An Hour at the Cross

An Hour at the Cross from Stephen Sizer on Vimeo.

The Cross. It struck fear in the hearts of the world. It was Rome’s means of control. Excruciating torture. Prolonged agony. Humiliating death. According to Roman custom, the penalty of crucifixion was always preceded by flogging. The Romans used a whip made of several long strips of leather. Piece of bone and lead were added to the tips. In Deuteronomy God limited punishment by flogging to 40 lashes to avoid dehumanising the victim. So the Jews reduced the maximum penalty to 39 in case of a miscount. The Romans saw no need for such restrictions. Victims often did not survive. After this initial punishment, you carried your cross, or at least the transverse beam of it, to the place of execution. Besides the physical pain there was also the psychological torture. Crucifixion was a very public form of execution. Crosses were located by the roadside or at an intersection. There was no hiding your punishment.

You were exposed to the jibes and insults of the people who passed by. Stripped naked, you were bound to the cross with cords and fastened with nails. Finally, a placard called the titulus bearing your name and your crime, was placed above your head. You would not die of hunger or thirst, but you might hang on the cross for several days. To breathe, you must stretch upward.
You must stand to take the weight on your legs and off your arms and chest. So if your legs were broken, death would come mercifully swift with asphyxiation. This was necessary to be able to remove a corpse on the evening of your execution if it was a Sabbath. But your corpse could not be taken down, unless specially authorized. Permission would also be necessary for you to be buried rather than left till the cross was needed again.

Mark simply records all this in an understated way with the words, “Pilate had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified.” (Mark 15:15). Lets find out why today is called “Good Friday”. Please turn with me to Mark 15 and let us draw out three simple reasons why today is indeed a good day.

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