May 18, 2012

A Disfigured Criminals Death: Dead On Arrival

In the Gospels (and foretelling in the Old Testament) the death of the Lord Jesus Christ and the events surrounding it are the core of our living faith. In the New Testament alone there are 200+ direct references to His death. In the Old Testament we see a passage of Scripture in Isaiah 53 of the suffering servant that could literally be mistaken for having been written after the fact but yet is actually telling of the future 500 years before the event. In Psalms 22 we get a detailed account of the internal sufferings of Jesus. So much so…that Psalm 22 is where the “eloi eloi lama sabachthani-My God my God why have you forsaken me” comes from (in Hebrew of course, not Arabic). Interestingly, David knew nothing of the Crucifixion that was to come because crucifixion wouldn’t be perfected by the Romans…until a 1000 years later.

Psalm 22:6-7 ~ “But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by mankind and despised by the people. All who see me mock me; they make mouths at me; they wag their heads…”

Psalm 22:18~ “…they divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots.”

Psalm 22 we see a picture of our Lord's death and events surrounding it which could be nothing less than a sign that David was writing under the inspiration of God Himself.

The accounts like David and Isaiah’s accentuates the importance of Christ’s death and shows it to be of the upmost importance for the truth that it expresses…and dare I say it…the Truth it personifies. God’s death on the Cross as incarnate man is reality prefigured and actuality portended…it is literally salvation heralded and fulfilled.

The redeeming of humanity that left even His friends bewildered and perplexed. Nothing of the initial events and unfolding of presaged events surrounding Jesus’ crucifixion that lead ultimately to salvation gave comfort to those that witnessed His death. It did just the opposite until they saw that Jesus had risen from the grave. Initially, it seemed as if their hopes had been shattered like a mirror against rocks. Another imagine of a broken man consigned to death. His pain and crucifixion caused faithful onlookers pain and disillusionment also. If anything, Jesus having died on the Cross that day didn’t alleviate the fear of death…it compounded it and magnified their doubts, thereby intensifying their grief and inevitably the sense of defeat. They saw their Messiah put down in death unjustly in the ultimate miscarriage of justice.

The derision from mockers must have been unbearable. Jesus, the only sinless One, was dying the most painful, ignominious death known in the Roman world. The perfect One, the sinless One, the God-man…dead…having died a humiliating death in shame…hung on a cross naked until He expired…cursed.

How could God allow such a travesty? Yes, Jesus had spoken of dying…but to die as a criminal. How could God allow this? What kind of ransom was paid by dying the death of a criminal?

Then it must have startled some of them, as it should startle us now. He did everything He did just as He had told John the Baptist the reason for his need of Baptism, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness” Matthew 3:15. This is to say that Jesus in every way was to come as a man and fulfill the reality of being man…yet not stumble, transgress or sin. He was to become the very replacement that he would become on our behalf when he took on the wrath of God on the Cross in our place…for our sin.

He was crucified as the worst form of criminal on the worst from of torture for a criminal because that’s whose place He was taking on the Cross! A criminal’s! Us! He was replacing or standing in for a criminal(s) when He took our sins! We've violated God’s Law, His perfect holiness. Is there anything more criminal than violating the mandates of statues of Almighty God? God who is above all men and sees all men as criminals (sinners)…even those who created man’s laws and passes judgment based on man’s law. (Romans 3:9-20).

Jesus fulfilled His role perfectly…right down to becoming a criminal on the cross. Criminals such as we.

The enemies of Jesus (criminals) gleefully mocked Him. The very type of people He would save. They leaders were finally accomplishing in a criminal manner what they had wanted to do. Kill Jesus…a criminal act in and of itself. Jesus, King of the Jews…safely tucked away and nailed to a tree. Instead of cursing them for the injustice (which is what they were doing to Him by nailing him to a cross [Deuteronomy 21:23] ), just as a criminal would’ve done, Jesus asks the Father to forgive them for their criminal behavior. In spite of the fact that He Himself was being treat criminally by criminals. He became offensive to offenders. He became a prisoner to a Cross…to set us free from our prison...our slavery. He was hung between two thieves to show us that all men are criminal but what was in the heart of both was their ticket to their destinations respectively. One mocked Jesus as an unrepentant sinner and the other repented and pleaded for forgiveness. Both were criminal by nature and both died because of that nature…yet one was pardoned by the One who lived the life neither could.

It was a ransom paid as a criminal in equivalency for a criminal’s life. His for ours. The balances of God’s justice are perfectly even and perfectly just. In the end justice is served perfectly for all. Wrath for wickedness and evil, love and eternal life for righteousness.

In the end death did not come to Jesus, but Jesus went to death. He went to death because death would not come to Jesus unless He let it. Jesus was going to trounce death once and for all and death wanted no parts of this face-to-face confrontation because death knew that it didn’t stand a chance against the Sovereign God of this world and beyond. Jesus is Life itself. Without which there would be no death anyway since death is a parasite of life. When Jesus died…death’s days were numbered. When Jesus died, death died too. In three days, death would lose permanently. When Jesus died, He did not tremble in a death rattle, death trembled because God had finally rattled death and conquered it.

Even the hardened pagan Roman centurion knew there was something amiss here. He too was struck by fear and awe. This was an extraordinary death of a unique man. Or perhaps it was a unique death of an extraordinary God-man? Regardless, this battle-hardened military man stands dumbstruck. Certainly this man had seen this type of horrid execution before and slept afterward unfettered by the thought of it. Why the difference this time?

Jesus did not die the death of a martyr but did die as a sacrifice. He willingly submitted his life but acted as a scapegoat for the sin of mankind. He was not the victim of murder but yes, He was murdered. Yes Pilate was to blame. Yes Herod was to blame. Yes the Jews were to blame. Yes, we're to blame. Yes, the death on the Cross was an outrage…and that is the point. Humanity is the perpetrator, but we have no power over Him that He did not give us first. We did not take His life, He surrendered it for us. He sacrificed it to pay the debt we couldn’t. The Good Shepherd laid down His life for His sheep so that not one would be lost that had been given to Him by the Father.

Death never recovered after Jesus died. Death had been redefined. Death was no longer the end, it was the beginning…at least for those that understood and believed how Jesus had disfigured death. In Jesus’ disfiguring death on the Cross, Jesus disfigured death (the end of life) forever. Jesus death exposed death as a taker of life and for the criminal it was too. Death was nothing more than a thief that stole life, working alongside its accomplices: disease and decay. So in Christ’s death, burial and Resurrection we see One treated as a criminal, disfigured, and die. Because of Jesus' death we see death itself killed like the criminal it is.  I suppose turnaround is fair play especially considering the One that was Life was not deserving of the criminal death He endured. He endured it so that Death would have no venom. The difference is that Death is done...finished...forever and there will be no resurrection of that bastard child of the Fall. The criminal death as a terminus of life has been swallowed up in the victory of a Criminal's death on the Cross. A supposed criminal that was innocent but stood in the stead of real criminals that deserved to die. When Christ returned from the grave, death was dead on arrival.

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