Rich in Grace
Arland Williams was a passenger on Air Florida Flight 90, which crashed into freezing waters in the middle of a snowstorm. When a rescue helicopter arrived and threw him a life line, he immediately gave it to another passenger. When the helicopter came back, Arland did the same thing again and again. When the helicopter returned a final time, Arland was dead. He had used his last ounce of energy to save a stranger.
Four chaplains who were aboard a troop transport ship that was hit by a submarine’s torpedo quickly rallied together and began handing out life jackets and directing people to safety. When the life jackets ran out, they selflessly gave away their own. Then the four men linked arms and sang as the ship sank.
Even dogs have left some impressive examples of self-sacrifice. When a drunken man fell asleep on a train track in Kazakhstan, his four-legged-friend pushed, pulled, and nudged him off the tracks just as a train struck and killed the dog.
These examples and many others, like a soldier jumping on a grenade to save fellow troops or a boyfriend taking a bullet for his girlfriend, are all admirable and praiseworthy. However, no story of self-sacrifice in the history of the world is more impressive than that of Jesus Christ. It was planned longer, rings louder, and looms larger than all of the others. In fact, His sacrifice was so great that few people, even Christians, really appreciate its many facets.
The Supreme Sacrifice
The sacrifice of Christ did not begin on the cross, or in the garden, or in the manger. It began in heaven when He laid aside His glory and consented to come to earth. He left the abode of God for the abode of man and exchanged exaltation for humiliation, magnitude for servitude, a radiant crown for a rugged cross, and a hallowed throne for hollowed tomb. And it was all for us!
Paul put it this way in 2 Corinthians 8:9:
“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.”
Isn’t that a wonderful thought? Christ was rich and then became poor so we could become rich. But what exactly does that mean? Perhaps we have a divine commentary in Philippians 2:6-8:
“Who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
Notice that Christ “was in the form of God” and had “equality with God.” It is in this sense that He was rich. He shared in all the glory and majesty of Godhood (John 17:5) before coming to earth. Then we see that Christ “made himself nothing,” “took the form of a servant,” “was born in the likeness of men,” and “humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death on a cross.” It is in this sense that He became poor. And why did He do it? So that we might become rich spiritually (Ephesians 1:3)!
Paul refers to this great sacrifice as “the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ” in the Corinthians text. That is because it was undeserved kindness on His part. He acted freely and favorably toward unworthy inferiors. He didn’t have to become poor for us, He chose to do it. He chose to walk the dusty streets of earth so we could walk the golden streets of heaven. He chose to wear a crown of thorns on His head so we could wear a crown of righteousness on our head. He chose to die physically so we could live spiritually. His grace is our gain!
The culmination of the Lord’s great sacrifice was, of course, the cross. He suffered the most brutal and torturous form of execution in the Roman Empire. In fact, it was so severe that Roman citizens were exempt from it. Only the most degraded offenders, like insurrectionists and slaves, were subjects of crucifixion. Before looking at the cross, however, let’s first consider the horrific punishment that preceded it — scourging. Below is an excerpt from the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia:
“It consisted of a handle, to which several cords or leather thongs were affixed, which were weighted with jagged pieces of bone or metal, to make the blow more painful and effective…The victim was tied to a post (Acts 22 25) and the blows were applied to the back and loins, sometimes even, in the wanton cruelty of the executioner, to the face and the bowels. In the tense position of the body, the effect can easily be imagined. So hideous was the punishment that the victim usually fainted and not rarely died under it.”
Eusebius adds to this graphic image in his writings:
“For they say that the bystanders were struck with amazement when they saw them lacerated with scourges even to the innermost veins and arteries, so that the hidden inward parts of the body, both their bowels and their members, were exposed to view.”
Then Christ faced the nails. He was taken outside the city and crucified for all to see. His hands and feet were pierced (Psalm 22:16). Below is another excerpt from the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia:
“The suffering of death by crucifixion was intense, esp. in hot climates. Severe local inflammation, coupled with an insignificant bleeding of the jagged wounds, produced traumatic fever, which was aggravated by the exposure to the heat of the sun, the strained position of the body and insufferable thirst. The wounds swelled about the rough nails and the torn and lacerated tendons and nerves caused excruciating agony. The arteries of the head and stomach were surcharged with blood and a terrific throbbing headache ensued. The mind was confused and filled with anxiety and dread foreboding. The victim of crucifixion literally died a thousand deaths. Tetanus not rarely supervened and the rigors of the attending convulsions would tear at the wounds and add to the burden of pain, till at last the bodily forces were exhausted and the victim sank into unconsciousness and death.”