Sunday, April 8, 2012

Lessons from Skull Hill

During Holy Week people often read passages from the four Gospels about the Passion of Christ. One of my favorite Gospel passages is Luke 23. I shared these ideas from that chapter with my church on Good Friday.

Verse 33 - When they arrived at the place called The Skull, they crucified Him there, along with the criminals, one on the right and one on the left.
             This verse troubled archaeologists for centuries because the “traditional” site on which the Roman Catholic church has built the Church of the Holy Sepulchre does not have a “place of the Skull” as described in the Bible.
             Many people longed to know for sure where the place called The Skull was.
             In 1842 a German Theologian named Otto Thenius first proposed the idea that an outcropping of rock outside the city, which is now known as "Skull Hill," was right beside the actual site of the crucifixion. This upset the “traditionalists” a lot.
             But the site was outside the city, looked like a skull and seemed to better fit the biblical description of the place where the crucifixion took place.
             However, few people took Otto Thenius seriously because his ideas went against the “tradition” of the established church. Otto Thenius’s idea lay seemingly dormant until the British General Charles Gordon began to publish similar ideas in 1882.
             General Gordon was so well respected in British society, that people began to take the idea seriously.
             In 1893 the Garden Tomb Association was established in London by some lay people. In 1894 they purchased as much of the property around The Skull as possible.

The story of Skull Hill is the story of the Suffering of Christ:
             Crucifixion was a common form of capital punishment used by the Romans.
             The Romans liked to use crucifixion because it was so gruesome and terrible that it scared people into obeying the Romans.
             Crucifixion began with beating Jesus' back with a whip called a flagrum. It had small pieces of bone and metal attached to a number of leather strands. During the beating, the skin was ripped from the back, exposing a bloody mass of tissue and bone.
             Roman soldiers also ripped Jesus' beard from his face and slapped him over and over again.
             They then crammed a crown of thorns onto his head. They crammed it on hard enough that it stayed on while he walked through the city carrying his cross. This means the thorns must have been embedded in his scalp.
             Jesus was then forced to carry his own 100 pound crossbar on his bloody back through the streets of Jerusalem to the execution site.
             Then spikes about 7 inches long and 3/8 of an inch in diameter were driven into the wrists. The spikes would hit the area of the nerve, causing shocks of pain up the arms to the shoulders and neck.
             The crossbar was then lifted on to a 7 foot tall post that was already on the site.
             Jesus' feet were then awkwardly turned so that the feet could be nailed to the post.
             At this point, there was tremendous strain put on the wrists, arms and shoulders, resulting in a dislocation of the shoulder and elbow joints.
             The position of His nailed body held His rib cage in a fixed position, which made it extremely difficult to exhale, and impossible to take a full breath.
             To breathe on a cross, Jesus was forced to push up on His feet to allow for inflation of the lungs. As the pain in His feet and legs became unbearable, Jesus was forced relax His legs and hang by the nails in his wrists again.
             Having suffered from the beatings, Jesus was described as extremely weak and dehydrated. He was probably losing significant amounts of blood.
             As time passed, the loss of blood and lack of oxygen would cause severe cramps, spasmodic contractions and probably unconsciousness.
             Jesus’ lungs began to fill up with fluid.
             His heart began to fail.
             Depending on how strong the person was, crucifixion could last just a couple of hours, or could drag on many hours. Jesus was on the cross at least six hours. Some say longer.
             Jesus suffered numerous hours of horrible and sustained torture on the cross of Calvary.
             And at any moment, He had the power to simply step off the cross and heal himself.
             It was not the nails that held Him there, it was His love for us.

Verse 34 - Then Jesus said, "Father, forgive them, because they do not know what they are doing."
             Even as Jesus was terribly tortured, mocked unmercifully, and hung on a cross, He begged His Father to forgive the sins of those doing it.
             If forgiveness was that important to Jesus, how important should it be to us?
             Perhaps this Resurrection Season might be time to let go of old grudges and experience the peace that forgiveness brings.

Verse 39 - Then one of the criminals hanging there began to yell insults at Him: “Aren't You the Messiah? Save Yourself and us!”
             Jesus was hung between two common criminals.
             Though the Romans may have meant this as an insult to the “King of the Jews,” somehow, I think Jesus took it as a complement.
             Jesus liked to spend time with “common” people, why not also die with them?
             Though one criminal mocked Jesus, the other knew who Jesus was.
             Though it was almost too late, this man realized who Jesus was.
             We often stereotype “messed up” people, thinking they could not possibly understand who Jesus was. But they often can.

Verse 41 - We are punished justly, because we're getting back what we deserve for the things we did, but this man has done nothing wrong.
             This criminal realized that he deserved his punishment.
             This demonstrates repentance from sin.
             Repentance is necessary for salvation.
             This also demonstrates his understanding of justice.
             Justice is getting what we deserve for our actions.
             We tend to justify our own sin and claim that we do not deserve its natural consequences.
             Most us of want justice for others and mercy for ourselves.
             Thank God that mercy is available to all because of the cross.
             We could learn a lesson from this criminal!!!

Verse 42 - Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when You come into Your kingdom!”
             The criminal cried out to Jesus for help.
             The criminal asked the Lord to remember him when Jesus got to heaven.
             Some might argue that the criminal did say the right words or pray the sinner’s prayer correctly.

Verse 43 - And He said to him, “I assure you: Today you will be with Me in paradise.”
             But Jesus assured the criminal that he would be with Jesus in heaven that very day.
             The devil would like us to doubt our salvation by telling us we did not do it right.
             All that is required for salvation is to acknowledge our sin, turn from it and cast all our hope on Jesus.
             If we did that in our hearts, we did it right regardless of what words we used.
             Jesus hears our hearts even when our words are inadequate.
             Jesus gives mercy instead of justice to all whose hearts follow Him.

             Traditions can be wrong, but the Bible is always right.
             Jesus modeled forgiveness, we must also practice forgiveness.
             Even “messed up” people can come to Jesus.
             Salvation is having a heart that totally trusts in Christ alone instead of trusting in human rituals, traditions or religious activity.
             Do we have salvation? Are we sharing the path of salvation with others?

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