Jesus Christ died an agonizing death so you could be reconciled to God. How should Jesus' incredible sacrifice affect you?
On a hot, stifling day in July, 1941, a prisoner escaped from his labor detail at Auschwitz, the Nazi concentration camp in Poland. The camp commander warned that 10 men from the escaped prisoner's 600-man cell block would die in reprisal if he were not found. He was not. All the next day, the remaining prisoners from the cell block stood at attention. At 6 p.m. the camp commander, Col. Fritsch, announced that the fugitive had not been caught. The selection process began. Ten times he stopped, pointed and spoke a single word: "You!" The condemned men were shoved forward by the guards. One man, a Polish soldier, pleadingly cried out: "My wife! My poor children!" As the 10 men were standing in formation, ready to be marched off to an underground cell to die by starvation, an 11th man, Maximilian Kolbe, came forward and unselfishly asked to take the place of the Polish soldier who had cried out. The camp commander was astonished but, apparently satisfied by Kolbe's offer, accepted the request. Maximilian Kolbe died as a martyr. A remarkable story, isn't it — a touching account of one man's love for another. It stirs the depths of human emotion. How much more remarkable is the death of Jesus Christ! What kind of feelings are stirred within you when you contemplate Jesus' sufferings on your behalf? Are you deeply aware of the One who volunteered to die for you? What does His death mean to you personally? How much do you appreciate what He endured on your behalf? Just as those soldiers were assigned to die, we, too, face certain death without Jesus Christ (Rom. 3:23, 6:23). And just as one of those soldiers was given a reprieve by Maximilian Kolbe's heroic sacrifice, all humanity — not just one person — has hope of eternal life through Jesus who offered Himself (Rom. 5:9-11). Yet how often do we fail to deeply comprehend and think about the death of Jesus Christ? The hectic, mind-dulling pace of everyday life overwhelms us. We're kept busy, often selfishly pursuing our own interests. Jesus does not take a central place in our thinking — He is forgotten along with other past events. It seems our primary focus is on ourselves. That is one reason we need the Passover. It is a memorial — a reminder — of Jesus' sacrifice, a time to deeply ponder our Savior, the relationship we should have toward Him and the life we must live as true Christians.
Determined from creation
Turn your thoughts to the time of the foundation of this world nearly 6,000 years ago, the very time of humanity's creation. Adam and Eve, the first humans, chose to sin — rebel against God's way of life — almost immediately. It was then that Jesus Christ chose to die for humanity — He was "slain from the foundation of the world" (Rev. 13:8). Think about what this means: Jesus lived with the thought of His impending death for thousands of years. We can only attempt to identify with some of His thoughts as He waited for the time to begin His mission. It must have been difficult thinking about becoming human — facing hostile people, being tempted by Satan and then suffering crucifixion, one of the most hideous forms of death. Yet, Jesus bore those thoughts for you! What was it like to become human? For us, it is a blessing we go from being nothing to being something. But Jesus had to give up His existence as a member of the God Family, give up His glory and power, divest Himself of being spirit and run the risk of failing. Don't think for a moment it was easy: "Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a servant, and coming in the likeness of men. "And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross" (Phil. 2:5-8). Saying farewell to the One who would become His Father must have been hard. A bond of closeness that had existed for eons had to be broken. For the Father, it meant giving up the only other member of the God Family and allowing Him to live a life of hardship and trial until He died in agony. This act itself was a deep expression of God the Father's love for us (John 3:16). What a humbling experience — the Creator being part of the creation! He had to become a fetus in His mother's womb and be born in a stable. From this abased beginning, Jesus grew to manhood. All the while, He obeyed the Father, preaching the Gospel, healing the sick and casting out demons. Through Him, disciples were called and trained for their important mission. Finally, everything required of Jesus during His human life was fulfilled. From His preaching to living a sinless life, Jesus had done the job perfectly. At age 33, after a three-and-one-half-year ministry, He was now ready for the most grueling experience of His life — an experience He surely didn't deserve. But He willingly accepted death for you, looking to the future joy He would experience when you are in His Family enjoying the benefits of eternal life (Heb. 12:2). Jesus knew that God would have no spiritual progeny unless His blood were shed first. Now Jesus was prepared to do what no mortal human could. What were the events of that final day in Jesus Christ's life like? Let's look backward nearly 2,000 years and relive, hour by hour, one of the most momentous days in history.
The fateful evening
God reckons days from sunset to sunset (Lev. 23:32). Jesus began the last day of His human life at sundown the end of Tuesday, April 24, A.D. 31. It was the time of the celebration of the Passover, when the people killed the Passover lamb in remembrance of the first Passover kept in Egypt, when the firstborn children of Israel were spared from death. After the meal, Jesus washed the disciples' feet, leaving them an example of humility and picturing that His sacrifice would wash them of their sins. Then He introduced bread and wine as new symbols to the Passover. Taking some bread, He broke it and said, "Take, eat; this is My body." Taking a cup of wine, He said: "Drink from it, all of you. For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins" (Matt. 26:26-28). These symbols signify the meaning of Jesus' death. After talking awhile with His disciples, giving them final instruction and encouragement, Jesus went to pray. His impending death began to weigh heavily on Him and cause great mental anguish. Thoughts of suffering tormented His mind. Could He endure the humiliation and pain? Was the manner of His death really necessary? His prayers to H is Father reveal how He really felt at that moment: "He went a little farther, and fell on the ground, and prayed that if it were possible, the hour might pass from Him. And He said, 'Abba, Father, all things are possible for You. Take this cup away from Me; nevertheless, not what I will, but what You will'" (Mark 14:35-36). "And being in agony, He prayed more earnestly. And His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground" (Luke 22:44). Jesus' intense communication with God the Father ultimately bridled His human emotion and left Him prepared for His forthcoming ordeal.
Arrest and trial
Near midnight the opportunity for privacy vanished. In the distance Jesus heard shuffling footsteps and muffled voices break the still of the night air. Soon the light from many torches cast a flickering glow on the face of Judas the betrayer as he arrived from the chief priests and Pharisees with soldiers and officers. Seizing Jesus, they bound Him and took Him to the home of Annas, father-in-law of Caiaphas, the high priest that year, and then to Caiaphas himself (John 18:13, 24). There testimony was brought against Jesus, but it was both false and contradictory — outright lies. Finally, two false witnesses proclaimed that Jesus said He was able to destroy the Temple of God and build it in three days. Caiaphas, arising in anger, questioned Jesus: "Well, what about it? Did you say that or didn't you?" Jesus kept silence. "Answer the question! Are you the Christ?" Still no answer. "I adjure You by the living God that You tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God." Jesus replied: "It is as you said. Nevertheless, I say to you, hereafter you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven." Furiously ripping his clothes, Caiaphas yelled loudly: "Blasphemy! Blasphemy! Why do we need any further witnesses? You have heard His blasphemy! What is your verdict?" The chief priests and members of the Sanhedrin, now further incited by Caiaphas, agreed that Christ must be put to death. What a travesty of justice! Christ, the perfect human being, sinless and filled with love, sentenced to die for being the Son of God! Yet such was the rage of men who, professing to know God, became the instruments of Satan. Exploding in anger, a priest slapped Jesus on the head, then spit in His face. Others joined him, casting verbal insults and striking Jesus' body and spitting in His face. One ruggedly built officer doubled up his fist and sent it mercilessly into Jesus' stomach. Jesus collapsed to His knees in pain, but someone else jerked Him upright. Blood began to mix with spittle and run down Jesus' face and body. The group decided to taunt Jesus further. They blindfolded Him and then took turns striking Him, asking: "Who hit you, prophet? Tell us!" Jesus' punishment continued for hours. As dawn neared, the chief priests and elders discussed putting Jesus to death- (Matt. 26:59-68, 27:1).
Before the Roman authorities
As the rays of the sun filled the morning skies, Jesus was marched off to Pilate for the official Roman verdict (Matt. 27:2). Surely, the religious authorities thought, Pilate would be quick to order His death. As Jesus stood before the Roman procurator, false accusations were raised against Him. Jesus was ruining the nation, Jesus was encouraging people not to pay taxes — the charges went on and on. But Pilate was not convinced. He answered, "I find no fault in this man." Tensions mounted between Jesus' accusers and Pilate. Then Pilate discovered Jesus was from Galilee. Here was a way out of the situation, Pilate thought. He ordered: "Send Him to Herod in Jerusalem. He has jurisdiction — let him pass judgment!" Herod was pleased by the opportunity to see Jesus. He had heard many things about Him and wished to see a miracle. Yet Jesus maintained His silence, unwilling to perform a miracle or answer questions at all. How could anyone defy Herod? He ordered that Jesus be dressed in a beautiful robe, and then Herod and his soldiers began mocking the One who is King of kings and Lord of lords. Though he had humiliated Jesus, Herod was not eager to deal further with Him and so sent Him back to Pilate (Luke 23:1-11). Pilate by now perceived that the chief priests and elders had delivered Jesus to him out of envy (Mark 15:10). Therefore, he was ready to release Jesus from custody. Since it was the custom for a prisoner to be released at this time of year, he felt this could easily be accomplished. But he was wrong! While Christ was with Herod, the chief priests had not been idle. They had continued their false accusations, inciting the people against Christ. So when Pilate offered to release a prisoner, they chose Barabbas, a convicted murderer. Surprised by their choice, he asked their desire regarding Jesus. The answer came back loud and clear: "Crucify Him!" "But what evil has he done?" queried Pilate. The only answer from the crowd came in frenzied chants that grew louder and louder: "Crucify Him! Crucify Him!" (Mark 15:6-15). Pilate felt trapped between his feelings that Jesus was innocent and of wanting to placate the people who might undermine his rulership. He asked for a basin of water. Standing before the crowd, he washed his hands, saying: "I am innocent of the blood of this just Person. You see to it" (Matt. 27:24). Christ, swollen and beaten, weary and humiliated, was now ordered to face scourging and crucifixion, one of the most painful and ignominious forms of death ever devised by the Satan-inspired minds of humans. The awful scenario probably unfolded in the following manner.
The agony of scourging
A burly, well-trained Roman soldier was called to administer the scourging. He had learned to be cold and brutal and was hardened to suffering. Armed with a whip-like instrument consisting of several leather thongs reinforced with chunks of metal in the tips, he stood by the already pain-wracked body of Christ. Carefully he positioned himself. The air cracked with the sound of the scourge, then Jesus felt incredible pain when struck. Blow upon blow tore away at His once powerful body, as He cried out in agony. Soon the prophecy of Isaiah was fulfilled: " Just as many were astonished at you, so His visage was marred more than any man, and His form more than the sons of men" (Isa. 52:14). So savage was this horrible beating that Jesus' very bones began to be torn out of joint and exposed (Ps. 22:14, 17)! With His tongue thick and dry in His throbbing head, blinded and beaten severely, Jesus awaited the next event in suffering death for you and me. It was soon to come. Sensing that Christ was nearing death, the soldier stopped the scourging. His tormentors replaced His clothes with a scarlet robe and twisted a crown from thorns and mockingly jammed it upon His head. They placed a reed, a mocking symbol of rulership, in His right hand. The soldiers began kneeling and saying, "Hail, King of the Jews." Then they wrenched the reed from His hand and used it to strike His head. Spittle again covered His face. The humiliation was nearly complete. Though Jesus had been badly disfigured, the soldiers led Him into the street before the people. Many were shocked at the sight. Weakened, Jesus was unable to carry the stake thrust upon Him. Collapsing under its weight, He struck the dirty stone street. "Get up!" yelled the soldiers. "Kings don't grovel!" they laughed. Simon of Cyrene, standing nearby, was ordered to carry the stake. Slowly they made their way to Golgotha, "the place of the skull," a hill just outside the city (Matt. 27:26-33). Jesus was now to experience one of the most horrible forms of death ever devised.
Death by crucifixion
The soldiers nailed Jesus to the stake and raised it into an upright position. The marred body of the Savior of humanity hung limply silhouetted against the blue skies. The scorching sun beat upon Jesus' body. Infection from the scourging, the beatings and nails in His hands and feet began to fester. Insects swarmed Him, attracted by the open wounds. Jesus Christ our Lord was wracked with terrible pain. Yet His tormentors continued jeering, wagging their heads, laughing and shouting epithets. "He can save others," they scoffed, "but not Himself!" (Matt. 27:39-44). Though His body was torn, Jesus managed to utter words that revealed His perfect character: "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do" (Luke 23:34). Grueling hours of terrible suffering passed. At about 3 o'clock (Matt. 27:45), Wednesday, April 25, A.D. 31, the sky darkened — Jesus' death was near. At long last Jesus had reached the point He knew thousands of years earlier that He would have to face alone. Nearly 4,000 years had passed since humanity's sins forced Christ to deny humans access to His Spirit (Gen. 3:24). In His mind He knew He would have to bridge the gap created by the sins of the generations that followed Adam and the generations that would follow His death. The agony of being cut off from God while bearing our sins (Isa. 59:2, II Cor. 5:21) caused Him to cry out, "'Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?' that is, 'My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?'" (Matt. 27:46). Crushed and drained, Jesus gasped for breath. His throat parched, He asked for a drink. A sponge filled with vinegar was raised to His lips. Yearning for moisture, He gulped at the sponge only to have His mouth bittered by the vile liquid. Just after that, a leering soldier savagely thrust a spear into Jesus' side. From the hideous wound poured water and blood. And then, with a final agonized scream, Jesus Christ died (Matt. 27:50). He had lived a perfect life. But on this final day of His life He endured ridicule and incredible punishment at the hand of Jews and gentiles for a very special reason: He wants you in His Family! He wants you to live in eternity. He suffered and was forsaken for you — for your sins.
How should you react?
How should Jesus Christ's sacrifice affect you? What change should it make in your life? Shouldn't it make a dramatic change in you — a life-altering change? On the day of Pentecost following Christ's death, the inspired apostle Peter made it clear: We all killed Christ. Realizing this, Peter's listeners were affected both intellectually and emotionally. They asked, "What shall we do?" (Acts 2:36-37). Peter gave the answer: "Repent, and let everyone of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit" (verse 38). Repentance means changing. It means turning from sin. It means living for God's will, not your will (I Pet. 4:1-2). This is our reasonable service: "I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. "And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God" (Rom. 12:1-2). As we approach the Passover season, we need to deeply consider the sacrifice of Jesus Christ and our spiritual lives. How much do we appreciate Christ's sacrifice? How much do we live to perform God's will? Do we rely upon His example to resist sin (Heb. 12:3)? Trials sometimes overwhelm us. Thoughts of injustice (" That's not right!") and self-pity ("Why me?") often arise, resulting in wrong attitudes. When this happens to you, think about Christ, who suffered far greater injustices and immense physical anguish, and yet kept a right attitude. By doing this you can see your trial in a new light and maintain a Christ-like attitude.
Live for Christ
The death of Maximilian Kolbe had a profound effect on the man he saved, Francis Gajowniczak. At first he wept and refused to eat. Then a friend said: "Take hold of yourself! Is the man to die for nothing?" In that moment, Gajowniczak made up his mind he must live. He decided that he must not waste the gift of life given him. With newfound determination he survived those grim years in Auschwitz. What about you? Will the death of Jesus Christ give you newfound determination and drive to live — not for self, but for Him? Will this Passover help you endure the trials and tests of life? Will it enable you to survive — not Auschwitz, but this modern Babylon? If so, then Christ's death will not be in vain for you. It will be of great value — value that will culminate in your eternal life!