Crucifixion was invented by the Phoenicians as a method of maximum torture. It was later adopted by the Romans as their method of capital punishment. Crucifixion was a shameful and agonizing form of death reserved for slaves and the worst criminals. In order for us to fully understand why Christ died, it may be helpful for us, first of all, to think about how He died, and what He experienced on the cross.
I. HOW JESUS DIED
Before His crucifixion, we read in verse 15 that Jesus was scourged. The scourge whip consisted of several leather strips which had sharp pieces of bone, metal, and stone sewn into them. Jesus’ skin was literally stripped off His back in gouges, while His whole body went into spasms. It was not uncommon for a person to die as a result of the scourging alone. When the scourging was over, it says in verses 17-20 that the soldiers dressed Him in purple, put a crown of thorns on His head and mocked Him and spat on Him. Luke and John’s Gospels also tell us that the soldiers punched him in the face and beat him on the head with a reed. When Jesus was crucified, historians tell us that 7-inch spikes were hammered into his hands and feet to secure Him to the cross. On the cross, Jesus could breathe air into His lungs, but He couldn’t exhale because His pectoral muscles couldn’t function in His stretched out position. Jesus had to raise and lower His body again and again with each breath, and each time He experienced excruciating pain. For six hours Jesus hung there in agony on that cross.
II. WHY JESUS DIED
But despite all the intense physical suffering, and the mental and emotional strain because of the jeering crowd, Jesus’ greatest agony was not physical, mental, or emotional, but spiritual. Verses 33 and 34 tell us that for three hours, beginning at noon, there was darkness over the whole land. The darkness signified that God had turned away from His Son. Jesus experienced the fullness of God’s wrath for sin in our place. In verse 34 Jesus said in His loneliness, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” Notice that Jesus did not say, “My Father”, because He was experiencing a complete loss of fellowship with His Father as He became sin for us. Isaiah 53:9 says, “He was pierced through for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities.” Sin is so awful and so terrible in God’s sight that He would not and could not accept any other payment than the death of His own perfect Son. Jesus satisfied God’s wrath by willingly taking our place. The hymn writer said, “Bearing shame and scoffing rude, in my place condemned He stood. Sealed my pardon with His blood. Hallelujah, what a Savior!” A Christian American Indian was once asked the question, “What did Jesus Christ do for you?” He squatted, and with his hands gathered some leaves into a pile. He picked up a worm and put it in the center of the pile of leaves and, striking a match, he lit the outer edges of the pile of leaves. As the flames were about to engulf the worm, he quickly reached in, grabbed the worm with his hand, and put it in a safe place. Then, looking up at the person, he said, “That’s what Jesus Christ did for me!” In verse 37 Jesus “uttered a loud cry”. John 19:30 tells us that, with His last breath Jesus shouted : “It is finished!” This was not a cry of defeat but of victory. It is the word an artist would use after putting the finishing touches on his masterpiece. Verse 37 also says, He “breathed His last.” Jesus did not die from the crucifixion. He gave up His spirit when the Father was satisfied that He had paid the price for the sins of the world. At that moment, verse 38 says, “the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom”. This was no ordinary veil. It was made of tightly woven fabric and was six inches thick. The tearing of this veil didn’t happen by accident. God was demonstrating that the way into His presence was now open to all who believed in His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.
The choice is yours. You can place yourself either under God’s wrath or under God’s mercy. You can choose either eternal life or eternal separation from God. You can choose to live for God or for yourself. It’s your choice. You will be held responsible for your choice, and there are no other alternatives, and no excuses. Respond to His love and to the price He paid for your sins. Sing with the hymn writer, Isaac Watts: “And can it be that I should gain an interest in my Savior’s blood? Died He for me, who caused His pain? For me, who Him to death pursued? Amazing love! How can it be? That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me!”
If you would like to see a visual depiction of the suffering and death of Christ, click the following link and it will take you the film, “The Life of Jesus”, based on the Gospel of John. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2mgUPt2KI08. It is very graphic and follows the Gospel of John closely. Move the grey time-line at the bottom of the picture to 2:28:00 where the scourging begins. I hope that watching the scenes from the movie will increase your understanding of what Jesus Christ suffered to pay the penalty for our sins.