William Hill, who was the founder of Hopewell Presbyterian Church, used to tell the story of an old preacher who was approached by some of the members in his congregation. The members told him that he was boring them to tears and that their patience was wearing thin. They suggested to him that he draw more from modern-day science and current events so that he might liven up his Sunday morning sermons. The pastor patiently and quietly listened to the people and then told them that next Sunday he would do as they asked.
During the next week a woman from the congregation walked into his office, sat down, and began weeping uncontrollably. The woman had lost her husband six years earlier and the only family she had left was her son. She had arrived at the pastor?s office after having just been told of her son?s death in World War II. Her world had crumbled right before her eyes. As the news spread among the congregation they were shocked and saddened by the woman?s agony, but they felt helpless in alleviating their friend?s pain.
The next Sunday, the pastor stood up in the pulpit and said, ?This past week Mrs. Jones? son was killed in the war and she is devastated as are many of us who love her so much. At a time like this I would be interested to hear what science has to say?? There was deafening silence all around the building. The pastor said, ?I was wondering what the news commentators have to say?? Again, total silence. The pastor looked at the congregation and said, ?Well, I guess we?ve got to go back to the old Book once again.?
The pastor was right. Science is valuable, but limited in what it can tell us about human existence. The news commentator?s stories change like the wind with each passing day. The fact of the matter is that science also changes in their theories and observations. If you have a science book that is five years old, you are going to need to go to the store and buy a new science book because many of science?s discoveries from five years ago are now dated. The only word which stands the test of time and which speaks to our lives on a daily basis with hope, direction, and conviction is the Word of God. We?ve got to go back to the old Book once again.
Today our study will focus on Jesus. I want us to spend our time this morning looking at the cornerstone of our faith ? the cross and the empty tomb! Everything we profess hinges on the one reality of Jesus? victory over the grave. If this truth of our faith is simply an illusion or fairy tale then your faith and mine is in vain. Now I know some of you may think that is jumping overboard. Why would anyone want to put all of their eggs in one basket? You may ask, ?What if they discovered Jesus? body in some archeological dig somewhere in Palestine? With all of His wonderful teachings and the great work He did with the people wouldn?t that be like throwing the baby out with the bath?? Nope. If Jesus did not rise from the dead then this whole deal is a sham, its bogus, Jesus is a fake, a fraud, and the Bible is not worth the paper it is written on. That is, if He did not rise from the grave. The Apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 15:14-19.
14And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. 15More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. 16For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. 17And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. 18Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. 19If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men. (1 Corinthians 15:14-19 NIV)
The Apostle Paul doesn?t mince words. If Jesus didn?t rise from the dead then we need to dismiss church and go to the lake this morning. Praise God, the fact of the matter is that Jesus did get up from the tomb and overcome death for us all! That is the reason we are here this morning. That is the reason you and I have hope in the midst of such seemingly hopeless situations!
The answer to the deepest questions of your heart rest in one person, Jesus our Savior. How can a widow have courage to continue on as she stands before a fresh grave? How can the parents of a brain damaged or physically handicapped child keep from living their lives in depression and despair? Why would anyone who is blind or deaf be encouraged when they think of the life beyond? How can we see purpose in the lives of those who have been killed for their faith? Where do the thoughts of a young couple go when they finally recover from the grief of losing their baby? Who can help a family when they receive the tragic news that their daughter was found dead? How can a family hold on when they learn that their dad overdosed on drugs? What is the final answer to pain, mourning, senility, insanity, terminal disease, sudden calamities, and fatal accidents? The hope of us all, in whatever predicament we find ourselves is the hope of Jesus? victory.
I believe that we have taken the suffering and pain endured prior to Jesus? glorious resurrection far too lightly. I want us to spend some time this morning taking a look at what Jesus endured for each of us before Easter morning arrived.
Because of our limited time we are not going to devote too much of our time on the trials of Jesus other than to say that they were a complete sham. Jesus was railroaded through a kangaroo court and sentenced to die even though many of those who testified against Him were not in agreement with the testimony. In Mark 14:56 we read, (15) ?Many testified falsely against him, but their statements did not agree.?
It is evident from studying the four Gospels that Pilate, as brutal as he was, did not want to crucify Jesus. In fact, in John?s Gospel, Pilate tells the Jews, (6) ??You take him and crucify him. As for me, I find no basis for a charge against him.? Pilate had tried to appease the adversaries of Jesus by having Him flogged, but they would not stop their tirade until Jesus was dead.
We hear very little in the church today about the flogging of Jesus. When Easter comes around we hear about His suffering on the cross, but rarely do we hear anything other than a passing mention of the flogging. I think this incident in the life of Jesus is so excruciatingly pain-filled and torturous that we need to pause to examine exactly what He endured on our behalf. The historicity of Jesus? flogging can not be brought into question as it is mentioned in each of the four Gospels. The Roman scourging was so brutal and vicious that although it was not meant to kill the victim, it sometimes did. John Mattingly writes about the Roman scourging.
The adjudged criminal was usually first forcefully stripped of his clothes, and then tied to a post or pillar in the tribunal. Then the awful and cruel scourging was administered by lectors or scourgers. Although the Hebrews limited by their law the number of strokes in a scourging to forty, Romans set no such limitations; and the victim was at the mercy of his scourgers. (Mattingly, John P. Crucifixion: Its Origin and Application to Christ. Unpublished Master of Theology Thesis: Dallas Theological Seminary, May 1961.)
The Roman ?Cat ?O Nine Tails,? called the flagrum, was made of long strips of leather tied to a wooden handle. The strips of leather had pieces of bone and metal attached to them which ripped into the back of the victim time after time. As John Mattingly mentioned, Jews would not whip anyone more than forty lashes. Actually, because of their concern to keep every letter of the law, they never gave more than thirty-nine lashes because they were afraid they would miscount and accidentally break the law. We must remember that it was not the Jews who had Jesus whipped, it was the Romans. Pilate was trying to make a good showing for the Jewish leaders who wanted Jesus crucified. Pilate could have possibly thought that if he had Jesus whipped severely that the Jewish leaders might ease off of their insistence that Jesus die. If this is the case then we don?t know how many lashes our Lord endured.
Dr. C. Truman Davis, a medical doctor who has meticulously studied crucifixion from a medical prospective, describes the effects of the Roman flagrum used in the scourging of Jesus.
The heavy whip is brought down with full force again and again across [a person?s] shoulders, back, and legs. At first the heavy thongs cut through the skin only. Then, as the blows continue, they cut deeper into the subcutaneous tissues, producing first an oozing of blood from the capillaries and veins of the skin, and finally spurting arterial bleeding from vessels in the underlying muscles. The small balls of lead first produce large, deep bruises which are broken open by subsequent blows. Finally, the skin of the back is hanging in long ribbons and the entire area is an unrecognizable mass of torn, bleeding tissue. When it is determined by the centurion in charge that the prisoner is near death, the beating is finally stopped. (Davis, C. Truman. The Crucifixion of Jesus. Arizona Medicine. March 1965. p. 185.)
Even though Dr. Davis? observations are much more detailed and medically articulate than Eusebius, the third century Church historian, we can hear in Eusebius? words the same horrific details. Eusebius writes,
The sufferer?s veins were laid bare, and the very muscles, sinews, and bowels of the victim were open to exposure. (Eusebius. The Epistle to the Church in Smyrna: Trials and Crucifixion of Christ. A.P. Stout, ed. Cincinnati: Standard Publishing, 1886.)
You and I cannot imagine the pain and torture that our Lord endured as He went through that horrible experience of being tied to a large pole and repeatedly ripped to shreds by the pieces of bone and metal raking down His back over and over again. By the time the Roman soldier finished unleashing his wrath upon Jesus, our Lord?s backside was a mass of raw, bleeding, pulsating flesh. Flesh that was willingly offered to the soldier?s flagrum for the sins of each of us.
William Barclay tells the story of a young Frenchman in the First World War who was seriously wounded. His arm was so badly smashed that it had to be amputated. The young man was a tall, strong, magnificent specimen and the surgeon was grieved that he must go through life maimed. The surgeon waited by the bedside to tell the young man the bad news when he recovered consciousness. When the young man?s eyes opened, the surgeon said to him, ?I am sorry to tell you that you have lost your arm.? ?Sir,? said the young man, ?I did not lose it; I gave it ? for France.?
Jesus was not helplessly caught up in circumstances from which He could not break free. Jesus could have turned back at any point and called a halt to the whole unjust ordeal. He did not lose His life; He gave it. The pain and suffering was not thrust upon Him; He willingly accepted it ? for us.
After Jesus was flogged the Roman soldiers took Him and humiliated Him in front of everyone. In Matthew 27:27-31 we read,
27Then the governor?s soldiers took Jesus into the Praetorium and gathered the whole company of soldiers around him. 28They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, 29and 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. 30They spit on him, and took the staff and struck him on the head again and again. 31After they had mocked him, they took off the robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him away to crucify him. (Matthew 27:27-31 NIV)
Jesus had to walk the long path to Golgotha carrying His own cross. He carried the crossbeam which was called the patibulum, and weighed about 100 pounds. After such a brutal beating in which He undoubtedly lost an extreme amount of blood and strength Jesus was unable to carry the crossbeam all the way to Golgotha so a man name Simon of Cyrene carried it part of the way.
They took Jesus up on the hill called Golgotha, laid Him on the beam and nailed His hands and feet to the wood. When the large nails, approximately six inches long, pierced His wrists between the carpal bones of His wrist, the nervous system of our Lord went into spasms causing His whole body to convulse. This was caused because two very sensitive nerves, the median and ulna nerves run right through the wrist into the hand. When they raised the cross into the air and dropped it into the ground, the weight of Jesus? body caused His arms to dislocate from His shoulders and lengthen, causing Him tremendous, excruciating pain.
Hanging on the cross, naked, and humiliated our Lord suffered the most painful death known to the ancient world. Jesus was unable to breath because of the weight of His body pulling down on His chest cavity. His chest stayed in an exhale position and so He had to lift His body up by pushing up on His feet, which had been nailed to the cross. It was a pain that was beyond description?excruciating pain. The word, ?excruciating? itself comes from the Latin words which means, ?Out of the cross.?
Marcus Tullius Cicero, the famous Roman orator said, ?Even the mere word, ?cross,? must remain far not only from the lips of the citizens of Rome, but also from their thoughts, their eyes, their ears.? (Marcus Tullius Cicero, Pro Rabirio, V.16.)
Dr. Truman Davis describes what happens to the human body after a short time of exposure on the cruel Roman cross.
As the arms fatigue, great waves of cramps sweep over the muscles, knotting them in deep relentless, throbbing pain. With these cramps comes the inability to push himself upward. Hanging by His arms, the pectoral muscles are paralyzed and the intercostal muscles are unable to act. Air can be drawn into the lungs, but cannot be exhaled. Jesus fights to raise Himself in order to get even one short breath. Finally, carbon dioxide builds up in the lungs and in the bloodstream and the cramps partially subside. Spasmodically, he is able to push Himself upward to exhale and bring in the life-giving oxygen. (Davis, C. Truman. The Crucifixion of Jesus. P 186.)
Jesus was moving up and down, struggling to gain a breath of air to prolong the agony. Jesus was rhythmically moving up and down in spite of the excruciating pain being caused by a lack of oxygen and the continual pulsating pain of nerves severed and screaming out for relief. Can anyone doubt the love of our Lord? Who could ever say, ?Doesn?t God know the pain I am in??
I could not share with you the ordeal of the cross without also sharing with you the words which were spoken from that torturous tree. While the soldiers were dividing up Jesus? clothes on the ground, Jesus looked down and said, (34) ?Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.? (Luke 23:34 NIV) While Jesus hung on the cross He was mocked not only by the soldiers, but also by one of the criminals who hung alongside Him. The criminal said, (39) ?Aren?t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!? (Luke 23:39 NIV) The other criminal was outraged at what he said and cried out, (40) ??Don?t you fear God,? he said, ?since you are under the same sentence? (41) We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.? (42) Then he said, ?Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.? (43) Jesus answered him, ?I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.? Finally, at the ninth hour, which is about 3:00 pm, Jesus cried out with a loud voice, ?Eloi, Eloi, lama sabach-thani?? which Mark tells us, means, ?My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?? (Mark 15:34 NIV) Shortly after Jesus died and darkness covered the whole land, a centurion stood in front of the body of Jesus and said, ?Surely this man was the Son of God!? (Mark 15:39 NIV) Surely this man was right!
The phrase, ?My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?? spoken from the lips of Jesus while He was hanging on the cross has always puzzled folks. Did God really turn His back on Jesus? Did God forsake Jesus? These questions have been raised by many folks. The phrase that Jesus spoke is a direct quote from Psalm 22 which was written by King David about 1000 years before Jesus? crucifixion. The Psalm is the most powerful portrayal of the crucifixion of the Messiah found in the Hebrew Bible. Take a look with me at a portion of this great Psalm.
1 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning? 2 O my God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, and am not silent. 3 Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One; you are the praise of Israel. 4 In you our fathers put their trust; they trusted and you delivered them. 5 They cried to you and were saved; in you they trusted and were not disappointed. 6 But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by men and despised by the people. 7 All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads: 8 ?He trusts in the LORD; let the LORD rescue him. Let him deliver him, since he delights in him.? 9 Yet you brought me out of the womb; you made me trust in you even at my mother?s breast. 10 From birth I was cast upon you; from my mother?s womb you have been my God? 23 You who fear the LORD, praise him! All you descendants of Jacob, honor him! Revere him, all you descendants of Israel! 24 For he has not despised or disdained the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help. 25 From you comes the theme of my praise in the great assembly; before those who fear you will I fulfill my vows. 26 The poor will eat and be satisfied; they who seek the LORD will praise him?may your hearts live forever! 27 All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the LORD, and all the families of the nations will bow down before him, 28 for dominion belongs to the LORD and he rules over the nations. 29 All the rich of the earth will feast and worship; all who go down to the dust will kneel before him?those who cannot keep themselves alive. 30 Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord. 31 They will proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn?for he has done it. (Psalm 22 NIV)
If the story ended here we would have a wonderful story of a hero who died for those He loved, but we would not have a solution to our most severe problem?sin. Praise God that Jesus didn?t stay in the tomb, but that He arose from the grave! The evidence for the truth of this fact is more than substantial, it is overwhelming. Let?s take a look.
After Jesus died, Joseph of Arimathea got permission to take Jesus? body and bury it. Joseph took the body and prepared it for burial according to Jewish custom. The Jewish custom was to wash the body with warm water and then wrap it in linen cloth and spices. The spices used for Jesus? burial weighed between 75 and 95 pounds. The aromatic spices were composed of a fragrant wood pounded into a dust know as aloes. They were mixed with a gummy substance known as myrrh. Starting at the feet, they would wrap the armpits, put the arms down, and then wrap the body to the neck. A separate piece was wrapped around the head.
After the body was prepared and placed on a stone table in the burial chamber, a large stone was rolled down into a groove dug out at the entrance to the cave so that no one might disturb the place of Jesus? burial. Both Matthew and Mark describe the stone as being extremely large. The stone could be rolled into place by simply giving it a push, but moving it out of the entrance to the tomb would be a different story since one would have to move it up the hill which it rolled down to seal the tomb. Dr. T.J. Thorburn says about the stone,
It usually required several men to remove it. Since the one rolled to the entrance of Jesus? tomb was intended to prevent an expected theft, it was probably even larger than what would normally have been used! (Thorburn, Thomas James. The Resurrection Narratives and Modern Criticism. London: Kegan Paul, Trubner & Co. Ltd. , 1910, p.97-98.)
There were unusual precautions taken to prevent anyone from stealing the body of Jesus because the Pharisees and Jewish leaders felt that the disciples might take the body and tell people that Jesus had risen from the dead. In Matthew 27:62-66 we read,
62The next day, the one after Preparation Day, the chief priests and the Pharisees went to Pilate. 63?Sir,? they said, ?we remember that while he was still alive that deceiver said, ?After three days I will rise again.? 64So give the order for the tomb to be made secure until the third day. Otherwise, his disciples may come and steal the body and tell the people that he has been raised from the dead. This last deception will be worse than the first.? 65?Take a guard,? Pilate answered. ?Go, make the tomb as secure as you know how.? 66So they went and made the tomb secure by putting a seal on the stone and posting the guard. (Matthew 27:62-66 NIV)
Professor D.D. Whedon says, ?The door could not be opened, therefore, without breaking the seal; which was a crime against the authority of the proprietor of the seal.? (Whedon, D.D. Commentary of the Gospels Matthew-Mark. Vol.9 New York: Hunt and Eaton, 1888. p.343)
Not only was the extra precaution of placing a seal on the stone taken, but also a Roman guard was set in front of the stone to guard it so that if anyone did dare break the seal the guards could take care of them. The Roman guard was a fierce fighting machine. The unit was a 4-16 man security force. Each man was trained to protect six feet of ground. Normally they secured their position by placing 4 men immediately in front of what they were to protect. The other men were asleep in a semi-circle in front of them with their heads pointing in. To steal what these guards were protecting, thieves would first have to walk over those who were asleep. Every four hours, another unit of four was awakened, and those who had been awake went to sleep. T.G. Tucker writes about the Roman soldier.
Over his breast, and with flaps over the shoulders, he will wear a corset of leather covered with hoop-like layers, or maybe scales, of iron or bronze. On his head will be a plain pot-like helmet, or skull cap, of iron. In his right hand he will carry the famous Roman pike. This is a stout weapon, over 6 feet in length, consisting of a sharp iron head fixed in a wooden shaft, and the soldier may either charge with it as a bayonet, or he may hurl it like a javelin and then fight at close quarters with his sword. On the left arm is a shield, which may be of various shapes. The shield is not only carried by means of a handle, but maybe supported by a belt over the right shoulder. In order to be out of the way of the shield, the sword?a thrusting, rather than a slashing weapon, approaching 3 feet in length?is hung at the right side by a belt passing over the left shoulder?On the left side, the soldier wears a dagger at his girdle. (Tucker, T.G. Life in the Roman World of Nero and St. Paul. London: Macmillan & Co., Ltd., 1910. p. 340-342)
I think the disciples would have had a tough time whipping the Roman guards and taking the body of Jesus from the tomb. What really happened was that the stone was rolled away, the guards ran off, the tomb was empty, and salvation came at last! Anyone who didn?t believe could have just walked out from Jerusalem to the grave of Jesus and seen for themselves that He had risen. The lives of the disciples were changed. Every one of them except for one died a martyr?s death because they were so convinced of Jesus? resurrection that they were willing to face the executioner rather than to denounce their Lord and God.
The troubling words of Psalm 22 which I read earlier are concluded in verses 22-31 with great words of victory which describe the conquering death of our Lord. Take a look.
22 I will declare your name to my brothers; in the congregation I will praise you. 23 You who fear the LORD, praise him! All you descendants of Jacob, honor him! Revere him, all you descendants of Israel! 24 For he has not despised or disdained the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help. 25 From you comes the theme of my praise in the great assembly; before those who fear you will I fulfill my vows. 26 The poor will eat and be satisfied; they who seek the LORD will praise him?may your hearts live forever! 27 All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the LORD, and all the families of the nations will bow down before him, 28 for dominion belongs to the LORD and he rules over the nations. 29 All the rich of the earth will feast and worship; all who go down to the dust will kneel before him?those who cannot keep themselves alive. 30 Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord. 31 They will proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn?for he has done it. (Psalm 22:22-31 NIV)
He is alive! He is alive! He has done it! Death did not overcome Him? The grave could not hold Him down! The seal was broken! Sin?s hold on humanity was loosed! The stone was rolled away! The tomb trembled! The Son of Man rose from the grave and He is alive!
A man was going down a street when in a store window he saw a very beautiful picture of the crucifixion. As he gazed spellbound at the vividly pictured story, he suddenly became aware that at his side stood a young boy. The boy, too, was gazing at the picture, and his tense expression made the man know that ?The Crucifixion? had really gripped the eager little boy. Touching the boy on the shoulder, the man said, ?Son, what does it mean?? ?Doncha know?? he answered, his face full of the marvel of the man?s ignorance. ?That there man is Jesus, an? them others is Roman soldiers, an? the woman what?s cryin? is His mother, an? he added, ?they killed ?im.?
The man did not want to move from in front of that impressive piece of artwork but he had other things he had to do, so he turned and walked away. In a few moments he heard footsteps on the streets behind him, and there came rushing up the boy. ?Say, mister,? he exclaimed breathlessly, ?I forgot to tell you, but He rose again!?
I don?t want anyone to leave this place this morning without knowing that He rose again! He rose again! Don?t let the pain and misery of Calvary?s cruel cross cloud your eyes?He rose again!!
Jesus overcame sin. We are free at last! Praise God for loosing the chains of sin by the sacrifice of Jesus on Calvary?s cross. I hope you will not let this day pass you by without falling on your knees and asking Calvary?s King to come into your heart and be your Savior.