Here we are, 33 weeks into our conversation through the book of John. John is walking with us in a process of belief. Today we step right into Jesus’ crucifixion.
How did we get here?
John started with his statements in John 1 about the deity of Jesus: He is God; He is distinct in God; He is God with us; He is Messiah. John the Baptist prepared the way. Jesus turned water into wine at a wedding. Jesus told Nicodemus that he needed to be born from above, but he heard “be born again.” Jesus connected with a Samaritan woman and healed the man at the Pool of Bethesda who couldn't get in the water himself. Jesus fed 5000, taught at the Feast of Tabernacles, and valued the woman caught in adultery.
Jesus affirmed that He is the Son of God and talked about Himself as the Good Shepherd. Lazarus died and Jesus raised him from the dead. Jesus triumphantly entered Jerusalem. He celebrated the last supper with His disciples and washed their feet. He gave a new command to love as He loved. He declared His departure, promised the Holy Spirit, predicted His betrayal, and told Peter he will deny Him.
Jesus prayed for everyone--for His disciples, for us. He was betrayed and arrested, interrogated, denied by Peter, and tried. And now today we come to His crucifixion.
John has used hyperlinks, repetition, themes, and intentionally placed narrative. The story is building. The story is not over. But it is all walking towards John’s objective:
Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:30-31)
We have said this over and over, but John is great to read and re-read. It is one to read in a single sitting--It will take about 2 hours. It is one to read slowly, chasing every hyperlink you can find--it will take about 2 years. And all of that is well time spent as it leads to John’s objective of deeper belief. I want to go there.
Today as we walk into the crucifixion of Jesus there are so many things happening. All of these things are on display: who Jesus is, how He relates to humanity, and the struggle to see who Jesus really is.
We are walking into the moment that sets Jesus apart.
We have seen how Jesus lived. We have heard what Jesus said. Now He is going to die--die for a purpose--and then, the foundation of Christian belief, Jesus is going to rise again.
The real questions will need to be addressed in all of us: Why? For what? What does that mean for me?
Today we are going to start off with a conversation about painful conversations. There are a lot of things that can be painful to talk about. Here is a list of some potentially painful conversation topics: personal finances, politics, religion, sex, death, personal appearance, conflict resolution, past relationships, past failures, current failures, and personal insecurities.
Which one of these conversations would be the most painful for you to have?
Now talk about this for a moment, as it builds foundation for us to walk into John’s narrative today:
What actually makes certain conversations painful?
It’s amazing what the cause of pain in conversations can be. Maybe it’s fear of conflict, or fear of hurting someone’s feelings or expecting someone to be hurt by something you say. Maybe it’s not wanting to have to go through a conversation you’ve already had many times. Maybe you have a sense that you’re very right about something and someone else is very wrong about that very thing. Or maybe you realize you’re wrong about something, but you are in too defensive or prideful of a place to have a conversation about how you’re wrong.
Fear, defensiveness, conflict, rightness, wrongness. All kinds of things that can make conversations feel painful.
Today we see a theme exploding on the pages of John: kingship. It appears 14 times in chapters 18 and 19. When John explodes into repetition, he is waving his arms frantically saying, look over here! So we should.
When the readers would think about the King of Israel or King of the Jews many things would have come to mind. Generations upon generations of kings--David, Solomon, kings that were terrible in their history and ones that were not terrible. Without question they would go back to the beginning of kingship in their history, to Saul, their first king.
Saul wasn’t a story that resonated in them as a moment of their success, but a story of pain and failure. It is complex and profound, and it displays human nature. But the foundation is key as we bring the perspective to John’s narrative.
Prior to what we see in 1 Samuel 8, there was not a monarchy in Israel. The priests of God were in a role of leadership, and there was not a delineation between religious leader and national leader. God was their king, which was complex, sometimes embraced and sometimes not. So as we pick up the story, Samuel was in a position of leadership: Priest. Prophet. Connecter to God. Set apart.
The people came to Samuel and called for a change:
So all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah. They said to him, “You are old, and your sons do not follow your ways; now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have.” But when they said, “Give us a king to lead us,” this displeased Samuel; so he prayed to the Lord. And the Lord told him: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king. As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you. Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will claim as his rights.” (1 Samuel 8:4-9)
This connects to even further back, when Israel left Egypt and almost immediately started complaining about being lost in the desert and wanting to go back into slavery. And then Moses met with God on a mountain and the people decided to forsake Yahweh and serve other gods.
When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said, “Come, make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.” Aaron answered them, “Take off the gold earrings that your wives, your sons and your daughters are wearing, and bring them to me.” So all the people took off their earrings and brought them to Aaron. He took what they handed him and made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf, fashioning it with a tool. Then they said, “These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.” (Exodus 32:1-4)
So Samuel warned the people: a king will tax you, claim rights over you, take your sons to fight his battles, take your daughters as servants. I’m warning you--you don’t want a king.
When that day comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, but the Lord will not answer you in that day.” (1 Samuel 8:18)
But this did not sway the people:
But the people refused to listen to Samuel. “No!” they said. “We want a king over us. Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.” (1 Samuel 8:19-20)
Think about some of the things that would have made a good king.
Zoom out a bit and just think about someone who is in a position of great leadership. Don’t necessarily think about current 2021 leadership, as it’s become quite a buzzword, but think about all through human history.
What things set a great leader apart?
The story continues on. They got their king. Saul was anointed king. He stood out physically; he had a degree of humility; he was a strong leader. Things were looking pretty good. Everything was in place and now the people could finally be “successful.”
But it did come crumbling down--Saul did fail.
Samuel the prophet--still there, still involved, still speaking for God--came to Saul with a message from God in 1 Samuel 15, a difficult one to swallow in our current cultural context. Judgement was to come to the Amalekites. They mistreated the Isrealites as they came out of Egypt, and now punishment was to come to them. Israel, under Saul’s leadership, was to totally destroy them and all that belongs to them.
“All” was a key phrase--men, women, infants, livestock--completely wipe them out. This was a different culture, a different age. Part of this allows us to feel the wrath of God so we can in turn feel the grace of God. I don’t want to over-simplify this call of God as it merits a lot of study, but the direction was clear to the king, all.
Saul led the forces into the battle and while they won, they didn’t follow the command.
But Saul and the army spared Agag and the best of the sheep and cattle, the fat calves and lambs—everything that was good. These they were unwilling to destroy completely, but everything that was despised and weak they totally destroyed. (1 Samuel 15:9)
They did their version of things--how they wanted to, what they thought was best.
Then the word of the Lord came to Samuel: “I regret that I have made Saul king, because he has turned away from me and has not carried out my instructions.” Samuel was angry, and he cried out to the Lord all that night. (1 Samuel 15:10-11)
We have to feel the tension in this. The people demanded a king. God warned them that it was a bad idea. God allowed it to happen with a warning. And now God was disappointed.
Samuel approached Saul, and Saul acted like a kid caught doing something wrong.
“But I did obey the Lord,” Saul said. “I went on the mission the Lord assigned me. I completely destroyed the Amalekites and brought back Agag their king. The soldiers took sheep and cattle from the plunder, the best of what was devoted to God, in order to sacrifice them to the Lord your God at Gilgal.” But Samuel replied: “Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the Lord? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams.” (1 Samuel 15:20-22)
The king failed.
As John is writing and is now flashing the lights on kingship in this section, the readers had a deep cultural background with the understanding of this moment of failure--and beyond this moment, the complexities that came from this: Failure after failure. Bad transitions of power. Civil war. Endless warnings and calls to change. Being taken into exile. A return from exile, but still no change. Silence from God.
The people right before Jesus showed up were actually in a period some refer to as the “400 years of silence” in which there seems to be a time gap between Old Testament and New Testament writings.
Let’s process a deep question. There is a common phrase, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
How can power become twisted or corrupted so quickly or easily?
What is it about power that can lead to failure?
Now it is time for another question that is so key as we come to Jesus’ crucifixion in John 19. It is not something we just see in John 19, but something that has been building in the narratives of Jesus’ life:
What has to happen or what needs to be present for someone to have absolute power and yet not be corrupted?
What does it communicate about a person that has power and yet is not corrupt?
As we think about power and kingship, see the very clear pictures and even mockeries of Jesus as a “king”: a crown, a royal robe, people pretending to praise Him.
Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged. The soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head. They clothed him in a purple robe and went up to him again and again, saying, “Hail, king of the Jews!” And they slapped him in the face.
Once more Pilate came out and said to the Jews gathered there, “Look, I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no basis for a charge against him.” When Jesus came out wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe, Pilate said to them, “Here is the man!” As soon as the chief priests and their officials saw him, they shouted, “Crucify! Crucify!” But Pilate answered, “You take him and crucify him. As for me, I find no basis for a charge against him.” The Jewish leaders insisted, “We have a law, and according to that law he must die, because he claimed to be the Son of God.”
When Pilate heard this, he was even more afraid, and he went back inside the palace. “Where do you come from?” he asked Jesus, but Jesus gave him no answer. “Do you refuse to speak to me?” Pilate said. “Don’t you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?” Jesus answered, “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above. Therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.”
From then on, Pilate tried to set Jesus free, but the Jewish leaders kept shouting, “If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar. Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar.”
When Pilate heard this, he brought Jesus out and sat down on the judge’s seat at a place known as the Stone Pavement (which in Aramaic is Gabbatha). It was the day of Preparation of the Passover; it was about noon. “Here is your king,” Pilate said to the Jews.
But they shouted, “Take him away! Take him away! Crucify him!” “Shall I crucify your king?” Pilate asked. “We have no king but Caesar,” the chief priests answered. Finally Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified.
So the soldiers took charge of Jesus. Carrying his own cross, he went out to the place of the Skull (which in Aramaic is called Golgotha). There they crucified him, and with him two others—one on each side and Jesus in the middle.
Pilate had a notice prepared and fastened to the cross. It read: Jesus of Nazareth, the king of the jews. Many of the Jews read this sign, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and the sign was written in Aramaic, Latin and Greek. The chief priests of the Jews protested to Pilate, “Do not write ‘The King of the Jews,’ but that this man claimed to be king of the Jews.” Pilate answered, “What I have written, I have written.”
When the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took his clothes, dividing them into four shares, one for each of them, with the undergarment remaining. This garment was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom. “Let’s not tear it,” they said to one another. “Let’s decide by lot who will get it.” This happened that the scripture might be fulfilled that said,
“They divided my clothes among them
and cast lots for my garment.”
So this is what the soldiers did.
Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman, here is your son,” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home. (John 19:1-27)
John has been building this picture: Jesus is God. Jesus is distinct in God. Jesus is God with us.
Jesus loves and serves the marginalized. Jesus loves and cares about the outsider, the sick, hurting, unclean. Jesus loves the unlovable.
Jesus stands up against the religious leaders and their corruption. He calls them into question and challenges the status quo.
Jesus risks his life to raise a friend from the dead. Jesus washes the disciples’ feet. Jesus gives them a new command to love as He has loved.
Looking at all of this:
Why would a king choose to be a sacrifice as opposed to demanding sacrifice?
What does that communicate about that king?
Imagine being the disciples, seeing everything you’ve seen while walking with Jesus for three years, and then watching everything play out--Jesus being arrested and put on trial and being sentenced to death. Watching him get beaten and then watching him die. I can imagine at least one of the disciples could have had a moment of, “Well it wasn’t supposed to happen like this. Is it all over?”
The leaders and people who wanted Jesus dead probably just wanted to be done with everything at this point. They wanted to get on with their lives. They were probably tired of having to deal with Jesus and just wanted to celebrate Passover. I can imagine a lot of them thinking, “Let’s just get this done with and put this behind us. Finally we can get on with life without this guy trying to stir up problems.”
It’s so poetic how everything happened at this point in time. Passover, the celebration of God passing by those whose houses were covered by lambs’ blood as His Spirit took the firstborn children of the Egyptians. Here, another lamb to be slain to provide covering and safety for many.
As we continue to process, the “why” behind the “what” is really important. What we do or don’t do is important, but the “why” behind these things might be even more important.
Yes Jesus came and did what He did. And we could just talk about the specifics, and it is actually powerful even just to that point of process. But why He did it is crucial to talk about.
What’s crazy about Jesus is no one asked Him to do what He did. He chose it freely even though He knew there were people who hated Him and didn’t care.
And “why” He died is one part of it. Rome, the Jews, all kinds of complexities. You can find plenty of scriptures that speak to the idea of why Jesus died:
But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)
For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures. (1 Corinthians 15:3)
He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification. (Romans 4:25)
But take a step further back. Even before the moment of death, why did Jesus choose this process? Why didn’t He take the easy road? Why didn’t He defend himself when falsely accused of wrong? Why did He live through persecution and torture and then death?
This king who came and served instead of overthrowing. This amazing leader who came and gave and turned everything upside down instead of trying to establish His own way. This king who sacrificed Himself for his subjects, rather than expecting His subjects to bring sacrifice to him. A king who held all of the power, yet was neither corrupted by it nor used it to further His own gains, but instead gave it away on behalf of those who had no power. And maybe we want different kings, but Jesus is inviting us to follow Him as our king. When we process the why, I think it shows us the character of God.
What does the crucifixion narrative communicate about the person of Jesus, the character of God, and the kingdom of God?
Take It Deeper Questions
- Read John 19:1-27
- If you were reading this text for the first time, what questions would you have?
- Why does Jesus endure what He endures?
- How does that why impact you?
- Why would a king choose to be a sacrifice as opposed to demanding sacrifice?
- How are you challenged, focused, encouraged and/or confused by this narrative?
Bible Reading Plan:
- Numbers 18
- Numbers 19
- Numbers 20
- John 10
- John 11
- John 12