If you’re visiting for the first time this morning, let me get you up to speed. We’re in the midst of a series of sermons dealing with the questions that have been raised by Mel Gibson’s film, The Passion. One thing I pointed out when we began this series is that everyone is talking about this controversial film, and the truth is, many of them aren’t just talking about it-they’re arguing about it. One of the things that is in dispute is the explicit VIOLENCE that is found in this movie. Many people refer to the vast quantities of blood in the film-and the brutality of the scourging-and they say, “It’s just too violent. Gibson went too far.”
Now, if you’ve seen the film then you know, it IS a very graphic movie-full of very disturbing violence. In fact, it’s hard to watch at times-because it’s so shockingly realistic. I mean, you can see the wounds in Jesus’ flesh very clearly. You see His blood drip and splatter. And people who see all this often say it was just too violent. But many go a step further and say it was REALISTIC but not ACCURATE. They say, “It didn’t happen like that. Jesus wasn’t beaten that badly. He couldn’t have been treated that cruelly.”
Well, of course I wasn’t a witness of Jesus’ crucifixion so I can’t say for sure whether or not Gibson pushed the envelope when it comes to exactly what happened on that first Good Friday.
But these kind of comments are still disturbing to me, because, in my opinion they are a step in the wrong direction. I mean, remarks like this lean towards affirming the beliefs of many people these days who attack the core of our Christian faith…by saying the crucifixion of Jesus didn’t really happen at all-that Jesus didn’t really die on the cross for our sins-that the life of Christ is more Hollywood than history.
If you think I’m being unfair at this point-if you think my worries are unfounded then consider this. Violent realism is nothing new to the film industry. Blood and guts and gore are all over the silver screen all the time. In fact, entire production companies are devoted to coming up with new ways to make it possible for us to see realistic wounds in movies-the bloodier the better. And, so far no one has complained much about all this explicit violence that is so prevalent in other films-so why start now? Why choose THIS film about the violence that was done to Jesus to pick on? Do you see what I mean?
Now, maybe I’m too sensitive when it comes to the crucifixion. I just get nervous when anyone even LEANS toward saying it didn’t happen the way the Bible says it happened-because the CROSS is the crux of my faith-the foundation of my faith. As Paul said in 1 Corinthians 1:22-24,”Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach CHRIST CRUCIFIED: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God.”
Well, as you can see by the title of my sermon, this morning this is the issue we are focusing on: True or False: Jesus Christ died on the cross for our sins. And believe it or not, there ARE groups who would deny this statement in one way or another.
1. For example: some say it wasn’t JESUS on the cross that day.
This is known as “the substitution theory” and it is what Muslims teach-that the Romans and the Jews just thought they crucified Jesus-when in reality allah put someone else who looked kind of like Him on the cross and this person-this “Jesus stunt double” was crucified instead. The Quran Sura 4.157 contains the following statement that references this belief:
“They denied the truth and uttered a monstrous falsehood against Mary, the apostle of allah. They did not kill him (Jesus), nor did they crucify him, but they THOUGHT they did. Those who disagreed about him were in doubt concerning his death, for what they knew about it was sheer conjecture; they were not sure they had slain him. allah lifted him up to his presence.”
Now, this teaching is flawed-not only because it flatly contradicts the Bible, but also because it leaves some big questions unanswered.
For example, thousands of people knew Jesus. He was a public figure-popular with the multitudes-very recognizable. So, I think someone have noticed that the wrong man was being crucified that day on Golgotha. Someone would have said, “Hey, wait a minute! That’s not Jesus up there!” John’s gospel tells us that Jesus’ own mother stood at the foot of the cross. Surely she would have recognized her own son! Plus…if the wrong man was crucified don’t you think he would have been yelling, “I’m not Jesus! You have the wrong man! Get me down from here!” But that didn’t happen. And another thing-if Jesus wasn’t crucified, then what happened to Him after 30 AD? Wouldn’t we have heard something more about this messianic figure in the years after the crucifixion? Well, in spite of these unanswered questions Muslims say it wasn’t Jesus on the cross.
2. Others deny the Bible’s teaching by saying Jesus wasn’t SUPPOSED to die on the cross.
I mean, they say He died-but it was an accident and so His death has no meaning. Books have been written with this very idea in mind-that Jesus had devised a plan that failed and, when the tables turned on Him, He wound up on a cross…but happily, in the process, He accidentally established a new religion. This is part of the plot of Dan Brown’s popular, albeit heretical, book, The Da Vinci Code.
And it is also one of the core beliefs the Unification Church-a.k.a., the “Moonies.” You see, they claim that Jesus’ mission was not dying-rather it was to get married and establish a righteous family. Sun Yung Moon, the leader of the Unification Church, teaches that Jesus’ death on the cross was not an essential part of God’s plan for redeeming sinful man. “Rev.” Moon says, “We must realize that Jesus did not come to die on the cross.” According to Moon, Jesus was a failure and Christ’s death was without effect. He goes on to say, “The cross has been unable to establish the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth by removing our original sin.” (The Divine Principle p 178). Moon also believes that the death of Christ was a victory for satan, saying,
“satan thus attained what he had intended through the 4,000-year course of history, by crucifying Jesus, with the exercise of his maxim power.” (The Divine Principe p. 435)
Now, as Christians we know this teaching is not true because the Bible clearly states that Jesus came to earth for the specific PURPOSE of dying for the sins of the world. Jesus Himself said,”The Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:28).
I’m sure you’ve heard that another source of dispute about this film concerns the belief of many that Gibson’s film is anti-Semitic and that it has once again put the Jews in the spotlight as the murderers of Jesus.
Well as you will see Gibson was very faithful to the Gospel accounts and they clearly teach the fact that no one killed Jesus. No one TOOK His life. He GAVE it. In John 10:18 Jesus said,”No one takes My life from Me. I lay it down of My own accord.” So, Jesus was not a helpless victim of fate; He was not a pitiful martyr. Jesus’ death was a necessary part-in fact, at the very core of God’s foreordained plan. As Revelation 13:8 says, Jesus Christ was,”…the Lamb that was slain before the foundation of the world.” Do you remember Peter’s sermon on Pentecost Sunday? In Acts 2:22-23 He said that Jesus was, “…delivered up by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God…nailed to the cross by the hands of godless men and put to death.”
And then, in Matthew 20:18-20 Jesus pointedly told His disciples that what was about to happen was no mistake. Do you remember His words? He said, “Listen guys, We are going to Jerusalem. The Son of Man will be turned over to the leading priests and the teachers of the law…and they will say that He must die. They will give the Son of Man to the non-Jewish people to laugh at Him and beat Him with whips and crucify Him. But on the third day He will be raised to life again.”
So, forget any suggestion that Jesus was trapped by the Jewish religious leaders of His day.
Erase any theory that He made some sort of miscalculation that last week and as a result was caught and crucified. Ignore any speculation that the cross was the unforseen consequence of a last-ditch effort to salvage a dying mission. No, the cross WAS His mission. Jesus died on purpose, no surprise, no hesitation, no faltering. In fact, the way Jesus died…the way he marched resolutely to His death leaves no doubt. He had come to earth for that moment and He knew it. I like the way Gibson pictured Jesus crawling toward His cross-no one dragged Him there. Jesus’ death on the cross was no accident. It was God’s loving plan all along.
3. And then, others deny the Bible’s teaching by going so far as to say that Jesus was on the cross, but He didn’t really DIE.
This is known as “the swoon theory” and it says that on the cross Jesus came very close to death, but He didn’t actually succumb. He just passed out. According to this way of thinking, after three days the coolness of the tomb revived Him, and He managed to somehow unravel the burial clothes that were wound tightly around His body and then roll away the immense stone and then appear to the disciples making them think He’s risen from the dead.
This is one reason I favor Gibson’s portrayal because it shows-albeit very graphically-how foolish this theory is. No one could endure scourging and crucifixion by the Romans and live.
And-to help you see what I mean, let’s go to the Gospel account. Specifically I want us to look at Matthew 27:11-54. Since it’s a long text I’ve decided to use The Visual Bible, which of course is the complete NIV text. Richard Kiley plays the part of Matthew and serves as the narrator.
11 – Meanwhile Jesus stood before the governor, and the governor asked Him, “Are You the King of the Jews?””Yes, it is as you say,” Jesus replied.
12 – When He was accused by the chief priests and the elders, He gave no answer.
13 – Then Pilate asked him, “Don’t you hear the testimony they are bringing against You?”
14 – But Jesus made no reply, not even to a single charge-to the great amazement of the governor.
15 – Now it was the governor’s custom at the Feast to release a prisoner chosen by the crowd.
16 – At that time they had a notorious prisoner, called Barabbas.
17 – So when the crowd had gathered, Pilate asked them, “Which one do you want me to release to you: Barabbas, or Jesus Who is called Christ’
18 – For he knew it was out of envy that they had handed Jesus over to him.
19 – While Pilate was sitting on the judge’s seat, his wife sent him this message: “Don’t have anything to do with that innocent man, for I have suffered a great deal today in a dream because of Him.”
20 – But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabas and to have Jesus executed.
21 – “Which of the two do you want me to release to you?” asked the governor. “Barabbas,” they answered.
22 – “Then what shall I do, then, with Jesus Who is called Christ?” Pilate asked. They all answered, “Crucify Him!”
23 – “Why? What crime has He committed?” asked Pilate But they shouted all the louder, “Crucify Him!”
24 – When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. “I am innocent of this man’s blood,” he said. “It is your responsibility!”
25 – All the people answered, “Let His blood be on us and on our children!”
26 – Then he released Barabbas to them. But he had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified.
27 – Then the governor’s soldiers took Jesus into the Praetorium and gathered the whole company of soldiers around Him.
28 – They stripped Him and put a scarlet robe on Him,
29 – and then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on His head. They put a staff in His right hand and knelt in front of Him and mocked Him.”Hail, king of the Jews!” they said.
30 – They spit on Him and took the staff and struck Him on the head again and again.
31 – After they had mocked Him, they took off the robe and put His own clothes on Him. Then they led Him away to crucify Him.
32 – As they were going out they met a man from Cyrene, named Simon, and they forced him to carry the cross.
33 – They came to a place called Golgotha (which means The Place of the Skull).
34 – There they offered Jesus wine to drink, mixed with gall; but after tasting it, He refused to drink it.
35 – When they had crucified Him, they divided up His clothes by casting lots.
36 – And sitting down, they kept watch over Him there.
37 – Above His head they placed the written charge against Him: THIS IS JESUS, THE KING OF THE JEWS.
38 – Two robbers were crucified with Him, one on His right and one on His left.
39 – Those who passed by hurled insults at Him, shaking their heads
40 – and saying, “You Who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, save Yourself! Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God!”
41 – In the same way the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked Him.
42 – “He saved others,” they said, “But He can’t save Himself! He’s the King of Israel! Let Him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in Him.
43 – He trusts in God. Let God rescue Him now if He wants Him, for He said, ‘I am the Son of God.'”
44 – In the same way the robbers who were crucified with Him also heaped insults on Him.
45 – From the sixth hour until the ninth hour darkness came over all the land.
46 – About the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” – which means, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”
47 – When some of those standing there heard this, they said, “He’s calling Elijah.”
48 – Immediately one of them ran and got a sponge. He filled it with wine vinegar and put it on a stick, and offered it to Jesus to drink.
49 – The rest said, “Now leave Him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to save Him.”
50 – And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, He gave up His spirit.
51 – At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook and the rocks split.
52 – The tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life.
53 – They came out of the tombs, and after Jesus’ resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many people.
54 – When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, “Surely He was the Son of God!”
Okay, with the aid of commentaries on this and the other Gospel accounts let’s look closely at what happened on that first Good Friday-so that we can all see how foolish it would be to think that Jesus didn’t really die on the cross.
And, let’s begin by reviewing some basic historical facts about crucifixion. Now, most experts agree that the Persians first came up with crucifixion as a method of execution. They worshiped Ormuzd, the god of earth; so they believed that no criminal’s blood should contaminate the earth by the victim’s dying on it. To avoid this they came up with this “ingenious plan” whereby a victim could be lifted off the “pure” earth and die in that position. The body could then be removed without ever touching the earth-thus keeping it pure. This method was passed on to the Egyptians and then the Romans who embraced it and refined it. But, the Romans weren’t worried about polluting the pure earth-they just saw the cross as a means to humiliate someone with a death that was so slow and agonizing and humiliating…that anyone who saw it would think twice before even considering revolt or disobedience of the Roman authorities. For this reason they always put the crosses next to heavily traveled roads. If we were still under Roman rule today, they’d do crucifixions along the beltway-anywhere that people would see them and think, “I’ll never disobey the Romans! Not if that’s what it brings!” By the time of Christ the Roman’s had already crucified more than thirty thousand victims in and around Judea. So crosses with dead or dying men hanging on them were a common sight around Jerusalem, a constant reminder of Roman brutality. In fact, according to Josephus, Titus crucified so many people when he sacked Jerusalem in A.D. 70 that there was no wood left for crosses and no place left to set them up.
Another form of punishment that was common back then was scourging-and the Bible says that Jesus endured this as well-prior to His crucifixion. In those days there were two kinds of scourging or flogging: Jewish and Roman. The Jewish version limited the punishment to forty lashings. But in the Roman version of scourging there was no specified number of times that a victim could be beaten. It could go on and on and on-and often it did-as Gibson pictured it. In fact historians tell us they would have buckets of salt water on hand to use to throw on the victims’ fresh wounds in order to revive them when they passed out so the Romans could continue to beat a conscious victim. Understandably then, the Romans commonly called their version of scourging “halfway death.”
The actual whipping and beating was done by a man called a “lictor”-a professional in the grim art of torture-a man who, just as Gibson pictured him-had become a sadist drawing perverse pleasure from the agony he caused others. The lictor used various tools to torture his victim including a flagellum, a piece of wood fourteen to eighteen inches long to which were attached long leather thongs with bits of glass, bone or metal attached to the end of each strip. It was a weapon that was designed to reduce the naked body to strips of raw flesh and inflamed, bleeding wounds. In shock from the extensive physical trauma, victims would begin to shake and shiver just as Gibson pictured it. And-it was not uncommon for a man to die from the scourging. So, it is not surprising that Jesus was physically unable to carry His cross and Simon of Cyrene’s help had to be enlisted. This also explains why He died after being on the cross for only six hours. You see, most victims suffered much longer. In fact, Merrill F. Unger, the late biblical scholar states that, “instances are on record of persons surviving for nine days” on the cross. The truth is Jesus was beaten almost literally to death. In fact Mark’s gospel parallels Matthew’s when is says “they BROUGHT Him to the place of Golgotha” (Mark 15:22), suggesting that Jesus was actually borne along to Calvary, probably walking with much difficulty, needing the constant support of Simon…not just his help in carrying the cross.
But, when Jesus finally arrived at Golgotha, the crucifixion took place.
And we need to understand, it WAS a brutal death-a gory, violent death. Other films about the crucifixion of Jesus make it look clean-almost noble-but there was nothing noble about it. I mean, the torture of Jesus’ crucifixion WAS extreme and cruel. It was an ugly death. His arms would have been pulled apart and big nails driven through his wrist or hand into the crossbeam. This often dislocated the shoulder of the victims-as Gibson showed so realistically in his film. Once He was nailed to the cross and it was lifted into place, in order to breathe Jesus would have had to press up on the nails in His feet scraping His raw back on the rough wood. As His body lost more and more blood His heart would have beat faster and faster. Dehydration would have occurred and the breathing would have become more labored and intense.
In fact, His heart would have beat so hard in an attempt to compensate for the loss of oxygen due to the lack of blood that it eventually would have ruptured. Then His chest cavity would have filled with fluid-and John’s gospel says this is what happened to our Lord. Remember? Since it was the day before the Sabbath and the Jews did not want the bodies on the cross on that Holy day-they asked Pilate to have the legs broken which would hasten death. So the soldiers took a huge mallet and broke the legs of the other two. This made it impossible for them to push up to breathe and death would have come very quickly. When they came to Jesus these Roman soldiers familiar with crucifixion and death saw that He was already dead but just to be sure they thrust a spear up through His side into His heart. And John-who you should remember was present-close to the cross that day-says when the soldier did this blood and water came out which means the heart had indeed stopped beating and the blood was settling in the chest cavity. An article in the Journal of the American Medical Society entitled, “On the Physical Death of Jesus Christ” concluded:
“Clearly, Jesus was dead before the wound to His side was inflicted and supports the traditional view that the spear, thrust between His right ribs, probably perforated not only the right lung but also the pericardium and heart and thereby ensured His death. Accordingly, interpretations based on the assumption that Jesus did not die on the cross appear to be at odds with modern medical knowledge.”
So the fact is Jesus didn’t SWOON on the cross. He DIED on the cross.
One of the best replies to the swoon theory came from a lady who wrote into a question and answer forum. Here’s what she said and the reply she received:
“Dear sirs, Our preacher said on Easter that Jesus just swooned on the cross and that the disciples nursed Him back to health. What do you think? Sincerely, Bewildered
Dear Bewildered, Beat your pastor with a cat-of-nine tails with 40 or more strokes, nail him to a cross; hang him in the sun for six hours; run a spear through his side, put him in an airless tomb for 36 hours and see what happens. Sincerely, Charles”
Okay. I think you’d have to agree the first part of this statement is true. Jesus DIED ON THE CROSS. Well-as the second part of the title of this message says Jesus did this-He died on the cross-FOR OUR SINS.
2 Corinthians 5:21 says,”For God made Christ, Who never sinned, to be the Offering for our sin, so that we could be made right through Christ.” You see God is Holy-Perfect-and we are not. None of us even come close. Romans 3:23 says, “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” And, the Bible teaches that God hates sin-so the fact that we are sinners who willfully sin in thought, word, and deed puts us in opposition to God. Our sin separates us from God-in essence it makes us His enemy. Have you ever watched The Discovery Channel? If you have then you know that often they show films of lions hunting antelopes and things like that. These films depict the natural hostility that exists between various beasts of the animal kingdom.
Well, according to the Bible, the most natural enemy WE all have in our sinful fallen state is our Holy God. R. C. Sproul puts it this way, “The natural enemy of the sinner is One Who is holy,
and not only holy but powerful, and not only powerful but just, and not only just but omniscient…not only omniscient but immutably so.” God is all of these things-and Jesus came to take the punishment we justly deserved.
Try to picture this in your mind’s eye. God is on His throne. You and I are on the earth. And between you and heaven is Christ on His cross. Max Lucado writes, “Our sins-yours and mine-have been placed on Jesus. God Who punishes sin, releases His rightful wrath on your mistakes. Jesus receives the blow. Since Christ is between you and God, you don’t. The sin is punished but you are safe-safe in the shadow of the cross.”
And this is another way to refute the belief of those who say the Jews killed Jesus. You see the truth is each of us did. It was OUR sins that He died for. It was OUR death that He died. Gibson understood this-in fact he decided that when it came time to film the scene where the Roman solder nailed the nails through Jesus flesh, he would do it instead of an actor. Those are Gibson’s hands you see in the film at this point, but you know, they could just as easily be your hands or my hands because our sin is what put Jesus there. We all nailed Him to the cross. Our sin-the sin of every man, woman, boy or girl who has ever lived or ever will lived put Him there. That’s another reason His death was so ugly. I mean it SHOULD be hard to look at-because every sinful, UGLY act was placed on His sinless body that horrible day. 2 Corinthians 5:21 says that “God MADE Him Who knew no sin TO BE SIN for us.”
Now-this is WHAT God did. He sent His Son to earth and allowed Him to die on the cross to pay our sin debt. But I still haven’t told you WHY God did this. Well, please understand-God didn’t do this out of moral duty or heavenly obligation-God is required to do nothing. No-God did this not because He was required to but because He WANTED to. You see, not only is God perfect and Holy-He is also love. Not only does He hate sin-He loves sinners. As John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the WORLD that He gave His only Son….” Now-would you do that? Would you offer the life of your child for someone else? Not me!
There are those whom I might give MY life for-but there is no one I LOVE so much that I’d give up Daniel or Sarah or Becca-no one. But God’s love is so unimaginably great that He was willing to do this-give up His only Son. And this is the reason for the cross-the love of God-a love so great and pure that it includes every single person on this fallen planet of ours.
And not only does God love us enough to send His Son to die for us. He also loves us enough to give us a choice when it comes to how we will respond to His love. We can accept what God has done for us in Jesus or reject it. John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world that He sent His only Son-THAT WHOSOEVER BELIEVES IN HIM shall not perish but have everlasting life.” We can choose to believe or not.
In his book He Chose the Nails, Max Lucado tells the true story of a famous actor from the last half of the 19th century named Edwin. In fact, he became very famous for his acting ability-especially when it came to the tragedies of Shakespeare. Edwin had two brothers-John and Junius and both of them were actors as well although neither rose to his stature. In 1863 the three siblings united their talents to perform Julius Caesar. The fact that Edwin’s brother John took the role of Brutus was an eerie harbinger of what awaited the brothers and the nation two years later. You see the John who played this role in Julius Caesar is the same John who took the role of an assassin in Ford’s Theater on a crisp April night in 1865, firing a bullet into the head of President Abraham Lincoln. I’m sure you’ve guessed by now that the last name of these brothers was Booth, Edwin Thomas Booth and John Wilkes Booth. Well, Edwin never was the same after that horrible night. Shame from his brother’s crime drove him into retirement. And, he might never have returned to the stage had it not been for a twist of fate at a New Jersey train station.
You see, Edwin was waiting for his coach when a well-dressed young man, pressed by the crowd, lost his footing and fell between the platform and a moving train. Without hesitation, Edwin locked a leg around a railing, grabbed the young man, and pulled him to safety. After sighs of relief the young man recognized the famous actor. Edwin however didn’t recognize the young man he’d rescued. That knowledge came weeks later in a letter-a letter he carried in his pocket to his grave. The letter was from General Adams Budeau, chief secretary to General Ulysses S. Grant, thanking Edwin Booth for saving the life of the child of an American hero-Abraham Lincoln. You see the young man he saved that day was Robert Todd Lincoln. Think of it. Two brothers-both with a choice. One chose death-and the other life.
This amazing incident illustrates the fact that we each have a choice-a God-given one. We can choose to accept His gift of forgiveness made possible through Jesus’ death and resurrection we can choose LIFE-eternal abundant life….or we can reject Jesus and in so doing choose separation from God-eternal death. This reminds me of that hill outside Jerusalem 2000 years ago. Remember? There were three crosses there-not six or ten. And Jesus was in the center-not off to the side. Could it be that the two crosses on the hill symbolize this-one of God’s greatest gifts-the gift of choice? I mean, those two criminals were equally close to Jesus-yet one chose to put His faith in our Lord and the other did not. Think of it. The repentant thief had made several bad choices in life-choices that landed him on a Roman cross but in the end all his bad choices were redeemed by a solitary good one. What about you? We all make bad choices. As I said a moment ago, we all SIN. Well, you can make up for all those bad choices right now by choosing to accept Jesus as your Savior and Lord. As Lucado puts it, “One good choice for eternity offsets a thousand bad ones on earth.”