Summary: Tells how Jesus took symbols of death and terror, the sword and the cross, and changed them into symbols of life and love.

“The Sword and the Cross”

April 8, 2007

The Romans had perfected execution by crucifixion to an art. It was carried out in such a way as to inflict a maximum amount of pain on the condemned prior to death. One of the objectives was to strike terror into the enemies of Roman. No one wanted to die such an excruciating death. The cross was a terrifying deterrent.

The condemned was required to carry the cross beam, weighing between 75 and 125 pounds, to the place of execution. The Romans used tapered square spikes about five and a half inches long and about a third of an inch across the top. The spikes were driven through the wrist at the heel of the hand. They knew the exact place to drive the spike so that it exerted pressure on the median nerve. This would cause excruciating pain to run up and down the condemned’s arms while at the same time causing the thumb to be drawn inward until it press against the palm. The fingers eventually are cramped inward toward the palm.

The condemned were nailed with their arms at a ninety degree angle but as they hung on the cross their body would eventually sag to about a sixty five degree angle. The weight of the body hanging in this position would cause the pectoral muscles to become paralyzed and the person would be able to breathe in- but not exhale.

Prior to death more often than not a person would flail his body about which would aggravated the guards. So, in order to prevent this they would nail the person’s feet to the cross. In doing this they discovered that the condemned person would use the spike driven through their feet as a kind of step and force his body upward so that his arms would reach an angle that would allow him to exhale again and thus prolong the time before death. Sometimes it could take days for a person to die when their feet were nailed to cross.

Crucifixion was used for slaves, rebels, pirates and especially-despised enemies and criminals. Therefore crucifixion was considered a most shameful and disgraceful way to die. The goal of Roman crucifixion was not just to kill the criminal, but also to mutilate and dishonour the body of the condemned. In ancient tradition, an honourable death required burial; leaving a body on the cross, so as to mutilate it and prevent its burial, was a terrible dishonour for the victim.

I share that gruesome truth, knowing that most of you have seen “The Passion of the Christ” and realize how horrible crucifixion was. But to the people of Jesus’ day, just to look on the cross struck terror into the heart of people. That’s why, when the Romans invaded a town, they often crucified people along the main road or on a prominate hill. It would terrify and intimidate. Today and just a few months after Jesus’ crusifixion, the cross lost it’s fear value and became, instead, a symbol of love and life. How could that happen?

First of all, you need to know that you were condemned to die. Each of us come into this world with a death sentence. The bible says,

“For the wages of sin is death…” Romans 6:23 (Living)

The result of our sin (which is rebellion against God) is death. Not just physical death, but spiritual death (which is separation from God) and eternal death (which is eternal separation from all that is good). We have earned death. We deserve death. Why? Because, the Bible says:

“Yes, all have sinned; all fall short of God’s glorious ideal.” Romans 3:23 (Living)

There is no one who lives such a godly life; that is so good, that they have not sinned. The bible says,

“We--every one of us--have strayed away like sheep! We have left God’s paths to follow our own.” Isaiah 53:6 (Living)

But here’s the Good News.

“Yet it was our grief he bore, our sorrows that weighed him down. And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God, for his own sins! But he was wounded and bruised for our sins. He was beaten that we might have peace; he was lashed--and we were healed! We--every one of us--have strayed away like sheep! We, who left God’s paths to follow our own. Yet God laid on him the guilt and sins of every one of us!” Isaiah 53:4-6 (Living)

The New Testament says,

“For he has rescued us out of the darkness and gloom of Satan’s kingdom and brought us into the Kingdom of his dear Son.” Col 1:13 (Living)

“It was through what his Son did that God cleared a path for everything to come to him--all things in heaven and on earth--for Christ’s death on the cross has made peace with God for all by his blood.” Col 1:20 (Living)

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