What was a crucifixion? Let us try to realize it and understand its misery. The person crucified was laid on his back on a piece of timber with a cross-piece nailed to it near one end - or on the trunk of a tree with branching arms, which served the same purpose. His hands were spread out on the cross-piece and nails driven through each of them, fastening them to the wood. His feet in like manner were nailed to the upright part of the cross. And then, the body having been securely fastened, the cross was raised up and fixed firmly in the ground. And there hung the unhappy sufferer until pain and exhaustion brought him to his end - not dying suddenly, for no vital part of him was injured - but enduring the most excruciating agony from his hands and feet and unable to move. Such was the death of the cross. Such was the death that Jesus died for us! For six long hours He hung there before a gazing crowd, naked, and bleeding from head to foot - His head pierced with thorns, His back lacerated with scourging, His hands and feet torn with nails, and mocked and reviled by His cruel enemies to the very last.
Let us remember that all our Lord Jesus Christ's sufferings were vicarious. He did not suffer for His own sins, but for ours. He was eminently our substitute in all His passion.
This is a truth of the deepest importance. Without it the story of our Lord's sufferings, with all its minute details, must always seem mysterious and inexplicable. It is a truth, however, of which the Scriptures speak frequently, and that too with no uncertainty. We are told that Christ "bore our sins in His own body on the tree," that He "suffered for sin, the just for the unjust," that "He was made sin for us, who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him," that "He was made a curse for us," that "He was offered to bear the sins of many," that "He was wounded for our transgressions, and bruised for our iniquities," and that "the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all" (1 Peter 2:22, 1 Peter 3:18; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Galatians 3:13; Hebrews 9:28; Isaiah 53:5-6). May we all remember these texts well. They are among the foundation stones of the Gospel.
Let us leave the story of our Lord's passion with feelings of deep thankfulness. Our sins are many and great. But a great atonement has been made for them. There was an infinite merit in all Christ's sufferings. They were the sufferings of One who was God as well as man. Surely it is our duty to praise God daily because Christ has died.
Adapted from The Gospel of Matthew by J.C. Ryle (Chapter 27).