The Burden of Sin: What Jesus Endured on the Cross

The Burden of Sin: What Jesus Endured on the Cross September 8, 2013

The One Who knew no sin became sin for us.


Graphic images, not for children.

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2 responses to “The Burden of Sin: What Jesus Endured on the Cross”

  1. I found this by happenstance and I’m glad that I did, though glad might not be the best word. Thank you for putting this together. Its similar to what I have pictured Jesus seeing at Gethsemane. Juxtaposing these sins with his wounds and sufferings makes it very clear what sin is. Thank you for the prayer at the end.

  2. [I wrote this a couple of years ago on my own blog for religious thoughts,

    We, as Christians, should always keep the Crucifix before our eyes. It is important never to forget that God went through that – through death, through the annihilation of everything, through the end; and through the most painful and horrible kind of end imaginable.

    I would have added, by reflex, for our sakes, to the end of that paragraph, but I decided that that would not have helped the discussion. For a start, it is not true in terms of final effects; the blood of redemption, even God Himself willed it otherwise, is in fact not shed for those souls who choose Hell of their own deliberate will. There is such a thing as successfully denying the will of God, if only because God has made us capable of doing so. And to the many who are unable or unwilling to believe – whether or not any of them also belongs to the group of the damned – the notion that God died for them actually feels like an imposition, like something in the nature of moral blackmail. If (to mention one of the nobler unbelievers) a John Stuart Mill had been willing to express his deepest feelings about the Atonement, he would have said: “Did I ask him to die for me?”

    It is the thought itself that God died, and died in that agonizing, shameful, public way, that matters most to me. We are told, and I believe, that His death cancelled the weight of sin in our nature and opened our own road as mortals back to God; but that is not – except in a particular sense – my point today either. My point is this: that when we look at our God, we look at someone who knows the worst that can happen to any of us. He knows it, because it happened to him.

    I think this is important, and I haven’t often heard it discussed on its own merits: that when death reached God, it reached Him in the worst possible guise. Quite literally the worst. Physically, it is impossible to kill a man in a more cruel or prolonged way than by crucifixion – just stick him to a piece of wood and watch him slowly bleed and choke in the sun till he died of exhaustion and thirst. The agony, in theory, could last for days; but even the soldiers who inflicted the penalty did not like to see it go on. These men were hardened professionals who thought nothing of tearing down rebel cities from the foundations and killing and enslaving civilians. What is more, when they served as executioners they did so with the confidence that they were properly punishing evil-doers according to the law. And yet, they would do such things as give the victims diluted vinegar to drink (diluted vinegar, or lemon juice, are powerful remedies against exhaustion, as every military man who has had to march in the sun knows), or, when nothing else could be done, break their legs or spear them in the side to insure they died quicker.

    Terrible though the physical aspect of crucifixion was, it pales compared to what it meant. To a Roman, it was the death of a rebellious slave, the ultimate in placing a man outside the law and the community, the ultimate rejection. To a Jew, it was a sign of being under the curse of God, and a pollution over the whole land. And to judge by what was done to St.Stephen and St.James later, we have to say that if the Jews had been allowed to inflict the death penalty in their own fashion instead of leaving it to the Romans, they would have stoned Jesus to death: not only another horrible, agonizing kind of death, but also one that carries the same message of expulsion, exclusion, rejection – the whole community takes part, yet they never so much as touch the body of the condemned man. Jesus was a Jew, and the authorities of his people condemned him not only to death but to expulsion, rejection, curse; he was one of those Jews who accepted the legitimacy of Roman power (“Give Caesar what is Caesar’s”), and Roman power confirmed his condemnation, with the refinement of an atrocious public beating first; he had a legal claim to the inheritance of King David, he had just entered the city of David according to David’s ritual (on a donkey), and he suffered the death of a slave.

    From the moment he is arrested, Jesus runs a path that is horribly familiar to many people – I would say, to anyone, because who is there who has not experienced injustice or undeserved misfortune in their lives? Everything goes wrong. The laws are properly carried out, but the result is utter injustice. Everywhere you turn, you lose; every branch you grab breaks. Your friends disappear. The sentence against you is passed; appeal only makes things worse; and you begin to see a mob of faces outside who are taking delight in your humiliation, the violence performed upon you, your condemnation. Men, under form of law, become jackals. In fact, by the time you are dragged out to suffer according to verdict and sentence, you might almost say that the worst has already been done. Your good name has been trampled in the mud; your people have rejected you; you are a nothing, a piece of filth, dead in their eyes even before the final horror is inflicted.

    Last and worst, you have seen it coming. You knew what was going to come even before the knock at the door and the display of the badge. Jesus saw it all in His mind, and was so horrified he sweated blood – apparently a possible physical reaction in cases of extreme stress or fear. Everything that happens only confirms what you knew; and Jesus, as God, knew what death was better than anyone.

    This is how death reached God. And what this means to me, apart from the Atonement itself, is this: that when we pray to our God, we pray to Someone Who has been there. Every terrible thing that can happen to a human being did in fact happen to him. He knows; we can go to Him with the confidence that He will be at one with our griefs, with our humiliations, with our terrors.

    Death is not only a horror; it is, especially when we take in the whole process of decline and deterioration of which it is the climax, a profoundly and continuously humiliating process. Our body grows older and weaker until we are reliant on the kindness of others, and our faculties crack one by one. There is often a social decline as well: old friends drift or die, and the young show no interest. In fact, what Jesus endured packed in three days of horror is what most adults will slowly have to endure, bit by bit, over the long arch of their decline towards the grave.

    It has always been noticed that old people are disproportionately represented in church attendance; which makes sense. It is not just that the old feel more strongly their dependence on the will of God, but that their experience is growing closer and closer to that of God Himself. To the young, death is real mainly as a violent crisis, a brutal intrusion, almost, one would say, a dark and annihilating counterpart to their own splendid strength. But to the old, the process of ageing and death is the very dimension of life; and to that extent, the humiliating and lonely progress of God towards the Cross is so much easier to understand, to sympathize with, and to take up oneself.