In his letter to the Galatians, the Apostle Paul quotes Deuteronomy 21:23 when he said, “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole.” In some of your Bible translations the passage in Deuteronomy says, “Anyone who is hung on a tree is under the curse of God.”
Literally and historically, a pole was that on which bodies were impaled. It was a form of execution for many years in the Ancient Near East – in Persia, Assyria, as well as among the Greeks and Romans. Generally, a person was executed, and then the corpse was impaled and displayed on a pole in public view. The denunciation of evil (a “curse”) was displayed for all to see. However, by law, the Jews did not participate in this form of brutality.
In the NT, Paul uses the word to mean the cross on which Jesus died. In the first century AD, crucifixion on a cross was a brutal Roman practice, used as a form of execution for the most dangerous criminals, for slaves, and those guilty of high treason. It was a form of military and political punishment. The practice was so heinous that the gruesome details of the crucifixion are not mentioned in any of our NT accounts. And because the Jews were not allowed to implement this form of execution, they had to secure the Roman military to do it for them, after they unjustly “tried” Jesus three times.
Ironically, the cross of Jesus, the means of cruel torture, death and injustice, is now a symbol of redemption and life. The Apostle Peter said, “He bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness.” The prophet Isaiah said, “Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering…he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed” (1 Pet 2:24; Isa 53:4-5).
Redemption means freedom from slavery to sin and death; Christ redeemed us to give us eternal life. The vertical bar of the cross represents our relationship with the Almighty God through Christ. The horizontal bar represents our relationships with one another. Can you even imagine the pain suffered by Jesus, scourged and bleeding, who had to carry his crossbar to Golgotha on his own shoulders? The two bars are intertwined together, just as our relationships with one another are secured by the One who died on the cross for us.
Perhaps the most paradoxical day on the Christian calendar, “Good Friday” was a day of torment and death in the eyes of the world. Nevertheless, to Christians, it is “good” because the incredible, sacrificial death of Jesus is a gift to us of indescribable love, restoration and surrender.
Today, are you filled with gratitude for what Jesus did on the cross for you and for me? Can we sincerely love one another, because he first loved us enough to go to the cross and die for us?
In spite of the pain and suffering in Ukraine, in our own families and in our own neighborhoods, may you have a blessed Easter morning, remembering that Jesus conquered death, even death on the cross.
Grace and peace.