Emotions of the Cross
Human beings are emotional. Emotions involve our minds and our hearts and sometimes our bodies as well. We feel anger and our blood pressure goes up or our face gets red. We feel anticipation and our mind races and it is hard to concentrate. We can feel awe in a place or at a fine piece of art or just looking up at the sky. Curiosity can lead to discovery, but it also killed the cat. Panic means we sweat buckets and talk fast and at times cannot think. Emotions are also complex. We can feel happy and sad at the same time. We can feel lonely in a crowded place. Self-confidence is powerful, but one comment can shatter it.
What emotions were present when Jesus hung on the cross?
What do these emotions tell us about our atonement?
DEFINITION OF ATONEMENT
Atonement is what Matthew 27 is about. I don’t want to get too far before we define that word. “Atonement” is a word we do not use often and is quite possibly just a word we use in Church. Keeping God, the Bible, and the Christian faith in mind, “atonement” is “the act by which God Almighty Himself restores a relationship of harmony and peace and forgiveness between Himself and human beings.”
Matthew 27:33-42 says, “They came to a place called Golgotha (which means The Place of the Skull). 34 There they offered Jesus wine to drink, mixed with gall; but after tasting it, He refused to drink it. 35 When they had crucified Him, they divided up His clothes by casting lots. 36 And sitting down, they kept watch over Him there. 37 Above His head they placed the written charge against Him: THIS IS JESUS, THE KING OF THE JEWS. 38 Two robbers were crucified with Him, one on His right and one on His left. 39 Those who passed by hurled insults at Him, shaking their heads 40 and saying, “You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, save Yourself! Come down from the cross, if You are the Son of God!” 41 In the same way the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked Him. 42 “He saved others,” they said, “but He can’t save Himself! He’s the King of Israel! Let Him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in Him.” (NIV 1984)
EMOTIONS OF THE CROSS, VERSE 33: FEAR
Jesus of Nazareth (Jesus Christ) was executed by crucifixion. A convicted criminal was usually expected to carry the horizontal beam for his own cross to the site of execution. There the cross was put together and the person hung on it. Verse 33 tells us that the place at which Jesus was crucified had a name. It was a name that instilled fear of anyone who heard it. Golgotha means “the place of the skull.” It could be that the hill had skull type formations on the side of it and this made it a great place for executions. Golgotha also seemed to be the regular place of executions for the Romans, so it was always associated with death.
Golgotha was a place of fear. You don’t want to end up in Golgotha because nothing good ever happens there. I can imagine places in our world have some of the same effects and produce nothing but fear. Auschwitz. Dachau. Chernobyl. Alcatraz. San Quentin. When we think of these places, we think of fear. Golgotha is a place of fear.
Atonement for me and for you can only happen if Jesus marches right through the fear and endures the cross. Jesus cannot submit to fear if you and I are going to receive grace from the Father. You and I need Jesus to be courageous and brave and strong if we are to have the presence of the Holy Spirit with us. Atonement for you and for me only happens if Jesus fights fear and dies for us.
EMOTIONS OF THE CROSS, VERSE 34: SUBMISSION
Once Jesus Christ arrived at Golgotha, they would have laid the cross beam on the pole and attached it. Then they would have nailed Jesus to the cross. His feet were nailed together at His ankles at the bottom and His hands nailed at the wrists to the cross. Then they would have lifted Jesus into place and He would have hung. In order to breathe, one must lift up on the nails and take a breath. Eventually your strength gives out and you suffocate after many days.
For some reason, Jesus is offered wine mixed with gall. This was probably something to kill the pain, but that doesn’t make sense unless they wanted the one on the cross to feel less pain so they lasted longer. It could have been some kind of poison as well. Whatever the purpose, Jesus was unwilling to take it.
Jesus was submitting to the will of God. That meant suffering. That meant pain. That meant blood flowing. That meant submitting to scorn and disgrace and feeling a broken heart. What was happening to Jesus was no accident, but was all part of God’s plan. How do we know? It was predicted. Psalm 69:19-21 says, “You know how I am scorned, disgraced and shamed; all my enemies are before you. 20 Scorn has broken my heart and has left me helpless; I looked for sympathy, but there was none, for comforters, but I found none. 21 They put gall in my food and gave me vinegar for my thirst.” (NIV 1984)
Jesus was feeling submission to God and would do nothing to impede the will of God. He would not eat or drink anything to lessen His pain. He would not eat or drink anything to lessen the punishment. He would not impose His own will above God.
Atonement for me and for you can only happen if Jesus willingly dies. It was free will that got you and I into the mess with sin and it is only free will that would pay for us. John 10:17-18 explains to us clearly that only Jesus had the power to lay down His life. Atonement for me and for you can only happen if Jesus willingly dies.
EMOTIONS OF THE CROSS, VERSE 35: SHAME
Verse 25, we are told that the soldiers played games to divide up Jesus’ clothes. We often skip this part of the crucifixion, but… does that mean… Jesus was… naked on the cross? Yes, it probably does. Again, this was all foreseen long before it happened to Jesus. Psalm 22:16-18 says, “Dogs have surrounded me; a band of evil men has encircled me, they have pierced my hands and my feet. 17 I can count all my bones; people stare and gloat over me. 18 They divide my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing.” (NIV 1984)
Do you remember what happened immediately after Adam and Eve sinned? What does Genesis 3:7 say? It says they sinned and immediately felt shame because of their nakedness.
The feeling of shame would have been palpable in this place and as Jesus hung there. Not only was Jesus naked, but so were the two criminals beside Him. People walking by could see them. The soldiers stared at them. In the Bible, nakedness is always connected with sin and shame (Genesis 9:22-23, Exodus 20:26, Deuteronomy 28:48, Isaiah 47:3, Lamentations 4:21, Ezekiel 23:29, Hosea 2, Amos 2:16, Micah 1:8, Nahum 3:5, Habakkuk 2:15, and many others). I cannot adequately explain to you the amount of shame that would have been washing over Jesus as He hung on the cross naked.
Atonement for me and for you can only happen if Jesus endures the shame of the cross. He did just that for us. Hebrews 12:2 says, “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (NIV 1984) Jesus Christ endured shame that you and I might have the shame of our sins covered.
EMOTIONS OF THE CROSS, VERSE 36: CRUELTY
Jesus was not alone at Golgotha as He hung on the cross. Verse 36 shares with us that the Romans did not just hang the people on crosses and then let them be. They watched. They made sure that no one could come and rescue someone crucified. They made sure the people were suffering. The soldiers would monitor the crucified and if they lasted too long or needed to move onto others, they would break their legs with large hammers. The Romans had perfected their art of death and watched with cruel intent over those they were punishing.
Crucifixion was cruel. It felt cruel. Nails in hands and feet. Birds flying by and pecking at you. Nakedness. Pushing up and down to breathe. Blood dripping. For Jesus, imagine the pain of the thorns pressing into His head. Imagine the pain on His whipped back as He slid up and down the cross to breathe. His arms and legs would have been burning with hurt and tiredness.
Atonement for me and for you can only happen if Jesus faces this cruelty and endures. He must also overcome it. I can imagine that the cruel nature of what Jesus was enduring made Him feel defeated or worthless.
EMOTIONS OF THE CROSS, VERSES 37-40: ANGER
Many of the verses that describe the death of Jesus describe anger that was directed towards Him while He was on the cross. It was not a peaceful or quiet time, but rather constant anger directed at Jesus. Above His head, the Romans placed a sign to make fun of Jesus and also to make the Jewish people angry. This made people as they passed by all the angrier.
I think the anger towards Jesus came because the people felt threatened by Him. They did not understand His teachings and parables. They did not understand how He could heal and do miracles. They had not seen a prophet in generations and had not heard from God in many centuries. Their lack of understanding produced anger. Jesus challenged their assumptions and this caused anger. Jesus made the people assess themselves and this caused anger. Jesus made them evaluate their relationships with God and this caused anger. Therefore, they struck out in anger at their target.
In their anger, they verbally attacked the Son of God. Oddly enough, they challenged Jesus that “if” He was the Son of God, He should come down off the cross. It is precisely because He was the Son of God, that He did not come down off the cross. If Jesus came down off the cross in response to the anger of the people, you and I do not have atonement for our sins. If Jesus survived the crucifixion in some way, you and I do not have atonement for our sins. Jesus is surrounded by angry people who hurl insult after insult at Him while He is slowly suffocating to death.
Atonement for me and for you can only happen if Jesus endures the anger from others and ignores the challenges and insults and curses. He must die for us. He must stay on the cross for you and I to be covered by His perfect divine death.
EMOTIONS OF THE CROSS, VERSES 41-42: CONTEMPT
Verse 41 begins with the phrase, “in the same way” which shows us that anger was present in many forms from many different types of people. The picture we get is that those who passed by and may not have known any better were angry. We find in a few more verses that those who should have recognized Jesus and understood the prophecies from the Bible and been able to hear the voice of God had nothing but contempt for Him.
What is contempt? Contempt is a mix of anger and disgust with a side of resentment. These people who were chief priests and those who taught the Scriptures looked down on Jesus. I find it very interesting that in verses 41 and 42 that the word “save” happens twice. You and I know that Jesus came to “save us.” I think they knew that too and they looked down on the idea that Jesus was there to save them. They heard it, knew it, thought about it… and rejected it. In contempt, they looked down at Jesus at what He was offering. They said “no” to Jesus saving them.
Atonement for me and for you can only happen if Jesus endures the contempt by those that claimed to love God the most. He had to ignore the challenges and insults and curses. He must die for us. He must stay on the cross and fulfill the plan of God and prove to everyone that He was Who He said He was. Coming down off the cross proves absolutely nothing. Coming down off the cross dooms us all to Hell forever with no hope. Jesus must accept the contempt washing over Him and keep His focus on doing God’s will to save us.
Fear, submission, shame, cruelty, anger, and contempt were all emotions that Jesus experienced while dying slowly and painfully on the cross. All of these emotions were blowing around Him like a storm. I imagine each horrible emotion like a gust of wind that broke His heart and shook Him physically, emotionally, and spiritually. You and I know these emotions. We have experiences when we felt these things. These emotions are real. Emotions are powerful. Emotions can make us do something or spur us on towards a goal. Emotions can also stop us or keep us within a boundary. Emotions are not something just in our minds, but we feel them in our bodies as well. Intense emotions like fear, submission, shame, cruelty, anger, and contempt can make our bodies hurt.
EMOTIONS OF THE CROSS
What do these emotions tell us about our atonement?
The fear of the place Jesus was at was real because Jesus really did die in the most horrific manner. The death of Jesus was not nice or peaceful or a gentle sail into the next life, but pain-filled and agony and done in a place most of us would avoid. Our atonement cost so much.
The amount of submission Jesus was beat into was astounding. He allowed so much to happen to Him. With a thought, He could have changed it all. With half a thought, He could have altered the plan of God. Yet He laid down His life for us willingly. Our atonement was a willing death by a perfect person.
You and I understand shame up to a certain level. It is my opinion that not only did Jesus endure the shame of being on the cross, but as He took on our sin, the shame of all our sin was heaped on Him as well. He endured all the shame from Adam and Eve until the end of time on the cross. That is more shame than any of us have in one lifetime. Our atonement takes away our shame of sin and replaces it with the covering of grace.
The cruelty of the Romans at crucifixion was perfected to a fine-tuned art. Jesus Christ endured a horrible death for us. His blood was shed. His muscles were torn. His skin was shredded. His whole self was out of joint. All of that because you and I do what we want when we want and how we want. Cruelty extended to those who even passed by Jesus. Sin is serious and brings with it cruel consequences and Jesus Christ took on all of that cruelty to be our substitutionary payment on the cross.
There was so much anger surrounding Jesus as He was beaten. There was so much anger as He marched through the streets of Jerusalem. There was so much anger as He was hanging from the cross. Anger was heaped on Him all the while God was heaping shame, wrath, and consequences onto Jesus. Jesus endured even baseless anger to save you and me.
Not only was there anger around Jesus, but people passed by and looked down on Jesus with contempt. What Jesus was doing should have been praised or recognized or something… but not looked down upon. Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God, willingly allowed Himself to be hung on the cross to offer us grace and mercy and forgiveness through His blood.
EMOTIONS OF THE CROSS, ADD ONE MORE EMOTION
I’d like to add one more emotion to our thoughts. It will be predictable. Just because it is predicable doesn’t make it any less true. After considering all that Jesus endured and all of the emotions surrounding Him, it is quite logical to ask: Why would He do all of that?
Why would Jesus move through fear?
Why would Jesus submit to so much?
Why would Jesus take on all that shame?
Why would Jesus endure such cruelty?
Why would Jesus soak up the anger?
Why would Jesus be beat down by contempt?
John 3:16-18 says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” (NIV 1984)