Crucifixion was a terrible thing. The death Jesus died was a terribly ugly death. He was flogged before being crucified. This flogging was brutal. The whip would rip one's skin to shreds and sometimes the whip would get stuck on the skin and the torturer would yank it out taking loads of flesh and even ribs with it. The type of flogging that Jesus received would have left Him near death. Then Jesus carried a crossbar on that nearly skinless back through the streets to be paraded and jeered. Jesus was so weak from the beating that He couldn't finish carrying it. He then had His raw back laid on rough wood and had nails driven into His hands and feet. Then the cross was raised with His naked body hanging from it and Jesus was asphyxiated as He dangled by His hands with His arms stretched out. Every breath He had to take required Him to pull up with His arms and push up with His feet causing the nails to rip more of his body. All the while mothers would pass by and warn their little boys not to do whatever it was that Jesus did, people openly mocked Him as the enjoyed the spectacle of His execution, soldiers stole His clothes right in front of Him.
Crucifixion was terrible and the above paragraph doesn't begin to do it justice.
Crucifixion, however, was not that uncommon. It was reserved for the worst of the worst and Roman citizens couldn't be shamed and tortured in this manor, but it wasn't uncommon.
So, what made Jesus' crucifixion notable?
First, Jesus was an innocent man. He did not deserve to die. In fact, Jesus never sinned, He was perfect. His death was the first death of a perfect man.
Secondly, Jesus died for others. Jesus died in the place of others, He suffered in order to be a substitute for others. Not just others, but sinners and rebels. Jesus died not for good men and women but for sinful men and women.
Thirdly, Jesus chose His death on the cross. Jesus' life was not taken (John 10:18), it was given up for us.
But what I want to focus on now is the way Jesus suffered. There was something about the way Jesus died that was different from all other deaths. Consider the thieves on the cross. Matthew tells us that both heaped insults on Jesus as He was crucified. Both did. But then in Luke we see this:
"One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at Him: 'Aren't you the Christ? Save yourself and us!'
But the other criminal rebuked him. 'Don't you fear God,' he said, 'since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.'
Then he said, 'Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.'
Jesus answered him, 'I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise." Luke 23:39-43
Matthew and Luke's accounts don't contradict one another. Both criminals mocked Jesus on the cross, but then the one repented and found faith in Jesus on the brink of death. I believe there must have been something in the way that Jesus suffered that changed his mind. Jesus must have suffered in a way that allowed this man to see a king in the form of a bloody, beaten man who was suffocating under his own weight.
And the centurion, too. This man must have seen a number of crucifixions because they were at least somewhat common and apparently part of his job. Yet there was something different about Jesus' death. Now, the centurion had the benefit of seeing darkness cover the land at noon and perhaps the temple curtain tearing in two, but there was something different about Jesus' suffering that seperated it from the suffering of all the other thieves and insurrectionists that the centurion had been charged with killing.
"And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, heard His cry and saw how He died, he said, 'Surely this man was the Son of God!" Mark 15:39
The flogging and crucifixion of Jesus was a dreadfully ugly act. It was extremely brutal. Jesus was scarred beyond recognition. Yet, there was a beauty in His death. He even suffered and died in a way that displayed His eternal beauty. A criminal and a torturous supervisor looked at Jesus and saw undeniable beauty and glory.
On this Good Friday I urge you to gaze at the beautiful, gruesome death of Jesus today.
(Dramatic reading of the crucifixion)