J. S. Roberts, Wellingborough
The crucifixion of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is ever before the mind of the believer in Him, or is continually brought to remembrance each time we meet to "show the Lord's death till he come".
Crucifixion is stated to be the most ingenious and also the most cruel mode of capital punishment ever devised. The stark significance of the word stirs the mind and the heart, especially when contemplating the obedience unto death, even the death of the cross, of our suffering Saviour. Psalm 22 in prospect, and the four Gospels in the fulfilment, bear adequate testimony to the physical anguish of crucifixion.
Isaiah's prophecy that "his visage was so marred more than any man, and his form more than the sons of men" reflects the extremity of His agony. The Hebrew for the word "marred" is "disfigurement", an abstract term for the concrete: i.e. "disfigurement itself. Well may the "sun in darkness hide, and shut his glories in, when God the incarnate Maker died for man His creature's sin", for no human eye saw the sum total of all the disfigurement that culminated in that orphan cry, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?".
Informed medical opinion serves also to emphasize the extremity of pain and suffering experienced by the victim of crucifixion.
Probably the stark significance of the word "crucify" was chosen by the apostle Paul in writing to the Galatians to give force to the disquiet of his mind concerning some that would "pervert the gospel of Christ". No other Epistle lays such emphasis on the word as does Galatians.
The Galatian Epistle is a first draft of which the Roman Epistle is the full text: and in contrast to the ordered and detailed analysis of the gospel as presented in Romans, Galatians by its use of the word "crucify" illustrates the urgency in which it was written.
Whereas the other Epistles of Paul are written to individuals or to assemblies in particular cities, this Epistle was sent to a whole province, the "churches of Galatia", "before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you", Gal. 3. 1.
"Evidently set forth", or more literally "placarded", is a term "unexampled in the scriptures but not uncommon in the language of the day — as a magistrate proclaimed the fact that an execution had been carried out, placarding his proclamation in a public place" (W. E. Vine). The public place of the apostle's proclamation of the crucifixion of the Saviour of the world not only embraced Galatia. But the clear testimony of the gospel that One had died for sins not His own was now being assailed by "another gospel". In view of this, the apostle lays stress upon the word "crucified", as with his own hand the letter is written to counteract those who would pervert the gospel of Christ.
Martin Luther loved "Galatians", finding in the Epistle the secret of his own deliverance from Rome, and from the religious materialism of his times. What was significant in the time of the Reformation still needs expression, in view of the present-day drift of Christendom towards both of these insidious conditions.
"Galatians" demonstrates the attitude of the believer firstly to God, secondly to himself and finally in relation to the world; and in each case emphasis is laid upon the word "crucify", inferring the believer's responsibility to the cross of Christ.
1. Crucifixion. The Believer and God. "I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me", 2. 20. The believer is assailed from without by the world and the devil, and tempted from within by the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life; to stand firm upon the ground of crucifixion with Christ will yield nothing to those militant and oppressive forces. Whilst this verse may be a source of strength in this respect, from its context it actually illustrates the doctrine of justification by faith, and therefore the believer's standing with God as a result of the cross.
"By the works of the law shall no flesh be justified", 2. 16. Therefore all endeavour to justify self and its activity before God is fruitless, and would eliminate the necessity of the cross. "If righteousness came by the law, then Christ is dead in vain", 2. 21. The Son of God need not have died, and the redemptive work of Christ would be unnecessary.
The "I" that is crucified with Christ, and therefore outside the pale of the holiness of God, now finds its sure resource in God.
What here emerges from the apostle's rebuke of Peter, 2. 14, is developed as doctrine in the Roman Epistle. In Romans 4. 25, we read of One "who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification", or more literally "was raised again because of our justification". All that was necessary in the sight of God for our justification was fulfilled by the death of His Son upon the cross, and on this account He was raised from the dead. "I live: yet not I, but Christ liveth in me", and this new life in Christ is the outcome of justification by faith.
Romans 3. 20-28 give the root of justification by faith, whilst 5.1-5 give its fruit — "peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ" looks backward to the cross, but the "hope of the glory of God" looks forward to the completion of the redemptive purpose of God; for the glory of the Father in the Son is the end to which all things move. The full prospect of his hope must surely cause the believing heart to rejoice.
Justification by faith is fundamental to the succeeding references to crucifixion as detailed in the Epistle to the Galatians. Consider, therefore,
2. Crucifixion. The Believer and Himself. "They that are Christ's have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts", 5. 24. Whilst the first reference has to do with the believer in the sight of God, the scrutiny of the justified one is now directed inwardly.
In the Epistle to the Colossians the nail-pierced hand of the Crucified took up the hammer and nailed to His cross "the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us", Col. 2. 14; here, in consecrated response, the hand of the believer is to take up the hammer and crucify "the flesh with the affections and lusts", which are recognized as the root of personal moral depravity. The works of the flesh, as detailed in Galatians 5. 19-21, reflect the moral character of mankind, and they which do (habitually practice) such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. To be "overtaken in a fault", 6. 1, is in direct contrast with the "habitual practice" of the works of the flesh, and thus there must be a continual abiding at the place of crucifixion.
In contrast to the works of the flesh reflecting the moral depravity of man, the fruit of the Spirit which follows in 5. 22 illustrates the moral glory of our Lord Jesus Christ: here is fruitfulness in the believer as he or she partakes in that resurrection life that is subsequent to crucifixion.
Again we find that Galatians is a first draft of which the Roman Epistle is the finished product, since Romans 7-8 fully confirm extensively what this Epistle states briefly and pointedly in these verses, whilst Romans 5-6 define our position before God as previously detailed. Governed by "the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus", Rom. 8. 2, it follows that the moral glory of our Lord Jesus Christ as detailed by the fruit of the Spirit should find its reflection in the believer in "love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance" according as he has crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts.
A look upward, a look inward, and finally, a look outward:
3. Crucifixion. The Believer and the World. "The cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world", Gal. 6. 14. This is a look outward upon the world of unspiritual men and things. Whilst the world generally and politically may first come to mind, the context of this verse would imply that the apostle had in view the religious world of his day and its attitudes. Outward observances to the glory of the flesh, v. 12, obscure the reproach of the cross, and are in themselves both carnal and fruitless, v. 15, and are therefore impotent.
The true believer, "a new creature" in Christ Jesus, is referred to as not being merely indifferent to the world, but "crucified", at once bringing him into union with the death of Christ. The religious materialism of Luther's day has its reflection in present-day Christendom, and is tolerated and accepted in general, whilst the reproach of the cross is obscured. Paul, in looking back over his past religious life and experience, Phil. 3. 4-6, wrote of what is directly opposite to world-conformity. Conformity "unto his death", 3. 10, implies crucifixion from a spiritual standpoint, whilst conformity to the body of His glory, 3. 21, is from a physical standpoint, and anticipates the day when all things shall be subject to the Crucified One.
The elementary condition of religion as generally accepted may apply to children in bondage, Gal. 4. 3, but the "adoption of sons" and the privilege of being an "heir of God through Christ" anticipates a desire for higher things, Phil. 3. 14. Once more, there is here a first draft of which Romans 8 is the full text.
No religious observances, Gal. 6. 13, can compensate for inward disobedience and flagrant disregard of divine order and progress. The new birth by the Spirit — "a new creature" — is paramount, and the growth and development of the new life in Christ Jesus asks for nothing from the world system, nor anticipates any commendation from it. The believer is counted not simply as dead, but crucified.
In all our relationships, with God, with ourselves, and with the world, the cross of Christ and our association with it must stand pre-eminent. When next we sing "In the Cross of Christ I glory, towering o'er the wrecks of time", may the incidence of our identification with it in crucifixion add sincerity to our praise, and a greater dimension to our thoughts as we thus trace with the apostle his emphasis on the word crucifixion as detailed in the Epistle to the Galatian believers.