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Reflecting on the death of Jesus (1)

(The following has been developed from some thoughts by Ed Wharton in his book, Christianity:  A Clear Case of History).


When we touch the cross, we put our finger on the pulse of the universe.  We touch something that is warm, alive, and vital.  Yet it is also holy, arguably the holiest ground of all.  With that in mind, I invite us to take off our sandals and approach the cross with reverence and humility.


In an effort to help us appreciate the suffering Jesus endured in saving us, people sometimes do what the writers of the New Testament don’t do --– they go into extremely graphic details about the scourging and crucifixion of Christ. 
The purpose of such elaboration is almost always to show that Jesus was severely beaten to the point of being near death before He was finally nailed to the cross.  As I said, the intent in all of this is noble but the question we need to ask is, “Is this an accurate portrayal of the crucifixion?”
Consider the following lines of evidence:


q      None of the New Testament writers go into explicit detail concerning the suffering of Jesus prior to the crucifixion.  He is flogged, beaten, and a crown of thorns is placed on His head.  Certainly this is extremely painful and while we know that sometimes people were horrendously beaten prior to crucifixion, we don’t know that this is the case with Jesus. 
q      We do know that when Joseph of Arimathea goes to Pilate to ask for Jesus’ body, Pilate is surprised to hear He is dead so soon (Mark 15:44).  This is significant because if Pilate didn’t personally witness the flogging of Jesus he at least sees Jesus soon afterwards (John 19:1-5).  If Jesus is near death after His flogging, then Pilate shouldn’t be surprised that His death happens so quickly.
q       Jesus dies after just six hours on the cross (Mark 15:25,33-37).  Death on a cross can take hours or days depending on the manner in which a person is crucified (i.e., how their body is positioned on the cross and whether they can breathe in that position), their general health, and the severity of the flogging they receive prior to being crucified.  Death is due to a combination of fatigue, exposure, and asphyxiation but rarely, if ever, the loss of blood.

q      The two rebels who are crucified with Jesus also provide us with some insight into the nature of Jesus’ crucifixion.  We have no reason to believe that Jesus is crucified in a manner different than they are.  Yet after approximately nine hours they are still alive and must have their legs broken to speed their deaths so their bodies can be taken off the cross before the start of the Sabbath.  Why doesn't this have to be done with Jesus? 


Though He dies the death of a common criminal by being crucified on a cross, there is nothing common about Jesus’ death.  The gospels zero in on this uniqueness:


q      Matthew writes “when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, He gave up His spirit,” (Matthew 27:50).
q      Luke records, “Jesus called out in a loud voice, ‘Father, into Your hands I commit My Spirit,’” (Luke 23:46).
q       Mark tells us of the centurion’s reaction to watching Jesus die.  . . .when the centurion . . heard His cry and saw how He died, he said, ‘Surely, this man was the Son of God!’” (Mark 15:39).

q     John’s account is even more pointed, “Jesus said, ‘It is finished.’  With that, He bowed His head and gave up His spirit,” (John 19:30).


These passages point out two important and overlooked aspects in regard to the death of Jesus.  First of all, they indicate that Jesus is both conscious and in command at the time of His death.  He isn’t unconscious or slowly drifting away.  He calls out in a loud voice, He bows His head, He gives up His spirit.  These are the actions of someone who is control.


Of greater importance is that Jesus gives up His spirit.  We need to carefully consider this because it is a point of emphasis in all four accounts.  Not only is His life not taken from Him, He chooses the moment in which it will be given.  Jesus is strong, in control, and chooses the moment of His departure.  The centurion, who hadslikely witnessed many deaths by crucifixion sees something in the death of Jesus that he hasn't seen before and concludes that Jesus is no mere human. 
What is the significance of all of this?


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