“So they took Jesus, and he went out, bearing his own cross, to the place called The Place of a Skull, which in Aramaic is called Golgotha. There they crucified him” (John 19:16-18).
One astonishing thing about the Gospel accounts of the death of Jesus is that they include almost no detail. They all simply say some form of “they crucified him.”1
If the gospels were our only historical source we would not know what crucifixion is. We would not know how bloody it was since the only mention of blood in any of the narratives is John 19:34, where blood and water poured out of Jesus’ pierced side. We would not have known that nails were involved except for Thomas’ declaration of doubt in John 20:25: “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.”
And yet Jesus’ death was brutal. The Roman flagrum that shredded his back was enough to kill some men. Pinning a human being to a wooden crux with nails until they die is among the cruelest form of execution ever devised. Jesus’ physical suffering was horrible beyond comprehension.
But the Spirit did not move the gospel writers to include such gory details in the canon of Scripture. Why is that?
One reason is that the suffering of Jesus was simply ineffable. The suffering of his body was dwarfed by the “anguish of his soul” (Isaiah 53:11). No words can capture the sacred horror of the Sinless One becoming sin for us. Let words be few.
But another reason is that it is not the Son’s suffering that Father wants us primarily to see. He wants us primarily to see what the Son’s suffering accomplishes: “in him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace” (Ephesians 1:7).
For this reason God is not impressed if we are deeply moved over Jesus’ torment. Unbelievers are moved to tears watching The Passion of the Christ. “Could my tears forever flow, all for sin could not atone.”2 He is impressed with whether or not we believe in the gospel Jesus preached.
It is true that God the Son suffered more than we’ll ever know. And it is right to pray for softer hearts and a more profound grasp of what Jesus endured to save us. But as we survey the wondrous cross today, remember that in our worship God will not be looking for tears, he will be looking for trust.