Messiah Lutheran Church :: Christ Crucified - Name of Wondrous Love

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Dear friends in Christ,

            Certain words in our language have changed very severely in their meaning over time.  I found a few examples:

  • ·         Artificial originally meant to be full of artistic and technical skill.  Now if something is artificial it is fake and phony.
  • ·         Awful originally meant to be wonderful, delightful or amazing.  It really received its meaning from awe or wonder.  Now it means exactly the opposite. 
  • ·          Manufacture originally meant to make by hand.  It signified that a craftsman was involved. Now manufacturing means to be made by machines.

One more!

  • ·         The word “tell” originally meant to count.  That’s where the word bank teller came from.  A teller counts money.

So it is with the word ‘crucify.’  If you had a necklace with a gas chamber or electric chair around your neck, people would probably wonder if you were a mass murderer candidate.  

 If you go back to the first and second century and wore a cross around your neck, they would think the same of you.  A cross was an instrument of torture; it was an instrument that was used to punish the worst of the worst.  Now it is like wearing a heart around your neck.  It is a symbol of God’s love to you in Christ.  Tonight we continue our messages of Names of wondrous love – the Crucified Christ.    

            In my study for this sermon I read a statement that crucifixion was the worst form of punishment known to man up until the Inquisition.  The Inquisition began around 1200 AD by the Roman Church to punish anyone who held to any kind of heresy.  The Pope gave the command to recant or to be punished. It is amazing how creative the sinful mind can be to inflict pain.  There was a form of torture called strappado.  In one version, the hands of the accused were tied behind his back and the rope looped over a brace in the ceiling of the chamber or attached to a pulley. Then the subject was raised until he was hanging from his arms. Very often the shoulders were pulled out of their sockets.  In addition the torturer, with the approval of the church jerked the subject up and down.  Weights were often added to the ankles and feet to make the hanging even more painful.

            Another form of torture was the well-known rack.  The subject had his hands and feet tied or chained to rollers at one or both ends of a wooden or metal frame. The torturer turned the rollers with a handle and stretched the victim until all his joints were dislocated.  If the torturer continued turning the rollers, the accused's arms and legs could actually be torn off.

            I am not trying to make anyone queasy, but when we hear about crucifixion it wasn’t far behind, if it was behind at all, with inflicting as much pain as possible.  After Pilate symbolically washed his hands of this matter, as if he really could, the soldiers took charge of Jesus. Carrying his own cross, he went out to the place of the Skull (which in Aramaic is called Golgotha). There they crucified him, and with him two others—one on each side and Jesus in the middle.”

            The words are simple – “there they crucified him.”  But there was nothing simple or brief about crucifixion.  The Romans adopted this barbaric punishment from the Phoenicians and was administered to slaves and hardened criminals.  It was never used on a Roman citizen.  Death by crucifixion was slow.  The pain inflicted by open wounds created by the spikes through hands and feet, the unnatural tension and strains of this unusual position of the victim, made death slow.  The brain, the lungs and the heart remained untouched. Sometimes death was delayed for days.

            Think what it must have been like for Jesus.  His back was a mass of open sores from the thirty nine lashes.  Those open sores came from the whip that had strands of leather.  At the end of each leather strand was a nail or a piece of bone or metal tied there to tear up the back as much as possible.  Imagine that rawness then forced against the splinters of the rough-hewn cross.  His hands held out and held up, his feet on top of each other with spikes driven through them.  Then he was raised up in the air with the weight of the body pulling at the wounds.  As someone said, “the crucifying was done, now the dying began - so slowly, oh so slowly.”  As hour by hour went by, the hands and feet were torn deeper and deeper by the relentless nails.

            Yet there was something even greater and more terrifying that was going on.  Worse were the tortures of hell as the Father punished his Son by cursing him not only to die but to suffer hell for the sins of all.  He cried out, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” I can’t tell you what that means.  I can’t describe the depths of suffering Jesus endured – only the damned angels and all who have been damned since the beginning of the world and the Son of God who endured it for us.

            John simply says, “They crucified him.” Who are the “they?”  No guesses here. There were the Roman soldiers.  They probably thought he was just another one of them.  They handled the hammer and manhandled his flesh.  They sat beneath the cross, drinking the cheap wine, casting lots for his clothing and throwing barbs at Jesus now and then.

Then there was Pilate.  He thought a little bowl of water in which he could wash his hands did the trick.  What a coward!  And he was the Roman governor?  He was the man in charge? 

Then there were the Jewish Pharisees and scribes and teachers of the law.  They in their blind hatred of Jesus pushed Pilate.  They stirred up the crowds.  They chose Barabbas over Jesus.  

Behind them was Judas, now dead by his own hand; there is Peter who was guilty of cowardice and denial.  And then in the background are all of every background, men and women, young and old.  In the background are the faces of everyone here tonight and those who aren’t here tonight. We all bear the stain of sin.  And all are included.  In fact, I need to be more direct.  You crucified him.  I crucified him.  We crucified him.

The hymn writer said,

“Ah, I also and my sin wrought your deep affliction

This indeed the cause has been of your crucifixion.”

            But don’t stop with the thought of your guilt and my guilt as being the cause of his crucifixion.  While it is true let’s not look so much as who put him there as much as why he stayed there.  The nails, the soldiers, the crowd had nothing to do with it.  But love did!  Love held him there. The point is that Jesus was crucified for me! 

            The Bible spells that out very clearly again and again.  But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed;” or God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God;” or the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.”  These are just a few of the many passages that tell the story and give the assurance that we don’t have to be afraid of death and dying.  We don’t have to be afraid that we are eternally condemned.  The cross and the crucified Savior mean we are saved.  Payment has been made.

            I know that there was nothing new I said this evening. We have heard the message of the crucified Savior hundreds, even thousands of times.  Perhaps, we are inclined to say, “So is there anything new?”  When there are so many things to do in life like make a living, pay the bills and raise the kids, when we have to run a business, pay the mortgage or get the kids to baseball or band.  Life is filled with so much.  It is so complex.  The voice of Jesus and the message of Christ and him crucified can get so swallowed up or drowned out.

            That’s why these forty days of Lent are so valuable.  It is time to get back to the cross and the message of Christ and him crucified.  It is time to marvel at this name of wondrous love. 

 

Amen 

 

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