Good Friday The Cross of Christ

The death of Jesus on the cross was the last and the greatest action of Christ and the greatest action of love. It is the climax of his sufferings. The word cross comes from crux, meaning torture. It was the most painful, humiliating and degrading torture. It was a way of crushing a person and once the sentence was passed for crucifixion, there was no return. The person was certain to die. That is why the Scribes and Pharisees wanted the death on the cross. The word cross has two meanings: on the one hand it is a sign of contempt and ignominy. On the other it works out its own transcendence, being a symbol of courage, hope and future glory. Crucifixion was a historical accident. The Roman rule and the type of punishment came in his way. In the law of incarnation Jesus submitted to this. He accepted the shame and humiliation and death for the sake of saving humanity. We see here the physical side of crucifixion.
The Gospel just dismisses the Lord’s crucifixion with the little phrase, “they crucified Him.” This is because every reader knew of the humiliation, ignominy and the shock of crucifixion. Once Pilate condemned him and signed that sentence of death, a series of rituals had to be followed and the audience was aware of it. It was in fact a routine affair. It was to crush a person to death and there was no return. It was painful.
Crucifixion was an oriental mode of punishment, introduced into the west by the Persians. It was little used by the Greeks but was extensively used by the Romans and Cartesians. All Roman citizens were exempt from the punishment of crucifixion. That is the reason why Paul was not crucified but was beheaded because he was a Roman citizen. Peter on the other hand was not a Roman citizen and was crucified and as per his request he was crucified upside down. It was reserved for slaves, non-Romans, to people who committed serious crimes such as murder, piracy, treason, robbery and rebellion. Under the Roman Rule crucifixion was very common in Jerusalem. When Jesus was about 11 yrs old, about 2000 Jews were crucified along Golgotha for rebellion. In the history of Christianity, crucifixion existed till 310 A.D. when Constantine was converted.
Only the Governor, and here it is Pilate could give the sentence of crucifixion and not Herod. Jesus had to be brought to Pilate to receive that judgment. This judgment was given from a special seat called Gabbatha. Pilate had to write out the sentence and read it out. This writing was done on wax parchment, deliberately because there was time to think and even time to reverse the sentence before the wax on the parchment dried. After that no change could be made. This parchment was later rolled and sent to Rome. Execution of the condemned person took place immediately after the sentence was passed. The person was flogged and there was no limit but not allowed to die there. Then he was given the cross to carry. The Roman centurion had the order to carry out the execution. He took his hundred soldiers to do his duty. The Romans followed a special method.
After the flogging the condemned man carried the horizontal bar placed on his shoulder and tied to his out stretched hands. The vertical bar was already buried at Golgotha. Jesus perhaps got the cross meant for Barabbas. The horizontal bar was generally a rough branch unpolished and placed on the shoulder of the person and hence it was painful and when the person stumbled and fell, he would fall on his face breaking the nose bone and some times the ribs. The scripture says that he fell several times.
Normally the criminals were paraded naked through public places and crowded streets to be ridiculed and also to be made an object lesson and also crucified naked. The exception was only for the Jews who were permitted to wear their cloak during the procession but they were crucified naked and Jesus was no exception to that.
There was a particular ritual to be observed. First to come in procession was the centurion. The slave came next carrying the charges on a placard and held it high for all to read. These charges were written in 3 languages, Aramaic, Greek and Latin. Four soldiers came next in procession. The criminal came after the soldiers carrying the cross on this shoulder with hands outstretched. The remaining soldiers followed. Finally was the crowd to see the crucifixion. Simon of Cyrene an outsider was made to carry the cross as Jesus was weak.
Once they reached Golgotha, the condemned man was dragged on the ground and forcibly stripped of his clothes. He was then put on the horizontal bar and nailed in the wrist and not on the palm because it would hold firm and secondly, it would hit a sensory nerve giving extra pain. Once nailed, the person was slide on the vertical bar where there was a niche. Then his feet were spread, knees bent and nailed separately, through the ankle. The cross was elevated a foot or two from the ground. Sometimes ropes were used to tie the person if he was heavy and if he was wriggling, so that the nails would not come out. The victim was allowed to die hanging. The clothing went to the soldiers as a gratuity. The victims died of pain, hunger and thirst. Sometimes strong men could survive 2 days on the cross. The Jewish women prepared some narcotics to reduce to pain and gave to the victim. Jesus tastes it but does not drink.
Most of the pain was sagging. It was difficult to breathe and the body would turn blue. . There was thirst due to fear, loss of sweat, pain, hurt, and loss of blood with the certainty of death. The wounds would reopen while hanging and there would be insects and heat. Often there would be fever and weakness. If the person did not die soon enough, his legs were broken. Then the body would sag and the person would die in few minutes. Jesus in fact had already died and they did not break his legs but some one opened his side and blood and water came out which was more from the internal bleeding due to scourging and beating. The relatives could redeem the body for a fee. Otherwise the body was thrown into a common pit. Pilate here gave the body of Jesus free of charge. It was a generous act and perhaps because the persons who asked for it had sufficient influence there. Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus take the body of Jesus and keep it in a grave very close to the place of crucifixion. The entire act was cruel and brutal. It was an inhuman act. But Jesus went through this act of crucifixion out of obedience to the Father. It is the power of God and the wisdom of God.
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