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Christ crucified (3)

by on August 21, 2013

And what does it mean that Jesus was crucified?

I quote from historian Martin Hengel:

“Crucifixion was a political and military punishment… the Romans used it on the lower classes – slaves, violent criminals, and unruly elements of society. Crucifying an individual satisfied principally a lust for revenge and brought great sadistic pleasure. By displaying the victim naked, at a prominent place, crucifixion represented the uttermost of humiliation. Jesus did not die a gentle death… much less passing on “old and full of years” like the fathers of the Old Testament. Rather, he died like a slave or a common criminal, in torment, on the tree of shame… Jesus did not just die any death; He was “given up for us all” on the cross, in a cruel and contemptible way”.


We preach Christ crucified.

The Messiah, chosen for glory, the King who will have everlasting dominion – we preach that He died like a criminal in torment.

So they took Jesus, and he went out, bearing his own cross, to the place called The Place of a Skull, which in Aramaic is called Golgotha.There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, and Jesus between them. Pilate also wrote an inscription and put it on the cross. It read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” Many of the Jews read this inscription, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and it was written in Aramaic, in Latin, and in Greek. So the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, “Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews,’ but rather, ‘This man said, I am King of the Jews.’” Pilate answered, “What I have written I have written.” John 19:17-22.


Christ crucified. To the Jews, it was unthinkable. It would have seemed paradoxical, oxymoronic, that the Christ should be crucified. That is why Paul says it is a stumbling block to Jews. Something they just could not get their heads around.

The Christ, Messiah, the King, crucified? How could that possibly be? You remember what David said about stretching forth his hand against Saul, then the Lord’s anointed… something you would never do. The LORD forbid it, David said. Unthinkable. And yet here we are, with the ultimate Anointed One, true Messiah, being nailed to a cross in the horrific manner described by Martin Hengel. The King of the Jews written above His head – an irony deeper than Pilate could have realised. Here was the One chosen to be King of an everlasting Kingdom, hanging on a cruel Roman cross.

The gospels are, or should have been, the climax of the story of Israel being God’s possession – the time when God Himself reached into their situation to buy them back for good. But they would not. Because they could not accept the chosen One and the manner in which He would redeem them – by giving Himself to death on a cross, taking God’s punishment for their sin, and thereby liberating them with God. Rather, they sought a Messiah who would set up His Kingdom forever, liberating them from Roman oppression. Messiah, after all, is the one chosen for everlasting dominion – we’ve thought of what the Old Testament says of Messiah. So wasn’t that a reasonable thing to be looking for?

But there is more to this puzzle…

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