The Horror of the CrossJohn 19:17-24 • Dr. Andy Woods • February 22, 2015 • JOHN - The Life and Light Revealed
The Horror of the Cross
2-22-15 John 19:17-24 Lesson 114
Let’s take our Bibles and turn to John 19, we’re going to try, as time permits, to look at this morning verses 17-24. The title of our message this morning is The Horror of the Cross. Even though I’m not female I had a great time yesterday at the women’s friendship luncheon, I got a good meal and snuck in the back and heard Lynn speak. If you haven’t had a chance to listen to Lynn’s message I would encourage you to do that. We have it on our SLBC website; she did a great job. And I’m very proud of Lynn, she was one of my students at College of Biblical Studies so if you liked what she said you can give me the full credit of course, and if you didn’t like what she said I’ll take the full blame, but I thought she just did a wonderful job teaching a relevant and biblical accurate and very personal message that she gave.
The Horror of the Cross, and we are in that very final section of John’s Gospel, I know I’ve been saying that for about three months now, but we’re still there, dealing with the Passion of Christ. And chapters 18 and 19, as you know, deals with His death, and chapters 20 and 21 deal with His resurrection. If I play my cards right I might even be able to get to the resurrection by Easter Sunday. Sometimes I go into the four corner stall… just joking about that.
The death of Christ; we have looked at Christ’s arrests, we are finished with His trials, His legal trials and now we move into that very critical section where we have the death of Jesus Christ described in verses 17-37. The way, I think, that’s easy to divide up this unit is to look at Christ’s events leading up to His death, verses 17-30, and then what follows are events following His death, verses 31-37.
The events leading up to the death of Jesus Christ, I hope you like the letter W. We have, number 1, the walk to the cross, verse 17; number 2, the wretched ordeal of the cross, verse 18; number 3, also in verse 18, the wrongdoers on the cross, verses 18b; the writing above the cross 19-22, the wardrobe below the cross, verses 23-24; verse 25, the women at the cross, and verses 16-30, the final words of Jesus from the cross.
Notice first of all this walk to the cross; notice, if you will, John 19:17, it says, “Therefore they took Jesus and He went out, bearing His own cross, to the place of a Skull, which in Hebrew is called Golgotha.” One of the things that’s frustrating about John is he is very selective in what he includes. In fact, he’ll tell us that at the end of his book, that he’s very selective. And so he kind of gives the impression here that the path to the cross was easy but when you factor in what the other Gospel writers had to say about it we learn that it was anything but easy.
Luke 23:27-32 records part of the ordeal of simply walking to the cross, and Matthew 27:32 talks about how a man named Simon of Cyrene had to be enlisted just to help Jesus, because as I’ll show you in a minute He was actually carrying His own cross to the place of His execution. He was carrying, if you will, the instrument of His own execution.
[Luke 23:27-32, “And following Him was a large crowd of the people, and of women who were mourning and lamenting Him.  But Jesus turning to them said, ‘Daughters of Jerusalem, stop weeping for Me, but weep for yourselves and for your children.  For behold, the days are coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bore, and the breasts that never nursed’  Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us,’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us.’  For if they do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?’  Two others also, who were criminals, were being led away to be put to death with Him.”]
Matthew 27:32 says, “As they were coming out, they found a man of Cyrene named Simon, whom they pressed into service to bear His cross.” So the path to the place of execution carrying His cross was anything but easy. You’ll notice the reason for that in verse 17, John tells us that Jesus was actually bearing His own cross. [John 19:17, “They took Jesus, therefore, and He went out, bearing His own cross, to the place called the Place of a Skull, which is called in Hebrew, Golgotha.”] Now this was a common practice, where criminals would actually carry on their backs, in most cases, the very crucifix that they would be killed on.
Now you read this and you say I’ve never heard of anything like this before in the Bible, but the fact of the matter is if you know your Bible well a story should come to mind; a story that takes place in the book of Genesis chapter 22. Genesis 22 is that famous even that happened in the life of Abraham where God told Abraham to kill Isaac, or offer Isaac, you remember. Genesis 22 is a prefigurement, I believe, of this entire ordeal that Jesus would experience on the cross. The Holy Spirit has revealed this in advance in the story of Abraham, Genesis 22, roughly 2,000 years in advance. And if you ever have an opportunity to work through Genesis 22 you’ll be shocked at the Christological nature of that chapter.
For example, in Genesis 22:6 it says, “Abraham took the wood,” that kind of reminds us of a crucifix, doesn’t it, “the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son,” so Isaac was carrying the very wood that he would be sacrificed upon in Genesis 22:6.
In fact, it’s very interesting to note that according to Genesis 22:2 this offering of Isaac, which as you remember from the story never happened because God, at the last minute stayed Abraham’s hand, but this offering was to take place on a mountain or in the land of Moriah it says, Genesis 22:2. [Genesis 22:2, “He said, ‘Take now your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I will tell you.”]
We think Moriah, that rings a bell. It does, and it should because that is exactly where Solomon, about a thousand years later, built the temple according to 2 Chronicles 3:1. [2 Chronicles 3:1, “Then Solomon began to build the house of the LORD in Jerusalem on Mount Moriah, where the LORD had appeared to his father, David….”]
Is it not interesting that Isaac, carrying his own wood, would be supposedly sacrificed in the exact same place where Solomon built the temple? Historically we know that that is the same area where Jesus Christ was crucified a thousand years after Solomon built that temple. So roughly two thousand years in advance the Holy Spirit is revealing not just the manner of Christ’s death, but the exact place of it.
It is very interesting in Genesis 22:5, after God had told Abraham to take Isaac to Mount Moriah to offer him as a sacrifice, Abraham makes this statement in Genesis 22:5, it says, “Abraham said to his young men, ‘Stay here with the donkey, and I and the lad will go over there; and we will worship and return to you.” How in the world would Abraham make this statement that “we will” return to you when God in the prior verses told Abraham to take Isaac to Mount Moriah to be sacrificed? This would be the height of Abraham’s faith because you see, Isaac was the child that Sarah and Abraham had waited for, and Abraham was so strong in faith that he reasoned to himself that even if I sacrifice Isaac God must somehow resurrect him from the dead.
In fact, the book of Hebrews in the New Testament tells us that that is exactly what was going on in Abraham’s mind. It says in Hebrews 11:19, “He considered that God is able to raise people even from the dead, from which he also received him back as a type.” How interesting it is that as Christ’s life, from the human perspective, related to His death seems totally out of control. It seems like Satan has the upper hand; it seems like the human point of view is winning. How interesting it is that Christ’s very death, right down to the place, right down to the resurrection, right down to Him carrying His own cross, is already prefigured in the pages of the Old Testament, 2,000 years in advance. It’s astonishing, isn’t it?
We think somehow God lost control of things; in reality everything was happening according to a predetermined plan of God. And if that’s true in Christ’s life it’s true in your life, it’s true in my life, as things seem sometimes so wildly out of control there’s a predetermined, preordained plan in motion. God is so big that He even uses the rebellious decisions of His own creation to execute a plan that He Himself wrote out in the form of a script in what we call Hebrew Bible, sometimes we refer to that as the Old Testament.
One of the things that’s interesting here is it talks about Golgotha and it gives us the translation in Hebrew; the Hebrew is Golgotha, one of the points that we tried to make is John is writing to a Gentile audience. He’s writing to people that have very little knowledge of Hebrew and he consequently has to translate Hebrew terms. He’s done this in John 19:13 you recall. It’s going to happen again in John 19:20; it happens again in John 20:16; it happens again in John 5:2.
[John 19:13, “Therefore when Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus out, and sat down on the judgment seat at a place called The Pavement, but in Hebrew, Gabbatha.” John 19:20, “Therefore, many of the Jews read this inscription, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, Latin and in Greek.” John 20:16, “Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!” She turned and said to Him in Hebrew, ‘Rabboni!’ (which means Teacher).” John 5:2, “Now there is in Jerusalem by the sheep gate a pool, which is called in Hebrew Bethesda, having five porticoes.”]
Now I just point this out just so that we will remember the point of this Gospel. The point of this book is for people who have a limited understanding of the things of God, in this case the Gentiles, would grasp who Jesus is. This is the Gospel that puts the cookies on the bottom shelf like no other Gospel This is the Gospel that really places things down on the lowest common denominator; it was designed by God for the person who has no knowledge of the things of God might understand. And that’s why we believe that John is the most evangelistic of the books of the Bible. And I simply bring this up because this is the book you direct people to when they are curious about the claims of Christ. This is the book you quote from when you evangelize the lost.
With our women’s fellowship luncheon there is an evangelistic focus to that event. Our assumption is a lot of people will come to that event that normally will not come to a regular church service. And when you listen to Lynn Munsterman’s talk you’ll see how she referenced over and over again John’s Gospel. The reason she did that is because she’s sensitive to the fact that John’s Gospel is special; it has an evangelistic emphasis to it.
Golgotha is the Hebrew word, now when you transliterate that word into Latin and when you go down to verse 20 you’ll see the word “Latin” there; the sign above Christ’s head as He was dying, one of the translations was in Latin (more on that later). But Golgotha transliterated into Latin is the Hebrew word Calverium where we get the word “Calvary.” So sometimes we use these words and we don’t really understand where they came from; it comes from the Hebrew Golgotha, transliterated into Latin where we get the English word Calvary, all talking about the same place.
You’ll notice also there in verse 17 that this place was dubbed, or had the title, the Place of the Skull. And that is somewhat of a mystery, as to why it is called the Place of the Skull. This is the traditional cite where many believe that Christ was crucified, it’s a place called Church of the Holy Sepulcher. I was there last summer with my wife and others, and it sort of looks like a skull, doesn’t it, from a certain angle. So that may be why this area where Christ died received this title, the place of the skull. There is a tradition, though, that tells us that Adam’s skull is buried in this area. How do they know that? I have no idea how they know that, but it’s one of those traditions that caught on. So that might be another explanation why it is called the place of the skull.
So Christ is carrying this cross to the place of the skull, Golgotha, where He is going to be crucified. And that takes us away from the walk to the cross and notice, if you will, number 2, the wretched ordeal of the cross. Look, if you will, at the first part of verse 18, it says, “Therefore they crucified Him,” and again it’s somewhat frustrating with John because he just gives us a few words, “Therefore they crucified Him,” and he really doesn’t reveal, the way the other gospel writers do, the long and excruciating form of death that Christ was about to experience.
You see, when you were crucified under first century Rome they did not want you to die too fast. That would be too easy on the accused, or those convicted of a crime. Essentially what they did is they deliberately had a long and excruciating process or a form of death. Why did they do this? Why did they do it in public? They did it in public simply to keep other people that might be thinking about rebelling against Rome and telling people it’s a bad idea. It’s a public message to communicate this is what happens when you rebel against Rome; this is what happens when you engage in treasonous activities.
Carson, in his commentary, says this, regarding crucifixion. He says: “It was so brutal that no Roman citizen could be crucified without the sanction of the Emperor. Stripped naked and beaten to a pulpy weakness …, the victim could hang in the hot sun for hours, even days. To breathe, it was necessary to push with the legs and pull with the arms to keep the chest cavity open and functioning. Terrible muscle spasm or spasms wracked the entire body, but since collapse meant asphyxiation, the strain went on and on.” There was also a piece, there’s a Latin word here that I’m not even going to try to pronounce, but “a piece of wood that would serve as a small seat in some cases. It prolonged life and agony: it partially supported the body’s weight, and therefore encouraged the victim to fight on.”
This is what God, the creator of the universe, and now the redeemer of the universe and the sustainer of the universe is experiencing on behalf of sinful humanity.”
Moo, in his commentary, simply says this about crucifixion: “Crucifixion was probably the most diabolical form of death ever invented.” In fact, this form of death was not even invented by the Romans; it was the Assyrians that came up with this. You remember the Assyrians from the Old Testament? They were the ones that scattered the northern tribes in 722 B.C. They were known, and I read some of the things that they practiced and what they did to their enemies it would be inappropriate for a church audience even to hear this, it is so grotesque. But they were known for their diabolical and blood thirsty practices. They were the cruelest people probably that have ever roamed the face of the earth.
And this was the crowd that God told Jonah to go preach to, to manifest His grace to them. And when you understand this you begin to understand why Jonah did what he did. There you see Joppa in the land of Israel and instead of going 550 miles to the east to Nineveh, which is what God said, he said No Way José, that’s the Spanish translation, and he went from Joppa, a good 2,500 miles to Tarshish, which is modern day Spain. And we kind of like to dog pile on Jonah a little bit, you know, how could he do that, look at how he’s outside the will of God, but you see, the more you understand about this cruel group of people called the Assyrians the more you understood why Jonah is thinking the way he does. He did not want the grace of God to be manifested to a group of people like that.
And you know how the story of the book of Jonah ends; how God disciplines Jonah, brings him back into His purpose. He preaches to the people of Assyria in Nineveh and the people repent. Do you know Jonah is the only successful prophet that we have in the whole Old Testament, success in terms of converts? Isaiah wasn’t very successful in the worldly sense; Jeremiah wasn’t very successful; Ezekiel wasn’t very successful, and on and on we could go. Jonah has success and he spends, John 4, moping about the success. God, I knew You were going to do this, I just knew You were going to give these people grace!
But it’s this barbaric practice of the crucifixion that the Assyrians developed and Rome just reached back into history and said you know, this crucifixion looks like a good idea, why don’t we give it a shot here in Rome to keep the rebels in check? But this indeed is a wretched ordeal that Jesus Christ, the Second Member of the Trinity, is experiencing on our behalf.
And we move from the wretched ordeal of the cross and now we run into the wrongdoers with Christ, not on His cross but on either side of Him. And notice, if you will, John 19 and look at the second half of the verse, and it says,  “And with Him two other men, one on either side, and Jesus in between.” Matthew, in Matthew 27:44 tells us that these two men crucified on Christ’s right and left were robbers. In fact, that word “robber” is the same Greek word used to describe Barabbas in John 18:40. [“So they cried out again, saying, ‘Not this Man, but Barabbas.’” Now Barabbas was a robber.”] We’ve studied a little bit about this man Barabbas, or Bar-ab-bus, it depends on which syllable gets the emphasis as I like to say. But this was the man released by the desire of the Jews in the place of Christ.
We learned earlier that this man, Barabbas, was a robber and an insurrectionist. And here is Jesus Christ, an innocent man, the Second Member of the Trinity, hanging on this barbaric cross with these two common criminals to the right and to the left of Him. Why does John even mention these two criminals? I think he does it partly because down in verses 32 and 33, which we won’t be getting to today), but there is going to be a decision made to break the legs of those hanging on the cross and the criminals hanging with Christ on the cross would have their legs broken for reasons that we will talk about later, so in essence John is preparing us for what is coming regarding the breaking of the legs of these two criminals hanging there alongside either side of Christ.
But you know, there’s another reason I think John brings this up. In the book of Isaiah, Isaiah 53:12, now keep in mind that Isaiah was written 700 years before Jesus ever walked the earth, this is what it says: “Therefore,” in a Messianic prophecy about Jesus, “Therefore, I will allot Him a portion with the great, and He will divide the booty with the strong; because He poured out Himself to death,” watch this, “And was numbered with the transgressors;” How literally that prophecy is fulfilled 700 years later as Christ was numbered, in fact died with, two transgressors, Christ Himself being an innocent man.
And how Luke’s gospel picks up on this, something that you only find… you don’t find it in John but you find it in Luke, how one criminal went to his grave cursing God, and yet the other criminal had a change of heart. And at the very last moment of his life cried out for mercy and Jesus, as you know the story from Luke 23:39-43 utters these words: “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.” [Luke 23:39-43, “One of the criminals who were hanged there was hurling abuse at Him, saying, ‘Are You not the Christ? Save Yourself and us!’  But the other answered, and rebuking him said, ‘Do you not even fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation?  And we indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.’  And he was saying, ‘Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!’  And He said to him, ‘Truly, I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.’”]
What a tremendous story of a deathbed conversion. You know, there’s a lot of people that don’t believe in death bed conversions. I believe in them because it’s right here in the Bible. What is happening in Luke 23 is a death bed conversion. It is entirely possible for someone, after living an entire life in rebellion against God, can have a change of heart at the very end of their life, exercise faith in Jesus Christ and consequently be assured of their salvation. You say well, that’s not fair. You’re right, it’s not fair, it’s called grace! It’s called unmerited favor. The fact of the matter is none of us deserve the grace of God. Who are we to criticize God for allowing people to be converted just at the last moment?
And when we understand that conversion of that thief on the cross we begin to understand why we, at Sugar Land Bible Church, preach the gospel the way we do. We preach it in such a way that it de-emphasizes any human work you can possibly do. Why is that? Because that converted thief, that penitent thief did not have time, or the ability hanging on a cross, to join a church, to give an offering, to fill out a decision card. I mean, he didn’t even have a chance to walk an aisle, for goodness sake! Because we are saved completely on the basis of Christ’s power and we respond to what He has done by way of faith. That is the single condition that determines heaven or hell.
Think about this for a minute: two men that afternoon in Jerusalem go off into eternity. One man goes off into eternity cursing God and his soul goes into eternal retribution to experience the wrath of God for all eternity. And yet the other man’s soul goes to an entirely different place; goes into the Paradise with Jesus Christ. What determines what one man experiences throughout eternity verses another man? It is all contingent upon a faith response. And that’s why that faith response to the work of Jesus Christ becomes so critical, because that faith response to Christ determines where we spend eternity, heaven or hell. And the message is about as simple as that.
So we move from the walk to the cross, the wretched ordeal of the cross, the wrongdoers on the cross, and now we go into verses 19-22 where we get a description of the writing above the cross. I have the ability to take the simple and make it complicated so we have three parts there; the record of the sign, verses 19-20; the request to remove the sign, verse 21; the resolve to keep the sign, verse 22.
Notice first of all the record of the sign hanging above Jesus Christ. Notice what it says in verses 19-20, “Pilate also wrote an inscription and put it on the cross. It was written, ‘JESUS THE NAZRENE, THE KING OF THE JEWS.’” Verse 20 says, “Therefore many of the Jews read this inscription, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, Latin and in Greek.” Now one of the things that we mentioned last week is we have those today and we have had them, really, throughout the ages, those that try to find a contradiction in the Bible. The Bible critic likes to focus on what was affixed, if you will, over the head of Jesus Christ. They, in essence, try to find a contradiction in the Bible. And at first glance there is a contradiction.
Matthew records the language above Jesus’ inscription as follows: “THIS IS JESUS THE KING OF THE JEWS.” [Matthew 27:37] Mark simply says, “THE KING OF THE JEWS,” [Mark 15:22] and he leaves out “This is Jesus. Luke includes the expression, “THE KING OF THE JEWS” [Luke 23:38] but he also includes the expression “THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS,” slightly different than Matthew, slightly different than Mark, and John simply writes this, “JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS.” Contradictions allegedly in the Bible!
There are many people that have honest intellectual questions about the things of God. And we need to be in a position to remove any obstacle someone might have to trusting in Jesus Christ as their Savior. But there are others that want to find a contradiction, because they believe if they find a contradiction that will absolve them morally, ethically. It will absolve their accountability before God because the Bible is like no other book that has ever been written; it holds the creation accountable to the Creator.
W. C. Fields, not known for his Christianity (that’s for sure), “In early 1946 the effects of cirrhosis were becoming more evident. His abdomen began to swell and fill with water, distending his stomach. He was losing strength in his arms and legs and his kidneys were not functioning well. He announced he wasn’t renewing the lease on the house and sold his household and his possessions. He was admitted to Las Encinas Sanitarium where he had a private bungalow. His last weeks were spent in bed, sometimes reading the Bible, which shocked everybody. When asked why, why are you reading the Bible, his reply was I’m looking for loopholes.”
Isn’t that sad that people are that way? Looking for some kind of loophole in the Bible, looking for some kind of out, rather than embracing the grace of God which can alter one’s eternal destiny, rather than submitting to the authority of Scripture and God they would rather find a contradiction in the Bible to discredit God, because the pride in the human heart is so strong that the creation does not want to yield or bow or be submissive in any sense to the Creator. That’s been the problem with mankind ever since the fall in Eden, in Genesis 3. Looking for loopholes! Is this a loophole? Do these different inscriptions of what was hanging above Christ’s head, did these furnish some kind of contradiction? Hardly!
Some solutions to it would be as follows, at least two that I know of. Pilate wrote out the whole statement and each gospel writer quoted a part of it. This should not come to us as front page news because gospel writers, even John as we have said, does this; he doesn’t record everything that Jesus Christ said or did, he said if I told you everything that Jesus said or did the world itself could not contain the books written thereof. He is selective on what he chooses to give us but we believe that he put this book together under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. It is entirely possible that each gospel writer decided to select part of the whole as they each individually recorded what was above the head there of Jesus Christ.
There is even a better solution though; if you look at verse 20, we read it earlier; it says this “was written in Hebrew, Latin and Greek.” It is entirely possible that these gospel writers were not translating from the same language since Pilate ordered it to be written out in three different languages. One gospel writer might quote it in one language, another one in a different language, and so forth. And so what turns out to be a supposed loophole, a supposed contradiction, in fact, is very easily explainable. And you will find this with all of these so-called Bible contradictions that people are so interested in discovering as they are looking for loopholes. Most of these contra¬dictions, with a little bit of study are not contradictions at all.
It is interesting to me, though, that John in his gospel records this trilingual rendition, three languages, what was there above Christ’s head as He was dying. Pilate recorded it in three languages. As we spoke of last week, there were about four languages that were written in the land of Israel and people were fluent of at the time of Christ. There was first of all Hebrew, and then there was secondly something called Aramaic, which is kind of a lighter Hebrew. And then there was something called Greek, the New Testament itself was written in the Greek language. And then there was something called Latin. It is interesting that Pilate puts it, and John tells us, in all three languages.
Why does only John tell us about these three languages? It fits John’s purpose in writing because Jesus is the Savior for who? The world! John 1:29 says, “The next day he saw Jesus coming to him and said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the” Jews! NO, it doesn’t say that, “the sin of the world!” “For God so loved the elect that He gave His only begotten Son…. I’m sorry, it doesn’t say that. “For God so loved the” what? “the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” If there was anybody from the human point of view who was unqualified to receive the grace of God certainly it was that Samaritan woman, wasn’t it, that we read about in John 4 sometime back. She was from the wrong race, Samaria; the Jews hated the Samaritans and the Samaritans hated the Jews going all the way back to the 7th century B.C. She was a woman; women in this culture were treated like dirt. This is why everybody is shocked that Jesus has a conversation with a woman.
It is so tiring to me; it is so nauseating to me to hear ill-informed people constantly say Christianity is against women, blaming Christianity for the plight of women. There has never been a movement in the history of mankind that has done more to elevate women than Christianity. If you want to see what women are like without Christianity go to a country where the gospel has not penetrated. Go to, dare I say, an Islamic controlled country, there you see what women are like and treated when the gospel has no influence over the minds of people, how a husband has a legal right to beat up his wife; how multiple witnesses have to be submitted for female testimony to counterbalance a male testimony in a court of law. Jesus, by going to this Samaritan woman was promoting women; it was restoring them to the place that God intended for them prior to the fall. But from a human point of view, if anyone was unqualified to receive the grace of God it was this Samaritan woman who also had another strike against her, sexual immorality. Jesus tells her you’ve had five husbands and your current partner you’re not even married to. And then she makes the most obvious statement in the history of the world, she says, “Sir, I perceive You are a prophet.” Good guess!
But do you remember her testimony as she left, in John 4:42, as she went out proclaiming what Jesus had done for her? “and they were saying to the woman, ‘It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard ourselves and know that this One is indeed the Savior of the world.’” The gospel is for everybody; it is for the Greeks, it is for those that speak Latin, those that speak Hebrew, those that speak Aramaic, it’s for men, it’s for women, it’s for rich, it’s for poor, it’s for slaves, it’s for free, it’s for the person that is homeless that we drive by and see under the freeway bridge that we don’t want to get too close to. It is for the person that has alcohol all over their breath that’s living in a box, it’s for them. It’s for the prostitute. It’s for the Republican, (this is going to be hard) it’s also for the Green Party, and the Democrats.
The world needs this gospel. And that’s why John records this rendition of what was hanging over Christ’s head there with this trilingual account.
We move from the record of the sign to the request to remove the sign. Notice, if you will, verse 21, “So the chief priests of the Jews were saying to Pilate, ‘Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews’; but rather that He said, ‘I am the King of the Jews.’” Pilate wrote what was true, “The King of the Jews.” The Jews that were not acknowledging Jesus rightful authority over them as King would have preferred the sign to say not that He is “The King of the Jews,” but “He made the claim to be the King of the Jews.”
Is it not interesting that to the very last moment the Jews are disavowing Jesus Christ. That disavow happened back in verse 15 that we saw last week, where they say at the end of the verse, the chief priests say, “We have no king but Caesar.’” This man will not reign over us; this man will not rule over us. And this is why the nation of Israel went off into discipline. This is why God brought forth discipline on the nation of Israel about four decades later in the horrific events of A.D. 70 as documented by the first century historian, Josephus. Over a million Jews died in those horrific events of A.D. 70. It is the explanation why Israel today is in a state of unbelief. It’s an explanation as to why Israel today is desperately seeking a solution to their problems and which we notice as the world is getting more and more unfriendly to Israel, because there’s only one solution for them. It’s not just for them, it’s for the world; the only solution for Israel, the only solution that will fix their dilemma is an acknowledgement by faith that Jesus, in fact, is their Messiah. And we know from prophetic Scriptures that that conversion will come yet as by tribulation.
But here in the first century they are doing everything they can to disavow themselves, to disconnect themselves, to undermine who Jesus actually is, right down to complaints about what was hanging over His head and what Pilate had written as Jesus was dying. But notice, it’s very interesting, Pilate’s resolve to keep the sign. Notice, if you will, verse 22, “Pilate answered, ‘What I have written I have written.’” You see, Pilate had had his hand forced; he had acquiesced to Jewish demands against what he knew was right and he had handed down a verdict for the execution of Jesus Christ. We know that Pilate didn’t want to do this but he caved in to worldly pressure. Even Pilate’s wife didn’t want him to do this, having a dream, Matthew tells us, regarding the innocence of Jesus Christ.
Yet Pilate, for purposes of worldliness, for purposes of job security, for purposes of wanting to make everybody happy, eventually acquiesced to the demand. I believe that Pilate resented the Jewish religious leadership for forcing his hand. And when he says, “What I have written I have written,” this is Pilate’s last chance to get some sort of minor revenge on these Jews. When he says “What I have written I have written” he is flaunting, in a sense, Rome’s authority over Israel. Yes, you forced my hand, but let’s not forget who’s running the show up here, I ultimately am in charge.
In reality, Pilate wasn’t in charge at all. Who was in charge? God! Because you see, what Pilate wrote back in verse 21, “The King of the Jews” is theologically accurate. “What I have written I have written,” must stay because that is what is true. In other words, God is so big that He is working in history to use the decisions of even Pilate for petty revenge to set forth the truth of His Son. It’s astounding how God retains control of events even when things look so out of control.
It reminds me very much of what Caiaphas said; I’ve referred to this many times as we’ve been traveling through John, but in John 11:48-51 Caiaphas, the high priest, an unbeliever, said this, as the people say to Caiaphas, “If we let Him go on like this, all men will believe in Him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.  But one of them, Caiaphas, who was the high priest that year, said to them, ‘You know nothing at all,  nor do you take into account that it is expedient for you that one man die for the people, and that the whole nation not perish.’  Now he did not say this on his own initiative, but being high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus was going to die for the nation.”
Caiaphas makes this sort of off the wall statement, we’ve got to kill Christ because if He becomes too popular then Rome is going to come, which Rome eventually did, forty years later by the way, but Rome will come now because of perceived insurrection and will destroy our place and our country and our city. So one man has to be eliminated for the benefit of us all. And in the process what came out of Caiaphas’s mouth, which was speaking in rebellion against God was a beautiful theologically correct, theologically accurate statement of the substitutionary atonement of Christ.
Yes, Jesus did die for the many, not the way Caiaphas thought though. Jesus died in our place so that the world, as it trusts in what Jesus has done could be saved. How much more does John have to tell us to convince us that God is in complete control? Caiaphas is making statements that are theologically accurate; Pilate is writing things over the head, that affixed sign over Jesus Christ that is theologically accurate. And even when people are saying take it down, or change it or alter it, he says, “I have written what I have written.” I’m a theology professor, if I was grading Pilate and if I was grading Caiaphas A+ work, accurate theology.
We move away from the writing above the cross, now notice if you will the wardrobe below the cross. There are two parts to this, number 1, the soldiers, verse 23; and number 2, the Scripture, verse 24. Notice what these soldiers are doing there in verse 23. Look at how petty they are acting? “Then the soldiers, when they had crucified Jesus, took His outer garments and made four parts, a part to every soldier and also the tunic; now the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece.” Notice that “garments” is plural, “tunic” is singular. Probably four soldiers, they took Christ’s wardrobe, which had four parts to it and they divided it up amongst themselves so each would get a part. I think I would envision it this way: one soldier took His robe; one soldier took His belt; one soldier took His sandals; and another soldier took His head covering.
The problem is, when they got down to the tunic, the tunic was the garment that was wrong nearest the skin, it’s singular, it was woven in one piece and they had the good sense not to tear it apart but they have to decide which of these four soldiers is going to get this last singular piece, this garment. And that takes away from the soldiers to the Scripture.
Notice, if you will, verse 24, “So they said to one another, ‘Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it, to decide whose it shall be’; this was to fulfill the Scripture: “THEY DIVIDED MY OUTER GARMENTS AMONG THEM, AND FOR MY CLOTHING THEY CAST LOTS.” One piece left, who’s going to get it? I know what we’ll do; we’ll cast lots, in a sense gamble for it. And in the moment where they made that decision and began to cast lots, John tells us that the Old Testament Scripture is jumping right out of the pages into fulfillment, because the citation there in verse 24 is from Psalm 22:18, written by David a thousand years in advance.
David spends a lot of time in that psalm talking about his own problems. But as he continues to write under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit begins to reveal information to the psalmist, to David, about circumstances that go far beyond the time of David, pointing to the suffering Messiah, David’s descendant, the one called the Son of David, who would come into the world a thousand years later, and this is what Psalm 22: 18 says. “They divided my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots.”
Is God in control of a world that seems out of control? Absolutely! Look at how many Scriptures we’ve seen fulfilled just in the brief verses that we have quoted here. Jesus carrying His cross is a fulfillment of the typology of Isaac back in Genesis 22, two thousand years in advance, carrying that wood to his place of what could have been, unless God had stayed Abraham’s hand, his place of execution. Two thousand years in advance that is revealed. Isaiah, 700 years in advance… 700 years is a long time, America has been her for 238 years, something like that, 700 years in advance Isaiah 53:12, as we’ve studied, indicates that Jesus would be crucified between the two thieves. [Isaiah 53:12, “Therefore, I will allot Him a portion with the great, and He will divide the booty with the strong; Because He poured out Himself to death, and was numbered with the transgressors; yet He Himself bore the sin of many, and interceded for the transgressors.]
And then David, a thousand years in advance, in Psalm 22:18 predicts the gambling of the soldiers for Christ’s final garment or tunic. Thomas Constable, in his online notes, says this: “Men continued to carry out God’s foreordained plan of salvation though unknowingly. This is another tribute to God’s sovereignty. Even Jesus humiliation reached its depths as enemies took even His clothes from Him, and yet the Father controlled the destiny.” Amazing the power of God, the strength of God, the omniscience of God, the omnipotence of God, the omnipresence of God, how this plan could come into existence through the rebellious activity of the soldiers, and Pilate, and Caiaphas, and yet God is guiding it all somehow while respecting the choices that these people are making God somehow is guiding this to a predetermined conclusion. I know of no other book like the Bible, that reveals the end from the beginning.
And what a proof it is that the Scripture is, in fact, the Word of God. The Bible reveals history in advance. How can it do that? Because an omniscient God, an all knowing God, brought it into existence. This subject of prophetic truth, I believe, is the great proof that the Bible is, in fact, the Word of God.
How do the other holy books compare to this, the alleged holy books? Do you find anything like this in the Quran? Do you find anything like this in The Book of Mormon? Do you find anything like this in any other book that comes from some sort of religious group? The fact of the matter is you don’t! The Bible is unique in this sense, history in advance! Because you know what, to God tomorrow is already today. God is not bound by time as human beings are bound by time. He sees things clearly from the past into the distant future and man, in his speculations and his finitudes can only grope about in human darkness. But the Bible breaks through and transcends the thoughts of man and it reveals history in advance.
And how we need to bring this into our evangelism and tell the world the proof of the Scripture, and challenge them to check it out for themselves. The world, to a large extent, is looking for evidence. I realize that there are those looking for loopholes but there are those that want evidence, and we have it! It’s like prosecuting a case, you’ve got a key piece of evidence but you never bring it up in the trial. Why are we this way? Why don’t we take the thing that God has given us and why don’t we run with it? And yet we leave out things, we omit things; we don’t study things because we are somewhat careless with God’s precious Word and God’s precious truth.
I would assume that as Jesus has these garments being gambled for, a garment being gambled for, the other four pieces being taken by the soldiers; I would assume at this point that Jesus is naked dying on that cross. Did you know that in the Scripture nakedness is synonymous with shame after the fall? This is what Genesis 2:25 says, it says: “The man and his wife were both naked, and were not ashamed.” That’s prior to the fall. But after the fall of man, Genesis 3, nakedness was shame. Genesis 3:7 says this: “The eyes of both of them,” that would be Adam and Eve, “were opened, and they knew they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made for themselves loin coverings.” They were ashamed of their nakedness. To hang there naked in the blazing sun was the ultimate form of humiliation a human being could go through. And this is God in human flesh, volitionally, for our benefit, stepping out of eternity into time, exposing Himself to great humiliation.
You know, it’s one thing to lose, a coach used to tell me, let me rephrase that; it’s one thing to win, it’s an entirely different thing to humiliate the other team. The coaches that I had, all the way through my basketball days would never let us humiliate another team. If you want to win, win, but we are not going to drive them so far into the pavement that they will never want to see the light of day again. And I’ve been on the other side of the equation, unfortunately, as well, where we not only lost but we were embarrassed, where the other team just stuck that knife in as far as it could go, as long as there was time on that time clock to do so. Humiliation is a difficult thing for humanity to experience and what we are seeing here is Jesus Christ, in His ultimate form of humiliation. You can’t get more humiliated than what is happening to Jesus.
And there’s an irony in this. What’s the irony? The irony is this: through His nakedness we are clothed. Isn’t that amazing? Remember how God decided to forgive Adam and Eve all the way back in Genesis 3:21, it says, “The LORD God garments of skin for Adam and his wife, and clothed them.” God is in the clothing business; He’s in the covering business. He’s in the business of covering up our shame and isn’t that a great description of Christianity? Isn’t that what the whole thing is about? Because through what Christ did in His nakedness we become clothed with the righteousness of God.
Philippians 3:9 puts it this way: “and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which commandments from God on the basis of faith.” Paul, at a certain point in his life, when he was still Saul, realized the futility of trying to clothe himself. How many people are like this today, trying to cover themselves through their own good deeds? Somehow compensate for any bad they have done by doing good. The foolishness of thinking we can do that before a holy God, Paul finally reached a point in his life where he decided to receive, by faith, the clothing that only God can provide, His righteousness transferred to us at the point of faith. If you want a fancy word for it, it’s imputation, transfer, where God simply doesn’t forgive us (that would be enough, wouldn’t it) but where God looks at us as if we are just as righteous as Jesus Christ.
Martin Luther, the great church reformer, called it the great exchange; in a nanosecond our filthy rags are exchanged for clothing that we do not deserve, the righteousness of Jesus Christ. And what brought about this entire transaction? The humiliated Son of God, dying, nakedly, in open shame. Through His humiliation we become clothed. I can’t think of a better lead into the gospel than that; can you? Sometimes I have to force the gospel in, I don’t have to today; it’s clear as day. If you are here with never having accepted or trusted in what Jesus Christ has done, you’re left with your own filthy rags, you’re left before a holy God in a state of humiliation. And how God wants to clothe you and how He offers that simply by receiving, as a free gift, what He has done.
We do that one way, by faith, which refers to confidence, reliance, trust, we trust what Jesus has done. That’s it! We don’t have to walk an aisle, we don’t have to join a church, we don’t have to give money, we don’t have to resolve to work harder. You simply receive with open hands (metaphorically), with child-like faith, with simplicity, what Jesus has done. And the moment that happens is the moment our filthy rags are exchanged for clothing, which we do not deserve. As the Holy Spirit convicts some of you, because you’ve never done that, our exhortation to you at Sugar Land Bible Church, in the quietness of your heart, in the quietness of your own mind, as the Holy Spirit places you under conviction, to respond to the message of the gospel, to go ahead the best you know how and trust in what Jesus has done. If there are more questions that you have I’m available after the service to talk.
Shall we pray: Father, we are so grateful for what we have because of what You did. Help us to walk this week, Father, by faith, rejoicing in the great riches that we have, through the humiliation and the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ. We will be careful to give you all the praise and the glory, and God’s people said….