The Physical Pain Of The Cross

Two thousand years ago Jesus was crucified for our sins. It is easy to say those words, but what does it mean. The English language derives the word “excruciating” from crucifixion, acknowledging it as a form of slow, painful suffering. This punishment was reserved for slaves, foreigners, revolutionaries, and the lowest of criminals. Crucifixion was invented by the Persians between 300-400 B.C. It is quite possibly the most painful death ever invented by humankind.

Pilate ordered Jesus to be flogged. Traditionally, the accused stood naked, and the flogging occurred from the shoulders to the upper legs. The whip contained metal balls that hit the skin, causing deep bruising. Sheep bone attached to the tips of each strip ripped the flesh and muscle.

Roman soldiers placed a crown of thorns on Jesus’ head. As they hit Jesus in the head, the thorns from the crown pushed into the skin and He began bleeding profusely. The thorns also caused damage to the nerves to the face, causing intense pain down His face and neck. Due to severe blood loss, Jesus was likely in shock. As such, He is unable to carry the cross and Simon of Cyrene executes this task.

They nailed Jesus’ wrists and feet to the wood. The huge nails damaged or severed the major nerves causing continuous agonizing pain. As the cross bar was lifted into position Jesus’ full weight pulled down on His nailed wrists and His shoulders and elbows dislocated. In this position, Jesus’ arms stretched to a minimum of six inches longer than their original length.

As Jesus hung on the cross, the weight of His body pulled down on the diaphragm. In order to breathe or speak Jesus needed to painfully push up on His nailed feet enabling his lungs to function. The difficulty surrounding exhalation led to a slow form of suffocation. Carbon dioxide built up in the blood, resulting in a high level of carbonic acid in the blood. Jesus’ body responded instinctively, triggering the desire to breathe. At the same time, His heart beat faster to circulate available oxygen. The decreased oxygen caused damage to the tissues and the capillaries began leaking watery fluid from the blood into the tissues. This resulted in a build-up of fluid around the heart and lungs. The collapsing lungs, failing heart, dehydration, and the inability to get sufficient oxygen to the tissues essentially suffocate the victim. The decreased oxygen also damages the heart itself, which leads to cardiac arrest. In severe cases of cardiac stress, the heart can even burst, a process known as cardiac rupture. It is possible Jesus died of a heart attack.

While these unpleasant facts depict a brutal murder, the depth of Christ’s pain emphasizes the true extent of God’s love for His creation. Teaching the physiology of Christ’s crucifixion is a constant reminder of the magnificent demonstration of God’s love for humanity that was expressed that day in Calvary. This lesson enables us to participate in communion, the remembrance of His sacrifice, with a grateful heart. As a flesh and blood human, Jesus felt every ounce of this execution. What greater love than this can a man have for others?

The core of this post was liberated from Cahleen Shrier, Ph.D. of Azusa Pacific University.

About Mike

Mike, 49, grew up in California and spent 38 years of his life there. He received an undergraduate degree in Political Science, graduated from Reformed Theological Seminary and is pursuing a doctorate from Fuller Theological Seminary. Before accepting God’s call to fulltime missions, Mike worked in the California State Senate for 12 years. He became a Christian at the age of 20. Mike was a Ruling Elder at Soaring Oaks Presbyterian Church(PCA) for seven years. While at Soaring Oaks, Mike served as the Director of the High School Youth Group, Sunday school teacher, and instructor of evangelism. His cross-cultural missions experience includes five short term trips to Mexico, Belize, Guatemala and Peru (Lima and Cusco) through Mission to the World (MTW). He has volunteered with World Relief by teaching and counseling international refugees. Mike has also attended cross-cultural church planting conferences in New York and Orlando and completed the Perspectives course on the World Christian Movement. He attended Bible Study Fellowship for two years. He is a certified instructor through Evangelism Explosion and is a certified trainer of the Darkness to Light child sexual abuse prevention program. He completed MTW‘s Disaster Response Training. Mike is an experienced speaker and author. Over 70 of Mike's articles on missions have been published and he has written three books. He is a trained and experienced mentor, discipler, leader and a passionate teacher of small groups and Bible studies. Mike received an undergraduate degree in Political Science, graduated from Reformed Theological Seminary and is currently pursuing a doctorate from Fuller Theological Seminary. Before accepting God’s call to fulltime missions, Mike was a Ruling Elder, Youth Group Leader, adult Sunday school teacher and evangelism instructor at Soaring Oaks Presbyterian Church in Elk Grove, CA. Mike is an experienced speaker and author. Over 70 of Mike's articles on missions have been published and he has written three books. He is a trained and experienced mentor, discipler, leader and a passionate teacher of small groups and Bible studies. From 2007 to 2017 Mike served as a fulltime missionary for MTW. Mike served as Team Leader, Church Planter, and Seminary Professor. Mike and his wife Erin served in Honduras in Central America and Equatorial Guinea in Central Africa. Mike currently serves as the Director of the MTW West Coast Hub where he trains and mentors new missionaries from CA, AZ, & NV. Mike is also busy writing his next book.

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