If you would, please turn with me in your Bibles to John 19:16-42. John says:
Therefore they took Jesus away. 17 Carrying His own cross, He went out to what is called Skull Place, which in Hebrew is called Golgotha. 18 There they crucified Him and two others with Him, one on either side, with Jesus in the middle. 19 Pilate also had a sign lettered and put on the cross. The inscription was:
JESUS THE NAZARENE
THE KING OF THE JEWS.
20 Many of the Jews read this sign, because the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and it was written in Hebrew, Latin, and Greek. 21 So the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, “Don’t write, ‘The King of the Jews,’ but that He said, ‘I am the King of the Jews.’”
22 Pilate replied, “What I have written, I have written.”
23 When the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took His clothes and divided them into four parts, a part for each soldier. They also took the tunic, which was seamless, woven in one piece from the top. 24 So they said to one another, “Let’s not tear it, but cast lots for it, to see who gets it.” They did this to fulfill the Scripture that says: They divided My clothes among themselves, and they cast lots for My clothing. And this is what the soldiers did.
25 Standing by the cross of Jesus were His mother, His mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus saw His mother and the disciple He loved standing there, He said to His mother, “Woman, here is your son.” 27 Then He said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his home.
28 After this, when Jesus knew that everything was now accomplished that the Scripture might be fulfilled, He said, “I’m thirsty!” 29 A jar full of sour wine was sitting there; so they fixed a sponge full of sour wine on hyssop and held it up to His mouth.
30 When Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, “It is finished!”Then bowing His head, He gave up His spirit.
31 Since it was the preparation day, the Jews did not want the bodiesto remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a special day). They requested that Pilate have the men’s legs broken and that their bodies be taken away. 32 So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first man and of the other one who had been crucified with Him. 33 When they came to Jesus, they did not break His legs since they saw that He was already dead. 34 But one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and at once blood and watercame out. 35 He who saw this has testified so that you also may believe. His testimony is true, and he knows he is telling the truth.36 For these things happened so that the Scripture would be fulfilled:Not one of His bones will be broken. 37 Also, another Scripture says: They will look at the One they pierced.
38 After this, Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus—but secretly because of his fear of the Jews—asked Pilate that he might remove Jesus’ body. Pilate gave him permission, so he came and took His body away. 39 Nicodemus (who had previously come to Him at night) also came, bringing a mixture of about 75 pounds of myrrh and aloes. 40 Then they took Jesus’ body and wrapped it in linen cloths with the aromatic spices, according to the burial custom of the Jews. 41 There was a garden in the place where He was crucified. A new tomb was in the garden; no one had yet been placed in it. 42 They placed Jesus there because of the Jewish preparation and since the tomb was nearby.
This is the word of the Lord. Let’s pray.
Father we thank you that even as we are temporarily forced to change some of what we do because of COVID-19, you are greater than COVID-19. Not one of us wouldn’t rather be inside that building, sitting in the pews, catching up with the folks who usually sit next us face-to-face instead of simply over the phone. And yet, You are greater than our inconvenience. We thank you for the way that you are with us even in the midst of our social distancing, that you are near us even in the midst of our isolation, and that even as we try to serve our neighbors by distancing ourselves to try and mitigate the spread of the virus, you have given us the profound blessing of being able to look closely at your word together, to learn from it, to be changed by it, and be edified through it.
We pray these things in Jesus’s name, Amen.
Well, we’ve arrived. We’re here.
We have been inching towards the crucifixion for most of this year. We started John at the beginning of January, it’s now the beginning of September, and we have arrived at the cross.
One year ago today, we were in the process of preaching through Galatians. A few months before that, we were walking through the Book of Ruth. Before that, we went through the letter of First John. And before that, we went through James. All of that has been leading to this. The familiar story of the God who came down from heaven to be nailed to a cross.
My hope is that over the last 2 years, as we have worked our way through a pretty large amount of the Bible together, what has happened is that you have been able to see things that you maybe couldn’t see before. That with the familiarity that we have built up with more, and more, and more of the story that God tells us in scripture, we are able to draw connections now that bring familiar stories like this to life when they used to go in one ear and out the other. That we can see the gospel more clearly than ever, because we can see more than ever how deep, and how wide, and how vast the love and strength and goodness and power of God is.
So as we step into the story of the crucifixion of Jesus this morning, rather than trying to say everything that we could possibly say about it, we just want to relax, take a breath, and look at these three things that jump out at us more clearly than anything else in light of the rest of what John has shown us throughout this gospel.
And so looking at our passage this morning, the first thing we notice is the irony.
Take a look beginning at verse 19. John says:
“Pilate also had a sign lettered and put on the cross. The inscription was: JESUS THE NAZARENE. THE KING OF THE JEWS. 20 Many of the Jews read this sign, because the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and it was written in Hebrew, Latin, and Greek. 21 So the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, “Don’t write, ‘The King of the Jews,’ but that He said, ‘I am the King of the Jews.’” 22 Pilate replied, “What I have written, I have written.”
I said the first thing we notice is the irony, because Pilate thinks he’s joking.
He writes “Jesus the Nazarene, the king of the Jews.” And he thinks it’s an insult. He thinks he’s taking a jab at the guy hanging on the cross. He thinks he’s mocking him.
More than that, he thinks he’s mocking the Jews in general. The sign on the cross could mean a whole lot of different things, but more than anything, Pilate is saying, “This is what happens to people who claim to be king.” “This is what happens to people who rebel against Caesar.”
Like we talked about two weeks ago, the rallying cry in Rome was “No King but Caesar.”
That was how Rome operated.
They went around the world, conquering tribes and kingdoms, and subjecting them to their own rule. At its peak, Rome had conquered the bulk of the known world. Which meant that if you used to have a country of your own, you don’t anymore. You’re a subject of Rome now. You used to have a king, but you don’t anymore, because “there was no King but Caesar.” If you’re looking for your old King, his head probably on a pike somewhere. That was Rome’s Mantra. “No King but Caesar.”
And as he crucifies Jesus in our passage this morning, Pilate is trying to use him as an example, to ward off anybody else who might claim to be the king.
He said, “Here lies Jesus the Nazarene, the king of the Jews – and this is what happens to kings on Caesar’s watch.” He’s saying, “If you want to be the king of the Jews, this will happen to you too.”
It’s a taunt. It’s a jab. And it’s a threat.
And yet, it’s also the truth.
This is Jesus of Nazareth, and he is absolutely the king of the Jews. Jesus is the king of the Jews, yesterday, today, and forever. And he’s more than that. Because Jesus is the king of the everything.
He’s everybody’s King.
Like, Hebrews 1:8 says that when the Old Testament says, “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your kingdom,” it’s talking about Jesus. And, again, Philippians 2:9-11 says that “God has highly exalted Jesus and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord” – Jesus Christ is king – “to the glory of God the Father.”
Jesus is the king in a way that Caesar could only ever hope to be.
The kingship of Jesus transcends and overwhelms all earthly rulers, authorities, and power. Caesar doesn’t even know it, but he’s hanging over the fire by a thread held by Jesus, and the only reason he hasn’t plunged into the flames is because Jesus hasn’t dropped him yet. That’s where he stands. That’s where Pilate stands. And, frankly, that’s where you stand.
Nowadays we don’t really like to talk about God or ourselves in those terms, because that takes a bat to the knee-cap of your pride, right? But it’s true.
Jesus is your king, whether you acknowledge Him or not, whether you want him or not, whether you believe in him or not, whether you recognize him or not, and as your king, he’s not just King over you in theory.
He’s not just King in the sense that he has authority over you, he is King in the sense that he has absolute power over every molecule in your body. He’s King over the blood in your veins, he is King over the breath in your lungs, he is King over every neuron firing through your brain, however all that stuff works.
Hebrews 1:3 says that “Christ is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power.” And Colossians 1:17 says that “Christ is before all things, and in [Christ] all things hold together.” And 1 Corinthians 8:6 says that we exist through Jesus, and that everything that exists exists through Jesus.” The point is clear enough: Jesus keeps you running like clockwork. If you are breathing right now, it’s because King Jesus is still sustaining you.
In other words, the man on the cross didn’t have to be on a cross. He could have been on a throne. He could have pulled some Avengers: Endgame type stuff and snapped his fingers and made Pilate, Caesar, and every Roman soldier in a 20 mile radius vanish into dust, because that was very much within his power, but he didn’t.
And he didn’t for a reason.
And that carries us into our second point, which is that his crucifixion was according to plan.
The crucifixion that we read about today was according to plan.
It was the single greatest injustice in the history of the world, no doubt. But it was also part of God’s sovereign plan for the universe.
The crucifixion didn’t take Jesus by surprise. It was part of what he came here for.
Take a look, beginning at verse 23. John says:
“When the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took His clothes and divided them into four parts, a part for each soldier. They also took the tunic, which was seamless, woven in one piece from the top. 24 So they said to one another, “Let’s not tear it, but cast lots for it, to see who gets it.” They did this to fulfill the Scripture that says: They divided My clothes among themselves, and they cast lots for My clothing. And this is what the soldiers did.”
Even the abuse that the soldiers hurl onto Jesus ultimately fulfills what the scriptures prophesied.
We see the same thing again, beginning at verse 36. John says:
“For these things happened so that the Scripture would be fulfilled: Not one of His bones will be broken. 37 Also, another Scripture says: They will look at the One they pierced.”
John reminds us that these things occurred “to fulfill what was stated in the scriptures.” These things happened to fulfill what was foretold in the scriptures. None of these things were plot twists. None of these things happened for shock value. The crucifixion of Jesus is not like finding out that Bruce Willis is a ghost in The Sixth Sense. If you haven’t seen that already, and I ruined it for you, that sucks for you, that movie is 25 years old, you have had plenty of time to see it.
Instead this is like when the Titanic sinks at the end of the Titanic movie. This is the only ending any of this could ever possibly have led to. The Lord has been pointing us towards this since the very beginning of the scriptures. This was God’s plan from before the foundation of the world, to redeem us from our sin through the cross.
God’s plan from before the foundation of the world to redeem you through the cross.
We see that most clearly in Ephesians chapter 1. Paul says:
“Praise the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavens. 4 For He chose us in Him, before the foundation of the world, to be holy and blameless in His sight. In love 5 He predestined us to be adopted through Jesus Christ for Himself, according to His favor and will, 6 to the praise of His glorious grace that He favored us with in the Beloved.”
The Lord has been planning to redeem you since before the foundation of the world.
That’s a common thread that runs through the Bible.
In 2 Timothy 1:9, Paul rejoices that “God has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace, which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began.”
And Matthew 25:34, Jesus says that one day he’ll turn to those who belong to him and say, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”
Now, I am not going to dive into the debate about “free will” or “predestination.” Because that is not the point and it’s frankly a waste of time.
You will notice as you read the scriptures for yourself that none of the biblical authors seem to care even a little bit about philosophical debates about “free will,” or “fate,” or “predestination,” or whatever.
What they care about is preaching the gospel – specifically the gospel that you have been called out in Christ from before you were born.
You have been called forth in Jesus Christ from before you were conceived. You have been called out in Christ from before there was a you, and from before there was anything. The Lord chose you in Christ before the foundation of the world. He predestined you to be adopted as sons along with him.
And so, when the time came, he came to Earth, and he did everything he had to do to make you into sons of God: Jesus went to the cross in order to adopt you. He went to the cross in order to make you into a coheir along with him. He went to the cross in order to turn you from an enemy of God into a friend of God. He went to the cross in order to bring you home like the Prodigal Son.
That’s why we are reading about a crucifixion, here, instead of a coronation. That’s why we see Jesus being lifted up onto a torture device instead of lifted up onto a throne. Jesus went to the cross because the cross was the center of his eternal plan.
The plan to redeem you.
The plan to adopt you as his own.
And that brings us to our third and final point, and that is that the finished work of Jesus really has brought you salvation.
The finished work of Jesus on the cross has brought you salvation.
The finished work of Jesus that we read about in our passage this morning has brought you the salvation that Christ has chosen for you from before the foundation of the world.
Take a look at verse 30. John says: “When Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, “It is finished!” Then bowing His head, He gave up His spirit.”
If you are a believer in Jesus Christ this morning, those three words – “It is finished” – are the truest thing about you.
“It is finished.”
Now, when I say that that’s the truest thing about you, what I mean is that that’s the truest thing about you.
I mean that that’s truer than any of the other things that might define you.
It is truer, even, than any of the things that you are ashamed of.
Like, look, you have problems. I get it. That’s a fact.
We’re not going to sugarcoat it, and say, “You’re not perfect,” because of course you’re not perfect. Duh, you’re not perfect. Like, I would be doing a disservice to you if all I said here was, “You’re not perfect,” because you know that it is so much deeper than that, right?
You know that “Not Perfect” doesn’t even begin to define what’s wrong with you. Like, I’m not just “Not Perfect,” I’m jacked up. There’s something wrong with me. Half the time, I am in a tailspin. You know what I’m talking about? I can barely breathe sometimes. I have barely got my head above water.
And 90% of the time, it is 100% my fault.
I have problems, and I am my problems. And if you are a human being on planet Earth, that is probably the truth about you too.
Case-in-point, if you have family problems, it could be that there’s something wrong with your family, but it is also entirely possible that you are your family problems. Right?
Or, if you have money problems? I won’t deny the reality that there are plenty of economic issues or injustices that can cause you to have financial issues that are not your fault, but a lot of the time, if you have money problems, it’s because you are your money problems. Nobody made you buy a boat instead of save. Nobody made you trade in your perfectly fine 2004 Toyota Camry for a brand new car you couldn’t afford. Nobody made you pass by job after job after job because they didn’t fit your ever-changing standards.
But those are just a couple of examples. In the same vein, you can’t get along with your co-workers, it might be that there is something wildly wrong with the culture of your workplace, but if it’s you against all of them, take a look at what the common denominator is. Your problem with your co-workers is probably you.
If you can’t get along with the people at your church? Same principle probably applies.
If you’re estranged from your family? It might be that your family is abusive and you need to get the heck away from them – in which case right on, get away from them, and know that you are not doing anything wrong, you don’t owe them anything. But if you’re estranged from your family, and you can’t get along with your coworkers, and you keep burning bridges with the folks at your church, and you can’t seem to manage your money – it is entirely possible that the common denominator, here, is your own sin.
We could do this all day.
I have problems, and 90% of the time I am those problems. I am my problems. I am the thorn in my side. I am the one who is sabotaging my life.
And there’s something very liberating about being able to admit that, because that’s usually the first step toward actually changing what you do. That’s usually the first step towards no longer sabotaging yourself, right? Respecting yourself enough to say, “I am what is wrong with this picture, and I need to change me.”
Accept the reality of your own sin, and resist the urge to downplay it, or get defensive, or look for people who will tell you what you want to hear about yourself. Allow reality to be your guide, resist the endless deceit Jeremiah 17:9 tells us that your heart will heap onto you, and acknowledge the reality of your sin.
All of that is true. I don’t want to deny any of that.
And yet, having said all of that, it is equally important to recognize that all of those things, however true they might be about you, are not the truest thing about you.
Because all of those things are swept up together in the shadow of the cross, and washed away in the blood of Jesus Christ.
Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not walking back any of the stuff we just talked about.
Your sin is real. Your bad decisions are real. Your addictions are real. Your neuroses are real. The havoc that you wreak on yourself and on others is absolutely real. And yet part of the reason that you really can be free from those things is the fact that you are not defined by them. Because over and above every single one of those horrible realities is the much deeper, wider, and vaster reality that it is finished.
“It is finished.”
The guilt for all of your wrongs and mistakes and negligence have been swept away in Jesus Christ.
It is finished.
Everything that you have ever done has been dealt with in the cross.
Every wrong that you have ever been culpable for has been dealt with in the cross.
If you feel a continual storm cloud hanging over you because of the things that you have done throughout your life, the fact is that the storm cloud is a liar. The storm cloud is wrong. The storm cloud is writing a bad check. The storm cloud is you lying to you about you, because who you are today is not “a sinner, condemned, unclean,” who you are today is a child of God who has been washed in the blood of Jesus, made clean, and given an inheritance in heaven because of the death of Jesus Christ on your behalf.
This is who you are.
In a deeper sense than your sin could ever sink its hooks in.
And so, to your guilt, Christ said, “It is finished.”
To your endless feelings of inadequacy, Christ said, “It is finished.”
To your crushing sense of worthlessness, Christ said, “It is finished.”
Because it is.
Because it actually is finished.
The debt has actually been paid. The chains have actually been broken off. Your captivity to the devil has actually been overturned.
The jail door is open. Your grave is empty. The balance book has been cast into the ocean and sunk to the bottom where nobody is ever going to retrieve it again.
There is no place for you in hell.
There’s not one.
There’s not a vacancy.
There’s not a room with your name on it.
There’s not a seat at hell’s table for you.
There is no room at the inn of damnation for you to check into, because it is finished.
You have been redeemed.
The ending to your story has been written, and it’s a happy one.
You will be with God forever through Jesus Christ, just like he’s been planning since before you were born, before you were conceived, and before the foundation of the world.
You are free.
You are saved.
It is finished.
This is the point in the service where, typically, I would give something that we refer to as an “altar call,” but that’s not quite possible this morning, for obvious reasons. What we’re doing instead, is that as we respond to the Lord through song, we invite you to text or email me with your prayer requests, or decisions, or burdens, and we can set a time to sit down over the phone sometime the week and talk or pray through whatever is on your heart.