We tend to forget that crucifixion was the ultimate form of torture. The science of exquisite torture has never been equaled, much less exceeded, than in crucifixion. The crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth was no exception. Crucifixion was more than an ugliness blotted out by Easter, more than a speed bump on the road to resurrection. Part of the cruelty of crucifixion was the emotional as well as physical torture.
There is no odor so bad
as that which arises
from goodness tainted.
—Henry David Thoreau
Yes, Jesus’ physical agonies were beyond imagining. But the emotional agonies were even worse—the humiliation of being stripped naked, with all bodily parts and functions exposed for the humiliating gaze of the public; the mixture of blood and sweat and urine and feces and refuse creating a nauseating stench, the smells of death that kept even the families of the crucified at a distance.
But what cut even deeper were the emotional agonies of Jesus’ spirit.
The Bible unabashedly testifies to Jesus’ sense of total abandonment,
defeat, rejection, and betrayal. In many ways, this was where Jesus was
really crucified in spirit. Not on the cross but in the kiss. The cross crucified
Him in body. The kiss crucified Him in soul. He was truly despised
and rejected, a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief.
Jesus was really betrayed twice, first by the kiss of Judas, then by
something that cut even deeper: the kiss-off of Peter. The disciple who
stuck with Jesus the longest after Jesus’ arrest, when accosted by a servant
girl in the courtyard of the high priest, denied he knew Him. Before
the barnyard cock crowed, the second betrayal took place.
Of Jesus’ closest friends, one denied Him, all betrayed Him, and,
save John, all ran away.
Now do you know why Jesus said to remember “her” (the woman
who anointed His head with fragrant ointment)?
In the praetorium at Pilate’s residence, the soldiers dressed Jesus in
royal clothes, like some play doll. They draped over Him a scarlet robe,
stuck a reed in His hands to mock a scepter, and then used that instrument
to bludgeon Jesus on the head.
They beat Jesus’ head with their hands, fracturing His nasal bones.
They took turns spitting into the contusions of his blindfolded face
and knelt before Him and taunted, “Hail, King of the Jews.” Then they
crushed onto His head that crown of thorns.
With blood, spit, and sweat running down His face, Jesus looked
Where were His disciples?
Where were all His faithful followers?
Where were all those whom He had healed?
Where were all those whose eyes He had opened, whose ears He
had unstopped, whose mouths He had opened, whose limbs He had
It was almost more than He could bear.
Then Jesus smelled the perfume . . . and He remembered the woman
with the hemorrhage of twelve years who’d had the faith to reach out
and touch the hem of His garment and be healed.
Jesus kept on.
And when the soldiers beat Him with a whip until the blood ran
down His back like a waterfall, His skin already supersensitive from
the effects of hematidrosis (sweating blood); when they marched Him
650 yards through the streets and made Him climb the Via Dolorosa,
carrying the 150-pound patibulum on which His wrists were later to
be nailed, reducing Him to a beast of burden being led to the slaughterhouse;
and when the weight of the cross produced contusions on
the right shoulder and back on that three-hour walk through the city
of Jerusalem to Golgotha on the Way of the Cross—Jesus smelled the
And when He fell, causing more unnamed injuries; when He looked
around for His most intimate friends, His disciples, and saw none but
the four women and John at a distance; and when the agony was almost
too much to bear—He smelled the perfume.
And He remembered the twelve-year-old daughter of Jairus, whom
everyone thought was dead but whom God healed when He spoke these
words: “Get up, My child.”
Jesus kept on.
And when they stripped Him naked60 and nailed Him to the crosspiece
He had carried; when they took those six-inch spikes and lacerated
the median nerves in His hands and feet; and when they lifted Him up
on that cross, above the sinking garbage heap called Golgotha—Jesus
smelled the perfume.
And He remembered the Syrophoenician woman and her daughter
and the Galilean official and his son.
He kept on.
And when everyone who passed by mocked Him on the cross; when
the chief priests and scribes, even those thieves who were crucified with
Him, taunted and teased Him in His agony; and when the loneliness
became so severe He was about ready to call ten thousand angels to
rescue Him, Jesus looked around. In the haze of hurt, He barely could
make out the figures of the three Marys—His mother, Mary; His aunt
Mary (wife of Cleopas); and Mary Magdalene—and then He smelled
And He remembered the many children brought to Him by their
mothers, children who jumped into His arms and lapped up His stories.
Jesus kept on.
And when His body, already in shock, hung from the wrists; and
when He struggled for breath to chant two of His favorite psalms (31
and 22), unable to expel even small hiccups of sound without straightening
His knees and raising Himself on the fulcrum of His nailed feet,
the only thing the soldiers offered His parched throat (“I thirst!”) so He
could keep singing was a drink of vinegar, which only made singing
more difficult. And when His crucifiers used Him for entertainment
(“Let’s see if He can call down the angels”) and when He searched the
landscape for signs of love and faithfulness and saw He was abandoned
by virtually everyone He ever loved, leading Him to cry a prayer for His
disciples as well as for those who crucified Him61—then Jesus smelled
And He remembered the woman who had given all she had so He
would remember God’s love for Him, and in that smell He could even
detect the odors that reminded Him that He was going home, from
whence He had come.
He kept on.
The cross was the only footbridge that could get us across the
chasm of sin into the true Promised Land. And that perfume kept Jesus
on the cross.
The greatest honor a person can give anyone is to tell his or her
story. Here was someone who “did what she could” (literally, “She used
what she had”). She gave all that she had.
Now we know why Jesus said, “When you remember Me, remember
Excerpted from Jesus: A Theography by Leonard Sweet & Frank Viola (Thomas Nelson, Oct. 2012)
Jesus: A Theography (Thomas Nelson, 424 pages, hardcover) is the new release by Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola (authors of Jesus Manifesto). This new book uniquely tells the story of Jesus from Genesis to Revelation, connecting all the dots together, showing that the Bible is one beautiful narrative of Christ. The following is an excerpt from the book. Click here to read a sample chapter along with details, resources, and discounts.