Encouragement for a lifelong journey of faith

Tag: crucifixion

September 15, 2022 – Especially in His Death

Athanasius of Alexandria is an early Church Father, considered one of the great “Doctors of the Church.” He is the first person to identify the 27 books we now consider the New Testament. He contributed to the theological integrity of the church by struggling against Arians, who maintained that Jesus of Nazareth was of a “distinct substance” to the father (which would violate the doctrine of the Trinity), as well several Emperors. This penchant for conflict for the truth earned him the title Athanasius Contra Mundum (or Athanasius Against the World). This week, we are going to pray through one of his works, On the Incarnation of the Word (or De Incarnatione Verbi Dei). The text itself is a companion to another one of his works, Against the Heathen (or Contra Gentes). In his first work, he is offering written arguments against pagan beliefs and practices. But in the work we’ll focus on this week, On the Incarnation, Athanasius beautifully writes of the basis of Christian faith and salvation: the incarnation of Jesus. I will offer an excerpt of the text (you can find the whole thing here), and try to bring to our immediate relevance to us today.

Today’s Bible reading

For this perishable body must put on imperishability, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When this perishable body puts on imperishability, and this mortal body puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will be fulfilled:

“Death has been swallowed up in victory.”
“Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?”

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.—1 Cor. 15:53-56

More thoughts for meditation

“The Word, since it was not possible for Him to die, as He was immortal, took to Himself a body such as could die, that He might offer it as His own in the stead of all, and as suffering, through His union with it, on behalf of all.”

“He was not subject to natural death, but had to die at the hands of others.”

“How could the end of death, and the victory over it be proved, unless challenging it before the eyes of all He had shown it to be dead.”

“So also the Life of all, our Lord and Saviour, even Christ, did not devise a death for His own body, so as not to appear to be fearing some other death; but He accepted on the Cross, and endured, a death inflicted by others, and above all by His enemies, which they thought dreadful and ignominious and not to be faced.”

“For it is only on the cross that a human dies with their hands spread out… For only he that is perfected on the cross dies in the air.”

Athanasius moves to his argument to the death of Jesus in the next section of the treatise. First, he argues that Jesus needed to die—that the incorruptible Word needed to become mortal flesh, so as to incur the punishment that satisfied the debt owed to God. But this death couldn’t be just any death. It couldn’t be a natural death, because the Lord demonstrates power over sickness. His life needed to be taken from him by others. And it needed to happen in public so that it might not be challenged and the resurrection would be glorified too. Furthermore, it needed to be a public, humiliating (“ignominious”) death, by his enemies. He needed to die the worst death and suffer the worse humiliation in order to showcase that he was not interested in selecting a “better” option. And not only that, but the worst death could offer magnifies the power of the resurrection—because it defeated even the darkest forms of death. This is why the death of Jesus today remains meaningful even for victims of modern-day lynchings. It matches that humiliation, which not only allows for a shared experience, but a shared triumph over it. Finally, Athanasius points out that the image of the cross—arms spread out, and high on a hill—shows both the embrace of God, uniting people with Christ’s widespread arms, and the height of God’s conquest, as our Lord dies in the air.

Suggestions for action

It can be tempting to overlook the shame of the cross in order to fast-forward to the triumph of the resurrection, but the specifics about Christ’s death both matter to us as individuals and also as a whole community. Christ died for us, in our stead and on our behalf, and the public shame of his death allows us to reject any shame that we may be experience for what he has wiped away. Additionally, the image of this death, in high, arms spread out, both elevates the conquest of the death that occurs on the cross, but includes all of us in it. The public humiliation that the Lord went through bonds God to the people that go through the same public deaths: we see this most evidently in the police killings of black and brown people. Try to hold all of that together right now: that Christ died for you, for all of us, and with the least of us at heart. Contemplate that as you observe this icon.

An Atonement of Shame - Orthodoxy and the Cross - Glory to God for ...

March 25, 2016: the “holy week” — Good Friday: Endure the way of the cross with the Crucified One

All over the world, Jesus followers are walking with Jesus through his last week, through death into life. Circle of Hope shares a literal and symbolic journey together to mark the most important week in history and to be of one mind and heart with Jesus as we share his death and resurrection.

Today’s Bible reading and an excerpt

Read Mark 14:32-15:41 (This matches The Way of the Cross walk)

At noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the  afternoon.  And at three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”[Ps. 22:1]).

When some of those standing near heard this, they said, “Listen, he’s calling Elijah.”

Someone ran, filled a sponge with wine vinegar, put it on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink. “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to take him down,” he said.

With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last.

The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, saw how he died, he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!”

The Crucifixion, seen from the Cross, by James Tissot

More thoughts for meditation

As Peter disowns Jesus for the third time, Mark uses his final “immediately” of the forty-one occurrences in his writing. With a flash of true shock and awe the betrayed Jesus is handed over to the Gentile ruler, Pilate, by the Jewish religious leaders at the crack of dawn. Now the hours of the day are marked in chapter 15.

In the early hours of the day, Pilate questions the crowd, but they scream for Barabbas. So Jesus is whipped and sent to be crucified in the convicted man’s place.

Jesus was in severe pain after the flogging. His back had been torn open to the bone and He must have been weak from a loss of blood. Although, humanly speaking, Jesus must be pitied; the soldiers (possibly Pilate’s own guards) are more to be pitied. They will stand before the One they not only put to death, but despised and mocked, personally divested of their dignity. What they did to Jesus was a perfect mixture of sadism and political disdain. In twisting together a crown of thorns these soldiers fulfill an important part of the curse Adam introduced into creation. God said to Adam: “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field.” In a way, these soldiers gave to Jesus the crown which was theirs. In that way Jesus took upon Himself the curse coursing through the human race, Roman soldiers included. These soldiers would be first among those of whom John writes in Revelation: “Look, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and all the peoples of the earth will mourn because of him.”

Simon’s act of carrying Jesus’ cross made him the first person to fulfill Jesus’ prediction about what it would mean to be one of His disciples. Jesus had said earlier in His ministry: “Anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” Although Simon cannot possibly have understood the theological implications of the act he was conscripted to perform, it has become the emblem of all true discipleship. Even more dramatically would Jesus’ crucifixion become the crucial experience that would bring us into an intimate relationship with God by being, as Paul says we are, “crucified with Christ.”

At the site of the crucifixion the soldiers wanted to administer to Jesus a drink that would serve as a kind of sedative. The sour local wine which they offered Him was laced with myrrh; this would give it a bitter taste, but a drowsy impact, and was an act of mercy. Jesus, however, would not receive the anesthetic; he wanted his faculties unclouded for what lay before Him. The sedative was also good for the executioners; it was easier to nail someone to a cross who was drugged. “Golgotha” is a Hebrew word taken from Chaldean, which describes a skull’s roundness. In Latin this ends up Calvaria, “a skull,” from calva, “bald,” as Luke uses the name (KJV).

Evidently, the victims of a crucifixion were nailed to the cross naked. Their clothing became the property of the soldiers who carried out the execution. John goes into more detail than Mark does here. We read in his Gospel: “When the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took his clothes, dividing them into four shares, one for each of them, with the undergarment remaining. This garment was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom.”

The Jews divided the day into four general parts. The first began at sunrise. The second three hours after. The third at mid-day. The fourth three hours after that, which continued until sunset. Mark has the state murder starting earlier than John. But both have the deed culminating at noon and finished by the end of the third division of the day.

The sign placed on the cross above Jesus’ head gave the reason for the capital punishment. It was Pilate’s sarcastic identification-tag and his revenge on those who had forced him into such a difficult position. To the disciples, it was no irony, but God’s own vindication of His Son, even in the hour of His death. All four Gospels make mention of the inscription, which shows the just dying for the unjust, the innocent for the guilty (1 Pet. 3:18).

The passersby who shouted at Jesus had no idea that his “temple” was at that moment being destroyed and that it would be rebuilt gloriously within the space of three days. They did not understand what they were saying but what they were saying was true. What was probably not true was their promise to believe in Jesus as the Messiah if they saw that miracle occur. Miracles rarely bring people to faith. Our inner change is more important than an outer one. Once we see we have been living in a lie, we surrender to love and are made new. So there was prophetic truth in the bitter words. If Christ wanted to save others, then He could not come down from the cross; He had rejected that temptation first in the wilderness (1:13), then at Caesarea Philippi (8:33), and last night the garden of Gethsemane (14:36). To descend from the cross was not only a physical impossibility, but it was also a moral and spiritual impossibility for the Messiah. If He did so, He would cease to be the Christ, He would become a mere human, and such a Christ could never save the world. The only path by which to save others was to refuse to save Himself: in a way totally unexpected by them. [Watch The Last Temptation of Christ to get Kazantzaki’s treatment of this idea].

It has been established that the three-hour-long darkness could not be an eclipse caused by the moon blocking the light of the sun. The moon at the time of Passover was always a full moon. The full moon does not cause solar eclipses. It presages the fulfillment of Amos’ prophecy: “‘In that day,’ declares the Sovereign Lord, ‘I will make the sun go down at noon and darken the earth in broad daylight.’” At the end of the hours of darkness Jesus cried out the verse that was a quotation from Psalm 22, Jesus may have been quoting the Psalm to Himself during the whole crucifixion. When excruciating pain blurs the mind, parts of memorized texts tend to come to the top, which may have occupied Jesus’ mind at this moment. The psalmist’s cry certainly was fulfilled in Jesus’ suffering on the cross while the Lamb of God was taking away the sins of the world.

We see the agony of one suffering the experience of abandonment by God, and yet certain by faith of ultimate vindication and triumph. He was abandoned to betrayal, mockery, scourging and death – yes Even more he was abandoned a spiritual agony which we can never plumb and which, thanks to His endurance of it on the cross, no created being need ever now experience. His unclouded communion with the Father, enjoyed from all eternity, was interrupted. On such mysteries Scripture is silent, and Mark tells us nothing here. If there was a barrier between the Father and the Son in that moment, it was our sin and brokenness that cost him the pain. Paul gives a good definition of being forsaken by stating: “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.’” [For more on the atonement, you might like to read our summary].

Suggestions for action

Each day we will offer a public and communal way to observe the day of holy week. But we also offer ways for you to observe on your own, as a cell or as a family or other grouping.

The gathering

Meet at 12pm at any of our four meeting places

On Friday between the hours of 12 and 3 p.m. we remember Jesus on the cross. We walk with Jesus from his arrest to being laid in the tomb on an imaginative prayer walk in the neighborhoods where each of our congregations meet. A vigil at each location is an opportunity to begin and end in prayer, to spend the three hours keeping watch with the women who waited. If you can’t make it during work hours, the guide around each neighborhood is available online.

On your own

If you are at work, school or home wear a rubber band and snap it every ten minutes from noon to three. That will give you a small pain to remind you of what is happening on Golgotha.

As a cell

Enter into today’s scripture, Mark 14:32-15:41

This is not really a good scripture for a lot of talking – maybe next week, or following weeks you can discuss some of the facts, interpretations, feelings and applications you need to explore. Maybe you could set a mournful tone to be the alarm that sounds when your cell phone timer goes off. Then pass the scripture around the group. There are about eleven sections (depending on the Bible you are passing). Let each willing person read one section slowly. Then set the timer for two minutes of silence. Have a solemn meditation together on how the Lord is saving you.

As a family

Remind each other what happened so far this week. Include what happened all night after the Last Supper (Mark 14:32-72)

Then use the four watches of the day to mark the four different parts of the crucifixion account.

Start your reading with four candles lit. As you finish a reading say, or read, the memory verse of the day (If you need to shorten it to the last sentence, that’s fine):

We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:20-21)

Then blow out one of the candles.

The four sections are:

  • Dawn — Mark 15:1-20
  • 9am — Mark 15:21-26
  • Noon –- Mark 15:27-33
  • 3pm – Mark 15:34-41

When the room is fully dim, have Mom or Dad thank God for the gift of Jesus who makes us safe in the darkness and promises that he will rise from the dead and be with us until we too rise from the dead.