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The Crucifixion

John 19:17-37

A thousand lessons could flow from this piece of Scripture and not lessen the number yet to be heard.

17Carrying his own cross, he went out to the place of the Skull (which in Aramaic is called Golgotha). 18Here they crucified him, and with him two others—one on each side and Jesus in the middle.

19Pilate had a notice prepared and fastened to the cross. It read: JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS. 20Many 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. 21The 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.”

22Pilate answered, “What I have written, I have written.”

23When 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.ӣ

So this is what the soldiers did.

25Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Dear woman, here is your son,” 27and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.

28Later, knowing that all was now completed, and so that the Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” 29A 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. 30When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

31Now it was the day of Preparation, and the next day was to be a special Sabbath. Because the Jews did not want the bodies left on the crosses during the Sabbath, they asked Pilate to have the legs broken and the bodies taken down. 32The soldiers therefore came and broke the legs of the first man who had been crucified with Jesus, and then those of the other. 33But when they came to Jesus and found that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. 34Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water. 35The 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. 36These things happened so that the scripture would be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken,”£ 37and, as another scripture says, “They will look on the one they have pierced.”£

38Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Now Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jews. With Pilate’s permission, he came and took the body away.

There is a difference between marriage and Christian marriage; there is a difference between schools and Christian schools; there is a difference between dying and a Christian dying. Today’s lesson will focus on what we might learn about out own death by examining the death of Christ.

The nobility of Christ’s death

There is a certain “air of mild self-assurance which a consciousness of spiritual dignity bestows upon a naturally modest disposition.”[1] That air never left Jesus of Nazareth. Throughout the entire crucifixion he keeps that spiritual dignity which befits the Son of God. As McGuffey’s Reader once put it, “Socrates died like a philosopher; Jesus Christ, like a God.”

  • Note that at no time, in any account given by the Gospels, does Jesus say anything that remotely resembles a whining, poor-me attitude. Even when his strength fails him, and Simon of Cyrene is pressed to carry the cross, he says nothing.
  • He suffers aloud, of course – but only in terms which uphold him as Son of Man or Son of God. The Son of Man thirsts; the Son of God asks why the Father has forsaken him.
  • In all this there is no rancor, no sense of spite. He maintains his spiritual dignity through it all.
Preparation for death

In the hour of his death, Jesus takes certain steps which look forward to the time when he will not be there. They are small things, perhaps, but instructive for us.

  • By far the most generous is the blanket forgiveness he asks on behalf of those who are crucifying him. We are not nearly so astonished as we should be at this; it reflects our lack of suffering for him.
  • There is also the example of the care he takes for his mother. Ordinarily, this role would naturally fall to one of Christ’s half-brothers. But Christ arranges things in his own way. The Apostle of love will care for the mother of Christ.
  • Even as he is being crucified, he remembers his mission: to seek and save the lost. As the one thief turns to him to beg mercy, he assures him that he will be in paradise that very day.
“That all might be fulfilled”

Many a lesson could be spun around the prophecies fulfilled by the Crucifixion. In this lesson, we can but briefly touch on these. It is sufficient for this lesson to note that the fulfillment of prophecy was carefully done.

But in that flurry of prophetic fulfillment we can see a bit of God’s purpose. He bows his head and then gives up his spirit. All is to be fulfilled because all is under the control of God.


One thing remains to be seen: the witness Christ has in his suffering. There are those who see this man die, and then believe. The most famous is the centurion who commanded the soldiers who crucified him. He had seen many men die on a cross before this; it was a common form of punishment. Something about the way in which Jesus died convinced this man of the truth.

The pettiness of the world

It’s not often a subject of comparison, but look at how the world around Jesus acted.

Pilate’s sign

Pilate is a good politician. He knows this man to be innocent; he hands him over to death anyway. But in so doing he extracts a price from the Jews: “We have no king but Caesar.” He now reminds the Jews of this. The sign is drawn up; it is fastened to the cross. This was a common practice; usually the crime of the one being executed is written there. Pilate knows there was no crime. So to prod the Jews he puts down just what he was told.

Unwittingly, Pilate has told the truth. The Pharisees are outraged at the title given, even on a cross. They demand its rewording.

Pilate can be a cold fish when he wants to be. You can almost picture the look by which he reminds them who represents real power around here – and who else just pledged their allegiance to Caesar. Government can be so cold and official.

The mob

The actions of the mob bring home to us some of the evils of our own time.

  • It seems a constant of the human condition that the down-trodden, the crippled, the ailing are going to be the butt of what passes for humor. We love to laugh at someone.
  • Indeed, it gets worse. Unless our laughter can inflict pain, it seems not nearly so funny.
  • Imagine, then, that such people live close to you – as in, for instance, a city. The mob is always out getting a good laugh.
The soldiers

The soldiers are all too typical of our society’s attitude towards the dying:

  • Their first concern is over money – in this instance, the victim’s clothing. This is not pretty, but have you ever been to a funeral where the real topic of discussion is simply “who gets the money?”
  • They, too , take their turn insulting him and laughing at him.
  • They have a modern counterpart: the coldly efficient staff at every large hospital. While there are many in the hospitals who seem to be angels in disguise, you also meet your share of robots.

The day of our own death

This little essay on the minor particulars of death for Christ has a motive. All of us – assuming the Lord continues to delay his return – will die. We can take some example from this death, at the very least.

Care for those still living

Just because you’re dying doesn’t let you ignore the living. Should God be so gracious as to give you some warning, or even if you’re just the careful type, here are some thoughts:

  • Financial planning should be done and in order. Somebody else is going to have the privilege of seeing to it that your wishes will be followed. Make it easy on that person; have your affairs in order and documented.
  • More subtle, but perhaps more important, are those for whom you will need to find emotional support.
  • Finally, be caring to those about you. They may seem impersonal as they go about their tasks, but they might also be looking to you and see the kindness of a Christian, even in dying and death.
Spiritual Preparation

“Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” It is a lesson of itself, for it tells us that we are not headed to some land of the clouds.

  • You are going to face your maker. Is there anything in your life you wouldn’t want to discuss with him? Then see to it that you repent of it.
  • Indeed, would you want to face him without having been forgiven?
  • Worse yet, would you come to him claiming Christ but still harboring a grudge?
Anticipate the Resurrection

It seems that our ancestors understood this a little bit better than we do. If you will look at some of the old cemeteries, you will find that the graves all face east. There is a reason for this: when the dead rise, these ones wanted to be facing in the correct direction to see Jerusalem. They were buried face up, feet toward the east. In doing this, they testified – even in death – that they believed in the Risen Lord, and in the resurrection and life to come. It was the last testimony they could make.

You may have such an opportunity too. In the hour of your death, ask your Lord for strength so that you might show all who see you that there is a difference. Christians should die the way they lived – trusting God.

[1] Dorothy Sayers, Busman’s Honeymoon, 1937, Harper &Row, paperback, page 83

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