Sermon on John 19:17-37 – “The Suffering of the Servant”

Sermon for Sunday, October 18th, 2020 at First Presbyterian Church at Unionville, NY (BPC)

Old Testament reading:

[Isa 53:3-6 ESV] 3 He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. 4 Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. 5 But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. 6 All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned–every one–to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

New Testament reading:

[Heb 13:7-17 ESV] 7 Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. 8 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. 9 Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings, for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, which have not benefited those devoted to them. 10 We have an altar from which those who serve the tent have no right to eat. 11 For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy places by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp. 12 So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. 13 Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. 14 For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come. 15 Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. 16 Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God. 17 Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.

Gospel reading:

[Jhn 19:17-37 ESV] 17 and he went out, bearing his own cross, to the place called The Place of a Skull, which in Aramaic is called Golgotha. 18 There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, and Jesus between them. 19 Pilate also wrote an inscription and put it on the cross. It read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” 20 Many of the Jews read this inscription, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and it was written in Aramaic, in Latin, and in Greek. 21 So the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, “Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews,’ but rather, ‘This man said, I am King of the Jews.'” 22 Pilate answered, “What I have written I have written.” 23 When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his garments and divided them into four parts, one part for each soldier; also his tunic. But the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom, 24 so they said to one another, “Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see whose it shall be.” This was to fulfill the Scripture which says, “They divided my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots.” So the soldiers did these things, 25 but standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” 27 Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home. 28 After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst.” 29 A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth. 30 When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. 31 Since it was the day of Preparation, and so that the bodies would not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), the Jews asked Pilate that their legs might be broken and that they might be taken away. 32 So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first, and of the other who had been crucified with him. 33 But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. 34 But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water. 35 He who saw it has borne witness–his testimony is true, and he knows that he is telling the truth–that you also may believe. 36 For these things took place that the Scripture might be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken.” 37 And again another Scripture says, “They will look on him whom they have pierced.”

INTRODUCTION

Today we are going to be looking at the many and various sufferings of Jesus Christ, especially upon the cross of Calvary.

Many of these Biblical places, like Calvary (or Golgotha) are difficult to precisely locate today. There are some competing locations of the place of Christ’s death. Whenever a location within Jerusalem is discussed we have to understand that the Biblical locations are often underground. Doesn’t that seem strange? Well the city of Jerusalem has been built and rebuilt time and time again. And when building happens it is often on top of the rubble of that which was there before. So entire roads, walls, and even buildings are now underground.

Well one of these possible locations of Calvary is at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. And you can go in there and see a rock that might be of the hill of Calvary. Like so much in the Holy Land, this location was chosen in the 4th century to be identified with something of the New Testament. And while the choosing might have been right some of the time, mistakes were likely made as well.

If the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is truly the place of Calvary—the place of Jesus’ death on the cross—then it would have been outside of the city walls at that time. And there is some debate about whether this location was inside the city or outside of it. While the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is clearly within the city walls today, the walls in Jesus’ time might have left this location to be slightly outside of the city.

There are other contenders for the site. One that I visited seems particular interesting. It is a place called “Gordon’s Calvary” named after a British Major-General who supported this location as Calvary back in the 19th century. And there you can see in the shape cliff what almost looks like a skull, and Calvary was known as Golgotha, the place of the skull. And this location is outside of the city as well. This location is still a mostly empty hill, and so one can much more easily picture the crucifixion there. It takes more imagination at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre to imagine what it might have looked like before the church was built there.

The location of Calvary is one of those things we can put in the “interesting” category but ultimately is not essential to the Faith.

Far more essential than the WHERE is the WHAT. What happened at Calvary?

This is the site of the suffering and death of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Our account in John’s Gospel simply says “There (at Golgotha) they crucified him.” John did not need to repeat all that the other Gospel writers had said about the crucifixion. But he does provide a number of details of an eyewitness. There was the inscription (in three languages) reading “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” He speaks of the soldiers dividing Jesus’ garments. He speaks of the women who were present – Mary the mother of Jesus, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. He speaks of a jar full of sour wine and a sponge on a hyssop branch. And he speaks of the spear that the soldiers thrust into the body of Jesus Christ.

If there is one verse then which we shall focus on today it is 18: “There they crucified him.”

This was the culmination of the suffering of the servant.

And the suffering took a number of forms.

Jesus suffered in betrayal, mockery, public visibility, and physical pain.

I. Betrayal

On betrayal, I’ve previously preached on this subject – Judas had betrayed Jesus. And this is not a good feeling when someone betrays. It can take months, years to get it out of your head. But Judas’ betrayal of Jesus was only a day or so previous. It would still be a recent event. And while Jesus knew ahead of time and had prophesied that one of his own disciples would betray him, it certainly still would have been a difficult thing to go through.

Peter, of course, had denied Christ three times as well. In God’s grace Peter would be brought back into the Faith.

But these betrayals, on the mind of Christ, would add to his suffering.

II. Mockery

Then there was the mockery. Mockery added to the suffering of the servant.

Much of the mockery Jesus suffered was in regards to his kingship. And this is what had been at issue in his interrogation by Pilate. “Are you the Kings of the Jews.”

And so, they mocked the claim by giving him a crown of thorns, a purple or scarlet robe, a reed as a scepter, and a sign declaring in three languages for all to read “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.”

a. Crowns go way back in history. Many believe that the points of a crown symbolize strength patterned after the points of a strong bull’s horns. The crown of thorns made for Jesus had a dual purpose in his suffering. It was of both mockery and of physical pain as the thorns dug into his scalp.

b. Then there was the robe. Matthew calls it scarlet. John calls it purple. This isn’t a discrepancy in the witnesses. The color they are referring to that which was terribly expensive the ancient world, made from dye from the murex shells in Lebanon. It was a color word primarily by kings and the very wealthy. The color now is called Tyrian Purple after the city of Tyre in Lebanon. And it can look nearly scarlet. So John and Matthew are both saying the same thing.

c. Also mocking Jesus’ kingship and adding to his suffering is the reed given as a scepter. This read also was involved in Jesus’s physical suffering as both Matthew and Mark recount the soldiers struck Jesus on the head with the reed.

d. Then, lastly, of the King references we have not a symbol but an explicit statement in the sign put up by Jesus. If you didn’t get make the connection with the symbols you certainly couldn’t avoid the sign. And it is fascinating that the sign tells the truth. While the Chief Priests argued that it should say “The man said I am King of the Jews,” Pilate left it as written “The King of the Jews.”

The True king. Despite the mockery and the consequent suffering, Jesus is the True King.

III. Public Visibility

The suffering of the servant then continues beyond the betrayal and the mockery and into the public visibility.

a. Public visibility

Now the Scriptures nowhere state that Calvary or Golgotha is on a hill. This is later tradition. But whether or not Jesus was crucified on a hill, it would have been visible for all to see. Jerusalem was the most populous city in the region and many people were there for the Passover festival. His crucifixion did not occur in hiding. This was public. It was to warn others not to do what he did.

b. His own mother

Now, Jesus being seen by all would add to his suffering. Particular in that his own mother was there witnesses this spectacle. His own mother. Her grief might have been muted for her own protection, but Jesus would still know her grief. And can there be any grief greater than that of a mother for her child.

c. Death on a cross – a criminal’s death

Finally, as for the suffering Jesus went through in its public visibility, he was dying a criminal’s death, a death on the cross. This was not an honorable way to die. This was the lowest form. He was despised by men.

All of these sufferings then were ongoing for Jesus before we even consider the physical pains he endured. The betrayal, the mockery, the visibility all add to his suffering. And these are often overlooked as we consider the absolute terribleness of the physical pains of the crucifixion.

IV. Physical Pains

Before the actual crucifixion took place, Jesus had already endured some physical pains. I mentioned the crown of thorns cutting into his scalp. Then also—even before Jesus’ trail had ended—he was scourged. Before any verdict was given! He was whipped with scraping and ripping scourges of sharp and painful bits of glass, nails rocks, etc., bringing excruciating pain. So much so that Jesus went into his next physical ordeal — carrying the cross — he was unable to complete the task and Simon of Cyrene finished the carry.

All of this BEFORE the crucifixion.

Then there was the crucifixion. That Roman instrument of execution. And Jesus wasn’t the only or the first to die this way. This is how Romans commonly executed criminals. And there was an archaeological discover that found a nail through a human foot-bone. And of course this was not Jesus’s foot bone, because He Is Risen. It is evidence of another being crucified. And even at Christ’s death there were two others—criminals—being crucified at the same time.

Putting Jesus up for all to see they nailed his feet and his hands to the cross. [REPEAT: They nailed his feet and hands to the cross!] We’ve heard this and know it so well that it might not even be so shocking to us. But shocking it is! And painful it was.

Now I can’t pretend to be a medical doctor or even play one on tv, but I must imagine that these locations for nails are extremely painful. One on each extremity. Compounding the pain the confounding the mind to the pains from all directions.

There has long been discussion as to whether precisely the nails went through. It might be that the wrist is included in the idea of “hand” and that the nails were more truly through Jesus’ wrists. This, it is thought, would hold his weight to the cross better than a nail through the hand would.

Incidentally, if the nail went through the wrist, that embarrasses those monks who have claimed connection with Christ through a stigmata, a likely self-induced bleeding, in the palms of their hands.

And I’ve never heard a discussion of where in the feet (or ankles) those nails would have gone.

Incidentally, in the crucifixion accounts in the Gospels, there is no mention of the nails. But we find later in John’s Gospel, “doubting” Thomas saying

[Jhn 20:25 ESV] “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.”

So there is plural “nails” in the hands, but no mention there of nails in the feet.

But Jesus says in Luke:

[Luk 24:39 ESV] 39 See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.”

Now he wouldn’t mention his feet if there wasn’t some reason. They too had been pierced.

This fulfills the prophecy of Psalm 22:

[Psa 22:16 ESV] 16 For dogs encompass me; a company of evildoers encircles me; they have pierced my hands and feet–

I always assumed that just as there were two nails for the hands (one for each) that there would have been two nails for the feet (one for each). But some think that the feet would have been placed on top of one another and a single nail hammered through them both and into the wood behind them.

Despite all of these pains and blood loss, it is commonly thought that the actual cause of death for the victim of crucifixion was asphyxiation. A person simply cannot breath in that hung position, especially as their lungs fill up with blood and whatever else.

All of these pains then came together upon Christ on the cross. From the crown of thorns to the nails in his feet and most places in between, he was in great agony. The circumstances added to that suffering.

No doubt there were elements of Jesus’ “humiliation” during his life preceding the cross. But at the cross was a spike in those pains. It might be likened to the maps of the Appalachian Trail. There are mountains to climb consequent suffering, but in the last page of the guidebook there is a sudden spike in the elevation chart as one comes to Mt. Katahdin in the wilds of Maine. Jesus’ life had much suffering – a forty day fast in the wilderness, many followers in Galilee leaving him, his father’s death (not recorded in the Scriptures), the death of Lazarus for whom Jesus wept, and surely much additional suffering. But the culmination of his suffering was compounded many times over these. It was surely greater than any man has endured. He was a man of sorrows.

CONCLUSION

If Jesus were just a man, then this suffering might be of historical note and no more. But Jesus was more than just a man; he was God in the flesh. And so his suffering had a purpose. And my preaching on the suffering of Christ has a purpose. It is not to gross you out or depress you or garner sympathy for Jesus, rather the purpose is so that you might believe all the more strongly that Jesus is the Son of God in whose suffering and death the prophecies of the Old Testament were fulfilled. And that you might know that Jesus Christ suffered and died for your salvation as a child of God, renewed in His spirit.

Matthew, Mark, and Luke have similar passages that show Jesus’ own prophecy of fulfillment in suffering: “From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and SUFFER many things from the elders and chief priest and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.”

But elsewhere in the NT we have reference to an Old Testament prophecy of suffering:

Jesus himself said,

“Thus it is written, that the Christ should SUFFER and on the third day rise from the dead” [Luk 24:46 ESV]

And it is standard fare in the sermons in the book of Acts:

There Peter says: But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ would SUFFER, he thus fulfilled.” [Act 3:18 ESV]

And also in Acts, Paul is said to go into the Synagogues of the Jews, reason with them and “explain and prove that it was necessary for the Christ to SUFFER and to rise from the dead.” And he said, “This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ.”[Act 17:3 ESV]

Finally, in Acts, when Paul is making his defense before King Agrippa, he says:

[Act 26:22-23 ESV] 22 To this day I have had the help that comes from God, and so I stand here testifying both to small and great, saying nothing but what the prophets and Moses said would come to pass: 23 that the Christ must SUFFER and that, by being the first to rise from the dead, he would proclaim light both to our people and to the Gentiles.”

Where then is this prophecy of suffering?

We certainly find it in Isaiah who speaks of the Suffering Servant.

[Isa 53:3-4 ESV] 3 He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. 4 Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.

We also hear of a suffering savior in a number of the Psalms. (2, 22) and in the prophet Zechariah (12:10).

But why? Why the suffering? This too is foretold in Isaiah. It is for us. [REPEAT: It is for us]

[Isa 53:5-6 ESV] 5 But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. 6 All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned–every one–to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

The suffering of Christ was not gratuitous. It had a purpose.

It brings us peace with. It heals us from the death of sin.

Christ suffered for your sake and for mine. Praise be to God.

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