The Lord's Day Morning
October 17, 2010
“The Heart of the Cross” (1)
Dr. Derek W. H. Thomas
Amen. Now please turn with me in your Bibles to gospel of John chapter 19.
As you may have heard at the beginning, Ligon is away for a couple of Sundays in South Africa and I thought I would do a two-part sermon looking at the 19th chapter of John's gospel, looking at the cross, looking at the crucifixion of Jesus.
In chapter 18 Jesus is trial begins. Judas has betrayed Him. Jesus has been arrested. He's taken before the High Priests, Annas and Caiaphas. Caiaphas was technically the High Priest; Annas was his father-in-law. He had been the High Priest some fifteen years before, but the Roman authorities had removed him from office because he had illegally put people to death during his reign as High Priest, but as you will see from John, it is still to Annas that Jesus is taken first of all. And then finally to Pilate as the Roman governor and in verse 38 of chapter 18, Pilates says, “I find no guilt in him.”
Now chapter 18 ends with a reference to something that will appear again in chapter 19 and that is the custom according to Jewish law that at Passover the Romans would release a prisoner. We all, of course, know that that prisoner was Barabbas. Well, at this point it's not clear who it is who's going to be released and Pilate, it seems, wants to release Jesus.
Now before we read chapter 19 let's pray together.
Gracious God, we thank You for the scriptures and this morning it feels as though we tread on Holy Ground and therefore we ask for the blessing of Your Spirit that we might read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest with a holy reverence. For Jesus’ sake, amen.
This is God's holy and inerrant Word:
“Then Pilate took Jesus and flogged him. And the soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head and arrayed him in a purple robe. They came up to him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” and struck him with their hands. Pilate went out again and said to them, “See, I am bringing him out to you that you may know that I find no guilt in him.” So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, “Behold the man!” When the chief priests and the officers saw him, they cried out, “Crucify him, crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and crucify him, for I find no guilt in him.” The Jews answered him, “We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has made himself the Son of God.” When Pilate heard this statement, he was even more afraid. He entered his headquarters again and said to Jesus, “Where are you from?” But Jesus gave him no answer. So Pilate said to him, “You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?” Jesus answered him, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above. Therefore he who delivered me over to you has the greater sin.”
“From then on Pilate sought to release him, but the Jews cried out, “If you release this man, you are not Caesar's friend. Everyone who makes himself a king opposes Caesar.” So when Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus out and sat down on the judgment seat at a place called The Stone Pavement, and Aramaic Gabbatha. Now it was the day of Preparation of the Passover. It was about the sixth hour. He said to the Jews, “Behold your King!” They cried out, “Away with him, away with him, crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but Caesar.” So he delivered him over to them to be crucified.”
There's a famous painting by a pre-Raphaelite painter called Holman Hunt. It's called The Shadow of the Cross. Once you've seen it, you can never forget it. It depicts Jesus in His teenage years in His father Joseph's carpenter's shop. He's standing in the doorway with His hands on the doorposts and the sun is shining at such an angle that it casts a shadow on the back wall in the form of a cross. It was Hunt's way of saying that the whole life of Jesus was a preparation for the cross.
Paul says, “I determined not to know anything among you save Christ and Him crucified.” He says in another place, “I glory in the cross of Jesus Christ.”
I. The charges.
We see here in John 19 first of all, the charges that are brought against Him and there are two of them. The first is a charge of treason or sedition. You see it in verse 33 of the previous chapter. “So Pilate entered his headquarters again and called Jesus and said to him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” They had alleged that he was the King of the Jews and therefore was guilty of treason; that he had made himself King. And Pilate found no evidence. He says in verse 4 of chapter 19, “I find no guilt in him.” Jesus had been examined in the Praetorium in the Antonia Fortress, northwest corner of the temple precincts where the Roman soldiers, the garrison, would be housed. But he had found no evidence of treason, no evidence of guilt and he tries to release him. He brings him out before the people. “I find no guilt in him.”
And so a second charge, seeing that this charge of treason is slipping away, they bring another charge. It's a charge of blasphemy. You see it there in verse 7. “He has made Himself the Son of God.” It's a capital offense in Judaism, blasphemy. They’re telling Pilate that according to Torah Jesus has committed blasphemy. He's claimed to be the Son of God and therefore worthy of death.
These chief priests are fastidious here about ceremony and ritual. Pilate has to come out of the Praetorium to speak to them. They can't enter the Praetorium because that is Gentile territory and they would be ceremonially unclean, and at the same time while they’re scrupulously trying to avoid ceremonial uncleanness, they have murder in their hearts.
We read in verse 8 that Pilate, once he hears this claim that Jesus was the Son of God, when Pilate heard this statement he was even more afraid. He hears it with Roman ears. The Romans were a superstitious lot, and to him this claim to be the Son of God would imply that he was a holy man, with perhaps divine powers of some kind.
You remember his wife had had a dream–warned Pilate not to have anything to do with this Jesus of Nazareth. No good would come of it.
Again he says in verse 12, Pilate sought to release him. He finds no guilt in the charge of treason. He finds no guilt in the charge of blasphemy.
Isn't it interesting that treason and blasphemy are the very crimes of which we are guilty. Treason, because by nature we haven't submitted to the King of Kings; blasphemy because we've said, “I’ll be my own god.” The very charges that could be leveled against man are leveled against Jesus.
II. The flogging.
And then in the second place we see the flogging. You see it there in verse 1. “Then Pilate took Jesus and flogged him.” This is after the first charge and before the second charge. There were three kinds of flogging in Roman jurisprudence. The first was called firstogotial. It was a milder form of flogging for relatively minor crimes such as hooliganism. The second was called flagolotial, brutal beating for more serious offenses, but there was a third form of flogging known in their colloquial terms as verboratial.. A man would be stripped of his clothing and tied to a post. Soldiers with whips consisting of ten to a dozen strands of leather 2-2½ feet long into which would be tied bits of bone from sheep or lambs and bits of metal. And that beating would tear into the flesh of a man's back to a point where inner organs could be exposed. People died from the verboratial.
Mark tells us that Jesus was flogged after the sentence. John is telling us, and Luke tells us, that Jesus was flogged before the sentence and therefore we have to conclude that Jesus was actually flogged twice. Once, perhaps in the mildest form, the one that John is actually speaking about, but once in Mark 15:15 in the severest form.
Other issues apart, if you've ever seen the rendition of it in The Passion, the flogging. It's a scene that you can never forget. It can never be wiped away from your mind. These men would be flogged to within an inch of their lives with blood and flesh everywhere. He's arrayed in a purple robe and a mock crown of thorns–the purple robe perhaps to hide the bloodied body, naked body probably–for us, for the likes of you and me, beaten to within an inch of his life.
What wondrous love is this? What wondrous love is this? It's in our creed — ‘Suffered under Pontius Pilate.’ The whole point of this beating, in Pilate's mind, I think, it was in order that the crowds would have sympathy on Jesus and that they would release him, they would ask for him to be released. They would see that he has been duly punished and therefore would be released. It didn't work, of course. And Mark tells us he was beaten again.
The point of it was to weaken the criminal so that execution by crucifixion would be relatively swift. They would have no strength. In the act of crucifixion the medics have informed me, between 8:30 and 11:00, of some technical terms here. The way they were crucified, the knees would be bent. The point is that they would have to push themselves up in order breathe, to bring air into their lungs, but in this weakened condition they could not do that and their lungs would fill with fluid and they would die and they would die of pulmonary edema. It is a horrible, horrible, agonizing, painful death and the point of the flogging was to hasten that.
You remember the spear that was thrustin His side and out came blood and water? For us, for the likes of you and me. “Did e’er such love and sorrow meet or thorns compose so rich a crown?”
III. The sentencing.
And then, in the third place, there's the sentencing of Jesus. You see, in verse 6 when the chief priests and officers saw him they cried out, “Crucify him, crucify him.” And Pilate says, “There's no guilt in him.” Pilate says, “You take him and crucify him.” But, of course, they had no authority to do that and Pilate knew that. And so they resort in verse 12 to one final attempt and they say to Pilate, “If you release this man rather than Barabbas, if you release this man you are no friend of Caesar.” Tiberius Caesar was notorious for inflicting swift and painful recrimination on anyone who showed any hint of disloyalty. “If you release this man, you are no friend of Caesar.”
He brings him out and he says, “Behold your King!” This bloodied figure who's barely a man. He had earlier said, “eche homo” ‘behold a man.’ He barely looked like a man with mock crown of thorns and a purple robe, “Behold your King!” The King of Kings, the Judge of all the universe is being judged by wicked, sinful hearts.
Civil War poet James Russell Lowell wrote those famous words: “Once for every man and nation comes the moment to decide in the strife of truth with falsehood for the good or evil side.” It was a moment of decision.
Now, I want to ask you, as you sit in these comfortable pews at First Presbyterian Church this morning, where would you have stood? What would you have said as the crowd are shouting, “Crucify him, crucify him” because the seed of that sedition against the King of Kings lies within each one of our hearts. There go I, but for the grace of God.
Now, I want you to stand back from this a little. I want to ask the question, what is John the author, what is he trying to do as he describes these final hours in the life of Jesus, his trial, his beating, his sentencing, his being handed over to the soldiers to be crucified?
What's John saying to us?
He's saying, first of all, you understand that everything that Jesus does here, he does in fulfillment of Scripture. He does it as the covenant mediator. He does it in order to fulfill that promise that He had made to His Father in heaven, “I will be their Savior.”
This crown of thorns; what is that? And you go back to the very beginning of scripture to Genesis to chapter 3, what is it that comes on the onset of sin and rebellion into the world, this curse that includes as a consequence thorns and thistles that frustrate man's attempt to work. It's part of the curse. Jesus is bearing the curse upon his head.
When Jesus is silent before Pilate, what's he doing? He's fulfilling Scripture. In Isaiah 53, the fourth servant song, “As a sheep before its shearers is dumb, so he opened not his mouth.” It's Passover. It's the preparation for the Passover meaning in John it's part of Passover week. Passover was on Thursday night. This is Friday morning. Thousands, tens of thousands of lambs have been slaughtered in the temple for the forgiveness of sins, part of the ritual of Passover, and here's the Lamb of God who has been beaten to within an inch of his life.
John says in the next chapter, chapter 20 why he writes this gospel. He says in verses 30 and 31, “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name.”
There was no other good enough to pay the price of sin. He only must unlock the gates of heaven and let us in. “Behold your King!”
Brothers, sisters, visitors this morning, “Behold your King!” This almost pathetic sight of a man beaten to within an inch of his life, wearing this mock crown of thorns, and a purple robe and here He stands, here He stands.
Where would you cast your vote this morning?
You know, as we gaze at this passage our minds form images of Jesus. Are we not ashamed? Are we not just a little bit ashamed of the trivia that occupies us, that concerns us that we argue and fall out about, and John is saying, “Look, behold your King! See Him. The King of Kings and Lord of Lords who made this universe and He is here in this position–beaten to within an inch of his life for sinners.”
Barabbas is set free. The guilty is set free and the innocent one is condemned. What is that? What is that? It's the gospel. It's the gospel. The guilty is set free and the innocent one is punished.
“By His stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray. We've turned everyone to his own way and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.”
John's saying, “I'm writing this so that you may believe, so that you may have life.”
What did it cost? What did it cost for you and me to have life? This — this: “Behold your King!”
Father, we thank You for this immeasurable gift. We cannot begin this morning to take it in. We've thought about it so many times and we think about it again just now; my Savior, my Lord, beaten for me. What wondrous love is this?
Let's sing together singing from your bulletin, How Deep the Father's Love for Us.
Receive the Lord's benediction:
Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.
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