Episode #27: What did Jesus Suffer on the Cross Beyond the nails, the suffocation and physical torture?
Today’s passages are quite heavy in many ways. In Genesis 28, Jacob is sent away from his family (and his elder brother who, understandably, wants to kill him) to go find a wife and raise a family. Esther 4 sees Queen Esther contemplating risking her life by approaching the King and asking for him to somehow stop the slaughter of the Jews that he has already sanctioned. In Acts 27, Paul is bound for Rome as a prisoner aboard a sturdy ship with almost 300 other people. That ship is beset by a terrible storm that ends up grounding the ship and causing its destruction. And, darkest and heaviest of all, Matthew 27 is focused on the terrible suffering of Jesus on the cross at Golgotha.
It’s Monday – not normally most people’s favorite day of the week. And our topic for the day is heavy. But, let me assure you and encourage you: When you fully understand the depth of the pain and suffering of the crucifixion, I think your final emotion will be relief, rather than heaviness. Relief that you were spared (or could be spared) from such a fate by the eternal love of the Father and His Son. Let’s read Matthew 27 and then dig in!
If you will recall, before Jesus was arrested, He was praying in the Garden, anticipating what was coming, and asking God to deliver Him with great drops of bloody sweat coming off of Him. The prayer of Jesus here was intense beyond any sort of level that most of us can understand, and He almost was overcome just in the act of praying. Consider what Tim Keller says:
“If the anticipation of these sufferings, if the very taste of these sufferings sent the Son of God into shock, what must it have been to drink them to the bottom?”Timothy J. Keller, The Timothy Keller Sermon Archive (New York City: Redeemer Presbyterian Church, 2013).
The Scourging – metal balls that injure the organs. Pieces of metal that sink in and rip the flesh 3rd century – EUSABIOUS “their bodies were frightfully lacerated – their veins were laid bare, and the inner muscles, sinews, even entrails, were exposed.” By His stripes we were healed. Not mainly about physical healing – but about the deeper healing of a person from their sins.
The Crossbar – Chest contusion onto marble – 100 pounds drove his chest into the ground.
Crucifixion – We get the word “excruciating” from there. The Roman statesman Cicero called it “the most cruel and disgusting penalty” The Jewish historian Josephus, “the most wretched of deaths.”
The Sponge – Roman toilet paper. Got sick, learned to dip it in Gall/Vinegar to clean it.
The Spear: Pierce me in the side and heart, blood will come out. Blood and water for Jesus because either his heart was literally torn from the crossbar, or hypovolemic shock from the scourging.
Despite all of what you just heard about the sufferings of Jesus – the depth of the sufferings of Jesus for us and the love that is shown can only be seen in His taking on of the wrath of God for us. In the Garden – take this cup from me. What cup? Five times in the Bible – the cup of God’s Wrath. Jesus drank the cup of wrath in our place – every spanking that we deserved..every discipline…NOT HIS PHYSICAL SUFFERINGS. Ponder this – an infinite God can suffer infinitely. Yes He died in our place, but more than that, He suffered wrath for us. The punishment that was due to be paid for our sins was instead poured out on the perfect Jesus.
Yet He Himself bore our sicknesses,Isaiah 53:4-6
and He carried our pains;
but we in turn regarded Him stricken,
struck down by God, and afflicted.
5 But He was pierced because of our transgressions,
crushed because of our iniquities;
punishment for our peace was on Him,
and we are healed by His wounds.
6 We all went astray like sheep;
we all have turned to our own way;
and the Lord has punished Him
for the iniquity of us all.
“Some have inquired, what was the occasion of that distress and agony [in the Garden of Gethsemane], and there have been many speculations about it, but the account which the Scripture itself gives us is sufficiently full in this matter, and does not leave room for speculation or doubt. The thing that Christ’s mind was so full of at that time was, without doubt, the same with that which his mouth was so full of: it was the dread which his feeble human nature had of that dreadful cup, which was vastly more terrible than Nebuchadnezzar’s fiery furnace. He had then a near view of that furnace of wrath, into which he was to be cast; he was brought to the mouth of the furnace that he might look into it, and stand and view its raging flames, and see the glowings of its heat, that he might know where he was going and what he was about to suffer. This was the thing that filled his soul with sorrow and darkness, this terrible sight as it were overwhelmed him. For what was that human nature of Christ to such mighty wrath as this?Jonathan Edwards, The Works of Jonathan Edwards, vol. 2 (Banner of Truth Trust, 1974), 867–868. Slightly modernized
God’s Wrath is real – It is mentioned around 600 times in the Old Testament. God’s Wrath is personal – just like His love. God’s wrath is necessary- It is Justice for those who commit spousal abuse, child abuse, murder, Hitler – evil in the world must be met with righteous wrath and unbiased punishment. GOD IS JUST AND LOVING. Our sins have justly earned us punishment and because God is perfectly just, He can’t just wave away our sins – there must be a price paid for them. However, if we had to pay that price – if I had to pay that price, and if you had to pay the price for your sins – it would utterly annihilate us. It is literally a debt that we are unable to pay. So – God can’t wave away the debt of our sin, because He is perfectly just, and He won’t force us to pay the debt of our sin because He is perfectly love – and that is why Jesus paid it all.
The pain of the cross was not merely the physical aspects of being crucified. Hundreds of thousands of people were crucified in the ancient world. Many have suffered that fate. It’s horrible, but the crucifixion wasn’t unique. What was unique is that Jesus was crucified and, in the midst of being crucified, the entire punishment that was due all of the sins of humanity was poured out on Him. A mere mortal would have been ground to powder instantly, but it could be said that an infinite God can suffer infinitely. Jesus was fully God and fully man. He suffered and died of His wounds in crucifixion but He also suffered a vast amount more as the punishment that bought us peace was cast down upon Jesus. That, I believe, is the true torture and the true brilliance of the Cross. If Jesus had merely died on the cross and overcame death – that would be great and all, but that wouldn’t help us much. After all, how much payment can one death on the cross cover? I guess one capital punishment can cover one person’s heinous crimes. One life to save a life…but this isn’t what happened with Jesus. Not only did He die a sinner’s death – HE DIED MILLIONS UPON MILLIONS OF SINNER’S DEATHS. And thus, in His death and suffering we have peace.
Tonight at a wonderful prayer gathering, we sang a song that I love every part of, except the last line, which implies that Jesus, while hanging on the cross, thought of ME most of all. How that could be true for everybody singing the song, I’m not sure, but if that song makes people think that Jesus died on the cross smiling and happily thinking that He was glad to give His life for us, then I think that is inaccurate. I believe that Jesus DID think of me (and you!) while on the cross…but not in a happy, whimsical way…but He thought of me when He was paying the terrible price of my sins. His thoughts of me were likely agonizing. And yet He endured, and paid the price, and overcame death, and offers all who believe in Him eternal life. And that is far better, to me, than the silly thought that Jesus was suffering to the highest extent possible for a being to suffer while on the cross, and while doing so was happily thinking about me with a silly grin on His face.
I rejoice at the crucifixion. We should weep for the price that it cost our savior to redeem us. But those tears should be tears of joy and gratitude, not the bitter tears of somebody facing a terrible punishment. The resurrection and crucifixion stand at the literal center – the crux – of Christianity. Without the crucifixion, we are lost in our sins and still owe the righteous price that a 100 percent just God demands. Without the resurrection, there is no hope for a future life enjoying the paradise that the crucifixion bought for us – we are here one day, and gone the next. But, because of the crucifixion, all those who look to Jesus in wholehearted faith, believing that He died in your place, and following Him – they will be saved from the punishment due their wrongdoing, but not merely that. They will also be viewed by God the Father as fully righteous, because perfection has covered their wrongs.
Each of you says, “I’m with Paul,” or “I’m with Apollos,” or “I’m with Cephas,” or “I’m with Christ.” 13 Is Christ divided?Was it Paul who was crucified for you? Or were you baptized in Paul’s name? 14 I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15 so that no one can say you were baptized in my name. 16 I did, in fact, baptize the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don’t know if I baptized anyone else. 17 For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to evangelize—not with clever words, so that the cross of Christ will not be emptied of its effect.18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but it is God’s power to us who are being saved. 19 For it is written: I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,and I will set aside the understanding of the experts.20 Where is the philosopher? Where is the scholar? Where is the debater of this age? Hasn’t God made the world’s wisdom foolish? 21 For since, in God’s wisdom, the world did not know God through wisdom, God was pleased to save those who believe through the foolishness of the message preached. 22 For the Jews ask for signs and the Greeks seek wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles. 24 Yet to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ is God’s power and God’s wisdom, 25 because God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.
1 Corinthians 1:12-25