Putting the Crucifixion in Perspective

I had a friend tell me once that she struggled watching The Passion of the Christ as put in Christian worship artist Matt Papa’s music video for his song “It Is Finished.”

To be honest, I didn’t disagree with her. It’s violent, bloody and uncomfortable.

The truth of the matter is, the death and suffering of Jesus Christ is something that should shock us and should inspire us to do more for the kingdom of the Lord.

But our culture, including the Christian culture, likes to play it safe. We want to ignore the bloody, the bold and the outrageous because our society only wants that around election time.

Let’s be honest, we shy away from pain, we shy away from wanting to be broken or hurt or in any kind of emotional or physical pain. It’s difficult for us to handle. It requires humility because we first have to admit that we have been knocked down from the high pedestal that we place ourselves on, whether we intend to or not.

But consider this: Christ suffered pain unlike any human in history.

According to the historical definition of crucifixion, the victims were nailed to the cross at their wrists and at their feet. The nails were placed into the wrists in a position in which they would cause a lot of nerve pain. The nerves being hit would produce bolts of pain in both arms, which would be out-stretched but not taut in place. The victims would hang on their wrists. The same thing happened at the feet, the nails hitting nerves that would set off an enormous amount of pain.

But probably the most excruciating (Latin “excruciatus,” or “out of the cross”) part of death by crucifixion was how it affected one’s breathing. The way one normally breathed would be thrown into limbo by the form the body took while on the cross. Because one would more or less “sag,” the body was not in a position to breathe properly. When the victim would try to lift himself up to breathe properly, the pain of the nails on the hands and the feet would be agonizing and eventually lead to asphyxia. Plus, the scourged back of the victim would scrape painfully against the wood of the cross.

This is not by any stretch of the imagination a pretty picture to the human eye. In fact, it’s just a piece of the full, painful truth. He also suffered under the burden of sin, a burden that would take a whole other article to write about. Just trust Scripture in that it was a huge burden.

But to the eye of the Christian, it should be the most stunning, beautiful image to behold.

Jesus’ death on the cross did many things for us.

First, it showed us a picture of ultimate suffering. As has been described, crucifixion was painful. Not something that anybody would want to go through.

Second, it allowed us to see a picture of humility. Philippians 2:6-8 says, “(Jesus) who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” Paul implies that dying on a cross is a perfect example of humility.

Third, probably the greatest thing it did, was the removal of the power of sin over us. It eliminated the barrier between God and man, it allowed us to have grace through faith alone. As Papa sings in “It Is Finished,” “the keys of the kingdom were placed into hands of children and priests, and of fishers of men.” We have access to the kingdom of God because Christ said, “It is finished.”

The veil of the temple was torn. Luke 23:45-46 records that “the sun’s light failed. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two.” By the way, that’s not a normal curtain. It was protecting the Holy of Holies, the place on earth were the presence of God dwelt in Jerusalem. Matthew 27:51 says the curtain was torn “from top to bottom.” No man could do that. It was a heavy curtain.

Through Jesus’ death on the cross, we are able to pray, able to receive the Holy Spirit, able to spend time just meditating in the presence of God. Through Jesus’ death on the cross, we can receive salvation, justification, sanctification, glorification. It is the most central event in the history of the world, and it is the reason for our existence.

As has been said, the crucifixion of Jesus is bloody, uncomfortable and disgusting. The Passion displays it very well. Director Mel Gibson was criticized for the overly violent portrayal. In an interview with Diane Sawyer, Gibson said this:

I wanted it to be shocking; and I wanted it to be extreme … So that they see the enormity – the enormity of that sacrifice; to see that someone could endure that and still come back with love and forgiveness, even through extreme pain and suffering and ridicule. The actual crucifixion was more violent than what was shown on the film, but I thought no one would get anything out of it.

Gibson’s record post-Passion has not exactly been spotless, but he makes a great point. Christ suffered all of that at the hands of man, yet he chose to not only forgive them, but love them.

That’s why the crucifixion is important. That’s why we should be more than okay with the blood and violence. It’s the pain we should be taking seriously because it allows us to feel no pain when we reach eternity.