Jesus makes His way down the agonizing pathway to His own execution, along with two convicted criminals. “And a great multitude of the people followed Him” (Luke 23:27). Rough soldiers, with their commander at the peak, lead Jesus tethered to a rope, like an animal going to slaughter. Suddenly, the procession comes to a halt. What is the cause for this? The crowd collides. Oh! The man carrying a cross has collapsed! Who is it? Jesus of Nazareth! Nearly unconscious, He is sprawled on the ground under the weight of the cruel cross. How He quivers and quakes beneath the heavy load! And now vicious soldiers kick and strike Him with brute force, wrenching Him to His feet once more. Jesus tries again and again to lift Himself, but He crumples over and over. All prodding and beating is in vain, for His strength has completely abandoned Him.
Consider though, how weary, weak, and exhausted Jesus had to have been after His battle in Gethsemane. Then followed the grueling, demoralizing interrogation from the High Counsel after a sleepless night while under examination by the governor. Having endured the piercing blows of a whip, tearing bloody gouges into his shoulders and back (see Psalm 129:3), it becomes clear to us that He was in no position to carry that heavy wooden cross. The cross was then laid upon a man named Simon of Cyrene to carry.
Eventually, they arrive at a small hill called Golgotha, which is translated as “place of a skull.” It is here that the most incredible and triumphant event in world history would take place. The executioners hand out a numbing drink to the condemned. It is a mixture of wine and myrrh, like morphine, to dull the first torturous agonies of the men about to be crucified. We read that after having tasted the drink, Jesus refused it. He was ready to endure His bitter death in full consciousness. In our place, He was willing to suffer the most hellish torment and to drink every last drop of the bitter cup in complete obedience.
A gripping drama unfolds before our eyes. The sensational hour has arrived! The redeeming sacrifice, which had been heralded for centuries, is about to be made for all the world. Jesus is now about to carry out the Father’s most difficult commission: to give His life as an atoning sacrifice and to fulfill His actual mission. Rough, hostile soldiers pounce callously on the King of Glory like hyenas and tear the clothes off his body. Then they heave Him onto the beam, as if they were dealing with the scum of the earth.
The most dreadful scene of the Passion story is now upon us. All hell is loose and gruesome brutality enters the stage. These men, like tigers in human form, stretch Jesus onto the cross. Crossing his feet, they drive strong nails with their hammers into his hands and feet, into the places where many sensitive veins and nerves intersect. Can you hear the dull blows of the hammer thudding on Golgotha?
Have these blows awakened and softened your heart? See how that innocent blood of the Lamb of God sprays and flows! Have His warm drops of blood flowed onto your heart yet? Shouldn’t heaven be appalled by this drama full of blood? The daughters of Zion weep! Mary has totally collapsed. Yet Jesus endures patiently as a sheep that is silent before his shearer and doesn’t make a sound on the beam. He could have opened His mouth and spoken of the curse and judgment. He does not, however. He does not harbor thoughts of vengeance. He can do nothing other than to love. He knows that it is the only way to complete the plan of salvation.
Then His cross is erected so that He is hanging only about a meter above the ground. The slightest movement causes Him unbearable pain.
The cross consisted of a long beam and a cross beam. In the middle of the vertical long beam, a horizontal woodblock protruded on which the executed rested his weight. It would be impossible for his pierced hands alone to bear the weight of his entire body. In this manner, the body weight would be somewhat distributed.
The most torturous and dreaded of all death penalties was crucifixion. It was a punishment that the Romans only administered to slaves, robbers, dangerous criminals, and insurgents. If a Roman citizen deserved a death penalty he would be decapitated, but never put to death by this dishonorable means of execution. Such a disgraceful, horrible, and drawn-out method of torture, which the gruesomeness of man had invented and which was abhorrent to the Jewish people, was chosen for Jesus. The Romans were then forced to crucify the Messiah. It is said that even the roughest Roman onlookers trembled at the unspeakable agonies that a crucified person had to endure. Cicero describes it as the most “cruel and disgusting punishments.” The Roman philosopher Seneca dramatically and precisely describes crucifixion with the agonizing words: “wasting away in pain on a cross—dying limb by limb one drop of blood at a time.”
Due to the forcible and unnatural posture of the body, each limb was being pulled out of socket, so that muscles and nerves that hung freely were wrenched in indescribable torture. After an hour or two, the blood in the veins became stagnant. Due to lack of circulation, terrible muscle cramping in the calves set in, accompanied by spasms from constricted limbs and often catalepsy. Congestion of blood around the heart would lead to cardiac arrest. Because of the unnatural congestion of blood and the swelling of the main arteries leading to the head, heart problems, anxiety, a burning fever, and a terrible headache would develop. At this point, an incredible thirst set in as a dreadful fever permeated the body. This would explain the reason a numbing morphine-like drink was offered before the crucifixion.
Generally, a crucified person did not suffer for only a few hours. The heartier ones could last for 24 to 36 hours on the cross before perishing. In the last stages of life, most became delirious, begging and screaming until becoming enraged. In this grotesque condition with all limbs convulsing, a laborious wheezing set in, and the tortured victim eventually succumbed to heart failure.
Not only did Jesus suffer all this, but He also died out of love for you and me. His dying was a sacred death, dying in the will of the Father, in the peace of God!
Dear reader, have your sins convicted you in light of this gruesome spectacle? Listen to the suffering and dying Love whispering: “But you have burdened Me with your sins, you have wearied Me with your iniquities.” “But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities” (Isaiah 53:5). Do you not realize how hideous sin is and how horrifically it raged at the cross? Can you not see how unfathomably deep this love is? Why don’t you come right now, weeping at the foot of the cross? Oh, that you would just repent and realize your transgressions! The way to the heavenly Father is Jesus Christ! The Righteous One wants to make you righteous because He carried your sins. The blood of the slain Lamb wants to reveal the way to the Most Holy. It wishes to clothe you with garments of salvation, to destroy all your self-made pious rags! Oh, that you could truthfully testify of your own joy of salvation:
Christ’s blood and righteousness alone
Can cleanse my garments and atone;
So on that day of judgment great,
I’ll enter in through heaven’s gate.