“Crucifixion” by Harry Anderson (1906-1996)
Luke 23:26-43 (NIV)
26As they led him away, they seized Simon from Cyrene, who was on his way in from the country, and put the cross on him and made him carry it behind Jesus.
“Simon of Cyrene Helps Jesus to Carry the Cross” by Eric Gill, 1917 (Tate Collection, London)
Before Jesus took the cross, He was whipped—scourged—as Pilate had earlier promised (I will therefore chastise Him, Luke 23:16).
“Scourging was a legal preliminary to every Roman execution, and only women and Roman senators or soldiers (except in cases of desertion) were exempt.” (Edwards)
The goal of the scourging was to weaken the victim to a state just short of collapse and death. “As the Roman soldiers repeatedly struck the victim’s back with full force, the iron balls would cause deep contusions, and the leather thongs and sheep bones would cut into the skin and subcutaneous tissues. Then, as the flogging continued, the lacerations would tear into the underlying skeletal muscles and produce quivering ribbons of bleeding flesh. Pain and blood loss generally set the stage for circulatory shock. The extent of blood loss may well have determined how long the victim would survive the cross.” (Edwards)
“The severe scourging, with its intense pain and appreciable blood loss, most probably left Jesus in a pre-shock state. Moreover, hematidrosis had rendered his skin particularly tender. The physical and mental abuse meted out by the Jews and the Romans, as well as the lack of food, water, and sleep, also contributed to his generally weakened state. Therefore, even before the actual crucifixion, Jesus’ physical condition was at least serious and possibly critical.” (Edwards)
Before Jesus was led away, His clothes were stripped off. “When the soldiers tore the robe from Jesus’ back, the probably reopened the scourging wounds.” (Edwards)
As Jesus was led away to be crucified, He was—like all victims of crucifixion—forced to carry the wood He would hang upon. The weight of the entire cross was typically 300 pounds. The victim only carried the crossbar, which weighed anywhere from 75 to 125 pounds. When the victim carried the crossbar, he was usually stripped naked, and his hands were often tied to the wood.
The upright beams of a cross were usually permanently fixed in a visible place outside of the city walls, beside a major road. It is likely that on many occasions, Jesus passed by the very upright He would hang upon.
So, because Jesus was in such a weakened condition, the soldiers forced Simon to carry the cross for Him.
–David Guzik (and all following comments in red)
27A large number of people followed him, including women who mourned and wailed for him.
28Jesus turned and said to them, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children. 29For the time will come when you will say, ‘Blessed are the barren women, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’ 30Then
” ‘they will say to the mountains, “Fall on us!”
and to the hills, “Cover us!” ‘
31For if men do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?”
It was customary for a great multitude to follow a condemned criminal on his way to crucifixion.
As they made their way, a Roman guard led with a sign that carried the man’s name and crime, and called out the name and the crime along the way to the place of crucifixion. They usually didn’t take the shortest way to the place of crucifixion, so as many people as possible could see how the Roman Empire treated its enemies.
32Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed. 33When they came to the place called the Skull, there they crucified him, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left.
“Crucifixion” by Tintoretto, 1568
What was it like to be crucified? In days the New Testament was first written, the practice needed no explanation. But we would do well to appreciate just what happened when someone was crucified.
“Although the Romans did not invent crucifixion, they perfected it as a form of torture and capital punishment that was designed to produce a slow death with maximum pain and suffering.” (Edwards)
The combination of scourging and crucifixion made death on the cross especially brutal. The victim’s back was first torn open by the scourging, then the clotting blood was ripped open again when the clothes were torn off before crucifixion. The victim was thrown on the ground to fix his hands to the crossbeam, and the wounds on the back were again be torn open and contaminated with dirt. Then, as he hung on the cross, with each breath, the painful wounds on the back scraped against the rough wood of the upright beam and were further aggravated.
When the nail was driven through the wrists, it severed the large median nerve. This stimulated nerve produced excruciating bolts of fiery pain in both arms, and often gave the victim a claw-like grip in the hands.
Beyond the excruciating pain, the major effect of crucifixion was to inhibit normal breathing. The weight of the body, pulling down on the arms and shoulders, tended to fix the respiratory muscles in an inhalation state, and hindered exhalation. The lack of adequate respiration resulted in severe muscle cramps, which hindered breathing even further. To get a good breath, the victim had to push against the feet, and flex the elbows, pulling from the shoulders. Putting the weight of the body on the feet produced searing pain, and flexing of the elbows twisted the hands hanging on the nails. Lifting the body for a breath also painfully scraped the back against the rough wooden post. Each effort to get a proper breath was agonizing, exhausting, and led to a sooner death.
“Not uncommonly, insects would light upon or burrow into the open wounds or the eyes, ears, and nose of the dying and helpless victim, and birds of prey would tear at these sites. Moreover, it was customary to leave the corpse on the cross to be devoured by predatory animals.” (Edwards)
Death from crucifixion could come from many sources: acute shock from blood loss; being too exhausted to breathe any longer; dehydration; stress-induced heart attack, or congestive heart failure leading to a cardiac rupture. If the victim did not die quickly enough, the legs were broken, and the victim was soon unable to breathe.
How bad was crucifixion? We get our English word excruciating from the Roman word “out of the cross.” “Consider how heinous sin must be in the sight of God, when it requires such a sacrifice!” (Clarke)
The most significant thing about Jesus’ suffering was that He was not, in any sense, the victim of circumstances. He was in control. Jesus said of His life in John 10:18, no one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. It is terrible to be forced to endure such torture, but to freely choose it out of love is remarkable.
34Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”
Pure grace. A word of pure grace. This is the most powerful example of grace and forgiving love in the whole Bible. While in so much pain, Jesus asked God to forgive his tormentors. In this Jesus fulfilled His own command to love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good for those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you (Matthew 5:44).
And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.
35The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Christ of God, the Chosen One.”
36The soldiers also came up and mocked him. They offered him wine vinegar 37and said, “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.”
It is precisely because He did not save Himself that He can save others. Love kept Jesus on the cross, not nails!
38There was a written notice above him, which read: THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS.
39One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!”
40But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? 41We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”
42Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
A Taize song — HERE is “Jesus, Remember Me.” Lord, in your great mercy, hear our prayer.
43Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”
Jesus makes a huge promise to the robber next to him on the cross: “Today you will be with me in paradise.”
Today. In your hearts, write down the word, “today.” Immediately. Instantaneously. Now. Not tomorrow. Not in a hundred years. Not in a thousand years. Not in a in a million years. But today.
You. In your hearts, write down the word, “you.” That means you and me. We too will be in paradise with God when we die. At Christmas time, we often say, your name needs to be on the present for you to receive the gift. Christ’s promise is not only towards the thief on the cross but Christ’s promise is directed towards you and me as well. To be a Christian, you need to realize that God’s gift is for you personally.
With me. In your heart, write down the words, “with me.” We then go to paradise to be reunited with our long lost mother, father, brother, sister, spouse who have died before us. But that is not the emphasis in the Bible. What the Bible emphasizes is better, much better. We will be with Christ, and when we are with Christ in paradise, we are with pure grace, with God’s Presence which is pure love, who forgives us all our sins.
In paradise. There is that word again, that word found in the very beginning of the Bible and at the very end of the Bible. “Paradise.” We will see the incredible beauty all around us. We will seen the face and glory of God. We will be with loved ones. There will no war nor starvation nor evil for these things will have been all destroyed. And our hearts, knowing all of this, will be filled with praise and thanksgiving.
–Rev. Edward Markquart
Psalm 17:7 (NRSV)
Wondrously show your steadfast love, O Savior of those who seek refuge from their adversaries.
We see Jesus functioning as prophet, priest and king, at His death.
He was a Prophet to the Daughters of Jerusalem.
He was a Priest when He forgave those who nailed Him to the cross.
He was a King when He authoritatively assured the penitent criminal salvation and entrance into the Kingdom.
New International Version (NIV) Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by Biblica
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