Thursday, December 11, 2014

The Murder of the King

Life of Christ 172

          It is 9 AM on Wednesday. Tonight at sundown Passover begins. Pilate, hands still dripping wet from his attempt to wash the responsibility for this crime off of them, stands before the howling bloodthirsty mob of Israel's religious leadership and he gives sentence that is should be as they required.
          Immediately, Roman soldiers reach for Him. They tear the simple robe off his back. Lifting His arms they tie his hands to a post above His head and they send for the scourger.
         Jesus is already weary in body and spirit. He has been awake for over 24 hours. In the past 12 hours He has endured incredible emotional distress as evidenced by bleeding during prayer in Gethsamane. One of His own has betrayed Him. One of His own has denied Him. All the rest have fled. He has been formally rejected by His own people. He has been beaten up by the Sanhedrin, twice. He has walked 2.5 miles back and forth through the streets of Jerusalem. And the horror has barely begun.
          A Roman soldier lifted the whip above his head and swung with all his force until it struck the back of Jesus Christ. At the end of the whip were several leather thongs in which iron balls and sheep bones had been set. As the iron balls struck they caused deep contusions and the bones cut into the skin and the underlying muscle. As the flogging continued the lacerations widened and deepened. Soon ribbons of flesh hung from his back, and blood first trickled and then ran down His body to drip onto the stone flagged floor of the Praetorium. Thirty-nine times the whip rose and thirty-nine times the whip fell.
          Untying his arms from the post the rough soldiers decided on a little sport. During Herod's brief examination an hour earlier he had clothed Jesus in a rich purple robe in mockery of His claim to be the King of Israel. It had been discarded in Pilate's judgment hall but now someone grabs it, throws it round the huddled bloody mess on the floor, and hauls Him to His feet. Someone else places a staff into His hand in place of a scepter and another, having plaited a circlet out of material from a bramble bush in the courtyard, places it on His head. Jeering, they act out a little pantomime of bowing before Him.
          Soon, though, the jeers turn to blows. Someone grabs the stick out of His hand and pounds Him about the head, driving the crown of thorns down around His scalp. A blindfold is tied around His eyes and one at a time they take turns punching Him in the face and stomach and demanding that He prophetically pronounce the name of the one who had so struck Him. Some yanked chunks of hair out of His head as He sank to the ground, weak from blood loss and repeated beatings. Gathering around the pitiful figure still garbed in blood spattered purple one by one they take turns, in contempt, spitting on this man who thought He could be the King of the Jews.
          A quaternion of four soldiers is assigned to Him; they are not allowed to leave His side until He has been pronounced as dead. Together with two other quaternions and prisoners He is marched through the streets of the city. Going ahead of the sad little procession was a man carrying a sign on which was written the crime of the guilty party. The sign, penned in mockery of Christ and of the Sanhedrin, reads THIS IS JESUS THE KING OF THE JEWS. In moments it would be nailed to the top of the post from which He would hang.
          That post was already fixed in the ground on Golgotha but the crossbeam was not. Just prior to leaving the Praetorium the soldiers stretched out Jesus' arms and tied the crossbeam to them. Somewhere along the route through the city Jesus stumbled and fell beneath the hundred pound weight of that crossbeam. The soldiers forced Him to His feet but He fell again, weakened by repeated beatings and a terrible scourging. In haste, they snatch a random man from the rapidly growing crowd, and compel him, Simon was his name, to carry the crossbeam for Christ.
          Three days ago He and His Apostles had marched into the city surrounded by throngs of cheering, shouting, singing Jews. Now the King of Israel, betrayed, abandoned, unjustly sentenced, scourged, beaten, and mocked, stumbles through the same streets on the way to Golgotha.
          Those streets are largely silent; the crowds looking on hushed. From somewhere up ahead a group of women begin to lament loudly. As Jesus draws even with them He lifts His thorn shadowed brow to look at them. Not unkindly, He tells them to save their lamentation for their children – the children that thirty years would perish by the hundreds of thousands in the Roman siege of a rebellious Jerusalem.
          At the site of the execution Roman law allowed a liquid narcotic to be given to the condemned man so that some of his pain would be eased. Jesus refused this, choosing to remain in full possession of His faculties but also choosing thus to experience greater pain.
          Upon arrival He was thrown on His back and the crossbar that Simon had carried for Him placed under His outstretched arms. Taking a six inch iron spike a Roman soldier knelt over Him and placed it with great precision at the base of His hand where the wrist begins. There the radius and the ulna of the arm join together at the hand and with the carpals form a small opening of bone through which the median nerve runs. Another soldier steps up and swinging a sledgehammer drives it through His body and into the wood of the crossbeam. The process is then repeated with the other arm.
          Raised back to His feet, Jesus was lifted into the waiting hands of Roman soldiers standing above Him on ladders. Hoisted into the air from above and pushed from beneath His body hung, swaying, suspended in mid-air by those two iron spikes. The crossbeam with its now three hundred pound weight was then dropped onto the embedded post. Quickly, the Roman soldiers grab His feet and holding them together place yet another iron spike through them into the wood of the embedded post.
          In this way, suspended between earth and Heaven, the crucified man would torturously die by inches over the next several days. He would die of exhaustion, of thirst, of asphyxiation, and of blood loss from the constantly re-opened wounds on his back.
          Looking on the assembled Sanhedrin smiled with glee. Looking on, the imps of hell howled in silent triumph. Looking on, His mother wept and recalled Simeon's prophecy of long ago pronounced in that very city over her precious infant child. Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel; and for a sign which shall be spoken against; Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also. (Luke 2.34-35)
     For six hours He hung thus suspended between earth and Heaven. For six hours the wounds in His back wept blood down the embedded post until it pooled at the foot of the cross. For six hours the median nerve in His wrists sent fire into His brain. For six hours the iron spike through His feet by turns supported and tormented Him. For six hours the assembled soldiers and Sanhedrin mocked Him unceasingly.
Along the way He kept His head. He won the thief beside Him to Himself. He took care of His earthly responsibilities – His mother. Stunningly, He forgave the assembled Romans and Jews who were murdering Him. And the darkness stole into His soul as He contemplated being rejected and abandoned - not just by His people, not just by His Apostles, but by God Himself.
          He who had known perfect fellowship for eternity was now taking upon Himself the noxious stench of the monstrous pile of humanity's sins against God.  And as the Father turned His back on the Son the true pain of the cross was shown.
My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?
          Just over the city walls in the Temple Jewish priests gathered by the thousands and Jewish men gathered by the tens of thousands. One by one, hundreds of thousands of lambs were slaughtered in representation of that long ago night in Egypt when only the blood protected the people from the death angel. And hanging on the cross the Lamb of God, with His life's blood streaming from His body, shouted a single Greek word – tetelestai – which being interpreted is It is finished.
          In moments, He dismissed His spirit and died. And the Roman centurion looked up in awe and said, Truly, this man was the son of God.

Isaiah 53:3 He is despised and rejected of men; A man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: And we hid as it were our faces from him; He was despised, and we esteemed him not.
4 Surely he hath borne our griefs, And carried our sorrows: Yet we did esteem him stricken, Smitten of God, and afflicted.
5 But he was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities: The chastisement of our peace was upon him; And with his stripes we are healed.
6 All we like sheep have gone astray; We have turned every one to his own way; And the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.
7 He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, Yet he opened not his mouth: He is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, And as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, So he openeth not his mouth.
8 He was taken from prison and from judgment: And who shall declare his generation? For he was cut off out of the land of the living: For the transgression of my people was he stricken.
9 And he made his grave with the wicked, And with the rich in his death; Because he had done no violence, Neither was any deceit in his mouth.
10 Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: When thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, He shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, And the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in his hand.
11 He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: By his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; For he shall bear their iniquities.

There is only one proper response to this. It is to say, from the bottom of our hearts, 'thank you.' For mercy at no charge and the price it cost Him to furnish it.

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