Good Friday - The Crucifixtion
by Andrew Elder
Take a few minutes and read John 19:1-30.
Excruciating. We use that word all the time. When we stub a toe, or have toothache, or a migraine – the worst types of pain. But have you ever considered where this term comes from?
ex – cruciating; literally “out of crucifying.” A form of punishment so torturous it brought forth a new word for pain.
“There they crucified him.” (John 19:18)
Roman crucifixion wasn’t a quick death. It was performed as a deterrent to other would-be criminals; and so the slower, more painful, more gruesome, more humiliating, and more public the execution the better. Victims were left to left to hang until their eventual death from exhaustion and asphyxiation, which usually took several days, and often they were left hanging long after death to continue the humiliation and gruesome spectacle. The Romans had perfected the art of killing people slowly.
A Roman senator, called Cicero, recorded that crucifixion was “the most extreme form of punishment.” And it was. As Roman capital punishments went, it was more extreme than decapitation by sword and worse than being burned alive. It was even regarded as more severe than being torn to pieces by wild animals in the gladiatorial arena - at least that was swift. So despicable was it to civilised Roman thought, it was mostly reserved for non-Roman citizens, rebels, and slaves.
"Pone crucem servo" was the common command; “Put the cross on the slave.”
In regular practice the prisoner was flogged first, the so-called “half death,” because it had to stop short of actually killing them. An officer with the title of “lictor” was trained in the use of the flagellum, a weapon of terrifying effect. Its name is the origin of the english word “flogging.” It consisted of a wooden handle and several long leather thongs, each having pieces of bone or chain sewn into them, designed for one purpose only: to rip into skin and flesh. The number of strokes was not specified, nor was the location on the body upon which the prisoner could be struck, just so long as the process didn’t kill them.
Then came the cross itself.
For a common slave they used a lower cross, but for a distinguished enemy leader or rebel, as in the case of Jesus, they used the “crux sublimis,” raising the victim much higher off the ground and giving the grotesque show a wider audience. The condemned person would be made to carry the cross to the site of their execution, most often at the side of a busy, crowded road. Both factors intended to maximise the humiliation and, once at the site, the condemned would be stripped naked to heap on more humiliation and add the discomfort of exposure to the sun and insects. The soldiers, after tying the victim’s shoulders to the upright beam of the cross, then held their arms flat against the crosspiece. Five-inch spikes were driven by a hammer through each wrist, in the tender part, just between the forearm bones. The legs were then stretched out, one foot placed on top of the other, and a single spike hammered through both feet.
Only after the cross was raised into position did the real agony begin.
“The screaming was unbearable to hear,” one historian records the words of witnesses. Hanging on the cross in this way, it was nearly impossible to breathe, and the only way the victim could catch a breath was by pushing themselves into a more upright position with their legs. In this position all their weight was in their feet, and so, too painful to bare, the victim would let their weight fall back in to their arms. For hours and hours this cycle of pain went on, until finally, too weak to move, the victim would die, gasping for air. On rare occasions, out of pity or boredom, the soldiers would hasten death by breaking the legs of the crucified victim, thus preventing them from resting their weight on their feet, so they would suffocate.
There. They. Crucified. Him.
How many times have we heard these words? How many times have we heard them and failed to consider the extent of their cruelty and violence. Failed to consider just what our Jesus endured. This isn’t written to shock or disgust you. It’s not meant to put you off your cornflakes and coffee this Good Friday morning. It is meant to cause you to stop and consider what Jesus went through, for you. For me.
“He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have be healed.” (1 Peter 2:24)
Outside the city, God’s city, the King of Glory died the most slow, painful, humiliating, gruesome, and public death. The death of a slave. The death of a rebel. The death of one most despised. And as the Romans carried out their cruelty, little did they know that they were proving Jesus to be the fulfilment of the scriptures; proving him to be the Christ. As commanded by Jewish law, when the High Priest offered the sin offering, because it represented the sin of the people, it could not be burned on the altar inside the temple. Instead, the innocent animal was slaughtered and burned outside the camp, to represent how much God detests sin and to show how he removes sin from his people, so that they can dwell in his presence once again. It should not be lost on us then, that Jesus suffered outside the city. As C. H. Spurgeon comments, “That by dying without the gate, he might be proved to be the sin offering for his people.”
Think about that. HE was the sin offering for HIS people.
The Creator, offered up for his creation. Make no mistake, God gave himself up for you. The guilt that was ours was heaped on him and he was lead outside the city and slaughtered so we could go free. Not only did God subject himself to this punishment, allowing himself to be put to death and in doing so become the sin offering...but this was always the plan. God was always in control. In every part of this process his purposes were being advanced, and all these things took place that the Scripture might be fulfilled (John 19:36.). God put himself there.
God was impaled on that cross.
The one through whom, by whom, and for whom everything that was made, was made hung on that Roman cross, in agony, gasping for breath. But even so, he remained in control and it was only after the redeeming work was finished that he gave up his spirit. (John 19:30) It wasn’t taken from him, it didn’t leave him naturally, he gave it up. Jesus gave up his life.
When the King of Glory, the Creator of the universe, the Son of God, had received the fullness of God’s wrath he cried “It is finished,” bowed his head, and gave up his life. For you. For me.
There. They. Crucified. Him.