The Story of Good Friday

Jesus died. We call this Good Friday. This is the story.

The religious leaders hated Jesus. To them He was a religious nuisance who was stealing their thunder. He was “too dynamic to be safe,” and they wanted Him extinguished. So they secretly arrested Him, and while most of Jerusalem slept, Jesus Christ was on trial before the whole council of chief priests, elders, and scribes.

Many false accusations were made against Him, but when the witnesses couldn’t agree, the high priest finally questioned Jesus himself.

“I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God?” Caiaphas demanded.

“I am,” Jesus said, “and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.”

“He has uttered blasphemy,” cried Caiaphas. “What is your judgment?”

Outraged, the religious leaders angrily spit on Jesus, mocked Him, and punched Him. That dark night, they condemned Jesus to the death penalty. A few hours later, at dawn, Jesus was brought to trial before the Roman governor over the province of Judea.

“You will not speak to me?” Pilate said to Jesus. “Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?”

Jesus answered him, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above.”

Pilate asked Him, “Do you not hear how many things they testify against you?”

But Jesus made no further answer, so that Pilate was amazed.

Jesus was facing crucifixion, and under the Roman Empire, people feared the cross. Historians from the time of Jesus tell us that crucifixion was “the most wretched of deaths.” In the ancient world, the cross was offensive, a sign of the greatest punishment and humiliation. Crucifixion was often a means of “breaking the will of conquered peoples and of bringing mutinous troops under control.”

Crucifixion was the death of slaves, thieves, prostitutes, and rebels. It was so gruesome that most ancient writers avoided describing it. Yet in the face of the cross, Jesus did now waver; He did not recant; He did not apologize for His claims. Pilate questioned if he was making the right decision concerning Jesus’ fate; however, the people prevailed by shouting, “Crucify Him, crucify Him!”

Pilate handed Jesus to a battalion of around 600 soldiers for a preliminary beating—His second in the span of a few hours. Victims of crucifixion were first brutalized by what the Bible calls “flogging” or “scourging.” The Romans were experts in torture, and before a crucifixion they would flog their victims so that they would be too weak to kick or fight back when being nailed to the cross. The soldiers stripped Jesus naked and tied His hands to an upright post.

Then a short whip called a “flagrum” made of several leather cords, “in which small iron balls or sharp pieces of sheep bones were tied” was violently swung to smack against Jesus’ bare back, butt, and legs. The iron balls pounded into Jesus’ flesh, severely bruising His body, while the pieces of bone ripped open the skin and tissues of His back.

The Journal of the American Medical Association published an article in 1986 describing the medical impact on Jesus’ body, noting that “As the flogging continued, the lacerations would tear into the underlying skeletal muscles and produce quivering ribbons of bleeding flesh. Pain and blood loss generally set the stage for circulatory shock.”

Next, the group of hostile soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns, pressed it into Jesus’ scalp, and then struck Him in the head with a reed. They clothed Him in a purple robe, mocked Him, spit on Him, and beat Him again. At last they marched Him out to publicly crucify Him.

The soldiers placed a 75-pound crossbar on His shredded shoulders and demanded He march to The Place of the Skull. By this time, Jesus was too weak to carry the cross, so another man, Simon the Cyrene, was forced to bear it.

When they arrived at the spot, five-to-seven-inch nails, like railroad spikes, were pounded through Jesus’ wrists and feet. Again, a doctor describes this process, saying, “the driven nail would crush or sever the rather large sensorimotor median nerve. The stimulated nerve would produce excruciating bolts of fiery pain in both arms.” Now immobilized, Jesus was again stripped naked, and His cross was tilted upright for all to see.

His humiliation was complete.

While Jesus hung between heaven and earth, each breath was struggle. His body weight pulled against His outstretched arms, impeding His ability to exhale. For three straight hours, the only way Jesus could breathe was to push up on the nail driven through His feet, thus allowing His lungs to collapse. His mangled back continued to scrape against the splintery wood of the cross.

Breathing hurt. Everything hurt. There was no relief.

The pain of crucifixion was so unequaled that a new word had to be invented to describe it—excruciating—which in Latin literally means, “out of the cross.”

At this point the crowds who once loved His preaching now walked by and insulted Jesus with hatred.

“Save yourself, and come down from the cross!” shouted the chief priests.

“You’re the Christ, O King of Israel? Come down now from the cross. We want to see and believe,” added the scribes caustically.

“He saved others, but He can’t even save Himself.”

“Need a little wine, King?” said a soldier who pressed a nasty sponge dripping with sour wine against Jesus’ lips.

If Jesus was simply a pious man and no more, what we might expect in this moment would be for Him to cry out, “I’m innocent. This is injustice!” But that’s not what happened.

Instead, dripping with blood and gasping for air, Jesus prayed for His enemies. He knew His death was a sacrifice for sin, and Jesus prayed for grace to be shown to His murderers and mockers. Jesus said aloud,

“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

Who among us could do this? Neither you, nor I could have ever prayed such a prayer from the cross. Even the greatest religious teachers do not have this depth of compassion.

To make sure Jesus was dead, a professional executioner drove a spear up through Jesus’ side, piercing His heart. Out spilled blood and water—Jesus was dead.

This is no myth or metaphor. History’s unanimous testimony is that Jesus died on the cross. He suffered the punishment of a hardened criminal, and Jesus really died.

An excerpt from the book, Gospel Patrons, p. 138-143

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