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Friday, March 25, 2016


You've seen the pictures, I'm sure. Jesus on the cross is a familiar image. Except I doubt if the ones we see are very accurate.

Jesus's torment began in the Garden of Gethsemane. There He told His disciples, "My soul is deeply grieved, to the point of death; remain here and keep watch with Me." (Matt 26:38) Getting off alone, He prayed to the Father, "My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will." (Matt 26:39) Luke (the physician) reports that His grief was so intense that "being in agony He was praying very fervently; and His sweat became like drops of blood, falling down upon the ground." (Luke 22:44) The medical term is hematohidrosis where, under great stress, the blood vessels around the sweat glands can mix blood with sweat. Luke reports that so great was His distress there that "an angel from heaven appeared to Him, strengthening Him." (Luke 22:43). And so it began.

He was on trial all night between Annas and the Sanhedrin. He was slapped and insulted. His close disciple, Peter, denied even knowing Him ... three times. In the morning He was sent to Pilate, then to Herod, then back to Pilate. He was whipped and beaten. The classic Roman whipping would have torn the flesh from His back. The beatings included fists and a crown of thorns, nail-like spikes that were driven into His head with sticks. They hit Him and pulled out His beard. They beat Him until His face was no longer recognizable as a man (Isa 50:6; Isa 52:14). Finally, they placed that rough-hewn cross piece on His torn and bleeding back and made Him carry it to His crucifixion. He was too weak to complete the job and someone else was pressed into service.

At Golgotha, they stripped Him of His clothing, laid Him on the cross, and drove spikes through His wrists and ankles. They lifted Him up, most likely naked, and displayed His humiliation and agony to all, placed between two thieves. To the Jew, Jesus stood cursed, hung on a tree. His torment would be unendurable to most of us. The usual cause of death in a crucifixion is not the beating or the nails, but asphyxiation. The body hangs with its weight on outstretched, nailed wrists and a spike through the ankles. In this position, breathing is impossible. In order to exhale, He would have to pull His body up on the spikes in wrists and ankles to give His lungs room to operate. (They broke their legs because that would cause faster asphyxiation.) The biblical accounts tell that Jesus spoke 7 times on the cross. Most of them were out of concern for others. In all of the torture, pain, and distress there is only one moment that Jesus is said to have cried out. That was the moment at which the Father laid on His perfect Son the sins of us all. At that moment Jesus's worst agony occurred and He cried, "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?" (Matt 27:46)

We don't actually know the horrors of the cross that Jesus faced for us. We get glimpses. The sweat as drops of blood, the all-night trial of an innocent, the beatings and whippings, the cruelty and hate, we can possibly get an idea of that. The crucifixion itself is not part of our experience, but we can imagine the nails, the agony, the physical and emotional torment. But that moment, that point in which the Son of God, in perfect connection with the Father, was separated from the Father ... that one isn't something that connects with our experience at all. And He did it for you and me.

We've seen the art. We know what it was like. Rest assured, it was nothing like that. And no painting or even Hollywood production can capture that moment when Christ bore our sin. It's something we must not forget.
For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in His steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in His mouth. When He was reviled, He did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but continued entrusting Himself to Him who judges justly. 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 been healed. (1 Peter 2:21-24)

1 comment:

David said...

So often we focus on the punishment He received leading up to and upon that cross. I imagine most people believe that anticipation is what caused Him to sweat blood. What we always miss out on is the shortest, least described part of that punishment, and likely the reason He sweat blood, being severed from God by taking our sin upon Himself. All the torture up to then is something that can be experienced by any mortal. But to be in constant communion with the Father and know that that was going to be shut off, even briefly, would be the worst torment, beyond anything we can comprehend, as foreign to us as God is. Movies like The Passion are hard to take by most. The hardest part for me is that last, the one missed by most.