“And he bearing his cross went forth into a place called the place of a skull, which is called in the Hebrew Golgotha: where they crucified him, and two other with him, on either side one, and Jesus in the midst. And Pilate wrote a title, and put it on the cross. And the writing was, JESUS OF NAZARETH THE KING OF THE JEWS. This title then read many of the Jews: for the place where Jesus was crucified was nigh unto the city: and it was written in Hebrew, and Greek, and Latin. Then said the chief priests of the Jews to Pilate, Write not, The King of the Jews; but that he said, I am King of the Jews. Pilate answered, What I have written I have written. Then the soldiers, when they had crucified Jesus, took his garments, and made four parts, to every soldier a part; and also his coat: now the coat was without seam, woven from the top throughout. They said therefore among themselves, Let us not rend it, but cast lots for it, whose it shall be: that the scripture might be fulfilled, which saith, They parted may raiment among them, and for my vesture they did cast lots. These things therefore the soldiers did. Now there stood by the cross of Jesus his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus therefore saw his mother, and the disciple standing by, whom he loved [John], he saith unto his mother, Woman, behold thy son! Then saith he to the disciple, Behold thy mother! And from that hour that disciple took her unto his own home. After this, Jesus knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the scripture might be fulfilled, saith, I thirst. Now there was set a vessel full of vinegar: and they filled a sponge with vinegar, and put it upon hyssop, and put it to his mouth. When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said, It is finished: and he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost [“ghost”, Middle English for “spirit”].”
“Good morning. Let’s pick up in our Bibles where we left off last week, John chapter 19. A couple things just to announce to you, things you can keep in prayer. By the way, if you’re new this morning, it’s a pleasure to have you with us. I’d normally tell you that there are little cards in the back of the seats that you can fill out if you’re new, but I don’t think there are any. So, it’s a blessing to have you with us, visiting with us this morning. We’re in John chapter 19, we have just been going through the book of John now since last summer, and we’re getting towards the end, going verse by verse [and chapter by chapter]. Just a couple of announcements for you. If you could keep in prayer, maybe last Thursday of March, Thursday evening, at least it’s being planned for and we pray it will all come together, there’s a pastor’s prayer group on Wednesday mornings, there’s about ten churches represented, and we’re planning our first evening of church/community prayer, and just coming together as a corporate Church in prayer on Thursday night, praying for the peace of the city. And I believe it could be, I said this on Wednesday nights, to the Wednesday night group of people, it could be the most powerful thing we are ever a part of here in our local city. Keep it in prayer, I pray it comes to pass. We’re planning for it, I think there’s already some spiritual battle taking place as we seek to make it all happen. But Thursday night, I forget the date, last Thursday in March. God willing, if not then, soon thereafter. Keep it in prayer. Also, I know we have in the bulletin the announcement for an India missions trip, and there are two of us that are going to India at the end of March, and I guess I’d like to apologize to you. I learned recently that this trip is really for pastors. And I started to think that we put it in the bulletin, I was a little skeptical about putting it in the bulletin and getting the word out to see if anybody else was interested. A number of you have come to me, a good number of you have come to me, ‘Hey, I’d like to be a part of that trip.’ And then as I began to think about it, I realized that the nature of the trip isn’t what we normally would do on a mission’s trip. And I didn’t want anybody to be discouraged if it wasn’t quite up to their expectations. And then I learned it was for pastors. So it’s a pastors trip. So if you’ve signed up for that, or if you’ve spoken to me…,I’d just like to note to you that, it turns out this time we’re just going to limit it to two of us, myself and another individual, and we’ll come back with reports. But there will be others, there will be others. But also, this year, I think it seems that God is doing it, either in May or this summer, there will be a trip to York, England, if you’d like to be part of that. Dave Sylvester was just here recently. And that trip may also be combined with one we’re hoping to do this summer to France, a few of us, myself and a couple other pastors are on the board of Steve Bowman, and they’d like to have a board meeting in France, and I don’t know if I’d go to France just for a board meeting. But it turns out that the Denty’s, we’ve been sponsoring them, supporting them as they were in Niece, and they’ve now gone up to Paris to plant a church. And we’ve been in communication about going there for a week and just doing an outreach with them to reach the city of Paris. And I especially, I kind of look at it this two ways, I have a heart for missions, and a heart for orphans and widows, and I separate the two. But when I think of missions, especially for our church, Western Europe, and especially the nation of France. And the city of Paris of course is a key city there. So that’s something you may want to be a part of. Pray about that. And then also Latvia, we were contacted about going to this former Republic of the Soviet Union, Latvia, and I’ve come to find out some of you have already contacted the ministry in Pennsylvania, expressed interest in going, so there very well may be a trip going to Latvia. And then I’ve heard rumors maybe about Juarez. Hey man, we might be going to all kinds of places. I pray they all happen, truly. Because I believe it is a great need for the Church in America, for Christians in America to get out there on the missions field. Because we need a whole new perspective of life and the world, and the Gospel, and missions. We really do. And it’ll effect you more than the people you go minister to, I can guarantee you that. But it’ll effect this church too if you’re able to be a part of that. I always encourage people, don’t let the finances scare you away, God has a thousand cattle on a thousand hills. He can sell one for you and get you the cash if that’s what you need. Trust the Lord with all your heart, lean not on your own understanding.
Jesus on the cross, five points
We left off on John chapter 19, verse 16. So this week we come to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Now all of us, I’m sure, this last week we’ve had some images in our mind of what took place in Warwick Rhode Island, of course, a time of incredible human suffering, a time of intense suffering. I know I heard the reports, clicked on the TV, and there was part of me that wanted to look away as some of those images came upon the TV, then there was part of me that wanted to continue to look at just the horror, in those moments you have those confusing thoughts, look away, look at it, just the intense horror and suffering that took place. After seeing that, I got on the phone and called Rich Chapman. Rich Chapman is a pastor whose on our board here at the church, he pastors CC Warwick. So I called him and left a message with him. He’s replied since then, and we’re playing phone tag, but I said ‘Hey man, if there’s any way as a church, we can be part of serving with you in that situation, please let us know.’ And so I’m waiting to see how we can be part of just ministering to them in that difficult time there in Warwick. In fact, our church, there’s a board meeting this Friday in Warwick Rhode Island, and we’ll see if that takes place considering what’s happened. But one of these times again in history of intense human suffering that we’re exposed to, and we consider, I can still see the picture on the front page of the Sentinel this last week, in fact, it was yesterday, it’s the front page of the Sentinel, the Firefighter standing there amidst the aftermath, nothing but charred twisted rubble, he’s standing there in the midst of it, he’s got his eyes closed, his head bowed, got his helmet on his forehead, and you can just sense what he’s going through. We don’t know for sure the thoughts in his mind and in his heart, but there’s a sense that this man was overcome with just the magnitude of the suffering, the suffering that took place in that fire, yet so quickly. [click on http://www.cnn.com/2003/US/Northeast/02/21/deadly.nightclub.fire/ ] So one of those moments in history, where we consider again in human suffering, even intense human suffering. And I start that way because we have one of those, I guess, experiences too this morning as we consider this story, a time in history, a moment in history, again of intense human suffering here in John chapter 19 as we look to the end of the chapter. And I would think that during this moment there were people too that maybe looked and wanted to look away that were in the crowds there, the throngs of the multitudes there along the road going from the Judgment Hall to Golgotha. I would imagine there were some that wanted to look away at just the horror of the moment. And I would think maybe like that Firefighter, there were even some that were just overwhelmed with the intensity of the grief and the suffering. In fact, we see in Luke, we’ll note it here later, but in Luke when this whole event is ended, it says the people who were watching on, they beat their breasts, they beat their breasts. So you have that sense of just even the multitudes just wrestling with the agony and the suffering. Well this intense suffering, we know, is centered around one particular individual. His name is Jesus, Jesus of Nazareth. We know he’s the Son of God. And today in our study we’ll look and witness his crucifixion. And as we look upon this cross, we will see five different points I would like to just note. The first point is the agony, that is the agony of the cross. Then secondly, the offense. Then thirdly, the foolishness. Then fourthly, the love. Then fifthly, the power. Let’s say a word of prayer and we’ll go through this text together. ‘Lord I thank you for the privilege it is to come together and study your Word this morning. And of course what we study right now is really the center-point of all history. You’ve even used the cross on our calendar to mark that point in history, center of all history, this is what it’s all about. So I ask you Holy Spirit that you’d be upon all of us, and you’d open our eyes to the wondrous things that are here, the wonder of the cross, all the more. Maybe we’ve grown up in church, maybe we’ve been to so many Easter services that we’ve in a sense memorized this text, but God make it fresh to us, make it new to us. We’re to be more than people that just ponder this, we’re to live this in our own lives. So Holy Spirit, be upon all of us and open our eyes to the wondrous things that are here, and be upon myself as we go through your Word, in Jesus name, Amen.’
1. The Agony of the Cross
John chapter 19, verses 17-18, “And he bearing his cross went out to a place called ‘the place of a skull’, which is called in Hebrew Golgotha, where they crucified him and two others with him, one on either side and Jesus in the center.” Now you remember from last week’s study, Pilate buckled, he finally gave in to the pressure of the religious leaders. And he turned Jesus over to be executed. And Jesus was then taken, presumably, by a Centurion and four Roman soldiers, that was typically the way it worked for crucifixion. The five of these Roman soldiers would lead the prisoner away. So Jesus is taken by them, and he’s led on approximately a one mile journey. That’s from the Judgment Hall to this area of, place of execution. And John mentions there the place of execution is called Golgotha or the place of the skull. Now the Latin for that word there, the place of the skull, is Calvaria. And maybe you recognize that in the English, we get our word Calvary from that word. Calvaria in Latin means skull, and we have our word Calvary for the place of Calvary. The Greek word for the word skull is cranium, of course we have our word cranium, in the English it comes from that [with little or no change], and that is the word in Hebrew which is interpreted Golgotha. Now when I was preparing my study yesterday, I went back to my 1998 trip to Israel, my first trip, took out my pictures, and purposely pulled out my picture of Gordon’s Calvary, and I just set it there as I studied, so I at times could just look at it and consider it. But we go there on our Israel trips, and it’s just outside of the Old City of Jerusalem, just a few hundred yards, which makes it interesting. And it was discovered by a particular British soldier, official, about a hundred years ago, at least he’s the one that noticed it. And there on what appears to be a cliff is this impression of a skull. And even in my photograph you can see the impression of the skull, the whole cliff. It probably wasn’t a cliff originally, it probably was made from excavation as far as when they built Solomon’s Temple, they probably cut through the granite there and took some of the granite to use for the Temple building, or at least the foundation, some of the stone there. But you look, and you see this image of a skull, especially on the right time of the day, when the sun is just right, the shadow will be cast, and where the eyes would be on a skull, and the inset of the nose and the jaw, there’s those shadows right there on the side, and little indents there on the side. So it looks like a skull, it’s called Gordon’s Calvary, and I just put it out to think about this. There are many people that believe that that is indeed the site of Calvary, that is indeed the site where Jesus was crucified. We don’t know that for sure, but there are some interesting reasons as to why. But anyway, here’s Jesus, the Son of God, he has his cross. He goes out to this place, and we’re told that he’s crucified. So right off as we begin, we see and we consider his suffering, his intense physical, human suffering. So as we look at the cross, my first point is, as we look at it we see the agony. We’ll see it more as we go through, the agony that would be associated with his suffering. Now we know from last weeks study, the scourging that took place was very brutal. When they scourged Jesus, he’s been bloodied, he’s been beaten, he’s bruised, he’s incredibly weakened. [this pastor isn’t even coming close to describing scourging. The whip used had pieces of glass and iron shards attached to the ends of the multiple rawhide whips (which were joined together into one handle-grip), which would rip flesh from the one being scourged as the whip was drawn back. Isaiah prophecied that Jesus wouldn’t be recognized as a man as a result of this. His flesh was virtually ripped open with chunks being ripped off. Most people would die after a scourging. Mel Gibson’s movie “The Passion of the Christ” shows the whip used and what it does to an oak desk, but he failed to show its whole effect on a person during the movie, it would have been too gross for most audiences to take. Jesus may have ended up dying if he hadn’t been crucified right away, in a day or two anyway.] So that’s part of the picture here too. And you can only imagine as he’s bearing his cross, as it says in verse 17, we get that from the movies anyway, of him stumbling along. Very possible, he stumbled from just being weakened from the scourging itself. Of course, he’d be carrying the cross, maybe just the crossbeam, but either way, it was a heavy weight to carry, and there he carried it along. Not a pretty sight, to say the least. I’m sure he was even hard to look at, you get the prophecies in the Old Testament that say he was beyond even recognition at this point from the beatings that took place. So intense human suffering. We see the agony here with Jesus. Now John doesn’t tell us here, but in Matthew and Mark, as Jesus is along the way, at one point in time, we don’t know exactly why, but the Roman soldiers with Jesus stepped in, there’s a guy just coming to worship, Simon from Cyrene, he’s come to Jerusalem to worship [at the Jewish Passover at the Temple], and for whatever reason, we don’t know, the soldiers grab him, they take the cross off of Jesus, they place it upon this particular man and they force him to carry the cross. So you get the sense Jesus is incredibly weakened, and they put the cross upon this other man so that Jesus evidently could make it the point of execution. Now Mark mentions this man is the father of Alexander and Rufus, which is interesting he mentions relatives of his, why he mentions relatives of this man Simon. And it’s believed by many, I do believe this, that probably even because of the experience that Simon had to carry that cross, it’s very likely that he came to Christ, and there later were relatives of his in the Church. So when he’s mentioned, his relatives are mentioned as members of the Church. So, Jesus is so weakened in his agony that this man is now compelled to carry the cross. When they get there, before Jesus is even put on the cross, we’re told in Matthew that he was offered this mixture, a drink, it was wine mixed with gall to drink, and it was given to people that were going to be crucified to help numb the pain. Of course, any man in that position would take that drink, but Jesus tasted it and we’re told that when he tasted it, he realized what was in it, and he decided not to take the drink. He didn’t want it, he pushed it away. And it’s clear with that, he didn’t want anything hinder his purpose, and his purpose was to go to the cross and to die for the sin and the suffering of the world. So he wanted it all, he didn’t want to hinder any of that process by masking or numbing out the pain. But what a picture, you have Jesus [Yeshua] the Son of God, this man, can’t even recognize him, incredible agony, but the infinite God, the Creator of the Universe, walking the streets of Jerusalem, carrying a cross, made from a tree that he himself created, going to this place of execution, to be executed by people that, he was their creator. Just an amazing thing to imagine, Jesus the Son of God. Hard to believe. Paul refers to that in Philippians chapter 2, that he took his glory, he put his glory aside, and then in verse 8 of Philippians, “and being found in the appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.” The Son of God, walking, you can get the picture of this man carrying the cross, that he’s the Son of God, he’s God the Son. Hard to conceive, hard to conceive too that he would chose to be crucified. I mean he could have designed, come up with another way to die. This was about the worst way you could ever die. There would be more, you could say, humane ways, less painful ways to chose to die for the sin of the world. But this is the way he chose to die, to be crucified, because of his love for us. Now crucifixion was a dreadful way to die, so much so that the Roman statesman Cicero said about it, “It is the most cruel and shameful of all punishments, let it never come near the body of a Roman citizen, not even near his thoughts or eyes or his ears”, so dreadful was this form of punishment. It was developed by the Persians, today, the Iranians, you know, the Persians around the year 1,000 B.C. It was designed to bring a man such agony, not only just the physical agony, but also a psychological agony as he was up there, just the way it was designed. The thought was to bring such pain and suffering upon this individual, that often they would curse the very life that they had lived as they were up there. It was designed that way. So for that reason, the Persians when they designed it, they purposely had the one to be crucified lifted up three or four feet off the ground, so they would be raised up. So as they cursed, they believe the ground was Holy, they did, so they didn’t want the ground defiled from the cursing or from the body of the individual. Just a horrific way to die. Well later when the Greeks came in and conquered the Persian Empire they took on this crucifixion practice too, and then the Romans when they took over the Greek Empire, that area of the world, they also acquired it from the Greeks. So that’s now where we are, the Romans are using this practice. But they know it’s a horrific practice. But it was done for those criminals that were especially, just had done especially awful crimes, and it was just the worst form of punishment. But Jesus is suffering physically and psychologically, but we know his suffering is even much greater than that. There is this spiritual suffering that’s going on, which is even much greater. The spiritual suffering that would take place as he would take on the sin of the world, and experience with the sin of the world God’s full penalty, his full wrath for that sin, all of the sin, all of the sin that you and I have committed would be placed upon him, and he would experience that at that moment, the wrath of God, the punishment for that sin. [I am an avid history buff, and most history is about wars and man’s inhumanity to man. Six thousand years of that were laid on Jesus at the cross. I am just finishing up FlyBoys a history of US Naval and Marine aviators in WWII. This author lays bare the sins of both America before the war and the Japanese during it, horrendous sins of murder, rape, even cannibalism, men trained to go to extremes and were driven to extremes. You get a clear picture of what Jesus died for, to cover those sins both past, present and in the future.] That’s according to the prophecy of Isaiah 53, prophecying of the coming Messiah, this is hundreds of years before this time [roughly six hundred years]. “Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise him, yes, put him to grief, when he made his soul an offering for sin, he shall see the labor of his soul and be satisfied. By his knowledge my Righteous Servant shall justify many, for he shall bear their iniquities. He poured out his soul unto death, he was numbered with the transgressors.” Of course there’s a transgressor on each side of him, numbered there with the crucifixion process. “And he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.” So the sin of the world was placed on him, and that just compounds the suffering, there’s never been anybody that’s suffered like this, suffered to the extent that Jesus did here. You get a sense of that in Matthew chapter 27, verse 46, he’s been on the cross for a few hours, it’s the ninth hour, and suddenly he cries out with a loud voice “Eli, Eli, Lama Sabachthani?”, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” He cries that out, this is Jesus, Yeshua the Son of God, God himself saying to God the Father “Why have you forsaken me?”. We don’t even understand why he’d say that. He’s God. But just the wrath, and taking on that sin, his experience. Those are the things that he would cry out. So, we look at the cross, we consider the agony. Nobody’s ever suffered like this.
What does it mean to pick up your cross and follow Jesus?
But you know, you take that, take that picture, and contrast it then with Jesus’ earlier exhortation to his followers, to you and I, the disciples of Jesus Christ. He says this to us, “If anyone desires to come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross, and follow me.” Take the picture that you have here, and then lay it beside Jesus’ words to you. Luke chapter 14, Jesus is recorded as saying another time, “And whoever does not bear his cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” Cannot be my disciple if you too do not bear your cross. ‘You mean, the cross? Such a terrible thing?’ Jesus made it very clear that as we study these passages, we’re not just to admire what he’s done here, we’re not just to say ‘Oh our hero! Wow, look what he did!’ We’re not just to be impressed by the magnitude of his suffering for us, but as one Christian writer has put it, “We don’t just simply contemplate the cross, we carry it.” We’re not just to sing about it, tell stories about it, we’re not just to wear the symbol of it around our necks, we are to pick up our cross in like manner. Now what does it mean for you and I to pick up our cross? What does it mean? What was Jesus referring to? Well to pick up your cross when he said that, he was referring to you and I denying ourselves, in whatever way necessary, denying ourselves so that we can live 100 percent for God. When he refers to picking up your cross, he refers to taking on whatever discomfort, whatever pain necessary in order to fully accomplish the will of God in your life. That’s what he means when he says “pick up your cross, pick up your cross.” Now that can be a challenge for us as Christians. I can tell you, it is in my life. Especially today in America where it’s so easy and life is so comfortable, ‘Pick up my cross? Take on discomfort? Go against my own desires and my own will?’ You know, I often see in counseling that heart in believers, and I’m sure it’s in my own heart, but you know, there’s an unwillingness to endure any hardship in order to fully honor God, an unwillingness and a resistance to anything that would cause them to deny their will and their desires. But we study the cross, we see what Jesus has done, but Jesus says “Pick up your cross and follow me.” This is a dream that was recorded in the Presbyterian Survey, the person who had this dream we don’t know. But it’s a story, and maybe, I think all of us could have written this story. “I saw in a dream that I was in the Celestial City, though when and how I got there I could not tell. I was one of a great multitude which no man could number from all countries, peoples and times and ages. Somehow I found that the saint who stood next to me had been in Celestial City more than one thousand eight hundred and sixty years. ‘Who are you?’ I said to him. We both spoke the same language of heavenly Canaan, so that I understood him and he me. ‘I’ said he ‘was a Roman Christian, I lived in the days of the Apostle Paul, I was one of those who died in Nero’s persecutions, I was covered with pitch and fastened to a stake and set on fire to light up Nero’s gardens.’ How awful I exclaimed. No, he said, I was glad to do something for Jesus. He died on the cross for me. The man on the other side then spoke. ‘I’ve been in heaven for only a few hundred years. I came from an island in the South Seas, Iremango. John Williams, a missionary came and told me about Jesus, and I too learned to love him. My fellow countrymen killed the missionary, and they caught and bound me. I was beaten until I fainted and they thought I was dead, but I revived. The next day they knocked me on the head, took me and ate me.’ ‘How terrible!’ I said. ‘No’ he answered, ‘I was glad to die as a Christian, you see, the missionary had told me that Jesus was scourged and crowned with thorns for me.’ Then they both turned and said, ‘What did you suffer for him? Or what did you sell for the money which sent men like John Williams to tell the heathen about Jesus?’ I was speechless. And while they both were looking at me with sorrowful eyes, I awoke and it was a dream. I lay on my soft bed for hours thinking of the money I had wasted on my own pleasures, or my extra clothing and costly car and many luxuries, and I realized that I did not know what the words of Jesus meant ‘If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me.’” [The “Celestial City is none other than the New Jerusalem which all saints of God will end up living in when it comes down from heaven to earth, cf. Revelation 21:1-27.] Now that’s a dream I think I could have had. And will that be our experience? I think it can often be the case in the Church in America. That’s why, one of the reasons why we hope to all the more become a missions church. I like to get out there and just remember what life is all about, meet with people who are dying for the sake of the Gospel, suffering for the sake of the Gospel, making great sacrifices and denying themselves, picking up their crosses, I like to be around people like that---short-term missions to other parts of the world and hanging out with other churches in India and Africa and Mexico, just reminds you of the same. I remember going to Mexico just two years ago with the fifteen of us that went, and just seeing how much this family had denied themselves to get out the Gospel to the city of Juarez. Maybe you get the “Sent” magazine, I know a lot of us do from Gospel for Asia, but as I was preparing this I thought of an article I had seen in there, story of a man named Joseph…but this man became a Christian and then felt called to go to an area where there wasn’t a single believer, no witness in any way, he felt called to go there, a bunch of communities in this area. And he began to witness and he determined that he would every day go to different houses and give tracts and share the Gospel, and I forget how many he would do in a day, but just many. Well after a year and after two there wasn’t a single individual that accepted his message. He had been stoned, he had been arrested by some, put in rooms, had his material torn up, he had people verbally accost him, he had just suffered. After two years, he would go to this little plateau and pray for the communities, he could see from there, and after two years he was up there one time praying ‘Oh man, I don’t know if I can do this any longer, and I’ve denied everything, and no fruit.’ Well it turned out that it wasn’t too long later that God put it on his heart to reach out to the children, and he began to reach out to the children, and the fruit began to come, people started to get saved and today, years later, there are multiple churches, I think like 29 churches he’s planted, and all sorts of believers in different communities. But he writes about this earlier time, I’ll quote to you, where he states, at least they recorded his words, “God gave me a vision to reach the lost, inspite persecution and stoning. I made a difficult decision. I will not turn from my ministry, I will serve the Lord whether I’m hungry or poor or beaten or facing death, I will be faithful to the Lord no matter what.” Now there’s a guy that knows what it means to pick up your cross. And that really is what Jesus says to you and I, that should be our hearts---“I’ll be faithful to the Lord no matter what. I’ll do what God calls me to do no matter what. I don’t care the personal cost, personal sacrifice, I don’t care the pain that comes into my life, I will do whatever he calls me to do, to his glory.” And only you can know ultimately what God has called you to do. But as we look upon the cross, may it more than just stir our emotions, may it further motivate our hearts, as it did in the heart of Joseph, this man Joseph, to pick up our crosses. [see http://www.unityinchrist.com/missionstatement.htm for some helpful ideas.]
Pilate shows a little resolve here
Verses 19-22, “Now Pilate wrote a title and put it on the cross, and the writing was JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS. Then many of the Jews read this title, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city. And it was written in Hebrew, Greek and Latin. Therefore the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, ‘Do no write THE KING OF THE JEWS, but ‘He said I am the king of the Jews.’ Pilate answered, ‘What I have written I have written.’” Now we see Pilate being a little firm with these religious leaders. He buckled earlier, but this time he’s determined he’s not going to change. We’re told that he’s placed a sign on the cross, and the words on the cross that he had put there are the words that say JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS. Now it was common when a man was to be crucified, and he was to carry his cross through the city, that they would place a sign on that cross or the crossbeam, and it would indicate the crime that he had committed. And as he went through the streets of Jerusalem and the multitudes watched on they would read that and it would be a warning to them, ‘Don’t commit this crime, because this is where it will take you.’ And then he would be crucified and the sign would be placed there. Well the chief priests, seeing this particular sign, of course they wanted it to say some awful thing about Jesus, and they’re really offended by what it says. They come to Pilate and say, ‘Listen, let’s change this. We don’t like the way this sounds.’ They’ve been able to twist this guy’s arm before. But fortunately this time he doesn’t buckle, he says ‘This is the way it is, and this is the way it’s going to stand.’ Now, John mentions that this sign, first in the Hebrew it’s written, and then we’d assume maybe underneath that the Greek [which all Jews knew, due to the fact that it was the language in which commerce was carried out], and then the Latin. And that just right there is a statement that the Gospel goes out to all, I mean, it’s universal. You have all, basically, the nations coming here into the city [all the Jews from the far-flung Roman Empire and beyond tried to make it to Jerusalem for the Passover/Pentecost season, cf. Acts 2:1-11]. But it’s written that way, and there is an interesting point about the Hebrew, the way that John lists the writing here, JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS. You compare it with the other Gospels, there’s a slightly different rendition, although this is one of the fullest ones. But in Hebrew, if those are the exact ordering of the words, if you take the Hebrew words, and you take the first four letters of the first four words, you get the letters YHVH, which is the tetragram, which is Yahweh, the Holy Name of God, if you take the first four letters. And you say, ‘Well, that’s just taking the first four letters. If you were a scholar…[tape switchover, some text lost]…that this is the Son of God on the cross. Interesting. That may be part of the reason why they especially are offended. But either way, they take offense at the sign. And it’s clear in the other Scriptures, that not only do they take offense at the sign in general, this whole thing with Jesus on the cross they take offense at.
And this brings me to our second point.
2. The offense of the cross
As we look upon the cross, we see the agony, but we’re also reminded of the offense of the cross. We’re told in the other Gospels that as Jesus hangs on the cross, many who pass by actually hurl insults at him, and blaspheme him, Matthew chapter 27. We’re even told that the chief priests also went by and just blasphemed and mocked Jesus as he hung on the cross. And we’re also told that one of the robbers, one of the thieves next to Jesus also was hurling insults. So you have the cross. And then you have all sorts of people just blaspheming and mocking him and insulting him, you have this picture of the offense of the cross. I see that here. And we know that the cross from that point on, it started here, ridiculing and blaspheming of the cross, but it started here, and it’s just continued throughout church history since then. People offended by the cross. Jesus even warned, just moments before, as he was carrying the cross, there were ladies mourning behind him that were following him, and he turned to them and he said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For if they do these things in the green wood, what will be done in the dry?” Meaning just the offense of the cross and the Gospel and the persecution that would come with it that. [Many scholars feel this was also a prophecy about what was to befall Jerusalem in 70A.D.] Later Paul in Galatians chapter 5, speaks of the offense of the cross, those are his exact words, offense of the cross. And with that he says, he expected persecution, just talking about the cross, the message of the cross would bring persecution into his life. And of course that has been the case even today in America, the cross in many instances with some people is offensive. I know in San Diego, my wife and I when we got married, we got married in a place, a church, and then we decided to have our little reception at another church that sits on this hill called Mount Soledad in San Diego, and there on the mount is this very large cross. I don’t know how large the cross is, fifty, sixty, seventy-five feet high. As you drive one of the main freeways in San Diego you can’t help but see it, you can see the cross there on the hill. And there’s just an incredible view up there too, of all of the city of San Diego, the ocean and everything. So it’s a little tourist place, people go up there, and as they go up there they see this massive cross that you can walk around. Well, a few years ago, while we were here, one of these atheistic groups, you know, they get on these crusades. They sought to have this cross torn down. It just bugged them, totally bugged them, it was on public land, and they sought to have it torn down. Of course it’s been a landmark in San Diego for quite some time. There was another cross on Mount Helix, another place in San Diego they wanted to have torn down too, just offended by the symbol and what it represents. Well fortunately, I believe Horizon, Mike MacIntosh a had part to do with it, and other groups came together and they purchased that little piece of property. So now it’s private land, it doesn’t matter what you say, it’s private, they can’t have it. So when we went out to the huddle, the ten of us that went from the church last year, I took them up there. And you can see the cross now, they’ve made a Veterans Memorial around it, very nicely done for the people in San Diego that have died in various wars [i.e. many the FlyBoys going to war against the Japanese, whose carriers were originally based in San Diego, along with most of our fleet that would end up in the Pacific came from San Diego.] It’s powerful, and I tell you, you often can’t find a parking place up there, and there is the cross, big cross. But the offense, the offense of the cross to some. It’s been like that around the world, throughout Church history. But may it not deter you and I. Yet to some it’s offensive, but it is the power of God. And may you and I boldly stand and proclaim the Gospel, proclaim this wonderful message of the cross. May it not deter us from living for Christ. [Comment: To many Jews it is offensive for the wrong reasons, just like the name Christian and Christ. The anti-Semitism that has been brought against the Jewish race down through history from 325AD to 1945 all in the name of Christ and the cross brought on first by the proto-Catholic church in 325AD up through the Middle Ages in Europe, right up to Catholic-Lutheran Germany and Poland under Adolph Hitler. The Jews are not to be blamed for their taking offense to the cross for this reason. See http://www.unityinchrist.com/messianicmovement/bloodstainedhands.htm.] The writer of Hebrews in Hebrews chapter 12, verse 3 says, “For consider him who endured such hostility from sinners against himself, lest you become worried and discouraged in your souls. You’ve not resisted to bloodshed striving against sin.” He says, ‘consider the cross’ is what he says, and what Jesus went through, consider that, and don’t worry so much about what you’re going through, it doesn’t even compare. Don’t be discouraged, he says. Keep going. There’s a story about the terrible Boxer Rebellion in China when that took place, the insurrectionists, a group of them came in and captured a missions station, a place with missionaries. And as they captured this station, they blocked all the gates that went into this mission but one gate. And the one gate they didn’t block, what they did is they laid down a cross on the ground, flat on the ground. Then they passed the word to those that were inside, “If anybody will trample on this cross, we’ll let him go.” ‘If you’ll just come out and trample on that cross, we’ll give you freedom, we’ll give you life.’ “If you refuse to trample on the cross, we’ll shoot you to death.” Well, terribly frightened, the first seven students came out and in their fear they trampled on he cross and they were released. But the story goes that the eighth student, a young girl, refused to commit the sacrilegious act, she came out and actually kneeled beside the cross and said a prayer for strength. Then she arose and purposely stayed away from the cross, didn’t step on it, and she went out and faced the firing squad. But because of that, the next ninety-two students did the same thing, and went to their death. So, yeah, the cross is offensive, the cross is offensive, here people wanting people to trample on the cross. But may you and I, man, may we be full of faith and the power of the Holy Spirit, and may we give out the Gospel here in the North County, and not be deterred.
3. The foolishness of the cross
Verses 23-24, “Then the soldiers, when they had crucified Jesus, took his garments and made four parts, to each soldier a part, and also the tunic. Now the tunic was without seam, woven from the top in one piece. They said therefore among themselves, ‘Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it whose it shall be,’ that the Scripture might be fulfilled that says, ‘They divided my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots.’ Therefore the soldiers did these things.” So, we have a whole ‘nuther picture here, soldiers, Jesus suffering, Jesus the Son of God on the cross, agony, incredible suffering. Nobody’s ever gone through suffering like that. And you got guys gambling at the foot of the cross, gambling for his clothes, trying to get some kind of materialistic benefit from that. And that’s just a warning. It’s really disturbing to me when people try to make a buck out of Jesus and the cross, man, that is so disturbing. That’s what you see here, and it’s offensive too to me, and it’s offensive to God. But here I bring up the third point, and that is the foolishness of the cross, at least the foolishness in the eyes of others. There’s the offense, and there’s others that just say that’s foolishness. These guys are so hardhearted they’re not even effected by what’s going on. They could care less. And Paul in his opening letter to the church in Corinth, he also mentions the same heart, he says, “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing.” Foolish, they don’t have the discernment. They consider the cross, they look at the cross, they’re like, ‘That’s just foolish. Why would a guy do something like that? Why would people make a big deal out of that?’. Maybe that’s been you in your life. Maybe you’ve just thought that’s foolish, that’s not for me. Well if that’s the case, my prayer for you is that God would speak to your heart this morning, and through the power of the Holy Spirit the veil that blinds your mind, maybe the enemy is deceiving you, that he would just remove that blindness, and the sin that’s even deceiving your own heart would be removed so that you could see that this isn’t foolish. But as Paul continues the same phrase there in his letter, he says, “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1st Corinthians 1:18). So we have the agony, the offense, the foolishness.
4. The love of the Cross
Verses 25-27, “Now there stood by the cross of Jesus his mother, his mother’s sister the wife of Cleophas and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus therefore saw his mother and the disciple whom he loves standing by, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, behold your son.’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Behold your mother.’ Now from that hour that disciple [John] took her to his own home.” You know, we’ve got these people standing around the cross, one is the mother of Jesus, Mary, then we have her sister Cleophas’ wife, and the other Mary, Mary Magdalene, we have these three gals. You can only imagine what’s going on in their hearts at this point, even Mary, you can only imagine, as the mother of Jesus watching. You think of Luke chapter 2, verse 33, Simeon when Jesus was born, this man of God there in the Temple, there lifted the baby Jesus and said right to Mary and to Joseph, “Behold this child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel and for a sign which will be spoken against. Yes, a sword will pierce through your own soul that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.” I would imagine that’s being fulfilled right at this moment, that sword, a sword through her own soul. What would that feel like as she’s standing there watching her son upon the cross? But Jesus, you know Jesus, it’ amazing. This process is designed so that people would curse their very life. They’re up three feet off the ground so they won’t defile the Persian ground, you know. But Jesus isn’t cursing. In fact, you see a man of love, caring for other people. He turns to his mother, and says ‘Mom, this is your son.’ He says to his disciple, “whom” it says each time ‘the disciple whom Jesus loved’, which we believe is John, and he says ‘John, this is your Mom.’ And from that point on John had the great honor of really taking Jesus’ place in that family, and Mary in a sense become his Mom and he took care of her. [On a tour of Ephesus my mother and father took, the tour guide showed them the house they believe John and Mary lived in. We know from early Church history that the first Roman war against the Jews in 70AD would have been hazardous for believers to hang around Jerusalem. Evidently John didn’t just go to Pela to wait it out, like many members of the Jerusalem Church of God congregation did, but he moved north to Asia Minor, taking no chances with Mary’s life. And that is where God established John, who then later laid the foundation for the Judeo-Christian churches in Asia Minor. See http://www.unityinchrist.com/history2/index3.htm.] But that is just a beautiful picture of love. And when Jesus is on the cross, there’s other statements that just show the love that comes through here. Jesus as you remember in Luke chapter 23, verse 34, they’re crucifying him, and Luke says the next thing after he’s crucified is Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” So the love. We’ve looked at the agony, the offense, the foolishness, but you can’t help when you read the Gospel, you see the love that’s just being stated, shown, emitted so brightly at this time, the love. And that is the message of the cross. It’s a message of incredible love to you and I. John will later write in his first Epistle, he’ll say “This is how God showed his love among us, he sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.” And then he said, “This is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” This is love, that Jesus came, the Son of God, and died on the cross. When I was in Juarez, it turned out it was my birthday while I was there with a team from our church. And the pastor and his family got together and bought me a picture, you see the picture, mine is written in Spanish, I can’t give you the exact words, I don’t have an English one, but I have a Spanish one. But there’s a picture of a cross, it’s a big picture in my office, and in Spanish it says this, the person writes “One day I asked Jesus, ‘How much do you love me?’ So he spread out his arms (of course, you’ve got the cross), and he said ‘This much. That’s how much I love you.’” On the cross, dying for you. The cross, we look at the cross, we think of the love, we think of the love. There’s a story in the Sent magazine of a lady name Peroh, another statement of the love of the cross, you have stories too in your own life, her life was absolutely destroyed, you could say, at least in the sense of emotionally, without God, experiences she had were very difficult. There’s a testimony about her life, that she was brutally raped nine times by a man, and from that rape actually was impregnated and then gave birth to a daughter because of the abuse. She didn’t have anywhere that she knew of to turn, so in the story it says she became mentally disturbed, just couldn’t cope. But that’s until she heard about the cross. There’s a Christian man named Manoge that came to her and shared about the wonderful love of Jesus and this message of love that just emits from the cross. And we’re told as she listened she began to weep, and right there decided to give her life to Christ. But then the article makes this statement, “The Lord not only made her a child of God, but healed her deep emotional wounds and restored her mental health. Peroh is happy now, because Jesus has given her new life.” That’s the ticket man, the love of Christ there, right there, the Gospel, the cross, man, the love. It’s all about love, Romans 5:8, “God demonstrated his love for you and I while we were yet sinners”, Christ died for us. He said, ‘This much is how much I love you.’ I intended to go a little further, but we’re getting at the end of our time, maybe we’ll end with these following verses here. Maybe we’ll just go a little further and just make a couple quick comments.
5. The Power of the Cross
Verses 28-30, “After this Jesus knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the Scripture might be fulfilled said, ‘I thirst.’---I thirst, you have the sense of the physical agony as he’s up there.---Now a vessel full of sour wine was sitting there, and they filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on hyssop and put it up to his mouth. So when he had received the sour wine he said, ‘It is finished.’ And bowing his head he gave up his spirit.” So, John gives us here his little recording, perspective of Jesus’ last moments just before he dies. We’re told in the other Gospels, Luke writes, just after he says “It is finished”, which you don’t have here, and then there’s a moment later he says in a loud voice “Father into your hands I commit my spirit.” And then we’re told in Luke that “he breathed his last”, at that moment he died. He willed, he gave up his life, he had control of his life. He said “Father, I give up my spirit to you.” Would we be able to do that before we die, ‘here comes my spirit Lord’? He was in complete control of the situation. And right after he dies Matthew tells us there was an earthquake, rocks even split apart. We’re told that as everything rumbled the Temple vial split right down in two. This thing weighed hundreds and thousands of pounds, ten inches thick, split right in two. I think it was 40 feet tall. We’re told in a radical way the graves in the city of Jerusalem opened up and the saints of old that had died before came out of their graves, resurrected, running around the city, and people saw some of the old saints…just running around the city of Jerusalem. And with that, this man maybe thought it was foolish before, the Centurion had a real different reaction, because he then said “Truly, this was the Son of God.” He says, ‘Truly this was a Righteous man.’ So, 1st Corinthians, foolishness, but then to those who were being saved this was the power of God. And then Luke notes that the whole crowd at that point, seeing these things, they began to beat their breasts. Just even the emotion of watching and seeing the things that had happened. Powerful event, there’s never been anything like it in all history, and our last point that we’ll look at now as we look at the cross, we see, we have to note the power, the power. Even in the words “It is finished”, that says it all man. That’s such power, it is finished, the Greek word is tuteleoesti , it was a word when an artist was painting, in the Greek, that was the word he’d use when he’d put that last drop on, he’d go tuteleoesti. And a writer, if he was writing something, a book, the last period, he would say tuteleoesti, meaning, the work is done. A businessman when the deal was finally closed, he would say tuteleoesti, meaning the debt has been paid in full, this is a done deal. That’s the Greek word. It was also used for the pronouncement given when a lamb passed the Temple inspection, passed the inspection, they would look through it and say tuteleoesti, finished, this one can meet the standard. And that’s what he says, “It is finished.” Not just that the book of his life is done, not that there’s a last chapter, he’s now dead and that’s it. But when he says that, he says ‘The work of salvation is complete, it is a done deal.’ And the Gospel writers, they’re going to go on, and the writers of the Epistles are going to make it clear that we don’t have to work at all to get into the kingdom of heaven, we just have to accept and let God do the work in us. We see that power emitted too, just that picture of that type of power. You remember one of the thieves is mocking Jesus and the other thief stands in defense, the other guy on the cross rebukes the other thief saying ‘This guy hasn’t done anything wrong, we deserve this, he doesn’t.’ And then he turns to Jesus, and he said ‘Hey, remember me, when you come into your kingdom.’ And Jesus said right there on the cross, “Assuredly I say to you today, you’ll be with me in paradise.” He didn’t say, ‘Hey, let’s go baptize ya.’ He didn’t say ‘Hey, let’s make sure we get the last rites here for ya’, he said “Assuredly I say to you today, you will be with me in paradise.” It is finished, the work was done…I mean, this thief had been a criminal before. This guy hadn’t done anything to deserve it, except he turned and he believed, humbled his heart, and he received his salvation. So, Paul says in Colossians about this incredible power of the cross, “That having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us which was contrary to us, and he has taken it out of the way, having nailed to the cross, having disarmed principalities and powers, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them.” He says all the things, the law says I’m a sinner and deserving of death, that all the things I’ve done wrong that the law said I deserved to be under the wrath of God for was nailed to the cross, and the spiritual hosts, the dark spiritual principalities, they knew at that point they had lost. Paul says in Colossians chapter 1, verses 19-20 “For it pleased the Father that in him all the fullness should dwell, and by him to reconcile all things to himself, by him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood his cross. And you who were once alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now he has reconciled in the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and blameless and above reproach in his sight.“ So you were once alienated, you were an enemy of the Lord, you were an enemy because of your wicked works, but he now through the cross has reconciled you to God. And when I sit on an airplane, as I’ve told you before, I do it even around here sometimes, but there’s just something about being on an airplane, you’ve got a captive audience, you can draw pictures and everything when you share the Gospel, but I’ll get that napkin out and I’ll draw that picture, God, man, together, that’s the intention. Sin separates, now there’s this chasm inbetween God and man, there’s no way you can get across. But then I draw the cross right there. There’s the bridge from God to man. It’s the cross, the work of God on the cross. Well, Paul, with the cross, then he will tell the Galatians, “God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” Let’s close in prayer…[transcript of an expository sermon given on John 19:17-30 somewhere in New England.]