The Astonishing Humiliation of Christ


It is utterly astonishing that the faithful servant of the Lord, the promised deliverer of Israel, would be put on public display in a horrifying, humiliating fashion. That is the very word Isaiah uses: “Many were astonished at you—his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of the children of mankind” (Isa. 52:14). That verse is an abrupt and startling interruption set between two verses that describe the servant’s honor, influence, and exaltation. It is written in a way that purposely magnifies the reader’s astonishment. The sudden shift in topics—from exaltation to humiliation with no warning or transition whatsoever—illustrates the reason “many were astonished.” Putting it simply, as we keep stressing, the death of the promised Messiah was profoundly shocking. It seems no one besides Jesus himself was prepared for his death.

Incidentally, the Hebrew word translated “astonished” is a rich one. The English word is capable of being used in a very positive sense. It’s used, for example, in Mark 7:37, where it describes the people’s fascination and delight after Jesus healed a deaf man, and Scripture says “they were astonished beyond measure, saying, ‘He has done all things well.’” When he taught the multitudes, “they were astonished at his teaching, for his word possessed authority” (Luke 4:32). And when he healed a boy with an unclean spirit, “all were astonished at the majesty of God” (Luke 9:43).

Isaiah 52:14 is speaking about a different kind of astonishment. Isaiah uses a Hebrew term (shamem) that is never used to describe a positive reaction. It’s closer to the English word appalled. But it’s even stronger than that. It speaks of being totally devastated. In fact it’s a term that can describe the total defeat of an army or the utter desolation of a vast region that has fallen into ruins. (Isaiah used this word in 49:19 to describe the land of Judah after the Chaldean armies had demolished almost every trace of human habitation. He spoke of “your desolate [shamem] places and your devastated land.”)


The same Hebrew word is used quite frequently in the Old Testament, and it is usually translated “left desolate” or “laid waste.” But when used in a context such as Isaiah 52:14, the word has the connotation of horror. It speaks of a shock so staggering that one loses control of all rational faculties. It could be translated “numbed,” “petrified,” or “paralyzed.”

So this is a very strong word with a broad range of uses but a very clear meaning. Leviticus 26:32 uses the word twice in a kind of play on words that shows its wide semantic range. God himself is speaking, and he says, “I myself will devastate [shamem] the land, so that your enemies who settle in it shall be appalled [shamem] at it.”

Isaiah employs the term to describe the dismay of those who would witness the atrocious injuries inflicted on the suffering servant. They were devastated. But the damage done to him is indescribably worse: “His appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of the children of mankind” (Isa. 52:14). In other words, he would be so disfigured from the sufferings inflicted on him that his face and body would not even appear to be human.

The marring and disfigurement in view here are of course a description of what took place immediately prior to our Lord’s crucifixion, while he was on trial. Jesus’s disfigurement actually began in Gethsemane on the night of his betrayal and arrest. Scripture describes the deep, inward anguish and utter physical exhaustion he experienced as the sinless Son of God contemplated sin bearing and separation from his Father. He was literally sweating blood at the thought of what he would suffer on behalf of sinners. So he would have been weak and haggard-looking even before he was dragged away and put on trial.


But what left him “so marred, beyond human semblance” were the many tortures inflicted on him by those who put him to death. We know from the Gospel accounts that Jesus was struck on the head, spat upon, mocked, and flogged. He was beaten and abused by the chief priests (Matt. 26:67–68), the temple guard (Mark 14:65), and the Romans (Matt. 27:27–30). Added to that was the terrible scourging he received on Pilate’s orders (John 19:1).

To be flogged with a Roman scourge was a severe, even life-threatening punishment. The victim was lashed mercilessly with a flagellum, a short whip consisting of a wooden handle to which long leather thongs were attached. Each strip of leather had sharp pieces of bone, iron, and zinc held in place by knots spaced an inch or two apart (for a foot or more) along the business end of each thong. The victim would be tied to a post with his hands above his head and his feet suspended off the ground, stretching his body taught. As the biting strands of the flagellum tore into his back, muscles would be lacerated, veins cut, and internal organs exposed. So massive was the trauma inflicted that the scourging itself did sometimes prove fatal.

Of course, when the sentence called for crucifixion, death by the scourge was an undesirable outcome. A skilled lictor (the officer wielding the scourge) knew just how to apply the instrument in a way that would maximize the pain and injury, yet keep the victim alive so that the sentence of crucifixion could be carried out.

Crucifixion was the most brutal form of public execution ever devised. The injuries inflicted in the process were unspeakably savage. Nevertheless, the New Testament narrative makes very little mention of the actual wounds Christ suffered. After the resurrection, Jesus himself spoke of the wounds in his hands and side (John 20:27). But the New Testament doesn’t attempt to describe in detail the severity of Jesus’s injuries. Anyone within the realm of Roman influence would already be familiar with the awful damage done to a person’s body by crucifixion.


Therefore, the Old Testament prophecies about Christ’s death tell us more about the humiliating injuries he suffered than the New Testament does. Isaiah 52:14 is the Bible’s most graphic one-verse description of our Lord’s extreme disfigurement—his face so marred that he no longer appeared to be human. Psalm 22 provides even more insight into what Jesus endured on the cross. That psalm begins with the very words Christ uttered on the cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” The psalm also quotes the words of those who mocked the Savior as he hung there: “He trusts in the Lord; let him deliver him; let him rescue him, for he delights in him!” (v. 8; cf. Matt. 27:42).

So there can be no doubt what Psalm 22 refers to. This is Christ’s own testimony about the cross, given to us prophetically in a psalm that was written at least a thousand years before it was fulfilled. He says,

I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast; my strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death.

For dogs encompass me; a company of evildoers encircles me; they have pierced my hands and feet— I can count all my bones— they stare and gloat over me. (vv. 14–17)

That describes the crucifixion of Christ with uncanny accuracy, even though it was written centuries before anyone ever thought of executing criminals this way. The piercing of hands and feet refers, of course, to the nails used to fasten Jesus to the cross. Jesus’s bones would be wrenched “out of joint” when (after nailing him to the cross) the executioners would lift the cross upright and let it drop into a post-hole that had been dug deep enough to allow the cross to stand upright. The bone-jarring impact would dislocate multiple joints throughout the body. The bones could be counted because extreme trauma and dehydration left him an almost skeletal figure. The surrounding “company of evildoers” is precisely what the Gospel accounts describe (Mark 15:27–32). The phrase “my heart . . . melted within my breast” is the very image one gets from John’s description of the scene when “one of the soldiers pierced [Jesus’s] side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water” (John 19:34).


Again, Psalm 22 is a precise prophetic description of the results of crucifixion, more graphic than we get even from the New Testament eyewitness accounts. Yet the earliest mention of crucifixion in any historical record refers to an event that occurred five hundred years after David. When Darius I conquered Babylon for the second time in 519 BC, he had three thousand of the city’s most prominent men impaled and left to die slowly.[1] The practice was subsequently adopted as a means of public execution because of the way it struck terror into the hearts of those who witnessed it. Various forms of impalement and crucifixion were employed by world empires for the next five hundred years. The Greeks generally scorned the practice and used it only sparingly. It was the Romans who perfected a method that would keep victims suffering in agony for three days or longer.

A nineteenth-century English church leader, Frederic Farrar, wrote this description of the horrors of crucifixion:

[On a cross], in tortures which grew ever more insupportable, ever more maddening as time owed on, the unhappy victims might linger in a living death so cruelly intolerable, that often they were driven to entreat and implore the spectators, or the executioners, for dear pity’s sake, to put an end to anguish too awful for man to bear—conscious to the last, and often, with tears of abject misery, beseeching from their enemies the priceless boon of death.

For indeed a death by crucifixion seems to include all that pain and death can have of horrible and ghastly—dizziness, cramp, thirst, starvation, sleeplessness, traumatic fever, tetanus, publicity of shame, long continuance of torment, horror of anticipation, mortification of untended wounds—all intensified just up to the point at which they can be endured at all, but all stopping just short of the point which would give to the sufferer the relief of unconsciousness. The unnatural position made every movement painful; the lacerated veins and crushed tendons throbbed with incessant anguish; the wounds, inflamed by exposure, gradually gangrened; the arteries—especially of the head and stomach—became swollen and oppressed with surcharged blood; and while each variety of misery went on gradually increasing, there was added to them the intolerable pang of a burning and raging thirst; and all these physical complications caused an internal excitement and anxiety, which made the prospect of death itself—of death, the awful unknown enemy, at whose approach man usually shudders most—bear the aspect of a delicious and exquisite release.[2]


Isaiah 52:14 must be understood in that light. The brutal treatment Jesus suffered left him so maimed and mangled that he hardly looked human.

The people’s astonishment expressed their contempt. It reflects the profound shock they felt as they saw Jesus’s humiliation. They found him repulsive, far from their conception of what the Messiah King should be like. His degradation was the deepest possible, the most severe, and the most horrible.

But in contrast, his exaltation would be the highest, most profound, and most glorious.

[1] Herodotus, Histories, 3.159.

[2] Frederic William Farrar, The Sweet Story of Jesus: The Life of Christ (New York: Common- wealth, 1891), 619. For an analysis of the medical aspects of crucifixion, see William D. Edwards, Wesley J. Gabel, and Floyd E. Hosmer, “On the Physical Death of Jesus Christ,” Journal of the American Medical Association 255 (March 21, 1986): 1455–63.

Content taken from The Gospel according to God: Rediscovering the Most Remarkable Chapter in the Old Testament by John MacArthur, ©2018. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, Il 60187, www.crossway.org.

John MacArthur is the pastor-teacher of Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California, where he has served since 1969. He is known around the world for his verse-by-verse expository preaching and his pulpit ministry via his daily radio program, Grace to You. He has also written or edited nearly four hundred books and study guides. MacArthur serves as the president of the Master’s University and Seminary. He and his wife, Patricia, live in Southern California and have four grown children.

How the Resurrection Reshapes Success and Regret


The Discovery is a 2017 film about a scientist who makes a find so significant it drastically alters the world. He discovers brain waves continue to emit from the mind after a person is dead. What’s so significant about that? It’s scientific proof of an afterlife. Somehow, someway, the deceased’s brain continues to function after their heart has stopped.

People respond by committing suicide, millions of them, all around the world. Why? With definitive proof of an afterlife, they now have hope for a better life. They don’t have to linger in loneliness or struggle with cancer. All they have to do is pull the trigger, and they can be reunited with their loved ones.

If you had definitive proof of an afterlife, how would you respond? If you knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, you’d enter another life after you die, what would you do? Would you pull the trigger?


St. Paul also made a powerful discovery that radically altered history. He encountered a person from the other side, the resurrected Christ, and came to believe that Jesus was not only raised from the dead, but all who hope in him will be raised to eternal life.

But his response was different. Instead of taking his life, he gave his life. Instead of leaping to find what’s on the other side, he transformed his life on this side. You could say he “pulled the trigger” on his old life, and his old life wasn’t too shabby.

He formerly went by Saul and, according to the standards of Judaism, Saul was no slacker. He was circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin (Phil. 3:5). In other words, he wasn’t a newbie in the faith; he was circumcised so early he was raised in the faith. And of all the ethnicities in the world, he was from the chosen people. And out of all of Israel, he was from a special tribe, the tribe that furnished Israel with their very first king. Saul had a great pedigree, but he had even more.

His zeal eclipsed many of his contemporaries, aligning him with some of Israel’s greats (Moses, Elijah, Phineas). An expert in the Law, Saul was esteemed by many. You might say he was the Steve Jobs of Judaism, with a passion for perfection to go with it. Saul arrested and persecuted Christians who perverted his Jewish faith. No one questioned his commitment, until his encounter with the risen Christ.

Then something switched, and his zeal ran toward Christ in a life of hopeful self-denial. He traveled unreliable roads and weathered seas throughout the Mediterranean to share the good news about Jesus, all while living off of his tent business and the support of friends. He wrote letters to struggling churches, and his writings eventually comprised half the New Testament. Along the way, he encountered misunderstanding, ridicule, rejection, prison, flogging, and even shipwreck. Yet he persisted. Why? The resurrection of Jesus had radically changed his notion of success.


If you’ve been around successful people, you know how suddenly small and insignificant it can make you feel. A tiny voice pops into your head and starts interrogating you. What have you accomplished? What do you have to show? Why is that?

Sociologist Ernest Becker says it’s a response to death. Sensing our ephemeral nature, we create what he calls “immortality projects.” We might get a higher degree, establish a family, start a business, engage in philanthropy, or take a selfie, all in an attempt to avert death. We’re haunted by questions like, “What will people think about me after I die? What will they say at my funeral? Will anyone remember me?”

Becker says this undeniable impulse is an attempt to deny death. To construct a way for us to live on, long after we are gone. Paul comes along and puts a gun to his immortality project when he says, “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ (Phil. 3:7–8). Resurrection fundamentally alters the meaning of success.

Paul looks back at all his accomplishments and describes them as loss—three times he uses the word. What would compel a person of his stature to throw shade on his success? Christ. Each time he mentions loss, he pairs it with a gain: loss for the sake of Christ, loss because of the surpassing worth of Christ, counting achievement as rubbish to gain Christ.

The word surpassing means “above the mark.” He’s saying when I stack my accomplishments next to Jesus, they can’t even see him. The risen Christ is so good he’s off the scale, valuable beyond measure. By comparison, my accomplishments are rubbish.

Instead, success is this: “knowing Christ and the power of his resurrection” (3:10). It’s knowing the one who holds all things together, the God who swallows death, the rider on the white horse who will judge the quick and the dead, the King of a renewed creation. Knowing him is the greatest discovery—ever. And when you’ve got the greatest thing, you can live without a lot of things.


Eventually, the scientific crew working on the “the discovery” realizes the post-mortem brain signals are actually connected to episodes of a person’s past, not to an afterlife. When they convert the waves into images, they observe the episodes actually are moments of regret in a person’s life. Unknowingly, the suicides are waking up, not to a circle of loved ones but moments of intense regret. The central character gets stuck in a loop trying to prevent the suicide of a woman he loves.

Faith in Jesus, however, does not lead to an eternal loop of regret. Rather, to borrow a phrase from C. S. Lewis, it allows heaven to work backward. The meaning, love, joy, and goodness of heaven are transported back into the heart through union with Christ, which helps us weather things like loneliness and cancer.

Of course, our experience of heaven working backward is uneven. We are, after all, still on earth so to speak. And once we reach heaven, Lewis notes that even a past agony, and I’ll add even a regret, will turn into a glory. Why? Because that old pain will serve to intensify the present, everlasting comfort of Christ’s nail-scarred hands. Our regret will be faint, but a vivid reminder of the grand discovery—the remarkable mercy of Christ, who rose to forgive and renew all things.

Jonathan K. Dodson (M.Div, Th.M) is the founding pastor of City Life Church in Austin, TX which he started with his wife, Robie, and a small group of people. They have three children. He is also the founder of GCDiscipleship.com and author of a number of books including Gospel-Centered Discipleship, and Here in Spirit: Knowing the Spirit who Creates, Sustains, and Transforms All Things (IVP, 2018).

Raised? Doubting the Resurrection

book-3d We wrote this book out of our love for skeptics and respect for the questions they help us ask. We also write as believers who oscillate in real belief in the resurrected Christ. We hope it proves to be an insightful, stirring reflection on the resurrection. 

We are giving this book away in the hope that churches will make the eBook or hardcopy available to their people, especially to all their visitors on Easter. We are praying God would use it to spark gospel conversations, equip believers, and help people meet the risen Jesus.

Download artwork, slides, and the book at: www.raisedbook.com


One in five Americans don’t believe in a deity. The “none” category in religious polls has doubled over the past ten years. Less than half of the population attends religious services on a regular basis. As statistics rise on the decline of Christian faith in America, you may find yourself wondering if Christianity is really worth believing? After all, the Christian faith makes some audacious claims.

Audacious Claims of the Gospel

Some of the most audacious claims are made right at the center of the Christian faith—in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Though some particulars may vary, the gospel is something all Christians agree on: “that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). Now, there are some big assumptions made in this verse: that we sin; that Christ was strong enough to deal with sin, and that he was stronger than death—he was raised from the dead!

If this is all true, Jesus calls us to respond by faith in him to receive forgiveness of sin and the gift of eternal life (John 3:16; Romans 6:23). Here we have four big concepts—sin, faith, Christ, and eternal life. Followers of Christ have, at times, communicated these concepts terribly. As a result, there is a general misunderstanding, even among some Christians, as to what these terms mean. For instance, eternal life (or resurrection life) is often mistaken as an escape from life in order to get into a cloudy eternity. How boring! While we address this error throughout the book, it gets particular attention in chapter four. In chapter three, we examine the meaning of sin, faith, and Christ. These are misconstrued to mean bad behavior, wishful thinking, and great teacher. Way off target. All of these concepts lack deep appeal apart from a greater narrative to fit into. In chapter two, we trace the bigger story of Scripture to see if it resonates with human longing. In this chapter, we hone in on an audacious gospel claim—that Jesus was raised from the dead.

At first glance, the death of Jesus is easy enough to embrace. It is well documented and the Roman authorities crucified people regularly. The god-sized claim beneath his self-sacrifice is what ruffles feathers. The claim that his sacrifice was on behalf of all humanity troubles both our pride and our intellect. Jesus, represented all of us? What gives him the right? Who says we need a representative or sacrifice anyway? The gospel gets crazier. The bull’s eye of the gospel is the death and resurrection of Jesus. We don’t have to dive deep to surface doubt with the resurrection. Its surface value is, well, incredible. The notion that a first century Jewish man, crucified between two common thieves, was actually God and rose from the dead is unbelievable. To the modern mind, resurrection is utterly implausible. People don’t beat death, especially after being in the grave three days. In light of recent horror trends, we might be more inclined to believe in a zombie emerging from the dead than a resurrected and fully restored person. Yet, at the center of historic Christian faith is the belief that a Jewish man named Jesus was “raised.”

If you doubt the resurrection, I’m glad. Anything worth believing has to be worth questioning, but don’t let your questions slip away unanswered. Don’t reduce your doubts to a state of unsettled cynicism. Wrestle with your doubts. Find answers.

If you call yourself a believer and a skeptic, don’t settle for pat proofs, emotional experiences, or duty-driven religion. Keep asking questions. Those who haven’t questioned their faith can easily become doctrinaire, even detached from the everyday struggle of faith. Whether you are a skeptic, believer, or somewhere in between, press into your faith or push into your doubt. Question your faith and question your doubts. Determine good reasons for believing or not believing in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. If he really did defeat death, it changes everything. Doubt well and you can walk away from skepticism, cynicism, or blind faith into perceptive belief, intellectual security, and deeper commitment. You can know that you have honestly questioned the resurrection.

Others Who Struggle to Believe

You aren’t the only one to struggle with belief in the resurrection. The story of the resurrection includes many doubters. The resurrection story is rooted in an historical account of events in first century Palestine (modern day Israel). The Gospels (written by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) report these events from four different vantage points, narrating the life, ministry, death, and alleged resurrection of Jesus. The Gospel authors tell us that Jesus predicted his death and resurrection years before it occurred (John 2:22). He knew what was coming and went along with it. He didn’t run. One evening, Jesus met his disciples in a garden to pray. Suddenly, he was interrupted by clanging armor and flaming torches. Roman soldiers appeared to arrest him at the behest of the religious right (the Pharisees). The Pharisees charged Jesus with sedition, a charge most unsettling to the Roman Empire. As his disciples scattered, Jesus was left to face trial alone. He was quickly tried in the wee hours of Friday morning and crucified that afternoon. He was buried that night. On Sunday, grief stricken women went to visit Jesus’ tomb. As devoted disciples, they were shocked to find his tomb uncovered. Other disciples joined them, entered the tomb, and found his body gone, with his grave clothes lying there. This is where doubt begins to creep in.

Some claim the body was stolen. Mary thought the same thing, until Jesus appeared to her. Other disciples disbelieved her resurrection report, even after Jesus appeared to them (Luke 24:36-43). They mistook him for a ghost, so Jesus took it upon himself to prove his physical existence. He ate a piece of fish before their very eyes and they all believed, except doubting Thomas. Thomas saw all of this and remained incredulous. He heard the news, saw the man, and even watched Jesus perform an experiment proving he was real. Now, if God really is Jesus, and he’s risen from the dead standing right in front of you, proves he’s not a spirit, and you still doubt, how do you think Jesus should respond? You’d think Jesus would smack him down for doubt, rebuke Thomas on the spot, and call him to fall in line with his now believing friends. But he didn’t. Instead, Jesus entertains his doubts. He invites Thomas to press his hands to his tender crucifixion wounds, charging him: “Do not disbelieve, but believe” (John 20:27).

If you doubt the resurrection, you’re in good company. To the solidly skeptical and those struggling with doubt, Jesus remains ready to receive our questions. Jesus entertains doubts. He also implores belief. (Wouldn’t you if you died and rose from the dead, appearing to your disbelieving family and friends?) And to those who do not see the resurrected Christ, and still believe, Jesus confers a particular blessing (John 20:29). Though a blessing from God sounds nice, it can still be hard to get past the implausibility of someone rising from the dead. Many believe in the historical Jesus, but fewer believe in the resurrected Jesus.

The resurrection is like a river that parts a road. People are on the road approaching the river. Arriving at the river of the resurrection, you look across it to where the road continues, and see quite a few cars are parked there. In your doubt, you can’t imagine how people got to the other side. How did they get across the river? How can rational people come to the belief that Jesus died and rose from the dead?

The Global Perspective

Truth be told, the parking lot on the other side of the resurrection is overflowing. Resurrection-believing Christians are all over the world. Today there are approximately 2.2 billion Christians in the world, almost a billion more Christians than Muslims (who adhere to the second largest world religion, Islam). Christians around the world claim a personal encounter with Christ and a relationship with a resurrected Jesus. Many of them are so devout they have suffered for their belief in the resurrected Christ. These believers are from a broad array of cultures and ethnic backgrounds. What are we to conclude from this?

Because Christianity is the world’s largest (and incredibly diverse) religion, should you jump ship on your unbelief or switch religions? The sheer number of believing, praying, suffering Christians does not make the resurrection true, but it should make it possible. It is possible that Islam is also true; however, Muslims do not put hope in a resurrected messiah. Allah is not a God who suffers for humanity and conquers death. In Jesus, however, we find God crucified and raised to life. According to the Bible, the resurrection is also a preview of things to come (1 Corinthians 15). Resurrection isn’t restricted to Jesus. All who have faith in him will eventually gain a resurrected body to enjoy a “resurrected” world. This certainly is hopeful. If billions of people and thousands of cultures have found hope in the resurrection, then perhaps there is something to it? How did all those ethnic groups come to believe a claim as implausible as the resurrection of Jesus?

The majority of the Christian population has shifted away from the West to the South and the East.The current statistical-geographical center of global Christianity is, quite literally, Timbuktu, Mali. That’s Africa. The largest Christian nation is China. Now, the interesting thing about the current center of global Christianity is that it is in cultures that affirm the supernatural. In fact, the global south encounters inexplicable, supernatural events on a regular basis. Not so in the West, we have ruled out the supernatural. We rarely see such extraordinary things. We begin with the assumption that the supernatural is not possible. Is this position critical or biased? To be sure, some Americans are willing to believe in the supernatural the teachings of Buddha, Vishnu, and Eckhart Tolle, but are we willing to believe in Jesus, risen from the dead? If we are to consider the plausibility of the resurrection, we must begin with its possibility. Critical of our default cultural position, this is the only intellectually honest place to begin. Is it true, as the Apostle Paul summarized: “that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4)? Let’s consider this central tenant of a historic world faith. We will begin by asking other skeptics who were alive at the time of Jesus’ alleged resurrection. Did they find the resurrection plausible? How did some of them get across the river of doubt?

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