The Son of God was on a cross. This should be the most incomprehensible sentence that is possible to write. The hanging of someone on a tree was the most disgraceful way to die in both cultures present at this crucifixion, Roman and Jewish. For the Romans, crucifixion was the method of execution that provided the greatest intersection of pain and shame. Counterintuitively, victims wouldn’t die because of the holes in their hands and feet. Victims would die due to being unable to breathe. Each breath would be tortuously earned by pulling on the hands and pushing with the feet to lift oneself up for a gasp. Death’s embrace would sometimes be days away, and in the meantime the public walked past you assuming you had done something to deserve such a fate. There was no worse way to die for the Romans.
The Jews also saw being hung on a tree to be the worst way to die. While the Jews didn’t torture those who were to be executed under their government, Deuteronomy 21:22-23 spells out a particular way of display post-execution that entailed a divine curse: hanging. Usually, capital crimes were paid for by stoning, but if the crime warranted, the body would be hanged from a tree as a brutal reminder of what that crime deserved. This would be an enormous shame, and even if done, the body would not be allowed to be displayed past sundown, lest the ceremonial defilement of the dead body spread to the community. The shamefulness of this is declared, yet allowed by God.
In the crucifixion, both cultures hurl the greatest weapon of pain and shame that they can possibly think of. Yet here, in this place of pain, shame, and cursing hangs One who does not deserve it: the Son of God! The One on this tree is the Beloved of God the Father (Mark 1:11)! So why—how—is Jesus the One in this place? It is because Christ is taking someone else’s place. He is taking my place and your place. That place is not the place of some Roman or Jewish citizen politically condemned. It is the place of every sinner who would be condemned by God.
You see there is a final element to this particular cross that isn’t shared by any other cross. The wrath of God against all of sinful humanity is aimed at that cross, more accurately, aimed at the Person being hung on that cross. There, Jesus absorbed the full shame, pain, and curse that God Himself would wield against sinners like you and me. This is something that only Jesus could do. Only the Son of God could live a life that could be offered as a perfect substitute for us. If He committed even one sin, then all of that wrath, shame, pain, and curse would be deserved. But since His life was perfect, He could absorb the wrath on behalf of others. Since He was God, He could absorb the wrath for all others who would repent of their sins and follow after Christ.
The Son of God was on a cross. It’s an incomprehensible sentence, yet even more incomprehensible than that is that the Son of God was on your cross. He took your pain, yourshame, your divine curse on Himself. He then took it all away such that you will never have to bear it. In fact, you shall receive His reward for His perfect life.
This is why this day bears the name “Good Friday.” This is as good a news as you could possibly receive, yet that news wasn’t free. It cost the Son of God a cross.
Thoughts for prayer: Meditate on what your sin deserves. It deserves pain, shame, and curse, yet those things have been taken from you and placed on Christ. Remember and rejoice.
1Eugene Merril, Deuteronomy. New American Commentary.