When Jesus walked on this earth, Israel was living under the rule of the Roman Empire. The Romans were very efficient at forcing their conquests into submission and quelling insurrection. The public spectacle of watching someone being bound to a wooden cross by ropes and nails and then hoisted into the air for all to see left a powerful impression on anyone considering rebellion against Rome. Crucifixion was such an excruciating and humiliating form of torture that Romans didn’t crucify Romans — except for treason and cowardice. Mostly, crucifixion was reserved for teaching the locals to submit — and if letting someone languish on a cross for three or four days was needed to get the lesson across, then the Romans were willing to do whatever it would take to keep control in their vast empire.
So crucifixion was not designed to kill, it was designed to torture — and to send a message. Certainly, given enough days, crucifixion could result in death due to a combination of asphyxiation, dehydration, starvation and exhaustion. But please understand - the act of crucifixion was not lethal in and of itself. That fact is essential to the gospel story, and here’s why:
From the Biblical narrative, we learn that Jesus survived on the cross for approximately six hours — from 9:00 in the morning until 3:00 in the afternoon. Six hours was not enough to kill a man by crucifixion. John’s gospel gives us the information that verifies this fact. In John 19:31, we learn that the Jews asked Pilate to have the legs of the crucified broken to hasten their death. The soldiers broke the legs of the two thieves, but when they came to Jesus, they found that He was already dead. To verify his death, they thrust a spear into his chest cavity. That simple act required much less effort than breaking the legs of a man hanging on a cross. Water and blood gushed out. All of these facts lead us to a very important truth: The cross did not kill Jesus.
My sin killed Jesus. You see, my sin was there that day. Every sin that Tim Hartzell ever committed, along with all of the sins I will commit in the future; every sinful thought, action and omission — the whole ugly and stinking pile of all of my failures — all of them were poured into Jesus as He hung on the cross.
And so were your sins, along with the sins of Adolph Hitler and Jeffrey Dahmer and Osama Bin Laden. The sins of Adam and Eve, Moses, King David and Achan were there. Every sin committed by every person — past, present and future - every one of those ugly, putrefying and horrific sins were poured into Jesus as He hung on the cross. I Peter 2:4 says, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sin and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.” Isaiah 53:4-6 says, "Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”
The English language does not contain words powerful enough to convey what the weight of all of that sin did to the heart of the sinless Lamb of God. When my sins were poured into His body, He cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” My sin caused God to look away from Jesus – and in that moment, He was all alone. The combination of my sin and the resulting loss of His Father’s presence crushed His heart and killed Him.
My friends, we all have sinned — every one of us. We all have fallen hard and have committed sins we deeply regret. If we could, we would turn back the clock and fix the error. But we can’t. The damage is done. We are guilty and condemned and we sense that there is nothing in the world we can do about it. The guilt is unbearable. The darkness is encompassing. The self-loathing and regret is overwhelming. We medicate with drugs and alcohol, religion and philosophy, materialism and hedonism — yet nothing helps. The ache within is inconsolable — a stress so deep that nothing provides comfort.
But in the darkness of guilt and regret, a light shines — there is good news! John the Baptist declared, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” Romans 6:23 declares, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” John 3:16 declares, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” I John 1:9 declares, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”
“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:6-8.
He died for us! My friend, the debt of your sin is paid. Jesus is offering forgiveness and reconciliation. There is no need to live another moment being tormented by regret and fear. Accept His gift of forgiveness and eternal life today!
“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.” Romans 8:1