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God’s People, part 159: Crucifixion

Read John 19

“Then at three o’clock Jesus called out with a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?’ which means ‘My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?’…Then Jesus uttered another loud cry and breathed his last.” (Mark 15:34, 37 NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

fullsizeoutput_2d7Part 159: Crucifixion. I am a huge fan of and collect films portraying the life and teaching of Jesus Christ. I own the of the original black and white Cecil B. DeMille 1927 silent film, King of Kings. I own many of the films following that from the 60’s such as The Greatest Story Ever Told starring Max Von Sydow through the latest one, Son of God starring Diogo Morgado. In fact, I not only own and love it, but the very first Jesus film I can remember watching was the 1961 remake of the King of Kings starring Jeffrey Hunter on TV with my family on Easter Sunday.

Honestly, up until the late 90s and early 2000s, most of the films really toned down the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. I certainly understand why. Crucifixion is not a good way to have to die and with the heavy censorship of films and music that was in place prior to the late 90s, no one wanted to risk making the crucifixion more realistic. That and many producers knew that Christian audiences would not appreciate it either. They wanted wholesome films with little to no violence and sterile language. So, there was no way that they were going to gore up the crucifixion.

Rather, those films focused more on Jesus’ life and teachings, and they toned down and almost sterilized the passion and crucifixion of Jesus Christ. While these films are all great films in their own right, the unfortunate consequence of censoring the suffering and crucifixion of Christ is that it takes away from the real sacrifice that Christ made.

Thankfully, that began to change with the 1999 Jesus miniseries starring Jeremy Sisto. While that film did not lay it thick with the gore, when Jesus was crucified he can be heard screaming in agonizing pain and blood can be seen splattered on the cross and dripping from his wrists. Again, not too much…but enough for you to cringe at the thought of what was happening. Then, by 2004, Mel Gibson released his film The Passion of the Christ and went to town on showing Jesus’ suffering and crucifixion. The film was so hard to watch, and so powerful, that people left the theater with the same full bucket of popcorn they went in with. It was the film that brought me back to my faith in Jesus, because it made me truly and deeply reflect on why Jesus would go through with that.

Without belaboring this, crucifixion was a terrible way to die. First, before one ever made it to the cross, they victim of crucifixion would be punished for the crimes they had committed. They would we whipped and beaten. The Jews had a law that a person should be whipped no more than 40 times minus one. Whether the Romans adhered to that or not is unlcear, but by the time Jesus would have had to carry his cross, he would have been severely beaten, bruised, bloody, and his flesh torn from the shards of glass and rock that hung from the flagella at the end of the whip.

Then there was the crucifixion itself. The criminal would have had to carry the cross beam up to his/her place of crucifixion. He then would have been laid down and his arms would have been tied to the beam, followed by the hands/wrists being crucified. The cross beam would then be raised up, with the body intact, onto the vertical beam which is already erect. Once the cross beam was in place nails would have been driven through each of the ankle bones into the sides of the cross, and a sentence would be placed above the head of the crucified. In Jesus case, it read in Latin (Iēsus Nazarēnus, Rēx Iūdaeōrum), in Greek (βασιλεὺς τῶν Ἰουδαίων), in Hebrew read right to left (יֵשׁוּעַ מִנַּצְּרַת, מתי כז 3‡מֶלֶךְ הַיְּהוּדִים), and in English (Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews).

The crucified would spend hours, if not days, lifting his/her body up to breathe out and lowering his/her body to breathe in. Eventually, due to exhaustion, the crucified’s own body weight would crush his/her lungs and they would suffocate to death. It was a slow, laborious death that no decent person would ever wish upon anyone. This is how Jesus died.

In the modern Western world, we have been privileged to not have to witness such executions. Even when we execute criminals, we do so in a way that is judged to be the most “humane” way possible. When reflecting on Jesus’ sacrifice and death, let us be challenged to NOT succumb to our privilege; rather, let us truly reflect on what he went through and let us come to the foot of the cross and lay our sins and shortcomings bare to the one who gave it all, and suffered the worst death imaginable, for our sake.

“My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”  Paul of Tarsus, the Apostle in Galatians 2:20 NLT

Lord, as we approach Lent, help me to have the strength to be honest with myself and you regarding my sin so that my sins may be once and for all crucified with Christ and I may be free of their burdensome weight. Redeem me, for I am yours Lord. Amen.