So Pilate handed [Jesus] over to them to be crucified (John 19:16).
It’s interesting that the gospel writers don’t provide details about the execution. When the time comes to mention the crucifixion, they simply say, “they crucified him,” and the specific details are left out. From what we know historically, what was it like to be crucified?
According to John Stott, “The prisoner would first be publicly humiliated by being stripped naked. He was then laid on his back on the ground, while his hands were either nailed or roped to the horizontal wooden beam (the patibulum), and his feet to the vertical pole. The cross was then hoisted to an upright position and dropped into a socket which had been dug for it in the ground. Usually a peg or rudimentary seat was provided to take some of the weight of the victim’s body and prevent it from being torn loose. But there he would hang, helplessly exposed to intense physical pain, public ridicule, daytime heat and night-time cold. The torture would last several days” (Stott, page 48).
Crucifixion was a punishment that was reserved for slaves and it was given to the worst criminals, people who were not Roman citizens.
Stott continues: “The cross enforces three truths — about ourselves, about God and about Jesus Christ. First, our sin must be extremely horrible. Nothing reveals the gravity of sin like the cross. For ultimately what sent Christ there was neither the greed of Judas, nor the envy of the priests, nor the vacillating cowardice of Pilate, but our own greed, envy, cowardice and other sins, and Christ’s resolve in love and mercy to bear their judgment and so put them away. It is impossible for us to face Christ’s cross with integrity and not to feel ashamed of ourselves.”
“Secondly, God’s love must be wonderful beyond comprehension. God could quite justly have abandoned us to our fate. He could have left us alone to reap the fruit of our wrongdoing and to perish in our sins. It is what we deserve. But he did not. Because he loved us, he came after us in Christ. He pursued us even to the desolate anguish of the cross, where he bore our sin, guilt, judgment and death. It takes a hard and stony heart to remain unmoved by love like that. It is more than love. Its proper name is “grace”, which is love to the undeserving.”
“Thirdly, Christ’s salvation must be a free gift. He “purchased” it for us at the high price of his own life-blood. So what is there left for us to pay? Nothing! Since he claimed that all was now “finished”, there is nothing for us to contribute. Not of course that we now have a license to sin and can always count on God’s forgiveness. On the contrary, that same cross of Christ, which is the ground of a free salvation, is also the most powerful incentive to a holy life” (Stott, page 83-84).
What is the proper response to such love? We must humble ourselves to receive the free gift of forgiveness and eternal life that has been provided for us in Christ. Let us give thanks to God for his initiative to provide a way for us to be saved from the penalty and power of sin, that we might know him in a personal way!
Lord, we humble ourselves before you today. You have given us such wonderful gifts! Because of your suffering, we are saved from the penalty of sin and by receiving your resurrection life, we are also saved from the power of sin. Help us to know you better and live a life of gratitude and sacrificial love.
When you think of the suffering Jesus went through on your behalf, what feelings occur?