They brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha (which means “the place of the skull”). Then they offered him wine mixed with myrrh, but he did not take it. And they crucified him.
When the Gettysburg National Cemetery was dedicated on November 19, 1863, there were two speeches. We all remember Abraham Lincoln’s famous Gettysburg Address. But before it, Secretary of State Edward Everett gave a traditional speech.
To show honor towards the fallen soldiers, their families, and their sacrifice, Edward gave everyone what they expected. This significant, respectful, and solemn event deserved a serious speech. And in that time and place, that meant length. About two hours, filled with 13,607 words.
After this traditional speech, President Lincoln, who was very sick, got up to give some “Dedication Remarks.” No one knew what he was going to do or say. He did something very unusual. Very unexpected. He spoke for no more than three minutes, using 272 words. It was so short that no photographer was ready to take his picture while addressing the crowd.
Afterwards, Mr. Everett spoke to the President and compared their two speeches.
I should be glad, if I could flatter myself that I came as near to the central idea of the occasion, in two hours, as you did in two minutes.
Yes, sometimes shorter is superior. Briefer is better. Fewer words, when chosen carefully and correctly, can communicate oh so much more than a whole lot of words.
That’s where we find ourselves with the crucifixion of Jesus. All four historical accounts just say that they crucified him. Period. They don’t linger at the cross with details about the how. They don’t tell us if they nailed his right hand first, and then his left.
They just crucified him. That’s it. They don’t describe the shape of the cross or its size. They don’t talk about the kind of wood used. Was there an additional piece of wood for his feet or were his legs just twisted? They don’t tell us if they first removed his crown of thorns, or not. They don’t go into details about the difficulty breathing, or how blood and sweat kept rolling into his eyes.
This lack of details bothers us. We think that if we have more data, more information, that we can better understand something. Our 21st century way of life almost demands every possible fact and detail.
Like modern sports broadcasting, we demand more and more information. It started with instant replay and the ability to repeat it over and over. Then they added an electronic pen to direct people’s attention to one specific thing. And with so many cameras being used, they can show lots of different angles in addition to zooming in for an even closer look.
There’s a great temptation to try and “fill in the blanks” with our imagination and creativity. We also use images from the movies and television to replay the scene in our mind, zooming in on the gruesome sight and excruciating pain.
But there is something respectful about keeping our distance. There is something more important than the physical pain and brutality of the cross. We can see something more significant and moving by not getting bogged down by the bloody and cruel image.
“He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.”
1 Peter 2:24
This was way more than just another Roman execution. This was oh so much more important than the Jewish leaders and Roman government snuffing out yet another rebellious leader.
This was God’s way of dealing with our sin and debt, but it didn’t just end there. His death also made reunion with God possible. It’s one thing to be out of debt, it’s a whole different thing to have an eternal fortune placed into our account. Through his wounds we were healed, made whole once again with the God who made us. Loves us.
There’s an old hymn that expresses this so well.
O love of God! O sin of man!
In this dread act your strength is tried;
And victory remains with love:
Jesus, our Lord, is crucified!
So, with humility and respect, let’s not get too close. Let’s keep our visit short, or we may just loose the wonder of it all. God come down to pay our debt, making us new and whole.