Well, friends, it’s time to steel ourselves; we’re en route to the grimmest stop along our journey. Just ahead lies Auschwitz—Poland’s site of unspeakable horrors that claimed more than a million lives under Nazi rule. But the carnage that hangs heavy in the air of this complex is nothing compared to our premeditated extermination of God’s perfect Lamb on Calvary. John writes with devastating detail about the slaughter of His best friend on Good Friday, and the effect is intense. In the furious beauty of the gospel, though, we discover a paradox: humanity’s darkest hour rips open heaven to expose its brightest light. To everyone’s shock, the gas chamber transforms into a throne room. May our steps through this concentration camp of John 19 be deliberate, reflective, and full of wonder-drenched worship for what Jesus experienced in order to rescue us from the eternal grip of death.
Scripture writing: I loved copying verses 25-27 from The Message:
Jesus’ mother, His aunt, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene stood at the foot of the cross. Jesus saw His mother and the disciple He loved standing near her. He said to His mother, “Woman, here is your son.” Then to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that moment the disciple accepted her as his own mother.
Can we pause a minute to appreciate how kind Jesus is to His mama as He endures unimaginable suffering? Pain tends to draw out the selfishness in me: I turn inward and focus on surviving. Yet here is our King, absorbing the full weight of God’s wrath, man’s evil, and hell’s fury, and He thoughtfully provides Mary a stable future in His absence.
Studying: Verse 24 in The Gospel Transformation Study Bible carries a note that
Jesus was never more sovereign than when He submitted to death on the cross. This is why the refrain ‘to fulfill the Scripture’ runs through the entire crucifixion story. Nothing was left to chance. No enemies—even as they acted according to their own volition—did anything that was unanticipated or outside the purpose of God’s sovereign providence and redemptive plan. This was the climax of all of human history. Jesus is not only the main character in this doxological drama of redemptive history; He is its writer, director, and producer.
This offers a beautiful reminder to me—as much of a dumpster fire as the close of Holy Week may have appeared from the outside, my Savior wasn’t a victim. Strength ran through His weakness every agonizing second.
Commentaries: Matthew Henry illuminates verse 34, in which a soldier pierces Jesus’ side and ruptures His pericardial sac:
When we would protest our sincerity, we wish there were a window in our hearts, that the thoughts and intents of them might be visible to all. Through this window, opened in Christ’s side, you may look into His heart and see love flaming there, love strong as death; see our names written there.
I often feel as though my life is one unending game of Chase the Savior, like I’m trying to catch Someone who shrugs at my existence. Henry’s striking visual breaks through any imagined indifference with a force that may very well stick in my mind until the day I die. The love of Christ—for me!—is passionate, personal, and persistent.
Verse 5 features Pilate parading the battered Jesus in public, hoping to assuage the religious leaders’ thirst for blood. D.A. Carson notes that:
In his dramatic utterance Here is the Man!, Pilate is speaking with dripping irony: here is the Man you find so dangerous and threatening; can you not see He is harmless and somewhat ridiculous? … But the Evangelist records the event with still deeper irony: here indeed is the Man, the Word made flesh. All the witnesses were too blind to see it at the time, but this Man was displaying His glory, the glory of the one and only Son, in the very disgrace, pain, weakness, and brutalization that Pilate advanced as suitable evidence that He was a judicial irrelevance.
With half the crowd sneering at Him and the other half screaming for His destruction, Jesus defanged the monster of suffering, turning it inward upon itself, by establishing it as the backdrop for the dazzling showcase of His splendor. Every lash Pilate authorized to humiliate and debase only served to intensify our awe of Christ’s zeal for His people.
Before we move on, I’d like to mention one brilliant quote from F.F. Bruce:
The Crucified One is the true king, the kingliest king of all; because it is He who is stretched on the cross, He turns an obscene instrument of torture into a throne of glory and “reigns from the tree.”
Sermons: In Let the Cross Wreck You, Pastor Mark comments on the belief required to trust in alternate theories to the resurrection:
That’s like trusting a rock instead of a life preserver when you’re in the ocean. Your faith is real, but not real helpful; you have the wrong object of your faith.
Despite what skeptics might argue, we all place faith in something to make sense of the world. Even unbelievers cast their belief outside of themselves: whether they trust that the universe is going to take care of them or that the universe is a bunch of rocks thrown together with a bang, faith accompanies bearing a soul. And where we direct that faith is a matter of life and death.
Perhaps my favorite observation from John MacArthur was this:
The death of Christ on the cross is the purest act of love ever. It is the most perfect sacrifice for sin, and the only one that atones. It is the noblest gift that heaven ever gave sinners. And it is the highest form of divine justice. It is so rich an event that a lifetime, an eternity, cannot absorb its full glory.
That last sentence is loaded with power. If we ever consider the cross and yawn, we’ve utterly missed the meaning of life.
Journaling: As I worked through verses 31-42 (the story of how Jesus relied on others to claim, clean, prepare, and bury His body, all at their great personal expense), the Spirit revealed that
Christ did not reject His neediness in the Father’s plan; He accepted requiring help from His community. Why do I thrash against the weakness of my own lack, refusing to be cared for, when the King of Heaven allowed Himself such a position? My refusal is either pride: I can do this (i.e., everything) by myself, in my own sufficiency; or unbelief: if I allow myself to invite help, it either won’t show up, or it will show up but will hurt me in the end. Both attitudes smother intimacy and God’s plan for His family.
Looks like I’m facing an opportunity for substantial gospel growth.
Meditation: John 19:5 says, “So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, “Behold the Man!”” We’ve already touched on this verse a bit, but when I began pondering it, a question bubbled up:
Why is it so hard for me to intently look at Jesus in this state of His suffering? Could it be sensitivity? Politeness? Or maybe because it kills a little of my ego to see what lengths it took for Him to spare me from my own best efforts and worst vices?
Here’s the bottom line: nothing short of the death of God could save me from myself. But far from smashing my sense of worth, humbly accepting such a fact fills me with more significance and joy than I’d ever dreamed possible. This is how we become human.
Cast your eyes back over these crumbling barracks and barbed wire fences one last time, friends. I understand if words are few as we file onto the bus, emotions surging like waves. But take heart! The best is yet to come, and it’s just around the next corner. Wait for it.
*Following the study schedule right along, my binder has thickened up with doodles, prayers, and tons of background information on the text. This summary is just the condensed version, the highlights of each approach—you can find my full binder notes for John 19 here.
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