A high school student once asked me, “Since Jesus is God, and God knows everything, then why was dying on the cross such a big thing? After all, Jesus knew that He would rise from the dead in three days.” The student acknowledged the physical pain inflicted on Jesus as the God-Man, but again leaned on the divinity of Jesus in his questioning. God is able to endure anything.
Beyond the Physical Pain, the Curse
No, doubt, we have all contemplated the excruciating pain endured by Jesus Christ as He was flogged, crowned with thorns, nailed to a cross, and left to hang. Yet, Jesus endured far more than physical pain in making atonement for our sins.
The apostle Paul noted an Old Testament principle when he reminded us,
Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us (because it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”)… (Galatians 3:13)
According to the Law given by God to Moses, if someone was found guilty of a capital crime that merited execution, his body was not to be left hung on a tree. Such an indignity even to a criminal—an individual nonetheless created in the image of God—would bring a curse. (Deuteronomy 21:22-23)
So Jesus endured, not only physical anguish, but also the judgment of God the Father reserved for those under a curse. Recall that, from the time of the first human sin, the whole of mankind has been under the curse of death (Genesis 3:19) and the curse of increased pain in childbirth (Genesis 3:16). The whole planet has been under the curse of yielding its produce only through hard labor while thorns take the place of fruitful vegetation (Genesis 3:17-19). Jesus endured the curse for us, including the mocking degradation of being crowned with thorns. (Matthew 27:29)
Beyond the Physical Pain, the Shame
Beyond the physical pain and the curse due to mankind for sin against God, Jesus also bore the shame associated with crucifixion. Why should sinless God endure shame for anything at all? Hebrews 12:2 tells us,
For the joy set out for Him He endured the cross, disregarding its shame …
As explained in earlier posts, Roman crucifixion was considered so vile in that time and culture that people would not even discuss it in polite company. Authors hardly wrote about it, though crucifixions were carried out routinely across the Empire. Roman citizens were exempt from crucifixion, even if they were found guilty of a capital crime. Crucifixion was reserved for slaves, foreigners, and the like.
And Worst of All, the Separation
Sin separates human beings from God. (Isaiah 59:2) As Jesus hung on the cross in physical agony, under the curse caused by sin, and enduring the shame of an ignominious punishment, he was mocked by priests and soldiers alike. (Matthew 27:41) Even these indignities, though, cannot compare to this: Taking our sin upon Himself, Jesus somehow, almost incomprehensibly, endured the worst result of sin—separation from God Himself. He cried out,
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46)
This was the darkest moment in human history.
Liberation from the Curse
So Jesus Christ endured unfathomably more than physical pain and physical death on the cross. He bore the sins of the entire world (1 John 2:2), and along with them, the full curse, shame, and separation from God that was due to us. He paid the penalty in full on our behalf, and it was no small thing—even for the God-Man.
Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us (because it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”) … (Galatians 3:13)
… we see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by God’s grace he would experience death on behalf of everyone. (Hebrews 2:9)