Why is it that medical professionals seem particularly apt at the skill of underestimation? With that horse needle in hand, they say, "You will just feel a little prick." That little prick feels like a Bowie knife. The "gentle" scrubbing of your cut tears like a belt-sander. You bite your tongue trying to be tough, but you can't help thinking that you were just told a fib. At least Mary Poppins added a little sugar to the bitter medicine. Yet, in real life there are maladies that require brutal honesty. We need to be told that the remedy is really going to hurt or taste like cod-liver oil. All the dangers and risks of the surgery must be listed out. The cancer is too perilous to be sugarcoated. Too much is at stake. Likewise, as the Gospels bring us to the final hours of Christ's earthly life, they honor him by using no sweetener. They serve us well by refusing a G-rating.
If you think about it, the Passion narratives are exactly what you would not usually find in a children's book. They are not the topic of polite society chitchat. But they are precisely what our kids need. There is no better medicine for our souls. Christ's pain, after all, was inflicted for our crimes. We deserve the wounds he suffered. His agony was his becoming sin for us. Without a doubt, the sting of Christ's humiliation began with the splinters of the manger, but the pressure cranked up as his end approached. He could see the pain charging right at him.
A few days before his death, as Jesus entered Jerusalem, the looming cross stabbed our Lord's soul. He raised his eyes to heaven crying, "My soul is troubled" (John 12:27). Reclining at the Last Supper, Jesus could sense the sands of his life ebbing. He knew Judas would betray him with a kiss, and he spoke about the rest deserting him. Loneliness pressed in on him, laboring his breathing. Jesus asked his best friends for the smallest favor of saying a little prayer, but they fell asleep. In the shadows of Gethsemane, the boulder of loneliness struck him; even his Father turned away his face. The cup of wrath had to be drunk. No wonder his sweat dripped red.
But then it really began to get brutal. An armed battalion seized Jesus like a common criminal. Witnesses lied about him; scribes mocked him; priests spit in his face and backhanded him. Jesus' own people, those he attempted to gather under his wings, abused and tormented him. And through it all, Jesus was silent. He did not retaliate but willingly endured.
The priests charged him as a political revolutionary and then handed our Lord over to Pilate. It did not take long, though, for Pilate to realize the charge was rubbish. He declared Jesus innocent, but the priests would not have it. A political arm-wrestling match began between Pilate and the priests, and Jesus was the whipping boy in the middle. Pilate offered to release Jesus, but the priests selected Barabbas. Pilate then flogged Jesus in order to persuade the priests that Jesus was harmless (John 19:1).
Our Lord's back was laid bare. The cruel whip chewed up his flesh. Bones that are not meant to be seen were seen. And the soldiers laughed. It was a game for them. Here is a purple robe and here a bunch of thorns for a crown. The soldiers created a caricature of a king. They ridiculed him as the "king of the thorns." Again and again, the soldiers taunted, "Hail, the King of the Jews," and then slapped him across the face (John 19:3). But what is remarkable is that Jesus let this happen. Jesus did not lessen the pain. Jesus would not stray from the bitter way of the cross. Therefore, Pilate ended up losing to the priests. Their chants of "crucify him!" won out over Pilate's "I find no guilt in him."
So Pilate handed Jesus over to the executioners. At the very hour when all the people were heading into Jerusalem for the Passover, while all the lambs were being sacrificed, Jesus walked outside, bearing his own cross (John 19:17). The cross was the symbol of guilt and sin. It was the verdict of the broken covenant of works’all sinners shall taste the curse of death. Like the boy Isaac who carried the firewood for his burning, so Christ willingly bore the wood for his sacrifice. And the weight of this cross was not measured in pounds of timber but in the spiritual tonnage of our sin. Our rebellions, our lies, our lusts, our selfishness were stacked like lead on his cross.
Jesus lugged this cross outside to the Skull Place, and in between two bandits Jesus was crucified. Nailed to the tree, our Savior was mocked with the sign overhead: "Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews." But the agony was not yet finished. At the foot of the cross, the soldiers gambled for his clothes, even for his tunic (John 19:24), which meant Jesus hung there naked. The last common grace, his clothing, was taken from our Lord. The Son of God was publicly executed naked. Just as the shame of being naked was the first sign of the fall for Adam and Eve, so likewise Jesus bore the full disgrace of our sin.
Finally, in order to fulfill Scripture, Jesus said, "I thirst." But the soldiers did not show him pity even here. Water was not given to him’only vinegar. Imagine having a dry and cracked throat and having to drink vinegar. Its acidity would sear your throat. This is what was offered our Lord and he drank. He drained the cup of wrath down to its dregs. And with this he declared, "It is finished" (John 19:30). He completed the work given to him by the Father. Jesus had fulfilled all righteousness, so he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. He willingly died.
John tells us that Jesus loved his own to the end (13:1). This is him loving us, bearing the full agony of our sin, suffering the full judgment due us. What can we say to such a survey of Christ's cross but "love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all."