04/05/15 AM, Sharon OPC
Dr. Jeffrey K. Boer
A Philosopher by the name of Peter Engels defines faith in a way in which many people of our day would agree. Faith, according to Mr. Engels, is “belief in something despite the evidence against it,” or, “belief in something even though there is an absence of evidence for it.”
In other words, Engles believes that faith is irrational and illogical.
I want to emphasize, this morning, that that is not the Biblical view of faith! Christian faith does not require the disengagement of your brain! Dr. J. Gresham Machen, one of the founding fathers of the OPC, once wrote a book entitled, What Is Faith?, in which he says that “Christian faith is a thoroughly reasonable thing.”
Dr. Cornelius Van Til even argued that unless you’re a Christian who has faith in the Word of God, you have no basis for reason! He said that you need to start with the Biblical world-view in order to even begin to understand the facts of creation!
Proverbs 1:7 puts it this way: “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge.”
Not the beginning of an irrational faith, but the beginning of knowledge!
You see, the Bible must be presupposed to be true in order to understand the true meaning of any fact. Faith in God and in the truth of His Word is the necessary foundation for all true knowledge. Without the knowledge of God and of His Word, you may know how to memorize certain bits of data, or how to manipulate certain things to gain a particular result. But you won’t begin to know how anything fits together, or what the deeper meaning and purpose in life is. You’ll be walking in blindness, all the while thinking you can see!
Dr. Van Til argued that you can’t prove God to an unbeliever simply by citing various facts and evidences to them. That’s because they’re blinded to the truth; they can’t believe or understand it. The truth is foolishness to an unbeliever!
At the same time, Dr. Van Til also argued that all the facts and all the evidences in the world point to the truth of Christianity! Every fact in the universe proves that the God of Scripture is real and that the Christian faith is true! So that means you don’t have to assassinate your brains in order to become a Bible believing Christian. In fact, the exact opposite is true. Unless you’re a Bible believing Christian, you can’t be truly reasonable or rational!
So while we may not be able to use science and archaeology to convince an unbeliever of the facts of the Bible, such evidences can be a true encouragement to Christians in their faith.
Although it’s Resurrection Sunday and Good Friday has already passed, I want to take some time this morning to discuss the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.
Many people today, due to the claims of some unbelieving scientists and archaeologists, question the historicity of the crucifixion of Christ. To many people, the crucifixion of Jesus Christ on a cross is just a fairy tale, a myth used to propagate the Christian faith. Although there are many ancient writings that talk about the frequent practice of crucifixion in ancient Israel, no physical evidence had ever been found, archaeologically, to substantiate this record…until 1968.
Peter Colón, in his book, Israel My Glory, says,
In late 1968, some tombs were uncovered northeast of Jerusalem in an area called Giv’at ha’Mivtar. It was determined that the tombs were part of a huge Jewish cemetery dating from the second century BC to AD 70. Of the many skeletal remains, one, a young Jewish man between the ages of 24 and 28, showed evidence of crucifixion. His two heel bones, coated by a thick calcareous [or chalky] crust, had an iron nail imbedded through them. The nail was about seven and one half inches long, and its tip was bent due to having hit a strong knot in the wood on the stake. Apparently...when it came time to remove the victim from the cross, the nail could not be pulled out. Therefore, the executioners had to amputate the feet. When he was placed in the tomb, his heel bones, the nail, and fragments from his cross were buried together with the body. There he rested for nearly 2,000 years. Doctors of anatomy and osteology performed extensive studies on the bones and concurred that the young man had suffered horribly. Later, with honor and respect, he was reburied in a modern cemetery.
It cannot be determined why he was crucified. Perhaps it was for some anti-Roman political activity. The only known fact about this man, scratched on the side of the box that sheltered his bones, was his name, “Yehohanan, the son of Hagakol” [Peter Colón, Israel My Glory, (published by Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry), quoted in Pulpit Helps, April, 1996, p. 7].
Although archaeologists have not uncovered a lot of physical evidence of actual crucifixions, the early historical records of that period are very clear about the fact that crucifixions were common. These accounts describe for us what actually happened during a crucifixion. Sometimes we who live in the 21st century are somewhat insulated and ignorant about the actual process of crucifixion. The horrors of such a death are often sanitized by beautiful paintings and crucifixes of Jesus hanging on the cross without a scar on him, or even a drop of blood on His body, in pristine beauty and peacefulness.
So I want to take a few minutes this morning and describe for you what was involved in an actual crucifixion, so that perhaps we can all understand a little better the exceedingly great love of our Savior in dying for us.
One of the more important accounts of history written during NT times, other than the Bible, is the account of the Jewish historian, Josephus. Josephus was an eyewitness to many gruesome crucifixions. He called this form of execution, “the most wretched of deaths.” We don’t know who first started this form of execution, but variations of crucifixion have been around since @ 1,000 BC. It was the Romans, however, who adopted this method as their own and refined it to a diabolical art.
Peter Colón says,
Rome applied crucifixion extensively. Starting with the suppression of the Spartacus revolt in 71 BC, Rome lined the famous Apian Road stretching from Capua to Rome with 6,000 crucified rebels. In AD 7, a minor revolt in Judea was brutally squelched, resulting in the crucifixion of 2,000 Jews in Jerusalem. During the siege of Jerusalem by Titus in AD 70, 500 Jews were crucified each day for several months. In times of war, crosses were haphazardly constructed, and the victims were nailed to them in every imaginable position.
In peace time, in occupied cities such as Jerusalem, crucifixion was carried out with sadistic formality. The whole procedure was supervised by an official known as the carnifix serarum. Once the victim was condemned to be crucified, he was led from the Praetorium to an outside court where he was stripped, bound to a column, and savagely scourged with a flagellum, a short whip consisting of several single or braided leather thongs of varied lengths. The ends of these thongs contained sharp bits of sheep bone that tore into the flesh. [This whip was sometimes known as the ‘cat-o’-nine-tails.’] The whipping was administered by two legionnaires [or soldiers] called lictors. Four legionnaires and a centurion [the commander of a unit of 100 soldiers] then escorted this grim parade through the narrow streets of the city. At the head of the procession a soldier carried a wooden sign called the titulus, which stated the offender’s name and offense. At a stone quarry outside the city, the offender’s wrists were nailed to the crossbeam. Then he was hoisted up to the top of a stake called the stipe, where his feet were nailed against the upright beam. [The victim would cringe in agony as the soldier roughly pushed his right heel over his left against the sturdy wooden post. Violent blows from the mallet on the iron nail would tear angrily through his flesh.] There he would hang for a few hours or even days until death came.
Jewish sensitivities in Judea required that the body not be allowed to remain on the cross on the Sabbath; therefore, the offender’s legs were often broken to hasten death, permitting burial to take place before nightfall [Ibid.].
The reason breaking the legs would kill the victims was that this would cause the victims to suffocate. The only way they could breathe was to push down with their feet to take the weight off their arms and chest. When their legs were broken, they could no longer push down on their feet and they eventually didn’t have the strength to breathe any more, hanging by their arms.
Of course, in Jesus’ case, the Scriptures tell us that He had already died by the time the soldiers came to break the legs of those who were still living. This happened according to OT prophecy so that none of His bones would be broken, and so that He would be an “unblemished” sacrifice for sin. You may remember that the lamb that was sacrificed in the OT at Passover had to be a lamb with no broken bones or other defects. That’s because the lamb symbolized Jesus Christ, the spotless and sinless, unblemished Lamb of God Who takes away the sins of the world.
Jesus’ bones were not broken, but we do know, from Scripture, that Jesus suffered on the cross for at least six hours, fully conscious of His pain and agony.
Such a horrible death was necessary in fulfillment of the curse of God upon sin. No more painful death could scarcely be devised than this Roman torture. And what could be more humiliating and shameful than to hang from a cross, naked, between two common criminals, while His enemies looked on, mocking Him and poking fun of Him? It’s no wonder, then, that the night before this happened, our Lord fell with His face to the ground as He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, in Matthew 26:39, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”
You see, in spite of the fact that Jesus knew all about the pain and the torture and the humiliation of the crucifixion and what lay before Him, He still went willingly to the cross!
Jesus was willing to suffer and die because of His great love for you and for me and for all His chosen people. To die on the cross was an unspeakably painful, and therefore, incomprehensibly loving thing for Jesus to do for those He loved.
But even all this physical torture and all this public humiliation were as nothing when compared to the agony that Jesus willingly suffered under the curse of God’s wrath. As Jesus hung on the cross, He experienced the full wrath and punishment of Hell that we deserved for our sins!
Matthew 27:46 tells us, “About the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?’ – which means, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’”
Why did God forsake His only begotten Son?
Because of your sin and my sin, that’s why.
All of these things actually happened, folks. This isn’t just a fairy tale. Jesus Christ, the perfect and Holy Son of God, actually became flesh. He was born in a lowly stable in the insignificant little town of Bethlehem, of poor parents. He lived a perfect life, as a man, being subjected to all manner of temptations, just as we are, except that He never once sinned. He never once had an evil thought. He never once said an evil word. He never once did a selfish or sinful act. And it’s also a fact that He arose from the dead and ascended to power in heaven where He now rules all things!
This same Jesus willingly gave His life on the cross as a sacrifice for our sins. He voluntarily suffered the curse of both God and men for our sins. He offered up His perfect, unblemished life of holiness and righteousness in our place so that God would look upon us as having His righteous perfection. He gave His body up to God as a perfect sacrifice to pay for our sins.
People of God, I tell you today, anyone who rejects this Jesus Christ is a fool! Anyone who refuses to come to Jesus Christ in repentance and faith will perish eternally for his own sins! The wrath of God upon such enemies of our Lord will be horrible, particularly toward those who’ve had the Gospel of salvation and grace preached to them and yet they still have refused to repent of their sins and turn to Jesus Christ for refuge.
Hebrews 10:28-31 says, “Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God under foot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace? For we know him who said, ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ and again, ‘The Lord will judge his people.’ It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”
May there be none here this morning who dares to reject the Gospel of God. May there be none here this morning who dares to trample the Son of God under foot and to so insult the Spirit of grace!
The crucifixion of Jesus Christ was no myth. It really and truly happened. There’s nothing more real or more sure in all the universe than this. May every one of us gladly and thankfully fall down in humble worship of this Lord and Savior. May every one of us submit ourselves to Him as our covenant Lord and King. May every one of us, with sincere and joyful hearts, praise Him Who endured such awful sufferings out of His unsurpassed love to us!