One of the most important events in human history is the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus Christ. His death on the cross was as necessary as His resurrection (cf. Luke 24:25-27). However, Jesus’ death on the cross did not happen randomly. The New Testament paints a very clear picture of jealousy, fear, and a desire for control as some of the earthly, human components that lay behind Jesus’ death on the cross. The Gospels repeatedly highlight how the Jewish “chief priests and scribes” sought multiple occasions to put Jesus to death (cf. Luke 22:2; John 11:53) But they couldn’t do it for they were occupied as a nation under Roman rule. They needed the Roman government to do it. Enter Pontius Pilate.
Pontius Pilate was the Roman governor of Judea (Luke 3:1) So after Judas Iscariot, Jesus’ former apostle, betrayed Him, we read, “all the chief priests and elders of the people took counsel against Jesus to put him to death. And they bound him and led him away and delivered him over to Pilate the governor.” (Matthew 27:1-2 ESV)
Pilate fulfilled the priests’ great desire to have Jesus killed. As was the custom for victims of crucifixion, Jesus was beaten horrifically. He was struck with rods. His head was viciously pierced by a crown of thorns. His body was ripped apart by leather whips which contained shards of glass, metal, and bone to dig into His flesh. After all this, the Romans, after mocking Him in all their savagery, “led him away to crucify him.” (Matt. 27:31 ESV). The soldiers finally pierced His hands and feet to the large Roman cross as He was fixed between two thieves.
The horror of Christ’s torture and crucifixion eventually caused His death. The blunt force trauma, the lacerations, and eventually his suffocation on the cross all undid Him. Jesus died the death of a slave undergoing what the ancient Roman Cicero spoke of as “the cruelest and most terrible punishment.” Jewish historian Josephus said much the same speaking of crucifixion as “the most pitiable of deaths.” He who was the King of kings died in the shame and horror of living death.
Why did Jesus have to die this way? One helpful tool to help explain the meaning behind the crucifixion comes to us from the Heidelberg Catechism, a teaching tool written in 1563 in Heidelberg, Germany. There we read, “Is it significant that he was ‘crucified’ instead of dying some other way?” The catechism writes, “Yes. By this death I am convinced that he shouldered the curse which lay one me, since death by crucifixion was cursed by God.” (HC Q&A 39) Crucifixion was a symbol of being cursed by God for the Jewish people. This idea is expressed within the Law of Moses where we can read of such people as “cursed by God” (Deuteronomy 21:23).
The Apostle Paul explained the significance of Christ’s death later in his letter to the Galatian churches. Paul wrote, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us” after which he quoted Deuteronomy 21:23. We learn through the Apostle’s interpretation that God removed the curse of sin which stood upon us and poured it out on Jesus to save us. Jesus received our curse. We receive His blessing. This is the miracle of the Christian message.
Today, you and I and anyone else who believes in Christ Jesus for salvation are the recipients of God’s marvelous grace. We were cursed from conception. Yet Christ willingly took our punishment upon Himself.
Why did He do that? One reason is given by the Apostle, “so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.” (Gal. 3:14 ESV) In other words, Jesus died so that we might have eternal life. That means we who believe are no longer heading towards eternal torment and eternal death. Because Christ was willing to endure the living death of the cross, we now can His life be spared from the coming righteous wrath of God which is coming.
This is the beauty of the Gospel. This is what is so often forgotten by saint and sinner alike. Churches exist for this end: proclaim the mercy of God in sending His Son to die in the place of all who believe in Him. Likewise, churches are to proclaim the coming judgment of God to all who stand in ferocious disobedience to God. Without these elements, a church is failing to do her job.
We must be encouraged then not only to thank God the Father for this work of love in saving us, but also to praise the Son for His willingness to suffer and die in our place. This is the Christian message which we must never forget. So proclaim it. Share it. Live a life that reflects such self-sacrifice and pray that God might use you right where you are to be an able missionary for the many around you who live apart from God.