This symbol is one that fills me with hope, love, a promise of what’s to come. But that is not its origin, and I must remember that. This t-figure was the symbol of death and an awful death it was. The National Library of Medicine has this to say:
In antiquity crucifixion was considered one of the most brutal and shameful modes of death. … The Romans perfected crucifixion for 500 years until it was abolished by Constantine I in the 4th century AD. Crucifixion in Roman times was applied mostly to slaves, disgraced soldiers, Christians and foreigners--only very rarely to Roman citizens. Death, usually after 6 hours--4 days, was due to multifactorial pathology: after-effects of compulsory scourging and maiming, hemorrhage and dehydration causing hypovolemic shock and pain, but the most important factor was progressive asphyxia caused by impairment of respiratory movement. … The attending Roman guards could only leave the site after the victim had died, and were known to precipitate death by means of deliberate fracturing of the tibia and/or fibula, spear stab wounds into the heart, sharp blows to the front of the chest, or a smoking fire built at the foot of the cross to asphyxiate the victim.
The Cross. “Hope, love, and a promise of what’s to come” do not seem to align with what I should feel when I learn about this hideous method of bringing on death to someone. Or maybe that makes hope, love, and a promise of what’s to come even more significant. Maybe it takes those warm fuzzy feelings that well when you see a stranger donning a crucifix and then should raise the bar of significance for what Jesus did for us. Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ experienced physical pain as he hung on that cross, but, as Pastor Timothy Keller shared in his sermon, “The Fidelity of Jesus,” Jesus’ pain started before the cross. Jesus began to suffer in the Garden of Gethsemane.
“Then Jesus led his disciples to an orchard... He told them, “Sit here while I go and pray nearby.” He took Peter, Jacob, and John with him... an intense feeling of great sorrow plunged his soul into agony. And he said to them, “My heart is overwhelmed and crushed with grief. It feels as though I’m dying.” (Matthew 26)
Pastor Keller shares it was in these moments that the gates of hell began to open to Jesus as the sins of the world were heaped upon him. He is overwhelmed, weighed down with sin for the first time, and feeling the depths of hell’s death awaiting him. As he cries out to God in his sorrow & asks for the cup to be taken from him, an angel comes to strengthen him one final time. Jesus knows what must be done, but he still cries out to his father. Pastor Keller then points out that God, also for the first time, turns his back on his son. Jesus, when he continues his cry to God, is not answered with a heavenly amen but a hellish awaiting. Jesus is alone, about to be abandoned & betrayed. Utterly alone. Our Savior takes on our sin, torture, and days in hell as he makes it possible for us to never be alone. He made it so that our prayers will always be answered with a heavenly amen. He hears the prayer of the righteous. (Proverbs 15:29) Our cries, our sorrow, our overwhelming grief need not be crushing us to death because Jesus forever crushed the power of permanent pain. The Cross of Crucifixion thought it had the final word, but I like to think of it as The Cross of Resurrection. If you believe Jesus Christ paid the price to the point of death and hell so that you may have eternal life, you need to know that this earth is the closest you will ever be to hell. The darkness that abounds and that feels suffocating at times does not have a place of permanence in our lives. We are here for but a moment (Psalm 144:4) and can keep our posture focused on Heaven (Colossian 3:2). The Lord hears your prayer. Jehovah Jireh, the Lord our Provider, will not turn away from you. The price was paid on the cross. A symbol of hope, love, & a promise of what’s to come. Amen and a Heavenly Amen.