With the help of Hollywood and good preaching at Easter, we are made aware of the horrible ways Jesus suffered in his crucifixion. You cannot watch Mel Gibson’s ‘Passion Of The Christ’[i] without wincing.
Whips, spears and nails mix with false accusation and mockery to stir our sympathy for Jesus and anger at the injustice.
It is important that we understand the physicality of what went down. But, was Christ’s physical pain any worse than the many who were also crucified under Roman rule? Was Christ’s pain more intense than the torturous death of his followers who were boiled in oil, fed to lions or sawn in half? Did Jesus experience pain that somehow exceeds the torture and slow death that still goes on in oppressive regimes?
I think an honest comparison would say ‘No’. Jesus suffered horrible physical pain at the same level as the worst of human tortures. So what if anything distinguishes Christ’s suffering?
We find the answer in Christ’s first prayer at Gethsemane. “
May this cup be taken from me… what cup? This is the cup of God’s wrath.
In Psalm 75 we read, ‘In the hand of the Lord is a cup full of foaming wine mixed with spices; he pours it out, and all the wicked of the earth drink it down to its very dregs.’ (Ps. 75:8)
Isaiah, too, speaks of this "cup of the Lord's wrath" (Isa. 51:17) and Jeremiah of the "cup filled with the wine of my wrath" (Jer. 25:15). The cup that Christ asks be taken from him is the cup of God's judgment against sinners. Here is why the Son of God began to be sorrowful and troubled. Here is what caused Christ's sweat to fall like drops of blood to the ground. It is not at pain and death that Christ flinches. In Gethsemane Christ shudders before the cup of God's wrath upon sin.[ii]
Jesus prays a very human prayer wanting to escape God’s wrath. He is still wrestling with acceptance. This is the way that God’s wrath will be poured out upon sin. Jesus will become the great universal sinner upon the cross. He will experience the nastiest of human torture and simultaneously God punishing humanity through Jesus. In essence, God hurts himself to free humanity from their punishment.
[ii] Brent McGuire ‘Christ’s Impossible Prayer In Gethsemane’ http://www.modernreformation.org/default.php?page=articledisplay&var2=4