The Cross – John 19:16b-30

The Cross

Nick Esch, 10/7/2018 Cornerstone Baptist Church

Introduction

My hope and prayer for us this morning is simple, yet incredibly important… This morning we’re going to look at the cross, and as we do my prayer is that God would so work in us that our hearts would cry out, “Hallelujah! What a Savior!” For if that is truly our heart’s cry then we will joyfully live for Jesus, come what may… So with that in mind, look with me at John 19:16b-30…

John 19:16b-30

Remember our context: because there is one true God who is holy and infinitely glorious, and because we have sinned against that God and fallen infinitely short of His glory, Jesus, the Son of God, has come and lived the perfect life that we all should be living… But now, in the Gospel of John, Jesus has been arrested, tried, beaten and flogged, and after being manipulated by the Jews, Pilate has agreed to crucify Him… So, our passage begins by telling us that, “they took Jesus, and he went out, bearing his own cross, to the place called The Place of a Skull, which in Aramaic is called Golgotha” (16b-17). Now notice it says that He went out, as in outside the city gate… The author of Hebrews helps us understand this when he writes in Hebrews 13:11-12, “For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy places by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp. So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood.” In the Old Testament animals were sacrificed for forgiveness of sins; for the wages of sin is death… And those sacrifices were burned outside the camp… But, all of those sacrifices were leading up to and pointing forward to this great sacrifice; so Jesus like the sacrifices before Him goes outside the camp in order to save His people through His own blood—through His own suffering…

It says He went out bearing His own cross, but this isn’t exactly true. It’s true enough that He indeed carried the cross that He was to be crucified on. Even after being scourged and beaten, with a back covered in open wounds, He still carries the cross beam that His hands would soon be nailed to… So in that sense He carries His own cross… But of course we know that this was not His cross at all. First it was the cross that was meant for Barabbas; the Jews chose to release a violent criminal instead of the Son of God… But even more mind boggling than that is that this cross was meant for us… Jesus bore our cross and marched to the death that we deserve to die for our sin… God in His grace gave His Son over to die to save sinners like you and me… Jesus loved us and gave Himself for us… In love He bore our cross, and went outside the camp, and marched to Gologtha, to Calvary, to the place of a skull, the place of death to save us from our sin…  

In verse 18 we’re told, “There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, and Jesus between them.” This scene points back to Psalm 22:16, where it says a company of evildoers encircles me, or back to Isaiah 53:12, where it says that He was numbered with the transgressors. We typically think about these men crucified on each of side of Jesus as thieves, but the word that is typically used to refer to them in the other Gospel accounts is the word for violent insurrectionist, the same word that was used to describe Barabbas… So it seems as though they ran in the same circles as Barabbas, and no doubt were expecting to see Barabbas between them; but instead of that great sinner, Jesus, the Son of God is crucified… Instead of a great sinner it was a great Savior who was crucified; it was our great God…

So get this scene in your mind: Jesus who is perfectly innocent, is surrounded by guilty sinners, and people who despise Him and want Him dead; He’s already been whipped, beaten, mocked, ridiculed, and had to carry a cross as far as He could; and now He’s being crucified… What’s surprising here is how little John says about it… But he didn’t have to say much about it because everyone in John’s time would have been so familiar with the process that he didn’t have to go into detail… People were crucified all of the time back then, and everyone knew how horrible it was… It was so horrible in fact that only under extreme circumstances could a Roman citizen be crucified… It was intentionally designed to be as gruesome and as painful as possible for as long as possible… Today we have the death penalty, but it’s designed to be as quick and as painless as possible; but Roman crucifixion was just the opposite…

Studying the crucifixion this week has been one of the hardest things I’ve ever studied… Just envisioning what our Lord and Savior went through has been an emotional roller-coaster… Jesus is taken to a public place where all could see, and as we’ll see, He’s stripped naked, and then lying on the cross beam in utter exhaustion the soldiers stretch His arms out as far as they can and they drive nails through His hands or wrists, nailing Him to the cross beam… But that’s only the beginning of the agony… Next they would hoist Him up and fix the cross beam to the upright beam, which would’ve been excruciating… And next His feet would be nailed to the upright beam, which typically had a sort of seat on it for the feet to sit on and partially support His body weight; but it was designed to increase the agony, not relieve it… You see, when you’ve been whipped and beaten half to death, and then your arms are so stretched out and nailed to the cross, and you begin to fall forward from exhaustion, not only does it create extreme pain in your hands and arms, but it actually causes your lungs and chest to become so closed off that you can’t breathe. So then you have to support your body weight with your feet, and push up so you can breathe… Which would’ve likewise been extremely painful… And this was all by design: so that the victim would suffer as much as possible for as long as possible… Yet, Jesus willingly and lovingly endured the cross… And this seems to be partially why John doesn’t say much about the human suffering of the cross, because He’s drawing attention to Jesus’ sovereignty in all of this… No one made Jesus go to the cross; He went of His own accord, in love…

In verses 19-22 we see signs of God’s sovereignty as well… There we read, “Pilate also wrote an inscription and put it on the cross. It read, ‘Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.’ Many of the Jews read this inscription, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and it was written in Aramaic, in Latin, and in Greek. So the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, ‘Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews,’ but rather, ‘This man said, I am King of the Jews.’’ Pilate answered, ‘What I have written I have written.’” It was common practice to publically display the charge that led to crucifixion, but Pilate clearly meant this as a knock towards the Jews who manipulated him into all of this. The chief priests, bitter about what he wrote, ask him to change it, but he says, “What I have written I have written.” But there’s more going on here than just that… What Pilate meant as a mockery God meant for good… It wasn’t merely the will of Pilate that had these words written, but the sovereign will of God… In God’s providence, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews,” was displayed in the language of the people, of the army, and of the Roman Empire… Through Pilate God proclaimed to the whole world, as it were, that Jesus of Nazareth—who is truly man—is the King of the Jews—the promised Messiah, truly God—the King of kings and Lord of lords… But look at how the King of the universe is treated here…

In verses 23 and 24 we read, “When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his garments and divided them into four parts, one part for each soldier; also his tunic. But the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom, so they said to one another, ‘Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see whose it shall be.’ This was to fulfill the Scripture which says, ‘They divided my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots.’” So here once again we see God’s sovereignty shining out as Scripture is being fulfilled through every little thing that happens to Jesus. The four Roman soldiers who were in charge of Jesus’ crucifixion stripped Him of His clothes, and divided them up into four equal parts, and then with His tunic, the one piece of clothing left over, they gambled for it because they didn’t want to tear it… And in so doing they perfectly fulfill Psalm 22:18…

But in this act a lot more than Psalm 22 is being fulfilled. As we have seen, Jesus’ crucifixion points back to Adam in the garden again and again, and it’s no different here. Before the fall Adam and Eve were in the garden, and it says they were naked and unashamed (Genesis 2:25). But then they sinned against God, and they ate the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and Scripture says, “Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths” (Genesis 3:7). Then God comes looking for them, and they hide from Him; and when they are confronted by God, Adam says, “I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself” (Genesis 3:10)… So they went from innocent and unashamed, to guilty and ashamed… Suddenly they knew what true nakedness was, as they stood exposed and guilty before God… But, God in His grace made for them garments from the skin of an animal, and clothed them…

An animal was sacrificed to cover their shame and their nakedness… But no mere animal sacrifice could really cover their guilt and shame… Like Israel’s sacrifices, what God did that day looked forward to this day when Jesus would go to the cross and be stripped of all of His clothes, and would take the shame and the guilt of man upon Himself, and He Himself would be sacrificed for the sins of His people… He had no home, and He had no possessions but the clothes on His back, yet even those were taken. As Paul says, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9)… Jesus suffered the loss of all things, and bore the shame and the guilt that is rightly due us, so that we would be rich in grace…

Now, don’t misunderstand what God’s Word is saying there; Jesus didn’t die on the cross to make us well off financially, or to give us an abundance of possessions in this life… To see the cross in that view is to be no different than the Roman soldiers here… You see, they wanted whatever they could get from Jesus, but they could careless about Jesus Himself… But, Jesus is not a means to an end; He is the end… The grace that He makes us rich in is the grace of Himself… Friends, if the reason you go to Jesus is for money, than Jesus is not your God—money is… These Roman soldiers were completely blind to who Jesus truly was; He was just a means to an expanded wardrobe… Their hearts are so hard they don’t even flinch at crucifying Him… And I fear that so many who claim the name of Christian are much the same way… There are so many who essentially crucify Jesus all over again with their actions… And at the end of the day they only come to Jesus for what He can give them… Friends, true Christians go to Jesus for Jesus… We don’t just desire salvation, we desire the Lord of salvation… The very best thing that Jesus gives us is Himself… That’s what Jesus is doing here; that’s His heart here.

The heart of Christ is on full display here if you will see what He’s doing… In love, He’s taking the full punishment that we deserve for our sin upon Himself, to reconcile us to Himself… He takes all the guilt and the blame, and He takes all the pain and the shame due us and our sin upon Himself, so that we would be saved, so that we would be free, and so that we would be freed upto enjoy Him forever… If you’re like me you’ve committed countless sins for which you are terribly ashamed… There are things that I’ve done that still haunt me to this day… But beloved, Jesus is mighty to save… He saves to the uttermost… We cannot out sin His grace… Jesus took the wrath due us and all the shame of our sin upon Himself so that we would be free of it… Some of you are still seeking carry the weight of your sin because you won’t let go of the shame of your sin; but friends, don’t you see?… Jesus took that shame upon Himself… Your sin does not surprise God… That’s why Jesus went to the cross… You have to trust in and rest on Christ, knowing that your sin and your shame, with Christ, have been nailed to the cross and you are to bear it no more… Friends, give it to Christ…

In John Bunyan’s book Pilgrim’s Progress, the character Christian seems to truly be a Christian because he has entered into the narrow way by the gate of the gospel, yet, as he walks down the path of the Christian life he still is weighed down heavy with a great burden; he carries this burden on his back like a heavy backpack, but really it’s the burden of sin… Until one day, he comes upon the cross… And when he truly saw the cross for what it was his burden fell from his back never to return again… Bunyan himself had a similar experience in his actual life… He writes:

“One day as I was passing into [a] field . . . this sentence fell upon my soul. Thy righteousness is in heaven. And methought, withal, I saw with the eyes of my soul Jesus Christ at God’s right hand; there, I say, was my righteousness; so that wherever I was, or whatever I was doing, God could not say of me, he [lacks] my righteousness, for that was just before him. I also saw, moreover, that it was not my good frame of heart that made my righteousness better, nor yet my bad frame that made my righteousness worse, for my righteousness was Jesus Christ himself, ‘The same yesterday, today, and forever.’ Now did my chains fall off my legs indeed. I was loosed from my afflictions and irons; my temptations also fled away; so that from that time those dreadful scriptures of God [about the unforgivable sin] left off to trouble me; now went I also home rejoicing for the grace and love of God.”

When Bunyan’s heart was truly awakened to the truth of the gospel, that Jesus had taken His guilt, had taken His shame, and had clothed him with His own righteousness, the burden of Bunyan’s sin and shame fell from his shoulders and he had assurance and joy in Christ… Beloved, this same assurance and joy is offered to you if you will truly look to Christ… If you will look to Him and see His heart for you, and what all He’s done for you, you will find freedom and joy… But, if you treat Jesus merely as a means to an end you will miss everything…

The Roman soldiers merely wanted what Jesus could give them, not Jesus Himself, but in the next few verses we see a contrast to this… In the last part of verse 24 through verse 27, we read, “So the soldiers did these things, but standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, behold, your son!’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Behold, your mother!’ And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.” So, first we see four Roman soldiers dividing Jesus’ clothes among themselves and gambling for His tunic, and then here we see four women who love Jesus so much that they boldly draw near to the cross… Think about that… Outside of John, who is the disciple mentioned here, all of the other disciples have fled in fear… Peter, Matthew, James, they’ve all abandoned Jesus… But here are four women, who love Jesus so much that they give no thought to their own lives, but only to Jesus… Jesus’ own mother is right there watching her precious son, the Son of God, suffer the most horrific pain imaginable… And we know neither the women, nor John, fully understand what’s happening here. They don’t really understand the cross until after the resurrection… So here they are drawing near to the cross simply because they love Jesus… They aren’t coming to Jesus for what He can give them, but only for Jesus Himself… But as they draw near to Him in love He shows His heart of love again as He looks after the provision of His mother, and entrusts her to John’s care…

This scene brings to mind Jesus words from Matthew 10:29-31, where He said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.” He’s talking about the church and how, though we count all things as loss for the sake of Christ, we gain Christ and the entire family of God… Jesus is entrusting Mary to the family of God… And here, Jesus is honoring these women, and holding them up to us as an example of what it means to love Jesus rightly…

Women have often been treated as though they are somehow inferior to men, but that’s not the Christian way… God’s Word presents these women to us as mighty women of God who not only have worth and value, but who we should seek to imitate… They show us what it looks like to love Jesus rightly… It is risky, and it must take place near the cross… And likewise here, we see here that loving and following Jesus is not something that we are to do alone… Following Christ is a community project… Though we may lose much for Jesus’ sake, if we are Christians we are children of God and members of the family of God… In His great love for us Jesus not only gives us Himself but He gives us His people, the church… I wonder, are you trying to follow Jesus by yourself? Friends that’s not what the Christian life is to look like… We are to link arms with one another and care for one another and disciple one another… If we are to live the Christian life rightly we must be joined to a local church…

Now, after this we come to the close of our passage… In verses 28-30 we read, “After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), ‘I thirst.’ A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, ‘It is finished,’ and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.” In love, for the joy set before Him, Jesus has gone to the cross, and He has been enduring the great agony of the cross. Not only the horrors of the crucifixion itself, but the spiritual reality of God’s wrath due His people poured out upon Himself in our place… And in the midst of this great suffering Jesus has lovingly cared for Mary, and pointed us to the importance of the community of faith… Throughout this whole ordeal Jesus has shown that He is not being forced to do any of this, but is laying down His life of His own accord… He is sovereignly and lovingly giving Himself up to save His people… As the Scripture says, “He loved us and gave Himself for us” (Ephesians 5:2)… And now we see Him at the end of this journey.

Once again, showing us God’s sovereign hand through all of this, John tells us that another Scripture is fulfilled as Jesus said that He thirsts… Unbeknownst to them, in fulfillment of Psalm 69:21, they give Jesus sour wine to drink… This is in part to show us that this is God’s sovereign plan of redemption, His great saving plan of love for His people happening here, but it’s also Jesus seeking to wet His throat enough for His final victory cry… Through the other Gospel accounts we known that these last words were cried aloud by Jesus: “It is finished!!!” Well, what was finished? His perfect life and His wrath absorbing, sin and shame defeating death were now finished… The resurrection and the ascension will soon come, but the heart of the work of Christ to save people from every nation and generation was finished… This great work was finished, but Jesus wasn’t… He is God! Death cannot hold Him… He even shows us here that He is not some mere victim… He’s in control… That’s why He gives up His spirit; His life isn’t being taken from Him… He’s sovereignly and lovingly laying it down to save sinners like you and me… For all who will truly love Him and rest in His finished work… In this act, Jesus paid it all… For all who will turn from their sin and trust in Him, it is finished… Redemption is paid in full… So, I urge you now, if you haven’t already, repent and believe in the gospel…

Conclusion

Jesus, with a heart of love for us, went and suffered outside the camp, taking our sin and shame, and taking upon Himself the wrath that we deserve… And He did indeed take it all; it is finished… He gave up everything, and paid everything; He loves us that much… This is why the author Hebrews, after explaining why Jesus suffered for us outside the camp, goes on to say, “Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come” (Hebrews 13:13-14). In other words, if Jesus gave Himself in love for us, than let us joyfully forsake all in love for Him, and follow Him anywhere… We have no home here, for our home is with Jesus… He is to be our great love; we should do whatever and go wherever to draw near to Him, just like those four women and John… And if we would see the cross and the love of Christ rightly, how could we not?… As the missionary C. T. Studd once said, “If Jesus Christ be God and died for me, then no sacrifice can be too great for me to make for Him.” Yet, even as I quote him I’m reminded of a quote from the missionary to Africa, David Livingstone, who once said:

“People talk of the sacrifice I have made in spending so much of my life in Africa. . . . Is that a sacrifice which brings its own blest reward? . . . . Anxiety, sickness, suffering, or danger, now and then, with a foregoing of the common conveniences and charities of this life, may make us pause, and cause the spirit to waver, and the soul to sink; but let this only be for a moment. All these are nothing when compared with the glory which shall be revealed in and for us. I never made a sacrifice.

Beloved, it’s the same for us… Wherever we go, whatever we do, whatever we risk, whatever we lose… if we get Jesus we never make a sacrifice… We must go to Him for Him… For that is why He saved us: for His glory and so that we would enjoy Himforever… He saved us to bring us to Himself… And there is nothing better than Him… Indeed we see how loving and how amazing He is as we look to the cross… As we look at ourselves and see how guilty, vile, and helpless we are… And then see Jesus, the spotless Lamb of God who bore our sin and shame, and made full atonement for our sin our hearts should cry out in worship… Because He cried out, “It is finished!” We can cry out, “Hallelujah! What a Savior!”