Doro … I can’t breathe!

~ The last words of Enrico Caruso

Silhouette by Jon Schulte, courtesy of iStockphoto

Enrico Caruso (1873 – 1921) was the most famous tenor of his day. The Italian was the first singer to sell one million recordings. His operatic voice wooed the masses until he couldn’t sing any more.

During a 1920 performance of Samson and Delilah, a falling prop hit him in his side. Posthumous assessment theorized it caused a renal hematoma, which then later abscessed. The infection produced fluid on his lungs. The resultant empyema and pleurisy limited his performances.

His condition progressed despite surgeries and multiple medical therapies. Consultations with many different physicians proved futile. He died from complications related to his illness.

In the end, he had difficulty breathing. Much less was he able to sing. His last words to his wife Dorothy demonstrated the agony he suffered.

  • Have you ever wondered why Jesus’ last words weren’t longer?

Scripture records only seven short statements from the cross. Jesus had hundreds of thousands of people to whom He could’ve laid out a great message, but He didn’t.

Why?

Scripture gives us some clues in the Old Testament.

  • First, there was the sign of Jonah.

It’s obvious Jonah faced near-drowning. A recent blog discussed this facet of Jonah’s anguish. Even inside that fish, Jonah found respiration labored and torturous. The deep’s pressure constricted his chest. The small chamber provided limited breathing space. And its air was vile, acidic, and nauseating.

Jonah conserved every breath. His words were few. Just like anyone would be when they’re struggling for oxygen.

But Jonah’s suffering wasn’t even the first foreshadowing. We’d have to go further back in time.

  • Noah’s day gave us a glimpse.

After all, those unwilling to seek God’s provision in the ark drowned in their sin. The deluge silenced their last words – desperate and vile as they were.

  • Moses provided another clue in his chronicles.

God saved His chosen people through the treacherous waters of the Red Sea. The Lord drowned the charioteers of the hard-hearted pharaoh. God’s grace passed over the Hebrews, but not the Egyptian army. The latter had rejected the covering of the lamb’s blood. And they died in their sin, probably uttering blasphemous words against God.

  • God’s judgment silences the ungodly.

We see this pattern in mankind’s history above. Yet, not all suffering comes from sin. There are times when the just endure affliction … when trials attempt to suffocate their lives.

  • Job anguished for righteousness’s sake.

This patriarch was a forerunner of the Messiah, the Righteous One who agonized that we might become His righteousness. Now, listen to Job’s anguish and think on the Savior’s Passion:

For He crushes me with a tempest…

He will not allow me to catch my breath,

But fills me with bitterness.

~ Job 9:17, 18, NKJV

  • David prophesied of the Messiah’s agony to come.

Adrian Rogers calls Psalm 22, the Old Testament Calvary.[1] Many passages from this lament foretold of Christ’s suffering. Even one of Jesus’ short wails came from this very Scripture:

“My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”

~ Mark 15:34, NKJV

There are so many such associations with the crucifixion that later posts will have to address them. But there is one striking, though hidden, truth.

  • David wrote this psalm in incomplete Hebrew sentences…

As if in a hurry.

As if having trouble getting his message out.

As if he were pointing us to what would happen on the cross of Christ.

  • Our Savior suffered progressive asphyxiation as He agonized at Calvary.

His lungs starved for air. His limbs cramped from the lack of oxygen.

If we understand the physiology of crucifixion, we’d glean a better understanding of what took place that day.

The Savior didn’t preach one last sermon … because He couldn’t. His sacrifice was the only sermon we need to hear.



[1] Adrian Rogers, The Passion of Christ and the Purpose of Life (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2005), 82.