“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:18)
Most of us have one or two lying around our house. You may be wearing one right now. They adorn everything from book covers to cars to clothing. On a side note, I find it rather odd that some who wear them do not act like they care too much about them. It has become an adorning fashion. The mere mention of it has changed over the many years since it was known as a device of death. Those in the first century would find the wearing of a cross to a thing of disgust, but many see it is different. Josephus described death on the cross as “the most wretched of deaths.” (Josephus, Jewish War, 7.203)
(I am not in any way saying that wearing a cross is a sin before God. I just find it interesting that a thing of abhorrent death is used as a fashion statement. Stay with me and you will see further.)
The cross was more than two wooden beams nailed to each other. It was a device of torture used for the ultimate criminals.
There were conquerors who used crucifixion in there conquests. Alexander the Great crucified 2,000 survivors of his siege on the city of Tyre. They were crucified along the shores of the Mediterranean Sea to stand as a symbol of the power of Alexander. Josephus writes of there being 800 Pharisees being crucified in front of their wives and children in 267 A.D. (Josephus, Antiquities, 12.256) Six thousand were crucified along the Appian Way following there capture at the end of the revolt of Spartacus. It is further stated that 3,000 political opponents of Darius of Persia.
The Romans found the crucifixion as an interesting way to control an individual’s death. The historian Josephus in his writings the Jewish War mentions the crucifixion. He confirms the horrible actions of the Roman soldiers as they “out of rage and hatred amused themselves by nailing their prisoners in different postures.” (Josephus, Jewish War 5.11 and 451)
Archeological evidence has shown that the Romans would nail the ankle bone of the individual to a board then to the cross to provide a stable position for the victim to hang.
A Physician Looks at Crucifixion
As Dr. Truman Davis contemplated the story of Christ, it dawned on him that he didn’t know the actual immediate cause of death for a victim of crucifixion; so he began to study the ancient practice of torture and death by fixation to a cross.
The preliminary scourging was done with the victim naked, his arms tied to a post above his head. The heavy whip is brought down with full force again and again across Jesus’ shoulders, back, and legs. At first the thongs cut through the skin only. Then, as the blows continue they cut deeper until the half-fainting victim is untied and allowed to slump to the pavement, wet in his own blood.
A heavy crossbeam is tied across his shoulders, but in spite of his efforts to walk erect, the weight of the heavy wooden beam, together with the shock produced by copious blood loss, is too much. He stumbles and falls. The rough wood gouges into the lacerated skin and muscles of the shoulders. He tries to rise, but human muscles have been pushed beyond their endurance.
At the site of execution, the crossbeam is thrown down, and the victim is pushed to the ground, his arms stretching over the wood. The legionnaire feels for the depression at the front of the wrist. He drives a heavy, square, wrought-iron nail through the wrist and into the wood. Quickly, he moves to the other side. Jesus is hauled up and lifted onto the upright post.
The left foot is now pressed backward against the right foot, and with both feet extended, toes down, a nail is driven through the arch of each, leaving the knees moderately flexed. The victim is now crucified. As he slowly sags down with more weight on the nails in the wrists excruciating pain shoots along the fingers and up the arms to explode in the brain—the nails in the wrists are putting pressure on the median nerves. As he pushes himself upward to avoid this stretching torment, he places his full weight on the nail through his feet. Again there is the searing agony of the nail tearing through the nerves between the metatarsal bones of the feet.
At this point, as the arms fatigue, great waves of cramps sweep over the muscles, knotting them in deep, relentless, throbbing pain. With these cramps comes the inability to push himself upward. Hanging by the arms, the pectoral muscles are paralyzed and the intercostal muscles are unable to act. Air can be drawn into the lungs, but cannot be exhaled. The victim fights to raise himself up in order to get even one short breath. Finally carbon dioxide builds up in the lungs and in the blood stream and the cramps partially subside. Spasmodically, he is able to push himself upward to exhale and bring in the life-giving oxygen. It was undoubtedly during these periods that Jesus uttered the seven short sentences recorded.
The common method of ending a crucifixion was by crurifracture, the breaking of the bones of the legs. This prevented the victim from pushing himself upward; thus the tension could not be relieved from the muscles of the chest and rapid suffocation occurred. This was unnecessary for Christ, who died after six hours of crucifixion.
Apparently to make doubly sure of death, the legionnaire drove his lance through the fifth interspace between the ribs, upward through the pericardium and into the heart. There was an escape of water fluid from the sac surrounding the heart, giving postmortem evidence that our Lord died not the usual crucifixion death by suffocation, but of heart failure (a broken heart) due to shock and constriction of the heart by fluid in the pericardium.
(Source: Morgan, R. J. (2000). Nelson’s complete book of stories, illustrations, and quotes (electronic ed.) (Page 171). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers / Dr. C. Truman Davis, “A Physician Testifies About the Crucifixion,” in The Review of the News, April 14, 1976.)
As you can see, the cross was not a symbol of fashion but of the cruelest deaths known to man. To those who saw crucifixions or lost loved ones to this terrible death, it was a symbol of utter disgust. To hang on a tree was to be cursed in the sight of God (Deuteronomy 21:22-23; Galatians 3:13). To commit a sin deserving of death was bad enough; but to hang on a tree was to be accursed of God. The Son of God became accursed on the tree as our sin offering.
Throughout the life of Christ, He was rejected. He was rejected even though His words were amazing (Matthew 7:28-29). Even His miracles, preformed privately and in front of multitudes of people, were rejected (Matthew 9:1-8). He was rejected even though He was innocent (Luke 23:13, 14). While hanging on the cross, fulfilling Scripture, He was rejected (Luke 23:35-39). Even today, men reject Jesus as the Savior. To them it is foolishness (1 Corinthians 1:18). John the apostle says, “He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him.” (John 1:11)
After all, why would the Messiah hang from a tree as one accursed of God? Wasn’t He supposed to come with power and glory with the presence of God in the highest to conquer the Roman Empire and the world?
How foolish for the Messiah to hang on a cross and never come down to show His power and glory! Matthew records the words of the chief priests, the scribes and the elders, “If He is the King of Israel, let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe Him.” (Matthew 27:42)
Why would they believe Him if He came down from the cross? He had healed countless numbers during His earthly ministry. Would they really believe? Did they have their own selfish agenda in mind when no fault was found, a murder was let go and an innocent man was crucified?
They cross to them and many today represent two beams of wood. To the Christian, the cross represents the plan of God for our lives. It represents our personal cross bearing (Matthew 10:38)
“And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” (Jesus)
So, are you are cross-wearer or are you a cross bearer?
Just some thoughts,
- This is part of the message was presented at the Gadsden Church of Christ on January 25th. The PowerPoint, which accompanied the lesson can be found at http://www.slideshare.net/GallagherPreach/how-what-is-the-cross