Why Death by Cross?

“There’s another cross!” shouted one of my Spain mission trip team members.

“I see one up there!” added another.

You see, our team decided to meditate all week on one short verse about Jesus:

1 Corinthians 2:2   2 For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.

Since meditation is a continuous contemplation on something profoundly meaningful, we challenged each other to share with the group whenever someone sighted a crucifix.

We too wanted to know nothing among the Spaniards except the crucified Messiah.

Now remember, we were on mission in Spain strengthening the Spanish evangelical church. Spain is speckled with churches and colossal cathedrals, and where one finds churches and cathedrals, one finds crosses.

As we spotted crosses all week long, I began to ask myself:

“God, why did Paul write “that even the word of the cross is the power of God for salvation?” (1 Cor. 1:18)

            “God, why did you choose the execution of Jesus by a cross

Have you ever asked yourself that question and felt the spiritual impact of the answer?

I mean, why not death by hanging, starvation or a stampede by Spanish bulls (incidentally, our team was in Spain during the running with the bulls)?

Moreover, why do we all refer to the death of Jesus as “THE Crucifixion?”

John F. Kennedy was assassinated. Marie Antoinette was guillotined. Cleopatra was poisoned. But I’ve never heard anyone refer to their deaths as “The assassination…The guillotining….The poisoning.”

Fleming Rutledge asserts in her book The Crucifixion “There is something in the strange death of the man identified as the Son of God that continues to command special attention…This death, this execution, above and beyond all others, continues to have universal reverberations. Of no other death in human history can this be said” (pgs. 3-4).

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So why death by a cross?

Paul focuses us on the means of death in his short letter to the Philippian Christians: “And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:8)

Why death by a cross? Here are three reasons for you to consider. How about meditating on them so that they aren’t just apprehensions (you have a simple understanding) but deep spiritual impressions (you taste them with your spiritual taste buds and relish the reality so that you experience pleasure and joy)?

First, Jesus died on a cross to express his solidarity with sinners stuck in the slavery of their sin.

The Roman writer Cicero referred to crucifixion as the most extreme form of torture inflicted upon slaves.  The middle and upper classes usually escaped death by crucifixion, but not a powerless slave. The nobodies and the powerless of society died by crucifixion. Jesus chose to die in this way for you. And by his death in your place, you are free from the guilt, condemnation and bondage of sin forever. Oh my!

Second, Galatians 3:13 and Deuteronomy 21:23 explain that death by crucifixion displayed God’s objective curse on a criminal. 

As a law-breaking criminal hung on a tree, everyone that looked on that criminal felt disgust, disrespect, and the reminder that breaking God’s good laws brings God’s deserved justice. Jesus hung on a tree taking the curse the sinner deserves so that the sinner receives the free blessing of approval and life with God forever. Oh my!

Lastly, Dietrich Bonhoeffer (a Christian writer who died by hanging at the hands of Hitler) wrote:  “the meaning of the cross lies not only in physical suffering, but especially in rejection and shame.”

Have you ever considered how utterly degrading, dishonoring and disgraceful it was to die on a cross? In Deuteronomy 25:3 God says that forty lashes can be given to an offender, “but not more lest…your brother be degraded in your sight.” Jesus was dehumanized, shamed and elevated (or lowered?!) on the cross to show that the God-man on the crucifix was not fit for humanity. He was degraded and God-forsaken.

You see, if Jesus was killed by decapitation, an arrow to the heart or stoning, there would be no lengthy humiliation in the eyes of humanity. 

I’m not trying to be morbid, but other quick methods don’t create the depth of suffering and shame. Jesus was raised on a cross, and while alive, had the eyes of the onlookers squint with self-righteous disgust. God the Father finally turned away as darkness descended.

Jesus chose to suffer and experience hours and hours of shame so that you will NEVER be shameful in the eyes of our holy and beautiful God of all grace. Oh my!

I leave you with the striking words of Melito of Sardis, a pastor who understood the meaning of the cross. How about spending a week meditating on 1 Corinthians 2:2 and the words of Melito?

“And so he was raised on a cross, and a title was fixed, indicating who it was who was being executed. Painful it is to say, but more terrible not to say….He who suspended the earth is suspended, he who fixed the heavens is fixed, he who fastened all things is fastened to the wood;  the Master is outraged;  God is murdered.”

                                                                                                Melito of Sardis (d.c. A.D. 180).

Pastor Howard
Senior Pastor
Metro North Church