Facts on Crucifixion

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One of my mentor pastors during seminary once offered up this insightful reflection on the Christian faith: “We always want the happiness of Easter morning… but in reality, we still have to go through Good Friday in order to get there.”

This reflection is true on so many levels. We yearn for God’s restoration and healing, yet don’t always allow God to work in-the-moment during times of pain and suffering–our personal “Good Fridays” so to speak. And this is also the case for how we envision faith itself. Protestant Christians are often tempted to just focus on the empty tomb, rather than Jesus hanging on the cross. We fail to reckon with the reality of suffering simply because it is uncomfortable for us to think about pain!

As I mentioned on Sunday, crucifixion is an utterly horrendous way to die. People throughout history have thought of new and cruel ways to harm and kill one another. Dying on a cross is a prime example of human depravity and state-sponsored violence.

Likewise, it is worth considering some of the details about crucifixion in order to fully realize what Jesus himself went through:

  • A cross could weigh 100-300 pounds. The condemned criminal would often be forced to carry it after being beaten to the crucifixion site. We find this to be the case for Jesus’ story.
  • Death was a slow, painful, and humiliating death. It took hours and even days to die. Crucified people were often stripped naked as a further act to humiliate them in front of the public.
  • Roman soldiers would often use a spear to further inflict pain on victims. Some accounts and descriptions of crucifixion during this era involve sexual assault, too.
  • Soldiers would also frequently break someone’s legs before crucifying, so they would be unable to support oneself properly while hanging on the cross or pole.
  • The exact cause of death during crucifixion is often varied. Sometimes a person’s heart would fail. Other times their body would gradually shut down and they would either suffocate or have a pulmonary embolism. Another cause of death was sepsis or an infection–keep in mind that death was a slow process, so many times an infection would finally kill someone.
  • Crucifixion was often a public occurrence to dissuade people from committing certain crimes agains the Roman Empire. Jesus’ crucifixion was arguably an effort to warn people against religious blasphemy or hanging out with the wrong kinds of people and promoting peace.
  • Cicero, a Roman lawmaker, has this insightful quote on crucifixion: “The very mention of the cross should be far removed not only from a Roman citizen’s body, but from his mind, his eyes, his ears.” Crucifixion was an abomination reserved for non-Romans. Many preferred to not even think about this act!

I share these facts about crucifixion not to be gruesome. Instead, reflecting on this topic can help us truly grasp what Jesus went through on Good Friday.

Yes, our faith is an exercise of hope and we have confidence in the empty tomb on Easter morning… but knowing what Jesus went through makes it all the more incredible. God took the worst this world had to offer and made something beautiful out of it.

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