The Scandal of the Cross
John Telgren

Crucifixion was often referred to as the "most wretched of deaths." It was so offensive, that many Romans did not like to even mention it. There were many variations of the methods of crucifixion depending on who the executioner was. As a general rule, here is what usually took place.

After flogging, the accused would carry the cross beam to the site of the execution. The vertical beams were usually mounted permanently at the site. The execution site was typically in a visible place, such as a crossroad, outside the city. The accused would usually be stripped and nailed to the cross beam through a place in the hands that would not break a bone or cut an artery. The accused would be fixed to the vertical beam, which had a peg on it for him to sit. His feet would together be turned sideways and nailed to the vertical beam. His crime was usually written on a plague and fixed to the cross for all to see. This was to serve as a deterrent.

The executioners became experts at their job. Their job was to cause the most amount of pain and humiliation while keeping the accused alive as long as possible. Sometimes it took six days for someone to die. In the meantime, birds of prey might come and feed on them while they were still alive.

Death was not caused by the nailing, but by other things such as exposure, dehydration, hemorrhaging, and shock. If they executioner needed to hasten the death of the victim, he would smash his legs, causing hemorrhaging and shock.

This form of death was repugnant and only reserved for the lowest classes, slaves, and political criminals. If someone in the family were a convicted criminal and were executed in this way, it would have been a source of shame and embarrassment.

Of all the deaths to die, why was this the way Jesus died? If Jesus died on the battlefield in a blaze of glory, would that not have been a better story to tell? Outsiders often scorned Christians for the scandal of serving one who had been executed on a cross. Yet neither the New Testament writers nor the early church tried to tone down the cross. They could have just said that Jesus died without telling how he died.

What does the fact that Jesus died the lowest, the most wretched of deaths say about him? Jesus poured himself out as a bondservant both in life and in death. He also redefined glory. Glory is found not in heroic tales of marvelous feats, but in the simple and faithful service rendered to others in the name of God. Whether it is washing feet, a cup of cold water, kindness to the outcast, glory is found with the least of these. To be crucified with Christ, to take up your cross, dying with him daily, means identifying with the "least of these" even in the face of severe persecution. It means becoming nobody so that you will be somebody before God. The Kingdom of God is so different than the kingdom of this world. The greatest are the least and the least are the greatest.