The Romans used the cross to scare people into submission. They wanted the thought of crucifixion to be so excruciating that potential rebels would put down their swords and pay their taxes. So they tinkered with their torture, finding a way for gravity to suffocate a man slowly over the course of hours, if not days. Sometimes a small seat was placed under the buttocks, preventing the body from slumping too far down. The Roman poet Seneca and the Christian author Justin Martyr suggest that the seat was spiked like a horn, which would impale your private parts. Most victims were crucified naked, a degrading and shameful detail, especially since crosses were put up at major intersections to scare as many people as possible. You would bleed, cry, beg, urinate, defecate, vomit, and beg some more. There is no word that captures the horror of the cross.
I wonder what expression was on the face of the apostle Paul, a Roman citizen, when he wrote, “[Jesus] humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:8). I shudder to think of someone as gentle and holy as Jesus on something as gruesome and cruel as a cross.
Yet a crucified Savior says much to our hearts. It says that Jesus will do anything to save us, that his love for us is extreme, that his desire to reunite us to God is relentless. You might not be able to trust a king on a comfortable throne, but a King on a rugged cross is worthy of every ounce of your faith.