If you’ve ever doubted that your body is miraculous, I challenge you to simply take a close look at your hands. Stretch them out in front of you and really look at them.
Each hand is composed of 29 major and minor bones, 29 joints, at least 123 ligaments, and 34 muscles to move the fingers and thumb – most of which which are located in either the palm of the hand or the forearm, since the fingers themselves do not have muscles. A hand also has 48 nerves and 30 arteries, and nearly as many smaller branches. About one quarter of the motor cortex in the human brain is devoted to the muscles of the hands. *
But these marvelous facts still don’t do the hand justice. Hands are our most important tools. We use them to lift, pull, and push. Nearly every movement, from the smallest to the most grand, involves the hand. Hands can caress, carry, convey, correct, and criticize. They can be used for love or violence. They are powerful in every way.
So what does it mean that Christ willingly outstretched his hands and allowed nails to be driven into his wrists?
In my reflections on this Holy Thursday and Good Friday, I feel the bones in my own body, its connective tissues, and remember the fact that most of the time it functions without complaint. Then I consider the brute physicality of Christ’s sacrifice for me.
Sit in this sacred space. Study your hands and your feet. Listen to your breath. Thank Him for what he endured. Seek to understand that He did it for the greater glory of your eternal salvation, and that of all the world.
The crucifixion began. Jesus was offered wine mixed with myrrh, a mild analgesic, pain-reliving mixture. He refused the drink. Simon was ordered to place the patibulum on the ground, and Jesus was quickly thrown backward, with His shoulders against the wood. The legionnaire felt for the depression at the front of the wrist. He drove a heavy, square wrought-iron nail through the wrist and deep into the wood. Quickly, he moved to the other side and repeated the action, being careful not to pull the arms too tightly, but to allow some flexion and movement. The patibulum was then lifted into place at the top of the stipes, and the titulus reading “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews” was nailed into place.
The left foot was pressed backward against the right foot. With both feet extended, toes down, a nail was driven through the arch of each, leaving the knees moderately flexed. The victim was now crucified.
As Jesus slowly sagged down with more weight on the nails in the wrists, excruciating, fiery pain shot along the fingers and up the arms to explode in the brain. The nails in the wrists were putting pressure on the median nerve, large nerve trunks which traverse the mid-wrist and hand. As He pushed himself upward to avoid this stretching torment, He placed His full weight on the nail through His feet. Again there was searing agony as the nail tore through the nerves between the metatarsal bones of this feet.
At this point, another phenomenon occurred. As the arms fatigued, great waves of cramps swept over the muscles, knotting them in deep relentless, throbbing pain. With these cramps came the inability to push Himself upward. Hanging by the arm, the pectoral muscles, the large muscles of the chest, were paralyzed and the intercostal muscles, the small muscles between the ribs, were unable to act. Air could be drawn into the lungs, but could not be exhaled. Jesus fought to raise Himself in order to get even one short breath. Finally, the carbon dioxide level increased in the lungs and in the blood stream, and the cramps partially subsided.
Spasmodically, He was able to push Himself upward to exhale and bring in life-giving oxygen. It was undoubtedly during these periods that He uttered the seven short sentences that are recorded.**
Since he endured this, surely we can recommit to paths of holy surrender to the One who loves us infinitely and far beyond our understanding. Our final thoughts on this ought to be Scripture:
Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
– Hebrews 12:1-3 (emphasis mine)
**Excerpt from “The Crucifixion Of Jesus: A medical explanation of what Jesus endured on the day He died” by Dr. C. Truman Davis – A Physician Analyzes the Crucifixion. New Wine Magazine, April 1982. (Originally published in Arizona Medicine, March 1965, Arizona Medical Association.) Full text available online here.
*E-hand.com The Electronic Textbook of Hand Surgery