We worship in the name of Jesus, the one who took our place.
How did God end up on a cross? God made Adam from dirt. God parted the Red Sea. God made Jericho’s walls collapse. The Israelites trembled to hear the fearsome sound of God at mount Sinai. How did Almighty God get beat up and nailed up? He volunteered.
Today’s scripture reading was directed at the Jewish leaders who had plotted to kill Jesus. But it also places us at the scene of the crime. Our reading is from Acts 2:23.
“This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.”
Crucifixion was a particularly evil invention of mankind. It’s not much different from the ancient Assyrians posting bodies and body parts of slain enemies outside the city walls. Crucifixion was public torture. There was an underlying message when an army or government used crucifixion. It meant, don’t be like these crucified people. It showed who was in charge.
In general crucifixion was reserved for slaves, hardened criminals, political agitators, religious agitators, pirates and those committing high treason. Everything about it was designed for a display of hopeless, vulnerable, despair. The crucified victim was placed on a cross in a defenseless posture. Their arms were secured so that they could not defend themselves from a thrown stone, poking sticks, or hungry crows. Nails driven through hands or wrists would damage nerves causing extremely sensitive pain to shoot all the way up the arms. The weight of their body would cause muscle spasms in the back and shoulders. In Jesus’ case, his flogging had probably caused not only excruciating slices on the surface of his flesh, but also internal damage. He probably had internal wounds that slowly leaked fluid into his lungs. A victim’s legs were flexed at just the proper angle so that they could raise themselves up just a little, but not all the way. Before long the muscles around the knee would cramp and spasm uncontrollably. Using the legs to raise up slightly would help the victim exhale briefly. This drew out the pain of death for a longer time. However making this slight standing motion to in order to exhale would put unbearable pressure on the giant wound in the feet. Sometimes the Romans would break the legs of the crucified. This would put them out of their misery at the end. However some think that they broke the legs so the men could not crawl away when they were taken off the cross alive and left for wild animals to come eat them. All of this inescapable pain, and on public display.
Imagine being a traveler walking past men in agony lined up like roadsigns along the ditch.
God volunteered for that. It was his great sacrifice. He took the cruelest punishment man had available. He chose maximum suffering and humiliation. It’s bad enough to think about a victim helplessly enduring the pain of crucifixion. Consider that Jesus had the power to just quit. As God he could have said, “No way, this is too much!” “I didn’t sign up for this!” He could have just left the scene. Instead he saw it through. Why?
It was the great exchange. The spotless lamb of God offered for you and me. You and I deserve that humiliating crucifixion. Jesus certainly didn’t deserve that. But he volunteered to spare us. He volunteered to pay what we owe. His was the ultimate heroic rescue.
And now it is finished. We are saved. We can safely exhale and live a life of thanks. Amen.
O God, humans were your idea in first place. We praise you because we are fearfully and wonderfully made. Yet we lapse so easily into sin. We realize that the nails in your hands were driven by a hammer in our hands. And all the while you pray for our forgiveness, because we don’t really know what we are doing. We can’t understand how you can love us so much, but we are eager to learn more. O Lord, we believe, help our unbelief. Amen.
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