It's often been asked why Jesus the Christ had to be crucified. It's such a gruesome death, we say. Wasn't there another way?
Of course, there are a thousand ways to die. Thousands upon thousands. Even for Jesus. Someone in the mob could have run a sword through Him in the garden when they came to arrest Him. The lashes He took to His back could have taken the life right out of Him; we know such a beating often killed other men. Sheer exhaustion could have caused Him to collapse between the court and the Cross. Pilate could have declared Him innocent and released Him, letting Him die a natural death at a ripe old age sometime in the distant future. These, and countless others, are all possible ways to see the end of Jesus's life.
But none of them are sufficient.
The Cross, as brutal, as degrading, as cruel as it was, was the only way to fulfill the divine story of life and death, of redemption.
Jesus is often (and rightfully so) contrasted with Adam. These two become known as the First Man and the Second Man, respectfully, and it is said that what was broken and burdened by the First Man is redeemed and restored by the Second. So Jesus undoes, somehow, the story of Adam. It's how we come to be new creations. If you look at the story of Adam, you see that the thing that started it all...was the breath of God.
God formed Adam from the dust of the earth, shaped the man into His own image. And then, once He had the form just right, God bent down and breathed the breath of life into Adam's nostrils.
Then comes the Second Adam.
To understand what's going on here, you have to understand something about the method of the Cross. The Cross drew a man's body apart and put pressure on his hands and his feet. Over time, the weight of his body would increase as he became unable to bear the weight just by these three pressure points. As his body became heavier, his joints would begin to dislocate, particularly at his shoulders, which only increased the burden his body was forced to bear. We see in the Scriptures that when the criminal's body was stronger than expected, when this whole process of crucifixion was taking too long, the soldiers would break his legs, making it harder still for him to hold himself up, for his body to bear the pressure of the Cross.
But what kills a man on the Cross is not simple heaviness or exhaustion or even the excruciating pain. What happens is that as his body becomes heavier, it sinks further into itself until finally, he is no longer able to raise himself enough to take fresh air into his diaphragm. A man dies on the cross when the weight of himself becomes so much that he can no longer breathe.
And that's why this is the only fitting death for Jesus the Christ.
Oh, there are a lot of ways to take the air out of a man. You can strangle him, of course. But that would have put Jesus's death directly at the hands of another man. The Cross put His death at the weight of His own human flesh. It was literally His humanity that killed Him. The pressures of life became too much on His form, and He had nothing left to give it.
And then...and then...He breathed His last. Just as God the Creator first breathed life into Adam, so Jesus the Christ gave up this very breath of life. In the most public of ways, in the most public of places, hanging on a Cross on the side of the road for all to see, Jesus returned the breath of life to His Father, releasing it from His own burdened body with the victorious utterance, It. Is. Finished.
We often wonder why Jesus the Christ had to be crucified, but there was no other way. There was just no other way. Christ on the Cross shows us what happens when a man falls in on himself, when the weight of his own humanity becomes too much to bear, and then He completes the story of the Second Adam by returning to God the very breath of life. It's brutal, yes.
But it's beautiful, too.