I believe that how Jesus died makes a difference. As I have been working to write a response to the second chapter of “Crucifixion” by Fleming Rutledge I have struggled to identify a personal application to share. Last night at a small group leaders huddle we explored the concept of emptying the jar that comes from Luke 7. In the middle of this story that compares the response to Jesus of a sinner and a Pharisee Jesus tells a brief parable:
40 And Jesus answering said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he answered, “Say it, Teacher.”41 “A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” 43 Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.”Luke 7:40-43 ESV
Understanding what happened on the cross should help us understand how big a debt we have had forgiven by Jesus’ death. I have not seen “The Passion of the Christ,” but it certainly made many more aware of the physical torture that is crucifixion. The significance of Jesus’ crucifixion goes far beyond the physical torture he endured. Rutledge identifies three characteristics of Jesus’ crucifixion that I think we need to remember to fully appreciate what Jesus has done for us.
Crucifixion, on the other hand, was supposed to be seen by as many people as possible. Debasement resulting from public display was a chief feature of the method, along with the prolonging of agony. It was a form of advertisement, or public announcement — this person is the scum of the earth, not fit to live, more an insect than a human being. The crucified wretch was pinned up like a specimen. Crosses were not placed out in the open for convenience or sanitation, but for maximum public exposure.Rutledge, Fleming. The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ (p. 92). Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.. Kindle Edition.
The Son of God allowed Himself to be treated as if He were a nobody. The result is that everyone who puts their trust in Him becomes a somebody. Jesus emptied Himself of all His power and prestige so that I could recover my identify as a child of God.
13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us– for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”–14 so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.Galatians 3:13-14 ESV
Ancient seaman took curses seriously. When the crew of the ship Jonah was running away on discovered that he was cursed by God, they threw him overboard to be swallowed by a big fish. The name Jonah becomes a label for anyone felt to be cursed and endangering a ship at sea. A person who is cursed is to be avoided or gotten rid of. Jesus took on the curse of being hanged on a tree so that I could be blessed.
46 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 27:46 ESV
I do not claim to understand what was happening between God the Son and God the Father when Jesus cries out these final words. I simply assume that something very significant and possibly very painful occurred at this moment that we will never understand. Paul tells us in Ephesians that we have been chosen and adopted. The price Jesus paid for our adoption is beyond comprehension.
People have a variety of responses to the crucifixion.
18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.1 Coriinthians 1:18 NIV
Only God could take something intended to totally debase, convincingly curse, and completely abandon and turn it into the source of power for those who believe. The more we understand Jesus’ crucifixion the more grateful we will be or the more foolish it will seem. We will never fully understand what happened that very dark afternoon, but we can try, if only to increase our gratitude.