The Crucifixion

“Many bulls have compassed me:
strong bulls of Bashan have beset me round.
13They open wide their mouths at me,
like a ravening and roaring lion.
14I am poured out like water,
and all my bones are out of joint;
my heart is like wax;
it is melted within my breast;
15my strength is dried up like a potsherd,
and my tongue sticks to my jaws;
you lay me in the dust of death.
16For dogs encompass me;
a company of evildoers encircles me;
they have pierced my hands and feet—
17I can count all my bones—
they stare and gloat over me;
18they divide my garments among them,
and for my clothing they cast lots.”
                                             —Ps. 22:12-18 (cf. Jn. 19:17-24)

Psalm 22 has an amazing amount of parallels with Jesus’ experience on the cross on Good Friday. It says he is surrounded by rough enemies that want to harm him (v. 12), he is attacked by their words (v. 13), he is exhausted and close to death (v. 14), he experiences fatal dehydration (v. 15), his hands and feet are pierced (v. 16), his bony frame is exposed (v. 17), and his garments are divided and cast lots for (v. 18 cf. Matt. 27:35).[1]

Reading this Psalm you almost expect David to say something close to “Father, forgive them”[2] because the account of Jesus’ crucifixion is foreshadowed so many times (see also Ps. 69:4, 9, 21). Instead, in somewhat of a parallel passage to this Psalm and in great contrast to Jesus, David calls for God’s burning anger to overtake his enemies (69:24), he pleads that God would “add to them punishment upon punishment” (v. 27), and that they would be “blotted out of the book of the living” and “not be enrolled among the righteous” (v. 28).

Messiah Jesus instead Himself receives punishment upon punishment, His life is blotted out, and He joins the unrighteous on a cursed cross (see Is. 53:9 and Matt. 27:38) to save His enemies, those who are far from Him. Jesus is the perfect lamb of God, the lamb without blemish, that takes away the sin of the world (Jn. 1:29; 1 Pet. 1:19).[3]

Crucifixion is undoubtedly one of the most gruesome forms of torture and death humans have ever invented.[4] So, it makes sense that a crucified messiah would seem a contradiction in terms to anyone, Jew, Greek, Roman or barbarian, asked to believe such a claim, and it will certainly have been thought offensive and foolish.[5] That’s what the Apostle Paul himself said (1 Cor. 1:18, 23).

However, it is when Jesus’ hands are pierced and His hands affixed to the cross, when He is cursed (Gal. 3:13 cf. Deut. 21:23), that He able to more powerfully reach and bless the world. “They are the hands of a wonderful Architect who is building the frame of an eternal church.” And it is when Jesus’ feet are pierced and He is fixed immobile to the cross that He crushes Satan under His heel (cf. Gen. 3:15).

It is when Jesus’ hands are pierced as prophesied and through His posture on the cross that He welcomes sinners from every nation, tongue, and tribe.    

Reflections

  • The book of Zechariah was written in approximately 518 BC and look at what it says: “I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy, so that, when they look on me, on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn” (Zech. 12:10) then later it says, “On that day there shall be a fountain opened for the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and uncleanness” (13:1).
  • In the midst of the struggles and psychological storms of life, the cross of Christ is a column of strength and stability. It screams out to us in our fog: “I love you!” The cross is the lighthouse to our storm-tossed souls.

Prayer

Father, we thank You that Jesus bore our sin on the tree. We know that His sacrifice demands that we live wholly for Him, so help us to do that. We ask this in His name. Amen.

________

[1] Timothy Keller points out some of these in The Songs of Jesus: A Year of Daily Devotions in the Psalms, 38. He also points out along with other commentaries that David never had anything like this happen to him. Michael Licona lists eight ways Christians have seen Jesus’ crucifixion in Ps. 22 (Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus, 310).

[2] Kidner, Psalms 1-72, 266.

[3] The form of execution by which Jesus died links to idea of human sacrifice more than any other. Hengel, Crucifixion John Bowden trans. (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1977), 87. Surely the early disciples came to see parallels with the suffering servant of Isaiah 53. Truly Paul echoes Isaiah 53 (cf. esp. v. 11) in 1 Corinthians 5:21.

[4] All the Gospels have a similar, brief statement (on crucifixion, see notes on Matt. 27:35; Mark 15:24; John 18:32). Blomberg, Matthew, 416. “It is noteworthy that Matthew dismisses in a single word one of the most dreadful ways of dying people have ever devised… In this he is doing the same as the writers of the other Gospels; as we noticed early, none of them tries to harrow the feelings of his readers by going into detail about ‘what pains he had to bear.’ Popular Christian piety through the ages has not followed this example… What for the New Testament writers was that in his death Jesus dealt with our sins; they try to bring out the meaning of his death and leave their readers to work out for themselves that crucifixion was such a painful way of dying” (Morris, Matthew, 715). It could also be that many of the original readers of the Gospels were familiar with the agony of crucifixion because they had seen people crucified that it was not necessary to recount. I do agree, however, that the accent should not be on the pain of Messiah Jesus but on the purpose for which He suffered and died.

[5] Martin Hengel, Crucifixion, 10. See also Ibid., 61-62, and esp. 89. Justin Martyr Apology I ch. 13. Also the Alexamenos graffito shows how foolish many thought it was to worship one that had been crucified. The graffiti depicts a Christian worshiping an image of a man on a cross with a donkey head. A crucified man from Nazareth did not at first fit Paul’s description of the Messiah, let alone his understanding of monotheism. Paul would have related to Peter when he said, “Far be it from me Lord” that you should suffer (Matt. 16:22 cf. 2 Sam. 7:13, 16; 1 Chron. 17:14; 22:10; Ps. 89:4, 29, 36-37 110:4; Is. 9:7; Ezek. 37:25). Paul with Peter and many others were looking for the One that would deliverer them from oppression, not be delivered into oppression (see again the confusion of the time in John 12:32-34 cf. 3:14; 8:28). Even Simeon saw “the consolation of Israel” and it was revealed to him by the Spirit that Jesus was the Christ (Luke 2:25-26), yet he would not have thought that “salvation” (v. 30) and glory to Israel (v. 32) would have came through the Messiah being cut off.

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About Paul O'Brien

I am a lot of things; saint and sinner. I struggle and I strive. I am a husband and father of three. I have been in pastoral ministry for 9 years. I went to school at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary but most of my schooling has been at the School of Hard Knocks. I have worked various jobs, including pheasant farmer, toilet maker, construction worker, and I served in the military. My wife and I enjoy reading at coffee shops, taking walks, hanging out with friends and family, and watching our three kid's antics. :)

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