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  • Writer's pictureDon Walker

The Crucifixion

“Pilate said to them, ‘Then what shall I do with Jesus who is called the Christ?’ They all said ‘Crucify Him!’” (Matt. 27:22)

It was the Phoenicians who were the first to devise the art of crucifixion. Having experimented with strangulation, drowning, burning, boiling in oil, and impalement - they found that each of these brought death too quickly. They wanted a slow, humiliating death fit for punishing criminals. The nakedness, the hours in the burning sun, the jeering crowds, and the indescribable physical torment met all the sadistic requirements. In fact, our English word “excruciating” is derived from the word “crucifixion.” The Greeks learned this means of execution from the Phoenicians and passed it on to the Romans. The Romans “perfected” it transforming the practice into a science. They produced a specific set of rules and made sure their soldiers were carefully trained in the techniques of crucifying the Empire's enemies. They had abundant opportunities to gain experience. Following the revolt of Spartacus, for example, more than six thousand men were crucified in a single day and hung on crosses along the Via Appia between Capua and Rome. The Romans were experts - and now they would employ their craft in executing one Jesus of Nazareth, charged with sedition and blasphemy.

By the time Jesus reached Golgotha, he was already beaten beyond recognition. He had been brutally pummeled, spat upon, and a crown of thorns, each from four to six inches in length, protruded from his torn scalp. But the horror of his appearance was primarily the result of the whipping he had received. Had he endured the Jewish scourging, the "forty stripes save one," he might have fared better. However, Jesus was scourged by the Romans, and they called their torture "the almost death." The Romans would strip the man of his clothing and tie his hands to a post above his head, which would not only restrain him, but it also would stretch the skin tight across his back. There was no required limit to the number of stripes a man might receive, and the jagged pottery and rocks knotted into the leather cords of the whip tore the flesh from the bone with each blow. Each blow from the whip cut deeper and deeper into the flesh, ultimately producing the spurting of blood as arteries were ruptured.

Condemned criminals were forced to carry the horizontal crossbeam, the patibulum, which weighed around 110 pounds, to the site of their execution. In the case of Jesus this would have been approximately 650 yards. The criminal was usually stripped naked for this procession in order to add to the humiliation. In addition, the condemned man was often required to carry a titulus stating the reason for his execution. Jesus was probably in the early stages of shock when the soldiers at Golgotha forced him down upon the very crossbeam he had just carried through the streets of Jerusalem and drove the five-inch stakes into his wrists. Moments later he was hoisted up against some kind of upright, probably a post permanently fixed in the ground for this purpose, and through his overlapping feet another even larger stake was hammered. But the agony had only just begun.

Instantly, Jesus experienced the true horror of crucifixion. As he hung from the crossbeam with his arms in a V position, he quickly realized that his pectoral muscles were paralyzed. He could draw air into his lungs but he was powerless to exhale. Carbon dioxide begins to build up in the lungs and blood stream. This sensation produced an involuntary panic and He could only find relief by pushing Himself up by pressing down on the stake that pinned His feet. The motion was agonizing and it was repeated again and again much to the cruel, mocking delight of the crowd. In addition to this agonizing torture, dehydration due to the loss of bodily fluids begins to take effect and the chest cavity begins to fill with serum compressing the heart. The compressed heart struggles to pump blood to the tissues.

And so he remained for three hours - from noon until three in the afternoon. He hung in the darkness that now covered the land, his sinless soul beset by every evil and wickedness mankind could know. So alone was He that toward the end of his ordeal he cried out in Aramaic: “Eli, Eli lama sabachthani” meaning "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" He thus experienced the ultimate rejection as a Holy God turned away from his own Son, now made sin. Then at the final moment, when all had been accomplished, Jesus cried out “It is finished!” The Greek word being tetelestai. A word that was used in the marketplace when the final payment had been made. It in essence means “paid in full.” The price of our redemption had been fully and completely paid.

A Roman soldier comes and thrusts his spear through the ribs, into the heart. Water and blood drain out the sac surrounding the heart. Medically, this indicates that Jesus died from heart failure due to shock and constriction of the heart by fluid.

When it was all over, Joseph and Nicodemus, members of the Sanhedrian Council that had condemned Jesus, took the body down from the cross, washed it, wrapped it with strips of linen and spices, and placed it in a new tomb. Then with the women who accompanied them, they hurried home to observe the Sabbath. The body of Jesus remained where it was placed, in the darkness of the tomb.

But early on the first day of the week God's Spirit entered that tomb. The pierced and ripped body of Jesus was in some inexplicable manner restored. Where flesh had been torn away by the Roman whip, perfect skin and muscle now appeared. Where a soldier's spear had pierced the side of Jesus, only a scar remained. The once lifeless body then filled with a brilliantly radiant force and rose from the stone slab. And then, just as Lazarus had done in response to his command, Jesus went out from the tomb.

At that moment, all heaven knew what mankind would soon discover; that He, for all his sacrifice and suffering, is worthy. More than any champion of Greek mythology, more than any hero of human history, more than any icon of pop culture, Jesus, the risen Christ, is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise. He alone is worthy.

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