The Sin Bearer
As the initial phase of God’s marvelous plan to reveal Himself to man drew to a close, He raised up a special man. He was called a forerunner to further stimulate man’s anticipation of a stunning climax. This remarkable event took place, of course, when:
the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us … John bore witness of Him, and cried out, saying, “This was He of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me has a higher rank than I, for He existed before me.”’ John 1:14–15 (NASB)
This was also the Man of whom the prophet Isaiah wrote:
He has no stately form or majesty that we should look upon Him, nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him. He was despised and forsaken of men, a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and like one from whom men hide their face. He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. Surely our griefs He Himself bore, and our sorrows He carried … Isaiah 53:2–4 (NASB)
He was the humble Servant who came to earth to identify with our situation; the one John recognized from the beginning as The Sin Bearer.
The next day he saw Jesus coming to him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” John 1:29 (NASB)
As the drama unfolds, we begin to understand the significance of Isaiah’s words: “Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows…” What an ignominious scenario!
In the beginning was the Word (Jesus), and the Word was with God and the Word was God.
He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him.
He came to his own (Greek—his own things, possessions, domain), and those who were His own did not receive Him. John 1:1,10–11 (NASB)
As Jesus moved about the people He knew so well it hurt that they didn’t know Him. Christ treasured God’s original design for man in His heart and mind, for, though in human flesh, He was as Paul reminds us “the exact representation of His (God’s) nature.” From the multiple marriages of the woman of Samaria, to the deceit in Jerusalem’s marketplace, to the rotting flesh of Lazarus, the unnatural perversions of sin must have begun to weigh on the soul of The Sin Bearer.
And when evening had come, they brought to Him many who were demon-possessed; and He cast out the spirits with a word, and healed all who were ill … [in order that it might be fulfilled] … “He Himself took our infirmities, and carried away our diseases.” Matthew 8:16–17 (NASB)
And they brought to Him one who was deaf and spoke with difficulty … and looking up to heaven with a deep sigh, He said to him, “Ephphatha!” that is, “Be opened!” Mark 7:32,34 (NASB)
When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her, also weeping, He was deeply moved in spirit, and was troubled, and said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to Him, Lord, come and see.” Jesus wept. John 11:33–35 (NASB)
And he sighed deeply in his spirit and saith, Why doth this generation seek after a sign? verily I say unto you, There shall no sign be given unto this generation. Mark 8:12
O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not! Matthew 23:37
And when he was come near, he beheld the city, and wept over it. Luke 19:41
Although it has been many years since grief was openly recognized as a cause of death, a growing number of physicians are once again giving attention to the relationship between various sociopsychological factors and heart disease. Dr. James J. Lynch in his highly acclaimed book, The Broken Heart, states, “Stress, pain, anxiety, fear, and rage sometimes appear in indexes of textbooks on the heart, but never love.” And yet, “In a surprising number of cases of premature coronary heart disease and premature death, interpersonal unhappiness, the lack of love, and human loneliness seem to appears as root causes of the physical problems … We have learned that human beings have varied, and at times profound, effects on the cardiac systems of other human beings.” Lynch goes on to say, “Loneliness and grief often overwhelm bereaved individuals and the toll taken on the heart can be clearly seen. As the mortality statistics indicate, this is no myth or romantic fairy tale—all available evidence suggests that people do indeed die of broken hearts.” James J. Lynch, The Broken Heart, Basic Books, pp. 11, 13, 56, 68. Grief researcher Colin Parkes notes in his book, Bereavement, that in seventy-five percent of the cases studied, the cause of death in bereaved individuals was coronary thrombosis or arteriosclerosis. Colin Parkes, Bereavement: Studies of Grief in Adult Life, International Universities Press—New York.
Dr. Arthur Brown of the University of Texas has been involved in extensive research on nervous and ionic factors in sudden cardiac death. His findings, acknowledged in more than sixty publications, also strongly suggest a significant relationship between emotional stress and heart disease. Another endorsement of the sociopsychological link to heart disease comes from Dr. C. David Jenkins, who, after reviewing some of the psychological and social precursors of coronary heart disease, stated in the New England Journal of Medicine, “A broad array of recent studies… point with ever increasing certainty to the position that certain psychological, social and behavior conditions do put persons at a higher risk of clinically manifest coronary disease.” C. David Jenkins, “Psychologic & Social Precursors of Coronary Disease, First of Two Parts” New England Journal of Medicine 282 (1971), pp. 244–254.
It has been said that grief is proportional to intimacy. The greater degree of knowledgeable love one has toward another, the greater one’s potential for being hurt. This is no profound revelation; it is something a great many of us have personally experienced. Hurt or grief, while rare in casual relationships, is often manifest in intimate encounters. Dr. George Engel of the Rochester University Medical School, in a carefully controlled six-year study in which he reconstructed the backgrounds of 170 sudden deaths, was able to document that in a great majority of the cases some type of interpersonal loss preceded the deaths. George L. Engel, “Sudden Rapid Death During Psychological Stress: Folklore or Folk Wisdom?” Annals of Internal Medicine, 1971, pp. 771–782. The high coincidence of grief and loss that surrounded many of the deaths noted by Dr. Engel is striking. Further laboratory experiments involving various cardiac responses in animals to loss and affection, as well as clinical studies in psychiatric wards and hospital shock-trauma and coronary care units, all suggest the human heart is profoundly and sometimes mortally affected by human emotions.
Jesus took it all in—identifying with the sin and sorrow of humankind. Finally the load He was carrying accumulated to the point that He took the disciples aside and said:
Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and all things which are written through the prophets about the Son of Man will be accomplished. Luke 18:31 (NASB)
And lifting up His eyes to heaven, He said, “Father, the hour has come …” John 17:1
His time was at hand. How did He know? I believe His knowledge came from deep within, perhaps regulated by the pressure upon His heart. And it was this inner knowledge which told Him His heart was at the straining point. He would soon undergo, as the French physician Pierre Barbet describes,
An appalling mental agony, produced by the foreknowledge of His physical Passion, and the knowledge of all the sins of men, the burden of which He was Himself assuming for their redemption. He Himself had said to the Apostles: ‘My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even unto death.’ Such deep distress can bring on a phenomenon which is known to medical men. This phenomenon, which is also extremely rare, is provoked by some great mental disturbance, following on deep emotion or great fear. Pierre Barbet, A Doctor At Calvary, Image Books, p. 73.
This phenomenon to which the doctor refers is, of course, the sweating of blood in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus recognized within Himself that He was soon to face that moment for which He had come into the world. This was the moment of truth, the moment of destiny. The climax to which all of God’s prophets, covenants and forerunners had led was now ready to unfold its awesome drama on Calvary.
As Jesus took the sins of the whole world deep into his heart and mind, the anguish of His soul reached unbearable proportions when, for the first time in eternity, there was a breach in the fellowship of the Trinity. We hear the lonely wail of One who recognized the full terror of sin.
And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” which is translated, My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken Me? Mark 15:34
Finally the increasing weight of our sin could be borne no longer and Jesus, who had identified so long with us, died of grief with a broken, heavy heart!
And He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness … 1 Peter 2:24
As a result of the anguish of His Soul, He will see it and be satisfied; by His knowledge the Righteous One, My servant, will justify the many, as He will bear their iniquities. Therefore, I will allot Him a portion with the great, and He shall divide the booty with the strong; because He poured out Himself to death … Isaiah 53:11–12
Much of the excruciating agony connected with crucifixion centered on the victim’s incessant quest for air. Initially when the nails were pounded into the extremities, the victim was laid out, arms extended, at a 90 degree angle parallel to the crossbeam. But as the cross and its pendent flesh were hoisted into an upright position, the arms with the weight of the entire body dragging on them sagged to approximately 65 degrees. Shortly thereafter the muscles started to contract violently. The cramps began in the forearm and spread to the upper arm and shoulders before moving rapidly into the lower limbs and trunk. Soon the spasms which caused the fingers and toes to curl inward were generalized in a state of tetany. The stomach muscles tightened to form a hollow beneath the grotesquely distended rib cage. The lungs filled with air, but due to the contraction of the expiratory muscles, were unable to expel it. Asphyxiation then began.
The only way to remedy the situation and stave off death was to relieve the drag on the hands and arms which, in Jesus’ case, has been estimated to have been nearly 240 pounds per hand. Using the nail through his feet as a fulcrum, the victim was, with considerable effort, able to raise himself to an upright position. This maneuver relaxed the effects of the tetanization in the muscles (at least some of them),unloaded the air trapped in the lungs and avoided asphyxiation. The relief, however, was only temporary and within moments, the victim sunk inevitably into a state of tetanization. This macabre struggle continued until exhaustion prevented the victim from escaping asphyxiation and finally ushered him to death’s door.
The Jews had a great dread about the overnight presence of corpses, and this was a particular worry on the eve of the passover. Since few, if any, at the time recognized Jesus as the Paschal Lamb, his presence, along with that of his two fellow victims, was construed in the Holy City as an unclean, not to mention unsightly, nuisance. Accordingly, Jerusalem’s rulekeeping power-brokers approached Pilate with the request, as John records, “That their legs might be broken and that they might be taken away” (John 19:31). The breaking of the legs effectively hastened death in that it prevented the victim from pushing up for air. Once this occurred, asphyxiation quickly claimed the unfortunate souls. It was an unpleasant end to an agonizing process.
Ill intent notwithstanding, the snapping of Jesus’ bones simply wasn’t to be. When the soldiers arrived to end it all, they discovered, probably much to their chagrin, that Jesus had already expired. One legionnaire, frustrated that the fun had ended prematurely, and in order to leave an official insignia of death, thrust his lance into Jesus’ side as a parting coup de grace, Out of the wound, as John’s gospel records, flowed “blood and water.”
As has already been mentioned, crucifixion was a slow, lingering death that could, in some cases, take a strongman several days to die. Thus, when after only a matter of hours the body of Jesus was requested from Pilate, the Roman governor marveled that Jesus had died so quickly.
He did not die of crucifixion, but rather from the internal agony of His soul. Crucifixion merely facilitated his death. No man took the life of Jesus. He died as a result of a voluntary identification, the sin of the world crushing out His life. Crucifixion provided Jesus with the prolonged period of consciousness necessary for His voluntary death. Jesus’ conscious identification and death over our sin would have been frustrated had He been drugged (which he refused). In addition, had he been executed any other way—by sword or more likely by stoning, He would have lost consciousness and been murdered rather than “pouring out His soul unto death.”
During a time in Israel’s history when the hills surrounding Jerusalem had become a virtual forest of crosses, even the hardened and calloused Roman executioner recognized that he had never seen a man die like this before.
And Jesus uttered a loud cry, and breathed His last … and when the centurion, who was standing right in front of Him, saw the way He breathed his last, he said, “Truly this man was the Son of God!” Mark 15:37,39 (NASB)
And, as the holy Day of Atonement, the sacrifice had a profound impact on the beholders.
And all the people that came together to that sight, beholding the things which were done, smote their breasts, and returned. Luke 23:48