Good Friday is observed during Holy Week as  the day Christians commemorate the crucifixion of Jesus on Calvary. While theologians may debate the actual day of the week (Wednesday, Thursday, or Friday) on which Jesus was crucified, that He died on a cruel Roman cross is a historical fact. While it is universally recognized Jesus died on the cross, few seem to know what death by crucifixion entailed. Understanding what was involved when one was crucified gives us a greater appreciation of what Christ went through as He endured the shame and agony of the cross for all humanity. [1]

The Roman practice of crucifixion was taken from the Carthaginians (800 B.C.) who were a very cruel and barbaric people. They adopted it from the Persians and Assyrians who used the cross as a method to slowly torture their enemies to death. It was said the cross was the most horrible form of punishment devised by man. The Roman orator Cicero said of crucifixion, “It is the most wretched of deaths, the supreme capital punishment.” [2] For its degree of torture, crucifixion was listed ahead of burning alive, decapitation, and eaten by wild beasts. Death by crucifixion was so ghastly it was reserved for the worst criminals, slaves and foreigners.

For one who was crucified on the cross the normal procedure was first a flogging. The whip used had 3-9 lashes on it. At the end of each lash were pieces of metal, bone or stone. The victim was hit 39 times (40 save 1). The victim being flogged, depending on the number of lashes on the whip, could receive from 120 to 350 lashes across the back, each strike painfully cutting deep into the flesh like a knife. Josephus, an early Jewish historian, records that flogging could be so vicious it could often cause a man’s teeth and eyes to be knocked out. Many victims wouldn’t live through the flogging, dying in their own pool of blood.

Not only did Jesus receive this flogging (Isaiah 50:6; John 19:1), He was beaten with the fists of the soldiers (John 18:22) and beaten on the head with a rod (Matthew 27:30). He was spit upon and His beard was painfully plucked out (Isaiah 50:6). Then a crown of thorns was pressed into His brow (John 19:5). If the victim lived through the flogging and the severe beatings, which Jesus did, they were required to carry their cross to the place of execution. Understanding the flogging the victim went through before being crucified one can see why Christ, in a weakened state, was unable to carry His cross to Calvary, Simon of Cyrene being chosen out of the crowd to bear the cross for Him (Mark 15:21-22).

Once to the place of execution the victim was stretched on the cross, his bleeding back screaming in agony when placed upon the rough splintered wood. The victim’s hands and feet were then nailed to cross. The pain experienced as the hammer drove the nails through the joints and tendons of the victim is incomprehensible. As the cross was dropped into the ground with a thud one can only imagine the pain the victim experienced as every joint and muscle jerked with pain and agony. Death came slowly and was excruciating. The victim slowly died of suffocation as the weight was on the diaphragm. The victim could only breathe by pulling with their hands and pushing with their feet. Each breath was a struggle and was agonizing.

Relief only came in death. It was said a healthy man could hang on the cross for as much as 48 hours before dying. To speed up death, a victim’s legs would be broken so they could no longer push-up to breathe. John tells us that the soldiers were going to break the legs of Jesus to speed up His death, but He had already died. That they didn’t break Jesus’ legs was a fulfillment of prophecy (John 19:31-36).

While words cannot ever adequately describe the horrible torment of being crucified, this was the torturous death Jesus experienced. Why would God the Father choose the cross, the cruelest and most horrible punishment devised by man, to be the method by which salvation would be won for sinful humanity? While the cross pictures numerous spiritual truths about ourselves and the Father, there are two that demand our attention.

First, the cross pictures the blackness, ugliness and vileness of our sins. As one gazes at the cross the ghastly sight of Christ’s beaten, bruised and bloody body suspended between heaven and earth in the darkness of the day pictures how our sin looks in the sight of a holy God. As H.R. Mackintosh has said, “That God gave Christ to man and they could do no better than crucify Him, casts a terrible light upon our sinfulness.” [3] P.T. Forsyth wrote, “Sin is more than failure to live up to an ideal of human conduct. Sin is rebellion against a holy God so that when we sin we are putting ourselves at a distance from God and creating a chasm between Him and ourselves which we cannot bridge by our own efforts.” [4]

At the cross we see the ugliness and blackness of sin in the eyes of a Holy God. Because sin is an offense to God’s holiness, His holiness opposes sin in judgment. Holiness demands like holiness in return and if that can’t be complied with then sin must be judged. Since man can’t comply with God’s holy demands then he is in a terrible predicament.

Second, the cross pictures to us the holy-love of God. The same holy-love which judges sin, is the same holy-love which provides salvation from our sin. Martin Hengel writes, “In the death of Jesus of Nazareth God identified himself with the extreme of human wretchedness, which Jesus endured as a Representative of us all, in order to bring us to the freedom of the children of God.” [5] The cross did not just happen to Jesus, He came on purpose for it. At the cross God demonstrated His love toward us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). It was at the cross, “He who knew no sin became sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21). At the cross we see our God in Jesus Christ assuming our obligation (2 Cor. 5:21), and redeeming us from the curse of the law being made a curse for us (Gal. 3:13). The cross shouts to us like nothing else can, “Christ loved us and has given Himself for us an offering and a sacrifice” (Eph. 5:2).

John R. Stott has written, “For in order to save us in such a way as to satisfy himself, God through Christ substituted himself for us. Divine love triumphed over divine wrath by divine self-sacrifice.” [6] The Father’s holy-love, demonstrated in the life and cross of Christ, His indescribable love. It was not the nails that held Christ to the cross as He was being mocked and spit upon, but his indescribable love held Him there. It was His holy-love that did for you and I what we could never do for ourselves. His love was an individual love. He died for you and me.  As our Substitute,  Christ paid the sin debt for the “whosoevers” of the world (John 3:16). Yes, the cross pictures the holy-love of the Father which became incarnate in Christ who did for us what we could never do for ourselves.

In the days of the Roman Empire the cross was a symbol of death, defeat, despair and shame. Yet Christ transformed the cross into a symbol of hope, deliverance, grace, redemption, forgiveness, salvation, life, love, and light. The more one ponders the wonder of the cross, the more one bows in awe before the Christ of the cross.

The liberating words of P.T. Forsyth are most fitting, “Through the cross to the Light.”[7]

Dr. Dan


[1] For an excellent treatment on what victims endured through crucifixion see Martin Hengel, Crucifixion, (Philadelphia: fortress Press, 1977).

[2]  Cicero, Against Verres 2.5.169.

[3] Cited in Ronald Wallace, The Gospel of John, (Scottish Academic Press, 1991), 7.

[4] Forsyth, The Cruciality of the Cross, (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1910), 94-98.

[5] Hengel, Crucifixion, 18-19.

[6] Stott, The Cross of Christ, (Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1986), 159.

[7] On the memorial tablet to Peter Taylor (P.T.) Forsyth in New College Chapel London is inscribed a Latin motto, which aptly describes His life, ministry and theology:            Per Crucem ad Lucem – ‘Through the Cross to the Light.’


As Resurrection Sunday approaches when multitudes of Christians around the world will gather to celebrate the Resurrection of Christ, I have noticed several articles and statements on social media posted by well-meaning Christians that by gathering with fellow Christians for a Sonrise Service, one is engaging in ancient paganism. While I don’t usually respond to such articles, and even though I do believe such persons are well-intentioned, I feel compelled to address the issue for those who have legitimate questions as whether it is wrong to gather with fellow Christians for a Son Rise Service to celebrate our Lord’s Resurrection. Malachi spoke of those who revered the Lord and experienced the Sun of Righteousness arising with healing in His wings (Mal. 4:2). Are we not to worshipfully celebrate the Son’s Arising?

One needs to remember that the resurrection of Jesus Christ was celebrated in the spring-time for centuries in Christendom long before the word “Easter” was ever adopted in the English language as a label attached to the resurrection celebration. It should be pointed out we have many words in the English language that were connected with ancient pagan gods and practices, but we don’t accuse someone of engaging in paganism when they are involved in activities associated with those particular words. For instance, if someone wants to get technical, we should not eat cereal, nor make clothes of cloth, or ever call a religious song a hymn. You see, those three words are connected with pagan deities. For example, the word “cereal” comes from the name of the ancient goddess of agriculture, Ceres. The word “cloth” comes from Clotho, the spinster goddess who was said to spin the thread of life. The word “hymn” is thought to come from the god of marriage, Hymen, and in ancient times meant any song offered in praise or honor of a god or gods. But when we use “hymn” in our church services we mean a song sung in praise to the Christ of the Cross. When we use the word “cereal” or eat corn flakes or cheerios, we are not worshipping an ancient goddess. Cloth is cloth to us, we don’t connect it with a pagan deity. We don’t see anyone wearing clothes made of burlap sacks because they don’t want to be associated with cloth since the word is derived from the pagan deity.  As well, all the names of the days of the week were named after ancient deities, but no one worships those pagan deities when they use the days of the week when speaking nor does anyone think of worshipping the god the day was named after when a new day arrives.

Without going into a lot of detail, the present Christian celebration of “Easter” has more affinity and connection with the Jewish Passover than with ancient pagan associations. Jesus is the prophetic fulfillment of what the Passover sacrifice typifies and symbolizes, as He is the final Sacrifice for our sins. Over the years, I have attended a lot of Sunrise Services and not one of them ever had even a hint of paganism attached to them, but centered totally and completely on Jesus Christ. I will gather this Sunday morning, as I have in years past, with fellow believers to worship the Christ of the Cross, who conquered the cold, dark grave by rising from the dead. There will not be a speck of paganism in our gathering, but the worship of the King of kings and Lord of lords. We will not gather to worship the sun, but to worship the Son of Righteousness who arose from the dead with healing in His wings (Malachi 4:2). We will gather to lift our voices in praise to the One who took the challenge to wrestle with the enemies of humanity: sin, death and the devil…..and He defeated them all.

Now, if anyone gathers at a Sunrise Service to worship the sun and creation, then they gather for the wrong reason and, yes, they are embracing pantheism and an ancient pagan deity. However, if one gathers at a Sonrise Service, along with millions of other Christians, to worship the victorious, resurrected Christ, the Creator Himself, then one gathers for the right reason. I would much rather see Christians gather to worship Jesus and gain a better understanding of the meaning and practicality of his resurrection for our lives.

After all, should not Jesus’ resurrection be a cause of rejoicing and celebration for the Christian? And the truth be known, when I awake in the morning and watch the sunrise, I will celebrate the resurrection of Christ. As matter of fact, I celebrate His resurrection everyday…. for I serve a risen Savior who has Risen with healing in His wings.

He is Risen…celebrate the wonderful truth daily that the Son of Righteousness is forever alive!

Dr. Dan


Easter is a celebratory time in the life of Christians world-wide, as it is a time when special emphasis is placed on the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ. However, every year when Easter rolls around there are some Christians who become very vocal that no Christian should celebrate Easter, contending it has roots in paganism. Over the years I have read all the arguments, pro and con, as to Easter’s origin and whether Christians should or should not be engaged in any activities associated with the annual holiday. The arguments sometimes become more emotional than rational, more historical than practical, more hurtful than helpful.

From the very beginning of the church, Sunday, the day on which Christ arose from the dead, was a day Christians honored and a time for gathering for worship. By the middle of the second century it is known Christian communities engaged in annual festive celebration of the resurrection of Jesus. Historian and Christian scholar Philip Schaff confirms from the writings of early Church Fathers, the beginning of festivals celebrating the resurrection of Christ by the middle of the second century, and in some Christian circles much earlier (Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Vol 2, (New York: Scribner, Armstrong & Co., 1874), 246). Schaff notes that the early Christians commemorated the entire period between the death and resurrection of Christ with vigils, fasting, special devotions, meetings, culminating in a feast celebrating His victorious resurrection (246-247).

It is needful to understand our determining the time we today celebrate Christ’s Resurrection can be traced back to the Roman Emperor Constantine in 325 A.D. As Constantine came to power many Jewish Christians celebrated the resurrection immediately following the Passover festival according to their lunar calendar, which fell on the evening of the full moon, the 14th day in the month of Nisan (March/April), and as such from year to year fell on different days of the week. Gentile Christians desired to commemorate the resurrection on the first Sunday following Passover; and as such celebrating Christ’s resurrection occurred on the same day of the week (Sunday), but from year to year it fell on different dates. Both ways for determination in celebrating Christ’s resurrection could be traced back to apostolic traditions.

In 325 A.D., at the Council of Nicaea, a gathering of Christian leaders came together to grapple with various issues confronting the early church, and sought to arrive at a consensus as to a standardized time when Christ’s Resurrection should be celebrated. The Council of Nicaea arrived at a formula for calculating a date to separate the Christian celebration of Christ’s Resurrection from the Jewish celebration of Passover. While it was recognized that Christ’s resurrection and Passover were related historically, the Council of Nicaea contended that because Christ was symbolically the sacrificial Passover lamb, the holiday of Passover no longer had theological significance for Christians. They sought to resolve the issue by setting a date that would be the following Sunday following the first full moon after the spring equinox. That means that Easter as we know it today is always the first Sunday after the first full moon that falls on or after March 21, which can be as early as March 22 and as late as April 25. The Council also decided that if the full moon should occur on a Sunday and thereby coincide with the Passover festival, the Resurrection should be commemorated on the Sunday following. Coincidence of resurrection commemoration and the Passover was thus avoided.

While it is true pagan festivities were held during the vernal equinox in honor of the pre-Christian goddess Eostre of spring and renewal, the only reference to this festive time linked with the celebrating of the resurrection of Jesus comes from the writings of the Venerable Bede (673-735), a British Benedictine monk, who lived in the late seventh and early eighth century. Religious studies scholar Bruce Davis Forbes points out, “Bede wrote that the month in which English Christians were celebrating the resurrection of Jesus had been called Eosturmonath in Old English, referring to a goddess named Eostre. And even though Christians had begun affirming the Christian meaning of the celebration, they continued to use the name of the goddess to designate the season.” (Bruce David Forbes, America’s Favorite Holidays: Candid Histories, (Oakland, CA: University of California Press; 2015), 79-114).

Forbes asserts that for later Christians the name stuck, thus Easter remains the name by which the English, Germans and Americans refer to the time of Jesus’ resurrection. However, the annual spring celebration of the resurrection of Jesus was not called Easter until centuries after Christians began celebrating His resurrection. The celebration of Christ’s Resurrection is interwoven into the very fabric of Christianity and predates any sort of early medieval Anglo-Saxon considerations. Easter is clearly historically linked with the Jewish Passover, apostolic tradition, and its time celebrated determined historically by the Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D. Hence, one is not  historically accurate to assert celebrating the Resurrection of Jesus is a pagan holiday. Historical evidence even indicates that the name Easter has more in common with the old Germanic Indo-European root austron for “dawn,” corresponding to the celebration of the Easter Mass at dawn. But even if the name Easter was derived from a pre-Christian spring festival, this would only mean the name Easter was borrowed, not the character of the feast itself.

Anthony McRoy says it well, “And even if Christians did engage in contextualization—expressing their message and worship in the language or forms of the local people—that in no way implies doctrinal compromise. Christians around the world have sought to redeem the local culture for Christ while purging it of practices antithetical to biblical norms” (Anthony McRoy “Was Easter Borrowed from a Pagan Holiday?” Christianity Today, April 2, 2009).

Now let it be said, if one is fully persuaded that in good conscience one cannot observe Easter, then do not observe it. If one is convinced that it is linked to paganism in some way that one cannot honor God, then one needs to abide by that conviction. This writer will respect your position and support your right to exclude it as a Christian celebration. However, at the same time, if one is fully persuaded that one can honor, glorify and worship God through engaging in Easter activities that are for the purpose of exalting and uplifting the Resurrected Savior, then joyfully honor and worship Him in celebration and in Christian liberty. And it behooves those who are convinced they shouldn’t participate in the Easter celebration, not to cast aversion upon those who seize the time to honor, worship, and glorify the Risen Lord and use the time as a way to evangelize the lost.

Let us as Christians, redeem the time (Ephesians 5:16; Colossians 4:5). The Greek word “redeem” Paul uses is “karios,” meaning a time of opportunity. And Easter is a wonderful time to take advantage of an opportunity to point others to the truth about Christ that, “He is Risen.” It is an opportune time to proclaim that we serve a Savior who overcame sin, death and the grave. It is a time for those who but once a year darken the door of a church to hear the glorious news that Christ holds the keys to life and death in His hands, and with outstretched arms He invites all to come unto Him.

Whatever one’s position on Easter, let us not lose focus of the truth that for the Christian every day is Resurrection Day and invites celebration. Let every Christian, whether during the Easter season or any other time, be about the business of redeeming the time to exalt the glorious name of Christ who has conquered death and ever lives to transforms the lives of those who place their faith and trust in Him.

Dr. Dan