Passion (#37)

Ever when tempted, make me see,
Beneath the olive’s moon-pierced shade,
My God, alone, outstretched, and bruised
And bleeding, on the earth He made.

F. W. Faber

“But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water. He who saw it has borne witness—his testimony is true, and he knows that he is telling the truth—that you also may believe.” (John 19:34-35, ESV)

In the middle of the 19th century, William Stroud wrote an extraordinary study introducing the idea that Jesus literally died of a broken heart. He pulled exotic cases from medical journals, passages from the Church Fathers in Latin, cited prophetic scriptures, and compiled a harmony of the Gospel passages leading up to Christ’s death, based on the original Greek text. The resulting book is a monument to the study of the death of Christ.

The first event he notes is the bloody sweat. It is well known to Bible students today that this is a real phenomenon, but in Stroud’s day it was practically unknown. Bloody sweat is extremely rare and only happens under extreme duress. In the past, liberal readers may have been skeptical or taken it as a figure of speech. Now we know that this simple note from Luke, the doctor, is evidence of the trauma that Jesus was experiencing even before his crucifixion started.

Crucifixion is not, strictly speaking, an execution technique, but a torture method. It could last days, and the soldiers were surprised that Jesus expired so quickly, after just a few hours. Stroud and many others have written extensive studies of the biblical texts just to understand why Jesus died so quickly.

But the most intriguing comment about the nature of Jesus’ death in the inspired gospels is the statement that “blood and water” came out. Metaphors have been drawn from this strange comment, but physicians have struggled through the centuries to understand the literal meaning.

William Stroud was the first to cite modern cases of “ruptured heart,” in which, under a panoply of extreme duress and mental torture, victims’ hearts have burst. The heart’s blood then congeals, creating a sac filled with blood and white blood cells, which separate—in simple terms, it would look like blood and water.

We can scarcely wrap our minds around the torture that Jesus underwent. Isaiah says of the Lord’s servant, “In all their affliction he was afflicted” (Isaiah 63:9, ESV) All of time’s unfathomed results of sin were boiled into one cup, and Jesus drank it to the dregs for us.

Jesus told James and John that they too would drink the cup of martyrdom that awaited him; but the cup of wrath, the cup of sin, only the Son of God would or could drink—may we thank him today.

Jesus, you chose willingly to take on yourself the bitter cup of my sin so that I could find acceptance in the Father. As I meditate on your suffering, I can only thank you that you left the Father’s side and chose suffering and death so that you might deal with my sin.

Amen.

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