May 05, 2019
John 19:23-30

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This morning we’re going to dive back into John 19 beginning with verse 23, but before we do I want to set the scene. Pilate has sentenced Jesus to death. He’s been led from Gabbatha to Golgotha and crucified by the Roman executioners. The cross hoisted into the air sends a surge of immense pain throughout Jesus’ ravaged body as it falls into place.

As Jesus adjusts to these excruciating conditions, the soldiers take the sign that had been hung around His neck and nail it to the post above His head. Scripted by Pontius Pilate it simply read, “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.” The irony of such a declaration is even further illustrated by the “crown of thorns” Jesus is still wearing while hanging on the cross.

If I may take just a moment to add something to our commentary, what a twist in the larger narrative of Scripture that Jesus — the perfect Son of God — had placed upon His head none other than a “crown of thorns!” The imagery and symbolism is not to be mistaken.

After the original rebellion and sin of Adam the following curse was given to him by God… Genesis 3:17-19, “Then to Adam He said, ‘Because you have heeded the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree of which I commanded you, saying, 'You shall not eat of it': Cursed is the ground for your sake; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you, and you shall eat the herb of the field. In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for dust you are, and to dust you shall return.’”

Understand such a crown that Jesus wore would never have been possible if not for the sin of mankind. Thorns were never apart of God’s created order — never part of the plan. In truth thorns were yielded from the earth as a simple reminder of man’s fallen condition and the ultimate curse that resulted. It’s not an accident that after stripping Jesus of all earthly possessions Satan mockingly crowned Jesus with the thorns of man’s sin!

What a profound statement Jesus was making to all of humanity by willingly allowing Himself to be crowned with thorns! As you looked to the cross on Calvary, the thorns atop Jesus’ head would serve as a stark reminder as to why He hung on that tree in the first place. 

It was the sin of man Jesus was crucified to atone for, the curse of old He laid down His life to reverse, the very men which became the thorn of God’s creation Jesus died to redeem. 

Missionary Elisabeth Elliot makes an interesting observation about this particular crown of thorns worth noting. She once said, “The only crown Jesus ever wore on earth was a crown of thorns.” Amazingly, according to Revelation 2:10, because Jesus was willing to wear a “crown of thorns” you and I might one day dawn the “crown of life.”

From roughly 9AM to 3PM Jesus is left to choose between pain and more pain. For six hours the only way to avoid the burning torment from the nails driven through His wrists was by pushing Himself upward on the nail driven through His feet tearing the nerves between the metatarsal bones. As you can imagine each of these two options was equally agonizing! 

Aside from this horrific dynamic, Jesus’ experience was exacerbated even further by the inescapable craps that quickly resulted. As His arms and legs fatigue — made worse by the dehydration and loss of blood from the scourging — Jesus undergoes waves of wrenching cramps sweeping throughout His muscles, knotting them in a deep, relentless throb. 

As all of this continues to happen it doesn’t take long for Jesus to struggle pushing Himself upward to inhale and exhale. As minutes turn to hours, Jesus’ fight is no longer choosing between the torment in His wrists or feet, but the simple fight to raise Himself up in order to get even one short breath. In fact a crucifixion death was often caused by asphyxiation. 

It’s also worth pointing out that contrary to most of the common depictions of the crucifixion scene Jesus was not perched high above the onlookers. A Roman cross was instead designed to lift the prisoner no more than a few feet into the air keeping the individual at eye-level. History says it wasn’t abnormal for a man to die by being eaten by jackals.

With this mind, the following account provided in Matthew 27:39-43 becomes all the more degrading. He writes, “And those who passed by blasphemed Jesus, wagging their heads and saying, ‘You who destroy the temple and build it in three days, save Yourself! If You are the Son of God, come down from the cross.’ Likewise the chief priests also, mocking with the scribes and elders, said, ‘He saved others; Himself He cannot save. If He is the King of Israel, let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe Him. He trusted in God; let Him deliver Him now if He will have Him; for He said, 'I am the Son of God.’"

While the other Gospel writers focus on Jesus’ experiences, as the only disciple who was present, John could never shake the scene he witnessed around the cross. He focuses first on the indifference of the soldiers before then recounting the grief of a group of women. 

John 19:23-24, “Then the soldiers, when they had crucified Jesus, took His garments and made four parts, to each soldier a part, and also the tunic (more in likely Jesus was either completed naked as He hung on the cross or was given a small loin cloth). Now the tunic was without seam, woven from the top in one piece. 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 (Psalms 22:18): ‘They divided My garments among them, and for My clothing they cast lots.’ Therefore the soldiers did these things.”

What a terrible scene to have witnessed! Here you have the Savior of the world hanging on His cross and these Roman soldiers not only standing by completely oblivious as to the significance of the moment, but they’re dividing up His clothing among themselves. 

Historically, we know that because of the length of time a Roman crucifixion would typically last, a group of four soldiers were required to remain at the place of execution until the death of the prisoner. To kill the monotony John recalls how they take Jesus’ garments and divide them into four equal parts. Because only the “tunic” remained and it would be a waist to “tear it” it into four parts, these men decide to “cast lots” for the final article of clothing.

John takes the time to tells us that this particular “tunic” was unique because it had been crafted “without seam, woven from the top in one piece.” The reason this is worthy of mention centered upon the fact that according to Exodus 28:21-32 such a seamless tunic was specifically designed to be worn by the High Priest. Again, it’s not an accident that in the Book of Hebrews Jesus is constantly referred to as our great “High Priest.”

In commenting on this act of the soldiers brazenly dividing up Jesus’ garments among themselves, David Guzik writes, “This shows that Jesus came all the way down the ladder to accomplish our salvation. He let go of everything – even His last bit of clothing – becoming completely poor for us that we could become completely rich in Him.”

Though it’s clear John includes this detail to illustrate how Psalms 22 was ultimately fulfilled in the insensitive actions of the soldiers, the overarching point of including such a detail was to highlight the initial indifference of these pagan men. In a scene with such an incredible eternal consequence these men were more interested in earthly gains!

It may also be that John adds this detail to increase the gravity of a conclusion all of these soldiers would reach concerning Jesus by the end of their experiences that day. In Matthew 27:50-54 we are told, “And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit. Then, behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth quaked, and the rocks were split, and the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; and coming out of the graves after His resurrection, they went into the holy city and appeared to many. So when the centurion and those with him, who were guarding Jesus, saw the earthquake and the things that had happened, they feared greatly, saying, ‘Truly this was the Son of God!’”

For a man who spends any significant time at the cross of Christ his perspective of Jesus will inevitably change. In light of His sacrifice who cares about any earthly gains! My guess is not one of these men ever wore an article of the clothing they had divided up.

John 19:25-27, “Now there stood by the cross of Jesus His mother, and His mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus therefore saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing by (this was John), He said to His mother, ‘Woman, behold your son!’ Then He said to the disciple, ‘Behold your mother!’ And from that hour that disciple took her to his own home.”

In Mark 15:40-41 we are given an earlier list of these women with the general inclusion of many others who were also present. Mark writes, “There were also women looking on from afar, among whom were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the Less and of Joses, and Salome, who also followed Him and ministered to Him when He was in Galilee, and many other women who came up with Him to Jerusalem.”

As you imagine the scene at the cross first picture Jesus’ mother Mary looking on. Mark describes her as “Mary the mother of James the Less and of Joses” two of Jesus’ biological half-brothers. Sadly, we find no mention of Joseph (who to be fair scholars believe had likely already passed away) nor do we find any of Jesus’ siblings present at the cross.

What pain Mary must have been experiencing herself to watch in horror as her firstborn Son hung on the cross? So many years before God had given her specific promises about His eternal destiny. She knew Jesus had come specifically to “save His people from their sins.” I’m confident nothing had prepared her to witness His crucifixion! What salvation cost!

Through tears Mary recalled the moment the angel appeared telling her she had conceived the Son of God — changing her life forever! I’m sure as those who passed by the cross mocked and humiliated Him, Mary remembered that still night in Bethlehem when Jesus had been born and the testimony of the shepherds who’d arrived at that humble stable. 

There is no question as Mary watched Jesus struggle to breath she considered the day she and Joseph had presented Him in the Temple and both Simeon and Anna bore witness that her baby boy was the promised Savior! As she watches her Son Jesus die on the cross the unique gifts given to Him by the Wise Men of “golf, frankincense, and myrrh” come to mind.

With her was “Mary Magdalene.” According to the Biblical record provided in Mark 16:9 this Mary, who’d come from the city of Magdala, had become a disciple of Jesus after He graciously liberated her from the possession of seven demons who had tormented her. How helpless she must have felt knowing there was nothing she could do for her Savior!

While we have no other Biblical information provided about “Mary the wife of Clopas” or more specifically Cleophas, early church father Hegesippus believed Cleophas was in actuality the brother of Joseph — making this particular Mary Jesus’ aunt and his mother’s sister-in-law. 

She was there when Joseph’s betrothed wife had mysteriously turned up pregnant. And yet over the years her skepticism had turned to faith as she watched a young Jesus grow up!

It is likely the woman John presents as “His mother’s sister” and Mark’s account of a woman named “Salome” are in fact the same woman. According to earthly church father Eusebius, Salome (also known in Matthew 27 as Mary) was the sister of Mary (Jesus’ mother) as well as the cousin of Elizabeth (the mother of John the Baptizer). 

If Eusebius’ claims hold true, Salome would also be “the mother of the sons of Zebedee” making Jesus cousins with both James and his brother John. Not only would this explain the deep relational connection Jesus had with these men, but it sheds more context on the motivation behind Jesus entrusting the care of His mother Mary with her nephew John.

It’s worth noting that this group of women were not only at the cross because they shared a relational connection with Jesus, but Mark describes them as those who “followed and ministered to Him.” In the Greek this word “followed” meant to walk along the same road.

This word defines who these women were. Each of them had become genuine disciples of Jesus. Each of them had each encountered Jesus in their own unique way. They were all willing to follow Him wherever that path might lead. And unlike His male disciples — John excluded, this group of women had no problems publicly identifying with Him at the cross.

Mark also writes that they “ministered to Him.” While the first defined who they were, this second word described what they did! In the Greek the word means to serve or to wait at a table. If fact, this is the same word we’ll later find translated into English as “deacon.” 

As “followers” of Jesus these women disciples apparently focused their time, energy, and efforts serving Jesus by caring for many of the practical needs of His ministry. According to Luke 8 we’re told they even went so far as to “provided for Him from their substance.”

There is no doubt their pursuit of Jesus had led them to an unexpected destination — the cross of Calvary. Jesus had touched each of their lives in powerful ways. Their love for Him and desire to serve Him was birthed as a reciprocation of His love and service to them. I’m sure their presence at the cross proved to be amazing encouragement to Jesus.

In light of their testimony and in contrast to the myriad of disciples who’d forsaken Jesus… What kind of disciple are you? If you’re following Jesus for selfish reasons, you will inevitably choose a more convenient path when your journey finds itself at a cross. 

However, if you’re following Jesus because of who He is and what He’s done for you, then you’ll not only be willing to follow Him even if it leads to a cross, but as demonstrated by these women you’ll be the first to experience the glory that follows. As we’ll see it will be this same group of ladies who will be the first to witness the empty tomb!

Beyond all of that, it’s worth noting that while dying for the sins of the world Jesus takes a moment to take care of His mother! Because His earthly brothers were nowhere to be found, Jesus — as her first born son — entrusted Mary to John. Recalling this special moment John tells us, “And from that hour that disciple took her to his own home.”

Though I feel an inclination to stay true to our exposition through John’s account, it’s worth you knowing that during these six long hours Jesus will eventually make seven statements from the cross. First, in the moments following His crucifixion, Jesus will intercede for mankind, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do!” (Luke 23:34). 

Then at some point an interesting exchange will occur between the two thieves who’d been crucified to His right and left followed by an appeal by one of these unnamed men for Jesus to “remember him when He entered His kingdom.” In response to the man’s faith, Jesus will declare, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43).

In a harmonizing of the accounts it’s likely Jesus’ instructions to John to care for Mary would make up His third statement. Then at Noon Jesus will make His fourth declaration when He cries out, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani? which is translated, My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me?” Immediately the sky darkens. Most Bible scholars believe it’s at this point something mystical takes place as Jesus “who knew no sin became sin for us.”

For six long hours Jesus had endured an unrelenting torment caused by these cycles of twisting, joint-rending cramps, intermittent asphyxiation, and searing agony as tissue is torn from His lacerated back as He moves up and down against the rough timber just to breathe. 

As time progresses Jesus’ heart begins to struggle as it pumps heavy, thick, sluggish, oxygen-deprived blood into the tissues and organs. As His tortured lungs are making frantic efforts to gasp even small gulps of air a deep and crushing pain begins to rise within His chest as the pericardium slowly fills with serum and starts to compress His heart.

At 3 PM and following three hours of darkness Jesus can now feel the chill of death creeping throughout His body. As the darkness that had covered the earth begins to give way to light, according to John 19:28, “After this, Jesus, knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the Scripture might be fulfilled, said, ‘I thirst!’” 

Aside from the practical reality that Jesus wants something to drink so He can utter His last two statements for the world to hear, the spiritual implications of these two words “I thirst” coming from the mouth of Christ continues to reinforce the idea that Jesus has been separated from His Father. Never before has it been recorded that Jesus “thirst!”

In response to this request… John 19:29, “Now a vessel full of sour wine was sitting there; and they filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on hyssop, and put it to His mouth. So when Jesus had received the sour wine (now mustering the energy to cry out with a loud voice), He said, ‘It is finished!’ And bowing His head, He gave up His spirit.”

According to Luke 23:46 between this declaration and the moment “He gave up His spirit” Jesus will for the final time press His torn feet against the nail, straighten His legs, take one final breath and cry out, “Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit.” Most notably, this tells us Jesus didn’t die. His life was “given” and “committed” to His Father. It wasn’t taken from Him.

Additionally, Jesus’ use of this word “Father” in His last declaration from the cross indicates the separation that had taken place when He became sin and asked, “My God, My God why have You forsaken Me?” had now been restored once His sacrifice for sin accepted.

Immediately following His passing the Gospel narrative records a series of supernatural events that occur in Jerusalem. A great earthquake rattles the city, the veil in the Temple is torn from top to bottom, and graves are opened. As a witness to all of these things the Centurion overseeing the crucifixion declares, “Surely this man was the Son of God.”

In closing, I want to return to the implications and timing of this statement, “It is finished!” In the original Greek we have one word “Tetelesti.” First, keep in mind, this was a common cultural phrase in Greek literature meaning to bring to a close. Economically, the word signified an account had been paid in full. In regards to legal affairs when a prisoner finished his sentence the word would be nailed onto the prison door signifying the debt completed. 

Secondly, the word itself and specifically the way Jesus used it was in the perfect tense. A literal translation would read, “It is finished. It has been finished. It will always be finished!” There is no mistaking the permanent ramifications of Jesus declaring this singular word.

In order to fully comprehend what is happening in this moment and more importantly its significance you need to define “It” — what had Jesus actually finished? You see the work Jesus completed on the cross was the work of redemption. Through His sacrifice Jesus once and for all satisfied the price demanded for sin so that we might be forgiven. Following His crucifixion nothing else was required for man’s salvation or ever would be!

Oswald Chambers observers, “Never build your case for forgiveness on the idea that God is your Father and He will forgive you because He loves you. That contradicts the revealed truth of God in Jesus Christ. It makes the Cross unnecessary… God forgives sin only because of the death of Christ. God could forgive people in no other way than by the death of His Son, and Jesus is exalted as Savior because of His death. The greatest note of triumph ever sounded in the ears of a startled universe was that sounded on the Cross of Christ — ‘It is finished!’ That is the final word in the redemption of humankind.”

What immediately happens when Jesus made this declaration helps us come to terms with the implications. Mark records, “Then the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.” Incredibly Josephus says this veil was 80 feet high and woven 10 inches thick. 

The reason for such a massive veil was that it divided the Temple into two sections and specifically kept the Holy of Holies private and presence of God concealed. Most interestingly, the design did not intend to protect God from man, but was crafted to protect man from God! The veil shielded sinful humanity from God’s righteousness and His wrath. 

Because of sin mankind had been permanently separated from God. The veil represented this separation. In fact, it was only once a year that only the High Priest was allowed to enter the Holy of Holies — specifically on the Day of Atonement to sprinkle blood on the altar. The act was so risky that if the priest was found in sin he would be struck dead on the spot. 

Imagine being in the Temple the moment Jesus declared “It is finished!” and this massive veil was torn in two. It is approximately 3 PM and the Temple is filled with priests busy preparing to sacrifice the last batch of Passover lambs. Then without any warning a loud tearing noise encompasses the entire building. The initial confusion that ensues quickly turns to horror as the priest see this familiar veil being “torn in two from top to bottom.” 

Because of the size of the veil itself such a tearing indicated a supernatural occurrence. No mortal man had the strength to tear a veil of that size and if they tried they would naturally begin at the bottom. God alone was tearing down this veil opening up His throne room to all! 

As the tear continues to descend the priests begin to scramble. Once the tear reaches the floor and the final piece separates, the room it was designed to conceal comes into full view. For the first time in these priests life they can peer into the Holy of Holies! Aside from this anyone looking into the Temple from the East also catches this unique perspective.

When Jesus declared from the cross “It is finished” and the payment for sin finally and permanently satisfied so that now any man could approach God as illustrated by the tearing of the veil, the activities of the Temple should have immediately ceased. There was nothing else that needed to be done — No sacrifice any longer required — No work of man necessary. In Jesus and His work on the cross man’s debt for sin had been paid in full.

In commenting on the tearing of the veil Charles Spurgeon said, “The perfect satisfaction of the Father with Christ’s work for His people so that Christ could say, ‘It is finished,’ is a ground of solid comfort to His Church forevermore! Dear Friends, once more, take comfort from this, ‘It is finished,’ for the redemption of Christ’s Church is perfected! 

There is not another penny to be paid for your full release. There is no mortgage upon Christ’s inheritance. Those whom He bought with blood are forever clear of all charges, paid for to the utmost! There was a handwriting of ordinances against you, but Christ has taken it away, He has nailed it to His Cross. ‘It is finished,’ finished forever. 

All those overwhelming debts which would have sunk you to the lowest Hell have been discharged — and they who believe in Christ may appear with boldness even before the Throne of God, itself. ‘It is finished.’ What comfort there is in this glorious Truth of God!”


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