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Crucifixion of Christ: Our Images Are All Wrong!

I found a book titled, "Crucifixion" by Phaidon Press Limited at the thrift store the other day. I was surprised by how many paintings, prints, images there are of the crucifixion. I was also surprised by how sanitized they are. By "sanitized" I mean, we have taken away most of what Christ went through as He was sacrificed for our sins:

  1. Plotted against by his enemies
  2. Betrayed by one of His disciples
  3. Denied thrice by one of His disciples
  4. When He went to pray before His arrest, His disciples fell asleep (39-46)
  5. Betrayed by a kiss
  6. He was forsaken by His disciples and they fled from Him
  7. His accusers were LIARS
  8. Accused of blasphemy, when He was telling the truth
  9. Condemned to death for telling the truth
  10. He was spat upon
  11. He was blindfolded and hit
  12. He was blasphemed
  13. He was beaten
  14. He was bound and led away to the governor, Pontius Pilate
  15. His enemies urged the crowd to choose a murderer to be released instead of Christ
  16. The crowd also urged Christ to be crucified
  17. He was stripped by soldiers
  18. He was crowned with a crown of thorns
  19. He was mocked by soldiers
  20. He was spat upon again, mocked and hit with a stiff reed
  21. He was sent to be judged by Herod as well
  22. He was mocked by Herod's men as well
  23. He was returned to Pontius Pilate
  24. Where Pontius Pilate scourged Him (beat Him 40 times with a whip that had shards of pottery and nails in it, tearing flesh and exposing bone)
  25. Finally, he was crucified between two thieves
  26. From the cross, He asked for GOD to forgive those who crucified Him
  27. On the cross, He provided for His Mother's care
  28. They gave Him vinegar and gall to drink on the cross
  29. After His death, the soldiers pierced His side with a spear
So you can see for yourself, that Christ went through a lot: the scourging alone was brutal. If you look up the way that the Romans did scourging at the time, how brutally they flogged people, it is a horrific thing to consider; yet none of the artwork we have depicts that. From Michelangelo's "Christ on the Cross" (bottom of page) to Raphael's "The Mond Crucifixion", from as early as 420 A.D. to the "Modern Masters" or even on tombstones, we have "sanitized" the crucifixion.

What is the problem with the sanitization of the crucifixion? For one, it makes Christ's sacrifice less impactful. If you have a friend who decided to pay for your meal when the two of you went to lunch -- even though you know the friend has a lot less money than you and can't really afford to do so, you acknowledge that it is a sacrifice for your friend to do this for you. It endears your friend to you and makes you appreciate your friend a bit more because they sacrificed for you. Is that not correct?

When you consider that friend's sacrifice and your reaction to that friend's sacrificial giving for you, does that not make you wonder how much a sacrifice that is thousands of times bigger would make you react? If a stranger says, "I'll take that back for you." when you finish emptying your cart at the grocery store, doesn't that make you feel good that someone would do that for you? Isn't that a nice feeling that someone would take the trouble to do something nice for you, even though they don't even know you?

Consider someone dying for you. Consider someone dying for you after going through all of that listed above. Consider them doing that for you after you had done everything you could to not only deny him, but also you've mocked him, ignored him, chosen to consider his death worth nothing. Yet, he still died for you. Someone was trying to kill you and you mocked the guy -- the total stranger -- who stood between you and certain death, and you discounted his sacrifice and said it meant nothing as he bled and died at your feet. Isn't that what people do to Jesus and His death? They deny it. They negate the sacrifice, say it didn't do anything for them. Yet, the stranger died for them, there at their feet. He's gone. His family is without him, and the truth is, they don't care.

So we sanitize His sacrifice. We make it bearable to think about, by painting it, printing it, sculpting it "pretty". We are able to look at His "pretty" death, even though we know that it was anything but pretty. We know that He was scourged which (if you read the link above) was not a pretty thing. Flesh was torn from bone. Sinew was ripped from muscle. Muscle was torn, dripping, soaking blood and bone and organs were showing. Yet, our artists depict His death as very mild, no scourging, no facial beating, just a bit of blood from hands, feet, head and side; very minimal if you consider the truth of the crucifixion.

If we did not "prettify" the crucifixion, would we be more inclined to look to Christ for our forgiveness? Would we be more likely to appreciate His sacrifice for us? Would His sacrifice be something worth accepting, worth acknowledging, worth appreciating? If we had to look at artwork depicting His face swollen and bruised, beaten beyond recognition as a human, his back he "gave to the smiters" (the guy with the whip), would we be more likely to be thankful? Would we be more likely to be willing to accept that sacrifice, or would we be less likely? Would we be likelier to accept the gift He was offering if we had to acknowledge the suffering He took in our place?

I must ask: are our artists doing us any favors by making His crucifixion less gory, less graphic, less horrific? Are they doing a good thing by denying the whole suffering of Christ in the way they depict it? I admit, I did a painting about the crucifixion and I did not show His suffering. I am not a master at painting people; especially the full body. I am okay at faces; I am better than the average second grader, maybe. However, one may assert that I, too, "prettified" the suffering of our Lord, even though He is not in the painting, it's more of an "after the fact" type thing. He was already removed in my painting. All that is left is the blood, which is what makes His sacrifice our saving grace.

What price did Christ pay for you? Read that list above. Read the description of how people were scourged in Christ's day. Then read it again, remembering that He -- Jesus Christ, the sinless Son of GOD Himself -- did all of that so that YOU wouldn't have to go through what He did for you. He did that so that, even though you turn your face from Him, although you deny He is whom He claims to be, although you mock him yourself in your words and your actions, He did all of that for you. He did all of that because He loves you. He did all of that so that you can be saved through His sacrificial love for you that led Him to the cross, to the pain, the humiliation, the torture, the brutality of the Roman soldiers who beat Him, scourged Him, put a crown of huge thorns on His head, and pounded nails through His wrists and feet to nail Him to the cross so that He would be unable to breathe and He drowned in His own bodily fluids. The description of his death by three medical doctors may help you understand how awful His death really was. Yet, we make His death "pretty" so that we can bear to look at an image that is pretty close to a lie in its depth of suffering and presentation of the truth of what it was like for Jesus Christ, the Only Begotten Son of GOD and what He went through because He loves you enough to do so.

Let us remember that neither Michelangelo, nor Bellini, nor Reni, nor Titian showed us the TRUTH -- the whole, unvarnished, flat out TRUTH -- about Christ's death for us. It was so much more sacrificial than they depict. The more He suffered (which is so very greatly) the bigger the sacrifice and He suffered so much that He died. And He died for you.

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