The day that Jesus died—the day we remember as Good Friday—goes down in the history of the world as a day of great suffering, when Jesus Christ endured the weight of sin and shame on our behalf. As we remember what it cost him to reconcile us to himself on this day, it is worth walking through what Jesus endured that day.
Excruciating Physical Suffering
The Bible records that after being arrested, put on trial, falsely accused, spit on, and beaten, Jesus was handed over to be scourged, or whipped, in accordance with the Roman custom of scourging a condemned criminal before execution. The Roman scourge was a short whip called a flagrum made of a wooden handle connected to a few strips of leather or rope, with pieces of metal knotted along the strips. The condemned person was stripped naked (or nearly so), stretched out and tied down so as to leave the neck, shoulders, back, buttocks, and legs completely exposed, and lashed repeatedly with the scourges.
This flogging was so severe that often the victims were killed, though the goal was to inflict as much pain as possible while keeping the criminal alive for the execution later. Jesus would have emerged from the scourging with deep lacerations, exposed muscle, covered in blood, and half-dead—already fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah that the Suffering Servant would be marred beyond human recognition (Isa. 52:14).
Sin is not just some misdeeds here or there. Sin is an autonomous, enslaving power.
Next Jesus was given a crown of thorns and forced to carry the heavy crossbar that he would soon die on. It would have weighed more than a hundred pounds, and it was laid across his traumatized back to carry to the place of the execution.
At the place of crucifixion, Jesus had large 5- to 7-inch nails driven through his hands and feet to secure him to the cross. Crucifixion victims would often die from asphyxiation because in their weakened state, they would slouch down on the cross, keeping air from reaching the lungs. They would pass in and out of consciousness, pushing themselves back up on the nails to get enough oxygen to stay conscious.
Jesus was on the cross enduring this for roughly six hours, while his family, friends, and enemies stood around watching him as he was utterly exposed, shamed, and tortured. At around 3 p.m. in the afternoon, Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Soon after this, he declared, “It is finished,” and called out, again with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” before he breathed his last breath.
Later the Roman soldiers came to ensure that all the crucifixion victims were dead. Jesus was so obviously dead that instead of breaking his legs as they normally did, the guards jabbed a spear into his side, piercing his lungs and heart so that blood and fluid poured out. There was no question that Jesus had truly died.
Emotional and Spiritual Suffering
As terrible as the physical pain Jesus endured was, the emotional and spiritual suffering must have been even greater. In the lead-up to his crucifixion, he experienced betrayal by his friends, false accusations, mockery, and the shame of being exposed naked in front of his family, disciples, and worst enemies.
And far beyond all this, he endured the full weight of the wrath of God against the sin of the human race. It was the reason he came into the world (1 Tim. 1:15).
Jesus’ cry, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me,” is known as the Cry of Dereliction. It shows his intensity of suffering and his radical vulnerability.
Scripture tells us that everyone who does not follow the law of God perfectly is under a curse (Gal. 3:10–14). Sin is the cause of this curse. Sin is not just some misdeeds here or there. Sin is an autonomous, enslaving power. Romans 3:10 tells us, “None is righteous.” There is no distinction because all have sinned.
Christ became cursed for us. In his death, Jesus takes the part of all those who suffer from the curses of others and the curse of their own sin. On the cross, Jesus voluntarily and willingly bowed his head under the penalty for sin and the curse of God. The Father did not do this to the Son; the Son and the Father did this together. God submitted to God’s own wrath.
Fleming Rutledge makes the point that no other form of execution would have reflected the enormity of the dark powers holding us in bondage. Jesus’ situation under the harsh judgment of Roman persecution was like our situation under sin. He was condemned, he was rendered helpless and powerless, he was stripped of his humanity and reduced to the state of a beast, and he was declared unfit to live and deserving of death.
Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us.
Jesus Christ took our place under the dictatorship of sin. He was condemned by the law and subject to death because only he, the perfectly righteous one, could break the hold of these powers and bring us out of slavery to sin, attributing to us his righteousness in what is called the Great Exchange.
This why Scripture says that God made Christ, who knew no sin, to be sin, so we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:21). The full weight of our enmity with God fell on him. No wonder he cried from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” His forsaken condition was a direct result of his identification with us.
God the Creator, in the person of his Son, put himself into our place and made himself to be our own sacrifice. Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us.
Our heavenly Father sent his Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world through him would be saved—that all who believe in him would be delivered from the power of sin and death and become heirs with him of everlasting life.