Sunday, May 26, 2013
The Passion of Christ, Part 5: The Cross and the Crown
Introduction: This weekend we celebrate Memorial Day, a day set aside to remember those who paid the ultimate price to preserve our freedom… We rightly honor those who gave their lives for us… Literature and history are filled with stories of sacrifice, even substitutionary sacrifice. Just this week, in the reports of the devastating tornado in Oklahoma I heard the story of a group of kids that were huddled in a bathroom stall, and one of them told the story of their fear as the storm approached, and how their teacher was on top of them with her arms outstretched protecting them – she was willing to sacrifice herself to save the kids that were entrusted to her. In that case she came safely out of the rubble with her kids. Sometimes the stories don’t end so happily, the intentions of the would be rescuers are good, they are willing to save, even to sacrifice themselves, but they fall short. We remember the stories of the teachers at Sandy Hook who sacrificed themselves, trying to stand between the gunman and their kids. These scenes and these stories remind us that we live in a fallen world, the consequences of sin are all around us, and we need a spiritual deliverance that no mere human could provide for us. As John presents the Gospel of Jesus he wants us to know that Jesus loved us that much, and he was both willing and able to save.
That is the Big Idea in this passage: Jesus Christ, the Passover King, willingly laid down His life in fulfillment of Scripture and so made us a part of God’s family.
I. Jesus was crucified as a willing sacrifice: As Isaac carried the wood upon which he would be “sacrificed,” Jesus carried His own cross to the place of execution (16-18).
When we study the story of Jesus, we can’t avoid the question: Why did God give us four gospels, instead of one, comprehensive biography of the life of Christ? For one thing they are multiple witnesses that complement and reinforce one another. For another, each one has its own specific “message,” something(s) the writer was trying to teach to the original audience. This first point is a good reminder that the gospel writers were “selective.” They were absolutely truthful in what they reported, but none of the gospels was trying to give us every detail in exact, chronological order. They wrote with purpose, emphasizing certain aspects of the story of Jesus to teach their hearers!
One thing we notice immediately in this part of the story of the passion of Christ in the Fourth Gospel, is that John doesn’t mention Simon, who we know from the synoptic gospels, was pressed into carrying the cross of Jesus at least part of the way to Calvary. As we read Matthew, Mark and Luke, the detail of Christ falling exhausted to the ground and needing help to carry the cross reminds us of the humanity of Jesus, his suffering, and the fact that we too are called to share in His suffering.
John knows that His readers already know that part of the story, just as surely as he knew that the readers already knew about the baptism of Jesus (which John never mentions) and his birth in Bethlehem (which isn’t recorded in John). He is not contradicting it or denying what happened, but He mentions only Jesus carrying his own cross (which he did for part of the Via Dolorosa), because he is emphasizing two things:
First, that Jesus is in control. That He is purposefully carrying out the Father’s plan, willingly drinking the cup that He was given. He wasn’t forced to go, but “He went out” to the place of crucifixion (v.17).
Secondly, he wants us not to miss a parallel with a scene in the Old Testament. In Genesis 22 Abraham and Isaac head up a hill, with Isaac carrying the wood on which he is to be “sacrificed.” In that case, God stayed the hand of Abraham and provided a substitute, a ram stuck in a thicket. In this case Jesus is the Lamb, he himself is the sacrifice, the substitute for a world of condemned sinners. In this case the Father would “…spare not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all…”
John, like the other Gospel writers, reports the fact of the crucifixion, without getting into the gory details. It wasn’t necessary. Anyone living under Roman rule knew what crucifixion was, they had seen the horror of it. It was done publically to instill fear of the Roman power in the populace. V. 18 says it simply, no elaboration, no gory details, simply “they crucified Him.” This is His purpose. This is how God showed His love among us: He sent His one and only Son into the world that we might live through Him (1 John 4:9). Jesus Christ, the Passover King, willingly laid down His life in fulfillment of Scripture and so made us a part of God’s family.
II. Jesus was crucified as the King of the Jews: Though Pilate no doubt meant the inscription on the cross to be a cynical jab at the Jewish leaders, ironically, the words he wrote on the placard above the cross were absolutely true (19-22).
The kingship of Jesus had only been mentioned in a few key points in the story until now (1:49; 6:15; 12:13-15). Nathanael stunned us with his confession in the very first chapter, “…You are the Son of God. You are the King of Israel!” (1:49). After the miraculous sign of feeding the 5,000, Jesus, in His omniscience, knew that that crowd intended to make him “king by force” in 6:15, and He withdrew from them. They had just been fed, who doesn’t like a free lunch, but they had no understanding yet as to who Jesus was, and as to what He had come to do. Later in that very chapter when He spoke about “eating his flesh” and “drinking his blood” most of the people, disillusioned and confused, left him. And then in chapter 12, the beginning of the Passover week, the day we call Palm Sunday, Jesus entered Jerusalem to the cheers of the people, “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! The King of Israel!” But as the very Psalm they quoted predicted, He would be “the Stone the builders rejected…” (Ps 118:22,25).
Now in the passion the theme of His kingship comes front and center. In fact John draws special attention to it pointing out not only the phrase written on the cross, but the reaction of the religious leaders. Why was this such an offense? The charge against a condemned criminal, the reason for his execution, was often nailed to the cross. Essentially Pilate had said that Jesus was being executed because He was King of the Jews!
The leaders want that reworded, it’s not that He really was “King of the Jews,” but it was because he claimed that position – but Pilate responds with a little face saving jab at the Jewish leaders, “What I have written, I have written.” The word Pilate used here is a familiar one, used also to introduce scripture, “it is written.” John wants us to consider this: if Pilate’s word could not be changed, how much more certain is the eternal word of God! And that is exactly what is revealed in the following verses as Jesus Christ, the Passover King, willingly laid down His life in fulfillment of Scripture and so made us a part of God’s family.
III. Jesus was crucified in fulfillment of Scripture: (23-24). John wants us to understand what happens next…
“Then the soldiers, when they had crucified Jesus, took His garments and made four parts, to each soldier a part, and also the tunic. Now the tunic was without seam, woven from the top in one piece. 24 They said therefore among themselves, ‘Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it, whose it shall be,’ that the Scripture might be fulfilled which says: ‘They divided My garments among them, And for My clothing they cast lots.’ Therefore the soldiers did these things” (John 19:23-24).
What the soldiers did in “dividing up” the clothing of Jesus was probably not unusual, but “casting lots” for the seamless undergarment was. Even this detail was not simply “chance,” but one more thing that God had already revealed, one more evidence that Jesus was the One spoken of by the prophets.
V.24 explains, “This happened that the Scripture might be fulfilled…” Psalm 22:18 predicted this detail in the prophetic picture of David of the suffering and rejected King, the servant who would be pierced and seemingly abandoned by God. Nothing is left to chance, every detail is planned by God, and its fulfillment confirms that God is working through the unfolding story of Jesus. The reader of John by now understands the truth, that Jesus wasn’t a victim of circumstances that spun out of control, a plan that had somehow failed. Rather, Jesus Christ, the Passover King, willingly laid down His life in fulfillment of Scripture and so made us a part of God’s family.
That is certainly true, but we also know from the New Testament that You are important to Jesus. Remember the scene in Luke 8:19–21: “His mother came to him… And it was reported to him, "Your mother and your brothers are standing outside, wishing to see you." But he answered and said to them, "My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it." That was not a depreciation of his mother and brothers, but an affirmation of something more profound and eternal than blood relation. Loving obedience to the Word of God shows we are in a relationship to Jesus.
Think about this: Jesus makes provision for the needs of his mother at Calvary. Those who hear and do the Word of God have an even greater claim on Jesus' care than she had based on her biological relation. So, if he took care of her, will he not much more provide for us? That’s really what the whole teaching of the upper room was about in John 13-16, as well as the prayer in John 17. Jesus was getting His disciples, and those who would believe through their word (us!) ready to continue His mission in this world until that day when we see Him face to face. Jesus knows you, He loves you, He has a plan for your life. The Apostle Paul said it this way to the Philippians: “… being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ…”
According to Ephesians 1:19, 20 the greatness of God's power which is working on behalf of us who believe "accords with the working of the strength of his might which God generated by raising Christ from the dead and seating him at his right hand in heaven." The satisfaction made for our sin at Calvary was so complete that God honored this sacrifice by raising Jesus from the dead and giving him incomparable glory and power and wealth of all things. This same Jesus knows you and cares about you, he calls you his child.
Therefore, the word of Jesus to his mother from the cross is a great encouragement to us. Think about it: if He could provide for his own in the moment of His human weakness and humiliation, He can certainly meet all of our needs today from the right hand of the Father, full of power and glory.
When Jesus says to Mary: "Look on John as your son"; and to John: "Look on Mary as your mother"; he is showing us how our needs are to be met when we have left everything to follow him. Paul said in Acts 20:28 that Christ "purchased the church of God with his own blood." Therefore, one of the gifts Jesus gave to us from the cross was the church: a loving, caring, sustaining, encouraging family. He illustrates that in the relationship between John and Mary.
If he was eager to care for his mother, how much more eager will he be today to care for those who hear and do the Word of God! If Jesus could provide for the needs of his own in the moment of his greatest weakness and humiliation, how much more can he provide for your need in his present position of power and exaltation. And if Jesus purchased the church with his own blood then no one should be without a caring family today in the body of Christ, we are a family, God is our Father, we are brothers and sisters.
What is God saying to me in this passage? Jesus Christ, the Passover King, willingly laid down His life in fulfillment of Scripture and so made us a part of God’s family.
What would God have me to do in response to this passage? Memorial Day – we do well to remember those who gave their lives to preserve our freedoms. We should remember their sacrifices today and every day. There is a spiritual freedom that only One man, the God-Man, could secure for us: “If the Son therefore shall make you free, you shall be free indeed.” Brothers if God so loved us, and we know it, of course we love Him in return. But John goes further: 1 John 4:10-11 “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” What should that look like? One of the things that characterized the New Testament church was koinonia, that is, “fellowship.” They were involved in each other’s lives. They knew each other’s needs, and so they could “bear each others burdens”. Small group is one place where that can happen. Also more spontaneous times of being together for meals and the like. And what about our neighbors? If we are going to love them, we need to recognize that there is only one way to Heaven, that is through faith in Jesus. How will they hear? Think about that. AMEN.
Sunday, May 19, 2013
The Passion of Christ, Part 4: The King, Our Substitute
Introduction: Our Solemn Assembly last night began with a look at King Uzziah (a.k.a “Azariah”), and reminded us that sin has consequences. He did a lot of “good things” but still tolerated idolatry in the land. God chastened him, he was leprous until he died, living alone in a separate house (2 Kings 15:1-5). Isaiah 6 begins, “In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord…” Mentioning Uzziah’s death calls attention to his failure – toleration of sin brought terrible consequences. God is holy, He is of purer eyes than to look upon iniquity. As we’ve been studying John perhaps the central theme has been that in Christ God has supplied the only answer to the sin problem. The awesome “I AM” who sat upon the throne in Isaiah’s vision, was made flesh and dwelt among us. He came for a purpose. The passion of Christ specifically points us to that tremendous moment, in the unfolding drama of redemption, when the sinless Son gave himself so that we could live. Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.
Remember the context: At the end of John 18 Pilate sought to release Jesus in accordance with a tradition of releasing a Jewish prisoner at the Passover, but the leaders chose Barabbas, a thief and insurrectionist, and rejected One who was in fact their own messiah. They were insistent that Jesus should be crucified.
The passing of a verdict is usual in the context of a trial. Under normal circumstances it comes after the accused is pronounced “guilty.” In the case of Jesus there is no such pronouncement. He was sinless, yet rejected and condemned. The justice of God was being satisfied in that He who knew no sin was made sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him. How could a just God justify sinners? A substitute was needed, a perfect substitute. Jesus said earlier, “For this hour I have come into the world.” God had a plan that was more than any of us could imagine.
The Big Idea: It was necessary for the Passover King to be rejected so that the Father’s gracious plan of redemption could be accomplished.
I. We see the depravity of humans in the mocking of the King (19:1-5). At its core, sin is the rejection of the true kingship of Jesus. Psalm two describes human sin very succinctly in Psalm 2:1-3,
“Why do the nations conspire and the peoples plot in vain? 2 The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the LORD and against his Anointed One. 3 ‘Let us break their chains,’ they say, ‘and throw off their fetters.’”
That attitude is illustrated in the most graphic terms in our passage:
“So then Pilate took Jesus and scourged Him. 2 And the soldiers twisted a crown of thorns and put it on His head, and they put on Him a purple robe. 3 Then they said, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’ And they struck Him with their hands. 4 Pilate then went out again, and said to them, ‘Behold, I am bringing Him out to you, that you may know that I find no fault in Him.’ 5 Then Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. And Pilate said to them, ‘Behold the Man!’ (John 19:1-5).
First, we see human depravity in the horrible torture of a man known to be innocent (1,2).He was scourged – a punishment so horrible that those so inflicted sometimes died. The bits of bone or metal on the ends of the straps would rip into the flesh, sometimes cutting to the bone. John does not emphasize the gory details. There was no need. Anyone living in the world under Roman oppression at that time had seen scourging and crucifixion. These punishments were not conducted quietly behind closed doors and then reported on the evening news—they were public, designed to instill fear in the populace. Not only was Jesus horribly beaten, he was mocked as he was dressed in purple and he had a crown of thorns pushed onto his head.
NB. The irony: though they mocked him, dressing Him in “royal attire,” a torturous crown of thorns pushed down on his head, and calling Him “King of the Jews,” ironically their words were true! The reader of the Gospel by now has an understanding that He is the King –but not a king like the nations, not a kingdom “of this world.” His kingship was of a different order, it was a kingship that had its origins in another place.
Pilate’s words seem to be intended to ridicule the Jewish leaders, “Behold the man!” It’s as if he is saying, “Look at Him! Is this the one that you are so worried about? Are you concerned about this guy’s claim to be a king?” Think of the contrast with declaration of John the Baptist at the beginning of this gospel: “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” John saw the Truth – the Jewish leaders and Pilate are blind to who Jesus is, they can’t understand. The drama of redemption was unfolding at this moment. He was a man to be sure, he took upon himself a human nature, and in the words of Isaiah became “a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief.” He allowed mocking, and ridicule, and a torturous death, for us. It was necessary for the Passover King to be rejected so that the Father’s gracious plan of redemption could be accomplished.
II. We see the spiritual blindness of the unregenerate in the insistence that the Son of God be crucified (19:6-7).
It may be that Pilate thought the horror of scourging would have been enough to pacify the Jewish leaders. “Behold the Man!” Look at this pitiful person; hasn’t he endured enough pain and humiliation? But their minds were made up, they were determined to seize the moment and be rid of this “Jesus” once and for all. We read in v.6, “… they cried out, saying, ‘Crucify Him, crucify Him!’ Pilate said to them, ‘You take Him and crucify Him, for I find no fault in Him.’” Again Pilate states that He found no basis for condemning Jesus, yet they insist that He be crucified.
The irony in v.7 is tremendous: “The Jews answered him, ‘We have a law, and according to our law He ought to die, because He made Himself the Son of God.’” They are thinking that Jesus is a law breaker who deserves death because of blasphemy. But just like Caiaphas in John 11, they said more than they knew. He had asked, “Is it not profitable that one man die for the nation?” John tells us, that being high priest, unwittingly, he had prophesied the substitutionary atonement of Jesus. Here, they are correct, their Law, the Old Testament, predicted that it was necessary for the Messiah, the Son of God, the Lamb, to die. On the road to Emmaus Jesus appeared to two disciples and taught them:
“Then He said to them, ‘O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Ought not the Christ to have suffered these things and to enter into His glory?’" (Luke 24:25,26).
Then again in 24:44-46,
“Then He said to them, ‘These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me.’ 45 And He opened their understanding, that they might comprehend the Scriptures. 46 Then He said to them, ‘Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day…’” (Luke 24:44-46).
It was necessary for the Passover King to be rejected so that the Father’s gracious plan of redemption could be accomplished.
III. We see the sacrificial love of Jesus in the Silence of the Lamb (19:8-12).
Pilate’s reaction to the “charge” as it is stated in v.7 is striking – Son of God? It’s one thing to deal with a so-called king, but someone who claims to be a son of god? When he heard that, he was “all the more afraid.” Pilate almost surely had no respect for the God of the Jews, but he was superstitious. He certainly didn’t want to offend the “gods” (lower case “g”).
Pilate goes back in to talk to Jesus, he wants to assess the situation. “Where are you from?” he asks. Jesus had already said that his kingdom was not of this world (18:36). Now, he is struggling to put together what Jesus said, and the charges of leaders. Was He claiming to be a god or from the realm of the gods? The prospect seems to have Pilate worried, might it just be true? Jesus responds with silence (v.9) which frustrates Pilate! But Jesus is the suffering servant, willing to drink the cup the father was giving Him. Isaiah had written 700 years earlier: “He was oppressed and He was afflicted, Yet He opened not His mouth; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, And as a sheep before its shearers is silent, So He opened not His mouth” (Isa 53:7).
Pilate thinks he is in control, or at least that is what he claims in v.9, “Do you not know that I have power to crucify you and power to release you?” The word “power” is the word exousia, “authority.” It’s the same word the was used back in John 5:26,27, which talks about what the Father gave Jesus: "…the Father has granted to the Son to have life in himself, and has given Him authority to execute judgment also, because He is the Son of Man.” The same word comes up again in the Great Commission in Matthew when Jesus says “All authority is given to me in heaven and on earth…” Who is in control? Not Pilate. He can’t even dissuade the Jewish leaders in their quest to kill Jesus. The Passover King is sovereignly working out his plan, willingly preparing to lay down his life for his friends. Greater love has no man than this!
Jesus extends amazing grace toward Pilate in v.11: "You could have no power at all against Me unless it had been given you from above. Therefore the one who delivered Me to you has the greater sin." So Pilate sought to release him. He was by no means guiltless, as he allows himself to be manipulated by their questioning of his loyalty to Cesar. But the Jews, the guardians of the oracles of God, the children of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, they were guilty of rejecting their own messiah! It was necessary for the Passover King to be rejected so that the Father’s gracious plan of redemption could be accomplished.
IV. We see the revelation of the Passover King as Jesus is seated on the “Judgment Seat” and rejected (19:13-16).
The scene here is incredible as the Jews are determined to be rid of Jesus, and Pilate tries to get in a few mocking jabs at them, all the while Jesus, the creator incarnate, quietly takes their abuse. Pilate takes Jesus out before them. The text in 19:13 says either “he sat down” (meaning Pilate sat on the Judgment seat) or, “he sat him down” (referring to Jesus) on the judgment seat. The verb can legitimately be read either way. John wants us to consider the question of who really is in charge. If Pilate mockingly sat Jesus on the bema and said to the Jews “Behold your King!” it would have been a slap at them as much as at Jesus. Ironically, He was the King, He is the King. No one was judging Him, but by their unbelief they were being judged. Remember for example John 3:18, "He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.”
Notice v.14 “Now it was the day of preparation for the Passover; it was about the sixth hour. And he said to the Jews, "Behold, your King!" The sixth hour, on the day of preparation, was the hour had come for the Passover Lamb to be sacrificed. This King was like no other, he was the Passover King, born to die, so that we could live through faith in Him. Then again in v.15, to force Pilate’s hand by questioning his loyalty, “We have no king but Cesar!” The Passover King, The Lamb, was delivered up to be crucified (v.16).
What is God saying to me in this passage? It was necessary for the Passover King to be rejected so that the Father’s gracious plan of redemption could be accomplished. If you know Jesus, that means you are included in His plan, and He knew you and loved you from before the foundations of the world. He willingly died, so that you could live.
What would God have me to do in response to this passage? If Jesus so loved you, will you love him in return? Will you trust Him and obey Him? Jesus said “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me…” Will you determine to be a “Christ follower” today? The Christian life isn’t burdensome, it’s walking with Jesus, learning from Him, living for Him. It means loving one another, recognizing we are a family, we have the same Father! It means considering the need of those in our sphere of influence. Have you identified a list of people that you are praying for, people that need to know Jesus? Pray for them, and pray that God will give you an opportunity to give a reason for the hope that is in you. Be available, and watch what God will do! AMEN.
Monday, May 13, 2013
Why a Solemn Assembly?
This Saturday evening we are gathering together as a church family for a time of “Solemn Assembly.” The idea is based on multiple examples in the Old Testament of the people of God coming together to repent of sin, seek God, and yield to His revealed will. For example the prophet Joel wrote to a rebellious nation, calling them to come together in genuine repentance:
“Consecrate a fast, Call a sacred assembly; Gather the elders And all the inhabitants
of the land Into the house of the LORD your God, And cry out to the LORD.” (Joel 1:14; cf. 2:15).
We might respond, “Well, that was Israel, that was the Old Testament. We are under grace!” It is certainly true that the church is not Israel. We are a spiritual entity, set apart by grace. Why then are we having a service like this?
First of all, it is an intentional step in which we are acknowledging together that this church is a spiritual entity under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Jesus is the head of the church, He is our Savior, our Lord, our Master, our King. He has called us out of darkness into the light, and by grace we are saved through faith in Him. We don’t need programs, we need Jesus! As our Lord, He has the right to expect our devotion and obedience. Individually we are forgiven of our sins, His child forever. We are also a “work in progress” in the sense that we are learning and growing, step by step “putting off the old man and putting on Christ.” Since our old nature is defeated but not destroyed we will often sin against the God that saved us, and in the process we will often offend our brothers and sisters, co-heirs of Christ, redeemed by His blood. So we need to confess our sins to God (I John 1:9) and to one another (James 5:16). And we need to be willing to forgive as we have been forgiven.
We all recognize that Boothbay Baptist Church has come through some difficult times to arrive at where we are today. I am convinced that God is working in our midst. Over this last year I’ve seen a renewed burden for the lost, a growing hunger for truth, forgiveness and reconciliation between hurting people, and love extended in a myriad of ways to both people within our fellowship and to others in the community. God is working and I believe He desires to use us as a body of believers in a powerful way in this community and beyond. If God is at work, we can be sure that the enemy is also lurking, looking for any opportunity to discourage believers and derail God’s mission.
I would urge you to be praying fervently for our church at this moment in our history. Ask God to prepare your own heart as we seek Him together. We need to yield to His will, to recognize His presence, to understand more His attributes, including His holiness. Jesus was speaking to the church in Laodecia when He said:
“Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him and he with Me” (Revelation 3:19,20).
That is an invitation to intimate fellowship. Do you hear His voice, inviting you to draw nearer? That is a step that will make us, as individual Christ followers, and as a part of this local body of believers more usable for His mission. Will you dare to open the door and invite Him in? Please plan to be here at Boothbay Baptist Church on Saturday evening at 6:30 P.M.
Sunday, May 5, 2013
The Passion of Christ, Part 3: The Rejection of the King
Introduction: As we come to our third week looking at the Passion of Christ you might think, is it really necessary to take so much time on this? Let’s get on to the resurrection already! To our benefit, we know the end of the story, and that is good news! It’s also true, that as God inspired John to write this Gospel, He chose to emphasize the cross, the “lifting up” of the Son, as the climax of the story and the vindication of the self-revelation of Jesus as the promised Messiah. And in the broader teaching of Scripture the death of Jesus is at the heart of the Gospel message: “Christ died for our sins, according to the Scriptures…” (I Cor 15:3). As Paul wrote earlier in that same letter, it was at the core of his preaching ministry: He said in 1 Corinthians 2:2: “For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified…” John certainly wrote long after Paul, and we are pretty sure that he wrote long after the other evangelists, but even decades after the crucifixion and resurrection, he still felt it important to give a careful, accurate account of the things he saw and heard. He wants us to see the glory of God revealed in the Cross of Calvary.
John has emphasized a couple of truths already in our study of the Passion that will carry through this part of the narrative. First, Jesus was not a victim of circumstances who was taken against His will. On the contrary, He was in control, allowing himself to be arrested so that he could carry out the Father’s plan. A human king rules the best he is able and his will is usually carried out by his subjects. But a Divine King, the King of Kings, is in absolute control, He is Sovereign over the universe, and His will will be done.
Secondly, the story emphasizes the complete failure of religion and human effort and the absolute necessity of salvation by the grace of God. Isaiah described the complete inadequacy of human effort to justify when he wrote in Isaiah 64:6 “But we are all like an unclean thing, And all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags; We all fade as a leaf, And our iniquities, like the wind, Have taken us away.” We are powerless to save ourselves. We don’t need to be more religious. We need God, we need grace!
As the story continues in John 18, the religious leaders reject the One who is of truth, King, and choose instead that a thief be released to them. The Sovereign hand of the King in guiding the events of the passion reveals both His power and His love. He is sovereign and omnipotent, therefore, we can trust Him, He knows us and He loves us, so we must love Him.
The Big Idea: The truth is, Jesus, the Passover King, chose to give himself as the Lamb. Do you believe Him? Will you obey Him?
I. “Rules” or Relationship (18:28-32)? When you are talking about the question of how humans can approach God, that is really what it comes down to. Do we think we can be justified, or sufficiently righteous to approach God, through obeying the external “rules” or “requirements” of a religious system? Or is our faith about knowing God and having a personal relationship with Him in Christ? In this scene we see the supposedly spiritual leaders of the Jews full of legalistic zeal for the religious system that had grown up around Israel. Ironically, the religious leaders were determined to kill Jesus by the hands of the Romans, an act which would fulfill God’s plan, confirming that Jesus is who He claimed to be (18:28-32). They were intent on killing their own Messiah!
The irony in v.28 is hard to miss: “But they themselves did not go into the Praetorium, lest they should be defiled, but that they might eat the Passover.” The leaders didn’t want to enter a gentile house, lest they become “unclean” and so unworthy to eat the Passover. At the same time they were rejecting the Great I AM, the very God who spoke to Moses from the burning bush and delivered the nation from Egyptian bondage. They were zealous in wanting to be able to eat a ritualistic meal of remembrance, yet they were seeking to execute the Son of God, the Lamb Himself who takes away the sin of the world. They wanted to be worthy to eat the Passover, and they were guilty of the most heinous crime imaginable: rejecting the Son of God. Though they did not want to risk reprisals by Rome (or by the people!) this scene makes it clear that they were determined to see Jesus put to death. And that is just what they did. Later, preaching on Pentecost, Peter would say “…you nailed Him to the cross by the hands of godless men…” (Acts 2:22,23). The Romans were the hammer the Jewish authorities used to drive the spikes through the hands and feet of Jesus. They wanted to keep the rules, but they had already rejected the One, the only One, who could save them. Before we judge them too harshly we need to look at our own hearts. We need to be careful, to stay on guard, that our “religion” or our traditions don’t blind us to what is more important: a living relationship with God through Christ. It’s not about the externals, the style of worship, the way I dress, if I prefer chairs or pews. It’s not about me at all. It’s about Jesus. Knowing Him, loving Him. If we know Him we’ll love Him. If we love Him we’ll obey Him. Earlier in the gospel Jesus told some leaders,
“Then the Jews surrounded Him and said to Him, "How long do You keep us in doubt? If You are the Christ, tell us plainly." 25 Jesus answered them, "I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in My Father's name, they bear witness of Me. 26 "But you do not believe, because you are not of My sheep, as I said to you. 27 "My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. 28 "And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand…” (John 10:24-28).
The Inquiry and the “charges” against Him (v.29-30a) follow…
“Pilate then went out to them and said, "What accusation do you bring against this Man?" 30 They answered and said to him, "If He were not an evildoer, we would not have delivered Him up to you."
It is interesting that Pilate inquires about the charges against Jesus, but John never tells us directly what the leaders answered. Later Pilate goes back to Jesus and asks Him if He is “King of the Jews” (v.33) which implies this was part of the charge the leaders made.
Vv.31-32 reveal that God was working even through this process of Jesus being delivered to the Romans.
“Then Pilate said to them, "You take Him and judge Him according to your law." Therefore the Jews said to him, "It is not lawful for us to put anyone to death," 32 that the saying of Jesus might be fulfilled which He spoke, signifying by what death He would die…” (John 18:31-32).
Jesus said He would be handed over to the gentiles and the Scriptures predicted a death that could only be crucifixion. God was working. The King was in control, carrying out His plan. He did that for us. He loved us that much. The truth is, Jesus, the Passover King, chose to give himself as the Lamb. Do you believe Him? Will you obey Him?
II. The Truth and the Kingship of Jesus (33-38a). Pilate’s dialog with Jesus begins with one question in v.33 (cf. 37), “are you the king of the Jews?” and ends with another cynical question in v.38, “What is truth?”
Pilate’s question gets to the heart of the matter: “Are you the King of the Jews?” The implication is that is the charge that the leaders raised against Jesus (even though John never explicitly states that). This is the issue that has been woven through the Gospel from the first chapter. You remember the confession of Nathanael at the end of chapter one: "Rabbi, You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!" (John 1:49). The Jews had a messianic hope, they were looking for a Messiah, a descendant of David who would have an eternal reign. Of course He would be king, but what would that look like? What would it mean? In one sense, much like the nation in David’s day, the people were looking for a king like the nations around them, a king like Saul who stood head and shoulders above others, a king who could lead them to victory over their oppressors. A King like the world. The Scriptures however spoke of a suffering Messiah, as servant, a rejected King. The Passover King would have another kind of Kingdom, another kind of deliverance. He would lead by serving. He would save by dying.
In v.34 Jesus initially answers Pilate with a question, giving him opportunity to think more about the meaning of his words: “Did you say this of yourself concerning me, or did others speak this about me?” Jesus used questions to get those around him to think. What was going on here? Is Pilate mocking? Does He just hate the Jewish leaders so much that he feels some sympathy for Jesus? Or, could it be, that he has an inkling that there just might be some truth behind this story? Later, when the allegation becomes that Jesus called himself the “Son of God,” it says that Pilate becomes “all the more afraid” (19:8). That seems to imply that he began to feel a little fear, at least an uneasiness, earlier in the story.
Pilate’s ‘judgment’ contrasts the determination of the leaders to condemn Jesus. From his perspective, he found no fault at all (v.38b). Pilate is no “hero” in this story – but at least he admits that this whole scene was an injustice, Jesus was innocent of any crime. He only spoke the truth. The truth is, Jesus was innocent. But as the Passover King He chose to give himself as the Lamb. Do you believe Him? Will you obey Him?
III. Truth, Justice, and the Way of the Lamb: “Shall I release the King of the Jews?” (38b-40). By now the reader of the Gospel knows how this question will be answered, how it must be answered. “Shall I release the King of the Jews?” (38b-40). We know better. The Kingship of Jesus has been linked to Passover, at least indirectly, from the start. John the Baptist said “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” He is the King, but He is also the Lamb. He is the Passover King, the Lamb who would be seated on the throne in Heaven in Revelation 5:6 who alone is worthy to open the scroll.
Here in John 18, Passover was at hand, the Lamb had been bound, as it were, for the sacrifice. The King is also the Lamb. And the hour was at hand.
The leaders don’t see Him for who He is, they reject their own Messiah. But that responsibility extends to the entire nation. No one is standing up for Him at this time. Peter refers to the choice of the “people” in Acts 3:12-15,
"Men of Israel, why are you amazed at this, or why do you gaze at us, as if by our own power or piety we had made him walk? 13The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified His servant Jesus, the one whom you delivered and disowned in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release Him. 14But you disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, 15but put to death the Prince of life, the one whom God raised from the dead, a fact to which we are witnesses.”
The failure of the religious leaders simply exposes the failure of religious effort to draw us near to God. We desperately need grace! Richard Baxter put it this way:
As we paid nothing for God’s eternal love and nothing for the Son of His love, and nothing for His Spirit and our grace and faith, and nothing for our eternal rest...What an astonishing thought it will be to think of the unmeasurable difference between our deservings and our receivings. O, how free was all this love, and how free is this enjoyed glory...So then let “Deserved” be written on the floor of hell but on the door of heaven and life, “The Free Gift”. - Richard Baxter
Grace! The only way that sinful humans could be reconciled to a Holy God.
What is God saying to me in this passage? The truth is, Jesus, the Passover King, chose to give himself as the Lamb. Do you believe Him? Will you obey Him?
What would God have me to do in response to this passage? Because of who He is, because of what He has done, we are here today. We gather together to know Him better through His Word, and to learn what He expects from us. We come together because He has told us we are part of a community, a family, and we need each other. And so we receive from Him His truth, and we offer Him our worship. On Wednesday night we were reminded in our study of Psalm 26 the need for cleansing, the priest needed to symbolically wash his hands and feet in the laver before ministering before the Lord – we have been washed in the blood (I John 1:7) and still we “confess our sins…” (I John 1:9). Remember the upper room, as Peter asked that not only his feet but his entire body be washed?
“Simon Peter said to Him, ‘Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head!’ Jesus said to him, ‘He who is bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean…’” (John 13:9,10).
What is standing between us and our fully experiencing God’s presence and our fully embracing his mission? Well only three things come to mind: the world, the flesh, and the devil. The world would attract and distract us with things that don’t matter, the flesh would entice us to seek pleasure instead of seeking God, the devil would deceive us into exalting our will or our “rights” instead of seeking God’s glory. God said through Isaiah:
"Why do you spend money for what is not bread, and your wages for what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good, and delight yourself in abundance. Incline your ear and come to Me. Listen, that you may live…” (Isa 55:2-3).
Jesus chose, as the Suffering Servant, as the Paschal King, to lay down His life for His sheep. In that scene in the upper room, after washing their feet, He said “As I have done for you, so you should do to one another.” Are we willing to do that, to have the attitude of a servant? Do not look out only for our own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Is that your heart this morning? Is it my heart? That is the mind of Christ and I know it is what He would have us to do as we follow Him. Pilate asked “what is truth”? The answer is “Jesus.” Jesus is truth, the Way, the Truth, and the Life. It means believing Him, taking Him at His word. It means submitting ourselves to His authority in our lives.
· What does He say about your marriage? Are we willing to sacrificially love, to mutually submit?
· What does He say about your work? You might say, “You don’t know my boss!” Well, Jesus does. Whatever you do, do it as unto the Lord!
· What does He say about your finances? Do you regard yourself as a steward, do you realize that He is interested not only in your tithe, but in how you use 100% of what He has given you?
· What does He say about loving your neighbor? Who is your neighbor? Remember the Good Samaritan?
· And what about forgiving your brother? Are there hurts from the past that you need to let go of? How many times? Seven? No, seventy times seven times!
As we prepare our hearts for the Lord’s Table, invite Him to examine your heart, to expose your sin, and then confess it, call it what it is, and receive the cleansing He longs to give you. Think about that. Amen.