Here is a medical description of Christ’s crucifixion from my book “Born To Die…that we may live.” As we celebrate this Christmas, may we be reminded of the Greatest of All Gifts:
We all know the song, it might even be one of your favorite Christmas carols: “We three kings of orient are bearing gifts we’ve traversed afar…”
Scripture does not specifically refer to kings but rather to “magi” or “wise men,” and we are not given a headcount as to how many there were. Yet, we do they know they did bear gifts, and we know what kind of gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. All of these are burial items for a king.
And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. (Matthew 2:11)
Do you understand the significance of this? Even at His birth, Jesus was recognized and honored as royalty! And from His very birth, Jesus was presented with items to prepare Him for His death.
In 2003, we saw the story of the crucifixion minister to thousands throughout the nation and around the world from a surprising source—Hollywood—with the release of Mel Gibson’s production of The Passion of the Christ. With the movie’s graphic depiction of the suffering Jesus endured for the joy set before Him—our salvation—came a new realization for many of the reality of the crucifixion. For others, the movie generated questions. As the cover of one national magazine boldly inquired, “Did Jesus really have to die?”
Even with the controversy surrounding the graphic violence involved in the scourging and death of Christ, an R rating would not be sufficient to accurately portray the extent of His suffering, from the physical pain of the beatings to the emotional pain and loneliness of betrayal. Crucifixion was a form of capitol punishment and considered the most humiliating and tormentful way to die. Even the word “excruciating” did not exist until a word was needed to describe the pain of death by crucifixion.
The following account is a medical description of what Christ went through, written by the late Dr. C. Truman Davis, whose widow, Jean, has graciously given us permission to print it once again:
“The physical trauma of Christ begins with one of the initial aspects His suffering, the bloody sweat. It is interesting that the physician of the group, St. Luke, is the only one to mention this…
“Though very rare, the phenomenon of hematydrosis, or bloody sweat, is well documented. Under great emotional stress, tiny capillaries in the sweat glands can break, thus mixing blood with sweat. This process alone could have produced marked weakness, and possibly shock.
“After the arrest in the middle of the night, Jesus was brought before the Sanhedrin and Caiaphas, the high priest. A soldier struck Jesus across the face for remaining silent when questioned by Caiaphas. The palace guards then blindfolded Him and mockingly taunted Him to identify them as they passed, spat on Him, and struck Him in the face.
“In the early morning, Jesus, battered and bruised, dehydrated and exhausted from a sleepless night, is taken across Jerusalem to the Praetorium of the fortress of Antonia. It was there, in response to the cries of the mob, that Pilate ordered Barnabas released and condemned Jesus to be scourged and crucified.
“Preparations for the scourging are carried out. The prisoner is stripped of His clothing, and His hands tied to a post above His head. The Roman legionnaire steps forth with his flagrum (or flagellum) in his hand. This is a short whip consisting of several heaving leather thongs with two small balls of lead attached near the ends of each. The heavy whip is brought down with full force again and again across Jesus’ shoulders, back, and legs. At first, the thongs cut through the skin only, then as the blows continue, they cut deeper into the subcutaneous tissues, producing first an oozing of blood from the capillaries and veins of the skin, and finally spurting arterial bleeding from vessels in the underlying muscles. The small balls of lead first produced deep bruises, which are broken open by the subsequent blows. Finally the skin of the back is hanging in long ribbons, and the entire area is an unrecognizable mass of torn, bleeding tissue.
“When it is determined by the centurion in charge that the prisoner is near death, the beating is finally stopped. The half-fainting Jesus is then untied and allowed to slump to the stone pavement, wet with His own blood. The Roman soldiers see a great joke in the provincial Jew claiming to be a king. They throw a robe across his shoulders and place a stick in His hand for a scepter. A small bundle of flexible branches covered with long thorns is pressed into His scalp. Again there is copious bleeding, the scalp being one of the most vascular areas of the body.
“After mocking Him and striking Him across the face, the soldiers take the stick from His hand and strike Him across the head, driving their thorns deeper into His scalp. Finally they tire of their sadistic sport, and the robe is torn from His back. This had already become adherent to the clots, to blood and serum in the wounds, and its removal—just as in the careless removal of a surgical bandage—causes excruciating pain, almost as though He were again being whipped, and the wounds again begin to bleed.
“The heavy beam of the cross is then tied across His shoulders, and the procession of the condemned Christ, two thieves, and the execution detail begins its slow journey. The weight of the heavy wooden beam, together with the shock produced by the copious blood loss, is too much. He stumbles and falls. The rough wood of the beam gauges into the lacerated skin and muscles of the shoulders. He tried to rise, but human muscles have been pushed beyond their endurance.
“At Golgotha, the beam is placed on the ground, and Jesus is quickly thrown backward with His shoulders against the wood. The legionnaire feels for the depression at the front of the wrist. He drives a heavy square wooden iron nail through the wrist, and deep into the wood. Quickly he moves to the other side, and repeats the action, being careful not to pull the arms too tightly, but to allow some flexing and movement. The beam is then lifted in place at the top of the stipes, and the titulus reading, ‘Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews,’ is nailed into place.
“The left foot is pressed backward against the right foot, and with both feet extended and toes down, a nail is driven into the arch of each, as He pushes Himself upward to avoid the stretching torment. He places His full weight on the nail through His feet. Again, there is the searing agony of the nail tearing through the nerves between the metatarsal bones of the feet. As the arms fatigue, great waves of cramps sweep over the muscles, knotting them in deep, relentless, throbbing pain. With these cramps comes the inability 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. Jesus fights to raise Himself in order to get even one short breath. Finally, carbon dioxide builds up in the lungs and in the bloodstream, and the cramps partially subside. Spasmodically, He is able to push Himself upward to exhale and bring in the life-giving oxygen.
“Hours of this limitless pain, cycles of twisting, joint rending cramps, intermittent partial asphyxiation searing pain as tissue is torn from His lacerated back as He moves up and down against the rough timber. Then another agony begins, a deep crushing pain deep in the chest as the pericardium, slowly filling with serum, begins to compress the heart. The compressed heart is struggling to pump heavy, thick sluggish blood into the tissues. The tortured lungs are making a frantic effort to grasp in small gulps of air. The markedly dehydrated tissue send their flood of stimuli to the brain.
“Jesus gasps: ‘I thirst.’ He can feel the chill of death creeping through His tissues. With one last surge of strength, He once again presses His torn feet against the nail, straightens His legs, takes a deep breath, and utters His seventh and last cry, ‘Father, into Thy hands I commit My spirit.’
“Apparently, to make double sure of death, the legionnaire drives his lance through the fifth interspace between the ribs, upward through the pericardium, and into the heart. Immediately, there came out blood and water. We therefore have rather conclusive post-mortem evidence that our Lord died not the usual crucifixion (death by suffocation) but of heart failure (a broken heart) due to shock and constriction of the heart by fluid in the pericardium.”
When we consider all the joyous festivities that surround the Christmas holidays each year as we celebrate the birth of Jesus, it’s hard to consider that the entire purpose of His birth was for Him to live a sinless life and be brutally crucified as the perfect sacrifice for our sins, fulfilling all the Old Testament Levitical sacrifices.
But even before His death, Jesus commanded us to take communion in remembrance of Him: remembering what He has done, remembering that He was born to die so that we might have life. Each time we take communion, we are reminded of the high cost of love depicted on the cross of Calvary. He gave His life out of love, and through this display of love, our Prince of peace and our giver of hope gives us meaning, identity, and purpose.
Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends. (John 15:13)
Why did He do this? Why did He leave His heavenly throne to come to earth, born to die? Hebrews 12:2-3 says it so beautifully and so clearly that He was willing to give Himself for us, to suffer shame and brutality and endure the cross, for the joy set before Him.
What was the joy set before Him? His joy was us! To see you and me, God’s very creation, reconciled to Himself, to be in relationship again with our Creator. Thus, He endured the cross, and now we have that same hope, we have that same joy as we fix our fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, and we now partake in the joy He won for us on the cross, as we lead others to the truth of Calvary.
This is the joy that was set before Him, the reason He endured the cross, the reason He was born to die. In the midst of our own pain and trials, can we be the light that shines with that same joy—a joy unspeakable, a joy inexpressible—that others, too, might find their way home?