The Cross

The Cross from Stephen Sizer on Vimeo.

When a hospital consultant reveals a serious medical condition that will probably shorten your life without a major operation, it can be a little unsettling. The imminent risk of a stroke is like a living death sentence. It changes your outlook on life. Your priorities. Then, just as suddenly, to be given the all clear is like being given your life back again. Although from now on, whether due to a mis-diagnosis or a miracle, you are grateful. Life feels good. That is how we should feel because of what happened that first Good Friday.

The Cross. It struck fear in the hearts of the world. It was Rome’s means of control. Excruciating torture. Prolonged agony. Humiliating death. According to Roman custom, the penalty of crucifixion was always preceded by scourging.  After this initial punishment, you carried your cross, or at least the transverse beam of it, to the place of execution.
Besides the physical pain there was also the psychological torture. Because crucifixion was a public form of execution.

The crosses were located by the roadside or at a crossroads. There was no hiding. You were exposed to the jibes and insults of the people who passed by.  Stripped naked, you were bound to the cross with cords and fastened with nails like these here.
Roman nails, 2000 years old. You can place them in your hands after the service.

Finally, a placard called the titulus bearing your name and your crime, was placed above your head. You would not die of hunger or thirst, but might hang on the cross for several days. To breathe, you must stretch upward and stand to take the weight on your legs and off your arms and chest. So if your legs were broken, death would come mercifully swift with asphyxiation. In this way it was possible to take down the corpse on the very evening of the execution such as a Sabbath.  But your corpse could not be taken down, unless specially authorized in the sentence of death. Permission would also be necessary for a burial. It is remarkable that all of this the Bible records with the simple words, “Finally, Pilate handed Jesus over to be crucified.” (John 19:16). This morning the children have had their own activities. They were finding out why today is called “Good Friday” Now it is our turn. Lets examine John 19:16-29 and draw out three simple reasons why today is indeed a good day.

1. The Cross was Central to God’s Rescue Plan

“So 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). Here they crucified him, and with him two others —one on each side and Jesus in the middle. (John 19:16-18)

The historical events surrounding the death of Jesus were no accident. In the Hebrew Scriptures, in Psalm 22, Psalm 69, Isaiah 53, for example, God had declared that these things would happen. Through a Passover Lamb, a ransom sacrifice, a substitute, God would rescue humanity from its sin and rebellion.  Today, we think of the cross as a symbol of glory and victory; but in Pilate’s day, the cross stood for rejection, shame, and suffering. It was Jesus who made the difference. It was customary for the criminal to carry his cross to the place of execution. The bearing of the cross was a mark of guilt; and Jesus was not guilty, he was taking our guilt upon himself. ‘There was no other good enough to pay the price of sin. The cross was central to God’s rescue plans.

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.” (John 19:19-22)

“This is Jesus of Nazareth the King of the Jews.” The chief priests protested the title, but Pilate refused to change it. The fact that this title was written in Hebrew (Aramaic), Greek, and Latin is significant. Hebrew was the language of religion, Greek of philosophy, and Latin of law; and all three combined to crucify the Son of God. But what He did on the cross, He did for the whole world. Without realizing it, Pilate was inspired to write the first “Gospel tract” when he prepared this title. Within hours one of the thieves discovered that Jesus was King, and asked entrance into His kingdom. John does not record it, but the other Gospel writers tell us that some of the people passing by reviled Jesus, no doubt at the instigation of the chief priests and scribes (Mark 15:29-32). When you read Psalm 22, you see how David used the image of animals to describe the people who persecuted our Lord: bulls (Ps. 22:12), lions (Ps. 22:13, 21), and dogs (Ps. 22:16, 20). When people reject their Lord, they become like animals, when they accept him they become like the angels. Not creation. Not Israel. Not the incarnation. Not social action. The cross and cross alone was central to God’s rescue plan for humanity – from the beginning of the world to the end of the world.

2. The Cross illustrates God’s Rescue Plan

“Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 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,” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.” (John 19:25-27)

A group of women, along with the Apostle John, stood near the cross. John specifies four women: Mary, the mother of Jesus; His mother’s sister, Salome, the mother of James and John; Mary, the wife of Clopas (Cleophas); and Mary Magdalene. The first time we meet Mary in the Gospel of John, she is attending a wedding (John 2:1-11); now she is preparing for a burial. The hour had come. She was experiencing “the sword” that had been predicted years before (Luke 2:35).

Jesus assured her of His love, and He gave her to His closest disciple, to be her adopted son and to care for her. Whether that moment John took Mary away from the scene, we do not know. We do know that he cared for her and that she was among the believers in the Upper Room as they awaited Pentecost (Acts 1:14). Even while He was performing the great work of redemption, Jesus was faithful to His responsibilities as a son. What an illustration of the meaning of the cross. When we identify with Jesus – when we trust and believe in the one who died in our place, we become adopted members of his family.

The cross is not only central to God’s redemptive plan, it not only illustrates that redemptive plan, most important of all,

3. The Cross Accomplished God’s Rescue Plan

“Later, knowing that all was now completed, and so that the Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” 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. When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.” (John 19:28-30)

Our Lord knew what was going on; He was fully in control as He obeyed the Father’s will. He had refused to drink the pain-deadening wine that was always offered to those about to be crucified (Matt. 27:34). In order to fulfill the Scriptures (Ps. 69:21), He said, “I thirst.” He was enduring real physical suffering, for He had a real human body. He had just emerged from three hours of darkness when He felt the wrath of God and separation from God (Matt. 27:45-49).

There were physical reasons for His thirst (Ps. 22:15), but there were also spiritual reasons (Ps. 42:1-2). One of the soldiers took pity on Jesus and moistened His lips with the cheap vinegar wine the soldiers drank. We must not imagine Jesus hanging many feet up in the air, almost inaccessible. His feet were perhaps three or four feet from the ground, so it would be easy for the man to put a sponge at the end of a reed and give Jesus a drink.

Our Lord made seven statements from the cross. They are known as “the seven words from the cross.” First, He thought of others: those who crucified Him (Luke 23:34), the believing thief (Luke 23:39-43), and His mother (John 19:25-27). The central word had to do with His relationship to the Father (Matt. 27:45-49); and the last three statements focused on Himself: His body (John 19:28-29), His soul (John 19:30; and see Isa. 53:10), and His spirit (Luke 23:46). All that Jesus achieved in his life and all that Jesus accomplished in his death are summed up in his very last word from the cross. “It is finished!” In Greek, just one word tetelestai. It means, “It is finished, it stands finished, and it always will be finished!” Here is the greatest word ever spoken. And here is the explanation as to why this Friday has for 2000 years been designated ‘Good’. First, it was finished because

3.1 The Consummation of the Prophetic Scriptures

Centuries earlier, the Old Testament prophets of God had prophesied many things about Jesus.

At Christmas, we remember those that predicted his birth. It had been prophesied that He would be born of a “virgin” (Isa. 7:14): It was prophesied that He should be born in Bethlehem of Judea (Mic. 5:2); Prophecy made mention of one going before Christ to make ready the way (Malachi 3:1); it is fulfilled in the person of John the Baptist. Prophecy announced that he would be despised (Isa. 53:3); that He should be rejected by the Jews (Isa. 8:14). Prophecy predicted His humiliation and crucifixion; it was vividly accomplished. There was the betrayal by a familiar friend, the forsaking by his cherished disciples, the being led to the slaughter, the being taken to judgment, the appearing of false witnesses against him, the refusal on his part to make defence, the unjust condemnation, the sentence of capital punishment passed upon him, the literal piercing of his hands and feet, the being numbered with transgressors, the mockery of the crowd, the casting lots for his garments – all predicted centuries beforehand, and all fulfilled to the very letter.

The last prophecy of all which remained before He committed His spirit into the hands of His Father had now been fulfilled. He cried “I thirst” and after the tendering of the vinegar and gall all was now “accomplished”; and as the Lord Jesus reviewed the entire scope of the prophetic word and saw its full realization, He cried, “It is finished.” The consummation of the prophetic scriptures.

3.2 The Culmination of his Personal Sufferings

“It is finished” was not the despairing cry of a helpless martyr. It is the declaration “Man of Sorrows” who willingly suffered in our place. Suffering at the hands of men, at the hands of Satan, and at the hands of God. Pain inflicted upon him by enemies and accepted by His Father. In the gospels we see how the cross was ever before Him.

At the marriage-feast of Cana, where all was gladness and merriment, He makes solemn reference to “His hour” not yet come. When Nicodemus interviewed him at night the Saviour referred to the lifting up of the Son of man. When James and John came to request from him the two places of honour in his coming kingdom, he made mention of the “cup” which he had to drink. When Peter confessed that he was the Christ, the Son of the living God, he turned to his disciples and began to show unto them “how that he must go unto Jerusalem and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day” (Matthew 16:21). When Moses and Elijah stood with him on the mount of transfiguration it was to speak of “his departure which he was about to bring to fulfilment at Jerusalem.” (Luke 9:31)

On the cross itself, the physical sufferings were agonizing but even this was nothing compared with the anguish of His soul. Now the closing hours come. The darkness over the land.

There had been the terrible experience in Gethsemane followed by His appearance before Caiaphas, before Pilate, before Herod, and back again before Pilate. There had been the scourging and mocking by the brutal soldiers; the journey to Calvary; the fastening of his hands and feet to the cruel tree. There had been the reviling of the priests, the crowd, and the two thieves crucified with him. But then, as he bore our sin, He was forsaken of the Father. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Then… “It is finished”
At last the suffering is ended. The awful storm of God’s wrath has ended. The darkness is ended. The wages of sin have been paid. The prophecies of his sufferings are all fulfilled. The cross has been “endured.” Divine holiness has been fully satisfied. With a cry of triumph – a loud cry, a cry which reverberated throughout the entire universe – the Saviour exclaims, “It is finished.” The shame and the suffering are past.

The consummation of the prophetic scriptures. The culmination of his personal sufferings.

3.3 The Completion of the Perfect Sacrifice

The mission upon which God had sent his Son into the world was now accomplished. The Son of Man had come “to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10). Christ Jesus came into the world “to save sinners” (1 Tim. 1:15). He came “to take away our sins” (1 John 3:5). All this he accomplished on the cross. Once for all people. Once for all sin. Once for all time. “It is finished.”Although the word tetelestai may be unfamiliar to us, it was an everyday word used by traders and merchants to declare:

“The debt is paid… the bill is paid in full” When Jesus gave Himself on the cross, he fully met the righteous demands of a holy law; He paid our debt in full. None of the Old Testament sacrifices could take away sins; their blood only covered sin temporarily. But the Lamb of God shed His blood, and that blood has taken away the sins of the world (John 1:29; Heb. 9:24-28). This is why, at the moment Jesus died, the Temple curtain was torn in two, from top to bottom. Now the way to God was open.

“It is finished.” The consummation of the prophetic scriptures. The culmination of his personal sufferings. The completion of the perfect sacrifice.

3.4 The Conquest over the Power of Satan

To human appearances it looked like the moment of Satan’s greatest triumph, yet in reality, it was the hour of his ultimate defeat.

It is true that Satan has not yet been chained and cast into the bottomless pit, nevertheless, sentence has been passed (though not yet executed); his doom is certain; and his power is already broken so far as believers are concerned. For the Christian the devil is a defeated foe. He was defeated by Christ at the cross – “that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil” (Heb. 2:14).
For the believer, Satan should be treated as a defeated enemy. No longer has he any legitimate claim upon us. Once we were his captives but Christ has set us free.
“It is finished.” Here is the triumphant answer to the rage of man and the enmity of Satan. It tells of the perfect work which meets sin in the place of judgment. All was completed just as God would have it, just as the prophets had foretold, just as the Old Testament sacrifices had foreshadowed, just as divine holiness demanded, and just as sinners need.

“It is finished” cries the Son of God – who then would dare to doubt or question it. “It is finished.”  The Father is satisfied with the work of Christ, are you? Repent, believe and be saved. So you too can say this is indeed “Good Friday”.