Written by Christopher Lui, Art by Jeff Yeh
John 3:16 â€“ “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”
Growing up in the church, I’ve heard and understood that verse all of my life. I knew that we humans are sinners and are separated from God, and that only through Jesus’ innocent death in our stead and His resurrection can we have a chance to join God in Heaven. I’ve also seen many skits and movies that play during Easter depicting this historic event. But I’ve had a nagging thought in my head; we humans have committed such horrible atrocities throughout history: genocides, greed, deceit, oppressionâ€¦the list goes on. I pondered about how a few trickles of blood and being nailed to a cross for only 6 hours could possibly atone for such depravity. That is, until my natural affinity for history guided me to research and discover the true process of a Roman crucifixion.
Crucifixion was mainly practiced by the Romans, and is arguably the most brutal, slow, and painful method of execution ever concocted by mankind. Before we even get to that, the Scriptures tell us that Jesus was scourged and beaten before the cross. I found out that the Romans used a whip called a flagrum, from which we derive the English word, flagellum. A Roman flagrum had glass, nails or jagged sheep bone embedded in lead tips, and unlike a Cat-o-Nine-Tails, which were mainly used as punishment, flagrums were intended for torture. Roman Lictors (specialized soldiers) would lash at specific parts of the victim’s backside, avoiding accidentally severing a major vein/artery or causing disembowelment. Numerous historians describe the victims with horrific detail, often citing lacerations so deep that the rib bones, fat tissue, and internal organs would be visible. When Jesus said He would pour out His blood for us, I now think of it literally as well as figuratively. For those of you who have seen Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, the scourging depicted is quite historically accurate.
After the scourging, only then was the victim taken to be crucified. It is important to note that crucifixion was reserved for slaves and the worst kinds of criminals, and as such, the victims would be stripped of their clothes to be publicly displayed in a disgraceful manner. Once hung on the cross, the awkward position of the arms combined with one’s own weight, would cause hyper-expansion of the lungs and difficulty in exhaling. In order to breathe properly, the victim would have to elevate his body up by his legs or his arms (assuming they weren’t dislocated). Just the action of pulling oneself up would rub the now-exposed muscle tissue against the abrasive wood, causing additional pain even when trying to breathe. Records show that, depending on the health of the victim and environmental circumstances, he could hang from a few hours to several days. This often prompted the soldiers to break the legs of the victims to hasten their deaths. Once the victim could no longer draw himself up to breathe, he would finally succumb to suffocation.
Once I understood the true nature of Jesus’ suffering prior to and during His time on the cross, His Passion and the blood that He gave for us became that much more meaningful to me. He wasn’t some weak, helpless, pitiful man who was murdered by a bunch of bullies. Jesus, as God incarnate, had options that no other scourged or crucified man has ever had! At any time during or before the scourging, Jesus could have called more than twelve legions of angels to escape (Matt. 26:53), and yet He willingly and obediently chose to lay down His life for us, so that we might have a chance at redemption (John 10:18). All of us have experienced physical pain in our lives, and if we were in Jesus’ place at the whipping post, how many lashes, how many flayed chunks of flesh, how much blood loss could we bear before we gave in and summoned our 72,000 angels?
No matter how much pain, whether physical or emotional, we experience, we need not despair, for we have a Savior who experienced and conquered an even greater pain (2 Cor. 1:8-9, Heb. 12:2-3). For those that don’t know Jesus, I would like you to reason for a moment: if Jesus was a religious con man, would He have willingly submitted to an excruciating death for something He knew was a lie? If He was delusional, would He have been able to win debates against highly educated Jewish lawyers and teachers, been invited to parties and weddings, or be admired by many for His wisdom? The last possibility is that Jesus is who He claimed to be, the Son of God.
Knowing the true extent of His pain humbles and reminds me that I have nothing to boast in myself, but only in His death on the cross. So when I reflect upon John 3:16, I can appreciate God’s love for our fallen race that much more, and it is a vivid reminder that we have no reason to lose heart, because God’s desire is for us to be of good cheer, for He has overcome the world (John 16:33).
Christopher Lui works forÂ Liferay, a software company based in Diamond Bar, located in close proximity to his church,First Chinese Baptist Church of Walnut. He likes to play video games and pretend to be characters from said video games.