I believe in God the Father Almighty
Maker of heaven and earth;
And in Jesus Christ, His only begotten Son, our Lord;
Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
Born of the Virgin Mary,
Suffered under Pontius Pilate,
Crucified, dead and buried;
From The Apostles’ Creed
“Jesus suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through His own blood.” Hebrews 13:12
We continue our study of The Apostles’ Creed, based on the foundational truths of the Christian Faith, by looking at the next portion which deals with the sufferings of Jesus Christ. As difficult as it may be to consider; without the suffering Savior, we have no salvation. Without the death of Jesus, we would still be dead in our sins. Before we can know eternal life, we have to know the death of Christ – a death He suffered willingly for you and me.
To understand the significance of Jesus’ death, we must know a little about the Old Testament system of animal sacrifice. From the earliest days of creation, a sacrifice was necessary to cover man’s sin. The first such sacrifice occurred in the Garden, when “the Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife Eve.” (Genesis 3:21) The first animal sacrifice was performed to cover, not the naked bodies of Adam and Eve, but the shame of their sin. As the nation of Israel formed, God gave the people a complicated system of animal sacrifices that had to be performed to cleanse them from their sin. Yes, it is horrible, but it was intended to be an unpleasant and sobering reality – that sin is offensive to Holy God. In the giving of the Law, the Lord said: “The life of a creature is in the blood…it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life.” (Leviticus 17:11) Hebrews 9:22 says “The law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.” A study of the Old Testament sacrificial system will show that these sacrifices were meant to point the way to the perfect sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
Pontius Pilate was the Roman Governor over the province of Judea and was well known for his cruelty, for taking bribes and for antagonizing the Jews. The gospel writers point out that Pilate wanted to release Jesus, finding no basis for a charge against Him (Luke 23:20, John 19:12). However, Mark 15:15 revels his true character, “wanting to satisfy the crowd,” Pilate turned Jesus over to the Jewish rulers, with his authorization to crucify the innocent man. Under his approval, Jesus was subjected to humiliation and insults, and was physically persecuted prior to His crucifixion.
Jesus was first scourged. Stripped, with His hands tied to a post above His head, the flagellum (a whip with small balls of lead attached to heavy, leather thongs) was brought down, digging deep into the flesh and underlying muscles. The floggings stopped just short of the relief of death. Following this, the soldiers crafted a “crown” of vines with sharp, viscous thorns which they pressed deep into Jesus’ skull and put a robe around Him, pressing it into the torn, ragged flesh of His back. They mocked, and beat Him, then ripped the robe away from His back, tearing the wounds open again with excruciating agony.
Being led away to the place of His crucifixion, Jesus stumbled under the weight of the heavy, wooden cross. At the site, Jesus was forced to the ground, laid on His raw and bloody back and His arms were secured to the crosspiece, with huge spikes, approximately 4-6 inches long. These spikes were driven between the bones in His wrist, and then He was lifted up onto the main beam, where the crosspiece is secured and more nails were driven into His feet. Most crucified victims died from asphyxia, as their weakened legs could no longer push up against their feet to draw breath. Jesus, however, did not suffocate, but “called out with a loud voice, ‘Father, into Your hands I commit my Spirit!’ When He had said this, He breathed His last.”(Luke 23:46) One of His followers, Joseph of Arimathea, emerged from the shadows of His secret discipleship, claimed the body of Jesus, and lovingly wrapped and placed His body in a tomb.
Why would Jesus suffer so great a death when He was an innocent man? Love. I’ve heard it said that “It wasn’t the nails that held Jesus to the cross, it was love.” I believe that is true. Jesus’ love was so great it led Him to give His life to save yours and mine. His life was not taken, it was willingly given. It was a sacrifice of suffering that He endured because He knew that without His death, we could not have life. Only the blood of Jesus the perfect Lamb of God could forever cleanse us from our sin. 1 Peter 4:8 tells us that “Love covers over a multitude of sins.” The love of Christ compelled Him to shed His blood to cover over the multitude of your sins and mine.
Holy Savior, “What wondrous love is this that caused the Lord of bliss to bear the dreadful curse for my soul?”* How I praise You for your sacrifice of love. Amen.
* Attributed to Alexander Means