Thinking about Jesus’ death with Elizabeth Rice Handford

WARNING: Content disturbing, but in the end, exhilarating.

Among their many other dubious achievements, the Romans of the first century perfected the art of the execution of criminals. The Romans had no intention of offering a merciful death to a convict. They wanted him to suffer hours before he died in agony.

They whipped the victim with a cat-o’-nine-tails, with sharpened bits of steel on every “tail,” so that a man’s body was shredded like a slab of meat. They took him to the high point of a busy thoroughfare just outside the city walls so that every passer-by saw the gruesome procedure and was warned of the cost of disobedience. They ripped off the victim’s clothing, leaving him stripped of dignity and humanity. Then they nailed his hands to a crossbeam and his feet to an upright and slammed it into the earth. Fiendish: the weight of his body hung on the bones of his bleeding hands. To take a breath, he had to lift the weight of his body on the cruel nails in his ankles, so he could pull air into his air-starved lungs. The thirst was agonizing. Oh, yes, they had precious water in a pail and a sponge on a stick, but that only increased the hours of suffering before the convict finally died.

So it is appalling, to me, to realize it was that kind of death that the holy Father God and His Holy Son chose for Him to die. (Jesus was slain “before the foundation of the world” Rev. 13:8). If He had to die, why not choose a quick, humane death? Why? Because Jesus’ death would pay for the sins of the most perverted, the most sickening sins a human being could invent. Every sin of every soul could be forgiven because Jesus died in their stead.

But the physical wounds the Lord Jesus endured did not cause His greatest suffering. Rather, it was the weight of those sins thrust on His holy and undefiled of sprit. He became the betrayer, the adulterer, the murderer, the torturer, the thief, the blasphemer, the traitor. That terrible burden of degenerate humankind cut Him off from His very own Holy Father, That Father had said of Jesus, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.” But on that terrible day God turned His back on God the Son. He abandoned Him in His greatest hour of need. And it was our sin that put Him there. No wonder Jesus cried in agony, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Psalm 22:1; Matt. 27:46).

Surely He has borne our griefs And carried our sorrows;
Yet we esteemed Him stricken, Smitten by God, and afflicted.
But He was wounded for our transgressions,
He was bruised for our iniquities;
The chastisement for our peace was upon Him,
And by His stripes we are healed. Isaiah 53:4,5

May our celebration of Easter never be simply a holiday to celebrate with family and friends, to hide Easter eggs for the children to find, or simply a day to dress up in new finery. The death and resurrection of Jesus is actually the most wonderful, the most incredible event of all history: Hanging on the cross, Jesus thought of you and made, and paid our way to Heaven. Was His death effective? Did it accomplish God’s purpose? Oh, yes! Isaiah 53:11 says,

God shall see the labor of His soul, and be satisfied.
By His knowledge My righteous Servant shall justify many,
For He shall bear their iniquities.