John 12:32 “If I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to Myself.”
What are the biggest events that are grabbing the headlines today? There are Florida high school teenagers that are the media’s spokespeople for gun control. There are nearly 1,000 immigrants on a march through Mexico toward California to try and get sanctuary from that state’s sympathetic government. President Trump is still being investigated by Mueller for ties between his campaign and Russian officials. We have another serious protest for a police deadly shooting of a black man, this time in Sacramento, CA.
But the greatest event in world history occurred on this day. 1,968 years ago in an inconspicuous region of the Middle East, a local Jewish man, the son of a Jerusalem carpenter and a self-proclaimed preacher and teacher, was nailed to a cross. Why? He publicly claimed to be the fulfillment of the Bible’s prophecies that God would send Messiah to pay the penalty for everyone’s sins and be the exclusive way to eternal life.
To make matters more outrageous, our verse this week says this itinerant preacher would claim that His manner of death – being crucified (“lifted up from the earth”) – would be the event to draw all people everywhere to Him. How would Jesus Christ know in advance that He would be put to death by crucifixion?
He said this over and over again as He traveled throughout the region, always trying to get people to pay attention to biblical history that pointed to this event to come, so that the reality of what was to come would draw people to trust in Him as this Messiah: “When you lift up the Son of Man, they you will know that I am He, and that I do nothing of Myself; but as My Father taught Me, I speak these things.” (John 8:28).
Jesus spoke that verse while He was moving throughout the city of Jerusalem, just before He was taken prisoner by the Sanhedrin. When He entered the city earlier on a donkey, after being exalted by the crowd as they waved palm branches and announced Him to be God’s Messiah, the leading teacher in the synagogue came to Him at night to confess to Him that all the religious leaders knew He was sent by God.
Jesus confronts this leading teacher, named Nicodemus, with the same truth of His coming crucifixion, this time explaining that anyone who put their trust in His sacrificial death on the cross to pay for their sins can gain eternal life: “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:14-15). Nicodemus knew his bible, so he knew the Old Testament historical event of the bronze serpent used to save Israelites in the wilderness from by the venomous snakes. But he was confused. He asked Jesus “How could these things be?” (John 3:9). He couldn’t grasp why Jesus being “lifted up” could solve peoples’ death for their sins.
Crucifixion is a horrible thing. Our word “excruciating” came from the Latin translation for “out of the cross”. In the classic article ‘On the Physical Death of Jesus Christ’, medical doctor William D. Edwards explains how someone dies from crucifixion: “The condemned man carried his own cross to the site of crucifixion. Since the weight of the entire cross was probably well over 300 lb., only the crossbar, weighing about 100 lb., was carried. At the site of execution, the criminal was thrown to the ground on his back, with his arms outstretched along the crossbar. The guard drove a 7-inch long square spike through the soft spot on the wrists, nailing each wrist through the crossbar. After both arms were fixed to the crossbar, it and the victim together were lifted onto the vertical wooden column that formed the cross. Next, the feet were nailed through the ankles to a footrest on the cross, with the left foot place on top of the right and the knees bent to allow the prisoner to move up and down on the cross as he struggled to breathe.
To exhale, the prisoner had to lift his body up by pushing up on his feet, as well flexing his elbows and shoulders. But the pain on his feet and his wrists was so severe he wouldn’t be able to maintain it very long. His muscles would begin severe cramping. Each effort to breathe was agonizing. The prisoner would eventually either go into hypovolemic shock or exhaustive asphyxia. Survival ranged from three or four hours to three or four days and appears to have been inversely related to the severity of the scourging.”
Why would Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, willing put Himself in the hands of such murderous people and subject Himself to the most humiliating of all deaths when He could have so easily avoided crucifixion?
Nicodemus asked Him why He would be “lifted up”. Jesus answered him with the most famous verse of the Bible: “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16). He went willingly to the cross because God loves each of us.
“The Evidence of Faith’s Substance”, Article #290 – April 07, 2018