Sunday Sermon: ‘Looking Unto Jesus’ pt 1


(audio version)

Today is Palm Sunday. Often we focus on Christ’s triumphal entry on this day; however, today I would like to focus on His crucifixion. In light of the fact that we are in the midst of presenting our Passion Play, and today we are observing Communion, I thought that it would be appropriate time to consider the price Christ paid for our salvation. The primary passage of scripture the Spirit has led me to comes from the book of Hebrews –

Hebrews 12:2 Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who: for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.

What a rich portion of scripture this is. Over the next few weeks we’re going to examine three points from this passage:

  1. Christ and the Cross
  2. Christ and the Crown
  3. Christ and the Christian

I. Christ and the Cross

Note again these words: ‘…He endured the cross, despising the shame…’

A.  The Suffering of the Cross

The use of a cross as a means of executing enemies and criminals existed for nearly 1,000 years. Many believe that it began with the Persians somewhere around 600 BC and continued with the Romans until the 5th century. The Jewish historian Josephus, who lived during this time period, wrote concerning the cross that it was – “the most wretched of deaths.” (Josephus, Jewish War 7.203.) Tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, died by crucifixion. Jesus died on a Roman cross and according to one resource – “The Romans perfected crucifixion as a punishment designed to maximize pain and suffering.” (1)

“It wasn’t about killing somebody — it was about killing somebody in a really horrible way. Someone who was crucified suffered the maximum amount of pain.”  (2)

There are several aspects of Christ’s suffering that I would like for us to consider:

1. The Seclusion

Often we recognize the physical suffering of Christ but overlook that He suffered emotionally and spiritually as well. Note that scripture says that Christ was –

‘…a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him…’ (Isaiah 53:3)

We read from the gospel of Matthew concerning the night before Jesus was crucified-

Matthew 26:36 Then cometh Jesus with them unto a place called Gethsemane, and saith unto the disciples, Sit ye here, while I go and pray yonder. 37 And he took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be sorrowful and very heavy . 38 Then saith he unto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death: tarry ye here, and watch with me.

Christ expressed His sorrow to His disciples. He told them that He was ‘exceedingly sorrowful’ and He pleaded with them to watch and pray with Him. Yet while Christ was agonizing in the Garden, all of His disciples fell asleep. Later, when Christ was arrested, we read this about His disciples –

Mt 26:56  ‘Then all the disciples forsook him, and fled…’

Judas sold Christ for thirty pieces of silver and used a kiss to betray Him. Simon Peter denied that he knew Christ. All the remaining  disciples deserted Him as well. We read these prophetic words from the book of Psalms –

Ps 22:11 Be not far from me; for trouble is near; for there is none to help …

2. The Sweat

There is another even that occurred in the Garden that reveals the intensity of Christ’s suffering.

Lk 22:44 And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground.

Note the word ‘agony.’ This is the only place in the Bible that this particular word is used. It refers to – “severe mental struggles and emotions, agony and anguish.” (Strongs)  We learn from scripture that on the night before Christ’s crucifixion, an intense war was going on in His heart and mind while He prayed. These were indeed dark hours for our Lord.

When the soldiers came to arrest Jesus in the Garden, our Lord said to them – ‘this is your hour, and the power of darkness.’ (Lk 22:53)  We are told that while Jesus hung on the cross, the whole land was covered in darkness. We know also from our study in Ephesians that Satan and his demons are the – ‘rulers of the darkness of this world.’ (Eph 6:12)

Consider these words from the book of Psalms –

Psalm 22:11 Be not far from me; for trouble is near; for there is none to help. 12 Many bulls have compassed me: strong bulls of Bashan have beset me round. 13 They gaped upon me with their mouths, as a ravening and a roaring lion.

Many of you know that Peter calls Satan a ‘roaring lion seeking whom he may devour.’ (1 Pet 5:8)  Coincidence? I think not. Just before Jesus took His disciples to the Garden, He told them -“the prince of this world cometh”. He was referring to Satan. No doubt the devil was extremely active during these dark hours in our Lord’s life.

To further emphasize the intensity of His agony, scripture tells us that He – ‘sweat as it were great drops of blood.’

Lk 22:44 And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground.

According to some resources, there is a physical condition known as “hemohidrosis” or “hematidrosis” where the capillaries around the sweat pores become fragile and leak blood into the sweat. It is stated that ‘this is a very rare condition which is sometimes found when a person is suffering extreme levels of stress.’ Interestingly enough, this event is mentioned only by Luke, who was a physician.

3. The Slander

Added to our Lord’s suffering was the verbal abuse and slander. During His trial before Annas and the Sanhedrin we read –

Mk 14:56 ‘…many bare false witness against him.’

Men deliberately told lies and misrepresented the truth against Jesus. In addition to the lies Jesus heard men say about Him, He also received great verbal abuse from the Roman soldiers –

Matthew 27:27 Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the common hall, and gathered unto him the whole band of soldiers. 28 And they stripped him, and put on him a scarlet robe. 29 And when they had platted a crown of thorns, they put it upon his head, and a reed in his right hand: and they bowed the knee before him, and mocked him, saying, Hail, King of the Jews!

As a part of their mocking they clothed Him in a scarlet robe. Some suggest that this was probably a cloak worn by a Roman officer. The color was crimson or a scarlet red. Consider this in light of what we read from the prophet Isaiah –

Isaiah 1:18 Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.

In addition, there was the crown of thorns. These thorns are estimated to have been 1 to 2” in length and sharp as a needle. Again, consider this in light of what we read from God’s Word –

Genesis 3:17-18: “… cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee…” 

 Though the soldiers thought that they were only mocking Jesus, in reality they were illustrating that Christ was:

– Clothed with our sin
– Crowned with our curse

4. The Scourging

As a part of the crucifixion, the Romans incorporated a severe flogging. The victim was stripped naked of all of his clothing and tied to a post, leaving his back bent over and exposed to the brutal beating.

Then a soldier, or more often a pair of soldiers, would scourge the victim a special whip known as a flagrum. The flagrum was a whip with multiple leather straps attached to the end. As if the straps were not enough to inflict severe pain, the Romans embedded bone fragments and other sharp objects into the ends, along with small lead balls for weight. Centuries later this whip was called – ‘The Cat of Nine Tails.’

I have read that the Romans called the scourging the ‘little death’ which preceded the ‘big death’ – crucifixion.

A few years ago, a clinical pathologist by the name of Edwards, wrote in the Journal of the American Medical Association –

“The severe scourging, with its intense pain and appreciable blood loss, most probably left Jesus in a pre-shock state. The physical and mental abuse meted out by the Jews and the Romans, as well as the lack of food, water, and sleep, also contributed to his generally weakened state. Therefore, even before the actual crucifixion, Jesus’ physical condition was at least serious and possibly critical.” (3) 

According to Deuteronomy 25, a victim was to receive no more than forty lashes. Whenever the Jews whipped a man, they gave him thirty-nine lashes for fear that maybe somehow they had miscounted. Yet the Romans were not under such laws, so we do not know for sure how many lashes Jesus received. The only restrictions placed upon the ones whipping was that the victim must still be alive afterwards for their crucifixion.

Once again, consider God’s Word –

Isaiah 50:6 I gave my back to the smiters, and my cheeks to them that plucked off the hair: I hid not my face from shame and spitting.

We read also concerning Christ’s scourging –

Isaiah 52:14 As many were astonied at thee; his visage was so marred more than any man, and his form more than the sons of men:

Literally this passage is saying that Christ’s physical image had been so disfigured by the abuse and the swelling that occurred that those looking upon Him were stunned and appalled.  No doubt He was beyond the point of recognition.

5. The Sacrifice  

All of this preceded the cross. Consider the events that occurred from this point on:

a.  The Via Dolorosa

The one being crucified had to carry the cross beam of his cross, which weighed approximately 100 lbs., to the place of his execution. The distance between where Jesus was scourged and then crucified was nearly ½ a mile. No doubt the soldiers continued to whip Him as many in the crowd looking on mocked and jeered.

This journey was later called ‘The Via Dolorosa’ which is Latin for – ‘the way of suffering.’

 b. Golgotha – the place of a skull

Then there was ‘Golgotha’ which means – “The place of a skull.” (Mt 27:33; Mk 15:22; Jn 9:17)

The Romans nailed their victims to their cross with long spikes, approximately 7” in length and 3/8” diameter. The hands were nailed just above the palms, through the wrists, and the bottom part of the body was turned at a 90 degree angle, so that the legs would be bent and a nail could be being driven through both feet.

Often, at the center of the upright post, a peg or a sharp board was attached for a crude seat. And thus the victim would begin a grueling routine which could last for several days.

How would they find relief from their suffering? Would they try to sit on the peg? Would they push and pull themselves up by the spikes driven through their body, or would they give up and die of asphyxiation?

Again I call your attention to prophetic scripture

Ps 22:14 I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint: my heart is like wax; it is melted in the midst of my bowels. 15 My strength is dried up like a potsherd; and my tongue cleaveth to my jaws; and thou hast brought me into the dust of death.

Here is an interesting truth. The word ‘excruciating’ is a Latin word which means – “from the cross.” The word excruciating comes from the horrendous pain men experienced during their crucifixion. Yet scripture also teaches us that our Lord willingly received the full load of His suffering for our sins.

B. The Shame of the Cross

The suffering of the cross is horrible, yet it was not what Jesus despised the most. Consider again what we read in today’s scripture –

Hebrews 12:2 Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who: for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame,

1. The Shame Attached to the Cross

The word ‘shame’ means: {disgrace or dishonor}. Why did Jesus despise the shame of the cross?

We read from the Old Testament.

Deuteronomy 21:22 And if a man have committed a sin worthy of death, and he be to be put to death, and thou hang him on a tree: 23 His body shall not remain all night upon the tree, but thou shalt in any wise bury him that day; (for he that is hanged is accursed of God;) …

In some cultures, the bodies of slain enemies are sometimes disgraced whenever they are defeated.  Many of you remember during the early 90’s when the bodies of 19 Marines were desecrated in Somalia. In Bible times, hanging the body of an enemy on a tree was one such way to show such disgrace. The greatest agony of Christ’s cross was not the physical suffering He endured, but the spiritual suffering He endured when He was made to be sin for us. We read form the book of Galatians –

Galatians 3:10 Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them. 13 Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree:

 2. The Father’s Abandonment at the Cross

Matthew 27:46 And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? That is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?

Someone has said that this was the first time Jesus did not address God as His Father. Why did God forsake His Son? Again we must consider that Christ was being made a curse for us. He was taking upon Himself the sin of the world. Consider that in light of what we read from Isaiah –

Isaiah 59:2 But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear.

2 Corinthians 5:21 For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.

C. The Surrender to the Cross

Though Jesus despised the shame of the cross, He endured the suffering of the cross. He could have called for twelve legions of angles to deliver Him, but He didn’t. He endured the cross.

Hebrews 12:2 Looking unto Jesus – the author and finisher of our faith; Who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.

Isaiah the prophet wrote –

Isaiah 53:7 He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth.

Jesus said – ‘No man taketh it (my life) from me, but I lay it down of myself…’ (Jn 10:18)

Why did Jesus endure such terrible suffering? According to today’s passage –

1. ‘For the joy that was set before Him’

We will examine this next Sunday in our study – ‘Christ and the Crown’; yet for today we may say that Christ’s supreme desire was to do His Father’s will which included His death on the cross.

2. ‘The author and finisher of our faith’

Jesus is the source and strength of our salvation. It is in His name and His name alone that men might be saved. Hundreds of years before Jesus died on the cross, the prophet Isaiah wrote –

Isaiah 53:5 But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.6 All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.


(1) Catholic Education Resource Center

(2) Ibid

(3)  William D. Edwards, MD, On the Physical Death of Jesus Christ, Journal of the American Medical Association, March 21, 1986, Volume 225

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