Summary: This is the fifth message in a Lenten series on"The Seven Last Words of Christ." I also have information on appropriate dramas that can be used as an introduction to this and the other six messages in the series.
THE NATURE THAT DOESN’T CHANGE
Jesus Christ is fully God and fully human. In His fifth word spoken from the cross we encounter the human nature of our Lord Jesus, God the Son. Other than the fact that He is the only perfect, sinless human being who ever lived, Jesus is in every way just like us. Hebrews 4:15 affirms: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin.”
I drink a lot: Diet Pepsi, PowerAde, iced tea, coffee. I know that nothing can quench my thirst on a hot, humid, Illinois day when my tongue cleaves to the roof of my mouth as does a glass of cold, refreshing, water. Physical thirst is a daily reality in the lands of the Bible.
Jesus, being fully human like you and me, often experienced physical thirst. We recall His encounter with the Woman at the Well in John 4: “So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon.
“A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, ‘Give me a drink.’" Jesus was physically thirsty, and asked the woman for a drink.
On the Cross that thirst became excruciating. Cicero called crucifixion, “the cruelest and most hideous punishment possible” (In Verrem 5.54.165). Not only did Jesus suffer thirst, He also endured dizziness, cramping, starvation, sleeplessness, traumatic fever, tetanus, and the suffering of untended wounds.
The gruesome death Jesus endured is unimaginable, but Dr. C. Truman Davis paints a pretty vivid picture of it for us from a medical point of view. I want to share it in detail including His preliminary flogging. The Jews limited flogging to forty stripes; the Romans set no limitation. The Roman whip was made of leather with pieces of bone and lead. Dr. Davis describes Jesus’ suffering and agony:
“The heavy whip is brought down with full force again and again across Jesus’ shoulders, back, and legs. At first the heavy tongs cut through the skin only. Then, as the blows continue, they cut deeper in the subcutaneous tissues, first producing oozing of blood from the capillaries and veins of the skin, and finally spurting arterial bleeding from vessels in the underlying muscles. . .Finally, the skin of the back is hanging in long ribbons and the entire area is an unrecognizable mass of torn, bleeding tissue.”
“When they reach Calvary’s summit, “Jesus is quickly thrown backward with his shoulders against the wood (of the cross). The legionnaire feels for the depression at the front of the wrist. He drives a heavy, square, wrought-iron nail through the wrist and deep into the wood. Quickly he moves to the other side and repeats the action, being careful not to pull the arms too tightly, but to allow some flexion and movement. The cross is then lifted into place.
“The left foot is pressed backward against the right foot, and with both feet extended, toes down, a nail is driven through the arch of each, leaving the knees moderately flexed. The victim is now crucified. As He slowly sags down with more weight on the nails in the wrists, excruciating, fiery pain shoots along the fingers and up the arms to explode in the brain—the nails in the wrists are putting pressure on the median nerves. As He pushes Himself upward to avoid this stretching torment, He places the full weight on the nail through His feet. Again He feels the searing agony of the nail tearing through the nerves between the metatarsal bones of the feet.
“At this point, another phenomenon occurs. As the arms fatigue, cramps sweep through the muscles, knotting them in deep, relentless, throbbing pain. With these cramps comes the inability to push Himself upward to breathe. . . .Air can be drawn into the lungs but not exhaled. Jesus fights to raise Himself in order to get even one small breath. Finally, carbon dioxide builds up in the lungs and in the blood stream, and the cramps partially subside. Spasmodically He is able to push Himself upward to exhale and bring in life-giving oxygen.
“Hours of this limitless pain, cycles of twisting, joint-rending cramps, intermittent partial asphyxiation, searing pain as tissue is torn from His lacerated back as He moves up and down against the rough timber. Then another agony begins, a deep, crushing pain deep in the chest as the pericardium slowly fills with serum and begins to compress the heart.
“It is now almost over—the loss of tissue fluids reached a critical level—the compressed heart is struggling to pump, heavy, thick, sluggish blood into the tissues—the tortured lungs are making a frantic effort to gasp in small gulps of air. . . .The body of Jesus is now in extremis, and He can feel the chill of death creeping through His tissues. . . .His mission of atonement has been completed. Finally He can allow His body to die” [C. Truman Davis, “The Crucifixion of Jesus: The Passion of Christ from a Medical Point of View,” Arizona Medicine 22, no. 3 (March 1965): 185-7].