When we tell the story about Jesus, the cross, and the resurrection, it's sort of a "once upon a time there was this baby born in a stable who grew up becoming a man who became God and was crucified on a cross." It seems more a fairy tale than the greatest event in history. The most memorable and important part of human history includes a cross.
The cross has become a familiar iconic symbol. When something becomes familiar, we lose respect for it. We lose its significance. And, We lose! Our 21st century meaning of the cross is extremely far removed from its meaning to the first century. For example, how many of us here have a piece of jewelry with a cross on it? Many. Did you know if a person wore a cross as a piece of jewelry in the first century church it would be blasphemy? The reason is those people actually saw a cross used as an execution. It would have been interpreted as mockery to Jesus. Those people saw our savior die on a cross. Imagine a car crash with a dear friend killed. There was nothing sparkly about it. It was old and rugged and bloody. There was nothing glamorous, artistic, or even "spiritual" about it then. It was hated and despised. It truly is "the emblem of suffering and shame."
Let me refresh our memories, or tell us a few things about Crucifixion we possibly didn't know. Crucifixion was an ancient form of slow, torturous, painful, humiliating, mass execution. It was used from around 600 BC until 337 AD. For about 1,000 years people were crucified. Historians record tens of thousands crucified. The well documented Spartacus slave revolution records Rome crucifying over 6,000 men on one occasion. Their naked, dead, decaying bodies hung from the place of Spartacus' defeat along the road leading to Rome as a display to those who may consider rebelling against the Roman Empire.The historian Flavius Josephus wrote of five hundred Jews crucified in one day by Rome at Jerusalem in AD 70. That day they crucified men until there was no lumber to crucify more.
Crucifixion didn't happen behind the scene in private. The purpose of the cross was public execution and humiliation. The crucifixion of Jesus was extremely public as Pilate displayed Jesus before a crowd, carrying the cross down the Via Dolorosa to the elevated Golgotha. It was a billboard for all to see.
So, crucifixion was not only intended to be excruciating, it was intended to display maximum humiliation. Though we see pictures of those crucified with a loin cloth covering nakedness, the condemned were crucified completely nude. A loin cloth would nullify the humiliation as it could take hours, even days, for the condemned to die. (Jesus' took six hours.) When bodily functions took place, it was in full view of all. Crucifixion was not only cruel, humiliating, and bloody. To the first century person, it had a disgusting stench causing the very mention of the cross to initiate a nauseating mental memory complete with odors.
People were either tied or impaled to a cross. Jesus was impaled (Luk 24:39, 40; Joh 20:27; Act 2:23). The image of the feet being crossed with a nail through both feet is likely incorrect. More likely, the feet were placed one on the right side and one on the left side of the upright with a nail driven through the side of each foot into the upright.
Death usually came by blood loss, shock, infection, and dehydration. Perhaps some died by asphyxiation and suffocation hanging in that position. Tests prove there is not sufficient difficulty to asphyxiate. The guards could not leave the execution until the condemned were dead, so often the legs were broken not to cause asphyxiation, but to cause traumatic shock causing what is medically called "fat embolism" - basically the body releases fat causing blood clots quickly blocking blood flow to the heart - a massive heart attack killing quickly.
After death the victims were left hanging to their crosses as a discouragement to crime.
Nothing in human history was as cruel, painful, humiliating, and showed the degradation of humanity as execution performed crucifixion style. At the same time, nothing in human history ever accomplished as much as the execution performed crucifixion style on Jesus of Nazareth. We've all heard about it, but did it really happen? Was the crucifixion of Jesus authentic, or a part of a fabricated fairy tale made up to propagate the biggest lie ever in human history? Let's take a look so you can say you PROOFED it.
FIRST: There are many valid historical writings about it other than the Bible. It is a historical fact. Around 73 AD, Mar Bar-Serapion wrote a letter to his son. In the letter, he wrote of the execution of Jesus saying "the wise king" of the Jews.Josephus, the historian, wrote how Pilate condemned Jesus to the cross. Tacitus, a Roman historian, also wrote of the execution of Jesus. Another reference is from the Babylonian Talmud. The Amoa "Ulla" speaks of "Yeshu of Nazareth" being executed. Lucian of Samosata says Jesus was crucified in Palestine. These same historians also wrote about the Caesars, wars, and people. Their writings are valid and proven facts. There is more than sufficient historical proof about the event written by people who never knew one another.
SECOND: We could go on and on with proof from the Bible. Before crucifixion was invented Isaiah attempted to describe it. He wrote about the Savior being led like a lamb to the slaughter (Isa 53:7). He wrote about his being beaten beyond recognition (52:14) and being pierced and wounded (53:5). Daniel wrote about the specific time it would happen (Dan 9:24-27). Jesus himself said many times crucifixion was the way he would die (Mar 10:32). The proof is endless in the Bible.
Thirdly: A main proof, to me, the horrible crucifixion of Jesus Christ authentically took place is the unnecessary details the Bible gives. What I mean is it's complete with names of eye-witnesses, addresses (as it were), their children's names, their occupations, and their gender. Here's the point. When Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, James, Peter, Jude, and the writer of Hebrews wrote their writings they were not writing to us to read 2,000 years later. They were writing letters to people who could, would, and did investigate what they wrote. Luke wrote a letter to a man named Theophilus (Luk 1:3). People who witnessed the crucifixion and death of Jesus were alive. They said, "Here's their name. Here's where they live. They're related to... You can find them at work. Go ask them if you don't believe me." They weren't written to you and me. They were written to be PROOFED!
It's as if the story of Jesus goes into slow motion as the writers give hour by hour and minute by minute details. We're told about Peter, James, and John falling asleep in the garden three times after Jesus asked them to pray. "Go ask them if you don't believe me." That's not something you'd brag about, but it's an authentic detail. How about the tiny detail of the betraying kiss of Judas (Mar 14:44)? Was Judas really that much of a rat? "Go ask those who were there." Or, Peter warming himself by the fire (Mar 14:54) when the middle school girl recognized Peter (Mar 14:66) and how Peter's Galilean accent gave him away (Mat 26:73). Or, the great Apostle Peter using profanities to deny Jesus (Mar 14:71). "Did he really do that? Go ask him." These are things you just wouldn't even think about making up if you were fabricating a lie. People could find the middle school girl and ask if it is true. They turned Jesus over to Pilate the governor for execution. Pilate was alive. "Go ask him, or ask a Roman soldier who was there, or someone in the crowd."
Mark 15:15 Wanting to satisfy the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas to them. He had Jesus flogged, and handed him over TO BE CRUCIFIED.
Barabbas was alive. "Ask him." Amazingly, of all the writing about Jesus, not one writing disputes all these things happened.
The soldiers took Jesus to the Praetorium (Mar 15:16) - a seemingly unnecessary detail, but everyone knew exactly where the Praetorium was. It was there Jesus was scourged, spat on, crowned with thorns, and humiliated before taking him to be crucified.
Mark 15:21 A certain man from Cyrene, Simon, the father of Alexander and Rufus, was passing by on his way in from the country, and they forced him to carry the cross.
"He lives in Cyrene if you want to know where to find him. His name is Simon if you want to talk to him. His sons are Alexander and Rufus if you want to talk to them." Why all this detail? Because this really happened! It was not a fairy tale. It was not a sad story to cause people to believe a lie. "Go ask them." This is actual history. Check it out for yourselves.
Mark 15:22 They brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha (which means The Place of the Skull).
Here is another detail for those who didn't live in Jerusalem, or didn't know what Golgotha meant. This was where it happened. It's detail after detail about every little thing. It was detail hour by hour and minute by minute. Then the details end.
Mark 15:24 And they crucified him.
This is where we want details, but we don't have them. Why are there no details? We have a thousand questions about this part. Why are we not given details? Here's why. Everyone Mark thought he would be writing had seen it. They'd smelled it. They'd heard it. There's no details because there was none needed by the first century reader. Imagine describing in detail someone dying in an electric chair - sounds, smells, jolts. Why detail the horror?
Mark had no idea, he had no way of knowing, three hundred years from then crucifixion would no longer be used. He had no way of knowing five hundred years from then the cross would become an icon and the symbol of Christianity. There was no way he could fathom that. He had no way of knowing two thousand years later you and I would be reading it with a thousand questions. He would probably think us sick for wanting to know.
We've never seen a crucifixion. They saw too many. We've never heard the sound of a metal mallet striking a metal spike followed by screams of agony as the spike went into and through human hands and feet. We've never heard and seen men cry begging for mercy. We've never smelled a crucifixion and the appalling gushing of human blood. We've never seen or heard the sounds of legs beaten with a mallet until broken. We've never seen spears shoved into the side of people and blood and water gush out. We've never seen human death put on public display as a billboard. We've never seen cruelty so bad we had to turn our eyes away. To them the cross was the emblem of suffering and shame. To us the cross is an icon, a symbol, jewelry, something we use as architecture on a building, something we use in a church service as a decoration for affect.
After this the details pick up again. They gambled for his clothes. It was 9:00 a.m. There was a sign "The king of the Jews." Two robbers were crucified with him, one on the left and the other on his right - such details. People watching hurled insults. Were people that inhumane? "They're alive. Go ask them." The religious leaders mocked him (Mar 15:26-39). What Jesus said hanging on the cross is recorded: 1) Father forgive them, for they do not know what they do; 2) Today you will be with me in paradise; 3) Behold your son, behold your mother; 4) My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?; 5) I thirst; 6) Father, into your hands I commit my spirit; 7) It is finished. Detail after detail. Then, at 3 p.m. in the afternoon,
Mark 15:37 With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last.
Some watched at a distance (Mar 15:40). Their names are given, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joses, and Salome if someone wanted to go ask them if Jesus was crucified.
More details continue: Joseph (if you want to know his name) of Arimathea (if you want to make sure he's the right Joseph), a prominent man of the Pharisee Council (if you want to know his occupation - unnecessary details to us, but not to those Mark wrote), went to Pilate asking for the body of Jesus. Pilate was surprised Jesus was already dead. Pilate sent a soldier to make certain Jesus was dead. It was verified. Jesus died on that cross. Pilate gave the body to Joseph who first bought linen cloth, then took down the body, wrapped it with the cloth, placed it in a tomb, and rolled a stone against the entrance (Mar 15:42-46).
There was nothing spiritual there. There was nothing they would want to hang around their neck and wear as jewelry. There was nothing they wanted their children to see. There was nothing glamorous, nothing they wanted to smell, nothing they wanted to put on their mantel, their building, or on their platform. Tens of thousands were put to death on the cross. It was the choice of death by only one. Why?
Ephesians 2:16 ...TO RECONCILE BOTH OF THEM TO GOD THROUGH THE CROSS, by which he put to death their hostility.
Both Jew and Gentile - all humanity - can now be in agreement with God through what happened at the cross. It's not by my being good enough. It's through what Jesus did on the cross. When we reconcile our bank statements, we get ourselves in agreement with the bank. In all my years of reconciling several bank statements every month, I've never known the bank to be wrong. When my bank statement doesn't reconcile, I don't call the bank and tell them they are wrong. I check my part again and again until it agrees. What Jesus did is reconcile us to God. Jesus not only did all the math. He did all the deposits necessary. He paid what was needed to make up for the deficit. God is now in agreement with me and I am in agreement with God through what Jesus did on that cross that day. How about you?
What are you going to do with what we've PROOFED? The cross and crucifixion changed everything. It's not a fairy tale. The crucifixion of Jesus Christ is an historical event that changed the world. Where are you with God? Perhaps you've never truly allowed the cross and crucifixion to do its reconciliation work for you. Perhaps a while back you reconciled with God, but today, not so much. You know you're out of balance with God. Or, perhaps you've never seriously been reconciled. You may have prayed a prayer long ago, but nothing balanced in your heart. Here's the bottom line of the cross and crucifixion. Jesus loved you that much. God loves you that much. I want to give us an opportunity to reconcile.
© Life Gate Ministries