Studies in the Scriptures
Zion's Watch Tower
THE CHURCH "CRUCIFIED WITH CHRIST"
"I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live; yet
not I, but Christ liveth in me."
In an age when human ingenuity taxed itself to the utmost limit to invent cruelties to torture the victims of public revenge or hate, crucifixion certainly had a bad preeminence. Amongst the Romans it was reserved, with few exceptions, for slaves and foreigners, being considered too horrible and disgraceful for a Roman citizen, no matter what might have been his crime. This mode of death was the greatest possible indignity that could be heaped upon any offender, whether considered in the light of a public disgrace or of physical anguish.
Crucifixion was a slow, lingering process of dying, lasting always for hours and often for several days.
Usually the victim was bound to the cross as it lay upon the ground. The hands and the feet were then nailed to the wood; and the cross was elevated and planted in the socket to receive it. This gave the body a terrible wrench; and great was the agony that followed. The hot sun beat upon the naked body and uncovered head—which in our Lord’s case was pierced with the additional cruelty of the crown of thorns. The ragged, undressed wounds festered and became inflamed; shooting pains darted from them through the quivering flesh. Added to this the agony of an increasing fever, a throbbing head and a raging thirst; and even the slightest movement intensified the anguish. As death drew near, swarms of flies gathered about to increase the torment, from which there could not be any relief. As no vital organ was directly assailed, life lingered on until the power of endurance was completely exhausted.
The ultimate physical cause of our Lord’s death, however, is believed to have been literally a broken heart.
Otherwise He would probably have lingered much longer; for crucifixion seldom produced death within twenty-four hours, and victims have lingered as long as five days.
Pilate and the guard were surprised to learn that Jesus had died so soon. Instead of lingering long, He died suddenly, and before He was fully exhausted; for He had conversed with the thief and had commended His mother to St. John’s care. He had declared His great work finished; and then with a strong voice, which indicated considerable remaining strength of both body and mind, He had cried, "Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit," and died instantly. In the agony of Gethsemane the heart and the blood vessels had been affected.
The palpitation of the heart had been so intense as to cause a bloody sweat—a phenomenon rare but not unknown, produced by intense mental excitement. Already weakened by such an experience, a repetition of the anguish probably ruptured the heart, causing instant death.—
#Lu 22:44; 23:46
"CRUCIFIED WITH CHRIST" FIGURATIVELY
Since actual, literal crucifixion signifies a torturing, slow but sure death, the figurative crucifixion must closely resemble it; otherwise the figure would have no value.
When we say that any one is taking up his cross to follow Christ, we mean that the person is consecrated and is taking the first step of self-denial in espousing the cause of Christ. Even though it be with fear and trembling, he is submitting willingly to painful humbling and contempt in the sight of the world and of the chief priests and their blind followers, in order that he may share with the Master and all the members of the Anointed Body the coldness and scorn of the world and of many whom they seek to bless. Yet in so doing we are not alone, as was our Lord and Head; for we have comfort and sympathy from Him as our High Priest and from our fellow members
in His Body, the Church. With our Lord, however, none could sympathize. He was the Fore-runner on this race course; and of the people there was none with Him.
But, some one may ask, where does our cross-bearing begin, and where our crucifixion? Where does it end?
How much does it involve? We answer, Circumstances alter cases to some extent; and each must apply the matter in his own case. To enable us to do this, let us examine three notable examples of such cross-bearing—our Lord, St. Paul and St. Peter.
"CONSIDER HIM WHO ENDURED"
Born under the conditions of the Jewish Law, our Lord could not begin His service—ministry—until He was thirty years old, although His earlier years were evidently spent in studying prophetic utterances concerning God’s Plan and His own share therein. This is made evident in the only record of His boyhood. When but twelve years old He was seeking information concerning the Heavenly Father’s business, and was found amongst the eminent teachers asking questions relating to the prophecies.—
At thirty years of age He had His first opportunity to begin the work which He had come into the world to do.
Using the figure in our text, we might say that then He took up His cross when He came to John to be baptized of him in the Jordan. This was a cross—a humiliation; for the masses of the people were, like John the Baptist, ignorant of the deep meaning which our Lord attached to immersion as a symbol of death. John and the people used it only as a symbol of washing, cleansing or reformation from sin. Nor was it proper for our Lord then to explain to them a symbol which belonged to an age and a work not to be made known until the Pentecost following His death. Nor would they have understood if He had explained.
But it became our Lord to set the example which, as their Leader, He would afterward expect all His disciples
to follow. Hence, as in His actual death He who knew no sin was counted amongst the transgressors, so in its symbol—the water immersion—He was "numbered with transgressors" (
), who were there figuratively washing away a sinful past to make a new start in life.
For the sinless Lamb of God thus to be misunderstood was doubtless a heavy cross; but it opened the way to a still clearer appreciation of the Father’s will, which He had come to perform. Obedience in taking up the figurative cross proved Him worthy of continuing in the Father’s service—even unto death. The Holy Power of God which came upon Him there enabled Him to see more clearly His future pathway down to Calvary; but it also brought clearer and clearer apprehensions of the exceeding riches of Divine favor and of the high exaltation in reservation for Him at the end of the narrow way.
THE VICTORY IN THE WILDERNESS
Under the increased illumination of mind which followed His spirit-begetting at Jordan, our Lord was led by His spirit of consecration into the wilderness, there to consider more fully in private the Father’s Plan and His own future course in obedience thereto. There the cross grew heavy as He more fully realized the shame, ignominy and self-abasement to which His consecration would lead. Moreover, the Tempter threw all his weight upon the already heavy cross by suggesting other ways of doing good which were more agreeable to the flesh than was the way of sacrifice. But after counting the cost, our Lord refused any other method, whether Satan’s or His own, and chose to have God’s will done in God’s own way, saying again, "Lo, I come to do Thy will, O My God!"—
With this victory our Lord grew stronger; and the cross seemed lighter as He came out of the wilderness figuratively crucified, willingly delivered up to die—hands, feet, each and every talent and power restrained from self-service—all offered up as a sacrifice to God in
the carrying out of the Divine Plan, whatever that might involve, whether the dying process might prove to be of longer or shorter duration or of more or less pain.
Now He more fully understood the meaning of His consecration vow made at Jordan.
As a man, then, when He began His ministry our Lord’s will was already dead to every human hope and ambition—dead to His own human plans and control.
Yet He was not dead in the sense of being insensible to the scoffs, pains and piercing words which He would encounter, but crucified—delivered up to death. The pinioned, bleeding members—human talents, rights, etc.—quivered and twitched; but they always remained pinioned—crucified, delivered up to death—to the last, as when He prayed in Gethsemane that the cup of ignominy might be omitted. During all these three and one-half years of our Lord’s ministry He was crucified in this figurative sense. That is to say, He was delivered up to death—His will, His talents, His all, bound and pinioned—in harmony with the Father’s Plan. And every deed of His by which "virtue [vitality, life] went out of Him" to bless and heal in mind and body the sinners about Him was part of His dying, and finally ended in death—even the literal death of the cross.
ST. PAUL’S EXPERIENCE
St. Paul was not literally crucified, but ended his course by being beheaded—as became a Roman citizen.
Yet figuratively he tells us long before his literal death, "I am crucified with Christ." That is to say, "I am delivered up to death. My will, my self-control, my talents and powers, my rights, my lawful ambitions as a man—all these are pinioned and bound by my consecration vow, so that having no will or plan or way of my own, I may be fully able to let the Holy Spirit—or mind or will—of the Master dwell in me and rule my every act to His service. But I am not so dead that I do not occasionally feel a twinging of the flesh and have
a suggestion as to another way and as to what would or would not be necessary. I keep my body under, however, subject to the will of God, saying, as did the Master under similar circumstances, ‘Not my will but Thine [Heavenly Father] be done.’" Many get the idea that our Lord and the Apostle referred only to sinful desires when they spoke of figurative crucifixion. They read the Apostle’s words as if he meant, "My sinful ambitions and desires I keep under and crucify." They interpret our Lord to mean, "Not My sinful will be done, O Father, but Thy holy will."
This is a mistake. Our Lord was holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners (
); and as such He could not have a sinful will or desire. He had no wish to kill, steal, blaspheme, covet the possessions of others, nor to bear false witness, nor to backbite, nor slander, nor do any other sinful thing toward God or toward man. On the contrary, His will was to do good only, to honor God and to bless men.
But as a man, our Lord had a mind, a strong mind or judgment as to HOW good could best be accomplished, as to HOW God could be most highly honored and men most effectually blessed. Had He followed His own judgment and will as to the best methods of honoring God and blessing men, it would probably have been along the line which naturally suggests itself to other GOOD judgments and wills—along the line of political and social reforms, in securing pure government for the people, in meting out justice to the oppressed, in establishing hospitals, asylums and colleges, and in cleansing the religious system of His day. But although such a good will would have doubtless accomplished much temporary good, it would never have worked out the grand deliverance for the race which we now see that God’s comprehensive Plan of the Ages is designed to work out.
Such a plan did not occur to the mind of even the perfect Man Christ Jesus; for it is beyond the scope of human
thought and reasoning. But knowing that His Father was greater than He, our Lord rightly reasoned that implicit submission to Jehovah’s will was the proper course, whatever it might involve.
WHY CRUCIFIXION OF WILL IS PROPER
The nearer a person is to perfection, the stronger is his will and the more difficult to crucify. The more confident any one is that his will is good and for good and blessing to others, the more difficult it is to see good reasons for surrendering it. Thus our dear Lord knew that it was needful for Him to die in order to provide the Ransom-price for the world and shrank not from it; but knowing also that pain, public scorn and contempt as a criminal were not part of the penalty, He questioned their necessity—whether the Father was not asking of Him as the Redeemer more than the penalty of Adam’s sin. Therefore He prayed, "Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me"—nevertheless I claim no rights; I attempt neither to follow My own ideas nor to exercise My own will; I leave all to Thy wisdom; "Thy will be done."
Evidently our Lord did not see then what for our own advantage and strengthening He has since showed us who are following in His steps, crucifying our own wills, etc.—that extreme trial of obedience, even unto the death of the cross, was both expedient and proper, because of the very high exaltation to the Divine nature, for which His implicit obedience to the Father’s will in giving our Ransom-price was to be the test of worthiness.
As followers in our Lord’s footsteps we have neither such strong wills to overcome and crucify nor the proportionate strength of character whereby to overcome them. But we have the advantage of knowing clearly why so extreme and exact obedience is necessary in all who would be accounted worthy of a place in that select Body of Christ, the Church, which is to be so highly honored with our Lord Jesus, our Redeemer and Head.
HOW WE FOLLOW IN HIS STEPS
The Apostle Paul did not mean the crucifying of a sinful will or sinful desires, plans, etc., when he said, "I am crucified with Christ." Elsewhere he refers to the same thing, saying that he desired to be "dead with Him," and to have "fellowship in His sufferings." So, then, if Christ’s crucifixion was not the crucifixion of a sinful will and sinful desires, neither was St. Paul’s, nor are ours as followers of the spotless Lamb of God.
True, St. Paul and other followers of Christ were by nature sinners and children of wrath even as others, and hence were very much less than perfect, compared with the Undefiled One. But their first step of faith in Christ showed them that they had no right nor privilege to will or to do wrong; and in accepting of justification through the death of Christ, they confessed not only sorrow for sins past, but repentance and change from sin for the future to the extent of their ability, realizing that the imputed merit of the Ransom covered not only past sins, but also all unwillful weaknesses and errors future. This change of will from sin to righteousness preceded their call to follow Christ, to suffer with Him and to share with Him the high exaltation to the Divine nature. Thus we see that with us, as with our Lord, it is our good human wills, our good intentions and our good plans—not actually perfect as our Lord’s, but reckonedly so through His imputed merit—that are to be crucified, delivered up to death with Christ and to share in His sacrifice.
As our Lord set aside and crucified His own will, accepting of the Father’s will instead, so we as His footstep followers set aside or crucify our wills or desires—no matter how good and wise they appear to us—to accept instead the guidance and direction of our Lord Jesus Christ, who still delights to carry out the Father’s Plan, the perfection of which He can now fully appreciate.