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The Death of Jesus

Written records tell how the crucified person was usually stripped and laid on the ground with his arms spread out on the cross-bar. They were either tied or nailed to it, then the bar with the man hanging from it was lifted to be fastened to the vertical stake. After that, the feet were tied or nailed in place. Death came by suffocation, as the victim's chest muscles weakened, preventing breathing. To speed things up the legs were broken so that he couldn't put any more pressure on his feet to enable air to be sucked into his lungs. The pain would have been indescribable.

There is a painting by Mathias Grunewald, called "The Crucifixion". It's different to most of the others in that it pulls no punches. Here we see - Jesus's dying body distorted by the torture of the cross; the thorns of the scourges sticking in the festering wounds which cover the whole figure. The dark red blood forms a glaring contrast to the sickly green of the flesh. The fingers are all gnarled up in death, and the face bears the imprint of the final agony of suffering. The lips are white and the eyes are sunk deep in the skull. The artist has even indicated the spit. There are pieces of metal and wood actually in the flesh.

Also, there was the unimaginable degradation in the manner of his death. The Jews knew that everyone who was crucified was cursed. It was a punishment reserved for criminals. The Jewish leaders taunted him: "Save yourself, and come down from the cross and we will believe you; He saved others: himself he cannot save" (Mark 15:30,31). He could have done so if he'd wanted to. But he didn't.

Jesus died for me. He died for our sins. What does this really mean? Firstly, the shedding of blood was necessary for getting right with God, so a sacrifice is always needed. Secondly, in some way, the death of Jesus provided this sacrifice in a way that no previous sacrifice (and there had been millions of them!) had ever done. In fact, no blood sacrifice ever again had to be shed!

"He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth." (1 Peter 2:22)

It is our sin that separates us all from God. Because of this separation, even Jesus, who lived a sinless life, still needed to pray to his heavenly Father, during times that he found solitude. He still suffered moments of anguished separation, particularly in his final moments, such as his cry from the cross, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Matthew 27:46). Although he didn't have to, he chose to live a life of full identification with the rest of mankind, including periods of temptation, hunger, thirst, tiredness and suffering. We have absolutely no idea what that man had to go through on our behalf!

Remember The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, by C S Lewis? The evil witch knew of the Deep Magic, whereby all folk in Narnia belonged to her and so thought she had the victory when Aslan was killed on the stone altar. But Aslan knew of the Deeper Magic, when a willing victim who is without treachery (or sin) was killed on behalf of others, death would be defeated. Yes, there is a deeper magic and, when C S Lewis wrote of this, he had one thing in mind, the death of Jesus.

A man without sin, died for our sins.

"For the wages of sin is death ..." (Romans 6:23)

Everyone who sins tastes death, but the deeper magic kicks in when someone who didn't sin, is put to death. It happened 2000 years ago at a cross of crucifixion, just outside Jerusalem. It jarred the system, it was a catalyst for disruption. Death was defeated by this one act. The finer workings are a mystery, a deeper magic, but things were never to be the same again. The second half of the quote provides us with the consequences of that awesome act.

"... but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord."

Jesus's death on the cross was God's gift to us. Get your head around that one. He defeated death, displaying this fact to the World three days later, when his resurrected body was seen by his close friends.

So Jesus had come as the divine Bar Enosh, Son of Man, to redeem the people of Earth, to bring them back into a working relationship with God. He had also come as Messiah, the anointed one, to show his people how to live. But these are just titles, aspects of the Man of Many Names. His titles are interchangeable, they all highlight a particular aspect of his life and character, but work together to provide the complete picture. Hence the title Son of Man has also been used to emphasise his humanity, to those Gentile Christians who had lost sight of this.

Also, when we consider the true nature of Messiah as the "anointed one", we recognize that two sets of people in the Old Testament who were also anointed ones were the priests and kings. As so with Jesus himself. We will look at his role as King a little later, but, for now, we need to have an appreciation of how Jesus functioned as a priest. A complete explanation is given in the Book of Hebrews and there is no need, in this case, to venture further than the pages of the Bible.

"Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess." (Hebrews 4:14)

Now in Bible times the High Priest, the Kohen Gadol, was the person designated to represent mankind in terms of our relationship with God. For example, it was he alone who dealt with the sins of the people of God by making a sacrifice at the Holy of Holies in the Temple once a year at Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. When Jesus came and made the ultimate sacrifice on the cross he became the final and eternal High Priest, atoning not just for the Jews, but for the sins of the whole of humanity. No more trips were needed to the Temple, at Yom Kippur, or at any other time.

Steve Maltz
November 2012 (This is an abridged extract from Steve's book Jesus Man of Many Names

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