Our study tonight is based on John 19 but I want to begin by reading just verses 16b-18.
16b – So the soldiers took charge of Jesus. 17 – Carrying His own cross, He went out to the place of the Skull (which in Aramaic is called Golgotha).
18 – Here they crucified Him, and with Him two others—one on each side and Jesus in the middle.
I don’t know if you realize it or not but we’ve been focusing on the Gospel of John since last June and we are finally nearing the end of our lengthy study. Tonight we come to his account of the crucifixion.
Like the other Gospel writers John slows down at this point in his narrative—as if to emphasize the importance of what happened that first Good Friday. In fact, about one fourth of the material in all the four GOSPELS relates to the cross.
And…the rest of the New Testament continues this emphasis. For example, the earliest PREACHING in the book of Acts focuses almost completely on the cross. In 1st Corinthians 2:2 Paul told the members of that church that he, “…resolved to know NOTHING except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” He told the church at Galatia, “May I never boast except in the CROSS of our Lord Jesus Christ…” (Galatians 6:14) In 1st Corinthians 1:22-24, Paul said, “Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach CHRIST CRUCIFIED…a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who have been brought through the CROSS to new life in Christ, the CROSS is the power and wisdom of God.”
Tonight I want US to focus on the cross in order to answer one question—namely: How does the crucifixion help us to believe that Jesus is Who He says He is? In other words, how does it accomplish the GOAL of John’s Gospel? Do you REMEMBER John’s goal—his purpose in writing? In John 20:31 he says, “These things have been written THAT YOU MAY BELIEVE that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name.”
Well, how does what happened on Golgotha help people to believe?
(1) The first way the cross of Christ fosters faith is the fact that it was the fulfillment of ancient prophecy.
You see, the Messiah’s manner of death was something that had been foretold hundreds of years earlier. This is what the Apostle Peter was talking about in his sermon on Pentecost Sunday. He said that Jesus was, “…nailed to the cross by the hands of godless men and put to death—by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God.” (Acts 2:22-23) We can see that “predetermined plan and foreknowledge” clearly spelled out in the Messianic prophecies of the Old Testament. For example, Psalm 22:16ff sounds like it was written by an eyewitness of the crucifixion…but Kind David himself penned those words under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit many centuries before crucifixion had even been invented. He wrote: “A band of evil men has encircled Me. They have pierced My hands and My feet.”
In John 19:32 and following we read that the Jews did not want the bodies to remain on the cross during the Sabbath so they asked Pilate to have the legs broken to hasten death. Well, the soldiers broke the bones of the other two men being crucified with Jesus but when they came to our Lord they could clearly see that this was not necessary because He was already dead. This was a fulfillment of the ancient prophecy found in Psalm 34:20 where it said of the Messiah, “…God protects His bones. Not one of them will be broken.”
Just to be sure Jesus was dead, one of the soldiers thrust a spear through His side. When he did a mixture of blood and water flowed out indicating that death had indeed already occurred. This too was a fulfillment of ancient prophecy. Zechariah 12:10 says, “They shall look on Me Whom they have pierced.” And, Isaiah 53:5 said the Messiah would be, “…pierced for our transgressions…”
Even the soldiers’ gambling for Jesus’ clothing had been prophesied. Psalm 22:18 says, “They divide My garments among them and cast lots for My clothing.”
But that’s not all. The manner of His BURIAL was also specifically foretold. Isaiah 53:9 said He would be “…with the rich in His death.” And His body was. In verses 38 and following John tells us that Jesus’ body was taken by a rich man named Joseph of Arimathea. Joseph provided the kind of tomb only the rich could afford. And another rich man, Nicodemus, helped cover the cost of expensive spices to prepare Jesus’ body for burial. So He was indeed, “with the rich in His death.”
I’m saying that Jesus’ crucifixion fit the prophecies about the Messiah to a tee. Reading these prophetic words and then reading John’s account of Jesus’ crucifixion—well it’s like solving an ancient dilemma. It matches so precisely that anyone who reads these texts has to realize that Jesus was…is…indeed the long-awaited Christ, the Son of the living God.
(2) And then another reason John’s account of the crucifixion helps us to believe is that it clearly illustrates the results of sin.
You see, the cross was a HORRIBLE way to die—and like the other Gospel writers, John includes a detailed account of it to help us understand that sin an equally a HORRIBLE thing. I mean, if the Messiah was going to die to pay the penalty for the sin of all mankind—He would have to suffer an awful death…which Jesus did! In his book, Jesus of Nazareth, Joseph Klausner, the learned Jewish scholar, wrote, “Crucifixion is the most terrible and cruel death which man has ever devised for taking vengeance on his fellow man.” The Romans, who “perfected” this form of execution, shared his opinion. Cicero called crucifixion, “…the most cruel and horrifying death.” Tacitus called it, “…despicable.” In fact, the Romans never allowed crucifixion to be practiced in Italy—only in the provinces. Plus—it was illegal for a Roman citizen to die by such a death.
And to fully answer why they felt this way—as tactfully as possible, let me remind you what was done to Jesus that first Good Friday. I’m basing my comments on the words of Dr. Truman Davis, M.D. as written in the Expositor’s Bible Commentary. He tells us that, for the Romans, crucifixion usually involved a long SERIES of events. First came a horrible scourging. The skin of the victim was literally laid open by numerous lashes with a leather whip that had stone or metal tied to the ends of each strip. It was so incredibly painful victims would often pass out—but when they did the Romans threw salt water on the wounds in order to revive him….so they could continue to beat a CONSCIOUS victim…which helps you understand why they called scourging “halfway death.”
After being scourged, the victim was forced to carry his own cross to the place of the crucifixion. He was paraded through the streets with a tablet announcing the charge against Him hung around His neck or carried before Him…while all the time being driven along like cattle by the soldier’s whips.
John tells us that Pilate ordered the tablet to read: “JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS.” When the Jewish religious leaders read this they were angry and protested to Pilate saying, “Do not write ‘The King of the Jews,’ but that this Man CLAIMED to be King of the Jews.” But true to his obstinate nature Pilate answered, “What I have written, I have written.”
When the gruesome procession finally arrived at the site of the crucifixion the prisoner was stripped of most of his clothing. Then the cross was placed on the ground and the victim was thrown backwards with his shoulders against the wood. At this point the soldier would drive a heavy, square wrought-iron nail through one wrist of the victim and deep into the crossbeam. Quickly he would move to the other side and repeat the action, being careful not to pull the arms too tightly, allowing some flex and movement—so as to prolong the suffering. The left foot would then be pressed backward against the right foot, and with both feet extended, toes down, a nail would be driven through the arch of each, leaving the knees flexed. The cross would then be lifted into place—but usually not too high. You see, part of the cruelty of crucifixion was to make it so that the criminal would experience the torment of dangling just about the ground. Plus, at that height, his tormenters could more easily look up at his face.
Well, as the victim slowly sagged down with more weight on the nails in the wrists, excruciating, fiery pain would shoot along the fingers and up the arms and explode in the brain. Then, as he pushed himself upward to avoid this torment, he would place the full weight on the nail through his feet…causing him to feel the searing agony of the rough metal tearing through the nerves between the bones of his arches. As the arms would fatigue, cramps would sweep through the muscles, knotting them in deep, relentless, throbbing pain. With these cramps came the inability to push himself upward to breathe. Air could be drawn into the lungs but not exhaled, causing carbon dioxide to build up in his system. Hours and sometimes days of this limitless pain would follow: cycles of twisting, joint-rending cramps, intermittent partial asphyxiation, searing pain…as tissue is torn from his lacerated back as he moves up and down against the rough timber.
Then ANOTHER agony would begin: a crushing pain deep in the chest as the pericardium slowly filled with serum and began to compress the heart. It would now be almost over—the loss of fluids would have reached a critical level—the compressed heart struggling to pump heavy, thick, sluggish blood into the tissues…the tortured lungs making a frantic effort to gasp…in small gulps of air.
Well, this horrific mode of execution shows how horrific our sins really are.
And we need to UNDERSTAND this because more and more in our world these days we whitewash sin. We tend to cover up the consequences of immorality. Plus, since our culture believes there is no difference between right and wrong—people think that “sin” if you want to call it that—is really no big deal. I mean, drink yourself drunk, enjoy an extra-marital fling, embrace hedonism for a couple weeks and don’t worry about it—because, after all, what happens in Vegas STAYS in Vegas! Look at the plots of prime time television; go to most popular movies and you’ll have to admit that we tend to “clean up” sin. In essence we “nice-ify” it—but people, sin is not NICE. It always hurts us. It always pays us back with pain and death. It’s hard for us to see this because we live in a fallen world—but the fact is sin is an UGLY, FILTHY thing.
A few years ago I read about a middle school in Oregon that faced a unique problem. A number of girls who began to use lipstick put it on in the bathroom. But after they put their lipstick on, they pressed their lips to the mirrors leaving dozens of little lip prints. I guess they thought this kind of vandalism was kind of cute…no big deal. Well, finally the principal decided something had to be done. So she called the girls to the bathroom and had the custodian meet them there.
She explained to the girls that lip prints caused a major problem for the custodian, who had to spend a great deal of his time cleaning mirrors every day. To demonstrate how difficult this job was, she asked the custodian to clean one of the mirrors as the girls watched. The custodian took out a long-handled brush, dipped it into the toilet bowl, and used that watery brush to scrub the mirror “clean.” Since then there have been no lip prints on the mirrors. Now, this is one creative principal, wouldn’t you agree? Great idea to give them an illustration of the consequences of their behavior! How wise it was for her to provide them with a first hand look at the results of their actions!
Well, if you want an illustration of the ugliness of sin. If you want to SEE how bad sin really is—all you need to is look at the cross. The reason Jesus’ death was so BRUTAL is because on that dark day, He bore on His body the BRUTAL consequences of the sins of all mankind.
People, none of our sins “stay in Vegas.” They all wind up on the cross. All the brutality….all lies…all the lust…all the selfishness…all the gossip…all the greed…all the pride…all the theft…all the murders…all the abuse…all of it was poured out on Him that day. That’s why Jesus didn’t come to earth in our day and age and die of lethal injection. He died an ugly DEATH because our sin is an ugly THING. And John’s account helps us to understand this—and believe. It convicts us of our sin and helps us to see how far we are from our Holy God’s standard…how much we need forgiveness and cleansing.
(3) This leads me to mention a third way that John’s account of the crucifixion helps achieve the purpose of his gospel. It helps us to see how much God loves sinners like you and me.
The cross shows us the extent to which our Heavenly Father would go to get us back. St. Paul’s Cathedral in London has a life-sized marble statue of Jesus, writhing in anguish on the cross. The inscription on the statue declares: “This is HOW God loved the world.” And that inscription is right! The cross is the clearest revelation of God’s love. As Romans 5:8 says, “God commends His love toward us IN THIS. While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” I mean, like the other Gospel writers, John is trying to help us to see that Jesus died in the way He did so as to show us the extent to which God’s love would go. If Jesus had refused the cross—well, then there would have been a limit to the love of God. But He didn’t refuse. He hung on that tree which means there is NO limit. Jesus died—died for ALL of us…because God loves ALL of us!
As Jesus said in John 3:16, “For God so loved…THE WORLD…that He gave His only Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”
In his book Doubting, author Alister McGrath shared the following story to illustrate how the cross proves that God loves us. He writes:
An aunt of mine died some time ago, having lived to be 80 or so. She had never married. During the course of clearing out her possessions, we came across a battered old photograph of a young man. It turned out my aunt had fallen hopelessly in love as a young girl. It had ended tragically. She never loved anyone else and kept a photograph of the man she had loved for the remainder of her life. Why? Partly to remind herself that she had once been loved by someone. As she had grown old, she knew that she would have difficulty believing that, at one point in her life, she really had meant something to someone—that someone had once cared for her and regarded her as his everything. It could all have seemed a dream, an illusion, something she had invented in her old age to console her in her declining years—but the photograph proved otherwise. It reminded her that it had not been invented; she really loved someone once and was loved in return. The photograph was her sole link to a world in which she had been valued.
Well, for you and me the cross is like that photograph. We can look at the cross and be reassured that something that seems too good to be true—something that some might say we invented—really did happen. God really does love us! That is WHY He sent His Son. He knew that the cross was the only way to pay for our sins…the only way to make it possible for us to come home to Him.
LET US PRAY
We believe—but help our unbelief. Help us to see—truly see the cross—and in that seeing believe anew that Jesus is the Christ—Your only Son—Who died for our sin so that we could have life—eternal, abundant life. As your children give us opportunities this holy week to share this glorious news. I ask this in JESUS’ name. AMEN