Must Jesus Bear the Cross Alone?
Mark 15:24 – And they crucified him.
Mark doesn’t explain much about the crucifixion because his readers knew how awful this form of punishment was. Marcus Tullius Cicero, a Roman statesman, orator, lawyer, and philosopher said that the crucifixion is the “most cruel and horrifying punishment.” Cicero wrote, “Let the very name of the cross be far away not only from the body of a Roman citizen, but even from his thoughts, his eyes, his ears.”
Dictators often viciously punish their opponents in order to strike terror in their hearts. When the Romans crucified the guilty, they would do so on frequently traveled roads where most people can see its horrors. Crucifixion served as a strong deterrent to others. This form of punishment was meted out only to the non-Roman citizens. Many of the slaves, violent criminals, and prisoners of war were treated cruelly and killed. Moreover, the victims were shamed by crucifying them naked on a frequently traveled road, where most people could see the spectacle (Heb. 12:2).
The victim’s hands were stretched and pinned to a horizontal crossbeam (Latin for crossbeam: patibulum) through nails or ropes. In Jesus’ case, nails were driven through his wrists (not palms). The victim had to carry this crossbeam, not the entire cross to the place of execution. Then, this horizontal crossbeam was attached to a vertical stake, which was generally fixed permanently at the site of execution.
Similarly, the feet were placed with one above the other or supported on a footrest and nailed to the vertical beam. The victim was allowed to be seated on small support to prevent early death. Death didn’t come easily for the victims of crucifixion. If the flogging was not so severe, some would even survive for several days. Those who were crucified went through excruciating pain, died a slow death, and were degraded publicly.
The victims couldn’t chase away flies, birds, or animals from their wounds. The birds and animals feasted on the victim while he was still alive. Crosses were often low enough for dogs to eat the feet of those who hung on them. The low height also allowed people to observe the victim from close quarters and to mock the victim. Those who hung on the cross couldn’t protect themselves from heat or cold. No wonder the idea that Christ would die on the cross was “a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles” (1 Cor. 1:23). It was utterly scandalous! God chose the despicable cross to offer salvation to humankind!
Must Jesus bear the cross alone? Yes, in one sense, Jesus alone could bear the cross and forgive our sins. However, in Mark 8:34, Jesus commands us to take up our cross. So, the Lord’s message for us during this Lent season is: We must carry our cross and follow Jesus because he refused to save himself and saved us.
Prayer: Lord Jesus, help me to take up my cross and follow you faithfully.
Rev. Dr. David Mende