The Cost

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There's a picture John wanted us to see. He wanted us to be with Jesus during the final moments of his life, before his resurrection. While we will break down the details John gave us, there were some elements of the crucifixion John left out; I think because the people who initially read his gospel were all too familiar with the horrors of crucifixion. For the next few minutes, we're going to look at what happened when Jesus went to the cross on the hill called the Place of the Skull, or Golgotha, or Calvary {from the Latin for skull, "calvaria"}. The Romans had refined crucifixion to an art. They did it the same way, every time. They had experts. They had executioners whose only job was to carry out crucifixions. So Jesus was brought up to Calvary. There was a standing post. The executioner would lay the crossbeam behind the victim and knock him to the ground. He would then put the crossbeam across the back of his neck. The executioners wore leather aprons. In these aprons were pouches with five-inch nails and a hammer off to the side. These were the tools of their trade. The executioner would kneel first on the right arm of the victim. His knee would rest on the inside of the elbow. His hand would be placed on the arm of the victim so it was flat against the crossbeam. He would feel for the hollow spot in the wrist between the bones so that no bones would be broken or arteries severed so the prisoner would live as long as possible. Remember, one of the points of crucifixion was to make the victim a warning against others breaking the law. Torture needed to last as long as possible. Then he'd take one of those five-inch nails and place it against that hollow place and drive it through the flesh, into the wood. That's what Jesus did for us. He endured the pain and humiliation. There's only one thing that put Jesus in that place. His love for us. Jesus didn't have to go there. He chose to go there. They'd do the left hand the same as the right. Then two soldiers on each side would grab the two ends of the cross beam and raise it up and place it into the notch of the vertical beam. When all was set, the executioner would set a sign on a board, showing exactly the crime the person died for. This piece was very important to the Romans. They wanted people to know what this person died for, as a warning to others. If you break the law, it will happen to you, too. Next, the executioner would kneel before the cross and take the right foot and place it over the left. He'd then bend it slightly upwards and nail the feet to the cross. The Romans were experts at this. They had figured out the perfect angle for the feet so the prisoner could live the longest with the greatest agony. They were experts at brutality. As Jesus' feet were nailed, the cross would become the source of two kinds of pain. First the pain in his shoulders. His arms. His forearms. If you ever tried hanging in that "V" position for very long, your arms would cramp and there would be an excruciating ache in your shoulders. Just horrible. Unbearable…yet Jesus bore it all for us. Soon Jesus' arm and should pain would drown out the pain from the nails in his feet and hands. Next, his chest muscles would constrict, making it so he could breathe in but hardly breathe out. John was there. He saw all this. He saw what they did to Jesus. Decades later, these pictures still etched in his memory, he wrote the story. One of the things we need to remember is that, in the decades between seeing the story and writing the story, John saw thousands of people become Christ followers. He saw thousands saved from eternal damnation by giving their hearts, minds, and lives to Jesus Christ. How do you think he felt, then, when he told us what he saw? Did he feel angry because of what they did to Jesus? No, not at all. He had to feel that God was in control and that God used even the most depraved way a person could be treated by others to bring his greatest light to all people. Look at the power of the wonderful cross. That's what happened at the cross. That's how Jesus was put on the cross. To paraphrase what Oswald Chambers once said: All of heaven was interested in the cross of Christ. All of hell was terribly afraid of it. {While too many} people more or less ignore its meaning. The thing is, every time we think about the cross, it overwhelms our thoughts. The cross of Jesus Christ is such an amazing expression of love. So we focus on the cross. We don't overlook it or quickly pass by it to get to the empty tomb of Easter. We spend time at the foot of the cross. We don't ever want to think lightly about the power and love that's in the cross. Let's now move back to the text. In verse 18, John says there they crucified him. He didn't mention the nails or the blood. Instead, he talked about the sign. The sign was put up to clearly say what the person was guilty of. There was something about this picture that impressed itself upon John's memory. Here's what he says in verse 19-22: Pilate also wrote an inscription and put it on the cross. It read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” Many of the Jews read this inscription, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and it was written in Aramaic, in Latin, and in Greek. So the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, “Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews,’ but rather, ‘This man said, I am King of the Jews.’” Pilate answered, “What I have written I have written.” Why did this point stick with John? Why was it so important for him to remember it? Think about the theme John pressed throughout his gospel. The whole purpose of the gospel was to help people see who Jesus really is. He is the Word. He is the Good Shepherd. He is the Light. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Light. He is the Vine. He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. John wants us to see who Jesus really is. The sign is so important because the sign shows us who Jesus is. It's right there on the cross. You can't miss. Jesus is the King of the Jews. That is who is dying there. And John doesn't want us to miss it. Here are a few big things we learn from the sign. First, there's no situation or circumstance that can diminish the power of who Jesus is. They whipped him. They flogged him. They drove nails through his hands. He is still King. There's nothing in all creation that can diminish the power of Jesus Christ. That's true in my life and it's true in your life. That's why John remembered the sign. Second, the sign was written in three languages. What does that tell you? John wanted the world to know how much God loves us. Third, people will try but they can never change the truth about who Jesus is. All those people back then tried to put their spin on who Jesus is. After the sign went up, they tried to change the sign. Let's make is say something different. Even Pilate could not stand in the way of the truth about who Jesus is. And when we faithfully teach and preach the timeless truth of the gospel, two thousand years later, we keep the sign in place. Amen? The next picture is of the soldiers casting lots. Verses 23 and 24 say: When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his garments and divided them into four parts, one part for each soldier; also his tunic. But the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom, so they said to one another, “Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see whose it shall be." This was to fulfill the Scripture which says, “They divided my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots.” So the soldiers did these things. We see, at one level, the fulfillment of prophecy. The quote is from Psalm 22. Second, what the soldiers did was common. They were gambling for Jesus' clothes. Here, it's Jesus' undergarment they're dividing. The shocking realization is they either had all of or almost all of Jesus' clothes. Nakedness was part of the humiliation of crucifixion. In this moment, Philip Yancey thinks about the control of Jesus. Nothing compares to the self-restraint shown on that dark Friday. God was in control. He could have done whatever He wanted at any given moment. But He let the crucifixion happen. The simple reason is that He loves us. That's why Jesus went to the cross. The next picture John shows us is of Mary and the other women at the foot of the cross. They never left. They never ran away in fear. They never denied knowing Jesus. John 19:25-27 tells us: But standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home. Here's the simple truth. We don't need to over think these kinds of passages. Remember that Jesus was the oldest son. And it's likely Joseph was already dead. So Jesus, as the oldest son, was responsible for the care of his mother. And in all his agony…through excruciating pain and humiliation…Jesus remembered that. While Jesus died on the cross for the world, he remembered the individual. In Luke, as he was dying on the cross for the sins of the world, Jesus looked at the individuals who were killing him and said, "Father, forgive them for they don't know what they're dong." As Jesus was dying for all of us, he said to one of the individuals crucified with him, "Today, you're going to be with me in paradise." With Jesus Christ, it's always everybody and the solitary individual. While dying for the sins of the world, Jesus looked at his mother and said to John, "Take care of her." Do you feel the weight of it? It's the same today. Jesus Christ loves the world and he cares about you. He cares about your individual need. He cares about your life. He gives you the encouragement you need to get up every morning and live your life in a positive and God-glorifying way. The last picture we're going to look at today is the drink of sour wine. Verses 28-29 say: After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst.” A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth. Again, even near death, Jesus was mindful of God's Word. So the Scripture would be fulfilled, he said, "I thirst," a direct reference to the 69th Psalm. Jesus remembered the prophecies. Here's why John specifically mentioned that the sour wine was given Jesus on a hyssop branch. If you remember, in the book of Exodus, God's last plague visited on the Egyptians to get them to let the Hebrew slaves go was the angel of death. The Jews were to sprinkle blood from the Passover lamb on the doorways as a protective mark against death. They sprinkled the blood with a hyssop branch. In other words, the hyssop branch here drives home the point that Jesus is the Passover lamb of the new covenant. In Egypt the blood of the lamb sprinkled by means of hyssop spared the Israelites from destruction. Jesus dies as the Lamb of God to take away the sins of the world, sparing us from eternal destruction. We've spent necessary time examining details of Jesus' crucifixion. Next week, we'll do the same with his death. In looking forward to next Sunday, keep in mind it was important for John to report Jesus' final three words of his earthly life. "It is finished." What did Jesus mean? And why does John want us to remember it?