The Fifty-Ninth in a Series of Sermons on the Gospel of John
It is easy for Christians to talk about the death of Jesus in the abstract. We study and debate the nature and the extent of the atonement. We speak of the cross as the basis for our salvation because through Christ’s suffering we find the forgiveness of sin–Jesus was punished for us and in our place. But it is much harder for us to consider the horrible suffering which Jesus actually endured to save us from our sins–the agonizing physical pain Jesus felt, the shame of the humiliation and mocking he received from his enemies, being rejected by his people (Israel), and then, finally, being abandoned by his own disciples during his hour of need. We cannot begin to comprehend that moment when Jesus became the object of the Father’s wrath. We should not be morbid or unduly curious about the details of the death of Jesus, but at times (on Good Friday or when we read the Passion Narratives of the gospels) it is important to consider the details and agony of the death of our Savior so that we never forget that it was the person who saves us, who endured so much for us and in our place.
With the drama building verse by verse, we have come to the central moment in John’s Passion narrative, the death of Jesus by crucifixion at the hands of the Roman occupiers of Israel (John 19:16b-30). There has been a certain inevitability about this moment from the time we first began our series–we were prepared for it early-on in the Gospel when John the Baptist “saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, `Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!’” It is only as John’s Gospel unfolds that we learn that Jesus must suffer and die to “take away the sin of the world.” Jesus himself has repeatedly spoken of an hour yet to come when God will be glorified, when Jesus saves his people from their sins.
Once this hour arrives and we learn what it is that Jesus must endure to save us from our sin, it still strikes the reader of John’s Gospel that everything which Jesus says, does, and then endures as recounted by John, is done in order to accomplish the salvation of all those given by the Father to the Son, and to whom the merits of Jesus will be applied through the work of the Holy Spirit (the blessed Comforter whom Jesus will ask the Father to send). The death of Jesus on a Roman cross is not a random event, or an accident of history. The cross was foreordained by God. There is no salvation of sinners without it.
As R. C. Sproul often puts it, through the cross of Christ, we are saved by God from God.
But the death of Jesus is also the culmination of a whole series of improbable historical events recounted by John, in which after entering Jerusalem in triumph, Jesus is soon rejected by his people (Israel), betrayed by one of his own (Judas), denied by one of his closest disciples (Peter), arrested, tried, and found guilty before the high priest, then abandoned by the other disciples, before ending up in the Roman military headquarters in Jerusalem before the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, with a crowd outside Pilate’s headquarters demanding Jesus’ death.
Although it is clear to everyone–including Pilate–that Jesus was completely innocent, Jesus had been found guilty on trumped-up charges, and through false testimony from “witnesses.” This verdict was then ratified by the Sanhedrin. Throughout the time Jesus was before him, Pilate repeatedly looked for ways to release Jesus–even flogging and mocking him in an attempt to satisfy the Jews. Nevertheless, Pilate finally gave into pressure from the Jews when they threatened to report to King Herod and Emperor Tiberias that Pilate refused to execute a man found guilty of sedition. Furthermore, it was clear to Pilate that a riot was a real possibility. After declaring Jesus’ innocence and then washing his hands of the matter, Pilate ordered Jesus’ execution at the hands of one of his crucifixion teams.
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