Online Text Sermon - Christ in his Crucifixion, Psalm 22 vv.14-18
|Preacher||Rev. Maurice Roberts, Inverness|
|Sermon Title||Christ in his Crucifixion|
|Text||Psalm 22 vv.14-18 |
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"I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint: my heart is like wax; it is melted in the midst of my bowels. My strength is dried up like a potsherd; and my tongue cleaveth to my jaws; and thou hast brought me into the dust of death. For dogs have compassed me: the assembly of the wicked have inclosed me: they pierced my hands and my feet. I may tell all my bones: they look and stare upon me. They part my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture" (Psalm 22, 14-18).
I should explain to any who have not been with us over past few weeks that we have been considering this Psalm 22. We have seen that there are two clear divisions in the Psalm. The first section deals with the sufferings of Christ and the second half refers to glory and progress of His kingdom upon earth. These two, of course, are intimately related. Without the sufferings and death of Christ, there is no gospel; where there is no gospel, there can be no salvation.
Today we are looking at what I shall make the last in our study in the first part of this Psalm. Here we see in our text the Lord Jesus Christ speaking prophetically concerning His own crucifixion. I want you, if you would, just to glance at some of the details first of all: "I am poured out like water" (text). Our Lord is now on the cross, you understand, and He tells us how He feels. The reference to being "poured out like water" surely is an indication of how He felt as His blood was draining from His body. He was suffering from that terrible condition which we know as the critical loss of His body fluids, and that is a most distressing condition to be in. Then we are told about His feeling of dislocation: "all my bones are out of joint" (text). This was the effect of being in such a painful condition - hanging from the nails upon the cross which stretched the muscles and the tissue of the body and also had the effect of tending to dislocate the bones of the skeleton.
Then our Lord goes on to speak about His extreme sense of stress and strain: "my heart is like wax; it is melted in the midst of my bowels" (text). Whenever we are under immense mental and nervous strain or stress, it immediately has this effect: our heart begins to feel faint and we have this feeling in the lower part of our intestines - distress. It is the body's reaction to great stress, strain and anxiety. In verse fifteen He tells us about His growing weakness: "My strength is dried up like a potsherd" (text). Then again in verse fifteen He informs us to His terrible thirst: "my tongue cleaveth to my jaws; and thou hast brought me into the dust of death" (text). He is aware that He is just a stone's throw away from death itself. The expression "the dust of death" (text) refers, surely, to that condition that death normally brings upon the human body. That is, as soon as death takes place then our body begins that process known as deterioration and returns eventually to dust - "for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return" (Genesis 3, 19). In His case, of course, He was not permitted to deteriorate in that way. There was no physical deterioration in Christ. There was a miraculous preservation of His body so that not so much as one of the tissues of His body underwent decay. The phrase, "the dust of death", is appropriate, of course, because it refers to that place where normally the human body will return to dust.
At verse sixteen He speaks about those who were persecuting Him: "dogs have compassed me" (text). I am not absolutely confident of this but I am of the opinion that the term "dogs" used in this sense in Scripture refers to bad ministers. It is used in several places in the Bible in this critical or pejorative sense. Dogs - you have it in Isaiah who speaks about "dumb dogs" (Isaiah 56, 10) who cannot bark. These were prophets of the Old Testament and ministers of the New Testament who never warned their people - a dog is kept for warning. When there is a marauder or an intruder, it is the duty and the instinct of the dog to bark and to warn the master of the house that there is a stranger somewhere near. That is a dog's God-given instinct. A minister's spiritual instinct should be to warn the flock of dangerous doctrine, dangerous practice, superstition, idolatry, corruption and lewdness - anything which damages the soul. Dogs who don't bark are those men in the ministry who fail to do their duty. In the New Testament, Paul, to the Philippians says, "Beware of dogs" (Philippians 3, 2) and in the book of Revelation we are told, "For without" (that is, outside of heaven, "are dogs" (Revelation 22, 15). My feeling is that this is the specific connotation and meaning of this term in this kind of sense. These, indeed, who surrounded the cross were professed religious leaders or ministers as we call them today: "dogs have compassed me: the assembly of the wicked have inclosed me" (text). As I say, it was done in that General Assembly, the Grand Synagogue: their highest Court. It wasn't done in a tiny synagogue. The supreme Jewish Council met and they condemned our Lord to death; it was a judicial crime, a judicial murder. This is to what our Lord refers here: "the assembly of the wicked have inclosed me" (text).
Then we have this most pathetic and touching record: "they pierced my hands and my feet" (text). There is absolutely no way of interpreting these words except as a prophecy of the crucifixion, in which they are fulfilled in detail and to the letter. More so than meets the eye because very often in crucifixion the hands alone were nailed to the cross and the feet were tied with ropes to the upright part of the cross. In some cases, as here, both hands and feet were nailed and that is what happened to our Lord. We know that when He rose from the dead He said to His disciples, "Why are ye troubled? and why do thoughts arise in your hearts? Behold my hands and my feet" (Luke 24, 38-39) - indicating that both hands and feet, in His case, were nailed, which was an exact fulfilment of these words.
"I may tell all my bones" (text) - here we have the sense of being disjointed again. The bones of His body were, as it were, pulled out of joint through the extraordinary physical pressures of crucifixion. "They look and stare upon me" (text), He says in verse seventeen. That is because, on the cross, one of the most painful things is that you are almost naked. A loin cloth alone was left on the body of the victim. People gazed upon Him and we know how unpleasant it is to have people staring at us when we are in a disadvantaged position. Even when we commit some breach of etiquette and spill our food on our clothes, it's not pleasant having every eye looking at us - we are embarrassed; how much more so, when the blessed Son of God in sufferings was the object of these gazes of men that were feasting upon His discomfiture. They were gloating over every aspect of His suffering and pain. To them it was a feast for sore eyes and to our Lord it was acute embarrassment.
I mention these details that we might observe what a terrible thing sin is. The most perfect, upright and holy man who ever walked in this world was so treated and men enjoyed their sense of His discomfiture - they gloried in His suffering. I say what a terrible thing sin is because this is what sin is, this is why sin is so serious a thing. How terrible it is to be a sinner still in your sin. People have a light view of sin; they think it is just some tiny offence - what we call a peccadillo, which means just a small fault and easily forgiven weakness. No, no! Sin is hatred of God! Sin is antagonism to God! Sin would murder God and does so here in so far as they could murder Christ. You can't murder the divine Person, of course, but they did their very best to murder everything else they could: His mind and His body were the objects of their absolute detestation. All of this by religious people, you understand. These were not pagan; it was not so much the Romans who acted here. Pontius Pilate was not enthusiastic for this; he said that he "found no fault in this man" (Luke 23, 14). Three times, at least, "No fault!" "No fault!" "No fault!" Pontius Pilate tried to wash his hands of responsibility: "he took water, and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, I am innocent of the blood of this just person: see ye to it" (Matthew 27, 24). He could not shrug off his accountability to God, yet, he tried to do so.
We see that this is how the most religious people who ever lived treated the son of God. How do we explain it? It is because their religion was profoundly wrong; they were religious but not converted. They were devout but their hearts had not been renewed. The greatest crimes of history are always committed in the name of religion. It was in the name of religion that the Trade Centre was destroyed by aeroplanes a few short weeks ago. What is happening in Palestine today is done in the name of religion, to please some god or other that people are worshiping. That is how it has always been and that is how it will always be. Let us make sure that our religion is not simply in name or in word or by human tradition - that we are not simply Christians on paper, on a communion roll somewhere. Let us be godly men and women, converted to Christ, our hearts renewed - the stony heart taken out of our flesh by the new birth and a new heart given to us: a heart filled with love for God and compassion for one another. True Christianity fills men with love, kindness and sympathy for one another. That is what was missing on this occasion.
The subject then is that of the crucifixion. Let me firstly explain to you the events which lead up to it. Then let me say a little about what crucifixion was - we use the word but what really did it amount to? Finally - and as time may allow - some words of application.
1. EVENTS WHICH LED UP TO CRUCIFIXION
First of all then, I have to speak of the events which led up to crucifixion. Crucifixion was a Roman punishment. It was not something the Jews themselves invented, it came from the Romans. It has well been described as the most terrible punishment ever invented by man. The reason for that is because to physical pain was added a prolongation of suffering. You could be on the cross for days and days, slowly dying by inches. This was all intentional to make it as dreadful as possible - you suffered in body and in mind. You suffered from the mockery of others. It was the most dreadful form of torture the human mind, in its fallen state, has ever invented.
Certain events preceded crucifixion and the first of these was what we call scourging. Our Lord Jesus Christ was scourged. The scourging was done like this. The victim was made to have his hands tied and his back bent and bared. He couldn't move away; he was tied to a post on the ground. The cat-of-nine-tails or a lash with leather thongs was brought. Into these leather thongs were woven bits of bone and lead to make them very heavy. This was brought down many times across the back of the victim. Sometimes people died under the scourging alone. Usually they spat and cursed at their captors. Our Lord bore this patiently.
The next thing was the mocking by the soldiers. It evidently was the custom that when a victim was about to be crucified and the scourging was finished, before he was actually taken to the place of execution, the soldiers could entertain themselves in their crude way with the victim and that's what they did with our Lord. We are told what they did in Matthew 27, 29. They put a crown of thorns upon His head, a reed in His hand representing a kingly sceptre - all of this, of course, in mockery. Then they put a Roman soldier's old coat over Him - this was called the cloak, a soldier's purple cloak. All of this was to pretend, of course, that He was a King; that is what He claimed to be. The soldiers made sport of Him accordingly; they bowed the knee and cried "Hail, King of the Jews!" (Matthew 27, 29). They spat in His face and ripped off His beard. It is what we call horseplay.
The next part was the long walk. The practice was to make the victim walk the longest possible way from the place of scourging to the place of execution. They would take him down the various streets and roads of the town or city: the busiest roads, the busiest streets, the longest way. The purpose for this was so that everybody in the town would see what was happening. In front of the victim went a herald, he was carrying a board - not a blackboard but a whiteboard - which was rubbed over with a chemical called gypsum which is used for making plaster of Paris therefore whitens the surface. The letters would be black and in three languages in this case - in Hebrew, the language of the Jews; in Greek which was the lingua franca of the Mediterranean and in Latin which is the language of the Romans. The accusation was "THIS IS JESUS THE KING OF THE JEWS" (Matthew 27, 37). The exact wording varies slightly from one gospel to another and that is easy to explain. No doubt each of the gospel writers uses a reference to one or other of the different languages. The herald went before and Christ came later flanked by four soldiers - a hollow square as we call it, like the five dots on a dice. He would go round and round the streets until everybody had seen what was about to happen and the crowd would begin to gather at the place of execution, some of them to enjoy such a thing. The purpose of that was to intimidate the people; it had a terrific deterrent effect. The message was - "Don't you interfere with the processes of law. Don't engage in crime as this wicked man did or you will suffer like Him."
On the way, they compelled Simon of Cyrene, who was from North Africa, to carry His cross. It seems, therefore, that our Lord's strength was coming to an end by the end of this long walk. He was exhausted physically - no wonder! It was a miracle He could carry anything. We may have seen pictures of people carrying a piece of wood in the shape of a cross. Sometimes, however, the victim merely carried the cross bar as we call it - the horizontal part - over his shoulder. It would be a very heavy piece of wood like a sleeper from a railway track. Our Lord had to do this. He came to the place of execution where they compelled Simon of Cyrene to carry His cross. Let me explain this. The Romans were the occupying force and according to Roman law, a Roman officer in the army could touch you on the shoulder with the flat side of his spear - which was called 'impressing' - and whatever he commanded you to do, you had to do on pain of death. This man, Simon of Cyrene, was coming, evidently, for the Passover from North Africa (he could very well have been a black man) when he is 'impressed' to stop. They compel him to take the cross from our Lord to the place of execution.
These are the things which our Lord underwent. My friends, it was a great price that was paid for our salvation - too great for us to understand. Let us learn what sin deserves in the sight of God. If He had not come where would we be today?
2. WHAT DID CRUCIFIXION INVOLVE?
What did crucifixion involve? We haven't begun the crucifixion yet. Many people died under the scourging. The cross consisted of three things: the upright, the crossbar and a third thing which I am going to call a peg, which was screwed in to the upright at the point where your legs parted. You sat on that peg as best you could. The reason for that peg was that if it wasn't there you would just fall through the nails; the nails would not be sufficient to hold the body. So the peg was there to support some of the weight of the body. It was all excruciatingly terrible. A man was laid flat and nailed on the cross then the cross was lifted upright and put into its socket. That in itself was extreme torture.
A Jew wore these six items of clothes. First of all he had a belt, secondly sandals, thirdly a girdle, fourthly a tunic, fifthly a turban and then, most expensive of all, he had a robe. Our Lord wore a beautiful robe - an outer garment - which would have been made by His own mother, Mary; that was the custom. The soldiers, when they had nailed Him to the cross, took these items of clothing and were entitled to have one each. They parcelled the clothing out easily enough among themselves, except for the robe. They cast dice to see who got the lucky number as they would call it. There was no point in cutting the robe in pieces - it would make it worthless. Therefore, the one who got the "lucky number" would get the robe. They would leave our Lord with a loin cloth for decencies sake.
The height of a crucified victim was seven to nine feet above ground. Our Lord's head would be roughly eight feet above the ground - higher than those standing round the cross. That is why when our Lord was calling out, "I thirst" (John 19, 28) somebody put a sponge on the end of a stick and dipping it in cheap wine or vinegar, put it to His mouth and our Lord tasted the wine. They would need to have a stick in order to reach our Lord's mouth conveniently. Imagine giving anyone vinegar to drink when their thirst was great.
You know that our Lord was on the cross for six hours. Everything was perfectly measured by God. There were no accidents, no fortuitous events, nothing was coincidental; it was all perfectly measured: three hours of light, three hours of darkness. Our Lord uttered seven words upon the cross - three words during the light and four words during the darkness. His first word was: "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do" (Luke 23, 34). Of course, that was so true; they did not know He was the Messiah, the Lord from heaven, the Saviour of the world. They did not know that they were crucifying the incarnate God. Think therefore of the kindness of Christ - it should be an inspiration to every one of us to help us with the problem we all have of forgiveness. It is very easy for people to say in theory that a Christian should forgive. There are a whole lot of things said about forgiveness but it is just not so easy when people thoroughly offend you, upset you and do evil things against you. There is something in man which resents and resists. Forgiveness is not easy yet we must find the grace to do so.
The second word from the cross was to the thief: "To day shalt thou be with me in paradise" (Luke 23, 43).
The third word from the cross during the period of light was to His mother and to His disciple John: "Woman, behold thy son!" (John 19, 26), and to John: "Behold thy mother!" (John 19, 27). He took this lady now into his own home and our Lord made a perfect provision for her all the days of her life. Christ forgot nothing. You ask where Joseph was; evidently he died some years before. We don't have a record of that but we don't hear anything about him for many years after Christ's childhood so we presume he had passed away years before.
At mid-day, as you remember, the sun was darkened. That darkness lasted for three hours - from twelve noon till three in the afternoon. The darkness covered the land and possibly the whole earth. The Greek word evidently could be translated in either way. We just don't know. Of course, it wasn't an eclipse of the sun or the moon or anything like that because we know that Passover was always held at the time of the new moon. Apparently there is no possibility it could have been an eclipse. In any case, no eclipse of any kind lasts for three hours. It lasts just as long as the sun or the moon are coincident - for a few moments - then they pass one in front of the other and the light is restored. No, that darkness was a portent - or, if you prefer, omen - of the intensity of the sufferings of Christ; not only His body, of course, but His soul.
There were four words from the cross. One of them was, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" (Matthew 27, 46), which was a quotation from this very Psalm 22. In those words our blessed Lord is referring to drinking the cup of damnation; He is tasting there of eternal death
Then He cries out: "I thirst" (John 19, 28). The obvious reason for thirst is because of the loss of body fluids. We all know what thirst is - at least in a very tiny measure. If you have been working very hard on a hot day there is some mechanism in the brain tells you you must drink. Strong thirst is a painful condition. When you think that our Lord was bleeding through a score of wounds: hands, feet, head, back - He must have been losing blood at a terrific rate. "I thirst!" (John 19, 28) He cries in fulfilment of Scripture.
Just before three o'clock He cried - "It is finished" (John 19, 30).
The final cry: "Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit" (Luke 23, 46).
It is a great comfort to remember that our Lord had finished with the deeper aspects of death before he entered into the calmer aspects of death. Death is in three forms as we well know: spiritual, temporal and eternal. Our Lord tasted of the cup of eternal death, which is hell, fire and damnation. He tasted from that cup and that is what led Him to call out: "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" (Matthew 27, 46). Our Lord could not suffer spiritual death which means the alienation of soul from God because of sin. We are born in that condition but our Lord was, of course, born without sin. He did, however, taste of that deeper death - eternal death - and having done so, He then entered in to physical death. Both these forms of death were necessary for our salvation. When our Lord had finished drinking the cup of damnation, He had done the worst part of His work. What was left then was the easier part of His work, if you will forgive that expression - nothing was easy. He then entered into physical death. So the word was true concerning Him, as it is with all His people: "Mark the perfect man, and behold the upright: for the end of that man is peace" (Psalm 37, 37). Our Lord died in peace: "Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit" (Luke 23, 46).
My dear friends, we too can look forward to dying in peace if we are resting and trusting upon Him.
There is an expression in the Apostle's Creed which we need to understand. It goes like this: "He descended into hell". That expression has been very much misunderstood. The question is when did our Lord descend in to hell? The answer is, before He physically died. We must never, never think that when Jesus physically died His soul went in to the place of punishment; that is utterly repugnant. Our Lord's soul went to glory: "To day shalt thou be with me in paradise" (Luke 23, 43), or heaven. It is utterly wrong to suppose that our Lord went to some place of torment or punishment. No, no! As soon as He died His soul went to glory and His body went to the grave until the third day when soul and body came together again as He rose from the dead, just as we shall in the great last day. There is no difference. He is the firstfruits of the entire harvest fields of all His people. He rose in glory and so shall believers.
That is crucifixion, my friends. All of that was necessary as the means whereby God's anger against sin would be removed; nothing else would do. Supposing you could weep tears of repentance for a million years, it would not be enough. Supposing you could do all the great works of the heroes of history - going all round the world spreading the Gospel - it would not be enough. The sufferings of Christ are more valuable to God to atone for sin than the damnation of a sinner for a million ages. If we trust in Christ we more glorify the justice of God than if we went to hell for ever. That is because He is the God Man and His blood is the blood of one who is God. In a sense, it would be proper to talk about the blood of God; in this sense, that the blood was the blood of the Man Christ Jesus, who is God. The Person is Christ in two natures, shedding blood in the human nature but as to His Person also God. Therefore, that blood is most sacred, holy and sacrosanct. That blood goes on cleansing the souls of the people of God in all ages.
What is Christ doing today - now, in 2001? The answer is that for these two thousand years He has been sprinkling the nation. In other words, He has been applying the power and the virtue of His own blood to all His people throughout the world. That is what makes them all the same. They all love Him; they all believe the Bible as His Word; they all desire to speak His praise and to witness for Him. They are of one heart, one soul and one character. It doesn't matter whether their skin looks Chinese, Korean, African or European - it makes no difference. They are all fundamentally the same. One Shepherd with one flock and all His sheep understand the same language.
I close now with one or two questions. In the light of the crucifixion of the Son of God, I have to ask if you have felt the power of these things in your own life? Have they affected your whole life? I know that they are touching for our minds and we naturally want to weep even at the hearing of these atrocious sufferings of our Lord - atrocious from one angle, glorious, of course, from another. Therefore, have you not just been touched by these things but have you been changed by them? If we understand them aright, they will totally change our whole lives. They will make us new men and new women and we shall become a new edition of our old self when we have understood why He died in this most astonishing way: "they pierced my hands and my feet" (text). If we understand why He died, then we shall wish to spend our whole lives serving Him; nothing will be too much trouble.
A great missionary once said - "If Jesus Christ is God and died for me then nothing I can do will be too much to do for Him." That's the power of the cross. It changed the apostle Paul who was once a hater of the Gospel and made him a preacher of it. That is what happens to every Christian. A Christian is a changed man or woman, a changed child or young person. It is the power of the cross. We realise He died for us as individuals, His blood was shed to make me a Christian, to pardon my sins and to take me to glory. It is the royal road to heaven. Dear friends, there is no other road. When we hear of superstars dying in Los Angeles and having some other kind of religion, you feel profoundly sorry for them; how little they had. They had their millions of pounds, their scores of motor cars and their tens of thousands of followers and admirers; they sold their records and music to become world famous. So much so that one of them actually said that the Beatles are more important than Jesus Christ - or words to that effect. I have to remind you that when we come to the article of death, everything is levelled. If He is not our Saviour then there is no hope. I cannot deceive you, my dear friends; if there was a place in heaven for unbelievers, I would tell you so. I would say to you that it doesn't matter whether you believe or not, but that is not what my Bible tells me. It tells me that everything depends on whether you believe in this Saviour or not. If you do then I can say to you, "Go in peace; your sins are forgiven". But if you insist on rejecting Him, if you won't receive and believe on him as you own personal Saviour and Lord, I have to be honest with you and say you are lost and after death you will be lost, whoever you are. Be you never so important in this world, never so rich, never so famous - you are lost and will be lost eternally.
For those of you then who have not professed Christ, don't delay, don't be ashamed of Him. He was not ashamed of us upon the accursed cross; don't you be ashamed of Him but believe in Him and serve Him. Tell all your family and friends that you are His and intend to be His all your life.
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