The Excellencies of Christ and Him Crucified, A Sermon on John 19.1-37

I am in earnest this morning to speak with you about what the apostle Peter calls “the excellencies of Christ,” and what Paul calls “the wisdom and power of God.”  John teaches us that it is the divine display of His glory and love.  Indeed, the cross of Christ is that which the prophets of old labored to see, and that into which angels long to look.  It is the talk of heaven itself in our Lord’s transfiguration conversation with Moses and Elijah.  So, there is no other topic that I am more eager to discuss with you, nor any subject greater in heaven or on earth than that of Christ and Him crucified.

So, if you would turn in your Bibles to the 19th chapter of John’s Gospel.

This morning I want to spend our time in the first two general scenes of John 19 under these headings — first (1), John 19.1-16a, the rebellion of every man against the King of Glory; and second (2), John 19.16b-37, the excellencies of our Savior.

Now, “the rebellion of every man against the King of Glory” —

The crucifixion of our Savior was the climactic sin of an historical group of people.  As we have seen in our text, Jesus is mocked and tortured and killed by Roman soldiers, the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, and the Jews.  And, each set of rebels do have their own specific sins which we ought not to miss.

In John 19.1-3, we observe the Roman soldiers mocking and beating the Savior.  And, there is more than meets the eye at first glance, — it is not only mocking and beating, but also a sinful propensity towards anger and insult.  You might remember that Jesus teaches us in Mt 5, beginning in 5.21, that anger is the seedbed for violence and murder.  He says, “I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire” (Mt 5.22).  And, what do we see of these soldiers but an anger that results in violence, insults, mocking, and ultimately the murder of the King of glory.  They, then, are liable to judgment and to the hell of fire on account of their mistreatment of our excellent Savior.

Indeed, (1) the One whom the soldiers mock [in their spiritual blindness] as the King of the Jews is in fact the King of Glory, and the King of kings.  And, (2) the One whom they strike with their hands and [as Mt and Mk tell us] with a reed is the One of whom Isaiah writes, “a bruised reed He will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench” (Isa 42.3).

Now, beginning in 19.4, the soldiers drop out and the tension between Pilate and the Jews over the case of Jesus takes center stage.  Having been scourged for the first of two times, Pilate brings Jesus before the crowd dressed in mock clothing as a joke of a divine king.  Even at the sight of our bloodied Savior, the Jews, instead of pity, cried out all the more, “Crucify him, crucify him!” to which Pilate retorts, “You take him and crucify him, for I find no guilt in him.”  This is the second time in the text that John reminds us that Jesus was guiltless, and it is the first of two rising issues — (1) Is Jesus guilty? and (2) Who exactly is Jesus?  The first, “Is Jesus guilty?” was can answer immediately, and the second will be answered throughout the rest of our time together.  “Is Jesus guilty?”  John insists through Pilate that Jesus was in fact an innocent man — “not guilty.”  And, John shows through the incessant hatred of the Jews that their accusation that “he ought to die because he has made himself the Son of God” is sinfully motivated, and only true if Jesus is not who He says that He is (19.7).  But, of course, John has labored through the entirety of this gospel, and God through him, for an appeal to us — “these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (Jn 20.31).  Jesus is the innocent Son of God, which means that His crucifixion was the height of humanity’s sin.  It also means that Jesus was verified as a perfect substitute for guilty peoples like you and me.

Now, I do want us to breathe in the sins of Pilate and the Jews in the trial of Jesus, {because if we listen closely enough, I do think we observe ourselves in the matter of our Savior’s crucifixion.}  First (1) Pilate, — Pilate is spiritually blind, a man who goes against the truth that he has heard from Jesus and so proves himself to be enslaved to sin.  Near the end of Jn 18.37, Jesus says, “Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice,” to which Pilate famously responds, “What is truth?”  And, in Jn 19.8-16, Pilate is given a legacy of superstition, pride {God’s sovereign government in the death of Christ}, rivalry, mockery, injustice, and ultimately, unbelief.  He is a man of enslaved conscience — who, knowing the truth, denies it for the sake of his own political station, and as the man who, by an authority given Him by God, approves the sentence of condemnation upon the sinless Son of God.  We see this mainly in 19.8-11, where upon hearing that Jesus may be divine Pilate superstitiously fears, it appears, that the gods might curse him because he has scourged a son of the gods.  So Pilate asks Jesus of His origins, “Where are you from?”  Jesus gives him no answer {incidentally, this is quite amazing, — a guilty man would wail at the prospect of crucifixion, and how much more an innocent man, but our Lord proves Himself to be the Lamb of God who is straightened and sovereignly destined to take away the sin of the world when He, although innocent, is nevertheless “like a sheep” who “before its shearers is silent.”  Now, we need to mark what is said next.  At Jesus’ silence, Pilate pridefully presses his authority over Jesus to release him or to crucify him, and at this, our Lord does speak, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above.  Therefore he who delivered me over to you has the greater sin.”  What does our King say?  Pilate’s authority in the matter of the death of Christ is a derived authority.  God, and for that matter, Jesus is totally in control of these ceremonies.  Now, it is an unfortunate display of the sinfulness of sin that Pilate would still use that authority to crucify Jesus.  On the other hand, we ought to be immensely grateful to God that He is the sovereign governor of all things, because He then is able to take the greatest of evils, namely, the crucifixion of God the Son, and mean it, and plan it, and bring it about for our good, namely, our salvation.

But second (2), we need to observe the Jews, — their cries of crucifixion are the greatest indictment against not only Israel, but the whole world, because of all the peoples of the world, they should have loved the One that they hated even to the point of their own blasphemy and disownment of God.  It is an argument from greatest to least.  If they rejected the Messiah who had come into the world, what of the rest of the world?  Accordingly, we observe in the Jews the same spiritual hard-heartedness of their ancestors which we read of in the Old Testament.  Even as they always, with the exception of a remnant of grace, rejected their God through heinous and unbelievable sins, even desiring a human king like the rest of the nations, so here they reject their God through their hatred of the Messiah.  We observe them as lacking a moral compass, motivated by a mob, perceived — even by the unbelieving Pilate — as jealous and envious of Jesus, hypocritical in their religiosity, and desiring self-rule, to break the bonds of God’s sweet reign for their love of the bonds of sin.    Indeed, their sin makes them senseless and blasphemous even to the point of saying as their fathers of old did to the prophet Samuel, “Appoint for us a king to judge us like all the nations,” to which God replied to Samuel, “they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them” (1 Sam 8.5, 7).  And in like manner this group of Jews, in the presence of their King, the King of kings, cried out as we see in 19.15, “We have no king but Caesar.”  And this makes them also deserving of death on a cross like that one of which they beg for Jesus.

Now, what John does in 19.16a is bring these three strands, the sinful soldiers, the iniquitous Pilate, and the rebellious Jews together to show that all of them are in agreement over the death of the King of glory.  Here, sinful humanity is viewed in its most concentrated form.  According to their own horrific desires, they have forged an alliance and demonstrated their allegiance with sin, satan, death and hell, to be rid of God.  There is no doubt, historically then, that there are two groups and one individual immediately responsible for the crucifixion of the Savior — (1) the Roman soldiers; (2) the Roman governor, Pilate; and (3) the Jewish leaders.

But, I say that this is also the rebellion of every man.  I do not intend to deny the historicity or the responsibility of these Roman soldiers, or Pilate, or the Jews present in the death of Christ.  I only intend to include us in that rebellion.  I hope that all of you will agree that Christ was not only crucified on account of the sins of a few men isolated in history, but that our rebellion against God is also included.  In their rebellion, we see our own.  Their agreement in 19.16 is ours also.  Jew and Gentile are represented here, and “Jew and Gentile” is frequently a biblical moniker for everyone in the whole world at any given time.  Therefore, the rebellion that we read of in this first scene is not only the historical rebellion of a few isolated people, but we observe our own sin in the matter of our Lord’s death.

We ought not allow the providence of our God which was pleased to appoint our existence some 2000 years after the event of the cross disassociate us from our responsibility for that event.  Had we been born a sinner, as we all were, but in Rome around 10 AD, a pagan Gentile enrolled in the Roman legion, this Jesus is to us a weak, pitiable joke.  We, then, are the ones twisting the 6-12 inch thorns of the date palm into a crown and pressing it into the head of this silly Jew.  We, then, are the ones mocking the Lord and striking him in the face with our fists.  Or perhaps, we had been born of greater nobility, that we should enter the political arena and were to judge this unremarkable king of a servant nation — then, we are the ones of weak conscience who, knowing His innocence, give Him over to be crucified in order to save our own skin.  Or just maybe, we had the privilege of being a pure breed from the nation of Israel, a Jew of Jews.  We knew God’s will, had God’s law, and had seen God’s might; by birth the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the worship, the promises, the patriarchs, and the hope of the Messiah are ours!  We, then, are the ones who with unbelieving shrieks cry out, “Crucify him, crucify him!” We, then, are the ones who re-appropriate the age old sin of our forefathers, saying, “We have no king — not even God? No! Not even God — but Caesar!”  And, whether we are the soldiers or Pilate or the Jews we all have come under that ancient Word in Psalm 2 — “Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain?  The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against his anointed, saying, ‘Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us.”  And, if we need to hear anything else, let us hear the words of John’s prologue, “He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, yet the world did not know Him.  He came to His own, and His own people did not receive Him” (Jn 1.10-11).  Indeed, as we have already sung, “Behold the Man upon the cross, my guilt upon His shoulders.  Ashamed, I hear my mocking voice, call out among the scoffers.  It was my sin that held Him there, until it was accomplished.” {Consider putting before Psalm 2.}

Now, this is essential to see as we approach the cross because, as C. J. Mahaney has said in his sermon on Mark 15, we cannot read these words and be unaffected by them because our sin also is responsible for the death of Christ.  Our sins this day, our disservice to our wives, our misuse of precious time, our ungratefulness at meals, our prayerlessness, our inward and secret sins, — these played their part in our Savior’s hanging from a Roman tree!

But, I want to say to you that knowing this is for our good.  For if we do not feel the horror of our sin in the matter, we will doubtless know and feel the exhilaration of our Savior’s excellencies.  We need to stay close to our Savior’s words, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.  I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.”  We need to have our hearts strangely warmed again, like John Wesley, who, when he was finally converted, exclaimed, “I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation: And an assurance was given me, that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”  We must want to feel as Luther felt when he said, “I feel as though Christ died for me only yesterday.”

And so, I would urge you with the words of Samuel Rutherford to the excellencies of our Savior, “O! men’s souls have no wings, and therefore night and day they keep their nest and are not acquaint with Christ.  What (then) can I say of Him?  Let us go and see.”

Now, you’ll notice in 19.16b-18 several implicit allusions that John uses to help us see, though time does not permit us to fully address our excellent Savior as the New Covenant sin offering taken outside of the camp, or the new Tent of Meeting between God and sinners which Moses used to situate outside the camp.  These John alludes to in 19.17 when he writes that our Savior “went out bearing his own cross.”  Nor shall I but mention in passing that John portrays Jesus here as the One prophesied in Genesis 3.15 who would crush the head of the serpent when he writes that our Savior was crucified at the place “called the place of a skull.”  And, as He is here numbered with the transgressors in 19.18, so our excellent Savior is identified as the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53 who makes intercession for the transgressors, even us.

But to our second scene, and the more explicit excellencies of our Savior.  There are six, and while each merits its own sermon, we shall address them more devotionally — Christ is for us,

First (1), Jn 19.19-22, OUR REIGNING SAVIOR — (Read text) upon the cross our King reigns, and His gospel goes out to all the nations.  F. F. Bruce did well write, “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.’”  The cross, according to Jn 12.23, was our Savior’s appointed hour of glory.  Nailed there, He is ironically displayed, as the King of the Jews, and His reign is multilingually proclaimed by the placard above Him.  There, Pilate unknowingly aids the redemptive purpose of God by proclaiming to the known world — “Your God reigns” from the tree.  It is true what Augustine once stated, “The cross was,” for our King, “a pulpit, in which Christ preached his love to the world.”

Yet our Savior’s most excellent reign is a paradoxical reign.  Crucified in weakness, He yet reigns in glory.  And I cannot resist an important tangent, — if our Savior’s reign and our God’s kingdom is paradoxical to the world, so our lives as citizens of that kingdom will be also.  The one who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.  The first shall be last, and the last shall be first.  The one who saves his life will lose it, but the one who loses his life for the sake of Christ will find it.  We are not to be power-grabbing, but cross-bearing.  We do not see the cross as folly or a stumbling block, but as the wisdom and power of God.  A husband no longer oppresses his wife into submission, but dies for her joy.  A woman no longer uses her physical beauty in order to manipulate a man’s soul, but she puts on the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious.  We are no longer prejudicial or partial according to ethnicity or age, nor social or economic or political status, but we strive for communities that represent the one new humanity in Christ where cultural diversity is celebrated in and by gospel induced and world transforming unity.  I tell you, if you do not like the idea of a black man or an Arab or a former prostitute or a former homosexual worshiping the Lamb who was slain for them alongside of you in heaven, then I doubt whether heaven is the place for you, and I wonder whether you have properly considered your own sin, I wonder whether you have known the grace and power of Christ’s cross, and I wonder whether God is most assuredly in your heart and life.  Christ’s reign is a subversive reign — He has subverted all of the sinful power structures of this world.  But I say, lest I leave you anxious, that Christ’s reign is a saving and sweet reign.  He is most assuredly gracious.  “(Christ’s) regal rod,” said Thomas Watson, “has honey at the end of it.”  His reign only ever tends towards your eternal good and everlasting joy.

Second (2), Jn 19.23-24, (He was for us) OUR SUFFERING SAVIOR —  (Read text) The simplest intention of John is to say, “I saw the meticulous providence of God in the ancient Scriptures fulfilled before my own contemporary eyes in the death of my Savior.  Rough, pagan, juvenile soldiers who know nothing of Psalm 22.18, willingly and responsibly carrying out the prophetic Word of God written some one thousand years prior by the righteous sufferer, King David.”  If this minutest detail was fulfilled from the Messianic Psalm, what of its plainer parts?  Therefore, I know that this One upon the cross, is the fulfillment of the Righteous Sufferer.  Now, as Psalm 22 goes, the Righteous Sufferer invites the multitudes to rejoice in God’s redeeming work, “that He has done it.”  Now, Peter applies it to us when he writes of the outcome of His suffering, “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God” (1 Pet 3.18).

Third (3), Jn 19.25-27, OUR COMPASSIONATE SAVIOR — (Read text) While the soldiers revel in the benefit of our Savior’s clothes, the disciples, indeed we, revel in His deep care for us.  What is in the heart of our Savior as He experiences the pains of God’s justice but unfathomable compassion for His mother, and I would suggest to you, of all His disciples.  For, here, she is amongst a small group of other disciples, and He addresses her as a disciple, calling her “Woman.”  This is not a word of condescension, but of astonishing love, if — as we believe — there is no greater relationship in all the world than that between God and His adopted children, and we with one another as our Lord had prayed in John 17.  Therefore, Jesus speaks two things to His mother — first (1), of His God-pleasing, parent-honoring care for her; and second (2), that her blessedness, even as our own, is not by physical relationship to Him but rather by faith in her Savior.  Here, as our Savior departs this world, He establishes a new family of faith.  Brothers and sisters, it is a glorious thing to call my wife “my wife,” but it is altogether superior to call her my sister in the Lord.  And, we must remember what our Lord said when He stretched out His hand towards His disciples in Mt 12.46-50, “Here are my mother and my brothers!  For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”  The point is this, brothers and sisters, that you, as the disciples of our Lord, were no further from His heart on the cross than His own mother according to the flesh.  Our Savior does here reveal His great care for us which does now continue by His heavenly intercession.

Fourth (4), Jn 19.28-30, OUR PERFECT SAVIOR — (Read text) that which is truly mission impossible with man is redemption accomplished by Christ.  Brothers, if ever there was a world in a word, it is in this word, “it.”  And, if ever there was a universe in a phrase, it is in this phrase, “It is finished.”  John Flavel is more articulate, “It is but one word in the original; but in that one word is contained the sum of all joy; the very spirits of all divine consolation.  The ancient Greeks reckoned it their excellency to speak much in a little: ‘to give a sea of matter in a drop of language.’  What they only sought, is here found.”  It is most true what he then says, that “a far greater truth is contained herein, even the . . . completing of the whole design and project of our redemption.”  Here, our Savior is actively bringing a perfect redemption to pass.  In that phrase, “I thirst,”  the fulfillment of all “the Scripture” is here converged in the death of Jesus.  And, is it not because He drank the cup of God’s wrath to the dregs for us that He now says, “I thirst”?  Every last ounce of our sin, every last drop of our hell was freely and fully paid for by our dying Savior.  Everything in God’s eternal saving counsel that must be completed prior to His willful death, resurrection and ascension was then completed.  Not the least item prevented our Savior from forfeiting His life in order to take it up again.  And, the procurement of everything necessary for our salvation, then — grace, repentance, faith, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, justification, adoption, sanctification, glorification, and a billion other exquisite providences — were here purchased completely.   Satan’s reign — it is ended; sin’s captivity — it is finished; death’s hold — it is defeated; hell’s mouth — it is closed, for Christ’s redemptive work is finished!  This, and much more, our Savior did for “a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages” (Rev 7.9).  {It is no wonder, then, what John Calvin wrote, how that “Outside Christ there is nothing worth knowing, and all who by faith perceive what he is like have grasped the whole immensity of heavenly benefits.”}  Oh, it will take eternity to fathom the infinite recesses of this triumphant word — “It is finished!”  {I tell you, if you should perish, it will not be because of any insufficiency in the perfect substitutionary atonement of Christ, but if you do perish, it will be of your own doing, because you would not turn from your love of sin and find the salvation so wonderfully proclaimed to you in this most excellent Savior!  Do come!  Do come this day to Christ and you will be most excellently saved!}

Fifth (5), Jn 19.36, OUR SACRIFICIAL SAVIOR — (Read text) that Christ’s bones were not broken fulfill both Exodus 12.46 and Psalm 34.20.  From these two OT verses we might understand David, the suffering King for whom God providentially cares, as a projection of the Passover Lamb who averts judgment by absorbing judgment.  In other words, even the OT progressively reveals the Lamb to be the Davidic King.  Is it any wonder then that when John the Baptist sees Jesus, he says, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”  If you are believing upon Christ and Him crucified this day, His death is life for you, His blood an incorruptible haven for you from the curses, plagues and judgment of God against your sin — Christ has borne it for you completely!  There is, therefore, now no condemnation for you who are in Christ Jesus!

Sixth (6), Jn 19.37, OUR CLEANSING SAVIOR — (Read text) finally, John understands the piercing of our Lord’s side to be a fulfillment of Zechariah 12.10, “I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy, so that, when they look on me, on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn,” and then, in Zechariah 13.1, the prophet adds, “On that day there shall be a fountain opened for the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and uncleanness.”  It is interesting that John does not quote Zechariah 13.7 which speaks of the striking of God’s shepherd, but rather Zechariah 12.10 which speaks of the piercing of the One who is roughly no less than Yahweh Himself; and, here, it is well to be reminded of John’s prologue, that while our Lord was a man, yet the One who made atonement for us is none other than the Word, God who tabernacled amongst us.  Even as the water and blood that flow from His pierced side surely teach us of our Lord’s humanity, John’s quote of Zechariah 12.10 teaches us equally of our Lord’s divinity.  This is none other than Yahweh the Son crucified for you, brothers!  And, the prophet says, God opened up a fountain in this day — our Savior is a Cleansing Fountain Who has and will wash us clean from sin and uncleanness.

William Cowper did well capture this when he bid us sing, “There is a fountain filled with blood drawn from Emmanuel’s veins; and sinners plunged beneath that flood lose all their guilty stains.  The dying thief rejoiced to see that fountain in his day; and there have I, though vile as he, washed all my sins away.  Dear dying Lamb, Thy precious blood shall never lose its power, Till all the ransomed church of God be saved, to sin no more.  E’er since, by faith, I saw the stream Thy flowing wounds supply; redeeming love has been my theme, and shall be till I die.”  Let us wash ourselves in His love, let us drink to infinite joy of this forever fountain!

Oh, brothers, what a wonder!  What an excellent Savior!

To these things I would only seek to add two reflections that I hope will encourage you in our Savior’s excellencies, — “Rest completely and labor indefatigably.”  Brothers and sisters, there is sweet comfort and peace for you in our excellent Savior, — spend your lives resting in Christ and Him crucified.  Hear with the ears of your hearts the words of our Savior, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Mt 11.28), even “rest for your souls,” He does say in Mt 11.29.  Are you hard pressed by sin?  Our reigning Savior has broken sin’s power for you so that you may walk in holiness.  Do you feel yourself at a distance from God?  The Savior who suffered for you has reconciled you to God upon that cross and so whispers to you daily, “Peace, peace, blessed everlasting peace!”  Are you a lonely soul?  Our compassionate Savior has created a new heavenly family for you to love and to be loved.  Would you seek to toil away for salvation?  Our perfect Savior says, “It is finished!”  Are you tantalized by fear of hell?  Well, perhaps some of us should be, but not if you have believed upon Christ as John would persuade you, — by faith in our sacrificial Savior your lot is heaven, your portion is God forevermore.  And what of your striving after joy?  I tell you, our cleansing Savior is an eternal fountain of joy, satisfaction that never wains in the least.  So I say again, rest completely.

And, labor indefatigably (without tiring).  Out of this rest is born the happy necessity laid upon us all to proclaim nothing but these excellencies of Christ and Him crucified.  {So take up the Book and read, John says.  Four words, four words!, he gives us, — “There they crucified Him!”  Why only four words about the crucifixion of our excellent Savior?  So that he could fill it out with the rest of the Scriptures, — from Genesis, from Exodus and Leviticus, from the Psalter, from Isaiah and Zechariah, yes, from the Law, from the Psalms, from the Prophets.  His excellencies are drawn from the Scriptures, brothers and sisters.  I have long thought that the reason that we have so little proclamation of His excellencies is because we know so little of them.  If we would proclaim His excellencies, we must be well acquainted with them.  So be steady in the Scriptures, and be stayed at the cross where our God is most wonderfully displayed in the glories of our Savior.  In this, labor indefatigably, even as unto our most excellent Savior.

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