Beauty Burst Forth from Ugliness!

The amazing beauty of God’s love burst forth in the midst of the world’s deepest ugliness!

Here is the ugliness: The crucifixion of Jesus.

Bruce Larson points out, “Crucifixion was invented by the Carthaginians and adopted by the Romans.  It was the most horrible manner of execution ever devised and it was used only for the lowest type of criminal.”

Cathleen Shrier gives a more thorough description of crucifixion’s ugliness: “The accused needed to be nailed to the patibulum [the horizontal piece] while lying down, so Jesus is thrown to the ground, reopening his wounds, grinding in dirt, and causing bleeding.  They nail his ‘hands’ to the patibulum.  The Greek meaning of ‘hands’ includes the wrists.  If the nails were driven into the hand, the weight of the arms would cause the nail to rip through the soft flesh.  Therefore, the upper body would not be held to the cross.  If placed in the wrist, the bones in the lower portion of the hand support the weight of the arm and the body remains nailed to the cross.  The huge nail damages or severs the major nerve to the hand (the median nerve) upon impact.  This causes continuous agonizing pain up both of Jesus’ arms.

“Once the victim is secured, the guards lift the patibulum and place it on the stipes [the vertical piece] already in the ground.  As it is lifted, Jesus’ full weight pulls down on his nailed wrists, and his shoulders and elbows dislocate.  In this position, Jesus’ arms stretch to a minimum of six inches longer than their original length.

“It is highly likely that Jesus’ feet were nailed through the tops as often pictured.  In this position, the weight of the body pushes down on the nails and the ankles support the weight.  The nails would not rip through the soft tissue as would have occurred with the hands.  Again, the nail would cause severe nerve damage and acute pain.

“Normally, to breathe in, the diaphragm must move down.  This enlarges the chest cavity and air automatically moves into the lungs (inhalation).  To exhale, the diaphragm rises up, which compresses the air in the lungs and forces the air out (exhalation).  As Jesus hangs on the cross, the weight of his body pulls down on the diaphragm and the air moves into his lungs and remains there.  Jesus must push up on his nailed feet (causing more pain) to exhale.

 “In order to speak, air must pass over the vocal cords during exhalation.  The Gospels note that Jesus spoke seven times from the cross.  It is amazing that despite his pain, he pushes up to say ‘Forgive them.’”

The physical torture of crucifixion was ugly, but the deeper ugliness was what Jesus’ crucifixion revealed about the depravity of human sin.  In Jesus’ crucifixion, the very worst attributes of humanity amassed together at the same place at the same time.  Cold-hearted injustice was inflicted upon the earth’s only truly innocent individual.  Hate was flung upon the One who is fully loving.  Bitterness was spit out upon the One who is merciful and forgiving.  A blind eye and deaf ear turned away from the One who listens intently to the imperceptible groaning of our souls.  People turned their backs on the One who gave his life for us.  The death knell of crucifixion rang upon the Giver of Life.

 Yet here is the beauty: The promise of forgiveness and restoration.

Even while soldiers strip away his clothes and gamble for them, and even as religious leaders mock him, Jesus battles the searing pain to rise up and pray aloud, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” 

Then the intense beauty of forgiveness burst forth in a personal display.  One of the criminals hanging near him cried out, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

Max Lucado observes, “A condemned criminal was sent to his death by his country.  In his final moments, he asked for mercy.  Had he asked for mercy from the people, it would have been denied.  Had he asked it of the government, it would have been declined.  Had he asked it of his victims, they would have turned a deaf ear.  But it wasn’t to these he turned for grace.  He turned instead to the bloodied form of the one who hung on the cross next to his and pleaded, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’  And Jesus answered by saying, ‘I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.’” (In the Grip of Grace, p. 41)

And the beauty that burst forth produced such an amazing splendor that it promised to carry through into eternity.  William Barclay points out, “When a Persian king wished to do one of his subjects a very special honor, he made him a companion of the garden which meant he was chosen to walk in the garden with the king.  It was more than immortality that Jesus promised the penitent thief.  He promised him the honored place of a companion of the garden in the courts of heaven.”

Because of what Jesus did on the cross, the beauty of forgiveness and restoration has forever overwhelmed and transformed the ugliness of sin and of death. 

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