The Crucifixion

After an earthquake, scientists work to find both the epicenter and the hypocenter.  We know what the epicenter is: It is the point on the earth’s surface vertically above the initial quake.  It is not the origin of the quake but the spot directly above it on the surface. The actual quake begins deep below the epicenter in what is called the hypocenter. It is the point in the crust of the earth where the rupture actually occurs. The epicenter is the visible evidence of the hypocenter.

In the crucifixion, we have both. The quake of the victory over sin and death is located here – at the cross. You could say X marks the spot.  It is here that the whole sinful order of the world is fractured from deep within and only visible because of the cross. Forever after we can point to a time and place that everything shifted.

Even so, for Mark, the actual crucifixion is only 13 verses.

The triumphal entry is 19 verses.

The healing of the boy with the evil spirit is 19 verses.

The feeding of the 5,000 is 14 verses and the beheading of John is 15 verses.

It is the sacrifice that is central but not the details. The early church did not focus, as we do today, on the excruciating pain and degradation of the process but the fact of the perfect sacrifice. The intent is not to emphasize the suffering.

Mark was not writing a screenplay. He was not thinking about Mel Gibson’s dwelling on the physical abuse and agony of the beatings, bloody excesses, and torture of being crucified. Mark did not have to stimulate the senses to get his readers to feel the pain because the pain was not central to the most important point.  Just as the Old Testament did not dwell on the pain experienced by the sacrificial lamb with slow-motion shots of the throat being slit and the blood pouring out on the altar, the apostles did not need to create the shock value we do today.

We have created a morbid and sensationalized fascination with his physical suffering and that makes us miss the central point. The focus in Scripture is not on the gruesome death but on the controlled power of Jesus in the face of such sin.  Honestly, there are worse ways to die. People have suffered physically more but, again, that is not the point.

We emphasize what they did to him which minimizes his being in charge of everything. We have well-intentioned songs that say, “I’m the one to blame. I caused all his pain.” And we end up with a sense of pity or morbid guilt instead of awe and gratitude. We feel sorry for the defenseless lamb led to the slaughter. We encourage guilt about what powerful forces did to him instead of his intentional and necessary sacrifice.  We try to convince everyone that they were the soldiers or the thieves or the ones who mocked him and we share in their crime. But not everyone crucified or mocked him that day. Not the women standing by. Not the disciples. Not the other followers. No matter how evil or good we are the only way to reverse the inheritance of our separation from God. It is what we share with everyone who was there that day.

We have substituted grisly and manipulated emotions for gratitude..and miss the point. He chose to die in a particular way at a specific time.  Christ did not die because I or you put him to death. He died to reverse the fall of Adam and the inheritance of the sin nature. He died that I might live and that the world might be reconciled to God through his death and “God’s making him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God.” 2 Corinthians 5:21

Again, Jesus is not a victim. He predicts his death several times so it is not a surprise.  He is not a martyr for a cause or a hero. He is not a teacher caught up in a crossfire of politics and religion. He is in charge of the whole process.

In Luke we read that he sets his face toward Jerusalem. He goes there intentionally.  That is his destination.

In Mark we read that he says “tell no one” as he does not want to precipitate their action before the appointed time.

In John 11 he is actually choreographing his death. He is going to die at a particular time that he chooses.

He remained silent because a single word, a miracle, a sign, an argument would have disrupted the whole process. He came to be offered as a sacrifice and not a victim, a martyr, or a misunderstood hero. Peter says in Acts 2:23: “This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge;”

In fact, when you see that every reigning power of the world – religious, financial, political, military, and even the power of easily manipulated crowds – thought they had crucified and killed Jesus, they had done nothing but play into his hands.  He was not pushed toward the cross but he drew them toward the cross. They thought his being alive was dangerous and a threat but he was determined to go there – not dragged against his will.

Satan used every tool of the fallen world to get rid of Jesus as well as the need for forgiveness and reconciliation – and yet they were used without their even knowing it to make forgiveness available to everyone. In attempting to eliminate Jesus they only made forgiveness possible. They could not have known that the one thing they wanted to prevent and feared the most would be made possible. Sin does not understand sacrifice.  Sin does not understand holiness. Sin cannot possibly understand reconciliation. It only understands separation from God.

In other words, this was not a plot against him but a plot designed by him. Had they known what would happen they would have done whatever possible to keep him from the cross but he enticed them there. That was the great secret he had to keep from them by giving them the one thing they thought they wanted. But what they wanted so desperately became the cause of their own destruction. The cross was God’s trap for sin and all of the distorted powers of the world walked right into it.  He was not a victim. The whole drama had been designed to ensnare them by making them do the one thing that would destroy their power – and they did it thinking they were winning. They orchestrated their own destruction. It must have been the feeling of satisfaction the rat feels in the moment of getting the first bite of the cheese – before the slight pressure releases the spring.

But to focus only on the life or death of Jesus is to distort the Gospel. That is why we cannot leave here this morning without looking at Paul’s understanding of both and the work of the resurrected Christ.

Paul’s focus is not on stories about Jesus’ life or even his teachings…but on his role as the perfect sacrifice and the firstborn of the new creation. Paul quotes Moses, Abraham and the Psalms far more than he quotes Jesus. Paul does not teach in parables or even reminisce about Jesus. He never asks, “What would Jesus do?” You could say the earthly life of Jesus is not Paul’s interest. He virtually ignores that because of the greater and essential work of Jesus as the Christ – as the sacrifice, as the reconciler and the first of many to come. For Paul, Christ has risen and is alive so he is not looking back at the history of Jesus except as the perfect sacrifice for sins.

In some ways, we have made Jesus more of a great teacher or a victim of powerful forces, a moral philosopher or an example to follow. We want to shoehorn his teachings and example into our own lives more than understanding his role as Christ the sacrifice. In wanting to make him “real” we have made him all too mortal. We forget he did not come as an example of a standard for our best behavior. He did not come to endorse a particular ideology or philosophy. He came to die…and be resurrected.

The word Jesus is used 36 times in Romans and only three times without Christ or Lord as part of his title. Paul moves us from stories about Jesus to something far deeper. From the personality of Jesus to the work of Christ. For him, Jesus is not a standard of perfection for us to use as a new Law but a gift of reconciliation from God. We cannot be Jesus but we can have a new life through Christ.

Paul is telling us that the blood of Jesus is as important as the biography of Jesus. The sacrifice is the central part of the story – not the miracles, the example, or the teaching. Salvation comes through faith in his blood – not his teaching or miracles or even admiration for a sinless life. As the author of Hebrews says, there is no remission of sins without the shedding of blood.

I know that talking about the blood of Christ is often uncomfortable. For many years it was an obstacle for me. I not only had a great fear of blood itself but the whole issue was distasteful and off-putting. I wanted the Gospel but I wanted it cleaned up. I did not want to associate with the early Christians who were considered to be cannibals because of their drinking the blood and eating the flesh of Jesus. I would skip church when I knew the worship leader was going to have us sing what he called “blood medleys” filled with songs about the blood of Jesus. It sounded grisly – like some Stephen King novel.

Nothing But The Blood

“Oh! precious is the flow

That makes me white as snow;

No other fount I know,”

Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

Power in The Blood

“Would you be whiter, much whiter than snow?

There’s pow’r in the blood, pow’r in the blood;

Sin-stains are lost in its life-giving flow;

There’s wonderful pow’r in the blood.”

There Is A Fountain Filled With Blood

There is a fountain filled with blood drawn from Emmanuel’s veins;

And sinners plunged beneath that flood lose all their guilty stains.

No wonder people called it “that bloody religion”. It was…and it is.

Like many others today, I wanted a more civilized religion. I would prefer a more abstract, symbolic, and thought-provoking religion that discusses the blood as a concept but not a fact. Nothing could be less abstract and more concrete than blood and sacrifice.

I’m sure the Greeks struggled with it as well. Their religions were bloodless and practical. They wanted enlightenment, insight, and wisdom for living – not blood. They wanted a religion they could understand that also led to the world making sense – not something as incomprehensible as the necessity of suffering and sacrifice. As Paul says, the cross is foolishness to them.

We want God to be something other than what He reveals himself to be. We want to excuse or explain the more barbaric and violent parts of his behavior. How can we market a loving and kind God to the world if he demands blood? The Greek in us wants philosophy, order, intellectual stimulation, and reason. A safe and sensible God we can introduce to friends without any reservations or embarrassment. The Jew in us wants miracles and entertainment and five keys to a happy life.

None of us want blood. It’s not a euphemism for death. It’s the physical sacrifice of blood. Not symbolic blood or simply pricking a finger like Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn to show they were in the club. Romans 5:9 makes it clear that our whole peace with God is based on the blood – not the example or teachings of Jesus.

However, if we are to understand what it means to be at peace with God we need to understand the blood. There are four ways:

  1. The blood is our protection. Read: Exodus 12:7-13
  2. The blood is the basis of the covenant with Israel. Read: Exodus 24:3-8
  3. The blood is a requirement for atonement. Read Leviticus 16:15-22
  4. The blood is the requirement for peace with God. Read Ephesians 2:13 and Colossians 1:20

Our understanding and accepting the requirement of the blood of Jesus is essential because it is the heart of how we are reconciled with God. A bloodless Christianity is powerless. What does Paul say in 1 Corinthians 1:17: “For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the Gospel – not with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.”

We want a less bloody, less violent and more thoughtful religion. No more blood medleys or at least make the blood a little more symbolic and more palatable. No fountains filled with it or sinners plunged beneath it. Maybe we should have a religion that is divorced from our Jewish roots and that might eliminate so much of the blood talk. It’s okay to have a man give up his life for us but let’s downplay the blood. However, as Paul says, we are grafted on to the root and without the root, we will die. We cannot separate ourselves from our Jewish roots and at the core of Judaism is blood and sacrifice and atonement for a holy God.

Christianity separated from its Jewish roots – including the requirement of blood sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins – becomes stories about Jesus. Christianity without Jewish roots eliminates Creation, the Fall, the covenant with Abraham, the Law, the Messiah, and the people of God. Christianity without talking about blood is a rootless, immaterial and meaningless philosophy. It is a distorted religion of cheap grace and false love. A Christianity without the requirement of the Cross and blood is the idolatry of the good man Jesus. Without the roots which require the blood, we would turn Christ into what the world desires him to be and we would create an image of God while less fearsome and demanding would be a lie.

The cross is the tool by which the blood was shed.  The cross is where X marks the spot. The cross was the ingenious trap God laid for sin. The cross is God’s invitation to reconciliation with the world.

What can wash away our sins? What can make us whole again? Truly, there is nothing but the blood.

 

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