This weekly topic is an effort to recap the Wednesday night Bible study I teach at Sola5, my youth group. I hope it serves to help us all in contemplating the ceaseless riches of God’s grace as revealed through the Scriptures.
Last night, our study of the Gospel of John came to an event to which it’s been building for 50 lessons – our study of John 19 and its depiction of the crucifixion of Christ. Throughout the book, Jesus has been emphasizing to us the incredible importance of this moment, forecasting his own death repeatedly and telling his followers, “my hour has not yet come.” This “hour” he spoke of was the time when he would give his life for the redemption of humanity from sin. Jesus’ death and resurrection are the most important events in all of Christianity – and in human history. Thus, it is important that we take the time to carefully examine what they mean. Last night, we did exactly that with the cross – examining how it puts our sin on full display. After all, the suffering Christ endured is a direct result of our sin. We even changed the way we do things on Wednesday nights in order to snap our minds out of routine and force us to focus. We entered and exited our study time in silence and spent time meditating on songs that focus us on the cross (such as David Ward’s update of Albert Midlane’s “Look Unto Him”). My wife and another of our youth leaders read aloud Psalm 38 and Isaiah 53 before I said a word. Everything we did, we did to force ourselves to confront the brutal reality of the sin that dwells within each of us, in order that we can more fully appreciate the amazing grace we’ve been given.
We’re confronted first with the brutality of sin in verses 1-16. As John recounts Jesus’ beating and condemnation by Pilate, he focuses us on two things. First, the horrible brutality that Christ endured. His readers would have shuddered at the thought of a Roman flogging. John tells us that Christ is so badly beaten that Pilate, hoping the Pharisees’ bloodlust has been placated, simply stands Jesus before them and exclaims, “Behold the man!” – or as we might have put it, “Look at him! Is this not enough?” However, the Pharisees scream for more, for Christ to die. Yet, as John highlights Christ’s brutal suffering, the second thing that he highlights is that his suffering is for us. Repeatedly, Pilate’s belief that Jesus was guiltless is mentioned. Jesus himself tells Pilate that the only authority Pilate wields is that which the Father has given to him. Jesus is doing this all for a divine purpose, and that is to save his people from their sin.
Next, as Christ dies upon the cross in verses 17-30, we see the curse of sin. We see his physical suffering as he is nailed to the cross and breathes his last, yes, but the details mentioned are mentioned to take us to the reality that Christ was not just dying, but he was bearing the curse of God for sin on our behalf. First, the very mention of execution harkens back to the words of Deuteronomy 21:22-23. Then, there are the curious details mentioned – the soldiers’ gambling for Jesus’ clothes, his thirst, and the fact told to us in the other gospels that Jesus cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” These details are to remind us of prophecy written long before about the one who would deliver us from sin, in particular Psalm 22. Christ’s death took the curse, the wrath of God that we rightly deserve and bore it in full. When we look at the anguish of the cross, we see what our deeds have earned.
What our deeds have earned is death. In Christ’s death, we see the finality of sin, highlighted in verses 31-37. John relates to us that the Romans broke the legs of those crucified to hasten their death, but when they came to Jesus they found that he was already dead. In order to be sure, one of them pierces Christ’s side with his spear, causing a gushing of blood and water. This fact demonstrates that Jesus was in fact dead – his heart had likely ruptured resulting in the pooling of fluid in his chest cavity. John understood that this signified certain death, and he shows us by emphasizing the truth of what he’s reporting, attempting to cut off any who would suggest that Christ never actually died, but only passed out. As the truth of Christ’s death is hammered home, we are forced to reflect on the finality of sin. Romans 6:23 tells us that the wages of sin is death – a horrible and final judgment made all the more terrifying by Jesus’ remarks in Matthew 10:28. The end result of our sin is our being eternally cut off from the goodness of God. Hell is real (Jesus talked about it more than any other Biblical figure), and from it there’s no going back.
All of that takes us to our final realization – the hopelessness of sin. In verses 38-42 Jesus is put in the ground. Essentially, they have his funeral. To us, the crucifixion is always tinged with hope, because we know the rest of the story – we see the glory of the resurrection. However, put yourselves in the shoes of the disciples. What must that intervening Saturday have been like? Imagine the hopelessness of thinking that the one who promised peace with God was destroyed. That hopelessness, that despair, is where we find ourselves in our sin – powerless to do anything to make things right with God. Our only hope is the beautiful reality expressed in Ephesians 2:1-10 – that God has saved us by his grace because of Christ’s sacrifice. If you don’t know that hope, I implore you as earnestly as humanly possible to seek it at the cross. Christ stands ready to save. As Jonathan Edwards put it, he has “flung wide open the floodgates of mercy.” If you are walking in that hope, then I pray that you will look the horrible, monstrous reality of your sin squarely in the face, that you might realize the incomparable scope and power of the amazing grace of our Lord.
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