Crossroads Connection for the Week of May 20

How to Love an Atheist

By Skip Heitzig

No one is born an atheist or agnostic. Both are belief systems a person chooses to believe in, and both require a certain amount of faith, just like Christianity.

John 18 shows us a picture of a politician named Pontius Pilate, a burned-out agnostic for whom there were no absolute truths. As Jesus interacted with him during His trial, He displayed five qualities we should exhibit whenever we encounter an atheist or agnostic.

1. Be confident. It would seem like Pilate had total control over the situation in John 18, but Jesus was really the one calling the shots: "The Jews said to [Pilate], 'It is not lawful for us to put anyone to death,' that the saying of Jesus might be fulfilled which He spoke, signifying by what death He would die" (vv. 31-32)--i.e., a Roman death on a cross. In other words, what Jesus said would come to pass was coming to pass. Whenever you face an atheist or agnostic, be confident that the Lord has sovereignly allowed you the opportunity to talk to them.

2. Be engaging. Pilate didn't believe in the Jewish God, but Jesus engaged him in conversation anyway (see vv. 33-35). Atheists and agnostics have good questions, so make sure you have good answers. "Always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you" (1 Peter 3:15). Even if your answer isn't perfect, you might plant a seed, and there's no knowing what that seed will produce in the future.

3. Be respectful. In verse 36, Jesus told Pilate, "My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here." In other words, "I'm not here to fight you." Some Christians get into full combat assault mode when dealing with unbelievers, but as the rest of 1 Peter 3:15 says, we need to be prepared to give an answer "with gentleness and respect" (NIV). We need to be winsome if we want to win some.

4. Be clear."Pilate therefore said to Him, 'Are You a king then?' Jesus answered, 'You say rightly that I am a king. For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth'" (v. 37). Jesus was totally unambiguous about who He was. We need to be just as clear about what we believe and what the gospel calls unbelievers to do.

5. Be ready. Jesus said, "'Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.' Pilate said to Him, 'What is truth?' And when he had said this, he went out again to the Jews" (vv. 37-38). Jesus essentially gave Pilate an invitation to know truth, and even though Pilate's response was jaded and negative, it didn't have to turn out that way. On our end, we simply have to give God room to work and be ready for a positive response as well as a negative.

People in our culture have heard about Jesus, and they're always deciding whether to accept Him or reject Him. So be confident in the truth you bear, engage with those who don't believe, be kind and respectful, be clear about what you believe, and then be ready for a response, always remaining open to how God wants to use you.

Copyright (c) 2018 by Connection Communications. All rights reserved.


Article #2 


How to Become America’s Fastest-Growing Church? Think Like a Startup.

Cincinnati’s Crossroads uses entrepreneurial strategies for gospel ends.
How to Become America’s Fastest-Growing Church? Think Like a Startup.
Image: Jonathan Willis

The fastest-growing congregation in America is one you may never have heard of with a name you hear everywhere: Crossroads Church.

Crossroads are about as common as First Baptists among today’s non-denominational, contemporary churches. But this particular Crossroads, based in Cincinnati, could have a location near you in coming years if all goes according to plan. It has set out to take on nationwide influence, leveraging data from its app and streaming services to choose where to launch new campuses.

“There’s something in the whole package that comes together,” said senior pastor Brian Tome, whose preaching is broadcast from Crossroads’ campus in Oakley to more than a dozen other sites. “God gets the glory.”
Image: Jonathan Willis

“There’s something in the whole package that comes together,” said senior pastor Brian Tome, whose preaching is broadcast from Crossroads’ campus in Oakley to more than a dozen other sites. “God gets the glory.”

Just over two decades old, the booming church still functions like a startup—for good reason. Described by Cincinnati Business Courier as both “an entrepreneurial church and a church for entrepreneurs,” its business mentality has been key to its growth so far and shapes how it will expand—essentially, franchise—in the future.

In 2017, Outreach Magazine and LifeWay Research named Crossroads the fastest-growing church for the second time (the first was in 2015). With 14 campuses and 38,000 in attendance, Crossroads added around 6,000 members in 2016—growing at a rate of 25 percent.

Taking ministry out of the box

While keeping focused on Scripture and the Spirit, leaders at Crossroads pride themselves on rethinking the standard tone of church life. They favor catchy language and marketing, powerful messages, and exciting programs. They credit the church’s growth to an entrepreneurial willingness to break the mold—even their own.

“We don’t set out to intentionally disrupt anything,” said Brian Tome, senior pastor of Crossroads, who mingles business metaphors and spiritual allusions.

“But Jesus said he works in new wineskins. He’s not against old wineskins. But he said he has come to do a new thing. The Holy Spirit is active in our church, causing us to do things other churches aren’t willing to do.”

Image: Jonathan Willis

Tome cites the Holy Spirit’s leadership in everything at Crossroads—from their vision to expand beyond the Midwest to how they organize their programs to why they placed beer kegs outside a prayer tent at a recent men’s event, drawing thirsty participants in for prayer.

While he has a seminary degree and a ministry background, Tome has surrounded himself with business leaders, out-of-the-box creatives, and entrepreneurs. Most of Crossroads’ founders (who invited Tome to the city to be their pastor 22 years ago) were executives at Procter & Gamble, the Cincinnati-based marketing behemoth behind brands like Tide, Febreze, Crest, Gillette, Charmin, and Pampers.

“We’re taking risks we wouldn’t take if we were preoccupied with sustaining ourselves,” Tome said. “I think that’s the call of discipleship … We have to be willing to take the risk and be hurt if we’re going to take new ground and be formed into being the disciples Jesus asked us to be.”

Jenn Sperry, far right, leads the church’s media team as it shifts to a national focus. “we’re open-handed right now to where God is stirring up energy,” she said.
Image: Jonathan Willis

Jenn Sperry, far right, leads the church’s media team as it shifts to a national focus. “we’re open-handed right now to where God is stirring up energy,” she said.

Founded in 1996, Crossroads has always built on its business background. Only a small fraction of staff members have seminary training, because the church seeks diverse staff to fill roles that go beyond preaching, music, youth, and children’s ministry.

While in-house graphic design and branding are nothing new for megachurches, Crossroads has a team that functions like an ad agency—stocked with designers, copywriters, project managers, public relations managers, and social media strategists.

It’s these initiatives and strategies that set the church apart, rather than Tome himself as some kind of celebrity pastor. (When he showed up recently at a pastors’ conference in Silicon Valley, he said no one recognized him.)

The church embraces conversational and edgy lingo, what it deems “culturally current communication.” In its manifesto, Crossroads celebrates authenticity because “hiding sucks.” The church takes a strong stance on biblical truth but points out that it doesn’t care if members wear socks with sandals or how they pronounce “GIF.” They adopted a “beer test” for leaders on stage each weekend: Anyone speaking should be approachable enough that you’d want to tip one back with them.

Tome predicts American churches will soon look radically different from what Christians have expected and experienced for the past few decades, though he doesn’t know exactly how.

To stay ahead of whatever changes might come, the church employs two full-time market researchers, as well as a sort of research and development division. The “skunkworks” team borrows its name from the corporate-world moniker for a group that operates autonomously and often secretly to pioneer new ideas. Crossroads’ leadership entrusts the skunkworks team, full of young Christian entrepreneurs, with building ideas for the future.

They aren’t supposed to play it safe. These days, for example, the high-tech team is looking into ways Crossroads could use artificial intelligence in ministry and worship. “Their task—figure out a way to put Crossroads out of business,” Tome said. “Anything short of sin is up for grabs.”

This sort of drive plays well with many in the young-professional demographic that Crossroads attracts. The church’s branding and marketing target adults aged 25–35, especially male seekers. They assume if a guy in that range gets hooked, then as he moves along in life —getting married, having a family—the others in his household will join him at church.

A recent in-church clicker survey across all Crossroads sites indicated that the highest represented age group was 30–39—nearly a quarter of the congregation. That’s in line with research showing the average age at an American megachurch is around 40, compared to 53 at smaller congregations.

Crossroads has also embraced the entrepreneurial demographic more practically, with the inception of an entrepreneurship conference called Unpolished.

Several years ago, Tome was approached by a business contact who expressed concern that young entrepreneurs were struggling spiritually. Tome realized that, outside of worship services, Crossroads focused on poverty initiatives—“downstream problems in the kingdom of God, which are important,” he noted, “but they occur because of upstream problems.” Tome wanted to shift tactics to also encourage the people making money.

Ocean Accelerator welcomed its fourth cohort of startups this year. The 26 companies that have gone through the program since its launch in 2015 have raised $7.2 million and created 63 jobs.
Image: Jonathan Willis

Ocean Accelerator welcomed its fourth cohort of startups this year. The 26 companies that have gone through the program since its launch in 2015 have raised $7.2 million and created 63 jobs.

Unpolished was recently handed off to Ocean Accelerator, the only independent, faith-based business accelerator in the country. It was created by Crossroads members in 2015, formerly headquartered in a church-owned building and supported by Crossroads funding. Bloombergprofiled the Crossroads initiatives last spring.

“For Crossroads, embracing the gospel of Silicon Valley isn’t solely about money; it’s also about bringing the next generation into the church,” Mya Frazier reported for Bloomberg. “Ocean Accelerator offers a way to reckon with two converging trends: growing anxiety about jobs and a decline in church attendance among young people.”

Ocean is a five-month residential program for tech companies focused on developing entrepreneurs financially and spiritually. Organizations receive guided mentorship and pro-bono legal, accounting, human resources, and marketing services—plus seed financing of $50,000. Up to 12 companies are chosen each year, and so far 26 have graduated the program.

Taking church anywhere

From the Cincinnati area, Crossroads’ 14 locations extend north to Dayton, Columbus, and Cleveland, Ohio, as well as south to Lexington, Kentucky. While most Protestant megachurches are now multisite—62 percent according to Leadership Network and the Hartford Institute for Religion Research—few are doing it at Crossroads’ scale. To compare, the average number of locations is just 3.5.

Crossroads stocks each location with live music and campus pastors, the same sermon shown onscreen at every site. It maintains continuity even in the details: Each building Crossroads owns is remodeled with a similar interior and stage setup, using matching lighting cues.

The consistency across sites allows Crossroads to “reimagine” preaching itself and take nontraditional approaches. Last fall it kicked off a video series where Tome sits down with a guest, such as a local DJ and a startup founder, to talk “real life” over a beer. It throws an annual Super Bowl of Preaching that adds “tailgating, smack-talk, commercials, and music” to head-to-head sermons from two lead pastors.

This year, for 20 of the 52 weekends in 2018, Crossroads will show pre-recorded sermons filmed entirely on location outside the church—transporting worshipers to where Bible stories happened (one series was filmed in the Holy Land and another in Rome), presenting different voices with biblical application.

Image: Jonathan Willis
Producers stream weekly services, which increasingly feature new formats, including interviews with Tome and offsite videos.
Image: Jonathan Willis

Producers stream weekly services, which increasingly feature new formats, including interviews with Tome and offsite videos.

Crossroads has a similarly centralized operating model, with locations looking to HQ for direction and resources but using a portion of their budgets for local needs. One campus has a program focused on racial reconciliation, while another has a ministry to people recovering from heroin addiction. To keep everyone connected, all Crossroads staff members meet together weekly—whether in person or teleconferenced—for updates and devotions.

Franchising the church

Like about a third of US megachurches, Crossroads relies on technology and resources to support church growth beyond physical buildings. Leaders see Crossroads Anywhere—groups that gather in homes to view the weekend service together—as a crucial part of the church’s future.

At least 38 groups meet together for Crossroads Anywhere in far-flung cities like Seattle, Los Angeles, and Houston. The church spends over $100,000 a month to keep the app’s digital infrastructure running.

The Crossroads Anywhere app also acts as a data-driven feasibility study for possible new campuses. If more than 100 people are convening in a certain location, Crossroads evaluates if it should begin providing on-location resources in that region.

In January, the newest Crossroads campus opened in one of the outlying Cincinnati regions where the staff had seen growing interest—and 8,000 people showed up the first weekend.

To expand beyond the Midwest, Crossroads will rely upon technology to liberate where brick and mortar have limited. Consistent with a business startup mentality, Tome stated, “No matter how big one building is, it is still too small for the growth that God wants for his church.”

Jenn Sperry, whose team oversees media at Crossroads, said the staff had always sensed that the church was growing beyond regional borders. But starting last summer, Crossroads team members were asked to use new language when speaking of the church to communicate a more unlimited scope. Sperry’s department, for instance, has been recast as a “national team.”

Early on in the job, Sperry watched the speed of change going on, caught her breath, and asked her supervisor, “Is it always going to be this way?” At a church like Crossroads, the answer is almost always yes. The fast-paced environment shattered her expectations that working at a church could be boring.

“It’s invigorating and also frustrating to be in an environment of change all the time,” Tome acknowledged.

The rate of growth and change can also create trepidation and questions for church members. One longtime member who worships and serves at the original Crossroads campus in Oakley, a neighborhood of young professionals near the city center, heard whispers of concern after the national announcement was made.

“People hear this declaration of Crossroads becoming a national church, and they wonder, ‘What does that mean for us? Do we lose our identity?’ ” said Marie, who asked to only be identified by her first name. She had her own questions, too. “If God has placed this on the hearts of our leaders, then we must trust what God is doing.”

The church has learned from experience that franchising in new regions doesn’t always go smoothly. For instance, when Crossroads opened in Lexington, Kentucky, it merged with an existing congregation named Crossroads Christian Church. Tome said leaders thought with the same name and a good relationship between the senior pastors that it would be an easy transition. But about 40 percent of the original congregation left in the first six months, some citing theological differences.

Another learning curve for Crossroads has been understanding the culture in new regions where it expands. For instance, in Lexington, most of the city stays home when the University of Kentucky is playing basketball, so having Saturday night services at those campuses during basketball season simply won’t work.

The Crossroads staff is still discerning how to accommodate regional differences as the church expands—down to the wording of sermons, which are broadcast to each site. “We can’t reference things that are specific to Cincinnati,” Sperry said. “We still mess that up. We’re not doing it perfectly.”

Letting go to grow bigger

Church growth experts agree that the risks and reinvention associated with the corporate world are important for churches as well.

“The churches I see growing the most are not doing so because they are using techniques from the business world,” said Sean Morgan, founder of the church leadership division of CDF Capital and curator of
But “they are open to what might yield success.”

Church leaders want to see Christians bring together their spiritual lives and their “normal lives,” so Crossroads Oakley opens up its atrium as a coworking space during the week.
Image: Jonathan Willis

Church leaders want to see Christians bring together their spiritual lives and their “normal lives,” so Crossroads Oakley opens up its atrium as a coworking space during the week.

“The right approach lies somewhere in the middle,” Morgan said. “We can’t over-spiritualize everything and pretend that we aren’t human. We also can’t over-plan and strategize and not leave room for God’s Spirit.”

As Morgan advises megachurch leaders, he asks: What will you let go of to help you on your mission moving forward?

“Clinging to things of the past oftentimes distract us from the real mission of the church. Churches can become tethered to a thing that people like. But the church is not designed to keep its people happy,” Morgan said. “Becoming comfortable, becoming complacent—it leads to irrelevancy. The opposite of that is entrepreneurial.”

Crossroads, too, is willing to let go of even successful and innovative initiatives that hamper its vision of being “one church in many locations.”

For a decade, the church put countless staff and volunteer hours and over $1.5 million a year into its Christmas production, which in 2017 drew 121,000 people. But the performances were only conducted at two Cincinnati campuses, so the church is discontinuing the show and shifting those resources toward something that will be available to all Crossroads participants.

The church still wants to put on “immersive experiences.” In 2017, Crossroads purchased 400 acres of land to host camps for men, women, couples, and teens. “We believe in great weekend services,” Tome said. “But a bigger impact, pound for pound—nothing matches getting people outside their normal rhythms” in the camp context.

Taking market share

Naturally, being the fastest-growing church in America makes Crossroads a polarizing entity.

“We’re regularly judged for our methods because it doesn’t line up with ‘what a church does,’ ” Tome said. “I’m happy to be judged by Jesus; he can judge me all day long. Trying to measure who we are by what a church expectation is—that’s a recipe for disaster.”

When Crossroads opens a campus, nearby churches can feel threatened by the burgeoning neighbor next door. At one predominantly black, Baptist church a mile and half from the Crossroads Uptown campus, a leader noted that it hurts other churches in the city to have such a dominant force right up the road.

Asking to remain anonymous, she spoke of the heartbreak that occurs when people choose to leave her congregation to attend Crossroads. She feels that when people grow tired of small-church accountability, they find shelter in the anonymity that a large church can provide.

Others see Crossroads as just one piece in the larger religious landscape.

Image: David Slaughter
With Crossroads “epic” man camp weekends, “the Holy Spirit inspired us to leverage fun for people to get to Jesus,” Tome said.
Image: David Slaughter

With Crossroads “epic” man camp weekends, “the Holy Spirit inspired us to leverage fun for people to get to Jesus,” Tome said.

“People are involved in multiple churches, especially in the city,” observed Russell Smith, senior pastor of Covenant First Presbyterian in downtown Cincinnati. “I almost think of it more as a Christian ecosystem than people being members of one church. The hard and fast lines don’t exist as much. People will go to Bible study over here and worship over there. Some people are dabbling at Crossroads and they’re also dabbling elsewhere.”

Smith’s congregants are mostly older and there is no youth group at his church, so one of his daughters, a junior in high school, attends youth group at Crossroads. Smith and his wife say they are grateful for the volunteers and small group leaders from Crossroads who are investing in their daughter.

“On my worst days, I could get really grouchy about Crossroads, and I could give you a laundry list of critiques,” Smith said. “But on my better days, they push me and challenge me to winsomely articulate what I understand the Christian faith and healthy discipleship to be all about.”

When Smith hears grumbling about Crossroads from his own church members, “I will say from the pulpit to my very traditional, buttoned-down, hymn-singing, organ-playing church: ‘Folks, you need to thank God for Crossroads. They’re reaching people who wouldn’t walk through our doors. And Crossroads needs to thank God for our little church. We reach people who would never walk through their doors.’

“What else can we say but, ‘To God be the glory’? The kingdom wins.”

Kelly Carr, former senior editor of The Lookout, is a writing and editing consultant at She lives in Cincinnati, Ohio, where she and her husband planted Echo Church.


Article #3

Fire and a Call for Decision

By Julius Medenblik

Scripture Reading: 1 Kings 18:16-39

When all the people saw [the fire of the Lord], they fell prostrate and cried, “The Lord—he is God! The Lord—he is God!”
2 Kings 18:39

Fire can be destructive, but it can also illuminate. The prophet Elijah on Mount Carmel stands as God’s representative before people who worship other gods and people from Israel who can’t seem to choose. Elijah calls them to decide between the Lord, the one true God, and Baal, the false god.

Before any decision is made, a contest is played out between Elijah and the prophets of Baal as to who can bring fire from heaven down on a sacrifice. The prophets of Baal prepare their sacrifice and cry out for Baal’s attention, going so far as to cut themselves and bleed. But there is no response, because Baal does not exist.

Then Elijah pours water over the sacrifice he has prepared. The sacrifice is totally drenched, and water also fills a trench around the altar. Then Elijah prays to God. In response, the Lord sends fire so intense that it burns up the sacrifice and the wood, stones, and soil and evaporates the water in the trench. In this battle, it is clear who has won. The people no longer waver. They cry out and acknowledge the Lord as God.

We serve the one true God, who hears us. We serve the God who is not silent. We serve the God who was even willing to send his Son, Jesus Christ, to die for us, securing our salvation. This God also turns to us and calls us to follow him.

Dear God, forgive us when we waver or even flirt with other gods like the god of self, or power, or status, or materialism. May we cry out and acknowledge you day by day. Amen.

Article #4
There’s No Way
Lysa TerKeurst

“Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’” John 14:6 (NIV)

I wasn’t in the mood to be messed up.

Devotion Graphic

I put my head against my bedroom wall, closed my eyes and whispered, “There’s no way.” It was late summer of 2003 when my world collided with what seemed like an impossible invitation from God: Adopt two teen boys from war-torn Liberia.

All the reasons why this wasn’t a good idea tumbled before me. Honest reasons. Understandable reasons. Solid reasons.

Missionaries would be much more qualified. Missionaries with grown kids. People much more spiritual than I was. People much more gentle and patient enough to do this sort of thing.

Not this disorganized woman who originally thought Liberia was in South America.

Not this mom who already felt overwhelmed with her three kids. How in heaven’s name would we add two more?

Not someone who paid so many late fees at the library they should have named a shelf after her. Maybe two.

Definitely not me.

But it was me.

The invitation was mine.

And I knew it.

No matter how many times I whispered over and over, “There’s no way,” this nagging sense of possibility wouldn’t leave me. It wove its way through every fiber of my being, until I stood up and shifted everything I thought my family would be with one weak whisper, “Yes.”

I can honestly say there were moments of sheer joy where I felt reassured I’d heard God right.

But there were many other moments when life felt chaotic, messy and really hard. There were tears. Moments when I loved my five kids, but I didn’t like them very much. Moments I wondered if I'd heard God wrong.

And there were more times even after we adopted that I simply said, “There’s no way.”

There was no way we could overcome a medical diagnosis one of my boys received. There was no way two teenage boys who tested at a kindergarten level could catch up in two years and be ready for middle school. There was no way I could be patient enough to educate them at home during those two years.

But every time I said, “There’s no way,” I’d remember Jesus calling Himself, “the way …” (John 14:6).

John tells us that Jesus is the way to salvation. Through Him we have access to the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 2:18) who gives us patience, guidance and peace. All of which I needed. Desperately.

Yes, Jesus was the One to follow. He was the One who would guide me each day. He was the One I needed to pour out my heart to in prayer. He was the One to listen to. And He was the One who reassured me with many promises in the Bible.

One of those promises was Isaiah 58:10-11, “And if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday. The LORD will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail” (NIV).

I could be a light rising in the darkness. I could be full of life … like a well-watered garden. I could be refreshing like a spring whose waters never fail. Me. Crazy, incapable, crying-in-my-closet me. If I let Jesus be my way and do what He was asking me to do, these things could be true for me.

And they can be true for you as well.

There might not be a way if you look at your situation with only human reasoning and calculation. But if you let Jesus’ truth and promises fill you, you'll find a different way. A good way. A sure way. His way.

Dear Lord, thank You for reminding me that You are the only true way. Help me see this every day as the circumstances of life surround and sometimes overwhelm me. I desperately need Your help as I learn to say “yes” to Your calling on my life. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Truth For Today

Ephesians 3:20-21, “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” (NIV)

Psalm 35:27, “But give great joy to those who came to my defense. Let them continually say, ‘Great is the LORD, who delights in blessing his servant with peace!’” (NLT)

 Article #5

Managing Money

"He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves abundance with its income" (Ecclesiastes 5:10).

A successful businessman once confided in another businessman known for his wisdom. "I've made a lot of money. I will soon be able to retire comfortably and do just about anything I want."

"John," the wise businessman replied to the man, "I've noticed that every time someone thinks they've built a tree that is so tall it almost reaches heaven, God often decides to shake the tree."

The minute we start trusting in riches, God will, in fact, "shake the tree" to demonstrate who is the source of wealth to turn us back to trusting Him completely. He did it in my life, and He'll do it in your life too because He loves us too much to allow us to continue down this destructive path.

Money is mentioned more than 2,000 times in the scripture. Jesus used it many times in illustrating an important lesson to his disciples. He spoke often of being a good steward of the resources He entrusted to us. He wanted a return on His investment and He wanted us to stay away from making money an idol in our lives.

Jesus understood that He was here on earth only to do the will of the Father. "I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; He can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does."

As we look at our relationship to our heavenly Father and our use of money, it is clear that we, like Jesus, are here to do the will of the Father in all areas of life. This means seeking to live a life that is totally yielded to His purposes -even in the financial area.

Money, independence, and security are often the reasons many start their own businesses or change jobs. Check your motives today and see if your financial life can stand Jesus' scrutiny. Are you operating as a steward of the financial resources He has entrusted to you?

A Physician Analyzes the Crucifixion

A medical explanation of what Jesus endured on the day He died
by Dr. C. Truman Davis

Several years ago I became interested in the physical aspects of the passion, or suffering, of Jesus Christ when I read an account of the crucifixion in Jim Bishop's book, The Day Christ Died. I suddenly realized that I had taken the crucifixion more or less for granted all these years - that I had grown callous to its horror by a too-easy familiarity with the grim details. It finally occurred to me that, as a physician, I did not even know the actual immediate cause of Christ's death. The gospel writers do not help much on this point. Since crucifixion and scourging were so common during their lifetimes, they undoubtedly considered a detailed description superfluous. For that reason we have only the concise words of the evangelists: "Pilate, having scourged Jesus, delivered Him to them to be crucified ... and they crucified Him."

Despite the gospel accounts' silence on the details of Christ's crucifixion, many have looked into this subject in the past. In my personal study of the event from a medical viewpoint, I am indebted especially to Dr. Pierre Barbet, a French surgeon who did exhaustive historical and experimental research and wrote extensively on the topic.

An attempt to examine the infinite psychic and spiritual suffering of the Incarnate1 God in atonement2 for the sins of fallen man is beyond the scope of this article. However, the physiological and anatomical aspects of our Lord's passion we can examine in some detail. What did the body of Jesus of Nazareth actually endure during those hours of torture?


The physical passion of Christ began in Gethsemane. Of the many aspects of His initial suffering, the one which is of particular physiological interest is the bloody sweat. Interestingly enough, the physician, St. Luke, is the only evangelist to mention this occurrence. He says, "And being in an agony, he prayed the longer. And his sweat became as drops of blood, trickling down upon the ground" (Luke 22:44 KJV).

Every attempt imaginable has been used by modern scholars to explain away the phenomenon of bloody sweat, apparently under the mistaken impression that it simply does not occur. A great deal of effort could be saved by consulting the medical literature. Though very rare, the phenomenon of hematidrosis, or bloody sweat, is well documented. Under great emotional stress, tiny capillaries in the sweat glands can break, thus mixing blood with sweat. This process alone could have produced marked weakness and possible shock.

Although Jesus' betrayal and arrest are important portions of the passion story, the next event in the account which is significant from a medical perspective is His trial before the Sanhedrin and Caiaphas, the High Priest. Here the first physical trauma was inflicted. A soldier struck Jesus across the face for remaining silent when questioned by Caiaphas. The palace guards then blindfolded Him, mockingly taunted Him to identify them as each passed by, spat on Him, and struck Him in the face.

Before Pilate

In the early morning, battered and bruised, dehydrated, and worn out from a sleepless night, Jesus was taken across Jerusalem to the Praetorium of the Fortress Antonia, the seat of government of the Procurator of Judea, Pontius Pilate. We are familiar with Pilate's action in attempting to shift responsibility to Herod Antipas, the Tetrarch of Judea. Jesus apparently suffered no physical mistreatment at the hands of Herod and was returned to Pilate. It was then, in response to the outcry of the mob, that Pilate ordered Barabbas released and condemned Jesus to scourging and crucifixion.

Preparations for Jesus' scourging were carried out at Caesar's orders. The prisoner was stripped of His clothing and His hands tied to a post above His head. The Roman legionnaire stepped forward with the flagrum, or flagellum, in his hand. This was a short whip consisting of several heavy, leather thongs with two small balls of lead attached near the ends of each. The heavy whip was brought down with full force again and again across Jesus' shoulders, back, and legs. At first the weighted thongs cut through the skin only. Then, as the blows continued, they cut deeper into the subcutaneous tissues, producing first an oozing of blood from the capillaries and veins of the skin and finally spurting arterial bleeding from vessels in the underlying muscles.

The small balls of lead first produced large deep bruises that were broken open by subsequent blows. Finally, the skin of the back was hanging in long ribbons, and the entire area was an unrecognizable mass of torn, bleeding tissue. When it was determined by the centurion in charge that the prisoner was near death, the beating was finally stopped.


The half-fainting Jesus was then untied and allowed to slump to the stone pavement, wet with his own blood. The Roman soldiers saw a great joke in this provincial Jew claiming to be a king. They threw a robe across His shoulders and placed a stick in His hand for a scepter. They still needed a crown to make their travesty complete. Small flexible branches covered with long thorns, commonly used for kindling fires in the charcoal braziers in the courtyard, were plaited into the shape of a crude crown. The crown was pressed into his scalp and again there was copious bleeding as the thorns pierced the very vascular tissue. After mocking Him and striking Him across the face, the soldiers took the stick from His hand and struck Him across the head, driving the thorns deeper into His scalp. Finally, they tired of their sadistic sport and tore the robe from His back. The robe had already become adherent to the clots of blood and serum in the wounds, and its removal, just as in the careless removal of a surgical bandage, caused excruciating pain. The wounds again began to bleed.


In deference to Jewish custom, the Romans apparently returned His garments. The heavy patibulum3 of the cross was tied across His shoulders. The procession of the condemned Christ, two thieves, and the execution detail of Roman soldiers headed by a centurion began its slow journey along the route which we know today as the Via Dolorosa.

In spite of Jesus' efforts to walk erect, the weight of the heavy wooden beam, together with the shock produced by copious loss of blood, was too much. He stumbled and fell. The rough wood of the beam gouged into the lacerated skin and muscles of the shoulders. He tried to rise, but human muscles had been pushed beyond their endurance. The centurion, anxious to proceed with the crucifixion, selected a stalwart North African onlooker, Simon of Cyrene, to carry the cross. Jesus followed, still bleeding and sweating the cold, clammy sweat of shock. The 650-yard journey from the Fortress Antonia to Golgotha was finally completed. The prisoner was again stripped of His clothing except for a loin cloth which was allowed the Jews.

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 stipes4, and the titulus5 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.

On the Cross

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.

The Last Words

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.

The first - looking down at the Roman soldiers throwing dice6 for His seamless garment: "Father, forgive them for they do not know what they do."

The second - to the penitent thief7: "Today, thou shalt be with me in Paradise."

The third - looking down at Mary His mother, He said: "Woman, behold your son." Then turning to the terrified, grief-stricken adolescent John , the beloved apostle, He said: "Behold your mother."8

The fourth cry is from the beginning of Psalm 22: "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?"

He suffered hours of limitless pain, cycles of twisting, joint-rending cramps, intermittent partial asphyxiation, and searing pain as tissue was torn from His lacerated back from His movement up and down against the rough timbers of the cross. Then another agony began: a deep crushing pain in the chest as the pericardium, the sac surrounding the heart, slowly filled with serum and began to compress the heart.

The prophecy in Psalm 22:14 was being fulfilled: "I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint, my heart is like wax; it is melted in the midst of my bowels."

The end was rapidly approaching. The loss of tissue fluids had reached a critical level; the compressed heart was struggling to pump heavy, thick, sluggish blood to the tissues, and the tortured lungs were making a frantic effort to inhale small gulps of air. The markedly dehydrated tissues sent their flood of stimuli to the brain. Jesus gasped His fifth cry: "I thirst." Again we read in the prophetic psalm: "My strength is dried up like a potsherd; my tongue cleaveth to my jaws; and thou has brought me into the dust of death" (Psalm 22:15 KJV).

A sponge soaked in posca, the cheap, sour wine that was the staple drink of the Roman legionnaires, was lifted to Jesus' lips. His body was now in extremis, and He could feel the chill of death creeping through His tissues. This realization brought forth His sixth word, possibly little more than a tortured whisper: "It is finished." His mission of atonement9 had been completed. Finally, He could allow His body to die. With one last surge of strength, He once again pressed His torn feet against the nail, straightened His legs, took a deeper breath, and uttered His seventh and last cry: "Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit."


The common method of ending a crucifixion was by crurifracture, the breaking of the bones of the leg. This prevented the victim from pushing himself upward; the tension could not be relieved from the muscles of the chest, and rapid suffocation occurred. The legs of the two thieves were broken, but when the soldiers approached Jesus, they saw that this was unnecessary.

Apparently, to make doubly sure of death, the legionnaire drove his lance between the ribs, upward through the pericardium and into the heart. John 19:34 states, "And immediately there came out blood and water." Thus there was an escape of watery fluid from the sac surrounding the heart and the blood of the interior of the heart. This is rather conclusive post-mortem evidence that Jesus died, not the usual crucifixion death by suffocation, but of heart failure due to shock and constriction of the heart by fluid in the pericardium.


In these events, we have seen a glimpse of the epitome of evil that man can exhibit toward his fellowman and toward God. This is an ugly sight and is likely to leave us despondent and depressed.

But the crucifixion was not the end of the story. How grateful we can be that we have a sequel: a glimpse of the infinite mercy of God toward man--the gift of atonement, the miracle of the resurrection, and the expectation of Easter morning.

1 Incarnate
2 Atonement
3 Horizontal portion of the cross
4 Vertical portion of the cross
5 Small sign stating the victim's crime
6 Gambling
7 The one who felt remorse for his sins and asked Jesus to help him.
8 As Jesus was dying, He gave his trusted friend responsibility for the care of His mother.
9 Taking our place by suffering the death penalty for our sin.

Dr. C. Truman Davis is a graduate of the University of Tennessee College of Medicine. He is a practicing ophthalmologist, a pastor, and author of a book about medicine and the Bible.

Editors' note: If Jesus had remained dead, Christianity would be nothing but an empty promise. But three days after His death, He rose again from the dead. This is the miracle of resurrection, which is what Christians celebrate at Easter. To learn more about the resurrection, read John chapters 20 and 21.