, if the sun is about to set, the soldiers know what to do. They want to go on back to their homes. To disable the robbers, they swing their clubs against the shins until they break. There, now the robbers won’t be able to pull in even a sip of air and they’ll succumb.

This Jesus man, the one with the haphazard sign about being King of the Jews…hmm. He’s not breathing. Hasn’t been for a time. He did speak earlier but there’s been nothing from Him lately. He quit breathing about the time the clouds rolled in and things basically went dark. The whole crowd had murmured about the rumbling and shaking. Rumors were starting to spread about whom it was that had been crucified and what the Almighty thought about their actions that day. Rumors, too, about dead people not being dead now – appearing in town. Strange for sure.

“Whata ya think? Is this fellow dead?”

“Looks so, but we can make certain. We can’t leave ‘til we’re sure.”

“What ya gonna do? Club his legs?”

“Nope,” the soldier says as he walks to stand just below my Savior. He pokes his spear right up near the ribs. “Whata ya say? Will this convince us all?” and he thrusts his spear up and into Jesus’ side. Blood and water spill out as he removes his spear.

“He’s dead. Been dead for a time. The blood’s already separated. We can go.”

Most of the crowd is gone. A few of the most devoted and a handful of the most curious are still there. Mary, of course, Jesus’ mother is there, her heart breaking through it all. Jesus was innocent, but what a shameful way for life to end. What a shameful way to die. He looks like the world’s worst sinner…but He’s sinless on His own account and yet He takes upon Himself the sins of all the rest of us. God permits that as a just exchange. Almost incomprehensible to us, but pure love does that for us. Jesus dies the sinner’s death though He is sinless.

The hill goes silent.

And while I know the rest of the story, I stand quietly on the hill, trying to see my Savior through my tears. He let the cross, the crucifixion, the injustice happen because He loves me more than being unscathed, more being rightly judged, more being safely back in heaven with His Father. He loves me enough to suffer and to die for me because I am a sinner who had no hope of heaven if Jesus had not died.

Yes, I know Sunday’s coming. I know the veil has been ripped. I know the stone will fall away from the tomb and NOTHING will be inside because my Savior triumphed over sin and death after three days. I know He appeared to followers and to doubters. I know He stayed around for several days and then He ascended right before their eyes, but with the clear promise He will return. I know He comes to those who ask Him into their hearts and that He wants to reign in our thinking, our daily living, and He will take us who are His home with Him when our earth-time is past. I know that my Redeemer lives and that I, too, shall live forever… not because I am sinless but because Jesus died that shameful death in my behalf.

But the good news is: my sin is covered because of that shameful say to die. My life is my opportunity to express my gratitude that Jesus did, indeed, pay a debt He did not owe and I, indeed, had a debt I could not pay. Thank You, Jesus, for loving this sinner so much You’d die for her!

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