“When they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him” (Luke 23:33).
One of the Russian Navy’s most important warships sank in the Black Sea yesterday. Ukraine claims the Moskva was hit by Ukrainian Neptune anti-ship missiles. Russia said a fire broke out on the cruiser, causing munitions aboard to explode. Whatever the cause, the results are the same: the ship is at the bottom of the ocean today.
In other maritime news, the British ocean liner Titanic sank into the North Atlantic Ocean on this day in 1912. The ship struck an iceberg on the evening of April 14 and sank at 2:20 a.m. on April 15. However, the cause of the Titanic’s sinking was less relevant than its outcome. If the ship had suffered an internal explosion or collided with another ship in a manner that caused the same damage as the iceberg it struck, the results would have been the same.
And Abraham Lincoln died on this day in 1865, a tragic event that changed the trajectory of American and world history. I have visited the theater where he was shot on the evening of April 14 and the bedroom where he died on the morning of April 15. I have even seen the derringer pistol on display in Ford’s Theater used by John Wilkes Booth to shoot the president.
However, the method of Lincoln’s assassination was less relevant to history than its outcome. If Wilkes had stabbed the president, struck him with an object, or poisoned him, the grievous results would have been the same.
“They have pierced my hands and feet”
I offer these observations to ask this question: Why was Jesus crucified on Good Friday?
I’m not asking why he died on this day. You know the answer: Jesus died in our place to pay for our sins and purchase our salvation. As Paul observed, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).
My question is: Why did Jesus die by crucifixion? Why was he not stoned to death like Stephen or beheaded like Paul? Why did he die in the cruelest, most horrific manner of execution ever devised?
You might respond: because that is the way Rome executed its prisoners. That is true, but remember that a Jewish mob stoned Stephen to death (Acts 7:54–60) and tried to throw Jesus off a cliff (Luke 4:29).
You might also respond that Jesus had to die by crucifixion to fulfill prophecy. Once again, you’d be right: the manner of Jesus’ death was predicted centuries before it occurred. For example, David testified in Psalm 22, “They have pierced my hands and feet—I can count all my bones—they stare and gloat over me; they divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots” (vv. 16–18). Each phrase was fulfilled by Jesus’ crucifixion a thousand years later.
However, I would reply: Why did the Lord predict that Jesus would die in this way? He could have led Old Testament writers to describe the Suffering Servant’s death in ways that were much less horrific. If they could predict Jesus’ death by crucifixion, they could have predicted his death by beheading, for example.
Why, then, did the Lord arrange for his Son to die on this day in such a horrific manner?
“It is he who endured every kind of suffering”
St. Melito of Sardis was a second-century bishop and apologist for the Christian faith. In an Easter homily, he said of Jesus, “It is he who endured every kind of suffering in all those who foreshadowed him. In Abel he was slain, in Isaac bound, in Jacob exiled, in Joseph sold, in Moses exposed to die. He was sacrificed in the Passover lamb, persecuted in David, dishonored in the prophets.
“It was he who made man of the Virgin, he who was hung on the tree; it is he who was buried in the earth, raised from the dead, and taken up to the heights of heaven. He is the mute lamb, the slain lamb, the lamb born of Mary, the fair ewe. He was seized from the flock, dragged off to be slaughtered, sacrificed in the evening, and buried at night.”
In other words, Jesus endured the worst suffering a human can experience to demonstrate his solidarity with all human suffering.
You can feel no pain worse than the pain he felt when he was scourged and crucified. You can experience no shame worse than his shame when he was rejected by the crowds and ridiculed by the priests, no betrayal worse than his betrayal by Judas, no abandonment worse than his abandonment by his disciples, no horror worse than his horror when the sins of all humanity were laid on his sinless soul, no loneliness greater than the loneliness he felt when he bore our sins and his Father turned his face from him in judgment.
“Our citizenship is not of this world”
Two results follow.
One: Jesus calls us to trust our deepest pain, grief, and guilt into his crucified hands.
Scripture assures us: “We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). As a result, our Lord invites us: “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (v. 16).
Why do you need such mercy and grace today?
Two: Jesus calls us to stand in solidarity with all who suffer, paying forward his compassionate grace.
Paul explained that God “comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (2 Corinthians 1:4).
Br. James Koester of the Society of St. John the Evangelist in Boston notes: “We live in a world where Me is king. But our citizenship is not of this world. We are citizens of another country, whose king is a servant, whose orb is a towel, whose scepter a wash basin, whose crown is humility, and whose motto is service. As citizens and subjects of that kingdom, we cannot swear ultimate allegiance in any other way than taking up our towels, holding our basins, and getting down on our knees” (his emphases).
On this Good Friday, whose feet will you wash today?
NOTE: My son Ryan Denison wrote our latest book. He holds his PhD in church history and, in this new book, he offers insight into the past that will help us live faithfully as Christians today. In How to Bless God by Blessing Others, Ryan suggests that we can bless God by choosing to be a blessing to our culture, even when our culture seems so antagonistic to the Christian faith. I encourage you to request your copy today.