The ancient Roman philosopher and statesman Cicero once described crucifixion is the “most cruel and horrifying punishment.” According to my study Bible notes in Mark 15, it involved a rough, wooden beam, approximately 30-40 pounds, carried to execution site by the condemned after severe beating. (Sometimes criminals died from the beating before they could be crucified!) Heavy, wrought-iron nails were driven through the wrists and the heel bones to secure the victim to the cross.
We know these details thanks to history and films such as The Passion of the Christ and not so much from the Gospel accounts of the crucifixion. Did you know that the Gospel writers don’t even refer to nails when describing Jesus’ crucifixion?
That Jesus would be nailed to the cross was foretold by the psalmist – “…They pierce my hands and my feet…” – and the prophet Isaiah – “…He was pierced for our transgressions…” And after the resurrection, the disciple Thomas declared, “Unless I see the nail marks in His hands…” In addition, Peter affirms in his Pentecost sermon that nails were used with Jesus’ crucifixion: “You, with the help of wicked men, put Him to death by nailing Him to the cross.”
So there’s no doubt that Jesus was nailed to the cross; it’s just that the Gospel narratives don’t actually mention nails at the moment of crucifixion. The Gospels seem less interested in the gory, “blood-and-guts” aspect of the crucifixion and invest more words in describing the shame and suffering Jesus endures as His friends abandon Him and the authorities condemn Him.
Observing this, James R. Edwards writes in his commentary on Mark’s Gospel how
the crucifixion of Jesus is narrated … with utmost restraint and objectivity. There is no intention to exploit the savagery of crucifixion either to sensationalize Jesus’ death or to evoke sentimentality from the reader. …The accent on the crucifixion narrative falls not on its brutality and cruelty, but on the shame and the mockery to which Jesus is subjected. (p. 453)
As He suffers and dies on the cross, Jesus is deeply shamed …So that we don’t have to be. Jesus dies that we may live.
That is more profound even than the bloodstained goriness of the scene. And by not getting lost in the gory details of the scene, the Gospel writers help us focus on the most significant part of Good Friday. With whom are you going to share that today?