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Sermon Illustrations on crucifixion

Background

The Cross According to Albert Camus

[Christ] the god-man suffers too, with patience. Evil and death can no longer be entirely imputed to him since he suffers and dies. The night on Golgotha is so important in the history of man only because, in its shadows, the divinity ostensibly abandoned its traditional privilege, and lived through to the end, despair included, the agony of death. Thus is explained the “Lama sabachthani” and the frightful doubt of Christ in agony.

Albert Camus, Essais, Gallimard.

The Cruelty of Crucifixion

Exposed to public view like slabs of meat hung from a market stall, troublesome slaves were nailed to crosses…past. No death was more excruciating, more contemptible, than crucifixion. To be hung naked, ‘long in agony, swelling with ugly weals on shoulders and chest’, helpless to beat away the clamorous birds: such a fate, Roman intellectuals agreed, was the worst imaginable.

…Nothing spoke more eloquently of a failed revolt than the sight of hundreds upon hundreds of corpse-hung crosses, whether lining a highway or else massed before a rebellious city, the hills all around it stripped bare of their trees. Even in peacetime, executioners would make a spectacle of their victims by suspending them in a variety of inventive ways: ‘one, perhaps, upside down, with his head towards the ground, another with a stake driven through his genitals, another attached by his arms to a yoke’.

..Yet in the exposure of the crucified to the public gaze there lurked a paradox. So foul was the carrion-reek of their disgrace that many felt tainted even by viewing a crucifixion. The Romans, for all that they had adopted the punishment as the ‘supreme penalty’, refused to countenance the possibility that it might have originated with them. 

Only a people famed for their barbarousness and cruelty could ever have devised such a torture: the Persians, perhaps, or the Assyrians, or the Gauls. Everything about the practice of nailing a man to a cross—a ‘crux’—was repellent. ‘Why, the very word is harsh on our ears.’ It was this disgust that crucifixion uniquely inspired which explained why, when slaves were condemned to death, they were executed in the meanest, wretchedest stretch of land beyond the city walls.

Tom Holland Dominion: How the Christian Revolution Remade the World, Basic Books, 2019.

A Most Cruel & Disgusting Punishment

Roman citizens were exempt from crucifixion, except in extreme cases of treason. Cicero in one of his speeches condemned it as crudelissimum taeterrimumque supplicium, ‘a most cruel and disgusting punishment’. A little later he declared: ‘To bind a Roman citizen is a crime, to flog him is an abomination, to kill him is almost an act of murder: to crucify him is – What? There is no fitting word that can possibly describe so horrible a deed.’ Cicero was even more explicit in his successful defence in 63 BC of the elderly senator Gaius Rabirius who had been charged with murder: ‘the very word “cross” should be far removed not only from the person of a Roman citizen, but from his thoughts, his eyes and his ears…

If the Romans regarded crucifixion with horror, so did the Jews, though for a different reason. They made no distinction between a ‘tree’ and a ‘cross’, and so between a hanging and a crucifixion. They therefore automatically applied to crucified criminals the terrible statement of the law that ‘anyone who is hung on a tree is under God’s curse’ (Deut. 21:23) ….They could not bring themselves to believe that God’s Messiah would die under his curse, strung up on a tree. As Trypho the Jew put it to Justin the Christian apologist, who engaged him in dialogue: ‘I am exceedingly incredulous on this point.’

Taken from The Cross of Christ by John Stott. Copyright (c) 1976, 2006  Kindle Location 415 by John Stott. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

Stories

Insulting the Cross?

During a recent Holy Week a cross with a mocking sign ROFL (a texting abbreviation for “rolling on the floor laughing”) was placed on Cross Campus at Yale. It stirred considerable conversation about free speech and respect for religion and whether Christians are privileged or persecuted. Some Christians complained that they are the one group allowed to be bashed in public, a complaint that—even if it were true—sounds oddly unlike the response of the early church.

This was not the first time mocking words had been associated with the cross. According to the scriptural account, Pilate had the words “JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS ” printed on the cross. Jewish leaders complained that it should say, “This man claimed to be king of the Jews.” But Pilate said, “What I have written, I have written.” Churches often place the Latin acronym for what Pilate had written on crosses: Jesus-Nazareth, King-Jews, giving the Latin letters INRI. But it was not a tribute. It was a roast. ROFL.

John Ortberg, Who Is this Man? Zondervan Publishing.

The Swoon Theory

The “swoon theory” argues that Jesus never really died, only appeared to have died, and then came back to life while buried in the tomb. It’s an interesting idea, one that was popularized in a book in the 1960s by a man named Hugh Schonfeld. Schonfield argued that Jesus had not only not died on the cross, but had in fact faked his own death and resurrection. What foresight on the part of Jesus! 

Pastor Greg Laurie shares a story about the “swoon theory” from a local newspaper on the topic:

“Our preacher on Easter said that Jesus just swooned on the cross and that His disciples nursed Him back to health. What do you think? Sincerely signed, Bewildered.” So somebody at the newspaper wrote back, “Dear Bewildered, beat your preacher with a cat o’ nine tails with 39 heavy strokes. Nail him to a cross, hang him out in the sun for six hours, run a spear through his heart, and embalm him, and put him in an airless tomb for 36 hours and see what happens.”

Stuart Strachan Jr., Source Material from Greg Laurie, Article: “Could Jesus Have Survived the Crucifixion?”, Christianity.com

What We Preach

A strong church once inscribed these words on an archway leading to the churchyard. Over time, two things happened: the church lost its passion for Jesus and His gospel, and ivy began to grow on the archway. The growth of the ivy, covering the message, showed the spiritual decline. Originally it said strongly, “we preach Christ crucified.”

But as the ivy grew, one could only read “we preach Christ”, and the church would preach about Jesus as a great man, but never his crucifixion (and resurrection). The ivy kept growing, and one could soon only read, “we preach.” 

The church also had even lost Jesus in the message, preaching religious platitudes and social graces. Finally, one could only read “we”, and the church also just became another social gathering place, all about “we” and not about God.

David Guzik, Adapted by Stuart Strachan Jr.

Analogies

No Shock with God’s Death

It is curious that people who are filled with horrified indignation when ever a cat kills a sparrow can hear the story of the killing of God told Sunday after Sunday and not experience any shock at all.

Dorothy Sayers, Quoted in Barbara Brown Taylor, God in Pain: Teaching Sermons on Suffering (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1998) 

Humor

No Shock with God’s Death

It is curious that people who are filled with horrified indignation when ever a cat kills a sparrow can hear the story of the killing of God told Sunday after Sunday and not experience any shock at all.

Dorothy Sayers, Quoted in Barbara Brown Taylor, God in Pain: Teaching Sermons on Suffering (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1998) 

The Swoon Theory

The “swoon theory” argues that Jesus never really died, only appeared to have died, and then came back to life while buried in the tomb. It’s an interesting idea, one that was popularized in a book in the 1960s by a man named Hugh Schonfeld. Schonfield argued that Jesus had not only not died on the cross, but had in fact faked his own death and resurrection. What foresight on the part of Jesus! 

Pastor Greg Laurie shares a story about the “swoon theory” from a local newspaper on the topic:

“Our preacher on Easter said that Jesus just swooned on the cross and that His disciples nursed Him back to health. What do you think? Sincerely signed, Bewildered.” So somebody at the newspaper wrote back, “Dear Bewildered, beat your preacher with a cat o’ nine tails with 39 heavy strokes. Nail him to a cross, hang him out in the sun for six hours, run a spear through his heart, and embalm him, and put him in an airless tomb for 36 hours and see what happens.”

Stuart Strachan Jr., Source Material from Greg Laurie, Article: “Could Jesus Have Survived the Crucifixion?”, Christianity.com

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Related Themes

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The Cross

Jesus

Rome

Sacrifice

Violence

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