Jesus was no ordinary man, despite His outward appearances. Christians believe that He came to earth just so He could die for us. Sorry - what? No, you read correctly - He died to save each and every one of us, you included. You may ask "What do I need saving from?" or "I didn't ask anyone to die for me!" So here's something to think about:
God is perfect whereas human's aren't; they are corrupted by sin. But because God made humans, He loves every single person in the world. God wants people to live with Him in his Kingdom and enjoy heaven, but because God cannot tolerate evilness in His Kingdom, people don't deserve to be there (we can't begin to match up with God's perfection). Evil must be punished, and theoretically each and every one of us deserves to be punished with death and not see heaven. However, God is a God of love and is merciful. So that people could come to know God and live in His perfect Kingdom, He sent Himself in human form (Jesus Christ) and all the punishment which we deserve was channeled through Jesus instead. So because Jesus, who was sinless, has taken all the punishment which we deserve, if we only accept that Jesus has paid the price for our sin, we can know God in heaven.
So, that's how God can save people from death without punishing us; He punished His Son instead! But the price of sin is very heavy and Jesus had a very hard time indeed.
Right from the start Jesus knew that his purpose in life was to die for us. But it wasn't going to be a walk in the park for him! Imagine if you knew how and when you were going to die and how gruesome it would be; would that deter you from making the most of your life? Jesus knew he had to preach and demonstrate his divine power before he could die, but still he knew he would be crucified even though he did no wrong. But likewise, he also knew he would come back to life, as God had planned. This is called the Resurrection.
Jesus lived in a time and a place where punishments could be incredibly cruel and painful. In modern British culutre, the worst punishments you can lawfully incur are fines and prison sentences since violence is not condoned, but the Romans, who were in charge of the Holy Land 2000 years ago had a very different perspective on punishment. Crucifixion was one of their most grisly punishments, but was dealt out so freely (for example all the slaves who joined in Spartacus' revolt were crucified).
Crucifixion is comes from the Latin word for cross crux, and from it came words like crucio meaning "I torture". A large wooden cross would be made and the victim of crucifixion would have his hands (or wrists) and feet nailed to the wood, arms extended. The cross would then be hoisted into an upright position and the victim would be left to die. It was not only an excruciating way to be punished, but would also be a very slow death unlike hanging, for example, which would take minutes at the most.
Throughout his ministry, Jesus had been loathed by the Pharisees (the religious officials). They did not like his teaching nor his popularity and wanted to be rid of him, but since Jesus was so popular, it wasn't easy to bump him off! But one of Jesus' disciples, Judas Iscariot, turned traitor and informed the Pharisees how they could get at Jesus when He would be alone - after the Passover festival. Judas was tempted by the Pharisees' promise of 30 silver pieces if he led them to Jesus.
The Pharisees came in the dead of the night after the Passover festival and found Jesus and His disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane. There, they asked for Jesus and he came forward, fully aware of what was in store. His disciples did not take as well to it however, and Peter even cut off the High Priest's servant's ear (which Jesus then proceded to heal). Jesus did not put up a fight but allowed himself to be bound and led to Annas, the father-in-law of Caiaphas (the High Priest), who then questioned him. One of the officers present struck Jesus with his hand. Jesus was then taken to the High Priest, Caiaphas.
Meanwhile Peter followed Jesus at a distance, wanting to know what was going on. Three times he was asked by different people if he was somehow connected to Jesus, but he denied any knowledge of him (Jesus had prophesied that Peter would do this, despite him saying he would never do such a thing). Peter was horrified at what he had done and wept. Judas also realised he had done wrong but hanged himself.
After this Jesus was taken to the Roman governor's headquarters and brought before the governor, Pontius Pilate. Pilate could not see what the fuss was about so he just told the Jews to punish Jesus by their own laws. However, no one but the Romans had the power to sentence someone to death so they persisted. Pilate then questioned Jesus but since he could still not see what He was guilty of, he wanted to set him free. A custom of the Passover was to have one prisoner set free to the people. Jesus and a thief called Barabbas were both offered by Pilate to the people, but the majority screamed for Barabbas to be released.
Pilate was confused why they wanted to have the criminal back, but he saw the people wanted Jesus punished so he had Barabbas released and Jesus severely flogged. A crown of thorns was made for him and pressed into his head and the Romans mocked him by giving him a purple robe to suggest royalty. They then struck him, blindfolded him, blashphemed against him and spat on him.
Since Pilate knew Jesus was somehow a very important person, he did not want to be involved in this controversial issue - he could not fault Jesus yet everyone wanted Him dead so he passed the buck onto Herod. Herod wanted to see Jesus perform miracles and entertain him, but Jesus would not do so so Herod sent him back to Pilate unimpressed. It was then Pilate's responsibility once again to do something with Jesus. Due to public demand, Pilate surrendered and sentenced Jesus to death by crucifixion.
After being sentenced to death, Jesus was forced to carry his own cross to a place called Golgotha where he was to be crucified. Jesus was incredibly weak from all the torture and flogging so they pulled a man called Simon of Cyrene out of the crowd to help him carry it. When he finally reached the top of the hill where he was to die, Jesus was nailed to the cross by his hands and feet and then the cross was erected between two others, both supporting criminals. One of the criminals mocked Jesus and told Him to set Himself and the two criminals free. But the other criminal rebuked him then turned to Jesus and asked for his forgiveness. Jesus said to him "Today you will be with me in paradise" (Luke 23:43).
The soldiers who had crucified Jesus took his garments and divided them amongst themselves and cast lots for his tunic. Meanwhile Jesus' mother, his mother's sister (both called Mary) and Mary Magdalene stood at the foot of the cross with John, one of Jesus' disciples, and wept. Jesus saw to it that John looked after Jesus' mother from that point on.
Jesus then knew the end was near, accepted some wine on a stick from a Roman soldier, then addressed his Father saying "It is finished" (John 19:30) and died. His task was done. Jesus was dead.
The Jews did not want the bodies to be left on the crosses over the Sabbath so they asked that their legs be broken so as to speed up their death (they would struggle even more to support themselves and their lungs would fail), but when the Romans came to break Jesus' legs they found he was already dead. They did not break his legs but pierced his side with a spear and blood and water* gushed out confirming he was dead. The Romans were incredibly experienced in killing people so there was no doubt He was truly dead. Certain of this fact, the Romans took him down from the cross and Pilate allowed a follower of Jesus, Joseph of Arimathea, to have Jesus' body and bury it in his tomb. The tomb stone was then rolled down in front of the tomb and Roman guards were posted outside to make sure no one attempted to steal the body.
But on Sunday the tomb was empty. Jesus had risen! This is called the Resurrection.
* This was not actually water, but pale serum, though to the untrained eye they would look similar. This serum would accumulate in one's lungs after death.
Crucifixion itself was one of the most ghastly capital punishments the Romans could think of. It was a very slow and painful way to die. Add to that the fact that Jesus was continually abused both verbally and physically, being struck and whipped, Jesus shed a lot of blood even though he did not do anything to deserve it.
But all this was nothing really compared the the biggest punishment of all - being abandoned by God. God the Father had to abandon His Son as he died on the cross and Jesus called out "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Matthew 27:46) Jesus is God the Son and so it was nothing short of the most extreme torture to be cut off from God the Father. It is what we all deserve too, and even though we would suffer greatly if God didn't do anything for us, we have not had the same intimate connection Jesus has had with the Father all his life. For the first time ever, Jesus was completely alone and would be until his resurrection.