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               Sonya Contreras

What Love Is This?
A Physician Witnesses the Crucifixion

Written for our church Easter program, 2018

I'm a physician by trade. The Jews regard physicians as “instruments through whom God could effect the cure.” Because we physicians should reflect God, Who is our Healer (Exodus 15:26), people expect miracles of us. I’d like to wish we could do miracles, but we aren’t God, and our healing falls short of miracles.

But as a physician, I heal as many as I can. I don’t like seeing people suffer. So, if God is the Great Healer and I represent Him, I had better know His Word. I spent time with the scribes at the synagogue reading His commands—not all our traditions, but Moses’s Law given by God himself, by His own finger.

Of the 613 commands, 213 were medical: preventing epidemics, isolating contagious diseases, washing, avoiding contamination. Our cities are more sanitary than other nations when we follow the Law. The Law mandated waste disposal, not allowing it to remain in the streets to feed flies and rats.

Two hundred and thirteen commands: that’s one-third of the laws given for the health of our people! What a Healer our God is!

When our people follow these rules, we live well. But we quickly forget them, discarding them as burdensome. Perhaps because our rulers add to the Scriptures. But God gave His law for our safety and health. Who are we to ignore them?

But alas, even I find it hard to rest on the Sabbath, and I find all the washing between patients wearisome.

When we followed the Law, our people stayed healthy, except for those who were born blind or deformed. Those were caused by sins of their parents or themselves. We couldn’t forgive sin. Nor help them.

But as physicians, we really don’t heal; God does. But we could alleviate some pain with herbs like myrrh, sweet cinnamon, and mandrake. We washed with oils and balsams. We gave poultices for wounds and bone fractures. We even gave mouth-to-mouth resuscitation—after Elijah and Elisha did (I Kings 17:22, II Kings 4:34-35).

The balsam bush represented our guild because of its healing properties.

Circumcision and castration were the only surgical procedures done. The priests were required to perform the first, and anyone could do the other.

A scholarly city required a physician to live there. We represented learning, for we knew and applied the Law.

As physicians, we didn’t go to the sick; the sick came to us—to our homes where we lived. When I first came to Jerusalem, while I waited for my house to be ready, I rented a room from another family. They requested permission from their neighbors—due to the screams from my patients.

Being learned, I lived well. But that didn’t mean I shouldn’t charge for my services. In fact, "a physician who takes nothing is worth nothing." But there’s a balance between extracting due service and stealing from the poor. The poor gave generously, even when they didn’t have it. Often I’d accept their payment; then later give them an anonymous gift.

If a patient died under our care, we weren’t held guilty. We weren’t God, Who did all things right. But that didn’t keep me from feeling guilty.

  •  

So when Jesus began His ministry, and everyone flocked to Him to be healed, I was more than curious. Since none who were sick were coming to me anymore, I had plenty of time to see Him for myself.

As I reached the outskirts of the crowd, I noticed a woman on her face before Him. She looked familiar. I pushed my way—not very gentlemanly like, I must admit—but I must know if it was her.

When she raised her head to speak, I gasped. She had been my patient—how long ago, eight years? I was surprised to see her alive. She had already suffered four years before I had treated her. I strained to hear. She said she had bled for twelve years, spending all her husband’s money on physicians who had done nothing for her (Luke 8).

I’d been one of those physicians. After all, we only acted on God’s behalf; we weren’t God, were we?

But before my eyes, Jesus said, “Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace.”

I wanted to fall on my knees before this Man. He had to be God.

  •  

I followed the Man through His ministry, amazed by cripples who could walk, lepers who were made clean, dead who now lived. No physician could hope for that kind of success.

The Healer was teaching at the synagogue (Luke 6). He called to a man whose right hand was withered, “Get up and come forward.”

Jesus turned to the scribes and the Pharisees.

They watched Him closely. They’d reprimanded me about helping people on the Sabbath. Even other physicians admonished me to rest. They claimed my healing would be nullified on the Sabbath. But I couldn’t send someone away who needed help. What would they do with the Healer?

Jesus asked, “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath, to save a life or to destroy it?”

No one answered Him.

It was a good question. I had wondered the same question.

He told the man, “Stretch forth your hand.”

The man did. His hand was restored.

I was relieved. I had helped people on the Sabbath, but felt guilty that I shouldn’t. When people are in pain, they need help now; not tomorrow.

Jesus understood that.

When Jesus came to a man blind from birth, I wondered who had sinned, this man or his parents. I overheard the disciples ask the Healer the same question. He answered, “Neither, but so the works of God might be displayed in him.” (John 9).

It reminded me of all those times when I had told the parents of a deformed child that they were at fault. Their faces changed from hope in my ability to heal their child, to horror at having caused such a malady in their child.

They had trusted me to give healing, but I had poured salt on their open wound.

I should have remembered Job. While he sat covered in boils, mourning his loss, his friends told him he must have sinned or he wouldn’t be suffering.

But God told them otherwise.

So quickly I judged when someone suffered, thinking I knew why, when only God truly knows the reasons.

How little I knew.

It also reminded me how great our God’s compassion is!

At the beginning of Jesus’s ministry, I had rushed to the synagogue to talk with the scribes about this Man. He’s the Man who would fulfill the words of Isaiah: to preach the gospel to the poor, to release the captives, and recover sight to the blind, and to set free those who are oppressed (Isaiah 61:1).

They only argued about Him. They didn’t believe.

I could have felt the same. Didn’t all my patients seek Him instead of coming to me?

But as I saw His healing, complete and whole—I could only praise God. He treated the entire person, not just their physical ailment. He cleaned their insides.

Some of my patients, no matter how many times I treated them, still returned with the same problems. They hadn’t changed. They continued their habits that started their problem.

I treated them again and again, but could never stop the cycle.

Jesus could. He dealt with the root cause.

I began to hope for healing of man’s greatest need: sin.

I guess I wasn’t too wrong when I said the blind man was blind because of sin. But the fault lay with Adam. And all men continued roaming from God ever since.

This Healer from God forced us to acknowledge our sin and repent.

He alone offered forgiveness to wash it away.

At Capernaum, Jesus had reproved the people, reminding them Elijah and Elisha were sent to foreigners: a widow of Sidon and a leper from Syria. I sighed. Sometimes it was easier to instruct a Gentile on the importance of washing and treating a wound. They were ready to listen. My own people didn’t want to hear. I understood Jesus’s frustration.

But more than that, I could feel His reprimand of my own sin.

  •  

The crowds packed the streets of Jerusalem for the Passover. I had just settled down to sleep, when a pounding on my door aroused me.

My service was required at the governor’s courthouse. One of the loathsome duties of my profession was to judge the physical endurance of a person sentenced to corporal punishment.

I was escorted by a guard.


The scourging had already begun.

The man was stripped of his clothing. His hands tied to an upright post.

Two soldiers flogged his back and legs.

They used short whips with several braided leather thongs of different length with sharp pieces of sheep bone and iron balls tied at intervals.

The leather thongs tore the skin to ribbons. The iron balls caused deep bruising, bleeding under the surface. The sheep bones lashed through the skin to open arteries and expose muscles. His back became unrecognizable.

At first, only a trickle of blood flowed, but as arteries were opened, blood loss was significant.

The pain brought on shock.

Because it was my duty to determine His physical limits, I admonished the severity of the treatment several times.

The Man was near death.

The soldiers didn’t listen.

Jewish Law limited the number of lashes to 39, but I lost count due to the horror. The Roman soldiers lost count because of their pleasure.

When they finished and unbound His arms from the pole, the Man slumped to the floor in a pool of His own blood.

I saw His face for the first time.

It was the Healer!

Normally blood doesn’t bother me. I’m a physician. I see it all the time. But this time, I turned away.

This Man deserved none of this.

I had come to believe He truly was the Son of God. No man could do what He did.

The soldiers mocked Him, placing a robe on his shoulders.

A crown of thorns was crushed on his head. Face and head wounds bleed extensively. Blood poured over his face and into his eyes from the thorns’ cuts. His hair and beard became matted with blood.

They struck his head with a club and asked, “If You’re the king, tell us who hit you?”

I grew sick watching.

His skin appeared to have dried blood over his body. I wondered about this. But later, when I read the account of Luke, another physician, I learned that the Healer had sweat drops of blood while praying in the Garden. That happens rarely, and only under deep emotional or physical stress. The blood vessels rupture in the sweat glands, mixing sweat with blood. He had already undergone such agony of body and spirit; how much more could He take?

Although my services weren’t needed anymore, I stayed. I had to see what would happen.

A mild scourging would cause blood loss, fainting, and organ failure. His had not been mild. How was He still alive?

The scourging was usually in preparation for crucifixion, but surely this would not be!

A servant informed the soldiers, “Pilate will see the Man.”

They ripped the robe from his back, reopening His wounds and starting the bleeding again. They pushed Him out of my sight.

My duty was done. I felt I had failed the Healer. No one could stop what that dark night held for Him.

I stumbled back to bed, but no sleep would remove the image of the Healer’s agony.

After tossing in bed without sleeping, I arose and followed the crowds to find what had become of the Healer. Normally the crowds were boisterous, obnoxious, heckling those who would be punished. Today was different.

The silent crowd compelled me toward Golgotha, the place of the skull.

There, permanent, upright posts stood at the top of the hill, waiting for the criminals with their cross beams.

Crucifixion was the most shameful, gruesome death imaginable; reserved for slaves, foreigners, revolutionaries and the vilest of criminals. The Romans didn’t invent crucifixion, but they did perfect it as their worst, most barbaric torture, producing a slow, painful death. While Rome gloried in discipline and control, crucifixion took all control away.

As a Jew, I knew our Law said, “he who is hanged is accursed of God” (Deuteronomy 21:23). Even God cursed the man.

But surely not this Man!

The military guard pushed back the crowd to make room for the criminals. Two thieves and the Healer, each had an escort who wouldn’t leave them until they were dead.

Although naked when he received his scourging, the Jews required his clothes returned.

In the midst of this escort, the Healer staggered. His outstretched arms were bound by leather strips to the cross piece. Its weight, almost 120 pounds (2 talents), balanced between His shoulders and dug into His flesh.

He stumbled and fell.

Because His arms were bound behind His shoulders, He landed on His face.

Sometime after I had left last night, the soldiers had pulled out his beard. His face was unrecognizable. Blood that had coagulated from the crown of thorns and beatings now reopened.

He struggled to rise.

Two soldiers lifted the ends of the cross piece to force him to his feet. Then pushed him to keep moving.

He staggered under their thrust and fell again.

The centurion, mindful of the delay, grabbed a Cyrenian from the crowd. He stood with sword drawn while his men unlashed the Healer’s arms from the crosspiece and pushed it on the Cyrenian.

The Healer stood, unstable even without the load.

A soldier pushed him to keep moving.

His body, covered in sweat, showed signs of shock.

The distance from the judgment hall to the hill had never seemed so long before. Now each step for me was labored. How much more for Him?

When He reached the top of the hill, the Cyrenian dropped the crosspiece and vanished into the crowd.

The centurion threw the Healer against the crosspiece.

Dirt stuck to His flesh and blood.

A soldier offered him wine mixed with myrrh, a small relief from the pain.

He refused.

A soldier positioned the square, wrought-iron nail into the depression in front of His wrist. He drove the six-inch nail through the wrist into the crossbeam.

He repeated the action for the other wrist, being careful not to pull the arms too tightly, so they could flex and move.

I knew the wrist bones could support the weight of a body; the palms cannot. I also knew that the nail against the wrist nerve shoots bolts of burning pain through both arms. His whole body jolted as the pain exploded in His brain.

Those hands that had healed so many, now clenched into claws.

They flexed His knees, pressed His left foot backward against His right foot, toes down, and drove a nail through the arch of both. As they pounded the stake through several of His nerves, they hit an artery and started more bleeding. Pressure on these nerves numbed His feet and shot pain up His legs.

Although scourging produces blood loss, crucifixion does not. No major arteries were opened, other than in the foot.

They mounted a sign at the top of the cross, “This is the King of the Jews.”

When they lifted the Healer to set the crossbeam on the pole, they slammed His body against the pole.

No words other than an intake of breath did He make.

His blood brought flies and bees. Some burrowed into His flesh and chewed. Others swarmed around His wounds, landing on His face, and attacking the moisture of His eyes. He couldn’t brush them away.

The Roman punishment was intended to produce intense agony, and prolonged death. Crucifixion slowly strangled its victim—a dragged out suffocation. Breathing required great effort.

All His weight rested on His feet, pinching the nerves, producing searing pain up His legs. To exhale, He pushed against the nail in His feet, bringing fiery pain along the damaged hand nerves. He pulled His shoulders inward and flexed His elbows. His shoulders are pulled from their sockets; His elbows popped as they become dislocated. His weight pulled down on the outstretched arms and shoulders, becoming paralyzed by cramps. His breathing muscles wouldn’t work, and He couldn’t exhale. Instead, He had to use His abdominal muscles.

His breathing was shallow.

I knew this would cause carbon dioxide to build up in His blood stream. Muscle cramps set in. Spasms swept over His muscles, knotting them. The deep, throbbing pain made it even harder for Him to breathe.

He lowered Himself down, rather than dropping on His already cramped legs.

Every breath was agonizing.

The cramps in His arms subsided.

He raised Himself for another short breath.

As He lost the ability to raise Himself up, He would suffocate.

Blood loss from the scourging hastened the process.

In spite of the effort to breathe, He spoke, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

The words were spoken through great pain and long pauses.

While in intense pain, He brought healing to the repentant thief. “Today, you shall be with Me in Paradise.”

He comforted His mother, “Woman, behold your son.”

He instructed His disciple, the grief-stricken John, “Behold your mother.”

If the scourging, cramps, and suffocation were not enough, another torture now began. A crushing chest pain, as the sack protecting His heart, slowly filled with serum, squeezing His heart, hastening heart failure.

Psalm 22:14 came to my mind, “I am poured out like water, and all My bones are out of joint; My heart is like wax; it is melted within Me.”

His heart struggled to pump the heavy, thick, sluggish blood.

His lungs gasped only small gulps of air.

Out of extreme agony, the soul-wretching words came as He cried, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”

His dehydrated tissues were crying for moisture. He called, “I thirst.”

Psalms 22 again was prophetic, “My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and My tongue cleaves to My jaws, and You lay Me in the dust of death.”

A soldier soaked a sponge in cheap, sour wine, a staple drink of the Roman soldier. He extended it to His lips on a hyssop plant.

Hyssop was used during the Feast of Passover to paint the doorposts with the blood of the Passover lamb (Exodus 12:22).

But with the drink, the other soldiers mocked, “If You’re the King of the Jews, save Yourself!”

Death was beginning to creep through His tissues. It strangled His breath. It constricted His heart.

His last words, not more than a labored whisper, “It is finished.”

His mission of atonement was complete.

With one last bit of strength, He pressed His torn feet against the nail, straightened His legs, took a shallow breath, and submitted to death, “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit.”

Victims of crucifixion generally survive anywhere from three hours to four days, depending upon the severity of their scourging.

But the Jews didn’t want the Sabbath profaned by allowing the bodies to remain on the crosses. So to speed death, Romans broke their legs below the knees. This prevented breathing, speeding suffocation.

The two thieves’ legs were broken.

But when the centurion came to Jesus, it wasn’t necessary.


To confirm death, a soldier thrust his six-foot-long lance between the Healer’s ribs, upward through the heart’s protective sac and into His heart. From the lance’s hole, water poured from the sac surrounding the heart and lungs and blood from His heart.

The Healer died of a broken heart.

The earth trembled.

Darkness covered the sun.

Those same soldiers, who had mocked Him moments before, now frightened, cried, “Truly this was the Son of God.”

  •  

I watched the Healer die. No amount of words can tell what agony He suffered. I only know about His physical pain from a physician’s perspective. I know nothing of the pain of being forsaken by God, of bearing the world’s sin, of being judged by God. But that’s what He did.

He submitted to death; it didn’t take Him.

But I can testify of His love.

He took my sin on that cross and made a way for me to know God. His price was great.

I just repent and come to Him.

Because He is the Son of God, He didn’t stay dead.

He rose, giving power to His Healing and to His Words.

Sometimes people call me, “Healer.”

I quickly correct them. “There is only one Healer. And that is God.

“But He sent His Son. Who also heals.

“And He didn’t stop at healing just your physical needs. He came to heal that emptiness that longs to be filled with Him.”

 

Bibliography
[Samuel Vaisrub, Michael A. Denman, Yaakov Naparstek, and Dan Gilon (2nd ed.)]. n.d. Encyclopedia Judaica: Medicine. Accessed February 7, 2018. http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/medicine.
Bible Hub. n.d. Bible Weights and Measures. Accessed February 7, 2018. http://biblehub.com/weights-and-measures/.
Davis, C. Truman. n.d. A Physician's View of the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Accessed February 7, 2018. http://www1.cbn.com/medical-view-of-the-crucifixion-of-jesus-christ.
Gidley, Robert. 2000. The Facts of the Crucifixion. Accessed February 7, 2018. https://www.catholiceducation.org/en/controversy/common-misconceptions/the-facts-of-crucifixion.html.
Kohler, Kaufmann. 1997. Crucifixion. May. Accessed February 7, 2018. http://mb-soft.com/believe/text/crucifix.htm.
Mueller, Warren. 2017. The Passion of Christ. March 17. Accessed February 7, 2018. https://www.thoughtco.com/the-passion-of-christ-701502.
William D. Edwards, Wesley J. Gabel, and Floyd E. Hosmer. Mar, 21, 1986. "Scourging and Crucifixion in Roman Tradition." JAMA https://www.cbcg.org/scourging-crucifixion.html.



What more could we do, but worship and serve our Savior!
 

I'm sitting here crying, this is so incredibly moving and convicting. Thank you for sharing, perfect for today (and Good Friday tomorrow) in remembering what He did for us.

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Other Short Stories
Christmas Stories:
When Hope Was Lost
The Battle in the Heavens
Stories Behind the Songs

Easter Stories:
What Love Is This?

Remember: The Symbols of Passover Explained

Other Christmas and Easter Stories are compiled in Expecting Jesus.

To Live Forever