our ugly made Beautiful

April 23, 2011

in The Good Word

If you take some time to ponder crucifixion, to research the how’s and why’s of this type of capital punishment, you might come to the conclusion that it’s pretty close to humanity at its worst. It was a method of execution used by a few people groups (including the Romans) from around the 6th century BC to the 4th century AD. The Romans would only hang slaves, pirates and enemies of the state — Roman citizens were generally exempt from such a humiliating execution, except in cases of high treason.

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The excruciating pain of being nailed to a cross — often with nails driven through hands and feet — left a person suffering a slow and very painful death. {The term excruciating actually means “out of crucifying.”} Crucifixions were very public executions, meant to be a deterrent, that people might consider the consequential punishment before stepping out of line in the eyes of the government.

Depending on the specific methods used, a person could survive for several hours or even a number of days after being crucified. A platform placed under the feet, supporting the victim’s weight, prolonged the process. Blood loss, shock, or sepsis (caused by infection from the scourging that often preceded crucifixion) were possible causes of death. When things were dragging out past the liking of the executioners, the legs of those being crucified were often broken in order to hasten death.

The more you consider it, the more difficult you might find it to see anything beautiful.

While today we might know how to make capital punishment speedy and less abrasive to our minds and hearts (death by lethal injection, for example) the Romans knew how to make death long, drawn out, and nothing short of excruciating.

Could God take something so ugly — one of the most horrible tortures which has systematically been used as a method of killing — and make it beautiful?

According to historians, many victims of crucifixion were naked. Humiliation accompanied the painful torture: if they needed to urinate or defecate, they had to do so on full and public display. And doing so would probably attract flies and insects that, being bound to a cross, they would be unable to deter.

In many ways the crucifixion of Jesus seemed like a textbook, painful, humiliating, ugly execution. Every gospel mentions the soldiers bartering for His clothing before His death, which may indicate He experienced the humiliating torture naked, as many others experienced it.

For at least three hours He hung there, as the sky darkened in the hours of the day that are usually the brightest. Mocked by passers-by, spit on and put to shame.

If you are who you say you are, save yourself.

We are perhaps at our ugliest as human beings, when we torture one another, and we are perhaps just as ugly when we willingly watch, consenting and even mocking the dying.

What seemed like a textbook crucifixion gradually proved to be anything but. Pilate hung a sign above Jesus’ cross which read in Hebrew, Greek and Latin: “This is Jesus, The King of the Jews.” The Jews argued about this, and asked Pilate to change it to say “He said, ‘I am the King of the Jews.’ ” But Pilate refused with the reply:

“What I have written, I have written.”

In language universally plain, the Truth was ironically declared above a dying Saviour– He was indeed more than the King of the Jews. He is rightfully the King of Kings.

The King of Kings who stepped down from heaven to live with us and die for us. The only One who would. The only One who could. God put on our ugliness to give us beautiful.

Like others who’d been crucified before Him, even the others crucified that day, He bled and suffered. But only He asked God to forgive His mockers and executioners.

Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.

Only Jesus accomplished the work He intended to accomplish: He suffered for you and for me. Death for Him is life for all who believe.

It is finished!

Only Jesus hung there for the salvation of mankind, and made even His executioners marvel as He cried out to His Father, proclaimed the work finished, and with a shout — committing His Spirit to the Father — breathed His last. The Centurion would’ve witnessed many deaths, but what he saw in the death of Jesus convinced him of the truth:

Certainly this was a righteous man!

Only Jesus didn’t need to be broken — when the legs of the criminals on either side of Him were broken to hasten death — He was already broken. The broken Bread of Life, the Blood shed for forgiveness: Jesus was broken for you and for me.

Pilate marveled that He was already dead.

He who knew no sin became sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God.

We who were once far off — hopelessly begging at the roadside of eternity — have been brought near. By accepting the finished work of the cross, receiving the forgiveness Jesus bought for us, with His own life, the ugliness of our sin is wiped clean. And in receiving the forgiveness bought on the cross, God looks at us and sees us wearing His Son’s righteousness — like the tunic the soldiers cast lots for, because it was a seamless one-piece and tearing it would mean ruining it — so our broken lives become whole, one-piece. Seamlessly glorious to God.

The ugliness of crucifixion makes way for the beauty of redemption. The beauty of salvation. The beautiful reconciliation. One-piece wholeness for you and for me, bought by the One who was broken.

And though the Cross may symbolize the ugliness of humanity at its worst, crucifying the One who came to set us free, to fix our broken world, to reconcile us to our Creator God, yet the Cross is still at the same time wholly beautiful.

Without it, we are hopeless. But through it, the veil is torn — we now have Christ in us, the Hope of Glory, the anchor for our souls. Our broken lives are made whole — only because of the Cross.

And that is how a Good, Loving and Redeeming God took the ugliness of the Cross and the ugliness of our souls, and created a thing of beauty.

Oh, the wonderful Cross! Oh the wonderful Cross,
bids me come and die, and find that I
may truly live.

Jesus, thank You for the Cross.

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