The ‘undersung’ selflessness in Christ’s suffering

By W. Thomas Smith Jr.

MOST OF US ARE FAMILIAR WITH THE STORY OF CHRIST’S CRUCIFIXION. But I think far too-often we tend to gloss over the significance and lessons to be learned in some of the more salient points found within the crucifixion narrative.

The story begins, of course, with our Lord’s agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, His subsequent arrest, His initial trial before the high priest Caiaphas, the beatings, mockings and spitting in His face. Being brought before the Roman prefect Pontius Pilate. Then being sent to King Herod, the puppet ruler of Judea. More abuse. Returned to Pilate. More beatings – including severe flogging with a lacerating whip at the hands of Pilate’s soldiers – mocking and other extreme torture. Ultimately sentenced to death. The grim trek to Golgotha, followed by the crucifixion with all of its accompanying horrors.

What I think many of us often miss, however, is Christ’s utter selflessness throughout this unimaginable ordeal. We know He willingly endured what He was born to suffer for us in payment for our sin; and we know this suffering was not only physical; but mental, emotional, and spiritual on an eternal scale we may never fully comprehend (certainly not this side of Heaven). We also know that His suffering was endured for each of us individually and must never be taken for granted.

If we look at one aspect of Christ’s suffering, the six-hour crucifixion experience, excluding for a moment the endured beatings and other tortures, we see at least FIVE separate acts of His selflessness. These five include the aforementioned ultimate sacrifice paid for us. This ultimate sacrifice – the willingness to die for us – is the FIRST, and it is the supreme demonstration of Christ’s selflessness. This, for obvious reasons, we will never be able to emulate except in pattern. We can lay down our lives for others if called to do so. But what He endured was so much more and for an exponentially greater debt.

The four additional demonstrations of Christ’s selflessness are those, which I believe, we are called to emulate, however feebly, in our own sufferings day-to-day. Though we will never achieve them as He did.

Rather than trying to explain what these demonstrations of Christ’s selflessness are, I’ll share how Scripture has described them, and leave it to the reader to perhaps recognize any lesser parallels in his or her own life.

So we have the FIRST demonstration of selflessness, the ultimate sacrifice, which we know is covered extensively throughout the New Testament and prophesied in the Old Testament.

The SECOND we find in the Gospel of Luke, chapter 23, verses 27 and 28 (KJV), wherein Christ was followed by “a great company of people, and of women, which also bewailed and lamented him.”

Luke goes on to tell us, “But Jesus turning unto them said, ‘Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for me, but weep for yourselves, and for your children.’”

At that moment, through His words, we see His absolute concern – not for Himself – but for the “wailing and lamenting” women who followed him.

THIRD, in verse 34 (KJV), Christ appeals to His Father to have mercy on His executioners. He says, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.”

Forgiveness, yes, the key to all life. There is so much we could say about this.

FOURTH, in verses 39-43 (KJV), we read of the two thieves who were crucified with Christ.

The first condemned thief says, “If thou be Christ, save thyself and us.”

The second thief rebukes his fellow criminal for his foolish irreverence, then says to Christ, “Lord, remember me when Thou comest into Thy kingdom.” To which Christ replies, “Verily [meaning truly, and with absolute assurance] I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with Me in paradise.”

There is so much wrapped up in this particular act of selflessness to include kindness, grace, mercy, compassion, comforting reassurance, even empathy that I cannot begin to fully get my head around it all.

FIFTH, we find in John 19, verses 26 and 27 (KJV), that when Christ saw his mother and a disciple standing nearby, He said to His mother, “Woman, behold thy son!” Then He said to the disciple, “Behold thy mother!” In other words, I believe he was saying to the disciple, ‘Look to the well-being of your mother.’

Each of these sub-stories in the broader crucifixion story took place during the approximately six-hour period in which Christ was hanging on the cross. Again, they speak to His selflessness. They are part of the overall recorded narrative, so they are – among the other sub-stories – what God has chosen to reveal to us about His Son’s sacrifice.

Were there other examples of Christ’s selflessness during those specific hours He spent on the cross? I can only imagine there were for those present.

Remember, we have the Roman centurion (essentially a provincial army captain and likely the crucifixion detail commander) who, standing in front of Christ and witnessing His death and how He died, was moved to say, “Truly this man was the Son of God” (see Matthew 28:54, Mark 15:39, and Luke 23:47).

Then we have John who after having chronicled Christ’s life, death, and resurrection also tells us in his Gospel, chapter 21, verse 25 (NASB), “There are also many other things which Jesus did, which if they were written in detail, I suppose that even the world itself would not contain the books that would be written.”

– W. Thomas Smith Jr. is a New York Times bestselling editor and military technical advisor. Visit him online at


  1. Excellent… is good for us to be reminded of the details of his sufferings so that we not lose sight of what lengths he went to in redeeming us!

    • How easy it is to miss our Lord’s several acts of compassion and selflessness in the larger context of the atoning death on the cross for our sins! Nice piece Tom!

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