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The three deaths of Christ

OPINION by Pastor Chuck DeVane, guest column | August 7, 2021 at 4:00 a.m.

Pastor Chuck DeVane

Special to The Sentinel-Record

When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, "It is finished," and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

-- John 19:30

After three years of ministry, a three-part prayer to conclude it, three trials, and three denials by His closest disciple, Jesus died, three times. The three ways in which Christ died testifies to three things: His humanity, His deity, and His ability to reconcile humans with God.

Jesus died a physical death

Real people crucified a real person. It happened in a real place, too, just outside the old city of Jerusalem. I've stood in the two places that lay claim to Calvary, General Gordon's Tomb, where a skull-like hill lurks just past the grave, and The Church of the Holy Sepulcher, where everything is obscured by medieval architecture and mean-spirited priests. While the latter is probably the right place, the point is it was a real place where a real person was really put to death.

It was really painful, too, beyond words. Jesus had not slept in 24 hours or more before the crucifixion began. It started with scourging, a far cry from the flogging previously inflicted. Scourging employed a whip with lashes infused with stone and bone swung by a skillful Roman soldier. The idea was torture, and no one did it better than ancient Rome.

Jesus' blood flowed freely from "His hands, His head, His feet, Sorrow and love flow mingled down" (Isaac Watts). The position of crucifixion made it almost impossible to breathe, and the pain Jesus had to endure sent His body into apoplectic shock. By the time He died, Jesus' lungs had most likely folded and His heart had completely collapsed. It sounds trite, but it is true, Jesus died of a broken heart.

Jesus died an emotional death

Jesus didn't just die of a physically broken heart, He died of utter emotional embarrassment. Imagine being completely innocent of a capital crime, yet being sentenced to death anyway. Townspeople and Passover pilgrims walked by and hurled insults, along with one of the co-condemned criminals. The whole process added ultimate insult to insufferable injury.

Imagine having to beg for water from the hands of Roman soldiers who had beaten you half to death and were crucifying you to complete the task. Instead of a cup of cool water, they gave the Lord a sponge soaked with wine so old and rancid it had turned to vinegar. Few things, if any, taste worse. That was the last straw, for immediately afterward Jesus quit this life.

Anxiety, depression, and loneliness are not sins. The sinless Son of God, Jesus Christ, felt them all on the cross, and they contributed to His death. Jesus died of pain and suffering. The pain was physical, the suffering was emotional. Then, at the very end, Christ's death became spiritual as John's commentary ends with, "He gave up His spirit."

Jesus died a spiritual death

I often quote a profound lyric by Jackson Browne, "I don't know what happens when people die/Can't seem to grasp it as hard as I try/It's like a song I can hear playing right in my ear/That I can't sing/But I can't help listening." I've been listening to Jesus die for almost 40 years, ever since I started reading the Bible and pouring over the Gospels. Understanding His death is difficult, but therein lies the key to life. You have to look at it three ways, as three deaths.

The physical death makes no sense, not on its own. The emotional extremes are senseless, too. But in the third death of Christ, the spiritual death, there is perfect justice and perfect peace.

Think about the last word Jesus spoke, one solitary word in the Greek New Testament, "Tetelestai." It is three words in English, "It is finished." It is a servant's word, uttered when his work is done. It is a merchant's word, written on the bill of sale when the final payment is made. It is a spiritual word, perfectly spoken at Jesus' ultimate death, when He "gave up His spirit."

In the spiritual role of Suffering Servant (ref. Isaiah 53), and with His physical and emotional and spiritual death on the cross, Jesus Christ met the demands of divine justice required for man to have peace with God. Divine justice demands death for sin. Divine peace offers a sacrifice, or substitute, for sinners.

"God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (ref. Romans 5:8), three ways, to provide us with one way to Heaven.

Chuck DeVane is the pastor of Lake Hamilton Baptist Church. Call him at 501-525-8339 or email [email protected]

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