We live in an interesting day. Everyone recognizes that there is something wrong with the world, but we can’t agree upon the cause of the problem. I’ve been thinking about this during the past week as I’ve been studying John 19:16-30. I’ve come to the conclusion that even though there is a wide array, a multitude of opinions about what is wrong with our world, we can really categorize the answers under two headings: It’s someone else’s fault or it’s my own fault.
Someone hears the question, “What’s wrong with the world?” and they’ve got the answer for us. “I’ll tell you what’s wrong with the world, it’s Trump! It was Obama, but now it’s Trump! It’s our public school system! It’s Wall Street bankers and corporate America! It’s immigrants and minorities! It’s the old and aged who are so stuck in their outdated, antiquated ways that hold all of us back! It’s pagans and radical Muslim extremists! It’s manufacturing magnets who pollute our water and air, deplete the ozone layer, and cause untold billions of dollars of damage to the health of our children! It’s systemic racism imbedded into the fabric of American culture by patriarchal white men! It’s LGBTQ activists who are undermining the family, the very foundation of our society! It’s Christians who are so judgmental, so narrow-minded, trying to keep us living in a puritanical prison. It’s the underclass who don’t work and siphon services from those of us who show up to work everyday just to try and make ends meet! It’s the wealthy people of our society who hold the rest of us back and keep us subservient so they can continue to stockpile money!”
G.K. Chesterton was an English poet, philosopher, writer, journalist, and a late-in-life convert to Christianity. His book, The Everlasting Man, contributed to the conversion of C.S. Lewis. It has been said that a prominent newspaper of his day posed the question, “What’s wrong with the world?” and offered its readers an opportunity to respond. G.K. Chesterton wrote the newspaper and said, “Dear Sirs: I am. Sincerely, G.K. Chesterton.”
G.K. Chesterton had come to a startling realization. It is an affront to our sensibilities to admit that we are at fault, that we are what’s wrong…that we are sinners. If we trace all that is wrong with the world back to the source we will find that what’s wrong with the world isn’t the world, but it is what’s wrong within me.
When Paul was writing to his friends in the church at Rome he was making his case that both Jews and Gentiles were hopeless sinners: Jews had the Law, but they broke the Law. Gentiles didn’t have the Law, but they had a sense of right and wrong written upon their hearts, and they consistently failed to follow it. Paul writes about both groups when he quotes from the Hebrew Bible in Romans 3:10-18.
10 As it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one; 11 there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. 12 All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.” 13 “Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit.” “The poison of vipers is on their lips.” 14 “Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.” 15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood; 16 ruin and misery mark their ways, 17 and the way of peace they do not know.” 18 “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” (Romans 3:10-18 NIVO)
Paul would have agreed with G.K. Chesterton in his assessment of what’s wrong with the world. The problem is me. I am a sinner, hopelessly bound to do what I don’t want to do, even though I know what I should. Yet, it seems I am powerless to consistently do the right thing. Let’s read our Scripture for this morning found in John 19:17-30.
16 Finally Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified. So the soldiers took charge of Jesus. 17 Carrying his own cross, he went out to the place of the Skull (which in Aramaic is called Golgotha). 18 Here they crucified him, and with him two others– one on each side and Jesus in the middle. 19 Pilate had a notice prepared and fastened to the cross. It read: JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS. 20 Many 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. 21 The 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.” 22 Pilate answered, “What I have written, I have written.” 23 When 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.” So this is what the soldiers did. 25 Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Dear woman, here is your son,” 27 and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home. 28 Later, knowing that all was now completed, and so that the Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” 29 A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips. 30 When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. (John 19:16-30 NIVO)
It is interesting that although crucifixion was the most horrible of all deaths, none of the Gospel writers goes into great detail about the ways in which Jesus suffered. John tells us, in verse 18, “Here they crucified him, and with him two others…” Then, if we jump down to verse 30, we read that Jesus said, “It is finished.” John then writes, “With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.” In between these two verses we hear about Pilate, the Jewish religious leaders, the soldiers who gambled for Jesus’ clothing, the women who had gathered at the foot of the Cross, and “the disciple whom he loved,” that would be John, the author of the Gospel of John and an eyewitness to the crucifixion of Jesus.
Because crucifixion is so foreign to us it is important for us to understand the excruciating pain and overwhelming humiliation suffered by those who were nailed to the cross. Crucifixion was widely held to be the most horrible and shameful form of execution. It was reserved for slaves, bandits, prisoners of war, and insurrectionists. No Roman citizen would be subjected to its horrors. A medical expert wrote about the physical effects on Jesus while He was being crucified. He writes,
As the arms fatigue, great waves of cramps sweep over the muscles…With these cramps comes the inability to push Himself upward. Hanging by His arms, the pectoral muscles are paralyzed…Air can be drawn into the lungs, but cannot be exhaled. Jesus fights to raise Himself in order to get even one short breath. Finally, carbon dioxide builds up in the lungs and in the blood stream and the cramps partially subside. Spasmodically He is able to push Himself upward to exhale and bring in the life-giving oxygen. (The Crucifixion of Jesus: The Passion of Christ from a Medical Point of View, Arizona Medicine, vol. 22, no. 3 (March 1965), 183-187).
Jesus would have most likely been hanging naked, humiliated before the world He created, the world He came to redeem. Bloodied and beaten beyond recognition, Jesus would have had to continuously lift Himself up to get a breath until finally He cried out, “It is finished.”
Tragedy of all tragedies. Darkness descended not just on the world, but on every heart gathered at the Cross that loved Jesus, followed Jesus, and believed in Jesus. Yet, it was no tragedy, it was the remedy. Now, I know some of you hear that and think that’s greater spin than the talking heads on cable news. I want to take the rest of our time to show you what I’m talking about by taking a look at God’s Word.
There’s no doubt that those gathered around the Cross saw the suffering and death of Jesus as the greatest tragedy they had ever endured. The disciples, those who had lived with Jesus, listened to Jesus, and had been taught by Jesus never understood Jesus when time after time He would tell them what was going to happen to Him. Let me give you just one example. Turn with me to Matthew 16 and I’ll show you.
21 From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. 22 Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!” (Matthew 16:21-22 NIVO)
Peter wasn’t the only one who didn’t get it, none of the disciples understood even though Jesus told them time and time again. In time, following the resurrection, they would understand that the suffering and death of Jesus was the predetermined will of God, it was the remedy for our alienation from God. We can live our whole lives and never understand that the Cross was the remedy of God for what ails you and me, the sin that holds us captive and separates us from God.
Let me explain to you what I mean by the predetermined will of God. The suffering and death of Jesus wasn’t the accomplishment of the Jewish religious leaders or the Roman government, but it was the will of God, the means by which Jesus would accomplish our redemption. Maybe you noticed while we were reading John 19:24 that John pointed out for us that what took place fulfilled Scripture. John writes, “This happened that the Scripture might be fulfilled.” (John 19:24) Again, in John 19:28, we read,
28 Later, knowing that all was now completed, and so that the Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” (John 19:28 NIVO)
A little later in John 19, John points out for the third time that what took place happened so that Scripture would be fulfilled. He writes, “These things happened so that the scripture would be fulfilled:” (John 19:36 NIVO)
These are just three instances in the experience of Jesus that fulfilled prophecies that were written long, long before Jesus was ever born. E. Schuyler English wrote,
…no less than twenty Old Testament prophecies relating to events that would surround the death of Christ, words written centuries before his first advent, were fulfilled with precision within a twenty-four-hour period at the time of his crucifixion. (English, E. Schuyler. A Companion to the New Scofield Reference Bible. pg. 26)
I mentioned to you that John pointed out three aspects of Jesus’ experience on the Cross that fulfill Old Testament prophecies. The first one was the casting of lots for Jesus’ clothing by the soldiers which is described for us in John 19:24. Almost 1000 years before Jesus was born David wrote Psalm 22. In Psalm 22:18 we read,
18 They divide my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing. (Psalm 22:18 NIVO)
There is no way the soldiers could have ever known that their decision to cast lots for the seamless inner garment of Jesus would fulfill biblical prophecy. God knew in eternity past and He ordained the events surrounding Jesus’ suffering and crucifixion so that even though they didn’t know, you and I would and we would see that He is Sovereign, He is absolutely in control. The casting of lots for Jesus’ garments is like another of the prophecies that was fulfilled while Jesus was on the Cross. It’s found, not in the Scripture we read earlier, but it is found a little later in John 19. Take a look at John 19:32-37 with me.
32 The soldiers therefore came and broke the legs of the first man who had been crucified with Jesus, and then those of the other. 33 But when they came to Jesus and found that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. 34 Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water. 35 The man who saw it has given testimony, and his testimony is true. He knows that he tells the truth, and he testifies so that you also may believe. 36 These things happened so that the scripture would be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken,” 37 and, as another scripture says, “They will look on the one they have pierced.” (John 19:32-37 NIVO)
John gives us the Scriptures, found in the Hebrew Bible which finds their fulfillment in this scene from the Cross. In Psalm 34:20 we read, “he protects all his bones, not one of them will be broken.” (Psalm 34:20 NIVO) The second Scripture from the Hebrew Bible that finds its fulfillment in the scene from the Cross is found in Zechariah 12:10. Read it with me.
10 “And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication. They will look on me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for him as one grieves for a firstborn son. (Zechariah 12:10 NIVO)
Over and over again we find prophecies written long, long before Jesus was ever born used to describe what happened to Jesus while He was on the Cross. We have to understand that when these Scriptures were written they were puzzling, they made no sense at the time, but later, when Jesus’ followers looked back at the Cross, they became crystal clear.
Let me share just one more with you before we move on. When Isaiah 53 was written by the prophet Isaiah, it was a mystery, it remains a mystery to the Jewish people today. Most Jews believe that the prophet was describing the nation of Israel, but when we read the chapter through the lens of the Cross, it becomes clear who Isaiah was describing, even though he wrote 700 years before Jesus was born. Read with me from Isaiah 53:5-6.
5 But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. 6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:5-6 NIVO)
When this Scripture was written execution by crucifixion wasn’t even in existence. Isaiah was writing about something he had no understanding of, but what he wrote wasn’t the words of Isaiah, they were the Word of God. God moved upon the heart and mind of Isaiah to instill hope in the hearts of all of those who would read those words centuries later. One day, following the resurrection of the One who was crucified, we would be able to look back and remember these words and know that what happened to Jesus was from the hand of God. Not a punishment laid on Jesus because of anything He had done, but the punishment that was due to you and me laid upon His sinless shoulders so we could know the remedy for what ails us. Arthur Pink wrote,
Here then is the Gospel of our salvation: the Savior was scourged, that we might go free, He was crowned with thorns, that we might be crowned with blessing and glory; He was clothed with a robe of contempt, that we might receive the robe of righteousness; He was rejected as king, that we might be made kings and priests unto God. (Arthur Pink)
There is one last thing that I want to point out for us to consider this morning. It is another scene from the Cross although John doesn’t record it. John tells us Jesus was crucified between two criminals, but Luke shares a conversation Jesus had with one of the men. Let’s read together from Luke 23:39-43.
39 One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!” 40 But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? 41 We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43 Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:39-43 NIVO)
The one criminal knew what was wrong with the world didn’t he? He said, “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!” He never considered what he had done. He only wanted to prod Jesus to do something. That is the mindset of most of us isn’t it? We are quick to point the finger at someone else and when we find ourselves between a rock and a hard place we feel so cheated, so abused, so oppressed if someone doesn’t bail us out. There was another criminal, hanging on the other side of Jesus. His words are remarkable. He said, “Don’t you fear God…We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” G.K. Chesterton was a man after the criminal’s own heart. Both men recognized what was truly wrong with the world and it wasn’t Jesus, it was their own darkened hearts. He said, “We are guilty as charged. We are getting what we deserve.” He was a man who had lived a reckless life, an ungodly life, yet at the end of his life he recognized the error of his ways and he owned his own sin, his own guilt. He said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus said, “…today you will be with me in paradise.” Philip Yancey has written,
In one of his last acts before death, Jesus forgave a thief dangling on a cross, knowing full well the thief had converted out of plain fear. That thief would never study the bible, never attend synagogue or church, and never make amends to all those he had wronged. He simply said “Jesus, remember me,” and Jesus promised, “Today you will be with me in paradise.” It was another shocking reminder that grace does not depend on what we have done for God but rather what God has done for us. Ask people what they must do to get to heaven and most reply, “Be good.” Jesus’ stories contradict that answer. All we must do is cry, “Help!” God welcomes home anyone who will have him and, in fact, has made the first move already. Most experts- doctors, lawyers, marriage counselors-set a high value on themselves and wait for clients to come to them. Not God. (Philip Yancey, What’s so Amazing about Grace?)
The question before all of us is this: which criminal are you? We are all criminals. Remember, “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). All of us are criminals, but which are you? Will you be like the one criminal and continue to dismiss your actions while blaming everyone else around you or will you look long and hard into the mirror and recognize that you are the problem, He is the remedy, and cry out to Him for deliverance, forgiveness, and salvation? Don’t let this moment pass you by my friend.
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
May 21, 2017