Way of the Cross – Taken when I visited Jerusalem during Holy Week in 1992… These Franciscan monks re-enact the walk of our Saviour Jesus Christ up the Via Dolorosa (Way of Grief/Suffering)…
Friday – Jesus’ Last Breath
Isaiah 52v13-14: See, my servant will act wisely he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted. Just as there were many who were appalled at him his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any man and his form marred beyond human likeness-
Isaiah 53v10-11: Yet it was the LORD’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the LORD makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand. After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light of life and be satisfied by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities.
Those words were spoken of the coming Messiah, by the prophet Isaiah centuries before Jesus Christ. Together we have looked at during this Easter series, Jesus’ mission and identity and have placed Him as the Messiah spoken about throughout the Old Testament, including Isaiah. We have looked at Jesus’ last teaching, last prayers and the events of his last night. Following his betrayal he is now facing trial in a Roman court, being interrogated by Pontius Pilate. Now, as we look together briefly at John 19, let us see what happened to Jesus Christ – His condemnation, crucifixion, death and burial.
1. What of Jesus?
a. Jesus was Condemned
Pilate gave in and permitted the flogging and mockery in the hope of shaming Jesus’ accusers (John 19vs. 1-3). Pilate affirmed Jesus’ innocence after the scourging (John 19v4). Jesus’ refusal to answer stung Pilate into reminding Jesus of his Roman authority (John 19v10). Jesus, however, corrected Pilate’s idea of authority and told him that although Pilate may have power on earth, his power did reach beyond earth (John 19v11). Jesus knew that his work of bring people back to God in a loving relationship did not rest on the actions of a mere Roman governor.
Pilate was more concerned with his own position than he was for justice. In all this, we see Jesus as the true Passover lamb.
b. Jesus was Crucified
Jesus bearing his own cross, was killed as a common criminal (John 19v17). We read, that Pilate was responsible for fixing the sign “The King of the Jews” (John 19v21-22). The clothes of condemned prisoners were given to soldiers on duty (John 19v23). Even when he himself was in agony, Jesus showed concern for his mother, committing her to the Apostle John (John 19vs.26-27).
The crucifixion site “was purposely chosen to be outside the city walls because the Law forbade such within the city walls… for sanitary reasons… the crucified body was sometimes left to rot on the cross and serve as a disgrace, a convincing warning and deterrent to passers-by.” Sometimes, the subject was eaten while alive and still on the cross by wild beasts. Jesus face was beaten beyond recognition and the scourging reduced his flesh to something like raw hamburger mince. The whips used has pieces of glass and rocks stuck to the cord so as to inflict as much damage as possible. He had a crown of thorns pushed into his scalp.
In Jesus’ final moments he uttered “I am thirsty.” (John 19v28) and “It is finished.” (John 19v30). The desire of the Jews (John 19v32) to fulfil their rituals was important because the Sabbath fell within the Passover festival. The breaking of legs (John 19vs.32-33) sped up the process of death. The piercing of Jesus’ side, and the flow of blood and water proved Jesus was really dead (John 19v34).
c. Jesus was Buried
Joseph of Arimithea and Nicodemus buried Jesus. The significance of “in which no-one had ever been laid” (John 19v41) is to demonstrate that the body of Jesus at no point came into contact with the decay of a dead body. But his burial is not the end of the story. Tomorrow we will look at some of the other character & events that happened around the cross, and then on Sunday we will look at the end of the story. But before we leave today, lets investigate what Jesus’ death on a Roman cross two thousand years ago means for humanity today and why He had to die on a cross in the first place.
2. What Has Jesus’ Death Done For All Mankind?
All human beings, in their natural state, are born sinners and have rebelled against God (Romans 3v23). However, because of Jesus’ death on the cross God offers forgiveness (Ephesians 1v7), Peace (Romans 5v1) and reconciliation with God, so that we are no longer His enemies (2 Corinthians 5v19). Through the cross, and only through the cross, we are made just before God (Romans 3v24-26), it cleanses us from sin (1 John 1v7) and makes us right before Almighty God (2 Corinthians 5v21). Because of the Cross, we have direct access to God (Ephesians 2v18) and Jesus Christ intercedes for us (Hebrews 2v17-18). Because of Jesus Christ’s death on a Roman cross, all those who follow Him have freedom from the power of slavery to sin (Galatians 5v1) and freedom from the power of the devil (Hebrews 2v 14). None of the above things are true if we do not follow Jesus.
3. Why did Jesus go to the cross?
a The problem!
Sin is what separates humans from God and as a consequence leads to both a spiritual and physical death (Romans 3v23, Romans 6v23, Isaiah 59v2). In the Old Testament, sins were dealt with by blood sacrifices of atonement as coverings for sin (Leviticus 17v11), for without the shedding of blood there can be no remission of sin (Hebrews 9v22). A blood sacrifice is God’s way of dealing with sin. These blood sacrifices of the Old Testament signified several things:
- It provided a covering for sin.
- It showed the great cost of sin.
- It was an exchange or substitution.
- It was only always going to be a temporary measure as it pointed forward to Jesus’ death
b. The Solution!
The solution lies not in continual animal sacrifice of the Old Testament because Hebrews 10v4 reminds us that the blood of animals cannot take away sin but was only a veneer or covering. That was why it was necessary to repeat time and time again! It is only through the death of Jesus, that sin is taken away (Hebrews 9:v11-15, 26-28), because Jesus is our permanent sacrificial substitute!
Jesus died for our sin, the just for the unjust (1 Peter 3v18). That is how God is both just and the Justifier of sinners. That is why Jesus needed to be both fully God and fully human! If he lacked either, it would not be the full substitutionary sacrifice that was necessary to bear the permanent consequences of sin! When Jesus died on the cross, in our place, he bore the consequences of all sin – past, present and future. He therefore became sin for us (2 Corinthians 5v21) and it was His precious blood as a lamb without spot or blemish (1Peter 1:18-19) that fulfils God’s requirements permanently.
Towards sin and sinful behaviour, God has great fury, anger and wrath (Jeremiah 21v5). Yet as Micah 7v18 “He is slow to anger and quick to forgive”. Propitiation basically means the turning aside of God’s anger by the offering of the sacrifice of Christ. God’s anger and judgment of sin falls on Christ, instead of us. We need to approach God to appease His anger, in order to accept it (Romans 3:25; Isaiah 53:5; John 2:2, 5:6).
1 John 2v2: He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.
1 John 4v10: This is real love-not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice (or propitiation) to take away our sins.
e. Redemption (Ransom) Mark 10:45
Not only was it propitiation, but also an act of redemption! In the time of the New Testament, this word was used to refer to the buying back of a slave – the price paid to buy the slave’s freedom. God paid redemption so that humans can be freed from the slavery to sin (John 8:35 Romans 7:14). The price was paid (1 Peter 1:18-19) and so we are redeemed with the precious blood of Christ (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). But it is our responsibility to choose that way! God does not coerce forcefully – He leaves it as a choice for humans to make as individuals.
What is our response to this to be? Sacrifice, substitution, propitiation and redemption can be summed up in one word: love. For 1 John 3v16 states: “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.” Jesus told us to take up our cross if we are to follow Him as His Disciple (Luke 9v23). Are you as a Christian Disciple willing to take up your cross and do all you can do to love others?
Price to pay for true followers
- We must surrender completely to Him
- We must identify with Him in suffering and death
- We must follow Him obediently, wherever He leads.
4. Victory over Satan, death and sin.
As we look back through the Gospel accounts, we see Jesus being tempted and taunted by satan. We see the temptations in the wilderness, satan using the Apostle Peter to try and deflect Jesus away from the cross and satan using Judas to betray him. If Jesus had ever succumbed to temptation, and sinned in thought, word, action or inaction, then He Himself would have needed a Saviour. That is why Jesus is the perfect sacrifice – because he never sinned and always did what He saw God the Father wanting Him to do. Jesus’ death on the cross is the centrepiece of all human history and the focal point of eternity. At the cross, Jesus’ mission is accomplished. At the cross, this God-man, Jesus Christ paid the penalty for all sin of all time, so that people can have the opportunity to be restored into relationship with God.
Some people say that Jesus didn’t die on the cross, but rather somebody was made to be His substitute. But this is a lie of the devil. Nobody could have been a substitute or the Jewish leaders would have said so when the rumours of Jesus resurrection began to circulate. The Romans kept strict discipline and regimen and nobody would have been able to get in amongst the Roman soldiers and somehow substitute themselves for Jesus. Yes, somebody else carried the cross for Him, but nobody but Jesus was nailed to that cross. Jesus died on that cross and not some substitute.
The cross is not a symbol to be merely placed around the neck as an item of jewellery or fashion. The cross is not meant to portray Jesus as some form of sadomasochistic tragi-hero as some people would make it out to be. The cross is God’s solution to the problem of sin, suffering and pain. The cross is a choice. You can choose to deny the cross and say it doesn’t matter, that it is an irrelevance, and that is your right. God will not force people to love him. If He did, He would have created Adam so that Adam would automatically love him and not given him free will to rebel. That way the cross would not have been needed. But such is the enormity of the love of God, that each person has a choice to make – follow Jesus and take up your own cross and be an overcomer for Him. Or a person can deny the cross and its meaning and when Jesus Christ comes again in judgment, they will find that He denies them entrance into His glorious kingdom. How a person thinks of the cross, ultimately has relevance to them and affects their reality. The cross, epitomises God’s glory, and if there was any other way that He could restore people into relationship with Himself, surely He would have done it that way. But there was no other way – Jesus Christ, simultaneously fully God and fully man, died on a Roman cross. He took on the sins of the world, paying the greatest price, so that people can be restored into relationship with God the Father. That includes you and me.