Final Hours [2-16-20]

Updated: Mar 14


Here's where we're at. Jesus' back has been torn open from a severe beating. He's wearing a robe and a crown of thorns, put on to mock and shame him. The crowd is jeering him. Pilate and the full power of the Roman Empire are against him. Who appears to be in charge? Who thinks he is in charge?


So Pilate says to Jesus,

"You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?"

And Jesus looks him right in the eyes and says,

"You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above."

That little piece there…brief exchange between Jesus and Pilate…teaches us something we need to remember every day. First thing when you wake up, remember - God is in charge. Last thing when you drift off to sleep, remember - God is in charge. Parents used to teach their children that wonderfully frightening bedtime prayer:

Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.

This exchange between Jesus and Pilate teaches us that nobody has power in this world except as it is given to them by God. Jesus is talking here about the sovereignty of God. Nobody has power in this world except what is given them by God. We may not always like how that power is expressed, but God is in charge. There are things God allows and things God wills, but in all things, God is in charge. Whether the news is good or bad, remember, God is in charge.


Sometimes we make the mistake of thinking as long as things are going well, that means God is in charge and He's blessing us. But when there is hurt and harm, we think either God has it in for us or He's not in charge. Those are both false choices. For His own purposes - theologians call it His sovereign will - for His own purposes, God allows evil to happen and people make wrong choices. But you'll never face a situation where God is not in control. That's what Jesus says. We need to remember that God is in control, one way or another, of life.


That's the picture of Jesus alone with Pilate. Then there's the next picture. It's Jesus at a place called Gabbatha. Gabbatha means "stone pavement." Gabbatha is the place right outside the temple fortress. On a section of the temple there is a fortress with a tower so Roman soldiers can see down onto the temple grounds. They can't go onto the temple grounds but they can see if anything nefarious is happening. There's some sort of pavement where criminals are judged. That's where Jesus is taken so Pilate's argument can now be made publicly and sentence pronounced.


The Bible tells us when this happens. Verse 14 says about the sixth hour. John gives us an approximation. It's sometime between nine and noon, which is the approximate time when the last of the tens of thousands of Passover lambs are slaughtered in the temple. There's a lot still to happen.


The next picture is of Jesus judged. Pilate stands in front of the crowd and tries to steer them away from killing Jesus. He's had Jesus beaten nearly to death. He's had Jesus publicly humiliated. Pilate wants this to all go away, so he hopes the crowd will back down. But Pilate only wants this for himself. He doesn't want to burn political capital. He doesn't want people planting seeds of doubt about his leadership with Emperor Tiberius back in Rome. So Pilate does the politically expedient thing. He's neither moral nor just. Like the priests and the pastors, he wants to protect his power. Nothing more. He couldn't care less if one more has to die toward that end.


There's a principle that applies here. The closer we get to the cross, the more clearly we see who people really are. In the same way, outside pressure reveals what's in a person's heart. The light from the cross of Jesus Christ reveals truth. It shows us who we really are. Let's make this up-close-and-personal. The closer I get to the cross, the more I see who I really am. It exposes my sin. It shatters any claim to righteousness I might make about my life. In light of his wonderful cross, I see how only God can change me. I see how God's power can and needs to make a difference in my life. Amen?


Look at it this way. Again, we're getting up-close-and-personal here. If I compare myself to the people around me, I might think I'm doing okay. I'm an okay guy. And to be honest, if you knew what I know about me, you'd be feeling pretty good about yourself. Are you with me on that? The more I focus on the cross, the more I realize my need for Jesus Christ. The more I recognize his love for me. The cross of Christ lays bare who we really are. As Jesus said in Matthew 10:26,

"So have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known."

So we humble ourselves at the foot of the cross, opening our lives up to God's power and forgiveness. Never hesitate to do that. It is always a good thing to do.

We are now at picture number six. John 19:17 says:

So they took Jesus, and he went out, bearing his own cross, to the place called The Place of a Skull, which in Aramaic is called Golgotha.

That's what prisoners did. They carried their own cross. Actually, it's not the whole cross. It's the crossbeam. The perpendicular piece is already at the site of crucifixion. The crossbeam is strapped to the prisoner's back. It's weight is equivalent to at least several bags of water softener salt. It is a heavy load. Add to that Jesus' beating and the loss of blood, and in his weakness, it is an almost unbearable load.

Let's pick things up with verse 18:

There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, and Jesus between them.

Do you hear John's eyewitness account? John is reminding us he is there. He's standing there at The Place of a Skull. He sees the faces of the three men crucified. Jesus is in the middle. John sees it all.


So we're at the picture of crucifixion. Crucifixion predated the Roman Empire. It was used by the Persians systematically in the 6th century B.C. Alexander the Great brought it from there to the eastern Mediterranean in the 4th century B.C., and from there the Phoenicians introduced it to Rome in the 3rd century B.C.


Here's what it meant to the Phoenicians. They chose the shape of a cross because one of the gods they served was a god of the earth. They believed that for someone to die on the earth would defile their god in some way. So they came up with a way to horribly execute prisoners lifted up off the earth. That's how this form of crucifixion got its start. And then the Romans took it from there.


For the Romans, crucifixion was both penalty and deterrent. Victims were sometimes left on display after death as a warning to others considering such crimes. The whole purpose of crucifixion was a slow, painful death. That's where we get our word excruciating, literally "out of crucifying." It was gruesome, humiliating, and very public.


One of the points of crucifixion was to make the person crucified feel as vulnerable as possible. Most of those crucified were stripped naked. A Roman historian, about 50 years before Jesus' crucifixion, said this about the practice:

It is a most cruel and disgusting punishment…the very mention of the cross should be far removed not only from a Roman citizen's body, but from his mind, his eyes, his ears…It is a crime to bind a Roman citizen; to scourge him is wickedness; to put him to death is almost {like the killing of a parent or other close relative}. What shall I say of crucifying him? So guilty an action cannot by any possibility be adequately expressed by any name bad enough for it. - Cicero

You hear that, and then you consider these words of Jesus Christ:

And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself. - John 12:32

We hear that in the context of crucifixion. But in being lifted up on the cross, Jesus didn't defile the earth, he saved it. He saved us. That's what really happened.


That's how we see the cross. The Romans saw the cross in a different way. The Romans saw it as a tool. They expertly used it. Not only was it a tool of torture and punishment, but they also used it as a deterrent. They used it to say, "You better think twice before you break Roman law." The cross put someone front and center, for all to see. Their pain and suffering lasted a long time. It was about inflicting pain and punishment.


The Jewish people saw the cross as the most disgusting form of death.

Deuteronomy 21:22-23 says, "And if a man has committed a crime punishable by death and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, his body shall not remain all night on the tree, but you shall bury him the same day, for a hanged man is cursed by God."

Crucifixion was anathema to them. And yet that's the way Jesus died. That's the way God chose for His Son to die. He knew that Jesus would be cursed for our sins on the cross. The Jewish people and the Romans thought of crucifixion one way. But in Jesus Christ, God flipped the script.


Here's how crucifixion breaks down:


  • Phoenicians = A way to not offend their god.

  • Romans = An instrument of torture and control.

  • Jews = A revolting form of death.

  • Christians = The Glory of God revealed in an incredible and amazing way.


One last important detail as John describes what happens on Golgotha. He reminds us that there were two others crucified with Jesus. That fulfills what Isaiah 53:12 says:

Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong, because he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sins of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors.

Think about the picture John is showing us. When the Bible talks about Jesus dying it simply says they crucified him. Not much detail beyond that. I think there are two prominent reasons why.


First, John doesn't need to add much detail. They knew what crucifixion was like. They had seen plenty of examples.


Second, and I think this is the biggest reason, John's narrative is from the resurrection looking backward. If the crucifixion were the end of the story, of course you'd spend more time on it. But the brutality of the crucifixion isn't the most important picture. The resurrection defines everything that precedes it.


Think about what you have seen happening here. Think about Jesus' arrest

and his trial. Why did he do that? Did he do that for you? What does John want you to understand about God's grace and mercy? What does John want you to understand about your value to God? Remember what Jesus says in John 3:16:

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

That's the truth John is showing us now. He's showing us how that love is expressed. Next week, we're going to explore the crucifixion in depths we've never gone to before.

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