Experiencing the Cross — Crucified
by Pastor Mike Fortune
May 8, 2010
Introduction Video: Jesus of Nazareth "On the Cross"
- Jesus takes sacrifice seriously [John 19:16-18: Hebrews 13:12]
- Others don't [John 19:19-24; John 19:5,14; Galatians 3:13]
- Mothers do. Do you? [John 19:25-27; John 2:1-5; Acts 1:14]
“Since the Passover supper with His disciples, Jesus had taken neither food nor drink. He had agonized in the garden of Gethsemane in conflict with satanic agencies. He had endured the anguish of the betrayal, and had seen His disciples forsake Him and flee. He had been taken to Annas, then to Caiphas, and then to Pilate. From Pilate He had been sent to Herod, then sent again to Pilate. From insult to renewed insult, from mockery to mockery, twice tortured by the scourge,—all that night there had been scene after scene of a character to try the soul of man, but Christ had not failed” [The Desire of Ages, 742]. Thank God Christ did not fail! But what a risk he took! That clip from the old film Jesus of Nazareth helps us better understand how seriously Jesus takes sacrifice. As does the passage we’ll be studying this morning in John as we begin a new sermon series this morning based on John 19 I’ve entitled Experiencing the Cross. So please turn in your Bibles to John 19:16-27.
“16Finally Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified. So the soldiers took charge of Jesus. 17Carrying his own cross, he went out to the place of the Skull (which in Aramaic is called Golgotha). 18Here they crucified him, and with him two others—one on each side and Jesus in the middle. 19Pilate had a notice prepared and fastened to the cross. It read: JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS. 20Many of the Jews read this sign, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and the sign was written in Aramaic, Latin and Greek. 21The chief priests of the Jews protested to Pilate, ‘Do not write 'The King of the Jews,' but that this man claimed to be king of the Jews.’ 22Pilate answered, ‘What I have written, I have written.’ 23When the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took his clothes, dividing them into four shares, one for each of them, with the undergarment remaining. This garment was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom. 24‘Let's not tear it,’ they said to one another. ‘Let's decide by lot who will get it.’ This happened that the scripture might be fulfilled which said, ‘They divided my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing.’ So this is what the soldiers did. 25Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, ‘Dear woman, here is your son,’ 27and to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’ From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.”
John’s account of the crucifixion, compared to the other synoptic Gospels, is extremely brief. Here there is no reference to Pilate washing his hands, the dramatic episode of Simon of Cyrene being compelled to carrying Christ’s cross, or to the women of Jerusalem, whose pity awakens in Jesus a deeper sympathy for them. And though John’s Gospel mentions in verse 18 that Jesus was crucified between two others, there is no moving description of Jesus’ immediate response to the thief who believed that Jesus was the Son of God. The unusual darkness at midday that covered the cross is not described.
But that wasn’t the only unusual thing that happened. Our passage today begins by saying, “So the soldiers took charge of Jesus.” Which is what they often did when Pilate sentenced someone to crucifixion. But what John’s Gospel in addition to the others fails to mention is that when those soldiers took charge of someone going to be crucified, one of them on horseback would lead the way while another on horseback, being led by a servant, would follow closely behind constantly looking backward over his shoulder. He wasn’t watching to see how far Jesus could haul the cross. He had his eyes fixed on a spot outside of Sanhedrin Hall on Mount Zion in Jerusalem. Because outside Sanhedrin Hall, there was a man holding a flag. That man would only lower the flag when anyone inside the Sanhedrin had discovered a loophole in the case or precedent in the law for the accused to go free.
Remember, they had already broken many of those laws. By trying Jesus at night. Without witnesses. And when they finally did get witnesses, their testimony didn’t agree. Not only that, but the Sanhedrin also had a rule that said if all of them agreed about anything, the accused should go free since that would prove the trial was rigged. For any of these reasons, according to their own Jewish law, Jesus should have been immediately freed. But he wasn’t. So the soldiers took charge of Jesus. And the death march began.
Via Dolorsa means Way of the Cross. I’ve got a couple pictures on the screen of what it looks like today, 30 to 40 feet higher than the original pavement in Jesus’ day. Our tour guide when we were there said the merchants, just as they are today, would be lining the street with their wares. That the Via Dolorosa was just another narrow street to do business.
But lawyer Lewis Walton says that at any point during that death march, if any aspiring young apprentice judge sitting around the edge of the Sanhedrin in session found such a loophole in the prosecution’s case or precedent in the law, they would not only be automatically made a lifelong member of the Sanhedrin, they would also set in motion a runner who would be sent to the man with the flag and he would drop the flag. The man looking back on horseback would grab the reins and ride to the front of the procession to stop the death march. But when the soldiers took charge of Jesus, that flag was never lowered. Even to half mast. And there was no response from the raucaus mob that had arrested him Gethsemane, accused him at Gabbatha, and shouted crucify him on Golgatha.
Another thing that happened during a Jewish death march is that a herald would go before the accused announcing, “If any man knows anything favorable to the accused, in the name of God let him come forth and speak.” And if anybody in the crowd did, it was the duty of the executioner to take the condemned back to court. And for any of these reasons, Jesus should have been re-tried and his execution stayed. Jewish law allowed the flag to drop up to seven times. But instead, Jesus staggered to the cross. The scaffolding necessary to crucify large numbers of people at a time were probably, as the clip from Jesus of Nazareth reveals, always ready. Jesus died in the same place where felons and murderers were routinely executed. Banished outside the city gates. Just like Adam and Eve were banished from the Garden of Eden. Hebrews 13:12 says, “12And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood.” Which leads us to point number one.
Point number one: Jesus takes sacrifice seriously. He knew he was innocent. He knew he had been falsely accused and tried. He knew that legally they had broken every rule in the book from the trial to the death march. But He also knew that it wasn’t really the Jewish mob that was crucifying him. It wasn’t really Pilate. And it wasn’t even the soldiers who took charge of Jesus and gambled for his clothes in fulfillment of prophecy. Which we’ll be talking about next time. No, Jesus takes sacrifice seriously because the Father takes sacrifice seriously. Who crucified Jesus? The stunning answer from the Scriptures is: God did!
Isaiah 53:10 says, “It was the LORD’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer.” Romans 3:25 adds, “25God presented him as a sacrifice of propitiation or atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice.” Yes, the Sanhedrin was a joke. And Herod was in town. And Pilate demonstrates in our passage today that he could be firm when he wanted to be [verse 22]. That’s why Acts 4:27 says, “27Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed.” But the very next verse in Acts 4 says this: “28They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen.”
Who crucified Jesus? God did! But why does the Bible say God crucified Christ? Because God’s law demanded of us in Deuteronomy 6:5 that we should, “5Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” But as John Piper says in his book The Passion of Jesus Christ, “We have all loved other things more. This is what sin is—dishonoring God by preferring other things over him, and acting on those preferences” [p.20]. Therefore, the Bible says, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” [Romans 3:23]. But since God is just, he does not sweep these sins under the rug. He feels a holy wrath against them.
Yes, God loves sinners like crazy! But what’s also true is, he hates sin! This is why we need the fancy theological word “propitiation.” In Romans 3:25, the NIV uses the word atonement. The King James uses propitation. But they’re the same word in Greek [hilasterion]. And Gentile Jewish readers would immediately recognize it as the word used in the Septuagint [Greek translation of the Old Testament] as employed in Exodus 25:17 and elsewhere [Exodus 25:21; 30:6] to describe the lid or mercy seat of the ark of the covenant. Leviticus 16:14 describes how on the great day of atonement the high priest carried the blood of the sacrifice he offered for all the people within the veil and sprinkled it on the “mercy-seat” and so made propitiation or atonement for the people’s sin. The blood of that sacrifice absorbed the wrath of God against their sin.
So do you see why when Romans 3:25 says, “God presented him [Jesus] as a sacrifice of propitiation through faith in his blood” do you see why this propitiation refers to the removal of God’s wrath by providing a substitute? Early believers may have more readily understood that than we do. But the point is still true. Jesus Christ does not just cancel the wrath of God against sin. He absorbs it. And diverts it from us to himself. So that “through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous” [Romans 5:19].
So what’s the point? Piper makes it well. “If God were not just, there would be no divine demand for his Son to suffer and die. And if God were not loving, there would be no willingness for his Son to suffer and die” [p.20]. So the point is: God is both just and loving. He takes sacrifice seriously! And we know God takes sacrifice seriously for at least three reasons [Piper has 47 more in his thought provoking little book The Passion of Jesus Christ if you’re interested, but at least these three].
One, Jesus died to absorb the wages of sin and the wrath of God as Romans 3:25 says. Two, Jesus died to cancel the legal demands of the law against us. Colossians 2:13 says it this way: “And you, who were dead in your trespasses...God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.” And three, Jesus died because he loves sinners like crazy! 1 John 4:10 says, “10This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning [there’s that word again: propitiation / hilasterion in Greek]. sacrifice for our sins.”
So I hope point number one is clear to you now. Jesus takes sacrifice seriously. But as our passage in John 19 reveals, others don’t. And this is point number two. Back up with me to look at John 19:5. It says, “5When Jesus came out wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe, Pilate said to them, ‘Behold or here is the man!’” This is the first of four places in John 19 where the word “behold” is used. John uses it at the beginning of his Gospel to announce in the Baptist’s words that the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world [1:29] has arrived. But Pilate is using ‘behold’ to mock Jesus. He repeats himself in verse 14. “‘Behold or here is your king,’ Pilate said to the Jews.” Point number two. He doesn’t take sacrifice seriously.
And neither do the soldiers. They start dividing up Jesus’ clothes gambling for the one piece they couldn’t divide. This was routine for them. A just reward for the boredom of waiting around all day and sometimes days for the accused to die. Yes, they have seen all this before. So often that Josephus says Pilate would be recalled five years later for his inconsiderate and brutal treatment of the Jews [Antiquities xviii.3.2; 4.1,2]. And shortly after he was recalled to Rome, he committed suicide. But the soldiers have seen all this before. Can you imagine how desensitized they would have to be to participate in the scourging of people much less their crucifixion?
Galatians 3:13 says, “13Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.” But most of the soldiers didn’t feel that way. They felt like they were the ones cursed because they had to sit around all day watching men die. Jesus takes sacrifice seriously. Point number one. Others don’t. They actually rolled dice. They played games to pass the time. This is point number two.
But mothers take sacrifice seriously. At least Mary did. We know point number three is true because John 19:25-27 states, “25Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, ‘Dear woman, here is your son,’ 27and to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’ From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.”
This Gospel doesn’t identify Mary the Mother of Jesus by name, but in a more subtle way, it does. Since the first time Mary shows up in the Gospel of John is in chapter 2 at the wedding of Cana. Which when re-read, clearly points the reader forward to this moment in time. As we’ve seen in the Gospel of John, there are many clues imbedded in the book pointing the reader to the cross. But perhaps one of the most obvious ones is the wedding at Cana. So let’s turn to John 2 to see that.
John 2:1-5 says, “1On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, 2and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. 3When the wine was gone, Jesus' mother said to him, ‘They have no more wine.’ ‘4Dear woman, why do you involve me?’ Jesus replied, ‘My time has not yet come.’ 5His mother said to the servants, ‘Do whatever he tells you.’”
Who can find the cross clues in these verses? On what day was the wedding? The third day right? And what day was Jesus resurrected from the tomb? The third day! In the upper room, Jesus said in Matthew 26:28 that the wine in the cup was symbolic of the shed blood of Jesus. And wine is what was needed in abundance at the wedding. And in John, the phrase “now is the time” or “the hour has not yet come” Jesus uses to describe his pending death on the cross [eg.. John 12:31-32].
So from the first time Mary is mentioned in John to the last in John 19:25, Mary is associated with sacrifice. Specifically, Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. And long before Jesus, struggling to breathe, had the self-forgetfulness and compassion to make sure his mother was provided for after he died, she must have been wondering if this moment is what the old priest and prophet Simeon had meant when he said in Luke 2:24, “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel...so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” John 7:5 says Jesus’ own brothers did not believe in him. At least not yet. So maybe Jesus felt his mother would be more comfortable in the home of a disciple who actually did believe. We don’t know why Jesus chose who he did to take care of Mary.
What we do know is that he must have done a pretty good job. Because Acts 1:14 records that Mary stayed faithful and later Jesus’ brothers did believe! “14They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.” This is the last time Mary is mentioned in Scripture. Her legacy is one of constant prayer and faithfulness and belief. Like God, she took sacrifice seriously. And her example from the foot of the cross and ever after is a compelling invitation for us to take what happened there seriously too.
Last week in West Virginia, I met a mother who does. Markella was born and raised in the southern coalfields of Kimball, West Virginia. As part of our Mission Trip to America, a small group of us from Toledo First joined Keith and Charlene Barr down there for a week of service. One of the people we met there shared her story with us. Markella’s mother and father owned a store in Kimball. It sold groceries and had a deli in the back. Markella's husband Jimmy Joe was the Fire Chief of Kimball and Director of McDowell County 911 in 2001 and 2002 when flash floods raced down the West Virginia mountains being stripped of their trees and coal. But not even he could stop the currents pushing his fire truck down the "street" preventing him from rescuing his family. But after watching nearly all the other brick buildings around her fall down from a second story apartment above the store, her family and friends took weeks off work to help her remove the three and a half feet of mud in her basement after the water receded. Today, her Greek restaurant, Ya Sou [which means in Greek, "To good health!"], still serves grape leaves and baklava and other delicacies in the same store her mother and father founded years ago.
In the same store, I met an African American semi-retarded adult foster child named Roy whose foster parents died recently. And though he can take care of himself, like all of us, he still needs a mom. So months after he started doing dishes in Markella store, he asked Markella if he could call her mom and she said yes. Everybody who comes to Ya Sou knows Markella and her husband and her kids. But now everyone also knows Roy. This self proclaimed "red neck brother" is one of the friendliest and kindest people you'll ever meet.
Markella reminds me to take sacrifice seriously. Because God takes sacrifice seriously. Others don’t. But many mothers, like Markella, constantly live a life of sacrifice. So before we close our service today, I’m going to invite all the mothers of Israel, whether you’ve biologically produced a child or not, to stand up so we can recognize you. Whether you realize it or not, each of you have had a profound impact on the lives of others around you. Whether they’re your own kids or just children of influence like Roy.
My hope and prayer for us today is that we will not play games with God. That we will not take his sacrifice in vain. Or become so familiar with it that it ceases to boggle our minds. That when we are reminded of our mother’s love and sacrifice, her love will remind us of God’s. Who made propitiation or atonement for us. May each of us always remember that as we stay near the cross.