Only rarely have modern scholars denied the death of Jesus upon a cross. Many have attacked the traditional beliefs in His resurrection from the tomb, (which we will examine next Sunday) but few deny Jesus died upon the Cross. The one who does is Barbara Thiering of Sydney. In "Jesus the Man" she gives her opinion: "Jesus did not die upon the cross. He recovered from the effects of the poison, was helped to escape from the tomb by friends, and stayed with them until he reached Rome, where he was present in AD 64. This is not conjecture, but comes from a reading of the text by the pesher method. Its basic assumption is that nothing supernatural took place." (p116)
The Pesher method is a means of giving texts another meaning hidden from ordinary eyes. Only gifted people have the ability to interpret the texts which are not apparent to others (p21). In the world of textual scholarship, is there support for this approach? Professor Edwin Yamauchi (Wilkins p221) states "The theories of such scholars like Thiering ... attract great media attention for a while, but cannot be taken seriously." Even Robert W Funk who heads the Jesus Seminar says: "The bare facts that Jesus was executed in Jerusalem on the authority of Pontius Pilate have stood up under close and repeated examination." (p220). There has been research on how much blame should be attributed to the Jews and the Jewish leaders. But there is growing acceptance of the accuracy of the Scriptures even by Jewish scholars. TIME magazine quotes Judaic studies professor Shaye J.D. Cohen of Brown University, saying the Jews have to accept the Christian beliefs and scriptures concerning his race's involvement.
He says Jewish tradition "had no trouble accepting the simple story that Jews executed Jesus as a sinner and a criminal, even to the extent of ignoring the role of the Romans." In modern times, Jews have adopted more favourable opinions about Jesus, just as Christians have worked to eradicate lingering antiSemitism. Cohen considers revisionism about the trial "pointless" because Jews cannot reasonably expect Christians to rewrite their Scriptures. Cohen himself thinks the Jewish leaders of the time did in fact decide to have Jesus killed. "Were their motives noble? I suppose they were. Did Jesus deserve to die? Probably not." (4.4.94) What is modern thinking about the Cross of Jesus Christ?
1. HOW DID JESUS DIE? Jesus predicted His coming crucifixion many times. (Mark 8:31; 9:31; 10:3334; John 3:14; 8:28; 12:3233). The narration of Jesus' crucifixion in the Gospels emphasised the Jewish leaders guilt, for the common people supported Jesus all along. Yet Roman guilt is also obvious for Roman customs were followed in the scourging, mock enthronement, bearing the crossbeam, and the crucifixion itself. The site on a hill and the size of the cross (the use of the hyssop reed to pass up a sponge for His thirst shows it was about nine feet high) showed their desire to display a "criminal."
2. WHERE DID JESUS DIE? In the 4th century, when the Emperor Constantine adopted Christianity, his mother, Helena, visited all the sites associated with the life of Jesus and built churches on them. Later Moslems turned the churches into mosques thus marking them permanently. Helena found the site of the crucifixion and the tomb of our Lord, covered by a pagan temple built by the Emperor Hadrian.
It had been built over Calvary to stop Christians praying there. In so doing they marked the spot. Helena had the temple demolished and a tomb was found beneath it. This was designated the tomb of Christ and the church built over it is known as the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. 30 metres away, a rocky outcrop is known as Calvary.
However, in 1883 General Charles Gordon, a notable British General and Bible student, visited Jerusalem and noted a low cliff just outside the city gates. The world Calvary means "skull" and this cliff face looked like a skull. Nearby is a first century tomb. General Gordon asked friends to purchase this garden as a memorial to the death of Christ. This is the "Garden Tomb" and "Gordon's Calvary". This is a good tourist site but it is not the authentic site.
Is the historic site, inside the present walls, marked from the earliest days by temple, church and mosque, the authentic site of the death of Jesus? Professor James H Charlesworth declares "The most significant archaeological discovery for Jesus Research is the growing proof of the site of the crucifixion. Jesus was crucified just outside Jerusalem's walls." Archaeologists have not only discovered the foundations of the original walls showing the traditional site was outside the walls, but the foundations of Emperor Hadrian's Temple built over the site to stop Christians praying there! "These two major discoveries confirm in my opinion that the Church of the Holy Sepulchre houses the rock on which Jesus was crucified." (p124) Today, these two discoveries identify the site of the crucifixion and the burial tomb of Jesus!
3. IS THERE EVIDENCE OF CRUCIFIXION? Archaeological evidence of crucifixion has never been discovered - until 1968! The man discovered was a Jew, of a good family, convicted of a political crime, who lived in Jerusalem at the time of Jesus. He died before 70AD. The accidental archaeological discovery was made of a typical Jewish tomb blocked by a stone slab and containing a carved-out cave chamber, 10 feet square. On three sides of the chamber were stone benches and the fourth wall contained two openings leading down to another chamber. Each chamber contained burial niches called loculi. Nine of the 12 loculi contained a skeleton each, but three contained ossuaries. Ossuaries are small boxes (28 inches long, 20 inches wide and 16 inches high) for the secondary burial of bones. After the body had been buried for a year and the flesh decomposed, the bones were re-interred in an ossuary. This allowed a tomb to be re-used. These skeletons were of two generations of a wealthy family and of the seventeen people buried, one had been crucified. He was a 24 to 28 year old male.
A 7" nail held his heel bones together. The nail was preserved only because it hit a hard knot when it was pounded into the olive wood upright on a cross. The olive wood knot was so hard that, as the blows on the nail became heavier, the end of the nail bent and curled. Some olive wood remains on the end of the nail. When it came time for the dead victim to be removed from the cross, executioners could not pull out this nail curled in the wood. The only way to remove the body was to amputate the feet with an axe. The feet, the nail and a wooden plaque, the titulus on which was written the charge against him, remain attached to each other.
The nail had penetrated both heel bones. The crucified man was 5'6" (167 cm) tall. His limb bones were fine and slender. His muscles were lean, pointing to physical activity. Since the same nail went through both heels, the legs were together. The knees were bent. The long bones below the knees had been brutally fractured into large, sharp slivers produced by a single blow. Jewish tradition required burial before sunset. So the executioner would break the legs of the crucified person in order to hasten death. The arm bones of the victim revealed a deep scratch on the radius of the right forearm while the bone was living, just above the wrist produced by a nail penetrating between the radius and the ulna.
Christian paintings usually show the nails piercing the palms of Jesus' hands, but that is impossible. The weight of the slumping body would have torn the palms in a very short time. The nails were driven into the victim's wrists, because they are sufficiently strong to hold the weight of a slack body. We know his name. On the ossuary containing his bones were the words "Yehohanan, the son of Hagakol." ("Biblical Archaeology Review" Feb 1985).
Here is extraordinarily clear evidence of the nature of crucifixion. Christianity has as it's central symbol the Cross of Christ. The evidence is overwhelming.
4. THE MEANING OF CHRIST'S DEATH ON THE CROSS. Paul taught a theology of the cross that clearly predates him. He said his teaching on the death and resurrection of Christ was "received" and he "delivered" it to the Corinthians.
Paul taught that Jesus "died for our sins according to the Scriptures." For Paul the "word of the cross" (1 Cor 1:18) is the heart of the gospel, and the preaching of the cross is the soul of the church's mission. "Christ crucified" (1 Cor 1:23; 2:2; Gal 3:1) is the basis of our salvation and the central event in history, demonstrating God's control over human history. Paul contrasted the "foolishness of the preaching of the cross" with "human wisdom". Only in the cross can salvation be found and only in the foolish "preaching of the cross" and "weakness" can the "power of God" be seen (1 Cor 1:172:16).
Jesus as the lowly One achieved His glory by virtue of His suffering. Only the crucified One could become the risen One (1:2630). The cross is the basis of our salvation in Paul's epistles (Rom 3:2425; Eph 2:16; Col 1:20; 2:14), while the resurrection is stressed as the core in the Book of Acts (2:3336; 3:1921; 5:31). Romans 4:25 emphasises both: "He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification."
The reason for the distinction is the fact that Acts chronicles the preaching of the early church (with the resurrection as the apologetic basis of our salvation) and the epistles the teaching of the early church (with the crucifixion the theological basis of our salvation). When writing about what was accomplished on the Cross, the three major terms are: "redemption" stressing the ransom paid by Jesus' blood delivering us from sin (Titus 2:14; 1 Pet 1: 18); "propitiation" which refers to Jesus' death as satisfying God's righteous wrath (Rom 3:25; Heb 2:17); and "justification" picturing our acquittal from our guilt (Rom 3:24; 4:25; Gal 2:162; 3:24).
But the cross achieved more than salvation. It forged a new unity between Jew and Gentile by breaking down "the dividing wall of hostility making the two one." (Eph 2:1418). The cross made "peace" by creating new access to the Father. The cross "disarmed the demonic powers" and triumphed over Satan and his spiritual forces (Col 2:15). The cross was Satan's great error. He did not realise that the cross would prove his greatest defeat. He could only respond with frustrated rage, knowing that "his time is short" (Rev 12:12). Satan participated in his own undoing! (cf. Holman Bible Dictionary "Cross".)
On this day March 2nd, 1792, 205 years ago today, Rev John Wesley died. On his death bed his last statement was "The best of all is, God is with us." He had that assurance because he believed in what had been transacted between his soul and God because of what Jesus Christ did upon the cross, and in what God had accomplished through raising Him from the dead.
Consider that Jesus Christ was willing to die for your sins.
Jesus Christ was willing to shed His blood as a payment for your
sin. Jesus Christ was willing to be nailed there in your place
to bear your guilt. Then in complete commitment give yourself
to Him as Lord of your Life and the Saviour of your soul. He died
upon the Cross after fearful agony of body and soul for your sins.
Does He not draw you to His side? You can respond to Him in humble
faith, saying: "Lord Jesus, I know that you died for me.
I confess my sin. I ask that you will forgive me of my sin. I
accept you as Saviour and will live with you as Lord. Thank you
Lord." "Love so amazing, so divine,
demands my life, my soul, my all!"
REFERENCES USED IN THIS SERMON:
"Honest To Jesus" R W Funk, Hodder 1996
"Jesus The Man" Barbara Thiering, Doubleday, 1992
"Jesus Within Judaism" J H Charlesworth, SPCK 1988
"Jesus Under Fire" M.J.Wilkins, Zondervan,1995
"The Cross of Christ" John Stott, IVP, 1986
"The Empty Cross of Jesus" M.Green, Hodder, 1984
"The Enigma of the Cross" A.McGrath Hodder 1987
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