As I prayerfully prepared a sermon a few years ago, a random thought came to my mind about Easter, which was over a month away. That week’s sermon had nothing to do with Easter.
Sacrifices, though bloody, were relatively clean and simple, consisting of plunging a sharp object into the heart or slitting the throat with a sharp instrument…. Death came quickly, lasting only a few seconds, if that long. (If you’ve ever witnessed the slaughter of a goat, chicken, or some other animal, you know that there’s no suffering.)
The ultimate sacrifice, Jesus Christ, however, was different. Very different.
Hours passed from his arrest until he breathed his last breath on a Roman cross.
He was beaten with sticks.
His beard was plucked out.
He endured scourging with innumerable lashes, His skin shredded with each blow.
A crown of long thorns was pressed into his scalp.
He carried a very heavy cross.
He stumbled under its weight.
Nails were driven into His wrists.
A nail was driven into His feet.
His cross was dropped into a hole with a sudden jolt at the bottom; He was already mounted on the cross at the time.
He hung there for hours in the blazing sun. Naked. Humiliated.
A disgustingly nasty sponge with vinegar touched His dry, parched lips.
All the while, bleeding.
Pushing against the nail in His feet, struggling for breath.
All the while, His lungs slowly filled with fluid. He was drowning.
It was an extended death. And it was ugly. Very ugly.
Perhaps the best depiction of the brutality of His torture was in Mel Gibson’s film The Passion of the Christ. And perhaps even this portrayal was sanitized for movie audiences.
To ultimately atone for sin required the ultimate sacrifice. Contrasting with a simple slash of a knife in a ceremonial fashion, Jesus’ death was carried out brutally by the forces of hell itself through a perfected brutal torture, designed to inflict the most pain for the longest period of time. Sadism at its worst — glaringly on display. As he hung there, He barely looked like a human being.
I confess that I rarely consider the immensity of that sacrifice. But for that sin, His death also atones.
Thank God for Easter: an annual opportunity to remember!
[Note: This is a revised reposting of a blog entry I wrote in 2010]