Friday, April 18, 2014

The On-Purpose Omission

Have you ever noticed that not one of the four gospels offer a  detailed description of Jesus' physical suffering during His actual crucifixion? While they give graphic narrations of the brutal beatings He endured during His illegal trials before The Sanhedrin, Herod and Pilate, they present the physical crucifixion quite simply and matter-of-factly. Even Luke, a physician who found the healings  Jesus performed utterly fascinating and therefore worthy of careful attention, omitted any explanation of the physiological effects Jesus endured as He hung on the cross.

32 Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. 33 And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. 34 And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments. 35 And the people stood by, watching, but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!” 36 The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine 37 and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” 38 There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.”

39 One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” 40 But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”  

44 It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour, 45 while the sun's light failed. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. 46 Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last. 47 Now when the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God, saying, “Certainly this man was innocent!” 48 And all the crowds that had assembled for this spectacle, when they saw what had taken place, returned home beating their breasts. 49 And all his acquaintances and the women who had followed him from Galilee stood at a distance watching these things. ~~Luke 23:32-49 (ESV)

I recently read an article that proffered the idea that, because crucifixions commonly occurred in the First Century, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John saw no reason to explain its mechanics to their immediate readers. This idea may be true in part, but it ignores the Holy Spirit's role in inspiring Scripture. Since, as God, the Holy Spirit is all-knowing, He obviously knew that most people who would read the New Testament in subsequent centuries wouldn't ordinarily understand what death by crucifixion entailed. So, if educating people on the various physical tortures Jesus went through on the  Cross had been necessary, He surely would have inspired  at least Luke to include a description.

The four gospel writers, however, concentrate primarily on  Jesus' spiritual agony, and in particular His anguish of being separated from His Father as He bore His Father's wrathful judgment of our sins. For example, consider the narrative of Mark (who usually favored describing Jesus' actions over contemplating His emotions):

33 And when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. 34 And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” 35 And some of the bystanders hearing it said, “Behold, he is calling Elijah.” 36 And someone ran and filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink, saying, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.” 37 And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last. 38 And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. 39 And when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, “Truly this man was the Son of God!”~~Mark 15:33-39  (ESV)

The Holy Spirit,  in inspiring the four evangelists to recount the crucifixion, emphasized the spiritual suffering of  Jesus.  He wanted us to see that Jesus separation from His Father results in our admission into God's presence! That emphasis turns Jesus' worst day into our Good Friday.

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