What is so “good” about today? Today Jesus died. It’s a somber, dark day. I remember growing up my mom always said the weather was gloomy on Good Friday. And it was. This year it’s predicted to rain on Easter Sunday. What does that say? What is God trying to tell us?
The reason we call Good Friday “good” is because, as my Lenten reading said today, it is not the end of the story. “Sorrow does not get the last laugh.” I love that! We Christians know that Sunday is coming and bringing with it the real goodness of the world. We just have to believe.
Still, how much do we actually know and understand about Jesus’ crucifixion on Good Friday? Do we really grasp how tortuous it was? It is shocking. It is horrible.
Several years ago I came across an article titled “A Physician Testifies about the Crucifixion.” I’m sharing what I learned from it today.
Dr. C Truman Davis researched the physiological and anatomical aspects of our Lord’s passion because, he says, “I had taken the Crucifixion more or less for granted.” Haven’t we all to some extent? Even scripture leaves out the truly grim details of a crucifixion death because torture and execution by fixation to a cross was so common back then. But, what did Jesus’ body actually endure during it all? What was the actual cause of His death?
It all began in Gethsemane, whereas Luke wrote that bloody sweat emerged from Jesus. Luke is the only one to mention this in his gospel and ironically, he was a physician. Still, expert after expert has tried to refute this possibility, to no avail. The phenomenon is called Hematidrosis, or bloody sweat, and is known to occur when one is under the amount of stress and agony that Jesus was at that time.
Soon after Jesus was brought before the Sanhedrin and Caiphus, the High Priest. Now the physical torture began. A soldier struck Jesus across the face. Palace guards blind folded Him and taunted Him. The spit on Him. The hit Him. He is defenseless but said nothing.
Battered and bruised, the following morning a dehydrated Jesus is taken before Pontius Pilate and preparations for His scourging begin. He is stripped of His clothes and His hands are tied to a post above His head. Roman soldiers then use a flagellum to beat Him. The short whip consists of several heavy, leather thongs with two small balls of lead attached to the ends. They whip Jesus at full force with the whip, starting with His shoulders, then His back, then down His legs. As the beating continues, the subcutaneous tissues are deeply cut and start to bleed. Underlying muscles tear and the balls of the whip produce large bruises, which break open and bleed when struck with the whip. The skin on Jesus’ back is by then hanging in long ribbons and the entire area is an unrecognizable mass of torn, bleeding tissue. It is determined that He is near death so the beating stops.
Jesus is close to fainting when He is untied. He slumps onto the ground. The Roman soldiers throw a robe on Him and place a stick in His hand. They then get some flexible branches with long thorns on them and braid them into a crown. The crown is placed on Jesus’ head, which begins to bleed.
The soldiers mock and hit Him and then take the stick from His hand and drive the crown of thorns deeper into His scalp. They then rip the robe from His back, casing excruciating pain as the bloody wounds reopen. It is then that the procession begins.
The heavy patibulum of the cross is tied to Jesus’ shoulders and our Lord begins the slow journey along Via Dolorosa. The wood of the cross gouges into His already lacerated skin and the muscles of His shoulders. He stumbles and falls and tries to get up but his human muscles have been pushed beyond endurance. Finally the centurion selects onlooker Simon of Cyrene to carry the cross the reaming 650 yards to Golgotha. Once there, Simon is ordered to place the patibulum on the ground and Jesus is quickly thrown backwards with His shoulders against the wood. The nailing begins.
Most depictions of the Crucifixion show the nails going through the palms of Jesus’ hands, but they actually went through His wrists. A heavy, square, wrought-iron nail is driven through the first wrist and then the second; all the while being careful not to pull His arms too tightly to allow flexion and movement. Jesus’ left foot is then pressed backward against the right foot and with both feet extended and toes down, a nail is driven through the arch of each, leaving the knees moderately flexed. Jesus is now officially crucified and the cross is lifted in place.
As He slowly sags down with more weight on the nails in the wrists, excruciating pain shoots along His fingers and up His arms to explode in the brain. The nails in the wrists are putting pressure on the median nerves. He pushes Himself up to avoid this torment and then places His full weight on His feet. This causes searing agony as the nail tears through the nerves between the metatarsal bones in His feet.
At this point His arms fatigue and great waves of cramps sweep over His muscles, knotting in deep, relentless, throbbing pain. He is now unable to push Himself upward. Hanging by His arms, the pectoral muscles are paralyzed and the intercostal muscles are unable to act. Air can be drawn into the lungs but cannot be exhaled. Spasmodically, He is able to exhale. It is during these periods of life-giving oxygen that He uttered “”Father, forgive them for they know not what they do” and “My God, my god, why have you forsaken me?”
It is not over though. Jesus suffers hours upon hours of this limitless pain, cycles of joint-rending cramps, partial asphyxiation, and searing agony as the ripped flesh on His back rubs against the rough timber of the cross. Slowly, His pericardium fills with serum and begins to compress the heart. The loss of fluids in Jesus’ body has reached a critical level, the tortured lungs frantically try to gasp small gulps of air and the heart struggles to pump.
Jesus can feel the chill of death creeping throughout his tissues. His body is now in extremes and he whispers, “It is finished.”
With one last surge of strength though, Jesus presses His torn feet against the nail, straightens His legs, takes a deep breath and utters His last cry, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” Our Lord is gone.
Shockingly, the legionnaire then drives a lance through the fifth interspace between Jesus’ ribs to make sure He is dead. He moves the lance upward through the pericardium and into Jesus’ heart, which releases blood and water. This escape of fluid from the sac surrounding the heart is evidence that Jesus did not die the usual way of crucifixion, by suffocation, He died of heart failure. Jesus, died of a broken heart.
As we remember our Lord’s passion, our hearts should ache and break. I am humbled to think He endured such pain for me. For you. For all of us. Who does that? Jesus does that. That my friends, is what’s good.