By Sidney Aldrich
The same triune God, Who said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness,” foreknew the “fall” of man and laid the plan for his redemption.
Mankind’s original disobedience and persistent rebellion required the ultimate sacrifice. It had to be perfect. It had to be voluntary. Only one being in all time and in the entire universe could qualify – God Himself in the person of Jesus Christ. This sacrifice was so thoroughly planned and determined in the mind of God that He could declare, “…the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Rev. 13:8b), and that we were “chosen in Him before the foundation of the world” (Eph. 1:4b).
The Redeemer Had to Die and Shed His Blood, But How?
Death by crucifixion was clearly predicted by Divinely-inspired prophets, “they pierced My hands and feet…My bones are out of joint” (Ps. 22:14, 16). Jesus predicted His death would be by crucifixion: “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up” (Jn. 3:14); “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then shall you know that I am He” (Jn. 8:28); “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me. This He said, signifying what death He should die” (Jn. 12:32-33). Jesus knew everything that would take place. 1) “Behold, we go up to Jerusalem, 2) and the son of Man shall be betrayed unto the chief priests and unto the scribes, 3) and they shall condemn Him to death, 4) and shall deliver Him to the Gentiles, 5) to mock, 6) and to scourge, 7) and to crucify Him” (Mt. 20:18-19).
Who determined that His Death Must Be by Crucifixion?
Jesus said, “No man taketh [my life] from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of My Father” (Jn. 10:18).
King Herod sent armed soldiers to Bethlehem to destroy the newborn King. Herod’s plan failed.
The Nazarenes, “filled with wrath, rose up…and led Him unto the brow of the hill whereon their city was built, that they might cast Him down headlong. But He passing through the midst of them went His way” (Lk. 4:28-30).
Many times the Jews took up stones to stone Him, but could not.
Satan sought to sink the ship, in which He was traversing the Sea of Galilee, but Jesus rebuked the wind and there was a great calm.
When the mob came with clubs and staves to take Him from Gethsemane, Jesus spoke one word and they all fell backward.
When Pilate said to Jesus, “Knowest thou not that I have power to crucify Thee?” Jesus answered, “Thou couldest have no power at all against Me except it were given thee from above” (Jn. 19:10-11).
God is sovereign. Death by crucifixion could have been avoided. We can only conclude that the triune God determined it. “For of a truth against thy holy child Jesus Whom thou hast anointed, both Herod, and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles, and the people of Israel, were gathered together, for to do whatsoever thy hand and thy counsel determined before to be done” (Acts 4:26-28). “Jesus, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain” (Acts 2:23). The last part of this verse shows that man is still responsible for Christ’s crucifixion because they desired it, demanded it, and found delight in it.
The Horror of His Crucifixion
This is my understanding of the events at Calvary. Four burly Roman soldiers, well trained and hardened through repeated acts of cruelty, performed their duty under the watchful eye of a centurion. The prisoner was disrobed and probably thrown down backward upon the ready-made Cross. The soldiers then grabbed His hands and feet to drag His body back and forth to properly position it for nailing. (Remember, Jesus’ back was already lacerated by the merciless flogging with the cat-o’-nine-tails). The knees were flexed so His feet could be nailed to the upright beam. Then the knees were forced down against the Cross. This would “bruise His heel,” fulfilling Genesis 3:15 and put foot, ankle, and knee bones out of joint. At the same time, His body was pulled upward, His arms stretched out at right angles, and His hands nailed to the crosspiece. The lifting up of the heavy beams, with a man fastened to them, would necessitate some heaving, jerking and twisting; but the worst shock of pain would come when the lower end of the Cross slid down into the prepared deep hole and hit the bottom with a sudden jolt. The weight of His body, plus the leverage on His arms (which were extended horizontally), and the sudden lurch would put His hips, shoulders, elbows, and hands out of joint – as prophecy said it would.
Jesus had nothing to drink for probably eighteen hours. This, combined with His agony in the garden, where “His sweat was, as it were, great drops of blood” (Lk. 22:44)], His unclothed body exposed to the blazing sun, and the indescribable suffering on the Cross, would cause a raging fever and torturing thirst.
“The Shame of the Cross” – Hebrews 12:2
(1) There was the shame of physical exposure. The crucifying soldiers gambled for His robe and divided the rest of His clothing among them.
(2) There was the shame of identification with the worst sinners (according to man’s reckoning). Even the Romans reserved death by crucifixion for the lowest and the worst (human trash, slaves, and the chief offenders). Barabbas was “a notable prisoner,” “an insurrectionist,” “a seditionist,” “a robber,” and a “murderer.” Given a choice, the people overwhelmingly begged for the release of Barabbas and demanded the crucifixion of Christ – implying that Christ was a far worse criminal. For this reason, He was placed on the highest and the central Cross.
(3) There was the shame of identification with all sinners of all time (according to God’s reckoning). “He was made sin for us” (2 Cor. 5:21). “He bore our sins in His own body on the Cross” (1 Pet. 1:24). “The Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” That is why He was “smitten of God, and afflicted…He was wounded for our transgressions” (Isa. 53:4-6).
Why Did God Choose Death by Crucifixion?
Consider some of the other-known means of capital punishment: The Jews’ method of stoning, Babylon’s fiery furnace, the Persians’ den of lions, and the ever-present sword and spear. In more recent times: the guillotine, firing squad, gas chamber, electric chair, and lethal injection. In all these forms, death comes quickly. The infinite sacrifice of God was not going to be a quick or an easy form of death. Jesus Christ was on the Cross six long hours. I believe one reason for choosing death by crucifixion was the time element.
(1) Time for those famous seven last words addressed to God, the repentant criminal, and others, for the whole world to hear.
(2) Time for the three hours of light, three hours of supernatural darkness, an earthquake, the miraculous opening of the graves of many saints, and the rending of the great temple veil by the mighty stroke of God.
(3) Time to reveal Christ’s majesty in a new dimension. Crush a rose and it releases even more fragrance. Just so, Jesus Christ in the crucible of intense, prolonged suffering, poured forth grace as He prayed for His tormentors, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Lk. 23:34); “His lips, with grace, o’er flow.”
(4) Time for God to reveal His infinite love. “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (Jn. 3:16). “God spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all” (Rom. 8:32a). Think of the restraint on God’s part to hold back His wrath from His enemies and deliverance from His Son.
(5) Time for man to reveal his own total depravity and sinfulness. Jesus was wholly Holy God, come down from Heaven for man’s good, and His crucifixion was the human response.
(6) Time for sinners to repent. A criminal who was crucified that same day became converted and cried, “Lord, remember me when thou comest into ‘Thy kingdom’” (Lk. 23:42). “Now when the centurion, and they that were with him, watching Jesus, saw the earthquake, and those things that were done, they feared greatly, saying, truly this was the Son of God” (Mt. 27:54). Who knows how many others were similarly affected by the events of that day?
The length of time and the intensity of suffering should convince sinners of all ages that no matter how despicable, or numerous their sins, the price God paid for their redemption is far greater. “…Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound” (Rom. 5:20b). “Love, so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.” It seems to me that man’s greatest offense against God, now, is in his ignoring – or rejecting – the sacrifice of Christ, and the greatest injustice would be for God to receive sinners who reject this, the greatest of all sacrifices.