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Friday, April 6, 2012

The Cross of Christ: Humiliation of Sin

The Cross of Christ: Humiliation of Sin

Matthew 27:31

Listen: The Cross of Christ (mp3)

Watch: The Cross of Christ - Slide Presentation(wmv)

Every mention, every reminder, of the cross of Christ should bring a vivid image of the suffering of Jesus on our behalf.

In our safe, modern world...living in a country at the heights of affluence, luxury and technology, the dirty, messy, gory death of crucifixion is easy to minimize.

The cross of Christ for us is often a lovely pendant on expensive jewelry, a silk-screened logo at the side of a business sign, a brand for buildings in which worshipers gather.

It was not so for Peter and Andrew, Jewish fishermen in Galilee. They and James and John and all the disciples that first followed Jesus all lived under direct control of a harsh government that daily crucified criminals and political rebels.

"When they had mocked him, they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes on him and led him away to crucify him." Matthew 27:31 (ESV)

CRUCIFY: stauroo (to impale on a cross); from stauros (a stake or post, set upright); from stao (to stand)

Death by crucifixion was excruciating, a word that literally means "out of crucifying": slow, painful, gruesome, humiliating and public. The stake or post was not high, perhaps only six to eight feet off the ground. Victims were nailed or tied, completely nude. Artists modestly dress images of Jesus on the cross with a loincloth...that is not likely. (Wikipedia 2012)

"As they went out, they found a man of Cyrene, Simon by name. They compelled this man to carry his cross." Matthew 27:32 (ESV)

The Romans established permanent killing fields for crucifixion, with sturdy posts already prepared and standing, usually along the side of busy roadways. Jesus was probably forced to carry the crossbeam that would fit atop the post. After being scourged, whipped bloody with sharp flogs, stripped of clothing, mocked and beaten, Jesus could manage to carry the heavy timber only part of the way.

Depending upon the method of crucifixion and the health of the victim, death could require hours to days. Punishing the victim with flogging and beating, withholding food and water and hanging on a cross would end in certain death...eventually. Usually, after allowing a measure of suffering, the executioner ended the victim's life quickly, using a sword or spear...or breaking the legs with a club.

The disciples of Jesus understood clearly, and probably feared desperately, what the simple word "cross" meant.

Days before, Jesus told his disciples, his closest friends, that he would soon suffer violent assault and be killed, but that he would be raised back to life three days later.

Peter rejected the pessimistic, dark words of Jesus, rebuking him sternly for saying things so obviously ridiculous and horrifying.

Jesus regarded Peter's rebuke as evil, and he spoke not to Peter, but to Satan, saying "Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man". Matthew 16:23 (ESV)

In the next moment, Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it." Matthew 16:24-25 (ESV)

The purpose of crucifixion was not death, else the Romans would simply behead the criminal and be done with it. The purpose of crucifixion was a triumphant, humiliating defeat over a hated enemy.

The first thought of the disciples after hearing Jesus command them to take up their cross, would be to imagine themselves publicly humiliated. They saw themselves nailed to a T-shaped post, perhaps six-feet tall, erected near a busy road, exposed to hours of painful, scornful humiliation.

The cross led to death, but the humiliation made the death unbearable to contemplate.

Jesus said, "Let him deny himself..." In this word picture that Jesus created, he's causing us to imagine that we are being crucified, placed in an utterly humiliating and painful position, and the executioner, the one who has placed us on the cross is...ourselves!

Jesus is painting a picture of me as both the crucified and the crucifier! The only way to reconcile this absurd image is to remember our fallen, human condition.

Paul wrote of the dual nature of a Christian:

"We know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.

"For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.

"So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?" Romans 7:14-24 (ESV)

Paul describes two natures, two controlling influences: the first, the nature of flesh, the sinful nature that hates God's rule; the second, the nature of spirit, the inner person that delights in God's rule.

The two natures fight a deadly, violent, costly war with each other.

Paul concludes this graphic description of the warring human natures of spirit and flesh with these stirring words:

"Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!" Romans 7:24-25 (ESV)

The cross represents God's trimphant, humiliating defeat over a hated enemy: sin. For that dark, terrible day, Jesus willingly took upon Himself the sin of the world. From the moment that Jesus said to His Father, "Thy will be done," God heaped burning coal after burning coal of sin-identity onto the Son. Every sin impulse from every man, woman, boy and girl...from beginning to end of time...was nailed onto the frame of Jesus Christ.

Sin hung on a cross, naked, beaten, scorned and humiliated. God's wrath poured out on His hated enemy: sin.

All people deserved this torture...except One. Jesus, alone of all the world, did not deserve to be crucified. His innocent, pure, obedient, faithful, clean heart stood bravely before God after the fire of torture and crucifixion, after the terrible wrath of God upon sin had been spent. Death could not hold him, and He rose again alive, restored to the throne of God as Lord and Savior.

The cross, the horrifying, bloody, painful and humiliating death of crucifixion, was one of the "things of God" for Jesus. "Life" meant something much more to Him than the short, physical existence understood by His disciples. Jesus expected to die, and thus gain true life, although the death would be violently shameful.

Jesus told His disciples to expect the same thing.

Jesus promises us that our spiritual life, the inner person who delights in God's rule, will live...will truly live, eternally and wonderfully, if we are willing to utterly humiliate our sinful, fleshly nature that hates God's rule. Taking up our cross means to utterly humiliate and reign supreme over our sinful desires.

To deny what our sinful nature greatly desires is hard. It causes real pain, real struggle. Our sinful nature will cry and weep and plead and bargain and threaten and scream.

The humilating death of our sinful nature will end quicker as we use a sword, the Sword of the Word of God.

"In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication." Ephesians 6:16-18 (ESV)

We must utterly depend upon the death of Christ as the basis of our complete forgiveness by God. We must utterly depend upon His words of promise and hope in eternal life with him. We must utterly depend at all times upon Him in prayer. Jesus is our only source of power to endure the painful, humiliating, difficult crucifixion of our old, sinful nature.

"Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, - I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart." 1 Corinthians 1:17-19 (ESV)

Our old, sinful fleshly nature considers itself to be very wise and very discerning. Our sinful nature believes that its desires are very good, much better than anything anyone else could recommend. Our sinful nature regards any mention of self-denial to be foolish. It utterly rejects the notion that it is doomed to death.

Place your sinful nature on a cross and glory in the humiliating defeat it has suffered through the power of God in Jesus.

"Far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world." Galatians 6:14 (ESV)

Reference to Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crucifixion

Image provided by Alan Dean, Creative Commons License