John: The Cross

Sermon by Derek Thomas on June 4, 2003

John 19:16-42

June 4, 2003

John 19:16-42
“The Cross”

Dr. Derek Thomas

Turn with me if you would to the Gospel of John, and we are
this evening in chapter 19. We begin at the sixteenth verse. John 19. We come
to John’s account of the crucifixion, verse 16.

The Crucifixion
Finally Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified. So the soldiers took
charge of Jesus.
17 Carrying his own cross, he went out to the place of the Skull
(which in Aramaic is called Golgotha).
18 Here they crucified him, and with him two others–one on each side
and Jesus in the middle.
19 Pilate had a notice prepared and fastened to the cross. It read:
Jesus of Nazareth, the king of the Jews.
20 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
21 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.
22 Pilate answered, What I have written, I have written.
23 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.
24 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 which said,
They divided my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing.
So this is what the soldiers did.
25 Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister,
Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.
26 When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved
standing near by, he said to his mother, Dear woman, here is your son,
27 and to the disciple, Here is your mother. From that time on, this
disciple took her into his home.

The Death of Jesus
28 Later, knowing that all was now completed, and so that the
Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, I am thirsty.
29 A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it,
put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips.
30 When he had received the drink, Jesus said, It is finished. With
that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.
31 Now it was the day of Preparation, and the next day was to be a
special Sabbath. Because the Jews did not want the bodies left on the crosses
during the Sabbath, they asked Pilate to have the legs broken and the bodies
taken down.
32 The soldiers therefore came and broke the legs of the first man
who had been crucified with Jesus, and then those of the other.
33 But when they came to Jesus and found that he was already dead,
they did not break his legs.
34 Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear,
bringing a sudden flow of blood and water.
35 The man who saw it has given testimony, and his testimony is true.
He knows that he tells the truth, and he testifies so that you also may believe.
36 These things happened so that the scripture would be fulfilled:
Not one of his bones will be broken,
37 and, as another scripture says, They will look on the one they
have pierced.

The Burial of Jesus
38 Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus.
Now Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jews.
With Pilate’s permission, he came and took the body away.
39 He was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who earlier had visited
Jesus at night. Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about
seventy-five pounds.
40 Taking Jesus’ body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices,
in strips of linen. This was in accordance with Jewish burial customs.
41 At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in
the garden a new tomb, in which no-one had ever been laid.
42 Because it was the Jewish day of Preparation and since the tomb
was near by, they laid Jesus there.

Amen. May God bless to us the reading of His holy and
inerrant word. Let’s pray together.

Our Father, we perceive that we are on holy
ground. As we think of the crucifixion of our blessed Lord, we pray, gracious
God, as we realize that drops of grief can ne’er repay the depth of love I owe,
here, Lord, I give myself away. ‘Tis all that I can do. Bless it to us for
Jesus’ sake. Amen.

John’s particular
description of the crucifixion has a unique twist to it. John, I think, is
aware of some, if not all of the other synoptic gospels. He most certainly
would have been aware of what Mark, for example, had written about the
crucifixion. And so, John doesn’t necessarily repeat all of the details that
you have in the other Gospel accounts. John, for example, says nothing about
Simon of Cyrene, who, evidently at some point along what we sometimes refer to
as the Via Dolorosa, took the beam that Jesus now bore to the place of

It’s a remarkable thing, isn’t
it, that somehow or another Christians glory in the cross? How can you glory in
the cross? It seems on the face of it a very odd thing, doesn’t it? Imagine if
we were to carry around with us the emblem of a golden electric chair. Or a
syringe. Or a hatchet. The very thought is repulsive. No! It’s offensive!
Weren’t you a little offended by my suggesting that? I’m offended by it. I
wondered whether I should say it.

And yet, as Christians, we don’t
hesitate to love and honor and cherish the cross of Christ. We can’t help it.
The language John uses about the crucifixion is language that John has been
preparing us for. It’s the language of exaltation. Do you remember all the way
back in John chapter three, the encounter with Nicodemus? Nicodemus appears
again here. “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must
the Son of Man be lifted up.”
It’s the language of exaltation. Later on,
John records the words of Jesus: If I am lifted up from the earth, I
will draw all men and women from all parts of the world to myself–if I am lifted
up.” Yes! Lifted, hoisted onto a cross. But John loves the double-entendre.
When you read John, look for those double meanings. Yes, hoisted up onto a
cross, but in a very real way exalted, too. The whole discussion…do you
remember in the preceding section with Pilate and Caiphas and Annas, what has
John been singling out in that mockery of a trial? The very statement of
Pilate: Behold the King.

John, having prepared us now, is
going to describe the cross. Not in terms of the details of suffering, but
actually he’s describing what’s happening here with the idea that actually Jesus
is being exalted here. So that in verses 17 through 22 we have the trials of
the cross, in the way in which the cross is seen as the King’s enthronement.
And then, in verses 23 and 24, the cross is seen as the King’s–yes, the
King’s–disrobing. And in verses 25 through 27, the way the cross is seen as the
King’s last acts. And then in verses 28 to the end, the way the cross is seen as
the King’s royal burial.

Follow me through these
acts of the King. Yes, behold the King as He goes to
crucifixion and burial.

I. The way the cross is seen as
the King’s enthronement.
The whole section
in verses 17 through 22 focuses on the sign, the traditional sign that would be
placed on the cross of the one who is executed. John, however, focuses on
something that the other gospels don’t focus on. The others say that this
plaque reads: “This is the King of the Jews.” But John alone, John alone,
notices something–that actually this plaque, this statement at the head of the
cross, “This is Jesus the Nazarene, the King of the Jews”, and Pilate was
insistent that this is what it should read. That it was in Hebrew, and Latin
and Greek. Hebrew, representing the official language of Judea. Latin,
representing the official Latin language of the Roman Empire. And Greek, street

John has set the scene–Passover.
This crucifixion takes place on the main road out of and into Jerusalem. John
doesn’t mention Simon of Cyrene. Mark does in his gospel, alluding to two of
his sons, Rufus and Alexander, which were evidently known to the church, perhaps
to the church of Rome itself. Perhaps Simon of Cyrene, we don’t know, was a
believer, a disciple. Contrary to the wishes of the Jews and out of spite
against them, Pontius Pilate had placarded “This is Jesus the Nazarene, the King
of the Jews.” And John is seeing fulfilled here, just as he had done in the
previous section, just as he had done in the allusion of Caiphas the high
priest, that one man should die in place of the whole. John sees here, despite
themselves, that actually, actually, prophecy is being fulfilled here. That
this One was the appointed King, raised on behalf of the people.

It was all beginning to happen as
the nails were being hammered into His hands, and into His feet, and John wants
you to see, as you are moved by that event, that here is the beginning of the
exaltation and the enthronement of Jesus. Jesus is the King! This is the King.

II. The King’s disrobing.
And then, in verses 23
and 24, he describes how the soldiers, as they share out these clothes…they’d
drawn lots, the other gospel writers say…His headgear, His outer cloak, His
waistband, sandals–both of them. And then, there’s this tunic. This seamless
robe, this perfectly woven robe, this tunic. And rather than destroy it, they
draw their lots to see who would come into possession of this garment. And John
says in verse 24 they were fulfilling Scripture, two Scriptures, in fact. They
were fulfilling Scripture. Our great King, nowhere more cleanly displays the
significance of His kingship than the way in which, in His final hours, in His
final moments, He is disrobed. He is disrobed, as He makes His way to the

Do you remember in John
13, in the upper room, when the disciples were arguing as to who would be the
greatest? Jesus removed His outer garment, the garment now that the soldiers
had cast lots for, and He took a slave’s towel and wrapped it around Himself,
and He washed the disciples’ feet as a symbol of what He was going to do on the
cross. And now, He takes the last step down in His humiliation. The King, in
His humiliation…the soldiers don’t understand that. The Jews don’t see it. But
Jesus’ last garment is being stripped from Him. And yes, appalling as it is to
think of it, He was probably crucified naked. Appalling as that is to
think…having nothing to cover His shame, which may well be what Isaiah means
when he says that we avert our gaze from Him, in Isaiah 53.

Do you remember the last
thing that the Bible says before the description of mankind’s fall? What’s the
last thing that is said in the description of the fall? That Adam and Eve were
naked, and they were not ashamed. And they were not ashamed. They had nothing
to be embarrassed about. Clothing comes after the fall. It’s deeply
significant. And John is saying, as he brings all of these strands of biblical
teaching together, that Jesus on the cross is going back to the beginning. He’s
going back to where Adam was. He’s going to the cross having fulfilled all
righteousness, having obeyed the covenant of works that Adam had broken. And
He’s going there as naked as Adam was in the Garden of Eden. But unlike Adam,
He’s covered with sin. He’s covered with sin. And bearing Adam’s shame, and
bearing Adam’s guilt, and meeting the judgment of God. The unmitigated judgment
of God.

You know, when Paul says
in Romans 1, the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all
unrighteousness and ungodliness of me,”
you understand that that wrath is
mitigated. It’s not the full wrath of God, or the world would be consumed.
It’s a mitigated wrath. It’s a wrath that holds back, but on the cross that
wrath doesn’t hold back. Do you remember how Paul puts it, in the same
epistle? “He that spared not His own Son.” You know the instinct that
lies within you as a father to spare your children, even to spare them
punishment, spare them pain, spare them suffering. And He spared not His own
Son. He didn’t spare, but freely delivered Him up for us all. And so Jesus, on
the cross, is disrobed and exposed in all of His nakedness for the purposes of
our redemption.

III. The King’s final acts
And then, in verses 25
and following, and this deserves more time than I have–it deserves a whole
series of sermons, but let me just allude to some of them. Because one
of the first things that He does is to begin a new family. He does this
extraordinary thing, and points to John, the writer, the gospel writer, the one
who’s telling this story–Jesus points to him and says, “Behold your mother.”

And He points to His own
mother, and notice now, it’s not “Mother.” Disrespectful as it may appear to
you Southerners, it’s not that disrespectful, but it’s woman now. With
no disrespect. But He’s not speaking to her now as her son: He’s speaking to her
as the King. As the divine Lord, in His mediatorial office, distancing Himself
from that highly personal relationship that He had with His own mother. He
says, “Woman, behold your son.”

Do you remember back in
Mark’s gospel in chapter three, He asks the question, “Who is My mother?”
He answers the question, “Who is My mother,” and He answers that question
by saying “These are My mother, and My brothers and My sisters.” These
are the family of God. And the one who believes in Me belongs to this new
family of Mine. And it’s a beautiful thing. From the heights of the cross,
lifted up from the ground as He now was, He gives just a little clue, just a
little cameo, of what His redemptive work has all been about. It’s the creation
of a new family. It’s the creation of the church. It’s the creation of the
family of God.

But also, He’s completing
the tasks of His ministry. He utters two words that John alludes to. The first
is, “I am thirsty.” We’ll come back to that in a minute. But the second
is, teleo, It is finished.” It is finished. That all is
completed. That all is done. That every demand that had been made of the
covenant mediator has been fulfilled. The law has been upheld. Righteousness
has been maintained. He’s offered Himself as the substitute of His people, and
it is finished. Amazing sense that through all of this suffering, through all
of this suffering, He has this consciousness that He is about His Father’s
business and that He has completed it, that the task is done, and that the work
is over.

And His bones are not
broken. And why is that significant? Why is that significant, that His bones
weren’t broken? Because John says it fulfills Scripture, for one thing. And
the significance lies in the laws that were associated with the Passover. He is
the Passover Lamb! And one of the requirements for the Passover lambs was that
they were perfect. You couldn’t come to Passover and offer a lamb which had
only one ear, or three legs. It had to be perfect. It had to be perfect, and
here on the cross is the Passover Lamb whose blood delivers the people of God
from the angel of death. Jesus is the true Passover Lamb, and on the cross he
is standing before the angel of judgment.

And then there’s this
reference to the spear that thrust His side. And John says —it’s so full of
meaning for John–that out of His side flows blood and water. Mr. Moore gave me
an article just a couple of weeks ago from a medical point of view, and it was
one of the most fascinating things I’ve ever read. But with all due respect,
with all due respect, now, that’s not John’s interest here. However medically
you explain that out of this spear in His side–and all of you doctors can tell
me afterwards what that means from a medical point of view, that blood and some
watery looking fluid emerges–John’s interest is not medical.

John’s interest, you
remember, goes all the way back to John chapter seven. You remember, at the
Feast of Tabernacles, and how John had said when the priests had carried those
golden pitchers from the Pool of Siloam water to the people, and on that seventh
day, when that water was poured, Jesus suddenly shouts out in the midst of the
temple, “If any man thirsts…if any man thirsts, let him come to Me.” And
John made an illusion there in John chapter seven, that what Jesus was saying on
that occasion was that out of His side, that is, out of the side of Jesus, will
flow rivers of living water. It was a reference to the Holy Spirit. It was a
reference, I think, to Pentecost. And I think for John, in this strange way,
the fact that out of His side flows blood and water, was yet another
fulfillment of that promise that Jesus had made, that as a consequence of His
dying and rising, the Holy Spirit would descend on the Day of Pentecost.

And for John, that’s
deeply significant. You see why, then, Jesus says, “I thirst”? Do you
see why Jesus says, I thirst? Because back in John chapter seven, at the
promise of the Holy Spirit, what had Jesus said? “If any man thirst, let him
come to Me.”
Let him come to Me, and out of My side will flow rivers of
living water for you. And Jesus is thirsty so that our thirst may be quenched.
Jesus bears the curse of thirst in order that our thirst may be fully quenched
in Him, and by His Spirit.

There’s more and more,
and much more there that I have time for. But even from the cross, do you see
the King in His final acts, His ruling and reigning and pointing to the future,
the outpouring of the Spirit and the emerging church of the New Testament?

IV. The King’s death.
But there’s a final
thing, a fourth thing. And that is, the King’s death. Two men ask Pontius
Pilate’s permission to bury the body of Jesus. Joseph of Arimathea and
Nicodemus. And the point that John draws attention to is the amount of spices
that they bring. A hundred pounds, in The New American Standard.
Whatever the exact amount was, it was the amount that was fit for a King.
That’s the point. This was far more than was required for any ordinary burial.
Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, these two secret, by-night disciples! Oh!
There are sermons on that! There are lots of sermons on that. But bless their
hearts–don’t we want to say that?–they understood now. They emerge from the
shadows now. They come out of Shadowlands now. And in this moment they declare
such courage and such determination, because they see it now. Whatever had held
them back before, they’re not holding back anymore. Because now there’s a King
here that needs to be buried. They take their stand with the King. They take
their stand! Do you see? With a dead corpse! They take their stand with a
dead corpse because they realize that He is the King. He is the King! And is
worthy of a King’s burial. “Drops of grief”–we just sang it–“Drops of grief can
ne’er repay the debt of love I owe. Here, Lord, I give myself away. ‘Tis all
that I can do.”

And that’s what this
passage is calling for, isn’t it? That’s what John is doing here. He writes
this in order that we might believe that Jesus is the Christ, and that believing
we might have everlasting life. That you align yourself, and join yourself with
Him, the King. The King of Kings and Lord of Lords. He has gone to the cross
and died, and is taken into a tomb.

I can’t remember–Sunday
night, I think–we’ll come out of the tomb. We’ll talk about the resurrection and
the glories of it. But now He lies in a tomb for the likes of you and me. That’s
how much He loves us. That’s how much He loves us. That’s how great His heart
is for us. Let’s pray together.

Father, we thank you
for Your word, we thank You for this remarkable story of the crucifixion. We
know it so well, and we pray, Lord, Holy Spirit, make it new and fresh to us and
break our hearts, and quash that ugly sense of pride and sin, and help us to
fall at Jesus’ feet and crown Him, crown Him Lord of all. For Jesus’ sake,

Please stand and receive
the Lord’s benediction. Grace, mercy and peace from God our Father and the Lord
Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.

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