Jesus was dead.
There could be no rational basis for disputing that. Beaten nearly to death after not having slept all night. Nailed to a cross with heavy spikes through the upper writs and lower legs. Left to hang in the heat, slowly suffocating, struggling for each breath. Parched and dehydrated, starved for food. Stabbed in the chest cavity by a spear. No one could survive such torture and deprivation. Crucifixion was designed to kill. Slowly, but surely. The executioners were expert in their craft. They were not known for misfires. To fail in crucifixion led to severe punishment.
Doctors and medical experts have weighed in over the centuries on the efficacy and efficiency of crucifixion in killing its victims. They have studied the detailed accounts of the four Gospels and have repeatedly determined that this would kill any person. And that it more than likely killed the man, Jesus.
Those who took Him down from the cross and made the hasty preparations for burial would have seen death before, would have handled the dead before. It is beyond unlikely that they would have mistaken Jesus for dead, or that they would have put a living person in a tomb for the weekend after such a torturous experience.
Jesus was dead. Why?
He was dead because of God’s mercy. His mercy for you, for me, for all of humankind. How could such a horrible death be an act of mercy? Because it was God Himself, in human form, who was experiencing this death as a substitutionary death on behalf of all of us. In His mercy, He was taking on Himself the punishment due each and every one of us. He was standing in our place, absorbing the wrath of His perfect justice, taking on the just punishment for rebellion and sin.
Mercy might be demonstrated by simply deciding to “let bygones be bygones.” To overlook our rebellion without punishment. Mercy alone might do that, but justice will not allow it. Justice and mercy must both be served in dealing with our rebellious sin. Death was the penalty, and death was delivered.
God took on our penalty, absorbed the wrath we deserved, experienced our death. Justice was served. Mercy ruled over retribution. And love covered a multitude of sins.
Justice. Wrath. Death. Mercy. Love. This is the great power of our God, held in perfect balance, and delivered flawlessly on behalf of each of us. Whether we choose to believe it or not.
“Love was compressed for all history in that lonely figure on the cross, who said that he could call down angels at any moment on a rescue mission, but chose not to – because of us. At Calvary, God accepted his own unbreakable terms of justice.” – Philip Yancey