Mexico has seen a wave of gang violence that involves the beheading of rivals and enemies. These barbaric acts are used by the gangs to tell everyone that it is their cartel that rules. People better pay attention.
The Romans used crucifixion to bring terror to local populations. It said in loud and frightening tones, ‘Caesar rules’.
The cross was an instrument of death made of two wooden beams formed into a t-shape. Victims were brutally whipped and forced to carry the crossbeam to the scene of their own torture and death. The victim was then stripped naked, laid on the ground with the cross beam beneath his shoulders and tied or nailed to the beam. Once this was done the cross beam was lifted and secured to the upright post which had been driven into the ground, keeping the victim's feet clear of the ground. The victim was left to die of hunger and exhaustion.
The crucifixion of Jesus is central to Christianity. Jesus is the incarnate Son of God. God, in Christ, experiences death in the most brutal and distressing way. Reading the Bible we realise this was no accident or misfortune but a fulfilment of God’s loving purpose to rescue us from the power and consequences of our sin: all our pride, greed, self-righteousness, anger and bitterness; our failure to love God and love others. Christ died for our sins. It is through the cross, as the punishment due to us falls on the innocent Son of God, that we are rescued from the power of sin and restored to a relationship with our Father in heaven.
In the Old Testament, we see that the death of the Son of God was predicted long before it happened. A famous example of this is Psalm 22, written 1000 years before Jesus was born.
Dogs surround me,
a pack of villains encircles me;
they pierce my hands and my feet.
17 All my bones are on display;
people stare and gloat over me.
18 They divide my clothes among them
and cast lots for my garment.
Through the death of Jesus, the meaning of crucifixion was turned on its head. The cross of crucifixion no longer says, ‘Caesar is Lord’, now it says, ‘Jesus is Lord.’ The cross used to speak of the power of death – it was the epitome of human suffering and pain. But now the cross, which is tellingly empty in protestant symbolism – speaks of life – that death could not hold Jesus: Christ is Saviour, Lord and Victor. We no longer need to live in fear of sin and death. The crucifixion tells us there is a new boss town. Jesus is Lord.
Rev. Neil MacMillan is the minister of Cornerstone in Edinburgh.