Preached at Cornerstone Church in Cascade, IA on April 30, 2017
Open your Bibles to John 19:16-42. We have a fair amount of text to get through today, so we will do a brief review and dive right into the text. Last week we began to behold the hour of Christ’s glory beginning with his public flogging at the hands of Roman solders. As we saw, this scourging of Jesus was not some random event, but was a fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy found in Isaiah 50:30, Psalm 129:3, and Psalm 22:16. The flogging of Jesus was the Lord’s will, therefore it was Jesus’ will.
As we stated last week, Pilate’s initial plan to flog Jesus was in hope that it would appease the blood thirst of the Jews; and therefore, he would not have to crucify Jesus. This plan of Pilate did not work. The Jews demanded that Christ be crucified. Even going to the extent of telling Pilate that if he doesn’t kill Jesus then he is traitor against Caesar. This was the straw that broke the camel’s back. After hearing this, Pilate submitted to the will of the Jews and ordered their King to be killed.
With that, let us take a moment and ponder how many times Pilate tried to stop the crucifixion. First, when they brought Jesus to Pilate, he tells them to judge Jesus by their own law, and not to bother him. Second, we are told in Luke’s gospel that Pilate tried to pass the buck and sent Jesus to Herod. After Herod sent him back, Pilate interrogated Jesus and tells the people that he finds no fault in Jesus. Pilate then tries to get Jesus off the hook by releasing Him under the Passover custom of releasing one prisoner. The Jews, however, pick a murderous robber< Barabbas, over Jesus. Then Pilate chooses to flog him and presents him a second time and says again he finds no guilt. The Jews still want him dead and tell Pilate that Jesus called himself the Son of God. This causes Pilate to interview Jesus another time. After this we are told Pilate sought to release Jesus, but once again the Jews would not allow it and demanded Jesus death, so Pilate asks one more time, Shall I crucify your King? And they implicitly say yes, so finally Pilate gives in. Pilate tries to stop the crucifixion of Jesus at least seven times that we know about, but to no avail. Pilate could have tried seventy times seven, and the result would have always been the same. All of existence hinges on the crucifixion, and nothing was going to stop it. So with that, let us read our text for this morning.
The Weight of the Cross
We are told in verse 17, “he went out, bearing his own cross.” The cross has become synonymous with Jesus. It is placed in the front of Churches, on the top of buildings, engraved upon the tombstones of millions, hung on our walls, worn around our necks and at times etched into our flesh. The cross has not only become synonymous with Jesus it has become iconic in its display. It is perhaps the most well-known symbol on this planet.
However, what is not well known is the weight of the cross of Christ. Most people are oblivious to its reality. This weight of the cross comes into two realms, the physical realm as well as the spiritual realm. Today we will talk about the physical realities of the cross. Next week, God willing, we will unpack the spiritual realities.
First let us begin with the understanding that crucifixion was not invented by Rome, but it was definitely popularized by Rome. Prior to the Romans, the Phoenicians and the Carthaginians also crucified criminals. The Jews, however, historically did not crucify, but instead stoned criminals. Having said that they would, from time to time, hang someone on a tree after they died. Deuteronomy 21:23 speaks of this. Even though Rome regularly crucified people, due to its horrific nature, the Romans had a law that no Roman citizen could be crucified without the direct permission of the Emperor himself. It was just to torturous to put their own people through.
After Jesus was flogged, and handed over to be crucified, he would have been given a patibulum to carry. The patibulum was a large cross beam that Jesus was expected to carry to the place of his crucifixion. The carrying of this cross-beam was a part of the punishment. No one knows for sure, but it is estimated that the weight of this cross beam was 80 to 110 lbs. And the distance from Pilate's palace to his place of crucifixion was approximately 650 yards, therefore it was not a short trip, and as we stated last week, in the other three gospel accounts, we are told that due to the significant flogging of Jesus, Jesus was unable to carry the cross beam to the place of his crucifixion and a Simon of Cyrene was ordered to carry it for Jesus.
Either way, it would not have changed that Jesus would have been on display as he paraded through the streets of Jerusalem, the City of David. A town that he spent many days in as a child and a young man celebrating the Jewish festivals that all pointed to Him. A town that he had previously wept over. A town that less than one week ago he road into on a donkey with palm branches waiving and shouts of ““Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” echoing through its streets. Today as he was lead out, there were no palm branches, no shouts of blessings, merely disgusted glances of the mutilated body of Jesus as He crawled along the roads of Zion.
The place of Jesus' crucifixion we are told is a placed called Golgotha. In Latin we know this place as Calvary. In English it means The Place of a Skull. From what I could find, no one knows why it is called the Place of a Skull. Some believe it was shaped like a skull, some believe it was because skulls were scattered around the location due to its purpose. But what we do know is that it was located outside the gate of Jerusalem. It was outside of town, if you will.
The author of Hebrews speaks of this in Hebrews 13:12, “So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. 13Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. 14For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.” The leaving of the physical Jerusalem was a final picture that its days were over, and we are to set our eyes upon the new Jerusalem which will be a part of the New Heaven and the New Earth.
Once at Golgotha, Jesus would have been stripped naked a second time. If you recall, the first time would have been during his flogging. We can see this in verse 23, “When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his garments.” After stripping him naked, they would have laid the cross beam down and placed Jesus upon it, stretching out his arms and driving a nail into his hands. There is a debate whether this meant the hands or the wrist of a person due to anatomy and an archeological find in 1968. However, in Greek there is no word for wrist. The Greek word for hand is cheir which could be either the hand or the wrist.
Lifted Upon the Cross
At this time the cross-beam would have been lifted up and attached to the upright post. The feet of Jesus would have been nailed to the upright post, most likely through the heels. They believe that the legs of the one crucified would have been bent and turned side-ways so that a single nail would have gone through both heels. At times there was also a piece of wood that was also attached to the upright post so that the person could support some of his body weight. This sounds like an act of mercy, but it was not. Crucifixion was for the purpose of drawing out the most painful death, not to quicken it. The seat was a seat of torture.
Above the head of each criminal would then be placed the crime in which they committed. This was true for Jesus as well. His crime, as declared by Pilate, is found in verse 19 where it says, “Pilate also wrote an inscription and put it on the cross. It read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” We are told it was written in three languages: Aramaic, the language in common use in Judea; Latin, which was the official language of the Roman army; and Greek, which was the language of the empire, including mostly what was used in Galilee. There is of course a practical explanation to this, but it also provides great symbolic weight. Jesus is not only a King in Judea, he is not only King of Rome and he is the King of the entire world. The gospel is for all men who repent and put their faith in the death of Christ. Romans 1:16 says, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”
The Excruciating Death of Christ
After, securing the sign, and securing the Savior, the Roman guards then left Jesus on the cross until he was dead. And there is no question that his death was not easy. It is hard to imagine a more excruciating way to be killed. In fact, this is were we get the word excruciating, from crucifixion. This is how Frederk Farrar describes the realities of the crucifixion.
“For indeed a death by crucifixion seems to include all that pain and death can have of horrible and ghastly-dizziness, cramp, thirst, starvation, sleeplessness, traumatic fever, tetanus, shame, publicity of shame, long continuance of torment, horror of anticipation, mortification of untended wounds-all intensified just up to the point at which they can be endured at all, but all stopping just short of the point which would give to the sufferer the relief of unconsciousness. The unnatural position made every movement painful; the lacerated veins and crushed tendons throbbed with incessant anguish; the wounds, inflamed by exposure, gradually gangrened, the arteries-ecspecially at the head and stomach-became swollen and oppressed with surcharged blood, and while each variety of misery went on gradually increasing, there was added to them the intolerable pang of a burning and raging thirst; and all these physical complications caused an internal excitement and anxiety, which made the prospect of death itself-of death, the unknown enemy, at whose approach man usually shudders most-bear the aspect of a delicious and exquisite release.”
The means by which the Author of Life died, was perhaps the most torturous and barbaric forms of death invented by man. Why does God ordain to kill his Son this way? To display his utter hate of sin. We can't see the spiritual wrath and anger of God, but we can see the cross. If you think God is casual about sin, look upon the crucified body of Christ.
A High Priest without Sin
Most likely none of us will ever experience this type of physical pain and torment, but Jesus did, and he did not deserve one ounce of it. He was perfectly innocent. To use a word that we like to throw around when something bad happens to us, it was unfair what happened to Jesus. So let us all remember the cross the next time you want to complain about something.
Hebrews 4:15 says, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” Think about Jesus life. His birth was scandalous. From the moment he was born he was on the run for his life. Jesus was poorer than any of you in this room. At his death even the one pair of clothes he had were stolen from him. His own family thought he had gone off the deep end. He had no place to lay his head. He was despised and rejected by men. His home town tried to throw him off a cliff. The most powerful people in Israel hated him and wanted him dead. He ate from the fields of the pauper. The entire nation turned on him and cried out to crucify him. He was flogged to the point of being able to count his ribs, spit on, mocked, a crown of thorns place on his head. He was paraded through a town he loved as a public spectacle for all to see. Stretched out over a board and nailed to it. Hung on a cross where he agonized for hours, dieing a slow cruel death. And through all of this, he didn't sin once. Not one complaint. Not one grumbling. Not one, “This isn't fair.” He was truly the spotless lamb of God, perfect in every way. A faithful witness of the glorious grace of God.
And then in verse 30 we are told, “When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.” Jesus came and did what he was asked by the Father to do, completely obedient, even to the point of death, death on a cross. Jesus, the second Adam, lived the life that we could not live, and died the death that we deserve.
And it should be noted, even though the death of Jesus took place on the cross, an instrument of death, it was not the Roman cross that killed him. The death of Jesus was the decision of Jesus. It was Jesus who gave up his spirit. Rome did not force it out of him. If you recall, this is the fulfillment of what Jesus said in John 10:18, “No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.”
Despite the humiliation of the cross, Jesus is still in control, down to his last breath. And why did he do all this? Because he loved the father and he loves the elect, those who the Father gave him. Once again we see in John 10:11 Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. 14I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.”
Jesus suffered the physical realities of the cross because he loves you. He took the flogging because he loved you. He took the thorns because he loves you. He took the nails because he loved you. Jesus bore the cross because he loves you.
But that is not it, not only did Jesus take upon himself the physical weight of the cross, but he also took the spiritual weight, the anger and wrath of his father towards the sins of the world. The physical pain was nothing compared to the spiritual pain. Come back next week and join us as we unpack part 2 of “It is Finished.”