“…looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:2 )
Sometimes we speak of this event so commonly that we begin to lose the scandalous and offensive and horrendously shameful nature of the cross. Hebrews talks of Jesus “despising its shame” and those words are often lost on us. We need to recover the shame of the cross to understand its significance.The word excruciating, in our English language, was created to describe and explain the horror of crucifixion. Its literal meaning is “pain from the cross”.
Biologically speaking, death on a cross is a slow, painful, rightly named excruciating death by asphyxiation; where a man, after he is beaten to an unrecognisable bloodied mess as Jesus was with a cat o' nine tails would be hung with nails driven into his hands and feet. His lungs would cease to fill with air and he would very slowly and very painfully begin to die by asphyxiation. So to cause the man to endure more torture for a greater period of time, they would often put a small seat or ledge underneath the rear of the man to keep him up so that he would not slouch down and die too quickly because they would want him to suffer for as long as possible. Men were known to get off of the seat in an effort to expedite their own death and to enable their lungs to breathe out and no longer breathe in from the weight of their body. Often, to prevent such men getting off of their stool, thus prolonging the torture, they would take the penis of the man and nail it to the cross. This would mean that the man would remain hanging as long as his body could possibly endure.
This was all done at public centres, like in the middle of the Queen St Mall, to publicly bring shame on you and your family and ultimately disgrace you. This was more than just a death sentence, this was the stripping of all your dignity. It invited the lowest lifeforms in the culture (the teenage thugs and alcoholics and homeless guys and those who had nothing better to do) to come, to spit on you, to throw things at you and to curse at you and mock you. They would spend their time taking bets as to how quickly a man would die, making fun of a man’s anatomical build and making fun of a man’s suffering and death. If the man should cry out or whimper then they would mock him and make fun of him…and this was entertainment.
It was known that the crucified men would be so filled with pain that they would become incontinent and they would literally make a mess of themselves and their cross, and they would bleed and sweat so much that at the foot of the cross would be a pile of their own excrement, their own sweat and their own blood. This makes the idea of kneeling at the foot of the cross an entirely different experience.
They would leave a man there, sometimes for days. Vultures would come and pick at you. When you died they would normally throw your body in the dump. A man had been so stripped of his masculinity, so stripped of his dignity, so stripped of his honour that he had no way to retaliate, especially to those who would gather round to mock him. Commonly the man would curse those who mocked him.
This was done to God
This is why the cross is the crux of our faith. The cross is offensive, the cross is shameful and the cross is where Jesus Christ chose to go. It should trouble us, horrify us and offend us. This is just a glimpse of how utterly offensive our sin is to God, that we should deserve such treatment. But it should also make us immeasurably thankful that we as sinners deserved this, and Jesus Christ took it all on himself.