Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News
April 14, 2019
Getting ready to celebrate Easter
How do you get ready for Easter? New dress? New suit? New shoes? Yes, when
we were children, that was part of the plan. Fix Easter eggs and plan a “hunt’?
Yep, we did that too. Include a Bunny Rabbit in table decorations? Of course. Share
a family feast at Grandma’s place on Easter Sunday? Sure. Arise before dawn and
attend a sunrise service in a stadium for a cemetery? Yes sir, no matter how
cold it may have been.
sure when it happened but the plan changed over the years. I’ve stored the old
ways in my precious memories file and found a better way to prepare for
Easter. The new strategy is much
simpler: find a place to get on my knees and reflect on what it was like to be
crucified on a cross. I am not ready for Easter until I have done that.
years ago Hollywood actor Mel Gibson was chastised for the “bloody mess” he
made of Jesus’ body in his popular movie, The
Passion of the Christ. I will admit that
while watching the movie I thought the cruel beating of Jesus would never end. Gibson’s
critics said, “There was too much blood.”
wait a minute. That is exactly what flagellation and crucifixion did – it
reduced the victim’s body to a bloody mess, torn flesh, bones broken and
protruding, blood splattered everywhere. The way a criminal was crucified was
ghastly, appalling and sickening.
One might ask why the Bible offers so few
details of Jesus’ crucifixion. For example, the gospel writer John says simply
that they led Jesus away and crucified him. Why did he not describe the graphic
nature of crucifixion? The answer seems obvious: there was no need. The people
knew what happened on the cross; they had seen many people crucified by the
Crucifixion was always public, in the hope no doubt that it would
serve as a deterrent to crime. Even small children knew the gory details of
the earthly days of Jesus, Roman citizens were spared this dehumanizing form of
execution. The authorities reserved crucifixion for slaves, non-Roman citizens,
and those who were convicted of heinous crimes. It was a very brutal way to
die, and that is how Jesus died.
Romans did not invent crucifixion as a method of execution. They learned it
from the Greeks. However, in one sense the Romans “perfected” it. They
fine-tuned the method, devising ways to make it more painful over a longer
period of time. Victims usually did not die quickly but suffered many hours,
sometimes days, before dying.
Metal spikes, eight to 10 inches long, were
driven into the victim’s wrists at the precise place where the main nerve to
the hand would be severed. It is this nerve that causes such intense pain when
the “funny bone” on the elbow is hit. Rupturing this nerve made it extremely
painful for the victim to use his arms or hands to push his body upward in a
desperate effort to breathe.
“improvement” the Romans made involved the victim’s feet. They were raised up
slightly, with the knees bent a little, before being nailed to the cross. The
feet rested on a small block of wood attached to the cross for this
purpose. This enabled the criminal to breathe for a longer period of
time by pushing himself upward on the cross, allowing the lungs to expand a
little. The effort to breathe, of course, was rewarded by dreadful pain. Had
the legs and feet been allowed to hang down unrestrained, death would have come
more swiftly as breathing became impossible.
pain of crucifixion was so horrible that a new word was coined to explain it –
the word “excruciating.” The
Latin meaning involves the cross, meaning pain like that “from the cross.” This
suggests that we should use the word for only the worst kind of pain, the kind
Jesus endured during his scourging and crucifixion. Pain that was agonizing,
pain that was excruciating.
portrayal of Jesus’ body as “a bloody mess” is supported by Isaiah, the Old
Testament prophet. He prophesied that the Suffering Servant would have an
appearance “disfigured beyond that of any man and his form marred beyond human
likeness.” The Messiah, Isaiah said, would be “like one from whom men hide
their faces,” one who would be “despised” and “esteemed not.”
raises the possibility that Jesus may have been more cruelly beaten than depicted
by the movie producers. The ugly whip used by the Romans would rip the flesh
open until muscles and bones were exposed. The more the flesh was ruptured, the
more Jesus would have bled.
Jesus suffered insufferable pain on the cross is no myth. It is a fact. This
week Christians will reflect on this fact, perhaps the most awful fact in
history. Christians can hardly believe it happened, on a Friday, just outside
the city of Jerusalem 2,000 years ago.
How could men be so cruel? The only conceivable
answer may be in the words of Jesus from the cross, “Father, forgive them, for
they do not know what they are doing.” Surely the men who bludgeoned Jesus unmercifully
did not know they were killing the Son of God, who assisted his Father in
creating all things, who came down from heaven and died on that cross out of
love for the human race. They were ignorant of what Christians came to believe
– that Jesus had to die so that people, all people, could be reconciled to God
or “saved from their sins.”
So how do you get ready for Easter? Well, you
must get beyond the “window dressing” of Easter – painted eggs, bunny rabbits,
new shoes and clothes. Take a second look at the lovely brass cross on the
altar in your church. The cross upon which Jesus died was not pretty. It was
vile, rough and vicious, constructed so that a man’s bleeding back rubbing
against it would cause terrible pain.
Get alone somewhere, in a quiet place. If you
can, get on your knees. Close your eyes and see Jesus, cruelly beaten and
bleeding to death, suffering on that cruel cross. Listen to his agonizing
breathing. Hear the soldiers laughing. Finally, say aloud to Jesus, “You did
that for me. You willingly died on that cross for my sins. Thank you. Thank
you. Thank you.”
Then you will be ready to celebrate Easter. + +