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April 18

3  Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. 5 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, 7 but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, 8 he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross.

The Greek philosopher, Aristotle, whose thought pervades western philosophy and theology, named God the “Unmoved Mover.” He conceived of deity as the efficient cause of all things, separate from, untouched, unscathed, and unmoved by the world. How different is the God revealed to us in Jesus!

The Apostle Paul writes about a passionate God who is moved, so moved by his love for us, that he takes the form of a slave, and humbles himself to the point of  death, “even death on a cross.” In the Dictionary of Symbolism, Hans Biedermann says that early Christians were reluctant to ever use the cross as a symbol because it represented such a hideous form of criminal execution. C. S. Lewis pointed out that the cross did not become common in art, until anyone who had ever seen the horrors of crucifixion had died off.

It was not until the emperor Constantine had banned crucifixions and they were long forgotten, that the cross actually became a symbol for Christians. They were that horrible! It is impossible for us to imagine the repulsion that even a mention of the cross provoked in the ancient world. Cicero said that the word crux was not to be spoken in polite Roman society.

Crucifixion was a method of execution without equal in its agony and shame. Roman citizens were exempt from crucifixion, which is why Paul was beheaded while Peter was crucified. Crucifixion was only reserved for the worst of criminals. Adding to Jesus?’ shame was that, for Jews, hanging from a tree was a sign of being cursed by God (Deuteronomy 21:23).

Those condemned to death on a cross were stripped naked, then scourged by a whip made of leather thongs with pieces of metal attached to the ends for lacerating and ripping open the flesh. After enduring significant blood loss from the flogging, the condemned was made to carry the horizontal beam of his cross to a place outside the city walls. He was crucified outside the city in order to demonstrate that he was cut off from his community, and cut off from humanity.

At the place of execution the condemned criminal would either be tied or nailed to the crossbeam. The crossbeam would then be hoisted up by ropes and inserted into a socket in an already upright post. Finally the feet of the condemned were tied or nailed to the post.

Crucifixions were done in public places to add to the humiliation, and the naked bodies were often left to rot, and vultures allowed feed on the corpses. It was from that cross that Jesus prayed for those torturing and mocking: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).

Take a few moments to bow and in your heart worship:

Christ we do all adore Thee,
and we do praise Thee forever,
for on the holy cross
thou hast the world from sin redeemed.
Christ we do all adore Thee,
and we do praise Thee forever.
Christ we do all adore Thee.”

– Theodore Dubois, “The Seven Last Words of Christ”


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