Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Jesus Intentionally Gave His Life

Warning: Please do not read this writing if you are sensitive to or may be upset by graphic descriptions of physical violence.

Please do not allow children to read this writing.

My first experience reading the details of the crucifixion of Jesus on the cross was about 25 years ago. It was during the time of the celebration of Easter in America and I happened upon a book that presented information on the subject. I remember it so clearly because I could not stop reading and pondering the reality of what I was reading.

In some very real ways I found myself relating to some of what I was reading because of the physical abuse I had experienced at the hand of my father. Nothing, of course, like I was reading, but some faint memories of my own abuse stirred in my soul and the feelings that these memories brought to the surface I think God used to help me understand His crucifixion. And maybe understand my own abuse just a little bit better. And certainly understand His love for me a little bit more!

The memories I was tapping into as I read the book on crucifixion were feelings such as shivering in my body when I was awakened in the middle of the night as a small boy, waking to the cold chill of terror as my father was raging. My knees, stomach and chin would shake uncontrollably. Feelings of stark fear when I was facing a physical beating and there was no one or no way to stop my father from beating me. The raw physical pain I still have memories of that was a part of the intense physical beating and battering I experienced at the hand of my father. The despair I felt watching my father beat one of my brothers or my sisters or my mother knowing there was nothing I could do to stop him.

Certainly I have had many questions about God and I have given a lot of thought to the subject of God, who he is and what he is like. I was plunged into all of this “God stuff” from my birth.

In the final analysis I have come back to one overwhelming realization over and over and over again. Whatever I do or do not understand and whatever I believe or do not believe about God, ultimately I have to ask myself, and answer some questions that, for me, go to the core of the issue of who God is and what he is like.

Assuming for a minute that there is the least possibility that this Jesus who is well documented in history might just possibly be the person he says he is, the very Son of God in human flesh, here are my questions:

‘Why would God allow His Son to suffer the way He did?’

‘Why would Jesus have been so willing to go through what He went through?’

‘What could possibly have been the motivation for such a voluntary act on the part of Jesus?’

I would like to describe some of what I have learned over the years regarding what Jesus experienced. There are some variations in what I have read over the years in the accounts of what Jesus experienced but for the most part all the accounts are consistent in their description of the main details. I invite you reading this to do your own study on this subject. Perhaps as you read what I am writing you will have questions similar to the ones I have mentioned above.

I also invite you to use your imagination as you read these descriptions of the crucifixion of Jesus. Imagine you are the mother of Jesus. Or imagine you are a close friend of Jesus. Or imagine yourself in the circumstances in which Jesus found himself and try to comprehend what it may have been like if you were the one experiencing what he experienced and how you may have felt and responded. Personally I have done this many times. I have tried to fathom what it would have been like if I had been the one in the place of Jesus through every moment of what occurred during these final hours of his life on earth.

The night before Jesus was crucified he went to the Garden of Gethsemane and he prayed to his father. He was aware of the suffering he was about to endure over the next several hours and he was already experiencing the weight of it all in his mind and his heart. Jesus was experiencing extreme psychological stress. In fact he was exceeding sorrowful unto death. During this time of enormous emotional strain he began to sweat blood.

Some say this can’t be so or this is an exaggeration. But in reality, though rare, the phenomenon of Hematidrosis, or bloody sweat, is well documented. Severe anxiety causes the release of chemicals that break down the capillaries in the sweat glands. As the capillaries are compromised the result is a little bleeding into the sweat glands and this mixes blood with sweat.

This Hematidrosis also caused Jesus’ skin to be very fragile so that a few hours later when Jesus was flogged by the Roman solders his skin was hyper-sensitive to pain. Further, Hematidrosis very likely produced marked weakness and shock to his body. I really cannot imagine the amount of emotional stress Jesus my Savior was experiencing while in the garden that night praying to his father.

  The next violence Jesus endured was after his arrest in the middle of the night and Jesus was brought before the Sanhedrin. A soldier struck Jesus across the face for remaining silent when questioned by the high priest Caiaphas. The palace guards then blind-folded Him and mockingly taunted Him to identify them as they each passed by, spat upon Him, and struck Him in the face.

  This may not sound all that bad until you realize that the strikes to his face were numerous and savage, and they caused the face of Jesus to be marred so that he was no longer recognizable as a human being. The blows were not just mild slaps. The soldiers delivered direct violent forceful blows with their open palms and fists to the bare face of Jesus at point blank range. They also pulled out his beard!

Jesus willingly gave his face to these men and intentionally allowed them to treat him this way. We would not get the picture of what Jesus endured from most artists’ renderings of Jesus on the cross. But this is in fact what took place. No bones were broken in his face but the bruising and contusions and swelling left his face so damaged that his face no longer had the appearance of a human being when the soldiers were done beating Jesus.

Then in the early hours of the morning, after being battered and brutalized, dehydrated, and exhausted from a sleepless night, Jesus was taken before the Roman procurator of Judea, Pontius Pilate, who had final authority concerning the condemnation and execution of Jesus. Though Pilate could find no fault in Jesus he issued the order to have Jesus flogged and then crucified.

Roman floggings usually consisted of thirty-nine lashes but often were a lot more than thirty-nine, depending on the state of mind of the soldier applying the lashes. Jesus was prepared for the scourging by being stripped of His clothing and then his arms were tied to a post above His head.

The soldier flogged Jesus with a whip of braided leather thongs with several metal balls woven into them, all the way to the end of each thong. When the whip would strike the flesh, these balls would cause deep bruises or contusions in his skin which would break open with further blows.

My brother Nathan, my brother Jonathan, my sister Katherine, my brother Fred Jr. and I; we all experienced something similar to this when we were beaten by our father with the mattock handle. Our father would give us so many blows with the mattock handle that our skin would badly bruise and then, after a few minutes break, he would beat us some more, just as the feeling was beginning to return to the previously beaten parts of our bodies. This repeated beating caused the bruises that had begun to form from the earlier beatings, to break open causing open bleeding and eventually open sores.

Of course what we experienced, though from our perspective it was very painful and traumatic, was minimal compared to what happened to Jesus. I don’t normally think of my brutal abuse in a positive light, but in this one way, in my being able to relate to Jesus even in this small way, I realize I have been able to understand even more what he did for me. And for this understanding I really am grateful.

The leather thongs used on Jesus also contained pieces of bone and glass. The bone and glass would cut the skin severely and imbed in his skin and when the whip was pulled back in preparation for the next lash it would rip the skin on his back and legs. The heavy whip was brought down with full force again and again across Jesus’ shoulders, back, and legs.

At first the thongs cut through his skin only. Then, as the blows continued, they cut deeper into his subcutaneous tissues, producing first an oozing of blood from the capillaries and veins of the skin, and finally spurting arterial bleeding from vessels in the underlying muscles.  Finally the skin of his back was hanging in long quivering ribbons of bleeding flesh and the entire area was an unrecognizable mass of torn, bleeding tissue. His back and legs were so shredded that part of his spine was exposed by the deep, deep cuts. His veins were laid bare and his very muscles, sinews and bowels were open to exposure. The flogging went all the way from his shoulders down to his back, his buttocks, and the back of his legs. It was probably more terrible than anything you could imagine.

History tells us that many people would die from this kind of beating even before they could be crucified. Jesus experienced tremendous pain and he would have gone into hypovolemic shock. This means he suffered the loss of a large amount of blood. Hypovolemic shock is a very serious medical condition. His heart was racing to try to pump blood that was not there. His blood pressure dropped causing him to approach near fainting (in fact he collapsed to the ground as he walked the Via Dolorosa). His kidneys would have stopped producing urine to maintain what volume of fluid that was still left in his body. He became very thirsty as his body craved fluids to replace the lost blood volume.

How would his mother have felt watching these soldiers torturing her innocent son?!

When it was determined by the centurion in charge that Jesus was near death, the beating was finally stopped.  By this time Jesus was already in serious to critical condition. The half-fainting Jesus was then untied and allowed to slump to the stone pavement, soaked in His own blood. But the physical abuse had scarcely begun.

The Roman soldiers saw great sport in this pathetic figure of a small town Jew claiming to be king. They put a robe around his shoulders and placed a stick in his hand for a scepter. They still needed a crown to make their travesty complete. Flexible branches covered with long thorns were plaited into the shape of a crown and this ‘crown’ was pressed into his scalp. Again there was bounteous bleeding because the scalp has so many blood vessels.

After mocking Jesus and striking Him across the face and preparing his crown of thorns, the soldiers took the stick from His hand and struck Him across the head, driving the thorns deeper into His scalp. Finally, they got tired of their sadistic sport and the robe was torn from His back. Already having adhered to the clots of blood and serum in the wounds on his back, its removal caused excruciating pain and he began to bleed again almost as profusely as when he had initially been beaten.

Jesus survived all of this brutality and was then required to go forward toward the place of his crucifixion.  The heavy cross section (the patibulum) of the cross was tied across His shoulders, and Jesus was required to proceed with his executioners in his slow journey along the Via Dolorosa to the place of the skull, the place called Golgotha.

Because he was experiencing hypovolemic shock, in spite of His efforts to continue walking, the weight of the heavy wooden beam was too much. Jesus stumbled and fell. The rough wood of the beam gouged into the lacerated skin and muscles of his shoulders. He tried to rise, but his muscles had been pushed beyond their endurance.

  A man named Simon was recruited to carry the heavy cross section (patibulum) the rest of the way to the place where Jesus was to be crucified. When they arrived at the place called Calvary Simon was ordered to place that heavy cross portion on the ground and Jesus was quickly thrown backward with His shoulders and back against the wood. Historical Roman accounts and experimental work have determined it is most likely that the nails were driven into the body of Jesus between the small bones of his wrists (radial and ulna) and not through his palms. The Romans used large iron spikes that were usually seven inches long and tapered to a sharp point. They were 3/8ths of an inch in diameter.

The Roman soldier felt for the depression at the front of Jesus’ wrist. He drove the heavy, square, seven inch wrought-iron spike through the wrist of Jesus and deep into the wood. Quickly, the Roman soldier moved to the other side and repeated the action, being careful not to pull the arms of my Savior too tightly, but to allow some flexion and movement.

The iron spikes were hammered into Jesus through the place where the median nerve runs. This is the largest nerve going out to his hand, and it was crushed by the iron spike that was pounded into his wrist. Each wrist! You know the kind of pain you feel when you bump your elbow and hit your funny bone? This is an example of another large nerve very similar to the median nerve.

So try to visualize this. Visualize taking a pair of pliers and squeezing and crushing that nerve on your elbow. Too painful to even try to think about! That gives you a vague idea of what Jesus experienced, in terms of his pain when an iron spike was hammered through each of his wrists. The pain was excruciating! In fact the word excruciating was originally formulated to describe the pain experienced during crucifixion. Look up the origin of the word excruciating on Google.

Imagine if this were happening to you!

After Jesus was nailed by his wrists to the heavy cross section it was then lifted in place at the top of the stipes (the vertical section of the cross which was already secured in the ground) with Jesus hanging from his wrists. The sign reading, “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews,” was nailed into place at the top of his cross.

Jesus’ arms immediately stretched about six inches beyond their normal length from the weight of hanging by his wrists and both of his shoulders became dislocated and it is very likely that his elbow joints were also dislocated at this time. Jesus’ left foot was then pressed backward against his right foot, and with both feet extended, toes down, an iron spike was driven through the arch of each foot, leaving his knees moderately flexed.

Jesus my Savior was now crucified.

As He slowly sagged down with more weight on the iron spikes in his wrists, excruciating pain shot along his fingers and up his arms to explode in his brain -- the iron spikes in his wrists were putting pressure on his median nerves. And the pain was similar in intensity radiating from the iron spike through both of his feet.

As Jesus pushed Himself upward to avoid this stretching torment, He placed His full weight on the nail through His feet. Again there was the searing agony of the nail tearing through the nerves between the metatarsal bones of his feet.  At this point as his arms fatigued, great waves of cramps swept over his muscles, knotting them in deep, relentless, throbbing pain. With these cramps came the inability to push upward. Hanging by his arms, his pectoral muscles were paralyzed and his intercostal muscles were unable to function.

Jesus could draw air into his lungs, but he could not exhale. Jesus fought repeatedly to raise himself in order to exhale and get even one short breath back into his lungs. Spasmodically, he was able to push Himself upward to exhale and bring in the life-giving oxygen. In essence crucifixion involves, in part, an agonizingly slow death by asphyxiation.

The stresses on the muscles and diaphragm put his chest into the inhaled position. Basically in order to exhale he had to push up on his feet so the tension on his muscles would be eased for a moment. In doing this the iron spike would tear through his foot eventually locking up against his tarsal bones.

After managing to exhale, Jesus would then be able to relax down and take another breath in. Again he would have to push himself up to exhale, scraping his bloodied back against the coarse wood of the cross. This went on and on until he was completely exhausted. He was no longer able to push up and breathe any more.

After Jesus’ arms had come out of their sockets his chest sagged downwards, stretching out to its full extent. Try this yourself. If you strenuously stretch out your arms above your head spread as widely apart as possible, even while seated, you'll recognize the difficulty. Or with your hands spread as far apart as possible grab a bar high enough off the ground for you to hang on with your feet off the ground and hang from the bar in this hands-spread-far-apart position with all of your weight being held up by your hands. See how you feel after just five minutes. See what happens if you try to push your hang time to ten minutes!

It's easy to inhale with arms fully outstretched, but difficult to exhale again. Your body needs to work its muscles to breathe in and out, and it is used to doing so with little resistance. Once your chest is fully expanded, it is impossible to breathe in anything more than sips of air. Jesus slowly suffocated near the end of his crucifixion because he was unable to get enough oxygen and he was unable to expel the carbon dioxide building up in his body. The one who made the universe couldn’t even get a breath.

Basically Jesus my Savior was forced to alternate between the terror of the very real feeling of suffocating and the excruciating pain when he put pressure on the iron spike in his feet to push up so he could exhale and grab a quick gasp of breath.

I have experienced a faint shadow of what Jesus was going through. With lung disease I often become fatigued in my back and stomach muscles as I work exceedingly hard to get breath. Carbon dioxide gets trapped in my lungs due to the disease I have and the feeling of not being able to get my breath causes me panic at times and extreme discomfort. It often takes me tremendous energy just to breath. However, compared to what Jesus experienced I breathe easy.

Jesus experienced hours of limitless pain, cycles of twisting, joint-rending cramps, bones out of joint, intermittent partial asphyxiation and searing pain where tissue was torn from His lacerated back as He moved up and down against the rough timber.

Then another agony began -- a terrible crushing pain deep in his chest as the pericardium slowly filled with serum and began to compress his heart.  Any of you with heart disease may relate a little bit to this final torturous experience of Jesus.

All of these details of his crucifixion bring to mind the 14th verse of the 22nd Psalm: “I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted in the midst of my bowels.”

  As he slowed down his breathing Jesus went into what is called respiratory acidosis. The carbon dioxide in his blood was dissolved as carbonic acid and this caused the acidity of his blood to increase. This eventually led to an irregular heartbeat. His agony was nearing the end. His loss of tissue fluids reached a critical level; his compressed heart struggled to pump heavy, thick, sluggish blood into his tissue, his tortured lungs were making a frantic effort to gasp in small gulps of air. His markedly dehydrated tissues were sending a flood of pain stimuli to his brain.

Jesus’ mother was watching everything the soldiers did to her son! How could she stand it!!

In the condition Jesus was in he was still thinking about others. He asked his father to forgive those who were crucifying him. He promised one of those being crucified with him that he would see him that day in paradise because of his faith. And he told his close friend John to take care of his mother after he was gone.

With his heart beating erratically, my Savior, Jesus, knew he was near his moment of death. It was at this point he was able to declare his battle cry of victory “It is finished!” And then shortly thereafter he spoke the words, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.’ Jesus then died of cardiac arrest.

One expert in forensic medicine, Frederick Zugibe, actually volunteered to tie himself to a cross to monitor what physically takes place during a crucifixion. He concluded that victims died from "hypovolemic shock." This condition sets in when a body has lost so much blood and fluid that the heart can't continue to function.

Jesus literally died of a broken heart!

Jesus gave his life on purpose.

His actions were intentional!

He was compelled to take each step and endure every agony to the end.

But why?!

Was Jesus insane? Was he deluded? Was he a masochist? Why did he go through all of this horrific agony? The Bible tells us he could have called legions of angels to rescue him. What held him on that cross? It certainly was not the iron spikes! Any of us giving thought to this must wonder what in the world was going on here! Why did Jesus allow himself to be excruciatingly tortured to death?

I try to conceive of the cruelty or foolishness or evil that I would have to attribute to the Father, God, if He allowed His Son to be tortured by His own creatures unless there was some incomprehensibly essential reason for doing so. I ask myself: ‘Would I allow my son or daughter to be treated like this if I had the power to stop it?’ Or I ask myself: ‘For what reason would I be willing to allow my son or daughter to go through such torture?’ Am I kinder or better or more caring than my Creator? I would not allow it! I would do anything I could to stop it! Am I better than God? Well I know better than that!!

Seriously, can any of us honestly propose that this ultimate sacrifice God made of His beloved Son based on His love for all mankind be anything less than the absolute most amazing action ever taken in all the history of all humanity? Can we?!

I believe the Father gave the life of His one and only precious Son intentionally because He loves each single one of us! I believe Jesus gave his life intentionally because of his love for each single one of us! There is no greater show of love than for a person to lay down his life for his friend. Jesus calls us his friend! We are the friends of Jesus. Each of us! Jesus died for his friends.

His actions were more intentional than we could ever realize! He has loved us from before the time we were born and he initiated a plan before time began to rescue us out of our broken condition that He knew we would find ourselves in. He knew before we could ever have a clue, that our souls were in a desperately hopeless condition relative to our relationship with our God.

From the moment man first disobeyed the Father we died spiritually and then we became prisoners to our sin. The justice of God demanded a sacrifice, restoring to Himself His own again. So the lamb, His only Son, was freely offered and atonement for our sin was forever made.

The Father and Jesus hate our sin because it causes us to die, and Calvary is the measure of His hatred. The only way to solve the sin problem and for us to ever be made alive spiritually, ever again, was for our brother to give his life for us. We needed a relative, a kinsman, to give his life to purchase back our souls. We needed someone who was perfect and therefore able to stand in our place before God. Jesus is that kinsman redeemer! Jesus is our brother and he loves us. He hated what was destroying us and He gave his life intentionally so he could destroy that which was destroying us and so that we could live with him forever.

Oh how our hearts cry out for justice in this world. We cry out for fairness. We want ourselves and others to be treated fairly and it goes against the grain of our souls when we witness injustice. Injustice offends us and it offends God. The bad news is we all come up short, we have all been found wanting because none of us are perfect. None of us are perfectly right and just all the time! The good news is Jesus is right and just all the time and Jesus met the requirement of justice for each of us and made it possible for us to all receive forgiveness, mercy and grace. So we receive way better than justice and fairness. We get to be loved no matter what our condition or what we have done! We get to have things made right when nothing seemed to really be right and when there was no hope. Because of Jesus!

The crucifixion of Jesus reminds us not only of the brokenness of the world but it also reminds us that in those times of suffering and pain, we are not alone.  In the person of Jesus we encounter a God who stands with us in the suffering, a God who is not apart from that burden and pain, but one who is in it with us.  He endured blunt force physical and psychological trauma for our sakes! He understands our feelings and our struggles!

Jesus says:

“Come to me, all you who are struggling hard and carrying heavy loads and I will give you rest. Put on my yoke, and learn from me. I am gentle and humble. And you will find rest for your souls. My yoke is easy to bear, and my burden is light.”

Out of his great love for us Jesus died intentionally because he knew he was going to rise from the grave and in so doing he was going to defeat death and defeat the grave. His love being so immense and so far reaching he wanted us to live forever and never have to die ever again.

The intentional actions of Jesus make God’s forgiveness an option. Before Jesus gave his life forgiveness was not available. The intentional actions of Jesus make life after death possible. Before Jesus gave his life there was no life after death. The intentional actions of Jesus defeated the enemy of our soul, defeated death and gave us victory over the grave.

The single overarching problem of all of human kind was the break in our relationship with our Creator, the one who made us and loves us. The intentional actions of Jesus solved this unsolvable problem and restored our relationship with our Creator. Each person who so desires can avail him or herself of this solution and throw themselves into the arms of God and live in his presence forever. And this can start right here on earth, right now, by faith!

But God loves us all too much to force us to love him. So he honors each of us who choose to go our own way! And he will honor that decision after we die! And the consequences are we will live forever without his presence and without his love. So we need to give serious consideration to our decision when it comes to Jesus.

Because Jesus was serious and intentional in his actions, we need to be the same. Each one of us needs to intentionally accept his sacrifice on our behalf and accept his love, or we need to intentionally decide in the cold light of day to deny his gift of life and turn our back on his love. No one can make that decision for us. Not even God!

He knew what was going to result from his dying and his getting up from the grave. He knew that it would give us life forever and his great love compelled him to intentionally endure it all. And he is satisfied with the results of all he had to go through. He is satisfied that we have life instead of death and that we will live forever with him as his brother. Each person who comes to Jesus he will in no way reject! Not ever!!

Jesus loves us and he knew what we needed and he was willing to do what had to be done. There is no greater gift! There is no greater news ever heard on earth! God truly made it possible for there to be peace between Him and each of us because of his good will and his love toward each of us. Someday this reality will be fully manifested for all who avail themselves of his love.

Jesus intentionally gave his life . . . for you . . . because he loves you!

Mark Phelps

No comments:

Post a Comment