Uniqueness of Jesus
This Friday, billions of Christians all around the world celebrate Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday. We do this to commemorate the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. And the tradition in St. Andrew’s is we start the week with today’s assembly talk that focusses on this topic.
Coincidentally, Singapore’s founding father, Mr. Lee Kuan Yew passed away last week. Throughout last week and particularly yesterday, we as a nation, took time to pay tribute to this great man. Where Singapore has come from, the transformation that took place over the past 50 years, has been nothing short of remarkable. This has been the result of the blood, sweat and tears of countless unnamed heroes of our country. But Mr. Lee Kuan Yew’s leadership and sacrifice has been at the forefront of it all. A great man.
Today, our focus is on another great man, if it’s fair to call Him merely a man, because He’s more than just a man. Jesus Christ. The way I’m going to do this is I’m going to do a contrast between Mr. Lee Kuan Yew and Jesus Christ.
Here’s the first contrast. The great men & women of history, we remember their lives. What they have achieved. What they have done. What they have contributed. Singaporeans were not the only ones who paid tribute to Mr. Lee Kuan Yew. People from all around the world, including world leaders did so too. If I were to sum up Mr. Lee’s legacy, I would use the words of this member of Parliament of New Zealand, who said this… “Because he was a man whose monument was Singapore.”
The way we commemorate Mr. Lee’s death is by celebrating his life. His achievements. Modern Singapore. But Jesus was altogether different. Jesus did live a remarkable life. Jesus touched many peoples lives. He loved the outcast. He healed the sick. He raised the dead. He fed the hungry. He cast out demons. Jesus did do many miraculous things. Jesus did teach such words of wisdom that have not been taught before or since. But perhaps the most important thing Jesus did, was to die. This is remarkable. For any other great figure of history, their deaths were regarded as tragedy. But for Jesus, His death was His mission. The most important thing for Him to do, was to die.
How do we know this? I’m going to read through 2 passages from the Bible to demonstrate this.
Mark 10:45 “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
This is Jesus basically saying, I came to serve and to die.
Matthew 16:21 From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.
Jesus knew beforehand, He had to suffer. He had to be killed. He was going to rise again.
He had to be killed. He had to die. This was His mission. His purpose.
Now, when we think of the death of Jesus, many of us think about HOW He died. We know for example that it was a very cruel, painful death. The movie “The Passion of the Christ” is a fairly accurate portrayal of the sufferings of Jesus. There were fundamentally two stages. We see this in Matthew 27:26 “… having scourged Jesus, delivered him to be crucified.”
There was the scourging. There was the crucifixion. For the scourging, the instrument used is called the flagellum. It was a whip with several strands, each three feet long weighted with lead balls or pieces of bone. This instrument was designed to lacerate. So, the victim of a scourging was bound to a post or frame, stripped of his clothing, and beaten with the flagellum from the shoulders to the loins. And the weighed thongs struck the skin so violently that it broke open. The beating would leave the victim bloody and weak, in unimaginable pain, even near the point of death in severe cases.
And this was the scourging Jesus received, probably 39 times in accordance to Jewish law. After the scourging, Jesus was to be executed by crucifixion. Before He was crucified, He was forced to carry the instrument of His own execution through the streets of Jerusalem to the place of His execution, a place known as Golgotha. This was the second stage of Jesus’ suffering. But because He was so weakened from the scourging, the Bible records that the Romans soldiers forced a bystander to carry Jesus’ cross on His behalf.
We pick up the story in Matthew 27:32-35 “As they went out, they found a man of Cyrene, Simon by name. They compelled this man to carry his cross. And when they came to a place called Golgotha (which means Place of a Skull)… they … crucified him…”
Capital punishment still exists in our world today, in our country too. When it comes down to execution, it is done in as painless a manner possible. Whether it’s lethal injection, the electric chair, hanging, or the firing squad, all of these methods result in virtually instant death and relatively little pain to the one put to death.
But for crucifixion, the aim is exactly opposite. The Romans designed it so that the victim would suffer as much pain as possible, for as long as possible, and they wanted his death to be a public spectacle to the community to prevent others from committing the same crime.
So on that day, the Roman soldiers would have begun by placing the vertical post of Jesus’ cross in the ground and attached a board to it to support the weight of Jesus’ body. They then drove nails into Jesus’ wrist’s or hands, nailing Him to the cross. Then His body, attached to the cross beam was raised and attached to the vertical post. At this point, the soldiers nailed Jesus’ feet to the cross. Your hands and feet are the most sensitive parts of your body. Imagine the pain Jesus felt as the nails pierced His hands and feet.
But the surprising thing is that crucifixion was a painful but very slow death. You did not lose much blood from it. However, what was difficult was breathing. When you are hanging on the cross, your lungs are being compressed. You cannot breathe. The only way to do so was to push up with your arms and feet. But that would cause searing pain in your wrist and feet and so you’d sit down on the support again. People could go for hours or even days in this manner. Going in and out of consciousness. Slowly losing control of their bodily functions… before they finally died of asphyxiation. And the only reason why Jesus died a relatively quick death was because He not only endured crucifixion, but also scourging before that.
Have you ever heard of the word “excruciating”? I think the closest I’ve ever come to feeling excruciating pain was when I dislocated my shoulder (a couple of times in my life… had to go to hospital to put it back). That was certainly painful, but I think it pales in comparison with the suffering of Jesus. Excruciating pain. Do you know where the word comes from? The word comes from the Latin word, excruciatus, meaning “out of the cross”. The Cross of Jesus saw Him die in excruciating pain. We read in Matthew 27:45-46, 50 “Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” … And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit.”
This was how Jesus died. We answered the ‘how’ question. But far more important than that, we need to answer the ‘why’ question. Why did Jesus have to die?
People die for a variety of reasons. Some people die due to health issues. Poor health, smoke too much, drink too much alcohol, never exercise, sickness and disease etc. Some people die due to accidents – traffic accidents, nature accidents etc. Some people die due to their own fault/sin – punishment for crime for example. But Jesus died for none of these reasons. In fact, the reason and purpose for the death of Jesus is absolutely unique.
I’ll let the Bible speak.
1 Corinthians 15:3 “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures…”
Jesus wasn’t an innocent victim. He wanted to die. Because Jesus’s most important task in His life was to die. And the reason is because of humanity’s sin. Yours and mine. God is a holy God. God is a good God. Sin offends Him. Evil makes Him angry. It cannot be swept under the carpet. It cannot be simply forgotten. The penalty must be paid. But here is the most amazing thing about Christianity. You see, I would understand it if it’s like this: we sin against God, we pay. Right? That’s only fair. That’s justice. But Christianity is, we sin against God, and God pays. That’s the gospel. That’s good news. That’s Christianity. Jesus lived the perfect life, the life we should have lived. Jesus died in our place, for our sin, so that we can be forgiven by God. So that we won’t have to suffer the penalty and punishment for sin, which is eternal death. So that, instead, we can have eternal life.
Mr. Lee Kuan Yew said these words, “What have I given up (to build Singapore)? My life.” Well, Jesus literally gave His life, so that we might have life.
The second contrast between Mr. Lee Kuan Yew and Jesus Christ was the manner of their burial. The whole of last week was set aside to have the lay in state, again to honor Mr. Lee. Hundreds of thousands of Singaporeans from all walks of life lined up to pay their respects. I was among them, 4 hours was the time I took to pay my respects. And it was a touching sight, befitting a great man of history.
But when we turn to Jesus Christ, widely regarded as the most important Person in all of history, we find a surprising sight. There were no queues. There were no mass lines. There were no crowds. Why not? For such an important figure of history. To find our answer, we turn again to God’s Word.
Luke 24:1-6 But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. 2 And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3 but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. 4 While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel. 5 And as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? 6 He is not here, but has risen.
We still honour great people in history by visiting their graves, their tombs. But for Jesus, there is no tomb to visit. There is no tomb because there is no body. There is no body because Jesus is no longer dead, but alive! That first Easter Sunday/Resurrection Sunday, Jesus rose from the dead, no longer to die again. HE IS ALIVE!
So that’s the other contrast between Jesus and every other important figure in history. They have all passed away. Jesus is alive. What does that mean for us? And this is something even Christians miss or forget. Jesus resurrecting from the dead means He has defeated Satan, sin and death. And if we are in Christ, we have power over sin too.
1Corinthians 15:56-57 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
As Christians, we not only have forgiveness of sin, but also freedom from sin. We must make use of the power of the God’s Holy Spirit living in us to live holy lives. God has given us power. Let’s make use of His power. We do this by faith, moment by moment depending on God’s power in prayer. Some of you struggle with bad habits. Some of you struggle with sins. But God says, I give you power to overcome sin. That does not mean we become perfect. That only happens when we reach heaven, or when Jesus returns. But it does mean we have to power to choose.
We have come a long journey today. I want to sum up my two points. Jesus is utterly unique. He is God. And when we think of Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday, we think of Jesus’ death which gave us forgiveness of sin and Jesus’ resurrection which gave us freedom from sin.
As I close, I want to say this. Mr. Lee Kuan Yew’s legacy is Singapore. But Jesus Christ’s legacy is heaven. Singapore may be a beautiful garden city. But heaven will be far more glorious than any earthly country. Singapore may very well continue to prosper into the future, but this earth will one day come to an end. But heaven is for eternity. We joke about the Population Paper where we imagined what it would be like if 6.9 million people were to live in our country and the space crunch we would have. But heaven is vast enough to take everyone and anyone who would come. Jesus’ invitation is for us all. That we would not only be citizens of Singapore, but also citizens of heaven.
[Let us pray]