Understanding the Cross of Christ (Part 1)

cross-004Recently, a young person asked me why God sent His only son to die – why was it necessary? Not a real unusual question for someone learning about Christianity to ask. And as someone who was “raised in the church,” it seemed so basic to our Christianity that I remember thinking that it should be a relatively easy question for me to answer. But to my surprise, I found that the spontaneous explanation I was able to come up with in an admittedly brief time seemed wholly inadequate to me – and I vowed to prepare myself to do a better job. What question could be more important for us as Christians to answer? So, as I begin to study and prepare for that “better answer,” I am beginning this series on “Understanding the Cross,” which will be featured on selected Sundays for the next few weeks.

To be sure, the first thing that popped into my head (“to save us from our sins”) was absolutely the correct answer. But it was also one that my young student in his own limited study of God’s word, already knew. After all, the words are in practically every prayer he has ever heard. But standing by itself, it really isn’t much of an answer, is it?

Admittedly, a real study of this question could be made into countless individual lessons, articles, and discussions. It is, after all, what the entire Bible from the Genesis to Revelation is all about, right? So let’s begin in part one of this series, with a brief outline and some more questions; and see if we can provide a meaningful answer to my young friend’s question that is not too difficult to call up to memory when needed. Let’s start by separating the questions into four categories:

What is the problem with sin?

  • What is sin, and how does it affect us?
  • Why does sin matter so much to God?
  • What is its importance to us?

What is God’s response to sin?

  • What are the consequences to us?
  • How was sin dealt with in the Old Testament?
  • Why does God demand a price to be paid for our sin?

How does Jesus fit into God’s plan?

  • Where did Jesus come from?
  • Was He all that everyone expected the Messiah to be?
  • What did his death on the cross accomplish?

What must we do to be saved?

  • What \ Who is a sinner?
  • What can a sinner do to earn salvation?
  • What is the importance of baptism?

Be watching for part 2 of this series, where we will examine the first category of questions above: “What is the problem with sin?”

/Bob’s boy
___________________
image © V. Gilbert & Arlisle F. Beers

Please note: I did not design the reading plan that I am following in my blog.  All of my comments in this blog, however, are solely my responsibility.  When reading ANY commentary, you should ALWAYS refer first to the scripture, which is God’s unchanging and unfailing word. Reading schedules, as well as a link to the site where you can get the reading plan that I’m currently following for yourself can be found on the “Bible Reading Schedules” page of my website at http://graceofourlord.com.  For questions and help, please see the “FAQ” and “Summaries” pages there.

Psalm 22 – Why Have You Forsaken Me?

And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  Matthew 27:44

From Halley’s Handbook of the Bible (Halley, Henry H., Zondervan, 1961)

The Crucifixion, seen from the Cross, by James...

The Crucifixion, seen from the Cross, by James Tissot, 19th century. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“This sounds like a cry of anguish from David, but though written a thousand years before Jesus, it is so vivid a description of the crucifixion of Jesus that one would think of the writer as being personally present at the Cross. Jesus’ dying words (Psalms 22:1 Matthew 27:44), the sneers of his enemies (Psalms 22:7-8, Matthew 27:39-40, the piercing of his hands and feet (Psalms 22:16, John 20:25) and the casting of lots for his garments (Psalms 22:18, Matthew 27:39) are some of the events here described. None of these statements are applicable to David, or to any other known event or person in the history of mankind, except the crucifixion of the Son of God.”

Peter (Acts 2:30-35) preached: ‘David, being a prophet … he foresaw and spoke of … the Christ.’ This basic truth is reiterated again and again in the inspired New Testament.  There are than nine New Testament references which tie the meaning of this psalm irrevocably to the prophecy of our Lord’s crucifixion.  And then, regarding the resurrection, Hebrews 2:12 recounts verses 22-24.

But what of Jesus’ cry in verse one to the Lord.  Why would he speak of God forsaking Him? Burton Coffman’s summary of his thoughts on the subject ring very true:

“Jesus’ quoting the first line of this Psalm during his agony upon the Cross has led to many opinions. It has been supposed that Christ here merely quoted these words from the psalm to call attention to the whole bundle of prophecies in it which were being fulfilled literally at that very time. It is also believed by many that God Himself did indeed, for a little while, withdraw his presence from Christ in order to make it possible for Christ to die. There is much in the sacred Scriptures to commend this view.

Christ is spoken of in Heb. 2:9 as the One, who by the grace of God did indeed, ‘Taste of death for every man.’ Isaiah tells us that, ‘God laid upon him (Jesus) the iniquity of us all’ (Isaiah 53:6). Paul mentioned that God Himself ‘Set forth the Christ to be a propitiation’ (Romans 3:25), or an atonement, for the sins of all men. ‘Christ died for our sins’ (1 Corinthians 15:3); and ‘Him (Christ) who knew no sin, God made to be sin on our behalf; that we might become the righteousness of God in Him’ (2 Corinthians 5:21).

The ultimate consequence of sin is separation from God; and, in Christ’s becoming a substitute for sinful men upon the cross, he not only tasted of death, but also tasted the terrible consequences of sin in that soul-torturing experience of separation from the Creator. It is our understanding of Christ’s plaintive cry, ‘My God, why hast thou forsaken me,’ that Jesus did indeed, momentarily, taste the awful agony of separation from the Father. ‘For a moment in that last agony, the Perfect Man was alone with the sins of the whole world.'”

Read or listen to audio of ESV version of this selection from this link.

/Bob’s boy
___________________
some images © V. Gilbert & Arlisle F. Beers

Please note: I did not design the reading plan that I am following in my blog.  All of my comments in this blog, however, are solely my responsibility.  When reading ANY commentary, you should ALWAYS refer first to the scripture, which is God’s unchanging and unfailing word. Reading schedules, as well as a link to the site where you can get the reading plan that I’m currently following for yourself can be found on the “Bible Reading Schedules” page of my website at http://graceofourlord.com.  For questions and help, please see the “FAQ” and “Summaries” pages there.

Matthew 27 – The Crucifixion of Jesus

When morning came, the Sanhedrin had Jesus taken to Pilate.  When Judas saw that Jesus was condemned, he had a change of heart, and took the thirty pieces of silver back to them, saying that he had betrayed innocent blood.  But they are unimpressed.  So he threw it down in the temple and went and hanged himself.  Remorse, as we see, does not always include repentance.  The Sanhedrin has no problem with lies and the murder of an innocent man, but they want no part of this blood money, so they use it to buy a potter’s field.  The scripture that this fulfilled, referred to in verses 9-10, is from both Jeremiah 19:1-13 and Zechariah 11:11-13.

Jesus answers Pilate’s question of whether He was a king, but remains silent about the charges against Him.  We find in verse 20 that the chief priests and elders persuaded the people to choose Barabbas when Pilate offered to free one of them.  Fearing a riot, Pilate resigns himself to the will of the crowd, but uses the physical act of washing hands to declare his innocence of “this man’s blood.”  “Having scourged Jesus” is mentioned in passing, but this Roman form of flogging was anything but incidental.  It was a brutally painful beating with a whip weighted with sharp pieces of bone and metal. It was designed to lacerate, often exposing bone and intestines.  Crucifixion was an agonizing and tortuous death, but this beating would be equally painful.  An article about this scourging can be found at this link.

One traditional site of Golgotha is this hill with hollow eye sockets to look like the place of the skull. Another traditional site is in present-day Jerusalem, which in Jesus’ time was just outside the wall. It is called the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

He was mocked and spit upon, stripped and made to wear a crown made of thorns.  Then he was led away to be crucified.  They made a man named Simon of Cyrene to carry His cross, and when they reached Golgatha (which means Place of a Skull), they tried to give him wine mixed with gall (a very bitter herb that could also be poisonous) to drink.  It was intended to dull the sense of pain, but it was God’s will that He should suffer, and He refused.  As they crucified Him, “they divided his garments among them by casting lots” – referring to Psalm 22:18.  Verses 36-44 detail the continued derision, mocking and reviling inflicted on Him as He suffered.

Crucifixion was a slow and excruciatingly painful method of inflicting death, and their are many stories of the cruelty of Roman soldiers experimenting with different poses for crucified victims (Josephus, “Jewish War” 5.449–551).  Hanging by one’s arms caused great difficulty in breathing, only alleviated by the victim pushing up with their feet in order to take the weight off of the arms. But that caused severe pain in the feet, arms, legs, and back, making the exhausted victim slump down again, only to be barely able to breathe again. Finally, he would mercifully die of asphyxiation, if he had not already died as a result of the cumulative effects of the multiple physical traumas inflicted.

In verse 45, there was darkness all over the land from the 6th hour until the ninth hour (about noon to 3:00).  About the ninth hour, Jesus cried out with a loud voice “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” meaning, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  This is from Psalm 22:1.  This is one of the most puzzling verses in the Bible.  Jesus knows what is happening, and why He is doing it. One explanation that has been posed is that because Jesus did in fact become sin, at this moment Jesus felt the presence of God turn away from Him as He was dying.  Jesus then gave up the spirit with another cry.

Then in verse 51, the curtain of the Temple was torn from top to bottom.  It was between the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place, and was woven from 72 twisted plaits of 24 threads a piece. It was 60 feet high and 30 feet wide. No one was allowed to enter the Most Holy Place behind the curtain except the high priest, and then only on the Day of Atonement.  Being torn in two represents the removal of the separation between God and the people.  A high priest was no longer needed – Jesus is our high priest now.  More elaboration of this event, and what it symbolized, is in Hebrews 9:11–10:22.  Then the earth shook (Palestine sits on a major seismic rift), rocks were split, and tombs were opened.  As Matthew often groups events together topically, he then jumps ahead here in verse 53 to events after the resurrection, as many of the saints were raised and came out of the tombs to appear to many in the city.  We are not told whether they were taken to heaven after these eyewitnesses received these visits.  But clearly, God wanted many witnesses to understand the profoundly momentous significance of what had happened.

In verse 57, a rich man from Arimathea named Joseph came to Pilate that evening to request Jesus’ body.  He took the body and wrapped it in a linen shroud and placed it in his own tomb.  This fulfilled Isaiah 53:9.  Then he rolled a big stone in front of the entrance.  Then the chief priests, remembering how he had said that he would rise after 3 days, went to Pilate voicing their fears that Jesus’ disciples might come and steal the body.  So he gave them a guard of soldiers, and they sealed the tomb and stood guard.

Read or listen to audio of ESV version of this selection from this link.

/Bob’s boy
___________________
some images © V. Gilbert & Arlisle F. Beers

Please note: I did not design the reading plan that I am following in my blog.  All of my comments in this blog, however, are solely my responsibility.  When reading ANY commentary, you should ALWAYS refer first to the scripture, which is God’s unchanging and unfailing word. Reading schedules, as well as a link to the site where you can get the reading plan that I’m currently following for yourself can be found on the “Bible Reading Schedules” page of my website at http://graceofourlord.com.  For questions and help, please see the “FAQ” and “Summaries” pages there.