Pastoral Perspectives

Joy. Wonder. Gratitude

  If you were in church last Sunday, the above three words would ring a bell because I kept mentioning them in my sermon. Afterwards, I continued to mull over how I can rejoice in my salvation, stand in wonder of the privilege of being included in God’s kingdom and be grateful for what Christ has done for me so that I can have eternal life – a relationship with God that gives much purpose and meaning to my earthly existence and a relationship that continues beyond physical death. Join me in my reflection and perhaps you too can rejoice in and be grateful for the salvation that you have in Christ.

   Whenever I think of the price Jesus had paid to save me from the condemnation of my sins, I am astonished and astounded! It was a hefty price that continues to blow my mind, that the Son of God should stoop so low so that I could be lifted up. Christians often sing songs about the death of Christ, and his dying on the cross for us, to the extent that it can sound rather sentimental, but in reality dying by crucifixion was a very cruel death to die by. There aren’t many details given of that process in the Gospels because everyone back then would already be familiar with the gruesome details. In one of the sessions of the ASK classes that I conduct, we would watch a video of a trauma surgeon describing the harrowing time Christ went through in the final hours of his life when he was unjustly given the death sentence. ‘Unjustly’ because Pilate couldn’t find any basis for charging Jesus yet he succumbed to the pressure of the masses (Luke 23:20-23).

   We are told in the Bible that Jesus was scourged (Matthew 27:26). This was a typical practice before sending the person to the cross. It was all in a package to inflict maximum pain and shame. A short whip with metal pieces or animals’ bones wrapped in leather straps was used so that when it was lashed out on the back, shoulders and legs of the victim, it would tear at his flesh. Once the outer layer of skin and fats was worn out, it would get to the muscles and the tendons. You would be losing blood the whole time. I remember not being able to watch beyond this point in Mel Gibson’s movie “The Passion of Christ” because there was just so much gore. It is no surprise why some could not even make it to the cross; they were dead by this stage.

   Since the charge against Jesus was that he had claimed to be the King of the Jews, the soldiers twisted a crown of thorns for his head so as to taunt him (Matthew 27:29). These were long thorns and having them shaft into the scalp which is one of the most vascular portions of our bodies where a huge supply of blood flows, it would again have resulted in a lot of blood loss. People can bleed to death because of a scalp injury!

   Up until this stage, it was only part 1 of the torture. Jesus now had to carry his cross to the place of execution. This meant carrying the cross bar, the horizontal portion. It weighed about 50 kilograms so it wasn’t light. If you fall down with your hands stretched out against the bar, you would definitely require help to get up. Such a fall could result in cardiac injury, especially if his chest hit the ground. He must have fallen at least once because while the Gospel of John tells us that Jesus carried his own cross (John 19:17), the other Gospels record that Simon the Cyrene was ordered to carry Jesus’ cross (Matthew 27:32, Mark 15:21, Luke 23:26). Jesus must have been too weak to carry on carrying his cross so Simon was made to help him. When I went to Jerusalem and walked the Via Dolarosa, believed to be the route that Jesus took on the way to his crucifixion, it was pointed out to us that Simon took over the cross when the path started to slope upwards which would have made it even more difficult for Jesus to proceed.

   Then came the nailing when he finally reached Golgotha and this would be the most gruesome part. Can you hear metal hitting against metal as the hammer hit the nail? Instead of driving the nail into the palm, which would tear out of the hand under the weight of the body, it was hammered into the wrist which served as a more solid point of fixation. This would result in the destruction or impingement of nerves creating a tremendous amount of pain. Every breath you take would be an agonising one because you would be pushing down on spiked feet which of course hurt and hanging on spiked arms, alternating from excruciating pain to excruciating pain. The person hanging on the cross did not die of pain but of suffocation when he no longer had the strength to push himself up on spiked feet; his whole body would weigh down on his lungs, causing him not to be able to breath. In order to expedite the death, soldiers would break the person’s legs but it is recorded that when they came to Jesus, they didn’t have to do so because he was already dead (John 19:33) but one of the soldiers did thrust his spear into Jesus’ side and out came blood and water (John 19:34).

   This last act would definitely put the nail into the coffin. That thrust was a lethal one because the loss of water and blood would have come from a rupture of one of the pulmonary arteries or the aorta or the heart itself. No one can survive those kinds of injuries after a few minutes if no medical help is given. Christ as God could survive anything they threw at him but he chose to manifest as a human at that point in time. In his self-limitation to remain as a human, he would not have been able to survive those injuries – he died!

   He did not just die physically. He died spiritually too when he was separated from God the Father. Bearing the weight of the sins of the whole world, past, present and future, he cried out: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” The Trinity – Father, Son and Spirit – has always been tight from eternity past. For this fellowship of the Godhead to be broken was something unfathomable. No wonder when he was praying in the Garden of Gethsemane just before his arrest, Luke tells us that Jesus sweat blood (Luke 22:44). This is a medical condition known as Hematidrosis where little blood vessels within the glands burst under tremendous emotional and physiological stress. Jesus must have anticipated the agony of the cross and prayed that, if it was possible, he be spared the cup of suffering, yet he was most willing to submit to the will of his Father.

   “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).It is for our sake that Jesus made this ultimate sacrifice to pay the penalty of our sins. It is out of his love for us that he did that so that we can be forgiven and be drawn into the fellowship of love that is shared by the Triune God – oh what a wonder that we have been given this privilege! I pray that we will never forget this act of amazing love that we have been shown. Christ our Saviour who died but who also rose on the third day and is now seated at the right hand of God will be coming back again. He deserves our worship and obedience and so to him we offer our lives as a living sacrifice, and we do so out of a grateful heart that is filled with joy and wonder!   

Rev Lee Kien Seng

September 29, 2019