Each year at about this time we in the Christian faith pause to remember, to commemorate and to celebrate the horrific events surrounding the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus on the Roman cross of shame. It is a time for us to focus, in as much as our minds can comprehend, the level of love shown us by God the Father who gave up His son in order that we might be reconciled to Him through the once and forever sacrifice for our sin. It is the supreme love story that prose or song has yet to be able to fully capture, and that even Hollywood, with all its special effects can’t adequately portray.
Throughout the years I have studied Roman punishment, specifically the scourging and the crucifixion. There is not enough keystrokes that can describe the horrors of what Jesus endured that day. The lashes He was given were enough to kill many men. The Romans had this down to a science knowing just when to stop to prevent death through blood loss and shock. Death on a cross was an extended torture in most cases lasted days, with the condemned person eventually yielding to death by asphyxiation. The breaking of the legs was to prevent the person from pushing themselves up to relieve the pressure on their lungs and diaphragm so they could breathe, thus causing them to suffocate. Yet Jesus died within hours, not days. Was Jesus just a weaker specimen of a man? Did he die from the physical pain alone from the torture He received before the cross? Did God just have mercy on Him and relieve His Son from suffering?
We can only speculate, but this week in my studies I was led to something that I knew, but didn’t fully appreciate. It’s no epiphany-it’s been there all the time-it just took fifty-two years for me to grasp it, and when I did, it was overwhelming! I have read Isaiah 53 many times in my life, and most of you are familiar with some of the passages. But this week, as I read it for the 100th time or so, I read it differently. Let me attempt to explain. Verse 4 reads “He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities..” I had always interpreted this as a description of the physical beating at the hands of the Roman soldiers. Is that the fullness of this verse? The New Living Translation of this says that He was wounded and crushed for our sins, again something we’ve heard all our lives, but have we indeed really heard? Verse 6 says that God, His Father, laid upon Jesus, His Son, the guilt, the shame and the punishment for the sins of all mankind! Wow-how was that possible?
I remember vividly growing up as a young boy the feeling I had knowing I was about to be punished, back in the day before it was considered a crime to whoop a child’s butt for disobedience. Those dreaded words, “just wait until your dad gets home”, hearing the phone conversation between your parents, counting down the hours in total fear of knowing that when your dad came through the door, you were going to receive upon your backside the punishment for your crime-the anticipation alone really was all the punishment necessary and was almost always more terrifying than the punishment itself. The hours in waiting seemed like days! Consider then the fact that Jesus, being man but with the full knowledge of God, must have felt the terror of the punishment He was going to eventually endure for years, not hours! I can’t fathom possessing the knowledge of the price that was to be required, and carrying it His entire adult life. That alone would kill a weaker man.
But there’s more. Consider for a moment verses 8-10, again from the NLT: “But who among the people realized that He was dying for their sins-that He was suffering their punishment? He had done no wrong, and He never deceived anyone. But He was buried like a criminal and put in a rich man’s grave. It was the Lord’s good plan to crush Him and fill Him with grief”. God the Father carried out the punishment and torture of His own Son for the Sins of the world!
The sins of the world-the magnitude of that statement can’t possibly be over exaggerated. Think for a minute about the most horrendous criminals or dictators to ever walk the earth through World History. How does one begin to categorize them?
Stalin is responsible for 27 million deaths. Mao Zedong as attributed with over 70 million! Kim Jong II killed 20 million. King Herod killed innocent children in hopes of killing Jesus. Then there is Adolf Hitler, who records show killed more than 6 million of God’s chosen people! God exacted punishment for these and other historic atrocities that day on the cross, and Jesus bore the guilt and shame for them, Hussein, Manson, Bin Laden, and the list goes on and on, and includes me. Jesus took the blame, the overwhelming “wait til your Father hears” guilt, the heaviness of shame and the ultimate punishment on His shoulders that day on the cross! My hands tremble and my words are few at the thought. Every murder, every theft, every rape, every lie, every convenient abortion, the martyrdom of every believer, including His Apostles, every hostile act of war between countries, every act of disobedience man ever perpetrated going back to the garden of Eden and Cain killing his brother Abel, and every sin that will ever be committed for time to come, including every individual denial of the deity of Jesus the Christ was placed upon Jesus the man as He hung on the cross. God so severely crushed His own Son that He couldn’t look upon His shame and would not even respond when Jesus cried out from the cross “why have you forsaken me?’.
Why did Jesus only last a few ours on the cross? I would offer that the weight and guilt of the sins of all history broke His heart and His spirit. He paid a price that can’t be comprehended so that we might be called the Sons of God. This is one of those times when there are no words! How do we receive such an awesome gift without the full realization of the priceless nature of the same?
And yet the tragedy remains that many for which he was chastised will go to their deaths never receiving the grace, the mercy or forgiveness provided on that day we celebrate this week. Many will make their semi-annual pilgrimage to their local church to watch a play or hear some music about these blessed events and then return to their every day lives without ever being changed by the story. And sadly it’s true that many of us in the faith will go about the busyness of Easter without ever receiving the full revelation of Christ’s Passion in our lives. God, forgive us for not knowing-Jesus, forgive us our inability to fully comprehend! Grant us this Easter season a full revelation of the events we celebrate and may we carry in our hearts the magnitude of this offering all the year through.