Good Friday 30/03/2018
Reading 1 – Jn.19:1-
Reading 2 – Jn.19:17-
Reading 3 – Jn.19:38-
The Jewish leadership had been trying to get rid of Jesus for three years
Now they have Jesus in their power as Judas has betrayed his Master to them
But having arrested him is not enough; they want the death penalty – but how?
He must be handed over to the Roman authorities and this is done early on Friday morning
The Jewish leadership shows itself to have a poor view of what really matters – they are meticulous about ceremonial, outward purity while at the same time orchestrating the deliberate condemnation of an innocent man on trumped up charges
Pilate was a man of the world and quickly saw through their pretentions – these leaders were envious of Jesus’ influence and popularity and that was the real reason they wanted him out of the way
At first Pilate doesn’t play ball, he won’t merely rubber-
After this process is over Pilate pronounces Jesus to be innocent of the charges laid against him and offers to release Jesus – strange that he should consider retaining an innocent man but he evidently saw Jesus as a trouble maker even if not guilty of the charges that had been brought against him
The Jewish leadership however won’t have any of this – they want to end with Jesus and now, they feel, is their opportunity and they don’t want to miss it
No, not Jesus, set Barabbas free instead. There were three crosses scheduled for use later that day – and Barabbas was to be executed on one of them: he was a notorious prisoner, a thief who had committed murder during a recent insurrection. They would rather have this man set free than the man from Nazareth in Galilee who only went about doing good
Pilate failed in his attempts to set Jesus free and seems to take out his frustration on the prisoner he has already declared to be innocent: a flogging is ordered and then Jesus was handed over to the soldiers so that they might have some rough, cruel fun at his expense
Despite this harsh treatment Pilate still considers Jesus to be an innocent man and, after bringing him out before them, he openly, for the second time, declares him to be so
However, if Pilate thought the sight of a bloodied and bruised Jesus would give rise to some feelings of compassion among the crowd, feelings of sympathy which which might allow him to set the prisoner at liberty, he was badly mistaken
The mere sight of him excites the leaders and they bay for his blood with cries of "Crucify him, crucify him!"
Pilate is at a loss to understand their hatred for Jesus and for the third time affirms that Jesus is innocent of any crime worthy of death under Roman law – three times and Pilate could not have spoken any more clearly:
"I find no guilt in him" (Jn.18:38, 19:4, 6.)
Sensing that they have the upper hand the Jewish leadership will not take "no" for an answer and continue to press Pilate to execute Jesus. Their enemy has not only claimed kingship he has also made himself about to be the very Son of God and for that he must die
Pilate is shocked and greatly troubled by what he hears: Who is this man who stands in the dock? And Pilate is afraid – Jesus is unlike any other prisoner he has ever dealt with, he is so calm and makes no effort to plead for his life, he won’t even give Pilate an answer to his latest question. Frustrated and manipulated Pilate appeals to his authority but even that makes no impact upon the prisoner – Jesus simply isn’t intimidated by him at all. What is Pilate to do?
Convinced of Jesus’ innocence Pilate tries repeatedly to set Jesus free but his efforts come to nothing and then he hears words that chill his blood and send shivers down his spine:
v.12 "If you release this man, you are not Caesar’s friend."
Pilate now realises that his options have disappeared – he must have this prisoner executed or else the Jewish leaders will send word to Rome that Pilate is not Caesar’s friend and that would call time on Pilate’s position in the imperial world
Pilate came out and sat down on the Judgment seat placed there on the Stone Pavement called Gabbatha and he has Jesus stand before him and asks whether they really want him to crucify their king
And when the reply comes:
"We have no king but Caesar."
Pilate abandons his attempts to act justly and instead hands Jesus over to be crucified
The rest of chapter 19 describes that solemn and serious execution. Again and again reference is made to crucifixion in this chapter – we are left in no doubt whatsoever but that Jesus was crucified that day
v.6 "crucify him, crucify him"
v.6 "Take him yourselves and crucify him..."
v.10 "I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?"
v.15 "They cried out, "Away with him, away with him, crucify him!"
v.15 "Pilate said to them, "Shall I crucify your King?"
v.16 "So he delivered him over to them to be crucified."
v.18 "There they crucified him..."
v.20 "the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city..."
v.23 "When the soldiers had crucified Jesus..."
In addition to these references to crucifixion we are also told about the cross that Jesus was made to carry and to the people who stood by the cross on which he was crucified. It was on this cross that Jesus died and from where he gave up his spirit.
The fact that Jesus did really die upon the cross and not merely pass into a coma is underlined by a couple of incidents later in the day. It was a special time and the next day was a special Sabbath. The Jewish leaders did not want any men left dying on their crosses and so spoil their special day so they went to Pilate with a particular request. They wanted him to have the legs of the men being crucified to be broken. This might sound simply cruel but it was designed to hasten death. Probably the most common way a person actually died through being crucified was by suffocation. A crucified man with the weight of his body pulling downwards has difficulty breathing – in order to continue breathing a man would have to lift his body upwards and the only way he could do this was by pressing on his feet which would of course cause him great pain. If he were unable to raise his body in this way, and with broken legs this would be impossible, death would intervene more quickly.
Now here is the point: while the soldiers broke the legs of the two criminals crucified at the same time as Jesus they didn’t need to do anything to Jesus as they saw he was already dead!
Did they make a mistake perhaps?
No, they didn’t and for a variety of reasons. One, they were used to death – much more than most of us are – they knew it when they saw it. Two, they had more than a passing interest in not getting things like this wrong – if they allowed a condemned man to escape death they knew that they would have to take his place. So, to be on the safe side they, three, plunged a spear into Jesus’ side. From that wound blood and water flowed out – a sign that death had already taken place.
I have emphasised this for a number of reasons:
Crucifixion = Death
Jesus did not merely experience bad treatment in the form of exceedingly painful torture he really died. And he had come into the world knowing that this was what was going to be required of him.
As we have seen he was an innocent victim and as such he did not deserve to die. Death is the recompense/reward that is paid for sin but this man had never sinned and yet, as we have seen, he nevertheless died and his death on a cross was a scandal. When a man died like that hung up on a tree he was considered to have died under the curse of God:
Gal.3:13 "Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree" quoting from Dt.21:23.
Why did this happen? Why was Jesus treated in such a way?
The answer is straightforward but mind-
Jn.3:16 "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life."
God gave his Son, yes, God sent Jesus into the world in order that he might save his people from their sins and to be the Saviour of the World. This Jesus has done. By means of his death on our behalf and in our place Jesus has "redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us."
This is the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is the truth that puts the Good into Good Friday
God the Father loves us so much and in such an extraordinary way – he didn’t keep back his Unique Son but sent him to save us
God the Son loves us and was ready to do his Father’s bidding as this was the only way by which God could maintain his holiness and justice while at the same time saving sinners from a lost eternity
God the Spirit concurs fully with this magnificent divine plan and demonstrates his love for us in convincing us firstly of our need of salvation and then of the worthiness of the Saviour to whom he directs us
But Good Friday is just the beginning – Easter Sunday with the resurrection was soon to follow!