April 17, 2014

Obedient unto Death: Looking to Good Friday

by Mike Riccardi

Death by ObedienceJesus’ food was to do the will of His Father (John 4:34). He had come down from heaven, not to accomplish some sort of independent, personal agenda, but to carry out the will of the One who had sent Him (John 6:38). And that total, loving, delightful allegiance to His Father doesn’t stay in the realm of the theoretical. Jesus’ obedient submission to His Father’s will doesn’t keep Him on Easy Street. He had received a commandment from His Father to lay His life down (John 10:18), and He was intent on continuing His obedience.

To the Point of Death

Philippians 2:8 says that Jesus “humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death.” Surely, as the eternal Son of the Father, Christ had always, from eternity, obeyed His Father and experienced the joy and the fellowship of that obedience. But in His incarnation, obedience to the Father meant greater and greater opposition from all those who were around Him, until they eventually would kill Him.

Here is humility shining like the sun in its full strength. “How can it be, that Thou, My God, shouldst die for me?” The Author of Life humbly submits to death. The One who is without sin humbly submits to sin’s curse. The One who has life within Himself (John 1:4; 5:26)—the One who gives life to whomever He wishes (John 5:21), humbly releases His grip on His own life in submission to the Father and in love for those whom His Father has given Him. “’Tis mystery all: Th’immortal dies!”

Death on a Cross

But it doesn’t stop there. There is another step to go before the humiliation of the Son of God reaches rock bottom. He did not humble Himself merely by becoming obedient. He did not humble Himself merely by becoming obedient to the point of death. The Holy Son of God, the Lord of glory, “humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” Here, we hit rock bottom.

In that day, nobody wore a cross on their necklace. There were no crosses embossed on Bible covers. There weren’t even crosses in churches. In that day, the cross meant one thing: the most horrific and shameful kind of death. One commentator writes, “The cross displayed the lowest depths of human depravity and cruelty. It exhibited the most brutal form of sadistic torture and execution ever invented by malicious human minds” (Hansen, 157).

Rugged CrossCrucifixion was such a horrific way to die that Roman citizens were exempted from such a fate. Roman law forbade crucifixion for citizens, and allowed it only for the lower classes, slaves, violent criminals, and traitors. Cicero, the famous Roman philosopher and orator, called crucifixion “a most cruel and disgusting punishment,” “the worst extreme of the tortures inflicted upon the slaves” (cited in Hansen, 157). He said, “To bind a Roman citizen is a crime; to flog him is an abomination; to slay him is almost an act of murder; to crucify him is—what? There is no fitting word that can possibly describe so horrible a deed” (cited in Fee, 217n13). In fact, in “polite Roman society the word ‘cross’ was an obscenity, not to be uttered in conversation” (Bruce, 47). Cicero would also say, “Let the very name of the cross be far removed not only from the body of a Roman citizen, but even from his thoughts, his eyes, his ears” (cited in Hendriksen, 112).

“Why were they so exercised about this?” you ask. In crucifixion, metal spikes were driven through the victim’s wrists and feet, and he was left to hang naked and exposed. No vital organs were pierced, and so the victim of a crucifixion would sometimes hang there for days as his life slowly crept away from him. Because the body would be pulled down by gravity, the weight of the victim’s own body would press against his lungs, and the hyperextension of the lungs and chest muscles made it difficult to breathe. Victims would gasp for air by pulling themselves up. But when they would do that, the wounds in their wrists and feet would tear at the stakes that pierced them, and the flesh of their back—usually torn open from flogging—would grate against the jagged wood. Eventually, when he could no longer summon the strength to pull himself up to breathe, the victim of a crucifixion would die from suffocation under the weight of his own body.

This was the most sadistically cruel, excruciatingly painful, and loathsomely degrading death that a man could die. This is abject degradation. And there on Golgotha, 2,000 years ago, the innocent, holy, righteous Son of God died this death. God. On a cross.

Cursed

As hard as it may be to believe, the pain, the torture, and the shame weren’t the worst part of all this. Deuteronomy 21:23 states that anyone who is hanged on a tree is accursed of God. Paul quotes this verse in Galatians 3:13: “For it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree.’” Along with the pain and the shame, crucifixion also brought with it a divine curse.

As we approach this Good Friday and meditate on the Lord’s sacrifice for sinners, we need to dwell long and hard on what it meant for God the Son to be cursed by God the Father. He never deserved to know His Father’s wrath. He only ever deserved to know His Father’s delight and approbation. And there on Calvary, He was cut off from the apple of His eye, from the joy of His heart.

And He was innocent! I can barely imagine the sense of bewilderment the Son of God must have experienced, when for the first time in all of eternity, He felt what it was to know His Father’s displeasure. I can barely handle that thought. No wonder He cried, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” That was my sin that did that. My wrath that He had to endure. That was my frown from the Father, my alienation. That was my cry of dereliction!

And my friend, if you haven’t felt the pain of that thought in the depths of your soul, and cried out with every fiber of your being for God to have mercy on you, you remain dead in your trespasses and sins. But I beg you: feel it now. Cry out now in repentance and faith, and cast yourself on the mercy of Christ. Turn from your sin—abandon all your so-called “good works” that you would rely on to get you to Heaven, beg for forgiveness on the basis of the death and resurrection of Christ, and trust entirely in His righteousness alone for salvation. And His promise is that you’ll be saved! His death will have become your death; His curse, your curse; and His righteousness, your righteousness. In the face of such Good News, what could be stopping you this very moment from seizing eternal life?

And to my brothers and sisters who have seized it—who know the joy of having laid hold of Christ by grace through faith alone, boast in His work and rest in it alone. Worship Him as the Lamb of God who was slain, who with His blood purchased men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation, who became sin on our behalf that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing.

Mike Riccardi

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Mike is the Pastor of Local Outreach Ministries at Grace Community Church in Los Angeles. He also teaches Evangelism at The Master's Seminary.
  • http://www.melissacollins.biz/ Melissa Collins

    Wow! Gripping, powerful, visual! I plan on posting a portion of this on my FB page tomorrow; the description of what it means to be put to death by hanging on a cross. Thank you for this eternally important blog today Mike.

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