Good Friday, April 10, 2020
Text: John 19:1-22, 28-30
Then Pilate took Jesus and flogged him. 2 And the soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head and arrayed him in a purple robe. 3 They came up to him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” and struck him with their hands. 4 Pilate went out again and said to them, “See, I am bringing him out to you that you may know that I find no guilt in him.” 5 So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, “Behold the man!” 6 When the chief priests and the officers saw him, they cried out, “Crucify him, crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and crucify him, for I find no guilt in him.” 7 The Jews answered him, “We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has made himself the Son of God.” 8 When Pilate heard this statement, he was even more afraid. 9 He entered his headquarters again and said to Jesus, “Where are you from?” But Jesus gave him no answer. 10 So Pilate said to him, “You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?” 11 Jesus answered him, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above. Therefore he who delivered me over to you has the greater sin.”
12 From then on Pilate sought to release him, but the Jews cried out, “If you release this man, you are not Caesar’s friend. Everyone who makes himself a king opposes Caesar.” 13 So when Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus out and sat down on the judgment seat at a place called The Stone Pavement, and in Aramaic Gabbatha. 14 Now it was the day of Preparation of the Passover. It was about the sixth hour. He said to the Jews, “Behold your King!” 15 They cried out, “Away with him, away with him, crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but Caesar.” 16 So he delivered him over to them to be crucified. So they took Jesus, 17 and he went out, bearing his own cross, to the place called The Place of a Skull, which in Aramaic is called Golgotha. 18 There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, and Jesus between them. 19 Pilate also wrote an inscription and put it on the cross. It read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” 20 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. 21 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.’” 22 Pilate answered, “What I have written I have written.
28 After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst.” 29 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. 30 When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.
I was in college when Mel Gibson’s movie, The Passion of the Christ, was first released. If you recall, there was some controversy surrounding the movie, as it was given an R rating from the MPAA for its “sequences of graphic violence.” The producers of the movie, along with Christian advocacy groups, publicly balked at the designation, thinking that the age restricted rating was a covert attempt at keeping people from watching the overtly Christian movie. Yet, instead of limiting the viewing audience, the R rating seemed to fuel interest in the film from both Christians and non-christians alike. Amazed at the huge response that a movie about Jesus was receiving, I joined a group from our church at college at our local theater. Sitting in the darkened room, I was completely undone, blown away at Gibson’s realistic depiction of the punishment Jesus endured. When the lights came up there was not a dry eye in the house, and some were even physically ill. There was no longer any disputing this was not a film for the faint of heart.
Regardless of your response to The Passion of the Christ (and I highly recommend it if you have not seen it), there is no denying that however realistic and vivid the crucifixion may seem, the real thing was far, far worse. After Jesus was arrested, He was taken before the assembly of the elders where they accused Him of blasphemy, spat in His face, then had Him blindfolded and repeatedly struck Him with blows to the head.
Before Pilate, John tells us that Jesus was flogged, which was so brutal a punishment that it was illegal for a Roman citizen to receive. Flogging consisted of being stripped down and tied to a post with hands above your head before being whipped repeatedly across the bare back and chest by a long leather whip embedded in the ends with metal balls, sharp rocks, and pieces of animal bones, which grabbed the skin and ripped off large chunks of human flesh. According to historical sources, at the conclusion of flogging so much skin was gone that muscles, organs, and even bones were often visible.
The punishment didn’t stop there. After flogging, the Roman soldiers twisted together a crude crown of 2 inch long thorns, shoved it down on His head, clothed Him in a purple robe, the color of royalty, and mocked Him as “King of the Jews” while striking him with their hands. Pilate presented the beleaguered King to the crowd, hoping that their thirst for blood would be satisfied, but instead it seemed to only encourage their demand for violence as they chanted in unison “Crucify him!”
The Romans were well-versed in delivering pain, and death by crucifixion was the penultimate form of punishment. Crucifixion consisted of the offender being secured by nails through the hands and feet to a wooden pole stood vertically in the ground, with another pole crossing horizontally either at the top like a T or around two-thirds of the way up. Death by crucifixion came not by the loss of blood from the nails, but through slow asphyxiation, as the weakened arms and legs lost the ability to lift the torso enough to take a breath. Like flogging, crucifixion was not permissible for citizens of Rome except in cases of desertion by Roman soldiers.
Many historians have noted that it is likely that no human being in history has undergone as much physical pain as Jesus did on Good Friday. But as bad as the pain surely was, Jesus simultaneously faced something far worse: the full, unfiltered wrath of God. The other gospel writers record Jesus on the cross crying out for His Father with the words of Psalm 22, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me!” In that moment, just days after being answered directly from heaven by the Father’s promise that God the Father’s name was glorified through God the Son, this time the Father was silent.
What kept Jesus on the cross? It wasn’t the soldiers or the crowds. It wasn’t the Jewish leaders, King Herod, or Pontius Pilate. It wasn’t sheer exhaustion or unimaginable physical agony. Love held Him there. When Jesus cried out with His final breath, “It is finished,” He was not saying that the crucifixion was over, but that the ultimate act of love was completed. As we read yesterday, Jesus loved to the end, He loved until His final breath. The book of Hebrews tells us that it was for the joy set before Him that He endured the cross, despising its shame. What was His joy? The prize of securing for Himself His beloved bride, the church. His body was given for us. His blood poured out for us. That whoever believes in Him would never perish, but enjoy life eternal with the Son.
Prayer for Today:
Lord Jesus, As we come to the cross, we can only look on in horror at the punishment and pain that You endured on our behalf. We can not even fathom the depths to which You suffered. There is nothing we could ever do to deserve what You have done for us. Help us to recognize our need for You today and every day. Hold us safely and securely in Your arms, for we are lost without You. Grant us the wisdom and courage to herald this news to all who need to hear it. In Your priceless name we pray, Amen.