Thursday, April 2, 2009

Power Over Death

"If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain" 1 Corinthians 15:14

I thought since Easter will soon be upon us, I would write a piece on the resurrection of Jesus.

The one event I will always remember as a young child growing up in a staunch conservative Catholic family of fourteen is the Stations of the Cross which we attended every Lenten season. My parents would haul the entire bunch of us in our station wagon to the local Catholic Church where we would fill up the entire pew. Like everything else in life everyone knew the Dias' were arriving – this time at church. What do I remember about the Stations of the Cross? They were boring….

As we squirmed our way into the pews, our parents would grab our arms in vain attempts to settle us down. We would be kicking each other hurling insults at each other in soft whispers (or what we thought were whispers.) Parishioners would stare at us with disdainful and derisive looks in their eyes. I could sometimes envision them reaching from their pews and choking me. I remember looking at those huge stained glass windows that were evenly spaced around the church each one showing a particular experience in Christ's journey to Golgotha, the place he was to be crucified. We sat and fidgeted as we awaited the arrival of the priest. The priest would enter the church from the back slowly swaying the thurible suspended from chains as the distinct smell of incense would permeate the sanctuary. He was followed by two altar boys who carried his white robes in their hands. The incense was a pleasant aroma. I would glance at each stained glass window, and occasionally my eyes would stop and gaze at one and I would fixate on it more intently like Station 11 where Jesus was nailed to the cross. But what did it all mean?

I remember as a child hearing the strange chants that were sung during the service.

At the Cross her station keeping,
stood the mournful Mother weeping,
close to Jesus to the last.

Through her heart, His sorrow sharing,
all His bitter anguish bearing,
now at length the sword has passed

I never questioned my faith at that age – it just was. We were Catholics. Jesus suffered, died and was buried for our sins, but okay so what! As I grew older, my mind became more inquisitive. Who was this man who defied a Roman empire? And what did all of it mean? I was not satisfied with just saying it was so. I needed to know if this man was who he truly said he was, and what was the proof.

This is what I discovered.

The Torture

Crucifixion is a terrifying and excruciating way to die. During Roman times, it was reserved for the slave, rebels, or pirates. Jesus was first flogged with at least thirty-nine lashes with a whip of braided leather thongs with metal balls woven into them. The whip would cause deep bruises or contusions which would break open the flesh more with each lash. The lacerations would tear into the underlying skeletal muscles and the ripped flesh would lay bare and the victim was left open to exposure. Hypovolemic shock would set in from the loss of large amounts of blood. Most people would not have survived the flogging.

After the flogging, Jesus had to carry the cross to Golgotha where he was nailed. The Romans used spikes, five to seven inches long and drove these nails into the wrist. Contrary to the popular paintings of the Renaissance period, the nails were not nailed in the hands. The hands were not strong enough to support the weight of the human body. The nails were driven into the place where the median nerve runs in the wrist. This would be like taking a pair of pliers and squeezing and crushing the nerve. Imagine hitting the funny bone in your elbow and multiplying that pain 100 fold. Jesus was then hoisted up as the crossbar was attached to the vertical stake, and then nails were driven through his feet.

Crucifixion is a slow and painful death. The victim dies of asphyxiation. The stresses on the muscles and diaphragm put the chest into an inhaled position. For Jesus to exhale, he had to somehow lift up his weakened body to release the tension in his muscles and then exhale. He would have to continue to do this with each breath scraping his bloodied back against the back of the cross. The splinters of the cross would become embedded into his already torn flesh. This could only go on for so long before complete exhaustion takes hold, and he could no longer breathe. The hypovolemic shock would have caused a sustained heart rate that would have contributed to heart failure resulting in the collection of fluid in the membrane around the heart. This is called a pericardial effusion. Fluid would also have collected around the lungs called pleural effusion. Needless to say, I cannot imagine a more painful and excruciating death than Crucifixtion.

The Evidence

  1. The Medical Evidence – In Luke 22:44 in the garden of Gethsemane, The Bible states, "His sweat was like drops of blood". This is a medical condition called, "hematidrosis." Hematidrosis causes the release of chemicals in the capillaries during high degrees of stress. In John 19:33, the Bible states that the soldiers were going to break his legs. This would have been done to speed up his death. They confirmed his death when they thrust a spear into his right side. In John 19:34, the Bible states, "But one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately blood and water came out." This negated the reason for breaking the legs. The piercing of Jesus' side is important because it describes the pericardial effusion and pleural effusion effects described above. The fluid excreted as a result of the thrusting of the spears into the side of Jesus would have appeared to be both blood and water. Knowledge of medicine was extremely limited during Roman times, but they were experts at killing. The medical evidence of the crucifixion is consistent with today's medical knowledge.
  2. The Apostles – The apostles were not brave men. After the crucifixion, the apostles were lost souls. Jesus had died and they did not know what to do. They even questioned their own beliefs. Was he truly the messiah? After his death they dispersed. Peter even denied he knew Jesus. After the resurrection, the apostles regrouped and committed their lives to preaching the gospel. The apostles were now willing to die because they had witnessed the resurrection. Most if not all eventually died for their beliefs except for John who was exiled to the Island of Patmos where he wrote "Revelation." How they all died is not completely known, but what is known is that they all had a profound conversion from timorous and weak individuals to indomitable and courageous individuals. This was the power of the gospel.
  3. The prophecy – The most compelling evidence of the crucifixion is found in Isaiah 53:3-9. Isaiah was written in the second half of the eighth century B.C. more than seven hundred years before Jesus' death. Yet in Isaiah 53, it foreshadows both the suffering and death of Jesus.

    He was despised and rejected by men,
       a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering.
       Like one from whom men hide their faces
       he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

  Surely he took up our infirmities
       and carried our sorrows,
       yet we considered him stricken by God,
       smitten by him, and afflicted.

But he was pierced for our transgressions,
       he was crushed for our iniquities;
       the punishment that brought us peace was upon him,
       and by his wounds we are healed.

We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
       each of us has turned to his own way;
       and the LORD has laid on him
       the iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed and afflicted,
       yet he did not open his mouth;
       he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
       and as a sheep before her shearers is silent,
       so he did not open his mouth.

By oppression and judgment he was taken away.
       And who can speak of his descendants?
       For he was cut off from the land of the living;
       for the transgression of my people he was stricken. [b]

He was assigned a grave with the wicked,

and with the rich in his death,
       though he had done no violence,
       nor was any deceit in his mouth.


The resurrection of Christ is the most important event in history. It is more important that the birth of Jesus. Had the resurrection not occurred, Christendom would have faded into obscurity. As children we are taught to believe because our parents believe. But, as we grow older, our minds are able to understand and analyze more. The evidence of the resurrection is compelling. Paul said his faith would have been in vain if the resurrection were not true. Was the resurrection some sort of chicanery by clever individuals? If the resurrection were indeed some sort of fabrication, then the greatest hoax has been perpetrated on mankind. Skeptics will continue to deny the resurrection, but the evidence is there. The apostles, the prophecies, the medical evidence all point to the veracity of the Bible's claim – Jesus did indeed rise from the dead. So, the next question would be what do we do about it?

Sources: The Case for Christ, Lee Strobel

Archaeology of the New Testament John McRay


Paul said...

What a great post Mark!

Caroline said...

Glad you read my blog. I've found writing it this Lent valuable. Maybe other would like to dialogue:

I agree Mark that crucifixion is horrible. I also agree something happened to the followers without which Christianity would not exist. What that was we cannot really know but we call it resurrection as it has been delivered to us. The God Jesus revealed is compassionate, forgiving, and concerned about those excluded from the prosperity of socity. We are to do the same I think.

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