Nearing the Cross - Sentenced
by Pastor Mike Fortune
April 17, 2010
Introduction Video: Blood Sacrifice
- Jesus was innocent [John 19:1-5; John 1:29]
- Pilate was not [John 19:6-11; Luke 12:48b]
- We are just as guilty [John 19:12-16; Matthew 26:48]
Today we conclude our series Nearing the Cross because next time, in John 19:17 and following, we’ll be studying the account of the actual crucifixion of Jesus. So if you want to get a head start on our next series, Experiencing the Cross, I encourage you to read the rest of John 19 and pick up Henry Blackaby’s book by the same title. And of course there are numerous other books like Desire of Ages or movies like Jesus of Nazareth I highly recommend that can help you visualize the closing scenes in the life of Christ. Which is what we’ll be doing throughout May in John 19.
When I studied this passage with the leadership team on Tuesday recently, someone asked me if I had seen The Passion of the Christ by Mel Gibson. And I told them I had not. Simply because for me, when I simply read books about what Jesus went through on the cross, I can barely get through them without weeping. Watching them on a huge screen would do me in. I know I couldn’t handle it. So I have chosen not to see that.
But whatever tools you use to put yourself in a reflective state of mind, I encourage you to use them. Because nothing shows you more clearly the sinfulness of sin or the astounding grace of God than what Jesus, though he was innocent, experienced on the cross. Hopefully you’ll begin to see that even as we read from John 19:1 and following. “1Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged. 2The soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head. They clothed him in a purple robe 3and went up to him again and again, saying, "Hail, king of the Jews!" And they struck him in the face. 4Once more Pilate came out and said to the Jews, "Look, I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no basis for a charge against him." 5When Jesus came out wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe, Pilate said to them, "Here is the man!" 6As soon as the chief priests and their officials saw him, they shouted, "Crucify! Crucify!" But Pilate answered, "You take him and crucify him. As for me, I find no basis for a charge against him." 7The Jews insisted, "We have a law, and according to that law he must die, because he claimed to be the Son of God." 8When Pilate heard this, he was even more afraid, 9and he went back inside the palace. "Where do you come from?" he asked Jesus, but Jesus gave him no answer. 10"Do you refuse to speak to me?" Pilate said. "Don't you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?" 11Jesus answered, "You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above. Therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin." 12From then on, Pilate tried to set Jesus free, but the Jews kept shouting, "If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar. Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar." 13When Pilate heard this, he brought Jesus out and sat down on the judge's seat at a place known as the Stone Pavement (which in Aramaic is Gabbatha). 14It was the day of Preparation of Passover Week, about the sixth hour. "Here is your king," Pilate said to the Jews. 15But they shouted, "Take him away! Take him away! Crucify him!" "Shall I crucify your king?" Pilate asked. "We have no king but Caesar," the chief priests answered. 16Finally Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified.”
The first thing that leaps out at me when I re-read these verses is that the author of them is hoping we clearly understand that Jesus was innocent. Pilate straight out says so in John 18:38, “I find no basis for a charge against Jesus.” And the rest of Scripture agrees. 1 Peter 2:21-22 adds, “21To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. 22"He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.”
But that didn’t stop Pilate from flogging Jesus. Some say not once, but twice [Desire of Ages 738, 742]. This first scourging is recorded in John 19:1. But Matthew’s parallel account sounds like it describes another in Matthew 27:26. And flogging in Bible days could kill you. That’s why Jewish law in Deuteronomy 25:1-3 forbid Jews from being flogged more than 40 times. And that’s also why 2 Corinthians 11:24 says Paul was flogged 5 different times and each time he received 40 lashes minus one.
But the Romans didn’t have a pitch count. They could flog someone as long as they wanted. And if Jesus was beaten twice, we can say with certainty that he endured at least 78 lashes but probably many, many more. So brutal was his beating. It was inflicted by a flagrum—which was a whip with a short handle and generally two or three long thick thongs, each weighted with lead balls and sharp bones. In action, the thongs and sharp bones cut the skin, while the weighted balls created deep contusions and significant hemorrhaging and internal bleeding.
In the not too distant past of our own American history, documents record that one slave when severely beaten couldn’t move for two months. But the Bible says after Jesus was beaten not once but twice like that, he still had to carry his cross! That is, until he couldn’t carry it anymore and the Romans forced “a certain man from Cyrene” [modern day Libya in North Africa] to carry it for him [cf. Mark 15:21].
But before that, the Bible says in Matthew 27:28-29 says the soldiers stripped him and put a robe on him and put a crown of thorns on his head and a staff in his hand and knelt in front of him and mocked him. Mark 15:19 adds that “Again and again they struck him on the head with a staff and spit on him which is what Isaiah 50:6 predicted would happen. John 19:3 says they “Went up to him again and again, saying, ‘Hail, king of the Jews!’ And they struck him in the face.”
All this, even though Jesus was innocent. And this is point number one. Which Pilate himself repeats three times. His next admission comes in John 19:4, “4Once more Pilate came out and said to the Jews, “Look, I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no basis for a charge against him.” And then Pilate, probably in jest, proclaimed the words “Behold the man!” which probably made little or no significance to him. But readers of John would immediately remember a similar phrase that was shouted at the beginning of Christ’s ministry when his cousin John the Baptist first saw Jesus in John 1:29. Do you remember what Scripture records he said?
“Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” Which reminds me of that classic Ray Boltz tune “Watch the Lamb.” If you’ve never heard that, you need to Google it or download it in iTunes. It’s a 7 or 8 minute song, but I guarantee you it will move you. The NIV of John 19:5 says "Here is the man!" And while Pilate probably meant nothing more than “Isn’t this enough for you?” I think it’s interesting that Jesus also embraced the term Son of Man.
Originally that term, son of a man, was meant to insult Jesus’ supposed illegitimate birth. But Jesus embraced it as a description of his willingness to become flesh and blood [cf. John 1:14]. Which reminded some who heard it of Daniel 7:13’s Messianic description of the Son of Man who would one day approach the ancient of days, and be given authority, glory and power. So though Pilate knew Jesus was innocent, he didn’t know what he said about Jesus would later remind other believers [like us!] that Jesus was not only the Lamb of God but also the Son of Man.
John 18:28 reminds us that all this was taking place right before Passover when people all over Jerusalem would be preparing lambs to die. And on the same day, the Lamb of God was being sentenced to die. Why? Because he loves us! Hebrews 2:11 says, “Jesus is not ashamed to call them [us] brothers.” Isn’t that amazing? Remember how Jesus even has compassion for Pilate in John 18:34 and was still reaching out for him? Aren’t you glad it’s never too late to say yes to Jesus?
And Pilate makes his point a third time in verse 6. “As for me, I find no basis for a charge against him.” But instead of compassion for the innocent, when the bloodthirsty mob saw the badly beaten Jesus wearing the crown of thorns and the scarlet or purple cape of a Roman soldier [cf. Matthew 27:28; Mark 15:17], Caiaphas and his crowd start shouting “Crucify him!” instead. And that’s an important distinction I believe. Because remember, it’s still very early [proi] in the morning according to John 18:28. Which is a term used in Mark 13:35 to describe the 4th watch of the night which extended from 3 to 6am. Elsewhere in John, the author counts the hours of the day from sunrise instead of midnight [cf. 4:6,52; 11:9], but here in John 19:14 when describing a Roman sentencing he uses Roman time which makes it 6am.
But who’s awake at 6am besides Annas, Caiaphas, and his crowd? Apparently, the rest of the Sanhedrin was because Matthew 26:59 and Mark 14:64 says the “whole” or “all” the Sanhedrin condemned Jesus to death. But many commentators suggest that the “all” only refers to all who were present. Because previously Luke 23:50-51 specifically says, “50Now there was a man named Joseph, a member of the Council, a good and upright man, 51who had not consented to their decision and action. He came from the Judean town of Arimathea and he was waiting for the kingdom of God.” From this statement, commentators have concluded that he and Nicodemus, who openly defended Jesus before the Sanhedrin in John 7:50-51, were not present when Jesus was falsely tried at night without witnesses.
Which by the way, attorney Lewis Walton points out in his extremely interesting sermon “The Trial of Jesus.” I’m grateful Bill Ashley showed me this a couple weeks ago since lawyers discussing law usually help you understand more law than you did before. Long story short: One of the rules of the Sanhedrin was that if 70 of them all agreed about anything, the accused would go free because they knew that nobody ever agrees about everything! So if we they do, there must be a conspiracy and the trial must be rigged! But in the trial of Jesus, according to Matthew 26:59 and Mark 14:64, they broke that rule because all of those present agreed that Jesus was guilty. He should have been set free. For a host of other reasons as well. But instead, he received the penalty of death.
If you want more info on that, send me an email and I’ll forward you the link [http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=5923718640266937388#] Interestingly, Jesus received the death penalty not because of blasphemy. Which Leviticus 24:15-16 said deserved death. And to which Caiaphas was alluding in John 19:7. But because anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar [verse 12]. Blasphemy for the Jews and sedition for the Romans is what it required to crucify Christ.
But even if you’re not a lawyer and you didn’t know any of these rules, you could conclude this trial was rigged because who gets sentenced to die in the middle of the night when everyone else is asleep? Who gets tried and convicted before everyone finishes their breakfast? Common sense tells you that ain’t right, right? Common sense also tells you, based on the time of day, that the crowds that shouted “Hosanna” were not the same crowd that shouted “Crucify him!” It bugs me when I hear preachers make that comparison. It was too secretive and too early in the morning for the multitudes to be present. Most of the people who sincerely loved Jesus and sincerely followed him were not there shouting crucify him. Like the guys walking home after the crucifixion, they were genuinely confused and devastated that Jesus had been falsely accused and tried and sentenced and in undoubtedly in some cases, crucified before they even knew it.
But Pilate knew Jesus was innocent. We know this is true because of what happens next and only Matthew 27:24-25 describes it. “When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere [that is, he could not persuade "the Jews" that Christ was "innocent"], but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. 'I am innocent of this man’s blood,' he said. 'It is your responsibility!' "All the people answered, 'Let his blood be on us and on our children!'"
Jewish scholars don’t believe that actually happened. Not only because the other three Gospel writers don’t mention it, but because as a Jew, Matthew knew this Jewish hand-washing custom, but he did not know that it was not a Roman custom and so Pilate would not have used it. However, even as a Jewish custom it had a different meaning. When a corpse was found, and several Jews were under suspicion, they washed their hands as equivalent to pleading not guilty. Go with me to Deuteronomy 21:1-7 to see what I mean.
There Scripture says, “1If a man is found slain, lying in a field in the land the LORD your God is giving you to possess, and it is not known who killed him, 2your elders and judges shall go out and measure the distance from the body to the neighboring towns. 3Then the elders of the town nearest the body shall take a heifer that has never been worked and has never worn a yoke 4and lead her down to a valley that has not been plowed or planted and where there is a flowing stream. There in the valley they are to break the heifer's neck. 5The priests, the sons of Levi, shall step forward, for the LORD your God has chosen them to minister and to pronounce blessings in the name of the LORD and to decide all cases of dispute and assault. 6Then all the elders of the town nearest the body shall wash their hands over the heifer whose neck was broken in the valley, 7and they shall declare: "Our hands did not shed this blood, nor did our eyes see it done.”
But Matthew turns this Jewish custom inside out. After the Roman governor Pilate has Christ flogged in his presence and hands him over to be crucified, he washes his hands to prove that he was innocent of crucifying Christ! Which would be like a defendant, charged with murder in a court of justice, pleading not guilty, and then proceeding, right there in the courtroom, to murder his victim in the most ruthless way.
Which leads us to point number two. Jesus was innocent, but Pilate was not. But the people who handed Jesus to Pilate were even more guilty than Pilate. Why? Because they were supposed to be the religious leaders appointed by Moses over a thousand years earlier in Numbers 11:16 to make wise and Godly decisions. But ever since Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead in John 11 and really long before that in John 7:30-32, they had been plotting to take his life. His sincere earlier questions Jesus responds to [cf. John 18:34], but now, further inquires are ignored. So Pilate pleads in John 19:10, “10"Do you refuse to speak to me?" Pilate said. "Don't you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?" 11Jesus answered, "You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above. Therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin."
Pilate had attempted to persuade the Jews to handle the case themselves within the limits of the law in John 18:31. He had pawned Jesus off to Herod according to Luke 23:7. He had attempted to release Jesus as the pardoned Passover prisoner in John 18:39. He flogged Jesus once in hopes of arousing pity for Him and thus saving him from the death penalty according to Luke 23:16. And apparently, he flogged him again prior to the soldiers leading him out to crucifixion according to Matthew 27:26. But instead of releasing him to be stoned to death by the Jews, he releases him to be crucified. Luke 23:24-25 says, “So Pilate decided to grant their demand. He released the man who had been thrown into prison for insurrection and murder, the one they asked for, and surrendered Jesus to their will.”
But Pilate is not the only guilty one. We are just as guilty. And this is point number three. For the Bible says in Romans 5:8 that it was for our sins that Jesus died. While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. The Romans didn’t crucify Christ. And neither did the Jews. We did. And while Matthew 27:25 attributes the shouts of the crowd to Caiaphas and his crowd, they could just as accurately be attributed to us. “Let his blood be on us and on our children.”
Just like all the disciples, we too have disowned Jesus and fled from his presence many times. Can’t we go days or weeks and sometimes months or even years before realizing we haven’t gone to church or read the Bible or even prayed? Maybe everything we say or do isn’t in public. Like Peter’s embarrassing denials. But don’t we too pretend to be religious and good and in no need of a Savior sometimes? Jesus is saying that’s much worse than what Pilate did!
No doubt friends, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer says in Cost of Discipleship p.296, “The law of God is still in force, and still demands fulfilment (Romans 3:31).” 1 Timothy 1:8 adds, “We also know that the law is good—if one uses it properly.” But the Sanhedrin was not using the law properly. They falsely accused and tried and sentenced Jesus to death in the middle of the night without any witnesses. Pilate was not using the law properly. Jesus was innocent. He said so himself three times. But still he sentenced Jesus to crucifixion on a cross. And because Romans 3:23 says we all still continue to fall short of the glory of God, the wages of our sins should mean our deaths too according to Romans 6:23. We know this is true because Jesus himself said in Luke 12:48b, “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.”
So thank God for the law, even if we as humans often mess it up, because we would not have known what sin was if it weren’t for the law [cf. Romans 7:7]. And as Bonhoeffer correctly concludes, the only way to fulfil the law is by doing good works. But here’s the kicker! None of ours are good enough! Ecclesiastes 7:20 [NKJV] says “20For there is not a just man on earth who does good and does not sin.” That’s why Jesus had to live a perfect life for us and die in our place. Our best obedience is like filthy rags [Isaiah 64:6]. But that hasn’t stopped many of us from trying!
Throughout the history of the church, sincere Christians have taken striving for holiness to extremes resulting in pietism, sanctificationism, perfectionism, legalism, extreme monastacism, and pharisaism. But these extreme forms of righteousness by works need not be. Because the scandalous Gospel of God’s grace results in holier, more sanctified lives than perfectionism ever could. How do we know? Because the Bible says it’s by beholding Jesus that we become changed! Isn’t that what 2 Corinthians 3:18 promises?
That’s why PRS is so important. Praying, reading, and sharing what we prayed or read about not only edifies others, but it also builds you up! It’s how we become and stay Christian. Anybody who tells you otherwise is selling you something! It’s simple. That’s what you do after. Here’s what you do before. Ask Jesus in. Believe the truth about yourself and the truth about him. Confess your need of him. You do that and you’re in! And once you’re in, if you continue to pray, read, and share, you’ll stay in. That’s what abiding is all about. The Gospel is simple enough for a child to understand. But hard enough for high priests and governors to ignore.
My prayer for you my church family today is that like the Corinthians in 2 Corinthians 6:2, if you hear his call now, that today you will again say yes to loving and obey Jesus no matter what he asks of you. My dream is that entire communities of people including ours will be changed more and more into his likeness as we behold the Lamb of God and Son of Man who isn’t embarrassed to call us brothers. My hope, like Paul’s in Romans 1:16, is that you will not be ashamed of the Gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes.”
I know that sounds too good to be true. Almost like a fairy tale. But some fairy tales are true! Jesus said it this way in Matthew 26:48, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” That’s why He looks at us as his saints not sinners. As Song of Solomon 2:4 sings, “His banner over us is love.” If you believe that, at this time I invite you to join us in celebrating the Lord’s Supper.