Of all the events of Jesus’ life, the one that most people are familiar with, whether they are Christian or non-Christian, is his crucifixion. It is what sets Christianity apart and where God shows the world exactly what he means by a loving sacrifice. It is also something that is misunderstood by those who do not comprehend God’s way of doing things. In a world where ease is the goal of many and suffering is considered a crime, the crucifixion will ever be a thorn that afflicts the comfortable. Yet it is in his tremendous suffering and death that Jesus ultimately fulfills every promise of the Old Covenant and even makes it new.
The Old Testament is filled with prophecies and promises of a coming messiah who would free the Jews from their bondage. Everything in the Old Testament points forward to Christ’s coming and even his dying on the cross. On the road to Emmaus, Luke writes, “And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself” (Lk 24:27). It is a wonder that seven miles was sufficient for Christ to explain all of the scripture, what a wonderful bible study that must have been. Since Adam, God had been preparing the world for its messiah. A lifetime spent in deciphering the Old Testament and the treasures it contains pertaining to Christ would not be enough to comprehend all that God did to prepare the world for him. Christ, by his brutal death on the cross, made humanity a “new creation”.
Statues and other images that depict Jesus’ crucifixion do not often show the brutality of what he went through. He is usually shown with the crown of thorns on his head, nailed hands and feet, pierced side, and wearing a cloth covering. The actual crucifixion was not so kind. Being a form of asphyxiation, the crucifixion was a torture that the Romans enjoyed employing on their most terrible criminals. It was also custom to scourge the criminal before crucifying them, however, the guards found other ways to torture their victims and often added insult to their injuries. For Jesus they, “clothed him in a purple cloak, and plaiting a crown of thorns they put it on him. And they began to salute him, ‘Hail, king of the Jews!’ And they struck his head with a reed, and spat upon him” (Mk 15:17-19). Although it is not specified in scripture, traditional Roman crucifixion required the victim to be completely naked in order to add to their humiliation. By the time Jesus was actually nailed to the cross, he had already been brutally scourged and beaten beyond recognition, crowned with long sharp thorns, and forced to hang naked until his death. It is a testament to his strength that he was able to withstand such torture and “opened not his mouth” (Is 53:7).
As society becomes more and more geared toward life without worries, obligations or responsibilities, Jesus’ suffering is a constant reminder that life should not be so easy. Being human, it is difficult to see why suffering is not only important, but necessary. How easily we forget that one mans suffering was enough to save the world from its sin. It is through the cross that we come to realize that suffering is what makes us good, what makes us human. Just as an athlete is tested before he can compete, similarly is the soul tested. Suffering is the school of love, and unless we learn to suffer, we can never learn to love. For man is weak and selfish, and it is in suffering that we learn the beautiful virtue of loving without holding anything back. In suffering, we love like Jesus. The true tragedy of our time is not that we seek comfort, but that we have become desensitized to suffering.
The cross is a constant challenge to the way we choose to live our lives. Like our conscience, it should never stop bothering and forcing us to change. Yet, just as we ignore our conscience, likewise do we ignore the cross. We choose to see a statue and not the Savior who stripped himself of everything simply because he loved. It is a foreign concept to think that love is what allowed Christ to offer his life. The divorce rate in America is a perfect example of just how distorted love has become; as soon as life becomes difficult and sacrifice and suffering are required to keep the marriage going, the relationship disintegrates. My mother always told me that in marriage, love comes later; love enters the marriage when the couple suffers together. Marriage is not the only place where this is true; to love at all requires suffering.
The cross is what sets Christianity apart from all other religions because there has never been a god of any other religion who was humble enough to take the inferior form of the creatures it created and allow itself to be murdered by them. My God did that to teach me that true love requires sacrifice, and he teaches me to have the courage to suffer for the sake of that love. Through his death on the cross, Jesus is the new Adam who reversed the fall. He is the new Moses because he leads his people to the true promised land of heaven. Jesus is the new David because he is the true king of Israel and the anointed Messiah of God. It is by his willful death on the cross that Jesus fulfills the promises of the Old Covenant and makes it possible for us to see God face to face. Jesus gave us all he had and held nothing back, we also should learn from his example and entrust ourselves completely to the God who loved us to death.