There’s been a dramatic shift in my understanding of the cross… of this day we call Good Friday… from when I was little up until today.
My parents are both Christians and so the crucifixion and resurrection were familiar to me from very early on. I remember as a small child growing so frustrated that Jesus didn’t just call down his angels from heaven to rescue him off the cross and “show those bad guys” who was boss. I always thought this would have made for a much better ending to the story.
In elementary school and high school, I attended a private Christian school, and began to understand a little better WHY Jesus had to stay on that cross. I started to learn about life, death, love, and sacrifice.
But I’d still frequently ask myself, “but why the cross specifically”? I understand that Jesus had to experience the ultimate sacrifice of death, but death comes in so many forms. Why the cross? Why a death so agonizing and brutal? Couldn’t Jesus just have died in his sleep? I mean I know that this specific death fulfilled Old Testament prophecy, but God is God. He could have easily prophesied him dying in his sleep, right?!
I started unlocking the answer to this question during the two years (I was around 10 yrs old) in which I had four of my spine surgeries. Endless weeks in the hospital, too many complications to count, weeks upon weeks of missed school that impacted both my friendships and my education, and nerve damage that would significantly impact me for the rest of my life. All of these things began to teach me why the cross was so important.
The answer revealed itself in the form of my own physical pain. Specifically, I remember being alone in my hospital bed one night. My dad, most likely, was sleeping on the couch/chair next to me, but I felt so alone. I was exhausted and tired of hearing people say they were “sorry about what I was going through” because how sorry could they really feel for me when they had never experienced the pain that I was experiencing?
That’s when I decided to start talking to Jesus. From everything I had heard growing up, the pain he went through while being crucified sounded MUCH worse than mine, so maybe he was capable of understanding mine. I found peace and comfort there in those quiet heart conversations that I had with him amidst the humming and beeping of machines and earnestly hoped that he could hear me.
As I’ve continued to wake up each morning, with progressively more physical pain than the day before, I’ve kept up this habit of talking to Jesus about it and I know that he really does hear me.
And I’ve grown to realize the necessity of why he died the brutal death that he did.
I think it was in part for people like me who struggle constantly with pain.
I can tell you very honestly that I would have no interest in connecting with, learning more about, and serving a God who had never experienced the pain that is capable in this human body. How could a God that just sits up in heaven untouchable relate to me? But my God doesn’t. He came down and took on the same flesh I have.
I think God knew we’d need that. I think he knew he’d need to suffer what is historically described as the most agonizing and excruciating death possible, so that I’d believe that he really “gets it”. And that his pain wasn’t wasted, but was redeemed in the most perfect way possible.
The cross is the most beautiful picture of what is possible through pain and suffering.
And do you know what I find even more amazing? He kept his nail scars! Even in his redeemed body he decided to keep a visual reminder that he KNOWS our pain. And the Bible says he’s up there, seated at the right hand of the throne of God, advocating for us because he GETS IT.
Romans 8:34 ” Who then is the one that condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died- more than that, who was raised to life- is at the right hand of God and is interceding for us.” (NIV)
So as I laid in bed last night, contemplating the complexities of Good Friday once again, it washed over me fresh and new how personal his death was.
If you read about crucifixion in Wikipedia, you’ll find that only one set of human remains has been discovered out of the thousands who were believed to have been crucified throughout history. These specific remains were found because the nail was stuck in the heel bone in the tree of this man who was crucified. They believe the nail was stuck in the wood in a way that prevented it’s removal, resulting in the remains being preserved (most nails were thought to be removed after death and re-used due to the high price of iron).
From this one set of remains, they have observed that the wood that this specific crucifix was made out of was olive wood. This leads historians to believe that this crucifixion took place at eye level, because olive trees do not grow very tall.
While this in no way indicates what type of wood Jesus’ cross was made from, it struck me tonight (again) how personal Jesus’ death was. He got down and died “at eye level” for us, so not only would we know he understands our pain, but also that beauty can come out of it.
And that is why I will never just gloss over Good Friday, but instead contemplate it, chew on it, digest it, and be eternally grateful for it.