Day 5: The Cross

We have a word in our English language that is derived from the word “crucifixion.” It’s the word “excruciating,” which means, fittingly, “causing great pain.” When the Persian Empire began crucifying criminals as a form of capital punishment a few hundred years before Christ, they introduced not only a slow and painful form of suffering, but one that was a public spectacle—it was a level of humiliation unseen before, and it was meant to deter people from illegal behavior.

And at the center of every crucifixion was the structure used to hoist up the guilty party—a cross. The criminal would have to carry the cross (or at least part of it) in front of the town and in front of their family, friends, and those who knew them. Jesus would have carried the top of the cross to the place of crucifixion. And when he arrived on a hill outside the gates of Jerusalem, this wooden beam would have been placed horizontally on or near the top of a permanent, vertical, wooden pole and then attached to it. After the cross was in place, the hands (actually the wrists) would be spread out and nailed to the horizontal piece while the feet were nailed to the vertical piece. And while the pain would be unbearable, the stretching of the body would lead to the actual cause of death, suffocation. Again, we get the word “excruciating” from this act of crucifixion.

For several hundred years after Jesus’s death, the cross would serve as a grim reminder of the torture Jesus endured. But beginning around the fourth century, there would be a shift. Artwork would surface that would make the cross—as hard as it is to believe—something pleasant to look at. Jesus followers began seeing the cross not just as a reminder of Christ’s physical death, but as more of an icon representing our sins being paid for. It came to be a sign of victory.

And of course, it’s both. The cross is a symbol of both death and life. It encapsulates the story of Jesus, who died for us and whose death freed us.

There is a song written in the early 1900s by George Bennard that talks about that very thing. The song is “The Old Rugged Cross.” The first words say this:

On a hill far away stood an old rugged cross

The emblem of suffering and shame

And I love that old cross where the dearest and best

For a world of lost sinners was slain

And there it is—both sides of the coin. The cross is an emblem of suffering and shame, and it’s also something we love because it’s where Jesus paid the price for the sins of the world.

Jesus endured the cross on a Friday, but it was on Sunday when people began to understand how the cross was only part of the story. The cross paid a debt to God that we couldn’t pay ourselves, but it was an empty tomb and a resurrected Jesus that proved even death was no match for him. Friday is only good because of what became clear on Sunday. The resurrection shows us that not only are our sins forgiven, but there is new life to be found in following Jesus. The resurrection proves that the work of the cross is finished, and Jesus is victorious.


Heavenly Father,

on this Good Friday, help us not to quickly pass by the excruciating pain that Jesus bore on the cross. We thank you for the resurrection that came that Sunday morning and proved that death was no match for you. And thank you for making a way through Jesus for us to spend eternity with you. Amen.

We have a word in our English language that is derived from the word “crucifixion.” It’s the word “excruciating,” which means, fittingly, “causing great pain.”