The Heart of the Cross (1)

Sermon by Derek Thomas on October 17, 2010

John 19:1-22

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The
Lord’s Day Morning

October 17, 2010



John 19:1-22


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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