Friday, April 11, 2008

John 19:17-24

17So 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). 18Here they crucified Him, and with Him two others - one on each side and Jesus in the middle. 19Pilate had a notice prepared and fastened to the cross. It read: JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS. 20Many 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. 21The 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." 22Pilate answered, "What I have written, I have written." 23When 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' [Psalm 22:18]. So this is what the soldiers did.

Again, this is a lengthy, drawn out view of the Holy of Holies, our final destination in the tour of the tabernacle that John has given us in his gospel. And John most certainly is aware of Mark’s gospel, and maybe Matthew’s and Luke’s as well. So he doesn’t include all the details that they offer. He simply glories in the cross. Jesus is exalted as He is lifted up on the cross. This, it could be said, begins the climax of John’s gospel – the glory of the cross. Christians stand in awe at the cross; and outsiders may consider it strange – like cherishing a golden electric chair or guillotine. But it was at that cross that our salvation was purchased. And so just as our Savior endured the cross for the joy set before Him, so we glory in it as well.

Here at Golgotha, the spotless Lamb of God was numbered among the transgressors (Isaiah 53:12), because, indeed, He had our transgressions upon Him. Jesus, whose only “fault” was that He was the King of the Jews, died so that we might live. The King of the world was proclaimed to be King in the most important languages of the time (Hebrew, or Aramaic, Greek, and Latin), just as His kingship would soon be proclaimed in every tongue, and to every kindred, people, and nation (Revelation 5:9-10). Hebrew or Aramaic represented the official language of Judea. Latin represented the official language of the Roman Empire. And Greek represented common street language of the day. It is almost certain that this multiple language sign was uncommon. It was God’s will that all nations would be able to know that Jesus is the King of the Jews. It is for this reason that we engage in translating the Scriptures in the languages of every tribe, tongue, people, and nation, that God would draw all men unto Himself by His word. Similarly to where John points out that Caiaphas prophesied accurately though he didn’t mean to, here John points out that Pilate’s sign did not meet the Jews’ demands, but it also an accurate declaration of the Person of Jesus. The Jews didn’t want the sign to read what it read. But God overrode their desires to bring His will to pass.

The trials of the cross are illustrated here as a symbol of the King’s enthronement ceremony. Jesus is enthroned in the opposite way that you might expect in a coronation ceremony. In our view, a king gets a robe and is shown to the throne, makes a few first declarations in power, and sits down to reign triumphantly. Jesus, however, was exalted to glory in quite a different manner. He was disrobed and nailed to a tree; He made a few final declarations in compassion; and He hung to die and to be buried in darkness.

John reveals here the King’s disrobing. Here at Golgotha, or Calvary, all the prophecies of God were fulfilled, including prophecies related to our peace and justification, even down to the most minor detail of what would become of His garments (John 19:24; Psalm 22:18). Remember when Jesus washed the disciples feet, He took off His outer robe, and we noted that as a sign of humiliation. Well this is the greatest humiliation, because in all likelihood, Jesus was nailed to the cross buck-naked. It may be appalling to think about Jesus having nothing to cover His shame; but do you remember the last thing that the Bible says before the description of mankind’s fall? Adam and Eve were naked, and they were not ashamed; they had nothing to be embarrassed about. Clothing comes after the fall. 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 our sin. He’s bearing Adam’s shame and guilt, and He’s meeting the unmitigated judgment of God. Christ was stripped of His garments, that He might clothe us with righteousness; His naked body was exposed to the insults of men, that we may appear in glory before the judgment-seat of God.

Apart from this event, we are hopeless and helpless, lost in shame and guilt; because of this event, we are more than conquerors, and possessors of every blessing, far more than we could ever imagine (Romans 8:37; Ephesians 1:3; 1 Corinthians 2:9).

Thursday, April 10, 2008

John 19:13-16

13When 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). 14It was the day of Preparation of Passover Week, about the sixth hour. "Here is your king," Pilate said to the Jews. 15But 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. 16Finally Pilate handed Him over to them to be crucified.

Pilate’s mental torment reached the boiling point long ago in this encounter with Jesus and the Jews. He must have been stressed beyond measure. We’d like to think that we would have done the right thing had we been in Pilate’s shoes, but the reality is that we have been in similar circumstance and failed just the same. Can you think of an example where you had to choose to let your light shine before men or choose to keep your light hidden under a bushel? Lord, forgive us, like your servant Peter, for the countless times that we’ve failed You. We do love You, and we want to show it. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. We are so glad to be called Your children, for we know that You – the faithful One – will never abandon us.

When John details the location of Pilate’s sentencing of Jesus, he does so for an illustrative purpose. “Gabbatha” meant “the lofty place,” and of course, it is fitting that innocent Jesus would be condemned to die from on high. For on the last day, He will come from the lofty place not to condemn but to acquit us, the guilty ones who deserve what He suffered on our behalf. Isn’t the unity of Scripture amazing! The portraits are so vibrant (Hebrews 4:12). Next in v14-15, we are once again reminded of how the wicked actions of men, unintentionally to them, are used by God to display His own plan. When the Jews shout that Caesar is their only king, they show their disdain for God. And Pilate, with a sarcasm designed to display the hypocrisy of the Jews who claimed that Jesus should be crucified because Caesar was their only king, cries out to them, “Here is your king!” In Pilate’s ironic rebuke of the Jews, God the Father proclaims to all those watching that this Man, whom they are crucifying, is indeed their King and Lord.

The gospel writers appear to differ, and even contradict each other, in the computation of time. The synoptic gospels say that the darkness came on about the sixth hour, while Christ was hanging on the cross (Matthew 27:45; Mark 15:33; Luke 23:44). Mark 15:25 says that it was the third hour when the sentence was pronounced on Jesus. But this may be explained like this: The day was at that time divided into four parts, as the night also contained four watches; in consequence of which, the authors sometimes allot not more than four hours to each day, and extend each hour to three, and, at the same time, reckon the space of an hour, which was drawing to a close, as belonging to the next part. According to this calculation, John relates that Christ was condemned about the sixth hour, because the time of the day was drawing towards the sixth hour, or towards the second part of the day. Hence we infer that Christ was crucified at or about the sixth hour; for, as John mentions v20, the place was near to the city. The darkness began between the sixth and ninth hour, and lasted till the ninth hour, at which time Jesus died.

We see from this passage that Jesus is despised by the world – just as prophesied. And we were once part of that “world” that despised Jesus. Maybe we didn’t do anything violent, like scourging another man, but the reality is that we did it – because we’ve done it in our heart. We’ve hated. And by evidence of our sin, we’ve hated Jesus. We’re the ones responsible for His suffering and painful death. But amazingly, this was all according to God’s eternal plan. And Jesus fulfilled that plan and purpose of God to perfection. Pilate reveals Jesus’ identity twice: v5, “Here is the Man,” and v14, “Here is your King.” And finally, the Man, our King, is pronounced repeatedly, “Not guilty!” Yet He is ultimately condemned and crucified on the basis of two charges: treason and blasphemy. What’s the significance? It’s that these are precisely the charges that are leveled by God against you and me. Treason – because we have refused to have Him as King; and blasphemy – because we have made ourselves to be God. It’s what Martin Luther called the great exchange: the innocent for guilty.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

John 19:4-12

4Once more Pilate came out and said to the Jews, "Look, I am bringing Him out to you to let you know that I find no basis for a charge against Him." 5When Jesus came out wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe, Pilate said to them, "Here is the Man!" 6As 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." 7The Jews insisted, "We have a law, and according to that law He must die, because He claimed to be the Son of God." 8When Pilate heard this, he was even more afraid, 9and he went back inside the palace. "Where do You come from?" he asked Jesus, but Jesus gave him no answer. 10"Do You refuse to speak to me?" Pilate said. "Don't you realize I have power either to free You or to crucify You?" 11Jesus 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." 12From then on, Pilate tried to set Jesus free, but the Jews kept shouting, "If you let this Man go, you are no friend of Caesar. Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar."

Pilate issues a “light” punishment, hoping to appease the Jews, and then brings Jesus before them, again declaring that he finds no fault in Jesus. Pilate says, “Here is the Man.” I wonder if Jesus appeared differently, having been beaten and flogged and dressed as a king. Do you think that no one would have recognized Him if Pilate had not told the crowd that this was Him? V6 is especially harsh, for we notice the cruelty of the Jews, who continue demand crucifixion, even after seeing the beating and mocking of their Savior. Yet for the joy set before Him, Jesus endured all this and more to come – the cross.

Pilate declares, once again, his own innocence in this matter by offering to give Jesus back into the hands of the Jewish leaders. As none of Pilate’s schemes to deliver Christ from crucifixion have worked, the bloodthirsty mob remaining relentless as ever, he turns to Jesus again for questioning – but this time in even greater fear than before, for the people have told Him that He claims to be the Son of God, and Pilate has seen no hint of dishonesty in this Man. Maybe, Pilate must wonder, He is actually telling the truth. They’ve got Pilate between a rock and a hard place, for he is the only one with authority to crucify, and their law demands execution. If he doesn’t crucify Jesus, there will certainly be a riot, which would end his career and perhaps his life (fear). If he does crucify Jesus, he may be executing an innocent Man – and maybe worse (more fear; hell to pay?).

Out of this fear of crucifying the Son of God, Pilate asks Jesus where He comes from, hoping to learn whether He is from God or not. Pilate may even trust Jesus for the truth at this point. But Jesus is silent, leaving a great burden upon Pilate’s shoulders, leaving him in his fear, according to the will of God. Had Jesus affirmed His divinity, Pilate may have refused to crucify him and exalted Him alongside other Roman gods, as Tiberias Caesar wished to rank Jesus among the Roman gods. But of course, Jesus silence not only fulfilled Scripture, but also led to His ordained crucifixion, which was appropriately at hand. We might learn this: If reverence for God had so much influence on an irreligious man, must not they be worse than reprobate, who now judge of divine things in sport and jest, carelessly, and without any fear? Pilate is a proof that men have naturally a sentiment of religion, which does not suffer them to rush fearlessly in any direction they choose, when the question relates to divine things.

Pilate is aggravated with Jesus’ silence, and any fear that he had upon hearing that Jesus proclaimed to be the Son of God is now gone. Fear is a good thing, but only when it drives us to faith and repentance. This, of course, was not the case for Pilate, as his fear of man is greater than his fear of God; how many have been in the same position, willing rather to deny the One who holds their destiny in His hands than to run the risk of offending those around them! Let us be sure not to fear them who kill the body but cannot kill the soul, but rather to fear Him who is able to destroy both body and soul in hell forever (Matthew 10:28)! Pilate declares that he has power over Jesus to put Him to death, and Jesus replies that his power is granted to him from above.

At this point, once again, we have an indication that, behind all the unjust actions of men, God’s sovereign will is holding sway – for it is only God who gave Pilate the authority to crucify Jesus, and therefore, the event has occurred by God’s sovereign decree. Some suggest that since Pilate’s weak and cowardly actions are not in active pursuit of Christ’s unjust death, his guilt is less than that of the Jews who are actively seeking Jesus’ crucifixion – but we should certainly not understand Jesus’ statement in v11 to mean that Pilate has no guilt at all. Jesus directly attacks the Jews and indirectly censures Pilate, who complies with their wicked desire – all according to the will of God to crush His own Son for us.

Notice Pilate’s response recorded in v12. His modesty is commendable; when he is severely reproved by Jesus, he does not fly into a passion, but, on the contrary, is still more disposed to release him. He is a judge, and yet he meekly permits the accused person to be his reprover. He tried to set Jesus free, but the people showed their control over by threatening rebellion against him for the sake of Caesar. This, of course, was nonsense, but the Jews, as we have already seen, were willing to use whatever tactic at their disposal, however lawless it may have been, to gain victory over Jesus. They didn’t realize that their evil was His victory over sin.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

John 18:39-40, 19:1-3

39But it is your custom for me to release to you one prisoner at the time of the Passover. Do you want me to release 'the king of the Jews'?" 40They shouted back, "No, not Him! Give us Barabbas!" Now Barabbas had taken part in a rebellion.... 1Then Pilate took Jesus and had Him flogged. 2The soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on His head. They clothed Him in a purple robe 3and went up to Him again and again, saying, "Hail, king of the Jews!" And they struck Him in the face.

As we prepare to enter chapter 19, Jesus is now finally condemned. The Jewish leaders, who hate Him because He is from God, condemn Him; and a weak and timid Roman ruler, who fears a riot among the people, condemns Him with his actions after verbally acquitting Him. Initially, Pilate tries in various ways to avoid this unjust condemnation of a righteous Man: first, he attempts to release Him according to the yearly custom, but the people demand instead that a murderous insurrectionist be released; and so we see, once again, that God uses the wicked actions of all the people involved to display His true intent – for in this act, the chief of sinners (Barabbas, which means “son of the father”) is freed from condemnation because Jesus, the Son of the Father, has taken his place. What a beautiful picture of how Christ was delivered up to death so that we, who deserve His punishment, might be released!

If we could have asked Barabbas the next day, or the next month, in the streets in Jerusalem, “Why, Barabbas, are you alive?” the only answer he could have given was that Jesus had died in his place. That’s the only answer. “Jesus died in my place.” It’s like an acted out parable. John gives us the gospel in this interlude. Do you see it? Furthermore, this custom of the Jews to have a prisoner released is a clear crime (Proverbs 17:15). Calvin says, “Nothing is more ridiculous, than to attempt to serve God by our inventions; for, as soon as men begin to follow their own imaginations, there will be no end till, by falling into some of the most absurd fooleries, they openly insult God. The rule for the worship of God, therefore, ought to be taken from nothing else than from His own appointment.”

Pilate tries to satisfy the hatred of the people with a vicious, bloody scourging. This flogging, as a “light” punishment, will ultimately be ineffective to accomplish Pilate’s intention; but it will be effective in the divine design to fulfill God’s will and prophecy: “By His stripes we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5). It is also at this time that the wicked actions of the cruel, pagan Roman soldiers – under Pilate’s authority – serve to display God’s sovereign will and design: for they put upon Him a crown of thorns and a robe of purple, in bitter mockery, and bow down to Him – but in reality, the bitter pain and bloody work of Jesus Christ will turn to the greatest victory and most exalted kingship in all of history; and the mockery of the crowds will turn to true worship and praise, when Jesus is exalted above the heavens.

Monday, April 07, 2008

John 18:33-38

33Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked Him, "Are You the king of the Jews?" 34"Is that your own idea," Jesus asked, "or did others talk to you about Me?" 35"Am I a Jew?" Pilate replied. "It was Your people and Your chief priests who handed You over to me. What is it You have done?" 36Jesus said, "My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, My servants would fight to prevent My arrest by the Jews. But now My kingdom is from another place." 37"You are a king, then!" said Pilate. Jesus answered, "You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to Me." 38"What is truth?" Pilate asked. With this he went out again to the Jews and said, "I find no basis for a charge against Him."

Pilate takes the matter seriously and asks Jesus privately if He is the King of the Jews. Perhaps he heard rumors from the crowds; perhaps he took this cue from what the religious leaders had told him. But he thinks it’s silly, and desiring to acquit Jesus, he is sure that Jesus will deny guilt in the matter. But Jesus, knowing the Father’s will, provokes Pilate by questioning him in return. Angered, Pilate essentially tells Jesus that He can escape this madness by answering the simple question, “What have You done?” And Jesus responds by explaining His innocence in light of His spiritual, or heavenly, kingdom. In other words, Pilate has no jurisdiction in the matter of spiritual truth. This perks Pilate’s interest; now he thinks he’s dealing with a madman – someone who proclaims to be king of an imaginary kingdom. So he plays along, exclaiming that Jesus is a king.

Jesus also implies in this dialogue that earthly kingdoms are to be defended by fighting. What do you think? Certainly, Christians are never to engage in physical combat in defending the Kingdom of God. We saw that example with Jesus’ response to Peter after he cut off the ear of one of the soldiers as Jesus was arrested. Calvin said, “The blood of martyrs strengthens the Kingdom of God more than the aid of arms.”

Jesus responds by declaring that Pilate is correct to understand that He is a king. And then Jesus adds that He speaks the truth. In fact, Jesus can do nothing but speak the truth. He is the truth. Jesus proclaims that everyone on the side of truth listens to Him. And Pilate asks the famous question, “What is truth?” Some suggest that Pilate is genuinely curious, but more likely, he is offended that a Man put on trial by the Jews would dare to proclaim that everything He says is the truth. Pilate refuses to engage any further, as he might be inclined to change his mind about the verdict. Thus, Pilate cuts short the conversation and returns to the Jewish leadership to declare Jesus not guilty. There is no crime against Him. Calvin adds here, on a side note, “The principal articles of theology are: the curse pronounced on the human race, the corruption of nature, the mortification of the flesh, the renewal of the life, the reconciliation effected by free grace through the only sacrifice, the imputation of righteousness, by means of which a sinner is accepted by God, and the illumination of the Holy Spirit. These, being paradoxes, are disdainfully rejected by the ordinary understanding of men. Few, therefore, make progress in the school of God, because we scarcely find one person in ten who attends to the first and elementary instructions.”

Having questioned Jesus, Pilate, despite some confusion on the truth, finds no fault in Him and certainly no cause for death. Jesus is no threat to Rome’s earthly kingdom, at this time – in fact, He is the one that gave to Caesar, and by extension to Pilate, political authority in the first place, as we will read later (John 19:11). Jesus is indeed a king – the King – but His present ministry is to testify to the truth, and His kingdom, although powerfully at work in changing the hearts and lives of men, is not a kingdom with a political presence in this world. And Pilate, although apparently blinded to the truth, at least recognizes that there is no cause for Jesus to be punished, as He has been delivered up merely because of the envy of the Jewish leaders (Matthew 27:18).

So once again, Jesus is clearly determined to be faultless, and is condemned for no wrong of His own, but rather, according to the justice of God, for our wrongs which were upon Him. How ironic it is to note, in passing, that the Jews who were carrying out the most evil action in all of history attempted to do it in such a way as not to be defiled. How deceptive is false religion! Men who are deeply wicked may soothe their consciences with the meaningless and impotent observances of an outward form of religion; but when they deny its true power, and pour forth from their evil hearts only wickedness and shame, their religion is shown to be worthless indeed (2 Timothy 3:5). How many of us can love the world more than Jesus in every way, throughout every day of our lives, and think that we will be accepted before God because of such outwardly religious actions as regular church attendance, or a childhood profession of faith which never grew up into a vibrant love for Christ? If we are so blind, then how are we any different from these foolish priests?